Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Unrelated Rage

A childhood friend of J's wrote an essay in the local news paper about why he was walking out of school today. I have known of this kid for many years though we never met. Reading his essay made me cry. The pain felt raw and real in his words; he was able to inflict it upon the reader. While being in awe of this young person for being such an powerful writer, I was ashamed to be among the millions of adults who have failed our collective kids. He had not minced words in calling us out. 

How do I now deal with this toxic mix of grief, rage and shame that hits me every time I read something about this topic ? I don't discuss with other parents who for their part don't bring it up either. We find our safe space in such forced amnesia by implied consent. Today at school as tributes were read for the victims, our kids cried. Yet, we go about our days like nothing changed. We discuss plans for summer, their driver's license test, how they were grounded for staying out past curfew, the big soccer game coming up, the impending empty nest, how braces cost an arm and leg and their smile is still crooked. 

We cling to every shred of "normal" like so many talismans to keep our kids out of harm's way. We hope they will live to have families, careers and the American Dream. We try not to dwell upon the tragedy and find ways to move on. We pretend this is the best most positive way and there is no value in dwelling on past that cannot be changed. Mostly we feel powerless. Those parents and families had many dreams too. Tragedy is now an inedible stain in their lives they will never be able to wash away.

In Marie Kondo's book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, she talks about how people in times of extreme stress try to subconsciously fix what is wrong at the root by frantically cleaning and de-cluttering. I must have been doing just that later in the afternoon unable to process the difficult emotions I experienced reading that essay. I decided to vacuum the second floor to calm down. It was a bad idea because I happen to own one of these cruel jokes of a machine. It exists in my house only to taunt my spectacular lack of mechanical ability.

Once I take it apart, I cannot for the life of me put it back together. So if I need to remove the dust from the bag-less innards of this torture device after the second room, I am screwed. Who are these people that are giving this thing a 4 star rating ? Am I the world's greatest retard that can't put this thing back together but everyone else can ?  I am filled with self-doubt and rage that rise in huge alternating waves as I try in vain to finish the job that I started. Did they have even a single woman on the design team when they build this household appliance ? I am cussing like a sailor at the machine and J is doing her best to ignore me. She knows of my bad relationship with this vacuum cleaner over the years and that its best to stay away. In the past, her attempts to help me assemble it did not end well for either of us. It assumed symbolic importance for unresolved and unrelated disputes we may have had at the time.

I will resume this task another day when I have less need to transfer rage from one hopeless place to another. 

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Second Chance

We will call him A. He turns thirteen in a few weeks and came into my life some five years ago. The first meeting is etched in memory. In my mind it is age he will forever be. A was a child then and young man taller than me already. Much has changed both our lives this half decade I have known him. There was room in my heart for a second child but as I grew older and the dreams of a motherhood encore started to fade, that room turned cold and unwilling to receive love. Then I met A. Something about him made me want to rewind the clock. Try being a mother to another child and not repeat the mistakes I made and continue to make with J. 

The two kids have a lot in common but A is his own man too. He brings challenges I never experienced before and new rewards to make up for it. He forces me to be a better version of myself and I want to believe the improvements that follow help J out too. A makes me keenly aware of the value of time in a child's life. I was lucky to have met him when I did, when he was eager to talk about everything and only needed a willing listener. 

As his teen years draw near, the bar is much higher as I have learned from J. It is no longer enough to be an interested listener, he expects more and it is not always apparent what more is. There was the luxury of time to bring change you desired to see in the kid back then but not anymore. The years seem to fly by a lot faster beginning thirteen and influencing their inner worlds gets much harder. A is my chance to relive that phase of J's life maybe with more grace and wisdom this time around. He is also my chance to use the hard lessons of motherhood I have learned thus far and help another child.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Summer Wedding

A few weeks ago, I received news that my niece is getting married this summer. When I saw her last she was younger than my daughter is now. The idea of her being old enough to be married filled me with maternal feelings of love and loss such life events bring. The years and distance had turned this child into a woman I did not know at all. In the nights following, there were many restless, anxious dreams. 

