stowaway

I’ve not written in a while, busy with life’s pesky curveballs as I have been. I came back today, inspired by poetry and a train that was on time, and I thought I might write.

October has been a dreary, Dickensian creature, full of changes. The surf has been excellent, though. Strauss at the symphony was a lovely punctuation to the rest of the jagged month.

——-

Everyone was aflutter about the elections. I have been carefully avoiding all news. There’s enough angst to go around without a helping of the eternal clash between us and them.

I read a beautiful book called the Somnium. It names the constellations, the celestial bodies of motion, and the fixed stars. It has been a balm. I don’t see the stars often these days, but the descriptions are vivid enough that I remember how they were spread out on sky’s awning, once when I had been standing in the porch of my childhood home.

I need to plan a mini-vacation for Thanksgiving, though I am not sure where to go to, yet. Perhaps it will be as simple as a sort on flight prices, or down to some national park that can be driven to. I also need to see what to do for Christmas this year.

——-

Friends from Japan visited last week. We entertained and were entertained, until morning broke. Now I remember what drunk feels like, after quite a long abstinence.

We used to work together. So when they talk about pure lidar-landmark localization in urban gps-scarce environments, I listen and regret, because regret doesn’t leave even when I know I did the right thing. What have you been up to? I am asked. I’ve left it all behind. I was a stowaway that popped out of their world (my world once) and showed up to work in non lethal applications of my domain. Almost everyone I know work in the field though, and it makes it hard, each time, when conversations take me back to the places I loved to be, to the problems I loved thinking about and working on.

It’s fine. I thought I had the stomach to ignore the callousness and the greed in the field today, cutting corners everywhere to raise funds and to beat up exec-board approval, garnering millions in stocks. I couldn’t look away from the obstacles we gleefully filter out, from the ambiguous operating domains, and the sheer lack of sincerity when it comes to algorithm development and status reports. I’ll go somewhere else, where I won’t be able to directly damage living things.

Deserter, my old friends tease me. I came to work with them out of academia, full of brimming hopes, keen to save the world in many ways. Late nights, long weekends, tinkering about in a car on tiny consoles where debugging meant wrist pain and sore eyes and a bad back. I miss that, working with good people on problems we cared about equally.

There’s no sunlight in the new building, glitzy as it is. I miss the sun. Between warehouse chic and daylight savings, I shan’t see much until April. Everyone I go into meetings with is married and has kids. It has been horrendous and hasn’t helped my existential angst any. It is the first time I am working in such a place. At least, they have good tea. How long-

Maybe one day. Maybe soon. For now, I’m a stowaway on a ship that’s headed someplace else.

—–

A Star is Born

I don’t think I have been to the first showing of any movie before. I don’t regret going to this one.

It was a movie that met and exceeded all my expectations. Bradley Cooper (The place beyond the pines) directed this one. I went for Lady Gaga but Cooper’s acting and singing surprised me pleasantly. Gaga was impressive. In a juxtaposition to her past work, she is stripped down and vulnerable, nothing like the poised, made-up performer she is on her music records.

I did not know that it was a remake (the fourth version!) and I have not seen the previous versions. There are moments that are poorly done. The first half is much stronger than the second half, which veers into over-explaining and cliches, but the music and the acting carries it through to the end, and what a beautiful end it is.

—-

I had known the basic premise of the film before I went. So I tried to prepare myself for the memories of previous relationship dynamics it would trigger. It was not easy. I am uneasy and reeling still, shaken up.

Over time, again and again, there have been men with authority and power who took an active interest in my career. I stood out often, an exile that never belonged, a woman in a man’s world, emotionally expressive and empathetic in a world of analytical thinkers who don’t have any bandwidth for civic or moral obligations, younger than my peers, from a family that was not characteristic of the country or the society that I came from. So it is not unusual that I attracted attention, and it was not always a negative. In the best cases (unicorn!), they mentored me and pushed me towards my dreams. In the average case, the interest has been to mold me into their make. In the worst case (which was the usual case), it was about power and subjugation with a fair sprinkling of sexual connotations.

The entirety of my experiences in technical education and careers have hardened my resolve to prevent overlapping my more creative work with people I meet from these facets of my life. So much of myself has been touched and changed by the relationships I have had in my education and career, in ways I dislike intensely, that I don’t mind expending a great deal of care and work into keeping my writing (my truths, my soul) separate. Sometimes, work seeps into what is not work. Sometimes, it is the other way around. If you hold resentment and compare yourself to me in matters that aren’t very important to me, however will I cope if you choose to do the same in matters that are important to me? Life and life’s lessons have had me firmly draw the veil between what I share and what I keep to myself. At the same time, I wonder if there comes ever a day where I can be freely myself in a place, in a person, without watching out for myself every instant, in every interaction. That would make the rest of the times where I must be less myself easier.

