The wages of tea

I sacrificed my beloved laptop to tea and butter fingers. As is predictable, I have been bitten by the urge to write now. I am sure that the urge has nothing to do with the perverse lack of easily typeable devices at my disposal.

That laptop had served me long and well. It had become mini-me, holding my tax documents and many travel visa documentation, holding my code archives and sprawling manifests of fiction writing. It had faithfully held photos of family and friends, of loves and of travel, and many cute koalas. It had weathered my terrible decisions in my early days in this country, the often chaotic locales I ended up in during my grad school days, a rather pugnacious romantic situation, that quirky startup I was briefly at, coffee shops galore, flights aplenty (yes, even United), and aided  me faithfully  in multiple job searches, paper deadlines and endless nights of rapid fire editing to please my agent and editors.

I will buy a new laptop soon, as necessity dictates. However, I am still in mourning for my fallen comrade, which had survived multiple bids on its life. Poor thing certainly could have had an easier existence with another owner. What does it matter now? Tea sunk empires. What could a little laptop do against this mighty adversary?

Goodnight, goodbye, Godspeed, my little love.

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trampolines | the art of giving (up)

As I often complain to those who listen, making a functional, reliable, cost-effective product at scale isn’t the same as making an overly expensive, replaceable piece of hand-bling. It takes a great deal of good management and luck to bring teams who make the second to  be successful at the first. The organization I work for went on yet another predictably despondent set of top-down decision making sprees.  Someone tried to justify it in a meeting. Sounded like one of those starry-eyed kids high on kool-aid, stupidity and/or denial. Seeing beyond what is, to what will-be, is a skill that most of my colleagues avoid with alacrity.  Perhaps it is born of the nature of the industry. Perhaps it arises from the nature of the geopolitical circumstances and uncertainty. I am tiring of the gullibility and the denial though. I have exhausted my reserves of sympathy, and now I feel it is time to make stricter budgeting of my resources.

As always, one of my specific concerns revolves around how being a woman makes me a target for stupidity, ranging from newer technical members talking down and dumbing down things for me, silly attempts by those who arrange activities to make me feel ‘included’, and the constant apologies that happen when others swear or make lewd, workplace inappropriate jokes or comments about the sexual characteristics or cognitive abilities of women. All of the attempts to make me feel welcome are well-intentioned, perhaps, and I like to believe so. Yet why then do they lapse into comfortable defaults when they feel they are threatened? Raising voices  in a technical discussion, outright physical looming over me, arguments that veer from the professional concern at hand to personal remarks – more of the same old, regardless of company. There are indeed niceties as long as there is some understanding and common ground about always ceding to male technical or decision making authority.  I am hardly reactive, or argumentative, so at least I have managed to escape so far the all too common war stories I have heard about female colleagues being called unreasonable, temperamental or psychotic.

I was offered random encouragement about how a female superior enables me, by simply being female. I found it a crude and erroneous comment – we have nothing in common, and I am quite grateful for that. I have learned tips about how to do things from her and I admire her tenacity and will, but mostly I have learned a great deal about how not to do things. At the large meeting today, men were interrupting at will, and cutting me off whenever I tried to ask questions or raise concerns. There was no intervention from the female superior who works hard to portray herself as the role model for anyone in need of role models – she clearly has to work harder at being a role model, if she wants to be any good at it.  Her whole message was that the new set of changes being implemented will enable her to be an asshole to other groups, to pressure them to deliver. I don’t think being an asshole is what coaxes others to deliver, and it frightens me that there are people who believe it does. Charisma coupled with assholery, maybe. Just wearing a turtleneck and being an asshole is unlikely to cut it. I was watching kids play on trampolines. Trampolines always made me motion-sick. Now I feel I am on a trampoline, and it isn’t fun.

(there are positive things, and they will be here on another day – today, though, is for whining and hot chocolate)

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Palm Sunday | Easter

Religious occasions have a way of bringing certain concepts to the forefront of my thoughts: the concepts of family, home, and belonging. Perhaps it is because I grew up in a mostly religious family, and there were many religious institutions during my childhood. I was not fond of religion back then. I liked the peripherals. I liked the candles and the stained-glass windows. I liked the Latin and the high ceilings. I liked the church organs and the choirs. I liked how it united family under a single roof.

I went to mass today.  Palm Sunday reminds me of times gone by, of walking in circles around the church and bearing aloft fronds of palm or coconut under the bright summer sunshine, back when I had been young and curious, and reading about Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, instead of worrying about the immediate problems that awaited him.

I think it has been nearly a decade since the last time I went to mass on Palm Sunday. I was not inspired by religion today. I just wanted to belong, as I did back then too, even if I had been too young to understand my needs. I tried and failed, today, and then. I walked away half through the mass, just as I had walked away from family and love back many years ago. If leaving is an art, I am becoming better at it. I find it frightening as I look back on all the places and people I have dragged myself away from, despite deep bonds of affection. Why? I wonder so, and I wonder often. I have had little difficulty in making friendships, in trying to build a home wherever I went, in making sure that those I held dear had no compunctions about approaching me in their times of difficulty. My difficulties have always come out of my restlessness in company, spurred by my growing dissatisfaction with the status quo in my life.

