Dec 5, 2013

Conversation Map: Ski-mask to Salmon-eating shark

Date: Dec 3, 2013, Tuesday
Time: 7:30 AM
Starting point: Ski-mask
Ending point: salmon-eating shark
 
As we are donning outerwear to leave for school this winter morning -
1. Oyon pulls on his hat and observes that it does'nt warm his cold face. He remembers a Spiderman ski mask he saw at the store recently that might. While he was there, he also saw a 'Pegasus' Bey Blade toy. He really wants the 'Pegasus'!



2. Wonders where the names of Bey Blades come from since another is named 'Sagitario' (not 'Sagittaraius' per O). Guesses they were inspired by constellations since he knows Pegasus is one.


3. I suggest Greek mythology is really the source for both the constellation and toy names.
But what are myths?
I say ancient cultures used them in lieu of books and videos to teach people things and record facts.
What are some other mythologies?
I tell him many cultures have them - Africa, China, Japan and of-course - India.


4. In fact, the 'Ramayana' is part of ours - to his delight since he 'lurves' the Ramyana.
What's USA mythology?


5.  I have to gently break it to him that the USA is not Ancient at all but really quite young as a culture. Native Americans have lived on this continent for many, many centuries though and have a rich mythology.
Oyon thinks about it and disagrees - the USA does have mythology! It's all the worlds mythology combined since Americans come from everywhere!!


6.  I concede the point and compliment his reasoning.
If myths are meant to teach people, then are there math stories? He loves the addition stories they have to make-up in class but apparently struggles with subtraction stories. He could do with some help.


7. I immediately quiz him with a few subtraction problems, thinking the problem is with his math skills.
He easily cracks them then reveals that his struggle is with the math stories not the math.


8. I quickly take off my teaching hat and query further: he's usually great at making up stories. What seems to be the problem?
The problem is that can only 'do' salmon and sharks.
He responds to my utterly bewildered expression by patiently explaining that he always ends up telling stories where a shark eats a certain number of salmon and another number is left over. He's bored of salmon and shark stories but whenever he tries other characters they end up adding together - not subtracting.


We are now parked in our car outside our neighbor's home, brainstorming other story topics for subtraction and trying to rewire his addition-crazy math brain. They have not yet done much subtraction in this first quarter of First grade. Our carpool folks arrive and our conversation comes to a natural end. 


Where did YOU travel today?

Dec 3, 2013

Conversation Map: From couch to woodpeckers


Journey date: nov 30, 2013, Saturday
Travel time: About 30 mines, starting around 6:30 PM
Starting point: Couch safety
Ending point: Woodpeckers

I finish cleaning the kitchen and join Oyon in our den in the free half-hour before leaving for dinner at a friends home when -
1. I find Oyon is reading, perched on top of the narrow back of the couch. Right behind him is his study table and a cup full of sharpened pencils, pointy ends facing up.
I caution him about his
precarious perch, remind him he's not allowed to sit on the top because he could get stabbed if he topples backwards onto the cup.

2. He scoffs a little at the idea of a pencil having stabbing potential but slithers quickly down nevertheless.
I tell him about how mine did when I was 6 and trying to balance it, point end down, on my palm.

3. He asks if I needed stitches because his friend Matthew did when he hurt his head.

4. I said I didn't because it was not a big enough cut but his Baba did when his knife slipped last year. (Addendum: he then very unhelpfully observed how brave Baba was about it and reminded me of the time that I chickened out of stitches for an arm wound after crashing my bike and ended up with a horrible infection.)

5. He wants to know how stitches work. I talk about how zippers pull together the sides of a coat to close it. I mention his dad will need them soon for upcoming dental surgery because his incisions will be long and deep.

6. He wants to know what sutures are made of. Will they have to come out when the skin is healed? Then he confirms that the doctor will make cuts on purpose and wonders how much it'll hurt.

7. Anaesthesia comes up. We chat about how it works by putting parts of the brain to sleep. A recent trip to the USS Constitution comes up next and how there was no anaesthesia back then - sailors got limbs amputated without much pain relief. 

8. He wonders about what the docs did with all the chopped off limbs and figures they tossed them overboard. Then asks who discovered anaesthesia.

9. I put it on our mental list of 'stuff to look up later' along with 'what sutures are made of'. I tell him what I DO know is that many modern meds originate in plants. Talk of Aspirin in Amazonian tree bark, holistic medicine and how ancients treated themselves without the help of factories and pills.

10. He is suitably impressed and wonders if there are more undiscovered medicines in the Amazon forests.

11. I observe that's why it's important to preserve the world's forests.

12. He wonders if there might be new kinds of animals there too. Or maybe ones they think are extinct, like the Dodo bird. 


13. I do a brief detour about how we should read 'The land that time forgot' and chat about the extinct Ivory-billed woodpecker that was rediscovered recently. 

14. He tells me about another cool woodpecker he heard about that spins on its beak to use it like a drill to make holes.

His Dad arrives, freshly showered. It's time to go hangout with our friends.

Where did YOU travel today?

Nov 27, 2013

Terminus


It's the end of the month and I need to get next months T commuter pass on this rare occasion that I'm at the station early. This Friday's workload turned out to be conducive to watching the clock and setting out with a few extra minutes to spare. usually i default to a 5 minute sprint over the quarter mile from my office building to station and hop onto the train, winded and red, just before the conductor slams the door.

A scruffy old man leaning on a crutch is complaining at one of the 5 ticket windows. He has misplaced his ATM card and wants to know why they won't accommodate him since they see him so often. He is as belligerent as the employee behind the plexiglas is calm. His cane clatters to the floor as he enlists both hands to par down his pockets in search of something. Change perhaps. The middle aged man in executive attire just behind him in line retrieves it for him. The cane, not change.

Nov 1, 2013

TFTT: Tasty Food, Tasteless TV

I'm one of those people who like all figurative worms to stay in the can, wriggling around disgustingly, where no light will ever reach. Recently though a few friends were gabbing (where else? On Facebook) and the lid popped right off. In a tidal wave of catharsis we 'fessed up to our 'Tasty Food, Tasteless TV' shame.

Oct 30, 2013

USH: Unapologetic Suspension of Housekeeping

I recently opened a can of worms labelled 'Things About Me You Wish You didn't know' and the first thing to crawl out was a taste for TFTT. That's 'Tasty Food, Tasteless TV' whenever hubby travels for work. My husband left for 10 days recently and out crawled another revelation: USH or 'Unapologetic Suspension of Housekeeping'.

You know this phenomenon, right? It's when that last pretense of keeping the home in order kind of quietly evaporates. Not that I keep a sparkling home when he's in it either, but at least the laundry pile gets the attention it deserves.

From him.


I add this in the interest of full disclosure and being the generous, open person I am.
And honest. I'm really honest too.

Aug 23, 2013

'Animated shower caps'


One Friday in June, when my recently self-imposed sabbatical from Face Book on Fridays was still novel enough to inspire, I walked out again by the Charles at lunch time.

Aug 13, 2013

Leaves, left

The skies are open in Boston but its streets below are clogged.
Drops descend in arpeggio, ripples cannot stop.

Jul 31, 2013

They wore black

Their energetic gestures on the train platform caught my eye. Indian, mid-thirties, attractive and clad in mostly black. He pointed alternately, to himself and her in support of torrential words I could not hear. She held herself perfectly straight and still when she eventually gestured back a reply.