The main character’s struggle with trust and her decision to trust when she meets someone who resonates reminded me so much of my deep desire to meet someone who holds the same truths in their soul. It was painful, because on days I have no hope of meeting anyone like that, and as the film shows, even meeting someone who holds the same truths is no guarantee of happily ever afters.

It isn’t the pain and the grief I remember from the movie though. I remember their hopes and love, of two souls, ever-lonely and wandering, finding in each other a balm they had not dared to believe existed.

—-

Glaciers | Shoah

One of my friends dragged me across to Berlin.

My birthday is coming up and she had points to use before they expired (how convenient, I told her, because her smugness at her cleverness was more than mildly noticeable). We spent a weekend in Iceland, and she cracked the whip, making me drive through ice and rain. I wouldn’t mind bypassing the driving part next time. Manual transmission, she had said, aghast that it existed still in a civilized world. And there ended my hopeful dreams of shared labor. We saw glaciers floating under the beautiful northern lights. We swam in hot springs and lagoons, where geysers bubbled warm against the bitter cold. The land was desolate, volcanic, marked by snow and black sand. For miles, there was nothing and no one but us. Why Iceland? I had asked her, because I did not think anyone went there after the summer. It suits you, she had said, as we booted and coated up as Eskimos. It did not suit my hands, poor victims of faulty circulation that they are. It was the best birthday present I have had in my entire life.

Berlin was not easy. Side-by-side, they commemorated the wall and the Shoah. My Greek is rusty, but holocaust is burning an offering whole. I could not drag a shred of sympathy for the wall. It was pain they brought upon themselves, simplistic as the interpretation might be, and by the measure of the crimes sown, the consequences of a wall pales to nothing. A few discussions I had with the locals were depressing, as they equated the trauma of the Shoah to the Wall. Not everyone, but that it wasn’t no one is disturbing.

I loved the city. How could I not? Music from the 80s in Berlin was a major inspiration in my childhood. Iggy Pop and Bowie in their Berlin era still are my all-time favorites. We dined at a cheap but Michelin restaurant to celebrate my survival of another 365 days, in keeping with our tradition over the past few years. She picked up a great deal of conversational German. I did not advance past Eingang and Ausgang.

Then again, the solution to the Jewish problem was more or less in line with what was originally sounded, to send them into a carved-out parcel of land far, far away where they bothered not the worthy, away into the middle of the east, into the most turbulent land on earth. [We are sorry. Why don’t we help you go back where you belong? Oh, you have no place? You have always been exiles? Don’t worry; we’ll cut up your fabled land of milk and honey, and give you some. There now, go and be good!] When I look at a map, and see the walls the generations born in countries that were erstwhile colonial powers don’t cry over, walls which have cost more in terms of life and livelihoods (the Koreas, the entire Indian subcontinent, African nations, the Middle East, and the list goes on), quite difficult to understand why they claim this wall was their greatest trauma. How does it level out in their well-educated heads? It is paradoxical. Swathes of the new generations have inherited colonial guilt that they soothe themselves with poverty tourism. Do they wonder why they quest for their soul in the places they tore? Guilt is not understanding. Guilt is not a change in perspective.

There was good art at the Eastside gallery though.

I think there are elections coming up. In Munich, where beer and carousing flowed on, there was a rally to protest Turkish and Muslim immigrants in strong and sharp terms. (Don’t worry. You see, it’s not about Jews, so it’s not a resurgence of the old times.) It was well-attended and the supporters would not have been out of place in some select parts of our beloved Bible Belt.

(The price of human life is not absolute, but relative, and depends on where and by whom it was made.)

—-

an unrelenting war on the Evil

—–

I had a craving to watch a muscled man chop down CGI monsters and scream a great deal, optionally with chest-thumping. I wanted to see LoTR but I wanted a quick fix. Watching LoTR is a weekend activity, preferably with wine and cheese and pillows. So it had to be something else. A random search on the internets gave me King Kong, perhaps because I searched for chest-thumping. That was not the cup of tea I sought. In a quest for more human participants, I ended up with the extremely poorly rated King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Perfect! I’d get my fix and go on with my life.

