Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Time

The funny thing about having a moment of deep personal reflection triggered by the HIMYM finale is that I haven't even watched the episode yet. I've only read the spoilers. That said, I won't reveal what happened in this post but if you haven't seen the last episode yet go watch it first. My reaction may tip you off to what happens.

I was missing Robyn (my love, not the character in the show) especially yesterday, because so much of my time is spent away from her. And because of the finale I realized that one of the big messages presented in the show (at least for me) is that time is our most important resource, and how we spend it is something that really matters.

We can spend it with those we love. We can spend it trying new things and worshipping god. We can spend it learning and creating. We can spend it being healthy or sick. We can be inside our outside. We can also spend it chasing money or chasing fame. We can spend it helping others or hurting others. We can spend it enriching ourselves or we can spend it enriching others.

It all comes down to this: we can spend our time on what really matters or what really doesn't matter. Moreover, how we use our time is a reflection on what we value and what we don't.

(Assuming we have sufficient freedom and opportunity to have agency to use our time how we like, which isn't necessarily true in America today, but that's an entirely different issue).

What's even more unique about time is that we can never estimate how much of it we have. In high school I started living by this credo: "Live like there are 10,000 tomorrows, all of which that may never come." If you're thinking it's paradoxical it is.

But it's true.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Finishing Strong

Given the Wolverine's awful football season - capped by its loss in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on December 28 - I've been thinking about why. It seems to me that the Wolverines lacked something crucial to all winning teams I've ever seen: the tenacity to finish strong.

I think of it this way: Only teams who finish plays finish drives. Only teams who can finish drives, finish games. Only teams who finish games, finish seasons. Only teams who finish seasons win championships.

But what is finishing? Finishing, to me, is much different than simply "getting something done." Finishing is more than that, it means that you do something decisively and with conviction. It's cleaning your plate at dinner and not leaving a single grain of rice left uneaten. It's tying your shoes AND tucking in the laces. It's leaving no stone unturned and working with pride on something instead of simply working to complete it. Finishing is about completing something to a high standard instead of completing it with the lowest acceptable standard.

I've been lucky that on my worst-performing days, my baseline level of effort normally exceeds any lowest acceptable standard. So what I want to work on now is finishing and applying this distinction to everything from school, to work, to relationships, to cleaning my kitchen or doing my laundry. I want to finish things instead of simply getting them done.

It will take practice.

It will also take a shift in mindset. I will aim to keep a few phrases within my vocabulary, like, "Yes, please," "no, thank you," and "I'm finished." On the contrary, I don't want to use phrases like, "I'm done," or "let's get this done,", or "I'm good." The latter phrases have the connotation of acceptable standards instead of high standards.

This will be hard, because being able to "finish" normally seems to come when an individual has had to work grittily to succeed...something which I haven't often had to do. Nonetheless, I'm going to work at this characteristic until it becomes a habit.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Resolve.

I've had more academic / professional "losses" this week than I probably have had in almost the past year or two combined. I'm sick of it already and it hasn't even been that bad. This post is my resolution.

I'm not the smartest person in my class. I'm not the most charming. I'm not the coolest or the tallest. I'm not the most aggressive. But there are things that I am.

I'm quite possibly the most passionate and most intellectually curious. I'm as honest as people come and unerring in doing what's right, even if it is not self serving. And, I'm unquestionably committed to my friends, family, and community.

I will work harder than I have, ever. I will make my friends, family, and neighbors proud. I will prepare to be a contributing citizen when I move back to Detroit. I will take risks and smile.  I will push the limits of my talent until it expands. I will not quit.

Warmup is over. It's time for two years of "beast mode."

Challenge, accepted.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Singing Love Songs


Whether it’s a sweet word or two, a graze of our hands, or a grand Shakespearian sacrifice. A casserole, cookie, or coffee maker. A scribbled post-it note or an airport pickup. I hope you hear me singing, from the truest place in my heart, “ILoveYouILoveYouILoveYou.”

The tune of this love song changes depending on who we are singing to, but so much of what we communicate, I think, comes down to whether or not we’re trying to say, deep down, “I love you.”

Or if we aren’t.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Each Other

In the past few weeks I've noticed several couples on the rocks or splitting. This will inevitably continue as spring fever takes over and new beginnings occur. Which is fine.

What I wish these folks realized, as they contemplate and complain about if they're "getting what they want and need" in their relationships, is that such reflection is misguided. What those couples don't seem to realize is they already have everything they need - each other. The couples I see with the strongest relationships are the ones that realize this.

If each other isn't enough for them, though, I suppose they probably should split before they find themselves unhappy years later, always waiting for the next relationships milestone.

Taking it back*

People, or more likely institutions, can take a lot away from you. They can take your time, your health, your mind, your home, your body, your property, your hope, your family, your joy, your freedom, and even your life.

But there are some things they cannot take without your consent (though sometimes the cost of resistance is high) - your beliefs, your convictions**, your values, and your faith. They also can't change virtue or the truth, those things are enduring.

