Today, the challenge is to write a poem about a mythical person or creature doing something unusual – or at least something that seems unusual in relation to that person/creature. For example, what does Hercules do when he loses a sock in the dryer? If a mermaid wants to pick up rock-climbing as a hobby, how does she do that? What happens when a mountain troll makes pancakes?
I am far and away the least fiction-wise creative person I know. I struggle with fictional thoughts and fabricating things from my imagination. Despite being a tactful liar, my creative energies are concentrated on the real world, so this is quite the ask. I’ve interpreted this loosely, where the mythical creature for me is someone who works without a break (and enjoys it) – and the surprising/unusual act is taking time off. The title sounds awfully close to a children’s essay or an Enid Blyton book, which contributes to the rhyme scheme and pattern I set myself on.
As the sun rose in his part of the world, Sajet awoke to the sound an Outlook notification, Deep into his comforter he curled, Decided today would be a one-day vacation.
He slept all day, and slept all night, Sajet gave his family and boss a good fright, They kept calling but he snored and snored, Sajet decided people made him bored.
The next morning, Sajet arose from his slumber, Found fifteen missed calls on his cellphone number, When he read his mails, he saw things were on track, But replied to his parents that he was awake, online, and back.
Then he was notified they docked his pay, Adding penalties for deliverables that he delayed, The whole thing seemed like an elaborate insult, Until he remembered he was an adult.
Today, I am challenged to write a poem in the form of a poetry prompt. The poet Mathias Svalina has been writing surrealist prompt-poems for quite a while, posting them to Instagram. You can find examples here, and here, and here.
For my prompt-poem, I wrote a set that I would be keen to read, and what I usually start conversations with when I am texting people.
This one is a bit complex . It’s a Spanish form called a “glosa” – literally a poem that glosses, or explains, or in some way responds to another poem. The idea is to take a quatrain from a poem that you like, and then write a four-stanza poem that explains or responds to each line of the quatrain, with each of the quatrain’s four lines in turn forming the last line of each stanza. Traditionally, each stanza has ten lines. Here’s a nice summary of the glosa form.
[more thicker than forget]
love is more thicker than forget more thinner than recall more seldom than a wave is wet more frequent than to fail – [love is more thicker than forget], E.E. Cummings
when she arrives, no space in my heart is left hollow, every word, weighty, not shallow, her time a gift, her company my safety net, love is more thicker than forget.
when she departs, she carries our meeting, time past feels fleeting, my memory palace locked, its drawbridge will not fall, love is more thinner than recall.
when she re-emerges, she is different, this is no deterrent, the evening passes, we pretend it is the first time we have met, love is more seldom than a wave is wet.
it is unfortunate then when she settles, that my overthinking commences, this calm storm, rocked by hail, remains steady, unfazed, love is more frequent than to fail.
Today, I am challenged to write a poem based on a word featured in a tweet from Haggard Hawks, an account devoted to obscure and interesting English words. I picked this one.
Doomed from when I hit snooze, My sleep consumes memories I could be making, Moments I could be sharing, work I could be doing. In that process, Kafka-esque forces make me a chronophage, I tell my parents I am a creature of habit, a night-owl, Alas, the moon sees no transformation, I remain human, not a werebeast, and as it were, I have procrastinated everything, For the monkey in my brain refuses to concentrate on the important things, Choosing instead to eat time to fulfil its hunger.
April 2021 passed me by in preparing for examinations and surviving the dissonance I faced between where I was living and what was happening back at home. Amma and I spoke about GloPoWriMo, but I could not be bothered to write at all. This year, I realised the month had begun only on April 2nd, and my cousin messaged me to ask whether we were writing this year. That little nudge was enough encouragement to start up. So here I sit, on April 5th, five poems in hand, posting them one-by-one. The rest of the month should see this play out with more consistency, ideally taking me back to the daily posting this blog offers the promise of.
The prompt today is based on Robert Hass’ remarkable prose poem, “A Story About the Body.” The idea is to write your own prose poem that, whatever title you choose to give it, is a story about the body. The poem should contain an encounter between two people, some spoken language, and at least one crisp visual image.
His childhood friends say it first, “Man, you look so good – you’ve lost weight, haven’t you?”. It’s the question that catches him off guard. Why do they ask when he feels like a dried raisin rather than a grape? Six months of portioning meals and no sugar, before the chorus of aunties and uncles offer their views. No pleasantries exchanged but an immediate recognition of shape, “Your cheeks are less round” and marks, “We can see your dimples”. Colours too, “Aww, he’s blushing”, as they turn to his mother and only half-jokingly mutter, “You should get him married when he’s like this”. For those minutes, he holds his tongue, thinking about the dimpled skin hiding stretch marks and how inner-shirts hide the inverted hourglass his body presents in the mirror. He has fasted for this, and so, eats orange gravy, naans, and gulab jamoons to his hearts’ content. All of this till he goes home, feels his fingers along his bulging belly and notices the jamoon he has become.
