A writing journey – various destinations

The scratch of pen on paper to me is the very definition of joy. What I write is important, but to me the very act of writing itself is a meaningful experience. It’s a substitute to reading, talking, arguing and venting out anger, it’s a better option to a camera in capturing moments. It probably is the only activity in my life where I enjoy the journey equally if not more than the destination.

Most of what I write may not even hit a blog post or print but I love those words I penned many times just to myself.

The journey is a physical one as well as spiritual. I write everywhere and over years have tried many places. I carry a notebook and pen with me wherever I go and while the process maybe slower than shutter speed, it captures a lot more too.

Here is a list of places that I have tried writing in. Writing can be fun and every place around can be a source of inspiration. Carry a small notebook, jot down the beautiful moments in your words, live in that moment completely or maybe use the place as an environment to write your blog, novel or dissertation.

  1. Parks: I live in a desert, so winter months are the pleasant times. So along comes my notebook, sharing space with food, water, juice, ball, bats, racquets, extra clothes and everything else that two energetic young ones need.

Park benches are good places to write but I prefer the grass beneath my bare feet, notebook propped over my knees and my kids safe in the sandpit.

But I’ve found it can be distracting too. The noise levels are high especially children playing nearby.

  1. Café : A café is a popular place for many authors. J.K Rowling claims to have written her “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone “in a café. Personally I find this very crowded and somewhere there is also this feeling of being too much in the public eye.

Have never been able to concentrate in a café. The tempting food doesn’t help in calories either.

  1. Beach : Now an empty beach, sunrise and just me. That’s how heaven would look. Every time I’ve been to a beach house, a resort I’ve done this. Quickly write for an hour before the rest of the family wakes up and the holiday madness begins. 

There is something soothing in those rhythmic waves, the salty air and the sun rising like a ball of fire out of a water womb, like the destroyer has somehow become its creator.

  1. Library : If you are a book lover like me then you know this is an experience that you will carry with you long after its done.

Sitting in complete silence amidst rows and rows of books. Those written pages on the shelves are testimony to the possible greatness that the pen can achieve. It is at once humbling and exhilarating. Those books are my teachers as well as a challenge. A temple where I have spent many hours writing by book, my dissertation and articles.

  1. My desk : Even after all these places, I’m a homebody. I prefer writing at my desk. With my comfortable chair, stationeries and iphone showing a pomodoro.

Every place tells a bit more about themselves, and in the process I’ve discovered a bit more about myself too. A different backdrop, unfamiliar surroundings can act as a muse of can cut out that fresh idea seedling. The beauty of writing is, you can do it anywhere.

What are your favorite places to write? Would love to hear them. Please share your experiences in the comment.

Micro fiction – stories in 140 characters or thereabouts.

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

                                               – Ernest Hemingway

Way back in 1920 much, much before the little blue bird began a 140 character fever, Hemingway wrote a raw writhing emotion of a mother to be in just six words.

Today with the advent of social media the concept of micro fiction has become a genre of writing. twitter_fiction

The popularity of this form of writing in few words has soared in recent times. The digital explosion coupled with the intrusion of work and life into our reading time has caused a sudden interest in fiction in the short and micro category. Times have clearly changed. Young writers today are wired to think in terms of bite-sized data.

The classification of micro fiction is in fact a broad one. From writing the stories in Hemingway inspired six words, to Twitter’s prescribed 140 characters to writing in specific number of words from 55 to 99, all come under micro fiction. With mobile-ready quarterlies and weekly updated fiction columns that can fit in your pocket, even the physical dimensions of literature have shrunk to make both writing and reading a way to pass the time during life’s brief commercial breaks.

Personally I love the gradual build up of plot, character, tension and climax of a novel. Frustrating though it is, I even like waiting for the next book of an interesting series to hit the stands.

But the micro stories, they are different. Here is the raw, naked truth without the buffer of many words and oftentimes stays much longer in our hearts and minds than regular 90,000 words novels. It is not the size of the word count in the story, its the story in the word count that matters.

140 characters requires the writer to put down a raw, unflinching emotional honesty. In the words of Philip John, Creative Director of an advertising startup “Its like knocking back a shot of tequila as opposed to nursing a cocktail”

While the number of words may make this craft seem easy, I feel it’s anything but.

A story whether told in a 7 book series, a 700 page novel or in 140 characters needs a plot, character, tension, beginning, middle and an end.

