Friday, December 20, 2019

space wizards.

"This is a movie about space wizards intended for children.” -PHW

I don't remember the first time I saw Star Wars. Kind of surprising for something that's been around as long as I can remember. My first memories - ever - are actually in my childhood backyard for my third birthday - which was Star Wars themed. I have other memories of being on a beach and losing a stormtrooper action figure in the waves. I remember going to a library in my grandparents’ small English town and seeing a bunch of Star Wars vehicles on display. I must have watched the original movie (III) tens - but what seemed like hundreds - of times, on an old VHS tape of the original movie recorded off TV. I actually don't remember ever seeing the Empire Strikes Back (V)as a kid. The earliest memory of actually seeing Star Wars in a theater is Return of the Jedi (VI) at the dollar movies with my Touchi Uncle. One of my prized possessions is still the X-Wing fighter my Dad bought me, though it is now missing a wing. 

In high school I finally watched ‘Empire.' In college I later discovered Kevin Smith movies - many of which often, and hilariously, referenced all of "the holy trilogy." In fact I'm pretty sure around then Empire finally became my favorite (sorry RoTJ, not the be confused with RTJ). I finally also made it to the theater for all the re-released “Special Editions" during those years. I even ate a little too much Taco Bell for some really cool toys. I read all of the original Timothy Zahn trilogy, which are still the best of all the books - which I can say with conviction, because I read ALL of the other garbage like only a true fan would. And when a local department store was going out of business, my valuable find was a NEW X-Wing fighter on clearance (which for many years sat atop my bookshelves). 

Then there were the prequels.

When the first trailer for Episode I came out, I went to some other movie just to see it in the previews. I eventually downloaded it on a 28.8k modem - freezing every frame for analysis, and making wallpapers for my PC. There's actually an old local news clip of my friend Paul and I skipping work from our engineering co-op to stand in line to buy our tickets for opening night. I had caught the hype and went to see it multiple times. Were they particularly good? That wasn’t the point. It was Star Wars - my old familiar friend.

Episode II came out during some hard times I faced in college, and the post-9/11 world wasn’t making much sense either. The film was particular troubling for me. Not just because of lackluster cliffhanger, or that it wasn't any good - but because of whatever was going on in my head. I almost didn’t make it through those years, but one of the many stupid threads that I hung onto was that I couldn’t miss the end of these new Star Wars movies - with the final chapter not coming out for another THREE years. And when Episode III did come out? I was actually in a much better place, so I don’t actually remember watching it, though I recall the movie well. Beyond the sadness of this being the last movie, there was a sorrow to some of the dark themes reflecting the politics at the time (which pales in comparison to our current situation). It even had it’s own “you're with us or against us” moment.

And then I was done with Star Wars at the movies.

And now a word from our sponsor. Please enjoy responsibly.

I became a real grown up - did some cool work, travelled the world, met the girl, and had lots of experiences. But my love of Star Wars was a lens through which I looked at a lot of things - not dissimilar to my love of comic books. These were cultural touchstones that were part of who I was. And as I became more comfortable in my own skin I was unabatedly unashamed of my love for all things Star Wars, Trek, and sci-fi related. It was a part of who I was. It did not so much define me, so much much is inform me. I later came to jokingly realize this was something I would soon call my own "comic book morality,” something I would frankly still argue is much more consistent than what many others apply from other sources (but that's another post).

Then a big mouse-obsessed corporation bought the rights to my beloved Star Wars. And they said they were going to make more movies. “Take my money, please,” I thought to myself. Around the same time, there were a bunch of cartoons that came out - most of which were more than pretty decent. Lightsabers, spaceships, and of course Obi-Wan - who would soon become my favorite (sorry Luke).

And then they announced the final trilogy. I won’t even begin to describe all the feelings stirred up in those months of anticipation of the first movie (VII). It was as if a friend had come back from a long trip (to a galaxy far, far away). When that first “new sequel" arrived - I went to a morning showing at a local mall with my then-pregnant wife. It was a thrill ride reminiscent of everything that came before it. As the credits rolled by, my wife turned to me and said, "We are not naming our daughter Rey." it's like she had Force powers, could read my mind and was pulling a Jedi mind-trick on me. That actually came a few months later after my daughter was born it's clear she inherited her mother's powers.

I actually wound up seeing The Force Awakens (VII) twice in theaters, the second time taking my dad and brother-in-law over the holidays. During that next viewing I found myself enjoying the film, but more enjoying watching my father laugh and clap his hands at something he was only vaguely familiar with (because of his son). Seeing him enjoy himself for an entire 2+ hours is not something I can say my dad admittedly does for many things - much less a Hollywood blockbuster. Everything was awesome (again).

