Looking for typical

We’ve been back for more than a couple of days now, but the disorientation that came from being back in an atmosphere where fear and chaos are so high, compared to the relaxed, peaceful, positive environment we were in, has lasted longer than anticipated.

While away, not having access to a newspaper and not looking at my phone meant I missed the big, horrific news of last week entirely. It only really hit me when we returned to a small mountain of newspapers at our doorstep (because we forgot to tell the newspaper guy we were going away) with a leaf carrying a piece of horrific news lying face up on the very top of it. And then, I steadfastly avoided the news after. I just don’t have the emotional or mental or psychological bandwidth to deal with it at this point. Not without feeling like there is absolutely no iota of future left for us.

The strange thing is, even without the information onslaught, without the doom-scrolling, without even looking out for it, and in fact avoiding it, I feel clued in. I feel the horror. I feel the anger. Simmering. This is the energy of the collective at work, and I feel clued in to it.

So I came back feeling very disoriented. A vast dissonance between the borderline utopia I went away to, a bubble of safety and happiness, and the grotesque world I came back to. It took me four days of hemming and hawing, trying to drag myself back to some semblance of normalcy, feeling (and giving in to) the need to sleep more than normal, before I felt like myself again.

I complained to VC time and again about wanting to “get on with it” and somehow just being unable to. The mornings have been slow, and the saving grace has been joining R’s morning workout class. That gets me going in some manner. We did some chores. But mostly everything felt a bit alien for the last few days. We ordered in, my MIL sent over some food, and I didn’t cook a single thing. Until today.

This evening, as VC washed the dishes, cleaned the chicken, and I mopped up the kitchen and planned what to marinate the chicken in, I felt a shift in my body. A switch to a prior state of normalcy, within me at least. No matter that the world is full tilt going bonkers.

This is my reaction to chaos, I’ve realised. I go into slow-mo, the urge to hide, cower and hibernate is strong, my brain gets dull and it becomes difficult to function. And I look, desperately for any glimmer of normal, typical, standard, mundane even.

But that has been the hardest thing to come by this year, no? How much more will 2020 throw at us?

Anyone else feeling raw, open, unmasked, exposed? And not in a nice way?

One year ago: October
Two years ago: In the nick of time
Three years ago: What colour is your sky?

Making gardens

This past Sunday, right after my weekly thorough home cleaning, my sister and I cooked a giant brunch that we ate lazily with my parents. We followed it up with coffee, carrot cake and pain au chocolat. Then, when my parents retired for naps, my sister and I got down to dirty business.

Just like the old days. When Sunday lunches were had together, lazily, in that post weekly-oil-massage-and-bath haze. And as soon as my parents would turn in for a nap my sister and I would begin some serious afternoon play. In the garden, mostly getting our hands in the mud, mixing it up with all kinds of nasty stuff (I remember atta and talcum powder, amongst other things) making concoctions and serving it up to imaginary guests at our imaginary restaurant or home or whatever else.

Except this past weekend, we embarked on some overdue repotting of some of my large houseplants that had long outgrown the pots they were in. Same, same, but different. All these years later, getting our hands in the mud is still our idea of fun and play.

The alocasia has been sprouting leaves furiously and consistently for over a year now, but I noticed some weeks ago that the leaves were beginning to get a tad smaller than usual. I’ve had a larger pot ready for it since December last year, so it was about time. The fiddle leaf fig, that I’ve named Salma, is doing well, but I read up about FLF health and it turns out they require well drained, loose soil, and infrequent but predictable watering patterns, in order to sprout those large waxy, shiny leaves we love. For some reason the nursery gave it to me with some compacted, hard-packed soil that I was convinced wasn’t working.

So we made a session of it. Mixing compost mix, cocopeat and garden soil with neem chunks and what not. Transferring things from one pot to another, uprooting my plants — which seriously gave me so much anxiety — and repotting them. And while we were at it, I also managed to separate some Alocasia babies that had sprouted by the sides of the main plant, and got two more plants out of it!

The propagation got it’s weekly bath in the kitchen sink, all the various receptacles got a thorough wash, and the cuttings were placed back in delicately. Next week they will find home in the earth, far, far away from this ledge the’ve been perched on for months now where I have been rooting them for my father.

***

There’s a definite increase in the number of butterflies and bugs and bees that visit the balconies of late. The other day a massive Monarch butterfly flew into my living room, wandered around for a bit, flitting from one plant to the next, even though none of them are flowering plants, settling on my armchair for a few seconds and left. And then, last week out of nowhere, we had a swarm of dragonflies passing through. They hung around for a good three days, but I noticed that at night, groups of them would cling to my pink bougainvillea, hanging upside down, asleep.

