The Books I Devoured in November.

It’s nearly been a month since I last posted and I’m all out of excuses as to why I haven’t written anything in 27 some days. Writing to me is a rather lonely task; one which forces me to confront the thoughts occupying my mind. It’s easy to avoid any kind of thinking at all, with the convenience of an increasingly addictive pull; the internet. I could lose myself on Amazon forever; in fact, that’s precisely how I spent the last few hours. Now, I’ve had an attention deficiency problem my whole entire life, and the internet only makes it worse. I could start with my homework at 3 pm, go down a google black-hole and find it impossible to retrieve myself, until several hours later.

Nevertheless, here are the books I read in November:

1. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

This is a graphic-memoir, along the lines of Blankets by Craig Thompson, where instead of a religious small-town upbringing at the heart of it, dysfunctional family dynamics are explored. Both novels, explore themes of growing up, maturation and coming to terms with the reality of every-day existence.

However, whilst Blankets is one of my favorite reads of this year, Fun Home isn’t. Bechdel’s art and style are thoroughly enjoyable, but it seemed to me that she was perhaps trying a little (read: very) hard to sound deep and philosophical; every page had moments worthy of eyerolls. Bechdel ultimately comes off sounding dishonest and pretentious. Fun Home simply didn’t pull at my heartstrings the way Blankets did.

2. All About Love by bell hooks

This is a work of nonfiction by social activist & feminist bell hooks. She explores love and romantic relationships from a feminist perspective and answers the question that we’ve all wanted the answer to; what do we talk about when we talk about love?

This is easily one of my favorite reads of the year (substantiated by the fact that I read it three times, back to back). I absolutely adore hooks’ writing style, which is clear, crisp and succinct and I shall always be in constant admiration of her ability to break down complex theory into digestible chunks whilst providing sociologically relevant examples of the same.

3. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

I first watched Brown’s TED talk  back in mid-2016 and it’d be no exaggeration to say that it completely changed my life. I owe much of who I am today to that talk, which was my first introduction to her & the work that she does.

This book is essentially an expanded version of her TED talk, which is not to say that it doesn’t have any merit of its own, but rather that her talk is a wonderful companion to her book.

Brown’s research is one of those truly perspective-altering, life-changing things out there. Whilst a lot of it might seem perfectly rational and commonsensical, the extent to which our willingness to be vulnerable and our ability to embrace imperfection is analyzed and comprehended by Brown, only adds to our understanding of human nature and deepens our will to be better.

4. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

This book is so captivating and well written that I read it over the course of a day; I simply couldn’t put it down.

Gladwell does, what I can only refer to as a completely fantastic job of substantiating the hypothesis that our disadvantages shape our road to success in unexpected ways and that often overlooked things like, where we’re from and when we were born can have profound effects on our paths to success. What I found most fascinating was his emphasis on opportunity creating, without which the world would miss out on the most brilliant of minds.

 

 

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Recent Reads

1.Blankets by Craig Thompson

This is a memoir in graphic novel form. Thompson’s account of growing up in a religious family, in a small town, coming of age, falling in love for the first time and all the other nuances of adolescence was brilliantly captured, and his drawings possess the kind of visceral quality that renders people speechless. I was absolutely engrossed in his story, from start to finish and his experiences resonated with me in ways that made my heart ache, for the long gone days of my childhood and innocence.

This is the kind of book that you’ll keep coming back to.

2. Just Kids by Patti Smith

Smith’s memoir of her friendship with photographer and artist, Robert Mapplethorpe, and living in New York City in the late 60s and 70s, is mesmerizing and poignant. Smith is a master craftsman who knows how to blend substance and style in equal proportions. There’s a lot of heart, charm, and nostalgia; you’re sure to walk away with a new found vision of the world and a greater appreciation for life.

3.Delta of Venus by Anais Nin

This is technically an erotica, and a classic, at that. Nin’s prose is exquisite; you’ll reread certain paragraphs, pages, and possibly whole sections since her style is as orgasmic as the substance of it. Nobody quite does purple prose the way Nin does.

