Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Year That Was

This was my most difficult year, numerous challenges and problems, first of which was my family issues, both here and back at my home country,  secondly my new role which was a huge load both at work and Toastmaster. The consequence of both challenges took more of my time, making me work more and increased my anxiety level. But I survived the initial bumps and these challenges will not go away, they will continue into the new year, causing me to continuously be more efficient and productive just to survive and be above the waters, causing me to learn more and work long hours; these are no longer the trials of a young person and requires the serious attention of a mature person. Perhaps it will be the trigger to launch new endeavors as one tries to surmount these problems with imagination and drive. The war continuous so to speak, though one had survived the horrible year.

I learned that one can handle hugely difficult problems despite the magnitude and severity; able to think of innovative solutions and focus on the core issue. But one also learned that one can run away from pressing issues; preferring to escape and indulge in senseless activities as a way to de-stress, though allowing problems to snowball. One wonders if this is an escape mechanism or just the mind and body seeking respite from the long hours and tension. Nevertheless, coming back to the struggle one finds that the worry was not warranted; it was only the mind giving its own priorities and deadlines, self-imposed as one strives to be on top of things. Hence, its not a disaster as one would think, so one must control the mind, to widen its perspective, away from the feeling of impending disaster. Therefore, one must not raise the alarm, though self-inflicted when trying to be 'perfect', rather be more realistic in expectations. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

I spent my holiday break organizing stuff,  throw out old mail and sorting paper work. I still need to do more: organize my garage, research on the possible options for my problems and reach out  to the folks for supportive connections. One realizes it is one’s own emotions that prevents one from engaging people at home and work; afraid that more problems would come or that it would result in perceived shortcoming though at times it seemed one lacked the mental bandwidth to process more information. So one spends most of his vacation watching movies; about 15 movies so far, several magazines and 2 audio books. I installed Ubuntu in an old laptop and had another one fixed so I am up to my ears in technology as I had purchased a Bluetooth headphone having discovered Spotify, Pandora and TuneIn; the beauty of listening to streaming music and lectures.

In the end, the bigger battle is to convince people to follow one's plans. This requires leadership, perseverance and will. But I shirk from these responsibilities, thinking it is not my problem, thinking what else can one do if people don't want to listen to me.  This is not a whining lament or the musing of a spoiled child; perhaps more of suggesting solutions that are not usual, one’s predilection for all-encompassing systemic solutions by looking at the inner truth (though according to one’s point of view). Perhaps it’s the worrying mind trying to be perfect. One sometimes hangs back afraid or lacks confidence, instead resorting to worry and resolving to distraction via entertainment and technology. Unfortunately, its the challenge in the coming year as one's troubles have not gone away and will increase. Hence, to be more forceful and to think of more creative solutions to solve these problems, controlling one's emotions and avoiding distractions.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Debacle at Work

The day started well, swimming in the early morning at the gym, afterwards sweating in the steam bath, then coffee and my usual breakfast of yogurt, boiled egg and green tea plus some chocolates and cookies left over from yesterday’s sharing event. After working on a few things, getting to my cube half an hour late, I received a chat message from a customer representative regarding a matter in the warehouse, so I walked to the delivery manager and discussed the subject, but unfortunately, he was busy fighting raging fires like the rest of his team here in the front office and back in India, addressing an avalanche of problems that tumbled out of a major piece of software delivered to production recently. All hands on deck, everyone except me and a few colleagues spared from this debacle, the development and support people working late into the evening and during weekends to fix multitudes, painstakingly one by one, the unsung heroes of the technology world, striving to solve the technical crisis, stretching their mental prowess (or more like hitting their heads against the wall) while their western overlords long gone to their huge homes, talking about the setback existentially as if it does not concern them.

Amid this backdrop, I walked to the area manager’s office to talk about my concern that the delivery manager is fully booked, unable to work on other problems like the warehouse boo-boo to the consternation of the customer representative.  But I walked straight into a witch hunt with me as the scape goat. A project I worked on has just been completed successfully, and the final milestone meeting was completed in the morning. But a crucial piece of the software was not delivered despite continuous assurance to the contrary, the area and project manager looking like fools in the committee meeting, emerging angry and looking for someone to blame and here I come, the analyst of the project ready to be slaughtered.  Why did I not test the software fully? Why did I not alert them that more time was needed? Protesting I said they rushed the project to completion, trying to achieve a year-end success, cutting corners everywhere so testing quality suffers. At the end of the day in my view, it was a failure of management; I think they realized that there was no escaping responsibility, with myself sharing equal blame but these two stooges, bereft of any decent backbone to accept their end wanted to put everything on my shoulders.

Nevertheless, I did keep my cool, exchanging barbs and accusations, trying to rise above the petty finger pointing and be a man, which I think these guys can never be, rather mediocre like those overlords shifting blame and hard work to the poor peons of the world. It was not a good way to start the Christmas holidays, so we spent a couple of minutes trading barbs, discussing shortcomings and lessons learned, that we finally ended the close door meeting, emerging with the feeling that I have lost respect for these guys.  I think I have done well in the verbal exchange, able to say my piece and give my opinion. Now one needs to be mature and get on with the work. I kept cool after returning to my cube, mildly surprised that I was not seething; remembering the outcome would be different in my youth especially with the coarseness and stupidity of the exchange, but instead focusing on completing the work for the day. At noon, I had lunch with a nice French colleague, exchanging views on Europe, America, French leaders and history plus French food; enjoying the banter in the gleaming new modern canteen. I realized it was better to talk to expats than overlords engrossed in their exceptional ism.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Space Odyssey

BBC has an excellent series about space travel that is realistic and down to earth (ignore the pun), continuing the exploration of the solar system as if NASA had the budget to fund further adventures; the show focused on travels to Venus, Mars, moons of Jupiter (IO and Europa) and Saturn (Titan), Pluto and a comet, offering tragic tales like the death of a crew member and other human drama. The show is plausible, without the fantastic over-the-top special effects although there were incredible scenes of outer space; instead focusing on the astronauts and mission control - the human element; travelling in a realistically designed space craft called 'Pegasus'. The voyage took several years, in a spirit similar to the sea voyages of Columbus, Magellan and the other sea explorers who discovered the new world, preserving the atmosphere of discovery without the distraction of Hollywood sensationalism. The science was good and seemingly well researched something I could confirm after watching a Nova documentary about the search for alien life, another excellent show that combined scientific fact and research with incredible visuals, though not losing the seriousness of science (no ET).

It was a week of the full moon and I had a chance to observe the moon via my binoculars for several evenings, supplementing the videos I watched on the planets. I find that astronomy is a way to stimulate discovery without the need for travel, achieving a sort of understanding of life by understanding the meaning of the universe, a mixture of organic compounds in the hustle and bustle of planetary life; worlds colliding, comets crashing down, solar bursts until a unique mix of circumstances where 3 necessary elements to create life exists: organic materials, liquid (like water) and energy (from the sun). It does seem to take billions of years before human life could evolve to its present state, something like Charles Darwin's theory of evolution applied to physics, microbiology and the world of planetary evolution, a seemingly random occurrence that results in life, though Einstein would say 'God does not play dice with the universe' challenging the notion of randomness though evoking the concept of a universal omniscient being. It does seem a miracle, unless one believes that aliens dropped us here or that a divine God willed the world to creation.  Indeed as compared to other world religions, the Indian myth of creation does seem closer to the actual way the world evolved.

One feels elevated when one understands the planets, like someone who traveled the earth, seeing many things and places, of different food and cultures. Astronomy opens a similar door, a sort of scientific mysticism since one does not really taste the concept of 'space' except the vision of distant planets (or the moon) via a telescope, a true communion with a greater reality. Soon the problems of work, of one's personal life, the difficult tasks that one needs to do to move forward, the exhaustion and seemingly fruitlessness of human existence, all seem to disappear when one is confronted with the vastness of the night sky, the unending universe. It's one simple way to relieve one's anxiety, to take a break like a sort of meditation, perhaps more profound than yoga or Tai chi, more an intellectual and spiritual unity. Not expensive too, except the purchase of telescopes or binoculars, although much less than the cost of touring the earth with the expense of plane tickets, hotel accommodation, costly tours or visits to museums. One can only achieve this appreciation of space in the only country who has mastered interplanetary travel with its command of science and technology (though the show was good due to sobriety of the English). Perhaps this achievement  has contributed to the culture of excess.?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Planets

Last night I looked at the full moon through my binoculars, walking in my backyard in the descending evening, observing the sky especially the moon in the dark tranquility of my lawn.  Moon watching and astronomy in general, I had thought before as an elitist and highly intellectual activity, sort of like a snobbish thing to do for dilettantes as against professional astronomers who observe the sky for their work. In fact, astronomy has progressed through the ages with the hard work of amateurs; most discoveries done by enthusiast rather than professionals. I sipped a Bloody Mary while watching the moon, enjoying the solitude and quiet, an interesting feature of most American neighborhoods, unlike the noise and bustle of Asian subdivisions, thinking about the day past and my procrastinating. I have become an enthusiast, thinking perhaps that observing space objects would take away one’s attention from oneself and instead discover a wider universe so to speak and, thereby, reap the benefits of detachment from self. This is an ancient tradition, especially in Japan and China, where moon watching is a treasured activity by elites, poets, farmers, warriors and common men.