When the The Last Jedi (VIII) came out, we had a new president and the tone of the world was quickly changing. My wife and I looked forward to seeing a new Star Wars, a distracting light at the end of a dark tunnel. We dropped my daughter off at daycare and went to go see a morning showing. All our old (and new) friends were there on the screen, but the tone was darker, the plot more winding. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. As we ate our went our North Vietnamese lunch afterwards, I kept playing back in my head everything that I had seen on screen. It was different and I was intrigued. It's probably how confused everyone felt after watching The empire strikes back, which I had never seen with raw eyes. While it turns out most people really didn't like it, I was ok with this new direction. I later I watched it again and knew this movie would hold up as the years went on. But I’m not sure the world has come around to my point of view yet. I’m patient

There were a few other "in-between" Star Wars movies that came out around the same time. And for me, they were mostly good! They entertained me by taking me back to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away - in a very different way. A few people were  more articulate explained why everyone just needs to get over themselves, or tried to figure out what we really want from a Star Wars film.

So this was the mentality I took into the final movie of the Skywalker saga (IX). There are no real spoilers here, so you’re safe to keep reading. I’d originally planned to go with a couple of friends - but they had an unfortunate emergency - so i found myself going alone on today's cold winter morning. At first It was really hard for me to turn my brain off for the opening scenes, as i could not stop thinking how this was really the end of something special for me.

The last new Star Wars movie that really mattered (because let's be honest - the big mouse company will make many more). But this has been a weird year, on so. many. levels. Beyond the current climate and my own happenings - this has been a year of many big pop/mono culture icons coming to a close, whether it be film about avenging superheroes, books about the walking dead, or shows about dragons and ice people. This Star Wars movie was effectively the last of them all for me. I'm sure there will be many sequels and reboots of so many other things from my childhood - some of which I will enjoy. But for me - staring down the barrel of adulthood - this is the last one of my childhood that I care about.

For me, it was another grand adventure, and it did not disappoint. It didn't stop - which gave me pause. So I decided to let go and just enjoy. There were moments that touched me (“I know”), and of course moments where I cringed. As the film came to its inevitable close, I had a feeling of satisfaction. That I got what I wanted after all these years. Nothing specific, but just a conclusion. As the final scene faded to credits, I felt the sense of closure. I walked out of the theater and started writing. 

There have been a lot of things going on in my life and the past few years in the past few months. They're more significant than anything set in a galaxy far, far away. But I'm looking forward to what's next.

Also, I’m waiting for my kid to get old enough so we can start watching Star Wars together. As I often tell her,

"May the force be with you."


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

taking punches

over the last several weeks i’ve taken a few (proverbial) punches. 

first there was this safety thing. basically, an auto accident. could have been so much worse (we’re fine, the car, not so much). BUT my kid was in the car with me (she’s fine). if anything, i continue to be more emotionally shaken by that fact of what. could. have. happened. we got lucky.

then there was this honorary thing. i didn’t get it. but it’s all good, i had low expectations, and wasn’t sure if i really wanted it (until i made the 2nd round of interviews).

then there was this volunteer thing. an extra-curricular activity, so to speak. i was on the fence about it, but gave it a solid go. circumstances out of my control have it in the air. i may eek out a win here, but it won’t be without a bit of drama which makes me question the whole thing.

then there was this friend thing. nearly lost the reigns on a relationship that has meant a lot to me over the years. but we had it out - and while it is not fully resolved - we have a better understanding of each other and will muddle through the rest. 

then there was this family thing. someone i deeply care about is going through some things. but they are far away, and i can’t help them until they can help themselves. i’m watching something happen in slow motion, and it concerns me. but i’m doing the best i can here. 

then there was this career thing. i’d already been thinking more broadly here, but now face an accelerated decision on my side. 

then there was this health thing. nothing life threatening, but nothing (financially) insignificant. a literal, and rhetorical pain. 

here’s where it gets interesting. any one of these things, and definitely the sequence of them should have me more down (e.g. “why me?”).

but here’s the thing:

i’m OK.

i don't find myself not apathetic. nihilistic. or even lethargic. in recent years, my perspectives on expectation-to-outcome has shifted. but the three things that matter most to me in my life...

1. family time.
2. me time.
3. fulfilling projects. 

...are still there. and i think i'm doing alright in all 3 departments (always room for improvement).

any/all of the afore-mentioned developments may or may tax things on my side a bit more, but in the end, they were simply all means to an end (fueling my recently realized “list of 3”). i've got some stuff to figure out, but fortunately have the support (and means) to do so.

in recent years years, i’ve made efforts to shift my personal (and professional) perspective on everything. don’t get me wrong - i still care about what is done 9-to-5 - as well as some select "extra-curricular" stuff in-between - but all of these things hardly define me the way it did in my earlier years. 

to quote a really good rock lyric,

"everything will be alright in the end."

Thursday, November 21, 2019

companion pod.

The other day i was talking to someone quite accomplished in the world of podcasts, and they made a really interesting point. They articulated the recent resurgence/success of podcasts framed not as an element of technology adoption, but in their ability to provide a companion.

And it got me thinking. 

How or why is this different from television? My sister felt like her friends had moved away when Monica, Rachel, and Ross left the building. My wife and I mourned the retirement of our oft-visiting uncle Jon Stewart (though we occasionally grab a late night snack with his pal Stephen Colbert or Jon Oliver). If there is time, we often escape to the Silicon Valley or Xadia, watch a Morning Show, or even go to a Galaxy Far, Far, Away. Sometimes we let my daughter have Elena, Peppa, or Doc McStuffins over, but usually when we need to get something done.  

