Sunday, July 31, 2011

Twice Shy

In one year of being married once again, I have come to realize that when people such as DB and I come together in a second marriage, most of our energies are expended in navigating minefields. A certain tone of voice, a gesture, a mannerism, food habit or what have you will trigger a bad memory. Suddenly, the past will come into the foreground with vengeance, completely obscuring what little you have built together with pain-staking effort. Like a friend of ours said, a new marriage (even it is the second time for both) is a like a messy, kicking, screaming infant and we would be well advised to treat it as such instead of expecting adult behavior from it. 

Yet, more frequently than not, we expect the other person to "know better" given the lessons learned from mistakes past. We expect adult behavior from the bawling, unreasonable infant that is our marriage. When expectations are not met we are quick to indulge in self-pity, give up on the partner's ability to ever change. We blame the other for errors and omissions made in their previous marriage. What is more we accuse the other of going down the same destructive path because they are incapable of learning ; unwilling to change. Then the moment passes, tempers cool, reason, love and compassion return. After the clouds lift, I am able to see the many amazing changes DB has made in the past year, he sees that I am almost everything he wanted his wife to be. 

Post epiphany we are in rapprochement mode - and life is good once again. The days flow languidly like a brook meandering through quiet woods - until we hit the next obstacle. We want to believe this is no different from any new marriage but we do know that it is - indeed in very significant ways. Every marriage takes time to be broken in - the first time around, you are both willing to do a lot more to make it happen, you have many dreams and the energy to fulfill them. By when one marriage ends, the years of being alone are over and you start over, a lot of the energy has already been expended. You have the compelling need to make up for lost time and pretend your life had always been "on track". What is more, you want to prove to yourself that you have wisdom you once lacked and this time there would be no mistakes. 

That is the narrative you bring into all your social relationships as well. So I'd rather not have to explain why DB, J and I have different last names. I would rather pretend that DB has been in J's life forever and not want to talk about the time in her life when he was not around. It is as if the strength of this marriage and our newly formed family unit is based on how "old" and "comfortable" it looks to the world outside. It gives us the much need affirmation to pass for a family that has grown organically instead of having been cobbled together. We don't want to come across as still trying to figure things out, not having our act quite together yet, we want to look self-assured and confident with answers to everything figured out already. The pressures of those largely unrealistic goals come into the relationship and strain it even more. 

Every day this past year has been a learning experience for me. We both thought having been through a marriage once before would count for something this time. That experience as we are finding out is more counterproductive and disruptive than anything else. Time will tell if it contributed anything positive to our union.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Having to De-annonymize

I have always trod with caution when it comes to social networking. My blog has presence all over - Facebook to Foursquare but personally I stay out of everything. My buddy C takes annonymization to extremes only alpha nerds can take things to. He does not have a rewards card for any store, he usually pays with cash and makes sure he does not follow any kind of "buying pattern". His goal in life is not allow himself to become a data point for retailers today and context brokers in the future.

I am curious about what Google+ is trying to do with the idea of Circles for non-intersecting areas of people's lives. A step in the right direction certainly but with their track record, with the whole Buzz episode I would be skeptical for a long time to come. Specially when their competition believes that de-annonymization is necessary and almost inevitable. 

Anonymity on the internet has been of particular significance to me. More than ten years ago, when I desperately needed help understanding what was going in my marriage and the chances of me being able to work through all that ailed it, having an anonymous email address saved my life. 
I did not have the courage to open up and share the deepest, darkest secrets of my life with anyone who knew me. I did not have the ability to get professional help without my putting myself in harm's way. More than anything else I was very afraid - I cloak of anonymity gave me the courage I sorely lacked.
I knew that not telling everything in the most painful detail would make it impossible for anyone to understand my situation or be able to help me out. Using my assumed name, I reached out a large cross section of people - psychiatrists, university professors, therapists, counselors and yes even the occasional psychic who promised to read the stars in my horoscope . 

It was a desperate cry for help and the response was quite overwhelming. A lot of people wrote me back with their insights into the situation, recommended what they thought would be the best course of action based on what information I had provided. A lot of them observed my message was brutally honest - exactly as I had wanted for it to be. 