Two minutes of silence

A friend posted this on his FB wall today: 'two minutes of silence! That’s all...just two minutes of SILENCE!'  
Not sure what his context was but to my ears it fell somewhere between an exclamation and a plea.
               As an admitted motor-mouth, I confess to finally feeling a similar need, not the least because I finally seem to be getting weary of myself.

Jun 12, 2013

Lost keys



Out on a lunch time walk in Boston's North End, it's historic Italian district. One of those 'just right' days when searing sun and soothing breeze perform alchemy.

Jun 11, 2013

Curry. Or more.

Feel the gentle heat? Make sure the flame is not turned up too high: it could scorch.

May 30, 2013

Out of place and context


Binjal, not eggplant.
I was shopping for dinner at the Indian grocery store last Saturday . The vivid greens of the corrugated bitter melons contrasted so sharply with the purple tones of smooth, sinuous eggplant, that it was like they were in a yelling match with each other. Or at me.

May 22, 2013

A red and white walking stick

He's always on my morning train to Boston: elderly, slim, suited, blind. Most days our arrival at the Waltham station times such that I board a few paces behind him. His wife (presumably) is younger and guides him to the steps by his elbow, always taking her leave with an affectionate kiss and cheerful wish that he has a great day. 

May 16, 2013

Dandelion: rites or rights?

'Spring' must be named for the way new vegetation jumps out of the cold, hard ground in the blink of an eye. Cue - my annual awe at the signs of life, hope and the delightful sensory overload it brings with it. From the eye-popping yellow of Daffodil heads to the muted rusts of the American Robin breasts, there's a glut of color everywhere. The limited palette of our barely departed Winter becomes a rapidly fading memory.
These are times to be mindful, to soak up and wallow in the details....listen, feel, gaze, breathe. When you're not sneezing from all the pollen, that is. I'm glad to see signs of self-propagation, to anticipate more future greenery but why, I ask, this botanical machismo in broadcasting such excessive proof of virility?! My heart is glad but oh, my sinuses!


My place in the sun?
Seasonal allergies aside, examining the yard closely for hidden delights this time of year also brings with it the dreaded encounter with newly emerged Dandelions, serrated leaves fanning out to nestle comfortably amongst tufts of young grass. Suddenly I no longer notice the fresh, green tinge to the yard nor the surprise purple Crocuses (Crocii?) dotting it. Just that it's going to be a long, hot summer of first fighting weeds, then feeling ineffectual, defeated as they outpace my paltry efforts.

Yesterday, as this annual ritual unfolded, it transported me back 3 years to a spring Saturday morning a few months after we'd moved to our new home in Waltham. As I kneeled on the edge of our lawn and start tearing into the clumps closest to me, then-3-year old Oyon piped up from behind, "Here Mummum, I got a flower" (though his lisp at the time turned it into 'fwawah'). He proudly offered me something green and crushed, opening his little fist to reveal - not a crisp little bloom - but a ball-like Dandelion seed-head.

Oyon, 3 yrs - trying to smell Spring
Noting that I was busy eviscerating a clump just like the one he'd just beheaded, he sank into a squat and demanded to know what I was doing. I started on a spiel about 'bad flowers' but was soon interrupted with 'Why they bad? The seeds can fly! I LOVE this flower!'. I rapidly ran out of both conviction and words at this point. Also, I ran out of an audience: Oyon was now blowing the seeds into the air and running after them, giggling like a maniac.

But not before he had started me on my other seasonal struggle:
weed rites or weed rights?
 
Weeding has always left me feeling faintly guilty about just the sort of botanical Eugenics that the 3 year old honed in on. I don't seem to have any compunctions about the selective breeding inherent in agriculture. For instance I'm happy enough to consume the Brown Basmati that is a staple in our home, that I know to have been deliberately cultivated at the expense of other native flora on large tracts of farmland. It's the only way to sustain life outside of an agrarian community. My unease also doesn't seem to extend to say, the furniture industry. I'm aware of the systematic replacement of primary forests all over the US with hardwoods stands best suited to furniture making. I don't feel particularly happy about it but have yet to eat dinner sitting on the floor (as I suppose I very well could) because I'm morally troubled by furniture. I've made Peace with the necessity of commercial agriculture and forestry or the sake of leading our modern lives. Can't very well do my nifty little GIS analyses to help save said forests if I'm out  at sunrise to milk the cows and till the soil. And no - I don't dwell on the logical fallacy and the self-fulfilling prophecies in the above statement. Leave me alone, would you?! I do just fine confusing myself all on my own.
 

I suppose I'm stating the obvious fact that admirable moral stands are difficult to fully abide by when they drastically redefine basic standards of living. Far easier to rationalize away any unease with theses on top-of-the-food-chain rights or the mitigating effect of consuming sustainably developed products. I decided long ago to not look too closely the moral compromises we make for a basic quality of life. Doesn't deter me from occasionally proselytising but I'm a 'work in progress' so it's alright. I'll get there.

What I can't rationalise away to myself quite as easily is selective breeding for the sake of societally defined aesthetics. That someone, somewhere in time decided that Kentucky Bluegrass and Fescues made for the ideal, attractive lawn and so Crabgrass should be deemed persona non-grata and Dandelions, conniving intruders. That clover blooms are not as worthy of ground space as say Phlox or creeping Thyme. So spray the one and tend the other.
If there were ever reasonable grounds for these decisions, they've probably outlived their usefulness by now. For instance, K. Bluegrass probably makes for great fodder but since the typical suburban lawn no longer supports grazing cattle or horse, the point is largely moot. But it does resist cold weather and drought equally well and will spread to fill in bare spots and Scotts' sells it at discount in economically fulfilling large bags. Also, some trend setting home owner one day sowed the seeds and started a standard that the Jonesing neighbors then stepped up and embraced. So we go with the flow. 

So my self-flagellating, rhetorical, annual question is: who defined these aesthetics and why are we tied to them? Is it true personal choice or unwillingness to buck a system. Or like most things in life, is it just plain old inertia?

Personally, I love the clover patch spread all over our front yard. The blooms smell wonderful throughout the summer and the bees it attracts would probably serve all our home-garden pollination needs (if we had any). They are nitrogen fixing plants that don't need extra watering or fertilizers to go forth and multiply.....all the way to the neighbors carefully weeded, manicured, fence less front yard. The crabgrass and dandelion join the party too, appearing on the other side of the property line, in abundance and with easily traceable ancestry.

Therein lies the proverbial rub.

Any fleeting fondness I might hold for the redoubtable clover is easily overshadowed by an unwillingness to displease neighbors, with their more exacting standards of neatness. Do I carry out MY moral imperatives at the cost of THEIR aesthetics? The answer's not as obvious as when I was arguing this just inside my head and without friendly interactions with said neighbors.

3 yrs ago we were new to the neighborhood and felt the need to solidify our 'good neighbor' creds.

I have diligently dug up/sprayed the dandelion for the past 3 years now.  Being held accountable by my young son who shared my very same moral quandary seemed like the worst sort of karmic retribution but I tell myself (and him) it's a good example of being a responsive community member.


Oyon, 6 - still broadcasting seed heads
Back then, I still couldn't help adding a moral 'out' (for both our sakes) by justifying that dandelion stole food from flowers that now can't grow big enough to give bees their nectar to make honey. I remember clearly that Oyon reacted by yelling 'Don't worry Mammam, I'll help!', ripped out the first few Crocuses of the season and commenced chasing a few buzzing yellow jackets yelling 'Come drink your connector, bee!'.

