Pictograph by Melissa Kwasny and I can’t let go of it. Sometimes I carry it in my bag wherever I go, just in case I suddenly need it. You can get it here: Pictograph | Milkweed Editions.
UPDATE: I just realized how similar the book cover is to Walk Like Monsters which I swear is a coincidence because I had not seen this when I chose the picture for WLM.
A new poem ‘in other houses’ appeared in Breakwater Review.
Another new poem ‘Travel and Nothingness’ is in High Desert Journal.
I’ve fallen behind on these updates as usual. This is partly because of Facebook and Instagram and partly because I’ve felt my identity splintering lately.
Update: ‘splintering’ not entirely in an unwelcome way.
Two poems of mine — Glass Hammer and Heart Scarab — are in the Witness issue of Origins Journal. The digital download is available for purchase here.
Very pleased that my poem Mother Tongue is now up at The Bangalore Review.
The poem appears in my new book Walk Like Monsters.
A poem of mine, ‘Shakti’ which is also in City of Water, is in a new anthology published by Bibliotheca Alexandrina which is a library and cultural center in Alexandria, Egypt.
Anat, Ereshkigal, Artemis, Juno, Venus, Bast, Seshat, Brigid, Arduinna, Freyja, Hel, Yemaya, Mawu, Pele, Ix Chel, Kuan Yin, Tara, Sarasvati, Kali. Goddesses were, and still are, widely worshipped. Not just in far off places, but close by, right here. People today sing to these Goddesses, pray to them, dance for them, make offerings – and write for them. The poetry and prose and art collected here celebrates Goddesses from all over the world. Like the Goddesses they honor, these tales and poems and works of art vary from the humorous to the horrific, from the deeply personal to the deeply transcendent, and everything in between. Some Goddesses will be familiar, others strange, still others completely new. It is our hope that you will find these words and works of art not just entertaining, but also inspiring: sing, pray, dance, set up an altar – pick up your pen. The Goddesses are here.
Two poems — Water Hyacinth and Turn — went up at The Lake in August.
I thought this was a Speckled Skink at first then found that’s not so common in California. They’re natives of New Zealand. Turns out juveniles of the Alligator Lizard are mistaken as Skinks. So a baby Alligator Lizard then? There’s a bunch of fascinating reptiles on this site and I spent my morning teatime staring at them. Which was surprisingly refreshing. As opposed to Facebook, I mean.
This was at Franklin Canyon which sits at the center of Los Angeles city, 605 acres of park land, a lake, a pond with turtles and ducks. The park is also part of the Pacific Flyway, a major north-south migratory route for birds. The lake has some nice tall grasses and rushes on its banks which you can walk through/under and it’s all very children’s adventure book at this point.
The pond is civilized and easy for kids to do some turtle spotting. They are not shy, the turtles (not the kids–I don’t know about the kids). The turtles are very photogenic and very obliging. True LA turtles.
Also, visited the Descanso Gardens — not the best time of year but their rosarium was pretty. I love the climbing roses. The oak forest is a wild canopy. And the tree ferns in the ‘ancient forest were beautiful.
History from wikipedia: In 1942, while the Japanese and Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast of the United States were being sent to internment camps, Boddy bought out two local successful Japanese nurseries. According to different sources, he acquired somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 camellias.
Immense parental guilt: at some point we realized our daughter wasn’t feeling well. She had seemed reluctant in the morning but she wasn’t warm and we thought it was just childish laziness. So we jollied her out of bed and went off “exploring”. Now, she was lying down on a rickety bench under the trees, saying she wanted to rest. Of course, we abandoned the ‘ancient forest’ at Descanso and hustled home. I keep thinking of it though. Old redwoods. Tree ferns bursting all over the place. The forest features plant species that Descanso gardens calls ‘prehistoric’. From this page: Today cycads, ferns, redwoods and other ancient plants persist relatively unchanged. They have survived dramatic changes in the world’s geography, competition from other plant species and major extinctions – including that of the dinosaurs.
July was full of walks. At Solstice Canyon, the sun was harsh but a couple of easy walks took us into shade and toward un-scorched plants. The canyon is in Malibu, just off the coast and it’s a short way to the ocean which means it has coastal vegetation alongside other types.
Here’s a Japanese Red Elder (Elderberry) blooming and a bee flailing about in the blooms. Most parts of this plant are toxic for us but apparently they can be eaten after cooking. Toxins exist to protect plants and we circumvent that through fire. Not always but sometimes.
Not sure what trees these are but they formed a wall of shimmering green near a dry creek. This canyon is part of the Santa Monica Mountains. Plants and animals here are suffering because of climate change but “possible plant responses include: tolerating new climate conditions, adaptation in place, migration to a more suitable environment, or extirpation.” (from here.) The more you adapt the more you can adapt. Which is to say those that have done it before will do it again. Many California plant species have experienced wide fluctuations in climate recently so they have a chance. New communities of plants may happen as the world changes around them.
A tiger lily growing in the wild. Tiger lilies are also called ditch lilies because they grow easily in ditches in America. Old Korean legend has it that a hermit helped a wounded tiger by removing an arrow from its body. The tiger asked him to make sure they remained friends forever. When the tiger died, he became a flower. But the hermit died of drowning and his body was lost. The tiger lily is still looking for his friend, in all the ditches and corners of the world.
I read at a gathering organized by Poetry Couture alongside Smeetha Bhowmick and others at Kulture Shop in Bandra, Mumbai. We were the featured poets before an open mic session. The audience and energy were fantastic. The folks at Poetry Couture are organized, professional, and lovely. They gave Smeetha and me a generous amount of time each. They seemed genuinely happy to be doing this. And they’re trying to do some great stuff around the country. Please give them some love on their FB page.
