Friday, April 30, 2010

Prescience And Hindsight

I was meeting my friend E after a very long time. Since she had relocated, our contact has been limited to occasional phone calls and even fewer emails. So when she happened to be in my neck of the woods on business, we were excited to catch-up. In a segue from my comment about lack of reliable music reviews and my growing unfamiliarity with the scene, E went on to music from the 70s. That in turn brought back memories of her teens, having sex for the first time and such.

By her own admission, E has had a rich and varied love life - something she has mentioned to me earlier with more regret than pride - or that is how it seemed to me. That evening she said something I had not heard before "I suffered from low self-esteem and insecurity well into by 20s and 30s. The only way I knew to feel good about myself was to be wild and free. I needed men to tell me how beautiful I was, how much they desired me so I could feel I had some value. Nothing else did it for me. I was willing to do anything to have them say that"

In her late thirties, E seemed to have an epiphany about her motivations and began to understand why she had been through so many short-lived relationships - the sex was always great but emotionally she felt more and more depleted. She started to feel like she was giving herself away without receiving anything tangible in return. It was her moment of truth and her lifestyle started to change dramatically from that point on.

I know a few women of E's age and have heard them say very similar things about how they had been in their youth what motivated their behavior when it came to relationships. Similarly, I know women younger than me walking in the footsteps of E's generation, repeating their "mistakes" all over again. Yet there is a certain profoundness in learning life lessons the hard way which simply cannot be compared to the life experience of someone who is merely following their convictions without putting their value system to test.

E and others like her have often told me that I am wise beyond my years given my views on relationships and my life will end up being better and happier (not to mention infinitely less complicated) than their as a result of it. As gratifying as that is for me to hear, I don't imagine for a minute that I will have ever the same perspective as they do. In the end, it does not matter if our actions are guided by prescience or hindsight, we still win some and lose some.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Between age three and four, J had gone through a period of defiant behavior. She simply did not want to follow instructions and would do her best to annoy me. It was a little game of testing boundaries to see where the yield point lay.
I started off by ignoring her hoping that things would resolve themselves that way. Instead she upped the ante some to ensure that she had my attention. I changed strategy at that point and decided to talk through it (as difficult as that was given her age at the time) - being mad at her was just making things worse. So using a variety of ways ranging between halfway sensible and downright idiotic, I was able to rein J in - for the time. I did not want to push too hard fearing that she may clam up completely or would have no spirit left.
Defiance is back again these days. It will be over small things. I view it as her way to assert her identity as different from mine and one she wants to define independent of my guidance - and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Whatever methods worked four years ago, do not any more.
One morning while walking her to the bus stop, I asked J if it was tempting to annoy me and do things I would not approve of just because. "For no real reason". She grudgingly admitted that was true. Sometimes she was just annoyed about it having to be my way and not hers even when she knew mine was the better way. I told her it may be a lot more satisfying and interesting for her, if she chose her battles well - not just with me but with anyone she intended to defy. Some things are too trivial to do war over - it is wasted time and energy for the most part. If she was smart, she'd not concern herself with those but really stand up for what she believed in when it actually mattered.
I explained to J that there is a difference between being mulish and having determination. Defiance just for the sake of it was more former and less later. In the long run, it made the person hard to like and get along with. Besides, they may have made some really poor choices because they were not using their brains and defying everything instinctively. Determination on the other hand is what it takes for a person to beat the odds in their life and come out successful - it is a quality worth cultivating. 

By when I had reached this point, the school bus had come. We did not continue this conversation in days that followed. From what I know of J, sowing the germs of an idea in her head is often the best way to get her to think about it - and hopefully react to it. She will tune off quickly if I belabor it.
This is merely round two and she is all of eight years old. Makes me wonder about what is yet to come and if I will know how to deal with the bigger challenges that lie ahead.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Ever since I read this hilarious Jerry Seinfeld quote on lipstick "Where lipstick is concerned, the important thing is not color, but to accept God's final word on where your lips end." in the book If Ignorance Is Bliss Then Why Aren't There More Happy People ? Smart Quotes for Dumb Times, putting my face on in the morning before leaving for work has not been the same. I find myself smiling stupidly into the mirror sometimes I have even burst out laughing. I am among those who have graciously accepted "God's final word" on the said matter but there are those who find it harder to do so. I have a lot more troubling settling on the right color for the place, time, occasion and outfit. Seinfeld's word is hardly the only or the final one on lipstick."Beauty, to me, is about being comfortable in your own skin. That, or a kick-ass red lipstick." said Gwyneth Paltrow. There is a certain timelessness about women's relationship to makeup (including lipstick). This 1958 article in Time magazine could as well have been written earlier this year.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tie That Binds

This article in n+1 magazine on dating is an excellent read. This was my favorite part :
Dating presents itself as an education in human relationships. In fact it's an anti-education. You could invent no worse preparation for love, for marriage, than the tireless pursuit of the perfect partner. Keep Looking, says dating. You're Not Done Yet. What About That One? And That One? Dating, like the tyrant, seeks perfection (within a certain price range). Whereas the heart, like the eye, can only cling to imperfections: her funny stride, and the way her voice breaks, child-like, on the phone. And so the dater, self-baffling, seeks what the heart cannot understand.
In one paragraph, the author captures the essence of what is wrong with this process and why it is inherently frustrating. The cost of dating math is worth pondering too. When a man acts ever so cheap on the first date and takes a woman to lunch at a low end pizza chain, she wonders if he may not be that into her. Chances are he is way over budget given all the other dates he's been out on lately and that's all he can realistically afford at that point. With that being the dynamic, an otherwise promising date would score poorly with the woman who expected the man to demonstrate his level of interest using his wallet. And that is only the beginning of many complications that go with the dating territory.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sour Grapes