The garden is doing its thing, me thinks.

It feels like sigs of life are cropping up around me everywhere.

(I’m sorry this has turned into a full-on commentary about plants at large, and is probably not what you signed up for. But it is what it is. For now. Oh well.)

One year ago: It was all yellow
Four years ago: Empty

Nourish

Feed your desires.

Keep your heart warm.

Stay grounded. Grow. Thrive.

These pictures were taken sporadically, across last week. I like when the picture reel on my phone tells me stories when I look back at it on a lazy Sunday evening after a busy week.

I see in this triptych, for example, this sequence that is a pretty accurate summation of what I have been feeling and staying with. The need to cocoon, go inwards, to listen closely to the whispers of my being, and tend to the heart of it all with unfussy basics. Vitalising food, plenty of water, any thing that takes me to my roots.

It’s been such an up and down week, but the weekend was utterly fulfilling and has me brimming over. Winding down today with a light hum of gratitude reverberating within me.

One year ago: Running updates
Two years ago: Walking high on the wire
Three years ago: What coming home feels like: making friends edition
Four years ago: Down and up again

In-between lives

Every time that I think this one’s life is over, she shows me, almost defiantly, that it is not. Her leaves have been strangely compressed and perpetually curled up with no flowers to be seen for months now, and nothing I did seemed to help. Moved her around to a different spot in the balcony, loosened the soil as bougainvillea like, added fertiliser, reduced watering greatly — still nada.

I know bougainvillea much prefer bright, hot sunlight and don’t care much for the rain, and this is a problem in my home. I get adequate sunlight throughout the day, but it’s not direct and it’s not the fresh morning sun that flowering plants love. Also it’s been consistently rainy here in Bangalore for the last few weeks now. So that could be one reason she is seemingly not doing too well. However, this deduction wasn’t accurate because my other bougainvillea is doing fine. Great, even. With bushy, light and feathery, graceful fronds of white blossoms billowing in the monsoony winds, right next to this one.

Anyhow, last week I said out loud that maybe it’s time to just let this one go. Put her to rest, and use this large pot for something else. Almost immediately, within the next few days, she burst into this profusion of the salmon-est-salmony blooms, reminding me of the reason why I picked this plant from the nursery, in the first place. This exact shade of orange-salmon-blushing is what I imagine “the pink of life” is.

I’m growing to see more than meets the eye with my plants, and I’m revelling in how they respond to how much energy I direct towards them. And this whole episode spoke to me at so many levels.

One year ago: Stay and stay a while
Two years ago: I want the truth to be said
Three years ago: Finding life again
Four years ago: Lines and dreams

Twelve

Happy 12th, to the boy who doesn’t hesitate one bit to tell me how much he loves making a life and sharing a home with me. Reminding me so often, that it’s the little things that make a life.

What would I do without your unabashed, childlike, honesty?

Past anniversaries: eleven, tennineeightsevensixfivefourthreetwoone.

We’re going through changes

So it’s not just me. The Economist has this amazing piece on how Covid has changed lifestyles significantly. It’s safe to say this is not a mere passing trend, but change from within that is here to stay for a while longer than just the next fad. It was very comforting to read how the world over, we have turned to cooking, cleaning, DIY and home-making, craft and arts, gardening, pottery, baking, embroidery and knitting and the like to find some semblance of peace amidst the chaos, and our centres in the face of being thrown off kilter completely.

I realise that this too is global. Not just the destruction and chaos of the pandemic, but also the troubling churn that is also an opportunity for transformation that it is offered us all.

This impetus to find different ways to be has been triggered within us all partly from realising how undependable the current ways of the world are. How fragile and illusionary they are, how little support they offer. And most importantly, the gaping holes of inequity that have been exposed.

We were never meant to slave away like cogs in a relentless capitalist wheel in the way that we do. Running on the hamster wheel endlessly, chasing after one milestone after another, like mirages in a vast, desolate desert. But we were willing to cash in on whatever it offered, in the belief that it will somehow remain forever. This was the road to happiness. But how quickly all of that went to shit. And how quickly the discomfort struck each and every one of us, in some manner or another.

I wonder if the changes I am seeing — and I truly am seeing them in folks around me — are in a small manner coming from an awakening. A slow, slow return to the certain primal ways we were meant to exist in. Working with our hands, nourishing ourselves, finding pockets of rest, looking for joy in things other than making a living, doing the things that matter to our lives first, before feeding corporations became the only means to making a living.

Thinking about living and life first, and allowing the means to organically emerge from there. Rather than retrofitting the means to a living, to the kind of life we are then saddled with.

