Art in The Dancing Plague of the 2020s

I sit to write, and then, I ask myself once again whether there is a point to it all. The world has run amok with the unwritten memo that everyone must perform. Corporations have perpetuated this idea, and everyone else seems to have taken it in earnest. I fail to understand why, but then, the mentality of crowds has always washed over me. The bottom line is: to be anything today, you must perform and entertain.

The intrinsic value of work is now reduced to a tone-deaf regurgitation of latching onto a trend and performing. If you cannot do it, well, you are not a writer, an architect, a painter, or what have you. People with little skill, too much time on their hands, and a really loud disposition have taken over the world. It is the end of the placid, the reflective, and if you do not like it, well, good luck to you. Trying to be exceptional is not even an afterthought; it is not even required. It is an ancient pursuit, some forbidden magic.

I do not have any qualms with how people do things, but we must put our foot down when push comes to shove, when it comes to your door. I am not a performer; no, I am a writer. The writing is far too vital for me to divert from it. The world can dance to its own tunes and succumb to its pressures. There are bills to pay, words to write, and a life to live. All that leaves little time for me to dance on my own; dancing for the world, then, is out of the question.

Maybe I am foolish, but I still think there is merit in merit, that goodness is a measure in itself. If anything is good, it is eventually noticed without you flailing and flapping your arms, selling your soul, or worse, your time. Maybe I am naive, but that your work is noticed during your life or after is irrelevant as long as you put your mind, your soul, your heart into it. Maybe I am wrong, but I do not want to be right.

If you ask me, you should write so long as one person is ardently reading your work, and if they stop, you continue writing still. The rest is as the rest happens. He was foolish; they might say when you die. You will not be here to hear it. The work, however, will remain.

Waking Up After The World At Midday

A phone call woke me up at nine on a Saturday morning. When I asked who it was, since I had not gotten a call at those hours in years, the person said they were from an insurance company. Groggy and tired as I was, I told them if I could insure my rest and if I could do that, would they stop calling? I slept again, and when I woke up, it was much after the world had gotten on with the weekend. When I woke up, the neighbours’ laundry collectively adorned all their balconies, the children were playing on the lawn below, and the honking echoed all over the city as it does. I looked at the world outside, stretched a little and got a cup of coffee. Then, I came out to the balcony again and sipped it. There were things to do, but I could take a moment. In my experience, rushing has not solved the major troubles of my life at all. It has only made them worse. So, now, I do not hurry. If I am tardy, then so be it; I am tardy. I get things done on my own time now. There is no other way to live as long as no one expects me to rush, and that, too, is in the works. Slowly, everyone is forgetting how I handled stacks and stacks of things to do. Slowly, they have begun asking me: do you have the time?

Slowly, I have started being honest with them: no, I do not, not today at least; I have a lot to do. It has been the case for years, but I can shift things around tomorrow and help you. That is always possible. But not today. I woke up terribly late, as you already know. After all, as you also know, my sleep is not insured. It tends to break too often, too quickly and arrives too late on most days, and when it does, I do not get anything for it in exchange.

Mostly, I get a list of leftover tasks from years ago. Something is always urgent when a day begins, like a favour or two or looking at a view. Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, what have you. They all meld into one another when you continue living. That is not a complaint, of course. It is still a privilege to wake up, tired or otherwise. That much is not lost on me. Not now, not today, not ever. But a man can be wise and also, be tired. That, too, is possible.

The Urgency Of My Tardiness

I sit outside a cafe and read Mary Oliver on a day when for no reason at all, my hope seems to have disappeared. In her words, I find what most find, and to call it a word like respite, would be incomplete despite being true. In the words of others, I find my own voice often, and to not pay homage or credit or even a note of thanks would be terribly unfair in a world where stealing and taking someone’s art for granted is normal, and if not normal, then tolerated. I have built it all—these words, this life, this disposition—on the shoulders of giants, of people who feel larger than the very life they have so much to talk about. But then, all this serious, morbid air lifts off from around me and leaves me on the ivory table and chair amidst the pollen-infused, enthused spring foliage of the garden around the patio. I sit and read the poems, one after the other, stopping only to take a sip of my coffee and sometimes, at the rude honking of the cars right outside, on the other side of the hedge that separates the hustle of the city and my moment of calm. I sit, and I read, and then I stop and check the time.

