Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bad Golf

Last Saturday I got one of the worst scores in my golf game. I have been playing for nearly 4 months every weekend and I was improving but I now realize that I need to make radical changes. I have been fooling myself into thinking that my game was getting better but in the end I lacked consistency. According to my golf buddy, I need to start from scratch – change my swing, my posture, my stance and ball position, my mental attitude and so on. So I decided to stop playing for a while and work on my problems. I need to break everything down and start from scratch. Unfortunately, I lack the motivation and I am again attempting some short cuts, like practicing at home and using gadgets; instead of going to the driving range and perhaps getting professional help. But golf is a game for amateurs and I will continue to self-teach myself into being a better player. I will attempt this improvement by watching DVDs borrowed from the library, watching YouTube videos; taking video clips of my swing for self-analysis and reading self-help books.

Perhaps it was a confluence of events; doing too many things like taking online courses, fixing the house and feeling pressure at work and on the rental property as no takers yet that I decided to stop golf for a while. The rental property will hit me financially and I need to act within 6 months if there are no renters. Otherwise I will go bankrupt. Such is the fate for being ambitious. Unfortunately, I spared no expense in purchasing new stuff for the house – proving the case that decline starts with owning property. But I feel I have no choice – approaching middle age I need to give my family some pride and stability by investing in a decently sized house. Owning property does not make me feel more affluent; more like an investment such as buying stocks. I have purchased about 4 properties in my lifetime – one in the Philippines which I rent out for a pittance, a flat in Singapore which I sold and earned some profit and 2 properties here in the US: a town house which I am trying to rent out and a reasonably sized home where we now live.  Not an extravagant lifestyle by any measure but perhaps seizing opportunities when it presents itself.

Playing golf is an expensive sport; also feeds the illusion that one is well-off, and coupled with a nice home can increase one’s folly. I need to return to my desire to write and try to earn extra income, to practice golf smartly without spending too much. The coming months will show if I made the right bets. My Saturday golf game gave me relief from the stress at work and life but it was an indulgence and escape which I no longer can sustain without worsening my troubles. The poor golf score was only the trigger. Happily, this week was a time for self – reflection: in my Toastmaster meeting on Thursday I talked about visiting old friends in NYC last April; in the afternoon, we had a department meeting where each member was described with a specific paragraph: mine was about working in 14 different countries – a record that exceeds most of my colleagues. I guess I need to feel proud of my current state. Last week I read the short heroic biography of journalist Maria Colvin who was killed recently in Syria. I cannot help but measure myself against her life - one of constant travel, adventure and significant work in the world’s battle zones. I guess I am not doing badly.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Decline Begins with a Large House

A larger home brings space to one’s thinking. It’s like one’s petty concerns are lifted out of their usual rut. There is a feeling of having emerged from constricted thought that one realizes when living in constrained spaces; that is not conducive to transcendent thought; that one moves to television or to drink in order to rise above the small surroundings, especially if one shares space with others. Now the openness and light of a larger home have brought out the largeness of spirit. One has always thought that the mind should be impervious to one’s surroundings – a Buddhist belief I think with the image of a lotus flower rising amidst the filth of a dirty stream. One’s surroundings do influence you – so one must strive to make it conducive to higher thought. One no longer needs to rely on alcoholic substances to get mental space – a space Ekhart Tolle talks about when one must be alive to the moment without letting troubling thoughts mar one’s serenity.

Still the mental grooves remain; one still persists on living as before, forever throwing ceaseless activity to the mind, to keep churning as in the past. In the weekend, I managed to cram 2 miniseries while enjoying a golf game on Saturday morning. The German mini – series ‘Buddenbrooks’ from a novel by Thomas Mann, was an enjoyable and educational work.

Several weeks back I had watched the English mini – series ‘Downton Abbey’ which I enjoyed – another series about a wealthy family in trouble. Also during the weekend I watched the English mini-series ‘Traffik’ about the international drug trade with scenes filmed in Karachi - Pakistan, London - England and Hamburg - Germany. The mini-series was later made into a Hollywood film starring Michael Douglass. “Buddenbrooks” offers a detailed account of a wealthy German mercantile family, portraying 3 generations, whose decline starts when the descendants moved into a much larger home. As for ‘Downton Abbey’, a large estate is in peril with the death of their heir especially with the high costs associated in keeping the large estate.

