Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Complex Problems and Their Simple Solutions - overdue introspection and acceptance

It’s rather strange how the human mind, and by that I mean my own mind, keeps amazing me time and again. No, I’m not trying to lead with hinting at what a genius I think I am- quite the contrary actually.

I was in this never-before-known lull phase up until this morning; heck, I’d go far enough to say I was down till this evening. Then suddenly, a couple of hours ago, the storm passed. Or at least I think I did.

All these days I had been complaining far too much for my own comfort. I wouldn’t say I’ve always been a very contented and satisfied person but unemployment and near-bankruptcy made me, as the title of my last post would suggest, a borderline pessimist.

I’ve been aware enough to use the word “borderline”. I think there’s a core element embedded somewhere in my brain that basically doubles as a control switch. If the incoming voltage crosses the limit, this control switch gets tripped automatically. Then it’s like I’m ‘in a state of war’ with myself. It’s like three people live inside me – a borderline pessimist, a realist and an optimist.

So when the controls switch trips, my emergency response system is activated almost immediately. The onslaught of negativity and frustration that signals the beginning of a storm becomes something that I am relatively prepared for.

I expect things to get out of hand, to second guess myself and I would definitely expect mood swings and self-isolation. Good thing I expected all that because a lot more than just those things happened. It was like a toxin was sneaking through my circulation system, quietly spreading its lethal contents in my body.

Boy, am I glad that the antidote, that switch, was already in place and functioning. It was like I had been vaccinated to the joblessness virus already.

Now the main question is - what happened?

What happened in a couple of hours that undid the effects of an entire month?

The truth is – I am not sure. If I had to take a guess and give you a one-word answer, I’d say “acceptance” is what happened. I think I was finally able to break free of the tight grip that Negativity had over me.
That said, don’t go about picturing a phoenix-like image just yet.

It’s not like I am now a worry-free living creature with no care in the world about having no job or having to switch to a thrifty lifestyle. This isn’t magic and I’m not a fictitious character in one of JK Rowling’s books. 
So I wouldn’t trust the onset of ‘reality with a hint of optimism’ so soon in the transition phase. It will probably come and go for a while. But as I see it, once it’s begun, the rest will follow through.

I guess the trick to emerging from this deep, dark well has always been acceptance. It makes complete sense now and from previous experience, acceptance has always been the key for me to move on. For some reason, I never imagined something so obvious to be the key to this problem.

A few days ago, I was on the phone, having a very normal conversation. As breezily as ever, the voice on the other line said, “What fun is life without some struggle, right? Redemption wouldn't be so thrilling without the struggle.” 
Now even though that's not news to me, I probably just needed someone to crisply phrase something that should be obvious and slip it into a conversation without making a big deal about it.

I’m not someone who “shares my problems” with every other person. I have very few close friends by choice. I have never endorsed the concept of being a very social and public person, having a thousand friends and calling them all by “BFFs”. I cannot relate to that mentality.

I choose to have very few close friends – people who I care about unconditionally and will go out of my way for. Some of these people know me intensively, others know me well enough to confirm this – I never ask for help. I’m what they call “khuddaar” in Hindi.

Now, with that disclaimer out of the way, I was really not on my game during this whole crazy loony phase. That means I actually did tell some people close to me about what was messing with my head. To me, that’s a big deal. To the world, no one gives a damn and I am totally cool with that.

The two or three people that knew what was going on with me, did their absolute best to console, support and encourage me. I am now and will be forever more, grateful to them.

But the one line that finally resonated through my brain, came from someone who wasn’t on the confidante list.

The miracle worker’s identity shall remain protected. I can tell you, though, that she is a woman of substance with a pure, clean and large heart. A lady who knows what it means to struggle and what redemption feels like. Someone who is honest, caring and continues to work tirelessly for those around her without a thought for herself. An inspiration in her own right.

Yeah life’s got its issues but I’m thinking – I must have something right somewhere down the road to here, to be blessed with a family so complete and strong that I never get de-energized.

These people in my life are major contributors to today’s acceptance. Never before have I appreciated the role that people play in one’s life, as I have over these last two years.

People who knew the teenage me well remember how much I hated the ‘cheesyness’ of people and the hoopla about relationships. Some horrible experiences and a lot of learning, growing up and maturing later, that opinion is now drastically different.

I believe people I hold close to my heart have all played a part, however big or small, in shaping the person I turned out to be today. I’ve learned what to do and what not to do from these people and my interactions with them. I’ve understood which relationships matter. I’ve survived heartache and lost friendships.

Look at this this way – it’s like life is a long process of weeding out the bad stuff to end up with the best of the lot in every category.

Survival of the fittest comes to mind here. I’ve met and known literally thousands of people over the last 24 years. Some stayed longer than others, some were closer, some earned immediate ‘dislikes’. But those who stand with me today, have themselves reached here through a rigorous screening process of their own.

I think our minds unconsciously screen people at every step – weeding out the bad and keeping the good. So ultimately, what we end up with is a circle of the best, closest and toughest friends and family members.
That’s just a theory at this point but it makes sense to me. If I were an anthropologist, I’d explore it further. But I’m an environmental scientist/journalist. (So if anyone ever does study it, I’ll write a story on it. Ha!)

Can you believe I hated the ‘cheesyness of people’? This whole write-up reeks of it!
Ready for some more?

Acceptance is going to be good, I think. A negative and frustrated approach or attitude just clogs my mind and severely hampers productivity. With a mind that is no longer claustrophobic and polluted, I can breathe easy again and set out to find work with a better attitude.

I can complain however much I want. Truth is, at the end of the day, I know too well that my genetic and mental framework do not believe in the idea of ‘giving up’.

