Multitasking

Cross posted on sharidelic.

Multitasking

I keep returning to this topic and, judging by the recent outpouring of popular articles and TV shows, so do lots of Americans. I tweeted about it few times earlier especially after seeing the PBS Frontline documentary called Digital Nation but felt it was worthy of a blog post. The concept of multitasking dawned on me only after I came to this country along with other helpful work aids such as "Productivity!", "Push The Envelope!", "Work Hard!" and "Team Leader!" I observed that Americans take a lot of pride in being able to multitask continuously. One of the first things my supervisor advised me at my first job in America — "You need to be able to multitask effortlessly" she said. But of course!

I had no choice but to follow that principle for the last few years while I was in school or working at my various 9-5 jobs and pursuing my creative interests in filmmaking/acting on the side, because I was always trying to do more that I could handle. Not to say that I was happy with the feeling of being overwhelmed all the time. However, it was easier to hold my sanity doing that in my pre-mommyhood days!

However, post baby, I realize that motherhood and caring for an infant takes multitasking to whole new levels of nuttiness. Back then, I found myself juggling oodles of tasks at the same time — pumping with one hand and feeding the baby milk with the other, rocking the bouncer and trying to calm a wailing infant while calling the after care nurse triage service, feeding the baby while reading stories and grabbing a bite for myself while browsing through my emails! I have eaten baby food by mistake and almost fed my son my own dinner while trying to manage multiple spoons. I was also very proud of my one-handed typing skills while pumping breast milk! This madness did not stop at infancy - multitasking of motherhood (MoM) is continuing well into my son's toddler years. If anything, it became even more interesting trying to juggle the mommy duties, while working, pursuing my passion in acting and holding down the fort when hubby is unavailable due to his "extremely demanding" job! Every year, there are reports of overstressed parents running off to run errands having forgotten their baby is still locked in the car, sometimes with tragic consequences. Before, I would wonder how this could happen? Now, I can understand.

I was relieved to see Digital Nation, which confirmed my belief that multitasking is not so great for our brains after all! Here's a snippet from the video that summarizes the findings of a study conducted by Clifford Nass, a Professor at Stanford University and the founder and director of the Communication between Humans and Interactive Media (CHIMe) Lab, on a group of "multitasking" students:

Check out the DVD on Netflix, also available on instant watch.

The May issue of Women's Health magazine had an article on this topic which I felt was particularly relevant to us ladies. It's called How to Do One Thing at a Time and it asks us to stop multitasking! Here are some excerpts from the article:

A recent study published in the science journal NeuroImage revealed that when we attempt demanding tasks simultaneously, we end up doing neither as well as we should, because our brains have cognitive limits. We may think we're doing two things at once, but our brains are actually toggling between them.
"A tremendous amount of evidence shows that the brain does better when it's performing tasks in sequence, rather than all at once," says Clifford Nass, Ph.D., a professor of communication at Stanford University. "There's a huge cost to your concentration every time you switch gears. We still don't know the long-term effects of chronic multitasking, but there's no question we're bad at it, and it's bad for us."
"Multitasking has long been thought to slow down and even injure the mind," she says, "and those of us who practice Chinese medicine believe it can also injure the body."

Doing yoga regularly has definitely helped me focus but it's amusing to see that my fellow yogis or yoginis can't let go off their iPhones till the last minute before class. Let's see how long I can hold onto my zen and denounce the pressures of the "Tamasik" universe. Namaste! :)

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Shari Acharya - June 11, 2010 1:50 PM // Parenting , Virj

Virj and Puddles

Shari's writeup. Need I say more?


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- May 7, 2010 5:37 PM // Virj

Virj's Modeling Assignment

Last weekend, we went out to an elementary school in San Francisco's Excelsior district for a photoshoot featuring Virj and a couple of other kids or should I say modelettes? This was for Nohi Kids, a new boutique baby clothes store in the city featuring the output of Janel Jones, a local designer. Heidi, Virj's photographer, was clearly a natural in handling kids. She had four of her own, all boys. That certainly helped!