4. Calypso by David Sedaris

This is the newest release from the famed essayist and my first introduction to him as a writer. He’s witty and funny, but also insightful and full of heart.

I’ve seen his books be described as extremely funny, but I think it’s important to keep in mind that his rather dry sense of humor may not be for you; there were very few laugh-out-loud moments for me, which was alright since his essays were interesting and poignant in other ways.

Although he occasionally comes off as selfish, arrogant and mean-spirited, it to me felt like a timely reminder that creative genius and being a “good person” aren’t necessarily correlated. Those things only enhanced my view of him as a flawed human being (like the rest of us) and a wonderful essayist.

5. This One Summer by Jillian & Mariko Tamaki

This is a rather disappointing graphic novel, set over the course of a summer. The artwork was absolutely breathtaking, but the story lacked in both substance and style (there’s virtually no plot). Although I found the premise itself interesting albeit repetitive and slightly cliched (angsty teenager spends her summer in her cottage home, whilst dealing with typical teenage problems, including but not limited to, strained relationship with a parent, feeling lost etc), Tamaki didn’t add much to the trope.

If it were a movie, I’d have been more forgiving of the lack of plot, made up for by visually enthralling sequences and charming cinematography.

The MBTI Dilemma.

I was fifteen when I first took the MBTI test. My results told me I’m an ENTJ, which, at the time I thought, accurately described who I was as a person.

I’d say that a more arrogant part of me, was even secretly proud of sharing my personality type with Steve Jobs & Elon Musk, although my present self, fails to understand why it was a matter of pride at all, since, our shared personality traits, don’t necessarily mean a higher probability of achieving unparalleled success in our chosen field(s).

A year later, I took the test again, and this time I was an INTJ. I had grown much more introverted during that period, but besides that, very little about me had changed. The test had once again succeeded in reflecting the person I had grown to be; acknowledging both the change and the constancies.

Over the course of the next year, I took the test a few more times, each confirmed that I hadn’t really changed as a person.

But this year, my nearly ritualistic test taking revealed to me that, things were changing; I’m an ENTP.

The fact that two components of my personality had changed simultaneously was big news, but I wasn’t convinced. So, I took the test a few more times, over the course of several months.

I waited it out and I was still an ENTP.

I do identify with the ENTP type description, some would say that I fit the mold perfectly, but what bothers me is that this was (perhaps, still is) my former partner’s personality type.

Everything has changed, and I’ve ridden myself of every artifact of our time together, but I’m still left with his personality type.

How is that fair?

It’s a valuable lesson perhaps, by distancing myself from someone who brought me so much pain and grief, I’ve become them. Of course, there are a million other things that separate the two of us, as individuals (mercifully), but it is a poignant reminder that my personality could be, broadly similar to that of someone I despise, but I’ll still be another person entirely because of what I’m made of.

And what if, the whole MBTI is a hoax? But then again, maybe it is that simple, 8 billion people can be reduced into 16 personality types.

I know that maybe in a year or five, I’ll take the test again and it’ll tell me something different. Perhaps that, I’m more observational than I’m intuitive and less judgemental and more extroverted, and that a celebrity who is yet to make it big as of now, is the same type as I am.

I might still feel conflicted about it then as I do now, as though I’m walking around in borrowed skin, but I hope I remember that, in this vast expanse of space, sharing a set of changeable traits with another human being, no matter how horrible, will not determine who I am as a person.

My rising sign does.

(lol,jk)

xxZ

 

Are we there yet?

Yesterday, I parted with two of my teeth, and later this week, I will part with two more. My mom tells me that, I was late to lose my milk teeth. For a while there, in my early childhood, I had very few teeth, and it was to my mother’s great relief that, my molars and pre-molars came in.

I have no memory of any of this, which could be why parting with them meant little to me. My mother, on the other hand, bemoaned the loss of my hard-won teeth; as though she grew them for me, and my dentist pulling them out of my mouth, caused her, physical discomfort.

