July 27, 2014 § 6 Comments
San Francisco was pierced by long golden rays of the sun during the summer afternoon. They illuminated the concrete at the base of an old building in the Financial District. It was Friday so the city was abuzz with people rushing to their favorite haunt after work. This particular corner on Battery St was deserted except for my car at the stop sign and a round man with tufts of white hair above his ears and none on his head. He dawdled along licking an ice cream cone and wore a white wife-beater that defined the extent of his round belly.
“Stop that hat!”
A sharp, high-pitched voice came from my blind spot. Someone behind my car was yelling at the man. The old man turned around, confused, and then kept walking. He didn’t notice an old leather hat that had landed right at his feet, after a couple of somersaults. The warm afternoon had been interrupted by a gust of wind that channeled into the corridors of the city. A wiry, tall man appeared in my rear view mirror, wearing a leather jacket and carrying his whole life with him. A huge knapsack, a guitar and other accouterments for a vagabond life. His curly long hair, sans hat, was being ravaged by the wind.
“Hey man, you wanna stop that hat!” he said again. The old man lifted a heavy leg and tried to stomp on that hat but it beat him last moment and flew to a spot a few feet away. He broke into the slowest run known to mankind. His belly bouncing with the effort and specks of ice cream flying in the wind.
“Never mind dude, I’ll get it,” said the traveling musician with a tone of annoyance. At that very moment, the old man caught it under the tip of his heavy black shoe. He bent down, picked it up and turned around. With kindness he said in a hoarse, weak voice.
“Here you go man. Sorry I didn’t see it.”
* * *
Berkeley was cool with a crisp, still air at night. Moisture-less and bright even in the darkness. The moonlight kissed the leaves of the dense home-gardens that had large leaved plants. Through the scent of pine and rose I turned onto the path that led to my apartment with Lindsay by my side. The thin, white and gray kitty that lives next door stood among the potted plants that lined the walkway. She stood at attention, listening carefully. We approached it with our grocery bags flapping at our sides. It took a narrow opportunity to our left and slinked away, frightened.
“We appear larger and scarier with our bags,” explained Lindsay.
Then, green eyes in the darkness. The black kitty. She is heavier, slower and more needy. It came up to us cautiously. A motion-sensing light came on behind us, always a few seconds too late. For a brief moment, the light filtered through the pine trees and illuminated a moth. The black kitty made a dash. It pounced on the moth, swatting at it with her soft paws. The moth disappeared into the potted plants in my landlord’s garden and the kitty jumped into them, still swatting. With no sound, it leaped onto the thin wooden fence in pursuit. The black fur caught the moonlight beautifully. On the fence, it stood, evaluating. We watched with giggles, then walked away.
“That was amazing,” I said. Lindsay agreed, knowing the nature of cats fully well.
July 14, 2014 § 1 Comment
I went home to India last December after 5 years of being away. I spent an emotionally intense 4 months there and upon my return plunged into nervous exhaustion, anxiety and depression. All three have now abated. I feel differently still than “my old self.” I can’t tell at this point whether the illness still lingers and is making me feel differently or whether it has gone away leaving me a totally different person who will never be the same again. At any rate, I’m ok. I wrote this entry in my journal while I was in the eye of the storm a few months ago. I’m laughing at myself for thinking it was a “bad reaction to antibiotics.” A profound comment on the state of medicine in the age of the Internet which I have a lot to say about, at some later time.
April 8, 2014
I’m sick. Its about time too. I often tell my friends that I basically never get sick. When I would say these words, some voice would warn me at the back of my mind that it is arrogant and boastful to do so. I would ignore this voice, tagging it as the voice of primal fear that masquerades as quack morality. My particular illness has some mysterious cause. The doctor within me says that I’ve reacted badly to antibiotics that were prescribed for a sore throat. This view is corroborated by forums on the Internet but is being opposed by eminent members of medical community. There is a guy on the Internet somewhere who, symptomatically and experientially, could be me. At any rate, investigations are to follow and the verdict yet to be proclaimed.
