November is here at last!

Been waiting for November since last year. A wait that lasted almost 12 months (that’s obvious,actually).

In fact, I came across the NaNoWriMo phenomena around that time. People were talking about it online, so I did some research. When I found out that it is a programme where millions participate to write a novel in just thirty days, I almost swooned with the beauty of it all. Coffee-fueled inspiration, translated into a plot and lots and lots of words. One month of literary abandon, as they say. Just sitting and writing and making something of it. Being a writer and the one who is important because a novel is being written, not in some distant future (some books take decades to take shape, I have heard) but now, in just 30 days. Too good to be true! But it became my ultimate fantasy. I lived for November so as to be ushered into the Hall of Fame.

Why did I not start on my novel right away? Umm… it was something to do with not finding a good enough chair to park my butt in, busy schedules, self doubt and inevitable despair when I start on a long term writing project. But if millions around the world could do it, so could I.

This year, before November, I started my blog and got very drawn into the process of sharing bits of me with the world. It was an exhilarating experience. Writing for a very real audience with feedback in real time. It was good to talk openly, find like-minded people, find others who were writing very well… And I also discovered NaBloPoMo. This, at first seemed like a poor cousin of NaNoWriMo. A kind of consolation prize for those who did not have the guts to do the real thing. On a closer look however, it really was for bloggers who did not want to be separated from their blogs (you may have heard of the Umbillcal cord) and had neither the time nor the inclination to write a novel. There was no word count, no rules, just the blogger and his/her blog for thirty days! This was super cool.

At some level of my consciousness, I too felt I could not be separated from what had developed into an extension of myself. More soul searching led me to the conclusion that NaBloPoMo is simply a manifestation of our love for our blog babies, ones we give birth to and nurture. So, I would be a novelist next November. Right now, I have a commitment to my blog and my readers. See you all through the month in the NaBloPoMo! Ah! Bliss!

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Horoscope for Soneans* (October)

The month ahead brings much needed rest and recreation after a long period of hard work. Your efforts finally bear fruit and you would be able to see the tangible benefits of the projects you have been following.

On the health front, you need to take care. Try not to strain yourself. To manage stress related health problems, try yoga or meditation.

Socially, you have a party coming up. Busy times for all soneans ahead, as friends and relatives drop in for celebrations. Try not to overindulge and take care not to offend anyone especially those considered higher up in the social ladder.
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There could be an opportunity to travel overseas although you need to take care of your documents.

Daily Prompt

Write your own horoscope for the month gone by…
*Soneans is the imaginary sun sign created just for people like me.
This is one prediction that I loved doing. I wish Daily Post would ask us to write monthly predictions for all 12 sun signs.

Peeping through the Veil

Most of the times, I feel as if I am behind a veil watching the world go about its business. It is not my religion or my culture that decrees wearing of a veil by females in public places. It is a personal disposition of sorts that I have had for years, from my childhood perhaps.

A psychiatrist might call it a mild depression. I am not sure, for the only time I gathered up courage to visit one was when I cried so much before, during and after the appointment. I do not remember much what happened. Or the diagnosis or the prognosis. I only remember being looked at suspiciously, as if I really were mentally very unstable. I was prescribed medication, that I never took.

In retrospect, I think I had gone to talk, to find empathy, sympathy even. I just wanted a confirmation of my existence, that it was not a mistake and that the veil would not be defining. That somebody understood. That day, I came back empty handed.

The veil exists very really for me. I feel as if I am separated from the world, looking on but unable to feel much of what is going on. I am watching a movie but I am not part of it. I rarely feel involved and when I do, it is exhilarating. The exhilaration does not last long.

It is rather tiring after a while. Draining. Sucking the life energy out of me as if I had much to start with. I want a solution. My mind races on, through all that I have heard about or read about or thought about. The various theories, the exhortations, the strategies. I have been through most of them. I want one solution. Not a series. One definitive step.

Then I turn to Gratitude. I sit down with my journal, the one I had set aside. Bright yellow, in hope of brightening my days. I write down ten reasons I am grateful. I put it away. The next morning, I have a date with my Gratitude journal again. I write down ten more reasons for my supposed happiness. Each time I do this, the veil gets translucent. I can glimpse more of the outside. I make it a routine. Each morning. Twice a day, when things as looking up. Sometimes I slide back into despair. But I pick myself up. For nowhere else would I find The Solution.

