Monday, September 22, 2014

Tiger Writing

Gish Jen is a Chinese-American writer who gave a series of lectures about the difference between Asian and Western writers and turned her talk into a book called 'Tiger Writing - Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self'. The use of the word 'Tiger' is a recent phenomenon, which refers to the strict discipline of children by Asian parents such as in the book Tiger Mom, thereby giving Asian students an advantage in school and work. On the other hand, Gish Jen's book refers to the different perspectives and narrative style between Asian and Western writers. Interestingly, the work of Qi Wang is often cited like 'Are Asians Forgetful? Perception, Retention, and Recall in Episodic Remembering.'

According to Jen, Asian writers have an interdependent point of view while Western writers are more individualistic, with better recall of episodes as compared to Asian writers. This explains why most Asians like me find it difficult to talk about oneself as compared to Westerners, preferring to see the wider context of the situation, rather than focus on one's individual impressions, a trait that can be corrected with Toastmasters with its emphasis on public expression. Her book opened a new perspective which I never thought about before, between the different styles of writing between ethnic groups. She quotes other writers like Orhan Pamuk, citing his own celebrated lectures on the naive and sentimental novelist, as well as Henry James and Milan Kundera and their book similarly titled "Art of the Novel."

The book led me to the work of Otto Rank, a well-known psychologist and right-hand man of Sigmund Freud, who also was an inspiration to the psychologist Rollo May, whose book 'The Courage to Create' was an inspiration for me when I was young. Rank wrote an interesting book (which I have not read) called 'Art and Artist: Creative Urge and Personality Development', about the self actualizing urge to be creative, where one learns new skills and unlearns old blocking habits and disregard destructive patterns of thought. This was the true value of the book for me, to discover Rank's work on personality development which explains one's urge for expressive writing (or journaling) and joining Toastmasters to improve public speaking skills, plus mind mapping and cognitive therapy, which is the natural urge when leading a creative life.

My recent struggles at work, forced me to search for new techniques, to be more effective and efficient at work (like Getting Things Done or GTD), with anxiety driving one to be better (is it because I am Asian?). Anxiety is good according to Otto Rank, a healthy challenge that help individuals to grow. Anxiety has led one to expressive writing which has kept people sane, as well to discover clustering and cognitive therapy to correct bad thinking (attribution error) and calm one's mind (together with Tai Chi). Strange that the book 'Tiger Writing' seem to have pulled all these ideas together, to explain some of the urges that has driven one to write, and explore new skills and experiences for self development. Western writers have access to this tradition because of their strong individualism like in America where people can re-create themselves and start anew, towards a second act in life.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Innocence of Objects

The companion book to Orhan Pamuk's 'The Museum of Innocence' is an interesting picture essay  called 'The Innocence of Objects'. I have not read 'The Museum of Innocence', instead I borrowed the other book which depicts a real museum created by the writer in Istanbul, Turkey. It's interesting because it shows the creative process of a great writer. Although I have not read 'The Museum of Innocence', I could see the desire to catalog objects, as a way to help him write his book. In a way it is like one of those visualization tools like mind mapping which tries to help the writer by creating artifacts that aid his imagination. Instead a curation of objects is a good way to catalog everyday things that belong to the characters of his book, a way to create  depth in the story and flesh out characters; an act of visualization similar to  a visual representation of ideas and concepts as done in mind mapping. But the museum of objects is not only an act of visual creation but an act of curating historical objects.

Each section in the museum refers to a section in the book, helping guide the reader to  understand the characters more by looking at their objects. But in creating the museum, the writer is also trying to complete his work by aiding his imagination, by the cataloging the ephemera of everyday materials like bus tickets, photographs, glasses, calendars, movie posters,  coffee cups, matchbox, clocks and and so on. The museum is also a work of art, and the way the writer crafted his objects, in his choice of materials, the purchase of the building in one of the old neighborhoods of Istanbul, the restoration of the building, the preparation of an exhibit, the way the exhibits were designed and  the objects chosen. The museum becomes not only an addition to his book but also a real museum about the people of Turkey, particularly the middle class of Istanbul, a way to recapture a time in the past that is lost in today's world. In a way, the museum is the book or the book is the museum as created in reality, which everyone can enjoy without reading the book.

I don't know of any other artist who has done this type of work, and Orhan has elevated the art of writing, the process of being a writer and artist, by his lectures and by the creation of this museum, the grand way of the imagination. Any would-be writer would understand the creative process by reading him especially this work. After my father died, I went to the old crumbling house in Manila and saw all those personal objects which I wanted to preserve, the old photographs, the old letters, the antique furniture, the tables and chairs, to preserve the memory not only of my father and of the family. So discovering Orhan's book in the sense of valuing these objects, showed me a way on how to accomplish this task, perhaps as a way for me to write my own book, and assess the experience during the funeral and the return home. The creative endeavor requires the preservation and cataloging of personal objects, to make sense of history as well as the creative  process of writing the novel.

Last Weekend, during the labor week holiday, I tried to catch up on my office work and realized that I needed to prepare before doing the work itself, to organize myself in the way a chef organizes his kitchen before cooking a special dish. Similarly, in writing a novel, one must also organize himself, by preparing the tools of his trade, his work area, his visualization tools like mind mapping, whiteboards were one could write or illustrate ideas, notebooks to get his everyday thoughts, recording devices, software tools like Ever note and Scrivener, out-liner tools and so on. Therefore, one should not rush and do the work or create the output or product, but  focus on the process. I think creating the museum is part of the writing process, to visualize the story, the characters, the location, the period of history, the everyday objects, and assess the experience and meaning before sitting down and writing the novel. It is this process of organization that is the craft that needs to be learned other than the writing itself.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fear of Home

Preparing for my trip back I recall Thomas Wolfe ‘You Can't Go Home Again', a book I had not read. I did read ‘Look Homeward Angel,’ but somehow I recall the evocative title of his other book, something I always remember for some reason since living abroad for the past 12 years.  Somehow the phrase evokes meaning;  one cannot go back to a previous life after being away for some time.  There is a passage in Wikipedia from the novel that evokes that feeling:

"You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory."

I always admired Wolfe because he gets to the heart of things, though for different reasons, he seems to settle on phrases that have universal appeal with timeless meaning, attracting people under different circumstances, who identify with his words.

I discovered Wolfe in the American library in Manila, amazed to find a great writer I never heard before, astounded by his talent, reminiscent of Walt Whitman, but more like Hemingway in his first person narrative, but with a more exuberant, elegant flourish.  On a trip to Asheville, North Carolina a few years ago, I stumbled on his mother’s boarding house while walking the streets during the Belle Cherie festival, separated from my family as we explored the city in its festive reverie.  Discovering Wolfe was always an accident, or happenstance, wandering a city or browsing in a library. Now after changing my citizenship and having not returned home for at least 5 years, the title of his book evokes a certain truth for those who attempt to come back. One also has an irrational fear of returning home, as if death lurks in wait though someday it will, but perhaps my parents who are now in their twilight years, declining in health with the old home decaying and crumbling. I wonder what I can do, the old house barely inhabitable; a place I can no longer live in its present state, let alone my folks.

I changed my citizenship many years ago, leaving the corruption and inefficiency of the homeland, struggling on visas for trips to other countries, preferring the efficiency of one’s adopted country, before moving to the USA. The passport assured my escape, to flee the past and start anew; to leave a place that almost assures that one will not prosper. But one also recalls other difficulties: endless traffic, the robberies at home, the numerous car crashes that luckily had not turned fatal, amazed at one’s luck of having nine lives, plus worker strikes and company shutdowns. In later years, further troubles have occurred: the folly of ones relatives, the decline and mismanagement of finances, the bad luck that seemed to hound the clan’s fortunes. What does one fear? To be engulfed in the shadow of misfortune, the fear of losing what one had gained; a chance to succeed, to have a better life, the possibility of becoming what one dreamed, to live a life one wishes. The paranoid mind creates existential fears, of some bureaucratic foul-up, the machination of some government agency turning against you, the specter of deportation. Far fetch admittedly but the brain’s cognition falters with fear.

One misses the good side, to recover something that was lost, to meet old friends and relatives, to share the brief time left of ones parents, perhaps to make things right. Travel always makes one fearful, perhaps  the plane flight, crossing the ocean, to be above the clouds; the fear of flying, a dread I had long ago when I used to travel frequently, now coming back to  haunt me. Returning home requires you to conquer fears at many levels, to face demons that lurk in the mind, whether valid or not, like ghosts in the darkness of old homes.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Smokey Mountain Redux

Yesterday I decided to go home instead of going to the Upstate museum, not attending a lecture on the war of 1812, electing not to go to the gym as well, preferring to exercise at home. I brought my bike into the living room and attached the stationary gadget so I could workout while watching a documentary on Appalachian parks. I realized I watched this show before, but I saw it with fresh eyes after spending a few days in Gatlinburg in the midst of the Smokey Mountain, riding the Smokey Mountain train in Bryson city and traveling through sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway during my vacation. I enjoyed the show despite seeing it for the second time, due to my new understanding as now infused with meaning. After dinner, I wanted to attend my online courses but feel asleep after updating my writing and reading about the scandal of 1812 (surrender of Fort Detroit) in Wikipedia, the subject of the lecture I missed, figuring that I could learn about the subject without wasting time going to the museum, discovering the ill-fated invasion of Canada that ended with the British incursion into Washington DC and the burning of the White House. I always thought the 1812 war was started by the British, but instead was in retaliation to an American attempt to wrest Canada from the British. After a short nap induced by a full dinner of chicken soup and strawberry crepe, I wasted time surfing the Internet from 11 pm to 12 midnight.

