Mixed Review


Mixed feelings on The Last Jedi.

On the one hand, it had character development, humor and engaging set pieces. We learn more about Kylo Ren and how he emerged. We learn more about Rey, her deep feeling of abandonment, and her quest to learn more about her parents. We see the leadership and command of Leia. We meet Luke again, and see how he has become cynical, closed off from everyone and everything, even the Force. We continue to see the stories of other characters – Finn, Poe, Gen. Hux, BB-8 – and some new characters introduced – Gen. Holdo, Rose, Paige the Codebreaker, etc. Many of the new characters were women, thus continuing to add balance to the gender ratio of the series.

There were also unexpected flashes of humor scattered throughout the movie, moments providing welcome breaks from the story line of conflict, pain, and death. Poe talking to Hux. Luke being handed his light saber. Luke and Rey. Poe at different times. Finn and Rose. These felt refreshing and new.

Finally, the set pieces of space battles and personal combat, were also breathless and riveting, continuing the tradition of previous Star Wars movies. The arc of the Luke’s story was resolved in a moving manner. And the presence of Leia was touching, knowing as we do, that she will not return in Episode IX.

On the other hand there were superfluous characters, some slow scenes, and particularly egregious story holes. Porgs and the caretakers on Skellig felt cutesy and out of place. The scenes on Canto Bight also teeming with characters, all wearing tuxedoes, didn’t seem to make sense. For a while, in the middle, the story slowed down, with exposition and back and forth. Finally, there were big story holes – Leia in space, the lack of background on Snoke, Snoke’s monologuing and his sudden death despite being so powerful, Luke’s lack of understanding of the importance of the Force texts, and Luke’s presence at the end, both physical and ethereal. These seemed too convenient and didn’t seem to fit the Star Wars canon.

So the movie was enjoyable, but I wouldn’t call it a classic like The Empire Strikes Back.


A Decisive Moment


While best associated with Henri Cartier-Bresson, the term “decisive moment” is actually a quotation from Cardinal de Retz:

There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment, and the masterpiece of good ruling is to know and seize this moment.”

We go through lives in a stupor, and don’t see this truth. When this truth becomes evident with startling clarity, often, it is as it applies to our health.

Health can change very suddenly, and then nothing is the same. An illness that turns out to be more than just a cold. A diagnosis of an unknown chronic disease. An accident.

When this happens, we look for causes, because human beings are storytellers. We create these elaborate chains of causality, trying to find the decisive moment. We try to explain, deny or fight what happened. We look for excuses or visualize alternate pasts, hinging on alternate actions at a particular moment .

“If I hadn’t stepped off the sidewalk, the car wouldn’t have hit me.”

“If I had been paying attention, I wouldn’t have cut my tendon.”

“If I hadn’t shared the ……., I wouldn’t have picked up ………”

But this dissembling hides the truth. The deep truth is, sometimes, there is no cause. The links of causality could not have been any different. There is no one decisive moment, a moment when everything changed, that can be pulled out and examined, revisited and relived with exquisite care –– every moment is a decisive moment.

It is only when we accept this truth, that we can find a way forward. Every moment of our lives, is a decisive moment.

We cannot explain it, deny it, or fight it. We can only accept it. And when we accept it, we can find a way forward. Because then we give up the self-indulgence of an alternate past. Because then we give up the hope of a prior imagined future. We stop blaming ourselves and others for what happened.

We face the reality of this immediate moment, every moment, a decisive moment, with gratitude for what we have, without blame for what could have been and without regret for what wasn’t.

Coco and the Afterlife

We saw Disney/Pixar’s Coco yesterday. What a lovely movie, seamlessly melding story, song, and screwball situations to create a soufflé of laughter and tears. At the essence of the story –– the dead have their own life, until they are forgotten by their family; only then do they truly disappear.

What happens when we die? Where does the consciousness of the departed go? Form changes to emptiness, but is everything lost? For those left behind, family members and friends, reminiscences have to be as unreliable as their memories. So what is left, and for how long?

Starting with Mexican culture, and the celebration of Dia de los Muertos, Coco creates a fantastically imagined afterworld, where the dead are alive, and living their lives, just like in the real world. If they are still remembered in the afterworld, they can travel into our world on Dia de los Muertos, and see their family. Unless they are forgotten by their family in the real world, which is when they disappear from the afterworld, to a place that even they don’t know.

If we continue this belief, how might it change in our age, where we can rely on technology to help us remember? Will succeeding generations continue to remember more of the earlier generations, and for how long?

