Books, Life

Things I learnt on the first day of 2016

  • A cap of whiskey dunked into a smoothie adds a subtle flavor to it that is hard to pinpoint and makes it super interesting. For reference, the other ingredients in the smoothie were 3 kiwi fruits, 1 banana, a slice of peeled ginger, coconut water as the base, chia seeds and a smidgen of honey.
  • Waking up to a long, heart-warming email on January 1 could be the best thing to wake up to on the first day of the year.
  •  If you are in a shopping mall and see a massage chair, go sit on it for 5 minutes. Er, don’t just sit on it, I mean, insert that money to switch it on. Totes worth it.
  • In a choice between udon and ramen lunch, the place with the lowest waiting line wins. Also, you win, regardless of the line.
  • This is important: there are three books on Shunga, or Japanese erotic art, that I have been aware of. I had always set my eyes on Ofer Shagan’s Japanese Erotic Art as the definitive one, thanks to reviews and also because of the price/value ratio. Rosina Buckland’s book is a hardcover and comes in a lower price point, but 176 pages seems far less definitive. Timothy Clark’s Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art does seem more well-rounded in terms of content, but the 99$ price point is excessive. Today, however, I found out about a fourth book that does not turn up in any of the lists. Poem of the Pillow and Other Stories by Utamaro, Hokusai, Kuniyoshi and Other Artists of the Floating World is a mouthful of a title, and it’s out-of-print, but used copies are available for 20$ or thereabouts. Gian Carlo Calza, the writer knows exactly when to let the pictures do the talking and when to interject with commentary. This one’s probably coming into the bookshelf pretty soon.
  • Little Tokyo in Downtown LA has a gallery called Q2, which features indie artists’ work on the walls for sale and display. I nearly pooped my pants at an original Kagan McLeod watercolor of Gordon Liu, and some wonderful work by Alina Chau and a bunch of other names I don’t remember. Definitely worth going back.
  • People in the UK have already watched Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, which makes me grit my teeth. In my defense, I am holding off to watch it on Tuesday, where it plays in the theater opposite my workplace, single-screening only.

Ah, fuck it, I will just go watch it tonight first.


Twenty Fifteen, Post One

The year ended in a flurry, much like other years. I had a brief moment of confusion a week before December 31 when, while talking to a friend, I realized that I had no recollection of what I was doing on New Years’ Eve last year. I remembered 2013 (Rob Delaney at the Improv), and 2012 (insert snort of laughter here, pun intended), but 2014 was a chunk of white noise that refuses to budge from its position of stubborn opacity.

That made me realize the virtues of regular blogging. Even Facebooking, for that matter, but I locked that gate months ago. Don’t get me wrong, I still have the key, but it’s not a garden I want to visit any time soon. The only positive thing that came out of Facebook this year was a message from my English professor in college. We switched to email like civilized people, and hopefully our conversation will continue with minimal distraction from shiny New Yorker links and week-old reddit images. But regular blogging, ah. That feels like the kind of ramshackle garden that Enid Blyton protagonists wander into when they are off visiting their grandmother for their summer vacation. I am bemused about this blog, to be honest. There is a lady that reads it regularly, and then began emailing me with alarming regularity, referring to incidents and books and pop culture shit that I mention. That in itself is not bad – but then the tone of her emails got weird, like crazy-bat-shit weird, and I learnt that she was sending similar emails to friends I know.

What I did was what social media allows all of us to do: I put all her emails up on a different (public) blog without her identifying details, sent her the link, and said that any new emails she sends will go up on that blog with her personal details intact. That stopped her – for a time. She is now sending me mails to my alternate account, from a different mail ID. What am I doing about it? Nothing, because I am lazy. But I will soon.

What I am trying to get at is – there has always been a filter on my blog-writing, where I am consciously avoiding personal details – what I do, the things that really matter –  in the favor of a more generic Rave/Rant/Boast template with occasional bits of eyeroll-worthy talk of the 80s and 90s thrown in. This particular person’s deranged attempts to insinuate herself into my life through scattered bits of information on this blog makes it even harder for me to project any form of myself online. It is not like there is much meaning or substance in these digital detritus that we leave behind, but it is hard even to take a dump when you are making my skin crawl. Do you get it, S?

Coming back to my lack of any recollection of New Year’s Eve 2014. It was probably no mere coincidence that my favorite episode of the six-episode Brit series Black Mirror was ‘The Entire History of You’, which like the rest of the series, talks about a future that feels disconcertingly close, like it may happen next year, or in the next five years.  In this particular episode, everybody has an implant that allows them to record every second of their lives, and replay it anytime they feel like it. What sells the sci-fi is not just the attention to detail – like the peculiar terminology that seems to be ingrained (pun sort of intended) into the culture, or the way users interface with the product. What really sells it is the story that the writers of the show weave around this device – a night and a morning in the life of a couple who are visiting old friends. It would be a pity to give anything more away, but ‘The Entire History Of You’ got me into thinking more about memories and nostalgia and what we really remember. Then I saw the trailer to Still Alice, and that made me wonder morbidly about Alzheimer’s and early onset.

