Unbelievable


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Sobbed like a baby through this series.

Directly or indirectly, I have suffered a lot as a result of what men did to me, and what they continue to do to me, even when they aren’t there. I think about the Capabilities Approach and Martha Nussbaum, about the structural reasons I have been blocked from reaching my ‘fullest potential’, whatever that might mean. And I don’t just think of me and I don’t just think of sexual assault- but about all the other women (and everyone else across the spectrum who suffers from the binary construction of gender), and all the million ways in which we wear our scars every day and are yet are muted and unable to speak out, and fearful and shameful and all other kinds of things. It doesn’t matter what  cold, hard logic says because the embodied, real nature of injustice cuts deeper than any rational conversations around social justice ever will, and that is something that those  coming from a position of privilege do not understand, or perhaps cannot understand. That it isn’t just something out there, but something on you and in you in a million indescribable ways. It’s like the women say at the end of the miniseries Unbelievable- it is about your time, your job, your safety, the shrinking of your world and its possibilities, the relationships you are and are not able to maintain, the friendships you keep or lose and about the very person you could have become. These things can’t and won’t be put into material terms, cannot be explained away by logic, and no matter how much you read up on what all of this means, again and again, it doesn’t compare to actually feeling it within yourself.

 

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Colors


I can’t see colors like I used to
Those vivid hues have disappeared
These spaces inside me mostly black
And the pills I swallow ever day white

For I could taste the metal sinking into my teeth
Through my gums, like poison in my veins
And into parts of my body that were left untouched
Only that bitter sense that I’m going insane

They took away the bits of me that believed
And now I hear them in my dreams, screaming
Their voices have turned into one collective sound
Like a singular wolf howling in my head

And I’m so far away from those cliffs now
But I can still hear the waves crashing
Caught between a rock and a hard place
I can only hurl insults at the timeless sea

Who knew the magic time could create?
In making the real unreal and the unreal real
I can’t see colors like I used to anymore
But I still find those shades imprinted on me.

 

Can rest and reflection be different? (Some thoughts on transformation)


Ever since I read The Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing on the recommendation of one of my doctoral committee members, I’ve been thinking about what it means to alter the way in which we rest and reflect and rejuvenate ourselves. Most of us find it difficult to change the way in which we live, which may be due to a number of different factors, but I’d like to highlight the two I think are rather significant here. Firstly, the ways in which our professional lives are designed are more often than not external to our identities. While there has been growing interest in self-employment in recent years, many people continue to work in blue or white collar jobs where our time isn’t really our own and is structured according to the needs of a corporation, which are more often than not guided by the bottom line of economic profit for that corporation. This means any and all other bottom lines which may serve the health and wellbeing of individuals and/or communities become secondary, forcing many of us to squeeze our rest and relaxation around these other demands. The second factor here is that of our social obligations, which extends into social media and the ease of connectivity. There is more and more of an obligation to stay in touch through the internet or over the phone, and to socialize in ways that may often appear trivial rather than meaningful in any real sense of the word (where meaningful can take on many different forms: to me, it is meaningful to have deep conversations about life with close friends, and to share new reflective experiences but to somebody else but that isn’t everybody’s cup of tea).

In the face of these and perhaps other factors, we often define rest and relaxation through either short bursts of duration where we “indulge” in sleep or television or in a hobby or a sport. When we take longer ‘rest durations’, we often choose to travel for leisure. More often than not, these periods of ‘rest’ are interspersed with anxiety, dread and guilt about the work we have to get back to, the work we could be doing right then, and/or an inward narrative in our heads about how lazy and incompetent we are because we have been taught to perceive productivity as of the utmost value, where productivity stands for constantly belting out goods or services that can fit into the industrial-economic narrative. But The Good Life introduced rest and leisure differently to me in a different way: as a right, not an indulgence.

In this transformed way of thinking about rest and leisure, not everything is about production or a break from production, but centered around personal satisfaction and growth. When we start to think about rest as whatever is necessary to ensure wellbeing, we automatically also start to think about work as whatever ensures satisfaction and good health, longevity and happiness for us. We no longer have to keep a steady count of the number of hours we spend working or not working. Instead, we rest and work in doses that suit us personally.