Consider this,

Feet pounding on concrete, sweat pouring, his Nike app read 10 kms. Then the phone rang.

The above description might make a lot more meaning if ended better.

Feet pounding on concrete, sweat pouring, his Nike app read 10 kms. Then the phone rang. He could never run far enough.

The above description still lacks impact, tension and character. Maybe we can modify to,

Feet pounding, sweat pouring, his Nike app pinged at 10kms. Muscles rejoiced while his heart contracted at the memories he would never outrun.

A short story regardless of the number of words is a whole life. In a capsule maybe, but whole nevertheless.

A number of high profile writers have recently dabbled in the burgeoning realm of Twitter fiction.

here are also dozens of Twitter accounts for websites that publish only 140-character stories. Some of the most notable are @OneFortyFiction, @seedpodpub, @sixwordstories, @twitterfiction, @7×20, and @trapezemag, all of which are unpaid markets.

@Nanoism is a paying Twitter fiction market, which publishes three times a week and pays between $1.50 and $1 for stories: not bad, given the brevity of the form.

In 2012, The Guardian challenged well-known writers – from Ian Rankin and Helen Fielding to Jeffrey Archer and Jilly Cooper – to come up with a story of up to 140 characters. This is their stab at Twitter fiction.

Jackie Collins

She smiled, he smiled back, it was lust at first sight, but then she discovered he was married, too bad it couldn’t go anywhere.

Ian Rankin

I opened the door to our flat and you were standing there, cleaver raised. Somehow you’d found out about the photos. My jaw hit the floor.

Jeffrey Archer

“It’s a miracle he survived,” said the doctor. “It was God’s will,” said Mrs Schicklgruber. “What will you call him?” “Adolf,” she replied.

Simon Armitage

Blaise Pascal didn’t tweet and neither did Mark Twain. When it came to writing something short & sweet neither Blaise nor Mark had the time.

The days of full-length manuscripts and short story collections are far, far away, so embrace the attention deficit of the 21st century, because that person who anxiously checks their phone at every red light may just be your newest fan.

Writing as Therapy

“I use the Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure. It becomes easier to spot patterns and links, you understand, when they are in this form.” 

Ever since I read those lines by Prof. Dumbeldore in Harry Potter, I have wanted a similar Pensieve. Sadly, for want of a wand and quick magical powers I am forced to stick to paper, ink and some time alone.

As a writer just hearing the scratch of pen on paper itself is pure bliss and writing brings out many an emotions in me. The immediate relief of jotting down an idea even if it is a shopping list or my kid’s homework schedule; the sense of accomplishment of having completed a piece of writing, the frustrations of not getting the exact emotions on paper. But most profound in my attempts at writing have been the aimless wandering of my restless mind on paper. Sometimes in finding the right idea, sometimes to understand a problem and many a times just a silent companion as I plough through the emotional maelstrom to find myself a calm anchor.

Whether in ink or the inner monologue that we to listen to everyday, writing guides us toward our higher calling.

In the words of Graham Greene, Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”  

Writing is a meditative experience, a talk with your soul, psyche and a deeply enriching one at that. Writing therapy today is an important tool, a form of expressive therapy used widely in hospitals with patients dealing with their mental and physical illnesses, as well as in university settings aiding students in self-awareness and self-development. Clinically they are classified into therapeutic writing, free writing and reflective writing. Although people have written diaries and journals for centuries, the therapeutic potential of reflective writing didn’t come into public awareness until the 1960s, when Dr. Ira Progoff, a psychologist in New York City, began offering workshops and classes in the use of what he called the Intensive Journal method.

So what makes writing so powerful? A nice rant can work wonders too. Maybe even reading a good book.

The basic difference is in the kind of cure. An rant and submerging your emotions in a book is an attempt to bury your emotions, sweep them under the carpet. While writing does the torturous duty of confronting them.

It isn’t alchemy that makes the concept of merely venting out on paper a fundamentally life changing experience.  The mere act of penning down your thoughts, emotions and even fears can be incredibly cathartic. Writing is understanding our thoughts through a personal, inward looking lens that may not have existed till language was put to use. Words are a medium. They express, clarify, illuminate beyond the factual details to the deepest thoughts and emotions.

Cognitively, writing has been shown to increase working memory and performance in patients. Writing is more deliberate and personal. Hence there are better chances on being honest than having a heart to heart chat with your best friend. In this context, writing is like a truth serum. The greatest advantage being the paper is non-judgmental and hence will not ridicule, scoff, judge or carry tales.

