And now, for something a little different…
I remember this line from “What’s eating Gilbert Grape” once in a while. The young character of Arnie played by a 19 year old Leonardo DiCaprio is mentally disabled, but in a moment of innocent clarity, he cheerfully proclaims that “I can go any time you know.”
Any one of us, right this moment, could die.
Out like a light. Or a candle. But this heart-stoppingly critical notion hardly ever bubbles up to the surface of conscious thought. Maybe we deny our own deaths to ourselves so that we can carry on with our everyday lives without a sense of tragedy and fatality, as a self-preservation mechanism. But pondering our inevitable end is not all gloom and murk. There are benefits to this morbid meander.
If you stopped to think, at least once a day, that you will die, possible someday soon, what would you do differently? Would you go ahead and give your baby that extra snuggle? Open the door for that stranger? Wear your favourite hideous, but comfortable, jersey for all the world to see, testing whether it really matters what other people think? Would you pray salah on time and give more charity?
How long is a human life? We don’t know how long we will live, but on a good day, when you’re feeling optimistic, a long lifespan of an average human could be around 90 years. There’s an excellent couple of articles by Tim Urban on his blog, Wait but why? where he measures the span of a life in winters, summers, baseball seasons (and some other metrics). Seriously, just click through and read the two articles, the first being Your life in weeks, and the follow-up called The tail end.
In The tail end, Urban invites you to consider your current age and weigh it up against your potential 90 year lifespan. If you’re 28, that means 28 summers enjoyed, with just 62 summers left. 62 more springs, winters and autumns. If you’re lucky.
If you eat pizza once a week, that’s around 3224 pizzas left in life.
But that isn’t the most notable thing. The part about relationships is the bit that will get you thinking. If your parents are 30 years older than you, that’s 32 years left with the folks, if they’re also lucky to live to 90.
But – you spent most of your time with your parents before the age of 18. Like, 90% of your days were spent with them when you were a kid. That time decreased when you started school. That time is probably much less now if you live away from home.
So even though you may not be too close to the end of your life (but really, only Allah knows about that) you may be near the end of the time you spend with some important people in your life.
Urban says “It turns out that when I graduated from high school, I had already used up 93% of my in-person parent time. I’m now enjoying the last 5% of that time. We’re in the tail end. It’s a similar story with my two sisters.”
Therefore he offers 3 takeaways: live close to the people you love, prioritize, and make an effort to spend quality time with people who are important to you.
It’s a new year, and that means five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes of 2017 to fill up, to live in, to enjoy or squander. The choice is ours.
By the way, Leo DiCaprio got his first Oscar nomination for his role in Gilbert Grape, but only last year, after 5 more nominations and after over 20 years did he finally win. I wonder how much that statue means to him.
All this to say: be good. Or better.
It seems that evil is Trumping most things at the moment.
Let’s take a moment to think about the rest of the world too. Maybe we’re all shocked that a democracy, land of milk and honey like America, can elect such a bigoted, racist, pathetic ruler. However, remember that there have been Hadith to the effect that the end of times will be marked by the rule of unfit persons. I guess this is just one more sign of Qiyaamat.
Also, a good point made by Alain de Botton in his response to the US election results is that the norm the world over is that we tend to have oppressive, despotic leaders who terrorize their populations and spread misery across the land.
People have been surviving and enduring this for centuries, and are currently still enduring this in many parts of the world. I mean, who even knows what is happening in North Korea, not to mention Palestine, Syria, Somalia and so many others. Our own leaders in South Africa are nothing to write home about.
So let’s take a chill pill, hope for the best, say a prayer and realize that the norm is generally junk rulers, and that beautiful rulers are an anomaly. Maybe we can somehow in our own way work towards a better future.
But if not, keep doing the good that you’re doing, be awesome, and breathe.
I don’t like sports. Mostly, I find it pointless and time-consuming. There’s no storyline. Just people running around endlessly.
But – recently I’ve come to adore Serena Williams. Of the myriad sports out there, tennis is one that I can sometimes bring myself to watch. And since following the story of Serena Williams, I’ve become increasingly fascinated with this brilliant, skillful, amazing woman.
I’m interested in Serena firstly because she is awesome, but secondly because there’s really a storyline.
White America and the media around the world tend to cast her as a “powerhouse” and “forceful” etc. When she wins, it is supposedly because of her brute strength. When someone else (probably a blonde waif) wins, it is due to finesse and skill and grace. The undertones of racism are not always so subtle though.
Maria Sharapova, far inferior in rankings and awesomeness, carries more money muscle than Serena. She gets bigger endorsements, bigger deals and is worth more dollars than Serena.
The amazing article in the New York Times, The Meaning of Serena, captures the difficulty of dealing with being the best while also dealing with constant micro-aggressions and outright racism. Black people have to perform at 150% to be recognised, and even then, black excellence must “behave” and appear proper. She cannot be outraged when the umpire makes some questionable decisions against her, people cannot deal with the full range of human emotions when it is contained in a black body. Some people even credit the use of digital review (basically a third umpire) due to the numerous bad calls made against Serena. It seems that a computer is needed to side-step the racism against her. And yet, she still wins. And wins and wins.