But these are guests, house visitors who entertain us from the comfort of our couch.

Today's days are busier than ever, and - especially as a new parent - I find myself watching increasingly less and less TV...even on the go (despite us living in a golden/peak era where I find myself "banking" lots of stuff I'll watch later). 

Wherever I am - sitting on the train, running errands, or sometimes in the dark waiting for my daughter to fall asleep - I can pop in my headphones, close my eyes (not while driving, of course), and let my new pals whisper sweet nothings (or calmly exchange intelligent commentary) in my ear. Kara and Scott, the guys at Crooked Media, and occasionally Terry, Dubner, or Ira.

Unlike music, which I hear (and work, sing, and/or dance* along to), podcasts are something I want to really listen to. Because they get me. And they are with me, even if I'm just a fly on the wall listening.

And I guess that's companionship. 

*Only in the presence of people under the age of 10. MSRP. Subject to state and local guidelines. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

heritage day

It’s Columbus Day. My kid’s school is closed (again), our work is not. So my wife and I are splitting 1/2-day with a little work-from-home. The privileges of white collar employment.

By now I assume you’ve read some of the controversy surrounding Columbus Day (Oatmeal, NY statue / Italian Americans). To me, once you know a little bit more about the man, it seems obvious that a holiday celebrating him probably isn’t the best idea. But again, I grew up in the South, where we celebrated MLK / Robert E. Lee day - and I didn’t know that was strange until after I left. 

In this country, we have another of other great days that ask us to pause and think of how we got here. Memorial Day. Veteran’s Day. Labor Day. Even President’s Day (present company excepted). These are more than just excuses for awesome furniture and used car sales (nevermind that we really should get Election Day off)

So how could we update the second Monday of October more relevant, keeping a day to reflect on the calendar? 

Heritage Day. 

No matter who you are (save the Native Americans), your ancestry did not originate from here. Someone before you (or yourself) made a great sacrifice to come from far away lands. That’s what makes this country unique, apart from all others. 

Sure, I probably should’ve called it “immigrant day” - but that’s insulting to both Native Americans, African Americans, and frankly even people on the far right (the latter to whom I’m sensitive, but not sorry). So Heritage works. Let’s all celebrate our shared heritage / ancestry of “otherness” and accept the melting pot that makes America great.

Our heritage is what makes this country great. That, and fried foods. 

Happy Heritage Day. 

Oh wait. All these people were way ahead of me. Great minds think alike.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

accidental marketer

An application essay (disguised as a blog post) where the author attempts to uncover his career motivations by examining his professional path.

My name is Raman. I’m an accidental marketer.

While this piece may answer what I hope to achieve with The Marketing Academy - the truth is, I’m still figuring it out. “IT” being what I should be doing for a living.  While my professional life has been interesting and rewarding enough (I must be doing something that works?), I increasingly find myself wrestling for ways to make “it” more intentional and meaningful.

The real question: How might I use my “powers” for (more) good?

Let’s start from the beginning.

I was born in Alabama, a child of immigrants. No one could pronounce my name. Outside of going to school, reading lots of comic books, and just being a kid, I snuck in lots of writing, hacking, and art. I wanted to be an architect like Dad - but my (Asian) parents said “doctor or engineer.” The college compromise was Computer Engineering. I got the grades, saw lots of live music, and did web/graphic design on the side. But as most Alabama engineers go into missile defense, I opted to go to south Austria (to minor in German, write for the Uni’s newspaper, and backpack around Eastern Europe), soon returning to get an MBA (as one does). Still unsure of what I was doing, I figured I’d just become a consultant.

A company called “Procter & Gamble” saw my resume. I thought they were a law firm. They flew me up to Cincinnati to interview for a “Digital Marketing” role. After an internship, I fell in love with the work, the company, the people, and the city. In 2003, I started doing what I thought was the coolest job in the world.

Over 8 years working on billion-dollar brands (Tide, Ariel, Pantene, Herbal Essences, Head & Shoulders, Gain, Downy) - living in the US, Europe, and Asia - I picked up more than a few brand/media skills. I even met my future wife, a fellow engineer, but she soon moved to NY. During our distance (2008), I filled my newfound free time volunteering in southern Ohio. First, with a local creative arts non-profit, then field-work for a guy with a funny African name - who had the audacity to run for President. When Hamilton County tipped Ohio, which won the race, we knew we played a big part. A few years prior, I had set a goal of setting foot on all 7 continents. The week after the election I went to Antarctica (#6).

P&G was gracious enough to let me follow the girl to NY - and put my media skills to work. I helped build out our programmatic stack (which I code-named “Hawkeye” because, comic books), and worked on some top-secret eCommerce joint ventures. But eventually, all roads led back to Cinci, and we were making a life in NY. Somehow, Danone came calling, so I made the jump to the yogurt culture (2010), spending 2.5 years building out an integrated marketing team. I learned the ins + outs of traditional media, but remained puzzled by its inherent limitations. On nights and weekends, I took community sailing classes with a non-profit school in our sleepy Hudson River town, soon joining their Board and taking over their marketing efforts.

