Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Moving On?

In September of 1994, I left New York to move to an unknown place, Holland. It was something I had been wanting my entire life, and after 27 years, it finally happened. I packed two suitcases and left everything else behind with no intention of ever returning. If things didn’t work out, I would move on, not back. I’ve never been one to go back. Ever. I didn’t speak the language. I didn’t have any friends, but after a while it all came together. It always does.

The end of next week, it looks like I will be moving on again, but I have no idea where, I have no idea for how long and I have no idea what I will end up doing for work wherever I go. But I have to go. My Indian visa expires in exactly four weeks. I am not ready to leave. I am not ready to start over yet again. My life has been about starting over. My entire life has been about moving, making a life and then leaving it behind. That is how it is with a military family. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad I had that upbringing. I hated it at the time, but it is what has allowed me to just up and move to anywhere at anytime, knowing that somehow, someway, I will land on my feet. But now, I don’t really want to move on. I like my life here as it is panning out. I have great friends. I don’t plan on staying here forever, but I would like to stay here for now.

The end of next week, I am booking a plane ticket. To somewhere, destination yet to be determined. So many questions. Do I go back to the States? Perhaps Sydney? Thailand? How long do I stay? Do I take an extended vacation and come back to India in a couple of months, or do I move with the intention of starting a new life? And if I am starting a new life, where in the world is the best place for me to be?

I am also going this alone. Manuel will be staying in India, at least for now. He is getting is own place. Maybe this is for the best. Maybe the distance will help bridge the gap between us. Honestly, I’m not sure if that’s possible, but what keeps me going is the question “what if it is?” and that is something I need to know.

So, while 2008 started on the foot of certainty and security, 2009 is starting out just the opposite. I am confused and unsure, hoping for the best and bracing for the worst, wondering how and when this is all going to be worked out. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tagged on Facebook

I checked my emails this morning and there was the message I had been dreading since Julie added me as a friend on Facebook. The subject line read "Julie tagged a photo of you on Facebook" and I immediately panicked, a feeling that went into hyper drive when I opened the email which read "Julie tagged a photo of you in the album "Prom 1984".

Let me start by saying that 1984 was not my best year. I had not discovered hair products and I had that unfortunate stoner type haircut. I was very Van Halen. To top it all off, I ignored the numerous issues of GQ which instructed me that a tuxedo should only ever be in black or midnight blue. I also was a firm believer in sporting tails. The result? A light gray tux with tails and lavender cummerbund and bowtie. Julie was wearing a lavender dress/gown/thing complete with the requisite puffy sleeves and ruffles everywhere, basically she was dressed like a New Jersey bridesmaid. In spite of all this, I do remember feeling quite stylish and sophisticated. It was 1984, and it was prom, which meant doing the matching thing with your date. The cummerbunds and bowties had to go with the dress, as did the corsage and boutonniere. I never understood the whole floral decoration on the clothes thing. But yes, Julie and I were a blur of watercolor pastels, which were all the rage at the time. If we had been dipped in sugar that night, we might have made the perfect top for a wedding cake, or at least a set of interesting bookends at the local garage sale.
I was never sure if Julie and I were dating or just promming it. She was an older woman. Not in the Mrs. Robinson sense, I was a junior and she was a senior. It was her prom, not mine. She was the first girl I ever kissed with tongue and while I was a bit grossed out the moment I unexpectedly found a tongue in my mouth, I felt incredibly cool, suddenly a man, although I had no idea what to do with the tongue or my tongue and I didn't try to cop even the tiniest feel. I also didn't know how to get the kiss to stop, one can't exactly close their mouth when engaged in the throws of liplocking. i just let her do her thing and tried to be nonchalant and cool about it.
So this morning, when I saw the email, I held my breath and immediately made a mad dash to Facebook and there I was, bad hair and gray tuxedo with tails looking back at me. It was the first time since immediately after prom that I have seen these pictures. I was happy to see she hadn't posted THE picture. See, somewhere out there, floating around is a picture of me in a toga at our post prom day at the pond. I am just waiting for the blackmail messages from Julie. The one that says "do this or I post THE picture"- I will have no choice but to do her bidding, I will be a pawn and she will be my master. How do I know this? Because she has threatened me with that picture before and I don't have one of Julie in order to checkmate her. I am at her mercy.
I know the tag is coming... It is just a matter of time...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

My So-Called Life

I have been giving it some thought. I considering going offline, at least as far as Facebook and my blog are concerned. Not that I don't enjoy them, I do. It's just that I am going through a time in life when everything I considered my "life" is falling apart and I don't want a global audience. I don't want anyone bearing witness to my unraveling. I also don't have the energy to gloss over the things, attempt to make them funny or even put them out there for public consumption. Maybe I will change my mind. I don't know.

