Performance Issues

I am a chronic worrier. I let anxiety bog me down every step of the way. Questions like: “Should I do this?”; “What will happen if I do that?”; and “Oh my god, what will happen if I don’t?!” dog every move I make. It HAS become easier as I’ve grown older, but not because the self-doubts have gone away, but more because I’ve found the mute button.

It happens with every new project. When I’m speaking to a client for the first time, the ideas flow uninhibited. I find creative solutions without thinking too much, and the conversation is sparkling. At this point, it is a purely academic discussion. Contracts haven’t been exchanged, work hasn’t begun, and everyone is still feeling everyone else out.

It is my perfect place. Because, anxiety doesn’t assail me when I have nothing to do, and I have made no commitments. Once the contract starts though, it is a whole other ballgame. I freeze.

It is the classic blank page freeze. I don’t know where to start, so I put it off. When I do make a start, the research I do points me in an unknown direction. I have to learn new stuff. Timelines start to draw closer, and I panic. The panic exhausts me, and I start feeling ill. The illness makes my head fuzzy, and I can’t work. More panic sets in, and I am left weeping quietly in the corner, feeling utterly overwhelmed and out of my depth. And everything spirals out of control.

Finally, because I have no other choice, I screw up my eyes and just start working. No research, no learning, just work. When I have finished a first draft, the panic subsides slightly. When I start refining it, and come up with a better second draft, the panic subsides some more. And finally, when I do the research, and fill in all the gaps, the panic goes away entirely.

I seem to have found a way to cope, but I wish it wasn’t when I am pushed up implacably against a deadline, and sinking or swimming are the only two options in front of me.

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.

Being The Other Woman: Introducing the Characters

If you haven’t read part 1 of this post, it is OK. You haven’t missed anything. This is the post I actually set out to write, and got bogged down in the details.

There are several characters in forthcoming incidents. I deliberately obscured the ones in the previous post, because otherwise they might be recognizable to people who know us. [I am relying on the anonymity of the Internet to prevent that from happening, but the truth is I still am scared of it occurring.]

So, without further ado, the cast of characters in the following short stories:

  1. JP: The inveterate scumbag, drug dealer, shiftless work-shirker, and general malcontent, with an appetite for the good life but not for the work that goes into realising that life.
  2. AQ: The rich kid with starry eyes, and the determination to carve his niche, albeit with a little help from mummy and daddy. Absolute charmer, with movie star good looks, and the pedigree to leaving swooning girls in his wake. [Boys too maybe, I am not judging.]
  3. The French Student: Not conventionally handsome, but still arresting enough to draw plenty of attention. Tall naval officer, with a authoritative presence, and boyishness that first melted my stony heart and then broke it into a million pieces.
  4. CC: The British heartthrob. Star of his own series on my blog. The one I thought was different, but turned out to be a philandering playboy.

And then there is me.

Feeling a Long Way Off

When I broke up with my significant other, I expected to miss a lot of things: the comfort, the familiarity, the physical, emotional, and mental closeness, the support, and a million other things, both vague and specific. I also dreaded the thought of trying to start anew, and having loved so deeply, I was under the first impression that it wasn’t even possible. Not that that impression has changed. I still feel uncomfortable of falling in love with someone.

I also harboured the (mis?)conception that I could not be intimate with someone I didn’t love. Perhaps this was a part of my Indian psyche and the layers of conditioning that seep through cultural mores. Now, this part I am not to sure about.

I am not a person that is driven by pure desire, but I’ve started to think about dating for the sake of physical intimacy. I am still dead against the thought of a relationship though.

Basically, what I am trying to say without sounding like the ultimate despo, is that I have the strongest urge to grab the unsuspecting cute boy (who appears to be at least 5 years younger than me) and kiss him.

What. The. Hell.

Scammy Persistence

Persistent scammer thinks I’m an idiot.