The major symptom of this illness is depressive episodes that last up to 4 hours. The depressing part about them manifests both physically and mentally. Physically I feel a pressure around my temples and at the back of my head right above my ears. Mentally I feel what is termed on the Internet as derealization. It is a real treat. You basically look at things and you see and understand them perfectly, that is a tree, this is a birthday card; but you feel disconnected from the world as a whole. The continuum of existence that includes the self and the external world is fractured. It is like seeing the world through a glass box or a fog perhaps. The sharp awareness of the present-moment and spontaneity of emotional response is lost, made sluggish rather. I often find I smile at something a microsecond too late and then remain smiling while others have moved on. Quite understandably it leads to negative-spiral thought process and frustration.
I’ve noticed that the faculty deep thought, if you will, has remained intact through all of this. It appears as if the thing that we call “wisdom” emanates from a part of the brain entirely separate from the one that enables what we call “presence.” That a being not physically connected to the world can still reason about it. In fact, during these episodes I find myself endlessly pondering my existence.
In this pondering, I am brought face to face with my sense of guilt of not being grateful enough for my family, for being narcissistic in my belief that I am destined for something special and a sense of longing to return to the ordinary. I believe we make our own religion, each of us. Mine tells me that the reason I’m sick is because it is a strong message and incentive to open my heart to accept dramatic changes in my life. For a few days I was haunted by the thought that this will never end, that the depression would consume me and leave me unable to do anything but the most rudimentary menial tasks. Then one day I broke through and felt a sense of deep bliss at the thought that perhaps I will have to survive the rest of my life not being an engineer, an actor, a writer, an improviser, a blogger and what not. That maybe I will live out the rest of my days doing stonework or painting billboards. This feeling of bliss is most likely what we all call gratitude. The gratitude that is masked by the frustrated ambition of the over-stimulated mind.
Crack the shell of the mind
To unlock the light
During my sickness, I took to drawing with crayons. I found it focused my mind in a way that was not frantic.
July 11, 2014 § 1 Comment
So, today…a horde of “students” from a university I recently wrote about visited my office. A nine day course at this university apparently costs $15000. That’s what it costs to learn how to solve humanity’s grand challenges, the university’s motto. This university is associated with a movement that believes an impending convergence event of technology and humanity will enable us to defy death and dominate evolution.
A good looking and well spoken Danish guy spoke to me about what I do. I told him that my job is fun because I come in every day and invent my work and my job is frustrating because I come in every day and invent my work. He loved that. He asked me if he could quote me on his Twitter. Sure, I said. But he didn’t wanna type it in so he tried saying it to Siri. He botched it and then asked me if I would say it to Siri. Sure, I said and I said it to Siri. Siri did pretty well, only getting one word wrong.
July 8, 2014 § 4 Comments
I’ve been through a lot of different reasons for why I love to act on stage. Simply because as a kid I dreamt of being in the school play. I do it because as an adolescent my impressions of the meaner variety of teachers were spot on. It was a way of meeting new people for an Indian immigrant in a land so desperately lacking the warmth of humanity. I do it to invoke the man inside me. I do it to get girls to pay attention. I do it to get attention. Being in therapy has told me that I get on stage because I need the admiration of others to survive. It is a way for me to express anger and suppressed emotion from childhood. I’ve spent a large sum of money training and getting good at it so might as well keep going. I’m good looking and its a waste unless people look at me. I’m talented so its a waste unless I use it. God, I even thought I do it because I think theatre is important to society. As if I care. There was a time I thought I did it because it made me interested in people’s stories. That one came pretty close. I still haven’t discarded it completely although it definitely is not it.
