A meandering post about a bunch of stuff and a date I can't quite forget

 We got a brand new 2021 all electric Nissan Leaf a few weeks ago. We are in the future now. 

For those of you who know me, this must come as a surprise! All my adult life, I've been against buying new vehicles and I've tried to convince everyone who cares to listen, to never fall in that trap. But, this car comes as a privilege for the new Nissan employee in the household. The hubby's employee benefits is to be able to lease new vehicles and get reimbursed for it! He jumped at the opportunity of being able to drive an all electric, brand new car - which, given how his fate changed after meeting me, was not to be. Until he became a Nissan employee, that is...



So, that's how we, the owners of a 2004 Accord and a 2006 Mazda 3, end up with a 2021 Leaf! My first thought, after he read about this perk was that we could use an aux cable! None of our cars have ever had an aux input port. We've tried to use the aux -> radio frequency converter rather unsuccessfully. But, we loved tuning into NPR, so this was never an issue except on long drives on road trips when we pass through sections of the country where NPR is nothing but a cacophony of scratches.

The day we decided to go on our first drive in the new car, we realized this car has a Bose speaker, and technology had advanced enough to not need cables anymore! We had successfully skipped generations of technology and jumped right into the future! The husband established our first bluetooth connection to a speaker system!

I am the farthest it's possible to be from an early adopter of tech. I've absolutely hated upgrading my phone or laptop. I've hated having to figure out any new technology. I barely know how to operate the remote of the TV I now own, after a decade of thriving without one. I will stick to my aging stuff for as long as they will work and won't fall apart in my hands, or cause danger to the people around me.

This is not something I wrote up with pride though. I've long been ashamed of this, working in the mecca of tech: this aversion to early adoption of technology. I live in the bubble where people lease a new car every few years, where my employer gave out a new phone to every employee every christmas for most of the last decade that I worked there, where every new gadget terminology flew off twitter and into people's parlance within days.

I was ashamed that I was a "laggard" a term used in the software industry to talk about people just like me. People who adopted new tech kicking and screaming. Those that needed to be forced to let go of the dying old stuff. My first year working in silicon valley, the director of my department had our team read a book that had a framework about how to get the masses to adopt disruptive innovations[1]. In my head, and I'm pretty sure in reality too, I was surrounded by innovators and early adopters. These are the first and second in that line of people one wanted to try to sell new technology to.

I had always been ashamed that I was the laggard in my family of innovators & entrepreneurs[2]. My dad has always wanted the most advanced gadgets he could fit in the house and has always worked on the next big thing. My brother, from my earliest memories, has been constantly tweaking the computer & modem in our house[3]. He now works on the next big thing.

When I was doing my undergrad in computer science, the brother, a mentor figure for me by then, bought me a bunch of parts for a PC when the old computer in our house died a sudden death. He told me to put them all together since I was training to be a computer engineer anyway and had to know the basics. But, this was terrifyingly alien territory for me. I had a deep fear of doing something wrong and blowing up a ton of money that went into buying the parts. When I finally managed to put the PC together, after asking a whole bunch of questions whose answers I thought I had no business not knowing, I didn't feel pride. I felt relief. And, for the very first time, I felt like how I would feel for a large part of the next decade and a half: an imposter.

It didn't matter that I actually loved the "aha" I derived while learning wicked smart algorthims, the theory behind all of computation, the design of software and even the thrill of debugging code (even in assembly language). For reasons I couldn't articulate then, and still can't quite articulate, I hated putting physical hardware together. And in that moment, after I'd put together the first and last PC that I would, I told myself that I could never be a "successful engineer". The message I received clearly from my mentor & big brother, someone who was definitely meant well, was that it was an essential, baseline skill. What he meant and whether he actually said any of that is lost to history.

About eight years after this incident in college, in a park by the bay, in the mecca for disruptive innovators of our time, where I then worked as a software engineer at a leading product company, on a breezy morning with stunning blue skies, amidst the smell of the salt water from the bay with a whiff of goose poop from all around, I saw a scrawny little kid, around 8 years old, learning to perform some tricks on his bike from his dad. The dad egged the kid on to do a simple stunt. The kid navigated this successfully. The dad was visibly thrilled! He wanted to give the kid a high five, but the kid, balance recovered in full by then, said sternly, "That was NOT fun dad. I'm NEVER doing that again." The dad, taken quite aback by the public display of his son's displeasure, laughed and patted the kid on his back.

This image of a kid growing up to be their own person stuck in my head; tag = "surprise!". A kid making known their own likes and dislikes, wholly different from that just expressed by their parent.

Thinking back to that day, the surprise I felt was about how the kid was vocal about his displeasure to his dad and did so even though the dad was clearly pleased, excited and congratulatory about the perceived achievement. This kid was raised with a voice, and he used it bravely, to show that he wasn't enjoying it - no matter if the people around him applauded him for it.

