Sunday, September 27, 2009

The postracial world of .....TV Commercials?

Racism...its not a topic I had thought of too much before I came to America. Once here, of course, it has become central to my life. The fact that I am different was obvious and also thrust on me from multiple sources. Nothing is black and white (well, actuallty it is - and that's the point of this - but I really wasn't going there - just a bad pun!) anymore. For every action and reaction, I wonder - how much of this was spurred by the fact that I am Indian?

Early days in New York, I remember going to a salon on Long Island to get my hair blown out. The ladies at the salon raved about my "thick, dark, beautiful" hair. It had been no cause for celebration in India where thick, dark hair abounded and was mroe of a nuisance than an asset. Innocent remarks were sometimes funny as in when an older colleague at IBM asked me, "So, how do you celebrate birthdays in India?". "We cut a cake and sing Happy Birthday," I responded, unable to suppress a sarcastic smile. Once I moved to New York City, things were a little better - or maybe we just got used to being a minority. 9/11 was hard - not just because it was a traumatizing experience to watch as I walked the streets of New York while the planes were flying into the towers - but more because people actually suggested that we didn't feel the sadness and horror of the act because we were not the "targets" of the attack.

The move to Seattle has brought a fresh perspective to this ongoing debate in my head. Microsoft is a virtual microcosm of the world - not even in New York did I work with people from so many countries and backgrounds. But home is different - I live in an affluent suburb which still means - a mostly white suburb. While we definitely have made some very good friends in our neighborhood, there have been very ugly incidents which have made me think long and hard about what it means to live as a brown person in this society.

For a lot of the reasons above, I hailed and rejoiced in the election of President Obama. " What a great difference for all the balck people in this country," I remember thinking to myself, "to have a role model. To see this family in the White House." No matter what else happens, there is this person of color in the highest office of the land and that is something that has the power to inspire and motivate millions of young people, previously excluded from this conversation. I was exultant every time I watched the President and his family being fawned over. " I think we will apply to be citizens now," I emailed a friend as I watched the new first family on my TV.

Since then, I have heard lots of commentary on why the election of President Obama has not meant a post racial America. I agree, whole heartedly. However, there are subtle shifts - which is how, I think, change starts to brew. One trend I have noticed in that central pillar of the American capitalist structure - TV advertising. Commercials for household items like Tide, Cheerios, Campbell and NetFlix have been featuring black people - kids, fathers, grandfathers - as normal people with normal lives in normal houses. Just like the rest of the world. The Netflix guy even rides a bike in his leafy suburb. Of course, that has always been true - there is nothing new about the lives being depicted here. But, at least to me, the newness and power is in these images of normalcy finally being beamed down from TV sets across the country. These are normal people, folks - our neighbors. Nothing to fear. And that is a trend that I am celebrating and hoping to see more of. Now, if we could only stop seeing Indian characters with horribly pronounced accents. That would be a victory closer to home.

Watch the Cheerios ad below and click on over to youtube to watch the Tide Commercial. Tell me if there are others you see.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Getting it what cost?

Wow! Whew! Repeat that a few times. What a few weeks this has been! Got done with the surgery and recovery and there I was, back in the wringer, being whipped around in a few different directions - simultaneously, for the most part. School started - A. is now in second grade - which means homework every night and questions - not necessarily academic - that are getting harder to handle and even harder to answer. At work, Windows 7 launch is right around the corner. Working at Microsoft in Windows is always fast paced but right about now, everything is stepped up a notch - make that 10 notches. Everytime I want to stop and take a breath - I remember a few things that need to get done. "Right after that," I tell myself, "right after that, I'll stop and put my feet up for a second." For instance, yesterday I was supposed to be at A.'s school for their walkathon fund raiser. I was up at 6AM to get work done so I could make the fundraiser. I made it there at 2 to walk laps around the school campus - but I had no time to eat lunch before then and felt faint after the first 3 rounds. I made it through - but barely. And then, at night, when I logged into Facebook - I saw this link posted by a friend.

