Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dear blog letter

Subtext for the slight in(s)anity that is to follow:

How can an inanimate object, an object so abstract and without dimension make me feel so BAD??

Yes, this blog guilts me OUT! Not a day goes by that I don't think to myself 'I must write something on my blog'. And then I promptly tuck, shelf, brush that thought away....

And then sometimes well meaning friends (you know who you are) casually mention my blog and the guilt rises again- I imagine it lying there- unloved, empty, neglected and forgotten. So I just need to get this off my chest.

Dear Blog,

Happy New Year. How have you been? It's been a while since we talked and I don't want you to think it's because I've forgotten you. I've just been avoiding you a little.

Blog- I know you still exist. In face I miss you. We had some great times and this time last year was amazing- exciting and fun. All my friends loved you too. And yes, stuff has happened recently that I should tell you- I went to Brazil- to a whole another continent- but the fact is , I can't be bothered to tell you about it. If it makes you feel better, I don't even care about the pictures (gasp!).

Something's changed between us. I just need some space from you right now, ok? Stop looking at me like that...

The thing is, there's something else that's on my mind now. And to tell you the truth I'd much rather shelve and push you away than this other thing.

Sure, you're easy and with you I can be myself. You never make my head hurt- but that's not enough, blog! Yes, you're more fun but the other thing is serious. When things aren't going right it makes my head hurt BAD. It offers me a future, something substantial. Don't you want that for me?

Maybe I can have it all- eventually... who knows? Maybe this letter is what it's going to take to make me realize how much I value you. But right now, tonight, I need to go where my head is telling me, blog.

Right now I have to write this dissertation/damned conference paper/long-abandoned paper for publication. Yes, there's more than one competitor for my attention. I'm sorry.

So.....I hope you understand if I appear distant. No hard feelings, ok?

I'll be seeing you around.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The tunes, they are changing...

I'm currently listening to Jay Z's 2001 masterpiece of an album The Blueprint. I don't actually own the full album- I'm streaming it from a website called lala which allows me to listen to almost anything I want, for free. No wonder the record industry, like the newspaper one, is dying. Yet, it has never been easier to listen to a variety of music and discover new artists and sounds than today, just with a google search. If I wanted to listen to yemeni folk music (like my roommate sometimes does) I could do it in a second and if I wanted to listen to amateur covers of John Mayer (shoot me now) I could watch the fools on youtube do that too.

Consider the following:
10 years ago we didn't have Itunes, the ipod (or at least not everyone had one), streaming music, downloads of singles. When you wanted to hear a song you had to wait for it to come on the radio or TV or get a friend to burn it for you- now we just google it on youtube and its always there to send and share via a quick link copy-pasted. We still had music videos on MTV and when you wanted to buy an album- you got to go to a store and buy the whole thing. We didn't have the ability to carry around thousands of songs in a device the size of a cigarette pack.

It's incredible when you think about it, isn't it? Well, i'm not the only person doing this kind of pondering. As the decade draws to a close (less than 20 days people), a lot of this collective reflection is bound to happen and is already coming out. I've been listening to and reading some really interesting pieces on the transformation of music in the 'aughts' (what are we going to call the next decade? I plump for the 20-somethings). When you reflect on it the 'aughts' completely revolutionized how we listen to, buy, share and experience music (I'm talking mostly about pop music here).

NPR's All songs considered (a show that I like to make fun of for its pretentiousness and predictably obscure indie sensibility but that I neverthless respect for its erudition) did a great show on just this topic called the Decade in Music. Their focus was primarily on the impact of technology and the way our relationship to music has changed thanks to the internet and the ipod. Slate's Cultural Gabfest also did a segment on how music has changed- but their focus was more on the kind of musician that exemplifies the aughts. For them this is the era of women pop stars (Beyonce and Britney being the queens but also others such as Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift etc exemplify this trend). interestingly they say that even male stars like JT or Kanye fit with this feminization of music. These men are not making macho and MALE music - gone are big rock anthems or grungy sensibilities. JM of course typifies this, as fans and detractors alike would note.

The main themes that came out of it were as follows:

Technology - basically the ipod and itunes- (and with it the isolation of listening to music)- its true, I look forward to walking to school alone so I can listen to my ipod and sometimes when I run into someone I know a part of me feels a twinge of irritation at having to switch my ipod off. Sad but true. (I don't mean you of course, I mean other people.)

The revival of the single/the death of the album- Again holds true for me. The last album I bought was Battle Studies but before that I can't think of a full album that I actually bought. But then, I've always been into picking and choosing songs.

Downloading music versus buying it physically or even paying for it- I tend to pay for my music because I like supporting artists but hey, I'll cop to the occasional dicey download. This also has resulted in a dramatic change in what a best selling album means- Michael Jackson sold 40 million copies of Thriller whereas a No. 1 Album today would sell a couple of million cd's.

Fragmented taste
s - it's never been easier to find music you like and share with a select group of people but this means there are fewer truly widely shared artists- hence the nostalgia for MJ earlier this year.