I loved the film! Perhaps I have lost all sense of cinematic merit, but I genuinely liked it: the music was just perfect for the themes, the script was well-done, and the acting blended in perfectly with the self-deprecating bravado of the movie (witty…too witty at times and fell flat at others, but cleverer than most pretentiously set up fourth wall plots).

It was a delightful nod to stereotypes in a tongue-in-cheek manner. No story is more about Good Versus Evil than that of Arthur. Yes, there is evil outside, but the true evil in the story is within the characters themselves. Arthur, his sisters, his parents, and Merlin are all characters that struggle with difficult choices in Sir Thomas’s original book. Over the years, various authors have tweaked the story until we have today’s Arthur: savior and king, undone by treason.

Halfway through, Jude Law and the general script (segues and monologues, an unusual story-telling pace etc) made me think of A Game of Shadows. Guy Ritchie has a very unique directing style. His Arthur is closer to Sir Thomas’s Arthur than to later reinterpretations.

I was taken in by the chest-thumping in the trailers, but then I came away happy nonetheless. It is an utterly forgettable film, but also one that catches you off guard and spirits you away for a bit.

The music was a pleasant surprise, in how it thematically matched the storytelling throughout. There is a strong allegorical comparison throughout in a silly, fun way to the tales of the huntsman and the devil (to the Valkyries, to Odin, to Orome and his hounds, to even Carroll’s Boojum and Snark). It was not a random orchestral, vaguely classical sounding cacophony of chords that clanged for battle and sweetened to lilts for romance and solemnly petered out for death.

[My favorite Arthur is The Once and Future King version from T. H. White. It is a sad tale, but a very human one. The first book reminded me of how I had once been, very naive and sheltered, and happy-go-lucky. The later ones were difficult. It was only a fantasy book and I still wept for Arthur.]

—–

Mundane

My beloved Airavat, my Marcella, my car, has been rather uncared for of late. There are various dents and scratches thanks to the enterprising fellow road-users I have in my corner of the world. I had been transporting my bike in the back seats, and there are scuffs on the fabric.

“She needs a good going over,” I tell this man who claims to work wonders on all cars that were ever made. His only other client is an ancient Subaru. I doubt his claims, but I’ve never backed down from a bad thing. “Please take care of her. I haven’t been.”

“Not even a convertible,” he mutters, and this is a sore point already. She can’t help that she isn’t a convertible. I had wanted one for the longest time, but I had been sensible back then, when I brought her home. We make do. Occasionally I try to talk myself into trading her in for a convertible, but that’s not how I was raised to be. So I named her for a friend I had once, and I fell in love with her when I had no home, when the only place I belonged was with her on wide, open roads.

“The wheels are out of balance.”

Yes, every relationship has its kinks. And ours is that she gets a puncture once in a month. I’d blame it all on her, but it is a two-way street, and littered with needles and nails and broken bottles.

He brings out the all-season tires.

She doesn’t like those. She corners better on the summer tires. She is slow on turns, so extra help doesn’t go amiss. We must make allowances for each other. No matter the number of flats we’ve had over our years together, I indulge her, and she gets her summer tires again. Raised to please was I.

Her license plate is still crooked. This is thanks to the one time I let someone else park her, straight into a lamp-post. Oh darling, this is what happens when you go into the dark night with a stranger: you get bent out of shape.

His hands are clumsy and callous, with little appreciation for her curves and convexities. I wince when he rolls out from beneath her frame and hits his head on her bumper. His yelp reviews are wildly exaggerated. Has he met a car like her before? I try to keep my thoughts to myself. I don’t think I succeeded. I’ve once or twice been accused of an expressive face. So I can’t blame him for his terse farewell.

Perhaps I should learn how to take care of her. She’d like that, engine purring as I treat her to oil and grease. Perhaps all those flat tires are a grand, tragic cry for attention.

We go home, Marcella and I, and she turns wide onto the ramp, and I don’t have the heart to tell her that I occasionally fantasize about convertibles. Bowie sings about a small-town girl and wings of steel.

We’ll make do.
——–

A laywoman’s response to crisis | Peru

(very, very minor: I rarely log into social media. Please expect considerable latencies if you message me on those platforms. Just email/text. My blog auto-posts over.)

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I have a tradition of sorts, where I decamp and go far, far away after I am burnt out from a job.

I was in Peru this time, climbing some mountains, kissing some glaciers, accidentally eating an alpaca or two. I had had my fill of the bitter, grim high-school politics between our two warring sites.

