Category Archives: Personal

The Worst Fear

I don’t know how to function with the anxiety I’ve got bottled up inside me. It has been growing ever since the election but this week it has reached a new height (or maybe depth) that I hadn’t known before.

Perhaps I should preface by saying that I was born in India to a Muslim family, emigrated to the US in 1996 and was naturalized in 2001 a few months before 9/11. My family is quite religious, as is most of my extended family. Both my brother and I drifted away from faith, and no longer strictly identify as Muslim. It’s something I still yearn for, I miss the community that comes with faith, and though Judaism underwent a reform movement that gave rise to secularism within the faith, no such alternative exists for Muslims that I’m aware of. Yet, I’d still classify myself as a secular Muslim, if such a thing can be said to exist.

My wife in a American-born citizen, though she did change her last name to mine, and my children – both born here – have Muslim names.

I bring all this up, because I’m afraid of what the current administration is proposing – and I admit that my fear is irrational. As of 1/26/2017, INS and ICE are planning to go after undocumented immigrants for eviction and deportation, regardless of their family situation. That’s not me – I am an American citizen, I have an American passport, I have a Social Security number, I have been married to a citizen for 12 years – but I’m afraid, that after the undocumented immigrants, the next target will be registered Muslims.

When I picture my worst fear, I see myself forced to leave my home and family, whether it’s due to deportation or internment of some sort. I imagine having to say goodbye to my kids, one of whom is too young to even remember me. I can picture him saying “Bye bye Dada” as he does whenever I leave, not realizing that I don’t know when or if I’ll be back.

Of course these fears are irrational, I know that, I live in New York City which is putting up a great deal of resistance to the administration’s efforts to deport even the undocumented let alone naturalized immigrants; but I think irrational fear is the kind that keeps you awake at night, staring at a dark spot in the ceiling, without any certainty for what will come next.

There are documents in Washington with my name and picture from 20 years ago, my fingerprints, that list my country of origin as India and my religion as Muslim. Today, those documents are in the hands of people who seem to be hellbent on making America Christian and White again. I don’t know what sort of actions they’ll take.

Irrational and absurd thoughts enter my mind, like what if I’m deported – what happens to my holdings and properties? Should I see a lawyer about having my name taken off the house deed so that it’s in my wife’s name alone? Should I transfer my 401k and IRA into her name as well, just in case? Put them in trust for the kids? Should I change their name to John and Henry? How can I secure my family from the uncertainty of a future I can’t fathom?

This government has made me afraid, irrationally afraid. And I resent this fear – I don’t want to have to live with uncertainty because of a xenophobic policy. And yet, there’s nothing for me to do but continue on like everything is fine, afraid that any moment will break this normality, so I keep waiting for it to happen, constantly walking with hunched shoulders, ready for the other shoe to drop.

I can’t undo this knot in my stomach, I can’t swallow this lead ball in my throat choking me, and the terror of being separated from my family hangs on me like a burning coat sewn into my skin. And I don’t know what to do about any of it.

2016 Sucks

The level of anxiety and stress I’m experiencing over this election is unbelievable. It hasn’t been a good year for many reasons, mostly to do with health issues throughout the family (except for my older son, thankfully). The election has only added to the miserable cloud raining crap over everything.

In this bleak look back, there’s one bright moment of light, and that was our Irish vacation – it was a lovely country to explore, and I was very sorry to leave when we did. Dublin is a wonderful mixture of the modern and antique, while the countryside retains a primordial and elemental beauty that I haven’t seen since I visited Scotland an age ago.

But I returned to these shores, and plunged headlong into the most banal and mundane problems, each of which deserves its own essay, but age has also made me more private so I sequester those thoughts rather than letting them out to play on a blog, like I once did, many years ago. This privacy is also rather isolating, as I found that airing out gloom is a good way to banish the bats of depression. There’s no solution to this problem, I’m merely acknowledging its existence.

I’m naturally voting for Hillary – and I’m happy to do it. I think she’s liberal, pragmatic and no more or less stained politically than any politician with as much time in the public sector as she has. Reports claim that she’s rather more honest than the median politician, which is good, and the fact that she’s embraced socially progressive politics is hopeful to me. Yes, she’s got a hawkish demeanor, but I think that’s something I’m willing to compromise on, and I’m also able to accept that a country like America sometimes will need to intervene in international incidents. I’m not an isolationist.

All of that said – my biggest issue with this election (like all others) is that it diminishes the actual issues I want to see addressed.