I would add to this one more thing- the instant availability of music and the expectation of instant access. No longer do you have to wait for an album to come out or make the trip to a store to buy it. It leaks even before you can avert your eyes (or ears if they can be averted). Songs are instantly available and what's more you can tell the artist- via twitter or something - just what you thought about it. What are we losing in the process of such instant access? Perhaps a sense of appreciation of what goes into the creation of music? The wonder of it all?

Also, as one of the discussion points said, and this fascinated me- you can indulge every nostalgic moment you have immediately. No songs are ever just lost or gone- they're on youtube. Hell, you can even use your phone to identify a snatch of a tune that's stuck in your head or playing in a grocery store. Kind of great, but also sort of sad...

Of course it's not inevitable - Heather was telling me that she still listens to albums, doesn't use her ipod in public etc. But I have a feeling she's a rarity. It is interesting to see how much of what I take utterly for granted now is really quite new and to think that even someone as comparatively low-tech as me does all these things in a blink of an eye. And it feels like I've always done it this way.


What changes have you experienced when it comes to music? Do tell...

p.s. Later this month I will discuss and set up my best of the decade contest- so more musical musings are coming and there are sure to be embarrassing revelations like just how many times I have listened to that n'sync song!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Diplomat's Daughter- the blog, not moi

Before there was lightlight, there was the diplomat's daughter. That's right- my sister has decided to revive her blog three years (THREE years!!!) after she stopped writing it. When we last saw our heroine she was a culture-vulture type at JNU, remarking on the many oddities around her and wondering if she would ever get her transcripts. In the 3 years since she moved continents twice, got married (yup, married) and has that elusive thing I call a JOB (these awesome things that I want one day when I grow up). She spends her days educating and growing the bright young minds of tomorrow. So basically there's going to be a lot for her to write about...

This makes me happy for three reasons:

First, she's back. She always has thoughtful, if mildly intimidating, things to say.

Second, it gives me hope that someone can revive a blog 3 years after it died. 3 years!!! So fret not wandering through readers- there is hope yet.

Three, now there is more of us to read- if one of us is slacking, the other can pick up it up.

So wander over, won't you? But remember, always, where you came from.

p.s. inspired by my sister- I shall also work more on this blog. And there is plenty of exciting stuff to come in the next few weeks- for instance a trip to BRAZIL! woo hoo!! And the second attempt at baking and JM heart stealing glory...And of course copious entries and notes on the tremendous progress on my dissertation chapters. (what's that laughter I hear?)

Stay tuned friends- the party is just getting started....

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Discreet Charms of Indian Terrorism Redux

Lets imagine you arrive late for a flight and it is too late to check in. What should your friends do?
Maybe pick you up from the airport?
Offer you a place to stay?
Help you catch the next flight?

This friend went a step further...

Wow- talk about a committed friend...please note my friends- I do not expect this kind of support from any of you. Ever.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


So this is the time of year that all my American (and some Canadian) friends gather around lots of delicious food with family and friends to rest, relax and perhaps give thanks. I've been fortunate enough to be invited to people's houses every year- it's one example of one of the nicest things about America and Americans- their generosity towards (relative) strangers.

Last year was a bad thanksgiving- I stayed home and watched a live stream of the terrorist attacks that were happening in Bombay. It was hard to be thankful for anything when confronted with such terrible images and thoughts. This year, I shall go to a couple of events and partake of all the great food that thanksgiving brings and hang out with various friends. But it struck me that in all these years I've been here, I've never actually said thanks at any of these gatherings. Do people still actually do that?

So this evening, on the eve of thanksgiving, I say to myself- why not? Why not give a thanks or a semi-public shout out to all the things I'm grateful for this thanksgiving? Because things that you are thankful for can disappear, as is the case with the sandwich I blogged about so lovingly last year. Gone. Just like that. So in memory of that sublime sandwich, here- in no particular order are the things I'm thankful for this thanksgiving season.

First, before I get to the fun stuff, there's some serious thanking. I could skip it but it wouldn't be right...

1. I'm thankful for my family- my parents, my sister and her husband. First and foremost. No need to elaborate here but not a day goes by that I'm not thankful for them at some level.

2. I'm grateful for my friends and the people in my life (who are not my friends, haha). One of the nicest things about Syracuse, as chanbong and I were talking about yesterday, is the people here. I am surrounded by kind, intelligent, committed, thoughtful and surprisingly funny people- all engaged in an enterprise that is truly collective, when it so easily couldn't be. It is unusual, specially in notoriously competitive and isolated grad school, to have bonds and friendships like we do and it shouldn't be taken for granted. Special shout out to my room mates: they're awesome- as room mates of course but also as great friends. They do things like make stellar pesto and coffee and patiently teach me about music theory and football :)

3. I'm thankful for being reasonably well off (yes, I said that) and having the support system I do. Yes, I'm a poor grad student who's going to look for a job during a recession hit job market etc etc but I recognize my many privileges and rich experiences. Ok, so I can't make an impulse buy impulsively (Kindle anyone?) or take vacations abroad but is that really such a bad thing? Not at all!

