When you get the microphone in your hand, will you really have something to say?
This is the question that haunts me. Do I have anything worthwhile to say? Do I really want to hustle to have an online personality and be heard for what i have to say. I think that’s my fear about fame. That when I actually have it, there is really nothing profound to say.
Anyway, I had this thought bcz I was wondering what I should write about today. I realised that in my head, I have a mental budget of words I can muster in a day.
I had 5 calls today, and I am exhausted. I feel like I have used up all my thoughts and my daily dose of alertness is over and all I can do is mindlessly consume content over the internet. Obviously, I know that is a problematic self belief. The metaphor you used to describe your ability may actually restrict the potential of that ability. I try to reframe this idea of a “word limit” and try to imagine an eternal spring of words within me… But well, I’ll tell you when it starts to work.
One of the reasons of my writing block also has been the belief that I don’t have anything profound to write, nothing good to share and nothing worthy of documenting. It is difficult to not be in awe of people who are passionate enough to make content on such a regular basis online. I am shocked that some vloggers not only write, but act out and edit their content. That requires a real motivation in a medium, where it takes a lot of time to become viral. In comparison, blogging seems like a nice, quiet space.
I put writing on a pedestal. It’s the stuff of legacy. It really makes things ever-lasting, and true. If you wrote it, you’ve committed to it. You could be held to it.
If the stakes are this high, I still don’t know what I’d say if I really do get the mic.
apply typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to an activity.
Obviously, this is life under capitalism. But sometimes, I think it is also my own doing. For once, let us forget about my life as a worker, which is obviously cruelly gamified.
I inflict on myself the application of psychological concepts of “conditioning” on the “human resource” that I am, where I am giving myself rewards, avoiding punishments, feeling psychological highs and lows etc. It is my own psychological hack to gamify every little activity to “discipline” my own body.
I have an app for everything. Initially it was limited to only learning things, but now I track everything. I try to consciously not post things on social media as motivation, instead find obscure spaces in the internet or some app that is not community-based. But I hate that I am looking at weekly analysis of these trackers and feeling accomplished because of it.
I have trackers for mood, learning, food, health, reading, even watching anime!
I don’t know how I feel about this really. It is absurd but I also don’t know the alternative to not tracking when it comes to habit formation. Anyway, I definitely think there is a limit to how useful it is.
The one thing I know is that all tracking doesn’t work, especially when it comes to food. I have a tendency to lie about it to myself. I am reading this book to overcome my disordered eating patterns, and I feel drawn to its core idea. The idea is to not think about “habit-breaking” in terms of discipline, because then resistance is only natural.
Anxious people find it easier to be disciplined because their brain will chew them out till they do the particular activity, but for depressed people like me, saying “fuck it” is the easiest thing. So, the internal programming has to be about how one doesn’t need these trackers because you already know what is good for you, and must simply listen to that instinct. The bad habits are the unnatural learned instinct that override the natural instinct. The message then is to realise that one has been brainwashed to think that the bad habits are the easy ones.
I liked the argument that the book was making, and I am not sure if you could apply it to every habit and escape the ordeal of goal-tracking. It just might be perfect for someone like me who insists on not being a cog in the machine (even though I find myself totally succumbing).
Anyway, nowadays every time I write, there is a song in my head, and today it is “Hey Julie”:
Runnin’ around the office like a gerbil on a wheel. He can tell me what to do but he can’t tell me what to feel…
I had an instagram handle once called @half_woke. The reason for that name was that I never felt I knew or had read everything to be a “woke” person. Also, it did sound funny and creative. I could be half-asleep too. But, I guess, I was also worried about the baggage of the word.
Turns out, the baggage in the word is built in. People do expect a perfect self-righteousness from a woke person, who knows how to outrage perfectly, can call-out bullshit and enlighten you with how the world works.
For me, woke meant having a sociological imagination, just being able to place yourself in the larger context. If you think about it this way, it is not an egoistic task. It actually feels liberating to not have a very strong internal locus of control, and realising you are part of a larger story of mankind.
I am not against the ideas of representation, or reconciling with the harsh facts of history. I just think “particularity of oppression” is not a political strategy. Now, what woke has come to mean is a competition of suffering and rage stemming from personal anxiety. It is a dick-measuring contest, but pitting one oppression with another in a scale of pain. I have really come to see that liberal woke politics has bred this fascist wave of conservatism, and both feed off of each other to survive. Woke jargon is easily co-opted by the right, because it is empty academic prose. Woke particularity of oppression is also co-opted by the right. They imitate the tragedy in their own story-telling of being slighted and cheated off of the glorious past.
