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Pray tell, what is a weekend? Part I.

If any of you have seen ‘Downton Abbey’ you know that Granny makes the whole show. If I have one aspiration in life, it is to become like Granny once I become older. Is there anything that fazes her? Not much, but the concept of a weekend does. At the beginning of the show (I think it was the first season) Granny meets Mathew for the first time. He attempts to explain what he does for a living (a shocking concept all on its own). But he stumps her completely is when he tries to explain how is work is structured. How his days are divided into what we, of the working class call ‘weekdays’ and ‘weekends’. It is an iconic scene to be sure, and it makes me laugh every time.

But seriously though, what is a weekend? I’ve all but forgotten. I haven’t had a free weekend in about 2 months and I am fuming. I don’t mind working hard, but this is getting to be a bit much. I think I have said it before, and I’ll say it again. Jobs wouldn’t be half as intolerable if people understood boundaries and gave you time off to do other things. What is with this obsession we have with our work? Let me give you an example. I work in an industry where we are always being told to give our 150% to the job. Being told that nothing matters as much as client satisfaction. Being told that being available and working around the clock are some of the biggest assets we have at our disposal. I can’t tell you how much I hate hearing these things. I disagree with all of it. Yeah sure, do your job well. And then forget about it. Should you be giving 150% to your job? Absolutely not people. You should, at best, on a good day, when you are feeling generous, give about 50% to your job and save the rest of it for the things you enjoy. Drinking coffee with friends. Watching the new Batman in theatres (totally worth it). Chilling in a bookshop. 50%. At best. Is there anything more important than client satisfaction? Oh yes. Enjoying time off. Learning a new skill. Afternoon naps on your days off. And should you work around the clock to give the clients (and your organization) everything you’ve got? I think you can guess my answer.

I just wish someone would explain to my bosses what a weekend is. Like they did with Granny. And I hope they start to respect time off a little bit more.

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City of Girls

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My first encounter with Liz Gilbert left me unimpressed. I remember hearing all the buzz around this new movie called ‘Eat Pray Love’ a couple of years ago. Apparently it was based on some bestselling book by a lady who rediscovers herself. How unoriginal I thought. I was of course, in my teen years at the time. Still quite some way from any discovery, let alone any re-discovery. At a time in my life where everything felt achievable and the lives of most people older than me felt like stale bread, full of mistakes I was never going to make (you can laugh) and completely unglamorous, the idea of reading a book about a middle aged something who takes a trip just to, what…find herself again? Ew.

Skip to a couple of years later, I finally saw the movie in my twenties. By this time my worldview had become slightly more balanced, and I was also going through one of the first (though certainly not the last) heartbreaks in my life. And so naturally, I didn’t want to surround myself with people who were having a better time then I was. I wanted to unite with my fellow failures. This is how my second meeting with Liz was on better footing. She had one failed marriage behind her and I was newly jaded. She wanted to get back out into the world and eat to her heart’s content, and I had newfound appetite for donuts. Specifically, eaten in my bed. She was feeling spiritual, and I was…ok well, I was lighting incense sticks in my room to battle the donut smell. That counts for something. She wanted to find new love. I was completely uninterested for myself, but curious to see how it turned out for others before I even thought of venturing out again. I can tell you, I really enjoyed the movie. I think I even cried in it. I never managed to read the book though.

Skip to now. I received two of her books as a birthday gift form a favorite cousin. City of Girls and Big Magic. I won’t talk about Big Magic here, because it deserves a post of its own. But I will take some time to talk about City of Girls. I have to say, my appreciation for Liz has only gone up. Much like ‘Eat Pray Love’, I feel like City of Girls found me at the right time. As things often do. On the cover of the book sit says this is a book about celebrating female friendships. But it is a lot more than that too.

Honestly, it didn’t even feel like I was reading a book. The tone of the book is so conversational, you almost feel like you are being narrated the story by a close friend of yours. A friend, who, though you like very much, you cannot get behind every single decision of hers. And this is often the truth. Things are so much more fun when they aren’t clear cut. Because which one of us doesn’t have a friend we simply cannot support in all areas of their lives? We like them, yes, but we like them enough to admit they can be a pit of a pain sometimes. And would we live our lives like they live theirs? Absolutely not.

It also talks about friendships that you have to let go of. Some because you grew apart and some because you messed up. Both are equally hard to accept as I am finding out. Let me tell you about a friend of mine. Back in the day (not too far back though, I am not as old as I pretend to be sometimes) I was friends with a girl who was dating a man I could not stand. And I wasn’t overreacting or being imposing. None of my other girlfriends could stand him either. He had that quality about him, as some people do. But in all my youthful arrogance I thought I naturally had a say in the matter (a mistake I have since repeated many, many times). So, I went up to my friend and told her she should break up with the man. Simple as that. I won’t keep you in suspense as to what happened next. She didn’t break up with him. Not only that, she broke up with me! The audacity. She was kind enough to do it gradually though. To an outsider, it would almost look like we naturally grew apart. But I knew what the reason for this newfound distance was and I wasn’t happy about it. I absolutely refused to see how I could have been, maybe, wrong in this situation. And so, for many years after that, I could not get over this. How could someone I was so close to choose not to keep the friendship alive? With me?! But after a while it stopped being a why question. It stopped being an anything question, it just was. And the book put into words something I have felt for a long time now. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, it just gives you some perspective. Am I still hurt over that friend? Probably. But I also get it now. Some things you just cannot control.

Another thing I loved about the book was when the protagonist talks about all the fun she has as a youngster about town. I love how unapologetic she is about it. I think that for a lot of us, especially women, fun is treated as a finite quantity. In some cultures, certainly in mine, it is also treated as something that will inevitably have bad consequences. I don’t know how to put it into words. But there is this idea that was drilled into us from a young age where I’m from, “don’t have too much fun, you’ll regret it later on.” Or, “if you laugh now, you’ll cry later”. Or, “don’t look so happy, someone might jinx it.” And to that I say, um, why not? Sure, you need to understand that there are consequences to everything you do. If you drink too much, you will have a hangover. If you drink too much over a long period of time, you might run the risk of becoming an alcoholic. But surely not all fun needs to be so severely monitored and quantified? What about harmless gossiping with friends over coffee, or laughing at stupid things, or taking spontaneous trips, or healthy flirting? I like how Liz talks about all the fun her protagonist has. There is a part in the book, where our heroine talks about how she and her friends would head out every night to look for trouble, and hit the city “full throttle”. I loved it. You have all your life to be serious, but only right now to have fun. So, for those of you who are looking to spend a couple of days in the company of friends who know how to have fun unabashedly, I highly recommend the City of Girls.

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Happy Birthday to me

I celebrated my birthday this last week. And as I completed another year around the sun, I tried to reflect on the year gone by. What had I done this last year that I was most proud of? That I was most grateful for? The idea came from something I had been reading up on sometime before. Keeping a gratitude journal. So, this is a thing a lot of people do nowadays (or at least, they make YouTube videos talking about how they do it). The idea is to get a little more niche with your journaling. Instead of writing down whatever you want in your journal; you keep a separate diary only to record things you are grateful for. You are not allowed to recount the details of your mundane existence in these hallowed pages, or worse, crib about it. Absolutely not. If, and when, something makes you feel happy to be alive you write it down. The hope, one can only presume, is to look back at the things you have written about, and realize that life is, after everything is said and done, beautiful.

Now, I am a big fan of journaling. It lets me talk without disturbing anyone else. It lets me analyze all my thoughts (especially the meanest ones) in an imagined setting full of understanding friends (my other thoughts). I don’t have to rush through conversations, and I get to decide what is important. Most importantly, I can talk about the things that are bothering me for as long as I want, and go into as many morbid details as take my fancy, without having to feel like I am being a burden to those around me. And through it all – through 4 years of extensive journal keeping – I have started untangling my thoughts a little, and just generally slowing down whenever I want to. However, as you can tell, my journaling is more the record-the-details-of-your-life-and-crib-about-it variety. Very few entries record happy events or happy times in my life. Because when that is going on, I usually don’t find either the time or the inclination to write in my diary.

But back to what I was saying. On this day, in an attempt to fight off the birthday blues, I gave some serious thought to the things I am grateful for. Although there are quite a few (and I feel very lucky to be able to say that) here are a few of my favorite things:

A large family

I mean large when I say large. I have relatives and more relatives and cousins and more cousins. But some of these I am close to. I have in the last year, especially enjoyed the company of a few of my closest sisters and aunts. Relatives are usually a prickly topic, and no one likes them in large doses. But I do. I love spending time with my family even when I hate them. There is so much comfort in having spent years, and possibly my least glamorous years, around these people. A sense of peace that comes from the fact that these people are blood and have seen me grow up. I say blood yes, but I also want to include a few really close friends in this list, those who have transcended the boundaries marked by blood. Even when I have fought with these people, judged them, been judged by them in turn, or straight up ignored them for their offenses against me (both real and imagined) I have remained very grateful for their existence in my life.

Good Food (and coffee)

The last year (and the year before that for that matter) has been spent in my house, not stepping out of it, for the most part. I cribbed a lot initially about the loss of my youth (yeah cringe, but true) but then I started appreciating some things. The thing I appreciated the most was all the good home-cooked food I got. I even developed a bit of a mini-chef attitude. I can’t in all honesty say I have become any sort of expert, but I did have the time to try out some fun things. Like making pasta from scratch. Do you know how much effort it takes to make pasta from scratch? I believe, I truly do, that if I had kept it up, I wouldn’t need to have a separate work-out regime (that I never follow anyway). It was blood, sweat and tears (just sweat, I’m being dramatic) but it came out so well! I also discovered how much harder it is to come up with a fun vegetarian dish. If you’re a meat-eater like me, then most meals are fairly standard. The vegetarians (like my younger sister) have it much harder. In my quest to make dishes all of us to enjoy, I discovered what a wide selection of vegetarian dishes some cuisines have. Like the Israeli cuisine. Seriously, if you’re a vegetarian you should definitely check it out. And then of course, there is coffee. Where would we be without coffee. I read somewhere (probably one of those unreliable pages on Instagram) that in the olden times, Turkish women were allowed to divorce their husbands if they couldn’t give them the amount of coffee they required. Seems reasonable to me.

Books, books and more books

Starting a physical library was one of the nicest things I did in the last year for sure. Hands down. No question. I have always been a reader, but seeing my shelves get full of books also satisfied my aesthetic sensibilities. I’ve already spoken about this a ton of times, so I won’t repeat it here, but you already know how I feel. I can however, talk about the books I liked best from the ones I read last year. If I had to pick my top three they would be Before the Coffee gets Cold, Anxious People and At the Existentialist Café.

The last thing I am grateful for is that I could, at times at least, get out of my head and do some of the things I have wanted to do for so long. Like start this blog. I didn’t think it would go anywhere when I started it, and I still don’t think it is going places, but it has helped me in imperceptible ways.

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Women who run wild

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As you know sometimes, when I have no particular agenda, I talk about or present to you excerpts from books I am currently working my way through. The one I am in the middle of right now is called ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. The purpose of the book, if self-proclaimed, it to help us in “contacting the power of the wild woman.” As you can probably tell from the title, the target audience of this book is, well, women. But that shouldn’t stop you from picking this book up, no matter where you fall on the gender spectrum. The author talks mostly to women, about women-centric issues, but honestly, I can see how reading this would benefit everyone. I usually make my way through books quite quickly but I have been spending some time on this, and I’ll tell you why.

The Author says we should

Yup. That is correct. How often does it happen that you pick up a book and the author has told you, in very exact terms, how the book should be read? Maybe it does happen a lot and I am just new to the space, but I have never felt such literary intimacy with the creator of a work. And I really liked it. Before you start reading this book, make sure you skip to the end. There, Estes talks about what led her to write this book, what inspired her, why she chose the format she did, and how we should read her book. She says the book is a product of many years of hard labour. It took many attempts to get to the end of the book, and there were a lot of gaps, of varying sizes, in the middle of it. And so, in the spirit in which it was written, the author recommends that we keep coming back to the book to discover different parts of it. It wasn’t completed in one go, and we shouldn’t attempt to make our way through it in one go either. There are different parts of the book that talk to different parts of our psyche, and are addressed to us in different parts of our lives, and so there really isn’t any need for continuity in the ways in which we are accustomed to it.

The Format

I used to be a purist when it came to books. In my younger days, I didn’t really like reading books that didn’t follow the already set rules of prose writing. But I have since tried to expand my horizons. I have made my way through books that don’t have any punctuation, books that have inconstant margins, books that have been written in a single sentence and what not. So much so that now I almost look out for these unusual formats when I buy books. Like a book I read sometime ago. It is called ‘Minor Detail‘. I want to try and explain to you what the format of Minor Detail was but I know I won’t do a good job so I’m just going to ask all of you to check it out if you have the time. But anyway, back to the wolves. In this book, every chapter starts off with an introduction which tells us about the particular culture we will be borrowing a folk tale from for the purposes of that chapter. Then the folk tale. This, I have to say, is my favorite part of the entire book. The stories that have been brought to me. And after every story, the author breaks it down in parts and walks us through these parts, all the time giving us invaluable and free therapy for our souls.

Let me give you an example

By therapy I mean of course the absolutely heart warming things she writes. The kind of things that you wouldn’t miss in your life at all till someone said it, and then you’d wonder how you made your way through life without having come across this thought before. I’m not saying this is all chapters, but some of them definitely make you look twice. Here is something I liked:

Although I caution you, the exact placement of the aperture to home changes from time to time, so its location may be different this month than last. Rereading passages of books and single poems that have touched the,. Spending even a few minutes near a river, a stream, a creek. Lying on the ground in dappled light. Being with a loved one without kids around. Sitting on the porch shelling something, knitting something, peeling something. Walking or driving for an hour, any direction, then returning. Boarding any bus, destination unknown. Making drums while listening to music. Greeting sunrise. Driving out to where the city lights do not interfere with the night sky. Praying. A special friend. Sitting on a bridge with legs dangling over. Holding an infant. Sitting by a window in a café and writing. Sitting in a circle of trees. Drying hair in the sun. Putting hands in a rain barrel. Plotting plants, being sure to get hands very muddy. Beholding beauty, grace, the touching frailty of human beings.”

Now read through that again and tell me it doesn’t feel like the home we all want to get to but find difficult to describe.

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Drinking habits

Sometime in the beginning of this year I thought, perhaps for the first time, that I maybe had an issue with alcohol. That I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I had originally enjoyed it. And then I wrote about how I had decided to quit it. I was quite good at that, or at least I thought I was. I stuck to not drinking alcohol at all for a couple of months. I even attended a few parties and resisted the temptation to join in on all the fun. Then, for some reason, I convinced myself that I could let it go whenever I wanted to, and so I really did not have anything else to prove to myself. I had done what I needed to do to show myself I was in control and I could maybe go back to doing the things I ‘enjoyed’. Ever since I have gotten back to drinking I have been thinking about a relationship with alcohol and how it has changed over the years.

Why did I start to drink? You know I honestly don’t know. It wasn’t peer pressure that got me started onto it. I was just one of those kids and I had it set in my mind that I was going to start drinking as soon as I could. That it would add something that had hitherto been missing from my life. I had my first night of drinking when I was sixteen. I was eighteen when I first blacked out. For many years after that, I thought this was normal. I thought it was okay to blackout and that if you didn’t, you weren’t really enjoying yourself as much as you’re supposed to. That the night could have been a lot ‘better’. I subscribed to ridiculous ideas of how I don’t drink to have fun, I would instead drink to get drunk. Like it is some serious milestone I need to achieve every time I pick a glass up. And if you ask me today why that was the case, what was achieved through all this, I really would not have an answer for you. That is just the way I thought. For me, there was no other way I was going to be involved with alcohol. I had to, absolutely had to, be one of those kids that got into it quickly and went in deep. And so I did.

Why did I keep up with it? This I do have a bit more clarity on. A couple of years into drinking – and I mean drinking almost every weekend – I realized blackouts were not the norm. That there were people out there who enjoyed alcohol without forgetting huge chunks of the previous night. At first, I scoffed at these people. Who were they? Why were they so boring? Did they not know that you’re young only once, and you can do all of this responsible drinking once you enter the middle ages? I was arrogant in all the wrong ways. But the thing is, as much as I maintained this on the outside, there was a growing disconnect between drinking and enjoyment in my life. I didn’t recognize it at the time. Every night of blacking out was followed up by an anxiety riddled morning. I experienced all the emotional symptoms of a hangover without any of the physical ones. I had intense self-loathing. I wanted to ask people what happened the night before, but at the same time, I didn’t want them to tell me something that would make me dislike myself. So, I never asked. I figured that as long as no one came up to me and complained about my behavior it must have been okay, and as long as I had no idea what I had done the night before, I could in some way distance myself from it. Which was, as you can guess, absolutely not the case. I still felt like crap every single time I went out drinking. And yet, I would pick it up again whenever I went out.

Was there a turning point? Absolutely. I just didn’t recognize it for what it was at the time. I think it happened around 7 years into my drinking. I started getting raging hangovers. No one really talks about how suddenly your body ages. You’re fine till one night of drinking (as fine as you can be), and then the next time you go out drinking, you’re hit by a sixteen-wheeler of a headache, nausea, cramps, body aches and shivering out of nowhere. I honestly didn’t even realize what was happening to me the first time I got a hangover. I thought I was genuinely sick. I panicked and told my flat mate at the time about it, who informed me that I was being silly, and it was just a hangover. Just a hangover? Is this what it felt like then? Wow. I was shocked, and also perversely impressed with myself. I had finally crossed over into the mythical land of adulthood (at least in this one aspect) and I could now claim camaraderie with all who were constantly (yet ever so stylishly) complaining of hangovers (think: movie characters). That lasted for about a minute, before I started loathing my hangovers. I had been turning away from drinking (at least the idea of it) for some time now, and having hangovers just gave me that additional push I needed. And so, I thought I’ll give it up. How card could it be.

And in the end, how hard was it? I haven’t managed to give it up yet. But I did leave it for a couple of months this year. The hardest part about trying to give up alcohol – this is only if you’re like me and drink with friends and not alone, because luckily that was a habit I never picked up – was realizing what a big part of your personality alcohol becomes. I have friends I started disliking spending time with because it seemed to me that the only thing we had connecting us was alcohol. I stopped wanting to go to parties or hanging out with even close friends, because for some reason people don’t take you seriously when you try and tell them you’re trying to quit drinking. They all seem to take it as a personal attack for some reason. As though their fun will become any less legitimate if you’re not as drunk as them. And even when they (finally!) leave you alone, everyone seems to view you suspiciously, as though one is simply not supposed to enjoy oneself sober after a certain age.

How did I get back to this place? I quit cold turkey for a couple of months because of a particularly nasty blackout and hangover. I felt uneasy just thinking about drinking in large settings after that night. But after a couple of months of sobriety I had the chance to re-explore my relationship with alcohol. I went out drinking with an old set of family friends and for the first time in forever, I drank in moderation and thoroughly enjoyed my night out. The entire vibe of the evening and everyone present at the gathering was so….immaculate. No one was trying to get you to drink more than you wanted (or needed) to. Here was a set of people who weren’t using alcohol to overcome some form self-perceived defect in their social skills. Nope. They were entirely comfortable in their respective skins, and around the people they had chosen to get drunk with. The circle was, for lack of a better phrase, airtight. After getting drunk with this set, I thought maybe it was possible to become a better drinker (I don’t know if this is the right phrase). For the first time since I had started drinking, I felt like I didn’t have to drink for the benefit of other peoples’ entertainment, or to show people I could still pull impossible feats of alcohol absorption like I did in my younger years.

I have since tried it out a couple of other times. And I found that I could, when I wanted to, drink in a way that let me enjoy the night and wake up the next day feeling quite alright. All I needed was a bit of control and a re-assessment of my drinking circle.

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It is just a job

I read somewhere that the idea that you have to ‘love your job’ is a capitalist myth. I can’t remember the last time I agreed with something so wholeheartedly. I always hear about these mythical people who love their jobs. Someone, somewhere has a friend of a friend who is really happy in their job and love waking up on Mondays.

Now, I’m not trying to bring the mood down. I am sure there are some people who have been lucky enough to find work in a field they enjoy. But even so, the minute you attach money and deadlines to any activity, it can’t help but lose some of its charm. At least, that is what I think. Like, I used to love painting. And then people started paying me for it and commissioning stuff. And then all of a sudden, I didn’t want to go anywhere near my paints. And I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I mean, isn’t this the dream? That you have a hobby you love, and then you commercialize it. Isn’t this what everyone means when they say, “if you love what you do, you won’t ever work a day in your life.” Sure, yes. Or you could be working all the time. And as much as I like something, I can’t constantly be doing one thing and feel happy about it.

Which I feel is the central issue with how our jobs and lives are structured right now. And it took me some time to realize this. The first time I quit my job (the only time, but it feels more dramatic saying it like this) I thought I hated my job. That I couldn’t imagine going the rest of my life only doing this one thing. Then I realized that that was the issue. It wasn’t that I hated my job per se (I’m actually half decent at it, and when it comes down to it, the actual work I do is enjoyable enough). I just hated that the only thing I did was my job. There was no time for anything else in my life. I wouldn’t say I ever fell into the category of people who ‘love’ their jobs (if indeed such people exist) but I could tolerate it well enough if it gave me the resources to do some of the other things I liked. The most important resource being, of course, time.

Which got me thinking. Why did I feel like I never had the time to do anything else? I’ve come to the conclusion (and this is a work in progress, so I might come back and tweak this conclusion a few times) that it is the way we are trained to think. The way they make us think about our time and how much of it we owe to our workplaces. By ‘they’ of course I mean our omnipotent capitalist overlords. From the moment I started working the overwhelming consensus was that people who went ‘above and beyond’ what was required were the ones that will succeed in this field.

Like my orientation week. I was fresh out of college and very excited to be starting this job – my first job. I remember we were flown out to a new city and put up in a fancy hotel and made to sit through a bunch of talks in some fancy convention center. All designed to impress new recruits, which it did. During the course of the many talks I attended one of the speakers started talking about what it means to be ‘successful’ in this job, in this field. He started off by saying all of us have to have our own definition of success. This was not a one shoe fits all situation. Fair enough. Then he spoke about how to someone success might mean executing the best deals (whatever that means) and working round the clock to have the highest profit margin. To someone else success might mean not working on the best deals (again, whatever that means) but instead having time to spend with their family on the weekends. The way in which he spoke, it was clear that he thought the first person was normal and the second one was the kind they didn’t want at this firm. Spending time enjoying yourself outside of the office? What a dud.

This talk was followed by a lady who spoke to us about ‘firm perception’. She told us the story of a fresh associate who, while initially showed a lot of promise, turned out not to be someone the firm wanted to invest in in the long run. The reason? He didn’t understand what ‘loyalty’ meant. In the end, the actual offense turned out to be entirely anti-climatic. The poor kid had made a post on his social media at 3 am on a Sunday night talking about ‘late nights’ in the office which, in the eyes of the firm, made them look bad. So where was the disloyalty? Was it in talking about an actual thing that happened? Was it in talking about how you were spending all your time in the office? I think it was in not enjoying the fact that you spend all your time in the office. Because to my firm, this was the worst thing someone could do. Admit that they didn’t want to be spending all of their time doing this one job.

And even after the orientation, the idea that you have to make your job your entire existence is driven home to the point of exhaustion in so many ways. I have had superiors tell me that the best way to judge how well you’re doing is by looking at how much work you have. If you’re overworked, you’re doing well. What a twisted way of looking at things. Not only did it make me put in more hours than I needed to, it also made me feel guilty for not being worked to the bone all the time. And that stuck with me till I had to quit because of a burnout.

While I was unemployed, and when I tried to commercialize my hobby, I realized a couple of things which I think have helped me in coming back to work with a more balanced perspective. Firstly, that I didn’t want to get paid to paint. It would be nice if someone at some point liked the things I made and wanted to buy it. But I wasn’t going to turn it into a commercial enterprise. Because that turned it into a job, and I found out that I didn’t love any job. Then I realized that I actually liked having a job that gave me a steady income, as long as I wasn’t expected to love it and dedicate all my time to it. So, basically, I wanted a job I could just about tolerate for the most part and like in bits, and then have some time and mental headspace out of it to do the multitude of other things I enjoyed.

I take exception to how people at my job still want the newer kids to go ‘above and beyond’ for the job or give it their ‘150%’ and what not. I think it might be a lot nicer to tell the kids to treat it as a job. Just something you do on weekdays to make some money to enjoy your actual life. Something you can, and indeed should, switch off from whenever you can. You may not love it, but you can like it for the other things it does for you.

