Day 267: Moarrrr books

23 Sep

It’s a drippy, rained-all-night kind of Friday morning. 8.30 am and I have the lights on in my room. I’ve just finished reading the last book that had me so engrossed I’ve been waking up, turning over and grabbing my kindle to read a few pages even before I get out of bed or brush my teeth.

This book:  This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett
A book of essays about a huge range of experiences and topics from across Patchett’s life, this book was first recommended to me by B, when I met her in Singapore last year. I have fond memories of a couple of hours I spent with her in her chatting about life, writing, reading and books, over home style chai and pakodas, while intermittently chatting with the incredibly cute Bobo. I snapped a picture of the cover of her book, and made a mental note to get to it at some point. Of course that point, of reading in earnest again, only came earlier this year.

So, about the book: it’s an incredibly diverse collection of essays about such a range of things that the writer in me, who hopes to be able to someday write an essay about any dang thing in the universe, is in serious awe. Entirely a work of non-fiction, this is a collection of her essays from over the years contributing to an array of magazines like The Atlantic, New York Times, Gourmet, Vogue. They cover everything from making a life in writing, to choosing to remain child-free, heartwarming essays about her relationship with her father, a particularly moving one about caring for her grandmother, her complicated first marriage, eventual divorce and her how she made marriage work the second time around. Some of the essays were hyper focused to a context so American, that I read them without really getting a feel for it. But 80% of the book was a sheer delight.

I found her essays about writing particularly relatable. And reassuring. Patchett is considered one of the seminal writers of essays in the ilk as Rebecca Solnit and Joan Didion, so I’m glad I could read this to start off on exploring her other writing.

Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
Some books need the right time place and pace of reading. Clearly this was one of them for me. I’d picked it up about two years ago, read only about 20% of it before abandoning it entirely. I just couldn’t sink my teeth into it, for some reason. Which was odd because I’d really loved Dress Your Family In Corduruoy And Demin.

Anyhow, when I finished reading The Bell Jar and was contemplating my next read, I found this already on my Kindle and decided to give it a second go. This time around I breezed thru it and enjoyed large parts of the book. Mainly because I’ve realised I enjoy this brand of wry, almost sardonic humour. I don’t do humour, and I know how hard it is to get it right, so when I chance upon writing that is simple and funny, it makes me very happy.

This is a very simple memoir of humourous anecdotes that — and this is the bit about Sedaris’ style that I enjoy — display his  ability to turn inane, everyday observations and events into fully fleshed-out anecdotes. The events are relatable, even though he masks his cynicism with humour that’s witty, yet wry and almost acrid and may only sometimes make you LOL, but that you will otherwise just breeze through with a chuckle here and  grin there. Again, the context is American, so it takes a little familiarity to really get it. This, I suspect, is why I didn’t enjoy it so much the first time.

It’s not a book that’s going to deeply impact you, or stay with you and linger in the back of your mind for a long time to come. It’s a fun, quick read and that’s another one struck off this list that I’m still aiming to work through.

Where’d you go, Bernadette? Maria Semple
This one has been on my to-read list forever, and when I found it on this list again last month, I had to pick it up.

Bernadette is an oddball. She’s a woman with too many loud opinions about everything, wild unconventional ideas about life and her work (she’s an architect), and has what could be naively considered a strange relationship with her husband and daughter. She goes against the grain in every set up — professional, social, familial — and this is what makes her loveable. And then she goes missing.

The mystery that then unfolds as her daughter and husband take an epic journey to the end of the earth (literally!) in search of her is quirky, funny, yet moving. In searching for her, they’re somehow also searching for themselves, and the relationships between them. Between the mystery and the emotional bits, this one was hard to put down.

It helps that it is written entirely as an epistolary narrative and is cleverly put as the story unfolds through letters, emails, blog posts, magazine articles and flashbacks. The writing is simple, but satirical and very relatable. I later found out that Semple has a career in TV too, writing for shows like Arrested Development and SNL – so no surprise why I enjoyed it so much.

The weekend is upon us and I have no idea what to read next, even though I’m up to my gills in reading reccos via friends, Amazon and all these darned lists I keep finding.

Day 266: Off the saddle

22 Sep

I haven’t been on a bicycle ride in two weeks since my father was here and we took him to the island we like to frequent. On a bike of course. The sport that he is, joined us on a bike. One minor fall right at the start didn’t stop him. His beer belly that caused some huffing and puffing didn’t either.

There’s a 100 kilometre ride I signed up for in a moment of excitement and getting-ahead-of-myself, scheduled to happen on 2nd October. I had my mind set on “prepping” for the ride, which is to say getting out on my bike at least 3 times a week, to build endurance. And then, I haven’t been on a bike for two weeks now. The ride is now a little over a week away and I’m in a quandary about whether to go ahead and do it, or chicken out.

I’ve never been on a ride this long. The farthest I went was 78 kilometres, but I can’t use that as a benchmark because it was horrifically rainy, which is great weather to cycle in. Without the sun beating down, you don’t tire as easily, your muscles don’t get dehydrated as much or as fast, and the lack of heat and humidity is a big win. Next week is not going to be rainy. And as fit as I think I am, I know getting on a bike and staying on it for 100 kilometres across a route I will only discover 15 minutes before the ride begins (yes, it’s an exciting event!) is giving me a little bit of the jitters.

I’m looking at pictures from all our past weekend jaunts and feeling mixed emotions. Here’s another film VC made three weeks ago, when S visited.

Some part of me feels like I should just fuck the fear and get on with it. The worst thing to happen is I will not finish, in which case I opt out and come back home. The best thing to happen is I will finish my first 100km ride, and if past experience with cycling-related fears are anything to go by, I will really love it.

I don’t feel ready. But it may also be one of those things that doesn’t really require much readiness in the end. Decisions, decisions.

Day 265: Today, on the internet

21 Sep

I have been filled with incredible amounts of self-doubt and anxiety about the flurry of ideas I sent out last week. Partly because of the waiting, the silence, and the inevitable rejections that come. They always come. Of late, I have been consciously working on not taking it personally. It means constantly reminding myself that a rejection doesn’t necessarily always mean the idea sucks, or that the timing was wrong or that I am a terrible writer and shouldn’t be doing this at all.

