Friday, April 28, 2017

Endings and Beginnings

I cannot think of a better day to begin writing on my blog than today; today is Akha Teej, the auspicious day of beginnings, one of the four holy days of the Hindu calendar.  So let me begin by wishing my readers good beginnings in all they start today!
It has been four months since I began my “new” job. Followers of this space might remember that I was heart-broken at losing my previous job of 17 years. Actually, I was so heart-broken, that I stopped looking for full-time faculty positions altogether. The one I’d lost was the perfect faculty job, I had done it well, and I was fortunate enough to lose it before it soured or got old. I had my perfect job, and I had enjoyed it for over a decade and half. I remain grateful, and yes, Reader, a part of my heart still yearns for it. I fear it always will.
Now, I coordinate the Writing Center at one of the campuses of my county’s college. It is a job that demands completely separate skill sets than the ones I had been using all my adult life. Much to my surprise and delight, I am loving it! I never expected to be happy as a manager of sorts, but I learn something new every day, and another piece of a large puzzle falls in place, giving me a whole new perspective on the landscape of an educational institution, a landscape I’d thought I knew well, too well. I have also taught at this college briefly and now that I see this side of process, I will never be the same again.
Yes, clocking in 40 hours a week feels just as strange as not having to work at home, both to me and my feline roommates. But it is growing on us. I knew that in an alternate life, I’d be running a Writing Center; now I really am doing it! Of course, my vision for a Writing Center was very different from this very real one. But as days go by, this vision becomes more focused, more possible. One day, the gods willing, I will have the Writing Center of my imagination. Of course, a lot of credit for my loving my new job goes to the people I work with, my supervisors, colleagues, and staff, who are all warm and helpful. Besides that, however, the work itself is new and challenging.
I did not mean to only sing accolades to my two jobs, though this entry seems to primarily do that. I hope that my Reader takes heart from my story; if something that seems apocalyptic happens and everything ends, there is still the grain of the coming morrow contained within; one only has to believe in the inexorability of the heartbeat and breath. They keep rhythm with the march towards future seasons.
According to Hindu myth, today, one of the seven immortals, Ved Vyas began The Mahabharata. I want to keep the messages it embodies in my mind today. I want to be courageous enough one day to be able to trust in the impermanent, malleable nature of all realities, and still recognize the grain of a beginning in all endings. I have written from the perspective of Satyavati, Ved Vyas’ mother, and I will keep her ability to adapt and her insistence on sculpting the ways in which she adapts.

And no matter how frightening it is, I will be brave enough to put one foot in front of the other and trust the Earth to hold it steady.

Sunday, July 24, 2016


When I lost my job last month, I had imagined that I would be able to blog and write to my heart's content; after all, it's not as though I have a real job to get to! However, I find that I have less time now than I did when I was full time. I spend my time trying to plug the gaping holes in my life that have suddenly yawned open, and I can smell the threat of destitution swelling and ebbing. I spend a great deal of time praying that the band-aid plugs hold for longer than I expect.

Some of my very good friends tell me that I should take this time to finish my book, that it is a gift from the Universe, a sure sign. I am very grateful for the comforting thought, but my book is finished, has been for a couple of years. I don't know how to work on it since I am too close to it and don't have an editor or anyone to advise or suggest. So touching that project is out of question for now. I continue to write stories and try to get them out; some of them are even accepted and nothing else helps like those. At any rate, my writing is a necessity and not contingent upon the amount of free time I have.

There is another activity that eats up my time, staring out of windows and worrying about all the big and small things that are now different. I stare outside the window with the cats and watch the leaves, worrying as the sky darkens and the rain begins. Staring into the internet window is a different kind of worrying: I scroll and apply most assiduously for all full time jobs that I am capable of. I worry that I am not visible to these jobs. I know what my perfect job looks like, and I think that I glimpse it often from the corner of my eye. However, the right constellations have wheeled away, some bridge has broken down, there is a cosmic disconnect somewhere, and it remains out of clear, direct sight.

Weekends are the worst. During the week, as I make phone calls, apply, grade papers, organize and prioritize, I have the illusion of doing something, somehow progressing. But on weekends, the world naps and I am at a loss. During my lowest times, I fear I have turned into a citizen of Eliot's Unreal City, of Wasteland; how could I have, when did I allow such a large part of my self be dependent on my job? By now, I should have begun to feel the relief of less responsibility. Granted, I am teaching part time at the same place, but I am teaching only the courses I have written and created from ground up; this situation should feel like a wonderful thing! And I must confess to enjoying the time in the classroom; yet it is tinged with the awareness that the institution and I owe no fealty to each other any longer, that our tomorrows are irretrievably severed, and as time goes by, these classes, these classrooms will only move farther away and finally set below my horizons.

I suppose what I miss the most, besides the obvious benefits that accompany the friendship of an institution, then, is belonging to an institution. There is so much comfort in owning a place of work as one's own; I would argue that it is as imperative to being meaningfully alive as having a room of one's own. It feels like one belongs to a wider circle of reference, and since the circle is wider, one will be well taken care of. This circle of reference provides a temenos and we all need firm land beneath our feet. This awareness of a temenos is what is liberating, not all these oodles and oodles of undefined hours. What I have right now is not free time; this is chthonic time. It does not belong to any earthly concern.

If my life were a research paper, this time would be indicated by ellipses enclosed in square brackets; not relevant to what came before or after.

July is almost done. Soon, the festivals will begin. The year wheels on and when I blink again, it might well be December. However, the Upanishads, one of my major touchstones, claim that there are forests of eternity contained between eye-blinks. This post goes out in hope that the eye-blinks wheel my world towards a belonging that brightens the horizons and puts my feet back on terra firma

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.

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