Acceptable life

Why is it that people want different things and yet follow a typical pattern? Why is it more accepted to want what everyone wants? We are likely to have a genetic composition that predisposes us towards wanting social approval, or society can’t have evolved to the extent it has. Altruism is only seen in genetically linked social creatures, like bees and ants. Even so, our superior intellect should have evolved to want something more – a ‘deeper meaning’ at much larger a scale than what I see around me..  All we seem to be capable of doing with the intellect is devising new ways of making money or rather abetting fraud or just follow a herd mentality. The mentality that is being perpetrated generation after generation. So that the what we call life, is just an ‘acceptable’ form of living. With very few who wander to places undefined, territories uncharted in the handbook of ‘How to live a Perfect, (acceptable )life‘.

We are even now constantly selecting for such combination of genes that would enhance and perpetuate just this. As getting married and having kids is high in priority for people who decide early that they want what their parents had, nothing more, nothing less and nothing different (other than technology).
Working as a volunteer for the rights of adivasis or minorities, discovering a drug, appear far, far down in the list of approved activities, if they appear at all, leaves little time to procreate and perhaps doesn’t go very well with good parenting- and therefore if there are ‘altruistic’ genes that make a heart break looking at someone else’s plight- they are going to be lost to the population in general. Acceptable life demands being selfish, as your family, your kids and your life must come first as duty.  In this life, there is no room for ‘bad’ things that hurt you and yours and that includes any repercussions of your actions that may have made thousands homeless and some more victimized.
What about dealing with the certainty of death? In the US, death is considered to be bad, in fact any american reading this, will probably exclaim, who doesn’t think death is bad? And how could it not be bad? In giving the ‘acceptable’ life to those who can afford it, we nonchalantly, or unknowingly or regretfully and even perhaps reluctantly deal a unpalatable life to the others, who are rarely seen and never heard.
For them, death could be preferable. Abject poverty amidst a state of complete chaos and no respect for life or the living, for honor  is not acceptable, but millions of people globally continue to live it. Where one is realistic and still ‘human’ enough to know that there is no way out. No light at the end of the tunnel. Or when life has taken every glimmer of hope or happiness. When you have no home, no family and the option is to kill others and join the army of a tyrant to survive or perish at the hand of another 9 yr old – 19 yr old- if the nine year old has ever known real love, he/ she would probably prefer to die than live such a jaded life. The operative phrase being ‘known real love’. Clearly, if you have not, then you can be taught to believe anything, fly any flag, kill any one, and hate everything. This is why the terrorist camps work. I don’t think there is any coming back to a normal life for the kids who have lived there since they were toddlers or younger. Hatred fills voids like nothing else can.
If by some form of miraculous therapy they do realize that all they ever thought and felt was simply the extension of a deranged, fanatic, no matter how much that person appeared to be close to godliness.. They would be more dead than alive. And what would we have saved, then? I am all for life, never anyone doubt that. But it has to be one that I could live, or anyone could live with a modicum of self-respect and honor and most importantly hope.
Then again death is important for the obvious matter of matter- maintaining the cycle of nutrients and life.
In fact, the charm of life is that it won’t last forever. Otherwise, what little motivation people have, to be a better person, learn a little more, see or think or do more, would be successfully procrastinated to never getting done. All these are options for people who have started the normal ‘acceptable’ life of course.
I do believe that most cultures, living close to nature have a much higher acceptance of death. It doesn’t make them uncivilized. According to me, that is something to emulate.
Many religions also view death as bad, apocalypse promises to kill all the non- believers while a special chariot lifts the believers to the heavens above, to be one with God. Others escalate death in the name of a religious empowerment as a sure shot way to eternal happiness. But then, I don’t believe God made religion anyway.
The other most socially approved act is to have children, the opposite or the beginning leading to death, depending on who is thinking about it. Someone once said that having a child is an act of very high optimism. One must be optimistic enough to believe in the best possible future for their children, obscuring all mishaps and unpleasantness that must have befallen them, while growing up. Perhaps magnifying the happiness children bring, to overshadow the essential sacrifices for bringing up children. We must be evolutionarily wired to achieve that level of obscuring as well. Or perhaps the need to be needed is powerful enough to overcome everything else.
So what is an individual’s contribution to society while living this acceptable life, children? some skilled labor? Is it overreaching to want to do something meaningful that outlasts your generation and want a family? Or is it even possible to do many things well? Bringing up children well, is no small task, somehow our parents managed it well enough, but as technologies bring in more negative forces to take away the innocence from our children, it is getting harder and harder. Maybe only in my imagination. But game-boy, definitely doesn’t make friends, or improve imagination, when a short answer to everything is easily available on the internet, why read a book? That has become acceptable, living a life where the only contribution to the world is the next generation of mostly similar in nature, but different in habit, people going through the daily grind.. Well, in some cases children do grow up to be great thinkers, who change what should be ‘acceptable’ and what not. I find it hard to accept that what we are participating in, is a kind of lucky draw, where everybody gets a consolation prize of having had children (if they participate), but there is very little  likelihood of a real prize worthy of its name. No,no, I do not mean that children are not  a prize, of course they are to us. What I mean is, objectively, they will grow up to replace us in a banal cyclical setting, that does not lead to any lasting meaning or substance.
Is that where, some socially incompetent geniuses come in, who are responsible for the few breakthroughs that can occupy whole generations in their repercussions? Who may never have had the acceptable form of life themselves..
The other, more sinister side of the consolation prize is, if you haven’t had time or the thought to read about everything that can affect your child, not limited to good parenting books ( and honestly, even if you thought you did the best), there are things that are beyond your control that make up a human life. Every time something bad happens to your child, you will blame yourself and not without reason. You may also have achieved the level of meaningful success in your field of choice, enough to be an expert who is valued, skilled and can keep up with all the new stuff with  little effort and still bring up a well rounded human being ( or 3 well rounded human beings, and we are not talking about their weight here). To win some , you lose some, maybe you are not an expert for long- you are just a mediocre wage earning person, who values family. That is acceptable.
You could even be fictitious. And still not be able to change the course your children’s lives take, even when some great writer is actually writing about you. Even the writer needs turns and twists in the story, otherwise it is not a story. Perhaps that is why, it is acceptable to have a life that is outwardly straight forward, with average to mediocre levels of happiness, success and pitfalls, agony, heartbreak and disease. Some one is writing a story with all of us as characters, and it has got to have twists and turns..
So, here is hoping for an acceptable life to all of us who hold mediocrity in disdain and are trying to find out why  they fall into that murky, black ocean-like body that has all the other mediocre people swimming in it.

