My fav newsletter – Brainpickings.org


 This is the brainpickings.org weekly digest by Maria Popova. If you missed last week’s edition — Emily Dickinson’s electric love letters to Susan Gilbert, Hermann Hesse on hope and the difficult art of taking responsibility, an illustrated celebration of the heroes who won women political power — you can catch up right here. (Also: Don’t miss the annual selections of the year’s loveliest children’s books and overall favorite books.) And if you are enjoying this newsletter, please consider supporting my labor of love with a donation – each month, I spend hundreds of hours and tremendous resources on it, and every little bit of support helps enormously. If you already donate: THANK YOU.

The Eternal Return: Nietzsche’s Brilliant Thought Experiment Illustrating the Key to Existential Contentment

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Chance and choice converge to make us who we are, and although we may mistake chance for choice, our choices are the cobblestones, hard and uneven, that pave our destiny. They are ultimately all we can answer for and point to in the architecture of our character. Joan Didion captured this with searing lucidity in defining character as “the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life” and locating in that willingness the root of self-respect.

A century before Didion, Friedrich Nietzsche (October 15, 1844–August 25, 1900) composed the score for harmonizing our choices and our contentment with the life they garner us. Nietzsche, who greatly admired Emerson’s ethos of nonconformity and self-reliant individualism, wrote fervently, almost frenetically, about how to find yourself and what it means to be a free spirit. He saw the process of becoming oneself as governed by the willingness to own one’s choices and their consequences — a difficult willingness, yet one that promises the antidote to existential hopelessness, complacency, and anguish.

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Friedrich Nietzsche

The legacy of that deceptively simple yet profound proposition is what philosopher John J. Kaag explores in Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are(public library) — part masterwork of poetic scholarship, part contemplative memoir concerned with the most fundamental question of human life: What gives our existence meaning?

The answer, Kaag suggests in drawing on Nietzsche’s most timeless ideas, challenges our ordinary understanding of selfhood and its cascading implications for happiness, fulfillment, and the building blocks of existential contentment. He writes:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngThe self is not a hermetically sealed, unitary actor (Nietzsche knew this well), but its flourishing depends on two things: first, that it can choose its own way to the greatest extent possible, and then, when it fails, that it can embrace the fate that befalls it.

At the center of Nietzsche’s philosophy is the idea of eternal return — the ultimate embrace of responsibility that comes from accepting the consequences, good or bad, of one’s willful action. Embedded in it is an urgent exhortation to calibrate our actions in such a way as to make their consequences bearable, livable with, in a hypothetical perpetuity. Nietzsche illustrates the concept with a simple, stirring thought experiment in his final book, Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngWhat if some day or night a demon were to steal into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live and have lived it you will have to live once again and innumerable times again; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unspeakably small or great in your life must return to you, all in the same succession and sequence — even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself…”

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Art from The Magic Boat — a vintage “interactive” children’s book by Freud’s eccentric niece Tom Seidmann-Freud

Like the demon in Kepler’s visionary short story The Dream — the first work of genuine science fiction, which occupies the opening chapter of Figuring and which the great astronomer used as an allegorical tool for awakening the superstition-lulled medieval mind to the then-radical reality of the Copernican model of the universe — Nietzsche’s demon is not a metaphysical extravagance but a psychological gauntlet, an alarm for awakening to the most radical existential reality. At the heart of the thought experiment is the disquieting question of whether our lives, as we are living them, are worth living. Kaag writes:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngNietzsche’s demon… is a challenge — or, better, a question — that is to be answered not in words but in the course of life: “The question in each and every thing, ‘Do you want this again and innumerable times again?’ would lie on your actions as the heaviest weight! Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to long for nothing more fervently than for this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?”

Are we, in the words of William Butler Yeats, “content to live it all again”? Being content in this sense is not being distracted from, or lulled to sleep by, or resigning oneself to a fate that cannot be avoided. It is to live to your heart’s content with the knowledge that you will do this, and everything, again, forever. We made our last turn into the Waldhaus driveway and came to rest beneath its canopied entryway. Nietzsche suggests that the affirmation of the eternal return is possible only if one is willing and able to become well-adjusted to life and to oneself. To be well-adjusted, for Nietzsche, is to choose, wholeheartedly, what we think and where we find and create meaning. The specter of infinite monotony was for Nietzsche the abiding impetus to assume absolute responsibility: if one’s choices are to be replayed endlessly, they’d better be the “right” ones.

