Moving Tales : Home Truths

The past few months have been a blur. We moved into a new nest, shaking years of closet accumulation and shocking spiders into action. As I sat surveying empty spaces, I was left with a vague feeling of unease and harking back quite unnecessarily to the times of our distant forebears of hunter gatherer times. Imagine uprooting everything every few months to find greener pastures, food and water sources, not to mention the task of building and setting up homes each time.

The movers came in, and I remember thinking how 3 of them could move a whole house within the promised time, and do we really need such a large truck?! 

Trust providence to teach me humility.

* The three men did a marvelous job. Boxes that I thought were difficult to budge, they inserted a lever like object under them and lifted them up and down the stairs in no time at all. What was it that Aristotle said? Give me a large enough lever and I can move the world, or something to that effect?

I just looked it up, it wasn’t Aristotle but Archimedes apparently. It all adds up now – taking baths and measuring displacement, using levers to move the earth. 

Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.

Archimedes

Well, that seemed to be the motto for these 3 people. Had I passed them on the streets I certainly would not have estimated them capable of moving 100’s of pounds of books, clothes, utensils, furniture, knick-knacks etc this efficiently. The previous night, the husband and I had tried moving an old couch out of the way. By the time we were done, some bones seemed unhinged, we had fought prettily on how to align the direction of the offending item, placed the top of the couch on a toe while the husband’s grazed his fingers against the wall, and we had put on a free show for the neighbors who gathered outside to watch, and helpfully give us directions.

So, I prepared myself to be doing just that.You know? Standing around helpfully, and shouting out directions on how to move things efficiently. I felt I would do very well, on such things.  

The men arrived and I asked them if I can help with this and that. They looked at each other, shrugged as if to humor a child, and sent a silent plea to the English speaking member of their crew, who took charge admirably. He told me that they can manage, and if I could let them know which areas needed to be moved, and to specify the order of things, that would help. I beamed and showed him everything while the other two set to work. 

I must say, this strategy worked very well. For I had planned to tell them to start with the kitchen and work their way upwards. While I was showing the E.speaking man the kitchen, the men thumped upstairs, and came down bearing such a large consignment of boxes that I clutched the passing trolley for support. 

Well, a hint is a hint. I took mine, and took to watching the move with wonder rising.  I stood twiddling my thumbs feeling a child being given crayons to help pass the time. 

* Did we need such a large truck?

I remember playing one of those carnival games where you win a stuffed doll, or a box of marbles for estimating this and that. I once won a spongy duck at this, and that gave me a confidence not entirely rooted in ability. As it turned out, that truck was not just full, but I ended up making a baker’s dozen worth of trips in my minivan type of vehicle for days afterward to fetch the remaining things. This, in spite of the fact that we got rid of most of the old furniture. 

Now, our hunter gatherer forebears had neither trucks, nor fancy gear. Could you imagine moving every season? I shuddered at the thought, blessed the accumulated wisdom of mankind over the ages and blessed the generations that learned how to work the land, and converted our lifestyles. I did not so much bless the generation that figured out mass production, for it was clear I was reeling from the effects of that one. All in all, I think sapiens have come a long way.

I will always look on a lever with reverence from here on. That night when I soaked in a bath I smiled at the brilliance of the man who figured out how to calculate the displacement from such a simple act almost 2500 years ago. In the 10,000 years of homo-sapiens, how many simple acts, and flashes of brilliance are we benefiting from?

The Sappy Pine

I sat outside idly watching the world as it continued on its day. These rare moments of solitude and stillness are more refreshing than any energy pills being advertised on television or in between YouTube videos. The wind stirred at the pace it was going to: Today , incidentally, was idle breeze day. The clouds in the distance were parting to reveal a blue sky. The birds made their brave show chirping, catering to their little ones in their nest, or flitting about joyously it seemed. 

Sitting outside like this, without any fast forward buttons reminds us of the nature of time. How come we manage to fill all our moments with alarms, and meetings, placing firm demands on the hours available to us, while other living beings around us manage to live in harmony with the seasons? The rose buds bloom, the fresh leaves sprout after winter, the nest eggs hatch, and life seems to go on: on a schedule of its own, quite distinct from what we have.

