Monday, September 27, 2010

Writing About Love: Why is It So Difficult?

Boy, it's so hard to write about love! Or, should I write instead, I find it hard to write about love? I mean, it kinda sou nds ridiculous, no? That very claim, that it's hard to write about love? Especially since we live in a world submerged in love poems and love lyrics? So obviously, there aren't a whole lot of poets who are having this difficulty I am having, right? I wonder, if this difficulty is also about my own discomfort about love/sexuality in real life? The fact that I can never feel at home within love itself? That I have always considered (and still do) love to be a very important site of patriarchal domination, and one of the very bases through which societies re-affirm and re-juvenate the patriarchal family? I know, lots of people I know will point me towards queer love, to the fact that lots of same-sex couples are trying to re-define family, and they are trying to do it from this very impulse to question patriarchal notions of love. I know I know I know. I know I should feel more hopeful. But is it just my problem, my inability to see the good things in life, that even in the way most queer couples i know and have met, lead their lives, there is an incredible pull towards fitting themselves within that very age-old notion of patriarchal family, while not letting go of a somewhat radical rhetoric of queerness? Not to speak of the fact that most of these people lead very consumerist lives, which never question the logic of capital even in the slightest way?

To get back to the question of writing about love, I think, one of the reasons I find it so hard, is because I have an inherent distrust of the love-language. The excessive use of the possessives in there. You are mine, I am yours kind of stuff. The politics of it. But what I am finding especially difficult is to express that distrust in poetic language and poetic forms. Probably because, poetry as a genre itself, has been so closely associated with love. The fact that poetry as a genre has facilitated, in many many ways, the institutionalization of that very love-language I find so problematic. I keep going back to Eavan Boland's prose-poem Against Love Poetry:

We were married in summer, thirty years ago. I have loved you deeply from that moment to this. I have loved other things as well. Among them the idea of women's freedom. Why do I put these words side by side? Because I am a woman. Because marriage is not freedom. Therefore, every word here is written against love poetry. Love poetry can do no justice to this. Here, instead, is a remembered story from a faraway history. A great king lost a war and was paraded in chains through the city of his enemy. They taunted him. They brought his wife and children to him--he showed no emotion. They brought his old servant--only then did he break down and weep. I did not find my womanhood in the servitudes of custom. But I saw my humanity look back at me there. It is to mark the contradictions of a daily love that I have written this. Against love poetry.

I love this one, because, amongst other things, it gives permission to me to question the idea of love poetry in my work. The text itself problematizes it. I love this sentence "marriage is not freedom," it's very close to my idea of what marriage is. But at the same time, this passage does not attempt to question marriage enough. There is an ambivalence about marriage, but there is also an acceptance of it. There is a sense of a woman's freedom coming face to face with her notions of romantic (heterosexual) love. But the lines don't push that sense of opposition enough. Instead, that feeling of contradiction is rounded out in the formulation "contradictions of daily love." As if, with problematization of all these things, there should also come a kind of acceptance. I find this acceptance deeply problematic, and er, defeatist. As a writer, this is where I want to intervene. What happens when people don't accept these contradictions as inevitable? And this is where my language is fumbling...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Revelation Friday

I am stuck with this poem I am working on. And I am anxious to get it done --- I feel I have been working on it for too long, and I need to move ahead with this chapbook project. I know that kind of anxiety is not good, but I can't help it. It seems like I know what to say, and where I want the poem to go. I have these vague images circulating inside my head, broken words, but I am struggling to put them all together in forms and language that will make me feel satisfied. At least for the time being.

I know this is very me. I get tired with projects when they drag on for too long. Although I know that in order for a writing project to culminate itself in the way I want it to, I must show up everyday, and put in bits and pieces of myself there, I am scared of that process. I am scared of the way that process exhausts me, leaves me drained, makes me feel incompetent and even embarrassed with myself at times. But it's true what I dread more is the ultimate failure. This feeling that I slogged and slogged and didn't really produce anything. Or I gave it up midway. This is something that I guess keeps me going. Consequently, in the last three years, I have only one incomplete writing project. A short story about a small-town girl that began and then realized halfway that I don't really know enough about the world I am writing about to finish it.