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The bigger question

I can’t make up my mind on a lot of things, but the thing that sits at the top of my mind right now is marriage.

There is this idea that certain things need to happen to you, in your life, by a certain time in your life. You should finish school by the time you’re 18. You should finish college by the time you’re 25. You should be married by the time you’re 28.

For almost everything else in my life, I have stuck to the timeline. I am not 28 yet, so I might achieve the marriage timeline too. But somehow I doubt it. I have analysis paralysis for almost everything in life, and marriage seems like the biggest decision of all.

There are times when I think I might as well settle down with the first available option. At least then I shall have a friend for life. Someone who is legally obligated to spend time with me. As bleak as that sounds, it has a certain comforting tone to it. Wouldn’t that be nice? To stop looking. To stop having to go on half-assed dates with men I am not interested in the first place where all we do is talk about inane things. What is your favorite color? What do you do for fun? What is one thing you have ticked off your bucket list? What exactly is your job description? Do you enjoy the job you do? What are you looking for in life? Or worse, we make inane connections. Oh hey, I have a cousin who works at your company. I love dogs too. My job pays well, but I too, am trying to move into something a little more impactful. Oh, the dread of it all. The list goes on.

On the other hand, sometimes I find the idea of marriage suffocating. To be legally bound to one man; forced to build a life together, actually taking into consideration his opinions on things like furniture arrangement? No thanks. Sounds horrible. I can’t imagine watching a show someone else wants to watch. Or ordering food that is mutually desirable. I didn’t work this hard to become independent only to have to take someone else’s choices into consideration too.

On a more serious note, I can see the arguments made on either side of the debate. To settle down seems as fun as never settling down does to me. And that is my problem. I somehow always find myself standing in front of Sylvia Plath’s fig tree. Indecision galore, because in this moment, I could go for everything. So why spoil life by going for anything?

This is just what I think though. There are a lot of other players in my life, as much as I don’t like to admit it. My parents for one. They really do want to see me “settling down”. Because I come from India, a part of the world where arranged marriages are still very much a thing, the task of marrying is not an individual task. The entire family, sometimes the whole community, gets involved. So, once in a while, my parents will bring this up.

Why don’t you let us look for a boy?

If you have someone in your life, we would be happy to meet him.

If you don’t, let us at least start looking at some families. If we start now, we might find a boy in a couple of years.

After all, the process is long. We have to check if the family is suitable first, then check if the boy is someone you like, then see how all of us get along, and a hundred other things.

You don’t have to get married right away silly! You can have a long engagement. Really get to know each other before you decide to tie the knot.

I am skeptical. There are a lot of loopholes here. How do you get to know someone? What happens to the long engagement after you have gotten to know someone and decide you don’t really like that someone? What do you mean by a ‘suitable boy’?

But these are questions for a later date. First, I have to decide if I am ready to start the process at all. I have given it some thought already to be honest. I don’t have an issue with my parents (or even extended family) looking for a boy. No worries. In fact, the more the merrier. To me, it seems no different from a friend setting you up with someone they know and like. To be clear, I am extremely lucky to have been born to parents who are significantly more chilled out than a lot of other Indian parents when it comes to marriages. For me, letting my parents try and ‘arrange’ my marriage is a choice, and not a compulsion as it is for many others. Maybe someday I will write about the absolute horror stories I see around me on a daily basis, but not today. So, for me, it appears the marriage will be more ‘facilitated’ than ‘arranged’. Besides, I really don’t have the time or the energy to go out and look for someone myself (at least, right now). So, why not?

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Self-awareness to prevent burnout?

I read an article today sent by my employer as a part of a larger series the company is doing on emotional intelligence. They like to do these things once in a while. I work in an industry which has extremely high attrition rates, and so instead of fixing the things that are making people quit in the first place (toxic superiors, unnecessarily long hours, extensive client demands and not enough time to do anything else in your life), they send us videos on how to improve our emotional intelligence by doing breathing exercises. Yeah, true story.

The article is titled, ‘Developing Self-Awareness Helped me prevent Lawyer Burnout‘ and has been written by Ed Andrew. It talks about his journey into building self-awareness – which is allegedly one of the best tools you can possess as a professional in any field, but more specifically this field – after he was diagnosed with cancer. Andrew starts off by talking about how, “the nature of legal practice, which involved long hours, pressure to excel, competition to rise to the top, dismay at repetitive work, fear of failure, and peer pressure is a potential melting pot for stress to build.” Then he goes on to give us a couple of shocking stories about toxic bosses, to highlight how real of an issue burnout is. There are a few helpful pointers in the article on identifying what is causing you stress in the first place and what not, but the article ends with some advice I want to talk about.

Basically, according to this piece, extreme stress is a part of my job and industry and since any real top-down change is unlikely, I had best learn to regulate my own mind and emotions. Some helpful tips on this? Breathing exercises. Again.

I’m not against breathing exercises in the least, don’t get me wrong. But the article has a defeatist tone to it I don’t enjoy. This is something I hear a lot in my industry, that “there isn’t going to be any real change, so you might as well learn to live with it”. Which I do. Because I have no other choice. But I’m uncomfortable with letting the bosses off so easy as well. There are tons of things that could be changed in my workplace (and honestly I think in all workplaces) without negatively impacting the bottom line (which is really, the only thing people are concerned about).

For example, working from home. There have been endless articles on how working from home allows people to work better, be more productive, while also enjoying some semblance of balance. For some reason, a lot of people in the legal industry are against this practice continuing indefinitely. Why? Who knows. Maybe they think we slack off at home. Maybe they think we might get the chance to start side ventures and eventually quit work if we stay at home. Or maybe, they just like the culture of depressing offices brainlessly filled by people at all hours because people are too afraid to leave the place before someone else does (even though the work is done).

Another thing? Working on the weekend. I understand that I work in an industry where people pay a lot of money for our services and so expect to get commensurate output. But I also genuinely believe there is no work that cannot wait till Monday morning. For some reason everyone has gotten into a bad habit of passing work onto their juniors at the end of the week, expecting to see it “first thing Monday morning” so they can “assess it with a fresh pair of eyes” and get it off their schedule. Expecting to see something on a Monday morning means you expect someone to work on it over the weekend, which in most cases, is completely unnecessary.

Punching in and out of the workplace. There is a lot of debate on the continued usefulness of the “billable hour”. If you’re not a legal practitioner, I am afraid I am going to lose you for a bit, but I really want to talk about it. Most law firms work on the idea that you have to bill a certain minimum number of hours in a year, and if you don’t meet this target, they tend to take it out of your pay. People, most of them way smarter than me, have often spoken about how ridiculously high this number is, and how useless the concept is as a whole. But because we are a “traditional” industry, we still insist on it. What does this mean? You have to spend a certain number of hours on your desk even when you don’t have any work to show you are meeting the targets. Which means people waste time they don’t need to on their desks, inventing work they haven’t done to meet their goals.

These are just a few examples of things I can think of that can change to make our lives less stressful. It isn’t as easy to implement as sending out an article on breathing exercises to your employees every once in a while, but I think it might be the slightest bit more effective.

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My new hobby: Tarot Readings

Have you ever seen a tarot reading on YouTube? I started watching them recently. I have a friend who watches this religiously and she recommended I check it out. I used to be very interested in all things horoscope till I was about 17 years old. I even own a copy of Linda Goodman’s Love Signs. And like every other person I know, I read every single thing relating to my sun sign word for word and skipped over all other signs. I was amazed at the accuracy of some of the things she said in her book. That is, till I checked out what she had written about another sun sign (I think I had a crush at the time and I wanted to check out his sign). I quickly figured out that she had written more or less the same things for all of us.

Things like all of us are passionate (about something I am sure), all of us have a temper, all of us have the capacity for great love and so on. There are some distinguishing traits for particular signs, but even then it is a generalized distinction if that makes sense. For example, all Capricorns are supposed to be very hard-working and ambitious. But, if by some small chance, you aren’t any of these things despite being a Capricorn, that is also okay. It isn’t an exact science after all. This realization made me go off the whole horoscopes and astrology bent of mind.

Until recently. When I started listening to Tarot readings on YouTube. For those of you who have never seen one, I’m going to recommend Minnow and the 303 High Priestess channel. Yeah, I know, it sounds corny. But these people have a great energy and I think their readings generally resonate with a lot of the people (at least, from what I can tell from the comments section). Getting back into this long lost interest of mine made me realize a few things I want to share.

Don’t take it too seriously

I have seen this happen a lot. Whenever people get interested in astrology (or related subjects) they tend to take it very literally. No hate on people who do, and I am sure there are many things about this entire field I don’t understand, but if you’re a casual viewer like me, then I would say you should take it a little lightly. I treat it not as something that is set in stone but as happy messages that put me in the right frame of mind. For example, if your reading says you need to watch out for your health there are two ways of going about this. Either you let it stress you out and constantly worry about your health (in which case, it might turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophesy) or you take that as good advice and try to eat healthier or avoid certain unhelpful situations. Glass being either half empty or half full and all that.

Listen to good things

Most of the Tarot readers online will always start with a similar message. They will always tell you that what they are doing is a generalized reading and that you should pay attention to it only if it resonates with you. Even though it is rare to have the whole reading resonate with you, there will always be bits in it that you think could apply to your life. The thing I like about these readings is that they are always saying positive things. And even when they talk about negative things, they will balance it out in one way or another. So, essentially, it is like listening to a bunch of feel good messages with my morning coffee and I think that is what makes the whole experience so enjoyable for me. It doesn’t matter if it applies to me or not. It feels nice to have people tell you good things.

Is this a manifestation trick maybe?

I think how you talk to yourself and the things you tell yourself make a lot of difference. You can choose to tell yourself bad things, or surround yourself with positive messages. If you have the time, why not listen to someone talk about great things that can happen to you? You never know what your subconscious brain will retain, and the impact it could have on your life. I love it when the Tarot lady / man tells me there is going to be a lot of abundance flowing into my life (or some such similarly positive message). It might not come true, but it is definitely better than listening to someone say the opposite.

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Sticking with it

There is a lot of debate going on about certain comments Prince Harry made on what is being dubbed as the “great resignation”. He said he’s quite happy people have quit jobs that make them unhappy or negatively affect their mental health. He said, and I quote, “Many people around the world have been stuck in jobs that didn’t bring them joy, and now they’re putting their mental health and happiness first. This is something to be celebrated.”

While some people have come forward and said they agree with the statement made, a lot more have (understandably) come out against it. I am the first person to tell people to leave a job (or really, any situation) that makes them unhappy, but the difference here is I only advice people who are on the same level (usually) as me, in terms of their socio-economic standing. I do not pretend to know the lot of people less fortunate than me, and so I keep my mouth shut. This advice is, standalone, not bad advice. If something makes you unhappy, you should do your best to get away from it. You should always try your best to improve your lot. This is a no-brainer. But when such truisms come from the mouths of trust fund babies (such as Prince Harry) who haven’t any idea what it means to hold down a job for survival; people who have no idea what it means to exist in this world without the security of having a multi-million dollar safety net, it becomes a little prickly.

I think I can speak from some experience here. I had a job most would consider a good job (read – high-paying), then I left it because it was stressing me out and I wanted to try out some other things in life, and then I had to come back to it because things didn’t exactly end up going my way. So, I have been a part of the great resignation. And now I am back to work. And let me be categorical when I say that if you have a job, you’re lucky. And if you have a job you love, you are almost mythical.

But more often than not, most of us will have jobs we don’t like. And we will continue to do them (or as in my case, to come back to them) because we need them. I wish there was another way, but for many of us there isn’t. Despite this I think that a lot of us try our best to make our circumstances the happiest they can be. I think a while ago I spoke about the things that make me happy; new habits I have picked up to make my life slightly better. I’m going to talk about a few more resolutions I have taken, re-entering a job I don’t particularly like, in the hopes that it might resonate with some of you. Because regardless of what tone deaf rich people might scream down at us once in a while, many of us can’t afford to let go of our jobs.

Buy cute stationary

The first time I started working I told myself it was going to be a temporary thing. I wasn’t going to be around for a long time. So, I never really felt like spending time on decorating my desk. I’m determined to do it differently this time. I don’t know how long I will be in this job. I have some plans, but you know what they say about plans; man plans and god laughs. So, till the time I am in this job, I am going to treat is as a permanent thing. The first thing I will do is make my desk as cute and homely as possible. Last time around, I didn’t allow myself to buy any of the cute office stationary I would constantly fantasize about. This time, the first thing on my list is a pink colored keyboard. Maybe baby pink. Something that cheers me up whenever I see it. I know some people scoff at this, but there is a lot of value in making your environment as cheerful as possible.

Spend my money

I know that the point above this also had to do with spending money. But this is a little more generalized than buying stationary. In my previous stint as an employed person, I didn’t spend any of the money I made. Because my parents had kindly let me live in their house, I didn’t even need to spend any money on rent. So, while I would slog away at my job, the money would sit pretty in my bank account. This is an extremely privileged position to be in I know, but it also had the effect of making me feel like none of it was worth it. It made me feel like I was working way too hard and enjoying the benefits of it way too little. This time, I am determined to buy myself things I enjoy. Which aren’t too many. Books mainly. And maybe some other things.

Learn to invest

This is another habit I want to get into. This is something I have wanted to do for a while, but I think with money starting to flow in again, it has given me an additional push to learn to manage my personal finances. I often wondered at why we were never taught important things like managing our finances when we were in school. Then I read somewhere that the sole purpose of designing the curriculum in the way that it was designed, was to prevent average citizens (people like you and me) from learning how to do anything practical, so that we stay hooked to bad jobs that make us live paycheck to paycheck. So, it wasn’t so much an oversight on the part of the school not to teach us about financial management as a conscious decision. I plan to change this about my life. I don’t hope to become any sort of financial whiz kid, but I do want to be able to generate a secondary source of income by learning how to invest well. Also, I have recently learnt that one of the worst things you can do with your money is letting it sit in the bank. So, for those of us who have the opportunity to save a percentage of our earnings (i.e., if all our earnings do not go into providing basic necessities) then we should definitely try and invest it in something or the other. Watch ‘The Inside Job‘ if you’re not convinced about the villainy of the banking system.

So, yes, if I had to take a position on the whole Prince Harry x The Great Resignation debate, I would say I’m against his benign advice to quit our jobs, because for most of us the decision isn’t that easy. If I need to, I will definitely hold on to the job I get and try to work our way around this job-related-misery in whatever tiny ways I can.

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The Blind Artist

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Olivia Laing has opened up a whole new world for me. I thought I knew something about the art world. Not a lot I’ll admit. But a little something. Enough for me to know I didn’t know enough, and that I wanted to know more. The first book of Laing’s I read was The Lonely City. I can’t describe fully how I felt once I finished the book. It was like being in the living room of all the artists she spoke about, watching them create. She doesn’t just talk about the art they make – she somehow knows how to talk about what they must have been thinking when they make art. Side note, if you have some time, check out this video of her home. It is truly one of the best things I have seen in a while.

I find that so fascinating. I paint sometimes. I’m not any sort of a great artist, but I can talk about the things I think about when I make a painting. It isn’t much to be honest. Most of the times I repeat dialogues from movies I’ve seen recently. Or I talk to myself in third person. Sometimes I describe the scene as a narrator would. This last thing is a little bit like an out of body experience. I talk about how I think I would look like if I was in a movie. The introductory scene of a movie. I probably don’t have enough meat in my painting sittings for it to be an integral part of the movie. It would definitely only be a light hearted opening sequence. Nothing more than that. Sometimes I will describe the painting to myself as I am making it. It is like an ongoing commentary on the painting, most of it criticism. In all these actions, I put myself at the centre of it all. I’ve always felt a little silly doing it, but I didn’t know how to express what I was feeling till I heard Laing talking about it. She says art is selfish. It is a wholly singular experience and you have to be sure of yourself, to be able to defend your art against against not only other people, but also against yourself. Things like self-doubt. Or in my case, complacency. I think it is selfish too.

I just finished another one of her books. It is called ‘Funny Weather‘. It talks about why we need art in these times of emergency. Unlike the only other book of hers I have read, this one isn’t just about visual artists. It has many forms of prose (essays, interviews and diary entries) about many different kinds of artists – authors, poets, filmmakers and every one in between.

One of the artists she talks about is Sargy Mann. And the most fascinating thing about this artist is that his best works (arguably) came after he lost his vision. Before he went blind, he was constrained by what he knew to be the true representation of things. After he could no longer see, this ceased to be a consideration. That is when he really started painting.

I think it is a great metaphor for life too. One encounters it a lot if you think about it. Being limited by what we know to be true or think we know to be true. Like when you try and manifest things, you’re always told to get rid of your “limiting beliefs”. The reason many of us can’t get to what we want in life or out of life is because we simply don’t think it is possible. If you have already experienced something, you know it is possible and so you have no limiting beliefs about it. For many young lawyers out there, for example, working in a big law firm might not seem possible because they have never worked in one, so they don’t know what it is like, so it never settles into their psyche. For someone who has worked in one, they know it can be done, so they don’t have limiting beliefs about it. They may have it for something else though. They may never be able to fathom how a happy relationship is possible because they may never have seen one. And as long as you operate within the bounds of these limiting beliefs, you will never really know what you are capable of.

Sargy Mann didn’t know it either. Till he went blind. And then, all his limitations were forcefully taken away from him.

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Modern necessities

I read something in a book I am making my way through. I usually finish off books in one or two settings but this one has proved much harder to polish off. It is long, and it feels like every page has something worth my time. This rarely happens doesn’t it? Rarely do I feel like spending an equal amount of energy and concentration on every page of a book. After having read a bunch of them (and immensely enjoying at least a few of them) I do a good job of skimming through what I consider to be the unimportant bits of a book.

In this book – The Age of Surveillance Capitalism – I have not been able to make this call. Everything seems important, and a lot of it is scary.

The book is basically about the age we live in. The “information age”. I think everyone should give it a read (or a listen, if you’re one of those audiobook heathens). I found this one part in it that talks about how we progressively get used to more and more, and therefore start demanding more and more in this increasingly consumerist age very telling. Here is what it sounds like;

That the luxuries of one generation or class become the necessities of the next has been fundamental to the evolution of capitalism during the last five hundred years. Historians describe the “consumer boom” that ignited the first industrial revolution in the late-eighteenth-century Britain, when, thanks to visionaries like Josiah Wedgewood and the innovations of the early modern factory, families new to the middle class began to buy the china, furniture and textiles that only the rich had previously enjoyed. This new “propensity to consume” is considered “unprecedented in the depth to which it penetrated the lower reaches of society…” In 1767 the political economist Nathaniel Forster worried that “fashionable luxury” was spreading “like a contagion,” and he complained of the “perpetual restless ambitions in each of the inferior ranks to raise themselves to the level of those immediately above them.” Adam Smith wrote insightfully on this social process, noting that upper-class luxuries can in time be recast as “necessaries.” This occurs as the “established rules of decency” change to reflect new customs introduced by elites, triggering lower-production methods that transform what was once unattainable into newly affordable goods and services.

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Losing friends

I am sure everyone has this, but there are a lot of times in my life, when I think I am the only one making any effort in my friendships. I seem to be the only one constantly reaching out, asking to meet up, or asking the other person how their day has been. While this description feels tilted in my favour (and rightly so, since I am very unlikely to cast myself as the villain in my own story), I do acknowledge that it might sometimes also be the other way round. Maybe there are people in my life – friends – who feel like I’m the unresponsive one. Like I am the one who never wants to reply to texts on time or to hang out with them. While I certainly know the first instance to be true, I am self-aware enough to admit that the second one might not be so far from reality either.

So why have I been losing friends? Why does anyone lose friends?

Apparently, there is an age beyond which most of us will start to lose friends. That age is 25. Quite accurate I think – since I’m 26 right now. Till you’re about a quarter of a century old, you have the energy and the willingness to keep expanding your circle and to cultivate whatever circle you have. But more often than not, once that mark has been reached, your enthusiasm starts to wane. You inevitably start letting go of people. And that isn’t a bad thing. You start to let go of people because you are (usually) no longer looking for transient or frivolous connections. Now is the time to build a life you want, and people who do not contribute to that in a significant way will inevitably be left behind. That is just the way it is.

And I’m not talking about emotionally draining or toxic friendships. Those you should let go of regardless of the stage you are at in life. I am talking about good, decent friendships that one may have enjoyed at some point in their life. I am talking about really good school friends or college friends.

Another reason a lot of people have been writing about nowadays is the pandemic. Because the pandemic clarified a lot of our priorities, naturally, the only people we spoke to during this time were either people we deeply cared about (thereby removing an entire layer of superficial friendships) or people that we found convenient to talk to (thereby removing some long distance friendships too). The pandemic led to the formation of something called ‘pandemic pods‘ in terms of relationships. It reduced the number and kind of people we had historically interacted with to either people who were very important to us or people who were following the same standards of care and hygiene as us.

But as guilty as I feel for not reaching out to people more often, or as mad as I am about people who don’t bother to reach out to me, there is nothing unnatural about losing friendships as we grow older (and hopefully wiser). It could be for a number of reasons. Reasons I have mentioned above, or even some of those toxic reasons I have deliberately left out (don’t we all just have a couple of friends or people we know that are such an emotional drain on us?). Instead I really like to think of it in terms of this new concept I learnt – something called “friendscapes“.

As you can probably tell by the name, it means cultivating landscapes of different kinds of friendships and acquaintances that serve different purposes in our lives. Put simply, “your friendscape can change during certain, specific situations during life – going away to university or a summer camp, or being in a certain job – and you often begin curating new friends to fit that current life situation. Not everyone can fit into your current friendscape.” I like this idea a lot because this is exactly how I feel about a lot of people that have either come into or gone out of my life. There are friends I have lost touch with because I became busier than them, and friends I have gained instead because we work the same kind of hectic jobs; friends I have lost touch with because they are in long-term committed relationships, and others I have gained instead because we are a bunch of singles looking to do fun group based activities around town.

So, yeah, while it is tempting to think of lost friendships in terms of blame and bitterness, I think it is a lot more helpful to just think of these lost connections as a fact of life and move on. Makes for a more peaceful existence. And I’m nothing if not obsessed with that.

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Building a personal narrative

This is something I read in online. There is some value to building a personal narrative. It is called a “personal narrative vision” exercise. There might be things you want in life, but you are too scared to say them out loud. And because you are too scared to verbalise them you forget to visualise them. If you don’t visualise something, how will it stay in your mind space?

I want to take some time out from my day, a little bit everyday, to build a personal narrative.

What does this mean?

You talk to yourself. More than that you tell yourself a story about how you want your life to turn out. It is a manifestation technique. I think more than that, even if your life does not turn out exactly the way you write it down, it is also a calming technique.

It feels corny to write it down. Even now, when I am only talking about it, and not actually doing the exercise, it feels a little silly. What good will writing down an imagined version of your best life do? On the other hand, what possible harm could it do.

I think the idea is not to write in terms of what you want. I mean you should be writing about the kind of life you want, but you should try not to begin sentences with “I want”. I think the idea is to write as if there is no possibility of your life turning out any other way.

I read an article where a man had written down his own personal narrative. Here is an excerpt:

My online courses are managed and continuously improved by a dedicated team of remote collaborators, who take total ownership for their success and know how to leverage me and my skills when needed. Thousands of people take my courses each month, breaking through limiting paradigms, creating groundbreaking new projects, products, and businesses, and becoming leaders in the movement to transform people’s relationship to their work. Everything I know is open-sourced and available to help people create more freedom, pleasure, and impact in their work and lives, whether they ever buy from me or not.”

I admire how honest he was, especially since I don’t think I could ever have the nerve to say these things out loud. He writes things down very specifically, complete with details of the people he wants around him when he achieves something and the timeline by which he has to. I like the way he writes; it is like writing down a story in the future tense. Like a prediction.

I already journal religiously. I think it would be fun to write this down too – to build a personal narrative. I think every Friday or so should do it.

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Snake oil salesmen

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There was once a man called Clark Stanley. He travelled the length and breadth of the United States of America to sell his product. The product was oil made from rattle snakes. At least, this is what he claimed. Large crowds would flock to this man’s presentations, usually given at local medical showings. He claimed that his product, based on the Chinese water snake oil (words that sound exactly as shady as they are), could cure all sorts of ailments known to man. You name it, and it can be cured. All by using this, um, snake oil.

Sometimes I wonder – will future generations look back at us and marvel at all the dumb shit we fell for? Will they laugh when they discuss our almost unshakable faith in the many healing qualities of scented candles? Or will they be shocked at how ‘Goop’ was a real company selling the products it sells to actual people (I’m still shocked, and I belong to this generation). But anyway, back to our snake man Stanley.