I have borrowed several DVDs about space travel, planets and the solar system, the moon, the Apollo missions and astronomy in general while spending several hours actually observing the moon in the evenings. I have also seen the sensational movie ‘Gravity’ in 3D IMAX, possibly the closest one could get being in space. I visited the local observatory and planetarium, as well as listening to books like Dava Sobel’s ‘The Planets’ and Haruki Murakami’s ‘1Q84,’ whose characters see 2 moons. Astronomy, I have found to be a relaxing activity, not to be technically proficient in star gazing, but as an act of meditation and relaxation. It is the timeless activity of gazing into the stars, a pastime for those who love the outdoors, camping in the wilderness with only the night stars as one’s companion.  I have bolstered my understanding by using sky charts and moon phase apps downloaded into my Android tablet supplementing the knowledge I gained from watching DVDs. This has increased one’s understanding of the universe’s origin, recalling the ancient myths and religions that speak about creation, right smack into the creationist theory that is influencing some states in as sort of anti-science.

Dumbing down of science is perhaps a reaction to the advancement of knowledge through space research, the information gained from satellites and space probes launched to Jupiter and Saturn’s moons, by the Hubble space telescope and the findings from various high altitude observatories scattered all over the earth. Extra-terrestrial life no longer seems far-fetched, in fact an obvious reality that time will prove; this causes reactionaries to fear the loss of certainties that religion and culture have given time immemorial, to face the inevitability of alien life like it was the end of the world. Hence, religion is threatened, ever since the renaissance when science shook away the darkness of superstition. This anti-science and anti-reasoning seem sometime to influence the right wing extremists like libertarians and tea party members, a gut reaction to change of any sort. This call to mind the phrase attributed to Mark Twain that traveling is the enemy of bigotry and small town thinking; the more so space travel. Perhaps we should blast these reactionaries into space for the education of a lifetime, to float into the emptiness of space and see the world from thousands of miles above the earth.  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Weekend Waste

I picked up both my sons from university during the weekend, travelling 2 hours after work on Friday evening and nearly 4 hours the next day to and from the colleges, journeying in the evening and through heavy rain the next day, passing traffic accidents along the way. This disrupted my normal weekend schedule but I was able to rush through the needed movies and read the necessary magazines to complete my weekly quota of study that I bring myself to do every weekend. Nevertheless it was a waste, a study in scheduled procrastination, not undertaking what I really wanted to do: to write my book and explore the internet for other opportunities to earn money. Instead I allowed myself to indulge in episodes of abuse and trivialities, listening to music, drinking cocktails and not focusing on seriousness until my friend called on Saturday evening to tell me that his medical insurance was denied, shocking me back into what is truly important, faced with the possibility of real loss and despair, but not surprised as the tragedy unfolds like a slow motion scene where everyone knows the outcome, with people afraid to act boldly to help.

The actor Peter O’ Toole died in the weekend, an inspiring artist who portrayed the reckless flair of a gifted aristocrat or outsider, exuberant and indulgent in his vices, som
eone who strove forward fearlessly, with intuitive grace and self-destructive urges willing to challenge the order of things. These character traits he portrayed gave inspiration to my youth, to live without fear and enjoy life in the belief that one’s intuitive intelligence and coolness will save the day, often with daring and verve, indulging in drink and foolishness while achieving the goal at the last minute. But it was a dream that never came to be, accused that he had unfulfilled his promise, a lost child still in his dreams like Lord Jim in Joseph Conrad’s tale, looking for redemption in his last hours, like Walter Mitty trying to make a last stand in middle age.  At least I contributed in the housework; cooking breakfast of ham omelet, bacon, sausage and eggs and dinner of minced meat with potatoes and carrots. Still it was a waste to keep borrowing movies, focused on a leisure life of consumption, devouring media in the hopes of being smarter; but working on a task is enough compensation, true salvation even if achieved in ignorance of current or cultural events.

Perhaps one is too serious when one should be light; to be more like a mercurial Peter O’Toole than the more serious and brooding Richard Burton; ‘to just be’ what one wants to be following EST. It is being ‘light’, throwing away heavy baggage: to follow social conventions, to have a degree or diploma,  to have necessary experience, instead of being confident that one has what it takes to succeed. In times of emergency, it does come out: to travel across the state and work with hospital authorities, to easily assume a new role, to make decisions and write appropriate emails, to invest in new areas without fear. The fact one has done so makes one think one is travelling too fast already, trying to break the sound barrier when one already arrived in a state of grace, driven by experience and readings one already has; ‘book’ learning is no longer needed but ‘just be’. The secret lies in front of you, no need to travel to ancient lands, to read multiple books, to keep exploring when the journey is done. There are no more secrets, the destination is reached but one is too busy to notice. It is time to relax and have fun, to be light and be in grace, achieving a sort of mystical equilibrium with the world.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Canada Dreams

Since coming back from the North, back from across the Ottawa River and the Great Lakes, one has engorged himself with all things Canadian, hungry for new knowledge after the visit. I watched movies like ‘Anne of the Green Gables’, ‘Tales of Avonlea’, and ‘Let Sleeping Dog Lie’ plus many travel videos on places like Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and of course the great cities of Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Quebec. It does seem like a fabled land despite the ridicule and contempt felt by most Americans about the giant across its northern borders, a land of cold and a dull but civilized people, with incredible mountain vistas, giant rivers and lakes, wooded forest; like a kinder and gentler version of the union of states, albeit a socialist version like some Europe implant in the new world, an aberration in the Western Hemisphere, preserving old world customs of French and English gentility. Its history does not have the scars of slavery or the brutal Indian wars or the civil rights struggle but a well-organized behemoth fashioned by Oxford scholars with experience managing the far-flung colonies of the British Empire.

Perhaps one has migrated to the wrong country, although one does face high taxes, he or she is protected from medical emergencies, the bane of life in the USA, with the mean partisan squabbles against Obamacare, a legitimate attempt to make health care affordable to all. This is the main attraction as one faces rising medical bills, the recent episode bringing into sharper focus, when one’s past decision results in a heart attack and exorbitant cost driven by a materialistic lifestyle, hiding from the perils of resident problems unlike the open policy of Canada, a gift from the first world power that resulted in a cosmopolitan world view, away from the provincial and isolationist view of its powerful neighbor. The quaint stories of children growing up in Prince Edward Island, or the genteel traditions in the provinces, the fishing communities that line the Atlantic Ocean and even in the huge cities lining the St. Lawrence River give the heart a welcome feeling, a moderate society which some call a hypocrite by living within the powerful nuclear protection of it neighbor. 

One can live in his old age and disappear in the welcoming wilderness, in its small town of welcoming people, living among the old English, French and even the ancestors of the Loyalist who moved north after the defeat of Cornwallis. One wonders how two countries living close by can grow differently; one a rabid free-for all, capitalistic money loving society while the other a more communal social society where one is respected without the history of a brutal civil war. One can dream of walking the quaint streets of old Montreal, buying bagels for breakfast and eating sweet meats, going to church in grand Catholic cathedrals, enjoying the river fishing and boating, away from the dog eat dog of it southern cousin. Its feels like some enchanted land, like an English and French dream of long ago, a true new world built upon the lessons of the old, unlike its neighbor who grew of its self-aware (and arrogant) belief of its own exceptionalism, resulting in deceptive imperialism, hidden under the cloak of free trade and unrestrained markets.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Mindfulness among Geeks

A recent article in Wired magazine talked about meditation, about mindfulness training in Silicon Valley, describing the popularly of meditation amongst engineers from Google and Facebook, an antidote for the always stressed, always connected denizens of the net. It is a long way coming, meditation being the only alternative aside from sex, alcohol and drugs to ease stress. In fact it is an ancient practice in all religions of the world, an accepted remedy for the pressure of life. Now the practice has gone mainstream, like a skill easily learned like say learning a new programming language. Now everyone is in it, in some ways to improve their product by including the awareness and tranquility that one feels in meditation, adding features to show love and peace in Facebook or some other app; an attempt to increase the product’s attractiveness.  Witness the coming conference that spreads the word to those otherwise millionaire developers in the valley, transcending LSD and yoga; delving into the deeper stuff, to learn who you are, the new EST for geeks.


Intuitively one has gone this path before, meditating to control the monkey mind; thereby one sees that the growth of a person is actually increasing facility with mind control; to be mature as against being childlike. In this respect Buddhist societies like Thailand and Japan are well advanced cultures, learning ancient tools to make their life better, now transmitted into the West, first with yoga and now mindfulness and meditation, perhaps an adjunct to the increasing acceptability of marijuana. I have been neglecting Tai Chi practice, engaged in the flow of the world, getting home, watching television or videos or reading magazines, keeping the mind engaged like it was a sin to keep the brain still. Only swimming every week is the only form of meditation, similarly done by people like Stephen Covey. Now it is clear that knowledge workers need mental training, to relax and increase one’s awareness. Especially when one has experienced the jolt of a medical emergency, the near death experience of a loved one, that one faces his mortality, focusing the mind into the essentials of life.