So, now that I have complained enough, I need to pour the tea from the kettle and sit down to write. At least try to write.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Submission Goals

I don't submit my work enough. I know I should. But I don't. Partly because I have this fear of sending my work out in the world before it's "good enough," before it's mature enough, and readable enough. Partly because in the last three years or so I have been trying to write seriously, I have met too many people who are more eager to publish than to write things that deserve to be published. Often times I am scared that I am becoming one of them. Which, for me, means that I am lacking those critical faculties which would inform me about the quality of my work. So, this is what I tell myself:

It's more important to keep going back to the writing table, than it is to seek publication.

But, then, I know it's equally important to be published, once the work is "good enough." I mean, if Toni Morrison or Pablo Neruda had kept their writings locked up in cute little journals in their reading-room drawers, I wouldn't be who am I today. So, both are equally important. Writing and publishing. I still think, it's extremely harmful for a writer to seek venues to publish one's work before it has matured fully, but once it has, it's important to work for that venue with the same enthusiasm that one has tried to seek within oneself during the process of writing.

Now, there's something that I have realized in the last one month, while working on my chapbook manuscript. Even if I think that a poem is complete now, chances are, I will get back to it, and do major revisions in the near future. In fact, two of the poems that I have been taking up lots of my revisioning time are the ones which were accepted by journals relatively easily. In short, my perceptions of a poem changes over time, and it's important to value that process.

If you're wondering, why am I engaging in this long gourchandrika, let me just get to the point: I am in an aggressive submission mode right now. My goal is to submit five of my poems to ten venues before the end of this month.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Fairytale and the Book

I have always been interested in fairytales/folktales. Partly because they were probably the first truly-formed stories with recognizable beginning, middle and end that I was introduced to. I read Tuntunir Boi, Thakumar Jhuli and a whole lot of folktale compilations coming out of Peking/Beijing and Moscow.(Did I just give out my heritage? I think, I just did. But just for the sake of record, I claim a Bengali middle-class Naxalism-smelling milieu as my true heritage. Which, I believe, makes it impossible for me to claim any ethnic heritage squarely, my readers and friends.) Anyway, I read those in Bangla, and as I began to get fluent in English, I began to read the re-tellings of Hans Christian Anderson and Grimms Brothers stories. Yep, I always thought of them as "English", until I began to be trained as a comparatist and got to know a little bit about the vexed history of folklore and the "tales." What is intriguing to me now, is that, "folktales" came to me in the form of books, not as oral artifacts. Yes, there were stories that my grandmother told me, my mother also told me which she herself happened to hear from her dad, that is, my grandfather, who died when I was only four. But my mother's way of introducing me to folktales, both Bengali and global, was to read them out to me from books. So, in my imagination, fairytales have always been associated with the book. The book as a material object. The book as a form of re-telling. And also, when I think of the book as a mode of re-telling the fairy-tale, I am not just referring to the stories, told in words and alphabets, but also the pictures. If my experience is anything to go by, the illustration in children's books play an important role in telling the story, in giving the children important pointers as to how to interpret the story itself. And those pointers are often visual in their very nature.

I am thinking about these questions more and more as I am working through my manuscript of poems. I started out with the intention of re-telling some of the fairytales/folktales that have appealed to me. Pointing out the gaps, filling them in. But now, I am thinking, that a mere attempt to re-tell these tales isn't enough. I will have to think through a lot of these things in much more details. There are lots of complexities within these forms, within the very processes through which I got acquainted with these forms, which can form the basis of very interesting poem-projects. But for that, I will have to move beyond the mere "re-telling" mode. This morning, I have been reading this micro-essay by Barbara Jane Reyes. I am especially intrigued by her concluding lines:

I don't know where the belief that spoken word is not poetry was bom, how it has been cultivated and propagated, but I do know that spoken word artists have been othered as the fictitious line has been drawn between them and the poets. When talking to students, I don't have the time to linger on where this cleaving began. Instead, let me refer to Juan Felipe Herrera's 2005 lecture, "A Natural History of Chicano Literature":

Your friends, and your associates, and the people around you, and the environment that you live in, and the speakers around you...and the communicators around you, are the poetry makers. If your mother tells you stories, she is a poetry maker. If your father says stories, he is a poetry maker. If your grandma tells you stories, she is a poetry maker. And that's who forms our poetics.1

This is a fairly self-explanatory statement that I try my best to impart to them. Poetry is not meant to be locked up in inaccessible spaces. Poetry is about paying attention, not just to the stories all around us, but also and especially to how these stories are being told.

