Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Reflections: Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman

The first and most striking thing about this book that I shall always remember is, Feynman's expression on the cover. His expression just about encapsulates his attitude, and the kind of life he led. An impish smile, a carefree demeanor exuding an informal, relaxed and affable body language, with a crinkled shirt, a carelessly tucked pen and the intimidating equations doodled on the blackboard, serving as a backdrop to his personality. To me, this cover gives a clear flicker of insight into what this book holds, the kinds of things this impish looking man would recount, and the tone he is likely to take.

I received this book as a gift from an extremely sweet friend, two years back. But in the midst of multiple moves, my nomadic existence and due to my incorrigibly pathetic absent-mindedness, I misplaced it. I know, what a horrible friend am I. And if my friend were to hear this, I can't imagine his disappointment, despite my attempts at redemption. But, after reading this book I understand his enthusiasm to get me to read it! It reflects not just the life of a Physics genius, but contains a hilarious collection of anecdotes from an eccentric man, who was genuinely certified as crazy :)

I have held Feynman in great respect and admiration. I thought reading this book would intensify my reverence for him, but contrary to such a lofty, humbling feeling, he has made me crave for a friend like him to liven up graduate life. I would absolutely love to have a professor like him (regardless of whether I would be worthy of being his student). Feynman was notoriously curious about science, and loved to play with and enjoy Physics. To him Physics was like a fun toy to crack open and figure out how it worked. His Nobel Prize was an inevitable, chance consequence, that he actually tried very hard to not accept. Yes, he was "bummed out" that the prize would attract unwanted attention from people and the media and that he would be bothered with interviews and talks with pompous people, when all he wanted to do was to teach and work with Physics, unperturbed by such extravaganza. He was a man who isolated many of life's complexities and lived by his very simple and fun rules, by being able to exercise freedom and integrity to do what he wanted with Physics.

Contrary to the stereotyped theoretical Physicists (aka Big Bang Theory types), Feynman is an idol of the quintessential "cool dude" - an excellent dancer, a suave and charming lady's man, a lauded bongo drummer, and a talented artist to have had his own gallery opening. Now add in his wit, his humor, his open-mindedness, his passion for puzzles, his mischievous ability to crack open any safe and any puzzle, his incredible IQ and pure intuitive genius, and he turns into a God for geeks. His versatility truly amazes me and is extremely inspiring. The man was ready to plunge into any adventure - right from getting into a nasty fist fight at a sleazy bar, to spending hours in a sense-deprivation tank to understand and experience hallucinations. True to his integrity, he never ever jumped to any conclusion about any topic, unless he collected enough evidence to prove/disprove his hypothesis. And he was the subject of many of his experimentation to understand alternative view points, however "paranormal" they sounded. If he could understand the inherent theory, test, experience and replicate the theory, he was happy. Such balanced open-mindedness, and analytical critiquing, even to question his own theories in Physics, is highly commendable. It's common for many engineers to abhor anything to do with art, poetry or literature. Such pursuits and interests are scoffed at, ridiculed and are dismissed as being empty, convoluted and meaningless. And it's sad that these conclusions are made without even trying to understand any field that falls outside the purview of science. But as a Nobel Prize winner, Feynman was open-minded enough that he desired to understand Art, and put in a lot of effort to scrupulously learn how to draw and sketch. So much so that he sold his sketches and had his own gallery opening. But most important of all, he finally understood how to appreciate Art and why people paid importance to it. This is a breakthrough for a scientist. This unadulterated curiosity was the impetus to all his experiences and is quite infectious. He couldn't care less if his actions would seem inappropriate, or be termed crazy by the dictates of social convention. If he wanted to understand whether humans were capable of tracking smell like dogs and bloodhounds, he got down and crawled on his knees to sniff the carpet to track his own footprints.

