android

We sometimes hear stories of innocent suspects falsely confessing to crimes. They fail to get a lawyer in time and become entangled in probings and accusations until fact and fiction blur and their minds create a new reality for them – one in which they’re guilty.

People can experience this self-delusion in a less drastic way, as well. How many times have you stood in front of the mirror and told yourself you’re a strong, independent woman, when in reality you don’t earn enough to live alone and can barely dead lift fifty pounds? The idea is that if you say it enough, you’ll start to believe it.

It works with negative things, too. When people ask me how wedding planning is going, especially in terms of decorations, I have found myself repeating the mantra, “I have poor taste in design” (not because it’s true, but partly because I don’t enjoy decorating and am trying to slough the burden off onto another person, and partly because I want an excuse for not having gotten further along on this project), until I am now fully convinced that I’m the last person in the world who should be making decisions about my own wedding decor.

It’s especially easy to rewrite the self-esteems of children. Lasting damage can be caused even by simple suggestions. For example, if you imply to a child that everyone in the family is bad at math, you’ve given them reason to think they will be bad at math too, and it can make them expect failure. If this supposed obstacle is repeated to them often, math might seem too daunting of a task to bother overcoming at all. And that is how you end up with a lot of English majors.

With these things in mind, I would like to make a proposition regarding a well-loved character from a well-loved sci-fi show. A few years ago, Netflix graced us with the full body of Star Trek shows, including all seven seasons of The Next Generation. Being a Trekkie and infatuated with Commander William T. Riker from childhood, but bound by the restraints of cable, reruns, and bedtime, I was excited to finally see the episodes in order and in their entirety (and commercial-free!). My friend beat me to the punch and I ended up watching many episodes sporadically during his binge sessions; however, my partner and I started from the beginning last fall and are now on Season 6.

*Be advised: spoilers and extreme, unabashed geekiness of the philosophi-sci-fi variety to follow!*

There are certain TNG episodes that immediately get you excited (for example, Q episodes), bummed (Geordi episodes), or scared (Borg episodes). But nothing beats the realization that you’re about to watch a Data episode.

Lieutenant Commander Data is an android and the first artificially intelligent lifeform to become a Starfleet officer. He put himself through Starfleet Academy and over time earned his position as third in command aboard the starship Enterprise, where he holds the position of Chief Operations Officer. He was given human functions by his maker, as well as the ability to reprogram himself, i.e., to adapt to his surroundings. One of the very few things he incapable of is human emotion – a fact he reminds people of at the slightest provocation. Data makes attachments (read: friends) by growing accustomed to people’s presence and idiosyncrasies. He has sex. He, in a manner of speaking, reproduces. He mimics art and music and even laughter (sort of…), but he is not capable of experiencing or sharing the passions behind them. And in this one aspect Data falls hopelessly short of humanity.

Or so he is convinced.

I, however, am convinced that Data can – and does – feel.

In Season 4, Episode 3 (“Brothers”), Data finds out that his maker has built an emotion chip specifically for him, which will allow him to finally feel the human emotions he has wished to experience for himself his whole existence. This immediately becomes problematic for me. If he’s programmed to be human but is not given human emotions, is it also part of his programming to notice that lack and to strive to fill it as something that would make him complete? And if that is the case, in what way does this noticing-a-lack-and-striving-to-fill-it differ from desire, the essential human urge at the root of emotions like love, lust, and loneliness?

The beauty of a story built over the course of 178 episodes is that you really get to know the characters. And the beauty of this story also being something that you watch is that you can pick up on visual hints from the show which, in writing, would be implicit at best. You get to watch Data’s face as his maker offers him the emotion chip. And you get to watch his face when, in Jacob-and-Esau fashion, he finds out that his evil brother has duped their maker into giving it to him instead.

Did I simply impose that flicker of hope on Data’s face? Did I project his devastation? Maybe so. In the most recent episode we watched, Data asks his best friend, Geordi, whether his original poetry elicited an emotional response, and Geordi doesn’t answer right away. Data says, “Your hesitation suggests you are trying to protect my feelings. However, since I have none, I would prefer you to be honest.” After hearing him repeat this spiel over and over again over the course of the show, even to people who definitely know it well by now like Geordi, it begins to sound like self-delusion.

To be a human comprises what one does and what one feels; to be a robot comprises function without feeling, utility without self-consciousness. As an experiment, I asked Siri a few formulations of the same question.

 

What differs between Siri and Data is that Data is sentient. He’s alive and he knows it. He has thought about having human emotions; in fact, his pursuit of it consumes the majority of his free time (which is considerable, because he doesn’t need to eat or sleep). We often find him in his quarters painting or talking to his cat, Spot, or working on his Shakespearean acting skills or practicing his laugh.