More recently, at a more coherent 5 years of age,  he had me transplant a clump of dandelion and clover to a planter for his room because he felt sad about killing them in the yard 'for the enighbors'. Yes, he'd drunk the Cool Aid by then. He wanted to 'save' some from some sense of fair play.

Didn't last a week in his care and I no longer have a 3 foot high conscience tickler around when I'm Dandelion-freeing our yard.

Good for me. 

I think.

May 10, 2013

I looked around and I saw.


200 yr old Charlestown Bridge. 10 yr old Zakim Bridge behind, TD Bankorth Gardens on the left, Charles River Locks, under.

Having unshackled myself from Facebook - and thus my iPhone- for a day-long Sabbatical, I went for a walk at lunch time.

I earn my bread in a venerable old building right by Boston's historic North End, within stone's throw of Charlestown and on the banks of the Charles River. Plenty of places that could let in some light.

A spot I knew by the river's edge called to me and I answered. I rested my elbows on the sun-warmed rails, felt the breeze play with my hair, allowed my shoulders to drop a bit and let my eyes wander.  Without any purpose whatsoever.

The USS Constitution in the Navy Yard, Charlestown
The masts on Old Ironsides across the water bristled as they have done for 200 odd years. Young women sunned their winter-bleached bodies gratefully on the slim green strips of grass. A man in black paddleboarded up against the current.  And I heard the quiet in my mind. At last.

Not really though. The Charlestown bridge rumbled un-rythmically from passing traffic. The river went about it's business with occasional swishes and gurgles. And a few distinct splashes that tugged at my now-adrift consciousness. I looked around for the source. Down by my feet, the water was it's usual murky green but punctuated by unusually large, bulls eye ripples. They dotted the water as far as I could see, timed to those sharp little splashes. Then something silver flashed just under the surface. A short distance away, another silvery flash. These too lined up with the splashes.

Of course. Fish.

I tried to collect more flashes that timed with the tinkling splashing, delighted at this novel symphony.

And so I looked. Really looked - at the murky depths. What was merely the motion of wave-creased water and the play of light a moment ago, transformed suddenly into a procession of striped little bodies, moving with astounding speed and determination. Each flash was a silver scaled body twisting up to the surface, catching and throwing back the light in its leap. Each splash marked its re-entry.

  And the more I looked, the more I saw.

The choreography that was only just revealed to my utter delight was a matter of routine for the tiny lives involved. While i focussed so intently on this amazing stream of life within the river, the traffic continued to rumble over the bridge. They silently rushed by for the 5 minutes I watched with my newly opened, awestruck eyes.


Charles River Locks
The Charles River locks were just a few hundred yards away and I remembered the fish ladders there, for young Shad, Alewife, Smelt and Herring to run.

A motorized boat with 3 young men drifted up and cast their fishing lines. They must have been watching their boat radars. By the time I'd turned my gaze down again to soak up more of the quiet but incredible energy roiling sub-surface, they were gone. I inadvertently froze, hoping someone would hit the 'play' button again.

Nothing.
They were gone.

I hung around as long as my conscience would let me: my work wasn't going to do itself. My increasingly desperate scanning of the murky depths for any darting colors or flashes of light revealed nothing.

I gathered together my disappointment and headed back to cubicle-land. I let go of the sun and air and mentally prepared to give myself up again to the stifling, controlled environment that would numb my senses while somehow opening up those mental facilities that let me be professionally effective.

Only a few paces before I would leave water and grass behind for the asphalt that led to my building, I caught sight of a newly sprouted Boston ivy creeper.

It had twined up an ugly chicken wire fence, spreading out it's finely veined, impossibly glossy new baby leaves to the light and burgeoning heat.

I thought of that faraway stream of young fish, swimming from their spawning grounds to their Lives out in the big, wide bay. The urban, resilient invasive ivy shoots forcing up from sidewalk cracks and around wire frames to claim their place.

So much life teeming around me, where I can't see or even guess at it.

My cubicle doesn't feel so stifling anymore.
 

Apr 30, 2013

The quality of anxiety

You know those ten ton anxiety bombs that fall whistling out of nowhere and level you emotionally? Good for you, if the answer is 'No, you loser!'. I'm sweeping up the debris from more than a few such recent collisions, even as I ponder better evasion techniques.

That visceral sting of anxiety was recently described by my freind
Shreya thus:
And though it's just an infinitesimal blot in the big picture of our lives, while it's happening, it feels like a free-fall into forever.
 

If we need to, we know how

On the drive home from school yesterday my 6 year old told me his class earned extra playground time for doing so well in the 'lockdown drill'. Reluctant to even ask but I did and was momentarily stilled by the non-chalance in his voice as he described hiding quietly in a closet upon hearing 'We are in lockdown!' on the intercom three consecutive times.
         The quiet crying I did for the next few blocks of the drive was as much for that non-chalance as for the indelible place 'lockdown drill' has now made in our memories of his childhood.
         When the Newtown shootings happened in 2012, I did not panic and rush to hug my child at the end of that day like many of my friends. My stomach still does a flip when I think of those little kids in the CT classrooms but I don't let myself go there very often. At the time, I channeled my fear instead into FB spiels about an over-sensational media that enables attention seeking psychopaths. Even got a petition started and wrote to a few papers.
         Our head space hasn't gotten any sunnier given that the past few weeks has forced us to tackle, with said 6 year old, why a couple of young men blew up 200 people at the Boston marathon, and then had us in a state of siege (we live a few miles from Watertown square where the showdown unfolded). Strangely though, all roads keep leading us to discussions about how NOT to be mad and make poor choices, how to instead do what we can to help each other out.

So I won't get any more maudlin than I already have about this now. Because this much is true: in the horrors that have unfolded in the public arena over the past few months, I've found myself thinking a WHOLE lot more about the power of goodness, kindness and Mr. Rogers' 'helpers' than ever before.
         In trying to equip our son with filters to help him see reality in shades of Hope, I've found them for myself. This too is possible then: angry, broken people who hurt others - can primarily inspire understanding and compassion and help highlight how much is right with the world.
        Besides which the truth is that it's probably more painful for us parents because of the comparisons we feel compelled to make with our relatively innocent childhood. Yet I'm convinced that our respective realities, our children's and ours, are as varied as they are valid. We are each shaped by our experiences and innocence - hope and goodness persevere regardless. 

It also made me ponder that strange behavioural phenomena of 'Transference', wherein we transfer our own despair onto others and craft a world that is necessarily darker than reality. Look at me: I felt so devastated at my perceived loss of Oyon's innocence but how wrong I was proved. Any loss of innocence is mine: MY perception of the world was damaged by the Newtown shooting, MY view of school as safe haven for the nurturing of my young child was corrupted. But it's ALL IN MY HEAD. There have been mass shootings before in this country and young children are killed all over the world all the time. I've just been inured to them through the priviledge of distance and entitlement. True - it should not be do and that acceptance of this is somewhat an admission of defeat. We should still canvas for gun abolition (like other civilized nations) but in the meantime....the truth is that world is just as it has always been - full of darkness AND light. When I focus on the one more than the other, I personally craft the quality of my experience. And by assuming that another person (like young Oyon) is also sharing in that experience, I run the risk of sentencing him to it, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

As it turns out, HE'S neither scared nor anxious. I AM! He's calm, collected and prepared to take care of himself if the need arises. So very, very illuminating for me to realise this so tangibly. That this pain and disillusionment is relative and really, invisible to a child's mind in the ways that count. There is no real cause for pain on their behalf.