If you are here expecting a post that outlines genuine concerns that explain why there is nothing new on this blog, you may skip to the end and come back tomorrow. Here is a concise summary to help you on your way: I have convinced myself of multiple reasons to procrastinate writing over the past days, weeks, months, years, and this post chronicles my brain’s observations/attempts to procrastinate once more. I have merely prevented myself from doing this by writing an entire post about the thoughts in my head in real-timeas I actively combated the procrastination monkey.
As you are undoubtedly aware, I have not been able to write on this blog continuously or consistently for the past two years. As you are also probably aware, I have grown to accept this and come to terms with it. This has meant understanding that on some days there are no words to write, and no stories to tell, or nothing I wish to share publicly into the void. It has meant giving myself the flexibility of being comfortable with not writing, which is vastly different from the two-three years I spent pushing myself to write. On some days, I query whether I did the right thing in relentlessly pursuing a blogpost everyday, especially if it has robbed me of things to say to the void, or to people in real life. On most other days, I give myself a free pass. I tell myself that writing has become like second nature to me, that because of the two years I wrote, the words will forever flow from my brain. Except, on reflection tonight, I know that is not the case. Words have gotten stuck, and I have become an editor more than I have been writing. I have critiqued drafts and not posted them, going fundamentally against the rules I set out when I started this blog. There have been so many reasons I’ve given myself for a holiday. I’ve written so many posts exactly like this one: for recent examples, see here, here, here, and here. All of them have the same theme with such little pay-off. I explain what’s going on, how I struggle with writing, and make a public commitment to write. Invariably I console myself by saying that I’ve been writing in private. I then go back to my ways and this blog sees no activity for a number of days. Then I come back. This cycle repeats. No constructive writing is done, nor am I wiser for this experience.
Therefore, today, I’ve decided to do something different. I’ve decided not to make a public commitment, but a more private commitment to writing everyday again. You may wonder at this point: Tejas, you’re writing on the blog, surely this is another public commitment? That is absolutely fair. Except, my intentions with this post are not to some audience (that is completely a figment of my imagination, only two people actually read this blog, and I currently live with both of them). This post is intended solely for me. I want to use this space to list every excuse and thought process my brain turned to before churning out what you are reading. My purpose with this is simple. Hopefully, by showing myself what I have thought, future me will rationalise that these thoughts are not constructive for writing, and begin to dismiss them whenever they emerge. This will mean hitting the reset button on a lot of habits that have developed in the two years I have been inactive, but I am certain it can happen.
So let’s get into it. Here’s everything I thought while writing this:
Titles Suck: I have used horrible titles in the past that make posts unsearchable. How am I supposed to know what I have written when I have used the Day #/Date as the title? What have I conveyed? What purpose am I writing for? What is the point of a title if it does not communicate any of this to the audience, or to me? How am I supposed to search my own posts? What should I title this post? Titles Suck.
Writing is Hard: I have written such pointless pieces on this blog. They communicate nothing, nor do they serve any grandiose purpose, despite my lofty ambitions for this blog and from my writing. What should I write today? Do I have anything valuable to say? Do I need to write only if I have something valuable to say? Can this be a journal entry privately instead of a blogpost? Do I need to realign the way I think about writing? Am I just a content creator if I am not writing impact-pieces? Have I ever written for the joy of writing?
Deleting is Easy: It is far too easy to delete something because it does not live up to my expectations. Two keys and it is gone forever. How is the shortcut to delete something so simple, when there is no shortcut to create a piece of work? Oh, but I cannot possibly delete this now, that is hypocritical. Maybe I can save this as a draft and never come back to it, that is definitely the easier option
Where are the Reviews?: Why are you not writing reviews of things you see/read? John Green wrote an entire book called The Anthropocene Reviewed that had the simplest premise, and you could have done it too, on your own blog, just commenting on stuff you have seen/experienced/lived through. Except you didn’t, and he did, and it was the execution of a marvellously simple concept, well done, that made it enjoyable. Why aren’t you writing reviews? Why isn’t this a review post?
