- Does time equal money?
The past fortnight has seen a strong return to reading. Return is a strong word which suggests I was ‘away’ from reading, so that should be rephrased. The past fortnight has seen a strong return to active reading, thinking and all. So it goes that I must write once more, all inspired by the change of seasons and clocks springing forward. This essay chronicles my exploration of two books which can be framed as describing the “psychology of”:
- The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness is a 2021 book by Morgan Housel. The book explores the psychology of money and how it affects our decisions. Housel argues that our relationship with money is often based on emotions, and he offers suggestions for how we can make more rational decisions about money.
- Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention—and How to Get Your Attention Back is a 2018 book by Johann Hari. The book explores the psychology of attention and how it is being hijacked by technology. Hari argues that our attention is a precious resource that we need to protect, and he offers suggestions for how we can do this.
Housel was recommended to me by three/four different people whose curiosities I admire, while Hari popped up on Goodreads. Both came to me at excellent times. On Housel, have been working through my own feelings about finances for some time now. I know that this is an ongoing, evolving conversation one must have truthfully with oneself, but the initial stock-taking has commenced. Hari entered just as I was about to slip back into an old habit-pattern: one of multi-tasking, late-night sleeping, and so much more. As readers of this blog are aware, my practice of Vipassana meditation has significantly reoriented my life over the past six months. My “work” sphere is the sphere where this is most visible.
I would recommend both books strongly. Neither proclaimed to be universal truth, which allowed engagement in a more careful way (trying to recognise that arguments it made were a result of the life led by the author). Both had excellent structure, including space for counterargument. I have been delighted especially by how they weaved together and the residual thoughts they have left in my brain.
To my mind, these books are more similar than dissimilar. They make similar key claims about human behaviour, which I have only realised as I typed this up (oh the joys of writing)
They both argue that our attention is being stolen from us by technology. Hari argues that our attention is being hijacked by our phones, computers, and other devices. He says that we are constantly being bombarded with notifications and distractions, which makes it difficult to focus on anything for more than a few minutes. Hausel makes a similar argument, saying that our attention is being “weaponized” by companies that are trying to sell us things. He says that we are constantly being bombarded with ads and marketing messages, which makes it difficult to make rational decisions about money.
They both also argue that we need to be more mindful of our relationship with money. Hari says that we need to be aware of the ways in which money is being used to control us. He says that we need to learn to say no to things that we don’t need, and that we need to be more intentional about how we spend our money. Hausel makes a similar argument, saying that we need to be more aware of our spending habits. He says that we need to track our spending and make sure that we are not spending more than we can afford.
I’ll leave you with two parting thoughts, which you are free to interpret as reasons to pick up the books (they left me with questions and the desire to read more, surely an excellent sign):
First, Housel lays out bare an excellent argument for how money offers the security of choice, which is what you ought to bear in mind. I have seen evidence of this, and often find myself framing this as privilege in conversations with peers. Hari never makes this claim about technology explicitly, but I think it is entirely reasonable to claim that finding and retaining focus offers a similar security. I have been ruminating about how the flow state, which he examines at-length, is one that is wilfully chosen. How true is the idea that discipline is equal to freedom?
Second, I re-read parts of Diane Coyle’s Cogs and Monsters in this context (an excellent book in its own right – and you might find yourself asking at this point, how parting thoughts can point you to more books!). Coyle argues that the field of economics is in need of a major overhaul, as it is no longer equipped to deal with the challenges of the 21st century. She identifies three key problems with economics:
- It is too focused on the individual, and not enough on the social.
- It is too focused on the present, and not enough on the future.
- It is too focused on the quantifiable, and not enough on the qualitative
In this light, Coyle’s work, and the work she has directed over the past few years (including some of my own) study value, and in the context of Hari and Housel, it is worth, in my mind asking how we (rather, I?) allocate value to time. What is time-value?
That is where I find myself jumping to next.
- Always, We Begin Again
I found this piece of writing that recast the Benedictine manner of living for the 21st Century somewhere at the very beginning of the pandemic. Amid feelings of loss and disturbance, I sought calm and peace, and found myself slowly, but surely, searching within myself. Being alone at home for the better part of six months changed me. It has left imprints I rediscover everyday. That journey of seeking calm is one I remain on even today.
Even when we fail, always we begin again.
