Normal again

Some of you may have noticed a suspicious silence the past few months.  My apologies.  I got a little broken.  Maybe you know the feeling?  The times when you feel like you’re living in a wat of honey?  Something slow-moving and unbreathable at any rate.

For the most part it has meant that I’ve been disinclined to talk.  Or write, or make or print or bake.  Do any of those things that would mark me out as being alive.  So I haven’t been still, I just haven’t been here.  Turns out Sartre (and a whole other bunch of more depressing existentialists) had it to rights, being in-itself is well nigh impossible for people.  So this is to say: I’m sorry I disappeared, I am here now, I will catch myself (and you) up and I am project.

Normal is fragile (and if you recognise the reference, delusional) and much helped by the presence of friends.  Thank you, and much love.

Also, how much do I love this song?

Me voy a Buenos Aires

Mafalda sitting on a chair comforting a feverish and bandaged up globe placed by her side.

Were you aware that there is such a thing as a Tango conference? Up until recently, neither was I. Seven days straight of workshops and evenings with milongas. So of course, I booked me a ticket far enough in advance and got organised. I’d more or less relegated that to the class of things that are making me happy even though they are far, far away. People would say, “Well now, aren’t you excited?” and I’d say “yes” and think but it’s a while away still. And I’d got so used to doing that that it wasn’t until last week that I really realised that I’m going. And soon!

I have never been to Buenos Aires and you know, my ignorance is wide-reaching and fathomless and the only thing that I know I have to see is the house of Quino (and the statue of Mafalda). For those of your who don’t know who they are – Quino is Joaquín Salvador Lavado – an argentine cartoonist – and parent to Mafalda – the protagonist of a comic strip he created. In my head, Mafalda is in Spanish what Calvin and Hobbes are in English. It was the first comic strip I read in spanish. And I think it would be fair to say that it was the comic strip that made me want to learn more spanish. Reading (and understanding) One Hundred Years of Solitude (by Gabriel García Márquez) was what started me down this path of learning the language. Mafalda was what made the getting there seem both worthwhile and achievable. My spanish is still not good enough to read the comic strip without a dictionary at my side… so I have a ways to go, but it’s fun getting there!

Some of my favourite strips include Libertad. Libertad is the most radical and overtly political of the characters in Mafalda’s universe. And she is also the tiniest, (freedom being this little ball of hopeful cynicism is kind of a running gag) and totally awesome! And the strip below is perhaps my absolute favourite with her in it. There are others that are more political and what not, but this one is genius.

[Image description and translation: Single panel four-window comic strip with Libertad and her Dad. Dad indicates the potted plants in the corner as he kneels on the floor and asks Libertad if she likes them. Libertad responds “In pots no, I like plants to be in the ground proper”. Dad, “Yes, of course, but that is impossible. I live in an apartment”. Libertad, “You asked me if I liked the plants, not if I liked your life.” The end!]

And then of course there the one where Mafalda asks that the world stop spinning because she’d like to get off! I feel like that a lot. At any event, I get to take a bit of a break and step off the merry-go-round for a bit – a tango conference in Buenos Aires isn’t a usual stop, but one that I’m quite looking forward to!

All the pretty flowers

I spend a great deal of my time in pain.  Not earth-shattering pain that makes functioning impossible, just the normal kind that makes functioning difficult.  This a caused by congenitally odd bone structure that has lead to a couple of surgeries and spirals of rehabilitation.  For the most part my pain is invisible, partially because the wrist is far from the most important part of my body and partially because living with my wrist means that I am an expert on how to compensate for (or protect) it.  This is helped greatly by the fact that even though my wrist continually* causes me pain, it doesn’t (usually) restrict my range of motion.  Nor is the pain I experience continuous or constant.

When I do certain movements or carry weight, my wrist inevitably hurts.  When I do other movements often enough and over a sustained period, this inevitability is maintained.  This means that I can change/manage the levels of pain I experience by changing the activities I engage in.  And of course, this means that what I do becomes a subject open for discussion.  There are some things I need to do on a day to day basis that make pain unavoidable… these include brushing my teeth, dressing, putting clothes out to dry, washing dishes, writing reports and the like.  There are others that are discretionary, like crocheting pretty things (or writing a blog).