I keep piling up activities to keep me busy, as if afraid to write a novel, fearful of failure in creative projects, thereby resorting to distraction. I also have insomnia, preferring to keep the mind busy, thinking of the impeding trip but not doing anything, instead surfing the Internet, watching television or attending online courses. My father’s stroke changed my thinking, letting me see  frivolity for the first time, similar to the period after my relative’s heart attack, the realization that your time on earth is limited. But the motivation to be serious, to start meaningful work is always side tracked, the devil of procrastination striking every time; the distraction keeps piling up: to watch the new cable series, to read the latest book, to attend the latest lecture; it is the fear of being unqualified to be a writer or an entrepreneur or whoever you want to be. Perhaps it is also a fear of returning to your homeland, to dredge up family feuds and old mistakes, to clear up the mess one’s clan started, to face the difficulty of losing one’s parents and heritage. It is always easy not to go, not do anything, let things crumble and fade away; in the end one cannot fight the ravages of time, the inevitability of decline or the wasting of things. Just let it all go since the experience is painful to endure, just drink your alcohol and numb your feelings away.

I am starting to enjoy Nassim Taleb’s book ‘Anti-Fragility’; initially I was turned off by his righteousness but I started to appreciate his anger, like a philosopher raging against the state of things, the last man standing with common sense. His logic is like a jolt of electricity, his words have periods of perfect lucidity, and so one appreciates his fury, similar to the resentment one feels in his circumstances: too much work, no support from colleagues, gossip, stupid actions, consumerism, sickness, aging, lack of sleep and wasting time. One is not saved by shopping, to spend money as therapy, by distraction. It is important to do what is right, is the subject of Taleb, without compromise, to strive for anti-fragility (a new concept) instead of robustness. Sometime it seems erudition trumps everything, but it is a mistaken notion, a snobbishness that can result in delusions. During moments of confusion, envy and stress, work pressures and impending death, the strong voice is soothing, giving solace to the confused mind. Stress is self-inflicted, like shooting yourself in the foot, having too many desires resulting in foolishness. His book is like a tonic for the mind. At the end of the day, one can only rely on oneself, on one’s logic and values, to act with the feeling that it is the right thing to do.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Feverish Thoughts

Yesterday we had our project managers meeting, where everyone contributed to the discussion, listened to presentations, asked questions, ate lunch together and exchanged ideas. These monthly meetings are helpful, fosters team work and camaraderie, though one’s ideas are not always appreciated, and for those who are sensitive, liable to have hurt feelings with a trace of paranoia, like ‘why doesn’t anyone understand what I am saying’? It is a jostling contest where one tries to be better than the rest, though  one admits to a tendency  towards dominance, a superiority complex but in fact shadows crossing the mind. But one learns to accept the majority view, to descend into a point of tolerance and acceptance, instead of paranoia and anger, a gift of Thomas Jefferson by enshrining into the independence declaration, the pursuit of happiness. It’s an Eastern concept, seeking harmony with the rest despite the rancor of debates, political plots and bitter fights; to be able to rise above petty differences and tolerate acceptance. Nevertheless, one feels a tinge of existential fear, that others don’t really accept you despite the outward appearance. Leaving the meeting, one was happy of the communion but the mind active to lurking doubts.

After work, a journey to the gym, meeting coworkers and having a chat, one losing his keys that one wonders if he should have helped. Thirty minutes spent in the treadmill, looking at the aerobics class where one thinks about social commitments, feeding the mind with uncertainties, adding to the brain’s feverish state, as earlier in the office one responds to emails, with perceived slights in the wordings, plus a nasty dispute with another.  Visits to the gym are normally therapeutic, but one wonders why the mind was not relieved, where thoughts from work still fester. Perhaps the lost opportunity of not swimming, where the waters cleanse confusion away, instead rushing to the shower and back to the streets as one journeys to a Chautauqua event, held in a fine arts center. Perhaps it was the audio book one was listening to: ‘Anti Fragility’ by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, whose venomous tirades against economists, bankers, suckers and the rests of the non-comprehending humanity set the stage for more feverish thoughts,  clinging to the illusion of intellectual superiority, goaded by the logic of his arguments. It is this constant quest to be better that’s driving the culture, to be like sports heroes, or Internet millionaires, or having the best house or luxury cars that drive consumerism; the quest to be exceptional.

It was a musical event, an elegant piano player, middle aged with a full white beard and pony tail, standing under a spotlight, at the center of the concert stage, talking about Leonard Bernstein, playing Chopin and Bernstein’s music from ‘West Side Story’, regaling the audience about Stephen Sondheim and the great George Gershwin. The usher kindly led me to the concert room, walking through the exhibition hall, looking at artworks, settling into my seat and enjoying the show. I thought an evening of music would relieve my mind, but the situation seemed alien, not a part of me, trying hard to blend in the scene but one felt like an outsider. It felt foreign, the chat with the elderly usher, the discussion by the musician, although I did understand the cultural aspects, I was uncomfortable. I arrived home at 9 pm, ate a light dinner and watched the lectures in the online course. I went to bed at 12 pm but I couldn’t sleep, lying in the dark surfing the Internet by phone, looking at old friends in Facebook and Pinterest, familiar faces now old or young ones with a tinge of regret. I felt like I was waiting for something, perhaps the fate of my parents, waiting for the call from home or perhaps the hidden urge to go back, to overcome fear, to meet parents enfeebled by dementia or stroke or the decay of their bodies. A confrontation with reality, to accept mortality, the truth one is no longer young, unsheltered by the protection of fathers and mothers but alone, facing life without their embrace.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Chautauqua in the Deep South

Last weekend I attended several events in the annual Chautauqua festival, enjoying the various performances especially Harry Truman, appreciating the high quality of the shows; a wonderful way to understand history; sort of like a short cut to learning (instead of reading history books). In a way it like those battle reenactments, for both the revolutionary and civil wars, but Chautauqua is more intellectual, delving into historical individuals, while the battle field enactments provide a direct understanding of the actual event, away from sterile stories in books and into direct participation in history, where one can smell the smoke of battle, hear the shouts and cries, experience the thrill of victory or defeat. Supplementing the impersonation and enactments are visits to museums and watching documentaries and movies, aside from visiting historical sites as a way to learn other than reading, which can be time consuming and boring after studying several tomes; instead looking at artifacts in museums and enjoying play acting, but one should also listen to audio books by good authors like Doris Kearns Goodwin, Barbara Tuchman and David McCullough. Documentaries by Ken Burns are also excellent including several series by HBO that can complete one’s education.

These are different ways of learning, something unfamiliar in Asia, particularly creative enactments and impersonation, preferring museum and set pieces, also good when done well like the Asian Civilization Museum in Singapore, combining high technology and excellent scholarship. Nowadays, audio CDs, YouTube videos, online courses, Sound Stream, video on demand, online lectures are the best way to learn, no longer the old way of reading books and spending time in libraries or classrooms. The situation is dynamic, especially the massive online open courses or MOOC, where sites like Udacity and Coursera provide cutting edge knowledge, like attending college virtually. I enrolled in several, indulging in my propensity to overbook my time, especially on knowledge gained freely, whether in libraries or online; knowledge treated like scarcity when it’s now in abundance.  But in fact, time is scarce, and mistakenly one partakes into the abundance of knowledge, and instead the result is the scarcity of with less bandwidth to undertake truly important tasks. Hence, instead of novel writing or starting a business, one is always reading, attending lectures, trying to gain knowledge and be a better writer or entrepreneur when time is actually wasted and lost.

Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment, to be effective in the current task demanded right now, rather than focusing on the future or past. Meditation is the method where one can gain mindfulness, (but one can take shortcuts to learning like attending Chautauqua). Recently several ideas start to coalesce: irrational behavior and behavioral economics, the concept of scarcity and bandwidth, mindfulness and meditation. The emerging idea is that mindfulness and meditation is the answer to fighting the problem of scarcity and bandwidth, as a way to correct irrational behavior.   This seems to be the trend in corporations, the recent rise of mindfulness seminars, to be alive in the present moment. I guess this is the charm of Chautauqua, away from book reading via a direct confrontation with history. This is not some abstract lesson of ideas, where the mind is churning and lost in noble thought, but an experience of reality, to watch the performer enact a historical character. Hence, one must stop the mind and observe, to watch the performance; an act of mindfulness that serves as a history lesson. It would help when supplemented with other learning, for example, listening to the audio book of ‘Moby Dick’ beforehand to appreciate the impersonation of Herman Melville as in last year’s Chautauqua.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Orchard

Last night I watched the film adaptation of Anton Chekov’s ‘The Cherry Orchard’, recalling a similar play staged in Singapore but adapted to China, the same tale of a wealthy family’s decline, a particular Russian specialty, recalling the fate of the Romanov dynasty, due more to revolution but also to mismanagement or wrong decisions or profligacy by the family head.  There is a strain of fatalism and romanticism in these stories; destiny foretells their decline, their natures placing them in a path of destruction, unable to bend the arc of their fate. Is this the same for families everywhere, as parents grow old and continue on their way, their offspring bewildered, scattered all over the world, unable to find a narrative that can sustain the story of the clan. When did the road turn to disaster? Was it the fault of the matriarch, sheltering children instead of throwing them to the wind, to find their place in the world, but instead kept in familial embrace, distorting their independence and growth like in the film ‘Failure to Launch’ starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew McConaughey. Sometimes wealth, even meager fortunes, can distort characters, spare money spent indulgently, corrupting sensible thinking.