By 2012, I had fully realized the inherent dilemma (slowness) of big “traditional” companies. I was hitting a mental wall - a professional point of diminishing returns.

On a trip to China visiting my wife’s ancestral village, I had a revelation (as one tends to do when no one is speaking English). After 10+ years accelerating tech/media strategy for brand marketing, my sanity demanded I flip the equation. Why not accelerate marketing strategy for tech brands?

After many conversations (and lots of homework), I found three paths before me: work for a big tech company, start my own thing, or something in-between.

That "something in between” took shape after a chance, in-flight encounter with my longtime mentor Bob - an ex-P&G’er who had just sold his agency to WPP - and was working on his next thing. Having literally written the book on “Marketing with Meaning,” Bob planted the seeds of my becoming employee #7 at Ahalogy, a leading social content/intelligence platform.

My first startup experience was professionally-defining in many ways. More than ever before, I now had to “bet on me,” more than the logo on my business card. Everything was on the line - the company’s survival depended on our success. It was a roller-coaster that taught me how to roll with the punches better than anything else. In that first year (2013), Bob + I wore many hats - we were the only guys doing Sales, Marketing, and Biz Dev  - all while building out a CS function and hacking with the product team on nights and weekends. I probably pitched more Fortune 100s in 6 months than most marketers have visited during a careers’ worth of "doctor’s visits.” I grew with the company - soon leading Ahalogy’s marketing & Pinterest partnerships - scaling our industry presence.

And yet my professional energy was still restless. Along the way I (somehow) landed on 2 more Boards: (1) the P&G Alumni Network - a global non-profit focused on connecting ex-P&G’ers through events and philanthropy, and (2) Ciao Andiamo - a boutique Italian travel firm founded by a former Danoner obsessed with sharing his cultural passions.

Then my daughter was born (2016).

Time stopped, I got off the road, and negotiated an early exit (and vesting). My wife had decent maternity leave, so we spent 3 months full-time parenting. I’ve done some amazing things in my life, but that choice, taking the time to pause and focus on my family? That takes the cake.

But then reality set in. While we had no aspirations (delusions) of being independently wealthy, we didn’t want to be co-dependently broke. After helping my pal Seth think through some of his startup’s challenges, I found myself interviewing with his Co-founders. This led to an exec role heading up Partnerships (and later Marketing) at RevTrax, a leading incentive tech company.  The gig was interesting...enough. I got to work with smart people, and got home (almost) every night for dinner, reading my daughter lots of books before bed.

In 2018, a young marketer I mentored asked for my advice over coffee. Jon was finishing his MBA (I wrote his recommendation letter) and was killing it at an early stage startup (I advised him on joining). But Jon needed some help scaling strategically - “managing up” with the 2 young (and insanely smart) co-founders, to whom I was introduced. I was ultimately recruited to lead marketing at TVision, where I currently work. I’ve been there for ~1.5 years. We’re MIT-born, venture-backed, and revolutionizing how the stagnant TV industry is measured, using cutting edge technology and a decidedly digital approach. It’s cool, and I get to work with really smart ninjas on really hard problems. I’m interested...enough.

This entire ride sounds pretty awesome, so why do I hope to join the Marketing Academy?

I’m seeking a peer group as curious - and maybe even restless - as me. I think my experiences, approach, and world-view could bring something to the table as well.

I do believe Marketing can add value - real value - to the world. But I question every day if I am really approaching it the right way? While the companies I work at are interesting (enough), I’m becoming increasingly less interested - whether it be big B2C brands or fast-moving B2B startups. It’s not the companies, it’s me. I’ve grown from the experiences, skills and results, but they motivate me less and less.

What do I enjoy? Making a real difference with what I’ve picked up as a marketer over the years.

  • That creative arts non-profit from the spring of 2008? We opened a second location in a more working-class neighborhood, and got savvier about our digital content strategies. Enrollment skyrocketed.
  • That aspiring politician in the summer/fall of 2008? We won Ohio (and the country) - in part by knocking on doors in Hamilton County and making the compelling case for economic and social change to our local community.
  • That non-profit sailing school? By my second year involved (2013), I 10x’ed enrollment and revenue (to $50k), helping more locals experience the beauty of the water.
  • That alumni org I joined in 2015? I led a sponsorship team that raised $500k, much of which went to funding economic empowerment initiatives in 7+ countries annually.
  • That little girl born in 2016? We have read her 3-6 books every night since she was born, have done countless weekend art projects, and are there to honestly answer her every “why?” (she usually stops when I get down to quantum physics). She continues to become as curious, restless (and precocious) as her father. For her I was inspired to write, draw and self-publish a book about my grandparents’ refugee journey, and am currently working on a second book about the migrant journey of my wife’s family.
  • All those people I mentioned along the way? Before I turned 40 (~two weeks ago), I interviewed 50 of them and am privately publishing an oral history of our conversations - for only us in 20 years. I’m currently working on 2 more (public-facing) podcast concepts to launch in 2020.
I’m not going anywhere. I’m keeping my day job. I’m good at it, but know I can be a better marketer and leader. But it’s the things that I find more compelling that quench my restlessness. Things like  Cortico (Deb Roy), Solving for “Echo Chambers” (Glenn Otis Brown),  Fair Fight 2020 (Stacey Abrams), or Humor That Works (Drew Tarvin). This is the direction I will one day take my marketing career.

