the last realm | no safe place

When I first read the Quenta Silmarillion, Melian’s lands behind the girdle was an idea I clung to – the last safe space, the last domain where good still held sway. There was madness and fighting in Beleriand, there were fanatics and fools beyond the lands held safe by Melian’s magic, and there was only sadness and unnumbered tears without. Gondolin is doomed to fall, Nargothrond is cursed, and the sons of Fingolfin and Feanor are only men fighting against Gods and fate both. Melian and Thingol, however, have made the best of their broken world, and given safety and civilization to their citizens, shielding them from the madness and evil outside.

Perhaps the idea is still clearer in the Lord of the Rings, where Galadriel and Elrond hold their realms safe, and Lothlorien and Imladris represent to many the last untouched lands of purity, still standing grim and strong even though Moria has fallen, even though the line of the Kings of Men has been broken and brought low, even though darkness spreads ever westwards every day. I remember Bilbo speaking fondly of Elrond’s home, and later, the memories spur martyrdom for a worthy cause as Frodo and Sam walk to Doom.

I heard from a friend about Uttar Pradesh. A popular chief minister of a southern state died a few months ago. Conspiracies abound, pointing to murder. There are fears about the rhetoric from the radical men in power at various levels of government. It becomes increasingly clearer that there is no safe space, that there is no safe place, in a world that has been overtaken by fear and lack, as people clamour to find a sense of identity and safety that unites them against the march of technology, frightened as they are by the inevitable after-effects of globalization, and the demolishment of entire industries as men make way for machines.

Religion provides a sense of identity, it provides an explanation to cling to, that there are fruits to reap in the after-life for suffering in the now. Caste provides a sense of belonging as well, as it gives a common enemy to unite against. Nationalism is another drug that alleviates the labour pangs of a changing world.

In the end, identity is the strongest stimulant. We died on battlefields because we believed in national identity. We went on crusades for a God we clung to. We burned witches.  We killed and enslaved and raped and mutilated, because they belonged to another nation, to another religion, to another skin color, to another caste, because they were attracted to their own gender.

Yet, at the base of it all, it was only respect and bread and butter which mattered. Poverty and a lack of self-esteem can drive us to dark and desperate places, to embrace ideologies that embrace us by giving us a special status, a kindred and a brethren of like-minded, a family, food and shelter and being provided for, an acknowledgement of identity which we have not had before anywhere else.

The explosion of connected media, through social networks and online sources of information (biased or otherwise), has led to people establishing identity on a global scale. Not being a card-carrying member of a particular group or another is still tolerated, however being a critic has harsh consequences, from slander or unemployability to arson, rape, and murder. So much is possible now that so much information and the ability to retrieve information is available at anyone’s fingertips, just a few keystrokes away. Rage no longer needs to be internalized and suppressed, or dispersed in a little locality. Cult-leaders know this – they know the reach they have through technology, to meld and mould minds to accept violence and us-against-them as the new normal, as the necessary and the inevitable state of affairs to be safe and prosperous.  Dividing populations has never been easier, just as uniting them has never been easier.

It is too late to evade the trap, to rebuild, in most places of the world. Things have gone too far, and we must best make of today as we can, with people we care for, in places where there is still welcome.

There will be renewal, of course, as we are a strong species, blessed by nature. However, I see renewal only after bloodshed, as fir cones after wildfire.

I try not to write about this grimness, since I believe my sanity and peace of mind are important, and words I write cling to me like tar that will take pieces of me with them when they fall away. Yet, sometimes it is necessary to speak, if only to be at rights with myself.

Among the tales of sorrow and of ruin that came down to us from the darkness of those days there are yet some in which amid weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endures.

It will be all right, in the end. We are not at the end though. So I am trying to focus on taking my joys where I can find them.

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singing bowls | alive

I remember the first time I stepped into a Buddhist curiosity shop. They had Tibetan singing bowls there. The shopkeeper ran the pestle around the stone. The sounds were melodious, in harmony, and I had never heard anything similar before.

There are horrifying stories about gender discrimination and sexism coming out in the wake of  a brave woman’s blogpost about her experiences at one of the companies here. I have the greatest sympathy for her, and admiration for her courage.

Friends of mine asked me about a previous boss, who had made life hell on earth by his behavior. I navigated away from the past, as I usually do, unwilling to look back, unwilling to open any page of my book that is not a pleasant experience.

Walking through life, I find, for my temperament, that lessons are more valuable than memories, when it comes to trauma or negative experiences.  My artistic impulses, and my creative side, suffer for a prolonged period of time if I fight for reason or justice instead of moving on to more pleasant matters.

