We are in the closing days of the year of the Ox. This might explain why the past year has felt heavy and slow and angry and overwhelming at times. The next year in the Chinese zodiac is the year of the Tiger, and a water tiger at that. I’ve looked at several Chinese horoscope sites and they all seem to indicate the energy in the coming year will be more positive and energetic than last year. I could do with some of that.
(I started paying attention to Chinese horoscope years when we were having a particularly bad year at work. Everything seemed to be going wrong. Then someone pointed out it was a Monkey year. Certainly it felt like there was some mischief going on and perhaps someone flinging poo about as well. Since then I track the expected energy from the Chinese zodiac to have an idea of what is coming. I’m not saying there is anything in this, but so you know, 2020 was the year of the Rat. Appropriate for a plague year, no?)
I read an interview with film director Andrea Arnold last week about her new movie Cow. The descriptions of her previous films made the sound very interesting but at the same somewhat bleak and unsettling. The description of Cow made it seem more interesting than a film following a dairy cow’s life for four years should be. However the description of the Tarantino-esque ending lets me know that there’s only one way Luma’s story will end. Part of me really wants to watch this film because it feels important that if I consume milk, I should undersand the life of the animals that brought it to me. Part of me doesn’t want to watch this film because I understand that if I watch it I will swear off dairy products forever. I watched the trailer and already felt uneasy.
I attended / watched (what is the appropriate word?) a webinar on Monday about why we are losing our ability to focus and concentrate. The presenter, Johann Hari, was touting his new book Stolen Focus, in which he looks at personal and interpersonal factors that are stopping us from concentrating. Yes, part of it may be willpower but in researching this book he interviewed the man who wrote the book on willpower and even the willpower guy said he finds himself sucked into playing video games for hours on end! So if you find you are easily distracted don’t be too hard on yourself, you’re in good company!
When it comes to devices, you can do some things to help – limit your screen time, keep your phone in another room, switch off notifications to avoid the Pavlovian “beep” response, and that will minimise your interruptions.
But Hari also mentioned that our concentration is chemically challenged right now, as we are in a state of vigilance right now. He compared Covid to being attacked by a bear. You recover from the bear attack, but now you know a bear attack is possible, you’re always looking for the bear attack, so your body is in a more heightened state of awareness so you can run away from the bear next time, and the chemicals your body is producing to get you ready to run away from that bear are stopping you from concentrating. And with each wave of Covid that comes, our vigilance steps up and up, and the little animal part of our brain is shooting out more and more chemicals getting us ready to run. Sitting still and focusing on – say – reading a book is not what you do when you’re about to be attacked by a bear. So if you struggled to read at some point last year, don’t worry, it wasn’t you, it was the effect of Covid on your body’s chemistry.
Hari also made the point that it’s not so much your phone that is the enemy but the apps you interact with. These apps have all the might and intelligence of Silicon Valley behind them, and their aim is to keep you engaged and scrolling for as long as possible. Every “like” you give is another piece of information about you. Every swipe is another opportunity to advertise something to you. The longer you keep scrolling the better resource you are for the App/information gatherers. And scrolling reduces our focus. How long does it take to read a tweet, look at a picture on Instagram, read a Facebook post? Seconds. Our phones are training us to focus for only seconds at a time.
And your response is not to think about what you’ve seen/read as you would if you read a whole newspaper article for instance, but to ❤ or not <3. We’ve reduced political debate down to a matter of hearts. In this environment, he said, it made it easier for authoritarian governments to rise – isolated people, using limited information streams that only reflect their beliefs (because the algorithm only shows you what it knows you like), complex issues reduced down to headline grabs, no-one bothers to read or engage or learn about the bigger issues.
I was looking for some top tips on how I could get my focus back but I found out what I have to do is find a way to dismantle the Facebook-Meta corporation. I’m not sure I’m ready for that.
We finally got to have our Greek Christmas with five people around the table. We had a mezza platter (dips and breads and crudites and olives and halloumi and mini spanakopitas and some very dry baked falafel) and then we had mains of moussaka, lemony chicken potatoes (it does have a Greek name but I forgot), and a lighter version of briam, roast vegetables, with just onion, peppers and courgette (zucchini).
Dessert was decidely un-Greek in the form of a Galette du Roi, which one of our guests (she’s French) brought. I think she brought it because she wanted a Galette du Roi but being French, would not over indulge to the point of eating a whole one by herself. (I can see why – the Galette du Roi is 40% frangipane filling, 40% pastry, and 20% butter).
We ate half of the dessert but no-one had found la féve – the little charm that is hidden in the Galette. Whoever finds it gets to be the King. (The “Roi” of the dessert’s name.) So my friend tapped the remaining portion of the galette until she found a suspicious mound. She cut a thin slice around this lump and – lo and behold – there was la fève! And so she was Le Roi. Or La Reine. Or Empress of the Galaxy. Whatever title you prefer.