Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Artist's Way List of Ten

A few years ago I did an Artist's Way class. The Artist's Way is a book by Julia Cameron, a New York author and playwright who was once married to the film director Martin Scorsese. The outline of the book and program is fairly simple--you write three pages in a journal every morning (called "morning pages"), go for a weekly walk to stimulate creativity, and have a weekly "Artist's Date" where you do something to support your "inner artist"--such as a trip to a museum, sitting in nature, watching an old movie, or looking at your childhood pictures. The activity itself is totally up to you--the only "rule" is that you do it alone. Cameron's books, which include Vein of Gold and the one I'm reading now, Finding Water (all of these can be found on Amazon) contain other exercises and writings--each program is 12 weeks long. I enjoyed the class, but in the hurly-burly of moving to India, I had forgotten about the books and the process, which can easily be done by simply reading the books and following along. In the last few weeks since I've been home, I have re-discovered Cameron, and have resumed doing morning pages. It is a good way to record the changes I'm going through and feeling, as well as dreams and fragments of dreams, which probably pick up other aspects that are more submerged.

One of the Cameron exercises is listing simple pleasures, ten things you enjoy ("take pen in hand" she writes as a prelude to these exercises). I wish I could find what I wrote four or five years ago--buried in some box no doubt-- to see what has changed in my list of ten, but here they are, and more than a few undoubtedly reflect the effects of repatriation:
1. Sidewalks. What an amazing thing they seem to me after Chennai, where even when you did see them, they were a foot and a half off the ground, interrupted by trees and peeing dogs and men, and located along busy roads where it was impossible to escape the cacophony of horns. Here, despite the ice which makes them hazardous at times, it's a beautiful thing to go for a long walk down tree lined quiet streets.......

2. Podcasts. I could go on and on about what a difference an iPod has made in my life, even since I've returned to the U.S. In India I had a couple of hours a day to listen since I had the long commute, but when I first came back, I struggled to find an opportunity to use it. Now, I work out nearly every day and walk often, so have caught back up on my long list-- The Wall Street Journal, This American Life, Japanese, Hebrew, The Cook and the Chef (a great Australian videocast with lots of scenes of Australian wine and cheese country), and several others. The other day I even learned a new and easy way to polish silver (it's chemistry).

3. Snow. Yes, crazy though it may sound....I'm a true northerner and love the four seasons. Watching the snow come down in gentle flakes with a cup of coffee in hand, Junior purring behind me on her special little "fur trapping" pillow, is a great pleasure.

4. Living less than 2 miles from the zoo (close enough to walk, far enough away not to smell).

5. Driving myself (that is one I would not have written 3 years ago).

6. Cooking again. Last night's creation was a salmon pie with goat cheese, thyme, red onions, and red pepper. A bit too much dill, but otherwise not bad. (My mother and aunt would be spinning in their graves, though, since I use store-bought pie crusts rather than making my own--even without the excuse of time.)

7. Costco. What a great place. And to think I used to mock Marty for the "inventory" we carry at home by virtue of buying things in large quantities.

8. Fresh berries. Blueberries, raspberries and blackberries especially--I'm not such a fan of strawberries unless there is nothing else available. This is by no means a "green" or guilt-free choice---this time of year, the raspberries come from as far away as Chile, most of the others from Mexico. (Bought, of course, from Costco so at least the price doesn't make me feel too guilty, too.)

9. Netflix. Thanks to Harry for this one. Netflix, the online DVD rental store, was just getting started when I left and didn't have the country covered the way it has now. It's very slick, and much more convenient than the brick-and-mortar competitors. If you live in the U.S., check it out. If not--it's probably coming your way, like Starbucks, Amazon, and other American marketing icons.

10. The New York Cook Book. Full of stories--if you want to know about American immigrant history read this book-- and wonderful food. I haven't read or used it for over three years, and am rediscovering.

Maybe this list sounds like I don't miss India. On Sunday, my visa expires, and I've been thinking about that. Another list of 10 in the making......

Monday, February 18, 2008

Detroit Culture and Sunday nights

Using Detroit and culture in the same sentence may seem like an oxymoron, but at least when it comes to the DIA (Detroit Institute of Arts), it 's not. Though probably a little known fact, the DIA is the fifth largest art institute in the country, and has a marvelous collection of Impressionist art as well as classics like the three story murals of the early auto industry painted by Diego Rivera (right). It has recently undergone a major facelift, and Sunday afternoon Marty, Sara and I ventured downtown--it's a nearly straight shot down the historic Woodward Avenue (which dates from 1805) from our house. We enjoyed it a lot.

