Tag: lists


3 Things I Know About The Future… From Dystopian Fiction

A critical part of creating fiction is a careful examination of the world. Storytellers, first and foremost, must be students of the human experience. We have to spend time learning about what motivates people, how different personality types tend to form and respond to situations, how various societies react to different stimuli and challenges, how the setting we all share (the earth) responds to our existence. Sometimes this intense study leads to forecasting rather than fiction. Here are three inventions by famous authors that look like they will definitely come true–for better or worse.  #1. Meat won’t come from live animals.  In her book, Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood writes about chicken that is grown in parts by machines. Her ChickieNobs don’t have eyes or beaks, though they have a mouth-like orifice for receiving tubes of nutrients. It’s meat without the animal.  Such “nobs” are not a reality–yet. But since the 2003 publication of her book, “cultured meat” has been cloned from the muscle cells of beef cows. The process isn’t exactly like the blobs with tubes sticking out of them that Atwood envisioned, but when you hear about the “tubes” of muscle tissue that are grown and stacked to create one of these burgers, she doesn’t sound far off.   Personally, I’d like to eat protein that doesn’t involve killing a living creature. But, I wouldn’t want the dystopian future of genetic engineering run amok that Chickienobs is created in. So I hope Atwood’s prescience only extends to our food.  #2. Ads will know what I’m thinking Thanks to trading my privacy for a host of “free” and inexpensive services, like Web email and online-connected intelligent speakers, corporations can easily collect a lot of data about me. Right now, they don’t seem to use it for much more than delivering Web page ads about things I have Googled, mentioned in emails, or asked “Alexa” about. But, according to Matthew Tobin Anderson, writer of 2002’s “Feed,” eventually I’ll get such personalized ads directly into my head.  In Anderson’s fiction, the ads are delivered by an implanted chip in my brain. In reality, I think, facial recognition and biometric identification will advance to the point that nearby computers will simply be able to link who I am–based on what I’ve touched and my face–to an advertiser profile formed from records of my online interactions. My personal ads will appear on the nearest available screen. Given advances in virtual reality, that screen might very well be right in front of my eyes in the form of some Google Glass-type device. And, in my opinion, such a “feed” directly in my line of sight isn’t so far off from a brain implant.  #3. The Great Flood Will Come… To Manhattan This prediction from Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 is one of the most heartbreaking for me personally as someone who lived in NYC for a decade and now has a house in the suburbs about a mile from The Hudson River. But I believe it. Water levels are rising. The world is most certainly getting warmer–even if President Donald Trump remains skeptical as to the cause.   I’ve also seen The Hudson overflow its banks before. During Super Storm Sandy, I had to take my then baby to the second floor of my waterfront condo because the waves of water were coming dangerously close to the elevated first floor windows. Somehow, I didn’t flood. But neighbors on the ground floor lost their apartments. (And, yes, I should have evacuated like I’d been warned instead of just moving the car to higher ground and hoping for the best).  Robinson’s predictions are particularly dire–a NYC under water creates for a better story than one slowly eroding beneath the river. But I’d bet that a future in which Manhattan is dealing with a flooded sea port and financial district isn’t too far off.             