When I read this TIME article on the trend of American expats giving up their US citizenship because of unfriendly tax laws, the first comment I saw happened to be from a desi sister, Manali Rohinesh. Once you get past the high rant quotient of her observations, the truthiness in some of it is undeniable. Since it is buried deep now, I am quoting it here in full :
This should be like a final wakeup call for all those Indians who have gone to the US after 1991 - i.e post liberalisation in India. I can't think of a stupider move made than a decision to go there just when your own country is at the cusp of growth and progress. This is a country where the middle class consumer power is on the rise. This is where entrepreneurs - when given the right impetus - are creating little pockets of prosperity while the US has Enron, Worldcom, Arthur Anderson, Merrill Lynch et all to thank for their joblessness. Where are all those ESOPs now and some Indians are dumb enough to keep wanting the American Dream, when they can just as easily have it all in India itself. A certain generation who has emigrated there despite having options here, do so, because they prefer to earn and pay their taxes there rather than do the same in the country of their birth. I honestly don't think they are patriotic in the least. They are the same people who will come down once in two years or so and check the progress of the roads and malls built in their absense and without their money and feel a kind of smug satisfaction that 'poor little India' has finally come up to their 'superior' Western standards of living. Well, to those of you who think this way - 'Thank you for your patronising attitude. People like me made it happen while you are paying taxes elsewhere. So, don't pat yourself on the back too much.' Such people make flying trips to see if India meets their high quality-of-life benchmark because sometimes just after 3-4 years of living abroad, they have forgotten how much fun and quirky it is to live in India - where they have lived a mere 20 years or so, assuming they went to the US after graduation. How much the mirage-like American Dream taints people is quite obvious but no one is being fooled....least of us, who can read such stories on Time and elsewhere.
Some desi expats in the US responded to this by saying she had no direct experience living in the US, suggesting therefore she lacked the qualifications to comment on the American experience. Applying their own standards,how their lack of connection to India qualifies them to contradict her is harder to fathom but I digress. At any rate, the NRI brethren observed there was more that went into the decision to make a home in this country than success and money. Satisfaction is research and academia were cited among examples. 

While there is some truth to that argument it's applicability is fairly limited. Rohinesh's observation about the overwhelming majority of desis who are not in research or academia is true as well.They often feel like they bet on the wrong horse and if indeed India exceeds their expectations along one or more axes, the grapes tend to taste slightly sour. That attitude could be viewed as unpatriotic by some.
As for me, reading her comment I feel duly chastised for making the "stupider" to none move by coming to this country post 1991 - the sister points this out in no uncertain terms. In my defense, it was a confluence of circumstances that caused that to happen. Professionally, I am definitely in the wrong place and the wrong time and envy my peers who have found their niche in India. While their compensation and benefit packages boggle the mind to say nothing of the career growth opportunities, I take comfort in the fact that I have for the most part a 40 hour week, a life outside work and am able to raise J comfortably and without needing any help. All of that would have been impossible in India - having tried that avenue for a year, I know the score painfully well. In the right circumstances, with the necessary support system, India is definitely the place to be for anyone in my line of work.

I love the attitude of the commenter and others like her who take obvious pride in India's achievements thus far - career opportunities and spending power has given this generation assertiveness and confidence that was not nearly as commonplace in the past. I struggle to understand why malls, roads, middle class consumerism and gated communities with western style amenities are always cited as examples of India's progress. Surely there are better measures than that. Is the goal to achieve parity, repeat the mistakes of the west and then find the right way for India ? It would be far more reassuring to see these young people talk about ways in which India is leapfrogging to a future that is post-American if you will. That would be a really smart thing to do.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Remote Bazar

The idea of bringing a bazar or souk to you couch is a very interesting one. The more interactive and immersive the experience, the better for the customer. Imagine having a virtual reality application that gives someone the feel of walking through a crowded marketplace in an unknown country - even without being able to purchase, that might be worth spending some money to enjoy. This does seem to be an idea with some legs.
As the virtual and real worlds confluence more and more, travel will lose a lot of its charm. If one could experience it all and not have to expend money and energy to get there, it would take more than just visiting a place to get something out of it. Used to be only some parts of a country were popular tourist destinations and the discerning traveler would go elsewhere and have a memorable experience.
With technology where it is today and headed for in the future, finding those pristine, unknown nooks will become more and more difficult. Part of the travel experience has always been coming home to share one's stories. Today's audience is a jaded bunch - people have been there and done that. They know everything there is to know about the place you just visited and have heard about it from several others. The bar is much higher if you wish to thrill and delight them with your travel story.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Selfishness And Courtship

I was reading The Selfish Gene - 30th Anniversary Edition recently and went over the battle of sexes chapter a little more closely than I had in my initial reading. I wondered what Dawkins would say of courtship rituals in the world where connections are mostly made online and there is room for both males and females to court any number of prospects at the same time. The theoretical maximum only subject to how many suitors a man or a woman can juggle simultaneously without losing their sanity.
According to Dawkins of an extended courtship period benefits both the man and the woman for different reasons - specially where the woman was more coy than fast and the man more faithful than philanderer. Such a pair in today's world could be checking out a number of other suitable matches within a long courtship window and still not become fast or philandering - they would merely be doing due diligence by checking out the offerings in the market. There seems to be no great benefit accruing to either party in the process except feeling confused by the choices available and the feeling frustrated by the lack of progress towards intermediate goals in the larger domestic-bliss strategy.
Assuming the fundamental premise of the selfish gene, how would humans adapt to the forces of cyberculture and social media that are getting more and more twined with their relationships. Do they not need to update their battle strategies or are we as a race going through a period of evolution where our genes have not quite figured out the best way forward. Would love to see more detailed analysis and discussion on this theme.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Delayed Knowledge

Reading this article about naps and dreams being able to boost learning would be ever so helpful in my teens when day dreaming came very easy as did napping for hours on summer afternoons where the only respite from the heat was somnolence. That was also when I had mastered the fine art of zoning out during the most boring classes with my eyes wide open while sitting at the desk closest to the teacher. It was more typical for the malcontents, troublemakers and such to cluster as far away from her as possible.
This I realized was poor strategy. If you wanted to sleep right through a class, you had locate yourself in the general vicinity of the most irreproachable kids. The enterprising neighbor who sat at the desk next to mine, put her time to good use by snacking out of the lunch boxes of the kids who actually paid attention to the teacher and took copious notes that the rest of us would soon borrow. Like me she no use for what was been taught and had been astute about choosing her desk. It paid rich dividends. At the end of forty minutes I would have no idea what had been taught or what if anything I was expected to have learned. My thoughts might have been one of many interesting places all highly unrelated to education and self-improvement.
I did suffer from occasional pangs of guilt for not having learned anything at school and having no desire to remedy the situation at home. Had I know then what I know now, I may have felt better about falling asleep on my text book the night before the test knowing fully well that I had squandered my last opportunity to familiarize myself with the material.
To remember something in particular -- say, the lines of a play or formulas for an exam -- it might help to study right before dozing, whether that means studying late at night or napping directly after a cram session, Stickgold said.
And if you can get yourself to dream about the material, you are at a particular advantage. Unfortunately, "dream content is notoriously hard to control," Stickgold said. The non-conscious brain "has its own rules," and focuses on whatever it deems most important, he added.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rent A CEO