I wish I were better at navigating my relationships with people whose presence makes my life more manageable.  At my last flat, I didn’t do dishes – I cooked an extra night instead.  My family assumes that I’ll not be lifting and carrying anything heavy and that on some days I won’t be lifting anything heavier than a fork with food on it.  I am grateful for the help I get and I don’t know what to do with the guilt I feel when I want to spend the day making a scarf that I know will make my wrist hurt when I could be resting and helping clear away the dinner table.  I compromise.  I don’t crochet for three hours the day before we have guests over.  And when we have unexpected guests I take painkillers and lift things.

Guilt is not often a useful response in me.  So I tend to channel that into learning how to crochet flowers and making things for the people who make my life better.  This strikes me as a somewhat hilarious option in that it maintains my overall levels of pain while increasing my moment to moment level of joyfulness!

 

*as distinct from an unbroken continuum, it has a the nature of repetition with pauses.

Good madness

I am the kind of person who when she finds an author she likes, obsessively reads every piece of writing they put their name to.  Or at least every piece of writing that I have discovered that they have put their name to.  I am also the kind of person who pays very little attention to the turn of the Gregorian calendar but genuinely wishes that the change in year brings whatever people are hoping for closer to them.  So in the words of Neil Gaiman: “May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”

Books are a constant surprise.  I astonish myself by what I read and what I don’t and what surprises me when I’m not looking.  So I’ve decided to make a list of books that I want to read this year.  These are a combination of what smart people I know have suggested and what I’ve decided for myself.  Some of them I’m going to have to buy, most of them I’m hoping to borrow.  Either from a library or from you!  More about that later, but for now – the list (so far).

  1. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
  2. Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
  3. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
  4. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
  5. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
  6. The Shattering by Karen Healey Thank you Karen!
  7. The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels Thanks Chally!
  8. Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
  9. Peace, Power, Righteousness: An Indigenous Manifesto by Alfred Taiaike
  10. Colonising Myths – Maori Realities: He Rukuruku Whakaaro by Ani Mikaere
  11. Your Average Nigga: performing race, literacy, and masculinity by Ashanti Vershawn Young
  12. The Time-traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
  13. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins Thank you library.
  14. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  15. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  16. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
  17. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
  18. Vida by Marge Piercy
  19. Woman At The Edge Of Time by Marge Piercy Thanks Chally!
  20. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margret Atwood
  21. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
  22. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai Thanks Ma!
  23. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini Also Ma!
  24. The Days That Run Away Like Wild Horses Over Hills by Charles Bukowski
  25. The Revolution Starts At Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities by Ching-in Chen Yay internet shopping!
  26. Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation by Kate Bornstein
  27. The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould
  28. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever By James Tiptree Jr. Thanks Chally!
  29. Houston, Houston, Do You Read? by James Tiptree Jr.
  30. Koiwi, Koiwi by Hinemoana Baker
  31. Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
  32. The Kindly Ones by Neil Gaiman Yay internet shopping!
  33. Brief Lives by Neil Gaiman Yay internet shopping!
  34. Poet in New York by Frederico Garcia Lorca
  35. The Collected Poems Vol. I by William Carlos Williams
  36. * Chemistry by Damien Wilkins Thank you Opshop.
  37. * Conquest: sexual violence and american indian genocide by Andrea Smith
  38. * Arab and Arab American Feminisms: Gender, Violence and Belonging (Gender, Culture and Politics In The Middle East) edited by Rabab Abdulhadi, Evelyn Alsultany, & Nadine Naber.