Besides being in between places, I’m also in between jobs. After three years of handling communications at Gender at Work, I’m moving on. To what? This and that, say I vaguely. Which is to say the freedom of freelance, the getting up in the morning, hunting for a gig kinda thing. It’s time. Frightening as it may be, I feel more alive this way. The hunt, the perpetual hunt. The possibility of being anyone. Less romantically, I’m in the market for writing/editing contracts etc.
I almost called this post in medias res, then didn’t. Convincing experts to simplify their language is tough. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time now, because it’s the kind of work I’ve been doing for a long time now. Steven Pinker says in The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century that “When we are apprentices in our chosen specialty, we join a clique in which, it seems to us, everyone else seems to know so much! And they talk among themselves as if their knowledge were second nature to every educated person.” We then start to jabber, speak in code, nonsensical to people outside the universe. Sometimes we’re convinced that’s the right way to speak. Sometimes, we’re shit scared of not speaking like that. “Even when we have an inkling that we are speaking in a specialized lingo, we may be reluctant to slip back into plain speech. It could betray to our peers the awful truth that we are still greenhorns, tenderfoots, newbies.”
Good ol’ insecurity.
He goes on to say: “…if you are enough of an expert in a topic to have something to say about it, you have probably come to think about it in abstract chunks and functional labels that are now second nature to you but still unfamiliar to your readers—and you are the last one to realize it. As writers, then, we should try to get into our readers’ heads and be mindful of how easy it is to fall back on parochial jargon and private abstractions. But these efforts can take us only so far. None of us has, and few of us would want, a power of clairvoyance that would expose to us everyone else’s private thoughts.” The answer, he suggests is reviewers, people who will offer critique. The logic of the workshop. I helped out at a writer’s room for a tv series earlier this month. It was interesting to see how each of us have our own linguistic tics, words we keep using, phrases, even character arcs that we fall back on. The collaborative process is great for avoiding one person’s particular weaknesses. (On the flip side, things can go awfully slow on a bad day and pleasing everyone can mean a design-by-committee problem i.e. everyone’s ok with it but nobody loves it.)
On Edward Hall’s Context of Cultures: High and Low which basically classifies societies on the basis of interaction, communication, relationships. High-context cultures tend to rely more on context: references, old relationships, community. A lot is unsaid. What is said is flowery, indirect. Low-context cultures have open, direct communications, based on specific rules that are accessible to everyone. Commonly, China, India, Brazil, Japan have been talked of as high-context and the US and Germany are examples of low-context societies.
This website comes with a neat little test to help you figure out whether you function better in high-context situations or low-context ones. I’m not sure how accurate the test is but it is fun.
Ruchir Sharma talks about India and Brazil as high-context cultures in his book Breakout Nations.
“High-context societies believe deeply in tradition, history and favoring the in-group, whether it is one’s family or business circle, and thus they are vulnerable to corruption. If this description sounds questionable to businessmen or tourists who know Brazil and India as open, familiar and straightforward, that is because they’ve experienced only the low-context facade adopted by the outward-facing elites who need to deal in a clear way with foreigners. Everyone is welcome at Brazil’s Carnival or an Indian wedding, and they may even be made to feel like an insider, but the reality is that it takes decades to become a real part of these cultures.”
I think of times I’ve tried to ‘explicate’ India to foreigners. At one time, I worked as a ‘cultural fluent’ for a consumer research firm called Iconoculture. My job consisted of decoding Indians, categorized into tidy market segments of course, our particular triggers and responses. To them, India was a vast and mysterious place with its intricate coded meanings and these needed translation.
In classes at UCLA, I found myself saying, ‘No, I can’t put that in the screenplay; that would never happen in India’–and a moment later–felt the discomfort of generalizing, of ‘speaking for’. The question of representation. But ‘outward-facing elites’ are often those who get heard, those who get to speak. At night, I’d stay up late, replaying conversations in my head. What had I left out? What had I mis-conveyed? Sins of omission.
Once, I hosted ‘Indian night’ at our place, aware of the ridiculous inadequacy of any such endeavor. I cooked Punjabi-ish food. There had been vague discussions about watching a Hindi movie. I couldn’t choose one. What would be appropriate, encompassing, enough? Personal faves didn’t make it. Lootera was too period, Queen too atypical, Kahaani too much of a genre movie. Finally, I decided to show a montage of trailers. Bits and pieces of upcoming Hindi films, collated to add up to something like a ‘fair’ picture. Of course, it wasn’t. I didn’t include a single Khan movie (the upcoming ones just didn’t appeal to me). It was at best a representation–in fragments–of my taste in Hindi films.
From this article: For Indians, the purpose of communication is to maintain harmony and forge relationships but we’re moving towards an LC culture, largely because of technology, trade, travel and television. Indians are more verbose and dialogue-oriented than other high-context societies like the Japanese, Chinese or Koreans, which also makes this move easier.
And another view on this whole thing and the danger of stereotyping.
The month has passed in a haze of allergens, family and paperwork. All the plans I made about personal growth/writing seem to be heading into the sea. I’ve declared it our ‘Indian Holiday’ and am curling up for movies and fatness. It’s so hot that staying upright in a chair seems effortful. Plus I’m strung out and struggling to breathe after Bangalore allergies.
Gills and dry land.
The week has been a blur. Water shortage. Vague plans for Bangkok abandoned. Heat. I want to shower more often but can’t because water comes only at certain hours. I want to write but don’t because I’ve lost some faith and am lazy in the heat, like a stupefied dog. I wait. I sleep a lot.