Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Facebook DO NOT

I am on Facebook to promote my book.

I used to be on it years ago to find friends who had been lost to me for years. At first it seemed like such fun to find people I had lost touch with. (as an aside, I still think its the best place to locate people you cannot find otherwise.) 

However, it quickly became apparent that the old long lost friends had no real interest in staying in touch beyond "Friending" me on FB. I could seldom get them to meet or speak one on one. They had been lost for a reason. Many of those relationships had petered off...

In terms of my book, the marketing gurus say a fledgling author ought to have a Facebook presence so I revived my dormant personal account and launched my book page last year. I only post on it if there is something about my book that needs to be said.

For some odd reason though, or maybe because Zuck sends these radio signals to people on FB, I feel the need to check it everyday. I only stay on for five minutes and scroll the newsfeed. It's an addictive place that. Everyone has something to post right and it keeps adding more stuff. Videos, pictures, forwarded news things.

And like one possessed I keep scrolling.

Until I shut the laptop with a bang. Shudder, shake off the effect of the signal and go about my day.

The other day I went on as usual pushed by that strong unseen force from Silicon Valley and saw the feed. FB magically has given me over 400 friends. I know them all in some way I suppose, people from my past, old friends, colleagues, cousins what have you.

That day what affected me the most were the joyous pictures of groups of friends hanging out. I see them everyday and usually they wash over me or I feel happy for them etc and keep scrolling on.

But this day was different.

Unfortunately this time this Facebooking session had caught me at a bad time.

I was staring at those pictures questioning my ability to make new friends. I am picky. Granted. And all my old pals live miles away. The ones who get me, whom I get, those with whom there is an ease that only comes from years of knowing one another.

And I realized for the umpteenth that I really don't have a group of women with whom I can hang out for a drink. That with two kids and an uber busy husband with whom I get precious little time anyway, this kind of hanging out would be hard or the fact that I don't care for bars and such I didn't consider.

There were then the pictures of my Indian friends at these Indian functions and things with friends, all smiling cheerfully as if the sun was shining only for them. I don't do temple and Indian functions there as a rule. It doesn't come naturally to us as a family, it's not how we grew up and what doesn't come naturally, we don't do.

We have made these choices and yet I felt bloody awful. Like an absolute failure. To not even be able to conjure up a handful of pals to be cheery with is a sign of bloody failure.

I let myself feel down in the dumps for a while. Cursed FB and shut it down.

Why oh bloody why did I do I check this evil thing? Its not a FOMO per se. Or maybe it is another symptom of just that.

FB I have come to realize is like fashion mags which I totally banned from my life years ago.

It makes you feel bad about yourself. Looking at air brushed pictures of Twiggies of all ages made me feel bad about myself so I stopped looking at them magazines.

Looking at "friends" who always seem to be surrounded by their loving pals makes me feel bad about myself.

And therefore, I am going to stop looking.

So strong is the force of that Zuck signal that when I decided to write this post, instead of going to the blog site, I went to FaceBook. Blast and dang.

Sod it Zuck, I am done. From now I am not bloody looking.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The value of a second language

My sons know this house rule well.

Only speak your mother and father tongue at home. English outside and when people who only speak English are present (this one is more abstract since they can not speak English if its a private thought they want to express like I need to poop now! No one needs to hear that.)

The question of language.

A second language for all.

My kids speak three. My mother tongue, my husband's mother tongue and English.

They aren't geniuses. It's just that they have been exposed and they have had practice.

Yes culturally it is important. Which makes me so sad because so few second generation Indian kids speak their mother tongues. I have had friends who have told me with relish how their kid doesn't even understand their own mother tongue but goes to French or Spanish immersion school and speaks fluent French or Spanish. Ok so they have the second language. Kudos. But why the relish regarding this blatant ignorance of your mother tongue? Are they ashamed of their own language? Think it is unimportant that if their offsprings carry names like Kamlesh Vaswani or Radhika Ramanathan, have a head full of black hair and brown skin that they will never feel the need to understand their origins or have some fleeting knowledge at least of their rich cultural past?

