Let’s stand back and look at what’s going on. The problem is the absence of an infrastructure that gives bikers, pedestrians, and even delivery trucks what they need so they don’t go to war against each other for the rat-infested crumbs of asphalt the city has them fighting over. Cyclists need protected lanes and prioritized lights all over the city. Give that to them and they won’t swarm the sidewalks, they won’t drive the wrong way all the time, and they won’t go through intersections when they shouldn’t. Give pedestrians the wide and safe sidewalks they need, the benches their weary legs desire, the trees that make shade in the summer, and calm streets in which the majority of space is devoted to the majority of people who are not in private cars. This has been proven to work — it’s not a risky leap, it’s been ridiculously successful in cities across the world, particularly in Europe.
“When I hear that someone over the age of 80 has taken his last breath,” writes J. E. LaCaze, “I usually respond with something along the lines of, That’s a good run.” Meanwhile, when I hear that anyone of any age beyond my own has taken their last breath, I usually respond with something along the lines of, “Oh god, oh god, we’re all going to die.”
In a little less than a month, I will turn fifty. My life effectively has gone nowhere, perhaps at least in part because my difficulties stemmed from unknowingly being autistic and so not knowing there were avenues of support out there. Avenues which remain partly closed off to me because it’s next to impossible to find a psychotherapist covered by insurance who understands autistfic adults, let alone late-diagnosed autistic adults who’ve had their entire life’s story upended as a lie.
This year saw my first surgery, for bladder stones removal and for biopsies which showed no cancer, although the diverticulum is forever. There’s another surgery to come, to biopsy lymph nodes, that I’m not ready to face, having only just had one surgery two and a half months ago. (It isn’t the matter of the potential biopsy results I’m unready for; it’s the psychological weight of the post-operative care that has lots of little things that will need doing which will battle against my executive dysfunction.)
Meanwhile, there’s the ongoing struggle with fatigue, exhaustion, and malaise which remains unexplained and, in fact, mostly unexplored because my primary care physician and I put that on hold to deal with the urological issues, and now the lymph question.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had nights where looming thoughts of dying couldn’t be shaken off. Not a wanting to die, a fear of death’s eventual arrival. This despite logicially knowing that I won’t be there to experience non-existence because, well, I won’t exist to experience it.
I don’t enjoy birthdays. They are just markers of yet another year of getting nowhere, of being, in some manner, insufficient to the ongoing task.
“I fear the prospect of living in a world that has passed me by and left me behind,” writes LaCaze. I don’t worry about that, although it’s certainly no end of disconcerting. I worry about not living in the world which inevitably will pass me by and leave me behind. This despite the fact that, for all intents and purposes, that world has defeated me already.
I’ll be here until I’m not, and I’m in no hurry for the “not” to come. That doesn’t mean I can see any particular part of the being here that make sense to me. Everything just is, and none of it has anything especially to do with me.
I randomly think of David Weinberger’s early book about the web, Small Pieces, Loosely Joined, and I guess in a bastardized sense that’s how I feel about my life; long ages wandering lost in a desert, with respites few and far between. Maybe that’s everyone’s life, but they are just better than I am at stringing those respites together into a story that makes sense, and that recedes the desert into the background.
Mostly, it’s that whatever the story of my life, whatever parts of it effectively were a fiction because I went undiagnosed for four decades, that story led me here, and here mostly is nowhere. My doctors this year kept calling me, in middle-age, a “young man”, and I know they mean well by that remark, but, come on. Another thirty, fourty, fifty years of this?
I mean, I’ll be here for it, if that’s how it goes. But, still, everyone’s going to have to accept that the lingering question above it all is, “Why?”
Sometimes I accidentally stumble into topics that I don’t realize until later I’ve been revisiting over time without noticing. Today’s post about micro-neighborliness said that “just as the built physical environment can limit or inspire the ways in which we interact with other people, so, too, the built virtual environment” and it turns out, if you’ll allow the phrasing, that I’ve walked through this neighborhood before.
Last month, I wrote a bit about, in the words of Mark Bessoudo, “the effect that the built environment has on our brains”, and while my interest at the time was to talk about the ways in which that effect can be doubled or trebled when one’s brain happens to be an autistic one, I spotted this evening that this earlier post quotes architecture professor Alan Penn’s observation that “empathy depends upon perception”.
We have to see, or possibly to hear, others in order to view things from their point of view. Building a wall constrains who can see whom, and so can constrain the potential for empathic relationships.
Come back, then, to my earlier post today in which I quote Sameer Vasta talking about the need for “inclusion, awareness, empathy, and serendipity” in things like the design of public transit. Emphasis added because there it is again: empathy.
I’d quickly followed up last month on that one post with another because that, I think, was when I first spotted that discussions of the effects upon us of the built physical environment was analogous to discussions of the effects upon us of the built virtual environment, and it wasn’t until much later after today’s post that I’d even remembered that I’d at least circled around these ideas before.
