Reverb 10.5: Saying Goodbye

Yesterday’s Reverb 10 prompt made me cringe when I read it. My first instinct was to yell (inside my head, of course…writers do everything in their heads), “What’s that got to do with writing??!”. And then I stopped and realized it touched a raw nerve. Of course, that’s always a good thing for a writer, isn’t it? Hold a pen to a nerve and write, after all. So here goes…

December 5 – Let Go.

What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

(Author: Alice Bradley)

I have always had trouble with this. Goodbyes, seeing the finish line, letting go. Why oh why do people ever say Hello, if only to say goodbye later, I cried in anguish. That part of me has since been wiped and powdered and prettied up and mostly hidden away. But it has never vanished. This prompt was like stumbling upon it behind my old clothes, during spring-cleaning. Howdy stranger, how are you? Oh no, not again.

I’ve already written about how the first half of this year wrenched away many things I held dear. I think by May, I had settled into despair. It wasn’t acceptance but resignation. I gave up on joy, on happiness, of ever reaching my dreams of writing and finding love. And of course, life, that crazy bitch handed it all back on a platter to me, exactly one minute after that realisation.

I gave up sarcasm, for one. This was an insight courtesy my often condescending, sometimes wise and always delightful E Vestigio. “Sarcasm”, she said, “is a habit of the weak. It’s negative and cynical and not good for anyone.” She hit a sore nerve especially since she threw in one of my hate-favorite words (“weak”). I handed in my icicle-sharpened tongue right there and then. I’m not saying I don’t let my temper run away with me. I don’t claim to watch my words. If anything, I do it much less. Several people, including the boy have been subjected to my wrath recently. But it is the sort of undignified, red-hot, burning, unvarnished emotion that I believe is the root of all that is human and creative. And it blows by leaving nothing in its wake. Quite unlike sarcasm that leaves resentment, bitterness and insecurity behind like poisonous weeds to continue the destruction. I’m equally grateful and self-satisfied for letting this one go.

I’m letting go of control. This is still in progress and I can’t say I’ve got it all under control (ha, indeed!). The control-freak in me manifests itself in minute scheduling, meticulous organisation and fastidiousness. It also shows up as in compulsively rearranging everyone and everything else and being a crank in general. It makes me grumpy, sour, unhappy. I feel unable to write, laugh or see joy in anything. And it makes me feel empty in a way I’d never, ever want to feel. The only thing that shows any real result in this battle against fastidiousness is that simple but true adage – BREATHE.

Reverb 10.4: Wonderful Life

This Reverb 10 prompt seems rather similar to the previous one and it makes me wonder whether the exercise will continue to hold interest at all. Still, nothing ventured, so here goes.

December 4 – Wonder.

How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?

(Author: Jeffrey Davis)

Having left behind the rigid daily schedule (and more importantly), the utter joy-drain of the corporate world was like opening up the door to wonder. I’ve been moody at times, grumpy and even sad. But I’ve never been without that sense of wonder since I quit.

There are walks on the beach of course, which never fail to remind me of how much bigger then universe is, than my petty troubles, than the little cocoon that we Mumbaikers tend to think of as the world. And then there are visits to the bookshop. More and more I see familiar names pop up in the Indian Writing aisle. That makes my dream seem closer, much more reachable. And in the next lane, my favorite authors or genres jostle for my attention. I’m lost in the beauty of human imagination, in the glory of words and ideas that live on long after the minds and tongues they passed through, are gone. And finally, a sense of overwhelming awe that I am to be a part (however small) of this world. Wonder, indeed.

I’ve lost heart more than once. Last year, at six months from quitting, I expressed my frustration at being rudderless. It was my father who reminded me that the jobs that waited for me then would still be waiting a year later and that I shouldn’t give up so quickly on what I thought was my passion. Another six months later, another man I’ve come to love, reminded me of the same thing. A short three months later, I wrestled with self-doubt in my own head. As if in reply, within the space of a week, my mailbox was popping with opportunities to do what I love – write. One resulted in the BlogAdda column, the second was the JetLite article, then came Yahoo! Real Beauty and other things.

A few days ago, I met a placement agent to discuss a potential job, the kind that I had left behind over a year ago. For the first time in my career life, I said that my top priority was a good work-life balance. She frowned and said that the company would not want to meet someone with ‘such issues’. I tried to explain that I was not afraid of hard work but that I was making a decision to let other areas of my life be as important. She shrugged, already having lost interest and the interview should have ended there. But quite suddenly, she shot out,

“You know, most companies would not expect this from someone at your level. People with 10-12 years of experience can say these things. But someone who is just beginning their career should not have all these restrictions.”

I gaped and then quickly took my leave. For at least two days after that I agonized over what she had said, the old guilt creeping in. After 6 years, 3 companies and managing over 25 people, was I still ‘beginning my career’? Was I losing the strong work ethic I thought I had? Had I ever had it at all? Was I being unrealistically demanding, behaving in essence like the ‘pampered princesses’ I’ve loathed all these years?

But then, I remembered my many late nights at work. I remembered forfeiting weekends and holidays. I remembered struggling with a near-arthritic neck, to stare at the computer screen. I remembered forcing myself to not think about period pains and nausea while standing up to make presentations. I remembered skipping meals for meetings and stepping out of restaurants to take phone calls that just had to be answered. I remembered finishing a report or an important document at 11:30p.m., then getting myself a cup of tea and then sitting down to spend another hour poring over the whole thing all over again to make doubly-trebly-hundred times sure it was perfect. I remembered the harsh words of my seniors picking out my flaws but I also remembered the sense of injustice I felt. And finally I thought of the fact that I had missed the weddings of every single one of my close friends in the past five years because I just hadn’t had the time.

I realised I deserved to ask for what I wanted. With it came the crystallization of the thought that much of corporate ambition and success thrives on belittling people, on keeping people insecure and subservient. It survives by killing the sense of joy and wonder in people. And I’d be a fool to willingly let myself back into that, at least without a fight. Bring on more of the wonders, I’m waiting to be dazzled!

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