Discover more from loaf of thought
dying houseplants, good humans, and stick shifts
I have a small clay pot that has sat on my coffee table for several months now. Inside it, is an ambiguous-looking stringy plant that is barely alive and looks so so sad. If I attached a photo of this poor plant, it would immediately kill the vibe of this letter. I’ve neglected this plant forever yet by some miracle, it’s still partially green and hasn’t rotted and withered away. It’s resilience is something I feel we could all learn from. But I’m sharing this because when I opened Substack earlier today, it felt a lot like coming home to a neglected houseplant after months of leaving it on the coffee table. Did my silly little self think that this letter would write itself and land in your inboxes all on its own? While I would love such a neurologically-advanced tech integration, I’ve simply neglected loaf of thought for some time now. So it’s great that I’m writing this now, and I’ll take all the virtual pats on my back. But it’s way harder to revive a dead plant as opposed to learning to water it consistently.
Here’s to healthy, green, and thriving houseplants… and stuff.
i’m feeling lucky
This month’s playlist is brought to us by ChatGPT! I used this cool little prompt to gather some songs:
I want you to act as a song recommender. I will provide you with a song and you will create a playlist of 40 songs that are similar to the given song. You should also provide a name for the playlist. Do not choose songs that are from the same artist or have the same name. Do not repeat any songs or artists. Do not write any descriptions or other words, just please reply with the playlist and the playlist name.
I suggested a few different songs at first, from Anderson Paak to L’Imperatrice, but the results were a bit cliche and underwhelming. So I prompted it with “Runner by Tennis” and this month’s playlist has the 40 songs it suggested. The title it gave sucked and it repeated a couple artists, but no major complaints. Happy listening!
oscar & daniel
I’ve been spending the past few weeks of my life in Bee Cave, Texas at my parents’ house. My parents enlisted in the help of a contractor, who said he could turn a half-bathroom into a full-bathroom. For context, my grandparents are coming from India and so we’ve decided to convert my mom’s office room into a bedroom and add a standing shower to the bathroom adjacent. All of this effort is to make sure my grandparents won’t have to climb the stairs during their 6-month stay. It’s not a terribly tough ask either; for a contractor who works on big buildings in downtown and takes on much larger projects, this should be a no-brainer. There were a couple caveats to this renovation, however. One - the contractor and his men primarily spoke Spanish. My parents’ Spanish extended no further than a conversational hello and maybe a little restaurant talk. Two - contractors are not designers or architects; they are (supposedly) great at following drawings/orders in order to build something up to standard code.
Enter stage-center: me. I can speak decent Spanish and I have a decent sense of design (it’s the least I can have after 5 painstaking years of architecture school).
Two weeks ago, the contractor brings in two of guys to “break ground” on the renovation and get the ball rolling. They start by covering the existing ground in hard plyboard and draping the walls in plastic sheets. This precaution is so that the dust from all their work doesn’t end up in all our stuff and in other parts of the house. Fast forward a few days after they’ve been drilling and demolishing and hammering and what not… my mom finds that there’s been holes in the plastic sheets and the concrete dust has gotten EVERYWHERE in the office room. It had made its way into the bookshelves, cassette players, printer, himalayan salt lamp, talent show trophies and pretty much anything else that was in the office room. It was quite the disaster and I wish I’d taken a photo. But in the moment, my priority was to calm my mom’s tension and frustration while also communicating that frustration to the workers. My mom wanted them to halt the work and clean up the dust before doing any more work. While it’s a totally reasonable ask, these guys didn’t seem like they could tackle the task. So I took it upon myself to help them with the cleaning and make sure they did it right. It’s not quite how I expected to spend my Thursday afternoon but it was so worth it.
Their names were Oscar and Daniel. Oscar was this tall, muscular man who wore big cargo pants and tight t-shirts. Daniel, on the other hand was this shorter, chubbier guy who always had a sly smile on his face. His hair was bright white but the roots were black - it looked like he had a bunch of concrete dust up there. They were nice guys; they never spoke rudely or acted unprofessionally. If I didn’t understand what they said, they’d speak slower or try other words. While we vacuumed and dusted the bookshelf contents, Oscar lifts up a random printed photo of Messi and asks me if I know who it is. I chuckle, considering the idea that someone wouldn’t know who that is - but I respond yes. He then proceeds to explain to me how he used to play against Messi. I chuckle again but this time I’m considering the idea that this random “laborer” once used to play against Messi. I mean, Oscar doesn’t look much older than me, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to think he grew up in Rosario alongside Messi. Before I could consider alternate possibilities, Oscar shows me a photo on his phone, where he’s standing beside Messi in the tunnel of a stadium, just before a match. I was shocked. He swiped over to show more photos of him playing on the field against Messi and the rest of the Argentinian squad (including Dybala, De Paul, Di Maria and others we all saw on TV just a few months ago). He told me that he used to play for the Nicaraguan National Team for several years! He played as a defender and would often rival big shots from other South American and Central American teams. I really had no words for him, albeit trying to convey my surprise in Spanish. I really couldn’t believe that this man was once playing soccer for a national team and now he’s in Texas clearing dust from my mom’s bookshelf. He asked if I played soccer, and I kept my humility intact while explaining how I’ve been playing for as long as I can remember. I told him I play for a team in Austin and join pick-up games regularly too. Nothing compared to playing against Lionel-freaking-Messi but still, it’s something. I took a few half-hearted sweeps of dust to gather my emotions before I poked Daniel with a question too, wondering if he also had a crazy backstory as a soccer player on the Nicaraguan National Team. He chuckled and commented on his own physique, claiming that he could never play sports. So I asked, “what’s your story then - where are you from?”