          But that didn't prevent me that day from crying at my son's casual acceptance of Lockdown Drills 'in case something dangerous is going on in school'.
It DID however help me turn a smiling face eventually to him and say 'I'm glad you did so well at the drill'.
His reply? 'Yeah, me too. We're probably not going to need it. But if we do, I'll know how. What's for dinner?'

And that's all there is to it, I guess.

If we need to, we know how.
In the meantime, life goes on.

Apr 17, 2013

Reality, reflected

Lying on our tummies, on a boardwalk stretching out over vernal pool. Not quite warmed by the weak spring sunshine. Grainy wood beneath our palms as we peer into the murky shallows. Seeing but reflections in a pool opaque in the reluctant sunshine.

Songbirds, newly emerged from a deep winter exile, lull us into lassitude with their calls. We gaze at clouds, water and our wavering silhouettes without really seeing anything. Then suddenly, somewhere - something shifts. Our focal length changes. Just like that - we can see now.
Below the ripples spreading out from the whirligig's hops and just under the lazily floating dots of algae....something just moved.

There.
And there.

This one has bulging eyes and a tiny gray toned body. Darting to and fro with elegance and speed. Mosquitoe larvae, we later find out to only a slight reduction in the romance of it (because even pests have an innocent start after all).

The other one has a notched tail with white streaks on its edge. Scuttles about on the many legs fringing its translucent, segmented middle . Fairy Shrimp, we are told.

There are more like these too.
Under, over, gliding, spinning, resting, teeming, seething life.
Under us, who are in turn pinned by the leaden sky.

Our heads that touched in delighted discovery part in time, to shake off the trance as the thrill pales. This window turns gracefully back into an obsidian mirrora and the secret world retreats.

Days later, the same heads touch in more delighted discovery. We turn the image of our reflection into an image of our reflection. Mixing paints with abandon on the painting software, we realize that a grey sky actually needs a little blue. The bare tree branches, gray from the winter, are really a little red. Half-focused eyes show us that swirly brush strokes don't make good clouds like we thought. Horizontal swaths of color, do.

There is no end, truly.

The photograph. iPhone.


The painting. 'Fresh Paint' program on Windows 8.

Hey there, young man!

'Hey, there young man!' he called out to any passerby over 6 and under 60. The women got 'lovely' or 'beautiful'.

And his smile. His smile.

He was peddling a newsletter called 'Spare Change'. The 'Homeless Empowerment Project' supplies it to the homeless for a pittance so they can sell for profit and find their feet.

Harvard square at 5:30 pm is bustling with life regardless of weather. On that 50 degree day at the end of a hard winter and frigid spring, you couldn't keep people in if you tried. Students and professors scurrying to meetings and appointments, tourists gawking, well-heeled couples ambling along to soak up the mild weather - all streaming through the area. The iconic 'Au Bon Pain' coffee store by the News Stand remains as good a spot as ever to people-watch as you wait for a friend.

I nursed my cup of Earl Grey and watched the peddler lob cheerful greetings and beaming smiles from the middle of the sidewalk at the human stream breaking around him. A few smiled back at him, even fewer bought a paper off him. Most ignored him. They swerved as far away as the available sidewalk allowed. Eye contact was avoided, chins tucked further in and even pre-emptive brush-offs executed with either a dismissive hand wave or an apologetic shrug.

The interesting thing was that he did'nt once, in my 20 minutes of fascinated watching, actively peddle. He did'nt push or hawk anything and his grin and cheer didn't waver a bit inspite of the relentless string of dismissals.

He eventually took a cigarette break, perching on the railing of the outdoor seating area near me to take a swig of water then light up. I went over and asked if I could buy a paper and a cup of something for him. Just because he made me smile. He told me he was fine but thanks for asking. I did'nt ask and he did'nt confirm that he was homeless. I told him I thought it was inspiring that he did'nt let the brush-offs get to him and confessed I was  much less patient than he. He grinned, shrugged and said 'Well, people, they're busy, you know?'. Or something like that. He let me take a picture for my blog, asked politely about it then thanked me for noticing his smiles.

There was too much dignity and kindness there for me to probe any further. Besides I did'nt even want to. His geniality might have just been sound sales strategy. Or he might have been adpet at that old Jedi mind trick we all know that let's us unhook our mouths from our mind, leaving the latter free to wander. I decided it was just his personality. Because it's a choice I am free to make. Also, it felt enough that I'd told him what I saw and that he heard me.

My freind Nan arrived on the sidewalk shortly after, scanning the crowded area for me as I tried to catch her eye.
She didn't see my frantic waving. But he did.
He called out to her and pointed my way.
When she'd set off towards me, he tipped his hat with one last brilliant smile and turned back to his sidewalk.


Apr 16, 2013

'A little bit of something' instead of 'a whole lot of nothing'

Yesterday a bomb took the life of an 8 year old boy at the Boston Marathon.
Actually, every day, bombs take the lives of innocent children in countries torn by violence.
But when young Martin, cheering on runners with his family at the finish line, paid the highest price for someone else's rage, it hit too close to home.

As we start to gather together our dismay into one big throbbing ball of horror at the world we are leaving to our kids, I think we should stop a moment to think.

Hasn't there always been rage and disproportionate responses in the world?
Haven't a few motivated people with grievances always crafted the shape of our future?
Haven't we always reacted bu first shrinking back in horror then striking out in rage against it?

And has this ever worked to correct imbalances?
No.
No amount of outrage will bring back that smiling 8 year old or piece back his family in their old image. Or fully restore any of the other victims. We cannot fix this anymore than we can un-scar Bostonians whose city and public spaces are now stripped of security and a feeling of belonging.

Oh, Bostonians will rebound, don't worry. Everyone rebounds.  But we can do more....instead of venting our our dismay and rage we can harness it. Amidst all that we CAN'T do right now is all that we CAN do with our mental energies.

We can seek to restore some balance by looking out for the things that are good and right amidst all this horror.

I'm not saying we embrace inaction and condone terrorism. Just that for the most part, terrorist acts are beyond our range of influence. But if we do pause to think of 'action' I can't see any better way to respond to those who seek to un-hinge us by showing cohesiveness that blasts THEM out of their socks.

So what IS within our reach? The community around us.
We can connect with other to ease our pain, support each other and help ourselves through the challenges we face every day. We can all care just alittle bit more, reach out a little bit more and feel the stable groudn beneath our feet when everything around us seems to be shaken by tremors. We cannot right all the wrongs but instead of doing a whole lot of nothing we can do a little bit of something.

I for one want to be more mindful about identifying Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) and enacting Incremental Change that Touches (ICT). To describe what is good an right about the world so that we feel motivated to do more of it.

Every.
Single.
Day.

Kindness and caring will spread and touch people as much as rage and despair but only if we are as effective in spreading it.

Will you join me in recalling a RAK and ICT every day?

A Random Act of Kindness (RAK) is something you have experienced, something you can describe as 'They didn't have to do this. But they did'. An Incremental Change that Touches (ICT) is something you might have done for someone, something you can describe to yourself as 'I didn't have to do this. But I did'. Not to be smug about it, but award yourself due respect so that you continue 'doing' instead of burning-out.

