Punctuate Life

Pause Breathe Relax


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The Hollow Truth

After years of trying to put myself together and reach the ideal I set for myself, it finally feels like I have succeeded. I have a home, a job, a family, vacations when I want and even where I want. And yet I feel like I have paid a steep price. When all the hollow material things came together, the things that really mattered started falling apart, pillar after sturdy pillar crumbling to dust before my eyes as I hankered after shallow stuff in an effort to fill the void and the numbness where love once dwelt. Maybe it’s not my destiny to have it all? Or is there even such a thing – not the destiny bit but the have it all bit.

We often get beguiled by the smiling pictures on social media. But maybe just maybe there is a lurking sadness behind those eyes. Some deep dark mystery that keeps those photo-shopped faces awake at night. Then again I look inside and feel like my crumbling pillars were built on foundations of soft sand. Sand that was wont to shift and shake those pillars for good measure. I feel all alone in the world with my checklist of accomplishments which only feel important till you actually check them off. After that they are just items on an impossible list that keep growing. Maybe it stems from my relentless need to prove myself. I’m not sure who I’m trying to prove myself to or what I’m trying to prove anymore. But it looks like I spent the greater part of the last decade doing that. But I’m not puffed up with pride. I just feel hollow, empty, and quite ordinary.

Maybe hollow is a good place to start. Maybe I can fill it with things that bring me joy and love. But first I need to dust off the debris and discard it. I can’t fill my hollow with the rubble I intend to leave behind. I cannot build over the crumbled remains or anywhere near it. I’m going to have to find some sturdy ground to plant my feet and start building anew. I don’t know the where or the how but I do know that I can’t put all the pieces back and keep trying to build stuff after it breaks down time after time. I’m just tired of reinventing myself and trying to make things work when I clearly know they won’t. Trying to hold onto crumbling pillars when I know I could get buried under them. And I did get buried in the past and had to crawl out of it all by myself. One must learn from the past or be prepared to keep repeating it.

It is time. Time to build something worthy of me.


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The Roaring 40s…

The other day I was lamenting to my parents about stubborn belly fat that won’t go away and they told me that happens at “my age”. I felt like it was a little premature for me to be having this conversation but it really got me thinking. I just celebrated a milestone birthday last month and I must say so many things have changed over the past decade. For one, my people pleasing days are over. You like me? Great! You don’t like me? Just get over it because I ain’t gonna bend over backwards to make you my pal. And my body is acting weirdly too. My stomach loudly protests in meetings if it is hungry, while I desperately clear my throat or cough to drown its groans. After a trip to DC where we walked around everywhere because parking is a pain in the city, I was almost immobile for days and had these aches and pains from muscles that are rarely used in my sedentary life. I made a note to myself to start exercising and taking better care of myself. Well, that lasted all of one week. Living with two teenagers drains all the energy out of me. I cannot have a conversation without being interrupted, corrected, or sassed. And chores? Don’t even get me started. As toddlers, they loved cleaning up. They would happily sing Barney’s clean up song and put all their toys away. Now, not only does the clean up song not work but also any amount of screaming and threatening won’t help. Some kid’s mom hides gift cards all over the house for them to find if and when they clean up. Most of her gift cards go undiscovered, so I’m not even going to try that. Sadly, part of you knows they’ll be off to college, leaving behind empty rooms that won’t get messed up till they come visit. That’s when you sigh and clean up the mess yourself.

I’ve connected with so many people over the last decade thanks to social media. So I should be grateful for technology right? No! Technology sucks! Ten years ago people used to call to wish you on your birthday. Now it’s just a bunch of messages on your social media page. 100 plus messages and yet that makes me feel mighty poor. Technology has its place, but condolences sent as text messages? That’s where I draw the line. If you can’t be with the person physically, then at least call. Losing someone close is incredibly painful, don’t make them feel like they don’t have anyone else they can turn to. And no one sends handwritten thank you notes anymore, except people from an older generation, so I’m going to let that slide.

