Tuesday, October 09, 2018

shared experience?

With many things happening lately, the idea of shared experiences has been on my mind a lot more. but fair warning, this isn't an optimistic post...


As a daily commuter in a pretty urban place over the years, I've always found ironic the quiet anonymity many folks, myself included, prefer.

A few years ago I started taking a much earlier train. New job, new family, new routine. Becoming a real grown up - as opposed to the mostly self-concerned, fake one I'd been pretending to be for much of my twenties and thirties.

My daughter was not even one, and i was still dealing with all the stresses and anxiety that come with being a new parent. My own insecurities, uncertainties, my newfound daily (hourly?) worry for my little girl, and of course, constant concern for my wife, who was bearing arguably more of the stress than me. I found myself being more "quietly empathetic" to other parents I now noticed more.

On the train platform was a pregnant woman. In her I could see my wife and all the trial and tribulations she had, and would continue to manage.

The thing about daily rush hour trains, is that it's mostly everyone for themselves. While it's not quite Lord of the Flies, you're on your own. When the train arrives, everyone queues (crowds?) up by the door to pile on and get a seat, which isn't always guaranteed.

So in the case of the pregnant lady, I made sure she always got on before others and got herself a seat. The casual, passive step to block a more unconcerned commuter from cutting ahead, the slower walk to get her room to move, etc. I'd like to assume many others made the same choice, but this wasn't so obviously a frail old person - she was just another thirty-something commuter - so it's safer to assume not. So this became a daily, unspoken, morning ritual of mine. Make sure the nice pregnant lady got a seat.

Anyhow, one day she wasn't riding the train, so I hoped for the best, and forgot about it, back to my shoving my way on the train each day.

A few months later, she showed up again, cheery, but clearly tired. So recognizing a new mom, now commuting, I did what i could to make sure she could get a seat. One day we struck up a chat, compared notes on daughters and daycares, and slowly became local friends (we've since moved, so we'll see if the friendship lasts...no worries if not).

I don't tell this story to pat myself on the back to say I'm a nice guy. If anything, quite the opposite, a damning on our collective society. If I didn't project my shared experience on the lady, she probably wasn't getting my help to get a seat. I've got lot of stuff going on! Let's be clear, i wouldn't have pushed her out of the way, but maybe I wouldn't have stopped to help. Think whatever you will about yourself, but it's probably the same for most of us. It's an unconscious thing. We are so wrapped up in our own stuff (moreso now with our tiny blinking distraction devices in our pockets, headphones optional).

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We recently moved. 
From a quaint river village to a true commuter city. 
From a small old house with a few rental units to giant modern complex. 

In the old place, especially after our kid was born, we knew everyone by name, and usually quite a bit more. The recently married gay couple next door thinking about kids. The young couple downstairs who moved back to the region to console an ailing parent. The divorced guy upstairs with two boys in college. The married mom upstairs living apart from her family during the week for the job of a lifetime. The old cranky widowed guy above them who once lived in Asia with his wife and a giant sailboat model that had a story behind it I'd not yet heard. We even knew some of the folks in the buildings next to us. There was a neighborhood dog. Not that our town only had just one canine, but this lady and Bob the dog were local celebrities.

Then we moved to the giant urban apartment complex. Arguably even more people we have things in common with...we see them every day in the hallways, trains, and local shops and restaurants. We're not the only new parents both juggling work and family. We are not the only mixed couple. We are not the only one in geeky tshirts. But no one talks. Everyone minds their own business.

And this isn't some suburbs/city thing. My folks live in a suburban subdivision in the South. Over the years, many of the neighbors i grew up with have moved out, save one. All the new neighbors, my aging parents complain about barely knowing. 

That worries me.

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In India, and much of the developing world I've had the privilege of traveling, poverty confronts you at every turn. The crippled man on the ground, the begging child in the street, the old resigned woman on the corner. The upwardly mobile middle class (that's the developing part), walk by ignoring it...it's part of their every day life. But as a visitor (locally or internationally), if you know someone - have some mutual connection - doors are open, tea is served, rides are given. In this context, I've been invited into practical strangers' homes, and wound up leaving close friends for the time being, happy to return the favor should you be in my neighborhood. You are family. I feel like there's a Sanskrit saying that more or less translates to "...guests are God," but with a narrow definition of who gets to be guest

Is that a more honest assessment of how the world works? Is that the way it should be? 