I'm not saying we unnecessarily exalt the regular compassion that every empathetic human ought to have. I don't think we should lower the bars of just regular humanity in any way. But when we focus on the horrors amidst us without giving fair time to the tiny expressions of thoughtfulness as well as the soaring acts of kindness that are there too, we demotivate our neighbors and describe a hopeless world to them. One that seems beyond their influence and that enervates them into being passive commentators. THIS is what fuels terrorism in my opinion: that people give up, give in and move just a small step at a time away from humanity in the grip of rage and despair.

So here's to celebrating all the good and giving small, small actions wings:

Random Act of Kindness (RAK): April 16, 2013
Thanks to the ice cream server at Moozy's ice-cream shop in Belmont.
    We ended up there yesterday after a hike with 6 yr old Oyon and his buddy Noah. She served Noah a  serving of gummy worm toppings that he belatedly asked for. Just so that his and Oyon's cone toppings would match. We hadn't paid for it and she brushed away my thanks.
She didn't have to do that. But she did.

Incremental Change that Touches (ICT): April 16, 2013
We didn't really help anyone in particular yesterday but we did share our hiking snacks and extra nature watching telescopes with 2 kids (and their Dad) whom we met in the woods. It enhanced our day as much as theirs. We connected to strangers instead of looking away.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Oyon-isms:
 A weekend marathon of the Star Wars trilogy produced these interesting reactions:

Friday night = Star Wars:
Me (on first sight of the bad-guy Imperial star fighter): Wow! That is SO cool!
Oyon: Why did you say that?! Thaty's the bad guy! Yo'ure not supposed to say 'wow' to the baddies!
Me: But I think the space craft is cool, not the bad guys.
Oyon (a bit puzzled): Oh.

Saturday night = The Empire Strikes Back
Oyon's reaction to Yoda's age: "Yoda got 900 Christmases?!!"
After watching Chewbacca and the Ewok's bring down a bad-guy Imperial tank: That's easy! When I was at Fun World (an arcade), I defeated SO many of these!

Sunday night = The Return of the Jedi
Oyon: So Mammam, is 'the force' good or bad? Darth Vader was a bad guy and had it but so did Luke and he was a good guy!
Me: That's a tough one. What do YOU think?
Oyon: Maybe it's both? When Darth Vader hurt people it was the Dark Side, when Luke helped, it was good. So it's the stuff they DO with the force, I think..
Me: You know, I think I agree. Thanks for clarifying.
Oyon: You're welcome, Mammam.
 



Oyon, Noah, bare-feet tucked under the table after ruining shoes in muddy ponds hunting for fairy shrimp and faces tucked into generously awarded gummy-worm ice cream toppings. The good things in life are small.
 

Mar 18, 2013

Catharsis, confession and closure.

You know those ten ton anxiety bombs that fall whistling out of nowhere and level you emotionally? Good for you, if the answer is 'No, you loser!'.

I'm cleaning up the debris from more than a few such recent collisions.  Even as I make some progress towards avoiding them entirely.

I finally decided to write about this.
For catharsis, confession and closure.
To exorcise at least these particular demons and if only because the stress is giving me acidity. That in turn is doing a number on my gastronomic indulgences. And I do so so like to eat.

Here's a sparkling description of the visceral feel of anxiety from my freind Shreya:
             And though it's just an infinitesimal blot in the big picture of our lives, while it's happening, it feels like a free-fall into forever.
 
A 'free-fall into forever'.

Way to nail that feeling of being sucked inside-out: of having anxiety cramp up your muscles and squeeze the air out of your shocked lungs.

Shreya blogged this to qualify her insufficient angst over turning 40 but it applies pretty seamlessly to the many trivial freak-outs that embarass me once I recover from my tailspin and regain perspective.
So here are some utterly senseless yet stomach churning over-reactions from my recent past. The confessions are designed to embarass me even to myself in a half-baked attempt at preventative medicine:

Number inversion:
My 6 year old snuck in an unconsciously mirrored '9', '5' and '3' on a sheet of otherwise perfectly written numbers. For the Nth time.
             My resolve to let him remain pressure-free, account for age'n'stage (this kind of inversion is common in this age group) and not over-think things moved over for a few shorts minutes of panicked doubt over whether his day-dreaming isn't actually an undiagnosed  learning disability. I know it is'nt (and it would'nt be a big deal if it was). Common sense returned fairly quickly. But no more of these silly scares, thank you. There're already enough causes for real fear.

Mis-attribution of the spousal kind:
The husband posted a link to a song full of bitterness towards women on a common freind's FB thread about International Women's day (and don't even get me started on that load of crock).
             My heart hammered out, in accelerating rhythm, that his diatribe-by-proxy was directed solely at me instead of being the lighthearted exchange of meaningless banter that it really was. It took a couple of hours of feeling stung before this sheepish realization dawned (and I've had it more often than I'd like to admit lately): it isn't ALWAYS about me.
I need to hold onto that one. It's not as much a disappointment as it is a liberation...from bearing responsibility for other peoples' emotions. Especially when they did'nt even ask me to.

Over-critical critique
I think I may have over-harshly critiqued the writing of two freinds whom I admire as writers, in my writing  group. Part of the mandate of the group is to work on writing style so it was not completely out of line but perhaps I let myself go a bit too much with these two gals.
              One clammed up, giving me devastatingly guilty pause to consider if I'd broken her spirit when she had articulated and shared her thoughts with such brave conviction and trust. The other fought back articulately and convincingly from the corner I'd backed her into, making me feel like a heel for putting her there when she is so many miles more talented than I'd ever hope to be. The Fighter assured me she bended but didn't break and that my crtique was as constructive as it was harsh. The Quiet One has me still looking for the self-flagellating penance equipment I'd recently retired. She has lately been palling around with me on FB so I'm hopeful for a reprieve there too. I hold her dear.
But again, this sobering and liberating realization: I do not have the power I think I do over others.
I will rarely, if ever, make or break them with my words or thoughts.

Squeamish about romance
An honest discussion with a freind who is in emotional flux, over what he desires in his relationships by way of 'romance' birthed doubts about what 'romance', if any, there was in mine. Even more bone-chilling, the realization that I had given up on it as had hubby (who was also part of said discussion).
             Another squeeze of my heart and the cold chill of sudden certainty that the marriage was dead in the water. Followed by a brief exchange with hubby that helped the sun start to break through. Turns out that though neither of us have any of the popularly defined visions of  'romance' within our sight or memory, we've fair dollops of what makes us happy in our own closely matched definitions. The occasional 'good' conversation, exchanging hidden smiles over the antics of our whimsical progeny, sharing evanescent pleasures like the play of light'n'shade in a photograph and debating the alchemy of our favorite show that so deftly weaves cheesy drama with a rare idealism. On reflection, there have been overtly romantic moments too, though we did'nt waste time savoring the implict romanticism at the time and engaged in the moment instead. The postcard image that comes to mind is the worldess wonder of driving down a swooping, looping road in the Cape Breton hills of Nova Scotia last summer to suddenly come upon a snug little fishing cove, silvery in the sunshine. Or a giggling, stumbling moonlight walk in the forest on a camping trip after downing a half bottle of scotch, me trying to attribute 'the moon was a ghostly galleon in the sky' (while not falling down) to Hawthorne while he remembers it was really Tennyson even as he narrowly misses walking into a towering spruce. What's romance after all, if it isn't bumbling drunkenly around while spouting dubious poetry together and sharing a bottle of Gatorade the next morning for the hangover?