Now I’m sort of hooked on this. Is there any work out there directly connecting, comparing, and constrasting the ways in which we build our physical and virtual environments impact us? Is anyone trying to find lessons in physical successes to apply to our virtual world, and/or vice versa?
Sometimes I think about how you can customize your Buy Me a Coffee page to swap out “coffee” for something else and I wonder if I changed mine to “decent day” or “meaningful life” would it be just a bit too much like daring Rod Serling to come and get me.
In the about page which has followed me around from site to site over the years, I say that because I view cynicism just as a kind of frustrated optimism, I believe the small, everyday courtesies matter. Think about things like thanking a bus driver when you disembark, or holding a door for the person coming up behind you, or even just the exchange of have-a-good-days when you grab your morning latte.
Today, Sameer Vasta introduced me to the idea of “micro-neighborliness”, which goes a bit beyond those small, everyday courtesies but speaks to a similar set of values. Vasta points to a backgrounder by Steve MacDouell which mentally had me vigorously shaking my head in recognition.
MacDouell says that there are three ways in which micro-neighborliness impact our social environment: they subvert our tendencies toward apathy; they have a cumulative influence on the places we inhabit; and they inspire others to consider what their small acts of neighbourliness might be.
When I’ve thought and talked about the “small, everyday courtesies” before, I’ve wondered what would happen if everyone committed to a two-week experiment of keeping up with those gestures. I wondered whether or not, at the end of those two-weeks, we might feel lighter than we are used to feeling. All of those moments where the courtesies are dispensed with or ignored, they might be small but they accumulate. A lot of weight can build up over two weeks. Maybe we’d even feel so much lighter we’d have the strength to tackle some of those larger matters that always seemed too daunting, whether personal, communal, or societal.
MacDouell on apathy: “By shrinking our vision and committing to simple, attainable, ongoing actions, we end up challenging our strong defaults toward indifference.” MacDouell on cumulative influence: “My friend, Tim Soerens, refers to this as the ‘compound interest of local presence’—the idea that the sum of these micro-acts, over time, is far greater than each of them as singular, isolated contributions.” MacDouell on inspiration: “They are inspiring enough that they move us to consider how we might engage our own localities in thoughtful, attainable ways.”
To be sure, MacDouell isn’t talking about holding the door for people. He’s talking about things like “supporting local entrepreneurs and tending to community gardens to hosting bonfire nights and sitting on our front porches” but the argument is the same: there are small actions we can choose to take which are good in themselves and can have a sort of accumulative palliative effect in a buffeting world.
All of which makes me think about the challenges we face in the current state of the web. Just as the built physical environment can limit or inspire the ways in which we interact with other people, so, too, the built virtual environment.
The sorts of things we should be talking about when it comes to our cities are the same things we should be talking about when it comes to the communal spaces of the web. Just as Vasta points to “inclusion, awareness, empathy, and serendipity” when it comes to the movement of people offline, so, too, these should be the values that underpin the movement of people’s thoughts online.
On the one hand, I dislike being sick (now with whatever cold bug this is) because it robs me of control, restricts my choices; this morning I had to sleep in rather than go have bar breakfast. On the other hand, there are things worse than midday coffee, oatmeal, and She-Ra.
CJ Eller is committing to an experiment in using a form of “letters to the editor” as a means of response to blog posts, and a system with the “flexibility to make the conversation public or private” is something I think the indieweb should pursue.
Currently reading: The Ice at the End of the World: An Epic Journey into Greenland’s Buried Past and Our Perilous Future by Jon Gertner; and Triangulum by Masande Ntshanga. As always, you can browse my highlights over on Goodreads.
Narrative medicine might be understood then, as an acknowledgment that, as with our writing projects, a doctor’s relationship with their patient should be open to rephrasing, to a changing of the basic language used in order to describe the expressed symptoms of the body, and the priorities and preferences of the patient in terms of their treatment. Narrative medicine accepts that a patient’s efforts to get better “cannot be fragmented away from the deepest parts of their lives,” including the stories they tell “in medical interviews, late-night emergency telephone calls, or the wordless rituals of the physical exam.”
From On Narrative Medicine and Finding a New Language For Illness by Marcus Creaghan
Bear in mind that Trump himself linked Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe to the “favor” Trump asked of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (i.e., to “investigate” Joe Biden and his son). Also bear in mind that the whistleblower complaint illustrates just how far the highest-profile people in Trump’s circle have been willing to go to help him whitewash the fact that Vladimir Putin sabotaged Hillary Clinton. As someone on Twitter said: “Trump, Barr, Giuliani, Hannity & others with him have been all along pushing the Russian script about election interference. They are actively conspiring to do this even after the Mueller saga [has] ended.”
From Who Gains from Pushing Ukraine Around? by John Stoehr
Dave Winer has said some weird stuff but this argument that “Trump ran on a pretty far-left plan if you took his words at face value” is pretty neptunian. Trump ran as a racist, nationalist, fascist.