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The Right Words

Of late, I have been writing what I am calling my ‘throw away’ work. Wasted words that are cold and flat…lacking in imagination or technique. I hack away at my keyboard for minutes on end and then with one impulsive touch of the backspace button, every word is discarded…I’m back to a white screen…back to contemplating…stuck again.

How ironic that at this moment I am writing about not being able to write!

The feeling of helplessness is almost physical…I am seldom happy with the words on my screen…mediocre phrasing annoys me. I long for finesse. I need…something…I’m not sure what exactly….but I know my writing lacks it.

I wonder…I deliberate on my choice of expressions…scratch this…change that…rephrase…punctuate…find another way to say that…write something different…and then in a moment of exasperation, “I can’t come up with a good idea” becomes “I’ll never come up with a good idea ever again.”

The vexations creep up on me like a shadow on a sundial…like a vine on a wall…like a cat on a mouse. Sigh! I overdid that, didn’t I? I’m almost incurably verbose…that’s my other struggle.

If I sound annoyed it’s because I am and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This dissatisfaction with my writing drives me…ideas simmer in my mind…they hang there…I’m aware of them but I’m still searching for the right words to give them shape. The foggy feeling lingers…like when you’re in that half-asleep, half-awake state just before your alarm breaks the silence of the early morning. You know?

(Takes a ten minute break…comes back to laptop with a mug of coffee, a leftover idli and a little more clarity…)

I guess like any skill, writing takes practice and for me that practice comes from my throw away words. If I was happy with everything I wrote I wouldn’t be allowing myself to grow…to learn or to just write a whole lot of nonsense once in a while. I keep telling my students that unless they’re practicing, they’re not improving. The same applies to me. To us. To everyone.

Despite my usual misgivings about New Year’s Resolutions, I am determined to keep writing this year…to keep toying with words even though there are times when I just want to click the little red box on the top-right of my screen and undo all the phrases. I think I should start keeping my ‘throw away’ words…start saving them instead, so that I can read them over…without judgment…without posting them on a blog…without asking people for feedback. I think we all need a space to express ourselves naively…a canvas where the strokes don’t mater…where the technique doesn’t count…but a place that exudes the kind of vibrancy that comes from spontaneous expression.

I wonder if there really are right words for every thought. For now, these will just have to do.

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Everything is Just a Phase

January 12, 2015

I have just assigned my class a challenge and have presented them with a writing prompt. I’ve told them that I am going to take this challenge with them and so here I am scribbling away on a sheet of ruled paper, toying with my words.

FullSizeRenderFinal chapters, closing doors, clocks ticking away towards a deadline, it seems like so much of our lives is dictated by an overwhelming sense of finality. Everything ends…people leave…friendships fade…and your closest companion could eventually just end up as a coffee cup memory for a day of lazy afternoon reveries.

My biggest grouse against life is that there is no seal of permanence on the things we hold dearest or the relationships that matter most. We invest so much in making memories with people, in the places we go and while doing the things that lead us to a better understanding of who we are. But the thing is, most often they end up as just memories. Sure, they affect us, they change us but then they fade and disappear. Eventually.

Like the yellowing pages of your prized paperback from your teenage years… like mementos buried in tin boxes…like that currency bill you accidently find in the pockets of your old and faded jeans, these memories are sometimes rediscovered. Your joy is palpable…you either squeal in delight at the discovery or smile discreetly as the memory warms up your insides like a hot beverage on a December day. You bask in the afterglow…it envelops you…your mind wanders…and then wonders…where did those years go? I wish I could go back there someday…I wonder where he is…I wonder if she still thinks of me…

I know there is a school of thought that says we’ve got to suck it up and deal with it… deal with life…make the most of the time we’ve got and the people we meet…and then move on. But I wish it was that easy. I guess that’s the reason I love watching TV series and so seldom choose the latest blockbuster instead…there’s continuity there and the story doesn’t just come to a halt after two amd a half hours…it goes on.

