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.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

To Become...

“I am as unfinished as the shoreline along the beach,
meant to transcend myself again and again.” 
- Joan Anderson

It’s been sometime since I sat down to write. I have been waiting for a modicum of creative inspiration to hit me. Nothing of that sort has happened. Either it needs to whack me harder so I can recognize it or it needs to come carrying a label as such. Because lately, my mind has been too scattered to be receptive. Creative thoughts in my head are a rare occurrence to begin with and even if it happens, it vanishes as quickly as it arrives. It is reassuring, nevertheless, to know that it is out there.

For the past few weeks though, it has been completely eluding me. I don’t seem to have anything to say. I read as usual, but everything ricochets off my brain. Even with all that barrage of information, all is quiet on the opinion front. Everything seems either very obvious or very ambiguous. But I am not going to fill this entire post with my woes on creativity. I doubt if it is going to be anything profound or original, but I do have something to share.

I just finished reading ‘A year by the Sea - thoughts of an unfinished woman’ by Joan Anderson. It was recommended to me by my friend a while ago. It stayed in my ‘To read’ list until after a serendipitous second prompt, I dove into it last week. It is a small book and I finished it in two sittings.

The premise of the book is exploration. An exploration of the self, of nature and of life. It all begins when the author surprises herself and those around her when she decides to upend the status quo and spend a year away from everyone - her friends and family. She writes about her experiences living in a small fishing village in Cape Cod. Relishing her solitude, she comes to terms with her past, ponders her future and explores the present.

Her writing is as fluid as the sea that inspires her. She engages your senses describing her experiences with nature - the elements, the sky, the seals, the sea and the shore. Especially the seals. Personally, I have never found them appealing. Dolphins, yes. Seals, no, not really. They are smelly, bulky and when out of the water, they seem physically, a bit awkward. But after reading her perspective, I see them differently now.

The author’s scrutinizing of her life and all the self-analysis might seem indulgent and self-absorbed to some. You could argue that a year living in a cottage by the sea is an idyllic setting that few could afford. And with no responsibilities and obligations to boot. That she should count her blessings instead of focusing on what is purportedly lacking. To many who aren’t as privileged as she is, it might not be all that much that is missing in her life. As her husband reminds her something to the effect of - ‘You have food, warmth and shelter. What more could a person need?’. She herself is aware of it when she laments “When will I ever learn to accept what is given instead of always yearning for more? My lavish expectations too often tarnish my blessings.”

But I get it. I get the longing she feels of coming into her own. The freedom to be herself - to find her true essence buried below layers of posturing. And years of conformity. She is restless and unhappy until she finds the courage to step out of her comfort zone. She revels in her solitude resolutely denying everything that is acceptable and familiar. She makes the little village by the sea her home not because of the community, but because of her affinity to the landscape. I can understand that. I understand that there is nothing that can ground you as much as nature can.

A few takeaways from the book - 
  • It is never too late for your dreams.
  • Make time for reflection, every day, even if only for a few minutes.
  • Experience nature in its own terms.
  • Learn to be in solitude.
  • Have a personal mentor. This is totally new for me. I never thought of the concept of a mentor outside of my job. To paraphrase the author - You need someone other than your mother who can rally for you and your dreams and who can pick you up when you fall flat on your face’. How wonderful would it be to have someone like that.  
  • Have an adventure. Step out into the unknown.

None of these are entirely unfamiliar to us. But maybe when we come across the same advice over and over, albeit from different sources and directions, however inspiring, it stops having an effect on us. It loses its simple wisdom and becomes a cliche. It doesn’t spur us on to create. It doesn’t move us to take action. It doesn’t challenge us to break the cycle. But once in a while, it makes us think and wonder. Maybe there is a start.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is ‘To become you must do’. It is less esoteric than the ‘Don’t do, just be’ mindful slogan that I am used to hearing. So I intend to follow it... for once, at least. Hence this post.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Charmed - a travel journal (Part 3)

Day 3. Wonderful sunshine again. We made time for breakfast before meeting a tour guide at one of the squares for an architectural walking tour of Savannah. The guide was a SCAD graduate and was able to translate complex architectural concepts into layman’s terms. He showed us old drawings of how the city was originally planned and how it would have looked like when General Oglethorpe founded the city in 1733. The guide organized it in such a way that the tour followed the architectural styles on a timeline from the early colonial days to the current period, all replete with historical facts. It was fascinating. Not that I remember much of the architectural terms or details now and neither could I tell a colonial from a gothic revival, but it drew my attention to how anything old can tell a story all by its own, if you know how to read it.