He carried on quite a successful business selling his snake oil to anyone and everyone. After some time, someone had the bright idea to examine the claim. They found out that not only does the snake oil not cure any illnesses (shocker I know), it also isn’t snake oil. Yup, it was just regular oil. I mean, I’m honestly not even mad at the man. If he could pull this off, then good for him. As far as I’m concerned, he earned that money, for entertainment value if not medicinal value.

Since then, the term ‘snake oil salesman’ has been used in pop culture to refer to, well, frauds. These are the people who go around advertising their ‘cures’ to the weak. There are many kind of frauds out there to be sure. But the ones who use this method of operation, the ones who prey on people who are at their most vulnerable to sell them basically nothing, are the ones deserving of this title.

A great place to find such snake oil salesmen (let us call them SOS) is the internet. You can get them for almost anything you want, in almost any field you might ever be interested in. You can find these people peddling their goods in the areas of learning how to start a business, or learning how to blog, or learning how to grow on YouTube, or learning how to get rid of acne. But I believe that the most vicious ones are to be found in the niche of ‘How to get Rich Quick’.

The thing all of these Get Rich Quick scheme people have in common is that they sell a particular kind of fantasy. One where (1) you can become immensely wealthy; (2) you can become immensely wealthy in a short period of time; and (3) it does not matter who you are (“anyone with a lick of sense can do it” as they like to say). They all have a system for it. And the only way you can do it is if you follow this system, and you follow it religiously.

I see so many of these millionaires all over YouTube. The gurus that drive fancy cars, big houses, have girls all around them (which by the way, I take exception to, because they always show girls as some sort of commodity that ups your social value in the same way cars and houses do) and seem to have done all of this seemingly effortlessly.

I’ve been down the rabbit hole with these gurus. Many of them, many times. And, I think you can already tell what my opinion on this is, but let me spell it out for you anyway.

First of all, anyone can fall for this trash. It does not matter how smart or well-educated you are. The trick with these SOS is that they catch you at a vulnerable time in your life. The first time I started following one of them was when I had recently quit my job. These were the weeks in which I went through life with a smug sense of superiority – thinking I had cracked the matrix. I was out of my 9-5 corporate job and I was going to do what I loved to do and automatically become a quite rich while doing it. Seems pretty straight forward does it not. I was all set to be the dream. And what I needed was someone to guide me and help me navigate the world of personal finance. You know, one of those people that teach you ‘how to become a millionaire doing what you love’, or ‘how to generate 6 streams of passive income’, or ‘how to make money work for you’. You get the idea. It was scary to be out in the world alone without a monthly salary keeping my ego afloat, and so I turned to these SOS. As quickly as I fell into this, I started to realise something. Which brings me to my second point.

They have nothing new to offer. One could argue they have nothing to offer at all. But I don’t think that is true. If you listen to them with the intention of having some positive thoughts screamed at you by some middle aged man who clearly pumps himself full of steroids to avoid dealing with his emotions, then yes. That need gets fulfilled. What they don’t offer you is any value beyond this. They always say the same things, and they always say things you already know. I heard at least 6 different men tell me that to be rich I have to generate multiple streams of income. Ok, yes, agreed. But I already knew that. I didn’t find out anything new. And I certainly did not find out how to make money quickly did I? Generating multiple streams of income is good advice, but it takes years of insane hard work and some very smart investing to get to this point.

And these are the nicer SOS I’m talking about. Don’t even get me started on the people who tell you to sign up for ‘exclusive’ courses to learn all of their ‘tricks’. The only thing exclusive about that course is the money that exclusively flows out of your pocket.

I followed a few of these gurus for some time, and then I got tired of having the same thing screamed at me. Luckily, I didn’t end up spending too much time on it. I mean, I might have signed up for a few online ‘take quizzes and make money’ schemes but I didn’t do much more than that. But from what I know, it can get a lot worse.

Alright, I think I am done with my rant for today. I’m going to go back and try and finish packing for my trip. I will talk to all of you tomorrow.

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I could be inspired too

There is a proverb (I think it is a Buddhist one) which goes a little like this, “comparison is the thief of joy.” Neat little way to sum up a lot of the criticism I see when it comes to social media. At least the surface level criticism. How it makes us feel bad to see these perfectly constructed online lives of high achievement, in comparison to the mundane lives we live in reality. I know that there are a lot of other things that are wrong with the whole social media scene (and other people have done a much better job of talking about this, check out this video if you want some food for thought). But basically, when it comes down to it, a lot of the stuff on social media makes us feel bad because we compare it to the things we have (or don’t have).

I don’t want to talk in general terms. Let me give some examples of things that always make me feel bad whenever I come across them online.

People Travelling

I hate how perfect everyone’s vacation looks. I am sure that if and when I put in effort into clicking pictures while I am out vacationing, I could also, sort of maybe come up with something that is decent. But I get lazy when I travel (that is when I’m not having a terrible time of it, like I’ve said before). I see reels of people eating pasta in small Italian villages, or perfect looking girls making montages of their chocolate syrup and croissant breakfasts in Paris, or people hiking in a pretty Japanese forest; and I instantly feel bad about whatever I am doing. I could be having a perfectly enjoyable day (tucked in bed with coffee and watching a movie I like) and seeing these images of other people enjoying their trips will mess me up.

Happy couples

I don’t want to sound salty (maybe just a little) but seeing people post about how they have found love and happiness makes me want to gag. Don’t get me wrong. I’m very happy for everyone that has this in their lives. But since I don’t at the moment, I don’t see why I have to cheer along this obnoxious display of cuteness. I refuse to participate in the cheer. It instantly reminds me of how single I am. Which by the way is a perfectly fixable situation if I just get out of my room and make the effort to meet new people. But where is the fun in that. Imagine a life without cribbing.

Well-trained dogs

This is an odd one I know. How can anyone hate on dogs, you might be wondering. I don’t. I love dogs. More than a lot of other things in fact. I have a dog, and I would do anything for the little beast. But if you’ve been around for a while you’ve probably picked up on the fact that he isn’t the best behaved dog out there. Ok that is an understatement. He’s a heathen. He’s all over the place. He never listens and he is spoilt as spoilt can be. All my fault, I know. I didn’t raise him well enough. Be that as it may, looking at videos of highly trained dogs turning tricks like climbing ladders or balancing glasses of water on their heads (which by the way, why on earth would a dog need to do any of this, it honestly is the worst form of showboating) irritates me.

Now that I’ve given you a few examples of the things that make me sad or irritate me, let us talk about the flip side of this.

I recently came across an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience which had Kevin Hart on as a guest. Amongst the many things they talk about, they also touched upon how social media, and looking at the lives of people who are better off (apparently) than us, might not always be a bad thing. The episode is also wickedly funny, and I would highly recommend you giving it a listen.

Anyway, Hart talks about how sometimes he looks at social media posts of other people who are doing better than him in a particular field (especially one he wants to improve in) as a source of inspiration. He looks at these posts, and instead of automatically thinking, and feeling bad about, the things he doesn’t have or isn’t necessarily good at, he tries to think of ways he can emulate the people he looks up to. Or how he can draw inspiration from them and think about the ways in which he can improve.

Putting it in context; forget the stuff I get envious of. I follow a ton of art accounts on Instagram. One of them is an artist called Sophie. I’ve never felt bad looking at her posts, even though she is ostensibly doing a lot better than me in the field I want to excel in. Instead, I love the way she posts consistently. Not just the finished project, but her entire process – the things that have inspired her, the ways in which she incorporates things people tell her about, the times she gets stuck and what she does to get over such creative blocks. I aspire to be as consistent as her in posting about my art. I want to get comfortable about showing people the process I follow in making the things I make, as silly as that may sound.

I thought this was quite a positive spin on things. I always talk about how bad social media is and how it gives me anxiety. But Hart talking about it as a source of inspiration sometimes, and not just comparison, made a lot of sense to me too.

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Indecision

I have been postponing my post graduate education for some a couple of years now. I graduated in 2019. While I was still in law school I had this idea that I should complete my postgraduate studies as soon as I am done with my schooling. But I didn’t end up applying for any courses because the semester I had to apply in – I opted to go for an exchange programme instead. Looking back, I think that was a good decision.

So, I thought I’ll work for a couple of years, and then when I have some practical experience along with a clearer idea of what I want to do, I’ll re-enter university.

I’m glad I did that because a couple of months into my profession and I knew, sure as anything, that it was not for me. This decision wasn’t born of any dissatisfaction I had with the workplace or any other such external factors. In fact, I did a lot of soul searching before coming to this conclusion. It isn’t easy to look back at 5 years of schooling and then 1 year of work and write it off as ‘sunk cost’. A lot of career counsellors talk about this concept a fair bit. We are afraid to make such life altering decisions even when we know it will be good for us because we are wary of losing the sunk cost. But that is just what it is. It’s already gone. That is what the word ‘sunk’ means right. You can’t get back the 6 years you’ve spent on this one thing now, but you can make sure that the 6 years doesn’t become 10 years. Now, I’m not mathematical genius, but even I can tell 10 is worse than 6. Another work-guru told me to assess my work in terms of factors that are ‘situational’ and ‘fundamental’ to decide if I really want to leave my line of work or not.

Situational factors are things external to your actual work. Things like the manager you have, the work environment, whether people in your office gossip about you and what not. These are not things which are inherent to the work you do.

Fundamental factors are things inherent to what you’re doing. For example if you’re a lawyer, something fundamental to your work would be reviewing contracts, drafting, researching etc. If you dislike these things, then, well, it might be smart to look up another line of employment.

After deliberating a lot, I realised that the things I loved about my job were all situational. Things like my boss, my colleagues, the office space itself and what not. What I didn’t like about my job was the actual work I had to do. I found it boring to say the least. So, I decided to quit it to try some other things out.

You know something no one talks about when you decide to quit? How much harder it is to quit when you are good at something. Because then, even if you’re not enjoying yourself or you’re convinced you have some other purpose in life, you’ll always doubt your aptitude to mean something more than it does. Maybe I find it so easy because I’m good at this. And because I am good at this, I must be meant for this. Of all the things that held me back, this was possibly the biggest factor.

When I was quitting, I convinced myself I would apply for my post-graduate studies so that my time off wasn’t “wasted”. The application deadlines for most of the programmes I want to go for are towards the end of December / early January. And I haven’t started anything. I was so sure I was going to apply for it this year. And yet, here I am, watching endless videos on how to make the perfect homemade pasta sauce. If I had to think about it, I think I can come up with a few reasons why I don’t want to make the effort just yet.

The cost

My god, does it cost. Especially the degree I want. I want to go to business school, and they’re really not kidding when they say this is one of the most expensive courses in the world. I understand the rationale behind why it is so expensive to get this degree, especially from a school of some repute. There is this idea that once you graduate you’re going to work an incredibly high paying job and you’ll make the money back. I guess they’re right about that. Be that as it may, it is still a huge commitment to make. And I know we are supposed to view it as “investing” in ourselves and our futures, but it is scary to me. I mean, I know myself. Would I really want to spend that kind of money on me? I don’t know. I want the degree, but I also want myself to be completely sure before committing to it.

Time constraints

I resent the idea that certain things in your life have to happen by a certain time. You’ve got to finish university by such and such age, or you should have decided on a job and career path by such and such age, or you should be done with all your studying and be ready to start a family by such age. I don’t know who came up with this time table and why all of us are so hell bent on following it. I find myself panicking about this sometimes. Then I have to actively stop myself from rushing into making an application for whichever college I land on first. I want to take my time with it, but somehow this feels like a radical idea at times.

Value addition

Most of the things I want to learn, I can learn without ever having to leave my room. I’ve heard way too many people questioning the value of a traditional education to go into it with the kind of blind faith I had earlier. I mean, I am pretty much a traditionalist still. And I think there are some things – like meeting new people, shifting to a new city etc. – which online and informal education can’t provide. But the more I look into it, the more I find myself questioning whether I should make the leap.

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Packing up

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I’m going on a trip next week. Which means I have to pack this week. Which means I have to get my ass up off this chair and actually move around. Can you imagine anything worse?

I am not a fan of the whole packing process. There is so much to do. And the indecision of it all. There are a ton of clothes in my wardrobe that I wouldn’t even look at normally but suddenly when I have to go for a trip I start thinking about whether or not I should take them along. You know, just in case. Just in case of what exactly? Maybe it’ll look better under vacation lighting. Maybe the cousin I am visiting will have something to go with it that will suddenly make this piece sing. Maybe, just maybe, I will start liking that hideous brown coloured top after having owned if for 7 years and having worn it exactly once. Who knows, anything is possible right? Wrong. I will never wear any of these clothes I am debating taking along with me on the trip.

I know what I am going to end up wearing. What I can’t understand is why I can’t just pack in ten minutes the things I need and know I might need and get done with it.

I envy people who can. My older brother for instance. He never stresses the packing bit. In fact, to this day, I have never actually seen the man pack. There is no movement in his room till a day before the trip and then on the actual day he has his bags ready. He packs at night is what he says. What an absolute serial killer move. Who does that.

I have to start a week before, as you can see. I have all my clothes – even the clothes I know I am never going to take along – strewn across my bed. I have combinations made up in my head. But these aren’t final. I will try everything on, then decide none of it looks good, then try some other things on, and then some more, then come back to the first few fits and pack those in finally. I might even have a few breakdowns in the middle of the whole process.

Accessories are another thing. I never wear any when I am at home. I spend most of my day in my room – either talking to you lot or making paintings – so I never have occasion to wear any. Not that I wear them when I go out. No, I look at them, try them on, put them back in and decide I’m going with the carefully constructed effortlessly pretty look today complete with bed hair. Which is just code for thank god for my genes because I am sorely lacking in the effort department. Right now I’m stuck on finding this one ring I think will go with that ugly brown top I own. You know, the one I don’t intend to pack in the first place.

Honestly, sometimes I just want a refund for my brain.

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How not to die alone

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There is a book by this title. How not to die alone by Logan Ury. As the name suggests it is a self-help book for improving romantic relationships. Whenever I say romantic relationships I feel like replacing the word ‘relationship’ with ‘entanglement’ but I refrain because it makes me chuckle and reminds me of the many red table talks Will and Jada Smith have had on this. Just to be clear, I think what they are doing is great. Whenever you look at a celebrity couple you see only happy pictures of ridiculously good looking people surrounded by wealth and privilege. Given how little they have in common with most of us, it is almost like looking at an alien species. I like that Will and Jada manage to discuss the many ups and downs of their relationship with such honestly (too much at times, but I guess that is an occupational hazard). I’m a big fan of self-help books, even when I don’t manage to incorporate much of their advice into my life. I figure if I keep reading good things it will eventually have some impact on the way I live.

Here is what I learnt from this book. According to this book, there are three kinds of people when it comes to romantic relationships.

There are the ‘romanticisers’; people who believe in ideas such as finding the ‘one’ or a ‘soulmate’. Such people have very idealistic notions about what it means to fall in love. As a consequence, they judge all their partners against a very high standard – if you have an idea of who you think your soulmate might be, then that idea is in your head, and naturally no living person can hold a candle to whatever perfect version you’ve created for yourself – and so tend to not commit in a long term manner to anyone.

Then we have the ‘hesitaters’. Such people, while their standards in love might not be that high, have very set ideas of how their life is supposed to turn out. The usually have a set timetable in their head, and think that they need to start worrying about love only after they have achieved a certain number of things. So say, such a person might want to find a partner, but only after she has completed school, completed university, landed a great job and established herself in her field. Then she will turn her attention to the task of finding someone. They’re called hesitaters because they will hesitate to commit to anyone till whatever aspects of their lives they want to sort out have been sorted out.

The last kind of people are the ‘maximisers’. For this I want you to think of a someone you know who is absolutely unable to decide on where to eat till he / she has researched all possible options, seen ratings on at least two apps, shortlisted options, gone through all the customer reviews and memorised the menu by heart. By the time you land on a place to eat it is either too late or you’ve already cooked yourself a little meal at home and forgotten all about going out. This is what a maximiser does when it comes to dating. Now, I’m not suggesting that finding a partner is similar to picking a restaurant. But the thought process is the same. Such people find it damn near impossible to commit to a person till they have done their full research, and even then, there is no guarantee that they won’t constantly be dealing with a nagging sense of ‘I could have done better / what if there is someone out there who is better than this.’

I know one of each category from amongst my friends. If I had to talk about myself, I would say I’m definitely a romanticiser. I judge people too harshly against an arbitrary ideal I have. If you take the time to scroll through Bookstagram someday (i.e., the section of Instagram dedicated to books) you’ll inevitably land up on a page dedicated to YA books or a page dedicated to recommending books that contain an enemies to lovers / soulmate trope. Full disclosure I’ve read a lot of these books and I find them immensely entertaining. But I also feel like this idea of believing in a soulmate is an escapist tendency. In essence, at the core of your belief, is an idea that someone will like all your flaws and deficiencies and that you won’t need to work on yourself, compromise or adjust in any way shape or form. That they’re going to be perfect for loving you and change themselves whenever you want without expecting even a shred of effort on your part – because to them you’re perfect. All of this is a little unreasonable to say the least.

But back to the book. The idea the author puts forth is that instead of being one of these three things, we should aim to be a ‘satisfier’. It doesn’t mean we have to settle. But once we have found a person with whom we have base compatibility and some attraction and the moment we think to ourselves, “this could be it” we should try and commit to that person. I’m sure we’ve all come across some version of a study showing us how too much choice incapacitates us. Choice is good, but too much of it becomes meaningless at times. The same thing happens with our relationships. If we get stuck in the mindset of ‘oh there could be someone out there who is better for me’ we are unlikely to find any sort of long-lasting peace in our relationships. Obviously this does not apply to relationships that make you unhappy or are toxic or abusive in any way. You should definitely not tolerate those. Instead I’m talking about the relationships we like – the ones we like a lot – but let go off because we are under the misconception that relentlessly exercising the limitless choice we have in selecting partners will eventually land us on someone who is *perfect*. Since no such perfect person exists, you might want to consider sticking around that one person who already makes you happier than you thought you could be.

The book also talks about how most of the times we look for, and confuse, short term romance traits with traits that will make a long term romance successful. Short term traits include qualities like good looks (whatever that means to you), charm, confidence, intelligence etc. Long term qualities on the other hand are more innate. These include things like being compassionate, being emotionally stable or even having a similar mindset (do both of you have similar ideas about what it means to lead a successful life?).

I enjoyed the book a whole lot and it is definitely worth a read. Especially, if like me, you hope not to die alone.

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The Masculinity Contest

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We are all social animals. No secret there. We are social to such an extent that in several studies researchers have found that the single biggest contributor to our happiness in life is the relationships we have and foster. Not just romantic relationships, although these do play a major part in anyone’s life, but the relationships we have within our family, with our friends and with our co-workers, amongst others. On the flip side, nothing is as hurtful or humiliating for us as social rejection. In fact, social rejection activates the same pain centres in our brain as actual physical injury.

I saw a video recently in which the speaker spoke about how to be socially accepted in a workplace is to be, more or less, a man. I’ll explain myself. Corporate workplaces are a male dominated and male infested space. While it is true that more and more women have entered the workforce, but it would be a mistake to think we are anywhere near tilting the balance of power. There are fewer female CEOs of the S&P Fortune 500 companies than there are men named James, William, or Robert. In fact, I remember recently reading that in 2021, the number of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies was at a record high. How many? 41. Out of 500. That is 1/20th of the whole number. So, yes, it isn’t incorrect to say that the workplace, especially the corporate workplace is still a predominantly male space. I work in the legal industry – specifically in the corporate legal sector. There is a very visible trickling down in the number of women at the top, as compared to how many of us join the company as freshers. In my year alone, the firm I worked for took in 4 women and 2 men. But if you look around in the entire office, there are only 2 female partners compared to the 20+ male partners.

Now, what does it take to be a man? When asked, most people will respond with positive qualities; qualities they believe constitute to the make-up of any normal man. Honestly, reliability, chivalry and what not. But, if you probe a little deeper and ask people what it takes to be a ‘real’ man, their responses tend to point to toxic traits such as callousness, ruthlessness, the ability to win and get yours regardless of the cost and hurt to others. You see this in playgrounds all the time. Men assert dominance through physical strength and such other traits which make a ‘real’ man. In adulthood, the nature of such competition as well as the locus, shifts to the workplace. Since most of our social interaction happens in the workspace, and the workspace is dominated by men, it is not surprising that they will incorporate the social norms they have grown up with. And if the norms they have to follow are based on traits most of us would regard as toxic, it is no wonder that workspaces also become, well, toxic.

This is called the ‘Masculinity Contest’. Basically, the traits you need to survive in modern day corporate workplaces are all masculine (mostly toxic). So, by converting workplaces into adult versions of masculine playgrounds, we invite toxicity in. What are the defining characters or norms of such workplace toxicity?

Showing no weakness

First, you cannot show any weakness. It sounds extreme to say it like this, almost war like, but if you have worked in a corporate set up and take some time to think back on your experiences, you will recognise that this is true. Any sign of doubt, fatigue or even trepidation is taken as weakness in the workplace. You can tell even by looking at the buzzwords so many employers use. We are looking for ‘risk takers’, ‘people who can take initiative’, ‘leaders’, ‘pioneers’, ‘visionaries’. All that hot air, and all they really want you to do is sit behind a desk and edit word documents (or excel sheets) without complaining about the workload. And going to the HR with concerns of overwork? You might as well leave buddy.

Strength and stamina

The second norm is that all workplaces prefer people who can show strength and stamina. Even in white collar workplaces, people prefer, and often promote healthy and good looking jocks as opposed to other less healthier looking people. Now in all fairness, this could be part of a larger problem we have as a society. Something the kids call ‘pretty privilege’. As I’m sure you can guess from the title, it basically means that being attractive comes with its set of privileges, and these privileges often spill onto areas that don’t have anything to do with how you look – for example, people presuming you’re nicer because you’re hot, or recruiters hiring you over your counterparts simply because you happen to be more attractive conventionally.

Work always comes first

The third norm in a toxic work place is the idea that everyone should at all times put work first. You can’t have a life outside of your work and if you do you’re seen as a drag on the team’s resources. You should have no responsibilities that take precedence over your work responsibilities. And even on your off days, most corporate workplaces will expect you to drop whatever you’re doing and get back to work if they need you (which somehow, they always do). I think this is in part because the workplace was designed for a middle aged man of some privilege. The reason why the workplace frowns upon your responsibilities outside of work is because traditionally, their employees had none (read: uninvolved husbands and fathers). You are expected to work as though you have someone at home taking care of the house and children (if you have any) and your only job is to dedicate your life to work, become a company man, and bring in the money. This is simply not true for most of us. No wonder it stresses us out. Doubly so for the women.

Dog eat dog world

And the last norm we uphold in our toxicity as corporate workers is a reinforcement of the idea that it is a ‘dog eats dog’ world. We are encouraged to think of everything as competition under the false belief that this will somehow increase our productivity. It doesn’t. The only thing it does is license bad behaviour in the workplace amongst the mediocre – where you undercut each other and generally act like nasty little beings – and tolerate even worse behaviour amongst the top talent (things like bullying, emotional abuse and even sexual misconduct is overlooked if you are a big earner or part of the inner circle at your workplace).

There have been many studies that show the effects of upholding such norms in the workplace are almost all negative. People report lower levels of productivity, psychological well-being and just general overall happiness in their lives (a major part of which is our work) when they work in conditions highlighted by the norms mentioned above.

The situation, as bad as it is for men, is markedly worse for women. It isn’t called the Masculinity Contest for nothing. Because while such behaviour (as damaging as it is) is encouraged amongst men who want to get ahead professionally, it is simultaneously expected of and disparaged in women. Women are expected to compete in this hyper-masculine space with these hyper-masculine tactics (of never showing weakness, putting work first and acting like the biggest dog around) while never actually displaying masculine traits like aggression or bravado. No, see, displaying such traits will get you labelled as the worst sort of woman and actually reduce your chances of being promoted. This dichotomy deserves an entire blog post of its own, but I haven’t fully gathered my thoughts on this yet, so I am going to leave that for another day.

But the thing about norms is that we have to uphold them ourselves or they lose their meaning. And we do a very good job of doing that.

It is like the story of the naked emperor. I don’t remember all the details of the story, but largely, some tailors told the emperor they were going to design a magical robe for him; one that would only appear to the people that were fit for their office. They designed nothing, and the presented him with nothing. He went about his entire day naked, not wanting to admit he could not see the robes and was therefore unfit for his office. No body else would point it out to him either – because no one wanted to lose their jobs. It is the same thing in corporate office spaces.