  1. I want someone, anyone, to talk about Global Warming in detail, I want to hear what they want to do about it in concrete steps, I want to hear about carbon extraction from atmosphere, I want to hear about a plan to reduce ocean acidification. Tell me about a massive move to clean grids, scaling back private transport use at least in clustered American urban centers… something. Paying lip service to the existence of Global Warming doesn’t come close to what I need to hear about what I think is the most pressing concern of our time.
  2. Someone needs to step up and talk about minimum living income. Whether its a negative tax rate below a certain threshold or a check that goes out to every citizen – at some point, there needs to be a realization that we’ve moved from a manufacturing industry to a data industry, primarily because of automation. And we’re heading towards a second wave of automation that will put the majority of the world out of work. What’s their plan for when unemployment hits 50%? Clothing, feeding, sheltering and providing medical care for every human being on the planet is within our means. The fact that we don’t do it in the interest of corporate profits is a crime against humanity.
  3. Education needs to become more affordable because the vast majority of people who’re being left behind in this automation are people who have little to no education, people with no options to move on when their blue-collar job vanishes never to return. Part of the Trump wave are these people aggressively ignored by the Democrats or pandered to without any follow-up. Trump is lying to them about bringing back industry – we know that’s a dead end. They clearly want to work – what do you have to offer them?
  4. On a more modest note, adding single-payer to the ACA to cap insurance costs shouldn’t take more than a simple vote. It will force insurance companies to compete beneath the level set by the Federal government while VIP plans can cost whatever they want. If it leads insurance companies to scale back their employees, then so be it – but to allow industry to hold citizens healthcare hostage is disgusting. The boogeyman of “this hurts industry” is smaller than the wraith of extinction hanging over humanity.

Everything else is behind these issues for me. I guess I want a technocrat in power who’s capable of working with science and industry leaders to move aggressively on topical concerns. One of the things I don’t care about is security – I don’t understand the American mindset of fear. Maybe it’s because I lived in India through race-riots, political turmoil, street violence and so forth, but I kind of accept the uncertainty of life as a given – I’m not willing to sacrifice the multi-generational concerns over a guerrilla proxy-war with Russia half-way around the planet. The last two times that happened, it was Vietnam and Afghanistan, and we all know how those turned out.

I don’t hold out any hope of these concerns being answered at the debate tonight, or any point between now and the election, but I hope I can get some sleep once President Hillary Clinton is sworn in. And I’m already hoping for a better 2017 while it’s only mid-October.


When I run games, they become filters for me to experiment and play with themes and ideas that I enjoy most – namely horror tropes and elements of Gothic storytelling and tragedy, all seeped in misty atmosphere. I might even go so far as to say, my games allow me to be decadent in my indulgence of these thematic elements, and I might occasionally go overboard.

So last year, when my gaming group’s resident GM moved across the country to pursue a job at Paizo game company, I volunteered and took up the dice to run a game. The group enjoys playing through the long, connecting stories that Paizo publishes in six volumes called Adventure Paths, and I quite like the books they’ve put out so I’m happy to oblige. We decided on a vote to see which of the dozens of Adventures Paths we’d play next – the epic fantasy of reclaiming the world wound? The war against an underground army ? A classic adventure of Fantasy kingdom building?

Somehow, to everyone’s surprise, the Adventure Path that emerged was the Gothic Horror – a path that sneaked into the list for reasons I don’t even recall. I certainly never suggested it, and I didn’t vote for it either. And yet, it came out on top somehow!

To say the Adventure Path was in my wheelhouse would be an understatement. The whole adventure is set in a Gothic Horror setting, with mist and moors and mountains, an ever-hanging threat from a restless but slumbering undead wizard demi-god, vampires and serial killers in urban centers, werewolves in the woods and haunted old buildings everywhere.

Well, who’m I to say no to the people’s will? I dove in with gusto, running the adventure path more or less as written, but for the occasional flourish of Gothic flair. Everyone has been enjoying the game, and I haven’t had to do much more than play out the story as written. I’ve been quite restrained with my wishes to meddle with the story and to push it even further into horror tropes and themes.

That is, until the players decided to nibble at one stray side-quest that I tossed out to gauge interest. Like travelers in some Hammer Films production from the sixties, the characters arrived at an old inn in the countryside, and descended into a valley to recover some lost children of a failed branch of a once-noble family.

What followed was an utterly self-indulgent tale that ran characters through a barely-disguised Fall of the House of Usher remake. Roderick and Madeline were there, one wounded and failing, the other drained of all vitality, their children under the dark guidance of wraiths.

