My first Toastmasters speech: My Spirit Animal (with doodles!)

How do I tell you about myself? Perhaps, I should associate myself with a spirit animal, and draw parallels in terms of our traits!

Let’s start with my Zodiac sun sign – I am a Sagittarian. Sagittarians are known to be optimistic, energetic, spontaneous, travel-lovers, and people who love change. That sounds like me – I love change. I embrace it even as others are averse or skeptical. I jump head-first into it, and prefer to live by taking the bull by its horns.

Travel is yet another great love of mine, and I’m doing it alone, often enough. This is because spontaneity is my middle name, and I don’t like to wait around to accommodate others when my heart speaks its demands, loud and clear. I trace it back to my mother’s upbringing. She has lived in Chennai, Secunderabad, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata, Shillong, Patna, and Bombay. In fact, she even gave birth to me while she was traveling – between Trivandrum and Coimbatore, I believe. She had to make a pitstop at a village called Perundurai so I could be born!

I have also lived in many cities – Coimbatore, Kolkata, back to Coimbatore again. Chennai for college, and once I graduated, I moved to Mumbai. Then to Ladakh, where I worked for about a month – not longer, for a reason that I will return to in about a minute. Then Bihar, in a village called Bettiah, mostly. Then Delhi, and then Bengaluru. When I came to Bengaluru, my friend said to me, “Tej, drop your anchor here for a while. Throw a new year’s party, buy some furniture, make some friends, cry by yourself, dance by yourself, get into a relationship, breakup and breakdown.” I did throw a new year’s party earlier this year. I haven’t managed to have a relationship though, that’s why I’m still here. (Jk)

I’m sure my wanderlust will rear its lovely head again sometime and drive me towards taking yet another adventurous leap (what sort of adventure – I cannot tell yet), but for now, I’m here and I’m home. Home! Home happens to be yet another priority in my life. In fact, I returned from Ladakh only so I can be with my ailing grandmother, who is now no more. I have certain routines that involve home. I am very close to my grandfather, and make sure that I visit him and my cousins every Diwali. In fact, last year, I took off for a trip to New Zealand and returned to India to visit them just in time for Diwali! I attribute this side squarely on my Cancer moon. Cancer is the sign of home and nourishment. That certainly sounds like me. But, then again, I’m not moody crab like a Cancerian. I don’t withdraw into a shell and become unresponsive. In fact, I’m often spirited and cheerful. When I’m not, I’m pensive and dreaming. Like the centaur, with his telescope (pssst, the Sagittarius sign is depicted as a centaur).

Looks like I have to come up with a new spirit animal to associate with. Quite recently, I stumbled upon a quote – “the strength of the wolf is in its pack, and the strength of the pack is in the wolf.” Aha! Yes, the wolf is definitely my spirit animal. While the wolf lives in packs and is a fiercely loyal animal – not unlike moi – this animal also holds its solitude sacred. The wolf explores the recesses of the jungle, and is not afraid of exploring uncharted territories.

So, if you want to know more about me, perhaps you ought to study the wolf better. 🙂

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I mean, how ARE you doing?

I have noticed something.

I rarely mean it as much as I do when I’m asking you,

“How are you doing?”

And I usually mean to ask you –

  • Tell me about the darkest night and how you lived through it, since we last spoke.
  • Tell me if you have had any nightmares, and what they are about.
  • Tell me, are your limbs in order? Do your jaws work alright? Can you blink at regular intervals?
  • How are your parents? Have they showed you recently, how much you mean to them?
  • What about your friends? Do they check on you, when you’re deeply hurt and immersed in sorrow?
  • What’s the most fun you have had recently?
  • What rules have you broken? How did you like that?
  • Tell me about that time when you dealt with your inner demons like the warrior your soul is. You thought this moment would never arrive! – yet, here you are.
  • Tell me, have you kissed any girls recently? How did they taste? Did they use their tongue?
  • Have you bared your soul to anybody lately? Did they understand you?
  • Show me your skills, your hacks, your latest tricks! What sort of jokes do you tell lately? Can you still make me laugh? Can I make you?
  • How are you doing at work?
  • At night, a while before you fall asleep, what keeps you awake?
  • How have you been nurturing your body? Have you discovered anything new about how it works for you?
  • How have you been destroying your body? Tell me about what drives you to do that. While you are it, show me where it feels like a mortal wound. I swear I’d take away your pain if I could.

