The Creative Mind

T’was the end of the Christmas holiday, or if you prefer the politically correct version: T’was the end of the Holiday Season holiday , and the family was quietly going about the business of getting back to business. That is, we yelled across staircases for missing tiffin boxes, wondered aloud why things that were to be done during the luxurious break were still undone, books landed with a thump on the stairs, socks pushed under the sofa were retrieved and shoes frantically scoured the home for their partners. Folks wandering past the home may have been pardoned for thinking there was a nursery inside, but there! It was a typical end-of-vacation-day.

I opened the daughter’s backpack, put my hand in and let out a strangled yelp. I may have heard snapping inside, but I also felt like I was holding a fur ball. Judging by the smell, it could have been a marmalade-smeared rat or an orange-scented skunk. I felt around a bit more and there was another such monster.  There was nothing to be done. I bit down the nausea brought on by eating too many cookies, remembered the brave deeds of my father while tackling rats in our childhood home, squared my shoulders for the onslaught and plunged my hand in with a grim determination to retrieve whatever monster the bag held.

There was no cat or rat to let out of the bag. It was just a couple of sad looking oranges that had long ago passed its ‘Best by’ date. Judging by the fungi on it, it may be long past the ‘Fling without spattering’ date as well. I moaned a sound that started out as ‘Ugh’, pitched up to a holler of her complete name, and squeaked down at ‘please’.

The School Bag
The School Bag

“Let’s clean it up.” I said becoming the stern taskmaster.  We trooped up the stairs with the foul smelling bag and its 100 pound contents. I kid you not, that bag weighs about 100 pounds – I don’t know what is in there, for every child I see pulls this mini-suitcase-like bag along bursting at its seams with books it seems, and yet when it is time to buckle down to a piece of homework or an assignment, I see a fair bit of telephoning and neighbor hopping to ‘see if my friend has the book to finish the assignment’ happening. Sigh.

It was a good few minutes later, and the techniques of deep breathing successfully applied gave me the glowing answer. I let her deal with the bag with the able assistance of her father. There was still some bag-related noise upstairs, but it had mellowed to a gurgle with occasional spurts of “But Appa! I need that. It is for Moon-city.” (their play patch is christened something-city)  This dash-city is home to some willow trees and a large grass patch. Lodged in blah-city is a variety of treasures ranging from pine cones to balls made of pencil shavings. (I have a series of blogs on pencil shavings that will make entertaining reading when I sit down to writing about it).  It looked like a large layer of the general debris in the schoolbag was for Sun-city.

I like these glimpses into her childhood that I get. I hope this is the kind of thing that she will throw her mind back to when she thinks of her childhood. As a child I was best amused when left to my own devices and swinging on a tree trunk still tickles the endorphins in me. I agree with Bertrand Russell when he says that “The pleasures of childhood should in the main be such as the child extracts from his environment by means of some effort and inventiveness.”

http://www.brainpickings.org/2015/01/21/bertrand-russell-boredom-conquest-of-happiness/

This illustration by Maurice Sendak gets it: <Everybody should be quiet near a stream and listen>

Everybody should sit by  a little stream and listen
Everybody should sit by a little stream and listen

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/07/25/ruth-krauss-maurice-sendak-open-house-for-butterflies/

Anyway, back to the bag. Judging by the level of debris in her bag, she may be one of the most creative persons I know. For there is this study that says folks with the messiest desks are the most creative.

http://mic.com/articles/103954/the-science-of-why-the-most-creative-people-have-the-messiest-desks

I like the tone of this article. I now don’t have to castigate ourselves as a messy household, but paint ourselves as a creative household. Nice!

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Cacophony for Biophony, Socialization for ?