I gaze up, the students are still engrossed in their writing, and are stringing words together to make complex sentences…their concentration is visible on their brows. I hear the pleasant swoosh of pen on paper…fingers hacking at keyboards…the music from my laptop plays softly…it’s meant to create mood and induce creativity. It’s such a lovely moment really….will make for a lovely memory too. Then suddenly the school bell rings…the vibrating notes bring us all back to the ragged edges of reality. Time is up…the class is over.

I hear shuffling feet…the thump of laptops being shut…the rustling of papers being hurriedly handed in. The beauty of the preceding moments has vanished like a toffee wrapper in an updraft. The moment has passed.

Everything is just a phase.

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EDI Diaries #1

There was a strange feeling in the air this morning that reminded me of my days as a student. To my right was a man with a nervous twitch who kept tapping his knuckles incessantly on the metallic frame of his waiting room chair. On my left, a young lady of African ethnicity was flipping through the pages of all the literature we had been handed and in front of me was a young boy no older than 18, exuding a quiet confidence the adults around him lacked. His bright red T-shirt read ‘Bazinga’.

Twenty minutes of waiting and staring passed before we were finally herded into another waiting room and told to await further instructions. Fifteen minutes passed and I was bored. So, I opened my blue Adidas bag repeatedly. File, check. Stationery, check. ID, check. Mentos, check. Five minutes later I opened my bag again. Everything was still there. I was still waiting and it felt like the clock was stuck in a devilish limbo. I’m not good with whiling away my time without something constructive to do.

Suddenly a booming voice with a distinct Arabic accent filled the room. ‘All English people…’ (I guessed that included me) ‘…lecture room 4. No talking…no phones…no photographs.’ he instructed us robotically. He was clearly not enthusiastic about his job and gave us each a menacing stare-down as we made our way towards the room. We rushed towards the door…herd mentality…everyone rushed to get a good seat. I headed to the last row…my comfort zone. The room was big, poorly lit and a musty scent hung in the air. I took my place, silenced my phone and sank into my seat. It was going to be a long day.

After eight years in Dubai, here I was…finally  learning how to drive. Unlearning all the wrong ideas and learning by the rule book. Forgetting that where I come from, the bigger your car, ensures you the right of way. Where honking incessantly is the magic solution to thinning traffic jams. Where keeping a safe distance between cars is giving invitation to the newest sports bike or arrogant autowallah to cut through without a care in the world.  A place where you can turn right from the extreme left. I could go on and on.

Cut to eight hours of lectures later, the instructor announced a surprise revision quiz. I could feel myself moaning the words ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’…people turn…and stare….did I say those words out loud? Damn! Way to begin the course Sydney! The instructor allows his stare to linger a second longer than necessary and then continues…points to the screen… ‘now that is a closed u-turn and the other one was an open u-turn. So which lane will you take when you turn at an open u-turn?’ In India, you would laugh at anyone asking this, but here you listen and answer with military etiquette.

I hear the word ‘You’ being spat out at someone…there’s a finger pointing in my direction. Wait, am I supposed to answer? Think Sydney, think. No phone-a-friend. No cheating. He’s testing *you*… ‘Right-hand lane’ I hear myself say hesitantly. Without a word the bespectacled legionnaire moves onto his next target, a Philipino lady who he has caught dozing off. She answers too. This is not going how he had planned it.

Sahi jawab the imaginary narrator in my head declares…there’s clapping in the stands. Triumphant.

I feel like I am one step closer to the elusive driving license in Dubai. I am charged about the road tests. The 5th time is the charm, they say. For now I’m celebrating with a Shwarma and a milkshake as I wait for the cabbie to come get me. I know the next few weeks are going to be a bumpy ride. Sorry for that pun…I couldn’t help myself!

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Waves

This is not one of those ‘I just turned 30 so I’ve suddenly become reflective’ posts, but it’s really about a thought that has been tossing in my mind for a while. I know one of the most important things in life is to have a plan, to have vision, to chart a path for yourself and walk it strategically and confidently but, do you ever feel rudderless?

I’m not saying that I’m drifting at the moment, quite the contrary. I love work, I get to make a difference every day (at least I try to…but with kids, you never really know for sure) and that matters most to me. I’ve been lucky, people have been good to me, opportunities continue to come my way, without my having to go after them, and I embrace them. The results are mostly good. Good for me. Good for other people. And everything seems as if it is as it should be.