The key split that I am making here is that politics has to be about issues of material reality: measurable, refutable and concrete. While the project of wokeness should be and has been the task of arts. Oppression and the psychological healing from oppression is, for the most part, a narrative project. It is the subject matter for artists and story tellers to intertwine historical and personal narrative to educate and evoke empathy. Media. Films. Books. Stories. These are the only successful mediums through which one could convince the other about each other’s humanity. When it is used as a political strategy, it tends to insist on the uniqueness of oppression and creates conservative anxiety.
And that’s why kids, we are in this fascist mess today.
Without enough social interaction in the last two years of the pandemic, I feel like I have forgotten who I am. It only brings me closer to the realisation that human beings are such social animals.
You don’t know you are a kind person if you live in solitude. You do a good deed for a stranger, or act kindly in an interaction, and it is only then do you think— oh, I am a kind person! So much of my life has also been friends pointing out: “Oh, you do this so often.” Or “This is your catchphrase.” Only then do you know that this is who you are, and how you are seen as.
I don’t understand people who are afraid of judgements and are afraid of being misunderstood. Maybe because language is my strong suit and I don’t really feel that the words I say don’t match my intention or are lost in translation. So I guess, at some level, I can sympathize. However, I do feel that judgements of people are not supposed to be taken as a fixed truth about you. I always take it as the person’s assessment of me in their worldview, and I always find these assessment frameworks fascinating.
Even if someone clocks me as distant or witty, ugly or pretty, I rarely take it personally. I use those words as a measure of the feelings of that person towards me. And I like people who like me, and I reflect about the people who don’t like me. And I would like to believe that I am okay with both kinds of people. The only thing I want to be sure of is that I am in the company of people who like me, and not be dependent on those who don’t like me.
For me, my own judgement matters most. I have my own assessment of what I think of people when I meet them. And I wish I could assess myself objectively in my own gaze. I wish I could meet myself outside of myself.
I don’t think I am unique. I try to find myself in other people and relate to them. Sometimes, in a crowded train or a mall, I will look at someone and think, “Oh, she looks like me,” or “I think I had that vibe when I was in school.” Once, I told one of my friends that I felt like she was the version of me if everything had gone right, and she flatly refused my assessment. She insisted that our hobbies were different and that what made me me was different from what made her her. I did not have anything to refute that, because it was obviously true.
I guess, in all my assessments of people and their value-judgements about me, I am also trying to find out who I am. Who I am the closest to? And, if I have any similarities, can I see myself for who I am in how they behave? Who am I? In the frameworks of people, in their worldview, where and how do I fit?
Since the lockdown, I am not confident if the adjectives I hold myself as a personal trait are true anymore. The way my students and colleagues see me is limited by the boundary of professionalism. The way my friends see me might be too outdated, since even I don’t know what this isolation has done to me. How my loved ones see me seem too biased. How I see me seems distorted by my moods.
After all this time, how do I really come across as to people? What is the fact about me? I’d just like to know that in my own judgement, through my own eyes.
Only 29, and I am already battered and old. I have lost all ambition and I count my what-ifs down this career path. What if I had found a writing mentor or an academic writing partner early on? Would it be really bad to have yearned to be a cold, Type-A bitch? What if the economy was not this bad? What if I had learned a skill instead of theory?
I mean, I am in a good job. The staffroom is polite, the classroom gives me my autonomous space, and the salary wavers bcz of the assigned work. I am good at my job. If teaching teenagers is what I wanted, I got it. If you look at me, you would wish that I hustle more at other institutions to earn more. But if you really look at me, you would know I am not built that way. I am too depressed at any given time to be a workaholic. I am efficient but I need plenty of downtime that teaching provides. I am not going to fucking use the downtime to work even more. I hustle just enough.
However, I do wish I had ambition. I see ambitious people with the same gaze I have for pious people: appreciation for their one-track mind and disconnection to the whole process.
So, I guess I am comfortably part of the system. I have enough tiny luxuries to not bitch and moan.
I’m a rule follower. Hence I don’t like unjust rules. Lately, I find myself following them knowing it doesn’t make sense and being crabby while I do it. I no more have the tenacity to fight. The giant boulder on the set ways is just an eyesore now, and I walk down the same set path. I find myself giving realistic advice, not idealistic motivation. I find my students nihilistic, not rebellious. (Ah, let us grieve for a minute!)
