#23 – What is your theme song?

There are so many songs that are so appropriate for different points in your life!  But, the ones that mean the most are probably what I grew up with – since I’ve had the chance to listen to them over and over… ‘cause they bring back memories of one’s  youth and what the song meant then…in contrast to what it does now.

Right now, I tell people that the song that most closely resembles what I’m going through is “Counting Stars” by One Republic.  The lyric:

everything

makes me question fried food, alcohol and cigars.

But a good friend of mine (I call her Granola – for the healthy, vibrant lifestyle she lives.) introduced me to the song “Best day of my life” by American Authors, which seems like a better way to view the world 🙂

But, the song that I most associate with, given my starts and restarts in different parts of the world, would have to be…

[ side note to side note:  there’s probably some connection also with knowing that perhaps there’s plenty more places to travel, friends to meet, and experiences to be had.  The “Hakka” Chinese sect I’m from translates to “Guest” in English.. a name given because we’ve never had our own “land.”  Quite possibly it’s in my genes! ]

Before I go into that, I need to give you some background… This song, first released in 1976, captured teenage emotions that I was going through, in a boarding school in India.  Wikipedia says “.. biographer Marc Eliot states that “New Kid in Town” captures “a precise and spectacular moment immediately familiar to any guy who’s ever felt the pain, jealousy, insecurity, rage and heartbreak of the moment he discovers his girlfriend likes someone better and has moves on.””

And, if I remember right, the Eagles (on a 33 1/3 LP), was one of the few albums we had [that last sentence is gibberish to the millennials reading this, btw]

Also, at that school, Lawrence School, Lovedale, I felt like the “new kid”. (and went through some heartbreak).  Later,  again, on my arrival in the US, I was the “new kid”, and as I moved from Grinnell, IA to St. Louis, MO,  to Columbia, IL and then to St. Charles, MO… the feeling kept repeating itself.  And, the song, stayed with me through all of those experiences.

So, without further ado, here’s the link to Glen Frey singing … “New Kid in town.” by the Eagles — possibly my all time favo(u)rite band.

Now, Granola has me on another assignment.. “If you were a baseball player, what would you want to be your walk-in song”! And, if you don’t mind, share what your “Theme Song” would be in the comments below.

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#22 – Why?

Such a tiny word.  So much meaning lurking behind it.  The whats and wheres and hows seem so bland.  So factual.  They describe.  They tell.  But why.  Ahhhh,  It reveals.  I’m such a sucker for knowledge.  For understanding.  When the question is “why?” I’m instantly interested.  When someone asks me why, I’m attentive. I’m alert.  Because this is the opportunity for me to explain myself, to clarify perhaps, to explain, to share part of my thought process with another.

There are so many types of whys.  The child’s why, at first inquisitive, but repeated over and over again, as  a stalling tactic can be testing.  But perhaps it’s how they seek to understand the world.  Or perhaps it’s because they don’t want to do what’s told.  It takes considerable persuasive skills to able to convince someone who hasn’t started school yet why your logic makes sense.

The Japanese why.  Or, more accurately, Five Whys. A well-known problem solving technique first originated in Toyota factories to help with quality.  The rationale provided is that only by drilling down past the first few whys does one get at the real cause of something.   Useful in many areas where there is a need to understand the root cause.  The need to prevent problems from reoccurring, fixing errors in process, or assuring quality.

The pained why. A spurned lover trying to understand the reasons why what they had is no more. And, in many instances, if an answer is forthcoming, it might never be the real answer.  The one leaving doesn’t want to cause more hurt.  The one being left desperately wanting to know.  Or, at least they think want to know. The mind fixated on explaining the pain. Those excruciating times when no answer is given.  When the hurt mind tries to console the heart by grasping at random,  remote possibilities to no avail.

The student’s why. Her quest to understand the topic thoroughly. To build some model in her brain that this nugget of information fits in like a puzzle piece.  The foundation that other information can be laid upon – a cache for future knowledge.

