There is another house I see on my usual walk. This is on the side of the street where the newer, bigger homes are. There is an unbearable monotony about their perfection. This one like its neighbors has a yard treated with chemicals to the point not one weed is in sight. There was no breeze today and the trees were still like they were made of plastic. They have a couple of nice cars in the driveway no sign of kids. I want to imagine who lives in this perfect house where nothing is out of place. I imagine the inside is just as immaculate as the yard. The woman must never have a bad hair day and the man must be a lawyer. For some reason a lawyer comes to mind. The woman I think is a doctor. This is a house whose care is outsourced - inside and out. Whoever lives here values perfection and is willing to pay for it. They live here but their lives are probably elsewhere. I compare this yard to mine where the weeds are growing adamantly and profusely. They have a mind of their own. My yard is alive not synthetic and comatose like this one. I have no perfection in my life and truth be told, I am not pursuing it with a messianic zeal. I would like more perfection but lack the courage to seek it. Often the threshold of pain must be breached for perfection to follow - it is the slow, organic and painful way. No different than me trying to pull the recalcitrant weeds in my yard.
Thirteen years since first run Ready to fly once again Breathless and drowning Suspended between sky and sea Years meant to teach Days meant to heal Failed like sunsets That never set clouds on fire Wounds from decade and change Spinning slowly in a fishbowl Under hundred watching eyes
On warm days like today, I like talking a two mile walk that takes me to the high school in the neighborhood and back. Houses on one side of the street are a older and more idiosyncratic than the cookie-cutter boxes on the other. Some days, I pause to imagine the story of people living one of those older homes. Today was when I made up one about the house with pines and bamboos forming the fence line. Big strong trees jostling for space, often competing with each other.
Last week I was listening to Respighi's Pines of Rome at a concert, this morning was a frustrating meeting with an Italian client. So pines and Italy came to mind at once seeing those trees. I imagined an Italian man married to Chinese woman living in that house. They has planted those trees on their wedding day to symbolize their union. It would have been a long time ago, so this is an old couple now - maybe they have grand-kids and are retired. What might the exuberant growth of these tree symbolize ? A real marriage with struggle for space, power and control but also a vibrant and evergreen relationship that has withstood the ravages of time.
I have never seen the people who live in this house but my imagined story of who they might be turned them real for me.
I was in India for a week after a hiatus of eleven years. Except for a cousin who came to see me in Delhi hours before my return flight, I did not meet any family. In that sense it was a strange way to visit the home country after all this time. I called no one and no one called me. Work kept me too busy to notice the disconnect from my roots. I had left and I was left and that's only fair.
So without the distractions of personal ties, I was able to focus on India. I was visiting Chennai after twenty years. The pace was more frenetic, traffic more chaotic, the signs of renewal and decay were never too far apart. The more things had changed the more they remained the same. It was like I had been away for a couple of years and not two decades. Like a comfortable well worn blanket Chennai was there for me like it had been a long time ago.
In other cities I traveled to the people were as they had been all those years ago - largely peaceful, interested in the other person and generally helpful. An overzealous sales girl in a mall insisted on making up my face refusing to take no for an answer. It was interesting to see my kohl lined eyes in the mirror - a look I have not seen on me in a very long time. Only a desi sister could do this to me and not make me feel uncomfortable - this was the home I remembered.
Explaining India to my French coworker was oddly gratifying. We traveled everywhere together and every step of the way was a question - a temple in the middle of a marketplace, buying hand loom silk sarees, the cows squatting on the road, the palatial hotels, the over the top guest services, the food, the value of the rupee, the value of a human being, the sensory overload of it all.
I lived in hotels all week thinking all the time of the extraordinary home cooked meals served by my favorite grand aunt who still lives in Kolkata. Time, distance and the lack of contact has made me a stranger to those I was once very close to. I could have made some calls and exchanged pleasantries but it felt rather futile. No one was going to notice I had come and gone. It was probably best not to intrude and make them feel obligated to come see me or worse insist I visit them.