Writing is both the teacher and the lesson that individualizes the course to suit your needs and will guide you to a more positively driven life. It is a multi-dimensional catalyst of change and learning that acts as a sieve separating your fears, insecurities, confusion and helps understand and confront them from the outside in.

As leading theorist in writing therapy James Pennebaker explains, “The development of a coherent narrative helps to reorganize and structure traumatic memories, resulting in more adaptive internal schemas.”

As a writer again I have found this to be my best therapy. Free writing of my thoughts that encourage no standards, compare no other work, disregard the odd grammatical error breathes new life into my writing. Perhaps the most important writing element that Writing Therapy enables is the discovery of your voice. Writing about your life is the best way to discover and develop your writing voice. Only you can tell your true story. You are the only person who has your perspective. Writing your life is a gift that only you can offer to the world.

So write freely, even if it is for just yourself. Many a great memoirs on the bestsellers stands today began with the same idea.

Some writing exercises

Random Writing – The Mind Dump

Write. Anything. Don’t know what to write? Begin with that line and write for a set period of time – 10 minutes or half an hour. It may read as nonsense, and that’s okay. That’s how our minds work. Write down all the random, apparently nonsensical words and sentences, anything that comes to mind. You might include brief descriptions or sketches of any images that come to mind. Don’t change or edit anything. Simply write.

Dumbeldore’s Pensieve.

Write about any emotion, thought or problem that’s overwhelming you right now. Vagueness and confusion can be overwhelming too. Write through the emotions till you come out the other end, clear and confident.

Why Communications Matter

It is remarkably creepy to read a story written in 1953 and wanting to be the protagonist today, especially if the protagonist is a murderer.

I have just finished reading a deeply disturbing short story by Ray Bradbury – the murderer. Disturbing mainly because in spite of being an evangelist of modern communication, I so wanted to be the protagonist in the story who systematically “murders” the technological devices around him as he is fed up with its invasion into human lives.

The story perhaps has more relevance now than when it was originally written. Today we are bombarded with communications from all sides and angles and the noise has become a part of our lives, so much so that we have unconsciously learnt to tune them out.

Why communications matter? Not because it is a rare art or a difficult science, but because everyone is practicing it, shouting about it and knows how to tune out the noise.

And that is the major challenge for anyone looking into meaningfully communicate in today’s business world. How to get through the noise tuning out filter?

The process to understand this should be ground breaking, a 21st century innovation. Right? Sadly not so. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher had already documented his advice on the elements needed to influence audience in his book called Rhetoric.

So the practice of communication is commonplace, the strategies age old and yet its relevance, importance and popularity has never been so prominent.

Communication matters today as it is not enough to talk, write or shout. It is imperative that we break the noise, reach out to the people, connect with them and make them listen to our view point, satisfactorily. 10991240_1007791749234552_2539162811953590634_n

Effective communication breaks the barriers of mere information, persuasion and argumentation to delve deeper into the realms of self-identity, self-expression and image making a deeper connect with the audience based on trust and conviction.

Consistently ranked as a very important criteria in job selection, communication and its assessment begins much before entering the Organization itself.

Your resume is a written proof of your self-image. The interview shows up your thoughts, wit, intelligence, values and of course expectations. A clarity of thought, succinct language and fluent speech indicates developed communication skills.

So maybe now is the time to ask yourself – How proficient are you in your ability to devise and communicate strategy, write effectively, prepare and deliver oral presentations and participate in meetings and interviews? Can you analyze and synthesize enormous amounts of information to convey your message? How adept are you at interpersonal communication — can you establish the productive relationships with supervisors, customers, colleagues, and other stakeholders that are crucial to organizational success?

Listening is the most important and utmost neglected part of communication. A good listener alone can make a great communicator.

Persuasion is a specialized form of strategic communication. The success or failure of any business is often a matter of persuasion. Convincing a boss, customer, colleague, shareholder or whomever of the value of your idea, product, service, investment or a host of other things can determine whether or not your endeavour succeeds.

The fabric of corporate society is woven from the ongoing communication and exchange between people through interpersonal, informal, cultural,Corporate communications is in equal measure formal and informal. While the formal channels of communication need to be open, transparent and ethical, it is the informal channel often called the grapevine that is a fertile ground for all information and oftentimes the tension.

