How am I doing right now? 2021 edition

It was exactly a year ago that I had posted my thoughts on a few key questions. The idea was to capture how I was doing right then. It was a welcome and much needed introspection. I didn't want to miss on the opportunity to revisit the answers from the last year and see what has changed.

It was a nice exercise. My thoughts a year back were so quite unfamiliar to what I am going through today. So, here's an update to the same set of questions. Again, I would love to hear how you are doing.

How are you taking care of yourself today?

Regular exercise and daily meditation. Reading a lot more fiction and non-fiction. I'm still listening to music and many audiobooks. Staying far away from news.

What part of your shelter-in-place residence have you come to appreciate the most?

Garden at my home. The wooden swing at the top floor that overlooks the garden.

What surprising thing have you been stocking up on (that isn’t toilet paper)?

Biscuits. Lots of them.

What’s a story — from a book, a movie, an article, a conversation — that you’ve been gripped by recently? Why did it capture you?

Nothing grips me any more. Maybe I have grown numb?

What habit have you started, or broken, during the quarantine?

I have stopped staying awake late into the Friday and Saturday nights. That was one habit I had, stay up late either mindlessly watching something or working on side projects.

As an effect, I am following a pretty routine. Get a calming and wholesome sleep.

Which specific place in your neighborhood are you most looking forward to visiting once this is all over?

Again, every part of the neighbourhood. Especially malls and the restaurants.

What’s the easiest part about the quarantine?

Getting bored. And getting creative.

What are some things you have realized that you don’t really need?

Cash. And fancy clothes. What I wear at home is often good enough even outside.

What’s something you own that feels useful?

Kindle. Headphones.

What is your COVID-19 nickname/alter-ego?

Calm workaholic.

What problem—either yours, or something more global —do you wish you could solve?

Global Stupidity. Political Divisiveness. Natural Selfishness.


On A Healthful Train of Thought

Hello Friend,

I hope you are in a healthy state of mind and body; the endless whirlpool of tragic tales from the pandemic-ridden world hasn’t pulled you down.

I lately focus a lot on my health, both physical and mental. My mind and body have endured a lot of stress in the past three months, making me realize the importance of staying fit. It was time that I took control and regain the lost energy.

Keeping up with such a resolution is not easy. My mind desires to wander; my body demands to lay back. You are so tired; why do you want to exert yourself more? It questions. And I have often given in to their desires and demands. Not this time, though.

For more than a month now, I have been on the lookout for ways to help myself with this fight. To find ways that work for me. To not give up on the resolve when the things that aren’t working out. I have read a series of articles and books that have helped many that I know. I am consciously implementing what they suggest, attempting before deciding.

Very often, I have fallen prey to prematurely make up my mind about the suggestions from others. “I don’t share that surrounding. I am in such a different phase of my life. That’s too costly. Or too difficult. Or too stupid.” My mind always finds some way to convince me why the suggested strategies won’t work. A month back, it was time for some introspection.

Is it not ironic that a tired mind and body doesn’t want to be taken care of?

Anyway, here’s a selection of this edition’s three brilliant works of writing. I hope they trigger some inspiration for your mind to churn a few happy, positive thoughts.


"Politics and the English Language" by George Orwell

It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.

"Things We Think We Know" by Chuck Klosterman

We adore stereotypes, and we desperately need them to fabricate who we are (or who we are not). People need to be able to say things like, “All stereotypes are based on ignorance,” because expressing such a sentiment makes them enlightened, open-minded, and incredibly unpleasant. Meanwhile, their adversaries need the ability to say things such as, “Like it or not, all stereotypes are ultimately based in some sort of reality,” because that kind of semilogic can justify their feelings about virtually anything. Nobody really cares what specific stereotype they happen to be debating; what matters more is how that label was spawned, because that defines its consequence. It raises a fundamental query about the nature of existence: Is our anecdotal understanding of the world founded on naivete, or is it built on dark, unpopular truths?

"Once More to the Lake" by E. B. White

We had a good week at the camp. The bass were biting well and the sun shone endlessly, day after day. We would be tired at night and lie down in the accumulated heat of the little bedrooms after the long hot day and the breeze would stir almost imperceptibly outside and the smell of the swamp drift in through the rusty screens. Sleep would come easily and in the morning the red squirrel would be on the roof, tapping out his gay routine. I kept remembering everything, lying in bed in the mornings–the small steamboat that had a long rounded stern like the lip of a Ubangi, and how quietly she ran on the moonlight sails, when the older boys played their mandolins and the girls sang and we ate doughnuts dipped in sugar, and how sweet the music was on the water in the shining night, and what it had felt like to think about girls then.

Postscript

Have any recommendations or feedback for me? I’d love to hear from you. Just hit reply, or you can even email me.

Thank you for reading and sharing.

-Amit


Let's Talk About Thoughts That Make You Uneasy

Hello Friend,

The last month was pretty exhausting for me. We had planned a family function at our home; the closest few were to gather after a long, long time. I would not have objected if we had delayed a get together of any form in these trying times of pandemic. However, this function was long overdue, and we could no longer avoid it. So with a slight uneasiness and a lot of uncertainty, we decided to go ahead with a smallish gathering.

Deep down, however, I was also anxiously awaiting to be surrounded by a few people after all. I wanted to take my mind away from the gloomy, saddening updates from the world over. This function lent the desired chance to do that. Isn’t it curious that the personal pressures allow you to be distracted, to momentarily stay aloof of the fact that the world around you is burning? Is it cynical? Selfish? Sure, it is. But sometimes selfishness is healthy for a burdened mind.

For a whole week, I was running around, planning for the event. I was exerting my body to the extreme. But the physical pain out of uninterrupted exertion is a lot less discomforting than the pain that any form of inertness inflicts on the mind.

As the day came to an end and I greeted adieus to my closest folks, I was left exhausted, but I had a big smile on my face. I felt a lot contented, at ease within. As if the difficult time had passed. So naive, yet freshening. If nothing else, I have accumulated a few memories that, surprisingly, aren’t blotted with the dull shadows of the pandemic.

Anyway, here’s a selection of this edition’s three brilliant works of writing. I hope they inspire you to word a few memories, a few uneasy thoughts of yours.


"Us and Them" by David Sedaris

Because they had no TV, the Tomkeys were forced to talk during dinner. They had no idea how puny their lives were, and so they were not ashamed that a camera would have found them uninteresting. They did not know what attractive was or what dinner was supposed to look like or even what time people were supposed to eat. Sometimes they wouldn’t sit down until eight o'clock, long after everyone else had finished doing the dishes. During the meal, Mr. Tomkey would occasionally pound the table and point at his children with a fork, but the moment he finished, everyone would start laughing. I got the idea that he was imitating someone else, and wondered if he spied on us while we were eating.

“Why Write?” by Paul Auster

It became a habit of mine never to leave the house without making sure I had a pencil in my pocket. It’s not that I had any particular plans for that pencil, but I didn’t want to be unprepared. I had been caught empty-handed once, and I wasn’t about to let it happen again. If nothing else, the years have taught me this: if there’s a pencil in your pocket, there’s a good chance that one day you’ll feel tempted to start using it. As I like to tell my children, that’s how I became a writer.

"It’s silly to be frightened of being dead" by Diana Athill

I can’t remember when I read, or was told, that he [Montaigne] considered it a good thing to spend a short time every day thinking about death, thus getting used to its inevitability and coming to understand that something inevitable is natural and can’t be too bad, but it was in my early teens, and it struck me as a sensible idea. Of course I didn’t set out to think about death in a regular way every day, but I did think about it quite often, and sure enough, it worked. Why coming to see death’s naturalness should have caused belief in an afterlife to melt away, I am unsure, but it did. Probably that belief had been no more than an unexamined acceptance of something said by a grownup: in a child’s life there are many things more important to question than the probability of reuniting after death with other dead people – ideas that are tucked away on a back shelf of the mind like some object for which one has no use at present.

Postscript

Have any recommendations or feedback for me? I’d love to hear from you. Just hit reply, or you can even email me.

Thank you for reading and sharing.

-Amit


Revisiting 2020 through the /now page

I updated my /now page today after a long time. I usually maintain a thought's archive as part of the page for the updates that are no longer relevant. The idea behind is revisiting the thoughts that once were at the top of my mind is another way for me to retrospect.

Today I've reset that section for 2021. And below is an unadulterated list of the thought archive from 2020 -- so in a way a snapshot (incomplete, sure) of the year that went by.

