Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Surviving the Cold

The weekend was terrible, I could not stop sniffing and coughing, victim of a cold, inhaling steam and camphor but to no avail, likely resulting in a worse shape. Initially I thought it was fatigue, a general tiredness, no fever, just tiredness which I had tried to resolve by drinking Red Bull; experiencing a surge of energy but lost the next day with the same general malaise. The plan is to be in Canada next week, increasing the pressure to get well, maybe the condition is stress related, with many demands on my time by multiple projects, but one soldiers along, testing the software and writing emails. Sunday was spent in bed, sleeping in the morning and afternoon, regaining a brief respite but still the runny noise the terrible cough, inhaling more steam and camphor but to no avail, rushing to complete the book ‘Game Change, that one gets to bed at midnight, again the sleep deficit, likely handicapping my recovery.  One thinks that it started in Maryland, with the bad air in the room, perhaps catching a virus that came to fruit a week later, the stress and pressure aiding in the breakdown.

Foolishly I still planned to swim last weekend, thinking that exercise will help, always the optimist, like some idiot who thinks more exercise will fix any disease, aided of course by Red Bull like a commercial drug sold to keep the rat race churning forever in its own mirage. Last week I had rushed through the first season of ‘West Wing’, enjoying the ensemble acting, relevant in the Republican primary season where the candidates are bashing themselves, reading the book ‘Game Change’ at the same time, unable to stop like a true political junkie, causing the heart to palpitate, further straining the mind. Sunday was a welcome break, sleeping in bed, unable to go to church, reading the book, sleeping, eating, reading and watching a movie. There is a mess of mail and paper in the hall way, unable to clear the stack, preferring to read each correspondence like some fool, afraid that one would lose some important information, keeping the stacks of paper until one can find time in some future task free weekend.

The political season has got one excited, it’s election year after all, possibly the greatest election on earth, feeding the frenzy by watching political shows and reading political books, looking at websites like Economist, Financial Times, NPR and New York Times for the latest fix, to find out if one has missed some interesting bit, some information that would affect the economy, the stock market and all the rest of the financial world where one has invested in 401 Ks or IRA and all sorts of sophisticated instruments. Being updated with all the news is like a race to the bottom, like trying to catch a whirlwind, so one tries to change his mind, to play more Play station games, where one is engaged in some interactive activity, to start teaching kids as part of social outreach, to play tennis - basically to change one’s usual rut into a more creative mind set, being in the flow, a search for some sort of game changer that will make this possible. Perhaps that is the reason for one’s tiredness, not some physical ailment but a psychic weariness, an existential realization that one’s life needs to change, not driven by some urge to succeed in society as seen in Hollywood movies but some internal fix that’s more spiritual in nature.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mental Whirlwind

A couple of projects are waiting for takeoff, almost simultaneously in the runway, looking for the resources who will kick start the mission forward, oftentimes the same pilot driving many planes at the same time. For example, preparation for deployment in Canada, with a new system that needs to interface with my program, a different set of challenges, especially in testing; a significant milestone where all eyes is looking. At the same time, another project involving the biggest retailer in the world, another sensitive assignment with all judges focused on the team, raising blood pressure and stress levels. Unfortunately, I find myself at the center of the game, moving forward to prevent stasis, pushing issues to other parties to resolve, always in motion, feeling like a juggler with too many balls in the air, walking a tightrope like a fool, willing to risk a mistake without a safety net, strangely hoping that management will step in and save you from your recklessness.  The weather is not cooperating too, winter cold and rain making the mood dreary, feeling sick but still one pushes forward perhaps waiting for a collapse to end it all.

So one mind maps the situation, hoping to get clarity from visual tools, releasing the mind from confusion via drawings that make sense to the turmoil of thoughts, achieving some sort of clearness, realizing that it’s all about appearances, of playing a role and hiding a frantic mind, thinking that all will turn out well in the long run. The projects are a step up for me, meeting a new set of people and challenges, like a bar has been raised, working at a different level with people with a higher skill level than one usually works with, like being in the big leagues. It is a test - one thinks, a test of endurance and skill, a test of preparedness, a test to see if one can work in the big leagues, and one rushes along like ‘Sea Biscuit’ the legendary horse who sprints right out the gate, spectators wondering if he has the legs for the long run, still rushing forward, muscles rippling and hearts nearly bursting, running like it was a sprint, but the race really a marathon. Can one survive the grueling pace, is this an intentional tryout, to learn the limits of one’s endurance, one’s breaking point?

Fortunately, one thinks he is smart, an experienced multi-tasker, willing to juggle tasks with the aid of mind mapping  and the relevant experience to handle the tension; grace under pressure, exercise, tai chi and meditation via journaling, perhaps the key to keeping one’s sanity. Rudyard Kipling’s poem - an inspiration, to keep one’s head when all others are losing theirs, going home tired, perhaps slightly fatigue, drinking Red Bull or other such energy drinks, watching ‘The West Wing’  to understand the working of the White House and a team of extremely talented and passionate people, similar but to a lesser degree like the project team. Is this enough to survive, to be successful at work with conflicting or even overwhelming challenges, it’s all in the mind, working with other people to get the work done. Yesterday, one finds out that the powers that be disapproved a project member’s travel to Canada, the feeling of indignation sweeping over one, wondering if cost savings is really the reason, the team being broken into two, wondering if a different model of deployment can be used, using an outsourced company, but one soldiers along, accepting the new rules of the game.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


I just got back from Elkton, a small town in northern Maryland, close to the border of Pennsylvania, arriving by plane via the Philadelphia international airport, driving for 45 minutes in a rental car along the Delaware River, glimpsing New Jersey across the water, passing by the University of Delaware and finally arriving in Maryland, crossing 2 states before arriving at the Comfort Inn in Elkton, an old motel with a quaint 70’s interior, beside a truck depot, a gas station and a Denny’s diner.  Across the street is a liquor shop where the motel’s main guests - truck drivers, can buy liquor for their night’s stay, at least for those who prefer to sleep in a room instead of their truck cab, before driving the long haul to their destination, traversing Interstate 95 which ran near the motel, the highway that stretches from Florida in the South to Maine in the North. It was a cold week with temperatures below freezing point but with no snow, enjoying the brisk cold air walking to the car or to the office, the only time one is outside, enjoying the clear sunshine unlike in the south which had its share of rain.