Returning to the motherland after a decade and a half is daunting even without being in the harsh spotlight of a family wedding. I realized how many names I had forgotten by now and how relatives further from the main family tree had turned into ghostly wisps from the past. Many births, weddings and funerals had come and gone in the years I was away. Some of my favorite people are no longer alive and there will be empty spaces in homes I spent a lot of my childhood and youth in. This summer I would meet many young people for the first time, sometimes I would struggle to connect them to their parents who I may have known only in the passing. They would struggle to place me in the family tree and defining how I was related to them. We may have nothing to talk about.

Would such a family re-union hurt or heal ? I will likely have to answer the question about such a long absence. The truth would be hard to tell - that there never was a day in all these years when I missed what I left behind bad enough to want to visit. What does such a truth make me ? A person undeserving of family, origin and roots maybe ? And what right does such a person have to be part of their niece's wedding ? How would I make her feel if I told her why I never came to visit ? And yet there is no lie to adequately answer such a question without insulting peoples' intelligence. I wrote to her of my excitement to see her after all these years and received a warm reply for which I was very grateful.

Maybe it matters to no one that I was gone so long. Their lives intersected so little with mine that my absence was unremarkable. Yet, if I had been present I may have mentored some of my younger relatives, been a good sounding board for their ideas, expressed my maternal instincts in ways that brought me fulfillment. It took several days for the tumult of emotions, that this impending visit to India had brought on, to subside. I felt more hopeful that the extended family may remember me as I was a long time ago, that I may be able to travel back to a far less complicated time of my life - just enjoy feeling young and full of crazy hopes and dreams once again.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Toxic Emails

Reading this HBR article on erosion of company culture was a bit too close to home. Having been both at sending and receiving end of such emails over the years, I know they help no one. The sender may feel self-righteous for having an unshakable work ethic but for the receiver it can be a mixed bag depending upon their relationship to the sender. As a manager, I have felt peeved that my guys don't know when to stop being tethered to work. I would rather they unplugged and returned ready to thrive. When a manager was checking in on emails from the beach while we the team were hard at work, it made us all feel incompetent as the writer notes.  

There is the tricky business of response etiquette - are we now supposed to keep this overzealous individual "in the loop" on all communications following their first check in ? Or keeping in mind the vacation, send them periodic summaries of our collective accomplishments ? Depending on the personality of the individual we are dealing with even thinking about this question can be fraught with stress. What if we communicated too little or too much ? If the sky was indeed falling did we need to alert them to it or should we proceed on our own ? What would that say of our management and delegation abilities and reflect in our annual review ? Did we need to get together as a team and agree on a communication protocol here ? Or should it be a free for all ? The answer varies by organization and team but there is no winning solution anyway.

So not only has the company culture fallen victim here but the act of shooting off quick notes on the Blackberry (when that was still a thing) from the sunny sands of Praia Marinha has elevated the composite stress index of the suckers back in the office. Despite knowing the foolishness and futility of sending such emails, I have been guilty of it myself more times than I can count. 

It often starts with having some loose end that was not tied before hopping on the plane. There could be this last straggling call or follow-up that needs to happen so things can be cleanly transitioned to my back-up in the office. It is courtesy owed to them before I can enjoy my vacation in clear conscience.  So you try to tie things up in the departure lounge and for a variety of reasons that does not work out. Several hours later when back on land you try again. In the meanwhile, a queue of stuff has built up on account of this pesky loose end that you failed to tie up on time. The person on vacation can feel twinges of guilt for not having taken care of this before they left, inconveniencing others in the process.

