Category Archives: The things that happen only to ME…
It’s a simple question, but one that is perhaps the hardest to ask of yourself.
“Am I Replaceable?”
A few years ago, a friend of mine working for a company that provided background checking services decided to quit the place as she found a new job elsewhere. When she quit, nobody in her company expressed even the least bit of concern that someone who had a lot of experience and who was good at their job was leaving. The way they looked at it was that once she left, someone else would be in line to take over her position. Simply put, she was ‘replaceable’.
That was, like I mentioned, a few years ago. But over the past couple of days, for reasons unknown to me, I have revisited the idea of being replaceable very deeply. So I am wondering:
Are We Replaceable?
All of us like to think of ourselves as unique, as one of a kind. There is something different in us that separates us from everybody else. It must be in our character. So on and so forth. Right? Right?
Just take a look at where you are, what you have done in your life, what you have achieved in your life, who you are married to, who your friends are, what kind of life they are leading, what kind of a life you envision for the future, and what kind of a life the other people you know in your life have envisioned for their future? Fact is that every one of us have done something or the other with our lives. We have gone to school, perhaps gone to college, got a bachelor’s degree, perhaps even a Master’s degree, (and for an immigrant like me, made the trip to the USA for my Master’s), some of us are now married to someone, maybe we even have kids or are planning to in the near future, have a steady job that promises good career growth, helping out a lot of people at the job, working on new products, etc. etc.
Which is all good – as long as people agree that all these things that they have done could have/would have been done by any one of a lot of other people as well had they been in the same position as they were. That is to say, we haven’t done anything that someone else (among a lot of people) in our position would not have done. Or in other words: “We are replaceable.”
Anytime we live our lives by putting in the effort to do mostly what we really ‘have’ to do in order to be considered successful in the eyes of society and family, we are replaceable. This is because there is always someone else who, with similar upbringing and societal influences, will achieve the same things with the same opportunities that we have had.
But what about our relationships, you might ask? Surely each person is loved for his unique character and personality, right? Else, relationships could not possibly work at all, correct?
Both my parents have shown me unconditional love all my life and I am extremely grateful for it. If, for instance, my character and personality was instead more like one of the dozens of friends I know, my parents would still love me just the same. I could have been like any one of the many different people I know and my parents would have loved me just the same. What about a husband and wife? Surely there is a higher demand of a specific character requirement there, right?
Think of your partner right now. Now, also think of some of the other people of the opposite sex of about the same age that you know fairly well and you respect. Now think about what would have happened if you had met one of these other people at the right time and under the right conditions. You would perhaps be sharing your life with this other person instead of your current partner. It just so happened that you ended up meeting your current partner under the right conditions and so you ended up with him/her.
So essentially, anyone (of the many many people in this world) fulfilling your set of basic criteria, who happens to be at a particular place at a particular time and under the right set of circumstances will very likely end up as your partner. Whatever may be your partner’s quirks or character flaws, you will just learn to adjust, adapt and not complain about it in the long run. And the sense of ‘irreplaceability’ that you may feel towards a person after being with them for a long time comes not from a sense of individual uniqueness, but more from a sense of security, familiarity and an inherent fear of change.
So yes, your partner is replaceable. And since that applies reciprocally as well, it means that you are replaceable too.
If this sounds very depressing, that is because it is. Nobody wants their sense of self worth to take a beating. It is one of the worst feelings in the world. The objective here is not to belittle who we are or what we have achieved. Instead, the crux of this aspect of the human condition is to be brave enough to ask ourselves a very tough question:
“What have I done in my life that anyone else in my position with similar upbringing and influences would not have done?”
Another way to frame it would be:
“What have I done in my life that is beyond my basic duties as an employee/student, husband, son, father, friend, etc?”
“What have I created in this life that nobody else in my position as an employee/student, family man, friend, etc. would have?”
If you are struggling to find answers to these questions, then you – like most of the earth’s population – are replaceable. You could be leading the life of any one of a million other people just like you – and any one of the million other people just like you would have done pretty much the same things as you have in your life. They would offer the same things as you do. And so, you are replaceable by any one of them.
Questioning your own sense of self worth is easily one of the hardest things to do – which is why nobody does it. Instead, we all want to feel good about ourselves and think of ourselves as unique and remarkable in our own way. But the truth is that most of us are neither remarkable nor unique.
Because most of us are just REPLACEABLE.
PS: At some point in time in the future, I intend to write about the one exception to this rule: ART.
An often denied fact concerns the accumulation of stress during any vacation. Be it a trip to a national park, a visit to a big city, a hike through the woods, a road trip – vacations usually consist of stress filled days that are stitched together midst the experiences of visiting new places or hanging out with friends/family. A fair amount of planning has already gone into the vacation: we visit these places on day one, drive to here on day two, meetup with friends on day three hiking, camp and hike further on day four, drive back on day five, take flight back home on day six. Feel free to make up your own schedule. We all have.
We want to ‘cover’ as many places as we can jam into our schedule. Consequently, this ends up demanding a lot more effort in getting to those places and ‘covering’ them while we are there. We want to put up photographs on Facebook showing us at as many different locations as possible. We want to tick all those places off our bucket list – whether they are on it or not. Life is so short after all…..right?
Getting started on a vacation with an agenda is what most people do. There is a certain expectation of returns for all the investment you are putting into this vacation. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It helps us see the places we always wanted to see in a timely and economical fashion. But it is also important to recognize the role of the agenda in building up stress levels during any vacation.
And that is what I decided to avoid last week when I took a few days off work. No agenda, no expectations, no stress: the Dudeist-Vacation
I took a Wednesday off work and this is a list of things I did in Des Moines that day:
1. Spend 2 hours eating breakfast at Perkup Cafe
2. Cash checks.
3. Visit the library, read Dune for an hour and rent 5 audiobooks for my drive the next day.
4. Watch Chelsea draw with Galatasaray in the Champions League at the Royal Mile drinking beer and eating lunch.
5. Come back home and watch a couple of episodes of True Detective and listen to a couple of LPs.
There is not one item in the list that can be even remotely classified as ‘constructive’. It was one of the most awesome days in recent memory. A complete day of doing absolutely nothing that required me to acknowledge any stress at all. Just like The Dude lives.
