Why do you Write? Part 2 – Finding Meaning

“Ambal, why do you write?”

That is a very tough question to answer. It is sort of like asking me “Why do you climb mountains?” The answers are so multi-dimensional. It is hard to capture them all.

But, since you asked, here is my attempt to answer the “Why do you write?” question.

2. Finding Meaning

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Do you remember the opening and ending scenes in the Forrest Gump movie? Do you remember that floating feather? Each one of us on this planet is like that floating feather.

We came. We are here. We will be gone. In between that time that we came and we leave, we live, we thrive and we try to find meaning.

When we are little we want to grow up. When we grow up, we look back on life with nostalgia.  And just when it feels like we have gotten the hang out of this wild ride, it is time to leave the party. Funny, is it not?

We chase everything possible that could be chased. We chase goals – work goals, personal goals, fitness goals, health goals, relationship goals and more. In between all this mad rush and chasing, we try to find ourselves. We try to find meaning in this chaos called life.

Since childhood, I have been chasing many dreams too. I have also been chasing many questions. Who am I? Why I am here? What am I doing? What is my purpose?

And I have done many things to find answers to these questions – I have read voraciously on life and the meaning of life. I have practiced meditation. I have tried to live life to the fullest. I have tried to give my 100% to every moment as it passes. I have done all this and more.

One of my favorite books on this topic of finding purpose and meaning is Viktor E. Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning. In this book, psychologist Viktor Frankl describes his life as a prisoner in two different concentration camps during the Holocaust.

Viktor Frankl is the founder of logo therapy – from the Greek work logos, or meaning.

The following list of tenets represents basic principles of logo therapy:

  • Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.
  • Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.
  • We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stand we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.

I am old enough now to trust my gut and perception on what is helping me find meaning.

Here is the one thing that has helped me find meaning  – Writing. Because, writing makes me slow down from the mad rush of life. Writing makes me reflect on life and life experiences. Writing helps me document both momentous and meaningless moments. Writing makes me cognizant of myself and the world around me. Writing makes me kind to myself and to others. Writing makes me positive. Writing makes me find meaning.

Most of us grow up and become lost. Writing has been my savior. Writing has saved me from getting lost. Writing has helped me pick up the pieces of my past. Writing has helped me connect the dots backwards (as Steve Jobs would say it).

Despite my persistent and passionate search for meaning, I am very guilty of leading a fast paced life. I need to constantly tell myself to live every moment, and to give my all to that moment. To be in the NOW.

If there is one lost soul on this planet that I can urge to find meaning, one fast paced person (like me) that I can urge to stop and smell the roses, one person on this planet to live through every moment completely….just ONE…then all my effort in trying to find meaning and writing would have been worth it.

Hence, I write.

To find meaning.

By the time I am done, every one of those people who have urged me to be brave and to keep seeking and every one of those people who ever told me a story about their quest to find meaning is going to be so proud of what you (the reader) and I have accomplished together.

Are you ready for the ride?

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
– Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Why do you Write? Part 1 – Paying it Forward

“Ambal, why do you write?”

That is a very tough question to answer. It is sort of like asking me “Why do you climb mountains?” The answers are so multi-dimensional. It is hard to capture them all.

But, since you asked, here is my attempt to answer the “Why do you write?” question.

  1. Paying it Forward

I have one life and one chance to make it count for something. My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference. – Jimmy Carter

My parents didn’t have a camera when I was growing up. If they had had a camera, most of the photos would look like this.

Little-Girl-Reading-Ambal-Balakrishnan

I think my brain was hardwired to read and love storytelling due to several factors. My mom was an avid reader herself. She has probably read every Tamil classic possible. Also, I was surrounded by a family (grandpa, grandma, aunts, uncles) that told stories to me and sung lullabies long after I had crossed my childhood days. My family had a lot of differences (like any other family) and a lot of differing viewpoints on life. All of those differences and different views enriched my childhood experience.

My family and childhood teachers encouraged and fostered my love of reading. Even during the financially tough days, my dad always managed to buy me copies of Reader’s Digest from a used book store. My friends loaned me books. My teachers taught me the love for both poetry and prose. For all of that, I am eternally grateful.

I have read all my life. I have read almost every day. My life has been shaped by how much I have read. I have read multiple genres and subjects – history, psychology, philosophy, science, classics, biographies, poetry, religion, spirituality, mythology, thrillers, business, and more.

If I counted all the years of experience that I have “lived” by immersing myself with characters and authors in books, then I am a zillion years old. No wonder my friends sometimes call me a very old soul. That is because I have lived through the experiences of all the books that I have read.

Books have made me who I am today. I started life as the eldest daughter in a middle class family in South India. I have come so far from where I started. I have travelled the world, lived on two continents, gotten a top class education, worked at Fortune 100 tech companies, climbed mountains and done much more.

Books have shaped my life and life choices. Books have led me to seek education and adventure. Books have taken me to places that I have never been.  Books have taken me back in time and taken me to the future. Books have taught me every idea to know, every mistake not to make, every value to uphold. Everything that is to be learnt is already in books.

Books have made me a life-long learner with a growth mindset. I feel thankful for all the authors who put their pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard and helped me grow.

I used to love fiction. But, as I start growing up, I have come to realize that no fiction can match the drama of real life.

When I was much younger, I thought I had nothing to add. Everything that was to be said had already been said in a book. But, now I know otherwise.