Thanks to the practice of Gratitude, the veil seems to be slipping. And in the glimpse of the world, I see pieces of myself.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

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The Man Booker Prize winner Julian Barnes’ novel “The Sense of an Ending” deals with time and memories and how unreliable and inaccurate they can be.

This compact novel reads like fiction, a memoir, an essay. We travel many pages , wondering, hoping to unravel a mystery, a mystery which has its roots in the human mind and its inexplicable manifestation. No, the reader is not disappointed. After a dissertation on how time distorts even history and how the mind and our perceptions can rewrite even our memories and our experiences, the bizzare characters and their circumstances are made clear through a sensational incident that happened in the past. But the end does not matter or the approximation of what really happened because the strength of the book lies in the shifting of the past, the memories and the nature of regret.

Since the book deals with a handful of characters and the protagonist interprets their lives, actions, motives through his own understanding of human behaviour, the reader gets a glimpse of how strongly perceptions influence our actions. The protagonist talks of his school years, then his life through marriage, parenthood, divorce and retirement. The reader gets a sense of having a sweeping view of a person’s life and his very private desires and opinions. He talks extensively of what changes ageing brings and how memories are mutable.

Quite tellingly, the book opens with a small list of memories and that sets the tone of the story narrated. But, the reader does not know what actually happens. The reader can only go by the narrator, his views , perceptions and interpretations. Not only the future but even the past is uncertain.

The book is very readable and subtle, yet it brings up questions and insights that the reader will grapple with long after the book has been read.

The title of the book is borrowed from a book of the same name written by Frank Kermode, published in 1967. The stated aim of this book was “making sense of the ways we try to make sense of our lives”. This, then sums up the book by Julian Barnes beautifully.

Why I Stopped Writing

How and when did I fall off the Reader of my followers? Well, it is just that I have not posted on my blog for a while(8 days!, actually).

The couple of months preceding this lag were very productive. I wrote regularly, I published regularly. I pushed my boundaries, I discovered new things I could write. I was having a huge amount of fun and getting more confident each passing day. And then suddenly, I slipped up. Why?

Here are some of the reasons I could identify.

I had not established a ritual.
I realised that although I was passionate about writing and it was one of the most uplifting things I did during the day, I had still failed to make the act of writing a ritual. I wrote intermittently, whenever I could. Some days, I got up rather early and got a few pages done before the chaotic day started. On other days I wrote when my children took a nap. Or I wrote late in the night. Throughout the day, I wrote snippets.

Even then, I did not have a specific place or a time of the day built into my routine. So when things became busier, I had no place or the time to redeem my writing.

I waited for inspiration.
I realised that in some cases I waited for a magnificent idea to strike me so that I could write a beautiful piece. There were times when an idea would just seem divine. And I waited for words to come in a torrent. I waited and waited. Those pieces never got written.

It was only because I did not sit down to write them. I did not work on the ideas I had. It was a case of too much planning and too little execution. I never got around to producing my masterpieces.

I did not want to edit my work.
My reluctance to edit was another one of the reasons that I did not publish. Admitting that my piece needed to be edited was akin to saying that I did not write well or that I had written badly in the first place.

Add to that my realisation that I simply could not dump on the paper or the screen whatever came to my mind. Things needed to be struck out, phrases tweaked and even sentences axed. Sometimes, the point of view needed to be changed. I was horrified at the prospect.

So, those two opposing instincts led to my failure to write.

I forgot to be vigilant.
Another thing I did not realise that I had to be vigilant against not writing. I got complacent because I thought I was doing a great job. I thought writing had become a second nature. So I relaxed and then I slacked. And then, I got busy with life.

I did not understand that writing is an active pursuit.
Writing is not something dreamy. It is not that I transfer some emotions on to the paper and be hailed a genius. I also needed to work on the process. It is not a passive occupation but an active pursuit. Motivation is important as also knowing what strategies would work.

Yes, it is very fulfilling to write and to do it well. So, I shall just keep at it.

Battle of the Bulge

This is about my sister and my aunt. Both have the same birth date, hence the same sun sign and the same characteristics. Both have curly black hair and both have been pleasantly plump for as long as I can remember. Both are fighting a battle.

