Sunday Selection 2019-09-08

I was looking back to see when the last time I made one of these posts, and I saw that it was almost 6 months ago. How time flies. In the meanwhile, both spring and summer seem to have whizzed, and the mercury is definitely heading in the downward direction in this part of the world. For me, these last few seasons have been largely a time of rest, recovery and re-alignment. I’ve been getting a lot of therapy (physical and mental), changing up my exercise routine, experimenting with new recipes, and letting go of some old goals, and charting courses for new ones.

Anyway, you didn’t come here for my vague and disjointed ramblings of my life, you came for a sprinkling of interesting things around the web. So here goes:

On Keeping a Notebook: A Reading List

Admittedly, I’m cheating with this first one. I’ve been using pen and paper more over the last year, having re-discovered the joys of writing with modern fountain pens. I keep multiple notebooks now (a journal, a literal pocket notebook, a research notebook and a meeting notebook, among others). So of course when I this dropped into my inbox a couple weeks ago I couldn’t resist going through them all.

Toni Morrison Transformed the Texture of English

Part of the afore-mentioned charting courses for new goals has been a renewed desire to read and write more and carefully (carrying my Kindle Voyage with me on the subway has been a great help in this regard). Toni Morrison is one such writer that I want to read all of one today, Ursula K LeGuin being the other.

We should all be reading more Ursula LeGuin

Talking of which, multiple people have recommended Ursula LeGuin to me, and this article reinforces that idea. I have always believed that fictional writing should explore ways we can live in our life. I would not be where I am in life, and the sort of person that I am, were it not for liberal amounts of science fiction in my formative years. It seems that LeGuin’s writing would provide good fodder for future imaginings of my life, and in different ways from what I’m used to.

Altered Carbon

And while we’re on the topic of fiction and re-imagining lives, Altered Carbon is one of the best science fiction shows I have seen in recent years. On the surface, it is reminiscent of Blade Runner-style science fiction noir, but it is also an exploration of what happens to society when immortality is practical and commonplace. Season 1 is on Netflix and Season 2 is in the works.

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I run a small fashion shop, Figura, where I design, sew and sell women’s clothes. It’s my way of balancing the concept design with a more hands-on kind of job. My favorite part is definitely the patterning. I do it on paper in a very old-school way. Patterning seems to be one of the most “stable” technologies ever – I can literally sew a dress by 19th century’s pattern and it will work just fine, while my partner complains about JavaScript framework changes weekly.

I was reading the Uses This interview of Elena Zaharova when I came across this paragraph. It reminded of a pet project I would like to do one day (but probably will never get around to): designing and building a networked computer system to run and be usable (which includes being programmable) for 100 years, with minimal maintenance.

Rutger Hauer Rewrote His Iconic ‘Blade Runner’ Monologue, Added ‘Tears in Rain’ Himself

I watch a lot of movies (and television), probably more than I should. One of my favorite pieces of movie on-screen monologue is replicant Roy Batty’s monologue in Blade Runner. Other favorites include Hattori Hanzo’s monologue in Kill Bill, and some of V’s monologues from V for Vendetta. Yesterday, actor Rutger Hauer, who plays Batty, passed away. I learned that he actually wrote most of his excellent monologue himself, including the devastating last line:

“I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. Time to die.”

Rest in peace.

Thirty-One

Long time, no post. I’ve been mostly busy with the various details of day-to-day life. In the meantime, I have somehow managed to turn 31. The one good thing about aging is that it happens without any effort on one’s part. Most years, I like to celebrate my birthday with friends, and if I’m near them, family. This year, I decided to take a page out of Matt Mullenweg’s book and write a few words about the previous year and what I’m looking forward to in the year ahead.

The last year has been full of a lot of changes for me. I moved to a new city (Boston), started some new lines of work, brought others to comfortable milestones, enjoyed the benefits of having a comfortable income. I indulged in some lifestyle inflation by using said income to pay for comfortable living and commuting conditions, while trying to stay wary of conspicuous consumption (with limited success). Though life as an Indian expatriate living in the US can be tenuous sometimes, I think I better appreciate the immense amount of privilege, benefits and advantages of sheer luck that I have over many people in the world.

I tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to build a new network of friends and acquaintances, and in the process got to know myself much better than I have in a long time. I (re-)learned to appreciate having time and space to myself (albeit slowly and grudgingly). Learning to actually put this time and space to good use remains a challenge for the future. But it is worth remembering that not all things need to have a use, not all time and space and energy need to be invested in production.

After a minor health scare, I’ve been better about diet and exercise, especially in the last few months. I started studying and practicing Buddhism more seriously, especially the Zen branch, and have been building a regular meditation practice with the help of the Calm meditation app and the Cambridge Zen Center. Alongside a return to therapy, and a consideration of my information consumption habits, this year is the largest and most consistent investment in my own mental and physical health that I have ever made. The return on this investment has been both wonderful and terrifying. On one hand, it is really good to feel comfortable in my own skin, to like what I see in the mirror, to feel my body getting stronger and feeling more confident that my body can do what I ask of it. It also good to know first hand that my physical self is at least malleable, if not fluid. On the other hand, it is terrifying to know that both Descarte and Yoda were wrong. Our minds are not separate from our bodies, in fact they are deeply and tightly connected and small variations in one greatly affect the other. We are not luminous beings, we are only crude matter, and if we are to have any hope of liberation or salvation, it lies in the direction of accepting and embracing this fact. I do not know what this means on a large scale, but personally it means I now exercise most days, and try to have breakfast every morning.

As for the rest of the world, or at least my thoughts about it, I stumbled on a newsletter by musician Nick Cave some days ago. This excerpt from a recent post sums up all I have learned and understood in the past year:

Is this world cruel? I don’t think so. I think this world is indifferent and indifference is not cruelty. What connects me to you, and you to every other sentient being in the universe, is that the universe, simply does not care about us; it does not act with malice or desire to harm us – it is simply unaffected by our condition. If one acknowledges this state of affairs, then it sets up a situation that allows us to make a simple choice – either we respond to the indifference of the universe with self-pity and narcissism – as if the world has in some way personally betrayed us – and live our lives in a cynical, pessimistic and self-serving manner; or we stand tall, set our eyes clearly upon this unfeeling universe and love it all the same – even though, or especially because, it doesn’t love us. This act of cosmic defiance, of subversive optimism, of unconditional and insubordinate love, is the greatest act of human beauty we can perform. To stand before this great, blank, heartless cosmic event and say: ‘We believe in you’. ‘We love you’. ‘We care for you’. This is the definition of grace, and this is the epiphany you speak of. We create our own divinity, our own Godliness, through our ferocious need. We yearn the heavens awake, and if we are quiet, in prayer or in meditation, sometimes we can feel the heavens stirring, breathing our fragile and reckless love back through us.

It is very tempting to want to see the world as we want it to be, or as it should or could be. Seeing the world as it could be is perhaps the definition of hope. But to make that more than just a dream, we must first see the world as it actually is, no matter how terrible or disappointing or depressing that might be. The same goes for the people in it. That is a fine line to walk, and if there is anything I want for the year ahead, it is to get better at walking that line.

 

Spring has Sprung

Walking through Harvard Square yesterday I took a moment to admire the fresh blossoms. The weather has been cloudy and dreary for what feels like forever, but in reality is less than a week. Meanwhile, the temperature has been slowly rising, the need for layers of clothing falling, and the grass is getting greener. Maybe the sun will come back soon as well.

White blossoms near Harvard Square
Spring has sprung