How Do You Stay Yourself? Sunday morning #Thoughts


Damyanti:

As a writer, I do leave parts of myself in front of the public in general– sometimes concealed or disguised in fiction, at others on this blog or on the Facebook page— anyone who trawls through this 7-year old blog would know me, to an extent. It is hard to stay myself, yet be private when the blog is so public. It is hard to be a writer, and not rant on any of my social platforms on one of the bad writing days. The following post by Jamie Lee Wallace examines the challenges of being authentically ourselves. It is long, but well worth the read. She raises important questions: How is it possible to be yourself all the time, when your selves, your roles in life are disparate or fragmented? What if you’re a businessperson but also an artist? A doctor, but also a dancer? What about you– how do you express yourself? How do you stay yourself in the face of people’s expectations from you?

Originally posted on Live to Write - Write to Live:

The not-so-easy art of being yourself

pin who you wereBeing yourself is hard. Maybe you’re more evolved than I am, but I’m pretty sure that when it comes to who I am, I’m still figuring it out. I know I’m supposed to be a grown-up, but I still feel like an awkward kid half the time. I still have so many questions and doubts. I still feel like an unfinished story.

People say “just be yourself” as if it’s a simple matter. They mean well. They intend their words as reassurance or encouragement, but whenever I hear that bit of advice, it’s as if someone opened a trap door beneath my feet.  As I hurtle down into who-knows-what, my head echoes with the question, “But … who am I?”

··• )o( •··

When I was in high school, I was what you might call a “floater.” I did not belong to any of the usual…

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Do You ever Wonder about Your Own Death?


Do you walk in Beauty?

Brief life, Long death

I’ve wondered often about death, for as long back as I can remember. I’ve thought quite often of the cessation of life– of what happens when I cease to exist. Probably because I’ve seen quite a few deaths up close and personal, lost family members to illness or accident.

What gloom and doom, I can hear some of you say– but the fact is, if you’re reading this, you’re alive. And if you’re alive, you’re going to die, just like me or anyone else, all living creatures must die.

This morning I read an article by journalist and philosopher Stephen Cave who wonders about a fly he has accidentally swatted to death.

“…it seems to me quite reasonable to think that the death of the fly is entirely insignificant and that it is at the same time a kind of catastrophe. To entertain such contradictions is always uncomfortable, but in this case the dissonance echoes far and wide, bouncing off countless other decisions about what to buy, what to eat – what to kill; highlighting the inconsistencies in our philosophies, our attempts to make sense of our place in the world and our relations to our co‑inhabitants on Earth. The reality is that we do not know what to think about death: not that of a fly, or of a dog or a pig, or of ourselves.”

He goes on to wonder at length about the significance of death, our own and that of the people and living beings around us, and I think the entire article is well worth the read.

 I’m not entirely sure what I think of death, mine, or anyone/anything else’s. I’ve written, briefly, about death on this blog. About the death of my fish, the cyclic death of fish babies, and their mating parents, of my betta and his suffering.
From the post about my dead betta, written three years ago:
But then, what do I know of suffering, and how do I know whether a short suffering is any less hard to bear than a prolonged one? Does a small fish suffer? Does it suffer as much as a human? Is the suffering of the human more evident to me because a human is bigger than a small fish, and the fact that I am a human myself?
I’ve blogged less often of the loss of family members and friends, and then not directly, because this isn’t really a very personal blog. But as anyone who has read my fiction would know– my preoccupation with death and suffering has remained– be it accidental, suicide, or murder and a variety of deaths in between.
My thoughts might change, but as of today, I believe a death hurts as much as the attachment to the dead person or animal or plant.
  • Which is why a friend’s death is devastating, whereas a man dying on the opposite side of the world, who you read about in the news, causes much less alarm. A pet’s death is painful, but the death of a random fly or snail isn’t.
  • Following from this, the prospect of one’s own death is the most scary to some of people, because they’re most attached to themselves, or their survival instincts are alive and kicking. Which isn’t a bad thing.
  • The bad bit, according to me, at least, is not confronting death at all, keeping it taboo, a faraway topic to avoid. No point in trying to ignore the inevitable. Not that thinking about death day and night is the solution, but thinking about it once in a while can’t be all that bad.
What about you? Do you think of death? Your own death? The death of those you have lost? How significant is a fly’s death: is it a tragedy, or a catastrophe, or both?
For anyone reading this post without a blog account– the discussion is also up on my Facebook Page: Damyanti at Daily Write . Would love to have your Facebook comments there.