My dentist appeared to be confused, at both my complete lack of concern and my mother’s excessive overcompensation of it on my behalf. Confused as he may have been, he, however, did a pretty good job; I experienced virtually no pain and a day later, I’m a-okay.

I know that the artificially created space in my mouth is in order to make room for the rest of my crooked front teeth, and that, eventually, the prescribed year and a half later, I’ll have the straight teeth that I always wanted.

Sitting on the chair, I felt no fear, about what was to come; I glued my eyes shut, as I saw the needle approach. If you don’t see what’s happening, it hurts much less; a lesson, I suppose, I had already learned, earlier in life, in another context entirely.

As the anesthesia started wearing off, I could feel the dull thud of pain marching in, uninvited. It wasn’t an agonizing kind of pain, but rather, a slight irritation; a minor inconvenience at most.


I’ve wanted a rhinoplasty since I was, about thirteen. I figured that, since I’d have to get a septoplasty when I was older, a cosmetic procedure done along with it would make for a great deal.

But, the second I got on my dentist’s chair, I knew that I didn’t really want one at all; I wanted to get my teeth ‘fixed’, but my nose? I’m okay with my nose.

I don’t know why it took a trip to the dentist to figure that out, but something about getting the thing that you’ve always wanted, makes you realize how little you truly desire other such things, that you think of as ‘goals’.

I can chase perfection all I want. Granted that I have the resources, I could go after all the most ‘sought-after’ plastic surgeons and get myself to fit into the current conventions of beauty.

But why should I chase something that is ultimately meaningless?

The ozone layer won’t be here for long, the planet is bound to become uninhabitable within my lifetime, if not within the next two decades; pursuing just about anything, especially (the unattainable standards of) beauty, appears to me, to be both, redundant and inane.

Beauty has always had a degree of artificiality and inhumanity to it. Nobody is ‘naturally beautiful’.

Cosmetic surgery may be the epitome of artificiality, but if you think about it, everything from straightening your hair to wearing braces alters your appearance, in ways that can be both slight and overwhelming.

The only ‘natural’ humans, were ones who lived in cave-like dwellings; along with the advent of modern civilization, humankind, started finding ways to physical project their need to self-actualize.

Capitalism has, undoubtedly, taken this vulnerable human need, and turned it on its head; the market sells us promises of improvement and betterment, and we, insecure and ignorant, succumb to it and buy new faces, turning our blinds on the collapsing ecosystem, the climate, economy & our collective well-being.

For what?

Our immediate gratification will ultimately amount to nothing. Our improved appearances and conventionally approved features will mean less and less, as the ozone layer depletes further, leaving us to choke for air, with our scalpel- carved noses.


I’d like to believe that I’m constantly improving as a person, and that, the best version of myself, is yet to exist. Every week, I feel like I evolve into a person I didn’t think I’d be.

I look differently at the world, every time, I am in it. There is an abundance of beauty in this world; to an extent where the only natural thing, is ugliness. What we consider, beautiful is what we wish to worship, beauty, is divinity. What is natural, is ugly; at present, we’re unable to look past the negative connotations that we associate with ugliness. Although, it’s perfectly natural, to be ugly.

How do we find meaning in a world on the brink of collapse?

But, more importantly, are we there already?

xxZ

A Month in Books

1.Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

This is a collection of advice columns (some that were previously unpublished) written by Strayed under the pseudonym, Sugar on The Rumpus website.

This is a book I wish I had read earlier, although I doubt whether I’d have appreciated Strayed’s wisdom when I was younger, that said, this is easily one of my favorite books of all time. Strayed possesses a truly unique ability to offer genuine advice and combine that with sincere storytelling and crisp writing.

She is never condescending or patronizing; everything she has to say is heartfelt and earnest and I’m certain that I’m a better person for having read this book.

2.Maus (Volume 1&2) by Art Spiegelman

This is perhaps the book that kickstarted the ‘graphic novel-memoir’ genre. I honestly went in, ready to be disappointed, assuming it was just another one of those overhyped books and boy was I wrong. Maus is truly deserving of all its hype; it is honest, gritty and heartbreaking. It’s about Spiegelman’s father’s experiences as a Jewish man during the height of the Holocaust and the time he spent in Auschwitz.

