Saturday, December 25, 2010


"Stem cells are the body's reservoir of renewal. The entirety of human blood, for instance, can arise from a single, highly potent blood forming stem cell (called a hematopoietic stem cell), which typically lives buried  inside the bone marrow. Under normal conditions, only a fraction of these blood-forming stem cells are active; the rest are deeply quiescent - asleep. But if blood is suddenly depleted, by injury or chemotherapy, say, then the stem cells awaken and begin to divide with awe-inspiring fecundity, generating cells that generate thousands upon thousands of blood cells. In weeks, a single hematopoietic stem cell can replenish the entire human organism with new blood - and then, through yet unknown mechanisms, lull itself back to sleep."

Siddhartha Mukherjee
The Emperor of All Maladies

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Easy to misinterpret

What happened you want to know to the periods and the commas and the exclamation points and the question marks to which I say look around it’s all inconclusive easy to misinterpret so why not let a jumble of words be simple be humble represent nothing but themselves

Saturday, October 23, 2010


I am hungry for words for learning more about myself for books a glass of cold water not for tricky territory or moving pieces across a flimsy chessboard not for inattention or cunning for order a floor polished clean for clarity and light for a tide pool for beauty and a new lined notebook

Photo - Galiano Island

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Parallel world

Routine is the antidote a schedule a sequence procedure a habit morning toast the drive to work that parallel world scratched air weatherless empty it can’t touch me over here for long stretches of time I forget that it’s there perhaps it was only a bad dream

Photo by Luca, Nayarit, Mexico

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Fanatically musical

I like order empty space rows of things patterns rhythmical there is poetry in symmetry dissonance in chaos it's not that I'm obsessively neat it's that I'm fanatically musical

Photo: Tidepools in Galiano Island

Saturday, September 25, 2010


For reasons I’d rather not get into, illness – the serious kind – has been on my mind a lot over the past several months. I thought I’d share here a list of things I’ve found useful.

Honor your instinct. This means that if you don’t feel well, you need to launch on a search of why that is. Sometimes a doctor says what we desperately want to hear (“there is nothing wrong with you”) and the temptation to bury what our body is telling us is greater than the ocean. This results in the loss of valuable time (and in you continuing to feel like shit.) You’ll find answers. It might just take a while.

Doctors are not gods. Sometimes they don’t know what to do. They often make mistakes (Ask one. She’ll tell you.) Be skeptical. Believe in the value of multiple opinions.

While on the subject of multiple opinions, consider homeopathy. You have nothing to lose, as this kind of treatment has no side effects. (I will possibly tell you more about this in a future entry. Homeopathy is mind-boggling and fabulous if the doctor practicing it is very good.)

Make a list of symptoms and take notes of things you want to discuss with your doctor. You’ll forget otherwise.

Don’t worry about worrying the people who love you. No matter how much this concerns you, you can’t do much about it, and you (very badly) need to channel your energy towards more immediate things, like your health. Besides, people who love you want to be there for you. Give them some credit. Which takes me to my next point.

Never go to the doctor alone. More than one listener means perspective. Particularly valuable if you are in a panic or emotionally involved.

And, if I could leave you with just one thing, it would be this: don’t be afraid. I’ve learned (thank you Kate for helping me get there) that the opposite of fear is faith. I don’t know about you, but there has been a shortage of faith in my pragmatic, intellectual, non-religious family. Getting on your knees and praying to a force bigger than you (whatever you conceive this to be) beats having all the facts this wired world has to offer. Have faith. If you don’t have any, go find it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Great ways to waste energy

Make a mountain out of a molehill.

Expect a reaction that is not in the other individual's nature. Then...

Be disappointed or hurt that the desired outcome did not happen.

Dislike someone. Intensely.

Develop a tendency to take things personally.


Feel guilty.

Hold imaginary conversations where you predict what another person's reply will be. Go through every possible scenario.

Feed irrational fear.

