The point of writing

I guess I have come across this before but I was recently made aware (or reminded) of from Stranger Things 3 of what is called the Baader-Meinhof effect, or ‘frequency illusion’— the effect that happens when you start seeing the same things in succession after being mentioned to you, or encountered upon it the first time. Our brain essentially has the ability to recognise patterns, and when it comes across two or more things in succession after we are made aware of the first one, it begins to alert us of these multiple successions. So it might seem that it is a coincidence, a serendipity — but actually, your brain is connecting these events for you and disregarding the rest, blinding you from them.

Speaking of serendipity, I also got to know yesterday that the word ‘serendipity’ originated from an old Persian story, The Three Princes of Serendip. An Italian author heard the story from another person, who had translated the Persian tale into Italian, which is then translated into English. It tells of three princes in the country of Serendippo, who discern where one camel had been and had done based on small little clues they found along the way. It is a little bit of Sherlock Holmes-y detective story, in fact.

Speaking of patterns as well, I am in the midst of reading Jason Fagone’s The Woman Who Smashed Codes. It tells about Elizebeth Smith Friedman, the first woman cryptographer, who managed to decipher more than four thousand Nazi messages and in return, saved innumerable lives. Her life story, lauded as another the new Hidden Figures (although I would say, let Hidden Figures be remarkable in its own ways and The Woman, in another, without comparing them both) is a story of put together from “a puzzle that was fragmented by secrecy, sexism, and time”. In the book, it is said that codebreaking — what Elizebeth did — “is about noticing and manipulating patterns. Humans do this without thinking. We are wired to see patterns.” The only thing is that codebreakers are trained to see them more deeply and analytically.

In all my greediness, I also picked up reading Tear Gas: From the Battlefields of World War I to the Streets of Today, an epub copy of which I have purchased a long time ago but have never managed to read as of yet. Self-explanatorily, the book tells of the social history of poison gas, weaving through the intersection of business, the military, and science from the trenches of World War I to the Occupy movement today — and all of them poorly handled ethically. I was seething reading through the pages. It got to my attention that, as a combination of today’s political climate and my role as a Political Sociology grad student, everything I read today makes me furious. How do I handle this, knowing that I can back away into the comfort of my own life, knowing I have the privilege of deciding what I can risk, when there are others who have no choice and live these very lives?

This is when I was reminded of the words from Alexander Chee’s How To Write An Autobiographical Novel:

When fascists come to power, writers are among the first to go to jail. And that is the point of writing.

Sometimes, when I got frustrated at myself for being so non-confrontational in the times of arising conflict, I know what I am good at — writing. So I will write.

When war comes—and make no mistake, it is already here—be sure you write for the living too. The ones you love, and the ones who are coming for your life. What will you give them when they get there? I tell myself I can’t imagine a story that can set them free, these people who hate me, but I am writing precisely because one did that for me. So I always remember that, and I know to write even for them.

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