Here's a representative shot:

It was an overcast, cold day but that does not seem to have been a hindrance to either the subject or the photographer. Extracting useful shots is difficult with children, particularly extremely active ones like Virj. However, he was much more compliant this time around perhaps because we found an entire array of sidewalk chalk markers for him in the school playground. You don't see the chalk in his hand but his "art" is all over the school entrance pavement. At least until the latest bout of rain...

Virj's Afro gets him a lot of attention in the USA. During this shoot, for example, we heard several times about his "unique look." During our trip to Kolkata, on the other hand, such comments were scant. Rather, we received many polite and not so polite inquiries about when his haircut was coming next.

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- February 23, 2010 5:37 PM // Bay Area , Virj

My Son The Sweeper

In this day and age, some skills just can't be outsourced, so it's best to start early.

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- August 14, 2009 10:59 PM // Virj

Photographing Kids..

.. isn't easy as Bill Watterson fondly chronicled in so many strips for the iconic Calvin & Hobbes. Examples abound. Here are two:

Calvin & Hobbes
and
comics

As for us, we find our Coolpix to be a handy enough device yet utterly incapable of capturing Virj as he buzzes about his daily routine. Most of his stills are serendipitous, usually taken when he's been severely restrained or staring in wonder at something he's seeing for the first time. An illustration of how difficult it can be:

Yet, the rewards, at least from our standpoint, can be considerable. A snap from our recent trip to Portland and Seattle taken on the Amtrak Cascades service:

Perhaps the time has come to either invest in faster equipment or at least try to repair some of our older cameras. Living in a disposable society with a penchant for consuming products with built in obsolescence, the latter may not be so easy. We'll see. Surely the recession will spur more recycling and retention.

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- July 3, 2009 5:37 PM // Virj

Virj @ 18 months

Virj at his 18 month check up. My, how time flies ...

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- May 29, 2009 10:15 PM // Virj

Yoga Baby

Virj showing off his vinyasa ..

Yoga Baby

Photographing a toddler, particularly one as active as Big V, is decidedly non trivial. Our own efforts usually result in blurs in the picture indicating where Virj is flowing to next. So, many thanks to Vien for capturing this fleeting and special moment. It definitely wasn't easy.

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- April 7, 2009 7:56 PM // Virj

Obligatory Baby Pic I

Photobucket
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- December 4, 2008 12:13 PM // Virj

Overprotective Parents

There is a world of difference between "knowing it" vs "feeling it." Back in 2001, I came across these ads in an issue of the magazine Communication Arts. I believe they were part of a Singapore based campaign for Toyota Corolla. Naturally, I thought they were very funny back then. Now that I am the father of a 10 month old, I understand the sentiment on a whole different level. If I could enclose him fully in bubble wrap, I actually might seriously consider it :-)




Thanks to Rich Burridge for finding the pics online.
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- October 12, 2008 11:03 AM // Humour , Virj

Milk and Cookies

Milk And Cookies

This only works when he's both motionless and asleep, neither of which occurs often enough. Boy, are we glad when it does happen. Our hands can use the rest. Surely somewhere there must be some kind of device that automates this?

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- June 14, 2008 4:31 PM // Virj

Annaprashan

The Wikipedia defines Annaprashan as:

a Hindu rite-of-passage ritual that marks an infant's first intake of food other than milk. The term annaprashan literally means "food feeding" or "eating of food".

and

Commonly referred to in English as First Rice, the ceremony is usually carried out when the child is about 6 months of age. (some Hindu communities do it later). It is an occasion for celebration, and extended family, friends and neighbours will be invited to attend. The mother or grandmother will prepare a small bowl of payesh (boiled rice, milk & sugar) which is blessed in a brief puja. The child will generally be held in the mother's lap, and a senior male family member (grandfather or uncle) will feed it a small spoonful of the payesh, to general celebration. Other members of the family then take turns to give the child a taste.

We actually held the ceremony a little early (just prior to Virj's fifth month). However, as you can see, he seemed pretty ready for solids. I would imagine a steady liquid diet of the breast milk variety for five months straight would have that effect.