Or can we be better?

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The recent acrimonious confirmation hearings brought this to life on an even more macro level. I have been fortunate to have experienced, or know anyone who has,  something as traumatic as sexual assault. But the testimony was harrowing and gave many of us pause. 

And yet. 

Many people didn't buy it, our outright dismissed it. Certain people voted otherwise. Is this because, like me, there was no shared experience? Was the woman's calm, often emotional recollection not enough?

Should it have to be required that we have something in common before we can empathize? Do we have to much going on in our worlds that we can't try to feel or process more for the fellows beside us on the train, hallway, or street?


Life is only going to become busier. 

Our worlds are only going to become more complex. We know this. Are we willing to let something more slip, because we didn't have anything in common?

For all of our sakes, I really hope not. 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

dads crying.

to honor Father's Day, a holiday which Michael Chabon once called "the Chanukah to the Christmas of Mother's Day" (i concur*), let's watch 3 "dad ads" that i coincidentally get something in my eyes each time i see them.

"Dear Sophie" - Google, 2011
we weren't even close to thinking of kids when this ad came out. but man, things have a way of burrowing into your subconscious.


"Father & Daughter" - Extra, 2015
i still need to learn to start folding these, so my little monster can eat them. 


"School Talk" - Ram, 2018
i literally took notes. now i have a playbook.

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so as i'm getting older and have less time, but more patience, i spend more time reading than watching. as such, let's counter the crass commercialism shown above for web browsers, gum, and full-size pickup trucks, to share a few books that speak to Fatherhood well, and also someone get something in my eye.

the Namesake - Jhumpa Lahiri, 2004
upon first reading this, it was from the kid's perspective (because well, obviously), which made it one of the best books i ever read then i saw Mira Nair's film adaptation, where the boy was played by Kal Penn, and the father by Irrfan Khan. while the film was "meh" to such a great book, both played their parts to a tee, Penn as the ungrateful son wrapped up in his own drama, Khan as the immigrant father who sacrificed all and ignored said drama. upon walking out of the theater, i called my dad to apologize.



Knuffle Bunny - Mo Willems, 2004-2010
a series of three kids books, but damn if they're not good. and if the final epilogue in book 3 doesn't move you, well you're cold inside.



Pops - Michael Chabon, 2018
a compilation of essays Chabon, who's quickly becoming one of my favorite American contemporary authors, writes on fatherhood - his experiences and observations. what originally drove me was a (featured) article about travels with his son, of which is a mostly an eclectic tale, until you reach the final paragraphs' potent observation.



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so that's my piece. watch some ads, and go buy some stuff (for your dad/kids), perhaps some books? 

i'll see you soon for my next obligatory Arbor Day post. now if there were only more books about trees. 

oh wait, that's ALL of them.


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*i love my dad, and now have a greater appreciation of parenthood, but come on, moms do/deserve more. 

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

what’s in a (brand) name?

like many posts wasting away in as “drafts” - this one occurred to be walking down Fifth Ave on the way to work one cold morning, and began to coalesce over a lunch conversation with a good friend considering launching her own new brand/company. as i’m now between brands (next gig, starting 6/25), felt like as good a time to flesh this one further out and push it live. so on we go...


the most successful brands / companies (not necessarily one in the same the same) are the ones that do the thing well (and make $) in the era they were in, and continue to innovate. few of succeed beyond their founding era. for every one you've heard of below), there are tons that did not make it.

but in terms of what they call themselves - their "brand name" - across broad eras (with some overlapping),the motif is always oscillating/evolving between “what we do” and “who we are." oh, and by the way, this is all conjecture and anecdotal, i actually don’t know what i’m actually talking about, so consider all these silly thoughts with a grain of salt. it's not that there are not exceptions to these examples (that's another counter-post by someone else), but my observation is that the brands that made it beyond their founding era adhered to the brand-naming trend of the time (as mapped out below). so here we go... 