Anyone who questions the norms is seen as a weakling and then regarded as not fit enough for the job. There is a masochistic pride in being able to tell stories of how you survived the worst and the most toxic work environment but did not give up. You will reach before your boss, you will pretend to be busy at your desk throughout, acting like you have work even if you don’t, you will waste time in office just to be able to talk about how late you left last night and how overworked you are, and all you’re really doing is perpetuating a toxic norm that doesn’t help anyone, least of all you. You are pretending to see clothes on a naked emperor because you don’t want people to question whether or not you are fit for office. Worse, we disparage people who do not conform to these norms. Everyone might be privately miserable, but because everyone performs the norms publicly there is an illusion that everyone conforms to them and is happy doing so.

The only way in which this toxic corporate culture can change is if we manage to show the leadership that such a change will have a positive impact on the bottom line of the organisation. This reminds me of something I read recently. The pandemic forced everyone to move their work online and taught us to work remotely. Many companies have chosen not to go back to the offline method of work. This is because they asked their employees what they would prefer and the answer was overwhelmingly to stick to working remotely – something that had also had a majorly positive impact on their productivity, and in turn the companies’ profitability. Productivity in the end, comes from happy employees and not from forced pizza parties filled with bad jokes and pissing contests about how close each and every one of us is to a divorce because our spouse hardly ever sees us anymore.

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Alone time

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I think I have written about how I don’t enjoy talking to a lot of people anymore. This might not seem like a big deal to many people. Especially the quieter ones. Like my sister for example. She rarely talks to other people. You really have to draw her out into having a conversation and even when you manage to do that you get the distinct sense that she is participating only to please you. For me though, it has been a massive change.

I can barely stand to make conversation with most people nowadays. And it isn’t because I don’t like them. Most of these people are close friends, they are people I genuinely adore. But somehow, I just don’t have any interest in the things they have to say. Every single time I get pulled into a conversation I have to force myself to go through the motions – it really isn’t an enjoyable experience for me anymore.

Alone time has become precious currency for me.

Once I started enjoying the time I spent alone, away from people and their incessant problems (which I’m sure mean a lot to them but very little to me, as selfish as that sounds), and really started enjoying my own company, I was more or less spoilt for others. There are not many spaces of my existence left in which I want to let people in. I don’t mind enjoying them from a distance or enjoying the idea of them.

And the thing is – I’m not depressed. I don’t mean any of this in a sad girl-done with life way. I feel so happy to be left alone. For the first time in months, I feel emotionally stable. And it turns out, I never even get bored. I make great conversation in my head. I have tons of interests in common with myself. And I never disagree with my own movie choice, so that is sorted too.

I remember a couple of years ago – when I was just starting out on being alone, truly alone, for the first time – one of my closest friends told me he is scared of spending too much time alone, because what if he starts to enjoy it too much and then never wants to make an effort to spend time with anyone else ever again? I see what he meant now. I really can’t imagine anyone’s company being more enjoyable than my own. I hope someone out there can prove me wrong, but it doesn’t seem likely to occur in the near future. I read somewhere that the term ‘alone’ is used differently to show different states of being. You say loneliness when being alone is a negative feeling for you and solitude when it is positive. It definitely is positive for me.

And also when you’re alone and doing things you enjoy you stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. You stop caring who hasn’t invited you to which event, you stop caring about the things people are getting upto – new jobs, new partners, new stresses – none of these things matter. At the risk of sounding preachy, I genuinely think I have reached some inner well of peacefulness. It may be temporary, sure, but so be it.

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Romanticise your life

I’ve been in a rut for the last two days. I have been irritated with my friends. I haven’t touched my paintings. I haven’t done much work. I’ve just stayed in bed the whole time. My entire existence in these last couple of days could be summed up by the introduction to Ibrahim Kamit’s video on why social media is bad – you know the one where he wakes up late, stares at his phone til its lunch time, barely gets out of bed for food, and then stares at his phone till it is time to sleep.

We all know social media is bad in some ways. We have heard so many people say this – explain why it is bad, and how its affecting our health (mental and physical) and what not – that now, to say these words, feels very clichéd.

I think it is bad too (shocker). I feel really awful after spending the whole day on Instagram or YouTube. But what else am I supposed to do with my time? To my mind, this is just the societal evil we have been given to deal with – just as our parents had to deal with industrial smoke, and their parents had to deal with feudal overlords or something (I don’t think I have the timelines right here – but you get my point). I know I am never going to get off social media (at least not in the foreseeable future) but sometimes I like to remind myself of why and how it is bad. Salem Tovar has a great video essay on this in case you’re interested.

She talks about how comparing our real lives to the constructed lives of others online, or even the constructed online version of our own life, can make us feel bad about our existence. No surprise there. You can see a variation of this phenomenon everywhere. Take Snapchat dysmorphia for example. You become so used to see a filtered version of yourself that it makes you cringe to look at your actual face. But more than your physical appearance, looking at other people live out their lives online makes you question, and be unhappy with yours. I know all of this firsthand because I am guilty of it too. I took a trip recently (I’ve spoken about it before) and while the sights were beautiful it was a very difficult journey. For the most part, I was cold and uncomfortable. I got motion sick frequently because we had to travel by car and our driver really wasn’t interested in how many of his passengers made it back alive, including himself. But my god, if you check out the pictures I posted of the trip, you would think I was in heaven. And the captions! What a bile inducing mix of happy and inspirational quotes. Really, if I was someone else looking at my profile, I would call me some not-so-polite names. And then wish I was on that trip. Only to find out the trip mostly consists of nausea and shivering, and very little heaven.

Right at the end of the video though Tovar says that while it isn’t feasible to expect people to go off social media entirely, you should definitely take breaks from it. Another thing you should do is romanticise your life.

The best example of what romanticising your life looks like are Studio Ghibli films. If you haven’t seen any yet, do yourself a favour and watch one. The absolute joy of watching those characters do their everyday mundane tasks in the most beautiful way possible almost makes me cry. Making food, drying clothes, cleaning your house – everything is done with such love and care. Plus there is always the best lo-fi music in the background. So, taking inspiration from these movies, and Salem Tovar, here is how I have been romanticising my life recently.

House Plants

House plants are like little low maintenance buddies you can have in your room. I never understood the appeal of being a plant mom till I visited a cousin of mine who is absolutely crazy about gardening. Her entire room is filled with all sorts of plants – it takes her half an hour at least (from what I saw) to finish watering all of them. Her room looks magical. And my quality of sleep in that room was unlike anything I have experienced in a long time. So, I decided to get some of my own. I have about five right now. They give me something to do every morning, and they also give me company the entire day. I didn’t think it was possible, but having plants around me also makes me feel less lonely.

Scented candles

This is something I have loved for a long time. I love good smells. You know how they used to say that being told you smell good is an ‘elite’ compliment? I totally agree with that statement. Nothing makes me happier than to be told I smell good, or that my room smells good. Earlier though, when I wasn’t making my own money, I wouldn’t buy these candles. I grew up in a household where buying scented candles would be regarded as ‘wasteful’ expenditure. Not to mention frivolous. But ever since I have come into my own money, I’ve decided to spend it on things that make me happy. I’m not some whiz kid with money, but I know buying one or two scented candles a month isn’t going to be the reason for my debt crisis. I light one every evening, and it does wonders for my mood.

Bookshelves

I don’t mean that I buy bookshelves on the regular to romanticise my life. I just like arranging them differently once in a while. I like setting my books according to size, according to colour, and sometimes even according to authors. I have started putting little decorations on my bookshelf. It isn’t much, but it makes me very happy to look at it whenever I cross it.

Coffee

I think I have mentioned if before. Earlier I would drink coffee just to stay awake – as a sustenance thing in office. Now, I’ve started getting into the different kinds of coffee beans there are, new recipes, the whole lot. Also, interesting fact, I read somewhere that in Turkey (in the middle ages) it was perfectly alright for women to divorce their husbands if they couldn’t provide their ladies with coffee. Honestly, given where I am in life, this seems like a perfectly reasonable proposition.

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Fashion Course Update: Size matters

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

“This week the Department of Agriculture and the WPA in New Jersey set about getting women’s figures taped; they started a WPA project to measure 100,000 women. Later this research will be continued in five other States. Each subject—matron, maid, scrubwoman, show girl—will be taped in 59 different places, special recordings made to check the “sitting spread.” The purpose: to create a new, unified system of sizing women’s clothing.” This is an excerpt from an article published in the TIME magazine in 1939 titled, “Women: No Boondoggling.” It heralded in a new era – an era of uniform sizing in the fashion industry. The drive to develop a standard method of sizing individuals was based on the calculation of American manufacturers that they were losing close to $10 million every year due to a lack of standardised sizing. Before this, sized were usually measured according to age (so a size 16 would mean clothes for a 16 year old) and after a certain age, on the basis of bust size. The underlying assumption behind this lax attitude to sizing was that women were generally supposed to know how to sew. So alteration should not be an issue, that is if they weren’t making their clothes from scratch in the first place. Sizes were also not as important as they are to us because people before us simply did not shop as much as we do. We have gone from having 2 fashion seasons a year to as many as 104 seasons.

The Department of Agriculture and the WPA ended up collecting data from 15,000 samples, but given the fact that mostly white women from lower sections of the economy (to earn the participation fees) volunteered for this exercise, and that the people collecting the data had no computers to analyse the data collected, the results were far from conclusive.

The effort to find a universal method of sizing was undertaken again in the 1940s by the Mail-Order Association of America in conjunction with the National Bureau of Standards. This time they mostly used sample sizes taken from women serving in the Airforce, creating a sizing system that was once again, fairly arbitrary and hugely non-representative of the population at large (given that women serving in the Airforce were arguably some of the fittest women in the country). They came up with sizes on a scale ranging from 8 to 36, with variations for height – represented by T (Tall), R (Regular) and S (Short) – as well as ‘-‘ and ‘+’ signs to show variations in girth.

This was only the beginning though. Government sizing regulations were more or less ignored by manufactures as the average size of the American woman increased – leading to the development of what we now know as ‘vanity sizing’, so much so that the Department of Commerce withdrew its standard sizing regulations altogether after a point. Already based on an inaccurate and underwhelming system of sizing clothes, the fashion industry – at least in terms of sizing – was now in free fall. To attract customers and to keep women happy, sizes were continuously downplayed. In fact, a few quick online searches will show you how a size 8 in the 1950s is nothing like a size 8 in our day and age. It isn’t so much a bad or a good thing, as it is inconvenient. To give you context, Marylin Monroe was a size 12 in the 1960s. Today she would be better suited to finding clothes in size 6. In the end, it boils down to the fact that the sizing system is flawed and outdated, and I honestly don’t know why we still bother with it. Because, you know, like Stanley Tucci says in Devil wears Prada – “2 is the new 4 and 4 is the new 6.” If you’re a size 6? That’s the new 14. Or not. We don’t actually know what we’re doing anymore.

I have 4 pairs of jeans that fit me perfectly. 2 of these are 26-inch waists, 1 is a 27-incher, 4 are  28-inchers and 1 is even a 24-incher. If I measure my waist with an inch tape – I’m a 27 inch waist. So, um, you see my issue. And this is a fairly common issue. I’ve read up on fashion bloggers talking about how they will try on at least 4 versions of the same clothing item in the same size to find the right fit. So, if sizes on clothes aren’t telling us what size to buy…what is the point?

It was bad enough going through the (unnecessarily) embarrassing ordeal of finding clothes that fit you in a store. Now we have to do it for clothes we buy online? Less embarrassing for sure, but way more frustrating. Did you know almost 40% of clothes bought online are returned due to sizing issues? Now, as frustrating as this is for us, I can’t imagine it is any better for the online retailers. They lose a lot of money covering ‘free return and shipping’ expenses. Let us take a step back for a minute. Yes it is a hassle finding something in your size (only if you’re a size 10 or less mind you, finding clothes beyond that range is a whole different nightmare). But do you ever wonder how the economics of all this works out? The companies we shop from (for the most part) manage to not only stay afloat, but also do quite well in the market. Which means they make up for this cost somewhere along the production line / supply chain. If they aren’t compromising on the speed with which they produce clothes, or the convenience their customers so dearly cherish – the cost must be coming out of some other stage. Like it says in the ‘True Cost’ documentary, it is either made up by upping the human cost or the environmental cost (usually both). I’ve spoken a fair bit about the moral, human and environmental implications of the fashion industry, so I won’t repeat myself here. I promise to stick to the sizing issues, but this is still something to think about.

So where do we go from here?

Is it the ‘one-size fits all’ stores akin to Brandy Melville’s? An approach where you simply put out clothes in different sizes but never label them – allowing all your customers to try out clothes in the same size. The marketing strategy behind this being, presumably, that women feel better when they pick out and fit into the ‘small’ label in clothing stores (regardless of how meaningless that ‘S’ on your clothes has truly become nowadays).

Is it technology? You’ll notice a lot of start-ups promising accurate sizing based on advanced body measurements and 3-D printing. This might very well be the future, but I think there is some time in this yet.

Or is it back to the basics for us? Like Tina Sondergaard’s boutique in Rome. A boutique that makes clothes to measure for each and every individual that walks into the store – allowing for alterations in the design as and when you feel like it – for a hefty price of course.

I don’t have a lot of faith in the first option. Mostly because I can see how that might lead to a lot of bad fitting clothes all round. I think it might come down to this – if the second option becomes economically viable at any point then that might work for the masses, with the elite turning to human labour and treating it like an exotic and coveted commodity – kind of like how they did with technology when it first came out.

Sources:

  1. Eliana Dockterman, ‘Inside the fight to take back the Fitting Room’ TIME Magazine
  2. The Bizarre History of Women’s Clothing – TIME Magazine
  3. A Brief History of Sizing Systems – Medium
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The Road to Character

This is not a preachy post, don’t worry. This is a book I am currently reading. I have had this book on my shelf for some time now. I’ve also heard a lot of people talking about it, and some YouTubers I really like also recommend this book – so I always meant to read it, I just couldn’t find the time. Oh wait, now that I have used this phrase let me tell you what I think about it. I despise people who constantly keep saying “I couldn’t find the time”, myself included. Some of us are busier than others sure, I accept that. I am not saying all of us have equal freedom in distributing our time as we please. What I dislike about the people who say this (again, I am including myself in this list) is that these are often also the people who like the idea of being busy. You know the sort. The kind of people who wear their schedules on their sleeve like some masochistic badge of honour. The kind of people who brag about how little they sleep, or how their kids have forgotten what they look like, or the ones who constantly joke about having to get a divorce because they work so hard. I always associate this phrase with that brand of unlikeable human being – and so I’ve come to dislike the phrase too.

The thing that pushed me to read this book before its time (I had a bunch of other books lined up before I was going to touch this book) was my dog. He’s a cutie but a bit of a menace. Of all the things he could have developed a fondness for, he likes chewing up books. Well, actually paper, but that includes books too. Older and mustier books are his favourite. Those we have to keep out of his reach. But the ones he can reach, he does take time out from his busy schedule of terrorising everyone at home to get some quick reading (chewing) done. He had already ripped the cover in half when I rescued the book from him. I have decided to finish the book before he completely destroys it (for some reason he remembers the books he has started eating and always prefers to go back to those books before picking out new ones).

The premise of the book is that there are different aspects of our personality – what the author calls our Adam I and Adam II. Adam I is the outer self focused on worldly accomplishments like good grades, a high paying career and what not. Adam II is the more sedate inner self that isn’t really focused on all of this. What Adam II wants instead is to like itself for nobler qualities – like being a dependable person, being a humble person, having faith in yourself that you are living life according to principles you hold dear. We need to nourish both Adams in order to live a fulfilling life.

The book challenges our newfound ideas of ‘authenticity’ and says people nowadays focus too much on their internal cues and not enough on their circumstances or external cues. We spend so much time thinking about what we want, how we can make ourselves happy, how we can be the most ‘authentic’ version of ourselves, that we forget to focus on some of the more important aspects of our personality, things that are not necessarily determined by our internal strife. Basically, this idea of ‘Big Me’ has taken over our lives when in fact other qualities (such as humility, hard work for the sake of hard work, helping others, having a purpose in life other than yourself) are more likely to make us happy. But what is “happy”? The book says happiness is so often associated with a fleeting emotion of positivity or giddiness, when in fact, it is more like a long lasting contentment and pride in yourself.

I like the way in which the book highlights different versions of what a ‘fulfilling life’ looks like by talking about real world examples of people who have lived according to their Adam II principles. I like how the book doesn’t just set out one kind of successful life. The author doesn’t sugarcoat anything either – it isn’t as though if you live as per Adam II you’re going to have an easy life. Most of the times you’re not. Like the first woman he talks about has a very successful and long political career, but this comes at a great personal cost. The second woman he talks about isn’t even what we would consider to be a ‘conventionally successful’ person. She had no public life. Her only claim to fame is being the mother of a president of the United States. Her Adam II shines through in how she has raised her children and how they carry with them the lessons she teaches them throughout.

What I like best is that it reinforces the idea that life is a single player game, and everything outside of your head is just white noise. Faith seems to be quite central to having any sort of meaning in your life.

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Little girls, big monsters

I recently started watching ‘Foundation‘ – a series based on a set of books by the same name by Isaac Asimov. I’m not usually a big fan of sci-fi movies and novels, but I’m really feeling this new one. I like the premise of it – the prediction of the ultimate demise of a civilisation. I haven’t read the novels yet, but after having seen the series (at least the first two episodes) I think I know my next book purchase. I’ll admit, the fact that Lee Pace plays Brother Day (the emperor) is a big reason why I’m enjoying the show so much.

I still haven’t gotten over my obsessive need to research books and find out what everyone else thinks about them before I buy them – and so I’ve been on forums discussing this series too. While going down the rabbit hole, I landed on a book club discussion with Margaret Atwood on her book Cat’s Eye. A bit of a jump from science fiction I know.

Now Atwood is a favourite of mine, and I finished reading Cat’s Eye very recently (I think I mentioned it on this blog as well). On the fact of it, the novel is about friendships and bullying, and how often the two coincide in the same person. More than anything though, the book is about time, and specifically what it does to our memory. The things we remember. This is how Atwood describes it, and honestly, now that I’ve heard her say it, it makes a lot of sense. It is a book about the ravages of time. What seem like huge crises when they are happening are barely remembered later on. Especially the childhood stuff.

I don’t like how a lot of people insist on talking about childhood as the happiest time of our lives. I don’t know about the rest of you, but the only reason I look back on my childhood with any fondness is because I have forgotten most of it. This is not to say that I had a bad childhood – on the contrary, my parents did everything they could to make sure I have a good one. But, I also think that experiences are a lot scarier as a child because everything is happening to you for the first time. You have no precedent for any of the stuff that happens to you, and while this makes your enjoyment in the new more pronounced, it also makes the bad things really bad. And the thing is, as a child, not many of your concerns will get taken seriously. Everyone else is a giant, and they seem (or at least seemed to me) to be very unconcerned with things that go on in a child’s life for the most part. I speak for myself here, but I think I have only become happier as I have grown older.

When asked to talk about what the book is primarily about, Atwood responds by saying it is a book that shows that little girls are not “sugar, spice and everything nice.” There is a great line in the book which sums this sentiment up, “little girls are only cute and small to outsiders, to each other they are life sized.”

A question Atwood gets asked quite often is how she reconciles the character of Cordelia (the antagonist and childhood bully) with the feminist aspects of her writing. The response – what does feminist aspect even mean? If you think about it, for the longest time, women have been allowed to inhabit one of two characters according to Atwood – the whore or the angel. All the grey area in the middle is usually reserved for men. Male characters are allowed to have layers because they are treated as human beings. Atwood says her characters are simply human beings, and so it is more than natural that some of the women might be grey. I’ve heard this sentiment before too, when a lot of people were asking George R.R. Martin how he manages to write female characters so well and give them so much depth. His reply was similar – he said he treats them like human beings. And thank god he did. Otherwise we wouldn’t have the absolute joy of a character that is Cersei Lannister.

But I don’t think this discussion on the kind of spaces females are allowed to habit are limited to fiction. Even in the treatment of real women, I’ve seen mainstream media try to fit them into one of these two moulds often. Like the discussion on Elisabeth Holmes (of the Theranos fame). I remember how the discourse on this woman went from all positive (a genius) to all negative (the worst kind of scam artist, someone who would intentionally get pregnant in the middle of a court case to delay the proceedings). But if you contrast this with the treatment of men who have had a similar fall from grace you’ll see what I mean. Take Dominic Strauss-Khan for example. I saw the documentary on his case (available on Netflix I think) a while back. Throughout the documentary, numerous people, whenever they mentioned his predatory behaviour (let’s be polite for a minute) would almost always mention how he was a great economist, or how save for this one fault he was a great man. You see what I mean? Layers and complexities of character that are so readily accepted in a man seem unfathomable in women. When in fact, it should be the opposite if anything. In the words of Granny from Downton Abbey, “I am allowed to be contrary precisely because I am a woman.”

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Forming a habit

One of the things I love to do is watch videos on productivity. I love YouTubers that talk about ways in which one can improve one’s life. I love TED Talks (even the ones I don’t necessarily agree with entirely). I am not a very productive person. None of this comes naturally to me. I am inherently lazy and I hate doing anything that makes me uncomfortable. I am trying to change that though. I think I said sometime before – when I was talking about the Butterfly Man – how the biggest favour you can do to yourself is picking something and committing to it. Don’t get distracted, cut out the white noise and focus on what is important to you. From all my informational and motivational video binging I think I have something else to add to this. Summed up, the trick also involves consistency.

I just got done with watching James Clear give a talk on how we should strive to be “1% better everyday.” For those of you who know, this is also, broadly, the central theme of the wildly successful book called ‘Atomic Habits’. If you didn’t know, and this is the first time you are hearing this title, I suggest you check it out. It makes a lot of extremely valid points. Anyway, back to Mr. Clear.

The talk is centred on habit formation – and how we can trick ourselves (maybe trick isn’t the right word) into forming good ones. There are apparently four stages to habit formation; (1) noticing, (2) wanting, (3) doing and (4) liking.

In order to form a habit you need to first notice that you need a change. You will never want to get into the habit of working out if you do not think there is anything wrong with your lifestyle. If you do not notice something that needs changing, it will never be changed. Bit of a no-brainer. A habit I want to change? My drinking habit. I want to cut alcohol out of my life entirely at this point. But for me to get to this point of wanting to form a habit of sobriety, I had to first notice there is something wrong with my life as it stands now.

The next stage is wanting. Just to be clear this is not the same as wanting to make a change in your life, or wanting to transform your life, or wanting to become extremely rich. Let us face it, most of us want to change in some way or the other. No, wanting here means wanting to indulge in the habit in the first place. For example – the idea is not to want to be fitter. The idea is to focus on wanting to work out. Being focused on the end goal is a recipe for disaster from what I gathered. I want to build a library. This is the end goal. The habit that will lead me to build up a library is making a list of 5-10 books I want to read every month and purchasing them at the beginning of the month.

Then there is the ‘doing’ bit. This is pretty self-explanatory too. You have to keep it up. Clear says a very interesting thing in his talk. The reason so many of us form bad habits so quickly is because the ‘reward’ is immediate and the ‘cost’ is delayed; as opposed to good habits where the ‘cost’ is immediate and the ‘reward’ is delayed. There are days when I don’t feel like keeping up with my reading habit. There is no immediate reward there. The cost is obvious – it takes up time, effort and some form of energy (if you can call lying on your ass all day that). The reward is far removed. I may, at some point in the future, at some party, get to sound marginally wittier than the people around me. On the other hand, spending the whole day watching YouTube videos (which ironically is all I have done today) has the immediate reward of stimulation (I think) but a delayed cost of having wasted many days doing this instead of something productive. You get my point.

The last stage I think is to actually like the process. Why would you want to form a habit if you are not enjoying either the process of the habit formation or the end result? Makes no sense.

There is also this really good YouTuber who spoke about her version of incorporating these steps into your life (it is also sometimes referred to as the “billionaire algorithm”). At the end of the talk though, Clear specifies that simply watching a ton of motivational stuff won’t get you anywhere, you have to be willing to actually take the steps and make the changes. That is the stage I am currently on, so we will see how it goes. The watching motivational videos stage that is, not the making changes stage.

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We all have a pattern

I am sure we have a lot of patterns. I want to talk about the one all of us have in common. The pattern we all follow, and that eventually makes us feel like we are stuck, that we won’t ever be able to do anything new or anything worthwhile.