Sunday, especially Sunday night, is kind of strange for me now. Even when I had jobs I really liked, which fortunately was most of them, I never liked Sunday night. There is something about gearing up for a workweek, like harnessing up (or for those of you old enough to remember, putting on a girdle), that was always a bit stressful --sometimes a lot stressful, depending on what I had on for the week. I never slept as well on Sunday night as other nights, though I can't say that I realized this at the time.
Now, I still get up very early on Monday for a 7 a.m. yoga class, though I didn't this morning because of the weather--very icy here and treacherous on the roads. But going to a yoga class is quite a different thing to look forward to than the start of another workweek. Sunday is pretty much like any other day, and Sunday night is actually enjoyable. Maybe when I get a new job, I'll get one that starts on Tuesday instead of Monday?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Cold, Colder, Coldest

When I was in Chennai we used to say there were three seasons, hot, hotter and hottest. Towards the end of my stay there, the heat really didn't bother me too much--I think your body eventually adjusts and maybe your blood even gets thinner or thicker to compensate. Now I am experiencing the reverse--cold and snowy Michigan winter like I haven't seen since I was a child. Detroit just never gets much snow--but this year it seems like all it is doing is snowing, melting, freezing, and snowing again. On Monday the temperature got down to 4 degrees Fahrenheit--that's about -16 Celsius. Brrr.....I really don't mind the snow--in fact I like it--but don't like the extreme cold that makes it hard to even contemplate going outside.
Our sea shipment was delivered on Monday. Altogether, it took about 2 months from the day I saw it loaded and locked in Chennai on a beautiful sunny afternoon in December to its unloading and unpacking in these subzero temperatures. Everything except one dining room chair, which had a broken leg, arrived intact. It didn't appear that U.S. Customs did more than open the container--nothing was disturbed. So now I'm in the middle of boxes again, though not nearly as many as we had in storage, so it shouldn't take too long. That is the end of the great move. Junior is very happy to be reunited with her favorite chair, so much so that she slept the entire afternoon on it yesterday.
One thing I have noticed since coming back is that despite all the complaints and frustration I had in India about service, here in the U.S. it can also be abysmally poor. Here the issue doesn't seem to be as much about staff turnover--the economy means that people really can't job hop the way they do in India--but competence and attitude. For example, our Verizon account got screwed up on two counts---address and phone features--and it took as much time and psychic energy to get it fixed as it would have in India (and no, it didn't go to a call center there--everything happened right here in the U.S.) In the case of both mistakes, it was simple carelessness on the part of the Verizon staff. Often, I have noticed in service establishments that people seem distracted and inattentive--as if their mind is on something else (which it probably is). And, there is the ubiquitous use of cell phones--even more than when I left three years ago, though this is probably a worldwide phenomena. From our cleaning lady to the moving crew to drivers on the road, people cannot stay off the phone for even an hour. It interrupts everything they do.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Hillary and Barack Show

Today is "Super Tuesday, " and here in the U.S., election fever is high. Now that John Edwards has officially dropped out of the Democratic race, it really IS the Hillary and Barack show (I figure if you are going to call one of them by his/her first name, you should do it with the other). Although you can get the coverage anywhere in the world, it seems more immediate when it's in the same time zone (maybe just an effect of repatriating, though, since, other than the Food Network, I still don't watch television very often). Because I wanted to see the candidates more "in person", I watched the New Hampshire primary debate, though I missed the one in South Carolina, where both of them really showed their fangs. In the last debate in California, they mostly kept the gloves on, and successfully ducked the obvious question--what about a joint ticket?

For a while I have been sitting on the fence, and being thankful that I have the choice between two excellent candidates, either of whom has a high probability of winning. The two are fairly close on the issues--other than some differences on health care, not a lot to choose between them here as far as I am concerned. Hillary is clearly the more experienced and managerial of the two--I find her answers on Iraq withdrawal to be much deeper and realistic, for example, than Barack's-- but Barack is the more charismatic and persuasive, and I definitely suffer from the "yes-she's-qualified-but-I-just-don't-LIKE-her" syndrome. In the weeks since I've been home, with so many more opportunities to be exposed to these two candidates, I've remained conflicted. Two weeks ago, The New York Times endorsed Hillary, but the following weekend, there was an op-ed piece by Caroline Kennedy endorsing Barack that has me leaning a lot more his way than I was. I thought this article was very well written, and more than this, it speaks to what I have observed here since coming back: people feel that the country has lost its way, and desperately needs new and inspired leadership. Who can best deliver that? That's what I think it's going to come down to, in the end.