originally, brand names were more in the "what we do” camp - most literally
  • American Express (1850): originally a courier service!
  • Standard Oil (1870)
  • Nintendo (1889): 任天堂 in Kanji means ‘the temple of free hanafuda’ (hanafuda = Japanese flower cards, which is what they originally made.
  • General Electric (1892)
  • General Motors (1908)
  • IBM: International Business Machiness (1911)
  • BMW: Bayerische Motoren Werke (1917): not British, despite what Will may tell you.
  • VolksWagen (1937): literally “people’s wagon”

soon, people started incorporating their names to add some credibility. “who we are” in the most literal sense.
  • Procter & Gamble (1837): Co-founded by William Procter & James Gamble, brothers-in-law
  • Levi Strauss & Co. (1853): Co-founded by, Levi Strauss
  • Macy’s (1858): founded by Rowland Hussey Macy
  • The Campbell Soup Company (1869): founded by Joseph Albert Campbell
  • Gillette (1901): founded by King Gillette
  • JoS. A. Bank Clothiers (1905): co-founded by Joseph Bank
  • Kellogg Company (1906): founded by Will Keith Kellogg
  • Danone (1919): named for founder Isaac Carasso’s son Daniel
  • The Walt Disney Company (1923)
  • Mattel (1945): co-founded by Harold "Matt" Matson

then, brands started to go back to “what they do", albeit more product-specific
  • Radio Shack (1921)
  • DC / Detective Comics (1934)
  • Hewlett-Packard (1939)
  • Circuit City (1949)
  • Toys R Us (1957)
  • Advanced Idea Mechanics (1966)
  • MasterCard (1966)
  • Advanced Micro Device (1969)
  • Tailored Brands / Men’s Wearhouse (1973)
  • Office Depot (1986)

then things slowly started to start getting abstract about "what we do" ...moving back to "who we are" with smart use of metaphorisms (not to be confused with metamorphisms)
  • Ivory (1879) - P&G’s first real “brand” (ok, this one is from a much earlier era, but was one of the first, so give credit where it’s due)
  • Marvel (1939)
  • Visa (1958)
  • Pampers (1961)
  • Subway (1965)
  • HBO / Home Box Office (1972)
  • Microsoft (1975): 
  • Apple Computers (1976): Steve used to work on a commune/CSA (seriously)
  • Staples (1986)
  • Netflix (1997)
  • Google (1998)
  • Facebook (2004)

so where are we now? today's "new" brands use real words that evoke something else indirectly. sure many of them are/have been disrupter brands (many new entrants flush with VC cash): 
  • Patagonia (1973)
  • Image Comics (1992)
  • Vertigo Comics (1993)
  • Tesla (2003): while named after the man (1856-1943), he’s obviously not the co-founder, but his technology inspires the company’s approach 
  • Yelp (2004)
  • Chobani (2005) - derived from the Persian “چوپان“ meaning “shepherd"
  • Uber (2009)
  • Quip (2012)
  • Lyft (2012)
  • Casper (2014)
  • Parachute (2014)
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and sure, along the way there are of course the brands that mash-up words in a sometimes punny way. i’ve worked with more than a few of them, so you know their names (Pingage/Ahalogy, RevTrax, TVision, etc). all great companies (with some cool co-founders), and while some of these names make you think, others make you cringe. but the Ad/MarTech landscape is filled with more companies that fit the above "real-ish" words that evoke something (Moat, Percolate, Braze, etc.)

and sure there are even a few brands that are exceptions in our modern era, taking a page from their long-past predecessors: Dollar Shave Club, Warby Parker (a completely made up name, that guy doesn’t exist...he's derived from 2 Jack Kerouac journal entry characters!)


so what? does any of this matter?
well, if you’re creating a new brand (i’m not), i think it does. 

either be hip to the era you’re in, and go with the flow, otherwise your brand might create subconscious friction in the hearts of minds of your future customers. while this is not necessarily a bad thing, but know that your brand has an immeasurably high bar to be the exception to the “brand name trend” of the time. 

but more importantly, your product shouldn’t suck (i’m talking to you V-Tech).

so there’s that.

Friday, March 30, 2018

thanks Wes Anderson.

Saying i’ve been delinquent  here is an understatement, and likely not going to change anytime soon (but you never know). but having just seen a really good film (that’s doesn’t involve lightsabers or Stan Lee), and having some thoughts and time to burn, this one felt easy, and worthwhile enough.

And sure, the internet was made for lists; and sure, everyone’s already ranked the latest Star Wars among the current set (easy: 5, 4, 4.5, 6 + 7 = Tie, 3, 2, 1 for the record; and fwiw, this summizes the great disturbance in the force quite well)

But there’s one ranking that we don’t talk as much about: Wes Anderson.