While there are lots of things that are of relevance to me here, what I am especially concerned with, at this point, is her concluding sentence. We, as poets and writers, need to pay attention to "how these stories are being told." So, if that's the case, then it becomes an imperative that I pay attention to THE BOOK too, when I am trying to engage with the very tradition of fairy-tales. At the same time, when my mother read these stories out loud to me, wasn't she also exercising a kind of orality, which is different from the talk-story tradition, but nonetheless interrelated?

Now, what it means for me now is that, I need to work harder on this project. Read more, write more, push myself more. Oh well...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hibijibi I

This is what you produce when you're tired of manufacturing words...

Monday, September 20, 2010


"My solitude was an illusion. No poet, however young or disaffected, writes alone. It is a connected act. The words on the page, though they may appear free and improvised, are on hire. They are owned by a complicated and interwoven past of language, history, happenstance." Writes Eavan Boland in her book Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time. The name of the particular essay is Turning Away. I have been thinking about this weird connection between writerly solitude and this feeling of being an integral part of a collective for the last few days too. On the one hand, I need my solitude. To write, to read, to unpack. Yes, I like to write in the middle of bumbling coffee-shops. Yet, I hate it when coffee-shops have loud and intrusive music. I hate it too when they put up music which I am especially drawn too. It is, as if, the music outside will prevent me from tapping into the music I nurture inside, and can only hope will be translated into words on the page. But at the same time I know this music inside me that I am writing about here, couldn't have been possible if I haven't really lived a collective life. It is what I inherited from this world, from human existence collectively lived and experienced. Then there are other things too. As I keep working on my manuscript, I can't really leave out the question of the collective, the history, the "interwoven past," as Boland terms it. Especially since I am working on re-interpretations of fairy-tales/folktales, I keep thinking of the communities. What kind of communities told these tales? How many versions were there? What were the versions that were excluded when these stories made the transition from the mouth to the page? What is the role of the folklorist here? So, there is no way I can think of my work, however insignificant it is, as being a product of my solitary creation. When I am writing, I am also continuously thinking of the ways in which I want my writing to re-interpret the existing stories. And re-interpretation itself cannot necessarily exist without interpretation. In that sense, I am adding my voice, my narratives, my specific modes of representing these stories into an already-existing archive. I am trying to insert myself and my voice into a community of people for whom these stories/tales have meant something.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

All Experiences Are Valid: Really?

This last summer, R ended a conversation with me by saying, "You know, you shouldn't dismiss other perspectives than your own. Other viewpoints are equally valid too!" We had been talking about the ways in which neo-liberalism re-defines the meaning of sexuality, especially female sexuality, and the ideological ramifications of that. I am not going to get into that in this post, but what was specifically interesting to me was the way he concluded the conversation. I wasn't surprised, because this is pretty much the way our conversations conclude themselves. That is when we're not tearing each other apart. And honestly speaking, R is not alone. I have learnt to recognize that most of us, especially the male alienationist, Marxist variety, invoke a kind of absolute relativism when they do not necessarily know how to continue to engage with the debate or the questions that they have been asked to confront. More specifically, that kind of relativism raises its head when gender, race, caste etc. has been brought up. Or when the individuals concerned have been asked to revisit, re-examine their own lives or privileges in terms of the ideologies they claim they uphold. Anyways, R and I have a pretty intense history of ripping each other apart over these things. And I can't speak for him, but I can definitely say that those conversations have helped me a lot to realize things about myself and this world, to hone my arguments and to locate the flaws in them.

A couple of days back, I attended a WOC meeting, where one of the catch-phrases was, "All experiences are valid." I was intrigued, because in this proclamation I saw a reverberation of R's argument. My instinctive response is to say, "Not really." But then I stop myself, take a back step and try to re-formulate, and this is what I would have to say in a nutshell:

Yes, of course. But for whom? To what purposes? And what are the yardsticks of validity here?

For me, that yardstick consists of the following things:

A. All experiences are experienced within specific social structures, ideologies, constructed ideas of self, society and nature. These, in turn, are implicated within certain structures of power. Therefore, all or most experiences, that involve the interaction of a human with another human or a non-human entity are guided by those power structures. Any attempt to understand "experiences" need to take into account such powered interactions and formations.

