GloPoWriMo 2020: 19/30

Okay, NaPoWriMo’s prompt today was to do a walking archive: where you go for a walk and gather interesting things from that walk. Owing to the present circumstances with COVID-19, their very helpful suggestion is to walk around the house and pick up interesting things at home. I didn’t want to do that. Instead, I think the idea of a walking archive has made me think about the act of walking itself, and how much I miss the freedom of walking wherever I’d like.

On Strolls

The only walks I take these days are to buy groceries –
Nothing else,
No speed-walking around campus to get from my hostel to the administrative block,
Or to get from one end of the administrative block to the other.
I never ran,
Always speed-walked,
Even at school, as if being late to class would
Be the end of me.
What I wonder today, though, is what
I’ve missed while speed-walking
How many cricket matches I could have caught a glimpse of at The Oval?
How many times my friends in school would have convinced me, in the
hallways,
To bunk Physics – and
I know that after this lockdown ends,
I will take a stroll,
Meander through the streets,
Traipse along the pathways,
Deliberately – so
I never forget what a privilege it is to be able to walk freely without
The threat of illness in the air.

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GloPoWriMo 2020: 18/30

Today’s poem stems from the prompt that asks me to write about life’s simple pleasures. There is a lot that I’m grateful for every single day – especially these days. Being at home for the past month, though, has reminded me of the pleasure that was living and growing up in this bedroom. I’m also very grateful to have an attached bathroom these days, and that forms today’s poem.

Health Faucet

When I was a young boy,
The washroom had a small little sink in addition to a big one –
Far too low for a regular human of any size to reach
I’d always assumed that’s where babies were bathed,
These special sinks to keep them cozy.
I had no idea these were bidets,
Used to clean oneself after the greatest part of the day.

I’ve always used health faucets, so Outbound Trips and America felt strange
Toilet paper always disarmed me,
I felt robbed of my only weapon –
Something one of my friends called a “potty gun”,
Leaving me in splits.

At University, we had two options:
An seat in-built jet-spray and the mug,
My pre-bathroom checklist included flushing,
Checking if the jet spray worked,
And praying.

That’s why returning home felt comfortable –
Not my beanbag,
Not my bed,
But my trusty health faucet, with
It’s 100-pin holed head.

The Theory of Music: A Personal Arc (II)

In the first part of this personal arc, I basically explored what theory of music had become for me at the time: a personal project – something to set my mind to. I wrote that post in the first week of March, having just completed my ABRSM Grade 5 Music Theory exam – at a point where I didn’t worry too much about the result at all. Truth be told, I frankly didn’t think about the results past that first week. Too much has happened in the world generally, and to me, personally, since. The events of that week, and of that day feel like a blur in my memory, since most of my time went in preparing.

My results came in this morning, and I was elated to discover I had passed.

I was thrilled. Of course, some portion of this joy came out of passing the exam and not having to think about that Grade anymore. A larger portion, however, stemmed out of the fact that I had accomplished these results by self-studying. Mind you, these are not excellent results – I achieved a Pass. However, the satisfaction of seeing my own effort bear fruit and reflect well according to the yardstick to which I prepared is not something I’ve experienced to often before. Large swathes of material have been taught to me, or I’ve been fortunate to have good teachers for. With the ABRSM exam, I had access to the same resources everyone preparing for the examination did: the standard examination content. It felt nice to look at today’s result, and say – hey, I did that!

About 15 minutes in, after telling my parents, I had some time to step away from things and look at these results a little more carefully. Yes, I had done that. I had actually put in the effort to prepare according to the curriculum designed, and actually learn everything I was interested in learning for the exam. It was uncanny, therefore, to think about the role the Universe had played in all of this. What prompted me to look up music theory, when I was at home in December – when I could have chosen any project at all? How great was it that an exam was available in March, giving me precisely the right window of opportunity to prepare? How fortuitous was I to be able to study for that exam – and write it, exactly 7 days before the number of coronavirus cases in India began to rise?

I looked at the results a little differently. They felt blessed – like some conspiracy had worked in my favour, and I felt more grateful – not just for all of this, but for the background I had in classical music that allowed me to tap into a reservoir of knowledge while preparing for the examination. For the network that enabled me to ask my friends doubts where I had them, and for the means to afford the preparatory material and the examination itself.

