Thursday, March 20, 2014


If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.” - Michelangelo

Tapas - No, I am not talking about Spanish cuisine here. But the yogic virtue of consistent, focused and diligent work. If you want to be an expert at something, you have to work at it. Of course you can pretend or posit, but to truly be great, you have to put in the 10,000 hours, burn the midnight oil, give your blood, sweat and tears, etc... you get the idea. As much as we wish for it to be so, it doesn’t just descend upon us the minute we decide to pursue a skill. There! Nothing more needs to be said. This post can end right here.

But no, I must go on a little longer as this is for a friend. Probably the only regular reader of this blog. I can’t cheat her of my ramblings now, can I? Also, I have something to tell her that I meant to say a few days ago. It's all the way towards the end of this post. I know, I am very considerate that way. But I promise to keep this post short... well, shorter than usual.

So going back to the topic... It is always very tempting to imagine being bestowed the labels we so often admire in others. We covet those labels and sometimes even project ourselves to be worthy of those tags. But all those endless hours of work that leads to actually owning the label isn’t all that alluring.

We love the character traits and the image a label is associated with. We love all that a label implies - the ability for hard work, the aptitude and the self-discipline that supports the responsibilities that come with it. But when wishing for it and in all our eagerness to pursue it, the hard work and perseverance that is required to get there is grossly underestimated.

Take a job for instance. More often than not, we like a job for the title and the perks it offers and not necessarily for the job per se. For emphasis, I would like to share a handful of labels I aspire for at the moment:

I would like to be a tech-geek. The one who is incessantly curious and creative in building interesting technology. But I wish it could be done without spending countless hours in front of a screen. It is so tiresome.

I would like to have the yogic poise at all times. But I would rather not spend hours, day in and day out, practicing to move mindfully and meditate. I wish I was born with it.

I would like to be a writer but don’t have the self-discipline and imagination to sit down and tap out simple and profound words. I wish it was like breathing.

I would like to be a reader, which to me also entails remembering and assimilating everything I read. Being able to recall and quote lines from a book, is to me the mark of a good reader. So it is a sad fact then that I forget almost everything about even the most engaging and captivating of books. I wish it was easy.

I would like to be a runner. To feel the energy and passion for it, but without the aches and pains, of course. Which I understand is a paradox.

I would like to be a traveller. I don’t have to be the true adventuristic backpacking sort. Just the pick-a-place-and-just-go kind would do. But I so easily get annoyed and upset when things don’t go the way I plan for on a trip. And that is not travelling, in any sense of the word.

I would like to be a good swimmer. But without having to put in hours of practice it takes to be graceful in the water. I can barely survive and let’s just say that grace is not the word one would use for my style of swimming.

So when my friend mentioned to me the other day that everything she does requires a lot of work on her part unlike her son who is naturally talented and excels at everything he does and does so effortlessly, I had a vague sense of what I wanted to say in response to that. But couldn’t find the words at that time - what can I say, it was late and I was in a bit of a stupor after stuffing myself with delicious Mexican food. And it was also well past the time of day when my brain calibrates down to the ‘bare-basics' mode. Anyway, enough with the excuses, here is what I would like to tell her...

I think she has the greatest gift anybody could possess - the innate motivation to work with integrity on whatever she sets her mind to.

Now if only I had half the tenacity she has, I could be...

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sub par

“I make mistakes like the next man. 
In fact, being--forgive me--rather cleverer than most men, 
my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.”

- J K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

We all fall short in some way or the other. To someone or the other. Thinking about it, it is impossible not to. Aren’t the odds against us? I mean, there are about 7,212,761,200 people and counting... as I write this, to compare myself to. As absurd as it may sound, that seems to be pretty much what most of us do.

If by some freakish happenstance I look better by comparison, then I ought to scrutinize myself and not snicker at the one I am compared to. Though I must admit, I find it so much easier to just indulge instead in an inflated sense of self. It is decidedly much easier to revel in the praise even if I honestly don’t feel worthy of it. But it is, in fact, a perfect opportunity for a moment of pause - am I the best I can be? Of course not. I never am. Then how about I resolve to die trying.