The day was cloudy and cold as I stepped out for a walk.  As I neared a spot where there are wide grasslands, I paused here and there to see two warblers, an American robin, a goldfinch, sparrows, and blue-colored scrub jays. It was as I was panting near what I thought was a red-breasted robin that it struck me, as to how much biophony has reduced in the areas of our habitat. I am no ornithologist. In fact, I am a bird who is seldom right about birds – for all you know I may have been watching two sparrows, a bunch of bullfinches, some doves and a bluejays. You see, birdwatching is a hobby that requires patience, and I start to hum before I am properly stationed with the binocs. That would hardly do to the elusive birds waiting for peace and quiet before emerging from the bushes and so on. No sir. You would not find me waiting with a pair of binoculars behind any tree for the life of me. That kind of joy requires patience and I know best of all, that I am as restless as a hummingbird. Despite this, I love watching birds when they are not shy enough to stray across my path. I love their peckings and their cooings and their general sense of industry.

Birds
Birds

I listened to the bird calls for a few minutes and thought about how much I miss the sounds of birds. The only sounds we hear often is the Angry Birds background music that is both irritating and jarring from some multi-media entertainment channel. We have truly substituted cacophony for biophony. What is biophony? A word I was interested to learn about as I listened to this recording of noises in a California forest over the past 10 years.

http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2014/10/16/listen-as-a-california-forest-grows-quiet-over-time/

It has happened so gradually that many are oblivious to the change, and now happily go on with their lives. Save for a pang now and again, we don’t set aside another thought to the missing birds in our life.

In other news, I read recently that children exposed to inordinate amounts of screen time are less tuned to reading people’s emotions and acting accordingly. Apparently, they miss subtle body language and facial clues, and blunder on to make things worse.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/08/how-screen-time-affects-kids_n_5765568.html

If we ever need to get a peek into what society will be like when that transformation happens completely, all one needs to do is seat themselves in front of any appalling soap opera on Indian Television. The maudlin entertainment pulled my attention when the parents or parents-in-law were here several times. There the heroine is:  impeccably groomed, dressed like she is going for a party, to receive her abusive husband or to confront angry relatives or something-that-will-ensure-she-cries-buckets-in-minutes. But there is something else here for us to observe. She babbles on completely ignoring the cues that are emanating from the person she is conversing with. There is nothing but brooding silence, or desperately angry vibes that are coming from the other person. Of course, no good can come from this, and pretty soon, everything thuds to a stop with an explosion of sorts. (The same thing could have happened with a man, but Indian TV prefers crying women.) The glycerine acts immediately and there are tears and dubious sentiments on culture and I gag (once again) in the confines of my home.

This saddens me. Is this not what society is headed for if we lose the ability to study the subtle hints that body language gives us? I truly can’t think of a bleaker future than one where we regress to live like folks in Tamil TV serials. If you had told me that we would have to adopt the babboon-way-of-life again, I would have been less sad, for we might have evolved into humans once again.

The problem is that, it will be a slow process, one in which one generation of parents finds a subtle change in their offspring and another change in the generation after that. We may, in the meanwhile, categorize these mystifying changes to a generation gap and only realize three generations later when a great grandparent talks about a time when he used a subtle cue to decipher a situation.

Just like we cannot bring the biophony back, what if we cannot bring one of our most useful social skills back?

Reflections of a Butterfly Brain

The house sat there in the cold with its heater shivering and sputtering. A house on the banks of a large lake in the Winter is bound to be cold and forbearing. The backyard had an iron wicket gate that opened onto a wooden pier jutting into the lake. There, on the pier, were some wooden chairs, and a rickety swing. Out on the waters, a hundred mallards quaked and quacked, finding their voices. It was in this setting that the woman sat sipping tea contemplating life. Her thoughts were flitting, meditatively, she thought. One minute she sat thinking of mallards, the next, the temperature of the water. Even the sun’s rays were cold, but bright. The Dal Lake is supposed to be as beautiful. Could Jahannara and Shah Jahan and all those Moghul emperors have enjoyed the beauty of the lake, with a thousand servants to do their bidding and an army waiting at close quarters? Could they have felt inconspicuous when presented with nature’s beauty?

Maybe the true test of one’s ego is how we react to Nature.

The woman looked around her once more, and noticed a furious scurrying in the house. The house had an attache. One had to step outside and scurry a few steps to make it to the attache. The woman saw a young boy running across with a large pile of bed linen. One of the sheets were scraping along on the floor behind him. The woman’s instinct was to let the boy know, but that would mean screaming and shattering the pervading peace of the surroundings. What if the sheets are a bit filthy, she thought uncharitably. If she had stepped out for a few minutes to contemplate life, why not use the opportunity to do just that?

