Friday, July 1, 2016

Of Providence and Sparrows

It has been a week since my job veered away from me. There is a long weekend before I can become an official adjunct at the same place. It all feels like a century has whirled by since the time I was a full time employee, safe beneath a spreading shade of that status. I have been still, stunned, but the world around me has been spinning at twice its speed, and yet, I have perceived it like never before; that amazement is the reason why this week feels like a hundred years have passed.

Hemingway claims that courage is grace under pressure. I love imagining scenarios, and before last week, I had always imagined that I would be collected, graceful, and dignified, should a lay-off ever happen to me. This imagined self was more like a penny-dreadful heroine than a normal person. I would make cosmic, grand gestures and exit so that no one ever forgets and I'd leave behind a world that is more grey. However, no such thing happened when I was actually laid off. I don't remember much of it, mainly the disbelief, punctuated with spasms of devastation and panic. And I am going back next week, which makes me a little more nervous than I'd like to admit.

And then there was the desperate scrounging. I know that logically, I should have taken this week off, gone hiking, found a lake to build a cabin by, examined my place in the larger universe. I did no such thing; instead, I raced down cyber highways in search of a perfect place to apply for a job. I explored e-alleyways and e-market-squares alike, as though I were one of those Pac-Man mouth-figures of ancient video games, hungry for every imagined and real position, casting a ravenous eye on every ad that popped up, wondering at the full-time jobs that had birthed it. I wanted to strew the best pieces of myself all over the world, so that a job, just casually passing by, might notice something shiny and pick it, me up. I'd fallen off a carousel; it seemed unfair that I could still hear its music and watch the riders laugh.

I had many well-wishers at this time. People had many bits of advice: I should move to California, to Florence, to London (I can't! I live with cats!); I should completely reinvent myself and use my retirement nest egg to begin a business of my own (I can't! What if I run it to the ground?); and my favorite, I should write a best-seller, a la J. K. Rowling! The last one affected me enough to send me scuttling down the internet and I wasted a whole half hour Googling literary agents before giving myself a stern talking to, to get-a-grip-for-gods'-sake!

Finally, there is this incomprehension, this inability to do or grasp . Everywhere I e-went, I could see busy, busy words fluttering, about the best business practices, the latest skills and where to get them, how innovative motivation defeated the status quo,  what people felt about their full-time jobs, what these full-time jobs felt about the people working them, erudite reaction pieces to current events, everywhere, employers, employees and jobs, trending, tweeting. I often felt dizzy and cold as my fingers, helpless in their feverish scrolling scrambled around, trying to find a perch. It is no wonder that things that flit and flutter are not granted the quiet of long lives.

A lot of people have told me that this lay-off could be a blessing in disguise. If it is, it is well-disguised. I grant that it might be my myopia, but I can discern no special Providence in this flight of sparrows.

If I were writing a short story around what is happening to me, it'd be a caricature, and had I the skill, I'd illustrate it with single-dimensional stick figures, like paper dolls, blank on the back. Unfortunately, the desperation and rejection are all too real. I do see genuine sympathy and concern in the eyes of my family and friends, but like the rest of humanity, I would prefer to see admiration and envy instead.

Of course, I know that this season of my discontent will pass, like the monsoon. However, before it does, I seek the solace of the written word, to validate this spell I am living through. I take heart and think of the fairy tale of Brier Rose, or Sleeping Beauty: the stew remains unseasoned, the chicken un-plucked, the flies un-swatted for a hundred years as the princess sleeps; however, she does awake, and with a slap, a cluck, a splash, life returns.

This post goes out in hopes that this bleak century may be dreamed away, and that thorns and briers remember to bloom into flowers. After all, I must believe what I preach: life is exactly like a fairy tale!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Best Laid Plans . . .

I am soiled by the touch of a taboo, the unmentionable, the shameful: I have been laid off. This is a condition that causes people to veer away, lest the spoilage should seep into their lives; sometimes, I get a lot of pitying looks and some people just look through me. My friends and family look at me with helplessness, unable to do anything. But how can they? If I cannot help my situation, what can the ones who love me do?