This morning I opened one of my favourite sites, Indexed, and saw this. And it was like resetting the dials back to zero – the angst vanished, instantly.

There’s no shame in admitting that all I’m really doing is practicing, improvising, learning from trial and error and just getting by from one day to the next.

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I totally didn’t intend to post more links so soon, but I’ve been reading such a lot of fun, amazing, thought-provoking, commendable writing stuff off late, I didn’t want to put off sharing today’s finds with you.

I watched Pink last night, and enjoyed it for the powerful, relevant, important points it makes. And for bringing the issues it does front and centre of mainstream cinema. I have to call it that because it was clear why Amitabh Bacchan was needed to pull it off. Even as it was adequately disturbing and thought provoking in an extremely visceral way, I couldn’t shake off the irony of having a story about the struggles of three regular, everyday women being overshadowed by a larger than life male icon to deliver a socially charged message. I wonder if a film like it would receive the response it got if it was missing a mainstream star like Mr Bacchan?

About the movie, but on a different note, I thought this piece about the film’s triumph, was a telling.

I haven’t read a single news item about Brangelina splitting up, but I am a sucker for Buzzfeed pieces, and I’m so glad I picked this profile from the river of clickbaity posts that usually suck up a questionable amount of any given day.

This post, one of the last things I read tonight, on travel, culture and assimilation. And a realisation about the lack of magic in it all. Sigh.

And because everybody needs a good earworm before bedtime, or to start the day, depending on where you’re reading this from:

Day 264: Perch

20 Sep

This was where I was perched for some part of the past weekend. On assignment, for a piece you should see up soon.

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There are days when I lament the inherent competition and the potential to undercut services that exists in an industry like ours, working the way that I do. Last week I was exhausted sending out cold pitches for ideas in emails that would get opened a dozen times to no response. It’s lonely business, especially if you’re a slowly getting to be a stickler about the kind of work you will/will not do.

But every time I have hit a low, felt a bit at sea, floating in an endless waves of information, lost and unsure of how to get ahead, help comes along in ways I least expect it to.

I am glad for it. And it reinforces my faith in goodness, in chance friendships, in paying it forward. I’m glad for moments like that. For assignments like these, that come by and land in my lap without much effort. When they come through friends in the same business, willing to selflessly share a chunk of the pie, I am especially grateful, overwhelmed and overcome by the need to pay it back again.

At the end of an exhausting, meh couple of days, it’s moments like these that make me see the light again. I’ve found kinship and kindred spirits through my words, my work and and some days it’s all I need to feel uplifted and centred again.

So an unlikely, unexpected assignment came to be, and VC and I found ourselves in this spectacular property for a day and a night, where we mostly chilled over food and drink and spent time reading. I took a dip in the pool that overlooked the beach. And we went to bed extra early, and I clocked 8 straight hours of uninterrupted sleep for the first time in weeks.

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And of course he made a film.

This weekend I didn't cycle. Yet it was awesome!

A video posted by ChughAlong (@chughalong) on

Day 263: All you need is less – projects

19 Sep

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Weeding out the unnecessary and keeping the things I love and value close has been the a recurring refrain in my life for a few years now. It started off as an unconscious, casual side-effect of moving out to Goa, falling off the grid when I got off facebook and the like, but in recent time it’s become a mindful, intentional habit and I see it creep into every little decision I make. Consequently it’s reflected in the experiences that have come my way, the situations I’ve found myself in, the people I am surrounded by, the relationships I make and for better or worse, I think this is here to stay.

Possibly the biggest change I made somewhere at the start of last year was to cut back on professional assignments that no longer made sense to me. This was partly conscious, because I wanted to focus on certain kinds of writing about certain specific things, but it was also fuelled by the incredible frustration of dealing with horrible clients, settling for less money despite increased efforts, compromising on the quality of writing because of unreasonable editorial demands and the like. I snapped off a few exploitative professional ties, even at the risk of being unemployed and without contracted work for a good long time before I picked it up again from scratch. I suppose everything happens at the right time and I needed that culmination of many months of realising what I am good at and where my heart really lies. So in cutting back on work, I decided that I will do fewer projects, but focus on work that is meaningful and enjoyable.

Less work has meant a far lesser income that I am used to. Less profits, less savings for a rainy day. Of course I couldn’t have dealt with this one without the rock solid support that I get from VC. To go form being DINK to SINK, just because we can, is a huge privilege. Not one that I will forget in a hurry. That he bolsters me not just economically, but supports me creatively, valuing what I do, encouraging me to start small, work my way up and gives me inputs and help on how to grow my business the right way, is where I draw strength from. Shredding work down to the bare minimum – just me is to deal with a lot of loneliness. Not just physically, but in the pursuit of this business of writing itself. It is lonely. Freelance writing, lonelier still, and I count on having him around on the loneliest, days that stretch out like question marks in front of me.

While VC has provided the economic padding for our lives to not go off rails, it has also meant that we have had to consciously realign of our lifestyle to fit limited means. Something that would not be easy to do unless we were 100% on board with the idea and on the same page. Time and again my belief in a simple tenet echoed in this fabulous essay on creativity, self reliance and sticking to a living doing what you love has reinforced the idea that if the project you choose is genuine and has value, success follows.

If your project has real substance, ultimately the money will follow you like a common cur in the street with its tail between its legs.

Some times success isn’t monetary, but when it is, money it brings in, no matter how much or how little, is enough.

This realisation has come in small doses of accepting that “all we need is less,” every time I turned down a worthless assignment, every time I gave up an opportunity to “do something different” despite the lucrative promises they held. Conversely, it’s helped put a premium on myself, my skills and my worth, so I am learning everyday to say no where it counts, to push back when I need to, and ask for more when the time is right. It’s been a slow and steady learning curve, but I am happy about where I am where I am today. To be able to do what I love has been possible because I have a willing teammate, who believes in it as much as I do and cheers me on every step of the way.

(Part 2: People, will follow tomorrow)

 

Day 260: Empty

16 Sep

It’s been a week of too many words. Way more words that I have handed out in a while now.

