About Masha Kubyshina

Founder/CEO @ BluewordAi.com; love good coffee, wine, MMA, driving and flowers.

Accents

There is this thing about accents. When I look back I have never fallen for anyone who didn’t have an accent. Majority of people I dated had accents. My ex-husband had an Argentinian accent in Spanish when I met him. We met in Barcelona and we spoke Spanish and I used to be attracted by his accent.

When I moved to US the few people I loved or was in love with had accents. My best friends had accents. Thick and beautiful accents that made them stand out. When I heard them speak they were brining a new perspective to the topics they covered. They made mundane things interesting. They made boring things new. I wanted to hear them speak just for the sake of the accent.

Accents were like clothing. Some were made out of silk, some bore the heaviness of nordic wool, some were honest and breathable like cotton. All made one look intricate and memorable.

And yet, my own accent always bothered me. I thought it made me sound ugly and shallow. I worked with a speech coach. And then I worked with another speech coach. It taught me to speak slower, but my accent survived all the coaching. People, random people, would tell me that they loved my accent. And I would not believe them. I would think they were just being nice. I was embarrassed by my accent for the major part of my life. By my accent in any of the languages I spoke. I think, all the immigrants, we feel like this at one time or all the time.

I was working with a lot of immigrants lately and it struck me that I often wanted to talk to them because of their accent. I enjoyed how it sounded. It was beautiful. Like listening to the waves of the ocean. Like nature. I was talking to an Azerbaijani woman a few days ago and as I was listening to her I was conscious that I received pleasure hearing her speak because of her accent. And yesterday I made some small talk with a guy from our gym, he was from Eastern Europe and had a distinctive thick accent. I kept up with the small talk because I liked the sound of his voice. His haircut had personality as well as his accent.

As I became conscious that I loved the accents of others and may be I liked them because of their accents, I realized I was ok with my own. My accent is my personality. Trust me, there are people out there that love your accent! Don’t get rid of it. Enjoy the sound!

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Don’t lose your breath

Lately, my main goal in martial arts sparring was not to lose my breath. It wasn’t to submit, to win, to dominate, it was simply not to lose my breath. If I could finish each 5 min round and talk clearly and calmly I was satisfied. It doesn’t mean I didn’t fight, it means that my breathing rhythm was a priority. Since it was my focus it wasn’t hard to achieve, it basically meant to be in full control of myself, not to muscle up, not to get angry or agitated.

It brought amazing results. I could see how my partner would be sweating and spasming towards the third minute and then make mistakes. Mistakes I could take full advantage of to advance without much effort, since he was dead tired and couldn’t pay attention to details. And I felt like I was just starting and could be as technical as I wanted to be. It is hard to explain to those who never were in a sparring match how much advantage the power to breath can give you. I only got it after I did it over and over again, day in and day out. Every day when we shook hands at the timer start I would tell myself (and sometimes tell my partner) that my only goal was not to lose my breath by the end of the round.

I can’t say I won more often. I didn’t. But I didn’t lose more often either. The results remained the same as if I went full force and gave it my all. However I got much more out of each match by knowing where I am and what I am doing and why. This clarity at all times made fighting more meaningful. Those who have done it will understand.

Yesterday morning I had to spar with a new white belt, a tall and heavy guy (probably twice my weight) who just was set on pinning me to the ground. I didn’t fight for the first half of the round, I just made sure he couldn’t do anything to me (i.e hurt me or submit me) and then he was spasming so badly that it took no effort to sweep him to the ground and have a bread-cuter choke set up on his neck by the time the timer rang.

The same in business. I read somewhere today a good quote that said, “never allow someone get comfortable disrespecting you”. A lot of times I take side projects as a contractor helping with strategy and growth hacking. Today I was working on changing themes on a client’s website and I needed to access a file on a server to which I did not have access. The client connected me to the person who helped him with hosting and after asking for one file I got a reply saying, “This is a major screwup. I don’t trust that working with you is not going to cost me a lot of uncompensated time.” He cced people I didn’t know on that reply (possibly others from the company or the board). Totally out of the blue. I felt uncomfortable, because the client and myself went in written through all the steps of what was going on and what I was doing on the site. The client agreed on all the changes proposed and explicitly said to go ahead on each change.  In any case the guy’s (and it was “he”) reply was disrespectful and ungrounded. Even knowing that, it still shook my confidence for a few minutes. “Why is he saying that? He has no idea what is being done. I checked with the client on every step, on every detail that was added to or removed from the site.” These were the first thoughts I had. And I felt crappy. I was spending my Sunday working on this project and probably billing less hours than I actually worked, because it was a non-profit that I wanted to help.