Lately CEOs have become synonymous with over-compensation and insinuations of incompetence and worse. Reading this Silicon India article about renting CEOs for short durations made me pause for thought. This is the individual who is entrusted with the stewardship of the company and is responsible for its future and direction. How someone brought in for a six month stint can realistically deliver on all of that is hard to fathom.
If leadership at the top changes a couple of times each year, how does the rest of the organization possibly keep up ? Each individual will bring to bear their own management style and biases but by the time everyone else has settled into a good operating rhythm it becomes time to do things over - and in a different way. Even churn in middle management ranks can cause a havoc in the trenches. If indeed, a contract staff of CXOs are able to keep things humming along just fine and the organization on the whole does not miss a beat during transitions, it would bear testimony to their complete redundancy. The reason why this trend is catching on in explained thusly :
It is now becoming prevalent in India in senior and middle management level. At the top management level, it is not called temp staffing (or temping) but Interim Management. The money is fairly good and work is done on a milestone basis. It works for people who do not wish to be wedded to a company and are looking for flexibility," says E Balaji, CEO, Ma Foi Management Consultants.
Work one on a "milestone basis" indeed - how particularly convenient ! Sounds more like they want to make as much money as they can without responsibility or accountability and skip over to their next gig before shit hits the fan. This is scam artistry at its very best.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Vestigial Organ

Somewhat lengthy but interesting interview with a self-confessed book pirate.

The parts that made the most sense to me were :

Just because someone downloads a file, it does not mean they would have bought the product I think this is the key fact that many people in the music industry ignore – a download does not translate to a lost sale.

Folks like me who depend on the public library or second hand book stores for their reading needs, would be very unlikely to buy a new book at retail or even slightly discounted prices. If it were easy enough we may browse a book on-line but we would not have bought the book even if were not there to read for free. To that extent the argument about each download being a lost sale is not valid just as this book pirate notes.

I think most of the filesharing community feels that the record industry is a vestigal organ that will slowly fall off and die – I don’t know to what extent that feeling would extend to publishing houses since they are to some extent a different animal. In the end, I think that regular people will never feel very guilty “stealing” from a faceless corporation, or to a lesser extent, a multi-millionaire like King.

This is almost in line with the reasons why open-source software is as popular as it is. People will contribute their time and talents to something for which they  cannot make more than whuffie and admiration. As an consultant, I almost always encourage my clients to consider open-source alternatives when they are getting ready to spend ungodly sums of money on commercial products. A lot of product development companies have come to resemble "vestigial organs" in the world of open-source and not everyone loves them.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fourth Way

Unless you are a woman all of whose girlfriends are married, chances are that you often find yourself listening to someone who is going through relationship problems and wants to share their woes with you. Over the years, the common theme I have seen come from these outpourings is one of feeling extreme emotional vulnerability. This state of mind is particularly confusing to a woman who views herself as liberated, open-minded and a free agent doing as she pleases without being beholden to societal expectations of her gender.

Fifteen to twenty years ago in India, it was not commonplace for women to be in a physically intimate relationship before marriage. That has since changed. Those who moved west at the time were able to bring such change into their lives even earlier. "Empowerment" to live freely came to both only at different times in their lives.

Up to this point, it all sounds good. The girls no longer feel like their net worth in the marriage market is dependent entirely on the possession of an unruptured hymen. Sadly, other problems have taken their place. In the brave new world, desi women are willing and able to enter into a physically intimate relationship without having a wedding date calendared. However, to alleviate the feelings of guilt associated with being in such a state, they allow (indeed require) love to lead them there.

So when men turn out not to have any serious intent or are simply not prepared to take on the responsibility of marriage but want to continue in a friends plus benefits arrangement, women start to become progressively unhappy. They are no longer sure, if what they have going on is what they really want. The happiness of unbridled freedom is soured by a gnawing sense of doubt often tinged with hopelessness. Then there are all the complications that come into play with the man morphing suddenly into Mama's boy who allows his family to find him a bride and pretends the relationship did not even exist. Often, that's where a girlfriend such as yours truly is called and gets to be the much needed damp shoulder.

As much as I want to be helpful to my sisters in times of distress, I can't but help point out the fatal flaw in their ways. I don't say this from any kind of moral high ground at all. I have told several of them that they need to recalibrate a little and things will improve dramatically. If they feel the need for intimacy they can just have that and leave. There is simply no need to perpetuate a very temporal thing into an unnecessary relationship in order to feel less immoral about it. It is not enough to merely shed physical inhibition (which clearly they have done), it is far more important to rise above the cultural conditioning and shed the moral ones - a far more subtle and therefore insidious impediment to their desire to be free.

It's fair to tell a man that's what it's going to be - a short duration liaison with no end game and they can go their separate ways after that. It is important to end things definitively and not leave them unresolved and therefore the door open for emotional entanglement  - something I notice girls don't do so well. If someone looks like serious marriage material then this would clearly not be the way to proceed. One woman said "That's like using and throwing them". I agreed that may be a way of looking at it except when the rules of engagement are made clear from the start, the word "use" does not apply any more.

Being that men generally like women to be emotionally involved while in a "relationship", intimacy without that connection is often quite meaningless to them. Many will never agree to be part of such an arrangement. Having enjoyed the privilege of being the party that decides when and how to end things, it may be quite painful not being able to do so.

Alternately, I suggest they could go through the motions of being deeply in love with the man and keep themselves emotionally detached. So when the end comes, there will not be any broken pieces to be picked up. The man gets to have a well satiated ego and she is truly free. It seems to be a win-win situation (unless you count the inability to trust or become be the kind of person someone else cannot trust) even if based on deception.

If neither works then they have no choice but to become like me - a non-participating bystander watching the dating gaming shenanigans and providing acerbic though not necessarily astute commentary. It is fairly entertaining but provides little else besides. "Isn't there a fourth way ? Like two people starting as friends, being in committed relationship and then getting married" a woman asked me recently.

That is entirely in the realm of possible but the more I hear form my girlfriends about what they go through in the process of trying to find (and keep) love, the more the "fourth way" sounds like a modern day Cinderella story. The only difference being these women don't wait for their prince to show up with the glass slipper. They have taken matters into their own hands and are willing to kiss many frogs along the way to finding their man. Somewhere in that muddle of mixed metaphors of fairy tale references, the frogs end up remaining frogs, kisses notwithstanding and the other slipper goes missing along with the prince who was supposed to find them.

