Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Boxed

This year marks the 4th year anniversary of my dialysis. My life has changed exponentially, in ways I could not have imagined since I began dialysis in 2015, after having visited my birthplace and met all the places and people I never remember because I never forget. I had no idea (I still don't) when I will be able to visit again, or even travel to an overnight destination again. My fears have proved prophetic and I find myself frozen here.

Besides my inability to travel, my life style has been compromised in many other ways. I cannot walk for long; throwing out the garbage is one of the major chores; I cannot keep my house picked up; I fall asleep without being aware of doing it, irritated at my unawareness when I awake. It is getting frequently more rare for me to finish a movie. You could say that I am defeated by fatigue. Sometimes, I just have to close my eyes, no matter where I am, and wait for the clouds to lift away. I cannot imagine a world in which I can schedule a dinner with friends, or attend a play or any gathering that could go on beyond 7 pm. This, unfortunately, does not mean that I can reschedule my dinner to breakfasts. 

I could go on, but anyone who has been on dialysis knows my condition and it is not my body's desertion that ultimately deflates me. 

I am defeated by boxes. 

Yes, patient reader, boxes. 

The situation with boxes is unimaginable. It is not as though I am living out of boxes, that I have to dive into a box any time I need a spoon or a scarf. This is worse. I need the boxes only to remove solutions, tubes, and paraphernalia from them; this takes me less than two minutes, and I do not have to think of locating things in my head before I reach for them. So I do not really think of boxes. But at the end of a dialysis session (by morning), I have one to two boxes emptied each day. I am always surprised to see them because they form no part of my conscious routine. These boxes squat in the middle of rooms, being of assorted shapes and dimensions, trip me up, and no matter how many boxes I deflate and throw away, there always are more left over. They stare up at me, their  mouths obscenely wide, mocking me, challenging me to guess where they are from, what action caused them to be in their present condition, and now, what I am to do about them. 

The cats, who once used to strut confidently through my living spaces, protest when I turn out the lights. They have had to learn to be even more nimble-footed to navigate the ever-changing landscape of my floors. Sometimes, they protest when I attempt to throw out a few boxes; these have been morphed into living spaces and I am not allowed to move them even an inch from where they are. It is not unusual that the dark hours in my house are punctuated with booms and splats as the cats leap and land on various boxes in the night. I tell myself that that would either be a robber or a cat and knowing my house, a cat is the more probable culprit. If it is a robber, then the prospect of human conversation glows promisingly. Perhaps the robber, being of sound limbs and not given to fatigue, might obligingly throw away a few of the boxes, even if only for ease of robbing.

This situation with the boxes becomes even more unmanageable during weeks when the rains refuse to let up. I like to think of myself as being largely benign, therefore deserving of good things and kindnesses; the idea of trudging through the rains, my hair limp and stringy, my shoulders and arms tangled up in heaps of flattened cardboard seems like an undeserved punishment. Also, it smacks too much of melodrama, even for me, who is addicted to Hindi Saas-Bahu serials. So I wait with the boxes for the rains to let up. The boxes begin to mount at an alarming rate; once, I counted eighteen of them huddled in a corner, glaring balefully at me. I seriously considered paying someone to take care of this problem for me. But then whom would I ask? Even at my most frustrated moments, I do not wish for a helpful robber; the gods know I have lost enough to keep such wishing at bay. And when I cast my glance at the lean numbers reflecting my bank balance, I know that paying someone is an improbability beyond fantasy. Now, I only fantasize about a horde of elves, birds, ants, and other helpers of fairy tales swooping in, and in a single tornado, clearing my house of all boxes, visible and otherwise.

Aye, there's the rub. Even in fairy tales, nothing is for free. What would I pay for such a wish to be realized? The answer, of course, is nothing! Not sleep, nor salt, nor coffee! My imagination is better served in accepting the protean nature of my floors. And yet, if you stop by my house of a Saturday afternoon, you will see me, Sisyphus-like, stripping and deflating boxes in never-ending piles and heaps.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Sea Change

I have been amiss in posting here. I once had a job in which I was paid good money to teach fairy tales, Greek myths, and Arthuriana. When my life dragged me away from this, I fear I lost part of my will and began to punish myself by hiding my pen.