And then I said to myself “Don’t lose your breath. You did everything right. He is just being disrespectful. He is being an asshole. You don’t have to take it.” And then I remembered the quote of never letting anyone become comfortable disrespecting you. I got my breath back. I emailed the client on a separate thread. Here is what I said:

“Hi [client’s name],

I don’t think [guy’s name] is being respectful. I am not ok with the way he is talking to me.
I know what I am doing and I have done other websites before. These are normal procedures and it always took a few back and forth tickets between support team and us (client) to instal the website theme properly. 
I don’t want to be looped in the emails with him if he doesn’t change his attitude.
Masha”

 

In the following few hours I didn’t hear from either of them. I am not worried, because I know I will do my part of the job and the new upgraded site will look good. Also, it is Sunday. The whole point is don’t lose your breath and don’t allow others to disrespect you. And yes, it does feel crappy when others behave like that.

Yesterday night we had a gathering with a few bjj people from the martial arts dojo and my coach, a black belt who I highly respect, said to me, “I saw you rolling with this new white belt this morning who just went full force on you with zero technique. You shouldn’t even roll with these people. The first moment they start going like this on you, you should tell them “I am not rolling with you, you are going too harsh.” You train hard, you’ve been training hard for years, you’ve earned your belt, you have the right to say “no” to those who don’t have the skills and will just hurt you. You should say “I am not rolling with you.”

And he is right. It takes courage to say “no”.

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Our awesome Saturday bjj group, Feb 9th, 2019

The Power of Clarity

It was today before 9am at a cafe in Berkeley where I finished reading this book. It was neither the title nor the subject of the book that stroke me profoundly.  It was the long forgotten notion of clarity.

Something I was good at before: making decisions. I could make a decision trusting myself and go with it and never look back. This clarity of what I should do and what I should not do was what made me strong. It also made me ruthless and less emphatic, because I would see things for what they were and not for what me or others wished them to be. No bullshit, no wishful thinking, not too many gray areas of doubt.

And then I had problems in my marriage, got divorced, had to take care of my kids fully since their father wrote them off, a few years later felt in love again with somebody who was married, stayed in that gray area of “almost love” not making any decisions and bouncing between wishful thoughts and unwishful doubts.

I always thought that not being able to make a decision is one of the biggest faults of a human being. This frozen state of inactivity is almost death, it is where damage and loss happen, because the time moves forward and you are staying still.

Another thing that happened is that I was a victim. Ok, let me backtrack here. I was not a victim, but I used the power of being a victim. In life we all go through losses and damage, it could be a loss of a loved one, a loss of a job, an unhappy marriage, a health issue, a bad relationship with a parent or child, you name it. Carrying this loss gives us power of a victim, this power allows us to expect more or special compassion from others. We may change the course of a conversation, of a relationship, we may win attention or extra warmth with this power. We all have this power and we all use it one way or the other. This power prohibits us to grow. If we want to be strong and grow we must renounce this power. It was double hard because I never recognized this victimhood in myself, however I would think and say something along the lines that I already do more than majority of other moms. I would reject volunteering or say “no” to an invitation and add “I am a single mom I do not have the bandwidth”. It was a petty excuse, and I did not have to say it at all. But I said it because it gave me power of a victim of a situation. And I hated these words “single mom” with all my heart. They do not have the same connotation as a “successful woman” or a “great warrior”. And this is who I really am.

The book talked about this too. And I suddenly remembered how to make decisions and how not to be a single mom and never use this power of circumstances again. Strength and power are not the same. Do not grow power, grow strength. The only meaning in life is the one we give it. I love to say what I think, to love when I love, to laugh as if nothing else except laughter mattered, to fight (ok, I just enjoy martial arts, no other reason), to be truthful, to be direct, not to walk in the gray area of doubt. To have the clarity. To feel the power of clarity. To have the eyes open to what things really are, and to call bullshit by its name, and kindness by its name, and cowardice by its name, and love by its name.

I walked out of the gray area of my last 4 years after the divorce. Well, almost 5 now. I had no shady relationships, no hidden truths, nothing to lie about, no more “single mom” stuff. I saw what I saw, the life was that: people around, coffee, my closed book, the upcoming work meeting, then a drive home, picking up the kids from the gym, getting a Xmas tree. And tomorrow I would go to the gym early in the morning and train and spar and I looked forward to it. I missed all these guys with broken ears. You develop an unspoken trust with people after you have been in bodily fights with them.

Leaving all the gray areas behind I felt strong. I admired strong people and wanted to be one. Everything was simple and clear and full of love and meaning that I gave to it. I made my decisions.

They came with the December sunshine and the power of clarity.