I should not be surprised, though. There is the obvious fact that over half of the company's workforce has been laid off. However, some people DO remain; this inevitably leads me to sense that something HAD to be lacking in the way I worked because I was chosen over someone else, not that I wish my friends and colleagues had been laid off instead of me. I would not wish this condition on my enemy, had I an enemy. 

However, no matter how one cuts it, no matter the platitudes one feeds oneself, it feels like a betrayal and no matter what anyone says, it feels personal. 

I wish that there were some dignity to this process; I wish it didn't feel like a limb cut off; but if wishes were horses, beggars would ride! So I will stop wishing. After all, I AM grateful for the nurturing I have enjoyed here for over a decade and half. I love my job and I am going back part time (Reader, I accepted!). 

People ask me if I am angry and bitter. I have been examining my feelings and I must confess, I am sad and worried, but I can find no anger or bitterness. My friend asked me what was worse, my house burning down in 2011 or this lay off. I was flummoxed and couldn't really choose. But my child, my rock and my rainbow reminded me that this lay off is not as bad as the house burning, which left us bereft in unimaginable ways since we lost most of our worldly possessions and a feline friend to it. Comparatively, I have not yet lost my worldly possessions, and the recent loss of my feline friend is not connected to this lay off, I don't think, unless it is the movement of the spheres that lacks harmony. 

Perhaps that's what it is, a fault of my stars! I have noticed that every five years, the earth shifts away from beneath my feet and I have to figure things out all over again, emerge from great losses. Even though this loss is not on the same magnitude as the fire, it is no small thing: this job has given me definition, friends, a personal philosophy, and joy; I shall always be grateful for having it. I bought my home, my car, and my child's education with it. I wish joy to all who remain with it. 

I know I will never get this job back, no matter what shifts the spheres make. But when I dream, I forget it is no longer with me; in my dream, I wake up from this loss with relief, like I have many times these past years as I have seen the institution dwindle. 

I do not know what awaits me; this is the hardest part of this condition, the uncertainty. Whatever comes after this, I will see it through the screen of the job that needs me no more. I understand that my job has shifted away and I know that a separate path is already beneath my feet; yet I cannot really tread on it, since my heart still looks back and yearns.

Perhaps one day,  I will stop mourning for the job; perhaps one day, my missing limb will stop hurting; perhaps one day, I will redeem myself and will be tabooed no more. This post goes out with that hope. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

One-for-Sorrow, Two-for-Joy

The other day, I blessed a couple of deities.

 It had been that sort of a day. It was overcast and even though I drove for over an hour each way, I could not find a couple birds I could find comfort in ("One for Sorrow, Two for Joy," you know). My poor sick dying cat has left my house, startled by my house cleaner and hasn't returned, despite my desperate calling. In the story I am writing, a storm had threatened, but since the story follows a snake's perspective, I was still unsure of what a storm would mean to a snake.

And I opened my computer for the day to the horror of the Orlando Shooting. Usually, I do not follow news and if I do, I am very good at not being affected, not letting it touch any of my inner realities. But somehow, the Orlando Shooting is different; I have been feeling the need to mourn, to weep copiously, I remember trying not to notice solitary birds, like faulty punctuation against a grey sky, trying not to wonder at the sorrows that make the world so incomprehensible.

Reports of senseless terrors and violence does that; they render the world incomprehensible. Such violence shakes the very foundations of the reality we are so confident of. There are more people at casinos, more people at restaurants and the movies, for what is the point of saving up for a mirage of tomorrows? How do I keep these reports from shaking my inner worlds? I find that I have to dig deep and expend a great deal of energy to feel actively angry with people who I imagined have wronged me. I cannot imagine the kind of all-pervasive hatred against an entire group of people one doesn't know, and the amount of energy required to fuel that, an anger so huge that it would make a person commit to an act of terror so monstrous that no civilized living being would own it as natural.