Instead of rekindling bonds that were weak or dead, I tried to experience the motherland to see if I felt the connection still. Not once did I feel like an outsider not once did I feel like I did not belong - it felt like I had never even left India. If that is not connection I don't know what is.
J is going to be thirteen soon. This summer I have been trying to carve out what bits of time I can from my crazy workdays to hang out with her. We don't do anything spectacularly fun though one afternoon I took her jetskiing in the ocean when the tide was high. She said it was the most fun hour she had in a long time. We have been to museums, libraries, gardens and bookstores on other days. There were long silences and a lot of conversations that flowed almost without effort.
There were days I could not fully extract myself from work and happier times when I could. J has learned to work with my limited resources and still enjoy herself. During this time I have learned she is not a baby anymore no matter how much I want to believe that. I have told her many times this summer that her life is truly elsewhere - and dreaming big is the best way to learn where her bliss lies.
You try feeling different dreams for size and comfort - think about what feels the most natural. And in time you know who you are really meant to be. I am learning I may be able to prepare her for the world in material sense - she would be a productive member of society thanks to those efforts. But making sure J will be a happy person is possibly beyond my abilities. I try to distill my life experience so she can be spared the pain of mistakes I made, forgetting that most of what was right or wrong for me does not apply for her. Watching my baby grow up is about letting her fail and hurt and learn in her own way. Being a parent I am learning only gets harder as the window of opportunity to get it right continues to shrink.
J had some interesting views on this latest attempt to police kids time online. She said it is a dumb idea - this was parents outsourcing parenting to a piece of technology. A good parent must do their own job. She also said that it would make kids dependent and unable to self regulate - which is not a set up for success in their adult life. At some point they will need to hold down a job and make their own decisions. Something like this would seem like a good idea in the short term for both parent and child but long term would not serve the kid well at all. Instead she recommends a blanket ban on unsupervised time online for kids too young or too irresponsible to know better. For the rest, J would have the kid self regulate with lite supervision but not policing by the parents - which is the rules of engagement in our home. Full disclosure, it is not easy to get J to do her chores every day but on an average more things get done than not. With time, some good habits do get formed. And every so often I have a full on meltdown over the mess in her room. In return for her "valuable" opinion on this piece of technology she asked for her bed time to be extended by thirty minutes. The fact that I acquiesced to such demand may make me a fairly questionable parent.
So many ways to read these lines from Tree by Jane Hirshfield
It is foolish to let a young redwood grow next to a house.
Even in this one lifetime, you will have to choose.
That great calm being, this clutter of soup pots and books -
Already the first branch-tips brush at the window. Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.
I like to first read Hirshfield very literally. The words are simple, the language is sparse and beautiful. Every word in the poem could be taken at face value - there is no pretense or complication. It is satisfying just to do that but its not quite enough. In a second reading, I like to create parallels - a young redwood could be a relationship that will grow deeply challenging over time and tap at my life. Another day in another place and frame of mind I may see entirely different parallels and find new meaning in these ten lines.
I have learned interesting facts about how tweens (and now early teens) use social media from J. The flavor of the month may go from Tumblr to Vine to Instagram without warning. Like so many migrating birds, the group leave their their current home to nest in the new one. The social routines are resumed while new norms are learned. That's about where peace and tranquility end. The worth of each person is measured by the number of followers or friends they have - the numbers are astoundingly high. A popular kid would have close to a thousand of them.
Those lower down in the totem pole may have less than a hundred. If a kid is really worried about their social status they may choose not to have any social presence at all. But being absent is hardly an easy option. For those that are on, there is the constant pressure of keeping track of who friended and unfriended you, who followed and unfollowed you and finally how to respond to such stumuli. Everything you do on social media is some form of signalling. It is very important to get that signal right. Kids routinely delete their social media accounts and create new ones - like a new birth with new chances and opportunities.
J like her friends is learning to navigate these treacherous waters - often confused and bewildered about where they stands and what that standing means.