When the lights go off and all that remains is the world on stage and the breath of the audience, then I can relax. In my daytime job I work in 3D computer graphics and the reason I love it is because everything is possible inside a computer graphics window. There are no laws of physics. Similarly, anything can happen in a play. It dawned on me that somewhere deep down inside me I believe that the world is not enough. My sense of self-importance is so monumentally large that I need to continuously inhabit magical places of the imagination to make it tolerable to be alive in this drab world of second-rate mediocrity. This abominable streak of perfectionism made my stint in the theatre a virtual nightmare. The world of the theatre was a consummate hospital for wretched souls sick with mediocrity. They were not dedicated enough. They didn’t think deeply. They were doing it for the wrong reasons. They were late. They drank and did drugs when they should be rehearsing. I came to a screeching halt. I couldn’t take it any more. The competition, the sexual games, the mendacity. Oh God, the mendacity.
Another possible theory for why I do it is that in it, I have found a problem that I deem worthy of my attention. It presents sufficient complexity and it makes me feel validated that I dedicate my life to such a profound mystery. No, thats not it either. In fact, I cannot tell you with confidence that any of these reasons are IT. I keep doing it because I am propelled by forces beyond my control and honestly, that is totally peachy as far as I’m concerned. I need not have reasons for why I do stuff. But I will say that my relationship to theatre has taught me an awful lot about myself. And I mean that, a disgustingly awful lot about myself.
Recently I have discovered meditation. Meditation, to my rational mind, is the very opposite of theatre. It takes you away from any balmy worlds of your imagination right into the center of the very real world of your awareness. With sufficient practice I’m beginning to learn that the world IS enough. What a stroke of absolute genius! This meditation. The world is beautiful. Life is beautiful as it unfolds in your awareness if only you stick around to witness it. Now, here is the insight that I secretly believe will make me famous after I die. I suspect that meditation and the theatre are the same thing. You heard it here first. No cheating. I further suspect, that my rational mind is a piece of cardboard furniture. I’ve been doing it all wrong. Practicing theatre is not some escape from the perceived melancholy of the world. It is the embodiment of life itself, moment by moment. If I practice it that way, I stand a chance of lasting it out without going bonkers.
July 2, 2014 § 2 Comments
Dancing down the mountain
ever so often
comes across a rock
Silently it splits
Embraces the rock
And becomes one again.
June 25, 2014 § 2 Comments
Today I conducted an improv workshop at NASA. I thought I’d peaked when I went to watch an improv show at Pixar. Guess there’s always more. This is the NASA Ames Research Center on Moffet Boulevard in Mountain View. I think thats the main hanger, where perhaps they hang space ships.
I didn’t go in there though. NASA Ames is a sprawling campus as big as a small town which, contrary to expectation, is not a bunch of spectacled Russian-looking dudes and women with short hair sitting at consoles while a guy in military suit lectures them from a podium. Or astronauts walking toward you, single file, while a spaceship explodes behind them in a giant ball of fire. Other than space stuff, the campus is home to all kinds of fascinating things. Like non-profits. Just kidding, non-profits are not fascinating. They have non-profits though. I drove past something called “Main Space Control.” Wonder how that works. Oh, the campus doesn’t show up on GPS so you have to do gross things like read a PDF map and look at signs.
In the campus somewhere, deep inside, there is also a resonantly named Singularity University. It is a super science-fictiony kind of “university” where kids come to play with gadgets that are otherwise only seen on TV and work on solving world problems. They had invited me to do an improv workshop for their new batch of kids in what they called the XYC program. Which sounded to me like they were congregating to develop a new type of chromosome that never has to sleep or eat and replicates by remote control. So, naturally I went.
The organizers took me around the “play-space.” When you say “play-space” at NASA, it could mean anything. Turned out it was it was a kind of lab from the future. A kid was wearing a head-mounted display and flailing his arms about like he couldn’t see. I turned a corner to see a monitor that showed his disembodied arms. They flailed exactly as he did. There was a robot name Nao whose special ability was that “he could pick himself up after falling down.” He was lying flat on a table top with his knees in the air. I was told a while ago he had walked to edge of the table and fallen off the table altogether which had caused the algorithm to explode.
I met a really thin kid who said that he loved technology so he was here to see how he could use it to solve problems. I met a Brazilian-Japanese woman who was in the graduate program. She told me twenty thousand people apply for the program she had been admitted to. She had to impress that on her husband in Brazil before he was ok with her leaving for ten weeks.
