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.

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