The Writer’s Revenge
Each time you scar my heart,
I’ll bleed you onto paper,
with memories for ink.
*If you liked this, follow my other micropoetry/microfiction on https://www.yourquote.in/ideasmithy
I was watching The Wonder Years. In 1968, a generation battled the one before it for identity, for a different set of values and for a new future. Just like every other generation before and after it. They walked protest marches, slipped flowers into their hair and into guns, wrote about love, peace, sex and freedom. They raged against a system and predicted doom. They opposed war with music, authority with searing stories. They challenged authority for lives other than their own.
I had a conversation with dad last month. We were on our way to watch a play and we had to park a few streets away. As we crossed the road, he brushed my shoulder and he winced. The metal studs on my faux leather vest had scraped his arm.
“What is this nonsense you’re wearing?”
“Don’t blame me. Your generation is the one that brought metal rivets, leather jackets and angry music into vogue. I’m just doing retro.”
He grinned and then, on a note of whimsy, he said,
“It was protest against things that were wrong. Against war, genocide, dirty politics.”
“It was rebellion. Just like every other generation.”
Then Prithvi loomed into sight and the conversation changed. But I’m not sure I believe my own words. What does my generation protest against? Theirs got it right, didn’t they? Yes, it’s true they succumbed. But they were young. What did mine do other than assert its differentness by parodying the same thing?
Quick to put a label on things the minute we walked out, I said,
“Well, that was a bit heavy. It’s the writerly angst thing, how we let ourselves get eaten by paranoia, how we feed off each other, how we cannot let it go and be normal human beings, how we must relish the drama of torment and be parasites on each other.”
The pater was uncharacteristically full of praise, not gushing (he never does that). He pointed out that the audience had been kept spellbound by just two actors, a simple set, no major action, only conversation and an extremely abstract idea. That’s real finesse, he said, genuine admiration for both actors.
What he said made me realise how much I’m a part of that extremely cynical analysis I offered up. Look at how hardbitten I am about a story that’s basically about me, created and delivered by people just like me, my friends. And I’m supposed to one of the sensitive ones.
It’s not a healthy life, being a writer today and I don’t mean in terms of calories, blood pressure and inches (though it’s that too). It’s the relentless cutting of self and others that we euphemistically call editing life. It’s insecurity that is supposed to fuel us instead of crippling us like it would any normal human being. It’s paranoia and shame over not doing something either valuable like our peers or meaningful like the writers before us. But with my generation, it’s also watching readership stats, subscriber counts, follower counts and hashtag campaigns. It’s dealing with trolling and being a troll and telling both sides of a story and yelling both of them out. It’s sneering at every single label while being nothing more than a paste album for labels. The branded products we use, the branded causes we support, the branded groups we align with, the branded disdain we profess for brands not our own. It’s bullshit.
1984 is here and so’s the Big Brother, only he’s called Google. Well, The Hitchhiker’s Guide is here too and it’s called Wikipedia and just as predicted, no one takes it seriously. Need I say any more? What can I possibly say that would even have a chance of being fresh as well as hopeful for the future? As a writer, all that’s left for me to do is to fashion old ideas into flashy forms that dazzle the current audience and dress it up with a label called ‘retro’.
Where are our values? Our hopes, our dreams, our unique ideal that guides humanity forward, the way a new generation should for humanity? No. I think we’re the anticlimax after humanity’s last gasp of the flower power generation. Come millenium and we’re just riding the downturn of a burnt out firecracker crashing to ground.
Look at how melodramatic and verbose all that is. Look at me editing myself. Look at us burn. Perhaps self-loathing is the only lesson my generation holds for humanity. What else is left to do after the flowers are gone?
[Note – I’m sorry I’m not kinder, Vrajesh and Dan, but I wonder if our generation has the capacity to think beyond recycled opinion to things as original as kindness. Your play and my father’s words made me think of all of this.]
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…is the name of a book by the guy who wrote ‘The Fault In Our Stars’. I happened to mention what an amazing title that was and what a shitty book it turned out to be. My AlphabetSambar peeps suggested we reclaim it by writing something else around it. And Sunday served up the perfect post to match the title.
Over dinner, one of the writers proclaimed that Spoken Word was shallow. He wouldn’t or couldn’t explain why. It bothered me that a person of words would be so loose with their ideas, so thoughtless with their thoughts. To my mind, a writer is the explorer of thought, the wielder of words. How can we allow ourselves the luxury of treating them so carelessly?
It bothered me because now I will question everything I read or hear from this person. If he doesn’t care about words, how can I trust him enough to let him take my mind on a journey? It bothered me that people let self-importance and ego limit their flights of fancy.
I enjoy gatherings of writers and artists for a lot of reasons. But the primary one is that I love being a part of people’s journeys. With this blog, I invite people into my own journey. At these events, I’m a hopeful mind traveller, waiting for anyone who wants to take me along on their journey. The quality of people’s writing doesn’t bother or touch me as much these days. I’m more intrigued by who they are shaping up to be in the process of journeying.