The writers why.   A plot thickens.

The lawyers why.  A chance to connect the dots.  To sway a jury, to expose the motivations, to win an acquittal.

The introspective why.  About the choices we make, about the values that drive us, about trying to understand a little more of ourselves.

Yes, the word why has the potential to reveal so much.  But only if the teller is willing to share.  If he feels safe that his secrets don’t reveal too much.  He wants you to know, but is afraid of what you might think.

So, ask me why.  And, when I’m unafraid, when you make me feel safe, then I’ll share a part of me with you.

#21 – This Changes Everything

#21 – This Changes Everything

Sometime in 2008, I was lucky enough to read a book titled “Leaving Microsoft to Change the world” by John Wood.  John, after a trip to the Himalayas found a higher calling – he made the difficult decision to walk away from his lucrative career to create Room to Read, a nonprofit organization that promotes education across the developing world.  His foundation now, Room to Read, has as its tagline:  World Change Starts with Educated Children.

Sugata Mitra has a PhD in physics and leads a multi-million dollar educational software company.  However, his passion also lies in education – especially for India’s poor. His  well-documented “Hole-in-Wall” experiments demonstrate that even terribly poor kids with little education can quickly teach themselves the basics of how to use a computer.  Given access to a Windows-based PC, and no instruction, and no keyboard (just a mouse),  the children – with little knowledge of English – had autonomously learned how to browse the Internet and draw on the computer.   He goes on to espouse the concept of “minimally invasive education” and letting the natural curiosity of children fuel their learnings.

These two pioneers have realized the importance of education for children and the impact it can have on the world.   The world today is an increasingly an information-dependent world.  Social commentators are rightfully concerned that access to this information is a critical factor in preventing the widening of the gap between the rich and poor, between the educated vs. not,  and in ensuring a better future for many.

The term “digital divide” was coined to describe :

“a gap between those who have ready access to information and communication technology and the skills to make use of those technology and those who do not have the access or skills to use those same technologies”.

The class inequality between the “haves and the have-nots” is being re-defined as one between the “knows and the know-nots.”

My “This Changes Everthing” dream would be to envision a world where every man, woman and child has high-speed, internet access to information.  Information sources like Google and Khan Academy provide the opportunities for all to participate in the education of the masses.

We have all heard the saying about “it takes money to make money,” and in the modern market-driven economy, it’s easy to understand the importance of capital in wealth creation. The digital equivalent of  wealth – education and knowledge, will also require capital:  the ability for people to access that wealth.  The case can be made that the provision of this social good should be a function of governments – to build what can be termed “community capital.”

The reassuring aspect of this digital wealth/capital equation is that it’s not a zero-sum game!  My access to information does not in any way detract from it being available to you, or millions of others.   As “information becomes more valuable, and distribution costs move to zero” (Blair Levin), in order to ensure a better world for current and future generations, it behooves us to share with all what only a privileged few have access to.

#20 Fantasy:  The legend of Tarakasura

In southern India, in what is now Tamil Nadu, around 1500 BC stood the kingdom of Nilgiri (Nil-blue, giri-place), It was so named because of the abundance of eucalyptus trees that grew there and made the forests look bluish-green.  In these forests of the Nilgiri, there lived a mythical creature named Tarakasura.  It was half-dinosaur, half-octopus and had close to a hundred tentacles that sprouted from its back.   The tip of each tentacle enclosed a single eye the size of an ostrich egg and legend said that anyone that caught the gaze of one of the eyes would crumble into sand. Tarakasura was large that it stood taller than trees when it reared up on its hind legs.  Blueish, leathery scales covered its body and formed an armor that was difficult for any arrow to pierce.  This made Tarakasura a formidable foe and no man or animal could stand up to it.