The days turned liquid poisonous metal. They flowed into the nights making sharp darts of pain. In seven days decades had passed Old pain was shoveled and plow ready to plant. Words of love fell like bitter rain, burning all it touched. The beloved has no more to give, no way to heal until the earth is scorched and done dying
My cousin is a published author and a literary critic.He gives lectures, has speaking engagements and gets invited to residency programs around the world. It took him about two decades to get from nothing to where he is now. The road was neither easy nor glamorous and certainly did not pay well.
Many would have bailed a long time ago and picked up a 9-5 gig that paid the bills in a predictable way. There is still no predictability about his income so a lot of time and energy has to be expended into worrying about finances that could have otherwise been channeled into writing
Reading this article about the life of writers in Norway is like reading about Writers' Eden. A place where artists are nurtured and not starved. Made me think about where writers like my cousin - people with a lot of raw talent but without what it takes to become wildly successful - could be with a support system like this.
Reading this story about Indra Nooyi calling parents to thank them for the gift of their child as an employee left me feeling very queasy. When I worked in India right after college, my boss was a lot like Nooyi. He treated us group of rookie engineers like his children. We were invited to his home frequently because we were far away from ours – his wife cooked us wonderful meals. We hung out with the family all weekend. Life was generally good but we did not feel like real adults in this whole deal. Our parents called his office number to talk to us – frequently he spoke to assure them that we were doing well. It took me a couple of years to get out of this warm comfort zone and find another job – put some distance between my life and that of my parents. What my boss back then did and Nooyi is doing now is deeply regressive. We don’t want an infantile workforce – infact we want our young people to use their first job to transition from dependence on parents (financially and emotionally) to become their own people. This is an alarming trend to my mind – bringing the helicopter, snow-plow and tiger parents right into the cubicle. Next time our young and super-energetic social media manager wants a raise, would she call mommy to make her case to the boss ? In that scenario, the boss should expect a full on tantrum if the demands are not met. There is creepy about the employer becoming part of the parental unit.
Wait time in public lobby areas can be interesting and education. Today I found myself around a young couple with a baby under two year old. Everything that a baby does is obviously fascinating for new parents - I have been there too. Having camera and video on phone makes the recording of these priceless moments much easier. Back in my day, it took work to get ready to shoot and the baby had moved on to other things. Being ready to record at the right place and the right time was a matter of chance. So when the stars aligned, the output mattered. I watched in amazement this afternoon, as the doting father recorded this son picking his nose. Mom tried to talk him into stopping but it was clearly not working with the mixed signals coming through. Dad thinks this is cool enough to record then baby should reasonably carry on with the show. I bet he had no idea why mom was not impressed.
The comparison of anyone whose life revolves around their smartphones to B.F Skinner's rats is a very poignant one. Friday afternoon I stop being a lab rat and try my hardest to remain human until at least Sunday evening. My work and personal cellphones are separate so it is a little easier to get out of the rat mode or help myself from slipping into it as I try to be human and enjoy the tiny pleasures of the ordinary day - have J tell me what happened at school, enjoy a quick walk in the warm afternoon, listen to the birdsong while I make my first cup of tea. Checking email is not compatible with any of those things.
I think J is at the tail end of her selfie phase and it is not a moment too soon. Any time I left my phone unattended, I would come back to find a ton of selfies in the photostream. It went from being cute to annoying very quickly. Tweens would appreciate the selfie mirror I am sure but it would take their narcissism to whole another level. Pose in front of the mirror and broadcast yourself to the world by way of Twitter - this is huge improvement over their current experience. It would make sense then to perfect the look by airbrushing the image.Such a value add would eliminate awkward selfies entirely. The only redeeming quality of the selfie was its awkwardness. It would be good to have the camera refuse to take any pictures of our kids until all their chores were done. A mommy override button would make a world of difference to this otherwise frivolous product. There are times when removing awkardness can be a good idea - a coffee machine that refuses to brew until two strangers have connected by a touch screen, for example