She doesn’t hide who she is, she won’t be who people expect her to be. She won’t shut up when people attack her, and rightly so. She gets into the most white of white Wimbledons and emerges victorious. The usually polite and stiff upper lip Wimbledon watchers made so much noise during one of Serena’s matches that she had to ask the ref for silence, after which she was booed.
Americans watching the US Open support players from other countries over Serena, an American! How pathetic.
It irks me that people call her hypermasculine and joke about the “Williams brothers”. Imperial constructs of beauty as white, blonde and thin are so narrow, not allowing for any deviation from this quite boring, beige idea of beauty.
I hope to see Serena continue in her awesomeness. What a cool lady.
I have a smartphone and I use it… a lot. But not for calls. I hardly ever call anyone unless I really really have to. For example, I’ll call my gran because dadima doesn’t have a cell phone and if she did, I doubt she would use Watsapp. So she’s one of the few exceptions of people who I really do need to call.
Everyone else? I think Watsapp is perfectly acceptable. I hate calling people. I hate picking up the phone. Don’t call me. Please. Unless someone died, maybe. Just send me an email, a Watsapp, a facebook message, a smoke signal, a carrier pigeon, a handwritten note – anything else. Please don’t call me.
I use my phone for things I find enjoyable like reading articles online, books through kindle, listening to podcasts and tracking my baby’s eating habits with a handy app. I use my phone for work emails. Research. As a mirror. But I don’t want to use it for calls unless I have to.
If it wasn’t a smartphone, with all this other functionality, I could probably get by without having a “calling” phone. Basically, it is a mini-computer for me, not a “phone-phone”. I don’t have a landline. I don’t want one.
All this to say – just send a message, and don’t call. I’m happy to reply to your text, not your call.
It’s always on silent anyways. So I’ll probably miss your call. Or pretend that I did. You’ll never know.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t like phones for phoning…Do any of you have the same phone-phobia?
A designer made history, it seems, by featuring Hijabs in every single outfit in her collection – a collection that walked the catwalk at New York Fashion Week, no less.
Boom! Anniesa Hasibuan’s collection “featured silk hijabs in ivory, peach and grey silk”.
That’s the bit of good news.
In other fashion news, not catering for everyone is still a thing. Isn’t there an obesity epidemic in the US? Aren’t people generally more round than long? Why are all the clothes aimed at model-sized people, when there are about 2 model sized humans for every 8 medium to large people? It seems that most models are white and thin – where’s the diversity? Wouldn’t it make sense, at least economically, to cater for more people?
This article by Brodie Lancaster says that “You Can’t Flaunt Plus-Size Models Without Selling Plus-Size Clothes”. Lancaster is furious with the tokenism of putting one fat model on the runway every 5 years, and then being hailed as a hero for it.
She also says that “no investment pieces are worth the expense if our assumed goal (ie weight loss) is met and we can finally shop a straight-size range. But some of us have been fat forever. Some of us will likely stay fat forever. Some of us are very happily fat and actively seeking out — then throwing money at — the handful of brands who dare to cut a larger pattern and dress a larger person outside the context of a highly visible Fashion Week event and in something other than a paisley smock with an asymmetrical hemline and nonsensical shoulder cutouts.”
…now if that isn’t a misogynistic anti-feminist statement, I don’t know what is.
France has banned the Burkini in a few cities and police have gone as far as ordering a woman wearing this modest swim-outfit to undress . They fined her, so why force her to undress in front of her children, shaming an innocent woman?
France claims to be liberating women from the enslavement of modest dress – for France, wearing a Burkini shows sympathy for ISIS and is incompatible with French values.
What about these nuns???
The first time I heard the word assimilation was in history class in grade 9, where we were discussing colonization. While many colonizers like Britain for example, were content to colonize an area, steal its wealth and subjugate its people, France always seemed to want to go a step further.
The French so prize their culture that they attempted to force the colonized to assimilate, to become French in as many ways as possible. But no one could ever be French enough. The standard was impossible to meet. The high and mighty French wouldn’t accept people as French enough, but they wanted people to give up their own cultures to try to be more acceptably “civilized”. What happened to those who then ended up in a cultural no-mans-land?
An article in The New York Times says “The obviousness of the contradiction — imposing rules on what women can wear on the grounds that it’s wrong for women to have to obey rules about what women can wear — makes it clear that there must be something deeper going on.” It seems France is having an identity crisis and some arrogant French people are too pathetic to deal with cultural difference.
I often wonder what would have happened to Africa and so many other developing nations if they had been left alone, to “civilize” at their own pace. What would have resulted may have been better systems than the West have engineered. Maybe some countries would have come up with superior political ideas and systems (different to democracy and what is seen as correct by the global powers) but better nonetheless.
These imperial powers came to civilize us poor little non-westerners, but in the end, we have been left as developing countries, still not completely caught up.
In another article that I wrote on English people’s reluctance to correctly pronounce non-English names, I find the same one-sided relationship again…we must bend over backwards for the big guys, and they won’t even afford people the common decency of saying our actual names.
