Keepin’ at it.

These past couple of years have been all about pushing the boundaries for me. Taking risks, doing things that scare me to the bone, but going through anyway. Fighting boredom and persevering. Digging my heels into the ground, and reminding myself why I started, especially when things start to look iffy. Oh boy, some days I just want to sleep in and forget all about it. And then I manage to find that grit somehow – the sort of determination that I was lacking throughout my teens and early 20s.

Here’s something that I do differently now, vis-a-vis then. I recently joined the Toastmasters’ chapter at my workplace. Turns out the company pays for my membership if I manage to prove myself worthy and use the membership to its full benefit. I see absolutely no problem with this – I gave up public speaking after college partially because I was not getting feedback on how to improve my voice, arguments, and language. Nothing could make me lose interest and motivation faster than being told that I’m doing great. Unfortunately for me, our debating club at college didn’t have the right kind of mentors – at least, not while I was there. I won’t get petty, but our debating president wasn’t exactly well-spoken, either.

Here’s what I like about Toastmasters’ – there is a clear path to growth. There is a community to give you feedback. There are opportunities in every meeting to reveal a new aspect of yourself.

I have attended 4 meetings till date,  and am yet to be offered a membership. I have spoken on a table topic at 3, and received good reviews. Most were about my comfort with being on stage, body language, vocabulary, use of humour (wut!), and my ability to think on my feet. Here’s why I keep going back – I am usually shivering when it’s my turn to receive feedback. I can hear my voice audibly quiver when I start talking. I am never creative enough with my speech; it’s rarely, if ever, headed in a direction that I hope to take it in. I never manage to remember to use the word/phrase/idiom of the day in my speech, although it usually isn’t that hard. My use of humour is very polite and rather passe: hardly the sort that manages to get my attention when others are talking. I use ‘umms’, ‘uhhs’ and other fillers. And boy do those prepared speeches teach me so much: I can’t wait to get to deliver one!

I have realized that extrinsic motivation only motivates me so much: what really matters to me is growth and my own brutally honest analysis of it. If I’m not pleased with myself, nobody else’s praise or pressure is ever going to matter to me. Realizing that has made all the difference.

The seduction staged by Ariana Grande

I have been studying Robert Greene’s Art of Seduction over the past few months. And like many of the book’s readers, I find his theories captivating. There seems to be some truth to them – dole out your unconditional love with no front or charisma, and there are no takers. You are soon going to be a doormat filled with resentment.

Position it as something that people need – now that does the trick. Except to do that, it’s important that you suss out people’s subconscious needs. You have to read past their daily masks, and peer into their souls; that which trickles down their chin while they are unaware, that which splashes out when they are bursting at their seams. They might make their excuses and apologize for it, but really, it doesn’t change who they truly are.

Ariana Grande’s music has been under the spotlight as a result of the attacks on her concert in Manchester (I wholeheartedly condemn it; I fail to imagine a thoroughly logical sentiment to carry out such a violent plan). Her music was already reaching her target audience, even otherwise.

If you watch videos of her, you probably notice her girlish giggle and her doe-eyed appearance. Except if you stick around longer, you’ll also notice the bondage-inspired outfits hugging her petite body. Her image is that of your regular, probably church-going, high school sweetheart, except she’s singing about sex and getting ‘into trouble’ for wanting it (will I get stoned if I suggest that these seem like ‘classic wet dreams’?). Her expressions aren’t really, well, expressive, but that helps her cause: like a blank slate, you can project whatever you want onto her angelic features, emphasized, obviously, by makeup.

She seduces the young boy out of your macho façade, and God, I have to admit – it is intriguing, and I find myself smitten. Even as a hetero-oriented young woman, I find myself smiling at her silly antics and over-the-top, cherubic gestures. She makes you feel macho even when you aren’t particularly feeling so – for instance, the lyrics of Dangerous Woman are targeted at the listener, making them feel like their being themselves makes her weak in her knees, makes her want to break rules and claim taboos as her own. If that isn’t sexually flattering, I don’t know what is. She’s blaming you, but it’s a sweet blame to undertake.

I’d say that Selena Gomez has a similar style: she has a relatively squeaky clean image. She wears her heart on her sleeve, and laughs easily. She plays the role of the quintessential damsel in distress, if you ask me.

