Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Last weekend I put up curtains, pictures and kitchen storage kit; trying to change one’s surroundings by keeping it clean and streamlined. The curtains to bring more light, considering that winter often brings depression, so light brings more optimism like a psychological boost. But the house is still a mess, in need of vacuuming and floor polishing, kept like  this for the time being as one works on its walls; I am an expert now in setting up curtains and other implements, going up ladders, drilling holes and screwing in curtain rods and the like, choosing colors and matching combinations; thinking that the curtains also provide security aside from bringing light in. A colleague was surprised , wondering why one would spend money when in fact there are deeper reasons other than cosmetic or style but at times I start to wonder if this is a good use of time, trying to improve a modest house, thinking that one should have a larger house, falling into the trap of seeking a larger place for one’s self esteem rather than need and function. This is the expected occurrence of living in an affluent state, to constantly look for the bigger and better option, putting one’s debt to the limit just to verify one’s self worth.

The house plants have started to wilt, feeling that one is again over his head, buying too many plants but not having the capacity to keep it healthy, like biting more than one can chew, a feeling I had when I was digging in my back yard, excavating earth, making it flat and laying tiles until I strained my back. One wonders if all the house work is needed, spending money so one’s surroundings are as one would like; not the ascetic ideal of accepting what’s there, like one’s fate but one has a responsibility to the family, to keep the home respectable. It is like a role to be played, like taking an officer position in Toastmaster,  to get experience but to perform the rituals needed in that role. I stepped up the ladder thinking about learning new skills and realizing a bigger commitment than initially thought. One doubts his performance; thinking of shortcomings, afraid that it is not up to par, that one will fall flat on his face. But one thinks about his ancestors, to know what type of DNA is wired into ones genes, understanding that one is the scion of engineers, teachers, administrators, managers, judges and lawyers.  One needs to continue the line in the expected roles of one’s lineage.

I watched the movie ‘The Ruling Class’ staring Peter ‘O Toole, a wonderful movie anchored with O’ Toole’s wonderful performance, providing a glimpse into English aristocracy, where madness and eccentricity are close cousins. The entire world is a play; hence, one must play the role in one’s mind, perhaps like an actor planning how to act in a scene, the best metaphor to live successfully in life. How it would be easy to think that life is a performance, avoiding all the angst and doubt that inhibit one’s actions, instead thinking that all is a game; at play in the fields of the Lord, the playing fields is the office, meetings or  reunions - the machinations within one’s clans, respecting one’s eccentricities or even madness. Perhaps it is why the Windsor’s are such great topic, the intense scrutiny by the public provide an intimate picture on how to live; to play the part given to them. The ordinary folk need guidance; celebrities are not role models so one looks at royalty or politicians or watch a Shakespeare play. Coming into a new position is like assuming a new role; one needs to research what is needed and the imagination to innovate so a great performance is achieved.  The year has just started so one needs to look within, the examined life as Plato propose, to go up the ladder and perform the new role.


One recently read a book about ‘Grace’, the Biblical connotation of the word, as if the word provided some magic or a secret to a good life, recalling the melodious music of ‘Amazing Grace’, the song that powered the English politician with courage to fight slavery, forever the song played in churches or during the trials of the civil war. It comes at a time when people are stressed at work, when the world seems to be coming apart, but somehow by some amazing grace, it proceeds to calm souls in their hour of need. Perhaps the song was fashioned out of diversity, when partisan ship and evil doing was heavy enough to break people when there is nothing left but grace, coming from God whose ethereal salve, soothes the wounds both physical and psychological, but the psychic scars all the more dire. At times it is the only thing left to keep one’s sanity, to experience a state of equilibrium, of lightness skipping into trials like a butterfly, gifted by grace as one would be imbued by spiritual power,  a simplicity of  mind when all others are losing theirs as Kipling would write in his poem.

It was a good week, both difficult with the many challenges at work and home, but now one feels a certain mastery of events, after several months of being tossed around like a barrel in a storm, swerving here and there, a victim of the winds. Now one is able to see the path, to make distinctions and judgments to move forward, to be calm in the face of difficulty. One is now the master of the moment, to have risen above the trials and be his own commander, achieving a state of grace. It will not last long so one is forever trying to be atop the waves, to keep moving and doing the needed work, bereft of emotion so one could function like an efficient machine. This week, a close relative had gone home, trying to help his son who is caught in a vise, driven by his reckless ambition, a young life wasted in crime; the father trying to save what could be saved. Now the knife is stuck at his back, by his own kin, a clansman whose mind seemed to have snapped, now in a vicious drive to destroy his own kind, perhaps envious of his success; now his mind lost in a labyrinth of deceit and seeming madness. But perhaps there is order in his insanity.