I don’t usually start my day with such depressing thoughts, but I stumbled upon an article while I was drinking my morning coffee. Oh, side note, morning coffee is a whole thing with me now. When I was working I would drink coffee only for sustenance. To keep myself awake. I would drink anything that had coffee in it – and honestly, I have had some pretty unappetising variations of the beverage as a result of this attitude. But now, I really take an interest in my coffee. I try to look up the different brands of coffee. I have even gone to the extent of exploring buying coffee beans and making the entire drink from scratch. I look up recipes for the kinds of coffee I can have – sometimes moving by geography (I’ll tell you about these recipes someday). This newfound attitude about coffee has made the whole experience so much more enjoyable. I guess this is what people mean when they say we need to romanticise the mundane. Like should look like a studio Ghibli film. But back to the topic at hand.

The article said there is a reason – a pattern all of us follow – that makes most of us fail at whatever we start. There are stages to this process of failing.

The first stage is the beginning. Everything looks good at the beginning, and who doesn’t get excited to start something new? Like the excitement I felt when I started researching options for my masters education. Every programme looked better than the last one. I would get excited just looking at pictures of students smiling in sunny avenues (no doubt fake pictures) and imagining all the fun I will have once I get into this school, or get into that programme.

The second stage is when you start to see progress. Checked this box too. Say, every time I start a painting, my favourite part is over-lining the pencil sketch with a black marker / black paint. It makes the painting come alive, while at the same time enough of it remains unfinished that you can imagine how pretty it will look once it has been finished (it rarely ever looks that good once it is genuinely completed). Progress excites me, because now I can imagine how the end result might look without actually having put in the effort.

Progress makes us happy, and this leads to the third stage of becoming cocky. If you start from zero everything is going to be an achievement. It is much harder to stay on the course and stay consistent. This is where the real hard work starts. I know they all say that starting is half the job done, but I disagree with that. I think starting is about 30% of the job and the rest is to keep the momentum going. This is when things start to slow down, and stuff gets boring. I think this is also where a lot of people give up. I know I certainly do – for a lot of the projects I start. If you saw how many unfinished paintings sit in my studio, you’d know. There is something thankless about this stage of progress, and I think it takes a lot of internal conviction to keep going. This is where we lost motivation, and that eventually leads to the end of that project.

The thing then to do is to figure out the why of any project you may pick up. Apparently the worst reasons for doing anything are fame and money. We all know this internally, yes, but it does get hard to stay focused on other things. Like with this blog. The reason I started this blog was because I was lonely and I had a lot of things to talk about but I didn’t want to disturb my friends with it. I love to consume media – but I did not want to be a passive consumer anymore; I wanted to think about the things I was consuming and talk about them constructively. Lastly, I wanted to become more comfortable with putting myself out there, and improve my writing style in the process, if possible. I think that is possibly why this project has gone on longer than most of my other projects. So, maybe that is good advice.

I haven’t summarised the whole article, but here is the original one in case you are interested.

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Celebrities make my day…?

Link

I have spent the last couple of weeks obsessing over this one case of a celebrity’s child being hauled into jail for possession of drugs. Or something. From what I can tell, it is a pretty big deal. Not to me though – as much as it feels like it. I went to Instagram (which honestly seems like the only place I get my news from nowadays) and because of the way the algorithm works, in a few clicks, my entire feed was full of accounts either demanding the kid be released or proclaiming that its a great thing he’s been caught (serves that rich man right, am I right?). The week before that my feed was full of V’s dating scandal (V from BTS). So many opinions, so many takes…so many people caring about things that have absolutely nothing to do with them, and about people who don’t even know they exist.

Now, I’m not saying I’m not a gossip. I love celebrity gossip. I can discuss Khloé Kardashian’s breakups to death. I probably know a lot more about Addison Rae than I do about the latest climate change convention (and as you can see I have no qualms in showcasing the dumber side of my personality). But the thing I can’t figure out is, why? What do I have to do with these people? Why do I care? Anyway, you know me, I had to get into it. For whatever it is worth, here is what I think about it.

The Nature of Celebrity

So, if you’re between the ages of 18-25, and you haven’t been living under a rock for the past year and a half, you know who the D’Amelio sisters are – Charlie and Dixie. They’re TikTok royalty. Charlie, I think, is one of the most followed individual creators on the platform. They shot to fame doing, well, not much. Dancing, and having fun in front of a camera. You may like them, dislike them or even dismiss them entirely, but you can’t deny that they have caught the public’s fancy. For whatever reason. A byproduct of such intense fame is that there are a lot of people waiting to make money off of you. Cue the many, many brand deals and associations. Next up, an entire Hulu series capturing their lives a-la-reality TV format (you know, the kind of TV the Kardashians made profitable). The show itself is quite boring. It has already received a lot of criticism online. I can understand why. The show follows around a very normal family that never expected to get famous, never thought it was possible, and certainly does not know what to do with the fame now that they have it. I don’t quite agree with all the criticism the girls themselves receive. There are a lot of moments you can see their own self-doubt regarding their fame. They are, as they put it themselves, just kids who decided to dance on the internet. Do they really deserve all this fame? And this brings up my first point. The nature of fame, and by virtue of that, the nature of celebrity has changed.

It used to be that people would work for years, if not decades, honing a talent or a skill. You would practice singing, or you would attend acting school, or you would produce music, and after years of struggle and strife (less, if you were lucky) you would be recognised for your talent. So in effect, fame was a by product of something internal – your talent, your ability. Such fame then, to you, was secondary to what you were actually put on earth to do, and to the public, was well deserved.

This is not the case anymore. Or at least, not entirely. You can still get famous for any of these talents. But you can also get famous (extremely) while possessing no special ability. Like the D’Amelio sisters. And in the absence of such innate ability, you are bound to second guess your fame, the perks that come with it, and also (more often than not) be perceived to be undeserving of such fame. When you have nothing that sets you apart from the masses you are viewed as more ‘relatable’, and I think a side effect of that is that people tend to think they have more of a stake in your fame.

At least, this is what I feel. I like celebrity gossip, but there are levels to it. Gossip about ‘proper’ celebrities isn’t as exciting as gossip about ‘newer’ celebrities (TikTok stars, YouTubers, Instagram influencers) is. I think people feel some sense of ‘I told you so’ when the newer kids on the block mess up.

Evolution

This is not to say that obsession with celebrities is a recent phenomenon. We have always been obsessed with people that are unattainable, people we perceive to be at the top of the social pyramid. Our ancestors were as obsessed with the movers and the shakers of their times as we are with the Addison Raes of our times. Maybe a little less. But that can be chalked down to access. Because of social media, we have unprecedented access to celebrities.

I’ve spoken quite a bit about social media and how it has had an impact on almost every aspect of our lives. Here is another thing it has impacted. The ways in which celebrities interact with us. Before the advent of social media, we had access to only what the large media houses or tabloids put out into the public sphere. There was a bit more control over the kind of news that was being generated, and in turn, consumed. Now that that bit of control has gone out of the window, celebrities have to come down to our level and interact with us in the ways we interact with each other in order to stay relevant. I think about this a lot. The antics on Instagram and TikTok make sense if you’re starting out and trying to become famous (for the sake of being famous). But if I was already an established artist, would I hop onto the inane trends of dancing around meaninglessly to a 15 second audio clip to gain more relevance? I don’t think I would. I find it kind of sad honestly when celebrities who are famous for a certain trade / craft sink to this level of eyeball catching behaviour. Anyway, regardless of why they do it, they do it. And this means that we get more access to the people we consider to be on the top of the pyramid – and as we have already seen, there was never a time when we didn’t enjoy it.

Being surrounded

The more we enjoy it, the more we consume it, and the more we are fed the same thing by the algorithms. Algorithms only care about getting you onto your screen and keeping you there (Social Dilemma anyone?). And if celebrity gossip is your juice then that is what you will get. Constantly. In fact, this false proximity to celebrities has given rise to an increase in the number of para-social relationships i.e, relationships characterised by a one-sided affair with your celebrity of choice. A strong example I can think of is the relationship many fandoms in the K-Pop industry have with their ‘idols’ (that is what pop stars are called there). The way some of us (myself included) delude ourselves into thinking we have a strong personal connection with these K-Pop stars is fascinating, sometimes even scary. If you don’t believe me try googling the term ‘Sasaeng’. You’ll see.

This behaviour on the part of the fans is cultivated by the production houses – in the ways they present the K-pop idols. These men and women do a lot more than just put put music – they have game shows, they have live telecasts (often from a homely and cozy environment to make you feel like you’re in that room with them) and a bunch of other things. They also have to remain single (at least as far as the public eye is concerned). Now isn’t this a recipe for developing a para-social relationship? Because they are marketed as ‘boyfriends’ and ‘girlfriends’, it comes as no surprise to me that obsession with such celebrities goes beyond what is considered normal.

Are you more susceptible to this than others?

But not everyone is affected in the same way. Yes, all of us love to take our mind off our lives with a bit of harmless gossip now and then – and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. My issue is that each and every single thing celebrities do nowadays – all the mundane things about their lives that no one should care about – gets discussed with an unhealthy amount of fervour. And it turns out, these things are not interesting to all of us (makes sense). They start to mean a lot more, and do mean a lot more, to people who generally suffer from low self-esteem issues. It allows us to live a life vicariously, outside of our own lived experiences. This form of celebrity worship also starts to mean a lot more when we are going through major changes or periods of uncertainty in our lives.

No wonder this form of entertainment became the behemoth it did during the pandemic. Anyway, I’m going to get back to the debate on whether or not that celebrity’s kid deserves to be prosecuted. Talk soon.

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My little issue

Why does every social occasion have to involve alcohol?

I used to joke around with my friends talking about how I find it impossible to meet new people, or even to hang out with old people for longer periods of time if I am sober. I make fun of the fact that I have lost the ability to be sober around people because I find them ‘boring’.

It isn’t a joke anymore. I genuinely cannot bring myself to be sober in social settings involving more than two people (myself and the other person). Sometimes, I can’t even be sober when I am meeting just one other person. Especially if it is a date. I can count on my fingertips the number of people who have met me sober in the last five years in any social setting.

And I’m not just talking about drinking while I am out. Most of the times, I have a couple of glasses at home before leaving – to ‘get into the mood’. I think this habit started in college. All my college friends can attest to the fact that I have rarely, if ever, shown up sober to a single evening out. In fact, most college evenings are a blur for me – if not entirely missing from my memory. I black out at an alarming rate. So much so that when I don’t, I think it is a tiny miracle and become happy with my increased capacity for alcohol. Which inevitably leads me to overestimate my abilities and drink a lot more the next time round. Cue blackout.

Sometimes I will google these things. Why do I keep blacking out? Why do I drink so much? Is binge drinking also a form of alcohol abuse? How many drinks a week before I am considered an alcoholic? How can I stop drinking? Do I have alcohol abuse disorder? This is a recent phenomenon. Not the drinking, the googling. For a very long time I thought that as long as I am not drinking alone, I am a social drinker, and therefore, not an alcohol abuser. I don’t think this is sufficient anymore though, to justify the way I drink.

I don’t even like myself when I drink. I don’t relate to any of the things drunk me does. I know there is this idea that drunk you won’t do anything sober you wouldn’t have done. I disagree. Drunk me is a maniac. I especially don’t like myself after I drink. Most of the times, I have no memory of the evening before. I have to do that embarrassing thing of texting all my friends and asking them to piece it together for me. I have raging hangovers. I know there is a lot to hate about hangovers, but the part I feel most intensely is the self-loathing. It adds to all the things I have to be disappointed in my life about already. When I was younger (I’ve been drinking for a while now) I wouldn’t get hangovers – and so binge drinking and being wild on night outs was no biggie. Now that I am get hangovers – binge drinking is definitely a biggie. A bad one.

This misconception of mine – fuelled by the ignorance of my peers – that as long as I am not drinking alone I’m safe and there isn’t any alcohol abuse isn’t a thing. There are so many forms of alcohol abuse, and habitual binge drinking, even if you do it in social settings, is also one of them. There are studies to show that it has been on the rise in the recent decades, and by all accounts, seems to be one of the worst kinds of alcohol abuse.

I don’t mean to write this post as a way of admitting I have any sort of drinking problem. I am not yet on that level of acceptance. I can’t seem to say the words ‘drinking’ and ‘problem’ together – that is, in relation to myself. I will admit though that there is a bit of an issue. I should probably stop drinking for a little while. I’ve been meaning to give up drinking for a sometime now. And in the middle of this deliberation came along a book called Shuggie Bain. The timing could not have been better. The book is about the relationship Shuggie shares with his alcoholic mother. I am not someone who usually cries when reading books (ok maybe this isn’t entirely true, I’ve already cried while reading Anxious People, A Little Life and The Cost of Living this past year) but this book really got to me. Not just because the book was so well written – but also because the subject matter hit a little too close to home. I could relate to so many of the things Agnes (the alcoholic mother) says to justify her drinking. The ways in which she always thinks she has it under control but never really does. The ways in which the people around her slowly descend from concern to apathy when they realise the habit is here to stay. The saddest part, at least for me personally, is when Agnes successfully gives up drinking for a year and then relapses.

Maybe that is why I can’t seem to give it up. I don’t trust my ability to say no to it when I hang out with my friends next.

Why does every social occasion have to involve alcohol?

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Fitzgerald in a bookstore

In the book I am reading right now, the best friend, or at least one of the friends, comments that all authors should write books as if they were going to be beheaded the day they finished writing. Extreme, yes. But what a thought. The book is called ‘This Side of Paradise’ by G. Scott Fitzgerald. It is quite famous, so I’m sure this is not the first time you’re hearing of it. It is one of those books everyone knows about, and that adds just the right amount of sophistication and distinction to your conversation if you ever mention it in polite company – regardless of whether or not you’ve actually read it. I’ve known about it for sometime. But having read the book Fitzgerald is best known for (The Great Gatsby), I never really felt any real need to check out his other books in a hurry.

I picked out this book by chance. I was away from home on a family holiday where I visited a small and fairly unknown bookstore that sells old used books. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve wanted to get into the habit of buying second-hand books and buying books without knowing much about the book or the author (if you’ve been around for some time you know I like to do a lot of research before committing to a literary purchase). Visiting this bookstore seemed like the perfect opportunity to test out my new shopping resolution. I failed, quite miserably. I saw a lot of old books, books without names, books where the name of the author was faded or scratched out, and most importantly, books that did not have a summary. I picked them up and read through them, and some of them seemed quite interesting too. But I just couldn’t get myself to buy any of those titles. Maybe in some time. So, anyway, after spending about two hours searching for books to buy, I landed up on the modern classics section and I ended up picking up authors I had heard of but not necessarily read before. Like, did you know that there was a third Bronte sister? Anne. She wrote a book too, though her achievements (clearly) almost always get overshadowed by those of her more famous sisters. Apart from the fact that I find such concentration of talent in one family mildly upsetting, this was news to me (I picked up her book too – The Tenant of Wildfell Hall).

Now unlike Anne, Fitzgerald is a a literary giant. I’ve read his work before, and I enjoyed it. Plus I was getting out of a Gossip Girl re-watch phase so I decided to give his book (his first novel) a shot. Don’t get thrown off by the Gossip Girl reference. It isn’t as random as it seems. The character Dan Humphrey is a loose retelling of the character of Fitzgerald himself, and the world Gossip Girl creates is also reminiscent of the worlds our author is obsessed with, and describes in all his books (some variation of, at least). Now I will be honest with you, I probably came across this theory somewhere a while back, but I can’t remember the source, so I’m just telling you what I remember. Please feel free to discuss and analyse this comparison as much as you want, and let me know if you disagree with me. Dan is Fitzgerald in that he is obsessed with the lives of the super-wealthy, and is constantly insecure because he has no access to it, to them. So, he does the only thing he can think of, and writes himself into this world of obnoxious privilege. Suddenly makes Gossip Girl look intelligent does it not?

Apart from the fact that I wanted to sound exciting in drawing room conversations and the Gossip Girl comparison, I was also interested in this book because a lot of people say it is semi-autobiographical. Amory (the main character) is supposed to be Fitzgerald. He wrote the novel in a rush too, because his marriage to Zelda (an extremely fascinating character in her own right – and the author of some of Fitzgerald’s better works according to some conspiracy theories) depended on his publishing this book. Plus the book celebrated a 100 years last year I think. With all this background, I am determined to get as much enjoyment as I possibly can from this book.

I’m halfway through right now. The first reaction I have to this book is one of alienation. I knew what I was getting into – the frivolous lives of the elite full of their imagined difficulties made worse by their inconstant temperaments. Even with that in mind, something about the book just isn’t sitting right with me. I love superficial characters. I love characters that are so fundamentally flawed they have to spend the entire novel justifying themselves. But even I find it difficult to like Amory. It isn’t just that he is conceited. He is also vapid in a lot of ways. Plus I think the pandemic has something to do with it. If I had read this novel when all the clubs were open I might have enjoyed it more. I might have even tried to relate to it, and tried to be as superficially condescending as our protagonist is. But because I am stuck at home, and because there has been a massive shift in my perspective, I just don’t find the book enjoyable. The dialogues all seem like a bunch of close friends are discussing issues you have no business, and moreover, no interest in listening to. The whole affair seems like a dull party that you only ended up attending because you had nothing better on your social calendar. There is some voyeuristic pleasure in looking into their lives yes, but I don’t know why everyone hails this as one of the best novels in modern literature. At best, it is just okay. Maybe I will change my mind when I finish the book.

Other books I bought –

  1. Anne Bronte – The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
  2. F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Beautiful and the Damned
  3. Margaret Atwood – Cat’s Eye
  4. V. S. Naipaul – A Turn in the South
  5. A.S. Byatt – Possession
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Travel and rain

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I like to say I like travelling, but I don’t think that is entirely true. I like travelling in comfort and for short spans of time. I don’t enjoy the hardcore traverse-the-world-in-your-bagpack kind of travelling. I’ve done it before, and I’m doing it right now, and I assure you it remains as un-enjoyable (in bits) as always.

Every morning my travel party departs at 7 am and we travel the whole day, usually landing up at our destination sometime in the evening. We chill in the town for the evening (whatever town we have descended upon) and then push off again every morning.

What is the point of this? I don’t know. It almost feels like the idea is not to enjoy a particular place, but rather to keep moving day in and day out. I’m exhausted. I feel like a fish in an aquarium. More than the towns I have seen or the people I have met, I will remember the inside of our car.

And because I’ve been travelling at such a pace for the last week and a half, it has dimmed my enjoyment of the view from the car too. The places I am travelling to are beautiful. They’re untouched, which explains why they are so tough to reach. But after a point, it starts looking the same from the car window. Hills, rain and more hills.

I think this is going to be one of those trips that isn’t so enjoyable when you are on the trip, but then when you get back and talk to your friends about it, it suddenly makes you feel cooler to be the one to have done it. Do you know what I’m talking about? I wonder about this a lot, even when I hear other people’s travel stories. Many if them don’t sound like they were fun. But people gush over it – “oh wow that sounds so cool” or “damn that must have been so pretty to see that, I want to see it too!”. I’ve always been suspicious though. To me, a lot of them sound a little…painful. Like this trip is turning out to be.

But you know what they say, a good traveller is one who sees more than she can remember and remembers more than she can see. These stories will probably get a lot more painful in the re-telling, just to add some more flavour.

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Stories for days

I read a book recently. The Lonely City. I don’t think any book I have read this year captures my mood for the year better than this book. The book talks about loneliness – no shocker there. But it talks about that specific, anonymous, discoloured loneliness you can only get in cities, made even more incongruous because you are constantly surrounded.

The author, Olivia Laing, talks about some of the best contemporary art and how so much of it was born from persons who were intensely, and always, lonely. Edward Hopper for example. I hadn’t seen his paintings before 2020. And then I saw a post online talking about how the entire year in lockdown has felt like being in a Hopper painting. If you look at his paintings, it usually shows a single subject sitting in a cold, isolated, dispassionate city scape. He used a lot of greens and blues in his paintings. Laing calls this the ‘Hopper Green’ in her novel. It reminds me of that depressing green you’ll often find in abandoned diners or public washrooms. If I had to put a feeling to the colour, I would say it reminds me of when you’re walking around in the rain but the water has already seeped into your shoes, so you just walk around in silent, wet, misery.

There are a bunch of other artists she talks about (including one who worked as a janitor and made art his whole life, never told anyone about it, and died alone in a room, where they discovered all his art only because his neighbours complained about the stink coming from his home), but towards the end she talks about a man named Josh Harris. The man made a bunch of money in the dot com boom. But he became disgruntled with what was happening around him quite quickly. He predicted that the internet would take on a much less benign form in a couple of years, it’ll become a space where every single person will compete for visibility for the most mundane things, and showcase their lives to the fullest, dystopian degree just because they can. And well, he wasn’t wrong. To prove that he was right about the ways in which human nature will interact with constant access and visibility, he held a social experiment (there is a movie on this too). He invited strangers (anyone and everyone was welcome, it was on a first come first serve basis) to live in a house for a period of time. All the amenities they could want would be provided to them. They would be denied only two things – privacy, and the option of exiting the house before the experiment was over. Every single part of the house was covered with cameras that streamed the happenings of the house to the outside world constantly.

The result? People started behaving in bizarre ways. They started acting out for attention. They became hostile towards their housemates for no reason. And almost all of them became depressed beyond measure. They were simultaneously fighting to be the most visible in the house, while feeling increasingly disconnected with reality the more air time they got. The experiment had to be shut down (for obvious reasons). Harris wasn’t happy though. He wanted to take this live streaming, this shit show of total visibility to its logical conclusion. So, he set up cameras in his own house. The idea was to record himself and his partner for 30 days (I think, could have been longer) no matter what. Every bit of their lives (and I mean every single bit – including washroom breaks) was made available to a voyeuristic public. This time though, the people watching could also give live feedback. And they did. Harris and his partner started behaving in the same way the participants of the first experiment had – they became more aggressive, less sensitive, more radical, and more depressed. They started fighting more, because as it turns out, that was what got people going. And as they fought, they noticed that the public opinion was usually with Harris’ partner and not him. When the experiment ended, the couple broke up, and Harris moved to an unknown location – became a recluse for the next couple of years.

Now, as shocking as this was at the time, it is much more uncomfortable to read now. Not only did the man predict (with uncanny precision) how the internet would change all of us, but the effects most of us feel (at least I know I do) are the same. I can’t stop putting stuff out there. And most of the times it doesn’t even make me happy. I want to post even though I feel deep revulsion for my online persona as soon as I am done posting, but I still can’t stop doing it. The worst of it is the Instagram stories. I don’t know what it is about them. Maybe because they are temporary, I don’t feel like I need to put in effort and can post whatever I want. But it isn’t that effortless either. I always think about it. I keep going back to the app, and whenever I do, the first thing I check is my story. How many people viewed it? How many people reacted? What does the story look like from someone else’s account? I’m not even as bothered about comparing myself to others on social media as I am to comparing myself to what I put up online. Anyway, I could keep going on about this. Go check out the book if you have time, I promise it is worth it.

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I can’t decide if I am body positive

When I was growing up, it was the most common thing to call out someone for being fat. In fact, I don’t think there is anything that has been ridiculed (mostly unkindly) more universally than a person being fat. It almost starts to feel like an archetype. You know, like the concept of mother nature, or how all children smile as a sign of showing pleasure even before being taught the connection between the action and the emotion. And it didn’t even stop at making fun of fat people. People were considered inferior, just by virtue of being unfit. I wish I could say I was better than this. But I remember feeling distinctly superior to a lot of the people in my class (who were, if I am being honest, leagues above me) just because I was, well, thin. As kids, we were merciless. I’m actually reading a book right now called ‘Cat’s Eye’ by Margaret Atwood, and it is one of the best books I have read on showcasing the cruelty of children (right up there with the ‘Lord of the Flies’). It talks about the relationship the protagonist shares with a girl named Cordelia, at once her best friend and most vicious bully, and how the interactions of her childhood haunt her entire life. To quote the author, “little girls are cute and small only to adults. To each other they are not cute. They are life-sized.”

With time though, a certain amount of sensitivity was introduced to the topic. I had stopped making fun of people for the way they looked (physical attributes that is, I was still a bit of a brat about people’s dressing sense) somewhere around high school. That is not to say that these conversations had stopped taking place around me. And the most common point of derision was, you guessed it, being fat.

By the time I entered college, times had changed (mostly for the better). It was social suicide for calling out people for their physical appearance and calling someone fat was the fastest way to die. No one did it. To be fair, I attended college during the first big wave of the me-too movement, so even compliments were being doled out sparingly, let alone nasty comments about your weight. This was the first time I had encountered the words ‘body positivity’. And I want to take some time out to talk about this. So, I’m still researching on this topic, and I want to be able to do a good job with this – and it is going to be a bit of a long one. So, strap in.