I felt vindicated and sad at the same time as I read this through - everything that this article says about women and their position in soceity today, I said that about a 100 times to my husband and some friends. "Why did we have the feminism movement?" I keep asking him. Now, he just ignores the question since he knows what's coming right after that. But it is true - we created new areas for ourselves to judge ourselves and other women in, so we could do a better job of feeling bad about what we don't do. As my husband so eloquently marvelled the other day,"Wow! You feel guilty about so many things. It doesn't even enter my mind to think about half these things - let alone feel guilty." Hmmm.

I've thought this through a million times ..and counting. Where I always end up is here - As exhausting as my life is - it is also exhilirating and exciting. I love what I do - I have the grandest kids and husband in the world, bar none and all said and done, I like having a few balls in the air to juggle. Keeps me off the gossip! So then, I've asked myself the question which several people ask me - either with pity or with admiration - "How do you do it?" Here are the top things I could think of that keep things going and keep me sane - most of the time!
1. Be proud – First things first. I have to come out and say it – there is just too much guilt and working mommy bashing going around. I work really hard at keeping up with my job abd my family and I’m not about to let anyone make me feel bad about it. Actually, I’m proud of my life and that helps me to keep going every day. Whether you work for necessity, to pay the bills or or simply because you like to work, be proud of it. There is nothing wrong and everything right about showing your children that Mommy is contributing to the food they eat, the roof over their head, their college funds and that trip to DisneyLand. Or to show them that you can follow your passions and dreams and going to work every day at a job you love is a wonderful thing. There are a hundred different reasons why you work and instead of feeling guilty about it, celebrate those with your family every day. I’ve taken my kids to work, and I share with them my work events – nervousness around a big presentation, frustration that a project was not going well and we celebrate Mommy & Daddy’s successes at work – just like we celebrate their achievements at school or extracurricular activities.
2. Use your chores – The chronic complaint of time starved Moms is that they have no time to themselves. There is no time to relax or to sit back and take a breath. One of my close friends who is also a high level executive had this plaque on her desk – “2 things to do today – Breathe In, Breathe Out.” Sounds about right, doesn’t it? I’ve decided to not wait anymore for that perfect time when I will make arrangements for the kids to be cared for, find a time that works with my husband’s and my schedules, get dressed and get out of the house. Instead, I build in my relax time into chores I have to do. Once a week or so, after the kids are in bed, I bring down the laundry baskets, switch on the TV and settle down for a hour or two of laundry time while I catch up on some shows on TV. Similarly, when I’m going grocery shopping, I’ll get my iPod, if the weather is nice, I’ll roll down my car windows and make it a 45 minute getaway from the stuff that needs to get done at home. The Starbucks within the local QFC helps too – sometimes, I’ll grab a cup, buy a paper and get some reading done after I’m done with the shopping.
3. Give up on perfection – Being bombarded by ads and movies portraying idyllic families with hearty, healthy meals around the table, supermoms who have a solution to every family crisis and beautiful skin to top it all has left most of us feeling frustrated at the mundane nature of our imperfect lives. I made several plans and timetables to put the kids to bed and rouse them by a strict schedule so we could all sit around the table and have a family breakfast before we all headed to our destinations – with bright cheery smiles and pretty clothes. The reality is that most mornings, we are scrambling to get out of the house on time, I have to forcibly strap my daughter into her seat and I have a headache before I even get to work. But I’ve settled - I’ve settled for the fact that I get my kids to school on time and in one piece – my son had no tardies on his report card this semester - that’s enough for me to deserve a pat on the back. I’ve let the idea of a perfect morning go. My Achilles heel is the weekday morning – it could be any time of the day or week for you. If you can let go of that mental image of what bedtime or family time should look like, you might be able to breathe a bit and enjoy the time you do have together, imperfect as it may be. I have friends who have not been on vacation in years because they are scared to travel with babies on a plane – they stress over every detail. Why not just pack and go and take things as they come? Doesn’t stressing out so much over the planning sort of ruin the point of a stress free “perfect” time? Why not just accept that here we are – with a busy, full life and so much to be grateful for – if the kid throws a tantrum at a hotel, it will not be the end of the world. The world will deal with it, and so should we.
4. Lists are your friend – My husband likes to joke about my lists – he finds them everywhere around the house. On little scraps of paper or at the back of notebooks, even scribbled in the margins of calendars. There are the grocery lists, packing lists and shopping lists. But besides that, I make lists for tasks I need to do , bills I need to pay, people I need to call – even a list of things I need to make lists for. The feeling of checking things off as they get done gives me satisfaction and a sense that I’ve achieved something. Going down the list gives me a feeling of control over my usually chaotic day. When the kids are lethargic in getting their tasks done (everyday!), I quickly write out a list of tasks they need to do and that seems to spur them right along. My four year old cannot read yet but she asks me to read out each task to her and then loves to check it off as soon as she is done. I recommend lists to everyone – for getting a grasp on everything happening, for making sure things get done and just for the vindication of checking of the first or last item on any list.
5. Cultivate your network – This piece of advice is more personal and depends on your personality. Having grown up in a very social environment, I’ve always been used to having people around our house. Luckily, my husband and I both like to entertain, so almost every other weekend, we have a family or two over for dinner. It sounds like more work to spend your free time planning dinner parties, but for us, it really energizes us to see friends and spend a relaxed evening with them. Since most of our friends have children of similar ages as ours, it is a good time for them as well and helps them to build their friendships. When we are in need, it is these friends we turn to – if I am running late for a school pick up, if I need an emergency play date or a weekend evening out, these are the people that step in. So while we don’t make friends with an eye to using them, it’s definitely a more fulfilling and pleasant life with an active social calendar.

