On real paper!

So what is my excuse this time for not having posted anything for nearly 2 weeks? I’ve been sick. Ok not for the whole 2 weeks, but at least since thursday, so 6 days, but still. Right now I’m in bed, wearing a sweater and scarf on top of my pj’s, surrounded by my new best friends; the kleenex box, the mug of hot ginger with honey, the effervescent vitamin C, the cough drops and syrup, and the Panadol Cold and Flu. Those who know me know that I am usually opposed to medication, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

But I did receive something today that made me perk up a bit: The February 2012 issue of Ragmag. In it there are three blogs mentioned, chosen because it is the month of love supposedly, and these three blogs somehow talk about love. Yes ladies and gentlemen, ‘Yup, this is it’ is the first one featured! (on page 130 in case you wanna run out and buy a copy). The wonderful Liliane Assaf of Lebanon Aggregator chose the 3 blogs and wrote a lovely piece about each. Liliane, whom I don’t know in person, keeps a directory of all Lebanese blogs, and organizes blogger meet-up’s. Pretty cool stuff. She was also the one who suggested some title ideas in response to the Non-Post.

So basically this is the first time that ‘Yup, this is it’ has had an incarnation in any way, shape or form on actual physical printed paper. Here is a screenshot of the piece:

And this is the (beautiful) cover of the issue:

Does this mean the blog has become immortal? How come paper feels more permanent and solid, though online material can potentially stay in ‘space’ forever? Have you ever wondered what happens to your blogs, your email account, your facebook when you die?

Back in November, I was at an extremely inspiring all-day event called Creative Social which ‘brings together the world’s most pioneering and award-winning’ creative directors, designers, and marketers. One of the presenters, Fernanda Romano, who goes by the name Fefa, spoke about this very topic. She said our online selves are kind of like the robots or cyborgs we imagined years ago. They are other ‘I’s that live in cyber space. And apparently, we’d better start thinking about what we want to happen to that ‘I’ when our flesh and blood ‘I’ dies.

Facebook for example, after several unfortunate incidents where someone had died and suggestions to friend them still popped up in relatives’ mailboxes, now gives next of kin the following options: Take the profile of the person down, hand over the content to the family, or create a ‘memorialization’, a page that people can visit, post and view pictures, etc. A facebook profile basically, but not exactly.

Gmail also allows next of kin to retrieve content of a user who has died. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any relatives of mine going through my emails. Ever. So finding this out from Fefa made me want to somehow delete all my content before I die. And yes, you can do that. There now are websites that allow you to decide what happens to (all) your online profiles when you die. One of the sites is called ifidie.net. Kinda sweet (or optimistic?) that they didn’t name it whenidie.net. Check it out, it’s a bit eery.

According to Fefa, our virtual ‘I’s don’t even have to die. If we take someone born in this millenium, by the time they die they will have accumulated so much online content and written and expressed so much that their persona will be out there, and technology will allow that persona to continue to interact with others after the physical ‘I’ is gone. There are people working on software that collects your online activity and, with sufficient data, can predict what you would do next.

Thatcan.be predicts your next tweet, but just for fun, and in a hilarious way :-)

The discussion about our digital afterlives is a bit uncomfortable. What about our soul? If we want to think about any kind of afterlife (and we don’t have to), isn’t it nicer to dream of a soul, an essence, a spark, an imperceptible flutter of a feeling that lives on, rather than an online software-generated persona?

Yet what about the pro’s of leaving an online trail? My grandmother died when I was 8 and I only ever knew her as old-ish (or seeming old to my 8-year-old self) and sick. I would have loved to be able to know her more after her passing through a blog (among other things she was a writer), or a facebook page she might have left. These things would have allowed me to continue to get to know her as I also grew from age 8 into a teen and into a now (sort of) adult. It would also have allowed me to know her at the different stages of her own life, since facebook profiles are now timelines. Our children will know us in different ways than we know our parents, that’s for sure. For one thing, if we ‘friend’ them on facebook they will have access to pictures of all we were up to and that we won’t be able to tell them not to do.

So these are our digital after-lives. Instead of visiting our graves, our loved ones will visit a facebook page or website filled with photos and memories. What do you think?

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Unwrap me.

