Posts Tagged ‘self-introspection’

The Treasured Outsider

January 17, 2009

This is a more sobering post than I’ve usually presented to my audience on this blog. Someone dear to me, who like me is also a first generation immigrant, was wondering about her boss’ remark that she is a source of inspiration to the kids she teaches. My friend, this person, find it hard for to believe that because she sees the massive cultural gap between her and the kids and wonders how that gap can be bridged enough for her words and guidance to be effective.

I too have come to terms with this paradox. As immigrants, we are at once the center of a lot of attention —  entirely of the pleasant sort, luckily for me — but also find ourselves removed from the center of American life almost de facto because we can’t share in the American idiom as easily as those who have been born and achieved adulthood here.
My own journey of discovering my place in the United States has been one of understanding this dichotomy. In the US, I find that immigrants have this special place because of the enduring role that immigrant communities play in defining this nation’s identity. I am a South Asian immigrant, and the story of middle class South Asian like me is, in particular, a curious one within the larger immigrant story. My community is among the few that have come here of their own volition, leaving behind a life that to many native-born Americans seems quite cushy.

This mystery is particularly deepened in the case of my friend and me, because of the active role we play in our communities. We are neither of us the typical South Asian, like the invisible software engineer, or cab driver, or accountant or restaurant owner, the kind of person that you meet in specific, professional, circumstances, but who doesn’t interact with the mainstream of American life outside those circumstances. The traditional story of all immigrant communities, even relatively wealthy and privileged ones like the Jews, various Europeans and the Hispanics, has been one of taking multiple generations to migrate from a ghetto to an existence within the mainstream of American life. Even among Indians, it isn’t until the second generation that you start to see  people stepping into political participation, even at fairly limited, local, levels.

But my friend and I have skipped this step seemingly within a fraction of a lifetime, leave alone across two generations. We are not running for office (yet), but we participate in debates and activities that relate to issues that matter now and right here, to the lives of a broad cross section of American society. To many Americans, especially in California, where we live, which is an immigrant nation within an immigrant nation, no story could possibly be more inspiring.

To think that we would dedicate any part of our skills and life energies to the broader community, rather than, as immigrants tend to do, to the narrower concerns of our own kinsmen, cannot be perceived by those who know you as anything less than a gift. And the grace and humility with which we approach your contributions cannot but help touch hearts around you. Yes, there isn’t much humility in these perceptions that I am laying in front of you, dear Reader, but I know that there is nothing self-aggrandizing in how my friend and I offer our services and social energies to the communities we live in, without being motivated by a desire to find comfort in parochial ties and environs. It’s another post which will examine what the distancing from one’s own community might mean, whether there’s an element of self-hatred, and whether it’s merely exploratory and adventure-seeking behavior that will play itself out in a few more years. What matters right now in understanding who we are as immigrants, and in understanding what the potential of what American society offers to people like us, is accepting the particularly special nature of our relationship.


A Tale Of An Evening Stroll, With Hyperlinks

January 5, 2009

This afternoon, after I’d finished watching some porn (No, I won’t link to that,) I got my ass off of my chair and headed over to the Sprint store, to pick up the replacement for the HTC Touch that I had broken a few days before. I picked up my copy of Italo Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night…, the loaner cellphone that the Sprint store gave me, and walked to my bus stop.

The bus took four minutes to arrive. I know because a gentleman who was also waiting for it called some service that I was hereto unaware of that allows you to ask when the next bus will arrive. Ingenious!

On the way there, I read a few pages of the Calvino novel. It’s pretty ingenious itself. Waiting anxiously to get to the end of it.

At the store, I had to wait in line. When I was at the head of the line, this guy walked up and stood in front of me. There was no sign-up system nor anything else to indicate the order in which people had arrived. I immediately went into a panic, that this person would attempt to receive service before I did. It didn’t look like any of the employees were competent enough to notice who had arrived in what order. This meant I would have to challenge the newcomer should he choose to cut ahead of me. I hate making a scene and he would be making me do it. I felt my heart race and I had to force myself to calm down by trying to resume day-dreaming about whatever it was I had been day-dreaming about before the interloper had appeared. It worked — I was thinking about how cellphone sales people would be more successful if they knew things about how cellphones worked and how the device makers interacted with the carriers in choosing what technology is developed, what content is made available to users and what the pricing for a phone is. There, now that was easy. As my head filled with all these thoughts, I managed to almost forget that there was a potential conflict coming up between me and this other customer.