Cathartic rant over.

My position as the champ of over-thinking and senseless-worrying is undefeated and secure.
But I will have some hope, I think, as long as I let these things into the light of the day and free up my over-crowded mind for other, better thoughts.

No?

Oyon-isms (6 yrs):
Upon finding a nasty little scrape on his knee at shower time....
Me: When did you get this?
Oyon: During gym class, I think.
Me: It's kind of deep. Didn't it hurt?
Oyon: It did but I disturbed myself and it felt better.
Me: Huh?
Oyon: you know, I kept playing so my brain would not think about the pain.
Me: I see. I distract my brain too sometimes when i'm in pain. Would you like some ointment on that?
Oyon: That would be fine, thanks.

Mar 12, 2013

Of new moms and knuckle-dusters

I never intended to write a mommy blog but admit that the little ‘Oyon-isms' footer to every post screams that I missed by a mile. So I might as well jump in.  Here's something from my friend PSaw, a raw and honest opinion about what it really meant to be a new mother.
Am I normal? 
 
The fact of the matter is I hated being pregnant. Not being a morning person to begin with, I detested the fact that an already unpleasant part of my day was made unbearable by that nauseous acidic feeling in the pit of my stomach. Having struggled with my weight all my life, I hated getting even bigger. 
 
Have you ever wanted to punch those women in the face? … you know the ones who croon over their babies like they are perfect plastic dolls instead of a screaming mess of poop and puke.  And the ones that get that glassy eyed melodramatic look … ‘Oh I miss being pregnant! ….it was just so beautiful!’ 
 
Let’s set the record straight. It was uncomfortable, awkward and somewhat embarrassing.  One part of me thought that it was a ‘cool science fact’ that I could actually grow a whole human being inside myself and the same scientist in me was weirded out by the fact that I carried around a parasitic human for 8 months.  And let’s agree on one thing - nobody ever felt sexy when they’re the size of a house with the possible exception of Honey Boo-Boo’s mom. Of course, no one wants to **** her anyways.
 
Am I a normal mom?
 
So the big day arrived. Four weeks earlier than planned. He arrived with a little bit of a hullabaloo. My mommy wasn’t here. The nursery still had paint fumes in it. The crib and car seat were still in a box. And I had to be cut open to get him out. And then he added insult to injury with a big irritated hungry cry – ‘I am not going to suck on your big engorged boob. Sorry ‘eh mom?’ … but it’s not my type!’ So I took my stapled abdominals, my snubbed boobs, a hospital sack full of soy formula, and my Percocet-fuelled 3-eyed, long-armed zombie companions and came home to my 12-weeks of sanctioned maternity leave.
 
Have you ever wanted to punch those women in the face? … you know the ones who cry at the thought of leaving their babies for an hour or at the thought of returning to full time employment? Who cry at the thought of leaving their kid with the baby sitter? There were only so many ‘evil’ Sudoku puzzles I could solve before I called my boss and asked if I could come back to work, two weeks earlier than scheduled.  I researched and screened and interviewed a number of in-home baby sitters and day-care providers. And when I finally found the one – I was relieved to leave my son in her care before running to my 9 hours of normal working adult no-puke no-poop discussions. Three years on and not much has changed. I still need to get away and I still need respite. 
 
I admire, I truly do, women, who like my mom, stayed home and raised me... wasn’t I supposed to pay-it-forward? Am I not a normal mom? 
 
Am I not normal?

I love PSaw’s honesty and relate to much of her experience. I don't usually (note the qualifier please) share her urge for facial violence when faced with ecstatic new mothers though they did do a number on me in my first few weeks.
Already squirming at not being deluged by a gush of Mother love while grappling with my puling infant, those beaming Madonna’s tended to get my goat. Honestly, I felt little more than mild curiosity and intense anxiety for the new little man-child in our midst. Then I got myself even more confused that I didn’t feel any compunction about my lack of emotional high. Partly it was that my bandwidth was blown by recovering from childbirth and the critical learning curve the results brought. But I suppose I also had just enough faith in my capacity for love to know I'd come through for my ‘lil guy even if I wasn't staying up all night to adoringly watch him sleep in the early days. Well, I actually WAS given those relentless infant feeding cycles, but not from choice and not happily.
I didn’t want to deck the glowing new-Moms because I felt I got them most of the time and saw through them too occasionally. I decided that some of them were truly joyous about the experience and it was just a matter of taste: my inability to coo adoringly over a diaper blowout was probably matched by their inability or appreciate Marmite on toast. Different folks, different strokes. Others, I think, were playing a part unbeknownst to even themselves.
The fact is, a baby sometimes fills a void. Many of us plod along in our pre-set lives chasing degrees, careers, travel, half-hearted hobbies etc. until parenthood comes along to inject a sort of passion we've never felt before. I could be wrong but I think these are the folks who show the zeal of the new convert and make PSaw reach for her knuckle-dusters. I don't think they are posers or mean to condescend to the moms who're less gushy. Some have aspired to mom-hood all their lives and/or have maybe worked extra hard and long to get there. Their emotional highs seem fitting: well earned, deserved and easier to understand. Others see their lactating phase as some sort of biological validation that inspires, amazes and fulfills. I can understand this intellectually, even if I can't feel it emotionally. But these are the beaming Madonna’s who came by their haloes rightfully, in my eyes.
Just as many of us though, had a world outside of momhood and career - pre-baby - that we cherished and cultivated. There were  hobbies, friends, creative pursuits etc. I think these people split apart with a louder tearing sound. A part breaks off into a 'mom' shape but it has ragged edges and does not drift far from the rest of our persona. As our children become a more fixed part of our existence, that we can nurture and enjoy without the role being all consuming, the 'new love' wears off and is replaced by the quieter, stronger kind. I'm sure it's a Darwinian effect that moms are over-hormoned and somewhat obsessed in the early months when babies depend mostly on their mothers for survival. But it's also evolution that modern moms feel less anxiety and think more with the left side of their brain given the support they have. When you don’t have to worry so much about where the mammoth steak for dinner is going to come from or whether the velociraptor might sneak your baby away at night from your doorless cave, your mind has more space for other things. These are the people like PSaw, who love their children but equally love their lives outside of Mom-hood.
And here's my secret and rather incendiary theory about some of the Glowing Mothers amidst us: I think some of their euphoria is a subtle little piece of self-delusion. An unconscious coping mechanism for this overwhelming role of a lifetime. They convince themselves they LOVE their experience even though they do not (at least not all of it), because the alternate explanation scares them. There's little space for contradictory emotions in our judgmental societies, or even for degrees of belief. No one tells an expecting mom that you may not immediately love your child, will probably hate much of the first few taxing months but it will turn out just fine anyway. That would be too crushing and possibly a difficult admission to make for many women who are secretly distraught at their own mixed feelings about new-motherhood.
I think it’s partly due to the 'Supermom' ideal too. We expect to be stimulated by and excel in our careers while we achieve some sort of completion through motherhood. If we're not feeling gushy about our infants or fulfilled by our boobs-on-tap avatar we feel like bad mothers because of all we have absorbed about the 'natural mothering instinct'. On the other hand, if we don’t love rushing back to work (like we thought we would) because we inexplicably left our hearts at home in the crib, we doubt how independent or strong a woman we really are. Same for the stay-at-home-mom vs working-mom debate: you're taking the 'easy way out' in someone's eyes somewhere regardless of which cap you wear.
And what utter crap all this is.
The truth is that we can feel less than head-over-heels with our squirmy little babes and still love them to death when we're better acquainted with them and less physically over-worked. We talk of severe illness as 'trauma' but hesitate to label childbirth as such because of the negative connotations. If you ask me, it is a kind of trauma. One with a very precious outcome but it's overwhelming nonetheless. For most of us I think it's a difficult, difficult transition when we welcome a child into our lives and kicking sand over the grotty, ugly bits does no-one a service. I'm certain that most people feel like PSaw at some point or the other: drawn to the baby and wreathed in inexplicable smiles while feeling put-out at the overwhelming physical strain and mental dullness.
And I think we get confused by this contradiction of emotions.
How can we feel put-out by our little miracles? What does that SAY about us?
So sometimes we unconsciously amplify and glorify the beauty of it all to Just. Get. Through. The. Day. Because in our heads, all this pain, anxiety and tedium has got to be worth something......something worth giving up the job, abandoning sleep and good-health and shutting down a major part of the brain. Since that misty-eyed, redeeming moment of watching him graduate Summa cum Laude in crimson cap-n-gown is kinda far away, we seek and find it it in the more accessible (and realistic) joys. Like smiles and coos, impossibly delicate fingers curled up into tiny fists and those soft, whimpering sleep sounds. Alright, all that really is pretty adorable, regardless of your jaded-ness, but you get my drift. We can be emotionally moved and feel deeply satiated at the sight of our fragile infant even while part of our brain flops around in boredom. But what a confusing cocktail of emotions!
I won't even start on the unfair bias towards the‘Maternal Instinct’ that leaves fathers in the proverbial dust. I think it’s unfair and tragic that the many, many fathers with instincts to rival or beat the mothers’, receive no acknowledgement r respect. My son’s dad was as instrumental in deciphering infant cries and solving feeding dilemmas as he is now in teaching endurance and toughness, which is still the stereotypical realm of Paternal duty. Our baby would calm down as quickly in his dad’s hairy arms and on his hard chest as he would with me. No matter how much we ‘modern’ women like to boast about the equal parenting rhythms we have struck, we seem to pull back from that final acknowledgement that our husbands might have an instinct that is on par with ours even without the parturition credentials.
My point (if there even is one) is that it takes all kinds and every method of parenting is the right one so long as it grows happy, cherished children.
So everyone - take off your halos and put down those knuckle-dusters.
Its all good.
Oyon-ism
On replying to a question after claiming to not know the answer the first time he was asked:
Me: How come you didn't tell me this when I asked before?
Oyon: Because it just made it's way to my brain
Me: Oh? Where was it before?
Oyon: I'm not really sure. But it wasn't in my brain. It just got there.