When the tour ended right at the square by the Telfair museum, we decided to breeze through the art galleries. A collection of Italian renaissance art from the Uffizi gallery in Florence was housed in the Jepson Center, a modern LEED-certified structure that was all glass, natural light and sunshine (the tour guide had earlier pointed out that the LEED certification of this building didn't mean much if you considered the air-conditioning bills and the environmental cost of material sourced from far away). I wonder if good intentions count. Back to the art... browsing through these renaissance paintings it seemed to me that, ancient art, regardless of where they were from, were very symbolic and religious. Onto the modern art section - there was a series of high-tech displays by Hye Yeon Nam, a digital media artist from South Korea. It all seemed abstract at first, but her supplementary notes next to the displays explained what her intentions were. And it helped that I could relate to her theme - an immigrant’s experience and the feeling of displacement in a foreign place, culture and people.

The museum also housed the ‘bird girl’ from The Book. A graceful piece of art surrounded by a feeling of melancholy. It made it even more so when N commented on what was meant to be by someone’s tomb is now in a museum. For something a little less thought provoking, we mocked past a myriad of chairs in the chair museum. Other than some really old chairs from a different era, most of them looked less functional and more of a statement of art, which is probably why they were there. There was also a permanent collection of paintings and sculptures in a gallery with a two storey high ceiling. The most notable for me was a huge nineteenth century diptych called ‘A Parable’ by an Italian artist, Cesare Laurenti. It didn’t take N and me very long to figure out where in the bridge of life we found ourselves at the moment.

We had a 30 minute wait for a table at Soho South Cafe for lunch. The place was busy and looked funky and artsy. It was in a converted garage or maybe a carriage house. There was art for sale at the waiting area. Paintings of all shapes and sizes hung throughout the space. I was drawn to couple of beautiful paintings of a peacock that seemed somewhat out of place. The walls were all brightly colored and sprightly. It took a long time for the food to arrive, but the middle-eastern eggplant sandwich with olive tapenade was good and worth the wait. Reminiscing our younger days over the course of the meal, we realized we had just enough time to find a taxi ride to the Bonaventure Cemetery.

We had about half an hour to walk around the grounds of the cemetery. A very unfair amount of time to cover 60 acres of land and history. But we had to make the most of it and were glad that the taxi driver dropped us off at a section right by the Savannah river. Inadvertently we found ourselves by all the famous tombstones we came to see. It was Conrad Aiken’s for me. We didn’t sip Madeira watching the river from his perch, but I did nudge E to recite a few lines from his poem 'All lovely things' - 
All lovely things will have an ending, 
All lovely things will fade and die, 
And youth, that's now so bravely spending, 
Will beg a penny by and by...’ 
Nearby, there was a small group of older folks singing Johnny Mercer’s songs at his grave. A wonderful sight. We walked around, took a few pictures, admired the sculptures, gazed at the gnarly oaks, read the epitaphs and listened to the silence.

Back in downtown, we stopped for mass at the cathedral of St.John the Baptist. The interior was ornate and grand. The beauty of the stained glass windows, the blues, beige and gold walls and celestial art on the ceilings inspired awe and reverence for those architects, even if it did little to kindle any spirituality in me. N walked up to the front while the rest of us settled down discreetly as back-benchers. We went through the motions quietly. The Hymnal was beautiful, something I had always associated to a more austere setting. But I could close my eyes and pretend I was in a monastery and feel the urge to be still and meditate. It was all going well, when during a moment of utter silence, my phone rudely and loudly (helped by those wonderfully high vaulted ceilings) announced to the congregated pious that it was oh so running out of charge. I bent my head in shame and avoided any looks that came my way.

We stepped out from the cathedral onto one of the squares. It’s been a while since I spent any time in a setting that demanded reverence in movement and thought. It felt good to be out under the trees and the sky. We shared our impressions of the cathedral, the churches, the various denominations and the colorful priests and pastors we knew. All that talk of religion made us hungry - for some ice cream. There was a long line outside Leopold’s ice cream shop but we were determined to wait our turn to savour the wonderful flavours it promised. I was happy to find a delicious vegan treat.