Assume that things that appear to be larger than you are actually about you.

Decide that you can win by fighting things that seem larger than you. Thrash about.

Hold on tight, for as long as you can, to something that caused you pain.

When you're feeling paranoid, analyze every unrelated event until you find evidence, however small, that the world is indeed out to get you.

Complain. Make sure you make the complaints elliptical by finding people who have similar issues so that beyond discussing them action to resolve them is never taken.

Anticipate the worst-case scenario so you can feel stressed about things that are not likely to happen.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

When you're ready

My house it reminds me some day I will sit on the Adondirack chair in the backyard learn how to use a tagine read all the books on my bookshelf in alphabetical order lie in the wide red sofa or on the cool wood floor and watch the moon through the skylight wear my sequined t-shirt and all those shoes use the hot tub burn candles apply beauty treatments I’ll learn to knit take in every single photograph in the coffee table books sip Turkish coffee from the small white cups some day I’ll have time for this my house assures me you go do what you need to do and we’ll be here when you’re ready


Thursday, June 24, 2010

My galactic hair

George Malcolm: half white, half black, with messy tousled hair, rumpled and tugged between kind of curly and extremely curly. Once, a year or so before, he'd been at our house and he'd pulled out a lock of his hair and used it to teach me about eddies and helixes. It's a circular current into a central station, he'd explained, giving me one to hold. I pulled on the spring. Nature is full of the same shapes, he said, taking me to the bathroom sink and spinning on the tap and pointing out the way the water swirled down the drain. Taking me to the bookshelf and flipping open a book on weather and showing me a cyclone, then a spiral galaxy. Pulling me back to the bathroom sink, to my glass jar of collected seashells, and pointing out the same curl in a minature conch. See? he said, holding the seashell up to his hair. Yes! I clapped. His eyes were warm with teaching pleasure. It's galactic hair, he said, smiling.

From The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
By Aimee Bender

Photo: Wikipedia

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The fan and the snob

My brother Pedro was the first to show interest in futbol. He is 8 years younger than me, so for a long while I was a part of what is likely the only family not at all interested in a sport that is a passion in Mexico. 

Then, I met my husband Luca. Very early on he explained he was from Milan, and that Milan had two teams: Inter, and AC Milan. He was a fan of Inter. He showed me the logo. He narrated a brief history of how both teams were constituted. I nodded.

Inspired, I told him it might be fun for me to be a fan of AC Milan, figuring it could make for a more interesting family dynamic. He looked at me silently for a while, with one of the most solemn expressions he has ever mustered. “If you did that” he finally replied “you’d be going against three generations of Penati tradition.”

“Forza Inter”, I said.

Once that had been established, I dedicated considerable effort to finding this sport interesting. I have failed over and over again.

Imagine, I tell Luca, the degree of evolution required to take a piece of wood, transform it into a violin and have that somehow become a Bach concerto. Or contemplate the imagination implicit in going from a coffee bean on a tree, to harvesting, toasting, grinding, adding boiling water, straining, and arriving at the heady, sensual drink we all know and love. I mean, who conceives these things?

So all things considered, I explain, having 11 sweaty men follow a ball, kick it around, and sometimes head bump it is kind of.... well, Neanderthal –ish.

Far from seeing it my way, Luca hurls the only insult he’s ever directed at me. “Dushka. You are such a snob”. 

Since then, my only brief but promising flicker of interest in the game happened at the Milan airport, where running down a staircase I caught out of the corner of my eye the Dolce Gabbana ad where players were photographed in their underwear. Who knew soccer required such stringent physical conditioning.

On Saturday, May 22, 2010 Inter played against Bayern Munich in Madrid. The winner would win the Champions League, the most prestigious trophy for clubs. We all got together at Luca’s parents’ house in Milan. I stared at the screen, determined to show an ability to follow this obsession that consumes the man I love. I fixed my eyes on the ball. Players ran to the left. Players ran to the right. Players ran to the left. I fell asleep.

