Tag Archives: blogging

Change is good

I spent most of last evening creating a new home for this blog.

I’ve wanted, for a while now, to have a special place for it that I could customize. Having had more than a constant month of blogging behind me, I figured I was ready to make the switch.

Some people have been joking about me having a mid-life crisis (what with a nose piercing and coloring my hair red in the last month), but I think these are just some things I’d always thought of doing and for some reason kept putting off.

Fear of change hiding timidly behind all those excuses.

Having a website was one of those “aspirations” and today I take the plunge.

By next week, I will have figured out a redirect, so any visitors to this blog can automatically be transferred to the new site without any clicking.

I’m initiating and embracing all these changes in my life.

Small as they are, they make me happy.

Thanks for stopping by and I look forward to seeing you in my new online abode.

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Filed under Cool, writing

An inquiring mind

A couple of my posts in the recent past have triggered some “interesting” in-person/offline reactions — people have said that I am “too philosophical” or that I “want to live in an ideal world.”

I’ve been told some of these issues don’t concern them (or me, for that matter) and never will … so why bother?

Why spend time trying to tackle issues that will never arise? Why not just let things be? Why ruffle feathers? Why advocate for change when this is what it is? Why not just “enjoy life” and “take it easy”?

Why do I look for answers where there are none? Why do I keep pushing people out of their comfort zones? Why do I espouse debate?

They tell me to lighten up. To act my age. To have some fun in life.

I ask them: Why not just stop thinking all together?

What is the point of getting an education that stresses on using one’s critical thinking skills if you’re not willing to use them? Actually, what’s the point of education, even?

Why not just go with the flow, stop asking questions, and propagate the status quo?

Complacency is so easy. So is conformity.

But is that all we want of our lives? That which is convenient?

Even if we don’t really believe in social stereotypes, just shut up and assimilate?

Because it is what it is?

I ask questions because I have a thinking mind. I wonder, I fear, I suspect, I marvel, I doubt.

I seek to be a better person. I hope to be the source of some improvement, no matter how miniscule.

I don’t think everything is right the way it is.

And I think we dwell so much on insignificant things that those that really matter get sidestepped.

Those of you who read these blog posts and tell me to enjoy life: you are a privileged lot. You have the mental faculties, the education, and the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of those who don’t.

So, to you I say, grow up.

I use my writing to probe. To analyze. To connect with a larger audience.

I am not about to squander it for posting trivia. I am not here to entertain. I am here to start a dialogue — even if it is with yourself.

I am here to express my appreciation of this life and the world we live in. I am here to comment on the beauty and the ugliness of it all.

I am here to be honest.

I am not sober and thoughtful all the time. I know how to have fun. But I cannot live the obsequious life. Or the smug life.

This blog is a reflection of who I am — it is a tapestry of many different emotions.

It’s like a car ride through different terrains. We’ll admire the natural beauty, honk through the urban setup, and even stop for ice cream along the way, but the journey is going to be bumpy and uncomfortable at times.

Hop on if you’d like to stretch those mental muscles.

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Spreading sunshine

Yesterday, Anahid presented me with the Sunshine Award — a ray of sunshine in my otherwise sullen day 🙂

The Sunshine Blog Award is awarded to bloggers whose positivity and creativity inspire others in the blogosphere.

Sunshine Award guidelines:
Put the logo on your blog in your post.
Pass the award onto 12 bloggers.
Link the nominees within your post.
Let the nominees know they have received this award by commenting on their blogs.
Share the love and link to the person from whom you received this award.

At Anahid’s gracious behest, here are my 12 “inspirers” in alphabetical order:

  1. Aine — The Evolving Spirit
  2. Beth — Hope’s Breath
  3. Bill — Journey to Joy
  4. Dave — Dave’s Buttoned-up Mind
  5. Jacqui — Uplift Antidote
  6. Jen — Loquaciously Yours
  7. Katherine — Lessons from the Monk I Married
  8. Ken — Oooooh… Shiny!
  9. Lena — The Colors Magazine
  10. Marcime — Belly Up
  11. Tirzah — A Clever Whatever
  12. Tony — Artisan of the Human Spirit

Onward…

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Filed under Cool, writing

Writing is all about editing

One of the most critical aspects of writing is often the one most overlooked: editing. Everyone thinks they can write. But there is a difference in writing, and writing well. That difference is where the editor comes in.

