Quiet | It seemed the better way

It has been a busy week.

I like the city. It is green, a pleasant change from California. It was raining a great deal, a pleasant change from California. People were warm on the streets, and said nice greetings, and I cherish the Southern charm that had played a critical part in my life during grad-school.

There are many people at the events. Loudness everywhere and a pressure to socialize. I cannot handle interactions with new people for nearly the full period of a waking day, for an entire week. It has been a thorn in my side that aches the most during orientation weeks, during conventions, during weddings, during parties. I am grateful to be here. I am glad to meet new people, but in smaller installments. It is not shyness. I am not shy, and can perform if required, before audiences small and large. It is the pressure of social interaction, where I am required to be comfortable and vivacious, where I am required to be the best version of myself, at short notice, in new company. A week of that has shredded my nerves. I need a corner to be quiet in, a long walk alone to breathe, a reprieve from the constant stimulation of excited voices and loud entertainment, a few moments just to be. In this medley of excitement and stimulation, well beyond the threshold of my comfort, I cannot think, I cannot write, and I cannot focus.   I find it difficult to explain to people who genuinely enjoy being in the thick of everything, almost all of the time. It reminds me of Susan Cain’s book, Quiet.

I found a church close by. It provides a few moments of solace. It is large and empty, dark and high-ceilinged. It invokes memories of days when I had been loved and in love, when I had been safe and full, when words had flown to paper from pen with joy and ease. I lit candles at the pedestals. The old and familiar ritual brings back a semblance of rightness to my world.

I like company. I like it when I seek it out, when I am in a frame of mind strong and ready. The piano duelling bar is a lively place. I enjoy myself a great deal. I look an oddity amongst them, in my usual off-duty white clothes, and they remark on that a great deal. They are kind people, though, and take me seriously enough to let me try. I enjoy the pleasure and the surprise on their faces when I brokenly play Barbara Streisand’s The Way We Came. I don’t linger long. I come back, happy and in high spirits, and the good mood lasts until I have to show up for the next group event. My face is tired of smiling, my brain is weary of keeping up with the social graces and nuances I am put through, and I have run out of social niceties to say. It is going to take a day or two of solitude to come back to my normal levels of energy and willingness to engage.

I need to find a way to balance it more. I want to enjoy people more, and the wild, beautiful things they say and do and share. I want the comfort of being myself, outside settings that I find comfortable or am used to. I don’t want to leave gatherings early, or be less livelier than anyone else at weddings or parties. I want things to be easier, just as easy as it looks to be for some acquaintances I admire, who can be vivacious and circulate in groups that are completely new to them. Life goes on, though.

Cohen’s new album came out today.


some cake, some faith

I am off south-west this week. The change of location ought to clear some cobwebs from my head.

Today was rough. My upstairs neighbours woke me up because their kid was screaming and there was much shouting from the mother too. There was sounds of scuffles and running about. The walls are thin. I couldn’t get the child’s shouting out of my head all day.  I am a bit sensitive when it comes to children and how they are treated, even if they aren’t kids I know. Physical roughness is difficult to watch. Even worse is emotional abuse. Kids don’t have the defenses necessary to weather that. They shouldn’t have to. The world is messed up, though, and most kids grow to develop the defenses against a world that treated them callously, albeit, hopefully because of ignorance. The more I see, the more I hear, I turn more scared about how lightly people take the business of caring and raising children. It is a daunting task, and one that deserves more thought and devotion than most of us can provide. Best not to do it, unless you are certain you can set aside that time to be careful in caring.

A bike was pushed to the road by an insufficiently caffeinated car-driver this morning. Veered and braked, in time, but was quite shaken afterwards. Commute routes are generally done on auto-pilot, especially in the mornings. I try to be mindful and fully present when driving, but it was still more luck than intention which made me respond as fast as I did, and that left me shaking for hours after the incident. I do believe in getting the humans out of the loop, into the passengers’ seat, for commutes.

A close friend is undergoing a difficult period in her life, and I have been quite useless in providing any succor. We had a short, futile talk today on the phone, but I don’t really think it made much of a difference. When people go through certain sort of personal struggles, there isn’t much anyone else can do. Some journeys are necessarily solitary.

I wished someone a happy birthday. I had arranged for a tiramisu delivery to their address. When I received tiramisu at my address this evening, I thought I had messed up the billing and delivery. Then I realised that it was only one more instance of two people thinking alike. It was a relief to end the day on that note. Some cake, for some faith.