For many Anderson's work is polarizing, though it’s clear where i stand: Wes Anderson is one of the few directors whose movies i will see no matter what (Chris Nolan is another, on the other side of the spectrum). 

Having seen his latest, Isle of Dogs, i’ve got Wes on the brain. so here’s my ranking of every Wes Anderson film (not including his shorts), with a few personal notes on why. and while I’m sure there are more complex themes at work in each of these, that’s for smarter people that don’t read my work.

Royal Tenenbaums: Seen during a really rough moment of my life, so the humor and the heart really made an impact when i saw it. whether it’s Elliott Smith’s “Needle in the Hay” as Luke Wilson has his moment, or Ben Stiller’s touching statement to his father at the end of the movie, the palmation mice, or the amazing music, i can’t get enough of this dysfunctional family.

Moonrise Kingdom: Touching and heartfelt. The two kids are the centerpiece, and for once, everyone else, while interesting is as much part of the set design as all the other quirks Anderson places throughout.

Isle of Dogs: So much heart, such an ambitious project, and honestly, a really not-so-subtle commentary on the state of the world (though maybe that’s just me channeling my contemporary frustrations), addressed through the simple mission of a boy and his dog. without ruining too much, one of my favorite elements of this movie is how (most of) the humans only speak Japanese, a language the dogs (through whose perspective we follow the film) cannot understand, like us (the audience). and barely reliant on quirky folk-rock music (which is usually a great character as much as anything else in a Wes Anderson movie). Arigato, Anderson-san.

Grand Budapest Hotel: While this one is great, it gets far too much credit, likely bc it was his first film to really scale in mainstream theaters. It’s great, but felt it was being complicated and quirky for the sake of being a Wes Anderson movie. For me, while the characters journey and motivations were meaningful, i felt less less heart and heft

Fantastic Mr Fox: Only barely below GBH, bc the source material - a classic kids book i had never heard of - was not originally Wes. One imagines though that much of the intepreration was all him though. The characters are rich, and their motives are true. And the foray into stop-motion animation, combined with Anderson’s attention to detail give the film a really unique texture. However, I took my mom to see it and she didn’t like it. but that might be bc she’s probably not a Wes Anderson fan.

the Life Aquatic: Probably the one i need to watch a few more times. i have little recollection of the story, characters, or motivations. though it had an expansive cast, and some great moments. I love Bill Murray as much as the next hipster, but in Wes Anderson films i’d rather have him play a supporting role, not the main one. Also, Owen is my second favorite Wilson brother.

X-Men: You’re probably asking yourself “WTF” right about now. Wes didn’t make it, but this was created by an aspiring film creator/essayist i really respect. and frankly, i’d watch this version of the movie before i watched Rushmore again (sorry Mario + Chadwick). This is how Fox revives the franchise to keep it from Big Mouse. 

Rushmore: i have many friends who can quote this entire movie, and who will vociferously disagree with my low-ranking of the first Wes Anderson film to really break into the mainstream conscious (as a weird movie, not a Wes Anderson one, bc it was his second). But while it was good, it just wasn’t complicated / weird enough for me. I’d rather watch Jason Schwartzman board a plane.

the Darjeeling Limited: This is how i prove i’m not racist - even i don’t like a Wes Anderson film set in India. The Wilson brothers cancel themselves out, and i’m meh on the guy from the Piano. Maybe i should watch it again with my parents? 

Star Wars: Ahh, Coco. Suck it BottleRocket.

Bottlerocket: It’s strong and interesting enough, but something had to make the bottom of the list. Wes gets a pass because it was his first film (if everyone’s first attempt was great, we’d all be Ryan Coogler). As my Scottish pals says, “good effort."

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Don’t have the time (or patience) to sit through several Wes Anderson films? Well while you’re missing out,  this recent Honest Trailer for almost every one of his films sums it up nicely.





So thank you Mr. Wes Anderson. Please keep up the great work (it adds to the happy weirdness of our world), and i’ll gladly keep giving you my money. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Suraj Prakash Marwaha (1921-2018)




I didn’t know my grandfather’s first name was Suraj until I was in my 20s. My entire life, he was “Grandpa,” or in more formal settings “Pita-Ji.” Probably one of the reasons my daughter calls my own father grandpa.