I find myself changed (reserved, less willing to embrace the benefit of doubt), in many ways, from the sum of my experiences over the years, many of which arose out of two toxic relationships which had both only a single matter in common: a peculiar attachment to the gender beliefs of an older generation. I spent a great deal of time wondering about the hows and the whys, about why I had accepted these beliefs (my live-and-let-live policy often brings me grief), about my own principles and what it meant to live by them. Global unsettlement, over quality of living, over globalisation, over finding victims and casting stones at the supposedly guilty, evokes many of the same issues that arose in my personal experiences. When our beliefs (about gender roles, about racial matters, about immigrants, about government) clash with reality, it makes for unpleasant, and perhaps, inevitable witch-hunts.

I am optimistic, still. Why?

I remember being frightened out of my wits by the life I had back in 2011. I was in a new country, labelled an alien. I found the unrestrained capitalism and the income divide appalling. I had no idea how to fit in, or if I even could. Unlike many people in my circles, my reason to come here was not to seek adventure, or a better quality of life. I was only fleeing, seeking refuge from everything broken that had been my existence before. The society I grew up is not kind to those who can’t buy into its mores. I was shattered by twenty, exhausted by the effort of trying to resist, and anywhere else sounded like heaven. I ended up in Atlanta. I had no idea what to expect, if it would be better or worse, only that anywhere, any place was better than where I had been.

The stereotypes about people from my country were hard to break, and harder to live with, as I have had consistently very little in common with the beliefs or the culture that gave rise to those stereotypes. I had to find people to connect to, all over again. I had no family at hand, nor friends. In the coming months and years, I made more mistakes than healthy or sane decisions. Yet, the one good thing that happened, which stands out the most in my mind, was going to the symphony and being accosted by Sibelius. I think I may have seen this country differently from how many from my country might have, thanks to Sibelius. I was not part of any cultural organizations and I was not subscribed to the majority religions. These factors, along with my values and beliefs, made my interactions limited and awkward with most peer groups from my country. In Sibelius and his family, though, I found the Lady Liberty’s American Dream spun in gold. I had been poor and hungry, miserable and wretched. They took me in, gave me many Thanksgivings and Christmases and Sunday dinners. They were hardworking and cheerful, always ready to give advice if asked, willing to provide help if necessary, and genuinely proud of their country and their veterans. They were willing to acknowledge the darker parts of their history, which was also the history of the American South, and lamented over the slow pace of change in many human rights issues still. Throughout the many changes in my life over those formative years, as I navigated my career and my personal relationships, they were there with their unbounded optimism and endless buckets of raw, infectious enthusiasm for life and country. In the beginning, I had no idea what to make of what seemed to me to be naive optimism. I know differently now. I know that their way of living is sunny-side up and fierce, just as their hearts, and they truly believe that is how their country is, and they take their feral swine hunting just as seriously as they take their protests about human rights lapses and certain government policies.

So I am optimistic still, about many things. Being here is not easy, but I have learned so much about this country from its people, people who were kind and brave and fiercely keen on doing the right things. Being here is not easy, but here was the first place where I have felt safe, tolerated, and comfortable. Being here is not easy, but I haven’t known easier. It is all as it is, though, and I am fortunately stronger than I was in 2011. I may have to make drastic decisions about location, about leaving behind people and places, but it could still turn out all right.

You and I are alive, and there is still tomorrow, and tomorrow is usually better than today.

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The other Mary’s gospel

After a long while, I went to the symphony for John Adams’s Gospel, according to the other Mary.

It was a different crowd; I cannot recollect having seen so many young people there before. At the intermissions, they talked politics and protests.  In my limited experience, the everyday man here tries his best to stay out of that stuff, and there are systemic efforts at every level to keep him ignorant and complacent. Even voting is an act usually out of scope for most, though I suppose that is likely because of the fact that they don’t get time off from work to vote.

Now I hear discussions about gerrymandering and immigration, about foreign policy and redlining, about healthcare and education, about military spending and mortgages. I feel optimistic about this growing awareness. Asking the right questions can only happen once you start asking questions.

New concert partner is a doctor. Plenty of interesting anecdotes, about people and their lives, about little and big things that happen to them, and about the growing changes in opinion in the community about mental health and stress.

The rains today reminded me of a cousin, Rose. We had been close growing up, though we had been different in temperament and had different interests. Same age.  What I remember is that I had come home from school, and it had been the peak of the monsoon rains, and I had been told the news that they had accidentally given her a higher dose of anesthesia for a simple medical procedure. She was in a coma for years. We visited her, at the nursing home where she was for a while, and then later at her house. She died many years later. Sometimes, when it rains a lot, and when the skies are overcast grey, I think of her.