So many words. So many emails. So much reading. So much research. So many notes. So many pitches. So much conversation. And, to top it all, some unnecessary necessary, but draining, social media debates.

On days like today, ending weeks like this, I realise words are all I have. In typing them, writing them, speaking them, I expend energy, I send out little bits of myself, out into the world. Craggy but real, wispy but wonderful, soft but solid words that have a purpose.

There has been a lof og give, and very litle take, this week. And I’m feeling depleted.

Maybe over the weekend, I will fill myself up again so on Monday, I will find my words again. More words. Better words. Rounded cyclical, meaningful words. But today, I’m all out of words.

 

Day 259: Morning moods

15 Sep

Turns out this morning preoccupation is a recurring theme in my life. FB reminded me of this post from 2014, so similar in sentiment to this one I wrote yesterday. And then there was this morning moment from not too long ago. And this musing about a weekend morning, last month.  Rainy morning? Check. Sunny morning? Check. Foggy morning? Check.

This week my mornings have seen some high energy, high productivity and I’m looking forward to winding down towards the weekend with a new book. This one, if you want to know.  But until then, here’s a bunch of things I read during my internet ambles this week, that I wanted to share.

This piece about the very Indian tendency to have children stay on with their parents long after they really need to, or want to, or must, debunking the sanskaari bullshit of one big family and everybody loving each other. This one really hit home because it’s just the situation the husband and I chose to move away form when we came to Goa. Of course nobody in the family will ever see it that way, but we know.

This lovely piece about redefining success and aiming small for a change, aligned itself perfectly with my own thoughts about ambition, success and self-worth. Here, chew on this:

Fuck being big. Fuck scale. Fuck viral. Have integrity. Because when you achieve the largeness, it never is what we wanted it to be, and we end up just wanting more.Instead, create that which bolts you out of bed. Build and be everything that gives you heart and purpose, a big life lived small squeezed between our beginning and inevitable end.

Why not play small?

Rebecca Stolnit’s list of things to do, if you want to be a writer. Simple and basic as the words are, this one touched me deeply, with its essence weighing down on me for hours after I read it. This is what I’m struggling with at the moment:

It takes time. This means that you need to find that time. Don’t be too social. Live below your means and keep the means modest

This heartbreaking, but accurate piece about some of the issues that plague Goa. But of course it’s written by an “outsider” so all the “insiders” have their panties in a bunch over it. I’m waiting for an angry op-ed to crop up somewhere, and I’m sure it won’t be a long wait.

Day 258: This morning

14 Sep

I’ve always been a morning person. I wake up energetic most days. Especially if I’ve had a good night’s sleep. Even on days that I haven’t, and I feel the need to sleep in a little longer. It’s easily the best time of day for me.

Mornings are tenuous. It’s that slender sliver of time in between the repose as I gather steam for the day — run over everything that needs to be done, think about the meals we will have, and get ready to hit the gym — and the storm that hits immediately after —  a flurry of emails, bombarding myself with social media feeds, concalls, telephone calls pacing up and down restlessly in between it all.

Mornings rush by. Given my energy is at the highest, I try and get most of my day out of the way. Work, errands, laundry and miscellaneous chores, bits and bobs around the house, even reading on days I have nothing else to do. And as we slant on towards the afternoon and beyond, I get slower.

Mornings are happy like a slowly stretched smile. Maybe it’s the fact that the rain has made a tiny comeback and I’ve been waking up to misty, grey mornings rather than in a cloud of sweat that is my pillow. And maybe it’s all the work I’ve gotten done already this week, that’s making me feel extra content. But my mornings this week have felt like a lazy smile that refused to go away.

Mornings are bright, even on a stormy day like today. Just the fact that it is morning, signals the gift of a new day. Would you believe I get the exact sense of satisfaction and completion, or closure, at the end of a good night, as I do at the end of a good day?

Mornings are full of promise. Despite being a creature of habit, and loving my routine, I like how mornings always unfurl, like an arched back, collapsing outwards and opening itself up to the rest of the day. And many, many days, a lot more than I care to take note of, there are little special surprises tucked away waiting to be discovered. Like today, for example. The highlight of my morning was the hour I spent learning how to make a particular paneer curry from my cook.

Mornings are the best time of day for me. And some mornings are more special than others.

So today, I took a picture to remember it.

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That’s all.

Day 257: Down and up again

13 Sep

August saw a force-stop as far as work is concerned. But I didn’t realise how incredibly hectic it was with people visiting, until the last of my guests left on Saturday. I’ve pretty much been in the company of someone or the other since the end of July. And just the thought makes me feel so claustrophobic and peopled-out. To be surrounded by this kind of camaraderie is  immensely enjoyable while it lasts, and I push through into a sort of overdrive in the moment. I was making plans, always raring to go out exploring or for a meal or drink and the like. But in true introvert-style, it’s only when the last guest has left, the chairs have been put back in their place, the linen washed and put away, the glasses wiped clean and stored, and the the silence comes crashing in, does the fatigue kick in.

I slept for 15 out of 24 hours on Sunday.

Susan Cain talks about this in her book, Quiet, and if I hadn’t read it early this year I’d have thought I was ill and popped a pill or something. Engaging with people, no matter how enjoyable or stimulating, is far more taxing and demanding on intrverts/ambiverts than it is on extroverts. Obviously, it demands a lot more expulsion of energy and leaves us a lot more fatigued at the end of it. So it wasn’t just the alcohol, heavy food and late nights talking. I was really, literally people-d out.

Reading the book definitely helped accept this as a natural by-product of needing a fixed amount of down time to recharge batteries every now and then. So instead of fighting it and forcing myself to push on and get going with life, I allowed myself to relax. I spent the waking hours of Sunday reading, we ate leftovers for lunch and went out to eat a greasy dinner of Indian Chinese.

It was so needed. One day of sloth was all it took. Who’d have thought? Because after spending a good part of last week dragging my feet to slip out of that “holiday” mode, even though I promised myself I would resume work at the start of September, I snapped right into it yesterday. And I surprised myself.

Catching up on emails, and my work feeds on facebook, my brain was on fire. Ideas snapped out faster than I could keep up with them and I had to reign it in, breathe, put pen to paper and jot things down before they escaped me.

