POSTCARD#57: Bangkok: Early evening, M asks what kind of walls I’d like to have in the house she’s building for me. It’s the Minecraft game, everything created from virtual terrain, mountains, sea, sky and a square sun. She looks up from the iPad window and turns to me with enquiring lift of the eyebrow (a nine-year-old veteran). I say well, how about stone – walls are made of stone, aren’t they? It’s an unimaginative answer lacking in conviction – not paying attention properly. I ask what the choices are. She taps the screen to show me: gold, lapis, and you could have diamonds. Generosity. But I’ll just have the stone, please – keep it simple (thinking to myself is she going to come out soon from this digital dream she’s fallen into? Come out, it’s late and you have to do your homework. Be mindful and attend to things in the real world?) But there’s no ‘real’ world here. M says, what kind of roof you want in your house, Toong-Ting? (It’s her name for me) and I’m drawn into the discussion again. You like floor tiles Toong-Ting? I say what I’d like, and that looks nice (trying to reach her by telepathy, please, please emerge from the iPad window soon and think about the homework always in arrears!) For a moment it seems like she’s going to close the iPad but no, it goes on: why do you want that one? This other one looks nicer, does it look nice to you Toong-Ting?
I find answers that fit each question, but there’s no end to it; I know now the point of the exercise is to indulge expansively in this great wealth of choices. We have to try them all. No such thing as a final choice. The iPad is a forever window, a deep lake of astoundingly rich colours that’s difficult to surface from after you’ve fallen in – everything else in ‘real’ life is sadly dull. M dives into the forever window simply because it’s there. The containment of it is the context. The question answers itself, no need even to ask, cause becomes effect, timelessness without end.
Then for a moment she emerges from the dream, a flicker of alertness in her eye. Quickly, grab the opportunity! Act out a continuation of playfulness and joy, extend the interest to our surroundings and she decides to follow. Good, yes! It’s like guiding someone dismayed by sensory overload. Now let’s close the forever window for a while, shall we? Life is the same as it was but it’s quite nice out here. Fetch the school bag, heavy with stuff, reach inside and pull out a scrumfled homework book from the tangle of scraps of food wrappers in there, bits of tissue, and an overall blueness from a pen that flooded its ink inside the bag, a long time ago. My fingers are always slightly blue after visiting M’s bag; I go wash my hands while she considers her homework.
They have to make a simplified pop-up book page; the double page you open and a whole scene pops up. Wow, we never had homework like this when I was a kid! The teacher has given her a model of the folded-out paper mechanism she has to copy. A small spark of interest. Can do by myself now, Toong-Ting, she says, goes over to the sofa and pulls a large cushion over her head: but I have to think it first… stays under the cushion for quite a long time and I’m beginning to think I should ask if she’s okay under there. But next time I look M has cut and formed the folded-out bit with a scissors, glued on the picture that’s supposed to ‘pop up’ and it works – yaay! Well, not brilliant, but homework is not supposed to be a fun thing, it just gets ‘finished’. It’s done, put it away, now where were we? A voice says: may I borrow your iPhone, Toong-Ting?
‘We have a duty to befriend those aspects of obedience that stand outside of our house and shout to our reason, “O please, O please, come out and play.” For we have not come here to take prisoners or to confine our wondrous spirits. But to explore ever and ever more deeply our divine courage, freedom, and light.’ [Hafiz: ‘We Have Not Come To Take Prisoners’]
Such a beautiful relationship! How very much you are adding to each others life! You to her foundation, she to your reacquainting with youth.
It’s true, but a bit sad. We won’t really have a spoken exchange of thoughts until she’s grown up… and I’ll be old by then, ready to get the last train home. If this blog still exists, or maybe I’ll make an e-pub of it, M can read it and it’ll be like a window into the past for her.
That would be beautiful for her. This relationship is formative for her.
Also insightful for me, an opportunity to revisit childhood days and see how I formed my view of the world.
A quotation I like a lot is a similar reminder.
“Each day, and the living of it, has to be a conscious creation in which discipline and order are relieved with some play and pure foolishness.” – May Sarton
Yes, there’s that thing about playfulness again, it should be made compulsory 🙂
Lila – creation, seen as the playful activity of a god.
