Monday, September 9, 2013

Prep for change

The dramatic changes in people's lives are often cued by major events--getting married, having children, moving to a new country, taking on a new job, contracting a serious illness. You are forced to re-prioritize, to recognize what is important and to adapt accordingly.  Over the last 18 years, my life has been relatively stable. Changes, when they have come, have been subtle enough to be easy to assimilate without major reorganization. So, playing the odds, my life is probably due for an upheaval, and hang on tight because here it comes.

I have mentioned in my blog before that my mom has dementia and is becoming more and more cognitively impaired as time passes.  My father is still around, but he is 90 years old and needs care of his own.  As a family, we've gone through episodes of trying to extricate her from him or introducing them to more supportive living arrangements but no, no, this is not the way their generation was taught to live. They don't want to be burdens, etc. etc.

Against our better judgement and to keep the peace, my siblings and I have let them have their way.  When they push back, we yield.  It's gotten to the point, though, when yielding is no longer an option and what is needed is an intervention.

So this me intervening.  I have taken my mom to stay with me for an undefined period of time.  This means changes to my house and my household. This means changing my work and play schedule--teaching, research, Krav Maga, diving, the gym, ProgVar.  All of these things have to be rethought so that I can manage this new phase of life.

In my first paragraph, did I say hang on tight?  I meant just let go.  Change is coming and it may be best to let it carry you where it will. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Morbid curiosity

I'm about to do something that I know has a high chance of being a disaster. The voice in my head is telling me, "You DO NOT want to do this.  Your life will be so much happier NOT doing this."  Yet here I go, barreling into what may very well be a train wreck.

Why is that?

I guess I would like to see whether my prejudices are justified.  These fears were forged years ago, from a conflict of values that led to bitterness and anger.  Now I'm curious.  Does conflict still exist, or have things indeed changed?  Will this move finally lead to resolution, absolution, and acceptance or will I be kicking myself in the rear saying, "You IDIOT!"?

The Urban Dictionary defines morbid curiosity as the collision of curiosity and common sense. What I'm about to do, I do out of morbid curiosity. I risk a poor outcome, true, but the sentiment itself, the need to know, macabre as it is, is not necessarily bad.  I find a rational basis (and therefore comfort) from this quote from Eric G. Wilson:

To stare at macabre occurrences—this can lead to mere insensitivity, gawking for a cheap thrill; or it can result in stunned trauma, muteness before the horror. But in between these two extremes, morbid curiosity can sometimes inspire us to imagine ways to transform life's necessary darkness into luminous vision.

After this experience, I may just turn out to be a better person.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The pork barrel

When you apply for a grant from DOST, you have to submit a budget that breaks down all your expenses by line item, by year.  The line items are not arbitrary.  They are taken from the a list of published, government-sanctioned line items.  You cannot deviate from this list.  Upon submission, the grant proposal undergoes a multistage review process that assesses the proposed work's scientific merit, the appropriateness of the chosen research methods, the project's benefit to the community, the reasonableness of its budget, and its alignment with national priorities.  Sometimes, the reviewers tell you to trim activities or cut costs, hire fewer personnel or do away with certain equipment purchases.  If you pass all these reviews, you are awarded the grant.

Once the program or project in underway, you have to submit quarterly reports to DOST. Each report has a summary of your accomplishments, vis-a-vis your workplan. You also need to submit an approximation of your expenses to date.  The accuracy of your report is validated by your program officers.  They visit every quarter, report in hand, checking to see that you did indeed report your progress and your expenses truthfully.  By the third quarter, you have to submit an audited financial report.  By the end of each year, you need yet another audited financial report showing complete liquidation of the funds, along with any other outputs including paper published.  Until this report is received and accepted, you may not receive your next tranche of funds, assuming you still have one.

DOST has become more and more strict with financial accountability over the years. When I received my first grant back in 2006 or 2007, they did not scrutinize the foreign travel budget that extensively.  You stipulate money for a trip.  You didn't have to say to where or for what purpose.  In recent years, though, they have required grant proponents to stipulate the destinations in the budget proposal, as well as the purpose for the travel. Furthermore, before you can use the foreign travel budget and even when the money is already with your school, you have to write DOST again to inform them that you are about to use the funds and wait for approval before proceeding.