Coming of age at different st-ages

Sometimes I wonder if I am the only one who is annoyed by the commercials for movies that are ‘ a true, coming of age story’ or a ‘moving coming of age tale’ of a girl growing up in an unpleasant atmosphere. Or a boy becoming a soldier not just by profession but by nature.. I sure hope it sounds at least familiar, because otherwise I have just been getting annoyed over imaginary iterations of something quite innocent, in concept, at least.

Also, quite poignant. I am sure that is what was originally meant when the phrase began to be used to describe a story of coming to terms with yourself and life. Now, it is just a phrase like ‘going with the flow’ that may mean anything, or nothing.

While being annoyed with the phrase I suddenly realized that I had had a few coming of age-s myself. After all, every age should have the feeling of realization or enlightenment that rightly means that you have actually lived that age and not just ‘gone with the flow’. Age not in years of course. So much enlightenment is not for human kind! Perhaps only for dolphins..

Like when you (or I, in this instance) was a teenager and hoped that I was pretty, while knowing somewhere deep down that in reality I was not. I had definitely wanted to be taller, that apparently is still a very important teenage longing in India ( that I have come across). I definitely am not tall. Thankfully at this memory of me coming of age, I remember being fine with it, as long as I could enjoy biology, have good friends and make my dad proud (there it is again), I was satisfied with what I looked like and how far the ants were from me. I never wore makeup till I was 28. Okay, I wore make up on two occasions before that.  So it truly did not bother me to a level that I thought it would need proactive correction. I still don’t wear heeled pumps ( I do like to buy them because they look great on shelves). They are  not worth the trouble of wearing though!

At 28 I got married and prior to the wedding in the salon, as the make-up artist was working on me, I realized that make up is a form of art. Now I like experimenting and I also like the process allows my usually overworked to the point of smoking brain, to get some respite.

