Knowing and Unknowing

At some point in 2015, I became very comfortable with the idea that teaching is an autopilot thing. That it was enough if I had read a text/poem/short-story once – no matter how long ago it was – that it would be enough if I remembered it. Teaching was – more than anything else, remembering. And sometimes only that.

I woke up in 2018 accidentally, when for an Arts and Culture Journalism class, I had to read Pauline Kael again, but this time – I fell for her. I noticed a lot of things that I had barely paid attention to the first time. Her words made me hungry to write like that and I felt very alive. So I spent an hour before class that day drinking pleasure out of her Bonnie and Clyde essay and then making notes on the white board in the small media lab. I knew exactly what I wanted to say and it was a very unusual feeling. It’s sadly the only hour in seven years where I think I actually did well.

The preparation that went into that hour was eerily close to the preparation that went in for a class on Metonymy and Synecdoche three years ago. But that lecture was a disaster even if the pleasure was similar. I had just begun to understand the concepts but not enough to teach them. A lot of things had gone wrong but that hour taught me to measure my own learning before I did anything else with it.

And the Pauline Kael class taught me how to measure my learning. I learnt that in order to know what I was saying, I needed to perform a different kind of remembering – a more reliable kind – something that even students could take pleasure in seeing. This kind of remembering was easier because I only had to figure out what the element of pleasure was but it was also trickier and more difficult because this meant I also had to convince students that this kind of learning was valuable. And it’s only now that I can say – I cannot convince them without knowing enough.

I am paying attention to this because it is distressing to notice that students who are very aware of their learning, whose faces light up when I begin to talk about a poem lose interest because I am unable to go beyond a point. And I want very much to complete that circle of learning for them and that circle of teaching for me – simply because they are interested.

In Seattle, I was a student again- furiously taking notes because I was afraid I would forget something that had made too much sense to me, that if I don’t immediately write it down, it would be lost, and the world would be a distressing place to live in again.

That was how I learnt and now, it’s how I want to teach.

I am beginning to see the 50 mins that I spend in the classroom with students as time I’ll never get back, not even if it’s the same class the next day. I have to give this all I have, no matter how many times I return to it later.

***

Teaching Creative Writing is becoming more and more challenging. To begin with, I have to get over my own boredom with using old materials. I stick to Deepak Bhat’s Monsoon memories because its lessons are plenty and liberating. And I want to continue sticking to that. But I think I am becoming a little disillusioned with my own comfort with speaking about writing because writing has been the hardest this year, and so speaking about it has been hard too.

The Dalit and Bahujan literature classes were difficult to teach this semester. It kept me on my toes for several reasons. For once, it made me return to Ambedkar every week. And I learnt a lot but had no idea where to put it or how.

And then I also saw that this is a class where I’d have assumed the auto-pilot method to work very well but it’s the only class where an auto-pilot method will never work because it’s difficult to talk about Ambedkar first as a Dalit man, a leader, a political figure and then to make students see the other Ambedkar – the sexy writer. And I can never do this from memory. I can only do it from a place of reverence and playfulness both of which are difficult to produce week after week without having read Ambedkar every day.

This semester, I read Maggie Nelson, Ali Smith, Natalia Ginzburg, and Miranda July but I don’t know what it means if I haven’t felt the desire to take them to classes yet but have enjoyed reading them very much. Maybe this has a lot to do with my realisation that teaching and writing are not on auto-pilot anymore and this scares me but it also makes me feel like an adult with real problems.

I now realise that the only writer I have consistently read over this year is Ambedkar and I am looking forward to approaching him as a creative writing teacher next semester.

A case for Podcasts and Rom-coms

This semester was odd but gratifying. I was just back from a surgery – so every step I took on campus was measured, aware, and keen on changing history – or at least understanding it. Would I not have broken my ankle if my fuckall big bum hadn’t landed on it? If it hadn’t rained, would I have slipped that badly? Was this a conspiracy? Were aliens involved?

Even so, it took me months before I returned to the accident site for revenge. Standing a good few feet away, I watched the spot achingly. Some mild time-travel type exercises later, I concluded that I should have just taken the bloody lift that evening.

When I wasn’t busy avoiding those stairs, I was worried that I’d now have to sit like a normal human being at the desk – with my feet firmly on the ground and not in some weirdass asana on the chair. Of all the things I thought I’d miss the most about my pre-surgery days, I never thought it’d be my sitting style. But it’s true. I cannot sit that way without worrying about a slicing steel-type pain in my ankle anymore.

