Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Draggin' It Out

Addie and Eric and Nolie all did just fine without me, while I was in India for those ten days.  But they missed me.  I could tell.

Addie and I had the hardest time of it once I got back.  After the initial reunion honeymoon (which was awesome, I have to admit), she was super-cranky and throwing big tantrums.  She didn't want to answer my questions, or tell me she loved me, or listen to anything I had to say.  I was mama non grata around here, for the last week or two.

But then, little moment of grace:  we went to Nancy's birthday party on Sunday night (which she hilariously described as "something modest" in her email invitation but which ended up being an awesome oreo-dipping, pizza-eating, drag-dancing party).  There was not just one huge plastic bin or dress-up clothes but two.  There was dancing, ribald drizzling of frosting, and just general merriment.

Can you imagine what Addie must have thought?  "Grown-up parties are like this?  With oreos and dress-up?"  We will never be able to leave her at home with a babysitter again.

And now she and I seem to be back on track, friends again, my sweetie-pie and me.  We bonded over drag. 

My kind of family values. :)

Blessings for a friend

on her fortieth.

I can see, clearly, the way you soak up life, the many amazing gifts you attract because you are so extraordinary.  Do you see them?  The friends who love you forever, refusing to let you go?  Your beauty?  You have the most beautiful, soft cheeks.  The sweetest swirls of hair on your head.  The boobs and butt of a twenty-year old (I'm sooooo jealous).  You have extraordinary energy, moving through your body, the channeling of the divine coming through you and extending from you in all directions.  It's clear from the work you do, to the way you move in the world, to the love you share with everyone around you.  It's clear from your quick wit and your easy laugh.

There is no doubt that your life is filled with love, that love comes to you and from you in joyful abundance.  You should laugh at this, gather it up in your hands and throw it in the air like confetti!  Feel it shining down on you like a slice of parmesan-cheese-moon, for heaven's sake!  There is nothing but joy for you, and peace.  You know this, and are living it.  Any reminders of pain or anger fly away from you, angels of history, the past piling up behind you while you, unencumbered, move ahead on your way.

What is most obvious is the ease with which your life unfolds.  There is no struggle.  You imagine things as you want them to be, and they become.  You write them down on thousands of pieces of paper, think them in thousands of thoughts, and they manifest into the thousand moments of your life.  And none of it is painful, twisted, or unknown.  It is clear and easy because you know who you are, and you know that can be nothing but perfection.

So, I'm throwing this out there and knowing that all of this is already done.  It just is.

Happy Birthday, my lovey-lovey nujus.  I'm so glad you're in my life :).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Strange Landings

I've been struggling with how to talk about the trip to India, and have been trying to figure out why this is.  Part of it is that it was a trip for work, not a vacation or a pilgrimage (though it ended up being a little bit of each).  So there are many correct answers to the question, "How was it?"  It was amazing, delightful, infuriating, invigorating, exhausting, and more.  There is also the fact that I've had to dive right back into things here with work and family and probably haven't been able to process my experiences there.

The main thing, though, is that it doesn't feel like it was me who went.  Or, at least, not a me that I've known for a while.  My life there was so far away from everything I am here.  I didn't have Eric or the kids, not even on the phone for a few days.  And apart from a very slow, very unreliable internet connection and the fact that I sat through hours of technical talks everyday, I wasn't accessible to work as I usually am, either.  

This happened to free up a lot of time and energy.  I was committed to staying well in India, so I really took care of myself.  I took vitamins every morning, got plenty of rest, ate well, didn't drink too much alcohol but drank a ton of (bottled) water.  I did yoga every day, sometimes at sunrise on the beach.  I breathed.  I meditated.  The conference schedule was incredibly busy, but I made time for all of these things, and I stayed well, and I felt well.  I had long conversations with people and made new friends.  I was free to come and go as I pleased.  In short, I was another person, an autonomous person, largely free from the roles that mostly shape my life here.

That freedom was also a little nauseating, though.  I feel like I've brought back some of those lessons, of caring for myself and of taking time free from others' expectations.  But I also realized how much I need Eric and the girls.  Not that I have ever considered a life other than this, other than wife and mom to these three, but I think up until the trip I had been focused on how much I was needed.  Being gone reminded me how much they I also need them.

