Posted in Personal Stories

The Immortalists


How would you live your Life if you knew exactly when you were going to Die ? 

Turns out – the decisions we make on how we live our lives depend deeply on our subconscious beliefs on when we would die. If you believe that  you were going to live for very long , then a lot of your efforts would be invested in saving for those far off days. On the contrary, if you knew you were going to die soon, you would live life on the edge, making every moment count.

Fortunately for most of us, we don’t really know what is going to happen to us in the future, except uninformed guesses. In this bestselling book ‘The Immortalists’ the author unravels the scenario of four adolescent siblings who inadvertently chance on a traveling psychic. The psychic tells them the exact dates when each of them is going to die. And that sets off a fateful arc in each of their lives as they choose their life’s trajectory.

The author develops her characters in phases, she first talks about the one who was foretold to live shortest, who runs away from home to indulge his days to the fullest in a liberal San Francisco . The story snakes through the San Francisco downtown , with an odd familiarity for me as I could relate to the names of the streets and landmarks . You watch in horror as the first prophecy comes true – and then wait in dread as the dates of reckoning for the other siblings draw closer.

And if you thought that this is a book on magic, you will be surprised.  This is a book about choices, consequences and the power of words.

The author takes an uncomfortable topic and weaves an engrossing tale around it. The learning there is, we know that choices drive consequences. But have you ever wondered about how consequences can drive our choices?. Over here, the consequence in question is the ultimate one – how long are you doing to live ? And then, there is the domino impact of choices . In the words of the author:

Here’s what happens: you make choices, and then they make choices. Your choices make choices.

Another powerful message is “ words have wings”. Perhaps most pertinent at a time when as humans,  we are bombarded with a deluge of messages online – many of them half truths and lies. It was not the prophecy of the fortune teller, but the impact of her words on the impressionable minds of the children which led to their eventual death.

Words are powerful. They weasel under door crevices and through keyholes. They hook into individuals and worm through generations.

I started this book on a Saturday night and read it through a weekend punctuated with the shrill undertones of shutdowns in the middle of a global pandemic . If you are looking for a thoughtful read in the times of social distancing – here is a good one to try out.

Posted in Personal Stories

On Revision


Every writer has her own unique process of putting their thoughts out there. Some are pantsers – they “fly by the seat of their pants,”  putting down words as they tumble along the way. Others would be more deliberate about the process of writing – carefully listing out ideas and key messages and then drafting out the story. For both forms of writing, there is a part where you are spontaneously jotting down whatever comes to your mind, which I would call the “Writing phase”.  And then you later go in and revise what you’ve written to publish or ship it out to the world. This is what is typically called the “Revision phase” of writing.

On my laptop, you would find scores of spontaneous drafts which have been untouched and never graduated to the stage of getting published. That, I’m afraid, is a discomfort with the revisions  – my least favorite part of the writing process. 

Writing the first draft is like falling in love. You have discovered a new idea, you are exploring it, there are more connections and concepts spawning in your head which you rush to compose. It is heady , reckless and also liberating in a certain measure to be able to conjure up and give life to ideas out of nothing. Along the way,  you also realize that some of them need improvement, and a few could be gems, but you don’t judge them as they arrive. You just keep writing and documenting, and your heart glows with pride as the page fills up with words that are your own creation.

The “Revision phase” gives you the exact opposite feeling. You now have to judge the words you’ve written, and realize that the message that you sought to convey is somehow not there. The flaws are slowly getting revealed, and the feeling is of languidly falling out of love, or  being in a marriage.

You have to “kill your darlings” and judge ruthlessly. What is especially painful is culling pieces that you thought were very cleverly written and get attached to, but now seem like clumsy appendages which do not fit in the overall story.   

But if you keep going and survive this phase, you would realize that eventually – in the process of revision – you compromise and find a deeper, more long lasting love.  

As I now analyze this writing process, what is increasingly becoming clear to me is that the root cause of my lack of fondness for the “Revision phase”  is the fear that what I’ve written might not be good enough. 

Somewhere in our subconscious self, we are reassured by the thought of being a brilliant work-in progress than a confirmed failure I think. 

Alright. The first step to solving a problem is recognizing that it exists.

Fear of failure is normal. If you are worried about failing, then that is a good sign – you will do your best to succeed. Not committing or finishing because of the fear of failure is a problem.

Overcome the fear of revision to powerfully close your story. Diagnosing your own work, uncovering flaws and correcting them is the first step to clarity — and eventual success!

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Posted in Personal Stories

Observations on Fall


I look out into the vast stretch of green outside my patio. The colors are a dark pastel green, accentuated with tiny patches of yellow and orange creeping in . And with every gust of wind that whooshes through the trees, there is a swirl of leaves that sweep down.  Yes, Fall is here.