I pitched a total of 11 publications in 2 days. The most productive I have been in a long time. Some of those pitches had multiple ideas. This is not to brag because it’s entirely possible that absolutely none of them will convert and be commissioned in the form I imagine. But I’m just happy to get going for now. Of course there’s the part where every Indian editor I’ve pitched has seen my emails multiple times but hasn’t responded, all my American editors were likely asleep when I emailed them so those emails remain unopened. And I’m stuck here refreshing my inbox every 45 seconds. Oh, the joys of the freelancer life!

Since I’m starting with a clean slate, there’s going to be some waiting, I know. But, if I hear back from even a third of the number of people I pitch this week (there will be more emails sent out tomorrow and day after!), I will be okay.

I spent a significant time updating my collections sheet that I haven’t looked at all month, today. For the first time this year, I have zero outstandings. I can’t explain how good that feels.

I then sorted out my saved links, compiled all the bits and bobs of ideas floating in various places into my pitch list. colour coded the rejections and planned out my next wave of pitches too.

I’m inexplicably pumped today. You know how you feel it in your bones somedays? Even with a full day of work, and a long night ahead, you feel like you will get through it feeling okay?

That.

In other news, I’m mildly in shock that I received a surprising 34 subscriptions to my newsletter. I’ve got a ton of new music I am waiting to dig into. I’m reading a super fun book that I’m looking to finish tonight, and already have my next book lined up. I changed things around with my workout routine, once again, and it seems to have kicked my metabolism back in shape slightly. I almost couldn’t believe it when I closed this mornings kickboxing class with 5000+ steps and 1000+ calories clocked.

And all that done, I felt like I could sneak in a run in the evening. But I decided against it. I have a double whammy workout tomorrow – morning and evening sessions – and I must conserve energy.

That said, I’m feeling extra energetic, overall.

If this is the high that I can be sure to get every time I hit rock bottom, and then take time out to recuperate, I’m going to do this more often.

If committing to a holiday, with the unwritten promise to myself to work my ass off retrospectively, can somehow turn the switch and spark this level of earnest productivity, I may be on to something.

If this is the amount of energy sleeping for 15/24 hours can generate, I might consider calling Sunday, Sleepday.

Here, share some of my energy? I have enough to go around a couple of times.

And then some.

Day 256: Lines and dreams

12 Sep

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Trace a new pattern,
connecting the dots
where you end and I begin.

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I reach out to touch
things of dust and dew,
a mirage that bursts to life.

Day 253: Disjointed, incomplete thoughts

9 Sep

Some days I balk at the idea that a lot of my communication with people who matter, is so full of banter, a lot of nonsense that’s understandable only to us and strings of colourful emoji. I feel like I owe them clarity, articulation and precise interactions and I wonder if what we have instead, is the laziest way to communicate the intricate, layered things we feel, do and talk about. Entire sentences often get collapsed into tangential, disjointed threads of what we call gajibiji. Whole spectrums of emotion are forcefully trapped into unidimensional graphics no larger than a fingernail. Some days it feels like I’m escaping the weight of language and enunciation, taking the easy way out. Yet, some other days I’m so glad for the palette of unimaginative representations of my feelings, which need nothing more than a single flat, red heart, for expression.

How is it that despite the heights of communication we’ve achieved, a random collection of almost-non-existent pixels can transport streams of precise emotion, connecting my heart to another miles away. Without a word uttered, and so much being said?

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This week I committed to a holiday to be taken in November, by buying non-refundable tickets to an agreed upon destination, in the hope that with tickets in hand there will be no looking back. The alacrity with which those involved got cracking alarmed me. Hasty, some would say. Spontaneous, is what I call it. And it’s the one thing I’m so glad to be rediscovering. On the day I made the booking, I also acknowledged the direct correlation between earning power, spending capacity and the ability to make these spontaneous decisions. It’s a big-little lesson for me, and a marker to remember the things I’ve learned this year.

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Around Day 200, I began to have thoughts about how to go a step further with this blog. I considered digging up archives but decided this blog has enough self-reflection already, I thought about inviting guest posts but I don’t want to do the horrid job of choosing who and what to feature, I briefly entertained the idea of doing sponsored posts but the realm of products and experiences that would interest me is so small so I shelved it for later. And then I thought about finding more ways to reach out to you guys, who subscribe and read. There is 1500+ of you getting these updates in your emails, even if 10% of those people are genuine interested folk who come by and contribute to the number of visits my stats tell me this site racks up, I want to try and reach out to you. And then I struck upon the newsletter idea — completely and wholly inspired by egeedee and eM. I’ve set up my tinyletter id and everything and as of now I’m thinking of posting my monthly TheMonthThatWas updates as a digest, and adding some fun stuff to it. But I’m also exploring interview ideas, and thinking the newsletter could be a way to feature people, projects and interesting stuff I come across in my insurmountable internet travels, things that land up saved and bookmarked as must-share-this-with-everybody but eventually get forgotten. So tell me, would you subscribe? If the answer is immediately a yes, you can click here to subscribe. And if you think you’d subscribe but not immediately, please let me know in a comment below?

Day 252: Eight

8 Sep

VC, it’s that time of year again. This day wouldn’t be complete without me saying it feels like we only just got together yesterday. Like I’ve done so many times before. But we know the truth. It’s been a decade of knowing you, and in fact the enormity of that truth only sank in only a few days ago. Suddenly I realised we’ve been doing this for an absolute age. A whole damned decade, eight years of which have been spent trying to perfect this marriage thingamajig.

But you know what?

perfection

PC: StarvingArtistFilms

It’s been a far from perfect year, since our last anniversary when I waxed eloquent about how comfortably predictable things had become. This year there was many an oddball. It was anything but predictable. There have been so many heavy discussions about where to next, which came with a huge set of pros cons and our respective opinions, desires and dreams to juggle. There was a home loan in the mix this year, which has put a fair deal of pressure on us both. Not that you ever showed it, but I always know when you’ve been worried about it. There was a lot of angst about what to do next — for you and for me, as individuals and as a unit — and which way to go from here. It seems like this semi-charmed life has maxed out on it’s levels of near-perfection (when you discount the shitty roads and spotty internet, I mean) and that has time and again pushed us into a corner, begging us to ask ourselves some hard questions and consider some difficult options.

