Briana Blasko’s photographs meditate on the relationship between India’s textile and dance traditions. A new gallery feature at TMN showcases photos from her current exhibition “Dance of the Weave”—along with a Q&A by yours truly.
Here is a goal I always have in mind: to read more. People who give advice on goal setting would say it’s not a good goal in that it’s vague and unquantifiable. Read more what? And at which point is “more” enough? Then there’s the issue with quantity vs quality, and so on. But my intention, I just realized, isn’t so much to read more as simply to always be reading.
There were days, weeks, months, over this past year when I read almost continuously from the time I woke up until I closed my eyes again for sleep. Words consumed for both work and pleasure. The year also saw days when I read little more than traffic signs and billboard ads but all in all, “always reading” would be a fairly accurate way to describe my disposition in 2012. Much of that had to do with my acquiring an iPhone. It was (is) rare for me not to have it in hand, or at least within reach (yes, I’m one of those). With the gadget stuck to my palm, I found myself reading everywhere, all the time: waiting for the water to heat up, riding the elevator, in line for coffee. Between the extremes of always having an eye on a screen and not reading at all, I read travel stories, books on design and psychology and cartography, science journalism, poetry, and personal essays galore. I read fiction again (novels!), a genre I had all but neglected for a couple of years, and rediscovered the joy in spending a Sunday morning lost in a story. During that time I also joined the best editorial family on the internet—The Morning News—and consequently read the internet more than ever before. Below are some (far from all) of my favorite pieces from the year, from the internet.
Grace in Broken Arrow, Kiera Feldman
Serial sex abuse at a Christian school in Tulsa and the mechanisms through which church and school leaders repeatedly avoided reporting incidents.
The Siesta, Jackie Kruszewski
Unique glimpse of restaurant culture and the writer’s so-called waitressing addiction.
Writing in the Dark, Kathryn Schulz
Explaining what I like to call ‘nighttiming’—can’t be empathetic enough when I tell others how much I relate to this piece.
How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, Kiese Laymon
Revisiting Jackson, Mississippi, to explore guns and race in America.
The Soul of a City, Matt Goulding
Beautiful, beautiful ode to Palermo. I have never been there nor even thought of the city before reading this piece, but having lived in more than a few less-glamorous, not-so-grand cities myself, I appreciate how Goulding finds the charm therein.
Nobody Says I Love You Anymore, Sarah Hepola
Well-loved TMN piece on the reality of moving back to one’s hometown.
Students’ second favorite question to ask during JACWAP sessions should come as no surprise to anyone who has lived, or even briefly traveled, to India. The
conversation interrogation usually goes like this:
Are you married?
When will you marry, Miss?
I don’t know. I suppose when I find someone I’d like to marry and who also wants to marry me.
Somebody is there?
Oh no, I don’t have someone specific in mind.
Nobody is there?
Not at the moment, no.
[Eyes wide. Mix of giggles and confused chatter.]
After I establish that yes, I am single but no, I am not looking to get married anytime soon, the students usually find another tidbit to discuss.
But rest assured, students aren’t the only ones interested in the marriage and family questions. From colleagues to auto-rickshaw drivers, all have asked the same. When I first began working at school, I had more than a few similar exchanges with teachers, only they weren’t so easy to give up the topic and pressed me to explain my singleness. They asked, What do you look for? But I don’t have a list, I argued. I must be too picky, they concluded.
Yellow wrap ads for Telugu Matrimony dominate many local buses. Around every bend is a dental clinic, and for every dentist there seems to be some kind of (in)fertility clinic to address all your needs, from routine gynecology to IVF (and hopefully not to straight-up woozy talk like gender selection).
Why are Indians, or the ones with whom I’ve interacted, so preoccupied with marriage? Mary Abdo wrote a solid post with insights on this most important question:
Marriage keeps the wheels turning. It is the heart of the family, which is the heart of everything. Marriages seal alliances and deliver babies and offer people a chance to fulfill their key social roles: devoted wife; warm husband; doting grandparent; opinionated auntie.
