Category Archives: Thinking Aloud

no more pretending

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“The March” by Abigail Gray Swartz for The New Yorker; Source: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/cover-story-2017-02-06

 

It’s been 2017 for a while, and a good year at that. So far. I can’t help but caution myself against changing winds that often, if not always, upset what we call our “positive outlook”.

Last year was – how shall I put it? – adversarial, at best. Yet, it was also the year I learnt the most, the most important lesson being, no more pretending. And, that is also my resolution this year, just being true to who I am, and being self-aware of my limitations. Just because I have become an expert at keeping a low profile, people automatically assume I have my shit together.

Well, bullshit.

I am still getting there, and I have been blessed with a strong community of people around me, sometimes like godsend in a single moment, sometimes always there, like an invisible umbilical cord. Yes, definitely lucky and blessed. Friends in unlikely places, a partner who has helped me survive, family who always support (although with doses of reprimands mixed in), and a community of writers I am just beginning to know.

This year is going to be a game-changer, and not just because I am getting married. As a writer too, I know things will happen, and happen for the best. I can feel it in my gut.

For now, there’s academia. There’s life (and Krishna, my life). There’s the reading series I have curated (it deserves its own blog post), and other little nuggets of opportunities that will slowly unfold as the year goes on. For now, I brace myself. For now, I am ready.

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up to date

It’s been 3 days ish since I submitted my comprehensive exam (3 short essays), a few hours since I finished with most of my teaching assistant duties (marking) – although grades need to be uploaded – and am a few days away from moving back home. I should be exhilarated, right? I should be relaxed… but like most of my life in action, the tinge of unfinished business graces the air around me, and until I am done (which I am never, usually, as there is always something unfinished), I cannot breathe.

It’s also the 6 year celebration of this blog. Happy birthday, us!

I have some news that I guess I should dispense with. I have my first ever publication forthcoming in a Canadian magazine this spring. Cause for (some) celebration, I suppose. It’s a short fiction piece from a collection of short stories that I have been working on for the past – 3? 4?  – years.  I performed the piece recently at Laurier. It’s one of my most difficult/best pieces till now (I say that every time, I know), and merde! I wasn’t stage shy at all… no shaking feet, or quivering heart. It seems I have conquered that godawful stage fright thing I always had.

matrix

Well, then.

I also have a poetry manuscript in progress. I am so happy with what I have been writing in the past few months. I guess I have sort of been on a creative high considering I am in love with a writer; also, a dear friend; also, my partner; also, the person I am going to marry.

There, that’s it… for now.

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W.T.F.

book

Disclaimer: This one got a little personal.

I have been questioning my life choices lately.

Here I am. Finishing up my first year as a doctoral candidate in English. On the cusp of thirty.

Not that age should be a factor. I am not worried about getting older. Hell, I am actually ready for the big 3-0 (still several months away). Nor am I in a rush to get married, having recently extricated myself from a relationship that wasn’t really working that well.

No, I am just wondering why I haven’t done it yet. Written the book, you know? There was a time when I saw myself a published author by the time I hit my thirties.

A joke really, considering that one only gets one chance at that first book. Fuck up, and you are fucked.

Pardon the language, but really, W.T.F?

A writer friend who is also as engaged in academia as I am states that she is unable – unable – to be both a creative writer, and an academician.

I beg to differ. I can be both. For me, it’s not about the switching between the academician and the creative writer that’s the problem. But the mental space. The time one gives oneself to become both – not necessarily at the same time – and do it well.

Well, well. That is the key word, isn’t it?

How does one do it well? How does one know that one is doing it well? And, how does one do it and know that one is not fucking up?

I have realized these are questions that have their own answers, depending on who you are asking.

Me? I am still searching for my own versions of truth.

But I feel them shimmering. Hovering just out of reach.

But there they are. Right there. See?

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When a Poem Expires

chickenlonelycoupon

There was – well, is. It still exists. – a poem that I wrote a little over two years ago. It was a reactionary poem to an event that sort of tilted my world at the time. Tilted it beyond a rose coloured view. It was a poem that made my insides squirm whenever I read it. It made me uncomfortable as it recalled the event in minute detail. Yes, it was a very uncomfortable poem and an extremely personal one.

The poem found a home in a magazine I admired. After four rejections at other places, this magazine agreed to take it in. I felt as if a poor lost puppy roaming around in the rain had suddenly been offered a home by kind patrons. It warmed my heart. The world would hear my pain.