This calls for a complete overhaul of the way in which we live our lives. For Helen and Scott Nearing, this was achieved by cutting themselves off from the mainstream economy, moving to rural Vermont and buying a plot of land there, where they could create life on their own terms. Not everyone can choose to or may want to do this of course. And as a result, for most of us, this sort of a transformation in work and leisure will sound utopian. But I’ve learned that thinking about utopia is often the first step towards bringing about real and concrete change that can help us move into a direction that is ultimately desirable, even though it will never be exactly equal to that utopia.

At the moment, I am in a rather privileged space in life, with few little social or professional obligations, and great flexibility in regards to the ones I do have. This may not always be the case for me, but I want to think about what individuals may be able to do within their current structures to pry open new spaces and standards for work and leisure, even when they are within extremely prohibiting circumstances. I do believe that the most significant changes in this regard need to be structural. So if you know of any group or individual or organization working in such a direction, let me know. I’m looking not just for a Helen and Scott Nearing sort of transformation which is ultimately about isolation from the mainstream (even though it is extremely challenging and complicated and worthwhile, if that is what you seek), but for much-needed job of ultimately bringing this to the forefront of mainstream thought and action.

PS: I also have some thoughts on the ‘quality’ of productivity that comes about when we choose rest and rejuvenation that is not time-bound and is free from guilt, anxiety etc. These probably warrant another post in their own right.

The (Real?) Villain of Game of Thrones and the Tragedy of Translation


(Spoilers for the show, and possibly now the book ending).

 

Well, they had me fooled. For all these years, I was rooting for Dany as the progressive, chain-breaker who would free Westeros of its *many* horrible male rulers and one possible tyrant ‘Mad Queen’. Last night baffled me in the worst possible way at first: this wasn’t foreshadowed, this was not supposed to happen, this is another one of the show’s twists borne out of a need to create a spectacle and to shock viewers into facing the unexpected. Or so I thought at first.

The more I delve into the deep reaches of Reddit and Youtube for discussions about the ending, the more I realize two things: a) that my reading of the books has been superficial and the hints were there all along, and that b) the showrunners of GOT, unfortunately, suffered from knowing the big beats of the plot that GRRM has laid out but being unable to execute with finesse the detailed and elaborate context that has been needed all this time to bring it to life.

I’ll take a step back here and talk about the books first. Over the past few weeks of watching the final season, my interest in the A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF) world has been re-ignited on a level it never reached when I first read the books. The context in which I read ASOIAF is interesting here: I was already a few seasons deep into the show and for the first time in all the reading I had ever done, the cinematic adaptation appeared more appealing than I could ever imagine the books being. When I ultimately succumbed to the books, it was only because I had come across spoilers (specifically from the Red Wedding) months before it aired, and I could no longer bear my curiosity, which forced me to discover the plot from online forums rather than the true source material. So I was a show loyalist before I ever even laid my eyes on the books, and when I turned to them, I started from A Storm of Swords. All this to say that I was not at all following the subtle hints of the book or the arcs of characters with as much depth then as I should have. I have come to appreciate GRMM’s storytelling more from the outside, through the show and from others’ re-readings of the original plot, than from my own reading of it. And while I intend to correct that mistake over time by diving into the plot myself, I think the point I want to come to right now is that I never saw it coming. I never saw Daenerys Targareyn turning ‘mad’ or ‘evil’ (again, I am not sure which it really is on the show, and that itself begs a whole other discussion). To be fair, many arduous book readers did not see this turn either, while some who follow the show, did. I think that that can be attributed to the incomplete book series at the moment. It would seem as though the hints, in hindsight, are there in the books. But the buildup has not been enough to warrant an unequivocal acceptance of Dany’s descent into the best-disguised villain of ASOIAF…yet.

But the more I toy with this idea in my head, the more it appeals to me: Dany as the complex underdog who rose to the heights of power, dictated by her inheritance and her obsessive desire for the throne, thwarted by those she hopes to help with her good intentions, until she ultimately gives up completely on trying to be good, and in the worst way possible. There is something poetic about it…or there can be, if it were done right.