The new job bring more mental challenges aside from concern to one’s sick relatives, thinking about money and medical bills, of the future and one’s children, seemingly vulnerable in this harsh world of economic problems, political partisanship and meanness. The constant inflow of email, chat, deadlines and people to talk to, to follow-up and work on new systems while thinking of ways to make money, to pay for medical bills and college tuition, to pay mortgages and to live a decent lifestyle , now threatened by medical problems and a difficult job. But one only needs to show up, to take things day by day, to fight anxiety by journal writing, cognitive behavior training and Tai Chi. Mental exhaustion is caused by oneself, by taking in too much television and videos, or books; trying to be in the know as one hopes to know all and be smart so he can survive at work, to solve all these problems by learning something new. But this is only book learning, with no actual experience except one at work, trying to learn new things by watching video lectures in YouTube when all one gets is more anxiety and stress.

Poe’s Heart

It’s all about anxiety according to the book by Dr. Richard Restak; come to think of it, that’s true as it inhibits one’s courage and prevents people from achieving their potential. It is a world where anxiety reigns, defined as unrealistic scenarios plaguing the mind, unlike fear which is a reaction against a real threat like a bear chasing you.  So apprehension is manufactured by the brain, a cognitive failure that one does not recognize until his life draws to an end or towards middle age that one question what happened to his life; why did one not take another road in his life’s journey. A heart attack or other maladies like hypertension or auto immune disease are likely a result of chronic stress (as well as a bad lifestyle, poor diet and no exercise); but anxiety is a mental illness, an emotional problem causing stress. Recently, after watching a Yale lecture in YouTube, one learns that anxiety is an emotional disorder. It is this disorder that is shaping one’s life as he grows, making choices based on his cognitive disability; swerving here and there to avoid stress and nervousness or suffering from it as the case may be.

Last weekend friends come over the house for lunch of chili crab, ‘laksa’, spicy Thai barbecue (or satay), fried chicken, clams cooked with butter, homemade ice cream, white wine and coffee. It was fun with different nationalities: French, Thai and Filipino; diversity dissolving into commonalities. We watched photo albums in YouTube playing out in a huge television, of past lunches in Robinson Lake or other such get-together. Previously one experiences stress and angst when organizing these social events but now comes easily, no trace of discomfort, just the mechanical preparation of food and place. I guess the ease has come with repeated practice, lunches that one has organized in the past, same with the ease with the other things one does in work and life; managing projects, leading teams, traveling and working with people of different cultures. It is the constant stretching; to go beyond one’s comfort zone that drive one to experience new things and do them often to get expertise. But one needs to correct one’s cognitive bias and go beyond one’s normal fretfulness.

Being a creative writer (or working on any other endeavor) is ham stringed by nervousness; one does not really know if the work will be rejected; hence, one procrastinates because of this unease. The emotion cannot be called fear because it is not a real threat; can one call it fear of failure or just simply anxiety? Working in a new role is another challenge, where one is paralyzed into inactivity because of worry; unable to move forward because of mental demons (so EST training encourages one to ‘just be’). In fact life is not as difficult as one thinks; one can be all he can by just moving forward without angst. Yesterday, looking at my caricature after being drawn by a local artist during the Christmas lunch, one sees a chubby balding man, with pleasant features, seemingly like a kind uncle without knowledge of the churning ideas and anxieties plaguing his mind. The caricature is supposed to highlight certain features, exaggerating them to a sort of animated reality, to a cartoon that one faces a mediocrity of unfulfilled promises shackled by anxiety.

Monday, November 25, 2013


I found an interesting Yale Course in YouTube about emotion and health. I already knew some of the important points; the most important ones are: sleep is important in processing emotions and one should have a lot of sleep to be able to process emotions and experiences; secondly, anxiety is more of my affliction rather than fear as fear refers to a present danger (i.e.  tiger chasing you) while anxiety refers to a future event. One of the cures of anxiety is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and so I am back to the old ball game of analyzing my emotions via CBT though there seem to be an escape from work and doing my usual self-diagnosis: anxiety is attributed to a.) New work assignment, b.) Increased work load and c.) Emotional disorders like anxiety, all of which contribute to a paralysis. I have reached a level of near incompetence due to paralysis and as the lecture shows maybe due to the fact that the situation is more than a match to my personal capabilities.  Hence, the solution maybe longer sleep periods and CBT and plus other mental techniques that help one handle emotional distress.

Churchill was an emotional man, crying often during times of sentimentality, unafraid to express his emotions and at times childish, though he has admitted episodes of depression - his ‘black dog’ he calls it every time he succumbs to his personal disorder. In my case, I am unable to proceed with the increased workload, attacking the tasks in a piecemeal and delayed manner, giving the impression of being overwhelmed while still indulging in time wasters and abusive and procrastinating behavior. But I realize it is not a lack of technical skills but the emotional reaction to the stress or pressure of work.  I have seen or worked close to people who have mastered high pressure jobs, though succumbing now and then to physical ailments. Sometimes the ‘monkey mind’ is all over the place, for instance thinking of one’s possession, his house, his station in life: trying to see if more effort is needed. Visiting the different houses of my wife’s relatives in Canada made me want to compare my own house, to determine if I had succeeded. It is the pressure of the rat race that drive one to retail therapy, the consumption mentality talked about in ‘The Millionaire Next Door’ and ‘Time to Think’.

I am glad that I could understand my personal challenges by watching a YouTube lecture from Yale. In fact, I was not able to work during the three days at home; preferring to read and watch movies or videos instead of working. But indeed I am on vacation and I am not obligated to work since I am supposed to be relaxing. This is the guilty conscience; attributing stimuli like text messages or phone calls and giving sinister meaning and realizing that it is not fear but anxiety that is causing the paralysis. It is just that I am unable to move, fearful of what I will find in my emails and unable to respond to the situation at hand, being inadequate to the challenge, aware that there maybe people waiting for me to fail. But I realized during my vacation that I needed to cross a threshold, to grasp what is mine, to throw away all that self-defeating thoughts and, yes, to cure mania or obsessive compulsive behavior that keeps my mind and emotion in the same wrong patterns of thought. This is the problem that I had neglected to understand focusing on surface therapy:   meditation, exercise and journal writing with some CBT thrown in.

But I have already crossed the threshold both physically and figuratively in a rapid manner and it is the temporary disorientation that one gets, still unable to get one’s bearings as one faces a new set of challenges; one’s skill sets being tasked if one does not throw out the garbage of the past. It all makes sense from an intellectual and technical perspective but it is the emotional component that is not up to speed. Therefore one is prone to anxiety, an emotional disorder that need to be addressed by sleep, relaxation and CBT. I had wanted to achieve some distance in my work while on vacation which I had achieved but now I am back in the grindstone, relaxed but facing the same set of challenges. It was my friend’s remark that controlling one’s emotion is the key, setting a course of unconscious research that culminated in my finding the YouTube video about emotion and health. The previous day I had watched a lecture from Robert Shiller, coming back the next day to find for his lectures on finance and fining the series on emotion. Perhaps it was serendipity coupled by desperation.

Impressions in Canada

I just returned from a whirlwind tour of Canada, visiting Niagara, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa in seven days, meeting my wife's relatives and visiting places of interest that would fit in a day, eating local foods promoted by television shows like Diners and Dives in the Food Network channel. It was an enjoyable trip despite the hectic pace, focusing on reunions, meeting relatives and eating local food, sharing a camaraderie evolving out of a shared lineage, culture and country. It was a time of reminiscing and story telling, of road trips filled with jokes in the Ilocano dialect as old friends were met, going into grand churches built in the ancient and ornate Catholic manner (way too much in my opinion) as compared to the Puritan lines of the Protestant churches of the South. We walked the streets at night and in the morning, talking and discovering the city of Montreal and Ottawa and Toronto, swapping stories and jokes, drinking hot coffee to relieve the cold of the coming winter.

It is interesting to know that English Loyalist in the Carolinas migrated to Canada particularly to Quebec and Ontario after the English defeat in the American revolution, escaping the wrath of the Patriots after the defeat of Cornwallis in Yorktown. Centuries later, their Canadian descendants would come back to the South to help their poor cousins by buying bankrupt banks; the icon Dominion of Toronto bank significantly displayed in both cities of Toronto and Greenville. It was a fitting conclusion to my studies in American history after reading Barbara Tuchman's 'The First Salute' and attending various revolutionary war reenactments in Musgrove Mill, Spartanburg and Camden and, finally,  visiting the English dominion of Canada where the Loyalist fled. I also enjoyed a brief visit to Buffalo, the former great industrial city bordering Niagara falls, where William McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist, paving the way for Theodore Roosevelt, both figures who played a significant role in the occupation of the Philippines on the way to the rise of American global power.

It was a welcome respite from my hectic work and I had a chance to meet an old friend in Toronto, talking about old times and discussing the future, seeing how the Filipino diaspora has thrived in cities like Toronto and Montreal, with flashes of history and connections all around as Filipinos migrated across the seas into a better life. Now we have become part of the affluent class, the consumer society declining in the West, as documented in a book I brought along with me 'Time to Think' written by Luce an English reporter of the Financial Times, serving as a modern Tocqueville by relaying the malaise that inflicts American Society, seemingly drifting into decay like those old industrial cities of the north like Buffalo and Toledo and Detroit, overshadowed by the resurgence of the American south where multinationals now build their plants, benefiting from lower cost and the right to work statues. I had an interesting discussion on this topic while drinking with a Canadian who was born in Jamaica, a kind man who worked as an accountant before retiring, listening to him rail against corruption and decay in both sides of the border.