Why are we talking about it?

The body positivity movement is an off shoot of the fat acceptance movement. It is hard to tell that there is a difference at all since both movements largely deal with the fat acceptance bit only, but there is a difference. Where the fat acceptance movement was started to, well, accept people who are fat (or just generally bigger than usual), the idea behind the body positivity movement is more inclusive. It covers all body types, not just the fat ones.

The message is a good one. It often gets buried under the whole ‘fat v. fit’ argument, but the movement itself, at least as it was conceptualised, was meant to encompass all kinds of bodies. Now I’ve already mentioned above that the intention of this movement was not to be a second-coming of the fat acceptance movement, but it has taken that direction in popular debate, and therefore a lot of the opinions I am going to share are to do with the whole fat people / weight loss / fat acceptance side of the movement. Everyone, regardless of the body they have, should be allowed to feel good about themselves. All bodies need to be normalised and accepted. People often get this part twisted. I’ve heard so many people say some variation of, “yeah but I just don’t think that body-type is attractive / is it a crime to find conventionally attractive people attractive / should we be forced to like things we don’t naturally like” and every version of this statement is irritating. The idea is to normalise and accept, not be attracted to. And a large part of normalisation is representation. Forget bodies for a second. Consider food. There were a lot of food items none of us would have tried before the advent of social media, and many items we still only try because of constant and positive representation in the media. Korean food instantly comes to mind. The same kids who would be turning up their noses on this new cuisine now line up to get a bite. None of this would have happened if it hadn’t been normalised first (in all fairness I think the word normalised is also a bit offensive, saying you want to ‘normalise’ something indicates you considered it abnormal in the first place, but for lack of better terminology I am afraid this is the one I am going to go with).

Let me give you another example. For the longest time I didn’t understand this concept of ‘representation’ and why it is so important. I would hear a lot of people in the entertainment industry talk about how we need more LGBTQ+ representation on screen, and how kids need to see their realities reflected in the mainstream. I knew academically why it was so important, but because it isn’t an issue that affects me personally, my support for this cause remained distant and academic too. Then my sister noticed and asked me why I was skipping parts in my latest K-drama ‘Nevertheless’ (great show by the way); parts that had the lesbian couple’s love story. I liked the couple, and I was rooting for them, I just found it boring because I couldn’t…relate. Now imagine a situation where all movies, shows and books only portrayed LGBTQ+ love stories. I would have to imagine Miss Darcy being a man? Unfathomable. I can’t wrap my head around how bad and unseen I would feel if I couldn’t get straight people love stories in popular media to fixate on when I’m daydreaming. So, the same thing for bodies. I can assume this position of pleasant indifference (saying dumb things like, ‘oh who cares what kind of bodies they show in advertisements, just love yourself’) because I am privileged, in that I can see my body-type (somewhat) in the images I see around me. Many are only starting to, and there are still a lot of people who cannot.

The media recently

I wasn’t going to talk about this topic. I had a host of other topics lined up that I wanted to talk about first. But then, as I was scrolling through my Instagram feed, I was inundated with news about, and the controversy surrounding, Adele’s weight loss. Apparently she went ahead and lost a bunch of weight and got super fit and while some people were happy about it, a lot of what seemed to be members of the body positivity movement were pissed off. They seem to see this weight loss and radical transformation as a betrayal, in that, by losing weight, Adele seems to have conformed to the idea that thinness is good and everything else isn’t. This isn’t the first time I have heard something like this. There was a lot of controversy surrounding Rebel Wilson’s weight loss as well from what I remember. Apart from the fact that I don’t understand (at all) why this should be an issue (most things celebrities do are blown out of proportion and should never be an issue), I also don’t understand the body positive movement is so obsessed with keeping fat people fat. This is actually one of the biggest criticisms of this movement – why people started regarding this movement as being ‘toxic’ in the first place. There seems to be an intolerance for change which sort of reminds of me of the beauty standards the movement is allegedly against. If you were anything other than skinny and blonde, you weren’t pretty. Now, if you’re anything other than fat, you’re not a part of the movement. And a fat person who loses weight? Unimaginable. Most of these celebrities losing weight have spoken about how their intention was not to get thin as much as it was to eat healthy and take care of their bodies. Why should they feel the need to apologise? Even if they did want to become thinner, who cares. Reminds of me of a concept I learnt in law school – the idea of positive liberty and negative liberty. Positive liberty is when you do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t impact anyone else – like eating healthy, losing weight or dying your hair. Negative liberty is the idea that you should be allowed to do whatever you want, even if it harms other people – like driving while drunk. Positive liberty is ok, negative is not. If Adele losing weight doesn’t impact you in any way – why do you even care? Move along.

If you start reading up on the Adele controversy, you will eventually land up on the Tess Holiday posts. She is someone who has publicly admitted she feels scared to lose weight (or anything else that might be regarded as healthy) in case she upsets her millions of fans. Who, it seems, have hinged their entire identity on Tess maintaining her weight and never, ever changing anything about herself. If that isn’t toxic I don’t know what is.

The thing that really gets to me is that that most of the people online, who are visibly a part of this movement or supporters of it, are usually pretty conventionally attractive themselves. I used to find this weird at first. How come all the ladies online telling us to “love ourselves” and to “love all our rolls and scars and stretch marks” are so…fit and thin? Why are thin people occupying spaces they have no business occupying? How is a fitness expert going to tell me to love my fatness if she isn’t fat? Isn’t there something so fake about that? Also, did you know that a lot of the times when these influencers show you their ‘real’ bodies compared to their ‘Instagram bodies’ (you’ve all seen those posts I’m sure), that they edit in the ‘flaws’ they want us to see? So, basically, we as a society are only body positive to the extent that conventionally attractive women edit themselves to present ‘flaws’ they think others will relate to, and they will be applauded for? Nothing wrong with editing yourself, go for it. I do it all the time (because as you know I have become all but incapable of showing my face without filters and editing). But it gets to me that women who are professing to show real bodies would take the time to edit ‘flaws’ into their bodies so that they become more relatable; and how they talk about how editing can make you look good while simultaneously editing their images to whatever version they think will give them the most (controlled) praise online.

Fake it till we make it

From what I can gather, the movement seems to be less and less about truly accepting all kinds of bodies, and more about an overly performative act of self love we take part in through our online avatars. Spend a day in these spaces and you’ll come out feeling like you can never be insecure in peace again. Admit to a single flaw in yourself, and you’re a traitor. Work towards improving yourself, and you’re worse. I think it is all a little excessive, and I honestly don’t think I can subscribe to such extremist thinking. Do I think there needs to be more than one idea of beauty and that we need more representation? Absolutely. But do I think I am perfect the way I am, confident in every aspect of my appearance and will never change anything about myself? Fat chance.

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The Butterfly Man

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There is a hill. It is hard to find and even when you come upon it, you won’t think it is anything special at first. You would have to wait for a couple of days to know why so many people travel such large distances to come see this hill. Or you could ask a local. If you can find one. They’re all over the hill, but they rarely, if ever, make themselves available to outsiders. Kind of like tigers in a forest. There is a famous hunter of man-eating tigers by the name of Jim Corbett. He wrote a bunch of books about his adventures. One of the things he wrote about tigers that has stuck with me is how if you ever go to a forest / national park / wildlife sanctuary with the intention of spotting a tiger, know that the tiger has probably seen you a hundred times before you ever lay eyes on one. They step out into the light only when they have decided you are harmless.

Because I already know why the hill is famous (I have made the arduous journey and done my time on the hill) and because I like all of you, my readers, I will tell you why people travel so much to see this mound. It is the butterflies. The hill is home to thousands and thousands of butterflies, and if you make the trek and reach the right spots on the hill, you will see something bizarre. There are so many butterflies at one spot, you feel as if you’re surrounded. They follow you around. The flit about all over the place. You can see hundreds of them sitting at one spot, lazing around, taking a nap or even drinking water! I’ll be honest with you; I had never considered the fact that butterflies too need to drink and eat. I thought they just were. Apparently not. Obviously not. They sit down on the side of streams to take in their daily dose of nourishment, and this is perhaps the only place where I have seen butterflies in anything other than a state of panicked flight.

And here is the thing. The butterflies, as magnificent as they were (I think more so because I have never seen so many of them at the same spot before) were not the highlight of the trek. On the trek I met a man. He works a job that doesn’t pay him too much – by some of our standards we might think he doesn’t get paid enough – but damn if he wasn’t the happiest man around. He lives near the hill and his side job is his one true passion in life – you guessed it – butterflies. Well, to be fair, it is photographing butterflies. The man had some photography gear he was quite proud of. He told me he spent almost four years’ worth of his salary on the gear. And he carries it around like his child. He has photographed most of the butterfly breeds (or is it species) on the hill – and even discovered eight new ones! Apparently, he is a record holder in this. Photographing butterflies. Isn’t that so cool? Here is a man who doesn’t care about many things, but the thing he cares about, he does so deeply. And that is all he needs to be happy. This is probably an extreme example, and many of us need more than one thing to keep us happy. We can’t all be crazy obsessed with one thing and make it the sustenance of our lives. Many of us can’t afford to live on a mountain doing only what we love (he couldn’t afford it either technically). I think, in more moderate terms, the thing that keeps him going and makes him happy is commitment.

Months ago, when I was deliberating whether or not to quit my job, I had a friend simplify it for me. He told me; it doesn’t really matter what you do. All you have to do is make sure it is something you can commit to and stick it out. Remember when we were kids, people would tell us to build our lives by laying bricks vertically and not horizontally. Metaphor for focusing on and committing to one or two major goals of your life (a purpose) and not flailing about without a clue. I’m not an expert, but the man seemed to have done just this. He picked a thing and he stuck to it. Sometimes I think the availability of too many options makes us sad and dissatisfied. You pick your option, but you can still see all the other options. You won’t usually see the people who have taken these other options and failed, you will only see the successes (although, what is success even). And that makes you unhappy about the choice you’ve made. At least, this is what happens to me. The only stretch of time I have truly been happy in, has been stretches of isolation. Where I look at no one else and do what I need to do.

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Waterfalls and Locals

I have been travelling for the last couple of days. It is in a hilly area and the forests are thick. When you live in such proximity with nature as the locals here do, you tend to respect it a lot more. And if you travel to these parts, it is best to do as the locals do. I see a lot of outsiders trying to bend the rules, or to get away with more than they can when they travel.

Let me give you an example. In the parts we were driving through, one crosses many waterfalls. The urge to go bathe under a waterfall is very natural, and I am sure a lot of us have had it from time to time. But, if you’ve ever been around, you know that the locals always advice against it because it is dangerous. There are always things falling along with the water – and if any one of those things hits you, it is going to be a painful ride back home. Despite this sage advice, I almost always will find someone attempting to bathe under a waterfall. Now, there isn’t a lot I find irritating, but this disregard for the local wisdom is certainly one of them. At this point, the no bathing under waterfalls isn’t even local wisdom. I’m sure this is a very generalized piece of advice.

Let me give you another one. There is a river here which is considered holy by many. It has an interesting backstory. There was a great man who lived here way, way, way back. His father made the unhappy discovery that his wife was cheating on him with another man, the king no less. Enraged, he asked his eldest son to murder his wife (the boy’s mother). Naturally, the boy refused. Whatever the crime, killing your mom for it is, well, extreme. The father asked his second born son to do it (the great, learned man I told you about), and he (creepily, and in a decidedly un-learned manner) agreed. He went and killed his mom, beheading her with an axe. So great was his sorrow and anger at having killed his mom (but never once believing his actions to be in the wrong, surprisingly) he went on a killing rampage (remember that this is supposed to be a learned man). He targeted members of the ruling class more than anyone else. But no matter how many men, women, and children he killed; his axe remained stuck to his hand. He couldn’t get rid of it. Finally, he came to a river (the river I visited) and did some crazy penance, as a result of which he could let go of his axe (a metaphor, I think for the sorrow and anger he felt). The axe split the river in half, and you can go see if you want. Now, many people of my faith believe that if you come to this river and take a dip in it, you must leave behind an item of clothing. Also, you cannot bathe in the river if you have living parents. I have no idea how this superstition came about, because none of the locals, including the guardian priest of the river, support this idea. Regardless, people will travel for miles to come and dirty the river with their clothes. It makes no sense at all.

I see this disrespect for the place you are travelling to, and the locals who stay there, most often in the way people treat a cuisine they are unfamiliar with. In my opinion there are good travellers and then there are people who hanker after the food they are used to at home even when they are on vacation. The second kind should, ideally, stay at home. There is no way you can experience a culture fully without eating their food. After language, it is maybe the most important aspect of any culture. If you have allergies, or beliefs (say you’re vegan or a pescatarian), then yes eat whatever you can. But if you don’t, you really have no excuse for looking down on, or even refusing to try new stuff. I’m not saying I enjoy every new food item I try, a lot of the times it is stuff I will never willingly eat again. But why travel if you’re unwilling to experience a new thing even once in your life?

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The Midnight Library

Every time I get done with a major item on my list, my entire routine goes for a toss. Take my recently completed GRE for example. I hadn’t been studying for it too hard, but ever since I’ve gotten done with it, I have been feeling listless. I don’t have a routine anymore – no list of youtube videos on GRE preparation to get me through my day. I hated preparing for it, but now that I am done with it, I kind of miss it. I wish I had studied a bit harder. Given the chance to do it again, I know I would act in exactly the same way I did the first time round. That still doesn’t stop me from harbouring teeny-tiny regrets in my chest. Not just about the GRE though, about almost everything in my life.

But at least, until now that is, I don’t have any major regrets in life. I wonder what would count as a major regret in life. I’ve started thinking along these lines after I read ‘The Midnight Library‘. It is a book about a library the protagonist visits after she tries to kill herself as she hangs in an in-between state of limbo. The library is full of never ending shelves, all stocked to the brim with innumerable books. Every book contains one of the infinite lives the protagonist could have had if she had taken different decisions. It isn’t just about the bigger decisions, but about every day decisions. In any day, you will have a number of small decisions and every time you decide to act in one way instead of another, you will change the direction of your life. It is kind of like what that motivational speaker said – you are one decision away from the kind of life you want.

But the book wasn’t about building a dream life alone. It was a little bit about that, but not entirely. The book talks about how all of our other lives are happening simultaneously. I think they tried to incorporate concepts from quantum physics and talk about stuff like the multiverse – but the author doesn’t spend too much time on it. The main idea, from what I could tell, was that you harbour all these regrets in your heart, when in fact, regardless of the outcome you would probably have turned out to be the same kind of person. Like, I could go through life thinking it turned out to be so trashy because I went to law school instead of medical school, and then live my entire life in misery under the weight of this one mega incorrect decision (or so I think), when the reality is that I would probably have been unsatisfied in a life where I went to medical school too. Your outcomes may differ, but a desired outcome may not necessarily make you as happy as you think it will. The appeal of each option then, is that it remains untested.

I liked this way of looking at things. I didn’t enjoy the book too much on the whole. I thought it felt a little forced in parts. But I liked the idea that you shouldn’t spend too much time thinking about all the different regrets you have or how differently you could have lived life if one random thing had gone a certain way…in the end it might all amount to the same thing. A little fatalistic, but just the kind of vibe I was looking for this week.

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Body hair and such like things

There are people in the world who are naturally hairless. And there is nothing I envy more. Except maybe natural mathematical ability. And a purpose in life. And people who know how to drive manual. Ok, so maybe there is a lot I want but can’t have. But nothing is more jarring to me than the fact that I am not one of those naturally hairless elites. Of course, nothing says I need to stay dissatisfied with my body. There is a lot I can do to change this about my appearance. I can shave, wax, or even permanently laser this off my body. The first two are temporary and the third one is slightly more permanent. I didn’t know laser body hair removal was a thing till I was about 21. I’m generally a pretty spaced-out person, so this isn’t surprising. I was on a trip with my cousin and her friends. At some point on the trip, there was a possibility of extending the trip for a couple of days and I was all for it. But we couldn’t do it, because one of the girls had to (HAD TO) be back home by a certain date. She said it was because she had already undergone laser hair removal on the left side of her body (I think) and needed to get it done on the other side. Now, it is entirely possible that this is scientifically incorrect and/or I misremember the incident. Maybe she had done the lower half of her body and needed to get the upper half done. All I remember though is how the procedure was only half done. Apparently, her mother was making her do it because she comes from a long line of women who are ‘very hairy. Plus, there was a possibility that her long-term boyfriend might propose, so naturally, all the hair had to go (?!). I was amazed. I remember being very excited at the prospect of sharing this newfound knowledge with my mother and getting it done myself. Not to be folks. The idea was, rightfully so, shot down immediately. And I’m glad.

Is that even necessary?

Now, I’ve spoken about plastic surgery and my mild obsession with getting a brow lift (among other things) done before. But it turns out my idea of what ‘plastic surgery’ is, was entirely skewered. There are a lot of things that I never thought of as being plastic / cosmetic surgery which do fall into that category – including laser hair removal. If you have seen the episode on ‘Plastic Surgery’ on Netflix explained, you know that our conception of what it means to look attractive, and what you can do to attain it (both in terms of things that are seen as ‘necessary’ and ‘optional’) is constantly evolving. If you haven’t seen that episode, I highly recommend it. For example, till a few decades ago, having body hair was considered entirely natural. But somewhere along the line, celebrities started showing up to events completely waxed and plucked – and then hairless became the new natural. So, what was an ‘optional’ thing you could do to improve your appearance (i.e., getting hair removed) now became a necessity (it isn’t considered a beautification method anymore, it is considered weird if you don’t do it). I remember watching Titanic as a kid and thinking Rose was pretty unhygienic for stripping down naked when she hadn’t even taken the time out to do the basics like shave her armpit hair. Which is ridiculous because who was going around worrying about their armpit hair in the early twentieth century. No one. And peer pressure, as it turns out, has a lot to do with this.

I’ll do it if you do it

I saw a video on how people feel the need to get this surgery done because everyone around them is getting something done. South Korea is famous for plastic surgery, often even referred to as the plastic surgery capital of the world. In Korea in fact, plastic surgery makes for a very common graduation present for children who have just completed high school. They have the highest per capital plastic surgeries in the world, as it turns out. Coming in at a close second, is Brazil. A woman in Brazil, in the video, talks about how she felt ‘left out’ when she found out everyone else had altered their appearance and she hadn’t had anything done yet. When people talk about getting breast augmentation done because everyone around them is doing it, it seems a little outlandish. There is no way you’d be willing to go under the knife to change something about yourself that you might be ok with just because everyone else around you is doing it. Right? Well, no. It is hard to reconcile just how much we are willing to do under peer pressure when we talk about extremes like surgical procedures. But consider the trend of wearing bright tights under skirts. I never once in my life thought this was a good look. I hated the contrasting colours and the silhouette it gave me. But I know that I, along with most other girls who attended school with me, went along with it. To my mind, that was a terrible year for fashion all round. Having said that, everyone did it because, well, everyone else did it. Ok, maybe this example is too mild. Wearing badly coloured tights is not the same as injecting chemicals into your body or cutting it up to reshape it. But what about something like Keratin treatment then? Almost everyone I know has gotten this done in the last couple of years. It is advertised as something that smoothens and straightens out your hair by injecting keratin into it. It is supposedly less toxic than re-bonding your hair. But it doesn’t just inject keratin (which is a naturally occurring protein). It also uses chemicals like formaldehyde. This is a known carcinogen. Meaning, we all know it causes cancer or can cause cancer to grow. We still went ahead and did it though. I did it too. I hated what it did to my hair. For the first two days I was told not to wash it, and I went around with poker straight hair smelling of animal fat. Disgusting. Anyway, the point I am trying to make, is that even though we think we are impervious to the things around us, there are a lot of chances that we will end up doing things we are uncomfortable with under peer pressure. Including plastic surgery.

Instagram faces

That is one part of it yes. But plastic surgery has been around for a while now. Why this sudden interest in it? Because I see it around me all the time. This used to be something I knew about but never really bothered much with – better left to the reality stars in outlandish TV shows who do it for the camera. Recently though, it has taken over my social media feed. There is a rise in the number of plastic surgeon influencers all over. These people advertise themselves, talk about the procedures you can get done to become an influencer, or just to generally fix things you don’t like about your appearance. And they are all over the place. It is like two sides of the same coin. On the one hand you have a bunch of influencers who all look the same (not surprising since most of them buy their faces – and it is always the same kind of face, the ‘Instagram face’ with the foxy eyes, plump lips and narrow noses), and on the other hand you have professionals who are promising to turn your face into the faces you see online.

I’m addicted to…

And apparently, there is a possibility, that once people get started with cosmetic surgeries it might turn into an addiction. First, you will have to keep repeating procedures (in all probability) to maintain the face / body you’re after. And the more you do it, the more reliant you become on it. Kind of like the filters we use. I simply cannot post a picture without using filters or editing my pictures. To the extent that I hate looking at pictures of myself that other people have clicked. This is a very real thing. Before we had social media, we just had body dysmorphia disorder. Now, we have many, many variations of it. We have filter dysmorphia, snapchat dysmorphia, Instagram dysmorphia – you name it. In an interview I saw online, a plastic surgeon talks about how earlier people would come in with pictures of famous people or celebrities they wanted to look like post plastic surgery. Now, people just come in with edited images of themselves. And why not? Once you get used to looking at unblemished, contoured versions of yourself, it becomes increasingly difficult to like your actual face.

I know I have been going on about cosmetic surgery for a few posts now. But I can’t help it. I’m probably going to do a deep dive into this in a couple of more posts too. It is just so fascinating to me. I can’t stop obsessing over it. On the one hand, we are taught to dislike and attempt to change things about ourselves. On the other hand, we are also taught to promote and hype ourselves up constantly whenever we do make an appearance online. The split is maddening. No wonder I hear and read about so many people practicing the art of ‘shifting their realities’. Which is also something I’m excited to write about, but that is going to be a whole different thing.

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Fashion Course Update: Part II

As part of an online course I’m taking, I need to do some research into how sizing works in the fashion industry. As in, how they decide to size our clothes. The prompt to the assignment says I must go into my closet and pull out a clothing item from some of my favourite brands. It needs to be the same item though – like a pair of trousers, a t-shirt, a blazer…you get the idea. And because I am currently going through a hate-phase for all items denim, I decided to focus on my jeans. When I have a couple of these (which I do) I need to write down the sizes of all items, and then try them on to decide on the best fit. Once I’ve landed on something that fits me perfectly (or I fit I like best) I have to take a picture of it and upload it online. I also need to submit a write-up on what my thoughts on the sizing industry are. Sounds absurd, I know. Who could possibly have ‘thoughts’ on sizing? I do, as it turns out. As I was researching for the article, it struck me that even though the topic sounds inane (not to the clothing manufacturers), I have actually spent a lot of my time and mental energy on this. Sizing has, to use a popular phrase I see all over Instagram nowadays, ‘lived rent free in my head’ for ages now.

Who hasn’t walked into a store and thought they knew their size only to be proven wrong? If this has happened to you, don’t worry. It isn’t you; it is them. The sizes aren’t uniform. A ‘small’ in Mango does not mean you will fit into a ‘small’ at Zara. I simultaneously own jeans with a waist size of 24 inches, 26 inches and 28 inches. This is for jeans I have picked up from the women’s section in clothing stores. If I try on a pair owned by my brother (which I did as part of this exercise) my size ranges from anywhere between 26 to 32. And then there is the whole concept of ‘vanity sizing’.

I first found out about the term ‘vanity sizing’ when I was fourteen. I remember it was in the context of a huge debate surrounding the health implications of being size 0 – because a super famous actress had just attained it and was going around town advertising (what sounded like) the extreme diet and workout regime she had to adopt to get down to that size. Being the impressionable (and jobless) youth I was, I started looking into what I needed to do to get that size. I think one of the main requirements of being a size 0 are having a 24-inch waist. This was something I had as a skinny fourteen-year-old with zero effort on my part. Simply because my body was still a child’s body and hadn’t stopped growing. This, however, did not stop me from being immensely proud of this non-achievement and talking about it with my girlfriends at school whenever I had the chance. Not a very healthy thing to do, I know. But everyone was talking about it at the time, and I just so happened to be on the ‘right’ side of the tracks, so I made the most of it.

Now that I have been asked to think about it critically – to look into the history of sizing, to find out why men and women have different sizing practices, to investigate how the concept of vanity sizing came into being – it makes sense to spend so much time on this topic. Having said that, it doesn’t really feel like anything new has taken up residence in my head. I have always spent time thinking about this. I think most people do – especially women. I haven’t had too many discussions with the men in my life to find out if this is a major thing in their lives too. But I have noticed something. Whenever we talk about shopping, women are always more ready with their measurements than men are. At least in the circles I have been a part of. Most men in my life have a vague idea of whether or not they fit into a medium, and maybe remember their waist size from the last time they had to measure it. On the other hand, a lot of women I know (myself included) are always extremely acutely aware of their sizes – across brands too.