Monday, April 19, 2010


Learned a new word today while reading this article - mesofacts.

Mesofacts are the facts that change neither too quickly nor too slowly, that lie in this difficult-to-comprehend middle, or meso-, scale. Often, we learn these in school when young and hold onto them, even after they change.

As an example, the author cites the count of the number of elements in the periodic table. As it turns out, it is up by ten since the 1970s. So if someone went to high school back then, they would have this fact wrong by now. That may not appear to be very significant specially for those who have no use for the periodic table in their day to day lives. The author explains why the knowledge of mesofacts is important specially in today's world :

Our schools are biased against mesofacts. The arc of our educational system is to be treated as little generalists when children, absorbing bits of knowledge about everything from biology to social studies to geology. But then, as we grow older, we are encouraged to specialize. This might have been useful in decades past, but in our increasingly fast-paced and interdisciplinary world, lacking an even approximate knowledge of our surroundings is unwise.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Men's Liberation

Micheal Cook of MercatorNet has this nice article on men's liberation - the wave of the future, a view of the post-feminist world if you will. Each time I read an article about how the of the modern school system is not serving boys as well as it the girls, how the male of the species is getting left behind and not being able to catch up, I feel sad for today's boys. Obviously if one gender is left behind, it will eventually hurt the one that is forging ahead.
The comments on the article make for interesting reading. One of them talks about repeating the same mistakes that the feminist movement did with this idea of liberating men. Both are good ideas until the implementation and interpretation go wrong. The notion of being equal and different is a hard one to master or apply - a problem with any kind of gender liberation. It is possible for a woman to become too "liberated" to remain appealing to a man.Similarly,an over-sensitive, male stereotype defying man might make  a woman view him as some kind of unattractive genetic aberration. Feminism for everything that it has helped women achieve, fails in this respect as do the stated objectives of the men's liberation movement :

“We want less pressure to perform, better health care, and more quality time. We don’t want to be heroes of work; we want to live. We want to share power, responsibility and duties and to tear off the corset of gender roles. We want new horizons for men in the 21st century!”

One might be inclined to read that as "I am tired of being a man all the time. I want to exercise my right to be more like a woman. Better still I don't want to be type-cast as any one gender and just be a person of ambivalent gender"

Ambivalence when it comes to gender roles is unfortunately not a good idea because it leaves the other side very confused. Feminism should serve as a good example for this. Since there are clearly discernable external differences between the genders, there is also an expectation that those differences would translate over mentally and emotionally. As restrictive as the corset of gender roles is, there is a reason it exists. To break free may not end up giving someone the freedom or happiness they seek.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Aging Startup

A client I consulted with recently embarked on a large project with the primary aim of driving more customers to their on-line store and making the buy process easier. There were some social media features thrown in for good measure. The idea being everyone's doing the Twitter and Facebook thing so we should throw our hat in the ring and hope for the best.

A hundred thousand followers on Twitter in Week One seems about the right number (entirely without basis though) so let's target that. Turns out that reality falls far short of that and everyone is left wondering what they did "wrong". The idea of using reaching their customer on their mobile devices seems too far-fetched idea to the powers that be. In a sense they are trying to replicate an e-commerce success story from a decade ago at a time when the world has moved on to other things and will continue to do so. By when the project rolls out into production, the vision would have become out-dated and irrelevant.

This client is interesting in many ways. They were a start-up about fifteen years ago and a lot of their leadership team is from the pre-IPO days.The rest of the crew is young and collegiate - a bunch of bright, talented and energetic people. With management being from a different internet generation, they are no longer at the bleeding edge of technology or innovation. While they still have the cool start-up vibe and are fairly low on red-tape they are beginning to resemble any other traditional company of their size in every other way.

If this company is representative of it's demographic, an aging start-up is like a bottle of soda left open.Until the fizz dies out completely, it will have some giddy up to it - in this clien't example they continue to be the leader in their domain. But once the last bubble dies, they may just become another average corporation that moves at too slow a pace to keep with the the changing tides of technology.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Parting Ways

Once I had exacting standards to call someone a "friend". These days, I use the word more freely and irresponsibly even. The gravitas associated with friendship has greatly diminished over time and more people are now contained within its orb. The woman I met for lunch last week, is a friend after a fashion. If you consider similar life experiences and the common need to share with and relate to another human being whose suffering resembles your own - that probably falls into the realm of friendship. Yet, there is no larger context around this connection and when we part ways, it would be no more significant to either of our lives than scooping out a handful of water from the ocean might be to it.

That afternoon as we shared stories from our pasts, we were confidantes and friends in a way we might hardly be with others in our lives. We both felt better knowing that the emotional upheavals we had gone through, the times when had questioned our sanity and when we had thought there would never be a return to "normal", were not unique experiences or some kind of fatal aberration. Human beings respond to situations like ours in very similar ways - there is a sense of comfort in knowing that. For a minute I may have thought of her as a sister but that would be forcing into the relationship more significance than there is.

As we parted ways at the parking lot, for some odd reason a poem by Erza Pound came to mind.

 Taking Leave of a Friend by Erza Pound
Blue mountains to the north of the walls,
White river winding about them;
Here we must make separation
And go out through a thousand miles of dead grass.

Mind like a floating wide cloud,
Sunset like the parting of old acquaintances
Who bow over their clasped hands at a distance.
Our horses neigh to each others
as we are departing.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Crest and Trough

A few days a ago, I was telling my mother how difficult it is for J and I to get used to having food cooked by yours faithfully after a break of six months. When my parents visit, mom takes over the kitchen and what a huge difference it makes to quality of our lives. It is not as much about the recipes she serves but her attention to detail and her amazing creativity.

The lack of produce options in the local grocery stores does not bother her. She will come up with ways to take what she is given and make something delightful with it. And she is able to repeat this feat every single meal for the entire duration of her stay. Yet, her life is hardly kitchen bound - she has a variety of other interests and makes time for them in her day.

Cooking and me have had a strange relationship - full of crests and troughs. I was a competent cook even before I hit my teens. Once I was allowed in the kitchen more, I was able to put my own spin on traditional Bengali recipes in a way that was often met with appreciation from family and friends. Those were probably the crests. When I started working, I had my own place for the first time along with a kitchen to do as I pleased. Often the lack of time and energy resulted in improvisations and short-cuts that ended up putting nutritious but bland food on my table. I was reaching for the trough.