Whether it’s someone else’s brand (big or small) or my own, my increasingly intentional career experiences demand that marketing be at the core. But I know I have more to learn before I’m ready to take the real leap.

I’ve long since accepted that my career journey won’t follow a straight line. So I don’t worry (anymore) about how I get where I’m going. But while I’ve led many colleagues, peers, and mentees, I find myself continuing to follow others’ journey, VS leading my own.

From what I’ve heard, the Marketing Academy might be a good place to start learning how to lead - myself.

Monday, September 16, 2019


It's funny that no matter how old you get, all of your life's...stuff...can be fit into boxes, big and small.

In college it's the boxes you fit in your (parents') car. Soon, you become more independent and maybe it's now an apartment, which is a series of rented boxes. You get some money, so maybe start traveling with carry-on boxes. You eat a lot of cereal, which is in boxes. Maybe you meet a special someone and choose to make it official with something in a box. And if/when there are kids, there are bassinets, and cribs. Also, they are more likely to play with (in) the box the toys came in. Your front door is regularly littered with boxes from the internet, a little Christmas surprise you treat yourself to every other day. 

Along the way, you will move, one, two, three, or many more times. You go through everything you own, and it goes (back) in boxes, which you put in a box on wheels, to go to your next box. And hopefully this next one is your last, because while the adventure of moving can be exciting, the act of moving can be the worst. I've done it far too many times. I'm may be far from done, but for now I am weary.

But it's a healthy exercise, packing boxes. It's a reminder not just of what you've done, and collected over the years. It's an excercise, a reminder, that this is all just...stuff. These things are not which matter most. It's the people you're packing with, moving to, moving from. The experiences you had with them that resulted in the thing that is going in the box, or being left behind. But it is just stuff. The stuff is a totem to the memory, which you had most likely forgotten about until you put it in/took it out of that box. It is just stuff. Put in a box.

And then, the years go on. You get more boxes. You forget about the boxes, and the things in them, until you stumble upon them. But hopefully it is people, not boxes that are on your mind most days. As that is a life fulfilled.

And as a far smarter person once said, you find yourself in the final box, and someone has put you in it. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

should i stay or should i go?

Worth saying and leading with: I'm ok and I'll be fine. But some big changes, and big decisions are on the horizon. Hopefully, for my sake.

For the past few years, there's been a slow tension of indecision on many fronts - continuing to affect me more and more as the months go on. Either I'm just getting older or I'm finally wising up.

Whether geographically or professionally, I'm not sure if I'm where I should be.

Geographically. I hate to jump on the bandwagon of "maybe we should just move to Canada" but that's actually an option. It's getting terrible out there, and I think it's going to get worse before it gets better. And when I look north, I see a society that exhibits values I hold dear, sometimes more than the ones we declare so proudly here. We have family just a few hours north, there's a cultural community for my kid. Though, worth noting, I have thoughts on too much VS the mix of forced assimilation/diversity I experienced growing up in the South. Also, Toronto/Montreal is not as far away as California (and less risk of falling into the Ocean). 

But then I think about my (partial) regret for leaving the South. Our country is not going to get better any faster with people like me leaving. It's those who stay (and return) who are going to accelerate a long overdue change. Just by being there and raising their families, and bringing their values to the local communities. I also think about what a home we are slowly making in the Northeast, and the access to jobs we have being on top of one of the greatest cities in the world, where I go daily, and the pizza and bagels are far superior. Also, buying a house, though for us, that does not yet indicate the permanence that others chose it to be.

Career. A (more successful) friend recently told me that he hopes he wasn't put on this earth for advertising technology - which happens to be the industry I've slipped into over the years. When I try to explain what I do to friends and family, they kind of get it. And franky, what they distill about it at the macro level, is more accurate. "So you help sell ads?" It cuts through the makreting BS we tell ourselves (few companies/industries are innocent here). Don't get me wrong, being at a small company I often enjoy what is afforded me - the perks, flexibility, and sometimes-autonomy (when politics/culture don't get in the way, which they rarely don't). And while shifting gears every couple of years keeps it interesting, despite a theme/thread/story I can weave about my career journey (to a founder, investor, or recruiter), I question if I can maintain this level of enthusiasm as the years pile on.

Job/s. 8, 2.5, 3, 2, far. That's how many years I've been in each gig out of school (not counting the handful of other worthwhile jobs I had across the academic years). 
  • My first job was a good run, having me do big things all over the world - but following the girl to NY, I chose life (per Irvine Welsh), as I often do. 
  • I thought my next job, my second run at a big company, would be as long as the first, but I simply hit my "satisfaction point of diminishing returns" faster. If anything, quitting the first big company gave me the courage to quit my second one, something I fear many of my friends who are still at the first (20+ years later) lack. 
  • The third company - my first startup - gave me even greater confidence on who I am beyond my company, especially since know one had heard of the logo on my business card. Probably one of my best (and challenging) career experiences, which made me even more  of who i am today. And for that I'm grateful.
  • In the most recent 2 gigs, while interesting enough, seem to have me hitting that pleateau faster - based on what I'm sense and observe. Is it me or them? Probably a mix of both. Maybe I just need to pick better?

