Lessons from Blog Stalking

A quirky blog post title can sometimes grab your attention. I chanced upon one of these quirky titles a while ago on Twitter, visited the blog and got hooked. Hooked? Hell, I fell in love! The language, the stories she told, all of it. What’s more interesting is that the particular post title which introduced me to the blog was related to pregnancy – not a subject I would usually read about on blogs (or anywhere, for that matter).

It took me two or three days and I had read through all of her posts, written over a span of a few years. I read it with the enthusiasm I usually reserve for the best of books. I laughed and cried and gasped with her. What struck me most was her raw honesty. It was not about writing with “utter fearlessness” (maybe it was that too; wait I’ll get to that in a minute*), it was about how her soul, all her emotions were laid bare on paper. The blog had a heartbeat, or so it seemed. I’ve not seen that kind of honesty in a lot of blogs. She was writing for herself, like she did not care if there was an audience, and yet, she addressed her readers directly whenever she could. In *one of her posts, she called out the bullshit of one of the most despicable Indian bloggers I’ve had the displeasure of knowing. Called him out, and how! Of course, he didn’t mend his ways or anything, but felt good seeing someone showing that douchebag his place (something that I could only do passive aggressively till date).

I felt a kinship with her, like if she and I came across each other in real life, we could be good friends.

Unfortunately, she does not blog so often these days.

Recently, I decided to look for more blogs like hers. Personal blogs, life stories. Since this year, I’m going through some… “stuff”, my obvious choice was to find stories similar to mine.

I had little success.

So I went to my next obvious choice – personal bloggers whom I know/have heard of/have read at least and who write well (life’s too short to go through archives of bad grammar).

With more success than the previous attempt, and yet…

The reason I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for was because most bloggers lacked the complete and utter honesty of the first one, and the authenticity that comes with it. Not that they weren’t being true, but the extent to which they were true – it felt like something was holding them back – how I sometimes feel about my own writing. I get it though; not everyone wants their innermost thoughts plastered out, coating walls like that, which is perfectly understandable.

So I categorized personal bloggers into:

1) Those who speak about themselves, their thoughts, their lives (and if you’re like the first blogger – friends, family, frenemies, neighbors, dogs, whathaveyou)
2) Those who write one sentence about themselves and then weave generic scenarios around it. They write about everything from the traffic to the weather to vacations, and while the idea, the thought may be their own, they’re catering to someone else.

Type 2 is invariably more popular than Type 1, because they are writing stuff that a wider group can *relate* to, topics that *resonate* with so many people etc., etc.

Type 1 writes about more specific topics. I prefer Type 1.

When I first started blogging, there was this one blog I used to read. I didn’t add it to my list (like I did with Hyperbole and a Half) because she used to write only once in a year or so. I used to visit it intermittently before. Because she was a Type 1, or used to be from what little I remember, I visited her blog during my above-described quest. The post on the top, written sometime last year, started with “I’m not a feminist because I don’t believe we should ask for equal rights.” I was taken aback – this was not someone who had misunderstood the concept – she knew this was about equal rights, and she voluntarily chose to not want them, which is… puzzling. This was a deal breaker for me, and I said, “Girl, bye.”

In the end, I found quite a few good blogs to go through. Blog stalking is a strangely enriching experience. You see their writing evolve through the years, you see their lives changing, their thoughts changing. You see them contradicting themselves – turning their beliefs around by a 180. Learning. You see them learning. In turn teaching you.
You also notice the silly things – how they adored certain things when they were young, but now love to bash those very same things because that’s what the rest of us are doing.
You see their pain. Their losses.
You see their struggles.
You see them fall in love, fall out of love. You see them move on.
You see them set goals. Achieve them. Or not.
It’s like this time capsule – so much of them captured in their archives.

Eventually, I reached those points in time where I had first come across their blogs. I called it the present, even though it could have been a few years ago (my version of the present is always a little ways behind everyone else – the past two years have been an unfortunate, unmemorable blur for me). I tried to remember where the blogger and I were in our respective lives during those timelines. I skipped the posts I had read when they were originally written. Newer posts hit me like a jolt. For instance, someone had written about Demonetization, and I thought, “Whoa, wait, this is so recent.” Like I said, my version of the present is just a little bit old, so something that recent is basically the future for me (does that even make sense?)