Every once in a while when I had company, I was able to find my stride and prepare a meal that was a crowd pleaser. Marriage to R (my ex) did only good things to my cooking - in fact that that was the only area of my life where change was for the better. R was sincere in his appreciation of my creative flair, loved being surprised and encouraged me to try recipes from anywhere in the world. The kitchen was always well-stocked and I did not lack inspiration, energy, encouragement or ideas.

After our divorce, I lost all of that for a couple of years. J being a baby at the time, I lacked the incentive of cooking for someone else - it was just me. I went back to eating food that was healthy and ultimately boring. By when I had worked myself out of the funk, something essential had died. Today, I can cook some of the staples of our dinner table with consistent taste but everything else can be a hit or miss.

My mother says I am like a student who is no longer interested in education and is concerned only about getting a passing grade. There is no involvement with the subject (cooking) before or after the test. I used to be a student of very different stripe once - I wanted to learn, improve and prefect myself. The grades were incidental. My mother says she's always been a student of cooking that has a passion for the subject. I have to work on reviving the passion I once had to be able to climb out of the trough I have fallen into lately. I thought that was interesting advice.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Working Through Boredom

Boredom and children don't make the best companions. As lot of a parent's time can be spent in trying to keep boredom out of their child's life. Yet there are times when it impossible to keep boredom at day and kids come up with interesting strategies to cope with it.

A few weeks ago, J and I were at standing in a long queue someplace. There is nothing to do except wait for our turn so J decided to find a way to occupy herself. She started to breathe out in the direction of the bushes that were planted along the path. When I asked her what she was doing J replied "I am giving food to the plants" A few days ago J had observed that all people on the planet will die if they keep cutting down trees as they are doing now "There will be no oxygen left for us to breathe".

She has been learning how plants make their food and that lesson came handy in alleviating boredom while standing in line - waiting. Whether alone or with their friends, I have found kids are often able to find diversion and amusement in places and ways that adults could not even conceive of. When we take it upon ourselves to help our children overcome boredom, we probably do more harm than good. Instead, we might learn something about seeing the mundane in extraordinary light by watching our children do so.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Books And Happiness

A few weeks ago, J helped me write short synopses of her five favorite books from last year for a post I did for Saffron Tree. I have blogged several times about my undiminished sense of wonderment in the American public library system. That is possibly the first thing I loved about this country and it continues to top the list.All the books I ever owned were hand me downs from relatives or friends who no longer wanted them or bought really cheap at second hand book-stores.

It was just not the done thing in my family to go off any buy books "randomly" as my mother would like to say. The first question she would ask if I wanted to buy one was "Will you read it a second time ?". If the answer was no, purchase was out of the question. While there was still such a thing as the USSR, every year there would be a Soviet book fair in my town and that was the time I could buy a few books. My parents allowed this "indulgence" mainly because they were so cheap. The thrill of bringing my books home to look them over, is unlike anything else I experienced in my childhood.

To this day, I put a lot of thought before actually buying a book but there is a huge assortment at home at any given time thanks to the bounty of the public library. Like me, J has come to depend almost on it entirely for her reading needs. The happy faces of the children crowded around an illustrated book in this article on the mission of Pratham Books made me count my blessings yet again - I tried to imagine the look on the faces of these kids if they too could have twenty or more books each of their choice and get to keep them for a couple of months only to get that many more new ones. Pratham is obviously doing an amazing job bringing books and therefore the joy of reading to children who otherwise may have been deprived of both.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Food Temptations

J eyed the hot food bar at a grocery store in my neighborhood longingly and asked if we could take some home for dinner. It was a colorful, varied and attractive assortment of food so I could see how she may have been tempted. We were both tired and more than a little hungry at the time. She could not wait to taste it once we got home and I arranged a small portions of everything we had bought on her dinner plate. After a few mouth fulls, J scrunched up her nose and said "I don't like it one bit. It's not what I thought it would taste like. If I eat any more of this, I'll throw up".

From extreme anticipation and love, it had gone to that must distaste and rejection within a few minutes. I could help but feel amused at the dramatic change of heart. She asked me to fix her a very simple Bengali staple for dinner which I did. This is the second time, J has fallen prey to food presented in a way that looks tempting and found out that appearance and taste can be quite some distance apart. The meal I cooked for her, did not look nearly as great as what we had brought home and did not call for any exceptional ingredients but  J relished it - it was her comfort food. After she went to bed, I wondered if this may have been a good time to talk to her about Shreya and Preya - a very fundamental tenet of the value system I would want her to have as she grows up.  

Sunday, April 11, 2010


It is always fun to learn a new word that's not yet a buzz word in the IT business and specially when the learning comes through a well-written article like this one. The representative examples of the use of kairos in the context of web design and user experience are great but the use of Comcast as an example of effective use to Twitter to address customer complaints put my brain in shutdown mode instantaneously.

If that is kairos in action, I would much rather not know more about it less try and put it to use myself. Having suffered greatly at the hands of Comcast's customer service (really, they should call it something else that better describes the third degree they put their people through thanks to their astounding levels of cluelessness) one time too many, I simply could not get past this line and read the rest :

Notice that Frank is not giving an obsequious “I’m sorry” or an insincere “You’re right.” He listens to the customer’s viewpoint, concedes to some aspects of it, and offers more information to refine the viewpoint. In the process, the customer gives him, and Comcast, some slack. Zing.

In a sense that paragraph was an example of kairos too - "Greek rhetoricians defined kairos as saying or doing the right thing at the right time". Right or wrong can be very subjective but it was highly effective in making me freeze on my tracks - I had made a decision (to stop reading and write this instead) which is the ostensible goal of understanding and using kairos :

When someone consults a website, there is a precious opportunity not only to provide useful information but also to influence their decision. To make the most of this opportune moment, web professionals need to understand the rhetorical concept of kairos.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Remote Grading

Reading this article about American universities outsourcing the business of grading the work of students to call centers in India left me rather unsettled.When applied to education, the implications of outsourcing can be quite insidious - it is amazing that the students are not up in arms protesting. They are paying a huge sum of money for the privilege of being educated in an American university by the professors who physically teach them there. The expectation should be that they get what they are paying for – the professor’s time and attention.