But before I get complacent in that feeling, I’m suddenly rudderless again. Second guessing myself again, wondering ‘now what?’ The self-doubt comes in waves and when they do, they are all consuming. It lasts for a few days then the ebb and flow recedes, there’s light again…then…sunshine…and then maybe a week or two later…perhaps a month…the drizzle begins, turns into a steady shower…and then more waves.

I feel like by now, I should have this ‘life’ thing sorted out. There shouldn’t be so much second guessing. But I find that I am constantly comparing, constantly thinking, exploring options, looking for opportunities to try new things and what makes it so much more complicated is that there a million things to consider, if you’re really looking. I wonder if it’s the curse of our generation to have so many options. We are paralyzed by choice and the wide array of possibilities make everything so confusing.

So I take time to ask myself regularly, am I happy? And the answer has always been yes. I chose to teach and I would choose it all over again. The answer leaves me wondering…what then, where is this perceived lack of ‘_______’ (I couldn’t find a word for it) coming from?

I guess that’s when it sort of struck me, I think that we usually equate being happy with being fulfilled. But they’re not the same at all. Happiness comes while one is pursuing personal dreams. A deep sense of fulfillment will emerge when you finally connect the person you are with the things that you choose to do. Does that make sense?

To borrow from Dickens, these bouts of questioning and scrutiny feel like ‘the best of times and the worst of times’. I feel caught between waves of realism and idealism, risk and security, adventure and roots. Despite these surges, I’m told by my confidants that the moment of clarity will come. It always does. I just have to take a great leap of faith and trust that it will. And that I will be in good company, because endless number of people have taken that leap, too. And I guess that’s what will eventually happen. Because things do fall into place somehow, my life is testament to that. But for now I really need to learn how to swim, or at least  how tokeep my head above water, because when the waves keep coming, sink or swim is not an option for me. I want to ride the waves. Fearlessly.

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Mundane Ramblings

I’ve been in a half-waking/half-dreaming state since around 4 am today. I finally got out of bed around 5:30. The alarm hadn’t even gone off yet. I stood in my balcony for a while, studied for a little bit and then I figured I’d blog and get it out of the way before the sun comes up and I’m distracted by the ins and outs of everyday life. (Unfortunately, I’ll probably post this hours later, when I’m convinced it’s good enough to go online)

After the rush of the work week that surges past us in a blur, Friday mornings in the UAE are calm and tranquil experiences. Till about 11 am, the emirates seem to be in a deep slumber, nobody stirs, there are no traffic snarls, balconies are deserted except for the odd early riser standing outdoors, coffee-cup in hand, luxuriating in the stillness of the morning. Everybody makes the most of the languid atmosphere.  Only the Muezzin’s full throated voice breaks the somewhat eerie silence as he calls his faithful brothers to prayer. ṣalāt al-jum`ah.

Friday mornings in the UAE really are a different kind of special for me, full of possibilities at the cusp of the weekend, a time when it’s easy to appreciate the quiet of the world around me. It gives me time to think. To write. To wonder. To be. A luxury we don’t really have all through the week. Unfortunately, my weekend schedule is most often globally unsychrozied as family and friends all over the world are still working or busy bringing their work weeks to an end.

I’m beginning to feel that morning rituals are important, especially on the weekends. Through the week, as so many of us can attest, we are busy and dragged in so many directions, we can’t figure out which way is up by the end of it. We crave that respite from the world, and a calm weekend morning ritual can really set the tone for the rest of the weekend and the start of your next week. I don’t have a set weekend ritual yet but I am beginning to feel the need to design one.

It’s never really too late to carve out your own ritual and see what pieces fall into place, is it? By the end of the week I’m so thoroughly exhausted, from 5:00 am wake up alarms, to putting in a full week at work that relishing the silence of the weekend seems exactly like what the imaginary doctor ordered.

Anyway, I’ve got a full weekend planned. There was a plan to travel to Fujairah with some friends but I’ve put that on hold temporarily but there’s still a lot more to be done and I better get started.

