Thursday, February 16, 2012

Is "Convenience" a Measure of Fulfillment?

Who doesn't suffer from the modern human affliction called "convenience?" It's a hard reality that can’t be ignored. I’m guilty of it too. Personal computers, mobile devices, 24/7 cable television, vehicles, appliances, air conditioning, power tools, online banking, frozen meals, paper towels, antibacterial soap, the works! One-click phone calls, flip-switch controls, junk food drive-thrus, instant movie watching.

The Upside?

Life overall is more efficient and pleasurable. We can schedule tasks around our personal calendars. Modern conveniences provide an extra measure of safety and security through the use of firewalls, anti-virus software, login ids and passwords, video surveillance, baggage scanning, biometrics, smoke detectors, monitoring systems, encryption systems, and the like. Volunteering, globetrotting, literature research, even business deals can transpire from the convenience of our homes.

Modernities sometimes present minor nuisances—difficult-to-use gadgets, annoying cell phone ring tones, or disruptive app notification on an iPod—but we are very tolerant of them. From commerce to communication, convenience has lit and launched global economies on a phenomenal scale, transforming nations’ fortunes at unprecedented rates. India and China are prime examples of the past decade, with Brazil, Chile, Russia, Malaysia, and several others following in this decade.
The Downside?

The downside of convenience, of course, is the myriad passwords and login ids that we have to remember! On the serious side, we have so taken these modernities for granted that we can't live without them. Imagine a scenario when one of these conveniences breaks down or quits working altogether. We’d struggle because we'd have no idea what to do or how to do it!

Modern conveniences have wrecked human health and degraded the environment. Stress is the most prevalent ailment of modern times. Poor judgment, irritability, memory problems, anxiety, and a host of other physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral disorders have plagued the populations.

Our dependence on technology detracts from our time with family and friends in the real world, resulting in the loss of traditional values and relationships. People’s growing experiences of isolation, loneliness, restlessness, dissatisfaction, and emptiness marks an aberration from the pre-convenience days. Convenience is a fetish that has diluted our moral and spiritual values, encouraging us to be materialistic, fat, lazy, stupid, pompous, and complacent. As a society, convenience has dismissed our sense of trust, bolstered our defenses, and diminished the importance of gratitude.


So, convenience might give you a definite sense for your likes and preferences, but does it also give you a definite sense for your strengths and vulnerabilities? Convenience might motivate you to be a better user/worker, but does it also motivate and inspire you to be a better role player (boss, employee, parent, child, sibling, spouse, friend, neighbor)? Convenience might put information at your fingertips, but does it also strengthen your power to act? Convenience might connect you to the world, but does it also connect you to yourself? Is convenience a measure of fulfillment?

Questions are for you to ask; the answers will come find you. Vipassana teaches mindfulness, the art of being present, to pay complete attention to bodily functions, feelings, thoughts, and perceptions—a conscious engagement that reduces stresses, fills up calm reserves, boosts feelings of joy and serenity, harmonizes the mind-body connection, shatters preconceived impressions, develops emotional maturity, and enhances overall wellness.

May the force of silence be with you.

Until we meet again...

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Girl Next Door - An American Muslim

I had the pleasure of meeting author Sumbul Ali-Karmali at Silicon Valley Reads' annual event yesterday. Hosted by the Indian Business and Professional Women's group (IBPW) at the India Community Center (ICC) in Milpitas, CA, this annual event drew over 40 attendees.

Sumbul discussed her nationally-acclaimed and Independent Publishing Book award winning title, "The Muslim Next Door: the Qur'an, the Media, and that Veil Thing." I have not read her book yet, but I did purchase an autographed copy for my personal library.

Much of the afternoon focused on Sumbul discussing what it means to be an American Muslim. In a brief introduction, she talked about her 1970s upbringing in Southern California as the daughter of Indian immigrants and discovering her uniqueness not just as an alien from an "uncivilized" country, but also as a follower of a "barbaric" religion. She narrated her high school and college experiences, reminding us of the many struggles immigrants and immigrant children face when trying to assimilate into a new culture: reconciling dietary habits, conforming (or not) with cultural values, balancing personal and professional identities, among others. Not being allowed to attend her high school prom, or date, or having to explain to her non-Muslim friends about the hijab and the fasting during Ramadan are some of the examples Sumbul shared.