As an entrepreneur, manager, employee or businessman you need to know how to keep this balanced to ensure employees are happy.

So grab a book, pick a course, join a toastmasters club or get a mentor. Learn the art, succeed in life!

 

Stay connected, Create history – The power of alumni network

Friendship, fun, continuous talk and always a shoulder to lean on – that’s the joy of school life.

When we spend six hours daily for years an institution, we imbibe its values and its identity and in essence carry them with us as learning or experience long after we leave the campus. And then suddenly, years later, a chance encounter with a friend, an article in the newspaper or similar incidents in the lives of our children brings those memories of our alma mater hurtling through our minds in a rush.

Of course Facebook, WhatsApp and LinkedIn has made the link stronger and has given a new dimension to school friendship – the alumni network.

The alumni network is a school’s recognition and celebration of past student’s achievements and a storehouse of opportunity to its current students. It is in essence a network of Godfathers to each new recruit and an arm extended in help to every member.

Schools, colleges and Universities are radically changing the way they support the alumni, supplementing quarterly magazines and annual reunions with year round networking and communication.

Lifelong friendships, the collaborative community, and common connections with other alumni are among the most powerful benefits of an alumni network. The relationships built here gives us the power to move ahead in our job, change our career, and even relocate around the globe.

Some colleges call back the students with job offered, some benefit with fund raising and campus recruitment. Scholarships, campus access and referrals also form a major part of many alumni network. 

Alumni network is the backbone of recruitment. 94% of recruiters and human resources professionals surveyed by Jobvite (2013) credited LinkedIn as being the go-to source for recruiting. Facebook rose to second place, with 66 percent of hiring professionals using it as a source for recruiting, and Twitter placed third, at 52 percent.

The test of success of this long term fraternity association and bonding came during the recent recession when alumni network world over helped thousands of laid off employees get newer jobs.

Whether an alum is an entrepreneur striving to grow his or her company, a young professional seeking to accelerate his or her career path, or a venerable old grad mentoring others in appreciation for past guidance received, the alumni network is a vibrant and efficient platform for such “value exchange.” Childhood friendships indeed are the sweetest.

Movies – Healthy escapement or perverted pleasure?

It was one of those evenings last weekend when I was actually free and burning to enjoy a few hours watching a movie. I had even imagined the cheese popcorn and cola slush that I’d order. So there I was dragging my husband along to a multiplex for options. I had to choose between two movies I had no plan of watching. One was a social drama involving girl-trafficking and another was about a tornado.

We decided on the tornado and my popcorn. It was much later after the movie ended that I kept thinking about the choice I had made.

As humans we talk of being good, kind, and yet the movies we watch are horror with murder, rape, vampires and even dystopian sleaze both from this planet and the outer galaxy. More importantly, my nagging discontent on my choice of movie was, why I chose to watch one form of death to the other. What makes us watch horror, adventure and sci fi?

Maybe we feel sitting in that cozy seat we are safe from the happenings of the story. We seek the thrill like a roller coaster ride because we are confident that the seatbelt is safe and the ride will end shortly with the hero whom our subconscious mind has identified with, wins ultimately.

So I wonder, are movies a healthy escapement from stress? Is it our own perverted way of unleashing the badass in us? Seeking a thrill that in real life is frightening but in a theatre is safe?

And still my original question of why a killing by tornado was preferable to killing by man? Maybe because to me tornado is a fantasy, living in a place where it’s occurrence is unheard of. On the other hand the evils of human trafficking are real and the fear may lurk long after the movie ends.  In a movie where the tornado is the villain, the human race becomes the hero and we feel good about ourselves, but in a social drama the villains are part of our society and it becomes difficult to accept the hard truth of our species in graphic detail. So maybe it was escapement after all.

 

Coming Home

Chennai Rains

The dousing squall greeted me with soft sweet drops on my face and a churning sludge around me feet, spoiling my slippers. I quickly hurried to the car park. Rain, sludge or bog, this was home. The smell of the city is always the first thing I notice stepping out of the Chennai airport. I revel in my olfactory trail trying to separate individual scents – the various trees, shrubs and flowers, the humid air, exhaust fumes and a unique scent of civilization; of having lived on this part of the Earth for more than 2000 yrs. A taxi was waiting for me. After dumping my belongings, two massive suitcases and folding myself into its frayed seat, smelling of diesel we set off. “Shall I turn on the AC?” the cabby asked “No. I like the city air” said I. We sped on towards dawn, through my city that was still asleep. The soft rain created a gauzy curtain and blurred out the details but I saw through my mind’s eye, memories of this busy city that would spring to life in a few hours. A rush to work, school, and college mixed with the shouts of vendors, kirana stores and little temples at every street corner. As we came towards my street corner, I knew my mother would be waiting, filter kaapi freshly brewed, smiling from the balcony. An act so simple yet so profound in its permanence. Do I love my city for the journey it is or for the destination – my mother’s smile?

