I, Robot!

Last night, although tired, I got stuck in front of the TV watching Star Trek – First Contact. No, although I don’t have much of a life, I am not a fan Star Trek – I was just cleansing my brain (already pretty well scrubbed by the exhaustion; but, you know, one can never be too meticulous about these things).
I was watching quite bored The Borg assimilate humans when suddenly a weird thought came to my mind. Nothing new here – the antithesis between the humans and machines is used and over-used for decades if not for centuries. Who is better? Stupid question! From where I stand it looks even worse – as an IT worker, for me the machine is a machine, a tool to perform some tasks. Am I better that a hammer?! WTF? Still, for some reasons this issue has risen to the level of a real obsession – books are written, movies are made, scientific or pseudo-scientific articles are published… Very few of them come to bring anything new to this conundrum. Last night, somehow, my mind managed to overexpose this (fake?) issue over what I think it is a collapse of the responsibility in society and it got me thinking. I believe that, indeed, there is a collapse of individual and collective responsibility: very few people still want to do what is right, very few people want to live by rules, hence the rejection of religion (people, religion is not equal to sexually abusive priests, to “don’t eat pork” etc.), of academic rigors, of systematic parenting and so on.
What if – pause and think for a second – what if all this behavior, this shedding of responsibilities has a fundament in us trying to make a clear-cut statement: “I am not a machine. I am not a robot.” Yes, I know it sounds far fetched but, incidentally or not, I can find many arguments for this. Technology has reached a level where it suppresses our individuality. While very often claiming to boost individual personality and liberating ourselves, technology – and modern society as a fact – does quite the opposite. Instead of a big fish in a small pond, we more and more identify ourselves with a tiny, tiny fish lost in the pond of globalization, of Facebook, of huge corporations. Yes, we communicate more and world has become a village but it’s a humungous village and we really feel lost in it.
Society managed to impose those rules within relatively confined spaces. Social rules are always much harsher and inflexible in smaller communities than in large ones. In face of technology and of this globalization that tries to change us into little robots, the self defense mechanism might kick in and it might try to assert itself by doing silly things and continuously trying to break the mold.
Even the dullest of persons will not agree that they are boring. We used to distance ourselves from accountants but that is so passé – now we are trying to distance ourselves from The Borg and as it becomes more and more difficult to do this, we are forced to become more and more inventive in doing so. 30-40 years ago stating that you will not marry every was enough to be stamped as different. Now, wearing in public thong, declaring that you are gay, live in a commune and will adopt children would probably not even get a shrug.
This is probably the dichotomy – our desire to be accepted vs our desire to be different. I used to wonder what the heck is with youngsters who, after covering their body with piercings and tattoos, complain that they are not accepted. You made this to be different and when, as different, you are treated differently by the society, you say it’s unfair. We should all understand the truth that lies in “one cannot have the cake and eat it too”.
Technology makes us embrace it by making us believe that we are different. Everybody seems to brag about their GPS, HDTV, PVR, Shine vs iPhone vs Chocolate. At the same time, our strong association of technology with The Borg makes us behave in more and more irresponsible and aberrant ways, trying in a futile and childish way to distance ourselves from The Borg. Sometimes I really yearn for the age when grandmas were baking cookies and telling stories, not getting plastic surgery, marrying men 30 years their juniors and jumping with the parachute.
The dichotomy above presented is present even in this article. On one hand, I come up with this idiotic idea – we are irresponsible because we want to draw a line between us and the machines – and on the other hand I really want people to say “Wow! I never thought of that! He might be onto something” (ok, you may lose the “wow” – there are so many words in English to describe amazement).