Tarakasura would terrorize the villages around Nilgiri and the people eventually learned that the only way to keep the beast satisfied was to lay huge offerings of food – cows and chickens and vegetables and fruits – at the edge of the forest so that it would not go hungry.   The king, who lived in the capital far away, had sent some of his best armies to try and battle the beast, but they were no match for the hundred-eyed monster.   Thousands of soldiers had perished when they inadvertently looked up at the monster they were fighting and were caught looking at one of the eyes. The rest were ineffective as they tried to look away but flailed at it blindly before being trampled to death by Tarakasura.

The king remained powerless to do anything to kill this beast and years passed.  Then, a travelling monk told the story of the Five Elements.  The story went that whosoever was brave enough to slay the dragons that guarded each peak that represented the Five  elements and drink a mixture containing water from the stream at the top of each peak would gain magical powers strong enough to combat Tarakasura.

The king’s eldest son, Shaktalaya, immediately volunteered for this mission and left with his personal guard.  It took months of travel and gruesome battles, but finally Shaktalaya was able to slay the dragons of Earth, Sky, Fire, Air and Water.  He then created the mixture from each of its streams and drank.  As the waters coursed through his veins, his muscles tingled with a vibrant energy and he felt invincible.  He returned immediately to the Nilgiri forests and confronted Tarakasura in battle.   The eyes had no effect on the prince and he had soon badly injured the beast.    However, he spared Tarakasura’s life and transformed him from this huge monster to a much smaller bird so he could not harm anyone and also banished him to the forest.

It is alleged that the modern peacock is a descendant of Tarakasura with its scales replaced by blue feathers and its tail still containing the pattern of the hundred eyes that instilled so much fear.   The king was so overjoyed with the heroics of his son that he ordered temples built on each of the five peaks where the waters were collected.   These are now holy temples in Hindu religion and are called the Pancha Bootha Sthalas in modern day Tamil Nadu.

#18 – Distractions

I have not developed the writing habit. Heck, two weeks ago I didn’t know if I could even sustain writing for more than a couple of days at a stretch.   Sure, I’ve dreamed about the romance of writing.  The chance it affords you to sit in a foreign cafe, Hemingway-like, crafting another story with just your words.  So, I’ve always thought about writing, wanted to be able to write, but never put pen to paper.

That’s how I got started in the #500WED (words every day) challenge.  The idea is to cultivate the writing habit by writing just 500 words (approximately 1 page) every day for a month on the premise that it takes 21 days to form a habit.

We’re 23 days into it now.  But I haven’t written regularly.  I find that my writing comes in batches and I’m motivated and creative and can churn out 2, maybe 3, topics sometimes.  Other times… there are always reasons for why I’ve not found the time nor inclination to write.

The rest of this post examines the reasons why and looking for ways to mitigate those.

Time:

Since I’m not a full-time writer, I cannot devote a considerable part of my day to the craft.  That is reserved for my day-job that pays the bills. That schedule is unpredictable with planned meetings, unplanned emergencies, work events, and even business trips.

Then there are the non-work related, after-hours social events that take up certain days.  Networking events, birthday celebrations, and happy hours.

Thus the chances of me having time at the end of the day to write are uneven.  I realize that if I’m going to prioritize my writing, I might have to make it at a time that cannot be pre-empted (ack, early AM).  The very real issue with that is I’m not a morning person and that’s probably when I’m least creative (and therefore, productive).

I’ve toyed with the idea of setting aside the lunch-hour to go someplace where I can do my writing.

Inclination:

There have been stretches when my schedule is relatively quiet, and I’ve been home early enough to have a few hours after dinner.  And, on more than one occasion, I’ve elected to while away to time since the motivation wasn’t strong enough.

These “excuses” fall into the distractions category:   the baseball team that’s in the playoff hunt; the one episode of Californication on Netlfix; the little chore that you’ve ignored for too long;  the form that you need to file with the IRS.

Pretty lame, I know. But, honest. At the end of the day, when you’re energy level is not where you’d like to be, it’s easy to let things slide and think you can catch up on some other day.