B. Depending upon the historical, cultural, social, geographical parameters, all power structures assume specific concrete forms. For example, class is one expression of that specificity. Gender is another. So is race. And caste. And religion. We can keep adding on to it. You get the idea..

C. Such specific dimensions rarely or never exist independently. They intersect each other, thus giving birth to complex social formations and modes of experiencing, which cannot always be reduced to one or the other. Therefore, in order to understand what underlies a specific experience, one needs to scratch the surface. And scratch it hard. This is what I would call de-bunking, or defamiliarization. For me, literature is a mode of de-bunking. So are other forms of art.

D. Because there are power structures, experiences are almost always an expression of one's marginality or one's ability to dominate. Often times, both marginality and dominance can co-exist within a specific experience.

E. Human beings resist. In multiple forms. Experiences reveal those modes of resistance.

F. Human beings resist, often in very fucked-up ways, thus reinforcing the category they had set out to resist in the very first place. Only in a different way.

G. Human beings resist, often in very screwed-up ways. Thus, in order to question one category of mode of dominance, they end up reinforcing another.

H. Experiences thus make sense only when seen and understood within specific ideological frameworks, whatever they might be.

So, this is how I understand experience. And thus, all experiences are not valid to me. And definitely not in the same way. Most of the times, in my attempts to understand experiences, I try to keep the power structures in mind, and yes, I do admit, I tend to side with those who I think occupy the relatively marginalized position. So, in the WOC meeting I attended, which claimed to be both WOC-centric and inclusive of all experiences, there was an essential fallacy, an essential contradiction. I guess, what it signified for me, is this weird way in which even the most radical, progressive political endeavors within USA ends up replicating the primary categories of the empire. This innate desire to avoid conflict, to push conflicts under the rug. And sometimes, in a very interesting, but nonetheless frustrating way, being selective about conflicts.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Revelation Friday

I am super un-cool.

I would rather sit in a coffee-shop and read, or just stay home to read and write than going out to a party with folks who I do not necessarily know or know very well.

I hate having to make small-talks in parties, I do not dance, I do not drink myself silly, and most importantly, I am scared of the awkward silences that invariably accompany the conversations absolute strangers are trying to make in a "social" setting.

I do like hanging out with people I know well and love. I do like to meet new people through friends and dear ones. I do enjoy meeting people while doing things that I find intellectually, politically, artistically interesting. Yes, I have developed interesting friendships with people I have met in workshops, in literary events, rallies and sometimes even in fb. When we had a common cause and an interest to share. But just meeting people for the sake of meeting new people doesn't necessarily interest me.

You can also say, YOU ARE SO NOT SOCIAL! And I will accept. But then, I also love to talk when I am familiar with the folks around, and the issue/topic of the conversation interests me. At the same time, I will rarely be that person in a party or an adda who says the wittiest things, around whom everyone flocks and who can endear everyone very very quickly. More likely I will be the girl who sits in a corner, nursing one drink for a long long time, smiling sweetly, and mostly being quiet.

But it's also true that there are times when I decide to open my mouth. And when I do, others tend to stop talking. And when I finish, most responses are kind of like, Well, that was interesting or that was indeed compelling. I have realized that without always meaning to, I often end up directing people's attention to the most uncomfortable aspect of a phenomenon or a text. In the same vein, without always realizing that I am doing it, what I would say would end up de-bunking or de-familiarizing things that others are celebrating, or at least trying not to see. I blame it on my possessing four eyes!

Yes, I am the queen of dense, intense conversations, and I refuse to apologize for it. And since parties aren't essentially meant for such intensities, I would rather go to a coffee-shop with soft music and have a long, intense conversation with friends who stimulate my intellectual and emotional imagination.

And especially now, after I have begun to take my writing more seriously, I have lost the urge to engage in small talk even more so. I prefer talking to white pages than to people with whom I have to force a conversation out of myself.