If I look bad by comparison (which is the norm), even if sometimes it is only in my own eye, press the ‘scrutinize self’ button again. There are million moments of gratitude and million opportunities for grace in my life. I might not be as good as all others in many scales of comparison, then again, am I the best I can be? No, I never am. But I shall try. Rather than giving in to despair, frustration, envy and resentment.

And what about all those missteps and mistakes we make. I, for one, make them all the time. Sadly, I even repeat them, many times over. What can I say, I guess I am a slow learner. Or just slow. But aren’t mistakes bound to happen, even to the best of us? I haven’t met anyone who has this game of life all figured out. Okay maybe a couple of them do. Or at least I think they do.

What troubles me is this aversion we have to mistakes. This general, all encompassing reference to choices we make while living our lives. This prevalent intolerance to slip ups. Aren’t we evolved enough to discern those colossal blunders that are detrimental to ourselves and to others from the ‘merely-perceived-as-mistakes' which are totally blown out of proportion? Or is that the sole source of our fear? A fear that we are incapable of telling them apart so better to avoid them all. 

Why are we forever wary of tripping over our actions and judgments? Why are we paralyzed by this fear of making the wrong turn? Why are we so worried about being frowned upon? By the same token, why are we quick to judge others for their perceived missteps? And why does that, even more quickly, bring out the smugness and self-righteousness in us? Are we so sure of ourselves that we cannot see the shoe on the other foot?

If a mistake is to be defined as something that brings about an undesired outcome, then isn’t it possible that it is not entirely wrong? Only something that is unexpected and possibly misunderstood even? Isn't that what Edison meant when he talked about him finding 10,000 ways that did not work. If that is so, then aren’t we holding ourselves back only because we are shortsighted about our future? And who has 20/20 vision about their future anyway.

Here is an analogy - One morning last week, I was very carefully inching my way forward across a long, slippery path to work (hmm... I guess there is an analogy within an analogy), all the while picturing myself taking a tumble and landing on my face. Lo and behold! I actually took a tumble. It shouldn't have felt incredulous but it did. And all I could say to myself while scrambling back up to my feet was, “Jeez, I fell !!!” (yes, I was that surprised. My words were so loud in my head that I could almost hear it). Immediately followed by, “ I hope nobody saw me”. (Yeah right, in this world of CCTVs I am absolutely sure that I provided comic relief to someone at work). And then belatedly, came the sensible, “I hope I didn’t break a bone”. What was even more surprising was the fact that shaken as I was by the fall, I moved better with a sure foot and a faster pace than I had before the fall. But more importantly, the scene that was looping in my head earlier was switched off. I think I can glean a lesson from that.  

While I embrace this new sport of ‘walking on ice’, here is something for me to wonder about and work on - to cut me some slack and to those that fall short in my judgement. Or better yet, just not judge at all. Now that's a tall order.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Could've, would've, should've

This thing all things devours;
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.
                                                --- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Time. I have had the luxury of time these past few months. Time to sit back and listen to the silence. Time to enjoy long walks. Time to observe nature. Time to study something just for the fun of it. Time to listen, read and watch wonderful creations from amazing minds. Time to reflect. Time to be non-productive... hmmmm... that doesn’t quite sound right, does it?

Just before I took a sabbatical from work, I made a list of things I wanted to do during my time off. I called it the ‘Time Off’ list (yeah, could not come up with anything creative there). It was a list of everything I’d wished I were doing while I felt stuck at work. Things I normally could not find the time for. Everything on my list was something I enjoyed doing and ambitiously hoped to get better at. All I needed was time and that was exactly what I was getting. Loads of it. Wonderful!

For the first couple of weeks, my mind was a mush. The medications made it impossible to have a clear head. All I could do was amble around. But I like ambling, so I ambled often during the course of the day. Which apart from helping the circulation, also helped me mull things over. As mullings go, it was pretty exhausting (and frustrating when the decisions don’t magically appear in one epiphanous moment) but I was desperate to find some answers and time was ticking.