At the end of the project, you have to submit a final report.  You also have to return any unspent funds to DOST. These funds then get funneled back into the National Treasury.

Given my own experience with DOST and COA, my sense is that the Philippine government has a strict and thorough system of reporting and accounting.  How the pork barrel came to be misappropriated both stuns and pains me.  These were brazen acts, undertaken in defiance of law and of conscience.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Maybe not

Last week, I received notification that a grant proposal I submitted could no longer be accommodated because funds were already fully allocated.  The grant-giving body assured me that I would wait-listed, in case funds were suddenly freed up. Alternatively, they said, they could line me up for 2015. In the meantime, they said, I may want to work on some of the comments / suggestions that the reviewers shared.

Rejection of any kind is never fun. If you get rejected enough, though, you grow a thick skin and try not to regard the rejection or the reviewers' opinions as a commentary on your worth as a person.

As if to convince myself that I was indeed rejected, though, I read the letter and the comments several times, asking myself whether the letter alluded to any hope at all. Respond to the comments. Resubmit.  OK, I guess that qualifies as hope.  But to line myself up for 2015.  Hmm... That doesn't seem very practical at all.

No, life must go on.  There are other ways of achieving these ends.  Indeed, there are other ends that need to be achieved.  It makes no sense to hold on to this cause, in the hope that it will somehow become more needed or more relevant in two years--when technology, priorities, and research interests have grown and changed.  Wait until 2015?  Maybe not.

I will submit something, yes, but it won't be this. It *can't* be this. It has to be different. It has to be better. 

Friday, August 16, 2013


If I were told that I only had two more years to live, I would try to spend as much time as I could with the people who mattered most to me.  I'd reach out to family and friends, scheduling lunch with each one on every available day.  I would brave the traffic and the weather to be with them.  I would spend the time listening to their stories, vicariously living a life that I presumably never could.  A recent PhD comic strip ended with the thought "...cherish the time you spend with the people you love."  That's how I would spend my time--being with the people I love the most.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I wish you could understand... that maybe you're making things harder than they need to be.

I realize that you need to prove that you are a strong and independent individual, that you know what you want and that you can carry any cross that life rests on your shoulders.  I know that you have spent your life being the go-to person of just about everyone else. 

It is not your way to ask for advice, because to do so implies that there is someone whose opinion you trust more than your own, and we certainly can't have that. You are the problem solver, the manager, the expert, the sage.

Neither is it your way to ask for help, because you are the one who helps other people, not the other way around.  You were 911 before there was a 911.  Everyone comes to you.

When it finally is you with the problem, with the burden that needs carrying, you have to prove that you can carry it alone.  What I wish you could understand is that there are some burdens that aren't meant to be borne alone. They are meant to be shared.  By refusing to share the burden, you are making life more difficult than it has to be and you are missing out on an opportunity to get closer to the people who care about you most.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

An old, low-tech idea that no one seems to have picked up

About a decade ago, some close relatives of mine moved to the US to start a new life.  On special occasions, I would look online for gifts to order for them (Amazon is my friend).  I was always on the lookout for Filipino food: was it possible order crispy pata frozen and vacuum-sealed and have it shipped to them?  Alas, I always ended up order chorizo because there was no prepacked, ready to eat Filipino food that was available by mail order.  I went so far as to write the Max's branch in California to ask if they could do something like this. They said no.

Earlier today, I began my search again and still came up empty.  I could order ready-to-eat Indian curries.  I can get sausages and cheeses of all kinds.  I can get smoked salmon.  I can order steaks.  I recently found out I could order Kansas barbecue, baked beans, and a number of fixings. Filipino food, though, remains illusive.

If Filipino food is supposed to be the next big thing in cuisine and given size of the Filipino diaspora, why hasn't someone capitalized on mail order Filipino food?  'Tis a mystery.   To our entrepreneurs:  If anyone picks up on this idea and decides to freeze, vacuum seal, and ship Filipino viands, please put me on your mailing list.  You have one customer right here.