Assertiveness and Guilt

Well, it finally happened. I told people to stop messaging me so much, because I was wilting under the pressure of it all. Only, contrary to my expectations, I did not explode. I was actually rather polite about it.

But. BUT. Of course the guilt has set in. Let me explain though.

So I have a neurotic need to reply or respond in some way to every message or call. I am built like that because I equate not replying to abject rudeness, and I cannot logic my way out of it. Thus, since I very much hold myself accountable to my own standards, I cannot ignore anyone. [Although someone tried very hard to change my mind about this stance.] Except if I have already told that person I will not be replying to any communication from them. This has happened in the past.

Keeping in mind that I have this personality quirk, and that I am usually inundated with work – project work or house work – it was a small wonder I was drowning under the stress of replying to the daily messages of some people.

First, I tried backing away from other social networks. I stopped using Facebook, avoided logging into Twitter, and finally gave Whatsapp a miss, unless I needed to communicate with my mom. I let notifications lie unread on the app, turning off notifications entirely. Yet, in the back of my mind, I knew that they were there, waiting silently for my attention.

Next, I tried hinting people away. “I’m running around quite a bit.” or “I have deadlines for some work.” None of them stuck. From one quarter, I got extreme understanding and told I wasn’t obliged to respond, but the messages would continue unabated. From the second quarter, I got exhortations to stop! working! so! much! woman! Or to TAKE A BREAK! Which, while well-intentioned, is not particularly helpful or useful, and frankly makes me grind my teeth.

That brings us neatly to today. Where I finally realised that I was in a sink or swim situation, and I needed to extricate myself. So I told them very nicely that the daily messaging was causing me stress.

And sat back to watch the understanding reactions, albeit betraying hurt, and tried very hard not to rush to undo the results of me asking them to give me some space. It was horribly easy to do so, and I physically kept myself away from my phone so as not to undo it.

The trouble with me is that when I am assertive to people who are nice for the most part, and my assertiveness causes them varying levels of anguish, I find it very hard to stand my ground. I feel an overwhelming urge to rush in and soothe ruffled feathers and generally fix things so they are happy again – regardless of whether it is healthy for me or not.

Additionally, one of them was there for me during a particularly trying time in my life. And I have been there for him for moral support thereafter. So I felt doubly worse for asking him for my space. And yet, I was slowly going crazy.

In the afternoon, I sat with mom for lunch and I told her all of this. And I asked her whether I did the right thing. She looked at me and said: “Only you would let it go for so long, and then ask whether you were right. You need to sometimes do what is right for you, and tell the others as kindly as possible, but not hold yourself responsible for the consequences.”

And that, put it right into perspective.

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To Be Or Not Be Famous

For the last couple of months, I have realised a public site for work is necessary. Since I am a writer by profession, I need to showcase samples and clips of my work, and also the different styles I am capable of tackling.

Usually, a prospective client asks for a blog link, and earlier I used to send my personal blog link (not this one) to them. But that was when I was rather young and green, and the blog posts reflected the turmoil and upheaval in my personal life far too much to be professional. Nowadays, I have a bigger body of work, but it is rather scattered. Some of it is on the web, so I send links, some of it is in print, so I have scanned copies of articles. There is just a whole mess of stuff.

I also briefly considered having another personal blog, but more public. I opened an account on Medium with the express intention of setting one up, but I couldn’t start typing. I have a compulsive nature sometimes, and the desire to have everything under one umbrella (at least the stuff that belongs together) is far too strong.

For a few weeks, I pondered the conundrum. How do I have a blog that straddles the line between personal and professional adequately? I cannot possibly rant about people in my life, and the behaviour which I find inexplicable over there. It is unprofessional. What if I somehow become well-known? *shudder* I am terrified someone will find THIS blog at all. I just don’t want the hassle.