And then I started typing, and the words have come out, and for today, this is all I have been able to produce. I know that this is probably a very disorganised post, that makes very little chronological sense (or any sense, to be honest), but this is what my brain has been thinking as it has been typing the words you see. To simplify, I have not written simply for one of three reasons:
I have convinced myself that there is nothing that I am happy to write;
I have convinced myself that what I am writing is far worse than what I could be writing instead – and proceeded to read about what I would rather be writing, instead of writing it – and then never written it [my drafts contain ideas for 10 Longform Essays];
I have convinced myself that I can write at will, and therefore there is no loss that is born out of not writing today because I can come back to it tomorrow – and then never come back tomorrow.
Today, as you can see above, it appears that the excuse I wanted to lean on was #2.
The problem with these, in turn, is plain to see:
If I do not write, it is impossible to say whether or not I will be happy with what I produce – it is only in the act of creating, or creativity, that one can assign value to the process or output. If I decide that irrespective of what I write, it is the fact that I am writing that makes me happy, which is actually the case – and does not need much contemplation – surely, it is easy to be happy just because I am writing. This is tautological and can be expressed more eloquently, so here: Writing makes me happy. That is enough to be writing, rather than finding something I attach “happiness” to be writing about. Therefore, I should be writing.
There is no way to know this unless I write and compare two pieces. I historically do not compare two pieces. Therefore, I should be writing.
I cannot. I am not a natural-born talented writer. I struggled to write essays and had to work on composition prompts relentlessly to find a writing rhythm that I could carry with me into exams when I studied English. I need to exercise my writing muscles if I want to be writing with ease. I struggled with writing the last post and the post before that because I am not someone who can write at will unless I force myself to write so frequently that it becomes an unconscious stream of words pouring out into paper/this void that is the internet. Therefore, I should be writing.
So, it is, therefore, that I am writing this. There is now time blocked off in the calendar to be writing, and a reminder to read this before I do that writing. Tomorrow, I should be writing. Will I be writing? Yes.
Hello to one & all who follow the blog, or come across it on occasion!
It has been some time since I posted, and today, I just wanted to say I’m still here. Over the course of 2021, several things were done and an equal amount left undone. This blog, and my desire to continuously improve as a writer, by writing for public display, falls into both categories. This year, although very few pieces were published up on the blog, several drafts were written and stored away for future rumination and public consumption. They didn’t feel appropriate or up-to-par, nor did they have the arc I usually aim for with my writing. And so, I left words unsaid, choosing instead to express those sentiments in my diary, for my own records. Naturally, I pondered the distinction between posting something here and writing something in my diary. I’ve spent time this year thinking about whether the blog (and it’s “no edit, no filter” policy) is a true reflection of my thoughts, and how it compares to diary entries from the same day. I’ve concluded that my writing tries to be as honest and open as is practicable, with the diary containing reflections I am unable to share publicly because of circumstances external to my own thoughts. However, another critical distinction I’ve identified, is that while they’re both honest accounts of the way my brain spends its day, they are accounts of two different moments in time on the same day. If I was playing detective or researcher, for any reason, and investigating myself, aside from the various trails I leave on the internet, I imagine that two distinct datasets (the blog and my diaries) could be truth-checked against each other. A whole narrative might also be created by piecing the two together.
So many different stories, so many different portraits can emerge.
These musings aside, as I type this out, I am sitting on my bed at home, after two long years away from my parents. It feels appropriate to return to writing now for two reasons.
First, most habits I carry through today have been built at home in an environment that facilitates new habits being formed. While I don’t earmark a time to create new habits (and I am fully aware this will be contradicted very soon), being at home in a place that is easy and familiar allows me to experiment and figure out how best to reduce the friction between myself and the things I want to be doing. My parents allow that process to play out, and I usually leave home with a sense of routine and realizations about new habits I wish to have. Writing has been one of them, given my diaries, the website, the blog & the newsletter were each born at home – and what joys they’ve all been.
Second, it’s nearly 2022, which is usually when I do annual resets. While cognizant that there’s never a bad time to start anything new – and waiting for a specific moment to begin a new adventure is perhaps a procrastinators’ best friend, the start of a new passage of time have been when I evaluate and envision the things I want to be doing. Annual years, academic years, new weeks, new months – they’re helpful as ‘markers’, if nothing else. This fits well into that mould. I’m hopeful of writing consistently into the new year and allowing my writing to play out in 2022 as it does. Today marks a start.
There we have it then. I’m still here, some new things have been learned and experiences have been had. I’m looking forward to writing about them, and writing about other things I wish to find my words and voice for. Thanks for sticking around – and I hope the wait hasn’t been too bad. There were enough archives to keep you busy. I hope the health of yours & your loved ones has been good, and as ever, you know where to get in touch with me if you’d like.
