My Netflix List: Beyond the Clouds


I just finished watching “Beyond the Clouds”, a 2017 Hindi movie marking Ishann Khatter’s debut role (also known as Shahid Kapoor’s half-baby-brother). I was intrigued by this movie after seeing Ishaan’s first major release, “Dhadak”.

“Beyond the Clouds” is the gritty story of a young drug dealer who matures suddenly when his sister is unjustly imprisoned. It’s a coming-of-age story about unlikely relationships forming in the shadow of tragedy. Having seen “Dhadak” before “Beyond the Clouds”, I couldn’t believe that I was watching the same Ishaan Khatter. With this talent, looks and family connections, a stellar career is his to lose.

“Beyond the Clouds” is a difficult but sweet movie, with plenty of tender moments to relieve us from the injustice of it all. The movie ends at an inflection point in the story, not at the end of the story, which felt a little abrupt. As if director Majid Majidi had suddenly run out of film.

Part of the narrative unfolds in a women’s prison in Mumbai and one thing that surprised me was the presence of children in the prison. Of course, the children of poor women have nowhere to go once their mothers are imprisoned. Some are born in captivity, some just follow their mothers behind bars. One character is a 5-year-old child who came to prison with his mother at the age of 3 months. She is serving a life sentence for killing her abusive husband, along with her son. At some point in the story, someone explains to him what the moon is. He has never seen the moon, or the stars, or felt rain. He is under lock and key at night, like the rest of the inmates.

It reminded me of the migrant situation in the United States. Family separations came about because family incarcerations were illegal. Both are inhumane approaches throwing the sins of the parents unto their children. No matter how you feel about migrants, no matter what you believe about the relationship between migrants and the children who accompany them, there is no argument that the children are innocent. And yet, they suffer the worst punishment because they are innocent.

Different factions make different arguments to justify family separations or incarcerations. The parents were endangering their children anyway, the children should be removed for their safety. The parents are acting against the law, people who disrespect the law are criminals, criminals are always separated from their children when they go to prison. How else are we supposed to discourage people from coming into the country illegally? These children are not really children. These parents are not really parents. Regardless of the point, there must be a mental classification of the families as somewhat different than we are. The children cannot suffer as ours would, the parents cannot feel like we would feel. These people must be different than we are. We are human, they are… something else. Relating is built deep into our DNA, attachment is our first survival mechanism. There is mental work involved in making the other into someone we can’t relate to.

In today’s The Daily podcast, a father and his daughter who disagree on the Trump administration’s immigration policies have a phone conversation. At some point, the father exclaims: “These people are not fleeing for their lives, they are just looking for a better life!” Aren’t we all? Shouldn’t this make us more empathetic? Unless “these people” are something different than we are. Something less deserving. Something less… human.

Catholic moral philosophy teaches that an act, to be morally good, must preserve the goodness of the object, the end, and the circumstances altogether. Inserting evil into any part of the equation corrupts the entire chain of means to end. Denying human beings the dignity they deserve because we have made them into something less than human corrupts the chain of morality entirely. In “Beyond the Clouds,” petty drug dealer Amir’s life is only worth what value he can bring to those hiring him. When he starts causing more trouble than he’s worth, he is summarily dispatched. A commodity himself, he values those around him based on the benefit they can bring him. When, en route to sell a young girl under his protection to a local brothel owner, he sees her humanity, he can no longer get through with the transaction. His punishment comes swiftly and ironically when his best friend sells him out to the thugs he betrayed,  30 pieces of silver-style.

Dehumanization. It’s a story as old as the world. And it never ends well.

Daily Blog: Making friends while adulting


I was listening to this episode of the Gretchen Ruben podcast and got a little hung-up on the “why you should have people over” part.

I’M TRYING GRETCHEN!!

I grew up in a family where my parents’ friends were like family. My mother’s family was in France and my father’s family was in Chicoutimi, a prohibitively long drive from Ottawa, especially in the winter. I grew-up celebrating Holidays, birthdays and major events with my parents’ friends and their children, who were like cousins to me. This image of friendship was formative and I remember in high school thinking that my high school friends would become like my parents’ friends. They didn’t. To this day, I have friends and my husband has friends but we have very few family friends.

This image of friendship etched in my heart is making it hard for me to appreciate the friendships I do have in my life. I often feel like I have no friends but it’s not true. I have many dear friends but they are not family friends. Our children and husbands don’t know each other. We don’t celebrate together, we are not invited to their children’s birthdays or to be their children’s godparents. We have coffee together, we hold each other up in bad times but our families are circles that do not meet.