Sumbul alluded to the European history of how Islam gained notoriety over the centuries as a result of erroneous interpretations, stereotypes, and fundamentalists, and added how this warped view was further fueled by the events of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and, of course, the aftermath of 9/11. Drawing from her personal experiences and based on the curiosity others had of her world, Sumbul said she decided to write this book, in an attempt to clear misconceptions and promote intercultural understanding. Her book addresses in an easy-to-understand manner issues such as the basic tenets of Islam and the religious interpretations vs tradition, while dispelling some of the commonly-held biases and misunderstandings about Islam and Muslims.

Sumbul's point was that her being a practicing Muslim does not make her a whole lot different from any of the rest of us. She contends with some of the same struggles as the rest of the population and strives to live her life with honor and dignity--a sentiment to which we can all relate.

To me, Sumbul simply presented a picture of intelligence, inspiration, and grace.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Why Aren't You Published Yet?

“I am pleased to confirm the publication of your book.” A trip to space would have been less euphoric than the rush of emotions those words—that my would-be publisher conveyed in a single-line email confirmation—triggered in me. In fact, I’m still trying to absorb the fact that I am now a published author.

I started exploring publishing options for my spiritual memoir in January 2010. Just seven months into the process, I struck publishing gold…like they say. Nine months thereafter, my book was in print. With the book on the market, my concerns about acceptance dropped away. They were immediately replaced, however, by a whole new set of challenges connected to the marketing process—an issue I will capture in detail in a future post.

Every writer aspires to be a published author. And why not? A compelling story you’ve written has you utterly convinced of its publishing appeal and Harry-Potter-like potential. You contact publishers, only to receive rejection upon rejection. You question the authenticity of your talent; you examine the effectiveness of your storytelling; you lament on your bad luck. But what writers often fail to understand is that most publishers—and bookstores—are in it for the money. Publishers and bookstore owners want something that will sell, in terms of number of copies, and frequency and longevity of sale. Sustaining the business is their bottom line and as the publishing industry reassesses its future in the digital age, works that don’t meet their revenue projections get chucked down the rejection chute.

The first thing I acquired when I thought I had a somewhat-complete draft manuscript was the services of an editor. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and, upon a friend’s referral, I contacted the Bay Area Editor’s Forum (BAEF)—an association of in-house and freelance editors from a variety of publishing and publications settings. A posting on their jobs line generated over thirty responses in just forty-eight hours. Then came the challenging task of narrowing the selection, followed by interviewing the individuals to determine the editor who was right for my manuscript and fit my budget. Buying membership at a local writers’ club and attending their meetings is also a way to access the editing circle.

Heed my advice and hire a professional editor as their feedback is worth its weight in gold. My editor did a meticulous job, scrutinizing every word and sentence formation, correcting erroneous and inconsistent syntax, examining the logic of my argument, highlighting glaring gaps, and providing suggestions for improving my prose—all while retaining my original voice. Overall, her input enhanced my writing and gave it a professional polish.

When the second draft was ready, my editor advised me to seek “wise reads” on my manuscript from subject matter experts in the community. As a result, I was able to connect with two outstanding individuals who willingly provided “wise reads” for my manuscript, free of charge, in a very timely manner. As an extra bonus, my editor shared a template to help me develop a book proposal, and then she reviewed my draft proposal. May be this is just her, but my editor also supported me during the entire “publisher hunt” process. She’d checked-in with me from time to time, offering a subtle tip or two that would change the direction of my search. She consistently made herself available to answer and/or redirect my questions. She genuinely rejoiced when I informed her of my finding a publisher. When I needed a read for my “About the Author” and “Author Bio” blurbs for my book jacket, my editor once again jumped right in, at a moment’s notice, and offered her insight. The bottom line is, get an editor!

So, the manuscript is now professionally edited, reviewed by subject matter experts, and ready to be moved forward. The next step is to either find a literary agent or explore publishing options on your own. A literary agent is the way to go, especially for works of fiction. The big publishing houses—Random House, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, to name a few—work almost exclusively with agents. A search on the Internet for literary agents should yield a list of agents. The Literary Market Place (the LMP) is a reference guide that contains a listing of literary agencies, available for purchase at any bookstore and for checkout at any library. Authorlink is another source for information. The Writer’s Market directory at is yet another resource. Personally, I didn’t use an agent. I wanted to explore the industry on my own, but would have sought an agent had things worked out differently.

Last, but not least, a point worth addressing is Copyright Registration. The author is the copyright holder of his/her work(s). Retain your copyright privileges for a small fee by registering your work(s) with the US Copyright Office.

Good luck with your publishing process!