A few seconds later, a young girl emerged dragging a larger pile of bed linen behind her and ran across the same patch. The woman had seen enough of human scurryings and went back to observing the docked boats and the many forms of life the lake housed. While this beautiful Earth struggles with a myriad different things, what do different lifeforms struggle with?

It was a few minutes before she glanced back at the house.  What greeted her was the boy scurrying from the attache to the main house with a huger pile of linen dragging behind him. A few minutes later, a young girl came dragging bedspreads, comforters and pillow cases behind her. Why was all the bedding being shifted from A to B and then again from B to A? Behind the young girl, trooped a large pretty dog vigorously wagging his tail. Had she seen the dog close-up, she could have detected the sense of purpose that he too was helping in the linen shifting. She had often seen this to be the case with dogs close to children. Their work seems important and by association so are they.

Was that how we viewed ourselves? And just like that, her mind started thinking of mankind and its search for meaningful work. How would one feel if their work was not impactful in any direct way? What if the continuous evolving nature of the world leaves people behind, or merely slows them down? A recent book she’d read, The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro, took up this very question and analyzed it from the viewpoint of a butler. A butler, whose career had been in the service industry, serving his Lord that he trusted implicitly. When during the course of his lifetime, butlers were no longer needed, what happens to him? A moving question that everyone needs to think about.

In what ways do we define our work and how do we derive importance from our work? Is being completely attached a good thing, any more than being partially detached is?  The ability to question ourselves and reflect, coupled with strong doses of work is what keeps mankind evolving. It is also what makes us stand up for who we are, in small ways and big. Every little moral stream presents us with the choice of steering clear, dipping our toes, swimming in, jumping across or flying across.

Such were the questions buzzing in her butterfly brain as she went back towards the house. Maybe there was work to do with moving the beds out.

P.S: The woman grieved with the rest of the world a few days later when the team at Charlie Hebdo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Hebdo) was targeted and killed. 

Like someone said on the Internet, “The world has become so serious that humor is a risky profession.”

 http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/heartbreaking-cartoons-from-artists-in-response-to-the-ch?utm_term=.uiKadbZEy#.jy7ZKo7M2

The Stud, The Husband & The Illusion of Control

Sometimes a short step away from the daily humdrum is all it takes to rejuvenate one. That is what we did as we nestled into Mother Nature’s arms with hot tea, scrambled eggs and a view of a scenic lake with some of our friends. As we saw sign-posts for Lucerne and Nice, I told the children about how beautiful Lucerne in Switzerland was and there, I saw a sign-post saying, “Welcome to Lucerne – The Switzerland of America” I am not sure what the sign meant, but it was enough to get us laughing. The Switzerland of America is not a happening place.

On the way back, we decided to go in for a horse riding adventure. Well, as far as adventures go, I am not sure Throttle, Stud, Mary, Peanut and Hummer could provide much, for they were the sweetest, gentlest horses I ever met. Not that I hobnob with horses much, my equine knowledge ranks somewhere along with acupuncture pressure points – which is to say negligible. But the daughter is a great fan of all things equine and so, there we were, 4 children, a friend and I, taking a saunter on a ranch with horses. The husband was staying behind with the son.

It is true that I am not one of those effervescent animal lovers. I love reading about them, I like being around them if they are tame enough and keep their distance from me and I would hate to see any kind of cruelty directed toward them, but there you are. I don’t cuddle and nuzzle up with dogs, I don’t frisk about with cats. I patted my horse with the same reserve. I was told his name is Stud. He was a tall, chestnut colored horse with gentle eyes. I asked the trainer if he is mischievous, for I have not the faintest idea as to what I will do if the horse decides to ‘take off.’ I was assured that  tall and hulky as he is, he is as gentle as a lamb and wouldn’t run if I wanted him to. (I had no idea then how prescient those words were.) I patted him with a sigh of relief, for though I am not friendly with very many lambs to know the extent of their gentility, I do like them. I can now say truthfully that I made eye-contact with a Stud and he reciprocated with a gentle nod of the noggin. I was moved, and when moved I resort to saying things like ‘Come on dear! That is lovely dear.’ The husband thought I was referring to him and looked up quizzically, but I shoo-ed him off. I had another Stud to attend to. An equally gentle, calm stud albeit silent. Silent but communicative hloke.