This inspired me to extend the same thinking for the rest of my vacation. So when I reached Ann Arbor the next day, I had absolutely nothing on my mind that I wanted to do. Sure I wanted to see my friend successfully defend his PhD. But that was it. Other than that, I was just hanging out doing absolutely nothing.
I drove to Detroit on Saturday to visit a couple of my other good friends. The only agenda I had for that trip was to visit the Motown museum. Other than that, all I told my friend was that I wanted to drink some beer and buy some records. And that is exactly what I did: drink beer at a brewery and buy some records at a record store. To kill a couple of hours, my friend and I hung out at a coffee shop chatting. Then I ate dinner and went back to Ann Arbor. That was it. That was how I spent my only day in Detroit. Barely any agenda and still extremely satisfying.
My friend (now with a DR. before his name) and I then drove to Chicago because it is on my way back to Des Moines. And also because Chicago is awesome. It is an even more awesome place to do absolutely nothing and just hang out with no agenda. All I wanted to do was meet a friend, drink some beer, eat some deep dish pizza and buy some records. And that is what we did. Met a friend, drank some beer, ate deep dish pizza and bought a lot of records. We also celebrated his PhD at the Signature Lounge on top of Hancock tower with a glass of Glenmorangie on the rocks overlooking the night view of the entire city from up top. I stayed one more night and went to a downtown breakfast place in the morning and just sat there by myself for two hours doing absolutely nothing. And then I drove back to Des Moines. Never visited any tourist attraction, never did any sightseeing, and did not even look up any ‘things to do in Chicago’.
It was the best vacation I could have had under those circumstances. For a week, I did not even have to acknowledge the idea of stress – even minuscule amounts of it. There was nothing that could go wrong when you were doing absolutely nothing. And I was able to do that because I had absolutely no agenda set for my vacation. No expectations, no plans – just a whole bunch of doing nothing. More importantly, it was a whole bunch of doing nothing in different places – which is awesome.
After I came back, I realized that anytime I did absolutely nothing for extended periods of time is always awesome. You should try it too. It would be important to identify those particular activities you would want to do that do not require any set agenda whatsoever. To me, apparently, they include eating breakfast, drinking beer and buying records. It is just something that you do because you like it and you don’t care how it turns out. There is absolutely nothing at stake when you are doing these activities. Only you know what those activities are. And once you know what they are, you should just take a vacation doing those things – wherever you want to. For all I care, take a flight half way across the country to just sit at a coffee shop and do nothing for an entire day. (That would be an awesome idea by the way).
All in all, it is an extremely satisfying and fulfilling experience to just be able to do nothing and continue to live a normal life. Also, the very act of doing nothing for extended periods of time tells you that “nothing’s fucked!”. The Dude’s lifestyle is not just for a character in a Coen Brothers movie. It is an increasingly overlooked way of life for us every day men and women. Maybe we will never be able to live like The Dude every single day of our lives. But, at the very least, when we decide to take time off, we can remember to ask ourselves the question:
“What would The Dude do?”
And then decide to do absolutely nothing. Because it is always awesome to be The Dude.
PS: After this experience, I have decided to take a weekday off from work every 2-3 weeks and do absolutely nothing. I won’t be at home, but I intend to do absolutely nothing constructive the entire day. It is like my day of rest.
Last year I was on vacation in Chicago with my parents. I had spent a good 60 hours with them at a stretch. On the 3rd evening, I reached a point when I just needed some alone time. The sun was just about to set and so I put my parents on one of the awesome double decker buses that would just take them around downtown showing the night view of the city’s skyline. And within 100 seconds of them boarding the bus, I was seated at a bar, drinking Oberon.
Sitting alone there and drinking my beer, I got into a fairly introspective state of mind – having an existential conversation with myself in my head. Continued consumption of alcohol clearly helped sustain it. I must have spent a good two hours there, because by the time I was about to leave I had a good buzz going in my head. I remembered that I had asked my parents to meet me at the Hancock tower by 9. So I closed my tab and the bartender gave me my copy of the receipt and wished me a good evening. I was just about to leave in that buzzing state of mind when all of a sudden I found myself IN THE ZONE. It came calling out of nowhere – like it always does. And I had to answer. The Zone is where my inspiration comes from – for anything and everything – and when I am in it, I need to explore it in full.
At that moment, sitting at that bar in Chicago, what came to me was a set of words and lines. Not too many, but something that I just had to write down immediately, lest I forget it the next minute. So I quickly asked the bartender for a pen and started writing on the first piece of paper I could find – on the back of my copy of the receipt.
And I was able to write down everything that came to me at that moment. And once I knew there was nothing more to write, I felt truly content. I stored that receipt in my wallet and went searching for the Hancock Tower.
Today, I decided to clean out my wallet to see all the hidden treasures it housed. And it was then that I found the receipt still in there – still containing all the words I wrote. And that made me smile – and write this post.
So here it is – the words that came to me at a bar in Chicago last summer.
It is truly phenomenal what contrast can accomplish. Just being subjected to the ideas and circumstances that you so desperately crave for can make you truly see what you don’t have. That’s all it takes. A true acknowledgement of what you don’t have. And you will get into that beautiful introspective state of melancholy. It is so intimate – just the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. It is something you can always count on – the intimacy of helplessness and hopelessness. In a world filled with such uncertainty, when something like this provides an enormous sense of certainty, it is hard not to fall in love with it. Think about it – the intimacy of helplessness and hopelessness. It is just so beautiful!
This is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts dealing with society’s incomplete, unfair and misplaced perception of happiness.
The Happiness Industry is everywhere. It exists because we all want to be happy all the time. From the self help books, to the ‘Lead your life’ seminars, to the daily inspirational quotes, to all the websites and blogs giving you their own unique tips, to the religion sponsored salvation guarantees, to the different schools of thought offering that elusive ‘inner peace’, to the innumerable God Men who claim to know the path to enlightenment, to the beauty products that guarantee your confidence, to the prescription pills promising to alleviate your stress, to the never ending advertisements that promise you happiness in exchange for some of your money.
IT IS EVERYWHERE.
It is also completely missing the point.