I measure my sizes obsessively. I have fit into the same sized jeans for the last 7 years. Even so, I get upset if I can’t fit into clothes I bought as a teenager. Isn’t that weird? There is apparently a psychological reason (apart from the obvious ones) why a lot of women are obsessed with their sizes. I think it has something to do with the way clothes are advertised. It makes for larger profits I imagine. I have a lot to say on this and I need some time to get my thoughts in order. Once I do, I hope it turns out a little better than this semi-rant.

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The Plastics

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I should be studying for my upcoming GRE. Instead, I have spent the last hour and half watching a YouTube video on dirty money and fame. It is about the Kardashians.

Growing up, I used to be obsessed with the Kardashians. I used to watch their show (including all spin-offs) religiously (except when my mother was around, because it wasn’t allowed). I don’t know what it is about that family, but everything they do is addictive. I saw an episode of the ‘Late Late Night Show‘ recently which had on Kendall Jenner as a guest, and that specific episode was being hosted by her ex-boyfriend Harry Styles. In one of the segments (I think the one where they either have to answer controversial questions or eat some ‘disgusting’ food item) Kendall asks Harry if he ever saw Keeping Up with the Kardashians. He replies by saying, yeah he did, the one where they all sit around eating salads talking about something inane. Kendall jokingly replied to this by saying that is essentially what happens in each episode, and so if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. True. That is all they do. At least I thought so.

In the video I saw today (Part 1 and Part 2), the creator talks about how the Kardashians have bullied themselves into being famous. As in, actually bullied themselves on screen for the many insecurities modern society has taught women to have and made money off of it. I thought that was a brilliant way to talk about it. I remember, even as a kid, how many times they would reference beauty standards. Kris constantly (even till date) bullied her daughters about their weight, their skin, what procedures they should get done – all on camera. These are things all of us think about – at least I do. Admittedly, our obsession with these things has increased with the growth of the Kardashians, but it is kind of like a self-perpetuating vicious cycle. They talk about it because they know a lot of people are insecure about it, then they have the money to get it done, which in turn changes the goal post for the beauty standard every single time, making all their viewers even more insecure.

There was one bit in the video that really got me. There is a part where the video insinuates that Kim’s famous Paris robbery was staged. He doesn’t say this directly, but the facts, as they are presented, seem to point to this conclusion. Apparently she was seen to be wearing jewellery she claimed had been stolen a couple of months after the incident (Kim says it is a fake, but I don’t think that convinced anyone). Also, the entire incident – including the robber’s viewpoint – was commercialised within a year. The guy who kidnapped her has a book out in case any of you want to check it out. This seems to be the norm with that family though. They generate controversy because that is what sells. At every point when the show hasn’t been doing too well, they always come up with something. The 72 day wedding, the Tristan – Jordan scandal, the robbery…the list goes on. I’m just fascinated by their capacity to lie. I read somewhere that Kris made sure Kylie got pregnant before the launch of ‘Kylie Baby’. I don’t know if that is true (and I hope it isn’t) but I wouldn’t put it past them. Because if you can lie about such things, I’m sure lying about the smaller things – like how natural your body or skincare routine is seems like small-fry.

And the thing is, they do lie. They have entire businesses based on beauty products to make us look like them (which is the ideal I hear). But none of those are used by them. They’ve constructed their bodies artificially, and continue to lie about it. Isn’t that awful when you stop to think about it? The shamelessness of it. And ok, that is one level of it, where they convince you to buy their products in order to try and look like them (even if all of us know it is a lie). The other thing is the rise in the popularity of plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures. There are entire procedures named after the Kardashian sisters. The BBL is now one of the most popular plastic surgeries in the world, even though it is also one of the most dangerous ones. I see that body type – the one inspired by Kim and her sisters – all over my social media feed. If I’m being honest, I feel like my entire content is saturated with images of people trying to look like the Kardashians, who in turn end up looking exactly like each other and nothing like a natural person. Sad, really.

I’m not even saying the really mean things I want to say right now because it wouldn’t be fair. I’ve wanted to, at some point or the other, get those exact procedures done – and the inclination has increased a lot in the last few years. I’m not used to being someone who obsesses over how they look most of the times. Yeah, sure, I enjoy looking good and I have fun when I get compliments. But that is a once in a few months’ event. When I feel like putting in the effort. There are things I never used to think about that have become an almost instinctual reaction to seeing my face nowadays. Like my eyebrows. I constantly think about how much nicer they would look if I could just get them lifted a bit (I think it is called a brow lift, and this is the procedure you get if you want the foxy eyed look popularised by Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid – both of whom claim, I think untruthfully, that it is natural). I’ve started stretching skin under my jawline to see how I might look if I got my jaw re-shaped a bit recently. I know I won’t get anything done – mostly because I am scared to death of needles and my mom – but it still alarms me – the frequency with which I consider going under the knife when I have nothing better to think about.

And apparently, this is how it works. Mass manipulation that is modern advertising. If you are constantly told something is desirable, you can’t help but want it. Like diamonds. They have no inherent value, and were never considered a precious material. That was of course, till the DeBeers stepped in and declared to the world that diamonds are forever. No looking back then. That is how they were advertised and that is how they are treated. The same thing is happening in the beauty industry – and at the helm of it all are the unnaturally made, carefully calculated Kardashians. Seriously, if you have any free time today, check the video out. I guarantee it’ll be worth your while. Meanwhile, I’m going to try to stop obsessing over the many plastic surgery procedures I absolutely do not need.

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Trying to sleep

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I’ve always had great sleep hygiene. Growing up, and in fact, till about a couple of months ago, I could fall asleep within seconds. Once asleep, I could sleep uninterrupted for hours at a stretch. Even when I worked a corporate job and hardly had time for anything apart from my work, I slept pretty well. Whenever I had the chance, that is.

In the last couple of months however, my sleep hygiene has gone down the drain. I have trouble falling asleep. I stay up till 2-3 am almost every night. Once I do fall asleep, I usually experience sleep paralysis. This is a pretty common form of sleep disorder, and I think about 1 in 10 people experience it at some point in their lives. Be that as it may, for anyone who has experienced it, you know how scary it can be. Before I found out what sleep paralysis was, I genuinely used to think I’m going to die every time I experienced it. It has an interesting history too. Back in the day, people would associate it with demonic possession – and the fact that sleep paralysis is often accompanied by auditory and/or visual hallucinations didn’t help. And because I’ve started going to bed at progressively later hours, and have terrible interruptions in the middle, the overall low-quality of my sleep means I have started waking up later than usual too.

Now, I’m not sure why this shift has taken place, but I also know there are some things I could be doing (and should be doing) to improve the quality of my sleep. If you want better sleep, you should, ideally, not drink any sort of stimulant (coffee or tea) after 5 pm (earlier if your bedtime is earlier than 10 pm). Your phone should not be the last thing you look at every night. In fact, you should keep away from and stop using all electronics at least an hour before you want to fall asleep. Someone even suggested that I keep no clocks / watches in the room I intend to sleep in if I want a good night’s rest.

And if I’m being honest, I have only been (barely) able to cut out the second step. I try not to look at any electronic devices before falling asleep. But that hasn’t helped too much. So, recently, I have started listening to podcasts before I fall asleep. I know this has been around for some time now, and a lot of people have been doing this to fall asleep. But since I’m new to the sleepless brigade, I’m new to this too.

A couple of nights ago, while trying to fall asleep, I tuned into Tom Bilyeu’s chat with Mel Robbins. He has a channel where he discusses ‘impact theory’. I don’t know if this is a scientific term of or if this is just something he calls his own channel. But I love the guy. He is a great interviewer and unlike a lot of people out there who invite guests onto their shows, this guy actually likes hearing his guests speak. I find it irritating when people bring experts on to their shows but keep butting in when their guests are talking just to seem relevant (or make it seem like they too have a valuable opinion on every subject). Tom never does that. Admittedly, his interviews are slightly long as a result of this, but all the more enjoyable for it. I hadn’t really heard of Mel Robbins before last night, but the show was an hour long and that is usually as long as it takes me to doze off to something, so I tuned in. Here is what I liked about the things she said.

Motivation is a farce

Right at the beginning of the interview, Robbins declares that she hates being called a ‘motivational speaker’ because she thinks motivation is a farce. It isn’t real, and the idea that we have to be motivated to do something is often what stops us from going after the things we want. As humans, we are conditioned to take the path of least resistance. It makes no evolutionary sense for us to put ourselves in any sort of discomfort. And often, the things we want in life – a good career, good relationships, impacting out community in positive ways – is at the other side of discomfort. So, to tell yourself that you’ll go after something if you’re ‘motivated’ enough is, according to Robbins, a bad self-narrative. You’re not going to be motivated to do a lot of the things that you need to do, in order to have a fulfilling life. The thing to aim for then, is consistency. If you have an end goal in mind, you should forget about motivation. Regardless of whether or not you feel motivated to do something, just show up.

Personally, I sort of agree with this approach. For years I wanted to write, and to start a blog, but I never got around to do it because I kept waiting for the motivation to strike me. If never did. So, I just started. I have a personal goal of blogging every day and on most days, I don’t feel like doing it (I have tons of ideas on what to write, but I always get lazy when it comes to putting in effort). But I’ve just stopped thinking about it. I treat it as a non-negotiable. Doesn’t matter if I feel like it, I just get out here.

You are a single decision away, always

Which brings us to the next thing she said that stuck with me. I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase ‘you’re one decision away from the life you want’. I wasn’t a fan of this brand of motivational quotes till last night. To me, it seemed like the kind of thing people just say. It didn’t really mean anything if I’m being honest. But, as it turns out, it doesn’t mean what I think it meant. According to Robbins, every day you take a bunch of decisions on how to live your life. We aren’t talking about huge decisions – should I quit my job, should I marry this person, should I get out of this relationship – no. What she means is the tiny decisions we take every day when deciding the basics of life. For example, you could choose to wake up on time, or sleep in. Then you might choose to grab breakfast or skip it. If you feel disrespected in a conversation, you might choose to let it slide just the once. Except it doesn’t really stop there. Once you start taking decisions in a certain way, your brain apparently gets used to it. And if it is the path of least resistance (which it usually is) then it becomes harder to rewire yourself to take better decisions.

Try the 5-second rule

Having said that, it isn’t impossible to rewire yourself. You can do it. And the method Robbins suggests is the 5-second rule. Apparently, whenever your brain is making a decision, and you don’t really want to continue to make that decision, you can slow your brain down and rewire it by counting down from 5 to 0. Say you want to wake up every day at 7 am. But every time your alarm goes off you hit snooze. Now, your brain has more or less conditioned your body not to wake up when the alarm goes off. If you want to get out of this, whenever your alarm goes off, you can undercut your own brain by taking a breath and counting down from 5 before you hit snooze. Robbins on the show said it’s a proven psychological technique that is widely used. Like when we were kids in school, and someone wanted a whole bunch of us to quiet down, they would start counting down. You give your brain something to do when it is about to make a decision you don’t want it to make, and you can successfully trick yourself.

The day after listening to this podcast, I managed to wake up with the alarm. But that was just the one day. I hope, that in the future, I can incorporate these things into my life successfully and consistently.

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September Reading

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So, as you know (or maybe not, so here it is) I’m on a mission to build up my personal library. I started in October of 2020. I’ve accumulated 59 books as of today. Till now, I’ve only bought books after carefully planning out what I am going to buy, researching the authors and checking online reviews. I put in a lot of effort into deciding what books I want to buy only when I buy physical copies. On Kindle, I usually read whatever I want. This may sound off-beat, but I have an idea of which books are ‘good enough’ for me to invest in owning physical copies of, and for everything else, I just buy the e-book version.

I’m sure all of you have your own reading styles too. What books you like, how you like to read them, your own ideas about the kind of libraries you want to build, if at all. I like listening to other people’s ideas on this too. A while back, I was listening to an interview by Naval Ravikant. For those of you who don’t know, he’s a pretty impressive start-up investor. He started the company ‘Angel List’ and has spearheaded many successful ventures since then. He’s a total bibliophile too. In the interview, he talks about his philosophy of book collecting and reading. Apparently, he doesn’t read a book in a single sitting. He treats all books like a collection of thoughts or articles (which is technically correct I guess) and picks and reads specific chapters or things he likes from within the book whenever he feels like it. And he reads multiple books at the same time. I do this too. I can never read a single book and then move on to the next. At any given point of time, I will be making my way through at least three to four books. Also, whenever he likes a book, he doesn’t mind buying up multiple copies of the book so that he always has access to it whenever he travels. He’s a big believer in re-reading the same book multiple times if it appeals to him. He talks about other, equally impressive things too in his interview. If you’re interested here is his almanack on how to live life – wealth creation, living to your fullest potential and the lot.

Fascinating isn’t it? To see how differently people treat the same activity. What I liked about his interview was the genuine affection he had for books. I didn’t agree with all of it though – for example, I could never bring myself to buy multiple copies of the same book. I couldn’t bring myself to re-read the same books again either, not when there are so many wonderful books still out there. Have you seen the movie ‘About Time‘? If you haven’t, then I recommend you go watch it. If you have, then I want you to try and remember the protagonist’s father. His love of books, and the way he talks about them, is exactly what I’m like.

I’m also a frequent scroller on a lot of literary websites. My favourite is LitHub. Even when I can’t find a decent recommendation, I never feel like I waste time on this site. But recently, I have had a slight change in my philosophy. I will probably change my mind a lot of times, but for now I have decided on a couple of things.

Don’t plan everything

I want to stop researching every single title I buy. Most of the titles I buy are so well thought out, I already have a fairly good idea of what the book is going to be about. As a kid, whenever I visited my grandparents’ house, a lot of the books were so old they had to be re-wrapped and rebound in plain paper. Many of the times, the person doing this (my grandmother I suspect) forgot to put the titles on the new cover. Or, even if it did have a title, that was all you got. Picking up any book in their house was a gamble. Sometimes it paid off. But just the idea of picking up books solely on the basis of a title – without worrying about the plot, the reviews or the ratings, is appealing to me now.

Buy second-hand

This brings me to the cost. A solid reason for why I research so much before buying physical copies is because they are significantly pricier than their Kindle counter parts. If I had unlimited funds, then yes, sure, I would buy them all the time. But I don’t. So, if I want to start buying books without looking into them too much, I need to find ways to cut my cost. Which means, inevitably, that I won’t be able to buy too many first-hand books. I like this idea a lot for other reasons too. I love picking up old, used books, and reading messages people had put into them when they bought them for the first time. Old books remind of me of old dogs. I love them as much, if not more than new puppies. Lastly, I’m sure buying second hand is better for the environment too.

Making a registry

The idea behind this collection, as some of you know, is to share it with people or to donate it some day. I want to start being a little more organised with the books I have. I’m good at buying books, but I also want to document them properly. I want to start keeping a record of the books I have, the date I bought them on and also (maybe) try and make summaries of the books.

I bought two books this past September – the Midnight Library and the Book of Queer Prophets. So, my cataloguing starts now.

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Why do I put off everything?

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I have an exam coming up in ten days. I signed up for it about a month ago. At the time, I was nervous about the exam. I wasn’t sure if I would have enough time to study for the exam. I had an entire study plan in front of me – daily targets, weekly targets, mock exams and review.

Fast forward a couple of weeks. I am still at the exact same spot – the same level of preparation I had a month ago. My study plan is still stuck to my work desk, but I haven’t done anything apart from staring at it once in a while. I’m simultaneously stressed out about my lack of preparation and not too worried because I manage to do well enough in all exams even without preparation. Just to be clear, I am not boasting here. I don’t ace my exams. I scrape by. That is well enough for me. But almost always, this is accompanied by a sense of wasted time and potential. I always think to myself – I probably could have aced it if I had put in the effort.

So why don’t I?

I think part of it has to do with a sense of security. I’m afraid of putting in effort because what if I try and do the best I can and the results are still the same? It gives me perverse comfort to know that whatever the result, I could have done better if I had tried. I know this sounds messed up, but it is what it is.

Another major reason is that I haven’t yet suffered any major consequences as a result of my habit of procrastination. Maybe I have low standards, or maybe I’ve been extremely lucky. But no matter how much I procrastinate, everything turns out alright in the end. You know, kind of like those memes you see online, the ones that say (or some variation of this) – “I pass all my exams even though I procrastinate, and this is the reason I procrastinate.”

I read somewhere though, that the reason almost all of us procrastinate is because this is natural for us. The idea of being productive in a single set manner – is a construct and has to be force fed to us. That we should be able to work for 9 hours straight, and take only short breaks in the middle – isn’t natural. Shocker, I know. I never really spend time thinking about such things – the way we are expected to work, what is considered ‘productive’ – but when I read stuff like this, it makes a lot of sense to me. I have never felt comfortable working for hours at a stretch. Apparently, what is more natural to us as a species is resting all the time, and working in short, manic spurts when we need to. This is how we have evolved. So, when we brush up against the current structure, it is no wonder that most of us don’t feel like working till we have to. I know I certainly don’t. Maybe, procrastination is normal, and the negative connotation attached to it is yet another unhelpful by-product of capitalism.

If you google the words, “why do we procrastinate so much” (as I have done many times), I’m sure you’ll find enough resources explaining the psychological reasons behind this behaviour of ours. I’ve read a few of those. I agree with them logically, but I still don’t think it applies to me. Side note, this attitude of acknowledging that negative things happen to others but are unlikely to happen to you is called an ‘optimism bias’. You should check that out too if you’re also one of those people who never think they can receive the short end of the stick. I’m just writing about the reasons I can identify for myself. I may not be the most self-aware person out there, but I got till three. So, that is something.

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Manifestation and Vision Boards

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I’ve been very down and out of it recently. I don’t feel like doing anything. At the same time, I feel guilty for wasting my days away. Most days, I don’t even have the energy to get out of bed. In the last two days, I have binged on 2 entire K-drama series and countless videos on YouTube. I read somewhere that the only consistent hobby our generation has is media consumption. At times like this, it feels like the truth. I try and tell myself that I need the rest, and this is my body’s way of slowing down. But rest from what? I don’t have a job, all my time is my own. I can’t figure it out, and that only makes me feel worse.

The dip in my energy levels is accompanied by a desire to distance myself from everyone around me. Except for the people who live in my house, I haven’t really made an effort to talk to anyone else. My phone barely pings nowadays, and honestly, as I am writing this, I remember that I haven’t seen it since yesterday. This isn’t normal, but it happens sometimes. I used to love talking to people. But now, I just don’t feel like putting in a lot of effort. And communication is a two-way street isn’t it? I don’t mind being the friend who initiates conversation usually, but I’m waiting to see what happens this time around. Anyway, who needs two-sided conversations when you can listen to YouTubers talk to you all day long right?

After going down endless rabbit holes on YouTube, I landed on something that sparked my interest. I mean, it at least made me change my position on my bed. It may not sound like a lot, but it is. I came across an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling. In it, Oprah declares to the interviewer that she is an “extremely powerful manifestor’. What does that mean? Apparently, Oprah doesn’t need ‘vision boards’ anymore to manifest her best / ideal life. She can do without. Or so she claims. But seeing as how she is Oprah, I’m willing to believe in her skills of manifestation. She says that the trick to manifesting whatever you want is to meet the ‘frequency / vibrations’ of your desires exactly as they are. You cannot be vibrating at a different frequency – either lower or higher. She never explained what she meant by this though. But everyone in the room agreed on this, and the clip ended. But I got curious. And so it began.

If you didn’t know, manifestation is a big thing right now. Everyone is talking about it. All the kids, all the celebrities and even all the spiritual gurus. There are debates on how best to manifest the life you want. Is it the law of attraction or the law of assumption that works better? Hmm.

I think the general idea is to have a list of things you want to achieve in life, or experience in life and then imagine with conviction that it will come true. If you look it up there are a lot of people telling you about ‘the best method’ or the ‘most powerful method’ of manifestation. And if you didn’t know, they get pretty into it with the details. I have in fact even come across someone telling me to: (1) write down exactly what I want (get as specific as I can with the details); (2) tear out the paper and put it under my pillow and (3) repeat the affirmation “I will receive everything I have asked for and more. I am loved. Abundance flows through me freely.” Good intentions yes, but oddly specific I thought. I’m not a believer in all these specifics, but I do like the idea of manifesting a life that I want, and not just passively receiving anything that comes my way. And before any of you scoff at it, keep in mind that it isn’t just the kids on YouTube or self-help gurus that talk about manifestation. There are actual quantum physicists who support this. I’ve started listening to talks by Dr. Joe Dispenza (and even bought a book of his titled ‘Becoming Supernatural’). He talks about this a lot. The idea that we can ‘reprogram our subconscious’ and ‘create the reality’ we want – given that multiverses and alternate realities exist around us all the time anyway.

Central to the idea of manifestation (at least, according to the YouTube gurus, I don’t know if scientists support this) is making a vision board for yourself. If you don’t know how to make one, don’t worry. There are, as with everything else, a lot of people online talking about how you can make both a virtual and a physical vision board. It isn’t that difficult. I think the idea is to pick a bunch of things you want to make a part of your future. For example, I love houses built in the style of tuscan villas. I would ideally, love to own a house with a garden someday. So, I picked a couple of these images and stuck them onto my board. I love the idea of travelling to Japan someday, so on it goes. You get the idea.

I made a virtual vision board and set it as the desktop image of my laptop. Since this is the thing I stare into most of the times, I figured it wouldn’t harm me to look at what I am (or what I should be) working towards once in a while. For now, the thing I’m manifesting the hardest is an end to this depressive episode, and the willingness to get out of bed.

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The beauty algorithm

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As someone who has grown up with the internet, I feel like I have had the privilege (maybe) of being born in just the right generation. A generation older and I would have been out of date. A generation younger and I would have lost whatever little semblance of sanity I have in this day and age of media consumption.

I’ve experienced this with the use of Instagram. Let me give you an illustration. Before I started being active on Instagram, at a time when I would only log in once in a while to upload pictures of momentous events or congratulate someone on their life events (I’m talking weddings and graduations), I had about 3 skin-care products on my bathroom counter at best. I had a basic face wash, a body wash and shampoo+conditioner. Since I have started using Instagram regularly, I have run out of space on my shelf to store all my different (and unnecessary) skin-care products. It started with looking at pictures of pore-less and perfect skin. Even after I found out about filters (and I’m sure the use of make-up) were involved, it didn’t stop my brain from comparing my skin to what I saw online. Stored between these images of unattainable beauty were advertisements for the many products you can buy to look like your role models on screen. I think the first purchase I made was for a toner. Then came the separate water-based and oil-based cleansers. Then the face packs, not to be confused with the face sheet masks which followed suit. Then the night cream (separate from the day cream even though both of them seem exactly the same). The night cream won’t work alone though, and it certainly won’t work on all parts of your face (?!). You need a night / sleeping mask, eye masks and night eye creams. Oh and also, the day cream has to be used before the applying the sunscreen but after you’ve put on your serum. Did I forget to mention that you also need serum? And don’t forget the many, many essential oils you need (the cold-pressed variety too, and that is separate).

Losing track of everything you have to do? Of all the different, but equally important serums and creams you have to lather on to your face if you want even a shot at looking as nice as the people you see on your screen? I did too. Don’t worry. Once you start making your purchases, the algorithm will start throwing beauty gurus in your face. People who will tell you the exact sequence in which these products have to be used in order to be effective. There are variations too. The 3-step skin care routine, the 6-step skin care routine, the 12-step skin care routine. You name it, they have it. AND YOU CAN NEVER SKIP A DAY. Otherwise, say hello to all your old skin problems again. Mind you, we have only covered the off-the-shelf commercially available products you have to use. You may also, depending on your skin (and if none of these work, it is always the fault of your skin), have to use prescription drugs and ointments.

Now, everything I have spoken about is just one example of the effects of active social media can have on your life. There are definitely others, and far more sinister than an extended skin-care routine. And this is just one app. The worst app, from what I hear, is TikTok. By far. I’ve been watching a lot of videos on how TikTok has an in-built ‘beauty algorithm’ which means that only people who are considered ‘conventionally attractive’ are promoted on the app. Now, since most of such algorithms are protected as intellectual property, this claim can only be conjecture. Conjecture supported by some serious experimentation though. For example, one study claims that under the Instagram algorithm, “photos in which the subject is scantily clad are promoted and viewed more in user’s feeds”. TikTok, however, seems worse. Not only does the app promote a certain idea of beauty, certain leaked internal documents also show that, “TikTok instructed moderators to not promote content from viewers with “ugly facial looks.” The document tells moderators that videos of people with “abnormal body shape,” “too many wrinkles,” “obvious facial scars” and “facial deformities (not limited to: eye disorders, crooked mouth disease and other disabilities” are “less attractive, not worthing to be recommended to new users.”

