There but for the – Ali Smith

March 12, 2013 § 1 Comment

Reason not the need, the man says. Need not the reason. We don’t know. We simply don’t know.

Sometimes I wonder if we actually know what we’re thinking when we’re thinking. We must surely carry out conversations with ourselves all the time – it seems like something that we’re prone to do. And yet, how many of us truly listen when this internal dialogue, or monologue, is going on?

This is not a book about internal debates, nor is it about someone talking to themselves. It is, instead, a book about how we exist in this world, how we coexist with the other people in this world, and how we live with ourselves in the meantime.

Told in chapters which stories come from characters all over the spectrum, it’s not hard to see just why the world we live in is in such chaos. At the same time, it’s also a complete mystery why we don’t spend more time trying to understand it.

Or is it really a mystery? After all, considering the circumstances of today’s generation (the story takes place between 2009-2010), it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell that we’re spending way too much time “connecting” with one another, and far too little time understanding each other.

It was all about how fast things were; they were always on about how fast you could get a message or how fast you could get to speak to someone or get the news or do this or that or get whatever it was they all got on it.

We don’t see this, not when we’re busy trying the chase everything that comes our way. While our minds try to digest the nuggets and nuggets of information that sieve by, we hardly ever take the time to listen to what our minds have to say in response.

We don’t see a lot of things. And so it is too for the masses in Smith’s book. They’re looking and looking, but they don’t see anything. As if it’s not sad enough already, they don’t even know that they can’t see! They don’t know what they’re looking at, but they keep on looking anyway, because that’s what everyone else is doing.

We read this and we think, what a bunch of mindless people. But how many of us are unknowingly guilty of the same? We do things based on what the Joneses are doing. We chase after dreams that are not really our own, but dreams the making of society. We lust after endless information that at the end of the day, simply has nothing to do with us.

Google is so strange. It promises everything, but everything isn’t there.

So why, then, do we continue as zombies do, walking around without our wits about us? Why aren’t we more aware of ourselves and our thoughts?

The fact is…

The fact is this, the fact is nothing. We don’t know things, not for sure, not as fact. We only know what we can feel, what we can see and what we interpret of it. And yet we completely ignore our feelings and our observations in favour of what we cannot feel and cannot see, all because “the fact is”.

… the ragged line of tourists and schoolkids in the yard waiting to straddle the meridian line, and all the people, one after the other, doing just that and having their picture taken by people holding cameras of phones well away from themselves. That was how people focused these days.

And we are proud. Proud that we have technology on our side, that we’ve got all the gadgets we could possibly need in our pockets, our briefcases, our bags and bags of things that are supposed to help us live better lives.

And we go about busily trying to prove to our neighbours (and friends on Facebook) just how “alive” we are. We bombard them with photo after photo of our achievements, caring only for the number of “Like”s we get. The more “Like”s, the more meaningful the event. Yet how many of us can recall just how huge of an affair it was to experience? How many of these “achievements” can we look back on ten years from now and still be able to feel the joy of the day?

How could what had happened to them be possible in one language, never mind be able to be retold in another?

How do we tell stories of ourselves, if we never stop to listen? How do we tell stories to others, if we never bother to open up and connect, truly connect?

All we know is – someone wanted to speak to someone else. That’s more than enough.

* First appeared in The Malaysian Insider.

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