If you search “piano” in the archives of this blog, you will find a series of posts meandering the better part of six years since I began writing the blog (I’ll save you the trouble, see this.) If you search my life for where my relationship with the piano began, it would add easily another ten years to that. While searching for things to grasp onto while struggling with my identity, music called out to me in a way not much else did. So it was, then, that in 2020, I really thought I had gone back to it all. Going for piano lessons, learning the guitar from my best friend, passing some music theory examinations; it validated this feeling externally. On reflection, it allowed me to clasp what I thought of as making a success of myself at the time. I took comfort in saying I knew something, and gained authority for that statement with these yardsticks. I never really reflected on how much I enjoyed it all. Not for a lack of trying, it must be said. I tried a whole bunch. Look at what I said toward the end of 2020, sitting in Cambridge:
Whenever I feel like I’m pointing outward for how I think about things, I’m going to look inward instead and see how I can better influence how I think. I’ll put in the yards and the time, and then decide if it’s worthwhile or not. Music, and the piano, isn’t something I should let go of so easily when it’s been such a big part of my life till now. For that I’m grateful.
That was a pipe dream. I let go of it all through 2021. Then I tried lessons at the start of 2022, to really get back into it, and gave up in less than a month.
I spent a month at home in December, soaking in the comfort of being in my parents’ company once again. We frequently have joked about how my visits prompt an opportunity for an appraisal of how they are doing. Taking stock of 2022, we shared our joys, but we also shared collective disappointment in how our relationship with the piano had developed. The winter was a good time to ameliorate it. Not as a new year resolution, but rather as just another thing we wished to do. It was easy enough for my parents. As beginners, all I had to do was find them a teacher they gelled with and would look forward to meeting. As for myself, I couldn’t see how I was to manage on my own.
A lot of who I am as an adult is shaped by who my parents brought me up to be, and the child I was. I don’t rely on them as a crutch to defend some of the decisions I take, as I might have during my one rebellious year in law school, but I would be remiss in acknowledging their decisions have influenced me tremendously. I knew what I was searching for: I wanted to reclaim the joy I felt with piano lessons; but I had no place to look. Two weeks of silence followed.
It makes sense, then, I turned to the people who made my decisions for me when I was younger, who found me a piano teacher as we relocated to India. I asked my mother if she had my piano teacher’s number, the one person that stuck by me through my tantrums and trained me relentlessly, every Friday evening for 4 years. She did. It took one WhatsApp message to reconnect and fix time for class. It has been three weeks since, and I have built-in an hour of practice into my schedule since I came back to the UK. In this moment, I am happy.
In my first lesson back with Sir, I talk with him about how our paths diverged. I stopped lessons because I could not find the time of day to practice, and grew frustrated with learning the same pieces over and over again in an attempt to master an examination syllabus. I thought I would keep things going myself, and trusted myself to go on. I did not. He does not expressed disappointment or regret. Each time I go back to how I wonder about what could have been if I had stayed on, he points me to the gratitude I should have for what has been since. Even over Zoom, he guides my hand over the keys I play, over the sounds the instrument produces. He asked me yesterday not to say sorry when I made a mistake, reminding me I was just learning. I tell him of past failures, of sheet music purchased but not worked through. He smiles and says life is like this, that there are too many pieces to play, but not enough time.
Even when we fail, always we begin again.
In good faith, I suppose, I am beginning again. I am once more, a student. To quote Piscine Molitor Patel, “and so it goes with God“.
- What Do You Research?
In all honesty, I should be meditating or falling asleep at the moment. I am writing this piece late on a Saturday evening. The only reason I am giving myself a ‘pass’ is because since this afternoon, writing has been the only thing on my mind. It is incorrect to say this afternoon, since the seedling for today’s frame of mind comes from earlier in this week. During a Law Research and Training programme, the Professor on the course recommended we set small writing targets ahead of every supervision meeting we have, and very nicely put my thoughts of reading forever, in “an attempt to do a literature review” aside. My conversation this afternoon, however, was centred around film-making. A good friend brought up how popular Western films and media follow a formulaic approach for success: setting-conflict-resolution. Instantly, I was taken back to my adventures watching Casey Neistat, and thinking about daily blogging as a phase of my life where I was motivated by the sheer passion Casey had for story-telling and film-making. It dawned on me then that I had not written on the blog for a while. Naturally, I had to write tonight.