I’m not big on gifts. I am grateful and happy that we no longer do gifts at Christmas in my family. It’s been about 13 years and what a relief. No more stressful rushing in December to buy useless things that the others might not even like. Anytime of year we see something we think the other might like we just buy it and give it, whenever. It has made Christmas much more relaxing, warm, and fun.

At the same time, sometimes I love searching for, or finding, the perfect gift for a friend. And I love making cards or gifts when I (rarely) have the time or energy. And I love wrapping gifts. I love how they look and I love unwrapping them.

The best gifts I’ve gotten from my friends are ‘experiences’- afternoons or days they had planned out for me. Picking me up in the morning and taking me for a haircut or brunch, a city walk or a museum tour. This year for my birthday, two close girlfriends sent me a poster a few days before my birthday. It had a picture of me with balloons and said: Be at … at 10am. Bring hiking boots, an umbrella, sexy evening wear and pyjamas. I had no idea what any of the plans were but it was so lovely not to have to think, so lovely to be surprised. And of course we had a magical day.

What about gifts from boyfriends and girlfriends? Tough one. I have a hard time picking gifts for a boyfriend. Beyond making something cute, or planning a romantic getaway, I’m often stomped. If the person has expressed something they love, then I love secretly making a mental note and getting them something related. Such as a trip to attend a concert of a band they like. Or going to an antique car show if that’s what they like. I can also pick out a beautiful cashmere sweater or scarf. But what else? It stresses me out so sometimes I’d love it if we just skipped on the gifts.

As long as we make the occasion special. If a guy plans a wonderful evening or cooks a beautiful meal for me on my birthday, then I don’t need anything that comes in a box.

And I think it’s often even harder for men to pick out gifts for girls. So I don’t blame them when they get it wrong. Some of my friends got pretty awful or hilarious gifts from their boyfriends this year.

My Hungarian friend’s husband got her hiking boots. She looked at him trying to hide her utter disappointment. You have to know she doesn’t like nature, tents or anything like that. And how unromantic and unsexy are hiking boots as a gift? But then she found a note inside one of the shoes describing a trip to Italy. That was the real gift, and the boots were just for a one-day hike they’d take there. Italy = much better than boots and the surprise made it even better.

Lara got a blender from her boyfriend. Even if you’ve been married 15 years I’m not sure you want a blender. But when a boyfriend gets you one… well, no comment.

Tech gifts are typical of guys by the way. My ex always got me things like cameras, external hard drives or ipods. And it’s ok, because I still think of him anytime I use any of my gadgets.

In my other ‘home country’, they do wish-lists. You write a list every Christmas and birthday with all the things you want and everyone chooses whatever fits their budget or their relationship with you. Definitely makes things easier. Not sure how I feel about it though. Since living there, I write wish lists every Christmas and birthday, but I’ve never shared my wish-lists with anyone. Instead I just wish for the items and send people telepathic messages about them in my head. But the thing is, you have to not cling to the list you have in your head- oftentimes someone will completely surprise you and give you a gift that you didn’t even know you wanted, and that’s so much better than anything you could have put on your list.

Going back to boyfriends, what gifts do we really want? Anything that shows he’s been listening or has taken time to think. Price means nothing and there is not even any need to purchase anything.  I have two things in mind right now that I’d like to receive. One is an object and one is a document. Let’s see :-)

I’ll end with a nice gift my best male friend got his girlfriend. They’d only been together a month (now going on 3 years) but were madly in love. For the 7 days leading up to Christmas he got her a gift everyday. Her favorite chocolates,  CDs, DVDs, a book, even an item of lingerie (in a fun way). On Christmas eve he gave her a guitar. She’d been dreaming of one. She was so surprised she didn’t know what to say. Again, it’s not about the value of the guitar, but more the fact that he’d been listening. And had saved up and deprived himself of some things to be able to get it for her.

So what do gifts really represent? And why is there so much emotional energy attached to them? Do our parents create this obsession when they go overboard with presents when we are children? Do we just like seeing something and opening it… feeling that we are opening another view into the other person and our relationship… wondering if they really know us at all?

Maybe you need a chest.