During my nap, I jumped up twice to screeching screams of GOOOOOOOL! My husband went to the Duomo to celebrate Inter’s victory (along with 100,000 other people), the first such event in 45 years.

The next day, he bought Inter t-shirts, flags, socks, sweatshirts and a scarf. I encouraged the shopping spree, looking on adoringly.

Alas. The bottom line is that soccer is the place where I will always in the sidelines. Or, will I?

Luca watches games from the sofa in our living room. I tell him I will go into the kitchen to prepare something for him to snack on while he inhabits this mysterious, far away place.

“No, bring a book and come sit by me” he says. “You bring me luck”.

Photo: Luca's grandmother. Photo taken on her 100th birthday, the day Inter won the Champion's League.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A long life

I’ve always associated longevity with good fortune. It’s what I wish on those I love and the reason I do my best to live a healthy life (OK. Besides vanity.)

My husband’s grandmother turned 100 years old this week. And I can tell you, she’s had it. She has seen all her friends (and their children) and most of her family (parents, brothers, sisters, cousins) die. She is a widow who misses her husband terribly, and who lately curses him for leaving her here alone.

Her age has become a sentence. She lives in a world she no longer understands, one that has left her behind. Everyone she loves has built a life that (she feels) only includes her out of a sense of duty.

She is a woman of great dignity, slender and silent, who would rather eat alone than “invade” her son’s life (and she did indeed eat lunch alone at her dinner table, day after day, despite her son begging her to come upstairs, for almost 20 years.)

She was completely independent up until recently. She lived alone until she was 98, going to the store and cooking for herself until she showed signs of short term memory loss that led her son and daughter in law to fear she might wander off or leave the stove on.

She now lives in a home where she is the oldest. She is the only one who still takes the two flights of stairs that lead to her room and who refuses to go to the doctor. She shuns all forms of medication, even vitamins. She drinks no water, only a glass of red wine with meals. Of all her traits, my favorite is her lack of interest in being tactful. A few years back, her grandson told her she looked beautiful. His tone, although completely void of cruelty, was flip. The immediacy of her razor sharp response (along the lines of “go to hell”) left him reeling.

I love life. Sounding negative about having more of it feels counterintuitive and not very gracious. But I wonder how much of what I now consider crucial to my well being I would still have 60 years from now. I wonder if I wouldn’t be feeling more of an ever-present sense of loss than any feeling of gratitude or triumph.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The fun principle

I can't tell you how many times I've heard "I'll quit the day it stops being fun". Or "it just wasn't fun anymore, you know?"

For a long time this made sense, but upon further examination I’ve decided I don’t buy the fun principle. While I do consider the pursuit of happiness should be central to everybody’s life, I believe true happiness is a thing with substance.

The false sense that you “deserve better” (“deserve” – such a dangerous word!), that life is supposed to be a great big party, leaves me wanting.

More importantly, I believe that if I expected it to be that way I would set myself up to be regularly disappointed.

What I want, a lot more than laughs, to be amused or to be playful, is to live in a place (within myself) where I’m always learning. Where the fear of failing at something is never what is guiding my decision to get involved in it or not. Where I have people to love. Even to be surrounded by things – simple, useful things – that I consider beautiful.

That seems worth sticking around for.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


I love this poem by Wislawa Szymborska. It invites me to make my own list of preferences.


I prefer movies.

I prefer cats.

I prefer the oaks along the river.

I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.

I prefer myself liking people

to myself loving mankind.

I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.

I prefer the color green.

I prefer not to maintain

that reason is to blame for everything.

I prefer exceptions.

I prefer to leave early.

I prefer talking to doctors about something else.

I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.

I prefer the absurdity of writing poems

to the absurdity of not writing poems.

I prefer, where love's concerned, nonspecific anniversaries

that can be celebrated every day.

I prefer moralists

who promise me nothing.