Dani explained that he used to volunteer for several non-profit organizations across Central and South America, helping to establish education systems and build schools for underpriveleged children. He even spent a year volunteering in Germany - which perfectly explained why I would occasionally hear him say “Scheisse” under his breath. He went on to tell me about all the countries he’s visited in South America and how he loves Argentina the most. He told me how he has a son back home in Nicaragua, and how he wants to travel more when his son is older. At this point, not only was I shocked that these men had such beautifully interesting lives but also confused as to why they were here in Austin. Dani explained that he needed a better way to make money and get his family out of Nicaragua. He explained that a few folks had recommended that he come to Texas; so he followed them up here. Oscar told me that he got involved in the political uprisings in Nicaragua and ended up on the wrong side. Unless my Spanish absolutely failed me, I’m pretty sure he explained that if he didn’t leave, they would have killed him. These guys were from the same town in the Northern part of Nicaragua, but didn’t know of each other until they arrived in Austin, Texas.
Oscar and Daniel’s stories have been playing in my head for a few days now. I feel so grateful to have been able to hear of their past lives and share an afternoon with them. Something about their stories completely made my day and shed a refreshing light on humanity. And I don’t mean humanity in the grand sense, but rather the humanity we bump shoulders with everyday. Little interactions at the grocery store, small nods at a stop sign, and even missed moments that we relish later on. Behind each one of these small interactions is a whole backstory-having, hardship-battling, dreams-achieving, beautiful-looking human. And I’m not entirely sure what my takeaway is, after having this wholesome realization, but I feel as if the story is enough to carry a positive sentiment on its own. I don’t want to encourage people to start overly-personal conversations while shopping for apples but at the same time, maybe it’s nice to give these peripheral humans a bit of consideration and mindspace. In such capitalist, labor-driven society, we tend to see people for what they do, rather than who they are. It’s easy to forget that these people are more than just “carpenter”, “drive-thru worker”, “hairdresser” because that’s what the cover of the book says. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that there is a whole book behind each cover.
I’m doubtful that there will be a part two of this Daniel and Oscar story, but I hope you take a bit of wholesomeness home with you! Oscar and I followed each other on Instagram and might play some footy soon.. so if that happens and/or I end up getting a photo of them, I’ll check back in.
through my eyes
This month’s photo comes from my time spent galavanting the streets of Austin during SXSW. I only spent a few days roaming around, weaving in-and-out of random events and sometimes pretending to be an event photographer. It was a very confusing week for me but I happened to capture a few interesting moments, such as the one above. Something about the striking red pants and the mysterious nature of the shadows makes the frame simple yet intriguing. How do you feel about it?
the world is happening
I used to keep up with the news a lot more when I was in college. I’m not sure if that has any relevance to me actually being in college but I was simply more intuned to the world’s happenings at the time. Nowadays, I’m only fed the tip of the iceberg and therefore I find that news doesn’t reach me unless I actively seek it. And by news, I mean important world happenings and not the Florida man who drove a stolen truck to Space Force base to warn of battle between aliens and dragons.
I’m writing this segment as a ledger of accountability for myself and maybe in doing so, I can urge you to do the same! I’m working on seeking better news and also positive news - I want to know more about what happens in the world, past a single subtitle headline. It sounds simple in theory but, going on the CNN app and reading the breaking news doesn’t quite cut it. Go find some news, from wherever you like, and really read it. *Note to self*
In the last few months, dozens of people I know have been laid off or have suffered financial setbacks due to the economy. We are in a recession, whether the old guy in the Oval Office agrees or not. And while I really didn’t think it would affect me, it did. My company ended up shedding 20% of its 25-person staff and I was part of that lay off. At first it felt very liberating; I was getting up a bit later, working out when I wanted to, cooking and cleaning more, wasting more time, and generally feeling invincible. That feeling was short-lived though.
I’m not sure if it’s my personally or productive mentality (for better or for worse), but I felt very unfulfilled unless I worked on something productive. But the issue was that I didn’t exactly know what to work on. Stuck in a massive-suburbian-intersection of creative industries, I was, (and still am) quite lost on which direction to go. I was lost on what task to do next: work on my portfolio, shoot the screenplay I’ve had in mind, edit a photoshoot set, take on new freelance gigs, look for a new day job, produce a mini-series, write this newsletter, and so much more. Yet each of these little endeavors seemed so enticing and tangible.