Studley - the horse
Studley & I

We learnt the basics of steering a horse and getting it to turn left and right and so on and set off. Me, on my dear Stud, and the others on theirs. As long we were on the dirt track, there was no problem at all. Stud kept a steady pace and walked happily enough. The lady who was guiding our little procession (let’s call her Equena shall we?) then decided to take us on a bit of a wilderness saunter and off she went from the dusty path. Stud was all enthusiasm and snorted and neighed affectionately as he made after her. I was glad too – I like flowing rivers and green meadows spotted with wildflowers. I was just getting into the steady rhythm of bumping along and taking in the scenes, when the bumping-along stalled. I looked down to see what the matter was. Stud had made for a succulent grass patch and refused to budge. His nostrils were flared, his eyes drooling and he was tugging at the grass. “Come on dear. Now now. “ I said. But for all the attention Stud paid me, I could have been talking to the grass. I nudged him subtly. By now, our little troop of troopers had gone ahead on their horses, while mine was eating heartily.

Equena turned around after a few minutes and saw what I was grappling with. “Well – give him a strong one on the sides and make him move.” she said. I gave him a feeble one, and Stud showed me who is horse and grazed on.

“Umm..maybe he is hungry, should I let him eat first?” I asked her.

Now, I shall divulge a small nugget of equestrian wisdom: Never let on that you are not in control of your horse to others. Only your horse should know that.

Equena snorted disbelievingly. Stud snorted sincerely. I was sitting there thinking that I could really do with some snort-training, when Equena came up to me and said. “Honey! Look at me. “ I did.

“Not you! The horse.” she said and continued. “Let’s get on shall we?”

“Now honey!” I was working hard at keeping my gaze away. It is the polite thing when your Stud is getting a dressing down in public, what?

“I am now talking to you honey.” she said pointing at me. I looked at her obediently. “You are in charge of the horse. Don’t slacken for him. He has just been eating his fill in the barn. He doesn’t need any more grass. Show him who is in control!” she said.

Her words inspired me. Stud was in for it. I was going to show him who was in control. “Come come my dear! “ I said kicking it gently. Then, I kicked a little harder. Stud gazed up at this newfound discipline and shrugged – I know what you are thinking. I can see your skeptical eyes boring into me telling me that horses don’t shrug. But I tell you they do. Especially a horse who is deciding whether to act like a mule or a respectable horse. He thinks – shall we have some fun with this novice rider, or shall we go on and lure her into a false sense of control? I know this part of the thinking process so well. Being a mother makes you sense these sort of things in a jiffy. Luckily for me, the gentle soul that Stud is, decided to lure me into a f.sense of c.

The rest of the trail was spent in variations of the following:

Come on dear

That is quite enough you’ve had to eat

Please please! No need to eat now. Let us go.

Go on. Go on dear. I will let you eat plenty in a few minutes.

Don’t graze now. You just ate a tuft of grass.

When we finally tumbled back to the barn, I had had quite enough with the food talk. The husband was standing there and smiling in exactly the same way that Stud smiled when tugged away from the grass.

Tumbling in with the horses
Tumbling in with the horses

“You guys hungry? There is a Mexican restaurant that doesn’t look like much – but the food is pretty good.” said the husband by way of greeting us.

“How did you know that?” I asked.

Stud shrugged. I mean: the husband shrugged. I truly am getting the stud and husband confused, aren’t I?

“So what do you say? Shall we go now, or after dismounting the horses?” he said with another Stud-like grin.

I like gentle souls. Especially, those who lure me into having an illusion of control. “As soon as we dismount the horses.” I said firmly, the light of decision-making gleaming upon my shoulders.