  • I’m trying to get into a habit of regular meditation. I want to give it a chance again.
  • I'm in love with the Hamilton soundtrack. I keep going back to it every now and then.
  • Study Café Album on Spotify has been my go-to album every time I want to focus. If that fails, the real café ambient noise from Coffitivity does the job.
  • I have started writing frequently now. The simpler writing workflow with WordPress is helping.
  • Need to get the backup solution for posts (probably in WordPress) addressed.
  • Focus on deciding on the format, the frequency and the tone of the newsletter.
  • Where would my blog go next? Or will it stay here? It would most probably not be WordPress
  • I want a better writing interface. Or maybe not? Why do I want to create something perfect myself?
  • Need to get to the improvements planned for Wall.
  • Read. Read. Read. Write. Write. Write.
  • I need to finish the couple of books I had started reading in the last month
  • Implement a micropub client. Get anything working. Without UI. Dropped the idea
  • Getting used to the new normal.
  • Write about and share details about Wall. Feedback and issues.
  • Get IndieLogin working -- just been too long now
  • Get distracted with the side projects, again. IndieWeb's done.
  • Start reading and writing again
  • Stop procrastinating items from *must-do* list
  • Fix issue with webmentions from Brid.gy
  • Send webmentions to target on replies/likes
  • Support for updates in blotpub
  • Decision on upcoming nearby travel
  • Handle crossposting to Twitter and Mastodon for longer posts
  • Style webmentions section to my liking. It is too bloated in the current form
  • Start `\now` page to be updated regularly
  • Consolidate all my online content onto a single place (*most probably blot*)
  • Move old content from Hugo to archive (a Hugo site)
  • Change stuff around

A few guilty pleasures

1. A bowl of hot instant noodles

2. An hour of reaction videos on YouTube

3. A pack of Lays late at night

4. That episode from Seinfeld or Friends

5. Idling away morning hours in the bed

6. That planned "sick" leave

7. Right Click and Inspect Element (Q) on random sites

8. Cheap, unnecessary online buys

9. Binge-watch session on Weekdays

...and that one simple pleasure - a calming head massage with warm coconut oil.


You Write Because You Have To

Hello Friend,

After a prolonged slump in my productivity, I’ve been writing a lot more recently. I’m not sure what has brought in this change. Some alteration in the environment I write in had stimulated such a turn around in the past. A new keyboard. A new platform. Or a new place.

However, my selection of tools has hardly changed this time. It’s never the tools, I keep telling myself. Such tool-induced changes in habits are short-lived.

This recent quote from Halle Kaplan-Allen is pretty profound in that sense.

The best tool to achieve any task is the one that you are going to stick by. Tool proliferation leads to increased complexity, and increased complexity leads to productivity paralysis.

I recently came across a sudden surge of posts where a new tool inspired many people to get back to writing. Each person had a new idea that the said tool would help them in. “The simplicity kills the friction; that should help me write more,” goes the thought. That line of thinking should work, sure. But for the majority of us, our minds aren’t wired that way.

Judy Blume says, “you don’t write because you want to, but because you have to”. She is spot-on; I never want to write. I can’t force my mind to sit at the keyboard and fill the pages with words. I only write when I am emotionally involved in what I write. In short, I write best when I believe in what I am writing. Otherwise, all the words are hollow. The thoughts, meaningless. So, I welcome my recent creative phase.

Anyway, here’s a selection of this edition’s three brilliant works of writing. I hope they inspire you to write as well as you can.


A Personal View on Writing – by Judy Blume

I once met a woman who wanted to write. She told me she’d read 72 books about writing but she still couldn’t do it. I suggested that instead of reading books about writing, she read the best books she could find, the books that would inspire her to write as well as she could.
Those of us who write do it because there are stories inside us burning to get out. Writing is essential to our well-being. If you’re that kind of writer, never give up! If you start a story and it isn’t going well, put it aside. (We’re not talking about school assignments here.) You can start as many as you like because you’re writing for yourself. With each story you’ll learn more. One day it will all come together for you.

The Perfection of the Paper Clip

Minimal, relentlessly plain, and instantly familiar to a contemporary eye even in an advertisement from 1894, its persistence has made the paper clip the epitome of the disposable, anonymous, manufactured object. It is made for secretaries, for assistants, for subordinates and gofers. It only became most useful once there were millions of pieces of paper that had to be grouped, but that also had to be taken apart again. The staple may contain more potential for physical harm, but the threat of the paper clip is Sisyphean: once you’ve clipped the papers together, you’re probably going to have to unclip them, and then clip together some others, and then unclip those and keep going until you retire, or you get that break in your acting career. Perhaps if Microsoft had chosen an object less reminiscent of mindless toil, the optimism of its much-loathed Clippy office assistant would have seemed less demented, and thus less prime for ridicule.

How to Tell a Story and Others – by Mark Twain

The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it; but the teller of the comic story tells you beforehand that it is one of the funniest things he has ever heard, then tells it with eager delight, and is the first person to laugh when he gets through. And sometimes, if he has had good success, he is so glad and happy that he will repeat the “nub” of it and glance around from face to face, collecting applause, and then repeat it again. It is a pathetic thing to see.
Very often, of course, the rambling and disjointed humorous story finishes with a nub, point, snapper, or whatever you like to call it. Then the listener must be alert, for in many cases the teller will divert attention from that nub by dropping it in a carefully casual and indifferent way, with the pretence that he does not know it is a nub.

Postscript

Have any recommendations or feedback for me? I’d love to hear from you. Just hit reply, or you can even email me.

Thank you for reading and sharing.

-Amit


Slanting Nib Returns With Vol. 2

Hello Friend,

It’s been a while since I published the last issue. For me, neither 2020 signed off on a high note nor 2021 started with a blast. The many unwanted bumps through the challenging past three months forced me to push the reset across my projects.

Anyway, I plan to revive this newsletter, and I intend to call this an unrelated sequel to the original run. The first volume was about and for the writers, whereas I target a slightly wider audience with this reincarnation.

Each new volume of anything generally diverges on the theme; this one is no different. I’ve covered all the aspects I’d planned for the first volume of this newsletter, the one I had tagged as “a writer’s toolkit”. It is disrespectful on my part then to publish something that does not excite me - it cannot be engaging for you, the reader.

What changes can you expect, then?

Well, the soul stays the same. It’s the content and the context that changes. Each issue will still feature three fantastic works of writing, but I won’t restrict them to be only about and around writing. They will be curious at most times. At times, they will be profound. But engrossing they will be every single time.

With that said, here are the three featured writings for this week.


"Advice to Youth" by Mark Twain

Always obey your parents, when they are present. This is the best policy in the long run, because if you dont, they will make you. Most parents think they know better than you do, and you can generally make more by humoring that superstition than you can by acting on your own better judgment.

"Joy" by Zadie Smith

“You’re being the dog,” our child said recently, surprising us. She is almost three and all our private languages are losing their privacy and becoming known to her. Of course, we knew she would eventually become fully conscious, and that before this happened we would have to give up arguing, smoking, eating meat, using the Internet, talking about other people’s faces, and voicing the dog, but now the time has come, she is fully aware, and we find ourselves unable to change. “Stop being the dog,” she said,“it’s very silly,” and for the first time in eight years we looked at the dog and were ashamed.

"Go Gentle Into That Good Night" by Roger Ebert

“Kindness” covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

Postscript

Have any recommendations or feedback for me? I’d love to hear from you. Just hit reply, or you can even email me.

Thank you for reading and sharing.

-Amit


On Personal Names...

I have a pretty common first name (or given name as it is called at some places). It’s so common that even the movie characters with my name have rarely had any significant part to play. I believed my surname was uncommon, making the combination unique. But I was wrong with my assumption – boy there are so many Amit Gawande’s out there on Facebook, the “universal phonebook”. Yo namesake morons, why are you still using that app?

The names from European countries always fascinate me 1. Every name sounds so unique. And has such a complex tone to it – it’s new every time I hear it. And if I think I’ve already heard it, they adorn the spelling with an extra “z”. Fantastic!

Having a common first name sucks. Having it end with an equally common surname sucks more. Good luck getting high up the search results list 2. I dread creating my account on any new service that is launched. I rarely get a username with just my first name – there is already a developer building that bloody service. With surname? Nah. With the first letter of surname? Nah. With a number or underscore in there? Yep, that’s what you get.

That also the reason why I respect the service where I could get that username with just my first name. Uhm!

Of course, if your aim in life is just to get lost in the crowd, be not know or just be, have a common name. But who wants that? Right? RIGHT?


  1. Not English names though – why won’t you patch up your relationship already. It will save us other worlders the effort of clarifying this every time. I know, I know. As if you ever gave a shit about what we thought. Sigh! ↩︎

  2. Yep, am not pure. I do Google my name often. As if you don’t. Bruh! That’s also another reason why I love DuckDuckGo – I am the “top” Amit Gawande amongst all other suckers out there. ↩︎


Feature Requests for Micro.blog Hosting

I’ve got a few minor (?) feature requests for Micro.blog hosting based on my limited experience with the service. I think these features will further heighten and simplify the experience.