There is a beautiful meta-layer to the book — Kaag is writing after returning to Piz Corvatsch, where he had first hiked as a tortured nineteen-year-old on the brink of suicide, hoping to find sanity and salvation in the footsteps of his brilliant, half-demented hero. Revisiting “Nietzsche’s mountain” as an adult cusping on middle age, with his beloved — also a philosopher, though of the warring Kantian camp — and their young daughter, Kaag is performing a real-life enactment of the eternal return. He is thrust into the deepest, most disquieting, yet ultimately buoyant evaluation of the choices he has made in the decades since and their combinatorial consequence in the life he is now living — a life, in the end, well worth living.

He considers the power of Nietzsche’s thought experiment as a tool for calibrating our lives for true contentment:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngIt might be tempting to think that the “rightness” of a decision could be affixed by some external moral or religious standard, but Nietzsche wants his readers to resist this temptation. Nietzsche’s demon, after all, comes to us when we are all alone, his question can be heard only in one’s “loneliest loneliness,” and therefore the answer cannot be given by consensus or on behalf of some impersonal institutions. It is, indeed, the most personal of answers — the one that always determines an individual choice. Of course you can choose anything you want, to raise children or get married, but don’t pretend to do it because these things have some sort of intrinsic value — they don’t. Do it solely because you chose them and are willing to own up to them. In the story of our lives, these choices are ours and ours alone, and this is what gives things, all things, value. Only when one realizes this is he or she prepared to face the eternal recurrence, the entire cycle, without the risk of being crushed. Only then is one able to say with Yeats, “[A]nd yet again,” and truly mean it.

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Art from Creation by Bhajju Shyam — a collection of illustrated origin myths from Indian folklore

With an eye to Hermann Hesse’s wisdom on the difficult art of taking responsibility, Kaag adds:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngPerhaps the hardest part of the eternal return is to own up to the tortures that we create for ourselves and those we create for others. Owning up: to recollect, to regret, to be responsible, ultimately to forgive and love.

Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are is an incandescent read in its entirety. Complement it with Walt Whitman on what makes life worth livingand Bertrand Russell on how to grow old with contentment, then revisit Nietzsche himself on the journey of becoming who you arethe true value of educationdepression and the rehabilitation of hopethe power of music, and how we use language to both conceal and reveal reality.

FORWARD TO A FRIEND/READ ONLINE/Like https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/12/19/hiking-with-nietzsche-john-kaag-eternal-return/ on Facebook

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A 100-Year-Old Holocaust Survivor on How Books Save Lives

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It is often said that books save lives. Most of the time, however heartfelt the sentiment, it is figurative. Every once in an improbable while, it approximates the literal. But only on the rarest of occasions, in the most extreme of circumstances, do books become lifelines in the realest sense.

One such occasion is immortalized in A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader (public library) — the collection I spent eight years putting together in the hope of showing young people how essential reading is to an inspired and inspiring life. There are original illustrated letters about the transformative and transcendent power of reading from some immensely inspiring humans — scientists like Jane Goodall and Janna Levin, artists like Marina Abramović and Debbie Millman, musicians like Yo-Yo Ma, Amanda Palmer, and David Byrne, entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Tim Ferriss, poets like Mary Oliver, Elizabeth Alexander, and Sarah Kay, media pioneers like Kevin Kelly, Jad Abumrad, and Shonda Rhimes, beloved writers of literature for young people like Jacqueline Woodson, Judy Blume, and Neil Gaiman, and a great many celebrated authors of books for so-called grownups. But one of the most powerful letters comes from someone whose name might not, or at least not yet, mean much to many: Helen Fagin.

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Art by Ingrid Gordon for Helen Fagin’s letter from A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader.

Helen was twenty-one when her family was imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland. She and her sisters managed to escape, but they lost both of their parents in the Holocaust. Helen arrived in America not speaking a word of English, then went on to earn a Ph.D. and teach literature for more than two decades. She devoted her life to elucidating the moral lessons of humanity’s darkest hour and was instrumental in the creation of the Holocaust Memorial in Washington, D.C. To this day, she remains a voracious reader of literature and moral philosophy, swimming effortlessly from Whitman to Camus and back again in a single conversation.

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Helen Fagin, a week after her 100th birthday, with Ash Gaiman. Photograph by Amanda Palmer.

Helen happens to be my dear friend Neil Gaiman’s cousin. One day over dinner, having just visited her in Florida, a very animated Neil told me the incredible story of how a book — a particular book — became a lifeline for the teenage girls at the secret school Helen had set up in the Warsaw Ghetto as an antidote to the innumerable assaults against dignity to which the Nazis subjected these Jewish youths: the denial of basic education. Her story stopped me up short as the profoundest embodiment of the core ethos of A Velocity of Being, and so I invited her to tell it in a letter.