Changing shades of heroes and villains in Disneyworld

Heroes are all the same. Tall, handsome, brave and in love with the lead lady. In a Disney movie, it is even more so. To me they have always been the most boring characters in a story. They are all cast from the same mold and sickeningly nice.

The villains, now they are the meat of the movie. From Cinderella’s stepmom, Captain Hook, Voldemort, the wicked witch of sleeping beauty the variety, breath and range that a villain can have is truly amazing. So expecting to see some serious badass, I eagerly got the tickets to Angelina Jolie starrer Disney’s most iconic villain – Maleficent.

NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD

The trailer and the hoardings were scary enough. But I was in for a surprise and how! Maleficent was just a name. She was so benign in the movie. The movie, adapted from sleeping beauty tells the tale from the wicked witch’s point of view this time around. I guess it would be logical to expect arrogance, attitude and some scheming plots resulting in gruesome climax with the Prince slaying of the protagonist. The movie confused my simple concepts of hero and villain.

The Prince was not the true love, Maleficent was not really cruel and happily ever after did not lead to marriage.

But wait! This is not the first time Disney has changed the logic this way. The last three movies of the Prince-Princess genre has this different ending.

The change may have begun with the orange haired impulsive Merida who defies the necessity of a Prince for her to lead a happy life in the movie Brave. It was a movie on girl empowerment and a tribute to mother daughter relationship though with some distaff twists.

Later came the magnificent Frozen – a movie where again the stereotyped Prince did not thaw the ice but the sister’s true love.

Now we have maleficent – a witch who cursed in rage and slowly over years becomes attached to the baby, whom she incidentally calls beasty. And finally it’s her maternal tears and kiss that brings sleeping beauty out of the spell.

I am not sure what upsets me more. Maleficent not having a good villain or the Disney has stopped believing in regular true love stories.

I think this opinion is in continuation with my previous post on changing faces of the female protagonists in YA fiction. This maybe yet another facet. Women do not need the love, affection and approval of a man, not even if he’s a Prince and not even in a Disney movie.

As a lover of all things fiction, I have ambiguous feelings – my hero and villain are greyer now than black or white but as a marketing enthusiast I wonder what will companies like De Beers do now? Will we now have diamonds for sisters and mothers as the only way to say we love them?

My favorite ladies

I was 19 when I first fell in love with the dramatic Scarlett O Hara. Later that year I was inspired and awed by Dagny Taggart, who has tried her best to turn at least few of my nerves to steel. But they were not the first.

The complex and often prim characters of Elizebeth Bennet, Jane Eyre and Emma have grown up with me replacing my childhood friends, George (Famous Five) and Nancy Drew. Of course for a period of eight months I completely lived in Malory Towers every daydreaming moment.

And then I met an insufferable know-all who later blossomed into a steadfast and brilliant character that held the friendship and the story of Harry Potter – Hermione Granger. Compared to the trying to be individualistic females, Hermione was a breath of new air. She brought about a change in the way not just me but the world looked at a female fiction character that Eowyn, even after killing the witch king of Angmar could not.

Kick ass female protagonists were in!

Recently, Katniss Everdeen, withstanding her emotion related (or lack of) waffling still stole my heart. Anyone who could shoot like her should be given King Arthur’s sword as a prize.

Today every book I read has a female hero. Tris Prior was truly dauntless. Though ruthless, the girl with the dragon tattoo – Lisbeth Salander was brave.

I miss Tinker and Cinderella and Barbie, but I am more worried on what will happen when Katniss grows up?

Female protagonists in YA novels have become heroes while their counterparts in the adult fiction are still fighting for a bit of space with men. The role of women in trying to reconcile is the most often cast story. I wish we had female Shelock Holmes, Micheal Morreti, captain Jack West Jr.

Will batwoman come to the rescue please?