I have decided that my punishment is done.

Now, I have another job; I coordinate a writing center. It seems that I am decent at this job; it seems to like me and I find that it is growing on me. I urge my patient reader to imagine a shawl-like moss, rather than fungus here.

One of the major duties I have in my new job is managing people. I know that I used to manage 25-30 students every three months in my old job and I had no discipline problems. But then, I had help: the magic of the tales was in charge and we all towed its line. Now, I have no magic. I have no tales that tie me to my staff, students, colleagues, or faculty. I try to manage with smiles, nods, and a genuine wish to help and improve.

It has taken me two years to get an idea of what my job entails. So in a way, I have been lost and instead of breadcrumbs, I have been gathering puzzle pieces to lead me home. Sometimes, I find undiscovered little pathways that lead to unexpected delights. Sometimes, of course, these little pathways disappear into thorny bushes.

I have learned to manage bullies. I am no longer intimidated by the idea of a confrontation. I have found ways of initiating difficult conversations. Compartmentalizing and delegating are now second nature to me. To my immense gratitude, I find that I am part of a group of people reaching for a singular goal. To my unbelieving delight, I find that I am able to start us down a new road and find my group agreeable.

Once my broken heart healed, I began to re-configure my class notes into workshops for students. Surprisingly, these are working wonderfully. I enjoy having a small group of students in my little office and workshop verbs with them. The faculty assure me that these workshops and review sessions are helping students. Hopefully, these sessions will become part of the natural landscape of my writing center.

Yes, I have begun to think of this as "my" writing center. I have sculpted it, defined its topography and geography, drew a vision for it, and peopled it with a staff that is intelligent, purposeful, and aware of itself as a team. I have taken responsibility for what happens here, whether I am present or not. I welcome the kindly intentioned and defend its boundaries from the ill-intentioned.

People are always asking me if I miss my old job. Of course I do! However, that job does not exist anymore. People ask me if I miss teaching or the classroom. Frankly, I do not. I would not retrace my steps to a classroom. That would be regressing. I have suffered a sea-change, after all, and it is impossible to go back; I might as well wish for my long-past youth!

As I sit in the little fishbowl that is my office and urge students and faculty to visit my writing center, I feel content, if recycled. This recycling has given me a different life; it is my hope that this different life will work its magic to sculpt and define me so I will once again fit into my skin.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Nothing; Again Nothing

This is one of the last couple of days of my break, and the tired, much lived year draws the closing curtains on itself, no doubt looking forward to a long sleep. I shall miss my break, of course. I had constructed a special routine, a chronology of doing nothing in a varied number of ways. I have loved it all. My Face Book showed me Spain,  Aruba, Hawaii and a number of places with my friends and kin posing against a myriad of Places to See. I applaud their willingness to stop doing nothing and pack, travel, board, disembark, and visit these places. Perhaps I, too, shall have the wherewithal to bestir myself from my nothingness, one day. Not Today, though.

Today, I am just glad to be able to stare at the cloudy day outside, bundled in my sweaters and blankets as the rest of the world enjoys a respite from the high 70's, a normal in these latitudes in this season. People wonder if I don't feel lonely and depressed being on my own during the holidays. I must confess that I do not! My nothingness occupies every minute of my waking hours and I have no time to feel at a loss or bored. I know that in two days, I will have to occupy myself with so much busyness that I will yearn for these hours. I could have filled these hours with projects, cleaning, writing, composing, planning, stitching, shopping, arranging, etc. But I cannot regret not doing all these things.

