Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Can I be your friend?

They say that you find out who your true friends are in times of trouble. Those who stick by you, tell you if you are right or wrong and give you the support you need are the friends who stay. Then there are those who just find any old excuse to walk away from you when the circumstances surrounding your temporary relationship evaporate. Those are the acquaintances. So the question then becomes how do you know your friends from your acquaintances? How do you know who has the potential to be a good source of support and sharing from those who you just happen to stumble across and interact with sporadically? If one is not in a situation that should raise concern and you go about your life in the usual manner, how do you know that the person whom you greet every morning is a good potential friend or not.

It is quite hard I must admit. I have always seemed to fall into the trap of being overly friendly with people, finding myself in a mildly dire situation then finding only one or two (if I am lucky) who remain. The rest? Dispersed, before you even had the chance to ponder. Then I fall into that other trap of being a bit overly cautious. It manifests itself in just being civil but not to the extent of sharing how I spent my previous evening or what I will cook for dinner tonight let alone my plans for the next holiday or year. Yet that was not good enough either. I would find with that approach that I would miss out on some good relationships. It was the fear of disappointment kicking in and of not quite living up to mutual expectations from knowing someone.

What is the answer then? A test. Throwing the net into the sea to see what fish emerge. No pressures and no misleading notions; just an openness and an attitude of take-it-or-leave-it. Those who take it are in; the punters who are indirectly saying, "I can be your friend too." Those who leave it, well, we know what that means.

If being overly friendly was just not good enough because it was too obliging and being overly cautious was being too risk averse, then find the middleman. Go the extreme and give out with no expectation of return and see what does come back. Be overly nice and give something. Throw it out in the sea. Genuineness and appreciation does plant the seed of friendship after all. Brushing aside and just ignoring, on the other hand, go the other way. The results were quite amazing too. Those whom I would not even think of as friendship material surprised me. At the other end of the scale, those whom I was constantly making idle chatter with just did not return in favour. In the middle I found those who were genuine in their interactions and continued in confirmation. It was quite an eye-opener.

It seems that the world is full masks. I needed some sort of filtering mechanism to catch a glimpse of the faces behind the masks. To many who might read this, it would be bewildering to actually go through the trouble of doing so. Yet it is the fact that sincerity and genuineness is rare - it has always been. It seems that everyone is just out for themselves. How do these people build close and long-lasting relationships then if every interaction is either superficial or founded on benefits of some sort. How do these people relate to their family and loved ones. Perhaps it is just taken for granted or perhaps it is superficial too. I cannot explain it or even comprehend it because for others, myself included, relationships are all about sincerity and creating a genuine human bond. 

The playground question that one used to innocently ask someone as a child - can I be your friend. Well, that does not seem to exist in the world of adults in the same straightforward manner. At times, I wonder whether it still exists today in the playground that I once used to know back then.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Losing and Finding of One's Voice

Imagine a horrific scene on TV where you are the star. Something that really scares the living daylights out of you. Imagine yourself in that situation and then think how you would react. Scream. Run. Me? I lose my voice. I find that I lose my voice in ordinary life situations, nevermind about horror scenes, which at times place me in equally horrific though less hair raising experiences. I just lose the ability to speak. A brash comment is made and my system is stunned into shock the same way one's nervous system shuts down on administration of lethal poison. It is almost as if my vocal chords go into hiding. The connection between my brain and my tongue is temporarily severed. My brain tells me to react, to speak to say something. Nothing comes out. Being put on the spot is another one. My phonic system shuts down yet again. Shocked at the notion of being asked to perform then and there; no time to think no time to draw one's thoughts into a rational processing mechanism. Snapping one's fingers and asking you to speak, now and on the spot, it works the other way for me.

I lose my ability to speak when I am under stress. I lose my ability to vocalise when I am deeply embittered. It mostly comes down to disbelief. I lose my voice due to the shock of what one is capable of. I lose my ability to voice my opinion and it is only a matter of time when my nervous system emerges again.

I lose my voice when I am outnumbered. I speak and speak my mind but no one understands. No one chooses to hear. It is like speaking to an empty room but worse because an empty room echoes back what you say to it. It is far worse when no one acknowledges you. I lose my voice further then in a physical and in a metaphorical sense too. 