Cannes, one of the French cities that has banned the Burkini, also recently banned ladies from walking the red carpet at the Cannes film festival if they weren’t wearing heels.
Who makes women a slave to fashion, really?
It felt like a cockroach had crawled across my brain. How could these words have been written by the pen that inked James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG? This was my first encounter with a Roald Dahl short story.
And then I remembered: The Witches. An orphan boy, told tales by his grandmother of witches with deformed feet, bald heads and a hatred of children. Dark and sinister, the clue that the story was written for children evident mainly by the happy ending. It made sense to me then. The Roald Dahl of my childhood is the same as the Dahl of my adolescence and adulthood, appropriately creepy to suit any stage of life.
Paging through the Penguin anthology of Ten Short Stories by Roald Dahl, I looked closer at the creepiness that seemed to be ramped up a notch for older readers. I realised that it had always been there, in his stories for children, but that the true starkness of Dahl’s uncanny imagination is laid bare in his short stories.
The cockroach feeling reminded me that almost every short story I have ever read has been eerie and unsettling in some way, never just a quick diversion on a sunny day, but a murky meander into the complicated dark places of human existence. I experienced this sensation before, as a child encountering an anthology of short stories for the first time, but it was Dahl’s collection that really lodged the idea into my consciousness, this belief that short stories were peculiar, something that I would not like to overdose on for fear of the disquiet that was left hanging at the edges of my mind each time I came to the end of a climactic, disturbing tale.
At times I gave up on reading short stories altogether, because I would rather avoid excessive bizarreness.
But the concentrated punch of a story with few words is narcotic even to a reader who loves to fall deeply into long drawn out novels. Sometimes a masterpiece is worth 10 pages, sometimes over 1000, but even Vikram Seth apologises in A Suitable Boy for his long-windedness by quoting Voltaire: ‘the secret to being a bore is to say everything.’
With a Dahl short story, it is often what is not said that is most disturbing. The conclusion is inevitable, but forcing the reader to put their own words to the finish involves the reader in a way that leaves you unsettled, complicit in the darkness of the ending.
Why do we love morbid tales, why are we fascinated by the ugly side of human nature, and why do we come back to these disquieting stories again and again? A master of the craft, Dahl seems to know implicitly that understatement and euphemism can knock your imagination over the edge better than any blunt force explanation could.
Hmmm, so what have you been reading this week?
There’s so much interesting stuff out there, it’s hard to filter everything and choose what to read and what not to.
A few things I found interesting recently:
- Local elections in SA last week, they’ve come and gone but the echoes remain. Democracy maybe won, who knows, but that awesome protest against Zuma by those badass ladies in evening gowns was something worth noting. These ladies will not let us forget (rightly so) that our Number1 was once accused of rape and that the rape epidemic in our country continues.
- In other election wonderings, I was confused, as usual, about who to vote for. I don’t like the DA because it seems they don’t like masjid-building and they are zionist (or at least ambivalent, or at least in favour of a 2 state solution). And then Maimane tried to placate the Muslims via Radio Islam.
- Other than elections, there’s this cool article in The Atlantic about how life on reality TV bears a striking resemblance to life in Jane Austen’s time, the women grasping for status and fame through marriage, all the maneuvering and shenanigans aimed at that grand prize.
- Then there’s this really scary piece on food safety, and what gross things go into a lot of the food we eat, with some useful advice on what you can safely put in your mouth. This “neurotic eater’s grocery list” is sure to give you some food for thought.
- And this tidbit, about the Jewish Orthodox hit squad in New York, a gang of religious “lawyers” and rabbis who force guys into giving their wives divorces (in Jewish custom, men have all the power to divorce, or withhold the divorce, sometimes leaving an unhappy wife a “chained woman”). Their methods of persuasion? Basically, beat the guy up until he signs the divorce papers. Check out the article for the pics alone, which are a funny look at what orthodox thugs could look like.
Let me know about any other weird and wonderful articles, on any random and odd topic, in the comments!
I wrote something a while back about optimal sleeping habits and research that shows ideal sleep patterns: basically, sleep from about 8pm till midnight, wake up, then sleep again from around 2am till sunrise.
I was amazed at how similar this perfect sleeping pattern is to a schedule that allows for sleeping after esha, waking up for tahajjud, going back to sleep and then waking up for fajr.
Now that there’s a noonoo in my life, it seems he’s got the memo too – he loves to wake up super early to talk to himself and to talk to a sleepy me, intently looking at his hands as he tries to figure out this whole new world.
Do we really need 7 to 8 hours of sleep? Well, that doesn’t seem to be on the cards for me any time soon – so I’ll console myself with the thought of something I once heard – I can’t remember where I heard this or if it’s authentic but … Muslims leaders (the Caliphas maybe?) did not sleep a lot – there were too many important things to be doing so they only took catnaps here and there.
There’s also been research around splitting up sleep into a few 20 minute naps a day. Maybe that’s another option.
On the other hand, Arianna huffington is trying to create a sleep revolution because she fears we are all under-sleeped. She got this wake-up call after collapsing from exhaustion and breaking her cheekbone. I guess corporate types wear their lack of sleep as a badge of honor. But moms of young tots know that every sleeping second counts.