J asked me when he passed behind me and saw the title of the piece if our wifi was being spotty again. I said no. He asked if it had anything to do with our internet, and I said no, because I know he meant, ‘Are you having problems writing/researching? Do you think The Boy is having trouble connecting for school? Do I need to fix or adjust something for all of our respective online lives to work right now?’ and ‘no’ was the truth there. But it is SORT of related to the internet. Hopefully this circle comes all the way around. We’ll see. I’ve been kind of out of sorts for the past several days. Maybe this will just be incoherent philosophical rambling.
So my brother called me yesterday afternoon. He normally never calls me. Shit, I don’t think he’s called me for 5 or 6 years until the pandemic hit. Now he occasionally does. He’s a public school special education specialist who’s teaching remotely, and his school day was over and his wife still wouldn’t be home for a few hours and he was bored.
He didn’t really have anything to say with any substance; he just wanted to hear another human voice because he’s a person who can’t really spend any waking time alone without losing his shit. You know…the total opposite of me. So I started suggesting some shows for him to try that he’d maybe overlooked on his 3-4 streaming services and told him he could read some books or learn how to cook something, or whatever. And I rolled my eyes hanging up to make lunch for J and The Boy and myself. I don’t mean to minimize the difficulty and inconvenience of being an extrovert during a time of necessary social isolation. But I mean, damn.
So after dinner last night, J and I turned on some old episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations on one of our streaming services. I love Anthony Bourdain. He’s a great writer. I read his book, Kitchen Confidential, and loved it, and I love his shows, where he wrote a lot if not all of the narration. I love his word choice. He can make lots of feelings crystal clear with words, and he’s such an original describer, and he’s damn funny. And I love his genuine empathy and sensitivity and passion and respect for the places he goes and the history, people, and cultures of those places.
We watched 3 episodes commercial free from our climate controlled sofa in our living room: Haiti, Cambodia, and Nicaragua. And we saw three countries where unfathomable, consistent hardships just piled on and piled on through the eyes of a guy whose sensibilities and background was kinda like ours.
In Haiti, there was a major earthquake rapidly followed by volatile elections and political unrest and a horrible hurricane season. People were living in tents in make-shift earthquake relief communities and then told to evacuate and leave behind what little they had to prepare for storms. All of this stacked on top of more than a century of poverty already.
Cambodia was another part of the world, but similar stories. Poverty. Political upheaval and violence.
The same with Nicaragua. In that country, Mr. Bourdain went to a landfill where we as the audience got to see what he referred to as ‘multi-generational garbage pickers.’ Families…grandparents, parents, children…waited for trash trucks to come with new loads to dump and sifted through the waste (all kinds of waste) for recyclables to exchange for only a few dollars and when they came across food they deemed edible, they ate it. Out of a refuse pile.
In Haiti, there were hungry children lining up hoping for cast offs from one of the local food merchants Mr. Bourdain was patronizing, and the TV crew decided to buy the merchant out of product and give away the food to the hungry people. Good thing to do, right? Easy solution to a clearly presented problem, right? But the hungry people began fighting with each other, whether that was over portion size or order of distribution or…I don’t know. And Mr. Bourdain didn’t either. But it’s hard to blame hungry, desperate people for behaving like hungry, desperate people. Anthony Bourdain said in some format in all of those episodes how he felt the life he lived and the job he was being paid to do was ‘obscene,’ after seeing the things he witnessed there.
I feel like him a lot. To be a person who sees the problems and wants to do good or at least reduce harm and suffering, and when I look at the sheer scale and weight of problems, immediate and long-reaching, local and global, I just think…if everything’s on fire, where do you throw the water?
First, I feel so remorsefully lucky that I even have some water and I’m not one of the people on fire. I know I have a responsibility to use my water, and I always do. But again…how to decide where it goes? Personal protective equipment for workers in my own country that go out in unsafe conditions to treat the sick and stay with the dying and stock shelves and deliver goods and clean and pick up waste to keep my family safe on my couch? Money to the needy who can’t afford health care or food or whatever? Legal representation or emotional support for people having their human rights violated? Keep the zoo animals fed and try to conserve endangered species and save the environment? Keep the school orchestra program funded to keep teaching kids to play trumpet and cello? Global medical care and aid? I mean…there are people literally eating garbage and making active decisions to stay in tents during hurricanes to try and hold onto the few possessions they’ve managed to retain through generations of poverty and political and natural disaster and fleeing life threatening political violence and persecution in addition to extreme poverty. And there are also neighbors in homes with abusive partners and parents and neighbors out of work with no prospect of future income.
Where should my water go?
My brother and his privileged boredom and my own privilege where my greatest issue at the moment is if my wifi is working without bugs and at full strength so we can continue watching our favorite commercial free programming with ease DO feel OBSCENE knowing what harsh conditions millions and millions of people live with every day. And it’s hard to process and impossible to reconcile. I know I need to use my water and I try to use it to do the most good or reduce the most harm and suffering. But, like Mr. Bourdain, when looking at the scope of everything wrong, I wonder, does anything I do actually make any difference? Am I ever doing any good or reducing any suffering? At best I have a couple of buckets of water. I can throw a bucket here and a bucket there or both buckets on one place or sprinkle it all a little everywhere I see flames and I’ve tried all of those options and I still haven’t felt like I’m doing anything that adequately slows the fire down. And I think that’s due to connection issues.
We disconnect from other people…our immediate neighbors and around the world…and decide their problems aren’t ours, so the fire rages because we ignore it. And then when it’s at our door, some people still don’t want to use their water. J and I have a couple buckets. We empty them onto fires whenever they fill and we never extinguish enough to see any improvement. In fact, it feels like sometimes we’re throwing water on a grease fire and it just makes things worse. But we are still using our water. And we know there exist people who have fire hoses and reservoirs who could really put some fire out, but decide to not use the water. And there are people who have a bucket or two or maybe a cup of water and don’t want to use theirs either, or don’t agree with J and I on where to dump it, and it’s so maddening to see that if a group of us used our cups and buckets together, we could make a difference. But we can’t connect enough to decide when and where to use it. We can’t connect enough to cooperate.
Connection issues are burning us down.
Maybe that’s why I always feel so hungry and desperate to connect.