I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.

I prefer the earth in civvies.

I prefer conquered to conquering countries.

I prefer having some reservations.

I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.

I prefer Grimm’s' fairy tales to the newspapers' front pages.

I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.

I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.

I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.

I prefer desk drawers.

I prefer many things that I haven't mentioned here

to many things I've also left unsaid.

I prefer zeroes on the loose

to those lined up behind a cipher.

I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.

I prefer to knock on wood.

I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.

I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility

that existence has its own reason for being.

Wislawa Szymborska

(Nothing Twice, trans. by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh)


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Oh, mom.

You probably don't remember.

You watched "The Changeling", that movie where Angelina Jolie loses her child. He's replaced by another she does not know and told it is her son. No one believes her when she says it isn't. She is thrown into an insane asylum.

You call to tell me you loved the movie, to which I reply I thought it was beautiful but too terrible for words. You say, perplexed "what in the world did you find so terrible about it?" I summarize the plot. "Oh." You respond. "I only remember the incredible photography."

My husband posted a video of me trying out working in the rice fields in Vietnam. It shows Vietnamese workers in their cone shaped hats teaching me how to soften the hard earth, quickly losing their patience at my incompetence and unceremoniously waving me off the field. It's aptly titled "Dushka gets fired in Vietnam".

Your comment to the video is "She will try anything. If you leave her there 10 minutes longer she'll be in charge and showing the Vietnamese women how to do it."

We all need a dose of this gift of yours to block what you don't want to see. Everyone should be lucky enough to be mistaken for someone far better than they really are. I don't know what I will do when I lose the only person in the world who think I am invincible.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Infidelity is not a tornado

I fear this post is the unfortunate consequence of me reading one People Magazine article too many. But I am so fed up with how infidelity is referred to.

The most common declaration made after the spouse is caught is "I made a mistake". Infidelity isn't like tripping. It's extremely deliberate. It's not a result of "poor judgment" - a good example of poor judgment would be driving too fast. Being unfaithful involves a thousand small decisions: twelve subtle looks + a tentative, grazing touch + active pursuit + a rendezvous you connive to keep a secret + taking off all your clothes. If someone's penis ends up in someone's vagina it can't be talked about like you forgot to mention to your barista that you like sugar in your coffee.

Next is "I swear it didn't mean anything". Well, if it meant enough for you to put what you had at risk, that doesn't speak very highly of the value you placed on your relationship, does it?

Then there is the contrite spouse in question, red faced, wet eyed, saying "I hope my family finds it in their heart to forgive me". You didn't find it in your heart to honor your vows, so why are you putting all the weight of responsibility of what happens next in those you just hurt, who at the moment can't even see straight?

And let's not forget "I can't believe one single mistake puts our whole relationship at risk". That is a risk you take when you cheat, not a decision the spouse makes when she/he is too twisted up inside to know what the heck to do next.

I'm also so very tired of celebrities responding by "getting treatment". I respect addictions and their healing process. But I can't help but feel the person is actively relinquishing accountability. To put it in other words: if you're man enough to not be able to keep your dick in your pants, be a man and stand up for what you did. Proud of your prowess, deception proficiency and extra-marital dexterity? Then don't act like you are the perplexed, helpless victim of "a disease".

Despite what this sounds like, I want to point out how through this post I am refraining from judging the act itself. I am not saying infidelity is (or isn't) a terrible thing or that whoever commits it will inevitably arrive at a day of reckoning. What people do (or forgive) is their business.

What I'm tired of is how cheaters handle themselves after the fact, how they look upon the mess they've made as if it was a tornado (a huge, inescapable, swirling, destructive force coming out of nowhere from far, far away) that caused it.

What I'm tired of is the lack of variety, the offensive absence of creativity, the same worn out scenario playing out an infinite number of times. How sad it is to see love, that most sacred of things, reduce itself to a cliché, wasted over and over and over again.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010


As a Mexican living in the US I am forever complaining about mediocre (or in-authentic) Mexican food outside of Mexico, so I try to give credit to places that remind me of the food I ate growing up.