But I am becoming more certain of one thing: this pattern is not sustainable, especially in the long term. I'm sure i can find another gig, but will that really change anything for me - professionally, mentally, spiritually? Doing my own thing doesn't feel like an option, as it has its own risks (and I don't care about anything more than my personal state), but is it the better path?

I'm not worried. I'll figure this out. I always do. And I usually have a way of convincing myself that it's all ok. 

I just hope I'm more skeptical whenever this next go round comes around.

Friday, August 16, 2019

uncles & aunties

Growing up I had a lot of Uncles and Aunties

Most of them are gone now.

Joe, Vijay, Touchi. Countless others in faraway places who i briefly met but did not really know. Many more were not actually family, but part of my parents' adopted diaspora, living in a strange foreign land of Lee's Chickens, Winn Dixies, and Southern Baptist churches on every corner. For good measure, throw in a few of my mom's fellow teacher buddies who helped raise me after school.

I think about my parents' departed siblings, and the relationship I had with them that my wife and daughter will know little about. I sometimes miss them so much it hurts, because their deaths were too soon.

My daughter has 3 actual aunts and uncles she has met. Six if you count their respective spouses. The number goes up when you count extended family - our cousins, aunts and uncles our daughter has had the good fortune to meet. But then often closer is her always strange and silly "Cha Cha" from California who has visited her more than all her other aunts and uncles, despite the distance and his own dramas. And the old Jewish godmother on the Upper East Side who we don't drive down to see often enough. A classy lady I have become very fond of, who reports back on our well-being to her old roommate who happens to be my mother-in-law. Only in New York. 

Countless other close friends have earned the title of Uncle or Auntie for my daughter because they are our close friends, and even a few just because they are brown, yellow, or foreign - and that is part of our parents' culture we have chosen to carry with us. If you're not Asian and have achieved this title, i hate to inform you that you're stuck with it, and us.

Will my daughter continue to be spoiled by useful, amazing gifts from her "real" Uncles and Aunties like I was? From comic books, card games, Palm Pilots, salt & vinegar potato crisps, to strawberry ice cream, pink desks, micro scooters, and flowery dresses.

Will she be confused as she gets older? Who are her "real" aunts and uncles? Why do some of these non family members earn the title, and others don't? As she gets older will these cause her to seek meaningful friendships that are as close, and sometimes closer, than family? Will she grow to reflect on her relationships with the many visits to/from her many aunties and uncles, comparing who she is becoming as an adult to those adults that always were always visits for - like her parents, but seemingly cooler? 

Will she consider who her parents are - as people - in relation to their actual siblings? Will she feel remorse when they pass, and she realizes her family is shrinking?

I hope so. I also hope that she grows up with the privelage of being surrounded by the love, good and bad examples of her many aunties and uncles, related and otherwise.

Also, that she learns the trick of simply calling any friend of your parent (or brown/yellow oldwr person) whose name you cannot remember "Uncle" or "Auntie" - that one never fails.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

race to/from fear

Have you been ever been told "Go back where you came from?" 

I have. And it wasn't a cab driver telling me to go back to Alabama.

The first time I must have been 8 or 9. Walking in my upper-middle class suburban neighborhood to my best friend's house. Some teenagers pulled up in a Camaro (?), beat up and old. They start shouting a lot of garbage at me, telling me to "go back," and calling me a sand n*gger. They threatened to take their gun out of their car and shoot me if I didn't "get out of here." Having found guns before in the back of my friend's parents cars, it didn't seem an idle threat.

One of them, seeing me shaken and confused, got out and start yelling at me and shoving me around, slapping me upside my head. I was on the verge of tears or crying by that point. I honestly don't remember. He laughed, jumped back in the car, and they peeled off. 

As they sped away, I memorized their license plate through shuddering tears. That's what people did on TV, right? I tore into the nearby woods in case they came back, and stood there looking at the street for what was ten minutes but felt like an hour.

Humiliated, embarrassed, and confused, I couldn't go back home. I ran to my friend's house. I tried to compose myself as I rang the back doorbell. I broke down and told his mom and dad. We called the police. My friend and I played Mega-Man in the kitchen while we waited and I calmed down. Eventually a police officer came by, telling them they pulled over the teens - who had been drinking - and they were given a warning. I remember angrily thinking "that's it?!?" - but I definitely didn't want to go in and make a statement. To this day, I don't remember the rest of that afternoon. I don't know how I got home or if I even told my parents. But for many moments after - weeknights eating dhal and rice, every other Sunday at temple chanting mantras - I felt even more different, like an "other" hiding something from the town and people around me, that the color of my skin only teased.

That was 1985-86. 

Over the years, it happened several other times. Nothing as violent. Just words. Direct, veiled, or in passing. Heard on the radio, at grocery stores, in locker rooms, and by girls' or their parents. But an adolescent's confused identity gave way to a teen's projected indifference, and soon a college boy's rebellious anger. No matter what, I would (somehow) get out of the South.

