THE STORY OF INSTANTIVITY.

 

fasterpussycat

Although I was an actress with a respectable résumé, and was comfy cozy in the belly of the beast (L.A.), I promptly jonesed from the biz once my marriage broke up and I became a single mom to a 5-year-old. It was time to grow up and become a good role model for my daughter. It broke my heart, but the extreme highs and lows of the acting profession didn’t seem particularly suitable any longer.

Thing was, I had no marketable skills. I mean, I couldn’t type. I couldn’t wait tables without someone getting really pissed-off about it, and I couldn’t bartend (one for the customer, two for me). No real-world skills to make a living, so…

I went into advertising, Turned out, it was in my blood. And plenty of it would be spilled over the course of a career spanning two decades. But that’s another story.

Early days found me at a MadMen-esque agency. It was heavenly. My boss sagely lifted a well-groomed eyebrow and murmured some wisdom in my ear: in advertising, she said, if anyone should lose interest, or hate your taglines, or threaten to jump out a window, just stick around for a minute because the whole issue would evaporate and some shiny new object would spring up in its place, making everyone happy again. For at least a minute. Not only that, they served pitchers of margaritas every Friday afternoon!

I couldn’t believe I had finally found my tribe.

At night, I took a portfolio class, and then picked up my daughter at her friend’s house. By the time we got home it was usually around 9pm and we were starving. Microwave something? Hells no: that took way too long. We practically knocked each other down in the race to the Big Yellow Box, the milk, the bowls, and the spoons. Cheerios in front of the TV was our happy place every week night.

And then the internet showed up, —and, oh Christ, smartphones!— and us copywriters and art directors became drunk on connectivity, and instantivity, because, to paraphrase Tyrion Lannister, it enabled us to “drink and know things.” With no downtime wasted on searching for stuff old-school-Library-of-Congress-style.

Not coincidentally, this ability to smash and grab experience/information/goods and services synchs up with my (and apparently the whole world’s) obsession to live faster. Acquire faster. Feel faster. Get off faster. Like lightning on steroids and crack in a bottle. We want it all, quality-assured-and-delivered-in-massive-quantities. We want to be blasted with experience. Whenever we want it. Whenever we even wonder if we want it. What did the postsynaptic neuron say to the presynaptic neuron? “Get on with the story, pal.”

And that is precisely where us humans part company with the beasts. We tell stories. And we love to be told them, too. I had an amazing boss years ago who would, were it necessary to go on living, sacrifice everything, even her two-inch red lacquered nails. But not her stories, no sir. Sadly for her, soap operas have pretty much shriveled up and died.

But! Now we have Netflix. Amazon Prime. ShowtimeAnytime. If House of Cards isn’t holding your rapt attention this season, HBONow will do you a solid with a free 30-day trial run. You see, analytics wonks sat around a conference table and: Figured. You. Out. When day 31 rolls around, you will subscribe. And they will get their 30 pieces of silver. Because why? Because BINGE.

Ask an alcoholic what their favorite drink is, and they’ll tell you: the next one. Same thing for binge-watching. You know that glazed sensation you get at 12:47am when you have been titillated into believing that whatever hinkiness that crept into episode three’s storyline will be resolved in episode four? You need to be up in six hours, but your finger trembles on the trigger, er, play button. Remember the promise of “having it all?” At 12:48, you’re thinking maybe you can.

Searching and Streaming turn out to be the twin embodiments of instantivity. If you want it. If you need it. If you want to look at a picture of it, or listen to it or laugh at it or tilt your head and say “Awww” at it, it’s all available. Pronto. Search no more, ye searchers. Spoiler alert: delayed gratification is officially fired.

A New Yorker named Alejandro Fragoso recently conducted a 94-hour binge that was set up and funded by multimedia software company CyberLink, winning him the Guinness World Record for TV Binge Watching.

Sound like fun? This 25-year-old came away with a different take.

“I learned that binge watching TV for abnormally long durations can be quite physically taxing,” Fragoso stated afterward. Oh, hon, ya think?

An ER physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in N.Y, Robert Glatter, ran a checkup on Fragoso before and after the binge, to measure any marked physical changes. What did he find?

Post-binge, Fragoso had an elevated heart rate and Dr. Glatter noted that depriving the body of sleep can also result in neurological side-effects like acute hallucinations. “You are sitting down for sometimes 20 hours and watching 15 episodes; you are doing a lot of damage to your body,” Glatter said.

So, the reality of having it all might not be so great after all. Perhaps it’s a perception thing. The knowingness that you could have it all. That you do have the capacity to have it all. Choosing to forgo the hallucinations and crazy blood pressure? That’s up to you.

Taking the mental fallout of bingeing a step further, docs at the University of Texas at Austin conducted a study that showed marathon-watching can result in some pretty miserable mental health. Yoon Hi Sung, the lead researcher in the study, says, “Our… research show[s] that those who feel more depressed tend to watch more programs.” So, does bingeing cause depression, or is depression locked and loaded in those of us who choose to binge? I would argue for both. Chicken and egg, etc. You say potato, I say po-tah-to, let’s call the whole thing off.

And if you can’t remember the reference for that line, you can promptly Google it. No longer do you have conversations over dinner with friends; something comes up that your dinner-mates disagree about, everyone whips out their phone to source evidence that proves their point, et voilà! Disruption! You can’t even have an old fashioned debate about something because, “It says right here in Wikipedia that I’m right and you’re wrong.” From there, the only kind of conversation you have is whether or not to believe everything you read in the papers, ahem, instanternet.