Looking to trim unnecessary words, making expressions stronger, paraphrasing quotes, moving critical information to the top, ending with a punch — the editor looks at the written piece with new eyes. Critical ones.

Weeding away the fluff. Polishing the rough edges. Making the piece sing.

It’s hard to retain the voice of the writer and yet capture the essence of an article. What’s harder is editing your own content.

I’ve been trained in school and on the job to never let the first draft be the final one. I write my initial thoughts. Build a structure. Fill in all the details. And walk away.

Re-reading what I’ve written a day, or sometimes even a couple of hours, later helps me finesse it. I can usually make it sharper. Add some interesting visuals. Make sure it all holds together well.

Then I think of a title that sums up the piece. And subheads that will move it along forward if it’s a lengthy article or blog post.

Finally I proofread. I’ve learned that relying solely on a spellchecker isn’t worth the time you save.

For my blog posts, I then add tags, choose categories, and, after a little bit of trepidation, hit the Publish button.

Even though this is an informal platform, it’s important to not let the quality of your writing lapse. It doesn’t matter what or why you write or blog —  editing takes your writing from a collection of thoughtful expressions to effective communication.

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Not wired 24/7

What is the first thing you do when you wake up? Stretch a little, drink a glass of water? Rub your eyes and will your body into leaving the warmth of the bed?

That used to be me, a couple of years ago. I’d lie curled under my Jaipuri quilt, gazing out the window — sunlight streaming through the oak leaves, the sound of finches going about their daily business.

And then something changed.

My head propped against two pillows, still not quite awake, I would reach for my laptop, slowly open my eyes and stare at thousands of updates from bloggers, friends, and journalists around the world.

While I waded through the tweets, plurks, tumblelogs, Flickrs, Jaiku activity streams, Facebook and Plaxo Pulse updates, I was also e-mailing colleagues and speeding through RSS feeds in my customized Google Reader. I would spend the first 20 minutes every morning scrambling through the noise of Web 2.0.

Thanks to my iPhone, I could also carry the “noise” with me. As I scanned through another 1,ooo+ unread news items, I munched on my mix of pumpkin seeds and flax granola mixed with rolled oats and Cheerios.

My Bluetooth device in place, I would step out to catch the shuttle that would ferry me over to the light rail station a mile away. During the 40-minute commute, I would access my social networking updates through FriendFeed, continue scanning news items and sharing the ones I liked with friends,  tweet about the crowd in the train, and review work e-mails.

I had become a cyborg.

Even though at heart, I’m more of a floppy-disk than a thumb-drive person, I had been swallowed by the “need” to keep up with the millennials. Just so, I could feel relevant.

I didn’t have a cell phone until my first job in India at age 23 and we got around just fine by using pay phones, writing letters (yes, that’s right – handwritten letters on paper that we mailed), and meeting people face-to-face.

I distinctly remember when we sat around as a family to watch the one public television channel that was broadcast from 5 to 10 p.m. on our black and white TV.

That was it.

There was no pay-per-view, or 300 channels to choose from and we couldn’t “log on” to watch YouTube videos.

We read books for entertainment, we had real-time conversations at the dinner table instead of texting our friends while chomping down a meal, we went out and played softball, cricket and badminton (not as a structured activity, but for fun!) and we waited while the phone rang and rang and rang until it got disconnected.

And then we called again.

But things have changed – and drastically so. For today’s kids, being wireless is the norm, texting is the new e-mail, and voice messages have always existed. Even the two-year-olds throw a “regular” phone away in favor of swiping their index finger rapidly on an iPhone screen!

Now we have this ever-pressing need to be “connected” — not just online — but actually actively socializing on Facebook, LinkedIn, Orkut, Buzz, Habbo, hi5, Foursquare, Xanga or a plethora of other services.

I have 378 friends on Facebook and 162 people in my Orkut network — 99.9 percent of them are people I have met and known at some point in my life.

I love the fact that I can look at their profile updates, go through their public photos and scroll through their Walls or Scrapbooks to see what’s going on in their lives. But not everyone has this policy of “friending” — most social network users open up their network to strangers — that’s the whole point, they say, of networking!

And don’t even get me started on Chatroulette — the latest fad that pairs random strangers for Webcam-based conversations. Eek!