Whenever I crib like that, I hear Harry Styles singing to me in my mind:
All of last year I was berating myself for always loving people with a tinge of obsession. I came to the conclusion that it is not right to love like that. You erase the person and make the story of the person bigger than they actually are. Of course, nobody lives up to the story you make about them in your head. (But my mind retorts: Well, I do live up to the stories that people make about me! Bcz baby, baby, baby, I’m your man!)
Anyway, the compromise I came up with, because I remain an obsessive person, is that I could channel this madness in fan-ship. I truly get high while cheerleading or staning. It is a socially-approved madness, that only annoys people who know you. So you will hear me gushing about how I am in loOove with a certain celebrity from time to time. I keep adding more to the list, giving each of them a separate but equal pedestal. I have undying love for all of them, and I will frequently wax poetic about their genius and charm.
I have been thinking about whether it is sexist to objectify someone for the purposes of art. Like, if I was a man, it would be seen as problematic to project so much idealism onto the idea of the woman. I have been reading Urdu poetry and sometimes, I am taken aback and wonder how messed up the whole genre is, with so many men professing unrequited love and the lover’s voice is absent. But I also enjoy it thoroughly because I am the same monster, only assigned female.
This led me to another realisation: I write only about my muse(s).
Simping is requisite for creativity! It is so un-feminist of me but I need to obsess to write. For the longest time during this prolonged writer’s block, I had chained myself from ever writing about him if I had to heal; and also my ex had distaste for my obsessive ways. So in trying to be rational, I let go of the fuel that drives me: fantasizing about my muse.
I think all this while, I have been waiting for someone who enjoys being written about, who would delight in it, even if it took mean turns, or if I remoulded him into something shinier. (Would he dare to live up to it? I guess it is bound to be a downhill journey.)
Anyway, what I have realised is that I want to be irrational and obsessive. The price of being rational is too much, and I refuse to be that dull. Even if it is only for short-lived affairs, so be it. I will make it eternal in secret. I guess, I am condoning the monster for the sake of art!
Calling truce with crazy, tame shewolf.
PS: This month, I have been obsessing over Ali Sethi and calling it “Urdu language immersion.”
Okay, it has been clearly established time and again that I am an atheist. I can appreciate someone’s devotion, discipline and faith, but I can’t live with them to watch them do it.
Having said that, I am not religious about being atheist. I do believe that the pursuit of existential questions and morality is a spiritual journey. So, recently, I have been fascinated with Taoism. I read two books: Tao Te Ching (the original text written by Lao Tzu, and of course I am reading an English translation) and Osho’s explanation of the Tao. There were other books that I left because it was too prescriptive for my liking.
I have been thinking about meditating on the poetic texts and what it means to me at a certain point of time, like how I do with poetry. Tao Te Ching really lends itself to that kind of a breakdown. But I wonder if I will intellectualise it too much and miss the point altogether.
Anyway, the reason I am drawn in by Taoism is because it has no personification of the spiritual. “Tao” literally just means “the way.” I thoroughly enjoy the ambiguity of it. It starts with an anarchic claim:
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
Tao Te Ching, Chapter 1
I also love that within it, the principle of dialectics, of yin and yang is so strong. It talks about vitality and action but with a sense of passivity. I love its non-violent stance. There are so many socialist undertones that it brings peace to my heart. I also love the idea of “Flow,” which has become the focus of lot of psychology that tries to understand the creative process.
I am feeling contemplative about it but confused if I should write down my thoughts on the 81 chapters, or record them as a creative project.
He said love is infinite. One could love more than one and each could taste different but it’s still the same old love.
He said love is paying attention. Two eyes to drink your lover to and each glance reveals different but it’s still the same old love.
I have heard of love abundant. Once, in a river unsure, Two fishes danced to the bounty Many joined their celebration. Many more were forgotten. They stayed swimming to the unknown. It felt like the same old love.
I see: love is intention That poets mix with time Imitating the fishes that stayed swimming willing leaving poems behind.
Maybe there must have been a grand era of debating in public, but I have not experienced a mind-changing debate in my life.
I think all of us have become better at understanding the structure of an argument, and can pick out facts to prove whatever you believe in. What is the debate meant to achieve in a “post-truth” world? How do you argue about gender or oppression in the woke political climate? There are so many facts to prove a bigoted point, and such a leftist “bias” to reality. You can’t convince them; they can’t convince me.