So stands the list of books that I know as of today that I want to read within the coming year.  I have cheated and put ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ on there even though I have already started reading it.  I do this when I write a list, it makes it less daunting because I know that at least one thing is going to get ticked off reasonably quickly.  Yes, I am a strange person.  I have also pared this list down to mean that here sit only the books that I want to read within the year, not books that I need to read at some point.  This I have done by a combination of taking an emotional forecast of the year and the book and matching them to fit.  How comfortably, the year will tell.  I have also left space on this list for fifteen books that other people suggest to me so that I can read things that people think I would enjoy.  So if you have suggestions, be pleased to share them here and I shall put them on the list.

I am probably going to be able to find at least some of these books in lending libraries.  But some I will need to buy… so here is my suggestion… if you feel you can spare any of them and have them, send them to me!  I shall read them and return them in the condition received and you can have a choice of a) a zine, crafty item or food that I make; b) a book on my shelf that you’d like to read; or c) something else entirely that you wish for or need that is in my power to give.  This would be a good place to mention that all my life I have depended on the kindness of (those who started out as) strangers.  Bonus crafty present if you recognise the reference!

I like books, swaps and book swaps.  Also presents.

Key:

blah (who’s giving me this book, usually with thanks!) blah  (book read and reviewed with link to review) *blah (book added to the original list post conversations).

In which our heroine breaks with something

I accumulate stuff.  Stuff physical, social, psychological and metaphysical.  And every so often I have to re-evaluate all the stuff I’ve accumulated and decide what to keep and what to throw away.  Sometimes the decisions are small and get made each day or several times a day, sometimes the decisions are brought up by circumstances or events that demand them, and sometimes I just clear out enough time so that I can make some space in my head.  This is one of those times.

The most important days in the year for me fall somewhere between July and October.  And there are rituals and traditions associated with those and other days that I observe each year.  Some have fallen away with time and distance (e.g., I thankfully no longer have to carry on my tradition of locking myself into my house with my mother on holi since we no longer live in India) and we’ve made up some new ones to the their place (e.g., boxing day sales have become the day each year that we buy things on sale that have been on a list all year).  And this year I am going to be breaking one of my newest and jealously guarded of these rituals.

A few years ago I found a sister.  Every year since, she has made me a feast on christmas day and we have spent a significant part of that day together.  I even managed to weave her into my family boxing day tradition, I guess as she has woven me into hers.  This will mark the first year that I have not spent with her.  Bad, bad, bad.  So that falls under the category of stuff that is going to have to change while staying a little bit the same.

This year I was finished with many years of study; lived in a country where I had to learn the language before I could speak; watched a relationship that was so close to the centre of my life as to be almost at it, end; spent time exploring new dance styles; and had a grown up job.  No wonder there are cobwebs that need clearing.  And time for another Five Year Plan.  Believe me, that isn’t as Stalinist as it sounds!  It’s just a series of maps of possible lives I could lead that help me figure out which parts of which ones I want or need the most.  And it means I get to have a lot of fun with bright felt pens and large sheets of paper.  What is accomplishes apart form making me happy (my life today bears very few points of resemblance to any of my cumulative five year plans from five years ago) I am not sure of, but then perhaps making me happy is sufficient purpose?

Wilco or not.

Last week I missed my deadline and failed to publish a post. This was in part because my life took a turn for the frenetic and in other part because my life took a turn for the morose. The kind of week where asking me how I’m doing, or how my day was, was a social minefield. An emotional minefield for me because I have a split second to decide if I’m going to speak, cry or run away and hide; or pretend to be someone to whom that question is a simple one to answer.  My current best response (I tried it out on a Potential New Friend) to being asked how I’m doing is to say: would you like polite fiction, creative fiction, an aspect of the truth or outright lies? In the case in point my companion took the oh-so-subtle-hint that perhaps this wasn’t the question they wanted to lead with and saying so turned to a different subject.

