If you are grateful for where you are, then you have to respect the road that got you there.” A friend showed this quote to me, and I don’t have the original reference.

Especially in college, the majority of us feel like we are wandering through life, mapping out where we want to go, but this journey often seems aimless. We may riddle our thoughts with what ifs and I should haves which only harbor uncertainties about our choices. We worry that changes to our past would have been led us to something that “feels right.” This is dangerous thinking, mostly futile actually…since there is nothing you can do to change the past. They are also a little foolish because you are at the University of Michigan! Whatever road you took got you HERE! That’s something to be grateful for. Instead of second guessing, remember where you are. Dismiss regret and move forward. You learned something on your road, so take that knowledge to your next destination.

Open Floor Studio @213 S State St

This is Lily. Lily has outsmarted the world. She can do whatever she wants…and be successful.

I would write a short biography of her life thus far, but truly, I don’t think I or anyone knows exactly what’s she’s up to…the one thing we know though is that she’s always up to something. Here are some glimpses of Lily in the world:

Lily and I met in high school, I knew her to be someone who is fond of music, she was exceptional pianist as well as first chair cello in the high school orchestra. One evening, Lily came to my house to hangout….with a guitar. Lily explains, “I’m teaching myself how to play guitar.” And so she did.

Lily spent a year at Kalamazoo College, then transferred to UM the following year. One day, I saw her at the CCRB on the stationary bike with headphones in watching the children’s show Caillou. No question of why. It’s Lily. She’s probably up to something. I took a seat on the bike next to her, and she acknowledged the fact that she’s watching a show for toddlers. “I’m learning Portuguese.” And so she did. Next thing I know I got a Facebook message from Lily indicating that she was traveling in Portugal. 

Lily had mentioned “I’m interested in studying medicine.” I texted Lily last month to ask if she was free on Friday. She responds, “I’ll be in Uganda, as I am currently in Uganda.” Lily was volunteering with Operation International, a surgery team that provides health care around the world. Upon her return to the States, Lily found herself at center stage in front of a small crowd at a newer singer-songwriter venue called Open Floor Studio. From the girl who could roughly play a C chord on the guitar at my house years ago to here in Ann Arbor performing her own original folk songs, Lily is a self taught musical prodigy and self-taught whatever she wants to be. I admire how Lily always has an idea and then will to make it come true. She is a breathing embodiment of Walt Disney’s expression: “If you can dream it, you can do it.” I can’t wait for the rest of the world to meet her.

Malaa at the Russell Industrial Center

Every time I drive to Detroit, I see this enormous mural but I never knew what was inside. On Friday night, I learned. I bought tickets to see Zendlo, Golf Clap & Malaa perform and the venue listed “Russell Industrial Center at 1600 Clay Street, Detroit Michigan.” I googled the location and honestly I was a little skeptical. I have been to many concerts, but never a concert at this place.

So my companion and I drive into a regulated parking system and find ourselves into the closed in center lot between the towering structures of the Russell. It is dark and unfamiliar. There is a water tower stacked on the very top of the building. We peer through the windows and see giant empty spaces. We follow the sound of the music to a door illuminated by red and white lights to be greeted by enthusiastic staff and reassuring security. I learn that this place a gathering site that can suit anything from art studios, music studios, galleries, exhibitions, concerts, weddings, motion pictures, and really any creative event. It’s wicked cool how many people also knew to come to this seemingly dilapidated, vacant, broken-glassed industrial building off of Chrysler Freeway for a hub of a variety of arts. By 1am, the cold space had filled with bassheads and house music that made the night feel timeless. And man what a night! You might be able to see the outside, but you can’t judge a place until you know what’s inside.


Only an hour drive from Ann Arbor and what a different world. Check it out:

Strings of India

Hindustani classical music is developed through two interwoven elements: Raga and Tala. Raga is a melodic element and is crafted by improvisation on fixed patterns of ascent and descent. Tala is the rhythmic structure on which the melody is laid.” So to my understanding, Tala is the template to which Raga molds in the artist’s own creative original way.