For the record, I could not remember the name Still Alice, and it took me a few seconds to remember that it was not Susan Sarandon in it, but Julianne Moore.

But New Years’ Eve 2015 should be easy to remember. I stayed home, and ran a few miles in the evening, and the air felt crisp and New Yearsy, and the lights shimmered around the Marina in time with the dance beats that were echoing from the boats. I went further than I ever had, and found a new route back home. Then I made myself some popcorn and watched Love Actually, and nearly stopped watching it when I realized that Hugh Grant was the British Prime Minister and the guy from the Walking Dead (Andrew Lincoln, which I remembered) had a British accent. But I did not, partly because the movie was going away from Netflix today and I had already passed my good-movie quota of the day by watching Populaire that afternoon to celebrate the New Year on Greenwich Mean Time.

And then I fell asleep.

Life, Weirdness

The Myth of Good Handwriting

I have come to the conclusion that the importance of good handwriting is one of the biggest lies we were taught in school.

Most of it boils down to the fact that the art of writing by hand is no longer a broadcast medium, nor a medium of exchange. In the real world, that is. In schools, or at least in most schools around most parts of the world, pen on paper and chalk on blackboard is still the default medium of information exchange. It makes sense that children are trained to write down words in a uniform legible script, and all idiosyncrasies and personal quirks of writing have to be stifled, ironed and rinsed from their system. After all, they have to write examination papers, which have to be checked and corrected by time-constrained examiners, and you do not want illegibility getting in the way of that. Obviously, nobody tells the kids that the time and effort they put into getting their cursive writing right makes absolutely no difference outside of exams. Oh, and do not sidestep the fact that teachers themselves have fairly atrocious chalk-on-board handwriting.

I am not aware of how much good hand-writing matters in schools right now, but I can make an enlightened guess things are exactly the same as they were 20-25 years ago.

Doctor-prescription jokes aside, does handwriting matter any more after you get out of your academic life? Writing has already been superseded by typing, which itself is on its way out. Sure, you take notes during a meeting, which in all likelihood you will glance at once or twice, and maybe capture it in a more permanent format. No one will come to you and remark on the aesthetics of your handwriting or the deficiencies in your personality because you were not legible enough when taking notes. You sit down and write a letter by hand, to make it more personal. But why does good handwriting matter in that act? Isn’t the very effort of taking time out to write the letter reason enough for the receiver to feel good about the act? I cannot think of a situation where they would complain about bad handwriting – sure, it can be hard to read, but it is you, not an artificial, homogenized hand. (If they do complain, I suggest that you type it out next time, and add a signature at the end. Make sure you say “Yours faithfully” too, just to rub it in.)

The more I think about it, and the more I discuss it – on Twitter, yeah, where civil discussion and clear exchange of ideas is possible, despite what you may think – the more I think that the myth of “good handwriting” is just something that is propagated through memetic traditions prevelant in India. Like the music of Pink Floyd or the sayings of MK Gandhi,  where a combination of nostalgia and personal belief that something is “important” or “good” stiffs any attempt to rationally understand why it is so, or look at alternatives. “It helps”, one may say, but it is hard to explain how good handwriting helps. “First impressions.” Really? Like you will appreciate a person better after you have seen the way he writes down – what exactly? Signing a check? A signature is meant to be unique, not aesthetically pleasing. It is highly unlikely that people besides the ones closest to you will ever get to see what your hand-writing looks like, and as long as your handwriting is not brazenly illegible, there should be no problem at all. Pretty handwriting may impress someone, but if you try to figure out why they are impressed by it, it will probably be because your handwriting is prettier than theirs. Or so they think.

You could also point out about the importance of graphology, the science of handwriting analysis and people interpreting your personality (especially in organizations, as a means of identifying character traits. However, I have never really seen any organizations actually resort to graphology to judge potential candidates). But there again, the traits in your hand-writing, the way they are, represent you as an individual. “Good” or “bad”? Does not matter.

Let it be noted, however, that I am not talking about calligraphy. Which is an art that needs to be sustained and encouraged. Calligraphy is something that is to be evaluated purely from an aesthetic perspective (after all, it is ‘beauty in writing’) and I do not need to go into how much modern typography revolves around it.

I also pondered about the complete lie that is the concept of participation certificates, but that does not need any explaining. At all.

Life, Myself

Meta Post

A good friend recently mentioned that I’ve had a blog for almost ten years now. This was slightly shocking to me, because while the passing of time did register, it still feels more than a little…scary.

The blog actually turns ten end of 2012, and my, my, things have changed in nine years. Livejournal, where it all began, used to be this bunch of people just having fun. The LJ friends’ page was that generation’s Facebook status, young ‘uns, and unlike Facebook, you would find genuinely interesting content to peruse in the mornings. Actual written content, you know, not just a funny link or a professionally-written, well-articulated article. There were threaded comments, there was roaring LJ-Drama every once in a while. LJ also proved conclusively that it is possible to make – and sustain -lasting friendships online, even with strangers whose real names you did not know.