“Why are you always running?” They ask me, “Why are you always late or just on time? You should calm down and not be in this rush-filled frenzy, this urgency in your heart.”

I look at them and avoid telling them it is because I stop too much. I stop too much to think, to look around, to read a poem. My tardiness is a side-effect of my theft from all of you. All those little moments and minutes add up in the end. All the time I steal from others, I put into these very words that they sometimes (read: rarely) appreciate.

I look at them and want to tell them about this, but then, I keep it tucked under my tongue like a confession you do not make, and it remains there with all the things I do not say but think about day after day.

I wish I said some things out loud. I wish I did. I wish I could. But I have read my poems for now, and the sky is getting darker. There will be time to think about wishes and regrets.

For now, I must hurry and get back home. It seems I am late already.

I Listen To A Love Song At Four In The Afternoon

I listen to a love song at four in the afternoon as the clouds rage outside, ready to pour. It reminds me of no one, but it can still serve its purpose. It moves along like a train chugging about through landscapes of memory with no stops on its course. There is no muse in this room, this life, yet the song talks of love, yet I understand. I lose myself in the verse, the chorus, the music, and the remnants of a feeling. I let the song repeat, and the clouds in my periphery get dreamier by the minute as I lie down and let the song wash over me like the rain does on the world. So much of what I want to say is contingent on having someone to say it about. In my imagination, I have written a full anthology of poems for someone else, and none exist just yet. They say you should write what you know, and so I stop myself from putting words down until they are for somebody. So much of what I write depends on how my life has gone, and so much remains to be decided by how it will go.

It is five in the evening on a Tuesday in March, and I let myself melt into a sleep you do not get often. The one where you are still awake; you know a song plays in the room, echoing through the leaves of the plants that would not stop growing, that have far outgrown their pots; you know the clouds are dancing over the sky in a sort of waltz or a foxtrot. There is a sort of playfulness in the air around you, and you are asleep, yes, but you are also wide awake and aware of the moment at hand. I listen to a love song without anyone to dedicate it to, and I think of the poems I could write, of the moments I could live, of the laughter I could laugh, and then, the power goes out. The weather has gotten on, and the rain continues pouring. As the power comes back on, I think of starting the song again, but its moment has passed. That is the thing about abrupt endings. They tend to take everything along.

Of course, life gets on as the weather does; it does not change what you have left behind. You continue living and laughing, but not like you would have, no. Not like that at all.

There Are No Signs on the Yellow Brick Road

You get to a certain age, and you become disillusioned with life. The days often repeat more than you can keep track of, not that you are keeping track, not that you are interested in such a chore—there are enough of them to go around. The last thing you need is one more thing you have to do. Between taking the trash out day after day, all your dreams of finding the yellow brick road are gone. It has, at some point, melded into your life. Perhaps, any road we walk is the metaphorical yellow brick road. Perhaps, that’s it. It better be, or else we are all lost.

Time has marched on, and it is march yet again. In many ways, this year feels precisely like the previous one. Only it seems I’ve left the harder years further behind. One would think this would make me happier. But then, try walking a little too far away from your troubles, and you will forget why you began walking in the first place. The further I leave my problems, the further I go along this path and the more lost I feel. Why am I walking? It is such a simple question but one with tremendous impact. I have asked myself this suddenly, and it has stopped me in my tracks. Below my feet are pristine bricks laid meticulously. I do not know where they lead; I have forgotten where I started. I stand here by myself.

The road is yellow with hope and possibility, yet my shadow that falls on it is still the same. There are no signs around me. The landscape around me remains the same. Nothing has changed. I look around, and I lose my sense of direction. Now, I do not know whether I face where I came from or where I was heading in the first place. It looks all mixed up, but it is all bright and beautiful. The grass is the precise green as green should be, and the sky is the only blue I know. What do I do? Where do I go?

