I shake off all that no longer serves me

I started to write this post on the 1st of this month, and wanted to add in a fitting song because I realised all of 2017 has passed without a single music track/link being posted on this blog. That is utterly unthinkable. But guess what, the silence and an inexplicable energy-saving mode of sorts has crept in so deep, I didn’t get down to finishing the post and I have now forgotten what song I wanted to add in.

Pardon this jagged, rushed job of a post. Its long winded, repetitive and very roundabout. I’m aware because I haven’t even bothered to edit or prune it. It is an attempt to get going and have it out. Something, is better than nothing, I tell myself. Letting go of my obsession for perfection and finishing all business to the T has been constant work in progress and this too is an attempt to express, and write even when the words aren’t coming out the way I’d ideally like them to.

*****

It’s December, and funnily that expected panic and omg-how-is-it-December-already feeling hasn’t hit. I don’t think it will this year. Possibly because I’ve spend most of the year in a state of churn, and haven’t really felt settled in the real sense of the term. There’s been a fair bit of travel and moving around always makes me feel like I don’t have my feet firmly on the ground. I vascilate between the comforting mundanities that bind my daily routine, and the little surprises it throws in terms of things to do, travel out of Bangalore, meeting new people and trying out new things.

The rumbling workings of moving from one phase to another is what 2017 has been about. Even as I think back and feel like I don’t have much to pen, I know this has been a big year of shifts, change on multiple fronts. It feels so full and hectic, even as I realise I don’t really have much to show for it, in tangible, tactical terms.

And so I have written this entire year off to WIP, a state of transition, with no expectations of having done big stuff, ticked things off the proverbial list and the like. It was much needed because it meant letting go of control, the very notion of it, and the contents and parts I tend to try and have a hold over in my own life.

This year more than ever, I let go of patterns, fixed ideas and considering the relocation back to Bangalore, I had no choice but to make space for the physical change it brought. The only way to make sense of it and move through it with least angst was to go with the flow. Truly go with it was what I was aiming for. It took a lot of conscious effort, but for the first time ever, I may have succeeded in some part. In doing so, I got a taste of what it is to surrender to the what-will-be-will-be philosophy that so far only sounded too good to be true. I got a better sense of what is important to me — personally, professionally and otherwise — and began to focus on it. I am coming to terms with constantly allowing space for change, not only within and around myself, but also in people I associate with. It has meant accepting changes in relationships, allowing myself to feel disappointed and shaking it off quickly rather than brooding over it, and most importantly it’s brought people I had turned my back on for good back into my life in a pleasant, refreshing way.

I’ve realised this year, more than ever before, that my feelings towards people and the longing for kinship of a certain kind has always been fraught with angst caused by my own tendency to remain fixed to a pre-meditated and cookie cutter idea of the nature of relationships I want in my life. This year, I accepted differences, tonalities and diversity in people and I know I am all the better for it. Differences matter less, disagreements bother me lesser, and my life feel full of people, even as I’ve trimmed some folks out.

All in all, If I spent the last two years anxiously in wait for change (not knowing I was actually laying down the path to move ahead), this year I stomped ahead and claimed that path. So there really isn’t much to take stock of. On paper, I have little to show for what happened and what was accomplished this year.

Yet, so much has happened. Most of it has been internal, and even though I pontificate and ruminate over it in cyclic fashion on this blog, I’ve found it hard to bring it into conversations with people around me. Even those who have been a part of and shared much of this journey with me. I’ve found myself conserving energy, feeling silent and sitting with the shifts I am experiences, craving more and more of it, and consciously moving towards a place of intensifying growth and becoming better with every passing day and week.

This was the year I shed a lot of my fear of change, examined more aversions that I’d like to admit I had, and recognised how much I was getting in my own way and how much of this has been keeping myself from getting ahead. But that process in itself has been the journey, and there’s no easy, short-cut to get around it. It takes painfully long, and my days are often dotted with tedious introspection and reflection.

The funny this is, it slows down time and yet this has been the fastest, most brisk year to have zipped by, yet. I know I say this every year, but 2017 has really made me feel it. The general theme has been wait-and-watch, rush nothing, look before you leap, but let go and move with the flow.

While I’m cursorily looking back on the year, its clear as the first rays of morning sunshine, that this has been a year of a great amount of shedding. The first step to a lot of that has been to truthfully look at everything in my life — people, habits, attitudes, work, likes, dislikes — and accept where it is and what purpose it serves. Many times it has meant coming to a painful conclusion that something/someone I love, or who makes my life look and feel a certain way, isn’t actually serving me any good anymore. Some times it has meant letting go of a stupid idea I believe defines me, when actually it defined me two or five or ten years ago, when I have actually moved on and hanging on to it is actually keeping me away from a fresh experience. There has also been the odd yet very humbling instance of seeing my own harsh and judgemental outlook on so much around me, and trying every single day to consciously be gentler with myself and with people around me, with the words that pass through my brain and the lot that carelessly slip out, has opened up something for me.

It is constant work. At being present. At being conscious. At being mindful and watchful. At being gentle every chance that I can. At allowing space for change all the time. At moving closer to a deeper, more granular level of honesty. At choosing kindness. And all the while reminding myself that nothing, not even all of this, is forever or permanently written in stone. What works today, may not have a few years ago. And may not serve me well in the years to come. Understanding this, is what has required the work, the mindfulness and the repeated need to quieten down and tune inwards.

I shake off all that no longer serves me. Again. And again. And again.

Same time, last year: Day 348: The last of the books for 2016

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On being present 

I’ve gone from being a complete sceptic to a firm believer in creating the change you want to see in your life, by affirming and living it every single day. It sounds very woowoo, I’m aware. But here’s the thing: it is.

I’ve learned that for the most part of my life, especially in times of flux and indecision, I’ve let fear take over so much and take me so far away from the goal, that I am my biggest obstacle. Nothing else gets in the way more than me and my very own thinking.

It’s taken a lot of effort, unlearning, softening, and believing to remind myself that it’s so important to keep that focus. On the goal. On where I want to be. To believe in it so damn hard that it’s like Im already there. Even when it feels like the timing is off or the situation isnt perfectly conducive or the ducks aren’t in a row.

This was once the only way I used to live. In freer, less fearful times. Call it naiveté or delusional optimism, but I was that eternal optimist. I knew no other way of living other than to dive in headlong, without waiting for perfection and correctness. It’s what helped make the most of the wildly messy spurts as much as enjoying the ride when the going is good.

And maybe I’m just going back to the way I used to be.

Same time, last year: Day 292: Love loss and what we ate

A good life is a life of goodness

I’ve been talking in clear and indirect ways about wanting to get away. In June I declared to VC that the next thing I’d like to do for myself is to take a solo trip. The yearning has been bubbling within for a while now. But between my phase of not working, and VC getting his start-up off the ground, I have felt like this is not the best time for me to up and go.

So, I’ve dreamed about (and considered) holidays that I can’t take at the moment. I’ve worried about why I’m feeling the need to go away when I’ve done nothing to deserve the break. A break from what exactly? My busy schedule chockfull of introspection, navel gazing and self development? I’ve pondered about changing streams, looking at new avenues of work and stumbled at the very beginning, because I don’t know where to make a start. I’ve longed for openness, greener spaces and fresh air, every time I have wanted to get out of my home, even when I’m headed out for a coffee. I’ve articulated how much I long for a life that is mobile, agile, nomadic.

And suddenly, I’m sitting at the brink of two back-to-back opportunities for exactly all of the above. Opportunities that landed in my lap out of the blue, and that took minimal effort to bring to fruition. Opportunities that bring together exactly all the things that I’ve been dreaming about. To get away, be in green, wide open spaces, travel, do some new work, get some time by myself, take that solo holiday.

Opportunities that could be the start of something new.

***

Did you read this fabulous piece in the NYT? It hit so close home, I read it four times over the course of yesterday, and every time I had a different takeaway.

For far too long we’ve been peddled the incredibly restrictive definition of what success and achievement is. Especially in the context of the average middle-class Indian who is a product of the regular education system, the weight of making a living and/or finding a higher purpose in life is heavier than it needs to be. I have many thoughts about this, especially given how I have been a peddler of the there-has-to-be-more-to-your-life spiel at one time. Enough time, experience and age has shown me that this isn’t necessarily true, and not a tenet for everyone to uniformly aspire for. But I’ll save that for another day.

For now, read the piece. If you are a person, woman especially, stumbling through your days constantly looking for ways to downsize everything in the pursuit of simple things, it will definitely speak to you. I’ve written too many things about ambition, success and how I often feel like I am happy with less — whether it is less hard work, less people, silence, less consumption, minimalism, and even less money if it is the logical outcome of the above — too many times before. And this piece brought it all together, while also beautifully pitting it against a current generation of social media bullshitters who seem to be creating a new aspect of that same age-old theory that of aspiring for more — more money, more clothes, more travel, more work — automatically means more successful, thriving and full life.

Having idealistic aspirations is, of course, part of being young. But thanks to social media, purpose and meaning have become conflated with glamour: Extraordinary lives look like the norm on the internet. Yet the idea that a meaningful life must be or appear remarkable is not only elitist but also misguided.

I almost feel like some of the curated social media lives are a front that we need in order to justify so much of the evidence that we are all just pursuing the very simple, basic joys in life. The ones we all want and deserve. Simple joys that we’re trying so hard to give higher meaning to, because it might mean we’re not aspiring for a higher purpose. How on earth could we settle for less?!

Because how can our lives be just a collection of completely vain selfies one after another, or an selection of exorbitantly priced dress, a day of make up for no reason at all, a well-cooked meal, an utterly messy home, a badly behaved tantrummy child, a meal of maggi and grilled cheese, unless we somehow tie it in with a spiel that talks of something higher. Like, say, a superficial feminist message. A lecture on living an organic life. A whole lot of excessive consumption pretending to be a lifetime’s dedication to sustainability.

I ‘ve often looked at posts of the kind this piece describes and winced at the extreme elitism that they exude. Sometimes my mind boggles at the complete lack of awareness of their privilege too. 

Maybe part of growing up and creating this pause, stepping back and re-evaluating things is also about realising that a lot of my own idealistic aspirations from a younger time no longer hold true or serve a purpose. It is sobering and humbling to be able to recognise that and rework them. 

I’ve come to believe this inescapable need to be extraordinary at everything — whether it’s in your job, being a homemaker, a mother, a keeper of pets, or any bloody thing at all — is an outcome of growing up on a steady diet of the message of achievement and purpose being shoved down our throats. So much so that we’re now uncomfortable with the simplest things that are actually enough. And so we cannot admit it to ourselves, unless we package it in a shimmery wrapping of a “higher purpose”.

Heck even our selfies are now statements of a higher purpose.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a rant against vanity or self-indulgence or even presenting every little detail of your life on social media. I love it when people can unselfconsciously post pictures of themselves and their lives, and I really admire an unbridled dose of that kind of vanity. I just wish more people would be 100% true to it, and admit it.

I say admire, because even given my very high frequency of posting pictures on Instagram, there are have been far too many times when I’ve stopped myself from posting some specific things. Part of it is because I always question if what I am about to post is something I really want to share. But it is also because I realise I don’t possess that perfect balance of vanity and more importantly, true self-assurance, to present a completely authentic side of myself. A side that is at times vulnerable and feels inadequate.

It’s work in progress. And no, the goal isn’t likely to be being able to post an unselfconscious selfie, but rather, to decrease how much I subject myself to the lies, instead surround myself with authenticity.