What about, though? Where do the words come from when the world is spinning?
The past month has seen me settle into the PhD program. All at once, and then slowly. Some very good advice I have been following is to take things a lot slower than I have in the past; to allow me to enjoy and savour every moment of the program I have. As someone who is researching on an active project with a deadline (it is scary to label oneself a researcher, the adjective more frightening than the verb), a frequent question that has emerged in the last four weeks is: what do you research?
It is asked in all sorts of ways. There’s the “first-time-we’ve-met curiosity”, the “oh-someone-says-we-should-meet fascination”, the “why-do-you-teach-family-law-quizzicality” and the “so-why-are-we-talking-disappointment”, I suppose. I am, thankfully, yet to run into the latter. Then there is the internal question I ask myself each time there is a web profile to create. How do I describe what I am interested in? What language shall I use?
It would be unfaithful to say that my brain did not do a consequential analysis each time the question emerged. In what I now consider a commodification exercise, I found myself initially asking: what is the signal my language will give? What will people infer from the vocabulary I use to elaborate what it is I do? I suppose that is but natural with the market that academia and research is. It was, however, a pattern of thought that caused me deep irritating.
On the contrary, speaking about the project I work on to people who are outside the bubble and without a vested interest gave me the opportunity to use similar language without it being “coded” or having an “acquired/adopted meaning”. It has been those conversations that has allowed me to figure out what I do, really – and moved me a little bit away from my earlier habit. I am now of the opinion that with the open texture of language, people’s inferences about my work are not something I can control for – and the way I articulate the field I query is a sequence of words that I hold a precise definition for, but that definition will vary across people I speak to.
That realisation has brought a lot of freedom with it; a larger freedom to express.
These thoughts came up this evening again from a different trigger.
Chris Hilson has a piece in the Journal of Environmental Law, Trends in Environmental Law Scholarship: Marketisation, Globalisation, Polarisation, and Digitalisation, which I thought was really insightful in the way it presented a flaw with studying trends within the discipline by doing an empirical ‘language search’. I highly recommend the read, and I will pen my thoughts about the article more fully at a later time, but what stood out to me is how this pattern of query; and really reflecting on the language we use in response to “what do you research?” has emerged out of digitisation. One of my colleagues and I have frequently debated the harms and benefits that Twitter has brought into academia, but perhaps the thing it has done most in the context of the article is pushed us further into the pit of using “trending” language. The other interesting bit is on Impact (and I particularly appreciate the emphasis on the capital I, with the market definition taking centre-stage) – and I am left wondering – to what extent is Impact influenced by the language of our research? How much SEO should we be putting into academic writing in the modern market of consumption?
Among the web of buzzwords that now accompany me, hanging over my head as a protective cloud sheathing my work from some quarters of criticism by allowing me to seek refuge in ‘schools’ and ‘methods’ (ah, don’t we love the Humanities): “political economy”, “international law”, “the environment”, I sometimes wonder why my response to the question “what do you research?” isn’t “people” – since that, at it’s very core, is what I am investigating.
- Kannada Academy: Week 2
Although it was only my third class, my teacher feels more familiar. There is a pattern that he has managed to establish for our classes. It’ll commence with a short reading test, where I will struggle with some words, and then move toward fresh things.
Yesterday’s class started off with:
“ನದಿ – ನದ”ದ ನೆಲೆ ನಾಲೆ ಅಲ್ಲಿ – ನದಿ ಎಲ್ಲಿ? ನೀಲಿ ನೂಲು ನವೀನ ನೂತನ ದಿನ ಲೀಲಾಲೋಲ ಲಲಿತ ಲತಾಂಗಿ ನಾನು ನಾವು ನೀನು ನೀವು ದೀನ ನಾನು – ದಾನಿ ನೀನು ದೇವ ದೇವತೆ ದೆವ್ವವೋ – ದೇವರೋ? My test
While I was able to identify the words with his help, especially on this one: ಲೀಲಾಲೋಲ ಲಲಿತ ಲತಾಂಗಿ, I realised I am really struggling with letters that repeat in the same sentence. I will overcome. There’s a real logic to the way we are moving forward in letter-identification at the minute. I’m learning the twelve forms of the same consonant together: the consonant itself, the consonant with a glottal stop, all of the short vowels, and the long vowels. If I write these out, surely they’ll imprint in my brain. Hopefully that will make future tests easier.