There was one blog which surprised me a bit. I’d never heard of the blogger before, but when I checked the blog out, it became obvious that she had certainly visited mine at least once. I changed my blog layout when I returned from my break. In the old one, I had a Blog Roll on the sidebar – links to blogs I read. Some of those blogs are those of my friends who neither write often nor have their blogs listed on any communities. Like the blog of my friend Wii (who was, incidentally, the inspiration behind one of the two main characters in this story (I hope he never reads this post)). Some are the findings of a “blog-hunting exercise” I carried out some time ago. Interestingly, her blog roll was an identical copy of mine – the exact same blogs that I follow (including this one blog that only the blogger and I know of and hasn’t been updated since 2015 with a total of about 3 posts!)

At first, this made me think that if someone went through my archives, I’d be mortified. I’m more embarrassed by my old posts than anything that happened to me in real life. There have been times when I felt there’s too much of “me” in my posts, as if all my vulnerabilities and weaknesses are out there. (And typos; let’s not forget typos.) But then, I went back to all the good lessons I learned and thought, who do I want to be? The honest writer, or the one that deletes the un-pretty posts once they start looking stale?

PS: While they were all fantastic, I won’t be linking to any of the blogs because a) it’s not stalking if you spell it out, is it? b) I don’t want them to feel I’m flattering them or whatever c) they should not feel obligated to link back. Hence, it is best to keep it all anonymous.

Moth to a Flame

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There’s no silence to be had
Between us, or so my instincts claim.
You rarely let me in even so,
Should I then try again?

Your glass is full of stories
Of your friends and your fame.
I’ve tried to wade in twice or more,
Gone against the grain.

Standoffish are you, or merely quiet?
Indifference, or am I a reminder of an old pain?
A puzzle, a mystery, so enticing.
So tell me, do I dare try again?

Linking to dVerse Poets OLN

Mr. Heckles and I

H joined our team at work a couple of years ago and disliked me almost instantly. I say “almost” because at first (during the first week at least), she tried hard to force her way into our group. We were a tad cliquey back then, but polite nevertheless – after all, we all knew how intimidating it is to be the new team member (plus, we were adults – cliques do not exist in the kingdom of adulthood). But seeing just how hard she was trying made us suffer from secondhand embarrassment – she monopolized conversations, gave out too much personal information, invited herself to our little outings without being asked.

It became apparent that H had some kind of a problem with me specifically. I was assigned to train her; she was hierarchically above me, but I’d spent more time with the project. I suspect her dislike stemmed from her considering me “unqualified” to train her – despite my tenure with the team, I was still the youngest. She made her displeasure about it known quite vocally multiple times, in multiple crowds, in multiple terms. She also often put me down because I was married, and a mom, and according to her “unsuitable in the workforce due to these reasons”. Talk about unfeminist!

Her dislike grew because I was no less vocal than she once I started noticing her behavior, which had, by then, turned badly unprofessional. The others were quite diplomatic in the way they handled her; I’m not particularly adept in that department. Later on, the others too dropped their pretenses, except my friend B, who was by then the only one still polite to her. B is a good person that way.

Just a few months after being with us, H decided to quit. I was overcome with guilt, and began to wonder if I should have done something differently, tried harder to be nice in the face of her hostility (instead of paying her back in her own coin). I’m pretty sure there’s a list somewhere of people who hate me vehemently, and I’ve always found their hate amusing. So this was no inherent need in me to be liked by all. Why this uncharacteristic change of heart in her case then? Out of fear.

I found out that she liked Howard Roark, on whom I’d had a huge crush at one point (as huge as crushes on fictional characters go – in many a fantasy, I have wished I was Dominique Francon). I tried to use our mutual affection for Roark to extend an olive branch. She (obviously) did not reciprocate, at which point, I was filled with a cold dread that led to this conversation between B and me:

Me: Oh my God, she’s Mr. Heckles. She’s my Mr. Heckles. And I’m Chandler.

B: What rubbish! What makes you even think that? The two of you have nothing in common. 

Me: She likes Howard Roark. I don’t know anyone else who does. Except me.*

B: Big deal! She’s not Mr. Heckles. You’re not Chandler.

Me (borderline hysterical): The woman is always complaining about me. When I look at her, I see myself ten years down the line – bitter, miserable, bitching about people. What if I really turn into her? What if I die alone like Mr. Heckles?

B (pretty annoyed at this point): You’re not gonna die alone. Shut up now.