Above all the tricks of the trade, the biggest to-do is to slow down, relax and enjoy the many opportunities and blessings you have. It came to me one day as I was rushing to work after having a crazed morning getting the kids ready and dropped off. My husband too, had an early meeting, so we were both running as soon as we woke. As I walked along the office parking lot, I was resentful and fuming as I pitied myself over all that I had to do. And then I realized how lucky I was to be in a job where I was needed and wanted, to have these kids and to have a husband who was busy in a job he enjoyed. Just walking along the parking lot, I suddenly feeling lighter and happier and so can you . All it needs is a little shift in perspective and some good old lists.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A reasonable discussion - on Healthcare?

I found this video today on a political site I love and reference often, the DailyKos. I've been following the HealthCare debate and discussion and I don't profess to getting it all. More than the technicalities of any sort of plan, what has baffled me more is the objections that have surfaced along the way - I dont get how healthcare for all is a choice people would choose not to have and I dont understand the comparisons to Hitler. There is much more that I dont get but coming back to this video, I posted it here because of the way Sen Franken handles and turns around a hostle crowd through reasonable discussion and dialog. Its masterful to watch. What rankled me was this comment that one person in the audience made about McAllen which Sen Franken quotes as having high healthcare costs. "isn't that where the immigrants are?" the man in the audience says. Of course, I object to the insinuation that immigrants are responsible for all that is wrong, everywhere that it is wrong. Over the past few months, this disturbing trend of racism going overt rather than covert has made me cringe and think hard about my place in this nation.

Al Franken counters that by saying that McAllen has a similar demographic makeup as El Paso where healthcare costs are half what they are in McAllen. This whole discussion is based on an article written by Atul Gawande for the New Yorker. I read that artcle too and like anything written by Atul Gawande, it is an excellent piece - well researched and thoughtfully documented. Here is a link to the article

Off topic again - but I am a fan of Atul's writing and have enjoyed everything that he has written. His book Better is a great look at the healthcare system - its challenges and wins - in America and other place around the world. If you are looking for an intelligent, abosrbing read, get this book.

Finally, here is a less nuanced and more straightforward pitch for President Obama to address the issues and objections around healthcare - this is from Bill Moyer's journal

Sometimes you have to call it like you see it - a crackpot is a crackpot - diplomacy be damned!!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Media Consumption

As a proponent of balance in all aspects of life, I was amused to read this article from Wired magazine about balancing out your media consumption. I turned up my nose at first - 9 hours a day of media consumption? What are you talking about - I dont watch that much TV or play that many games. Then I quickly came to my senses and realized the amount of time I spend on my computer - reading the news, microblogging (yes - Facebook & Twitter count). So, whatever your media diet - here's a quick read for balancing it out. Just one more food pyramid