I had dreaded the vacation before leaving, reluctant to miss a day of work, neglecting my responsibility to my relative, but I had needed a break, to recharge my batteries and rethink new strategies. Travelling to a different country is the best solution, recalling the biography on Winston Churchill by the historian Paul Johnson who wrote that Churchill's gift was in conserving his energy and in seeking a break from his hectic job; Churchill was an expert in having a good time, eating good food, drinking fine wine, painting, travelling and having excellent conversations. I had hopes to achieve a certain relaxation and distance from work by travelling to Canada, meeting my wife's relatives and being embraced into the closeness of their community; eating bagels and smoked meats in Montreal, Buffalo wings and roast beef in wek sandwiches in Buffalo, Saigon noodles and spicy curry in Toronto, lamb and basmati rice in Ottawa and reunion dinners with pakbet, roast pork, Chinese takeout, German beer, Philippine sausages and suman in the warm rooms in apartments and large  houses of friends and relatives. It was enough for me to gather my wits despite minor episodes of irrational fear and doubt, by a mind that never fails to dwell in the past. One should just breakaway and walk in the glass floor of CN Tower, aware that one would not fall to the ground though paralyzed with fear and unable to move because of a mental delusion.

My close friend in Toronto gave me the answer; to avoid being emotional and attack the problem without emotion or feelings, similar to the lesson of the Bhagavad Gita, not to dwell on the fruit of the effort but on the necessity of the task. My mind never fails to dwell on past thoughts, perhaps fueled by a wrong turn in one's mental growth, when trying to develop creative skills, to delve in the past with sentimentality, perhaps that is what hindering me, the sentimentality of a fool, prone to emotions and feeling when there is no place for such trivialities in the modern world. The government shutdown was an act of sentimentality, of emotion,the inability to accept facts and logical reasoning; perhaps that is the reason someone like the president, known for his coolness cannot tolerate the fierce emotionalism of the tea party as they hanker for the past. Canada on the other hand, did not seem to have any emotion, like the government is ran like a machine, its citizens taxed in an all expense paid welfare state; perhaps that is why the Toronto mayor is popular despite his drug filled excessive lifestyle, an  episode of color a midst a drab though highly sophisticated surrounding, where a leading cause of teenager death is by suicide.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

All is Lost

The new Robert Redford movie has a good title, apt since it is descriptive of the disarray in congress, with threats of another shut down, stopping government appointees from doing their job, with Middle East issues grabbing attention again, with the executive branch seemingly paralyzed by these external forces; much like the Redford hero battling the elements, alone in the vast ocean. Sometimes I feel the same thing, helping my friend make sense of the byzantine ways of government bureaucracy, trying to make sense of senseless paper work, with many forms to fill, undertake phone interviews and so on. I am fearful because it’s like fighting a giant machine that is supposed to help people in need, the helpless in society, but instead, shackled by a minority who believe their ultra – conservative ideology is the answer when really compassion for the sick and needy is all. The greatest nation on earth had begun by welcoming the poor and wretched of the earth and now whose modern descendants, wealthy and powerful, are clinging to their money and closing borders.

But I am being emotional, my nerves fraught with visions of catastrophe, fearing the worst when really it is not bad; man’s better angels always rising to help their fellows. Nevertheless, the atmosphere is tainted with fear and hatred, one’s only recourse is to escape in self-degrading abuse, looking for ways to get lost in distraction and fantasy. When did it all go wrong? Based on Stephen King’s book on the Kennedy assassination, it all started in Dallas with JFK’s death; looking at all these JFK programs in television it seems to make sense; but one wonders whether the killing of the American president started the road toward ruin. King has come out in concluding that it would be worse if JFK had survived because circumstances would play out with the failure of the civil rights act (which JFK’s death had mobilized), the atomic bombing of Vietnam and proliferation of nuclear weapons. But this is speculative history, and one cannot base his philosophy on fiction despite its inventive brilliance and impeccable research. So to improve my spirits, I went to a flea market in Highway 101, purchased 2 large ceramic vases for US $ 20 dollars, and watched several movies - the best of which was ‘Sherlock Holmes 2’ and ‘The Madness of King George.’

The mind has visions of doom but it is just the work of the overactive imagination. What will happen? The earth will continue to circle the sun and life will proceed as before, our children will grow up, discover life and find their place in the world, discover themselves and have families and children; we will be but a memory; our struggles today lost in the span of time. But it will all turn out well; thinking all is lost or the center will not hold is temporary lunacy, similar to the madness of King George with the loss of the colonies unnerving his sanity. But he gets well and continues with life. The secret is not to lose one’s nerve despite the many challenges at work, at home and in all of life. The children will survive and live good lives, the sun rises and the sun sets on everyone with equality. Yesterday, I read books in the patio, sitting outside and watching the trees turn into their fall colors, driving to Conestee park, riding the bike in the asphalt road and back down  the nature trail. It took about an hour to prepare the bike for transport and riding the trails but I thought it was important to get outside and away from one’s thoughts, enjoy nature and heal the mind.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Camden War

The soldiers ran in the open field, firing old muskets and rifles, dressed in their revolutionary garb, the militia in their ragtag uniforms and the continental army dressed in blue uniforms, battled the British soldiers in their red coats as cannons ablaze and smoke arose from the battle ground as the sound of mortars and gun fire reverberated in the old town. Long ago, the revolutionary army lost against Lord Cornwallis with General Gates leaving the field of battle in disgrace, today an actor galloped here and there across the grassy meadow as spectators gaped and a film crew filmed his every movement, his beautiful horse galloping elegantly amidst the battle and running soldiers; tech crew speaking in radios as they arrange fake explosions and orchestrate the soldiers’ movements. It was the worst defeat in the South, after the fall of Charleston and Savannah, though paving the way for the victories at King’s Mountain and Cowpens and eventually leading to the surrender at Yorktown as the Southern strategy collapsed. On the way to Camden, I listened to Barbara Tuchman’s ‘The First Salute’ to get the historical context of the encounter.

The oldest inland town in South Carolina said the sign, staging the annual battle re-enactment in a historical park, with old houses scattered along rolling hills and former parade grounds, tents sprung up with mock stores and supplies, soldiers walking about, women and children playing, shop keepers selling period ware and engaging spectators in conversation. I walked around the makeshift tent town, entering the old houses and enjoying the exhibit and the mock battle in the open ground. Later I walked through the nature trail, surrounded by tall trees, walking beside a small pond and an old armament ruin, leaving after the battle and driving around the old town, laid out in a straight grid, no modern confusion of curving side streets, all geometrically square like some huge chessboard. I made the 2 hour journey back home, a Sunday well spent under the beautiful blue sky where the day previously I had tried mountain biking in the nearby park close to home, going up the asphalt road and going back through the forest trail, swerving into twisting earth and trees, finally emerging into the road and heading back to the car park. A hectic day with the evening spent remotely meeting with my relatives via the internet, enjoying his presence after the near death experience on Saturday night.

On Monday, the work week began,  bewildering again, deciding to go back to work sitting down instead of standing, raising the laptop with the screen  at eye level  and resorting to standing only when needed, trying to work through my backlog and to do list. At the same time, I had resolved to help my relative in any way I can, to chisel away at the huge financial burden they face, calling hospital administrators in California long distance to discuss, cajole and plead for help and in the evening calling him to discuss strategy and next steps, trying to find a way out of the distorted mess that one’s father had done in the goodness of his heart plus ill decisions made in one’s youth coming back to haunt us. This will be the significant event of my life (as well as my relative), giving meaning so I could put my efforts to help resolve this family tragedy; the sins passing along generations; there is nowhere to run, no one to turn to, a destiny where one realizes that blood is the most important thing, and the character flaw of escape, distraction and frivolity still plaguing the next generation. But it is the children that are one’s salvation, to raise above this tragedy so the offspring will live a better life; to struggle in hardship so the next generation can break free into a better life. A lesson of the revolutionary war, too.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Good Week ?

A day ago my relative left the hospital, talking to him on the phone as his family drove him home, he sounded fresh and, yes, different: more articulate and perhaps self-aware, although difficult to tell in such a short conversation. Today is his birthday and he replied to my birthday greeting,’ 2nd life is the best gift ever’. So it is turning out to be a good week despite my mental and physical exhaustion at work.  Still scrambling, fighting fires; unable to define a systematic process that will help me, instead of being reactive to the events as they come. I scheduled several meeting to meet with customers and development team, writing minutes and updating tickets. Oftentimes this has made me inefficient, finding it difficult to multitask due to my aging brain(?), adjusting not only to the physical decline but to mental decline (?) as well. Oftentimes I am unable to continue working the rest of the day after these meetings.  Therefore, a systemic way of working is truly needed.

But I have too many excuses: adjusting to a new role, learning new tools, meeting and working with new people, increasing workload, continuing support to 2 systems, increased extracurricular tasks (as Area Governor in Toastmaster) and, lastly,  family problems. All these have added their burdens and my usual method of coping: exercising, Tai Chi meditation and journal writing to fight stress and pressure are not as effective today.  I also try to learn new things to keep my mind active by having new experiences (war re-enactment, electronic art, exploring parks, etc.) similar to what I tried to do in Singapore: learning to play the guitar and roller blading. The mind is elastic; participating in Toastmaster has been good but I may have reached my limit. But is it a mental boundary? Although I do feel that I have reached my physical boundaries as well. But one must go on and the fluid mind is the answer, to be light on one’s feet and not dwell on mistakes or embarrassments like the speech contest gaffe that occurred in last Saturday’s conference. But these are all trivial when compared to my friends’ ordeal.