*There were other things which I mentioned – but let’s not elaborate.

This seems melodramatic to me now, but back then, I was convinced beyond all reason that a fate filled with jealousy and loneliness (and dying alone) awaited me. As you already know, in spite of knowing better, the influence of certain situations/people has often clouded the way I think and led me to believe strange things. I genuinely began to see her as a future version of me. Maybe that was my guilt talking. Maybe I was more affected by her hate that I needed to be.

That’s not the only reason why I never forgot her either (I had a moment a few months ago where I couldn’t recollect her name, but it came back to me eventually). Just a few months after H quit, I did too. Since then, I’ve been landing only in projects/organizations that do not have a team structure for my role (what a weird coincidence), and therefore I do not have any opportunities to mingle with people. I don’t do well when I don’t talk to others – I’m just programmed that way (unhealthy co-dependence and a need to yak with people whom I’m on similar wavelengths with) – and this explains my (joke of a) career graph in the past two years. When I think about that, the guilt resurfaces. Followed by the fear.

What do you think, Reader? Do you ever get accosted by fears like mine? 

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Linking to #ChattyBlogs

Edit: Added #ChattyBlogs badge.

Changes, Self-Indulgence, and The Four Year Cycle

Of late, this rough little slimy rope has been growing around my mind telling me I sound overly self indulgent, a la Elizabeth Gilbert from what I assume to be a pre-Eat Pray Love era. I have criticized the book in the past because I felt it was the work of a privileged person who had the means to indulge if she so wished. But I stand here corrected, because unless we’ve been on the edge of chaos and confusion, I don’t think we are in a position to judge. So humor me while I too find my footing like she did.

While I do not have the resources to take a year off work and go eating in Italy or cycling in Bali, I do know that I’m going to move out of my comfortable box. For two whole years now, I have been caught in this conflict between stagnancy and listlessness. This is partly because I’m used to things changing – change, as the saying goes, has been the only constant in my life.

Growing up, we changed cities every four years (give or take one year). Which meant every four years, I had to leave behind friends, houses, familiar settings. Which means, even now, while I am surprisingly loyal to my friends, I remain a tad detached out of fear of being eventually uprooted from their lives. This is my normal.

This paved the way for the identity issues I’ve spoken about before. This also paved the way for the what bothers me most: the lack of a place I can call home. I’m perpetually homesick for a place I do not even know for sure exists. (And I’ve written so many times about this subject, I sound repetitive even to myself).

This year, I will complete eight years in Bangalore. That’s double of what I’m used to. This February, I will have lived in my current residence for four years. Those who know me know that every part of me rejected this house since the day I moved in. The reasons why I have my name on the contract, the forceful ways I’m tied to it – all of it only caused me to reject it more. You cannot turn a house into a home if you’re so busy disconnecting from it. Did I give it a try? Yes, because as I mentioned above, it’s a house that’s been forced on me, so goddammit, I tried to make it work. But eventually you reach a breaking point. One where the dissonance around you shakes everything you know and you’re willing to let go of it all. Why now and not before? That’s a story for another day.

The next part of my grand 2017-figure life out plan/idea is that I’ve decided to move to a different city. Which city? I don’t know. Am I jinxing it by speaking too soon about it? Maybe. Is the world a hostile place right now (quite possibly on the brink of war)? I do believe it. But eight years ago also the world was a shaky place and I still quit a cozy job to move cities for my own reasons – a move which was unanimously labeled “hasty and stupid” by family and friends. I still like to think I made it, professionally at least. Only back then, I knew where to move and what I wanted to do. Elizabeth Gilbert knew where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do. Right now, I do not know either.

Who’s got advice for me?

Decisions at a (Metaphorical) Gun Point

I had life all figured out as a six year old. There was nothing to it – you grew up, became an adult, and then everything would be at your fingertips. Quite simple.

It was as I grew older that I felt I was losing fragments of my grand plan, and that things weren’t as transparent as they seemed. This led to maturity giving way to immaturity. Like I’m Benjamin Button, but on the inside. Frankly, I was at the peak of my maturity and ambition at age six.

How did I get here?

There’s a reason why we are told to make decisions with a cool head. The reason being, the decisions we make at a metaphorical gun point are often terrible.