I wondered what made a successful salesperson in a Sprint store. How does HQ keep track of them, and reward the ones that are doing a good job?

One of the employees finished talking with the customer he had been helping. As I had expected, he had no clue whether I or the guy in front of me had arrived first. Infuriating! I said I had, in a measured tone, but I checked in with the other guy. He graciously assented. Wonderful — no unseemly struggle!

I explained why I was there to the employee. He went inside to pick up my new phone, brought it out, pointed his laser beam device at it and after a few minutes told me I couldn’t take it with me because I hadn’t brought the old device to the store. Which I hadn’t because when I had come in explaining that I had broken it a few days previously, the guy who had helped me then hadn’t thought to mention that I need to return the old one when the new one came in. “Darn it,” I said to the employee. “This turned out to be the greatest wasted evening ever in my life.”

“No, really?” the employee said, with a faux-aggrieved expression on his face, one of those elaborately constructed downward smileys. He seemed to be quite the queen, his face jowly and pock-marked from shaving poorly, a pair of round metal-rimmed glasses sitting on his nose. The store was in a gay neighborhood and most of the other gay men hanging out there were appreciably more attractive than this man. Not that I am gay or anything.

“And I thought I’d made a good friend tonight,” the queen went on. I hate queens.

“Oh. Yeah, you have been … very nice … it was .. thank you,” I said. I hate the way I stammer and get all uncomfortable when responding to someone’s witticisms, especially when I think they aren’t being funny. I especially unfunny queens. It’s not easy trying to play bitchy and funny.

“Well, you have a good night.”

“Thanks. You too.”

I thought it was okay that I was bitchy to him. He probably expects it from people, and would be at a loss if someone were just plain nice to him for once. The poor queen.

I stepped out and decided to eat myself a burrito, to cheer myself up for not having gotten a replacement as I had planned to. At the burrito store (and why aren’t any of them called burriterias?), I decided to eat a vegetable burrito. It had broccoli in it and I like broccoli. They are all crunchy and shit, no matter how much you cook them, which is cool because usually stuff gets pretty soggy in a burrito. A woman came in with a child, speaking in Spanish to the employees behind the burrito ingredient counter. The child didn’t know Spanish and she was teaching him to speak it. He said to her that the people working the burrito line were the “friends of burritos.” She told the employees that with a bright laugh, and then told him to try and say, “amigos de los burritos.” He shrunk into her arms, embarrassed that his epithet had been revealed to the world in so blatant a manner. He must have wanted to kill her.

How old must one be to be able to form the thought of offing someone? I can’t remember when I first fantasized about having someone removed from this planet for offending me. I can remember being pretty angry and resentful of people from pretty early on but when was the first time that prompted to think of how they might be disposed of for their offences? No clue, strangely.

I didn’t read any more of the Calvino until I got to the train station to take a train downtown. I needed a monthly public transit pass for January.

I noticed a stationery and gift store near the convenience store where I usually buy my monthly passes. I really should find another place to get them at, because I no longer work near there, which I did for about six months. Then I got laid off but I still go to that store to buy my passes. It kinda makes me sad to think off that. I need to dissociate myself completely from the environs of the company that laid me off because let me tell you, not that you would need to be told this but it lets me vent so let me tell you, that getting laid off was not a nice thing that happened to me.

I wanted to go to the gift store because I had had an idea, that I would send my girlfriend a love letter. I read recently that  Molly Howard tore up Ted Howard’s love letters over fifty years ago, and then he spent fifteen years piecing them back together. I don’t understand love letters — they are repetitive, full of cliches and hyperbole, and sometimes not much more than an account of one’s daily routine. Had Ted Howard perhaps forgotten what he had done during those days in 1953 and been struck with a sudden thirst to recollect? Perhaps someone he had met at that time and done a favor had turned out to amass a fortune and on dying had declared his desire to help any one who could prove they had helped him in the past, raising in Ted the vain hope that he could piece together the evidence in his letters to Molly. But I rather think that Ted did what he did for love rather than avarice.

