Saturday, October 24, 2009

Right-ward pacing

I play softball at work with my co-workers. Our in-field is really really good. We have great people at first base, third base and shortstop positions.

I haven’t really learnt softball/baseball as properly as some of these guys did, so I observe their technique with great interest. Our shortstop (let’s call him T) throws the ball in a very specific manner. He picks up the ball or catches it off the bounce, gets into position and then pauses for maybe half a second. Then he lets the ball go to first/third base depending on what’s necessary.

That stop is key. He could, like a lot of people I’ve seen, release the ball as soon as it hits his hands. But he stops, makes sure his body and arm are in perfect position and then positively rockets the ball to the right player (I did say our in-field is good). The half-second margin he gives himself adds a lot of things: it ensures his body and arm are in position, he has a clear assessment of where he has to throw the ball to be most effective, guarantees the accuracy of his throw and prevents injuries. In all likelihood, he more than regains the time lost during the pause through the speed of his eventual throw, since he’s never in a suboptimal position while throwing.

As we navigate our way through this wired, ever-connected, faster! faster! world, this is a parallel I think about a lot. I see people all around me with the dial set to 11, furiously multitasking. Updating Facebook status at concert? Check. Tweeting while watching a movie? Check. Email while hanging out with friends (in lieu of real conversation)? Check. Doing more! All the time! With less time!? Check.

While in and of themselves, I have no problem with any of these, the question I ask is: as we navigate through our lives, faster and faster, doing more and more things, are we still in sight of what matters? I can only speak for myself, but the more overscheduled I get, the more important it becomes for me to unplug and just be. I find something vital about disconnecting and letting my brain float. Long stretches of time, at home or outside where I have no clear agenda are worthwhile. I may read for a while, watch Once for the nth time or just make a cup of chai and stare out my balcony.

I saw an interesting talk at my workplace by Carl Honore, the author of In Praise of Slowness where he talks about doing things not too fast or too slow, but at the right pace. In part, it was a relief to see I wasn’t the only person who felt this way.

What does this mean for me apropos life on a day-to-day basis? Unplugging a bit more, saying ‘no’ occasionally to random stuff that doesn’t really make me happy anyway and less multi-tasking, so I’m engaged with what I am doing. Somehow right now this seems to mean shorter yet more productive workdays, a clearer and less stressed-out brain and a happier me. What’s to not like?

Edit: Fixed typo.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Stories on a trip

Tell me a story
Sing me a song
Of life’s wars lost
And sundry battles won

Tolstoy once wrote “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Traveling groups fall in similar categories. They are similar, yet different in their own ways.

Duomo di Milano, Milan

A precocious pre-teen is skipping up the steps, adult-chic glasses in hand. The father follows the mother. Disaffected teen brings up the rear, clicking away on a phone. She looks like she doesn’t want to be here. I wonder: What happens to children in their teens?

As we climb up to the roof, I see a young girl, presumably with her mother. Late teen, at most early twenties. I think it’s a mother-daughter bonding trip. AG thinks maybe the girl is here studying abroad, and her mother is here to visit her. I like this story better. They seem to be enjoying themselves. The bond they share is visible. I see them repeating this: trips together, new experiences, shared mother-daughter moments.

Passenger Train – Milan to Tirano

A father and young pre-teen boy. The father looks like a young Walter Matthau. His beard already has a salt-and-pepper streak. Again, the father-son bond is apparent. The son holds on to his father’s hands occasionally. They share laughs, secret confidences I half-wish I could eavesdrop on.

It’s a passenger train so I’m guessing this is a day trip. I wonder where the mother is. Is it that the parents are separated, and the child is spending the day with a father sorely missed, a son served up as collateral damage for an unfortunate turn of events?

Maybe it’s just that the mother’s working and father-son managed to take off for a day to bond. I like this story better.

Every story is different in its own way.

This came together in a 15-minute writing burst on the Milan-Tirano train. Thanks to AG “Gullito” for one of the story ideas, for reading an initial draft and his stamp of approval.