It's quite befitting to his nature that he be a rebel. He courted trouble with passion. He enjoyed defying rules, norms and conventions and loved to argue and protest. All he wanted was to be treated like a human being. Why burden oneself with so many rules, contracts and signatures? He found no reason. His frustration at dealing with social scientists was quite amusing, although it paints the social sciences in a very pitiful light. I'm of the view that fields such as anthropology, philosophy and sociology have been taking on a more scientific approach these days. Maybe if Feynman were around now, he would be a better judge. And I have to reiterate his enthusiasm and genuine interest to comprehend such elusive fields. I was laughing out at his earnest experiment to study his own dreams to write a paper for his Philosophy class. With a confused and hyperactive psyche, my sleeps are filled with bizarre and byzantine dreams. Despite my attempts to study them objectively as I am dreaming, I have not succeeded much. It's interesting that you can call upon your consciousness to give you the awareness that you are sleeping and dreaming as you are having the dreams. Due to my propensity for nightmares, I have somehow reached a state where I can tell myself (in the throes of a scary nightmare, where something is chasing me), that it's all a dream and I shouldn't worry which monster or dinosaur is chasing me. But Feynman leaped higher and could direct his dreams to take on the turns he wanted them to, so that he could analyze if his sense of logic, and his sensory perceptions could work as he dreamed. This is like a recursive consciousness within a state of altered consciousness (dream) and Feynman's ability to control his mind in such a way, is outstanding. He always accomplished such difficult and nuanced things with nonchalance that he makes them seem ridiculously simple!

Having raved about him so much, I need to mention my disappointment as well. With complete chapters dedicated to how he picked up girls at a bar, how he figured to get pretty blonds to sleep with him, his philandering escapades with chorus girls and his unabashed obsession with beautiful girls, really put me off. He unfortunately comes across as a womanizer, although his sense of ethics is not out of line. Perhaps I am just a prude to be bothered by his open admissions, for I can imagine how he would truly be an idol to many guys. But my main disappointment is that he could allow himself to be so shallow. With a great mind, capable of so many creative thoughts, I'm just surprised that his interest in women didn't go beyond their looks. But I may be reading too many things into an incomplete picture.

Finally, his writing is exactly as I expected - straight to the point, no frills or fancies, minimal emotions, lots of wit, and simple, informal language. It's almost as if you can hear him talk, waving his hands and making funny gestures. His thoughts on how to write Science textbooks that convey clear emphasis on the underlying fundamentals of Physics such that children are exposed to the joys of Physics, and can relate to and get fueled with curiosity, really made me wish that I had had him teach me at least one topic in Physics. Despite my little disappointment with him, there is lot to be learned and imbibed from this eccentric genius.

This book is a fun journey through Feynman's colorful life. His curious and adventurous spirit leaps out of the book and takes charge of you at least for a few hours, if not more.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

In Loving Memory

The battle is over. The dust has settled. And for the first time in several months, I finally am drenched in nothingness. An eerie peace. Numb and empty.

Even the brutal tug-of-war has been paused for now. And both rival teams have come together for once. The cacophony having ebbed, how new it seems to hear the quiet of the dusk and the chirping birds of the dawn. How long has it been since we looked up at the wheels of time spinning around us. For at least these few moments, I hope we take in the gravity of life and connect with that trace of clarity which begs the question, "What are we fighting for?"

But I sit reminiscing on my memories of you. Traversing through the winding roads of my childhood, I can't locate a single memory of you denying me something. Nor can I remember your eyes casting the slightest bit of reproach or frown at me. Your eyes have shone only with love and kindness, and your words have held nothing but appreciation and encouragement for me. When the unruly side of me has snapped at you to question your superstitions, I never understood why you chose to just chuckle softly. As a rebellious teenager when I have raged at your protectiveness and cried out for freedom, I'm now touched at how you continued to unfailingly totter up and down the streets waiting for me to come back home. You have now made me realize how petty I was to have not paid heed to your unconditional love.

I cherish my last memory of you - just about six months back, when you pulled yourself up and inched on your wobbling limbs to show me a rusted suitcase full of our childhood souvenirs, meticulously wrapped and carefully preserved; priceless photographs, forgotten toys, and carelessly strewn certificates. And the feeling still rises in my throat, a mix of frustration, amusement and love when you showed me all my little gifts to you sitting unused and untouched, but carefully wrapped up in your soft dhoti, suffused with moth balls. And your earnest reason? You considered them far too precious to be used, wary that they would be lost, get old with use, or be broken. I know I will never find anyone else to treasure my pittance of gifts the way you did. I was no doubt your pampered princess. But despite being one of your pampered pets, and having seen you rush to my aid every time I've slipped, here I was helpless in another continent when you slurred my name countless times and wished to see me. These pangs of guilt will wane only with time.