The magazine sat on it. They sat and sat, and warmed their behinds on it. Other poems were published, but my accepted poem did not see the light of day.

The immediacy of my pain began to fade, as the poem slowly rotted.

I got over that two year old moment and started viewing the world through my kind of negotiated happiness. And even as I personally grew, the poem itself didn’t. It had been stalled before its unveiling. An aging debutante.

I sent several polite inquiries. Se-ve-ral. They were met with silence.

No white noise. No static. Just an unrelenting silence. A void, if you please.

And now, after all this time, the aging puppy has passed away, its memory a stranger.

I should just bury it and move on.

markanderson

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Women in Clothes Style Survey

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What is the role of style in a woman’s life?

This is one of the main questions that authors Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton, aim to answer in their crowd sourced book forthcoming from Penguin in 2014. (For anyone who’s interested, they are accepting surveys until the end of this month. More information can be found here.)

The questions  in their survey were probing without being intrusive. In the process of answering the questions, I uncovered a lot about my own motivations of existing as a person.

I realize that this blog post isn’t directly related to my own writing / writing process, but at the same time, the answers I came up with revealed the ways in which I approach my writing as well. Here is an edited version of my answers:

THE STYLE SURVEY

QUESTION 1

Do you remember the first time you were conscious of what you were wearing? Can you describe this moment and what it was about?

I was 12 years old and I was in (puppy) love with a boy four years older than I. I think I became conscious not only about what I was wearing, but also about my weight. At one point, I even started watching my food portions. I think that was when I started to adjust myself to my new body where I stopped wearing oversized t-shirts to hide my breasts and opted for more fitted clothes.

QUESTION 2

When do you feel at your most attractive?

When I have dressed up with care, my clothes carefully chosen, my makeup carefully done, my contact lenses on—this is when I begin to walk with a confident swagger. Sometimes, I become aware of men looking my way and that boosts my ego even more. And when equally confident women also look my way, I know I have got it.

QUESTION 3

Are there any clothing (or related) items that you have in multiple? Why do you keep buying this thing?

Not really. I try to adapt my clothing to the season and my body shape. Usually, I won’t buy something because it’s in fashion or because it’s trending. I buy stuff that flatter me and is also comfortable. For example, I have started wearing shorts with flowing tops in pastel shades this summer. I am careful to choose colors that suit my skin tone and make me look attractive. The shorts enhance my height, since I am very petite. I also wear flats because I am uncomfortable in heels, even though heels make me look taller.

I am also careful about the durability of the piece. How long will this piece last? Can I wear it through multiple seasons? etc.

QUESTION 4

What’s your process in getting dressed in the morning? What are you considering?

It depends on where I am off to. If it’s a meeting with my thesis advisor or a class I am TAing, I will dress more formally. The make up is usually done to enhance my eyes (my best feature) and I leave my glasses on. I might wear a formal dress or a shirt/top with formal pants. If it’s just to meet friends or an errand, I will put on something casual, maybe jeans with a tee? I love t-shirts and have a lot of them. However, I make sure to buy t-shirts that are comfortable and “different”. I have a lot of t-shirts from a green company in India, No Nasties, who specialize in organic and fair trade cotton t-shirts. I keep buying their tees for the comfort and fit, even though they cost a little more.

QUESTION 5

What are some dressing rules that you wouldn’t necessarily recommend to anyone else, but which you follow?

Be confident in whatever you wear. It’s all about being able to carry it off, even if you are unsure inside. Projecting confidence is important.

QUESTION 6

What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had with someone on the subject of fashion or style?  What was said?

N/A

QUESTION 7

Do you think you have taste or style? What do these words mean to you?

I think style and taste are very arbitrary words. I mean, what I might find stylish or tasteful may offend someone else’s aesthetic sense.  However having said that, I think I wear stuff that makes me- as an individual- come off as tasteful, if not stylish. I like to look good in what I am wearing, but feel comfortable at the same time. I also believe in being able to look sexy without revealing too much skin, and I believe that is something I have mastered for myself. Then again, if one can be confident in what they are wearing, regardless of whether it’s considered stylish or tasteful by mainstream fashionistas, then does it really matter?

QUESTION 8

a) Do you consider yourself photogenic?

Yes, at certain angles.

b) When you see yourself in photographs, what do you think?

It depends on the photograph. Sometimes, when I smile too much, my nose begins to look dumpy. Also, when my neck isn’t visible in a photo, my face looks fat.  But to be honest, I do not like being in front of the camera much, as much as behind it. When I was in India for four months, I traveled a lot and took a lot of photos, yet there are only a handful of me to document that I had actually been to certain places and seen certain monuments.