When I looked beyond the results, I thought about how much this examination gave me. It gave me a chance to study and drive myself toward an objective of mine, and an opportunity to rediscover classical music in a way I had only shallow knowledge of before. I am no expert on theory today, but I loved learning all the information I picked up during the examination, and I’m eager to see how much more I can learn. It rekindled and reactivated a part of my brain I had put to ‘sleep’ mode for 6 years, since Grade 11 and my antics on FL Studio.

Aside from all of this, it got me to think closely about why I gravitated toward theory. Why does theory fascinate me? Why do I enjoy studying theory? Of course, the easy answer lay bare in front of me – these were the only examinations I was confident of preparing for without guidance. Other optional answers also felt easily accessible – that the theory examination is a prerequisite to the practical examinations with the ABRSM at higher grades, and that they help with a holistic understanding of the music we are training to play, and all sorts of things.

My love affair with the theory of music, however, pointed me to something very fundamental about the way I approach things. I thought back to Grade 11, and why I struggled with Physics the first time around. The theoretical foundations we had built in the subject at the IGCSE were toppled on their heads, and with poor guidance, coping with that change felt seismic. I thought back to things like fractions: the easy stuff that people understood in Mathematics because they could envision fractions as practical problems, but I found ridiculously difficult because they felt so abstract. I struggle with videogames that don’t have explanations for actions: which is why I couldn’t play Ratchet & Clank well, ever, but I could play Runescape reasonably okay.

It pointed me to how I prefer understanding and studying things – from the ground-up. Theoretical information somehow feels like it brings a sense of order and stability to the practical. Even if as an afterthought, or an aberration that helps to elucidate a creative passion, the theory underlying artistic license fascinates me because it suggests that things in this world as explicable. That fundamentally appeals to me, and the fact that there is a dynamism to this explanation owing to varying perspectives and schools is something I find most enjoyable.

So yes, I passed my theory of music exam, and the theory of music has become a part of my daily life. Along the way though, I had the chance to think about theories generally – and I liked that very much too.

GloPoWrimo 2020: 17/30

Today’s napowrimo prompt asks me to write a poem about forgotten technology. This was a tricky one because I’m very fond of technology in general, and old technology in particular.

Typewriter

Clickety-clack,
Clunk,
Zing-zing-zing,
Chik-chik-chik
Clack,
Clunk,
Zing-zing-zing,
All I hear on my chiclet-style keys are
Letters on a word processor –

How I wish,
My blogposts would sing.

To-Read

It’s now been exactly a month since we were asked to leave campus. In several ways, this has been a month where I’ve been able to do all of the things I’ve envisaged doing with my time, but never been able to do because I’ve consistently been under the impression that I didn’t have the time to do these things. Rather, I didn’t make time for them. Things like learning the guitar – and reaching out to my friends for help with that. Or learning coding, and reaching out to my friends for that too. Writing book reviews and reading books every day too.

A result of the book reviews I’m writing every day now is that I spend a lot of time on Goodreads. Since 2016, Goodreads has been my go-to for several things: book recommendations, making friends,keeping track of my own reading. While I’ve waxed eloquent about how much I love the algorithm because it has introduced me to some great books, today, while uploading my latest review, I saw that the algorithm recommended a book whose plot made me instantly decide not to read it. I decided to look at some of my other current recommendations – and what I noticed was a disturbing trend of some poor recommendations, especially those that stem out of my to-read shelf.

I blamed the algorithm for a few seconds before recognizing that if this was a trend, there’s likely an issue with my to-read shelf that’s leading to these suggestions in the first place. I had about 500 books on there, accumulated largely in the past 6-7 months. Since I’m someone who enjoys a large range of books, in terms of the genres I read and like exploring, I generally add a book to my to-read shelf the minute the blurb looks interesting – without really looking at much else. Glancing through my to-read shelf I realized my mistake instantly. These are too many books whose subjects no longer interest me at all, and books I wonder when I was interested in even, resting on the to-read shelf.

I cleared it all out in 10 clicks.