***

Some lazy reading happened across the semester. I fought with people on Twitter – all of them Savarna, most of them women. Felt murderous rage at various points, kicked myself when I wanted to be unkind – was unkind anyway, told myself to shut up a lot. Needed urgent lessons in humility which only some time-off could have taught me.

Offline, I faltered often – feeling drowned by deadlines so I made to-do lists in at least 3 different notebooks, and then on my phone, and some post-its. All reminding me to do things that weren’t reading and writing. I mostly remember January as the month where I was straddling in between attacking and being attacked. Wrote 3 pieces.

Like every year, February was swallowed – didn’t write anything except a lot of Meta-related emails, and announcements. Lost 3 kilos – which didn’t show anywhere- fucking nonsense. Felt like it was the best Meta – loved working with students, loved walking back to the department with them, and watching the moon from the bathroom window, loved returning home tired and collapsing on the bed, loved waking up to a hundred odd things already gone wrong overnight, loved fixing, loved freaking out — mind mostly calm – not pissed and angry like last year, which might have been the most disappointing Meta to say the least.

Did some dabba translation for a piece that I was going to read out on the last day of Meta. Had a lot of fun writing and reading it out in Kannada – slowly discovering that English and Konkani are not languages for the ridiculous and what are my family stories if not ridiculous?

Got some new writing gigs – all of which had to be pushed until college work was over – stressed at various points. The mounting deadlines – writing and otherwise led to a couple of small outbursts – which I did not manage very well – learnt to remain calm by eating.

In the middle of  Feb madness, I stole a day to go to BIFFES – caught 5 movies – loved all 5 – took the metro back home, noticed a young man who refused to go to the men’s side and stood sadly adamant in the women’s – wondered if it was because he felt safer here than there.

Reading Kancha Ilaiah was slow – took time but learnt a lot of things about writing. One evening, after finishing the book, I realized that all writing comes from a place of humility – not expertise. It was a rewarding evening.

Woke up early the next couple of mornings to finish writing Ilaiah piece– moved to Yashica Dutt’s memoir. Reading may have been quicker but writing the review for this one took longer – realised that it’s probably because with Ilaiah – I was already writing in my mind while reading the book.

Spent the last week of April finishing the Dutt memoir review and running around for passport renewal. I might be going to the US for a one-month scholarship study on Contemporary American Literature (more on this when I finally believe it is happening)

Proceeded unwillingly to do valuation work. Felt delirious joy when I finished. Want to now devour the rest of May with a lot of books and some early muscle-flexing for writing fiction. Currently reading Munro’s Who Do You Think You Are? which is dangerously close to home. When I can’t write – I listen to podcasts on writing – and end up finding some outrageously good ones:

  1. Adichie, when her parents wanted her to be a psychiatrist – considered it seriously – and decided that if she ever became one, she’d use all her patients’ stories to write fiction (grinnn!)
  2. Anne LaMott on coming out of alcohol addiction, and returning to writing (“I was full of holes”)
  3. The Cut -Women discuss Ferrante – a few really good moments, only small annoying bits — It is severely painful when white people seem to know more about caste. Even so, the podcast ends on a funny note – best moment is when someone says “Ferrante comes from ‘ferrous’ meaning iron which is funny because women have an iron-deficiency. Basically we are all anemic readers getting their Ferrante supplement”)
  4. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls– Refreshing to listen to an 8-year-old girl interviewing Lowri Morgan, a television presenter and marathon runner. Loved the questions which also include the only question I ever want to ask runners (Do you listen to music when you run?) Favourite line: “Running makes me happy. But what makes me happier is when I get to the ultimate limit of my endurance, I realise that my limits don’t break – they bend and then, I start to enjoy the experience and I start to revel in the challenge that faces me”
  5. The Writing Bull Podcast – favourite so far. (“One thing you don’t want to be thinking about while writing fiction is…anything else. You don’t want to be thinking about anything else”)

I love listening to podcasts. I do them every morning when I go about making breakfast and tea for myself. Listening to a podcast is a lot like flying a kite, you can get used to it easily while your mind wanders to other things but you have to keep pulling the kite back to see where it is – and more importantly – to see where you are.