So I’m sitting up late, normally the case lately. At my computer, it’s 3:23am. I have trouble sleeping. Not just today. Many days. Someone yesterday said: “Oh that’s so lucky, I wish I only needed that little sleep”. I wailed: “But I don’t! I need lots of sleep! I’m perpetually tired and sleep-deprived!”

Though I’ve had sleep problems since I was a teen, there have been phases in my life where I slept just fine thank you very much. There was even a time in the not-so-distant past when I would go to bed as early as 10, be fast asleep by 11, and still suffer to get up at 7. In those days, the waking up part was the toughie. Snooze was the name of the game. I can play that game for hours. I dreamed up strange devices that would force me out of bed, some way to keep me from ignoring the annoying alarm and the rational ‘get up’ thoughts. The inventions in my head included some foot-censor pads in the shower that would ring until your feet actually got on them. Someone should make that. I should make it. Can’t be bothered. Too tired. Reminds me of the Ingrid Michaelson song “… I want to change the world, instead I sleep” (http://www.myspace.com/ingridmichaelson).

I also was so impressed when I read about Clocky, that alarm clock that actually jumps off your nightstand, runs away from you, and hides under your bed. Invented by a beautiful grad student at MIT. Who often overslept of course. (http://www.clocky.net/story/)

In the absence of my own theoretical shower foot pad invention (yes we need a better name) and of Clocky, I resorted to hiding my alarm in a box, in an attic height closet, so I’d have to get out of bed, get a chair, stand on said chair, open said closet, open said box, get the clock out and turn the alarm off. Sounds like an effective antidote for snoozing doesn’t it? No. I’d just go straight back into my warm and beautiful bed.

Maybe we should install cold-water sprinklers in our bedrooms to wake us up. No one wants to get back into a cold and wet bed. Ew. But the thought is too nightmarish and concentration camp-like, I’d rather suffer the wakeup normally.

Anyway at some point it changed into not being able to fall asleep and not being able to stay asleep. Getting out of bed in the morning is still hard, but nothing compared to the anguish that I know many of you have felt: Lying in the dark in your bed, tired, desperate to sleep. Too tired to even get up and do something constructive. You feel the hours passing and feel how it’s getting closer and closer to morning, and then you see the morning light and you finally just give in to the risibility of the moment. You open your eyes and see people signing into facebook who you know have just woken up for work.

So I researched. I decided to find out about everything sleep-related. I asked a therapist. I asked a psychiatrist. I asked a regular MD. I went to a specialized sleep clinic in a hospital where you spend the night and try to sleep and they stick electrodes on you and watch you through a glass wall. Kinda like being abducted by aliens conducting experiments. They all said sleeplessness would only be in phases, and I’d sleep fine in other phases. At my most desperate point, when I my eyes were closing at work and I felt like I was speaking in slow motion, I asked my friend in New York who also has trouble sleeping what she does when she’s tired at work, and she said she hides in the bathroom and tries to sleep for 15 minutes. I tried so many natural sleep aids that I turned into a Valeriana plant (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valerian_(herb)), and when that didn’t work, I tried (with my physician) three different types of sleep medication (aside from ‘panadol night’- candy) and none worked, and all are bad for you.

And I asked friends and family. And they had loads of advice: Don’t eat late. Exercise (I do). Read boring books. Don’t have a tv in your room (by the way I’d die before I ever got a tv in my bedroom. A bedroom is for sleep, sex, and maybe pets and/or kids jumping up on lazy Sunday mornings). Drink chamomile and yanssoun. Do breathing exercises (will always do). Acupuncture (those needles in my forehead didn’t help me relax). Don’t drink coffee in the afternoon (I’m so afraid of coffee now that the latest I’d ever have one is 9am). Don’t be worried/anxious  (never been more relaxed and worry-free in my life). Keep your bedroom a cool temperature (it always is and that’s the way I like it anyway). Take a cold shower before bed. Take a hot shower before bed. (one alludes to the science that the body needs to drop a degree in temperature in order to sleep, the other alludes to the simple relaxation of a hot bath). Both don’t do sh*t for me. Shower = wide-awake for me. Put lavender essence on your pillow (didn’t help but smells so lovely- thanks Dad).