Throughout the years, I have tried to make family friends by having people over. I have organized apple picking parties, snow fort building parties, brunch parties, family birthday parties, couples’ book clubs, beach picnics, parents meet-ups and recently Bollywood Movie Nights. I have given my phone number to so many people who have never called or texted me back, it’s embarrassing. So many people complain about how hard it is to make friends in your adult years but so few people are willing to do anything about it.

As I have gotten older, making friends has become harder and harder. I noticed that the people who have close friends made them when they were younger. Friendships nurtured for years before the weight of family obligations, work and general busyness challenged them. It’s hard enough to keep existing friendships through our thirties and forties, making new friends is nearly impossible. I can’t host as often as I used to. Our weekends are often packed. We need to manage our own schedules and that of our children. People are more discerning about their friendships, being roughly the same age and stage is no longer enough commonalities to be best friends. I have a professional relationship with most of the people I meet these days, like my massage therapist or my dentist.

The realities of life with a job and a growing family will probably prevent most of us from making meaningful new connections during our thirties and forties but I’m sure that planting these seeds will pay off in the future when we are no longer so busy. I will keep working on these budding friendships, like tiny plants that could be weeds or flowers, it’s too early to tell. Until the day when we can invest the time and energy to let them grow.

Daily Blog: Kids, phones and social media first principles


Finding balance when it comes to children and technology is a tricky thing. With our older children, we tended to be on the limiting side of things. Those were the years when children and teenagers were transitioning out of using regular phones and email to communicate and into using texting apps. In our old-goaty ways, we believed that their real friends would call them at home if they were real friends. But in the end, they were mostly living on the edges of the social life of the school and resented us for it. I’m not against children resenting parents in general. Most resentment morphs into approbation with a tad of maturity. But some resentments morph into bitterness and can lead to sneaky behaviour and general malfeasance. I saw that parents who were more flexible, keeping an eye on their children as they trained their judgment muscles, had children I admired. Very restrictive parents often had nice children, many never rebelled. But they were not necessarily growing into people I wanted my children to emulate. At some point, I went to a conference in Newfoundland for a few days and when I came back everyone had an iPod nano. The nano morphed into an iPod and it all went downhill from there.

 

We delt with bluntfacelying, dead-of-night bullying, all manners of drama. And that’s just the stuff we know about. Our children graduated from the iPod to the phone when we moved into a rental house and did not have a landline. We tried having a shared family phone but that only worked as long as the children didn’t need it at the same time. We had rules about no phones in bedrooms but that became hard to manage when some teenagers got jobs that called them in for shifts, others used their phones to listen to music and others used it as an alarm clock.

As a parent, it was hard to make a case for leaving the phones in the kitchen when I used my phone as a phone, a notepad, a music device, a recipe book, a camera, a watch, a map, and a magazine. We got a router with a timer that turned off at 10 pm and so far it’s the set-up that has worked the best. There is a router for grown-ups and a router for not-so-grown-ups. The children have a mix of phones and iDevices but the phones don’t have data. I don’t have to manage where each device is at any given time and if a big kid needs wifi after 10 pm (as is the case when they start studying later and preparing for exams), we can switch them over to the adult wifi. At 10 pm, the iPods and data-less phones turn into useless doorstops and the teenagers go to sleep. In a nutshell: what works one day may stop working the next. You need to be flexible and reasonable.

Our children have done everything you’re warned against. They created front public accounts on Instagram that we follow and fake Instagram accounts (Finsta) which are their real Instagram presence. They’ve gotten secret Facebook accounts that we discovered when they turned-up on my mom’s “suggested friends” list. They’ve blocked us on Snapchat and Twitter. People think that doing these things is the worst; but let me tell you: knowing about it is better than not knowing about it. Sure, I don’t know the content of the Finsta but I know that the Finsta exists. I don’t need to know everything that goes on in my teenagers’ lives, I just need to know enough to intervene if something bad happens.

My approach to parenting teenagers is the squeaky wheel approach: I let normal life happen as it must and react when something sticks out. To know that something sticks out, that a wheel is squeaky, you need to let normal happen. If you react to everything that offends your good taste or values, you will be on constant alert, I promise you. I call it the “third hole” principle of indignation, based on a story my daughter told me. She had gone to a Catholic girls’ Summer camp and the campers were piercing each others’ ears (….I know.…). One teenage girl had been prohibited by her parents to get her ears pierced and was concerned about being kicked out of the house. She had reason to believe it based on her older brother’s experience when his girlfriend had gotten pregnant. Son, mother, and child had been erased from the family until they got properly married. Well, that’s one way not to pass on the faith to your descendants I thought but whatever.

