Love and Dread— and two film recommendations

The last few weeks, with the wildfires ravaging the West and the unhealthy air, have been the hardest for me since the pandemic started. The orange skies in Northern California, where I live, later grey from smoke and ashes, made going outdoors impossible. The polluted air seeped in through closed windows and doors. It made my eyes itch and my throat burn—inside my own house.

This “attack” made me feel immensely vulnerable. If we can’t be safe inside our own home, where can we ever be safe? My husband and I had been considering a move to Eugene, Oregon—it’s beautiful, cheaper, doesn’t have earthquakes, and a good friend lives there—but an inferno threatened the outskirts of that city as well. All of a sudden, it wasn’t as attractive anymore.

The apocalyptic fires—as well as the tornados and floods in other parts of the country—are likely to happen every year going forward. We are finally paying the bill for ransacking the Earth. Thinking about the insecurity climate change brings not only to our lives, but to our children and grandchildren’s lives, distresses me.

Giving up, however, is not an option. We have to gather our strength and do whatever we can to slow the tide. Our individual contribution may be small but it’s still meaningful.

We have solar panels on our roof (leased). We recycle and compost. We don’t use our fireplace. We eat less meat. I buy most of my clothes second hand and avoid overconsumption. That’s all good, but it’s not enough. Combatting climate change requires political muscle. In November, consider voting for a candidate who believes in the science of climate change and who will take steps to clean up our air and build a sustainable economy, benefiting all communities.

If the current situation is affecting you as well, keep your spirits up by focusing on your job, your passions, or your relationships. Do something every day that makes you happy or proud, whether cooking a nice dinner, having a long phone call with a friend, or immersing yourself in a work project. And take time to decompress, learn and get inspired.

For that purpose, I offer you two viewing recommendations.

The documentary The Social Dilemma, directed by Jeff Orlowski (Netflix), shows the dangers of online properties ruled by artificial intelligence. The director interviews ex-executives and engineers from companies like Google, Facebook or Twitter, who are now horrified by the consequences of the systems they created.

What impacted me the most was learning how these platforms have contributed to the polarization of our country. They create a different “reality” for different users, often built on conspiracy theories and lies, because they are more engaging (and they need you engaged so they can show you more ads.)

To give you an example, when you search for “climate change” on Google, depending on where you live and your political affiliation, the results that come up may say “is a hoax” or “is a threat.” If you’re surrounded by biased information, and create your world view based on that, how can you have a dialogue with someone on the opposite side of the aisle? You will think they are lying to you, and vice versa.

It’s worth watching this documentary to open your eyes to how we are being manipulated on a daily basis, and not even by people anymore, but by the machines they created, which keep evolving on their own.

Love on the SpectrumOn a very different note, I enjoyed the reality series Love on the Spectrum. Australian filmmaker Cian O’Clery follows eleven people on the autism spectrum as they date or pursue long-term love relationships. There are two steady couples and several singles going on dates, armed with advice from relationship expert Jodi Rogers, who specializes on helping people on the spectrum.

I loved getting to know these young people, so eager to love and be loved, even though they may have trouble with spontaneous dialogue on a first date. Jodi offers them the mechanics—ask questions without sounding like an interrogator, find common interests, etc. You get the sense that, once they find the right person, they will be ideal partners, committed for life. As 25 year-old Michael says, becoming a husband “is the most important thing I want to achieve,” and “If I actually was dating somebody, and entered a relationship and eventually married, I would treat her as my top priority, she would be my most valued treasure of all time, she would practically be my million dollars.”

This theory is proved in the two steady couples that appear in the five-chapter series. Ruth—a business cards collector—and Thomas—obsessed with trains—, both in their early twenties, have been dating for four years and live together. They are devoted to each other. We see Thomas kissing Ruth as she holds her comfort animal Cleopatra— a baby snake—right by her temple. “I’m fire, he’s water,” says Ruth; “together, fire and water, things get steamy,” adds Thomas.

The other couple, Jimmy and Sharnae, both 21, are equally touching. They hate crowds, have a hard time holding hands for more than five seconds, and can be derailed by not having the right pair of socks for a romantic date, but each time they encounter one of these challenges, they find a way to overcome it, together. Their complete acceptance of each other’s quirks is a lesson for most able couples.

What is keeping you inspired these days?

Photo: the view from my office window during the height of the fires’ smoke

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