Category: Life

I hate shopping for deodorant…

That sentiment is a lot stronger for me in today’s times of a pandemic that spreads by touching any of the open holes on a human’s face. I’m tensed anytime I’m to touch my own face these days, especially if I don’t have a hand wash or sanitizer around. I hate this crazy, fucking virus.

You can stop eating particular meat or can boil & reboil the water before drinking it. You can kill all the mosquitos around or have yourself bathed in repellant. But how the fuck do you not touch your own face? That’s like asking your kid to not put herself in harm’s way – she invariably will.

Anyway, with the bottled up frustration out of the way, my dislike for shopping for deodorant isn’t new. So much so that it’s no longer just a harmless dislike, it’s a feeling of extreme hate. How the hell do you decide if a deodorant is good or not? I don’t know how it’s done at other places, but here in India, trying out a fragrance from a tester pack is pretty common while shopping for a deodorant. Everybody does it. Everybody apparent can do it. Except me. I never learned how to keep the fragrances separate. Once I’ve tried two, everything smells the same to my picky nose – you might as well make me smell the water and still get a comment from me after that.

The way-out for me earlier was that I would only try a couple and select one from those. I can’t say it always works – I end up choosing one that smells the worst. Too strong or too mild or yuck. These are the only reactions I get from my family. I haven’t let that affect me until now – I have managed to convince myself that no one likes how the other smells. As long as I’m happy with how I smell – or there’s a complete lack of any form of smell for that matter – I was fine. So I bought whatever smelled best for me or didn’t smell at all from the two I tried.

This trial for fragrances is out of the picture in the pandemic times. There just are too many logistical problems.

What’s the other way then? You can for once judge a book by its cover or title, but there’s no way one can judge a deodorant by its canister. I mean all fucking look the same. You can’t select one because its nozzle opens up funny or the shape of the container is “different”. The content isn’t.

And what’s with naming the fragrances? Dark Temptation, Sea Drift, Thunder Bolt, Regal Burst, Voyage. When every fragrance could be named as simply as “strong”, “mild” and “mildest”, fact that marketing would spend so much time and money to come up with these names makes no sense to me. How am I supposed to select between Dark Temptation and Gold Temptation?

And the money that marketing spends on the advertisement for men’s deodorant must absolutely go down the drain. The only message they aim to deliver apparently is put this on and be a magnet for girls? Or be sensual? Or be “irresistible”? On the other hand, how can you even advertise for fragrance? The only thing you can say is it smells good.

Or simply strong, mild or mildest. I’m telling you, it is simple to solve this problem. Just use those names.

Anyway, I went shopping for deodorant today again. Looking at me struggling, toying around with all black canisters, the store owner pulled all the options away, kept one in front of me and said, “you will love this, sir, trust me”. That won’t have done it, but then he added, “you will click a picture of this and come again next time asking for this one”.

Once I returned home with that deodorant, I minutely stared at my reflection in the mirror, wondering what in the way I dressed gave that store owner the feeling that I can’t read English.

Getting Back to Reading More Books

If there’s one positive change that the lockdown has brought into my routine, it would be that I am reading a lot more, both online essays & books. My Goodreads currently reading list is full of some wonderful books. It is a result of some intentional changes in my habit and the easy availability of a lot of free time.

I am “reading” a lot more books in their audio forms. The Audible subscription has been one of the best investments. I enjoy listening to books as I am doing other tasks. Be it the regular household choir or exercising. So if I am thoroughly involved in a book, it clearly shows in my walk/run times. I would go on long walks just to “read” more.

Additionally, I have since long stopped carrying my mobile phone with me – rather I keep my Kindle around. I always take it along as I move through my routine. This is my observation when I had first started following this habit a while back.

I take my kindle, walk to my balcony or to my terrace or to the garden and settle there. Without my phone. Or my iPad. Anyone needs my attention, they have to come and fetch me. And I realised I was back to being more earnest while reading.