I suppose these styles appeal to some men’s need to play heroes. For their deep-seeded virility, sexual power and prowess to be acknowledged and drawn out with flattery. To be told that they are unique in some way, but in a rather bashful manner – where you are just hinting at it.

Wanted: A rubber duck-cum-devil’s advocate

What does a rewarding relationship mean to you?

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For some of my friends it means being devoted, expressing & receiving care and affection, reaffirmation of one’s own goodness, finding strength and support in another when you stumble and are running on empty… the list goes on.

Can’t say that I don’t seek these things out in love and friendships. But what makes me seem flit-ty, is perhaps my search for a very particular breed of rubber duck.

I borrow the term ‘rubber duck’ from the ‘rubber duck debugging method’ – a concept I was introduced to by my coder- friend and flatmate. To explain it in plain language, if you find yourself stuck with an idea or piece of work or a line of code, then just talk to an inanimate object and break down the idea into smaller elements, explaining it to them until you find out the inconsistency or disconnect in it by yourself! Does that make sense? Or do I need to rubber duck my definition of a rubber duck first?

Either how, what I lack in my life is not exactly an inanimate thing, but something slightly different. What I sorely feel lacking in my life is an entity that alternates between a rubber duck and a devil’s advocate. The reason I cannot bring myself to completely rely on a rubber duck is because in the spur of the moment, I can find in myself, only so much respect for a rubber duck! Since the ideas aren’t exactly coming from the duck but from myself, it probably means I have limited respect for myself during some moments… a lack of trust in myself to solve a problem that I’m feeling stuck in. Hmm, now that’s a revelation I suppose.

The reason I need this entity to sometimes take on the avatar of a devil’s advocate is because, the best kinds of devil’s advocates usually listen and take apart your ideas for their logic and reason; or the absence of them. Devil’s advocates absorb your ideas at the rate at which you’re rambling about them, and it’s cathartic to have them argue back with you. With a devil’s advocate who’s doing a good job at being one, you are always on the same page.

I don’t just want someone who’s a good listener, I want somebody to intellectually spar with, and to sometimes do all the things that are the opposite of what a rubber duck does!

Hmm, I wonder if I made much sense to anybody outside to myself?

Hold space, there is plenty.

I can’t really put a finger on it, but I have changed since the last time I posted on here.

I have become very comfortably whole, but in a rather porous way. What I mean is, I am not whole in the sense that I have no holes, and no space to accommodate the ebbs and flow of life. My earlier definition of whole used to be akin to that of a SOLVED Rubik’s cube. No need or space for change. Thoroughly well-defined, and really no scope for anymore human interaction to be involved in anymore. And then, somewhere along the way, I didn’t really feel like I wanted that anymore. I like my periodic ‘struggles’… they have helped me unearth aspects about myself that I never expected to learn. It has put me in positions that I hadn’t ever really fathomed, and it gave me a renewed sense of wonder. Sometimes, it did nothing for me, and I discovered that ‘nothing’ is not bad either!

‘Trust your struggle’ is a maxim I have come to accept over the past few years, sometimes grudgingly so. It’s become quite integral to my being now, and in the process, I have finally gotten a peek at the reality of ‘holding space’. Sometimes, life isn’t a project. Sometimes, even the most well-intentioned advice can be ill-timed. Sometimes, what you have to offer is not what the other needs, and other times it is not what they want. And that’s ok! It’s fine to step back and move forward with those connections that are felt strongly, and it is fine to loosen your grip on those connections that seem like they are slipping through your fingers.

I recently did something for someone with absolutely no expectations, and with genuine, uninhibited affection. It was liberating! It still is. I am in awe and curious, but I think I’ll just let this be this one time. I’m letting a flower be a flower; no need to pluck it. It’s already working its magic by just being. 🙂

Am I who I am or where I belong?

