51

Mugging with my first-born son. Yes, he was adopted. No need to point it out.

It’s been almost a month since I abandoned Facebook.  (We’ll see how long I last this time).  I’ve had to pop back over a couple of times to post job ads or to acknowledge a swath of happy birthday messages (because to do otherwise would be rude). But other than that, I feel no real compulsion to return.

The first week of absence was a bit like going through caffeine withdrawal. There was something missing from my life (the regular dopamine hits from interacting with almost 2000 FB friends, all of whom are genuinely good and interesting people). But once that was dealt with, to be honest, I slowly became aware of my pre-Internet self.

Back in the 1980s and 90s, I was unspeakably productive. I could not get through a day without writing at least an article, often a book chapter, sometimes both. With social media, simply posting a 3-sentence snarky comment was somehow processed in my monkey brain as virtual productivity…. while real productivity suffered. So my retreat from FB has unsurprisingly come with it a return to actually doing things.

My current day (now that I’m on sabbatical) consists of revisiting old TV shows from the 80s and 90s —in the background, of course– while actually writing new things. I’ve been unconsciously avoiding new media content as a kind of personal protest, I suspect, of the indigestible new world of small-byte entertainment.  It’s been enlightening. I get my news from the news, and not from my friends, which has noticeably improved my mood (which, mind you, has never suffered).

My workouts are longer, my diet well considered, and my social circles much shrunk. But my real, flesh-and-bone relationships seem to have intensified. My lovely Significant Other has commented that I am giving her measurably more attention, which can only be a good thing.

My lovely Significant Other, with a plant growing out of her head

So these are all good things, yes?

To be completely honest, I do miss certain Facebook rituals, like posting pics of my daily breakfast (yes, I am one of those idiots…. but there’s a reason, really) and sharing the small triumphs of my life with my virtual circles.

For instance, later this month I will be interviewed for an upcoming special on The History Channel, though I will be uncharacteristically coy about the content for now. And I’m about to enter into an agreement to market the textbooks of my publishing company to colleges around the country, as well as launching a new endeavour, which I will announce in this space in a couple of weeks.

But here’s a pic of today’s breakfast, which was scrounged from what was available in my parents’ fridge. Keep in mind that I an now a vegan:

Dal, rice, corn, baigan choka (eggplant thingy), spinach in onions & garlic, beet salad, cabbage sauteed with tomatoes, my uncle’s glorious mango chutney, and my father’s kale pesto.

Meanwhile, last week I turned 51. How did that happen? I kind of thought I was still 35 or so, though the graying chest hairs kind of betray that lie. With my strict diet and intense workout program, though, I honestly feel like I’m in my early 30s. My body and mind both feel limber, strong and agile again. I did a cartwheel this week for the first time in 10 years…. it worked, I could still do it; but my wrists and hips weren’t very happy about it.

To celebrate my bday, my lovely S.O. took me on a weekend trip to Montreal, where the hotel room was decorated with this sign. If you look carefully, it’s a subtle homage to an episode of The Office:

While it was fun, I did miss my fur baby, who was left in Burlington with his grandparents. But here’s a video of him being insanely cute:

Earlier this year, I finally satisfied a pledge I made to one of my very first students, to visit her in one of the remote areas to which she has invited me. I didn’t make it to Kenya or Guyana, but finally found a day to make it to Sioux Lookout, Ontario. I mention this because this particular student (E.P.) had given me a plastic bracelet ten years ago when she was my undergrad, as part of some HIV/AIDS project.

See, the deal was that I was supposed to make a promise about HIV/AIDS prevention, and hold to that promise so long as the bracelet remain attached to my wrist. It was supposed to fall off after a couple of days. Foolishly, I thought I was being clever by promising “to keep all my promises”… which I finally did by following through on my promise to visit her.

A decade later, the bracelet is finally fraying:

E.P.’s bracelet is highlighted in yellow

There might still be some surgical options for saving it, but who knows. In the mean time, my sister Phani has added to it by tying a rakhi right above.

Part of my productivity increase has involved more longform writing. For example, I recently wrote a lengthy blog post describing how poverty should be measured. I wrote a much reduced version for my column with The Huffington Post…. which was rejected by the editors! It was the first time HuffPo has ever rejected me! Gasp!

Probably a lesson there somewhere.

As well, I also managed to find time to consume a fun novel. Hal Clement’s Mission of Gravity was an easy and fun return to a simpler time of science-fiction storytelling. I hope to have my review written soon, and will share it with you then.

I’ve started on another Clement title, Close To Critical because why not.

In other news, those of you who regularly read my nonsense are probably aware of my obsession with personal genetic testing. I’ve spent ungodly amounts of money sending my DNA off to various companies for all sorts of testing, including full genome sequencing that was done in Boston last year.

My most recent escapade was to try out Ancestry’s DNA service, which purports to show where on the planet other people with your genetic markers are distributed. It’s a fine proxy measurement for your likely ethnic makeup. (Let’s not get into a pointless academic debate over the value of such things, or whether ethnicity is a genetic or social or geographical construct).

So what did I find? Well, surprise surprise, I’m Indian! But only 83% Indian, and by Indian I mean “South Asian”. It seems that I am 11% “East Asian”, which can include anything from Chinese to Thai to even Russian! And I am 5% Melanesian, which is Pacific Islander, including Australian Aborigine.

I am thrilled with this result, however meaningless it might be. I love the idea of being more Asian than solely Indian.

I will end this blog post by reflecting on what it means to be 51. Well…. not much. Turning 50 was both spiritual and traumatizing. At 51, I am stunned to be in a position to still have all my loved ones intact, relatively healthy and happy. I am doubly stunned to be financially stable, happy with my career, and physically insanely robust. I am most pleased –and surprised– to be in a loving relationship with a woman well out of my league, and to have the completely unforeseen daily validation of my adopted canine son.

A 51st birthday is something of a miracle. Historically, a sliver of the population was granted such longevity, though today it is commonplace. And I fully intend for this to be, at the very least, a third of the way through; so I ain’t done yet. But what supposed maturity and some indicators of personal success have granted me is the luxury to consider what is important for the next phase of life. It’s not career or measurable accomplishment or achievement. It’s entirely about personal relationships and seeking meaning through thought, contemplation, self-development, and interpersonal exchange.

Then again, let’s check in again at 52 and see if I’ve got that sports car, blue hair, and steroids. You never know.