A few nights ago, desperately hungry and crunched for time, my husband and I noticed what seemed like a fast food restaurant serving tacos that looked really great. We looked at each other, stepped inside and ordered: he grilled chicken, me vegetarian tacos (with black beans, corn salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole and a fresh, crunchy pile of lettuce).

They were delicious.

Impressed with what their food, their (kind, friendly, helpful) service and how fast we went from walking into their restaurant to having the food in our eager little hands, I did a bit of research about them.

I'm probably one of the last people to discover that Chipotle is really "doing things better". In their words "better tasting, coming from better sources, better for the environment, better for the animals, and better for the farmers who raise the animals and grow the produce.

The hallmarks of Food With Integrity include things like unprocessed, seasonal, family-farmed, sustainable, nutritious, naturally raised, added hormone free, organic, and artisanal.

And, since embracing this philosophy, it's had tremendous impact on how we run our restaurants and our business. It's led us to serve more naturally raised meat than any other restaurant in the country, to push for more sustainable practices in produce farming, and to work with dairy suppliers to eliminate the use of added hormones from their operations."

After reading about their practices, eating their food, and having discovered that we walk right in front one of their locations on our way home, I can say I will be eating at Chipotle a lot more often.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter will always belong to you

My family isn’t very big on special occasions. I know my mom could take or leave the entire month of December. She’s told me she doesn’t mind at all celebrating the Holidays in October or February when travel isn’t such a hassle.

We tell each other that our idea of an awesome New Year’s celebration is to crawl into bed and ask someone to wake us up when it’s over. We chuckle, but we know we’re not kidding.

I bet you that if you asked my father to list his offspring and their corresponding birthdays he wouldn’t be able to answer (he might get lucky and remember all our names, but definitely not the dates we came into the world.)

This is why I’m so grateful to the people in our lives who don't listen when we assure them important dates don't matter.

My husband looks the other way when I don’t remember our anniversary and has gotten into the habit of booking a special trip on that date, where we take stock of our lives from somewhere far away enough to provide perspective.

Easter will forever belong to Tomas, my mother’s husband. We used to wake up every Easter Sunday (we’re not Catholic) and run out to the garden to find dozens of eggs. They weren’t chocolate (my brother was severely allergic to it). They were plastic, and I would unwrap and open them to find treasures inside: multicolored candy, sure, but other things too. Jewelry and miniature furniture, secret notes and toys.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized he had to go look for things small enough to fit into the eggs, individually wrap them, get up early to hide them, and then put them away for the following year.

I am grateful to Tomas for putting up with our un-sentimental, overly pragmatic ways and for making my life a pastel colored place. You know, the kind where you expect to find nestled in the grass a baby blue egg with a unicorn inside.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Better safe than polite

In his book The Gift of Fear, Gavin De Becker says that humans have been given marvelous, complex, highly evolved instincts designed to keep us out of harm's way. The problem is that we override internal alarms in the name of being "polite" or "reasonable".

He illustrates his point with the following example: Say that you are waiting for an elevator. The doors open and you see someone already inside that sends a chill down your spine (or turns your stomach into a knot.) But, it would be so rude, even offensive, to stare at the person and then refrain from getting on the elevator, right?

You decide to ignore your own message, telling yourself that being afraid of someone you've never met makes no sense and determine that it instead makes a lot of sense to get into a small, sound proof, inescapable metal box with someone you instinctively are afraid of.

This story blew me away. Because I make these types of decisions all the time: doing things against my better judgment in an attempt to "make sense". Making an elaborate intellectual effort to convince myself my instincts cannot possibly be right. And, I love my instincts! They are so often correct! They were put there to help me!