They say that rage hurts the person who feels it most. I wonder, then, that I still agonize over this rage that is not mine in any form or way, that I have not felt, that is so alien that I neither condone nor condemn it. All day, I had a toad in my throat I could not swallow. At the end of this day, I was exhausted by too much feeling and my insistence on letting the day be as normal as could be. I wasn't even sure what I was mourning, After all, I know none of the people involved in the tragedy even tangentially.

Then, I suspected that it had a lot to do with my missing feline friend. I remember thinking that in a world where such senseless violence is allowed to happen, what horrors may the malevolent act out on a sick, defenseless animal?

At the end of this unending day, I sat in my room, waiting for the dialysis machine to finish priming. Somehow, I must have clicked my Pinterest and suddenly, like Wordsworth's daffodils, I saw a Raagmala print of Krishna and Radha facing each other in a dark forest of flowers, with rain clouds gathering above. The sheer power of the print, the open joy on faces, the At-Last look in the deities' eyes, the colors, all of it stabbed me with the beauty of living. Here, at last, were my Two-for-Joy! And in an arrogance of gratitude, I blessed the deities, may the gods forgive me!

Why should one try to comprehend the world, after all? If there is unimaginable ugliness and terror, like the Orlando Shooting, there is also indescribable beauty and divine harmony. One only needs
to look around for the miracle of people getting on with each other normally and ordinarily, which makes acts of terror abnormal and extraordinary. We should keep those extraordinary; we should never accept them as some kind of a norm, or part of life; we should remain angry with monsters.

This post goes out in hope that we all work hard to remember the harmony of getting along rather than senseless acts of hatred. Let us all remember the fragrance of the earth and the beauty of love that only sharpens when pitted against thunder clouds, and that the skies keep changing.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Other Worlds

My good friend and reading buddy blogged about her memories of Paris in this post. It is logical for all of us to have Paris in our thoughts, as the city is flooded. The internet is full of picturesque scenes of the city's monuments surrounded by mirror-like still waters, which reflect the scene as though it were an alternate reality, an underworld, a city towering low down into submerged depths to unimaginable worlds.

I must confess, even though I have a great deal of fondness for books set in Paris, this is not my favorite city in the world. I feel little kinship with its beautiful cobbled streets and the Seine. I have visited the city more than once and have always felt like a visitor. However, today, I feel a yearning to visit it. I long for the quiet days meandering through the Louvre (I deliberately forget the long lines to get in and the forever crowds, no matter the day or hour); I long to stand in the navel of the world, beneath the Rose window of Notre Dame (again, I am not going to mention the perennial crowds); I long to get lost in Shakespeare and Company, one of my favorite places in the world.

So yes, I do miss the cafes, the flower pots hanging on terrace grills, the soft consonants and curling vowels mingling with my excellent morning coffee, warm bread and some of the best cheese I have ever tasted. The used book-kiosks along the Seine were wonderful places to waste the day away and afforded a nice view of the opposite river bank, with the ubiquitous kissing couples. I remember wanting a caricature sketched, but the footpath artist at Mont Martre quoted a price that I could only stare at. Now, I think the next time I visit, I would bargain.

And undoubtedly, there will be a next time. I cannot imagine not going. My kidney disease has me tethered to this city, the city I write this from, allowing nothing longer than day-trips. But surely, this is a temporary state of affairs? How can I be bound to a single locale? I was not made for that; I was made to walk down cobbled-roads that are ancient and not mine; I was made to touch millennium-old wooden doors, hard and smooth as stone, and rub my forehead on them. I was made to ask for coffee and bread in strange languages. I was made to weep at the beauty of history and the relics that take my breath away.

My friend's post reminds us all that the rains will come for us all. I want to remember the cities and towns of the world after the rains, colored in sparkles and rainbows, redolent with the fragrance of all things wet and fresh. I want to remember the world before the rains, dry as dust on stone, stubborn against an unforgiving sky, smelling of heat and parching.

I cannot imagine the cruelty of an imposed home, a stagnant existence; that is not living! The kindness and love of a home can only be felt upon a return from other lands. Staple fare tastes best after a wandering through the moveable feasts of the world.