Between the dozen or so responses I got from a wide cross section of people I had reached out to, I was able to see a the couple of distinct themes that helped my chart the course of the rest of my life. If I had not reached out anonymously, a lot of these wonderful people may not have been able to respond with the candor they did with. What is more, I would not have been able to muster the courage to present them with the unvarnished, unflattering and ugly truth. We had made a connection between one human heart and the other which made every other barrier fall way.

For many years, this blog has been where I was able to share what I thought, events in my life that I felt had potential to offer someone somewhere a little something of value. Over the years, many readers have reached out to me anonymously, shared secrets that would never have with someone they knew in real life, thanked me for writing something that touched them very deeply. In a sense, I used my blog as a way to give back what I was given in a time of great crisis. If I had to de-annonymize myself or required anyone who wrote to me to do so, it would break the very foundation on which this can all work. 

Randi Zuckerberg, demonstrates a staggeringly limited comprehension of the human condition when she makes her case of stripping anonymity online.“People behave a lot better when they have their real names down. … I think people hide behind anonymity and they feel like they can say whatever they want behind closed doors.” In every age, the media of social communication and interaction have lent themselves to a variety of abuse - it is no different now. Anonymity is not an invention or artifact of the internet or social media. To suggest stripping it online and "exposing" people is somehow for the greater good is disingenuous at best. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Minimal

Recently, we were at an art exhibition where I saw a tiny oil painting depicting two runaway slaves hiding in Dismal Swamp. The most amazing thing was the clear expression of fear on their faces when in fact the artist had not drawn a single facial feature. The figures were too small for that amount of detail. Whether you stood inches away from the picture or a feet away, you could not fail to notice the two tiny figures cowering in terror. Of all the paintings I saw that day, this one was my favorite. Reading about this extreme pointillism version of Monalisa  reminded me of that picture. In this case, a very famous painting has been reduced to its basic color palette and because of how familiar we are with it, there is that element of recognition - you can see the form of Monalisa where she does not exist. I wonder how it works with paintings like the one I saw at the exhibition - a faceless face conveying a full range of emotion. 

Both seem to be about minimalism but in completely different ways - the Monalisa print in 170 colored dots takes away everything but the colors of the original, the other is about a detailing the atmosphere to invoke the desired emotion but stripping it away from the subject who should have borne it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Unguent Tide


In the season of give,
the tide had nowhere to turn.
It continued to pour out love,
covered the beloved
in hot, urgent kisses. 
It craved to be held and touched,
- the angst of its spate eased.
Having found love at last,
it missed it's turn to ebb.
At the season's peak, 
the unguent stench filled
the beloved's pores.
They were drowning.
The heady mix of spice
and juice made the stomach
churn. The kisses lost
their fever, embraces
their heat. The beloved
reaches out in the dark
seeking out those places
once so ready, bursting 
with life now gone dry.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Rain Came


When rain splashes on my head
I don’t run for cover.
It is not what I do in rain.
I soak in it, let the damp
seep into my bones.
I need the cleansing
The chill shakes me out,
giving many lost years back
to redo as I might in hindsight.

Pair later or not at all,
have my worldly goods fill
no more than a backpack,
travel where my heart took me,

make love and friends on the way.
There is the matter of motherhood.
A dream that chased after me
furiously – had every baby
coo, gurgle and smile at me,
rush into my harboring arms
like they had come home
where they belonged.
And each time, there was
a dull ache in my empty womb
that had to be filled 
with life and purpose.
Then the rain came
and with it three men.
The first with an umbrella and embrace
The second with the first kiss of my life
The third with remonstrance for getting wet.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Elephants and Dragons


Ten years ago, around this time of year, I made an important decision - I was going to leave my husband. My daughter would be born a couple of months later. We would continue pretending to be a family until she was twelve weeks old and then she and I would leave. That was the beginning of a decade of strife, impermanence, uncertainty and angst. My marriage was still new when I bailed out – less than three years old and we did not own a home. During that time, I had always feared the rainy day and saved like a squirrel. When the rain came pouring down, I was grateful to have the resources to go solo with an infant.