Then, I did. And the world changed. I traveled the world. Got a job. Did well. Met people. Found the girl. Had a kid. The ugliness in the air was receding, but still always lurking, as you'd hear the occasional thing from an idiot on TV, or a guy with a Confederate flag in those places you didn't go. But now our President was a cool black man, and now there was a Panera near my parent's suburban house. 

For awhile my parents often asked when I would move closer to home. "So-and-so [who's white] just moved back." But somehow, maybe because of our then (black) President, the rhetoric started showing up more, coded in veiled media messages. The backlash was worse in the places I had gotten out of. I guess racism was more OK if we could all afford a panini or a latte? So I'd give my parents a weak excuse about jobs, career, and my industry (tech) being up north and on the coasts. My wife and I were going to go sailing in Croatia. We wanted kids, and they were going to grow up on the East coast, to which eachof us had escaped. 

Then, the black kids started getting shot. In Florida. Where my half-black nephew lives. But these were isolated incidents. He'd be OK - he was also half-Indian, right?

Then, it was 2016. A racist was elected to the highest office of the land. The weekend after we got away to upstate NY with our baby, who was not even one. At our hotel, I saw a swastika on the cover of the USA Today. I swore off social media, stopped talking to some faraway friends, and read my daughter lots of books as she sat in my lap every night. It was going to be OK, right?

Then, a year ago, they started locking up brown kids. Toddlers that, when I close my watering eyes, somehow still look like my daughter. I shuddered with anger, or was it fear? 

We lived in NY, and I worked in (one of) the greatest cities in the world. We are (safely) in a bubble, right?

Then, a few weeks ago, some of our elected leaders - all black and brown women - were told to go back home by our President, not surprisingly. The media exploded (again), but nothing really happened. 

Then, surprisingly, against all hopes, people at a rally chanted those words back to the President. Many of my coworkers and friends - almost all of whom are white - were outraged. So this time it was too much? 

All of my brown and black friends just shrugged our shoulders. This wasn't the first time, as we calmly recounted the many times we had heard it before. Our anger doesn't do much.

Then, last week, there were more shootings. I couldn't look at the details. Because it keeps happening and we do nothing. I'm numb. I make my daughter a spaceship out of cardboard boxes. We are moving into a new house soon. She'll have a backyard, which I'm not sure how I feel about. The American Dream, or so I've been told.

Then, last night I ran into the older Indian man who works in my building. His name is Edwin. He's in his late 50's, likes cricket and Chinese food. Despite being very blue collar, Edwin is always well dressed - often in a sweater over his button-up shirt, even in the summer. Edwin has grandkids that are my daughter's age, and he dotes on her when she stops by his desk to ask him questions (she really just wants a pink sticky note). Edwin is from Burma, is a dark brown, and speaks with a thick Indian-British accent. He's become a friend, has met my parents when they visit, and I plan to have a beer or two with him before we move out. 

In our brief mailroom chat last night, Edwin told me he cancelled a (well-earned) big family vacation - grandkids and all - to Pennsylvania. I figured it was a work thing, but then he cited El Paso. He's scared, and tells me "it is not worth the risk with my kids."

I don't understand anything anymore. 

Monday, January 28, 2019


"it’s been a while man, life’s so rad! 
this band’s my favorite man, don’t ya love ‘em?"

So I like Weezer, quite a lot. They’re easily among my top ~10 bands*. Is everyone on my list equivalent greats? Of course not. But when it comes to my preference of consistent music enjoyment, I always come back to them (there’s actually an 'in-drafts' post there). 

This amusing SNL sketch came out a few weeks ago, resulting in a LOT of renewed chatter about the band, and messages from friends asking what I thought. The premise is Leslie Jones and Matt Damon arguing about which is better - the band’s old or new stuff. For me this purports a false, binary choice (reflective of our current society?), which for reasons I’ll get into, I don’t fundamentally agree with.

Am I a “ride-or-die” fan (like Matt)? Goodness, no. Have I seen the band live 10+ times - in multiple countries, including their first cruise. Certainly. I simply enjoy listening to them, and seeing what they come out with next. 

Is the Blue Album one of the best rock albums ever? Yes. Is Pinkerton the band's best album (defining 'emo' before it was a thing)? Hell yes. And while that presents its own conundrum, once you’ve heard both albums, you just kind of accept it.

Some say the band peaked early with Blue and Pinkerton, and never got 'it' back. I slightly disagree with the latter premise. Those first two albums ARE excellent — despite my dismissive first album listen in 9th grade, and the critics' panning of their second album. I would agree that the band hit 2 amazing peaks early on, and while they’ve not since they’ve not made a truly excellent album (a big deal for me), they continue to make some really good (sometimes great) music, which I can’t same for most other bands.

I think many people’s dismissiveness/hate of Weezer as a viable band anymore is telling of our society. It's bandwagon-ism, seeing history through “rose-tinted glasses”, MAGA, and the like…which is a dangerous path. Sure, the band made amazing stuff early on. And for many, nothing can live up to it. Which sets people’s expectations up for failure, VS simply allowing themselves to enjoy something for what it is, and being more present, in the moment. 

