I am slowing down. I like it. There is no hurry. The beating in my throat, the itch in my mind, the knot in my stomach is softer now, like the slow ebbing away of a cramp and then there is nothing but silence left in the hollow of my abdomen, to celebrate and nurture.
Today I noticed that I have been forgetting to hang my keys on the key stand. Last morning, I panicked. I was getting ready for college when I realized that my keys weren’t on their usual hook. I retraced my steps, double checked my bag and ran around the house like a mad woman. Ma then told me that the keys were on the table in her room. I was baffled.
Things like this never happen to me. I am cursing myself even as I type this, I am muttering many touch-wood kind of things under my breath, but I really never lose things – keys, mobile, wallet. Never. Ever. Even if I lose them for maybe a minute or two, I always find them. There. I have said it. I know now that tomorrow morning when I wake up, my world would have turned upside down. I will find myself key-less, wallet-less and mobile-less.
In the department today, I read after a long time. I read a story about a Bengali woman who was consumed by the desire to write every day. Her husband hated it — he hid everything she wrote. But she’d write the same story over and over again. The story about a blind girl who could tell you the names of colors by just touching them.
She sat with a pen and a new sheet of paper every evening and wrote. She challenged her husband to a bet. He said she wasn’t talented enough to get published. Later he hid in his drawer, the letters that various editors wrote to his wife, telling her to send more stories.
In stories, either as writers or as characters, women are mad in a way that they cannot be in real life. I will disagree with this in the morning but this needs to be said.
When she writes every day, a little bit of her husband dies, until he cannot take it anymore and runs away. When I read this, I feel full and begin to smile endlessly.
I was just going to leave the department when it started to rain. So I sat and looked around. When I sit and look around, especially in the department, I have an out of body experience. I begin to think about all the things that have happened ever since we moved here. Things that happened last year and the year before that.
Outside, the construction workers were on full swing. There was drilling and what not. I sat on the steps and waited for the rain to stop. Every time the drone of machines paused for a minute, I thought the rain had gone and stood up to leave.
When I finally left, I thought about all the ways in which the place would be different tomorrow. Tomorrow of the bright day time. Of the endless work and its slicing hurry.
Writing must become writing. Writing must become the want to write even if the desk is unkempt, and there are a hundred others things one should be doing, one could be doing. Writing must become slapping all other things off the table to make room for the dull heat of the net book, the cold forgotten earphones, and nothing else to keep it company. Not even the green mug of chai. Why does there have to be chai? Apparently Nabokov could only write standing. He stood every day of his life at a lectern and wrote. There was nothing else in this space – not chai, not music, not even quiet maybe.
It is different from the way I imagine Machado writes.
Writing has to be become the shock one wakes up with every morning and the warmth one sleeps with every night. It must become the zoo of sentences of beginnings that one repeats to oneself when one is riding. It shouldn’t be the way it is now- where only the beginnings remain and then their echoes follow one around to remind them of stories they could not write. That they cannot write.
When Machado writes, her bed is a mess. There is a mug of warm coffee in her hand but she only sips after writing a good sentence. Her table is messier and so is her hair. She has tied her hair together in a bun, keeping them away, as if to keep all distractions away. When women tie their hair together in a bun, leave them alone. They don’t want to be disturbed. My brother once told me that on days that I tie my hair in a bun, he is afraid of me. I laughed at him then. I think he is wise now.
Writing must become the hole in my stomach when I go days without reading, the catch in my jaw when I don’t write, the pull in my gut when I read a student whose writing makes me jealous. Writing must become the words that appear magically in my mind and don’t leave without any notice when I am staring at the pausing cursor.
When Alice Munro writes, her characters come alive, robustly living and evaporating into stories that are more real than my nightmares. When Adichie writes, her hair is standing tall, her posture straight and she is wearing a skirt that I only have the courage to wear on holidays that I take alone. Their stories run each other down into puddles of joy and sorrow until I cannot say which is which anymore.
Writing must become the ache in my insides when I think about it. The strength to leave behind a desk that is piling up with work. It must override the temptation to sit, to talk, to be drawn into conversations. Writing must become feeling unafraid to walk out on fun.
When I imagine Woolf, Austen and the fictional Miss LaMotte, I imagine them in black & white. I imagine them taking long walks in a city whose imposed loneliness they resist. They are afraid of silence but maybe they are not afraid of being with themselves. When they write, they struggle and have no one to talk to but they continue to write. Outside their quiet homes, men write and write fiercely. It’s what they did. I will always feel indebted to all these women who wrote before me. I think I can write because they wrote.
