I received a call from an old college friend. It went the way you’d expect such calls to go. A lot shrieking, plenty of laughs, some quiet introspection and a lot more “I am so happy to be talking to you.”
I really am. This is more than nostalgia. We spend our 20s running smack-dab into life and learning to deal with adulthood. It’s jobs, marriage, economy, kids, loans, new homes, first health scares. The 30s have been less frenzied but also lonelier. Slowing down to catch our breaths, realising we’ve taken on wounds that won’t heal unless we do so. It’s chronic ailments, debt, cheating, divorce, career changes, addiction, depression, suicide or at the very least the thought of it. I’m not completely out clear of this decade yet but I’m on the last leg.
My friend talked about some the struggles of the past decade, personal, professional and health and also how people never really understand. My friend thinks he is the only one. Maybe because I always did things on different schedule from my peers (the first dropout, the last one with a boyfriend, the last to get a job, the first sabbatical, one of the few as yet not married, an early entrepreneur), I understand this at some level already. But I frequently forget.
Recently I’ve found myself dropping off revived friendships and conversations, because I don’t feel like explaining a broken engagement or a rising corporate career quit to follow a creative dream. My life feels like such a mess compared to other people. I terminate before it can get to the dreaded question,
“Why can’t you be more normal?”
It is there, if not in words, then in people’s eyes hanging with questions they are too polite to ask. Or in very tense silences when neither I nor they know what to say, and we’re both thinking back to when conversations ran free in a way that we didn’t even know freedom could be.
Yet, as my friend shared, I realised, we’re all living through lives that look very different from the Adarsh Balak posters. Maybe it’s a generational thing, maybe this is real life. We’re surviving (or not) situations that we are unprepared for and for a number of reasons, we assume it’s our fault. We assume that these situations are aberrations from the perfect life, rather than the life itself. We also forget and keep forgetting that all things pass, all things change. And most importantly, we forget in a spectacularly isolating manner that we are not alone. Maybe we go on so long with nobody actually seeing us as we are, that we start to believe the universe does not want to see us. Reconnecting to someone who saw us, at least once long ago is a reminder that we are not insubstantial ghosts. We are. We bear witness to each other’s lives.
In this same group, I pinged someone who used to be a dear friend with ‘Remember me?’. Her instant reply –
“The first feminist of our batch!”
This tickled and charmed and befuddled me in so many ways. Was I? Did I even know what feminism was? I was just muddling through the daily stumbling blocks put in a teenager’s life in the best way I could. Did I carry XX Factor and Sexonomics in me long before these ideas were even conceptualised? Did the people around me see some ideal in me that I couldn’t see? And wonder of wonders, does how I turned out seem ‘normal’ to them? Does my life actually make sense to some others even when it doesn’t to me? This is a profound realisation. Also one that leaves me a satisfied sort of tired. We are not the sole witnesses to our lives.
My friend told me that he reads my daily poetry and that it helps him go on, some days. I can only feel immense gratitude for the technology that allowed my friend to feel my support, even when I was absent in every way. I’ve heard a few people say this before and perhaps my reaction has not been gracious. But to be read is to be welcomed into a person’s mind and heart. It is a privilege, an honour given to me. I should only be grateful. And now I am.
So for all the friends I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet in person and those of you who welcome me into your lives without my ever having seen you – thank you. You bear witness to my life and I am very grateful. If my words mean anything to you, please consider it my way of bearing witness to yours. You are not alone.
It’s a good thing June’s here. April was awful. May was better, in comparison, but not actually good. I’ve spent the first ten days of June realising that I survived my personal goal of two months of the Anti-Flinch ban. What have I learnt? That flinching is not all bad.
I read ‘Harriet the Spy’. A 11-year-old girl writes her thoughts and (sometimes snoopy) observations in a notebook. Her friends find it and read the book, hate what they read and proceed to attack her systematically. The family and system gets involved, take away her books and force her into therapy. Only a writer who has been gagged will ever understand the horror of that. I have experienced this before, when I was much younger and worse off and it was bloody.
Since the horrible incident in March, I’ve been silenced and lashed with statements like ‘Everyone thinks you’re a man-hater’ and ‘You’re just being silly, honey’. I’ve barely been able to breathe and not realised it. And the words stuffed back into me, turned into something poisonous (just like with Harriet) that made me sick. I was being suffocated.