I’ve unfollowed a crapton of handles that are increasingly feel like forced, hyper-curated display that uphold wholly unrealistic standards of purpose and achievement under the garb of glamour. It wasn’t because I wasn’t able to see or digest it anymore, but because I am beginning to see right through it. And I feel terrible about the kind of unrealistic pressure it unconsciously contributes to audiences unable to see through it.

***

To come back to aforementioned dream opportunities that I am on the verge of embarking on: It’s taken a lot of unlearning, and rewiring to recognise that I am already privileged. And that I have enough. I am taken care of. I am blessed enough to probably never be in a state of despair where money will be hard to come by. That I do not have to work hard or be famous or necessarily find a higher purpose to make my life more meaningful. That it’s okay to want less, it’s okay to be looked after, it’s wonderful to revel and find joy in small simple things without attaching the pressure of finding a deeper and higher purpose to everything I do. That I am not letting myself down by changing what I want from life. That surrendering and accepting this truth does not make me small, lazy or useless.

That it is completely possible to live a meaningful life even without any of that. That the pursuit of goodness is enough.

You don’t have to change the world or find your one true purpose to lead a meaningful life. A good life is a life of goodness — and that’s something anyone can aspire to, no matter their dreams or circumstances.

How liberating it was to read the last line of the article.

For far too long I have bought the largely inaccurate theory that as a modern woman I can and must have it all. To aspire for anything less would be a let down.

I have only recently learned to tune myself to the abundance I already have, despite wanting, and doing, lesser to chase after is. It exists in intangible places and forms that I cannot always touch or describe. And it bubbles over as gratitude.

My life is and always has been full of this kind of abundance. I have failed to see it because I’ve constantly been looking for the very staid, predictable and downright cliched markers of achievement, success, purpose, call it what you will. Turns out most times it isn’t in the form of money in the bank, or a dream to change the world, or a life of overachieving.

Some times it is in the form of magical opportunities that crystallise almost as an answer to the meandering, disconnected thoughts I’ve had over a period of time.

I am getting closer to being completely okay with (and so extremely thankful for) that.

Same time, last year: Day 281: A picture

Just do the next right thing, one thing at a time. That’ll take you all the way home.

I’ve been in this floaty in-between space, I call my extended time of transition, for so long now. First I was transitioning from Goa to Bangalore, then from my parent’s home to my own. At some point I realised this transition wasn’t just physical. In some ways I was transitioning from the 2016-me to the now-me (for a lack of words to explain this). And somehow, the process doesn’t feel complete. A trail remains, and I’m gliding along slowly.

Some part of me knows this is WIP, and perhaps not a start-stop kind of event that will ever end. This is a transformation of sorts, a shedding of what was and stepping into what could be. And I say could be because I’m not sure as yet where I’m going. I am sure of the lack of surety, because I see the signs that tell me not to rush, to wait and to allow things to settle in their own time. Because the process, and what’s happening now, is crucial.

I need to sit with the quiet. I know that much.

I have been in a funk with work. For many reasons, and that is the stuff of another post, should I choose to ever discuss it. C put is so perfectly yesterday when I was whining about this to her.

“I can’t stop thinking about writing. And yet I can’t seem to get myself to write. For work.”

So it’s what I’ve done. I’m only quietly pursuing a few opportunities that landed in my lap, and not aggressively going after anything. I have enough, and yet it feels like a lot. What I am doing, I am really struggling to keep up with.

On the home front, I’m semi-interested in most things. I feel like I could do with a project and there are so many up for the taking, but I don’t seem to want to actually push myself into investing time and effort into any of them. I’ve been doing the bare minimum to get by. The house is not always spic and span, the laundry tends to get ignored for longer than is ideal. Our meals are a far cry from what they used to be — sticking to basic stuff now that my diet has given me permission to scrap all the fluff.

Socially too, I’m not over-eager, neither am I cutting myself off or anything. I’m doing what feels easy and doable. Much like work, there’s a lot I think I want to do, but I realise maybe it’s just the idea of doing those things that excites me, and not so much actually going out and doing them.

I’ve considered travel several times these past few weeks. It just seems fitting no? To go away, be with myself while this shit works itself out. Especially given how I’ve unlocked new reserves of patience I didn’t know I had. But again, same issue — half of me is willing and the other half doesn’t want to budge. I just want to remain and watch as things happen.

I’ve discussed a hypothetical Europe plan with J and S three times this year. Finally semi committed to dash off to Singapore. And discussed numerous desirable weekend getaways with S and R. I stalked Goa airfares for about eight weeks before actually booking ourselves on the trip last month.

So yeah, maybe you get the drift? Have you ever felt like this? In limbo, on all fronts? Ennui-like and just happy to be afloat?

***

And then when I returned from Goa, it occurred to me that virtually, social-media-specifically too, I seem to be in the same headspace. Nothing compels me. Work was the only reason I would frequently visit facebook, and now with that fading, I don’t check in nearly as often. I am not feeling the burning need to respond to every notification or do anything else while I do check in. I’m only frequently posting on Instagram, because I still love picture-making and rambling on. But there too, my follow list has been pruned and transformed so much. I’m surrounded by art more than anything else. My interest in watching people and their lives has nearly died. Much like it did for food, clothes, cakes. But the icing on the cake was finding myself indifferent to whatsapp too.

Could it be that the quiet is creeping deeper than I thought it could?

Right now, it feels like there are several moving parts that are making small, almost non-existent movements to come together. I feel the movement ever so slightly. It is only some times overwhelming, but mostly tantalising. And yet I am only still waiting. Watching. Patiently waiting, quietly. To see where it is all taking me.

It is really beginning to feel like this is going to be a year I should write off to WIP, transformation and about enjoying the process while I get to where I am headed.

Just do the next right thing, one thing at a time. That’ll take you all the way home.

As for the title, it’s another quote from my favourite Glennon Doyle Melton. I read this somewhere a while ago (and I really wish I knew where it was) because it came back with resounding alacrity on one of our evening walks in Goa last week, as I watched this amazing sunset, wondering about exactly this. This limbo, and what I need to do next.

Time and time again these past few weeks wait and watch keeps coming back to me. It is the next right thing to do.

***

Speaking of limbo, I chatted with S last night after what felt like absolute aeons. I don’t think we’d actually properly caught up, giving updates on all that is happening in our lives, since we met in Bangkok last year. That is a long, long time for us. Listening to him tell me about his very own kind of comfortable limbo, in a world so different and remote from mine, I still felt an affinity. I could relate. In as many ways as our worlds and experiences are poles apart, that feeling of being in a comfortable limbo, in waiting, is so, so familiar. We spoke for an entire hour before I realised we were all caught up.

Literally all of this year we have made plans to catch up, promising to call each other as soon as a window frees up. The weekend, after work, when I’m back from my trip, when I’m feeling better — and somehow the right time just never came up.

I don’t know about him, but for me it was a lot of avoidance. I didn’t want to have to give updates about things I wasn’t fully sure of myself. Maybe I was worried I’d be judged? Maybe I was too shy to admit I was downsizing my amazing Goa life to a seemingly-less than ideal one in Bangalore? Maybe I just didn’t want to have to explain everything that had happened in the run up to this transition because it felt like just too much to have to talk about on the phone? I’m not sure. Maybe it was all of it.

But it felt like I needed to get out of my hole and call him last night, as it has for a few weeks now. The wonderful thing is that once I did call, it was just so easy. Conversation flowed, updates happened, all the things I thought I didn’t have the words for, suddenly articulated themselves. It helps when you have an eager, earnest person on the other side, genuinely concerned and interested in knowing what you have been up to.

It didn’t feel like an effort at all. It didn’t even feel like we were catching up, merely talking.

And then there was the kindred spark — the mention of that limbo. The only too familiar feeling of being comfortable while I wait and watch. And boom, i changed the conversation for me.

I’m not sure why I didn’t do this sooner, really. With S, I have a really special bond that has time and time again made it spectacularly easy to pick up where we left off, with barely any effort. There is never any awkwardness or the need to fill gaps and silences. It’s not something I have with too many people, and I realised last night how much I really, really cherish it.

As I drifted off to sleep, it dawned on me that actually, I have had this with a lot of people off late. With N, who I chatted with at length last week — catching her up on the amazing, life-changing experiences I had in Goa that I absolutely knew she would relate to. With P, who I had sworn I would never have anything to do with again, but with whom, time and time again, I have relevant, insightful and meaningful conversations that matter. With D, who came into my life most unexpectedly, but with whom conversation is rarely just that, and almost always impacts me in deeper ways.

I went to sleep with my heart brimming over. I have said this so often off late — that I don’t have much to show for on paper, when I think of what I’ve done/achieved this year. Yet, my life, even in it’s utter slowness, with the pregnant pauses and tantalisingly slow trajectory, feels so goddamn full.

***

And so I continue to wait, basking in the overwhelming gratitude for where I am, the people I am surrounded by, the connections I have and those that come back to me even when I’m not making the effort, and for everything moving along until it finds it’s place.

I wait because it just feels like the next right thing to do.

Same time, last year: Day 279: Sticky trash

On letting go of what is meant-to-be, and enjoying what-is

This was my view on a rather magical, blissed out Saturday, this past weekend.

The sky was on fire, putting on quite a show just for us, on a completely shack-free Morjim beach. Fishermen bustled around and we walked up to the sea not sure what to expect. The tide was drawn far back, giving us what felt like miles to go before we could kiss a wave or two.

I stayed on shore, though. Watching the magic as it unfolded above and all around us. Glorious golden magic on one side, and a cool, icy blue on the other.

It was a weekend quite like nothing I’ve had in the last six months in Bangalore. It was the kind of weekend I had a lot of when I lived in Goa. When in all of ten minutes, a short drive or a longish walk, I’d plonk myself in one of my three favourite beach spots near home. Either sipping a beer or a G&T, book in hand, or simply staring into space.

It was a weekend quite like nothing I’ve had in Bangalore. And immediately it brought back the yearning for that simple life I’ve temporarily swapped for my current one. But, I was too consumed in enjoying the present, to wallow in the what could have been. What struck me the most was how it was such an easy, comforting, comfortable time. A bit rushed, but no complains, because it meant that we managed to squeeze in some pool time, a morning swim at sea, lots of great conversation, considerable bellyful laughter, and two outstanding meals of two of our most favourite cuisines. My belly was full of course. But my heart, even more so.

And so, with new memories, we returned to Bangalore early this week, and I said to VC that as much as I have surrendered and made my peace with the purpose and my time in Bangalore, the short trip back to Goa has rekindled that longing. Making the contrasts, the pros and cons of both sides so very apparent.

“I don’t get you. How can you change your mind so soon?!” he said, a little exasperatedly.

I haven’t changed my mind.

I am still very much at peace here in Bangalore. In the now. What I was probably missing was a taste of all that I had drawn the curtain on when I left, and the week gone by gave me just that.

I realise I can choose to feel positively about both places. Both states of mind. Both my homes. I don’t have to choose one at the expense of another. I can have both. I can long for both. I can appreciate and loathe them both, equally.

In yet another instance of letting go of the old and being more open and accepting of the new, I realised that the idea the way things are meant to be is often restrictive and just so limiting. I rewired this in my brain this past weekend, making room for accepting what is, and how it is rather than being hung up on what is otherwise just a utopian and frankly sometimes just unachievable notion of what is meant to be.

