People are Inconvenient Truths, Too

Read a few articles lately on how this age of loneliness in which we live is killing us. Probably. The science seems to back it up (see herehere, and here, for instance).About that: I feel like my generation has this paradoxical simultaneous desire to find human connection and to be with people (duh) and also, we have an equally strong desire to not be inconvenienced by each other. Like. Ever. (I am definitely guilty of this). 

If you have siblings or parents then you know that people are truly inconvenient, almost always. But the reward is so good. Nothing in this world beats true human connection (whatever that means to you - for me, it's often as simple as as good conversation).  

One of the top five regrets of dying patients, as reported by palliative nurses, is that "I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends." That to me, when I first read it, was really sad and shocking - but I get how friendships dissolve. Life gets in the way. Families. Babies. Long distances. 

I probably don’t have to tell anyone that if we live in the age of loneliness, we also live in the age of distraction. Our attention is limited yet at any given moment, it is being pulled in millions of small or large ways by our phones and other technologies. (Even at home, the infuriatingly loud TTC speakers blare in the back bedrooms of the apartment screaming: FIVE-HUNDRED SIX MAIN STREET STATION).

And then there’s that other thing: People can get a hold of us at any time.  

I think it’s a normal reaction to feel annoyed at being inconvenienced, because this is our constant, accumulated experience of daily life. 

So then I almost kind of get it, too. We reach out to people when we need them, and ignore them, when we don’t. It's almost a matter of survival, of finding our peace.

If we’re particularly tired, we flake. If we’re not, we text around until we find someone who’s up for something. 

We ghost.

We pretend we were asleep. (Oh my God, I’m so sorry).

We lie.

But if we are going to be less lonely, and if we can’t fix the bigger context in which loneliness has been able to thrive (single-family households, smaller families in general, American ideals about self-reliance, the urban sprawl, disconnectedness between generations, and our intent and singular focus on productivity, among others), we at least have to be able to envision a future in which we allow space for us to “bothered” by others.

It's in that sweet, painful place that friendship and love and family and connection exist. And it requires generosity of spirit, for sure. Face to face contact. An acknowledgement that there's more than one of us sitting at the table. 

Google defines inconvenient as “trouble or difficulty caused to one’s personal requirements or comfort.”

Being less lonely also means that we will be more uncomfortable. This is not necessarily a bad thing - we know already, instinctively, in art, in fiction, that discomfort can be transformative and transcendent. 

So then if the age of loneliness is killing us, I think, in part, we have our very selfish, very human desire to remain comfortable to blame.

If my teenage characters sit in the Tim Horton’s parking lot drinking their coffees

In my stories, and from lots of what I’ve observed and noticed in the stories I’ve read – corporate names, brand names are used very little. This feels strange to me considering how they make up a large part of what we see and experience every day.

Yet it's true that certain experiences in our lived past, we cannot divorce from the brand name itself. For instance, if my teenage characters sit in the Tim Horton’s parking lot drinking their coffees, it’s because this is tied to a real experience of what I did as a teen, and no other coffee shop parking lot could capture it in just the right way.

Or perhaps the use will be satirical & cutting; something about its use is meant to undermine it, or us, as a society.

It’s funny, though isn’t it?

From where I sit now, I see Sony, S’well, Logitech, Samsung, and Studio. I am drinking McDonald’s coffee. My boyfriend left a bag of Lay’s chips on the ground. On my browser is open SquareSpace, Facebook, Gmail, and Wikipedia. It’s true that knowing these details, it isn’t integral to this post, to my story. I could have said that near me is my laptop, my water bottle, my mouse, my phone, my stationary.

But I have to wonder if as writers, we’re leaving out some important, integral part of how we experience the world in the 21st century? And then if we are, could it be some unacknowledged resistance of capitalism that many of us have uniformly, coincidentally, silently, agreed upon?

I wonder: Does the use of brand names cheapen our writing? Turn lines into ad space? Or are we scared? In the same way that at the turn of the twentieth century, Modernist writers resisted and grappled with including the telephone into their stories?

Or could it be that the inclusion of these names, perfectly crafted, come packed with meanings already manufactured by wealthy ad agencies that we, as writers, cannot control?  

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The world of storytelling, of art, I know, it isn’t meant to be “safe.” Literature that is uncomfortable is often what most challenges us into helping us to grow, as people. But I can’t help thinking, that what if, in a way, the world of literature (as opposed to film and TV) gives us a safe space in which stories can be told without those corporate names that seek to shape our lives and bombard our e-mail inboxes with deals and flash bright lights above us on the highway and who want us only to buy, buy, buy.

But then of course, literature's two-faces are revealed: the one that says buy me, and the one that says, don't, that isn't what matters.