Ever so often, I catch myself say something that feels like it’s taken out of a young-adult novel with teenage dramatis personae. You know exactly the type: where one of the central characters is a boy who wears hoodies and jeans, with headphones on at most, if not all times, where this clothing is emphasized, repeated as foreshadowing the character who becomes his love-interest and makes him take off his headphones and indulge in conversation – their meeting trapped in time, space, and the novel becoming about everything aside from the routine that interrupts the meeting of their minds. I catch myself having a sequence of thoughts when I’m dressed in similar attire (perhaps a consequence of associative memory), and think to myself, right after, that belongs in a book. A book filled with tropes, but my masterpiece, my Michelangelo.
I associate my foray into this genre with John Green, an author whose work amazes me for how riveting and unputdownable the novels end up being, but equally, after a friend pointed this out, for the sheer profoundness crafted into people who are wise beyond their years. My friend told me, teenagers don’t talk like that, referencing Green’s use of a cigarette as a metaphor in The Fault in Our Stars. I chuckled along in agreement and queried other nuggets of wisdom I had gleaned from these younger characters. For all my quips about seniority being immaterial to respect or knowledge, I dismissed them, till my reading journey got me along to a point where I realized the generalization, that all these characters be pooled into one single space within a Venn diagram marked with a circle teens was flawed. Their wisdoms, their quips stem out of their lived experience – and disassociating, taking a step back, those pieces seem to fit. Granted, this create a hero arc in their lives, but, it fits. Chapeau, my friend, what else can I say?
It’s in those moments, when I speak or text these sentences – sometimes compliments I’m passing on to people, or explanations of something I’ve said, oftentimes apologies, and even mundane observations, that I think, I need to write that book. I have that one sentence, maybe a handful, and here I am, dreaming of these long young adult novels that are as page-turning as I found Green’s work. You see the problem here, don’t you? I’ve identified myself as that character making these quips, and placing the onus on myself to write. It takes a couple of hours, but eventually, I come to the realization that at best, this belongs on a twitter thread, and dismiss them completely. No record, no memory. Like the first step of editing a poorly crafted tweet before the internet sees it, my lack of record means I have no recollection of the sentences I’ve waved off into the abyss.
I caught myself having one of these moments yesterday while exchanging texts back and forth with a friend. In the casual conversation about how much time felt like it had slowed down and days had morphed into each other (a sign of this pandemic for most), my friend said every day feels like Sunday. I seized my literary moment. With no hesitation, in real-time, I said, I’m caught in a sea of Wednesdays. I can recall, vividly, my pride at typing this masterpiece. In dissecting the novel in a Grade 7 Book Club or English Literature class, perhaps a teacher would say, Why did Mr Rao choose to use the word “sea”? To which the bright spark that lingered in greys, hood down, at the back of the class, would shoot back, because he felt like he was drowning. And so the English teacher would have found her star, and a new student-teacher relationship would foster the creation of a Dead Poet’s Society, bonded together by the one moment someone really understood what an author meant. Except, in this case, the author, me, didn’t use sea because he was drowning. I used the word sea deliberately, because I’m floating, one day to the next. More than that, I picked Wednesdays deliberately. An odd choice, as my friend suggested, but one I easily explained, below:
I don’t know. I think it’s the fact that it feels like the middle of the week, despite there being no fixed middle because it’s the closest you can get to a middle on the work week calendar. Or maybe it’s the memory of having good lunch in high school with friends. Or the long forgotten but never really gone memory of being yelled at for saying régle wrong in french class.
And for the Dead Poet’s Society that emerged, there would be the one kid that researched the author’s background, found this post, and got the actual meaning behind the tour de force that is a sea of Wednesdays. For an outsider, a sea of Wednesdays would make no sense. What does he even mean?, they’d ask, and when someone explained it, they’d say, then why on Earth couldn’t he just have said, “every day felt the same”, to which, literary flair, would be the only appropriate response.
So I had this moment, right, on the train yesterday, coming back from London, and I said to myself, that belongs in a book, and for the first time, having a record of that moment and the realization that followed, I can see now that at the very least, it’s given me enough content to fill a space on a blog that serves as a daily reminder of my place as a writer.
As I’ve decided to start recording each of these phrases I concoct, these literary-isms that occupy space in my heart as novels that are never written. The plan is to blog about them and what they meant when I said them originally, for anyone to adopt if they’d like, but more crucially, for me to remember what on Earth I actually meant, lest I think someday that a sea of Wednesdays was a number of shops called Wednesday’s, like Sainsbury’s.