Beatzo, at that time, was this distinct personality. He was a fragment of who I was, a slightly deranged self-conscious pop-culture-humper who was trying to figure out if there were other people willing to play with him in his walled garden. He was trying to figure out how big the garden was. (Yes, I know, super-creepy talking about yourself in the third-person. But I don’t do this often, and I am talking about a persona here, so cut me slack, yeah?) For those who were not around in those Livejournal years, I used the image of Gollum as a user-picture, because that sort of fit.

I am not sure if Beatzo exists anymore, the character that he was back then and the voice he had in my head. If he does, he may be Beatzo v3.0 right now. (v2.0 was a maladjusted, angry little creature because of some people who pissed him off, and when he wrote, he really did not give a fuck.) And he’s also more of me than ever.

There has been prolonged periods of silence and of course, unrelenting quantities of self-indulgent blather. But I guess the blog has been a sort of weird daemon/shadow-creature/sounding-board for me all throughout. I still figure out what to say and what to leave unsaid. Much of what I write makes me cringe when I read it the second time, and I continue to write my posts in a frenzy of typing until I figure out it’s time to end or I get bored, and click on publish without that all-important edit pass. I am no longer up to writing wall-of-text posts, because I cannot handle them myself – a case of my writing habits adjusting to my online reading habits. My eyes just glaze over. Or I press Alt-tab. The moment a post crosses 500 words, I start telling myself that The Blather Needs To Be Contained. And I do.

But hey, it’s just a blog. Right?

And the funny thing is, I’ve gone on record telling friends that blogging is dead. It is, at least the version of what we thought of blogging 10 years ago. I miss unselfconscious writing, you know, seeing people I know just be themselves or their online personalities, playing their parts with unrestrained glee. Sure, all the memes, the clip-board videos and excerpts and photographs and the one-trick pony blogs have their place in the sun. But there is this dearth of everyday, non-schticky writing that just is. The kind of writing that reminds me of a quiet evening with a bunch of friends who would sit around talking about all the things under the sun. About the books and comics they read and the movies they saw last week, without having to go into deep critical commentary.  About their ride to the office and why it sucked, without trying to constrain themselves to a 140-character barb.

I am not sure if any of this is a complaint, or about what.

So, anyway, this is not a tenth anniversary post, because hey, this is not even the tenth anniversary. This is just me taking stock of things and trying to gear up for this artificially-induced mental reboot that the New Year brings with it. As if the passing of a calendar day can wash off the daily sediment off our lives and make different people of us. Nope. This blog will, in all likelihood, continue to be the same as it was two days ago. You, all of you who’re reading it and rolling your eyes or smiling along or have alt-tabbed before you read this, I still do not know who you are. Doesn’t matter, we’ll still have fun. Umm – actually, I will still have fun, you can join in. (That was v2.0 popping up to say hi, just so you know. 1.0 made a small appearance and forced me not to post this on January 1, because that would be too cliche. Sheesh.)


A musing

Listening to an album with the cross-fade off is an interesting experience. What does it say about my life when three seconds of silence between tracks makes it feel like something is not right? I had to look at the iPod twice to make sure it didn’t switch off or something.

But I’ve to get used to the silence every once in a while. Sometimes it feels good to unplug the earphones and listen to real life passing me by.

I turned 32 last month. A magic number, this one. The second last power of 2 that I will cross in terms of human age. Assuming nothing changes with the program, and Our Lady with the ankh does not land an impromptu date with me. I spent the day with friends, in two cities I had not been to before. In Spain.

This trip came about because of stubbornness and a promise. I knew I would come to Spain. I just didn’t think it would be this soon. I knew I would enjoy my trip, I didn’t realize it would rock so much. Perfect weather – sunshine with a hint of rain, the wind at just the right temperature to make you want to venture out, interesting conversations with friends I had known for years but had never met in real life, food that made me want to freeze my taste-buds just so I could remember the taste forever, languorous days and hyper-active nights. And oh yeah, I managed to squeeze in some work as well, which is always a good thing.

I am in Cluj now. It’s insane how many memories I have associated with this bustling Romanian city, how comfortable and happy I feel among the people I know here. I managed to attend the office Christmas party here, and went out every single night. I leave tomorrow evening, and while Los Angeles has its own charm, I will miss Cluj. I always do. Though I really wanted it to snow and it didn’t.

I do not know what home is, any more. Or if it ever existed.

And this nice little idea has burrowed itself into my head right now. To spend every birthday in a different city in the world. You know these hypothetical questions you ask yourself, about what you would do if the world would end tomorrow or if you knew you were to die in a few days? My answer to that was – to rent a plane and go meet every person i’ve ever crossed paths with, either in real life or online. To go meet them, say goodbye, hug the ones I liked and the ones that got away, resist the urge to punch the ones I disliked, and generally make a melodramatic ass of myself. But we all know that the world is going to end for every one of us, sooner or later. So why not begin that process right away?

Knowing me, however, there is a fair chance I will change my mind by next month or something. Just saying.

But  there are too many things to talk about, for the last 4 weeks. I need time, I need patience, and I need to process those photographs, both real and metaphorical. Miles to go before I sleep.