I grew up in the military.  So I’m quite familiar with ridiculously codified and specific means of communication.  When my family is out of town I’m required to send them a daily sitrep normal message.  We have SOPs for organising chores (and most of the rest of our collective lives) and quite a few EVAC procedures.  When I’m asked for a quick response in the affirmative I will often say wilco (and wonder later why I didn’t just say ‘okay’).  The point is, that I’m okay with specific and general codified conversations.  And for the most part this is what most of everyday polite conversation is: a fixed series of call and response codes.  What makes it interesting to me is that most people don’t like to think of them as such.  Any suggestion that they don’t actually care to hear the answer to their question usually results in either blank incomprehension or defensive consternation.  I have to work hard at understanding this.  And cultural and class differences in the worlds I inhabit do not make it an easy task.  Just when I think I have mastered the rules of one context, I am confronted with a variation that I then need to figure out the magnitude of.

Coping with polite conversation has become just another exercise in how to be inoffensively disingenuous.  Which just keeps taking me closer to my when-in-doubt-lie theorem of social interaction.  Which is occasionally underrating the intelligence and interest of the persons you’re talking to, but mostly safe!  Which still leaves me the far greater problem of how to deal with the things that people say that go beyond confusing me to outright offensiveness.  Like when they use words like ‘lame’, ‘gay’, ‘crazy’ and ‘gypped’.  Whether or not I challenge them each time they say something offensive often depends on how many spoons I have on me at the time.  And how angry it makes me.  I have this mechanism by which an excess of anger either leads to the spontaneous generation of a tiny ball of energy or a deluge of tears.

I have therefore come up with a few things that you should probably think about before saying to me that come under the umbrella of polite but problematic questions, namely: How’re you feeling?  How’re you doing?  How’s it going? What have you been up to?  These are problematic because I could be having a really messy time and you may not be prepared to hear the response.  General rule of thumb… don’t ask me a question if you don’t want to hear the answer.  Also don’t ask me a question if there is a correct response that you have not advised me of.  And don’t expect me to be the filter in your brain that determines whether a question/response is appropriate or offensive.

There is a another list of things that you should not say to me.  Or to anyone else.  At all.  Ever.  This I shall compile at a later date.  Right now it is enough that I have posted something this week.

पहले-पहले दिखातें हैं की …

That is how my stories begin.  Literally translated it means, “at first they show that…”.  And this is how my mother expects books, movies and life to be narrated.  So here it is, पहले-पहले दिखातें हैं की … there was a little girl.

This girl was desperately wanted.  So much so that she had been wished for and named a year before she was thought of and two years before she was born.  The people whose she was wanted very much to do right by her.  And they did.  Of course, she did not grow up to be exactly who they expected when they taught her those things; she didn’t even really grow up to be who she expected to be when she learnt them; but grow up right she did.

At least, that’s how I tell the story.

One of the things I was taught was that beauty (the having or not) was irrelevant.  That the way you look was (more often than not) something that was determined by an accident of genetic combination; and as such not something that my person-hood needed to be evaluated by.  Another edict drummed into me was that the only appropriate way to respond to a compliment was to say ‘thank you’.  That anything else tended to either insult the intelligence and judgement of the giver or suggest an unflattering lack of belief in their intention.  So when someone tells me I’m beautiful, I say thank you.  And then I wonder what they mean.

Beauty can be a capricious creature.  In India alone I have seen the standards shift to accommodate capitalist sales targets and global marketing standards.  History tells us that beauty has defined itself in various iterations.  But I think it’s fair to say that ‘inner beauty’ arguments not withstanding, it is something to do with the way you look.  And with how much effort you put in to conform to the prevailing model of beauty.  And the extent to which you succeed.  Which, to my mind, makes it a scary thing to base even a part of my self on.  Even with the best intentions of my parents, I still learned what it meant to be beautiful and it still confuses me.  And because beauty is so enmeshed in desire, parts of me want to be thought of as beautiful.  But desire and desirability are complicated.  Largely because I want to be desired for what I think makes me desirable.  How I move through this world, what I do, and how I do it.

Now my Ma worries that she did it wrong.  That she made me believe I wasn’t beautiful.  She didn’t.  She made me believe that whether or not anyone else thought I was beautiful said more about them than it did about me.  So if you think I’m beautiful, thank you.  Now let’s talk about how.