And that is where the show has messed up. The show-runners have probably known, at least for a few years, if not from the very beginning, that the Dany arc was headed this way. But in building up Dany as a savior, they ended up creating a symbol of pop culture that has gone so far that people have been naming their babies Khaleesi. The show almost wrote itself into a corner by waiting for the longest possible time to start deepening the flavors of cruelty and/or madness that Dany should have started displaying seasons ago. Yes, Dany has killed and burned people since she gained her dragons and started to become powerful, but all of it could be justified through either modern (freeing of slaves) or medieval (necessary sacrifices for war) values. Until last night. And so this sudden turn comes out of nowhere and appears to mean nothing.

All that I see as GOT wraps itself up is nihilism. So the White Walker threat was empty and inconsequential, the savior is actually a villain who scorched a city down to the ground, and her forces plunder and kill where they should have liberated. I do believe that one of the ways in which storytelling really and truly hits us is through an inner logic and coherency that makes sense to us cognitively and emotionally. Yes, on many levels we seek the kinds of closure and completion from our stories that we cannot find in real life because reality is often messy and chaotic, but at the end of the day, our fictitious worlds must have some resemblance to our real world if we are to truly experience the fictional world to the greatest extent possible. They must also have hope. This is where I believe the show has failed us this season.

I am still trying to come to terms with the ending of the show and this would take a while, I think. I am deeply interested in the psychology of Dany and how and why she gets where she does, because what the show has provided us is probably also GRMM roadmap to the end of ASOIAF. The routes of getting there will be different and I am sure a lot of other things will change along the way but Dany seems destined for a siege of epic proportions upon King’s Landing and I am really curious to see how GRMM gets us there. I am also curious to see how the Night King versus Dany as villains play out: are they mirroring each other in destroying the world of the living, as the ice and fire of the title, and does that make Jon the ultimate balancer between these two sides of the coin, having been borne out of both, ice and fire, and being the one to ultimately put an end to both threats? Or is one out of Dany and the Night King destined to be a greater villain than the other?

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Fingers crossed for the next book to be out soon!

PS: I am also interested in writing about the women characters on Thrones. With Dany’s descent, it seems that most of the major female leads on the show have come to be hated in one form or the other (the exceptions often being those who display more masculine traits). I want to talk about how much these perceptions are grounded in sexism and how much in feminism, as well as about why these perceptions are or are not, in general good for women-centric or gender-fluid storytelling. Hopefully soon 🙂

PPS: Regardless, I loved, loved Emilia Clarke’s acting last night 🙂 Will you just look at that expression?

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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants


I haven’t been the most avid blogger off late, but…

 

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Wow. Nine years is a long, long time to have spent writing. I miss writing but I am struggling to find a medium for it. Should it be this blog? Should it be a journal that is mine alone? I see pros and cons in both, but for now, I am happy for the sudden bursts of inspiration that I do get.

It is true what they say: writing is a discipline, you must channel it through you everyday. Depending on bursts of creativity alone would never make you a writer. Writers are born out of the toil of daily agony, (re)thinking and (re)writing forever. That is all there is to it. Channeling big ideas and complex thoughts into cohesive narratives will never happen overnight.

I think this is what daunts me the most, leading to these meta-reflections on the writing process that never amount to anything but questions: ‘what am I even worth?’. But beyond these self-ruminating questions lie all the big ideas that I still believe, from the bottom of my heart, can lead to something uniquely beautiful that few others see.

A poem, then, as always:

 

What if like kraken you rise
Mossed by that onslaught of beings
Stung blue, red and black below
Those depths you sunk to unseen?

What if the real danger lies
In not seeking the whirlpools left
Frothed dark in your wake
At the edge of the sunken port?

What if your monstrosity is
The very beast I ought believe in?
For the wintry winds chill my bones
And these summer songs still haunt me

Should I row out to infinite sea
And anchor twenty-thousand leagues under?
Should I seek the giant isles which are
Your brethren standing in splendor?