There have been times when I did not want to leave, when leaving took more effort than staying. I remember the first time I slept on sleeping bags and ate jackfruit shrimp. I remember being sprawled with an iced tea under Elisabeth’s beech trees, and watching little Rachel play with the dogs, and listening to Sibelius sing along with Pearl Jam. He threw acorns at me when I corrected his awful lyrics. I remember living in my grandparents’ home, and watching them try to outdo each other in decorating the home for Christmas. I remember being seated on that old bow-seat, watching the rain, and the hyacinth coming to me with words that I had not understood that I had wanted to hear before. I remember my brother’s den of hoarded objects, which I had to enter ever so often to retrieve my belongings, in which it was easier to stay because it had all that I owned plus his wonderful company. I remember eating clams at Cape Cod, and loving New England so dearly despite Sibelius painting dreary, bleak pictures of winter. I remember watching my mother garden, shutting out the world, taking pride in her roses and cactuses.

Leaving is draining. More draining, though, is the return. As I drove back from the mass I   did not attend in full,  I wondered why I had tried to return. Nostalgia for my past, a wanting to revive memories and feelings of old, a fear that I will always be displaced, and wandering, leaving behind places and people loved, a desire to escape the present and the questions about my future. I had not realised how stressful returning and finding nothing the same can be.

I used to fast for the Lent season. Most of my family gave up their carnivorous ways for the season. Since I had no meat to give up, I used to fast. I cannot recall the initial logic and I am fairly sure it was rooted in the Catholic system of self-denial, but I liked the sharpness of focus fasting brought about, and I stuck with it for years, every Lent season.

I am glad to have gone today, all said and done. The city was beautiful and the cathedral well-decorated. The choir and the music was a treat. I had breakfast in the Italian Quarter with an old friend, in a little cafe, outside in the spring sunshine, and the white wicker chairs gleamed in the morning light. The Marina was bustling with white yachts and the sea breeze put me in a splendid mood.

“Easter mass?” my friend asked.

I declined. I think I will find something else to do next Sunday.

Two of my previous interns have become full-time hires at my previous employer, and I was very touched when they thanked me for fighting to get them sane job offers. I really dislike it when companies try to hire interns full-time under market rates.

No interns for me this year. Working with interns used to be my joy during the summer term. They come from their universities, bright and full of ideas, brimming with life and confidence, and they are a delight to work with.  There have been a couple of shake-ups in the upper realms of the management chain, and there is still some uncertainty as to the new direction. We will have to see. At least, I am still faring better than my poor friend across at the fancy electric car-maker, what with his eight managers in two years. It is a mad world here.

Everyone is still talking about Uber, though now it is about the Waymo lawsuit instead of the Fowler allegations. I guess IP is more important right now than the harassment. It is hard to stay positive and upbeat about any of it, about all of it, but it is foolish to be otherwise, and for what it is worth, that is one company which is likely to go down very soon for one reason if not for the others.

Thinking about taking a week off to get a break. I am not sure if I ought to do it in May or June.

The IRS finally decided to process my tax returns. This is the longest it has taken them. I had started to be concerned, fearing that I had made mistakes on the documents. Normally, it is the California tax processing that takes a few months. They had a fast turnaround this time. I guess being out of the drought has put them all in a brisk, happy, productive mood.

Still adamantly sticking to my policy of not reading news or browsing on social media. I do dislike it when other people bring up news events, but I guess it wouldn’t do to be completely uninformed. The Valley dictates that I be a well-rounded, high-achieving ninja who is detail-oriented, full-stack, and can discuss progressive, liberal ideas in the context of the global socio-political current events. I am getting there. I might even start shopping at Whole Foods soon.

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O fortuna | moshpit tuna

I got to attend one more Carmina Burana! Every year, there are some crowdpleasers on the symphony rota,  and the Carmina Burana is one of them, and the crowd in me is pleased by this annual treat.

It was a full audience.

I wrote feedback, as I did in years past, that they should make a mosh pit of the loge seats and let us head-bang for fortune’s caprices!  I imagine they will ignore my note again.

I remember a lovely discussion I once had with a friend about tuna, about roasting swans being replaced by tuna. Why was it not salmon? I cannot recall. We may have been drunk. Most likely. Tuna is not in my usual conversational oeuvre. O fortuna can get me into tuna though. It can get me into goth chic even: black nails, motorbikes, leather jackets and spiky boots.

Apart from the lack of moshing, it was all wonderful! The performance was capped off by the storm in the city, and the fog that spread itself over thick and low so that visibility was guaranteed non-existent. We missed the hail and the thunder. There is always next time, though.

I have been lucky to see it at different symphony houses over the years, performed by different orchestras. My favorite still is the London Philharmonic, but I liked today’s as well, for the performance it was, and for the many lovely memories it evoked. It was like comfort food after a rough day, and I am comforted, and full of joy, and very grateful that I could go today.

Some of the translations from Latin to English of the text seemed toned down. I have to take a look again in the morning. I could be wrong, since I only glimpsed at it a couple of times. I have seen it happen before, though, and it saddened me. I don’t like mistranslating words to spare the prudish.

Now there is the rain outside, and I am humming veni, veni, venias! There is tea here, and Adam Tooze’s Wages of Destruction. Goodnight!

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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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