December has been an eventful month. Definitely feels longer than the others. I went to Goa, I finally wrote Only drowning men (and sent it to Vinoothna Geetha) mostly because of Sandeep's exhortations, I wrote exams and (sort of) attended interviews, I had an amazing (and hopefully eye-opening) conversation with Praveena and Ty. But most things are the same- I still frequently bunk Cult, I still sit in office half-heartedly, I abandon more books than I read, I haven't made much progress with Infinite Jest (and whatever I write is still enormously influenced by DFW's style), I'm still judgmental albeit more consciously now, and I'm still burdened by the massive weight of my oh-so-intellect. Still there, still stuck between confusion and indifference, between arrogance and impotence.
I’ve never thrown a punch in my life. Not until yesterday and even then only at a punchbag. And while I kept punching, I couldn’t help grinning like an idiot. Not because punching at the bag was funny but because it was incredibly liberating. Unbelievably, at 26, I’ve never hit someone or been hit. Being shoved away is my highest accomplishment. There are three reasons for it: 1. I’m fairly cowardly and will do anything to avoid confrontation (This could be because I don’t believe in things too deeply to burn with passion about them. More of a head guy than a heart guy if you are the type who understands those distinctions.) 2. I was brought up by a slightly over-protective single mother and I didn’t have enough male ego and pumping testosterone in the house to inspire and give me a route to follow. I still don’t know how to be macho. 3. Most importantly, as I entered adulthood, my assessment of myself and of my environment stereotyped me as a well-meaning, artistically inclined, sissy-ish nerd. It probably wasn’t accurate but it defined me fairly well and I was happy to play along. Now that image created a problem.
It made me want to conform to it. Forget breaking it, I was desperate to fit into it. Since the people in my world expected something of me, I did everything I could to live up to the image. Forget pretence, this was the mould I wanted to fit myself into. I couldn’t afford to ruin my reputation, ruin their expectations, afford to find new things about myself that wouldn’t toe the line with the old. It wasn’t a conscious choice but a subconscious mode of life I’d subscribed to. Comfort was more important than casualty, better safe than sorry, desperately guard my small island of neuroses than jump into the sea and be surprised by waves, maybe even drown. (Come to think of it, all of us are going to drown anyway so how does it matter if you die in your dank corner of the world or die riding the waves with the sun warming your face. Quasi Romanticism will lead us to our ruin one day.) So I set out to be different but within the limits of my defined personality, tried new things but nothing too radical lest I disturb the status quo, and tried to find my calling but made sure it isn’t too far away from where I thought I’d find it because then people will have to go through the extra effort of restructuring my image in their heads.
With all due respect, most of us are like this. We don’t probably give much thought to it as we go through the hurried repetitions of everyday actions, but which one of you hasn’t woken at dusk on a lazy afternoon and wondered why you are the way you are and how the hell you ended up here. Haven’t you ever thought what your 13-year old self would say about your present-self? We are obsessed with giving narratives to our lives. Inside our head, there’s a bloody film director sitting who’s constantly trying to fit our present actions and thoughts into the larger patterns and leitmotifs. How many of our current decisions are not based on ensuring the continuation of our previous selves? We are a byproduct of our genetic makeup and environmental factors, and nothing you ever do can alter it, but then why do we act like self-created, autonomous creatures whose plans and desires are objective and ideal for the fulfillment of our future selves. Isn’t addressing the existence of a bias the first step for moving away from it (or is the identification of a particular bias also the result of our other biases?)
I recently read a great article which convinced me into believing that we’re not who we think we are. The author argued that our images of the self are elaborate constructs based on the feedback we receive from the external world for our actions. People say we ought to learn from others’ mistakes; I believe we learn too much already and the wrong way. We can’t see the causes for people’s failures and so we pivot results around effects. In a repugnantly anti-poetic line, our journey is our own and the only parameters we need to hold ourselves against are ours. DFW once wrote that we’d worry less about what people thought about us if we realized how seldom they do. Everybody’s busy minding their own business, figuring out their own mess, making narratives of their own lives to really give much of a thought to you. Think about it, do you worry a lot about others? To summarize, and here I sound like a high school student writing his essay on some perplexing Biology topic, don’t worry too much about your self-image. You came before it did and it’ll go before you do. Living isn’t a noun that you have to subscribe to, your life is not a list of adjectives that others use to define you. If anything, to overstretch this grammatical analogy, life is a verb whose essence is in choosing the action over the image, movement over stasis, experiment over ill-fitting orthodoxy. And keeping up with our practice of eventually resorting to Zen proverbs, the journey over the destination. We’re all going to die and be forgotten one day.The least of our worries should be to wonder what petty, boring, impermanent people are going to have fleeting half-thoughts about us. Remember, even when we’re talking about someone else, we’re essentially talking about ourselves. And the same holds true for everyone else. Nobody gives a shit. Break the damn mould. Jump into the wilderness. Listen to your heart. Fear your complacence. Choose your own bloody path. Nobody but you is making your biopic.
Post-Script- I hate taking advice. The practical ones are fine (ex: what route to choose to evade the Traffic Policeman, how to retrieve the data in a corrupt hard disk etc.) but the philosophical/ lifehack advices are so full of bullshit. At best they’re entertaining and at worst are capable of taking you down the wrong road for a while. Either way, we don’t listen to anyone’s advice; We’re too full of hubris to believe that someone else is better equipped than us to make our lives better. So I don’t really have to warn you against taking this post seriously. You won’t.