I suppose coming of age and coming off that age and being ready for the next level is very important. Any one who did not make it, has a scary hope of continuing to be in stasis at whatever mental age they didn’t arrive at, to grow out of it. That should be familiar at least? How many people do we know who still seem to be stuck at whatever point of time they decided to stop thinking about life. I don’t blame them, there are so many things to think about ( the real reason I didn’t want to grow up)  goals, money, and family and being productive, that whether you are ‘growing’ as a person or not, sometimes takes a back seat.

Many times it is the need to get people to like you or need you that the real you remains hidden in layers of perfectly woven, impressive and fake personalities. I suppose society needs this, after all if everyone showed their true selves at all times, it would be hard for community feelings to develop and endure. It is the decision that makes you stop at some point and draw the line that is ‘coming of age’.

Toddlers and kids up to about 7-8 yrs of age, have no option but to grow up. But after the early- late teens, there is an option to stop. Some of us do. There is an option to stop at any point after that. It sucks so much, so much of the time that as soon as no one inside me is looking, I have tended to postpone it for years myself. But the people inside me, they have not let up yet, so here I am writing.. ( they think that is the correct next level for me).

Believe me when I say this- I did not want to grow up even when I realized there was no option. Highlighted by the fact that of all my friends in our ‘convent’ school, I was the only one who didn’t want college and the associated freedom to come any time soon.

Most people I know who think ( and tell me repeatedly) that they are mature, are so far from it that I think they were mature for a moment at an age, a long time ago, and  someone told them they were being very mature in their attitude and that line got  stuck somewhere. They  don’t realize  they are no longer 10 and maturity means different things for different ages. I think it is just as well no one told me that. It could also mean that I have not come of age yet. I doubt it though. As soon as I decided to give up pursuing with every breath and waking moment of my life( like I did for almost a decade) , a profession that is not solving anyone’s problems, even if I don’t have other plans to fall back on to and remain ‘productive’, it was my most recent coming of age.. It is bittersweet as usual.

I have not given up science, it will be like giving up my hair, it will grow right back on! It just means that I am free from the pressure of getting publications, an award, a fellowship to show people I am a scientist. I no longer care about that. I only care about not doing things that are not only boring and tedious, they just seem to be following the ‘trend’ of the moment. Like obesity is now, and cancer was and continues to be to some extent. I am free to like science because it is wonderful and it should have a point and part in everyone’s life. Maybe I can sort out some conflicting reports while I am at this stage of clear, or at least somewhat unbiased thinking. Who knows..

Peddling from a briefcase

Peddling from a briefcase

A form of peddling disappearing from Indian streets. Hadn’t seen one in a decade, until this guy in Kolkata, India. He sells rat poisons

The Stephens I admire, adore and would like to be..

Yes, unlike the false promise on Che Guevara ( still have to work on it..) my favorite Stephens are easier for me to write about, I already know them quite well.

Stephen Jay Gould was a paleontologist, who broke away from the tenet in evolutionary theory ( if you care, the tenet is gradual accumulation of genetic variation that led to formation of new species), sort of challenging the Father of Modern Biology- Charles Darwin, but according to me, had Darwin been alive he would have approved, and came up with his own postulate, with Niles Eldredge, they called it ‘punctuated equilibrium’. (This won’t be in parenthesis, because the post is about Gould, no?) That postulate is that there were certain shorter ‘periods’, in geological eras or eons where mutations accumulated at a faster rate than normal and led to an ‘explosion’ in the number of new species formed. What led to these periods? Pretty much the same things that were thought to cause speciation in ‘gradualism’. However, the details are for another time and perhaps another audience (but hopefully the very same writer).

Unfortunately for me, and other wide eyed innocents in countries where evolution is not questioned at any level of school and is taught as a fact ( for  a most charming essay on the oft-quoted-yet-misunderstood difference between ‘theory’ and ‘fact’ that has burdened the ‘Theory of Evolution’, albeit only in America, please read (, Gould’s novel theory by which evolution ( the fact) might have occurred (along with in other ways that have been stated and are yet to be discovered),  was not in our out-dated text books. So, I heard of him much later, by which time the more popular Richard Dawkins had already brain washed me. Additionally, I still find most Indian book stores don’t have any of Gould’s books, which is quite strange and atypical. We are proud to be tolerant to everyone and have subsidized versions of every popular science book, albeit maybe a couple generations older editions.

