Tu es en moi…

Several years ago, I read a French phrase that struck me rather hard. In place of I miss you, the French say, Tu me manques,  which translates to a literal You are missing from me. Even until the beginning of this year, if you were to ask me how I miss you, I would perhaps say it echoes the very nature of this phrase, like a wrenching cramp somewhere inside me, reminding me very distinctly of what is not there. But I think it has been changing, very gradually, with you and me, with us as we evolve.

You are so firmly in me, everywhere- you’ve already become the parallel mental voice, the voice of calm, of humour, of the one that reminds me that sometimes a breath is all it takes to start fixing things. The one that gently chides when I sometimes start on my downward spiral of self-hatred, and tugs gently at the part of me that knows that I am much more than a sum of my worst mistakes. You are here, never really gone anymore, even in distance and silence.

Tu es en moi, mon cher amour. 

 

Advertisements

I am not happy…

I am finding it harder to talk to people when I am sad or crying or not happy, and this isn’t a plea for help. There have been times in the past when I have been desolate, completely unaware of what to do to, and I haven’t been able to confide in anyone- this isn’t that. It is, in some ways, the exact opposite. I say harder, because it is the explanation of this difference that is difficult- the fact that this sadness is different from my usual bouts of self-destructiveness that have happened in the past. My friends get concerned if I mention that I have been crying, and it is but natural, because had the situation been reversed, I might have persisted in dragging it out of them. There is a fantastic Oatmeal comic which comes the closest to how I feel on certain days. After years of wondering how to, I seem to have transitioned from someone who needed/wanted people, to someone who automatically assumes that there isn’t anyone better for the job than myself.

My sadness is no longer violent, or teary, or jealous or humiliating. If I had to describe it, I’d say crying gives me the same sensation as the initial relief in getting toxic alcohol out in vomit. My tears feel the same way as the rain tracks on my face when driving with an open window, and I can usually manage to do some other mind work with perfect focus after the silent outburst. I basically sit, cry, get down with it, wipe my cheeks and move on.

Now ordinarily I’d call that a cause for celebration, because this seems like a pinnacle of the self-love argument. I only feel like giving people my company when I am positive, and productive and happy, and manage myself when I’m not. But I’m sceptical of the way this has been happening and as to how sustainable it will be. I have a suspicion I’m getting into this mindset because I am moving away from people, changing countries and time-zones, and I want to isolate myself before they isolate me, however inadvertently. Almost everyone is more excited than I am, because they envision the opportunities with a much rosier lens. Those who are not as excited are so owing to whatever ways this shift would affect their own lives. In this case, quite logically, I am the only person remaining that I can truly discuss my apprehension and insecurities with (although being with one of the most fantastic listeners I know helps a lot).

For as long as I can remember I have had this habit of wanting to be what we call in economics, the “first mover”. Even to someone who knows no game theory, it would be clear that first movers have certain advantages. When I was a shy, slow child who liked to read, I would hasten to say that I didn’t like the slide at all, and so I was letting the other children climb it instead. This averted the risk of letting my parents push me into attempting the activity and getting bullied. I quit swimming because my instructor made me feel pathetic about being scared of not getting oxygen, and said it was because some kid had pooped in the pool a day before. I pretended that school captain responsibilities took up entire lunch breaks to avoid confrontational scenarios with my so-called friends which might end in them abandoning me. I ended up reassuring men I didn’t expect our relationships to last, before they could tell me that.

And it still hurt just as much. All of it. I hate being a chronic first-mover, because it’s more like chronic first-pusher. I hate the fact that the only reason I don’t have a single thing I want, is because I’m too scared to admit I want it badly and then have it go away because of that same want. I have my eggs in multiple baskets and I pretend I don’t care which one I eat. My mother has that bit right about my commitment issues- just that she doesn’t understand why. I’m not sure I would ever have the urge to explain it to her in a way she would understand.

I think I am always trying to cut people off mentally and I know that’s probably not very healthy, given that I occasionally keep lecturing Oree and others about this same phenomenon. It is just that the futility of having people in the world but not having them close, gets to me at times. In such moments it’s just easier to tell them you don’t want to talk, to shut the world out, cry, play music and just sit in a haze. Rather than explain something they have no way of making a difference to in that moment, and having them feel guilty because of this.

It’s only words…

This is, for the lack of a better word, a ramble. Recently, the man I love asked me what I expect out of the two of us. And I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to figure it out.

Short answer, I want to be the best of myself with him as he grows into the best of himself. For us to have each other’s back through everything- good, bad, ugly, neutral.