July

On fennel, immortality and sunset in red

(for Neli, who says it makes a difference in her life when I write)

This summer I would wake up at 5:15am. Usually I would wake up even earlier than that and lie in bed and wait for the alarm to sound. When the mornings were hot I would push the blanket away and roll halfway across the bed and lie on its cold side. I felt rested and lazy and tried to find an excuse to not get up and to skip the dojo. At 5:20 I would get up, brush my teeth, put my gi on, take my sports bag, my phone and my car keys and walk through the door into the morning. The air was fresh and not cold in July. At 5:30 the sun was still behind the horizon but the darkness had already disappeared giving way to the gray air full of greenish trees.

Later in the day I would occasionally have breakfast at a cafe next to the dojo, sometimes with a friend and sometimes on my own. A few times we went to ride horses on the fields at sunrise.  And the sunlight on those fields was mixed with the strong smell of fennel, the same fennel that was in my toothpaste when I was a child. The scent of fennel, wild flowers and sunlight stayed on your skin till you showered that day. And then July was part of you.

At 9 I would be working. I would spend hours pulling customer data for analysis and designing tests. And the hours would braid into my work so smoothly that I would not notice how it would become afternoon and then evening. The kids were spending summer with my parents in Spain and there was nobody to interrupt my days.

There was a man that I cared for and when I would have a moment I would call him and if he could talk we would talk for a long while narrating our day and things we did. Sometimes we would meet for lunch or dinner and it seemed that summer days were still too short to say everything we lived through. We laughed a lot too. He had a wife and a kid and we could not spend much time together. This relationship grew like the wild flowers on the fields grow: suddenly, growing under rains, spring winds and unyielding sunlight, and away from people’s eyes. And like the scent of fennel and wild flowers on early summer mornings it made one feel immortal.

In summers I had time to think and so I thought about what love was. Wasn’t it as simple as being able to put yourself in the other people’s shoes and see the world like they see it for a second, just to understand them? And then being able to say and do things in such a way as to make their day a little bit better from their point of view without taking anything away from yourself? This was the same love that you would have for a child or a friend or a parent. And yet it was so difficult to achieve taking the rational path… The walk across the field with the wild flowers that smell of fennel and immortality took you there directly.

This summer I had a lot of freedom. Like the wild flowers I had the freedom to grow. And so I worked two jobs, contracted on small projects, trained in bjj almost every morning, took a few courses on speech and kept working on my company. The kids were taken care of and I felt asleep at nights with a smile on my face first thinking about them; and then feeling the cool calmness of the sheets on my half-naked body and finally imagining the eyes and the hands of the man I cared for and gradually dissolving in the darkness of my own sleep. Summer nights were still, like the fields without wind, and I slept deeply.

A few times this summer I observed with certain surprise that I never regretted my divorce. First time it was because my mom asked me if I ever regretted not being with my ex-husband and, caught off guard, I bluntly said “no, not a day.” And this made me look back a few more times and realize that I did not miss being married. Our relationship was bulky, unkind and painful towards the end. I was young when I married and I lost my sense of direction and wandered away from the flowery field into a well-know path that took a lot of space and energy and that ended up in a big building resembling a shopping center. I was glad to be far away from it now.

On the summer mornings when I did not work or train I would go on a hike in the redwoods. And walking on the narrow path I would hear birds sing and would be taken aback by the sounds and by the beautiful silence around me.  I was not that present before. Once at home I would take a shower to wash off all the dust and before putting on my clothes I would stay in front of a large bedroom mirror and look at my naked body. The skin, with slightly darker arms and legs touched by the summer sun, the muscles, the breasts, the visible neck bones, the hips, my face, my wet hair with the water still dripping around my neck, and the red nail polish on my fingers, the only bright spot in this human nakedness. And I would look at myself and feel kind towards this body that was mine; and slowly, like a raising wave in the ocean, love would settle in, taking away the objection of the slightly full hips. And then I would’t be serious any longer and I would smile and make faces and tell myself to go get dressed, or at least wrap myself in a towel before going into the kitchen to make coffee.

Those were summer days in July when I would wake up loving my mornings, work a lot, think tenderly about people close to me and feel wrapped in the smell of fennel and immortality under the morning sunlight. I was waiting for the kids to come back from Spain to start another school year, and for more work to take on to be able to pay for all of it. And I wanted to hear what his next project would be and see how my own projects would unfold.

And one evening I saw an immaculate sunset filled with small white clouds sprinkled with golden aureolas from the setting sun. And I thought that almost nothing could be as beautiful as that. That day I sat back on the sofa with the laptop on my knees working in front of that sky. And gradually, making its pauses, the sky turned red. The little clouds became golden and I sat there slowly falling in love. As if everything before that was not beautiful enough.