It starts off with parents telling their kids that everyone should be happy in life. That is then upgraded to be a requirement. Subsequently, it becomes an order. Then there is talk of REAL HAPPINESS and that it comes from within. Materialistic objects are then perceived to be providing only temporary pleasure and are apparently never fully satisfying. Then there is the sudden realization that maybe REAL HAPPINESS lies in religion and God. Then there is an alternative school of thought that promises that elusive ‘inner peace’. How about living in the present? Or how about that really charismatic person who apparently performs miracles and who seems to want to help everybody be happy? He can surely make people happy? Perhaps falling in love is the key to fulfillment. Having children and starting a family is maybe what is missing. That promotion should help things get better. No? Then perhaps go back to religion and God. That is always a safe bet, right?
How hard people try….. All the places they look…. All the things they believe in…..
All searching for HAPPINESS. All the time.
I have only one question: WHY?
The answer to that is not a WHY NOT? The answer to the question ‘Why are people always looking to be happy?’ is that wanting to be happy is simply a consequence of societal and religious expectations. Same as getting an education, getting a job, starting a family, etc. This expectation of being happy is so deeply ingrained in us that it is extremely hard to justify to somebody that being happy should never be considered a necessity. The idea that, as a human being, the objective in life is to be happy is an extremely fundamental and fixed frame of reference. Everything everybody ever sees is through this frame of reference.
A few instances: when we are not feeling good, we are encouraged to talk to people to feel better – nobody says it is OK to feel down; when a friend has lost someone, we tell them everything is going to be OK – nobody reminds them of what a big loss they have just had; when someone is feeling down, we make it our responsibility to make them feel better – we don’t suggest that they try to express it through a form of art; a therapist is always expected to solve other people’s problems so that they feel better; counselling is always encouraged for people to get out of traumatic situations; when we are angry we are told to calm down because being calm makes it easier to be happy – nobody encourages us to listen to heavy metal music in that state of mind.
Ultimately, every state of mind that is not directly linked to being ‘happy’ is always judged to be something inferior – and people are expected to rise above it, whatever it takes. If we are unable to rise above it, we are then considered weak. If we are not considered weak, we are shown a lot of sympathy and/or pity. Being treated with sympathy or being considered weak – fact is that both these are still going to consider us to be inferior and as somebody who needs help. Note that both society and religion has already decided that every individual personally desires to be happy all the time. If there is an exception, then, well, there is apparently something wrong with that person. Right?
And this is where I have a problem. I realize everyone likes being happy – if happy things happened to them. I only question the deeply ingrained dogma of a society to judge a person who is not ‘happy’ as someone inferior to the rest. I also question the even more fundamental idea that everyone in this world should actively strive for happiness all the time and that everything else is a bad idea.
Being a human being is not just about being happy. We have evolved to be able to experience an unbelievable spectrum of emotions. Happiness is only one small part of it. Being happy makes you experience a certain specific sensation or feeling. If the sum total of all the feelings that we have experienced in our life is restricted to this one specific feeling, then can we even claim to have fully lived like a human being?
Happiness is good. But this should never imply the converse – that anything apart from happiness is miserable and unacceptable. And it should never make it acceptable for the society to simply demand and expect people to be happy all the time and consider them inferior if they are not. And so I personally reject all schools of thought that make happiness/salvation/enlightenment as the fundamental objective of a human being during his or her lifetime.
Come to think of it, if everyone from the beginning of time was happy all the time, how do you think our history would read? It would perhaps comprise of one sentence: “And then Mankind lived happily ever after”. That would be such a boring and one dimensional history and I would not want to be any part of it – even if it had made me happy.
In the next post, I will explore the role of ART in explaining why the societal and religious perception of happiness is incomplete and completely misplaced.
I follow one principle when buying vinyl records:
Never order online.
There is no romance to it. The real excitement lies in digging through hundreds of used and new records in record stores and finding that one awesome album that you never expected to find. Every time that happens, I feel like a kid in candy land.
However, after over 2 years of unsuccessful search across the country to locate this particular album, I had to give up on my coveted principle and order it online.
The one that made me compromise: The Man Machine by Kraftwerk.
I just received this record in my mail and I headed straight to frame the album cover on my wall. Then I headed to my record player and started the record spinning. And then those sounds – possibly straight out of a Stanley Kubrick movie – a prolonged bling, then another and another, and then…..
We’re charging our battery
And now we’re full of energy
We are the robots
As far as I am concerned, The Man Machine easily has the best album cover ever made. A minimalist photograph of 4 expressionless German dudes in blood red shirts with black ties and faces as pale as they had seen a ghost – or maybe they ARE the ghosts – standing one behind the other and staring sideways at something that appears to be commanding all their attention, respect and admiration. The inner sleeve contains more haunting photographs of what appears to be wax models of the 4 men playing instruments and posing for photographs. Try coming up with something more awe inspiring and profound than that and you will make your mark in history.
There is something otherworldly about this album art. Holding it in your hand while listening to the music makes you feel like you are holding a product – a creation – from a world far far away in both space and time. While this music is definitely not from the present, it definitely makes you wonder if this music is from the future or from some mysterious time in the past when 4 strange looking men envisioned how music in the future would be.
To me, the reason this album holds special significance is because I was exposed to it when I was a kid. Of all the people, my dad had brought this album home on cassette. Till today he does not remember how or why he got hold of it. He has not heard to any other Krafwerk’s albums and he does not even recollect the exact name of the band. But when I asked him a month ago here in America, he distinctly recollected owning and listening to the album (in his own words, it was an album “which showed 4 white faced men staring blankly away from the camera”) when I was a kid of maybe 5-6 years old. For reasons I do not recollect or comprehend, I did not play that tape a couple of years after I first listened to it and had never listened to any of that album since then – even by accident.
As a 5-6 year old kid, The Man Machine had captivated me to no end. I remember playing it on a loop for hours together. It transported me to another world – a world in my own imagination filled with space ships in which 4 strange expressionless men in red shirts captivated thousands of people with their hypnotic music. It filled up my imagination with the same intensity as comic books or sci-fi cartoons.