Life never happens in a linear fashion. It comes us at in waves. Gentle lapping ripples sometimes, that give us the luxury and privilege to ease ourselves into it. Sometimes, it is in painful shocking shards ripping right through us. In both situations, I’d like to learn to let go of the controls. And take things the way they are, opening myself up to what is, and how it is more often.

So I’m back home in Bangalore. My other base. Oddly liberated from the preconceived notion that I have to choose one home. Freer still from the idea that it is how it is meant to be or vaguer still, that life is meant to be everywhere else but where I am now. Richer from a weekend of sea salt, sunshine and solidarity. And best of all, rejuvenated after having relived Goa as a visitor, brimming with optimism with a new goal to work towards. One of moving closer to a life that allows me to split my time between both places. Never having to choose.

Same time, last year: Day 272: I am eager

Grow

I’ve been meaning to write about how I’m feeling, and what a positive difference being in a new place, surrounded by all the right elements I most needed, has done for me. It has sparked a lot of freshness,  a renewed way of looking at everything.

But.

I can’t find the right words.

I have felt like there aren’t enough words to stack the overwhelming goodness I’ve been gloating in, into rows of squiggly letters and words. It feels too limiting.

So I haven’t really even tried.

I must also admit there are times where I feel I don’t need the words.

I ask myself if I really want to dig deeper? Why do I feel the need to get the better of this feeling? Why this incessant urge to explain or decipher it?

I haven’t found a convincing answer as yet.

So I stop looking for words.

I did say before that this is quite easily the best I have felt in all my life. And I wasn’t exaggerating.

I’m content. Existing, absorbing this feeling, marinading in the goodness of it all. Or at least I was, until something happened last month that gave me the sign I needed.

And suddenly, I had the words. So I wrote about it.

***

One morning last month, I woke up troubled. I faced a situation that caught me unawares. And yet, it had that stale stench of familiarity that creeps in slowly: something tells me I’ve been through this before.

It made me go back to a similar episode from January this year. I dug through my chats and pulled out a series of voice notes I sent to S, my voice broken, the words coming out in between stifled tears. I almost couldn’t believe that was me and the words I spoke had been what I had felt. It was true, I had been through it before. Present situation was no different from the one that triggered the breakdown in January.

It was identical. But the only difference had been my reaction. Or rather the alarming lack of it.

Suddenly I realised that something had changed. I had let it go, almost as quickly and unexpectedly as the situation had occurred. After months and months of trying to let go, here was an instance of having actually done it. Turning those mere words into deeply internalised thought into action.

Almost serendipitously, I stumbled on an image with words that perfectly describe what I had been feeling all morning.

If you are willing to look at another person’s behaviour toward you as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time, cease to react at all.

***

It got me thinking some more about these past few months. Not much has happened, on paper. I don’t have a lot to show for what I have been up to. And yet the shortest span of time, punctuated by a whole lot of silence and stillness that I only take a break from to either go to the gym, or meet happy people, has catapulted me into a different headspace, a different version of myself. I haven’t experienced this kind of internal transformation ever before.

Through all this, if there’s one thing I’m proud of having allowed myself to do, it is opening myself up to face the fear of letting so much go.

Everything from people. Expectations. Reactions. Situations. Interactions. Labels. Earlier versions of myself. Older versions of relationships. I’ve let so much go. And when it felt like I had nothing more to lose, I sat back and looked at everything that had remained. It was telling to see that not only was I left with people who matter, but I had made space for new people, and many lost connections from the past that surfaced almost magically. I found forgotten aspects of myself emerging from the dark corners I’d hidden them into. And I discovered new parts of my persona that I didn’t know I had.

keep letting go
PC: Buddha Doodles

To be light, to go with the flow, to be at peace with the way I feel, to be in happy harmony with my thoughts and feelings in sync most of the time — this has been a large part of the reason I chose to begin therapy last year. I did it at a time when, amongst other things, I was stuck in a loop of always finding myself at the receiving end of shitty behaviour. Whether from clients, friends, acquaintances, relatives. I didn’t know why they sometimes behaved the way they did, or why their actions had the kind of unravelling effect they had on me.

Therapy unlocked something. And there has been no looking back since.

Self awareness is a bit like an abyss. Once you’re on the path to discovering nuances about yourself, the way you feel and how you’re reacting to things around you, there’s no turning around. Every time you feel you’ve hit a milestone, the deceptive end point moves further away. The deeper you go, the more you figure out. The more you learn, the lighter you feel. The higher you go, the more there is left to discover.

When I began therapy, I was sick of being caught up in a web of issues, and the feelings that resulted from them. I longed to be able to look at them, objectively, and figure a way to move through them, rather than being stuck in them.

And so, to be able to react with an almost dispassionate calm, having noticed a recurring pattern, stepped back, taken stock and moved through it, was happy-making.

If the road to self discovery is speckled with potholes in the form of shitty people, shitty situations, shitty luck, testing your patience from time to time, that grim August morning, I believe I finally hit a milestone.

Same time, last year: Day 259: Morning moods

Brain noodles

It dawned on me this week that growing up doesn’t have to happen at the expense of the child inside of me. That a major part of the self development piece involves acknowledging that child/younger self without feeling guilty, ashamed and afraid to admit to the person I once was or the things I have said, believed and done in the past. Owning up to some of these past versions of myself has been difficult. And yet it has been strangely liberating.

***

Four weeks into the six-week shred I’m on, I did four full nose-to-the-ground push ups. The thrill of watching progress and improvement as it unfolds right in front of your own eyes is unparalleled. When I began, I was hopeful and confident because of the changes I’ve already experienced with my body. But nothing prepared me for this kind of drastic, visible transformation, possibly the fastest and most impactful I have ever achieved on my own.

This time around there is the added discovery that I can be self-motivated beyond what I’ve assumed to be my natural or innate capacity to push myself through the grind. I didn’t think I could ever go off white rice. And yet, here I am four weeks in, not missing it, and potentially tossing up the idea of giving it up for good.

***

It was Teacher’s Day yesterday and I was asked to make a list of ten mentors/teachers/people who have impacted my life positively. It was strange how not a single actual teacher from my years in school and college came to mind. My list included abstract things like *life* and *marriage* and at the very end, just when I was finishing it off, I thought it D and A who have taught me so much about how to look at life by looking within. And then. Thought of B and R who have permanently altered the way I look and feel about my body. These folks didn’t come into my life as teachers. But they’ve hugely impacted the way I have understood and explored the strengths my mind and body are capable of. I am eternally grateful for the experience – especially of the last 3-4 years. My life wouldn’t be the same without it.

Same time, last year: Day 250: Finding my people

I need to sit with the quiet. I know that much.

I’ve been having a lot many thoughts about examining what work means to me and redefining it for myself. I know, nothing new. You’ve heard me ramble on about it here and here. Oh, and here too. And I’m pretty sure there’s a few more related posts that I’m just feeling too lazy to fish out now. Yes, so redefining what work means to me — not the stuff of it, and what comprises work, but the word itself and the implication and ramification I allow it to have in my personal space.

In creating this new meaning I’m trying (and often stumbling in the process) to unlearn and relearn, shed and rediscover sides of myself I have not acknowledged before. It has meant making space for days that I would once deem useless. It has meant wondering about how what was once useless is the very precious space that is nurturing a new idea. A new thought. A new version of me.

It has meant accepting that the useless days have a place too. That they add up in the long run and stack up like milestones in this potholed path I’m on.

It has meant accepting the little details like how rested I actually feel after a power nap that would once leave me feeling just guilty, not rested. It has meant allowing myself to be looked after by people who want to and can  do it, rather than fretting or feeling like it means I am somehow in capable of looking after myself. Or that it makes me somehow a lesser or smaller human being. It has meant learning to accept help, with as much grace as I am willing to lend it — and this has not been easy. It has meant identifying little bits of my ego that are actually working against me and crushing them to tiny little bits.

It has meant feeling love for things and people I was convinced I never could. It has meant letting go of a rigid, absolute idea of myself and slowly embracing the fact that it is no longer what I am. That I am constantly evolving and it is futile to stubbornly hold on to an old sense of self only because it makes me feel vaguely powerful and in control. It has meant pushing through the doubt and fear that comes oh so often, when I’m feeling vulnerable. It has meant allowing myself to be wholly vulnerable. And waiting and watching with a little patience, even when one part of me wants to rush to find a quick fix.

For the most part though, it has meant welcoming the fleeting, quiet moments that drop in between endless days of chaotic cacophonic thought, when they come bearing the invigorating taste of clarity, and enjoying them like shots of coffee gulped down with urgency.

Last evening, chuckling to myself at the bittersweet angst+joy of yet another one of those once-useless-but-hopefuly-leading-me-somewhere-days and a line from Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior suddenly came back to me. And it is what I used to title this post.

PS: Are you completely done seeing pictures of filter coffee and assorted beverages yet?

Same time, last year: Day 183: The rain, the rain

Because wanting to leave is enough

A little over seven years after I wrote this very telegraphic post, I’m back in the exact same spot. I came to Bangalore early this month in search of a break, new beginnings, to get a feel of all things city-life again, and to house hunt. I’m aware of how ridiculous this sounds considering I am from Bangalore, but the truth is seven+ years away feels like an entire lifetime. And we’ve both completely forgotten what living here used to be like.

Very soon, I’ll be in this phase. The last time, I was leaving the security of home to fly off into the unknown, with mixed emotions. It was a happy-sad farewell. I was sad to go, but bracing myself with a hint of excitement about Goa and newfound freedom. This time around, I want so desperately to move, and after such a roundabout hunt, I’m coming back home. Yes, Bangalore is nothing like it used to be, but there’s nothing better than returning to familiar ground, home turf, right back into the safe space that is being around parents.

It’s strange how one tends to always end up right where one belongs. Even if it takes a long time getting there, and sometimes it’s the last place you imagine and believe you want to be.

That we wanted to move, was fact. It has been in the works for about two (painfully long) years now. What took this long was closing in on a destination. And that proved to be the hardest part, rife with unplanned twists and turns, and multiple choices, difficult conversations that weighed out the pros and cons a hundred times over, which made the decision-making process a bigger test than we ever imagined it would be.

I’m facing the “why are you moving?” and “why Bangalore?!!” question at least once a day and I find myself strangely at peace about it. Perhaps it’s because I’m not really feeling all that heavy-heart-y about leaving Goa. Yes, there’s a lot I’ll miss terribly about Goa, but for far too long now I have felt that I need to shake things up and move on. So I’m feeling more positive and ready about the present and what lies ahead, than wistful about the past. It has little to do with which destination makes a better home, and everything to do with where we are in life at this present moment, and what we want from it.

Also, we now have a home in Goa and I envisage some back-and-forth-ing is in the works. Every time the big city gets hectic, it’s nice to know we’ll have a space to camp out at in Goa. So it really doesn’t feel like a sad close to this amazing time, rather a much, much needed segue into a brave, new world.

And so that brings me to Bangalore, where finally, we have found a new home. I say new, because it feels like a new phase, but it’s an old home in an area I grew up in. Talk about full circle, eh? D pointed out to me this morning, how our bodies talk to us. It’s a connection I’d made, but hadn’t articulated quite the way she did. It’s very telling of the slow and steady, step by step movement towards acceptance of why I must go, how and when that eventually gave me a push. Closure, peaceful acceptance, the serenity of everything happening for a reason only really fell into place when I answered the why now? question with honesty. When I accepted the most fundamental reason that needed no further explanations or justification. To borrow the words of the inimitable Cheryl Strayed:

Go, because you want to. Because wanting to leave is enough.