  1. I wish the edit buttons were available on the posts in the timeline, for example, right next to the remove option. The availability of the remove option makes me believe the context is already available. Also, I understand an option to edit the original posts from blogs not hosted by Micro.blog might be tricky, but I hope Manton finds some simple solution, as he usually does.
  2. I believe the edit for the replies is far simpler in comparison and should really avoid all the hoops one has to go through today, just for minor fixes.
  3. Just the way, the whole site can be archived to GitHub automatically, I wish the custom theme can be too. It would help to track all the changes being made to the site design. Without the option, I need to manually set up and check-in the changes to the repository. And given how easy it is to update the custom theme from the browser, it just feels natural to allow backing up the theme as a git repository.
  4. Currently, the spell checks and Grammarly plugin does not work in the post drafting textarea. I am not yet sure why, but it makes the posts very prone to errors.
  5. This is way down the list (literally), but I wish the drafts are auto-saved while composing longer posts. I do not want to lose a draft just because I closed a window by mistake.

Possibly these items are already on Manton’s backlog list but just aren’t prioritized. In which case, here’s an added vote for these features.


Through the Dark Clouds - A Short Story

The lady on the microphone announced in her squeaky voice, “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Mumbai airport.” Oas groaned, closed his eyes, and contorted his face like only an exasperated 75-year-old can. Having heard her numerous times in the last couple of hours, he was tired of listening to her any more.

“Does she think I’ve never been to an airport before?” he muttered under his breath. “Bah. I’ve been on planes for longer than she’s been on earth!” The staff was running helter-skelter on the airport with some angst that Oas couldn’t fathom. “Freaks,” he sighed in disappointment.

The constant low hum of the music from the headphones of the young guy beside Oas didn’t help his mood either. As the guy shuffled in his seat, the huge laptop on his lap brushed against Oas’s arm again.

“Do you want my lap too?” Oas blurted out loudly as he knew the guy couldn’t hear him. “Take it, I am happy to help you save the world which is what I assume you must be doing,” he continued muttering. The guy hardly budged.

Bored of the one-way conversation, Oas got up and stood gawking at the hustle-bustle around. He was a lost alien amidst the time-poor professionals. He walked to a television screen in the lounge playing CNN. A news scroll read about a novel disease spreading through China. The main news being run on the channel though was about a kid at the Mumbai airport traveling alone. Oas massaged his forehead in disdain, wondered why this was news, and walked away.

He began to stroll around the airport. He had to buy nothing, but he also dearly wanted to interact with another human being. He wandered through the Crosswords bookstore, hoping a salesperson would ask him if he needed any help. No one did. Lacking the patience to browse around the towering walls of disparate books, he walked straight to the bestseller section. He glanced at all the self-help books crowding the non-fiction racks. The fiction ones were full of tales from fantasy worlds. Oas was fond of neither; so he strolled out. 

He saw a deserted coffee stall. Hoping that the person selling coffee would be as bored as he was, Oas walked to him. The person was seated on a low stool chair; to Oas’s disappointment, even he was lost in his smartphone’s screen.

“What’s hot?” Oas asked the guy with a wish it would trigger some small talk.

“We only sell coffee here,” responded the guy without glancing away from the glowing screen.

“Do you serve it hot?” Oas quipped.

The guy hadn’t looked at Oas yet; he didn’t even now. He jerked his face towards the coffee vending machine and said, “We serve it however this machine dispenses.”

With all his hopes for even a meaningless interaction crushed, Oas ordered a cup. The guy shrugged in annoyance, got up and walked to the machine. He served the coffee with eyes as dull as sloth’s. “Sorry to put you through so much trouble, my friend,” mocked Oas. The sarcasm in his voice was lost on the mindless guy. He responded, “It’s alright.”

With a bitter taste in his mouth, Oas walked back to the gate buzzing now with the regular pre-boarding bustle. A lot of people had gotten up in the anticipation that the queuing would start soon. “Would they prefer to stand up longer just to be ahead in the boarding queue?" Oas wondered. “Just so that they could sit inside the plane longer?" The rationality behind the thought had always stumped him.

“Mr Puri?” Oas heard a soft voice calling for him. He turned to face a flight attendant, smiling a very plastic smile at him.  The nametag on her read ‘Anjali’. Oas stopped himself from telling her that she had unnecessarily puffed her face with makeup. She had helped Oas earlier at the check-in counter; he had stopped himself even then. 

“Would you please follow me?” It sounded more like a command to Oas than a request.

He looked at her, puzzled. He couldn’t think of any reason why he should follow her. “I’m ok, Anjali,” he said curtly. “I don’t need any help.”

“Sir, we have a priority boarding policy for all the senior citizens,” she spoke without letting her two pepper-red lips touch one another for long. “We will get you on the plane first.”

Oas stared at her like a child would at his examiner. “Why does the world make us elders feel a lot more helpless than we are?" He didn’t have much choice though; the stewardess looked adamant. 

“Fine. But I would need to be taken care of. I don’t want to get stuffed in and forgotten,” instructed Oas.

“Won’t happen, sir.” The plastic smile didn’t leave Anjali’s face.

Oas followed her. He was stuffed into the plane. And forgotten.


Oas looked at the kid from the CNN news report boarding along with Anjali. He wished the kid wasn’t sitting anywhere close to him. Sure, Oas was yearning for interaction with another human being, but he was convinced that kids didn’t fit that category. He did not hate them. He just believed they were dispatched by God to make people live through misery right on earth for the sins they have committed.

“Kids are too clumsy,” he used to tell his wife, Sara, “and too stupid to spend any time with. All they can do is leave you more frustrated than you were before.” Sara, on the other hand, believed they were godsent to spread joy amongst the grieving souls, to teach them valuable lessons about life. “That’s why God sent us no child. We are not grieving, you see.” She used to joke with tears soon shimmering in her eyes. Oas let her settle with her fantasy.

Oas saw the kid follow Anjali till they reached right next to where he was seated. She started pushing the kid’s backpack inside the overhead compartment. Oas dropped his face in his palm; the kid saw him do that.

“Avik, this is your seat, right next to nice Mr Puri here,” introduced Anjali. “I’m sure you would enjoy your flight.”

Oas saw the kid slide onto the seat next to him and blurt, “Thank you!”

Avik shuffled into his seat by the aisle. He looked towards the open overhead compartment. Then he stuck his neck out into the empty aisle. He wanted to see someone around; he didn’t. Displeasure cloaked his innocent face. He then looked at Oas who had picked up a magazine and was clearly pretending to be engrossed in it.

“What are you reading, Mr Puri?” Avik was looking curiously at Oas.

“Nothing that will interest you,” Oas answered curtly without looking at him once.

“I don’t think you like reading Mr Puri,” continued Avik. “You don’t look too interested in that book. My mum says if you enjoy doing something, you are always very busy doing it. So much that you won’t even answer a question from someone else.” Avik had pulled out the envelope kept in the seatback pocket and rummaged through what was inside. “I never answer my mum when I am watching cartoons, you know, because I looooveee cartoons.”

Avik was doing nothing to thwart Oas’s beliefs about kids, rather, he was only making them firmer. “Why are you alone, kid? Why are you not with your mum?” Oas asked while putting the magazine back into the envelope.

“She’s in Bangalore. My father is also in Bangalore,” said Avik while pulling out the printed safety instruction manual.

“Why are you not with your mum?” Oas asked again, thinking, “of course kids never answer the question that’s asked”.

“Because they are not in Mumbai?” Avik shook his head a couple of times and continued staring at the pictures in the security manual. “I was living with my grandma here. She is very old –” Avik paused and looked at Oas’s face again. “Not as old as you, though. But she still says she can’t fly; she says she is afraid.” Avik wasn’t accustomed to staying silent. “I am not afraid at all. My mum says I am very strong.” Oas himself had started rummaging through the envelope now, searching for headphones that he could plug his ears with. “She says I am stronger than all my friends in the school. Rohit, Sid, everyone. Neil does beat me sometimes, but I always hit him back. My mum says I am stronger than even my father. My father -” Oas had found the headphones and had quickly plugged his ears shut. He looked at Avik; he could see his lips move, but heard no sound at all. He breathed a sigh of relief. He was happy that he had booked a first-class ticket; at least they provided the customers noise-cancelling headphones.

Oas saw Anjali standing by the gate welcoming the other passengers that were boarding the flight now. He watched a couple enter the flight with a baby. The father was walking in front carrying all the luggage. The new-mom was struggling to carry the baby through the narrow aisle without letting even its sock touch anybody around. “That kid’s going to wail throughout the flight now." Oas let out a deep sigh.