The time before had been Tasmania (right after I had spent a few months getting harassed and not given even a chance to report it anywhere, thanks much – (rant) still don’t think too well of my ex-colleagues, armchair activists that they were, caring more about things they couldn’t change than about what they could (/end-rant)).

And yet before, I had run away to the Appalachian trails (right after I got tired of my stupid research director never figuring out that throwing more people at a problem in the eve of a demo wouldn’t get him what he wanted).

I’ve never been burnt out because of a job, now that I think of it. It has always been the people. I’ve dealt with some awful people, and then there’s usually the rest who ignore and silently tolerate/encourage that the first sort exist.

I love my field of work – once upon a time, I entered my field even when it paid nothing, the little idealist that I had been (and am still, I admit). I did not come from some other background, lured by the appeal of self-driving being the current, shiny thing. I chose this before it was ever a thing like it is now, and I am quite happy on most days.

—-

In Peru, where I went because the flights were the cheapest, they like their cash. I was there without my debit card, with eighty dollars, and I managed fine. There were moments of concern, but I had a lovely week of it regardless.

I trekked up the Inca trail, went about Ausangate and saw a rainbow or two, and touched the sacred waters of Salkantay and Humantay. Low-life that I am, dwelling at sea-level, I suffered greatly from altitude sickness. It was still the most incredible trip I have been fortunate to go on.

As a few folks can attest, I like my baths (many, and long, and with hot water). This trekking business did not quite let me indulge to my heart’s content. I got back today and I shan’t leave the bathtub for any reason other than Pokemon.

A great deal of ceviche was consumed. It is one of my favorite comfort foods. I have some dishes I associate as comfort foods. There is curd rice, which is for when I have very strong headaches that render me nonfunctional. There is coconut-milk prawn curry, for when I miss my family. There is tiramisu, for when I am stressed out about finances. There is chocolate milk, for when I am lonely and see no light in the catacombs of life. There is ceviche, for when I miss home, red-earth and rain-clouds and love, and want something that smells strongly of fish. There is fried green tomatoes, for when I want to get over an occasional surge of writer’s block.

—-

I have become rather unflappable when singing for my supper. So when things crashed at work, after my unicorn of a boss left, I walked over to the research labs across – it worked out, and I have a new team now without half a tear shed. I guess this is an improvement over my general, continual angst that has been a running theme in my job transitions before.

One eventually runs out of fucks to give, perhaps. No, that is not true. One lucked out and got an unicorn who showed one a glimpse of possibility. The inspiration is still going strong. We will see how long that lasts, before switching back to the normal mode of misery induced by the Karnaugh’s don’t care of Silicon Valley engineering teams.

And when that happens, perhaps there will be Peru and ceviche to console.

—–

Floods

The recent floods in my home state of Kerala have been disastrous on an unprecedented scale. I am not usually one to link to anything half-useful or practical, but here is the link to the Chief Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund: https://donation.cmdrf.kerala.gov.in/

As is often the case in any country with a populist government, the floods have led to political strife. The central government is currently predominantly comprised of a religious party that parades about as a well-constructed democracy. The state government is one of the last relics of the socialist parties in the country. They call themselves communist, but they are mostly liberals with a democratic socialism flavor. Despite my inclination to stay clear of politics in my writing, I have to note that populist narratives pandering to a mainstream agenda, suppressing all other voices, is a recipe for lapsing into the dark ages again, if ever we had left that era. Populism isn’t about the will of the people, it’s about manipulating the will of the people.

My family is well. Thank you to everyone who reached out. It has been a very difficult situation to watch unfold, and I was stressed every moment last fortnight.

——

Work has been busy, though not necessarily productive. I have been mostly confined to home and work, commute my only window into the world outside. I’ve felt less cooped up than I usually tend to. I thought I might have a horrible time of it after my boss’s departure, and no doubt things have taken a grim and dismal turn, but I’ve been fine, holding up much better than I dared expect, and nothing’s gotten to me. I think it is helpful that the issues are impersonal, and that I am not the only one affected. It has been unlike previous places where I had been targeted because of my gender, because I am unmarried and female and clearly gagging for it in their condescending interpretations of situations. This time, it is just general issues, and I am not alone; I have been very well.

I think I’ve never done better emotionally in my life before than in the last few months, and this is a strange, soft place of contentment, leaving me poised and steady. It has been hard-fought for, since I have had to make crucial decisions in cutting people and places out, in confining myself to what gives me strength and joy. Guilt, ever-present all my life, by conditioning and by early exposures to socio-political ideologies that term guilt a driving force of life, is farther away than it had been before.