Getting to this point of clarity has been a humbling exercise in learning to let go and trust the process. It took everything out of us, but without it there was no decision to be made. Once we got there, though, there was no stopping or turning back. Before we knew it, various elements had snowballed right before our eyes, pushing us into relocation mode faster than we could fully register what was happening.

I’ve always believed I don’t do well with change, but for the first time in a long time, I’m hungering for some.

For now, it’s goodbye Goa. And in true VC-style, there had to be a goodbye video. Featuring me and my very itchy feet that have been raring to go.

 

As ​7.5 brilliant years in Goa come to a close, I’m eager, thrilled and so at peace with being at the brink of change and beginning a new trip. Until next time, stay amazing, Goa. You’ve been everything.

Same time, last year: Day 118: This day, that year

Serendipity

I’m a hopeless believer of serendipity. I find myself irresistibly drawn to making connections when seemingly unconnected events line up in a row to articulately spell a message, or provide direction, or sometimes simply to reiterate what is already in my mind, even when I’m being too daft to see it.

Last night, it came in the form of an essay “on (and against) ambition”, that D shared with me. It was the last thing in a day of continuously running into affirmations about a decision that looms large, and it was just the thing I needed to read to reaffirm what I already know but am often too afraid to admit. And to commit to wholeheartedly. So while I swing along with it as the courage comes and goes in waves, this essay was yet another pause, followed by a swift blow to nail, right on its head.

I’ve written about ambition before, and my tussle with accepting what it means to me versus what it means to the world at large. A world that’s constantly sending me messages of what it means to be ambitious, productive, useful, good. To fight the labels, the boxes, the messages and to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were, to find that which makes most sense to me and cling to it while all about me the world continues to make something else entirely of me, has been a constant work in progress.

The fight has always been mostly internal. And it has been a fight we all have seen ourselves go through in some aspect of our lives or the other. It is a fight to stick by a choice, no matter how atypical it may seem on the outside, because it is what makes most sense to us on the inside. So if you find yourself struggling to fully embrace alternative choices even when it’s what is best for you, if you tire of constantly going against the grain, if you’re wondering if women have it harder (we do) this is a great essay, and maybe it will be a much required blow to the gut for you, like it was for me.

Read?

The Snarling Girl, by Elisa Albert. Notes on—and against—ambition.

A few things that stuck out and sealed the deal for me.

Ambition: an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment. Note: we are not speaking here about trying to pay our bills, have a decent place to live, buy decent food, access decent health care, get a decent education. For the purposes of this particular discussion, those fundamentals are assumed. And there’s nothing in there about spiritual betterment, social service, love, or happiness. The entire concept can therefore be seen as anti-feminist. An ideal matriarchy would concern itself exclusively with the quality of our days. Whither the collective desire to make life better for everyone? Ambition is inherently egotistical; it is by definition about being in service of the self. Which has never, not once in the history of humanity (can you tell I’ve not bothered to read Ayn Rand?) made anyone anywhere “happy.”

(I have tried, and failed to get through Ayn Rand a couple of times before. Recently I made the discovery that two of my closest friends have had the same experience, for the same reasons.)

When I was little I wanted to be the president, a fire woman, a teacher, a cheerleader, and a writer. Now all I want is to be happy. And left alone. And I want to know who I am in the context of a world full of hate and domination.

Word.

What I would like to say is: Lean In my hairy Jewish ass.

Double word.

But mostly it was THIS, that got to me because it rings so. damned. true.

Taking care of myself and my loved ones feels like meaningful work to me, see? I care about care. And I don’t care if I’m socialized to feel this way, because in point of fact I do feel this way. So! I am unavailable for striving today. I’m suuuuuper busy.

And this.

Keep your head down. Do your work. Focus on the work at hand, not the work that’s done. Do the work you’re called upon to do. Engage with what moves you. Eventually you’ll get recognition. And if you don’t get recognition? Well then, all the more badass to continue working your butt off. Recognition has nothing to do with the work, get it? The work is the endeavor. The work is the process. Recognition comes, if/when it does, for work that is already done, work that is over.

As of yesterday, I am in Bangalore. It was meant to be a longish trip to test waters, but it’s just been 24 hours and already my reasons for doing this have become clear. In my mind, I’ve had well laid plans, but outside of me, things are in churn, full tilt. While I’m gathering my thoughts and trying to proceed through this time one step at a time, around me things are hurtling towards an unclear space in the future at breakneck speed. Reading this though, gave me some much needed clarity. Peace. And, like icing on the humble(and truth) pie, I got two great sounding book reccos out of this essay, and a renewed faith in serendipity too.

Same time, last year: Day 102: Mondays like this

Work. But also life.

I started 2017 with a couple of mini work goals. One, to send out a minimum of 20 pitches every week. And second, to just consistently do it without losing heart or feeling wasted.

I did the former fairly well, but semi-sucked at the latter. It has to be noted that the second half of last year saw me rolling way back on the effort to find new work. With everything else going on I was consistently only just doing enough to keep me going, and stay in touch. So I kind of began January with a clean slate that needed to be filled from scratch. That’s a scary place to be especially when your bank balance is slowly diminishing and there are bills to be paid. So my restless self began to despair just one week into January.

Why won’t people respond soon?

Why can’t my emails just be acknowledged, even if it is to politely reject my idea?

How long should I wait before I move on?

Maybe I should try something else.

Consistency has never been one of my strengths. I have the attention span of a housefly most days, and the patience to stay with something even when it seems like nothing is moving comes in bursts and spurts. So I hoped that this would be an exercise in gaining some chill. And getting it to stay.

Additionally, the ups and downs of last year, the number of weeks I took off from work has meant that the motivation to keep writing has also been sporadic. Even though I did write something every single day, turning it to work is another thing entirely.

I’ve had numerous instances of giving up too easily, way too often. I really want to change this. To eork hard in the true sense of the word. Not only when I have a deadline having over my head. I want to taste the sweet success that comes from slow, but persistent consistency. I don’t think I have ever focused on cultivating that with my work.

I was hoping to give this a shot by focusing harder on making a daily habit of pitching. The idea being that in order to do this successfully, I’d have to work on having a lot more ideas in the bank (which would mean having my thinking and working caps on even when I have no assignments on hand) and working doubly hard on turning accepted stories in (assuming they’d convert faster!) on time, to keep the ball rolling.
After one week of what felt like thankless pitching, I was disheartened when I didn’t receive as many responses as I’d expected. Maybe folks were still surfacing from the holidays? Maybe my emails weren’t good enough? Maybe they got lost in the slush-pile? I don’t know what it was. But I got no bites. Just a lot of crickets.

I took the weekend to regroup and decided I need to really, truly just chill out, and for once in my life focus on the process, trusting it wholeheartedly, doing the task at hand with sincerity and intention, without lusting over the results, or obsessing about how fast or slow they are to come.

And that right there was the hardest part. Not the idea generation. Not the writing of numerous LOIs. Not the combing the internet for contacts. Not the actual pitching. Just the pushing aside of all thoughts of why and how, stomping down on that imposter syndrome that is constantly trying to make a comeback, waving away the self doubt and fear. And just. keeping. my. head. down. and doing. it. day. after day.

Several days later, suddenly, smack in the middle of the week, I landed 4 stories in 2 days. Including breaking into another international site that’s been on my wish list for ages, one Indian glossy (it’s a really small piece, but still!), one international print mag, and one essay — and this last one has been the most satisfying conversion of this week. It’s an excerpt from a memoir I attempted to write not so long ago, but gave up on after much deliberation. For a year now I’ve been wanting to pick bits of it to turn it into publishable essays so at least some part of it sees the light of day. It took me one whole year to get cracking believe I can do this. And surprisingly just 2 days to land the story. Remind me again, why I didn’t do this sooner?

I think the hard work that went into keeping calm is what is at play here. I’ve been consciously spending significantly lesser time on all platforms of social media. Well, to be fair, I only use fb and instagram. I’ve returned to meditating and I begin every day with a big dose of affirmation. For this, I have A to thank.

I took up simple bullet journalling to keep track of my pitching, daily todos and wish lists and goals for three month and week.

There’s the gratitude journaL, which I know is making a huge difference to my general state offer mind. I try and consistently stay positive, and be thankful for what I have and where I am and believe that it is enough. Part of this means I’ve further cut down the noise – sticking to my routine, being goddamned adamant about not missing my workout, and meeting only a select few friends in whose company I feel uplifted and happy. It takes a little being selfish, and isn’t always easy. But it pays.

Most importantly, I think it was the deliberate effort to brush aside negative thoughts that spark laziness, self doubt and the inevitable spiral of apathy that makes my motivation turn to a sorry trickle, that boosted my confidence.

I know I’m a creature of habit. I need a vague framework of routine within which to play. I like having a plan most times. And I’ve been a firm believer in daily habits. So, if the mindful and deliberate effort to bring this all back to my life is putting some basics into place, I cannot complain.

Is this what mindfullness really is? I’m not sure.

I have to also say though, it’s not all me. I gather an immense amount of confidence boosting motivation from my virtual writer friends. Even as a silent spectator privy to a host of discussions, being exposed to an amazing variety of work, being a fly on the wall in so many discussions about ethics, professionalism and the right/better way to approach situations I thought were rare, I’ve gained a lot.

Despite the spotty year I had, I was a bit amazed when I realised how much work I’d gotten done. Today too, I realised that from feeling motivated to aim higher, to do better and to expect to be paid more, from learning to deal with rejection to never giving up on my ideas, from going about this in a nice-to-have kind of fashion to turning it into a practice for my daily life, I really couldn’t have done this on my own. So much of my will to keep at this without giving up, comes from the inspiration of others who have surged ahead, and been there and done everything that I am now doing. Their unabashed and absolute generosity to share, with zero insecurity is refreshing. It has taught me to open myself up, offer help even when it isn’t asked for, and basically never hold back if I can help it.

Sometimes I feel like writing is just the medium. What I am working at, what actually gets bigger, better and sweeter in the process, is life.

For all the help I get, I’m so grateful.

Same time, last year: Day 19: Hope

Happier: perpetual WIP

I’m not entirely blind to the unrealistic expectation that is thinking life will turn 180 degrees from where things were, just, well, last week, just because we moved into a new cycle of counting time. This big rock floating in space that we’re on, literally just completed another revolution around the life-giving blazing star, a time period that we’ve chosen to place such undue pressure on, holding it up to our desperate need for fresh beginnings and new avenues.

So it was natural for me to attribute the surge that I suddenly felt throbbing back to life, and persuading me to get out and see the light, to general peer pressure. One week in, I know now, that was a silly thought process. Because it’s not so much about flicking the pages of the calendar, or the turning of a proverbial new leaf, because yes they’re constructs of our achievement obsessed culture that train our minds to get ready-set-go at the start of the year only to lose steam approximately 2.5 weeks in. Which is about as long as it takes for the shine of a spanking new year to fade.

While it’s true that there needn’t be any reason at all for the uplifted spirit from the doldrums that was 2016, with the somethings-brewing kind of churn and rumble that I’ve felt as we turned the corner and stepped into 2017, the truth is, it was a happy coincidence.