A valley full of mists where a servant’s corpse swings above a deep, cold pool, crypts beneath the house where generations lie restlessly, a haunted harpsichord, Roderick’s unexplained disappearance, Madeline’s utterly self-destructive depression, a girl unable to stop playing the same music over and over, past the point of exhaustion, a boy who follows new friends down a dark chamber to fall to his death, the youngest daughter, lost in the woods and hiding within a tree-hollow, like some feral animal, afraid of the sun.

By the time all was said and done, the players walked away from the house, a fire consuming its rotten timbers, before a crack split the house at last, like a rotten beam sighing with relief to be put out of its misery.

I do feel a little bit guilty for indulging myself so much, but man, did I have fun.


Taking the initiative isn’t difficult for me. When problems rear their heads, I’m always eager to jump in and start solving them. At work, this has led to me taking on some fairly tough programming projects and they’re the kind of things that get you noticed. They get you a seat at the table in the boardroom when major initiatives are being discussed.

I was able to take advantage of that privilege for a long time. For many years, I had a place in the boardroom. But as the company has evolved into a more structured and corporate entity, it has also evolved more doorways. Portals to hop through, documents to sign, time accounted for, and technology management has grown skeptical of initiatives that aren’t driven by the sales group.

It leaves me frustrated – I have ideas, I want to drive initiatives, but instead, I throw them out in meetings and watch them flounder on the table, gasping for air. I wind up being the mouth-piece for innovation or improvement or even research when it’s my superiors who should be doing this work. Alas, it isn’t so, and I return to my desk with an empty piece of paper instead of excited notes about something new to research and develop. The mundane project-tracking task-list has replaced the passionately scribbled words and hastily drawn diagrams outlining new ideas.

While the change has frustrated me, I can admit that there are some advantages – it keeps wasteful work at bay, and makes my use of time more specific, ensuring that whatever I do is directly actionable. Sometimes, projects drag on a bit too long, research doesn’t work out to prove a hypothesis and time (and resources) gets wasted. (I’d argue that time spent closing a dead-end isn’t wasted, as it keeps that possibility from popping up again, but that’s neither here nor there.)

With my projects at home, I have a similar problem as I outlined earlier. Too many pots on too many stoves, because ideas are cheap and execution is fucking hard. It’s not just a question of picking and choosing, it’s a question of applying that initiative in impactful, actionable ways. I might scoff at task-lists, but I’m never more productive than when I’m working off of a task-list.

In fact, I find most task-list applications (because I’ve used at least a half-dozen by now, and have settled on Google’s Keep) to be woefully inadequate and have often played around with the idea of writing my own task-list program that ties into e-mail, calenders, build hierarchies, inter-dependencies… but there’s that ugly specter of available bandwidth, and do I really want to buy a new kitchen right now?

What the point, today? Well, the point is, I’m happy that I haven’t given up on my initiatives. I still toss them out, sometimes even lobbing huge, quivering Tunas on the table that splatter everyone with briny water and flop about, demanding attention. If the poor thing winds up unloved, ignored and dead – well, at least I’ll have Tuna for lunch.

Family Expanding

Back in March, I wrote about the imminent spawning of my second child.

Well, he arrived back on the tenth of July. My world has turned a bit backward and upside-down since then, in a good sense for the most part. We called him Nadim. He’s a quiet kid, with dark hair, a small, curiously inquisitive face, a beak-like mouth that lacks any teeth, and blue-gray eyes like my grandfather, who died while my son was still incubating. His eyes dart around like manic fish in a milky ocean, afraid of an uncertain world full of weird colors and abruptly changing sceneries, where the only security comes from the voice he heard when he first grew ears. No matter where my wife goes, when she speaks, he turns toward her immediately.

His hands are small enough that when he wraps it around my finger, it only covers half the digit and his toothless mouth is always working, as if he’s trying to express the state of his being without language or sound. His lips shiver every so often, no matter the temperature, and when I holds his limbs together in a knot and then let go, they open wide, the hands ready to grasp at something that might save him from falling. A futile, but sweet gift of evolution, for the baby has no strength to hold itself up. His neck is so weak that his head wobbles, like a bobble-headed doll.

My older son has gone through a few phases and arrived at last to the station of acceptance, despite being initially charmed by his brother. On first meeting, he held the infant in his lap and sang him a song, creating a moment that filled me with such complex emotions, I felt ready to burst as if I couldn’t contain all the feelings. Things have become more prosaic since. We retain our late-night rituals. In a sign of the ever-marching pace of time, he achieved his own milestone, starting Pre-K yesterday. Things change, things move on. The seed plated so recently is already a sapling, the plant you were watering has turned into a shrub.