Later, when I could function near normal, I still did not do most of what was on the list. It is very disappointing to look through the list now, at the end of my vacation. I am puzzled at my apparent disengagement to the list. Like I said, everything on it is something I love doing. Why then did I not find the time for it? It looked to me like a pattern. A pattern in my life were chances were not availed upon for some reason or the other, all seemingly rational. My recent choices were a bit of an eye-opener too, a realization of what my true priorities were and not what I thought they were. It was humbling because I was fanatically certain of what my choice would be when given the opportunity. There is a term for it - Cognitive Dissonance. A fancy way of saying I did not do what I thought I would.

Defining the problem could see us halfway through a solution, but it doesn’t quite take away the frustration it causes. And I suspect that, in some way, this dissonance correlates to the lizard brain. The higher the resistance, the more the dissonance. This is marked by a feeling that sticks to me throughout the day, a feeling that translates as a never ending wish to be doing something other than what I am presently doing. A colossal inability to engage in the present.

On observation, it looks like this urge to disconnect starts from the time I wake up. Actually, it starts right about the time I am supposed to wake up from the cozy confines of bed. Its very first occurrence of the day - a wish to stay cuddled up under warm sheets... and the corresponding resistance to get up in the wee hours of the morning to fit in a workout. If I do oblige my wish to stay comfortable and push the limits of time, then the hour that is lost takes with it the time for my keystone habit. And then I might as well forget all that has to be done through the course of the day. Everything goes hurtling from there. But if by herculean effort I do as I ought to, it’s mostly on autopilot.

Most of what I do is done without full engagement. My mind is constantly trying to rush the minutes, ready to skip to the next activity. One more thing to be crossed off in the day’s checklist of activities. There is always something better I should be doing at the moment. However much I fancy finding the time for, say writing, when I do get a chunk of time for it, I decide to go walking instead. A breath of fresh air will clear my head, give way for creativity maybe? But don’t you think it is better to sit down and show up? Nah... I need to walk outside on slippery sidewalks in subzero weather. I think it will do me good.

Interestingly, what was not on the time-off list was my intention to heal and get healthy again. I did not have to put that down in the list. It was something I knew and felt. I worked out the specifics as I went along and followed the way of the legendary tortoise. I was utterly focused on doing something that was glaringly not on the list. A prime case of dissonance, I would say. A bad habit that has become so ingrained that it is almost a reflexive response to everything I do. But the case maybe that subconsciously, I might have felt that the list was in fact, a distraction. I must have felt that it was imperative to me and those around me to stabilize my keystone habit. A foundation upon which all else rests. So that is exactly what I worked on these past few months, without quite admitting it to myself.

Why so surreptitious? Because it seemed frivolous, to me at least. Why would I want to spend so much time, thought and effort on being so ruthlessly focused on something that should be second nature anyway? Shouldn’t I instead, work feverishly on my blog posts, knock off a book a week from my to-read list, try to write down all those stories spinning in my head, give my time to those who need it, learn French, learn a new technology, work on my meditation, find time to cook a meal for a friend...? But the only hurdle to it all was that I seemed to be thinking of working on them always at the most inopportune moment. Every. Single.Time. 

Anyway, I kept at the process, a very likeable one I must say, of eating well and moving more, while all the time fighting a guilty feeling that I was whiling away precious time. Time that could be better spent on less selfish deeds. And that I understand, is exactly how excuses grow larger and louder. And how the resistance grows stronger - the typical workings of a lizard brain. For some inexplicable reason, this time around, on the matter of my health, I ignored the resistance altogether without actually intending to. Didn’t try to reason with it nor did I try to justify my actions. I simply and stubbornly stuck to the course. If finding ways to spread 10 miles of walking throughout the day and being obsessive about what goes down my gullet seem a tad narcissistic, so be it. This went on for a while. My health improved and I had never in my entire life felt this good. To celebrate my full recovery, I ran a 4-miler. Not to gloat, but for perspective: running was not even an option for another few weeks. And no, it was not stupidity or disregard for medical advice. It was, in my case, taking the advice, then working, persisting and finding out for myself all that is possible.

So when the time came to look back and take stock of the year that’s passed, I realized something. I had, for the first time ever, however fleeting it was, felt consonance in my thought and action. What I had valued and was particularly diligent about was what showed through. Never mind that I did not quite acknowledge it. So at the end of it all, here is my revelation - an action can become second nature when you plow through resistance with unwavering focus on what needs to be done. Oh and, when you immerse yourself in the process, you could care less about how it appears to others.

