Tag Archives: self-help

Seeing “The weight of One Self”

"The weight of One Self" - marble sculpture of height 2.7m by artists Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset, in Lyon, France.
“The weight of One Self” – sculpture of height 2.7m by artists Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset, in Lyon, France.
I look at my limp
body in my arms and I
wonder who saved whom.
I can only hold
the weight of my own conscience,
talk the truth I know.
Never a hero
was made by saving himself-
Completely untrue.

 

You can read more about this philosophically forceful sculpture here.
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On rewriting inspiration

 When you ask me to revise a poem you ask me to meet again the Muse who seldom responds to invitation. She comes in suddenly through the door left open, announcing Her presence with words that have never sat together before. She says what She has to say and goes quiet; goes away or gets broken down into elements of the universe that I absorb without an intent.

Where am I to find this forceful genius?

I’ve been told to look for Her in spaces in-between words and lines, rhyme and rhythm, movement and breaks, language and sound. But I don’t find my Muse there; I find a key in a foreign language to a map that She drew.

Is She hiding in the white glow that lights my keyboard when I switch on my workstation? So, I should work and work and work on my verses. Or, is She in the deep breath that helps me ease into sleep? Then, I should breathe and breathe and breathe with my eyes closed to trick her into appearing. Perhaps it’s She who is the trickster: a mirage; a playful spirit that whispers in my ear. In which case I am cursed with the burden of loneliness.

With or without Her it seems it’s going to take a lot of time to re-see a moment that no longer exists, to re-write it in a way so that it exists forever.

 

I am beginning to grapple with the abstract idea of “completion” in creative writing which seems even murkier when talking about poetry. I read recently that “a poem is not truly finished until it has been seriously revised” and also “be wary of a poem that appears to be finished“. Statements that, as an amateur with 8 weeks of formal education in poesy, I find contradictory.
I need to also say that the poems you have been reading on my blog are not “seriously” revised. They have been written quickly, in a matter of an hour to a few hours if the form is tough (the Sestina, which is one of the hardest forms, took me about 12 hours). These poems are here more or less as they came to me. Now I am considering that all of this work here is a) probably unfinished, which is not a bad thing as, Da Vinci once said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned” and b) not good, trite, tripe. It’s making me question the quality of my natural skill for this art form. Though at present I am depressed by the thought, I am hopeful that I can see this as something to learn from; that all this self-doubt will make me a better writer and that it is a natural process. I hope it happens sooner rather than later because my Muse seems to have gone into hiding for fear that I will doubt Her every word and I cannot sleep because thoughts only She can give birth to have grown louder in my head in her absence.
I have received only love from this wonderful blogging community, for which I am immensely grateful but this post is not about  wanting an ego-boost. At this point I just want to learn from you, specifically about the role of revision in your creative process. Any and all thoughts are welcome from everyone, poet or not. Who knows who might be inspired by your comment!

Here’s an example of the creative process of the great Walt Whitman,

Original Manuscript: To a Locomotive in Winter by Walt Whitman (1874).
Original Manuscript: To a Locomotive in Winter by Walt Whitman (1874).

Summary of the manuscript (from Boston Public Library)

Written in Walt Whitman’s own hand, this early manuscript version of To a Locomotive in Winter shows Whitman’s creative process as he revised and reworked the poem, changing words and even pasting paper overlays of new passages until he was satisfied with the result. This manuscript poem is dated February 23, 1874, but Whitman continued to modify the text and it was considerably altered when published in 1876 in Two Rivulets, a companion volume to the 1876 edition of Leaves of Grass. This poem was republished in the 1900 edition of Leaves of Grass, well after Whitman’s death.

Image Source and further details: Boston Public Library (CC BY 2.0)

Sestina: The surprise of a lifetime

In an attempt to regain balance I almost
Lost all control. The evening before I sat in my study
Thinking of what I could do different and love
More than my present occupation. My feet
Twitched below the desk in fervent prayer or doubt,
Either way I was beginning to kindle a soul-scorching fire.