It is hard to describe the sudden and intense rush of memories from the past that comes about when I listen to a particular song or album – something that was strongly associated with that particular time or person. It is stronger than nostalgia. The Man Machine took me back to a time when the biggest worry in my life was to do my homework, eat my vegetables and polish my shoes. It reminded me of squatting in front of a Phillips 2 speaker system, putting in the cassette, rewinding it all the way, hitting play and then just staring at it in eager anticipation for that hypnotic bling to take me to a spaceship far far away. And it never failed to do so.
And then today, almost 20 years after I had last listened to that album, when the needle of my record player landed on the brand new vinyl, I was back on that spaceship. I was back on that spaceship and I did not get back to Earth for more than 2 hours.
There are a few people and things on this planet who/which can make me smile and laugh and feel happy in an instant – just to have known or experienced them or to be able to experience them again. The right music can definitely achieve that for me.
The Man Machine by Kraftwerk had me smiling and laughing and dancing in a spaceship like I had not done in almost 20 years.
It is now a little more than 4 years since I set foot in America. The last 2 of them have been under far more financial freedom and stability than ever before in my life. It was during this time that I traveled significantly – taking in new experiences and dwelling in the wonder of what I saw. I went to dozens and dozens of concerts, visited big cities, explored national parks, discovered places that even none of my American friends knew about. At no point in time did I forget to appreciate how fortunate I was to be able to do all those things that I did and to visit all the places I wanted to. Yes I had to work hard and go through significant troubles and bear through uncertain times to get to where I am now – like so many of my friends who chose the same path. But behind all of that was this one constant, unchanging thing: the support, encouragement and trust of my parents. Having always been very close to them since as long as I can think of, they gave me a sense of belonging and a platform I always knew I could fall back on in times of need. I have absolutely no hesitation in declaring that I would not be where I am today without their effort over the past 25 years or so. And so, during my travels in America, everywhere I went and felt the wonder of having discovered something beautiful, I ALWAYS imagined myself sharing that same experience with my parents – to bring them there and show them what they had helped me to do.
I finally got the opportunity when my parents’ visa got approved (in what ended up becoming a 1 minute interview with exactly one question asked). They arrived in the second week of July and I immediately absolved myself of all responsibilities related even remotely to the kitchen and other household stuff- including but not limited to the maintenance and upkeep of the house, laundry, dishes etc. My mom was more than happy to take over for the duration of her stay and I just let her run the house – like she has done for the past 27 years or so.
I was more than happy to have them at my place. But there is no denying my apprehension about how my lifestyle would be affected with their arrival – especially with having lived by myself for over 2 1/2 years. Fortunately, I was able to work my way around it and my parents were understanding of my evening disappearances to see my friends. And I have to admit, just the food almost made it worth it. I had long forgotten about the idea of a proper breakfast during weekdays. There was also the whole thing about someone actually serving me food – that felt like a long forgotten experience. My mom’s cooking also reminded me about the existence of so many different dishes that I immediately decided that I would simply over eat at every single opportunity and not care one bit about potential weight gain. And today, I am extremely happy to have over eaten (to the point of feeling gluttonous) at least 3 times a day continuously for about 2 months straight.
There were exactly 4 places I wanted to take my parents to. And I am very happy that I was able to accomplish all of that and under very pleasant circumstances. I got my parents to ‘hangout’ at the Old Market district in Omaha – something they never got tired of. It was and still is one of the most beautiful few blocks of downtown I have ever seen, and my parents clearly shared my view. The 3 days we spent in Chicago was extremely fulfilling too. More than the downtown boat ride, Navy Pier or the Shedd Aquarium, I had one specific thing in my mind that I wanted to do. On the second night, I took my parents to the Observatory on top of Hancock tower. A mind blowing night view of the captivating Chicago skyline – especially when you get to look down upon it. But it was not just the view that I had in mind. Yes, both my parents were thrilled beyond words at the sight in front of them. But it was only when I got my dad a glass of Jameson, right there in the Observatory, did I feel the experience complete. Sharing a drink with my dad at the Observatory was the first thing that had come to my mind when I had visited the place previously. And finally being able to do it felt like a landmark moment and a perfect celebration of my relationship with him.
As far back as I can remember, my dad has always wanted to see the Niagara Falls. My mom too. So I took them there in the Maid of the Mist. For about 5 minutes, we were completely transported to a different world – one where all you could see was this gigantic rushing mass of water. It really is one of those out-of-this-world experiences when you are at the foot of the falls in that small boat and looking up at this massive sea of water falling with an incomparable intensity. It was there at that moment that I asked them to remind themselves of where they came from, how and where they spent their childhood, and all the things they went through. And with that as the context, I asked them to look around and see where they were at that moment. The contrast dawned on them immediately and with that, a strong sense of fulfillment took me over.
Our trip to New York City happened mainly because my parents wanted to go there. I had no intention to visit the place as a big city experience has never been my idea of travelling somewhere. If you want a tip, here it is: Don’t go to NYC unless what you want to see is swarms of tourists every step of the way, a big gaping hole in your pocket and generally nothing to admire. (I will admit the Museum of Modern Art was a clear exception. I saw Starry Night and THIS painting which I now have on my wall). But my parents wanted to do the tourist’s trip which inevitably included the Empire State Building (and the mandatory 2 hour waiting period), the Statue of Liberty (an eyesore that is to be avoided under all circumstances), a drive through Wall Street (the only place where it is OK to openly admire the testicles of a bull) and the Brooklyn Bridge (good engineering, no aesthetic offering). So clearly, I did not enjoy it (and I would definitely not be going back) but I was fully aware that this trip was not for me – it was for my parents. And so it never occurred to me to complain at all.
But perhaps the best was really kept for the last. I took my parents to Wisconsin over Labor Day Weekend. Arguing against my parents’ wishes to see another big city in Minneapolis, I took them to House on the Rock, Madison, New Glarus (including the Brewery there) and Lake Geneva. The House on the Rock was where I really wanted to take them. It is a place which nobody can ever satisfactorily describe. It is a celebration of humans going beyond the limits of imagination. It is a reward for those who seek something beyond the mainstream offerings of tourism. And my parents were left in complete awe and wonder – and rightly so. Trips to New Glarus, New Glarus Brewing company and Lake Geneva was really an eye opener for my parents with regard to the other side of America – the one with the small town, antique shop and record store feel to it. My dad was particularly pleased with the New Glarus Brewery – a place which felt more like some ruins in an old Mediterranean city than a brewery where you could sample some of the best beer in the Midwest. Lake Geneva was perhaps the best portrayal of a small town American city which had maintained its small town feel in spite of the popularity of the place among tourists. Both my parents enjoyed it and the whole trip was an extremely satisfactory end to their travels here.
