Category Archives: random thoughts

A painting party

It was GV’s idea.  Suddenly on our list of things to do one sweltering day last month in Bangkok was finding a paint store.  “Let’s keep it simple,” she said.

I had six rectangular pieces of cardboard I was saving for a practical application.  So we picked up one tube each of three colors and a painting knife.  At the mall where we bought the paint, we sampled a Nespresso and they let us keep the plastic cup.  We were set with all the paraphernalia necessary.

We each had three pieces of blank cardboard. GV’s are on the top.

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Embracing Life Maintenance

You know,…those occupations we perform that keep life flowing.  Those (mostly) self-imposed duties that keep us from real living.  The perpetual actions that don’t contribute to noticeable forward progress.  The errands we execute that may even be termed drudgery.

When I lived in San Francisco some time ago, a good friend of mine commented upon retiring at 40, that he noticed personal maintenance constituted about 20% of his non-sleep time.  He had a small home and lived alone so he was talking about routine chores like laundry, cleaning, personal care, preparing meals, washing up the kitchen, etc., — all the small jobs that come with independently keeping a healthy home and body.

Thankfully, not many of my clothes need handwashing.

Housewives and homemakers with kids peg the maintenance percent much higher, closer to the inverse of my friend, 80% or above.  We all conduct maintenance, whether brushing teeth, going to the gym, or filling the car’s gas tank.

Our free time usually dictates our relationship to many of the day-to-day upkeep responsibilities.  They fall into categories of;  we accept doing them, we do them grudgingly, we avoid doing them, have someone else do them, or we don’t think they need to be done (as often as they should be).  Seldom are they actions we leap out of bed to perform with gusto. Wherever they land though, a key question is, do we embrace (any of) the maintenance?

In our small NYC apartment, we luckily have two bathrooms.  The one I use, the one visitors use, I’m responsible for.  Which means that when I’m there, at least weekly I am on my hands and knees scrubbing around the toilet.  Not a job many of us relish but one I’ve reluctantly come to embrace (at least the bathroom I use).

Exercise maintenance has its moments.

Daily exercise of some type is a non-negotiable physical service.  Sometimes it is pleasurable, other times it’s damn hard.  For me, it usually falls somewhere in-between and accepted as a necessary self-preservation habit.

During the last few years, because much of my time is spent living on my own in Asia and hiring help is not so convenient, I do the routine household chores myself.  Further, because I’m cooking more often, the maintenance category has increased markedly.  I’m kind of stunned at the amount of time sucked up by the entire food prep process.  Eating well is paramount, and basic.  But finding food with good ingredients is not always easy, especially when it’s prepared with industrial oils and sweeteners.  Hence, my maintenance percent has skyrocketed.  I may not be up near the busy housewife with five kids, but I’m at least in the 50/50 zone.  Buying, washing, cutting and preparing, food, then cleaning the dishes and kitchen is no small amount of time.  Besides food, the places I live, because I like the windows open, collect dust so fast that cleaning has become a daily labor I’ve been grappling to embrace more firmly.  Laundry — the washing, drying, folding, (I rarely iron and it may show), of clothing, towels and bed linen is another chunk of valuable time.

Buying, preparing, cooking, and cleaning afterward is a significant time-sucker.

The other day GV, who is visiting me in Asia, cleaned my refrigerator, which she said was disgusting.  It was a necessary maintenance chore I not only hadn’t been embracing but also didn’t realize was as sorely needed as it was.

Whether we fold laundry while watching a video or listen to audiobooks during the work commute, we try to find ways to soften life chores to make necessary tasks more tolerable (efficient).  Some outsource a block of maintenance (vis-à-vis maids, restaurants, or partner agreements).  But then again, there is subtle value in adopting even small rituals, such as making the bed in the morning.  I’ve known many, mostly males, who do the minimum amount of domestic work.  It’s not considered macho business.  Real men don’t clean toilets.  Although the understated value of cleaning up after yourself is not to be sneezed at.

The trick, it seems, is a little mental juxtaposition, to turn tasks from drudgery to willing acceptance.  It may just be, that if successful, the result is a more positive alignment of perspective, having a favorable rollover effect to other aspects of life.

Besides, last year McMaster University conducted a study showing that doing housework five times per week can cut the risk of early death by 20%.

Hmm,…I’d better start a more serious mental exercise program, digging deep to welcome with open arms, the mountain of life maintenance which seems to be growing, and be content that it’s only me I’m maintaining.

The right amount of speak

Kind of like the right amount to eat — the ideal portion size and the mix of nutrients may or may not be regularly appraised.  We tend to speak on autopilot, whether to ourselves, our significant other, strangers, family members, work colleagues, yadda yadda.

It takes the right amount of verbalizing for the listener to digest well.

