Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Window of Opportunity

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.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Kids View

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.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Reading Tree

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.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Keeping Up

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.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Past Dying

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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Writers' Eden

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.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Parental Unit

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.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Filming Life

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.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Lab Rats

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.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Coffee and Selfie

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

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Static Happiness

Reading this John Updike quote reminded me why he is one of my favorite authors and that I have not read a book by him in a long time. Self-Consciousness is definitely going on the reading list.

There is no such thing as static happiness. Happiness is a mixed thing, a thing compounded of sacrifices, and losses, and betrayals.

I can relate most to that statement in the context of motherhood. There were shared sacrifices made by J and I, we suffered losses (alone and together) and sometimes felt betrayed by each other. The happiness of being mother to her when she was a baby is nothing like what it is like now or will be in the future. Indeed it is a mixed and changing thing.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Odd Pairs

Reading this article about the pairing of food and sound made me think about any pairings that were particularly memorable for me. If the music was exceptional, I would likely not notice the food I was eating at the time and vice-versa. Then there is ambience music that makes sense for the cuisine or not. The harmony makes for a better experience overall. The article cites a study

in which scientists gave people a dessert and played different sounds while they were eating. Depending on which sounds were played, a dessert could taste more bitter or more sweet.

I wonder if that has to do with the mood that the music evoked. Happiness related to sweetness and melancholy related to bitter. I noticed the other day while shopping at Target, the unrelenting brightness and amped up cheeriness of the store made me feel worn out and even a little sad. There was (it seemed) an unstated expectation of being certain level of happy and I was not nearly there. 

There is something to be said for not messing around with people’s minds. One size never fits all and then there are unexpected consequences of well researched actions. So music designed to make customers crave more ice-cream may repel them from it permanently.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Valuating a Forest

It was very inspiring to read this Wired story about Aforestt. The idea of afforestation is hardly new. However,  the idea of using tools learned in car manufacturing to accelerate the process does have a certain ingenuity about it.  But not everyone who read it was impressed. Part of one comment I found quite compelling :

..the core mission of this company is to turn an entire *forest* into a commodity—not just the wood in a forest—the whole thing. What that essentially does is take a thing that is traditionally viewed to be priceless and now attaches a valuation to it. We would be remiss to view forests as anything other than priceless, and that's what this guy is hoping to achieve.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Eviction Logic

My blog has a Facebook page, I do not. Recently, for the first time, I browsed through the news feed. It was a learning experience. The first day, I read some very interesting stories – enough to occupy me for the entire duration of my workout. Encouraged by the experience, I went back the next day. The quality of the stories had diminished quite a bit this evening. I still got something out of it but was a little disappointed. Day three, was a sharper drop south. The stories were positively boring by now. 

Facebook seemed to have taken the trouble to curate stuff that I would least interest me. It stayed that way for the next few days – boring, stale and not worth spending more than a few minutes over. I am not sure what the strategy was here because it was certainly not helping me come back for more. Unless, I am one of those that Facebook wants to actively disengage, whatever they are doing is not very smart. At the end of the week I was back to Feedly reading my feeds as I usually do. I am with everyone else that the author of this article is writing about. I cannot trust Facebook to power the future.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Wrong Cause

A little conflicted by this story about middle school girls picketing for their right to wear leggings to school. The school's rationale for not allowing it is pretty bizarre and primitive. However, there is the question of the school's right to prescribe and enforce a dress code for students. This is something kids will encounter as adults in the workplace anyway. There is a difference between letting kids be kids and preparing them for life. I am not sure winning the right to wear leggings to school is serving either of those goals. 

Needless to say, the energy being wasted on this could be better used advocating for a right to better education and more extra curricular activities in the school. While the kids (and presumably their parents) have the media attention, these would be worthy issues to draw public attention to. Instead of fighting the dress code, they could seek corporate sponsorship for lab equipment, art supplies and musical instruments.