In addition to the travels, I was particularly happy that my parents just took in what the American Midwest – and specifically Des Moines – had to offer with great satisfaction. The extremely good nature of the people, the laid back lifestyle, a complete lack of noise or air pollution and a beautiful and safe suburb experience – all served as the perfect getaway from the stress of working life. My mom declared her love for Dunkin’ Donuts, making that her first go to place for breakfast in Chicago and NYC. My dad had never been spoilt for choice in beer before he came here (For one, he was not even aware that there were options beyond Lager). So I took him to the El Bait Shop on his birthday and he was clearly overwhelmed at their selection of beer. But perhaps my dad’s biggest achievement during his stay here was his discovery of Pink Floyd and his strong desire to see The Wire. Clearly, my dad is going in the right direction.
They left a couple of days after the Wisconsin trip. My mom made sure I did not have to cook for the following 2 weeks and I still have quite a bit of her cooking in the fridge. They took back with them bags loaded with goodies for all my family back home (including what is perhaps the best of the lot – a ‘Better Call Saul’ shirt for my cousin) along with some memorabilia from every one of their trips. But to me, their trip was more about all the things that they had always wanted to do, all the places I wanted to show them and all the experiences I wanted to share with them. It was also an opportunity for me to connect with them after a long time. And I can happily say that I was able achieve all of them.
All in all, very satisfying experience for my parents and me. Now I am back to living my old lifestyle and still savoring my mom’s cooking.
In the past few months, I have gone through states of mind that I was initially apprehensive to acknowledge. Admittedly, I felt ashamed to think about it and expected ridicule, condemnation and judgment if I spoke about it. Why? Because that is the way I was brought up. And that is still the way society expects me to be. Society wants me to be happy. Nobody wants me to be sad or depressed. Come to think of it, it is not that everybody wants me to be happy. It is that everybody requires me to be happy.
Anger was one of the earliest responses to my depressed state of mind. Anger not only at the endless snowfall this winter, but more at myself for allowing my mind to get depressed. It really was a matter of ego and pride that I simply continued to refuse and deny the sadness that was consuming me. But why? Why did my pride feel hurt just by me becoming sad? Why did it even become an issue for my ego? The problem was not with my ego or my pride. The problem was what was deemed unacceptable and frowned upon and how I was brought up with those values.
You see, the way I grew up, there was just no room for being sad. Except for an event involving the passing away of someone close, there was never a set of circumstances leading to sadness that could be justified or tolerated. The objective always was to be happy in life. There were always instructions to be happy – by people at home, at school, in the books you read, in the ads that you saw and in the movies you were told to watch. Sadness was never tolerated as a normal state of mind. If you were sad, you just had to put in extra effort and do things that made you happy. Or worse, just stop feeling sad – just like that! Simply put, there was always immense pressure to appear to be happy when you were sad. And if anything, that only made matters worse – starting a vicious loop in the process.
But it got worse. The line that was drawn between being sad and being happy also doubled up as the line between being a failure and being a success. Success and happiness were deemed to feed off of each other in a never ending loop. So was failure and sadness. If you were not happy, you were a failure. Or put it the other way around, you were considered successful only if you were happy. Nobody ever told me, “It’s OK to not be happy all the time.” I wish someone had. Because then I would not have spent so much time growing up feeling like a failure.
You see, just the way success and happiness were deemed to be in a reinforcing ‘positive’ loop, the feeling of apparent failure and sadness were also on a reinforcing loop – albeit a ‘negative’ one, so to speak. And once you get stuck in it, there is no way to come out of it unless someone tells you that it is OK not to be happy all the time.
Truly, there are very few things that can match the profundity of the realization that follows that event – the event when you are told that it is OK to be sad. Till today, nobody has actually told me that. I just decided that was the case. And once I did that, it was the most beautiful and fulfilling feeling ever. It relieved me of so much stress and lifted the massive burden of expectations off my shoulders. Suddenly, there were no obligations that I had to fulfill. I was truly a free man.
Come to think of it, society has made us believe that we have an obligation to feel happy ALL the time. Trying to be happy ALL the time is easily the most exhausting thing mankind has ever conjured up in its entire existence. And the fact that this has been successfully perpetrated through hundreds of generations does not make it easy for anyone to live against this norm.
I see it everyday around me – people making a sincere and inevitable effort to not only tell the world that they are having an amazingly happy time, but to also desperately seek their approval for it. None more evident than on the phenomenon that is Facebook.
If I take Facebook for its word, it means that my friends are always travelling, getting married, having kids, partying with friends, hanging out with buddies or families, in fulfilling relationships, showing off their new acquisitions, cheering for their favorite sports team, coming up with witty or quirky sayings, sharing apparently profound sayings or just being extremely happy and successful ALL the time.
As much as I wish for everyone to be in whatever state of mind they prefer, I cannot help but feel a sense of desperation at play in all those posts and photographs seeking approval and validation for their current states of existence and for what they are able to portray for their life. I suppose mankind has always been that way. With the advent of Facebook, the platform to do that just got a whole lot more convenient and easy. I would be lying if I said that I have not done the same myself. I know how I was when I did that back then. It was also the same time when I used to envy all the happy posts that my friends put up and the approvals they received. I look at that whole experience as a necessary step to take to get to where I am now.
Ultimately, there are just so few instances in life when one feels truly happy. All the other times, it is just an end product of rationalization, denial or pretense. On the other hand, sadness is always genuine – simply because nobody wants to be sad.