My to-read shelf now contains 0 books. I’m going to build it from scratch, and actually follow-through on reading the books I add to that to-read shelf. While it’s likely to grow faster than I read books I add to the list, I feel like this will make me genuinely interested in tracking my interests and reading habits over time. I’m going to move books around shelves as well. I’ve created a “Not Now” shelf for books I add to the “To Read” shelf but decide to discard for the time being. That way atleast the algorithm can differentiate recommendations for me.

Only one of those ten clicks made me feel things. That last one. Oh, it was brutal.

It was only when I clicked that final time that it hit me that I had effectively just discarded all the books that I was curious about in the past 5 years – without reviewing them or taking a back up. I felt sad for a few minutes and ate a chocolate bar to overcome that.

I wouldn’t have read those books anyway though, honestly. Not one of my to-read books has “purposefully” made its way to my “read” shelf. It’s happened by accident.

Let’s see what I discover next.

GloPoWriMo 2020: 16/30

Today’s poem asks me to write over-the-top compliments. I am very capable of these, but I’d like to write a few backhand compliments about group project members. In groups, we invariably let each other down when it comes to projects and submissions. I’ve been a victim of this, but also a cause – particularly in my third-year.

Group Project Member

Dear Group Project Member,
If there is one thing I like about you, it is that I have many things to like about you,
I would love to spend every minute of every day, sitting and chatting about things,
However, I really have to get stuff done.
If you knew how much I thought about you,
I would be very embarrassed.
You’re so independent (I wish the group wasn’t compulsory), and
Charming when you make an effort.
You give me so much to look forward each day – and your
E-mails light up my inbox since I know
That we can get done with our work now.

 

 

You Go, Gurl | Equal Rites (Discworld #3), by Terry Pratchett

Equal Rites (Discworld #3)
by Terry Pratchett
Published by Harper Perennial (2005)
Rating: ****

Introduction

Like I mentioned in the earlier Discworld review, reading Discworld is a project that has been underway for a while now, and is likely to take a while still. As always, this remains a series I come back to when I’m in a slump because I know the books are short, the story arcs simple and easy to follow, and the world explicitly explained.

Plot 

Drum Billet, a wizard who is about to die,  follows the wisdom of his staff, attempting to find his successor. Wizards are generally the eighth sons of an eighth son, and in the village of Bad Ass, up in the Ramtop mountains, an eighth child is being born to an eighth son. Unfortunately for everyone concerned Drum Billet’s staff is of a particularly progressive bend of mind, and the child he leads Billet to is a daughter, not a son. It is thus that Eskarina Smith becomes destined to be a wizard.

Given the premise this sets up, as evident above, and the title, the story is very predictable. Esk faces several challenges as she seeks to become a wizard, ultimately succeeding. What I enjoyed about this is that as the third book in Discworld, you can see Pratchett seeking to examine this magical world from as many lenses as he is capable. In earlier books, he’s looked at the philosophy and mechanics of Magic, and now, he looks and introduces a series of books focusing on the gender implications of a magical world (or of any world, really).

Characters and Sass

Really well-written introductions to Esk and Granny W, who legitimately stole the show for large parts of the book. As compared to the other two books, there is humour led by the protagonists themselves; as opposed to coming out of supporting characters with whom they interact. Pratchett’s inclusion of Simon, a young boy struggling with his magic – to contrast with Esk’s own journey, helps to bring forth the challenges she faces within a setup that recognizes traditional gender roles and restricting women’s use of magic to the limitations that witches are confined to. Granny W has a lot of sass – something that made me chuckle more times than I would like to count.

Discworld Itself

While I fully recognize that this is the first book in the Witches subseries on Discworld, I felt that there was still scope to introduce elements about Discworld to the reader by having Esk or Granny W interact with fresh parts of the world that we hadn’t heard of. What I enjoyed about the previous two books is that they added layers to the physical space that is Discworld. I wished that had happened a little more here.

Conclusion

A solid read that’ll guarantee laughter. Short and predictable, perfect for a reading slump.

Equanimity

This is a word that’s been floating around a lot in my vocabulary and the literature I read over the past few months. I haven’t actually ventured forth and written down my thoughts about the subject because I didn’t feel like they had formed entirely. I do, however, use this blog as a place to keep track of the way my thoughts progressed, and in a sense, it seemed appropriate to write about this as well.

