BOOK Review: Looking For Alaska – John Green

Looking for AlaskaLooking for Alaska by John Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first John Green was ‘The Fault in Our Stars‘ which I came to reluctantly, assuming it would be soppy and shoddily written. I was wrong. Falling in love with that book led me to rush out and buy ‘Paper Towns‘. And that was a HUGE letdown (with a great title). I also bought ‘Looking for Alaska‘ but after ‘Paper Towns‘, I put it away, my taste for John Green’s neurotic teenagers soured.

I picked it up again this week, meaning to clear my unread shelf and we’re back in love. Just like ‘Paper Towns‘, the heroine of this novel is self-absorbed, flaky, impulsive and just plain bad for you. But unlike in that one, she’s glorified a little less and the protagonists are a bit more self-aware of how destructive she is for them.

The ending (or should I call it the middle, since the book is roughly split into Before, During and After) is a shock in a good way because it makes you realise just how much you care about the characters. The lines are funny and then tragic but always poignant in that teenage way where everything is intense but also true. The plot transitions smoothly too even if it takes awhile to get started.

John Green’s writing is warm and intimate and makes you feel close to the situations and characters even if you don’t like them or relate to them much.

I don’t know what went wrong with ‘Paper Towns‘ but ‘Looking for Alaska‘ gets it right in all the ways that ‘The Fault in Our Stars‘ did. If you liked the latter, you’ll definitely like this one. I’d even go so far to say this is the better book, because it manages to touch you without all the cancer melodrama of TFIOS. Skip ‘Paper Towns‘, move right on to Alaska and the stars.

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The Lone Runner On The Treadmill

I wish I knew more people like me. I mean single Indians who’ve made choices and made mistakes. People who have broken some rules inadvertently and others because it was the only way to survive. The single Indian bit is important and come to think of it, being female too. But most important of all, people my age who are all this.

I have a world full of great folks who are at least 5 years younger than I am. Technology and exponentially leaping progress have made this a generation gap. While I find most of my tribe in the generation after mine, the fact still remains that I’m a few steps ahead. I’m past the time of competing for things that I know now to not be important. Or fearing things I can imagine because I’ve survived worse surprises and I know your mind is nothing but a horror movie that’s scary but can be turned off. I know all this and sometimes it gets tiresome being the only one who knows.

Specifically this applies to my romantic and to a lesser degree my professional choices. It’s only someone very naive that would say,

“Why do you care what other people think? Live life your own way.”

My world is full of people mouthing such platitudes, truly believing they’re wise and strong. They have not yet realised the impact of that idea, having rarely experienced it in its true brave-brutal-hostility-face-crippling-fear-be-attacked way. This is a brutally difficult path to follow for your career and I’ve managed it. But it makes no sense to me to think of relationships this way since relationships are about caring about other people. I’m tired of the glamorisation of the single life, possibly by unhappily married people wishing they could have something that isn’t actually real.

Today I had a conversation with a friendly acquaintance, on adjacent treadmills to be sure, at gym. She’s a few years younger than I am, happily married. She charmed me at our first meeting when she said she had no intention of having children and why should be the world’s business? That’s grounds enough for a friendship, I decided. It is and yet it’s not close enough. In conversations about love lives and life choices, she said,

“But do you even want comittment? I would think you’re the kind of woman who doesn’t really want all that. You’re so independent.”

She is so young, is all I could think. And yet, I know now that most men who’ve known me, romantically or otherwise echo the same black-and-white sentiment. Why does my desire to drive things mean that I do not want companionship? Why is my unwillingness to settle for abuse, disrespect and subjugation seen as comittment aversion?

I do want comittment, but with the right person. I know firsthand what a nightmarish hell it is to be comitted to someone who does not like you, does not care for you and wishes you harm. A lot of people think that made me afraid of relationships. It didn’t. It gave me perspective. If my only choice were a bad relationship or singledom, today I know which is the better one and that’s the one I’ve chosen. But I didn’t choose singledom over a promising (since that’s as good as it realistically can be) relationship because there isn’t one on my horizon right now.