The road stretches ahead of me. The road stretches behind me. It is all yellow; it is all golden.

Out of fear of staying still, I continue walking.

We Wish We Wished For Something Else

If I were to put my greatest wish in a sentence, it would not be for money, and surely, not for love. If I were to find it in me to tell you what I want the most, I would tell you that I want to wake up in the morning and immediately, from the slice of light that falls on the wooden desk on the wooden floor, to know that I have gotten it. It is a different kind of light when it is raining outside, softer and, in its own way, warmer. That is what I want: to wake up and know immediately that it is raining, to lay in my bed as I hear the sound of the pattering overpowering everything else, and then, to go back to sleep knowing all too well my greatest wish has been fulfilled. I have been kissed good morning by the damp hours of the morning, and I have been lulled back into sleep and comfort.

Only two nights ago, at about five minutes past one in the morning or in the night, whichever way you prefer to put it, I wrote in my notes. If there is one thing I want in life, it is to wake up on a rainy day and go back to sleep. Like we often do for wishes, I watch the days closely, waiting for this to happen. You do not know the sheer scale of my disappointment. There are so many days when it fails to happen.

Now, my wish has been granted. A part of me is curious for what I should have asked in place of this day. There are, as there always are, a plethora of things to solve and a brimming plate of things to do. It is curious, isn’t it, how when our wishes are granted, we can almost immediately think of something more fitting, more urgent, more critical that could have been given to us instead? We often forget that to be given anything in this life results from a lengthy collision course of which we are but a part. Every gust of wind in this world has conspired and blown precisely to get this rain here today, at the right moment, and here I sit, ungrateful and smug.

That is the thing about wishes: when they are but wishes still, we would trade the world for them. But on the off-chance that they are granted?

We wish we wished for something else.

Notes To Myself, About Writing After A Short Hiatus

In no particular order: To write only when there is light outside. To not force words out of myself—and if I have to, to not do it at the behest of the ticking hands of a clock. To not let myself become a slave to my fastidiousness or my obsession to have all of it in the right place. This is no apartment; this is my life’s work. I must embrace the mess, to a degree, to till I can find it in myself to manage it. I must carry it with me, and not push it into an over-cluttered drawer. All neatness, after all, depends on how many drawers and boxes you can hide in plain sight. To write in a way that is not boxed in.

To not only break the mould, but shatter it completely week after week, or at least, try. On most weeks, the trying will suffice. To talk about more, to talk about different, and to talk about things worth talking about, even if the world has no care or time for them. To not fall into the trap of wanting to be a performer for a world that forces its tunes on us; to not become an advertisement, and if I have managed to resist it so far, to continue my defiance. To be able to say I did not sell my soul to get more eyes on my words in the end. To write for myself, and sometimes, for the world.

To write about love, even if I have forgotten about what it feels like, especially then. To write about it like we talk of the sweet memory of pumpkin spice in the middle of summer. To write about it without anticipation of it coming, with an assurance that like winter, it shall arrive in its own time, too. To write about it without the worry and terror of it leaving when it does arrive. And if it fails to arrive, to talk about the loneliness, the dejection but not paint a mural out of it. To not make a monument out of pain, and to not let myself wander too far into that maze. To write about it still, however. To try to do it without losing myself.

And if it is in me, to learn to correctly title a piece for a change.

Bookmark #685

To whom it may concern,

I leave this hastily written letter and all my words in hands I trust.

I began writing this barrage of prose on a whim, like how I do everything. When it is the end of the day, when the work is slowly subsiding to the edge of my mind, a parallel to the setting sun outside, I often decide to take a walk. Now, I do not plan to go to the coffee shop on most days, and often, I stand outside the gates to the patio and decide whether I should stop for a cup of coffee or let it be. On most days, I stop for coffee. In many ways, these words have been like any of those walks; like most of them, there is now a decision to make. Before I pass the building by, and it is too late to go back, I must make a stop. I must leave things as they are, and I must get a bit of rest. That is what I plan to do for some time—to lay under the sun, to live a life, and to let time happen to me in its own way. I seem to have said all I have to say for now, at least how I tend to say it.