My one day trip exhausted me and it took me a few days to recover from that. Then my child visited me for a few days, which reminded me of how wonderfully full my life used to be when her agenda dictated our days. But then her own life claimed her back and she has left. So I sit here again with my nothingness. The day stretches before me like a silver ribbon, straight, sparkling, and clear. Since I do not plan to leave the house, no unpleasant wrinkles and creases threaten. There is such comfort and reassurance when one can see exactly what the day holds, especially when it holds a pregnant nothingness, promising nothing, demanding nothing.

My feline room mates, used to my presence by now, nap in their comfort-corners, no longer pacing inquiringly around my ankles. My car too naps outside my door, no doubt appreciating the rest from the endless driving that usually stitches my responsibilities during a working day  or a busy weekend. My neighbors are not home, no doubt running errands and preparing for the big change in the date that arrives every year and that no one has figured out how to properly welcome, with the due ritual it deserves. Every ritual and celebration seems just a smidgen inadequate and the moment between the years passes so quickly. This year, I plan to spend the moment in bed, doing my dialysis, reading. I need to be up since the fireworks spooks the cats and the light in my room offers them all a haven of sorts. Like last year, 2018 will find us all gathered on the same bed, watching the fireworks, or napping, waiting for the celebrations to end.

Once the new year is lodged in, there will be another breath of nothingness. Then the world will exhale a gale of busyness that will take months to wind down. At the end of it, a substantial chunk of life will have ebbed away and there might not be enough memory-pebbles left on the sands to account for having lived a year.

There is the stuff that stress is made of. I shall refrain from dwelling on such fears. I do know how rare a true nothingness, a true vacuum is; things always rush in to fill all emptinesses; true nothingness is not well-tolerated. So it makes sense to cherish and savor the few nothingnesses we are allowed. After all, the meaningless busyness of routines is equally forgettable.

I fear that I have spent a long time in writing this. I must go back to doing nothing. It is most necessary.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Of Fardles and Bon Mots

It has been a few months since I began my new job. One could say that I am settled in, though I do  remain, at heart a lit major, in spite of not having stepped into a classroom for almost a year now. I had not realized this until this past few days when a couple of events brought it to my notice. I do not yet know how I feel about it.

The first event was utter, sheer exhaustion, though one can not always call that an event. It was rather a breaking point that came on a Thursday afternoon on one of the busiest weeks my writing lab has ever seen. There were days when it would be a couple of hours before I could reach my office and check my email: I would be enveloped in student needs from the moment I'd step into my writing center. Students had the hunted, much-wept look of the lost and the displaced as they haunted the center, trying to access  their email, begging me to do some magic that would give them access to My English Lab or D2L. They hung on to their school responsibilities as though to an anchor; if their grip loosened, some sort of apocalypse would follow and they carried this desperate urgency as their most treasured cargo. If I did help them access whatever they needed, or explained a concept to them, they looked at me with gratitude of cosmic proportions, which defeated me. This is natural in a world that is left behind by a storm that closed down my State for over a week. However, we were all exhausted by the Thursday of that week. The talk was of the end of the world, how nothing was ever going to be the same. So I distributed Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains" and we discussed the short story for about an hour. I had distributed the story not just to my staff but also the couple of students who remained in the writing center. Later, as I walked back to my office and the writing center began to get busy with the evening traffic, I realized that this kind of discussion was exactly what was missing from my present life. This stolen hour had adjusted my perspective and I have vowed that this would not be the last time that a story or poem is discussed in my lab. My staff, too, confessed to thinking of the story repeatedly over the next few days. Perhaps we were all lit majors at heart?

In fact, I would go far enough to say that what my colleagues and managers refer to as my managerial techniques owe their origin to my experience as faculty. Controlling discussions that do not get lost in the woods, demanding work, being intolerant of excuses yet understanding of lack of training, identifying what needs fixing, keeping records, creating schedules and planning meetings: all of these I learned as I stood alone behind the desk for decades, forever separated yet deeply connected to the people who faced me and tried to convince about twenty strangers to shift perspective and learn to analyse.

One could say that essentially, I am still doing the same job.