I feel bad and even cautious about making this statement, because as a teacher, I really understand the importance of scrutinising your beliefs. Debates seem like a good arena to do that. But, I feel discussions are a better space which can lead to changing minds. I really want everybody in the classroom to feel safe enough to be loudly stupid. Most people do learn from discussions more than they do from textbooks. Only if you have some prior knowledge/experience does a subject pique your interest.
Debates come with the connotation of a winner and a loser. Whenever I have an online debate, there is a sense of “wanting to have the last word” on the matter. So mostly, my tactic has been to let the person have the last word, but let it be obviously stupid exposing their assumptions.
In the classroom, I avoid having the last word but encourage students to summarize the thoughts that were brought up, or end with something sane that we could all agree on. If I have an opportunity for longer after-hours conversation with a curious student, this “Socratic questioning” tool helps me direct them.
I would rather discuss deeply, than indulge in debates to change minds. I am very loud about what my stance is, and it is a joke amongst my students how predictable my positions can be. I have thought about how I cannot be neutral, because there is no apolitical education, just transparent political education. I am not trying to convert anyone. You can dismiss what I say and I will not waste my energy to prove to your how right I am. However, I am sure that if you give it a serious thought with empathy, your conclusions will be similar if not as radical. When you think about issues, and are not alienated to the stakes, you know where you stand.
I know this is a passive, non-urgent stance. Like, education is urgent because if you don’t speak fiercely, a Nazi would do it for you. Sometimes, I feel like I should be invested in winning the argument. The truth is I have been more apathetic about entering a reactionary maze than ever. Debates simply mirror the beats of an intelligent conversation. It is an ego-high.
I think that true learning happens over time. Very few get an aha-moment in a debate and take a 180 degree turn. The aha-moment indicates the tipping point, not the journey of conversations, doubts and reflections. So, I would rather provoke with a good question or a compelling story than dump statistics to win. [Statistics are important, of course. Facts are important. It just seems that they are not compelling anymore, and I have never been a resourceful trivia person. I don’t have a list of talking points to counter the other talking points, because I don’t read talking points.] If you are a good listener and can spot the thought leap, and ask the right question, you can make the unapparent bias apparent.
However, sometimes I do succumb to telling people off by telling them to read more social theory. But most times, I wish people had more empathy and self-awareness.
Basically, an whole essay to tell you: don’t try to start a debate with me. I may come off as a stubborn person. You can ask me my opinion, and I will give it to you in beautiful prose. Ask. Joke. Share. Discuss, instead of debate. Otherwise I will only wait for your last word to ring stupid…
Won’t rule; Won’t be ruled, tame shewolf.
PS: Waiting for the day when everybody knows the labour theory of value as a talking point.
Then, I wouldn’t be overwhelmed by people and need to have reclusive breaks. Or reach a saturation point where I scream, “ENOUGH”
And why do I do that? I don’t like to be rude to people and take a u-turn to being alone. But I keep finding myself in situations that I can’t bear one more quirk.
I think the root may be that I get shocked that someone else is not as accommodating or caught up about me as much as I am with them. I am all about on-going consent with every person all the time. After a point, I get tired because there is no release space for me. and I find myself in these situations over and over again.
My other analysis is that I am such a encouraging, people pleasing yes-man that I meet anxious abusive nutcases that really stretch my limits. If there is one thing I want to put a stop to is meet new people who are predisposed to anxious thinking. I would want my chill to meet other chill people, and not soothe non-chill people. Of course, everybody needs a break from anxious people. They fucking overwhelm everybody around them and never develop coping mechanism well-adjusted for social situations. I always thought anxiety in people is a phase but apparently it is a welded-in personality trait.
[This became quite an anti-anxious people rant. Hahaha..]
If only I learn to make boundaries. But if you asked me, what makes you tired? or what do you really not want to do? I still couldn’t point out. I don’t mind anything till I start minding it. There is a switch flip, and I am out. I wish I had a list of behaviours/needs that I should have a boundary for but I don’t.
I think I can tolerate any behaviour if I believe it is a temporary mood that is justifiable. But if temporary moods become climate patterns, then I realise that I am stupid and I have to get out of this terrain.
What can I do better? What are the smaller boundaries that I can have so I don’t have to run away?