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.

How not to die alone

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

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.

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.

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.

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.

Scattered criticism

You know how I keep going on about how invasive social media is and how I much happier I think I would be if I ever manage to get off it (still haven’t done that though)? I finished my book (This Side of Paradise) last night, and I just wanted to share something I read in it – which makes it seem like this is an age old problem. You know what they say, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Excerpt –

We want to believe. Young students try to believe in older authors, constituents try to believe in their Congressmen, countries try to believe in their statesmen, but they can’t. Too many voices, too much scattered, illogical, ill-considered criticism. It’s worse in the case of newspapers. Any rich, unprogressive old part with that particularly grasping, acquisitive form of mentality known as financial genius can own a paper that is the intellectual meat and drink of thousands of tired, hurried men, men too involved in the business of modern living to swallow anything but pre-digested food. For two cents the voter buys his politics, prejudices and philosophy. A year later there is a new political ring or a change in the paper’s ownership, consequence: more confusion, more contradiction, a sudden inrush of new ideas, their tempering, their distillation, and the reaction against them.

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?

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.

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.

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.