The notion that a real TA can be swapped out with a virtual TA because the two are not that different is wrong in more ways than I can count. However, that is probably the first argument the proponents of this system will make.One might argue, a student could likewise outsource their “monotonous” assignments and free up time to gain real world experience (which is what their future livelihood will depend on) and reduce their student loan burden while they are at it. In this surreal (though not entirely far-fetched scenario), a virtual TA would be grading the work of a virtual student while the real professor and student are off doing “more important” work to advance their respective prospects in life. If this is not a travesty of the goals of instruction and education, I don’t know what is.

Given the established precedent in the outsourcing business, it is only a matter of time before virtual TA outfits up their game and start to provide higher end, value added service. Just like information technology body shops went from being data entry and back office process automation providers to actual product development over time, a virtual TA in due season will be ready to stand in for the professor. The logic may be that doing so frees up the "real" professor’s time to do valuable research while the drone job of teaching is left to industry "experts". Someone will no doubt come up with the altogether specious case for this arrangement being a win-win formula for everyone involved in it.

From an American student’s standpoint, it would make a lot more economic sense for them to get their education in Asia where their tuition dollars would go a lot further. There is no sense in paying an American tuition to have their work graded (and in due course have instruction provided) in Asia. As for the universities – if this is the way things are headed, there will be precious little to tell them apart form a corporation whose overriding purpose is to turn in a profit for its share holders.

Education is already far more commoditized than it should be and this is yet another step down that slippery slope. If the value of a formal education and everything it entails is devalued enough, an astute student may be persuaded to entirely bypass the system and the pedagogic instructional process. They can just as well be self-taught and take the appropriate assessments to ensure they meet or exceed standards. Depending on their performance, they can compete for degrees to be granted from an university of their choice - that would be a nice way to monetize the brand equity of the leading universities. I feel sorry for kids who will be ready for college ten to twenty years out because close to nothing will remain sarosacnt about the hallowed centers of higher learning by that time.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Peace With Spice Cake

I suffer from a chronic inability to follow any recipe and that becomes a problem if I want to bake. J knows to expect the worst when I take it upon myself to do so. If anything, J has come to realize that her mother can be very persistent and does not give up on something just because she has failed at it twenty times in a row.
Persistence and the capacity to spring back from failure, I guess are qualities that don't hurt anyone so it's a good thing for J to observe and hopefully emulate in other areas of life. Except in this case, J is left with the unsavory job of eating the charred cake, rock solid bread or cookies that don't resemble any kind of cookie she is acquainted with. That can be a steep price to pay to feed somebody's persistence habit though mulishness might be the more appropriate description of the condition.

Recently, I was able to turn out a decent spice cake minus a recipe - a first in my life. J's friends loved it and despite her initial reservations, so did J. A few weeks later, I tried variation on the theme of spice cake and did not bother to follow the steps that had led to the unexpected success the previous time. This one was a success too. J even said that my baking skills were improving. This past weekend, I tired yet another spice cake and for once did not feel the typical rush of trepidation when I opened the oven door after forty minutes. I shared a cake I had baked with a couple of co-workers and a friend. Only if you have failed as many times and as resoundingly as I have in your attempts to bake would you realize what an accomplishment that was.

Finally, I am friends with the spice cake. As long as I have to follow a recipe to cook something or worry about how it will end up tasting, I know it is a new and uncomfortable co-existense, the ingredients or the process and I have not come to understand each other well enough. Baking and I have upto now had a relationship fraught with stress and discord. It has taken Epicurious to resolve the conflicts we could not resolve on our own. I have always believed that following a recipe while cooking is the surest way to keep the relationship that way - remote, distant and unsteady. You never know where you stand with each other. Looks like spice cake and I are in a good, peaceful place together -  I might venture further afield now.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Uses For FAQs

Anyone who has felt frustrated by not finding an answer to their specific problem in a long list of question answered in a website's FAQ section will agree with Stephen Gracey's post on FAQs - what they are good for and not.

If the site is designed right and with feedback from users as the author recommends, the common queries should go away.Should thousands of people be asking the same question without content in the site that makes the answer self-evident, a FAQ is not the solution to the problem. The high frequency question could be treated as an opportunity for improvement instead of a quick band-aid style fix by shoving it into the FAQ section. Gracey suggests the following to ensure questions from users are being tracked and addressed in a meaningful way :

Are there, in fact, any questions users ask frequently? Don’t just add them to your FAQ in the name of completeness. Sort the questions into piles. Look for common words. Count the frequency of occurrences. As soon as you see a pattern, look for ways to address it elsewhere in your content.

Not only does this idea make for better user experience, it also addresses the issue of keeping content fresh and relevant.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Dating And Rejection

I was walking home after dropping J off at her friend’s house. Other than some chores, I did not have much to do that evening. So when N, my neighbor asked me over to join her in her balcony for a drink,the timing was perfect. N teaches physics at a local college and is a single mother like myself. Her son is getting ready to go to high school this fall. At forty something, N is very attractive and in great shape thanks to her workout discipline. If you’ve spent any time with her you would not fail to notice the bracing sense of humor and a sharp mind.

When conversation turned to relationships (she has recently parted ways with a boyfriend of a couple of years), N mentioned some of her challenges. She does not have the time to meet people “off-line” the good old-fashioned way. When her family or friends try to set her up, the pressure is too high for things to go well - plus she hates it when people "check in" after the date to see how things went.She does not want to have a picture on her profile on a dating site – to be seen by a student would be much too embarrassing. Apparently, men she contacts (which is more often the case because her picture-less profile garners very limited attention) ask to see a picture right away. She has lost count of the number of times they have written back to say “Thanks for the pictures, but I am not interested” or something along the lines that is equally blunt.

I had a really hard time processing this. The average forty something guy would be hard pressed to find a woman in his age group that looks as good as N does and that is not even counting everything else she brings to the table as a person. In physical appearance and fitness level she can still give women in their late twenties a run for their money - “Why on earth would they do that ? Are these guys looking to date only women who have been Miss Universe within the last five years ?” I asked. N’s response gave me much to think about.

She reasons that men who are not secure in their own manhood (literally and figuratively) feel empowered at least temporarily by rejecting a woman based on her looks – despite all the gains women have in gender equality, this is still culturally the cruelest cut of all. More likely than not, they will reject a woman who appears confident about herself and her place in the world - someone who is not in need of a man's validation of her worth.

Rejection helps them establish that they and not the woman are in control. A lot of women are not equipped to handle such rejection (specially when it happens over and over again and they are over a certain age) well. It undermines their confidence and makes them vulnerable in relationships that they do get into.It was not so long ago, that my friend K, who moonlights as a model, was told by a guy that he "felt no chemistry" seeing her picture. That comment prompted her to call me to talk about it. N probably had a point about rejection chipping away at a woman's self esteem - it had certainly bothered K.

