I’ve struggled to process my emotional response to the Russian-driven war in Ukraine. Both of these poems were republished in The New York Times this month, and both capture some piece of my emotional puzzle: the relative privilege of observing a war up close but from afar.
It will be many years until we can fully understand the extent of human suffering this war has wrought. If anything, I’m grateful for the journalists and residents who have made it raw for all of us. And I hope that we can shift our expanded empathetic lens to include refugees from Syria and Central America, trans children in Texas, Uyghurs in China, and more.
We Lived Happily During the War
by Ilya Kaminsky
And when they bombed other people’s houses, we
but not enough, we opposed them but not
enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America
was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house —
I took a chair outside and watched the sun.
In the sixth month
of a disastrous reign in the house of money
in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,
our great country of money, we (forgive us)
lived happily during the war.
Musée des Beaux Arts
by W.H. Auden
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window
or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
When we design and build with equity and justice in mind, we craft better solutions that respond to the complexities of entrenched systemic problems. I imagine a better future where we claim our subjectivity by sharing and celebrating our lived experience and how that motivates our work—and hold ourselves accountable to making engineering work for all.
Thoughtful critique of the ways hidden biases affect the outcomes of engineering (and design). Software systems shape us and our society at a compounding rate. I hope to see more reflections like this in the future.
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman was one of the most beautiful books I have read in a while. I know Sally Rooney gets the crown for being the whisperer of Millennial Women but it was this book that kept causing me extreme highs and lows as I deeply resonated with its text and resented its accuracy as a parent of young children in a world I can’t slow down long enough to fully understand.
The book captures the subtle melancholy of being a human, flaws and all, in a digital, distracted, fragmented world. I especially loved the author’s perspective on love and parenting.
Read it–and if you do, let me know. Because I really want to talk about it with people.
“The truth of course is that if people really were as happy as they look on the Internet, they wouldn’t spend so much damn time on the Internet, because no one who’s having a really good day spends half of it taking pictures of themselves. Anyone can nurture a myth about their life if they have enough manure, so if the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, that’s probably because it’s full of shit.”
“Expensive restaurants have bigger gaps between the tables. First class on airplanes has no middle seats. Exclusive hotels have separate entrances for guests staying in suites. The most expensive thing you can buy in the most densely populated places on the planet is distance.”
“God doesn't protect people from knives, sweetheart. That's why God gave us other people, so we can protect each other.”
“Because that was a parent’s job: to provide shoulders. Shoulders for your children to sit on when they’re little so they can see the world, then stand on when they get older so they can reach the clouds, and sometimes lean against whenever they stumble and feel unsure.”
So the truth is that the influencer economy is just a garish accentuation of the economy writ large. As our culture continues to conflate the private and public realms—as the pandemic has transformed our homes into offices and our bedrooms into backdrops, as public institutions increasingly fall prey to the mandates of the market—we’ve become cheerfully indentured to the idea that our worth as individuals isn’t our personal integrity or sense of virtue, but our ability to advertise our relevance on the platforms of multinational tech corporations.