I realize that if I want to explore my writing pursuits, I have a lot better chance if I impose some discipline into it.  That’s the only way to ensure it becoming a habit that sticks.  In the book Habit Stacking the author also speaks of stacking small habits to create insanely productive routines.  The idea is that habit needs to become so ingrained in your activities — like brushing your teeth in the morning — that it just seems like a natural process.

Solutions?

There is no silver bullet.  No magical muse to inspire me a fanatical dedication to the craft.  I’m not sure I have an easy answer to the time crunch nor is it going to be easy to avoid the distractions.   But perhaps if I take steps to capture some thoughts down on a notepad versus the commitment of sitting down and composing a coherent piece, that might be a small win.  And maybe that’s ok while I continue my exploration.

And, there are always those days to look forward to when the creative juices get flowing and we can churn out 1500 words or more!

On looking back at the collection of entries for the past 2 weeks I’m amazed at what I’ve been able to produce.  I’m writing.  And, I’m enjoying it!

#17 Contradictions

The Loneliness of Connectedness

We’ve all seen examples it: fans updating Facebook feeds during baseball games, attendees tweeting updates at conference seminars, siblings texting friends while sitting side-by-side in the backseat of cars. The “it” is the disconnectedness from the physical world one is in while connected to the cyber-world that technology has birthed. Humans so immersed in being connected electronically at the expense of being disconnected from everything happening right around them.

I, too, am guilty. I like photography and often am occupied capturing “the moment” while at concerts, sporting events, and nights out with friends. I, who espoused “stop and smell the roses” a few years ago am now stopping to capture the image so I can both share it later on social media or stash it in my burgeoning collection of digital photographs. It seems odd and illogical in retrospect that I’m so enamored of the moment that I want to capture it forever, but the act of doing so jeopardizes my chances of actually enjoying the present!
Many would blame technology as the reason for the decreased social interaction. In her book, Alone Together, author Sherry Turkle explores the relationship between humans and technology and posits that even with all that technology offers us, what we all really crave is each other. Her thesis is that the technology that is supposed to bring us together is actually making us feel more disconnected.

I suggest to you that while technology is likely to cause more of this disconnectedness, it was perhaps the remedy to loneliness that caused to the people to flock to technology in the first place. So, it’s almost a vicious circle where the salve actually causes the wound to hurt more. Evidence of fraying societal bonds was documented back in 2001 in Robert Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone.” The data he and his team gathered demonstrated the declining numbers of people participating in various social organizations like bridge clubs, PTAs, and even bowling leagues. This, he cautioned, threated the fabric of our culture and fabric.

Could it be that other factors were at work that contributed to that disconnectedness and that the allure of social media was a way to remediate it? Perhaps, it was less threatening to reach out to someone or easier to try and stay in touch with friends virtually, than it was to do so in person. Perhaps the two-income household, the sports-obsessed parents, and work-like-a-dog mentality were leaving little time for people to connect and technology provided that oh, so easy fix.

And, that technology is such an addictive temptress. In the always-connected, never-sleep world of the internet and the almost-infinite number of information feeds, one could be tempted to find the connection that one craves.

That is the contradiction we face today. The hope is that we as a society not only recognize it, but do something about it if we are to re-kindle those innately human bonds that tie us together. Else, it will threaten our humanity.

#16 – Apologies & Forgiveness

I’m sorry we didn’t get to play, today
It was cold out and the park was
wet and you would have got all muddy.
But you wouldn’t have minded
if it meant spending more time with me

I’m sorry I didn’t brush you, today
I got home late from work, and your hair was
not as tangled as I thought.
But you would have loved it anyways
because you love how it makes you feel

I’m sorry we didn’t go on your walk, today
I was tired and I thought the yard was
fine for you to go do your business in.
But you would rather have been on a leash
so you could explore the world with me

I’m sorry I had to give you up, today
The apartment was small and my daughter was
wanting another dog to be with hers.
But you don’t understand why
you don’t get to be with me anymore

I’m sorry.