To be Russian means to be a romantic, to ponder the tragedy of the Tsars, or the Romanovs, the collapse of the Communist dream, lost fortunes, forlorn dreams and illusions, of failed revolutions. It is also the story of family, the decline of clans and their affluence, the rapture caused by change. Similar to the collapse of the sugar trade in Negros, the play of generations as the dream of the elderly vanish into illusions, the twilight of old age. In a way, the Russian story is similar to the German story, with Wagner’s twilight of the gods, the fall of the Nazis, the trauma of the world wars. There is despair in the soul, unlike the optimism of the French or the English or the Americans, where providence seems to shine in abundance.  Perhaps it is the protestant ethic, the hard edge accounting, where the puritan reigns in terms of currency, though extravagant in all else. The French had their revolution, but they also had Napoleon to bring back their mojo, unlike the Germans who had Hitler and the Russian had their Stalin. In Chekov’s play, the orchard is lost, like the fall of the Soviet empire, and perhaps Ukraine as their leaders lean westward to Europe, a tragedy the Russian in the Kremlin hope to avoid, like losing the orchard to the newly rich.

Each family have their own orchard, the old family home, crumbling and decrepit, their inhabitants long gone except the elderly, living in a dream of a beautiful past, imprisoned in memories like the old butler left behind inside the old house in Chekov’s play. The orchard can also be a dream no longer valid, like the illusions of an aging playboy, or a penniless aristocrat, clinging to hope no longer there. Or perhaps it is a failure of optimism, missing the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, the Englishman in the Hindu desert in full regalia drinking tea, or in the African jungle, the optimism of both Roosevelt fighting against all odds. Perhaps it is the failure of the imagination that is at stake here, an imagination that has reason and one verging in insanity. Churchill had imagination to fight against the Nazi hordes while the heroine in Chekov’s play was living a false hope similar to Blanche in Tennessee William’s ‘A Streetcar named Desire’, on the verge of dementia.  In a way, it is the story of aging, when one needs to accept the onset of time, as one’s bones start to creak, one heart ages, or muscles decay, the mind forgets and old dreams remain, hopefully to be picked up by the young so a new journey takes place, bringing the torch to a distant land, and fulfil the hopes of those who have passed.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mother Russia

In the past, Russia did not seem interesting, preferring China with its ancient history and imperial dynasties, especially the communist revolution and remarkable transition to a modern semi-capitalist state. I enjoyed Harrison Salisbury’s book ‘The New Emperors’, where he noted Mao Tse Tung as never a real communist who strictly followed Marxist Leninist doctrine, but instead studied the Chinese emperors, following their style when managing China into the modern age. Mao was always accused, particularly by Stalin, of having a limited understanding of communist thought, which proved that the Chinese are practical, not ideological, confirmed later by Deng Xiao Ping, with his opening of the economy and integration into world trade. He famously said, ‘does it matter if the cat is white or black as long as it catches the mouse.’ In the end, the Russian revolution collapsed in its own weight, while the Chinese revolution prospered and evolved into a hybrid free market but totalitarian state, soon to emerge as the biggest economy in the world. Strange that I appreciated the Chinese story by reading Harrison Salisbury’s book (among many others), as he was a Russian expert, enjoying his tales of the Chinese communists, bathing in ancient pools of the emperors, idly smoking cigarettes as they pondered politics, an elegant picture of guerilla leaders compared to the primitiveness of other revolutionaries.

In Russia, the Romanov family was brutally executed, unlike the last Chinese Dynasty allowed to disappear into history, the imperial Manchus descending quietly into the proletarian masses. But despite the brutality of the regime, a sophisticated elegance exists, reminiscent of the literati and imperial mandarins, but ruthless and calculating as any despot or bureaucrat. For instance, see the guerilla poetry of Mao or the cultured diplomacy of Chao en Lai. But I discovered Russia in depth recently, intrigued by the tumult in Ukraine, the seizing of Crimea and the Black Sea ports. But I also discovered Russia through the story of the English spy Sidney Reilly (actually a Jew born in Ukraine), enjoying the BBC program of Far East intrigues, the rise of the Bolsheviks, of Lenin and Stalin, and of his tragic execution. During the weekend, I watched ‘Nicholas and Alexandria’, the epic story of the Romanovs and modern Russian film by Alexei  Popogrebski: ‘How I ended this summer’ and ‘The Road to Koktebel’. Previously I enjoyed Andrei Tarkovsky’s works: ‘Stalker’, ‘Solaris’ and ‘Voyage in Time’, thinking his films followed the stylistic oeuvre of Michelangelo Antonioni. But I realized Russian cinema reflect a strain of culture I missed: mysticism and spirituality. I discovered this aspect in the Romanov film, in the depiction of Rasputin and Sidney Reilly with visions of his death in the Moscow snow.

Hence, Russia is better understood, as the largest country in the world, with its heritage of the Russian Orthodox Church, the merging of western and eastern culture that one begins to understand its motivation. In a way, it is the spiritual descendant of the Byzantine culture, of the ancient Christian faith and the orthodoxy, the claimant to the throne of the Holy Roman Emperor, in the ambitions of Peter and Catherine the Great; the inevitable tragedy of the Romanovs, the dynasty ending as the German monarchy did in the turmoil of the first world war. This is an ancient land, perhaps as old as Chinese civilization, the nomadic warriors of the Moghuls in the high steppes, the Golden Horde of the Khans, the mysticism of ancient Asia mingling with Christian Byzantium. One understands the intricate plots of spies, double agents and Moscow rules; the sophisticated tactics of its chess Grand Masters, the absurd bureaucracy of the Communist hierarchy (following Kafka and George Orwell) are the tradition of Byzantine intrigue and the turbulent politics of Central Asia and the border countries of Georgia, Ukraine and Poland. Vladimir Putin and previously, Medvedev and Boris Yeltsin are the new emperors, benefitting from the radical miscalculation of the last communist leader Mikhail Gorbachev, pursuing ambitions of the Tsars in a seemingly democratic nation, though the mysticism of the Asian steppes and Byzantine intrigue lie underneath. Russia is a complex conservative country following the labyrinth culture of ancient societies like India and China, not the modern transparent culture of Western Europe and the United States.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Wrong Behavior

There are numerous new studies on behavioral economics which seem to say that one’s usual instincts and hard wired mental models are incorrect. This results in mistaken behavior with outcomes that one had hoped to avoid. In other words, the mind is actually misleading you, even if you think that you have superior instincts and intellect. Someone had said that intelligent people are in fact the easiest to fool, being adept in abstract reasoning but ungrounded in reality, lacking street smarts or down to earth skills (i.e. repairing a lawn mower, etc.). The Chinese have a saying that knowledge not used is useless knowledge, hence, putting scorn on intellectuals who learn from books. There is a backlash on smart people but there is another problem in saying that down to earth folks have more wisdom. For example, the predilection for huge homes, despite the absence of need, or the practicality of large spaces that are unutilized, the urge for bigger and better whether housing or food portions, or indulgences in the scale of a Las Vegas production. Bigger is always better. One starts to doubt himself if one does not follow the crowd, or wallow in envy if one does not follow the Joneses, like in the hysteria after the terror attacks, to be unpatriotic even when profiling Muslims and Middle Eastern men as described in the book ‘Zeitoun.’

On the other hand, the recent book ‘Scarcity’ reflects the opposite reaction, where one is pound foolish but penny wise, striving to save dollars and cents but splurging on large purchases (i.e. Mac Mansions).  Hence the mind is a beast to be tamed, far from the logical computer like efficiency that people sometimes think it is, perhaps like Sherlock Holmes who solves difficult crimes but resorts to smoking opium as a way to relax.   Improving one’s mental skill while destroying his faculties in the long run by taking drugs, plus the risk of being addicted, a story never fully explored by Arthur Conan Doyle. Or someone like Bill Clinton, brilliant as a policy wonk and a superior politician, but self-destructive in his urges, resulting in disgrace in an otherwise brilliant career, though still popular despite his follies.  Similarly in investment behavior, despite the proven method of Warren Buffet, as most investors still buy during bull markets and sell in bear markets, buying flashy overvalued stocks and disdaining value stocks. Perhaps like buying a luxury car, expensive to maintain and not fuel efficient but with sexy styling. But one never knows, living in a materialist consumer society, when not shopping is considered a sin, not spending a sickness. What is the use of money when unused?

What does behavioral economics tell us? That man is a victim of his passions, succumbing to the desires of the body, forever looking for release and instant gratification. The rare individual who is self-controlled is viewed as an aberration; a savant or dyslexic or an idiot. It is an uncommon trait that a whole discipline in economics is devoted to disproving one’s instincts, one’s supposedly rational mental capacity. ‘To one’s own nature be true’ is a good saying, never to be swayed by fads or by media. An individual thinker is rare, for someone to make his own mind and stick to his own reasoning even against the common norm. Behavioral economics is about irrational behavior, the lack of financial literacy, or unwise thinking that maybe fueling the trend towards a data driven life. To get objective facts and be guided by data, not by the mind when following one’s instincts. Often times, the correct outcome is counterintuitive, not the expected behavior. For example, when a politician disdains war (Ron Paul or  Barack Obama), preferring diplomacy and negotiation, which conservatives consider incorrect, not bombing Iran, or toppling the Syrian government. Hence, not going to war is as a mistake, a sign of weakness when it may be the wisest thing to do.  But one never knows, considering the superior arsenal one possesses; what is the purpose of advance weaponry when unused?