I’m not referring to our new form of exchange — texting made easy, otherwise known as genetically modified speak, although the right amount certainly applies to all types of talk.  I’m thinking of the sincere dialogues we have when sound is made from our vocal cords.

Lately, perhaps due to a cognition malfunction, I’ve been mixing large portions of junk food speak into otherwise semi-healthy discussions.  Moreover, I’ve been serving up meaty colloquies to fellow humans interested in a lighter buffet of breeze shooting.

When speaking, like eating, we’d like our messages to be easily digestible, no matter the portion size.  Ideal digestibility occurs when there are healthy ebb and flows to a conversation.  A wholesome back and forth is largely dependent on portion size; i.e., somewhere between sermonizing and stubby responses.  So there is a payoff to consider the listener’s taste preference and enthusiasm.  For important conversations, that may mean selecting a time when the listener is open to chow.  Many weighty chats are infinitely more satisfying with several well-planned courses full of balanced flavors, like sweet and sour, bitter and salty.

Broaching more serious topics may call for attractive appetizers to stir the hunger juices, making the main course more appealing.  At the same time, getting to the point shouldn’t require an entire meal of hors-d’oeuvres, leaving the main course overkill.

You don’t want the listener to become bloated before your pontification is well received.

Good conversations, like nourishing meals, contain natural ingredients, the right amount of spice and complimentary flavors.  Healthy exchanges lack synthetic components, such as exaggerations (except for entertaining stories where no one’s ego is exploited), untruths, and gossip.  Sure, there are times to nibble.  Sometimes one-word replies are more adequate than a bouquet of words circling the point.  And still, other times when the occasional lite fast (no speak) is more rewarding than grazing to fill in the silence with noise, whatever the portion size.

Now, in our relatively new global melting pot, fusion cooking has become part of our diets.  The evolution of fusion speak is not far behind.  Regardless of the mix or whether our spiels are to entertain, explain a position, persuade, inform, or just tell a story, the value of our utterances is determined by the listener’s digestion.  That may involve a feast or a nosh — in either case, keeping in mind the portion size of postulations that exit our mouth is worth the effort.

Post point and note to self: a dialogue containing discernment, even/especially on the fly, about portion size can make a significant difference in the reception of a message.

A new pesky pet

It greeted me New Year’s day, 2018, by nagging me non-stop.

At the garment factory I frequent, a couple of Indian boys visit periodically at the request of their employer (our customer) to perform random quality inspections.  With them, they bring their own eating utensils, including plates.  They are strict vegetarians and won’t eat off of dishes that have ever served dead animal, even if the remnants have been thoroughly washed off.  They also lightly sweep in front of them as they walk so as not to kill any insects.  It’s part of their religious culture and belief.

Who willingly exterminates such cute creatures?

Not to be critical, but the custom and practice aren’t logical.  I could be wrong if the washed plate still harbors negative energy from a piece of flesh that was once there, doing the eater harm (which seems over-the-top far-fetched).  But the practice of sweeping insects from your footpath to avoid squashing them is like saying “I only care about that which I can see, not what I cannot see.”   Science is showing us that the overwhelming majority of life forms are smaller than we can visually detect.  Therefore, this sect of religion must believe that the value of life is dependent on size.  But then again, religious beliefs tend to evolve with scientific discoveries.

Anyway, I digress.  Although I think it’s quite pointless and even silly, to sweep insects from your walking path, I have become softer on the outright massacre of nuisance insects.  Oh, I still annihilate, without regret, groups of small ants that appear in the kitchen, or another part of my home.  But it must be the books I’ve been reading about the connectivity of all sentient beings, that I now tend to leave the errant spider or housefly alone.  I do my best to prevent them spinning webs inside the house or landing on my food, so I shoo them away rather than squash them without thought.

The housefly has followed humans around the globe.

However, the menace who joined my household last week on New Years Day tested my newfound anti-assassination resolve because it seemed particularly attracted to me.  No amount of shooing kept it from landing on my exposed skin.  But I over-exaggerate.  It did give me a short break from every 15-20 shoos.  I tried coaxing it out of the balcony door or the windows but it would not leave.  The weather is pleasant outdoors.  I leave the apartment at every opportunity, so why was the fly so insistent on staying in my small enclosed habitat?  Hmm,…I guess that is why they are called houseflies.  They’ve been following humans around the globe for thousands of years.  They pester us on every continent from the Arctic Circle to the Equator.

Yesterday, after six days in its new digs, my new unwanted pet must have called a few of its cousins.  That kind of turned the corner for me.  Yes, they are sentient beings, but they also carry pathogens.  So I twisted a hand towel and snapped them out.  It took a while and I considered it an exercise in delicacy.  I did my best to scare them away without inflicting pain (I think).  But one remained.  I presume it was the original from one week ago as it had the same pesty insistence.  I thought about leaving it alone, knowing its average lifespan is only 15-30 days; nevertheless, I went about swatting at it with a renewed vigor.  I don’t think I killed it so it appears to have finally left.