I find great comfort in the fact that some things are enduring, some things can't be taken from you unless you give them up, and that the things that can be taken from you can take back. This consoles me when I feel inconsolable.

---

*Thanks to a good friend, RH, for using the phrase "I'm taking it back" when referring to the first category of things I've listed out. I would've never thought about this otherwise. Also thanks to one of my high school English teachers, GM, for guiding us to read East of Eden, I've been thinking about this passage for nearly 10 years now:

** - http://timshel.org/timshel.php. An excerpt from John Steinbeck's East of Eden:


Lee’s hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. “Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”
“Yes, I see. I do see. But you do not believe this is divine law. Why do you feel its importance?”
“Ah!” said Lee. “I’ve wanted to tell you this for a long time. I even anticipated your questions and I am well prepared. Any writing which has influenced the thinking and the lives of innumerable people is important. Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.” Lee’s voice was a chant of triumph.

Monday, April 22, 2013

"Because they have God."

I was reminded of this story, because of an article Emily W. sent me earlier today. She actually sent me three good ones:

Anyway, here's the story.

---

When I was 18 years old I was a freshman in undergrad and over Winter Break, I went to a family wedding in India. This, being an Indian wedding and a wedding involving my boisterous/awesome family, was obviously a huge affair and to accommodate our clan, my uncle rented a 20 room bungalow outside of Delhi. One of the days, we needed firewood. I hopped in the car with my eldest sister and her son (who was probably 5 at the time), and we set off to find some.

We found ourselves in a slum, because it was the closest place to get the wood. We were in a car, of course, but I was trying to observe the scene as closely as I could.  My sister commented that the people in the slum were generally happy, despite their destitute poverty. I asked her why.

"Because they have God," she said sincerely and almost nostalgically, after a pause.

I don't know exactly how that moment changed me, but it did. I haven't been the same since. I'm only starting to figure out why now, almost eight years later.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Every Day Is a Good Day

We are most humble when we are most weak, I think, but that in turn makes us our strongest. When our bodies, minds, and souls move irregularly close to their danger zones. I'm influenzaed up today, and, my body is always such that I feel rosy or it's at DefCon 3. So DefCon 3, it is. It doesn't have to come from illness, but that's just where I'm at today.

When you've done all you can except pray and sleep, it leaves you strong like a Phoenix borne from a moment of weakness thinking and thanking - only in your head for a moment - for the chance to be around other people; for good; friends; for protection of your friends, family, neighbors, and strangers; for forgiveness; and for the guidance and strength to take the path you were meant to.

Then out of nowhere, you start whispering under your breath, and your face starts to tingle, despite everything (mind, body, and soul) that's happening...

"Thank you for this day. Thank you for this day. Thank you for this day."

-NT

PS - Go Blue. We on.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Letting Go

This post has been in the making for many years, I think, but I haven't had the capability, courage, or conviction to write it. Maybe I still don't. Let's see.

---

Introduction
In addition to writing graduate school essays which have been forcing me to reflect on my life, passion, history, and dreams, I've been trying to spend over a year trying to be a more complete person. Someone who is less broken, with more confidence and inner strength. It's been, by far, the hardest year of my life because in addition to the ever increasing pace and intensity that comes with growing older, I've relived the hardest moments of my life to date. It's been haunting.

One school I didn't apply to was the University of California at Berkeley. They had a great question (I'm paraphrasing): what song most represents you and why? This monologue is loosely organized with that question in mind.

---

"Yeah. You know technically, I'm not even really supposed to be here right now, so [forget] it. Might as well make the most of it." - Cinderella Man, Eminem

I don't know that I've ever really talked to anyone in the world about this - maybe loosely in passing, if that - but sometimes, and in many ways, I'm not really supposed to be here. I'm just lucky, for some reason a confluence of things happening in the universe conspired to bring me to this earth. This isn't as much of an exaggeration as I wish it were.

My father doesn't speak of his upbringing, ever. I hear more about his history from others who know him, and it doesn't surprise me. My father epitomizes the American dream. He grew up without much opportunity in a difficult environment. He didn't carry himself up by his bootstraps, because figuratively speaking, he didn't have boots. He made it to the US from nothing because of his intelligence yes, but more so because he's a relentlessly hard worker. He makes every other person I've ever know look like a pile of bricks. That he ever made it here is unbelievable  For me, that's lucky moment number 1 - my dad found a way to do something impossible to make it to this country.

For the purposes of this story, however, my mother's story is even more compelling. In her words, she was the least likely person in her family to live outside of India. Not only was she incredibly close to my grandmother, he also had major health problems growing up. She was always sick. In fact, she told me once that she fell so ill in her twenties that doctors thought she was on her deathbed. She was so close to death, she said, the doctors took her from her bed and laid her upon the floor - as it tradition in Indian culture for someone who is expected to pass. Because of providence and the nurturing hand of my eldest aunt (who's my second mother, really) she miraculously survived.