I find my voice through expression. Any form of expression is good enough for me. Write. Dance. Move. Paint. Photograph. Art and the theatre are blessings for me. I find my voice in them. I feel glee - yes the TV series and in the real meaning of the word - when I find another who can speak to me without the physical effort of speaking. Perform and I turn into someone else. I express myself fully and I have an audience. I find my voice in knowing that I am on the same wavelength with someone. I speak and speak without the need for words at a time. Yet I find my voice in this and with it, sheer pleasure.

I am a social being - all humans are no matter what anyone might think. There are two sides to any situation. Losing one's voice could be viewed as anti-social to some people. Finding one's voice may be viewed as eccentric to others. In between, the possibilities are endless. Next time I meet someone, I will look at them in a different light. I will think about the finding and losing of their voice and mine at the same time.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Blending in

Sometimes I wonder what the term "assimilate" really means. Does it refer to something new - having just arrived on the scene - standing out, like a shade of yellow in a sea of blue. Algae and other natural organisms take over, orienting it, exploring it, almost cajoling it until it turns it in a subtle tinge of green that blends in perfectly into the blues. Does it refer to letting go of your convictions to fit into the norm. Does it mean toning down your voice so that you are part of the common crowd. Can a balance be struck between who you really are and fitting in.

Sometimes I find that fitting means letting go - even if it is temporarily. Sometimes I am let down by humanity's inability to see past superficial differences. Deep down we are all the same. Why invent such a word - assimilate. Integrate. Become a part of. Become absorbed into. The word brings with it unpleasant connotations. I envision a person struggling hard to become recognised, only to find that the most painless means of achieving this is to forego much of what makes up part of that person. It brings connotations of alienation and subordination by being less complete than one truly is. Hiding, masking or letting go of personality traits and more so ways of life that would otherwise seem unimaginable. It mostly happens to immigrants, refugees, those forced to dwell in a life that they did not choose themselves and even those who for the sake of transcending boundaries, assimilate to build bridges of understanding.

It seems that acceptance is the ulterior motive behind assimilation. What is the alternative then. Stick to one's guns and gracefully allow others to accept you instead - assimilation or no assimilation. A lonely battle that may be worth fighting. It all depends on that which you have to choose to forgo. Is that worth fighting to keep. In most cases, yes. No one should have to let go of an important piece of their history or their form just to be accepted. The capricious nature of people and society is a certainty. Acceptance today may be the old fashion of tomorrow. Sooner or later, the algae will tire of provoking a tinge of a complete green. What you will find is a new shade emerging. A direction of acceptance gone the other way. Playing a game with assimilation so that instead of conforming and succumbing to the "norm", it becomes the acceptance of the new as is. Learning from the other and in the process creating a new word - diversity - the true meaning of the notion of blending in.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Receiving End

Every once in a while you stumble on just the right type of book. It speaks to you and hits the spot. You find yourself unable to put the book down, page-turning as if you are about to uncover the secret to yourself. Devouring the book with you heart and soul, you will just not rest until you have reached the grand finale. When you do, it is a satisfying review of the work and the writer.

I have been looking for such a book for a while now. It was always a case of a grudgingly slow beginning. The act of getting through a page was painful in itself. Yet you persist and tell yourself that it will get better, and so, you trudge through one painstaking page after another, until you can handle it no more. You find yourself putting the book down and reminding yourself how reading is an exercise of pleasure; an adventure trip not  a root canal. Then there is the case of the flighty beginning that grasps your attention, and you start to get excited. You tell yourself that you have at long last found the right book, until a page, or two, or even a chapter later, when the capricious writer decides to succumb into a mundaneness. Suddenly you find yourself in a type A book; slow, monotonous and typically regimented in thought. Again, you put the book down with deep annoyance. Yes. It has been hard to find just that right book that maintains consistency from beginning to end. Respecting the reader in being able to speak and communicate with grace and poise through the channel called words on a page; telling a story and telling it well. It has been hard - until now!

I found her and I will call her my favourite writer of all time. I was sad to hear that she is no longer with us in this life and only regret that I had not chanced enough to engage more with her works beforehand. Carol Shields. A woman who can communicate. There is not piece of work I have read by her that has not failed to hold my full and complete attention throughout. I start a story knowing that I will not be disappointed now.  Guaranteed. She challenges my intellect and does not fuss around with unnecessary nuances. Oh the nuances are there but they are well-placed and well thought out. You come out of her books feeling like you have travelled and experienced a new horizon. A new story has been told where the facts are not as important as the way the story was told and the facts conveyed. Above all, she reaches out and speaks to me at a personal level. I understand completely where she writes from and can only imagine the excitement she must have got from writing her works.

