Packing up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romanticise your life

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

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

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

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

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

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

House Plants

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

Scented candles

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

Bookshelves

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

Coffee

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

Fitzgerald in a bookstore

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

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

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

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

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

Other books I bought –

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

The Butterfly Man

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

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

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

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