A lot of the people in my life are men. My experiences tell me that if a man is not attracted to me, he is not likely to pay anything more than superficial attention to me. He’s just not interested in my life because I’m not a goal. If he is attracted to me, even faintly, it narrows the way I can be and things I can speak about because an innate need to compete and then judge crop up. Men are such limited human beings, no thank you for the socialisation, India.

Women on the other hand, can be bright, brave creatures. I love how many 27-33 year old women I know now who are single, beautiful, brave, intelligent and confident in their lives. I was the only one I knew when I was all those ages, and surrounded by boyfriend stealers, frenemies, girls who played dumb before the boys, girls who manipulated and tore each other down. I love that there are more women I can relate to now. But, they still are younger. They’re dealing with some of the things I’m still dealing with (thanks again for the rape culture, India). But they’ve not yet had to think about the biological clock and about annual health checkups, to name just two things. They’re dealing with other things I did not have to then (“Are you a good enough feminist?”). They are not me yet. Maybe they won’t be and I hope the world will be a better place for them when they’re 37.

Where does that put me? Running on the treadmill, alone. I did not choose to be here. But in life, as in the gym, if you’re there, you have to keep moving.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

The Showwoman Under The Paper Plane

It turns out I have a showwoman in me, once I let go of the painful things keeping me inside stage fright. Last Monday, I performed Paper Plane, my first ever piece and my guiding philosophy.

It gave me the impetus to do CoffeeShop, which people have really liked and I have a lot of fun doing. Enjoy! And thank you for the love. The only thing I love more than making people think is doing so with a laugh. 🙂

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

I Wear: Fashionista In The Wild

I managed to catch a rather reluctant Reema on camera and she agreed to stop and tell me what she was wearing. This woman manages to look effortlessly chic even in the middle of a warm, sticky summer day in a suburban mall. Well, we are not all born with Libran taste, I suppose.

If you enjoyed this style post in video, check out the other I Wear posts and videos.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

And Then There Was Music

I sang today.

Actually it’s the second time this week. Earlier this week, I met a friend visiting from out of town at what turned out to be a karaoke event. I sat through an hour of people rollicking in songs I did not recognize, trying hard not to feel outdated and irrelevant. And then my group picked out a nostalgia track that took me back to when singing was fun.

"Am I the only one? Am I sexual?" feat. @febwinsta and @abhishekaggy

A post shared by Ramya Pandyan (@ideasmithy) on

In case you’re wondering….the original:

Just before it was time to leave, something swung into place. A new year I realised, new resolutions, new promises and all that means the old burdens don’t exist any more or don’t have to matter anymore. The microphone is not new to me anymore and with karaoke, you don’t really expect anyone to be superlative in their mastery of the song or even memory of the lyrics. I chose this slightly (now) obscure song to pay tribute to the Angry Girl I started off as at seventeen. And it was good.

Today was Tuning Fork’s first challenge of the year. They had us write a piece in an hour to a prompt and just before going up on stage, they told us we’d have a predefined mood to render the performance. I started in fits & jerks, picking pieces of pretty lines and unfinished poetry from my stash. Then I decided to set those aside and go with a story that’s been lurking in the back of my lungs, waiting its turn while my voice, throat and mind got comfortable on stage.

This was the story I told. And the mood I picked was ‘Happy’ which felt like 2017 continues to be on my side and help me stay well, happy. I just listened to my performance and I’m so happy there’s still music inside me.

It feels like I’m seeing someone I’ve known all my life in a new light. Thank you for the music and the microphone. 2017, I thank you for your gifts.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

The Grand Villain And A Concrete Wall

Heartbreak. It’s hard work getting past it but hard work never scared me. It’s lack of hope that terrifies me. Yet, my automatic reaction has been to freeze up into a wall of silence, stoicism, concrete hardness. There is no hope beyond a wall of that nature.

I decided to start the year approaching this differently. Who could I be, if I was not that wall-builder? It felt difficult, so difficult. I told myself difficult never scared me. Coupled with that determination, comes an idea. What if wall-building is simply a habit, and not my most ‘natural’ reaction to things? It’s a thought, one that I am willing to hook onto. Habits, I can make or break.

