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?

Girl seeking home.

I have led a rather peripatetic life, thus far. And it has been accompanied by a lot of personal upheavals too, you might say. I sometimes feel home-less. Don’t get me wrong, I have a roof over my head, and a warm bed to sleep in, with access to good, home-cooked meals. But homes are supposed to be more than that – they are the place you can drop your anchor in, return to on a whim, even after a prodigal adventure, expecting to not be judged – that’s the sort of home I’m talking about. Where you can reflect on your story, and feel safe in, emotionally and physically. I can’t put a finger on where I felt it, perhaps it was an ephemeral time in the past and I no longer have access to it, but I miss it. Nay, I crave it. My heart yearns for it in my every breathing moment. To be shown that I have a home, would a glimmer of hope. It would quieten my inner chatter, and allow me to realign myself to ‘point north’ once again.

These days, I’m trying to build my own hearth. I bought myself a comfortable bed, and a cupboard to put my stray things in place. I have a bunch of friends I can call and talk to, but the only constant I have is myself – my sometimes-arrhythmic breathing, my quirks and idiosyncrasies that I wryly see right through, my body that if perpetually asking to be paid attention to, to be taken care of. I wouldn’t mind catching a break…

On my terms alone.

 

“How to get rid of ego as dictator and turn it into messenger and servant and scout, to be in your service, is the trick.”

Joseph Campbell

I’m no longer responding, or even reacting, from a point of love. I’m responding, nay – reacting, from a point of hope, from being slighted, from my ego. Here I was thinking that I had tamed the dragon, was completely aware of its movements and whereabouts, but all this time, it was simply waiting to rear its ugly head. Except now, it is a face I have encountered a thousand times. I have seen it through the lens of fear, doubt, bondage, confusion, submission, repulsion, ownership… And yet it is here again, and for the first time I look at it, with recognition.

‘What does that mean?’ I asked myself for the 1000th time. I wasn’t obsessed with the subject; my ego was. This wasn’t my curiosity – my curiosity is only concerned with my present path. I only fight the fire that stands in my way these days. This fire was not even a blip on my peripheral radar, and yet, it had my attention akin to a forest fire surrounding me. This was my ego’s attention. My ego springing into action like it had a thousand times before, except this time, under the guise of a tamed instinct – you almost got me there, kid.

Can I lay by your side?

I find it funny, and pathetic that I have no control over how my day could go after a night’s sleep. This, despite all the discipline and self-control and my so-called right choices, which in the larger scheme don’t seem to be the best after all. Just a realistic dream of my beautiful, late grandmother leaves me tortured when I wake up… not because I’m reminded of her loss, but because I saw her suffer in living once more in my dream. It was so painful to think once more of the pain she died of- what a pity that we could do nothing but watch and offer sympathetic service, while she lived through it all, on medicines, on morphine. I cannot seem to let go of those scenes in my head, when she would cough, hardly able to breathe, when she would throw up, unable to keep her food down, when she was so weak and would scarcely be able to walk by herself to the dinner table. All that pain that we watched her undergo alone, comes back to haunt me in my dreams.

Those were the last dregs of my childhood; of my life as I knew it. Suddenly I find myself thrown into an unfamiliar landscape, similar in many ways to how it was before, but in many ways starkly different. It’s a different kind of isolation that I experience now. It isn’t one of never having known love, but to have loved and lost. It’s a feeling of powerlessness, instead of pity. It’s a sense of not being of this world in the present, such a sudden onset of detachment, and then after a minute, none of that – just the comforting coldness of reality. Go about breakfast as usual, smile at people you know, greet them, tell them about your weekend, go for walks, chatter over lunch, shop for groceries, text a friend, cook a meal, and try to fall asleep, knowing that your dreams can destroy you once again and you can’t always let it show. You can’t let it show because there’s only so long that you can dampen others’ spirits. You can’t let it show because to others, it is not real. It’s just very vivid memories haunting you senseless. And you are yielding to them, against your better judgment.

That was cathartic.

Impressive Failure

I was reading an account by Joe Jonas on his life as a Jonas Brother yesterday. I used to be quite a fan of the band back in school. Their songs Lovebug, Burnin’ Up, Fly With Me, and When you look me in the eyes, were forever on loop in the background when I was around the house. It was around the time that my dad bought me my first portable mp3 player, and I think it had a folder full of their hits. Reading the story was eye-opening. Their PR machinery at the time made everything looked fortunately fateful – Nick was singing at the barber’s, got signed, and the brothers looked good, sang well, they all got signed. Some of the parts like when they were teenagers and opening at clubs for The Veronicas was heartbreaking to read – I can’t image being that young and having to deal with such a huge rejection with so many adults guiding you, and so much riding on your career, especially after they were rather tragically alienated by their church peeps. That must have made the brothers rather guarded and unsettled about how circumstances and people were. But damn, their work ethic really stood out in the story for me. The pressure to keep smiling and look like they are enjoying all the attention, all the time! But they kept it going for years, as teenagers and young adults, and that’s something.

I embrace failure. It scares me, and the slightest hint of impending rejection makes me wonder if I’m going to be friendless, defenceless, homeless, loveless. But then I remind myself that it couldn’t get worse. I have my mind, and I have curiosity, and I have the agility to adapt. I can learn, and I can make friends. I can have new conversations, and I can express. I can calm my nerves and I can calm others’. I can relax and unwind, and I can work harder and smarter than everybody in the room when I have to, and I often do. I have carried myself through the toughest of times thus far, I have fought my demons with the army that I could muster, and I have survived. I am fine. I’m alright. Failure is humiliating in the moment, but it is important to pick yourself up and move on, learning from it, adapting, and strategizing for the future. Failure is a lesson, and I love lessons because I learn from them. Failure is an option, because without being open to it, there’s no experiments, and without experiments you don’t have a single shot.