My life and life experience is unique…just like each of the authors had a unique life experience. That is what shaped their writing. Whatever genre they wrote in, they brought all of their life experience and unique perspective. That perspective is what made each book special.

Being a reader in a book store or library is kind of like being a kid in a candy store.

So, I am at that point in life where I feel the strong need to pay it forward.

To pay it forward one story at a time.

To pay it forward to one person at a time.

I am not in a rush.

I have my entire lifetime to tell stories that matter.

I have my entire lifetime to tell stories that are going to alter the trajectory of a reader’s mood, a reader’s day, a reader’s choices. If I dare to write the right stories with all my might …and if a reader dares to observe what I am saying closely enough, we might, together, even alter the trajectory of our lives.

Now, I don’t want you to get all worked up. I am not going to be telling any BIG stories. In most cases, what I am going to write about is going to sound like an every day frivolous occurrence. It is up to you to interpret that story….with your own unique perspective.

One starfish at a time.

If there is one weary person on this planet that I can move to action, one sad person on this planet that I can make laugh, one tired parent on this planet that I can energize, one young child’s life course that I can change, one dormant soul on this planet that I can urge to go seek adventure….just ONE…then all the effort that I put into reading and writing would have been worth it.

Hence, I write.

To pay it forward.

By the time I am done, every one of the authors who made me who I am today and every one of those people who ever told me a story or sang me a lullaby are going to be so proud of what you (the reader) and I have accomplished together.

Are you ready for the ride?

“In a world like this, you pay it forward, ’cause more than likely you didn’t deserve it when you got it the first time.”
― Mindy McGinnis, In a Handful of Dust

In reality, to live a happy life we need to know and practice very few skills

In reality, to live a happy life we need to know and practice very few skills.

That is all there is to it.

For example, every time we hit a tricky situation, if you and I could remember to say the serenity prayer, we could save ourselves a lot of pain.

Unfortunately, we don’t. We tend to bang our head against the brick walls sometimes.

Memorize this:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Use it when the situation calls for it.

Drop me a note know if it helped you from getting a bruised forehead.

Nostalgia Reminds us that some Beautiful Moments are Past Us

Sometimes love arrives in a carefully packed zip lock bag after traveling 10,000 miles across oceans and continents.

Nostalgia is defined as the “sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. The feeling can sometimes be evoked from music, a pleasant memory of the past, or any sensory perception that was crystallized in time by a fondly experienced moment.”

Nostalgia. Has is struck you how nostalgia strikes when you least expect it? A whiff of a perfume as somebody passes by. The smell emanating from somebody’s cooking. A voice that reminds you of somebody long gone or somebody far away. A face that looks so familiar.

I met Subha in Trichy during Fall 1993. We became fast friends really fast. I got to know her family. They are the kindest and sweetest souls. Whenever we visited her house, her mom fed me and my friends. Over the next three years, I slowly acquired the acquired taste for mahali kizhangu pickle.

My grad school friend Rathna once told me that there is a quota for everything. Eating mom’s rasam has a quota. You don’t realize the quota is done until it is done.

I didn’t realize my quota for mahali kizhangu pickle was done until it got done. My four year stint in Trichy ended in Summer 1997 and so did my quota of Suba’s mom’s mahali kizhangu pickle.

After two decades, we remain good friends.

When I visited her in Summer 2014, mahali kizhangu was on the menu. I teared up and (as usual!) laughed my way through it with some dumb jokes.

This weekend, she sent me a zip lock bag full of mahali kizhangu pickle with her family members who were visiting Austin. Thank you to her family for bringing the goodies.

I opened the ziplock bag today evening and nostalgia hit me hard. My senses took a ride through a time long gone by. My mind was transported to Tiruchy. The hot weather. The dryness. The cold curd rice her mom served with so much love. I can almost hear her dad’s voice “Ambal, Nalla sappadu di. Innum konjum mahali kizhangu pottuku. Unnaku piddikama di.” (English Translation: Ambal, eat well. Take some more mahali kizhangu? You like it, don’t you?)

I wish I could go back to those days. Relive them. Relive them more fully.

Alas, I can’t. None of us can.

But, here is the beauty of nostalgia.

Nostalgia reminds us that some beautiful moments of life are past us. It reminds us to live this moment. To live this moment more fully.

Because, there is a quota for moments that we have. As Rathna said, you don’t realize the quota is done until it is done.

I’ll go back now and eat some more of those cherished mahali kizhangu pickle.

I hope this post rekindled your memories of a day long gone by. A taste long gone by. A smell long gone by. A person who is special to your heart.

I urge you to pick up your phone and call that old friend and start by saying “Remember when we….”.

Candid Footage of the Hail Storm that hit Austin

Our very own resident journalist Adi brings you candid footage of the hail storm that hit Austin yesterday evening between 9-10pm CST.

The last time I encountered hail was in Summer 2010. Hail hit us hard (literally and figuratively) in the wilderness at about 12,000 feet as Kumar and I were trying to race towards Mt. Whitney’s peak at 14,500 feet. We couldn’t find a place to hid and save ourselves from the hail. Well, that is another story.

Yesterday’s hail storm was loud, but much less dramatic given that we were safe at home.

Here is how the 3 boys reacted to the hail storm:

Ari kept asking me the following questions: Why ice was falling from the sky?  Could we taste the ice?

Adi grabbed the umbrella camera and went about shooting pictures and videos.

Kumar worried about what was going to happen to our cars that were parked outside.