Saturday, December 31, 2005
For instance Karen broke up with her boyfriend of four years a month before I did with Malhar. There was a time of searing pain and emptiness in both of our lives that coincided. Meeting up for margaritas at a tapas bar felt like a perfect antidote for that state of mind.
We've both moved on since, our lives have not intersected quite as perfectly again. I called to wish her a happy new year. We had nothing left to say to each other anymore. We will probably flit in and out of each other's thoughts for a few more years until passing into oblivion. If Karen was once a friend, I have now lost that friend.
Anuradha is many years younger, has interests that are very unlike mine. We met by chance when I answered the door for my absent room-mate who she had come to see. We stayed in touch, met sometimes for lunch. My life's experiences fascinated her. Our conversations were around her questions and my answers to the whys and wherefores of how things came to be the way they did with me.
She was neither intrusive nor judgmental - merely interested in knowing about someone from her cultural background who had lived a life very different from hers. I enjoyed a younger person's perspective and her joie de vivre. On an impulse today, I thought to call her. We talked for almost an hour and it never felt like two years separated this and our last conversation. Anuradha is probably a rediscovered friend.
Interesting that I should listen an Alain de Botton ( one of my favorite writers) talking today about Marcel Proust's "Remembrance Of Things Past" and the significance of memories and the passage of time. Calling my two friends from the past today was about both.
Friday, December 30, 2005
"I don't inspire poetry like others did"
you say to me.
True also that you skewer
my heart like no other man did.
Except I don't tell .
I tell you of pain one day.
You ask "Where ?"
How do I begin describe a pain
that begins where the heart must
approximately be and claws me
with its its shivering vines.
"No just forget it." I say
"Why ?" you ask.
don't get inexactitude.
You give me a comma separated list
of your unfulfilled wants from me,
terminate them with etcetera.
I hyphenate them to one over-arching
want - that of wanting my body
for you to possess and own.
I tell you the time for that
is yet to come.
I need to dip inside the skin of you,
know where it hurts and how much,
if the wounds are still raw,
tender to touch. Have you bare
your soul to me and tell me
"This is all yours for the keeping"
I tell you "Wait till then to want"
Thursday, December 29, 2005
I picked a paperback edition of Cheaper By The Dozen years ago that someone had thrown in the trash and was impressed by the extraordinary time management and operational efficiency tips and tricks in it.
When I read the book J was not around so I did not know what it was to constantly race against time. I should probably read that book again. In the interim, this nifty decanter with two spouts would cut down our daily breakfast ordeal by a good one minute and that counts on weekday mornings.
The next thing I need to find is a device that will let J sing her favorite song uninterrupted even as she eats. As much as I love to hear J sing, her timing leaves much to be desired.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Having been a consumer of on-line news for many years with almost no print publication in my media diet, I am no longer able to compare the relative merits of the two. Apparently, online newspapers haven't got the formula right.
When you read a newspaper, you use special strategies called "skimming" and "scanning" to navigate the pages. Skimming means you glance over pages until you find things you want to look at more closely, reacting to certain words or photos, and scanning is taking a closer look, reading for gist, or reading introductions and conclusions that give you more information and often help you decide whether you want to read an entire article. With online newspapers, however, you don't have this option.
It's amazing how users can get conditioned to a less than optimal experience over time.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
"My hearing is no longer limited by the physical circumstances of my body. While my friends' ears will inevitably decline with age, mine will only get better."
But for his love for Ravel's Bolero, Michael Chorost may have never challenged technology to return to him more than he had lost.
Maybe in time techlogy will bring musical sounds in nature like that of wind whistling through holes in a bamboo glade, the shivering of leaves in rain and the rustling of grass in breeze much closer to the bionic ear than the real.
Monday, December 26, 2005
In Paul Graham's article on Good and Bad Procrastination he says :
"I've wondered a lot about why startups are most productive at the very beginning, when they're just a couple guys in an apartment. The main reason may be that there's no one to interrupt them yet. In theory it's good when the founders finally get enough money to hire people to do some of the work for them. But it may be better to be overworked than interrupted. Once you dilute a startup with ordinary office workers-- with type-B procrastinators-- the whole company starts to resonate at their frequency. They're interrupt-driven, and soon you are too."
Having worked for startups and conventional companies, I could not agree more with the effects of diluting the workforce with type B procrastinators ( to paraphrase Graham's definition of type B - people who lack the ability to prioritize and spend a bulk of their time on projects with minimal impact at the risk of jeopardizing what is important. I would argue that they lack the ability to discern between strategic and tactical objectives).
