Starting Over

Discovering myself, my family and friends in a foreign land, second time around


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Five things I learnt from NaBloPoMo

memo-383982_640I don’t read posts that have a title like this one. A list of things to do, a finite number, usually less than ten, of lessons learnt, practical tips and guiding principles. Life is too complicated and extremely subjective to be condensed neatly into a “one list fits all”. Most of the time, one list doesn’t even fit one life. I have made and torn up several lists in my lifetime. Revisions to previous lists have been incremental at times and subsequent lists have held radically different if not totally opposite views.

Given this background, I have decided to take the plunge and summarize my experience from this month of intense blogging. I begin with the disclaimer that the views expressed below are my own and are true as of this writing. I reserve the right to change my mind in the following days, months and years, including any subsequent attempts at daily blogging marathons. It is entirely possible that I may learn different lessons the next time I attempt something like this and highly likely that these lessons will be promptly forgotten.

So here goes:

  1. Quantity and quality are not inversely related: Writing everyday didn’t mean I wrote badly, considering the amount of writing involved. Since I did write everyday, the improved efficiency should have but didn’t greatly improve the quality either.
  2. Look more find more: Waiting for inspiration – I didn’t have the luxury for that. So I lowered the bar and found out quite surprisingly that inspiration is easily found. All I need to do is look.
  3. Discipline and forgiveness: Are essential. The discipline to write everyday required effort. But the willingness to forgive myself required greater effort. I knew I had to write. I wanted to write brilliantly. I had to pick one.
  4. Response and responsibility: Getting a response from readers was great. Getting caught up in stats was not. I loved receiving comments and counting new followers. But my primary responsibility was to write. Sometimes I forgot.
  5. Write or do something worth writing about: I think some famous person said this. I agree. But so much of what I do does not provide fodder for writing. How do I change that? I still don’t have an answer.

Hemingway said – There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

And that is the truth.


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A birthday wish

gift-444520_640I have always wondered what is at the heart of motherhood, this state of being, this title that I hold. What is my purpose? What is my responsibility to my children?

It is more than providing food and shelter. It is deeper than laying a strong foundation. It is greater than nurturing even. As the years go by and I see the inevitable march of time that distances me from my children, I realize that my job as mother is to give them all that they need to form their own core – a sense of self that is solid and reliable, loyal and loving. In short, my job is to help them build their inner strength. To foster self-confidence that breeds resolve. To help shape human beings who can handle all that life brings with equanimity.

Today Princess turns 12. More than the cake, gifts and birthday parties, my wish for her is best summarized in the words of one of my favorite authors, Anna Quindlen.

“Someday, sometime, you will be sitting somewhere. A berm overlooking a pond in Vermont. The lip of the Grand Canyon at sunset. A seat on the subway. And something bad will have happened: You will have lost someone you loved, or failed at something at which you badly wanted to succeed. And sitting there, you will fall into the center of yourself. You will look for some core to sustain you. And if you have been perfect all your life and have managed to meet all the expectations of your family, your friends, your community, your society, chances are excellent that there will be a black hole where that core ought to be. I don’t want anyone I know to take that terrible chance. And the only way to avoid it is to listen to that small voice inside you that tells you to make mischief, to have fun, to be contrarian, to go another way. George Eliot wrote, ‘It is never too late to be what you might have been.’ It is never too early, either.”


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Celebrating dance

flamenco

The chairs are arranged along three sides of a square, in a typical courtyard of a house in the Barrio de Santa Cruz. The entrance is deceptive but soon you find yourself seated in a functional foldable chair, looking at a 12 feet X 12 feet wooden stage set firmly in the middle of the courtyard. The fourth side of the square has 3 chairs facing the stage, placed about a foot apart, with a small table with a pitcher of water. The wall behind these is covered with a creeper that has seen many seasons and innunerable performances of the traditional flamenco dance that were are waiting to see. A woman dressed in black comes in with a young bearded man carrying a guitar. Without much ado, she starts singing, a soulful tune, foreign sounding words, maintaining the beat with claps. The male flamenco dancer enters at some point, tapping his feet, using his hands and his body to convey the power of his passion as he dances to the music. At times, the woman is singing in the background, sounding very far away, though she is right behind him. The guitar provides both the melody and the percussion at other times, again seeming to be an unnecessary accompaniment to the force of the performance by the dancer. But there are times when there is no sound other than the tapping of the black-soled shoes on the wooden stage in a still night in this courtyard where the audience holds its breath as it watches him perform. The dance is memorable not because the dancer is able to perform intricate fast-paced footwork impeccably but for his ability to overwhelm and overturn the other artists and relegate them to the background as his joy for the art form spills out and takes over the entire audience.

The guitarist then performs alone, slowing down the tempo and bestowing a sense of calm after the explosive performance of the dancer. The melody and talent of the guitarist appeals in the way that instrumental music tends to do, connect at a higher level by making you listen to something beyond mere words that our ears strive to hear most often.