Fully satiated and after a brief rest at the hotel we walked to Club One to watch Lady Chablis. I was a bit ambivalent about the show at the beginning - curious to see Lady Chablis in person after reading The Book and watching the movie but at the same time wondering if her ‘south of the respectable border’ kind of humour might be a bit much for my sensibilities. Oh what the heck. I had company and so I braced myself to take it all in stride. So what if the performers were drag queens, they were human beings after all. Although I must say, it was a relief that we found our places all the way at the back of the studio. No spotlights here for sure - except maybe for one scary moment when I involuntarily felt myself cringe closer to N’s side to avoid the lights and more importantly ‘Jasmine’.

Lady Chablis was as E described, 'classy'. It was her birthday show. She looked great for a 60 year old and didn’t seem to have changed much from when the movie was out a couple of decades ago. 
She was funny but not too racy. and the audience wasn't rowdy. They were a reassuring mix of young, old and in-between (in age and other sorts). I hoped that the other performers were as comfortable being there as Lady Chablis was. Except for a couple of them, everyone else seemed to be. We made our escape right after Lady Chablis’ final act. Stepping outside, we hovered around one of the performers who was on a break. To my pleasant surprise, I felt comfortable enough around her and although I wouldn’t know what to say, I felt like I was around a human being who deserved as much respect as anyone else.

Retiring to the hotel after that show felt lame, so we stopped at the Moon River brewing company one last time for a late dinner. Tired but reluctant to end the day the, we lingered over our meal as long as we could. By the time we were done, it was well past midnight but the streets were still pulsing alive in party mode - signs of a wild St.Patrick’s day weekend to come. An eclectic day and every minute of it was fun, but it was time to return to the hotel and catch some sleep.

Day 4. It is time to fly back. Another day of sunshine. We take our time with breakfast. And we start making plans for next year’s trip, looking up places to go. We are hopeful and happy that we will travel together again.

I have come to believe that how we travel is how we live our lives. That would explain my absorption with travel books, travel blogs and travelogues. I am constantly looking for insights from travelers that would clue me into being a better traveler and thus live a better life. The kind of travel I admire the most is a backpackers journey. To me, it is daunting to travel to a foreign place without the comfort and convenience of a cushy hotel and a tour package. It is exploring in its strictest sense. To gauge the pulse of the place with just a backpack takes gumption and requires the art of living in the moment. The two qualities I so woefully lack. S
ince I have never traveled alone, my perception of the journey, the place and the people depends so much on my travelling companions. Our trip to Savannah was by no means a backpacking journey, actually far from it. But I definitely tasted the feeling of being in the moment. And I did not even realize it until the journey was done.

Here is to friends, to books and to travel.

Charmed - a travel journal (Part 2)

Day two. Sunny day but a bit chilly. And a bit of a rough start for me as we didn’t have time for breakfast before we hopped on a trolley tour of Savannah. My foggy mind was slowly waking up to the sights and sounds of the city. But when Forrest Gump showed up unexpectedly at one of our stops with a box of chocolates, looking for Lieutenant Taylor, I perked up. The tour guide pointed out the landmarks and the layout of the city around 21 squares. He also was my first introduction to the southern drawl. The easy pace of the place reflected in his manner of speech. What he narrated in 90 minutes I could have rattled off in 15 minutes flat. But wouldn’t be nearly as interesting, now would it?

Once the tour ended, we didn’t waste any time looking for a place to eat. 'B Matthews' was another one of those popular, well-recommended restaurants. Busy and a bit hip, the food was excellent. They had vegan friendly items on the menu and for once, it was nice to have a choice. Their black eyed pea cake sandwich tasted good and was filling. That and three cups of coffee and a nice long chat revived me.

After lunch, we took a tour of the ‘Owens-Thomas House’. It's an old Regency style mansion built in the early nineteenth century by an English whiz-kid architect, William Jay, for one of the wealthy residents of Savannah. The docent walked us through the house and explained the history, the structure, the architecture and interesting tidbits about the many residents of the house interspersed by reminders to not lean in or touch anything. Photography was not allowed inside the building, so we had to take it all in and rely on our memory to reminisce. What impressed me most was the huge rainwater cisterns built into the building that provided water for the indoor plumbing. This was about two hundred years ago. Wow!!  The Greek symbols, the eye-pleasing symmetry, faux finishes (none of us could understand why), the large dining room with amber colored glass skylights and the beautiful shades of green, beige and pink in the women’s parlour were the highlights of the house. But the most we talked about after the tour was the ‘haint paint’ in the slave quarters - a shade of blue paint to ward off evil spirits.