To celebrate the publication of the book, which Helen sees as an invaluable part of her legacy, I asked her to read her letter for the New York Public Library launch event. She was 97 at the time she wrote her letter and is approaching her 101st birthday as she reads it:

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2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngDear Friend,

Could you imagine a world without access to reading, to learning, to books?

At twenty-one, I was forced into Poland’s WWII ghetto, where being caught reading anything forbidden by the Nazis meant, at best, hard labor; at worst, death.

There, I conducted a clandestine school offering Jewish children a chance at the essential education denied them by their captors. But I soon came to feel that teaching these sensitive young souls Latin and mathematics was cheating them of something far more essential — what they needed wasn’t dry information but hope, the kind that comes from being transported into a dream-world of possibility.

One day, as if guessing my thoughts, one girl beseeched me: “Could you please tell us a book, please?”

I had spent the previous night reading Gone with the Wind — one of a few smuggled books circulated among trustworthy people via an underground channel, on their word of honor to read only at night, in secret. No one was allowed to keep a book longer than one night — that way, if reported, the book would have already changed hands by the time the searchers came.

I had read Gone with the Wind from dusk until dawn and it still illuminated my own dream-world, so I invited these young dreamers to join me. As I “told” them the book, they shared the loves and trials of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara, of Ashley and Melanie Wilkes. For that magical hour, we had escaped into a world not of murder but of manners and hospitality. All the children’s faces had grown animated with new vitality.

A knock at the door shattered our shared dream-world. As the class silently exited, a pale green-eyed girl turned to me with a tearful smile: “Thank you so very much for this journey into another world. Could we please do it again, soon?” I promised we would, although I doubted we’d have many more chances. She put her arms around me and I whispered, “So long, Scarlett.” “I think I’d rather be Melanie,” she answered, “although Scarlett must have been so much more beautiful!”

As events in the ghetto took their course, most of my fellow dreamers fell victim to the Nazis. Of the twenty-two pupils in my secret school, only four survived the Holocaust.

The pale green-eyed girl was one of them.

Many years later, I was finally able to locate her and we met in New York. One of my life’s greatest rewards will remain the memory of our meeting, when she introduced me to her husband as “the source of my hopes and my dreams in times of total deprivation and dehumanization.”

There are times when dreams sustain us more than facts. To read a book and surrender to a story is to keep our very humanity alive.

Sincerely,

Helen Fagin

Special thanks to Helen’s children, Gary and Judith Fagin, for filming this video, and most of all to Neil and Amanda for bringing this remarkable person into my world and, through her contribution to A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader, into our shared human world. What an honor.

Complement with a peek inside this massive labor of love eight years in the making, all proceeds from which we are donating to the New York public library system, then sit down with a cup of tea and watch the recording of the NYPL launch celebration — a magical evening of readings by sixteen of our letter writers, original art for the letters, live literature-inspired music, and a roomful of largehearted love of books.

FORWARD TO A FRIEND/READ ONLINE/Like https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/12/18/a-velocity-of-being-helen-fagin/ on Facebook

The Art of Waiting: Reclaiming the Pleasures of Durational Being in an Instant Culture of Ceaseless Doing

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“It is we who are passing when we say time passes,” the French philosopher Henri Bergson insisted a century ago, just before Einstein defeated him in the historic debate that revolutionized our understanding of time“If our heart were large enough to love life in all its detail, we would see that every instant is at once a giver and a plunderer,” his compatriot and colleague Gaston Bachelard observed in contemplating our paradoxical relationship with time a decade later, long before the technology-accelerated baseline haste of our present era had plundered the life out of living. “Time is the substance I am made of,” Borges wrote in his spectacular confrontation with time yet another decade later. “Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.”

We are indeed creatures of time who live with it and in it, on the picketed patch of spacetime we have each been allotted. But if time is the foundational baseboard of our being, what happens to the structure of our lives in a culture of doing?

That is what Jason Farman explores in Delayed Response: The Art of Waiting from the Ancient to the Instant World (public library) — a part-philosophical, part-poetic effort to reclaim waiting “not as a burden, but as an important feature of human connection, intimacy, and learning.” He writes:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngWaiting isn’t an in-between time. Instead, this often-hated and underappreciated time has been a silent force that has shaped our social interactions. Waiting isn’t a hurdle keeping us from intimacy and from living our lives to our fullest. Instead, waiting is essential to how we connect as humans through the messages we send. Waiting shapes our social lives in many ways, and waiting is something that can benefit us. Waiting can be fruitful. If we lose it, we will lose the ways that waiting shapes vital elements of our lives like social intimacy, the production of knowledge, and the creative practices that depend on the gaps formed by waiting.