I want to start a new, simpler life; borrow fewer books, see fewer movies and focus on important things: do I quit Toastmasters, stop my cable subscription and other insignificant things? Last weekend, I went and threw my bundle of junk mail, throwing away stuff like old boxes that piled up in the garage, placing my equipment in a new place so I can free up space in my cabinet; inconsequential ways to improve for sure, trying to rid the mind of old patterns that strive to be in motion, following the dictates of a ‘monkey’ mind. A hint of mortality has come with my friend’s episode, re-focusing life to the important things, seeking authenticity and relevance, trying to find signs of a life well – lived. Being middle aged, still unable to write and live the life of one’s dream, but pressed by challenges; aware finally of one’s mortality brings new freshness; to focus on what is important. One has to discard the dreams of a young man as no longer feasible, to travel more and seek more adventures; instead to stop wandering and hunker down as one prepares for the final fight with mortality.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sins of the Father

Last week was catch-up week after returning from California, after laboring remotely; trying to continue my job after 2 weeks of working on the fly, catching moments in the hospital waiting room or at the lodgings to do work, attend meetings and make phone calls.  I had arrived Saturday on the 19 of October in the morning fog after nearly missing my plane from LAX the night before, the nurses scrambling to find a way to get me to the airport, finding a web site in the Internet, finally booking a ride  on a shuttle bus powered by natural gas. I had spent the day praying, sitting beside him and reading from the Bible, happy to see improvements in the early evening, allowing the doctor to finally pull the tube from his mouth, my time in the chapel and at his bedside had provided comfort. But I left Los Angeles without seeing him conscious although great improvement the next day as he was no longer sedated; he was sitting down and standing up, listening to the therapist and exercising; small steps in the difficult journey of rehabilitation. After arriving in Charlotte, I rented a car and went to IKEA to do shopping; retail therapy to reduce stress.

During the week since I got back, I was reading my mail and working on many outstanding requests,  but I was able to watch a movie (‘Gravity’ in IMAX 3D) the night after my arrival and going swimming on Sunday morning; trying to get back to normality. So I felt good but tired back in the office but there was a lot to do, following–up people and responding to email. A lot of work had piled up and I had interesting but stressful exchanges with the customers, while dreading phone calls from California in the evenings after work, fearful of the possible bureaucratic and legal mess aside from his health problems, feeling pressure because of the urge to help but unable to do anything else; the well is dried up and one is running on empty. I prayed to God on my last day, trying to make sense of the tragedy hoping for a second chance, for a different life from the one that burdened him, oppressed by decisions of the past;  the sins of the father coming to haunt his sons despite the urge to do good for his children but created a nightmare decades later.

I had also neglected my duties in Toastmasters, missing the deadline for the payment of dues, nearly failing to attend the conference last Saturday, 26th October, but managing to scramble for a place but ending in shame as my wife called during a speech contest; my reaction was like a fool scrambling to get away in front of many people.   I had thought that I would forget my troubles by doing a speech at our meeting and attending the conference, but there is no escape from my everyday problems, rising up to contribute their own stress to the already filled container. Suffering happens because of desire, and I wanted so many things, to be healthy and go to the gym, to do my duties as an officer of the club, to do well at my new role in the office, scrambling to lead a model life but deep inside the memory of him recovering in the hospital;  I wanted to run but came to face more problems in one’s own world. There is too much stress that one escapes from it, watching movies and being self-indulgent, to fantasize and settle into some drug induced stupor like sleeping in opium dens in the Singapore of the past, to escape the harshness of life. But there is no escaping one’s trouble even those committed long ago by an ill informed father trying to help his children have a better future. Instead, resulting in tragedy and heart disease.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Shutdown End

Most people were relieved that congress finally agreed to open the government last night, tired and fearful that it will all occur again next year when the budget talks begin or when the debt ceiling needs to be raised again. One concession was to verify eligibility of those seeking medical insurance under the new health care act. I did not know what it meant or what the details would be but the message filled me with dread even though I did know the details yet. What is the law’s implication to my relative, without insurance and legitimacy, what hate or cruelty exists that would prevent care and compassion be given to the sick. There is too much hate around, afraid that the nation’s wealth is squandered to the undeserving; unlawfully present despite their contribution to the local economy, working hard, paying taxes, raising families. Their only crime is to want to live in a better world from whence they came, similar to the people who came long ago from the old world, carving the land like cake to apportion to their needs. But the modern day descendants have not the same opportunities.

Yesterday I called the lawyer but he was unwilling to accept the case, aware of the past impropriety, thinking we are all criminals, afraid and, rightly so, that the state would come down and penalize them. But it was done long ago, when one were innocent children, unaware of the implication in the future, when the box would ensnare us like a cage, driven by a father who knew no better except to escape the old life and prosper in the new.  Now the reckoning has come, when fate entwined together from different streams to culminate here in this place, and what a beautiful place, where the sunlight never seemed more magical, the brisk air, blue skies like paradise, the bare hills and the near desert landscape and high snow-capped mountains surrounding the valley. I would not like to be anywhere else, loving the old run down towns surrounding Lake Elsinore, surrounded by mountains that concealing the Pacific Ocean, where Spanish friars and conquistadors built churches and haciendas. But such incredible beauty did not come without a brutal price, where the state wields its hand like some unforgiving god.

He had protected me when we were children, I would sleep beside him when I lay awake, unable to sleep with nightmares in mind, after watching horror movies while he slept unafraid beside me.  He gave me comfort and we all looked up to him as one would a conquering hero, now struck down by his battle against his demons, his fear slowly germinating in his body, like a snake getting ready to strike. Now I am helpless to save him, exhausted by the myriad rules and paperwork, angry that life is unfair. Poignantly his car was returned by the mechanic yesterday, ready for use, its wonderful engine purring like a tiger; for he loved cars, racing them like a madman, spending his money on their thrills instead of his own legitimacy. But that is how he lived his life and I pray to god that he be given a second chance that this experience will bring out the grace and wonder of those emerging from serious illness. A second chance to see that his children and family will live up to his dreams, and grow to be wonderful people and that we would once again meet with our families and reminiscence on the days that gone by.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

2 Weeks in Hell

A close relative had a serious medical condition last weekend so I had to fly to California to help. It was excruciating, seeing him in bed, hardly breathing and unable to be his robust and happy self, his family still optimistic amidst the dreariness of intensive care. We had to soldier on, trying to work on the insurance and other paper work which he did not have since losing his job a few months ago, wrongly calculating that there would be no medical emergency until he gets a new job. It was painful to see all his plans wasted when one experience a sudden ailment, unplanned, throwing all preparation to the wind, leaving the future in danger including his family.  It was difficult to see the doctors struggling for the right remedy, calling first for his transfer to another hospital for an organ transplant, another doctor giving a second opinion, choosing a risky procedure that is still playing out today after his major surgery but, in fact, was our only option with no medical insurance.

We had to talk to many people in the hospital: financial counselor, case manager, social worker, doctors, nurses and a priest to discuss the various options; not to say one played a big part but under the mistaken notion that one can change things when all is in God’s hands. But it all boils down to money and insurance and residency, which my relative did not have, struggling just to survive with his family, living under a dreadful cloud of fear for many years until his body gave out, without him realizing the danger until it was too late. Coming home in the evening after a tiring day, his house empty of his presence as he lay sedated in his hospital bed, his body split open, I cried in the darkness wondering how his family can emerge intact, the same smiling young faces full of love. In contrast, hate and anger play out in television, the rage of a few against the affordable health care act and resulting government shut down. One cannot help but feel disorganized, unable to act but resolved to move forward, to file unemployment benefits and disability insurance despite the government shutdown and questions on legitimacy. Surely this is a better world despite the turmoil.

I decided to extend my stay for another week, to try to help in the complex paper work so his wife can handle the essentials of caring for her husband and their children, calling people to get their help, filing applications in the internet or filling up paper forms. Relatives back in the Philippines calling for updates, his daughter posting news on Facebook, calling my wife who was angry for staying away from her as she was sick too and handling medical issues of her own, deciding to work remotely so one does not lose his job and save vacation leave for any future emergency, working nearly 10 hours a day under pressure and worry, meeting demands at work and at home plus extra effort like resolving a car breakdown. All things come undone, with problems at work, at home and with my relative’s condition, his body needing electric shock in 2 episodes, I tried sleeping in the room, praying in the darkness to God that all will be well, trying to calculate all the possible outcomes in my fevered mind. I have become new with this struggle, to realize one’s mortality, the preciousness of life, to treasure one’s relationships, to focus only on the essentials and to cherish the wonder of everyday living.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Tibetan Monk

Last night I attended a lecture by a Tibetan monk on the subject of mandalas; on the symbolism of mandalas, as I struggled at times to keep awake during the lecture, the monk spoke in the strange Tibetan (or Hindi) language, while an interpreter standing before a rostrum in a large stage, translated into English, while the smiling bald monk sat in a chair beside him, resplendent in his orange robe. It was an interesting sight, the first time I have seen a Tibetan monk in the flesh where previously I saw them only on videos like some exotic species, although I have seen Buddhist monks in Thailand, also in their orange robes, there was a certain mystery and elegance of monks from Tibet. Perhaps it was the Dalai Lama, his eloquence and level headedness, his humility, twinkling eyes and his epic battle with Communist China or the legend of his escape from Lhasa that gave Tibetan monks a certain mystique and dignity equal to the majesty of Catholic cardinals and bishops. I have watched many DVDs on the struggles of Tibet or the Buddhist religion or even seen Buddhist artifacts in museums that it came like a revelation to see Tibetan monks and their religious artifacts before me.