I’ve been content. It is unusual, but ardently welcomed. Perhaps I have only learned to recognize it recently, as the still, quiet sound that it is.

——-

I guess we’ll just have to adjust

Ronan Farrow had another investigative piece, about yet another CEO, and yet another awful tale of decades-long sexual harassment at the workplace.

I stepped into my workplace, still queasy after reading the article, thinking about the fact that there are no workplace remedies without terrible consequences for the victim still today (thanks to inherent power disparities and team judgement often in these situations – true in my industry but truer still in the entertainment industry https://youtu.be/dHiAls8loz4). I thanked my stars for being shielded by a boss who is frightfully decent, and went to pick up coffee. And saw him resign. So much for that respite. [Time’s Up?]

I have the option of leaving, and no doubt that’s the best outcome for me, but I’ve never really liked following anyone around, preferring new people and experiences to the old. I enjoyed the workplace in the past few months, despite the chaos of the industry. Peculiar and perverse as it may be, I am looking forward to fighting my battles again, when I need to (I imagine it will be soon). This has been a lifelong curious trait – a lack of patience with being sheltered combined contradictorily with a need to have a shelter to return to. This battle of needing novelty as well the reassurance of the given, has made me restless on some days and battle-sick on the others, it has led me to places that were safe but constrictive, it has taken me away to wild, new unknowns. Every pursuit I have, perhaps, boils down to that innate need to find certainty in uncertainty.

—–

I finally get around to laundry after a month of living out of a suitcase, since I came back from Stockholm only to trudge across to that steel town I have little fondness for.

I am behind on everything. I haven’t cooked anything in a long age. I have sleep to catch up on.

—–

Din son, din himmel

It was day when I slept and it was day when I woke. You shone in the sunlight; you were waters, you were wilds, and you were old, broken cobblestones. You gave me no place to hide from your summer, and even your midnight pried me open in bright delight.

My clothes smell like fish and my hair too. I ate your fish and sour pickles, your beets and berries.

I leapt into the Baltic and heard tales of Ostsiedlung. I touched salt and stone and broken boat, and wondered how you could be bounteous still.

I asked you if you were happy, and you said you are no Norway gluttonous on oil. You were more rundown than I thought, and you still liked your immigrants so.

I’d never felt more welcomed than when you opened to me your streets and canals. I am sad that I’ve to leave you now. I did never learn what to do with welcome. I’ll return to a place that doesn’t like me much, but it was my escape from a place I didn’t like much.

I’ll remember you well, your warmth and your smell. Have me back, someday, when I’m wiser, when I’ve given up my follies. I’ll come back to you, I promise I will, and I’ll write to you better odes. Until then, have this, this meagre song to the north.

—–

maybe | maybe not

I am told it helps to know your desires to set the right goals. Today, my desires are mostly wavering and vague, and utterly materialistic.

——

I have been considering buying one of those aluminum fold-up bikes. I don’t know that I necessarily like the idea. The convenience sounds appealing though. I am an awful lifter of heavy objects and that is a surefire path to causing myself damage. There, I have justified the fold-up contraption to myself. Now if only it came in lovelier colors.

——–

Marilyn Manson’s coming to Concord. I’d really like to go, but his live performances are either extremely good or awful, and there is no predictability about his form. On the other hand, it won’t be a summer proper unless I go to at least one awful concert where I am in love with a lead singer’s voice and stockings. And he does wear stockings well, carrying them with more flair than many women half his age.

——–

With summer here, I have been looking for excuses to buy a new wetsuit. I don’t have any good reason to. My current one, even if positively ancient, is sturdy. It’s just that I really want a new one in neon pink.

——–

I have been coveting a convertible for a few years. When I worked for an automobile manufacturer, one of the few perks of the job was a lease from their vehicle inventory. I enjoyed the convertibles the best. So now I am wondering if I should. I imagine I won’t, because I have named my car Marcella, and I am quite attached to her. She’s given me solace and a place to sleep in or hide in, in various circumstances long ago – now my life isn’t that happening thankfully. Still, it would be nice to drive around a convertible. It’s about the only redeeming qualities of this coast, apart from the surf.

——–

And chia-seed yogurt. I hate avocado toast, acai bowls, and turmeric lattes, but chia-seed yogurt is a hip trend I wholeheartedly endorse (today). My appetite, ever a fussy thing, is now set on only eating yogurt and marinara sauce, and peanut-butter with tea.

And goat milk. I like goat milk.

——-