I sort of regret not being a camera whore. I have been trying to change this, and trying to document myself more, through photographs. However, I have realized that if I don’t do this consciously, I don’t get photographed. Le sigh.

QUESTION 9

a) What are some things you admire about how other women present themselves?

Mostly confidence. I envy confidence, because I have to keep reminding myself that I can be all that if I only believe in it. There is a woman I particularly admire- Sharanya Manivannan. She is a poet and writer based in India, and she knows how to dress with panache.

I also admire my younger sister’s ability to throw together stuff and manage to look ravishing. I think I have learnt a lot about fashion and make up over the years from my sister.

b) Have you stolen, borrowed or adapted any dressing ideas or actual items from friends or family?

See above.

QUESTION 10

a) How and when do you shop for clothes?

When I am in the States (which is twice a year) because it’s cheaper. Also, when I am in India. I need to try clothes on in person and see myself a few times before I decide to buy something. Accessories, however, do not require that much thought.

b) Do you have any shopping rules you follow?

Yes. I always ask myself: do I need this or do I want this? Sometimes, if the piece of clothing is especially flattering on me, the latter wins.

QUESTION 11

a) What is your favourite piece (of clothing or jewellery)?

Don’t have one.

b) What’s the first “investment” item you bought? Do you still own or wear it?

A handwoven Kashmiri woolen stole from India. Since it’s black with intricate stitching, it goes with almost anything. I love this item in the winter as it’s warm as hell. Yes, I still own it and still wear it.

QUESTION 12

Was there a point in your life when your style changed dramatically? What happened?

Yes, after I finished my Master’s in 2011, I realized that I needed to dress to impress. Back in graduate school (then), I did not care about what I wore. I wore whatever was available and to be honest, most days, I looked sloppy. Now I realize that clothing matters. People judge you by what you wear and how you appear. And this judgment can have a direct impact on your self esteem. I had really low self esteem back then, and was unsure of a lot of life choices. I was also very socially awkward. Things are different now. I dress to look good, to exude confidence. I am also able to mingle easily now.

QUESTION 13

Do you care about lingerie?

Yes, they need to be sexy and comfortable.

QUESTION 14

How does how you dress play into your ambitions for yourself?

See answer to question 12.

QUESTION 15

Can you recall any times when you have dressed a particular way to calm yourself or gain a sense of control over a situation that scared you?

No.

QUESTION 16

a) What are you wearing on your body and face, and how is your hair done, right at this moment?

Nothing on my face, except my glasses and lip balm. I am in my bright blue loose pjs and a Tantra t-shirt I only wear at home. My hair is tied up in a knot.

b) How does makeup fit into all this for you?

I wear makeup only when I leave the house. Sometimes, I only do up my eyes and slap on some lip balm.

I used to hate wearing makeup and it’s only recently that I have learnt to tolerate wearing it regularly. But whenever I am at home, it’s no makeup for me.

c) What do you think of perfume? Do you wear it?

Perfume is so bourgeoisie. I have never bought perfume for myself. The perfume I own have all been gifts. I put on Dove body spray on a daily basis. It’s understated and makes me smell pleasant without being obnoxious.

QUESTION 17

Is there any article of clothing, piece of make-up, or accessory you carry with you or wear every day?

Yes, black eyeliner and lip balm. Without fail. I am nothing without them.

QUESTION 18

a) Do you have style in any areas of your life aside from fashion?

Do books count? I care a lot about what I am reading outside of school. Usually, a lot of literary fiction.

b) Do you think you have a unified way of approaching your life, work, relationships, finances and chores? What is it?

Sure, I am always thinking about the lead up. Where is this all leading up to? The way I am, the way I appear to be, the time I am putting in, the friends I have, what is the point of it all? Will this lead to a better me? What is the big picture? I am always worried about the big picture, the end goal of it all. It helps me keep my life in control.

QUESTION 19

What would be a difficult look for you to try and achieve?

A free spirit? I need some structure to my life. Without (a little bit of) structure, I am lost. Yet, I lose structure when I am on a “break”. So, I am not really sure.

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Portrait of an Ex-Lover

I apologize. I haven’t been writing (creatively) lately- except for a few poems / prose excerpts here and there – because I haven’t been in that creative mindspace since September. I have even fallen off the NaPoWriMo bandwagon this year. Hard.

No, I haven’t been depressed (because that would actually help me write!), but I have been consumed by life (both academic and personal). Consumed in very rewarding ways, if I may add.