Obesity is another example of irrational thinking. An article in Time says that counting calories is the incorrect way to lose weight. It is not the quantity that matters but quality. In other words, one should eat less complex carbohydrates and sugar, but instead eat lots of fruits and vegetables even healthy fats in foods like avocado, olive oil and nuts. The key is metabolism and one should focus on foods that will aid metabolism. In other words, eating less and exercising more will not help you achieve the goal of losing weight but choosing the type of foods that will improve metabolism. Experts now say that eating less and exercising more only works for a select group of people.  Hence, eating less carbohydrates and exercising in the gym is the wrong behavior when trying to lose weight. Who would have thought that was the case? But the data from the studies show otherwise. Data trumps everything.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Descending to the Norm

I went to the gym yesterday, exercising on the elliptical machine for 20 minutes, swimming for 15 minutes, lounging on the hot tub for 5 minutes and spending about 7 minutes in the steam room. I spent almost an hour at the sports club, arriving home near 8pm for dinner, eating too much, of spicy meat,  bell peppers and rice, watching an indie movie ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’ and falling asleep in the couch. I wanted to attend online courses at Coursera and read but I was too tired, drifting to sleep in the living room and, finally, going up to bed at 11:30 pm. It is the same routine of a colleague of mine who also works out at the gym, eating dinner, watching television, falling asleep in the couch and struggling to bed near midnight. I woke up early the next morning, rising at about 5 am, going downstairs and reading a book ‘Organize your Mind, Organize your Life’, paying my insurance bills online and writing a check to my brother. I left home for work at about 7:30 am, at my desk by 8 am, drinking coffee and catching up on work, returning a call to a colleague and attending a meeting which I had organized with participants from Mexico, India and the United States. Later today, I would attend another meeting in the afternoon, leave the office at about 5:30 pm and travel home where the whole routine would repeat itself.

Thus one descends into the usual middle class existence of eating too much; couch surfing, sleeping late and going back to work the next day. But I want to be more productive, to do tasks like writing and exploring business ventures in the Internet, but the pattern keeps repeating itself. I am also preparing to visit the Philippines, where  work is expected of me although I get to see my family and friends, especially my mom and dad, who is recovering from a stroke. It now seems that life is at a standstill until I depart for Asia where one will see the twilight of one’s parents, whose example I follow as a father, retracing all those steps in the past where all seemed sunny and carefree. There will be an accounting in all aspects: medical bills, the folly of one’s siblings, taking care of the elderly, living with dementia, disposing of real estate properties, reconciling with relatives and friends. It is like reestablishing roots in the face of family illness and decline. In the meantime, the struggle continues, barreling through the workload and challenges at the office, trying to keep healthy, sane and the dream of a better life but silently receding in the distance, when illness or tragedy can strike while one is unaware until life takes another path and the dreams fade away as a new reality takes over.

Otherwise, one delves into a trivial life: struggling to lose weight but gaining more pounds, losing interest in going to the gym, eating more and descending into sloth and slumber until the weeks go by, then the years and, finally the decades of one’s life. The plan is simple: eat less, drink tea, and be active after office, keep working on a dream that would lift you out of the rat race. I am reading a book called ‘Scarcity’ where one’s cognitive bandwidth is consumed by all the demands of media, attention to details and the onslaught of work. There is no mental capacity left for other things, so one just descends into triviality until mediocrity is the norm. Perhaps one just needs to throw it all away, to start fresh; one is tired of going through the same illusions of consuming media. A clean break is needed in order to rise above the deadening mediocrity.  But it is also a battle against age, cognitive decline, mental churning, the monkey mind, envy, anger and so on. This morning I read an article in CNN about people living beyond 100 years. The secret seems to be an optimistic attitude, an active life, eating in moderation and being engaged. There is hope yet and considering one life span, another 30 to 50 years is still possible if one is lucky and careful.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Smokey Mountain

Last week, we vacationed near the Great Smoky Mountain State Park, visiting Bryson city and riding the train at the Great Smoky Mountain Railway, going up to Gatlinburg and riding the sky lift, visiting Sweet water and going underground in the caves of the lost sea, drinking moonshine back at Gatlinburg and, finally, doing the zip line before traveling back home, journeying at some sections via the Blue Ridge parkway and Maggie Valley.  The trip reminded me of my childhood visits to Baguio city, often with my father as he played golf in the Philippine American tournament at Camp John Hay, the air force base created by the American military in the Cordillera Mountains outside Manila when the military bases still existed in the islands. It was poignant to think these thoughts as my father lay in a hospital recovering from a stroke he suffered the week before in Manila, and his predicament stirred old memories of Baguio as I looked at the surrounding pine trees and the mountains circling the city.  I always liked mountain cities and discovering places like Bryson city, Gatlinburg and Maggie Valley brought back memories as I pondered my next step, to go home and visit my ailing father. It seemed ruthless and unfeeling that I proceeded with our vacation after he suffered a stroke, but it was the only chance left to be with my sons before they go back to college after the summer break.

One could not do anything except wait for news as doctors worked on his condition. The prognosis looked good, the aggressive treatment applied in time, within the 3 to 4 hour window where medicines could still make a difference before further damage is done in the brain. It was fortunate that he was rushed to the hospital right after the signs of a stroke were detected, despite some doubts of his ability to absorb the aggressive treatment, where 6 to 7 percent would suffer from fatal side effects, but the doctor was confident after conducting an MRI. Now is the difficult time of recovery, where physical therapy would determine the quality of life, where one needs to exert great effort to go back to one’s usual self, lucky to have escaped within a breath of fatality. One should be careful of one’s health, a silly thought when one should be conscious straightaway, but it seems that one fulfills his fate; where only a few could reach out and bend the arc of destiny by making an inward change; unfortunately man is like an animal despite his illusions, living out the demands of his body, eating too much, succumbing to his desires, living the way his nature demands as he descends into his true disposition.

It is an exaggeration, of course, where one tries to follow rules, to eat less and desire less, but fate still runs its course. Perhaps it’s one’s destiny to perish like his ancestors; by debilitating strokes, brain hemorrhages or heart attacks. One realizes that life in these magnificent mountains will go on, that one’s tenure is brief, that one passes away into the earth; dreams and desires evaporate as one nears his end. It is the same sadness one felt with grandmother long ago, suffering a severe stroke, unable to speak and whose health declined thereafter. I felt the same rage, seeing her body deteriorate; the realization that one’s aspirations are truly gone, but perhaps it is too soon to talk this way; as compared to the elderly in their eighties or nineties, who experienced the fullness of their time. All the more urgent to live life as envisioned in youth. Facing mortality is like a wake-up call that jolts one into true awareness. In one of the Gatlinburg shops, I looked at a book about the city’s history, at old black and white photos of early settlers, people who traveled from faraway searching for a new life, with hopeful faces of long ago, wondering if they lived their dreams before returning back to the mountain earth.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Malay Fusion

On Mother’s day last Sunday, we ate in a downtown restaurant that specialized on Asian fusion food, ordering laksa – a spicy noodle soup that I used to buy in Tanjong Katong in Singapore.  The prices were steep, considering the food did not deserve such a price as one could get a similar and better meal for 1/5th the price in Singapore. The only good thing was the atmosphere, sort of like an Asian chic ambiance with modern design, Buddha figures, dramatic lights and a trendy esthetic, reminding me of those dimly lit sleek bars near the Central Business District that we used to go in the evenings.  After lunch, we had a gelato around the corner, watching people in the downtown streets enjoying the day, as it was Artisphere, a local event the promotes local art, walking beside Asian restaurants all owned by a Malaysian chef, cashing in on the Asian craze with restaurants that are a step from the usual cheap Chinese joints. But it was good to be able to get this type of food, authentic in taste and reminiscent of the sexy new bars in modern Asian cities, with dark lights and Buddhist figures, heralding a unique Asian vibe here in the Deep South. So much has changed since we left five year ago, especially the buildings, for instance the new entertainment and casino complex raising beside Manila Bay, a poor cousin admittedly to the government led behemoth in Singapore.

Another hectic week, multiple meetings, email deluge, phone calls, problems in multiple programs, stressed out folks and late nights. I missed a Toastmaster meeting, feeling tired and over whelmed, struggling along despite the fatigue, still able to go to the gym twice, planning to do work at home for an hour everyday just to keep up, something that can be done if I curtail my television viewing, reducing all my library borrowing and focusing on work. I borrowed and purchase some books on how to tackle this feeling of being overworked: ‘Organize you Mind, Organize your Life’, ‘Scarcity’ and so on. I am also attending an online course on irrational behavior, thinking that my own actions are irrational (if not stupid), a realization that one’s own action is the cause of stress. Perhaps it is the feeling of heaviness that must be thrown away, to be light in one’s feet and mind, something that is achieved by indulgent vices and escape but temporary as one return to the grind of work. One is starting to understand the ideas behind behavioral economics where irrational behavior rule, where the body does one thing despite contrary goals in mind, like indulging in carbs when one is actively trying to lose weight, like the body is moving forward of its own volition. How can one breakthrough the daily grind and hypocrisy? Last night I watch an interesting artist that drew mystical paintings hosted in “The Chapel of Sacred Mirrors’, whose theme is like a mix between ancient Eastern beliefs and psychedelic art hyped with LSD. Perhaps this spaced out consciousness is needed to keep one grounded.