Like a Dance

Love relationship, specially at the very beginning, is like a dance. If you look at it, a dance is a series of steps that take two people closer to each other or separate them. Dance is rhythmical and beautiful cadence of getting a step closer and then separating to keep the distance to allow the movement to flow. If two people just stay in each other arms there is no dance. If they decide to distance too much the connection between the partners breaks and the dance dies.

Dance, as love, is made of tension and intimacy between two people. You observe the other close and alternate the follow and the lead. He takes a step back, you follow in the same direction. Then there is a pause and you take the lead to make your step and let him follow. If I do not know what to do in real life, I imagine it is a dance and then it all becomes clear.

And then, once the dance is complete you stay in each other arms, at least I did. And this hug was limiting because it first lost its tension, then its intimacy, and then there were neither dance nor space to move. We forgot how to dance, and with it how to keep the beauty of life alive.

In love, as in dance, we should never become lazy.  Always keeping the flow of the movement, the distance, the closeness, feeling with all your being the moves and intentions of your partner, being fully present. The embrace is not the goal of the dance. The goal is to create beauty in between of the steps. A beautiful relationship.

Tiny White Flowers

It was exactly a day before it would be one year when I first kissed him. I should probably say we kissed, but in my memory I kissed him first and then we kissed. Also I did not remember the date on purpose, it stuck in my mind and I didn’t manage to forget it. My brain found a lot of small hints to make sure I remember it was the tenth of November.

This first kiss was followed by intimacy of looking at each other, of listening, of long conversations that always seemed short. By intimacy of laughing together. Laughing first with our eyes, then with our mouths, and then laughing with our whole bodies.

Once we were driving and he kissed my hand and I told him then that you could never be angry at the person that kisses your hand, because it is the less selfish kiss ever. And I was never angry at him. There was the intimacy of never being angry.

During one of our lunches he offered me to taste his soup. We were at a restaurant in Palo Alto that had very wide tables and very good wine. He had to lean forward over the table to give me the spoon and I tried it and passed the spoon back to him. After he ate another spoonful of soup he leaned over the table again and told me in a low voice that he just stole a kiss. He told me there was a poem where a lover steals a kiss by eating from the same spoon as his beloved. And so there was the intimacy of poetry between us.

And at another time, yet at another decadent restaurant, this time with a lot of velvet chairs and somewhat of a hunter’s spirit, we had our first and only argument. It was in the middle of winter and it was raining very hard that day and he ordered some warm food to share and I did not touch it since all I really wanted was roasted duck and a good glass of red. And we argued for a few minutes about the food. And I saw that he got upset. Not seriously upset, you do not get seriously upset over the food, but still upset and this was our first argument. And I wish I would just ate that food. And he said he was sorry. And at the end it was just funny. We always ended up laughing at everything.

A few times we saw stars together over the lake Lagunita. On one of our walks it was really dark, and there were no lights along the path that went around the lake. And we could see a lot of stars and then heard the sound of the frogs jumping into the lake and the sound of an owl flying somewhere near. And it was cold, and I would lose my balance when he held me tight and kissed, but then I did not mind losing my balance if I was in his arms.

And there was this huge oak tree on the top of the hill. We went a few times for a hike there and climbed that oak and sat on the lower branches. It was a huge beautiful oak tree, almost like a country of its own. With its cities and rivers. And one felt like a king and a queen sitting on the branches of that oak, you could not have a better kingdom than that. On those hikes we would tell each other stories from our childhood. And together with the stories the oak tree was from our childhood. And I loved his stories more than my own.

When I would not see him for a few days I would imagine how the next time he comes we would kiss each other before saying “hi” and how then I would ask him how he was doing and with a warm smile he would say “I am good now.” And we would continue kissing and I would hear his heartbeat just to realize that his heartbeat is all I wanted to hear. I never heard so much heartbeat before, at least not so clearly. Once when he came over he was tired and sleepy, and we took a mid-morning nap on my bed and my head was laying on his chest and I could hear his heartbeat. This is how I learnt the true intimacy of poetry. Not the one behind all the written lines, but the one behind the heartbeat of the person you love.

Once, in the early spring there was a beautiful almond tree in blossom on the corner of my street. I made a picture of this tree and sent it to him saying that this is what I always thought love was. It was a tree with tiny white flowers. Each flower is a moment of intimacy and beauty that you live through. First there is one flower, then a few, then a full branch. And then you have a tree full of tiny white flowers. And this was as close as I could get to the definition of what love was. Of course there were other definitions of love, such as kindness and care, and thinking first what he needs and how he would feel if I do that or say that, but still when I thought of love involuntarely a beautiful almond tree in blossom would come to mind.