The monks were building a mandala in the lobby, carefully laying out the sand with their esoteric instruments, seeing for the first time an actual mandala in construction, where previously I had seen the exotic patterns in the internet, using several images as computer wallpaper in Singapore, enthralled by the mystery of its geometric shapes. Watching the image in the sand was like a meditation, the mind in wonder that so much time, delicateness and focus is devoted to make an image in such a difficult medium and, finally, sweeping away the work in an instant, challenging the mind of its concepts, to just throw away what one has labored for several days like it was nothing. I had already watched a fast motion video of the creation and deconstruction of a mandala in You Tube, but the actual spectacle in front of one’s eyes provides a true cachet because a video does not capture the full spectacle and spiritual significance. Tomorrow I plan to go back during my lunch hour to catch the deconstruction ceremony; an event that I had understood as an intellectual concept but which one needs to actually see and feel as a mystical experience, similar perhaps to attending a Catholic mass in Latin.


But the true significance is to understand the impermanence of life, or that the result of labor does not need to have monetary value, or attachment to physical objects is folly and so on. Watching the mandala ceremony is like undertaking a lesson in spirituality, one need to be present to understand its meaning. In the evenings at home, I have been watching videos on the ceremonies of Tibetan monks, about the Book of the Dead, about Drepung Loseling Monastery and Buddhist chants that I have learned more this week than all the time spent in the past learning about Tibet, their art and religion. I have also been listening to the audio book Secret Millionaires that there seem to be a connection: one needs to live a simple and frugal life to be wealthy; not only in monetary resources but spiritual resources. In fact ‘real’ millionaires do not focus on material objects, spend little of their wealth in large homes, luxury cars or expensive clothes but invest in assets that gain value over time. I wonder if going to the Tibetan ceremonies or watching videos is a waste of time, but, in fact, there does not need to be a payoff but the participation in a trans-formative experience (or the possibility of it) to give life meaning.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Shut Down

Yesterday I went home early, worked on my yard for about an hour, laying insecticide on ant hills and placing compost on the trees and shrubs I planted. I should have done this work earlier, noticing that one plum tree had lost its leaves and turned yellow, thinking about the comments made by the master gardener in the library last week that placing fertilizer before planting a tree would burn its roots. I am not sure if this is what happened or if it’s just the tree turning colors early for autumn. But there was an ant hill nearby so I wonder if this caused the problem, nevertheless it did not seem the tree was dying; its main trunk seems strong and sturdy, so I followed the gardener’s advice to place compost; something  that always helps a plant. I hope to water my plants after work today and place mulch later this week. I wonder what else I need to do to prepare my lawn for the coming winter, and I may plant more shrubs like cypress for privacy. The gardener said that it’s not too late to sow in the fall. After dinner, I sat out in my yard, enjoying the night sky which seemed much clearer today though I did not see the moon.

Last Friday, I went to the local planetarium and observatory, struggling to keep awake during the show, enjoying nonetheless the lecture on the night sky, afterwards walking to the observatory to peek at the huge telescope, glimpsing only 2 tiny stars through its lens. But I learned a lot, especially the times when Jupiter or Saturn are visible in this part of the world, admiring the ancient telescope which used to be in Princeton during the time Albert Einstein was teaching; the guide remarking  the great physicist would have peeked through its lens. The show ended at about 8:30 pm and I went home to watch the 2nd season of Homeland, watching the whole series to take advantage of the weekend promotion, which ended last Monday.  I also watched some DVDs about the moon that I borrowed from the library, enjoying the film after recently observing the harvest moon through my binoculars several evenings past in my back yard. I decided to learn more about astronomy especially about the moon since it’s the only object I see clearly in my circumstances and equipment. I don’t think I will spend more on telescopes but night watching is a good way to enjoy my patio.

Last night I wanted to watch the news about the government shutdown, but I felt tired and read books instead, my mind doing a ‘shutdown’ of its own, sick and tired of the posturing and inane bickering by clueless politicians. I debate this subject often with my colleague at work, breaking the taboo of avoiding the discussion of politics, religion or sex; where I take on the role as a liberal leftist while my neighbor as a Tea party libertarian, enjoying our discussions in a purely sporting fashion, to keep awake during the day. The discussions proved stimulating and fun although I fear that I should not be talking about this subject being a recent transplant. But I can’t help myself with all the excitement generated by media. I wonder what happened in the first shutdown, though it seemed to be quieter today than in the Clinton years, possibly because the public is jaded and tired of the circus in congress. I think the public resignation will be the true lesson of this event, despite what the president had said that the one does not cause a shutdown since the US economy is the foundation for the world economy and the US dollar the worlds’ reserve currency. Reasoning falls on deaf ears especially since the debt ceiling and Obama care have no connection at all.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Politics of Distraction

Much can be said of the current problems in Washington but is it the inherent nature of democracy that makes it messy since the breakdown of civil relation and bipartisanship between legislators. Long ago, veteran lawmakers reminisce about the old days in the 50’s, 60’s and even 70’s when bipartisan compromise and level headed thinking saved the day, a tradition started by Benjamin Franklin during the first meeting s of the constitutional congress. Some even recall warm friendships between members of opposing parties. This bring to mind the China model, devoid of democratic institutions wherein 2 parties battle each other for control of government with free exchange of ideas; instead managed like a conglomerate of technocrats but with the risk of corruption, innate in an unelected centralized government. But the tradeoff looks attractive day by day, just watching television, where the dramas of Washington plays out like a comedy in the cinema; the lone senator filibustering a bill but backs down and votes instead with the opposition, like a performance in a kabuki or an Indonesian shadow play where things play out at back stage while the overt players perform for the gullible public.

Sometimes it just seems like the death of common sense, an attribute that used to distinguish the New World colonies, now driven by ideologues, demagogues and inflexible principles goaded by muddy thinking. One thinks that the way forward are bipartisan entities like the Office of Budget and Management who fact check assertions and verify the truth. Instead it is a battle of inane ideas, more driven by emotion and funded by billionaires working in the background to keep their immense wealth. It is a shame that elected officials allows themselves to be led by these men in the back room who ask for pledges not to raise taxes, constricting common sense. No wonder this churning in government makes one want to pick up a weapon and start shooting anyone in sight; perhaps this is an important study, to see if the turmoil in government, played out through the media, affects the sanity of people sensitive to visual and auditory noise like political junkies checking news feeds to know what is going on to nourish their addiction.

In my case it is stress that causes distraction, to flee from the work at hand, trying to escape from responsibility that work entails, looking for an activity that can free the ego instead of solving the problem. This emotional reaction prevents one from following David Allen’s GTD principle, causing one to react to incoming emails with fear when one should just place the mail in the appropriate folder if one cannot respond within 2 minutes; organizing the reaction in a systemic way. One realizes it is emotion that derails one’s common sense, the way politicians react to seeming slights that result in gridlock, not moving forward in a calm and sensible manner. Get a grip on your mind – books would say, try journaling or deep breathing to ground one, instead of allowing one’s attention to take flight with thought bubbles; the curse of the monkey mind.  Journaling is calming, the steady rhythm of writing, a way to control the berserk electrical patterns coursing the brain into a more sensible and calm array like listening to Mozart when in turmoil; music soothing the savage mental beast. One thinks this is needed by the Washington politicians as their rivals - the Chinese politburo practice Tai Chi in their enclave within the Forbidden City in Beijing.

Monday, September 16, 2013

GTD – Self Organization

Yesterday I participated as a judge in a speech contest, previously sending an email to my club members to convince them to attend the contest; an event hosted by 2 area governors that had a small handful of participants where none attended form my club despite my reminder. But it was an interesting session with speeches on cats, dogs, brassieres and a hilarious one on how Toastmaster will help save the planet and extend lives; the last speech delivered by a brilliant standup comic who lost (as he did not come in a formal coat and tie like the others). Earlier in the week we had our club meeting where my members where asking about the area contest as some of us received an email asking for help. This made me realize, in the days leading up to the contest, that I had a responsibility to organize a contest for my area, wondering how this major event slipped my mind, realizing that the pressure and stress at the office wiped out the task from my mind.  The truth is that I was running away from any kind of work, neglecting to read emails especially one from a governor to start organizing our area contest, focusing instead, but rightfully so, at my office work, thereby, allowing my responsibility as governor to slip away. Now I have 2 weeks left to organize a contest. 

I could not sleep the night before the Saturday contest, thinking that I will be derided by the other officers, but I resolved to accept the shame and come clean and ask for help. But nothing of the sort of humiliation occurred despite the fevered thoughts in my brain, instead the kindness and concern of the people came through, giving me confidence that I can make it. I started to plan my next steps, thinking about my other work in the office where I had slipped and did not communicate very well, not organizing meeting or not updating my customers, instead letting the deadlines slip. In fact I had not prepared well for a department meeting last Tuesday, though submitting the presentation in time but attending remotely, not making the case to explain my position clearly to the audience in the meeting. All these seeming failures crept in my mind that together with the area contest that I let slip resulted in sleepless nights that further caused me to self-indulge and procrastinate.  Saturday afternoon was spent going to a concert in the woods at Paris Mountain Park where I tried to gain strength listening to music, surrounded by nature and trying to silence my mind.

