TED Talk Posts

“Hey Kiddo!”

Writer and illustrator of children’s books Jarrett J. Krosoczka‘s graphic memoir Hey, Kiddo is as the sub-title describes “How I lost my mother, found my father, and dealt with family addiction” . As he said in a TED Talk recorded in Oct 2012 that he uses his “imagination for his day time job”. He tells stories with words and pictures. Sometimes he lets the words tell the story and sometimes he lets the illustrations to do the work. He has always loved to draw. His mother was a talented artist too. Unfortunately he did not know her very well as she was a heroin addict and lived most of her life either in jail or in care. His father was faceless and unknown to him till they met when Jarrett was 17 and discovered he had half-siblings. Jarrett K. Krosoczka was formally adopted by his maternal grandparents when he was three years old.

When he was in the third grade, a real author came to the school for an interaction during the school assembly. It was Jack Gantos of the Rotten Ralph series. Jarrett was over the moon with joy. Then the artist came to the classroom and walked around to see what the students were drawing. Looking over young Jarrett’s shoulder, Jack Gantos said “Nice cat”. It was a significant moment for the child as an established author appreciated his art work.

Hey, Kiddo is a mix of traditional graphic storyboards along with paste-ups of Jarrett’s memorabilia. It is painted mostly in tones of grey and orangeish-red with little else colour. The only splash of brightness is in the green and yellow checked shirt of the boy on the cover. This little detail stands out for the glossy finish to the character. Otherwise the book has fragments of the loving letters his mother wrote her son from prison and were preserved by Jarrett’s grandparents. There are pictures of Jarrett with his mother holding her newborn son. There are clippings of his grandparent’s notes to him. There are snippets of the first book he ever wrote for children while in third grade called The Own Who Thought He Was The Best Flyer.

This graphic memoir explores a space of writing for young adults that is tricky as it shares family secrets like a mother who is a drug addict and an absentee father. It is about a family that would probably be termed as “dysfunctional” for not conforming to the socially acceptable norms of a “normal family”. As Jarrett admits in the book he had two incredible parents except that they were one generation removed. On the one hand the author is sharing very personal moments in his upbringing and on the other he has to ensure through his art that the takeaway young readers get from Hey, Kiddo is that they are not alone if they belong to dysfunctional families. Also it is hopefully empowering such readers that it is important to find a way to live, perhaps find a hobby, a passion that you love and stick to it determinedly. In Jarrett’s case it was his love for drawing. This is a confidence building measure that is equally important as holding up a mirror to one’s own experiences as it helps the reader feel he/she is fully in charge of at least one aspect of their life. Truth is always stranger than fiction.

Hey, Kiddo is a graphic memoir that has understandably been shortlisted for many awards and has been a part of innumerable “Best of 2018 Reads” lists for while it focusses on a child/adult who is flawed, it only makes him human — someone the readers can relate to. The book presents the tough childhood Jarrett had or even the difficulties his grandparents had and yet in their eighties they bravely took on a little boy to care for, although they had already brought up five of their own. Yet what shines through Hey, Kiddo is that despite the straitened circumstances, Jarrett was showered with love. He was not necessarily in want. His grandparents recognising his love for art were as heartbroken as their grandson when the public funding for the art classes dried up. So they put their pennies together, a tough decision for self-made man like his grandfather, and enrolled Jarrett into art classes at Worcester Art Museum— and Jarrett blossomed. For his fourteenth birthday they bought him a drafting board. That night Jarrett had a Chinese dinner with his grandparents. On the top hand right corner of the drafting board is pasted the message he received in the fortune cookie that he ate that night — “You will be successful in your work”. Decades later Jarrett continues to use the same drafting board!

Hey, Kiddo is an extraordinary memoir meant for readers of all ages. It is a bittersweet reading experience with a happy ending — full of hope and joy!

From Jarrett J.Krosoczka’s website header. The pile of books he has published.