Come first of June, I switched off my phone in a lot of pain. It hurt so much, too much to make sense of what why where who. Literally a minute later, I could suddenly breathe. I slept well for the first time in months. The next morning when I awoke, I reached for the phone. And then I thought, this feels so good, let me have just a little more. The phone stayed off 13 hours. I am not talking about freedom from social media notifications but freedom from a different sort of poison. Till I dared switch off my phone, I didn’t realise exactly what I was fearing.
I interrupt sleep, work, social occasions to respond immediately, fearing violent reactions from a few people in my life. I keep my phone on through the night, sometimes getting up at 4AM, just to show, ‘I’m there for you, 24 x 7′. In those 13 hours I realised, none of those people do the same for me. What’s more, in the past few months, they’ve been dismissive of my problems, lied to me, blamed me for things that have nothing to do with me, just not been there and shrugged it off with the excuse of ‘I’m having problems’. It was adding starvation to suffocation.
Perhaps this is my own fault. There is an ego-stroke by way of feeling needed, a grandeur in being the saviour. That same ego notices that it is being battered by being made to feel terrible for being there. No more. I can give this up, like I can give up other potential addictions. And I do those by quitting cold turkey. If that is like a flinch reaction, hallelujah, the anti-flinch ban has been lifted.
Shutting my phone off was the first step to throwing off both suffocation and starvation. Lifting my anti-flinch ban has let me just move away from situations that are detrimental to my wellbeing. I bring my best to people (as much empathy, respect and hope as I can muster). And when they let me down or disappoint me, I move on. That’s labelled as reckless, cruel, impulsive and other things that made me mistake them for wrongful. But I need to be able to do this because if I don’t, I am trapped in situations with my unexpressed emotions turning poisonous.
My flinch reactions help me move out of detrimental situations or ones that have outlived their purpose. I am not a thoughtless, impulsive person. Quite the contrary. I invest a lot in people, situations and actions. Which means, if I do not give myself the permission to cease when I say stop, I imprison myself. My flinch reactions are inconvenient to other people, not to me. Especially when these are people who demand from me what they do not feel the need to give, it’s time to take my power back. I’m reclaiming the flinch.
June has been neither lonely nor sad. I’ve slept better than I have all year. I’ve rested easier. My garden grows well and I’m feeling easier in my mind. I can suddenly read again. And now, I’m writing.
This is something I wrote at one of Rochelle’s workshops. I haven’t edited it too much and I might consider performing it. Then again, once I put it out there, I might not need to anymore. This is a delayed poem for the April 2015 A to Z Challenge.
Four years old
and learning new lessons
A lesson on violence
written in finger-shaped streaks
across my face
A lesson of searching
for thoughts that shook loose
and rolled off into corners
where I can still hear them
rattling and thudding
A lesson of displacement
of finding myself
in a different corner of the room
from where I was 10 seconds ago
of vision blurring and refocussing
seeing a different person each time, every slap
A lesson of size
Of how it comes in hugs and punches
And unbreakable grips
And grips that can break you
Of security and fear
Holding hands and holding you
A lesson of waiting
Of devouring books
in search of words to explain
Of trying to believe in
a normal where love means smiles
And home is happiness
Four years old and still learning.
*Follow the April 2015 AtoZ HERE.
Your voice still terrifies me. If anger were energy, you’re a nuclear reactor. But I only saw the gravity, I only heard the pain, I only felt your fear. And inside your head, for you, I became everything I could see. No wonder you hate me.
Now, every now and then, I listen to you, I watch you from afar. And what’s visible now is enough to scare me away. The trouble is memory is so weak at repelling. The minute I’m beyond the bounds of remembering, I come back to listen, to hear, to watch and to fear.
You wear the face of the unfamiliar, the strange, the uncomfortable. But your anger is known, like a well-remembered accident, a bone that never really healed and aches up every time it rains. It’s only ever raining when I think of you.
The scars on my arms have healed. And the lines on my face turned to pretty poetry, gritty poetry. But in the murky whirlpool of emotion, you still linger. How do you paper plane music? Because, yes, you were right, it is music.