A Profound Look Back at the Week February 24-28

Spring is coming to the northern hemisphere, love is in the air and so is panic. Lots of panic. I even saw someone on Facebook talk about “certain death” with no irony at all. Oh, well.

Fear is good for you… up to a point

Fear is a self-preservation mechanism. We all fear things and this can often save our lives. However, in the world of social media and click-bait headlines that even the once great sources of news have succumbed to fear tends to reach unhealthy levels, the levels of panic. And we like it.

Yeah, I know, it sounds ridiculous but a lot of people love to panic about imaginary dangers (yes, I do mean the coronavirus) to distract themselves from the very real dangers that life is fraught with. Also, it’s so much more fun to panic online than close that browser window and do some actual work for a change. It really is.

Things get worse when governments start to panic and we’ve seen quite a lot of that, too. Quarantines, warnings, stock market slumps, the works. Day traders, though, must be having the time of their lives. Imagine the adrenaline rush. And then again, imagine the post-adrenaline rush slump. That must put them in a philosophical mood. Or not, since they’re traders. Anyway, my point is that we have a panicking world right now and there’s something to learn from it. Rather, some things.

First, people like to panic, which I already mentioned. One wise woman said they like to panic because they know they’re guilty of various things and deserve to be punished, therefore they take the epidemic as a punishment, appropriately adjusting its danger levels to suit their guilty feelings. I couldn’t argue with that.

Second, media have become even better than before in fueling the panic because, friends and neighbours, panic means clicks. The other day I took the trouble to count the number of headlines in a leading news agency that contained the word coronavirus in the headline. Seven out of ten headlines had it. Seven. Out of Ten.

I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking, after browsing these headlines, that the only thing happening in the world right now is that epidemic, whose mortality rate, medical professionals say, is not much higher (some say even lower) than the mortality rate of other viruses that attack us on an annual basis. But I do hope we shake the panic off soon. It’s bad for your health.

Seasons don’t fear the Reaper

Since I wasn’t raised in a religious context, my feelings of guilt cannot be satisfied by some second-rate epidemic. They mostly come down to parenting guilt and this is the kind of guilt that takes years to grow, mature and perfect. An untimely death from a virus would be such a waste, which is why I’m focusing on the aforementioned early arrival of the next season that doesn’t fear the Reaper.

I wouldn’t say spring is my favourite season because that would be autumn but I do appreciate it the way I appreciate sunrises even though I prefer sunsets. There is something exciting about the way the world — by which I mean nature, not humans — wakes up for another round of blossoming, pollination, and fruit-bearing, or simply blooming. They never get tired, do they?

I’d say we have a lot to learn from trees and flowers about whining. Does an apricot tree cross its branches and say “Oh, here we go again, time to sprout some leaves and start budding. Not this year, I’m not doing any of it this year”? Does a dahlia stomp its bulb and refuse to bloom? Well, maybe it does, I just planted them so it will take a while before I see any indications of temper. My point is, we, people, whine too much instead of getting on with our lives and I am fully aware I’m saying nothing new. Just throwing some crumbs for thought out there.

To review or not to review. It’s not even a question.

I’ve been having a lot of thoughts about the book I last read for translation reasons. Some of these thoughts led me to the decision to lay off the translations for a while or even indefinitely unless I can pick the books to translate. Others are making me think bad things about the state of higher education in certain parts of the world and about the way children are being raised, again in certain parts of the world.

I could just review the book, shred it into tiny pieces, pour some kerosene over it and set it on fire, all done constructively. But then I remember it took the author 18 years to write it and it is obvious that a lot of thought and emotion went into the writing even if the result, for me, is not just subpar literature, it is potentially harmful literature, reinforcing stereotypes that are just as dangerous as the stereotypes they were meant to destroy. But I won’t review it, first, because I value my online hygiene and a shitstorm does not fit with hygiene and second, because I have self-imposed ethical standards and they state that a writer should not shred another writer’s work to pieces unless it is truly horrible.