And so we did. It’s been a year of tremendous opinion-sharing between us. I can’t help but feel that the more rounded and formed our personalities get, the more we dig our heels in and stand up for what we believe in. Many times, we don’t believe in the same things. This year, more than ever before, we’ve sparred over things, small and big. From your smoking habit that I truly wish you’d kick, to a potential move beyond Goa, we’ve battled it out with loud exchanges of words, lots of confusion, plenty of tentative guessing and jumping to conclusions, a fair amount tears and the two instances when I left home and drove off into the night. Old me from about two years ago would say I’m not proud for what I did, or what pushed me to it. But I’ve learned this year, more than ever before, that it’s not important to agree and always see eye to eye. In fact it’s important not to agree, and it’s important to always have the room for that. I’m so glad that even when we’re in the throes of a belligerent rage, one of us has the sense to calm the other down and remind ourselves to make space for one another’s opinions.

I love that we have this healthy battle ground. Where we can spar, constantly remind ourselves to keep it civil, but not polite; honest but not rude; real, but not sharp. This year more than ever before, I have enjoyed fighting with you. Until last year, I always wondered if there was something the matter with us – our fights and disagreements were few and so far between. This year, I proved myself wrong and we’ve more than made up for the lack of disagreements in our lives so far.

I believe everything happens for a reason, and that this transformation came with a reason too. Because, I no longer fear fighting with you (and anyone else I hold close, for that matter). I’ve learned that every healthy relationship must have space for healthy disagreement. It’s become a marker for the authentic relationships in my life, across the board. It’s taught me that learned that sometimes one has to squash one’s ego, agree to disagree, and just hug it out. I’ve also learned that no matter what the outcome, it’s always a good idea to say sorry.

This year, you’ve taught me the value of saying sorry, even when it is the hardest thing to do and my mountain-sized ego will not allow it. In the number of instances that you plainly and easily said sorry, at the end of an argument, or when you thought you’d disappointed me, or when the truth about the numerous patterns of oppression women face in a typical Indian family suddenly dawned on you in its immensity, and you suddenly woke up to it’s existence in your own family, you apologised for it. You took responsibility, even though you’ve never behaved in a way that was oppressive or discriminatory. You apologised on the behalf of everyone else who never will. You have no idea how immensely liberating that has been.

This year, I’ve learned empathy from you. I’ve learned to tone down my judgement. To live and let live, in the truest sense of the term. Together we’ve turned many of our perceptions about a lot many things and people around. It;s reminded me that there is always have scope to grow, and I feel glad every time that we are able to acknowledge where we were wrong, and we try and correct our thoughts. I like to think we’ve turned into more self-assured individuals with firmness where it counts. I find you perfectly straddle being strong-willed, but soft-hearted where it matters. You’ve displayed conviction, with a rare kind of softness that I find immensely attractive. It’s a balance I still have to learn.

But most of all, this year will always be remembered as the year you helped me rediscover myself yet again. I don’t know if you realise the influence you have had on me. As the only person privy to all my thoughts, feelings, ups and downs of every aspect of my life, you share in my angsts and joys equally. And this year your only steady advice has always been to put a premium on myself. To always raise the bar, demand more, settle for nothing less than the best. Whether it has been at work — when demanding a higher fee, not settling for shoddy work relationships, or in my relationships with people — cutting off toxic friendships, prioritising my time, being uncompromising with the quality of friendships and focusing on myself and my self development.

You’ve been the sound voice, constantly dinning into my head the need to put myself first. It’s how I’ve bettered my work style and engagements. I wouldn’t have re-learned discipline if it weren’t for our many discussions about how to get better at this game. I wouldn’t have cracked so many pitches if we hadn’t worked on my emails together. I wouldn’t have come to believe in myself if you hadn’t backed me up every step of the way.

This year, we’ve completely soaked in the spirit of being quiet. You were always the quiet one, but this year I realised I have some quiet in me too. In learning to be still, I’ve understood myself better, sharpened my focus, fine-tuned my ability to be by with myself. As individually-focused as that sounds, it has changed my relationship with you. For the better. I understand you better. I respect you more. I honour you for the individual that you are, completely, with fewer expectations than before. As much as there’s been hectic chatter and loud disagreements, we’ve had our fair share of silence too. It’s one of the things I love the most about us. The way in which we can exist in a companionable silence, for hours on end, without having to engage. This year, I’ve learned there’s more than one kind of quiet, and I cannot wait to discover the rest. With you. Even though this was also the year we took off on our own respective tangents.

It’s the first time I saw in us, the patterns I see with my parents. In being starkly individualistic people, with completely different goals, diverging in entirely opposite directions, yet somehow making ends meet, and finding a way to let go, live and love, all at once.

I travelled by myself this year, more than I have ever before. And it was because conversations I had with you rekindled the hidden desire that I have let remain forgotten for all the years we have been together. You bought me the bestest gift of all times – a bike – that has triggered something deeper than a quest to cycle, in me. You’ve reminded and taught me how important it is to chase those things that are fundamental to our happiness, outside of amassing money in the bank and buying things. And you’ve done this by example. By taking off on your own path of self-discovery, traversing cycling, film and new areas of work – areas I am completely removed from. That has been your journey to take, and I’ve watched from a distance, with such pride.

This year, more than every before, I realised that being together has little to do with being together. Not to take for granted how wonderful it is to have a roomie to come back to, someone to hold at night when the fear of the dark envelops me, someone to lean on when I’m scared or lonely, someone to share a laugh with in a way that only we can understand. But I realised that growing old together involves taking routes that aren’t always going to run in parallel, or end up in the same place. It is possible to be together and yet give each other the space to be apart – in what we do, in where we go, and in how we blossom. And for the first time in all our years together, and my vehement stand on long-distance relationships, I have opened myself up to the idea of living apart. It will mean spreading our wings in different directions, and I don’t mean that just literally. I hope we explore it someday, because I think it will only take us a step up from here.