Peer Into a Soul

I copied shamelessly the marketing line for the new Kia Soul. Indeed, it is weird to see this commercial just as I was thinking to write something about the soul of objects – and out of all the objects my mind was focusing on my old and modest car. Indeed, I drive a Mazda Protégé, almost 9 years old, 174,000km which was in 2 accidents (one with my ex driving, in 2003 and another one with me, in Dec 2008). By its value on the market – maybe 3K – it’s almost a junk. Even so, after the last accident, I was very happy to get it fixed instead of having the insurance company declare it totaled.
I did manage to upset a woman some time ago – she didn’t say anything but did avoid me after that – by saying that cars are like women. It’s got to be a men thing: when you purchase them, you can’t have enough of all the features and bells and whistles and although you know there are better things out there, you feel like you found the one. Then, 6 mo to 1 year, you get used and start watching all the new models with different eyes, telling to yourself: “If only you could have waited another 1 year, you could have gotten heated seats at no cost”… But that is (should be?) a passing phase and if the car is reliable, if it doesn’t give you headaches, the initial excitement and passion you had for it transforms into some sort of deep attachment, into the warm feeling of knowing that it will take you where you want and you will take it where it needs (mechanic, car-wash etc.)… I should probably used “she” instead of “it” because after all these it’s become more of a “she” than an object.
I know, objects don’t really have a soul… but they receive one from the owner. After I divorced I considered selling my car just so I can get rid of all the associations between it and my complete family. I was hurting and many times I would see with the corner of my eye the shadow of my ex watching me with caring eyes, love maybe… This car had taken us in so many wonderful places – in N Quebec for a wonderful vacation on a huge lake, to Toronto to see CN Tower, Royal Ontario Museum, Wonderland, The Zoo, to Niagara, to Montreal – so many times -, to Quebec City, Sandbanks, Mont Tremblant, Calabogie… These metal sheets have incorporated a wide range of feelings: excitement when leaving, panic when missing the exit, rush when being late, mellow when swept by the sunset orange light we returned home from a sun-filled day, worries when noticing a strange engine sound… It has been a pot in which the feelings of a family (mother, father and son) boiled and mixed… and as such it got memories stuck all over it.
I didn’t sell it because I realized that I should not punish it for things somebody else did onto me. My car did everything I imagined it will do. There are cars 10x better: more HP, lighter on gas, more comfortable and with more options included – but I wish against all reason that I could keep this car forever. Like 20-30 years ago, when people didn’t have the financial power to change cars too often, my car is a member of my family. I know when there will be time to say goodbye, no matter what fancy, sport, expensive car I will be driving then, a tear will glitter in the corner of my eye as I see it leaving, driven by somebody else.
This is why I deplore sometimes the society we live in. Consuming society, peer pressure, our own shallow desires and thoughts, make us replace objects before they have a soul. Maybe it’s better – no attachment, no tears in the eyes when they break and need to be replaced… but also the bad habit of changing something just because we afford it, because we got bored, because there is something better out there. Even the love I notice some people have for their collection cars is not what should be. Going back to my comparison, I believe it is like saying to a woman “I can love you only if you win Miss Universe or at least Miss Arizona contest, if your breasts are this size and if you get me to where I want in 5.3 sec”. I see this often – the Nissan Z350 or BMW Z4 or some other fancy car washed, waxed, loved, cared by the same people who, in winter time, drive some rusted Corolla or Civic, letting it disintegrate and all its memories together with it.
No, I am not crazy – it’s just an object and when time will come I will do the reasonable thing to do. On the other hand I feel that we live in a time when things don’t get to have a soul anymore and I somehow feel that this makes our life less rich.

The Culture of Happiness

We all want to be happy, that is a fact. The writers of The US Constitution believed this is important enough to enshrine it in a public document. There is absolutely nothing wrong with searching the happiness and wanting to be happy. The search for happiness can, on the other hand, lead to a skewed way of life and unrealistic expectations.


I was reading some time ago on BBC that many marriages break due to people trying to live up (or down) to the stereotype imposed on them by the culture of happiness. Apparently movies and books teach people that, given enough effort, a couple can dwell in eternal bliss. When – as it is normal in real life – they encounter the first hurdle in their marriage, they are quickly to say “I don’t need to take this s…” and drop the towel. This is due to false image that happiness is a contiguous state. Happiness – at least in my understanding – is a mosaic: an experience created by hundreds and – hopefully – thousands of good moments, memories, sensations, and satisfactions. The grout between them is gray cement from the daily grinding mill or simply crap. We should collect the shinny and colourfull pieces of happiness and place them in our mosaic and – again, hopefully – at the end of our life we managed to create a meaningful picture with them.


And what would be wrong pursuing the eternal happiness? I found myself confronted very often with the view that nothing bad should enter our lives. People don’t watch the news of fear they might encounter death, don’t want to listen to sad stories although they might be carrying good lessons, even the children’s stories are modified so the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood will survive and, after getting in touch with his conscience, be repentant and become less wolf. Anything even remotely sad is quickly forsaken from our lives, and we forget that without Hell there would be no Heaven.
It reached the point where art productions creating negative emotions are avoided and deemed as unworthy forgetting that art should simply create emotions, not necessarily positive emotions.


Many people shudder and can’t understand how apparently some mild and happy-faced, family man, accountant by profession, comes one day home and kills everyone in his family over something as trying but still trivial as getting too much in debt or losing his job. “It doesn’t make sense!” they say. On the contrary, I argue, it makes perfect sense. Such people, who never contemplate nasty things, once they are confronted with a major crisis in their life, simply don’t know what to do and commit stupid things. And, when they turn around for help, everybody is so absorbed avoiding upsetting stories that they find nobody to give them advice. That is, if they are strong enough to ask for help and don’t put a frozen smile saying “Great, great, couldn’t be better”.


