Sunday, January 5, 2014

On Fear of the Worst Thing and First-World Anxiety

I just successfully transferred four years of family photos onto albums on-line that got shipped to my home as big colourful books. Then I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I was ever anxious about anything happening to my laptop because I’d be devastated to lose all my photos, and my dropbox is full.  Now I just have to fear a house fire.

Apple's dealing with it!
I used iPhoto albums, even though the company uses slave labour. I struggle to rectify my political beliefs and current practices sometimes. There are a lot of things I do well, but I really love how well my MacBook works compared to my old PC. And I'm not sure there's a computer company free from labour violations. This is right up there with eating meat. There's no good argument to convince me it’s ethical, but that doesn’t stop me from doing it. I’m just living with the reality that I’m fallible and knowingly unethical. It’s no reason to stop trying, though. And if we exclude from “us” (the fighters against the system) anyone who uses products from a corrupt company, our numbers will dwindle to being completely inconsequential instead of just being temporarily ineffective.  But that's not what I'm on about today.

It’s funny how fearful I was of making these albums. I’m still a Luddite enough to think that if I touch anything on iPhoto, everything will get deleted. It took me years, literally, to get the courage to do this very simple thing. And then the worst happened: when we looked for my son’s photos to include, they were all lost because I had tried to use Time Machine with our external hard-drive, partitioned out what was already there, and somehow it's all empty now. So I’m not completely crazy in my anxiety over computers. I really do unwittingly destroy things somehow! I've never been able to make my Time Machine work, but I back-up as much as space allows in dropbox. My son, the primary photographer of the family, doesn't. Everything was on the external hard drive.  I explained the concept of a backup as other than the primary holding place for files. But it’s most interesting to me that he didn’t really care that he lost all the photos he took in the last few years. I wish I could let go like that.

Not the guy from Lost.
My feeling of potential loss is far too great for the circumstances - as if someone could die in the photos’ absence. My memory's not gone, and my children are alive and well, and we almost never even look at the old albums. It’s curious how strong is our sentimental connection to mere objects representative of our memories, of our self.  Maybe it from a need to further clarify for ourselves who we really are.  John Locke pointed out the connection between our collection of memories and our identity a while back:
Consciousness alone unites actions into the same person.... Any substance vitally united to the present thinking being is a part of that very same self which now is; anything united to it by a consciousness of former actions, makes also a part of the same self, which is the same both then and now.
Keepsakes aren't just niceties but a means of self-preservation.

But another part of our obsession with photos is a need to live past our lives with an illusion of immortality as well as a need to show we did something. We’re not content just to be. We have to do things and have proof we did them in order to feel like we're in the game. I felt a weird satisfaction that 2013 was so busy. Whew! I’m not wasting time after all!

And then when the recent storm hit, it largely bypassed us, but that didn’t prevent me from worrying and particularly obsessing about the water pipes. What if the furnace died at night, and we didn’t know, and the pipes froze and burst?? I considered turning the water off at night – a ridiculous idea with older kids up at all hours. But I am looking into a woodstove for an underused corner of the kitchen.

Hoping it's the only one.
Of course, as if thinking it made it so, last Friday my furnace died in the middle of the night. My son noticed the cold enough to put on a sweater and go back to bed, but I was snuggled in under layers of blankets. When I got up, it was 8 degrees. After finding someone to come fix the furnace, I tried to make a pot of tea only to find the pipes frozen. I cleverly wedged a running hair dryer beside the pipes in the basement and went upstairs to wait. A funny noise sent me back down to find water gushing from the cracked pipe.

The worst happened, and it wasn’t really that big a deal. I think it’s good to be reminded of that from time to time, especially when my “worst” is relatively inconsequential.

And it all makes me wonder if maybe we need a worst thing to dwell on. I wonder if the rise in anxiety and depression in the developed world is because so many of us have so few problems of real significance.  In today's Toronto Star, Marcia Kaye reviewed Scott Stossel's My Age of Anxiety.  Stossell suggests that, "...in the face of real dangers, as happened in wartime concentration camps, neuroses can vanish."  Maybe a lack of activity more clearly linked to our survival (building a house, foraging for food) keeps us in a state of quiet panic feeling like we're not doing enough to live.  Maybe we're still not entirely comfortable with our civilized lifestyle.  Curious.

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