Annaprashan I

The feeding ceremony is often followed with a game, in which the child is presented with a tray containing a number of objects. These will include a bangle or jewel (symbolising wealth), a book (symbolising learning), a pen (symbolising career) and a clay pot or container of earth/soil (symbolising property). The child's future direction and prospects in life are indicated by the object which it prefers to hold and play with.
Annaprashan II

Yep, he's all about the money. Or perhaps the dollar bill was the most succulent option on the tray.

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- April 15, 2008 11:05 PM // Virj

What's In A Name?

A little while back, I wrote about the naming process for our son, Virj, and I hoped:

Now, if everyone would only pronounce it properly :-)

I thought I was being facetious. Hard to go wrong with something so succinct, right? It's been four months now, so what's been our experience?

Amongst folks originating from the subcontinent there wasn't a problem. More or less perfect enunciation every time. However, for everyone else, particularly if they happened to have been born and brought up in the USA and had little or no exposure to Indian culture, it was more hit and miss. Correct pronunciation is "veerj" with stress on the "e" sound. But we were equally likely to get "verge" as in parents on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I exaggerate but imagine our plight. The early months of parenthood are particularly brutal - add to that regrets about picking a name that I thought was bulletproof, but one that turned out to have loopholes regardless - it certainly doesn't help.

At this juncture, we found the following skit from the hit BBC show Goodness Gracious Me particularly calming. The sketch, which came out around 1998 or so, is eerily prescient. We have Jonathan moving from the UK to join a firm in India where they have trouble with his name:

I don't see you progressing in this firm with a name like that!

In today's mobile, intertwined, economically shifting world, there's really no guarantee our son will choose or even necessarily be able to live in the USA. Consequently, we tried to pick a name for all seasons and continents. On the whole, we're pleased.

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- March 29, 2008 3:08 PM // Diaspora , TV , Virj

The Newborn

I came across this poem by C Day Lewis, apparently written on occasion of the birth of his son, Daniel Day Lewis. Here are some excerpts:


The Newborn

This mannikin who just now
Broke prison and stepped free
Into his own identity--
Hand, foot, and brow
A finished work, a breathing miniature--
Was still, one night ago,
A hope, a dread, a mere shape we
Had lived with, only sure
Something would grow
Out of its coiled nine-month nonentity.
:
:
This morsel of man I've held--
What potency it has,
Though strengthless still and naked as
A nut unshelled!
:
:
We time-worn folk renew
Ourselves at your enchanted spring,
As though mankind's begun
Again in you.
This is your birthday and our thanksgiving.

- From Pegasus and Other Poems by C. Day Lewis

Poetry aside, it's been two months now, so what have we learned about parenthood? Let me list five things I had next to no idea about:

  • It's tough on the mother, particularly if she's breastfeeding. During the hustle and bustle of pregnancy, it's easy to lose sight of the challenges thereafter. It's too easy to focus on the delivery. If anything, the real fun starts after the baby is born. Three hour feeding cycles can get exhausting very fast!

  • I love the way Virj throws his hands in the air when I set him down quickly. Apparently, it's called the Moro Reflex and is normal in newborn infants. It makes him look like a Hare Krishna member.

  • Similarly, rooting and grasping relfexes whereby the kid will look for a nipple to suck when pressed against a chest, any chest .. ahem .. or will clutch anything that comes his way, particularly our fingers.

  • Oh the sweet sweet sounds of a burp! 'nuff said!

  • Mylicon. Why does it have to be so expensive? Welcome to the Baby Industrial Complex (tm)!

On the whole, it's exhausting work but I can already feel our perspectives on life changing and for the better.

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- January 21, 2008 2:48 PM // Virj

"It's A Boy" Playlist

Stuff I've been playing to my 2 week old. Fuhgetabout Baby Einstein, this is the way to get him started on the good ish!