Just because of technology support, I don’t think that memories will become infinite, and we will remember all our previous generations. Life will continue to get busier making remembrance an active requirement. Parents will need to spend time with their children to make sure they remember their grandparents, great grandparents and great, great grandparents, not to mention step parents at different generations.

While technology can capture our predecessors in photo and video, equally, technology generates so many images that sorting, filing, and summarizing will again need to be an active effort. Just like each of us carry large photo libraries, yet often have trouble finding a key moment, we may carry records of past generations, but never examine these records. We will be swamped in a “sea of remembering.”

So I believe that technology will not solve this problem of remembering our past generations. Only the active act of remembering can keep our past generations alive, and Coco, made with all the brilliance that technology can muster, shows us it doesn’t require technology. Just the desire to remember.



Thanksgiving Day Observations


Yesterday seemed like a good day to think about what I’m grateful for. These would be adversity, family and my puppy (dog).

“Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.”

Adversity grounds and challenges us. One aspect of adversity is that it is nothing more than missing future expectations. We lost the round in the debate tournament, and won’t go on to the elimination rounds. The contract went to the other team. The offer extended was turned down. The meeting didn’t go as planned. At this point, we can resist and feel sorry about the adverse circumstances, still desiring the missing future. Or we can accept, and see what information this holds. How can I improve my performance in the debate round? Why did we lose the contract? What was missing in our offer? Why did the meeting go off track?

As we think about these reasons, we challenge ourselves for the answers. This requires examination of the evidence, creativity in coming up with solutions, and the drive to change our behavior for next time. These hard but necessary steps keep us motivated, help us grow and change for the better. All due to adversity, and so I am thankful for its “sweet uses.”

I’m thankful for my family. My immediate family that supports and loves me. My extended family that I only see from time to time, and talk to, infrequently, but still has warm feelings towards me. My friends with whom I have shared experiences and have common past. They infuse my life with richness and joy, and I am thankful for their presence.

Finally, my new puppy. Always happy to see me with his wagging tail, a welcoming sniff, and numerous licks of affection. Ready to offer his belly for a belly rub. Curious about every sound, smell and new individual he meets. He is full of life, and he reminds me to appreciate every day.

Thanks to adversity, my family and my puppy, for enriching my life by adding experiences and joy to all the moments of daily life!

A Futile Endeavor


“I love my children so much, but I am not with them most of the day. They go to school and I see them for a few hours every morning and evening. How do I protect them? How do I ensure that they do not suffer, they are not hurt?” I asked the resident Monk.

It was the last evening of a week long Zen meditation retreat. We had been meditating daily for hours, in the morning, afternoon and evening. Now we had the opportunity to ask questions, and my question was about my children.

The Monk looked at me and smiled. “I can see you love your children, and you want to protect them. But it is a futile endeavor.”

“What do you mean?” I asked bewildered, “How can I not protect them?”

“You cannot be with them forever. You already know that,” he responded. “They have their own journey through life. They will be happy and sad and hurt and joyful, and you cannot prevent their suffering. But there is something you can do,” he added.

“What is that?” I asked, still confused.

“There is only one person you are with 24 hours a day. Do you know who that is?” he asked.

I pondered his question for a moment, and then I got it. “The only person I am with, 24 hours a day, is myself.”

“Very good,” he responded. “You are the only person you can affect in this world. You cannot change someone else. You cannot protect someone else. But through the example of your life, you can show your children, how to live. How to be happy. How to deal with disappointment. How to love. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” I replied. It was all, suddenly, very clear to me.

I am reminded again of these words, today, the first day of 2017, when we think of our resolutions.

We cannot change our children.

We cannot change our spouses.

We cannot change our parents.

We cannot change our friends.

These are all futile endeavors.

We can only change ourselves, the person we are with, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Grab the opportunity with both hands. Change yourself this year!



The Meaning of Family

Luxury Restaurant Tableware

“Slow day today?” I asked the attendant who had just refilled my glass of water.

“So far, but it will get busy very soon,” he replied.

I was sitting in an Indian restaurant, in a nondescript strip mall. The restaurant was tastefully decorated with photographs and fabrics, a cut above the standard Indian images of the Taj Mahal. There was just one more table occupied by another guest, from the more than a dozen tables in the restaurant.

“The food is really good,” I complimented him.

“Thank you,” he replied, “That is really meaningful to hear. This is my restaurant and I’m proud of it.”