One night, my friend and I were co-venting about work-life-balance and creative roadblocks when this interesting metaphor fell out of the sky. If you’ve driven a stick-shift manual car before, this metaphor will make a lot more sense. But in short, driving a manual car requires you to change gears as the car progresses in speed and goes on different roads. When you’re driving through the city, you’ll generally stay in low gear (between 1-4) so that you can accelerate quickly and keep yourself agile. Once you get on the highway and hit cruising speeds, you’ll find yourself in 5th or 6th gear. The tricky part is knowing when to switch gears and being able to do it smoothly. There are a ton of variable factors that allow these switches, from engaging clutch, to having a custom gearbox, to finding just the right RPM. If you don’t switch properly, you can either stall the engine and force a restart; or you can rev too much/little and burnout your engine. It definitely takes time and patience to learn but once you master this delicate dance, driving a manual car becomes a superfluous experience.
Now let’s take this metaphor for a spin. When I’m in the low gears, I move with agility and acceleration. It’s all about quick decisions, swift movements and frequent changes. Clutch, shift, accelerate, break, clutch, shift, accelerate, break, and so on. This is exactly how my life has been recently - completely erratic and chaotic at times. I feel like a rogue vehicle that takes random turns in the city, switches into random gears, and has no destination in mind. Non-metaphorically, I work on my portfolio for half an hour and randomly switch to editing photos from a recent shoot. Or I’ll be setting up a freelance contract and randomly remember that mini docuseries I started writing, so I’ll jump ship. I’m switching gears way too frequently and never get to sit back and enjoy the drive. Each of my gears (aka creative endeavors) works great on their own but I’m forced to switch between them very quickly. I have to jump quickly from one to another to avoid burnout. Pun completely intended. In other words, I spend very little time on ideas, and quickly hop from one endeavor to another, not really giving it the time it needs.
I’m not sure if it’s an attention span issue, OCD issue, or something fundamentally different… but building a driving habit that only stays in low gear is very exhausting and inefficient. According to the extents of the metaphor so far, it makes sense to move into a higher gear and then cruise. I can get on the freeway, kick it into 6th gear, and make great headway. But something about the complacency of sitting in high gear on a long and boring road really grinds my gears. (hehe sorry) But in all seriousness, I find it very tough to sit back and enjoy a calm ride to my destination. It feels like cheating in a way - almost lazy. I’d rather ditch the car at that point and just take a flight! (My bad. I’ll keep this metaphor restricted to road vehicles lol)
If I keep driving in low gear, I’ll have a lot of fun staying agile, taking sharp turns, and doing quick sprints. But I’ll also burn out quickly and exhaust myself with how attentive I have to be. If I get on the freeway and cruise in high gear, I’ll be more hands-off, relaxed and can chat with my passengers at ease (aka spend time on smaller priorities and moments). However, sitting in high gear is less fulfilling and can cause me to be lazy and complacent. Like most things in life, driving stick is about balance. Evidently, I need to find a way to balance the time I spend in low gear vs. high gear. I love working on ten different things at once because it feeds my creative desires but it’s inefficient, mentally taxing, and systemically slow. I hate having one big role because it’s boring and I’m less fulfilled, but I do end up moving faster and make space for myself.
It takes a delicate balance in order to keep the car moving forward. And if we assume that I know where my destination is, which is a bold-ass assumption, then I’ve got to be able to switch into the right gears at the right time, and find the most efficient route. I have to cautiously avoid burnout and also not get stuck in 6th gear. Ofcourse there will be times when I have to stay in low gear and take the city roads, but I’m sure those moments will balance out with long stretchs of farm roads in 6th gear. I haven’t gotten around to fixing or implementing this balanced solution into my life, but painting this metaphor definitely helped me put things in perspective. And in the end, I’m sure I’ll make my way, even if it means ditching the car and walking the rest of the way.
one of the coolest videos i’ve seen in a while
reimagining scenes in india using ai
who actually came to america first?
audi always cooks up interesting stuff
if you haven’t read about the voyager golden record, now’s the time
producing amazing results using the wisdom of crowds
In the past month or so, I’ve been doing so so so much driving and I quickly got bored of my own playlists. Even though I’m Feeling Lucky is fire every month, I got a bit bored of it in March. So, I’ve been listening to to this new podcast called This American Life! It’s a beautiful show that features stories from all kinds of interesting people who have all kinds of weird lives. The host talks really fast and sometimes you can’t understand him but regardless, the guests’ stories are just spectacular. I encourage you to check it out and maybe start with Act One of this episode. I wish this was a paid promotion but it’s not.
That being said, thank you for reading this newsletter. If you enjoyed a certain bit, please reach out and let me know. And you see how I just plugged a random podcast? You should do the same with my newsletter. Introduce someone to my wack mind. (No, I won’t pay you)
have a lovely April, folks.
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