On the second-to-last flight home, from Frankfurt to Detroit, the flight attendant came to my seat and told me they'd been telexed that I would need to contact a Lufthansa representative when we landed, something about my final flight to Denver.  I spent the next twenty minutes crying, sure that my flight had been canceled, and that I'd have to stay overnight in Detroit, and that I wouldn't see my family for one more entire day!  I was heartbroken.

Turns out I needn't have worried--they just wanted to tell me my luggage needed to go through customs (why the urgent telex for this, I do not know).  But in those moments, I felt that if I didn't see Eric and the kids immediately when I got to Denver that I would die.  I would tear someone apart limb from limb.  I would crumble into nothingness.  Please forgive the dramatics, but that's exactly how I felt.  The pull to them was enormous.

All of this, I realize, says nothing about India, or my relationship to it.  Nothing about how an elephant (the one pictured above)--the spirit of Ganesha--laid his heavy trunk on my head, and I felt as if the hand of God rested there.  Nothing about walking barefoot through the streets of Kanchipuram, through its temples.  Nothing about the deer chasing monkeys up the trees on the campus of IIT Madras, or the friends I made, or the scientists intent on changing the world, their world, India.  The poverty.  The gods.  Maybe these things will leak out in bits and pieces in coming posts.  Or maybe not.  It wasn't me who witnessed them, after all, and the words are slow in coming.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Da Plane

I wrote this a few days back, but the internet access at the resort failed, so here it is, sent from my 25th hour of travel, during a five-hour layover in Detroit.  Jesus.

As I said, this institute is taking place at a resort--the MGM Resort, to be precise--which I have taken to calling Fantasy Island .  It is a huge, sprawling resort, and I've never experienced anything like it.  There are at least three different playgrounds, though no children play on them, a swimming pool, a vast and beautiful beach, though littered with thousands of bits of plastic debris, and hundreds of little attached luxury huts and rooms.  The rooms are a good size, relatively clean, with private bathrooms, television, and air conditioning.  There is a restaurant, room and laundry service, an Ayurvedic spa, and a conference building where we meet for our (never-ending) tutorials on nanoscience.  It is a totally self contained unit--there is nothing within walking distance except a small arts colony where tourists can go haggle over etchings of Ganesha and embroidered textiles.  Otherwise, you get everything you need from the resort.

I think it's a close approximation of a luxury resort, in other words.  That said, signs of the surrounding developing world creep in via cracks and crevices.  Though I have a perfectly lovely room, friends here have been attacked by errant frogs, rats, mosquitoes, and various other creatures in theirs.  Two people may have malaria already.  There is an old man who wheels around the resort on a flat cart, holding a real-live monkey dressed up in a pretty dress.  It is rare to get a hot shower.  It is rare to get a tepid shower.  It took six calls to the front desk to get a battery for the clock in my room (my watch died on the airplane).  I got a massage and though it only cost $15, my purse left the spa a good $60 lighter than that, given that it was raided while I was in the sauna (note to self:  go to spa with only as much money as you need).  At least my passport was spared.  There are water damage marks on the walls and ceilings, if you look close enough, and fields nearby still show signs of the tsunami that swept through here a few years back. 

This doesn't mention the most important element, the people in service here, who are incredibly obsequious and compliant but who also are very aware of the raw deal and who would like a better one.

I read this over and see it seems as if I'm complaining and overthinking everything.  I'm not, not in the least.  I mean, I'm in India .  I went to a spa, for chrissakes.  I have internet access.  I have a ready supply of money if I need it.  I've been loving the food, the cultural performances, meeting all of these incredible new people.  In fact, life is incredibly easy here on Fantasy Island .  There is plentiful and safe bottled water, the food has been fantastic (though spicy enough to melt your face off).  A phone call gets you anything you need.  These are the vast privileges of being a westerner, in a resort, in India .

Still, there are a number of Americans here who are really struggling with the small stuff.  They are freaked out by the dive-bombing flies and the "strange" food and the incredibly long Indian music concerts we've been attending at night.  They are "angsty" as one of them put it.  They are checking to see if they can change their return flights.