I’m not sure all of me agrees with this standard. I suppose it sprang out from the idea that I wouldn’t like my work to be criticised to within an inch of its life so it’s only polite that I don’t criticise other people’s hard work to within an inch of its life.  Yet on the other hand, is it fair to only review books we like? I can take criticism, so why can’t others?

All criticism is subjective, even when it’s insulated with arguments, after all. A smart writer will know this and not put too much weight on someone else’s opinion of their work. But readers would want to know, wouldn’t they? That there are different opinions on a book and they are not obliged to like it or, then again, hate it, whatever the predominant sentiment among reviewers. I’m still split on that, maybe it merits a separate blog. Until then, I’m happy I’m done with this book.

If accurate quotation was a survival skill…

…I’d be dead a thousand times over by now. I have no idea why I have such horribly bad memory when it comes to quotes. There’s this one from a Terry Pratchett book, an observation made by Captain Vimes about how good it is to be alive and see the sky even if the sky is overcast. I’ve read each Watch book at least a dozen times and I’m not exaggerating. And yet I have no recollection which one this quote is from and I have no recollection of the context besides the fact Vimes had once again escaped an attempt on his life.

I have a brother-in-law who can quote from films and TV shows word for word. I hate his guts when he does it because it makes me feel like an idiot. His brother is also good with quotes and when they start quoting to each other… They’re still alive, that’s all I can say, because of my superhuman self-control. But me? I once wrote down a quote from an episode of Supernatural (a quote by Death*) the moment the episode ended and I got it wrong.

I do have terrible rote memory. My brain can’t hold information it doesn’t understand, which is why I will die without knowing exactly how electricity works, among a lot of other things. Nothing helps. I’ve had it explained in as simple terms as possible by my more electricity-knowledgeable better half. I’ve read Jeffrey Deaver’s marvelous analogy with water running through pipes. And still I don’t know exactly now the bloody thing works. But never mind, this topic causes me pain so let’s move along.

I’m pretty good with remembering numbers. All it takes with series of numbers, after all, is repeating them often enough to remember them. They don’t need much context. This is my social security number, that is Cat’s SS number, this is my bank account number. Recite them or write them often enough and they sink into your memory. But text? Any piece of text? The best I can do is “Thunder rolled. It rolled a six,*” because I dedicated a lot of time to wondering how this wordplay would translate in Bulgarian. I once cracked it. I didn’t write it down. It is now gone forever.

I have met people who pepper their speech with quotes. They’ve invariably annoyed me and not just because using quotes to express your thoughts often sounds snobbish and suggests you can’t form your own words to express your own thoughts. No, I envy them for their memory. Is it a useful sort of memory? I don’t know but it would be nice if once, just once I could contain someone else’s words in my head long enough to write them down without tracing them on the page or rewinding the episode I’m watching and pausing to write something that impressed me down.

Why am I saying all this? Well, the other day I spoke (wrote on LinkedIn) to a potential source for an article. I asked if he’d mind giving me a comment on a certain topic. He gave me his phone number. I was faced with a choice: admit I would never remember a word he said accurately if we spoke on the phone or evade the danger. Of course, I did the latter, suggesting I sent him the questions in writing so I didn’t take up any of his time with phone interviews. Guess if he wrote back. That’s right, he didn’t. All because of my memory’s shortcomings. On the plus side, we got our first tree blossom, so the universe is at relative peace.

* “This is one little planet in one tiny solar system in a galaxy that’s barely out of its diapers. I’m old, Dean. Very old. So I invite you to contemplate how insignificant I find you.” (I got off Google, what did you think?)

** From “Guards! Guards!”


3 thoughts on “A Profound Look Back at the Week February 24-28”

  1. Our Mother Nature will always be there for us. And don’t worry about understanding electricity, soon enough we’ll be referred as something of the past.
    Thank you Irina for your simple and reassuring words.

    Liked by 1 person

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