27 February 2019

“With the End in Mind: Dying, Death and Wisdom in an Age of Denial” by Kathryn Mannix

Bereaved people, even those who have witnessed the apparently peaceful death of a loved one, ofen need to tell their story repeatedly, and that is an important part of transfering the experience they endured into a memory, instead of reliving it like a parallel reality every time they think about it. 

And those of us who look after very sick people sometimes need to debrief too. It keeps us well, and able to go back to the workplace to be reqounded in the line of duty. 

….

Cognitive therapist and palliative medicine pioneer Kathryn Mannix’s With the End In Mind is a collection of medico-narrative stories which focus on the stages of dying. Usually the stories focus on terminally ill patients as it is in such scenarios the patients and their families are anxious and fearful of impending death. The stories are based on decades of her experience with the NHS in UK. They are stories which work equally well as case studies and for the benefit of getting the point across well at times Dr Mannix has clubbed together experiences of more than one patient in one narrative. These are grouped in sections such as “Patterns”, “My Way”, “Naming Death”, “Looking Beyond the Now”, “Legacy” and “Transcendance”.

The stories included in the volume are extraordinary. It is not only the magical quality to the storytelling of experiences while sitting by a patient’s deathbed but it is the calm sense of peace and kindness that pervades every single story. Undoubtedly the crippling anxiety that grips every patient and their families as death approaches has its impact on the families. Every one has a different response mechanism in managing the situation. These may be defined by an individual’s choice of the cultural codes of behaviour they have learned to adopt while processing the dastardly news. The stories are about the experiences of all ages of patients including those who have died in hospitals or those who have died at home surrounded by family. It is always the conversations about dying with every person and their caregivers that may never be easy but has to be conducted.

Notice how often you hear euphemisms like ‘passed’, ‘passed away’, ‘lost’, in conversations and in the media. How can we talk about dying, plan our care or support those we love during dying, theirs or ours, if we are not prepared to name death?

There are many conversations recounted that are memorable for demonstrating to a lay person and the medical professional that certain bedside manners with a large dose of humility, patience, honesty, level headedness, cultural sensitivity, and empathy are required when on a death watch whether offering solace to keening mothers who have lost their babies or even the elderly.  There is one particularly straightforward conversation the “leader” ( head of the hospice where Dr Mannix worked as a young physician) had with a WWII French resistance woman called Sabine who wears her Resistance Medal and who withstood the terror of war and yet was afraid of death. She was an elegant eighty-year-old inmate who was always well mannered and well turned out. Kathryn Mannix was a young trainee in the new speciality of palliative medicine. Her trainer was the consultant in charge of the hospice who had a good rapport with Sabine as he was bilingual and would at times converse with her in French. So when he decided to have the conversation about dying with her in the presence of the nurse to whom she had confided her fears and the young physician Kathryn Mannix, no one was prepared for how the conversation would develop. For the young Kathryn Mannix this particular episode was transformative and has lived with her throughout her career as if on a cinema reel. It formed the basis of her future practice, teaching her to be calm in the face of other people’s storms of fear and “to be confident that the more we understand about the way dying proceeds, the better we will manage it”. She realised over decades of clinical practice that:

The process of dying is recognisable. There are clear stages, a predictable sequence of events. In the generations of humanity before dying was hijacked into hospitals, the process was common knowledge and had been seen many times by anyone who lived into their thirties or forties. Most communities relied on local wise women to support patient and family during and after a death, much as they did ( and still do) during and after a birth. The art of dying has become a forgotten wisdom, but every deathbed is an opportunity to restore that wisdom to those who will live, to benefit from it as they face other deaths in the future, including their own. 

It is curious that Dr Mannix refers to the “art of dying being a forgotten wisdom” as coincidentally historian and chronicler of Delhi and accomplished Urdu translator Rana Safvi mentioned that she has read an account of daily life within the Red Fort during Mughal times where existed a category of women called khair salla waaliyan. They were employed in the Red Fort presumably by the noble families. Their job was to look after well being of the family. They weren’t necessarily nurses or care givers but who could make people feel good.  She thinks their job was to look after the emotional well being of the people being left behind the dying person. None exist now. It is only the professional mourners like the rudalis who continue to exist in Indian society.