Yet my dreams about your vastness may
Be nothing more than conjecture
From walls of human sweat and tears
My thoughts nothing but a spectre.

 

Rebel


What sort of a rebel am I?

The kind who stirs up pots of tea,
and conjures answers out of thin air.
Who imagines new escapades as sentences, strung
to form  coherent chapters that
Like fireflies light up
These utopian skies with love.

Or the kind who walks along precipices
and calls their bluff surreptitiously;
Then erasing victories, she hugs
the knife into her own hot heart
Where she defies existence and
boils over like thick oil on fire.

Perhaps I am both sorts
In almost entirely equal parts
But perhaps- (and this is my greatest fear)-
-I am neither-
Not thawing love, nor heating desire
Only a lifeless, empty rebel
The remnants of a fading spell
or a sultry sky above a bare room,
lit by one single flickering bulb
or an emptiness in time and space,
That is conspicuously pitch black

And though sometimes I feel content
With this imagery of the hollow rebel,
I often feel both love and heat
As two distinct but related extremes

What sort of a rebel am I?

The kind who stares away in space
Letting stillness silence the pain
But who also etches verse on stone
And whispers messages to butterflies;
who throws old customs to dogs as bone,
Pulsating with the rhythm of space and time.

 

 

There has been an urgency to return… But also a growing appreciation for privacy


I can’t say I haven’t missed blogging. It is hard to explain what it is but the urgency to write overcame me last night, more than it had ever in the past few months. And not to write an assignment or a paper or a reflection, but to write raw, real, truthful words, as I do here.

I scrambled to look for my journal- a journal I hadn’t looked at in several months but couldn’t find it anywhere buried in the myriad books and notebooks that I possess. And my hands flew towards my laptop, pulling it open. I hovered over my internet browser, almost turned to WordPress but then I stopped.

There has been something tranquil in keeping my thoughts private these past months, in only expressing them somewhat briefly on more private forms of social media that fewer people can access; even within that space I have made a smaller subset of people I feel somewhat safe in sharing with. This is indeed a conflict: my writer’s heart is always eager to express as loudly as she can; my introverted self wants to run and hide behind a wall.

But this morning I could not hold it in any longer- the words were almost bursting out of me, and my mind returned to this blog that I have constructed, and my fingers were almost no longer in my control. This is bringing me a sense of relief right now- not joy, not pride or excitement, but physical and mental release. Like the kind you feel when you uncurl your legs and step out of a vehicle at the end of a long journey. Like the kind you feel when you finish an exam or a presentation with high-stakes that you had been preparing for for a while. There is no logic in this outburst of words, this unchanneled flow of prose that says nothing and perhaps circles a subject I have already touched upon countless times here, but there it is.

I am not sure if I am back, or if this is a fluke. I do know that my being will not go too long without longing for a release of words, one way or the other. There are ways to resolve this conflict, but for now I give in. I give another chance to the virtual world today, turning in my vulnerability like long-overdue interest.

Taking a Step Back from This Blog


i haven’t been writing here for a while, but I wanted to post this to say that I am taking a step back from this blog. For now. Maybe forever.

Why?

Well, I think I have grown well beyond what this blog was built to capture. My writing has evolved as I have learned to be more in sync with myself, more fond of myself, more empowered and uplifted than I was. The things I didn’t learn, the things that prompted the many creative outbursts on this blog- those things have subsided. They are still within me but in much smaller degrees, and the majority of my time is spent in bigger (and hopefully better) pursuits. In short, I am no longer compelled to share my personal stories, at least not without them being part of a larger praxis that I hope to cultivate in my life.

Am I going to stop writing?

I will never stop writing. As painful and difficult as writing can be, it is my solace, it has always been my heartbeat, and it is my source of creativity. But writing has also become my bread-and-butter, the thing that allows me to think and to be a doctoral student and a researcher. I will never stop writing. The medium is changing and the things I want to write about are changing but the practice itself will never go away.

I just need…

I just need to take a step away from this place- the first home of my writing, the place that houses my various growing pains and heartaches, and years and years of stories that I held so close to my heart but that I am now letting go. This is not an easy task because this blog has been so central to my identity for so long. But my identity no longer fits within the confines of this blog. I don’t dwell on the things I used to anymore. Not as much. Not as often.