Writing must become the smiling pause after I read something that tingles my back and sends goose bumps down my arms.
At long last, writing must become what I do every day, little little.
The last perfect moment I had was a month ago. It was a Sunday. I was taking a shower at a friend’s house and I told myself, ‘This is a perfect moment. You will come back to this again and again.’ I had just finished sending a piece to my editor. The piece that had been sitting on my chest and laughing at me for over a month. In the bathroom that day, as I smiled into my own realization, I felt a burden lifting off. I looked at the brown tiles and wondered if I’d ever felt this light before.
S was screaming at me and B’s fortress of quietude had joined her, making its noisy fist on the bathroom door. They were both waiting. We were going to get breakfast at Mother Clucker’s. And then B and I were going to go to Blossom’s and then to Glen’s. I looked around and found a bottle of Tresemme shampoo. I thought about the long day ahead and couldn’t stop smiling.
I haven’t been able to write. It has been over a fortnight. I am reading a lot more than I used to but I am too exhausted to retain the tingling feeling of having read something nice. My copy of Nalini Jones’ ‘What You Call Winter’ came yesterday and I haven’t even opened it fully.
The most relieving moment, however, happened a week ago.
For a long time I was convinced that writing = talent and that without talent, hard work is bullshit. Mario Vargas Llosa’s ‘Letters to a Young Novelist’ had been sitting on my shelf for 2 years. Desperate to find a way out of the dry -writing spell, I read it and felt happier than I have in months.
I think that only those who come to literature as they might to religion, prepared to dedicate their time, energy, and efforts to their vocation, have what it takes to really become writers and transcend themselves in their works. The mysterious thing we call talent, or genius, does not spring to life full-fledged – at least not in novelists, although it may sometimes in poets or musicians. Instead it becomes apparent at the end of many long years of discipline and perseverance. There are no novel-writing prodigies. All the greatest, most revered novelists were first apprentice writers whose budding talent required early application and conviction. The example of those writers who, unlike Rimbaud, a brilliant poet even as an adolescent, were required to cultivate their talent gives heart to the beginner, don’t you think?
I feel stupidly delighted even as I am typing this. But there’s hope, even if there’s no talent. And for now, that’s more than enough. I went to bed a satisfied woman that night.
I have been watching women killing it at the Rio Olympics. I have been watching them and feeling great pangs of jealousy. The dedication, the hard work, the paying off of the hard work – all of it. I imagine the 4:00 am alarm clocks that woke them, the route they took to run to their practice, the sleep they hungrily looked forward to at the end of every day and I am filled with a deep sense of longing for that kind of madness. I want to wake up at 4, wear a track suit, drink an energy drink and sit down to write. After a long day at work, I want to pack my bags and take off to ‘practice’. I want to come back home and collapse and wake up again the next day to do it all over again.
Finally sat down and wrote that drunken women in loos piece. TLF ran it yesterday. This was saved in multiple draft folders before it sighed so loud, I felt bad for it and myself. You can read the piece here. Feedback is most welcome 🙂
Five minutes ago, I was in my kitchen, wondering why I never turn the kitchen lights off when I know I’m going to come back soon. When I come home, I drink water – hot, usually. But I drink water. I put on the kettle but hate waiting around for it to become hot. So I go into my room to change, all the while, hoping dad doesn’t come out of his room to yell at me for leaving the lights on in the kitchen. Then I race my way down to the kitchen , take my hot water and then race back up again to secure my place in front of the desktop.
When I turn the kitchen lights off, it’s a signal to the house. The day has ended. Nobody’s coming down.
In K today, I read Kundera and drew long, delightful comparisons between what I found in his book and my god damned life. It helped that I was consumed by 2 glasses of white rum. It made things more fascinating than it might have been.
In the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment.
A single metaphor can give birth to love.
The only relationships that can make both partners happy is one in which sentimentality has no place and neither partner makes any claim on the life and freedom of the other.
I spoke to 6 students today about their writing, each time feeling a lot like I was actually talking to myself. L wrote a fascinating piece about learning and unlearning Telugu. A is worried because she can only write in second person these days. U has a shy smile of an 8 year old who has just learnt to wash his own clothes. It was oddly gratifying to talk to him. S and I talked about fiction and I promised to give her my borrowed copy of The Illicit Happiness of Other People. N came running to me the minute she’d finished reading the Illicit Happiness because she couldn’t deal with life. I’m familiar with the feeling. We had a conversation about the book. She is writing about it. D wrote a funny piece about a PT master from school who convinced her that Srilanka was right next to Jalahalli.
Sometimes, I am overwhelmed by the stories that surround me. So many stories, I am not really sure where to begin and how to begin anymore. Their stories particularly, leave me thinking about my own for a long time.