[…]

An embrace of the moments when waiting becomes visible can remind us not of the time we are losing but of the ways we can demystify the mythology of instantaneous culture and ever-accelerating paces of “real time.” Notions of instantaneous culture promise that access to what we desire can be fulfilled immediately. However, this logic that dominates the current approaches to the tech industry misses the power of waiting and the embedded role it plays in our daily lives.

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Discus chronologicus, a German depiction of time from the early 1720s, from Cartographies of Time

Although waiting is different from stillness — another essential, modernity-endangered state of being — in having an object of anticipation, a thing we are waiting for, it is kindred in that recalibrating our experience of waiting not as tortuous but as fertile requires a certain inner stillness that defies the forward slash of the soul toward the awaited. Farman chronicles some of the landmark technologies that have shaped our relationship with waiting — from aboriginal message sticks to the postage stamp to the buffering icon to Japan’s mobile messaging system deployed in the wake of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami — to explore how we can allay the durational restlessness of our lives.

One of the most fascinating and pause-giving chapters of the book uses astrophysics as a lens on waiting — a field in which the greatest discoveries take decades, sometimes centuries, of incubation, prototyping, and testing in the laboratory of reality we call nature. (Take, for instance, the detection of gravitational waves — the most monumental astrophysical breakthrough in our lifetime and the greatest since Galileo — a triumph with a remarkable century-long buildup.)

With an eye to the New Horizons interplanetary space probe — which revolutionized our understanding of the Solar System in faint whispers of data transmitted across three billion miles of cosmic expanse, dripping at a rate vastly smaller than that at which earthlings stream YouTube videos and upload photos to Instagram — Farman frames waiting an essential building block of the speculative imagination, a period that allows for the cultivation of what Bertrand Russell so poetically and memorably termed “a largeness of contemplation”:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngThe New Horizons mission is a perfect example of the vital relationship between waiting and knowledge. The unknown creates speculation as we try to fill in the gaps of knowledge with everything from educated guesses to fear-inspired myths about what lies beyond the edge of our understanding.

This mode of speculation creates a new way of thinking. Our imaginations allow us to access that which does not yet exist and create scenarios that have not yet happened. Wait times are key to this mode of creative thinking because they afford us the opportunity to imagine and speculate about worlds beyond our own immediate places and speculate about the possible.

Nearly a century after T.S. Eliot — the poet laureate of “the still point of the turning world” — insisted on the creative value of the incubation period, Farman writes:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngWaiting, as represented by silences, gaps, and distance, allows us the capacity to imagine that which does not yet exist and, ultimately, innovate into those new worlds as our knowledge expands.

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Illustration by Lisbeth Zwerger for a special edition of Alice in Wonderland

In another chapter, he turns to Samuel Beckett’s classic play Waiting for Godot to reframe waiting not as a stoic feat of endurance in the name of some anticipated reward but as a process transformative and rewarding in its very unfolding — a sort of training ground for hope, which is ultimately training ground for character:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngBeckett’s play, in its many violations of theatrical norms, strips away plot expectations to make a comment on the human condition. Godot symbolizes whatever we wait for, whatever we long for, whatever we rely on to save us from our current state of uncertainty and despair. Godot represents the promise of what might come on the other side of our waiting.

[…]

It shows how time flows through us and changes us. Day after day, as we wait for the things we desire, we become different people. In the act of waiting, we become who we are. Waiting points to our desires and hopes for the future; and while that future may never arrive and our hopes may never be fulfilled, the act of reflecting on waiting teaches us about ourselves. The meaning of life isn’t deferred until that thing we hope for arrives; instead, in the moment of waiting, meaning is located in our ability to recognize the ways that such hopes define us.

At the end of the book, Farman offers two practical strategies for recalibrating our experience of waiting from burdensome to fruitful. The first is a deceptively simple yet effective discipline of shifting focus from the negative feelings waiting breeds — boredom, helplessness, anger — to a reminder of the positive object of the waiting. As soon as we remember, really remember, what we are waiting for and why we want it, Farman argues, the frustration of waiting is neutralized.

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Art by Salvador Dalí for a rare 1946 edition of the essays of Montaigne

But far more interesting and profound is the second tactic. Farman proposes a radical shift of viewing time not as individual but as collective, which is inherently a radical act of empathy — the willingness to accept another’s time as just as valuable as our own, however different our circumstances may be. Embedded in this act is a challenge to the power structures of the status quo, for it forces us to consider who is imposing the wait times on whom and who benefits from that imposition. In a sentiment that calls to mind the fascinating science of why empathy is a clock that ticks in the consciousness of another, Farman writes:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngIf my time is distinct from your time, and you end up wasting my time by valuing your own, you have robbed me of my resource (time). When you value your own time instead of my time, you have effectively stolen minutes (or hours) from me. We see these attitudes in abundance.