One reason why Data episodes are so beloved in our household is because they’re extremely touching. Despite being rather stoic, my partner usually tears up during these episodes and expresses his love for the android. Are we touched because Data can’t experience love even though he is undeniably lovable? Are we sad because he can’t feel how tragic his story is? I, for one, am touched and sad because he has convinced himself that he cannot have the full human experience, when it is clear to those close to him that, despite all his automated claims to the contrary, he already experiences a variety of emotions: friendship, loyalty, amusement; desire, disappointment, isolation; and affection toward his cat.

bloggiversary

I was always warned that time would speed up as I got older. Yes, the college years flew by (maybe in retrospect only?), but now that I’ve been done with school for a while, I notice the speedy passage of time…

…by my bi-monthly paychecks. Is it already pay day again?! (I’m not complaining.)

…by the weekly bathroom cleaning schedule at work. (“My” week is not for another twelve weeks? I’m cool with that. Oh wait, it’s already been three months? Well damn.) (I am complaining.)

…by the number of days until my wedding. (Started at 228, and now we’re already down to 156. Mixed feelings about this.)

…by HOW IS IT ALREADY TIME TO GO GROCERY SHOPPING AGAIN?!! (Despite having [allegedly] learned to read by sounding out the aisle signs at grocery stores, I have a complicated and not very stable relationship with them.)

…by my baby nephew turning five tomorrow! (Forever tiny and squishy in my heart.)

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But today I have noticed the passage of time by my blog turning one! Thanks to all my faithful and sporadic readers for clicking and glancing at my amateur haiku, photography, and memoirs!

-Leslie

list

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a hard time entertaining myself. This is not for lack of creativity – I could spend hours on a project once I started one – but the actual initiation of an activity always came as a difficulty to me.

Thankfully, my sister, who is three years my senior and the queen of self-entertainment, was usually kind enough to let me glom onto her activities. When I was really little, I would follow her around and copy everything she did (to her vexation); but even as we got older, I did most of the things she did. When she got to go to school and I had to stay home, I begged my mother to be the source of my activities.

I am, of course, ashamed of this; and I’m also ashamed to say that this struggle has not much worn off with time. I often get out of work three or four hours before my partner does and rarely have anything to show for it. Although my productive days are very productive, they are few and far between.

The worst part is that I know the solution to my problem. If I write down a list – a physical list – of everything I want to do after work, I will accomplish 90% of it. If I do not write down a physical list of the things I want to accomplish, I will not accomplish anything at all. I will sit on my ass and scroll through my phone for several hours.

Writing a daily list is so simple, and yet I hardly ever do it. And I’m not just talking about tasks. I’m pretty good about making a task list and checking those things off (wedding lists abound right now). I’m really talking about a list of things that I would like to do. Places I’ve been meaning to check out. Activities for my mental health and to get me out of the work-home-work-home routine. So, today I wrote such a list.

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Contrary to the above evidence, I am not a huge shopper, but I had a couple things I was looking for (which I ended up either not finding or not buying) and copious time to kill after work. As you can see, I also included a few small tasks into the mix as well as the cryptic word “vanilla”; and yes, I have been known to be idle enough not to shave unless it is written in ink. I even still had plenty of time to sit on my ass and scroll on my phone! But the point is that I got myself to do activities, ungoaded and unaccompanied, something which I am learning is necessary for a thriving adulthood. Even as I write this I am fulfilling “yoga” (which for me just means gentle stretches), but entirely because I wrote it down.

I feel really stupid admitting that I struggle with something most six year olds have a firm grasp on. I am especially aware of this shortcoming now as I prepare to make vows of eternal companionship, in spite of which I am sure I will oftentimes find myself alone and in need of diversion. I thought that if I made myself face such a disgraceful flaw in writing, in public, that I might work harder to fight against the lethargy and dependence that for some reason has been encumbering me since childhood.

couch

Two Januaries ago I had a month off classes to write my culminating undergraduate paper. I spent a good chunk of that time sitting on the enormously comfortable sectional couch in my partner and his housemates’ living room, crisscross applesauce, laptop on lap, notebooks and papers balanced precariously on each knee, slowly going insane from focusing on a single subject for weeks on end.

Instead of using this time to travel, I stayed in town and picked up a few extra shifts at work. But that bachelor pad couch became something of my home base: a versatile spot, conducive to both work and relaxation, perfect for writing long papers and for watching hours of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
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The couch holds a special place in my memory for other reasons, too. For one, it was large enough that we could fit pretty much as many friends on it as we wanted. It’s fun to try to guess how many Yuengling Lagers it saw in those days (too many). But it was also the very spot I was when I had an important realization.

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I was sitting on the couch one afternoon during my paper writing period, my partner somewhere nearby. It suddenly dawned on me that after five years of companionship I couldn’t envision a life that didn’t have us together, and I knew he felt the same. I looked up from my work and asked him, “Are we engaged?” A look of revelation passed over his eyes as he replied, “Yeah. I think we are!” And that was that, until he officially proposed and we officially announced our engagement just over two years later.