The guy with the huge laptop under his arm and headphones over his head walked in next. Oas smirked looking at him. “The Avenger,” he muttered and chuckled at his joke.

Oas felt a pat on his arm; Avik was gesturing at him to remove his headphones. Oas didn’t want to, but Avik had shifted his attention to work the seat belt that was holding him in his place. Worried the kid would set himself free, he pulled them away and gave Avik a probing look.

“Did you hear what I was saying, Mr Puri?”

“Sorry, I didn’t. You see …” Oas pointed at his headphones. “… I was listening to music. Now that is something I like doing, kid.”

“Why do you keep calling me ‘kid’? Everyone else calls me ‘Avik’. My mum says she spent many days thinking before she settled on that name. You know what it means?” Without waiting for Oas to speak a word, he bent his arms, flexing his biceps. “It means brave, just who I am, my mum says. But she always cries when she says that, though.”

The last statement made Oas freeze in his place. He saw a moving image flash in front of his eyes; of Sara hunched down next to Oas, laughing and crying at the same time. “Oh, I know you are brave, Oas!" He could recall Sara lying to him, preparing him for something he just wasn’t ready for.

“Why does she cry?” He asked Avik in a much softer voice suddenly.

Avik shrugged, “I don’t know.” He continued his assault on the seat belt.

Oas continued to stare at the kid, gloomy thoughts clouding his mind. Feeling increasingly restless, he asked, “Are you going back to your mum?”

“Yes, I’m. Grandma says my mum’s missing me. She always misses me.” Avik had given up on his fight with the seat belt. “Who are you going back to?”

“No one. I am going back to being alone.”

“Alone? Do you like living alone? Don’t you have a family? My mum says everyone has one.”

The innocence in the kid’s voice caught Oas off guard. “I had, once. I don’t now since my wife. . . uhmmm. . . you know - " Oas wasn’t sure if the kid was old enough to understand the concept of death. This was one more reason he didn’t like spending time with kids. “They could keep making the mindless fart jokes around you, but say ‘shit’ around a kid and the whole world starts judging you," he always complained. Sara was good at manoeuvring such situations; Oas wasn’t.

“What? Did your wife die?” 

Oas was taken aback by this unexpected straightforwardness. He gulped the heaviness of the moment down his throat and nodded.

“But she did love you, didn’t she?” Oas nodded again. “So, why are you alone then? She must be still around, you know?”

Oas looked at the kid expressionless. His mind was full of questions that he knew he would get no answers for from this unripe mind.

“My mum says the people that love you do not go anywhere even if they die. They do disappear but continue to stay around. They never leave you.” He was busy unfolding and folding the tray table over his lap now. “My mum says she also is never going to leave me alone. I don’t know why she keeps saying that; I know she won’t.”

Everyone around had settled down into their seats now. A calmness spread through the plane that Oas didn’t share. Uneasy, he stared out the window into the darkness outside, illuminated by the occasional flash of lightning. Within, he was storming through the dreary thoughts.

Anjali was now ready with the security demonstrations. She was used to being ignored, but the kid craned his neck to take in every word she said. Oas, on the other hand, was lost in his thoughts.

“Uhhh … Why do they rush through these security instructions? Do they even want people to understand them?” Oas looked at him struggling with the seat belt again. He finally got it open and squeaked an enthusiastic “yay”.

“Cabin crew, prepare for take-off please." Oas heard the Captain announce. Avik was jumping up and down on his seat; he didn’t look alone any more. Oas unbuckled his seat belt, stretched towards the kid and put him back tied to his seat belt. “Don’t you unbuckle the seat belt now. Your mum won’t want you to do that.”

Avik settled back into his seat. Oas locked his stare at the darkness outside. The flight took off, passing through the stormy clouds. The raindrops pattered against the window and then stopped suddenly as the plane cut through the low dark clouds.

Avik had unknowingly slid his hand around Oas’s arm. Oas smiled at Avik. “Your mum’s right. You are a brave child.”


I hate shopping for deodorant...

That sentiment is a lot stronger for me in today's times of a pandemic that spreads by touching any of the open holes on a human's face. I'm tensed anytime I'm to touch my own face these days, especially if I don't have a hand wash or sanitizer around. I hate this crazy, fucking virus.

You can stop eating particular meat or can boil & reboil the water before drinking it. You can kill all the mosquitos around or have yourself bathed in repellant. But how the fuck do you not touch your own face? That's like asking your kid to not put herself in harm's way - she invariably will.

Anyway, with the bottled up frustration out of the way, my dislike for shopping for deodorant isn't new. So much so that it's no longer just a harmless dislike, it's a feeling of extreme hate. How the hell do you decide if a deodorant is good or not? I don't know how it's done at other places, but here in India, trying out a fragrance from a tester pack is pretty common while shopping for a deodorant. Everybody does it. Everybody apparent can do it. Except me. I never learned how to keep the fragrances separate. Once I've tried two, everything smells the same to my picky nose - you might as well make me smell the water and still get a comment from me after that.

The way-out for me earlier was that I would only try a couple and select one from those. I can't say it always works - I end up choosing one that smells the worst. Too strong or too mild or yuck. These are the only reactions I get from my family. I haven't let that affect me until now - I have managed to convince myself that no one likes how the other smells. As long as I'm happy with how I smell - or there's a complete lack of any form of smell for that matter - I was fine. So I bought whatever smelled best for me or didn't smell at all from the two I tried.

This trial for fragrances is out of the picture in the pandemic times. There just are too many logistical problems.

What's the other way then? You can for once judge a book by its cover or title, but there's no way one can judge a deodorant by its canister. I mean all fucking look the same. You can't select one because its nozzle opens up funny or the shape of the container is "different". The content isn't.

And what's with naming the fragrances? Dark Temptation, Sea Drift, Thunder Bolt, Regal Burst, Voyage. When every fragrance could be named as simply as "strong", "mild" and "mildest", fact that marketing would spend so much time and money to come up with these names makes no sense to me. How am I supposed to select between Dark Temptation and Gold Temptation?

And the money that marketing spends on the advertisement for men's deodorant must absolutely go down the drain. The only message they aim to deliver apparently is put this on and be a magnet for girls? Or be sensual? Or be "irresistible"? On the other hand, how can you even advertise for fragrance? The only thing you can say is it smells good.

Or simply strong, mild or mildest. I'm telling you, it is simple to solve this problem. Just use those names.

Anyway, I went shopping for deodorant today again. Looking at me struggling, toying around with all black canisters, the store owner pulled all the options away, kept one in front of me and said, "you will love this, sir, trust me". That won't have done it, but then he added, "you will click a picture of this and come again next time asking for this one".

Once I returned home with that deodorant, I minutely stared at my reflection in the mirror, wondering what in the way I dressed gave that store owner the feeling that I can't read English.


Changed, yet Stayed the Same

Hello friend,

I took a brief time off in the last couple of weeks to reflect on what I have learned about me and you, the reader, as I published the first ten issues of this newsletter. Having recognized the challenges and the key aspects of the process that I need to focus on, I’m changing things up with the newsletter in this second outing, if I may call it that. With the promise of keeping the core the same, I just want to experiment with a shorter version of each issue - 3 wonderful works on and of writing.

Also, I would be sending out the issue every 2 weeks going ahead to lend myself ample time to read and word a brief commentary about each recommendation I’ve for you.

With the awkward announcement out of the way, here we go with this week’s issue.


Uncanny the Singing that Comes from Certain Husks

I have rarely read a more ornate description for a writer than what Joy Williams has in her brilliant essay. It’s a short read, but it makes you pause and ponder over each idea. Just for Joy’s fascinating interpretation of the tale of a man’s fate and what that represents for a writer, I would bookmark this essay and reread it occasionally.

A writer’s awareness must never be inadequate. Still, it will never be adequate to the greater awareness of the work itself, the work that the writer is trying to write. The writer must not really know what he is knowing, what he is learning to know when he writes, which is more than the knowing of it. A writer loves the dark, loves it, but is always fumbling around in the light. The writer is separate from his work but that’s all the writer is—what he writes. A writer must be smart but not too smart. He must be dumb enough to break himself to harness. He must be reckless and patient and daring and dull—for what is duller than writing, trying to write?

Thoughts on Writing

Each time I read this insightful post from Elizabeth Gilbert, I find a new advice that I had missed earlier. Every paragraph, every statement is a nice reminder for each writer, aspiring and established, to focus on what matters the most to keep writing. Elizabeth talks about how she herself got started writing, how every writer should handle rejections and yet should keep trying with unwavering desire to write more. “It’s not the world’s fault that you want to be an artist…now get back to work” - I’ve framed this blunt, yet effective, suggestion from Elizabeth on the wall opposite to my writing desk.

