In “Hang the DJ,” the fourth episode of the fourth season of the British TV series Black Mirror, its premise takes on an expedient approach to speed dating. In its world those who seek true love are placed in a simulation called the System, in which theyfind themselves paired off with seemingly random people. Embarking on a relationship of sorts, they each then try to get to know one another within a certain period of time (lasting anywhere between a few minutes to short of a year), after which they each go their separate ways to be then paired off with their next match. These couples are not always smitten with each other; some relationships are purely sexual and superficial. The System’s algorithm tries, through collection of personal data from each relationship, to match their users with his or her perfect mate—or in the case of the episode’s protagonist, his 99.8% match.
Written by Charlie Brooker, the whole premise makes for an interesting hour of television, not to mention an apt commentary in the age of Tinder and social media. But isn’t that how it really is in real life? With each failed relationship you gain a little more insight about yourself, what you really want and what you need. Through the process of trial and error you learn what your tastes and preferences really are. You understand yourself a little better. And in turn, you get a clearer picture of what you want out of a relationship, out of a partner.
I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness lately, because it has become to me increasingly apparent that despite every effort, it has remained an elusive virtue to achieve. But perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise. You see, early last year I set the intention—as a resolution of sorts—to be a kinder, more compassionate human being. I told myself and everyone who was willing to listen that when I leave this earth I want to be remembered not as someone who was great at what he did, nor someone who was very talented and very successful; on that day when I finally leave this vessel I want to be remembered as someone who was deeply kind. I should have known that when I put something out there, the universe would respond.
It always does.
Because since I’ve embarked on this journey of self-improvement I have been placed in circumstances and introduced to people and brought to places which have repeatedly tested my resolve. I wish I could say that for the most part I’ve succeeded, but I’m afraid I’m not that lucky on that front. Sure, there are days when I would catch a glimpse of the person I want to be—offering strangers a smile, say, or doing someone a favor without prompt or a reward in mind—but often I would hang my head in defeat and catalogue the day’s sins of either commission or omission—the petty remark given carelessly, the failure to give a passing beggar a dime, the little thoughts that would fester in the mind for days on end—and in turn anger myself for my inability to change.
I am in Vienna for the weekend because I have been listless too long and burned out too badly and too often shiftless to do anything except rewatch episodes of Breaking Bad on Netflix. But I am also here because Vienna is where my good friend MT now lives and she offered me a place to sleep and promised that I would not have to spend a single dime for the entire duration of the trip.
There’s one more reason why I decided to come to Vienna for the weekend: I decided to come because Vienna strikes me as an infinitely romantic city, and I imagined it would be great to route the places where Jesse and Céline have been and pretend that I too am young and in love.
Writers, especially young writers, new writers, writers who have not had that much experience with the craft, are often advised to write what they know, write stuff about which they can say something, anything. Although on the whole I do not find it an unsound advice—in fact it is a great way to jumpstart the mind, get the juices flowing—I believe there is a better way to go about it. Instead of writing what you do know, write about the things that you don’t. Write not about falling in love, say, but about how that certain someone makes you feel and why you think it is love you’re feeling in the first place. Don’t write about the beauty of the sun sinking under the horizon, or the tranquil glow of freshly fallen snow on the pavement; write about the visceral responses these visual cues trigger in you. Write about art and death, about feminism and patriarchy and racial inequality. Writing this way forces the mind to engage with a concept, to thread a coherent narrative line in order to make sense of it, render it less obscure, understand it. And there are plenty of things I don’t know.