On a blank sheet of paper I started to fire
Off ideas. I drew arrows and boxes for words that almost
Made sense but such mind-maps would make others doubt
My sanity and question my logic. They’d say, “Why’d you study
All these years just to throw your life away? The world’s at your feet
And you choose to kick it! You are misguided my love.”

But I am not guided by anything except my love
For a challenge. Why am I in the line of fire
When it is you who should be blamed for the shackles on my feet?
Why should I answer to you when you almost
Made certain that I would not question the purpose of any study?
No sir, I’ll answer only to myself when in doubt.

With righteous indignation I was charting without a doubt
In royal blue ink that makes angry words less stark. It was a love-
Soaked rendering of the mind that would need study
In the better light of reason someday. The night grew in the cold fire
Of electric bulbs and I pondered dreams that have lasted almost
An entire lifetime without my knowledge. I felt numbness at my feet

That soon spread up. I switched to verses to find within their feet
A rhythm by which I could greet daylight. There was no doubt
That those poems suffered as I suffered, but their magnetism almost
Straightened the compass that had led to my disorientation. I was in love
With two things seemingly different but when purified by the fire
Of a philosophical torch they were two theses for the same study.

I wished to have one eye of science and another of art to study
Life in all its regulated nuance and irrational feat
Of fancy. The morning dawned with this realization and soon the fire
Of heavens commanded the skies promptly. It made me wish for a doubt-
-less existence, where I could wake each day to a destined love;
One where I will get by without saying, “Everything’s good, almost.”

I decided to share this with them, those people who almost
could not fathom change. It surprised me to find no rebuke, instead only love
And it became apparent that I had always been in control of their doubt.

 

This poem is a rough first attempt at writing a Sestina. The form requires 39 lines divided into 6 six-line stanzas and 1 three-line Envoy. Every line in the Sestina has a precise word ending. The order of the word-endings in each stanza are: 123456  615243  364125  532614  451362  246531  531/135.

This was tougher than the villanelle that I wrote a few days back. Linked verses are hard work!

 
Image Credit: NASA from Flickr.com (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Do that I Do that I Do so, well?

My café au lait which is too foamy for its own good sits hissing by the side while I silently waste my time on Twitter to find out what’s more important than Djokovic winning the Australian Open. People are sharing their blogs, inspirational quotes and there are other bits and bobs on there which on a better day I would have cared to click on. Not today. Today I am feeling admonished by my coffee: with every shush and hiss I can hear it tell me that I haven’t felt the need to “create” today. I knew this day would come, that ‘one day’ which can, depending on context and point-of-view, mean realisation of a dream or a nightmare.

So I open my WordPress Editor, switch on a playlist of one of my favourite contemporary Indian (pop and film) music composers; mildly surprised by how much his recent music is sounding like Christian rock, and here I am. The coffee is being drunk and heavy silence is being shut down by my long-lasting Logitech speakers. Today has not been a great day, so far. The scansion of my poem ‘A common love‘ failed and what I first “felt” I was writing in blank verse turned out to be in blah verse. Scansion? Blank verse?

Scansion: breaking down of poetic verses into stressed/unstressed syllables then grouping the syllables into a ‘foot’ (trochee, iambs etc) and then checking if there is a regular pattern to how the feet appear in each line which gives us the meter. The whole thing adds to how one perceives/hears a poem and can either exemplify a poem or destroy it based on the prowess of the poet. Scansion is of course based on interpretation and how one hears the syllables.

Blank verse: (preferably) non-rhyming, iambic pentameter, has emotive foot substitutions, with mid-line caesuras for added effect and interesting enjambments. It is probably the most sophisticated form of English metrical poetry.