Tomorrow I will be travelling to Columbia for my last meeting as Area Governor, after the meeting I will visit the book fair at the convention center and possibly attend some workshops. My term as Area Governor has been hectic, it opened me to new experiences, discovered my limits, given me stress but it was a good experience. It was the twin challenge of this year, coupled with my new role at work, another taxing experience where I am barely surviving, living from day to day, from crisis to crisis. Now the year has gone, rich with experience and again thick into new mind absorbing task like attending online courses. Presently I am enrolled in the following subject: entrepreneurship, leadership, guitar lessons, modern Europe, irrational behavior, business and philosophy. It like new experiences opens up a craving for new knowledge that the tendency is to drink from a firehouse, opening the doors for an influx of data that one can drown in. It is a wonder that one can absorb all these stimuli, but that is one’s reckless nature, like a drunken boxer ready to accept a challenge until someone comes along to deck you with a solid punch. It is again an example of irrational behavior or perhaps a low self-esteem that one unnecessarily undertakes risky behavior. Perhaps that is what one is trying to find out, to discover his nature by opening the doors of untrammeled input, massive stimuli, akin to overdosing in drugs.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Road to Normalcy

Too much time spent in triviality, like escape was the only way to keep sane, distraction by watching television, reading books and surfing the Internet, lost in a world of diversion. An elitist feeling, that of being knowledgeable, spending time keeping up with social, cultural, political and art events, acting like royalty as in Lorde’s song, with someone’s day job enough to pay bills. But in fact, a snob at the end of the day, despite the love of knowledge, thinking one is special by being intelligent. In a world of practicality, it’s a waste of time; the need to focus on reality becomes apparent as one faces money problems, as loans are due and one needs to hustle. No more time spent in trivial things but on how to make a buck. I read the book ‘The Buy Side’ in the weekend, a true account of a Wall Street trader, more like an every man story as he strives to make millions on the stock market,  the un-Buffett or the un-Soros, a life of excess, trading information and investing in tips, with some sober moments of good analysis. In the end, the author crashed and burned; a victim of alcohol and drug filled indulgence, a life anyone would have ended up, given the chance, instead of the sober long view and patient actions of a Buffett or Soros.

This is true life, where one needs to scramble to make ends meet, where the mind has to focus, work long hours, work like a grunt, his mind back from the clouds, avoiding day dreams and facing reality, hopeful of flashes of inspiration after time spent in reveries. It is the application of insight learned from dreams, hopeful of a different perspective; a detached view that one could apply to real problems. The problem is the feeling of superiority, by being up to date, in the know with the latest and greatest, though one is an employee, trying to feel special. Perhaps it’s what’s great in America, when leisure is possible with a normal wage, free to develop and grow as one sees fit. But excess money leads to indulgence, as one learns in ‘Irrational Behavior’, where more money does not translate to better performance especially in creative tasks, only in tasks that are mechanical. Living in dreams, despite being in debt, not being practical, is a form of irrational behavior, too. Like the trader in the book, full of irrational behavior as his life sinks into depravity, fueled by drugs and alcohol, while trying to pretend to normality. What about an excess of time? Does this also lead to excessive behavior?

A normal person only needs little to live a decent life, but in a situation of excess moolah and time, effort is needed to be sober and wise, to devote time in meaningful activities instead of waste. The answer is not in travelling more, watching the latest shows, spending money in trivial things but in tasks that use time wisely, perhaps to apply what one learns until middle age. Some worthwhile activities are: grow a garden, plant trees, look for meaningful activities outside work, or write a book. This will keep one lean, away from being obese in mind, body and spirit, in a state of continuous effort, not from the poverty of olden times, but from the excess of free. 'Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much' is a book that talks about the ‘scarcity mindset’, for example the scarcity of time, when one loads up with activities that one has no time left for tasks that really matter. Why does one feel scarcity? Is it because of fear the one’s job will consume one’s time, away from the feeling of exploring new things, like flying in the air, imprisoned by work, away from the reality that brings you down to earth, to normality. Perhaps it the fear of losing freedom until one realizes that neglecting meaningful tasks will also result in a loss of freedom, a victim of dreams.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Multi-Tasking Life

Recent studies claim that multi-tasking destroys your brain, a change in point of view especially as one boasts of having multi-tasking ability, but in fact can cause biological deterioration and cognitive decline, where the best thing is to focus on one task at a time. One had earlier thought that people who can only focus on one task are simple minded, unable to grasp the subtleties of mental multi-processing similar to a computer chip, where the mind moved along parallel lines. Someone said that having 2 contradictory thoughts is a mark of true intelligence, now it’s the reverse, the single task focus is the wiser path; the so–called simple minded folks are in fact the wiser, whereas the multi-tasking fool is often stressed out, ready to crash and burn in his own ideas of superiority. The single task simpleton has a healthy brain, with serenity in life; bereft of pressure and stress, contrary to the high achieving multi-task personality who is actively destroying his brain with unnecessary labor. Making one’s life complex, by indulging in multiple activities, was one way to be interesting, following a book by Edward de Bono, the originator of the thinking hats theory, was in reality a road to mental deterioration.

The weekend was again a whirl wind of activity, where Friday was spent completing late work, attending 3 morning meetings at the same time (remote by phone), rushing to a park at lunch time for the department picnic, enjoying food and games in the trail, rushing back to work and going to a nearby hotel to help arrange a Toastmaster conference, going to the gym to swim at dusk and rushing back to the hotel in the evening to observe the impromptu speech contest. The next day, Saturday, was a journey back to the conference, attending the training sessions, listening to the speeches, skipping lunch and going to Wal-Mart to buy gardening supplies, going back to the conference for the plenary speech, leaving at dusk and going to the gym again to swim, and rushing back to help in the main speech contest; putting on wireless microphones on speakers before they walked onto the stage. It was a very educational day, attending training, listening to speeches, meeting people and watching the drama of speakers practicing their speeches, with one losing his thoughts and walking out, his pretty daughter rushing out of the main ballroom to embrace him, a family drama played out in public, the hidden story of a young son afflicted with type-1 diabetes.  

Awaking early Sunday morning, digging holes to plant new shrubs, white and red azaleas, mixing the red earth with garden soil from Wal-Mart, doing difficult work before the sun rises, completing the task in 2 hours, going back inside to cook breakfast of turkey ham omelet, catching up on reading and watching a film or two from the library or recorded in the DVR. Going fishing at 2pm with 2 colleagues at work, enjoying a bucolic afternoon beside a minuscule lake, hidden in one of those sprawling trailer park  subdivisions with few houses, drinking beer, trading stories and catching a fish; borrowing a fishing rod, when one’s own proved too complex, enjoying fishing until 6 pm. Rushing to read magazines and books at home, enjoying the Sidney Reilly series with Sam Neil, talking to relatives to discuss the problems of life and difficulties in the home country; sad that brothers and sisters don’t help each other, with one oceans away from being able to help parents in their declining years. One feels guilty with the ease of life here, but one misses the drama and excitement of being home, where one is constantly in motion with third-world traffic and issues, otherwise one goes fat and obese with the affluence.

How does one help when one is oceans away?  In a way, it’s no different from work with outsource companies in India or the Philippines, meeting remotely and trying to solve problems far away. With the shortness of time, pausing like a deer in the headlights is not an option until one is buried with the ephemera of cyberspace. I am reading a book called ‘Organize your Mind, Organize your Life,’ reading in the parking lot as one waits for another event in the conference, opening the air condition in the car and blocking the sun as one reads the book, tackling head on what one has been grappling with recently at work, the onrush of life that results in being overwhelmed and stressed. Hence, the ‘focus’ on multi-tasking, to try in catch up with the onslaught of work, but finding out that it’s bad for one’s mental health. This is maybe the best book I would read this year, to achieve a balance in one’s life, offering some techniques to be effective. I enjoyed my time at the conference, despite my hectic schedule but I realized it was not for me, my responsibilities both in the club and at work has taken its toll. It was a good experience where one realized his limitation and priorities, now coupled with family challenges back home in his native country.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Alternate Reality

Philip Roth’s ‘The Counterlife’ is the best book I have read on the Jewish diaspora, the conflict in Israel and the identity of Jews; plus their lives in Judea, New Jersey and England. It is also about identity and Roth’s claim that living in a great country like the United States removes one’s ethnic heritage, coming into a wider more generic identity, adapting to a new world where old baggage is left behind. The book re-affirms Walt Whitman in his poetic epic ‘Leaves of Grass’, celebrating the diversity of New York, its bustling alleys with new immigrants unloaded from ships from the old world. I am starting to believe that Roth is possibly the best American writer around, aside from Cormac McCarthy; ‘The Counterlife’ is inventive and post-modern, if I can use that term, with ghosts as characters like in Macbeth, or characters from a book coming alive, counter scenarios thrive like alternate realities, all tackling the question of Jewish identity, with depictions of ultra-conservative settlers in Judea, or the West Bank as the media would describe it. More people should read Roth, aside from Thomas Friedman to understand the inner motivation of the diaspora.

In fact, Roth’s book is more a celebration of the American experiment, to leave the past and start new, the effort of re-invention. There are second acts in one’s life, contrary to F. Scott Fitzgerald. I watched the original movie last weekend starring Robert Redford, which I thought was inferior but in fact much better than Baz Luhrmann’s version, though Baz did a better job visually explaining the book. Jay Gatzby is an example of counter life, a new person created for love, though tragically lost, as forces of fate realign along a Greek tragedy. Roth’s book is a sly meditation, an elegant discussion of identity, both as an American and as a Jew, weaving stories that compare and contrast various points of view, attacking the militant ultra-orthodox people shaping Israel today, and perhaps preventing peace in the Middle East. Recently Secretary of State John Kerry used ‘apartheid’ to describe the situation, a view started by former President Jimmy Carter, perhaps a view that’s gaining mainstream acceptance and, unfortunately, may result in a return to anti-Semitism. All these strands come together: from the works of Roth, Fitzgerald, Whitman in trying to celebrate the best of the American experiment, of re-creating a new identity as a way forward, away from age old prejudice.

For the past several nights I watched the English mini-series ‘Edward VII’, an excellent but dated production about the eldest son of Queen Victoria, a series that won several awards with good performances. It was a good program with excellent insight on European royalty, especially politics and history, perhaps the start of a successful attempt to institutionalize a monarchy as others lost theirs during a turbulent period; for instance, the brutal killing of the Russian royal family by the Bolsheviks, the fall of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany after the end of World War I. Linking the books I read, with scenes of Arthur Balfour, the Prime Minister who authored the Balfour Declaration, promised a Jewish homeland in answer to Zionism; the show depicted the forces that led to the world wars (i.e. rise of Germany), resulting in the Holocaust, the creation of Israel and troubles in the Middle East.  A young Winston Churchill was present, who played a prominent role as colonial secretary in carving out the fallen Ottoman Empire in the Hejaz.  Edward VII acted as peace maker and his death may have assured the occurrence of the world wars.