I've decided they deserve more respect than this. Not just mine - everyone's. So I invite you to listen to yours too.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Despite over 30 years of (reluctant) shopping experience, when I buy clothes I find it impossible to predict what I'll actually use.

I end up giving away items I was sure I'd wear all the time: the very comfortable sweater, for example, in a neutral color that would "go with everything". (There is no such thing, by the way.)

On the other hand (and this is the part that perplexes me the most) ever so often I buy something despite suspecting I'll never use it, just because I really like it. And it turns out I use it all the time. Gold shoes (that nearly go with everything.) Denim shorts (I even wear them to the office.) A dress with an unusual pattern. An article in an unlikely color.

(If you're thinking "Aha! What she needs to do is only buy things she really likes without worrying about frequency of use!" I’ve also been known to buy something despite suspecting I’ll never use it just because I really like it and it turns out I don’t use it. But thanks anyway.)

I have come up with a very rough list of rules that sometimes works:

- The less time it takes for me to put an outfit together, the more I turn to it. This is why I wear dresses at least 4 days of the week.

- The shoes have to be comfortable. It's not that I don't adore high heels. It's that I love my feet more.

- I won't use something if it makes me feel like a boy. Pants often do this. And, this is the reason I have given up on most blazers.

- No button down shirts. They always gape. I don't care how well they're cut. And no, I don’t want to try that special brand that doesn’t. I’ve given up on them.

- No turtlenecks or crewnecks. I love how they look on other people. They don't look good on me.

I have the deepest respect and admiration for people who love fashion and have fun with it and always look like getting dressed in the morning was a wonderful mini-adventure. For the rest of us, it's a crap shoot.


Monday, March 15, 2010

What's the best that could happen?

Let me share with you one of my most ingrained habits: I will immediately, unfailingly go to the worst possible case scenario.

It's not that I'm a pessimist. I'm an optimist who concluded long ago that to accurately assess a situation I needed to ask "what's the worst that could happen?" The assumption is that if I have evaluated the worst, I will be ready for anything.

I have discovered that this is flawed reasoning, because:

- It's impossible to prepare for anything, given that the combinations of unfortunate things that can happen are, I'm sorry to say, infinite. So, when something bad does happen, rather than being "ready" I sit there bleary eyed and wild-haired wondering how on Earth I did not see it coming.

- Operating in worst case scenario mode leads me to live in a perpetual state of heightened anxiety. (It's no wonder, since I inhabit a nightmarish kind of place). The lethally ironic blow? The exercise completely dulls my instincts, so that when something happens I cannot read my most trusty tool (my internal compass) because I've dulled it with a flood of possible scenarios that do not take place.

- Ultimately, what I end up without is faith. Because I'm so busy looking ahead at likely disasters that I fail to notice all of the times that what I was expecting did not occur.

So I'm now in the middle of the most difficult exercise: training every day to resist taking my well tread, completely cleared away path that leads to worst case scenarios; and instead choosing to open through dense jungle the trail that no one has ever set foot on of trying to conceive the best that could happen.

Saying this doesn't come naturally to me would be an understatement. It scares me, because it feels like I an setting myself up to be ambushed, hurt or disappointed. But instead of living through the heartbreak of all the catastrophes that have only happened in my (hyperactive) imagination, I hope to live through the joy of a thousand perfect (and equally plausible) outcomes.

This way, when crisis strikes, at least I won't be exhausted.
Photo: Painting by Ken Grant

Friday, March 5, 2010

I turned left in Vietnam

Traffic in Vietnam can only be described as surreal. You have dust and noise (oh, the noise) and cars and rickshaws and bicycles and motorbikes that often carry more than four family members (or, say, a refrigerator, a water buffalo, or 10 wooden crates full of basil and mint leaves.)

If you’re not used to it, riding around in a car can be pretty harrowing. Getting in a cab will have you sitting on the edge of your seat and gripping something.

Which is why it was such an incredible experience to explore Vietnam by bicycle.