This idea for this post originated on last evening’s call with my mother. While on Zoom, I became a little perturbed (she’d say aggressive) about her poor technology skills. It was really nothing major: one was poor technology etiquette (not muting one call while taking another), and the other was poor effort (claiming to not find something that was easy to search for with ctrl+F). Neither of these so-called “misdemeanors” deserved the disproportionate wrath I unleashed. I chided her for her poor technology skills, and told her she had to up her game if she wanted to be able to adapt to a changing world. She took it on the chin with a smile, but I felt guilty enough about what I said to write her an apology WhatsApp message. In the 5 minutes that passed between ending our Zoom call & writing her that text, my mind cast itself to the shores of the distant future.
Thus began the montage of a fear that’s been bubbling underneath the surface for a very long time. Me, much older, in the future, struggling to get onto a spaceship that will get me home. Me, much older, not knowing how to access the mainframe cloud computer that houses all my memories. Me, forgetting.
My maternal grandfather and my own father are two of the most flexible people I know. Although rigid with planning and organizing in advance, once things are in motion, they are the least likely to resist to occurrences along the way. Contrast this with my own style, being in a constant state of flux between organizing & being chill about life. Their flexibility gives them a unique leg-up in this fast-paced technology driven world. While they are both creatures of habit, they find a way to use new tools as they are made available for them. I have no doubt the two would have thrived in the 1970’s. Actually, there’s evidence for this. My maternal grandfather did thrive – with his cameras. My dad would have too, I’m certain. I’ve seen this play out since I’ve been a young child. Here are my top two illustrations.
The Computer: Personal computers gathered steam in the late 70’s, early 80’s, and my grandfather, an early adopter made sure he had one at home. My mom did some work on that PC, while my chikkamma learned how to type properly on it – it’s why she’s got one of the highest words-per-minute in our family. Of course, this is also down to the lifestyle they led, but my grandfather took his knowledge of these computers and ensured he was never left behind. I saw him move to laptops with relative ease, moving these gargantuan database files he had gathered over time with him – and developing the tools that he needed to ensure that the database could sustain itself on the latest technology. He knows the most code of us all, and learns new coding languages if they fit his project requirements. With computers, he’s a real geek, and he’s wholly responsible for my computer literacy. His partner-in-crime is my father, who ensured that from a young age, I was exposed to the computer. I’ve interacted with every Windows OS that’s come out since I was born – because I played computer games and watched CD’s on our Windows 98 and 2000 computers, and that is due, in large part, to my dad’s desire to stay up-to-date. My dad used to present regularly at GITEX, so when the time was right, he used to ensure we upgraded, as a family, to the current systems in use – we moved to a family laptop, and on my mum and Uncle’s cajoling, I ended up with a PC of my own in Grade 4. His work has seen him move across the various versions of Microsoft Office & cloud computing with ease – and I used him as a guide while learning how to make the best use of OneDrive. He also has – and uses a tablet with much more skill than I can.
The Mobile Phone: Similar story. Without a fuss, I saw both these characters move from User Interface to User Interface as their needs demanded it. My grandfather of course had to learn how to interact with the phone from scratch, but he moved to a touchscreen smartphone around the same time we all did. My dad, however, is the star here. He moved from the old brick Nokias to the Communicator range to the Blackberry to the iPhone – where he’s planted himself currently. As a working professional, this makes perfect sense: the Android OS was never intended to be an office-use driver.
So basically, I look back at the 23 years I’ve been in this world, and I can see both my maternal grandfather and my dad transitioning seamlessly across platforms and across devices – and last evening, I’ve lost my patience with my mother for not doing so. Of course, this is putting it crudely. My mom is a star with technology in her own right, and both my dad and my Tata have asked me several questions about the latest technology – which I’ve either straight-up lied about with unabashed confidence (to then be told I was wrong), or assisted with my limited knowledge in.
But those five minutes were moments of serious reflection.
I’m not as flexible as either of these generations before me. In fact, I struggle more than most with technology changes as they happen. Learning about how to interact with new user interfaces takes me some time. I’m good with hardware switches and hardware generally, but software is definitely a bit of an enemy. Again – this is putting it crudely, but you get my point.
You see, I’m a little old-school. If I was given a chance, I’d go back to the non touch-screen phones. I’d add most of the smartphone features, but I would want a physical keyboard. I used to love Blackberry’s. Things just felt easier to do on them – typing felt so much more natural. Even with touchscreens, I never have been able to understand how to use the swiping keyboards – where you can type just by swiping? I much rather prefer typing out each letter that I need to – to see the words construct themselves, letter-by-letter. I loved the Windows phone – not because of anything except the fact that it looked like something familiar: the OS on my PC. Till this year, I almost exclusively used Android phones. Transitioning into the Apple ecosystem? It’s been hard work. I’m still not sure if I’m extracting the most out of my iPhone, and frequently, I speak to a friend of mine who made the same transition alongside me to sort out my doubts.