My time off felt like a roller coaster ride. Roller coaster ride as in... lots of thrilling ups, terrifying downs and head-spinning loops. And also as in... the ride was entirely voluntary. And for the realization that came half way into it - that there was no way out but through. Now that the ride is over, I am all shook up. In a good way. I pretty much am the same as when I started. But very much marked by my experience. And somewhere along the ride, a few excuses fell away. Now, what I remember most about the ride is the exhilaration and the fear. And my utter focus on the ride itself. For that, I am glad I took it.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Be you, but better

I suspect that ideals are the true drivers of both a well-lived life and any real cultural progress.  It is a flat and dull life that has no idealism burning in its core.
   - Kyle Kramer (in "A Time To Plant")

So my friend sends me this quote above and asks me to write a blog post about ‘ideals’. The first thought I have is that I am a bit vague about the exact definition of ideals. I think it means 'one’s idea of perfection'. So I look up the definition but still feel a bit vague and terribly ambivalent about it. Actually, ambivalence is my middle name. So of course I reply to her that it is a tough topic to write about and I am not sure I can do it. Of course she’s not going to let me off that easy, so she said that I can take it as a challenge. My default reaction to challenges is to run in the opposite direction, as fast and as far as I can possibly get. I worry that there is only so many words you can type before people find out that it’s all pretentious crap. But me being me, I could not resist writing pretentious crap. Anyway, mulling over the subject, I ended up with more questions than answers. But if you have read any of my posts, you probably already know that by now.  

What it means to me...
To me, an ideal denotes an ultimate goal. It sets our way of life as an individual, as a community and as a culture. We dream of an ideal partner, ideal home, ideal life, ideal job, ideal family, ideal environment, ideal looks, ideal candidate, ideal place, ideal relationship, ideal practice... the list goes on. In theory, it is perceived somewhat as an unattainable bar of life, which is always set higher than what is currently possible. So does it spur us on to do better or does it seem Utopian and dishearten us and make us cynical? If you ask me, it depends on what time of day it is. No really, I keep going back and forth with it and can’t really decide. Typical.

What is it anyway...
How do we form our ideals? What is our idea of 'perfect'? Do ideals reflect our childhood dreams and influences? Do they shift with the sands of time? Do they bend as we evolve as individuals? Are they molded by our opinions and perceptions? Are they an inherent part of our psyche? If so, then there is really no getting away from them. Does it apply equally to all facets of our life or are there areas that are better left alone from the mark of ideologies (if you can't escape ideals, you can't escape ideologies either)? Do values define ideals? And if indeed our values are our yardsticks, why then do we need ideals? What is the aim in attaining the ideal state? Is it even necessary? Is it even possible? Or is it just merely part of the vocabulary, a word to indicate a perfect state, unnatural even, and hence not really applicable to life?

Do we need it...
On the one hand, having ideals feels a bit naive. It feels like aspiring to the impossible, a pipe dream, thereby not very pragmatic. They lead us to disillusionment. And when imposed, in ever so subtle ways, they take on shades of repression. We could get close-minded because of them. And what happens when ideologies clash? Do they cause friction rather than a sense of connection? Do they make us rigid in our ways? Do we feel the pressure mounting when time is ticking away and when the doors are closing in on us? And finally, do any of us ever realize our ideals? Is it the light at the end of the tunnel or is it just an idea of the light at the end of the tunnel?

My theory...
I am going to go out on a limb here and say that idealism could be viewed as a science. There is logical reasoning behind its existence. It lays down the rules, so to speak, of how we move from childhood through adulthood and to our twilight years. It sets the stage for expectations. It gives us something to strive for, constantly. It fuels the myriad experiments in our lives. Experiments that are in effect an exploration of what we envision in our ideals. But as we all know there is never one path to discovery. Nor are they all clear-cut. Most of them are buried in brambles. They are the metaphorical ‘Road Less traveled’. Anyway, I digress.