Now, I must wait for either of them to change. It is an age-old adage, after all, that change is good. We must reinvent ourselves now and then, lest it all get a bit stale. It seems I have found my proverbial coffee shop, and I must stop for a moment and take stock of where I am and where I want to go—which is always more important. I shall sip my days away and not have a word to say about them. At least, for a little while, I hope. Breaks are awfully scary, after all. You think you will take a week or two; before you know it, a decade has passed.

But then, for how long can a writer live without writing? Not long, I reckon. Not long at all.

For now, however, I must live this wonderful, beautiful life I have built.

Bookmark #684

I have sat here for three hours now, wondering why no word seems to click and no sentence begins to form. First, I thought that I had lost the nerve, that I had drunk the last drop from the well, and maybe, the pond was dried up. But then, I realised that a thought had been stuck for a while now, and the gears had finally come to a halt. Now, I have to dislodge it somehow, and I do not know where to begin. A few days ago, in a conversation about nothing in particular, I told a friend that strong emotion is what we need to write. Anger, grief and love are the usual suspects, and I seem to have none. I seem to have lost all my anger, for I realised it was grief, and all that grief in the past has made me too cautious about love.

All in all, mellow emotion can only take me so far, and it is not for the lack of trying. I try to open my heart, but it is futile; the key is lost, and I do not know where to begin my search. I have retraced all my steps, and I cannot find it. How easy it is to write about someone you love! Like magic, the words flow out of you. It has been a while since I experienced this, and it was not a problem until I did not say it aloud. Now, I have; it has but paralysed me. All my emotion is mellow, like this ever-present cup of coffee on this table. Nothing has ripped my heart to shreds recently—no love and surely, no grief. And while the world has plenty of reasons ready to fuel my rage, my patience makes it impossible for me to feel any flavour of it. In the end, these words suffer for all of it.

How long can one write about the seasons, their changing, and about people they do not know? How long can we talk of the world that does not know of us, that thinks of us like a statistic, a number among many? How long can we speak of joy without being able to share it outside our words? I see a sort of indifference growing within me. I do not know if I can write much longer if things continue this way. For the first time in my life, I am unsure. Perhaps, all things reach the end of the line one way or the other or, often, for reasons beyond our control.

Bookmark #683

More than the struggles of right and wrong, more than adventure and novelty, my life will be filled with the struggles of the mundane. Most choices will barely matter when day after day, I will face the dastardly deplorable decision to lie down in bed under the warm blanket for a minute or so. Often, this, too, will be like playing with fire. On many occasions, I will be unable to douse the flames in time, lose control of things, and inevitably fall asleep. Then, in some dream, someone I have never met will come across and ask me for the time, and the mild realisation will open my eyes and drag me out of the dream and out of bed in one fell swoop.

I am always at battle with myself, pushing to go a little further, just a smidge, just a bit, with no consideration for the state of things. There are worlds inside me; I have little else to think about. I often stay occupied with this dilemma of resting or working, these inner struggles of the daily to the point of aloofness in the real world. Sometimes, I feel as if I only pretend to be a person, but, in fact, I am a more simplistic experiment. I look around my life as we often look at a landscape from far away, knowing we are not in it but that we are here to watch it unfold, that without the narrator, there is no story, and no moment is true without someone experiencing it. My days appear to me like a field of flowers, verdant and lush, spanning acres, and then, they feel like a gaping gorge to cross, an incredible leap. But mostly, they feel like a sort of grey, flavourless cafe, with a simplistic table and run-of-the-mill decor. Most of my days meld into one another because of how similar they appear from afar.

Should I have a cup of coffee or slash and burn my entire life? These are the kind of questions I ask myself on most days. I never have an answer, so I live again through the day, and then, when I do the dishes, and there is still time before the clock hits midnight, I look at the bed and enticed, I overestimate my ability to lie down only for a second, only for a minute, only enough to not lose myself in my dreams. Then, I wake up in the middle of the night with shame, get to the desk and get to work.