Type Bs are the bane of almost all organizations and they form the majority of the workforce. By the sheer strength of their numbers they are able to make the organization "resonate to their frequency". Explains why real work gets done spasmodically between a myriad of interruptions and why so little is accomplished for the time and money expended.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
I woman of my acquaintance has a son she has named Alvil. Not being familiar with the name, I asked her what it meant. There was a certain pharmaceutical ring to it to my ears at least. She told me it meant "bravery and valor" but was not sure of the exact etymology or even the language.
"So how did you find the name" I asked her. "On the internet" she replied. This woman is hardly the most net savvy person I know, but doing a Google search on "boys names" is a no-brainer. I am sure she gets strange looks from people when they hear her son's rather unusual name. To a lot of people like her the internet's veracity is a foregone conclusion. They don't feel the need to verify or corroborate.
I hope for her sake and the boy's that someone was not exercising their right to be an idiot when they wrote up a post about Alvil and that it is a real and meaningful name.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
With my nomadic existence over the last few years, my possessions have grown fewer and fewer. Each move has involved parting with things I could do without. I have experienced at times "the unbearable lightness of being" - specially when I consider how it contrasts with the lifestyles of my acquaintances many of who are proud owners of tastefully furnished McMansions.
It takes only a couple of big brown cardboard boxes to move me. Possessions are called that for a reason - they make you grow possessive of them, they are the roots that you grow unawares. Having close to none, I have no roots or sense of belonging to any place.
I have the traveling-through-town state of mind. Yet when J and I sit down to dinner in the evening I fleetingly wish we could both really be "home". The dining-table in a box that goes where you do is one thing I thing I would love to own - a possession that would uproot and replant itself as often I need it to.
Friday, December 23, 2005
We went out for breakfast this morning. The part of town I live in is a new suburb. Woods and farmland have been taken over by strip malls and more. Stores and restuarants open up all the time and there is plenty to choose from when planning to eat out.
J was all excited that we were going out for breakfast - we had never done that before. Dinner is more common and sometimes lunch. I picked up a place at random. Liked the cute name mainly. It called it self a cafe and bistro. There were only a couple of patrons, which I figured was okay given the early hour. I looked up the menu as the waitress waited patiently.
"Can I have a two spinach and feta croissants and a small latte ?" I asked.
She gave me an embarrassed little smile and said "Let me check if we have the croissants" She went into the kitchen and came back to say "Sorry but we can do one spinach croissant".
When I get into an establishment, I feel committed to work with them for better or worse. If the service is poor or the food appalling I just don't return but I can't bring myself to walk out after walking in the door.
"Can you do one tomato and cheese maybe ?" I suggest. She checks in the kitchen again. I am in luck. They can actually do two of those.
The woman at the coffee machine tells me that they can't do a latte. I tell her I'll pass the coffee. We wait for a bit as they my order is processed. I am asked to choose between provolone and cheddar cheese for the spinach croissant. I am past caring at this point.
I love feta with spinach and would not even have ordered if that was not possible. We finish our breakfast as quickly as possible and leave. J is excited about the bright pink straw she is given with her water.
It's a fairly upscale neighborhood and to that end there are about fifteen little boutique restaurants within a mile besides the more popular chains. There is only a finite pool of customers who can patronize any or all of them.
With so many trying to replicate the old world charm of the neighborhood cafe where everyone hangs out on a holiday the crowd disperses. There is nothing cozy or intimate about the experience in any of these "cafes" - it is instead depressing. In a season of retail abundance it was strange to find myself caught in such scarcity.
Next time J wants to go out for breakfast I will probably pick a place where abundance and good cheer is guaranteed.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Seek and ye shall find seems to be in effect for me. I can't seem to be online for more than ten minutes without running into something to do with religion. I find out that the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is in the works. Given J's known affinity for the FSM, this book might make the most sense to her.
The interview with Bobby Henderson is hilarious. Particularly loved the idea of a pirate ship outfitted with cannon balls to get the Word out. I wonder if the Pastafarians would be opposed to J's idea of God (in this case the FSM) putting bad guys into "time-out for forever months".