There’s a parallel point to be made about another one of my nerdly passions - Star Wars. While the prequels were an empirically pretty bad, all-too-literal CGI-spectacle, the more recent films (esp the Last Jedi) are not. And these newer entries into the canon continue to face the interwebs' ire. I frankly think it’s all based on false ownerships, built-up expectations that the years have only made steeper. some of these sentiments are well-explained in this excellent film essay, and this slightly less highbrow one (spoilers). 

So sure, some of Weezer's new stuff has been not-so-good (I’m looking at you Raditude). But why must our judgement of an artist be a standard of excellence VS enjoyment? Are any of us as excellent as our best days? I’m reminded of Teddy Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speechGet with it pop culture!

For me, quite a bit of 'new' Weezer has been pretty good…in fact, downright enjoyable. And I’m not talking about popcorn radio nothingness - while there is some of that - the new stuff some genuinely well-made stuff, despite how you may feel about Rivers' confessed meticulous/OCD song-writing process (though seriously, much respect for the strong spreadsheet game!). Through the effort of new albums, the band continues to unearth a a few gems*** for all of us to enjoy. We'll likely never get another Blue or Pinkerton - and need to be OK with that.

Weezer is a band I came of age to (15 into my 30s). Sure there were other bands I enjoyed equally as much over the years** - but all made a few good albums, a few so-so albums, and then kind of stopped. And not in the 'stop while you’re ahead' way - they just gave up. Weezer hasn’t given up. They've grown up, and continued to make good music that pushes and remains relevant. Some are hits, some are misses. But they’re still around doing what they like doing (and having fun), which is something we should all aspire to. 

"watch me unravel...lying on the floor, I've come undone."

*Among my Top 10 bands: the Beatles, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Radiohead, Miles Davis, Elliott Smith, the Dandy Warhols, the White Stripes, the Beastie Boys

**Bands that came...and went (for me): Toad the Wet Sprocket, the Gin Blossoms, MXPX, Goldfinger, the Strokes, the Shins, Muse, Interpol, the Postal Service, the National, Brendon Benson, Broken Bells, Portugal the Man, Andrew Bird

***Here are some really good Weezer songs on every album since their dynamic duo. Enjoy.
  • the Green Album (2001): Photograph, Hash Pipe, Oh Girlfriend
  • Maladroit (2002): Dope Nose, Keep Fishin, Slob
  • Make Believe (2005): This is Such a Pity, We Are All on Drugs, the Damage in Your Heart
  • the Red Album (2008): Troublemaker, The Greatest Man That Ever Lived, Pork & Beans
  • Raditude (2009): If You’re Wondering, Can’t Stop Party…ok this album is terrible. But everyone gets one lemon
  • Hurley (2010): Trainwrecks, Smart Girls, Where’s my Sex (hilarious when you find out it was originally about socks), Smart Girls
  • Everything Will Be Alright in the End (2014): Ain’t Got Nobody, Eulogy for a Rock Band, Foolish Father
  • the White Album (2016): Thank God for Girls, Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori
  • Pacific Daydream (2017): Mexican Fender, Beach Boys, Weekend Woman
  • the Teal Album (2019): Scrubs? 
  • the Black Album (2019): ???

Sunday, January 06, 2019


earlier last year, in the span of just a few months, my grandfather and my wife's grandmother passed away. they were the eldest remaining member of their generation in each of our families.

my daughter knew of them, but never really knew them. she knows little or nothing of her heritage, and the refugee's journey each of these immigrants took to start their live over again here.

there is lots of noise going around immigrants about refugees. whether in the Middle East or our own border. it's humbling, paralyzing, infuriating, and heartbreaking. i see my daughter. i see my grandparents.

when our daughter was born, the one universal thing we heard was "read to her" - which is a consistent tradition. 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 books nightly. it's usually the best part of our day. as most people know about me, i have strong opinions about content creators - books, comics, films (Chabon, Eggers, Horby / Bendis, Moore, Waid, / Anderson, Scorsese, Nolan)

reading to my daughter each night, i slowly formed the same preferences - Beatty, Boyton, Carle, Lim, Muth, Lim, Willems.

then it hit me.

on a crowded commute into the city, I decided to do the same for my daughter.

i would write about my grandparents journey. from India to Africa, as migrants. from Africa to England (as refugees). from England to America, as immigrants. I would not be here if it were not for their journey.

i started writing. 
first an outline, then some art direction, then some words, then some rhymes.

then i started drawing.
pencils, inks, colors, layout. late nights and long weekends with a lamp, sketchbook, pencils, and sharpener. i filled with"easter eggs" - family and cultural touchstones that mark things that the words could not. the UK phone number or MGM address here, the Beatles reference there.


then i printed it. 

10 copies - for my daughter, my mom, my sister (and her kids). and finally the remaining family who shared my maternal grandparents. a couple extras as "thank yous" to the children's authors that inspired me.

now we read it regularly. and my daughter asks lots of questions. the story is hers now.

the next book? about my wife's family journey (China to Jamaica to Canada to America). it will definitely take more research and more effort. i'd better get started.
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