Lila is a way of describing all reality, including the cosmos, as the outcome of creative play by the divine absolute (Brahman). [Wiki: link]
That beautiful poem of Hafiz made me think of Plato’s cave. As we get sucked into the appealing windows, we turn our backs to the only window we should be looking through. Escaping through. A beautiful post again, thank you.
Thanks Henk, yes this is our problem, looking in all the wrong places and motivated by wanting things to be different than what they are. The human condition, it was exactly this tendency that brought us into the world. But children have the ability to bypass the inescapable, when they’re tired they stop doing it and everything returns to normality. I wish I could do it like that…
Fantastic. Nothing like a moment captured like this to make one examine all the moments a little more closely. Every choice matters.
Thanks Art, yes you’re right – this thing about investigating what’s going on all the time. It’s the way things are and have to be at the moment, M has a limited knowledge of English, my Thai is not good enough for her, and many things are inexpressible. So our relationship is based on looking for clues and searching for meaning…
Your writing about your relationship with M continues to inspire. Your observation about the allure of the virtual world window, and its nearly infinite array of choices, rang true. I have thought about this before, and it is an intriguing explanation, because here in “reality” I think we have an AMAZING diversity of experiences and choices available. Yet, it doesn’t feel that way all the time. Our lives can so often feel constrained in ways that worlds with square suns do not. 🙂
It is as if these technologies we’ve made are reminding us what is going on. Psst! He you. Look around! It is a bit like this…
This story also reminds me of the book Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. It is a sci fi novel in which the protagonist, a young girl, is raised by a tablet that is programmed to have an artificial intelligence, and to devise games and challenges that teach her pupil and expand her world. That, amidst kung fu and computer hacking and all kinds of stuff. Funny to think it was written at least ten or fifteen years ago!
Thanks for visiting again. Yes M continues to be my teacher… I see her mesmerised by the virtual world window and re-emerge some time later. Children can escape, some grown people get seriously stuck, thinking their world is a situation of never getting what you want: the Stones’ “…can’t get no satisfaction”. Marketeers of consumer products get rich on this (maybe it’s a kind of intentional neglect?). I think of it in terms of the Four Noble Truths: (1) My life feels constrained (2) caused by wanting it to be like the virtual world window (3) but There Is A Way Out: (4) the Eightfold Path (the Buddha’s guidance on how to get over it)
A long time ago I read something quite enthralling by Neal Stephenson, may be a similar kind of thing, thanks for reminding me, I’ll look for it in the Tha Pae used bookshops here in Chiang Mai…
Wow! Neal Stephenson. He is one of my favorite authors when it comes to reading something I can laugh out loud enjoy, with a bit of intelligent poking and prodding to boot.
The Eightfold Path, now… I feel a gentle, warm breeze in my chest when I reflect on this. The miracle of getting over it…
The Buddha was a really nice guy. He noticed that the world is not the world and that’s that – it’s ‘seen’, perceived and most of us get that a bit skewed; there’s a prevailing unhappiness that’s saying, em… you know this is the wrong way to go? That’s the trigger. He figured out a route that leads out and away from this kind of wrong-way-of-going-about-things life-style, and the unhappiness that results. Away, away from there to the freedom of seeing it the right way and everything after that (which he didn’t get into).
Although I have never been a practicing Buddhist per se, I don’t think I would have the comfort in my own mind that I do, had it not been for the encounters I’ve had with Buddhist teachings. My “road” has been one of patching together those bits of wisdom that rung the bell of my heart, and so many times the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, or another Buddhist teacher have helped me along. I think that while Jesus is represented in a myriad of ways on our planet right now, this description you have given above would work perfectly to describe the Jesus I have come to know in my heart. He is interested in helping us heal our fears and misperceptions, that we might know ourselves and the world as they truly are.
Correcting misperception and learning to see the world with the vision of Christ, or as the Lakota say, through the eyes of the Creator, or as the Buddhists might say, with “right seeing”, all seem to me to be congruent, probably with many other similar themes.
Even if we speak a different language, my sense is we understand one another… 🙂
Yes, if you have an ecumenical point of view. And that is a wonderful thing!