I’m skeptical about moving to macOS. I’m skeptical also about how I’ll interact with tablet devices like the iPad. I’m not sure if they’re worth their cost, or whether I’ll be able to use them as nicely and comfortably as I use my current set up. I took a good eight months of going back between Chrome and Edge before settling on using Edge for the foreseeable future to browse the interwebs.
I am slow, relative to the industry.
A lot of this is fear. Of what, I’m uncertain. But, given my outburst with my mother, I think I’m scared of becoming a technological dinosaur. The world moves very quickly, and to be able to exist in the world of the future, it feels like I will have to, at the very least, accept some of the changes and innovations that come with it.
I don’t think I can keep up. It takes a lot of capital to keep up – and just existing takes enough capital from us all. I don’t think I want to keep up either. My goal is a de minimis, so to speak. I just don’t want to be a relic of a bygone era when there’s something more efficient that is accessible to me for my use. I don’t mind being somebody who prefers old technology. Retro tech is very cool. I like it. But, I can see myself becoming someone who struggles with new technology and adaptation.
That scares me.
My dad’s been telling me I should move to a Mac soon. He was also one of the first people to ask me to use secure cloud services to save files, and to scan everything important just to ensure I never lose an accessible version of it due to natural circumstances. I usually just dismiss him. Most of the time it’s because of the investment these transitions take, both financially and in terms of time – but, perhaps, I should give him more of a ear. Maybe he spotted my rigidity at a young age, and this was his way of nudging me toward a path of more flexibility.
It’s now time I listen. Hopefully I’ll become more open-minded, empathetic, and comfortable, both with elder people like my mother struggling with current technology (she’s going to grill me for calling her elder), and me using new, modern technology.
“What you looking at me for? I didn’t come to stay . . .”
I was in Grade 9 when I was introduced to Maya Angelou and her writing. In particular, we read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The book made a lot of impressions on me as a young child, ones that continue to linger in the mind even today, working away at my perception of this world. I remember reading and re-reading that book. For my academic study, I hoped to be able to quote the book verbatim, and I think most of us got there – with quotes we took to.
As I sit down to write this, all I can think about is how Angelou references Vaseline. In the prologue, when describing her thoughts reciting poetry at Church, she describes the image of her body, with her skinny legs greased with blue seal Vaseline. In introducing her daily routine under her grandmother’s care, she tells us about applying cold, stiff Vaseline as moisturizer. In showing, rather than telling us about heat, she describes how the sun had baked oil out of her mother’s skin and melted the Vaseline in her hair.
I was born in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, and spent ten years of my life there. As the impact of global warming was felt, peak summer temperatures rose well beyond the 42-43 degrees Celsius threshold I experienced as a younger child. I have no memory of wearing lip balm at the time. Despite hot temperatures, I can’t remember having chapped lips. If I look far into the pits of my memory though, I can recall some instances of my mother wearing lip-balm – apart from all the times I messed up the tipped shape of her lipstick by pressing the lid shut when it was fully open. I can also vividly remember a big jar of Vaseline at home, available for use.
My first brush with any lip moisturizing products was in Grade 6. We had this History project where we had to bury some objects in the sand pit near Primary School, and then, as we excavated them, write their descriptions and imagine their possible uses for early cavemen. My contribution to this was an old lip balm casing my mother had. It looked archaeological enough, so we thought, why not? That episode was also when I learned the word chapstick, which was another sign of the Americanisms I was picking up. I had never heard the word till that point.
My lips started to chap frequently after. At least once a year. We’d invest in the blue labello lip-balm roller, we tried out the Himalaya lip-balm, but with the chapping of the lips, I never felt like I could prevent it. I could only treat it. On regular days, with unchapped lips, I never moisturized them in particular, nor did I wear lip-balm or lip-protection of any kind. I didn’t care too much about my lips being chapped – except when they burned as I ate hot food. It also made me crave water. As such, I drink a large quantity of water. This increased that volume.
University is where the entire lip-chapping business really took off, and that’s where this story begins.
Gujarat is not a moderate clime. In summers, there’s a dry heat that captures Gandhinagar. It’s enough for soil to crack; and for turning cricket pitches to develop wherever a strip of lawn goes unmowed. It’s enough for you to see the heat, enough to be described as sweltering. In winters, the breeze turned frigid. The open architecture of the hostel and my broken window didn’t help, and I felt the cold to my bone, every bit of it. The hostel is where I really got into thermalwear and sweaters.
Every January, and every April, my lips would chap. They would take a week to heal. In that week I’d purchase a new lip-balm, lose it, and then rely on regular Vaseline moisturizer to get me through the week. I’d increase my water intake, avoid spicy or hot foods, and eventually, as these things do – they’d heal, returning to their soft texture and pink shade.