Why this mea culpa? Well, today is the three year anniversary of my blogging journey. It’s only natural to be self-reflexive.

Last year, I had typhoid visiting. An unannounced, unwelcome guest. This year however, I am going to celebrate in style. I have the champagne (a birthday gift from some of my Gender Studies friends). The dollar store wine glasses (alas, they didn’t have the appropriate ones). A sexy somebody to celebrate with. Oh, and a new fiction piece (my best piece yet) to share.

My short fiction piece, “Portrait of an Ex-Lover,” is in Rose Red Review. You can read it here.

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Scheherazade’s One Thousand and One Arabian Night(mare)s

An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 27th June 2011.

Once upon a time, in a book rife with lies, Princess Scheherazade spent one thousand and one nights in bed with Prince Shahriyar… talking.

Poor child. Not a single glass of cool sherbet was offered to soothe that lovely throat that may have gone hoarse as she spoke to save her life.

Princess Scheherazade. Of noble birth and noble poise. She gladly gave herself up to satisfy the prince’s twisted sense of humour where he took virgin brides to bed one night, and had them beheaded the next. His reason was fuelled by a fear of infidelity on their part. Notice how he sacrificed virgin brides after he had deflowered them. Ironic. No one ever questioned the prince’s virginity. Or, sanity, for that matter (I wonder if he was afraid that he wouldn’t get his seventy-two virgins after death, and was trying to make up an equivalent in human numbers).

But Scheherazade? Did her heart pulsate wildly as she made a careful note to appeal to the prince’s mental libido, while keeping his physical libido at bay? Did the imagined swish of a sword at the guillotine haunt her dreams, as she struggled to maintain the veneer of an artful storyteller, with apt tincture pauses at the exact moments in order to create an illusion of drama and mystery? Or, did she just inwardly maintain a running record of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” as a talisman against fear?

Was it perhaps a girlish infatuation that led her to his bedroom of doom? Did she secretly hold a special place for the prince, to willingly walk into a death trap? Or, were her motives more selfish and lay in her desire to be immortalised in history? Perhaps, she lost herself in the somnolence of a utopic fantasy where her tormentor would fall hopelessly in love with her storytelling skills (and… other things).

I wonder if even once in those one thousand and one nights, she regretted her decision. Did she ever daydream of taking the prince by his beard and shaking his face, out of frustration and rage?  Or, was she one of a perverse mentality whose kink lay in a masochistic self-torture where she fed off from the dread evident in the flutter of her heart? Did she ever in those long, long nights mistake that flutter for… love?

Love, indeed. The bane of life. Look at Sita. She insisted that Ram come save her from Raavan, and what did she get? Two counts of fire acrobatics to prove her chastity.

Look at Europa. Ovid’s Metamorphoses etched her “rape” by Jupiter for centuries to come. But if Jupiter’s fulfillment lay in plain ravishing, then why make Europa his queen? Why choose her to rule Crete, with a special place right next to him? What if “love” was all they really had?

Tabitha Vevers' "When We Talk About Rape" (1992), based on the myth of Europa's rape by Jupiter

But Scheherazade and love? Was she in love with a murderer who had a trail of massacred damsels on his hands?

Myths and historical myths are often interpreted (and misinterpreted) at will. I could give you a lecture on the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi controversy manipulated by political parties that led to unnecessary bloody communal riots. But let’s stick to simple things.

Think. For once.

If just like Ovid’s possible misinterpretation of a possible love story, there had been no pointy sword hanging over Scheherazade’s neck? Maybe, her stories were just sweet nothings between two lovers after a very “sexy time” in bed (a commonplace substitute for the modern-day post-coital cigarette, perhaps?). Then, the massacres could have been a lie. A cover-up made up over time to spice up the origin of the one thousand and one stories. Spice sells. And, love stories are trite and common, anyway.

But let’s ask an expert on relationships. Freud, darling? What do you think?

He takes a long drag of his pipe, strokes his beard, and says, “Love, shove, nothing! What really happened was: once upon a time, a woman fell in love with an infantile man, and told him bed time stories to fulfill an unfulfilled Oedipal complex. By being able to do so, his love for her was unshakeable. And, tell me this, how could he let go of that mother figure, once he had her?”

Maybe, the guy has a point.

So Scheherazade, forgive me. But your tales are all you have. The rest will be reworked again and again in an infinite loop, till we have exhausted
the possibilities of your life. Truth comes in many versions, and maybe some day, we will hit upon the right one.

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