“How long has it been open?” I asked

“Just six months,” he replied, “And I am learning something everyday.”

“Your first restaurant…?” My question hung in the air.

“Yes,” he responded, “I graduated six months ago with a BS, but rather than a job, I always wanted to start a restaurant. When I told my parents, they supported me and provided the financing for this restaurant. My parents are partners with me in this restaurant.”

“Wow, that is great!” I exclaimed, “It must be wonderful to have such supportive parents!”

“You don’t know the least of it,” he said. “Earlier this afternoon, my Dad called to check and see how things were going, and I told him that my two attendants had called in sick. Without saying anything else, my Dad and Mom came over. That’s my Dad at the filling water for the other guest. That’s my Mom, cleaning the tables over there.” He gestured to the older Indian gentleman and lady that were absorbed in their work in another part of the restaurant. I had noticed them earlier, but had not paid them any special attention.

“Well, enjoy your food,” he said, and walked away to greet another couple that had just entered the restaurant.

I sat there, ate my food, and thought about families. Parents buying into their child’s dream, financially. Pitching in to help without making a fuss, yet doing so from the background, not trying to steal the limelight, nor talk up their son. Demonstrating by deed, more meaningful than any words, what support, love, trust, and belief, truly mean. Families can be so powerful in shaping our world.

Frustration And Success

This is the story of the visa applications for India, for my parents through Cox and Kings Global Services (CKGS), San Francisco.

My parents recently became US Citizens, and having been in the US for almost a year, wanted to go back to India. However, a US Citizen requires a tourist visa to visit India. Since my parents were previously citizens of India, and India does not allow dual citizenship, they also had to renounce their Indian citizenship. The Indian Embassy and Consulates in the US (including San Francisco) do not allow direct access to visa applicants – all visa and other applications are handled through an outsourcing company, CKGS.

The CKGS website is poorly designed and did not address my question – How do I apply simultaneously for Renunciation of Indian citizenship and a Tourist Visa? I called the phone number several times, only to alternate between a busy signal, or a 15 minute wait time that required me to keep pressing a button on my phone keyboard, to continue to be connected. Once I reached a person, and explained my situation, I was told that the website “widget” would allow me to do that. Also, that I could send in the both the Renunciation application and Visa application in a single envelope.

I couldn’t figure out the CKGS widget. I also couldn’t find how to send both Renunciation and Visa applications in a single envelope. Filling out the Visa application was very complex – it required a handoff from the CKGS site to the Indian Embassy site, and then back again to the CKGS site. It took me 2 days to assemble the full paperwork. I also couldn’t get a timely appointment for a personal visit to submit the application at CKGS, so I submitted four separate applications via courier for my parents – 2 applications for Renunciation, and 2 applications for Visas.

The CKGS tracking system showed receipt of the Visa applications, but for Renunciation indicated that the Indian Passports were missing. That stumped me, since I had sent the passports in the courier envelopes. So I made my first trip to the CKGS office in San Francisco to see if I could sort this out.

I met with Jennifer at CKGS reception. Jennifer patiently heard my situation and then went into the back office to find out what had happened to the passports. After a couple of clarifications, she finally located the passports. CKGS staff had opened the Visa applications and seen the reference to the Renunciation applications, but did not see the Indian passports (for Renunciation) in the Visa application. So they marked the Renunciation applications as missing documents. Jennifer found the Fedex envelopes for Renunciation with the missing passports, so the applications could proceed. I requested Jennifer to confirm that all the documents were in order for Renunciation – in case something was missing, I could provide it right then, since I was already in their office.

Jennifer came back after an hour and told me that all four applications had been checked and were complete – there was nothing more for me to do. So I left the CKGS office. Later that evening, I again checked the CKGS tracking system. This time the CKGS tracking system said that I was missing a document. I needed to provide a notarized letter stating that my parents were staying at my address in the USA – one letter per application.

I drafted the letter, and then got all four copies notarized over the weekend. Then I made a second trip to the CKGS office in San Francisco. This time I met Gregory at the front desk. I explained the situation to Gregory, who took the letters and added them to the applications. I asked Gregory if my application was now complete and would be forwarded to the Indian Consulate for processing. He replied that they would leave for the Indian consulate later that day.

Two days later, the CKGS website indicated that they were still awaiting the notarized letter to complete the applications. I made a third trip to CKGS. Fortunately, I met Gregory again, who recognized me from my last visit. I asked him what had happened to the applications – why were they still showing missing documents. Gregory went back and checked. Apparently the applications were complete, but were sitting in the inbox for processing by CKGS staff. Gregory said that he pulled out the applications and specifically requested the staff member to process the application. He assured me that the applications would leave the CKGS office that day.

