Shabnam Aggarwal

The Path of Greatest Resistance

In idle thoughts, on life, optimistic on July 28, 2014 at 9:05 am

I’m in my head. It hurts sometimes to be so in my head. So caught up in the painstaking possibilities of the world. The future. This beautiful future we are building for our future selves. For our future children. For our future problems.

The problem today is that we don’t know what the problem tomorrow will be. So we keep on planning. Hoping we kind of know. But you never know. The beauty is in how well we learn to adapt to the change. Change in our circumstances. In the people around us. In ourselves.

We witness so much beautiful change, while we reject the idea that change could be good. It could help us wash away what’s wrong. Preserve or redo what’s right. We might get it wrong again. Then there will be more change and we will get another chance.

What can we do to mitigate the fear within us?

We attempt the things we are scared of. We try. We take the leap that feels the least enticing, we follow the path of greatest resistance.

It hurts at the start. It’s filled with thorns and snakes and quicksand. They want you to stop because you are trying to incite change. Change in the world. Change in today. Change in yourself.

But then, after you’ve given it all you’ve got, after you’re just about through with all this nonsense, the path clears. The snakes let up, the sand hardens. The thorns move aside to a scene that is…stunning, unbelievable, perfect.

You know they’ll come back because you aren’t done yet, you must keep moving, but for that brief, rare moment, you realize, it was all worth it.

You and Your Editor

In idle thoughts, on life on February 12, 2014 at 6:56 pm

I slipped in to an astro-turfed rooftop of a fancy new restaurant in south Delhi, pretending I was fashionably late. I offered the onlookers who threw me the death stare a complimentary pageant girl wave. The show may begin. Two women sat on plush couches with floor lamps you’d buy at the fake vintage shop down the street beside them. A hefty book lay open on the coffee table between them. “When you’re in the midst of writing, what type of personality do you take on?” One asked. The other thought for a moment, then answered, “Oh, I become absolutely consumed by my characters. They come and have breakfast with me in the morning and stay with me throughout the day. We never leave each others’ sides. This goes on for months and I’m an absolute angel throughout. Just ask my husband.” “What about when you’re not writing?” She ventured. “(Giggles) You don’t want to be around me when I’m not writing, it’s as if I’ve just been divorced!” “What about when you’re editing?” Awkward silence. “(Cantankerous evil laugh) (Glances towards a chair that can only hold her shifting editor in it) (More enigmatic laughter) You can ask my editor.”

We like to believe at the beginnings of things that it will all work out as planned. That things will  find their way and fall in their place. Things often go awry though. They never truly go as we had planned. The question then is how we handle the unplanned plan. How we re-plan and re-invent and re-evaluate. Who we blame for things gone awry. How we perceive our roles in the past- our character’s flaws in the storyline. How we incorporate the new characters in. How we handle the unexpected circumstance. Maybe it’s as simple as the rewrite. Maybe it’s as painful as the rewrite. As watching someone skim through your favorite belabored piece with a bright red felt-tipped marker.

It’s horrifying. Producing something that no one else loves. Not getting the traction we had expected. Getting rejected from the only school we wanted to get in to. Or job. Or relationship. We never expect it and we can never plan for it. The plan seems to matter less and less, then. What seems to matter more is what you do when the plan breaks down. How you treat the editor. How you treat yourself.

As I ambled about after the cursory reading on the candle-lit rooftop, I fingered her book in half-interest as I spied on her in three-quarters-interest. She was laughing again, that crazy bitch. And then she gave the woman to her left a suffocating longer-than-necessary hug. As they walked out I whispered to the Sherlock on my right, “Who’s that?” “Her editor,” she said. 

5 years in training

In idle thoughts, stories on August 4, 2013 at 1:46 pm

I reached the end of a notebook today. Every time I get to the last page of a notebook it feels like an apt time to reflect. It’s a bit too unceremonious for my sentimental heart to simply shut the book, open a new one, and keep on trekkin.

This time I reflected back to page number 1, notebook number 1. When I started writing 5 years ago, it was because I had started thinking. I was thinking more than I was accustomed to, because I was spending a fair amount of time with absolutely no one else but me. I had been training for my first marathon.

You know that feeling when you sit back in your seat on the airplane and realize you are completely alone? All of a sudden you have no phone, no friends, no safety line. All you can do is shut your eyes and reflect. A friend of mine says she cries every time she flies. That’s what training for a marathon feels like. When you hit the finish line you feel a wave of success, freedom, and bliss. It’s unbelievable and unbeatable.

“I have learnt that everything in life is a mental game. No matter what the obstacle, it is always a mental game. If I want to accomplish life and career goals, I have to defeat the mental game on a daily basis. The end stretch will always be the toughest. But the finish line is so much more worth it. The little things will only get you down. Let them pass, as they will always turn out inconsequential in the long run. To live, you must let go. Live freely. Just be.”

I felt high and sage that day. I started writing that day. Some, as in the above, secretly to myself. Some to the world. An act that takes a combination of ego and vulnerability and thick skin and faith. An author I admire talks about the reaction from his family when he told them he’d become a novelist.

“‘Orhan, nobody understands life at twenty-two! Wait until you get older and know something about life, people, and the world- then you can write your novel.’ I was furious at these words, and wanted everyone to hear my reply: We write novels not because we feel we understand life and people but because we feel we understand other novels and the art of the novel and wish to write in a similar way. Now, thirty five years later I feel more sympathetic…For the past ten years I have been writing novels in order to convey the way I see life, the world, the things I have encountered, and the place where I live.” -The Naive and Sentimental Novelist Orhan Pamuk

Naïveté is a thing of beauty and humor. It can drive you to the ends of the world on a wild goose hunt. And when you’re old and grey and still haven’t found the damn wild goose, it lets you rest with a smile thinking about how epic the hunt was while everyone else wonders what the hell you’re so smug about.

“I feel accomplished, but I still don’t feel any closer to finding happiness. Or to figuring out where I want to go and who I want to be. I’m not sure I will ever find out, but I suppose that’s where all the fun of it lies. In not knowing. In searching and being hungry and being foolish.”

It’s impossible to know where the road will lead. When the goose is wild, we’ve no choice but to follow in suit. Some days were closer, some further. At the end, all we can hope for is that we drew a map clear enough for the next hunter.

“But as we all know, the place we return to is never the same place we left. In this sense, it was as if my novel-writing had traced not a circle, but the initial loop of a spiral…When novelists embark upon a new book, we draw on the accumulated experience of all our previous novels, and the knowledge gained from all those earlier volumes helps and supports us. But we are also entirely alone, just as we were when we wrote the opening sentence of our very first novel.” -Pamuk


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