I don’t believe in blood relations. Instead, I believe in a support system.
Recently, my paternal grandma died. My dad was close to her, so I know it was a pretty big deal to him. She was also really old and had been hoping to die, so it was quite a relief and not a melancholic death. But quite honestly, it could have been any 100 year old stranger.
My cousin (who was trying to hitch a ride to the burial) appeared shocked when I told her I was skipping the ceremony to spend time with my friends instead.
“Ah, don’t tell anyone this o. How can you say you’re not attending your own grandma’s burial because of a friend’s birthday?”
I immediately tackled my cousin. My friends are more important to me than someone I met barely three times in twenty five years. I got so defensive that I started thinking about it. Why the fuck was she trying to guilt-trip me? Why did “your own grandma” make it seem more serious?
To me, family is all the people in my support group: my siblings and parents, my friends, my co-workers. But if I understand that a family is a pack of people that provide support to one another, how far out should that web be spun? How much do I owe the people that supported my support system?
Nothing. I owe them nothing.
I was probably too young to appreciate all the people that my mum borrowed money from to pay for our school fees; and while it contributed directly to my life, I’m not sure that I owe them reciprocal support — my mum does. However, I owe my mum, and so if she ever asks, it’s a no-brainer. She used some of their support for me, and earned the right to use some of mine for them.
If I did go to the burial, it would not have been about my grandma, but instead about my dad. It’s definitely easier for me to muster compassion for my dad’s mum than for my grandma.
Thankfully though, my parents didn’t want me there anyway.
“I pray to be like you when I grow up ooo”.
That’s what my mum tells me when she calls at 9am and I sound like I just got out of bed, especially when I tell her I’ll be working from home that day. As we all know, it’s 2018, and working from home is a luxury.
I’m not sure it should be though. There’s already something weird about spending a huge part of life “working to achieve someone else’s bottom line in the hopes that you improve your life doing so”¹. I guess time and presence are just line items of the price we pay to live well.
Only a few people can do this, and I admit only a few jobs allow this, but it’s a beautiful thing to have your days available to you; to be able to go to the gym at 11am in the morning or be able to sit for lunch with friends at 2pm in the afternoon on a weekday. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to spend the days of the week with the people you love, while still making a living.
I think the greatest luxury is being able to decide what you do with your time.
¹ Excerpt from Bryan Hughes’ article in the 17th edition of Offscreen
The first time I ever saw Offscreen’s motto “To advance humanity”, I jeered.
You see, Offscreen is a really brilliant one-man design / technology magazine, but nothing grander. As far as I was concerned, it was quite the overstatement of the impact that a mere design magazine could possibly be making to humanity. Come on…. the whole humanity?!
Four or so editions of Offscreen down the line, I don’t jeer at the motto anymore. In a weird way, I’ve come to understand how the little things we do progress humanity. I understand how important it is for people to create local content, for people to write academic journals, for people to attempt to use service design to transform governance. I managed to scale down humanity enough to understand how tiny contributions matter.
The excerpt above shows Ashwini Asokan discussing how we desperately need more diverse people to participate in designing artificial intelligence, because we’re building a model of humanity, and that model needs all possible demographics. Reading that excerpt made me realize how important contribution is, how seemingly trivial things like documenting living conditions in Unilag could end up being important.
My realism has never allowed me to see myself or my work as important. It’s much easier for me to see how Elon Musk is progressing humanity than for me to admit designing payment modals for money (and for fun) makes any dent in the world. One time, a Lyft driver in San Francisco, upon learning what I do for work, went on and on about how I was indirectly influencing behaviour and defining what that part of the internet means to some people.
For those ten minutes with the Lyft driver, it felt bigger than just writing code and aligning divs.