[bwwpp_book sku=’97815011732400000000′]

Preparation for death is culturally specific too as with the Swedish ‘Döstädning’, or ‘death cleaning’ which is the focus of Margareta Magnusson’s The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning discussed beautifully in Christina Patterson’s essay “The ‘new hygge’: downshifting for death“. Journalist Arifa Akbar in her interview with Dr Mannix asked a pertinent question noticeable by its absence in the book itself:

AA: The people whose stories you tell in the book do not ever talk about God or an afterlife. Did you edit out these discussions? (You have said that you didn’t want to discuss religion in the context of end-of-life as it can be polarising and unhelpful.) Could you say if some patients do talk about this aspect and if it is helpful to them?

KM: People’s spirituality manifests in different ways. Where this is a religious faith, then people do discuss God and their hopes, anxieties and desires for an afterlife, as well as measuring their personal worth against the constructs of their faith. I’ve met people hopeful for heaven, fearful of hell, anticipating reincarnation, angry with God, or leaving their fate entirely in Divine hands; I’ve met people with no belief and at peace with the idea of oblivion, and others feeling sad at the ending of self-awareness; I’ve met people who have lost their longstanding faith in the face of the perceived injustice of illness; I’ve met people who discover a faith amidst the emotional storms of terminal decline.

Dr Mannix offers some thought provoking options to initiate conversations about dying as well as a way for the mourners to come to terms with their grief such as death cafes where people in similar situations could gather and share their experiences. She also provides template of a letter with possible points to consider for having a conversation about dying. She shares a list of resources that can be considered to prepare for this ultimate stage of life and recommends watching Australian intensive care specialist Dr Peter Saul’s TED Talk “Let’s Talk about Dying” ( Nov 2011). She also acknowledges Dr Atul Gawande’s books too.

With the End in Mind is a devastatingly powerful book of which extracts must be made available freely. It is certainly a book to be read cover to cover and take its learnings to heart, make them your own.  Persuade those who are anxious about the deteriorating health of their loved ones to read it. It is going to be a near-impossible task, but try nevertheless.  It is unsurprising that this book is on the Wellcome Book Prize 2018 longlist. Well deserved recognition!

Kathryn Mannix With the End in Mind: Dying, Death and Wisdom in an Age of Denial ( William Collins, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, London, 2017. Pb. pp.340 Rs 599 

12 March 2018 

 

Scott Galloway “The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google” and Yanis Varoufakis “Talking to My Daughter About the Economy”

Imagine: a retailer that refuses to pay sales tax, treats its employees poorly, destroys hundred of thousands of jobs, and yet is celebrated as a paragon of business innovation. 

A computer company that withholds information about a domestic act of terrorism from federal investigators, with the support of a fan following that views the firm similar to a religion. 

A social media firm that analyzes thosands of images of your children, activates your phone as a listening device, and sells this information to Fortune 500 companies. 

An ad platform that commands in some markets, a 90 percent share of the most lucrative sector in media, yet avoids anticompetitive regularion through aggressive litigation and lobbyists. 

This narrative is also heard around the world, but in hushed tones. We know these companies aren’t benevolent beings, yet we invite them into the most intimate areas of our living. We willingly divulge personal updates, knowing they’ll be used for profit. 

