Thursday, March 14, 2013

No Limits

Paul comes in looking quite happy today, not his usual demeanor.

“A friend of mine told me about this article he saw in the New York Times. It was about a website, or it wasn’t exactly about the website, but it mentioned the website in passing. I think the article was actually slamming the website, but Roger thought I’d be interested and he was right. It’s called LivesOn.”

I groan internally. I saw that article too. In fact I saved it. The article, written by Evgeny Morozov, starts as follows: “’When your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting’ is the reassuring slogan greeting visitors at the Web site for LivesOn, a soon-to-launch service that promises to tweet on your behalf after you die. By analyzing your earlier tweets, the service would learn ‘about your likes, tastes, syntax’ and add a personal touch to all those automatically composed scribblings from the world beyond.”

I couldn’t believe it! And yet I could. It was the ultimate expression of people’s inability to accept any limitation, not even death. I read the quote to several friends. One said that it gave a whole new meaning to the concept of ghost writing. Another wondered if you could have a delayed payment plan. I thought they were both pretty funny. 

But Paul is quite serious. I say nothing while he relates his experience of looking up the Web site, adding the detail that you can have an executor who oversees your messages after you’re gone. But not gone, of course, and that’s the point. I do understand the seriousness of Paul’s interest. And I also understand that we all struggle in one way or another with the problem of immortality. I know that one of the reasons I wrote my book, Love and Loss, was to memorialize my husband, to keep him – and myself - alive on the pages of a book even though I could no longer have him in person. Some people have children to increase their feeling of immortality. And then there’s the desire for fame, a desire fueled by the wish to live on, to be more than the blink of an eye in the history of humankind. 

“Why do you think it appeals to you?” I ask.

“It should appeal to everyone! Why wouldn’t it!? It’s a way to continue, maybe not forever, but for a lot longer than I would otherwise. Wouldn’t you be interested?”

“No, I don’t think so. I don’t think I’d want to be remembered by my tweets. But I do think this is an important issue for you. I think it’s an example of your difficulty accepting limits. You don’t want to die, just as you don’t want to accept you can’t work three full-time jobs, or sleep with every woman you see, or buy everything you want and still have money in the bank. There are limits to what we can have and what we can do. No matter how much we might wish it, we’re not going to sprout wings and fly.”

“But this is more important. If I’m gone after another thirty or forty years, what’s the point of anything? Nothing has meaning. I might as well curl up in a ball and do nothing.”

So what’s going on here? Yes, Paul does have huge issues around narcissism and entitlement. He wants what he wants when he wants it. He has great difficulty saying no to his impulses, and little tolerance for frustration or deprivation. I, however, see Paul’s problem as an inability to mourn. To acknowledge that he can only have one job or one woman and, most importantly, one life, he must mourn all the lost opportunities, all the lives not lived. He must accept the limitation of his existence and mourn that which cannot be. 

At the moment, the need to accept and mourn his limitations is more my goal for Paul than his own. He is more intent on circumventing those limitations, on finding ways to speak from the grave. Depending upon how successful LivesOn proves to be may give us an idea of how many Pauls are out there.       


Unknown said...

Wow - this makes me think of Yalom's writings and also on the difficulty in practicing mindfulness/being present in the moment in our modern world. Reading this week's blog reminded me to take a moment and appreciate the present rather than constantly worrying about the future. I love your writings, Linda! I take something from it every week.

Linda Sherby PH.D., ABPP said...

Thanks so much! And thanks for all your support.