My love for him, or better to say what my love for him made me go through, should also include all the week-ends and holidays that I did not see him, because he was married. And all the times we could not talk or we could not see each other. The moments when I missed him dearly and would have given five years of my life to just see his eyes and how he looked at me. The moments when I wanted to be there by his side and be part of his life and never could. And then at some point in April, and for some reason I want to think that it happened on a cold and rainy day, these moments tipped over our love, and all our stories, and the oak tree, and the poetry of the spoonful of soup, and even the heartbeat. And we said we would be friends. All those moments that made it tip over did not blossom as tiny white flowers and now it does not even seem that they belong to this story.

We were friends in summer and we were also friends in fall. We both tried hard. At least I tried hard, so hard that I never slipped into hearing his heartbeat again. We still talked and had coffee or dinner together from time to time. And there were still the same warm kindness and inability to be upset at each other. And we did not lose our laugher. We laughed a lot. And I received a lot of pleasure from seeing him.

And it was exactly a day before it would be one year when I first kissed him that we were planning to get sandwiches and eat them in my car after I finish working. But then something was going on with one of his friends and he had to cancel our dinner at the last moment. And I said that of course I did not mind. And I did not.

I finished my work and as I sat in my car I started crying. I turned on the radio and put the GPS on to see the traffic. There were a lot of cars on the roads at that hour, and I just looked at the driving directions and tried to concentrate on making the right turns. It was raining outside and I had tears in my eyes and everything looked blurry. And the only thought in my head was what the MMA coach had told me recently, “You have to follow the directions. You can win the fight, you just have to listen, not have any say, and follow the directions.” It was an empty thought but I held to it as to a lifesaver. And this night I did not get lost on the highways. The drive was long and calming. And I said to myself, “God, let me fall out of love with him, or at least not get hurt.” But then I did not really believe in God. And I thought that when people pray to God they are praying to themselves, to their own minds. And somehow this thought made me smile.

I was quiet as I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. I do not remember if I still had tears in my eyes or not. But the yellow lights on the bridge were blurry. In any case I did not mind the tears since they were part of life that had an oak tree for a kingdom.

Arnaud and me

Precisely this day, a year ago, there was a Halloween party at Arnaud’s house. I was thinking about it this morning because today we had a Halloween party at my house and also because Arnaud is in France right now and could not come. And this party felt like a small victory. Because last year I sat the whole party in a car sobbing desperately. The car was parked next to Arnaud’s house and I could not manage to calm down and go to the party and face all the happy people. I felt miserable because I had no money and no job, because the business was not going anywhere, because I had no support, because I was alone, and because my kids depended on me, and I even forgot to get them Halloween costumes.

So, all I remember is how it was getting darker and darker, and then the moon was up, and the sky was dark; and Arnaud brought me food in to the car, and sat there with me. And it felt priceless that somebody knows how you like your hamburger.

And then I started to think back to when we met and everything I learnt from him. We first met on a school playground, at the Lycée. Three years ago. And from the first time we talked we got engaged in joking, and our sense of humor matched almost perfectly, and this made everything else extremely simple. Our kids became best friends (they both arrived to US and to school on the same day) and a few weeks later I stopped at Arnaud’s place for lunch and he made pasta with cheese (the two things I do not eat). But I ate it then just to make things simple and because he was French (I assumed French people must know what the good food is). And yes, I had stomach ache the rest of the day. Then I also became friends with Lucie, his wife. And I think this became the best friendship I’ve ever had.

None of us had family around and we started to have dinners together two-three times a week. And we still have them. We joked. We laughed. We ate home-cooked food (I do not think we ever went outside to eat during the week). Our conversations revolved around life in outer space (there is none), zombies (I have no opinion here, but Arnaud likes to talk about it), fights (half of our talks are about fighting and martial arts and how to do maximum damage in minimum amount of time), prisons on the moon (possible plan), God (we agreed that it does not exist), how to run a business (here it gets complicated, but basically it takes a lot of hours), education of our children (here we all were clueless, but raising the voice helped at times). But mostly we laughed. We laughed a lot.

There are a few things that happened in that first summer of our friendship

-first, once Arnaud got quite sick and the next day when I asked him how he was doing he did not reply to my messages or my calls. I was worried about him. Instead of going to the gym I drove to his house (I knew that he never closed the door). I was glad I came, he was laying on the sofa in a pose that did not put any strain on his brain. He had a bad food poison. That day we both learnt one important thing, that if he does not reply to my messages I will show up at his door to make sure he is alive.

-second, on one of our dinners at my house we were talking about life and I made a comment that since I got divorced I finally could have the bedroom the way I wanted, the colors, the bed, the sheets. And Arnaud said, “I do not care how my bed looks, I do not care if I sleep on a mattress on the floor, if my sheets are that color or that other, if we have furniture or not, all I care is that when I go to bed Lucie is there with me.” I do not think I have ever respected a guy as much as I respected him then. (There could have been a lot of reasons to respect him, he run a successful business, he provided for his family, he was a black belt in Judo and on the national French Team; he was good at everything he did; but this one sentence inspired so much respect for him that nothing else really mattered.)