Now because we don’t live in an isolated jungle, there arises the issue of names and terms and explanations. I don’t want to call him my boyfriend and have it mean a certain set of things others have pre-decided for us in sitcoms and romance novels. He’s one of my best friends. He’s also my favourite person to sleep with, or gaze at, or work with. A person I talk to when I win a prize or torture myself in self-doubt. Someone I can spend hours in silence with. He mayn’t actually be the only person in some of these categories. But the fact remains that he exists across all of them. Is there ever then a “just this or that” in a relationship like ours?

We’ve spent several hours on multiple days, engaging our author-reader brains to come up with a word that does our situation justice. I am a sucker for neat definitions at times, not particularly for my own self, but because I do not have the energy to be incessantly bothered by a world used to compulsive verbalizing. He humours me in ways that no one does, and so we’ve delved into Bengali and Japanese, English of course, even Thai perhaps, tried and failed to come up with one blanket that covers all our curves and ridges in the fit we prefer between the two of us. The closest we’ve come is Bronte’s Wuthering Heights-

  ‘Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same

The trouble, much like for Catherine and Heathcliff, is that this is a concept a lot of people cross-examine to shreds but precious few understand. Earlier, they would insist on having me tick any one box only- boyfriend or lover, husband or maybe a friend with benefits. Even with improvements, all the 21st century has done is increase the number you can check off- you don’t get to go out of the box unless you really struggle. So, on the one hand, there are your societal markers of flowers and anniversaries, mandatory phone calls and meetings, sex frequencies and cunnilingus requirements, milestones and rings, and eventual babies. On the other, there is a dazzling world of no rules, no commitments, a do-as-you-please-whilst-(mind)fucking-people anarchy. Somewhere in the middle, people like me are left wondering why there doesn’t seem to be a better third option.

In a country like mine, we possibly have one of the largest proportion of science scholars knowing exactly how sex is an evolutionary tool and an act of pleasure, but somehow,  for generation after generation, marriages are still meant to reflect a divine component. You don’t really get to squirm out of it saying you’ve found your heaven in building separate positive lives together. Not even when the Earth is already vomiting humans past carrying capacity and could really use a break from fresh cute-faced angels of doom. Say you don’t believe in marriage and you will immediately be tossed aside into the category of saucy, impertinent “sinners” who live to defy. Apparently you can still only be a binary (mostly) when it comes to romantic relationships, even in an era where gender and sexual fluidity are catching on.

I’m sure he and I cannot be the only people crossing linguistic boundaries in attempts to have a back-up term we can use to tell people how we’re our own brand of normal and yet special. And yes, at some point or the other, because we’ve not perfected social indifference, we do feel like telling some people how there’s nothing wrong with not wanting what everyone’s running after. How it’s not a case of not being able to achieve the targets everyone sets, but more like, how we’ve never seen the point of those targets anyway.

Long story short, I don’t see why the internet still shows up results that equates label less to a lack of commitment, or honesty or hard work. I don’t see why formalized romantic relationships are supposed to be a watertight box of virtue when I’ve witnessed firsthand that they aren’t. I don’t see why friendships should be any less worthy of validation and protection, vis-a-vis romantic relationships, or why they should necessarily even exist in disjoint circles or murky intersections. I don’t understand why love only wears labels, when I’m a thrift-store person anyway.

Tinder Stories: Kidnap Vehicle

*This is one of those letters one writes absolutely confident of the fact that it won’t ever be read by the intended recipient. I can’t remember if I told you I have a blog, I can’t remember if you would remember the link- do me a favour, if you find this, let’s never talk about it. Of course, you’d possibly want to laugh at it, but please refrain. Thanks Frand.*

To the boy with the kidnap vehicle,

You broke every rule I had about swiping right. You were conventionally cute, like a  model in a Sherwani advert, you had no bio to write home about, you were very evidently well-to-do unlike my usual broke artist profile preferences, and I was sure you liked/wanted sex- in short, you were someone I was confident would never swipe someone like me. All you had was an exceptionally well-dressed father (joke) and a sense of humour. “Sorry Dad’s not available” is to date my favourite cheesy line. Perhaps in a different time, in a different place, we’d never even have matched. But two bored misfits in a sleepy town somehow did.

Asking for a meeting on the same day after one conversation, you broke a whole other set of rules. Never go out for a first date at night, always go to a very public place that you know, don’t let them drive you around, and so on. You said you drove a white ’90s kidnap vehicle and you’d pick me up in half an hour for tea. The tea deterred me for a second, but it really was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

So usually cautious twenty-something me, who has back-up plans for back-up plans, set off on a drive with a stranger, leaving behind his name and number with the concerned roommate in case a police complaint became necessary. The moment I laid my eyes on you, and you confirmed it soon after, I realized we weren’t each other’s type at all. And wasn’t that a relief (Not at all a waste of a lovely night)! I had, quite inadvertently, managed to do what I’d been trying Tinder out for in the first place- to make a friend.