My mother had called. I am struck hard by homesickness, all of a sudden. So I have decided to read a bit and distract myself from that.

Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash book, about the class struggle over four hundred years, starting from Jamestown, and from London, has made me question so much. I think I will go find a nice romance book, set in an exotic location, with some aliens added to the the mix, to settle down with.


 

 

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mundane | belly fat

It has been a mundane month.

I try not to read the news, try my best to insulate myself from the outside, and navigate my days one by one. It works, for the most part. There isn’t a lot I can do when colleagues or friends discuss the events outside, but I try to filter them out. Enough for me is my life’s quirks. I have no sword to fight that mad world outside. Best be good and not make a sound.


 

At coffee, a female friend expressed envy over my comfort in all sorts of clothes. I thanked her, and wondered when I’d be as comfortable with everything else.

I still feel like an imposter in a man’s world, at work. There are conversations that invoke deja-vu, and yet I find it unable to stomach them, as they bawdily talk about women and sexual matters which to me are more suited to the realm of the home than of the workplace. My current boss somehow found it particularly appropriate to compare an arrow to a phallus, and while that seems a tad out of place for the setting of a meeting room to discuss random software stuff, it was still far from the weirdest things I have heard said by male superiors or colleagues. I don’t take any of it personally, since I know that it is probably only because the older men have spent their careers in a male-only sphere, and recent female additions to their workplaces are likely something they are still calibrating to. There are layers of concern – what if they are setting the tone for their younger male colleagues who admire and look up to them? what if this makes the place less welcoming to women? I don’t know. I am used to it by now, though I don’t find it endearing at all. I still find it effortful to connect with colleagues, and their nature, typical of the self-absorbed stereotype you see in the comedy sketches done on this industry, drains me. I come home and need hours to recharge. I think it is symptomatic of the worker in this industry, and not of the workplace. I am afraid I will one day become accepting of this world, inhabited as it is by aspirational versions of Don Draper and Peter Pan and Elon Musk, incapable as they are of bonding except in a very primitive manner, incapable as they are of taking the failures with the successes. There is the gender stuff. I’ll never be seen as capable until I prove it, whereas a man more inexperienced than me will be immediately seen as capable and entrusted with more. The salary gap is becoming a real concern. All of these are surmountable, though, with effort, and I am not unwilling to make that effort as and when necessary. Most jarring to me, however, is the coin-slot expectations. The coin-slots story continues, unbroken as I moved from college to grad-school, and then to the workplace. Somehow, men in this line of work often tend to think that being nice is the sole criterion to get female company and associated benefits. Somehow, professionalism flies out the window and all that is left is base pettiness. With the madness in the world outside, their views become more and more entrenched, and entitlement is a dangerous business, and it is hard to fight that battle everyday, in a graceful manner, with dignity, without endangering livelihood and without sacrificing personal values. I continue doing so, but it tires me. If I had known all of this earlier, I might have very well chosen a different line of work. Nursing, perhaps. It is a pity that I actually enjoy and thrive in the subject matter I work in.

I still think there are possible solutions to this, and I am trying to find them. I am disinclined to give up a great deal of risk and effort, undertaken over the years, because of other people’s ways of being. If there isn’t a way through, there must be a way around.

I have an inkling of what the solution might be. It will take a couple of leaps of faith, but I am told often that I am good at those when I dare make them. I have been reading old books that gave me comfort and strength in difficult times past, and I have been immersed in a language, still alive to many of us, beautiful and close to my heart. Perhaps I too shall write one day: Inimicum meum difficilimum gladio sapientiae magnae superavi.


 

In love with Gaga’s performance at the Super Bowl. Heard people talk about her belly fat. I had to look hard and long to find it, and then I found it sexy. The world isn’t becoming an easier place to understand. Time to get back to my cosy cocoon of studied ignorance, and the day-by-day approach through a life forcefully made mundane.


 

 

 

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Once a brave new world

The inauguration day was greeted with anxiety and fears by many of my friends and acquaintances. Even those I know back in my country had expressed concern over the state of affairs. Closer to where I live now, my friends here, who had voted for Hilary, went to the protest marches. Further away, on the other coast, for Sibelius, who had campaigned hard and long for Bernie Sanders, and for many of our mutual friends, this has been difficult to accept. The most worried people seem to be my acquaintances in the GLBT world.  I had been reading Huxley over Christmas vacation, and I have been listening to Dvorak’s New World off and on, and I watched the inaugural speech thinking about all of that.


