“reality is only interaction”

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“Probability does not refer to the evolution of matter in itself. It relates to the evolution of those specific quantities we interact with. Once again, the profoundly relational nature of the concept we use to organize the world emerges.” -from Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Carlo Rovelli

Principles of physics come to mind for me frequently when I think of connections with people. It may be illogical, but somehow the way things are described in physics overlaps how things unfold. Do I feel this way because I am older, and I want to see connections where there are none? Physics is bound by rules, and connections between people are not, necessarily. But as Rovelli states in explaining concepts of physics, “the profoundly relational nature of the concept we use to organize the world emerges”. Every concept seems to come back to the principle that everything happens or is real because of how it interacts with other things. “Or does it mean, as it seems to me, that we must accept the idea that reality is only interaction?”

Reality is relational. Relationships, obviously, then are relational, as denoted in the word itself. We choose when, where, with whom, and how often to interact to create our reality and the relationships in that reality. And we make choices in allowing feeling to form or grow. We shut some things down; we slow other things down; we accelerate some things; we destroy others. Our reactions are individual, but also mutual and sometimes collective. And these interactions are sparked, changed, moved, freed by all these other interactions. Nothing much happens without interaction.

“The difference between past and future exists only when there is heat. The fundamental phenomenon that distinguishes the future from the past is the fact that heat passes from things that are hotter to things that are colder.”-from Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Carlo Rovelli

And in our immediate moment – the now – in our interaction, skin to skin, we keep each other warm?

Mediocre egg roll

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When I spend such a vast amount of time reading – losing track even of how many hours pass with my nose in a virtual book – of course I see connections. Most often these are thematic connections that crochet together, however loosely, disparate books and ideas from different parts of the world.

Sometimes though there are just coincidental mentions that seem strange – for instance, choosing randomly to read a Philip Roth (Goodbye Columbus) in which he mentions egg rolls, only to be followed immediately by a Joan Didion (Play It as It Lays), which also mentions egg rolls.

It has no significance. But why is that the one connection… and the one thing I remember? (I do recall my last trip to Iceland when my dear Jane brought over egg rolls and had somehow ordered two orders of them rather than just two egg rolls, and it was actually the best thing about the meal – they were quite good!)

Overdosing on reading, I took a little break Friday evening to watch a “triple feature” of Jaime Rosales’s understated, slice-of-life, ultra-realistic films (on MUBI, of course). And what do they show other than the tedium and brevity of life, punctuated as it is by bits of bad news, manipulative people and occasional dramatic events that upend our lives and sometimes disturb our very souls. And yet the backdrop remains the same: the humdrum, the mundane and the mediocre. And this is a place where the small, almost imperceptible happinesses reside: where a character meets a waitress who comments on how cute her baby son is, where a character can enjoy how much light comes into her flat, where characters at dinner can comment at length on how simple and good the meal turned out, where a character can move little by little past the individual and collective tragedies. We don’t get to see this “striving for normal life” much, certainly not in mainstream films, and certainly not in films that exceed two hours in length (as Solitary Fragments/La Soledad was) or which are essentially without dialogue (Bullet in the Head/Tiro en la Cabeza).

The films were there for me to watch at exactly the right time. After reading an article about the desire for a mediocre life, which unexpectedly struck chords with many of my friends, and thinking about how the simplicity and calm of an average and non-dramatic life is exceptionally fulfilling, the normal and mediocre nature of life as portrayed in these films was illustrative and almost life-affirming. And the things in life that often give us the most are the things that are the most unassuming, the least glamorous. These things, as a 2016 University of Otago study concluded, are small, daily creative pursuits that foster feelings of “flourishing” and make us want to do more. For me, it has often been baking (everyone knows that once I start, it’s hard to stop because I feel productive joy from this simple act and giving the results to others); for others, it is long-distance running; for others, like my mother, it’s knitting. Things that don’t necessarily require excessive resources or expensive equipment, exciting or exotic locations or anything particularly demanding.

Especially after being hit Friday evening with a brief wave of deep sadness and a feeling of loss that sprang up seemingly from nowhere to choke me as I waited in a long, endless Friday evening line at the store.

By the end of the night the feeling had completely washed away, soothed by returning to reading (The Things They Carried and I Do Not Come to You By Chance) and some always-restorative words from a fellow, in his words, “misanthropic mugwump”.

Photo (c) 2011 Annie used under Creative Commons license.

Age perception and sex for the aged and ages

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Yesterday was an unusually rich day for reading about age – in particular how women are perceived as they age. Both by society and by oneself.

In one article discussing turning 30, the writer describes the arbitrariness of how women’s ages are perceived. “Age is a weapon society uses against women. Each year that you gain comfort in your own flesh, your flesh is seen as worthless.” A woman’s age, she writes, is never right, but a man’s age is always right.

And, she argues, it is not only about perception. It is also about keeping women down. If women really believe that youth is where it’s at – that everything fades away after 30 – they may not achieve all they can in life. If their worth is entirely wrapped up in the nubile sexual attractiveness tied to the “innocence of their youth” and the attached male attentions that come with it, what will they aspire to – will they ever ascend to the level of achievement that they might threaten the middle-aged male status quo in the professional world? “Better to tell women that youth is their best quality—that when their ass starts sagging and their face starts cracking, everything they love will fade away.”

But there is plenty of evidence that life doesn’t end (god forbid! “Older” people can still have a life!) at 30. The other article I happened across was a Slate article about women’s sexual lives and how women over 70 seem to be having their own sexual revolution. A lot of the women interviewed in the book the article discusses seem to have been very sexual creatures all along – or, in many cases, many embraced their sexuality only after hitting 60.

One woman stated: “…combination of feeling wild abandon and total comfort has been just amazing. After 70, there comes a sweetness about making love. We go slowly, there is no rush anymore. When you’re younger, it’s all about the orgasm, then it’s over. I love this suspended feeling, the absolute intimacy we have been able to achieve.” It is a bit much, perhaps, but if nothing else, the idea of looking at one’s intimate life (and all its facets) as striving for wild abandon, total comfort and this inexplicable suspended feeling is worthwhile.

I don’t want to sit around thinking about the septuagenarian set going at it, but we are all going to get there. Not to add that the Germans have already given us a film that removes any doubt about what elderly sex and relationships would be like (Cloud 9). It even covers this topic – where the main character, a married woman, has an okay relationship and active sex life with her husband, but then she meets an even older man and connects with him in a way that involves this aforementioned “wild abandon and total comfort” that is so rare in relationships at any age.

If the article imparts anything, it’s that you don’t wait for your 80s to try to find this kind of satisfaction and depth of feeling/connection.

Age is just a number, and I am fond of reminding people that it is never too late to do anything. As the writer of the Vice article on turning 30 stated, “The only real thing 30 took from me was the sense of limitless time.” There is thus an urgency to what we do, no matter what we do – at any age.

I Remember Sex