But really, why does sadness have to be a taboo? Why can’t it just be another state of mind that completes the experience of human emotion? Why should anyone feel obligated to be in one state of mind or another? Why can’t someone be accepted for who they are even if they are drawn to sadness? Why can’t people be encouraged to generate more art when they are sad? If I am feeling sad, why do people have to sympathize with me? Why can’t it just be a fact? Why should anyone have to deal with their sadness? Why should anyone be judged as a success or a failure based on their state of mind? Why does anyone have to feel sorry for someone else’s loss? What does it even mean to feel sorry for someone else’s loss? Why aren’t we encouraged to read sad and melancholic stories when we are kids? Why do all self help books have to tell us the way to be happy? Why can’t they tell us that it is OK to be sad and tell us how to enjoy its beauty? Why don’t people realize that the most beautiful works of art were created by people who led really sad lives? Why can’t people be encouraged to explore the depths of sadness in addition to the heights of happiness?
When will sadness receive its due approval?
I frequently speak about the experience of being ‘taken to another place’ during so many of the concerts I have been to. That is because that is exactly what happens at these shows – more so considering they mean so much to me. This experience of being ‘taken to another place’ usually occurs during a particular song or a set of songs which may or may not have been the ones I was looking forward to. Sometimes it can be gradual, with me becoming aware of it only towards the later stages.
Last night was an exception. I was in a different place right from the beginning and all the way till the end. It was inevitable. Especially when the band is Sigur Ros and the show opens with Ny Batteri and closes with Popplagio.
I have always maintained that concerts cannot be truly reviewed. They need to be experienced. There are no exceptions and irrespective of your taste in music, the experience is always going to be more revealing than reading the most detailed of reviews. But if there is one thing I really wish I could accurately describe from last night’s Sigur Ros concert at the Starlight theater, it would have to be Jonsi Birgisson’s voice.
There is a certain other worldly feel to the Sigur Ros sound and much of that has to do with his vocals. The sadness in his voice is what gives it that other worldly feel. (Yes this means that I am not a fan of their ‘happy’ sounding songs such as Hoppipolla or Festival) Any Sigur Ros fan will attest to the sadness in the songs. But it is only when you hear that sadness in his voice Live that you truly begin to appreciate the depths of the band’s sound.
That sadness and melancholy I experienced last night – amplified by the starlit sky, the cold spring evening and the Live sound – was just so beautiful I did not want it to end. There have been times when I have listened to Ny Batteri in a depressed state of mind and actually cried in response. It is one of the saddest songs I have personally heard. So when Jonsi Birgisson practically opened the show with it, that haunting bass line and the sadness made me think.
It made me think how sad must someone be to be able to sing that song with that much emotional intensity, and mean it?
The rest of the concert was an exploration – seeking that state of mind which answered my question. My exploration was encouraged, aided and ultimately validated by the most beautiful sadness I have ever heard in my life. I think it was during Varud that I truly stopped resisting my descent into the dark depths of the answer I sought. The chilling climax to that song was finally brought to an end with the female backing vocalists taking over the outro chorus – and adding a new voice to the gloom in the process. The darkness encompassing Saeglopur and E-Bow showed me the path further forward (or down) to that answer. It appeared that the more I began to descend, the more I feared that the answer may be lying that much deeper.
Festival and Hoppipolla served as nothing more than temporary interruptions to my gradual but steady descent. Clearly the rest of the crowd were not on the same path as I was – especially considering how they cheered on for those ‘happy’ songs.
Meanwhile, I found that the more I closed my eyes and just let the voice speak to me, the faster I descended to my elusive answer. And so I just closed my eyes during Glosoli. And then the band started playing Popplagio – a long drawn out rendition that may not be the most depressing song on their catalog. But it was definitely the song that builds up to the most tumultuous climax one can imagine – a crescendo to the unknown. His searing vocals rising with every bar and taking me up with it. I was not sure where it was taking me but I went along anyway. The crescendo kept building up and up to dizzying levels of anticipation and wonder. And when it hit the zenith, it was the most intense, mind numbing, revealing and ultimately fulfilling experience I have had in the longest time.
Because you see, I had an epiphany when the crescendo peaked. The music and the sadness spoke to me then and it said: “It is OK not to be happy all the time. There is a certain joy in experiencing sadness too.” And that meant so much to me. It was like the most satisfying answer anyone had ever given me. I do not know if I found the answer I was looking for. But I definitely found the answer I needed to know.
This is why I crave to go to a lot of concerts. At home, they are just songs on an album. At a concert, they can be your journey to the unknown. Sigur Ros will always be remembered for taking me on the most fulfilling journey ever. The band members must be truly depressed individuals – and I hope they stay that way.
I have been tested this time. I will admit that. It had been a while since I was made to go through something that demanded more than what I had been able to offer previously. Things that change me fundamentally, things that help me appreciate the subtleties of my thoughts that much more. I am talking about things like the will power to see off persisting gloom, the determination to not let something overwhelm me. I am talking about faith in times of complete hopelessness, resilience in times of defeat, and self assurance in times of haunting solitude – it had been a while since I dealt with them.
But I have had to do it again. This time, the painful ordeal lasted for 4 months and had me go through a circle of emotions I never knew existed. Four months during which I tracked my graceful descent into the bottomless depths of melancholia. Four months during which I had no ownership over the state of my mind. Four months during which I came that much closer to accepting who I really am.
I think it must have been November when it really started because I remember I was happy in October. The degradation of the weather and the shrinking of the days were seemingly on a malicious yet purposeful loop. The numbers kept up too – falling steadily and offering no sign of ceasing. It might have all been gradual, like darkness creeping up on a cloudy day. But it was heading only one way and there was no end in sight. Lady winter had just made it clear that there was no point looking for the bottom. There was never going to be one.
Denial: This is not happening to me.
Anger: Endless snowfall.
Depression: I hear my 2 year old cousin speak to me for the first time. Broken hearts. The price I pay. Not hearing back for several weeks from….
Acceptance: There really is no end.
The acceptance brought with it a sense of gloomy calm. A calm that revealed and reveled in the futility of hope. And there was something strangely satisfying about it. It was almost like I belonged there. No complaints or unfulfilled desires. Just a peace that comes with the true acceptance of complete loss of control.
Take me wherever you go.
And now I no longer wish to know.
For if I knew where you went
I would want perhaps to be somewhere else.
