Inside Jokes and Late Goodbyes

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This must have been a dream because I can’t remember how it began, the details of the ending are hazy, but I remember everything in between. What followed waking was rebuilding, reconstructing, retracing, recovering. You and I recanting – all that was said and done before.

I was sewn back, not in a hurry, and yet threads of you embroidered themselves into me. Your dust got caught in the bricks that remade me, your voice trapped in these crooked crevices, reminding me to look for you. And so I do even a world away.

I look at every passing bus, to see if it’s your face in the window reading comics at the back of the paper. And every time somebody orders a steak well done, a smile rises to my lips, the resurfacing of an inside joke that once was – your penchant for rich food, and mine for poor puns. I look under coffee mugs, behind polished oakwood doors, waiting for you to spring at me, for the thrill of a fear anticipated. But I’ve lost the fragment of that sorrow, the piercing I felt when it was new.

When did I become so audacious, rushing to the edges of sharp cliffs? It is you who taught me to fearlessly jump. You became the air around me that scraped my skin as I fell, holding me, cradling me, even as I bled. Through those cuts and bruises, you entered and remained, like fragrance in my hair, revealing itself every time I moved. You permeated the notes of a lullaby. The one with the mockingbird.

The mockingbird…

…mocking me in turn.


Image Source: Shutterstock

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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.

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.

The Heavier Expectations

A few weeks ago, I was discussing Past life regression with an acquaintance. While I was always interested in the study of the mind, and the subconscious, and Freud’s theories, past life regression is a wholly new area for me. I had, of course, heard of it, but it was not something I gave much thought to. To me, until then, reincarnation, or past life, or the manifestations of accumulated karma were a largely religious concept, and therefore something to be dismissed as hokum. They were also, to some extent, a Bollywoodesque idea, that had run its course somewhere in the 90s.

No matter, because the idea was still intriguing, and I have to say, all of a sudden, I wanted to know if I had lived lives before. Wait. I’d be lying if I said the idea took root when the discussion happened. The fact is, I had been curious about past lives ever since I read Ashwin Sanghi’s The Rozabal Line, back in 2009. It has come and gone like a whiff every now and then since then. If such a thing exists, then I’d like to know something about it. Anything. It is difficult not to romanticize about it once the idea has planted itself.

But this particular discussion dug its toes deeper into my head. Suddenly, I was googling past life regression in the middle of the night, in the midst of a splitting headache, and reading all I could find on the subject. I dreamed up all kinds of scenarios, where I sat with a practitioner and discovered who I was, and dramatically discovered my relationships with those who are in my present life. Most prominently though, I secretly harbored this fantasy that I would discover I was Sylvia Plath or Anais Nin in a past life. A girl can dream, eh?

One of the articles I read said that the only people who are advised to perform past life regression are those who feel there is something lacking in their present life, or those who are trying to find the root cause of a problem or emotion. I have always felt this strange sense of “not belonging”. Not to this world, not to this period in time. Always a little lost, always searching for “home.” Always trying to figure something out. I have written several posts about this as well. This explains the Sylvia Plath fantasy!

The reason why I am a writer today is partly because I have been trying to explore these questions. On the other hand, I believe writers must keep an open mind – to all hypotheses, to all ideas, to all experiences. I also believe writers must give in to instincts and emotions. Writers grow through excesses. The excesses they fit into their short attention spans. The whys. The hows. The alrights. The welcomes. The loves. The lusts. The harmonys. The cordialitys. The honestys. The opennesses. The acceptances. The understandings.

The being.

My error was, however, I bracketed all writers into these open-minded souls. I forgot, at the end of the day, we are humans. Humans with our pettiness and our general smallness of mind. I went out into the world expecting the same openness from everyone around me, placing the burden of my heavy expectations on their broad but weak shoulders.

Where I went looking for open-mindedness, I found the same kind of world I sought to abandon – closed, small souls, calling themselves creators but being nothing more than lice trying to trample each other on one head of hair. Angry souls. Dishonest souls. Backstabbing souls. Lonely and afraid souls. Friendless souls. Judgmental souls. Mocking souls.

Not souls. They were mere humans.