The fact that I felt all the multiple diverging threads of my life, that for the better part of last year felt like they were unravelling slowly and painfully, suddenly converging again towards the end of the year, prompted me to take some time to regroup and prepare for a fresh start. That was intentional and well-timed.

Since, there has been a definite, undeniable shift, and I’ve bounced back to a former self I feel I had forgotten once existed. However, this week, I had to remind myself to press the brakes just a little bit. To slow down, not be impatient, and to remember the stillness and calm that I have worked hard to bring back to my life over the past twelve months.

It is crucial for me to make every effort not to lose this precious pace, to the urgency that brews at the start of every new year. To remember to mindfully, slowly, pace it out rather than rush in all guns blazing, only to burn out very soon.


The side of me that’s raring to go and rush in at all my goals like a maniac with a crack addled brain, is at loggerheads with the side of me that has tasted the benefits of letting go and watching things unfurl when you go at them with the tempered calm of a zen monk.

This morning, at therapy, I acknowledged that maybe I was slipping back into letting that pointless restless energy that does nothing but dissipate my focus, creep back and get the better of me. I visualised it as a ball of wires, knotted up, humming, buzzing frantically, the noise building to a noisy crescendo. But I spent the hour after, working those knots out as much as I could. And when I was done, I visualised myself chucking the whole mess of wires out of my life.

Indu shared an instagram picture with me last night, that reminded me of it’s origins in one of my most favourite posts. And it felt like today was a good day to revisit it.

Everyone is trying to find happiness or stay happy in any way they can.

I realise so much of getting through from one day to the next is in simple acts of mindful living. In tiny reminders of moments full of promise of joy that are in the works, waiting to be acknowledged. In schedules that bisect and dissect time the way I’d like it to be. In moments of peace snatched in between mundane chores like cooking lunch and folding clothes. In the little victories of stories submitted, deadlines met (or happily extended) or a surprise telephone call, shared by no one but me alone. In the simple contentment that comes from eating a square of chocolate. In knowing when you need to heal. In choosing to work out the knots. In trying to understand when to stop, and just throw the whole damn mess out. In not giving up on the urge to get better and thrive. In accepting that this is healing at work. In doing the work. And believing wholeheartedly that this itself, is the very purpose of being alive.

ds-happy-02

You do not “arrive” at joy, but you can strive to create it in small and enjoyable ways.

This is a reminder to myself. (And maybe to you too.) That wanting to be happy, getting happier, staying happiest, is WIP. Keep at it, work those knots out, throw out the unnecessary, get help when you need it, find love when you’re feeling the lack of it, demand support from those who you count on, ask for it when they’re not listening, and just keep swimming.

Same time, last year: Day 10: This and that

2016

So it’s done. What I’ve called the most forgettable, shitty year, time and time again, is over. It’s true that last year I had more than a fair share of lows. But it’s also true that in bouncing from one low to the next, only keeping my head above water, occasionally remembering to thwack my limbs and move towards the closest object for support, I’ve often needed to remind myself that I’m still alive and breathing. Which is a convoluted way of saying, a lot happened in between the lows that really wasn’t bad at all. But I have been so occupied with just barely staying afloat that it’s felt like I’ve been mostly stuck in a downward spiral of negativity. The bad has a way of eclipsing the good, and painting a picture so dismal, you wonder why this is your life. Which is why I’m thankful for forced stops in the infinite loop of time. We put a date to the end of the year, we decide it’s a time to reflect, and I’m glad we have this opportunity to lay out all the cards, pick which ones to fold over and put away, and which ones to take ahead.

There is such a difference in looking back cursorily, because all I can see is large spans of time spent lying in bed, unable to move, just staring out the window, and looking back one day and month at a time. Broadly, I feel like I spent way too much time wondering why this is happening to me. This, being the thick and heavy fog that consumed me. But, it’s only when I combed through my archive that I realised I was diffident, cynical, exhausted from the get go. I entered the year in a terrible headspace. Maybe it set the tone for the year? Maybe I was a fool not to see how things were hurtling towards an inevitable crash right through 2015? Maybe this was all just a necessary intervention in the making? I don’t know.

What followed was a lot of indecision and confusion that really chipped away at my confidence and left me on very shaky ground. Pretty much the entire year after has been spent trying to regain that solid ground beneath my feet. Whether it was putting my confidence in myself and my work back together and resuming in a direction that made sense to me, but scared the shit out of me, or opening myself up to honesty of a different kind, running all my relationships through a sieve and keeping only the most important ones close, learning to distinguish between an inner and outer circle, basically redefining the very notion of love and friendship, or regaining some bit of pride and a sense of self and identity that I’d lost sight of — everything about 2016 was an effort towards building something in me that 2015 had broken.

I couldn’t have picked a better year to write a post a day, because looking back has helped me see that while 2016 was far from fantastic, it sure was eventful. It was shitty in many parts, challenging in ways I have not previously known but omg, you gaiiis, so much happened!

Mostly, 2016 has been a year of rediscovering honesty. Of coming to terms with many things I was either not seeing right, or turning a blind eye to. It all started with the decision to take some time off. To regroup and clear my head out. I had a breakdown at the end of 2015, that made me realise I was overworked, confused about my priorities and sorely needed some time out. My inability to be honest with myself was pushing me into a cycle of repeated losses that had left me very, very tired.

So, I planned to spend 5-6 weeks unwinding and doing the things that gave me joy, in the hope that it would make room for some clarity. I read and wrote. And that’s not counting my work. There was some drawing, some haiku, and an exercise regimen, all in the interest of building a routine that enriched rather than depleted me. With all the mind space to introspect, it wasn’t long before the truth, or rather the lack of honesty emerged strong and loud.

I don’t mean honesty in the sense of truth-telling. I mean honesty in so many different ways — the inability to break through my denial, my stubbornness in not admitting to seeing things as they were, the fact that far too many people in my life had more to take than give me, the false belief that the work-life pattern I had unconsciously fallen into was necessary for success, my misplaced conviction that it was what I liked and wanted, when the truth couldn’t have been farther from it.

I’d begun to realise a need for a deeper honesty in my friendships. As it happened several of my closest friends found themselves in a bad patch at the start of the year. It involved unravelling, together, and being there for each other and made me realise just how much I valued openness and vulnerability, even in or maybe especially in hard times, as a measure of authenticity of any relationship. I suddenly saw how I was surrounded by relationships lacking in it, even though I considered them to be the solid, long-term ones. I backed away from many that seemed to exist in a perpetual state of hiding behind convenient veils of passive aggression, demanding more from me than I could give, or they could ever give back to me.

This has meant being alone a lot more, staying with solitude and embracing this part of me wholeheartedly. This will always be the year I made peace with my introvert tendencies. After a hectic 2015 chock full of socialising, putting myself out there and pursuing things I never imagined I would have, giving the hedonistic life a shot I realised my place. It’s indoors, with myself, away from the mindless din of connections and networking. I much prefer the loud camaraderie of a few I call my tribe, even if we choose to exist in absolute silence.

This too, required honesty. In laying the tussle between the virtually-social and actually-solitary, to rest. On the one hand, I live what many call a “social” life, especially thanks to frequent and frantic social media posting. And on the other hand, I was trying to teach myself boundaries, to say no, to protect my personal space and energy. This tug-o-war between sharing my life has given many observers a sense of false camaraderie that often oversteps the virtual lines that separate me and them. I began to see through social media veneers, and was disappointed by people on more than one occasion. I found myself wanting to dig deeper and find within myself the strength to accept the differences that these are just virtual interactions, while saving my energy for the solid core of authentic interactions I have in real life. Even when it meant accepting the truth that was far from pleasant, realising that seemingly normal people sometimes display unacceptable behaviour, or that I myself had untowardly let some folks far deeper into my life than was needed.

The need for this honesty came with a price. For one, I let go of the steady promise of work that I had in hand to make room for the work I wanted to pursue. Second, I had to consciously let go of a couple of friendships that I had assumed were easy-going and probably for life.

What I gained, though, was immeasurable. Because the time and energy freed up from it, was channeled into all that I wanted to put my mind to, but had failed to in the years before. I will always remember this to be the year I moved closer to finding myself, and my voice, professionally. The decision to quit a steady, decently-paying gig with scope for growth, to dive fully into the erratic, unpredictable world of full-time freelancing was a pivotal one. A lot of it happened because I had to own up to the fact that clinging to a safety rails was only going to get me that far. Yes, I’d have a salary in the bank at the end of the month, but the hours spent earning that salary was definitely keeping me from expanding my repertoire, aiming higher and going wide and deep into the kind of writing I want dip into. If I were to be honest with myself, and I was, I needed to be brave. Or at least pretend like I was. It was not without its moments of extreme imposter syndrome, but I know I am better for it.

There were moments of immense frustration. A steep learning curve that I didn’t particularly enjoy at all times because let’s face it I wasn’t feeling positive and upbeat for a large part. The long waiting periods, systemic inefficiencies, blatant unprofessionalism made me cynical and under-confident. Incidentally, it was the year with the most number of unsavoury professional experiences. But while navigating the doubt and incertitude with heaps of scepticism, I did manage to get a whole lot of work done. It’s funny how the haze of unpleasant experiences has clouded this reality that. Ironic that the shittiest year is the year I had several work wins that I am proud of. Like this, this, this and this and this and this. I never imagined I’d write essays worthy of being tweeted by the UN Women’s handle. I didn’t think I’d see myself published in The Telegraph. I certainly didn’t imagine I’d find myself in a publication dedicated to science and technology.

I even managed to throw together a website and a portfolio that I should have done a long, long time ago. Much of this had to do with trying very, very hard to unlearn my obsession with perfection. Of quitting the terrible habit of waiting for the ducks to get in an absolutely straight line before making a move. In accepting that well begun is half done, I may have taught myself a thing or two about what is possible when you accept what works for you and hold yourself to slightly more realistic goals and ideals.

One of the best things I did was write and write and write every single day. Whether it was the for the stories I worked on, daily posts on here, scribbles, ideas for stories, half written posts — I made sure I did a little writing every single day and this is a habit I don’t want to lose. I am a little astounded at myself for seeing the daily post habit through to the end of the year, even though I fell off the wagon and frantically caught up again, sometime. Even with all that writing, I have so much more to express and share. So I started a newsletter. Admittedly, it’s taken a break so soon after it was launched but I hope to be back this year. 2016 marked the completion of 10 years since I started blogging. I wrote 318 posts this year having blogged every week, which feels like a fitting way to mark a decade of rambles.

On Day 1, I decided it was going to be a year to move more. In addition to upping the ante with training by joining, pursuing and loving kickboxing, I let the husband get me a cycle. It transformed the middle parts of this year in ways I can’t explain. Unfettered joy and immense satisfaction have been had from the hours spent pedalling through Goa. Cycling changed the way I experienced what could potentially be my last monsoon here. I even finished my first ever 100 km ride.

Part of the reason I caught the cycling bug was the undeniable urge to get out and get out. In the open. To travel. It’s something I’ve denied myself the pleasure of indulging in, for various reasons in the past few years. I travelled back home more than I ever have since I have moved out. Cleartrip sent me an email calling me a Happy Tripper today, for the 18 flights I’ve taken. There was a trip to Chettinadu, KeralaThailand and Coonoor. There were a few mini vacations right here at home too. I turned 32 in the company of these lovelies who came down to celebrate over a weekend of beach time, with me. And it reaffirmed my faith in certain inalienable truths about why some relationships endure and others don’t. It’s the one year VC and I haven’t taken a holiday or travelled anywhere together. And no, we’re not complaining.