I’m trying to be more equanimous in accepting reality as it occurs. This is difficult, for there is always a version of things in my head – the way things ought to be. For me, I build off of what I envisage taking place, and where that does not occur, I struggle to cope with that. It places a stress on me that feels inescapable when things anticipated or expected do not take place, and in the past, I have fallen prey to that stress.

It’s impeded relationships with other human beings. My relationship with my own parents, for example, very often, slips into conversation where I begin doling out information on what I believe should be the response to a particular situation – and not as a matter of opinion, but rather as a matter of fact. It feels to stray into the absurd very frequently, when I remove myself from the scene and view it as an outsider.

Learning about equanimity, the word – and the depth of interpretation that arises to the word has injected fresh perspective in my life. At present, all I feel about it is that I mistook the phrase and the attitude to mean surrendering to reality completely. My original understanding of the expression was one of nonchalance, that you stopped trying to impact reality – because you accepted this is the way things were. I can’t accept that because it feels purposeless, and observing things around me without impacting them feels like being a spectator and a participant in the game of Life simultaneously. I can’t do that.

I understand today, however, that equanimity is accepting reality as-is, to fully understand it, and internalize it – so it does not push you to extremes in any decision-making, or activity, or life at large. It doesn’t mean you stop impacting reality, but rather, you do so with heightened awareness about what that reality is.

I don’t have much else to say about it yet. If I do, there may be a part-II.

GloPoWriMo 2020: 15/30

Today’s prompt asks me to write a poem that is inspired by my favourite type of music. The good folk over at NaPoWriMo deserve a commendation for the prompts they come up with year on year. They’re always so educational in the manner they phrase the prompt – and all the resources are absolutely lovely.

Da Ba Dee

If you asked me any time till University,
What my favourite genre of music would be,
I would reply techno, or house, or electronica,
Linking you to Blue (Da Ba Dee),

It was dance music I loved while I sat, working,
They never made me dance, but they sent my brain whirring,
There was something about the consistent rhythm, the mixing, the bass,
It never felt understated, the melody shone through in your face.

Yet over the last few years, I have found,
Music is everywhere, and there are melodies abound,
All that is necessary is to search in the right place,
To ask the right people, who can put you through to analogue tunes –
Aside from things made on a digital interface.

That opened my mind up, and I’ve heard so much since then –
No longer do I have a favourite genre, but music for moods,
Whether intense, relaxed, or just zen, and
Although that has changed my preferences, if you stop and ask me,
What’s your favourite song?
I’ll still reply “Blue (Da Ba Dee)”

Download Machines | How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy, by Stephen Richard Witt

How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy
by Stephen Richard Witt
Published by Viking (2015) 
Rating: ****

Introduction

Music is a very important part of my life.  I’ve recounted my own personal history with audio forms, downloading and piracy here. I don’t download music anymore – not since Spotify and other streaming services came to India. These services have changed the way that I work in more ways than one. Finding a book that methodically recounted, and exposed a similar history was quite lovely.

Communicating Complexity

When I read non-fiction books that hone in on specific subjects, one of the things I look out for is how well they communicate complexity, or technical information that would not ordinarily be accessed by individuals. This book begins with the discovery of the MP3 format, the science that went into understanding the frequencies the human ear could hear and the compression that was used to produce the output necessary. My knowledge of this is relatively reasonable given my usage of audio production software and a few of my friendships, but what I particularly admired in this book was the kind of simplicity with which chains in a logical sequence of sentences were formed. The filler sentences, the ones that establish context and provide examples and analogies: those are the crucial pieces of information we latch onto in order to understand something better, and Witt does a great job of breaking down some barriers for us there.

Picking Narratives

I highlighted this in another review recently, but it was great to see three figures form such an integral part of this story: first, a researcher, second, someone within the industry, and finally, a pirate. Piracy provides access to a lot of information, but it’s also disrupted industries and forced companies and law to innovate mechanism to prevent the stifling of incentives to produce, or create. These three narratives provide a lot of relatable information and contextualize things to time, since there is now a reference point for when things in the book are taking place, or how they’re actually impacting people.

Conclusion

A book worth reading. The only thing I found disappointing within the book was the lack of discussion of the freely accessible, legal art that’s come out of compression. The Creative Commons license, under which Soundcloud, for example, helps artists protect a original content was almost non-existent throughout the book. This would have felt more complete had it discussed the subject, which I personally believe is an extremely integral part of what piracy has done.

