Author Archives: vpdot

Writing a Novel – Day 20

Snoopy typingYou know you have a problem when your Aspie teen with anxiety issues and a video game addiction is further ahead on his novel that you are on yours. I swear I am never yelling at him again for his lack of motivation.

Got back to my novel after days of wasting my time and discovered I needed help with the continuity, even in as small a book as mine. What was the name of that lady in chapter 2? What did the heroine say to her friend in chapter 5? So I had to go back and re-read what I had written so far, a project strewn with the landmines of self-criticism. Luckily I could still tolerate the story I had written so far, so I went ahead and worked on chapter 10.

If I had to do some introspection, I guess I would say that the reason I am not in a hurry to finish the book is because once it is done I will have to show it to people and that prospect freaks me out.

Hatsune Miku – The Perfection of Virtuality

Hatsune MikuI was introduced to this band (?) by my teenager, who is into J-Pop and K-Pop (that’s Japanese and Korean pop for all you ignoramuses out there). After I complained that the voice sounded just like those on some of the other bands he enjoys, he enlightened me that there was no actual person behind the song (or the others). Hatsune Miku is an artificial singing voice created by a company called Crypton Fusion Media, using a voice synthesizer technology called Vocaloid created by Yamaha. Anyone can buy the “voice” and use it to sing their music.

To help sell the artificial voice, the creators gave Hatsune Miku a persona, and later even introduced versions of Miku like “Sweet,” “Soft,” and “Light.”

“How do they play concerts then?” I asked. He pointed me to this video.

Hatsune Miku, as you can see from this video of one of the most popular songs in this genre, is a vision of Japanese fantasy beauty, with very manga-like teal pigtails, projected as a hologram or a projection on screen.

Many other composers use this Vocaloid and others to showcase their compositions, and these songs have a very legitimate place in the world of music. But they beg the question – what about the connection between the audience and the singer?

I guess that’s a pretty naive question these days. Increasingly, our communication with others is over the internet or the phone. Sometimes a photo next to someone’s FB status helps me form that connection, especially for people who I am very fond of and have never met. So it is obvious that we can achieve a fair degree of interpersonal connection without having had any face-to-face contact. The story of Manti Te’o, the Notre Dame linebacker who carried on a deeply emotional relationship with a woman who only existed online (and was discovered later to have been created by a disturbed young man name Ronaiah Tuiasosopo) perhaps illustrates this best.

Do we enjoy these artificial, infinite-distance relationships so much because they are perfect in a way real relationships can never be? Lennay Kekua, Te’o’s virtual girlfriend, never complained about not spending enough time with him, or that he forgot Valnetine’s Day, or that he was flirting with another girl. Even on her deathbed, she spoke words of encouragement and hope where a real girl hurting from chemo and radiation would have been bitchy and mean.

Hatsune Miku will never have an off day, never cancel a show because of laryngitis, and will never embarrass her fans by exiting a car without underwear. She will never go old and saggy. Her voice will always be sweet perfection. And in her perfectly endowed persona, she will go on entertaining even as her aging fans are replaced by their next generation. She is an idealized version of a real voice is a way we are idealized versions of ourselves online, having perfect weekends and vacations with smiling teens and loving spouses.

That promise of perfection is seductive, but give me the real thing any day. Perhaps I write this from the perspective of a cellulite-ridden, graying, over the hill middle-aged woman, but when Asha Bhosle’s voice cracked on a particularly high note singing “Piya Tu Ab Toh Aaja” during a concert at Cow Palace in San Francisco, and she sweetly apologized to her adoring fans, she established a connection far more powerful than singing those notes perfectly would have.

And yesterday I shelled out a small fortune to watch Steffi Graf play an exhibition match at the SAP Open in San Jose. The musculature was gone, the wicked cross-court drives blunted, and most of the serves hit the net. But it was such a thrill to be breathing the same air as this amazing lady who gave me so much joy for so many years with her talent and style.