This post goes out in hopes that the still waters will recede, taking the strange underworlds with them, leaving the well-loved, well-remembered cities renewed and recognizable, to enable many happy returns. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Better Failures

My cat has been diagnosed with kidney failure: she is condemned to die the death I have refused. The first time I heard this, I could not really believe it. It sank in slowly over the past couple of weeks. Every day I see my feline friend of fourteen years grow thin, then ever thinner. She usually curls at the foot of the stove and sleeps. There used to be a little space behind the stove, next to the water heater, a little crawl-in, just right for a small grey house cat to blend snugly into. This "fault" was fixed when the house was re-built after the fire. Now, the tired cat curls up next to the remembered space; I am not the only one who suffers from a palimpsest- double-vision wherein I cannot tell between memory and reality. The fatigue I see her give in to helplessly is the same from before I began dialysis. The bone-sickness, the lack of will to get up, the need for the endless nap: I remember those well. At the time, I had believed that I would not see the seasons turn or my child graduate from college. This was not a doubt or a passing melancholic thought or even a crushing disappointment. It was a fact; I didn't particularly like it, but it was undeniable. I see the same dawning in the cat's eyes.

She lays her head on my sternum to better feel my heart when I pick her up. She stays a moment while I try to make the same sounds I used to make to her when she was a frightened kitten. But she tolerates this for no longer than a moment and not very frequently.

I keep the food within her reach and slip some ice chips into her water: she laps it up greedily. I remember that unquenchable thirst as well.

Death will not be denied, it seems. There is to be no dialysis for my poor friend. With her, I feel that a part of me is dying. I try to live more when I am not with her, and I am with her for only a few minutes a day on weekdays, no more than an hour when I am home. Of late, however, cramps have kept me from walking without limping and my enlarged abdomen never lets me forget that I need to sit down as soon as possible. These, of course, are small discomforts compared to the dimming the cat is being subject to.

As though in sympathy with this dimming, I find myself unable to write.

This frightens me more than the prospect of an imminent ceasing to be ever did. After all, my child has graduated and there are enough people I would leave behind who would ensure that no disasters strike. I am not really needed in any integral way, and the sum of my life has not been so extraordinary that there can be any deep, unhealed mourning of things left undone.

But that is a physical death. The kind I see facing me is worse: it is a loss of self that goes beyond a physical death. I cannot let it overtake me; I cannot imagine the consequences that would follow! This inability is not as simple as lacking inspiration, or not knowing what to write; I am constantly spinning in my head. In a way, it feels almost organic rather than lack of time or material.

I had set out to learn to Read Literature so that I may be better equipped to tell the stories I must tell. Inevitably, I feel as though I have failed in this.

So this post goes out with the hope that these words will lead to others, that a few more stories get exorcised before I feel my own dimming, that this time, like Beckett suggests, I fail better than before, that I can notch these new failures on the wrinkles of my face.

For I do not like the dimming and every wrinkle is a battle scar won against it.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Quest for Purgatory

My friend has been caught up in visions of Purgatory, a concept I've always had a hard time with. My patient reader knows that I am a practicing Hindu and even though we have layers of heavens and infernos, we do not have a purgatory; the very idea seems pointless from the perspective of a system of belief that revolves around reincarnation. After all, purging suggests subtraction of sorts and energy cannot be subtracted. The very thought of all souls leaning towards a singular direction makes me uncomfortable. The universe must be balanced, after all!

I have Read Literature and I am familiar with Dante and other stories of Purgatory. I understand the concept if I consider a monotheistic world; it would make sense that ALL souls have the propensity for being all good in that world. I have seen people inducing suffering on their flesh to "burn" away their indulgences and become worthy of Purgatory. In extreme cases, I have heard and read of people choosing a violent, unnatural death to directly attain Paradise, by-passing Purgatory by burning off all sins in a final conflagration of unimaginable pain that devours the very living body.