Sincerity

Yesterday, I wrote about how much I disliked playing catch up to all my writing, about how it made me feel insincere to something I loved so much, and loved so much about. That idea, and notion of sincerity, in my head, is something that’s been on my mind all day.

I try out several things and take on a lot of things at once. This comes out of the fact that I enjoy multitasking, and hold a genuine interest in a variety of subjects I know far too little about but am fascinated by. Coupled with my love of productivity, I end up consistently feeling like there’s this mass of information out there that I have accessed 1% of. That 99% I don’t know, I want to know, yet it feels like there’s so little time to do all of it. While not often, that feeling gets overwhelming and leads to procrastination.

I’ve half-assed several things before: by which I mean I’ve started out giving things my best, and being sincere about the effort I’ve put into things, and then either piggy-backed off others’ efforts, or dipped the amount of my own time I’ve spent on things. That is natural if I lose interest, but something I learned at University is that I ought not to take on work that ends up affecting other people, if I’m not going to follow-through on it to its completion. But I’ve half-assed personal projects too. That feels worse somehow, because I feel like I’ve let myself down by not being able to sincerely follow through on something I was so interested in and so passionate about.

This doesn’t happen frequently though. I’m usually okay with multitasking. However, it shouldn’t be happening at all. One of the things I want to improve is eliminating the possibility of giving up on an interest of mine. To do so, I think I’m going to try being a little smarter in making decisions about how to allocate my time. Most importantly, I think I need to revisit the number of personal projects I take on and prioritize them. Whenever I think of new projects, the question I’m going to ask myself first, from now onward, is going to be: where does this fit into existing priorities?

If it ranks below than an existing priority, I think I need to keep a tab on the number of things that pique my interest, and revisit that page as often as possible when I have free time. That way I think I’ll be able to explore all of my interests when I have the bandwidth to do so, but also at a time that my interest in the subject is high. In a sense, this method of decision-making, to me, is likely to counteract the ebbs and flows that come with my interests and hobbies.

It’s odd to me that I’m trying to be so systematic about something that, at it’s core, comes down to asking yourself three questions:

  1. Do you like it?
  2. Do you want to do it?
  3. Do you have the time to do it?

But those questions seem like they aren’t enough for me anymore, since the decisions I make seem to not account for how sincere I can be while doing things – although the third question is meant to.

Not anymore. I hope I can be successful with this. At the very least, I hope to be able to be more sincere in all the endeavours I take on – so they’re equal in terms of how much of myself I give to the activity.

GloPoWriMo 2020: 14/30

Today’s prompt is fascinating. It offers a chance to write about what inspires me to write poetry. My own inspiration comes from two things. The first is my primary school: where poetry recitation was compulsory, earned you merit cards, and was a very fun activity. The second is my mother, who enjoys things that rhyme and trained me for all those poetry recitations by making me memorize verses. They came in handy through my Grade 10 English Literature examinations. I’ve been inspired, quite literally, by all the verse I’ve been exposed to since I was very, very young, and I’m very fortunate to be in that position. Writing this poem is therefore slightly tricky, but I hope to showcase my personal narrative as best I can.

Verse

Ms. Tandon, in Grade 3, chose the poem,
Homework, Oh Homework!, to recite at our Assembly,
I was in love, instantly,
“I hate you, you stink!” was my rebellion of the times, particularly given that
I could not draw a Fish, as expected of us for Science.

In Grade 6, Ms. Kotian introduced me to Leisure
Following it up with some Wordsworth,
In Grade 8, I refused to study Geography, and
Ms. Dasgupta and Ms. Narayan introduced me to
Pied Beauty, Pike, and A Different History.

In Grades 11 and 12, when I missed studying Literature,
My mother drew me aside,
She found a book of handwritten poems,
Filled with rhyming couplets inside.

They tickled me pink and brought a smile to my face,
A rhyme scheme of abab – my mother was a poetry ace.

In March this year I discovered Rumi,
In a way significant to my life –
Shams-i-Tabrizi, Ghalib, and he,
Mahadevi Verma, and Bahinabai Chaudhari.

All of these inspire me,
Collectively, yet
Independently,
As I sit rattling away keystrokes to
Write free verse,
Every April.