It’s when you are at my age that you find older friends and family leaving for a better place and it makes you wonder about life and your purpose. Are we all here to study, work, marry, birth babies, send them to college, retire and die? Or is there something bigger than that? Today, I’m in a place in my life where I yearned to be in my 20s, but I find that the dream has lost its luster and left me feeling mildly unsatisfied. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful because indeed I’m blessed with all that I need and more. But I don’t feel like that is an accomplishment or something to be smug about.

Words get muddled up in my head sometimes and I end up saying things like “I gave up coffee cold shoulder” instead of “I gave up coffee cold turkey!” I mix up words and their meanings sometimes too and it is not very flattering given that I work as an editor. And I’m thinking I’m just 40, this can’t be happening to me. Maybe I’m doing something wrong here but I don’t know what. The last time I checked, these things happened to retired people! So much for the roaring 40s, I’m too pooped to go out with my friend during the week to network over cocktails. Maybe this is when life gives you a sneak preview of your later years or maybe it’s a wake up call to take better care of yourself so you’ll end up living a full life till the day you are gone. I don’t know. Check back with me in a decade!


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To Blog or Not to Blog?

When my domain expired last month, I called my web hosting provider to renew it and was told that my web hosting service was also going to expire in a month. Of course they tripled the costs now that I was renewing it and wasn’t a ‘new’ customer. I pledged to shop around for a better price, but work and life took over and before I knew it the month was up and my service contract had expired. It is not that I don’t want to renew it but I look at the past year and how infrequently I posted and how difficult it was to find inspiration in the midst of a busy life filled with mundane tasks that pay the bills. It took every little ounce of effort to come up with a post every month and sometimes I couldn’t manage even that. I look back at the 150 plus stories and 6 years worth of thought and effort and most of all heart, and that makes me want to keep it alive.

I thought it would be a great idea to pose this question to you, my readers, who kept me alive during my darkest days, when I poured my heart out to you and my emotions bled through my writing. You lifted me up with your soothing words, rooted for me, laughed with me when good fortune smiled on me and cried with me when life took a wretched turn. Without you I would have never gone this far. Never have ended up writing a book (that’s yet to see the light of day)! You are as much a part of this blog as I am and so I need to know if I need to keep doing this for you, for me, for us. Won’t you share your thoughts with me and help me decide? Stay or close shop and go into oblivion?


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The Best Job in the World

The other day while surfing channels I chanced upon a news story that made me stop. A janitor was cleaning floors at a school and the reporter was saying that we shouldn’t judge a person by the work they do. And yet I had made a lot of assumptions about this silver-haired person with a mop in his hand. Uneducated, poor, can’t afford to retire were some of the things that crossed my head. I was in for a shock when the reporter revealed that the unassuming janitor was actually part of a team of engineers that sent astronauts to the moon!

So what was he doing cleaning floors for a living? He had suffered a stroke which impaired his cognitive memory. So the former electromagnetic engineer had to give up his career of choice and took up a job as a janitor to stay  healthy and keep himself occupied. In the process he has struck quite a rapport with the students, who love hearing about his mission to the moon and give him hugs and high-fives.

When posed with this tricky question, “Would you go back to your old job if you got your cognitive memory back?” the former engineer said that he loved his job and would not trade it for anything. “These kids say – I love you and thank you – not something I heard from NASA as far as I can remember,” said the old man.

Watching this reminded me of my short stint as a teacher and being associated with children and schools in any capacity. The pay wasn’t that great but I loved every minute of it. Kids are unpretentious and genuine. It is a gift to work with them and for them. After that it is always difficult dealing with adults.

Hugs, laughter, games, cards, and flowers are given freely to show you that they care. I remember when I had to leave a long-term substitute position because I was moving (story of my life!), the whole class made cards for me and I had only worked with them for a month! If the schools in my county did not require substitutes to complete a mandatory training, I very well would still be working in a school. I look back at those days and see all those innocent faces, the laughter, the tears, the skinned knees, the hugs and the sweetest compliments, and it warms my heart more than a fat pay check or a promotion.

I feel incredibly grateful that the universe gave me the opportunity to work with children, to touch their lives and to be touched by their grace, beauty, wisdom, genuine love and affection.


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Power Up, Bring it On!