I am not convinced. I still have to squint to glimpse Purgatory. What makes most sense to me is that life itself is a place of learning and catharsis. After all, all the burning and punishments I have read about seem to be of a physical nature. People burdened by stones, people busily running around nowhere, people walking through fire, all of these seem to punish the physical body. Surely perils of the soul are different? If the soul is being purged of the faults it has paid for in hell, then surely, the purging should involve the spirit? Perhaps the prayers at the end of each circle of Purgatory are enough?

I do not have a Virgil to guide me, Also, I am not sure that I want to travel that rocky way.

However one believes, all of us are fascinated with the afterlife, sometimes more so than we are in love with being alive. My friend is not alone in her preoccupation about the afterlife. What bothers me the most about these visions, whether it is the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Greek Underworld, or Dante's song, is that they all seem to be built on the terrain of misgiving. A lot of one's moral compass, then, is driven by fear of afterlife than by an unclouded awareness of right and wrong. How can those choices, impelled as they are by apprehension of punishment or expectation of reward, be proper or clear?

If I leave Dante behind and fast forward to the 20th century and its love affair with the apocalyptic and the post-apocalyptic, I have Sartre, who suggests a completely different kind of terror and hell: of a flower speaking and of other people!

 Perhaps Camus' Sisyphus presents the most comforting of all landscapes of afterlife.

I prefer my forests of between eye-blinks, of confused gods and wise demons, arrogant demons and graceful gods, of jatiswaram animals, who remember their past lives and clueless, ambitious humans, a world in which trees and stones are worthy of worship and evil is a matter of perspective, and all the time knowing that it is all part of someone else's dream. Even though there are several layers of infernos where souls that choose malice and harm are punished, they are punished only until their horde of faults is exhausted. After that, they do earn their time in one of the layers of heavens, depending on their horde of merit. There is no in-between land of purging as the premise is that the soul itself needs no purification; it IS pure energy. The only real sin is connected with self-awareness of the living; it is ignorance and the soul fixes that by exploring life from a variety of perspectives through lifetimes. At the end of each lifetime, the hollow body is the entity that is burned without suffering. The ashes immersed in water help with the further journey of the soul.

I guess what I, my friend, and the rest of humanity search for in stories of afterlife is some sort of comfort. Mine, I find, lies in the prospect of chances varied enough to learn all I need to by delving into Life itself. Perhaps it will not bring me any closer to the divine; but then perhaps that is not the point at all.

Perhaps the divine is not to be sought without or after, but like the monstrous, It too resides within and now.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Long Story, Short Nights

The nights have turned dark, wet, and cold. Appropriately enough, I have been going through a few Dickens, in keeping with the bleak season. However, unlike expected, I have been enjoying myself immensely. I had forgotten the familiar joys of texts connected with my youth.

I began with A Tale of Two Cities, and I remembered how half our class was half in love with Sydney Carton, the Byronic non-hero of the tale. I loved revisiting the shadows of the London streets, shuddered deliciously at the clacking needles of Mme. Defarge, and despaired over the macabre Carmagnole. I remembered that I loved Dickens for the very reason that he is hated: the extra words. I enjoy those words because of the wealth of detail and humor that reside in them, and this time around, I was in no hurry to finish the book and begin analyzing themes. At the same time, the story remembered me as a young girl. A most wonderful mirror!

The other two, Great Expectations and Hard Times, seem like a reflection of all that is broken in the world of education. Mr. Gradgrind of Hard Times insists on FACTS and children today are taught to the acronym of that very idea, standardized tests. I, too, too often find myself rushing through material because of time constraints, and too often, the enormity of all that needs to be taught just defeats me and I wonder if there is anything wrong with teaching just facts.

These cold days rob me of the wherewithal to do much and I find my sleep rhythms out of sync. My disease bloats me too full at nights so I can barely breathe and I dream through the days, not always sure if I am awake. Through this chthonic time, the old texts of my youth keep anchor and compass, and even if I cannot always remember the state of my wakefulness, I remember the part of the story  that holds me.

I have always known that the written word would save me. Here, in this cold season, I find yet another way to light up my darkened path with it. I shall trust the well-told tales; after all, they are older and wiser.

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