The other big change I made this year was I kicking myself back into the reading habit by getting myself a Kindle. It has made all the difference and  finished the year with 29 books read, a high for me. While I’m looking at numbers, it seems a good time to look back at this post where I detailed the few things I want to see myself doing through 2016.

  1. Read a little everyday – check, post-August
  2. Write a little everyday – check, check, CHECK
  3. Give in to the urge to draw/doodle as much as possible, don’t put it off for “later” – check, for as long as the inspiration and urge lasted
  4. Avoid multi-tasking at all costs – yes and no
  5. Wear a saree at least once a week (any more is a bonus!), and don’t wait for the “right” occasion – ditched
  6. Call ammamma more often – check
  7. Meditate every morning, consciously remember to slow down – check for the first half of the year, then abandoned
  8. Go to the beach more often, even if it is for a stroll or to catch the sunset – check, check, check (run a search for “beach” to see how)
  9. Actively avoid clicking random links that lead to news on social media – CHECK!
  10. Whenever posting something on facebook, ask myself if the post would annoy me if I were looking at it posted by someone else – check, followed this for the most part, but slipped a lot, now correcting it by slowly deleting all fb activity from all of time
  11. Generally, avoid oversharing on fb – not every thought needs to be telecast to the world on fb, do it here instead, in longer form – check
  12. Keep phone away from bed and sleep-time – failllll!
  13. Sneak some more kisses – CHECK!
  14. Choose things, make decisions with purpose – CHECK
  15. Make the most of Goa, get out, breathe, watch, listen, do – CHECKCHECKCHECKCHECK, cyclecyclecycle
  16. Reclaim stillness whenever it happens, and when it doesn’t, create it – this is WIP
  17. Fuck perfection – this is WIP

Speaking of WIP, one of the best things I did for myself in 2016, was take myself to therapy. When the cycle of breaking down, finding my footing, stabilising, coasting and only to slip again recurred three times in a span of 8 months, I knew I was in over my head. Again, it called for a kind of honesty I didn’t have, but so desperately needed to find. To accept that I cannot navigate this alone, that I need a fresh pair of eyes to see things differently and help me work my way through, rather than away from this. It has been the best, because it brought to the surface things I wouldn’t have noticed on my own. It made me reclaim myself, discover and strengthen crucial aspects of my identity that were slipping away form me. Much of my newfound peace, focus and positivity is a result of this, and I know that every day I am making progress in facing up to and loving my imperfect self.

It hasn’t been an easy year to live with me. Every break down has brought with it several emotional outbursts, thoughtless spewing of anger and frustration, violent mood swings, long periods of demotivation. But through it, VC has been my constant. Constant everything. Punching bag, sounding board, friend, foe, confidant, co-homemaker, support, voice of reason, strength and solace. We celebrated our eighth anniversary. Ironically, it was a year that made me fully understand how relationships that nurture are the ones that help you growing together, separately, rather than collapse and grow into one entity, and completely turned my beliefs about marriage around, that somehow also brought us much closer.

I find myself feeling a little sheepish about how much I have bashed 2016. It had so many sore points, so many weeks and months I wanted to just wish away. So many events and incidents I wish I didn’t have to go through. It all felt so damned shitty. And yet, when it all stacks up and I look at it in retrospect, it was rather eventful. Memorable, even. But most of all, transformative. They say things sometimes need to get really bad before they can begin to get better. Maybe my bad bits were peppered right through 2016. But right there, in between the bad events, things were already beginning to get better.

This year I just want to build from here. Make some goals, shut up about them, work hard, live big, laugh loud, love hard, breathe deep and smash them to the sky.

*****

Quick guide to posts in 2016
Monthly recaps: APostADay
Bheja fry, since this year had so much of it
Work and writing
Books and reading in 2016
Travel and photographs
Cycling and exercise
Music

Same time, last year: Day 5: In-bloom

Day 344: Looking back

The dregs of this year, they’re dragging. If anyone has a fast-forward option, I’d be down for that. The sudden bouts of clarity, positivity, and hope for 2017 to be better, way better, than 2016, are egging me on, teasingly. If someone could just push me straight into the throes of the new year I’m in. (Okay, anyone listening and trying to make it happen, please only give it a shot after next week, when I go off on what may be my last holiday for the year.)

This blog has been a largely accurate reflection of what’s going on with me, and in my head (except when I’m faffing off by posting silly haiku and pictures that only interest me). So it’s been an all round mope-fest around here for the past many weeks. I’ve lost track of when I began to slide and the multiple occasions on which I’ve felt hopeful and upbeat only to slip right back into the doldrums again. Around me, the world has fallen apart, everyday there’s shocking news that bristles and causes reactions worth being spoken about, I read things that amuse and entertain me, move me and impact me in ways that I can only describe in writing, I’ve done more things than I’ve cared to talk about here, and there are plans afoot of which I haven’t really been very articulate at all. All I’ve focused on is myself, and my sads. Of late, that has turned into a 100% pity party. I’m aware. Today too, I was moping to A on fb, when a thread from a bunch of writers caught my eye. Each one of them taking stock of the year and reporting their achievements, challenges and stating their plans for the next year.

I’ve contemplated this, and made small beginnings, to some extent. But I just haven’t had the inclination to further it. Instead, I’ve been moping about the catastrophe that was 2016 and wishing for a magic trick to teleport me right into 2017. Seeing everyone’s inspiring updates of the year gone by, though, I was prompted peek into my excel sheet, to see just how I’ve fared. Considering it’s been a year with a shocking number of forced and unforeseen breaks from work, I’ve felt my focus and motivation shot to bits. So I wasn’t particularly inclined to do this looking back business. But I have an excel sheet I’ve been rather meticulous about keeping this year, so “looking back” is a matter of glancing at a well-formatted excel sheet, rather than rummage through work folders and files like I had to last year.

2016 was a largely challenging year, personally, of course. Professionally too, there were challenges a plenty, but in retrospect it has all been positive. As it turns out, 2016 has been the most prolific year in terms of the amount of work I’ve done. I realise I have a lot to be thankful for, despite everything.

I’ve written 50 stories, for 16 publications. These include 7 new (for me) international publications and 4 new Indian publications that I broke into. This was a bit of a happy surprise for me, something I haven’t registered even though I am doing the writing, and excel sheet tracking. At the start of 2016, I had a measly goal of breaking into at least 3 international publications. It was only looking at the sheet right now that I realised until I’ve more than surpassed that goal. As for earning, I’ve doubled what I earned last year, but I could have done a lot better if the hiccups and forced breaks hadn’t kept me away from writing as much as they did.

The other big change, and win, is that I’ve finally made peace with facebook, because I’ve learned to wield it to work best for me. I say this because I found almost all my work this year, through resources and discussions through facebook writing groups that I am on. Through them, I’ve been exposed to some incredibly inspiring writing from around the world, got a glimpse into the lives and routines, challenges and successes of some wonderful women writers. I’ve found inspiration and solace in their virtual companionship. In their numerous anecdotes I’ve realised that no problem is unique, someone somewhere has already been there, done that and will most likely offer to help. I’ve also made some new friends through these groups and I’m really glad for some of the writer connections that keep me going.

All said and done, this year was not without its fair share of lessons. Every big meltdown this year was caused by a professional situation that had bubbled over when I wasn’t looking. And each of those situations had very clear lessons that I had failed to pick up and act on before. I continue to trust people blindly. I still sometimes fail to consider all options before jumping in. And I still don’t fully know how to put a high enough premium on myself. I’m still utterly useless with managing my collections and don’t fully understand the business side of managing my work. This is something I hope to either outsource or take steps towards mastering myself, in the coming year.

I’m still growing a pair of lady-balls, and learning my worth. I’ve had moments of success in the rare instances that I was able to be brave and push myself outside my comfort zone, but those situations were scary and will take a lot more getting used to before it begins to come naturally. I have such a long way to go.

This will always be remembered as the year I took the difficult decision to let go of an anchor gig that while offering economic stability, only leeched away at my joy and creativity. It will be the year I actively worked towards bettering my professional communication and saw amazing things happen as a result of it. I’ve bettered my working relationships with a few editors, seen a duplicitous side of others, and managed to navigate through all kinds of situations.

Does 2016 make me feel proud and victorious? Not really. Could it have been better? Definitely. But, am I happy with the way things stand? Hell yes.

Day 308: Reading list

Between being in a funk, staying away from the computer and trying, just a little bit, not to obsess about tracking my ideas, pitches, work, published work, invoices, payments I realise I forgot to share some updates here. Three little things I wrote went live and I hadn’t linked them up here.

First, this story about the woman driving Asia’s first all-woman-run food truck. I enjoyed working on this one so, so much. For multiple reasons, not the least of which was that I actually enjoyed interviewing Archana. I’m not to love interviews, otherwise. In fact I tend to really put them off until I can’t anymore. But some folks are just so lovely and energetic and make the job not just easy, but enjoyable. The best kind of interviews are those that leave you inspired, a little more curious than you were before, and also a little bit in awe. Archana was so vehement in telling me how she woke up one day last year and felt that she had only dabbled in one of her big passions — education and schooling — and not even gotten started on the other — food — and she realised that time was running out. It spurred her to get cracking on pursuing that dream too. Something about the urgency and the way she said time is running out really hit home.

I gently asked her age again, convinced that maybe I’d misheard the number she gave me at the start of the interview.

“32,” came the reply.

No, I hadn’t misheard it.

I worked on this quick list for overseas visitors potentially looking to take back Goan foodie souvenirs or gifts for folks back home.

And then there was this small newsy piece about events to catch in Goa over the next two months. If you’re looking for reasons aside from the sun, sea and sand to visit, this list has films, jazz and literary festivals to watch out for.

It was while updating my Contently Portfolio this morning, that I suddenly woke up to the fact that I’ve now written for over 20 publications. The article count on this page has crossed 70. And this is just the work I care to share. There’s a lot more that I don’t personally find portfolio worthy, which would take the count up to over 100 pieces since I began freelancing. I ruffled through my email to the start of the year and noticed that my pitches have only two publications to showcase, which made me realise that literally all the rest have been a product of my effort this past year alone. I broke into more international publications than I thought I was capable of. I wrote more than one piece for some of them. I even built personal relationships with some editors. Especially worth noting for me, is the fact that the two publications I bandied about in the early pitches from the start of this year are two I have now weaned myself off of. This happened for two very different reasons, but that can both be summed up as: I want better for myself. 

Last week I received an email out of the blue, from an editor in Hong Kong seeking to commission a story. I had tried to reach out to this person two months ago and failed at the time. The emails we shared back and forth pleasantly surprised me. When I bagged the story, I called VC to tell him, “I’m in shock” (at this turn of events).

“Well, stop being shocked,” came his very casual response.

He’s right. I have to stop being shocked. This is what I do, it’s my work and I am good at it. That shouldn’t come as a surprise anymore.

Suddenly, I feel very, very good about myself. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time berating myself for not really reaching exactly where I want to be. But I’ve been so blinkered with my goals. Metrics vary, and while I may not have reached some targets, I’ve more than surpassed others and knocked them out the park. Very quickly, I updated my portfolio to reflect this.

Perhaps I need to take stock, and bask in the sunshine of my small victories more often. But this post isn’t just a little bragging about my writing. I also wanted to share some recent good reads that I’d saved.