Because the temperature is warm, the screen-less balcony door and window stay open when I’m at home.  So sure, one, or more, of those pesky flying insects will invade my apartment soon.  So only time will tell if my restraint will show a newer, softer, and kinder Freddie Spaghetti insect killing machine.

Selflessly Selfie

Rare is the request these days from the errant traveling couple “can you please take our photo?”  We’ve become a world of accomplished selfie takers.  Taylor Swift reportedly commented recently that no one asks for her autograph anymore.  A selfie request is the new signature.

To say that snapping selfies is a new phenomenon is like saying handheld devices are popular.  Yes sure, we’ve taken photographs of ourselves since cameras were invented and self-portraits painted for thousands of years.  But in just the last few, we are witnessing a self-image revolution.

A certain level of self-promotion is wired into our DNA. Nonetheless, the ingredients of the internet, the allure of social media, and functionality of handheld devices with high-end cameras have created a selfie-taking boom that is only beginning to mushroom.  Add to that the intoxicating desire for more, created by the instant feedback loop, and a large segment of humans have evolved to camera loving image specialists.  We are closing in on a world population of almost 8 billion people saying with frequency, “look at me.”

For every web article declaring that this recent self-photo rage is detrimental, there is an equal number arguing that imbibing in the act of frequent self-posing is healthy.  Smart people also disagree whether eating saturated fat is bad or good.  Like the eating fat argument, the health effects of selfie-taking is more complex than a blanket good/bad statement.  The wellness of a self-obsessed mindset may depend on the individual and the selfie purpose.  Narcissistic behavior to one is helpful self-branding and a networking tool to another.

The specialty of Asian girls – the pursed lips look.

Selfies, both the art of taking them and the frequency, will only continue to grow on its current exponential track, so why not get cozy with them.

Since there is no such thing as the ‘present moment,’ photos, especially a selfie, is the best example of us at a point in time.  So we might as well live for the moment and snap away.  We will then be able to review beaucoup selfies with proof that those moments (many, many, moments), actually existed.  Then, when we have ample future downtime, we’ll be able to sift through the stockpile to recall those fleeting micro-seconds.

Even monkeys have gotten into the act of a self-snap.

What would a selfie post be without a selfie?









The Plandid — The planned-candid selfie.

The Plandid — Benjakiti Park, Bangkok, Dec 31, 2017

Why Buddhism is True — a review

Disclaimer:  I am not a Buddhist.  And by admission, neither is the author.

The main title, Why Buddhism is True, is a bit misleading.  Throughout most of the book, the author threads interesting, up-to-date, and digestible logic as to the (potentially huge) benefits of practicing mindful meditation.  As a beginning meditator, Wright’s reasoning was compelling enough to have me hooked from the start.

If only we could all start young with this practice.

But you don’t need to be attracted to meditation to be captivated by the book.  In fairness, Wright does provide an abundance of thought-provoking (no pun) data not only from science, but also from modern psychology which seems to coincide with basic Buddhists concepts of not-self/emptiness, liberation from delusion (how we see ourselves is largely an illusion), and our thinking mind’s “default mode network.”

If anyone is, (shouldn’t we all be), interested in understanding the mechanics behind how feelings shape thoughts, behaviors, and perceptions, and how, through practice, we can become aware of “things in our environment that affect those feelings,” than the book is well worth the investment.  Some feelings, he says “are good guiding lights,” while others can “push us around.”  He provides first-hand examples of how we might successfully manipulate the feelings that may not be benefiting us.

Even Newark’s airport has a meditation room.

Wright speckles the book with his own experiences, mainly with dry, relatable, yet subtlely perky humor.  I found myself laughing out loud several times throughout the book.

The value of meditation, he says, is its use as a fundamental tool, one that enables us to see the stories we build and how we can more clearly separate illusion from truth.  In other words, he says, mindfulness meditation helps us change our perception of the world, even with potentially simple annoyances like crabgrass, the buzzsaw of construction noise, or the impulse to respond to a pricky email.  He also describes the benefit of continued meditation as an evolving capacity of “seeing things with higher resolution.”

The key, he says, through daily practices of mindful meditation, is becoming more aware of “what causes what,” (causality).  But, he explains, the fruits of meditation is more than just awareness.  It’s active learning how to change negative into positive.

The crux of the book and Wright’s principal argument for our feelings, he outlines, is the  “conditioning” of natural selection, which is built into our core from millions of years of evolution.  But many “natural tendencies” which served our species well over time may also be working against us (in our relatively recent, densely populated global community).  He describes, through meditation, how we can “subvert the programming of (the undesirable aspects of) natural selection,” to achieve a measurable, positive impact in our lives and of those around us.  In effect, he is saying that Darwin confirmed the truth behind Buddhism.

After listening to his book (twice) it’s hard not to believe him.