Back to experiments - What happens when our experiments fail? And what about unrealized and disproved theories. Where does it leave us? To paraphrase Robert Pirsig in ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ - Science strives to prove predefined truths by hypotheses and experiments. But how can you define truth when the number of hypotheses is infinite and thus rendering the so called truth, inconclusive. In his words, 'For every fact, there is an infinity of hypotheses'. Transferring that supposition to the world of ideals, what is ideal for me, might prove to be imperfect for someone else or under different circumstances, even for me as well. What then? Do we get worked up about it? Do we second guess ourselves? What then is the purpose of ideals?

Maybe, just maybe, ideals work best when viewed as an art. You leave it to the individual - the beholder. And to the imagination. You see what you want to see. If it brings beauty to your world, by all means, let it. If it doesn't, then it is time to move on.

Maybe we do need it...
Having ideals, in its purest sense, is to hope for a better state than where we are now. It fuels our drive for a better world, for ourselves and for those around us. It becomes our guide to the way we live. And if we are tuned to it, it stokes the fire in our belly. It is our motivation. It calibrates our thoughts and levels our actions. It is our point of reference. Our North Star.


When ideals forge our lives, we hope that we eventually get there. And if we do, to realize that we did. And even if we don’t, which I dare say, is the case for most of us, there is always hope. Our efforts are our hopes. And where there is hope, there is possibility. Be you, but better might seem diametrically opposed. But if seen through the lens of idealism, that is in essence, who we are.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Spinning it

When it comes to memories, the good and the bad never balance.
- Jodi Picoult, Handle with care

This morning I complimented one of my friends at work on a necklace she was wearing. It was a big reddish-orange circular glass pendant with geometrical patterns attached to an inch-long thin silver pipe and hung on three strands of orange and black threads. Very like the jewelry I would like to wear. I asked her if the pendant was made of glass. And she said, ‘Don’t you remember? You got it for me!’. I did?!! I was embarrassed. Embarrassed that I forgot an act where a lot of thinking and care was involved, albeit a while ago. I mumbled that I forgot and speculated on where I might have bought it from. Badly done.

That makes me wonder (it is Friday after all when freewheeling, self-indulgent thoughts are excused. Actually, it is excused on any day under blog-ic license) on why we remember the bad deeds much more than the good ones. Why is it that it is easier to remember times when we were wronged or when we wronged someone. Why is it that bad behaviour is hard to forget and good behaviour is but expected and thus unremarkable.

I remember almost every instance when I was slighted, ignored, offended or rebuked. I say ‘almost’ because there could have been times when I might have just been clueless and not have recognized it as such. Anyway, I have a novel’s length worth of material to work on. I am actually even inspired, sorry, rightfully indignant, to put it all down in writing. I think it might read something like the ‘Diaries of an ugly duckling’. Or ‘ A misfit’s journey’ or ‘Wounds within’ or something like that. You see... it is not so hard at all.

On the contrary, I am not so keen on writing down all the wonderfully kind and caring deeds I was a recipient of. Or those that I supposedly did. Happy times are not really fun to recall, especially when you have an overactive imagination. Not enough melodrama I think. Not enough material to spark the creative fire. ‘My Happiness Journal’ doesn’t sound nearly as interesting.

I wish that my bad deeds are forgotten, as in ‘completely erased from memory’. Deeds that I am not proud of. Deeds that devour my self-esteem. That’s why when I read the likes of it in books, I can empathize and find excuses for their behaviour. There is always one, at least. I like to read/watch stories with misunderstood characters. Where they appear to be evil but are not so and their goodness is realized in the end, before it is too late of course. You know, kind of like ‘Gru’. When I started reading books with characters that were neither all good nor all bad, I came to realize that  they were so like someone I could meet in everyday life, or even maybe, someone like me. Gasp! Then could it be possible that a human being is not inherently bad! Oh well, there goes my excuse for my bad memories. It all comes down to perspective. And attitude. I have neither when it comes to recalling my past. Or maybe it is that I have very poor perspective and even poorer attitude.