I look back at this year and it looks so pock-marked, dented and imperfect, riddled with the weight of learning. It’s been a heavy year in that respect. But we’ve towed the line rather well, picking up when the other left off, holding each other up, and being the stoic, steady person when the other needed to waver for a bit. In you I’ve had the best friend and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner on this ride.

We’re still often met with this picture perfect notion of marriage, complete with the kids and the car and the giant home. We’re still asked when we plan to have children, and shocked reactions that prod deeper and wants to know why that’s not on our agenda. I understand now, where it’s coming from. It’s because that’s what it works for many people. But there is room for us. And for us, it has always been about doing it our way. Keeping our eyes and minds open, bucking the rules, bending with time and circumstances, flowing the way we choose to, changing as per the need of the hour and playing by our own rules. And you know what? That’s never going to be a pretty, picture perfect journey.

I’m ready for more.

Just to change this up, here’s a picture that represents us pretty perfectly.

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Happy 8th.
I love you.

*****

Past anniversaries
Seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.

Day 251: August

7 Sep

Facebook brought this post I wrote at around this time two years ago, back to mind a couple of mornings ago. Reading it made me so very misty-eyed because it was such a different time, and I was such a different person back then. Arguably, it has been a long enough time for change, even if just at the hands of progression of time.

The posts makes excuses for being MIA, and those excuses are hectic! There was so much happening then, events, random people in pictures, a social scene, a chockablock calendar from the looks of it.

I’m currently MIA, if you were to go by all the action from 2014, of course. I’m missing, just from those aspects. Going out, being at every food event, meeting random groups of people and taking the trouble to put myself out there. Today, I’m MIA becuase I’m mostly cooped up at home. Or out with the few people I can be around, doing the things I like. Like reading in silence, cycling or watching a movie. Some of my friends here have expressed that they don’t know if my withdrawal from all things social and externally stimulating should be taken as a call for persuasion to break out, or to just let me be. That’s quite a sea change for me. But, that aside, it was mildly comforting to see how otherwise predictable August is.

  1. The monsoon is in that weird transition petering out the finale when it’s all over
  2. It seems to be the month my parents always visit
  3. Invariably there is some travel for me

All of that happened this year too. Despite it being a month to consciously pipe down from the overload I was feeling, it was busy (in other ways). With travel, to Bangalore and Wayanad that was the fall-off-the-grid that I needed. There were visits – friends throng Goa in the monsoon, and this year has been no different. A weekend with S, hanging out with with L, and my dad clocked his August visit too. I missed amma and Niyu desperately, but I’m also so glad to see how our individual lives have become so full and taken us our own respective ways to follow our bliss — amma all the way in America for her annual teaching and performance trip, Niyu otherwise engaged with adult things like keeping a job, my dad in the throes of building his home in the woods.

Of course there was the rain, even though we’re gearing up to say goodbye and bracing ourselves for the heat which is slowly creeping up on us. And there was plenty, plenty of cycling, because I suddenly realised there;s really no better way to do it than to cycle in the rain. I cycled so much, and so far, and did so many things as a by-product of cycling that I’m feeling really thankful I took to it this year.

This is what months of recharging should be like. Slow days spent wandering about with no plan, out in the real world or in your head, virtually, tossing up worlds of words and ideas. I didn’t pitch for any new work all through the month, focusing on finishing up some spillage from work I’d submitted at the close of July. Being caught in this “in-between” kind of headspace made even that a bit of a challenge. But the downtime meant I caught up on somethings that needed uninterrupted time and attention. Picking up the reading habit once again. Sending in a well-thought out (rather than half-assed, which is what it would have been if I didn’t have downtime) application for a fellowship. And writing for myself, things that often brew at the back of my mind and die like stubbed out cigarette buts that could have smouldered if I’d had the time to let them. Despite blogging everyday, I am constantly grappling with allowing more immersive, trains of thought meander and make their way here, because it means giving it more time, and an ease that I don’t always allow it. So I wrote yet again, about my shapeshifting idea of home and where that might possibly be. I got dragged down a tunnel of nostalgia, way back to gloomy Sunday evenings before school, and found a delightfully new memory to take its place.  I took a lot of pictures, and so I wrote a lot of haikus this month, too.

August was definitely the month for refuelling that I needed, and made time for. I drank up the slow, empty days in big gulps, and I saw myself enjoy the busy times with the folks I hung out with. The weird restlessness I talked about in July seems to have passed, and I’m aware its probably only temporary. Big and small changes are afoot, many of which I am unable to put a finger on even for myself to acknowledge. These are exciting times.

Day 250: Finding my people

6 Sep

This must be what they call kinship. This overwhelming sense of gratitude for the people in your life. It has so little to do with bloodlines, proximity, or commonality, even. Once I gloss over the basic matching of wavelengths, increasingly I’m seeing how it plays a smaller and smaller part in my connections with my people. I’m slowly getting to understand what Meredith and Yang meant when they called each other their person. I don’t have a person. I have my people. And this is a big deal for me, given I spent a large part of my life telling myself I had 3.5 friends.

This has been a year of realising who these people are. It’s been growing over the last couple of years I suppose, along with clarity and my own ability to articulate what I look for in people and who I hold close. I’ve let go of some aversions, become slightly more accepting of anomalies and I’m consciously making an effort to be less judgemental.

Today, I think the number of people I call my own is a direct outcome of that. It’s true what they say about keeping your heart open. I’ve had a hectic few weeks of guests — friends and family visiting — right from the week I decided I needed to relax a little, across my own travels to Wayanad, to friends traipsing in and out of Goa. I’ve scurried around to meet some, and I had a whole super chill weekend with S, and just as she left my dad is visiting and it’s been an altogether busy time. And it isn’t over yet. I realise how much has changed this year. As much as I have turned a little anti-social and a bit introverted in my life here in Goa, I realise how much I still thrive when I have people I love, over/staying with me.