I watched mesmerized as the breeze rippled through the luscious pine tree nearby generating green soothing waves, and thought of the magic of life around us. Every tree, every plant was a marvel, and a couple of sparrows playing high near the top of the tree were a joy to watch. Nature’s forms are truly amazing. 

The car was parked under the beautiful tree, and enjoying its hospitable shade. I nodded approvingly as the Californian summers have started beating down after cloudy starts to the day. It is like the curtains part around mid morning, and then the sun seems to take upon itself to show us its dazzling abilities.  

Musing on how we must spend some time sleeping under the stars, watching the moonlight piercing through the sharp pine needles etc, I headed inside.

Komorebi (木漏れ日): is a beautiful word meaning the sunlight or moonlight filtering through the trees.

I managed to convey a rather jumbled version of this evocative feeling of nature to the children and husband, and they looked at me with something approaching pity. Was I alright? Did I need my head examined? They certainly weren’t having this business of sleeping under pine trees whatever else I said.

“What if a pine cone falls on your head huh?” said one, and I had no answer.

“Well….they aren’t very big pinecones.”

A large guffaw greeted this rather clever observation. I drew myself up haughtily and said, “You know how you are worried about something? Well, if you sit down outside, and watch the wind rustle the pine leaves, you aren’t. “ I said. I must admit, it sounded weak even to me, as I said it. So, I finished up strongly: “I mean nature always delivers!”

I peeked at the car standing in the shade, and shrugged happily at it. At least the car was having a good time of it. 

Maybe I should’ve waited before pandering on about the pine tree, for a few days later, the car was distinctly sticky. A large dose of pine sap had dripped on the car. 

“Eww! That is disgusting and it refuses to come off when you wipe it!” I wailed. 

The nourishncherish household exchanged amused looks and did not say, “Nature always delivers!” To that, I am grateful.

Musical Musings

The busyness of living had taken over the days, and I felt a little soulful pondering and meandering was in order. I listened to an uplifting album of Anoushka Shankar as I went about the chores in the home after a long week of deadlines, and never-ending demands on my time physically and emotionally.

The children gave me indulgent looks, and nodded approvingly. They had been telling me to get my head out into the clouds for some time now.

I peeked out the window and saw a breeze flutter though the pine tree outside, and resisted no more. I picked up the beautiful children’s book, A Violin for Elva by Mary Lyn Ray, Illustrated by Tricia Tusa.

Fresh from reading Musicophilia – Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks, I found myself analyzing the music in our lives. In Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks writes about musicians who don’t read music, but get to listen to the music in their heads as they read the sheets. I imagined the neurons in their brains reacting like those little piano keys – bobbing up and down.

Who remembers Tom & Jerry Piano Concerto? Here it is for those of you requiring a refresher.

The music teachers at our school had been blessed by the muses themselves. I remember many a morning assembly being mesmerized by our piano teacher’s musical notes wafting from her swift hands flying across the piano. The band master and the Indian music teachers were just as talented and gifted. 

How could one man teach the saxophone and the bugle, just as marvelously as the drums?

How could one person teach the harmonium, sitar and the tabla? 

I have always wanted to learn to play a musical instrument. It is probably why I never tire of seeing Anoushka Shankar’s hand leap up and down the sitar producing marvelous music. The harp player must be harnessing a power of the gods, and no wonder the goddess of learning in Hindu mythology holds the Veena.

I sat by the rose bushes reading. A gentle breeze accompanied the birdsong outside. I watched mesmerized as the breeze rippled through the luscious pines generating green soothing waves. Well, I may not know how to play a musical instrument, but I am lucky indeed to be able to enjoy the music.

I opened the book, A Violin for Elva, and was soon so happy with the choice of book. The book talks of Elva listening to music wherever she went. She imagines herself playing the violin, and asks her parents for one, but she doesn’t get one. She goes about imagining her toothbrush, tennis racket and anything else to be her violin. The whimsical illustrations are a joy to behold.

Life passes her by, and in her working years, the faint whiff of her love of music is there, but she is too busy in the busyness of living. 

