Monday, June 30, 2014

Rubik's cubing

It's a good time to be writing. That's pretty much what I have been doing for butter and varieties of bread for sometime now. To give a general update, the last thesis chapter is yet to be penned but I have received rare assurance that I will sail through. Also, I have been filling a thousand forms and learning about all kinds of exchange rates and money transferring as preparation for the near future. The next post will of course announce the big changes. For now some other thoughts.

On writing and being alone

Almost a year ago when I interviewed for a paid doctoral position at a university, after the academic questions, my interviewer gently asked, "L_ is a quaint town in a small country compared to yours. It will basically mean spending a lot of time alone and that can require a fair bit of adjustment since you come from a bustling city like D_ and are used to interacting with so many people. How do you feel about that?" In my head I was repeating my own Cartesian formulation - I never am, I can be everything. Basically, in order to get something or somewhere in life, I've accepted the accompanying painful periods of abrupt change and quick adjustment including shared apartments, rooms, beds, bathrooms, food and all that. I doubt it can get rougher than JNU. So, I promptly replied, "Oh, I am used to working on my own. In fact I prefer being left to my own devices." I wasn't entirely sure, even when I said it I felt a kind of sad, cold image of yet another still evening in my head. But, like I said, there's no option really. I didn't get the job. I was partly relieved.

A year later as I am figuratively and perhaps literally entering burnout stage again (in my head I've got bruises on my elbows and finger tips like little forest patches on fire) I have been asking myself to breathe deep. A year ago there were moments when I felt slow descent into madness. I wasn't going insane, I was just melting like I no longer knew if I was making sense to me or anyone else. That was a bad time but it's over. From there to this day, I've come a long way in being alone with myself - a given for academic life and travel. That is probably why even the recent breakup wasn't exactly painful. My sense of me although partially eroded and weathered over this writing period has remained. I've kept self preservation high on the list and it seems to have worked. Better (or worse), I diffuse matters before I start mulling over them and take them in my stride. The strides have gotten longer, so much has been taken in the strides. Not something I was used to doing. Even as I prepare for another move, the only thing keeping me afloat is the idea that being alone in a completely new place is a known feeling. Not alone as in wallowing in my room and crying under the covers but running to the bank alone, eating my food, paying my bills, watching a film, reading a book, maintaining discipline in writing. On the contrary, when I've been with someone special or friends, I often lose track of the schedule and that unnerves me now. (Note: This is also a preparatory post to the impending 24)

To justify the title, it has been today morning's realization that writing is more like Rubik's cubing than being pregnant. It can be as painful as a pregnancy but I've literally written six drafts of one article only to be able to open an argument from different angles. And, every time I wrote a new draft, the disappointment of the earlier first-paragraphs was fatal. Like playing a whole level of Candy Crush again because you couldn't get the last jelly.

On body and love

It hasn't exactly been a great season there. This isn't to criticize any single person but rather a general observation. For someone so terribly awkward and constantly at war with her body, being with another person who isn't completely accepting of who I am is a painful situation. It's probably a heterosexual predicament? I am always collaborating and having wonderful conversations with great women and sometimes men on how everyday sexism operates and how body shaming needs to stop. But, in practice, and love is in practice (that's the tragedy); things turn out quite differently. Attraction and ideology don't cohere. My problem isn't that though. Strangely I have always been with people thinner than me (horrifying realization because it made me suspect I was into thinner people or something) but where it gets problematic is that some of my friends and lovers have been obsessed with the idea of fitness. I think it's only their way of saying thin. Almost makes me want to make Foucault and Butler reading mandatory in high school. In any case, I've fought back when my love handles were poked at but then I've lost love and interest and respect. If the G_ds of OKCupid are listening, my potential partners are going to have to write a small essay on the notion of fitness.Worse, there are so many in the feminist-ish space leading the tirade against body shaming. But, guess what, they all look like size zero ramp walkers and their idea of activism is a photo album at the pride parade. Am I being snide and derisive? (Obviously yes) I don't know. This hasn't been resolved yet. It has not only affected me personally but I've seen many a sense of  self-worth being sacrificed at the altar of physical appearance. Even your educated, liberal men. What gives?

More later. Today has been a good day of writing.

Friday, May 2, 2014

On Morel and desire in writing

I recently read 'The Invention of Morel' by Alfredo Bioy Casares. I don't usually do responses. But, I also don't usually finish books. I think I should write this anyway because I am troubled by the book. As I write, four other friends are reading it.
To begin with (and a prologue one must go back to after finishing), Borges writes of the form of the adventure story and how many considered it "practically impossible" to derive any sort of pleasure from a formless, psychological novel, one that doesn't rely on plot and shows no overt objective. But, as Casares (and others) demonstrate (and as Borges states), the beauty and paradox in the adventure story is the very fact that things may happen the way we don't expect them to (at least in novels) - "a person may kill himself because he is so happy...lovers may separate forever as a consequence of love..."  The idea of unacceptable literary inventions is very comforting.
In most reviews I read, the book is described as a work of science fiction with a romantic plot at its core. Again, this is only my interpretation but I disagree. In fact, the novel is hardly about anyone else but the narrator/self. It's quite a treat for someone like me, who spends copious amounts of time with themselves. Why I don't take too seriously the label of romance is because the narrator very early in the story locates and describes, almost deifies an exotic buxom bodied gypsy woman with a red scarf. That's probably the first of the many "images" we begin to live with in this story. From then on and as we discover at the end, the narrator, for me, is already trapped in a loop of a moment-before-meeting. He hesitates, plots chance encounters, glances, reads gestures, gets disappointed and starts over (I almost beamed at his pattern, he is like me in love). What should one make of this tendency to locate an object of admiration and then circle it incessantly with the image in one's head? The distance between that, then making the leap beyond imaginary encounters and then disappointment of real people is for another day.
There is a lot to write about. For instance, it always struck me as odd that some ancient cultures thought photographs steal your soul. This story has to be, by far the most convincing explanation. But, I'll end with my favorite changing painting : Princes of the House of Timur, originally started by the gifted Safavid master-painter, Mir Sayyid Ali in 1549. (The link above gives a comprehensive history of the painting) The short story is that once commissioned by grandfather Humayun, this painting became symbolic of a legacy of Mughals as Timurids and subsequently, Jahangir got it altered to reflect his version of the family story. The painting is very interesting not only because it is a deliberate attempt to retell personal and royal history but it confirms (my) suspicion that stories are seldom about beginnings, ends or plots in themselves. On closer inspection, stories often betray an interwoven strand of desire. As Casares's hero meticulously placed himself just steps ahead of Faustine and Jahangir's sons looked upon him with reverence (or did they?), the buried hearts of those who made these stories peep out from within.