The Strings of India concert this past Friday in Ann Arbor expressed this style of music using the Sarod,  a 25 string fretless ethnic instrument, and the Tabla, a membranophone percussion instrument that plays by unique configurations of the palms and fingers and requires constant retuning. Two artists dressed in traditional Indian attire sat poised at the front of the orange and yellow accented Hussey Room, one with the Sarod and the other with the Tabla. This genre of music was new to me. To be candid, I felt pretty naive hearing this performance. I had no gauge of what was considered good Indian music; I had never listened to it. Basic questions filed through my head. What are these instruments? Well, I could deduce that a 25 string instrument must be difficult to master. Playing my 6 string is hard in itself, and I have frets to measure where the notes are…so imagine more than 4 times the strings on a guitar minus the indications of the notes given by frets and that roughly equates the complexity of the Sarod. The Tabla looks like a simple goatskin circle that generates different sounds depending on where you strike it…so knowing where to strike it to produce the desired output must be quite a feat. How good are these guys on stage? Turns out, the two gentlemen before me were globally recognized as prestigious musicians, and I had hardly understood the magnitude of their talent until this Friday. Apratim Majumdar, the Sarod player, and Amit Kumar Chatterjee, the Tabla player, have very strong, extensive music backgrounds and are prominent in the music world. They have celebrity status in India (I confirmed this with a coworker from India), and after listening to them gain momentum in their performance, their remarkable talent becomes obvious.

It’s amazing how different the lives of these musicians are from mine. Their practice focuses on intimate time with just themselves and their instrument. Mine is based in the Ugli, study collaborations, and standardized tests. I wonder how they chose to dedicate their lives to mastering an instrument. I wonder if their interest ever tires after hours and hours of rehearsing. I wonder if there such thing as being the best _______ in the world. Best Sarod player. Best Tabla player. Best surgeon. Best chef. Best employee. Best friend. Is being the best based on statistics…or what? In that case, how can you test music in a statistical way? Maybe by the accuracy of notes…no! Hindustani classical music is improvisation. Thus, there is not a standard correct way to play because there is no script for them to follow. Surgery faces complications in the case of emergency so the surgeon must improvise. If every chef followed the same recipe, all food would taste the same. Chefs improvise. Employees don’t deal with the same exact case every day so they improvise. Every friend is different and so are his or her experiences, so friendship adapts to these changing circumstances by improvising. So how can we grade each other based on a standard when life is improvisation?????

I’m thankful to be at a school that fosters my interest to explore the world through art and music in the closeness of the city I call a home, Ann Arbor.

Special thanks to SPICMACAY, the Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture Amongst Youth. I and crowds of people are able to see performances at the University of Michigan by Indian artists from across the globe for free because of this group’s efforts. Through events like Strings of India, the organization promotes an understanding of the richness and depth of Indian culture and has expanded immensely since its establishment in 1972. Groups like this help make a big world feel small.

Here’s a video of one of Apratim Majumdar and Amit Kumar Chatterjee’s performances.


The secret to knowing what to do with your life

The UMMA presented a documentary about a Disney animator titled “Floyd Norman: An Animated Life.” From the film, the viewers got to know Floyd Norman and his journey with Walt Disney Animation Studios, beginning with his first rejection to being employed to his later rejection. Keep reading to see what I mean.

He seems like a goofy guy, carefree and creative (as reflected by his attire: a black fedora and round glasses), and extremely passionate about his role as a writer, animator, and comic artist. From the documentary, I was hoping to get some insight as to how to find a career that is as fulfilling as animation is for Floyd Norman, but alas, there was no obvious method, no algorithm, no secret that guaranteed this. Norman shared that he applied to the job at Disney and was rejected. Disney said “go get an education.”

First rejection.