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When I arrived at the Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission, I was warmly greeted by a great cluster of children, each of whom hugged me and told me their name. A minute went by. Then came the first question,  “Do you remember my name, auntie?”  As a teacher, I have long known the value of remembering students’ names.  In fact, I make a practice of calling my students by name over and over again during the first few classes, because I believe that if you keep calling people by their names, other people will call them by their names too. They will remember the names, will become friends and the class will be a success. All of which is to say, I desperately wanted to remember each child’s name. But it was so hard. There were so many names to remember, and the names were so unfamiliar and even if I remembered them I didn’t say them right. Rosey and Shane and Gladys were easy to memorize. But then there was Roshni and Khushboo and Jyotika. I spent the first day fumbling around and everywhere I turned was a beautiful child looking at me and saying, “Do you remember my name, auntie?” That first night I thought a long time about the issue, and in the morning I had a plan. I went to breakfast (oatmeal over toast) with my notebook and I asked each child to write down his or her name with some distinguishing characteristic. Immediately they leapt in. Rampal wore a gray hat. Indro had a colorful hat. Ayushi had a puffy watch and Jyotika a scar on her chin. I filled up pages (one of which is in the photo). An orphanage is a communal place, and no one makes a decision on her own. There was much discussion over each person’s distinguishing characteristic. Was her nose unusual? Were eyes a particular color? Did she look like she came from Nepal? After that, every time someone came up to me and asked if I knew her name, I could at least pause and point to the notebook. It bought me some time and good will. By the time I left, I could pick out everyone pretty well, and since I’ve been back I’ve gone over all my pictures and written names on them to be sure not to forget. Just last Sunday, Rosey called me and her first question was, “Do you remember me, Aunty?” Yes Rosey, I remember you and Anthea and April and Raymond and Rampal and…”  

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My Life in Lists

 I come from a long line of list-makers. My mother had beautiful penmanship. She wrote lists each morning on the backs of used envelopes. Mostly they were grocery lists. She liked to do her “marketing” every day so she’d be sure to get out of the house.             My maternal grandmother also wrote lists every morning in small dainty writing. She would sip coffee and chew on toast at the breakfast table each morning cataloguing what she had to do or buy that day. Her “to do” lists were also most often scripted on the back of an envelope.             Both my mother and grandmother tossed their lists into the trash after they were completed. This is when I should have realized I was meant to be a writer, because when I began making lists, I couldn’t bear the thought of discarding them. Nor could I consider writing them on the backs of used envelopes. For one thing, I started making lists long before I began receiving mail.             I fell in love with notebooks at an early age, particularly spiral ones that I could open and close many times without damaging the binding. They were a perfect place for my own daily lists. Before long, I had dedicated a separate spiral notebook for my daily lists.                       At the beginning of the notebook I would enter a start date and when it was full, I would return to the first page to enter the end date. Every day had its own page dated at the top, sometimes with a notion about why that day was special. “March 14, XXXX HBD Uncle Buddy.”             I tried to prioritize what needed to be accomplished during the day. As I completed each task, I took my favorite pen de jour (that’s another topic for another day) and crossed off the item with delight and sometimes, relief. “Sit for bar exam” or later in life “colonoscopy prep” were crossed off with an added notation. “Whew!” “Yay!” Usually my list was filled with more mundane chores. Pay bills, email or call so-and-so, buy paper towels. When I didn’t complete a task, I would circle it and sometimes scold myself. “Bad girl.” Then the item would go on the next day’s list.             I saved all of these notebooks until a few years ago after viewing the mountain of spiral binders and wondering why. Why save notebooks with daily “to do” lists, especially when I also journal? I found a place to perch next to the piles and began perusing them. In short time, I realized these lists chronicled my life better than any journal I had filled. “Buy food for post-funeral party.” (You might have to be Irish to understand why it’s a party.) “Lose weight for wedding.” “Take daughter for G.I. test.” “Ballet recital.” “Finish taxes.” Many “to do’s” were personal, but most were the meat and potatoes of the daily life I have led. “Grocery shop.” “Prep for class.” “Yoga”               I tossed the notebooks and almost immediately regretted it. When my daughter asked about a family event, I could no longer play family historian and reach for the list that recorded it. I realized I should have chucked my journals, which are filled with my interpretation of what is contained in the list notebooks. But the notebooks are a form of history.             I’ve resumed the practice of keeping my “to do” lists, but now I am more conscious of what I write. I’ve decided that by writing what I want to do and what I need to do, elevates my commitment to what is important to me. I write each list with intention. Writing is always at the top of my list, but buying tissues and toilet paper also has its rightful place. And I’m planning a big bonfire for those journals.             How about you? Do you write lists? What do they tell you about your life? 

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