For me, the internet has made it a lot easier to keep in touch with family and friends. But when it starts becoming more real than the reality of your life, it’s time to take a timeout.

And that’s what I have done.

I log on to Facebook thrice a day: once every morning to check on friends’ updates and ask my question of the day, then sometime in the afternoon to post an update of this blog, and then for half an hour at night to beat my opponents at Bejeweled Blitz.

I’ve stopped following Twitter as rampantly and phased out all the other services that hogged my time and attention, leaving me no time to think. Just consume. Reams and reams of unstoppable information.

I’ve whittled down my Google Reader subscriptions to the ones I will actually read, not keep saving to pore over “some day.”

Now, I take a minute, sometimes two, to appreciate being alive to see another morning before “plugging in.”

I watch the weather and traffic reports while eating breakfast and listen to the radio during my commute.

Sometimes I take a break from the distant chatter in the background and just hum.

I like being able to think critically, stretch my mental muscles, and analyze, not just observe, what is. I like being able to share something meaningful. And as much as I want to be in step with the times, I’m not going be so obsessed with documenting irrelevant updates that I lose touch with reality.

I don’t want to be one of those people for whom events become real only when they tweet about them.

Maybe I’m just getting “old.”

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A record of our life, our times, our vanity

Spicy Saturday Pick

What does blogging do for you?

Is it a forum for tips?

A place where you reflect and have conversations with yourself?

A safe haven; an escape?

A commentary on social, political, economic issues of our times?

A minute-by-minute record of your personal life? A journal that was meant to be personal, but really isn’t?

Do you have one eye on the traffic stats and the other on the number of comments you received?

Isn’t your blog like a monologue that you stage for your audience? Craving recognition, applause, critique, and fame?

Watching  “Private Lives,” an episode in the long-running Fox series “House”  got me wondering about the purpose of blogging.

The show is based on an eccentric genius of a doctor with no interpersonal skills but plenty of diagnostic ones. This particular episode focused on a patient whose life revolved around blogging. Thinking about having kids? She’d blog about it. Had an argument over dinner with the boyfriend? It’s going on the blog. Seeking comfort? Yep, you got it! Read the blog.

Here’s a snippet from her life:

She: So-and-so said you’d react this way.

He: Who is this so-and-so?

She: It’s one of my followers.

He: You blogged about this?

She: Of course I did!

He: I don’t want you writing about me or us. You take it down right now.

She: No I’m not. You’re part of my life and that’s what I blog about. I blog about my life.

He: You like bringing strangers into our life? To weigh in on things they don’t even know about?

She: They give me perspective.

She was so obsessed with blogging that when the doctors asked her to choose between a pig’s heart valve or a plastic one, she turned to her boyfriend and said, “Can you please pass me the laptop?”

Here was a woman seeking advice from people halfway across the globe instead of taking a moment to think about this life-altering decision for herself or conferring with her significant other.

When she was being prepped for the operation, she asked her boyfriend if he’d still be there when she woke up. He kept quiet and she wistfully said, “I wish you’d blog. At least then I’d know what you were thinking.”

I know this was an extreme portrayal, but it brought to fore an important point. How far removed are we from the people we live with, work with, interact with? And how close are we getting to those physically a world away?

The internet is a great thing — it’s brought so many people together, but at the same time is it increasing the gulf between those who live under the same roof? Have we become slaves to technology? And so much so, that before we open our mouth to talk to someone standing next to us, we look for a keyboard?

For those of us who blog, does every real-life conversation become fodder for the next post? Are we always thinking about what would resonate with the readers? Is this an attempt on our parts to record our lives and our times, or is it just a reflection of our vanity? An endeavor to feed our ego? To rally the troops in favor of our ideas? To find like-minded people?

I see my blog as a medium to spur conversations — not necessarily with me, or with people in your lives, but with yourself.

I put my thoughts in words, so that my words can spark some thoughts in your mind.

So, yes, as much as I say I write for myself, I am inadvertently writing for an audience.

And while stats and comments don’t matter per se, it’s encouraging to have a readership to validate this undertaking.

But I tread these waters carefully. Not treating my partner or friends as characters in this “play.” Not getting swallowed into virtual existence. Not treating this space as a personal diary that will serve medical practitioners with valuable information some day.

