By Vega Subramaniam
Do you know anyone else who does this? Of course not! Neither do I! And yet, the microwave has not exploded. Our kitchen has not been set on fire (well, not because of the microwave, anyway, but that’s a story for another day). How is this possible?
I have no idea. But I know it is possible, because I watch it happen almost every day. NOW, ask me if I have ever, even one single time, used the microwave to heat something on a metal plate or metal anything, for that matter? Of course I have not! Since the advent of the microwave, the Rule is that you don’t put metal in it. And even after our environmental scientist friend assured us that you could actually put some metals in the microwave…I stick to my Rule.
Likewise, though it is the Year of Our Lord 2021, both Mala and I unfailingly and painstakingly rinse every dish we put into our fancy new dishwasher. We had friends visit recently who have tween children. These tween children take their food-infested, crusted-over, crumb-filled plates directly from the table to the dishwasher, open the dishwasher, and pop in their plates. No water, no sink involved. The first time we ran the dishwasher after they did this, we just shut our eyes, crossed our fingers, and prepared to re-wash half a dozen dishes.
And what do you know, all the dishes came out sparkly clean. Couldn’t tell ours apart from the tweens’. Who knew. And yet, even after two weeks of tween dish-loading, Mala and I still stick to our Rule. For my part, I keep thinking, what if I’m missing something major? It ain’t broke, so why would I try to fix it? It just makes me uncomfortable, and there’s no harm in doing the rinsing, right?
OK, how does this apply to compensation, you ask? Well, let me turn it over to Mala to explain!
Our assumptions about the “common sense truth” about the world are almost unshakeable. This applies equally to habits and “truths” about microwaves and dishwashers and to those about compensation policy. It’s time to change that. From how we determine salaries to cost of living adjustments to retirement contributions—in the name of gender and racial justice and reparations, I think it’s time to reexamine our Rules* around compensation.
I was reading an article in The New Yorker about Icelandic volcanoes, as you do. The author went to rather great lengths to witness the eruption of one particular volcano: Fagradalsfjall (on a side note, who’s with me that all geologic names the world over be in Icelandic). Like, great lengths. Dirt devils attacked her from all sides. Wind gusts, which sounded like revving jet engines, continually almost knocked her over, once successfully blowing her a foot downhill. The temperature was in the 40s.
The question that kept occurring to me upon reading this article, of course, was why? Why would you go to such great lengths, and put yourself so into harm’s way, to see…lava? You know you can see it on TV, right? Don’t get me wrong; I’m as big of a nature girl as the next person, but that doesn’t mean I want gale-force winds pushing me halfway down a mountain. I just looked up the etymology of “gale.” It likely comes from the Old Norse galinn, which means “furious, mad, frantic.” I rest my case.
I also kept thinking: she wasn’t the only one there. There were all these other people she encountered once she arrived. She noted their various responses, some celebrating, some taking photos, others just gazing in awe.
And that’s it, of course. That’s the reason people risk life and limb to look at lava. Awe.
I do so admire people who have a thing, who have that kind of passion. I don’t know that I would scale a mountain in gale-force winds for…well, anything, honestly, not even a crossword puzzle tournament. If you can imagine.
That did get me thinking about “awe,” though, and its various manifestations.
By Vega Subramaniam
“Expectation is the root of all heartache.” — (Probably not) Shakespeare
We’re hearing a lot about “hope” these days. Hope for vaccinations and herd immunity. Hope for a relatively speedy economic recovery. Hope for a return to normalcy this year. And yet, “hope” is brittle and bruised. It is for me, anyway. The heartbreaking anti-Asian violence around the country and most recently in Georgia has driven me around the bend. I will refrain from piling onto the “me too” stories because of course me too. But I digress.
The moment you think that you can take a breath, the next truly terrible thing happens. And in the name of all that is holy, why does it always have to be truly terrible, like off-the-charts terrible? Why can’t we go back to the good old days of only sort of terrible? (I kid, I kid.)
After a year of shattered expectations, it feels foreign to bank on, well, anything when it comes to the multiple fronts of pandemic, justice, and climate (a non-exhaustive list, to be clear).
We humans sure have a tortured relationship to “hope,” considering that it’s omnipresent and unavoidable. Hope, we think, is a delusion, a tone-deaf luxury, a psychic landmine. It’s elusive and easily dashed. It’s not worth having; certainly not worth chasing. It is also, I mean, as I said, unavoidable, and also, like, a precious and powerful state of mind that keeps us living to fight another day.