I cannot fathom that I will never see your smiling face again, with your puffy snow-white hair, your forehead religiously smeared with white streaks of vibhuthi, your petite frame donning an impeccably bright white shirt and dhoti, diligently washed even when your wrists shook uncontrollably. In such a light of pure flawless white, you stand in my memory with not a shred of malevolence. Having led a selfless, austere life, having been immensely generous, timid, and naive at handling life's numerous twists, having constantly sought acceptance and love, and having undergone much pain all these months, my sincere prayers that you finally find peace. And I will deeply miss all your wonderful little pampering and loving ways, thatha.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Reflections: Anna Karenina

As a gift from my father, Anna Karenina has been longingly sitting on my shelf for quite a while now, with Anna's piercing portrait throwing accusing and pleading glances at me to pick her up and read her story. I attribute my delayed reading to the only deterrent - the monstrous size of the book, threatening to seriously injure my wrists if I were to so much as lift it nonchalantly. But, as part of my resolutions, I slogged like a diligent student burning the midnight oil in preparation for a serious exam, and now I bear the same sweet exhaustion that one has after accomplishing a strenuous feat. This is in no way to imply that my read was tedious. It was pleasantly intense - heavy with emotions, saturated with thoughts.

It's hard to assimilate my thoughts on a book of such high ranks. It's a book not just on the life of Anna, but represents a chunk of time that reflects life in late 19th century Russia. Tolstoy, as was Dostoevsky, was not merely an author to have created this masterpiece in literature. His astute perspicacity in so many fields - philosophy, psychology, sociology, and religion, is the reason why his name and this book still reside in esteemed hallmarks.

Tolstoy probes into the fundamental facets that plague our existence - love, marriage, children, infidelity, hypocrisy, societal duty, religion, spirituality, morality, philosophy, existentialism, birth and death. With a book so exhaustive, I;m trying to comb for meaningful words in a tangle of thoughts. Anna's story is legendary. A bewitchingly charming lady, she is a mother of a young boy, and a devout, albeit forlorn wife of a stately diplomat. To many, the term "loveless marriage" produces the sensation of grating nails on a wall. At large, a conservative society cannot fathom or produce an iota of empathy or sympathy for such a situation. But Tolstoy's words drive home the meaning of being unhappy, cold and isolated in a societal charade called marriage. When she unexpectedly gets caught in the talons of passionate love, Anna's soul awakens anew and longs to live its life. She heedlessly follows her heart and her passions, and leaves behind a bitter and fiery trail of misery and torment. Anna's act doubtlessly surfaces as a thoughtless debasement of her crude passions, but when we journey into her deepest inner turmoil, the hardest of hearts will find a trace of sympathy for her.

So far, I have been able to clearly demarcate infidelity as something to be censured. But for the first time, my feelings and thoughts fluctuated between reproach, sympathy, censure and pity for Anna. Despite Tolstoy's subtle exposition that being a slave to our passions is bound to lead one to a fractured and peace-less state, his portrayal of Anna, of the characters and her life, cannot be more objective and immersed in reality. He never thrusts an overpowering message of right or wrong. He brings out the black and white in each of us, the true dilemmas, and the true demons that haunt us. When society ostracizes Anna, he fires anger at our constrained and tightly bound rules, when Anna's son is abandoned and is traumatized, he brings in admonition tainted with helpless pity towards Anna, and when Anna spirals down with her inane and irrational emotions when her life with her lover gets arduous, he creates plentiful abhorrence towards the very lady whose plight the reader would have amply sympathized with in the previous page. Only an adroit writer can achieve such realistic evocations. Anna stands pitiful and helpless, despite her foibles, which try as we might, cannot be subject to harsh judgment.