This is not where I “live” my life.

What about you?

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Civility: A golden rule

Sitting across the board room conference table you have a disagreement with your colleague — do you shout and tell them to shut up because you know you’re right?

Do you stand up defiantly, raise your hand, and say, “You are useless. You have no idea what you’re talking about. Get out!”

Do you cross your arms against your chest and with piercing eyes, say, “So what? I don’t give a damn!”

Do you attack their personal beliefs, drag their marriage or sexuality into your rant, and shower profanities?

Do you stuff your fingers in your ears as they start to speak and run around the room going “La la la la la la la la”?

No.

You would probably try to rationalize in a calm voice. You would most likely say something like, “I guess you’re trying to say ABC, but hear me out because I’m saying XYZ.”

You would, if you were talking about something diametrically against their point of view, perhaps even go to the extent of saying, “You are looking at this from your perspective, but the way I see it…”

Maybe you’d count to 10. Think and rethink before you blurt out. Wonder if it’s belaboring a point and a waste of everyone’s time.

Maybe you’ll even put yourself in the other person’s shoes and decide to give them another chance.

What you wouldn’t do is call the person names or even obliquely try to drag any personal issues, theirs or yours, into that professional conversation.

There is something that holds you back from shouting like a two-year-old and having your voice heard. Something that tells you it’s inappropriate. Something that restrains you from being rude, uncivil, impolite, and crass.

It may be the fear of getting fired. Or being judged. Or just holding a high personal and professional standard. It might also be an ingrained part of your being that came from a good education.

You might disagree completely with a person, but you wouldn’t be uncivil.

In most cases, the same behavior transfers to personal relationships.

Maybe you fight a little harder, show your emotions more openly, point fingers, and sulk with your loved ones. But even then, you don’t intentionally, at least, disrespect them. You try not to generalize and either try to bring the argument to a resolution or agree amicably to disagree in favor of living under the same roof peacefully.

But when it comes to conversations on the Internet — be it instant messages, responses to “controversial” status updates or tweets, or even blog comments, that something that keeps us civil in other settings doesn’t seem to apply.

Don’t get me wrong — most people are as courteous in their written communication within the social media sphere as they are in real life, but there are a significant number that shock me with their smuttiness.

They hurl abuses. Get personal. And stray off-topic just to show a person down.

No restraints. No courtesy. No room for agreement.

No room for anything except their point of view.

And not all of them hide behind the cover of anonymity either. When they post something extremely offensive in response to an NPR report on Facebook or tweet a rude personal, albeit public, comment to a Washington Post reporter, their names and Twitter handles are visible to all. Yet, they somehow feel protected. For some reason the intertubes provide them with a notion of safety. Of being untouchable.

This is where they can give someone their piece of mind. Someone they don’t even know. Someone they’ve probably never met … and never will.

Maybe that is the crux of the issue…

The fact that this “someone” is “somewhere” in the ether — a real person but with no real significance.

Someone who they don’t have to interact with on a daily basis. Someone who they are never going to get close to. Someone who doesn’t really matter to them.

And if they don’t matter — heck, why care about them? Why bother with being civil? Why spend time being polite? Why not just dump all your angst on this person and move on … to your next target?

It’s easy.

And I guess that’s why people uninhibitedly curse on the road or flip off motorists. They don’t know ’em, so how does it matter?

But isn’t this behavior the most telling of one’s character? Doesn’t this devil-may-care attitude and crassness online reflect on who they are as a person more than anything else? The internet just brings out their true nature. This is the real them — callous, close-minded, narcissistic, stubborn men and women who refuse to acknowledge the existence of another perspective. They will argue to death with a stranger who “doesn’t matter,” so to speak, just to satisfy their egos.

And if you’re on the receiving end of such bashful commentary, what do you do? Do you also stoop to their level to show them who’s the man? Or do you take the high road?

It’s easy to get sucked into the rudeness spiral. But, just as in real life face-to-face confrontations, you control your actions online. Just as you wouldn’t flip off someone you know, just as you would tell someone being rude to you that it’s inappropriate and you don’t appreciate it — you ought to be the calm, rational, composed person online.

I’m not advocating taking crap from anyone, but don’t lose your decency.

You’re better than that.

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Also posted on Writers Rising.

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