In my own space, I know that the slow down that this has caused has permeated more than just the pace at which I function. I have been more observant, more aware, I feel more in-tune with the world around me, I feel fiercely about certain tenets I now want to live my life by, I see the ways in which my internal and external worlds echo and mirror each other, and therefore the need to find balance, moderation and sustainability.

This didn’t just come out of nowhere. It came from getting down to the basics again. From literally getting down on my hands and knees to clean my home, chop veggies, grow plants, dig the soil, water fresh blooms, wash my loos, clean the dustbin, mindfully stock and store groceries amongst other things.

It made it impossible not to observing keenly what it takes to live life, and what (and how much!) I lost from dissociating from the acts of basic living completely. In outsourcing, I severed that connection to the very hands-on acts of living life. Putting food on the table, keeping a hygienic home, being curious about how much I consume.

Somehow, this made me aware of the plurality of life around me. The diversity in resources. And the pressing need to bring back balance to our relationship with it all. Watching nature, whether in my little balcony garden, or at the vegetable and fruit vendor, or in the millions of thought bombs I have read about these things (because everybody is talking about it now more than ever), has really made me realise the need to pause. Pause before I act.

Now that I am back to running outdoors, I catch myself literally watching, observing, looking up at the trees more, noticing blooms, catching unlight speckling through the leaves, smiling to see flocks of parakeets rushing from tree to tree, finding joy in withered, yellowed trees as much as lush, verdant ones. Watching, seeing keenly has shown me what natural resilience looks like.

Isn’t it amazing how it is the trees, birds, water, animals and insects that are thriving in the middle of a pandemic, while we are perishing faster than we can keep track of. We’re cowering into the corners of our homes, shrouded in masks and scarves to keep safe, while something else, something outdoor, stronger and more resilient than us is enduring.

There are lessons in survival in natural cycles. In balance and organic timing. In patience and timely growth.

The more I notice and become aware of these things, in the quiet moments when I am catching chai on the balcony, or running in the park, or simply watering my plants for the day, the more it percolates in some way into my life, my actions, my habits, my beliefs.

I cant unsee the glaring evidence that balance fuels survival, harmony breeds joy, equity births prosperity. So, in my own little way, working with my hands and doing the work has been an attempt at bringing balance back into our lives. A practice in adopting a more benevolent attitude, a slower rhythm that runs in respectful pace alongside my world, not trying to always get ahead.

And it is also impossible to ignore the joy that has come from it. You’ll know by now how much being involved in gardening has been the mirror I held up to my own internal processes. The clarity in thought, the ability to hold the murky days, keeping my head up even when inside I am going under, finding space to hold the sadness and pain that has come from all of this, working with a focus on what I want to do and why the work is important to me — I believe it is a function of returning to who I am. All thanks to stripping down to the bare necessities, and surprisingly finding inexplicable satisfaction in doing mundane chores.

The tide is turning.

***

Post title lifted from old favourite song that has an apt sounding line, but in totality has absolutely nothing to do with this post.

One year ago: Gratitude fix
Two years ago: August

Chai time joy

I have mostly spent covid days in the slow, but definitive surrender of that smidgen of reassurance that I/we are in control.

Gradually, over the weeks and months, I’ve had a stringent unlearning of much that I took to be true, small things I thought I thought I had a handle on, daily reminders of some iota of certainty even when the world has its way of turning topsy turvy, as it has been long before covid.

Thoughts on the economy? No longer sure. My personal politics? WIP and constantly shifting. Relationships? Vastly uncertain. The environment and planet as a whole? RUIN.

In the stripping away of all the things I cling to for solidity, and in embracing the natural order of un-knowing, I have found certainty in chai. I’m not even joking slightly, when I say that. Probably an extension of general homebody-ness and domesticity, but this has become something of an essential daily habit, but loaded with meaning.

In the ritualism of that single cup of tea I make every single evening, in that little-over-one-teaspoon of sugar I allow myself everyday, in having perfected the exact ratio of milk to water, and in actually finally understanding the right timing and sequence of ingredients to be added for the result the way I like it, I have found meaning.

Don’t ask me of what hahaha. But it’s there, and my days feel incomplete without it. It’s not just the making and consuming said cup of tea but the entire production around it. In ensuring there’s milk on hand, brewing it just right, thinking in advance about the little tea time snack for the day, getting it all done at the time, and then — the best part — sitting in my chair by the window and savouring it slowly.

Four years ago: Just read

Gifts

I just want to remember this as the day I was having a truly flat, unproductive morning wandering about my home; when I noticed this. This exact red flower that showed in a powerful image in a dream-like state during a visualisation I did at therapy last week, was suddenly real, and within grasping reach. It bloomed out of seemingly nowhere, because the plant has been in hibernation for a while now, after profusely flowering through summer.