Rain | Left

We were discussing my left-handedness yesterday. My mother was telling me about how the extended family had tried hard to shift me to right-handedness. I was a little unnerved on hearing how much they had cared about it, about the stringent measures they had taken to nip it in the bud. They succeeded in making me right-handed enough to function. It waned, as things do, once I was left to my own devices, and now I have relapsed again. It is ironic that as we walk through adulthood, we have to strip away the layers again, to become comfortable with ourselves, to get rid of conditioning, that we have to spend time unlearning what we had to spend time being taught.

I am going home for Christmas. I love Christmas, and family, and family Christmas. I do. I am nervous, though, at the same time. I have found my equilibrium of sorts, and I don’t want to be assaulted by the marriage question again. Then there are many other questions. Christmas is my favorite holiday and I don’t want to spend ten days in a state of helplessness and frustration, trying to evade the same questions again and again.



I hope it rains today. I want to have tea and watch the rain.

I went to a beach yesterday. It was overcast and lovely during the drive. The beach I had intended to go to was inaccessible, so plans were changed. It is convenient to be here, in the middle of many beaches, and there is always another one close by.

It was raining there. And mostly deserted. It reminded me of home. Rain brings me alive, and I was a child waiting eagerly for the first rains of the south-west monsoon again. I was drenched yesterday, but could not bring myself to care. There was a cafe afterwards and some tea.

Then I came back, gardened, and went to buy groceries. I didn’t have an ID on me and they refused to sell me wine. In dire straits, I drove up to the Peninsula, for how could I end a rainy weekend night without wine? There we dined and wined, and then I killed slugs for my friend bravely.



All is vanity | Vanity of vanities

Another Yom Kippur.

Instead of going out, I stayed home tonight in the hope of getting some planning done. That did not happen. I made a list, though. I must start somewhere.

I have been tired and sleep-deprived this week, and not admittedly for the best of reasons. I need to take a break from work, to relax and watch the flowers in my garden, to spend time with friends and to replenish myself emotionally in their warm company. Also, free, unconditional hugs. Kindness is rare, and kindness of touch is rarer.

Earlier this week, I was looking at the train-wreck that one of my former lab-mates has made of his life. It has been heartbreaking to watch it happen. I had not been close to him. Our paths had never crossed except on Facebook and at the coffee machine. Yet, to see human tragedy, brought upon by choice (plenty of it), was unpleasant. He is brilliant, has a great job, earns well, lives cosily and yet things had gone to hell because of his choices in partners. I did the best I could – I retreated to my life, read and wrote, played and distracted myself from the sight of it. It brought to me questions of reciprocity and expectation once again, and I was in no mood this week to think harder. What would be the point? There is little you can do except love and and stay strong in yourself, and perhaps one day it will be your time to receive. It is sometimes daunting to accept that; as a writer, love is more than an emotion you ride the high of – it is fuel for the pen just as it is fuel for the heart.  At least, for me, writing has never been able to take hatred or cynicism as motivations. Even when I have written of grief or the lows and the darknesses of life, it has been rooted in love.

The episode reaffirmed my decision to stay off social media. I am productive, focussed and content when I am not looking at ups and downs in others’ lives. Perhaps that makes me selfish. Does it matter, when I have found a way to stay centered and content by filtering out emotional turbulence caused by the constant negativity on social media of all sorts, from Huffington Post to Facebook? I am less informed than I ought to be, certainly, and I am weeks delayed when it comes to the current events. I find I mind less than I once thought I would.

I still check the weather.


I am still thinking about my Thanksgiving plans. I do want to go somewhere new. I do also want to go to Atlanta. I want to be at a large table, celebrating Thanksgiving with a family. I have fond memories of years past, first when we walked amongst red leaves under the bare trees at Emory sipping coffee from Highland and talking about Tapiola that had brought us together, later when I watched a young man, bundled in blue and gold, attempt to chop firewood valiantly before giving up the task to his father, later when I drove down the winding California 1 by gorge and ocean in awe of the sheer majesty of nature’s craft, later when I returned to Atlanta again to be fed and warmed by family and a hearth beloved.

I need more earrings, I am told. I own little in the way of accessories, so I suppose it wasn’t a surprise that someone noticed the fact.

I need more scarves for the season! I miss sorely my green scarf which had been with me for years and had to be finally surrendered to its fate during a move.