I was now celebrating tragedy and depression. Knowing now that it is OK to do so provided a clarity that had avoided me all my life after being told otherwise by every living soul. My mind now wanted something more profound and so I went about looking to satisfy my new needs. I found respite in books and music. A couple of depressing books and some really depressing music got me digging deeper, exploring the realms of the newly discovered rooms in my mind. But this time I was not falling into the bottomless abyss. I was going in search of it.
During my search, I wondered what it really meant to be ‘comfortably numb’. I think I did feel it a few days ago. I remember I was watching the snow falling endlessly and aimlessly on the barren trees covering them with it, listening to Kreng, had just finished reading ‘Snow’, and was reminiscing about all the things that could have been in my life. And it was at that point when I just smiled. It was such a beautiful thing to think about. All the missed opportunities, lost relationships, friends who have moved on without me, unfulfilled dreams, uncertainty about the future, and about that call that never came – it was simply the most beautiful collection of thoughts I had all winter.
I was always told to be happy. But by trying to do so, I realized that I was just running away from that one thing that made me ‘comfortably numb’.
Now I know not to run at all.
Note: I had initially written a post describing my travails of the Iowa winter which was made to look like it was a ‘fun’ thing that I could simply just laugh about in hindsight. The weather is back in the 50’s this week and I was already feeling ‘happier’. But then today certain events got me back to a more introspective state and hence this version of my story.
So this post has been sitting in my draft box for quite a while now. And then after I read about this particular concerto-phile’s recap of her year in concerts, I just had to put forth my own recap. After all, I have her beat pretty damn good! :P
Living in Des Moines in Iowa, there are two ways to look at the ability to go to concerts. The more popular frame of reference, and one that is perhaps quite obvious too, involves noting the glaring lack of big name bands coming to town and instead choosing to go to any or all of the bigger cities around Des Moines – Chicago, Minneapolis, Omaha, Kansas City et al. It is almost like the bands just don’t SEE Iowa – they simply go around it. Now the other line of thinking essentially involves the ability to travel to ANY of these aforementioned bigger cities (and that too on a date of my convenience) to see most of the big acts that travel through the United States. Needless to say, I choose to classify myself under the latter category of people. And have I reaped my rewards or what?!!?
I have said this before but I will say it again.
When I want to go to a concert, the universe conspires with me to make it happen.
And again, I can only hope not to get jinxed by saying so. But in all seriousness, looking back to 2012, there is simply no other way of interpreting the sheer number AND quality of the concerts I went to. So here goes:
1. Puscifer in Omaha, NE: There is something about Maynard Keenan’s Live voice that can take you to a place you haven’t been before. I had seen him Live as A Perfect Circle in 2011 and I was haunted then. Puscifer was even better. The show itself was more like a theater play complete with props and filler videos showing Maynard Keenan as General Douche. It was clear that he wanted to do more than just sing. He wanted to teach. (Among the many memorable quotes, sample this: “Good aliens listen to Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and the Glee soundtrack. Bad aliens listen to Tool!”) And the concert was handcrafted to help in that regard. I wrote 1 part of what was supposed to be a 2 part review back then. But clearly, no amount of reviewing can capture the calling of that haunting voice when you hear it Live. Add to that the most unlikeliest of scripting for a concert, and you probably already know you will be thinking about it for a long time to come.
2. George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic All Stars in Council Bluffs, IA: Funk has been something I discovered only in the past one year (and to this day, I cannot figure out why). Funkadelic, on the other hand, well – let’s just say I knew every single note of Maggot Brain. I have very fond memories, from back in undergrad, of being in a ‘higher’ state of mind and playing the song’s arpeggios on my acoustic and on an infinite loop. So what if Eddie Hazel is no more? Michael Hampton played the whole song note for note – 10 ft in front of me, and at a bar. But that was just the beginning. George Clinton maybe 71 years old, but the energy he shows on stage is more fitting for a 25 year old. Still singing with a respectable voice, he even smoked a joint on stage. Sir, You have my seal of approval! I am just glad that I got to see him live and in such an intimate setting before age (finally) takes over him.
3. Megadeth and Rob Zombie in Sioux City, IA: I had seen Megadeth once before in Bangalore, the most significant memory from which was the extremely horrible sound quality on stage. And I had vowed to watch them again if I ever got the chance to. I did get the opportunity and I did take it. Much closer to Dave Mustaine and the band this time around, I headbanged my way through Hangar 18, In My Darkest Hour, Holy Wars and much more. Redemption was indeed complete.
I have to admit I have not listened to much of Rob Zombie. But it barely mattered. That dude has a stage presence incomparable to any I have seen. Filled with massive and creepy robotic props, he lit the stage on fire – quite literally too! The pyrotechnics was phenomenal and I headbanged some more.
It had been a while since I had been to an outright loud metal concert and this will surely take care of that need for the near future. On a side note, I have to add that I had an extremely bad inflammation in my neck muscle as a result of all the headbanging. It took more than 6 months for the pain to reduce to manageable levels. The real awkward moment was when I had to explain the cause to the doctor.
4. Roger Waters at Wrigley Field in Chicago : What can I say? He was the first person I saw Live all the way back in 2002 in Bangalore in what was my first concert ever. And I had always fantasized about watching The Wall played Live with the same settings from the 1970s. I guess I really did indeed get to live out that fantasy. The simple fact of the matter is that The Wall just sounds too damn good in a stadium. This is not just something you will brag about when you are talking to your friends about concerts. This is the kind of stuff you tell your grandchildren about. This is the kind of stuff you can look back on and know that you made the right choices all your life to have ended up at Wrigley Field on June 8 2012.
In any case, I did recollect my full experience from the concert some time back and I am so glad I did it. (I still pride myself over the fact that I convinced my friend to cough up $300 for the ticket through a text message. Practically conned her into wiring me the money!)