One notices the young charming ladies in Maryland; the waitress at Denny’s diner, where we had dinner after arriving at Elkton, where I ordered chicken soup; another charming and smart waitress in Amalfi - an Italian restaurant where I ordered Salmon salad and steamed clams and the young enthusiastic clerk in the warehouse. They seemed to possess a confident, open and engaging manner towards people, a quality one does not usually encounter in young people, who prefer the automatic and ‘fake’ courtesy of shop girls when working with older folks, lacking the genuine regard that sincere communication can bring, giving the team a sort of exhilarating feeling when doing their work. This is the 5th deployment the team has done, working with all sorts of people - the young ladies in Houston cheerful though lacking in enthusiasm, the middle aged workers in Monee; all wonderful people though the Maryland natives having a more attractive quality about them.  Perhaps the victory of the Baltimore football team on the Sunday when we arrived, gave the state’s inhabitants a certain verve; or maybe the closeness of the University of Delaware gave the place a youthful feel, nevertheless there was a certain feeling of freshness which one could only detect in places like California.

The project went well, despite the usual glitches, though one felt tired instead of excitement, like one has done this work too often, perhaps boredom or burnout creeping in, or perhaps it was the winter climate or the stale air in the room, or perhaps the nearness of deployment between sites, sapping our energy; but one struggles on, rushing through airports, driving in rental cars, eating in nice restaurants, sleeping late at night, driving to the warehouses, doing your sales pitch, unboxing the equipment, setting up computers, plugging cables, testing the software, turning the switch and waiting for the labels to print.  If things don’t work out, writing emails, making phone calls, pleading for support, some tense filled minutes until the solution is found, the bug fixed, seeing the remedy in a chat window; a word or two giving salvation to the tired team. The tenseness of the affair is the reason one overeats, ordering steaks and beer (in Apple Bees or Bugaboo Creek Steak House in Delaware), one’s only chance to eat in these places, or fried oysters (in Blue Crab Grill) or clam chowder (in the Philadelphia airport) or ribs in a street corner hole in the wall, settling in your bed filled to the brim at night, waking up with acid re-flux, burning and choking in the throat, drinking water and trying to sleep.    

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Next Level Writing

Last night after work I could not start a regular work method in creative writing, realizing in the early morning as I awoke from sleep, that my writing experience is not suited for creative endeavors; journal writing being a contemplation of actual life events. On the other hand,  creative endeavors is more like grasping stories from the air, working from scratch with inspiration from the ether; something that I actually don’t have experience  which makes me think that another method is required - a method more suited to creativity.  Diarist or blogger’s pen to paper experience is more like transcribing actual events, distilled with reflection and personal thoughts, unlike the creative craft of novelist or authors. Hence, journal writing is much easier to do; easier to create a daily technique because it’s simple to do; the mind working in a mode of recollection and contemplation; no aspect of divine inspiration or imagination which is direly needed by creative work. But what has been gained is a facility in general writing; more attuned to working as a scribe than an author where creativity and imagination is the prime ingredient.

This brings to mind a text book that I read long ago called ‘Writing the Natural Way’ by Gabriele Rico, where techniques like clustering and other visual tools helps one use both right and left brain in creative writing; a technique that I think would be helpful as my left brain maybe blocking my naturally creative impulse, i.e. right brain thinking. This visual ‘clustering’ technique, together with dictation, should allow me to construct a regular routine; using software like Dragon Digital Speaking to transcribe spoken words into computer text, thereby freeing me from the technical task of writing; therefore allowing one to focus on that illusive inspiration one needs in creating stories from the imagination, from the ether of divine inspiration, pouring forth words that will be corrected later when one has the time to fix the first draft. Constructing a work ethic is truly the first challenge of the novelist, something I realized in the weekend, listening to an NPR feature in the radio about a 29 year old author who is now a millionaire; who did not study in college nor took a creative writing course, but wrote draft after draft of novels until a consistent work ethic enabled her to self-publish until the inevitable success came almost like a certainty. Her books on the paranormal and vampire romances may have helped in her success too.

I guess I write to know what I am thinking about, to organize my thoughts and synthesize the day’s learning, not really a creative act but more a method to understand life; the diarist being a person of reflection and not an imaginative artist. But one hope to take advantage of the writing experience gained from contemplation and brings to another level - that of creative writing but the mental mode is different, thereby requiring a different set of cerebral gears; the equipment for creativity not really utilized in blogging. The key skill for a novelist is storytelling, not reflective reporting which is the prime skill of the diarist; more akin to essay writing with no thought on character, plot, theme, dialogue and so on which are important elements in storytelling. This is where tools like visual ‘clustering’ and dictation may be useful to jump-start the creative process; to ascribe to another level where verbal skills (honed in Toastmaster?) can help actualize the story telling skills; by placing the person in a different atmosphere, reserving the actual writing process in editing, revising and other tasks that is more ‘mechanical’; that don’t require imagination or creativity. Perhaps one day one can get rid of these ‘tricks’ or tools once one has gotten used to storytelling.