I have a new dress and it is lace, thanks to an early birthday present from a friend who made a trip to Daejon for a conference recently. It is quite Korean in fabric and make. I like it already.  White is my favourite. It is a nice pairing to the extremely well-made, tailored salwar that I received from home, sent for Onam. Even if my mother does not like white, she picks white clothes with her customary attention to detail and care that guarantees excellent results.

It is time for birthday presents and Christmas gifts. The coming weeks are some of my favourite ones of the year. Getting cards and presents never gets old.



Performs as expected

I was at a session today where the speaker discussed customer evaluations of a product. He categorized customer responses into three binary sections 1) performs as expected 2) small and better changes to the baseline 3) thrilled. I believe that is an excellent way to differentiate the classes of products that are on the market from this company. However, this new industry they are seeking to come to works a bit differently, from what I have seen.

I used to work for the automobile industry. I had participated in similar discussions about product and product design. One key and baseline concept that seemed to be missing today was the idea that a car is more than a product. People form attachments to their cars. For many, as one of the first market insight managers I spoke to said, and as the others repeated often and loudly, a car is more than a purchase, in the same way a home is more than a purchase. It is a place to retreat to. For people in troubled marriages, for people who are being bullied at work or at home (or at both places), a car is the only resort for peace and a few treasured moments of solitude. Long commutes become less of a nightmare when it brings you privacy.

It may be a difficult concept for some to relate to. To me, it strongly resonated. I had faced a dire lack of privacy for the longest time. I had been living in places and with people where there was little to no respect for personal boundaries and solitude. My car, when I had first purchased it, had been only a tool to commute, to do my grocery shopping, to get places. Then it had turned into a zone of respite and retreat, where I had been able to think and read and be myself. I had enjoyed driving far away from people and sitting on the hood with my kindle or a book, under large trees in Berkeley, or even further in the wine country.  I have even a highly efficient writing configuration that I know by heart, where I can splay myself across the seats and get occasional spirited, inspired ideas onto paper, into words. I had lived in a situation where I had feared, occasionally, and perhaps unreasonably or illogically, about my personal safety. I had been reluctant, on some days, to end my commute, to come home, where home had lost all connotations of warmth and belonging that it had been once associated with. Things are different now. I have a greater degree of freedom in my life, even if I wish I had more freedom when it came to my life’s choices. Things are better, and even when I am overcome by an intense need to whinge, I cannot forget that. My car is now again a tool of transportation. I can’t forget what it had been though. It amazes me how the automobile industry understood that, how they had translated far more beyond what most businesses would do; beyond only considering associations to persona, career choices, and a statement of wealth.

Of course, that industry has been around for many decades. They are only building upon the shoulders of what was done before, and they have had the luxury of time and considerable periods of profits to learn and reap from. It is unfair to compare what they do to what modern businesses trying to enter their market is striving for. They are entrenched in the past, and have troubles on a multitude of fronts, starting with their supply chains and vendors, to the technological races they are losing out on. There is a new world now that their Superbowl ads aren’t reaching, that their product managers and marketing magicians can’t seem to fathom. The future won’t be kind to them, grasped as they are in a chokehold they have not been before, being forced to innovate and come to production at a pace they are not comfortable with, and failing inevitably, but I’ll think fondly of the few things that they had done right.


Weekend | The Compliance Game

Friday was busy. There was lunch with old colleagues. The men were as uncomfortable to deal with, as always. The internal team politics there continues unabated. I did my best to stay neutral, to keep myself out of their power games. As much as I like them, the politics gets to be too much for me on most days. The women were a pleasure, as always. I now have an updated list of everybody’s relationship status. The mappings of who is sleeping with whom changes a lot over the course of a few weeks, I noticed. Steamy, volatile, transient office romances give us a great deal of gossip material, and for that I am grateful.

There was an interview, and I turned a new leaf. Hopefully this is how I will be, everyday. I felt confident and strong. More on that in the later section.

Then there was San Francisco, and the night lights on the bridges over the Bay were beautiful that night. I listened rapt to a talk about inversions and clefs. I came back tired and alone, and needed company. So I let myself be swept off to an university party, where there was much drinking and trash television. There was discussion about Trump. I cannot recollect what that had been about. Perhaps that is for the best.

Most of Saturday was spent ambling around lost in a sprawling trail network. Twenty-two miles and many thousand words later, we found our way back to civilization and found at the town-center that the trail-head markers were in the process of being repainted and cleaned up.

Sunday was quiet. There was bread and wine, and cheese and berries. A simple repast and a slow one, easy and soft, sweetened by company, meandering through the early afternoon to the evening. I made vague plans to watch the second presidential debate, but I was mellow, and I had no intention to overhaul my peace. The debate can wait for the next weekend.