I met Anu after a really long time. The last time I saw her, she whispered in a conspiratorial tone that she was pregnant. Now she’s mother to a nine-month old and several poems and ideas but I haven’t met her in the interim. I enjoyed her performance. But most of all, I was moved beyond measure by how far she has come from when I saw her last – in her writing, in her body language, in who she is. I got to be a part of her journey almost two years ago when she joined Alphabet Sambar and from here on, her journey will always touch me.
These gatherings are also full of people I’ve come to think of as ‘career poets’. They’re in such a tearing hurry to achieve goals and form impressions, that somewhere they cease to move along on their journeys. I don’t like riding paper trails.
I called Adi, almost out of desperation on my way home. He listened gravely and then chuckled and said,
“You should be thrilled, not annoyed. It sounds like you got the best of the argument.”
Well, maybe I did. That’s nothing great. I have my share of weapons and tools that I can brandish. But I wasn’t looking for war, I was looking for an interesting journey. Still, I felt better at the end of the call because I realised what I was looking for when I called Adi. I was searching for a reminder that I was not alone, a single flesh-and-blood person in a world of paper promises and paper cuts and paperthin words.
Adi tends to have more placid reactions than mine but he also lives in a smaller, less frantic city than I do. I find this paperness in people everywhere I go – in the corporate world, the creative fields, the poetry circuit, my neighborhood, my social media communities. It’s relentless and sometimes I find myself feeling like I’m drowning in a sea of superficiality. I never learnt to swim in paper.
I miss Manisha when she isn’t around like she wasn’t this weekend. She represents my sole beacon of hope in the darkness of paper in creative gatherings. I admire her as a writer but she is more than her last accolade and the number of compliments people pay her. And through her dramatic moods, she never loses sight of that. Real people keep me sane in a town of paper people.
Home and a cool shower later, I feel somewhat saner. Perhaps it’s not fair to extrapolate this one incident. That would be such a paper thing to do too. People, especially those in their 20s are still getting tossed about in the reckless environment that is this city. Artists and writers frequently lose their sense of reality especially after their achieve some recognition. And (I hope) nobody is a paper person all the time. Maybe the next time I hear him speak, he will say something that will change my life or those of many people.
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2014 saw my worst ever case of writer’s block. Worst I say, not just because of how much I struggled to write but because how much I felt myself tearing away from writing. Writing and especially fiction, has been my release, my motivation and my source of survival for the past five years. It was not comfortable at all, feeling myself come disconnected from what has kept me nourished and breathing. If you read my blog often, you’ll have noticed the hiatus and the hiccups. Several of my posts were recycled, touched-up old ones, a desperate last-ditch attempt to retain the blog I’ve spent ten years cultivating.
Alphabet Sambar, my pet project of 2014 also took a hit towards the end of the year (though this was only slightly connected to my mood; there is a seasonality to people’s interest levels). We didn’t have any meets from mid-November onwards. And I felt myself drag and crash into the abyss of not caring about words anymore. I always thought that the day I stopped caring would be the day I stopped living. To stop caring about writing and words – I felt like a dying person with no hope.
But towards the end of December, other members of the group started to ask about the next meet. One of them told me how much she enjoyed them and how she had gained. Another friend who was privy to my depressed thoughts of quitting writing, urged me to reconsider and reminded me of how happy I sounded each time I spoke about the group. It pushed me to initiate a meet.
Today, we had the first 2015 meet. 11 people responded (a record number for an individual meet). I found my fingertips tingling even midweek, looking forward to seeing people I hadn’t seen in weeks and also – to write. Last evening, I sat down and wrote. Since I’ve resolved to be less stressed in 2015, I allowed myself to not worry about style and quality or even adherence to format. I finished in 45 minutes and went out to meet a friend. It was the first fiction I had written in months. It was more fun than anything I’ve had in over a month.
And today, in the talking and the sharing, I found blood running through my veins again and breath moving easily in my lungs. When I shared my piece, the group loved it and I remembered again why I write. The power to touch people with words – this is my privilege, this is my dream, this is me. The company of people who found joy in this idea of mine, inspired me into action. The heaviness of 2014’s worries seemed to lift. I’m soaring on wings of words again. My labour of love returned to rescue me from the depths. Thank you, Alphabet Sambar.
Note: Alphabet Sambar is a community project I began in October 2013. I had gained greatly from the company of experienced writers and from participating in writing groups. I wanted a safe space for people who loved words but didn’t think of themselves as writers. It began as a late afternoon coffee between four people on a Sunday. I couldn’t have anticipated how far it would go. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, it picked up momentum, ideas and people. We did writing exercises, collaborated on writing projects, began novels and became good friends.
Today we have over 100 members spread across 7 countries and 14 cities. Mumbai is our most active spot. We meet every Sunday to share our writing, critique each other’s work and have a geeky laugh or two over words. We are NOT however, a therapy group, a free coaching class for aspiring writers or a brand powered social media community. We’re just a bunch of people who found a place to park their words and enjoy a chai together.