4. Finally, this is weird... but I'm thankful for being able to see the funny side of things. In my head there resides a sarcastic person who's constantly coming up with dark little one liners that I chuckle at- whether I'm gushy or happy or miserably sad. (The voice is currently mocking and smirking at the mawkishness of this post but I'm ignoring it/her.)

ok, now on to the fun stuff...I'd like to publicly declare my thanks for:

my computer, cell-phone and ipod supposedly we lived simpler lives before these but really, I can't remember what I did before that...

Netflix/Jet Blue/Wegmans- the holy triumvirate of companies. All the others- learn from these 3 companies.

( this is commercial but hey, it's America- thanksgiving is after all followed by Black Friday)

This American Life- every week I am moved, enriched or emotionally touched in some deep way by this radio show. A radio show! In 2009! Who would have thought?
(This is a good time to just say thanks to whoever came up with the notion of a podcast. Thanks, have a slice of pumpkin pie on me.)

City Walks- I walked a 100+ blocks in New York last Tuesday. Why? Because I don't get to roam, really wander in Syracuse. Sure you can walk in a park ...but there's nothing compared to walking in a great, really alive city with the rush of people and experiences coming at you. So when I get an opportunity to do it, I do it. Thankfully.

John Mayer - if you're surprised by this, then I say "Welcome to my blog stranger!"

Blogs- I know how hard it is to find the motivation and inspiration to write a blog- it's a bit of a struggle, as you may have gathered if you've taken an interest in mine. Granted that most of the blogs I read have a readership of thousands of people but still, the ability to come up with interesting things to say every day or week is not to be underestimated. A blog, a really good blog, is a thing of beauty. It has the personal impact of reading someone's diary but then directs you to learn about things you would not have found on your own. It is snarky but also deep- it gives you an entertaining, informative and sometimes moving window into someone's life without the commitment to have to deal with them. Basically, the ideal meaningful relationship.

Days I don't brood/worry These are RARE but lovely.

Freedom- of course, freedom by itself is a good thing. I am thankful for being able to (to a large extent) travel, aspire for opportunities and live and learn with people regardless of my national, racial or gender characteristics. This is not so for everyone of course so it is something to be profoundly grateful for.I'm also happy to be free in other ways today. But right now I'm referring, more shallowly, to the application.

There's a lot more that comes to mind (like that sandwich) but that'll just make this a 'things I like' post and that's not what this is. This strange mix of the deep and the shallow are the things that I'm most thankful for tonight, as I am now.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

When you're not in the mood to write, just show. After all actions speak louder than words right?

So- funniest thing I've seen for a while and I don't even know why

ah that Conan!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Free Hugs

I spent part of yesterday at our annual neighborhood cultural fair. I've been a couple of times- the offerings are typically somewhat uneven but the palpable good will and warmth overcomes that easily. You always run into friends, buy a trinket or two and wander home in a pleasant state of mind.

I was wandering around (there's a lot of wandering on this blog) with my friends and taking in the fair- checking out small stalls selling identical looking beaded necklaces and African inspired bags etc., when I saw something heart warming. There in the midst of cliche-confirming sad looking clowns, bustling food vendors and an assortment of vaguely left leaning booths and kiosks (holistic healing! vegan soap! peace councils etc.) was a young guy - probably in his late teens- holding a sign that said 'free hugs'.

At first this struck me as the kind of typically well meaning but slightly hokey thing that just would happen at this festival. But as I watched the small vestige of my cynicism faded away. As the guy stood there in the middle of the street, with his cardboard sign aloft, people of all ages, shapes, colors approached him smiling. Some impulsively rushed into his arms, while others debated it in their heads before shyly going forward. Some looked smilingly self conscious or had to be goaded by friends, while others were hugging him almost the second they saw him. Some did a short half hug, joking about it even as they made contact and others held on for a tight long while. Older people were most forthcoming, while younger people- specially teenagers that were closest to the guys age were the most self conscious. Groups of teenage girls giggled and watched but were too shy (refreshingly shy) to approach.

Through it all the guy stood smiling- saying little. He looked peaceful and somehow wise despite his boyish face and unremarkable clothes.

People broke away and hurried or strolled along their way, laughing at the experience. Everyone looked uplifted in some sense - even the ones that had started ironically.

There was something transformative about the scene playing out- for all its hokeyness, or how contrived it could have been- the simple act of hugging someone, without any expectations, looked utterly warm.

I was transfixed by the sight- for reasons I can't fully understand and that my friends were also bewildered, or at least bemused, by. I don't even know why I'm writing about it now but I know I could have watched those small human interactions for hours. Suddenly these gestures that one only reads about in hipster stories made sense to me. It got me thinking about how these small gestures matter in our ever more isolated and compartmentalized existence. What would it be like to magnify that effect somehow- how could one translate the idea of 'free hugs' in some larger, meaningful sense? Sounds ridiculous even as I write it...

Anyway, that's neither here nor there.

All I'll say is that it was charming.

So, did I hug him?

No I didn't - (though I did commend him on his willingness to take on such an enterprise in swine flu season).

I'm not sure why I didn't go up for my free hug ...but he touched me all the same.