Scott Galloway’s debut The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google is a brisk analysis of these four technology driven companies. This is the man who week before the deal actually happened predicted that Amazon would buy Whole Foods. He argues in his book that these companies will be the first to break ( if they have not already done so) the trillion dollar barrier. The secret of their success is dependant not necessarily on their providing services such as being an effective online search engine (every one in six questions asked of Google has never been posed before), a massive marketplace ( Amazon’s online retail store purports to be the biggest shopping complex making it convenient for shoppers to buy from the comfort of their homes), connecting people across the world by preying on their psychological need to be loved and cared for as exemplified by the “like” button on Facebook or that the of the iconic design of Apple products creating a desire amongst people “permitting” the firm to price its commodities exorbitantly, earning irrational profits and yet, always have ready customers. According to the author, Apple controls 14.5 % of the smartphone market but captures 79% of global smartphone profits. In his TED Talk he says “the combined market capitalization of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google is now equivalent to the GDP of India. ”

The Four is narrated at a brisk pace, almost as if Galloway is lecturing to his students in the classroom. It is a sharp understanding of these four modern day business empires which together are worth $2.3 trillion. He focusses on the speed at which technological advancements permit people to buy, mine the Internet for information or even be connected to people across the globe in miliseconds whether using social media platforms or their smartphones.  He recognises how these companies synonymous with the information age are focussed on delivering a product or a service for the prime objective of earning a profit — a fact often concealed niftily from the end consumer, i.e. you and I, but making these four no different to any other manufacturing firm. Oddly enough these companies such as Google “ages in reverse,becoming more valuable with use” which harnesses the power of 2 billion people every 24 hours. Facebook connects 1.2 b of the 7.5 people in the world.  Apple’s cash on hand is nearly the GDP of Denmark. Amazon is growing at the rate of 20% plus each year. He acknowledges in the book that these companies have benefitted in a manner of speaking by governments which grant them special treatment regarding antitrust regulation, taxes, even labour laws.  The financial worth of these companies is heavily dependant upon the sensitive personal and credit information shared willingly by millions and millions of humans around the globe.

The Four  is very readable in its arguments except that by focussing primarily on the branding and market identity of these companies. Galloway prefers to focus on the consumerism of these services without ever really discussing the impact it has on humans, particularly in terms of the debt incurred by consuming these services offered. This is where Yanis Varoufakis preferance for calling this consumerism as a “a commodification of everything” and how the rise of profit as a major incentive for people to do things come hand in hand with a new role for debt. According to Varoufakis this commodification is the “unstoppable vicotry of exchange value over experiential value” — a characterstic trait of the market society which most modern economies have transformed into.  Individuals now have to rely upon multinational companies that have technological capability to  fulfil their every need. The companies in order to guarantee their profits, use patents to assert legal onwership of their produce. Usually this shift in produce and consumption patterns is done with the help of the state. “To put it simply, private wealth was built and then maintained on the back of state-sponsored violence.” This lucid historical analysis of  modern economy or global capitalism is available in the former Greek Finance Minister’s brilliant Talking to My Daughter About the Economy. Or watch this fantastic lecture on the concept of money he gave at the Google HQ on 29 April 2016 called “And the Weak Suffer What They Must?

These two illuminating books are significant publications of 2017 and very worth reading!

*****

Scott Galloway is the founder of L2 Inc, teaches brand strategy and digital marketing and the NYU Stern School of Business.  He was named “one of the world’s 50 best business school professors” by Poets & Quants in 2012. He is also the founder of Red Envelope and Prophet Brand Strategy. He was elected to the World Economic Forum’s Global Leaders of Tomorrow and has served on the boards of directors of Urban Outfitters, Eddie Bauer, The New York Times Company and UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

Yanis Varoufakis is a former finance minister of Greece and a cofounder of an international grassroots movement, DiEM25, that is campaigning for the revival of democracy in Europe. He is the author of the international bestseller Adults in the Room, And the Weak Suffer What They Must?, and The Global Minotaur. After teaching for many years in the United States, Great Britain, and Australia, he is currently a professor of economics at the University of Athens.

6 December 2017 

Angela Duckworth’s “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”

“Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it.”