The pop culture references also continue. Today, I was introduced to ಆವು ಈವಿನ ನಾವು ನೀವಿge ಆನು ತಾನದ ತನನನ – da. ra. Bendre
While we embarked on a conversation about the Jnanpith Awards, I learned that it was not possible to decipher the deep meaning of Kannada poetry on the first listen – so another helpful explainer was provided to me. This is arguably the best part of class.
While I struggled with reading out tanana, I was reminded to say the word as if I would say it while speaking (which makes complete sense, since I know how to speak the language to some fluency). That’s inspiring some confidence in this journey.
Then I learned a lot of consonants. I had to cancel today’s class, but I already have an assignment waiting for me on WhatsApp. Next week should be super fun too, I’m looking forward to it.
- 15 May 2022
I celebrated my birthday this morning with a group of close friends. If you are reading this as quickly as I’m typing them out, you will note that I did not celebrate too much on the day. I was keen to explore something different from the parties I had been to, and thought of visiting a board game cafe that recently opened up. It worked a treat. Not only was it economical, it gave me an opportunity to assess how competitive some of my closest friends here are (very!), and produced some moments of deal-making (we played Monopoly) that will live long in my memory. I’m hopeful of visiting again – and hopefully for longer – where I can explore more board games. We chose to play Monopoly since everyone was familiar with the rules, so we really got value for our time.
When I was reading Law as an undergraduate student, especially closer to our final year, several friends and batchmates gathered in the night-mess area to play cards and board games. I enjoyed them too, but back then prioritised a different set of things that meant I never really went out to play board games with them. I wish I had done that a little more. I noticed nobody used their phones while our game of Monopoly was on. While video games have become a principal source of my entertainment since the pandemic started, the simple joy of a boardgame is incomparable. My best guess is that it evokes nostalgia – even when you play a new boardgame. The market is also massive, there’s so many new ones I haven’t heard of I really need to get around to.
The afternoon chunk was spent on phone calls and FIFA. Writing and research has used up the evening. I will therefore go to bed very content with the weekend, and looking forward to next week.
- 14 May 2022
It was a lot of people’s birthdays today, so my morning went in conveying happy wishes to people. That reminded me I had to reply to wishes posted on my Facebook wall, a number that decreases steadily year-on-year (this is commentary both on Facebook as a medium, and the number of people I am in-touch with via Facebook).
This afternoon a friend and I listened to the spiritual journey of a doctor. The past two years have been really exciting in that respect. There’s always a ton to learn from people’s stories – and the diverse ways in which people in the world confront similar situations and grow from them always leave me with things to reflect about. After a quick dinner, I had Kannada class (more on that will be in a separate post), and I slept almost immediately after.
Earlier this week I made comments about how the longer summer nights in Cambridge were beautiful to look at. That’s still very true, except I must add, I am sleeping a lot more these days. The late evening appears to hit me harder.
- 13 May 2022
In the vlog I am watching at the minute, Casey turns to the camera and says that his days are super consistent – which caused concerns for him about the sustainability of his daily vlogging endeavour. Yet he pulled it off. My days are very inconsistent. They throw up surprises. Although I spend some time writing e-mails, e-mail writing takes place during a chunk of my day, with meetings & active research taking place throughout the rest. Hopefully that means the blogging isn’t unsustainable. I have broader concerns about the blog as a medium. As my own attention span declines and I become more of an auditory learner who enjoys listening to podcasts/videos as I write/work, I find that I read blogs a lot lesser – and frequently not at one go. Since the newsletter will incorporate all the visuals and audio, I’m hoping the blog can continue as a text-only space. I will continue to keep at this because I find joy in daily storytelling.
This morning was an uninterrupted work-session. The afternoon brought a few meetings, including with a faculty member I enjoy checking-in with once a Term. My biggest takeaway from today’s meeting is that I need to avoid running before walking. I love multitasking and being a multitasker, but this past year I have overstretched myself far too much. It is not just taking on too many projects and being unable to deliver high-quality work on all of them (one or two have suffered). It’s also the continuous feeling of looking to the next thing at all times rather than being able to enjoy the present task without worry/fear of what was to come. I do not think I will stop multitasking (insofar as I will have videos on while writing for example), but I do think I will live/work a little closer to the moment. All of this emerged in a specific context. I said I needed to think about the post-doc while doing my PhD research, which is when I received this advise. I do need to do a good PhD for anything to happen after that. I need to remind myself of that continuously. With all projects. It is only if I execute one project to a high-level of diligence that the next-project will come. It always comes. I can’t let standards drop now.