Back home, Bubbly was sitting by her laptop wondering why her codes don’t match. In class today, I screened The Rocket for II year students. I had a great time watching it again. It brought back some fond memories. From the last time it was screened and the time before that. When it rained in the movie, I thought about the good old Freud and what he said.
I wish Biffes would hurry. I need me some new movies.
It is 11:52 pm now. I am wondering if I’ll be able to pull off my 5:00 am writing tomorrow.
My day began well yesterday. I got to college quite early and worked on the women in loos piece all morning. I found a variety of stories that just kept coming. I have often felt lighter and happier when I talk to strange women in the loos. When I started writing this piece, I wondered if it’s only a good idea and nothing more because I couldn’t go beyond the first two paragraphs. With every piece that I struggle with, I learn more about writing than much else. Turns out, a good idea is just enough to write. I got impatient with the piece and was almost going to give up when I decided to stop fussing and give it another shot.
In class yesterday, we did Adichie on fashion. I find that I’m learning more from the pieces that I have read long ago. I’m seeing them newly, as if for the first time again. I liked doing this piece very much. The class was more like a confession. I told them how much I like dressing up and how long it took me to admit it. Sometimes I wonder if all classes are actually confessions for teachers.
Somewhere in the middle of last month, I got a mild anxiety attack about my career. Perhaps because I had spent much of my vacation writing, watching movies and reading; I felt a little irritated when I had to abandon all of it to prepare for classes, to teach, and to do college work. I felt selfish one morning when I wondered what it’d be like to have a whole day for myself – writing and reading. A whole day without the hourly bells at college. For a moment, I considered giving up my job to sit at home and write. And then along with the bell, came my father’s approving and smiling face. He’d be thrilled to show me all the men he’s been accumulating for my marriage since I was 17.
It pained me to see his bright face in the middle of all that. That’s when I shook my head like a goat and went to class. That day in class, we talked about writing and I realized that I like talking about writing just as much as I like writing. And which bakra can I catch and talk about writing to if I quit teaching?
When I came back to the department, I felt guilty. I like teaching. I like writing more. But I’m not insane enough to sustain writing on an everyday basis. I feel the itch to write more when I don’t have the time. And teaching offers me the luxury of feeling that itch now and then. The joy of finding free time in the middle of a busy day and to think of writing in this free time is better than having a free day and not being able to write.
In other news, I have discovered a secret. It’s to wake up at an ungodly hour to write. I have been waking up at 5 every morning to write. And it’s silly but I’m surprised that my day is longer, that I’m able to write freely and that I have time to do Yoga. Some mornings are given up rather easily to bouts of self-pity and such but then I think of that maha bastard, Unni Chacko and I feel guilty being sad. Unni Chacko has done something to me.
Every time I feel compelled to be sad these days, I think of Unni Chacko and feel something heavy lifting off of my shoulders. I must, I must write about The Illicit Happiness of other People. Such a strange, lovely book.
I’m excited about S’s ‘cute dinner party’ tonight. She sent me an invitation and everything. Yesterday, in Arts and Culture, we were doing Zizek! We talked about cinema and the conversation went off to what is real and what is unreal and other such heavy questions. Too good. Today we will continue talking about film, real and unreal and then Sylvester Stallone is going to talk to us about why he’s interested in making films.
It’s only 8:20 am on a Saturday morning and I have the whole day. This better be a good weekend. Unni Chacko, please don’t leave me.
7:00 am today, I leapt out of bed, sat at my desktop and deleted plants vs zombies 2. It felt evilly liberating. This happened partly because of a writing workshop that I attended in the last two days and partly because there was one psycho level that I just couldn’t cross. Bleddy Zombies.
Writing workshops don’t really make me write any better than I usually do. But it’s reassuring to listen to other writers and their struggles and stories. And when I listen to a really good one, I don’t feel like tearing my hair out. What I do feel like tearing is what I’ve written. I am full of decent admiration for these peeps and there’s a quiet desire to write like them.
This is my fifth writing workshop. I am a lot less anxious than I used to be. At my first, I was anxious to be good, to sound good and to make people believe that I was a writer and that they should take me seriously. At my second, third, and fourth, I was less anxious and more demanding of myself. Time was always a constraint and I told myself I will never be good if I don’t produce good writing, here, now.
I wasn’t anxious or demanding this time. It felt like I was on tranquilizers. I was smiling most of the time. And I paid attention when everybody read their stories, which is something I am not too good at. But lately, I have been very pro artists. For a long time, I had this very bad habit of putting people I admire on pedestals, convinced as I was, that they could do no wrong. While it is severely unfair to do that to them because we are unwittingly ignoring their struggles, we are also putting undue pressure on ourselves to be like them. Anything less, and we tell ourselves that we lack talent.