So in order to have successful vacation with the family it becomes imperative now to take stock of that queue and deal with anything that could bloom into a problem over the week. And so you do what is needed.You are already a third of way into your vacation and have neither unplugged nor allowed your team to remain sane in your absence. It is a lose-lose situation irrespective of how well the rest of your vacation goes. The only way I know to cope is to leave the phone behind when those who I love most in the world are present with me here and now. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Year That Was

A year of big changes yet the mooring remained intact. In which I try to make a difficult peace with my mother and get a year closer to my own empty nest. Strangers becomes friends and family yet reviving old ties prove impossible. There were cousins, aunts, nieces and nephews around the world that I felt I should try to restore connections with. The passage of time erodes the things we have in common with others. We forget the familiar phrasing and conversations of the past.

Two decades could be summed up in a couple of minutes - got married, had kids, love or hate the job, enjoy the vacations and time with family and volunteering in the community. Or there would be change that is impossible to describe - gave up everything I knew and decided to start over in a new country. Just the dog and I. There is much that goes into a decision like that and yet after a long hiatus in communication it is easier to skip the minutiae and go to the end. That way we are all caught up and can begin from the fresh.

It is almost easier when people have undergone dramatic change over a couple of decades to the point they bear no resemblance to who I once knew. There is the name and the face, maybe some shared history and memories but everything else is brand new. It is like walking into a fully remodeled kitchen into a home you knew since childhood. There is a lot to hold on to and yet there is no way to deny what is new. There is a lot of positive in such change which make the acceptance easy. Those of us who arrived slower and more traditionally to the dreaded mid-life are like a home that has seen wear and tear alongside upgrades. Nothing is quite what it used to be  but change is not so stark as to reset your relationship and spark a fresh start.

In the early months of the year I decided time had come for closure with my mother so I could take full responsibility for my life and not be so quick to pin blame. That process took most of the year and there is restive peace now. I do not have the closure I sought, I don't have the friend I once had in her. But there is no anger anymore. I am able to see her as a person with many flaws but to whom I owe a lot too. Once the flaws were fully visible I seemed to appreciate her much better as a mother and feel genuine gratitude.

There is no magic cure for writer's block. From being able to write every day and almost effortlessly to struggling to write once a year. From having much to say even if trite, inconsequential, opinionated without reason to experiencing the bottomless pit of emptiness where nothing worth saying exists.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Between The World And Me

In the past year, I can't recall how may articles I have read about habits and routines of successful people. The focus on sleep hygiene is probably the common theme across them all. There seems to be the presumption that people have unlimited discretion on the use of their time and to that end they can just snap out of their loser-like habits and become a winner. Any full time working parent of an overbooked high schooler will tell you such is simply not the case. My friends with more than one kid have it much worse than I do. Every hour of time to be used at our discretion has to be earned with great effort. If I need to be on work related calls past 11 pm and still need to drop my kid off to swim practice at 6 am the next day, the math of my sleep hours is not within my control anymore.

But the constant admonitions of the experts on how not to become sick and a loser by way of sleep deprivation and being tethered to electronics served me well. I was able to change a few habits that fell in the "worst offenders" list. It also became clear in the process that I was not reading nearly as I much as I would like on topics that had nothing to do with my work. The absolutely luminous prose of Ta-Nehisi Coates in Between The World And Me was a prefect detox for my acquired bad habits over the last few years. Coates covers a lot of ground between personal narrative, history, reportage and race relations. There is very little if any anger in how the most troubling topics are discussed. Instead the reader is challenged to think about larger themes and the burden of history.

This is not a book about parenting but that was what resonated with me the most. He tells his son "You need to know that I was loved, that whatever my lack of religious feeling, I have always loved my people and that broad love is directly related to the specific love I feel for you". This is only one of the many memorable lines that made this one of the best parenting books I have read. Coates does not try to tell me how to be a good mother but helps me understand my mistakes and motivations as I try to be one to my fifteen year old.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Sparse and Gapped

My home is tidy and sparse. At times it could feel weightless without the heft of memories. While watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I thought about coping with things from the past that still cause pain. In my case, I have given away a lot to the local thrift stores and am not all cleaned up yet. The more I give way the less burdened I feel. Over time the open spaces where things had been acquire a character of their own. It could be the way the sunlight falls there through the window on a winter afternoon, or it way I set my laundry hamper there and forget to take it upstairs. The blank spaces are claimed back from objects now gone along with stories they bore. With so many gaps all around, the story of me, of us who were part of it have imagined and alternate endings. They may traverse through these new spaces in ways they could not have done before.