By Vega Subramaniam
The first thing is our “Intentional Life Planning” retreat. After years of offering it In Real Life, Mala and I had planned to bring the offering online for the very first time. It was something we had been dreaming about for years. It was, truly, a decade-long aspiration. And we were well into the project and had a timeline and Google doc and everything.
And then we were derailed. Mala experienced suddenly- and dramatically-increased eldercare responsibilities, including four hospitalizations since October. Given this new reality, we recognized that we needed to hit “pause” on our online “Intentional Life Planning” offering—because (oh, the irony) our lives have now become so very unpredictable.
So the most impossible thing we could do right now is to commit to showing up, with preparedness, at specific calendared times, on a regular basis.
By Vega Subramaniam
Pretty much all the time, the same event—a marriage, a funeral, a holiday celebration…an election…—is an occasion for both celebration and mourning—laden also with all the emotions in between and sideways and tangential and, for that matter, random.
I’ve been really struggling with my internal whiplash of mixed emotions. That’s been true my whole life, of course. But it’s taken on a whole new life since
November 7 December 14 January 5 January 6 January 20 today. I’m buried by the whiplash. It flattens me. The work my brain is doing to consolidate all the incoming! is too much.
The very real highs of “Biden/Harris!” “First Black/South Asian (Tamilian!)/Woman Vice President!” “Vaccine!” “Electoral College!” “Georgia!” are yoked to the equally real lows of “Ever-Increasing Pandemic Deaths!” “Billionaire-Supported Misogynist Islamophobic Anti-Semitic Nativists!” “Violent White Supremacist Insurrectionists Full-Throatedly Supported By Half The Country And Also Most Of The Elected Representatives And, Well, At Least A Few Of The Senators! All Of Whom Were There In The Room Where It Happened! And Had A Momentary Epiphany! Followed Immediately By That Sweet, Sweet Billionaire-Supported White Supremacist Collective Amnesia!”
By Vega Subramaniam
Well, friends, we’re almost there. Not that I’m quite sure what “there” means, exactly. Should I be worried? Probably. Am I still feeling hopeful? Yes. Am I feeling maybe even a bit festive? Also yes! I don’t know what’s coming up for you over the next few weeks, but I hope it is OK. I hope you (and we) are and continue, somehow, to be OK.
As with all things 2020, I’m feeling equal parts blessed and heartbroken right now. Blessed because Mala and I will be closing up shop for a few weeks, which means time to wind down, rejuvenate, and set (crosswords) intentions (more crosswords) for the year ahead (still more crosswords). Heartbroken because we had the opportunity to work with two of the most talented and conscientious humans I’ve ever met, and today is our last day together as a team.
We SEEM happy, I will allow, but inside, we’re a slobbering mess.
This is a more self-involved post than is typical. I hope you’ll bear with me.
By Maria Taylor
One morning not long ago, I was feeling extremely sad and weary over some things in my personal life I’d been growing through. For comfort, I reminded myself of one of my favorite scriptures: “Be joyful always, pray continuously, and give thanks in all circumstances.”
“I’m joyful,” I thought, even as tears streamed down my face. “I AM joyful,” I said out loud. “Even if I don’t really feel it.”
Immediately, I felt a sense of joy and peace sweep over me. My whole attitude and demeanor changed. I couldn’t help but smile at the quick transformation of my mood. The sadness and weariness were still there, of course, but in that moment, I was choosing to focus on joy instead.
Now, was I jumping up and down turning cartwheels and doing somersaults? Naaahh… But quantum physics teaches us that we first must emit the frequency we want to tune into in order to receive it. And by claiming joy even before it was fully actualized inside me, an inexpressible peace was deposited so deeply into my spirit that the debilitating effects of my sadness no longer had a hold on me. It felt empowering to know that should I unconsciously revert back to sadness, a conscious choice for joy could whisk me back into a more manageable state of mind.
Remember those old-fashioned analog radios that had static and knobs for changing stations? I like to think of joy as a channel we can choose, just as you tune into a different radio station if you don’t like the song that’s playing. Being a positive, upbeat person, I’m usually naturally tuned to the frequency of joy. But if I’m not careful, the cares of life and the world can, little by little, pull me from my joyful channel and into static. But with a little conscious awareness, I inch my way back through the noise and into joy. Besides, if what we focus on expands, why not choose joy?
By Vega Subramaniam
Biden 306; The Donald 232. Woohoo, this means that I can get a good night’s sleep tonight, right? It’s finally over? I can rest up for the ongoing movement work? I can go back to paying attention to the things that matter to me?
