Let me begin by saying that I love my Apple watch. I love being able to see the time and date and read emails and text messages with the flick of a wrist, I love that I can pair bluetooth headphones with it to listen to podcasts and music, and perhaps most of all I love being able to “ping” my phone when I lose track of it seventeen times a day. I even like being able to track my activity, or lack thereof, and when my watch tells me to “Breathe”, I actually do. One limitation of the technology, however, relates to the device’s inability to detect a person’s actual body position. Sometimes, I’ll be standing in the kitchen removing the seeds from a dozen pomegranates or peeling and slicing a bag full of Granny Smith apples that no one will eat anymore (more on that later) and feel a notification thrum on my wrist. When I check my watch, it tells me I need to stand up and move around so I can meet my “Stand” goal for the day. Well, especially on days when I feel like I can’t remember the sensation of sitting down, this is particularly irritating.
I took this picture (while standing) on the night before Thanksgiving after a day when I’d spent literally twelve hours standing in the kitchen. To be chastised by a digital garment is aggravating enough, but when that censure is unearned and undeserved, it feels like a personal affront to which the natural reaction is the desire for rebuttal. The only problem is that the device nagging you to do something you’d spent your entire daylong existence doing is deaf to your self-righteous cries of innocence. You want to set the record straight not to prove anything, exactly, but just because it’s the TRUTH. If a person walked into your house, saw you standing in the kitchen, and reminded you that it was time to stand up, you’d say, “I AM standing up! In fact, I’ve been standing up so long that a digital watch might think I’d flatlined!” and everyone would have a good chuckle. But no, there is no justice to be had where the watch is concerned. It’s wrong and it will never know. You can never shed light on the error of its judgment. There is no opportunity to plead not guilty and then win the case simply by point of fact. The watch is wrong but won’t ever be corrected.
Yes, this is very silly. I should not feel rebuked by a senseless preprogrammed microchip that’s just doing the best it can. But this feels like a metaphor for all of those moments in life when you ARE doing it; you’re doing exactly what someone or something is asking you to do, and you KNOW you’re doing it the right way, the best way you know how, even if they can’t tell, even if that knowledge is invisible to the eyes of the instant. When your child needs to take medicine and fights so hard you need to sit on his legs, hold his hands down with your knees and get two fingers between his teeth just so you can pour that purple liquid between them, that liquid that you remember loving as a child because artificial grape was your favorite, that’s when you feel like what you’re doing is wrong but you know it’s right. No one wants to force a child like this, but when there is no other way (you’ve tried everything from logic to bribery to flavor masking to distracting with a screen and several other methods in between), you have to do what’s best even if it doesn’t look or feel like it. “Treat your child with gentleness,” says the world, but sometimes being gentle in the long run requires administering an antibiotic in a way that’s fierce but fiercely necessary.
It makes me think of the poem “Epistemology” by Richard Wilbur, the second stanza of which is:
“We milk the cow of the world, and as we do
We whisper in her ear, ‘You are not true.'”
It’s in those moments, when what we’re giving or doing is being met with displeasure, repudiation, or invalidation despite our certainty that the purpose is for some sake of betterment, that we must try to find ways to silence those naysaying voices. It’s in those moments, when the face value of our actions is so unrecognizable to the objective directing them, when what we’re doing is essential to an end that is wholly, deeply good, when the nature of our engagement bears little resemblance to the holistic cause or the effect of it, it’s hard to reconcile these things to ourselves, let alone to others. It’s in these moment when we have to summon the most trust in what we know is real and true, in our instincts, in our quintessential understanding of the order of things. So next time my watch tells me to stand up after I’ve been piping rosettes or sewing a costume or rolling out cookies or stripping thyme while standing for hours at the kitchen island, I’ll raise my wrist to my lips and whisper to it, “You are not true.” Sometimes, when the world tells you it’s time to stand up, it’s enough just to know that you already are.