“Latin men, they are a little different,” she said.
The workshop was fun with everyone being upbeat and enthusiastic. Some of these kids were half my age. I can’t imagine what they will do in fifteen years. A girl came up to me and said she works in student government and would love improv input to see how she could work better with people who didn’t necessarily agree with her. When I was in student government, my biggest jobs was to make sure everyone wore the right socks. Its weird to be thirty two years old. You’re by no means history, yet. But you can see how it might feel to be.
June 9, 2014 § 8 Comments
To be happy I need people
But I dislike most people
Where are the good people?
Other people seem to have people
But they are fake people
I need real people
People. The amorphous jam of humanity that holds the elixir for our problems and the venom of our agonies. There are many possible objections one may have with people. My particular objection is to their pretense, their insincerity, their two-facedness, their lack of real care, fakeness. When I was a teenage boy, I had no awareness of this. I made friends freely with whoever would care to. I was a loyal albeit clueless friend. I made myself available for gatherings and conversations, not harboring any need or notion of personal space or alone time. I was sensitive, haplessly self-conscious but not self-aware. I cared about how I appeared to others and coveted the attention. I paid much heed to others opinions of me and ruminated endlessly about them. I communicated this insecurity subliminally to others, who would often feast on it to feed the demons in their own torture chambers. I was a good looking boy with an uncanny occasional charm and talent that confused matters. For the most part, I lacked a consistency of character and appeared confused and totally given in to the identity offered to me by present company. This earned me many opinions including but not limited to:
“He is a real bhondu no?”
bhondu (Hindi) – silly, dumb, naive.
I had an unstoppable inner voice that was either a harsh critic or a stung defender. Other than that I had no inner clue. I depended on others for the answers. The answers for what to do, what to say, what to endorse and what to oppose. I had problems with people but I had no problem with people. I got on, being led around, offering up my heart and soul at the altar of friendship and family. My first girlfriend was briefly enamored by said charm and good looks but only momentarily. A brief glimpse into my loveless heart sent her packing. I begged and pleaded for months and became sick, cajoling her into a pity agreement. I loved her. I think she loved that I loved her. Later, she loved me. I had no problems. No real problems. Into my college days, I started to get more angry. The first signs of a man betrayed started to appear. I rolled up my charm and shyness into an affected persona of quiet composure. I took my talent and facility with people and turned it into this act, an act of flirtatious and witty confidence. I used it against sexual competitors but it never found any productive vent, it festered and became frustrated. Looking desperately for an out, in an uncharacteristic display of independence and can-do-it attitude, I secured admission and funds to study in America.
Here is mostly, where my problems with people began to show themselves. The reason was simple. I had stopped being myself. I had traded in the need to be connected to people at any cost for the need to create a destiny. I spent hours at the library, I participated in no social events. I interacted with people only as far as they served a need on my way to fulfilling a destiny. I had a few guardian angels along the way who I recognized and perhaps failed to honor. All the while I starved the boy that loved being friends, no matter what. I subjugated him to the will of the warrior. My second girlfriend felt for the forlorn boy. She nurtured him with kindness and an unwavering ear. Her love kept the boy alive, gave him strength. The strength that the warrior took from him to fuel his ships of conquest. I pursued a tremendous campaign. Rising high, but not without grave injury to the little boy. I felt safe, invincible, never needing the cutting opinions of others, my own master. I fed on the love and forgiveness of the little boy to navigate my way to the favor and admiration of people. But I also began to feel the throbbing of his wounds. The wounds of the past, that he didn’t care about but I did.
The boy cried desperately for love. For friendship. So I searched. Everywhere. Anything to keep him alive because I needed him. But the people, I couldn’t stand them. They had no warmth. They were fake. They used me. They belittled me. They canceled when other better plans were available. Sometimes the boy would speak to me in a hushed voice. He told me it was ok. He said, go anyway.
I didn’t. I didn’t need them.
If your heart is pure, then all things in your world are pure.