Places that we inhabit 

Image courtsey: jimleggitt.typepad.com

My life has been divided by ‘places‘. There are stages or phases in our lives. And we measure life in terms of age. I do all this; only I do it as the places I have lived at, the places I have loved and the places that have challenged me to grow. 
Each place has a different memory. My earliest memory is of the sea, the sand in my toes and my hair; the brittleness of the wind and the shaded yet hot verandah of the house we lived in. 

The other childhood home in another city reminds me of the butterflies chased in the hot noons when the adults were taking a siesta. I remember the cool baths by the tap and plastic pouches that doubled as water carriers. 

The longest I have lived at a place has been the small town and the big house of my adolescence. The house was rambling and it allowed my imagination to wander in the huge grounds and the lawns, behind the trees and the bushes, in the sand pits and the annexe that was my personal paradise. 

Moving to a new town with a completely different character was disorienting after the lyrical paradise and it helped me find my wings. The red letterbox was the tenuous link that connected me to my friends and the shower of letters and cards in the driveway brought much joy as I ran from the terrace down the stairs in sheer delight. 

As I grew older, the places were painted in the colours of my emotions. I struggled for peer acceptance and for the cool quotient. I plodded along, trying to do better in everything and failing miserably. I picked myself up and found new horizons. I found people and I lost them and in the process lost many bits of my own self. Years later, I would be here again and the struggles would be different and the disappointments hardening into something unpalatable. 

There are times and places in life that come around to challenge and teach and help you stretch yourself. Then, there are places that are a balm to the soul. Life may be difficult and life may be giving you lemons but for every trouble, there is an antidote. These are the places that bouy the spirit, that help you take the next step and the next till you are striding away at your own pace. 

I have been fortunate to find many such places that healed me and gave me new hope.

I  have also come back to these places years later, to visit and to muse on them. I have come back to them so as to spend longer periods, making my home there once again. But, the coming again seems awkward and the connection seems lost. The impressions of the places in the mind seem false, garishly colored as if by a child with a vivid imagination. I take a long time to rekindle the familiarity and the love. 

Yet, the places I have been to have defined me and in bits and pieces made me what I am. Through a coming together of the elements of space, weather and people, the places I have lived at have shaped me. 

Being Radically Authentic

Isn’t being authentic enough that we now want to be radically so? 

An authentic life is where we express ourselves just the way we are. There is no disconnection between our inner world and our outward life. It is peace, joy and bliss rolled into a package, or so we are led to think. But being radically authentic is when the clichés surrounding authenticity are challenged and candour takes the place of pretension- the charade of being true only to the positive in the spectrum of human emotions. 

In the pursuit of emotional well being, an authentic voice is much desired, something that is true to the self. The ‘voice’ manifests itself in the choices we make, in the way we run our lives, the philosophy we swear by and the creative outlets we have. We declare to the world our real personas and we feel empowered when we bring out all the love and goodwill for the humankind as a mere fallout of being ourselves. 

Yet, I question myself, are we, as a community or a society, going overboard in our quest for authenticity? Do we not feel pressurised to have the perfect life or the perfect work life balance, the perfect emotions and the perfect goals? Is it important that we be climbing mountains, real or metaphorical, travel far and wide, write a book or record that album and in the process feel nothing but priviledged, successful because we pushed ourselves or challenged ourselves? 

An average day sees in us a wide range of emotions… Happiness yes and focus yes and bliss yes and chasing our dreams yes. Do we even acknowledge the ubiquitous doubt no and anxiety no and inadequacy no and boredom no and whiling away time no…? We do not even allow a low grade unhappiness because of the inherent and sometimes unavoidable disconnection between the situations and the realities of our emotions. 

Why is it that suddenly we have an aversion to negativity, to feeling inadequate, to not be following our bliss, to not be dreaming big? Do we need to look at every challenge as an opportunity for personal growth? Do we have the courage to admit our vulnerability, our flawed reasoning and all too human failures? Even in talking of our failure, we are supposed to concentrate how it was a learning experience. 

Sometimes, I think back of the time I was fighting depression. Safely distanced from that experience, I like to think how I cherish that time because it was the biggest learning for me. Coming out of that harrowing time unscathed, I proclaim that it is empowering to know that I could conquer. It makes me brave in everyone’s eyes and a winner to my mind’s eye. While it is true that it is good to have a greater feeling of security because something that could go awry and wreak havoc ultimately turned out all right and I feel relatively unscathed. Yet, am I turning my back on those negative emotions that led me into that well of despair in the first place? I feel compelled to be looking at the glass as being full most of the time and am rewarded by a vocal acceptance of myself as a positive person. But how much of my completeness is contributed by my dark side? 