According to N, if a man is indeed a man (I will skip the colorful language she used to emphasize her point about what it takes to be a real man), he is likely to compliment a woman on her looks sincerely – her eyes, the slant of her throat,her skin tone, the shape of her lips, the texture of her hair, the curve of her body – whatever it is about her that is really nice, he will notice it and tell her how he finds her attractive. When a man is able to do this, a woman should know he will not disappoint her in bed as well. This is the kind of man who is able to bring out the best in a woman emotionally and physically. Whether or not the relationship works out in the end, he would have impacted her life in a positive way. “In a way, it’s good for me to get rejected by guys based on my looks” N laughed. “Who wants to waste time with losers who won’t even be decent lays. Life is too short”.

In N’s mind, it is perfectly okay for a man to not feel attracted to a woman for a variety of reasons even if she were considered good looking by most standards (my friend K comes to mind as an example). However, the manner in which he extracts himself from the situation says everything about what kind of man he is – namely if he is self-assured, confident and most importantly virile. As far as N is concerned being a “picture- rejecter” is the calling card of an uncultured cad (for obvious reasons) with a near certainty of being entirely underwhelming in bed. In short, imminently avoidable irrespective of the woman's relationship goals. N loves guys who don’t ask to see a picture (are thrilled if she sends them some), are curious to learn what she is all about, enjoy talking to her and set up a date just to get to know her better.

This is the kind of man who makes her want to look her absolute best on their date - exceed any expectations he may have had. “How does it usually go ?” I asked. “Swimmingly well. No exceptions” N replied. Unfortunately the garden variety “picture-rejecter” is dime a dozen, the other type is a rare find. And so on a Friday evening, when her son is with her ex, N has to content herself chatting with a girlfriend instead of being out on an exciting date with a man who can for a few hours dissolve the many stresses of the week, make her laugh and feel totally desirable.

I tell N, may it’s not men – it’s all those pesticides at work feminizing them. Maybe we reason, they are going through this transitional phase when they are losing touch with the masculine in them but have not become fully feminine yet. According to our bizarre theory, in this transitional stage, they might have a strongly negative reaction to any woman who challenges them to be more male than they are able to be. That would explain the patently inexplicable phenomenon of why one such as N (or my buddy K) would get “picture rejected” time after time in by men in the dating pool. By then, it was time for me to go fetch J and I had to defer the discussion of our fascinating hypothesis for another time.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Media Monster

Not sure if this will wow gamers but as a non-gamer, I found the ability to create my own Media Monster , pit it against another one and advance to the next level very interesting. I lost a couple of fights and won some but my Monster continued to make net positive gains. Not sure if that was by chance or my deliberate design.

What was best, I could leave the fighting on cruise control, get some chores done  and come back in a bit and check the outcome. My biggest problem with gaming is that it needs me to be an active (and captive) participant - I don't have the patience or the focus to do something like that. I would have never known to associate Verbatim (last I knew they were making floppy disks) with something ever so cool.

Monday, April 05, 2010

One Theme

I have given up my daily dose of technology blogosphere these days. Unless they have anything other than iPad apps to talk about, there is nothing for me to read there. Clearly, the iPad has come some ways from the time tech observers and commentators had mostly disparaging things to say about it to now when (thanks to the apps), the iPad will change the world past recognition.

As with everything else the punditry comment on in haste these days and recant at leisure, it seems like they got this one wrong and by a wide margin. My good friend K who is a die hard Apple aficionado fully intended to buy the iPad even after every negative review he had read or heard. K apparently got it right. He believed that the device was like an empty scratch pad, the apps people built for it would determine if it became a success - no different than the iPhone. To that extent, a less than perfect virtual keyboard or an over-size bezel did not bother him too much. The potential will become evident over time and he wanted nothing more than to be part of the action.

And K is just a regular cubicle drone past his code-cutting prime by his own adimission. He manages programmers these days and tinkers with new technology for fun. Note to self, in the future pay attention to folks like K and tune out the punditocracy completely.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Clean Break

As much as we might like it, some things from the past refuse to cleave neatly from our lives. My friend L came out of a difficult and loveless marriage with two young children a few years ago.Her ex decided to move back to India leaving L and the kids to fend for themselves here in America. L believes the decision was motivated mainly by the fact he did not want to take responsibility for any of them. They had been married for five years at before the end came and had known each for a couple of years before their marriage.

Her ex has recently remarried and L has a steady boyfriend. It would seem dispersed fragments of everyone's lives have come together after a fashion and there might be peace and renewal yet. There is only one small snag. L has found out from a friend who knows both her and her ex, that he has not told his new wife about the kids he had with L. He has created an alternate reality of his past life with L. According to that narrative, those children don't exist. L's friend wants to know if she should speak up or let sleeping dogs lie. "What do you think I should do ?" L asked me as she struggled between outrage and resignation.

Her kids are too young to have an opinion in the matter and her boyfriend is comfortable with whatever her decision might be. Her family would prefer she moved on with her life and not confront her ex over the issue. They reason, it is only by random chance that she found out about this lie being perpetuated by her ex, so she has no obligation to do anything about it.

Both L and I have experienced the crumbling of marriage and have a keen sense of solidarity with women whose marriages are built on shaky foundations. I fully appreciate her quandary but am hard pressed to recommend a course of action. We both realize that finding out the truth now would be far less damaging for this woman than discovering twenty years later. Does L owe this woman the truth or does she hold her peace and allow her suffer the consequences in due season. She will probably have to end up making peace with her instinct for self preservation being stronger than that of sisterhood with another woman.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Global Novel

The need for a novel to have universal and international appeal is a subject close to my heart. I have blogged about how writers from non-English speaking countries are often pushed to pander to the sensibilities of their English speaking readership at the cost of the art and craft of their writing . This post by Tim Parks on the global novel and how it fails to deliver addresses this issue :

As a result of rapidly accelerating globalization we are moving toward a world market for literature. There is a growing sense that for an author to be considered “great,” he or she must be an international rather than a national phenomenon. This change is not perhaps as immediately evident in the US as it is in Europe, thanks to the size and power of the US market and the fact that English is generally perceived as the language of globalization, so that many more translations go away from it than toward it. However, more and more European, African, Asian and South American authors see themselves as having “failed” if they do not reach an international audience.