Years ago, I had a creative director I absolutely adored. Not only did he hire me when I really needed a job, he gave me plenty of line to rappel down the craggy face of creativity. However, after the account peeps asked insisted I describe our agency as “nimble,” “agile,” and “blazingly fast” for like the thousandth new biz pitch, I trundled over to his office huffing disgust. I wanted to rely on imagination; he felt the template had been laid across the universe and that it further enabled us to go all Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 in our minds. That’s usually when we picked up our running argument that went like this:

“Tiago, you want too much information all the time. One of these days they’ll implant—“

“—a chip! YES!! I know! It will happen in our lives! A chip in our brains that will contain—“

 “—all the information about everything in the universe? That’s totally messed up! We’re not meant to have—“

 “—access to everything? Every piece of knowledge and creativity and music and poetry and architecture and—“

 “—that, my friend, is a very scary idea you’re running with. Humans can’t, they don’t have the—“

 “—capacity? Shit, of course they do! I know I do!”

 “Well, you speak Portuguese and English fluently. I guess you do.”

 My daughter is now a young woman, and lives in the fiercely-guarded analog world of Maine. She is a sous chef at a demanding and popular restaurant, she collects albums to play on a beat-up old record player, she reads books. But…she does like using my Amazon Prime Video membership to watch “Catastrophe.” One episode at a time, non-binge-style. That’s my girl.

AGE CANNOT WITHER HER, NOR CUSTOM STALE HER INFINITE VARIETY.

FullSizeRenderI just celebrated (:-/) a birthday that moves me into a whole new decade, and as I have at the start of all the other decenniums, I set a lot of store in the date and what follows.  It’s about as ludicrous as the question, “Do you feel any older today?” but it can’t be helped. I cling to magical thinking, more than I ought.

I began with the ice cream. I would stop it, post haste. Five days passed before I got a lulu of a migraine and a case of the whatevers, and ate a pint of choco-mint chip (that’s what it was called, so help me, because, according to the ingredients, the chips were “chocolate flavored” whatever that means).

I went back to my novel; the one about Jack the Ripper. There are several parts of the first third that are problematic, and, as I learned when I bought a house, if there’s trash in your yard, you’re the only one who’s going to pick it up. So I threw myself into the revisions. They were and are tough sledding, keeping in mind the overall voice and tone I’d established throughout the book two years ago. Yes, attention must be paid, even if it’s to a story that will never see the light of day. It’s my child with a dirty face. When the weekend rolled round, I decided to take time away from it. But it sucked me back in and I found my Saturday eaten whole by a matter of two pages. Nothing like spending hours on a few paragraphs to make you feel productive.

I told myself I’d take more opportunities to socialize. I’m planning on going out with friends to dinner at a nice restaurant this week, but already the voice is whinging away in my head: “You don’t have the funds to do something so reckless! Think of the bill you might be able to pay with that money!” And, sadly, that moaning is the voice of reason. But if I am to follow the game plan for this new epoch, I must sometimes take contrary action. My, how scary it is!

Today is Monday, so I’m happily working away on an actual assignment which is, of course, gratifying. Once it’s done, it’s done— with nary a backward look, which I rather like: it’s so unlike the me of the past decade. You see, I do miss the me of the ten years before last. She was disorganized, but strong. She was, dare I say it, innocent. Not cynical. Life had not yet worked its will on her, and her expectations were wide open like a beautiful prairie of waving wheat, shot by Terrence Malick. While I’m name-dropping, I feel Edith Wharton would have something to say about the losses and backward glances of the someone I’d become. She’d murmur something disparaging, yet, at heart, kindred.

I now live nearly without possessions. I remember a thirty-seven year-old me laughingly saying that my life is so cognitively dissonant I expected to go from being a true blue material girl to a buddhist nun living in a cave in Nepal toward the end of my life. While Pennsylvania isn’t exactly Nepal, I certainly have divested myself of ownership of just about everything. And in some respects, it’s freeing. I’m not the Ghost of Marley, chained for eternity to a huge armoire and a settee. But there are days when I miss my stuff. When I miss the woman who looked forward to the next issue of House and Garden. But even that venerable publication died away several years ago. I read the memoir of the woman who was the editor in chief, Dominique Browning. She certainly went through the mill after the magazine closed. She didn’t want to lose her idealism, either, but in the end, she came through the fire knowing she’d certainly lost something more than just a job. She insisted, though, that she’d found something, too. A state of grace, for lack of any other descriptors.

There’s an honesty in calling a spade a spade. I’m not a finished product; far from it. But I’m moving through this passage, this hallway, without pretense. Things are weird these days, and I get morose sometimes. But then something will happen out of nowhere, and suddenly I’m thrilled with the enormity of life and its many, many possibilities. My Dad, Mr. Platitudes, used to say, “If you’re mad, get glad.” And I’d roll my eyes. But having lived as long as I have now, I realize he was singing my theme song. If I’m furious about something, I can’t let Miss Crankypants eat me alive. I value this activity, this living, too much. For what it’s worth, and it ain’t much, I love my life. All its loss, all its energy, all its passion, even its mediocrity. My dog tells the story best. It may be hot and humid and absolutely miserable here in Philadelphia. But she doesn’t fume about it. She just pants. And damned if she doesn’t look pleased as hell about it all.

DON’T EVER STOP.

I am on part 41 of the Spanish series “Gran Hotel” on Netflix, and let me tell ya, it’s got more twists and turns than a bucketful of nightcrawlers. Some of which I can see coming from a mile away, others, I know they’re gonna get there but for the life of me, I don’t see how they’ll pull it off. It’s really just a telenovella dressed up in Masterpiece Theater costumes, lighting, and art direction, but I can’t stop watching.

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