It is all about reaching out to your reader. Making a connection and maintaining it throughout your work. It is about communicating and sharing something you strongly believe in or something that comes naturally to you. Once you have managed that, leave the rest to your audience to engage and communicate back. The receiving end is just as important if not more.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Time is of Essence

Someone explain to me why everything seems to be timed.

Exams are timed. Competitions are timed. Events are timed. Clocks are everywhere. Timing to the minute, to the second even. Has time always been so much of essence? A regimented lifestyle that does not allow for any scope of error. If one misses their time, what happens then? Does the whole universe work in unison to rectify by rescheduling and calculating; finding alternative time slots to fit your missed time in? It probably does not. Time works alone and it marches on. It allows you to catch it and make full use of it. People do not realise that it always walks with you though. We live in time; we breath time. Time is of essence, however, not in the way it is being currently being abused.

Time to reflect - what of that? Some would say that is time wasted. Others would agree and say but you multi-task. Reflect while doing something else, they say. Hardly reflection in my view.

How about, slowly but surely to get to the finish line. Was the tortoise really fooling us? It seems to be all about the hare now and learning from his mistakes. This time he will make it to the finish line. Many see the hare as a role model.

Better still practice, practice and practice again to get to that near perfect skill. Practice was a way of honing one's talent. Where does time fit into that? No time for those who are a little less incapable, some would say. If you need practice, you are just not good enough. There will always be someone else to replace you. Someone ready, able and willing to do what you still need practice on.

The world seems to be too impatient and irrational when it comes to mundaneness. There is just no time for time anymore. It is all about a race. Who can get there faster. Who can beat their opponent without sacrificing quality. Nevertheless, quality has been sacrificed in one's life. 

They forget that time will not go away. It marches steadily to a rhythm and even pace. Some scientists would say that time does vary, so small that we hardly ever notice it. It is all relative though. The universe is a balanced place. We, however, make our lives unbalanced. We scorn time and look at it as our adversary. Think back to centuries ago when time was not so much of essence as it is today. Clocks played their role in telling the time of day. It was like an old friend, always there to fall back on when needed. Even before clocks, the light, moon and the stars were utilised as guidance. Today we are playing a game with time. We think of ourselves as the hare and time, the tortoise.

Time has always been our ally but like many things today, we misunderstand it. Catching a glimpse of time to reflect is all about creating a unique sense of well-being. Enjoying the journey one conscious step after the other, time gives us the little gifts and experiences that would normally shoot past if we otherwise sprint to get to the finish line. Slowly but surely is all about the journey, not the destination. We never heard of what happened to the hare when he stumbled. Did he live a life of bitterness and self-reproach for all the things he missed out on afterwards. Ask the tortoise and he will tell you of perseverance. Time gave him the chance to smell the roses on the way. He still made it to the finish line in the end. Time is of essence in terms of our quality of life. We will all get to the finish line, sooner or later but will we all get to smell the roses on the way.

..and I Give you Chocolate Muffins

There seems to be something therapeutic about baking. The process of bringing totally different items together, into one, and making something wholesome and new. It is not only that though. The actual physical effort involved in mixing and churning into a smooth batter. Is it consistent enough yet? Stealing a sniff or two to check the result of what is to come. Filling the house with the smell of domesticity. There is something uniquely gratifying in watching, through the oven door, the beginning of the dome - an indication that all is well. An eager watch on the clock to make sure it does not overstay its welcome in the oven. A skip and a cheer when it finally does come out. Most of all, however, it is in the sharing and the inviting of others to taste and enjoy. 

There seems to be something therapeutic about giving. Not asking for anything in return. It is in the seeing of an expression of appreciation; a pleasant surprise. It is a token of humanity in small forms, that shows that we are all living on the same planet; breathing the same air. We are all the same, even though we are all different. It is making someone's life a little better or helping someone see the light in a dark tunnel. It is definitely all about putting aside notions of self-righteousness, being a little less bourgeois - petit bourgeois perhaps - and coming down to earth. Being open and receiving to be able to be giving is such a satisfying experience. Nothing compares.

When baking, one is really giving and, when giving, one is really coming full circle in maintaining the bond of humanity.