However, if we shift perspectives and see our time as intertwined with one another’s, then we are all investing our time in other people’s circumstances.

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Art by Isol from Daytime Visions

Farman recounts a not-uncommon experience: At the grocery store, he finds himself getting reflexively frustrated with the woman ahead of him, who is taking too much time to check out. Only upon realizing that she is counting food stamps and coupons does he transport himself, with a pang of shame, into her difficult circumstances. He writes:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngIf we work toward an awareness of time as collective rather than individual, we can come to understand wait time as an investment in the social fabric that connects us. My patience with someone like the woman at the grocery store who has to account for every dollar and pay with food stamps is an investment of my time in her situation. As we invest time in other people through waiting, we become stakeholders in their situations. This has the radical potential to build empathy and to inspire a call for social change, as we realize that not everyone is afforded the same agency for how time is used.

There are times when we should wait and see the benefits of waiting; however, there are times when waiting needs to be resisted. Waiting can be a tool of the powerful to maintain the status quo by forcing people to invest their time in ways that inhibit their ability to transform their situation. Many examples demonstrate the kinds of waiting that reinforce the power dynamics in a society. From the long-delayed recovery efforts and federal dollars following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or the perpetually delayed recovery for Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands after Hurricane Maria in 2017, to the long commute times between home and job (often, jobs) imposed on many people below the poverty line, unequal access to time is revealed in the different ways people are forced to wait. Many social justice advocates like Angela Davis and Michelle Alexander point to prisoners like those sitting in San Quentin as prime examples of those who are forced to wait unjustly. The “prison industrial complex,” as Davis terms it, is fueled by racial inequality that targets African Americans more than any other population

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Ode to Performer – Jay’s Sonnet


Ode to the Performer

Ode to the Performer

A Sonnet by jay

My Performer, you inspire me to write.
How I hate the way you bounce, snort and sneer,
Invading my mind day and through the night,
Always dreaming about the crazed emir.

Let me compare you to a nonmember?
You are more dainty, funny and funny.
Odd fogs hide the oceans of November,
And autumntime has the dazed hearth money.

How do I hate you? Let me count the ways.
I hate your eyelashes and attitude.
Thinking of your raised humour fills my days.
My hate for you is the horrible nude.

Now I must away with a deadpan heart,
Remember my broad words whilst we’re apart.

Pizzeria – A Tanka Poem


Pizzeria - A Tanka Poem

by jay

My pizzeria
It is deadly and sunny.
It has more empty factors
And three exciting sorry
When it looks I feel happy

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Meet my Virtual Friend – Mr. Nelson Wong


Mr. Nelson Wong and I connected on Ecademy, around the year 2004.  We haven’t yet spoken to each other or virtually or physically shaken hands.  We still consider each other as respected friends whose views we like to read and understand.  Ecademy was a great platform where I learnt “ Connections first – Business Later” and I later added – Business may or may not happen ever but we shall acquire a friend. And Indeed, Ecademy had a campaign called a Friend in Every City which was very popular.

When I requested, Nelson about my sort of inactive blog since 2004 which I had re-activated without any SEO or HTML, CSS knowledge and it was going to touch 100,000 views and I wish to interview and share 20 of my friends, colleagues, mentees, Mentors, Seniors – he readily agreed.

He also helped me with the editing of the interview as this is the first time I am doing these and I am grateful for his help for helping with this edition of the said interview.

 

So who is Mr. Nelson Wong?

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Mr. Nelson Wong was born in Singapore. He is married. By way of education, he did his BS in Computer Science & in Business Administration, both at the University at Albany, New York.  By profession he is a trade & data analyst in international trade & finance. He is also an e-Business owner of a start-up – www.jnellyns.com.

He has almost four decades of working experience in IT in the soft commodities, precious metals, oil & gas, accounting & forestry products sectors. He was also an external consultant & international trade analyst with the UNECE/FAO, Geneva, Switzerland, for 9 years.

His critique of current politics in USA is incisive, precise and very authentic.  I enjoy reading his posts on Facebook.

 

 

  1. What motivated you to become what you ARE today?

 

  1. Family background. Growing up in a lower income family motivated me to break out of that poverty cycle. A poverty cycle can become a self-feeding vicious cycle, if you don’t break out of it.
  2. This gave me the tools that I needed to move forward & ahead.
  3. They gave me the encouragement to become what I dare to be today.

 

  1. What is the greatest joy you get from what you do?

 

  1. Seeing what I do accomplished its purpose. Having a purpose in what I do is important to me. Otherwise, it’ll drain me instead of driving me.
  2. In almost everything that I do, I learned something new. This gives me joy too.
  3. The ability to share with others about what I’ve learned. Sometimes, knowledge is very much like manure. Keep it in one place & it benefits nobody. Spread it around & everybody gets a slice of the action.