I think my greatest regret is that my grandmother died before she could meet either of my kids. Much like my younger son who was incubating as my grandfather died, so did she take her last breath while my first son grew in his mother’s womb. I took so much pleasure from introducing my first son to my grandfather, that I – greedily, I know – wish I had been able to introduce both of them to the people who were my surrogate parents.

Regret doesn’t even buy you a cup of coffee, I know. But that doesn’t keep it from knocking on your door, crashing on your couch, putting its dirty feet on the table and drinking that brew you’d been saving for a special night.


In the dusty aftermath of those initial nights after the baby was born, I found myself wandering Manhattan streets at midnight after leaving the hospital in a hazy overemotional state that demanded some room to breathe. Since then, time has started to contract and become so much more valuable. Green moments are hard to come by, everything is laden with importance and moments become heavy, demanding recognition. They pile up until there’s not enough space on the table to lay them all out, and dissect them, as one wants to, in the contracted frames that this urgent time demands Pressure adds up, becoming unbearable enough that it makes me lash out.

I leave Rorschach patterns in my wake, walking towards something old and new at once. I excavate them for words, and then cobble them into stories. Down in the word-mines, where I continue to toil, there is some light at last. Someone has turned on the generator, it makes the Canary sing, adding some cheer to the gloom. If I find a suitable gem for polishing, maybe I can make my way back out, for a little while.

I should now be back to my regular schedule of irregularly posting whatever comes to mind.

A Late Night Chat

My son, who’s in the later half of his third year of life, is pretty good about sleeping through the night in his own room at this point. Most nights, I don’t hear anything from him till the sun comes up, and he usually comes to wake us up for water or bathroom or if he’s really hot or cold in his room or something like that.

Last night was an exception.

He kept waking up crying, and my wife went to see him and would come back frustrated, she couldn’t make out what he was saying or why he was up. This happened two or three times, and eventually her patience broke. The next time he woke up, I went to see him – it was about midnight, and he was crying a bit.

Some pointed questioning and interrogation ensued and he eventually settled on complaining about his night-time water cup. “It’s too small,” he said, as if the reason was self-evident, and I was the child that needed to be educated on the matter. There are fights worth having and this wasn’t one of them. Rather than argue about the value of various cup sizes and the importance of a closed top versus an open one, I shrugged and swapped the small cup out with a larger one that we use during dinner, and he was content with it after a long drink.

Since he was already awake and sleep didn’t sleep likely to come anytime soon, I hung out with him. We were both sitting on his bed, and he kept talking to me about the kinds of stuff that three-year-olds find interesting. The alphabet, whether he was still thirsty or not, what he’d be doing this weekend, the imminent arrival of his baby brother, what was that sound, could I keep the cat out of room somehow, and I listened to him and answered what questions I could between yawns.

Among the exchanges, I had a moment when I realized I was hanging out with my son and we were talking, and I wasn’t mad about being up, and he wasn’t being cranky and sleepless, he just wanted to hang out with me. We chatted for about 15 – 20 minutes and then I asked him if he ready to sleep. After a bit of tossing and turning, he found a comfortable spot (he’s still getting used to his new bunk bed) and I patted his back for a while before heading to my room.

It reminded me of when he was very young, less than 6 months, and one night he just couldn’t fall asleep. He kept crying, and my wife gave up eventually. I went in to hold and rock him to sleep, and he was just so uncomfortable, or cranky from being tired, or whatever it was, that he just squeezed his little eyes shut and wept and wept and wept. But a half hour of rocking and walking and singing later, he quieted, put his head down, and eventually fell asleep.

Another 15 minutes later, I put him down in his crib and sneaked out. I’ll never forget that night, something about it just really shook me up, and I kept tearing up afterward, as if I had never felt quite so much emotion before. The powerlessness of the situation combined with the desire to help him get to sleep made for an incredible cocktail of emotion.

I’m sure all parents have had a moment like that, over something simple like this, or seeing their kid sick and feeling so helpless and useless, when the most you can do is hold them and give them medicine and comfort them through their pain.

But this was a different kind of interaction, it would have been easy to go in, tell him to go back to bed and leave no room for discussion. There are nights where I have done exactly that, if I thought he was just being a brat. But last night, I think he wasn’t being a brat. He was just… confused and tired and and maybe he just wanted a friend for a little while to chat with to help him get back to sleep.