Hosting family and friends I love always brings these feelings to the surface. Our days have been packed with venturing out exploring, eating out, and even when we’ve been home we’ve spent an inordinate amount of time together just chatting talking about everything from the state of the country to my father’s dream farmhouse that is in the works. These are the folks I can do this with. No expectations, no hangups, no Hanging out with folks I love always brings feelings of contentment and gratitude to the surface and today, I’m filled with thankfulness. For the people in my life, that I count on. I’m saying this as I think of my father who’s been with me for a week now, and my mother who is several continents away, and my sister who is in the neighbouring state. But I also say this bearing in mine the growing tribe of friends-turned-family that I have, cheering me on at all times. We’re all separated by distances small and wide, our lives diverge in so many different directions and yet, when I think of them all, I feel a silver thread that binds me to them.

So I am grateful. For the love, the honesty and transparency I’ve discovered in these relationships this year. For knowing that they can withstand the quiet and busy times, alike. For the lengths that they go to, to accept me as I am. For the immense patience and the wide swathes of time and attention we can give each other. For ensuring that virtually no topic of discussion is off the table. For resisting the urge to resort to passive-aggression, to dig deeper and come clean, with the faith that our relationship will overcome.

For giving me so much to learn from each of them – strength, resilience, an uncompromising zest for life, a fearless appetite for adventure, a spirit that refuses to be put down, a silent voice of reason – these are just some of the things I have gained from them.

For always reminding me what I am worth, capable of and for teaching me to believe in myself. For never failing to rally around and provide the chuckles when I need them the most. For calling a spade a spade, and telling it like it is.

For the endless generosity I have received, in action, in gifts, in time spent and for just the presence in my life. For being the sunshine, the moonlight, the fireworks; the silence and the excitement; and the mirror that constantly reflects the person I am, back at me.

I started uploading a series of pictures of said people, but there’s just way too many good ones to include. So I stopped. The words will have to do. My people, you know who you are.

Day 249: Ferry days

5 Sep

August, and now September has been chock full of visits across the river. Between our long cycle rides and showing visitors around, we’ve found ourselves on the ferry almost once every week for the last five weeks or so. 

I’m always amazed and slightly in awe about how the ferry works with such monotonous precision, time after time, day after day. Over the same span of river. So mundane. But every single day presents a chance to see something a new. Our favourite ferry dog, the captain in his starched whites, basketfuls of veggies going across from one side to the other, and there’s us always looking like a set of namoonas. Dressed in Lycra, helmets strapped on, lugging our bikes across. And we’re met with an assortment of stares, ranging from mild curiosity to plain bewilderment. 

And yet. Every morning is different. The light diffused by the morning mist, veiled hints of what lies beyond on the other side, the glistening surface of water as we cut through gently making our way to new ground. 

This was the view yesterday. 

And this is how drastically different it was  24 hours later. 

Day 246: Wandering, right here at home

2 Sep

Through vast clouds of green,
Purple skies, ochre in between
I’ll find my way home.

Day 245: Just read

1 Sep

So, I’m not speculating anymore. It’s confirmed. I’m definitely reading faster, and therefore more, on the kindle. It was all well-timed because August was a month of downtime from work so I had the luxury to spend time reading too. I was pondering over how wonderful it’s been to have the kindle at hand at all times. I pull it out anywhere, everywhere and read. This month I’ve read while waiting for my food to arrive at a restaurant, while waiting for a flight to land at the airport, while sitting in a cafe with three other people who also had their kindles with them haha, and I may also have turned reading a chapter of the book I’d put down to finish some pending work, into the incentive for actually finishing that work. Hah.

Things may slow down again, with me resuming work again today, and maybe I will rethink how wonderful buying the kindle has been, if things slip back to the way they were. God knows I’m also device-skeptic, and only relent when I am absolutely convinced. Only time will tell of course, but I have a good feeling about this one.

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
This is easily the best book I’ve read this year. I haven’t read a lot, but I already know this is going to be it. If you’ve watched and loved the movie Up, this can be likened to an astoundingly heartrending lyrical version of it. It’s a complete emotional trip, traversing it all — from endearing to frustrating, anxious to relieved, edgy to overwhelmingly happy, while also somehow making you chuckle right through, even as you shed tears a lot. It’s a story about a grouchy, adamant stuck-in-his-ways old man who wants to just be left alone and not have to engage with anybody in his picture perfect Swedish neighbourhood. He seems surly and ill-tempered, but you’ll realise very quickly how that’s just a front to keep people out. A front that gets totally crashed to bits by a boisterous family of “hippies” that moves in next door to him, presenting the diametric opposite of everything he is and stands for. The incredible simplicity of the story, writing style and the crux of the story is what made it so relatable for me.

In Ove you’ll see old people in your family, you’ll see your parents, and funnily, you will also see a future you. VC and I often talk about death, and I have on more than one occasion wondered aloud about what it might be the one be left behind when the other passes on. This book really brought a lot of my feelings to the fore. Utterly lovely. This is a must-must-must-read.

My favourite quote from the book:

“Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it’s often one of the greatest motivations for living. Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury. Some need its constant presence to even be aware of its antithesis. Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival. We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves.”

Alphabet Soup For Lovers, by Anita Nair
A semi-predictable but nicely written love story, I picked up Anita Nair after years because I’d grown very tired of the excessively flowery language she uses. This book has it too, but it is crisper, and I suppose the subject interested me enough to keep at it. It brings together love, unrequited love, jaded love, a a comfortable love and infidelity and it’s all tied together through food.

If you’re looking for a short, quick read that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy, and you tend to like writing by Indian authors, this is a good pick. I know the title and synopsis make it sound like a book about food, but to me it was  abook about love and relationships. I don’t know how anyone could think otherwise, so I was a bit surprised to read by some of the reviews I saw online.

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath
I may be finally warming up to revisiting the classics that my three years in college managed to turn me off from completely. The Bell Jar has been on my list for years now and I picked it up the day we went to the beach, which was an excellent uninterrupted few hours to begin reading it.

It is everything you come to expect from a novel by Slyvia Plath. Dark, brooding, very evocative crisp and precise descriptions, layered and incredibly detailed story arc. The story is an autobiographic tale of a girls slip into depression while also fiercely fighting a not-so-silent battle to come into her own. It’s the kind of book with such a vivid narrative that you start building images, scenes and events with incredible clarity even as you’re reading. These images linger on long after you’ve finished reading the book.