 

I watch Ivanka Trump’s carefully curated social media channels and speeches. She is America’s New Woman; she has it all – a career, a family, and joy derived from both, while wearing beautiful clothes and shoes. She is happy to be a mommy of three, and a wife and daughter dutiful. Despite the successes she could enjoy in the political or business worlds, she prefers the traditional role of her gender. This is setting a dangerous precedent to young girls, I think. This is telling them that the New American Woman will have opportunities to succeed outside the home, but that her priority in the end is to her family, to be perfect at being a mother and a wife, a daughter and a sister.  When the choice is cast from what you want to do for your own sake to what you ought to do in order to be in the right, choice is only an illusion.

I am not generally inclined to comment on politics or celebrities, but I do find myself concerned over where this could lead the next generation of women to.


 

2017 has been a mixed bag so far for me.

I am glad to be back. I have new art on my walls and I am very pleased by that. I have been trying to be calm and methodical about my decisions.

I read fun books: Andy Warhol’s diaries! Andy Warhol is whiny and insightful, practical and successful, insecure and broken-hearted, likes buying buildings and hawking on the streets. He is a kleptomaniac of sorts, stealing cutlery from the Concorde whenever he can. He is convinced that everyone in New York is gay. He likes his close circle of people, even if he doesn’t really understand them much. He is wrapped up in his head and it is a strange place to be. He sees Iran’s revolution, hears about Lennon’s death from a few blocks away, watches an odd, unnerving presidential election of a film star against a politician.  He manages to market piss paintings, and buys many buildings.

I had to fix a tire puncture. I fell hard on a paved road and bruised my knees badly, and my laptop was damaged. I have a burn from accidentally touching the grill of my oven.

I have not made any progress on my grand diet plan. I think I will start on the first of February.

I got rid of a lot of old things that I wasn’t using. So I have more space now. This has been good for me, and has cleared up my mental cobwebs too.

I am planning to go to a gallery tomorrow. I hope the rain won’t close the highway. It has been raining here. It is good to see this state green. Spring, when it comes, will be a beautiful one.


 

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Waterfall | Vegas

I find that the beginning is the hardest to write, except for the end. I haven’t come here in a while, because I have been composing a beginning, and it has been taking me time.

A friend of mine had great success in Vegas, at the CES (not the casinos). She came back bearing news of victory and flattering press, of a job well done. She is highly talented, and determined, so I was glad for a well-deserved triumph. She spoke to me of waterfalls, of the roughness of the last two years, and of how she was glad to have me around, if only to irk her with my terrible attempts at philosophy. I guess she thinks it too politically incorrect to mention that my terrible musical skills makes it convenient to have me handy when attempting to flirt with poor musicians in downtowns. Off she goes north without me now, but we will see other waterfalls together. Sometimes, it surprises me how often we go through life, thinking ourselves alone, only to find that there had been grace unasked for all along, in friendships quiet and present.

Speaking of Vegas, the demos from the automakers made it look as if everything cool will happen this year. More and more assistive technology is making way to production. It makes me happy to see that. Thinking of those like my mother who didn’t learn to drive for various reasons and circumstantial causes, what is being done will help bring mobility and independence to a significant segment of us, one day.

I listened to a President’s farewell speech. It reminded me of waterfalls again. It may all look downhill from here, to some, but there is no denying that it was good, right then, with a well-meaning man speaking well, and speaking optimistically, of the next generation. It has been weary, here, and at home, with incessant political rhetoric and religion-based, class-based divisiveness, but even the weariest river winds to the sea, eventually. There must be equilibrium, someday.  I have been reading two books that look at these issues: White Trash, A Hillbilly elegy. I recommend them both, if you have the stomach for this sort of thing, since it is not exactly bedtime reading material, and ignorance does bring its own kind of peace which I personally can’t claim to dislike.

I saw lots of packing boxes at the Yahoo campus. I wonder what the merger with AOL will now bring about. I wonder what Altabba will do. It has been a rough, strange ride for them. I dug out my Solomon and comforted a friend who was working in their research division, but Solomon was little comfort to him. He is clever and good at marketing himself, so I hope and feel confident in his chances to land well on his feet.

What is named has significance. I am wary these days of naming on the blog. I reserve the hassle for those who matter a great deal. I am thinking now, of what it means.

I have been a paperwork fiend this week. I still have many more papers to sort through, but I am determined to trudge through. I haven’t yet started on my grand January diet, but I guess the fifteenth is a good date as well. I will have to drink all my wine before that.

I have lost some weight as a result of my trip. I am sure I will gain the pounds back, because cake and wine does my diet make, having plum cakes from home and cheap, delicious wine from my favorite grocery store.

This weekend – I had plans, though I have had to cancel them. Now I am too lazy to replan. So I think I shall stay in and write, unless adventure seduces me away from the warm blankets and my tea.

Happy New Year.

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