Bookmark #682

Earlier this afternoon, I had the time and inclination to write the right words. Why did I not sit and write then? Well, because there were obligations to complete and meetings to attend. I believe most writers, including me, prefer writing in the morning or as soon as they wake up because there is little to no noise in your mind. There are no troubles, and reality is often masked by the world of your dreams. If you let the day get on too far, it becomes harder to find the words. They are often quieted by the echo of the people in your life, the jokes and banter from a television show, the calls from your account manager at some bank, or the plethora of emails and messages, all of them asking for your attention, a piece of your mind. I missed the opportunity to write with a cleaner mind once again. It does not mean I cannot write to the best of my ability, but the writing of the morning and the writing after you have lived through a day are different. You can read any work—a poem, a few sentences of prose, or a novel—and know precisely when it was written during the day. It gets glaringly obvious once you notice it.

I will not go into the differences or give you a rubric on judging which is which, for that is not my job. As is evident, I barely have my own life in order as far as the knowing of things is concerned. In many ways, my life is not some chic, snobby orchestra that I like to pretend it is; on most days, it is messy jazz playing in a small, cramped pub that smells of booze spilt on its sticky floors. I believe most lives are like this in the end. We try our best to do it all, to live like we have any control over anything, but ultimately, we are all just building it as we go. It is a creaky tenement in need of repair at all times, always. It is a project that never sees its end. It is a garden that always needs weeding. Some days are straightforward, some are topsy-turvy, and an artist must sit and work on all of them.

A lofty goal; if only I could talk to someone about it all. But then, they would only tell me “there is always tomorrow” and to let it go, that this obsession is pointless. I reckon it is called a lonely profession for a reason.

Bookmark #681

I have little to say about where my life is going, but I know that when I was done unpacking and cleaning some of the apartment last night and when I was done doing the dishes, which were not as many since I had only come back earlier in the evening, I went to close the curtain on the window. Before I dragged the grey curtain, I noticed this white cloud—a streak across the hills. Almost opaque, it seemed to have wrapped around the mountains like we do a scarf around our neck. We do it until we are sure it is spring. I cannot tell you where my life is going, but I am still curious; I still look around and doubt myself. If all those are true, it will be okay eventually. Wherever I end up, I will have made the correct decisions to get there, so I will have little to complain about. A simple cloud can make me feel incredible joy. What else is there? What else, indeed.

When they ask me: what did you do with your life? I will tell them I worked hard. Yes, I worked hard like my father, my mother, and their parents before them, but I stopped to look at the birds when I could. I will have that to my credit. It will have happened. I will have stopped a thousand—no, a million—times before to look at it all, to look at the big, bright world outside. I do not need a hut in the hills or a shack on the beach. I have no need to reject all we know.

Talking to a friend about art at a late hour when there was little else to do but talk about what we spent all of ourselves doing, I was asked to describe all my work in a single sentence. Of course, I could not do it. “But what will someone get out of your words?” He asked. “They will have read,” I said.

We talked more after that, but today I remembered that moment again. I know the answer to his question, too, and it is precisely how I have lived my life so far. I have done things for the sole purpose of doing them. The parts of my life reflect its whole and where it is going. Like how I write or how I love, it will have been lived for the act of living.

I will have lived and died; along the way, I will have stopped to look at the sky. What else is there? What else, indeed.

Bookmark #680

Enough days without a goal in sight, enough sitting around idly, enough chatting about nothing with everyone I meet. I must begin my life again tomorrow—the time for vacation is over. For a good reason, too. A life that is always on holiday is no life at all. Everything must ebb and flow like waves under the red sun in the evening. Stability is a myth, and to lie down and do nothing each day is as terrible as never stopping at all. All extremes burn those who reach them; to stay in the middle is a careful balancing act. It is also a virtue to cultivate. The good news is that we get to try every day.