Makes my blood boil. These kids will in their late teens, when identity becomes an issue a subject of discussion, suffer as a result of this highly avoidable ignorance and lack of pride.

Now I believe it is harder for immigrants. To keep your feet on both boats as it were. But it is important. Keeping some link to your heritage so later on when racial identity is an issue, you are able to embrace your ethnic roots and your American-ness with equal ease and have the best of both worlds.

But what do I know. I stand on my soap box and preach.

Immigrants aside, it is my humble opinion that it would do the mainstream American child a world of good to learn a second language from the elementary years for obvious brain development and if not for more lofty reasons then at least so they learn not to butcher names and words in foreign tongues. I have found anyone who speaks another language, any language, pronounces our names and foreign words in general correctly for their tongue is exposed to different sounds. Sounds that do not exist in the English language.

That lack of knowledge accounts for all the people who say I-raak or Aaf-ghaa-nis-taan. Ugh.

Pet peeves I suppose but really, if you are relaying the news, learn how this is pronounced. Or to the average person, you have heard this word correctly numerous times. Please make an effort.

Levity aside, it would get the American kids on par with most of their world cousins, since most of them speak multiple languages.

Now for the practical aspects of a second language.

Kids say whatever in public. Just whatever. No filter right?

My friend who is from Europe took her son grocery shopping once. The child set eyes on a rather heavy set woman walking by and commented in a loud voice about her appearance. In English.

The woman was understandably distraught. And she started to cry. My friend was mortified. No sense blaming the kid. He was about three. My friend corrected him, apologized to the woman and left the store in a hurry.

I told her, if only her child had known his native tongue, well, she could have corrected him etc but there would've been no harm done.

I had my own chance several times to thank the language gods but the biggest one was when my older one was about four.

We were at a restaurant just the two of us waiting for our meal when a young girl, kid really, slip of a thing, walks by. She was, as many kids of that tween age tend to be--overdeveloped in the chest area. And seemed very aware of it. Poor child.

My son watched her for a while, turned to me and asked in a rather loud voice.

"Why are her breasts so huge?"

In his defense, we had discussed how breasts grow on girls when they are older. Understandably he saw a young un endowed with what should only belong on an older person. And hence a very scientific question. He was curious. Not being lewd. He was after all four.

She heard of course and walked on without a care.

And thank you language gods cause my son had asked me the question in Tamil.

Of course I shushed him, congratulated him for asking me that in Tamil. And I went on to impart more knowledge on the subject.

There are other ways an extra language comes in hand. We can gossip about strangers in public and we do. We wonder about them like the Simon and Garfunkle song except they won't know. We aren't obnoxious. Just able to be curious without worrying too much about it.

And no one is the wiser.

And also I can scold them. In public without worrying that someone will think I am Cruella Deville.

My threats tend to be dire and are not for the faint of heart. Luckily my sons are used to my rantings and take it without skipping a beat.

If some of those are translated, well...let's just say the authorities wouldn't be too pleased. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


I have a friend.

A woman, a smart, educated woman, a beautiful woman, a kind woman. A sensitive, intelligent, hard working woman. She has two lovely children.

Her children have recently started going to school full time.

She had chosen to stay home to raise them, despite having a PhD in her chosen subject, despite having had a fulfilling career in front of her a decade ago when she had her first born.

Now this woman, this smart, kind, educated woman wants to pick up the threads of her own life once more, between the hours of 8:30 and 2, because she still wants to be around for her children. They remain her first priority.

And so she starts applying for jobs--part time research jobs, teaching jobs.

They're hard to find, given that she wants part time work. Given that she has been away from the paid workforce for so long.

And so, she decides to get her feet wet by volunteering for a health organization. She gets a call from a prestigious place.

She goes in and asks for her assignment.

For the next few hours or so, she sorts boxes of medicines. She thanks everyone at the end and drives back home in time to pick up her children from school.

On her way home, she fights back tears.

This is what it is going to take to get back to finding her own life. And while she is willing, for the most part to do what it takes, it still rankles a little. That the way ahead is going to be long. It is going to be hard.