But they are people, who like everybody else aren’t really good all the time. When I think of myself as a writer, I feel like cringing a little bit for various reasons. But mostly because I still lack the good sense of saving drafts and reworking them into more or less something I am less ashamed of. As writer Paromita Vohra explains in this essay,
Sure, everything artistes do doesn’t work out. The really self-aware artist has distance on this and junks the dud draft. Some don’t. Moreover, in this particular Internet video universe, significance is superficially at least drawn from the numerical logic of likes, shares and engagements. When numbers become the sole indicator and defence of significance, a person may easily lose the very judgment artistes guard zealously, over what’s worth putting out and what’s not.
In the department the other day, A asked me if I ever write for myself and don’t put it on my blog. Her question left me wide-eyed and panicky.I realised that I haven’t written for myself in a year. I don’t anymore. And I don’t even know why.
I remembered what Namsies told me last week about changing the audience in my head to be able to find a new voice. I obsessed about this for the rest of the day and then the panic carried itself well into the evening where it split and became about many other things. At this point, I don’t know what I am looking for. I am sure I can’t find a hole big enough to bury my bighead and wail there until I have adulted enough to resurface.
All I want to do now is microwave yesterday’s potato wedges and stuff my face with it while I watch Premam again. Sigh.
Every once in a while, I must pause to look around, breathe deep breaths, sigh a long sigh, fart a longer fart and smile. Even though I say so myself, I have come a long way. And because this journey has not been easy, because I have been lazy and busy and because there were always noisemakers I had to hush and ignore, I forgot to look back and congratulate myself.
I could have gotten here sooner. This place where writing still frightens the crap out of me, where the first sentence is always the hardest but at the end of four hours when I realize I didn’t notice how time went by, I feel a little well opening up in my chest and warmth gushing out. Even though I want to disown everything I’ve written, I still feel like Lara Craft on mission every morning. This place, where I am comfortable with silence and I let it decide what it wants of me, in the moment.
It’s like tugging at a small hole in time and locking myself in it for hours. I float, I writhe in embarrassment of myself, my words humiliate me but they also teach me and then there is the light plop of a water balloon and when I look around, I’m home like I never left.
Sometime in the middle of last year, I hit rock bottom from which I haven’t fully emerged yet. My writing was and still is tinged by anxiety, by revenge, and in search of a closure that isn’t there- that was never there, to begin with. But writing is all I have. Regardless of how much it hates me, I must tolerate it. It makes me vulnerable like nothing can, which is why it was attacked with such precision.
I thought I had to protect it – protecting it was a way of protecting myself. But I’ve learnt now that from the moment I began to write, there was no hiding. I feel stronger now. It feels like everything that they could say and do, they have said and done. What more, what now, what next? I don’t feel the need to protect it like I did before. It’s on its own now. We exist, as if on different planes. I own it until I finish it, and then it is not mine. It is theirs – whoever they are. They can do what they want with it. They can hold it up against the sky and mock it, hold it between the folds of their palms and crush it, hold it close to them and see their own reflections in it or they can completely ignore it. It is all I have but it is not mine anymore.
The girl I left behind is rooting for me quite strongly. I know this, I know her very well. She creeps up in my writing now and then, surprising me with a line that suddenly just appears, with a memory I didn’t know I had. If she knew I am here today, nowhere in particular but a place that she and I dreamed of, having stood through time and people, their smiles and hisses, she’d be happy for me and I, for her.
She turns up in various forms and sizes. A student who smiles from a corner and feels that she can relate to me, a student whose twinkling eyes from the first bench — her face, never leaving mine, holds my gaze steady, and tells me to ignore the bullies and just continue my work, a student whose emails tell me that I have helped her see a version of herself, a student whose voice is shaky and shivering but tries to reach out to me, and a student who never makes eye contact in class but is bursting with questions and comments. I see myself in all these people. In a world that thrives on destroying other people’s small joys, these students make it worth living in.
This doesn’t make me invincible. This just makes me see that my writing and I will always be vulnerable and this doesn’t scare me anymore. It is liberating in a very strange way, like I am letting go after holding on too tight. It has left wounds that will heal, but won’t be forgotten. I want to carry them proudly, like scars from a battle I didn’t know I was in.
Every morning is a struggle to write a new story, every evening is a sigh while I erase this story and write new ones and everything in between is a big yellow wall that I must paint a new color every day.