They’d never chap in Dubai, or in Bengaluru. Just when I was in Gandhinagar.
This one time it got so bad that I woke up and I couldn’t open my lips. It felt as if I had some skin growth on the lips themselves. That was winter 2016, my second year – and it was a scary time because Gandhinagar still felt super new to me. I called my mom several times to understand what was happening, and my friends helped a lot too – introducing me to branded lip-balm, for example. Something you paid a lot more for, but got better value out of. I really got into the lip-balm thing for a bit, exploring all these wonderful tastes they had. As someone who really enjoyed the chocolate-scented moisturizer that Vaseline put out, some of them caught my attention, and I gifted one of my friends Coca-Cola flavoured lip-balm too.
In April 2018 I took a trip to Washington, D.C. for a competition. It was cold there, far colder than anything I had experienced. Thankfully for most of the competition, I was in a suit, which made the cold bearable. After it ended, my friend and I went to Boston to see my school friends, and then onto New York, exploring Universities and the city itself. We were in New York for four days, living in Jersey City and taking the bus through the Holland Tunnel straight into Lower Manhattan and to Times Square. On our second morning there, I woke up with chapped lips, and before we got onto the bus, we took a detour to a drugstore so I could buy myself lip-balm.
Everything at the store looked way too expensive. I was only willing to buy something I wouldn’t lose immediately, so I decided to buy myself a portable Vaseline jar. Not that small round box, mind you – I knew that’d slip out somewhere. I picked up a proper jar, and shoved it with my power bank into my pocket. I was wearing large jeans to accommodate my expanding belly (given everything I ate in America), and pocket depth was not a concern at all. Over the course of our day, I must’ve scrubbed the petroleum jelly across my mouth maybe 6 times? After every meal for sure, and once in between. By the next morning, my lips had healed.
I remember thinking to myself that this would cure me every time I had chapped lips in the future. It’s not that other products hadn’t worked for me – it’s just that this did the job without making me feel like my chapped lips were a burden, and it did the job quick. Real quick. Alongside that, and without me asking – it healed the dry skin at the periphery of my lips that usually came with them being chapped, something I had taken for granted.
That Vaseline jar has been with me since 2018 April. Every trip, everywhere I go. It’s a part of my toiletry kit, and I never take it out unless I’m using it. It’s worked, every single time. Like some magic cream. I’ve been floored in the best possible way.
I’ve never been cognizant of it’s waning power, or it’s expiry date. I remember reading that petroleum jelly just begins to become less effective after three years or something. As if on cue, in December 2020, as my lips began to chap for the winter cycle, I noticed that my jar of Vaseline was at it’s last mile. There was very little petroleum jelly it had to offer. As if to prove a point – that it was getting close to three years, it stopped being as effective. My lips have been chapping off and on since December – healing for a week, recovering for half a week, and chapping once more. I’ve been hoping every week that the jar would serve me well, praying that it would succeed as an effective remedy for my lips. Unfortunately, this was to no avail. With the last sliver of jelly I could get, I tried once again, but yesterday, I saw I had extracted maximum use out of it.
And that was that. This jar, my traveling memory of a trip that made me fall in love with the world, with the subject I study, and the people I was with – now, emptied. When skin cracks, it mends, it heals, rarely leaving behind a trace of the crack. Vaseline helped that process, and today, I’m left with a fragmented piece of my soul that no jar of jelly can cure. Even where it mends, I will be left with scar tissue that carries forth this experience of loss.
I’m reminded of how much I want to take care of my lips; to prevent chapping, to prevent this horrible cycle I put myself through each time it happens – and yet, as this jar sits empty, I wonder if, when I buy a replacement product, I will remember to care.
I think about this rhetorical question, searching around for answers, and all I am faced with is my now-empty, lifeless Vaseline jar, which, with it’s lid, open from last use seems to mock me, as if to say,
“What you looking at me for? I didn’t come to stay “
Thank you for your service. My lips & I are eternally grateful.
If you’ve followed this blog, you must know that since news of the pandemic, and the pandemic itself spread, I moved back to my childhood home and I’ve spent most of my time here – barring a few days in May. While that has provided the opportunity to work on several projects and knuckle down to use the time as best as possible, it has also given me the opportunity to reflect on how I lived here while growing up.
I stayed in this house full-time between the ages of 10 and 17, moving away to attend University and returning only as a part-time visitor. As a result, I came back home to the house being in the same condition as when I had departed. My room even had my Grade 12 board examination pouch and all the copies of my hall ticket I had made. That prompted a lot of clean-ups.