J has lately taken to discoursing on God and his mysterious ways at breakfast time making me late to work every single day. She gets the sense I know close to nothing about the subject as she goes her merry way. I clearly need help and am to the point where I am willing to consider the FSM Gospel.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Then there are amusing statements like "When bad people die they go up to the hill". I correct her and tell her it's hell and not hill. She insists on calling it hill presumably because she knows what it is. She adds "God puts bad people in the dumpster and then takes them to the hill"
Clearly her friends are educating her about God, heaven and hell and J is putting her own spin on it. I ask her what happens to the good people. J says "God takes them to live in his house" This sounds a lot better than dragging a dumpster up the hill.
I have been looking around for simple lessons to teach her about life, death, morals and the like. Maybe I should include scientific evidence of immortality as well.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Until reading this article in Forbes on Barbie mutilation by young girls I had no idea Barbie owners had so much pent up resentment. The article cites different reasons why little girls might wreck havoc on her but surprisingly does not consider anger.Is it possible the prepubescent girls hate her for all that she represents - the ideal of impossible physical perfection ? Parents are exhorted not be alarmed and treat such behavior as a normal part of growing up.
"Whilst for an adult the delight the child felt in breaking, mutilating and torturing their dolls is deeply disturbing, from the child's point of view they were simply being imaginative in disposing of an excessive commodity in the same way as one might crush cans for recycling,"
If J was busy micro-waving body parts of her favorite doll, that argument would be a hard sell to me. I would be very very concerned for my child's mental health. Counted my blessings that J is uninterested in Barbie and her ilk.
Monday, December 19, 2005
This is a yarn about yarn and three generations. It starts at a time when there was such a thing as the USSR but glasnost and perestroika were blowing winds of change. We subscribed to a Soviet magazine whose name I forget. It went out of publication when the country ceased to exist giving the final issue much historic significance.
In that last issue was the pattern for a sweater than my mother and I loved. The model was a pretty Ukrainian teenager. That winter I came upon a sweater like hers in the color of burnt amber instead of periwinkle blue like in the picture. I have worn it sparingly and it is one of my favorites. My mother loved to knit and I had plenty of hand made sweaters growing up.
This morning I wore my favorite amber colored cardigan. J looked at it admiringly - I thought I saw some longing in her eyes as well. I asked her "Do you like my sweater ?" and she said "Yes, I do". I told her "You grandma knit it for me many years ago. You can have it when you're big enough to wear it" J declared promptly "My grandma is knitting a pretty sweater for me right now. I'm going to have my very own" My heart went out to J when I heard that. She has no way of knowing why.
When J was born, my mother and I picked up some beautiful yarn and decorative buttons and browsed sweater patterns together. J was supposed to have the prettiest dream in knitted yarn come true. My marriage broke up, the balls of yarn and buttons traveled with me half the way across the world. They lay forgotten in the closet for many winters - four to be precise. Each time my mother went back to them, something fairly cataclysmic happened and she had to abandon her project.
The two half way knit sweaters that should have been J's bear testimony to the battles of the last four years - the heavy toll it has taken or our otherwise uncomplicated lives. The first four years of J's childhood are now past - her grandma has not been able to knit for her like she would have loved and longed to. It is one among the many memories J will not have. That I should have more than I have been able to give my child makes me wistful.
Maybe J is right - her grandma is knitting once again. Maybe with other yarn, another time - a happier time. J will wear something like my favorite burnt amber sweater and remember all the loving that went into making it.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
"Disasters and masterpieces, after all, often arise from the same impulses: extravagant ambition, irrational risk, pure chutzpah, a synergistic blend of vanity, vision and self-delusion. The tiniest miscalculation on the part of the artist - or of the audience - can mean the difference between adulation and derision. So in the realm of creative achievement, the worst is not just the opposite of the best, but also its neighbor. This year has produced plenty of candidates for a Bottom 10 (or 30 or 100) list, but I fear that none of the bad movies are truly worthy of being called the worst. And this may be why so few are worthy of being considered for the best."
Saturday, December 17, 2005
I have a longish short story in mind that I can't get started on because it will be a first person account as told by a man. As much as I try, I can't seem to get the words into my narrator's mouth that sound like they belonged to him and not a woman. It just does not sound right.
Surely the problem is well documented in the annals of literature. I am hoping as well to find the workaround. As of this writing, I continue to be the clueless woman trying in vain to speak a man's language. It would seem like I was trying to speak and think Martian when in fact I had not so much as set my eyes on anyone from that planet.
That I should find it as difficult as I do, is telling of my lack of understanding of the male of the species. As I read this real life tandem story co-written by a man and a woman, I realize that I am part of an universal condition.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
I doubt if I could bring myself read some of my painfully saccharine verse from the early teens even to myself let alone to others. I have them stuffed in a big brown envelope, stapled and scotch-taped - so high is their cringe quotient. Not sure exactly why I still hang on to them - foolish sentimentality perhaps. But then I never considered the potential they have to make other people laugh.