Call 1.
Scammer: “Madam, your ATM card is blocked for security reasons.”
Me: “Which bank are you calling from?” [It’s a mobile number. No way this is a legit call.]
Scammer *after short, whispered conference with fellow scammer*: “Umm.. Bank of Maharashtra.”
Me: “Don’t have an account with them.”
Scammer:Nahi, sorry. Bank of India.”
Me: “Nope not them either.”
Scammer: “Ok madam. Sorry wrong number.”

A few hours later. Call 2. Same number.
Scammer: “Madam, humne aapko subhe phone kiya tha.” [Cheek!]
Me:Haan. Bolo.”
Scammer:Aapka number registered hai is account ke saath.”
Me:Achcha? Kaunsa number?” [I have 2 other numbers’ calls forwarded to one phone, in addition to mine.]
Scammer: “Um.. yehi wala.”
Me: *letting it go* “Achcha. Address kaunsa hai?”
Scammer: *click*

Two days later. Call 3. Same number.
Scammer: “Madam, aap kaunse bank ka ATM use karte ho?”
Me:Aap kaunse bank se call kar rahe ho?”
Scammer: “SBI.”
Me: “Don’t use that ATM card.”
Scammer: *click*

I know I shouldn’t indulge these conversations, but can’t help myself. Far too funny.

No Need for Sorry

Culturally, India is a bit of a hotch-potch. Truly, there is no such thing as “Indian culture”, because the country is peopled with so many different groups, who live together (sometimes harmoniously, many times not), and they are rarely homogeneous.

In the case of my family, we are from India, but have lived for a long time abroad. It was in Dubai, which is another melting pot of humanity, except there it was nationality that made us different, not regions. Granted, Indians predominantly interact with other Indians, seeking inclusion in the comfort of known and recognised, but we did interact with the others. So there was some amount of cultural transference – again, some bad some good.

After moving back to India, there was the instant realisation that we were “different”. I don’t really know how, but there was a divide. It wasn’t physical or even economical. It was somewhat behavioural in retrospect. It was the way we spoke, or the way we dressed, but mostly the way we interacted with other people. In Dubai, it was customary to be polite. Please, thank you, sorry, and excuse me are words that are hardcoded into our behavioural processes. In spite of being told many times to stop “being so formal”, I couldn’t help myself. I thank taxi drivers, I apologise for bumping into someone, I excuse myself when rising from a table, and so on. Hundreds of tiny behavioural patterns that made it us and them.

The other day, my mum, aunt and I went out shopping. I was in dire need of jeans. We trotted off to the nearest shopping plaza, and after some arduous selecting, settled down to have dinner at Domino’s Pizza.

As we were clearing the table (self-service at fast food places is another thing that was built into our systems in Dubai), there were other people waiting to be seated. They got really close to us, as we gathered our things. It was uncomfortable, and borderline offensive. I initially ignored it. I was with two older ladies, and courtesy demanded that they wait at a respectful distance so as not to crowd us out.

But they didn’t. I barely rose from my chair, before one of the fellows nipped behind me and sat in it. I couldn’t help myself: “It’s a good thing you waited till I got up. You’re in such a hurry, you would’ve sat in my lap otherwise.”

He ignored me, and refused to meet my eye. I let it go. But I had awoken the beast: mum. She proceeded to lecture the two blokes on etiquette. About waiting till people had left. About having courtesy for ladies. About not being so self-absorbed that their own comfort was paramount, and exclusive to all else.

It fell on deaf ears for the one who slipped into my chair, but the other one was sufficiently riled to respond. He adamantly refused to apologise, actually saying that! “It’s OK! It’s OK! No need for sorry. No need for sorry,” he chorused in broken English.

Of course this fanned the flames with my mother. She read them both the riot act, whilst he continued chanting his mantra. It was a stalemate. Finally, I got fed up and dragged her off.

It was an unpleasant experience, but finally what did I expect? This isn’t the first time nor will it be the last that people have been downright rude. It greatly saddens me to think that my countrymen are so often obsequiously deferential but lack the barest sliver of respect for their fellow beings.