One wonders why this craving, longing, for identification exists. One can understand the identification with one’s physical needs – the necessary things, clothes, food, shelter and so on. But inwardly, inside the skin as it were, we try to identify ourselves with the past, with tradition, with some fanciful romantic image, a symbol much cherished. And surely in this identification there is a sense of security, safety, a sense of being owned and of possessing. This gives great comfort. One takes comfort, security, in any form of illusion. And man apparently needs many illusions. In the distance there is the hoot of an owl and there is a deep-throated reply from the other side of the valley. It is still dawn. The noise of the day has not begun and everything is quiet. There is something strange and holy where the sun arises. There is a prayer, a chant to the dawn, to that strange quiet light. That early morning, the light was subdued, there was no breeze and all the vegetation, the trees, the bushes, were quiet, still, waiting. Waiting for the sun to arise. And perhaps the sun would not come up for another half hour or so, and the dawn was slowly covering the earth with a strange stillness. Gradually, slowly, the topmost mountain was getting brighter and the sun was touching it, golden, clear, and the snow was pure, untouched by the light of day. As you climbed, leaving the little village paths down below, the noise of the earth, the crickets, the quails and other birds began their morning song, their chant, their rich worship of the day. And as the sun arose you were part of that light and had left behind everything that thought had put together. You completely forgot yourself. The psyche was empty of its struggles and its pains. And as you walked, climbed, there was no sense of separateness, no sense of being even a human being.

– Krishnamurti to Himself Ojai California Tuesday 10th March, 1983

It’s easy to confuse having a strong sense of self to the comfort of a well-established social identity. Personally, I have been grappling with this dilemma in my head. It began with reading some scientific research-based book on what it takes to succeed at dating and get into a relationship. This is something that has been on my mind a lot as my family begins to pressure me to take my personal life more seriously, and some of my best friends sign up for holy matrimony, even while others are in long-term, stable relationships.

Turns out that in the early days of courtship, once you identify your prey (that’s the language these books use :/ ), you need to showcase what you bring to the table. No sooner that I count my virtues (which include loyalty, friendliness, independence), another article tells me that there is no reason to think that these are flaunt-worthy. Apparently, this is doing the bare minimum, and any attempt at making them out to be more than that, is simply going to seem unattractive and entitled.

I’m caught between a rock and a hard place here. So, I start to wonder if my social identity is worth anything – but thanks to my peripatetic childhood, that extended a little into adulthood as well, and my parents relatively unconventional choices of lifestyle and community, I have always felt like an outsider. I have embraced it thus far, because it has given me a unique perspective into things, but apparently, when it comes to dating, people seek out the familiar.

I’m really lost here, as you can see. I think of public figures like Oprah and Obama who have struggled with their own sense of identity, carving something out for themselves, and I wonder how I am going to figure this one out in the coming months… Or if it is worth figuring out at all?

 

I’m scared, honey.

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I still believe.

In the recesses of my heart, there is no doubt.

In my mind, I do not question it anymore.

It is a reality, and I am in acceptance.

However, it is here that I cleave.

To pursue dreams that were long before you were sought.

To become the person I always was at my core.

How these paths may converge, I can only sense.

Against destiny, I have no defense.

Violent, twisted, forceful love.

Love, for me, is an extremely violent act. Love is not “I love you all.” Love means I pick out something, and it’s, again,this structure of  imbalance. Even if this something is just a small detail… a fragile individual person… I say “I love you more than anything else.” In this quite formal sense, love is evil.

Ah, Zizek. In my naivete, I rejected your theories. Today, I willingly reconsider my stance.

Whenever I speak or write on romantic love, I seldom feel like I’m on steady ground.

Romantic love is widely, well, romanticized. It is portrayed as beautiful, soulful, inspiring, touching, calming, capable of inducing joy. It’s worth the jump, they say.

Consider this: you are wise enough to know your vices. You have found beauty in another. You wish them happiness, and feel like you have a shot at channeling unconditional love. This is the metaphorical flower which you must not pluck, if you wish to see it’s beauty continue into eternity. Yet, you do. It’s a selfish act. You draw someone out into their most vulnerable states, and expose them to your darkest, ugliest sides. And what is more, you insist that they love you the better for it.

How is this not violent? – Zizek says it is to the rest of the world; I say it is violent to the victim of your choice. How is this not as bad a manipulative tactic used in war?

I’m not saying I don’t believe in seeking love in romantic relationships. I am merely suggesting that we stop lying to ourselves. Love is ugly, messy, gut-wrenching, selfish, violent, despicable, deceiving. ‘Bad Romance’ is redundant copy. Romance never had a shot at being describe with a positive adjective.