At the end of the day, I sit here, still baffled by the fact—as I have been for years now—that we can be in one place when we begin a day and entirely another by the time it ends. It may seem simple, of course, given that the plane was brimming today, as they always are, but it is still a marvel and one that is not as old as one might think. It is a novelty in the history of this species to have the dust from two places with hundreds of miles between them gather on the same shoe in the span of one day. But all this is possible because the world works. Despite all its problems and errors, it works. For all the issues we have yet to solve, we have solved twice as many, and it was only possible because some people did balance it out: to work and to wonder in equal parts.

A puppy sleeps about twenty hours daily and runs and pants for four. A person has no such liberty. We must find something we are good at or at least can do and then do it, so the world works. Most people I meet see this as some sort of burden. I see it as a privilege. All our contribution is a walk on the tightrope we must learn to do daily. Most of it is some sort of work; the rest is, well, rest.

Bookmark #679

A peculiarity I have noticed in these past years, building a life in a place and tearing it down to go somewhere else, is our tendency to get used to things. It is almost laughable how I, like most other people, think there is any sort of definition to myself when all it takes for me to get used to a different self is a few days. It is funny how quickly we learn our way around new streets, how fast we learn the language and the slang, how parts of ourselves change completely, or how a place we vacation tends to hold us as tightly as where we came from, so long as we choose to stay.

It baffles me because of how strict we are with our preferences, when in the end, if you only try to jump ship and live somewhere else, it would all fit eventually, after some mild discomfort. Our preferences do not matter as much as our circumstances at first, and mostly, it is what happens to us rather than what we choose that determines how our days are going to be, where we will live and how we will sound. All that is true until we choose.

It tears me up when I look around at other people, at this world we have built. Nothing matters; nothing should exist, yet all of it is here and fights back every day. I have so much love for this attempt, for it all, of how we continue seeking. There is little that amazes me more than this tenacity to keep going, this urge in all of us to keep moving. Last evening, as I sat watching the waves ripple over one another, folding like the hands of lovers, intertwined, unsure of who held first and who held tighter, it all occurred to me in one fell swoop: this life, the things that have occurred in it is all one massive coincidence, but now that it has happened, I must take charge.

That is how the story of humanity goes, after all: one day, a group of people began walking away from the middle of nowhere because something in them chose to do so, and in their footsteps, they wrote the story of all of us. Humanity is a story of call and response. Till there are people, there will always be the great attempt. As long as things happen to us, we will continue to happen to them.

Bookmark #678

The taxi drives by the sea, and the breeze makes me smile, almost spontaneously, on an otherwise muggy day. It has been a calm afternoon, filled with walking under bougainvillaea trees blossoming with white, magenta and pink flowers. They say a good bouquet has no wasted elements in it. It fills me with certainty that I, too, belong. In all these little realisations, my doubt has slowly dissipated into thin air over the years.

Cities have memories, too, and this city has made me remember several things I had forgotten once. The many neighbourhoods I walked through all those years ago have said their hellos and greeted me like an old friend. The one you forget but who remembers you and comes to you after looking at you from afar and says, “Do you remember me?” You pause, look at them, and quickly search the archives of your memory. “Of course!” You say, “of course, I remember you!” The days I’ve spent lately have been like that, only there are no familiar faces here to remind me of things, but there are places.

I thought of love—on second thought, that is untrue. To say you thought of something suggests you were not thinking of it before, but for all my misfortune with it, I am always thinking of love. I did not think of love, no. I only cupped it with my hand like how we do water when we drink from a stream—interrupting it, taking some of it for ourselves. Perhaps, this is also how we love others. Now, after all these years, the limitless love I held for someone has slowly reworked itself into love for this scenic world, like a parting gift never given ends up on the shelf.

I am deeply in love with the people and the world around me. I seem to have forgotten how to pick the crowd apart to find someone in it. Just the other night, as I looked at the water, sitting amidst thousands of others, I could not even find myself in the crowd, let alone someone else. All my want to stand out has disappeared like faint remembrance.

One might say I am lost, but “no,” I would argue, “now, I am found.”