N called it the “wondrous ways of the self and the universe.”

I called it a gift.

PS: Also, can we just acknowledge that this is now an infinite scroll of pictures from my balcony garden? Okay? Okay.

One year ago: Naked
Two years ago: Talking about worries and problems, people

Green reflections

I have indulged in my plants a lot more lately than I have even last year, when this bug bit me. This was not a pandemic-induced habit. I have really given of my myself to my plants lately — losing track of time and spending endless amounts of it just absorbed, my hands dirty and trimming, pruning and fixing things, making of it an entire day’s activity and feeling utterly satisfied at the end.

In the plants I have seen natural cycles of birth, death, rebirth and hibernation with humbling proximity that has comforted and supported me.

As much as I have given, I have received in return.

Today, I took all my indoor plants out for their periodic couple of days in the sun. And I looked around the home and realised how sparse it all looks minus the green spots.

There is true life in plants, in how easily they lend that live to the spaces around them, wherever they may be placed. And I mean life more than the stuff that makes leaves sprout and shrivel.

As the author of this piece in the New Yorker quotes Sue Stuart Smith, the author of A Well Gardened Mind; I was interested in the unconscious aspects of gardening—the symbolism, and the level of metaphor.

There has been plenty of that. If you have read the blog recently, you’d know how much I have spoken about my plants and the reflections they offer of my life and process. The unconscious, the symbolic, the metaphors, and how much I have looked to them for meaning.

When we sow a seed, we plant a narrative of future possibility.

It is what I have gained the most. The spots of green are a bonus.

One year ago: Run
Four years ago: Friyay

Domestic

Kitchen things, home things, domestic things have consumed me a lot lately. I think back to a time in life where I loved it, but also felt like indulging it was somehow robbing me of time I could invest elsewhere. And I think about how that was the right stance for that time in my life. It’s how I stretched myself to the limits I could, exploring a career in freelance feature writing. I went at it like it was a full-time job and it was immensely satisfying. I can’t imagine that would have been possible if I were busy with changing sheets, keeping tabs on stocking up the fridge and cooking every meal.

But this is a different phase and time in my life. And it’s a different time in the world. Things have slowed down so much, within and around me, that I have the luxury to choose alternate ideas for productivity and ambition. At the moment my daily productivity only goes as far as doing two solid tasks in a day. Whether I take all day to do them, or finish them in a couple of hours, it’s all I find I am able to do. And I use the rest of what ever is left of the day to do as I please. Which in the last five months has become finding a steady rhythm in the tedium of keeping a home.

All the mundane things I curled my nose at in the before life, I have now found to be anchors. Like doing the dishes. Like taking down and washing curtains. Like dusting the fans. Like cleaning out the fridge. Like the endless loop of laundry — doing it, drying it, folding it, putting it away — lather, rinse, repeat.

The weightage between activities of work and activities of the rest of life now hang in equal balance. The repetitive nature of homely rituals, the beats of a domestic life, the monotony of that routine lends a backdrop of comfort and predictability to my life. Work just falls into it, in the gaps, around and in between the domestic stuff. There is an all new value and respect for this aspect of work. I understand so much more keenly why it is called unpaid labour, and probably how much more I ought to pay for it when I decide to re-hire domestic help again.

Prepping and planning for meals. Updating that constant grocery list in my kitchen. Tackling one forgotten corner of the home every week. Washing our face masks. Cleaning out the snack cupboard. All the cooking. Fluffing pillows and folding blankets every day. Bringing out fresh towels. Washing the dustbin every other day. Pruning the plants. Taking the indoor ones out for some sun every week. Sneaking in a special, indulgent meal every now and then. Making that daily 4 pm cup of chai (that I have absofuckinglutely perfected to my taste, thanks to the lockdown) and savouring it all alone in my chair in the living room. Watching the plants change and grow. Finding just bloomed flowers in the morning.

It’s the little things that stack up. And I see that in my changing relationship with domesticity, I now have built a home. A home that holds and supports me. Not just our literal home, but a sense of home and having somewhere to flop, collapse, be held, be supported. The routine and the rhythm of the tasks beat like a steady din of drumbeat that I have given-in to, lending shore to my need to just be, to unravel, to laze, to revel, to rest, to rejoice, to rediscover and to rejuvenate.

I could argue that in these strange times that I often struggle to make sense of, it is being at home, and in being steeped in domesticity that I’ve found an intensely personal quality to my every day life that was a bit diluted before.

Life feels lived-in this way.