I don’t know if all of you already knew this, but this genuinely came as a shock to me. Having never considered that the oh-so-perfect faces and aesthetically pleasing content was being pushed out by the apps themselves, I had always taken it on face value. In a video I saw recently, the creator talks about how in our everyday lives we rarely see genuinely ‘beautiful’ people (I use beautiful to mean what we consider to be conventionally attractive, or what we have been taught to consider as attractive). Contrast this with what you see online – image after image after video of beautiful people with perfect skin on your timelines / ‘for you page’. That has got to be a recipe for disaster, and it is.

I’ve seen the internet evolve into the behemoth it is. So, at some point down the line, I can still differentiate between what is real and what isn’t. I can still, though it takes effort, convince myself that it is neither normal, nor necessary to look that perfect or be that well put-together all the time. But, for the younger generation – the generation that has only known one way of living, I can imagine how difficult it must be. There is a lot to be thankful for, but I guess one of the things I am most grateful for is that I didn’t have to attend high-school in the age of TikTok.

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On resilience

I just finished reading a book called ‘The Book of Queer Prophets’. It is a short collection of essays, letters and write-ups written by people who have struggled to reconcile their queer identity with their respective faiths. People who are deeply religious, but felt that they were being pressured to give up this integral part of themselves because they had been told it comes in ‘conflict’ with another, equally integral part of their identity.

I especially loved the chapter by Jarel Robinson Brown. It is in the form of a letter he addresses to his future nephew. Here is my favourite passage from the chapter:

My saying this to you might tell you something about the time in which I live. By no means are all people free, and not many people can live the truths they know about themselves. We exist in a time when people are supposed to be unbreakable, and if they break, rather than calling them human we deem them weak. Resilience has become a requirement of this age, and only a handful of have the wit or the courage to ask of the times why resilience is necessary. Your uncle gave up resilience a long time ago, not because I do not possess it, but because it is unnatural. Our hearts are made to feel, and some minds, weighed down by the burdens of reality, break. I sometimes cannot help but wonder how much better life would be if we allowed people to be as human as they could possibly be. If we could create a world in which the masks we wear, and exert so much energy maintaining, simply became redundant.

Relatively short post I know, but I just wanted to share this before I forgot.

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Success is a tail-end event

I just finished reading the book ‘The Psychology of Money’ last night. I don’t usually pick up books on investment or financial planning – mostly because I don’t understand a lot of the things that are being said, and even when I do, it isn’t something I naturally enjoy reading. But this book came highly recommended to me by people I admire. So, I decided to give it a shot.

Unlike other books on investment planning and general financial advice, I actually really enjoyed this book. I love how Housel (the author) dumbed everything down and made it interesting with anecdotes and stories. I recommend everyone check out this book if they have the time. It is filled with a lot of good advice.

More than anything I liked the chapter in which the author talks about how we only acknowledge the few specific instances of phenomenal success without looking at all the other times a person may have failed. He states that whenever we talk about successful people – what we see on the surface is rarely the whole story. Most successful people fail a lot more than they succeed. We just don’t see the times they fail. Or even when we do see it, we don’t apply it to our own lives. Often, we are our own harshest critics.

He gives the example of Warren Buffet, arguably the most successful investor of all time. What we see is a multi-billionaire and master investor. What we don’t see is that Buffet’s portfolio is majorly made up of stock that does not perform that well. It just has a few marquee stock options that account for most of his success. What we also fail to acknowledge most of the times, is that he made almost all of his fortune after he turned retirement age, even though he has been investing since he was 10. What we see as a success and measure ourselves again, is a tail-end event. He invested thousands, if not millions of times, failed most of the times, and succeeded a few times. The success makes up for the wrong decisions in hindsight – but you have to understand, at the time of making them, they still were incorrect decisions ! No one is successful all the time. You make a ton of bad decisions, and then you eventually make a few good ones that offset the bad. The important thing is to keep at it.

I know it is hard to reconcile this with the image of successful people and celebrities we see out there. For example, I recently started my YouTube channel, and I’ve been binging on videos by other content creators talking about how they got to where they did, how to grow on YouTube and what not. One of the biggest YouTubers, and perhaps one of my favourites – Pewdiepie – has the nicest video on this topic. He doesn’t bother getting into how consistently you need to post, or how you can beat the algorithm etc. No, none of that. Instead, he talks about his own journey and the things he has learnt on this journey. He ends the video with saying you should get into this if you enjoy making videos. That ways, if you blow up, it will be organic and people will like you because you have fun with what you do. On the other hand, if you never make it, you’ll at least have had fun ! He is one of the few individual creators who has consistently uploaded every single day for the past couple of years. I think he has been making videos for 10 years now. There is something to be said about this. It ties in with the idea of success being a tail-end event, just as Housel mentions. Yes, these people have become successful. But they kept at it, and they were consistent with it for far longer than they have been successful. I often see images of icebergs online as metaphors for success. The part we see above sea level is the success someone has already received. What we don’t see, and what is often the most important part, is all the effort they put in to get there – all their failed attempts, all their bad decisions and all their hard work.

With life, as with investing, you’re going to have to keep at it. That is all there is to it. Successful people, according to Housel, are people who often have outrageous ideas, and always act on all of them.

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Feminism and Consumerism

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This is a topic very close to my heart. I believe in the first, and live with the realities of the latter. I’ve wanted to write about this for quite some time now, and I probably will again many more times. But I haven’t had the time in the past 24 hours to do this topic justice. I asked my sister for a bit of help, and she was kind enough to send me a write up on this. So, I can’t take any credit for the post today – it is all her.

Eyeliner sharp enough to cut someone, the increasing height of heels over time, makeup always ‘on point’…sound familiar? Women around the world, once powerless, are now capable enough to buy their way to confidence. How many of us really feel comfortable with just the way we are? How many of us can accept the way we look? And how many of us actually stop to think that the ‘powerful-female’ view sold to us by companies is just a money-minting tool that capitalises on the rising importance of feminism and women’s independence and its increasing link to purchasing power in popular culture?

Consumption by women everywhere has seen an explosion in recent times. ‘Women: Saviors of the World Economy?’ was a news item introduced by CNN that brought attention to the heightened earning and spending power of modern women. This can be seen as a breakaway from gendered roles of men as the primary breadwinners and their control over a family’s wealth.

The development of patriarchy along with the emergence of settled societies pushed women into a model of economic dependence on the man as women were increasingly seen as primary caregivers. Post world war, mass employment of women in workplaces like factories, offices etc. was by and large one of the most important events for feminism.

With the invention of television, and expansion of product advertising, a consumerist society became the norm. In the late 20th century and early 21st century, the women who didn’t work, were given complete control of the domestic sphere, which influenced many companies to make these house-wives their product targets. They recognized that a woman was responsible for shopping for her entire family and therefore, produced goods and services that emphasized on their domestic roles. And in this model, women for the first time became the chief consumers. A survey done by FemmeDen in 2009 showed that women either make decisions for or purchased 80% of the total products / goods for the family.

Marketing tropes have, however, changed over time in consonance with the change in the ideas of feminism and gender roles. They have progressed from the older model of advertising women in familial roles to a newer model of independent decision takers, money-making, sexually emancipated beings. These trends intersect with the modern market’s underlying crux; consuming allows one to express their individuality and articulate their autonomy. For the longest time, men exercised financial control over women. So the newfound ability of women to spend the money they have earned independently has spurred consumerism in an attempt to establish their identities as ‘autonomous’ entities, free from the control of men.

This led to a second wave of feminism in our market society, that is, ‘judgment free pleasure’. However, this hasn’t aided freedom from a patriarchal society and its implications. Rather, it has become more important to have the freedom and power to acquire the goods that one wants in service of projecting an independent image and lifestyle. Contemporary marketers and advertisers are more than aware of the trends conflating women’s independence and consumerism and capitalize on it.

This renewed interest in marketing to women coincides with the rise of discourses that links women’s independence to consumption or the ability and freedom to consume.

An example of this is the De Beers campaign for the ‘right hand ring’ that ran nationwide in 2004. The ‘right hand ring’ was initiated as an ad campaign by De Beers to encourage women (with means) to purchase diamond rings for themselves, as opposed to, or in addition to the standard tradition of men gifting diamonds to women (for purposes of engagement or otherwise). The campaign deployed slogans of empowerment, stating, “Women of the world, raise your right hand!” Other ads that ran for this campaign stated, “Your left hand says ‘we.’ Your right hand says ‘me.’ Your left hand rocks the cradle. Your right hand rules the world,” and, “Your left hand is your heart. Your right hand is your voice”.

Another example is the change in the advertisements of beauty and clothing brands. Earlier, before the upsurge of feminism in mainstream, beauty brands often banked on women’s insecurities and feelings of inadequacies. Your skin is too dark? Lighten it with fairness cream. Your face has too much acne? Get rid of it with an acne removal cream. You feel you’re too fat? Don’t worry there’s vanity sizing. Too much hair? You ‘need’ waxing. And in turn such insecurities have, throughout history, been institutionalized, instilled, and cemented in women by such beauty products. Many of these brands based their product advertising solely on the grounds that a woman ‘needs’ these products to be the best she can. The idea behind these beauty products being projected as ‘need’ based rather than ‘want’ based products is that such materialistic goods can act as supplements for intrinsic confidence. This has become a vicious cycle. The more women use these products, the more they feel they need them.

This cycle needs to be broken. In lieu of this, in 2006, Dove launched their ‘Real Beauty’ campaign, which was an unconventionally fresh look for an ad campaign, unlike any before it. Instead of showcasing photo shopped, airbrushed models, the ad highlighted the beauty of imperfection by hiring ordinary women. In a positive response to this ad campaign, Dove’s revenues for this year were one of the highest to have been made by any cosmetic company in history.

A problem with linking consumerism with feminist ideologies is that it can sometimes be too presumptuous in assuming that having the ability to spend means independence. It does not. Even dependent women form a large part of the demand for these goods. Another problem is the moral implication. The idea of ‘womanhood’ shouldn’t have to be sold. And yet another is that autonomy cannot be equated with independence. Blind consumerism is not the answer to breaking patriarchal norms. We need to realise that no one is perfect. Women are not perfect, and that is alright. Nobody can be perfect. Nothing can replace inner confidence, intelligence and an inherent sense of comfort with oneself. Telling someone ‘not feel insecure’ sounds condescending at best. The effort should be towards accepting oneself for what they are; insecurities, warts, and all.

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You are only happy if you are free

In a book I am reading right now, called “The Psychology of Money” by Morgan Housel, there is a chapter on ‘Freedom’. In that, the author declares that the highest form of wealth is the ability to wake up and say, “I can do whatever I want today”. It is the privilege of having control over your time, in deciding how you spend your time. Simply put, the thing that makes us happiest (once our basic needs have been met) is freedom over our time.

Agnus Campbell, a psychologist at the University of Michigan wrote a book called ‘The Sense of Wellbeing in America’. The goal was to find out what makes people tick, what makes them happy. His conclusion in the book is that the thing that makes us happier than almost anything else is our ability to have control over our time, and by extension, how we structure and spend our lives. He states that, across all geographies, ages and socio-economic strata, “having a strong sense of controlling one’s life is a more dependable predictor of positive feelings of wellbeing than any of the objective conditions of life we have considered.”

By all accounts, we earn money so we can be happy. But there is little direct correlation between money itself and happiness. It is the ability of money to give us freedom and control over our lives that makes money valuable – or at least, it should. Happiness does not directly come from the money we earn. It comes from the freedom money affords us. This is why we keep coming across so many studies on how money, beyond a certain level, has no impact on our happiness or well-being. You need a certain amount to be comfortable, and beyond that, earning money for the sake of money seems to bring people more misery than happiness (of course, there might be people who are happy just earning money for the sake of it, I’m not talking about them, if at all they exist).

Now if the ability to have free time and control over our time is what makes us happier than anything else, it comes as no surprise to me that my job (as a corporate lawyer), and really, a ton of other such high-paying, high-prestige jobs, didn’t bring me any happiness. On the contrary, like me, most people in these jobs seem positively sad. I know I was. In the corporate world, there is an underlying assumption on the part of the employers that since their employees are being paid ‘top-dollar’, the employees have signed away their control over their time and lives to their bosses or clients or both. The sense of entitlement over their employees’ time in the corporate world is staggering. I have been through it, and I can attest to it. It is assumed that you are not going to have any more time that is truly your own once you are in the workforce. You are made to feel almost guilty for taking time off. Free time is blasphemy, and if you ask for it, you’re constantly reminded of how well you are being paid and how you have no cause for complaint (with an undertone of how easily replaceable you are).

Housel sums up this feeling I have had for the duration of my entire career quite well. He talks about his time spent interning as an investment banker. He writes, “on my first day I realised why investment bankers made a lot of money. They work longer and more controlled hours than I knew humans could handle. Actually, most can’t handle it. Going home before midnight was considered a luxury, and there was a saying in the office, “If you don’t come to work on Saturday, don’t bother coming back on Sunday.” The job was intellectually stimulating, paid well, and made me feel important. But every waking second of my time became a slave to my boss’s demands, which was enough to turn it into one of the most miserable experiences of my life. It was a four-month internship. I lasted a month.”

I relate to the things he says so much. Nowhere is the idea of the boss / company controlling
“every second” of our time truer than in the legal world. One of the first things I remember being told in my orientation week when I had just joined my job as a fresher was the number of hours, we need to bill every year as a minimum. Anything below that in your ‘timesheet’ (an ominous little thing us lawyers use to keep track of how much time we have spent doing specific things for our clients) and you’d have to take a pay cut of 20% (I think) from your monthly salary. The number of hours we had to bill on a yearly basis, again as a minimum, was 2200. At the time, I didn’t think too much of this. My math is weak anyway, so I had no idea what this meant in real terms. But as work progressed, the ridiculousness of this number started becoming apparent. There was no way I could keep up with this and be happy. If this was the minimum, I would probably have to do a lot more than this to ‘excel’ in my career and make the partners notice me. Right? Right. But I knew right from the very beginning, that this was something I could not keep up with. I mean, I probably can (and I did quite well in my job), but I would have to kill parts of my soul to be ok with that existence. Happiness was out of the question, with hours like these, and control over them this exacting.

Yale has published a very famous paper which calculates exactly how many hours you would have to put in to achieve the minimum number of billable hours. Accounting for lunch breaks, coffee breaks, holidays, and commute (the number taken in the paper is very conservative, and I know, as I am sure all of you know, that these numbers are not representative of what a real day in the workplace looks like) and assuming you work 47 weeks in a year, you would have to be present at work for about 3058 hours a year to be able to bill 2201 hours. To give you context, there are a total of 8760 hours in a year, and about 7896 hours in 47 weeks. Out of these 7896 hours, you will have to spend about half at work to achieve the minimum number of billable required. The minimum. We are talking about essentially half of all your waking hours being spent at work. I don’t know if this sounds bad enough to the rest of you, but to me that was a lot more than I was willing to give.

Let us take a step back. What we have discussed till now is the minimum you have to achieve in a single year if you don’t want to take a pay cut. The actual numbers put in are far, far greater. And the amount of time spent at work is also far, far more. You will, as any normal person does, also take sick leaves (perhaps more than the average person if you are working such a high stress job with such insane hours) and more holidays if you can (not to say that they leave you alone on holidays, they never do). It isn’t a stretch to say that we spend all our natural waking hours on work, and then some (hours we should be sleeping). If this isn’t an unsustainable little pot for acute misery, I don’t know what is.

And the thing is, the work itself wasn’t so bad for me. I liked the work I did. I thought I was good at it, and I loved putting in the work to produce something I was proud of. I enjoyed being a person in the team that other people could rely on. My team was perhaps the nicest team in our entire office, and my boss, one of the best people I have met. He would, whenever he could, make sure we were given time off, weren’t overworking ourselves too much. And for every hour of work, we put in, he would put in at least twice that amount. But it was still miserable to be at work constantly. Housel talks about this too. He says, “The hardest thing about this was that I loved the work. And I wanted to work hard. But doing something you love on a schedule you can’t control can feel the same as doing something you hate.”

There is a word in psychology for this feeling. It is called ‘reactance’.  Reactance is defined as “an unpleasant motivational arousal (reaction) to offers, persons, rules, or regulations that threaten or eliminate specific behavioural freedoms. Reactance occurs when a person feels that someone or something is taking away their choices or limiting the range of alternatives.” And this ‘reactance’ is exactly what makes the entire experience of being in the workforce so unpleasant for so many of us. I am convinced that a lot more of us would stick onto our jobs if we could just have some time to ourselves.

I know our generation (the millennials that is) get a lot of flak for not being able to keep a job down. Our parents and grandparents never had an issue with working. Many times, the older generations can’t understand why we get so anxious and unhappy in our jobs. That is because they had a privilege many of us don’t have. The ability to disconnect from the workplace. Housel talks about how the nature of labour has changed. Earlier, the kind of work people did was mostly manual. They went into a workplace, did the work physically, with their hands, and came back. No one could work at home even if they wanted to – because of the kind of work they did. So, naturally, once they were out of office, they did not need to think about work till the next day. For us, most of our work is mental. Predominantly, as a generation, we work in the service sector (I think they call it the tertiary sector in economics terms). We are required to think about the work we do, and work products more often than not, are the result of intellectual or mental labour. We don’t work in factories or in the farms. We work inside our heads – thinking of marketing strategies, financing arrangements, legal outcomes, product efficiency and what not. Because the work happens mostly inside our heads, there is no option of ‘switching off from work’. Add to that the fact that we need to be constantly available to others in our lines of work (at least I know I had to be). Put in context, it isn’t that difficult to see the differences in the kind of work we do, and why our generation is unhappier with their work-life on the whole.

Derek Thompson, writing for The Atlantic states, “If the operating equipment of the 21st century is a portable device, this means the modern factory is not a place at all. It is the day itself. The computer age has liberated the tools of productivity from the office. Most knowledge workers, whose laptops and smartphones are portable all-purpose media making machines can theoretically be as productive at 2 pm in the main office as 2 am in the Tokyo WeWork or at midnight on the couch.”

And make no mistake, they will trouble you even at midnight, even on your couch, or wherever else they can.

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Starting something new

Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

I’m stuck. I can’t decide. Apparently, the best time to start something is now. That is at least, how the saying goes. The one about planting trees. The best time to plant a tree was ten years ago, and the second best time is now. On the other hand, this is probably the worst time for me personally to be starting something new. I have a couple of things on my plate right now. I also know that the excitement of starting something new will make me forget about all the things I already have lined up. My biggest fear is that I will keep starting new projects without finishing the earlier ones. Apparently, this is a thing in psychology too. Where you are likely to give up on something as soon as you think you have attained some level of mastery over it, or at the very least, understood the basics. On the other hand though, I don’t want to use the things I am already working on as an excuse to not start because I am too scared to do it.

Like with this blog. My biggest fear when starting this blog was that I would sound stupid. Talking about all these things that must be happening to other people, who are probably smarter and better equipped to talk about them. I was nervous beyond measure before I started publishing. I had to push myself to make this website. One of the things that helped me was paying for the domain name for an entire year upfront. I figured, I’m not going to do anything with my time till I bully myself into it. I can either get on with it, or sit on it. I decided on the former. Then there was the whole thing of learning how to navigate this site. The site is still pretty basic, but even to get to this point was a struggle. I debated paying someone to do it for a long time. I see a lot of blog pages that look so polished. I wanted one of those. But I had to stop myself. The purpose (as I often need to remind myself) is to get out of my comfort zone and learn something new. So, I did. But again, I did have to bully myself to learn this. Every time I set out to learn something new, I get frustrated when I can’t master it in the first try. Illogical as that may sound, it is the truth. Pushing past all that, I landed on a bare bones (but I hope decent) site for myself. Now, what to write? Do I have anything to contribute? Am I an expert in anything? Do I even write well? No, no and no. Agonising over my first post was probably the most uncomfortable part of my blogging experience.

In the end, I realised two things. It is no use pretending. Since I’m not an expert at anything, I decided to just write about whatever I want, however I want, without worrying about how other people might receive it. I hope everyone who reads my blog resonates with some of the things I have to say, but if not, then I am going to keep writing for myself. The only thing that matters, to my mind, is that I write with discipline and consistency. I am determined to earn the privilege of having people listen to what I say, but more than that, I am determined to read more, be better informed, become a better writer, and to write everyday.

The second thing I realised was that once you get over the fear of publishing your first post, you realise, it really wasn’t that big of a deal. No one waits around with bated breath to see every thing you do and to laugh at all your mistakes. Honestly, no one is bothered. The only person who spends all their time thinking about you is you. Everyone else is just trying to get on with their lives. So, instead of living a half life for the imaginary audience in your head, go ahead and do whatever you want to do.

This brings me to the thing I want to start next. YouTube. I’ve wanted to do this for a while now. I don’t really want to do it for any reason other than because I love making videos. But again, every single insecurity and discomfort I had when starting a blog is coming back to me magnified. I just need to remember that no one cares, so I might as well live a full and enjoyable life. Untalented as I may be, I remain entirely determined to go after what I want.

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On lethargy and apathy

Does anyone else feel like they don’t want to do anything? That they don’t want to put effort into anything or go anywhere? I get this feeling a lot. It could be because I am at a crossroads in life. I took a voluntary break from employment to try and figure out what I want to do with my life. I didn’t want to live my life on auto pilot, following the same routine into old age. I read a bunch of articles on how I should take charge of my life, and then went ahead and quit my job. But ever since I have quit, I don’t know what I want to do next. No wait, that isn’t an accurate representation of my mindset right now. I don’t feel like committing to anything. The dichotomy is exhausting. On the one hand, I am convinced that if I try my hand at anything, and put my back into it, I will achieve it. Will and determination will get me wherever I want to go. On the other hand, I am too scared to pick a side and commit to it. Paralyzed by fear into inaction.

There are a ton of projects I have been meaning to start for some time now, but I just can’t seem to get out of this rut of inactivity. I read a lot about other people online living through similar experiences. In some ways, this gives credence to what I am feeling. In other ways, it makes me feel worse. There must be some way of breaking out of this vicious cycle, surely. And if so many of us are going through it, there must be something to it.

For the last four months or so, I have fantasized about starting my own YouTube channel. Not because I think I am especially talented or because I have something original to say. Though arguably, since there is only one of me, everything I say should be original. Jokes aside though, I’ve spent considerable energy thinking about how I will start a channel and what I will talk about. At first, I thought maybe I should have a reaction / commentary channel. I watch a lot of shows and read a lot of books. I am always online. Surely, I can just expend some effort and talk about the things I consume. Then I thought of making it a bit more structured. What if, instead of reacting to the same old videos (you know the ones I mean, the Big Ed getting engaged to Rose variety), I could probably take some time and make the videos more educational. Talk about the things I really care about, and not just things I find amusing or revolting. So, maybe a channel to talk about sustainable fashion, or the fact that we are depleting our oceans, or maybe even human trafficking. I have a legal background and solid research skills. If I learnt how to edit videos properly, this could be a real thing. The latest idea I have had for my channel is just to make it into an informal vlogging / talking into the camera about whatever I want kind of channel. Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that whenever I come up with an idea on how to pass my time, or on how to be more productive, I also come up with a host of excuses on how and why I can’t do that thing right now. Or why it might be better to delay it. So, in the end, I’m left with a lot of untested ideas, a host of excuses, and tangible frustration at not having moved from square 1 at all.

That is on lethargy. Accompanying my greatest nemesis is her younger sister apathy. So, what if I don’t commit to anything? What if I don’t figure out any of the things I had to figure out on my break from employment. What is the worst thing that could happen? I go back to a job I don’t enjoy and live out a life I don’t actively participate in? I recognise that this isn’t the healthiest mindset to have. I know that logically. That, however, does not mean this isn’t how I think from time to time. It is like I am always oscillating between caring too much but being afraid to act on anything I want, and not caring at all and then not having the pressure to either want anything or act on it.

I feel a little bit like an out of sorts character from a depressing Murakami book. Like the librarian who doesn’t do much but sit behind a desk and stay silent. You don’t really know what she thinks of you just see the inaction. Because that is exactly what both lethargy and apathy will get you, even if they don’t come together to the ball.