Now that I think I have revealed enough for one morning, I need to go back to my writing projects! For, no human being waits for me as eagerly as they do!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Possessing the Language II

I am thinking of this issue of “beautiful language” more and more now because I am working everyday to finalize my chapbook. I am re-visiting a lot of my old poems, stopping myself at places, and often asking myself, what was I trying to communicate here originally. Sure, it sounds nice and beautiful and poetic, but what else was I trying to say here. Was I engaging in this beautiful language because I wasn't exactly sure what I was trying to say? In short, am I using beautiful language here to obscure, obfuscate, and obliterate meaning? And if yes, what am I achieving here? I mean, I am not one of those poets/writers who would say “fuck the readers! I don't want to give them information!” I mean, first of all, it's not “information” I offer to them anyway. I offer them my insights, my readings, my interpretations, my version of a particular story. It's not “information” in that sense. [And if you're thinking, why am I taking pains to write about this stuff, and arguing with it, this is exactly what a young poet friend of mine wrote to me a couple of days back. I am not trivializing her feelings, but I don't think she was being too original here. Rather, she was repeating in her own way what I have heard and read in many many texts.] And even there, I know for sure that I don't always make sense to all readers. Neither do I want to. I have no intention of explaining myself or the world I am writing about. So, my work (and I believe, all works of art) excludes, precisely because it inhabits a world which is specific in terms of its historical, political, cultural, geographical connotations. But at the same time, I do want to communicate to some readers! And that's where, I believe, my responsibility as a writer comes into play. So, the question I am struggling with right now is, does my “beautiful language” facilitate that act of communication? Or does it impede and obstruct that work?

In short, what is the political significance of beautiful language in my work?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Possessing the Language

I am admittedly critical of words like "beautiful" and "aesthetics." I have been thinking a lot lately about "beautiful language" in a story or a poem. What does it mean to "possess the language" ? Of course, one needs to have a complicated mastery of the language one is writing in and should be familiar with its nuances. But what does it mean to "have" the language but not much of anything else? This is making me think because it has come up with discussions with friends and within the works of some of the writers I am reading. Especially the poets. Yes, it's true that the language in poetry can dazzle a reader, throw him/her into a maze of words, and undeniably, that's precisely THE power of poetic language. But I am also thinking of what does it mean to be enmeshed within language without experience?

And I have been thinking, whenever I have tried to learn a new language, the hardest part had been to use that language in describing an experience which I haven't really tried to narrate in that language before. So, literally, it's the attempt of the learner/speaker to narrate a specific kind of experience that expands his/her command over the language. What if the process is true for language itself? In other words, a language itself goes through certain kinds of expansion when one tries to write/narrate/describe in it an experience or a body of experiences that have not been described/written about in that language so far. In the same way, a poetic/artistic form needs to expand when an artist weaves in new experiences, new subjectivities within its format. This is what I would call putting pressure on the language itself, and would also claim, that no good art survives or can appeal to anyone without engaging in this act of pressurizing the existing language or form. Of course, this means that the writer/artist needs to know the history of the language and the form, what they have traditionally and historically been capable of accommodating, and what they have left out. In other ways, every serious writer/artist needs to engage with the politics of the language and forms in his/her own way.

So, to me, what matters mostly is not whether a particular writer "possesses" the language or not. But rather whether the said writer's works are putting pressure on the language and how. The thing is, I happen to know quite a few poets, who it seems, often hide behind the so-called beautiful language, playing with words, with the resonances. And it's often tricky for me as a reader, because as someone who does love language, the web of words does invite me in. But I can never really take up residence within such a web of beautiful language for too long, because I do think, at the end of the day, it's not a poet's capacity to play with language alone that creates that kind of pressure on language. But it's more about her historical imagination. Her sociological eye. The capacity to see how metaphor itself is political. The understanding that each and every word brings in a specific history and politics to the poem. For me, the so-called beautiful language can never really come to replace the poverty of sociological imagination and sense of history. And in the same way, I think, a lot of the beginning fiction-writers hide behind supernatural or non-linearity, so that they won't really have to explore further the contradictions of the material they are writing about, beautiful language works as an escape route for poets.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Show, Don't Tell

One of the first things a student gets told in an American style workshop, whether fiction or poetry, is Show, Don't Tell. That is, exposition is to be avoided. Instead, it is the task of the writer to "show" the concrete reality, through descriptions, narration of actions and settings and what not. It is the specificity of those descriptions that will inform the reader what he or she needs to be "told." For example, don't just tell the reader that a character is angry. Show that anger. Show how the character, for instance, might move her hands, when she is angry. Let your writing go to that place where your descriptions of those gestures will let the reader know that the character is angry, and not your use of the word "angry." But if you're trying to be a fiction writer, and trying to survive within the American scenario, this maxim will come to haunt you. At least, that's what happened to me. Honestly, I have been resistant to the idea somewhat.