Strolling around the many squares, we stepped into SCAD’s art store to browse. The paintings, handmade jewelry and knick-knacks were all a little too abstract and daring, not to mention expensive, for our inartistic eyes. So we walked out the store empty handed. G was on a quest to capture every interesting door we came across for a collage she is working on. Almost every house had them - doors of course, but interesting ones at that. We admired the houses, the iron gates and railings and small gardens in quaint little enclosed alleyways. Walking by the famous Mercer-Williams house, we could picture some of the events that happened there from The Book but none of us felt compelled to take a tour of the interiors. We were content to just walk around and observe everything that caught our eye.

Working our way to Forsyth Park we couldn’t help but appreciate the sunshine and the mild weather. The fountain at the park was spouting off water that was colored green in preparation for the city’s famous St.Patrick’s day celebrations the following weekend. The wide path leading up to the fountain was lined with live oaks and flowering bushes. Azaleas were in bloom everywhere. We did some people-watching from a park bench for a while - tourists clicking pictures, a couple doing yoga in the park, a newly married couple still in their wedding garb and a bunch of scallywags (as E called them) lounging around.

Time for our evening cuppa. We landed at a one-of-a-kind store called ‘The Salt’ that sourced tea from all over the world and sold an unusual product, Himalayan salt. The store owner was doing the rounds answering questions about the tea and the Himalayan-salt cutting boards. An ingenious idea for a cutting board! Talk about an eco-friendly product. I made a mental note to buy myself one in the near future. All quenched and feeling a wee-bit educated about the million flavours of tea, salt and spices, we meandered our way back to our hotel.

E had booked a table for us at 'The Olde Pink House' to celebrate N’s birthday. The restaurant was in an old Georgian mansion with a pink stucco exterior (hence the name) and tables set in rooms and in multiple floors, all still intact. Each room was done in a different color. We were seated in the purple room. A huge portrait of the ex-Lady of the house, Mrs.Habersham, was mounted on one of the walls, her eyes staring down at us. Despite the elegance, the place had somewhat of an eerie air to it. Maybe the spooky feeling came from listening to all those stories about the haunted bathrooms in the mansion. But it was easy to distract ourselves by indulging on the menu.

The birthday girl chose Malbec for a birthday toast. I had a delicious arugula salad with pecans, walnuts and strawberries with sweet potatoes and grilled mushrooms with balsamic sauce. G’s flounder warranted a mini ‘how-to’ from the waitress. E gave her pan seared salmon ‘the best salmon I had ever had’ award. And N chose a chicken dish. Dessert was rightfully decadent. My cup of fresh, succulent, hand-picked (or so it seemed) berries, wasn’t decadent but I devoured it nevertheless and washed it all down with some excellent coffee.

We rushed to the Savannah theatre just in time to watch ‘Jukebox journey’. The show was a nostalgic musical journey from the 1940s through the 60s. It was not a packed theatre but the audience was engaged and visibly enjoyed the music. Most of the songs were familiar but I could not place some of them. Despite that, I couldn't resist joining the audience in cheering and clapping to the music. It was very entertaining to watch these talented musicians perform on stage. There was a little skit in the show where this young, shy and nerdy couple seated in a restaurant are looking over the menu. The girl, with humongous glasses and a goofy snorty laugh says she is going to have the ‘filet mignon’ pronouncing every letter in those words. The guy, wearing glasses mended with white tape right smack on the bridge of his nose, corrects her, leaving out the ‘t’ in 'filet' but still pronouncing every letter in ‘mignon’. And so the girl, with a dismissive wave of her hand smiles and exclaims ‘Oawhh.. Spanish!’ It served as fodder for humour during our subsequent meals:-) 

When the show ended, we took our time walking back through the lighted squares stopping for a brief pow-wow at Tomochichi’s grave. Focus lights shining on the monument reached up to the trees and made them seem surreal. If only the trees could talk... 

We stopped for a nightcap at the Moon River Brewing company, a haunted (or so the guide books said) micro brewery that was right across from our hotel. The coriander flavored beer was good but an utter waste on me - would they find it ridiculous if I asked for the beer in a shot glass, you know just so I can sample it? I didn't find out. It was some time before we called it a day. And when everyone was in deep slumber and it was all dark and quiet, I was wired and spooked out from all those ghostly stories I'd heard through the course of the day. Now why didn’t they think of using haint paint on these walls?