Parks argues that the lack of "culture-specific clutter and linguistic virtuosity" take away from the quality of the writer's output. The idea being that a writer must be allowed to tell their story in the language and the atmosphere that they feel closest to. They should not be forced to simplify and dilute in the interests of reaching international readers. Shakespeare and Austen are held out as examples of writers who have have failed the international appeal test in today's world.

That is probably not true - the fact that both these authors have survived the test of time and are read around the world is evidence that having universal appeal is driven by the theme and its handling by the author and has less to do with culture specific tropes. What has happened to the garden variety global novel lately is that that writers have either abandoned local color to reach a wider audience or over-done it to claim a niche. In either case, the themes they are dealing with lack in broad appeal and the telling of the story itself is seriously lacking. With substance being the real problem, the style does not help or hurt them a great deal.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Tween Concerns

After she had brushed her teeth and was ready for bed, J remembered something she had forgotten to tell me. All conversations in this vein particularly when is she sleepy, begin in the middle. She does not care to provide any context and dives right in. It is up to me to connect the dots and make what I can of it. "There are this girl in fifth grade who said this morning Justin Bieber is hot" J said.

The point of this anecdote from what I could tell was the use of the word hot in the context of a boy - a turn of phrase J was previously unfamiliar with. Clearly, she had caught the drift of what the fifth grader had implied but did not agree with her assessment. Yet J felt all grown up in having learned a novel use for the word hot and wanted to share that with me.

I ofcourse had no idea who Justin Bieber was and assumed it was a kid in her school. "So do you think he is hot too ?" I asked J as I did the dishes and she said "I think he's more dumb than hot." I was about to tell her something about not being judgmental when she asked that I look this guy up online. So I did and became aware that the kid in question was a pop singer from Canada. "Do you think he is hot ?" J asked me.

Comes a time in a mother's life when her eight year old learns that hot equals cute and attractive and that someone else's standards don't match hers. I guess it gets only more complicated from here on out.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Letters, Books And Tapes

Letterfu and Map Envelope are two lovely ideas on the theme of writing a real letter. Map Envelope in particular brings the power of internet technology to bear on an activity that pre-dated it for centuries - that of sending a postcard from one's travels. As easy as it is for people to create online albums of several hundred pictures from their vacation, it is still a pleasure to receive a physical postcard, with a foreign postmark and stamp.

The last one I got was from my friend D a few years ago when she and her husband visited Puerto Rico and I still have it. Among other things, it tells you they took the trouble when they could just as easily have sent an email. Anyone who has written and received actual letters, is likely to have a collection of tapes - mixed and otherwise. Creative Barn has neat way to put them to good use.

Even fifty years ago, a person's entire childhood could comprise of less then ten photographs and their entire collection of music a couple of dozen LPs. The act of enjoying memory captured in a picture seems to reduce in inverse proportion to the ease of clicking and sharing the pictures.

The same is probably true of music. There is so much to listen to and so effortlessly, the pleasure of listening to great music is signficantly reduced. Used to be that talk of music converged around favorite artists and bands but these days it is hard to get a group of people who are listening to the same things. Everyone has their niche which are often isolated from each other. Seeing technology converge with things of nostalgic value makes me hopeful that we may yet return to a simpler way of life.

But there is the opposing force of bringing technology into the simplest joys of life - such as reading a book.Reading this articleon what the iPad may mean for the printed book and the way we read - specially how children may read in the future prompted me to comment:

The last place of peace and quiet minus ubiquitous connectivity was the printed book. I love the Internet and spend most of my waking hours onor around it but I love my unconnected time even more. If the prognosis on what the iPad means for books is right, that may soon be a thing of the past - something like the iPad could define connectivity fatigue for folks like myself.

Leaving And Staying

"I can't stop thinking about you" read a text message from MJ, five months after their last and what to Sheila had been their final meeting. Just one short, terse sentence yet it reverberated in her mind her all night long. That was the thing about MJ - a feral intensity that broke down all barriers and challenged her resistance to him. 
She decided it was best not to respond and allow her inner turmoil to subside. As much as she wanted to move on, she could not help thinking about him almost constantly. In a sense, she felt vindicated he suffered just like her. She chided herself for behaving like an infatuated teen-ager and forced herself to take interest in other men, more plausible relationships than what she had (or not) with MJ. 
She wanted for him to stay or leave with finality but he was much to flighty to make decisions set in stone. He thrived on whimsy and impermanence because they were to him synonymous with romance. While talking to Vibha one weekend, Sheila mentioned her dilemma with MJ. 
"What makes him so special to you ?" Vibha asked. 
"He is the only man I have ever known who can bring out the feminine in me completely. I don't feel like I have to spar, compete, prove or win. I can just enjoy being a woman and let him do the rest. There is something exquisitely peaceful about being that way - specially for someone who has never experienced it." Sheila explained. 
"You feel like you need to assert yourself with other guys ?" 
"Yes. It's like until I establish and enforce ground rules, they will walk all over me. I have this instinct to protect myself, be on my guard all the time. A simple discussion can degenerate to a point scoring exercise. It's me versus him and I hate that - it tires me out. With MJ, I can just relax and be myself. He will humor me even when I being bitchy and obnoxious - it just does not bother him. Instead of aggravating me he will say or do something that makes me forget what I was ranting about. I think we bring out the best in each other. He loves how he can make me feel - it is very satisfying to him as a man." 
"So, you don't want to be back with him ?"
"He has to choose to stay with me and I can't make him do that. I can choose to leave and logically I have - years ago" 
"Emotionally is harder ?" 
"Sometimes it feels impossible actually and I wish he would let go off me emotionally. Once the connection snaps - we'll both be free. It does not help for him to do what he does - reach out to me again and again"
"I guess he wants to be with you too but just does not know how to do it"
"I've stopped thinking about his motivations a long time ago. I just know that I like him a lot more than I should reasonably and suffer for it. I used to think that this would fade away - that in time, I would have no reaction to him"
"And ?"
"It hasn't quite worked out that way - at least up to now. Maybe it will fade yet - just have to wait for it to happen and pray for tranquility until then."
"I know you are a strong girl, Shell and will be fine in the end but I can't help feeling sorry for both of you. This would be so perfect if it worked out"
"I told MJ once like a bad habit that is impossible to kick and he said "I don't think of you that way. I think we have something very special and feel good about it. You should try feeling more positive about us too"
"I wish I had some wisdom to offer or know of a way to resolve this.."
"That's okay, Vibs. Thanks to being a patient listener and friend."