I do have happy memories, of course. Loads and loads of them. If I care to recognize them, that is. It is an effort. But I don’t have to dig deep to remember the kind words, the attention, the care, the sacrifices for my sake, the laughter, the kindness, the conversations, the giggles and the love. But I would much rather delude myself into thinking that some of my past was largely messed up just so I can avoid taking hold of the present. Good things might happen, magically, in the future. After all, I am the heroine of my story. I better be.
Anyway, harking back, maybe there is a reason why we very easily remember the bad stuff. Maybe it is so that we can learn from it. That if it stays etched in our memory then we try, consciously or subconsciously, to not repeat it. To not perpetrate the accusations, the lies, the judgments, the demands, the impatience. Who committed them in the past is irrelevant at the moment. Its purpose is purely to serve as a reminder. To not rinse and repeat. So I better pay heed. And in the process, maybe spin a story, in my head, for fun.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Perpetual Beginner

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”                                                                                                                  - Confucius

I am not an expert on anything. I never was and never will be. Every time I get excited to learn something, I immerse myself in it for a few weeks. Then the lizard brain kicks in and I sabotage my own growth. When it is time to raise the bar up a notch, motivation dips. When the process gets harder, the lazy gene kicks in, that too in overdrive. Intentions that were set initially to stick it through the obstacles are all but forgotten. Impatience and discouragement dominates. I give up. Temporarily, sort of.

What was meant to be a short break turns out into a long sabbatical. Then when the guilt gnaws away at my insides and finally engulfs me whole, I hop on the wagon, again. Back to where I started. I have lost the momentum and most of what I have learned. But I am relentless, momentarily. And so the cycle begins. And I stay a perpetual beginner. For life. I think I like staying a beginner, although I wouldn’t want to acknowledge it (which I just did) - perils of pouring down thoughts to words, I guess.

I do love the idea of being an expert, no doubt. But without having to put in the 10,000 hours. Therein lies the rub. Also, there is a price for being labeled an expert - responsibility. Which isn’t quite my cup of tea either. So naturally, the beginner’s mindset is very appealing. At first, I am all excited and enthusiastic about what I am learning. Hopeful about the possibilities and potential, both of which are quite inflated and unrealistic, something that the eager mind fails to recognize. The challenges aren’t immediate. They seem farther down the road and therefore, not very threatening. Being a beginner gets my foot in the door without drawing undue attention. Even though thoughts and actions are half baked, I get away with it. And the best part... I can cry for help.

I think the level of confidence is directly proportional to the level of effort. With my level of effort, confidence eludes me, no surprise there. So I aspire to complacency which is always out of reach. Some of my pursuits include yoga, reading, writing, swimming, cooking, coding, running and meditation. Pursuits for which I find it hard to find my edge and move onto the next level (sounds like words right out of a yoga class). Instead I settle and re-settle, time and again, comfortably in the cozy beginner’s seat. Here is a summary of what my ride looks like on each of these pursuits...

I started learning yoga about 17 years ago. In terms of my asana-bility, I am still oscillating between a beginner and an advanced beginner. I love to practice. I miss it if I don’t get on the mat for days at a stretch. But my ‘all or nothing approach’ in the way I practice, does more harm than I realize. If only the number of hours spent watching yoga videos counts as practice hours, I would have passed the 500-hour training level. Easy. Learning by osmosis isn’t quite working the way I want it to. As far as practicing the rest of Patanjali’s teachings, let’s just put it this way - it is voluntary ignorance.
I started meditating at the same time I started learning yoga. I still don’t go past the 5 to 10 minute mark on most days I meditate, which isn’t very many. But just like how I love the idea of drinking wine but my tolerance of it is so low that I drink it from a shot glass, I love, love the idea of sitting still and doing nothing but paying attention to my breath. To me, that’s the ultimate non-activity for someone who loves to do nothing. I have Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life at my bedside table hoping that if it is in my line of vision often, I would somehow find time for meditation. It doesn’t work that way. Once in awhile I do get inspired... when I catch a glimpse of it on my way out during the morning rush. A perfect time to sit still, I suppose. Now if only I could move back the clock.

Reading - my only claim to having a hobby. I have been reading voraciously since I was 12, but my comprehension, memory and vocabulary are all sub-par. I have ploughed through classics and other literary gems that were way beyond my brain’s processing power. So I have a long ‘Must-Re Read’ list along with my ‘Must-Read’ list. There is more to reading than just the literal understanding of words. It requires the ability to comprehend, analyze, assimilate and articulate the effect of the book on you. Nil, nil, nil and nil.