Stephen Jay Gould should never be compared to Dawkins, ever. But if one does deign to do that, then the only comparison is that one is a true blue scientist with an inherent knack in writing and an acumen in both science and popular science writing, that has gone missing in this generation of biologists, and a goat. A smart, good looking one, who speaks better that the others. But a goat nonetheless, being led by the much beloved ( yet thoroughly dead, in person to yell at his goats) Charles Darwin. As an example for why I love his writing is the excerpt from the above mentioned essay:

‘Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome.’

If there is one other person I can think of, who would write something as dry, tolerating no foolish attempts to prevaricate and make me turn militant with indignation at whoever chose to disagree- it would have to be Stephen King.

And what do you know, they even knew each other. I won’t call them best buddies, mainly because they didn’t call each other that, but they did apparently communicate with each other often and exchanged notes on what one thought of the others latest work. In fact, in the foreword to ‘The TommyKnockers’ King mentions that he asked Gould if he thought that tommy knockers could actually exist, following natural evolution and Gould replied that it was certainly possible (may not be the actual words, had to donate a lot of my King collection while moving). The thing is, I would agree too, creatures that can only solve problems based on what they have around them, without innovation or looking for better solution, yet with a tendency to make everything as perfect as possible ( in their own minds) can and do exist. They are often called scientists. King called them TKs, and were they mean or what! King write an obituary for Gould when he passed away in 2004 (a year before I even came to this country, sob!) in the Boston Globe.

They both are clearly influenced and inspired by Orwell. Have won awards and accolades by peers and adoration by amateurs interested in their respective professions. They were also both criticized sometimes. Unfortunately, in the case of Gould, by fellow scientists who should have understood, or at least respected his insight as well as the creationists who had their own agenda- to call evolution a theory that the dithering scientists don’t have any proof of ( a line on creationists is a waste of time, energy, quarks and even gravity). Meanwhile,  King is called a ‘horror’ writer ( I was told by a bookstore owner that he didn’t have a horror section at all, so didn’t have any books by King). I am sorry, I call ‘ Eat, Pray, Love’ a horror story. Its not that he is not scary, its just that he is scary, while what he proposes seems to be entirely plausible to me and any one with a healthy respect for the unknown and yet to be discovered wonders of our wonderful world. Sure, he doesn’t write for kids, but neither did the Grimm brothers or Lewis Carroll if you are a stickler ( he wrote for his own kids, to tell them, nicely, about the dark, real world).

So, all right, Stephen King does tend to get repetitive or has turned that after some think he wrote ‘IT’ and Stephen Jay Gould wrote tomes (another thing in common between the two), that only real enthusiasts can finish reading, and even I have to confess I have not been able to. Picasso was also repetitive, and I can’t confess to like all his work, but was he not a genius, prolific artist with a unique perspective of the world that he articulately, and accurately ( depending on who is looking at them) depicted? I can’t hear any complains about him! If you or I find King repetitive, it is because we read too much of him, so give him a break and after a couple of months ( and five new books by him), you can feel truly happy reading something again.

Gould will never write again, but what he has given the world ( not literally), will, I am afraid, last longer than Roland’s tales. Because presumably the next few species over the next few geological eons won’t still prefer to read English or the >15 languages King’s work has been translated into. Hopefully, they will be smart enough to know that punctuated equilibrium is a theory based on fact. We are not preparing the world for TommyKnockers here!

Disclaimer: I am not too fond of TommyKnockers, the book, much. It is just appropriate here. My favorites are Hearts in Atlantis and the Dark Tower series.

Hey Jude! and what it means to me..

Just when I was having a ‘swell’ day, ( where did that word come from?’, suddenly felt sad about something entirely silly. When has that not happened?? ha ha.. At the beginning of the day I was listening to the recently discovered (or rediscovered, perhaps, though I have no recollection of listening to it before), the Beatles’ single- ‘Hey, Jude!’. At the risk of what purports to be blasphemy in possibly all circles that I will and have ever interacted with- I am not really too fond of the Beatles. Probably because I am too backward, possibly because I have bad taste ( I am being sarcastic, I am full of good taste, but paradoxically am willing to make this an exception to save face, something that I almost never do- save face, that is. I am also of course full of paradoxes like everyone else).