Four years ago: Inside-outside

Life around here

Today, I had a full-on domestic day. I mean full-on, from the moment I woke up. Gloating about or feeling like the domesticity is special is so passé because, well it’s been too long now. We decided to do without domestic/household help and we have been at it on our own since April. We have found a rhythm, and we workaround energy ups and downs, lazy spurts and there is division of labour and a method to our madness. Mostly great things have come from this change, and huge realisations of what we actually need to survive, and everything else that is a luxury has made it much easier to cut back on the latter and lean in to the former.

Today’s spurt of full-day domesticity was thanks to a much-delayed pest control treatment. I first realised we needed it in April. But of course there was no pest control to speak of then, and somehow we forgot and pushed it, until it became unbearable. Probably several generations of them had spawned by then and the colonies were obviously overcrowded because the buggers had started venturing out looking like they’re in the midst of an existential crisis, in broad daylight.

Anyhow, so we had to empty out our entire kitchen the night before. The contents of which lay neatly strewn all over my dining table and chairs. The actual treatment involved deep-spraying the kitchen first, then a surface treatment, and spraying some parts of the rest of the home. It’s the worst because the creatures begin to crawl out and die slowly. There’s also chemical residue all over the house, most of all in the kitchen and I didn’t want to put anything back in order in a rush until the house had been ventilated and the stuff had had it’s time to blow off.

Also, VC was out all day in meetings, and I wasn’t going to do this all on my own. So I quarantined myself in my bedroom. And we managed with take out for a full day, eating meals in bed. It felt like the day we had just moved in when there were boxes all around the home, and only our bedroom was liveable.

So today, we had to reset and chores included sweeping up about 300 cockroach carcasses, literally scrubbing the kitchen down with a brush and soap and Dettol water, then wiping it down once again, resetting all my utensils and appliances, and throwing away a shit ton of junk in the process. And then doing the dishes, and getting to the rest of the home that also needed to be sanitised.

We were at it from 8-12. VC did his bit and went on to take some calls and get some work done, while I kept at it, taking the opportunity to spring clean and declutter some stuff that had piled up since our last such overhaul in May. It’s crazy how quickly junk piles up.

So yeah, cleaning and domesticity is really not special anymore. We’re both just found an auto pilot state of mind that helps get things done, around the other stuff we have going on in life, pitching in for each other when one of us is having a flat/busy day. I thank my stars that this has happened at a time when we’re both anyway at home, a lot less interested in being madly busy as we once used to be, and so we have the space and inclination to make this choice. I plan to keep at it until something changes and maybe other interesting things might have our fancy instead.

I even think about too much on a daily basis. Except when I realise that somehow even with being cleaned a lot less than when I had daily house help, the home is cleaner, more organised and feels more lived in. This added domesticity has been a safe haven for me, I’ve said before. And I have frequently turned to the rhythms of keeping a home, cooking our meals, gardening and sprucing things up around the house as a means to stay grounded and in touch.

The gift in all of this has been realising just how much of a homebody I naturally am. I really do thrive in keeping a home. And I mean all the allied parts of keeping a home, not just the part where the home is lovely and nice, but everything that goes into making it so. I have denied this part of myself for a very long time, even when I’ve had phases where I have dipped in and out of it many times over.

Today was that kind of day. Come down from the skies, land your feet on the ground, remember where you are kind of days. I have been floating off in an overly emotional space for several weeks now, processing many things, and generally having my mind and body a bit hijacked by it all. A full day of domesticity always gets the old gears moving back how they used to.

Somehow, the big reset moments in my mind, when I return from having gone full circle, moments that feel like inflection points of transformation, like washing out the interiors of my brain in anticipation of something new — these phases are always marked by a day or two of real-life cleaning around me. My nesting tendencies peak, I get very eager to throw out junk, strip down our lives and minimize the clutter, make our living spaces warm and comforting. It’s all very metaphoric for the inner process too, and I don’t ever take that coincidence for granted.

There have been some important and big shifts happening for me internally. But for the last couple of weeks, I was in some sort of limbo. Like I said yesterday, at a threshold of pain — having walked through the door but not yet fulling moving in, rather still tempted to bolt back out the door. But that is slowly changing. Slowly. And days like this are balm for that state of mind.

Earlier in the week I did a good load of garden sprucing up too. Watching how the old is making way for the new there too. Schefflera doesn’t sprout new leaves on a regular cycle like say, my syngonium or monstera. And I haven’t quite figured out the cycles on the schefflera as yet. But that morning, I realised somehow it’s time. The old is on its way out, the new is blooming and beaming out, making itself seen.

It’s hard not to see the parallels and feel very reaffirmed and assured by it all. Like seeing 11:11 again and again — something that never happens or happened to me.

Until this week. When it happened three times.

So yeah. Things are stirring.