There is a place for the Hatsune Mikus of the world – her success and the success of similar Vocaloid creations is testimony to that. And there will be CGI Gollums and hologram Tupacs and more and more virtual heroes and idols. But it would be wise to remember that Miku’s artificial voice has been built from samples of voice actress Saki Fujita. Gollum was voiced and performed by the very talented actor Andy Serkis. And Tupac’s hologram needed a real Tupac to exist to have the impact it did. It is painless to interact with perfection, but it is also ephemeral. Our imperfections need the friction of other imperfections to cling to – warts, farts, and all.

 

 

Transitions Seminar – For Parents of Kids on the Spectrum

“My son thinks lunch just shows up at the dinner table,” says Richa Gupta (name changed for privacy reasons). “He has no idea of the process it takes to get there, that there are such things as grocery stores and menu planning.” Richa’s son Raj, who is a junior at the Orion Academy in Lafayette, CA, also frequently loses his Bart ticket, his jacket, his water bottle..the list goes on.

While this may sound like most teenagers at some point or the other, Raj is on the autistic spectrum, diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, and what are minor organizational issues for neurotypical kids are magnified several times for him. Richa wonders how he will cope in a year and a half from now, when kids his age typically graduate high school and begin a life of independence at college.

The Orion Academy, where Raj studies, is specifically geared to children with Aspergers, and is very focused on helping them transition to life in the mainstream. As part of that process, the Academy hosts an annual Transitions Seminar where eminent speakers are invited to speak on the theme of the seminar, which varies from year to year. Vendors providing services geared to the theme are also invited, and the day-long seminar becomes a gathering place for the community of caregivers for children on the spectrum.

This year’s theme is “Spectrum Teens as Adults: IQ vs. EQ” where specialists will present on the finding that kids on the spectrum, while often gifted with special talents, have a considerable challenge in managing the details of everyday life and making and sustaining social relationships. As a parent of a child on the spectrum, I can vouch for the lag in emotional maturity that these kids have, where a social understanding that is evident to my neurotypical 10-year-old is missing from the 17-year-old Aspie.

“Parents get burnt out dealing with the social deficits of their spectrum kids,” adds Richa, who is one of the organizers of the seminar. “It helps to meet other people in the same situation and learn from the experts. You may not get all the answers you want in just that one day, but it will be a good start for planning for the future.”

Check out the Orion Academy’s Transition Seminar if you are a caregiver or a service provider to teens on the spectrum. Details are in the flyer below.

transitions seminar

 

Special Chabbis – The Hype Doesn't Help

special chabbisThe story is quite interesting, though it is not particularly original.

The script is excellent, with small touches that elevate.

The direction is just above mediocre, and does the script a great disservice.

The confounding thing about Special Chabbis (Special 26) is that the story, script, and direction are all in the hands of the same person–Neeraj Pandey–who distinguished himself with A Wednesday, one of the finest thrillers to come out of Bollywood.

Pandey won the Indira Gandhi award for Best First Film of a Director for that gem, and there are moments in Chabbis that justify that praise. But overall, this heist thriller in the mold of Ocean’s Eleven and The Italian Job does not live up to its pre- and post-release hype.

I wonder if the clue to that disappointment lies in the numerous entities that seemed to be involved with the film – the production acknowledgments run longer than the credits. Was the director pressured to add songs, dances, and a pulsating background score that often detracts from the on-screen action by its inappropriateness? It seems unnecessary, since the crisply edited, songless A Wednesday was such a commercial and critical success.

No matter what the reason, Chabbis is bloated with the trappings of Bollywood – the sangeet, the dream sequence, the judaai song – which add at least 30-40 minutes of unnecessary running time. Yes, it is important to have character development, but that can be done without pandering to the front-seaters – witness how beautifully (and economically) Rani Mukherjee’s character was sculpted in Talaash. And what’s unforgivable is that those extra minutes could have been used to close the gaping holes in the plot, some of which are wide enough to drive a barred police van through.