Society has little time for stay at home mothers who have been "napping" for a decade or more. Even those with PhDs wanting to re-start their own personal engines are going to have to re-pay their dues.

They are going to have to re-do things in every way. From the beginning.

There is little by way of recognition for the work this woman and millions like her do. Little by way of allowing her to add that decade she spent with her children on her resume with any degree of pride.

Little by way of understanding that being a full time mother is a bloody hard job, especially if done well, with full commitment. Like she and millions of others have done.

And while she waits, while she scrambles to re-collect those strewn threads of her previous life, 'So what do you do while the kids are at school,' becomes a dreaded question she doesn't know how to answer.

She might be deemed unambitious, or worse lazy. Not driven enough.

The world has a long way to go to finding ways to utilize this and other brilliant talented women who have so very much to give, albeit within a non-traditional time setting, perhaps in a non-traditional manner.

She's not asking for much, really. Not too much money, or promotions or status.

Just a chance to be part of the society at large that she chose to step away from in order to do her best for the past ten years to provide with well brought up, kind and highly productive new members.

Her children.

Society's future. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Snacking @#$%tips

It was a sad sad day in December or so, I remember. I had turned 25.

I was watching some TV and stuffing my face with a giant bag of cheddar and sour cream chips (newly discovered since I had only a few months ago moved to the US). They were crunchy, ridged and just the best thing ever. I was also washing them down with coke or some other (vile, I know, but delicious) soda.

For some reason I happened to look at myself in the mirror not long after and it seemed that this single binge had caused me to gain quite a few unwanted pounds in all the wrong places. I am not tall and I am small boned. Even a few unwanted pounds show and how!

It struck me then, the horror of it. Now that I was getting older, those days of yore, those sweet years when I could polish off bags and bags of salty, spicy snacks when the only side effects were waves of nausea and little weight gain were behind me. The days that lay ahead were ones of portion control, calorie counting and such horrific activities that can only cause one to lose faith in living and eating.

It is especially hard for ones such as myself (and I figure all other sensible people in the world) who love to eat.

This is not a vain boast. In school, classmates refused to share lunches with me because I ate too much of theirs. Even in university, one of my classmates with her ever so tiny lunchbox said she could no longer share food with me because I took two bites of her lunch and it was gone.

Only my future husband shared with great selflessness. He would merely hand over his scrumptious lunchbox to me and take whatever it was that I had on offer. Of course I only took advantage of this selflessness if I didn't care for whatever it was that my mother had packed for me that day. I wasn't a total loss.

More tragedy. I saw a documentary about sugar not long ago. The ideal number of teaspoons to consume of sugar a day is 6-7. I was ready to heave, people!

I drink two cups of tea a day. At least. That is two teaspoons. I require something sweet after lunch. I try and be good and eat a piece or two of chocolate or if nothing is available, a spoonful of honey and sometimes just a spoonful of sugar (sue me if you dare). That's four teaspoons.

I also require snacks at tea time. Something salty accompanying my chai and then to balance it, something sweet. Again, I am happy to partake of a spoonful of honey if nothing else is available. I am easy that way. That's what five, six, maybe eight? Now I am not even counting the sugar that might exist in lunch and dinner.

There is also a requirement for dessert post dinner. I am flexible this time too. Sugar or honey wise.

You see 7 teaspoons is easy to consume in a heartbeat and I consider myself a healthy eating person. Meals home cooked. Snacks in moderation and such. No longer do I dare bags-full. I eat out of minuscule cups, slowly so it lasts and I watch with envy at my sons who put away reams of potato chips without skipping a beat then burning them off by jumping and running like mad.

But this post is not about my lament. It is about my solution to it.

Seaweed. Wasabi seaweed. This satisfies the need for salt and spicy and is very low cal. Also if you eat too much, you don't feel so great in that it is self limiting in a good way. Unlike chips there is no nicotine like urge to keep shoving more into your face.

I also discovered a new thing. I bought these puffs for my little son. He loves plain puffed rice which is like eating air so I thought I'd give him a similar consistency but healthier alternative. Vile stuff man. Kale and spinach. Like 20 calories a cup or something. I dare anyone to eat a cup full of that stuff. Anyway he rejected them in a minute and I was left with a bottle full so I ate some. And like I said, it was vile.