While my approach to cleaning my room was defined by Marie Kondo and trying to eliminate everything that did not spark joy, cleaning up the rest of the house has been a bigger challenge. There are several reasons for this. First, I am not the sole owner of everything within the rest of the house. It is a common space, and there are attachments to those objects that my parents and other members of the family have. As a result, I could not be the sole judge of whether an object sparked joy – my judgment would have led to several things being disposed of, that perhaps brought happiness to somebody else at home. Second, I was not aware of everything that lay hidden around the house. I have perfect knowledge of the items within my room. Beyond that, is a world of adventure. Given how my parents and I have taken turns visiting the house, it was difficult to actually collect information on what was located where, and what category of items I may find in a particular spot. Third, I did not know where to start. The house is the perfect size for our family, but when it comes to storing items – and cleaning, it suddenly starts to feel very, very big. I felt this way for the first couple of days in April where I fended for myself and did all the brooming/mopping. It is overwhelming.
I had to figure out a fresh approach.
I spent most of April and May thinking about what I wanted to clean-up/fix, deciding the areas of improvement I could see for the house and discussing strategies with my parents. We figured out how to tackle each of the problems I listed. Since transplanting the Kon-Mari method here was futile, we decided to prepare an itemized list of the big items so my parents could make a joint decision on the same, based on why the object was with us. The smaller ones, I had agency over. While discussing this, we realized that it was not necessary to know what I would find prior to cleaning-up, but that I would have to adapt my cleaning-up method as I went along and discovered new items. This meant localizing the clean-up and fixing particular areas to clean – emptying every cupboard out, and then segregating to clean up. Finally, I decided to take control of what areas of the house to clean, by asking myself: what caused me the most angst? It felt like a natural consequence of this would mean that when that place was cleaner, I would be less angsty, and happier. That led to three places: the kitchen, the guest bedroom, and the bureau.
I started with the bureau. It was closest to my room, and so meant that I could return to the sight of a clean space within an instant when I passed by a mess. The reason the bureau frustrated me was that there were way too many things we no longer used or required, and they were all over the place. It took me two weeks to clean the bureau, which yielded a large amount of electronic waste but provided the opportunity to examine more closely two parts of my parents’ lives I had no involvement in: the foundation years in their relationship, and their academic study. The first was just really lovely because it prompted a discussion on how much my parents valued letter-writing and how that has translated to e-mail. The latter showed me why my parents placed expectations upon me: their own credentials, experiences, and efforts in getting their qualifications. It was lovely to find their dissertations, read them – and try to get them to remember stories from their University days, just as I came to the close of my own journey. There are photos from that time where my father, in his early 20’s, looks exactly like I do today – minus the glasses, which was fun to look at.
Then I moved on to the kitchen. I couldn’t really clean much, but what I really wanted to do was to look at the appliances and try to get them all working. To my parents’ and my dismay, we had to let go of our oven, but the microwave was repaired. That was sufficient. It has helped me cook potatoes quicker, and I imagine that my chili con vegetales would have cooked faster if I had it in April. That was a quick job – not too much effort, and a useful break before taming the giant.
The guest bedroom.
There was a lot to work through here because it was delightfully clean on the outside, but I had to organize the cupboards and I had no idea where to begin. It’s why (apart from work), it took me a month to actually finish up. I finally managed to segregate all the materials into four distinct categories for the ease of my parents’ access, and sort out things that did not possess utility any longer (for us), to give to society.
I don’t know if you can tell (you probably can), but my enthusiasm to clean-up started out really high, and tapered off as time went by and I understood the magnitude of the task I had taken up. I’m glad it’s done now, to be honest.
There is a lot I’ve learned, however. Deep cleans are worth it. If nothing, they teach you how to better appreciate what you have, while giving you the opportunity to evaluate whether there is somebody else in this world who may be able to use the same in a better way. That process itself is extremely rewarding because it really puts into perspective two things. Privilege, and priorities.
Couldn’t have managed this without my parents’ trust – and I’m really hoping I haven’t disposed of something they value. I think I’ve scared my mother that I may have.
Yesterday I wrote about how much not having clear time-tables affected how I measured progress on my hobbies and my passion projects. Today was devoted to rectifying that by plugging the gaps that existed within my time-table for the past two weeks and trying to craft a schedule that would allow me to get back to looking at how I was engaging with the things I am passionate about.
I feel like I’m constantly trapped in this state of combating my desire to enjoy hobbies as they are in the present along with my aspirations of engaging with my hobbies more deeply.
For the time being, I think I have resolved that conflict by creating goals – where I want to see myself with all of these passion projects, and trying to figure out how I can get to that level while having the most amount of fun.
Striking this balance is really proving to be tricky.