Insanity is a very tempting path for artists, but we don’t need any more of that in the world at the moment, so please resist your call to insanity. We need more creation, not more destruction. We need our artists more than ever, and we need them to be stable, steadfast, honorable and brave – they are our soldiers, our hope. If you decide to write, then you must do it, as Balzac said, “like a miner buried under a fallen roof.” Become a knight, a force of diligence and faith. I don’t know how else to do it except that way.

The Ecstasy of Influence

Jonathan Lethem succinctly and pointedly talks about the thin line between inspiration and plagiarism in the varied art forms. With an observation, that “literature has always been a crucible in which familiar themes are continually recast” and backing it by abundant examples, Jonathan goes on to speculate if there exists such a line at all.

Most artists are brought to their vocation when their own nascent gifts are awakened by the work of a master. That is to say, most artists are converted to art by art itself. Finding one’s voice isn’t just an emptying and purifying oneself of the words of others but an adopting and embracing of filiations, communities, and discourses. Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos. Any artist knows these truths, no matter how deeply he or she submerges that knowing.

Postscript

Have any recommendations or feedback for me? I’d love to hear from you. Just hit reply, or you can even email me.

Thank you for reading and sharing.

-Amit


I enjoy reading books and essays in the humour genre the most. However, I find it extremely difficult to consistently find something funny that excites me. I look at the Goodreads recommendations for humour and all are memoir types. Or they were written a long time back. Is this genre just not explored anymore? Why do so few people write funny fiction?

Having written a few humour short stories myself, I understand that it is an extremely difficult genre to master. You can't write something that everyone will find funny. Some will like what's written, while some will consider it to be absolutely silly, or even garbage. Maybe that's the reason not many want to go through the trouble of writing something that won't find universal acceptance.

I do wonder, at times, that may be the issue is about discovery. Maybe a lot of good humour is written but I am not aware of it. If that's the case, I would like to know of them.

So what's the best humour that you have recently read, preferably something that's not memoir (because am tired of reading short essays that are only funny in parts). I would love if they are pure fiction. Or fantasy even. I am ok to read anything and everything funny. Especially in today's dire times.


Getting Back to Reading More Books

If there's one positive change that the lockdown has brought into my routine, it would be that I am reading a lot more, both online essays & books. My Goodreads currently reading list is full of some wonderful books. It is a result of some intentional changes in my habit and the easy availability of a lot of free time.

I am "reading" a lot more books in their audio forms. The Audible subscription has been one of the best investments. I enjoy listening to books as I am doing other tasks. Be it the regular household choir or exercising. So if I am thoroughly involved in a book, it clearly shows in my walk/run times. I would go on long walks just to "read" more.

Additionally, I have since long stopped carrying my mobile phone with me - rather I keep my Kindle around. I always take it along as I move through my routine. This is my observation when I had first started following this habit a while back.

I take my kindle, walk to my balcony or to my terrace or to the garden and settle there. Without my phone. Or my iPad. Anyone needs my attention, they have to come and fetch me. And I realised I was back to being more earnest while reading.

This holds even today. So whenever my mind reaches out for some getaway, it's the list of books that is accessible. Not some social media feed. Or emails. No risk of doom-scrolling.

I have also realized that I can't read only one book at a time. What I want to read depends on a lot many external factors. My mood, the weather, what and who am surrounded by, the thoughts my mind is full of. So I have a list of 10 books that I am reading at any given time based on these factors. And I don't hold myself to add another to the list if none of these excites me some time.

Being a completionist has been a habit that I was proud of one time; that's not the case any more. If a book is unable to hold my attention, I will stop reading it. I will skip chapters if it is non-fiction to see if there's any other chapter that interests me. There are more pages that we can eagerly turn than there are minutes that we can breathe. Don't touch a book that doesn't keep you excited to turn to the next page.


Book Review - Friday the Rabbi Slept Late

Through some wonderful recommendations from folks I have learnt to trust now, I came across this brilliant mystery series featuring one of the most likeable characters I have read, Rabbi Small. I enjoy reading mystery as a genre the most - in that whodunit has a special place in my mind. It is the most difficult genre to write effectively.

This short read falls in the category that Agatha Christie had mastered -- the story unravels itself for both the reader and the central characters together. Everything is laid out in front of the reader with nothing being held back by the "intelligent" detective. I hate the I-knew-it-all-along sort of twists. The mysteries that don't employ such ploys can leave you with satisfaction that is of the highest order.

It is not the underlying mystery that charmed me though. It is the sincere presentation of Jewish culture in a small-town community of Barnard's Crossing, notwithstanding the humorous undertone that author Harry Kemelman maintains throughout. I loved the setting of the lovable town and the characters big and small - I connected with each one of them. I enjoyed the discussions that David Small gets into every now and then, for that matter right from the get-go when he untangles the middling mystery of a broken vehicle with his simple, basic yet effective method of listening. I knew right away that I was in for an enjoyable ride.

This is an intelligent book with a common, sincere central character. He is not the only intelligent being around - each supporting character is important and equally worthy. I loved Rabbi Small's bantering with Chief Lanigan on topics both related and unrelated to the mystery. The later, equally smart, is not there just to hear the detective unravel the mystery towards the end. He is involved too. In that manner, this book is special.

I haven't been this engaged while reading a book, or to find what happens next since a long time now. And I don't remember the last time when I rushed to pick the second book in the series this soon. I think it was when I read Christie for the first time.

I would recommend this to anyone interested in a light, cosy mystery and is ok to not be held up in the cleverness of the plot or presentation. The simplicity, then, will win you over.


Small Town Diaries – Waltz of the Rain

I felt very close to the rain today. I don't like to get drenched in a downpour. Or to get damp in a drizzle. As a child, I used to sit at the edge of the veranda and watch the rain play its games. I did that again today after a long, long time.

The clouds gave way to a slight drizzle and eventually burst into an angry downpour. I slumped into the swing chair in the veranda and grinned as the wind lead the stream of raindrops as part of their lovely waltz. I instinctively stretched out my leg to the rain in the hope that nature's playfulness on show rubbed onto me.

It did; I felt calm, devoid of the stress that I had become so habitual to recently. I experienced a general sense of clarity within, but I wasn't thinking about anything specific. A numbness of mind that moves you meaningfully? I wish I could better word this paradox.

My recent lifestyle of the bustling metropolis has made me ignorant. When it rained, I hid behind glass with the raindrops furiously colliding against it. But then they dejectedly glided down. Not today. I let them touch me, heal me today.


The Tangle of Language System

The living language is like a cowpath: it is the creation of the cows themselves, who, having created it, follow it or depart from it according to their whims or their needs. From daily use, the path undergoes change. A cow is under no obligation to stay – E. B. White

I never attested to the belief that language originated abruptly; or that the complex formation of a group of characters was planted into existence. It had to have evolved gradually, had to have become simpler, yet complicated at the same time as it got used broadly. As Ralph Waldo Emerson had aptly put it, “language is a city, to the building of which every human being brought a stone”. This is true not just for English, but for every other language in use today.

And yet, the exact origins of language as a notion are yet unknown. This issue features some insightful essays that attempt to decipher and explain the past, present and the future of this complex obscurity.


Theories of the Origin and Evolution of Human Language

As to the origin of the term ‘language’, all we have are theories about the emergence and development of language in human societies. There are of course attempts from linguists to explain how humans planned and worked this fascinating system out. Though Richard Nordquist from ThoughtCo. presents the theories from each of the viewpoints, the exact proofs, unlike the origins of writing, are yet to be found.

Today, opinion on the matter of language origins is still deeply divided. On the one hand, there are those who feel that language is so complex, and so deeply ingrained in the human condition, that it must have evolved slowly over immense periods of time. Indeed, some believe that its roots go all the way back to Homo habilis, a tiny-brained hominid that lived in Africa not far short of two million years ago. On the other, there are those like [Robert] Berwick and [Noam] Chomsky who believe that humans acquired language quite recently, in an abrupt event. Nobody is in the middle on this one, except to the extent that different extinct hominid species are seen as the inaugurators of language’s slow evolutionary trajectory.

Who decides what words mean

As fascinating as the history of the language is, the concept itself is no less bewildering. There is no designated body controlling any aspect of the numerous languages that are spoken today. The rules keep changing, the meanings keep evolving. Did you know that “unfathom” was only recently added to the Oxford English Dictionary, and it means exactly what “fathom” does? It’s unfathomable how we humans communicate with one another, and yet unfathom the innate complexities of this self-regulating system.