Depression does not allow you to have a cool head. It is a permanent gun pointed at you when you have it. Your actions seem mechanical and you feel you’re just going through the motions. At the same time, there’s an incessant restlessness in you, a tingling in your feet that tells you to run away, do something reckless just so that something happens and you feel something. Anything to forget what’s hurting you; anything to feel anything else.

In December, I made some poor choices out of the desperation that comes from being there – I got back in touch with a group of people I had broken ties with because I intensely dislike their hypocritical and negative outlook towards life [it drains your energy right out], just so I could have someone to talk to. I was so terrified of the fact that if someone did not tie me up, I might harm myself, and my future looked so blank and bleak (mostly blank) that I just wanted someone from the future to come and tell me everything was going to be OK. Reassurance. I wanted to take a trip, just to get away from everything. I wanted to relocate to a different city, because I felt claustrophobic over here all of a sudden.

I held myself back.  For once I let lessons learnt in the past rule me. While I did reconnect with the people I mentioned above, and also may have said/done some borderline imbecilic things, I did not let myself make any decisions that would in the long run have severe repercussions. I decided to give myself a month to “calm down” so to speak.

A month later, the immediate restlessness had subsided and I collected my follies from the previous month. Whatever hurt me then was still hurting, but not in a slice-your-heart-open way. I was definitely calmer, could sleep better, and while I still desperately wanted to see a therapist and get help, I was stopped by the doubts I have on the competencies of Indian therapists, given some less than satisfactory experiences I had had in the past [If anyone reading this has a recommendation, I would surely welcome it]. I considered a career change, and when nothing came to light, and I began to feel restless and directionless again. I did the only thing that I could think of then – call up my oldest friend in the middle of the night and cry (this is not alarming – she’s used to it by now, I think).

My friend and I look alike; everyone tells us so. When my son was a year old, he met her and was confused as hell. It is because of this that when I look at her, I think of her as me in a parallel universe – a universe where I have not made the mistakes I’ve made. I always looked up to her for her independence and her levelheadedness. She never bowed down to parental pressure (yet another gun point of sorts) and has so far made a good path for herself. So imagine my shock when I was crying that night about how lost I was feeling and she replied with, “Dude, we’re all lost.” Of course, I insisted I was more lost, and that at least she had a plan. Turns out she also did not have a plan. No one has a plan.

In any case, having a plan negates everything I believe in. But I had assumed as a six year old that by now, I would be thirty and thriving. Instead I’m thirty and confused. Which is frightening, because a decade ago, I was twenty and confused. I have said it before that nearly every mistake I’ve made in the past twelve years can be traced back to one great mistake. So while I still do not have a plan, contrary to what I had hoped for at the end of my previous post, and may never have one, what I do have is an idea: to retrace my steps to that one great mistake, and start over.

Let’s see where this goes.

The Errors of the Super-Specific Vertical Goal-Oriented Way of Living

Right before my high school boards, my aunt took my cousins and me to a temple. After the overnight journey, we little ones, of course, just wanted some sleep. But my aunt was having none of it. She wanted us up and ready by an ungodly (pun unintended) hour because the belief went that if you prayed at a certain time, all your prayers would be heard by the great Gods above. So, after a dip in the freezing 4 am waters of the holy lake, we marched (barefoot) to the temple. And when my aunt ordered “Now!”, we prayed for that high score in board exams that would soar through rooftops and put our neighbors to shame (cos it’s always about one-upping the neighbors).

In most Indian families, children aren’t taught to aim very high. Or – let me rephrase – we are taught to aim high, but not far. Aim vertical, not horizontal. We are taught to “pray” for high marks, but aren’t allowed or encouraged to explore our options beyond that. It wasn’t until my first job interview, when the interviewer asked me, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” that I realized, damn, I never thought that far ahead. I’ve been, just, winging it all this while.

Needless to say, I didn’t get the specific score that I had prayed for (and mind you, it was specific – I didn’t want a multiple of 5 and I didn’t like odd numbers, so goddamn, it was specific). Here’s why – God, if he/she exists, is different from a genie. Fundamentally speaking, a genie says “Your wish is my command.” God, on the other hand, says, “Dude, IDGAF.” God isn’t obliged to give you anything you ask for, even if you take all the dips in the holy lake as you like and die of pneumonia. Not his/her problem.