Angela Duckworth‘s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance is an analysis of how those who are successful in life are primarily due to their grit, their passion and perseverance rather than talent or being naturally gifted at it. This is the conclusion she came to after studying students and professionals across the spectrum. She wortked with the cadets at West Point to sales people, to school children and interviewed many achievers to understand what made them tick. Surprisingly it was not the IQ scores that determined whether a child/person would succeed at their task. It was dedicated hardwork, perseverance and a passion to excel. Sometimes the hardwork involved in the attempt to excel can be exhausting but it is at this precise moment that the grit of the person decides whether s/he will finish their task. Angela Duckworth interviewed Bill Gates too who said that when he used to screen applicants for Microsoft he inevitably selected the candidate who had completed the tough programming task he had given. He appreciated the candidate’s stamina to stick on till the end rather than give up in frustration. There are many, many examples strewn through the book that confirm her hypothesis that grit determines success, not necessarily talent and IQ. This is a strength of character she states is a good quality to inculcate in children too. The satisfaction of doing something important and doing it well even though it’s so very hard. Children “recognize complacency has its charms, but none worth trading for the fulfillment of realizing their potential.”

Grit is one of those exceptional thought-provoking books that will be influential for a very, very long time. More so since it takes one idea and explore it satisfactorily providing sufficient empirical evidence to make it plausible.  Here is a short TED talk Angela Duckworth made based on her research. It does share the gist of her wonderful book although it is advisable to read the book for the concept to really seep in.

Angela Duckworth Grit Vermilion, an imprint of Ebury Publishing, Penguin Random House, London, 2016. Pb. pp 340

Armand Marie Leroi “The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science”

The LagoonAward-winning The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science by biologist Armand Marie Leroi ( http://www.armandmarieleroi.com/ ) is an absorbing commentary on Aristotle’s Historia animalium of Enquiries into Animals. Examining the text twenty-three centuries after it was written, Armand Marie Leroi discovers many similarities in the way the two scientists approach their discipline, dissections and even in their methodologies. Of course there are many variations too. Yet this is a fascinating book. To be dipped into. To savour. To understand. To experience. To share.

This book is an exploration of the source: the beautiful scientific works that Aristotle wrote, and taught, at the Lyceum. Beautiful, but enigmatic too, for the very terms of his thought are so remote from us that they are hard to understand. He requires translation: not merely in English, but into the language of modern science. That, of course, is a perilous enterprise: the risk of mistranslating him, of attributing to him ideas that they could not possibly have had, is always there. 

The perils are particularly great when the translator is a scientist. As a breed we make poor historians. We frankly lack the historical temper, the Rankean imperative to understand the past in its own right. Preoccupied with our own theories, we are inclined to see them in whatever we read. …obvious to any scientist, if not to all historians, that science is cumulative, that we do have predecessors and that we should like to know who they were and what they knew.” ( p.9)

The Lagoon is profusely illustrated with line drawings. It is amazing to read about the number of animals Aristotle was familiar with. Apparently his student, Alexander the Great, collected and acquired biological specimens whenever he went abroad for his teacher. So Aristotle’s knowledge and understanding of flora and fauna was not confined to those found around the Aegean Sea but far beyond. For instance he was even familiar with an Indian Rhinoceros, hippopotamus and mongoose, biological specimens that are not found locally in Greece.

This book is so elegantly written. It can be read from any point and enjoyed immensely. Reading it from cover-to-cover may become a tad tedious for a layperson but the beauty lies in the ability of Armand Marie Leroi making the science readable. It is packed with information, details and innumerable tiny connections between the past to the present — an admirable feat given that there are a mere twenty-three centuries separating the two scientists.

Given how many giant strides digital publishing has taken in recent years, it would not be a bad idea to have this book converted into an interactive edition for an ereader with tiny movies, snippets of documentaries and 3D images embedded in the text. Maybe something like this full-length interactive book for the iPad that software developer Mike Matas demonstrated at a TED Talk some years ago, March 2011. https://www.ted.com/talks/mike_matas?language=en

The Lagoon is a keeper. A must for personal and institutional collections. I would be delighted if this text could be converted into a Michael Wood-like documentary series for television and the Internet.

Armand Marie Leroi The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science Bloomsbury, London, 2015. Pb. pp.500 Rs499

( with translations from the Greek by Simon MacPherson and original illustrations by David Koutsogiannopoulos )