What saves Chabbis is its terrific script  and its capable cast. This is probably Anupam Kher’s best role in a long, long time – the movie is worth watching just for his role as an ordinary man living an extraordinary secret life. Manoj Bajpayee as a dashing CBI officer is great as ever, and even Akshay Kumar steps up his performance in the company of these masters. There are many delicious morsels of dialogue that will stay with you long after the movie is done and will give the movie longevity both at the box office and on DVD.

Despite its letdowns, Chabbis is worth watching… just go in with realistic expectations, not with the shadow of A Wednesday hovering over the experience. And take the kids, if you want…this is a pretty clean and fun film.

Writing a Novel- Day 19

Snoopy typingWork on the book has been slow lately. I’m up to chapter 8, still in a good place to continue, just busy with a quiz show I’ve been hosting and some other household obligations. Tomorrow I plan to put in some serious time and get to the heart of the story.

Tried to get my daughter to read what I’ve written so far and give me a critique and she flatly refused. I wonder why? I guess she’s afraid of criticizing and hurting my feelings or having to lie about it! Admittedly those are not good choices but her perceived options don’t help my self-confidence!

I’m also toying with the ambitious idea of starting a story website where I will post a chapter a week of a new story that kids can subscribe to to access the content. Need a web designer who can come up with a snazzy looking website which can do the job. Anybody out there who can do a clean job at a reasonable price?

 

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Blogger

bloggerWent through a site redesign..not as fancy as it seems. It just involved picking a theme from WordPress’ featured ones and clicking “Install.” The result is a simple minimalist blog based on the theme “Twenty Twelve.”

The reason for the redesign was that WNI has more and more become just my personal blog rather than the community hangout I had once envisioned. Dear friends like Isheeta Sanghi (who I know only through her posts but I feel I know well!) pop in once in a while to post, but mostly is I, me, and myself who posts. It feels more efficient to collect all my writing in one place. In fact, I even plan to create a section for all my India Current editorials here and link back to the magazine. It’s just better curating.

Anyway, the heads up on the redesign was just part of the reason for this blog post. While updating it I was sorry to remove the names and bios of the many people who contributed to the site when it was younger. They got busier and softly walked away. And when I checked the blogs I had linked to, most were defunct.

These writers and bloggers began their journey on the internet with such enthusiasm and hope. The medium of the blog was their deliverance from their humdrum daily routines, a place to be their best creative self, a launchpad for a richer inner life.

But keeping a blog going, as I can vouch for, takes quite a bit of work, and not a little narcissism. And those dreams of making money through eyeballs never really materialized for anyone not outrageous or shameless (that means you, HuffPo).

Right at the point where bloggers were wondering whether the sweat they were pouring into these confessions was worth it, along came Facebook and Twitter and offered sweet validation in 30 words, 140 characters. One picture could generate the kind of commenting 4 paragraphs in a blog could not. One-liner announcements or provocations could start the kind of vigorous discussions that well-reasoned essays never did.

When long form journalism is hunkering down for survival in a handful of national newspapers and magazines, when even seasoned economists and philosophers have taken to encapsulating their ideas in bite size chunks, can a lowly blogger survive in his or her lonely corner of the internet?

I feel the wheel has come full circle. When blogs first began, they were web logs, or online diaries that people maintained to preserve a record of their personal growth. And in the future, the only true blogs, and I mean those that are not selling something or someone, that will continue that mostly solitary journey are of those of the very same nature, perhaps even by the same people, who will use the medium to put themselves and their lives out there, and readership be damned. The only readers they are writing for are their own future selves and that is one audience that will never desert them.