Friday, December 02, 2016

At Blocked

The best cure for writers block is writing. This piece of wisdom came from an acquaintance who once wrote. Following a transformational life experience, it is hard to speak from the heart which was the point of this blog. The heart is not where or what is used to be. I seem to have a stranger living inside my head. The two of us don't speak the same language or think the same thoughts. They make me reconsider all opinions, beliefs, loves and hates of the past in new light. In that sense, the years are decades that shaped me are now invalidated. So there silence, alien ideas that are hard to grasp though they come from within and a crippling incapacity to write. All this time, I have missed the therapeutic value of writing.

As an exercise to come in alignment with the stranger in my head who I am beginning to learn about, here are some mutually agreeable thoughts about Facebook.

There has been much talk about the recent elections in America having been heavily influenced by fake news promoted by Facebook. People have their worldviews reinforced by seeing more of what they want to see or believe. So we grow more entrenched in our positions, vindicated by fake news as it turns out. But the success and even existence of Facebook is predicated on our need for pretense and deception. Fundamentally, Facebook is less technology company and more grand experiment in human psychology and manipulating it for financial gain.

My childhood friend A is in a dead marriage for fifteen years now. He calls me sometimes to talk about the suffocation, about pretending to be Facebook Happy like everyone else he knows. He talks about doing time as long as he is able, about doing the right thing by his two children. His family pictures are snapshots of perfection they are meant to be. There is large contingent of Friends congratulating him on his wonderful kids and beautiful wife. He politely thanks them all. He lives a lie every time he posts one of these vignettes of his life, gets innundated with Likes and cheering comments. He chooses to broadcast the fiction not because he cannot separate it from fact.

He is hardly alone in doing so. A is using Facebook exactly as it is meant be used. Just like the fake news feeds that caused so much uproar, each person is feeding a constant stream of their deseiratum - unfolding a false narrative of themselves to their Facebook Friends. Collectively we curate an alternative reality of our society whose bounds depend on how much influence we possess.

Those fake news feeds belong squarely in this universe and should not be singled out for censure. Indeed, there is no place for truth or real news on Facebook. It would be at fundamental odds with the point of its existense. If we can no longer create our alternate realities on Facebook complete with "news stories" that affirm them, we might as well not be there.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Book Ends

This post bookends what has been a year of many upheavals and some closure as well. Some experiments failed big others succeeded much better than expected. Most year I tried desperately not to lose J completely.Staying connected to a teen daughter feels like grasping for straws.

She is experiencing her entry to womanhood in ways I cannot fully understand or appreciate.Her world is too different from mine at her age for any useful lessons to be passed along. What used to be a generation gap is magnified to a chasm by the pace of change between the 80s and now. I need to wait until she shares something to connect dots the best I can. This has been the hardest years of motherhood so far and J is a ways away from being an adult.

On the hardest days I tried to imagine the alternate endings to my story so far and also the road ahead may hold. What if I could simulate the conditions along the way to see where I may end up - much like testing out a driving simulator for potential life scenarios. I ended up watching The Secret after a particularly long day when the questionable claims made in the movie felt good - this is what I wanted to believe was possible. That I could imagine my happy state and just have the universe deliver me there. 