And lastly, I mean to ask you –

  • Do you ever think of me? Why? When? For how long? And what does your heart say when such a thought flickers, even momentarily. I daresay that a thought of me could stand a barrage of ones that are about life mundane, but for how long I wonder, does it manage to sustain? Or rather, do YOU manage to sustain it?

Don’t just tell me you’re fine. That breaks my heart. I want to know. I care.

Until next time, old friend.

 

The Weakness of My Strengths

I was recently trying to list out traits that I identify with at my core. Here’s how I see myself:

An empath: In most interactions, I’m trying to put myself in the other person’s shoes. This usually translates into thinking about the other person’s motivations, goals, and insecurities, in nearly every interaction of mine. This is a cognitive exercise for me.

Adventurous spirit: I love to set out and explore. I like to meet new people. Uncomfortable situations don’t usually faze me. I like learning, and am happy to discover that what I thought I knew may not always be correct. The Black Swan does not shock me; it’s an exciting discovery!

Problem-solver: When something doesn’t fit my mental model of how things should work, I step back and wonder why it might be the way it is. How can things change or adapt? How can I be part of the solution? And some other times, do I care enough about this problem – is this a battle I want to choose and participate in?

Community-builder: Communities are hard to build. A community is not a cult, and is not a congregation of yes-men. However, the community must have certain ideas, values, and beliefs in common- there must be a culture to bind it together. After all, the strength of the wolf is in the pack, and the strength of the pack is in the wolf.

When I shared these ideas of myself with a mentor, he pointed out that I certainly score high on openness to experience in his view. However, there are of course, certain pitfalls of being so.

Here are some that stood out to me upon a little reflection:

  1. Sometimes, I display a trait that I would describe as a marriage between gullibility and a sense of entitlement. I find myself thinking that others will be as candid with me as I am with them, especially during periods of tension, I expect it; nay, demand it!
  2. I have certainly learned to be tactful the hard way. I am rather desperate to be myself with everyone I meet. I crave to be brutally authentic with everyone and in every situation. However, I have learnt to see the merit in reading a situation, and responding accordingly. Tact has not yet become my second nature, so my go-to response is to request time before I’m expected to respond.
  3. I identify with the wolf as my spirit animal. Any quote about the wolf and its ways gets me fascinated. Here’s another one: throw me to the wolves and I’ll come back leading the pack. This comes from an intense desire to not just survive, but thrive. But many a time, this comes off a serious sense of detachment – it might seem like I don’t care. Yes, I don’t care enough to dwell on certain things, but some others might connect with it deeply – and they perhaps see me as non-committed in some of those situations.

However, I see myself learning to use my strengths to balance the other out. At some point, I might have a strong sense of wanderlust that makes me want to take off. But, empathy will probably help me gauge if my actions might be coming at a time when someone needs my presence the most. Hard decisions might need to be taken, but I’ll save that for when I reach the bridge.

A(nother) Lesson in Letting Go.

2017 has been rough for me in the friendships department. However, it has also had some spark of ‘absolutely amazing’ as well – and I’m grateful for that. But, since I’m human, I tend to obsess on the pervasiveness of grief, sadness, heartbreak, and other such negative emotions vis-a-vis positive ones.

With the end of August, I have had 3 extremely close friends choose to “drift away” from me. Others have been busy adjusting to their new lives and situations, while a couple others have embraced me as a result of the same. It’s been bizarre and heartbreaking, and I have felt blindsided more than once. It also makes me feel antsy, uncertain, hesitant and ambivalent, especially about an area in my life that I was confident about in the past few years. Sometimes, I feel surges of resentment against them for being self-absorbed and treating me this way, while the other part of me tells me that it’s cool to let go and give another person space. Sometimes I ask for feedback from other people aware of the situation, and they tell me that it is not necessarily my fault. It strikes me that the news that I’m NOT a TOXIC friend, should come as good news, but it doesn’t feel so.

Like I already ‘know’ but don’t necessarily always practice, letting go means making space to allow better things into my life.

I used to be a young woman who thought she had the best friends anybody could ask for, and now, suddenly, although I know that this is probably not a permanent situation or emotion, I don’t necessarily feel so. And I suppose, that’s alright with me.

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?