So, what if all the heartache I feel is just that and not some indication of the horribleness of the world, society and men? What if it’s just that – feelings? I am not invalidating emotion. I live by my emotions. But they are just that, what I feel. They do not have to have anything to do with other people’s motivations. Realistically, most other people are just like me, bumbling along through life, accidentally knocking into each other, not having the ability to recognise their own emotions, let alone other people’s.

*Image via Erika Wittlieb on Pixabay

*Image via Erika Wittlieb on Pixabay

There is a large myth that it is easy for each of us to buy into of the Grand Villain. We turn old lovers, friends who’ve let us down, family members who have disappointed us, colleagues who have crossed us and pretty much everything that goes against what we want, into the Grand Villain. The Grand Villain must sit in his/her lair, doing  nothing but scheming about how to make our lives utterly miserable. Do you do that? Do you even spend that much time thinking about your own life, let alone someone else’s?

I guess it’s easier for us to believe in that than to stop and consider that stuff happens to us that is bad, unjust, scary and otherwise unpleasant. It means acknowledging that life is totally random. It means accepting that there’s no such thing as safety or security. It means taking responsibility to do what one can. It means letting go and trusting that things will be okay and if not, well, they won’t. It means saying, I can’t even tell how many more things that means. It’s really, really difficult.

But you know what? It carries hope, which is something my concrete wall doesn’t. The concrete wall keeps the Grand Villain inside with me. And frankly, I’m done with that guy. So goodbye and let’s open those gates and let some life in.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

 

1AM on 1-1

All is fresh. All is new.
All is good.

Nothing exists yet.
Nothing has fallen.
Nothing has ended.
Nothing has begun.

I’m happy.
I’m hopeful.
I’m ready.

To fall in love
With the world
Again.

Bring it on, 2017.

bm0xrfeqm0a-michael-ramey

*Image via Micheal Ramey at Unsplash.

Tired Is Good

I haven’t written on my blog much this year. Writing was my go-to remedy in dealing with life’s stresses. But I think in the past few years, it became a contributing factor to many of those same stresses – the fallout of making it my profession and also part of my social life. The stage found me though and I find the same ease when I go up in front of a mic as I once used to, when faced by an open screen or blank page. It’s evolution and I’m glad for an alternate source of expression and insight.

I do however, want to start writing again, the way I used to be able to – sharing openly, blindly and as honestly as possible. It has always felt good to share.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

2016 has not been the terrible year for me that it appears to have been for others. 2012 was that year for me, the year my engagement ended and shattered life as I knew it. 2015 was dark though I didn’t know it when it began. I entered 2016 in such a daze I didn’t even realise how far down a rabbit hole I had plunged. I’ve been looking back at my posts from this time and they’re so empty of the passion, the hope, the searing emotions that characterises my writing of the past 11 years. It made me question my own identity, my sense of self.

There was thankfully, light at the end of the tunnel and yes, it really was as sudden and dramatic as that. I had started to believe that I might need medical help. What turned up though, surprised me in its mundanity – a thyroid deficiency. My first reaction was to feel grateful that a cause had at least been identified but it was a grim sort of gratitude. I have a memory of my mother crying all night after she was diagnosed with a thyroid deficiency and the doctors told her she’d have to take a pill for the rest of her life. But in the days that followed, I discovered a lot of people in my life, already on the same regimen. The turning point was when my mother explained that the pill was not medicine but something that would supplement what my body didn’t produce as well.

Why did this make me feel better? Because it was saying there was nothing wrong with me, no yawning darkness inside that had to be fought. It was a simple matter of a chemical deficiency that could be rectified. Last month my dosage was reduced. And even if it hadn’t been, the months since the diagnosis have been so much better.