Knowing God

A certain serenity shows on the face,

an even complexion that lights up with grace,
a welcoming smile,
a warm embrace,
kindness and tolerance - cradled with patience -
strength in adversity and
while in pain,
a glint in the eye called resolve,
attitude, that brings forth
mutual ambitions
for humanity and the future
generations - progeny -
who will look up and search for 
role models, in the faces of those
around them, above them, below them -
search high and low and
the globe, it still turns,
linking one time to the next,
one era to the next,
from past to present - the here and,
I look and see the faces of those who know
what life is all about -
a softness
a strength, above all - a smile -
common knowledge treasured,
in the signs. If only one cares to see,
like in the faces of
those, who know God.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Human Condition - Part I

I am perpetually amazed by the complexity of the human make up. It is not for me to sit and casually criticise as I know that I am nowhere near perfection. Yet, still, I continue to be amazed about the imperfections that are often flaunted in the face of challenge. Imperfections that are worn with pride; some consciously and others unfortunately not. I must have fallen into the latter a number of times and I cringe to think of that. What of those who
consciously display traits or habits that are just too ugly, I would think, to be associated with.

Gossip is one such trait. Has the art of conversation dried up to the extent that one resorts to indulging in others misfortunes? That is really what gossip entails. No one 'gossips' about someone doing good or someone successful (unless it involves insinuation of course). You will often find gossip associated with rumours and sob stories. It is often accompanied by lip biting and shocked expressions, parties leaning forward in awe and surprise, edging one to 'carry on' with the clouds of ridicule. Let us face it, gossip is ugly. Yet people indulge in it. In fact I would go so far as to say that there is a gossip culture firmly engrained in society. Workplaces thrive on it over a coffee break. Morning tea gatherings use it as a way of extracting community news. I would even go further on to say that men might oblige each other to gossip about their 'endeavours'! Shameful really. Do people really stop to think that 'what goes around comes around'? Do they realise that the same way one gossips about this person or that, somewhere in the future they could be in that same situation too. Sometimes I hear the feeble excuses that this is not gossip but "learning from other people's mistakes or experiences". Another good one is "oh I would never put myself in that situation - that would never happen to me". Little do they know that it does because no one's life is smooth and clear of imperfections.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Right Mix

I came across a new flavour today; salted caramel. 

Caramel tends to conjure sensations of flowing and sweet pleasures. Sugar is the name of the game when it comes to caramel but not as an imposition but rather as an accompaniment to another one of those rich substances - butter. That is what caramel brings to me. An autocratic richness that one cannot but acknowledge and appreciate. So when I came across salted caramel today, my first inclination was to flinch in horror. I flicked the box and started reading the components, diligently. Salt, caramel and all the other usual ingredients and then I halted in thought - dark chocolate. That was when my mind suddenly became aware of the true weight behind this. I relaxed into an inquisitive smile.

Dark chocolate is one of those fluid materials where experimentation is the only way to bring its full flavours to furore. It is raw and pristine enough to invite you to enjoy it on its own accord, if you are adventurous enough of course. It opens up a whole new avenue of exploration within your taste buds. No two people tasting the same piece of dark chocolate arrive at the same description or effect for that matter. Guaranteed. It is one of those foods that is open to free interpretation. I took the little box to the counter as if in trance, trying to imagine what the intense buttery sweetness of caramel contrasted with the sharpness of salt would bring out in the dark chocolate. It must have taken quite a bit of fun and games in the chocolate laboratory to come up with the right mix. Should the caramel be more on the buttery side? How much salt should one add? What about the type of dark chocolate or its cocoa percentage. I was excited by the thought of trying this daring flavour.

The balance was just right. Each of the core ingredients were distinct enough to make their awaited appearance before your taste buds but they were also working as a team. At the right moment, they each played their parts and blended in to what one can only describe as a perfect piece of art. Salty, buttery sweetness with a rich, bold sharpness combined in every bite. At the same time a unique smoothness that washed over and brought them all together. It was to die for. The taste lingered in your mouth even after the last morsels melted. I relished the moment and wondered how the idea came about.

It made me realise how, given the most extraordinary idea in the world, when applied using the right tools and attitude, one has the capacity to arrive at something almost amazing, if not ground breaking. Is this how innovators work then? Is this how successful endeavours are brought about? I would like to think so. It seems that the sky truly is the limit and at the end of the day, it really is all about the right mix, the right attitude and a strong belief coupled with determination. Above all, it would not be possible without daring to dream.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Young and Restless

That is how I would describe the [ ]-something of today. Notice how I used brackets so as not to offend any age group. There are exceptions to any hypothesis after all; my disclaimer would be that these submissions are my own and are only based on my first hand observations. Nevertheless, when it comes to the young and restless as I would like to refer to them, I would put more emphasis on the restless aspect rather. Youth can be extended indefinitely depending on one's frame of mind. Restlessness cannot and should not. It brings along with it connotations of immaturity and fickleness. It shows a degree of apathy in specific situations. Typical manifestations of restlessness include mood swings and varying attitudes given the same circumstances. It also brings with it an unpredictability.