In both conflicts, America played a prominent part, rescuing the old powers from destroying themselves, watching the excellent HBO series ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘The Pacific’, understanding the rise of a new global state as the old world receded from stage. The rise of the new order, plus the experiment in a different humanity as written by Fitzgerald and Roth; that it’s possible to solve an intractable old conflict with a fresh ‘can do’ spirit but also results in illusion like Jay Gatzby (an officer in World War I) trying to re-claim a lost dream. It’s the new Turks that threaten the current order, plus the lack of wise men like Edward VII, who hold things together with his influence and prestige (like an English version of Secretary of State). One recalls a scene in Barbara Tuchman’s ‘The Guns of August’ where the royalty of Europe gathered for Edward VII’s funeral, walking the streets in their resplendent uniforms, as the funeral procession made their way; onlookers felt the end of an era, where a deadly evil was just around the corner. Disparate strands of thoughts come into synthesis; finding links and relationships, perhaps like Eastern philosophy where everything is connected; a holistic view of totality that make sense when scribbling thoughts in a page.  

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Expertise Rule

Recently I calculated that I had spent more than 10,000 hours writing a blog, therefore following the famous rule made famous by Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘Outliers’; to conclude I must be an expert in blog writing. Admittedly this is not creative writing, as in the form of writing a novel, but it is writing nevertheless, which gives me confidence in starting a career as a writer. I may have also spent nearly 10,000 hours reading books, so that makes me a near expert in book reading, too.  Most writers would tell you that reading and writing is important to being a good writer, therefore my experience so far should give me a step up. But the medium of a blog also provides other expertise as well, like being an expert on the Internet and ways one can monetize (or not) his online work. The point is that after nearly 8 years of writing a blog, one wonders what he is an expert in. Does it mean expertise in clear thinking, or expressing ideas, or is it a facility in understanding? One is sure that the motivation was to clear thoughts and de-stress, the act of journaling is really a form of meditation. Perhaps this is the true expertise one has gained, to handle anxiety and settle the mind, sort of like a wisdom practice.

I believe in making progress a step at a time, and one strove for expertise in writing, in finance and investment, real estate, stock, bonds and online ventures. One achieved modest success but the effort is wanting; a need to make a breakthrough so the investment in time is well spent. Unfortunately, one has dilly dallied, spending time indulging in a bookish life, to be a literati, or scholar in the Chinese sense. But the Chinese have a saying that unused learning is wasted learning. All the more reason that one must justify the past years of blogging, or it will turn out to be a large waste to time and resources. The conclusion one has a good foundation to succeed; hence, the challenge to control or manage the mind to get the job done. Perhaps this is where true mindfulness begins, to focus on the moment and sit down and write plus learn more about the other areas of improvement.  But there are visible signs of progress in real estate and stock investing, plus a direction to go to the next level, by forming an LLC, trying options (covered calls) or investing in bonds. Online ventures are also another way forward by maximizing experience into monetizing a food blog, using ad words and video resources. Hence, a way ahead in these areas.

Unfortunately, for creative writing projects, there is no other way but to write. Perhaps it is more of a creative exercise, where one must use tools like mind mapping or visual thinking to get a novel going. Thus a strategy is born, to maximize an experience that started with journal writing and de-stress, to blogging, to the internet and online investments. The other day my friends came to the house for dinner: Singapore dry noodles with minced meat, fish balls and mushrooms, ham, fried chicken wings, chocolate cake, mango and sticky rice. It was a nice time to catch up and especially share stories and future plans: moving to a new city, to a new job, a new house or new gadgets, all the trappings of moving forward.  These were all easy things to do, external movements toward something new; bereft of internal progress or perhaps a deliberate discipline to move ahead, one that requires reflection. But one is amiss as well, descending into stagnant satisfaction, not taking the considerable next step. Hence, time to assess what one achieved and to make a leap. It’s the courage to be dissatisfied, to know what one possesses is nothing if one stagnates; to undertake a journey that is primarily an internal quest.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tax Deadline

During the weekend, I struggled to complete my tax return using Turbo Tax, working on Saturday and Sunday and finally completing by Sunday noon. I have been working on my taxes since last week after office until I decided that the effort needed a full weekend; to focus on assembling documents, preparing spreadsheets, making calculations on expenses and so on. The task is time consuming and requires a sustained effort of concentration, made difficult by the many diversions available: movies, books and music.  After I completed my tax return, thanking God for Turbo Tax, I wanted to play golf but I did not have time, I vacuumed the house and watched movies borrowed from the library. The source of stress is oneself, and I realize that I am driving myself crazy, the only way to cut down is to avoid going to the library, where the many books and magazine lie in wait, ready to entice me with numerous possibilities for distraction and mental strain. But working on my taxes and organizing my financial affairs, one realizes is THE important task; all others are frivolous distraction. But there are just too many good films to see or books to read that I remember St. Augustine praying that he be converted a little bit later so he can enjoy his philistine life a moment more.
I also realize that one’s mind is not as sharp as before, coupled by the effects of medication like statins that supposedly cause mental confusion, realizing that a sustained mental effort requires a force of will. One wonders if the challenge at work is really a suicide mission: the urge to fight back and conquer the work place is really stressing the mind. Age is what stops people from achieving their dreams at a late age, except for the late bloomers who seem to reach the pinnacle of their efforts at midlife. The need for mindfulness, the meditation technique pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn, is now practiced by more people in the workplace, confirming my instinct several years back when I discovered his work, but lapsed in the years since with the occasional Tai Chi and Yoga practice. One is glad of PBS with sponsored programs that feature Deepak Chopra, Daniel Amens and others who advise on how to keep the brain young and fight the ravages of time. It all came together in the weekend as I struggled to complete my returns and watched these shows that advised on the latest techniques. Strangely, I had a chance to read about Southern writers, a book by William Ferris with supplemental DVD and CD, with accounts from Eudora Welty, Alice Walker, Robert Penn Warren and Arthur Haley, keeping the dream alive; as one struggles with age.

Recently I meet with insurance sales men, talking about life and term insurance, about annuities plus reading about retirement design. Financial planning is clear now, especially last weekend as one organized his financial assets, going in the right direction and following instincts. I think one made good decisions, cautious on spending and investment, making small mistakes, following Nassim Taleb latest book on probability, focusing on diversification, savings and value investing. This effort requires clear thinking and abstract reasoning but affected by age, stress, exercise, diet, sleep habits and alcohol.  It can all come undone if one is not careful. There is too much living in the future or in the past where one is not mindful of the present moment; a curse that one did not realize until one begins to have problems focusing, escaping into books or movies to distract the mind. Mindfulness is a Buddhist discipline, not only an effort of mental exercise but philosophical intent. One is attracted to the element of discipline but lost to the transformative experience if one does not accept the metaphysical implications; a contradiction of both thinking and unthinking; to focus on the moment.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Leaving the Tunnel

A few weeks back, we returned from a trip to Savannah, Georgia and Beaufort, South Carolina. A visit to the old South, as people would say, enjoying the parks and public squares of Savannah, the stately homes around the square, enjoying the tours particularly the pirate house and other interesting legends like the Williams Mercer residence, the subject of a book and a film directed by Clint Eastwood. My memories of the so called American South did come from the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, the gothic atmosphere, the decadent and aristocratic city recovering from the Civil War, an update on “Gone with the Wind”, where the landed elite lose their holdings amidst the destruction of  General Sherman’s army.  But it was a young town, with students from the surrounding universities, the playing bands in the squares, the music festival, young people lazing in the park, bring a youthful vibe reminiscent of New York, with both its greenery in its public spaces and the cosmopolitan taste of its food and culture. The trip was a welcome escape after the area contest I organized and dues payment deadline which I worked on the previous week.

I did not expect Beaufort to be more interesting than Savannah, but I was mistaken, enjoying first the beach and lighthouse at Huntington State Park, imagining life in a remote area beside the sea, with the museum on light keepers enough to trigger romantic images. The mansions in Beaufort were next after an excellent lunch of Shrimp and Grits, fried oysters, shrimp bisque; enjoying the waterfront and finally a tour on a horse led carriage, around the quaint settlement beside the Beaufort river, the guide talking about the history of its old houses. But Beaufort was a Union town, after Robert Small (later congressman) helped the Union army takeover the surrounding coastal areas, effectively blockading the South and stop any shipment of arms from European enemies. The pace was slow and leisurely, topping the surprise and enjoyment of the Savannah excursion, thinking that one must return and enjoy these old cities saved by Sherman who visited the area before the war, instead marching on and burning Columbia to the ground. The legacy of the Union presence is Parish Island, the training ground of the US marines; also the historic capital of the Spanish colonies, long before the English came and changed the history of the continent. 

After returning from the trip, one was engrossed with the problems at work, back to the grindstone, fighting issues and assaults from colleagues, finally settling on a system of more organized work, instead of the current turbulence. Last Saturday was the division speech contest, where I served as judge for 4 contests; enjoying the orations and glad my term as area governor is finally coming to an end. I was crazy to take on that role plus my new assignment at work, compounding my stress and increasing work load. I feel I am emerging from a tunnel, hopefully better organized, with more free time, instead of being dictated by problems, meetings and fighting fires.  The trip to the old South was refreshing, reconnecting mental images conjured in books, finally seeing the old coastal towns where ships from Europe crossed the Atlantic and berthed into the New World. During the road trip, as we travelled along  towns and highways, we listened to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatzby’, possibly the great American Novel, equal to ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘Huckleberry Finn’, by exploring the way wealth corrupted the New World in its mad dash to supremacy. ‘The business of America is business,’ said Tocqueville.