I was able to video-call my family from the centre of Cambridge, near the market, and speak with them with King’s Parade in the background. When the sun’s shining, it’s idyllic. From there, I went with Kannadiga friends for a dinner filled with dosa and good conversation about Karnataka politics and cinema. These are two subjects I know very little about, but I have become more interested in since I moved to the UK. Alongside my efforts to learn Kannada, which I am documenting under the “Projects” section of this website, I am really hoping to learn a lot more about the history of the State and its current circumstances. This crowd really helps with that.
A sweet chai (quite literally) later, I was back home to respond to messages, watch Friends, and crash.
- 12 May 2022
It took a while for me to decide on the appropriate nomenclature for this edition of daily blogs. I’ve done the numbers (X/365) in 2017 and (X/181) in 2018. I’ve spelt out the post number (Three Hundred and Sixty Five) in 2019. In 2020 and 2021, I wrote blogposts that had titles that were descriptive of the text. I think henceforth unless I’m writing a clearly descriptive post/breaking away from the posting convention, I will likely title essays with the date. That should ideally make them easier to search for as well.
Today was another good day. Our event went off smoothly and I was able to enjoy a nice dinner with colleagues from the event right after. While work tires me, executing events to a good standard satisfies me. It was also nice to walk home at 10PM and be caught in the twilight. Late nights in the Cambridge twilight make for marvellous viewing.
It has been two years since I wrote anything on my birthday – or around my birthday. When I wrote more frequently, I’d add a snippet about what the day presented and what I hoped it would mean for the year to come. I skipped reflecting on my twenty-third birthday and as the Earth traveled around the Sun twice-over, it feels appropriate to think about what’s changed.
In the two days that have passed since I started down with this piece, I’ve experienced procrastination and writer’s block. As I sit to write this piece, I’m watching Casey Neistat’s vlogs in the background. A betting person would argue nothing has really changed at all. In the piece from 2020, I say this
I want to be more mindful of everything I do, and everything that happens around me. I want to wake up each day feeling nothing but gratitude. Not stressed, or worried about exams, or upcoming deadlines – just immense gratitude in my heart for everything. I’d like to make gratitude and mindfulness the two central pillars around which I live my life. I’m not an ungrateful person, but I’d like to increase how much I prioritize looking for the thing to be grateful for. I’d like for it to be second-nature to me, so while I experience sways in emotions and in circumstances, I’m always centered around this.Me, Reflections on 21.
I do not think I’ve attained this. I’ve instead come to the realisation that being mindful of things and feeling this gratitude is a journey that you embark on consciously – and like all journeys/habits – it is one that takes repetition till it becomes subconscious. With my work, and with the goals I set myself personally, I still wake up feels very stressed/worried about deadlines & exams. However, because of how I’ve changed around my night-time routines, I go to sleep each night acknowledging the way the day has panned out. That makes me less stressed in a sense.
So this day feels as good as any to reflect on where I’d like to be in a year. First, I’d love to write daily again – that hasn’t happened for two years either. A friend of mine commented that maybe this means the time for writing has gone, and it’s passed me by. I don’t think so. Writing never came to me easy, nor did it ever happen unless I made time for it. I’ll be doing that. Second, I’d love to re-evaluate where I am on this journey of mindfulness and gratitude. That is all.
Today was a really happy day. I woke up very unsure of what the day would look like. We are preparing for an event tomorrow, which demands flexibility of us all. I accepted that early on and scrapped the idea of making plans. Instead, I messaged a close circle of friends to request them to drop me a text if they were free. Several did, which I was happy about, and we managed to get lunch together. One of them brought pastries and sweets along, which allowed an impromptu pastry-cutting celebration too. I ended the night printing at the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law. No space feels better suited to wind down another year.
- GloPoWriMo 2022: 10/30
I am asked to write a love poem.
How you fulfil me,
Let me count the ways,
In sadness, you bring warmth,
In moments of joy, you enhance my feelings,
On rainy days, you are comfort, in a mug,
Or with rice,