-third, he taught me how a friend’s hug and kiss should be. Before that I really do not know why I hugged or kissed friends. It was just the right thing to do, that everybody does at greetings, but since it was not the most intentional thing I tried to wiggle through it quickly, forget about it, and get to the next thing. With Arnaud I realized that he actually meant to hug and kiss me as a friend when he did it. It was not a formality. There was a lot of intent and warmth in it and it made me feel loved. I never noticed before that friend’s hug can mean so much and be so comforting and loving. I learnt it from him. I started hugging people with an intent to hug them, not with the idea of getting fast through it and moving forward. And it made a huge difference in my life.

-forth, Arnaud trained with me in martial arts. I knew so little and I was so new to it, that at the beginning I could not take seriously him training me. But I appreciated every second of it (I say second because when you are 120 Lbs and you are getting hit, gently, but hit, by a 220 Lbs guy your time count is in seconds). He went with me to my first tournament, as my “corner man” and as my coach. And he did not stop talking the whole way to the tournament and I lost that one badly. Here I gave myself a word not to take him to any of my other tournaments because he does not let me focus on the fight. He is still my best friend, he is just not going with me to the tournaments.

I could go on and on telling how much I have learnt from him. From his thoughts on each man’s personality by how they shake your hand to how to make crepes, from what to do in case of zombie attack to how to hit people in the nose with the palm of your hand. But mostly, how to care for people you love. In one of the conversations Arnaud said that once he sells his company and puts enough money on the name of his wife and kids to live a good life, this is when he can rest. And I saw him working till he is green in the face, days, weeks, years, to make this happen.

There are probably two things worth respecting in any man or woman, first is providing for the family they created and second is sleeping every night with the person they love.

Arnaud and I talk a lot. We are very alike, and we became very good friends. Our kids believe that they are cousins or at least twin brothers. We have family dinners a few times per week. Informal home dinners, meat, vegetables, rice.

A few weeks ago we were having coffee in his yard and he said, “I read your blog on dating. I did not know you were such a romantic person.” And I laughed, because I thought it was so obvious. And then he told me about his reckless adulthood. A complete opposite of mine.

Sometimes when we talk about business or sports, and when he is giving me his advice, I hate him. Because he knows so much and he is so much better at it, and I feel like nobody. Of course what he says is right, I just can’t do it that way most of the time. But if I have to hear this from somebody I’d rather it be from him. It is good to be able to chose the person who will give you the advice you will hate.

A few days ago I was having coffee with a close friend. And he asked me how Arnaud’s company was doing, and I said “I do not know, I have not seen him in two weeks. He is in France.” “Well, two weeks is not that much for a company,” he replied. And at that point I realized that not having seen Arnaud for two weeks was quite a lot.

And I also thought that Halloween was coming and that things have changed a lot from the past year. Things were ten times better. And he and Lucie were such a huge support all this time. And I have learnt so much from him through care, conversations, laughs, and friendship. And now I was hosting the Halloween party, and kids had costumes, and even if Arnaud was not here, his kids were coming to my place. And it felt like a tiny victory over this hard year. And it was not just my victory.

The book

I woke up at 5:30am, made myself a coffee, a few sandwiches for all of us, and then woke up the kids. I seated them in the car with blankets, their neck pillows, and doudous and we were on the road before it was 6. It was dark and warm inside the car. And then there was a heavy smell of smoke as we passed Sonoma and it made us all dizzy for a few minutes. Close to 7 we saw the first rays of sun on our right. The road was smooth and empty.

The book with the red cover and the word “Persepolis” in white letters was on the passenger’s seat, next to my handbag and the black winter jacket. I saw the book with the corner of my eye as we drove north through villages and hills.

That day the fall occurred suddenly as we were on the last stretch of the road before Tahoe. The trees were yellow, red, and green. And there was some snow on the branches. The mix of colors became fall and reminded me of how it was in Moscow in my childhood. The kids were singing on the back seats when we parked at the coffee shop for breakfast at 9. We had arrived to the lake. For an hour I read the book. I did not notice how I left my coffee unfinished and I have no idea how the kids entertained themselves meanwhile. With the book I stepped into some other life, that life was not mine, but nonetheless was very familiar. Almost as the fall in its present colors.