Finally, I have put to bed the desire to have the blog at all. I will, at some point, set up a site with my work. That site will have stuff that is acceptable for other people to see and read. This one will continue to be my outlet for all things feelings and personal growth, at least for the time being. I need this space more than I could have realised. It is therapy for me.

At least, until I change my mind again.

You’re Not Supposed To Be Invincible

As a writer and editor, my vocabulary skills are fairly well-developed. However, I wouldn’t say they were absolutely at the pinnacle of achievement. I haven’t got the best vocabulary in the world, and I doubt anyone will till such time as Stephen Fry is still alive and kicking. The man’s repertoire and eloquence is staggering.

I would say that my vocabulary was moderately good from rather a young age, say from my burgeoning teenage years. I read quite a bit back then, although it was mostly novels. Nowadays, I have more of an eclectic reading palette: history, biographies, philosophy, and more. Each book adds another voice to my head, or polishes off a dusty facet from an existing one. Ultimately, reading is what made me a writer.

Now that I have done trumpeting my abilities, [and strongly resisting the urge to add disclaimers everywhere] I recall a conversation I had with a colleague recently. He was asking how one was supposed to know how to correctly pronounce words, if they were new to him. He then went into a tirade about how complicated English was. Before I could reply, another colleague joined us, and she caught the tail end of the tirade. She mostly agreed, because as an aspiring writer herself, she felt double the pressure to be word perfect each time.

She narrated an instance where her ex-boyfriend mocked her for mispronouncing a word. She learned speedily enough that pronunciation was everything. Much like I had thought, many years previously.

When I was at school, I had a friend who was incredibly smart. When I say ‘smart’, I mean genius-level. She topped at everything she did: school work, ballet, and art are a few of the fields I can actually recall. I was a shy kid, with positive vibes and confused at best. I was intelligent, and I occasionally still show sparks of this mystical ability, but overall I spent more time confused than otherwise. I didn’t have her staggering vocabulary, but she made me feel awful if I ventured to ask for explanations of the big words she used. I learned to sew my mouth shut, because mockery was hardly a desirable outcome for a preteen.

It took me years to grow out of that insecurity, although she wasn’t the first or the last person to make me feel inadequate for simply not knowing something. Today, I stand a very different person altogether, and I have learned to be proud of being able to ask if I don’t know something. Because it means I have grown, and I am human.

I didn’t say all of this to my colleagues though, even as the thoughts flashed in my mind. I did however say that it was ok not to know all the words; or to mispronounce them. Language is a vehicle for communication, and providing the person in front understands what you mean, your words are successful. That’s the most important point.

Secondly, mispronouncing a word, but using it correctly, means you understands its import. Also, it means that you learned it while reading. A habit usually adopted by intelligent people.

Thirdly, most linguists and passionate lovers of language will say that language continuously evolves. It is only idiotic prescriptivists that nitpick flaws.

Finally, and on a more philosophical train of thought, no one is meant to be invincible or perfect. If we didn’t make mistakes, we would hardly be human would we?

To Be Or Not To Be Intimate

I keep thinking that every I feel overwhelmed, things will even out, and I won’t feel like that. But the fact is that it becomes my new baseline for normal, and work and other commitments blow up some more in my face. Which is why I have the tiniest shred of sanity left, the most tenuous grip on that shred, and finally powder keg of temper underneath the surface, which is instantly triggered by bullshit. Or any horrible behaviour really.

All the above is the reason behind why I let someone get under my skin today, and why there was suddenly a red mist where the atmosphere used to be. And when I opened my mouth, red hot lava poured out. I wasn’t shouting, but I had no idea I could decimate anyone that easily with just words.

It started off innocently enough, where we were talking about our families. From there, we got into a mild discussion about siblings, where this someone [let’s call her Maria, for reasons I will forget shortly] said – I partially agreed – that it was easier for a girl to have an elder sister, as opposed to a brother. The third member of this lunchtime discussion of course disagreed. He is just one of those chronic firestarters, pedantic and inquisitive. [As an aside, also the star of this post.]