Slowly and steadily, these yellow patches would spread and the entire expanse would get transformed. The leaves would fall, winter would tumble in , and the woods would turn into ghosts of their past selves.  All the life that had burgeoned over this summer would be destroyed. 

I remember my snow-covered backyard from last year , with a background of bare naked spidery trees. The charm of a white winter eventually turned into a realization of the true meaning of the phrase “winter in coming”.

On especially cold days, I would watch as the water that flowed out of the air conditioning pipes snaked out on one end and congealed into ice at the other end, making me feel fortunate that I was now on the warmer side of the patio door.  One of the most frequent phrases I heard were – ‘when summer arrives”. As if all eyes were pinned on the opportunities that the warmth of summer would bring.

Slowly, the earth revolved and the season changed. Summer shone on us with its full glory, and what a resplendent glory it was! 

The destruction of winter had breathed a will to prosper even in the tiniest of shrubs. The greenery that rose from the ashes had something special about it .. a hunger of its own. I have never seen leaves so alive, and trees so lush in any other season.  It was almost as if the trees have suddenly discovered their power and are burgeoning to  grow out and vanquish everything that had stopped them before.

This incessant, inevitable cycle of nature reminded me of the important role of destruction in creating a better version of life.

The path to evolution is paved with destruction.

What has made you successful in your past might not lead you to victory in your future. You have to destroy your beliefs and learnings to pick up new ones.

To move from one level to the next, you have to unlearn all that you’ve learnt and re-learn again!

Photo by Autumn Mott Rodeheaver on Unsplash

Posted in Personal Stories

The Non-Fiction Reader


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It is a few months since I have been stuck in this persona of a non-fiction reader.

And this turn of events surprises me because there was a time in my life when I thrived on fiction. I would read almost a book every day – and get consumed by the ebbs and flows of all the action in those pages. In my teens, it was the Nancy Drews and Agatha Christies. The twenties started with the intensity of Ayn Rand – followed by Booker prize nominees and winners – Aravind Adiga, Amitav Ghosh,  Emma Donoghue, you name it. The only non-fiction books that sneaked into my reading list were celebrity publications. One that I distinctly remember is Shashi Tharoor’s ‘The Argumentative Indian’ – that one was like a workout for my vocabulary!

And then later, as screenwriters ran out of creative ammunition and the trend of books screenwritten into movies took over – The Twilight Series, Vampire Diaries,  Game of Game of Thrones, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I had always read the stories cover to cover before anyone had even heard of them on TV or Netflix.  Boy, was I ahead of the game!

But then, one fine day – the rush stopped.

It is hard to pinpoint what caused this, but there was this long phase when I didn’t do much fiction reading and the switch flipped.  I think that with time – you are more aware of your factual ignorance, and a lot of non-fiction reading I began with was to bridge that gap. Some of them – like ‘Homo Sapiens’ helped me understand my own roots.

And slowly my bookshelf filled up with the Ray Dalio, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Tim O’ Reilly and Malcolm Gladwells of the world. In fact – the last book I was hooked on to was  ‘The Society of Mind’ by Marvin Minsky  ( a friend of mine was appalled when I had tugged it along to a coffee shop – Seriously, this seems like a dense reading assignment you’d punish someone with, how can you read it for pleasure?!! )

Well honestly  – it was not an easy read. And even though the language was simple, I had to read it over, again and again, to connect the dots and get the message right.  Still, with my current frame of mind, it was easier for me to absorb than a work of fiction. Nowadays,  I pick up fiction books to read but it’s hard to follow along with the emotional threads and vagaries of a story.  I get exhausted and give up.

Surprising, isn’t it?

My guess is that after a while of practice –  facts and logic get hammered into your brain, and you almost start predicting what a logical argument will look like. There are, after all only a few ways in which you can get the logic right.  And somehow I observed that there is a lesser cognitive load in reading non-fiction- because is almost an extension of what I do in my day job.

Or… Perhaps I am going through a phase – you may say.

Whatever that is,  I would hate to lose that appreciation of fiction, poetry and intense emotions that a string of words can bring.  That’s what attracted me to the lure of reading in the first place!.

Those stories that can take you through a rollercoaster of thrill, happiness, hope, dismay, and laughter have burned timeless memories in my brain.  So many solitary, but memorable moments spent with a book – alone at times perhaps, but never lonely.

Which brings me back to the current state of things.

The long weekend is here –  I am struggling with Zadie Smith’s ‘Swing Time’ .. nursing a cup of coffee.. and fervently hoping that my Fiction reading bug comes back!

 

 

Image credits: Unsplash.com