The whole day we hiked and played in the snow. And as I enjoyed the simple things with kids I was also thinking about my uncle that was sick in Moscow and I was worried about him. And then I told myself that there is nothing I can do and I just have to live my life and take care of the kids. In any case, if I would be very sick, this is what I would like others to do. I would not want my family to be worried about me. Life was this way – you have to live through things finding balance between being present to every side of life and not worrying worthlessly.

I opened the red book again when the kids were swimming in the pool. I first read in the hot tub, but then it became too crowded and I sat on a sofa facing the pool. I stretched my body under the last beam of afternoon sun, my legs were still wet and I was getting cold. And then the book got the rest of me.

The moon was beautiful that night. It was the thinnest moon I have ever seen, with the outline of the full round moon as a shadow. It was low, right above the mountains, and I looked at it while the kids ate their candies. I held my son’s hand, it was small, cushiony, and a little bit sweaty. We had an argument before dinner and I had to raise my voice at him quite a bit. And he cried and I felt the pain of having to be angry at him. He looked helpless, as if he never did anything right. And the pain was the shadow of my love for him.

I finished the “Persepolis” book laying in diagonal on the opened sofa bed in our hotel room. The kids were getting ready to sleep in the bedroom as I read the last page and closed the book. I remembered how I was left to live by myself when I was 14. I was in Barcelona and I could not remember if I was scared or not. I just remember how my dad bought me a table set that consisted of a few plates, a cereal bowl, and a tea cup. It was purple and made in Portugal. And when my parents left I looked at this set on my kitchen counter and I felt very hollow. But then I had committed to a new life and there was meaning to it.

I still had two of the purple plates and the tea cup. The cereal bowl broke years ago.

I went to the hotel lobby and as I was going down the stairs there was a couple. They were American, in their fifties probably. He had a kind and simple face and grey hair, and she was making some remarks about fishes in the pond. There was no complexity behind his wrinkles. And I suddenly understood why I could not fall in love with American men. It was not the lack of kindness.

I got an espresso from the bar, went back to my room, filled the bathtub, and kissed the kids goodnight. In the bathroom I took off my clothes, got into the tab, and did not think about anything. Or else I was afraid I would cry. I just sat there peacefully feeling the water on my skin.

Two Gold Elephant Pins

We were staying next to a square window. All I remember was the right lower corner of the window. It stroke me how perfect the straight lines of the window corner were. Through the window I could see the swimming pool. It was a large rectangle. Blue, white, and very still. The corner of the pool did not fit into the corner of the window and it created an intersection of geometrical figures. And I was staring at these figures trying to see some hidden magic behind them. But there was none.

When I looked over the pool there was a straight line of cypress trees. The cypresses were perfect. Tall, elegant, not like on Van Gogh paintings, but unnaturally perfect, like plastic Christmas trees. They created a straight line on the further end of the pool.

I looked at him and I knew that he saw the same lines that I saw. His son went running down to the pool. And we stayed next to the window looking at the blue water below and waiting for his son to appear next to the pool and jump into the water.

*     *     *

There were a lot of dark corridors in that house. Finally I found the room I was looking for. The room had no shape, or I could not see the shape in the darkness. And there it was, the old piano in the corner. I could barely see it. The top of the piano was covered with small boxes and chests. Those chests that you put jewelry in. I opened one box carefully and there was a necklace enrolled in a thin handkerchief. I closed the box. I opened another one, this one was a large black box tied with a ribbon. I took the ribbon away, a purple velvet ribbon, and opened the box. There were some coins, a small statue out of malachite, an old watch, and a few precious stones. My grandmother loved malachite. There should be a small malachite box as well. I looked for it but could not find it. May be it was lost. Then there was a wooden box, and I opened it and then I clearly remembered what I was looking for. Two thin gold elephant pins. Those were extremely old, from thin gold with ruby eyes and some more jewelry decorations on their backs. One elephant pin was bigger than the other. I could not remember the story of these two elephants, but I knew there was a story behind them. My grandmother told me the story many times. Somebody brought those elephants from India as a gift to somebody in our family for saving somebody’s life. I was four then, I used to take both elephant pins in my hands, admire them, touch their ruby eyes, and then pin them on my lapel and run around the house imagining I was a princess from India. And I felt hidden magic power when I wore them. All the jewelry my grandmother had was magical. I felt the ruby ring on my finger and continued opening boxes looking for the two gold elephant pins. They might have lost their polish but I knew they must be in one of the boxes on the piano. It was just very dark around.

*     *     *

We were staying outside. The breeze smelt of sea water and we felt it on our faces and bodies. We stood next to each other on a wide lawn, our feet on the grass. It was very soft and warm. As it is in spring in this part of Europe. In front of us there was the road, the sandy beach, and the sea. And the sky was blue and open. I kneeled with one knee on the grass to pick up something and as I was lifting my head I saw a line of small uneven bumps on his skin above his waistline. “What is it?” I asked. “A scar from an old cancer,” he answered. “It is all past now. Do not worry.” I looked at him and I did not worry. I knew it was all fine.