But, for me, the whole experience is a little ridiculous, a little unreal.  I find myself laughing out loud at inappropriate moments, at the incongruity of it all.  I'm not sure what I want.  No doubt about it--I like being so comfortable, so safe.  But also I wonder why come all the way to India if we are not going to see it, not going to at least understand what it's like outside the compound walls?  I feel like I'm trapped in a reality tv show, where the producers have engineered a sanitized experience, but made things just different enough to trigger some people, making things interesting for the viewers at home.  We are completely protected, except from ourselves.  Not that a day trip into the impoverished masses will change that in anyway.  I get that.  It's all tourism, anyway you cut it, wherever you go.

I think we'll start to get out of the compound tomorrow, making day trips to the city, the temples, the universities.  We'll get off the island!  Until then, I'm trapped in this air-conditioned conference room, listening to talks I can't even begin to understand, and occasionally swatting at flies that land on my keyboard.  I don't mean to suggest I'm not completely enjoying and immersing myself in this experience, for what it is.  It's fantastic in so many ways.  But it's also fantastic in a lot of ways, fantasy.  I'm just wondering at the weirdness of this strange form of tourism.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Welcome to Chennai

Three hour flight to Washington D.C., three hour layover, 7 hour flight to Frankfurt, 3 hour layover, 8 1/2 hour flight to Chennai, one hour drive to hotel.  Sounds brutal, yes?  But it was fine.  I was well prepared.  I did a bunch of reading about nanosciences and engineering on the first two flights, got good and tired, then popped an ambien for the last flight to India.  I fell asleep immediately, and was surprised and pleased to wake up pretty well rested about five hours into the flight, which was just in time to watch a very strange Indian movie about a man running from the law, and to eat my fourth meal of boiled spinach, rice, and lentils (I've now had what seems like 64 such meals).

Off the plane in Chennai, and walking through the airport at about midnight, I was suprised at the overpowering smell of fresh plaster, and the clean, stark white walls of the airport.  Got my suitcase and emerged into the humid night, met by hundreds of Indians, maybe waiting for family, but mostly drivers hoping to take passengers somewhere for a few rupees, I think.  A friend said that when she arrived in Delhi last week, she got in a driver's car, and instead of taking her to her hotel, he tried to take her to his house, where he could charge her for staying, I guess.  She politely declined, then not so politely, and he eventually took her to a hotel.  Scary, in retrospect  But the institute arranged all of our drivers, assured us of our safety, so I found the sign with my name and went with the driver, no problem.  Maybe I should have been afraid, but I wasn't.  Giving up on the fear has been a practice for this trip, I think.

The taxi was old and diesel-powered, and Chennai is humid and polluted, so I immediately felt my lungs start to constrict and figured I was going to have an asthma attack.  Mostly I was struck with the surreality of it all.  I was tired, and excited, and amazed by the amount of debris in the road, the dozens of cows picking through the trash for food, the stray dogs with their ribs sticking through.  There are ads on every square foot of space here, too.  There are messages everywhere, though I can't read most of them.

And then there was the driving--the roads were relatively empty at that time of night, but that didn't make things less exciting.  Here is how driving works here:  the driver basically drives down the middle of the road, straddling the white lines, when there are white lines.  When a car approaches from the other direction, also straddling the white line, the two cars honk at one another and flash lights at each other until one finally calls chicken and gets the hell out of the way.  It's very exciting.

I see that I've made the mistake of getting too involved in the details because it's different from what I'm used to.  I'm like the person who insists on showing you six hundred pictures from their last vacation. 

At the same time, it is not as foreign as I had expected, somehow.  Everything is just a little different, but not a lot.

Then again, I haven't really escaped the hotel compound, which I call Fantasy Island.  More on that soon.

Friday, January 4, 2008

And now, I'm getting excited...

Oh, boy.  It is feeling real.  I am going to INDIA!

I spent half the morning in REI trying to figure out which sunhat I should buy, where the water purification tablets were, which sandals were comfortable enough for traipsing around but nice enough to wear to the conference, but not too sweat-inducing (it's hot in Chennai!), but with no leather, because you can't wear that in the temples.  Then I had to laugh because who knows what the heck I'm going to need when I get there?  My tendency for trips like this is to overpack, but for this trip I have one suitcase and a carry-on.  Traveling light, baby.  I'll figure it out when I get there.