Bookmark #677

I sit at the table in the corner of this coffee shop, fighting my sleep. I can only think of one thing in the pockets of my wakefulness: that there are people in my life, and I do not know who put them there. They seem to have appeared out of nowhere, like a patch of flowers in the early days of spring, and now that they are here, I must do my best to be around them. Some people I recall entering my life like a guest who knocked on the wrong door, but the others, I can’t much place. One day I woke up, and they were in my life, and now, our paths are intertwined. Now that they are here, I am a part of their stories, albeit little, and now that it is this way, they are a part of this story, too.

Behind the music in my ears, a private concert we take for granted, I listen to the murmuration of the crowd. I am shocked at how many people exist together and how we meet each other. “Can you help me move about this life—all of it seems a little too much to go through alone?” We ask each other this when we smile, make eye contact, and talk more than necessary with a stranger as we both procrastinate at the same table, tired and bored. But it is all too cliche to talk about. It is like breathing. Talking about it does little than make it appear harder than it is.

I walk around a city like I waltz around in life—with a sense of security even though I do not know my way as much as I like to believe. It is the people, the people around me, that make it possible. The privilege of being able to meet others and the joy of having some of them stay for years makes me glad. Sitting here, I can almost see myself from after. Call it a trance of exhaustion. I can see this entire cafe, like how we often observe a colony of ants, seeing everything all at the same time. I see myself, one of many people, living. I see all the people here as dots in Brownian motion, some moving towards each other with stupendous force, bound to cross paths. Perhaps, that is how it plays out on most days. It is only that we are too occupied and distracted, but sometimes, if the day is bright enough, we can see it for what it is and always has been: a collision course.

Bookmark #676

The alarm rang at six, and I watched the golden, almost fiery sunrise through the window, and then, I slept again. In the sleep I got from that point on, I dreamed of a life that was impossible until a few things went differently. I woke up a little later, and as I stood under the shower, I realised again that our lives seldom depend only on us. It is sensitive, changing at the softest of nudges. Life is built on the countless backs of uncountable people making decisions day after day. Despite what we decide and the stress we put on our agency, our lives almost entirely depend on the world around us. To say that it is not this way is a bold claim, and like most bold claims, it is naive. My life today is as much about me as it is about other people; in many ways, they have made it happen more than I have. I have been an agent, but their decisions have made possibilities impossible. That is what life is in the end: the murder of possibility year by year. Whatever we do and whatever we choose, the pool of our choices decreases year by year, and we have as much say in it as others do.

By saying this, I do not mean someone cannot begin again, but that any beginning would come with the baggage of what has happened already. What they do with the burden of that knowledge is not for me to say, and I hope they are triumphant. Regardless of what we think of ourselves, a simple decision that was never ours to make can change the trajectory of our life in unbelievable ways. This life I live is an unintended outcome. If it were only in my purview, it would be different. And what of happiness? Happiness has nothing to do with it. It is a measure of how synchronised you are with your life, not how it went or goes. But it would have been different had it been up to me; I know that much.

In the cafe I am writing this from lives a cat; its sandbox and bowl are in one section. The people here, customers like myself, open the door now and then to move about. Where the cat can wander off is not truly up to it, but how long the door is open and if it has a chance to sneak. The intention is not the only thing that matters; what matters is that the door opens at the right moment.

Bookmark #675

Historically, we are in the best place we have ever been. One has to zoom out to see it, to detach from themselves as one makes this scrutiny. When we look at the world and make an inventory of it, we must ensure we are outside it for a moment. It is true of every measurement. We must ensure our involvement with things stays minimal and not interfere when we measure. Bias is simply to look at the world as if you’re still in it, but the looking itself puts you out of it. Looking at the world without paying heed to this will always make it appear less prosperous and more miserable, for all your problems will appear to be the problems of the world. That is seldom the case, however. The personal rarely has weight on the social. The personal is just that, the personal. It is yours; it is a private journey.