I had a thing of peanuts close by.


In my minuscule bowl I took a bunch of the puffs and added some spicy peanuts. Lo and behold. Yummy snack. The spices of the peanuts made the puffs actually tasty while providing crunch and salt and spice all at once making a reasonably healthy and actually enjoyable snack.

The urge to make the mix tilt towards a higher ratio of peanuts persists but I am resisting it. Why? Cause I am not liking what I see in photographs and the mirror. A gut, muffin top, jeans that don't fit and the like (dangerous for the heart, yeah) accompanying an aging face. Not a great combination.

That's it then. Snacking tips. Seaweed and toddler puffs (snuck with peanuts).  I plan to buy the whole line of the stuff.

Oh and the sugar police notwithstanding, I still think a spoonful of sugar as a dessert substitute is pretty darn smart eating.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The writer's 'body' image

I just read a wonderful blog post written by a Chicago actress about body image. The advice she was given, nay the "wisdom"--lose weight, you need to get a nose job to get cast, you're not believable as a love interest (got to love that last one) are all sadly accepted as part and parcel of the acting business.

I often tell people about the rejections writers face. Other than telling us to lose weight or get a nose job, we hear it all.

And unlike with actors where it is usually the women that get this kind of rejection, I think for the most part, it is equal opportunity gender wise in the world of publishing.

I remember it especially with my first novel that didn't get published because it was too 'quiet'.

My agent sent me feedback from various publishing houses and editors.

Editor 1. The opening childhood scenes are most compelling. Use more of that thematic matter elsewhere as well. Lose the bit about the Russian girlfriend. She's not interesting. In fact turn the novel into a children's book.
Editor 2. The bit about the Russian girlfriend is the best. Lose the childhood stuff. Its all hackneyed and been done a million times.
Editor 3. There needs to be more drama.
Editor 4. There is too much happening in this novel. Reduce the scope of it.
Editor 5. If this is a family saga, we must have more pages.
Editor 6. Open with the last chapter.
Editor 7. Open with the middle chapter.
Editor 8. I have my ethnic novel for the year. Maybe next time.

And on and on and on.

Now the last one about having her ethnic novel for the year I can sort of live with. I tried not to seethe at being slotted into an ethnic novel versus just a family story--although the book was based on my father's family and we are Indian, the events could have happened to anyone. However that is a battle that will be fought as long as we are minorities, I suppose. I have to come to terms at being labelled thus.

I laughed or cried reading the feedback, depending on the day and as is apparent, altering the novel one way or another was sure to displease someone. It was a game of chance no matter what I did.

The final straw happened when an editor at a major publishing house who wanted more drama agreed to re-read the manuscript. My agent told me that never happened which must mean she liked it a lot to start with. This was my chance so I seized it. I re-wrote the book to be less quiet, added more drama, intrigue. Make it more salable.

The process took me a few weeks. I was ready for the editor to re-read it.

And guess what, she had moved on. And no longer interested in reading the book since she now had different commitments.

I get it, people move on, things happen but there I was stuck with a novel I hadn't meant to write that I had forced myself to like so I could sell it.

I tried pitching the new version to several small presses but none of them wanted it. Perhaps all that added drama didn't feel real and I should've stuck to the original quiet version. Maybe it just wasn't a good enough book for anyone to want to put out. I wasn't ready to self-publish. So that was the end of that.

I have published my second effort and am none the wiser about the vagaries about the publishing business, post putting out a book. It remains a strange, hard to navigate, not to mention completely illogical world. But that's another story.

I will do this again because I like telling stories. I have learnt a lot about crafting a book, pitching it and once it's out, marketing it. The greatest thing I learnt given my experience with both books is to remain true to myself. I stuck to my guns with certain aspects of my second novel and am glad I did. It is a work I am proud to call my own.

And so even as I foolishly embark on a third novel, one thing is clear. It will be what I want to write. It is possible that at the end of it, if it is also deemed unpublishable. This time though, given what I now know, I won't object to self-publishing.