This hilarious piece titled I’m Not an Asshole. I’m an Introvert was so on point. With the proliferation of writing we’re suddenly seeing on the topic, it’s natural that the spectrum of introversion blurs. Titles and labels become watertight when they shouldn’t be, and many are used in ways that misrepresent their actual meaning.

After discovering you’re an introvert, waxing eloquent about how liberating acknowledging that was, was natural. When enough people had done that, the monopoly of the noisy extroverted world was sufficiently challenged, so it was only a matter of time before introverts with social awkwardness be mistaken for assholes with a lack of manners and social decorum. So I’m glad someone found a funny way to look this whole situation.

Okay, I did not see this coming, even though I’ve believed this to be true for a very, very long time. Bye-bye babies talks about how parenthood is such a fraught decision. One that many live to regret, but few care to admit. Some startling lines:

While women express their doubts about having children, elsewhere, the Independent reports, men have lost interest in the idea of marriage itself. Tens of thousands of men have formed an online community called MGTOW, or Men Going Their Own Way.

Children, as an idea, have also gone out the window in Japan where startling statistics released by the National Institute of Population Research show that 70 per cent of unmarried men and 60 per cent of unmarried women are not in a relationship.

In fact, the Japanese have pretty much stopped having sex. 42 per cent of male adults surveyed and 44.2 per cent women admitted they were virgins.

Some parts of Europe are experiencing what is now being called a “Demographic Storm” due to the increasing choice of people remaining child-free. From my very cursory understanding it’s a situation where women are outliving men, yet they aren’t having enough babies fast enough, while the old continue to die. Ouufff, sounds so first world to me.

Birth rates are falling and the government is worried. Falling birth rates are already a problem across Europe.

In India, we have an unsentimental attitude to children. Children are an investment in your own future. It’s a case of quid pro quo. You look after your children; you expect them to be at your bedside in old age. No wonder that the Indian economy is reaping the benefits of a demographic dividend rather than weathering a demographic storm.

Are all you iPhone (iOS) users finding yourself completely and utterly pissed off with every consecutive OS update? I can’t help but think they’re going the Microsoft way, ruining good things for no reason, and breaking the very fabric that their minimalistic, function-first ideology was built on. This piece makes an eerily accurate comparison between Steve Ballmer and Tim Cook. It makes me want my next phone to be the Pixel, and I didn’t think that day would come so soon.

Here’s another convincing piece on everything questionable about the direction in which Apple is moving, which often feels backward rather than forward. Convincing, and troublesome.

And finally, saving the best for last, the series of pieces about Monica Ghurde, written by seven women, in an effort to counter/resist/undo the insensitive, dehumanizing way in which she the media chose to write about her the days following her untimely death. These pieces all made me tear up and cry for a woman I didn’t know personally, but whose death somehow has hit me where it really hurts, and still leaves me a bit paranoid, afraid and confused about the meaning of freedom for women like me. Please read.

  1. In BuzzFeed: My Days With Monika, by Akanksha Sharma
  2. In Vogue: Learning to be a little monster, by Amrita Narayanan
  3. In Hindustan Times: When the earth laughs in flowers, by Arundhati Subramaniam
  4. In The Hindu: A letter to Monika, by Tishani Doshi
  5. In The Indian Express: This is how you fix what is broken, by Margaret Mascarenhas
  6. In The Times Of India: Don’t kill Monika Ghurde again, by Deepti Kapoor
  7. In The Herald Goa: Tribute to a very special woman and friend, by Katharina Kakar

Day 300: Three hundred

300 days. 222 posts. I don’t know how many pictures, videos, haiku – but somehow, I kept this up. I have 66 days and 44 posts to go till the finish line. Which is the end of 2016. I’m not sure it will be the finish line. Some of you may want to take this cue and unfollow me now. But this has become a bit addictive. Every time I hit a nice round figure milestone, I wondered how much longer I’d keep this up. Milestone posts also seem to be seminal posts this year, I just realised while scouring through my archives.

Day 10 came on a weekend. Day 50 was about major leaps and minor struggles. Day 100 also landed on a weekend. Day 150 happened to be the tenth anniversary of writing this blog. Day 200 was a shitty day so distinctly clear in my mind, it was one of the reasons I decided I had to change something. Day 250 is the day I gave thanks for my people.

Which brings me to today. Day 300.

After posting about my book quandary last night, I started to read Cheryl Strayed’s Brave Enough last night. And finished it this morning. It’s really slim, and it’s not really a book book. It’s a collection of quotes by her, from various places collected into one massive book of here-take-another-punch-to-your-guts. She calls it A Mini Instruction Manual For The Soul. And it is. If you’ve read and loved Strayed, like I have, you’ll want to add this to your collection. I read Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things with such fervour two years ago, and it hit all the right spots, over and over through the book, that I’m a Cheryl Strayed fan for life now. Goodreads reviews for this book range from terrible to amazing, so it’s that kind of book that nobody can seem to agree on with any kind of remote uniformity. Many people found it insipidly inspiration in a very Hallmark-card sort of way. And I can see why. But I’ve always found the simplest things sometimes speak very profound truths, to me.

This book is filled with them. Powerful, brutally honest words that aren’t always sugar coated or pleasant words that are exactly what you want to hear. Words that cut, sometimes so close and so deep you want to imprint them on your skin. This is a book of unbridled, raw inspiration. And as is the case with inspiration, it hits you the hardest, when it’s the right time. I read Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things at what I believe was the best time I could have picked them up. And I feel the same about this one too.

room

This, is an overwhelmingly accurate summation of what I’ve been feeling lately. I even wrote about it a few days ago, only to find these six words say so simply what took an entire post out of me. A gentle coming back to life. A return to base. A peaceful acceptance, that feels like home. And there’s so many more quotes where this came from. I practically underlined every alternate page.

Some of my favourites:

Transformation doesn’t ask that you stop being you. It demands that you find a way back to the authenticity and strength that’s already inside of you. You only have to bloom.

***

Hello fear. Thank you for being here. You’re my indication that I’m doing what I need to do.

***

Desperation is unsustainable.

***

Bravery is acknowledging your fear and doing it anyway.

***

You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching.

Each of these quotes hits hard and makes you go ouch, but in a way that you’re grateful for the punch to where it hurts the most.

So it’s day 300. Booyeah.

And one last thing;

Vulnerability is strength.

Day 280: Too many words, so here’s a cop out

I’m feeling a lack of words again. If last month I worked myself to the bone, like a hamster in a wheel, this month I’m trying to get better. I don’t want to keep doing the same things I do wrong, over and over. I want to make it right. It means I’ve been reading a lot of things to figure where my pitches are falling short, looking at the work of some folks I am inspired by to see what they’re possibly doing right, and generally reading a lot of work that comes my way. And then there have been the emails — fresher, better pitches, three better crafted stories (one of which was killed after it had been commissioned, worked hard upon and submitted, but that’s a story for another day), some back and forth on a new assignment that requires me to be on the telephone way more than I have been used to, and remembering to come here and write a post a day. I feel like I’m out of words for the week, already. I’ve been unable to read at the end of the day like I am used to and I’ve been feeling quiet this week, not my usual chatty, responsive self on whatsapp either. Then there was the newsletter I sent out earlier today. Which makes a good post, because it’s a summation of everything that’s been swimming around in my brain, neatly distilled in a letter (with a really cute gif for extra measure!). So for all you folks who haven’t subscribed, I’m stealing a bit of it for this post. Because I have no new words to give today.

The left and right halves of my brain have been in a perpetual twist over what I should be doing and what I really want to be doing. And it’s given me a terrible case of month-long hiccups. It’s always the hiccups that bring out the demons. The roadblocks that run you down, make your confidence plummet, and things seem a lot worse than they really are.

So when I found myself in a hole at the end of September, I had to take a moment and let the right side of my brain take over. Because it’s the side of my brain that rules, and reminds me that it’s the experiences that matter, that there are no mistakes – only lessons, that I am enough, that this may look utterly shitty now, but you can’t connect the dots looking forward.

The reason everything looked utterly shitty is I have been measuring myself by the rules of success that were never mine to begin with. I have never chased the kind of success that comes from hoarding an astronomical bank balance, or working 8 hours a week all week at something I don’t enjoy, or building it all up so one fine day I can sit back and enjoy it. None of this is to say it’s a terrible crime to want any of that. The astronomical bank balance does great things, I’m aware. As does the hard work and dedication extended to work that isn’t all enjoyable. But it’s just not for me. I have never been able to get on board with accumulating a lifetime of experiences, money and aspirations to enjoy it in a hypothetical time in the future, when really, all I have is the here and the now. And it’s waiting for me to step in and savour it.

All we only ever have is the here and the now. Maybe a little bit of knowledge to predict the immediate future, but not with any degree of accuracy, anyway. But what we do have, is a wealth of information about our past. To know what worked, what didn’t, and what you’d do differently the next time around. So that every moment ahead of you, is better than before. Isn’t that really what being happy is about? So if finding your bliss sounded like unattainable mumbo-jumbo, don’t worry. Here’s science to prove it:

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Widely shared on the internet, this is an image of molecules of the protein called myosin holding up a massive ball of endorphins, dragging it along a filament into the inner part of the brain’s parietal cortex.

Happy hormones walking a tightrope, making their way to your brain. ALL SO YOU CAN FEEL HAPPY. Like S once exclaimed, that’s literally the most accurate depiction of happiness: just focus on the here and now, keep placing one foot in front of the other, and just keep going on.

What you will be left with is a trail of experiences — good bad, shitty, traumatic, a bucket load of everything that comes your way. A lot of it will be amazing. A lot of it will leave you cold. A lot may not make sense, not immediately, anyway. But it’s all essential. All of it has a part to play in the larger scheme of things, as you plod along, carrying your big ball of happy on your back.

When I was done telling myself time and again how shitty September was, which is when the right side of my brain took over, I looked back. I realised that first of all what I’d deemed shitty was really just one aspect: my work. I’ve let that one aspect eclipse all else, outshining all the other wonderful things that happened. Second, I realised that despite everything, I had some amazing moments. I celebrated my eighth anniversary. I broke into one of my must-crack international publications — Broadly, a VICE channel — with a story that I’ve wanted to explore for over a year now, this story that I loved interviewing for writing finally went live after over a month of sitting on the bench, and I bagged a semi-long-term gig with The Telegraph UK. Apart from that, all the confusion and upheaval forced me to a point where I decided I needed to move ahead, rather than wallow. So I did. I changed tracks again.

Movement is always good, no? And there’s the thing I realised once again: confusion is essential. Unhappiness, chaos, discomfort — they’re essential milestones for change on the path to getting on with it. Sometimes that path is rocky, a squelchy mess, far from fun. But that is okay. I wouldn’t have realised any of this, unless I’d looked back on the shitty, shitty September. So it’s true what Steve Jobs said.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.

I’ve always been a gut-feeling kind of person, counting life experiences over time, and I think Karma has a lot to do with everything that comes our way. Somewhere, I’d forgotten that. And it took a shitty September to remind me to recalibrate my measures for what matters, and how much I want to do to get as far as I want to get.

Day 277: 109 kms done

So this happened, after all.

Vagus adventuro flags off

A post shared by Probyk (@probyk) on

After some deliberation and accumulation of a lot of blind over-confidence, I decided to go through with it.