Last week I watched several videos by David Allen and download GTD materials to help me become more efficient and productive. I also continued to read the book ‘Is Work Killing You?’  By David Posen, MD which gave a lot of good insight on the nature and cause of stress (i.e. Volume, Velocity and Abuse of work).  These materials plus the music concert in the woods calmed me a bit  and several plans came into shape. I have determined to do the following:

-    In my Lotus Notes, create the following folders for emails that I will defer work (i.e. cannot be done in 2 minutes): Answer, Read and Pending. I will check these folders during the day and, hopefully, prevent me from missing important emails.

-    For project work, the following tools will be used: office work = Atlassian  tool to update and manage maintenance tickets (using SCRUM or KANBAN Method) and MS Notes to organize reference materials. For other projects = Trello for SCRUM or KANBAN tools and Ever Note and Pinterest for reference notes on my personal projects.

-    Organize my file folders especially Dropbox so I can work anywhere with my mobile devices.

Reading these books have helped me organize my thoughts, keeping me calm instead of rushing into panic, raising my thinking at a higher level so I can plan better. Let’s see what will happen in a few days.





Thursday, September 12, 2013

Barreling Through

The writing seminar last night at the library was great, led by a local poet who teaches at the governor’s middle school, a charming woman who brought an insight on writing that grabbed my attention. It came from left field as one would say, not expecting the epiphany that came, despite the many books read and lectures I attended on the craft. She introduced the concept of balance, between the individual and environment, a concept alien to me since last night, centering on a self-absorbed perspective, like a stream of consciousness approach popular in literature like Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road,’ in fact missing the balance entirely and, instead, focused on the self-conceit that is an attribute of journal writing or being a egoistic diarist. The hour and a half was well spent, considering the knowledge gained in such short a time; perhaps the impact was relevant because one was prepared, well-versed in the writing struggles and the theory of craft that her insight landed on welcoming ears.  The fifteen minute writing exercise was relaxing too, though I was self-indulgent and kept to the ‘me’ focus.


I went to the gym early this morning, waking at 5 am and watching 2 lectures by David Allen while I prepared my gym bag, grabbing the time to listen to his productivity seminar so I can get a leg up at work, then travelling to the gym by 6:30 am for a 35 minute workout in the tread mill. The day at work was tedious, jumping from one subject to another that one forgets what one has done, scheduling meetings,  writing emails and preparing a presentation for an afternoon conference, presenting and, finally, exhausted; the mind unable to ponder what to do next, instead writing a blog entry, a meditation that hopefully settles the mind. It is beginning to be a pattern, the late nights, watching HBO specials in a rush before the 3-month promotion ends, sorting the many books borrowed at the library, eating too much and neglecting to do the personal work promised to one’s parents, preferring to escape again until one discovers its midnight and tipsy with wine. Then the hectic day at work, participating in meetings and getting lost near the end of the day after barreling through the day’s To Do list.

The writing seminar was a welcome respite that one thinks he will join the scribbler’s group at the library, a chance to reconnect back to the dream, careful to digest the intricate dance needed to be a writer, attuned to the subtle aspects of one’s character like the dance needed at work. Discernment of the layers one discovers in one’s thoughts, interactions with others and the work that needs to be done, to increase one’s psychic bandwidth, instead of the heavy handed, barreling through of a bull, making its way into the light. I guess the mornings are best when one’s wits are alive and fresh which degrades as the day moves on, thereby losing the freshness of thought. But I have reached a turning point where one must change or face disaster that a tired mind brings or perhaps it is burnout that one faces. Tasks are lost that one needs to make a better list: write that email to the club presidents and schedule visits, write that email to mom and dad and check the other tasks needed to send money back home; all these things that concerns one’s personal life instead of one’s work life where making a list is compulsory. I think I should have done my Tai chi exercises this morning.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Slow Afternoon

Last night I slept at around 12 midnight, woke at 6 am the next morning, roughly 6 hours of sleep, eating breakfast of yogurt, banana and boiled egg and at the office by 7:45 am, attending a meeting at 8 am and drinking coffee in the meeting room.  By the afternoon, after a heavy Cuban lunch of yellow rice, beans and roasted pork, plus eating my ‘usual’ lunch of 4 carrot sticks, 30 pieces of almond nuts and a small brownie plus green tea; my brain is sluggish, unable to move forward on my To Do List. By 3 pm, I had attended 3 meetings during the day, replied to a number of emails and worked on my tickets in the computer system. Roughly 2 hours left before the end of the work day with my mind slowing down to a crawl, exhausted by lack of sleep, a heavy lunch and too much work to do. But I have my To Do List all set,  but the mind and body is weak, although the spirit is more than willing, realizing that age is coming to claim one’s youth, unable to move forward because the mind is moving in mud.

After lunch, I drank my usual tablets of Gingko Biloba and St. John’s Wort, hoping that these supplements will give me the second wind of the day, to allow me to breeze through until the end of work at 5 pm. I still have to attend another seminar tonight from 7 – 8:30 pm at the local library, a seminar on writing.  Somehow I must soldier on, doing my task list and ticking them off one by one until the day’s goals are done. But I lack the ‘psychic bandwidth’ with all the incoming email and work demands; the volume of work further causing one to exhaust his mind. Last night I watched a lecture in YouTube on productivity, where David Allen spoke about his GTD process (Get Things Done) then reading on the agile and kanban method of software development while listening to the music of Anuskha Shankar. I think I have found the technology and tool to help me, but this afternoon it looks like my brain is slowing to a crawl; listless, pressured and distracted at the task at hand. I am unable to work unless I  get my vitality back through breathing, journal writing or drinking more coffee.

Recently, I have been reading various books on the science of healthy aging, how to avoid dementia by exercise, diet and mental challenges, plus the other areas to be followed like drinking tea, being sociable, and so on while my mind struggles to keep awake, nodding off and struggling to complete work. I think I am heading towards the life I would like to lead, shredding the distracting and procrastinating habits, working smart and following a reasonable regimen of diet and exercise. But the minds still strays, psychic energy slipping away while one tries to bring the vitality back via writing and breathing exercises. The mind thinks about many things that cause stress, like wondering why the chief of staff is wandering the corridors, walking into cubicles like mine and handing out pamphlets about India, wondering if this is an attempt to check me out, my paranoia amplified by my internet browsing at work (‘will we go to war in Syria?’) or the heated political discussions with my neighbor, a battle between conservative and liberal arguments. I don’t know how he can focus and continue working while I struggle with my procrastination and tired brain. There is still much to learn, grasshopper.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


I attended a course last week on diversity, travelling to a training center close to home on Thursday and Friday, trying to keep up with work during the 2-day seminar, eventually working at home after the seminar just to keep up. It was a difficult week, receiving emails that required immediate attention plus some administrative work that just had to be done, causing me to work until midnight on Thursday evening. On top of that were my usual extra-curricular activities that required me to watch DVDs from the library and read books and magazines scheduled to be returned the next week. It was crazy times again, driven by the automatic response to keep busy – reading and watching movies in the guise of some future goal to be updated and aware of current events and to be culturally relevant. This plays on my strength, the inclination to absorb much input but also an innate fear of being left behind, neglecting one’s own abilities to successfully tackle any problem without deceptive confidence of reading too many books.

This brings me to one of the chapters in the book ‘Coaching the Artist Within.’ This urge to be constantly busy is actually a reaction, to flee from looking into the roots of this fear, to find meaning on why one does what he does. A ‘centering’ exercise is proposed to bring the mind back into reality, to focus on the task at hand and not flee the circumstances, to keep the mind grounded. This is the same problem I have at work, neglecting to respond instantaneously to emails, to react immediately by a reply or an action to update a ticket or create a service request, instead putting it aside and passing the buck down the road so one can look at it later, at the real risk of being overwhelmed. Therefore, I lack a system that should keep me on top of things, something that I have missed despite all the self-help books I have read like David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ or Stephen Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Successfully People.’ It used to be that I could cope but the volume has increased significantly that it is just too much unless I upgrade my ‘mental’ technology of organization and productivity.

My initial urge is look for the latest technology in computers and tablets or the latest idea in business to solve the problem, but the book really explains that it has nothing to do with the use of the latest gizmo or productivity idea but to look into one’s soul so to speak, doing a sort of cognitive therapy to correct a mental mistake, like a bias towards an erroneous idea. I think there is benefit in both approaches but clearly the issue is the mind’s desire to escape; it is the most immediate reason. Why is one escaping? Because of the fear of failure, the fear that one cannot be the writer or manager that one can be, fear to proceed in a bold and creative way, preferring to work in the shadows instead of stepping forward and expressing one’s ideas; to lead. But one agrees that writing is difficult but the years were not spent unwisely; the continued reading of books, gathering of experience and journal writing and reflecting has profit. Similarly, the years of experience, training and technical and academic study has also provided the skills needed to succeed as a manager. Therefore, one needs to ‘ground’ the mind by centering its attention to the task at hand; whether in managing or writing.

