Halloween thoughts from Calvin and Hobbes…

Today, October 31, Halloween would be observed in several countries of the western world.

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. My favourite cartoon character Calvin had it figured out years ago:

Aren't you scared yet?

Aren't you scared yet?

New Year 2011 is here: The Future isn’t what it used to be!

2011 is here! We’re not ones to be easily affected by a mere landmark in our particular system of chronology, but as watchers of popular culture, we go along with the mood of the moment — if only to blend in with the planet’s natives…

As for our own mind (which is large and contains multitudes), Bill Watterson – the inimitable creator of Calvin and Hobbes – has once again captured my thoughts so well…and so colourfully.

The future isn't what it used to be!

As for resolutions, the only one I have is that I get to write more, and get read more widely. What more can a wordsmith ask for?

Besides, I tend to agree with Calvin when he says here…

Change? Why change?

Calvin’s timeless wisdom: Why allow facts to get in the way of a good fantasy?

Information society, anyone?

I’m once again taking refuge in the make-believe world of cartoons. Dominating (and illuminating) my cartoon universe is Calvin and Hobbes, that inimitable character created by American cartoonist Bill Watterson.

Why do Calvin’s words remind me of some artistes, intellectuals even a few journalists?

Help wanted: Show me (again) how to do nothing at all…

When young, we all used to be good at this. What happened?

Trust Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes, to remind us what really matters in life.

As kids, we had no difficulty in filling our time with completely esoteric, fantastic stuff that had no measurable value in the adult world…what the grown-ups would describe as ‘unproductive’ (a very subjective term!). We all specialised in the art and science of goofing off, and our school vacations and even weekends were all filled with…doing nothing in particular!

What happened? I’m still not sure if I’ve grown up – my own child and close friends are convinced I haven’t – but I no longer seem to have the time or skill to just hang loose, goof off and do absolutely nothing at all. Even if I rest my tired body, my mind wanders in all sorts of directions. Even my dreams are too dramatic, layered and nuanced.

When I browse, I find whole heaps of books and websites that offer to teach me how to do nothing. From Zen to Chinmoy to Robin Sharma, everyone is offering wisdom about nothing. But I hesitate. I don’t want structured, step-by-step guidance that feels like…a personal development course.

I want to unwind. I want to just take it easy, get completely and hopelessly lost in my day dreams and have no care in the world. At least for a few days every year. I’ve not done that for a long, long time.

So I need help to re-learn how to do nothing at all, and to enjoy that without any feeling of guilt about lost time or opportunities. I want a friend – furry like Hobbes or otherwise – who can help me in this journey of re-discovery.

Busybodies need not apply. Ditto grown-ups.

Hakuna matata!

SOS from the Next Generation: “We need Good Parents!”

Market forces suspended here?

“Good parents are sooo hard to find these days!” exclaimed my teen-aged daughter Dhara recently. She was talking with her tongue firmly in her cheek — I hope!

In recent days, she’s been re-reading our collection of Calvin and Hobbes books, where the world’s most cheeky six-year-old keeps making wisecracks about his own mom and dad (‘Your approval ratings among household six-year-olds are way down’, ‘When are you standing for re-election, dad?’, etc.).

But Dhara’s light comment rang true, generally speaking. As every parent discovers sooner or later, parenting is a 24/7 job that lasts for two decades or longer. There’s no help desk or emergency number we can call. It’s more an art than a science, for which there is no comprehensive, fail-proof guide — even though plenty of advice is available on TV and online (some of it better than others).

Generic advice is helpful but not sufficient. Every parent-child situation is unique, and every parent has to find what works for him or her…ideally, the two parents working in tandem.

Does parenting come naturally? If only it did! I don’t believe in this grandma-knew-best kinda romanticising. For sure, some in our grandparents’ generation got it right, but there were also many who never did.

For something so consequential for the future of our species, there’s no minimum age or entry level or qualification. (As Dhara occasionally asks me, “You didn’t have to take any exam for this job, did you, dad?”. Come to think of it, I didn’t — although, in my case, I did give it a lot of thought first. Honest!)

Dhara with her dad-for-life, Jan 2010

Geeks express it a bit differently. “A human being is the best computer available to place in a spacecraft. . . It is also the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labour,” said the German-American rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, the brains behind the Apollo project that landed men on the Moon.

Although I can’t vouch for its authenticity, a similar quote from the mid 1960s is attributed to the US space agency NASA: “Man is the lowest-cost, 150-pound, nonlinear, all-purpose computer system which can be mass-produced by unskilled labour.”

I don’t like their cynical analysis of something far more nuanced than their usual hardware and software. But they got a point there. Biomedical sciences have advanced much since the Moon landings, and today some medi-geeks are trying to ‘play God’ in creating life in a lab. I’d like to see how they can get a machine to mimic the 20+ year parenting process…

Making babies may be accomplished by unskilled humans in the right age, but raising babies is most decidedly a high skill, high intensity and highly demanding job. Especially in this day and age, when many kids are more tech savvy than their parents: the Digital Natives can easily run virtual rings around their Digital Immigrant parents.

We have to watch out, though, to listen carefully to what our children are saying to us — and also about us!

By the way, as one of my favourite authors, Roald Dahl, reminded us, “To children, all grown ups are like giants — who tell them what to do all the blooming time!”. (The worst parents in my mind are also created by Roald Dahl’s imagination: Mr and Mrs Wormwood, in his 1988 novel Matilda, which was adapted into a movie in 1996. In the movie, Papa Wormwood tells the precocious little Matilda: “Listen, you little wiseacre: I’m smart, you’re dumb; I’m big, you’re little; I’m right, you’re wrong; and there’s nothing you can do about it!”).

The bottomline: am I a good parent? It’s not for me to judge — but I try hard being one. It isn’t an easy act for anyone, and especially for a single parent that I now am.

Someday, I hope, the one-woman jury won’t be too harsh on me…and may she never need to advertise for a replacement.