With the exception of the antibiotics, anti-diarrheals, neosporin, cold medicines (India is po-lluted, fo sho, and I'm probably going to get a sinus infection, says the doc), electrolytes, and so on.  I have, like, six pounds of pharma in my overnighter.  A veritable pharmacy.  I made room for that.

I was in Wild Oats yesterday, looking for an herbal remedy a friend recommended to me for nausea.  There I was, looking confused in front of an entire wall of "digestive aids" when a Wild Oats guy who looked exactly like Kenny Rogers asked if I needed any help.  "Yep," I said.  "I'm going to India and don't want to barf the whole time I'm there.  My stomach's a little fussy.  Ideas?"

I expected the guy to be clueless, but lo and behold, he had spent ten years living in India!  He hooked me up with the right meds, even giving me some for free (can he do that?  He did!).  But the best thing was this:  unlike almost everyone else I've talked to, who frets about me going or who goes on and on about the smell or the poverty or the death or whatever, this guy--this Kenny Rogers Wild Oats Associate--he told me that India was the best place on earth.  That God lived in India.  That God was India.  That if I didn't find God when I was India I had basically bubble-wrapped myself from the truth.  That I would have to see India from the heart, that my heart would meld with the hearts of India, who seem poor and miserable but who live deeply in spirit.

I think if this guy had been super eco-groovy in a hemp vest and beaded hair droplets I would have rolled my eyes and got out of there.  But he seemed so normal, pretty rooted in the everyday.  He didn't give off any weirdness vibes at all, he was just speaking from the heart, from a place of love.  And he acknowledged the fact that going to India was hard, that I might see death and mean-ness and all that, too, but that was all part of it.  I was into it.

India is God.  He said so.

And I'm going to India!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Forced Re-Entry

Both of my children have morphed into evil creatures from hell.

Let me explain.

Before we left for San Diego, we had two finely-tuned offspring, who were going to bed like clockwork, making great developmental strides, and overall proving quite pleasing to their parental units.  We were smug.  We were haughty.  We gloated.  Our children were perfect, and it was all thanks to us and our brilliant parenting.

Enter one week in San Diego, which Eric started off on the right foot by telling Addie, on our first night there, "We're on vacation!  You can go to bed whenever you want!"  Apparently I had put too much sloe in the boy's gin fizz, because rule number one in the preschooler parenting manual is to never tell your kid they can do something "whenever they want."  Particularly when they are coked up on sugar and Christmas presents and overall travel excitement.

Something changed in Addie over the trip.  She became--please forgive the pretension--insouciant.  She screams "no" to every request I make at the moment, says "Nice try, Dad," sarcastically to her father, better than any teenager could, and in general is a total pain in the butt.

But maybe not as much of a pain in the butt as Nolie.  Before San Diego?  You could basically walk Nolie into a dark room, and in about three seconds, she would whisper "night-night," you could put her down in her crib, and before you left the room she was asleep.  It was pure bliss.  We were putting her down at 6:30, friends!  With no fuss or upset!  Unheard of!

Then came San Diego, where Nolie was put in the "box" (Eric's term for the pak n play) in a large-ish laundry room.  This worked okay the first night, for some reason, although she did wake up for the day at 5am.  The next night, though, she cried the entire night, until we finally fed her about a dozen nutri-grain bars at 3 in the morning and she passed out from exhaustion.  Until 5am, at which point she was raring to go again.  Now she is in the habit of crying for hours before finally falling asleep.  I wish I was the sort of parent who could just close the door and not worry about it, but man is it stressful to have crying like this, and we go in every so often to rock her, or sing to her.  I know at some point we'll have to commit to the cry-it-out (because this can't go on), but for now it's just tough.  Ugh.

I don't think any of this had to do with San Diego or the family there, per se.  The girls had the time of their lives.  Even exhausted Nolie was a joy to be around during the day because everything was so new and fun.  It was just a total disruption of routine, the familiar.  And you all know how addicted we were to that.  So re-entry has been difficult.