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This is not the story that people expect or want to hear when they ask about a couple’s engagement, and it is not a story that I have ever told before. Part of the reason I haven’t told this story is that it’s largely based on the notion that we’re together because we’re comfortable, which is something people often warn about in a relationship. “Don’t just stay together because it’s easier than leaving”; “Don’t get/let him get too comfortable” because the romance will die or because it’s an indication of settling.

While I see the good intentions behind these warnings, I would like to reintroduce the positive side of comfort – one that makes me believe whole-heartedly that comfort is an excellent reason to spend forever with someone.

Comfort goes hand-in-hand with friendship. The friends I feel closest to are the ones who have seen me in pajamas and glasses, pre-coffee and pre-undereye concealer.

Comfort goes hand-in-hand with trust. Enough difficult things happen in life, that being with a person you’re used to becomes an invaluable asset in overcoming or enduring hardship.

Comfort goes hand-in-hand with affection. I find my partner the most endearing when his guard is down and he’s being himself.

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Now, obviously there are ways to abuse the comfort you share with another person, just as there are ways to abuse a couch; e.g., by being a couch potato or by spilling a lot of beer on it. But overall I think that couch is an apt metaphor for our relationship: trusty comrade in both work and play, flexible yet supportive, and comfortable to the max.

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rebirth

As he was packing up and moving out last year, my roommate walks up to me, holding the saddest potted plant you ever did see, and says, “Do you want this?”

I have not yet turned down a houseplant that has been offered to me, nor have I left an abandoned one an orphan.

My roommate had been gone for a large part of the year, giving him little chance to water a languishing peace lily. If I had known about it, I would have gladly taken over its care in his absence, but I didn’t get my hands on it until months later. By that point, the lily had survived a severe drought and, later, a flood. Do not expect everyone to know that a houseplant needs drainage holes at the bottom of its pot.

I am happy to say that after immediately repotting it and being a little more temperate with my watering practices, I succeeded in nursing the poor thing back to health. Within several weeks it was growing new leaves. And within six months it started to bloom. I told my roommate and he said, “It’s never done that before!” (Really? You don’t say!)

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Rebirth
I’d always particularly disliked peace lilies. I’m not a fan of really leafy plants, much more preferring plants with lots of blooms. I still don’t like peace lilies, but I’m thrilled every time mine develops a new leaf, and when I saw it unfurl its single pure white flower, I was surprised at how lovely I thought it was.

Let me be clear: I do not have a green thumb. I have killed more plants than I have brought back from the brink of death. For all my effort, that mint plant I wrote about months ago has returned to its anemic winter state, though I still can’t bring myself to throw it out. But I find it extremely cathartic to have plants around to care for, and I think that helps me prevail in keeping a few alive at a time.

It’s been about a year since I rescued the peace lily. The once-lovely bloom droops and has turned brown and yellow – a truly hideous remnant of its summer glory.

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A thriving plant with a healthy, dying flower
Like plants, people have parts of them that bloom brightly and shortly die away; but this doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem or a disease. It can be a sign of flourishing to leave a talent or trait behind that had once served you well, making room for a new and different beginning.

A dying lily blossom means the plant was healthy enough to bloom in the first place. May it rest in peace until next summer.

lessons

Today I have officially survived twenty-five years in this world. As a mark of this achievement/miracle, I wanted to formulate twenty-five things I’ve learned in twenty-five years of experience. I wanted to – until I realized that’s way too long of a list for me to come up with (or for you to want to read) in one sitting.

So, you’re only getting the top five today.

Here they are, in the order they occurred to me.

  1. Everyone’s story is different. To disregard that in my actions and opinions is to be violently apathetic.
  2. It sounds backwards, but whenever I assume that most of the people (strangers) around me are goodhearted, I’m very often surprised to find that it’s true. On the other hand, if I’m expecting bad-natured behavior (often because I’m in a bad mood myself), that’s mostly what I’ll see. Everybody has bad days, but my perspective determines, in great part, my perception of the world.
  3. “Don’t pick up any wooden nickels!” My dad used to say this to us almost every morning as he left for work. I just thought it was absurd then, but when I inspect it more closely now, I find it to be as astute as it is succinct: Though being opportunistic has its advantages, one should be careful to be neither gullible nor greedy. As one remarkable person once said, “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
  4. Still learning this one, but for uptight people like me: U-N-R-A-V-E-L. I was born wound tight, but there’s no sense in making things harder for myself than they need to be. This has been by far the hardest lesson for me to practice.
  5. True to their dual nature as both signifier and meaning, words matter in two different ways. Although it’s true that you have to be careful with your words because someone could always be listening, I realize now that being heard could not in itself make words any more important, but only more influential. It is the fact that I choose to say – or refrain from saying – a word that makes it important. In other words, selecting a word is its importance, using it is its influence. My word choice has changed enormously over the years, and many people would argue with some of the changes I’ve made on either side. But it has become a living dictionary that mirrors the most significant changes in the past twenty-five years of my life.

 

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There you have it. A quarter century of wisdom. Stay tuned for the next quarter!