Image courtesy bloggingpro.com

 

Writing a Novel – Day 18

Back after a long hiatus. An assignment from India Currents magazine kept me busy nearly all of January. To be honest, it’s not that I didn’t have time to work on my novel; after all, there’s only so much writing you can do on any one topic. But I just didn’t have the “mental space,” as I am fond of telling everyone these days.

I used to think of myself as a very capable multi-tasker. Anyone who is a mom can understand. But when it comes to creative endeavors, I find that I only have room for one, maybe two, tasks in my brain. Preparation for the radio quiz show that I’m hosting beginning February 2 has kept me occupied. That and the IC article was all I could handle. In the hours that were not occupied with quiz, article, and housework, (and there were quite a few of those) I would play Lexulous, watch TV, and read. Even though a part of me was appalled at the waste of productive time, I couldn’t bring myself to work on the novel. I understand a little bit of what my autistic teen is going through in terms of being demotivated. I salute authors who churn out a book a year.

Well, all my excuses have dried up for now, so I’m back to work on my kid’s book. When I left it last, I had broken up my little book into chapters of 500 words each (that should give you a sense of how young I am writing for) and had reached Chapter 6 and a good place to continue. So back to work.

Writing a Novel – Day 17

The chapter book for middle graders is chugging along. I am not too unhappy with what I’ve written so far. Is it a masterpiece? No. But it is good enough for me to keep at it. I’m at chapter 4 (remember, these chapters are really small) and have enough ideas for the next chapter as well.It’s reading a little younger than 12, but that’s okay.

The best part of writing a book for younger kids is that it is eminently illustratable, though it is not a picture book. I can’t draw, but since I don’t know any artists, I am going to try my hand at sketching some rudimentary stuff and also asking my 10-year old to try her hand at it. She likes cartooning, and the pictures I am thinking about so far are simple enough for her to attempt them. I am excited about this development..should be interesting to see how the art turns out.

…But Could I Love Her

By Yamuna Kona

Yamuna Kona and her husband decided to have a baby via surrogacy in India. You can read a bit about their initial adventure at India Currents. During the process, however, the couple decided to separate and Yamuna had to decide whether she had the inner strength to continue and take on the challenges of being a single mom.

Around the globe, as everyone welcomes 2013, I’m sure musings of the year you left behind are still sitting heavily in your thoughts.

Are you one of the lucky few to be thankful for a blessed 2012 year?  Or do you wish your time could’ve been spent differently?  Maybe you close your eyes, and click your heels and wish for a complete do-over.  Maybe the moments were so exquisite you hoped the year had never ended.

I think I’m all of the above.  2012 particularly had been like the climax of a stagnant novel. I planned to ski in one direction, expecting to stumble over a few bunny slopes along the way.  And I wasn’t naïve, by any means.  My only fault; I was hopeful.  I guess I wasn’t aware of Einstein’s quote, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  I wish I had come across this quote before I made my plans, or redirected all my hopes into one basket.  Guess I didn’t remember that quote either.

Let’s see.  If I had to summarize last year, I would start by saying that I love my daughter, more than I ever thought possible, but I wasn’t always confident that I could love her, care for her, or if I even wanted to.  And I know that seems shocking for other mothers to read, single or not.  But, I’m all about honesty, and I’ve had to face some truths I had locked away in an emotional vault.

I ultimately went through a series of emotional explosions that elucidated my absurd thought process, though my behavior seemed totally rational to me at the time. I suppose it was a method to deal with my confusion that even dear friends, and most definitely my husband, couldn’t understand.  They all lashed out at me ruthlessly, though the quiet criticisms were the ones that stung the most and stay branded in the heart.  I was pinned as having “lost it.”

I worried that I would end up damaging my daughter in some way, because of what I’d endured as a child. I was utterly convinced that I might unfairly and senselessly discipline her as my father used to discipline me.  Let me be clear, because I have spent the better part of my life hiding behind vagueness. I was raised in a verbally and physically abusive household, courtesy of my father.  This may have been the core fear that spawned the numerous other fears that consumed me, and perhaps created a wall between me and  my daughter, even before she was born.

