Autumn

Autumn is the middle child of the family of seasons. Autumn doesn’t get the attention of summer. Neither does she get the flattery and glamour of winter. Autumn is shadowy, as if she knows she is the unwanted child of an affair between earth and its axis-tilt. Maybe that’s why autumn perpetrates a social amnesia. She often puts a beatific expression on her face, eyes almost closed, and head tilted towards the shoulder.

Being the middle child is usually not very easy. It comes with some stigma. Middle children are more misunderstood because they’re curious and portray attributes of a loner. Middle children are often shy because they have learned to let those who desperately seek the spotlight, just have it. They often become impatient quickly simply because they expect to be the last one to get what they want. Many middle children end up being rather uptight assholes as adults … ehem.

But all of these facts shouldn’t cause clinging to a point of view, as though everything depends on it. Like summer and winter, autumn gradually passes away, too. At the end, there is an unexpected warmth in the gestures of Autumn stemming from her sheer display of affection.

Autumn creates a luster in the sky which is not seen or felt in summer or winter. This season of retrospection is fashioned for lovers and strangers.

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Eat No Vegetables

I have been spending the past several months traveling for variety of mundane reasons. Airport. Flying. Hotel. Go to bed early for whatever that’s planned on the next day. Go through the next day. Back to the hotel. Work out. Go to bed early for the next day. Fly back. And then again, and again.

During long flights everything hurts. Calf, muscles, and a toe that refuses to warm up. The day of the flight becomes a day when the most creative thing you can do is to come up with an essay that’s an unoriginal form of pensive confusion.

A couple of days ago, I met with a friend who asked how I cope with the intensity and boredom of long flights. I thought I’d share a few points on how I make the mundane experience bearable. So here it goes:

(1) Take a Window Seat
Fuck more legroom and the ease of moving around. Take a window seat. Work your curiosity and imagination by looking out the window. Take control of the window shade and look how the plane bullets through the flirting clouds. Be that stern-looking asshole that keeps the shade open while other people watch those gummy in-flight chick flicks.

(2) Podcasts
Listen to a few podcasts as appose to getting frustrated by listening to the guy who looks like colonel Sanders sitting next to you. He just returned from a successful sales pitch. He keeps downing Jacks and collapsing back onto your shoulders.

(3) Have a heart-wrenching topic to ponder on
For instance, during one of the flights from NY, I started thinking about my friend Nedi as soon as the flight took off. I met Nedi a few years ago. Young, tall, handsome and in his twenties. Full of energy. The life of his parents’ lifelike party. He had a life story that asks a lot questions.

As soon as the flight reaches 10K altitude, I usually experience turbulence as the plane goes through the rough air. The flight attendant asks me for my drink of choice with a gum-chewing dismissal. Colonel Sanders is on his third whiskey.

I look out the window and remember an article I had read long ago -that argues the cruelty of capital punishment in Japan. The possibility that an innocent person may have spent more than decades in prison is not the only reason why the issue attracted attention. In Japan, death row prisoners are locked away in solitary confinement, banned from talking to other inmates and permitted just two or three exercise periods a week.

All of those rules are pretty common but the article argues that the worst is the uncertainty. Condemned men learn of the timing of their death only hours before they are led away to the gallows. Their families are informed only after the fact. “Each day could be their last, and the arrival of a prison officer with a death warrant would signal their execution within hours,” the report says. The article asserts that the mental anguish of not knowing whether each day is to be your last is the cruel punishment.

I read the article many times. But I could never quite grasp what the fuss was about on the point of cruelty. I thought to myself: Japanese death row inmates are just like me. Each day could be my last day, too. Each day could be anyone’s last day. If that’s cruel, then the Japanese death row inmates, and us, are all in the same boat with one key difference: the inmates expect to die every day. We don’t. Which one is crueler?

Nedi passed away a few days ago at age 25. He knew where his ordeal of a life was headed as soon as his illness surfaced three years ago. Nedi’s diagnosis-paper handed over by his doctor was like the death warrant handed over by the prison officer. Though, Nedi’s case continues to be heart wrenching and confusing.

You witness these things as you grow older and you want to make sense of it. You play with notions like the one that suggests it was an unlucky gene. But luck, as they say, is the residue of design. Okay, luck may be the residue of design, but life and nature dictate unexpected scenarios, which overkill skill, practice, science, considered judgment, and normal response. If there is a lesson in Nedi’s life scenario, I fail to find it. I sheepishly take refuge in realizing that aging only presents us with additional choices to which there are no answers.