My friend asked me if I miss teaching and before I could even think about the question and consider it, my mouth said, "No!" The definite nature of that answer took my friend aback, I think; I, too was surprised by it. Upon reflection, in fact, I'd say that the best parts of my old job are still very much with me, while the worst, like grading, have disappeared. Yes, there are evaluations and hiring decisions, but they are nothing compared to endless oodles of ungraded assignments that had crowded my life in infinite sets of twenty each.

A couple of days ago, my Facebook newsfeed offered up a Keats ode read by Benedict Cumberbatch. I wept at the sheer beauty of the poem. I often indulge in YouTube Midsummer Night's Dream and cry at Macbeth (a play that continues to shock me). Teaching was never where I'd thought I'd end up when I decided that I was a confirmed lit major and could be nothing else. I had not really thought much about where I'd end up with a lit degree, of course. I had some nebulous idea of being a priestess in a sanctuary of words or just drinking in Prufrock under a spreading tree as the sun set behind some mountain. I had no clear idea about the actual work or ritual the routine of such a person would comprise of.

So no, I do not miss the classroom. I do miss the literature, but when I reach out for it, I find that it has not wandered away. It is right where I'd left it, beside curriculum to be assigned, files to be graded, departmental and all-school meetings to be attended, and LMS to be organized.

Ultimately, the aim of my having Read Literature seems served: it was to decorate the walls of my ivory tower so that the fardles that flesh must bear may be tolerated, conquered, and lived through.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Eating Fruit in the Dark

We are only two days away from hurricane Irma's unwelcome visit to our State. To say that it was horrible and unnerving would be a gross understatement. I feel as though I have aged a century since last Thursday, when workplaces closed down and  the declared state of emergency began to attain dimensions and reality.

I, too was carried on the wave of hysteria that washed me up before empty grocery store shelves. There was no bottled water, no paper plates or plastic ware, no bread, no canned eatables, and no sterno cans. I picked up a lot of fresh fruit (the storm was three days away, after all), some cat food, a jar of instant coffee, and the last case of eggs on the shelf. As I drove home, I wondered why the lack of bottled water bothered me. I drink tap water, do not care for the faint stale and bitter after-taste of bottled water, and I had already planned to fill up enough for me and my feline room mates. I had enough cat food for two weeks. And I knew that I would not need much food for myself.

As always, I remember the endless couple of days I had spent stuck in my grandmother's third story apartment as the city's river flowed 10 feet deep beneath our balcony. There was, of course, no electricity or running water and we spent the entire time watching broken off pieces of our familiar world stream by; a tire, tables, pots, suitcases swirled wildly in some sort of a twisted, macabre dance, refusing all recognizable functions and identities. We were not aware of the length of time spent staring. It was unreal.

This same unreality accompanied the hurricane days. This storm was larger than our State, and no one was to be spared its fury. Being so large, it moved slowly and the hours and days stretched as sheer madness churned the elements until everything outside dissolved into a primal wind soup. Inevitably, at one point, the electricity blinked off. I sat in that twilight world, in a world without time, thought, or light, not sure about what to do. I remembered the fruit in my refrigerator and began working on finishing it. This was the only focus and relevance of my entire existence. It felt bizarre, the burst of orange in my mouth, the fullness of watermelon, the richness of peach, it all felt like an undeserved, aimless gift. The relish and zing of the fruit tasted like proof of life.

Before the storm hit, I had tried to find someone to put my shutters up, but without wingnuts and a tall enough ladder, it proved to be impossible. When I found that my town was not to be a direct hit, but that we would mainly get tropical storm strength winds, I decided against boxing myself and the cats in a claustrophobic metal case; in fact, I left a window open, which kept the temperature in the house tolerable once the electricity was gone. It did feel like mad witches and ghouls dancing tornadoes outside but I think I would prefer those witches and ghouls to the sweaty, unnatural silence of shuttered up rooms. The cats and I spent the storm next to that window, on the bed, surrounded by LED torches (no candles in my home!), books, a storm radio, and the kindle. Every so often, the cell phone chirped in warning that a tornado was near. But after a while, that, too, became part of noise of the storm. The radio cackled with static and updates about feeder bands and flood warnings.