It can be draining to be someone else for extended periods of time, though it is a mask most of us wear in society to get along and to fit in. You migrate then, towards those rare few with whom you can be refreshingly honest, unapologetically yourself. It is the way of the world.

I spend a great deal of effort trying to fit in. Maybe it is unnecessary. Maybe I fit in just fine without expending any effort to do so. Once I hadn’t. It had caused issues back then. So it had then made sense to do some work to fit in, to spare myself and others I cared for. I like making people happy, and I like making them happy because of what I do or say; a little amount of work to fit in, if it does make near and dear ones happy in the outcome, is worthwhile. I call it the compliance game.

At odds with this compliance game, though, is my need to be myself, without adding layers of decorative icing on top to make the whole palatable, without obfuscating myself to the point where I am just another worn-down face in suburbia who is uncomfortable beyond the shallowness of daily niceties. I try to keep a balance, between the curiosity and the resoluteness of my self, with the conformity and the compliance expected of my social self. I think I have erred though, sometimes, by trying to put on my social self all the time, and finding that it had somehow formed a thick coat over my nature, that what I had wanted others to believe had somehow turned to be what I believed too.

I have seen that it was necessary for smooth sailing to show a measure of diffidence, inculcated strongly by a society where women were easier seen than heard. Coupling that social expectation with innate shyness, I have been successfully self-sabotaging myself for a while, for a long while. I am not good at faking it until making it, so I knew that I had to change truly, and I felt stuck because I did not know how to. It wasn’t until recently that I looked hard at someone I admired, and listened to what they had to say, and I realised that I could start small by a concrete mini-step. So I took my interview call confidently, and politely disagreed, and firmly held my stance, and was surprised when they took me seriously. Nobody was condescending. Nobody was patronizing. It was a first, and it was a pleasant, empowering first. It charged up my weekend, certainly. Even the pall of Monday and a long week ahead hasn’t dampened my morale yet.



High Holy Days | Rosh Hashanah

I went for a lovely breakfast to celebrate the new year. I had a hectic day, waking up late for the breakfast, forgetting that I had to attend, and then rushing up north to the Jewish Center, to exchange greetings and to eat the home-made, imperfectly perfect food.

There was a candle-lighting ceremony, for setting good intentions and for forgiving the past. Perhaps one of the reasons why their rites don’t bother me as badly as rites generally do is because I tend to be more comfortable than most to reflect upon my past without letting it set the theme for the now, which holds true for certain schools of thought in their religion. I carry grief and like emotions through my life, and while I struggle to not let them eclipse the good or the new, I think the struggle is becoming easier.

A colleague left the team yesterday for a different company. It seems to be an interesting time in this space; many leave and come with turnaround times of as few as a handful of months. While I had not worked personally with him, he came across as a technically sharp, personable man who treated his colleagues professionally and well. That combination of intelligence and kindness is rare in the industry I am in. It takes little to impress me these days, perhaps.

I have been asked to provide a recommendation letter for a former colleague. His best claim towards collaboration was a bout of unwanted sexual attention. His ways of dealing with female colleagues are separate from his strong technical acumen. I have been asked only about his technical proficiencies, so that does make it convenient. It is a bit saddening that the bar is low.

This week is, hopefully, one of contemplation and making the right decisions. I have some to make, and I have been procrastinating, waiting for the impetus, waiting for a tipping point. I have been evaluating relationships in my life, and possessions, and trying to be very careful about what I keep and what I don’t, and I feel that there is still some sorting out to be done. There is also a conscious effort that I am trying to make, to focus on reciprocity of action and emotion, to nurture and keep in my life only relationships that are overall more in balance than in a state of perpetual imbalance. It hasn’t been easy; it has required a level of self-forgiveness I had not expected to possess, that I do not yet find easy to embrace. Through conditioning, I had found it easier to blame myself instead of other parties, regardless of how the actual proportions were. It is likely a combination of extreme sensitivity and empathy that renders me vulnerable to accepting blame without thinking twice, making excuses for others regardless of the situation.

I took a look at the last year. High Holy days sees me now in a different place, though not still where I wish to be. Sibelius called, and we were discussing our Thanksgiving plans, but we didn’t get anywhere with that.

A new year is a good time for new beginnings. If I fail, there is another new year a few weeks down the line. I can try again then. I will have been home and back by then, and will likely be in a firmer state of mind, more willing to make drastic decisions without fluttering about and wavering.