My thoughts jettison in poetry
In restless shapes and forms
You bewitched me once, you see
An edgy little fawn
And though countless eons passed
Tonight of all the many nights
I tear my paper heart
I picked up my stone-dead feet for you
I stole fingers from a corpse
I learnt to sing falsetto and smile at
the terror in my heart
I know you still remember me
in the gentleness of my prose
You mirror pain you pushed upon
the smattering of my heart
Now all these years hang between us like
A ragged curtain in the wind
I see you through its gaps; counting
the pebbles in my heart
Even as I heal my brain and soul
I see your imprints all over me
Broken beneath my skin I still hide
the pieces of that heart
Tonight of all the many nights
it doesn’t matter that I lived this long
Like all the girls before me who lift
their skirts and push
Blood diamonds into this world
I write poetry in red ink and I
tear my paper heart
Today I confronted stories of people I love- and detected a common pattern of painful submission in the lives of countless girls I know. We are all in our mid-twenties and I was suddenly stuck by the fact that we are all already broken. It isn’t just the curse of a female body to bear the cuts, bruises and tears of her submission to nature, to man, to birth, to the good and the bad of humanity, it is often her only form of self-identity. When we push other narratives aside and become only victims in our own eyes, we suffer intermittently but sometimes that is indeed the only option we have and it allows us to revel in our femininity.
I wanted to write a poem at the interface of that female gentleness, her subjugation, and her recuperation. Here I try to capture a circular journey where inflicted pain damages body, soul and mind, but generates ‘blood diamonds’- something brutal and valuable that she must incorporate into the rest of her existence, whether or not she wishes to do so. In capturing the ‘you’, I was thinking of man but I also think of patriarchy more broadly, of nature, of the often unspoken and unknown ailments that plague a female body of reproductive age.
Disclaimer: Femininity is a much, much larger than just victimhood, of course, although it is undeniable that a certain part of it does come from the exposure of vulnerability to a harsh world that threatens to destroy it, which does not make it weak or wrong but merely imperfectly placed in its surroundings (this could often mean that the surroundings must be the ones to cave in). Femininity in that case is all-encompassing of anything a woman may self-identify with. I will not take it upon myself to even attempt to describe what it is, but by using it in this sense, I wanted to highlight one of its myriad manifestations.
Or so I have been told. Is it always applicable? Some days you can be walking down the street, looking normal. But your mind is screaming at you from the inside: “Look at how clumsy you are! Everyone’s making fun of you. Can’t you see their silent smirks, those long side way glances?” And then you feel lost in a sea of people, almost like you’re drowning. You think to yourself, if only you could belong! If only somebody here would stop and listen to you, and talk to you. If only you could hear another voice, just for a little while, talk about something “normal”, something beyond the struggles of justice and equity you are trying to shoulder upon yourself.
To save you the trouble of analyzing the above paragraph, I will do it myself: I see at least three distinct strands of thought in the “problem statement” above: there’s social anxiety which can eat away at your inside when you’re in public or even with just another person, there’s loneliness because when you’re by yourself it is more comfortable but at some point you crave human contact. And there is the plague of what I would call “critical truth-seeking” where you are trying to seek a truth that isn’t absolute, but will cater to your critique of what you think “ought to be” for the purposes of a just/equitable society that is also sustainable for a number of stakeholders, many of whom have no voice of their own (think non-humans and future generations).
When you carry all of this around with you almost every day, sometimes it is likely to get a lot, leading you to ask yourself- must I continue down this road? I can stop any minute I want and try to seek comfort in something else entirely. There are plenty of other roads I can think of taking: music, writing, blogging and crafts, for instance. But you know you can’t turn your back to something once you have set your eyes on it. This isn’t because you are stubborn (well, maybe just a little bit). It is mostly because this is a quest for something better. And although you know that these kinds of quests are mostly unending- think of the writer’s dilemma, for instance, where the process of producing something worthwhile makes her a better writer so that by the time she lifts pen of paper, she knows that she can write better than that novel she just finished and so she must go on, to the next one- you can’t help it, maybe because you are a little bit addicted but mostly because you wonder, well if not this then what? What in the world is better than the unending adventure of self-discovery and rediscovery? Nothing! And you know it.
So now that we have established that this isn’t a battle you’re ready to desert, where does this leave you? Perhaps what you need to do is fake it until you can make it and pull through. Is this a worthwhile strategy to adopt? I believe it is one of many that can help you ease those knots in your stomach. You must keep doing what you simply have to do, until it becomes easier. But there are hidden dilemmas here: sometimes it can stop you from seeking support. If you’re acting like everything is normal, others around you will just assume that it is. Soon you may find yourself caught in a spiral where you have to maintain the position of “everything is all right” for the sake of everyone but yourself, even though you do not believe in it. On the other hand, admitting that there is a problem , even to the most well-meaning of listeners (your own self, for one) will not automatically lead you to solutions.