I have struggled with spirituality and belief for a while now. I cannot blindly accept an all-omni-blah being, like most people of faith do. It conflicts with this other thing I have called rational thought. On the other hand, sometimes, it’s comforting to have a parent-like figure to think about. I don’t pray (or make wishes) anymore, even if I’m sometimes forced to go to temples by the family. And the whole charade of lighting lamps and offering flowers is to me just that – a charade, one I refuse to participate in. But there’s always someone telling you certain places of worship just “work” (see, that alone is in contrast to the all-powerful theory – why do some places “work” and others don’t?). On top of that, there are now certain places that work for certain things – like a government office and its departments.

So I rolled my eyes when our tour guide in Kodaikanal said he was taking us to a church where you could ask for anything you wanted, and all your desires would be fulfilled, etc., etc. Not this again. At least, it isn’t 4 am.

So, with half a belief system, I marched, armed with yet another super-specific vertical goal. It wasn’t even half a belief. On a scale of Miracles Happen to Haha Yeah Right, I was at Muffled Laughter, But Filled With Doubt.

I was almost at the altar when I changed my mind. I didn’t care about my super-specific vertical goal (SSVG) anymore. I realized having SSVG fulfilled would mean yet another halt in bigger and better plans that I may someday have. For the first time in almost a decade, I realized the true significance of “Where do you see yourself in five years?” And SSVG would get in the way of that. I was done waiting. I was done pushing aside one big thing for fifty smaller ones. So, as I stood there in front of the altar, SSVG lying discarded somewhere on a bench, I just said this, “Tell me what is the one big thing. It’s about time.”

And that’s the story of the “sort-of-revelation” I mentioned in my previous post. More on this later.

Epiphanies and Second Chances

The knuckles have been cracked. A neck rotation stretch has been done. But the writing is still a little rusty – beginning with sentences in the passive voice. But write we must, and here’s why.

After a terrible few months, I think I had an epiphany of sorts. Make that two epiphanies. No, correction: one epiphany and one sort-of-revelation. You’d think an epiphany would be a grand event that shakes the ground beneath your feet, tears the sky open like a curtain, lightning would strike and thunder would roar, and lions would fall from the sky. But, like nearly everything of importance that happens in a person’s lifetime, epiphanies strike without fanfare. Silently. A simple thought that seems to clear a lot of the fog.

We’ve been taught since childhood that we must not let go of that which we love and that which loves us. I love to write, and on some days, the good days, writing loves me back. It would be foolish to waste that for the reasons I had. My reasons included plagiarism, the terrible state of literature, the terrible state of the world, the terrible state of my life, the rampant back-scratching and reciprocation in the blogging community, the lack of audience, false friends and more. If you think about it, really think about it, I think I did not give up writing for myself, but I gave it up for others. Which is… mind-numbingly stupid.

I may not be as great a writer as my dad thinks I am. But I’m not as bad as my colleague thinks I am. I may not be as good as a certain writer, I may not be as bad as another certain writer. But I’m a writer in my own right, irrespective of where I stand on a scale that someone constructed. And that’s true for anyone who is or wants to be a writer – it doesn’t matter where you stand or who reads you – you have a gift, don’t give that up. We don’t give up on gifts; so few have them, and even fewer have the chance to use them.

So while I sat, wallowing in misery and self pity, and doubts about my ability as a writer, fears about my ability to even carry on with life, a voice whispered, “You don’t get second chances. Don’t give up on writing; that’s the one thing you have that’s entirely your own. Don’t give that up. If you do, you’ll never turn the clock back and get back to it.” I think it was the voice of rational thought. Or, for the spiritually inclined, maybe it was the voice of God? Or maybe my role models speaking to me from the beyond? Whatever it was, it made me realize that I have to do this – I can’t protect my work from being stolen, I can’t force people to read me, and I can’t control what happens in life or who I meet or how they treat me – writing is something I must do. Anything else I say, anything I say to not write, is an excuse, feeble at best. Granted, to reach this conclusion (or epiphany, as I like to believe it is), to understand that you don’t get second chances, to get it through my head that you don’t let go of what’s important, I had to go through the worst pain I’ve known – something, which, at the time, I believed, it would be impossible to recover from – but it’s taught me so much. It’s taught me what’s truly important, and made me realize I was about to throw that away out of pettiness. And I’m recovering. If you had met me this time last month, I would have told you that’s never gonna happen. But to heal is a choice I must make for myself. And that’s what I’m gonna do.

And I’m gonna keep writing till I can. Cos that’s what writers do.