I am not used to being at the whim of a person who decided to talk to me yesterday but cannot be bothered to acknowledge my conversations today. I cannot perceive the reasons behind being genuine and sincere on one occasion but then displaying uncalled for irony on a another. Repeated occurrences of such incidents have now made me vigilant and more reserved. I find myself succumbing to any brashness or bumptious comments just by not responding. Wasted energy in my view.

I often wonder whether others see things from my perspective. Am I the only skewed observer who fails to fit in amidst a group of young and restless partisans? Are there others out there who, like me, believe in consistency? 

Relationships are a complicated thing. The civil norms that govern how acquaintances should deal with each other seem to be lost amidst this confusion. Friends take on a whole new meaning for the young and restless. The divide between stranger, acquaintance and friend blends in. You are my friend today but a mere acquaintance tomorrow. You will be my friend again tomorrow but a stranger the day after. It goes on as such where the permutations are endless. The young and the restless have created relationship anarchy while I try and continue to maintain a positive attitude.

I think back to when I once was young and restless. I do not feel any guilt pangs that immediately attack my bile however. Sincerity was always a part of my personality and I struggle to comprehend. It could be boredom or it could just be plain immaturity. Whatever the reason, I liken it to a storm. Sit it out and let it pass. Water thrown across a pane of glass. It does not break it, instead it flows across. Sooner or later the restless will find a safe haven but by then they could one day find themselves where I am now. I know by then this would just be a mere memory to me.

Monday, February 1, 2010


In case you had not noticed, there is a revolution happening out there. It is going to touch upon each of our lives - sooner or later and whether you would like it to or not. You will get affected. If you have a trace of cynicism inherent in you then do this. Rewind back to the nineties, if you are old enough to remember. The Internet made its grand entrance on to the global scene. At the time, the magnitude of its influence on our lives was quite inconceivable. Today, we cannot imagine life without it. There was a time, however, when there
was no Internet. There was no worldwide web. Websites did not exist and you can forget about portals! The only web one would see was in the form of an abode for a spider, often conveniently located outside one's window or in jungle-like bushes. The only portal was a doorway or something out of science fiction movie that involved suddenly finding a new dimension and into a new world. The web took on a whole new meaning since the mid-nineties. Still skeptical? Then take the one communication device you shudder at the thought of losing; your mobile phone. Do you recall the first time you encountered someone with those ridiculously large hand held devices that only had one of a select few ringtones? Better still, do you recall your first ever mobile phone?

Set the scene today and it is madness out there where two revolutionary concepts converge, dragging with them a whole multitude of other 'add-ons'. Internet and mobiles give way to something only scfi-fi novels dared touch upon an era ago; or so it seems. What was only possible in one's mind is now open to a variety of means. eBook readers, iPhones, iPods, Google Nexus phone, social networking, tweets, diggs, Apple's latest iPad and that is not the end of it! The message was once expand your avenue and communicate and seek knowledge. The message is now communicate but with value. Gain know how but with the support of a community of others seeking the same form of knowledge. What was once the web has now metamorphosised into the cloud. Before you know it you might even have your own piece of cloud although the skeptics may roll their eyes at this. Although the world may be excited by the disjointed efforts that competitors in the global marketplace keep giving us in the form of new products, this, I see, is only the tip of the iceberg. There is more to come.
On another note, it is funny how one revolution leads to another. I seem to survive on buzzing environments where creativity and change are at its core. I am going through a revolution myself. Is it age I wonder as I reach my proverbial mid-life? I do feel that I have suddenly matured and grown up with a strong sense of realisation and appreciation. It must be age. Nothing else would do this to you - not even a powerful experience - because there is a grace to this revolution. I have finally realised my capacity for creativity and change. Along with it, I have grown to accept it, whether I choose to want to or not. I adapt and realise the talents and skills that I gained along the way and which add value to those around me. One has the power to influence any situation or any person in a graceful and dignified manner. It does not stop there though. I realise that this is only the beginning of something worthwhile. There is no end to personal development and learning.

While a revolution happens around me that will touch upon my life sooner or later, a similar revolution is happening to me that I hope will be forthcoming enough to touch upon other people's lives.