The injustice of it all will make you angry and you’ll have to put the book down for a while but this is one of those books that will truly alter your perspective and make you appreciate life a lot more.

3.Persepolis (Volume 1&2) by Marjane Satrapi

Another graphic novel-memoir, but one that I enjoyed significantly less. I thoroughly appreciate Satrapi’s honesty and authenticity; she does not portray herself as a victim, however, you do tend to think about how absolutely privileged she was to have had lived through the things that she did, in the ways that she did. Her experiences of growing up in war-torn Iran very obviously depicts the reality of a very small stratum of her society and you can’t help but think that she’s perhaps being a little too whiny, which is not to say that her experiences are invalid, rather that they’re a small privileged fragment of a much bigger picture.

4.Crush by Richard Siken

I first came across Siken’s poetry when I was fifteen and in my teenage pretentiousness, fell head over heels, in love, with his work, even though I didn’t necessarily understand what he was talking about most of the time, I just knew that I liked it. I reread it last year and decided that I was no longer a fan of (what I thought at the time to be) “abstract poetry”. I reread it again last month, and I’m in love all over again. I’m slowly finding my way back into poetry, after an unjustifiably long break and Siken, I think, was just the right place to begin again.

I don’t know what it was that drew me to his work the first time when I was fifteen. I don’t know what I saw differently, the second time around, last year, but last month?

Last month, I was cradling his poems to bed and whispering them in silent prayer as I woke. You need to reread Siken, both immediately after you’ve first read him and later on, a while after. I assure you, you’ll see something different, notice something you didn’t the first time and soon enough, you’ll know what he’s talking about.

5.What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver

This is my first time reading Carver, and I’m not entirely sure what to think of his writing, just yet. The stories are sparse and often, extremely vague. Many of them, seems to me, to be trying to convey, a very specific experience or emotion in the pretext of a larger, more allegorical story. It’s similar to reading Murakami in that sense; the story is what you make of it.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed a lot of the stories; I guess you tend to relish a lack of closure, eventually. His stories have a beginning, but often, no end and there could be very practical reasons why that’s the case (considering the fact that he was an alcoholic for most of his life) but I’m alright with thinking of it as his creative genius.

xxZ

On Memory & Writing.

I reread old journals often. Not necessarily out of a sense of longing or nostalgia, but rather, out of curiosity, of the person I once used to be.

I like to think that I have a fairly good memory, which is perhaps why I’m always surprised to know that there are incidents that have escaped my mind and situations I remember differently.

Like all things, memory too is partial. Our own subjective perception of reality, significantly alters the way, we each comprehend events, and this naturally extends to the way we remember not just situations, but also our past selves.

It’s slightly strange to think that a shared memory could be remembered differently by each participant, but perhaps not as strange as the fact that we ourselves know so little about who we used to be and who we are.

I’ve drastically changed as a person over the course of the last few years, and in turn, so have the ways in which I view things. My rational brain knows that.

I know that I used to be a depressed anxious person a few years ago (mercifully, I’ve been experiencing those things in a lesser intensity since then).

But since I no longer inhabit the brain of my chemically messed up self, I don’t quite remember the peculiarities of it. I remember drowning in self-loathing, liberal amounts of angst and all-consuming apathy. But, I don’t remember what it was like.

Which is why, every time I read a diary entry from around that time, I find myself surprised, by my own disturbing thoughts, because, I, as I am today, don’t remember things being that bad.

Remembering the past is perhaps, a kind of tunnel vision in that sense.

Your idea of who you were is very restricted because your perception of the circumstances surrounding who you used to be is clouded by your present self’s sense of reality.

Which is why I’m kind of glad that I kept journals and diaries throughout that period of my life.

Reading through them has been a kind of reality check.


It’s both deeply sad and somewhat gratifying to read your younger self, speak with so much sadness, knowing that they’ll soon know it’s called high-functioning depression, because, if it has a name, then it is real and it can be “taken away”. Right?