With Anna's story forming the heart of the novel, Tolstoy culls out the meaning of marriage and the ironical way in which our society is framed with hypocritical importance paid to the legalized branding of a husband and a wife. Anna's life with her lover is cast in comparison with her former married life with her husband, and the fake life of another woman, who is legally bound to her husband, despite his salacious activities. The age old question - is it much worthier to please the unknown eyes of the society, by remaining in a sham called marriage, wherein both people have drifted apart, retain no love or companionship for each other, but stick together for the sake of children and security in society? How is a non-legalized relationship that epitomizes the true spirit of matrimony, immoral? Anna's marriage was arranged by her family. So should the perils of one such a mistake be undergone all through one's life? Many are bound to see Anna's emotions as immature and profane, but I truthfully don't know how to evaluate such a situation. In my simpleton view, when children are involved, one has to consider them as important factors in the equation. There is no excuse to evade such a responsibility. My view of morality encompasses only the sphere of children, nothing more. Society and religion dissolve for me. Yet I can't rebuke Anna, for the reason for her tragedy and incessant torture was because of her guilt and pangs for her son. It's like watching a car that accidentally veered into a slippery turn, slide down hill with very little control to revoke that single impulse of a mistake. Precisely the reason why I feel it's unfair that the rules in our society have to be so unrealistically and mercilessly tight, that they fail to embody any realm of forgiveness, empathy or compassion.

In the heat of such traumatic revelations, Tolstoy deftly shows how the strength garnered from religion and spirituality can guide a man into noble and virtuous directions. He shows how forgiveness can envelope the soul with the much needed peace and clarity, and how hatred and harbored negativity lacerates our presonality, awakening an embittered, cruel side of us. As much as he emphasizes the glory of spiritual strength, he also takes an unbiased view of how religion, when applied without thought or meaning can be used as a double-edged sword to bring out the worst in a person. A staunchly religious person who merely conforms to the external decorum of rules and society and doesn't look into the integrity and purity of his thoughts and actions, is probably much more of a sinner. Through an array of characters in this novel, Tolstoy analyzes the thought process of a spiritual and religious skeptic. Agnostics teem aplenty amongst us, keen on using reason and science to deduce the meaning of life and everything around us. But Tolstoy shows how even a skeptic is rooted with an inherent need to grasp onto some form of higher faith when he confronts the many uncontrollable forces of our lives. The meaning of life is shown to be something imbibed deep within each of us, which cannot be attempted to be explained with reason, and articulated with words. We are all aware of a deep need to live true to our inner souls, and to work in the way of goodness; probably these are the only real purposes of our existence. To live, learn and follow our ingrained intuition of doing good. Perhaps it is our disappointment and denial that our purpose in life could be so simple and trite, that makes us delve into finding the meaning behind everything that exists around us. While I partially agree with this view, I guess I still have a long way to go to realize such a truth, and understand the design of our lives and the universe.

Finally, Tolstoy also threads in discussions on socialism and communism in connotation with Russia's social upheavals. Despite such heavy themes packed into this gigantic book, the prose is fluid, florid and deeply meaningful. The translation could not have been better. As with all classics, the characters in the book leave a lasting impression of having lived with you. It is truly incredible that Tolstoy can expertly and accurately articulate the emotions and thoughts of different kinds of people - a protective father, a controlling yet loving mother, an obedient daughter, an abandoned son, a lonely wife, a jilted husband, an anguished woman caught up in insecurity and jealousy, an unconditional friend, a relentless intellectual, and a passionate lover. It is astonishing that Tolstoy could verbalize those very unique and deep emotions that make us women ambiguous and capricious to understand. Here are a man's words spilling out those very evasive secrets on how a woman's mind and heart work.

Anna Karenina's haunting life is sure to live fresh in my memory for a long time to come.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Reflections: Notes to Each Other

As imperfect, fallible people, our attempts at interacting and coexisting with other less-than-perfect mortals are bound to be challenging. With the recent trend that has been bursting ample spotlight onto the nuances of relationships, exploring the institution of marriage and divorce, almost everyone around seems to know the theoretical implications of getting into a relationship and the toil it takes to make it work. Yet, despite all the cloying tiredness about the glory and pitfalls, the numerous songs, movies and dramas, the idea of love always gets misplaced. There is disillusionment, dissatisfaction, tragic revelations, torturous self-inflicted misery... all due to the denial to practically accept that no relationship is made in heaven, and the notion of romance or love is often too visceral and transient, and something that has to be uniquely established in its own way in every relationship.

Hugh and Gayle Prather married on a whim, the night of their third date. They had no signs, celestial or earthy, to encourage their matrimony. The smoke soon cleared to reveal two mismatched people desperately trying to put together a relationship. Since then, the two of them have made a steadfast commitment to stick through anything that life decided to throw at them. While writing the book, they had spent 25 years together. The relationship was no easy sail, especially with serious episodes of infidelity rocking their foundation. This book is a collection of the authors' personal scribes and notes, venting out their pain, their joy, and their insights after some of their stormy fights, arguments, discussions and revelations.