This is not pride or hubris. This is an objective way to look at it. Numbers do not respect emotions; how we feel matters little to them. It is not that I do not struggle myself; no, sir, my life is not a cakewalk, and I do not spend all my days devoid of worry, but I jump in joy when I can. When I say the world is better, I do not mean it is also not terrible. They say the world is seventy-one per cent water; it follows suit. It exists differently, all at the same time. It is an acquired skill to look at things this way. Not taking things personally is not easy, but it is the right thing to do if we want to say anything about the world, lest we sell those toiling away short and glaze over their effort. We almost pinch their work and their contribution like we do a candle if we put it that way. When we look at the world, our intention should never be to rob it of its light. People work to keep it alive daily, fanning its flames in their little ways. Some call it altruism or benevolence or duty and whatnot. The words rarely matter, but the actions do.

Invented problems are not our concern. They are the concern of marketers who tell us something is wrong, make us hysterical and paranoid, and then sell us a solution. Our concern is to look at things rationally. There is no greater responsibility, no greater act of freedom.

Bookmark #674

In this world, fortune favours not the brave but the loud, the audacious, the mildly aggravating. It benefits those who toot their horn till those listening go deaf or start blasting their own in return. The place for nuance is a small table in the corner of a coffee shop no one visits because it barely gets any sun on it. That is to say, there is no place for it at all. There is little room for the subtle, for the unsaid, for the subliminal. It is a grating world for loud people. The quiet ones, the private ones, the recluses perish. It is not enough to be good; it is only necessary to be loud.

Frankly, the bar has never been lower than it is today for most things. The poetry you find on the bestsellers list in a bookstore—an eerie and haunted place in itself—pales in comparison to the sawdust most writers leave on the floor, shredded, or in the rejection pile. But it is sure of itself, so it is on the shelf. In many ways, this should embarrass us, but it does not, for embarrassment, too, is a silent, personal experience. There is no space for it, not anymore, no. Even our hurt must be a ten-second advertisement with a gut-wrenching hook and a bright typeface. It is a world of performance built by performers in their image and in their favour. Many of us have given up now; in our unique and personal ways, we have given up. All we want is to be left alone, to our own devices.

The time for slipping a sentence that split into strands and slowly took hold of a person is over. A sentence should be short! Poor Hemingway would ail to see the desecration of his advice and all his life’s work. The time of sitting in front of a canvas, crying tears of yellow paint for years, is gone. It is now a world of brevity, of getting to the point quickly. Hurry up! No one has the time. They are too busy shouting their names off their rooftops like fledgling cuckoos, screeching louder than the rightful heirs of the nests they have managed to infiltrate.

It is all too loud and a sad state of affairs, but we do not care. We, the others, are only trying to get a moment, and if the world allows, a few hours of sleep.

Bookmark #673

I often walk past a lot of buildings I once used to enter regularly. There are coffee shops I do not visit anymore. Some changed ownership, some do not exist, and some are snobbish enough for me to avoid them or only get a coffee in a cup to go, all the while watching my watch and the door. Some places burst with people who even sit and talk with superficial superiority. Their insecurities ooze out of them like their money which, sadly, never ends and, even more sadly, perhaps, never finds better use. It only gets spent on a larger car, a longer coat, and a prolonged and annoying pronunciation of words. Eventually, the city knows which places to avoid. Of course, for all those who don’t visit them, there are more who do, and it does nothing to affect the sales, and the places keep running for years.

Then, there is the old school. A campus I often walk by now; it happens to be on the road that leads to everywhere; I cannot really avoid it. It baffles me each time I pass the gate, and sometimes, I see people in the same uniforms, albeit with little changes here and there. It makes me feel so much simultaneously that I cannot put it into words. This is precisely why I wanted a life elsewhere, always seeking an escape with someone else or on my own. The same streets are often a reminder of every step you took along the way. There are people I spent days with here who have left, long on their way to different places all over the world, and I have left, too, but then, this town brings me back to itself. Of course, I will not live my entire life here, but a good chunk of it has been lived already. I cannot change it. But that is not to say it has been terrible by any accord. It has been life—the good and the bad.

But it knocks me out every time I pass by an old place and notice it has changed. The posh, extravagant restaurant we always wanted to dine in is under renovation now. We could never visit it. The board above it has changed already. It was a Saturday, and I walked past it once again, like I have a thousand times before, and like I have walked past many of my dreams, knowing not every one of them comes true. But some do, yes, some do, so we keep dreaming.