What battle are they fighting? It is the battle of the bulge. From childhood, I have been close to my sister. When she was fifteen and I eleven, she decided she was not just plump but fat and needed to lose some weight. So began the exercise sessions which I watched with idle curiosity, occasionally looking up from my books. She was considered too young for dieting. So, she put all her energy into exercising and burning the extra fat. A few years down the line, she started going on diets. First it was eating-only-healthy-things diet. Then she cut out certain bad foods. And then, some more. And then, the local gym. After that, slimming centers.

All her decisions, thoughts, emotions are centered around how fat she is and how she is going to get thinner. And how many pounds she has dropped in the last six months and how many she has gained back. All her extra energy is directed towards one thing and all the gaps in her thoughts are filled with one purpose.

Cut to my aunt. She has also been on the plumper side from the time she was born, perhaps. As children, we loved visiting her. She was always fun, full of joy, forever ready with a smile and a joke. And always talking about how fat she was. We lived hundreds of miles apart so I have not been witness to her efforts at weight loss. But I have listened about them. In gory detail. For nearly three decades now.

Two women in my family. A generation apart. Same thought processes. Both of them are very beautiful and unique in their own way. They have led fulfilling lives, supporting families and being there for their dear ones. But why are they obsessed with their bodies? And is that what defines them?

Having crossed into middle age, I am gaining weight and beginning to resemble a ‘beached whale’. Time to bring out the running shoes, the leotards, the diet books? Downloading apps for weight loss? Fat has brought me out of my mid life crisis. I no longer feel I have no purpose or direction. Joining the battle!

Our Schoolroom

The neighbourhood has seen better days, but Mrs. Pauley has lived there since before anyone can remember. She raised a family of six boys, who’ve all grown up and moved away. Since Mr. Pauley died six months ago, she’d had no income. She’s fallen behind in the rent. The landlord, accompanied by the police, have come to evict Mrs. Pauley from the house she’s lived in for fifty years.

Even from across the street, I can see them go in through the front room to the one that opens out to the side garden. That is our school room or was till a year back. Back then, it used to be full of bawling kids with snot covered faces-till Mrs. Pauley came in from supervising Mary in the kitchen and wiping her hands on her starched apron. Her apron with the tiny red flowers was always clean, as her house was and that is how she wanted us children to be when we came to study for three hours each weekday.

I wipe my nose with my sleeve and swinging my legs in a way that maddened Mrs. Pauley quite a bit, lean to the left to watch the two policemen stride out to the little garden and our playground all those years. Mrs.Pauley is in her rocking chair, dozing in the late afternoon sun. I can see all this because the sun streams in from the garden at this hour and how well I and Rob know this because we would peep in the window to check if Mrs. Pauley were dozing. Then we would climb the fence to the adjoining house to pluck apricots. Rob would look at the girls going to the market while I had juice running down my chin and shirt front.

Rob did get into trouble with Mr. Pauley. I could hear the shouts across the street to this stoop outside my own door. Then he got sent away for walking with a girl in the trees yonder. Like three of his brothers. The younger two I liked, for they wore jaunty clothes which were the most fancy we got to see in this mining town. Buck and Cliff had clean hands; no blackened nails, which alone put them in a class above us. They worked in shops in the town. Shops! Shops! And all we had here were shacks!

Mrs. Pauley has been woken gently by one policeman. The landlord is red faced and looking at her in that wild eyed manner of his. The scoundrel! He was the cause of girl trouble and it all got onto one of the boy’s heads. And how could we forget the day he got the school closed? Taking all those rowdy little ones out, holding their hands, Mrs. Pauley did show her love, after all. Only then, we were happy to be getting to sit outside on the fence, playing hopscotch and rough handling some of the cowards. It was later that Mrs. Pauley went around, asking about her students. Most drifted away to the mines, some to the town.

I spit on the ground and feel around for my stick to walk across. Better have one last look at the school room. I am not at work because of my short leg, damn. They think I am lazy. I don’t want to do no work. Mother died coughing and I could get no water.

As I enter the house, there are no cakes in the oven, no food smell. What does she eat now that Mary has gone? I stumble out to the garden where Mrs. Pauley is talking to the policeman with a stern yet pleased look reserved for the ones she has taught. The landlord cowers. Mrs. Pauley looks up to see me and smiles at me with the short leg and him in the uniform.