Oh, if only.
For four years, we were waiting for this nightmare to end. Hoping the election would be a repudiation. Surely, come November 3, we could take a breath and calm ourselves and slow down, even for just a few months.
Can’t say we weren’t warned. We were alerted for weeks and months that: (1) it was unlikely that we’d know the results of the election on the day of; (2) Biden/Harris would nevertheless likely win; and (3) because of that time lapse, the current person occupying the White House would wreak as much havoc, pain, and terror as he has in his power to do (i.e., a lot).
And yet, when the time came, it still sucked. It still sucks. Both being forewarned, and yet still being…not blindsided because forewarned, but…nevertheless disappointed. Overwhelmingly so. Gut-punchingly so.
If only the knowledge of an onslaught was all it took to mentally prepare for it or to plan around it. Knowing that there are rapids ahead when you’re whitewater rafting doesn’t mean you get a bye. You still endure the pummeling, you with your silly little oar. You’re still buffeted between terror, thrill, and disorientation, over and over again.
And yet through the pummeling and whiplash (and grief because nope, no repudiation, and yep, 70+ million votes for…[insert appropriate horrifying word that completely escapes me here]…), regular stuff still needs to happen. I need to get work done. Mala and I need to care for our parents. There are personal projects I’m working on that matter to me.
What sources of strength and focus do I need to draw upon in order to just keep doing my life? It’s so easy to want to sink; to want to let the oar slide out of my hand. Instead, how do I stay true(r?) to my own commitments? How do I keep hold of my oar? (I mean, besides throwing money with vigorous and untethered abandon at the Georgia senate election runoffs, obviously.)
If you’re an American citizen, I hope you have either voted or have a rock-solid plan to do so. Thank you for attending my Harridan Talk.
While mispronouncing names might not be the biggest issue on people’s minds right now, and while I am quite confident I don’t need to convince you of the importance of trying to pronounce names correctly, something about this is still gnawing at me.
#MyNameIs Vegavahini. It’s a raga in Carnatic (South Indian classical) music. My mom, Prabha, is a Carnatic musician. My dad, Mani, is a Carnatic music aficionado. And they both have a fondness for raga Vegavahini. I love my name so much, and I always have. And to be clear, it’s an American name, because I’m American.
You’ve likely heard the reprehensible Sen. David Perdue pretend he’s never met his colleague-of-three-years, Sen. Kamala Harris, and golly, just can’t seem to pronounce her first name. And if you have a name that some Americans have a hard time pronouncing, you probably had some feelings about this, as I did. I mean, hopefully you had some feelings about this even if you don’t have a name some Americans have a hard time pronouncing. Again, you don’t need me to tell you how belittling, hurtful, and othering it is.
Growing up in small-town Wisconsin in the 1970s, I endured my fair share of riding out the creatively weird ways kids (and adults) mangled my name; and laughing awkwardly when not just bullies but also friends would make fun of my name; and preemptively cringing during roll call on the first day of every new class as the teacher approached the S’s. I got used to resigning myself to “close enough.”
Let no one ever accuse me of being unfamiliar with name-pronunciation-navigation.
Thing is, here’s the thing. Here’s the thing. I butcher other people’s names, too. Siobhan? Can I be forgiven for assuming that’s pronounced “SEE-oh-bahn”? Ahmed? Chava? Tariq? Until the day I die, I probably will not be able to accurately pronounce the “ach,” “chha,” “q.”
Have you tried learning a language that uses sounds and tones that are not native to your first language(s)?
By Vega Subramaniam
No, don’t answer that. I’m actually not interested in prolonging that conversation in this moment.
In this moment, what I’m actually interested in is turning again to taking care of ourselves.
During a recent call with a friend, I asked her what she was up to at the moment. Her reply was, oh, I’m just hanging out on my couch. “Watching TV?” I asked. “Reading? Scrolling?” Genuinely puzzled, she responded, “no, just…hanging out on my couch. Just sitting here.”
What, now? “Just sitting here”? That is not my experience of life. It’s not that I live at turbo-speed or anything; far from it. It’s that if I am awake, I am in motion. Sometimes literally, floating from room to room on a constant chase after my memory: “why did I come into the study, again? Hm, can’t remember.” Float back into the living room…“oh, right, my notebook.” Back to the study, grab the notebook, back to the living room, drop the notebook on the couch, head to the kitchen for a glass of water…“wait, why’d I come into the kitchen? Can’t remember.” Back to the living room—oh, right, water. And it begins again.