Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Living in the Age of Homogeneity

I received a "courtesy call" from AT&T Wireless, this morning.

Ranjit Something-or-other was calling to remind me that my wireless bill had just become past due, and to remind me that there would be a $36 reconnection charge if service was interrupted, and would I like to avoid that, by authorizing him to charge my ATM card ending in "2177" right now?

Sure. No problem. My mom died... I've had things other than bills on my mind.

Ranjit, of course, was most likely calling from Mumbai, or Bengaluru or one of the other major outsourcing call center havens of the world.

And, for some reason, Ranjit's call led me to ponder our shrinking world. Our culturally shrinking world.

When I was a kid, we traveled a lot-- to many many foreign countries. Some of my clearest memories of those traveling days are precisely that these places were all very "foreign." These days, foreign countries seem to have become less "foreign," somehow. In this age of the Internet, the individual "flavors" of places are slowly fading away as we truly are becoming a Global Village. The skylines of Mumbai, Medellin, Melbourne and Munich-- seemed so very different and unique, in my childhood-- now all seem to have taken on a certain sameness, a certain homogeneity.

Don't get me wrong-- each place remains uniquely its own, but still. There's a "sameness" there... whether you look at the 30-story glass and steel office towers that dominate the skylines, or the fact that you can get a Big Mac in all of these cities, or the fact that the Internet has spread the English language with far greater effectiveness than any British empirical aspirations ever could.

But it feels like something has been lost, along the way.

As I thought about this-- without any compulsion to assign "good" or "bad" tags to this state of affairs-- I also noticed that there's a certain growing incongruity in humanity's approach to cross-cultural experiences. The other day, I was reading a post on Marilyn's blog, which brought up a memory of standing in modern downtown Copenhagen, in the summer, watching droves of American tourists congregate around McDonalds. And I pondered (then, as now) how they had spent a large chunk of their savings to experience something "different," yet were supporting this growing homogeneity of cultures by choosing to eat the SAME Big Mac they could get around the corner, at home... for a couple of bucks.

On a deeper level, these subtle changes perhaps all reflect a deeper human need to seek "safety." And there's safety in numbers, and in sameness. We "know" this, somehow, regardless of whether we feel predisposed to jump out of airplanes, or live under a large rock. So perhaps we feel safer about going to Mumbai because the knowledge that we can have a Big Mac is comforting, somehow... and (almost entirely subconsciously, I'm sure) removes some small layer of concern about "What will we EAT there?"

It is said that "the only constant in life is change" (attributed to 17th century French author François de la Rochefoucauld), and perhaps this is true. And the true challenge is to stay awake and present in our own lives, and remember to "vote" with our dollars, rupees or euros in a way that reflect our individual truths, regardless of the changes around us.

Friday, August 7, 2009

I Truly AM... an Alien

The title of this post is actually a true statement. I even have a small ID card to prove it; across the top, the words "RESIDENT ALIEN."

Perhaps it is just part of the Human Condition to feel like you "don't belong on this planet." It happens to me rather often, although I am given to pause and consider whether my puzzlement results from cultural issues (being a Dane in the US) or from planetary issues.

What gave rise to my current ponderings was a soundbyte on the TV in the next room, which could as well have said "And in OTHER news today, Michael Jackson is STILL DEAD!" Of course, that wasn't what was actually being said... but the news snippet distracted me from my work for long enough to stop and wonder...

"Who ARE these people who can find endless fascination and entertainment in ongoing 'stories' about a dead pop star? Why does anybody CARE? And why do I feel like I don't share DNA with them?"

Ultimately, this seems to be a question of what constitutes "interesting." Or, perhaps, "noteworthy." Of course, it's a question that can't be readily answered, as everyone is different. Still, there is such a thing as a general consensus, and I find myself spending more time looking in at it (as an observer) than I do being a part of it.