Finally, after her years of working, she gets herself a violin to teach herself, but finds it very hard. She then goes for music lessons and when she gives her first concert, the sense of accomplishment, the much-delayed gratification she receives is amazing. It is also a reminder to those of us waiting to do what we love that though it is never too late to take up what we love. It is also pointless to let life pass us by. 

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” 

Annie Dillard

Elva’s story reminded me of Mary Oliver’s essay on the three distinct selves within each of us:

  • The Child Self
  • The Social Self &
  • The Eternal Self.

Though in the essay, Mary Oliver, refers to the Eternal Self as the artistic self, I like to interpret it as the Creative self. 

  • The Child Self is in us always, it never really leaves us. 
  • The second self is the social self. This is the do-er, the list maker, the planner, the executer. 
  • Then, there is the third self: the creative self, the dreamer, the wanderer. This is the self that needs nurturing.

The essay ended on this note:

“The most regretful people on Earth are those who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither time nor power.”

Mary Oliver

It was a chastening thought to enjoy those things that sustain us, and in doing so make our lives meaningful and joyful.

What would you like to nurture?

The Bougainvillea Charm

Walking or driving around in Northern California, my eyes are always drawn to the beautiful bright bougainvillea. I love the pretty pinks and purples and occasionally lighter orange ones. There is an energy to these plants. I suppose they can never stay still. How they like climbing nearby trees, peeping out of fences and overflowing prettily and spreading color with aplomb? Are they naughty and bright, or just restless and impulsive? Do they plot their next move, or organically leap? I find bougainvillea intertwined around trees, traveling over fences or sitting tidily as a bush much subjected to the gardening shears to be a sheer delight. Do the trees tolerate them, or love them?

Who can say? All I can feel is a great warmth towards the spurt of color. 

Imagine my surprise then when on an impulsive trip down to Santa Barbara, I found myself in the city of bougainvillea. The beautiful Spanish architecture and the great bounds and leaps of color of this beautiful plant were too much for me. I thrilled and trilled at the sheer beauty of this plant marvel.

The drive down there took much longer than anticipated or maybe we had just forgotten the art of travel after over a year of Covid restrictions. Record low-level rainfall combined with the area having a heat wave resulted in dry and brown hillsides. A haze clung to the countryside as the car made its way past the fields and plantations. The roads went on and on, traffic was a sore trial, and often there was nothing but brown. Patches of scorching heat with spots of cool and one sudden area of fog was all there was to remember on the way down.

And then, just like that the brown haze collapsed into a burst of the brightest colors. The bougainvillea , a welcome sight in the Bay Area, was ubiquitous in Santa Barbara. With Spanish architectural buildings, the Pacific Ocean on one side, and plenty of flowers and sunshine, the city stood there sparkling like a jewel in the neckline of the Californian pacific coast that day.

I gasped at the beauty and the elegance of it all. The Bougainvillea seemed to be everywhere and it seemed just right. I whisked the children off on walks every chance I got. One morning, I stood in front of a particularly fetching purple one that wove its way around a large tree.

“Oh these bougainvillea are so beautiful! Really. They are the love of my life! How marvelous Earth looks with these, no?” I asked rhetorically expecting no answer. 

“Oh! So not even Appa is the love of your life huh? What about us? Okay…I see how it is. Good to know, good to know!”

I threw my head back and laughed at his shining eyes. “Well of course he is. And so are you kids. Bougainvillea are the love of my plant life now – how about that?” 

He chuckled at having successfully pulled my leg and we went on – admiring vines growing here, and large wizened tree faces there. 

A few hours later when the bags stood by the door, and we were ready to leave and say good-bye to beautiful Bougainvillea county, the husband’s t-shirts alone lay higgledy-piggledy in an untidy pile and I said, “Really! I just cleaned up here – what is this huh?” And picked up the t-shirts. 

A voice piped up from somewhere and the little sassy pants said, “No wonder bougainvillea is the love of her life pops! You better clean up if you want a chance Appa!”

I laughed though I admit that I love the bougainvillea for its untidy spurts of color. The plant reminds you of the virtue of chaos in a world trying its best to be orderly.