Just shows I have long ways to go before I am comfortable in my own skin - flaws, blemishes and all.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
"I am referring to the fact that the world in which we live is very nearly incomprehensible to most of us. There is almost no fact -- whether actual or imagined -- that will surprise us for very long, since we have no comprehensive and consistent picture of the world which would make the fact appear as an unacceptable contradiction. We believe because there is no reason not to believe. No social, political, historical, metaphysical, logical or spiritual reason. We live in a world that, for the most part, makes no sense to us. Not even technical sense."
The month has been full of upheaval, change, dramatic endings and the like making it an unexpected end to a rather quiet year. I have wondered why recent events have made so little sense. I think I have my answer now. It is a peaceful, easy feeling to know my life is contained completely within the bounds of natural order and to that extent all is well with me.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
I'm not sure how long I will be able to continue what I have started with her when it's a McWorld after all. I try to replicate my mother's kitchen the best I can so J remembers the food that satisfied her soul as an infant. So she remembers the love of a grandmother who was more mother to her than I had the time to be. It's the only way I know to immerse J in my culture.
Ira Boudway may be right in saying - "Perhaps we are simply destined to live in a world where local cultures exist only as residue preserved for the sake of tourists."
Monday, December 12, 2005
Growing up around chain-smoking uncles, grand uncles and grand fathers, I am very familiar with the smell of tobacco and stale smoke. They form a part of my childhood memories.
Back in the day, second hand smoke was not quite as sacrilegious as it is now. It was out of deference to elders that a smoker took his business outside the house. The patriarch had no reason to do so. A chain smoking grandfather in the middle of the living room full of non smoking people was an accepted norm.
Having seen quite a few styles of holding a cigarette and blowing smoke into the air, the semiotics of smoking naturally piqued my curiosity. Reading this was more entertaining than enlightening and rather nostalgic.
Friday, December 09, 2005
Months ago J asked me where she lived when she was "wee little" qualifying that further by saying "really really teeny weeny". I told her the she has lived in my heart forever and when the time was right she came to me as a tiny baby.
J is astute enough to know that tiny babies pop out of their Mommy's tummies. "Did I pop out of your tummy ?" she asks just to make sure and I say "Yes, you did". She was not overly concerned about the mechanics of it or in the fine print. The matter of her origins has since rested in peace.
A few days ago J announced "When I become Mommy, my baby will pop out of my heart and not from my tummy" This took me by surprise because J is a very good about sticking to facts however unpleasant unless she is in "pretend" world where absolutely nothing is what is seems.
Besides the human body is her current fascination. At breakfast time J will claim she is so "full and tight" that her "intestine" hurts. While at the potty she will tell me about how her food journeyed all the way from her mouth to the "rectum" and was now coming out of her "anus". The "meta carpal" and "meta tarsal" bones are often displayed at dinner time too. I have no idea where she gets her yen for biology because I for one could barely manage a passing grade.
"Why would your baby pop out of your heart, J ? " I asked her. "Because that is where my baby lives. Same like I lived in your heart" My figure of speech had been taken literally and there was no way to undo it. Thanks to my misplaced metaphor, J's Pre-K biology is now grotesquely twisted.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Kathleen Hall's statement in the article rings ominously true though one could argue the sound of a baby's cooing and gurgling changes an adult's expression too - so would that also be considered Pavlovian ? Maybe not simply because it is free form, natural and does not make any demands of us unlike a buzzing Blackberry at work which could mean reminders, deadlines and worse.
"People have almost become victimized by the technology," she says. "They're addicted to it. I have patients that when their cell phones and Blackberries buzz, their expressions change. They're responding to the stimulus of the bell, like Pavlov's dog. What they don't realize is that it takes away your personal power."
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
While more and more people have unlisted phone numbers or VoIP phones with area codes of places far from their physical location, they still don't have the anonymity they seek. A fully spelt out name could be their undoing on Zabasearch and for a little money their car tags could throw up a whole lot of information. You can run but you cannot hide. A sense of being stalked in cyberspace is getting to be a feeling that even ordinary people can relate to.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Right now I'd be very happy if I could do something to my car that would cause snow to either slide off it or melt upon contact. How hard can that be ? Maybe I should call in one Saturday morning when CarTalk is on with that question - I think I have heard far stranger questions asked and answered.