This holds even today. So whenever my mind reaches out for some getaway, it’s the list of books that is accessible. Not some social media feed. Or emails. No risk of doom-scrolling.

I have also realized that I can’t read only one book at a time. What I want to read depends on a lot many external factors. My mood, the weather, what and who am surrounded by, the thoughts my mind is full of. So I have a list of 10 books that I am reading at any given time based on these factors. And I don’t hold myself to add another to the list if none of these excites me some time.

Being a completionist has been a habit that I was proud of one time; that’s not the case any more. If a book is unable to hold my attention, I will stop reading it. I will skip chapters if it is non-fiction to see if there’s any other chapter that interests me. There are more pages that we can eagerly turn than there are minutes that we can breathe. Don’t touch a book that doesn’t keep you excited to turn to the next page.

Small Town Diaries – Waltz of the Rain

I felt very close to the rain today. I don’t like to get drenched in a downpour. Or to get damp in a drizzle. As a child, I used to sit at the edge of the veranda and watch the rain play its games. I did that again today after a long, long time.

The clouds gave way to a slight drizzle and eventually burst into an angry downpour. I slumped into the swing chair in the veranda and grinned as the wind lead the stream of raindrops as part of their lovely waltz. I instinctively stretched out my leg to the rain in the hope that nature’s playfulness on show rubbed onto me.

It did; I felt calm, devoid of the stress that I had become so habitual to recently. I experienced a general sense of clarity within, but I wasn’t thinking about anything specific. A numbness of mind that moves you meaningfully? I wish I could better word this paradox.

My recent lifestyle of the bustling metropolis has made me ignorant. When it rained, I hid behind glass with the raindrops furiously colliding against it. But then they dejectedly glided down. Not today. I let them touch me, heal me today.

When I began the little side project about ten weeks back, I hadn’t set any specific expectations from it. Or from myself. I had an itch, an idea for sharing my interest in everything about writing with other folks who share my passion. I wanted to explore the newsletter as a medium to reach out to other people. It was only natural to bring them together.

I had no idea at that time that more than 2 months down, I would still be pumped to word each issue with care every week.

At the risk of getting cheesy about a random number, the 10th issue of Slanting Nib & A Keyboard newsletter needed a special mention. I paused before publishing the issue in haste in the last week. I hadn’t got enough time to work on it. I wasn’t happy with what I reviewed as I about to schedule it. So I skipped sharing any issue in the last week. I took the time again and reworded the whole issue. And it is out today.

It features some insightful essays that attempt to decipher and explain the past, present and the future of the complex obscurity that is language. I enjoyed reading each one of them; they made me appreciate the intricacies of human communication. It made me wonder that maybe the languages evolved because we human beings are an intelligent species. However, possibly we evolved into an intelligent species because we had the backing of complex languages. Maybe both.

Anyway, do give it a read online; this one is a special one for me. If what you read interests you, please subscribe. If you are already subscribed and have been enjoying the issues, I will appreciate if you forward them to your friends. And any which way, I would love to hear from you.

I am planning to rework the structure of the newsletter a bit without losing on the core idea. I will share more details as they crystallize in my mind. If you think any aspect is just not working, do let me know. It would help me make some easy decisions.

Small Town Diaries – Shopping

I went casual shopping today. I didn’t dress up as I would normally do whenever I go out in my hometown. How I look as I go outside does not matter to me much these days. Anyway, all I had to shop for was some groceries and a few ointments.

The way I looked today was fine for the larger town I have settled in. Rather the shabbier I dress up, greater the respect I gain from a store owner. Or so I believe. This theory fails royally in my comparatively smaller hometown.

As expected, I was consciously ignored by the store owners and the attendants. I, then, asked for a specific item, a Himalaya – a well-known Indian brand – face cream. I returned the Himalaya face gel asking for the cream variant. And it is then that they called me “sir”. 