 

  1. What do your fans mean to you?

 

  1. Not much. My focus has always been on the task at hand.
  2. While I’ve no problems working as a member of a team, I’ve always enjoyed working alone.
  3. While I appreciate having friends who will encourage me in what I do, I’m not too much into building a fan base. I don’t have a celebrity mindset.

 

  1. What are you working on next?

 

This is provided that I can actually call it a day anytime soon. I’ve always wanted to design a system in bringing water into dry or arid regions or areas undergoing droughts. Believe me, it’s a matter of time before some countries go to war over fresh drinking water. It’s not a matter of “if” but “when.” We’ve also seen the horrific effects of droughts around the world over the last few years due to climate change. The recent fires in California is a stark reminder that we need water & we need it fast. Climate change is real & it’s becoming deadly.

 

  1. Who are your favourite authors?

 

This is a very good question. I actually don’t have any favorite authors apart from JRR Tolkien. I’ve a collection of about 2,000 books in both hardcopy & softcopy versions. Many of them were written by a mixed bag of authors. I normally read what I need to read & learn something, from data science to programming & from photography to playing the bass guitar.

 

  1. Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?

One of the first was “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling. I was a cub scout then & we were encouraged to read this book to understand the birth of the Boy Scouts movement. I’ve always loved animals & nature, so this story made me appreciate them even more.

  1. How do you discover the authors you read?

Usually through research & also through recommendations in technical papers & reviews, as well as in trade magazines. As I’ve said before, I’m skewed more towards subject matters than towards the authors themselves.

  1. What are your five favourite books, and why?

 

  1. The R Book by Michael J. Crawley – This is a favorite reference book of mine in R language programming. It’s almost like a Bible to me as I’ve been programming in R for only 2 years.
  2. Financial Risk Modelling & Portfolio Optimization with R by Bernhard Pfaff – This is a favorite reference book of mine in understanding financial data science from an R programmer’s prospective.
  3. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by JRR Tolkien – I can hardly think of anyone whose writings that could challenge & stretch the human imagination just as much as JRR Tolkien’s.
  4. Music Theory for the Bass Player by Ariane Cap – A very helpful & enlightening book in merging music theory with fingering (finger aerobics) in a very logical & progressive fashion, for bass guitar players.
  5. Various books on photography & travels by the National Geographic Society. These books helped to broaden my mind & enlarge my vision. Very hard to read these books without their amazing photographs embedding themselves inside my mind, for almost a lifetime.

 

  1. What do you read for pleasure?

 

Reading & browsing through books on travels, nature, animals, photography & music.

 

  1. What is your e-reading device of choice?

 

It has to be my iPad mini. I’ve up to 100 of my favorite books in my iPad & at my age, it’s also much easier to read the news from my iPad than from my cell phone.

 

  1. What inspires you to get out of bed each day?

 

I think of it more as an ingrown self-discipline than an inspiration. I used to get up at 5:30am in the morning while growing up in SE Asia. Now that I’m working from home, I still get up at between 5:45am to 6:15am in the morning, even on weekends.

 

  1. When you’re not working, how do you spend your time?

 

Spending time with the family to create memories, listening to music, playing the bass guitar, going for nature walks, nature photography & catching up with friends in church on weekends. Apart from a good movie & watching the news, I’d avoid watching any TV at all. And of course, I still take my wife to the movies, romantic dinners & shopping every now & then.

 

  1. Do you have some work and rest related non-negotiable rules?

 

I spend up to 12 hours a day working on my eBusiness & my consultancy business. I’ll take a catnap after lunch if I can spare the time. Other than that, no work is to be done after 10pm & weekends. Weekends are for the wife. I take over the things she would have to do otherwise on weekends.

 

  1. Do you remember the first assignment you ever did?

 

Well, as a fresh computer science graduate, one of my first assignments was in data entry at an infamous investment bank in New York City in the early 80’s. I say “infamous” because this bank was liquidated & shut down later. And some of the bosses went to prison. No prizes for guessing here.

 

  1. What is your working process?

 

I tend to spend a lot of time on planning. I want to know if the task before me can be done within the time & with the resources I have in hand. I want to know what am I supposed to deliver. If there are constraints, I like to know where or what are the compromises that I’ve to make. I want to know what is the objective or purpose behind the task. I want to know who are all the stake-holders involved. So my working process is a bit like creating a mind map or running an ERP system inside my head.

 

  1. What is your unique Work Style?

 

  1. Always under promise & over deliver.
  2. Always document everything.
  3. Remember a good income is important but a good outcome is much more important.

