Saturday, October 31, 2009

Reality Check

What is real? I've spent hours, days....sunshine, rain, poetry, painting....months of my life contemplating what is real. Tangible. Is it only what we touch? What touches us? Is the wind real? Are my paintings real? They're dreams....wishes. Are wishes real?

My sister recently told me she was considering deleting her entire facebook profile. She's had a tough year...and the world is filled with people who don't know when to say nothing. Silence can be such a gift. Our relationship grew a great deal the day I told her, "I love you but I have no idea what you're feeling....I can only imagine and I fear I will come up short. I have no advice, only ears. I love you." She started to cry. She thanked me. She's had enough empty husks of brittle comfort that crumble for lack of substance or truth.

About facebook, she said, "It isn't real." And I was shocked. "Did you think it was?" I mean, my sister is an incredibly intelligent woman; to listen to her dismay over this--threw me. Have we come that far in society? That this fabricated wireless world should qualify as real? But wait--I mean, it is....right? You're real...sorta. Somewhere out there, hundreds, thousands of miles away sometimes--there is a person of flesh and blood that is reading these words...thinking about them...emotionally responding to them....but are you real to me? Maybe you're only real when you write back? What if what I write means nothing to you? If the wind blows but there is nothing to move in it.....

Words are real. The joy and the agony they can infuse is palatable. There have been times when the cruelty of another has left an iron tang in my mouth like bile...or blood. Bitter venom that sickened me. I've known a physical surge of sensual pleasure from fevered whispered words. I've know paralyzing fear, soul wrenching sorrow. These are real--I know this to be true....but perhaps there are levels of reality? Is comfort more real when someone softly wipes the tears from your cheek rather than sends a *((hug))* on your screen? Is that white hot surge of anger more real when you find your car window smashed than when you read a vicious attack on your character? Has our new anonymous world lost the sense of reality? Have we begun to unconsciously loose ourselves, our "realness," in atmospheric communication?

My children recently have resisted going to my ex's for his weekend. When questioned, they told me that, as it was Halloween weekend, they wanted to be at our our neighborhood. Further discussion revealed that while he and his new wife have lived in their home for 3 or 4 years, they know no one on their street. No one. I truly do not mean to compare so readily, but we purchased our home and moved in barely 4 months ago and have met, laughed, shared beer and hung out with nearly every family on our block! Our kids play, wander in and out of each other's homes--we've had a ladies potluck lunch that was a blast and in a week are throwing a party they're all coming to! My point on earth do you not know your neighbors?? How is it possible to live for years someplace and still be strangers? When my husband was in the hospital recently, I came home to discover that my neighbor mowed my "could-bale-hay" lawn. I cover her son's four-wheeler with a tarp if I find it's blown off. We live together.....sharing air, and parking spaces, I find it almost incomprehensible that one would live that obscurely. Is that kind of community real?

We have become almost...nameless. Hell, I'm the first to say I love the movies, a great book, my blog life--I joke that I passionately adore my "vicarious enjoyment of others lives." Yet, have we gone too far? Have we reached the point of consuming another's experiences, emotions...their pain or joy, like sushi--and then we have the privilege of just...disengaging? Has our distance, our removal from the genuine intimacy of relationships....have we begun to lose what is truly real?

There was a time when you only personally knew the life stories of your companions, perhaps friends of friends or relations. The death of a child or spouse was felt by the literal absence, the vacancy of their smile. When someone lost their job you noticed their car disappeared...and they got thinner. Now, it's just numbers on a screen. Words that you digest...perhaps respond to "in the moment"...and then click to the next screen, the next news story, your e-mail, your bank account. Life shifts seamlessly from one subject to the next with little real consequences.

There is a novel series called Otherland by Williams . It explores the futuristic world where virtual reality has become the central venue for business, education and entertainment. Can you imagine if you just "plugged in" and were able to literally feel, taste, smell whatever you wanted!? Sex. Pain. Ecstasy. Fear. Friendship. From sailing a pirate ship through a raging storm to giving birth to...committing murder. You could experience anything. Everything. Experiences with no consequence.

Are we close?

Technology is advancing at a terrifying pace. I fully expect to see this in my life. We are taking steps daily toward this...anonymity. What is real? You can create a star or decimate a career with the right words. We can choose to comfort a hurting friend or simply ignore a chat request when we're too tired.

I am challenged. I am slightly frightened. This two dimensional world on my laptop threatens to substitute I will open my door, step outside....connect...touch.

I can feel the wind on my skin. It's real.


Maven said...

As always, this is an exceptional piece of writing. You pose questions that I've wrestled with for years, with mine being: Is it really possible to be friends with someone you've met over the internet?

For a very long time, I would have told you no. But I've shifted, slightly, in my way of thinking. I see these relationships over the computer as entities all their own that really can't be compared to the relationships we have in our day to day lives.

That doesn't make them any less real, just different.

I have a friend in Pakistan who I have known since my earliest days on the internet. Through her I have learned about Ramadan, life in another country and another culture. Through the sharing of words and hearts, we virtually walked together while the two towers fell, while war waged betweeen her world and mine, and while our children have grown. We have spoken on the phone, exchanged cards, letters and gifts, and carry on our friendship with the understanding that in all likelihood, may never meet. Does that make our relationship less real?

Is the person who passes by my blog with a quick hello and "I like what you said" any different than the person who takes a class with me who I never see again?

I have grown to value, and yes, even cherish, the humanity I know exists behind the words I read onmy computer screen. While they are far from substitutes for the very real and rich relationships I have in my own life, they add something extra that I never would have had before.

Chantel said...

My dear Maven,

How does one quantify the value of "presence?" (sigh) Haven't we all felt mortally--panicked to the point of nearly gasping for air....alone in the midst of a marriage, a party, a family holiday... Merely being physically in the room absolutely doesn't equal....investment.

Life is so complicated, is it not? (soft chuckle) How rare something is--determines its value....and such is love. Friendship. Forgivenes.

Dig you.

the fallen angel social club said...

interesting post ... reminds me very much of the ideas in Jean Baudrillard's work "Simulacra and Simulations"

best wishes


Chantel said...


Now I want to read that again...November is the perfect time. Thanks.