And so.

I might come back into your lives- in another blog, a book or an article someday. I might even come back here. But for now, I need to prepare myself for these new and hopefully exciting turns in my writing.

Thank you for all the wonderful times.

Control.


It was easy, once
To tell myself
That the universe was burning just for me
And every time something unfurled
It carried meaning for my destiny

But something gives, I see it now
What I really wanted was control
Yet chaos reigns, and right and wrong
Are just figments of my soul.

 

I haven’t written any poems for weeks and weeks so the words won’t flow, they are stuck inside my head. The emotions are there but the expression is missing, but what I am trying to say here is that one thing I have learned about myself recently is that as an intense introvert sensitive to the tiniest stimuli, I crave a sense of control over aspects of my life- over how much light I let in and what I then do with that light. I have always known this about myself, of course, the shortest conversations can be taxing and I need days to recover from a large social event of any kind, but it is enlightening to think of this as a gift, and one that I share with others around the world but is still unique enough that I need to really work to make sense of it. Thanks to Quiet by Susan Cain for helping me see just a little bit of brightness in tough times.

Once you are out of the woods: The perils of living with depression #2


I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while. Ever since I wrote that first one letting you know I live with depression, in fact. In the past few months, I’ve been using this platform to push myself to be more expressive and more honestly reflective about the conditions of my life. This phenomenon emerged by accident but is now turning into a deliberate practice. It is refreshing and sometimes nerve-wrecking to tell the truth in exactly those words. In fact, the morning after my last post (the open letter), I woke up feeling upset at and uncomfortable with myself and my decisions. However, I went to a class today that is always challenging and always teaches me a lot both, about research and about myself. After that class, as I walked home and watched a gorgeous golden sun set against a clear blue sky, I felt something I had heard before: learning is an uncomfortable feeling. In the process of expressing and exposing my thoughts to the world, I learn things about myself and they make me uncomfortable and my mind decides that what makes me uncomfortable must be avoided because it is wrong. Expressing that discomfort to the world becomes hard because I am trying to say things that people don’t always openly say. There is a desire to tuck away the uncomfortable and focus on what is acceptable. But that won’t do anymore. I enjoy writing and I have things to say, ergo I must say them. I try to remember that these waves and waves of emotion that wash over me can erode my shore, but not my core. And so, it is okay to be mindful of the emotions, and yet not feel washed away. 

This is part 2 of a series on depression.

In September 2016, I knew I couldn’t go on the way I was for much longer, and so it was the first time I went to see a counselor. I remember the day I decided I couldn’t do it anymore, I couldn’t not go, because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t. And so I went. But I didn’t know what to expect. I was randomly assigned to a counselor and I didn’t know it then (although she did), but she was a really good fit for me. We were well in sync for some reason.

Those first few sessions were mostly tears and a partial sense of release: it was good to have a stranger obligated to listen to you without judgement and without fear of the things you said trickling along a grapevine to others who might judge you. Once she had heard my first stories, the real work began. She told me (and I paraphrase);

‘It’s going to be hard, and it’s going to be a learning curve because we are working on breaking years of ingrained patterns of thinking in your head.’

I was amazed by what we found as we started mining my brain for the ways in which I thought and functioned. Things that people had said to me, the relationships I had had (romantic and otherwise), events and accidents that had transpired and the responses of my mind and body had all created loops of thinking that I was largely unconscious of  but that affected me negatively on a day-to-day basis in the ways I thought and talked and behaved.

With time, work and design, we started to see cracks in those patterns and we used those cracks to break the loops of thinking and insert healthier triggers so that the negative loops could turn into positive ones. The tricks my counselor taught me worked to a degree, until they didn’t.

‘That’s normal’, she told me when I said that I wasn’t seeing as much progress as I had in the beginning. She said there was some research into how counseling showed great results for new patients but the progress curve seemed to flatten out over time (although I’ve never looked into it personally). ‘But’ she added, ‘you might also want to go and see a doctor.’