At this point of my thought cycle the plane has reached the cruising altitude. The flight attendant’s attitude towards colonel Sanders comes around like “You’re drunk and fully fed, so shut up and enjoy the rest of the flight”. At 35K altitude, one might feel a bit closer to god.

The Jewish sages discussed whether to be born or not. They agreed it would be better not to be born. But now that you are born, you should enjoy it. That doesn’t make any sense to me. Then, there are the Greeks. The Greeks tried to make sense of death by conveying that the Greek Gods are a band of perpetual adolescents, who may enjoy life perpetually at ease. Those gods can afford to be immature because they live forever and have time to mend broken relationships, or correct mistakes. Humans have no such luxury according to the ancient Greeks. Our time is borrowed. If we are cruel to others the effect could be permanent. Hence, death comes at the time of mature relationships and the absolute absence of meanness and cruelty. I’m thinking that’s a cute idea because it feels good. Fucking Greeks! They have managed to find an answer for every tough question.

The flight slowly descends to northern California. I can now see a few big buildings with large signs at the top. It’s the northeastern stretch of Silicon Valley between San Francisco and Sacramento. No clouds.

I immediately fall into that one dimension that the current generation of people in their sixties and seventies may be the last cohort of humans for whom death is absolutely unavoidable. While such thoughts are fantastical to many, leading scientists are convinced that we are on the threshold of stopping the aging process and curing terminal diseases. And, some of them speak as if aging is a disease. According to them, mortality as a great leveler and equalizer may be coming to the end of its insurmountable rule.

These weird thought go through my head over and over during the long flight that’s almost over as we reach the 10K ft. Colonel Sanders has stopped snoring.

4. Eat no vegetables
Eat no vegetables during long flights. Too gassy.

Golden Penis

As a child, my occasional nickname literally meant golden penis. The term is a cultural metaphor that represents an appropriate term of endearment and flattery. That gesture of attention and kindness has been nothing but the biggest puffery in real life.

My mom treated me as this guy who is genius, athletic, and handsome with a chiseled jaw who has impressed the little fucker himself. Then, fueled with so much endearment, I felt like I’d grow up having a small fleet of sports cars and when I’m not busy melting my family, I’m changing out hot girlfriends with my thick charm as if they could swim in it.

There is nothing new about fallacy of a handsome set of expectations and dreams. Though, the next thing you know, a swift kick hits those balls hanging off the golden penis. You find yourself flipping burgers for an asshole who looks like Frank Zappa, and similarly, doesn’t give a fuck about people like you, or your involuntary bullshit dreams.

My mother also taught me that there is a God. But around the time I was flipping burgers for Frank, I learned that God is very busy. So I started finding a few little gods and called them friends.

The biggest lesson of all has been around that lifelike dream called love. I was told that love is kind, mutual, and lasts forever. But I learned that love is preferential, exclusive, and particular. I was told that no one could resist loving the golden penis. But I learned that love is strong and it can turn the golden penis into a vagina.

During my formative years, I learned that no dream lasts forever. But favorably, it changes to something better that fits the realities of life. For every forced dream that got shattered, a better experience appeared. After all, that constant pressure to always be something amazing, to be the next big thing, will be lifted off your back. The stress and anxiety of feeling inadequate will dissipate, and until then, you are not a grown-up.

Some of us are taught that life is like a black tie party, which takes place in symphony halls where they serve caviar and truffles while you’re drinking crystal. But life is like a harsh mistress. It teaches you that there is a party, and it is more like a karaoke that takes place in the back of an Irish dump where they sell six chicken wings for a buck, and you can drink a few pints of cheap beer.

The beauty of real life hides beneath the acceptance of your own mundane existence. Such learning will actually free you to feel content with no lofty expectations.

My mom taught me great lessons and I’m grateful for her never-ending love. Though, some of my happiest dreams happened when I was out with the little gods drinking a few cheap beers.

Crippled by Procrastination

The publishing zen-masters claim: the mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying place. Isolated, neurotic, dark, crippled by procrastination, and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing judgments. And that’s on a good day.

I write what I feel, and I’m certainly no writer. Yet, I can relate to all those characteristics on a bad day.

People write from and for different places and purposes. The zen-masters suggest one should never write from a blue place. Or, everything will end up coming from that place.