Language is a system. Sounds, words and grammar do not exist in isolation: each of these three levels of language constitutes a system in itself. And, extraordinarily, these systems change as systems. If one change threatens disruption, another change compensates, so that the new system, though different from the old, is still an efficient, expressive and useful whole.
Begin with sounds. Every language has a characteristic inventory of contrasting sounds, called phonemes. Beet and bit have different vowels; these are two phonemes in English. Italian has only one, which is why Italians tend to make homophones of sheet and shit.

The World's Most Efficient Languages

As English became the widely accepted official language of the nations across the world, the inefficiencies of this “global” language came to the fore. The more it adapted and relaxed the rules of the usage and the semantics, it risked losing the chance to become native for any community. “Just as fish presumably don’t know they’re wet, many English speakers don’t know that the way their language works is just one of endless ways it could have come out”. That’s how this wonderful essay at The Atlantic begins as it contrasts English’s efficiency, or the lack thereof, against a few native languages.

Languages are strikingly different in the level of detail they require a speaker to provide in order to put a sentence together. In English, for example, here’s a simple sentence that comes to my mind for rather specific reasons related to having small children: “The father said ‘Come here!’” This statement specifies that there is a father, that he conducted the action of speaking in the past, and that he indicated the child should approach him at the location “here.” What else would a language need to do? Well, for a German speaker, more. In “Der Vater sagte ‘Komm her!’”, although it just seems like a variation on the English sentence, more is happening.
The Origins and Evolution of Language | Michael Corballis | TEDxAuckland

I recently read a wonderful short story “Summer Night” from Joanna published as part of Craft Magazine and, right away, I wanted to read a lot more from her. This one is such a brilliantly narrated mystery. You know right from the beginning that something is off with the characters and the environment, and yet you continue to read along. The opening itself reveals so much, yet keeps everything concealed – a story that “announces their secret from the beginning yet still seem to unfold surprisingly”. Joanna manages to write the story that she sought after.

If you ever need a clean, distraction-free interface online, when your editor of choice on your system is no longer available with you, you can access the online editor of Calmly Writer. All it provides is a blank slate with a blinking cursor, hiding away a few settings it has as you begin writing. However, if customization interests you, it also provides “focus mode”, “dark mode”, formatting, backup, export options and a lot more to get the editor to your liking.

One Final Inspiration

Postscript

Have any recommendations or feedback for me? I’d love to hear from you. Just hit reply, or you can even email me.

Thank you for reading and sharing.

-Amit


Small Town Diaries - Shopping

I went casual shopping today. I didn't dress up as I would normally do whenever I go out in my hometown. How I look as I go outside does not matter to me much these days. Anyway, all I had to shop for was some groceries and a few ointments.

The way I looked today was fine for the larger town I have settled in. Rather the shabbier I dress up, greater the respect I gain from a store owner. Or so I believe. This theory fails royally in my comparatively smaller hometown.

As expected, I was consciously ignored by the store owners and the attendants. I, then, asked for a specific item, a Himalaya - a well-known Indian brand - face cream. I returned the Himalaya face gel asking for the cream variant. And it is then that they called me "sir". 

This incident repeated itself at another store. My shabby attire made everyone attending in the store to ignore me. I then asked for a lip balm of from Nivea. I returned the strawberry flavoured one he hesitantly handed me and asked for a variant that's especially for men. It is then that they called me "sir".

I have realized over the years (and from the sheer amount of effort my dad puts in dressing up just to go out of the main door) that it matters here how you present yourself outside - especially in shops as a customer. However, if a shabby looking attire makes the store owners and attendants ignore you, the specificity of your wants makes you special.


Failing is Easy. Do It Well.

Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success. — C. S. Lewis

We are surrounded by opportunities to fail at. We judge ourselves when we can’t meet societal expectations. Furthermore, we blame ourselves when we don’t fulfil our high aspirations. For creatives, the “fear of failure” is numbing - every such mind is then inundated with suggestions to overcome this fear. Ironically, the suggestions come from the same society whose unreasonable expectations label these minds as “failures”.

In this issue, I feature the essays that, in no way, preach how such fears can be, should be overcome. Rather, they attempt to persuade that it is all fine to fail.


Falling short: seven writers reflect on failure

“Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Anne Enright, Howard Jacobson, Will Self and Lionel Shriver reflect on their disappointments in life, love and work”. It is a brilliant read for when the trying times drag you, your morale down. Everyone fails. Especially those who are known for their successes. I find the below passage from Anne Enright enlightening.

I have no problem with failure - it is success that makes me sad. Failure is easy. I do it every day, I have been doing it for years. I have thrown out more sentences than I ever kept, I have dumped months of work, I have wasted whole years writing the wrong things for the wrong people. Even when I am pointed the right way and productive and finally published, I am not satisfied by the results. This is not an affectation, failure is what writers do. It is built in.

Fail better

“What makes a good writer? Is writing an expression of self, or, as TS Eliot argued, ‘an escape from personality’? Do novelists have a duty? Do readers? Why are there so few truly great novels? Zadie Smith writes about literature’s legacy of honourable failure.”

Map of disappointments - Nabokov would call that a good title for a bad novel. It strikes me as a suitable guide to the land where writers live, a country I imagine as mostly beach, with hopeful writers standing on the shoreline while their perfect novels pile up, over on the opposite coast, out of reach. Thrusting out of the shoreline are hundreds of piers, or “disappointed bridges”, as Joyce called them. Most writers, most of the time, get wet. Why they get wet is of little interest to critics or readers, who can only judge the soggy novel in front of them. But for the people who write novels, what it takes to walk the pier and get to the other side is, to say the least, a matter of some importance.

Write Till You Drop

For a writer, every rejection, every failure is an opportunity to stop writing? Why should I write when no one wants to read what I write? And what should I write about if anything that I write about doesn’t interest anyone? The doubts are genuine, but to stop after such doubts cloud your mind is to be brutal on the creative mind. Annie Dillard lays out many ways that writers can trudge along through the difficult phases of self-scrutiny.

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

Author of a published novel, Andrea often writes short essays and stories. Carve Magazine had published one of her short stories, Kudzu as part of their Fall 2015 issue. Andrea magnificently narrates this layered story of an ageing lady and her two relationships – one that’s blooming and another that’s lost. The Kudzu fields surrounding the town plays a role that’s a lot more significant than being just a backdrop.

When the regular music distracts you while you write, the ambient noise of just a café does not work, Noisli can help. A “digital place for focus” as the team behind describes the service, it allows you to mix and match various sounds to get that perfect environment. You can select the ambient sounds of rain, thunder, fire, forest and many others. It also provides a curated playlist of such sound mixes.

One Final Inspiration

Postscript

Have any recommendations or feedback for me? I’d love to hear from you. Just hit reply, or you can even email me.

Thank you for reading and sharing.

-Amit


Inspiration, Focus and Craft

Writing is a difficult trade which must be learned slowly by reading great authors; by trying at the outset to imitate them; by daring then to be original and by destroying one’s first productions.

André Maurois

A writer is driven to satisfaction by three key factors. The first is an inspiration to think of a way to put his or her thoughts, the ideas, into words. Another factor is the focus to sit down staring at the blinking cursor without getting lured by the myriads of easily accessible distractions. And the final one is the craft that the writer brings to the table, one that he or she horns and perfects over the year.

This issue features a few essays from the masters who have, over the years, learned to command the art by confronting each of these factors. Let’s get straight to the recommendations.

Featured Writing

Where do you get your ideas?

Neil Gaiman answers the question that each published author gets asked a lot – “where do you get the idea from”. And apparently “out of my head” is not an acceptable answer for most.

The ideas aren’t the hard bit. They’re a small component of the whole. Creating believable people who do more or less what you tell them to is much harder. And hardest by far is the process of simply sitting down and putting one word after another to construct whatever it is you’re trying to build: making it interesting, making it new.

But still, it’s the question people want to know. In my case, they also want to know if I get them from my dreams. And I don’t give straight answers. Until recently.

Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators

Everybody is a procrastinator or most have been some time in their life. Megan Mcardle argues writers are a special kind; for them, being a procrastinator is “a peculiarly common occupational hazard”. Megan goes on to lay out why she is convinced that the writers are the worst. I always believed that the fear of doing something badly, not perfectly, is a prime driver for procrastination. But if the researchers are to be believed, the fear of doing nothing trumps the ills that perfectionism induces.

I once asked a talented and fairly famous colleague how he managed to regularly produce such highly regarded 8,000 word features. “Well,” he said, “first, I put it off for two or three weeks. Then I sit down to write. That’s when I get up and go clean the garage. After that, I go upstairs, and then I come back downstairs and complain to my wife for a couple of hours. Finally, but only after a couple more days have passed and I’m really freaking out about missing my deadline, I ultimately sit down and write.

Over the years, I developed a theory about why writers are such procrastinators: We were too good in English class. This sounds crazy, but hear me out.

Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully

In this short essay, Stephen King delivers advice for any writer who wants to be successful at writing good fiction. King does that in his signature style – clear and direct.

I know it sounds like an ad for some sleazy writers’ school, but I really am going to tell you everything you need to pursue a successful and financially rewarding career writing fiction, and I really am going to do it in ten minutes, which is exactly how long it took me to learn. It will actually take you twenty minutes or so to read this essay, however, because I have to tell you a story, and then I have to write a second introduction. But these, I argue, should not count in the ten minutes.

Featured Video

[www.youtube.com/watch](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzAtOyw6ACw)

Featured Writer

Neil Clark

“Then there was the romance between the carton of smoothie and me.” Neil begins his flash fiction “Ferris Wheel” with this amusing lead. He goes on to narrate his unique romance with the “box of the carton”. He regularly writes flash fiction with each having a unique premise and wonderful narration. Another of flash fiction Two Earthlings tells a story of the visit of two aliens and their encounter with the dwellers of our planet - one that makes them wonder if the earthlings were “sentient or hostile or what”. Give all of Neil’s published work a read.

Featured Tool

Forest - Stay focused, be present

“Forest is an app helping you stay away from your smartphone and stay focused on your work.” It is a unique take on the timer app where you plant a tree as you lock your phone down. If you want to quit the app, your tree will die. The belief is that the guilt acts as a deterrent to not access the phone until your focused session is done. The team behind the app also “partners with a real-tree-planting organization, Trees for the Future, to plant real trees on Earth”. A free app that, for sure, is worth a try.

One Final Inspiration

[twitter.com/thejessic...](https://twitter.com/thejessicadore/status/1289590707867418626)

Postscript

This post was delivered first as part of my weekly newsletter Slanting Nib & A Keyboard. Do read the archives and subscribe here.


Inspiration, Focus and Craft

Writing is a difficult trade which must be learned slowly by reading great authors; by trying at the outset to imitate them; by daring then to be original and by destroying one’s first productions. – André Maurois

A writer is driven to satisfaction by three key factors. The first is an inspiration to think of a way to put his or her thoughts, the ideas, into words. Another factor is the focus to sit down staring at the blinking cursor without getting lured by the myriads of easily accessible distractions. And the final one is the craft that the writer brings to the table, one that he or she horns and perfects over the year.

This issue features a few essays from the masters who have, over the years, learned to command the art by confronting each of these factors. Let’s get straight to the recommendations.

Where do you get your ideas?

Neil Gaiman answers the question that each published author gets asked a lot – “where do you get the idea from”. And apparently “out of my head” is not an acceptable answer for most.

The ideas aren’t the hard bit. They’re a small component of the whole. Creating believable people who do more or less what you tell them to is much harder. And hardest by far is the process of simply sitting down and putting one word after another to construct whatever it is you’re trying to build: making it interesting, making it new.
But still, it’s the question people want to know. In my case, they also want to know if I get them from my dreams. And I don’t give straight answers. Until recently.

Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators

Everybody is a procrastinator, or most have been some time in their life. Megan Mcardle argues writers are a special kind; for them, being a procrastinator is “a peculiarly common occupational hazard”. Megan goes on to lay out why she is convinced that the writers are the worst. I always believed that the fear of doing something badly, not perfectly, is a prime driver for procrastination. But if the researchers are to be believed, the fear of doing nothing trumps the ills that perfectionism induces.

I once asked a talented and fairly famous colleague how he managed to regularly produce such highly regarded 8,000 word features. “Well,” he said, “first, I put it off for two or three weeks. Then I sit down to write. That’s when I get up and go clean the garage. After that, I go upstairs, and then I come back downstairs and complain to my wife for a couple of hours. Finally, but only after a couple more days have passed and I’m really freaking out about missing my deadline, I ultimately sit down and write.
Over the years, I developed a theory about why writers are such procrastinators: We were too good in English class. This sounds crazy, but hear me out.

Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully

In this short essay, Stephen King delivers advice for any writer who wants to be successful at writing good fiction. King does that in his signature style – clear and direct.

I know it sounds like an ad for some sleazy writers’ school, but I really am going to tell you everything you need to pursue a successful and financially rewarding career writing fiction, and I really am going to do it in ten minutes, which is exactly how long it took me to learn. It will actually take you twenty minutes or so to read this essay, however, because I have to tell you a story, and then I have to write a second introduction. But these, I argue, should not count in the ten minutes.

“Then there was the romance between the carton of smoothie and me.” Neil begins his flash fiction “Ferris Wheel” with this amusing lead. He goes on to narrate his unique romance with the “box of the carton”. He regularly writes flash fiction, with each having a unique premise and wonderful narration. Another of flash fiction Two Earthlings tells a story of the visit of two aliens and their encounter with the dwellers of our planet - one that makes them wonder if the earthlings were “sentient or hostile or what”. Give all of Neil’s published work a read.

“Forest is an app helping you stay away from your smartphone and stay focused on your work.” It is a unique take on the timer app, where you plant a tree as you lock your phone down. If you want to quit the app, your tree will die. The belief is that the guilt acts as a deterrent to not access the phone until your focused session is done. The team behind the app also “partners with a real-tree-planting organization, Trees for the Future, to plant real trees on Earth”. A free app that, for sure, is worth a try.

One Final Inspiration

Postscript

Have any recommendations or feedback for me? I’d love to hear from you. Just hit reply, or you can even email me.

Thank you for reading and sharing.

-Amit


Nostalgia of Paper & Comfort of eInk

“One technology doesn’t replace another, it complements. Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators.” – Stephen Fry

People who love books and reading cannot love eBooks, goes the adage. Penelope Lively calls them “some sort of bloodless nerd”. So much has been written and published by the authors and the public in general on their love for the specific forms of the books. Some people have had contrasting thoughts; talking about eBooks, Douglas Adams had famously said that one should “not confuse the plate for the food”. But he had also quipped that “we notice e-book readers, we don’t notice books”.

So, what is it, then? This issue features a few well-written essays that talk about the partisan debates around the different forms of the books, starting with their evolution over the years. I want to remain unbiased; I will try to be that. After all, I am just the guy serving the plates; it’s the food on those plates that matters.


The Evolution of the book

With a fascinating look at how books have evolved over the years from “the clay tablets to the e-book format,” SFBook Review presents a snapshot of the publishing history. “As books have now reached the 21st century with the creation of the increasingly popular e-book, we thought it would be a good idea to take a look back at the long and involved history of the humble book.” Here’s a snippet on the birth of the “cheap” novel.

With the continued spread of the written word, along with a growth in education and the continued reduction in print costs, the first mass-market paperbacks were born. In Britain there were two distinct markets these mass publications were aimed at, the juvenile market with the “story papers” and the working class adult which were known as a “penny dreadful”, “penny number” or a “penny blood” - due to the fact that they each cost a “penny”. Eventually these novels were exclusively aimed at the working class youth market and the term story paper became interchangeable with penny dreadful.

Equally insightful is the evolution of audiobooks. Did you know that the first audiobook was recorded in 1952?

Ebooks v paper

Undoubtedly, the individual preference of a form of the book matters the most. Nonetheless, the heartily debated topic, a cultural divide of sorts, is researched equally well, forcing us to rethink how we respond to the written word. Which form does our brains prefer? Financial Times has a detailed write-down of the physical effects of the increased screen times or connectivity associated with the eBooks; at the same time, it also presents more emotional or the psychological aspects associated with the inherent differences of the media forms.

As researchers examine the differences reading in different media make, they are also having to distinguish carefully between the different things that we do when we read. Take, for instance, the difference between “deep reading”, when you really get immersed in a text, and “active learning”, when you make notes in margins or put down the book to cross-reference with something else.

Listening to Books

In this love letter to audiobooks, Maggie Gram confesses her love, her liking for audiobooks and attempts to address the criticisms that this format of the books receives. Is reading the only true form of reading? Or “reading is only reading when it requires the constant assertion of will,” as many critics of the medium might say.  That’s the question, the disapproval that Maggie attempts to answer in this heartfelt essay.

Less dude-like people, people less invested in making fun of you, will just cock their heads to the side and ask you why you do it. As if liking books were not enough! As if it weren’t the best thing in the world to have someone read to you! As if you had something better to do! I thought about starting this essay by insisting that I listen to audio books for work, so that I could not be mistaken for that other kind of person, that kind of person who listens audio books because it brings her some kind of unsophisticated pleasure. I am not, I wanted you to know, your Aunt Paula. My kitchen is not decorated with rooster towel racks and rooster potholders and rooster trim. I am a very serious person.