For context, let me start by saying that I’m not particularly adroit on a bike. I can balance myself on it and I can pedal, but I’m not one of those people who was ever good enough to yell “Look mom! No hands!” (Or even “look, Mom! One hand!") I never thought I’d be capable – or willing - to ride in the middle of such commotion. To my surprise, it allowed me to experience the rhythm and throb of a country in a way nothing else, not even walking, could have.

On roads, street signals don’t matter. I’m not referring only to stop lights, but even to the sense of highways. There is no such thing as “the wrong way” as people driving in any direction use both sides of the road. Drivers use their horns constantly (hence the intense cacophony), to say “I’m here” rather than to say “get out of my way”.

What you do is ride along, mindful of others, yet completely owning the space you rightfully occupy in the world. You tend to stay towards the right side of the street (leaving the middle part to trucks and cars) and avoid the shoulder if it’s too sandy or has too much gravel. You make sure that there is a pattern to your movement (no swerving, jerking or sudden stopping) so people around you can predict what you’re going to do next. The opposite of chaos, there is an easy flow to it, and once you get the hang of it, it feels like an incredible local secret has been revealed to you, like learning a language.

Now for the best part. What about turning left? This act can only be described as a leap of faith. You stretch your left arm down and wiggle your hand (if you push your arm out you’ll, at best, knock someone over.) Then you go – turning the handle bars against traffic coming from both sides of the street and knowing full well there is a 50/50 chance a big truck could plow right into you.

I rode a bicycle in Vietnam for a full week, took multiple left turns, and every time felt to the center of my being the precise meaning of “on a wing and a prayer”.

Riding a bike in Vietnam feels like you’re a witness to your own fortune-kissed life. If I can, against all odds, turn left in Vietnam and come out of it unscathed, it's safe to assume there is less to be afraid of.

Photo: New York Times Asia

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Also known as love

Lovetta Conto grew up in a refugee camp in Ghana. Today she designs Akawelle (which means “also known as love”) a line of jewelry made from the remnants of bullets that litter her native Liberia. Half of the profits go to a home for displaced children. This way, she says “the same bullet that has killed someone can help a new generation”.

I couldn't resist buying one. I like to wear it to remind myself I have no idea what a difficult day really means.


Monday, February 8, 2010

A perfectly good life strategy, wasted

I know my life would be so much simpler if I worked to lower everyone's expectations.

Unfortunately, my ego keeps getting in the way.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Animals out of paper

The SF Playhouse is a tiny, tiny theater in SF that seats around 100 people. As a season pass holder, I am invited to watch previews of plays, given questionnaires to provide feedback that is incorporated into future showings, and invited to special events.

I recently saw “Animals out of paper”, by Rajiv Joseph, which is (just to not give away too much of the plot) origami as a metaphor for life. I thought it was brilliant. The theme, the story, the writing, how perfect the actors were for the parts they played, and how talented.

I was thrilled to hear that at the end of the show the playwright, the director and the actors would drag fold-out chairs, open them up on the stage, and encourage conversation.

As I sat there listening to the author answer questions, I was startled by how different his intent was from my interpretation of the play. I wanted to raise my hand and shout, “that is not how Suresh felt at all!” except that I was keenly aware that it was a play he had written, and that I was just a spectator. I walked out of the theater almost wishing I had not stayed for the discussion, much preferring my own version of the meaning of the show and what would happen to the characters in the future.

If a director works closely with a playwright to bring his characters to life, does he then have to let go and put all the answers in the hands of his audience? (Yes, please.) How long do you get to keep what you write? Isn’t its very purpose to take on a life of its own, like parents with their children?

More importantly, how many times have I heard things –outside the confines of a theater – that I have taken to mean something completely different than the way they were intended? How many times have I attributed something to someone else when really the accidental author was my imagination?