Mar 8, 2013

'Slip sliding away'

My car danced to a Paul Simon tune in this morning's snow storm. It started 'slip sliding away' as I took a left turn.

The graceful spin swung me into oncoming traffic in the next lane. Uneventfully. The creeping cars had halted in time and left just enough space for my skid to achieve completion. Since the only thing to do in a skid is ride it out, i was as much a spectator as they. A few seconds worth of Eternity. In the short pause that followed after I'd finally stopped skidding, I looked at the cars frozen still around me. Through the snow filled air, I thought I glimpsed a bobble hatted head peering at me from the nearest car.

From concern, I decided, and gave them a reassuring little wave. Just in case.

Behind me the three MBTA buses, that moments ago had honked in symphony to speed up the left turn that I was gingerly taking, seemed silenced by contrition. They waited patiently as I straightened out and gently guided my wonderfully snow worthy Subaru back into it's rightful lane.

Finally parked at the sparsely populated train station (folks must be taking a snow day off from work, rightfully), I flicked up the windshield wipers in preparation for the additional foot of snow we would receive by the time I headed back home. Then I settled in for my short wait until the train arrived.  The cell phone showed missed calls from my husband. From 90 deg F Kolkata where he was attending to family matters. He had worriedly been planning and orchestrating our snow removal and safety in his absence.

When I returned his call the background noise was cacophonous. The usual honking, hollering and car/bus noises that their Kolkata flat is immersed in. Inside my car, enveloped in that preternatural hush that only thickly falling snow brings, it was surprisingly reassuring to know that we could have such diversity and still keep spinning on our axis.

I reassured him that we had easily dug out of the 4-6 inches that fell overnight (Oyon being worth his weight in gold for the way he cleaned off my car windows!). He reassured me that the 50 degree forecast for the weekend pre-empts any real concern: residuals would melt.

I found I didn't want to tell him about the skid right then. Not the least because the commonplace nature of it made it unremarkable. Also because I didn't want him to worry any more. I wish I could have told him though how calming it felt to be able to handle that skid. How it might have turned out much more unpleasantly if I had not heard his voice from 16 yrs ago advising me to shelf instinct, stay off the brakes and steer into the skid.

I deal with most icy-road missteps in my stride, like most people in this area, and seldom even remember that I've had them by days end. But today felt different.

Maybe it was because Oyon had ended up wailing in the car as we finally set out for school. His boots and gloves had gotten wet and he was freezing. Perhaps it was because my head ached so badly from exposure and remnants of Chicken Pox that I had yelled at him to just deal with it and quit crying. He had wailed even louder then shouted 'But I HAVE to cry. I'm so cold it hurts. This is the worst day ever!' . I snapped out of it just enough to go back in the house to fetch him dry socks and a blanket for the frigid car interior. I also doled out an apology and a hug. Not his fault my head hurt.

I guess I'd been skidding off track since 6 am when I woke up with that achy head. Recovering from the car skid was the easiest of them all. And I felt grateful for the person who hovered protectively in my life, even from thousands of miles away and 16 years ago.

Oyon-ism
Oyon: Did you watch 'woody woodpecker' when you were little too?
Me: Yes.
Oyon: I thought so. The show looks very, very old.
 

Mar 6, 2013

A pox on Chicken Pox!

Ever grabbed a bottle of Laxative pills when reaching for the headache meds? No? Me neither. But these little slips will happen. Hopefully with little more consequence than embarassment. Like here - Yash's adventure (over at Y on earth not) as her hubby tried to get the Flu vaccine and....well, read it for yourself. Fact-truer-fiction...you know the drill.

It reminded me of our own latest brush with bewildering medical advice.

Mar 1, 2013

Leading in solitude


Blog surfing is a great way to get arond the world and other peoples' heads.
It brought me across Revathi, who is lately on a quest to Keep calm and finish what you've started. Timely and sound advice, well written. Her quest warrants a post unto itself but she recommended this article in 'The American Scholar'  and it got me thinking.

The article is admittedly a dry read initially. Perhaps because it's really a commencement speech at West Point military academy. It also drones rather relentlessly through the first half about the sorry state of American leadership as of 2009 before winding it's way to an interesting thesis: to be a successful leader (and original thinker), you must be able to spend time alone with your thoughts. That solitude breeds leadership despite all conventional wisdom - which claims that to be a successful professional you need to know how to work with and around people. Arguably those skills cannot grow while you are navel gazing in a remote cabin in the woods.

Not much to argue with in his exacting logic. It's a familiar concept to at least the Indian mind in which the idea of ascetics and sanyasis mining wisdom from their solitude is firmly entrenched through centuries worth of traditions (and dare I say, fables?). It's a novel thought in our current age though, where the best minds are born from academics, research and industry, maintain high profiles and lay claim to their thrones through publishing, lecturing and being 'involved' in every way. Quite the opposite of 'solitary'.

