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.

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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

 

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.)

 

Turn on the light

The lead vocalist asks us to raise our hands if we’re proud of who we are, as people and as artists.

And something suddenly unravels inside me, a tightness that’s been there for a while. And with a few other wavering hands, I raise mine up in the air and smile.

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There’s a gentle drizzle. The accompanying breeze makes the yellow paper lanterns sway, as if in rhythm with the light strumming of the guitar and banjo down below. The drums weave a comfortable,solid presence as fifty-odd people, friends and strangers hum along. Music does this to people- it makes one body out of individuals, a body moving in seemingly eccentric patterns but with a wonderful coherence.

There is silence towards the end of the show as the performers play the opening bars to a song they have dedicated to survivors of depression. What amazes me is that it isn’t an awkward pause. In this audience, there are people who, in some odd way, understand, either first-hand or through their loved ones, what it is like to not want to get up at all, to not eat or bathe or write or paint for days, or to just do all of it in a frenzy until you’re not sure what you’re doing anymore. There are people for whom turning up to a live show like this is one of their greatest achievements this month- they might not have stepped out of home for weeks. There are also people who are lucky enough to be mostly non-depressed, even happy, and who take this moment to understand how that isn’t necessarily a “normal” every one is used to.

As I raise my hand, standing here in this city that I’ve been both non-depressed and depressed in before, it is because I am proud today- of myself, of being able to sing along, of showing up alone, of continuing to write even if it seems to be most ordinary on some days. It’s because I can now raise my hand without feeling weird about being happy about my own existence. And because I have done a lot of things in the past year, good, fun, somewhat crazy, mundane, only for myself, and have loved doing it. It’s because the rain, and the lights, and the songs have the ability to make the darkness beautiful and bearable. And so does my writing, and your art, and someone else’s strumming, or playing or mere existence.

There will be bad days. But try and hold on long enough, and there will be good ones.

Listen to these guys (When Chai Met Toast) here:

Sputnik Sweetheart: Of mirror worlds and split souls

To my companion in all things Murakami (and many others),

You are a storyteller yourself. So tell me,have you ever just picked up your pen and written down something, seemingly normal,  and begun to realize its depths only much later?

A little under two years ago, I penned down a story called ‘The boy and the mirror’. It was written within an hour, reflected some of the very conventional romantic turmoil in my life at that moment and it was a concept that just flowed, without much thought being attached to it. It is fascinating how much your own mind can conceal from you. I see that story now in ways I hadn’t even thought about earlier.

Sputnik Sweetheart refuses to leave my brain, and this is, in particular, because of one specific incident that ties in to these other thoughts. One of the women, Miu, is trapped in a Ferris Wheel at night, and she happens to have a pair of binoculars. With nothing much to do except wait, she trains her binoculars on her bedroom window visible in the distance. And then she sees herself inside her bedroom. I won’t give you details lest it ruin the book for you. But to cut a long story short, it is as if her consciousness is split into two. She is in two places at the same time, if you know what I mean. And no, it isn’t a time-turner story.

Which brings me to, Horcruxes. I know it isn’t quite the same idea. But I have always wondered if there are other ways to create horcruxes, accidentally perhaps. Is it only murder that can tear one’s soul? Perhaps love can as well. This is a good question to research- does love in facts rip the soul, and if so, is the rupture permanent or temporary? But that is for another time.  (By the way, it is interesting how Riddle’s diary would have had fifty percent of his soul, and it was created with the murder that is perhaps the most justifiable out of all that he committed- that of the man who abandoned his mother.)

Moving on from that detour into Harry Potter,  I don’t know if you’ve felt this way- torn, between parts of yourself. I have, on occasion. It is interesting because of late, I have been reading some bits of spiritual philosophy that are focused on considering oneself whole, as an integrated being. You aren’t torn, or split, or divided, it claims- it is a construct of your mind. Well, of course, it is. But I do need to live with my mind. I cannot arrive at a certain destination in my mind-map before it is time.Perhaps the process can be accelerated, but honestly, I have a feeling that conflict leads to the best stories.

So coming back to you, the storyteller, would you keep the peace or the stories?