It has become awkward, even between brothers in arms, to talk of this madness like a hidden secret, afraid that it would turn towards a fatal course, like a strain of recklessness coursing through the blood of a tribe like an evil curse. The family has lost its grace, when the patriarch is scorned and lost, driven by the brazenness of one’s own offspring, in turn betrayed by their own sons like a game of thrones, played over generations. Is this clan in its final dance, where the curse plays out its deadly game, cousins fighting amongst each other, brother against brother, old slights and wounds coming out in the open as the madness runs its course. Where did it start? This deadly sequence of actions; where did grace lose its power, where the equilibrium is shattered as one bold enough to rise and challenge the odds, bringing the clan’s gifts into the fore with dazzling success, now sadly twisted into a different direction, losing that special force and delving into the dark side. The way out is to find that point in time where the family had grace, when the kinfolk was light and happy, when the world was full of laughter, when the days played out like a child’s dream, before age, folly and madness destroyed it all.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Simple Design

European furniture is always refreshing, especially Ikea, the Swedish manufacturer who provides the added benefit of being reasonably priced, although some items are sometimes difficult to assemble. The spirit of these items  is young, similar to the Japanese company Muji, which has the same simplicity and elegance in its products, freeing the mind from old  thinking, giving instead a liberating ‘out of the box’  mentality that embodies their work. It is a young man’s company and sometime one feels like a student, forever trying to remain young, instead of choosing more regular and boring designs that older people would choose, giving the feeling of a middle age person wearing a young man’s clothes, or even having surgery to remain youthful. But that is not the case, because the simplicity of design relieves stress, far from the usual drudgery that shackles the spirit; the daily trek to office, working with the usual folks, going home for the news, usual dinner of meat and rice; not a bad thing but deadening in spirit and not a good diet without vegetables. One thinks of the iPhone or rather iOS, where people get to experience brilliant simplicity of how things can be, without the clutter and muddled thinking of normal life.

We went to Charlotte and bought several things: rocking chair, bar stool, small step ladder, lap top stand, curtain rods and other paraphernalia, picture frame, clothes valet, whisky glasses and a wine carafe; normal items but laid elegant with the Ikea stamp. Buying stuff for the house is an age old tradition, the ‘money pit’ that people succumb to, then after all the effort, selling the place to move up to a bigger house, then going through the same cycle again. Sometimes it is a way to escape; one installs curtains, or places new furniture and realizes that the image in the mind is not the same in reality, going for external change when one must begin internally. But it is more a challenge of organizing and storage, to store things in their proper place, a way for the mind to categorize stuff the way Aristotle had done in the early stages of scientific thought; to categorize a thing is a form of knowledge, to bring order to chaos by mental constructs, by putting things in their proper container before moving on. Without this construct, one is lost in an ambiguous world, resulting in confusion; though one enjoys uncertainty, though not in the sensations of woolly thinking but appreciating that life is unorganized (‘stuff happens’).

Last weekend we spent most of the day assembling our purchases, putting up curtains, placing the new furniture in their place. At the same time watching movies that one had borrowed from the library, trying to get one’s quota of reading and watching done, the house a mess while one builds a new way of living. There is still a lot to do, enough to fill the coming weekends with work, not including the garage which also needs organization, feeling like a conqueror by trying to bring calm from disarray, setting up cabinets, ledges and other storage systems so the untidy mess of the garage is tamed. But that is a future story, another weekend to plan as one goes through the last weekend shopping, still more to come as there are other windows to take care of. Sadly one did not do any writing, or make calls to soothe family concerns, or try to build bridges destroyed by unthinking siblings; running away from these troubles that need a responsible touch, or tackling the challenge that one had always dreamed off, putting important chores far way into the future and hopping that things will take care of themselves. I guess one needs to take care of his living room first, so one's surroundings are orderly; conducive to serious thinking in the future.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Needful Sleep