I felt a connection to the old towns of the South and Jay Gatzby, the drive to accumulate wealth by vice, enriched by slavery in the cotton, indigo and rice plantations, transforming the local planters into a landed gentry but eventually destroyed by war; the cleansing of an evil, the stately homes now owned by carpetbaggers as the old aristocratic families fled in the wake of Sherman’s destruction. There is history looking around the stately parks, the old churches, the ruins in Sheldon of the Anglican cathedral, of long lost grandeur and decaying mansions, the military presence in Parrish Island was like a lifeline, a sort of equalizer that started de-segregation in it’s ranks after the world wars, a lifeline for Jay Gatzby, too as he embarked on a quest of re-invention and wealth accumulation, perhaps like the slave owning plantation owners, with a sort of twisted purity of a lost time, only to perish in violence. It’s crazy to try to link the history of the south, with its stately homes and crumbling ruins, to a romantic hero chasing a gold digger, who also owned a mansion beside the sea. But there is the same core of purity amidst the corruption like living in the antebellum South with its soft gentle manners and cruel slavery.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The New Role

Initially one thought the work was not done well, plans forming in the mind to make improvements, dropping the manual job of entering stuff in a separate spreadsheet, instead thinking that extracting a report from the tool will dictate work like a breeze. What a moron! Deluded that innate intelligence, insouciance and luck will make the job easier, another overconfident idiot walking naively to the lion’s den, a naïve lamb to the slaughter.  Soon one is confused, dazed and bewildered, scrambling to respond to emails, lost in the tumult of work traveling at the speed of light, aware that more organized managers stay calm, one thinks the work volume is larger than anyone else. What a mess, looking around for help (panic just below the surface), finding assistance from a French lady and a middle aged manager, showing their ordered demeanor while one flops from one near disaster to another. One was filled with overconfidence, a walk in the park; one’s clever plans would make it, trying all sorts of new things when one just needed a notebook and a daily check list. The trick was to focus and complete one task at a time, keep your wits despite the onslaught of emails, problem tickets and stressful meetings.

But the mind reels from blow to blow: a sudden request to enter time sheets, to reconcile figures, to schedule meetings, an emergency rush job, change in personnel, missing team mates, people without commonsense, looking for someone to blame. It is a milieu of confusion or rather the hectic bustle of ethereal work invisible to the eye: emails, online chats, meeting invites, all occurring in cyber space, eyes glued to the computer screen (and wrestling with abstraction). One attempts to use white boards to visually manage work, to write check list or reminders, to unearth all the tasks in mind and bring out in the open, plus the need to communicate by phone or emails, all under deadlines, hampered by poor leadership and clueless supervisors. To survive is to follow a work flow process, to intelligently use tools at hand,  master the spread sheet one scoffed at, preferring to keep everything in mind and wing it like some hero until one finds he is unprepared, a sure recipe for disaster. One gets to the basics: write a TO DO list daily, keep a notebook, read your emails and plan meetings.

In the early months, one was buried in customer demands, with never ending wants, the mind jumping from one task to another, planning work at home or at weekends but lost in distraction of television, after all one needs time to rest and keep sane. The program has sophisticated dashboards and filters, extracting reports to check status and organize work, but one did not master the craft, instead relying on experience to survive the daily grind. In the end, the work is not difficult, one’s ignorance, naiveté and overconfidence had blinded one to the challenge, as the onslaught pummeled him without mercy, one must control his emotions (or cultivate detachment) and do the task one by one, rising above work that came like the flood that drowned New Orleans after the levees broke.

NEW ROLE + NEW AUDIT PROCEDURES + NEW TOOLS + PREASSURE and STRESS + VOLUME OF WORK was a tsunami the washed over the overconfident moron.

So what is the plan?


Hence, one goes to work, look at the dashboard, extract report by status and do the job required: follow-up, plan meetings, write emails. It’s that simple.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Spring Break

Last Saturday I attended a District meeting in Columbia, feeling unprepared because I did not visit any clubs except my own which is not doing much since I attend the meetings anyway. Nevertheless, half the battle is showing up, in that respect I have done well considering the performance of the other area governors who are often absent. I did manage to write an email last Friday where 1 club president out of 3 responded, but only because our division governor was a member of his club. But I think I achieved a passing grade (barely), more for some effort than achievement since the other 3 clubs under my jurisdiction are strong clubs who do well despite the meager efforts of its governor. All in all, my record would show that I attended district meetings, did my reports, and completed at least 1 club visit, participated and organized speech contests, attended conferences and club officer training sessions. In the remaining months of my term, I hope to do more club visits and reports before I step down. At least I will try to orient my replacement by showing him or her the ropes. I actually enjoyed my time as governor despite my shortcomings, where I learned my limitations and priorities.

After the meeting, we ate at a Japanese Mexican restaurant, enjoying the hipness, especially the seemingly contradictory cuisine of sushi, sashimi, tortillas, bento box, quesadillas, burritos and miso soup amidst an interesting interior with art objects that seem to depict American Indian culture, exhibited in a bright red wall along one side of the restaurant. I used to enjoy going to interesting places like this, where one’s imagination is piqued because of the creative mix of different or even contradictory styles. But I found myself bored and unimpressed, thinking that this place would appeal to a younger crowd. An interesting television show did piqued my interest: “Top of The Lake” a detective show in New Zealand with Holly Hunter in a cameo role, created by Jane Campion, with the breathtaking landscape, a plot about women victims including the female detective heroine. The atmosphere was distinctive, including the culture and subject; I especially liked the sub plot that featured Hunter as a sort of guru for abused women. I completed the series on Saturday and the effect was having a new life view which is the impact of great art. I also liked ‘Nebraska’ and ‘American Hustle’ which I also watched in the weekend.

On Sunday, I brought my other son back to college, traveling to Clemson and looking for a place to eat in Seneca and the surrounding suburbs of the university town, finally circling back amidst Oconee lake and finding a smoke house near the soccer stadium, walking distance from the campus green. But the smoked meats were not good and the ribs were a disappointment although the fried oysters and okra was not entirely bad. It was an interesting place compared with the other alternatives, which featured uninspired fare for college students, way below my bon vivant expectations. Hence, my weekend was spent traveling, eating and attending meetings, watching movies and series like ‘The Pacific’ by HBO, produced by Tom Hanks, about the war in the Pacific although I was disappointed because it did not feature the liberation of the Philippines. But it was another lost weekend as I had no time to further my goals of writing, starting an Internet business or further studies in investments via options and bonds. But the past five years were good as I achieved incremental progress, slowly increasing my knowledge and skills one small step at a time.

For instance, I achieved progress in the investment area with rental property, ROTH IRA and US stocks, taking advantage of the market recovery. The next step is to invest in options and bonds and create an LLC. In the writing area, I took short courses in creative writing and continued my exercises via blogging, starting short stories and reading more. The next step is to complete a book, not just creative fiction but non-fiction like a food blog. With regards to the Internet, I have about 7 years of experience maintaining blogs, learning Twitter, YouTube and Google+. The next step is to use this knowledge, to start monetizing my sites with an Internet business. I am reading ‘Get Rich Click’ and watched some videos on internet marketing and I need to learn about Google Ad sense and affiliate marketing. A strategy is forming in my mind, where I can use my experience to make the next jump. Sometimes one feels time is running out, with work place changes and paranoia plus the coming graduation of my sons; one need to start something soon. The Internet is the new gold rush where dreams can come true as some people say; the key is knowledge and the old virtue of perseverance.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Stands for ‘Fear Of Missing Out’, a subject of a recent TED lecture, delivered by a young man, accurately describing what most yuppies feel in being left out in a world of social media and instant events. In fact this is an affliction experienced by people like me too, someone who is afraid of missing out on the next big thing, constantly driven by being in the know. The speaker said that one must not shun this feeling but instead go further and explore why, why does one have this feeling instead of just saying no and enjoying a quiet time at home. Good question. One was not always like this and recalls of times when just prefers to stay home, away from the hustle and bustle of active socializing, then one realizes he is old and approaching middle age, that he wonders what was lost, what could have been and the results is a mad scramble, succumbing to the fear of missing out. I think I should watch that video again and see if the speaker offered any clues on how to proceed, to learn one’s inner motivation and find out what to do next if one realizes that he just wants to give his life some meaning, perhaps a last grasp of his youth.

There is also an economic component in this fear, to lose out on relevance in the office, to be wholly ignorant and unaware of what is happening around him. But it is a sad cycle, to constantly watch movies and borrow books to be relevant that one realizes the others around him are trivial and ordinary, not the sophisticated and smart people that one sees in movies or television shows. The realization that one has more sensitivity than the others around him is difficult, requiring one to hide his own and live under the cloak of being ordinary. Another TED lecture was significant, about embracing oneself, told by a self-proclaimed creative gay Latino, with cerebral palsy, being the ultimate outsider.  Another lecture was about building ice castles and another about comparing burn outs and post-traumatic stress disorder, in turn requiring the same sort of medical benefits and consideration. I guess I was close to burn out several times, driven not only by the expectations of work, FOMA and attribution errors due to cognitive bias, something that I had hoped to cure by cognitive therapy, journal writing, exercise and meditation.