Maria argued with him, and then made the following astounding statement:  sisters and brothers always kept each other at arm’s length. Mentally and emotionally, they may love each other, but physically it would be weird for them to be close. In fact, those siblings would were prone to hugs and embraces were not normal, and just plain weird.

I was naturally flabbergasted with this point of view, but I wasn’t mad just then. I merely said that it was perfectly normal, and it really depended on the individuals in question. And if one was to look at it in that light, then mothers and sons, or fathers and daughters, shouldn’t exchange hugs and kisses, or embrace each other unless there was an occasion [her sole exception to this diktat]. Because I said this nonchalantly, expecting sense to prevail, I was stunned by her response: Yes, they shouldn’t. It isn’t normal.

Which is when I lost it.

I didn’t lose my temper visibly, but I did point out that that was a highly judgmental point of view. And that just because she found it uncomfortable personally, didn’t make it abnormal. In fact, human relationships have a degree of intimacy with actually cements the relationship further.

She argued that everyone was judgmental on some level, and while I agree that everyone is, it is based on an internal moral compass that assesses the harm in a situation. When it is about affection between two consenting adults, who is anyone else to judge? Basically, she reduced loving relationships between people and their near and dear ones to something ugly. Just because she is uncomfortable with intimacy?

She continued to say that what was normal for her forms her opinion. I agree, however what she considers normal cannot be the baseline on which she judges other people. She countered with why couldn’t it be, and I said that it is the very crux of xenophobia and discrimination to separate people into normal and abnormal.

Finally, I looked at her in abject incredulity, because I couldn’t believe I was associating with such a bigot, and said that intimacy was a integral aspect of human relationships. In fact, it is one of the things that makes the effort of working through these things worth it.

I considered sexual abuse playing a part in her mental makeup, but then I’ve been through that too. I have been through a phase where “all men suck!”, but I grew out of it. Individuals suck, and within their minds, it is their complex personalities, characters, experiences, limitations, and much more that makes their behaviour good or bad.

I hug my friends, regardless of whether they are male or female. Not all of them, because everyone gives off different vibes. But quite a few. I don’t flinch when one of them touches me inadvertently, because they aren’t contagious or impure. They are human beings. There is no malice or lust in their touch, but simple companionship. They are human beings too.

So Much Noise

I am not complaining. Really. This is not a rant. It is the beginning of me posting to the blog more and more, because of what I am trying to avoid in other online arenas.

The noise of other people. It has become overwhelming.

In Pune, and then Goa, I took to Twitter like a dying fish to life-giving water. It provided me release from my isolated life, and thrived in the micro-interactions on the platform. But then, I had no work to speak off then. I spent very little time in productive pursuits. I tried to fill the gaping holes of my existence with validation in the form of 140-character messages. And it worked.

Fast forward to Mumbai, and I was happy to shift focus to WhatsApp, and the messages from my dearly beloved. Only from him though. Very few other people messaged me at all. I am led to believe now that a single girl has a lot more friends than one in a relationship. Empirical evidence bears me out.

But now, I am swamped with God-given work. I am deeply grateful for all the opportunities to flex my productivity and grow in these ways. Whatever little free time spills over, I spend with my mother, and with my close friends. The common thread of these friends are that they are undemanding. If I want to chat with them, they will. But they keep it light. There are days and weeks that go past without us talking. And that’s great.

However, I have given up on social media. I put out one tweet, and I am inundated with responses. Most of the times, I don’t want responses. I just want to vent or express a thought so that it will get out of my head. But no, people have to comment. HAVE TO. There is a driving compulsion to do so that makes me groan with frustration. Why? Because they aren’t doing anything wrong. I have just outgrown the interaction. I don’t want to exchange more than a few words with anyone in a given day. I am tired of long discussions.

On the upside though, that means I’ll be blogging more. I still need the outlet, and the relative obscurity (nothing relative about it!) of this blog wins.