A deep sense of tiredness came over me this morning, after a weekend where I set up curtains, packed away the Christmas decorations, attended a remote meeting and brought my son to his university, driving nearly 2 hours from home. Coming back, we went to Wal-Mart and purchased a bathroom towel rack that slings over the door, bathroom rugs and towels, bed covers and some other things. Since putting up the curtains, which brought some elegance to the rooms, it made us plan to buy more curtains for the other windows, planning a trip to Ikea, where prices are reasonable, in the next weekend. Earlier I had looked online at the houses of some colleagues and realized that my home is really a starter home, smaller and much cheaper than my other acquaintances, which made me question again my decision to buy at the low-end. But it was a conscious decision, considering my income and following the principles in the book ‘The Millionaire Next Door’ that I am back to my senses and should thank God that I had escaped the ‘money pit’ of having a large house. I am always striving to make my surroundings new, at least in rearranging the furniture, putting up curtains of other such cheap innovation, just to strike a sense of newness as I am bored easily.

I have decided to snooze more after monitoring my sleep habits for several weeks, realizing that I sleep less because of my desire to go to the gym in the morning, so I skip an hour or so, just to be early at both the gym and work. It is a losing proposition because I am stressed more and sleep is more important than exercise. Hence, I will not exercise in the morning but strive to go to work at least 7:30 am and get to the gym after work, after seeing that the swimming pool is open Friday afternoons (when I usually swim) when previously there were classes which forced me to go swim in the early morning, triggering my desire to exercise in the early hours rather than after work. There is too much going on in my mind by trying to be everything; ruminating about exercise, a larger home, more experiences in Toastmaster and work, while trying to be helpful to my recovering friend, and trying to control another relative who has gone berserk or even crazy by exposing personal family problems in the Internet. But I cannot care for everybody; the mind stopped from spontaneous action, forced to doubt one’s initiative when faced with multiple concerns. For example, I am always reflecting on my dwelling, thinking that it affects my self-esteem, of not buying a flashy car or SUV, of getting the satisfactions of having the latest technology, of the trappings of material wealth even if it results in no savings or investments.

It’s like playing multi-level chess: to be responsive at work, trying to be relevant and productive by doing all the right moves (being PMP certified, etc.), developing skills like communication and leadership, investing in the stock market and real estate, trying to be a writer, developing social skills in Toastmaster, being physically fit and up to date in the latest technology, all at a cheap price. All these while helping close relatives with their medical problems, physical or mental, and keeping up to date with the latest movies and books in an attempt to be relevant and ‘in the know’. A fruitless game, resulting in mental and physical exhaustion, losing focus on what is truly important, playing the wrong sport, by keeping up with the Joneses; stupidly pursuing a meaningful life by running the race of materialism, right smack into consumerism, away from the spiritual values one needs to be sane. I used to walk in the park every weekend, to have nature relax the fevered mind but recent events and the stress at work plus winter have prevents one to relax, but instead jump into the merry go round of life. It is also the burden of too many things occurring at the same time that’s exhausting but writing one’s thoughts does provide the needed relief. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Active Weekend

I just finished my last year’s evaluation and so far it is positive, a welcome relief considering my anxiety of not shaping up, bewildered at times on what to do next. But it looks easy come to think of it; life is not really as bad a one would think, with fears affecting one’s actions when it should not be; one just needs to show up. I also met my customers in our monthly meeting this morning, going through my presentation with ease though still not as comfortable as I would like to be, realizing that I have all the tools I need; one should stay grounded and grasp the spiraling mind and wrestle the monkey back to earth. Sometimes one is too paranoid or afraid of what other people might think that one swirls into doubt and worry but it is really a friendly world when one is sincere. The week is turning out well, after a Wednesday club meeting with Toastmaster and after going over my to-do list for the week. But the weekend will be busy as I need to attend (remotely) an area governor’s meeting, install curtains and go to the gym which I have neglected to do this week. I also have a lot of books and magazines to read and videos to watch.

Yesterday I looked through my modest investment and Roth IRA, using the latest tools from my broker and realized that I have not done too bad although a very modest amount, beating the S&P in two of the past four years including the cumulative total, thinking that one has some talent and not random as some writers like Nassim Taleb would argue. In fact it’s been a busy four years since one arrived, acting like a crazed carpetbagger, eager to exploit the situation once on the ground, investing modestly in real estate and stocks, taking advantages of low interest rates and the depressed property market, a result of the 2008 – 09 financial turmoil. One was reading books and attending seminars like a madman, trying to get up to speed by improving one’s financial literacy in the USA and make use of the limited period inside a rare window of opportunity. With Bernanke leaving and plans to taper off the Fed’s quantitative easing, the window is closing and one wished one had more capital to invest. Nevertheless, it was a modest achievement, to exploit what one has with the cards dealt, adapting to the situation like a guerilla, a philosophy that works in the office as well.