The wisdom and the insights are probably what each of us intuitively realize and have heard a million times before, but in the throes of an argument, they sneak out of our minds. Contrary to most self-help books, this book presents an informal and personal touch, with mere snippets of thoughts spilled across the pages. The words articulate thoughtful rumination... they are those precious words and serene thoughts we often wish to verbalize and implement, but fail to. We can see ourselves, our words, our thoughts, our mistakes, our lives, in the nuggets of insights. And the "secret" to make things work is as simple as being devoted and committed to a friend and companion, gently reminding ourselves to express kindness and consideration at every step along the way. But how much of an ordeal that simple sentence encompasses...

Lofty ideals of intellectual compatibility fly out of the window when the skills for basic cohabitation reduce to how we handle life and its mundane chores on an everyday basis. Quite an anticlimax for people like me. Innocuous absent-mindedness that was at one point deemed merely as funny, has the potential to brew capricious storms; all because of forgetfulness to turn-off lights and retrieve keys. While many, including me, have scoffed at the importance laid on superficial compatibility in food preferences and colors, it presents a surprisingly tough pickle when one person wants to furnish the house in mere monochromes and the other yearns for a splash of color. Trivial and materialistic, I know. But it's horrifying that despite all rational efforts, little things add up to dictate what we can live with, and what we cannot live without. Like withered and useless bits of dried leaves, these petty issues are nonchalantly cast away, only for them to lay piled up in our subconscious. And a little spark, a heedless word, a gesture, a look, is all that is needed to set the whole pile of leaves aflame. At the end of the fire, the ruins and the ashes leave scars and damages, irreparable for a long time. And a guilt-ridden epiphany comes floating to our minds, painfully pointing out that the outburst was a mere tempest in a teapot. If not for a bond of commitment that stipulates each other to wait for the dust to settle, one is prone to flee from the tempests and the fires.

Patience, kindness, forgiveness, compromise, living the present, working only on the current issues at hand, arguing in order to understand each other better and not to attack each other, expressing honest emotions, and working everyday to close the gaps between each other, and letting no other external forces dominate the bond between the two, are the basic lines of sagacity offered by the book. It gives hope and a sense of reality, and is written in lyrical and concise prose.

It pays to focus on the positives and make the best of what we can, rather than dwell on what we lack. And a committed devotion to make things work needs to be reciprocated; it should be part of a team effort. To quote my favorite lines:
Devotion is an act of heart. Devotion is the decision to look upon whoever is before me, or whatever is within my hands, with perfect thoughtfulness.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Reflections: Princess Ben

We are often intrigued with the question of whether each of us are born to suit the roles we play in life, or we merely adopt and act our parts on stage, as the scenes of life shift. Till this day, the dynasties of Kings and the lineages of Sages and Rishis have formed an important aspect in defining our clan and our origins. These are used as measures to evaluate the worthiness of the genetic pool we carry. Starting from castes and religions, one is apt to get branded. As my grandparents have often intoned, do we carry such an indelible, all too obvious brand of genetic make-up that dictates the roles we are destined to play? Is a child in a royal family implicitly born as a prince/King/princess/Queen, ready to slip into the shoes and act their part?

My grandma often used to say that I must have descended from some Royal blood, for I've always vehemently insisted on having our traditional sweet porridge (Paayasam), only at the very end of a meal. According to her, only royalty could afford to exercise such a luxury, while the common Brahman gulped his Paayasam right smack during the middle of the meal. As a little girl, any flattery from a favorite grandma is delightful. But it didn't take me long enough to discover that most of the world practised this norm and such metrics are all but superficial in our definitions of what makes Royalty. Murdock's book explores what the true meaning of being a princess is.

