Posted in Personal Stories

On Lists


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I have been making lists a long time now. 

Grocery lists, invitation lists , travel to-do lists, tasks-of-the-day lists. I summon lists when I have a problem to solve and am not sure where to start off at.  Any new assignment comes my way and I begin making lists. 

What started off as a harmless way of staying organized, has now become my chosen warfare for attacking problems. And thinking. And writing. Even when I am writing my journal and the words flow into long sentences and paragraphs, jumbled thoughts flowing out as they arrive. Then after a few paragraphs there is a surge of anxiety. I have to stop. 

  • Break it up into paragraphs
  • Make logical sections
  • Put the key points in bullets

Thinking in bullets, is what I call it .  Which is wonderful if you want to make a point, but can be a handicap when you want to share your thoughts and emotions, articulate a story. Is there a right brain part of you which decimates as the left brain becomes more powerful ? 

My worries exacerbated when I observed my writing style. As I braced myself to sit down to write, there was a ruthlessly drilled habit ingrained in my head.

  • List ideas 
  • Organize them in logical groups
  • Build connections and make a story
  • Sort according to the order in which you want to convey your message
  • Bullet them for clarity of reading

It was this management consulting routine that had been honed over hours spent painstakingly on presentations, many of which were mercilessly ripped apart in reviews with my managers – “You made this long list of recommendations – but what exactly is the story ?”.  I always wondered, what can they see that I am not able to see?! 

More practice, list-making and exacting reviews made me realize what I was missing. And also that my fears were unfounded. The  link between list making, consulting techniques and creative writing, is after-all – the Story!

Take this piece of writing for example:

A quiet room. Sheafs of magazines stacked at the corner of the sofa.. Pillow under the crook of my arm. Two broken pencils, crumbs of wooden shavings,  Off-white lighting throwing long shadows in the living room. The cat purring the corner.. This is a lifeless list, but what is the message here. Is it boredom ? is it loneliness ? As writers that’s the story we are trying hard to convey. 

A list is a medium to lay out all the facts and data points out there. 

A Story is the heart of message – what is it that you are REALLY trying to say? And oftentimes it is the hardest part of writing, because you aren’t really sure of what you are trying to say in the beginning. But if you are lucky, or think hard enough, or keep going at it –  you would stumble on the right answer. The Aha moment of your writing. 

You suddenly realize –  Yes, this is what I want to say!

 

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Posted in Personal Stories

Observations on Fall


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The path to evolution is paved with destruction.

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

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

Photo by Autumn Mott Rodeheaver on Unsplash

Posted in Personal Stories

Five Hacks to help you Read More


When life happens, there are a million distractions coming your way. Notifications on the phone, work goals, your child’s homework, that super critical mail which came in at the last minute when you were leaving office. There is always something urgent that is screaming for your attention.. And as expectations on how soon you should respond to messages and emails grow tremendously, there is this time crunch squeezing our lives into tinier and tinier moments. One of the side effects of that has been the inability to see the bigger picture,  relish a quiet moment, or even read long books. There was a time when I couldn’t break away from “the arc of unbroken concentration” which a good book could bring.

Today,  I feel perpetually lost in this trough of shallowness.

So how do you break out of this ? How do you dim this digital hum and  develop “the willpower to focus on a sustained argument”.

Here are some of hacks to read more:

Make goals: Goals help us stay consistent, and give a constant nudge to move on to the next step. So go ahead and make goals.Long term ones in terms of books per year, or even short ones like minutes read per day. Even if you have only 30 minutes you can spare in a day – every second of it is worth being spent on reading!

Borrow rather than Buy: Counterintuitive as it may seem, abundance is one of the biggest killers of motivation. “Ah, I bought this book and it is right there on my shelf. Why spend my time trying to focus and read it when I binge watch mindlessly on Netflix?”.  As our attention spans dwindle, it is easy to discard book-worthy moments for easier options.  There is a sense of scarcity that exists with borrowed books, a deadline by which they will expire and go away.  And that can help you read more.

Begin reading new books on a Thursday or Friday: This hack words for me, because if you have a busy week , then starting to read something while you are easing into a weekend is a good way to stay motivated and focused. Weekends are great for long reading stretches, if you have the willingness to be alone.  

Disconnect from technology: When reading a book on my mobile or tablet, every tiny notification costs you minutes of lost focus. So go for low tech – the most basic Kindle or hard copy book. Even on phones, Apple has this screen time feature that shuts off my phone at 10 pm every night, and those are the most peaceful moments of my day –  when I can pick up and read a book.

Share your insights and learnings: When you’ve read a book that you liked or enjoyed, talk about it to friends, your spouse, or even write down how you felt. Sharing what you’ve learnt will help you internalize it, and also motivate you towards finding the next book. 

Well.. Quite honestly, finding the next book always makes me anxious . When I’ve finished one, and am wondering which one is going to be my next – there is an expectant longing in air.

From this vast rich expanse, which one would I  choose ?

Curiously – “Some like to believe it’s the book that chooses the person.” !

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Posted in Personal Stories

The Non-Fiction Reader


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

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

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

But then, one fine day – the rush stopped.

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

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

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

Surprising, isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

Which brings me back to the current state of things.

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

 

 

Image credits: Unsplash.com

Posted in Personal Stories

Idea #4: Procrastination is good for you!


Fine. I’ll admit it.

Since the last two days, I was struggling with the Idea for this week. There were a few possibilities knocking in my head, but they somehow didn’t fit in. Desperate in need for a bright shiny idea, I made fanciful preparations to lure and ensnare it.

You know the regular routine… Turn off the TV. Adjust the lighting. Fix the cushions. Fill the coffee cup. Buckle down to write.

But pushing hard seemed to have the opposite effect. Nothing worked!.

So realizing the futility of it all, I let it go. Picked up a book from my to-read shelf and began reading… It’s surprising that in these moments, Idea #4 struck me.  And ironic as it may sound, it said – Procrastination is good for you!

Well… how many times have you hated yourself for procrastinating? Fussed over details and feared that the sky will fall off if you don’t act soon enough. Lamented on a time atrophied in utter lack of effort.

But then, have you noticed how you get sudden bursts of fertile inspiration after long fallow stretches of inactivity? Or have discovered surprising answers to questions that had simmered in your subconscious, in periods of idleness and solitude.

We consider procrastination to be something evil. The thief of time. The killer of productivity. The scourge of creativity.

But is it really so awful?

Maybe not. It could be a time spent thinking over, sharpening the axe, strategizing! A time getting prepared for all the wonderful things that have been locked in some precious corner of your brain, and required some catalyst to bubble out. A time to witness epiphanies, and assimilate the Eureka moments. A time to realize who you really are, apart from the needy pushy ambitious self that you keep pumping up eternally. A time to wallow in the sweetness of solitude, and the shy answers it brings to your overbearing questions.

If you think of it the other way round, “Procrastination is not the problem. It is the solution. It is the universe’s way of saying stop, slow down, you move too fast”. It is nature’s way of revealing things that you would never have unearthed yourself.

“It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top”!

So the next time you procrastinate, don’t kill yourself with guilt. Look out for those subtle clues that might have evaded your conscious mind.

Did it ignite a spark in you, the seed of the idea which had eluded you all this while? Or a key element in a new path which had always dodged you and deemed impossible. Or did it suddenly dawn that the thing you were pursuing relentlessly all this while wasn’t worth it at all??

Yes, that’s what creators call epiphany… the eureka moment which will creep up shyly to you when you are alone. When you sit down and let it go. When you filter all the noisy channels and focus.

I can hear you asking – Focus on what?

And my answer is – Nothing.