"I don't know" seems to be my theme right now. Everything is so confusing I have no idea what I am doing or what I should do next. Perhaps it isn't about what I "should" do next, it's about what I am even able to do next. My biggest fear seems to be looking back at me and laughing. I can't make it stop. I can't sleep. I don't want to eat. I don't want to get out of bed. I wonder if I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown and am doing whatever I can to keep it at bay. I don't know how I got here. In six weeks I have nothing left. No home. No job. No income. Unless something works out in six weeks, I will be living my worst fears. Yes, I have some savings, but they aren't going to hold me over for very long, and I need to go somewhere, anywhere, as my visa expires.

I lay awake at night thinking about my things in storage in Amsterdam and now I wonder if I should pay the bill or save the money. Twelve years of my life are in that little space. It seems odd that twelve years can fit into a little room. I arrived in Amsterdam in 1994 with two suitcases and built everything up from nothing. I didn't even speak the language. Three years later I was a director at a France Telecom company. I was thirty. That storage space is filled with paintings from Nepal, and various items from Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Iceland, China and everywhere else I went. My photographs are in there, even the ones on CD. My state of the art, computerized diving gear, my Nitro Storm snowboard, my rock climbing gear. The gifts from friends. My dad's watch. All my books. Hundreds, perhaps over a thousand of them, all read, are there. Twenty years of Vanity Fair magazines. And last night I debated if I should just let it all go.

The last fourteen years of globe-trotting, champagne, Paris, private jets, five-star hotels, Prada shoes, designer clothes and fantastic restaurants came flooding back. I don't know if they are over or just on pause. I try not to think of those things. I am trying to find the positives, but can't really come up with any. I just keep thinking "No home. No income." I try to block it out, but it keeps coming through loud and clear like a car alarm right outside the window at 3am.

Manuel seems to be taking this all very well. He sleeps and doesn't seem phased by the fact that he too will be without a roof over his head. He finally got himself a paying job. Timing is everything. The only problem is that the pay is basically nothing, less than 10% what I normally make. We can live with a pay cut, but not of over 90%. After one and a half years of supporting Manuel, he is on his own now. I can't help him. Maybe I sound selfish. Maybe I am.

Two weeks ago I was giving television interviews about the effect the economy was having on my life. I sounded positive. I was upbeat. I was ready to take on the world. Now I feel like an idiot. It was the shiny moment before the disaster. I am supposed to be writing an article for a magazine whose next issue is themed "Life's a Beach" and I have no inspiration at all. I just want to bury my head in the sand until this all gets sorted out.

So there you have it, and as I said, I am not sure if I will be blogging anymore anytime soon. Yes, writing is my release, my way out, but some things are perhaps just better left unknown and undistributed. If you suddenly don't hear from me for awhile, you know why.

Monday, December 08, 2008

A Chorus Line of One


Singular Sensation.

Every little step she takes.

Being part of a musical these days means my head is filled with all the songs from the play. Songs I have heard so many times, I fall asleep with them ringing in my ear. I wake up with them stuck in my head and catch myself singing them in the shower. It gets annoying. I can't tell you the latest hit on the radio or who is topping the MTV playlists, but I do know all the words to "Mumbai Mac" and "Slum Girl". I can feel your jealousy coming at me from all directions.

In the play, tiled "Mahim Junction", I play a politician running for election in the slums of Mumbai. At one point, I have to deliver a speech to my constituency, which consists of exactly three people and in my cluelessness, I use a megaphone. My megaphone prop looks like the top of the head of the Tin Man from "The Wizard of Oz". It is clinking, clanking and caliginous.

The other night during rehearsal, while I was in between scenes, I was listening to my iPod and practicing my blocking.  I am a master at multi-tasking. Right now we are doing rehearsals on the roof terrace of the director's house as it gives us a space larger than any place else we could be rehearsing right now, and as we are performing in an amphitheatre, it gets us used to being outside. We don't have to project our lines, we need to scream them.

Anyway, there are two separate terraces on the roof and I took my iPod and megaphone prop to the other side. And then the urge hit. I heard 1982 calling out to me. I tried to resist but it was futile. I knew it was there, lingering on my iPod. I had an appropriate prop and all that was needed was for me to press the button. I looked around to ensure I was alone. I looked across the other terraces to make sure I had no audience. India being India usually means there is always an audience, but the planets aligned, the stars converged and Jupiter was entering someone's house. It was a now or never situation.

I pressed play.

And then, using my Tin Man hat as a top hat, I performed "One" from "A Chorus Line".  I was a bit rusty, but I dare say I am sure I looked fabulous. Just me, on the terrace with a metal funnel thingy, mouthing the words as though I were belting it out to the balcony of the Winter Garden Theatre in New York. After all, I think all I have ever really needed was the music and the mirror and the chance to dance. And dance I did. I was one singular sensation if I do say so myself, all alone on a terrace in South Delhi, not another care in the world.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Letter

I knew it was coming, and the fact in itself didn't bother me. What bothered, or rather bothers me, is the way in which it was done. Back in September I broached the subject of my contract, which expires in February. I was told by my boss that it was a bit early for that conversation and I informed him of the endless logistics required if I need to find a new job. Anywhere. Even if I stay in India, there is a circus of endless paperwork, meetings, red tape and then I would need to go to another country to get a new visa. While visas can be renewed in the country under certain conditions, if you switch companies, it is not possible. Yes another display of the logic that plagues Indian policies.