The show must go on, and I have a future hurtling at me at the speed of life!

Stick to it.

Maybe you are a person who doesn’t do the easy thing.

Seeds are sown in a young heart.

Buried deep, like a half-remembered song.

A wisp of a tune, hummed in the distance,

Making its way, like cupid’s dart.

It is a spurt of joy that you try to clasp,

And that very thing that tortures your dreams.

Is it a figment of thought beyond your grasp,

Or is it your soul’s pained screams?

Without the eye that matters the most,

You feel your way through an indifferent world.

Without the eye that matters the most,

You are, but a wandering ghost.

With other’s lessons as your guiding star,

With no original thoughts of your own,

You are cursed to re-live the lost generation’s scars;

Even the curse, it is not your own.

Let something real, chip you on the shoulder.

They make it sound like it’s a bad thing.

It’s not, if it makes you stand strong, and your soul a little bolder.

Let’s give the little birdies something else to sing –

about time that the tides rose under your boat.

Don’t fear the rocks, just thrash your oars.

Go around sowing your thoughts, your intellectual wild oats.

Throw your head back, breathe deep, and hear your voice soar,

Pierce the layers of wind around you,

Every opportunity gone is gone. These moments also, alas!- you let go.

All my good decisions have amounted to nothing.

All my bad choices, made in naivete, have come around to bite me in the ass.

Pick a path; make a decision anyway.

Quoted text from here.

Adieu, my precious.

I had been standing outside the Cardio ER for close to two hours. I had been waiting in the hospital itself for close to 6 hours. The visiting hours were over, but it does not apply to you when your loved one is in the ER and has little chance of survival. I could not move to seated waiting area since I was worried the guy watching the entrance would forget that he had promised to let me in once the doctors, who were dealing with an emergency inside, gave him the green signal. Relatives came and left because it was dinnertime, and they were old themselves. My grandfather and uncle were waiting for me in the room we had taken for caretakers’ boarding. We also hoped to move her- my grandmother, into the room; the doctors had said that she might recover from her critical condition, but there were little chances of full recovery or mobility. They said that there was a slim chance for her survival for another 3 months or less.

The previous day, she was conscious, woke up and held my hand. I had landed in the city just half an hour earlier. The previous time I had landed in the city was less than a month before. I was accompanying her and my granddad. I vividly remember her conversing with another old woman at the airport before boarding the flight. Always the warm-hearted extrovert. After landing, I proceeded to collect our the bags while I requested the airport attendant to wheel my grandmother’s chair and accompany my grandfather to the exit where my mother awaited our arrival, who was within my view. On the way home, there was a bit of a ruffle that delayed our journey home. My mother got nervous as my grandmother complained of her discomfort. I remembered every detail so clearly – it all came rushing back to me. A week after my time home it was time for me to go back to work. On my way out, I registered something unusual. My grandmother did not see me off at the door as she usually would. She kissed my cheek and enquired again about how I would make my way home from the airport in the city. I assured her that I would call her. A week later, on a phone call, she asked me how summer was treating me. I told her that it was really hot and draining. Resourceful as ever, she taught me to make ‘aam panna’ out of raw mangoes and I did. I told her so, and she was glad to hear that I found it to be a refreshing drink every evening when I returned home.

Less than a fortnight later, there I was, wondering if I was going to lose my grandmother. To steady my mind, I read on my phone and stumbled upon a post that seemed to suggest that in intimate equations, the other person cares less for you, and it is what the relationship itself offers and means to them that affects them the most. In that moment, I realized that the only reason I hoped for my grandmother to be around was because of my own sense of family and comfort when she was around. I realized that true as that might be, I would console myself, grieve, and accept her loss, if it meant that she would be out of pain and this absurd misery.

In that moment I thought back to the different instances when her illness made her incapable of sitting up straight for long, the pain that accompanied in doing so; that which killed her interest in TV soaps and their plots – she would once consume them religiously regardless of how ridiculously unrealistic they were and how much the rest of the family complained about them; the pain that made her so dependent on the rest of us, unable to make dosas for her grandchildren, which she insisted on even a year toward the end; the crippling drugs that made her unable to go about her life as usual. I thought about how much these episodes weighed on her self-esteem.

She was unanimously appreciated for her beauty, grace, and style among friends, neighbours, and relatives in the years before the onset of her illness, and she managed to maintain herself even a few years into therapy. At a post-illness wedding that we attended, her hair was in a manageable bob, and she posed for a family photograph looking like a fashionable septuagenarian socialite. Ah, her ageless glamour. Her illness must have been insufferable for her as my cousin recounted to me one instance when she made a comment in a conversation with my grandfather that seemed to suggest that she did not feel beautiful anymore. Perhaps not in the way she used to be- I will be objective here and admit that her jawline was not as sharp as before, and she did not have the stamina to tie her sari any longer and therefore, never wore them. In fact, for her final flight, we purchased a colourful tunic that she might pair with one of our tights- not an outfit she usually wore. She seemed to like it, and my cousin texted me several pictures of them posing while she tried it on at home for the first time.

Just two months before her departure. Isn't she looking radiant? :)

Just two months before her departure: an evening with my grandfather who seems to be lost deep in his thoughts. Isn’t she looking radiant? 🙂

But let me return to what I mean by my grandmother’s timeless beauty- it was her spirit for life till the very end, and her immaculate self-awareness, which allowed her to care for others despite her debilitating pain and overwhelming discomfort. She was larger than life. And to speak objectively, her physical beauty never really went away either.

Holding onto all these  thoughts and memories, I decided to let her go. She meant more to me than what the relationship meant for my psyche. May her soul rest in peace and boundless joy. This was simply an end to the fatal disease, not the least to her timeless preciousness.