Leading Junior Achievement (JA) sessions has been a nice reminder of the days when I often said teaching is the best thing. It is! For me, few experiences thus far have felt as meaningful and as uplifting as standing on the leading side of the classroom with a mission: to impart knowledge, to engage a discussion, and (my favorite) to question.
Last month we finally started to deliver JA programs to IDEX-affiliated schools in Hyderabad. We offer two programs so far, and a third one is in the works. JA Mini Factory Model for Classes V and VI invites students to see the material world around them in a different way by considering how things are made and why. The program involves discussion on production and supply chains related to everyday objects like balloons and bubblegum. For Classes VII and VIII, JA Work and Interest goes beyond the product to discussion on services, professions, and how/where certain professions fit into the world of work. That program is the one we aren’t running yet.
Finally, there’s JA Careers with a Purpose, otherwise referred to as JACWAP. Delivered to Classes IX and X students, the objective of JACWAP sessions is to get students thinking about what they’ll do once finished with Class X, namely what factors to consider when deciding a line of work—further education, personal strengths, values, etc.—and how to navigate from textbook knowledge to a fitting job to a meaningful career. The objective isn’t career counseling; the program only aims to motivate and to suggest a decision-making process. I’ve appointed myself one of the JACWAP specialists, a designation I use loosely.
We held the first session at my school—a practice run, really—and it didn’t go as well as I had hoped. The power went out shortly before we got started and didn’t return for the whole session. It was an uncomfortable, sweaty afternoon with 30+ people in that tiny classroom. Students didn’t understand or didn’t engage in some of the prompts. Students were in and out to work on their science fair projects. The class toppers didn’t attend at all because of the science fair, which is one reason the prompts tended to meet silence. See, usually the toppers initiate responses, then others follow. All that said, somehow we left my school feeling like we did something. And a little something is better than nothing, we told ourselves.
G and I discussed ways to improve on the homeward bus. Later I revised the session guide, and we gathered tips to share with future session leaders. during an in-office orientation with fellow fellows.
The next session I led ran more smoothly and felt more engaged. In general students were more willing to contribute to the discussion. With our confidence boosted, each session thereafter felt like a better and better one.
Why do we work?
If you had all the money you needed for your whole life, would you still work?
Questions like these prompt our JACWAP discussion. I came to realize how ironic it is that I would be telling (teaching?) kids about having a purposeful career, while I myself don’t yet have a career and constantly am considering and reevaluating my purpose.
Eventually, inevitably, students swing questions my way as well. Eyes wide and bodies leaning forward, they ask, “Miss, what is your aim?” They want to know what I want to do with my life, what I want to be. I try as best as I can to relay my previous experience, why I took them on, and how I ended up here—in a school on the outskirts of Hyderabad city, with 80 pairs of ears curious about my story.
I don’t mind the interrogation. In fact, I love it. Each time I have to explain my trajectory and intentions is an opportunity to reflect upon my story. In a way running JACWAP is ironic, yes, but at the same time I’d say it’s most appropriate, especially now that I’ve switched to future-planning mode once again. When I feel discouraged, telling the story helps me not only remember but also better understand what I’ve accomplished. And with repetition, it helps to better define my ideal role and location once I leave India.
Yes, teaching is the best thing. Storytelling is the best thing. Engaging these students is the best thing.
In one segment of the JACWAP session, we ask students to write down one to three jobs they’d like to hold in the future. Some students, e.g. at my school, restrict themselves to the predictable choices: engineer, chartered accountant, and Indian police. Other students relay dreams of every profession from Bollywood actor to fashion designer to teacher. Once a diversity of answers populates the blackboard, we ask how they arrived at these choices, how they came to know of these professions even existed. The usual suspects: parents and films. Fair enough.
A few of weeks ago I had the chance to interact with a couple of girls who were especially keen to become medical doctors. When asked which fields within medicine, they named cardiology and pediatrics. Pressed further and asked why, both said, “To help people. My aim is help people, Miss.”
To help people. Cheering you on, kids.
I interviewed abstract artist Arden Bendler Browning for this week’s new TMN gallery.
TMN: What is your favorite mode of transportation?