Even the morning of the event, as my alarm woke me up at 4.30 am, I got out and looked at my bed. It was so inviting, tempting me to just get back inside and stop kidding myself about this insanity I had signed up for. As much as I have come to love cycling, I haven’t reached a point where I can say my love for cycling has overtaken my love for sleeping in. The difficulty of waking up early is strong and real.

Just 3 minutes prior t this picture being taken, it was still dark out. Don't believe these happy faces. I was NOT happy to be up that early.
Just 3 minutes prior to this picture being taken, it was still dark out. Don’t believe these happy faces. I was NOT happy to be up that early.

I went in completely devoid of any expectations of myself, fully psyching myself to give up if I needed to.

What I was lacking in confidence, I made up for in snacks. I was over-prepared in that department. Obviously. Lined my stomach with fruit and a sandwich even before the event began. Plenty of chikki, a handful of dates, two packets of ORS on the go. And I wiped it all out before end. This is not counting the large breakfast we had at checkpoint 1, and the ice cream at checkpoint 2.

I was one of two women in the event of about 25 participants. I was expecting more women. But clearly I was in the minority with that expectation because not one, but two dudes gave me the statement of utter surprise — “hey, you’re pretty good!” and I could almost feel the “…for a girl” subtext.

The ride: it was fantastic. For all the starting trouble I have, every time that I get on a bike and get going, it is rewarding. There is something mildly massively addictive once you’re on a bike, zipping through the wind and experiencing early morning like nothing else can, really. Not even walking or running. Okay, maybe doing this in Goa adds a million points in favour of the activity, so yes, I’m giving thanks for the wonderful place I’ve found myself in. The weather suddenly turned that morning, and we had grey cloudy skies. A ten minute downpour was a welcome relief, and I seemed to escape even the harsh noon sunlight which caught up with me only in the last stretch of about twenty minutes as I was struggling to the finish line.

Thankfully, the event wasn’t a race. It was about finishing, and there was a very comfortable outer time limit in which to do it. There were enough triangular shaped, testosterone pumped men who didn’t have a moment to spare to even smile or exchange pleasantries because they were dashing off to beat each other, or their own personal records, I’m not sure. I was the very very very last person to finish. I can’t say I didn’t expect it.


I’m just glad I finished. That was my focus, and I’m glad I didn’t waver there. I couldn’t have done it without VC who pepped me up with his inspirational talks, R who absolutely insisted this was going to be a cakewalk and then stuck around cycling with me for the entire second half of the ride, and a random friend we made, let’s call him A. A is a 51 year old man (possibly the oldest participant) who was also lingering around the back of the trail with me. We’re the guys who stopped to take pictures all along, got lost a couple of times, bothered to look at the map, ask for directions and generally have a bit of fun along the way. He claimed all he’d ever done in life was smoke and work, and that bicycling was a new interest. He’d so far only ridden a maximum of 30kms ever. He stuck around with us, we definitely drew off of each others’ energies and somehow stayed together until the end.

End of segment 1.
End of segment 1.
Control point #1, where a massive bhaji-pao breakfast was laid out with plenty of other essentials - cold towels, premixed ORS, carrot cake, a photo booth (!) and the route map for the next segment that ended at Baskin Robbins with the assurance of 2 free scoops of ice cream.
Control point #1, where a massive bhaji-pao breakfast was laid out with plenty of other essentials – cold towels, premixed ORS, carrot cake, a photo booth (!) and the route map for the next segment that ended at Baskin Robbins with the promise of 2 free scoops of ice cream.
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Just keep spinning, rere. <3

I couldn’t have done it without my people. And my playlist, which I heard from end to end for the very first time in my life. Twice over, in fact.

Also, training. For all the heavy duty working out I’ve been doing in the last 3 years or so, I’ve never done anything that’s tested my strength or stamina. This was quite the test, and it completely reaffirmed my faith in sticking with working out and always trying to remain fit. It always pays off.

I’ve also never felt a gush of endorphins as strong as I did at the 88km mark, when R and I, unsure of what turn to take, stopped to ask for directions. Except I wasn’t of much use because I was collapsing in a huge outflow of uncontrollable guffaws. For absolutely no reason at all. R watched helplessly, not sure what to do next. And try as I did, I couldn’t hold back the laughter. It was coming out in heavy, loud bursts that just couldn’t be contained. We had just pushed ourselves over a 8 kilometre stretch, hitting the highest speeds I did on the entire ride, and maybe the energy rush just got the better of me.

A stupid move at the very end, possibly caused by the lack of oxygen going to my brain by then, made me take a wrong turn. I was leading the trio at the point, so the other two followed suit, and we found ourselves off track, adding a whole lot of unnecessary kilometres to the finish, not to mention one major chunk of which involved backtracking across the stretch we had just covered.

Home stretch! Just across the bridge to the finish line.
Home stretch! Just across the bridge to the finish line.

So as it happens, I didn’t just complete a 100 kilometre ride. In fact, I clocked 109 kilometres to the finish line. And it was worth every minute of excitement, adventure, pain and exhilaration.

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Cold beers waited us at the finish line. Which we emptied into our water bottles to consume. Because, Gandhi Jayanti = dry day, it seems.

The next logical step is to attempt 200km. If someone had asked me last week, if I could see myself doing it, I’d have laughed loudly. But ask me now and I’ll say, hell yes, without batting an eyelid. I’d just like to be better prepared, maybe actually train for it next time around.

Honestly though, I didn’t think I could finish it this time around. I went in blind, like I said before. But maybe the endorphins kicked in, maybe being in the presence of all the other cyclists gave me a boost, maybe I just went into auto pilot, but it was hard to think about giving up. I actually didn’t feel the need to at any point. It was only somewhere around the 60km mark that I realised how far I had come and that I was actually possibly going to finish this.

So while the ride was physically taxing, as was expected, beyond a point it was entirely a mental game. Every 10 kilometres knocked down felt like a huge milestone crossed. There were moments when an unexplained energy kicked in, pushing through my lower back that had begun to ache, my quads that were tensing up, and my butt that had gone numb. I’ve never felt that kind of resilience in myself, I don’t think.

Clearly, I had underestimated my capacity to physically push myself, and overestimated the time it would take me, in the event that I did finish. I overshot my estimate by a 120 whole minutes, finishing in 6 hours. Despite coming in right at the very end, this was a win I needed to undo the collective shittiness that September was.

So that’s done and dusted.

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Moderate to severe levels of hysteria at having finished may be showing here.

Day 274: For every down, there is an up

There are good months. There are meh months. And there’s various kinds of meh. Professionally, it means that sometimes I haven’t received enough responses. Sometimes it’s that I’ve received so many responses, but I haven’t successfully converted as many of my pitches into stories. Sometimes it also happens that a story I expect to turn around really quick, drags out painfully. Sometimes I turn a story around in record time, and then the editor sits on it for an impossibly long time (seven months has been my longest wait, no jokes). Most times, I only get paid when a story is published. So, to take the story that was 7 months in waiting, it really does feel like what I’ve eventually earned is a significantly shredded amount, given the effort and time (including the wait) that has gone into a piece of work. Sometimes I send a story per a commission, and the editor ghosts me out. It happens, sometimes for legitimate reasons too, and then you can’t even be pissed.

The good months can be all kinds of awesome. I’ve had months when I’ve knocked it out of the park with my energy to pitch relentlessly. I’ve also tasted what its like to hit that sweet spot of having a high conversion rate. Some times I am able to knock the stories out as per the schedule. On extra good months, long pending payments come in, to tide me over until the work I’m now doing eventually pays me. The wait is long. The struggle is real. In an ideal world, the balance is a part of the routine and rhythm of this freelancer life.

I am far from that world. I swing from extreme highs to extreme lows of energy, commitment and digits in my bank balance.

But I am also slowly realising that the best months are the months in which I have sustained my routine, and my discipline and the months where I have let that slip, it shows. It shows in my work, it shows in my state of mind, and it shows in how I deal with what I am feeling. September has seen me all over the place, agitated, restless, sleeping badly. But every time I hit an emotional downer this past month, I’ve had a reality check that has made me question my perspective about some of my beliefs to do with my work. Eventually, I had an epiphany that I thought was a crucial breakthrough in the emotional tussle I am going through. It made me take myself to therapy this week, to address it. It’s all you need sometimes — a conversation with someone completely removed from your reality. It’s definitely what I needed, for starters, because it has caused a shifted in my brain.

I’ve been mulling over everything we spoke about at therapy for the last two days and this morning, I found a strange but timely affirmation of it all in a conversation with N. Later she posted a status message that had a sentence I needed to read;

Productivity and following plans is great when it happens but it’s not everything. On a day like this when life wants me to realise this important fact, I’m glad I took the bait and listened.

She’s talking about her life, and her important facts, and unproductive day, but I could completely relate. September has been a strange month, as you’ve probably already figured. I started with such gusto, and then slipped into a sea of self-doubt immediately after (if you received my first newsletter you’ll know, because I talked about it there). Then just as I got going again my laptop died. And here I am today, a week from that horrible day, realising it’s the end of the fucking month already. Part of me wants to cry and scream for the days that have gone by in a blur. But a larger part of me has this strange resigned acceptance.

I haven’t got nearly not as much work as I planned to do. I haven’t done nearly as much of it as I’d have liked to. But for the first time in months, I’m telling myself that it’s okay. I’ve been unproductive with work, but I have done the best thing I could do for myself, which was to take the bait and listen, at every point that life was giving me a cue. It’s how I had the epiphany. It’s what made me go to therapy. It’s what made me want to get to the bottom of this.

*****

If you’ve stayed with my self-indulgent navel-gazing ramble and read this far:

yougetalink

Because I’ve lost some of the patience I have carefully built in the recent past, this post aptly titled Shut Up and Be Patient, really spoke to me, with sentences like,

These are all great transitions, good changes coming to a life that is slowly inching its way into its next stage. But life transitions, even when good, are always difficult, and they are always slow and gradual.

A good life is not a life without problems. A good life is a life with good problems. And so, despite the turbulence of the rocky waves and twisting tides, I can sometimes stare into the heart of my confusion and the crossed strains of joy and sadness, and smile and be grateful that it’s all there.

Did you watch the Presidential Debate? No, I’m not going to share yet another article that breaks down the obnoxious mansplaining of downright idiotic beliefs that one of the candidates displayed. It’s this interview with Chelsea Clinton that really stood out amongst a lot of the heavy post-debate analysis that has been doing the rounds.

I love that the topic of child-free-dom is seeing so much press. We’ve gone past the point of asserting out legitimate choice for a life without children, to talking about the many other ways in which those of us who have made this choice fulfil our instinct to care for and nurture people. This essay makes a lovely point about the presence of child-less women in the lives of mothers. I’ve always said I love being an auntie, and I am an auntie to so many lovely babies. This piece breaks it down so well, and while it is about alternative roles played by the child-free, it is mostly a case for building a life with community and kinship.

Remember that picture of Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama seated on plastic stools in what looked like a tiny eatery in Vietnam, sipping a beer each, that surfaced around May this year? Well here’s an interview with Bourdain, and deets about the episode that will feature the POTUS. So heartwarming.

*****

Okay, c’est fini.

I’m looking forward to a weekend of reading, a 100km ride on Sunday that I eventually decided to bite the bullet and go through with. I have had no practice in about a month now, so I’m going in blind. Armed with dates, chikki and ORS. Wish me luck. I’m going to need it.

When Monday rolls along, I hope to feel more refreshed, ready to wipe the slate clean and take on a new month.