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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Snake oil salesmen

Link

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.

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.