Submerged in this culture of happiness, people never reach a full understanding of the world and life and never fully grow up. It’s like the situation when, surrounding by the bright lights of the city, one can see very few stars – it’s only in the darkness of a remote countryside that the full beauty and richness of Milky Way reveals itself to us.
Indeed, knowledge does not lead to happiness… but it leads to wisdom and, eventually, to peace. Yes, I wished sometimes to be a bumbling idiot, happy and strong in my ignorance but finally I had to admit that this is not possible, not acceptable, at least for me. Once we bit the Apple of Knowledge, there is no turning back.


Conclusion: Happiness is good and searching for it is good too. Sadness, misery and despair are bad, but avoiding them by using horse (murphy’s) blinds is even worse. Not dwelling in bad feelings is one thing and it makes sense, rejecting everything that might make us remotely sad is another one.

Carpe Diem

These days, in a world where Latin is quasi-dead, carpe diem seems to be the motto. Everybody seems to live the day – in every meaning of the expression. Young people in debt because they lived the day too hard, old people forced to work because they didn’t think there will be a tomorrow are examples of misuse of this philosophy. Despite my better judgment, I have to recognize, it makes me feel quite inadequate. Slave of the opinion others have about me, I was ashamed to admit I don’t live too much in the present. Today I muster the courage to step out of a closet… probably in another one, since we move from closet in closet (I guess that the trick is not to die in one).


Even so, my analytic thinking says I am not doing anything wrong. My present is not interesting at all. It moves at an even rate with its little joys and upsets. My future? My future was, as somebody said in a radio essay I listened last year (I apologize for my poor memory), amputated when I divorced. Now and then, I catch a glimpse of it but then fog covers the vague shapes.


What is wrong with living in the past? What is wrong, when times are tough, to cuddle back with your parents on a Saturday evening in their bed and watch a black-and-white western movie and then go content that Sunday follows and that I can sleep as much as I want? So what if my nostrils fill with the smell of steak and mashed potatoes and pickles and I read “The Three Musketeers”, or I laugh my ass off watching “Tom and Jerry”, while waiting for Mom to call us in the kitchen for the weekend lunch? What is the crime in remembering the smell of lime trees embracing my street in a warm spring night, after I just returned from the student campus where I met my girlfriend?
We all go places where we felt happy, safe, loved. Some go to Disneyland, I visit the space of my memories. I sift through them and then, when I discover a warm and fuzzy one, I nest in it and let it carry me through the neither-interesting-nor-promising present.


Memory-triggers very seldom make sense. I listen to Gloria Gaynor and I remember visiting my cousins – not having siblings, they were my brothers. I remember the nights I slept over and we kept yapping until midnight, whispering so our parents would not come in. Not that we ever listened “I will survive” together. I smell the freshly-cut grass and I remember the feeling I was getting at my grandfather’s place, in the country, in a cold spring, hidden behind the stove. I remember the smell of burnt wood.
Why is the present so great? We have a lunch with somebody we love, it’s peaceful, the conversation is great, and one sees glitters of love in the other’s eyes. It’s good but it will be a long time before being able to refer to this lunch as one that brought the most happiness in your life. Watch a movie – it’s good, it’s titillating, intellectually stimulating but one will have to waste hundreds of hours lost in stupid productions before acknowledging that this movie was one of the best.


Live in the present? Buying the CDs of all the latest fashion bands just to realize within 12 months, once the craze passed that they are worth even less than the plastic used in their fabrication? No, thank you!


Personally, I don’t see any value in present – it’s a fad, it’s a moment and then it’s gone, it’s without memory and it’s made for people who want to live without history and without future.


I promised myself I will shed my shame of not being aligned with this “carpe diem” society. I will sleep myself in lost times and wait for a spring where, hopefully, I will be able to love more the present through the remembrance of the feelings that crush me today, the past.