Is it not alright anymore to lead an ordinary life? To be able to see the beauty and the magnificence of the simple existence? It is more desirable that we recognize our pace, our proclivities and that our little happinesses are just as important as the grand ones. It is only a matter of scale and a perceived importance of the larger one. It is alright not to judge sometimes, more importantly our own selves or to push ourselves to feel what we should be feeling… feeling posituve, energetic and dreaming lofty dreams. It is alright to do things for the sake of doing them and not for any end in sight. Not for that painting to be one day hung in the gallery or even in the parlour. Not for those words to be penned down into a book. It is better to take time to stop, to find ourselves by losing ourselves in ‘something’, even nothing, rather than chasing after a goal. It is better to share a moment with a friend and even silence. 

Every few days or even hours, we might feel unhinged. Something happens to throw us out of our equanimous state. And often, it is because nothing happens that the mental equilibrium is challenged. It is the void that becomes our undoing. And we realize that spiritually we have strayed far from home. 

For me, finding and maintaining authenticity is being in balance, emotionally, physically, spiritually… all of the elements that make me. And being in balance means finding balance again and again and yet again. It is the acknowledgement that balancing is a constant act. 

Being radically authentic does not only mean being open but also embracing both the positives and the negatives within us. We often ignore the negative because it drives us down but shadows are a part of light. 

Let Me Count the Ways 

There are two kinds of people : the ones who make lists for everything and the ones who abhor list making. I firmly belong to category one. 

I feel that lists are made not just by type As but by perfectly normal procrastinators as well. List making is in fact an art form. 

    There is plenty of poetry in making lists. Lists and poetry put together remind me of the iconic sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning… How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. 
    How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
    I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
    My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
    For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
    I love thee to the level of everyday’s
    Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
    I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
    I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
    I love thee with the passion put to use
    In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
    I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
    With my lost saints – I love thee with the breath,
    Smiles, tears, of all my life! – and, if God choose,
    I shall but love thee better after death. 

    Elizabeth Barrett Browning 

    Let me count the ways in which I love this sonnet. 

    • Before I was introduced to ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese ‘ the 44 sonnet sequence from which this 43rd sonnet has been taken, I read Pearl S. Buck’s short story of a plain, nondescript school teacher, leading a staid life, governed by routine. She gets a chance to play the poet Elizabeth, in a drama based on her life. Buck’s story is essentially about how a seemingly plain woman finds the wild passionate side of hers through playing that role. I loved the unpredictability of the tale as well as the astounding metamorphosis of a person. It created an aura of the great poet herself. I was intrigued by the life of the legendary poet who was widely read in her times (the sonnet was written between 1845-46 and published in 1850) and whose poetry transcends time. 
    • I am always impressed by the fact that Elizabeth wrote poetry that was deemed good by the male dominated literary society of the time. She was more popular than her husband Robert Browning, another notable poet. She conquered the male bastion of poetry, turning a very masculine poetic form to convey the feminine viewpoint. 
    • The Sonnet 43 from the Portuguese is about love, the quality of love, the sublime heights and the unfathomable depths of feeling. It is about the beloved and yet it transcends a person. 
    • There is so much maturity here. This is not merely a first crush or the fantastical musings of a love lorn person. There is romantic love which is grounded in the reality of an ‘everyday need ‘. 
    • I am always amazed by the spectrum of love presented in the sonnet. In just fourteen lines, the poet counts eleven ways in which she loves her beloved. From the poet’s ‘childhood faith’, it moves on to love beyond death. 
    • I love the idea that here is a woman expressing her love in a deeply powerful way. It is straightforward. It is philosophical. It is unapologetic. It is intellectual. The intense emotion is the most inescapable thing in her life, as is her breath. 
    • It is very comforting to read of a mature love that knows itself for what it is and knows its own power.

          Which is your favourite poem? I would love to hear from you. 

          Witness

          The witness to my creative process is also the reason for my block. One moment I might be writing, thinking over the words and the next I am engaged in an imaginary conversation with my reader. I explain this and that, things I might have wanted to elaborate upon but left out for the sake of brevity. Sometimes, in my writing I tend to ramble on; I love to digress really, for that is how the mind works but I cannot let the structure of the written piece be influenced by my whims.

          There are times when the future reader is pushed back by the ghosts of my encounters with people talking of their own memories and experiences that have shaped them. It is especially true when it is a memoir I am writing and I am recreating events and places from snatches of conversations I have had with people.

          The contributor to my stories turns into the reader in my mind. I remember his raw emotions as he talked, that kept bubbling up and how he tried to put them down, hiding behind a veneer of sanity and maturity. I can think of the way it would move him when he stumbles on my piece and reads and remembers that he told me all that. I hope then that I have done justice to him.

          When I write or capture a scene, I know I am almost looking over my shoulder for a critical look from the masters looking at me trying to attempt what I am learning to be good at. I think and try to imagine the helpful suggestions and the critical explanations.

          Sometimes, in the middle of a conversation with someone I have just met and getting to know through tentative questions, my mind thinks in a parallel mode of what I could really tell her about following dreams and aspirations. She, then is the witness to the hacks and the advice pieces I have.

          My creative block also comes from the ways my witnesses expresses themselves. I compare myself to them and feel daunted by the ease of their expression. If I could express myself in a vacuum, being just at home with the muse and letting it flow, I might be prolific but I would miss a crucial link in the chain of my expression.