Halfway through the pregnancy I was scared beyond belief and almost backed out of the surrogacy. I know—how could I, right? Believe me, the guilt of  having hesitated to honor a commitment of this magnitude I consciously made to an innocent, precious miracle, nearly devoured me whole, and still haunts me as I write this.

I also had many waking nightmares of unintentionally forcing my child to constantly take sides during fighting matches with my husband. As a daughter I had to do just that, and I always suffered, even if my parents resolved their issues later. The guilt of choosing one parent or the other still sits at the bottom of my stomach like acid.  And I was forced to recognize that that my marriage wasn’t solid as I so desperately wanted to believe.  We’d been an unaffectionate, distant, uncommunicative non-couple for the last 12 years, and I truly believed that planning for this child to be born via a surrogate would instantly bond us with an unfathomable closeness, perhaps even create a desire to be intimate.  I went into this wholly believing we’d have our “happily ever after.” But what should have occurred to me, what should have it hit me like a slug in the face, was that if two people couldn’t be happy without a child, a child could certainly never be a remedy to failing relationship.

In the midst of coming to terms with my marriage and not having confidence that I could be a decent mother, I also carried the weight of my daughter not being biologically mine.  Yes, she is biologically my husband’s and an anonymous donor’s.  (I had known since my teenage years that I could never conceive my own child). This pain had always been like a cancer, eating away at my soul.  And I’d go through phases, where I’d think positive, focus on something else, and sweep it away under the carpet until an incident triggered my sadness again.  And the cycle always resumed; someone would have a baby, or I’d have to attend a baby shower, or see a newborn, and I would become depressed. And I wasn’t always vocal about it; often I‘d isolate myself from the world.

The infertility hospital that we’d been working with was against the idea of me becoming as heavily involved as I thought I’d be in the process.  I mean, I/we had left our life in the USA and temporarily relocated to India for this purpose, with the assumption, based on their word, that we could be involved as much as possible.  But whatever was agreed in our emails surely wasn’t carried out, and my husband (in my opinion) wasn’t vocal enough about communicating our disappointment.   Since I wasn’t able to maintain the closeness I wanted with the surrogate, and wasn’t allowed to be present for the doctor exams, the whole process started having a negative effect on me.  I wanted to feel the baby kick and move around, see the progression baby belly on a daily, bi-weekly or weekly basis, but I was only allowed to record a few 2-minute videos of the first trimester’s scan.  And sometimes, I wasn’t even notified that a scan was taking place or if it was, it was always too late to even try to make it there in time.  I found that the culture in India is not a compassionate one.  It’s quite different from the way medical professionals deal with patients in the USA, where they treat prospective parents with kid gloves.

I also expected my husband to understand that I was gradually feeling like an outsider.  I did voice that to him, but he may have been mentally unprepared to deal with my emotions, and I was frequently left to console myself, or lean on friends for support.  Maybe it was unintentional, but my husband’s lack of compassion induced scenes of a future that seemed bleak.  I panicked, convinced myself that there was no way I could be a mother to someone else’s child, especially if I didn’t feel included before she was born, or validated by the one person I hoped would calm my fears.  I had pictured my husband in anger, saying, “Don’t  yell at ‘my’ child,” or the child (after finding out that I wasn’t her real mother), lashing out at me, not respecting me, and telling me I couldn’t tell her what to do because I wasn’t her “real mother.”

Everyone thought I was crazy. No one tried to reason with me, or even suggested therapy.  They mostly judged.  In retrospect, I wish my husband’s anger about my fear of caring for a child that wasn’t biologically mine hadn’t clouded his judgment.  I wish he had fought to get me help, or taken the time to soothe my fears.  I bet if he had, we’d still be together today.  The intention for me to totally back out of the commitment was never set in stone; I was simply terrified, and what was vital was assurance I’d be a great mother, and we’d be a united front in raising our child together, and I’d never feel like an outsider.  But he was probably angrier that I and had doubts of my staying in the marriage with him too.

