Hungry this afternoon and browsing the refrigerator for options, I found a leftover Independence Day hamburger, some whipped cream (should I?), and a jar of pickles. And what have we here in the opaque silicone pot? Half of a raw onion. Resigned to a few minutes of labor in exchange for sustenance, I took out a carton of eggs and a frying pan. I rinsed one day’s collected drawer dust out of the pan (longish story) and cracked an egg directly in. Remembering the pan was cold, and unlubricated, and that I was planning to scramble the eggs, I then poured the raw egg from pan into a bowl, rinsed, then dried, the pan again. Cracked two more eggs into the bowl, melted an unmeasured chunk of butter in the pan. Poured eggs in pan. Added salt. Fiddled with the gas on the stove – hotter, colder, hotter until the eggs were satisfactorily fluffy, salty, and warm. Peppered.
Reached blindly into the drawer and pulled a spoon from the bin allocated to forks. Returned wayward cutlery to quadrant assigned to teaspoons. Selected a salad fork (as shorter forks are both less menacing and more appropriate for non-dinner purposes). Sat down at the table, next to the open laptop. Put one warm bite into my mouth and began to read email. Didn’t taste the eggs. Shortly realized that plate was empty. Sat more quickly than is usual to attention. What is this sudden and quite unwelcome sensation running in a wave from my stomach through my throat? Am I about to vomit? No? Maybe?
Walked as fast as I could to the toilet. Crouched down. Burped. Spat. Waited. Three eggs remained on trajectory towards stomach, crisis averted.
Barring an intervention from the magical postman in the sky, I’m not pregnant. My son was sick with a virus last week, so that is the obvious explanation. Clearly, I have the same virus, a week later, and am feeling a bit sick to my stomach. That, or salmonella – though I’m guessing introduced bacteria would take longer to percolate and would result more likely in realized regurgitation rather than continued low-level nausea.
But I’m suspicious. I wonder. I’m having trouble sleeping again and this time it is not due to my ignorance of the caffeine in Kombucha. I’m caffeine-free and exhausted. My eyes are carefully guarded from all blue lights and screens during the twilight hours. And for the past few nights, I turn off the lamp and I’m lying there, mind traveling haphazardly down one path, jumping quickly to another, with no seeming theme or connection other than willing some divine intervention to give me answers, to guide me to a path.
How is all of this related to the phone call directly preceding my three-egg feast wherein two non-technical, creative types discussed the future of humanity considering advances in Artificial Intelligence?
Or to the essay I read last night by E.B. White, “Freedom,” from his (very highly recommended) book of essays One Man’s Meat? White writes, in 1940, in the midst of the Second World War:
The United States, almost alone today, offers the liberties and the privileges and the tools of freedom. In this land the citizens are still invited to write plays and books, to paint their pictures, to meet for discussion, to dissent as well as to agree, to mount soapboxes in the public square, to enjoy education in all subjects without censorship, to hold court and judge one another, to compose music, to talk politics with their neighbors without wondering whether the secret police are listening, to exchange ideas as well as goods, to kid the government when it needs kidding, and to read real news of real events instead of phony news manufactured by a paid agent of the state. This is a fact and should give every person pause.
I am not here to offer unsettling opinions or doom and gloom, but I am unsure how to arrange my life, what choices to make, how to be prepared for what is next in this world.
Reading good old E.B., I am not sure of his politics (a refreshing change from most of what one reads today which so very clearly promotes one dogmatic perspective or the other). He questions too much government interference, but is concerned about the wellbeing of other people. He fiercely loves and defends liberty and individual freedom, which in his case includes accepting and thoroughly enjoying diversity. When did the divorce of these things occur?
I feel this divide around me. I hear people — very close to me — saying that there will be two sides and I will have to choose one. Saying they can imagine a future when women have lost the rights we enjoy today, that strong forces exist with the intent of moving humanity in this direction.
And then there is AI (artificial intelligence, that is). Industries will be disrupted. Jobs will be lost. People will be desperate. There will be a revolution. The 1% versus everyone else.
I’m not sure it will go down like that. What I do know is that I will not be among those escaping to Mars. I’ll be here – on my beautiful planet. Living whatever life there is to live. With my last ounce of strength, or courage, or just a very strong will, loving my kids. Loving my friends.
In the face of all of this, and to keep from upchucking one’s eggs, so to speak, what can one do? Perhaps salvation, or at least moderate happiness, lies in defining a set of principles and devising an action plan. So towards those ends, a starting point:
Take care of my physical health.
Be a friend. Help people.
Learn new things. Read.
Manage my chemicals.
Do more good.
In a brave, new world I would feel better having a body that can get me where I need to go. I realize this won’t always be the case, but it can be the case now. The better a friend I am, the more likely there will be someone I can live with when the robots take my job, the more likely we can put our (non-mechanical) heads together to figure out how to solve whatever problems we face, the more likely I will have someone to laugh or cry with. If I figure out how to help people, I can probably scrape together a living in some way. Also, the world will just be nicer. As the world changes, I do not have to learn how to navigate Tumblr or read more on CNN or finish watching Game of Thrones. But if I keep learning how to be healthy, how to be a good friend, and how to help people, I’ll either be ok, or I won’t. But I will feel better. Reading (fiction, essays, poetry) helps me connect with human beings outside of this moment in time with other concerns, other fears. I can see which of their worries came true and which didn’t. I can feel how humanity has been good at heart for so very long, restoring my faith that goodness does seem to prevail, even if one is unfortunate enough to live through a dark period of history (of which there are many). Moreover, reading (and I’m not talking about news or Facebook) helps to remind me that people are people. They want things and they fear things and they do things but they are usually more like me than I expect, and even if they don’t see things my way, they aren’t as ignorant, or as selfish, as I might imagine. They are in their situation, doing their best with what they’ve been taught. Regarding material possessions, I have no need for a collection of My Precious Love-em’s Figurines, or of perfect shoes for any occasion (though I would be sad to part with my Paragon tea cups with matching saucers). These will all be lost or broken in the revolution. As it is said, you can’t take them with you.
Move my body. Eat vegetables. Be a good friend. Help. Learn. Read. Stuff is not life. Understand how marketers use my chemicals and stop giving my power away. Stop letting them buy my attention, my ability to focus, my precious time/life for so little! DO GOOD! Support people working towards my vision of a secure and healthy world. Hug as many people as will let me. Breathe.
Breathe. (I never remember to do this. I’m working on it.)
Breathe. (Probably it is just a virus, but I will keep breathing, just in case.)