As I read through the collection of short stories from Olivia Parkes, I knew what a brilliant writer she is. She leaves you spellbound by her inimitable narration of the short story “Schrödinger’s Cat, But for Marriage” about a failing marriage. With some brilliant analogies and flirty humour, she brings a smile to your face; makes you pause and read the passage again at various points. I couldn’t word the recommendation better than the Halimah Marcus. “Read this story to find out what the breakdown of social order in a marriage looks like. Read this story to find out whether the cat lives or dies. Read this story to take your arguments a little less seriously, and to cherish the paradoxical moments, as with Schrödinger’s cat, when you both get to be right.

A library is many things; it has adapted itself with changing times and is now a lot more. Going beyond the selection of paperbacks and hardcovers, many libraries also serve digital editions of the books in both text and audio form now. Libby is a perfect companion app for such public libraries. With your existing library card, you can borrow eBooks and audiobooks from the digital media collection of the library. So why spend money on buying digital books?

PS: Shouldn’t an app that’s an extension to a public library be featured in an issue all about the library? Well, it should. But what’s the fun in that.

One Final Inspiration

Postscript

Have any recommendations or feedback for me? I’d love to hear from you. Just hit reply, or you can even email me.

Thank you for reading and sharing.

-Amit


I recently watched Free Solo, 1917 and Greyhound. Here are my thoughts.

Free Solo

This was such a thrilling documentary. I have rarely used that adjective for a documentary. But this one is so very different. I cannot fathom someone's possession for their passion can blind them to the risks rather conspicuous to the rest. I was aware of the free soloing as a form of climbing. What took me by surprise was the level of planning that goes into the preparation. In hindsight, it was foolish of me to think that wasn't the case, that the act was spontaneous.

1917

I can't think of a better way to captures the immediacy of war than how Sam Mendes does with 1917. The single-take narration grips one right from the beginning and never lets off even for a moment. I was with the characters throughout their journey, feeling their anxiety, their pain. I entered every new terrain, turned every dark corner equally uneasy. What Mendes and his cinematographer Roger Deakins manage to achieve is absolute brilliance. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and was left gasping by the end. A cinematic masterpiece.

Greyhound

Another war flick that, sure, aimed to be different. A fast-paced action thriller about battleships is not very common. However, the economical 75 minutes of the runtime itself felt too long. The fights felt repetitive and with no other thread to hold the plot together, it was easy to skip over. Tom Hanks sells the character though. However, I am tired now of seeing him play the perfect guy. He needs to play some grey characters now, someone with a few flaws.

Bonus - Quarantine Special

I also finally watched the Quarantine special episode of Mythic Quest. This is the best show on Apple TV+, period. And this special episode was exactly what I needed now -- an understanding of what I and most of us are going through in current times. What's commendable is that it does so without giving up on the hilarity. As the episode came to the climax, it had me jumping with momentary joy. With my eyes full of happy, hopeful tears and my fists clenched, [spoiler alert] I joined Ian to shout out loud "Fuck you Coronavirus".


Library Is a Space Ship, Time Machine and Much More

“A library, to modify the famous metaphor of Socrates, should be the delivery room for the birth of ideas - a place where history comes to life.”

Norman Cousins

Though it’s an apt characterization, a library has been labelled in many more ways. For some, it’s a getaway, a place they tip-toe into to gain a momentary respite from their daily grinds. For some, it’s a vast ocean of knowledge they dip their minds in to get enlightened. For writers, it can be both. And so much more.

This issue features a few essays that depict what libraries mean to a few writers and what, according to them, they should mean to everyone else.

Featured Writing

Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming

In this lecture explaining the importance of using our imaginations, and providing for others to use theirs, Neil Gaiman emphasizes on why it’s an obligation for all us, citizens, to support libraries and to inculcate the love for books among children, right from early ages. Highlighting first the significance of reading books, specifically fiction, he goes on to make one understand why it’s absurd to “perceive libraries as a shelf of books”.

Libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information. I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.

A library is many things

One would agree whole-heartedly with the title when it’s a mix of prominent personalities – an astronaut, a sci-fi writer, a painter, a cartoonist and a children’s author – convincing you about it. “Early-1971, in an effort to attract as many youngsters to the premises as possible, Marguerite Hart — children’s librarian at the newly-opened public library in Troy, Michigan — wrote to a number of notable people with a request: to reply with a congratulatory letter, addressed to the children of Troy, in which the benefits of visiting such a library were explained.” From amongst the responses from the likes of Neil Armstrong, Isaac Asimov, and Dr Seuss, here’s a snippet from the letter from E. B. White.

A library is many things. It’s a place to go, to get in out of the rain. It’s a place to go if you want to sit and think. But particularly it is a place where books live, and where you can get in touch with other people, and other thoughts, through books. If you want to find out about something, the information is in the reference books—the dictionaries, the encyclopedias, the atlases. If you like to be told a story, the library is the place to go. Books hold most of the secrets of the world, most of the thoughts that men and women have had. And when you are reading a book, you and the author are alone together—just the two of you.

My Manhattan; Not Just a Library, an Oasis of Civilization

Susan Jacoby’s love letter to New York Public Library, particularly its newly restored main reading room and its Center for Scholars and Writers. As she recounts the time that she spent in the library as the world changed outside, you can’t help but wonder if there’s any other apt description for this place than “an oasis of civilization” as she refers.

In a compartmentalized and bureaucratized American academic culture, the library is one of the last bastions of respect for those who try to carry on an older but increasingly archaic tradition of independent scholarship embodied by men like Kazin. My current research is concerned with the marginalization of secularism and free thought – the lovely, anachronistic term that appeared at the end of the 17th century – in American history. The range of the library’s holdings on this quirky and controversial subject has given me a new appreciation of the courage and vision of past generations of New York librarians, who collected material without regard for the received religious and political opinion of their time.

Featured Video

[www.youtube.com/watch](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YsA_JTeHJ6A)

Featured Writer

Lena Valencia

A writer, editor and a teacher, Lena has published many short stories as part of publications and anthologies; one among them is the brilliant short story Mystery Lights published at CRAFT magazine. Though it’s not a mystery, Lena has you glued throughout as you learn more about the central character Windy and the other supporting characters. As the main plot about the show around Marfa lights is slowly unravelled, it glides into a crazed climax that brings a smile on your face. You can’t help but wonder if the Marfa town and the notorious lights that form the backdrop to this story are indeed magical.

Featured Tool

Pocket

Though libraries act as a repository of all the words ever written and published as books, many are also published independently online. Nonetheless, they can be equally significant, powerful and meaningful for an individual. As a free read-it-later service, Pocket allows you to catch up on these articles without being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of the written works available. With an optional premium subscription, it can also be your permanent library of articles and stories that you read online.

One Final Inspiration

[twitter.com/david_per...](https://twitter.com/david_perell/status/1285794992888283136)

Postscript

This post was delivered first as part of my weekly newsletter Slanting Nib & A Keyboard. Do read the archives and subscribe here.


Perfectionism Isn't Healthy

I have been closely monitoring what affects my behaviour recently. One of the aspects that I'd identified was that I was always judging myself, was always thinking, analyzing my current actions for their effect on my future. I'd decided to stop doing that. But while I wrote that, I hadn't realized that there is deeper malady there -- my subconscious quest to be a perfectionist.

As I was reading an essay about the downsides of perfectionism from Amanda Ruggeri at BBC, it made me aware that I've also been affected by the same trait she was warning about. I want things to be done perfectly.

At home. At work. With the activities that I do on my own. With my family. With my peers, my superiors.

It is that perfectionist voice within me that's constantly judging me, judging others. Even now, am thinking and rethinking on the ways I could word this prose. This paragraph. Is it the best way to make my point?

Why? Why do I do that? It can't be healthy.

Even on Google, the first autocomplete suggestion for "Perfectionism" is "Perfectionism is a disease". I wouldn't term this trait as that -- I don't want to flippantly use a word while representing any form of mental disorder -- it ain't a "disease" for sure. However, even an offhand read through the internet would convince you that perfectionism can lead to a laundry list of such disorders. Anxiety. Depression. And much more.

I am not sure if my habit of aiming for perfection in every task is affecting my mood and my mind in any alarming way yet. However, I think it does lead me to procrastinate at times. I don't have time now, will do it later "perfectly," I can hear my mind say every now and then.

Well, it's believed and acknowledged to be a vicious cycle - perfectionism, procrastination and paralysis. Or thought another way, it is the paralysis by analysis. Analysis paralysis.

All this lead me to a post I wrote back in 2013, on exactly the same topic of over-analyzing, overthinking. And it was then that I had linked to this term of Analysis paralysis for the first time.

That was 7 years ago. I believe I haven't managed to get rid of my trait yet. It might be time to think about getting rid of this habit. To not let my pursuit for things to be perfect to affect me, to paralyze me.