5. Radiohead in Chicago: I had never been a fan of Radiohead (apart from Karma Police) for the longest time. Other than the result of a handful of friends strongly recommending the band to me, I somehow was never able to get into their music. Then something happened about a year ago when I went back to NITK to say hello to my undergrad Professors. I stayed over at my cousin’s hostel room and let us just say certain ‘completely natural’ things were consumed. It was at this point that my esteemed cousin (also the official slacker of NITK) told me he would play a song and wanted me to tell him how I felt. About 5 mins later, I am in a trance. The song has taken me places I had never been before. I particularly recollect this very strong and desperate feeling building inside me just wishing that the song wouldn’t end. But when it did end, I just asked my cousin which song it was. And to this day, I have a crystal clear memory of what he said, and more importantly, how he said it. He told me: “The song’s name is ‘How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found Again'”. It was almost like a revelation – like I had suddenly become aware of some arcane, hidden mysterious knowledge. It was probably in the way he said it, but for a moment, I believed that the song really possessed the secret of how to disappear completely and never be found again. And then, right at that very moment, I began to worship Radiohead.
So it was kind of ironic (to my cousin) when I learnt that Radiohead would be playing in Chicago the same weekend that Roger Waters was playing at Wrigley Field. A $15 ticket later, I found myself at Tinley Park with both my hands over my head, mouth open and staring in simple disbelief to the sheer profundity of the situation. There may not have been any natural substances this time around, but I perhaps didn’t need them. Thom Yorke’s voice is up there with all the best voices I have heard Live. And yes, he will take you places too! They played one of the longest setlists and I have a recording of the entire concert that I keep listening to even today. Another instance when I just wish it didn’t have to end.
6. Black Sabbath in Chicago: There are certain things that can make life worth living and help validate all those choices you have made all your life. The night I saw Black Sabbath at Lollapalooza will definitely rank high up on that list of things. To see the very people who have defined 2 generations of music, to whom so many many bands today owe their influences – to see them play all those songs right in front of you is a tremendous experience. Black Sabbath played EVERY single song that I wanted them to. Every one of them – including Snowblind and Fairies Wear Boots. Considering this was their ONLY show in North America after Toni got diagnosed with cancer, I just feel so blessed and fortunate to have been there. I might have already seen Ozzy at Ozzfest, but this is something I will tell my grandchildren and probably put it on my epitaph.
6. Grace Potter and The Nocturnals in Des Moines: If you like going to concerts, you must go to a Grace Potter show as a matter of general principle. This is irrespective of whether you like her music or if you have even heard of her at all. If Grace Potter and The Nocturnals are playing in your city, you simply MUST go! Yes it definitely helps if you like her music – a catchy and melodious blend of pop, rock and even some country – but you will love her shows nonetheless. I had seen her at Kansrocksas in 2011 for the first time ever and I didn’t even know who she was back then. And so when I learnt that she was coming to Des Moines, there was simply no way I was going to miss the show.
She played for over 2.5 hours, a setlist that included a Rolling Stones cover (because it was Mick Jagger’s birthday) and a Heart cover (Crazy on You). Her new album has more than a few songs co-written by Dan Auberbach (of The Black Keys) and when played Live, they can really get you in the groove! Add to that, Grace Potter’s passion and enthusiasm on stage along with her beautiful voice, and you have a concert experience worth remembering. In an interview just before the concert, she had remarked, “I play every concert like it is my last.” And she is not lying. Not by any stretch. There were periods during the show when it seemed that the audience let the music take a backseat and instead let her performance fill their experience. Her stage presence will rival any performer that has ever played at a concert. And those who have seen her Live will definitely attest to that.
That Grace Potter show by the river and overlooking downtown Des Moines is definitely among the top 5 concerts I have ever been to.
Special mention to Natalie Prass -the opening act for Grace Potter. Some of the best music I had heard in ages and definitely one of the best voices around right now. Must check it out.
7. Death Cab for Cutie in Des Moines: I just like Death Cab. There is no other way to put it. Simple, straightforward melodious alternative music with songs (almost exclusively) about breakups and troubled relationships. Ben Gibbard plays a good show and I was definitely happy to see so many of the songs I loved played Live at 80/35 music festival.
8. Mark Knopfler and Bob Dylan in Omaha: Simply put, I grew up with the music of Dire Straits. Mark Knopfler’s voice was synonymous with and perhaps the cause of my transition from death metal to more classic rock. And for the longest time, I have been troubled by the fact that I could not watch him Live when he came to play in Bangalore. Not to mention my good friends who did go to the concert have constantly reminded me of that ever since. I could not care less that Mark Knopfler was playing mainly his solo songs when I came to know about his concert in Omaha. I just had to see him Live to absolve myself of my past misdeeds. And really, you did not need to know any of his solo songs to let his voice mesmerize you. He still has that voice for sure – not changed one bit. And that was all that I needed to hear. A lot of my friends went to see him in the current tour and were disappointed that he only played ‘So Far Away’ from his Dire Straits catalog. But fact is, his solo songs are equally good and I am not sure if my friends were familiar with his solo work. In any case, I had a bonus thrown my way when I heard him play the intro to ‘Brothers in Arms’. Turns out, that was the only show in his entire tour (at least that I am aware of) wherein he played Brothers in Arms in addition to So Far Away – and I do not have any complaints about that!
And then came on Bob Dylan. Well, I knew his voice was shot and all that – but still, he was Bob Dylan. So I was looking forward to him playing as well. If Mark Knopfler’s voice had the ability to mesmerize you, Bob Dylan’s voice had the ability to give any death metal band’s vocalist a run for his money! No kidding – it was THAT bad. It was so bad that I could not even know which song he was singing. His songs were reminiscent of the Hindu priest conducting a ceremony – wherein his long and incomprehensible chanting is followed by a loud and prominent SWAAHA! at the end. I realized Dylan was playing one of my favorite songs – Tangled up in Blue – only about halfway through the song when I deciphered him speaking out the words “Tangled up in Blue”. His current concerts really are a disgrace to the legacy that he seeks to leave. So much so, I actually walked out of his concert before he was done. Even for the sake of it, I would not recommend anyone paying money to watch Bob Dylan live. Not anymore definitely.
So there you have it! A long post recollecting my best experiences from 2012. Without a doubt, I have a lot to look back upon and so I consider 2012 successful. I already have a nice run of concerts coming up for 2013. Already watched Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (AGAIN) Live in Des Moines. Upcoming are Omar Rodriguez’s new band Bosnian Rainbows, Fleetwood Mac, Steven Wilson and Sigur Ros. All tickets have been purchased and I am looking forward to these things like always. Maybe I will write a separate review for each of these this time around. Maybe.