So one wonders if decline starts with owning property, which is what happened in the financial crisis of 2009 when sub-prime mortgages brought the housing market down and has not fully recovered four years later. Debt and being over-leveraged are the ills of a society with easy credit, spurred on by securitization and sophisticated financial wizardry that brought down countries like Ireland, Spain and Iceland. This has become the crucial theme of the current election: does one vote for a financial genius - a wealthy business man who deals in maximizing profit and with deposits in off shore back accounts, or a political genius – a believer in the role of government to save people affected by the crisis; spending government money (i.e. people’s taxes) in the classic Keynesian antidote of fiscal stimulus to fight recession. Like the cavalry coming to the rescue, the economy is picking up, with lower unemployment reported last week, thereby bolstering the odds of the incumbent. Tonight is the last debate with the general election only 2 weeks away.

The Republican multi-millionaire has several large houses that one wonders if he is overextended. One is reminded of Donald Trump but without the extravagance and multiple marriages. But it all boils down to diligent labor not over-leverage – for example my plan for salvation, in case things go wrong, is to become a novelist – to write myself out of any financial predicament by sheer hard work and inspiration. A goal I had not had a chance to pursue due to the move and my predilection to read more, watch DVDs, attend online courses and play golf in the weekends. But next month is Nanowrimo month – where I have a chance to jump start my aspirations by completing a first draft of 40,000 words. I am still resting from my labors of completing 2 online creative writing courses but I think I have learned enough of the craft to move forward. I had also registered 500 books read in, after finishing the book ‘God’s Crucible’ last week; an indication of progress since one must be a reader before one becomes a writer.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

New Home

Since my last entry, I have moved into my new home, crossed a significant project milestone, quarreled with my boss, played golf a few weekends, cleaned my old flat and transferred and unloaded all my stuff into their new surroundings. No time for reflections except adjust to the new circumstances. In the meantime, my project manager left the project, after a last week of argument and tears, replaced by someone new to the company. During this period of change, I had to complete a lot of high stress activities: finish my writing course, continue the Coursera online subjects I chose, finish a design document, conduct meetings with contractors, undertake testing in 2 different software application, lead a project and hold meetings both in and outside the company (with contractors who were fixing up my old place).

To make things more difficult, I had to wake up early than usual, about 6:30 am since my new home was about 15 minutes father than my former home (7 miles vs. 12 miles), with a total travelling time of 30 minutes. In the past, these whirlwind events, coupled with the high stress of production problems which was finally solved in the first week of October, would have required me to write out my stress in my usual journal entries. The blur of activities would also have been calmed down by my usual morning tai chi which I seldom do nowadays. Instead my sanity and salvation seemed to be resolved with my Saturday golf games. The walk in the greens in the early morning, the golf strokes and shots to the fairways, the challenges and course management of game have relaxed my mind and allowed me to forget my troubles at least for a few hours. The result is that I arrive on Monday refreshed.

Looking back on my golf record, I have been playing every weekend for almost 3- 4 months. The regularity and relaxation had allowed me to survive the change of home, challenges at work, pressure of transfer, money problems and the distraction of the presidential election – an event which I have been reading about since my youth. Living right in the smack of it allowed me to experience first-hand the amazing transfer of power in the most powerful nation in earth. Strangely, this has prevented from watching the debates as my partisanship makes me too emotional to enjoy the event. Instead I prefer to skip the debates and read the next morning analysis; enjoying the recap in the New York Times channel in Google television during the weekends.

Of course, living in a much larger home, with nice views of the surrounding landscape, with large trees and undulating hills that have allowed me to relax more. I seemed to have lost my predilection for after work cocktails, instead plunging right in the Coursera courses. Next November is a coming challenge: to participate in the Nanowrimo novel writing month and to produce a significant draft of a novel. I wonder how I can achieve this task with all the online courses I am taking. But I think this will be a good end to the year which I started by attending the Gotham writing classes. Life is a constant flux and I realize that one should always keep moving. I wrote some good short stories that brought me back to my youth and of my days in Singapore. The new home has given me roots although I do not feel any sense of permanency, thinking that this is more an investment than a lasting stake in the ground. Much change in the air especially with the coming presidential election.