 

  1. What is your approach and how do you Plan the Finishing touches to the work?

 

From the very onset, I’d try to visualize & imagine what the final deliverables would be like. From there, I’ll try to work backwards in streamlining the processes in factoring in the finishing touches. In working with any clients, I’d query them on their expectations & on what kind of deliverables or end results would they expect to see. If your clients cannot verbalize their expectations, you’ll end up working with a moving goal post.

 

  1. Please describe your desk.

 

A very respectable & decent organized mess, seriously.

 

  1. Where did you grow up, and did this influence your business, If Yes – How?

 

No. I grew up in SE Asia in the 70’s. In those days, I doubt anyone knew what a computer was, unless they were working in a bank or a major organization. To be fair, neither eBusiness nor big data existed anywhere back then. It was a girlfriend of a good friend of mine who introduced me to the world of computer science. She was doing her first year in computer science at Monash University then.

 

  1. When did you first started what you do?

 

Shortly after I got married in the mid-80’s. I realized that there was little financial security in working for somebody else. Worse, if I was working for a family business, which I did a few times. The lack of financial security & an absence of a career path in these companies awakened a deep desire within me to start my own business & put my nose to the grindstone. In striking out on my own as an entrepreneur in the early days were fraught with disappointments. There were many challenges. At one point, I decided that it was best to get a full-time job & worked on my business in the evenings & weekends, until I was really ready. Since then, I’ve been on my own for the last 10 years. It was quite a journey. I learned a lot.

 

Thank you, Mr. Nelson Wong.

Meet my Mentor – Mr. Askander Mirza. ExtraOrdinary Speaker.


Meet my Mentor at and President of the Garden City Toastmasters International
Mr. Askander Mirza.

IMG_20170220_172859
Corporate Trainer, NLP practitioner, Leadership coach, Distinguished Toastmaster, Public Speaker,
Life Coach
Mr. Mirza came to our Toast masters club to deliver an Educational Speech. Impressed, I went to meet him next
week He readily agreed to Mentor me as I explained that as a Speaker I wanted to learn and practice on Voice
and Body Language. Next week, he pushed me to give an ‘Ice Breaker’ speech impromptu! The week after, he
asked my speech write up and returned as it was not as per his guidelines. Again, I went to club – without
rehearsing and he pushed me to the Stage and gave a Thumbs up – Meaning – Rock the Stage! And, I did. He
gave few tips and then some more and sent a WhatsApp about my energy levels and Voice lowering as also Time
management in Speeches. He is humble, Hyper-Active – “Walk the Talk and Talk the Talk” and the Soul, Spirit,
Body, Mind of the Club. He is simple, humble and has a habit of Formal Attire, which he has inherited from his
beloved father – as he once told us, when the HyperCurios of the club asked him this question.
He has a Competitive spirit which I still at Peak. He participates in the Contests as also mentors, coaches new,
upcoming speakers including Aged speakers like me who are keen” Erudite” learners like him.
This is the First and the oldest Toastmasters club of Bangalore and he grapples with multiple issues without even
a frown on his smiling face and that is his speciality. As an Evaluator – he is inspiring yet Direct and clear in his
Feedback to speakers. He knows and shares that his club has highest number of Distinguished ‘toastmasters and
the Best in Class Speech Evaluators in the Bangalore town.
When I told him about my Blog and whether he would like to be interviewed – He readily agreed.
Here are some of the answers:

  1. What motivated you to become what you ARE today?
    The Quest for knowledge. In my job and my business I’d rarely come across people of knowledge or Erudite . That left me ever thirsty to associate myself with knowledgeable people, to be in Company of educated people and the search ended when I found Toastmasters.

 
2. What is the greatest joy you get from what you do?
The Joy of sharing. When you share the knowledge you have, when you help
someone in whatever manner , when you impart knowledge to someone else, the
joy , the satisfaction you get is better experienced.
3. What do your fans mean to you?
They mean everything to me. I gives immense pleasure to know that there are
people out there who recognise you, who value you, who place you in high
esteem. In this materialistic world it is definitely appreciable that there are people
who really appreciate your knowledge and experience, who value you for your
asset of knowledge rather than the assets of real estate or money.
4. What are you working on next?
I am working on to write a book on how to tackle day to day problems, to prevent
tension from building up, how to stop bad experiences and failures play on your
mind, to live in present and to plan for future.
5. Who are your favourite authors?
Dale Carnegie, Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Agatha Christie, Jane Austin, Chetan
Bhagat, Gabriel Garcia, Jibran, Bernad Shaw, Vikram Seth, R K Narayan, Ruskin
Bond, Prem Chand, Shaikh Saadi, Razia Bhat, James Hadley Chase & many more.
6. What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
The morning prayer and pre-morning prayers. I wake up at 4 am most of the days,
sometimes 5 am.
7. When you're not working, how do you spend your time?
Reading books. Watching TV and corresponding on email, face book etc.
8. Do you have some work and rest related non-negotiable rules?