This post is dedicated to all the supermoms out there. Who knew that the tiny bump growing in your belly would one day unleash dormant powers that you never knew you possessed. In the first few days of your baby’s life you realize you can wake up at unearthly hours, sleep-walk to the crib, feed and burp a baby and go back to sleep. You can survive months or years without your daily quota of 8 hours of sleep. You become immune to stale spit-up all over your t-shirt or find yourself ignoring the dirty dishes calling for your attention.

How about the one that allows you to keep a deadpan face while your toddler is howling and screaming in the grocery store. Or the one that allows you to straddle a baby and do chores around the house.

If you have a boy or a girl who is into sports (unlike yourself) you suddenly develop motor skills you never thought you possessed. Shooting hoops or hitting a baseball like a pro becomes second nature to you. This goes for things you never warmed up to as a kid but then find yourself doing and also enjoying as a mom. Like say camping and the outdoors.

And then there are other brave moms who venture back to work while nursing infants. They work, attend meetings, commute, stay up at night feeding their babies, cook dinner and still have enough energy to go around. I call it the energizer bunny superpower. I never tapped into that power since I decided to stay home with the kids.

Now when my kids are in middle school and high school, I’m back at work full-time and have to get back home and take care of dinner and the dishes. Throw in some homework help as well and you can see how busy my day is.

Like that wasn’t crazy enough, I have to wake up at 5.00 a.m. to get my daughter to the bus stop at 6.00. A week into this schedule and I was ready to call it quits. But then my superpowers kicked in and somehow I manage to get through the week. There are moments when I find it hard to string a sentence together because my brain has fallen asleep.

Then throw in after-school activities and your walking-on-a tight-rope superpower gets activated to make sure you don’t end up falling on your face. It takes a while to grow into your superpowers so don’t be disheartened if you feel like you are falling apart.

Any challenge you face as a mom, be sure that there is some secret superpower you wield that can help you ace your game. Two sick kids and an ailing parent? You got it! Crazy commute and a husband who is travelling frequently? Bring it on!  Colicky baby and a brand new puppy? Oh yeah!

Now that I have kids, I have a lot of respect for my mom and the way she managed her time and energy to make sure that we were well-fed and that we had clean clothes to wear, while working full-time as a Hindi teacher. Her day started at 5.00 a.m. and she went to bed after 10.00. Also kudos to my dad for driving me, mom and my brother to and from work, college, school and wherever else we had to go.

Same goes for Ganga, my second grandmother who cooked and packed lunches and got me ready for school, and waited by the gate till I got home. My Dadima used to drop me off in school every single day before she went to work. And it was Sharma aunty who used to pick me up from school every evening. It’s not until I had to do it that I realized it wasn’t so simple to show up every day at the same time especially if you had to work or manage other responsibilities. This I call the time-keeper superpower. It makes sure kids are woken up in time to catch the bus, that lunches are packed and kids get picked up on time.

I may have missed a few. If you supermoms/dads out there have any more to add please comment. Power up! You got this!

 

 


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The Fruits of Perseverance

It has been a while since I last blogged and I’m writing to share the realization of a long cherished dream. My struggle to find full-time employment in my field is something that shows up in my blogs from time to time. Regular readers are familiar with my transition from unemployed to underemployed to doing odd jobs that weren’t in my field. I have extolled the virtues of volunteering time and again and I still volunteer for an NGO even after getting hired as a contractor.

Although I loved working in schools, a part of me wanted to get back to writing and editing. My blog opened the door to many writing opportunities and several websites have  published my work. The next step was getting paid for the writing. I started writing for content mills and although they paid a pittance, it built up my confidence and honed my skills as a writer.

When I was in India, a referral from a old friend/colleague landed me a contract as a content writer. This was my first job as a writer in the corporate world. While I enjoyed the perks of working from home, it became apparent that after a long break one could benefit from the learning that occurs in an office environment. This role was quite different from writing for content mills and showed me where I could improve as a writer. Before I knew it 4 months were up and I was back to being unemployed.