***

Post title inspired shamelessly lifter from one of my favourite James Blake tracks, in collaboration with one of my favourite rappers — Chance.

Here, have a listen.

One year ago: Love actually
Two years ago: I want to thank you for giving me the best days of my life

More growth thoughts

It should come as no surprise that I have revelled in growing things, with quite the vengeance since the start of the year. A pre-existing interest peaked and kind of ballooned into not just an obsession but a necessity and a source of solace and grounding during the last five months.

It’s been kind of poetic growing all kinds of different plants. The process of tending to them and watching them respond, understanding what works for one plant and doesn’t for another and tweaking things a little here and there as I go has been fun, but also enriching.

Sure it’s given me something satisfying to dig my hands into during this dreary time, but it has also been enriching. Making room for error, watching natural lifecycles and destruction, and learning as much about the plants as myself somehow, along the way.

Something about allowing for age and change to unfurl in just its own time, noticing the delicacy in how life blooms forth as gracefully but with determination, and slowly, unabashedly as it fades out has moved me several times over.

I am touched every day by something or the other that I see in my little balcony garden(s) that have grown significantly thanks to Covid. (Oh the irony.)

What I see in my plants, many times I also see in myself. And observing life in this way has helped me make space for imperfection, taking time, and enjoying moments of bounty when they come. Knowing full well that no magic worth its salt will last forever. Is meant to be fleeting, yet devoured when it presents itself.

My garden has taught me that growth involves putting in the work and just patiently waiting and watching for the most part, having little to no idea how it is going to flourish and show up.

In my plants I’ve noticed beauty in erratic edges and non-uniform results. It has shown me how much growth is about making space for opportunities and outcomes of change and stretch in whatever way they may emerge.

Growth work is a dance between understanding and acting with intention, upon what is, and surrendering to what absolutely isn’t in your control. No two seasons are the same, predictability is for machines and growth takes its own sweet time.

And then there is the role of death. Without the act of dismantling, crumbling, decaying, pruning, peeling, culling away and letting go, without the presence of the old leaving, growth is not encouraged to continue. That is the cycle. The energy of this turning gyre. The way in life life itself endures.

One year ago: I can laugh
Two years ago: They paved paradise

Home is where the heart is

2020

This cosy little nook of ours has really filled out. Enveloping and dragging us into a comforting hug. I don’t think I’d have made it through lockdown and corona times in a home in which I didn’t feel like I could be myself.

And I don’t mean that lightly or superficially. This is the home I’ll always remember as the space that housed me through these important years. And in the corners and crannies of the home, I see transitions, changes and improvement that shadows and echoes the changes I, and we, have gone through as we lived here.

From living a bare bones, minimal this-much-will-do life, to growing into allowing ourselves indulgences, believing we are worth the spoils of a full, lush, lived-in home that gives expression to who we are as people, has been such a trip.

There is so much life in so many more ways now, in this home, than when we first moved. The plants, the colours, the walls, the refrigerator, the transformation of entire rooms.

It’s home, but is home really ever just a home of walls and windows and doors? I have lived in several homes now. This is my seventh, in fact. This one is special.

And I see why they say it’s where the heart is.

2017

Crazy trip seeing this picture from 2017, taken in week one of moving into this apartment. I posted it and wrote about setting up home (and other things) here.

Three years ago: What coming home feels like: finding new comfort in old places
Four years ago: Wayanad things

On grounding

When I’m faced with challenging circumstances that cause inner conflict, my tendency was once to be quickly lured back by an older self that preferred to shrink away from spaces that felt unwelcoming. To choose inauthenticity in being and in words to avoid the discomfort. To allow the pain to fester and turn into unexpressed anger. In the hope that this would keep the peace. It was always much easier to do this than to push through and emerge on the other side, not knowing what the consequences of owning my truth would be. Because there are consequences. Authenticity, and being true to myself is precious, it comes with a price.

Circumstances may change, but this essential dilemma — of whether to move forward (and pay that price) or give in to an older state or way of being (and return to the status quo) — seems eternal. This week, I practiced actively grounding myself, when faced with it.

I grounded myself as a way to remind myself of where I am now, how far I have journeyed and of what I am capable of. Not to wish the discomfort or the recurring pattern away. In fact it was a means to welcome it. Make space for it, allow it and fully see it. To realise that the confusion and conflict is as much a part of my reality as is the capacity to see it and hold my ground without letting it uproot me.

To realise that growth doesn’t mean challenging circumstances won’t come my way, but that when they come like the whirlwinds that they are, I can bend and be flexible, but not lose ground.