ABB: Walking when in a city. Driving when traveling long distances. I like having access to public transportation, but I love having independence and freedom to choose my path, speed, and focus.
On Tuesday, D and I treated ourselves to a dinner of burgers and beers at HR in honor of—well—Tuesday. After taking our order the waiter turned back to me and said, “You. You were here before. You were at the Consulate event, yes?” Yes, an event twenty days ago.
“I remember you,” he continued, “You in the blue dress.”
Unsure whether to laugh or smirk, I paused to check D’s reaction, then nodded at the waiter to acknowledge his sharp memory. D cut me off before I could launch into an unnecessarily detailed explanation of why it was ironic and funny to note that dress.
“Just take it as a compliment,” he said. And I did.
I came across this painting and this poem last night. They are unrelated except for how both were on my mind when I woke up, and hereby are presented together.
Jackie Tileston is a Philippines-born painter whose pieces layer multitudes of sources and inspiration, from Chinese landscapes to physics to digital imaging. She currently teaches at the University of Pennsylvania.
I WAS NOT EVEN BORN WHEN YOU KNEW MY NAME
Sometimes when you mean ‘hello’ I carry
you in my left ear for days. You go with me
to the grocery store for arguments
about the most beautiful head of broccoli
and salad. O, gorgeous bird, I dare us to go
on not caring. I have put down color all
over the map this week. Nobody has reached
me with their letters. I feel like two owls caught
with secret binoculars. Which is to say I
feel more than what I am. Which what
am I? Which does it hurt when two
people go on speaking? Call me and say
you are alive again.
— Wendy Xu and Nick Sturm
This morning I sent out Ana, kind soul that she is, to fetch dosa because I arrived at the office late, starving, and with a meeting scheduled. When ordering, she told the guy it was to be a “birthday dosa,” as a joke really, but what he heard was “basket dosa.” Turns out basket dosa—as in, a basket of dosa—is a real thing you can order there, which is to say Ana returned to the office with more dosa and samba and chutney than one person should consume at once and that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I ended up eating a proper breakfast for the first time in ages.
Might as well start the new year right, right? (Right.)
If you were in my neighborhood this evening, and had you been privy to fireworks and firecrackers exploding day and night since Friday, you would describe the decibel level in one word: unbelievable. To which I’d respond, “But this is India, Madam/Sir.” Because you better believe India does nothing if not take her festivals seriously.
Addendum: Video version is here.
Karolle returned from a conference weekend in Goa on the morning of Monday, November 5, 2012. She spent the rest of the week in Hyderabad, tackling the email backlog and following election-related news in moderation. The following interview took place over Skype and morning coffee at the tail end of her first weekend in Marredpally since October rolled in.
Q: Been awhile since we’ve had a proper chat. Where have you been?
K: I took a train south to Chennai for an ultimate tournament, wandered up north during the school holidays, and ventured to Goa for three days at THiNK. Otherwise, I’ve been in Hyderabad frequenting the same ol’ places and passing days with the same ol’ crew.
Q: Tell us about these same ol’ places?
K: The bus, mostly.
Q: And how are your fellow commuters?
K: Apparently cold, though it’s far from autumn weather out there. While I’m still sweating through my kurtas, more and more Hyderabadi now don sweaters and knit hats. The other day, a man seated behind us kept reaching over to try to close the window to keep out the “cold” air. There is a word for this: bullshit.
Q: Got a book on you lately?
K: I read Behind the Beautiful Forevers on the bus ride to Goa because everyone and their mother already read it. This week I started David Rakoff’s essay collection Fraud, and I’m still reading Musicophilia on and off. In Goa last weekend, I got the sudden urge to read aloud and found myself reading poetry to my company over breakfast—an Adrienne Rich poem I scribbled in a notebook last summer. Perhaps I should add a poetry collection to the list, for the occasional read-alouds.
Q: What are you working on now?