  • New Life - Depeche Mode. What else but one of the earliest songs by the venerable synth group? My own indoctrination into the joys of synth pop. It seems so long ago.
  • Kinna Sona - Bally Sagoo/Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Long story but I once had occasion to chat with Bally's manager somewhere in Philadelphia. He went by the name of Mambo. We were talking about Bally's work and this is the one he picked as his most played. "When I go home, I pick up my newborn and play this song," he said. Now, I understand.
  • Aerodynamik - Kraftwerk. No story here. Great beat to change diapers to. Plus get him started early on the masters.
  • Garden of Earthly Delights - XTC.
    "Kid,
    Stay and snip your cord off,
    Talk and let your mind loose,
    Cant all think like chekov,
    But youll be o.k."
  • I Got A Name - Jim Croce. I used this song as inspiration on our quest to find a name for the kid. Lovely, lilting stuff.
  • It's A Boy (Remix) - Slick Rick. 'nuff said although he did cover his ear a tad when I played it to him. He'll learn, eventually.
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- December 4, 2007 9:48 PM // Music , Virj

Introducing Our Son

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Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

So, here he is. But before I introduce you to him, I wanted to tell you about our first challenge of parenthood - finding a name for our son. Here, I am reminded of Alex Haley's Roots. After his son is born, Omoro faces a challenge:

By ancient custom, for the next seven days, there was but a single task with which Omoro would seriously occupy himself: the selection of a name for his firstborn son. It would have to be a name rich with history and with promise, for the people of his tribe - the Mandinkas - believed that a child would develop seven of the characteristics of whomever or whatever he was named for.

Okay, it's not like we locked ourself up in a room for seven days and refused to emerge until we'd come up with some earthshaking moniker for our kid. But it would have been nice had we the luxury of doing so. A name is serious business - this is something the fellow is saddled with for life. Unless he changes it himself or goes into show business or something - but even then, there is the realization, often painfully acquired in grade school, that the name you were given is a lemon. What parent would want his kids to go through that gauntlet? School is cruel enough as it is! Consequently, in the nine months prior, whatever leisure time we had was spent poring over books of names, Bengali dictionaries and the web, in search of a moniker. Our criteria was as follows:

  1. Has to be short, snappy and sweet.
  2. Has to mean something, preferably in Sanskrit i.e. no nonsensical terms
  3. Can't have side-effects in English. No offense to Dixits or Dikshits, but I am not going anywhere near there if I can help it.
  4. Has to be somewhat unique

Choosing a unique name in a country of a billion people is hard. Forget Rama, Bhima, Shyama and Jadu, the law of probability dictates that whatever you come up with something remotely unusual, it's been taken. A friend asked recently:

What's the Bengali tradition for middle names? Gujaratis give father's first name as a middle name (even women have to take their husband's first name!). Talk about a patriarchical society.

I really couldn't think of any Bengali naming traditions per se other than the preference for fancy names. Remember I was telling you about my futile search? In many cases, the interesting twists or variations on names were taken by Chatterjees/Banerjees etc. Good for them! But it didn't make our task easier.

In desperation, we considered an approach that seems to be common in the US - creative misspelling. Consider Andruw instead Andrew or Jhonny instead of Johnny. Taken in the desi context, how about Deepakk or Rraja? Okay, I am kidding. But it did seem attractive for all of 3 milliseconds! Our friends, Devora and Manish, took note of our state and even included a "Name The Baby Contest" in Shari's baby shower festivities. Notable entries included:

  • Rishesh
  • McSoam
  • Ghanashyam

Good for laughts, yes, although the first one was pretty good. However, this did spark our thinking and three days before he was born, we finally settled on a name. Shari had liked Vir (hero/warrior) for a while and it and its variation, Veer, had seemed relatively uncommon. Still, I thought a variation on the sound itself could yield something interesting. My contribution was a single letter: "j". "Virj" is Sanskrit for the quality of bravery and strength. The sound itself seems to resonate. And web searches show it to be relatively rare. Now, if everyone would only pronounce it properly :-)

So, there you have it. Hopefully, this is something our son will keep. We can but hope. I'll conclude with some lyrics from Jim Croce from his song, "I got a name":

Like the pine trees lining the winding road,

I've got a name, I've got a name
Like the singing bird and the croaking toad,
I've got a name, I've got a name

And I carry it with me like my daddy did
But I'm living the dream that he kept hid.

Moving me down the highway, rolling me down the highway
Moving ahead so life won't pass me by.


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- December 3, 2007 12:46 PM // Bangla , Diaspora , Virj