The next day, the application status had been updated as complete and on the way to the Indian Consulate. The turn around time to get the visas at the Indian Consulate was just one day. One day more for receipt and processing by CKGS, then the weekend, and finally one more day for delivery by Fedex.

Total time to get visas for India – 2 1/2 weeks. Total trips to CKGS, San Francisco – Three.

My recommendations for others who are in a similar situation:

  1. Personally visit the CKGS office via an appointment to hand in your visa application. This will ensure a complete application, or at least let you know what is missing, and allow you to provide those documents.
  2. Prepare to visit the CKGS office in San Francisco, if you send in your application by courier. Calling the help numbers on the CKGS website is useless, since the call center is in India and they have no knowledge of the specific situation at an office in the USA.
  3. Leave enough time for this entire process to have hiccups. You will be very stressed if you have already bought your tickets (like we did) and don’t have your visas in hand.

The whole process was very stressful and frustrating, but this was the view at the end. Yay!!

Airport - 1

Meltdown in Snow

“Get away from me! GET AWAY FROM ME!!”

The voice was loud, angry and quivering with emotion. I turned around on my skis to see what was going on. There it was – a snapshot of a domestic distress at the entrance to the ski lift in Park City, UT.

The woman had two small children clutching each of her legs. She was crying. Both children were crying. Their skis were lying haphazardly on the ground around them. Her partner was standing 3 feet away, gesturing as if he wanted to help, but being told to stay away.

The meltdown of self control that typically happens in the privacy of our homes, away from prying eyes, was happening in front of the transfixed crowd.

“GO AWAY! GO AWAY!!”, she continued yelling at him. Everyone paused to see what he would do. He stood there, looking at her. Her hands tried to comfort the two sobbing children. “Don’t touch me! I don’t want you here! GET AWAY”, she shouted, ignoring the crowd, her eyes flashing at him.

What had snapped her reserve? With two small children, they had to have been together for several years. How long had this been going on?  Or was it just a bad day due to the accumulated stress of the ski vacation – flights and cars, a new hotel room, getting the children dressed, the heavy boots, the cold weather, the falls of beginning skiers?

No one dared intercede. The woman shuffled over with her children to a bench at one of the outdoor tables. Tears were still streaming down her face as she hugged them. At that moment, my skiing group showed up from their run. I left with my group into the anonymity of the lift lines, leaving her sitting on that bench.

For the rest of that day, the woman and her situation were on my mind. Except for the public loss of self control, perhaps we have all been in her shoes. Memories of times where anger, frustration, fatigue, loss, misunderstanding, rejection, or unfulfilled expectations, have led to yelling and screaming. Not our proudest times, but these signs of pain and suffering are what make us human.

On that day, I wished that she and her family could find calm and peace, and I continue to wish for a better future for them.




Less Than Perfect



By © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9576892

Wabi-sabi: Accepting transience and imperfection

What happens when you are not the best you can be with someone you love?

This evening, while driving N home, I asked if he had spoken to his coach about missing practice, like I had asked him to do. N replied that he had, but in his own way, leaving out what I felt was an important detail.

The frustration of a long day caught up with me. With a raised voice, I pointed out, where, several times in the recent past, N hadn’t done exactly what I had asked him to do. By the time I finished, N had tears in his eyes.

I remember a Q&A session at a meditation retreat. I asked the monk how I could protect my children from hurt and suffering, since I am not with them during most of their day. The monk replied that I couldn’t save anyone else from suffering. I could only save the person I was with 24 hours a day – myself.

Not only had I not protected N, I had contributed to his distress. I had modeled a focus on missing details, instead of complimenting N on his independence in talking to his coach. I had demonstrated how to carry troubles of the past, unresolved conversations, unfinished tasks, anxiety for the future, all the disappointments of the day; I had illustrated how to unload this ammunition onto an unsuspecting loved one.

After I apologized to N, because of his big and generous heart, he accepted my heartfelt apology.

But I carried the disquiet of my behavior into the evening. How to forgive oneself?

First, with acceptance of the hurt from my thoughtless words to my son.

Second, by letting go of the deep regret I felt for the way I had behaved.

Third, by resolving to be more mindful and in the moment, by not carrying the burden of a frustrating day into my next conversation.

Finally, by accepting that I am less than perfect, human, still a work in progress.