When you identify the thing, you give it a name. So, you know what to call it the next time around.

I remember feeling very strongly about certain things, although I don’t remember why I felt strongly about them or just how strongly I held those beliefs. And my old diary provides both the necessary context and subtext to give me a frame of reference.

At this point in my life, I can’t believe that my younger self, wrote about herself with such ferocity; like a depressed Scheherazade, writing about her woes night after night in order to still be alive at the break of dawn.

I suppose it was an act of catharsis and I think, after everything, writing to me, still is, above everything else, an act of catharsis. I write to figure out what I’m thinking. I have no clue what’s on my mind unless I put a pen to paper, or finger to keyboard.

I assign myself topics and then I free write, then I research a bit and then free write. I compare the two to see how my thoughts have changed or realigned in the face of new information. Then, I mash them both together and free write a bit more and then I edit.


I like knowing what’s on my mind.

I think speaking, is the ‘free write’ stage of engaging in a conversation. You’re more or less translating into words, everything that your mind is telling you, then you get to hear another person’s view of things, then you get to choose whether or not to mash them together to produce an amalgam of new-ish ideas and then you get to edit the way you think of things.


“Fiction is messier. Essay is, for me, an attempt at a kind of clarity. I have a very messy and chaotic mind, but when I’m writing an essay I find I can exert a bit more control over it.”- Zadie Smith

I keep several notebooks at once, they’re all supposed to serve a specific purpose, but my sense of order finds itself floating in the pool of disarray my thoughts are in.

If you looked at my surroundings, you wouldn’t be able to tell that I’m a very disorganized person, that my need for semblance and structure is overcompensating for the mess that is my head.

I keep my books and clothes and room neat and organized because I can’t do the same for my head. Not unless, I’m writing or speaking, amalgamating and editing (preferably not all at once).


Even when I’m not necessarily writing about myself, I am always present in my writing. It’s impossible for me to separate myself from what I write and I don’t know if that’s a universal feeling, although I suppose it might be.

Every word I’m writing will someday be read as part of something that was once written and my future self will perhaps be astounded, confused or feeling feelings I can’t yet name, when she reads of the things she once thought (and perhaps still thinks) to be true.

Life is fascinating that way; both the past and the future remain inaccessible, and we’re all stuck mid-way, not knowing how the things that have happened, continue to  direct the course of where we will go and how every moment, without realizing we’re all making tiny, one-degree shifts to the ships we’re sailing on.

The French have a word for it-

énouement

It’s the “bittersweetness of having arrived in the future, seeing how things turn out, but not being able to tell your past self.”

If my younger self knew how things were bound to go, how my present is less unfulfilling than her future, then maybe, she could relax a bit. But, it had to happen the other way. And that’s okay. Someday, my present and your past too, future Z will be okay. I hope you’ll be there to tell me about it, even if I can’t listen to you.

xxZ

What makes you beautiful?

Everybody loves a good glow up. We all want to see a ‘before and after’ picture and believe it is possible to look that good at some point in our lives. But it is about time that we acknowledge the fact that, puberty, does not give you magically perfect bone structure,  great hair, and excellent skin.

In the age of Instagram, we all face this undeniable pressure to make our lives and in turn, ourselves look picture perfect. But the truth is that nobody wakes up looking like that.

In contemporary celebrity culture, there seems to be this insatiable need to mystify oneself in order to maintain the allure of mysteriousness, so as to make celebrities as a collective seem like external beings, who are flawless in every way ; their perfection is marketed to seem effortless & unattainable, because if anybody else could do it, then why would anyone care about them?

In his Rolling Stones interview, this is what Harry Styles had to say about the matter,

“With an artist like Prince,” he says, “all you wanted to do was know more. And that mystery – it’s why those people are so magical! Like, fuck, I don’t know what Prince eats for breakfast. That mystery  …  it’s just what I like.”

We’ve stigmatized plastic surgery (which need not always be cosmetic, mind you), so now, everybody lies about what they’ve had done; emphasizing on the naturality of everything from the DDs to their facelift and giving into, what I’ve come to call, the natural beauty myth.