When I am working I don’t like anyone or anything to disturb me. I am fully
dedicated and nothing can deviate me from my work.
I hit the bed before 10 pm and don’t pick up calls after that.
9. How do you discover the authors you read?
I opt for some popular authors. When it comes to new authors I prefer reading the
review of their books before reading the book itself. And sometimes by word of
mouth.
10. Do you remember the first assignment you ever did?
I would like to tell about my first speech rather than my professional experience as
an Engineer. My First Speech called the “ Ice Breaker” in Toastmasters parlance
was delivered in mid 2007 for which I got the Best Speaker Award at my Club.
Before that my Mentor made me deliver the speech in front of him many times, and
after lot of trial and error , corrections and improvements he gave me the signal to
deliver my first speech. Post that there is no looking back.
11. What is your working process?
While working I am opposite of procrastination. I do today what I have to do
tomorrow. I always meet my targets before time. I realise my team finds it difficult
to keep pace with me. In such situations I try to be little flexible.
12. What is your unique Work Style?
No short cuts. I sincerely do what I have to do and hope for the best results.
13. Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
Cannot be specific about the first. In our times the stories were heard from elders
rather than read. My father told a story about a scorpion and a tortoise whose
lesson was to not to trust again the person who has harmed you.
14. What is your approach and how do you Plan the Finishing touches to the work?
I divide my work in parts. Tackle one at a time. Integrate the work. Review. If
necessary reorganise it. The finishing touches are by using suitable words,
phrases and idioms wherever possible.
15. What are your five favourite books, and why?
How to win friends and Influence people, Sapiens, Three Thousand Stitches,
Yadoon ki Baraat, Nostradamus, Vulture is a patient bird, Discovery of India, My
Journey, Positive Attitude and many more.
16. What do you read for pleasure?
Short stories .
17. What is your e-reading device of choice?
Laptop
18. Please describe your desk.
A ‘S’ type chair, a small table arranged in a way that the light falls on the book
from my back. A note pad, some pens.
19. Where did you grow up, and did this influence your business, If Yes – How?
I grew up in the city of Mysore. Most of the time my father would take me along. He
was an erudite. He would have long discussions with his friends on topics like
history, religion, literature , psychology etc. That way I had lot of knowledge at a
very young age. Heard names like Frued, Shakespeare, Milton, Chalukya, Jesus,
Ben Hur, Ashoka, Buddha , Bose, Churchill, Hitler, Bernard Shaw etc at an age
when children would hardly know the names of their teachers.
I started my business in Mysore but was not so successful as Mysore is not a
good place for business.
20. When did you first started what you do?
I started my business in Mysore. Was not so successful. Went to Middle East and
started my fabrication and machineries business there. Initially it was tough. Later
on I became highly successful thanks to my technical knowledge , completing
projects before time and giving high quality at the same time. My habit of doing
tomorrow’s work today really worked and also perfect planning.

Writing for that day, which is inevitable to all of us.


I live on Medical Management after Triple bypass procedure was considered unviable.
I have strict Diet Regimen.
I Walk twice or thrice day and my range is 10 to 15 Km per day.
This has helped me get strength in past 4.5 years.
It does not make me Invincible though.
End comes to all.  I wrote these lines for my last day as I may not have that strength left to write them.
My body is broken, I can feel it.
Weak, crushed and beyond repair.
Surely this is the end, surely there’s no coming back from this.
No, it can’t be, it mustn’t be.
How long has it been?
Minutes? Hours?
Who knows.
Somebody will find me soon though.
Ha, as if. This is no time for jokes, stupid mind.
I’m dying.
Is there really no way out of this mess?
No way for me to live?
I’m not ready to die,
I’m not ready for it all to end.
Somebody please find me, I need help.
Somebody, please save me.
I don’t want to die.

It’s very quiet out here, or maybe my mind is just failing me.

It’s peaceful though, I guess.
But I still need to get out of here, but how?
I’m too tired and too broken to do anything,
I’ll need help.
Oh please let help be on the way, I don’t want to die out here.
All alone, lost and forgotten.

I can’t.. I won’t.. I’m not going to make it.

I can’t be saved, it’s too late.
It’s far too late.
I’m going to die.
Oh no, I’m going to die!
Please, not yet, I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die.

My mind is numb, I’m feeling drowsy.

I can’t think straight anymore, I’m too tired.
The world looks distorted, I can’t make sense of any of it anymore.
My mind is numb.

Goodbye world.