The beautiful senorita in a figure-hugging red dress, with her hair tied tightly appears. She takes up a striking pose and begins her dance. It is a high energy performance – she moves likes a tightly wound spring, exuding strength, passion and grace with the tapping of her feet and the movement of her hands and body across the tiny stage. Her dress moves likes waves of water around her, fluidly crisscrossing her swaying and tapping form. She seems angry almost, giving off vibrations of extreme emotions as she concludes her performance. Once again, the song and the guitar take a back seat as the dance takes over. Before we know it, there is a crescendo and the performance is done. The audience claps as the artists come in to take a bow, and a second one as the applause continues. And then there is silence as we step out into the narrow bustling lanes of the Santa Cruz quarter on a Saturday evening. The night is young, and so is everyone seated at the bars sipping sangria while waiters handout trays of tapas. The tourists take a look at the lit up cathedral in the night, the bells of the Giralda look down on the square benevolently. And I feel immersed in the history and spirit of Andalusia as I go to bed.


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About books

What-Now-3dI have always been amazed by commencement speeches made by famous people at colleges all across America. Amazed because they are personal and inspirational, but also because they are crafted so well. Many cover similar themes. Most sound unique. The best ones are by writers I admire.

How wonderful to live the life of a writer, utterly convinced from a young age that the purpose of your life is to write. When words arise from a deep sense of commitment to a goal, they have depth and provide insight. Writers use words to give shape to their thoughts and the writing life gives meaning to their words. Words then, are not just what they use to make a living, but make a life.

In “What now” the speech by Ann Patchett at Sarah Lawrence college, there are several themes that resonate with me.

About life:

Just because things hadn’t gone the way I had planned didn’t necessarily mean they had gone wrong.”

About the past and present:

Coming back is the thing that enables you to see how all the dots in your life are connected, how one decision leads you another, how one twist of fate, good or bad, brings you to a door that later takes you to another door, which aided by several detours–long hallways and unforeseen stairwells–eventually puts you in the place you are now.”

About the future and how we can always dream of doing more, doing better:

“What now is not just a panic-stricken question tossed into a dark unknown. What now can also be our joy. It is a declaration of possibility, of promise, of chance. It acknowledges that our future is open, that we may well do more than anyone expected of us, that at every point in our development we are still striving to grow.”

One statement that Ann has made about writing that reassures me as an amateur writer is

“Only a few of us are going to be willing to break our own hearts by trading in the living beauty of imagination for the stark disappointment of words.

Such is the life of a true writer.

http://annpatchett.com


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I prefer vision

woman-531212_640I am at an age where I have to admit that sometimes reading fine print becomes difficult. Let me be honest, reading regular print is a challenge these days. When presented with a large print edition of a book, I happily take that one. After all, for a voracious book worm like me, the ultimate punishment is to stay away from my beloved books

Call it vanity, arrogance or plain stupidity but I am reluctant to get reading glasses. I still read a lot more than most people I know but I am reading less than what I used to. Some days are better than others and so I carry on, refusing to bite the bullet and buy those dreaded glasses that would alleviate my discomfort.  It is possible that there will be a day when I have to capitulate but I would like to delay it as long as I can. I have managed for the last three years thanks to daily eye exercises that are supposed to strengthen the eye muscles and reverse the aging process. Doing this makes me feel a little bit in control, fully aware that nature marches in only one direction – forward.

Growing older has its rewards. Perhaps with failing eyesight, there is compensation in the form of vision. We often use the words interchangeably, equating the action of a sense organ to the ability to look deeper, further into an unknown future, seeing it happen before others can. Is it age that makes this possible? Or experience? Or self-knowledge which then translates into wisdom? Vision is not the power to predict the future but sensing of what is ahead in the maze of life without having a map. It is an internal compass that guides but does not give a recipe. Vision is what builds value in the long term regardless of losses that may happen in the interim. Vision does not necessarily come with age, some are blessed at a young age. As I lament the decline of my eyesight, I yearn for vision. If the natural consequence of growing older is acquisition of vision, I happily accept the terms of aging.

In the words of Helen Keller “It is a terrible thing to see but have no vision.”


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What a writer needs

textures-mixed-inks-flowing-water-abstract-free-stock-photoIn a compilation of thoughts by writers on the topic of “Why we write” Walter Mosley said the reason writers write is for “ the mysterious heart – Readers no longer need novelists to tell us what its like to cross the world on a ship or fight a war. In the twenty-first century, we get that information in other ways. The thing that’s still a mystery to us is the human heart. What we want is to understand people, what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it.”

But writing has few moments that seem like rewards and many more that cause anxiety if not heartbreak. On days like these, I choose to dwell on Elizabeth Gilbert’s words that “The more important virtue for a writer, I believe, is self-forgiveness.”

In a spirit of self-forgiveness, here are my thoughts for today

“What a writer needs”

A present for context and a past for perspective

A family for support and for material

Books to read and something to write on

Time to think and space to create

Friends to encourage and critics to challenge

An interesting life and an enquiring mind

An ear for stories and a strong voice

A love for language and a reason to write