In this enchanted book of fantasy and magic, Ben is a young girl who wakes up one evening to realize that her world has been rudely pulled from beneath her feet, and she has been pushed into playing the role of a princess and the next heir to the throne. For a fifteen year old girl who is all but orphaned at the mercy of her aunt, a frigid and uptight Queen, such a change is bound to be drastically jarring. Ben comes across as a belligerent young teen who copes with her emotional losses through an insatiable appetite and temper tantrums. Try as she might, she seems to pitifully fail in her feeble attempts to be groomed as a princess, and instead spends much of her time learning magical spells to escape the tyranny of her aunt and unearth the secrets of her parent's demise. Ben's rebellious opposition to be married off to the prince of the neighboring country, deemed as a political ruse to save her land, throws her in a series of adventures, testing her strength of character, exposing her to the brutalities of the world, and the realities of life. As a coming of age story, Ben transforms from a plump little stubborn kitten into an intelligent and mature lady, suitable enough to pass all the qualifications of a real princess - not in terms of waistline size, or abilities to dance and embroider, but in terms of real calibre portraying bravery, mettle, intelligence, compassion and virtues befitting a Queen.

In many levels the book quite surprised and impressed me. As a book primarily for young adults, the author not just builds up an interesting tale of enchantment, but also suffuses good measures of morals and themes that are quite necessary for young teens to think about. Through a pleasant touch of humor, Murdock emphasizes that external parameters of beauty that are so highly valued when we are young, do not count a whit when it comes to realizing our true potentials and executing them. Ben personifies the sturdy young girl who is balanced and tough enough to not let herself be weighed down by others' insults and insinuations against her and sets out to prove them wrong. In many ways the story is inspirational as Ben decides to redeem herself in a positive manner, and in the process blossoms into a self-aware and conscientious person. I also appreciate the fact that the author tries to retain a sense of grounded reality, however fairy-tale like the tale is woven. She makes a concerted attempt to explicate that there are no happily-ever-after-fairy-tales, and that life is a lot of hard-work and bitter realizations, even with the help of magic and spells. Despite lacking the primary traits of being born into a Royal family, Ben gets in touch with herself, identifies her strengths and cultures her best qualities to turn herself into a princess. Ben's fumbling escapades, angst and hard-work are sure to resonate with many young girls. As always, I wish I had read this book when I was ten years old :)

In all, this is a charming book. Of special mention is Murdock's prose - I was highly impressed with the quality of prose in this novel, that the book elevates to the ranks of literary fiction. The writing is stellar! Murdock is beautifully expressive - the words hold deep insight, as well as delightful humor, making the book a realistic fantasy tale sure to hearten and inspire young girls.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Reflections: Notes to Myself

Writing is a process of mental-cleansing for me. It helps me periodically visit all the dungeons and fields of my mind, to dust off the grime, polish a few thoughts, reevaluate a few opinions, rearrange some of them and purge out the rusted clutter. The cleaning process is how I learn to connect with myself. As thoughts are continuously flushed, the old and outdated stand a chance to be tossed out, or to be remedied. Just as how a clean and orderly home is calming and comfortable to snuggle in, so becomes my consciousness and the me inside. Words are those tangible attributes that guide many to assimilate their inner tumble of chaos. A personal journal is indispensable to people like us. We can even survive without a medical kit in an emergency but not without a medium to pour ourselves out.

Hugh Prather is part of my brethren of journal-keepers. This book is a collection of his journal entries; crisp, insightful, analytical and thoughtful. It surprises me that a man (yes, I'm stereotyping) is capable of such lucid articulation about his feelings and gains clarity from them to understand himself better and attempts to interact with people around him by truly connecting with them. This is a little book of self-realization that takes us through Prather's struggle to comprehend and verbalize the tumult of emotions going through him and to express them so as to glean insight, and apply its wisdom in everyday life. To me, the one aspect that seemed to stand out from the pages is Prather's struggle to both acknowledge and accept all feelings - negative and positive. It is more of a realistic approach to acknowledge our negative thoughts, but assume responsibility for the way we choose to act on them. It is futile to attempt to control many aspects of our lives. Perhaps the only reasonable and realistic approach is to live the moment, the present, and try to accept the things thrown at us and make the best of what we can with our actions. One has to know how to realize oneself, for in an eerie way we are all alone, trapped in our little islands into which no one can navigate to and look at the world from our view and make things better. We are the only ones to know what it is like to live the life we are living, and deal with it. The process of this realization is hard, but the first step seems to be to repeatedly get to know the inner-self better by discerning every single feeling, thought and emotion that pulses through us and tracing their journey to figure out their means, if not their ends.

The book is Prather's notes to himself, some of which strike a chord, some of which provoke further thought, and many are left to us to realize about ourselves. One man's notes about himself are tightly tied to his contexts, his life, his emotions, his thoughts and his self, and can't be expected to extend to another individual. But the notes jog the mind, give it a little nudge and the rest is up to us.