The two states — of feeling the tension of the challenge while knowing I can be steady — can coexist it seems. Not without causing internal chaos momentarily. But when I ground myself in thoughts of the now, I bring myself back from fears that are mostly old. I root myself in what I know to be true. And it helps me find strength in seeing and acknowledging what is, as it is.

I’m in constant awe of the wisdom basic, natural building blocks hold. Roots, plants, trees.

To root. To take ground. To recognise where we are. In the now. Is to find a state of balance even in shaky circumstances. Is to acknowledge everything as is, in full honesty. It is to allow a new possibility to emerge.

David Whyte has some beautiful words on taking ground as a means to feel at home in yourself and your body. He says it better than I ever will.

Ground is what lies beneath our feet. It is the place where we already stand; a state of recognition, the place or the circumstances to which we belong whether we wish to or not. It is what holds and supports us, but also what we do not want to be true; it is what challenges us, physically or psychologically, irrespective of our hoped for needs. It is the living, underlying foundation that tells us what we are, where we are, what season we are in and what, no matter what we wish in the abstract, is about to happen in our body; in the world or in the conversation between the two.

To come to ground is to find a home in circumstances and in the very physical body we inhabit in the midst of those circumstances and above all to face the truth, no matter how difficult that truth may be; to come to ground is to begin the courageous conversation, to step into difficulty and by taking that first step, begin the movement through all difficulties, to find the support and foundation that has been beneath our feet all along: a place to step onto, a place on which to stand and a place from which to step.

The realisation that making space for what is, just as it is, with nothing to be done but simply accept and witness, rather than trying to get over whatever it is, feels like breaking new ground.

And to do this in an embodies way, literally finding my roots, and feeling rooted in my body, seems to have made the difference in taking me across the uncertainty of having to make that choice between the old and the new.

One year ago: Reboot
Two years ago: There’s glitter on the floor after the party

On the cost of domesticity

Pulling out this post I wrote in mid-April, but never finished. It is so interesting for me to see that even between April and now, how much has changed in not just my thoughts around productivity, but the way my life is moving in an alternative way to make space for sloth, rest, repose and rejuvenation.

This is just a disclaimer to say the content still holds, but the feelings are not current.

***

One of the scripts in my family is high worth attached to high productivity, efficiency, being a woman who is a go-getter and always on top of everything. It’s a great motivator, but also a subtle killer in the long run, I’ve discovered. Productivity across the board — from applauding efficient women who run their homes and hold down jobs, hailing devoted mothers who put their families needs above their own as “good”, to admiring outward focused woman committed to “serving” others (even at great personal cost) who have the ability to just give give and give, and take on some more, even when their plates are full — is greatly admired, coveted and covertly sold as the benchmark to aspire for. These are traits that are held up as hallmarks of being good women worth emulating, worth noticing, worth embracing. So obviously, women committed to themselves aren’t looked upon very kindly.

The last few weeks have felt like an infinite loop of housework, cooking, cleaning, planning, and managing work in the pockets I can find, while also culling out some downtime right before bed. It’s made me think a lot about how first of all so much of this is assumed to be the woman’s department. Even while VC has taken over the dishes, helps by dusting while I clean, gets into the cooking, does laundry, and waters the plants etc, I find myself instinctively still reaching over and above and trying to either assist him, or offering to do his share too. He’s tired of telling me that his attempts to help me are futile if I help him back.

I stopped myself in my tracks the other — wondering why this is so hardcoded in me? And I know part of it this early and deep lesson in equating my worth with my productivity, makes it very hard, almost impossible, to gracefully and thankfully take help. And over time it has made living up to my own ridiculous standards hard enough, but also terribly run down every effort and willingness on VC’s part towards being an equal part of this home.

I only woke up to this harsh realisation sometime last year, that this is not only a sorry state of affairs, but a huge disrespect to him. So even as I have been reworking my beliefs around not equating my worth does to how useful, productive or desirable I am, it is extremely hard to stay on track.

In the constant cycle of domesticity that has consumed us these past few weeks, I see how much of a struggle it has been to cull away time for myself. Even if it is to just lie back and stare at the ceiling. There always seems to be something more urgent that needs my attention. I’ve not had as much time as I’d like to sit down and write my blog posts in peace, for example. Writing time is pushed further every day and sometimes I write out a rushed post just before bedtime. I’ve been reading and important book about money with S, convening over video calls to discuss, but after a good beginning we haven’t made any progress in the last 10 days. I usually spend a significant amount of time thinking about my Monday tarot posts, but since the lockdown they’ve been all but hurried posts banged out in the nick of time. There’s a book for my course that I need to finish, and I haven’t even gotten around to starting it. This is the stuff that creatively nourishes me. The stuff I’d happily be doing when I have outsourced the house work.