I couldn’t write a love letter for love. I wrote “lust letters” once; in fact, many times. Or perhaps they were “calf love letters.” But the way one becomes with one’s partner somewhere down the line, after one had lived together for a year or so, and all of each other’s idiosyncracies start to settle in like the weather report, that doesn’t merit much literary effort in my book.

But I know my girlfriend wouldn’t like that idea, so I have decided to write her a love letter. I knew I could find a card with a frog on it somewhere. That’s the thing about frogs, their image has a certain ubiquitousness to it. They are like flowers, puppy dogs and middle-aged, crabby women. Card designers like putting them on cards.

I found one shaped like a frog. Perfect!

My girlfriend calls me Froggie. Because I have frog fear. So.

I thought I’d inscribe a message along the edges of the card, spiralling inwards until it vanished into the final period. Better still, I decided to have it end in a heart. Now how sweet is that?

So yeah, I can be sweet. But I can’t sustain it. I don’t know why, what makes my brain different from other people’s. By all reports, other people have a great time being sweet to other people that are not themselves. I am too self centered for that. I especially have a problem with timed sweetness, the kind that demands a scheduled delivery of good cheer and love, as if these things were like vegetable basket deliveries from organic stories.

So I decide that what I need to do is treat this whole Be Nice To Me thing as an art project. My one year art project for 2009 is to create a love letter for my girlfriend every month. Whenever I see an artifact that I think would make a nice little gift for her, I can purchase it, make the gift and give it to her. I always have pretty ideas, I just need to put them into practice. Maybe I will even take photos of the things I make and have a little scrap book all of my own.

And I will post them on this blog. Brilliant. And ingenious!

The Sort of Blinders I Need

December 10, 2008

I am like a racehorse that you might hire, and command to get to the destination at the end of the race track as soon as possible. I will then try my best to follow those directions, and will work hard at it.

But I might notice in the process that there is a short cut, an option outside the  suggested race track, that will also lead to the end much faster. At that point, I will say to you, look, I think we should go that way, that’s much faster. I have run many races before and I know these detours work really well.

Then you might say, well, that’s not going to work, just keep on this race track. I will then ask why. This is one of the many things that I do, I ask why. And you will say, look, I’ve worked for a long time thinking about how I am going to go down this particular track, so I am not interested in going down any other track. I told you to run this track, so do it. And I will say, you told me to get you to the end as fast as possible, and now I am telling you this track is not the way to do it. So shut up and let me do it my way.

If you can’t convince me at that point, that there is some real good reason for me to stay on the first track, I get very much like an annoyed horse. I start to buck and whinny in annoying ways, and you feel like maybe you made a mistake by hiring this horse. I will tug at the reins and attempt to sneak my way over to the track I prefer — in short, the lure of the faster track has now become an irresistible Siren call.

If you don’t have the ability to then put blinders on me that I don’t chafe at, and that will keep me from being distracted at the time I am wasting taking the longer track, you will have a good experience working with me. Otherwise, we are in deep shit.

Thoughts on Thoughts on Porn

November 12, 2008

That last post didn’t go so well. I was intending to draw out something interesting about my relationship to watching porn and the effect it has on my life but I only ended up making a rather banal and stereotypical point — that watching porn creates fantasies of control in me, and that I tend to find real sex boring because those fantasies are not borne out on a consistent basis.

It’s very sobering to realize that one is not as refreshingly unique and idiosyncratic as one considers oneself to be.

I felt I came pretty close to something interesting and revelatory, though. I frequently feel like this but when I start writing about it, I am not able to reproduce that feeling in writing. Does attempting to articulate these thoughts simply pull away the mask and reveal the empty charade of sophistication, or is it simply making it harder for me to access those thoughts because it creates a layer of language between me and my thoughts? Is this layer obfuscating, or clarifying?