In fact, I’m someone who never has just one plan. (Yeah I know plans don’t always work out – all the more reason to have multiple ideas.) I always have a back-up plan.

And this whole chaos of thoughts in my head is precisely why I said my mind never ceases to amaze me of its potential to store and process information. (I don’t really approve of generalizations hence the reference to my own mind as opposed to all of mankind.)

Now, because I have already written 1,337 words, and before I end up writing another ‘thesis-length’ piece, I’d suggest you go back to doing something other than wasting time reading my musings.
Rest assured, if you still want to waste time, I will be back here sooner than later for as long as I remain unemployed. J

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Borderline Pessimist - what a simple break in chronology can do.

They say that adversity really teaches you a lot. Honestly, I don't know who "they" are and what the "lot" is. I am not sure if the current circumstances that constitute my life qualify as 'adversity', but I'm going to say they do. Why? Simple- this is the first time I've been in at the bottom of this particular well and the process of dealing with it is pretty daunting.
'Unemployed' is a status that I have never had to associate with myself before now. Quite naturally, the frustrations and sheer availability of time that come with being unemployed, are new to me. Both throw me off to some extent because they bring a very intimidating sense of unpredictability and an uneasy feeling of inconsistency into my very existence. I understand that change is the only constant and all of that metaphorical pseudo-comforting stuff.
I'm not saying I want every inch of my plans to work out to the T. I know better than to think that by this time but it wouldn't hurt, after all this while, to have at least some consistency.
Apart from feeling like a nomad who belongs neither to the United States nor to India, I have ambitions piling up inside my by the dozen and being jobless is kind of burying them. It's like having no outlet for a body of ambitions bursting at the seams.
Sounds a little 'rich kid who grew up in luxury' but look closer and tilt your head a little and you might just see what I do.
This is definitely not the first time in my life that I am dealing with a difficult situation. Life has been very generous with those. (Yes, I'm sure everyone thinks that. And I'm very sure that I have it way better than most will or ever did.) Even so, this particular phase is, like I said, new.
I haven't been at these depths of this well before so I don't know where the ladder is. I don't know how long the ladder is and how long it will take me to get back up so I can hoist myself out of this well.
I assume that it takes a while to find one's footing when one is scrambling for grip on a slippery, moss-covered floor. Hands flailing around, gauging the width; legs busy with the primary task of staying afloat in this chin-deep water.
Thing is, it's comparatively easy to be this third person with an aerial view of the 'person-in-the-well' and be practical about the fact that stability takes time. Problem is, when this third person herself, falls into the well - it's like telling a drowning person that it's going to be ok. You don't know that and they sure as hell don't.
This matter-of-fact attitude is helpful, yes, but it's difficult to keep it intact when fear, frustration, impatience and desperation start to squeeze their way into your thought process.
It's like an all-out attack by invasive species (thoughts) to take over the indigenous species' habitat. Tried and tested pesticides (organic or not) don't seem to get rid of these double-edged invasive thoughts. Clearly, this calls for a "new" strategy. (I'm already getting sick of that word in quotation marks.)
So what is this unknown and as-yet-imaginary strategy?
Well, if I had figured that one out, I wouldn't be sitting at my computer on a Saturday night writing this, listening to the Chennai Express soundtrack to reduce the volatile effects of reading the world news. Occupational hazard, I guess.
These last few weeks have given me plenty of time to think about stuff, for one. I'll admit that I didn't always think about the most productive things or the most important issues. I spent several hour watching absolutely ridiculous Hindi films, some wonderful films, reading 23 pages of a book I have had for a year and doing something I NEVER got to do while I was in graduate school - sleeping.
I have had the "luxury" of going to bed at whatever time I want and waking up whenever I want. I have had the opportunity to catch up with friends back home and feel, even if just for an hour, like I'm with them, at our typical hangouts, laughing animatedly about rubbish. I've read most of the articles, pages, URLs that I so lovingly dragged and dropped into the 'Bookmarks' folder. I have had time to make masoor dal, chicken kheema and pudina chutney, among other things.
The only thing that's wrong with all this available time is that aside from the intense job application period interspersed with phases of abstinence from anything "job-like", I would much rather NOT be spending my time sleeping, cooking, watching films and singing at the top of my voice.
I'm a restless breed of workaholics. And the only thing that can keep me from going mad and driving other people loony, is having work. And by work, I don't mean cleaning kitchens and bathrooms and vacuuming the house. I'm a workaholic forced to stand at the start-ling indefinitely till the pistol fires its signal and I can chase my work down that track.
And because I am not a Yash Raj Films prodigy, I cannot just wake up one day, get a guitar and start crooning on the streets of Missoula in a fake Punjabi accent to make $500 worth of rent. That only happens to Shahrukh Khan.
In film terms, here's where I am right - I have Aamir Khan's individuality and spirit from 3 idiots, Akshay Kumar's energy from the Khiladi series, Karan Johar's tear glands, Ayushman Khurana's sense of humor and Rajpal Yadav's luck from Hungama.
I don't know if my being Indian has anything to do with this insatiable urge to work but I know it has a lot to do with just being who I am. A period of 24 years is a long enough time scale for conclusive observations. Over this time period, I've realized I have been happiest when I have had work in some significant form.
I am certainly grateful to life for this long overdue lull because it let me finally do normal stuff again without feeling like I was cheating on my assignments. But having said that, I don't think I handle the concept of 'relax' very well. After a while, I have absolutely no idea as to what on earth I'm supposed to be 'doing'. Like everything else in the world of journalism, with me, even 'funemployment' has to have a deadline. (Credit to Allison Mills for coining that term)
And now, because I know I'm going to be woken up early tomorrow morning by a phone call from my mom, I'm going to sign off for tonight.
Recreational writing after ages - another advantage of being unemployed? (Borderline pessimist....)