This incident repeated itself at another store. My shabby attire made everyone attending in the store to ignore me. I then asked for a lip balm of from Nivea. I returned the strawberry flavoured one he hesitantly handed me and asked for a variant that’s especially for men. It is then that they called me “sir”.

I have realized over the years (and from the sheer amount of effort my dad puts in dressing up just to go out of the main door) that it matters here how you present yourself outside – especially in shops as a customer. However, if a shabby looking attire makes the store owners and attendants ignore you, the specificity of your wants makes you special.

Ever since I travelled back to my hometown, I have not been able to keep up with my routine. I’m not sure of the reasons, but things have been tricky.

One reason I believe is my mindset. For years now, I have been travelling to this place, to my other home, only on vacations. I would take long leaves, be off work and spend some relaxed time in the city where I’ve spent the majority of my early years. I feel I’ve grown accustomed to the air here and now I associate it with relaxation. Hence it has been extremely difficult to do anything else.

I’ve been sleeping a lot more. I’ve been eating a lot more. I’ve been slacking a lot more. I can do my office work, that doesn’t seem to be affected. But every other routine task is. I was waiting for things to naturally get back to normal. 2 weeks in and I don’t think there’s any chance of that happening.

So I am forcing myself now to get back into the routine. Time to bring the diaries, the journals back. Get the diet, the focus apps out. Reset those snoozed alarms again. Close eyes for those mindful 2 minutes. Stare regularly at the blinking cursor.

I recently took a big decision to travel across the state and temporarily settle down into my hometown. Closer to my family and friends. I’m anyway working from home. So it doesn’t matter how far away from the office I actually am. It wasn’t an easy decision, but a strong desire to break the monotonous routine made it a lot clear. So over the weekend, I and my close family travelled and have begun to settle into a new place.

Consequently, I could hardly find time for everything that was routine for me. One of them is the weekly issue of my newsletter. With just a couple of days in hand, the self-doubt had started clouding my mind, making me question whether I’m on the right track. Should I continue to spend time on publishing the weekly issues? Would I have enough time to curate each issue to make it interesting? Am I failing at another side project? A timely comment from a reader cleared the doubts. And it also gave me the topic for the next issue; I cleaned the slate and started curating it afresh.

In this week’s issue of Slanting Nib & A Keyboard, I feature the essays that, in no way, preach how the fear of failure can be, should be overcome. Rather they attempt to persuade that it is all fine to fail. I needed the nudge myself. Each of these essays lent that to me.

Do give it a read online. If what you read interests you, please subscribe. If you are already subscribed and have been enjoying the issues, I will appreciate if you forward them to your friends.

PS: The issue also has a glaring mistake — so fitting to let the first one (that I know of) slip through in an issue about failing.

Inspiration, Focus and Craft

Writing is a difficult trade which must be learned slowly by reading great authors; by trying at the outset to imitate them; by daring then to be original and by destroying one’s first productions.

André Maurois

A writer is driven to satisfaction by three key factors. The first is an inspiration to think of a way to put his or her thoughts, the ideas, into words. Another factor is the focus to sit down staring at the blinking cursor without getting lured by the myriads of easily accessible distractions. And the final one is the craft that the writer brings to the table, one that he or she horns and perfects over the year.

This issue features a few essays from the masters who have, over the years, learned to command the art by confronting each of these factors. Let’s get straight to the recommendations.

Featured Writing

Where do you get your ideas?

Neil Gaiman answers the question that each published author gets asked a lot – “where do you get the idea from”. And apparently “out of my head” is not an acceptable answer for most.

The ideas aren’t the hard bit. They’re a small component of the whole. Creating believable people who do more or less what you tell them to is much harder. And hardest by far is the process of simply sitting down and putting one word after another to construct whatever it is you’re trying to build: making it interesting, making it new.

But still, it’s the question people want to know. In my case, they also want to know if I get them from my dreams. And I don’t give straight answers. Until recently.

Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators

Everybody is a procrastinator or most have been some time in their life. Megan Mcardle argues writers are a special kind; for them, being a procrastinator is “a peculiarly common occupational hazard”. Megan goes on to lay out why she is convinced that the writers are the worst. I always believed that the fear of doing something badly, not perfectly, is a prime driver for procrastination. But if the researchers are to be believed, the fear of doing nothing trumps the ills that perfectionism induces.

I once asked a talented and fairly famous colleague how he managed to regularly produce such highly regarded 8,000 word features. “Well,” he said, “first, I put it off for two or three weeks. Then I sit down to write. That’s when I get up and go clean the garage. After that, I go upstairs, and then I come back downstairs and complain to my wife for a couple of hours. Finally, but only after a couple more days have passed and I’m really freaking out about missing my deadline, I ultimately sit down and write.

Over the years, I developed a theory about why writers are such procrastinators: We were too good in English class. This sounds crazy, but hear me out.

Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully

In this short essay, Stephen King delivers advice for any writer who wants to be successful at writing good fiction. King does that in his signature style – clear and direct.

I know it sounds like an ad for some sleazy writers’ school, but I really am going to tell you everything you need to pursue a successful and financially rewarding career writing fiction, and I really am going to do it in ten minutes, which is exactly how long it took me to learn. It will actually take you twenty minutes or so to read this essay, however, because I have to tell you a story, and then I have to write a second introduction. But these, I argue, should not count in the ten minutes.

Featured Video

Featured Writer

Neil Clark

“Then there was the romance between the carton of smoothie and me.” Neil begins his flash fiction “Ferris Wheel” with this amusing lead. He goes on to narrate his unique romance with the “box of the carton”. He regularly writes flash fiction with each having a unique premise and wonderful narration. Another of flash fiction Two Earthlings tells a story of the visit of two aliens and their encounter with the dwellers of our planet – one that makes them wonder if the earthlings were “sentient or hostile or what”. Give all of Neil’s published work a read.

Featured Tool

Forest – Stay focused, be present

“Forest is an app helping you stay away from your smartphone and stay focused on your work.” It is a unique take on the timer app where you plant a tree as you lock your phone down. If you want to quit the app, your tree will die. The belief is that the guilt acts as a deterrent to not access the phone until your focused session is done. The team behind the app also “partners with a real-tree-planting organization, Trees for the Future, to plant real trees on Earth”. A free app that, for sure, is worth a try.

One Final Inspiration

Postscript

This post was delivered first as part of my weekly newsletter Slanting Nib & A Keyboard. Do read the archives and subscribe here.

Another issue of Slanting Nib & A Keyboard newsletter is out today. It features a few essays from the masters who have, over the years, learned to command the art by confronting each of the factors that drive every writer or a creative mind to satisfaction – inspiration, focus and craft.

I had to delay this issue by an hour as I could not complete my final review in time. It was a race against meeting the deadline and the last-minute call from work made it all the more difficult. I usually find the links that I want to feature way ahead of time. However, I carefully include the comments later to be sure about why I’m including the link as part of the issue. I had to rush through the commentary part today. So, if you find the description slightly incoherent, my planning-gone-wrong is to blame – a learning experience to not trudge too close to the deadline.

Do give it a read online. If what you read interests you, please subscribe. If you are already subscribed and have been enjoying the issues, I will appreciate if you forward them to your friends.

Another issue of Slanting Nib & A Keyboard newsletter is out today. It features a few well-written essays that talk about the partisan debates around the different forms of the books, starting with their evolution over the years, from “the clay tablets to the e-book format”. The physical, emotional and psychological effects of eBooks and paper; a love letter to audiobooks. This issue has it all.

Do give it a read online. If what you read interests you, please subscribe. If you are already subscribed and have been enjoying the issues, I will appreciate if you forward them to your friends.