Do you walk in Beauty?


Do you walk in Beauty?

Blooming in Beauty

Life is fleeting. Before I know it a day, a week, a month, a year: whoosh, gone.

In theory, I understand that if I’m mindful, let each moment live itself, and my self live that moment, time would expand. Because what is time after all– it’s a concept, it’s a function of motion, it’s the ticking clock in our bodies.

When I read Byron in school, can’t say I liked him much– I found his writing pansy, unreal, and puked in my mouth a little at passages like these from She walks in Beauty:

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

What crap, I used to think, idealizing and infantalizing a woman, making of her something less than flesh-and-blood. A part of me still agrees. But as days slip through my finger like the finest sand, I wonder if some of it isn’t what I want to be: soft, calm, spend my days in goodness (as much as possible- the cynic in me says!) with a mind at peace, and a heart filled with innocent love.

Softness, calmness, peace, innocence, love (compassion) all come with mindful practice, with awareness of each moment, with forgiving oneself for each moment of violence and cynicism (in thought, and in action.) Man, woman, child– the most important thing is that tranquil space inside the mind, the silence and slow-soft rhythm of breath, a rhythm that flows and beats through all of us, human, animal, plant, rock, river, planet.

For the past year or so, been trying (unsuccessfully) to remain aware of that rhythm at all times. The body is most in harmony with it when writing fiction, when in sympathy, empathy and identification with someone ‘other’, a being of my imagination, so the ‘I’ floats away, and becomes a gentle drumbeat.

That’s what has drawn my body and soul into writing fiction, this practice that feels almost like meditation. Compared to this, the ‘thrill’ of acceptance or publication is short-lived, mundane. On some days, reading a good line by another author makes everything else seem trivial.

What about you? Does fiction take you outside of you? Does it bring you harmony and rhythm? Do you walk in Beauty?

Walking with Tina– Do You Believe Life is Good?


Sunflowers for Tina

Sunflowers for Tina

For the coming week, Daily (w)rite ‘s header would remain a field of sunflowers, in honor of Tina Downey, my friend, fellow blogger, and Sister in Spirit.

Today, on the 8th of September, the blogging world is coming together to celebrate Tina’s life, and all that she stood for– beauty, brightness, good cheer in the face of all kinds of odds. This is the Sunflower Blogfest, folks, for a woman who adored sunflowers. Sign up if you haven’t already.

If you knew Tina, send her a tribute. If you didn’t know her, celebrate anyway– because joy needs to be celebrated now, today, every moment. Tina embodied that spirit of Taking joy in small things, and smiling through suffering.

For as long as I’ve known her, she’s struggled with her health– and she has never let that stand in the way of life, family, church, friendships, blogging, creative writing, or gardening– she did it all with a snark and a ready smile.

Tina and I spoke often, and every once in a while we spoke of visiting each other. I’ve never been to the USA and she’d never been to Singapore– so between Colorado and Singapore, we exchanged snapshots and dreams.

Tina Downey's Sunflower in SIngapore

In Singapore, with Tina Downey

I know that I still want to visit the United States, and if I do, I would like to spend an hour beside a field of sunflowers, soaking in the sun, remembering Tina’s voice, the one that always sounded so happy to hear mine– even on the days she had a hard time breathing.