If someone asks me now what I want to be when I grow up, I would say I want to be a writer. I dream of being a writer. I know the research would kill me, but I dream all the same. Of being able to have intelligent thoughts, brilliant imagination and a magical way with words - a la Dickens, Tolstoy, Thoreau, Buck, Coelho, Michener, Lamott and all those wonderful authors whose names escapes me this minute or whose works I don’t know of, yet. I started writing when I was in college. Don’t have much to show for. This blog is a very recent attempt. Not exactly one for the portfolio - more as a grist-mill for my jumbled thoughts.

I have been learning to swim for the past couple of years, on and off. Yes, on and off is the recurrent theme here. I still panic when my feet barely touches the pool floor and my teacher isn’t beside me for moral support or when the lifeguard isn’t watching me like a hawk. Relaxing and trusting the body’s buoyancy is not an option. There is no place in my head for physics and logic when it is all muddled with fear. Again, no amount of watching YouTube videos on swimming techniques will equal actually practicing the breaststroke, in water.

I learnt to cook 15 years ago. I cook for my family. That is not to say that I cook well. Except for some occasional bursts of inspiration that give surprisingly delicious results, I stick to the basic tried and true (by me) recipes drawing general disapproval from my kids. My goal is to provide healthy, nourishing food. Taste is only a matter of... well, taste. I browse the blog world for inspiration - as I do for most things. But if the count of ingredients exceeds 5, I find it very off-putting. I don’t think those recipes are intended for beginners like me.

I acquired a degree in computers. Unfortunately the degree didn’t translate to valuable knowledge. It was more of a ‘how to survive mind numbing environments’ which after that, wasn’t really necessary or applicable. Currently, I have a job coding. The degree wasn’t worthless after all. I survive. Nothing to write home about.

I took up running a couple of years ago. That’s a long time to allow oneself to move past the 5k level. But no, I have been slipping and sliding all over the place. I did change my intentions this past year. Why exactly do I run? Is it to model after Caballo Blanco or is it just so I get moving, fast. Since I have answered my question as to why I run, I have scaled back my efforts (which I never hesitate to do) in the name of sustainability. Yes, that’s it, slow and steady. I have got the ‘slow’ part down pat. It’s in my nature. The ‘steady’ part isn’t as easy - it is not in my nature.

The beginner's world is a very comfortable space to dawdle in - where expectations are low, ignorance is tolerated, mistakes are easily forgiven, excuses for incompetence are readily available, attention to detail is not required and where moderate effort is applauded and even recommended. I like that place. I don’t think I can deny it any longer - I belong to the elementary studentdom in life. That too a backbencher. Oh well. It is what it is. I have to take comfort in the fact that I am trying - on and off.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Missing Out

“Let's clear one thing up: Introverts do not hate small talk because we dislike people. We hate small talk because we hate the barrier it creates between people.”   
- Laurie Helgoe, Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength

I like to have friends as much as anybody else. But the number of friends I have, I can count with my fingers. They are friends who know me, warts and all, and who are open and genuine with me as well. Friends who I can connect with. The rest are acquaintances I don’t reach out to. And when our paths cross, we acknowledge, ask each other about our day, our families and move on. We might not quite stop to listen and engage. Nevertheless, friendly familiar faces make me feel like I belong.

I don’t make friends easily. I don’t do well when there are more than three people in a conversation. I am terrible at small talk. I can only talk so much about the weather and generalities. If we stay longer in a conversation, the topic of weather might transmute into how it affects my proclivities and how I am trying to cope by doing yoga and how that will make me a better person and how finally maybe I could somehow love what I do and how that will help me contribute something more meaningful to the community. Scary. Of course, I don’t go down the rabbit hole with every single person I meet. Only the unsuspecting ones... just kidding:-) Anyway, not many are comfortable or willing to delve deep into life’s conundrums in casual conversations. A lot of times we aren’t ready and willing to move beyond the level of an acquaintance.

When I do feel that our wavelengths match, nothing can quite stop me from gushing and sharing my thoughts. I feel the irresistible urge to connect, to spill my likes, dislikes and struggles so they know who I am on the inside and maybe it will help them look past my outside and realize we are all connected and then maybe we can talk over tea and make it a meaningful chat session. Yes, I know, weird.

