Minimalism. Colour pops. Office beanbags and gym balls. Ironic teeshirts & cause-stickers for formal wear. Technology slimmer than our desired waistlines. Value systems bigger than paychecks. The planet. The economy. Endangered species. Endangered morals. Flexible schedules & flexible boundaries.
We survived Y2K (of which an entire generation exists in blissful ignorance). We listened to Angry Girl music and the shattering of software powered dollar dreams. We watched optic fibres bring calls, jobs and international credit cards into our homes. We taught the generation before us that love really was blind because we could fall in love, lust, friendship and even careers over a glass screen. We saw the dotcom bubble grow & burst. We weathered one, then two then three recessions. We were blamed for killing everything. And we did.
We killed hierarchical structures. We killed paychecks-as-value systems. We killed corporate irresponsibility. We killed sexual harassment as common rite of passage. We killed unrealistic real estate prices and marriage rituals. We killed legalised homophobia & systematised racism. We killed the world as everyone knew it. Because the world changes every day but it flips over a new millenium only once in a thousand years. Maybe that means absolute annihilation of dinosaurs. Maybe it means creatures of water & earth learn to fly.
We aren’t done, not even half-way through. But who knows what is midlife crisis anymore? We also gave the world the concepts of quarter-life crises, of burnout & sabbaticals, of life-changing career flips. While we’ve seen the threat of nuclear weapons and much human devastation, we haven’t yet allowed a World War.
We aren’t the fresh new kids anymore and the millenium is now fully (and freshly) an adult. This means the generation after ours, are ready to pick up from our mistakes, move into our gaps and maybe build new things of their own. But don’t forget, WE KILLED IT FIRST. 😊
When was the last time you saw a 30- something look like this? That’s a 30-something pretending to be 20 and you bought it.
We have a mental picture next to each age number till 25. ‘Kid’ gets bigger till it hits ‘Grownup’. ‘OLD’ is a white-bearded, balding man or a toothless, hunched crone leaning on a stick. We are quick with the statement “You don’t look that old at all! You look YOUNG !”. We mean it as a compliment as if being a certain age is the ideal way to be, instead of a natural life stage that everyone passes through for exactly the same time. We decide that young and old are about age bands, rather than a set of factors like experience, exposure, financial independence, emotional maturity, physical fitness, metabolic health, mental stability and attitude. We assume that a ‘Not Young’ person suddenly has a slower pace, less dramatic body language, tighter frame of movements. We assign a limited ABC book image to the binary labels of ‘Young’ and ‘Not Young’. Anyone different may gain temporary membership to the coveted Club of Young.
Being told I look younger is not a compliment. I don’t look 17 because at that age I hadn’t learnt how to manage my allergies & my periods and it showed. I don’t look 24 because then, I was severely underweight from being assaulted and had stretch marks. I don’t look 28 because then I was strapped into a corporate life, weighed down by appropriateness & stress greying. I don’t look 33 because I had water retention & dark circles from an abusive relationship.
I look every minute of my 39 years. The lift in these dusky skinned, bony arms was hard won. The smooth lines of my hair were the result of many negotiations between beauty standards & personal preferences. That tilt of face is measured in the slaps I endured to keep me down. The grace in awkward, clutching fingers took years of accepting my traumas and learning to do so on stage. The feet planted firmly apart have warred against manspreaders and slut-shamers and managed to stay standing. 39 is the story of many wars survived.
Don’t erase my history and tell me that it’s a compliment. 39 looks like this.
Why do we look back when the natural way of things is to move forward? Because it’s easy? Because it’s nicer? Life never seems quite as wonderful when it is being lived. But in comparison with what we’re feeling and facing and surviving at this moment, the heydays seem like glorious times.
I know why this is so. An experience being lived is an onslaught of sights and sounds and feelings and thoughts and information hitting us faster than we can handle. Later, we examine our scars, our lint, our debris and flotsam. Sometimes, we add to it from what someone else said or something we read or learnt elsewhere. And we construct a story. We build a painting. The present has a way of being simultaneously overpowering and mundane at the same time. So in our stories to ourselves, we colour hard and deep.
The colour spectrum of life goes in the opposite direction from a ray of light going through a prism. The future is an unknown cavern of blankness. The present is a hard prism that’s simultaneously confusing and colourless. But the past, the past is every colour we choose to lay on it. We are light beams travelling backwards in time, just as we are conscious experience moving forward.
Small wonder then, so many of us spend our lives rapidly turning forwards and backwards, always worried we’re going to run into some disaster but unable to keep our eyes away from the alluring past for too long. The blankness ahead is inviting and scary and what we’ve left behind reminds us of the colour we turn it into. The past is technicolour and we are the prisms that make it so.
No. It’s the scariest word in language. It drives people into frenzy. It instigates wars on a global scale as well as at the individual level in the form of violence and rape. It also sits deep inside the heart, every No we’ve ever heard, burning tiny holes in our self-esteem and eventually our ability to dream.
What about this word is so powerful that its supposed counterpart YES cannot boast? NO draws a boundary. NO suggests identity. NO shows us the face of another’s will. Does it nullify the existence of our own?
A friend asked what we do when we are rejected. I said I drown myself in work to forget. Someone said they remove their WhatsApp profile picture. Are these two the same thing? I rush to create a new identity (as efficient and successful) as a reaction to feeling nullified by NO. The other appears to acknowledge their feeling of non-existence by becoming a non-person, at least temporarily on a digital platform.
What happens instead if the answer has been YES? Do we actually remember all the YESes we’ve experienced? No, only the major ones (a marriage proposal, a pregnancy confirmation, a contract) and even these we find ourselves needing to commit to memory with rituals, pictures, anniversaries and the like. Our lives are not changed drastically by YESes and we have to work hard to remember them.
The NOs however, embed themselves inside us and forever determine how we live and who we are. A NO is a changemaker, the magic source of identity-shifting, of evolution, the essence of life itself. It’s true. It’s not pretty or comfortable but neither is birth (or being born). Maybe we are all just a collection of the NOs we have experienced our whole lives.
It’s not that I haven’t been writing. I have, it’s just not here. I’ve been posting longer essays on Instagram. I’ll repost some of my favorites from there here too. Here’s the first. You can scroll down to see the full text in this post, if you don’t feel like reading it on Instagram.
Alone time doesn’t always look like this. More often than not, it’s faded, crumpled, tattered even. And not in artful, Instagram-worthy ways. But it’s important.
We need tough love and the people who give it to us, especially if you, like me, find it hard to keep your head on straight in the throes of powerful emotion. People like us, we also need the gentle balm of those who tell us, it’s okay to grieve, that it’s fine to be sad even if it’s not logical, to ache even if we were forewarned, even if we should have known better.
And finally we need to meet ourselves, in our rawest forms. It doesn’t have to happen immediately. Me, I have an inbuilt safety valve that lets me tuck away my messiest self deep down till I reach a time and place that I can take it out and face it, safely. And that must happen. A time when no other commitment or duty or person must intrude. Nothing else allowed to be more important than your own feelings which must be faced with no voices of the world interfering.
And that is the time when you’ll realise the ugliness is not you or in you. All you are, is a witness to the world and occasionally, a reflection of it. Reflections pass. You will, too. Watch it alone.
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