How do I procrastinate at work? Seeing emails from people I don’t know or rarely know throws my mind into a panic. Whether it is an email or an automated alert that goes to my in box, the panic throws my mind into a frenzy (unless I know it’s an organized attack that I need to respond right way lest the issue blows up), but initially I am fearful that I will not live up to expectation, thereby delaying my response. But days later, when my mind calms down, I come back to the email and find it’s not as bad as I thought. Hence, it’s an emotional response by the mind (or nervous system); perhaps it’s one’s creative nature that goes off, reactive when one needs to stay calm. Grounding my mind via centering maybe the solution; although I am looking into tools like Trello or agile feature in our ticket system, to help organize work.  But the key is creating a ‘system’ like a weekly review of the tasks at hand, organizing work and responding in a timely manner, principles expressed in David Allen’s GTD.


Another skill that I need to work on is replying to emails in a friendly and non-reactive manner. But the key is the cognitive realization of the emotional mental (?) response or fear to an email from person unknown. But the other challenge is the volume of work, to have a strategy to handle the incoming mail, maybe it is not an emotional response but a reaction by an overstressed mind. Therefore, aside from the weekly review, the next effort is to plan one’s activity, for example, checking emails at a certain time of the day – maybe at 10 am and 2 am. The strategy looks something like the following:

-        Review open tickets every week, possibly Friday or Saturday. Extract business requirements to Excel and review
-        Organize work after review of open tickets by using kanban method (agile feature)
-        Read email twice a day and respond promptly following David Allen’s GTD
-        Organize all other work like book writing and toastmasters using Trello.com
-        Practice centering techniques or meditation to calm the mind

I now realize that I have been taking vitamin supplements like St. John's Wort, Gingko Biloba and Valerian to calm my mind, to handle the cognitive issues plaguing my mental well-being, instead of the hard task of cognitive therapy.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Labor Day Weekend 2013

I took leave on Friday which provided me with a 4 day weekend with the Labor Day holiday, where I spent 2 mornings and an afternoon playing golf with friends from the office. I wanted to travel somewhere but did not have the urge, settling on golf which is just as good, playing for roughly 4 hours talking, walking, and drinking beer. I also spent most of the time watching the HBO series ‘The Newsroom’ and the several DVDs that I had borrowed from the library, plus my usual rush through a pile of borrowed magazines, again questioning my sanity and priority. I had planned to work during the holiday, just to catch up on work, but just spent a few hours on Friday and procrastinating for the rest of the weekend, hopefully I will be more successful on the last day after my last game of golf for the weekend holiday.

I feel that I am just clawing my way out of the pile of work that overwhelmed me; e-mails, administrative work, meetings, phone calls, getting things done while trying to get rid of my anxiety which is irrational fear according to a book I am reading on being a creative coach. There is just to many demons in my mind, demons of self-doubt preventing me from moving forward, lacking the self-confidence, but due to the expectations one just needs to perform, and ‘perform’ is the best description, or leading because of the inadequacy of the team at some certain times, complacent and preferring to ease forward, hoping that problems disappear. Unfortunately, one finds himself with the technical insight and ability, despite playing a small role, to move events forward, like a catalyst, not doing the actual heroic work but nudging the bits forward with the insight of age and experience – the backroom operator.

Nevertheless, the mind always tries to escape, reluctant to accept responsibility whether at work, in my creative dreams and in real life personal problems, preferring to flee by reading books and magazines and watching movies, thinking that this is the ‘real’ life; lost in the fantasy world of entertainment. Sadly, there is no other way; the responsibility is clear and one must step forward, otherwise one will lose the battle in the theater of the office, or lose in the real life responsibilities that command shame; an attribute shared by one’s spoiled parents, who lived a sheltered life while neglecting everyday problems until age drove them into the lonely twilight of reduced cognition, perhaps dreaming of those wonderful days of the past, when one had parties and reunions with long dead relatives, uncles and cousins scattered out in the world with their own life struggles as time moves on. It is the children who need to pick up the pieces.

The volume of work and problems do not cease that one must keep moving, punching and doing what one can until one masters the new battlefield and rise above the litter of everyday stuff. I am glad for the 4 –day weekend, a welcome respite considering that one has not had a vacation for some time, preferring to shave a day off by taking leave on Fridays before the weekend and one finds the end of the year close at hand, nevertheless a time to read books and reflect.  The action is clear and one has the answers therefore one needs to move without thinking of the fruits of the labor just the act itself. But I had insomnia the other night, awaking in the early morning at 3 am or 5 am in the weekend of the holiday, but time not wasted as spent reading self-help books to kick start the writing of a novel and the creative life. One plans a few hours of work later today, a little bit of effort to climb out of the pile.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Writing is the Cure for the Restless Mind

I compared my blog to another made by a young lady who I met long ago, very briefly; a transplant from the mid-west to the Carolinas.  She worked in a book store that fronted for a creative writing organization, sponsoring writing seminars to build a community of creative people in an old city, missing the industrial growth of other counties in the upstate. She took creative writing courses in community and state college back in the mid-west, writing poetry, blogging and focusing on essays, offering her service as an editor. She is a free-lance writer and editor and I liked her friendly, easy attitude, her free spirit in the way she explores her surroundings in the Carolinas. Her blog is refreshing and down to earth as compared to mine which is more abstract, intellectual and full of pretension. Hers on the other hand, is homey and without affectation, expressing a simple outgoing spirit that is characteristic of the very best of young idealistic Americans.

Her experience may seem similar to mine, starting a blog close to when I did, writing to find oneself and to practice writing, expressing her travels and explorations of the things around her, especially her dog and nature, writing of her journey to the South. At nearly the same time, I moved from diary writing to blogging, hoping to learn about the new digital landscape, writing about travels in Asia for my work and recently transplanting my whole family into the American South, a few miles from her new home and meeting a year or so after my arrival in the New World, encountering her in my application to attend the writing seminars that her organization sponsored. Her response to my queries where direct and open via phone and email, and finally confirmed when I actually met her during the workshop and attending a lecture she conducted. I found her petite, charming, similar to my sister, without airs but with a deeper substance belied by her seemingly innocent and naive demeanor.

Much later, I discovered her blog which was very interesting, especially her hikes in the mountains with her dog, camping, discovering rivers and waterfalls, trails and beaches. I admired her sense of adventure, her opportunity and courage, something I envy and would have wanted to do myself; to hike and explore the outdoors if not for my work and family. Her writing was immediate, without the fancy ornamentation of my own, without my high posturing ideas, focusing instead on the immediate circumstances. I, on the other hand, write for therapy, to keep sane amidst the pressures of work and too much activity, dashing out sentences like reading while riding a horse, while she polished her sentences in deep calm and seeming serenity. On contrast to the unleashing of my demons, my fears, my ideas and the all-encompassing feeling of superiority that one gets living in major cities, spending money on silly adventures, getting drunk and having fun; instead of the unpretentious life in rural America.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

In a Bar on Friday Night

It was an interesting weekend, starting with a real estate lecture on the early evening of Friday after work, delivered by a group I have not heard of, looking like a scam at the start, which seems to be more of money laundering scheme by the mafia, but enjoying the lecture nevertheless with an office buddy. Afterwards we walked in downtown, the streets filled with merry makers with a band playing, beer sold in the street, people milling about enjoying the music, while I drank beer. We saw some people from the office, chatted a bit, and proceeded to a bar recommended by a friend, waiting in line because we had no reservation, finally entering after waiting for 20 minutes in the curb, and entering into a piano bar with great music requested by the audience. We had fun listening to the music, enjoying the antics of the singer and piano player, and enjoying the crowd as they clapped, danced, swayed to the music and drank beer. I had a couple of drinks with my friend looking at the beautiful audience, and leaving satisfied at past 9 pm, reaching home by 10 pm for a late dinner.

The next day, I attended a conference call on Saturday morning, listening to the business team go over the problems of the go live project, and deciding to stop the roll out due to an incident that occurred yesterday morning when another system sent out wrong data, sabotaging an otherwise good launch. It was decided to resume another call in the afternoon, while I had lunch and drove for nearly an hour to Musgrove Mill State Park to listen to the lecture on the battle, listening to the stories of the American commanders who fought, afterwards walking in the forest trail from the other entry way to get a different view from the previous hike I took last week. It was an enjoyable day, returning home and preparing for mass while I called in for the 2nd conference call for the day, suggesting possible plans of action, sad that the go live did not go ahead as planned. After church, we went back home, had dinner and I watched a beautiful Turkish movie called 'Journey to the Sun', a good compliment to the book I recently read on the Middle East amidst the Arab Spring.


On Sunday, we had lunch at Robinson Lake, the weather was good but our picnic was spoiled by the buzzing flies which prevented us from enjoying our lunch of fried chicken, Thai tom yum soup, Palabok noodles, hot Thai vegetables, apple cinnamon pie and custard. But we made the best of the situation, delight in the pleasant afternoon, looking at the lake, exchanging stories and leaving before 3 pm as the sound of thunder and rain came across the horizon and as dark clouds traversed the lake. We got home before the rain, watching You Tube videos about politics, healthy aging and New York Times videos. I went to bed at about 11 pm, woke up at 6 am, and went to the gym and arriving at work by 8am, right into the midst of a problem in the warehouse, unable to print the shipping labels and jumping to action straight away.  I could not attend a meeting scheduled in the morning, instead solving the problem, talking to the warehouse, and printing labels while attending the urgent meeting by phone about the Saturday fiasco, identifying the problem and creating an action plan. It was fun working in trouble shooting mode, helping users but by late afternoon, the tempest has passed and back to work with the tedium of my regular assignment.