Did you know the pinks, purples etc are not flowers but the bracts that surround the little flowers ensconced in them? I don’t suppose it matters a whit.  A dear friend gifted me a bougainvillea plant and I finally managed to get it planted. Now I just have to hope it will survive for the charm of bougainvillea to continue on.

The New Nest

The chirping of the birds in the morning is a welcome sound. I hadn’t really stopped to think about it much till the pandemic year came about. The sudden quieting of the traffic, the necessary stalling of our maddening rush all contributed to this I suppose.

I found myself taking my little cups of refreshing coffee and tea out into the backyard whenever I could so I could enjoy the sips while getting in a spot of fresh air, and a look at the trees. The birds chirping has been a nice gift. I suppose they always chirped.

As we re-evaluated our nest of many years, we found another charming gift. The birds chirp quite noisily in our new nest. These days, sub consciously, I look forward to taking my cup of tea or coffee out into the backyard and admiring the little welcome sights of life around me. The swooping blue jays, the amazingly quick humming birds, the butterflies, little swallows, black birds, and wrens all make for a marvelous orchestra of sorts.

Every time I open the doors in the morning, there is a fluttering sound. I was amused till I found that a dear little swallow has made its nest in our rafters by the front door. The poor creature seems agitated every time the door opens. I wish I could’ve told the little one to build the nest on the other side of the rafters so that she may have a little privacy and not be worried every time the door opened. But she did not check with me before painstakingly building her best nest for her little ones. Little birds don’t need property managers approving their spots before building their homes.

I feel a strange sense of kinship with this little bird. She must’ve been looking for a suitable spot for her little nest around the same time we were. And we both seem to have found the same spot to identify as home. If that isn’t special, what is?

Apart from the little bird, I have other new neighbors as well. For instance, every day a cat comes a-visiting and looks at me with seeking eyes. I did not quite understand the context – for she came every morning, evening and night. Sometimes, she approached me and stood a little distance away preening herself as if to say, “What’s taking you so long?” I was baffled – was I supposed to do something? Then, one day, I met my new human neighbors, and they enlightened me. Apparently, the previous owners had a cat that was this little beauty’s best friend. So, while we may have arranged for mortgages and property statements to be transferred, the cat was miffed. She needed her friend, and where was she?

The little dog in the mornings is another unexpected source of joy. He comes, and is so genuinely excited to greet us in the mornings, that it is a joy even though I am not much of a pet person. This little puppy was the first to welcome us into the community and thinks it is his job to get a belly rub and has me smiling at the memory all morning. 

Well, considering how much I love Gerald Durrell’s writing, I am sure he would approve of this domestic menagerie.

“I believe that all children should be surrounded by books and animals.” 
― Gerald Durrell

I wonder when the birds will hatch. Our nest is already noisy – it will be a joy to see the little nest in the rafters noisy too.

Moving Tales – Home-Home to Home

The past few months have been extraordinary. We have been reevaluating our nest. The home in which the son was born, the one in which the daughter grew up, the trees and squirrels that had become a constant feature of my life, was all going to change, and we did not know how to deal with it.

This home was the start and end of every journey, short or long. Every time we turned into the community from the road, we sang a silly song that we used to sing in our school days. The father sang it once when we entered the old home, and it felt just right. 

The son puckered his face up and said miserably. “The new house may be home, but this one will always be home-home for me.” I agreed with the fellow, and we sat down discussing all the things that we had enjoyed in our home-home. The californian blue jays that mistook our stained glass paper on our high windows for flowers and knocked on them every year, the squirrels who did not set store by such things as property ownership and such, (Those trees were theirs no matter what the banks and property tax managers say) , the courtyard that was always lively with friends and neighbors who had become extended family over the years, the children who had grown into lovely young adults in the decade and a half that we lived there, our neighbor’s envy when they found we always parked both our cars inside the garage and not on the street outside due to limited parking spots, the mailmen. Most importantly, the sense of belonging that only a true home could make you feel.

Change is never easy, but a change after 14 years? I shuddered every time I peeked into a closet. I have no problems believing the universe is expanding all the time. Our home, which was positively huge when we first moved in, was a little cluttered with books, and papers, true, but over time had expanded in its capacity as well. Every closet seemed to have an infinite extensibility charm placed on them. 