For the first time in my life, I will have a home. DB, J and I are planning the big move coming up. We come to this point in our lives from very different places. For him, it is about making up for lost time – he wants to leapfrog to where his peers are in their lives without having put the twenty years to reach there. For my daughter, this event signals the transition from transience to permanence – something she has waited all her life to see happen. We are about to become a “regular” family that lives in a "real" house, has play dates and birthday parties there , the neighbors don’t holler when the kids go stomping up and down the stairs and there will be a backyard – her world would finally become "normal" (at least in her limited world view)

For me it is about the most expansion I have experienced in my life. I had grown used to living very minimally, planning for no more than a few months at a time – putting away as much as I could for the dread rainy day and my child’s future. Most importantly, I was not tethered to anything – place, job or relationship. I feel like being ejected head first from a dark tunnel into blinding sunlight – a near birth experience if there is such a thing. Suddenly, I feel the full weight of commitment – of making decisions for decades and a lifetime when all I have capacity for is six months. Even marrying again was not as unnerving as home buying is turning out to be. In a sense I am trading my financial security and mobility for things that I don’t know I am really ready for.

The marriage is now more real than ever before – it is no longer the commingling of two apartments into one and the constant jostling for space. Our battlegrounds had been in the closet, the cluttered living room, the missing room where we could get some alone time, the kitchen and the bathrooms – nothing was big enough for the both of us. We had grown too used to having the space alone and sharing just does not come easy. The problem of room will soon be history – if anything we will have too much of it.

The house will draw us out into the suburban life so many other families of our vintage live – unlike them who have done this for ten or twenty years, it would be the first time for us. I don’t have the excuse of “only temporary” anymore to run away from issues that have remain unresolved for a while. Once the dust settles there will not be another big dragon to slay – that is when the elephants in the room will want to stand up and be counted.

Mostly, I dread my lack of preparation for that day which is probably right around the corner. The decade of strife is finally over and I realize that I have lost the skills to thrive in a time of peace – I need those elephants to deny and dodge ;dragons to chase to get me feeling alive. I very much want to keep the biggest elephant in the room around because he shields me from a lot of things I am not prepared to deal with it. If he insists on being acknowledged, I will likely be off dragon slaying to avoid making eye contact.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Android Infuse 4G Experience

I have been using the iPhone 4 for about a year now and it was my first foray into the world of smartphones. As expected, switching over from my Motorola Razr to the iPhone fundamentally changed  my relationship with my cellphone. Recently, I had the pleasure of reviewing the Android Infuse 4G and was very  impressed by its capabilities – it reset and recalibrated what I thought I could expect from a smartphone.

Google Voice Actions -  Absolutely loved the idea of being able to search, text, email and call by saying what I want done. Both my daughter J and I tried it out. I do not have an American accent and she does. We both found it really hard to get Android to understand what we were saying. So the calls went to the wrong person (if at all), the email typed out completely incorrect and so on.

We tried ennunciating each word, pausing between them, speaking loud – all to no avail. We did get lucky one out of ten times but it was hard to understand what worked versus what did not. In short, high expectations from the feature but not impressed by the results. If this had worked as half as well as the demo promised I would be sold on the Android.

USB Connectivity –  Being able to copy any file via USB on to the Android is huge plus over the iTunes interface iPhone requires for file movement between computer and phone.  I tried this a few times but could not get my computer with Windows XP installed on it to recognize the device. Maybe a little more patience and digging around would have helped.

Email - Did not find the Combined Inbox (combining email from all my mailboxes) so useful.  I was not able to see my mailboxes seperately because the drop down listing containing my mailboxes would not respond when I touched it.  I could not find options like Reply All or Forward.

Navigation and Maps – Meets and even exceeds expectations. I already love Google Maps and use it all the time. The logical next step is to have it on Android with voice prompts. Being able to speak my destination into the phone via Google Voice Action would have made it sweeter. 

Interface –  Exceeds expectation. The bigger screen is very helpful whether you are reading  or watching a movie. Both  color clarity and sound quality are impressive. I can actually see myself watching a full length movie on this device but on an iPhone a two to three minute video clip is about all I can do comfortably. For the road warrior types with a Netflix account this could be a perfect way to take in a new release while waiting for a connecting flight.

Camera – Exceeds expectation. The options on the camera are well beyond anything I expected on a phone. I really like the camera on my iPhone but this gives me features I don’t have on it. Even out of the box, this camera would be perfect to take pictures on a vacation. With the many camera apps for Andriod that are out there, you can do some really cool things. 