Would I have ever done that? Nope. Was the kid at the park able to voice his displeasure because he was a boy? Was I too steeped in patriarchy to have been able to do that? Was it because he grew up in a culture diametrically opposed to mine on the individualistic/ collectivistic spectrum? From my earliest memories, I've always known what I liked, but I've always also strived to be what the people I cared about wanted to see. I never had a rebellious teenage phase. I was always the "good kid" and always wanted to be the "good kid". I worked hard (too hard sometimes) on skills I had no intrinsic desire to master, because I was told that these were the skills that mattered, those that were useful. 

I got used to climbing every ladder that was put in front of me by people whom I care about. I got so good at climbing ladders that I started, almost instinctively, climbing ones put in place by slick corp-speech in a past life, before I could consciously stop myself. The more confidently I was dragged to a ladder, or talked to about its overwhelming or urgent importance, the less confident I felt in my wanting to ignore it. I've been prime target for folks who market this BS[4].

I've come a long way now, and yet feel like I have a longer way to go to feel like I am standing on solid ground when faced with urgent exhortations of what I must or must not do next.

It feels shitty, being susceptible to being pushed around this way, being the self-proclaimed feminist that I am. Being the one who tells all my younger female acquaintances to become self-reliant, I haven't even quite figured out how to say what I think to some of the alpha males around me.

It also feels shitty that I can't remain rational during these times and apply logic about what is being said, to tease apart the BS and the facts of the matter. Miles to go before I can fend off patriarchal bravado, stay calm and analyze on!

It feels thoroughly shitty that I'm writing this as someone who has practiced mindfulness (on and off) for the last decade of my life. Being someone who has learned to stay calm and carry on for the most part, having a defensive freeze response when I'm faced with pushy words (all the inner ones as well) makes me feel sad. I need to develop the muscle of being able to distinguish between good stuff that sometimes comes mixed in with the over zealous and overconfident bullshit without getting caught up in the shame and resentment that wells up furiously along with the guilt that I'm feeling these feelings because of the gratitude I also feel for having these people in my life. I can work with the RAFT (recognize, allow, feel, tease apart) framework now, but I fall hard when I try the RAIN (recognize, allow, investigate, non-identify) framework. But, practicing mindfulness everyday, even for a few minutes, definitely lets me see these apart more clearly and stay calm and reasonable in the face of these inner storms. And, I've been trying to establish a daily practice for a while now, and may have finally gotten a breakthrough there.

So I've had to find my own comforting way to stay sane (sort of) to work my way through this gift of a lifetime that's truly beautiful in its essence. The lifetime where meaning can be found in the voice of a scrawny little kid telling off his dad and in every ray of sunlight filtering through the dazzling spectacle of newly sprung fluorescent green leaves, to reach me on my living room couch as I write this.

My way was to find belonging in a family of my choosing, and make these choices with extreme care. I surround myself with people who know what they don't know, ie, those who aren't overconfident bullshitters. People who care to listen to different perspectives because they realize they could have blindspots that could be filled if they listened. People who can wait for introverts to take their time to use their turn to speak, without pushing for immediate answers. People who are happy with me being who I am and not a star burning at its brightest at the time of their choosing. People who are accepting of meandering feet as opposed to needing them to always march forward or climb upward. People who don't think they are the best minds on the planet who can solve all the world's problems if they cared to think about them for just a few minutes. People who allow for the fact that I'm human and make mistakes (often) and are forgiving with that. People who have values that resonate with mine.

I've grown this family with barely a handful of these people from every stage in my life. I hold on to them tight. Very, very tight.

And, it was 10 years ago, to this day, that I met Bala who has turned out to have all the qualities I needed in my chosen family. A partner with whom I've learned so much and changed together in many big and small ways. A person by whom I feel wholly understood, wholly seen and wholly supported by. 

This is the guy, who, as I was driving up the mountains and had just had my "Look ma! No cables!" speaker system moment, paired his phone and played, as our car's first song, "inkem inkem inkem kaavaley? chaale idhi chaale!". Roughly translated, these two lines mean: "What more is needed? This is enough."[5] 

And, in that instant, when that song came on, with a backdrop of the interesting complexities that life decided to throw at us this year, and a hill blanketed by yellow and violet wildflowers, I felt my heart race to give space to an inner warmth that felt like molten goo.

And this molten goo reminded me that over the last few years, that inner voice telling me that I'll never be enough, is slowly, but surely, getting replaced with a kinder voice that tells me that I'm enough.

That I'm enough. That there's no need to feel ashamed for everything I'm not. And that it's all ok.

---

[1] "move fast and break things" brings a visceral "ughhh" from within me everytime I hear it for all the damage this type of thinking has caused 

[2] My mother is more like the person I am and the person I want to emulate. Things I hate doing, she typically hates too. And most of what came easily to her, come easily to me. But many of these aren't what are thought of as aspiration-worthy qualities in my culture and are sadly, easily dismissed

[3] He also played the latest 3-D video games, which caused me literal nausea every time I tried to even just see the monitor while he was doing so. He came to the conclusion years later that it was my as yet undiagnosed astigmatism that may have caused the nausea all along

[4] I am so grateful to a friend for telling me about hedonistic adaptation, right before I got my first job after grad school. If not for that one very important conversation, I might have gotten trapped on that topless ladder as well. How I escaped that is for another blog post!

[5] The only 2 sentences that Bala and I understand in that way longer Telugu song!

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