I went looking for people, who, perhaps felt as lost as I. I believed I would find the honesty and humility I was looking for in a crooked world. That maybe, in being among my own kind, or who I thought were my own kind, I would find myself. That together, we would better ourselves. Instead, all I found was a subset of the same people who already thought they were higher than the rest simply because they could string sentences one after the other. Who I found were those looking for instant fame. Writers on the outside, nosey, obnoxious neighbours on the inside.

Not writers. They were mere marketers.

Often, even in friendships, my expectations of others have been too great a weight for them to bear. Perhaps, this is an extension of it, and perhaps, this feeds my somewhat dormant misanthropy. It cushions the disappointments that come my way.

I wonder if I were to actually do the regression (since that is, after all, what we were discussing), what would I find about myself that would explain my boredom? What would I find that would stop me from placing so many expectations on simple-minded folk who do not deserve it.

 

What Went Wrong…

Oh, hello! Don’t mind me, I am just sitting here with my hypothetical pipe in my mouth, musing about things. Again. Trying to make sense of a few things.

Again.

You know, I wrote a short story when I was 12 – it was a murder mystery, and the main theme was jealousy. About two years later, I wrote a story about how mankind was the worst thing to have happened to the universe since the big bang – told from the POV of a cockroach that survived a nuclear holocaust. There were a bunch of stories in between with a lot of blood and gore; mostly fluff pieces written to shock the reader. My English teacher enjoyed the stories tremendously – the cockroach one was a favourite of hers, I remember. The point of this little narrative is that – I was always enticed by the darker side of human emotion. Happy endings never appealed to me, joy never appealed to me – someone was always dead in my stories.

Why then have I stopped exploring it now?

You see, stories of that genre come naturally to me. My rationale is simple – every writer glorifies their protagonists – flawless and irreproachable heroes and heroines. Would any writer, through the characters, or otherwise, admit to their own faults? After all, most heroes and heroines are a superior alter ego of their creators. Through my characters, am I pushing my own flaws on to paper? Not exactly – jealousy isn’t an emotion I feel, nor have I ever murdered anyone. But I can tell you about a flaw that I do have – I am easily influenced. I have my own opinions (of course) but you tell me something quite a few times, I will start thinking like you. And that’s a horrible, horrible trait in a human being.

In retrospect, I have come to realize when and how I stopped writing fiction, where the darkness has gone. I don’t want this to be a name-and-blame sort of post, mainly because whoever it was who said whatever it was that they said to me, ultimately, the fault is my own – my head is bloody easy to get into!

I have made excuses for it – I thought I had writer’s block (I don’t), I thought I was distracted (not really), I thought I was reading too many books and that was killing my imagination (I partially do still believe  this, but there’s more to it). How did I realize that I have killed my own darkness? In the past, the stories I have written deal with some kinda deep rooted fear we all have within us – or so I’d like to think. It is not just about the ghosts – I have written about a man who derives joy from seeing a child die, I have written about depression and suicide caused by the world’s opinion of you, I have written about a criminally insane father – the darkest corners. I don’t claim to be Palahniuk or someone like that, but my exploratory path has been on those lines. Then why is it that, when a few months ago, I was about to write a story about a handicapped man’s death, I was horrified by my own thoughts? I could not believe that my mind could conceive such a ruthless, tragic thing, and I reprimanded myself for being a bad human being. But why? Isn’t that what I had always been writing about?

Because I had been led to believe that my stories would be my destruction.

A sensible writer would hear something as dramatic as this and wave a smug “tah-tah” and send those words upon the breeze, never to be bothered by them again. I, however, am not as sensible as I wanna be – it is way too easy “perform inception” on my mind. Suddenly, I grew afraid. The thought had been sown – the darker my stories, the unhappier my life would be. However much I wanted to believe it hadn’t, it had. And little by little, it was corroding my brain, eating up my imagination, forcing me to not ever write a piece of fiction where there was any kind of darkness whatsoever.

Holy fuck.

Fear is the one enemy of the writer. And I am terribly afraid. I have my own self to blame for having such a pliable, thought-plantable, stupid head. Sure, I wrote two stories even after the incident, but both are not as “dark” as my stories usually are. Not half as disturbing. Not “me”.

All I’ve done until now is not let myself admit to this. But I have to. If I want to go back to who I was, I need to admit that this is a problem.

Now to find the solution – uproot that thought and throw it off.