The morning never dawned but the storm turned silvery and sometimes forgot to be ferocious. It seemed that the world would never be normal, the way I remembered it. A thousand post-apocalyptic novels and settings flashed through my mind and I wondered how life would completely change once this storm was done with us. I lunched or breakfasted or dined on fruit and added some boiled eggs to my meal. I had boiled the entire case of eggs from those last frantic hours before the storm. Then I returned to the bed, returned to the waiting. Logic dictated that some time, perhaps hours, perhaps years from now, time must begin ticking again.

That was a couple of days ago, or was it yesterday? I forget. At any rate, it is past. I have not left the house in almost a week. My electricity has been restored; in fact, I did not have to miss any of my dialysis treatments and I remain unspeakably grateful for that. I am going back to work tomorrow.

As I sat at my desk, checking and responding to my email, I snacked on an orange but I did not register the zing of its taste. I could find comfort in this apparent return to normalcy. However, I wonder. The stories do not lie: can souls who have eaten chthonic fruit ever allowed a true return to the realms of the sun?

Friday, August 4, 2017

That Facebook Life

The complexity of our present times has offered us the chance to view our own realities from a veritable smorgasbord of lenses, if my patient reader will forgive the awkward synesthesia. It is possible to live an event and examine it immediately in flashback without troubling one’s memory cells.

The other day, we attended a wedding reception. The first hour of the festivities was devoted to what the hosts referred to as Recall Reels. We were treated to witty observations about the life-thus-far of first the bride, and then the groom, as various relatives of the couple took the mike to accompany the film-collage with underlying movie songs played in tandem with the pictures and live commentary. We enjoyed the first few minutes immensely. However, as the hour wore on, the pictures began to take on a monotone, not of the subject matter but of mood. These were, obviously, supposed to depict lives spent in sheer joy. Images caught people in mid-laughter, eyes sparkling at something behind or above, just out the range of our vision, hair afloat in becoming abandon. Then there were pictures of immaculately groomed children, eyes scrunched shut in concentration as they blew out birthday cake candles, flames steady, ribbons and bow ties standing to attention, adoring, clapping people surrounding the cake. Always, always, the focus of all present in the photograph seemed to be the young bride and groom. It seemed as though all through their childhood and youth, these two people’s families and friends had deliberately hoarded up a trousseau of pictures they could exhibit on their wedding day, so we would know how carefree and abundant their lives had been.

Such exhibits of perfected lives have expanded from an hour during a wedding reception, to everyday chronicles on social media sites, like Facebook. I see only exquisite views of mountains, rivers, oceans beneath a colorful sky seen through window frames; the camera always misses the sink of dirty dishes just beyond the breathtaking view. I imagine the owners of such windows as gazing out, sipping some tall, cool citrus-y drink, no dishes, floors, or counter-tops ever to be cleaned. These owners are usually accompanied in my imagination with the most perfect of friends or spouses or pets.

Most people I know, who take lots of pictures, screen their imaginary lives very carefully. Of the thousands of images they capture, only a few are deemed “Facebook-worthy.” These images do not necessarily depict a reality hitherto unsuspected by the viewer, nor do they offer an insight into the personality of the subject. On the contrary, it would seem that these images are carefully chosen to display a perfection of an imagined self, which often renders the subject unrecognizable. These people glow with satisfaction every time I exclaim at their profile picture, “Is that you? I did not even recognize you!” Apparently, this is the most appropriate reaction sought for.