K: My intended focus is on teacher development, but at the school owner’s request, these days I spend most of the school hours with students. I don’t find this role—leading a handful of one-time programs versus designing longer-term projects, for more sustainable change (what is “change” anyway?)—to be the most effective use of my time, but there’s give-and-take to any relationship, so here I am being patient and putting in the hours and recalling JRD’s words from time to time:
Every day we’re making those unconscious decisions to let people into our lives that are going to leave an impression, whether it’s in a classroom or not. We aren’t promised that it is going to be mutual, that it’ll last, or that we’ll even be remembered in return … This, however, does not mean that which appears to mean nothing, won’t prove to be more significant in the end.
Q: You recently reached the four-month mark. Did you notice the time passing?
K: I noticed my hair has grown back long enough to braid and there are less capsules in the vitamin bottle.
Q: And what’s next?
K: What’s next is a big question mark. I haven’t considered future plans as intensely as in years past, mostly because in moving to Hyderabad I wanted to give myself the chance to settle, to find community, to feel at home here before dreaming of elsewhere. But of course, anyone who knows me knows I’m always dreaming of elsewhere.
K: For sure, for a time, not indefinitely. Baltimore in May; maybe summer in DC. Reunions here and there, funds allowing.
Q: What do you miss the most?
K: Carrburritos, butternut squash and lentil stews, sweet potato fries, salmon and asparagus with goat cheese, Carolina bbq, pumpkin swirl brownies, carrot cake, spaghetti squash, and—oy vey, ok looks like today’s correct answer is food.
Q: Food is always on your mind.
K: Yes yes. But I’m in India! Plenty here for the palate to explore, right?!
Q: And less risky than China.
K: No mystery meat to question yet.
Q: What’s the latest addition to the Good Things List?
K: That an entry in Jeff’s calendar reads “KAROLLE’S FUCKING BIRTHDAY.”
Q: When was the last time you cringed?
K: Just a bit ago—also known as every time I’m on the internet. But I love the internet.
Q: The internet, eh?
K: Actually noted a few neat things there in my late-night pitter-pattering:
Photos of dhabas in South India // Why flamingos are pink // On the Pill // Thoughtful piece on the history and progress of gay rights in the U.S. // “In South Carolina, barbecue meant strands of pulled pork enlivened by the tanginess of yellow mustard–based sauce.” // And oh, China.
Q: You’re always inclined to share; thank you for that. And thank you for taking the time to chat this morning.
K: No sweat; it’s my pleasure.
Hard to believe two weeks already passed since we returned from our holiday up north, by far the highlight of October. We traveled from Agra into Rajasthan via an evening bus and arrived in Jaipur near midnight. Even in the dark, by the limited sight from the bus window, we knew this place couldn’t possibly disappoint.
LIVE LIKE A MIGHTY RIVER, Ted Hughes
A letter from Ted Hughes to his 24-year-old son Nick.
The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough.
ON THE PILL, Susanna Hislop
Today, 12 years later, I can half remember that feeling. That dumb happiness. What it felt like to be very in love, and to have sex, when I was very young. That my mind could be obliterated … It was a little bit like taking pills. A happy, placid, pregnant sort of ecstasy. It is only much later that I realise I may have been escaping from myself. / … / It is also not until well into my twenties that I stop taking the pill. And that I start to notice an old self coming back: slighter around the hips, angrier around the middle of the month, and yet curiously awake.
Neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert’s session—”Brain Central: Why I’m a Movement Chauvinist”—was one of my favorites from last week’s THiNK conference.
…if this isn’t the most thumbs-upped thing i’ve ever posted to facebook, i don’t what is.
Correction: The second most thumbs-upped thing. I think the first had to do with a cute girl on The T and A’s indecisiveness over whether or not to pass her a note. To the audience’s chagrin, he didn’t.
Less grandly, there may be something to the idea of an affinity between autistics and the Information Age, given that autistics, with their difficulty imagining minds apart from their own, tend to relate better to animals and machines than to people. Online, the off-putting physical manifestations of spectrum disorders are stripped away. Celebrity autistic Temple Grandin has said that “there is nothing out there closer to how I think” than the web, with its structure of associative links. The web is shaping our behavior in “what is broadly a more autistic direction,” argues behavioral economist Tyler Cowen, such as the way it lets us “pursue our identities and alliances based around very specific and articulable interests.