Tonight as I was leaving a party, the host, B, said: Should I ask you to missed call me when you get home? (a safety precaution we use in Lebanon to make sure people get home safe, not sure it is used elsewhere or that it even has any function, but I like it). But my poor friend was clearly falling asleep and actually leaning on the wall as he showed us out. His wife said to him: “you’ll be asleep as soon as the door is closed, way before any missed call”. We all laughed and I told him he was blessed with such easy sleep. Proceeded to mention my sleep issues, just briefly, and the 5 girls there all gave me versions of the advice listed above. Finally B said: “maybe you need a chest”. All of us went blank and I was thinking: a chest? Why would I want to sleep on a large box? Then little by little we began to laugh as it dawned on each of us that what he meant was a man’s chest. That maybe what I needed to get a night of peaceful respite was to rest my head on someone’s chest. I don’t know if he’s right, but it was wonderful to hear a new idea for once. The girls then discussed the fact that the chest lean is much more uncomfortable than it looks and is only bearable for a couple of minutes, but that’s beside the point, and sleeping positions can be tackled in another post. It’s now 4:10am and I shall try to sleep.

Keep making those soap bubbles.

When I was in my more cynical early-twenties (yep, I seem to be getting less cynical rather than more cynical with age), I used to say: Life is the process of progressive disillusionment. I’d look back at the enchantment of childhood when you (or at least I) thought everything was imbued with magic, and everything, absolutely everything was possible- and wonderful, and then I’d look at the number of illusions that had been popped like soap bubbles over the years…

I knew I was still more wonder-filled than many people my age. I worked as a waitress for years even though at the time, in this country, it was considered odd. But for me, it was about floating around the tables, making friends and tips. I loved considering each table a new challenge, a chance to make someone spend a nice evening, or lunch break. It was like a puzzle, attempting to recommend the perfect dish for each person. My dad refused to come to see me at work, thinking that my work would make people think we ‘needed the money’. My friends from back in high school would condescendingly say: “Oh how cute! What are you doing here? That apron is SO cute!” Until today, it’s still one of the best jobs I ever had.

I tried to put whimsy in everything. When I moved to Europe, I organized picnics at the beach in winter, and tea parties with roommates and five types of cheesecake.  I’d get so excited when I’d relate the story of whichever book I happened to be reading, that people would have to move the wine glasses on the table to save them from getting tipped over by my hand gestures.  For parties I made punch decorated with edible flowers and frozen berries. I started book clubs, French clubs (an excuse to get together with other francophones, drink French wine, eat French cheese, and speak French), and food clubs (people of different nationalities meeting once a month taking turns to cook national dishes for each other).

I’d convince people to watch cartoons, and tell them to believe in the good in people. But still, since my teens, life had begun to slowly but surely stop making sense. I had my share of hard times. The world often seemed like such a sad place, and struggling through it too hard. Always too many decisions to take, too many kilometres between you and the people you loved, either here or there. Finally the absurdity got too deep and thick. I couldn’t make sense of things anymore. What was the point, and why did anything matter since everything had an expiry date. I tiptoed and then crashed into scepticism and sarcasm.

I told everyone romantic love was at best a cultural invention and mainly the result of hormones. That everything we did, work, leisure activities, even (gasp!) reading, was a distraction to pass the time until we died.

I saw a documentary about Alvaro Mutis, a Columbian writer who said that the most important part of life was from age 6 or 8 to approximately 11 because it was the only period in which we truly experience anything, before our senses and minds are deadened. With full innocence, we are open and happy and good. He used the phrase ‘volverse adultos’ to describe becoming an adult. There are many words for ‘becoming’ in Spanish, and ‘volverse’ is the one usually used to describe negative changes; you ‘te vuelves’ crazy, for example. He went on to say that when we grow up, we ‘nos volvemos’ stupid, and the fight for life begins, and makes us malicious and bad.

That description felt spot on. Cynicism felt seductive and almost fun, but just like social smoking rarely stays at that, it morphed into anxiety and depression. I’ll leave that for another post, but the weird thing is that falling into the pit of self-loathing and universe-hating made me forever more compassionate and understanding than I ever could have been without the experience. So in a way, it brought back some illusions, and made me fall in love with humanity again. So yes, life will make you grow up. It might make you sadder, but if you’re lucky, you’ll keep the ability to smile the type of smile you feel in your tummy. And Vicky, keep making those soap bubbles ;-)