***

When it rained like the world was ending one afternoon, the doormat was wet and took 2 days to recover. I was happy because I didn’t have to wash it and when it finally dried, it was warmly hot, and I liked standing on it.

***

In the department one afternoon, I longed to be in Seattle already so I watched half of Sleepless in Seattle and remembered the days when I had a huge crush on Meg Ryan.

***

Spent much of mid-April nursing a solid crush on The Avengers – watched all the MCU films. Loved Thor Ragnarok. Finally understood what people see in both the Chrises. They are both extremely cute human beings no? Pleased to say that I really liked watching Chris Evans and to salvage the big love I suddenly had for him – proceeded to watch 2 of his films on Netflix – Playing it Cool and Before We Go.

Chris Evans is forever running after people who drop things accidentally or deliberately. And for no reason at all, I am now making the case that all MCU films are Romcoms.

***

Learning to take great pleasure in making my own breakfast. Understood why Avocados are expensive – what a brilliant thing to eat in the morning. Damn it.

***

~ Pinching anxieties – becoming old and helpless, never being able to live on my own, growing distance between parents and me over marriage-nonsense.

~~ Words to live by – AM once told me “Avarna people can never have real friendships” – I am beginning to accept this. It’s more difficult than I thought it would be, but I am learning to give what I can, and take what I get.

 

Bliss

My summer vacation has officially begun and this is a list of things I am going to make myself look forward to with mind numbing enthusiasm.

  • Finally got hold of a desktop. It’s a Dell something something. It is taking care of my movie/music/TV show catching up. Also got a printer/copier/scanner thingy. It’s a relief to know that I don’t have to go looking for a printout shop. Ever.
  • My room. I don’t know if it is the madness of last year or that I finally have a place to wear shorts and just chill in life, but when I get back home every night, I feel happy knowing that I am going to crash in my bed soon even though all it has is a table fan.
  • I feel stupid saying this but I am beginning to see how busy the city can keep me if I just give it the chance. Even if it means going to Lalbagh on a Saturday evening and looking at the bloody birds. And the bloody trees.
  • I feel stupider saying this but in this whole process of growing up, I have forgotten what it’s like to watch movies and plays in theatres. I have only myself to blame for this. Bangalore is thriving with plays, cinema, talks, art and the whole thing. It has always thrived and I don’t know why I was dead for so long but I feel great now just being in the city and knowing that Kala Soudha and Rangashankara are so close to Basavangudi and that Alliance and Guru Nanak Bhavan are so close to K.
  • GLEN’S. I have found the Yin to my Yang, the Ki to my Ka. Good food, better than Parisian, and best iced tea. One of those places where they’ll leave you alone. Last week, I settled down there with my netbook and watched Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara for 3 straight hours. And then a couple more writing about the movie. And they just kept bringing me cold water.
  •  My reading and writing didn’t die as I suspected it would over April. Tipping the Velvet brought with it my lost London mania, The story of a Widow taught me how to just let go and write, Where there’s smoke is teaching me what I ignored in my childhood.
  • My traveling plans in May are giving me the happies. I am looking at 4 possible trips, which means that if I am alive by the end of May, I have something to write about.
  • People saying mean things about my blog makes me want to write more. So I am sending you much love from here. Keep it going.
  • Grey’s Anatomy. Two episodes down. I should listen to Mintu more often and just watch shit when she tells me to watch.
  • GILMORE GIRLS REVIVAL.
  • I have a renewed interest in shopping for clothes. Bless you, summer. And skirts.

Valuation Blues

So it is *that time of the year* at college. Blee. Meaning, endless shifts between invigilating and valuing papers, mad cravings for what used to be long island iced teas at Plan B but are now replaced by seven kingdoms at Monkey bar, getting up every now and then, while correcting papers, cursing the god damned weather, making crazy promises to self and the others about doing away with 40 papers a day and eventually correcting about 3.

Finished about 20 today, which is not bad actually because yesterday I finished 3. Today I thanked myself for not being married. It was 5:00 pm and I was still in college; working, and suddenly I was bowled over by the freedom it is to not be married. I could be anywhere I wanted to be. At the movies, at monkey bar, at BCL, at commercial street doing some useless thing, anywhere but home. I could go home too but the beauty of not having someone to wait up for you or keep calling you to know when you’ll be home is the most beautiful freedom. I wish I don’t have to let go off this space. Ever.