I found it particularly hard to read the narrative involving her attempts with suicide, especially the one that involved razors and blood, and my heart really went out for to her as she traversed some of the most common instances of women being put into cubbyholes depending on how society wants to view us. She’s a fantastic story teller, and to think this was semi-autobiographic, moved me deeply at several points of the book.

What are you reading? Any reccos? What should I pick up next? I have a long list, but I’m still fishing for recommendations.

Day 244: 10 reasons why I’ve taken to cycling

31 Aug

After a very long time, it’s been an opportunity to get into and be excited about something VC loves and is enthusiastic about. Given our very divergent interests, we suddenly have something to share again!

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It takes us far, it takes us deep.

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It has forced us into the kind of groups I wouldn’t have otherwise willingly put myself in to. And that has been a very revelatory experience. I’ve mostly turned into a one-on-one and small-groups kind of person, happily avoiding social occasions and gatherings of anything more than 3 people at a time. Cycling is the only activity I don’t grudge doing in large groups.

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I’m finally exploring nooks and corners in Goa I’d only heard about, and hadn’t bothered venturing out to even in a car. The irony!

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Forts! Islands! Forests! Short city rides! It has really turned venturing around and exploring my home state on it’s head for me.

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Because of how exposed and vulnerable it makes you, cycling forces you to look around and really take your surroundings in. It makes you look down, not something I do very often. It forces you to notice the littlest things. An earthworm you do your best to avoid, a delicately fuzzy mongoose run over by a speeding car, a just-shed piece of snakeskin.

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It’s rekindled lost and found friendships.

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Despite being around folks, having them with you to share every gruelling climb, every exhilarating downslope, and the rest, it is such a beautifully individualistic activity — just you, in your saddle, pedalling away, refusing to stop till you reach where you need to. You have to try it to know what I mean.

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It’s putting all my fitness focus to the test. I’m able to see how much my stamina has improved and it puts my endurance and muscle power to the test. Clearly. Or else I wouldn’t look so happy lugging my bike up a flight of mossy rough stairs overgrown with weeds.

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It’s making me a calmer, happier person for all the endorphins, and exposure to clean air and eye-hurting green locales.

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Was that ten things already? Okay, here’s an eleventh.
Because, going out on a bike makes you extra observant and watchful. It makes you  notice things. And because, yellow flowers.

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Day 243: Internet things

30 Aug

You know that “save link” feature on facebook? I use it excessively. I’m constantly bookmarking things to read later, calls for pitches and work contacts or potential idea triggers in there. Every now and then I feel like the saved links get a little out of control. I worry that they may get tangled up and lost in the chaos of their own collective noise, and I wont remember exactly why I’ve saved each of them. So I sort through them – segregating the links saved for work from those saved for just reading. Today was that day, and here’s some things that stood out.

Are dogs replacing kids? I know a lot of folks with children hate the comparison, and I know a lot of folks without children feel chuffed to claim they’d rather get dogs than kids. Some do, and apparently it’s likely that keeping dogs is not the litmus test to check for your capacity to nurture and look after a living being, but may very well be replacing having kids entirely.

I know I’m going to get very judged and hated for this, but here it is. 3-4 years ago when I began to articulate my desire to remain child-free, I was in the minority. We did briefly consider keeping dogs. Not as a replacement for babies, but just to have pets. Talking about it made us feel completely alienated because people mostly reacted in a way that made me feel like it was completely abnormal. But today, I am no longer the anomaly. I know this because even just in my immediate circles, I am increasingly connecting with people who don’t want children. Amongst friends in the same life-stage and of the same age as me, I see this choice becoming far more common, and talking about it is becoming easier, people are free-er and more open. Clearly there’s many of us. Either there always were, and everyone shut up about it for fear of being isolated or we’re all inspiring each other to seek other choices and possibilities. And if the lives of some of these folks I know are anything to go by, being parents to dogs is definitely one of them. This piece made me think of so many of them, because I’ve seen a lot of what it talks about play out in real life.

I was that ‘entitled’ millennial whose parents never said ‘no’. This piece really got me thinking. My parents didn’t refrain from say no. In fact they said no a lot. They said no when we made ludicrous demands, when we asked for things and experiences well before the right time for them, when we behaved outrageously or disrespectfully or when we broke fundamental rules. And yet they didn’t curb our hopes and dreams. Yes, I’m the kid who grew up being constantly told that thing that annoys a lot of people from the generation before mine – follow your dream and you can achieve whatever your heart desires. I know that the balance between letting go and allowing us to roam free, and also saying no when it mattered is what has helped set boundaries, realistic benchmarks and funnily it’s what taught us conviction, safety, strength, caution, empathy.

No is not mean or callous or stingy. No can be as loving and generous as yes. It indicates conviction, safety, strength.

I see why my parents didn’t set limits for my sisters and me. We were inherently cautious, empathetic, eager to please. We were moralistic and obsessed with being and doing good. But not every child, and certainly not every adult, possesses these self-regulating qualities. Flipping the script from my childhood, I have found it is better in most situations to start with no and slowly build up, with time and trust, to yes.

I suggest a chemise. It’s hard not to feel the feels so hard when you read an article that begins with:

Are you a lady who often doesn’t leave her apartment for long stretches of time, living life the way she likes, listening to music, having a coffee, sitting quietly, talking to no one? Tending to her plants that are dying? Watching a TV show she hates? I suggest a chemise.

Replace watching plants that are dying with writing blog posts nobody reads, and replace watching a TV show she hates with guzzling books when she’s ignoring her work, and this is me. Yes, yes, yes, yes. And I love the idea of a chemise.

Did you guys see that utterly bizarre-o article about How To Talk To A Woman Wearing Headphones, describing in detail the correct way to get and hog the attention of a woman who is minding her own business listening to music, in the hope that she will be more interested in you? It was so fuckall, I’m not going to link it up. Many people wrote responses and rebuttals to it, but this one’s my favourite: How To Approach A Woman Wearing Headphones.

THIS piece. Hit me right in the feels. Giving up alcohol opened my eyes to the infuriating truth about why women drink.

And then there was this.

Day 242: A morning moment

29 Aug

Pause. Breathe in slowly.
Watch and wonder silently,
this life in passing.

Different morning, same ferry, same ferry-dog.