With a brand new year having dawned on us, I realize that I need to make some notes to myself to become a better person. Self-realization is a sustained goal, an everyday effort that is sure to last for several more years. Yesterday, my friend shared some of poet Ranier Maria Rilke's letters and quotes. To call them inspirational seems quite trivializing to those words. His words "... that you may find in yourself enough patience to endure and enough simplicity to have faith..." resonate quite well with my Mantra for this year. To tame the demon of denial and reach the state of acceptance has been my struggle for so long a time. What cannot be cured, has to be endured, and accepted. I need to learn to accept my nightmare and live in it as best as I can, to the point where it turns into mundane normalcy.

For more tangible goals, over which I can exercise more control,

* I hope to rid myself of my bouts of extreme inertia, due to which I procrastinate most things. I'm glad that I started the new year having finally conquered my inertia and accomplishing a certain milestone that has made all my friends and family shed red-hot tears of relief (thanks to those kindred souls for championing me throughout :)). Now they await with their hearts in their mouths, as I set out to execute my skills.

* My second inertial barrier waits to be shattered. Having been blessed with a close circle of people who diligently and rigorously work-out and attempt to sculpt their bodies, I have incurred many silent curses and "evil-eyes" as I, the non-gym escapist, flit atop the fancy-weight-machine and make it spit out 8% of body fat for me. Enough to make the person slogging out on a 200lb dead-lift, suffer a severe blow of disappointment at his readings that he begs me to chomp on French Fries.The "evil-eye" works itself out, as I yelp in pain and exasperation struggling to open and close the measly lid of my car's gas-tank, with the wind chill gnawing a hole in my fingers. A pretty picture as I bend myself into a ball, breathing and puffing vapors of smoke, my fingers trembling with the effort to open the blasted lid, my feet half-clinging to the ground as the wind tries to uproot me. Therefore, enough is enough. My resolution is to build those muscle thingies...lean muscles as I am told. I have plenty of able and eager instructors who can't wait to start training me, and I shall be malleable to all attempts. Oh, as part of my working towards the resolution, I bought a nice pack of chocolate-flavored protein powder, ready to be gobbled up in liberal amounts. And I have been gifted with a couple of 4lb dumbbells :)

* As an extension of the previous goal, I should be able to successfully shovel all the heaping mountains of snow without (well, with some) help. Right now, with the huge and heavy iron shovel standing tall and imposing, measuring almost my height (but weighing much heavier than I), my attempt at helping to shovel the driveway is to jump up and down on the snow to loosen it up, so that it can be picked up easily. Can it be anymore pathetic? No.

* With heaps of several feet of snow lying around, building a gigantic snowman is of utmost priority. Last year, I (we) got around to lumping just the snowman's tummy, within which time I thought my nose would drop off with the biting cold. This year, I (we) may lose toes, fingers and part of my nose, but a snowman shall be erected.

* I hope to read ever more, with a quest for better books.

* I wish to paint even more, especially a fiery, roaring dragon and a serene golden Koi, being my imminent projects. And, I shouldn't cut my fingers while working on glass. At least this year.

* I should continue to sing, should find a raagam that A hasn't heard of before (which will take me a good 6 months to figure out), should sing it to him and watch his face contort with disbelief, his eyes rolling with confusion, his mind racing to identify the raagam, and finally whimpering away with defeat. Haha,I already rub my hands with wicked glee, imagining him scuttling around the house, driving himself insane. My evil side seeps out.

* I should hopefully start learning to play my dream instrument, and use it as my ultimate solace.

* I hope to grow twice as many flowers as I grew last Spring. And we should redeem our debilitating failure of growing (killing) vegetables (frost-bitten tomatoes and bunny-devoured cauliflowers), by trying to flourish at least two vegetables this year.

* Bake gingerbread-man cookies...with icing for his eyes, his tie and his buttons. And try at least five recipes from the cook-book I have been so graciously gifted with.

* When it gets slightly warm, get a cutie-pie Oranda baby, who has already been christened as "Flipper", to add to my fishie-clan at home.

That makes a long list by itself, apart from mundane professional goals to accomplish. Those are enough notes to give me an action-item to work on for the whole year. Let's see how well I live up to them.