Talking of cars reminds me of a former colleague who on first meeting me told me that he owned an Acura and was now in the market for an Audi. He added that he planned on keeping the Acura lest I misconstrued.
Why a man would share this with a perfect stranger within an hour of meeting her has long puzzled me. For the year that we worked together he continued to be "in the market for an Audi" without making a purchase. The fine folks at CarTalk may not know the answer to this one I think.
Monday, December 05, 2005
For years I have heard or read discussions on economics with vapid incomprehension wishing someone would hand me the keys to the magic kingdom where everything suddenly makes sense.
Understanding how a broken glass pane sets a chain of events in motion should not be very hard.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
When I said I'd love an old fashioned cottage with a big yard and koi pond, there were indulgent smiles all around. I am hardly alone in my aversion for lifeless ostentation and love for old homes, but I am sure my well meaning friends would advise me against it if I ever tried to buy one of those charming things. Though I understand zilch about real-estate, I seem to be on the right track in wanting to buy myself a tiny little cottage in an upscale neigborhood - even when the same money could buy me a monstrosity of a home in the exurbia.
Who knows, my yen for simplicity may lead me to buy a push-button home and place it upon a clearing in the woods. While the literal home may still be within reach the figurative one seems impossibly distant. The cocoon of an old cottage may not be able to give the heart what is longing for and missing.
Saturday, December 03, 2005
J went to a klezmer music concert this afternoon and tried out the rugalach. We both missed our self appointed activity director who is out of town these days. Turns out that the activity director missed us too. She called this evening to check on what J and I were up to on the weekend.
J enjoyed the performance but didn't care too much about the rugalach. Sitting there with an elderly crowd interspersed with few toddlers of a color and culture very different from mine, I wondered if J saw any difference between herself and everyone else. And if she did what she thought about it. I feel like an outsider who is treated with amused indulgence by those who really belong. Hopefully with time I would have acquired the air of a curious but detached tourist who is not looking for any acceptance at all. I am still too new in this country.
J has had opportunity to sample vignettes from diverse cultures but has seen close to nothing of her own the last one year that she and I have been on our own in America. I stay away from my kind because my divorced, single parent status makes me too conspicuous for comfort in a typical Indian crowd.
While I question the merits of J's cultural exposure that does not include a generous measure of her own, I realize I cannot do more than take her to an occasional classical Indian music or dance performance. She may be destined to never have the holistic understanding of what it is to be Indian separated as she is by two degrees from the very idea of Indianness.
Friday, December 02, 2005
I first arrived in the US in the middle of hurricane season. Coming from a tropical country I was no stranger to rain and storm but the fact that they were given male and female names fascinated me.
The storms that year were nowhere near as devastating as Katrina or Rita. No one who shared names with them could have felt conscious of their names like I guess the Katrinas and Ritas among us might today.
I would hate to have my name bring back terrible memories each time it was spoken - it can't be a good feeling. I wonder why storms can't be named after mythological characters. Since they are acts of God that would hardly be inappropriate.
When a name or a date comes to acquire larger than life proportions it's personal significance to ordinary people gets compromised.
A 9/11 birthday or anniversary will not feel like one for years maybe - as long as it takes for public memory to turn numb to the odiousness of the date.In saying "Hello Katrina, wonderful meeting you" to a perfectly nice woman - there maybe be a sense of oxymoron.
It does not seem fair that big events should take away people of what is intrinsically personal.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
In Zara stores, customers can always find new products—but they're in limited supply. There is a sense of tantalizing exclusivity, since only a few items are on display even though stores are spacious (the average size is around 1,000 square meters). A customer thinks, "This green shirt fits me, and there is one on the rack. If I don't buy it now, I'll lose my chance."
Up until the mall culture came to India, shopping was about being at the right place and the right time and being able to beat the competition. I remember going out shopping for clothes before Diwali, elbowing my way through the milling crowds to reach the store front. I had spotted an outfit the exact shade of magenta I adored as had a bunch of others. Whoever got the shopkeeper's attention first would be able to stake their claim on it.
More often that not that would be the only one outfit of its kind the store had and you would find something like it elsewhere. In the lack of abundance there was incentive for the shopper to make a snap decision to buy. To have five people waiting with baited breath for me to say "No" so they could grab it is a very strong driver to say "Yes". Though shopping was much harder in those days, I atleast ended up buying something. Or rather was forced into making a decision instead of dithering. While I have not been to a Zara store, the idea is very familiar and appealing.