As result of all that the past year has been and some ideas from that movie, I did write up my life's wish list. It was an incredibly difficult thing to do. For each item on that list I had to pause - wishes turned out to be escape hatches, placeholders for decisions I did not want to make and a myriad of other conflicting things. So it was worth the effort to put that list together. I look at it often and am forced to align my efforts to my stated goals in life or accept that i still don't know what they are.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Ten Years

Today marks the tenth year since I started this blog. The fact that I have been able to keep it on life support for the last several years and not totally killed it feels good. The fact that it even exists gave me motivation to return and write again. Readers have been kind enough to stay with me through the years that I was mostly absent and had nothing to say. Sometimes I would get an email of support or encouragement. For all of that I am grateful. I don't have a plan anymore and that is very liberating.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

On Making

I stopped "making" anything tangible in my job many years ago. Since about the same time, I have experienced emptiness about what I do for a living and been troubled about purpose. As I grow older. the question of legacy comes to mind. There is a need to do something meaningful even if on a very small scale. When I get together with friends my age and older, we find that we have similar concerns and something common in how we cope with our inadequacies. A lot us "make" things outside work. In a token way, it gives us a sense of purpose.  Reading this Atlantic article about being a maker brings interesting insight to the culture of making and the value attributed to it

A quote often attributed to Gloria Steinem says: “We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons... but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.” Maker culture, with its goal to get everyone access to the traditionally male domain of making, has focused on the first. But its success means that it further devalues the traditionally female domain of caregiving, by continuing to enforce the idea that only making things is valuable.

I don't associate the idea of making with the male domain. Making is about creating something that brings happiness or fulfills need for purpose. That is a gender neutral instinct.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Eating Virtually

Love the idea of being able to indulge in bad food (or at least imagine that you are) while eating what's good and right for you. Very promising for those who struggle with food - eating to too much or not at all. What would also be nice is the ability to serve memories of food - something you at many years ago while traveling to a place you had not visited before or since. And being able to share another persons's experience of food that they love. Imagine being able to substitute the menu of your favorite restaurant while eating a very boring dinner at home. So many interesting possibilities.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Ugly Mirror

Interesting story about mirrors getting more than a little help from technology and completely ruining the object of our primal fascination. Sad to think that mirrors will get smart to a point where we can no longer see ourselves as we are, learn to live with and love our flaws. Instead, it would show us who we have the "theoretical" potential to become and goad us into improving ourselves. 

That is actually a little worse than amplifying our flaws. We may find a way to work with that over time - but the titillation of what we may have been if we made the right investments is a dangerous dream to chase after.

Clearly the airbrushed imagery we are subject to constantly are not conveying the message clearly enough. Maybe we are not able to personalize and internalize what we see in them. Maybe we separate "us" from "them" and go about the business of our lives. Someone saw the need to remedy that problem by bringing the truth much closer home.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Fifty Times

Reading these lines from Seth's Godin's post produced a rather visceral reaction in me today. 

[I say 'choose' because anyone who has worked with programmers understands that the great ones are worth far more than the average ones. Sometimes 50 times as much. That's because great programmers are able to architect systems that are effective, that scale, and that do things that other programmers can't imagine until after they're done.]

What he says about great programmers I have been saying to the powers that be in my organization for a long time now. Not that anyone disagrees in principle but it is still a huge leap in faith when you decide to replace fifty with one. You almost make this person into a God. They just have too much power and control. They operate at a level that is inaccessible and incomprehensible to most people. 

Maybe those are the reasons why there is irrational resistance to hiring them. The average programmer is a mortal. They are practicing a trade and may be skilled at best. They are not savants. I have worked with a few 10x programmers in the course of my career. Have not been in places where it would be possible to run into the 50x ones but I do believe they exist. In the meanwhile we struggle with a team fifty times the size it needs to be and still not see light at the end of the tunnel.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sheep Not Snowflakes

This Wired story makes for very interesting reading. It indirectly explains why it is so hard to shop for clothes. Even with the seemingly endless variety there is overwhelming monotony - season after season, store after store. Once you have stocked up on the wardrobe staples, the rest gets much harder if your goal is to find clothes that express your individuality. 

There is many ways to join the sheep herd but nearly none to be a snowflake. Some of my friends shop for clothes at consignment stores because it easier to come by something unique there. Then there are those like Mrs L, who I knew many years ago, who have their all their clothes tailored in Hong Kong - completely bespoke and very much a snowflake.