Thus began the thrice-weekly, sometimes more, tea sessions and driving around Trivandrum, amiably bickering over whose music taste is classier (yours, hands down) and whether tea is better than coffee (not in this lifetime). I made friends with a rich guy with a family business and realized just how much of it is stereotype, and it’s definitely one of the few times I’ve loved having been proved wrong. I made friends with a boy seemingly from a different world, and realized loneliness and dreams pretty much taste the same, everywhere.

I remember, out of our ten- twelve meetings spread over two months, there was this one night when it rained a lot. We got caught in the rain when we were leaving the tea shop and we ran the last few metres to the car, laughing, as we hurled ourselves inside, completely drenched. I remember thinking to myself, that in a movie, they’d have placed a kiss here, because it would be the sequence expected of a man and a woman in that position, in an isolated place. I remember thinking how nice it was, that we didn’t have to. That at least in that one white kidnap vehicle, two strangers, a man and a woman could build a world where they could be comfortably friends without anything getting in the way. You let me pick the next song, and then proceeded to laugh at it. It was very nice.

You broke every rule I had in the best way possible. You helped me find new memories in old places, in a town that I was sure had scarred me forever. And I don’t know if you fully understood why I gave you a gift that I had painted, made by hand- but it was only because in our brief time, we created something and sent it out into the world, something intangible and positive. In a world always threatening to send us off balance for being romantically alone, for those few weeks, we sent out an answer. It is an answer I like very much.

I shall go and listen to the songs you sent me, and think of you fondly as I often do. May your ways guide you towards greater light, my friend.

Love,

A

 

Companion of Words

Dearest A,

This began as a joke in my mind- how I should write about every time when you write something new about your love for the person who left, and I figure out an added dimension to my love for you. One might argue that it is but natural that, in every relationship, layers are revealed only gradually, in which case, this epiphany must happen to every lover on the planet. Personally, however, I feel like placing on record every day how grateful I am to have loved you, even on the most maddening ones, and I shall do so without apology.

You know how they always say, in that sanctimonious way, that you should love someone who constantly makes you want to improve yourself? This journey leading up to you has been adventurous, beautiful in parts and a terrible disaster in some ways, but the one thing that has stood out is the constant need to improve, to measure up to some invisible line my partners keep dangling in the air, even if not explicitly stated. It has always been a race– to be a more aggressive kisser, to learn to take the backseat, colder, warmer, wilder, tamer, the right amount of detached, just a little more possessive, less of a worrier, to have better taste in music, to have absolutely low-grade taste in music– Damn. When I reached you, I was possibly not even sure of how much I had left of me inside.

And then there you were, just there, willing to hold out your arms without a thought, in the space of the written word and beyond, without caring if the recipient fits any checklists. In fact, as I soon realized, you don’t even have a checklist, not in the condescending way. You’d love me just as much, if I weren’t a writer, or perhaps a raging alcoholic or a terrible kisser. (To everyone else reading this, this perfect sounding person is as aggravating as the next, so please don’t waste your resources trying to track them down in your quest for the angelic human being.) That being said, I ramble a lot.

Coming to my realization, as you wrote today, about another person being on your mind a lot, I waited for a familiar upsurge of something, fractions of jealousy, longing, desire mixed into an impeccable whole of feeling lost, to surface. And it didn’t. Then I realized I’ve improved myself because you never sought to improve me. Because you’ve seldom invalidated my negative emotions, I had the time to work through them at my own pace- -to pick up each strand of jealousy, resentment, despair and caress it gently, rather than tossing it aside instantly. I had time enough to watch it lean into the touch, and slowly melt away into nothingness. I had the space to learn to be me.

When we found each other, I wasn’t sure how much I had left inside. Now I know, it’ll always be just enough for us.

Love,

A

 

 

What I do when I don’t get to hold you

Dear A,

This moment, like several others in the past two years, is one where I would give anything that is mine to give, to be next to you (and trust me, giving up that “anything” is scary) I want to hold you in my arms, run my fingers through your hair, just breathe next to you- and unlike most of the other occasions when I wish this because I want you, I want this now because I can sense that you need it.