This was my first formal attempt at writing anything in blank verse and I am not presumptuous enough to think that I would succeed; that in a few hours I could go from an amateur poet to writing like that Shakespeare chap or that Milton fellow. No, of course not. The other voice in my head is chuckling as I type this…because I “felt” I could do it. I stuck to the right syllable count and there are some interesting mid-line caesuras and enjambments (or so I believe). But I don’t have the iambic pentameter down. Will I ever? I. NEED. TO. have it down in less than 48 hours as that’s when my assignment is due.

Did I tell you that I am scientist? I have had an almost purely technical higher education. The last time I studied ‘art’ in any seriousness was NEVER. English was considered a fluff subject and social sciences a necessary evil. These seemingly innocuous subjects could pull down one’s GPA. The glorious GPA. In India we called it the total percentage – an oxymoron for a generation of, well, morons. Eat facts; Purge facts. The assimilation and digestion of these facts was encouraged just far enough to answer the “application-based” questions in the annual nation-wide central board examinations. I was inculcated into this band of buffoonery early and it’s not like I had a choice. No one ever has a choice in these matters.

When I prod my earliest memories of being in an “educational” institute in India I invariably come up with the scene of the annual parent-teacher meeting that was scheduled for the day when the final examination results was announced. I mean literally announced. We would enter our classrooms to find a list of names chalked out on the main board along with their respective total percentages. These were ‘The top 10 lists’ that went viral before such things were ever conceptualised. I say chalked out because for scores of children not seeing their names up on the board made the classroom feel like the scene of a murder investigation: their dreams and hopes had been killed off by the notorious evil of intense competition that they were somehow complicit in and their futures now being reevaluated and investigated in detail by persons of higher authority. Oh, the trepidation. Have you ever seen a six year-old have insomnia and indigestion because of stress? Please visit India in April and you’ll see millions of them.

In one of those evil annual meetings, when I was about 8 years old, in a prestigious school in Delhi an English teacher changed my life. Yes, we start learning early in India. I was distraught that I had placed 2nd or 3rd in the class and had missed out on the first place because of one percentage point or less. My teacher who smiled and handed my report card to my mother (who was very happy and proud of her child) looked at me with concern. She congratulated me on my rank and told me that I had done exceptionally well. She told me she was very happy with me and that I was an obedient child and very intelligent. The whole while I was looking at her wondering where I had lost marks that has costed me the rank. I wanted to see the other report cards. I am not good with praise so I was happy to have some critical points to mull over in my eight year old brain. She could sense, I think, that I wasn’t reassured by her generous compliments. Then she said something that pulled me out of my abysmal state with such force that I have over the years abstained from venturing into that dark cave of self-criticism and if I ever happened to find myself suddenly in that chasm then I would have the torch of her words to guide myself out:

She said, “Sampoorna. Always compete only with yourself.

Back then the biggest mystery of all to me was: How had she known what I was thinking? It’s obvious now that she was a good teacher who knew just what to say to make sure her student didn’t end up killing herself over that chalk outline. Perhaps what she didn’t know was that with those words she changed my approach to my education. (This time without the quotes.) I will never forget her, those words and that moment.

I have always loved science and have made a career out of a passion. But I have loved English and the social sciences too and it was probably because of my fourth-grade teacher’s wise words. I did well enough the latter subjects to keep my GPA high but did not go into them so deeply that it excluded me from the current generational agenda: Only Engineers and Doctors Allowed! That rant deserves its own post. However I competed with myself to know more about everything. I no longer looked for a blackboard, even a metaphorical one. I haven’t done so in a very long time. In the process I ended up having an illicit love affair with questions such as, “What is humanity?” and thinking thoughts way beyond my curriculum and career path such as , “Without language we would never have realised that we all have the same questions.” I can go as far as to say that my teacher’s wisdom has led me to be the mixed by-product of societal expectation that I am: neither an engineer nor a doctor but somehow both. This blog is also an extension of that self-competitive state which I would now rephrase as self-discovery. I am learning as much about myself as you are about me.