But, nonetheless, I love this song ( I also don’t mind ‘Let it be’ and ‘Yesterday’). But ‘Love is all you need’, ‘She’s got the ticket to ride’, ‘Can’t buy me love’ etc, just don’t do it for me. It is also likely because I can’t relate to the era of the sixties and early seventies where these songs were against the norm, new in most ways including the cult forming band, their lyrics and music arrangement.I was born in the nice transitional phase of black and white to color TV (in India), rock and roll was the norm and I didn’t like it growing up or even now.

Anyway, the song was recommended to me by no less than my only absolute favorite American writer – Stephen King. In his Dark Tower series, he writes

A fools chorus of half-stoned voices was rising at the final protracted lyric of ‘Hey Jude’- “Na na – nan na naa na”… hey, Jude”.. as he entered the town proper’.

He being Roland of Gilead (of course, to any King fan who reads this) and the town being Pricetown, a place in a world that has moved on (closer to destruction of everything good, innocent and beautiful). But still carries a few things of the ‘old’ world, that is our world. ‘Hey Jude’, being one of them. As usual, I try to read more into this than King may have meant, even though I think he writes in many layers, I would have to say ( this is based on all the forewords and afterwords he writes, in almost every novel, that I read with utmost sincerity) he loves and lived rock and roll and this might be his favorite song (by Beatles or all time). Maybe thats why I can’t be a professional writer- I don’t Rock and Roll (alas). He has said that all his work is somehow or other related to or coming of from the Dark Tower series, so it is likely that he would mention only his favorite song, in the hub of all his monumental pile of fiction works.

If I had a dying wish, it would be to meet him. That might change when I am actually dying- he doesn’t like to meet his fans, he speaks to them only through his books. I am okay with that, and I hope to attain some clarity of thought at least right before dying- if that is the last thing I do, to remember that!!

So, the idea is this song is soo good and beautiful that it would take literally the end of the world for it to be completely lost. I don’t know if I would go that far (remember, its still rock and roll to me and here, I don’t mean the song by Billy Joel). But I get the feeling, the haunted feeling that could lead people to believe that, when even I hear the song.

Wikipedia said that Paul McCartney wrote this sing on the way to meet John Lennon’s divorced wife and their kid Julian. Originally it was supposed to be Hey Jules, for Julian. Thats interesting. But what is really interesting is a lot of people actually thought and went on record to say that they thought the song was for them. McCartney may even have told Lennon (who thought it was written by McCartney for him amd was his way of telling Lennon to pursue the lady he left his wife and kid for), the song was for himself.

Here is what I feel when I hear it:

Hey jude, don’t make it bad.
Take a sad song and make it better.
Remember to let her into your heart,
Then you can start to make it better.

Life’s a sad song, that we have to make better every day. Maybe after a certain age for most people and perhaps at a much younger age for many. The only way we may hope to succeed in doing that, is if we let it (or her, life’s a bitch, isn’t she?) into our hearts and feel the pain, yet sense the beauty.

Hey jude, don’t be afraid.
You were made to go out and get her.
The minute you let her under your skin,
Then you begin to make it better.

To take the first step into the world, that will never be yours unless you at least try and may still never, quite, be yours. The only way to make your life and the world better is to let what bothers you, get under your skin.The alternative being living ephemerally and not feeling passion for anything.
And anytime you feel the pain, hey jude, refrain,
Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders.
For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder.

Finally, every big-gish step in life comes with a package of pain, for us and for those who love us. To me the song says not to let that keep you from the people you love or from doing what you want to do..In so doing the world would get colder for us.

I think there was no better choice to haunt the Gunslinger- who had to go out at get ‘her’ – the Dark Tower.. And for those of us who absolutely loved the end of the series- he did make it better, by letting it get under his skin, but it is still a sad song.

I don’t know why I am writing about a song. I guess I should be able to write about anything, if I want to take writing seriously and if King can repeatedly refer to this song and say that versions of it must exist in every world- he is the boss, no EMPEROR, of fantastically real and parallel worlds and lowly me can do naught but agree.

Next up- Stephen Jay Gould ( who is also American and had he not been a scientist primarily, would have been my second favorite American writer) and my desire to be named Stephena (not stephanie, then I get caught up with vampires and love stories for teenagers that are not as cool, remember I am full of good taste.)