Even if I am going to "show" in my writing, it's going to be a form of "telling," since my medium is writing, and not a form of visual art. I argued to myself. This, and the attendant demand that a writer construct a story through scenes and not exposition, is an off-shoot of the American over-dependence on the visuals. The Hollywood script. The mainstream-film mode of narration where tangible action, built in recognizable scenes, that's what is considered to be the foundation of a story. Yes, write the story in scenes, so that it can be easily developed into a Hollywood screenplay, I grumbled. Also, it was fascinating to see how many of my short-fiction instructors actually would use television-soaps and Hollywood films to demonstrate this and that about a successful story or a scene in a story. Often I wanted to scream, but look at Kieslowski's Red, Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali, Ritwick Ghatak's Komal Gandhar, Sembene Ousmane's Borom Seret, Ferdinando Solanas' El Viaje. I mean, what's going on here? It's not that even if we're thinking of films, it's just the Hollywood mode of narration that's out there. There are other forms of storytelling. There are numerous ways of showing. Even within US. I mean, let's just think of Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep or Julie Dash's Daughter of Dust. There's no way we can comprehend these films if we go by action as the smallest unit alone.

In short, what I am trying to say, modes of narration, like the content of the story itself, is cultural. And political. Thus, there is no one way of telling a story. It all depends on who is doing the "telling" and from what location. Yet, inside a standard American short-fiction workshop, this is hardly recognized. The students are also fairly racially and culturally homogenous to never bring it up. But even if one leaves aside the fact that Anglo-America is not the entire planet, one feels like asking, okay so what about Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy or George Eliot or ELizabeth Gaskell or Louisa May Alcott? What makes countless readers go back to them? Or Leo Tolstoy? I mean, whatever other claims one make, there is no way one can suggest that these nineteenth century giants are devoid of "telling." Of course, it's also true that the nineteenth century realisms depended on this idea of an omniscent narrator, who could get inside (penetrate?) inside every character's head and see, feel and suspect things. Omniscent narrators are not in style right now, in American literary fiction market, I've been told. So, another point in my favor. Modes of telling a story are determined by history as they are by culture or geographic and social location.

Then, why should I write trapped by a convention, which seems so nebulous anyway?

But then, at some point, probably because everyone was giving me the same feedback (develop what you're saying here in scenes, Nandini!), that I began to try out the much talked about scenes. Writing things in scenes compelled me to explore the characters' voice, the physical postures and gestures, the way they would interact with other characters. In other words, it's when I got to writing concrete scenes that I had to "penetrate" much more into my characters' lives. In a way, it made me feel strangely close to the methodology of the nineteenth century realists! And in a weird kind of a way, it forced me to move deeper into the realities I was trying to explore. Is it at all plausible for this character to talk and dress and act in this way? If not, then how would this person behave? I had to ask myself again and again. So yes, there's something to this showing business! I had to admit. But at the same time, showing can never satisfy me completely.

What I was doing through my exploration of scenes could have been done by a screenplay writer and a movie-camera. So, where do I stand as a fiction-writer? I kept asking myself! And my answer was, in the capacity of my form to explore the interiority of the characters. The fact that their actions and their thoughts might not always correspond very smoothly to each other! The fact that a certain character can do something, while thinking something very very different during that same precise moment. In a way, "telling" and nothing but telling or exposition, so to say, would give me a chance to explore that dialectics,that weird interaction between the exterior and the interior of a character!

So, now what? Well, I guess, for me the answer is, no fiction writer can throw away the "telling" part. Rather, the most compelling kinds of fiction are written through a combination and synthesis of showing and telling, rather than "show, don't tell!"