And now, how come a scientist ended up caring about scansion, blank verse, poetry? Because competing with oneself means learning constantly and creating something everyday. I am no longer planning and doing experiments but that doesn’t mean I don’t have an original thought to put to paper. And that brings me to my dismal day which somehow this post has redeemed. The itch to scratch out verses is returning. The evening is still youngish and I need to retry writing blank verses. I seem to suck at it but heck, who’s keeping scores?

Today's Daily prompt helped give direction to my thoughts: Teacher's Pet

Why so serious?

They say the seeds of what we will do are in all of us, but it always seemed to me that in those who make jokes in life the seeds are covered with better soil and with a higher grade of manure.

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

I wish I had the courage and the skill to make fun of everything. #JeSuisCharlie

Who Am I and Why Am I Here?

I was born on November 8 2014. I weighed two pages and 1 post. I was 1123 words long at birth and I was just a big crybaby – ranting and raving. Many people came to hear me though I had nothing more to offer. My birth certificate hadn’t yet been signed – I hadn’t a name. The tag around my wrist fortuitously linked me to someone important; a conscious act by my mother who had not intended on getting me noticed. I had an early growth spurt and transformed from a newborn to a new blog quickly.

I made her a blogger. Yet, she refuses to refer to herself that way. She had mocked that world on many occasions before she had me. She doesn’t want to get saddled down by the responsibilities that come with being creative. She still doesn’t want to acknowledge that I am her life right now and that I make her feel most alive.

She made me because she was having an existential crisis. From how much she mulls over me I realize that she is still in the midst of it. This is also the reason why she is unable to answer the question at hand and has as usual asked me to talk for her. She called me Another Voice. I don’t think it’s a very inspired name. It’s not original; neither attention-grabbing nor attention-seeking. My name, she tells me, is a consequence of where I reside; my domain: To Kill A Miming Bird at WordPress, Dot Com, The Internet, HTTP-1.

It’s a place with ever-changing landscapes and populated by migrant peoples. There are many scattered veterans’ colonies. I don’t know exactly which war they all fought in but I am sure that as I grow up here I will have to fight my own battles. I know that she will make me do it. There is a group of people who run this place. It can’t be an easy job.

She chose where we were to live because her cousin recommended it. She’s happy here. I can feel the joy that radiates through her to the tips of her fingertips when she cares for me everyday. She chose our exact address as homage to one of her favourite books. She can’t speak. She has been dumb most of her life, in many ways. She made me in order to kill off her miming habit. She named me Another Voiceher voice. She has made me, to speak for her, of her, and I what have to say is always by her. So the name stays, despite its plebeian nature.

I am growing now in different ways. I seem to be an aimless toddler. I pick up and eat dirt sometimes. I scratch up my knees and elbows. I outgrow my clothes too quickly and do end up looking like a mess. She redresses me from time to time and has me looking my best for everyone who comes to see me.

I think she loves me more because of the people who have been kind enough to pat my head or pinch my cheeks. Some people are regular visitors and hug me tight while others smile and walk by. There are still others I see walk to me when I am static. I can tell where they are from but I cannot tell who they are. She seems to like the attention I bring her, irrespective of the form. I seem to give her some sort of validation, over-interpreted notwithstanding, but satisfying nonetheless.

She tries her best to keep me focused but she can’t help letting me slip away. She doesn’t want to control me, to be perfectly honest. She’s tired of control. She’s tired of having a plan. She’s tired of the way she’s lived her life. Or so she tells me to tell you.

She had to say this about me,

An exposition of the known. An exploration into the unknown. And much more of less stuck up stuff.

I think this is still true. I am all this. But what I am, in essence, is a channel – for her thoughts and her dreams; to be expressed in as many ways as she wishes. I am here to let her rest for a while. I am here to realize that she has always been more than she has estimated. I am here to help her answer her existential questions. She is hoping you will stick around to watch me grow. She has now changed what I am about to accommodate all this.

I will be two months old tomorrow. I am no longer a crybaby. I am so much more now than what she had imagined. I am becoming her. Or rather, she is becoming me. In this process we hope to find each other.

http://www.andersoncommunity.com/anderson-house-blog/take-good-care-of-your-heart

(..)