The world hasn’t changed from outside. But I don’t get up in the morning, struggling to hold a single thought that can pick me out of bed and go through the motions of the day. I am not wildly happy all the time, not even happy that much. But there is enough to keep my days going well. The question of “Why bother?” doesn’t occur to me most of the time. This is a big change from when WHY BOTHER marked my every breath and action for more than a year, maybe longer. For this one reason 2016 for me has been reprieve, release, healing, a flight to freedom.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

I had an encounter with my ex a few months ago. It was strange. Not terrifying or disturbing like I had feared. Just strange. I didn’t recognise him at first. And then when I did, there was a split-second moment when I realised the person standing in front of me had absolutely nothing to do with the person in my memories. It’s very, very strange to realise you don’t recognise the person you thought you would spend the rest of your life with, donate an organ to if it were ever needed and care for in your old age. For awhile after that, I questioned what the meaning was of love, life and relationships if one drastic action and some years could take a relationship from the focal point of your life to unrecognisable. I think I only gave up because I became too tired to go down that line of thought.

Tired is good. Tired is what I felt when in 2012, someone from my past asked me, “Have you forgiven me?”. In that moment of extreme fatigue, I put down my worries and my baggage and I never looked back again. So, I’m glad to be tired.

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*Image via Antonina Bukowska on Unsplash

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Well look at that, I started writing and I’ve come all the way down to the end of a page. Looks like writing is my bicycling then. I feel gratitude like it’s the quality of mercy described in The Merchant of Venicenot strained but dropping like the gentle rain.

There is literature. And clarity. And food and friends. And writing and this blog. 2016 has been the supplement that my life needed.

On Losing A Voice And Remembering How To Speak Again

This Monday I said two conflicting things within the space of an evening.
I said,

“This is my favorite stage to perform.”

Two hours later I thought,

“I’m not coming back here again.”

Let me tell you a thing or two about performing, about writing, about women’s voices and about men, men, men. The silencing, the hatred, the chauvinism, it’s relentless. It’s pretentious non-talents (usually male, small town North Indian origin) parading ada and fake Urdu to present stale ideas. It’s uber urban metrosexual men getting intoxicated and turning everything into jokes that are not really funny. It’s the in-betweens eating Instagrammable food and hoping you’ll swipe right on Tinder. But this is nothing new. It’s the story of every patriarchal, toxic masculine space.

But it’s also the sniping. It’s old boys’ clubs jeering every woman performer. It’s leching that happens in words and laughter rather than eyes so it’s harder to call it out. It’s passive-aggressive bullying of the “Settle down, honey. There, there, she got upset. Now silence, boys, give her a hanky. Look, you’re so pretty when you smile.” variety.

Then it’s the wheedling by ‘Nice Guys’ to speak softer, be gentler, talk about men’s good points.

This Monday was simply the last straw on my back. I decided to let them keep their male voices, talking to a male audience about how women are pretty/horrible creatures. This Monday, I decided not to go back and to hell with a world ruled by monsters called men.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Raju recommended Sonya Renee Taylor’s ‘The Body Is Not An Apology‘ at an Alphabet Sambar meet last month.

This is why writers should first and foremost be readers. And speakers should be better listeners. I found Sonya’s powerful voice and gestures moving me as much as her words.

Today, I listened to her deliver ‘When The Shotgun Questions The Black Boy‘. Now this is a tricky one. While it’s politically correct to talk about #BlackLivesMatter, really what’s it like to be Indian on this? We face internalised racism within our country itself, not to mention what it’s like to be brown in multicoloured spaces. My ex bullied me and demeaned my intelligence frequently for not acting or thinking like a black person. But this poem, today, made me want to cry. It reached beyond what he said, what anyone else demanded I think or feel. It moved me beyond who I thought I was.

This is the power of good poetry and a good performer. It can change perspectives. It can make a person reach beyond their life and feel empathy, inspiration, anger, whatever the speaker wants them to feel.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do that. But it’s sobering to know that as a performer, I share a space with people who change lives. I cannot let my individual annoyances take me away. As one of the few women performers in the city, I owe the stage at least that much. Artists and writers are responsible for moving thought forward for a civilisation. The world needs more women’s voices. I may not be the best but I’m part of the little that my city has. And I’m not going to let them down.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

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