I’ve never given too many fucks about views of someone whose social status includes a word like ‘master’. Sadly, there is some veracity in this view.

Ostrich

For a long time, Ida believed in the permanency of her happiness. She also believed that she deserved happiness more than others because she’s dazzling and elegant. During discussions about the topic, she talked like a know-it-all Ostrich. For some reason, saying, “you don’t know everything” consistently felt like a sufficient response to all of her arbitrary entitlements.

Recently, there has been a stall in Ida’s infamous views. Unfortunately, the perfection of her happiness seems to have dwindled. Though I appropriately understand her circumstances, I’m unable to be empathetic. The reason has to do with what lies beneath the chronicles of our timeworn discussions.

As an immigrant, I never believed in permanency. Permanency never lasts. Any concept that promises permanency in human experience is doomed to disappoint. Much worse, an orthodox belief in the permanency of delicate concepts is one of the main causes of its failure. The simple problem of any rigid belief is that it imprudently discounts change.

I agree with Ida that marriage is on old tradition, but change is an older one. For many years, the crawling changes were there for Ida to see but she preferred to look away. Ida continued to like her own world, and he changed to like the world.

Ida, you asked me to write an honest post about the topic before we meet. Here I am, fulfilling the promise with a snappy disposition.

Happiness can be found in ordinary moments where we lose ourselves in extraordinary ways. This involves renunciation of the notion of perfectibility of man. Man can be perfect for five minutes in extraordinary moments but we can’t stay perfect.

You must give up the notion of permanent heaven. We can get into heaven, but for five minutes. Then you have to come back to the world again” –- Abraham Maslow

Patience is a Liability

Patience is a liability within the context of business.

A few weeks ago, I resigned from my cushy job to pursue creating something new. I have been working on the idea for the past several months. My untested belief is that I have planned it well with many mitigation points and exit strategies.

Beyond my literary addictions; I’ve been actually working as a full-on technologist for some time. In that realm, there’s a healthy part of anyone who has a little bit of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs in them.

There is no doubt that if you want something so bad, you ought to face a new set of problems. Specifically speaking, it is hard to be commercially viable with passion projects. In contrast, most people have to find a way to balance what the world will pay them to do with what they love to do. Some never compromised. My new endeavor is just that.

Playing Violin for Maple Trees

Several years ago, I was traveling from Genoa to Bologna and I happened to drive through a city on the north bank of Po river called Cremona. Like many other medieval cities in Italy, time seemed to have stood still in Cremona. No tourists, no fuss, and no urban commotion of any kind. It seemed life was flowing through the city with the rhythm of pedestrians and bicyclists.

It only took me a few minutes of walking around the main street to realize that Cremona is actually famous for one unique reason: violin craftsmanship. It is a highly celebrated profession for its traditional process of fashioning and restoring violins, violas, cellos, and contrabasses. Violinmakers from all around the world go to Cremona to attend a specialized school, based on a close teacher-pupil relationship, before being recruited to local workshops. It is believed the violin is invented in Cremona, not just because of the local mastery in craftsmanship, but also because of the rituals that construct the rhythm of the environment. Cremona’s citizens cherish this culture because it plays a fundamental role in their social fabric. They believe the process of making perfect music requires (a) an instrument (b) craftsmanship and (c) rituals. To Cremonese, a Viola is merely a tool to produce a perfect sound. They believe the joy comes from listening to the sound, and not from the Viola itself.

These craftsmen also go a long way to make sure they have perfected the art of making well-sounding instruments. They make the instrument from local woods, which is mostly maple. They believe the acoustic quality of the local wood is unmatched. They cut the trees in the right season and in the right way. And, one more thing: during fall the violinmakers take turn to play violin for the trees for hours. They believe such ritual changes the acoustic tone of the wood. The actual making of the violin only takes a few months, but the whole process starts from the time the tree is planted. The ritual of playing violin for the trees has to do with the belief that: it’s best to put the violinist’s soul into the root of the instrument.

Every emotional quest simulates the same pattern of requiring an instrument, craft, and ritual. When it comes to relationship between human beings, feelings are merely an instrument. Notions like respect and trust are the craft. The element (ritual) that glues it all together has to do with the ability to be altruistic and benevolent. To some, these concepts seem as ridiculous as playing violin for maple trees. So they laugh at such notions not only because these meanings seem unusual, traditional, and strange –but also because ordinary minds disappoint to reconcile present hardship with future rewards. Every emotional quest needs a part of the violinist’s soul.