His reaction to my emotional behavior was to become detached and, to me, it was crystal clear proof he’d never be supportive in my time of need.  Before the baby’s birth he took off for the US, and left me in India to resolve my emotional issues, without a thought as to how the baby would be cared for, and who would care for her, and if I decided to go ahead with the adoption, what quality of care I could give her in my emotionally fragile state of mind.  I mean, I had no one here to even show me how to care for a child, no parents, no family this side of India.  What was he thinking?

Many people are still stunned that a father who invested his own seed, money and effort into making this decision happen would react in this manner.  His defense—one of them anyway— was he hoped he could force a bond with me and the baby, and that may have been well intended, but definitely wasn’t thought through.  Because in the state of mind I was in, I could barely care for myself.

I wanted to see the baby after she was born, but I cried every time I thought of her, or saw her picture.  I wanted so badly for her to be MINE. And I couldn’t change that fact.  I wanted her, but I was scared to bring her home and care for her in my mental state of mind, and on my own.   And I wanted her to be cared for by two loving parents, not just one.

Luckily, there was one good friend that never gave up on me.  He was gentle, gradually sneaking in conversations about bringing the baby home, and after a month of assuring me that I’d be a great mother I brought her home.  He put my fears to rest and, yes, it’s true—I love Ariyana as if I had given birth to her myself.  And the all years that I spent wasting my energy and feeling sad that I couldn’t have my own child disappeared once I held her in my arms.  She is mine in every way.

2012 was THE year I could identify the insanities circling relationships, friendships, loyalty, love, myself—recognizing personal misconceptions definitely played leading roles in my fears—and discovered how miracles transform life forever. I learned the mysteries of why certain bonds are born, become, fizzle or strengthen. Having probably wept a river, it was the most emotional year thus far, inclusive with painful and amazing experiences.  I became a mother, with or without an active, father figure in the picture.  I finally became a mother.  I never expected to smile, enjoy and be stunned by her developments by myself, yet the miracle of her life, and how her presence has soaked my soul with positivity and hope, by far surpasses any and all negativity, and self-pity.

Yamuna decided to bring up her daughter as a single mom, and has started a blog where you can follow her journey. Check out http://singlemommadramaclub.blogspot.in/

Writing a Novel – Day 16

Back from a break that was both good and bad for my writing aspirations. Good, because I had time to reflect on where my story was going and flesh it out a bit more in my head before I put it down on paper. Bad, because I read so many great examples of what I am hoping to achieve that the project has taken on even more daunting overtones. My friend Jeanne’s useful material on kidlit turned out to be inspiring and paralyzing in equal parts; there are so many people who are so much further ahead in the process who are still struggling with very basic issues like structure and theme development. It is so easy to give up when you see what challenges lie ahead.

While I was reflecting on where to take my YA story, another idea, this one geared for the 8-12 age group, popped up and I began writing it yesterday. I found my voice is much better suited for this age at this point in my writing career; the words just flow, and the dialogues seem much less forced. New, interesting ideas and characters keep popping up effortlessly, and the knowledge that this will be a much smaller book seems so appealing to someone who wants so much to get a book under her belt. Coincidentally, (or is there no such thing as coincidence? Da-da-da!) I came across this interview with Maurice Sendak yesterday where he talks about being stuck writing for children because that’s where he felt he belonged. It is part of a series of interviews with the beloved children’s author where he ruminates on the point of living, being ready to die, and how it makes him happy to write. ” (Writing.)… is the only true happiness I’ve ever enjoyed.” I challenge anyone to listen to this wise man without tearing up.

So my New Year’s resolution is that I will write this smaller book as it comes ( I seem to be able to write this is short bursts in between the daily routine) and keep developing the other one in my head till it makes sense.