The “third hole” principle of indignation is that when everything is a red alert, nothing is a red alert. If you hit the roof about ear piercing, where is there left to go when your kid drives drunk or walks away from his pregnant girlfriend? You have to leave yourself some range, know what I mean? Keep righteous indignation for things that are righteously indignating.

Which brings me back to my tech-use first principles:

(1) Don’t try to keep up. Some parents delude themselves thinking that they are on top of things because they have their children’s login and passwords. Other parents feel like prohibiting one platform will keep their children safe from the ugly side of social media. Newsflash: you can’t keep-up. All media platforms have an ugly side and all media platforms (yes, even Snapchat) can be curated to avoid it. Thinking that you’re on top of things because you prohibited Snapchat or Twitter just lulls you into a false sense of safety. Work on trust and good communication instead of working on managing Facebook, it will pay off.

(2) Bad stuff happens at night. You know that feeling when you go out late at night and realize that your sleepy old town has a whole other life between 11 pm and 3 am? Teenage drama and harassment happen at night. You will avoid 90% of the problems by prohibiting phones in bedrooms and by curtailing online access at 10 pm.

(3) Try to understand by relating. We didn’t grow-up with social media but human nature hasn’t evolved that much in 30 years. Silicon Valley tech titans have found new ways of tapping into what delights and threatens us but we are essentially the same old humans we were in the ’80s. We had rules about when to call who, etiquette about where to hang out, cool kids and nerds. One of my daughters made real friends on Twitter. She wrote a tweet that was re-tweeted by one of her idols and she met a bunch of stans. Now they have a group chat and they Skype regularly, we even visited a few on some of our travels to Toronto and the U.S. Several follow me on Twitter and Instagram. They are a bunch of cute creative teenage weirdos that would never have met anyone like them if not for social media. It reminded me of pen pals back in the days. Agencies were dedicated to connecting pen pals and some made life-long friendships through writing. Look at social media as an extension of what made you tick as a teenager, you’ll find the commonalities in no time.

(4) It’s better to screw-up at home than far from it. I err on the side of permissiveness because I want to know what my children’s strengths and weaknesses are before they leave home. I want them to make mistakes while I can still help them manage the fall-out. Teenagers and young adults can make decisions that will impact the rest of their lives. I don’t want the wild wild world to be their first teacher.

(5) Finally, start small and build on it. The tech genie is incredibly hard to put back in the bottle once you realize you were too permissive. It’s better to start small and add priviledges as your child shows that she can handle it than to try to reel-in an extra long rope after they hang themselves on it.

 

 

B-logging like it’s 1998


There are two things I need to do more this year, one is writing and the other one is being more like Seth Godin. I listen to my share of podcast interviews and nothing sends me scribbling things I need to remember like an interview with Seth Godin. This week on his blog, Seth celebrated daily bloggers who had reached (and overcome) the 1000-posts threshold and I decided to start blogging the way God intended when He created the Internet. Daily web-logging. Journalling. It may not always matter, it may not even be good. But I need to get the bad stuff out of the way so the good stuff can emerge. Like a monkey with a typewriter.

I often have ideas that I store away for future posts. They are bits of conversations, advice I give to people or little strokes of insight I get from thinking thoughts. They don’t always come fully formed and I often store them away to include in future posts. The problem is that I don’t write often enough to synthesize everything in one coherent text. But my life is at an inflection point right now and maybe there is worth in sending these reflections out into the world. I’m taking charge of my health and addressing lingering physical and emotional issues, my youngest child is in school and I am looking — unsuccessfully — for work. The ups-and-down of applying for and being turned away from entry-level jobs I am way over-educated for is certainly a mind-fuck worth sharing. I turns out that we live in a world that talks a good talk about the importance of raising children well and an even better talk about feminism and diversity. But try to find work when your last degree is 10 years-old and your experience it patchy and no one will give you a call back. You’re too old for internships, not cool enough for start-ups and not connected enough to be given a chance. We want diversity in the workplace as long as it walks like a white man and talks like a white male.

I’m turning 45 in a week, here goes nothing! Welcome to my B-log.