For some reason, I saw my life flash before me as I lay in bed, unable to sleep because of my early meeting at 8:15 am, needing to come to the office by 7 am to prepare my presentation. I have gone far from my early life, both in physical miles and the projects and skills that I have accumulated, realizing that I have tread a long diverse road; the past 4 years another varied experience, finally ending up as the maintenance support manager with a track record as support and functional analyst and, now, project manager, diving deep into the local milieu of working with customers and solving problems. The past year has been an eye opener especially since my friend’s heart attack, working closely with him to help, learning in a rush about medical insurance and bankruptcy; similar to arriving here four years ago, up and running, engaged in difficult supply chain and logistics projects upon hitting the ground, getting my feet dirty so to speak. One also realizes his limitations, biting off more than one can chew by being area governor while accepting a new role at work, faced with unrelenting stress and demands on time and effort, learning that to-do list, focus and small steps matters most, not the flashy ground breaking large assignment that brilliant people aspire too.

I guess I like where I am today, realizing that one should not be complacent, striving to stretch more and expand, arriving at a pleasant destination after years of movement. It is not an easy place; one still needs to be on his toes, expanding beyond one’s comfort zones, realizing that perhaps it is the end game, where one has the elements in place to play out the last chapter. The young man is gone, together with his childish dreams and romantic notions, replaced by an aging fellow, no long nimble, with creaking bones and unwelcome heft, still mentally alert with a young heart, but body and mind realizing that the youthful vigor is in its last legs. What to do but adjust the machinery to its current capacity, perhaps allowing one to strike where one is strong; tactics and mental strategy, words and subtle actions while conceding the ground on one’s physical capacity, playing smart by supplementing one’s ability with vitamins and technology, keeping current and playing to strengths. But others are aging too; the world still belongs to the wise and crafty, not the young and agile, therefore it is the tortoise that eventually wins the race and not the rabbit.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Cold Morning

The icy spell broke records today, reaching temperatures of -13 centigrade, breaking a century old record (set in 1904), so no hot water at home as frozen in the pipes so I went to the office without a bath.  This morning I woke at around 5 am and watched ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, a classic film that supplemented the viewing of ‘The Dust Bowl’, a documentary by Ken Burns. Both films show man can be insensitive to his fellow man; people going bankrupt, large corporations foreclosing property,  hardworking but luckless families fleeing, driven to poverty due to a natural catastrophe (though man made). Both reveal the indispensability of government especially the Franklin Roosevelt administration who tried to save these people, coming under criticism for being socialist or communist; similar disparagement heard today towards the current government with its health care reform.  This month the current debate is whether to extend jobless benefits to the unemployed, jobless after the economic crisis; disapproved by hard people observing an abstract principle, well displayed in both films. Interestingly, the morning news advised its viewers to show kindness to the homeless out in the deadly cold, to take them into shelter until the temperature gets warmer.

This weekend one learns a relative in custody, allegedly for trying to import banned substances into the country, amazingly from the last communist dictatorship still existing today, ruled by a hereditary despot who persists in his quixotic rule; how he got into this mess is hard to understand.  One’s first feeling is shame plus the inclination to disavow his relationship, trying to understand how this could occur and trying to act normal despite the known incident, like Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother advised by the Dallas police to change his name and leave the state (he never did). One needs to hunker down and continue living, one is not to blame for the external ills that affect one’s clan, whether a relative accused of a crime (though he should accept responsibility) or one facing exorbitant medical costs. In the face of authority, whether a large hospital or the police, one feels at the mercy of inhuman forces, like dust storms that swept the plains in the dust bowl or the rampage of rabbits or locust in the fields, like a biblical curse levied upon a people. One needs to hunker down, hold fast to the rope, so one is not blown away by the harsh wind.