Being Death

For quite a while I asked myself why I hate so much the man for whom my ex left me. After all, she’s an adult and it was her decision to start a sexual adventure with him, it was her who fell for him and finally, it was she who hurt me deeply. He, like a true modern-day hedonist, was trying to satisfy his urge for another woman. He asked, she accepted and that should be it. Yes, if it was a fulfilled marriage, more relaxed, filled with love it wouldn’t have happened… or would it? He had 5 very-long-term relationship and the last one he ended to be with my ex, was a calm, friendly relationship. My ex told me that a month before she left me she was declaring her love for me “just because I was satisfied” and my too-realistic answer was that after 13 years of marriage we weren’t doing that bad.
Still, it wrangle my guts to know this man – and many like him – walking out there. Yesterday I was finally able to realize why. Because he is like Death… and I was a moron. I knew that my marriage was not filled with happiness. The crazy years after immigrating to Canada were very hard years, for both of us. I was riding the highs and – more often – the lows of hi-tech industry, burdened by the thought that all our good life relied exclusively on my shoulders, working long hours, she was learning the language, getting college courses, juggling the school and the household chores… But, amidst all this chaos (driving sometimes 120 km/day on city-streets) I had in mind a future where we can relax, a future where I don’t have to scram the money for Christmas presents, a future where the family would have at least a real, 10-day vacation every year, where everything would quiet down and love would sip back into my marriage. I was dreaming about a sabbatical, at least 5-6 months traveling throughout Europe, visiting history where it was made, showing my son and my wife the fruits of all the hard labour, of all the sacrifices we made. Things were on the right track – or so I thought. Disgusted by a disappointing job-market in Ottawa, I left for Arizona to show to myself and to the world that all my certification exams, hours of learning and testing until wee hours of the morning were not in vain. Money was good, taxes were low, I was finding Information Security Specialist title as very satisfying… but far from my family I realized that without them nothing matters. It was in the solitude of the desert, like a true prophet, that I had this revelation. Some might say it was late, maybe too late. I say it was just right: I was able to afford this revelation, we were financially stable, I finally got my confidence as high as to understand that a job is just a job and if one ends, another one awaits you around the corner, provided that you are decent enough and hard-working by nature… Yes, I should have dropped everything and come home but I didn’t: since I had sought this contract I thought that I have to drink my poison up to the last drop. Should have, would have won’t help me now… It was all over in the blink of the eyes: Mr Death, the random man, in search of a boredom break, made contact and then everything went down the drain.
Sometimes We are Death. Like when you postpone to see your Grandfather, thinking there’s always time to see him in the summer vacation and then he is taken away and there are no more chances to say good-bye, this man took away from me any chance of fixing my marriage. Just like Death, who takes randomly, without regard of merits, reasons, this man killed my marriage with indifference, outside of right or wrong. He might as well have killed me for good. I hate him, and it would be a lie to say I haven’t envisioned many times his real death… But Death doesn’t die – if you kill one Death, the Universe will make up another one and it could be you. I hate him and I hate myself. Just like him I killed something thinking that, time and money allows, I will be able to grow it again. I was Death.

Buying love

The fat raindrops break on the windshield into something that looks like asteroid craters. I travel at snail speed, caught in the stop-and-go traffic. My mind drifts away, just like the red car inching into the other lane without the blond, teenage driver noticing because she is text-messaging someone.
Why do we try to buy love? Most of us do it – direct and indirect, visible or not. I just realized – with shame – that this is what I have been trying to do. For a very, very long time. I would say 38 years but it would be too melodramatic since I didn’t start until I was a teenager.
The shame I feel has nothing to do with the fact that it is stupid to attempt anything like this – and we all know it or we should. It derives from the fact that I criticized this behavior in others many times. Until now, though, I never realized I did the very same thing. Agreed, I was not trying to buy love with fur coats, cars, diamonds or expensive vacations. I was doing it in a more subtle way… trying to show off, trying to overachieve, trying to be the first. Be first or go home. Be a fighter or you are nothing.
I used to be hard on others and I considered it fair because I was even harder on myself. It wasn’t. I know it is corny but in my simple, skewed way I just wanted to buy love.
I reach again a full stop, holding the clutch then I release gently and I move ahead a little bit. My leg is tired and it trembles. It’s like my strength drains together with the rain.
I’m not going to write you love song” plays onto the radio. Why not? If you love him and that is what you do – write songs – why not write it? Just because he wants it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer it to him. He wants love, he needs love and if you would just give him his damn love song maybe everything would be all right and the both of you won’t end up caught in a crowded solitude.
I chuckle because I remember the Seinfeld episode where he was dating the massage therapist and he was eager to get a good massage… and she would refuse to understand his hints.
Right! Buying love. Why do we do that? My mind knows that there is no way love can be purchased. True one, in any case. Not with jewelry, not with a social status, not with a successful career. No, love is rand… It dawns to me. If we stop trying to buy love, we have to admit that love is random. That it doesn’t matter what you do, who you are, how beautiful or ugly you are – it’s all a happening over which you have no control. Love comes and goes as it pleases. Not only “money can’t buy love” but “nothing can buy love” – yes, some things can be done – voluntarily or involuntarily – to maintain it or have it fade.
And its random factor also means that it could never happen… or never happen again… It’s scary. And that is why I have to change gears… radio stations… memories…