It got me to thinking about how my mother did it all. How much she put aside to tend to us kids, keep our homes and family afloat and happy. And my mother was extraaaaa. We’ve had a full childhood with a lot of hands-on family time, picnics and holidays and activities and time spent together. Very focused, dedicated, active, deliberate togetherness, that must have taken a lot of emotional and physical energy to keep at. My sister and I were challenging in our own ways, and I know we kept our parents, but more my mother, on our toes at various phases of our growing up years. I don’t actually remember a single phase where my mother wasn’t quick to respond though. To get on her problem solving, troubleshooting, go-getter hat on to fix whatever it is that needed fixing, or soothe us, feed us, cuddle us, and do whatever it took.

And it got me to thinking about what the colossal creative cost of that might have been. Especially for a professional vocalist like her.

I wondered about how much talent, creativity and potential we’ve quietly snuffed over generations by channeling energy towards chores, family and the like. For generations before that didn’t have the luxury and privilege of outsourcing as much of it as I do, it must have ben 100x worse. Sure, it made women be creative about their domesticity, and many have rocked playing that role to the T. But I think of my own mother who was clear she wanted to focus on her family, and put her career as a musician and vocalist aside till we were old enough to go off on our own. I wonder what the emotional cost of that has been. If she was frustrated from it back then, she never let it show. Or I was too young to know. And now, as an adult woman navigating the age by which she had two children to care for, I can no longer deny that cost.

But from a few weeks of having to fight for my time, sometimes feeling resentful that there seems to be so little of it these days, I’ve been asking myself, how many more would women be able to dig into themselves and the depths of their spirits and creativity, if they didn’t have homes and families to tend to? How many more successful artists would we have?

And of course, it all comes back to this oft-asked and long-unanswered question: can creative lives thrive and flourish around the central axis of families that need feeding and children that need caring and homes that need looking after? Sure, they can co-exist. I am a product of such an environment. But can they thrive? I can’t help but wonder how much more art and music and poetry and writing and cooking and whatever else we might have had access to, if women weren’t taught early not to hinge their worth and likability with domestic productivity. I cant hep but wonder how much easier it would be for girls and women thereon to then go find themselves, scratch all their passions and be their whole selves minus the angst of having waited a minimum 30 years to get to the realisation that there was something more to life that they’re missing out on.

I believe that one of the common traits successful women artists have is the ability to shake off criticism around caring for themselves. And maybe at some level it is giving up the urge to be liked in the way that society, their families, the world at large would like them to be. Maybe it is about knowing so deeply what they are made of and what is important, life-giving, and non-negotiable for them to survive, that they would not give it up for the world.

That notion of what’s likeable, it’s beyond old and tired now. I realised many days into cleaning up that the thrill of being efficient, having a schedule, having things so much cleaner than before, doing it all was so old and so boring. And when the day came when I was feeling depleted and quite drained from not having done a satisfying amount of anything nourishing for myself, I felt a smidgen of that cost I keep talking about. The price women pay. The cost of doing it all.

And I don’t know if it’s worth it. I realised that I was actually quite okay to have a slightly dusty home for two days in a row if it meant I can catch up on reading. It quickly became okay to eat Maggi for dinner, and let some veggies go to waste now and then to just not enter the kitchen for a day. I didn’t feel bad for VC for having to do the dishes on top of everything else he has to do, because er, it’s no different for me.

***

That was April. This is now, and too much has changed to even enumerate it. But reading this post in the drafts made me happy because I see how much has. We are now down to sweeping and dusting at best twice a week, mopping once a week. Maggi has become a staple like sugar and atta and rice in our shopping lists. Take out induces nearly zero guilt, compared to before. And I have enjoyed many, many, many days of lying on my back and staring at the ceiling. In fact, I was just telling a friend the other day that I think I spent much of June horizontal — and I don’t even mean that metaphorically.

I might complain about the banes of being locked in and everything that it has changed in my life a lot, but I cannot lie — it has been an extremely powerful time of change for me. And for us, as a family and a home. In claiming something very essential for myself I see what has been freed up, what has come alive, what has become visible.

I’ve been pursuing slowing down for years, but it took the world around me also slowing down, coming to a halt, to receive the much needed impetus to do the same. When I did, so much changed, so deeply and so quickly. So if I may for a moment fully own and acknowledge the immense privilege of it all: the last four months have been an extremely valuable time.

And maybe sometime soon, I will write about all the ways in which this domesticity has actually taught me to value the work itself, the invaluable contribution of people I have casually outsourced it to all these years, and why I’m trying to do without it for some time to come.

One year ago: All my worries seem so far away
Two years ago: My moves are slow but soon they’ll know