She had been asking me to do that for months and I had never felt confident making the leap from counseling to medication as I had making the one from nothing to the counseling. However, she had an instrument that detected what I think is a much less commonly-known ailment, which, I have since realized from talking to some of the women in my life, isn’t as uncommon as it seems: PMDD or Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder, the darker twin of the better known and sometimes joked about PMS.

And so, in April 2017, I shifted to a small dose of anti-depressant, followed by a gradient increase in August 2017, and it was only after that, that I began to feel “normal”, which brings me to the theme I wanted to address in this post:

What do you do once your depression is under control?

It took a while for that initial relief of not longer having to live in dread for two to three weeks of the month to wear off. I was so excited to experience a much flatter mood line that I didn’t notice right away that not everything was okay. But once it started hitting me, I spoke to a friend who told me that those negative patterns I had mentioned earlier? Yeah, they don’t just magically go away when you switch to medicine.

From how I understand it, there is enough controversy about the effectiveness of medication versus other ‘natural’ remedies to fill books and blogs and websites. I have tried and continue to try experimenting with a number of different techniques, none of which are foolproof. For me, once I was on the medication, I realized that my brain and body had the energy and the capacity to see life more clearly and concretely than as just an endless expanse of pointless nothingness. In fact, my PMDD was getting worse and worse until I started the medicine, which probably meant that without the grace 1-1.5 weeks in the middle, I don’t know how I was even dragging myself out of bed every morning (I forgot to explain that PMDD is this miraculously blessed form of depression that mysteriously affects women for only about half their period cycle, leaving you feeling “normal”-for the most part- the rest of the month). Once I could see my life more clearly and with some form of consistent optimism however, I was in a better condition to take note of the things that still weren’t working.

The negative thought patterns were my biggest enemy. A book that I am currently reading and trying to process for a class on well-being (see reference below) suggests that emerging empirical research in positive psychology fits in well with the idea of something called Positive Causal Networks or clusters of emotions, attitudes, behaviors, traits and accomplishments that co-occur and make people happy and/or determine their wellbeing in some other ways. Such causal networks can also be negative, I suspect, although Bishop (2015) is not really wedded to that idea. The science is still young here but at least parts of what the book describes makes perfect sense to my personal life. Causal networks are persistent and its elements reinforce each other. The medicine alone would not break them because they include all these other things: emotions, attitudes, behaviors, traits, accomplishments that are cheering each other on, and that the medicine, in all its biochemical glory cannot completely control. And so, I imagine a rocky ride from a sustainable negative to an equally sustainable positive causal network, which will consist of changing all these different elements, many of which are so deeply ingrained in one’s day-to-day life that you might not even know they’re harmful for you.  I’m not there yet. I don’t know if I can get there. Maybe the best I can do in my lifetime is change fragments of the negative causal networks into fragments of positive ones. Perhaps, I can flip an entire network. Who knows!

These socio-psychological factors are also interrupted by the hormonal fluctuations and physical manifestations of health issues, creating a cocktail of factors that often require close attention and management to keep the ill-effects at bay. Bishop (2015) isn’t too convinced by the genetic component here- how much of our wellbeing and PCNs are actually affected by our genes or in other words, how much control do we really have in changing things?

And while that challenge can be intense at times, it is rewarding because- well it keeps depression under control. But it also teaches me about patience and perseverance and optimism and the cultivation of indifference. Most importantly, the ability to divorce myself from these causal networks (or whatever they are) even briefly through the acts of writing or interpretation or analyzing are strangely liberating at times because I don’t always have to be subjectively embroiled within my circumstances 24×7. I can take a step back and research my own reaction.

What I wanted to say was that the shadow of depression lingers even as the day wears out. There is no magic pill but there is a tunnel. Sometimes it bends and you may step into a puddle and get your leg all wet and muddy. I can’t even promise that there is an end to the tunnel but if you trudge along for long enough, you might just find it worth your while!

 

Reference:

Bishop, M.A. (2015). The Good Life: Unifying the Philosophy and Psychology of Well-Being. Oxford University Press.