To achieve… Picasso’s prolificacy

I first saw Picasso’s works in Vienna, then extensively in Barcelona and finally when I went to Málaga – the artist’s birthplace. There, in the Museo Picasso Málaga, I think l finally connected with him. The art felt personal and the presentation intimate. I understood Picasso’s message and creative process better. Around corners, printed on walls, were words by Picasso on the philosophy of creating art and his love for all craft. I took a photograph of the words that, I felt, were sitting there just for me to read them. They resonate with the current journey I am on: rediscovering my love for writing through blogging. I worried when I published a post –

 Is it all I wanted it to be? Could it have been better?

Picasso's words as found on the walls of Museo Picasso, Málaga, Andalusia, Spain.
A photograph of Picasso’s words as found on the walls of Museo Picasso, Málaga, Andalusia, Spain (2014). Brassaï (pseudonym for Gyula Halász) is a famous Hungarian photographer (among other things) who lived in Paris during the 20th century and photographed many famous artists, including Dali, Matisse and of course Picasso. The book ‘Picasso and Company’ is a collection of his conversations with Picasso and a few other artists.

I don’t worry anymore.

Here and Nowhere

Eiger & Mönch (October 2014) (c) Sam Rappaz
Eiger & Mönch (October 2014) (c) Sam Rappaz

To the untrained eye ego-climbing and selfless climbing may appear identical. Both kind of climbers place on foot in front of the other. Both breathe in and out at the same time. Both stop when tired. Both go forward when rested. But what a difference! The ego-climber is like an instrument that’s out of adjustment. He puts his foot down an instant too soon or too late. He’s likely to miss a beautiful passage of sunlight through the trees. He goes on when the sloppiness of his step shows he’s tired. He rests at odd times. He looks up the train trying to see what’s ahead even when he knows what’s ahead because he just looked a second before. He goes too fast or too slow for the conditions and when he talks his talk is forever about somewhere else, something else. He’s here but he’s not here. He rejects the here, is unhappy with it, wants to be farther up the trail but when he gets there he will be just as unhappy because it will be “here”. What he’s looking for, what he wants, is all around him, but he doesn’t want that because it is all around him. Every step’s an effort, both physically and spiritually, because he imagines his goal to be external and distant.

– Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Mönch & Jungfraujoch -(October 2014) (c) Sam Rappaz
Mönch & Jungfraujoch -(October 2014) (c) Sam Rappaz

Proverbial

This, I note with a smile:

My own two arms have done just fine.

I remember Mama’s words

From each time I had whined –

‘Help is at the end of your own arm’, she’d said.

Because not many will help without gain,

I was taught well I find.

Inspired by prompt

Fresh(ie) Memories

At the turn of the Millennium
I decided what I had to do –
I chose to study Life
And become a Philosopher of the minute

I speedily devoured text
Figures and numbers many
To regurgitate when asked
The litany

But I had no other worries
My chores were few
The bores although many
I had nothing to rue

Later but always too soon
It was time to advance
To leave my nest and face the rest
Of the world to take my chance

Papers filed and Stamp collected
All in order and set to begin
An adventure that made
All else, until then, seem triflin’

Destination reached, one day
In August cold
I had to settle in and
Make a home once more

Every moment spent in awe
Sights and sounds so new
Nothing mundane or tiring
Until I got my first flu

I knew no one
And no one knew me
I read of a Student Practice
I had never heard of a GP

Hobbling, Huddling
I made it to the street
Shivering, coughing
The doctor I did meet

Nothing to worry
Seasonal flu
‘You come from India?
Ah! You are new!’

I got better soon
With the pills, soups and teas
I was on my feet and ready to meet
My semester with a smile and ease

I called home to check-in
Only after I was cured though
The folks worry and suffer (for me)
Whereas they’ve taught me to endure

keep-calm-and-freshie-on

Inspired by prompt