It was the kind of interaction I’d never had with my dad. He was very distant and aloof. When I had my kid, I was worried I’d be like that. I’m also the primary disciplinarian in our home, so he sees me as a sort of ogre sometimes, and is quick to obey me but is definitely his mother’s son.

Sharing a moment like this meant so much to me in more ways than just connecting with my son. It gave me hope that maybe I’m not a terrible dad, and maybe I’ll have a better relationship with him than I had with my own dad.

Of course, we got hit with a major thunderstorm last night with bright sheet-lightning and booming thunder, so he wound up in our room anyway, but that’s neither here nor there.

Old Man at a Metal Show

I enjoy live music, so much so that before my son was born, it wasn’t unusual for me to see maybe as many as 2 or 3 shows in certain months. Many of the shows I attended were small, relatively underground metal bands in small venues. As a man in my mid twenties, the shows were ideally suited for the sort of intellectual pleasure one can take in supporting a hobby that feels like it’s well-south of mainstream media and well-north of the line between commercialism and art.

In other words, seeing what I called then (and I suppose, what I still call) serious, underground metal, noise and post-hardcore bands gave me a feeling of inclusion in a small yet important art scene. The audience was primarily made up of a mixture of mature metal fans, hipsters, and even some older people with seriously broad musical taste.

As the years rolled on, I found the gap between my age and the audience attending the shows widen to a point where the twenty-four year old version of me who first saw Isis play Panopticon at the now-defunct Avalon back in 2004 would call me The Old Guy standing in the back, still wearing work clothes, sipping a cocktail and talking to his friend instead of standing pressed against the front of the stage soaking up every note of music. I would wonder why he was even there, if he wasn’t really interested in the music. Maybe he was trying to relive his youth or something. A mild irritation would flood me at the moment, as if his presence was diluting the sanctity of the scene.

But time changes perspective, and my transition from the front of the venue toward the back has been a subtle one – I remember the first time I saw a band and thought – well, maybe I’d better just stand to one side tonight, because it’s going to get pretty rough. When the prospect of injury caused me to stay further back or to the side and miss out on the frontal-assault of bass-drum-thump that pummels the chest. I also remember when I went from being excited that a band was continuing to play past 2am to irritably checking my watch as the hour ticked closer to midnight, wondering when the show will finish as I do have to be up at 6:30am with my son, and I do have a meeting at 9:30am that I still need to prep in the morning. Now, the best shows are when the band finishes up by eleven.

Perhaps the biggest change has been the time in spend inside the venue – most shows have at least a couple of openers and a decade ago, I showed up to see every band, I didn’t relinquish my position and I certainly didn’t drink at the venue – for one, I was too poor to afford Manhattan prices at the time, but for another, drinking would require a biological function and that meant you would give up the choice spot earned through early attendance. Also, the four, five, and on some occasions even six or seven hours of standing through all the bands required a stamina I no longer have. I once stood for 7 straight hours in the Brooklyn Masonic Temple to see Iron EaglePelican, Earth, and Sunn O))) play from 8pm till 3am. One of the best nights of my life but I doubt I could ever duplicate that feat again. My feet begin to ache after three or four hours, and I begin to wonder if a taxi might be a better option than the walk to the subway and then the walk home from there. And really, I’d rather miss the first opener (unless it’s someone really good, like, say, Decapitated who opened for Meshuggah), just hang out at a bar and get a late dinner before getting to the show just in time for the main act or the second opener.

Now, when I see the twenty-three year old with a four days of scruff, bleary eyes from sleepless nights spent chasing other shows this week, wearing clothes that are wrinkled, scowling at the stage as the band wraps up early, I think, yes, that was me eleven years ago. And maybe one day, if I’m lucky, my kids will come with me to a show like this, standing embarrassed by my presence, just a few feet away to put some distance so my age won’t reflect badly on them.

Last night, as we left a sweaty and body-odor filled space of packed bodies and crossed a urine-soaked hallway from overflowing toilets after a Mastodon show, I looked at my friend and said, “What was the last time we saw someone quiet?” He couldn’t remember, and we thought, well, maybe Mazzy Star was touring again. Slowdive is on tour across Europe, and didn’t Mogwai just play the city a few weeks ago? We must have missed it. Will have to keep our eyes open.

For now, I’m still there, once every couple of months, watching bands new and old, tear up the stage with immense riffs and pummeling the audience with massive beats. Except I’m just the guy standing further back, out of the crowds, checking my phone and hoping for an early night.

And that’s okay.