Of course, we don’t need each other. I feel glad that I am at a level now where I can say this without feeling resentful about it. But there is an expanse of no man’s land between what you need and don’t need, and sometimes we float in the “this would be nice to have for a while” territory. I am sitting in a bustling cafe in Mumbai having finished the mundane Excel work I came here to do, and as always, when there is a lull in my brain, it turns to you. Although, that is not strictly accurate- it turns to you ever so often irrespective of workload. When you say you’re keeping yourself busy and reply in monosyllables, a part of me understands exactly why. That part has been growing, and so I have ceased to question with as much frequency.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t see the other things that you’re in the midst of. The number of times that I have wanted to share your despondence are fresh in my mind, even though I veer away from most people’s sadness these days. The thing with yours is, it doesn’t need fixing. (On a somewhat related note, I remembered the “my Sadness wants to fuck your sadness” prompt). Your occasional sadness is not a toxic pit I’m going to burn my hands in- it feels to me more like one of my earliest memories, of pulling a blanket completely over my head, or getting inside the cupboard or under the study table, and staying in that confined space for a while. Or perhaps, all those evenings I spent playing alone under an umbrella covered with a bed sheet to make a tent. It was stuffy at times, inside, but I remember I always had a pang of longing when it was ultimately time to get out- I liked to pretend that if I sat inside long enough, they’d never know where I went.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve liked being hidden away for long periods. So I know for a fact that if I were with you, in such times, I would not want to draw you out until you wanted to come. Perhaps all I want is to sit at the edge, a little outside, or maybe share the darkness if you like. I want you to have a place where your light and darkness can coexist and not have to displace each other.

Yours,

A

 

Ode to my Ideal Reader

All novels are really letters aimed at one person- Stephen King

It’s half past midnight and I’m breathing somewhat heavily, smiling in excitement. A thousand miles away, the man I love is quite likely in a similar state. We are hunched over our respective computer screens and contrary to popular expectation, our giddy delight stems not from a video call, but from the shared editing mode on Google docs, where we’ve spent the last hour fine-tuning his latest story. For some alien version of the FBI keeping tabs on us, this is a scenario repeated every few weeks, the only difference being that we take turns being the recipients of painstaking criticism.

Among the many gems of literary advice that Stephen King delivers, there is none that resonates more strongly with me than the concept of the Ideal Reader, IR for short. No matter how much we like to say that writing must, first and foremost, be for oneself, I don’t think any of us can deny that when we’re setting it out on paper, we imagine telling the story to certain people. Every character is intended to make them think, every pause imagines an intake of breath, every joke is written in the hope that they will find it funny. Indeed, as King mentions, he is extremely nervous while his IR, wife and fellow author Tabitha King, reads his first draft, waiting to see if she will laugh in the right places.

As a writer, most pieces that I write, albeit sprinkled generously with imagination, arise out real-life experiences and encounters. Each story, poem, essay is as such, a baby, if not one that I’ve birthed, definitely one that I am godparent or babysitter to. The concept of the Ideal Reader, hence, as mentioned by Kimberly Vargas, revolves greatly around the concept of trust. Your IR has to be someone you’d rely on to literally raise your baby and raise them well. And two years ago, I found mine.

Several authors might have their reservations about making a loved one their IR. Of course, the concerns are legitimate. A partner, close friend, sibling or parent has the ability to turn around the way you think about your own story, in both good ways and bad. Criticism, if you’re not up to receiving it, might seem unduly harsh when coming from someone who means so much to you. And often if they dislike certain parts of the story, you might be tempted to throw away the entire draft altogether and wallow in your misery. If this is how you work, it is definitely a safer option to stick to an anonymous reviewer, someone from the writing circles that you don’t interact with personally or a paid service online.

To quote Veronica Sicoe, “My ideal reader can be a total jackass sometimes too.” He is possibly the only person I know who will tell me outright when some thing is horribly written. But one of the best parts about having someone you love, who knows some of the most intimate stories of your life, as the IR, is that they know where you’re coming from and where you’re trying to take things. They will pick up the strands that are high quality but hopelessly tangled and show you exactly how to weave the masterpiece you dreamed of. In the same vein, they will also tell you when you’re letting a particularly grandiose idea take you away from your objective- showing people what your story is all about.

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”- Neil Gaiman

Unless they’re writers.

So, what, one might ask, are the prerequisites of an IR? Well, as a minimum, nothing much other than the fact that they must enjoy reading your writing and be committed to telling you nothing but the truth. I’ve lucked out because I have an IR who is a writer, and he in turn will tell you the same (I hope). If you ever get blessed with this combination, you’ll realize that your work becomes tougher and easier simultaneously.

You get criticism worthy of Gordon Ramsay, pointed enough not merely to circle the mistake but rip apart exactly what doesn’t work. But you also get ideas on how to patch things up, and instances of why a certain plot point or character aspect doesn’t sound plausible, rather than a vague “Something seems off.” Which means that for both of us, our edit times get cut by half if not more. What I bring to the table in terms of grammar checks, he complements by pointing out the lapses in character development. And while it’s strictly not necessary that two writers be each other’s IRs, I find that, as of now it works rather well for us.

If only for the mutual backslapping two broke authors can occasionally indulge in.

 

For those writers who haven’t read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’, please go and do it this week, irrespective of your personal opinion about the author. (No, I don’t get paid to state this here.)