How else could one drawer measuring about 6 X 12 X 6 inch hold the following?

  • Glitter Pens – 62 – just for fun, I tested them out, and grew bored about the 19th pen as they were all dry. That’s how writers live – life on the edge you know?
  • Notepads – dozens of them half-filled.They had an assortment of stories, outlines, sketches, doodlings by the daughter, half hearted poems, world-building fun, grocery lists, to-do lists and notes from meetings. 
  • Half broken crayons – was there really a crayon war in the world of closets? I smiled in spite of the overwhelming urge to continue cleaning. Those who have not yet read the charming children’s book, The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers – please do. A sunset always has a certain whimsy attached to it afterward. #TheDayTheCrayonsQuit 
  • Bills dating from 2007
  • Push pins that poked when you ran your hand over the contents
  • Spectacles – the father-in-law’s, mine, the father’s, the daughter’s and a couple of ski glasses that wouldn’t fit a puppy. Maybe from that ski trip 7 years ago when the son was a toddler?
  • Hairpins, rubber bands, bracelets, bindis, ‘mood’ rings (these were a craze when the daughter was in her unicorn, mermaid phase. Apparently, they changed colours detecting your moods. It was now black and refused to change colors. I wonder what mood that reflected) 
  • A fine sprinkling of dust, mixed with sparkles( they did look magical shimmering there tantalizingly at the bottom of the drawer as if to say – there is a portal in here somewhere)

I sat wondering how we had muddled along for this long. Everytime someone in the family wanted something and hollered for it, I would be able to pick things out and just hand it to them. I marveled at the brain anew. How had I managed to find my way through this chaos? I had no idea, but the old brain nudged me to move on. I had dozens of drawers to go before I slept. This was no time to be musing on the inner workings of brains and neurons and neurotransmitters, and all the complex mechanisms that we are set up with, sitting up and using all these biomarvels to figure out closet contents.

There is a poem in here somewhere waiting to be fleshed out. Each drawer a galaxy? An expanding universe in a multiverse. 

I wizened up around the third drawer. I simply opened a drawer, picked out what I needed, and emptied the rest of the contents into trash bags. If something valuable was gone, well…we’ll know soon enough.

The Mystery of Human Potential

The Undoing Project, By Michael Lewis, started off with a baseball team’s challenges in picking the next star. I might’ve appreciated this chapter more had I known baseball ⚾️ I suppose. As things rest, I know it is a lot of activity, running, a bat with a ball and two teams. However, I appreciated the gist of it i.e the ability to spot human potential. Now, that, I can identify with. 

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by [Michael Lewis]

As the book moves on to introduce us to Danny Kahneman and how as a single psychologist in the Israeli Army, he was tasked with the humongous task of trying to identify army recruits and figure out which positions they would be best suited for. Which ones would make good tank operators, which ones are better suited to quick guerilla warfare, which ones will fare better as aerial surveyors etc. 

The fact that this was not only attempted and done, but still stands in its rudimentary form is amazing. 

Unlocking and identifying human potential is one of the toughest problems in the world. There are indicators, yes, but no sure way of knowing who has the ability to self-motivate and stay in the game. As a technology leader, it is often a baffling experience for me. People who fared exceedingly well in well-thought out structured interviews come onboard and don’t sparkle in their roles at all. Some others who were doubtful in the screening process, come through as diligent, hard workers, willing to put in their all to learn and be happy about it. 

Recruiting sites, AI/ML models all have only limited success in the true test of human capabilities. The fact that there is a lot happening that just cannot be captured is a well-known fact. The field of psychology and mathematical models using statistics to better understand human mystique is fascinating. 

I am only halfway through the book, but the collaboration of the great minds of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky is already a pleasure to read. 

Psychology – as is termed by Academia as a bin for all things unsorted is a great place to be. The combination of mathematical intuition with the brains functions, and how to design experiments for these are fascinating by themselves.

How come some of us are optimists, others pessimists and so many of us in all the areas of gray between these two extremes?

How come we make large decisions without as much agonizing as the smaller ones?

How come some of us embrace humor?

I am only about halfway through – I am fascinated, but not enamored by the book.