"Death" is fresh on my mind, at the moment, so taking a moment to consider the endless sideshow that has been (and continues to be) Michael Jackson's death is an easy segue for me. So, I sit and I think. Someone walks in the room and announces "Michael Jackson died!" and all the response I can muster is "Oh... really? That's too bad." Conversely, someone walks in the room and announces "Bob from three houses down died!" and I will stop and want to know more.

The difference, here, being that Bob is a "real person" to me-- I saw him ride his bike by, and we'd sometimes chat, when I walked by his house. Michael? Not so much. No disrespect to his music career, but I never met the guy. To me, he is not a "real person."

Evidently, caring more about real people than celebrity icons is proof that I am an alien, just visiting this planet.

In many-- if not most-- homes, it seems that the news of Bob's passing would be met with "Not NOW! Can't you see I'm watching TV? Michael Jackson died...."

Frankly, I prefer Bob...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Death... and Birth

My mother died, on Monday, August 3rd. She was 87 years old.

My father, who died when I was 18, would have celebrated his 91st birthday, today.

Perhaps it is in human nature to seek patterns in everything, and to attribute meaning and structure to random chaos, but it feels oddly symmetrical that mom "left" in time for dad's birthday.

Death is a funny thing. We experience it-- inwardly-- as massive upheaval; in some cases it feels like the world is coming to an end. And yet, when we look around, "nothing happened." We walk through the grocery, and nobody knows that our loved one dies. Bills arrive in the mail, regardless. We make dinner and eat, because life continues. Even when a great statesman or public figure passes, we observe "a minute of silence" and then go back to reading the paper, eating our hamburger or kissing our lover.

Although my mom had many "pink elephants" in the middle of her room, she had what seems like a surprising grasp on the relative "insignificance" of death. I realized this, as I was looking through old notes and journals, trying to get a sense of what "arrangements" should be made, after her death... and found notes from a conversation we had, in 2001:

"Promise me," she said (among other things), "that you won't have this big funeral and religious hooplah, with a bunch of people sitting around and moping. Don't waste time with a wake, and please, no flowers! If you want to have a gathering for me, for God's sake have one NOW, and invite me to it while I can be a participant. If you want to send flowers, send them to me NOW, when I am alive and can enjoy them."

Whereas I realize that funerals and "death rituals" are for the living, she did have a point. Celebrate life, while it is actually going ON, not after it's over.

Thinking about my mother's death, and my father's death... made me pause to consider what I expect, of my own death. And I realized that what's "important" to me is primarily that I am not a financial burden to, or imposition on, anyone. If you can, please do something useful with the biological container I left behind-- I suggest contacting the Life Legacy Foundation, and have them pick up the body. Beyond that? Do whatever you want! I'll be DEAD, for goodness' sake!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Picking Up Things Along The Way

I am a beach comber.

There is more to that than meets the eye.

I have been picking up-- and collecting-- things since I was quite small. It is, perhaps, one of the most pervasive constants in my life.

The path to the beachWhereas I walk on the beach "for a living," walking on the beach is about far more than "making a living." Some people do Yoga, some people jog, some people meditate and some people build amazing model railroads. I walk on the beach... in a sense, it is my meditation; my way of getting Zen with life, and everything in it.

"Making a living" is coincidental. The beach (meaning "any" beach) has deep personal meaning for me; I would walk the beach and pick up "things," no matter what.


Interesting word, that.

For me-- and in the context of this blog-- "things" may (literally) refer to objects found on the beach. It may also refer to the things from a flea market, or the grocery. Then again, it may refer to ideas, epiphanies, opinions, theories and flights of fancy. And people.

Whether we actually "met" through an otherworldly psychic connection (when I was thirteen and she was eight), or through words on web pages much like this, or at a major airport (depending on your perspective), I sometimes wonder if I didn't originally "find" the Love of my life on a beach.

Truth be known, I also "collect" blogs. This is probably (at least) the 50th time I have started one.

You see, the other pervasive constant in my life is writing.

In ways similar to the tides on my beach, my writing ebbs and flows. But, like the tides, it's always there.

Beginnings are good. I like beginnings... they always hold a sense of hope, for me.