I suppose it is human nature to wish to garner as much envy from one’s world as one could manage. This envy is synonymous with admiration, a trophy of some sort that assures the subjects they have arrived, worked hard and achieved the glint of I-Wish in the eyes of beholders. If, indeed, this is the aim, then it is attained. I must confess to wishing for your perfect Facebook life. I covet your excellent health, to bite a pie of the warm laughter of your gatherings, discover the exotic worlds you are always globe-trotting to; I want the top 95% you earn in all Facebook quizzes that gauge you to be among the smartest of all, hunger for all those delicious, easy-peasy recipes you share, and of course, I crave most ardently that window you gaze out of.


Beware, Perfection! As that vignette of a flawless life gets uploaded for all to see, make sure of a dot of kajal on its back (where it will not be seen) to ward off the evil eye.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Idling Wordsmith

I was scrolling down my Facebook page, as one does, often when at a loss, and I saw many people advertising their upcoming anthologies and novels. Of late, it seems to me that the world is bursting with people publishing their work.

I wonder how they manage that.

Long ago, (four years ago, actually) an Indian publisher had suggested that I write a book, their suggestion arising from one of my short stories. I thought that I had died and attained undeserving Nirvana. Fearing the chariots of time drawing ever near, I finished the book within months, full time job, failing kidneys, and graduating child notwithstanding. Every time a revision was suggested, I attacked it, conquered it, and sent back the section before suggested deadlines. I vowed to be the most agreeable, the easiest of writers anyone could dream of working with.

However, some ornery constellation stamped its feet and rather abruptly, I was told that the publisher had lost interest. No other explanation was offered. One day I had a book contract; the following day, I was anchor-less, rudder-less.

My book has been completed, revised, re-visited for years. I had tried looking for an agent and sent out about fifty letters of inquiries to various agents, my list compiled from a variety of sources (yes, including Writers & Poets!). I got nary a bite. Not A One.

And these, mind you, are agents, not publishers that I tried to approach.

Interestingly, however, whenever I have sent in sections of the book as separate stories, they have been accepted and published in magazines, no revisions asked for.

I know my work is decent, current, and fits in with what is being read. How does one jump this huge chasm between finished project and marketed product?

The person who had published my first story offered to come out with a kindle edition of my book. Of course, I have agreed. However, that constellation is still ornery, and of late, my queries are ignored. I wonder about the value that these two experiences are supposed to convey to me, but I remain at a loss. It definitely does not hearten me to know that Moby Dick was rejected 75 times.

 I have read hundreds of blogs and articles on composing the perfect query letter, choosing the right literary agencies, paying attention to the kind of material on the market, and followed a myriad of other advice. I have tried many variants and forms of query letters. I pay attention to agents that represent writers I like and whose topics match mine. These pieces of wisdom and logic assure me that agents are interested in accepting and marketing my work; after all, that is how they make money.

Perhaps then, the ones I tried are independently rich.

Perhaps I need to be independently rich and self-advertise, self-market, self-publish, self-sell, and self-buy. After all, I write for myself, not anyone else! Alas, my rather ordinary and modest circumstances, combined with my total and complete cluelessness about this process will allow no such indulgence.

My writer friend and I have agreed that it is time for us to find a proper agent for our finished projects. Of course, we have no idea how to land one. On Facebook, I see thousands of prompts that promise to stir the Muse. Many articles offer advice about how to keep writing, the importance of it. There are suggestions about places an aspiring wordsmith could disappear to, places as impossibly beautiful as a poem from a star.

I don’t think that these articles understand: I write and will continue to write because I have no choices. Inspiration is not my problem. I do not need an ivory tower to write; my sofa is quite adequate. Finishing projects is not my problem. Accepting criticism and fixing bleeding paragraphs is also not my problem, and neither is respecting deadlines.  

If only I had a spell that moved constellations! If my patient reader commands such a spell . . . However, I realize that it would be asking for much too much to share it, like asking to spare an internal organ. I do not command the words that could frame such a thing properly.

This post goes out in hopes that it will stir the stubborn stars; perhaps, lounging and floating Vishnu-like on the Milky-Way, they might read this to idle an hour by and deign to twinkle kindly.