Then the recession hit. One of the first things that gets cut in companies are budgets and as I work in advertising, that is never a good thing. I figured my contract would not be renewed and saw it as an opportunity to embark on a new adventure. Around that same time I got cast in a play, got contacted by a casting director for a television project and had some meetings with a couple of magazines to do some writing.

I came into work one day and was called into the office of our financial guy. Not my boss, the financial guy, who, with a smile on his face, handed me a letter stating my contract would not be renewed. No explanation. No handover discussion. No phase out discussion. A piece of paper. It felt like a slap in the face. It is the first time I have ever been in this situation. It feels odd, and the total lack of respect is just amazing.

A couple of days later, I saw my boss who shook my hand as though we were old golf buddies. And now, I have to stay motivated and ready to go for the next two months. TWO MONTHS! My work has gone from being involved with twelve or more clients and new business pitches to one presentation. That's right, one. This is going to be a long two months.

Now I am looking for a new job, which is completely unfamiliar territory for me. I haven't looked for a job since the late 1980s. They always come looking for me. I am quite out of my element. So now I am looking at companies in India, China, Australia, and anywhere else where there might be a great opportunity. Or even an interesting one. What is frightening is that the one time I need to look for a job, the global economy is pretty much in the toilet. I don't know what to do. Less than two months from now, my visa expires. I have no job. No place to live. It's very intimidating. I can't sleep. I find myself getting depressed and this is just not the time for that. I need to be on top of my game, but I am not sure what game that is anymore.

My Indian friends don't understand the stress. They have family here. They have a place to fall back on. I don't. There is no falling back, only moving forward. But to where?


There was a time not long ago when words like terrorism and suicide bombers were as foreign to me as the places in which they happened. It isn't a nice thing to think or say, but I miss the days when it was someone else's problem. It was easy to go through life hearing these terms when they referred to people I had never seen and places I had never been. Now it is here. For me it started at one of my morning haunts in Tel Aviv. I saw it on CNN. It was odd to have spent time in a place just a few short weeks before seeing it on live TV. Then it was the bombings in places in India I had not yet been, like Hyderabad. Closer, but still far enough away. No memories there. No friends. It was a news story. Then in September, the attack in Delhi happened. All of it in familiar places. Some of it in my own neighborhood. Two weeks later it was another market in Delhi. I started getting used to the frantic calls from Ankit to stay home or avoid a crowded market, and then as fast as it seemed to start, everything was quiet. Yes, the fireworks announcing yet another wedding reminded me of the bomb blasts I had heard. That was odd. When the market near me was attacked, I thought I had not heard anything, but discussing it with a colleague the following Monday, I realized I had mistaken it for thunder. That was a creepy realization. Maybe I am being overly dramatic. Maybe not.

So everything was quiet and pretty much back to normal until last week. Suddenly the TV was flooded with images of places I know. Places I have been. Places my friends live in and go to. Suddenly SMSes start doing the rounds as we all take inventory of who was where, who is OK and who is not yet accounted for.  I woke up on the following morning not yet knowing anything in Mumbai had happened. I had emails and text messages asking if I was alright after the attack. What attack?

I turned on the news and was shocked, stunned, appalled, scared. It was less than twelve hours into what would untimately turn into a sixty hour ordeal. I logged onto Twitter and Facebook. Status updates came from friends "I'm Safe" or "I'm nowhere near Mumbai" were the common types of updates. Then they turned angry and became voices of protest.

Twitter became the best source for news as all the channels had conflicting information. On Twitter too were status updates and messages for friends. Requests for prayers. Anger at the government. Shock and overwhelming sadness. After it was over came the Facebook requests for a minute of silence or a request to wear a white shirt today. I heard of peace demonstrations and friends donating blood. Now, of course, the finger pointing has started and the talk of ending the cease-fire with Pakistan is on the news.

What I also find really scary about this is the scale and the deliberate taking of hostages. Specifically western hostages. This is different than a low intensity bomb in a market place more designed to attract attention than anything else. This takes everything to a whole new level. These weren't hostages of opportunity, who just happened to be someplace so the gunmen took advantage of a situation. This was planned. This was part of the plan all along. I started getting messages from friends abroad, wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving and suggesting it is perhaps time for me to leave India. On the surface, it makes sense, but it isn't that simple. Where should I go? Where is safe? London? Madrid? New York? Paris? The Maldives?

What makes me sadder than anything, is that I personally see no end to it. In spite of the bold protests of "We will tolerate it no more", I just don't see how it will end. For every terrorist captured or killed, it seems there is always someone ready to step up and commit such atrocities in the name of their god, religion, nation, race or whatever.  

It really makes me very sad.