The miracles don't end there, however. From what I've been told, for some reason or another, my parents were having trouble having a child. I don't know how long they were trying or why that was the case, but my mother said she came to her breaking point and that one night she prayed - to someone, anyone, I think - and promised that her house would always have a Christmas Tree if she had a child. I was born, and there has been a Christmas Tree up in my family's house every year since then.

Maybe this isn't a real story of struggle, but it makes me feel like the luckiest person in the world. The odds were against me ever coming into this world, from before I was even conceived. I'm not supposed to be here, but yet, I am.

This providence hasn't stopped. I wasn't supposed to be doing what I'm doing now. I'm not a terrific person, and am certainly a sinner, but I've done o-k for myself considering the circumstances. I always got along pretty well with people growing up, but I was always picked on. I was never really accepted, save for by a few. I felt pigeon-holed as the nerdy Indian kid my whole life. I was scrawny and never really got much attention from girls. I was sort of the stereotype you would expect for someone with my stats. I should have turned out differently.

But I caught a break. I changed schools in 8th grade and had a fresh start. I was able to let go of every other person's preconceived notions and I was lucky that a few people - many of which are friends of mine to this day - took a chance on a new kid from across town. It was from that moment, that I started feeling better and growing into the person I am today. If not for that, I don't know what would have happened, but I do know my life would have turned out very differently. I'm not supposed to be the person I am today, but I'm lucky and somehow, the universe conspired to make it happen.

The optimistic story that I could tell here is that I feel so lucky and that luckiness makes me feel an obligation to live in a way which honors the gift of life, blah blah, and that's 100% true. And, in any other blog post I would gush about this. But that's not this kind of post.

There's a darker side to all this. Feeling lucky to be a human on this earth brings an unwieldy pressure to do something good in the world - to live a pure and noble life, consecrated to others. This goes beyond, "with great power comes great responsibility" and "noblesse oblige." It's a crushing weight and it always makes me feel like I'm not doing enough, that I'm insufficient. I don't know if anyone else feels this way, I honestly think it's likely. I just have no idea - it's not something that comes up in polite conversation.

---

"The world's on fire, and it's more than I can handle" - World on Fire, Sarah McLachlan

This is another thing I don't really know if other people relate to, but the first 25 years of my life felt like they were marked by struggle. And all this struggle, without me even realizing it (because I internalize emotion and rarely show it outwardly around others), has made me sad, angry, and anxious.

Most pervasively, I lost a younger brother when I was coming of age and I was devastated. It made me feel guilty and angry, not only because I wasn't present for my family members when he died, or that grieving his lost has helped me find my "passion". Rather, I've been a terrible burden to live with because he was younger and he passed on my watch, and I still feel culpable...even though it's irrational.

I was always by myself as a kid, shuttling to activity to activity and I hated being alone. I had someone opt out of being my partner in the middle of a ballet workshop and I've never felt more unattractive. I've lived in a city that's been in devastating decline for several decades and I've been at the edge of slums in India. All these experiences and more are the majority of the things I remember when I look upon the first quarter century of my life.

I think I've been holding onto all of this for longer than I can remember. It's all contributed to delirious pursuit of goals while having a warped sense of esteem and confidence. It's led to a deep feeling of hope stirred with a dark tinge of fatalism. In short, all these things have made me a certain kind of crazy and have mired my memory with experiences which have made it hard to remember all the blessings I've had. It's a cage.

---

"I know I can't. But honestly, won't someone stop this train?" - Stop This Train, John Mayer

I've talked with JH quite a bit in the past few months about how our world has changed. Even 2 years ago we weren't living lives which had super serious consequences. Somewhere along the line we moved into the big leagues and the difficult things that happened were no longer trivial, they were material. We had to start dealing with real issues and the last of the veil of innocence we had was gone.

It's not going to stop, either.

---

Fast forward back to the present. As I mentioned before, I've been spending the past year or so trying to come to grips with the difficult things that have happened in my life that I've swept under the rug and have never known how to handle and have never wanted to.

I've learned at least one very important thing on what happens and how to deal with stuff like this. You have to start by letting go - of anger and the shackles you put on yourself.

Both of these things are hard. Letting go of anger takes acknowledging that despite all our agency as individuals we have no real say in what the universe brings us. It's an acceptance that we are weak and fragile. It takes some unique brand of courage that helps you move forward from things that are painful but certain and toward things that are completely unclear but perfectly possible but reliable risky. It's humbling and absolutely terrifying, all at the same time. It's faith.

What is perhaps harder, for me at least, is ridding one self of the impossible expectations that we have of ourselves. Feeling that we must be perfect, even though we are not. That accomplishing anything but what we set out to do is failure.

This too is humbling, but also a fallacy. Yes, we are fragile. Yes, we are imperfect. But we're fine just the way we are, even though this doesn't exempt us from trying hard live life with good intentions. Accepting that we are good enough, even though we are broken, is the second step of letting go. Because we are. We are good enough.

I guess I had to write this because I'm having trouble doing both. I think this will help, though.