Quick Office - Liked the idea of having access to basic Word Processing capability on a phone. Being able to save documents in Word or Excel is definitely valuable. However, the Word document does not have any of the formatting options I expected - and so it is really no different from a basic text editor. Once I created a document, I could not find a way to delete it.

Usability – It look me a while to figure out how to exit my current screen – the only out being the back option at the bottom of the screen. The Home option was a life saver. I have to admit I did not read the manual – I expect the interface to be intuitive enough to make the user manual redundant. On the keyboard itself, the navigation between alpha, numbers and different character sets was somewhat confusing. The predictive option that came on every time I tried to type something was extremely aggravating. It took me all of five minutes to type my name because it is not a word in the dictionary. Typing on the keyboard was no walk in the park either – I was fat fingering letters at an astounding clip.

Summary – Like it a lot and will watch how it evolves. The next time I am in the market for a smartphone, the Android will be strong contender. The biggest thing on my wishlist is for Voice Actions to work a lot smarter than they do now.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Manufactured Serendipity

Art and factory wouldn't normally belong together unless it were by design. Thought this was a beautiful idea - to commission art from factories by having each piece be incorrect in any way that a factory worker chose it to be. The results of the project are intriguing and whimsical - they could just as easily been created in an artist's studio by hand. Making these useless, unusable objects may have been the most creative latitude these factory workers ever had in their jobs. What an amazing break from monotony and a beautiful assay into the world of art, and design that would have been. As always, the reader reactions to the story make for interesting reading - not everyone is equally impressed and with good reason too.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Things Past

My mother is visiting us for a few months this summer - the first time since DB and I got married. The old and new in all of our lives are colliding randomly with unintended consequences. J has regressed a couple of years or more being the "baby" grandma knew when she saw her last. DB is learning how to adjust to yet another new person in his life. I am trying to balance being the daughter I have always been without making DB feel like he's the odd one out in the family. My mother is seeing me being a wife once again - there are some sad memories there for her mingled with happiness for me. We visit the past for different reasons and outcomes. 

My cousin M called me after ten years this morning - to say hello. She has trouble reconciling with the changes in my life and traipses around the subject of DB. Instead she talks of the last time we met - when R(my ex) was still around. She takes trouble not to mention him and the memory turns lifeless as a result. M treats marriage like a minefield and maneuvers her way around it for the hour that we talk. It leaves a strange taste in the mouth - I feel like a cardboard character with every sliver of life pared away from me.
In her anxiety to spare my feelings, M drained my life out of blood. After I got off the phone with her, I found myself thinking of the many uses of nostalgia - to rejoice, to recalibrate, to reminiscence, to wallow, to celebrate and much more.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Mirror Image

DB and I were waiting our turn at the counter when I saw this woman and her child. Almost reading my thoughts, DB said "That must have been how J and you were before we met". Her stress level was perceptible, the child (about J's age) looked completely worn out. The two seemed to be surrounded in an orb of anxiety. She spoke breathlessly to the customer service agent - trying to explain why it would be impossible for her to come back another time to complete whatever business she had. I could relate. There was a full-time job, raising a child, possibly no support or vacation time. This was the only window of opportunity to complete the task.

After some back and forth, she gave up, grabbed her paperwork and the child's hand and rushed out. In her face, her body language and in how she interacted with the woman at the counter, I saw myself as I was for ten years. No one had held up a mirror to me and shown me how odd I appeared to the world at large. I repeated myself often, fearing that I would not be heard or understood. I assumed the victim position in most transactions and came out of them feeling like one. 

Like me, this woman (she would be about my age) was a desi abroad who may have valued freedom to live without social isolation over having immediate family around and a familiar cultural milieu to raise her child. She had traveled eight hours to make this appointment with a young child in tow. If there was a partner, they were not present in her life in a way that eased her troubles, more likely than not - there was not a partner. I did not find myself feeling sorry for her - it was not often that I felt sorry for myself when I was in her shoes. I could tell she had the strength and the confidence it took to overcome. There would be battle-scars that would like years to fade but she would not succumb to her circumstances.  
In time, she would gain tranquility, she would smile more, relax in her interactions with the world. In time, the tide would turn and she would have the companion that could be there for her when it counted. Seeing myself as I had been heightened my appreciation for what I have in my life.