And while these are things I have been reflecting on for a while, what gives me the courage to finally write down this post is the fact, that I have finally succeeded to revise a short story that had been sitting on my desktop for a while, and yes, it included writing lots of one-line tellings in scenes!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

thankful for...

thankful for:

the first cup of tea in the morning
a fellowship which has relieved me from teaching
enough money which allows me to work in the cafes
friends who keep in touch
mentors who check in even without me asking
a library full of books

and, just plain ol' survivin'

Monday, September 6, 2010

Stories, Power-Strctures and Such

Since this year I don't have to teach,I do have the luxury of waking up in the morning, making myself a cup of tea,writing, reading, writing some more, reading. And of course, pontificating. So, I have been thinking a lot about the generation of stories. What makes it possible for us to tell interesting stories in our novels, poems, memoirs etc. But even before one puts down a story in a form/genre, one needs to have a story, isn't it? This gnawing feeling that I have something to tell? For the last couple of years, whenever I have taught the First-Year Rhetoric and Composition class, I have made it mandatory for my students to do an auto-ethnography exercise. Partly because to convince my students that they have a story to tell. That is,one doesn't always need to experience the "catastrophic" or the "spectacular" in order to tell a story about oneself, one's world. Rather, successful storytelling is all about examining one's everyday.One can also say, it's all about finding the stories within our everyday.

For that, I believe, one needs to develop a sociological eye. To realize that the everyday is constituted by many small acts of power. As it is by our individual and collective efforts to thwart those structures of power. Successful storytelling, then, to a large extent, depends on to what extent a writer/storyteller/filmmaker etc. can locate the complicated modes of power and resistance within our everyday and transform those incidences into form.

Interestingly enough, what I began to realize after a while that the most interesting auto-ethnographies in my classes were written by students who came from historically marginalized groups-- people of color, working-class folks, women,non-heterosexual. The middle-class white students,although often times possessors of grammatical error free and "better" English, didn't have interesting stories to say. Their stories told stories of conformity, often times, and even when they ended up writing about rebellion in family and in their own lives, those rebellions assumed the most predictable forms. I had, for a while now, joked about how the white, male,compulsively heterosexual, affluent Euro-America has lost its capacity t produce great stories. It was kind of scary and fascinating to see that process being replicated within the micro-cosm of the classes I taught.

Now, if I have to be truly honest here, I should say, that some of the auto-ethnographies written by my white, male, affluent, hetero students did end up being interesting. But they were interesting precisely because they realized, after going through some of their classmates' works, that their narratives of, say being introduced to Mexican food through their Mexican nanny, is directly brushing up against one of their classmates' story that she never received motherly care in the form of home-cooked meals, precisely because her mother was working elsewhere as a domestic maid. So, there is a need to examine the easy multi-culti celebratory narrative he was writing about his eclectic tastes in food.

So, yes, I would say, apart from being ever-attentive to the structures of power, successful generation of interesting stories also depend on an ability to examine one's own privilege. The ways in which one is implicated within the said power-structures. In other words, making oneself uncomfortable. Aka, moving beyond one's comfort-zone. And that challenging of one's comfort-zone does not need one to move to another country, another place, although sometimes it might also be a necessary step.It can happen right here, right within the space within which one has grown up and/or has learnt to call itself one's own.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

September Readings Etc.

In the middle of too many projects. Feeling a dire need to finish them one by one. But as I have learnt, my mind works slowly. Sometimes the best thing I can do is to keep coming back to the projects regularly, if not on an everyday basis, and then wait for the fruits to ripen in their own time.I am not having to teach this year, because I have one of the coveted fellowships. There is a pressure that comes with it. The feeling that I need to use my time REALLY well, and achieve a lot. I am trying not to succumb to that pressure, and work on steadily towards things. Apart from all the dissertation-related stuff, these are the books that I am trying to take a peak at:

1. Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely. An intriguing mystery novel which situates race, class and gender right in the middle of the problems it tries to solve.

2.Averno by Louise Gluck. Enjoying it so far. Will write a more detailed report later.

3.Object Lessons by Eavan Boland. Same here too. This book will need a separate post, if not many.

4. Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner. Is he really as fucked up as I think he is?

5.Renaissance by Ruth Forman. More on it later

6. A Dying Colonialism by Franz Fanon. Really a dissertation reading, but deserves an entry in this blog

7. Climbing the Mango Tree by Madhur Jaffrey. Since I am contemplating writing a food memoir myself...:)))

8. Confessions of an Ugly Sister by Gregory Maguire. Anything to do with Cinderella or fairytales in general stimulates me

9. Jalpaikather Esraj by Mridul Dasgupta. I am trying to go back to the texts I read YEARS ago