Sadly this is not be the first funeral for many of us, nor the last. But for me what’s special about this one, is that I feel less sad, despite what my tears may soon show. 

Unlike so many of those who leave us too soon, Grandpa’s life ended at the right time, in the right place, with the right people – many of whom are in this room. He lived across four continents. He lived to marry his wife and raise their children together. He lived to see those children become grandparents. He lived for those grandchildren become parents. He lived through tragedies along the way, but he persevered, because he was strong. He survived. He lived.

We should all be so fortunate.

My tears are not about feeling sad for my grandfather, but feeling proud of everything he leaves behind for us. Grandpa lived as full a life as any of us can hope for. Of course there was hardship along the way, but there were also many, many shared moments of happiness. Holidays, trips, vacations, teas, meals bus rides, walks, weddings, and just small visits. And for much of his journey - especially after he started this family - Grandpa was surrounded by people he loved dearly, and who loved him back.

The sorrow we feel is for the void left in the center of the family he and my grandmother founded. It is now our privilege to carry on that legacy.

When I was younger, all of my American friends got money from grandparents’ visits. But my grandparents didn’t live in the US. They lived in a faraway place called England, with funny accents, and great candy. I know this, because my grandparents didn’t bring Dollars, Pounds, or Rupees - they brought us British candy. Lion Bars, Smarties, and Polo Mints, which i still seek out whenever I’m in an Indian grocery store. All of my cousins have my grandparents to thank for our quite sophisticated sweet tooth.

I remember my first visit to the town of Wolverhampton, where Grandma and Grandpa lived in the UK. Up the narrow stairs, past the smells of cooking and incense was a small cubby at the top of the stairs where I’d sit and read. Across the hall was Grandma and Grandpa’s room, where my sister, cousins and i would watch reruns of the Mahabharata on TV until grandma would call us down for tea or home-cooked Punjabi food. It’s really good when your mom cooks it, but it’s fantastic when your grandmother makes it. But I think grandpa took special pride and enjoyment from watching his daughters and son make him the same delicious recipes they learned from their late mother.

My grandfather would take us for long walks, and we’d pick up fish and chips, when it was still wrapped in a newspaper. I’d ask my grandfather - a strict vegetarian - why he could eat fish. He told me that fish wasn’t meat because it didn’t have legs. I learned that everything was a choice, and where there’s a will there’s a way – especially for the small pleasures in life.

As kids, we spent many holidays with our cousins, aunts and uncles - and my Grandma and Grandpa were always there. They made the trip. It never mattered that there weren’t enough bedrooms. All you needed was blankets and pillows on the floor. I learned that things were better with family. Like today.

There was one summer my cousin and i became obsessed with playing kids' cards games. We were soon scolded by Grandpa, since to him, playing cards meant something else. He might have seemed old-fashioned at the time, but it was what he knew from his experiences. For some reason, that moment stays with me. It had less to do with any absolute perspectives on what’s right or wrong, but on how my grandfather held firm positions, which guided him. Something about his conviction in that moment that has informed how I choose approach an increasingly grey world. 

I’m by no means a religious person. So to watch a man such as my grandfather hold steadfast to his beliefs, defined for me both sides of what faith should be. 

These stories are not unique. In fact, I need them to not be. I hope every child can have experiences like I had, especially my own daughter, nieces and nephews.

I tell you these stories, because they’re how I choose to remember, and think of my Grandpa.

As a new father, I’m continuously in awe of all the things my parents, aunts and uncles experienced and did for us. English wasn’t their first language, America was not where they were born, and they didn’t have the internet. 

But what my grandfather did over the course of his life was even more extraordinary. I’d encourage you to hear those stories. There are many more that I still don’t know about.

During my adult life, I have had the privilege of watching the devotion of my grandfather's children: his late son Jawar (Uncle Joe), his late daughter Vijay, and especially and most recently that of his 2 remaining daughters - my mother Inez and Sunita Auntie. It speaks volumes to the love you carry in your heart for your father and your family.

As one of the many new parents in our family, I can only hope to live the kind of life, and set the kind of examples that our Grandpa did to earn that kind of love and respect from my own daughter. I know i’m not alone in that sentiment.

Suraj Prakash Marwaha was a good man. He worked hard. He loved his a wife. He took care of his family. And no matter what the world threw at him, he was pretty great at those things. And because of that, he made the world just a little bit better.

Thank you Grandpa. 


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