So he went to college. Three years into college, he got a call from Disney, and he was asked, “Do you still want a job? If you do then come to the office at 8am on Monday.” And on Monday he went…and since then still works for Disney. I guess what I learned from this is that getting an education is the most important element to pursuing anything. It’s a platform for everything you might want to do…especially at a school like Michigan that allows for extensive opportunities in various fields. Norman went to college to follow the protocol enforced by his dream job. While in college, he could have continued pursuing what was expected in order to achieve that Disney goal. He could have given up the Disney idea. He could have found a path leading to a future he liked better. This is one purpose of education: verification and exploration and verification. You read that correctly. It took his first rejection to verify that he truly wanted to employment with Disney because he committed to the the crooked, unplanned pathway they assigned to him. What are you willing to do to achieve your dream future? While you have an outline to your goal, you can explore along your way. For example, you may take the credentials for a career in medicine and then realize that you want go into fashion. It’s your life. Do whatever you want. So what if you change your mind. See is as: now you’ve harvested a new skill in knowing science. Knowledge, of any domain, is power…in more ways than one. More importantly, you’ll never wonder what if…you’re purpose will be supported not only by interests, but likewise by the disinterests. I think the latter statement is extremely underrated. Knowing what you don’t like is crucial to narrowing down what you do like. Otherwise, you could be missing a world of interests you overlooked. Exploration does not necessarily indicate a change in goal. It coincides with verification. When you explore, you verify that you want to follow the path you’ve chosen or you verify that you want to change it. This self knowledge gives power to your decisions. Knowledge is power…in more ways than one.

The documentary ended and the lights came on. I was going to the UMMA to watch a movie and it was over. Ready to leave, I turned towards the exit when my companion stopped me and gestured to look toward the front of the small auditorium. A man in a black fedora and round glasses walked down the side aisle to the stage under the screen. Floyd Norman, here at Michigan. He stayed for a Q&A session. One point I want to reiterate is his philosophy on growing old. He’s 80 years-old and he says he can’t wait for 90. What an admirable perspective on aging. And the most inspiring part of this UMMA excursion was learning that he was asked to leave work because he was too old.

Second rejection.

He was furious. So Norman found a way to continue “working.” Most people look forward to their retirement starting as early as…well, now. In college. People are thrilled to stop working. Not Floyd Norman. He found a job that never asked him to work a day in his life. How do you do that?

So, I don’t know the secret. Is it rejection? Exploration and verification? Unless you have the secret…

What Makes the World Feel Small?

Hundreds of people of all ages crowded the Michigan Theater to see a presentation part of the Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series: the Blue Planet and Planet Earth Production Teams: “Capturing the Wild.” The team traveled around the world to places you and I will probably never see in order to expose the beautiful planet we call home.

To introduce the evening, the representative from the U-M Museum of Natural History’s William R. Farrand Memorial Lecture announced the museum’s grand reopening, special thanks to the support from U-M Institute for the Humanities. Then the lights went out and the room was pitch black. Out of the darkness, the audience saw a piercing light from the ceiling. Under the light is a helmet. Then attached to the helmet, a man descended from the ceiling attached to a rope assembly with the headlamp. Tim Fogg. What an entrance. He, the rope access specialist, landed and met his wife and co-specialist, Pam Fogg, on stage to share their experience in making Planet Earth and its companion BBC show, Blue Planet Production. I was astounded by the teamwork necessary to make this film happen. Other speakers include Hugh-Jones and Rachael Butler. Without going too far into details in the production, it was clear that they and anyone else on the team each served as a vital part of the team, and in very particular ways. For example, Hugh-Jones discussed how the videocamera needs to be on a completely flat surface, but in nature, this is hard to come by…especially on a cliff in the polar regions. While they were shooting the gaping glacier entrance, they wanted to get the perfect angle to view the opening of the cave which would be from the middle of the glacial wall surrounding the entrance, stacking thousands of feet above ground. So, they had an expert team (of what I would guess are mastermind physicists) contruct a platform INTO THE GLACIAL WALL. It was somehow suspended safety into the steep siding and steady for the videographer to sit for hours on end while they get the best coverage. Another element that amazed me was the exclusive sitings that they had to strategic placement of cameras based on knowledge of the land (for this job a biologist or zoologist seems suitable) and the animals that inhabit the land. This photo was taken by a camera hidden alongside a mountain.

Not to mention the patience during this entire process! So two things that I wondered during this presentation:

  1. How many different careers were pooled into the Planet Earth team? The presentation accounted for potentially pilots, physicists, zoologists, videographers, divers, doctors…what else? This is reassuring to young people out there who don’t know what to do with their career paths. With such a diverse team, maybe you too could apply your skills to the Planet Earth group.
  2. If these people have traveled all over the world to places unseen by man, does the world feel small to them? What is it that makes the world feel small? Is it traveling to many places? Or knowing many people? Reading many books about different cultures? What do you think?