I believe a cocktail of solutions is better suited to this purpose. Admit, but to the best kinds of people: yourself, a friend, a parent, a partner. Fake until you make it, with all others: tell yourself how confident, beautiful and smart you are when faced with moments with the potential to break you- you may actually start to believe it, at least enough to pull through with panache. And in the midst of this complex web of self-trickery and truth-telling, remember the following (these are techniques I have learnt from a trustworthy source): observe your thoughts and fears swim by but do not judge yourself (a meditative stance), be respectful and firm to your own values no matter how murky the battleground may seem, and remember to keep practicing the art of self-acceptance!
Disclaimer: None of the above tricks and tips may work for you, or a combination of these with other self-realizations actually just might. None of this is likely to be at all easy. I think the trick is to know that you’re in a battleground and that you won’t give up!
Fact: One in four people in the world are battling their minds everyday!
I know that I haven’t posted much over the past weeks, and that whenever I have posted, I have mentioned changes- transformation that has been occurring in my body and soul as I traverse through some of the biggest changes of my life.
And this is to be expected- moving to another country will open your eyes in ways nothing else will, but feeding your brain with a host of classes that teach you to think and see the world critically is like adding a kaleidoscope before your eyes which enables you to see colors and patterns you never did before. Along the way, I am cruising towards the mid point of my twenties and finding out in clearer terms what defines me. I know I will always change as I go through life but I also know that whatever happens over the next few years will recreate my personality in fundamental ways that will lay a foundation for the rest of my life.
It can be argued that this personality has already been made. ‘What were you doing for 23 years of your life?’, you could very rightly ask and I would tell you that yes, I was made but in most ways, that making was very unconscious. While I participated in my own making, I did not do it voluntarily or willingly. Now, for the first time- I am on my own and while I know that it is nearly impossible to make yourself entirely by your own design, I have started to believe in my power to fix the things that need fixing and not succumb to the forces around me. There will always be structures and institutions that will rain down upon me in a million ways but I am not entirely powerless. And in this of course, I am more fortunate than the general population ever is. With the recognition of this fortune, I am ever grateful to be powerful and open enough to my own possibilities.
I have spent time these past few months, dwelling on the shortcomings of the world that I have lived with, and why it has made me the way that I am. Along this journey, I am discovering fears that are sometimes almost paralyzing in nature but I have been equally delighted to find my ruptures slowly healing. They crack open into chasms when the times are right but by surrounding myself with the best kind of support system that I could possibly have had, I have been able to keep them at bay. I am moving towards functionality- something I have always struggled with. Mulling over how broken I have felt in the past does not make me feel helpless anymore. It makes me feel grateful to have moved on and empowered to have had the chance to be where I was. I do not think that I am entirely safe- on the contrary, I am more convinced than ever that me and everyone around me is always walking on the thinnest possible line and can tip over any second.
I have been struggling to grapple this- my own mortality, my own transitionality. I don’t feel I will ever be “done”, ever be comfortable enough to feel safe in this inherently broken world, ever be free from the curse of thinking too much about my own “self”, whatever it is, whatever form it will take. I am starting to love life, much as I have often chosen to hate it and myself. I am learning and re-learning what it means to be an imperfect human being in an imperfect world. But because I am gaining, I have more to lose and that makes me fear in a way that I might not have before.
At the same time, I want to teach myself how to be at peace, how to be “in the moment”. With every trip I take to a new place, with every ‘aha’ moment of discovery within my own soul, with every little obstacle that I find myself climbing and sometimes merely crawling over, I tell myself to remember to be happy with where I am. “If I were to die tomorrow,” I say to myself, “I will be happy because despite a multitude of unfulfilled dreams and desires, I have achieved so much more than I would have thought myself capable of a year, two years, three years back.”
With this realization, I remember to push away from this jungle of depressing thoughts that bombard us- we’re not pretty enough, not rich enough, not well-travelled enough, not accomplished enough- this is what the media tells us every day, this what our online accounts tell us every day. We strive, with our Instagram and our Facebook and our Snapchat and our Twitter to create an image of a perfect version of ourselves- a version that is untrue. This version does not contain within it the billions of tousled hair mornings we wake up to. It conceals our bleary, teary-eyes; our sore muscles; our ugly fights; our jealousy, our envy; our sweat and pain and diseases. It is a snapshot out of a hundred billion tiny moments that make up our lives.
I invite all of you in the sincerest possible manner,dear readers, if you’re still reading, to think about pushing away the competition, the pain, the agony- we are all suffering in so many ways and this world continues to push suffering onto us every single day as our ageing bodies struggle to survive. But I want to invite you all to breathe and remember to be human and remember to not give in to the hoax, even as you wish you weren’t a part of it. I want to invite you all to remember what matters to your soul and find the cracks that need fixing and to stare at yourself in the mirror as you are and tell yourself what you really believe is true, underneath all your masks. I want to invite you all to remember the messiness of life.
George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).
Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) is an NGO that undertakes development initiatives to impact positively the lives of the poor, deprived and marginalized sections of the society through a people-centred approach focusing on their participation, awareness and empowerment for sustainable development.
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