26 November 2023

November almost over

Aging is another word for living, so it has been said and wise words etc. but somedays the living is bloody hard. I say this from my comfortable home with great privilege, of course. After a 24hr colic attack and nausea, which felt like labour without the breaks between contractions. Anyway, it's over for now.

We are in the dark grey rainy, sleetish, dull November phase of the year.  Feeding peanuts to the jays from the kitchen window every morning is the highlight of our day. After that, we withdraw into our grumpy selves. I cleared out some of the paper files that crowd my desk. How exciting. Last week, the pension people called to tell me that my pension has been finalised and that the statement is "in the post". I forgot to ask what they actually mean by "in the post" and whether this means I will actually find out - if anything - how much I'll get and most importantly, when? But everybody was extremely polite.

I've been thinking about this here for a while. My early childhood was pretty wild, I ran after my sister with a gang of kids around the neighbourhood. We were in and out of each other's houses and gardens, building dens in the forest and climbing trees on good weather days, playing in basements and garages and barns when it rained. School interfered to some extent, also the piano and sports stuff my mother insisted on, but nobody really cared where we went in our free time as long as we were back for dinner.

When I think back to my daughter's earlier years, living with others involved also other kids that were around all the time, big messy gardens and trees to climb, later in paradise, life was always outdoors, many children every day, lots of paddling, swimming, snorkeling, catching fish in the estuary, collecting breadfruit and making charcoal from coconut husks. Years later, when we already lived in this city, a visiting friend from Denmark looked out over the endless rows of cars parking along the footpaths and asked quite perplexed, where do the children walk and play. Later that year, we visited her in Copenhagen in her small suburb where the cars must be parked way outside the living areas and the streets were full of children playing safely.

Modern loneliness masks itself as hyper connectivity. And so people have easily 1000 virtual friends, but no one they can ask to feed their cat. That loneliness, which is really a depletion of the social capital, is extremely powerful. […]

One question I keep asking that I had no idea was going to be so pertinent: When you grew up, did you play freely on the street? … And the majority of the people learned to play freely on the street. They learned social negotiation. They learned unscripted, un-choreographed, unmonitored interaction with people. They fought, they made rules, they made peace, they made friends, they broke up, they made friends again. They developed social muscles. And the majority of these very same people’s children do not play freely on the street. And I think that an adult needs to play freely on the street as well.

For us as adults, that means talking to people in the queue with you, talking to people on the subway, talking to people when you create any kind of group. Book club, movie club, sports club. You stay in the practice of experimentation, doubt, of the paradox of people: You need people very much but the very people that you need are the ones that can reject you.

We do not have the practice at the moment. Everything about predictive technologies is basically giving us a form of assisted living. You get it all served in uncomplicated, lack of friction, no obstacles and you no longer know how to deal with people. Because people are complex systems. Relationships, friendships are complex systems. They often demand that they hold two sides of an equation. And not that you solve little problems with technical solutions. And that is intrinsic to modern loneliness.

  Esther Perel


Pixie said...

That was interesting about the predictive technologies, I'd never thought of them like that but it makes sense.
I'm sixty-one and I ran wild as a child too, crowds of children, moving through the streets, fields, woods. It was a good way to grow up but hard too because I never felt like I fit in. Too sensitive.

Colette said...

As a child, I lived in a post WWII cul-de-sac that had a large grass circle in the middle of the top end of the neighborhood. Almost all the families were young, and almost every house had children. It was wonderful. The grass circle was big enough to function as a softball court, as long as we could run into the street for we were free to run in the street for balls. There was never any problems.The only people driving in and out of that cul-de-sac were our parents. They were careful.

Anonymous said...

Yes yes yes. Yes I played on the street, in the woods, in the garden and barn and loft and treehouse. Gang of free range kids. Parents now are convinced the world is a dangerous place while it isn’t anymore dangerous than it was when I was a kid so they restrict their kids and as a result children are not learning how to negotiate and problem solve or develop relationships. They aren’t learning how to self rescue. - Ellen

am said...

Good to know that you are feeling better now, feeding peanuts to the jays with R, working out the details of your pension.

Although I did play outside with other children on our fairly quiet suburban housing development, I also spent a great deal of time in my bedroom reading books and taking solitary walks with our family dog. I would walk from our tidy neighborhood with its limited number of house styles to several miles outside city limits where each house was different, where the lots were larger and streets were older and not conducive to play, where I could walk on the side of the country road for miles until I reached a forested game refuge.

Outside city limits, children didn't play on the streets because of the traffic but some of them had horses and access to trails that went into the forest and the grass-covered hills. There were some small parks out there for children to play in.

My parents kept to themselves. I learned to keep to myself. My younger sisters played outside and socialized more than I did and learned social negotiation. I'm thinking that they had better social skills than my parents. I did not learn social negotiation until much later. I'm still learning. I still spend a lot of my time alone but not lonely. I still take long walks by myself but I greet other walkers of all ages, many with babies these days, many with dogs. Occasionally I will see someone I know and we will stop and talk. My town is a walking town. There is a vast system of trails that people use for walking, running and biking. I rarely, if ever, see children who are not with their parents.

I went out walking with our small dog when I was still in grade school. As I got older, I walked farther and farther from home because home wasn't a safe place. I identify with Rebecca Solnit who did the same thing, growing up a few hours north of where I grew up in California. It was a joy to explore beyond my neighborhood, to walk outside city limits and into the forest and hills, fearlessly. It felt safer than my home, safer than playing with other children. I experienced happiness on those long walks.

37paddington said...

You have provoked deep reflection and reverie in me this morning, reading about your chlldhood play, and your daughter's. Mine was like that, too, all of us up and down the street, in and out of each others homes, barefoot, playing in yards, garages, on the street, the parents setting out little sandwiches and lemonade for us, the welcome always there. How sad that so many children now will never have this experience. I agree it is absolutely formative.