Long bouts of unemployment coupled with our unsuccessful attempt to settle down in India made one thing quite clear to me. With kids whose future lay in our hands, I couldn’t put my career on the back burner anymore. You never know when life will throw you a curve ball and one has to be prepared. If I had been established in my career, maybe the trip to India may not have been so stressful. Even though my husband was not earning I could have run the household.

I came back to the U.S. with one burning desire – to find a full-time job that could support me and my family. While looking for jobs I continued to gain experience as a writer/editor by freelancing and volunteering. Two interviews later I got a call that changed my life. I interviewed for a job that seemed a right fit for me and got hired as a contractor to do web content editing. There was the promise of being hired full-time if I performed well. Five months into the job and I got hired full-time. Maybe it’s not a big feat for all of you reading this. But for me it has been 15 years since I had a full-time job (other than being a full-time mom).

For 11 years I couldn’t work in the U.S. because it took me that long to get my green card. Then another 4 years to find my way back to writing and editing. Along the way I have had many well-meaning relatives and friends advise me to take up an entirely different career path. Like say pharmacology or QA testing or even running a daycare.  But none of that appealed to me. Somehow I circled back to writing.

As I write this , others in my circle have had breakthroughs in other areas of their lives. Some have been blessed with babies after several years of heartache and pain. Others who have struggled with finances now have nest eggs that give them financial security and freedom. It took a long time for them and for me to realize our dreams but we persevered, kept the faith and took one step at a time in the direction of our dreams.

I cannot say I have reached my destination because ahead of me are more lessons, adventures and truths to explore. For those of you unsure of getting what you want or following your dream, I stand testimony to the fact that it can be done no matter how long or how hard you have tried or how unsuccessful you have been so far. So go for it!  You are supported by the universe and my good wishes are with you.

 


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Disconnecting From the Matrix

Years ago I watched the movie “The Matrix” (several times for Keanu Reeves) and it seemed like a fantasy with no element of truth in it. But when I watched it when I was older (and wiser – ahem!) it seemed not too far fetched from the reality we wake up to every day. The daily grind. Put your nose to the grindstone and chug away. Work hard to pay the bills, provide for your family, save for retirement, buy that big house or fancy car, pay for that destination wedding or island getaway. The whole time losing yourself to chaos and missing out on the miracle that is life. Losing health and happiness over needless dramas that play out endlessly. Feed your body junk and fail to feed your soul. Live a boring, passionless life full of drama and unhappiness. And then teach another generation to do just that because you cannot get your blindfolds off and see what life really is about until you make an exit.

Life is freedom, happiness and choices made from a place of joy and love. Fear drives us to hold on tight to jobs that make us miserable or relationships that don’t nurture us. Fear tells us that we are not good enough or strong enough to take care of ourselves and that we have to give our power away to authority figures.  And then when it all becomes too much, something snaps and our whole world of illusion comes crashing down. The days that follow are filled with fear and a mad frenzy to get things back to where they were – rebuilding the same old house of cards because it feels familiar and comfortable. The prison with no windows – where the light cannot obliterate the fear.

Sometimes the divine hand intervenes and stalls the progress just long enough for the shades to fall off. Just long enough to wake up from the dream and see the world for what it is. A big lie. A fantasy. An alternate reality put in place to keep us from waking up to the true power that lies within. The power that can set us free and help us soar above the drama and chaos.

For some that one wake-up call is enough and they can never go back to their old selves and old lives. For some it is a constant back and forth between illusion and crystal-clear clarity. Between bliss and drudgery. Between the ego and the wisdom of the soul. Between what is expected of you and what you truly desire. At some point the whole exercise seems futile and one dumps the world or one’s inner journey all together. But some emerge triumphant and shine the way for others.

Disconnect from living life in a trance, going through the same motions over and over again. Cramming so much into your life that you have no time to pause and ruminate. Awareness requires space and the more space you create the more aware you are. Turn off the TV, computer and phone. Listen rather than talk. Quiet the chatter in your head. Get outside in nature. Live your life unscheduled. With lots of free time thrown in every day. Then what really matters will become clear to you. The illusive world melts away and you are left with only the brightness of your soul illuminating the way to a life full of joy, creativity and love.