Do we ever really get to know anyone at all? Or do things only happen in the confines of our mind, tracing with the people closest to us feather light parallel lines that, because of the flaws inherent in human nature, are destined to never touch?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Not Alone

According to the Meyers Briggs type indicator, an “extrovert” and an “introvert” are defined based on where they get their energy. An extrovert is “energized by the outer world of people and things” and an introvert is “energized by the inner world of thoughts and ideas”.
When I first heard about this, I considered it a revelation. It took me the better part of ten years to come to the realization that I really did not enjoy parties or social gatherings larger than, say, four people (It turns out that making the distinction between “I like” and “I don’t like” is not as easy as it would appear. Another revelation.)
After a long day of work, an extrovert wants to go have dinner. I want to crawl into bed with a book. I don’t want to talk. I want to write. I don’t want to play a team sport. I want to swim. When faced with a dilemma at work, I don’t want to brainstorm. I want to sit behind my computer and close the door. This is, in fact, what I want to do even when not faced with a dilemma at work.
My job (which I love) is intensely social. I meet with people and talk on the phone and present a point of view and give presentations (often breathing through stage fright). When a co-worker comes into my office, my brain is happy to see her but my body spasms (it takes a second for my mouth to follow my brain and smile because its first reaction is to contract.)
What I find interesting is that I’m not alone (despite being attracted to that concept.)
I’ve recently concluded (through empirical observation) that more than half of the people who work in PR are closet introverts (don’t worry. I won’t call you out by name until you’re ready.)
I guess this shouldn’t come as such a surprise. The profession demands that you interact with a certain level of social dexterity, but it requires, at least in equal measure, that you write and think and research. We’re right where we should be.
Besides, everyone should have a job that takes them places they wouldn’t go on their own, that pushes the limits of what they think they can do, and that (as a bonus) saves them from their worst tendencies (I’d be a hermit.)
So if you’re a fellow introvert in a job that demands that you operate outside your comfort zone, I salute you.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The best fortune ever

Many years ago I opened a fortune cookie and found this inside.
I have carried it in my wallet ever since.

More than anything else, this is what I want to be true.

Photo: scan of actual fortune.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

In case of earthquake

If you know me at all – or even if you just read my blog – you know that I am quite fond of order, planning and preparing. I make lists of things to do even on weekends, and organizing my closet is something I would do for fun. (OK. Something I do in fact do for fun.)

Given all of this, I’m not sure why I am so reluctant to putting together an earthquake preparedness kit. Isn’t being compulsively neat all about control? Shouldn’t I jump at the chance to better off in case of a disaster?

I never leave for tomorrow what I can do today. Ticking off things on my to do list brings me manic amounts of pleasure. If I buy all my holiday gifts the previous summer, why have I put off preparing for an earthquake for more than ten years?

Because the Bay Area has had three earthquakes this past week, this morning my way-more relaxed-than-me husband told me we are spending part of the day making sure we’re ready in case a big earthquake hits. If you haven’t done so, I suggest you do the same. We can figure out the answers to all the questions I pose above while we happily cluck as we check off this list.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

You can't go back

When I was very young, grown ups used to tell me that those years that I was living would be the most wonderful of my life. And I would think No way. You can’t possibly be right. The future would always be better, whatever was in store for me, and I couldn’t wait for it to start.

I see their point now. I don’t think I realized at the time what they were really trying to say: that what I was experiencing then would one day very soon be irretrievable.

I will never again come home and hear my mother furiously typing downstairs. I will never walk into the dining room at my father’s house and find all my brothers and sisters sitting at the table in their pajamas, their energy, their kinetic force, dark hair disheveled, my sister still a baby. My father, so very young, the fire in his eyes, his brow furrowed, sitting behind his desk at the library, surrounded by books in piles that were taller than me.

Things have splintered since then, and we’ve all scattered in different directions and built very different lives.

If I had the choice to go back even for a day, an hour, I don’t think I’d want to. I like it so much better here. But I feel anyway that I’ve lost something enormous.