Burn out also comes when one experiences change, meeting new conditions and trying to live up to new expectations. Recently one realizes that one has bitten off more than he can chew, especially being area governor when one is moving into a new and demanding role plus continuing the stress of FOMA. But instead of more exercise and museum going, to engage in more constructive distraction, one indulges in narcissism and alcohol which further exacerbates stress. Again one has the paranoia felt when one seems to feel that he is persecuted behind his back, perhaps thinking that his pay is too much, surrounded by mediocre loud mouths when that is the culture of the people around here, trying to avoid the disdain that one feels when one has a mistaken sense of superiority, driven by the sense of not missing anything and being in the know. What a laugh. Now one hopes to be part of a new project, not as a manager but as a tester, striving to fill up the time needed for his time sheet as the chargeable hours are less in the new role. But one also loses time at home where there is much to do to be a writer or internet entrepreneur or a stock trader because one is watching or reading because of FOMA.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Heartbreaking Genius

Dave Eggers has written a new form of novel, an anything goes type of narrative, a manic obsessive point of view that shows the frenzied mindset of an aspiring yuppy nerd; something like Jack Kerouac meets JD.Salinger. The novel’s locale is Silicon Valley, Chicago and New York; the perfect places to give a snapshot of the country especially start-ups like a new magazine business; plus the brilliant way the orphans try to make up for the loss of both parents, an extraordinary account of survival. This is the second work by Eggers I have read, the first is ‘Zeitoun’, another ground breaking book that has themes in multiple levels: the disaster in New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina, the story of Middle Eastern immigrants, especially hard working entrepreneurs achieving the American dream, the racism and prejudice against Muslims after 9/11 plus  Iraq and Afghanistan wars; the chaos of government responding to a natural disaster. Eggers is a genius, a brilliant writer who is unafraid to address delicate issues, attacking head on the core subject, perhaps due to the sudden loss of his parents that he had to overcompensate in everything, bringing to mind the theme of Malcolm Gladwells’ ‘David and Goliath, where famous dyslexic achievers like David Boies, Brian Glazer, Richard Branson, overcome their constraints and become world class in their endeavors.

Similarly, several examples in the Gladwell’s book show high achievers like American presidents who lost their father but have risen to greatness such as Washington, Clinton and Obama. ‘David and Goliath’ is perhaps Gladwell’s best book to date, concise and to the point, explaining well that the underdog is actually someone with a strategy in mind, unwilling to accept the common thinking and striking out on his own and winning against superior forces. For instance, orphans achieving great things even without parents, turning a disadvantage into a strong motivation to succeed. I finished both books this week, running through them through the weekend or listening to the audio book to and from work, hungry to grasp their ideas. Good to have finished both, avoiding late return fines from the library, though missing out on the work that I planned to do in the weekend. On Saturday we picked up my son from college, driving for about 4 hours to and from Columbia, going to the excellent State museum and eating at a Japanese Hibachi restaurant, though it was not really authentic but more like an Americanized version with emphasis on quantity and less on the quality, losing the delicateness of Asian cuisine; a fast food version whose incarnation had only a slight resemblance to the original.

During the weekend after coming back from Columbia, I watched Baz Lurhmanns excellent movie ‘The Great Gatzby’; his over the top rendition of the classic that I think clearly captures the excess of the 1920’s including the depiction of New York; his staging of the scenes and the acting I think encapsulated Fitzgerald’s book more than the earlier movie starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow; allowing one to finally understand Fitzgerald’s genius. The DVD’s special features focused on Ric Burns’ documentary ‘New York’ especially the section on Fitzgerald, capturing the magic of Manhattan, its golden years and promise. This was a brilliant move of Lurhmann to study Burns documentary about the city and use its insight to depict its essence. It is the first time one understood F. Scott Fitzgerald and what he meant to the American psyche. The movie is a  work of genius, the coming together of talents to bring to light a literary classic into the visual age; brilliant capturing the interior landscape of the book that it becomes better than the written original; that one can return to the literary tome with better insight and understanding that one would not normally see. I think Fitzgerald (like Salinger) portrayed the essence of New York and one should read him to understand the city. Fitzgerald's life is tragic, dying relatively young, an alcoholic, his wife becoming mad in a sanitarium, but his writing has an exquisite delicateness, completing several classic books and short stories. Whereas Eggers is like a writer in steroids, pushing the envelope several times, expressing a youthful enthusiasm with a tinge of darkness, emerging from a terrible tragic loss into a hopeful  future. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Epidemic of Absence

I just read a book about autoimmune therapies, ‘The Epidemic of Absence’ that describes an unorthodox cure by introducing hook worms (and other such maggots) into the bodies of people with autoimmune illness. The premise is that the immune system of the body will focus on the intruders (like viruses) as seen in less developed countries where such larvae exists; whereas in developed countries, progress has eradicated unhygienic conditions, resulting in autoimmune defenses attacking the body due to the lack of enemies like hook worms. Therefore, the cure is to re-introduce such maggots so the body’s defenses can focus on them rather than on itself. This type of cure is relegated to the fringes of the medical establishment because of the seeming lunacy of the cure but surprisingly done by a few brave souls who have lost faith in orthodox treatments that produce no results. Man does not know everything, with the inability of modern medical science to cure illnesses like autoimmune whereas logical thinking would conclude that the body’s defenses are dangerously idle if all traces of unhygienic conditions are eradicated from modern society. Therefore, it sometimes pays to be a little dirty.

The point of view is intriguing although the author himself is afflicted with autoimmune disease, the motivation of which is seeking alternative therapies, considering the failure of orthodox treatment. One is attracted to this type of counter-intuitive thinking, where authors like Malcolm Gladwell thrive in this reasoning; reading his latest book, ‘David and Goliath’; shedding new light on the underdog, the hero who is victorious against incredible odds. It is the premise of his book that the underdog is in fact the inevitable victor when viewed in a different light, where incredible odds are but the unperceived disadvantage experienced by an ‘ignorant’ superior force. It is this type of thinking that is unique, like the point of view of an avant garde artist, attacking preconceived notions; perhaps similar in feeling in the 1920’s when looking at the abstract work of Picasso, an entirely different art at that time, needing the change of old patterns of thought. Having a contrarian mind is counter to so called common sense, away from the ‘group think’ of society, seen also in investors like Warren Buffet, whose buy and hold strategy is contrary to the ‘get rich quick’ zeitgeist of modern times.

Having this type of philosophy often gives one neuroses or having a worrisome mind because of ones inability to welcome uniqueness of thought, for example an investor like Warren Buffet can stick to his guns despite the world around him constantly churning with their buy and sell schemes. Group think is the enemy of the contrarian, having a sort of direct insight to human reality, perhaps a glimpse into the truth of the matter, whose internal logic makes sense only to himself and to the divine wisdom, oblivious of the ‘group think’ prevailing around him. The madness of this ‘group think’ is brought to frantic hilariousness by Dave Eggers in his ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’; like a Jack Kerouac of the frenzied nerd mind, driven to extreme thought by the untimely death of both parents, pushing the hero towards seeking acceptance and validity in an unfair world; desperately trying to be relevant, to rise above the crowd of the young and senseless in Silicon Valley, to be an uber elite of the uber elite, driven by their family tragedy. But the book is more like a work of healing, to write in such manic deliriousness the children’s attempt to maintain normality despite their loss, achieving a sort of heroism; similar to Kerouac protagonists, going on the road to seek salvation in their manic travels.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Garage Mess

Last Saturday I attended a leadership training session from 9 am – 2 pm, making it 2 weekends in a row where I devoted time to Toastmasters; my mind questioning if it is good use of time, unlike last weekend where one was able to do tasks planned; but this weekend was not productive, unable to work on organizing my garage, an activity I had hope to complete.  The week past was also a series of attending seminars on new software or new initiatives, taking time from my usual work which was setting up accounts and tasks, working on service request, instead jumping from meeting to meeting or training to training. It is the first time I find ‘time’ is a commodity I no longer have control, especially in the weekend where I have to do housework due to the illness in the family. So I try to organize myself during the week, so I could focus on essential tasks, but losing my weekend when external activities intrude plus the unplanned breakdown of iRobot, increasing my weekend vacuuming chores, forcing me to research on how iRobot can be repaired and buying the parts and equipment from Amazon, another unplanned activity that took my precious weekend time.

I discovered that my house plants were spilling water into the floor, the plant container had drainage holes that I did not see, leaking into the wooden tiles and warping its texture, needing me to purchase plant containers that I could put underneath to capture the water spillage, also necessitating the replacement of my watering can to a much smaller tool for indoors. I wondered if I am unnecessarily complicating my life, putting too many plants indoor and spending too much time taking care of them, as if I had lots of free time but plants to help make the air better plus psychological benefits like reducing stress. Unfortunately for me, increases work as well. Sometimes I feel that I am spending too much to accumulate stuff; plants, gardening equipment, cooking tools, new technology devices, etc. that I am buried in materialism, a condition that I had hoped to avoid, finding myself in a situation where I crave simplicity but had complicated my life unnecessarily. Perhaps it will turn out well in the end, when the urge to purchase is no longer there, instead enjoying a sort of serenity lost in the materialistic drive brought by envy and the desire for things. Satisfying the urge something kills the urge, ‘been there - done that’ sort of thing, but the never ending stream of the new is seductive.

One had also hoped to start a new blog on cooking, a new venture to monetize this venture, capitalizing on experience and new knowledge on making money online after watching a series of videos in Roku, an informative and unforeseen resource; the road suddenly open with new ideas. Plans are afoot to use YouTube, Word Press, Google Ad Sense and other such techniques now available in the internet economy, realizing that my experiments and current failure to earn money by blogging has given insight on how to succeed.  The elements are in place but not having time to work on them. This was my other activity for the weekend aside from organizing the garage, instead, watching movies saved in the DVR and drinking cocktails. I did manage to clean the house but never getting the chance to the do the real tasks I had planned. It now seems that activities planned for the weekend slips into the work week, with things planned for work slip into ones free time, where ones work life blends into unlikely time streams, where anything can be done, work and play boundaries dissolving as one now works in his bedroom or bathroom, technology providing mobility everywhere. The new world where time and place disappears with the ability to continue ones activities where and when ever needed. The mind needs to adjust to this spontaneous fluidity of work.