One is humbled at such circumstances, fearful of fate with merciless gods hurling events that change one’s fortune, unaware of future happenings, like the weather suddenly coming with cruel cold or dust storms across the plains. One is chastened at work, leading a meeting when one could precede with confidence in one’s youthful past, now unsure of one’s moorings, the lack of arrogance to escape the wrath of gods. But one is a Christian, taking solace on the Lord Jesus and the words of the Bible, away from the solace of alcohol when faced with multiple trials. For example, one needs to research bankruptcy (13 or 7), on LLCs, on crowd funding, on anything that will save one’s clan from disaster, on certain illness afflicting loved ones, to request another sibling to avoid exposing one’s dirty laundry, to keep shame from spreading like a disease, like the itinerant families escaping the dust bowl for a new life in California; we the people are the ordinary folks that survive, rising when there is nothing left, to keep swinging for the benches for a hopeful homerun.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Writing and Health

A recent NPR feature talked about writing and health, focusing on the work of James Pennebaker, a professor of psychology from an esteemed university, citing medical studies that writing does improve mental and physical health especially if recovering from a traumatic emotional experience. I looked at Pennebaker’s website and his YouTube videos to learn about his ideas, confirming scientifically, the benefits of diary or journal writing to one’s wellbeing, a link that one can intuitively feel when writing after highly emotional events. This is my first time to see someone directly link writing to health, where the act of writing one’s feelings and one’s take on the event that just transpired,  can re-wire the brain, positively calming the mind as the words offer clarity and a proactive version of what had just happened. A person disposed to worrying and anxiety will doubtlessly benefit from regular writing both physically and mentally especially when combined with exercise and meditation. This validates what I have been doing for several years now, intuitively finding a solution to one’s stress and anxiety, a do it yourself cure for mental agitation or emotional disorders like anxiety.



Someone who frequently travels and works in different countries has more stress when trying to blend in with the local staff while tackling difficult projects, adapting to the local culture, trying to pick up social cues in a foreign milieu. Writing about one’s experience clarifies the mind, creating associations and so on, and reliving anxiety by the act of journaling. One sometimes see slights or differences of opinion from others as a sign of conspiracy, everyone is out to get me so to speak, a paranoid frame of mind that extends to one’s family; an overactive imagination in need of soothing. The mind is also fevered by its constant quest for stimuli and input, driven to overload by all the new gadgets. For instance, one had resolved to spend time on the Playstation3 (to improve cognition), exploring the Sony network, using Bluetooth speakers and headphones to listen to internet radio, discover new music and talk shows, browsing tablet apps like Flip Board, Currents and other news aggregators, spending more time in You Tube, browsing channels that focus on Android, economics, finance, history, music and movies. This is the new world, the electronic future coming into being, as one works into his life.

Yesterday I met a lawyer to talk about LLCs (or limited liability companies), researched on the internet about LLCs and about bankruptcy, learning about crowdsourcing and other alternatives to address huge medical expenses. On top of this additional strain on time, I am also reading and watching movies more while attempting to improve work in the office by using new techniques like Kanban. There are times when I am surprised by my own confidence, attributing my ease to ‘international’ experience, to wide reading and practice in Toastmaster. I have reached a point, after 5 decades on this earth, where one is consciously aware of his situation, perhaps achieving some sort of grace by dint of conscious learning and trials, avoiding the frivolity of youth except in periods of drunken excess. 50 is the new 30 as some would say, deducting 20 years from one’s real age due to improvements in technology and pharmaceuticals; chemicals providing advantage to one’s age while techniques like mind-mapping, meditation and journal writing help one self-actualize into the vision of himself. Aside from meeting the lawyer, I am meeting a financial adviser; he is the third consultant I met in my life (two in Singapore) who have helped understand financial planning. Hence, learning from others is important, too.

Summing up life lessons so far: one just needs to show up for work, to keep plugging away and apply the latest technology or learning to overcome challenges and difficulties, whether Tai Chi, meditation or yoga, mind mapping or Toastmaster, tablets, smartphones or computers, exercising, journal writing or blogging, Kanban or visual thinking. One needs to be intuitive, trusting his gut to navigate through work and politics, though age does constrain but experience is an advantage that overcomes any limitations. Hence, acting one’s age, with planning and will, with confidence to keep plugging along, to throw caution to the wind as one has limited time left (as compared to a 20 year old). Crossing into middle age (though one is unlikely to live to a 100), focuses the mind towards the last lap, where the emphasis is on training people left behind; one’s children, nephews or nieces, to try to set-up a better world for them, no more self-serving efforts; but to keep having new experiences to remain vital and relevant instead of an old doddering fool. One discovers the revolutionary battles in the Carolinas, visiting the numerous reenactments in state parks; discovering Canada and the moon and the planets. Don’t forget a drink of vodka or wine is good once and a while, too.