A few years ago, I joined Facebook to find like-minded friends in cyberspace. My intention was to be in the loop for local events and meet interesting and inspiring people. I also got the chance to connect to friends from my college days. But connecting to friends who I meet in person often, nothing beats sharing a conversation over a cup of tea or a meal and for that I don’t need Facebook.

After the initial excitement of the possibilities of new friendships and reconnecting with old friends fizzled out, I found out that as much as I enjoyed the banter, I did not participate most of the time. I behaved in the exact same way as I would in person, among a room full of people. I showed my marked introversion by keeping quiet. If a question is directed at me in a group, I respond and try to engage more, but it felt forced and died down quickly.

My intermittent attempts to prompt friends to share their travel or work experiences, or opinions about books, movies, music, current stories on the news or whatever didn’t get very far. Not many, myself included, are curious about life’s seemingly ordinary moments that are in large part shaped by what goes on around us. So in a short time, it just became a place to post pictures of my travels (however rare an occurrence that may be) or birthday pictures of my kids or pictures of me after I spent what felt like hours screening through a gazillion of them to find the most flattering. I dutifully ‘like’d pictures, comments, links and status updates posted by friends and would comment on a few. But mostly, I would lurk.

Slowly I came to realize that I wasn’t comfortable sharing opinions. I was worried that I would alienate people in the group who don’t share my views. Or share my attempts and experiments in self-improvement or even respond to opinions in case I appear conceited or holier-than-thou. There is so much you can observe and sense in a face to face conversation that you miss out while on Facebook. That might explain my tendency to pepper my messages with emoticons - writing without a smiley face at the end of every other sentence is something I have to consciously work on.

I also started worrying that I will be judged for my attempts to express what interests me at the moment. I projected my best persona regardless of how crappy my day was. It is impossible to be genuine when you are being polite. In the same vein, I understand the reluctance of friends from afar to share their struggles with me. It is not my business. And I might judge them. Which are all valid assumptions. It goes both ways. Consequently, conversations seem a bit stunted.

A few safe questions usually don’t warrant deep answers ... unless of course they make a mistake of asking me in a private message, when I am in one of my introspective moods. What is just a casual prompt to shake me awake from my Facebook slumber would end up inadvertently awakening the nerd in me. ‘How are you’ or ‘What’s up’ sounds encouragingly open ended. Hmmm.. you sure you want to ask me that question??

And then there is this tricky business of accepting ‘friend’-ing invitations. Sometime I wonder if they even know me or if it is only because I am a friend of a friend of a friend - the term ‘friend’ in all instances of the link loosely defined. So every few months I purge my list of ‘friends’. If I haven’t had a conversation with someone within the last six months, they are ‘unfriended’. It might seem anti-social but I was bent on keeping the number of friends to under 40. Just typing that number, even if modest by Facebook standards, sounds ridiculous - to me and whoever knows me.

Once in awhile I post links to articles that inspired or affected me so much that I just had to share. But I started getting uneasy when I couldn’t help the tinge of envy I felt looking at the number of responses that my friends got to their posts compared to mine. And I began to wonder why I don’t generate as much interest or why I can’t be at ease as I am in a one-on-one conversation - either in person or in cyberspace. Comparison game is a black hole that I have to avoid being sucked into because that is the only way I know to play it.

To be fair, I don’t think Facebook was quite designed to elicit deep conversations. Sure it can be an effective tool to raise awareness or fight for a cause like some have and still do. But I can’t find a purpose for it. So I decided it is time to pull the plug. I deleted my Facebook account.

It took sometime to adjust to the fear of missing out, of not appearing cool or savvy. But there isn’t much I will miss not being on Facebook. While trying to prepare myself for the post-Facebook phase, a few weeks prior, I resisted checking out new notifications just because I was curious as to what others are up to or just because it was available at my fingertips or just plainly to kill time. Now, I will just have to pick one of the million other ways I know to kill time.

I have to constantly remind myself that I am not retreating to a cave, just opting out of one really popular social media site, which I find isn’t quite the space for me because of the way I am wired. I am sure glad I tried it but now it is time to end an experiment and begin another.