*     *     *

I woke up at dawn. Cold morning air was entering the room through the blinds. I felt scared of my night dream. Two gold elephant pins. I needed to find these two gold elephant pins. They had the magic. And I remembered every detail of them, as if I saw them yesterday.

How being a girl affects my time managment

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As most people I have hard time setting time for myself, be it for reading, learning something new, writing a blog post (since I’ve started I have been interrupted twice by Skype questions from my coworker, and I replied), or even for watching a movie. With years I got disciplined and made a few rules for myself that I try not to break.

  1. I set time for work. And even if I work from home I am not going to touch our dining table or sweep the floors. I literally forget that I am at home and do not stress out about that piece of cucumber on the floor, our lunch today or the guinea pig cage that desperately needs cleaning.
  2. I set time in my calendar with clear start and end time. For example, Tuesday from 8:30am to 2:30pm work on community building for the brand. I figured out that six hours is good enough time. And I do not schedule any meetings for these hours. I also do not answer calls that are not project related.
  3. I leave 30min slots between each large task or project, this allows me to walk around, breath through, and answer this urgent email from my mom or text a friend who is inviting us for dinner on Saturday. Generally speaking I lose these 30 minutes. However, losing them allows me to save chunks of 4 and 6 hours of uninterrupted time without feeling bad that I am not being responsive to my family and friends.

These three steps allowed me to concentrate on my work and to do a good job when it comes to business. However, I am still struggling to find time for my own growth.

For growth and “feeling good about my life” I need:

  1. To read in chunks of 1-3 hours
  2. Study (I am fan of Coursera courses)
  3. Write my thoughts (via email, blog, or just in a notepad)

And it has been challenging, because I never seem to find a solid block of time to do these things daily. It seems the reverse of my working scheme. I focus on something for 30 minutes and then lose 3-4 hours on just stuff, mostly small stuff (helping kids with homework, fixing dinner, finding my son’s lost sock, scraping magic putty from my daughter’s bedsheets – No, she did not put it there, my son did. And if you are interested, you can only get it off by scraping the putty with a butter knife from the wet and soaped sheet.)

Today a friend sent me two articles on time management and maker’s vs. manager’s schedules. Here they are:

Article about Google email about time management strategy

Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule by Paul Graham

After reading both I started to think how come I have such hard time finding chunks of time for myself when I am not working. And then I thought, what’s the purpose, I am going to be interrupted anyway. And this is it: we expect to be interrupted.

As a kid I grew up first in Russia and later in Spain. A girl, a woman, is always supposed to help at home. When my mom would be cooking I would be asked to help clean the counter or set the table. When she would be cleaning I would be asked to help water the plants. When the friends were at the table I was asked to serve the tea or bring something from the fridge. Those were not hard tasks at all, and most of the time I enjoyed doing them. However this daily routine set me for “I am going to be interrupted” mode. It made me not start anything that would require deep concentration and absentmindedness. On the other hand, my brother, who by the age of 10 was sitting long hours at his computer playing and then programming, was considered a lost case. He was hard to get hold of, everything would take him 30 min more, considering it got him 30 min to just get off his chair, and at the end he was asked much less than I was.

I grew up expected to jump off my sit and help right away. I think that most of the girls are raised this way.  When it comes to simple household tasks girls are asked more than boys to help. And we grow up with the “schedule” where we can’t sit at home for 3 hours without being interrupted. Most of the time we will be asked to do something every 30 minutes if not more often. This sets us up for future manager’s schedule, but prevents us from working as makers. Those are my thoughts on why I find it so hard to set 2-3 hour chunks for myself every day to just read and learn.

I am raising two kids. One girl and one boy, and the truth being said, I ask my daughter to help more, exactly as I was asked to help more when I was 10. The simple reason is that my son would be so involved with his legos or books or whatever he is doing that it is hard to get his attention. I would need to repeat the same thing 5 times and to go fetch him, and then chase him, and then he will negotiate with me (in most cases unsuccessfully) trying to get more iPad time in exchange for help. My daughter would just come and help. And I chose the easy way.

Ok, as the next steps, I will set up some uninterrupted evening / night time for myself. And yes, I will have to do something with my kids’ schedules. In the past few days I had to leave them for a few hours at home by themselves, and each time I wrote for them a list of tasks they had to do before they could play iPads. Miraculously every time I got back home everything was done in the best possible way (I mean it! They literally cleaned what I asked them to clean). I think I can try this strategy for a bit and see if it works. This way they can do things at their own rhythm, and my daughter gets a chance to be a maker as well.