Most people who undergo cosmetic procedures, want to look naturally good, which is to say, they don’t want for it to be obvious that they paid someone to break their face and/or their body.

But, ‘natural beauty’, does not equate acne-ridden skin, bushy eyebrows or crooked teeth- all of which are ‘natural’. What we really mean, when we say, someone is ‘naturally beautiful’, is that they conform to the standards of beauty, which have been reinforced and reconstructed by our media.

The way we perceive ‘beauty’, is largely constructed by the media we consume.

Andi Zeisler, articulates this very well in her book, Feminism and Pop Culture:

“More media and pop culture exist now than at any other time in American history. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing; it just is. And pop culture has more and more come to define us. It the main lens through which we look to understand ourselves and those around us: It helps us decide who we are, who our friends are, and who we want to be. It tells us what clothes to wear if we want to look cool, what car to drive if we want to be successful, and how to treat those who are different from us in race or class or creed. It tells us whom we should date and how we should expect to be treated; it tells us of whom and of what we should be scared, and what should make us happy. Anything pop culture can tell us, it will.

Numerous companies and industries have plummeted off of our desire to look ‘natural’.

Makeup companies sell neutral, dewy toned things which make it seem as though you’re wearing minimal makeup, which is meant to translate into, I’m a natural beauty.

So, you keep buying more makeup to seem like you don’t need any and the said companies, keep on rolling the big bucks.

In recent years, celebrities, due to their online presence, have come to be, much more accessible to the general public. However, instead of crumbling the walls of stardom and stage persona, there seems to have developed a collision between notions of perfection & those of normality.

Celebrities, obviously have a lot of people working with them to make them look the way they do. They also have the luxury of adopting a lifestyle which enables them to look good and feel good.

But what the millions of people who follow them see, is not the effort, but the product. You see them, looking like the perfect people they’re projected to be, and you believe it to be normal.

You’ve begun to accept and internalize the fact that, it is somehow naturally or organically possible to look that way.

This is how most people start thinking that, the beauty standards that have been set for them, are somehow achievable and not unrealistic.

Celebrities keep denying that they’ve had, “stuff done”, because a large part of their relevancy is tied to their unattainability. So, in turn, they keep endorsing anti-cosmetic procedure notions and try to promote the natural beauty myth.

Even though, most of us know better than that, we’re still tempted to believe that, every painful transformation, is a glow up; a result of puberty hitting you with a truck.

It’s a sloppy move, considering the fact that anyone can find old pictures on the internet and plenty of bored plastic surgeons will confirm the “rumors”, but

The further the denial, bigger the room for wonder.

Which is a brilliant marketing strategy, out of which millions have been made to date.

It’s unsettling to think that capitalism has found a way to reach into your deep-seated insecurity and extrapolate it in ways where you both need the product and become it.

Which brings to mind, this Albert Camus quote,

“At the heart of all beauty lies something inhuman.”

It’s incredibly fitting, given the current scenario, where, by pursuing the (unrealistic) beauty standards set for us by society, we’re swallowing repression in the name of empowerment. Camus’ words remind us that, we didn’t choose this, there was no choice involved; everybody we’ve considered beautiful was a product of the era’s conventions to some level; ‘beauty’ was never human, never natural.

Andi Zeisler frames it more eloquently,

“If the standards and stereotypes by which girls and women are judged haven’t changed, could it really be called empowerment at all?”

We’re victims of unrealistic beauty standards, perpetuated by society, including our ‘idols’, who tell us repeatedly that what they have, should be what we aspire to and aim to achieve.

It’d be unfair to not mention the effect this has on the psyche of the youth, who grow up believing that their natural beauty is ‘ugly’ because the people they idolize only channel flawlessness because they don’t see the amount of effort that goes into looking ‘effortless’.

Also this,

You don’t know you’re beautiful (because media & society told me I wasn’t)

That’s what makes you beautiful (being unaware of my beauty, only to have a man validate me for it, is certainly not what makes me beautiful, but okay)

xxZ