I wrote about Tina and my swimming pool in my other blog, and on this one, I have this to say: Never ever postpone a plan to meet friends or family. I had planned a trip to surprise Tina this year.

But instead, I have this photo above, of my sunflower.

This is the view from my balcony, the view we would have shared, had Tina visited me, like she’d talked about doing, so many times.

I could have had other photos, different ones, had I made it to Colorado last year.

But I shall not shed tears.

“When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.” ~Khalil Gibran

Until we meet again, dear Tina. Life is always Good, and I believe it, in part, because of you.

(Tina’s family has set up the Downey Education Fund for Tina’s sons, if you’d like to donate, the way I and some others have done, the Donate link is given below. If you want the code for a badge on your own blog, drop me a line at atozstories at gmail dot com)

Donate to the Downey Education Fund

Donate to the Downey Education Fund

Would you all celebrate Tina with us?

Do you believe, the way I do, that no matter what, Life is Good?

Do you have to be intelligent to be evil?


A question like “do you have to be intelligent to be evil” can seem philosophical and vague, but it becomes less theoretical when you apply it to a death penalty court case like the one that has played out in Georgia. Must there be a conniving, Machiavellian mind behind evil, or is it something inherent in anyone — or everyone?

…..At the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s department of cognitive science, a research team explored the logic of evil by programming a computer character named “E” that “acted on” or was motivated by a definition of evil. The Rensselaer crew defined an evil person as one who decided to commit an immoral act without prompting and carry out the plan with the expectation of considerable harm. When reflecting on those deeds, the person would either find incoherent reasons for his or her actions or think the damage caused was good.

….Trying to get an objective answer about evil or intelligence is never going to work. We all have too many inherent prejudices and biases to ever get a response that satisfies us. But looking at something like Dr. Welner’s Depravity Scale does lead me to believe that critical thinking about intelligence and evil does have a purpose in our society: if we’re ever asked to use our own definitions of what is evil and intelligent to judge someone’s actions, we better have a compelling reason to believe our own opinions.

Hakone Open Air Museum

Intelligence and Evil

 

That was an excerpt from an article I read the other day, and though it goes on to talk about insanity pleas and so on, it reminded me of what weighs on all our minds.

Like a lot of us, I’ve been watching Gaza, and also the Malaysian plane shot down in Ukraine.

Since I can’t do anything else to help this world gone mad, where children are murdered (while they play on a beach or fly 33,000 ft above the earth towards a vacation or their homes), I try to gather positive energies. If the world goes negative, the only thing in my small, insignificant hands is to be positive. I can only add myself to the sum total of positive energies in this world, and thus stand against the negatives.

But somehow, I wonder whether the intelligence that has given us humans such an advantage in evolution would one day be our undoing. (Even in the animal world, it is the dolphins who rape, the chimpanzees who murder– is evil a function of intelligence quotient, after all?)

What do you think? Is what’s happening in the war-torn areas of the world a result of intelligence gone mad? Other than ranting and fighting virtual wars on Facebook, how can we as human beings help undo this horrific situation?

Of Blue Whales and Turtles: A Slow Hourglass in Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka is a well-kept secret. In the space of a few days, I helped a baby turtle hatch, watched some of the most venomous snakes in the world up close, (without a glass pane in between!), and got to see not only a a huge pod of dolphins, but also the planet’s largest animal– a blue whale.

We stayed at Mirissa over the weekend, and if you ever find yourself there, I recommend the Mandara resort. After you get over the slightly run-down rooms and slow service (they do try hard to make your stay comfy, but at a holiday pace), you'll enjoy the gorgeous views (the sunsets are incredible), the quiet beach, and local cuisine catered to your taste.

Mirissa Sunset snapshot, taken from my Balcony at the Mandara Resort

We stayed at Mirissa over the weekend, and if you ever find yourself there, I recommend the Mandara resort. After you get over the slightly run-down rooms and slow service (they do try hard to make your stay comfy, but at a holiday pace), you’ll enjoy the gorgeous views (the sunsets are incredible), the quiet beach, and local cuisine catered to your taste.

