Sunday, April 22, 2012

Fallow Season

This weekend has been one of the quieter ones, the kind of quiet imposed on the centers of storms, the kind that is needed to sustain, the mandatory opposite of action. I do understand the balance such days provide, the kind that force me to just sit still and wait.

Now I don't presume to evoke ghosts of Milton, where the waiting has some cosmic significance or divine directive. On the contrary, actually, this waiting has been forced on me because my constant worrying over trifles, the various, varying demands made upon my conscious mind, and the fast pace of our disjointed lives has caused a system failure of sorts in the primary circuitry of my being.

I have been primarily couch-bound for the past few days, weighed down by a fever and an exhaustion that looms by 2pm, and I have spent hours, supine beside my computer with stacks of ungraded work, surrounded by floors that need cleaning and a house that needs picking up. I have had to take many, many naps, each feeling like an infinite stretch of time, where the world outside the door shifts axis while I am held captive by whirlwinds of unresolvable worries that clutch me in their nightmare jaws.

I acknowledge the necessity of this fallow season. It reminds me of other fallow seasons which have changed my inner landscape irrefutably. The one that comes to mind is the long three weeks of enforced bed rest when I was on the brink of puberty. It was ages ago, from where I stand today, of course. But that was the season during which I realised that my true love was going to be, had always been the fictional word. My students today ask me when I had the time to read all the mythology and tales I teach and I know I have my fallow season to thank.  My inner self had used that season to adjust, fit, evaluate, and compensate for the being I was growing into, while the stories of the past ages whispered important input and sketched indelible patterns on the basic structure of the self as it moved towards a stable, crystallized form.

This fallow season is no exception. The difference is in the stories I am feeding this self. These are newer tales (though it is the same Story), woven in different hues and textures. On the one hand, I am going through the Puranas (the most ancient, contemporary, changing, iconoclastic of Hindu literature), and on the other hand, I watch all the television series that I never usually have the time to catch up on, as I nap. Squeezed between the cracks are the occassionals, like the books my book club is reading and the latest Umberto Eco I just stumbled upon at the public library.

I do not hope to have a firm grasp on why this season has been necessary, or what it is supposed to give my inner landscape. Those thoughts are nebulous and will wisp away if examined. All I know is that some sort of regeneration has been required. My house is being worked on (for the time being), my child is fluffing up her wings and checking her compasses to begin her first flight into adulthood, and even my usually clueless conscious self can clearly see that a stage of our lives is closing up.

Today is the first day that I have been able to stay up this late after 3pm, and I've had only one nap, so I know that the time for me to get up is very near. Unlike the end of the earlier fallow season, however, I do not find myself particularly looking forward to the new season that awaits around the bend; I am afraid I might not have the energy for it. These past months have, I fear, broken something in me, re-wired something essential. I am afraid I might be proven unable, lacking in whatever the new stage demands of me, that this fallow season might be sown in dry earth, incapable of bringing forth all that it used to.

I lie here, shivering, the napping cats my main heat source. I hope and pray that I find the new stage a recognizable setting, with familiar choices and realised hopes. I invoke the kind gods I read of to rudder and steer my ship; I invoke the stars to guide my compass; I invoke the fallow season to sow enough for me to recognize the axis mundi from mirages; I invoke the Story to map understandable directives; and I invoke the true horizon to steady my course.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Tales from Battlefields

My child talked of playing a game of "if only" with a friend, of things they'd do if only they had enough resources to serve their whim. Of course, cats were the first on that list, but a close second was a house for me. I am always surprised, affected, and overwhelmed when she unwittingly lets slip how much regard she holds for me. The last few disastrous months that have robbed our home have not served to bring us closer. In fact, like it happens with small families, each of us has tried to hold together separate parts of our common life, stretching our bond thin, a very logical effect of the strained circumstances we are dealing with. So every moment that reminds us of our affection feels like a gift, one of the more appreciated effects of my burnt house, like these stories I have lately found myself writing.

I have often wondered if my house burning will prove to be a blessing in retrospect. I cannot imagine it will, considering the devastation we have experienced and the constant loss that won't shift, no matter how much we toss and turn. However, I must confess that this burning has brought me an unexpected gift. My very good friend and one of my prime saviors came up with the mandate ( I will not call it a plan or suggestion, for fear that my other self might be listening and refuse to take it seriously!) that each of us would meet every 4 to 6 weeks with a new short story.

I have been writing and that has helped me maintain a recognizable mask for my day world. This writing has provided an outlet for my desolation so that it keeps away from clouding my aspect and is shut away from the routine dealings of everyday life. I am able to use coherent syntax, can update a syllabus, recognize a joke and even occasionally crack one, and everyone congratulates me on my courage and spirit in face of my circumstances, all to my amazement (don't they hear me complain all the time? Aren't they annoyed, like I am, with my unceasing desperation?).

Earlier on this blog, I have bemoaned my lack of control over my stories. Now, this doesn't seem to bother me as much: I do not have much control over anything anyways, so I am not surprised or annoyed when my stories run away from me and serve their own agendas. I do not have to think of a plot, or a theme, or a character when I begin a story anymore; it is not as deliberate a process as it used to be. I let go of my chisel and let the stories tell themselves, with minimal interference from me. Also, when one is done, I feel a kind of exhausted relief, a catharsis the ancient Greek thespians promised their audiences.

Certainly, my stories are black, like regurgitated tar, and they come from the unsettled, unhealed places that I have been consciously trying to build scabs over, but they ARE stories. They all have a plot, some characters, and most components that constitute one.

And whoever said that only bright and beautiful things should be celebrated?  After all, I have imagined my Sita most at home, most defined by her exile, and Odysseus is best known for his voyages. It is the singular unhappinesses that isolate us from our happier neighbors and friends, that make our stories interesting and worthy of a telling. In Tolstoy's tale, Anna's spiritual dismemberment is better told than Kitty's ordinary stability. Of course, unlike what Shelley points out, my saddest thoughts do not tell the sweetest songs, but I wonder if my songs would be insipid if this huge grief were not propelling them.

When I first began this blog, I had imagined it as some kind of a journal or documentation of the process of writing and all the influences that operate on the journey of the word till it is born on a blank screen.

This blog was to be one of the many paeans and celebrations of the written word, and this entry serves as my attempt to reach back towards that imperative. It goes out in gratitude to an inward self that I have long denied, a locked up, dark self that still lives in spite of me, a thriving Mrs. Rochester of a self, liberated, dancing above the flames of a burnt house, a primordial Kali in her element among corpses.