And that makes me quite happy!

The Second Biggest Challenge

There are a number of things that trip up my progress with the whole weight loss gig. First, it is my lack of resolution and staying power. I have staying power for a lot of things, unless they are wholly in my control. Then, I tend to take the easy way out. With my new combat fitness class, I am going to be shelling out a substantial sum, and that will goad me into being regular.

But this post isn’t about how I battle my lack of resolution, but the second biggest demon: embarrassment.

In this wonderful class, with an amazing coach, and a fantastic trainer, I am in the worst shape. [I kinda love this sentence, with all the superlatives. hehe.] I am the fattest, not the oldest (but those guys are fitter), and the one with the least ability. And therein lies the rub.

It would be awesome to go into something like this with some sort of pre-existing ability. Like I did with my French classes in Goa. I had already been through levels of French in Pune, and I found the course a breeze. It enabled me to stop feeling nervous and to really grasp the nuances of language that has escaped me the first time. That sort of leg up can make it for me. And it is a tremendous confidence boost, although I wasn’t in competition with anyone else.

Right now, I’ve been to two fitness classes. And it is a struggle not to want to collapse into a heap because everyone else is [literally] running laps around me. In short, I feel utterly humiliated and embarrassed.

Stupidly though, and I know this because I have a functioning brain, all this is purely in my head. Not by a word or glance have any of the others, least of all the trainer, betrayed disgust or disdain for my lack of ability.

So I tell myself, everyone has to start somewhere. Everyone had a first day once. At least I am here trying to get to the next day, the next month, the next year: the next level.

I cannot also myself to be discouraged with lack of immediate progress, because that’s not how physiology works. I have to focus on doing one more rep, being a little less breathless, kicking a little bit higher, and tweaking my form a little more each time. That is going to be enough, but I have to keep telling myself that.

Ultimately, I want to enjoy this process. And focusing on the result isn’t going to get me there any faster or happier, which is more important.

Whittling Down Happy Days

3rd April was my birthday. My 33rd birthday to be exact. My first birthday without my father. [We lost him on 5th April 2016.] Two days after my 32nd birthday.

These thoughts have been ringing in the same staccato fashion in the confines of my head for the last few months. I realise my extreme good fortune that of having had such amazing, loving parents at all. I also recognise that I was lucky to have the most amazing father in the world, who was a father in all the right moments, but like a brother in others, and a pal for most of my life.

Doesn’t stop me from feeling incredibly sad though. In fact, this post has been languishing in my drafts folder since the 3rd, which means I have had to go back and change the tense and add a few explanatory lines.

I am not a great believer in date milestones. Funnily enough, it started off with my grandfather’s death. On 11th August 2002, he breathed his last, and my mother went into a complete tailspin. It took her months to recover the shreds of her sanity, and year after year, I felt the same tremors of grief engulfing her on the 11th.

After we moved back to India, I moved away to college in Pune. It was hard to make friends, but I fast formed a lasting bond with one girl. And her birthday was on the 11th of August.

At that point in our lives, birthdays were a big deal. And I was always part of the celebration, but at home there was an ambience of sheer despair. What was I supposed to do? Ultimately, the penny dropped. I refused to remember the anniversary of his demise; I would rather focus on the anniversary of his birth: an arguably happier occasion.

As I’ve grown older though, new year’s days, Valentine’s days, and the like lost significance. A concerted effort to blot out sadness on death anniversaries of grandparents, beloved pets, and so on has made those days pass by too. The only remaining days of significance are birthdays and wedding anniversaries.

The only wedding anniversary celebrated by my family is my parents’. Now with dad gone, that’s become a sad occasion too. I’m not married. My aunt’s marriage didn’t work out.

Finally, birthdays. Mine: 2 days before my father died. My father’s? Without him, it’s sad. My aunt and mother are twins. That leaves a grand total of one day of celebration in the year.

Why bother?