The staff also takes care of the night-time guests on their beach-- turtles. If a turtle lays eggs on the Mandara beach, the eggs are protected for 45 days, and then once they hatch, the baby turtles are sent off to the sea, thus protecting them from various predators. I got to pick up the babies, and watch them scramble into the sea.

Holding a baby turtle, just hatched

The staff also takes care of the night-time guests on its stretch of the beach– turtles.

If a turtle lays eggs on the Mandara beach, the eggs are protected for 45 days, and then once they hatch, the baby turtles are sent off to the sea, thus protecting them from various predators.

I got to pick up the babies, and watch them scramble into the sea!

Newly Hatched Baby Turtles

Newly Hatched Baby Turtles

Dewmini's Roti Shop

Dewmini’s Roti Shop

If you eat at only one place in Mirissa, make it the Dewmini Roti Shop. Despite their rather unglamorous name, their food is definitely something to write home about.

The range of their scrumptious roti is simply amazing. Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor know what they’re talking about when they recommend this tiny place.

We also went to a snake farm: and here are some of the occupants we met:

The video is shaky because I kept running away– the snakes were not defanged (the handler showed us the fangs on a Russel’s Viper), and I’m not brave.

An angry white cobra at Mirissa, one of the most beautiful snakes I've ever seen

An angry white cobra at Mirissa, one of the most beautiful snakes I’ve ever seen.

I’m not a fan of snakes kept in captivity, but it is better than killing them outright — which is what most people around the world do. The farm is in a village on a hilltop, where tiny farms and homes jostle against each other– snakes are so plentiful that I saw one on the way up, and another came swirling by as the handler was showing us the regulars. Both were non-venomous, thank God!

But the best was for the last: the blue whales. We could see the spouts at a distance of almost a kilometer, and as we drew closer, we could see their glistening blue-black bodies ease gently into the sea and the humongous tail followed right after. The blue whales are shy creatures, not curious like greys — but the thought that something so huge, intelligent, and alive was right next to our boat brought tears to my eyes. It is amazing that they do not overturn even the smallest of fishing boats by accident.

Our captain was a whale-lover, and if you go to Mirissa, I would recommend you go with Raja and the Whales-- knowledgeable crew, who did not harass the whales like I saw the other boats do, but still got us as close as 20 feet to the planet's largest animal. Blue whales get easily stressed, are endangered and reproduce at a slow rate. They need all the consideration they can get.

This Blue whale was within 30 feet of our boat!

Our captain was a whale-lover, and if you go to Mirissa, I recommend you go with Raja and the Whales— knowledgeable crew, who did not harass the whales like I saw the other boats do, but still got us as close as 30 feet to the planet’s largest animal. Blue whales get easily stressed, are endangered because they were hunted to near-extinction, and reproduce at a slow rate. They need all the consideration they can get.

Sri Lanka definitely makes the hourglass turn slow. I was so dazed and awed most of the time, I took very few pictures. All the pics above are from my husband’s camera. If you live in Asia, or are planning on traveling here, please don’t miss Sri Lanka. It has so much more to offer, in terms of beautiful beaches and jungles, awesome fauna, gastronomy, ease of travel, and friendly, smiling hosts, we plan to visit Sri Lanka again.

Should a Book Stab You, Or Make You Happy?


“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.”

— Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka and Books that Stab you

I read this quote today on Goodreads, and began discussing it with a few friends on Facebook. Opinions veered on one side or the other.

Personally, I think there will always be those who read to be provoked into thought, and those who read to escape. Both are equally valid reasons for reading, in my opinion, and I alternate between the two.

When it comes to my own writing, however, I aspire to Kafka’s recommended genre. I would die happy if  I could write books “that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”

What sort of book would You rather read? Why? And if you’re a writer, what sort of book would you rather write?