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Cardboard Box

I’ll let you in on a little secret about myself, I hold on to all sorts of silly things. For example I take screenshots of chat conversations I want to remember, I keep the stubs from movie tickets, I keep pamphlets and boarding passes from trips around the world…I save everything!

Let’s backtrack a little…I have this cardboard box that holds a lot of my favourite memories. I’m not sure whom I got it from or when I got it, but I received it many years ago and despite forgetting what came in it, I liked this box so much that I kept it in the hope of finding a use for it. Eventually I did.

I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to mementos and mental memories. Ever since high school, I always kept things that I thought were important to the history of my relationships or special places or events. I have letters my parents wrote to me. Years of correspondence with my pen-friends (yes I had pen-friends), exam papers my friends asked me to get rid of, and a wide variety of billet-doux that mean something to me. This large box seemed like the perfect resting place for my memories.

The funny thing about memories though is that they only last as long as you remember them. Despite starting many moons ago in high school, I still have those numerous keepsakes tucked away. While I know of their existence, I realize that I rarely unearth that box from its resting place to reminisce on the past.

So, what’s the point? Why keep a box full of little metal memories that collects dust in my apartment? Why do I keep adding to it as I have more life-experiences and as more people flit in and out of my life? Why not just sift through it and toss out the unnecessary? Simply put, I can’t—not yet at least. Those keepsake and mementos are vital scraps of my life and so much of who I am and what made me this way is confined therein.

In the words of the old country song:

“Memories don’t leave like people do
They always stay with you
whether they’ve been good or bad
they are something that you had”

There is something to be said for memorabilia, we value them because they represent a connection with something important in our past. Many of us keep all kinds of memorabilia around and while I don’t believe those things intrinsically represent a threat to your present, they are part and parcel of who you are at the moment.

Call me sentimental but I am one of those people whose mind is a depository of long lost memories. I remember more “useless” information than most people I know. I am a trivia king and so my memory is not selective and neither are my mementos. For all intents and purposes I try never to forget people, places, experiences, things and my mementos of past relationships, photos, cards, gifts and other things are my relationships’ totem pole.

I wonder if you’d be willing to share about the things you keep, why you keep them and what they mean to you.

Thanks for taking the time to read…

“Memories, even bittersweet ones, are better than nothing.”  ― Jennifer L. Armentrout, Onyx

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Book Problems

This weekend I had to move apartments…again. For those of you who are keeping count, that’s five apartments in seven years. But let’s keep the ranting for another post, shall we? Anyway, as much as I detest packing and moving, I have got to say, unpacking my personal library brings me so much joy! In the last seven years here, I’ve amassed a large collection of books, and that’s putting it mildly!

Today, I found myself killing some time in one of Sharjah’s few bookstores (The Book Mall at Qanat Al Qasba). I didn’t go in there with any specific book in mind but I did walk out with four new books to add to my collection. For those who know me well, one thing is certain, this is a pattern, something that repeats itself over and over again.

Despite the fact that I probably have way too many books and despite the fact that I am running out of room to store them, I’m absolutely not sold on the notion of purging my library by ‘giving some away’ like someone ridiculously suggested a few days ago. I don’t even fancy lending a book and I cannot even imagine what parting with them permanently would feel like.

The reason I cannot part with my books is this: a significant number of books I own are ones I haven’t read yet. Some people believe I should read all the ones I have before I purchase any new books, but I cannot help myself. There’s something so special about putting new books in a row with other books, read and unread; and then lingering over the sight of all of them lined up on a shelf waiting to be selected. I don’t know how else to explain it, but when it comes to books, there will always be more books that you haven’t read than books that you have, and a reading desire is in many ways more important than reading accomplishments, no?

My library of unread books is far more inspiring than a library of books already read. There’s nothing more exciting than finishing a book and walking over to my book shelves to figure out what I’m going to read next. So, the solution here is simple – slow down on the buying, not cut it out completely, which means things like limiting myself to one book per bookstore visit. As long as I don’t trip over those piles of books on my floor or break my back trying to transport them to my next apartment (God forbid!), it seems to me that having too many books is a pretty awesome problem to have.

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