Then I came to an interesting part about the information deluge we are all subject to. While this is not exactly breaking news, it is well articulated. An excerpt on why reading books can enhance original thinking more than cyber-information:

“Thinking for yourself means finding yourself, finding your own reality. Here’s the other problem with Facebook and Twitter and even The New York Times. When you expose yourself to those things, especially in the constant way that people do now—older people as well as younger people—you are continuously bombarding yourself with a stream of other people’s thoughts. You are marinating yourself in the conventional wisdom. In other people’s reality: for others, not for yourself. You are creating a cacophony in which it is impossible to hear your own voice, whether it’s yourself you’re thinking about or anything else.

So why is reading books any better than reading tweets or wall posts? Well, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes, you need to put down your book, if only to think about what you’re reading, what you think about what you’re reading. But a book has two advantages over a tweet. First, the person who wrote it thought about it a lot more carefully. The book is the result of his solitude, his attempt to think for himself.Second, most books are old. This is not a disadvantage: this is precisely what makes them valuable. They stand against the conventional wisdom of today simply because they’re not from today"
 
Here's my question and confusion about this otherwise convincing piece:  if you skip 'marinating yourself in the conventional wisdom' how do you know that your opinion is well informed and really unique? Blinkered thinking seems more fraught with the perils of missing other point-of-views than generating truly unique thoughts. Even the most concentrated effort at creating original thoughts in solitude cannot possibly account for the fact that the thinking is still done by one individual. One individual with their own biases, pre-dispositions and limited capacity for thought. If you do not listen to 'other peoples' thoughts', doesn't that trap you in an unreal world consisting of only you? How can any of your original  thoughts that originate in that very personal and limited world, retain any applicability for the rest of us?

I'm not denying the very real risk of self-delusion when you internalize the aforementioned 'cacophony' of opinions. I think there is a sound (if rather obvious) point there. I see so many people (self included) slipping into the insidious self-delusion of thinking ourselves unique after having adopting conventional wisdom and convincing ourself through unconscious, spin that it's un-conventional. Often it's only after I've opined confidently (and repeatedly) that I recognize that my paradigm-shifting epiphany is really just a very slight variation of one or more opinons I've absorbed.  Either those opinions have appealed to me and aligned with my inclinations or they turned my opinions on their head with enough conviction to make a zealous convert out of me. I have for instance, known more than one New Yorker who is a self-identified intellectual but channels an identifiable amalgam of opinions and reviews from 'The Village Voice' (an alternative newspaper representing the edgy side of the city) and the NYT. There was no malicious intent or intended hypocrisy: my fondness for some of these folks actually demystified how easily such self-delusion creeps even into an alert and self-aware mind.

Besides, the cynic in me is mumbling that there probably is no truly unique thought in the world. It's a fair guess that in the history of our civilization, every thought has already been thunk by someone. Not knowing of it is not the same as it not existing.

I'm just saying.

So like with everything, I suppose the ideal lies in between the two extremes. Aside: I wanted to name this blog 'Shades of grey' to reflect my fond prescription for equilibrium but that name was already taken. Now I bless my stars (and send out sympathy vibes) that I'm not getting hits from frustrated women looking for badly written sensual thrills. Aside over.

My take-away is that too much reading and getting 'informed' about other opinions can un-moor you just as easily as too little can anchor you to your unreal world of one.

I think I knew this already.
But it's nice to have it articulated by someone with a tad more credibility.
Because after all, if I'm stuck in my solitude with only my own thoughts, how do I know they're not just figments?
 
Oyon-isms (6):
Before bed time, Wednesday night:
When I grow up I want to invent a machine that lets people walk inside hot lava without melting.
Before bed time, Thursday night:
When I grow up, after I make the Lava Machine, I'm going to build an instrument that listens to what animals say and then tells it in people language. It will be called the 'Listener'.
Minutes after waking, Friday morning:
Mummum, how many days until I grow up?

Feb 20, 2013

"He’s a strange bird, but I know him."

This morning my friend Shreya was befuddled by a reluctant toaster. Or perhaps her 4 year old insisted on wearing shorts to school in winter (as 4 year olds often do). Whatever it was that unfolded in the house of the harried mom in the early hours, it made her take to FB and declare
Nothing that's meant to happen is happening! So I'm asking The World, can it explain itself??."

From the warm recesses of my comforter, where I’d only opened one eye to meet 6:45 am, my arm snaked out to snag the iPhone charging on my nightstand. Ostensibly to check if I had time for another 40 winks but really to check in on FB (yes, I’m a junkie). Shreya’s angst was from 5 hours ago, the time difference between us. But I still felt the motivation to tap this out (mainly to yank her chain  even on a dated event but also to speak up for our already beleaguered planet):

The world was spinning gently when it looked closer at it's people
chanting on their prayer mats, chanting under steeple.
Then judging mats and steeples while intoning a sombre 'om',
Unspeakable acts of hatred that I won't put in this pome.
Killing and greed supposedly for the furthering of our Race,
That seems better gone when you see this side of its cruel and brutal face.
Eons of growth and changes in the original primordial mass
Just has to mean a little more than human chaos en-masse.
The world kept spinning on as to it's people it then asked,
"nothings working the way it's meant to: Explain YOURSELF…and fast."

In a separate but not entirely unconnected incident (bear with me!), last night my husband saw this on the public library bulletin board:


Amidst the ‘WTF?!’ vein of responses it elicited from his FB friends, were his own 2 cents:
the point is not to pick up new friends, but to not remain strangers. In fact, it does not prohibit you from not staying strange ! People can look at me, say "he's a strange bird, but I know him".

The mystery of our (16 year long) union was a wee bit lessened when I realized that this ad was part of the same ‘Hi’ campaign I blogged so giddily about recently. Hubby’s take is a lot more restrained but none the less potent for it. To me at least.

In between the incomparable yet nonetheless valid tragedies of soft toast and senseless slaughter lies the essential truth: shit happens and in oh-so many ways.

- The world neither explains nor rights itself, no matter how politely you ask.
- You never know which way your bread will land: buttered side down feels like your default until you meet someone without any bread (so to speak).

But imagine that you’re plodding along trying to taking stock of all that is right so you can get through all the 'wrong'. With sanity more-or-less intact.

You look up and a strange but friendly face is looking into yours.
A ‘Hi’ comes your way.
Someone opens the door for you.
Another offers you their spare plastic spoons.
Yet another chases you down the platform to return the one glove you dropped.

Doesn’t that just take the cake?

To be able to say ‘he’s a strange bird but I know him’.
Hey Shreya: I think maybe the world is explaining itself after all.

PS: please check out
The excellent folks at the REACH campaign with the poster above at http://www.reachma.org/
My freind Shreya's hilarious blog at http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/author/3503/shreyasen-handley.html

Oyon-isms:
As i'm putting Oyon's latest Lego 'creation' into his 'museum':
Oyon: That's delicate Mummum. Be careful please. It's also fragile you know.
Me: Isn't that the same thing?
Oyon: No! (with a condescending snigger) Fragile means it's shiny.
Me: (laughing quietly to myself)
Oyon (with dawning self-doubt): Or maybe not. Anyway, I KNOW it's delicate. I know THAT.