Literary aspirations


Arrgh… just when I thought I was on track to made good on my once a week blogging resolution to myself, I’ve fallen off the wagon again. In my defense I have been writing a lot–just not here. I was trying to get a paper done–or rather the revisions–done and submitted–which goal I sort of reached today. At least a version of the rewrite is now sitting in the online submission site of the journal. I just hope the results are closer to getting published .. will report on that in a few. days? week? weeks?…  not more than that, I can only hope.

Meanwhile I created a new category–to which I’ll quickly assign various past posts, because I realized how much I write and reflect on writing. Not always meaningfully–here for instance I’ve been mostly whining, but sometimes–but I recall even in my pre-blogging Dear diary-type days too I would look over something I’d written earlier and write about it. Not today though–today was just to acknowledge the fact that I’m behind.. and having done that, move on.  (#29)

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And add some thyme to foods that rhyme? A writing-from-the-senses inspired title where I’ve combined 3 food items whose names imparted a certain rhythm and which I feel would be a good prompt to write …

Except that it’s been years since that I wrote those words down and nothing has been forthcoming. But something about them won’t let me delete the prompt and be done either. What can one do with those three things anyhow. Combine the first two to smoke the third, as in a hock of ham? Or how’s this to keep with the rhythm of the original rhyme?

Hickory Chicory Hock,

They all went into my stock.

When the stock was boiled,

The hock I broiled,

And poured it all into a crock.

Corny in the extreme, what? But it counts as writing (#30)

 

… you ever read, or at least that I ever wrote! Read on…

So, I found this creative writing exercise online and was intrigued enough with one of the prompts/stories to give it a shot.  One of the mandates seems to be to make it difficult to arrive at the end.. which it should have been anyway. Else why make someone do it? But for the caveat it reminds of the a word ladder game I used to play as a kid to go from one word to another changing one letter at a time. e.g. from black to white.

black to slack to stack to stalk to stale to shale to whale to while to white

Below are a couple of one-sentence stories. Each has a beginning and an end. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to insert six steps after each beginning, making it as difficult as possible for the characters to arrive at the end. Airline strikes, evil stepmothers, phobias – whatever you like. Just make them work for it.
 
A couple fall in love in the supermarket and adopt a tiger

I thought I try the word game for a lark by going from “adopt” to “tiger” but couldn’t think of enough words… I mean adopt can only become adept or adapt and I got stuck beyond that, and working backwards from tiger did not work either since I can’t even think of one word (Tiber? but that’s a proper noun) so on to the main task at hand…

Couple fall in love in the supermarket [I guess I don’t need to worry about flirtation since the falling in love is done already]

Step 1.

“How did you know” she asked. “How did you figure out I was the one so quickly?”

“It was your tiger’s eye pendant,” he said. “It’s so unusual and it matches your eyes so beautifully–I figured anyone with such unique sense of style was my kind of gal. May I take a closer look?”

To his utter dismay those same beautiful eyes suddenly  filled with tears and without a word she turned and ran.

Step 2. “Hey what’s wrong” he shouted in consternation before following in hot pursuit. “That was a compliment!”

She didn’t answer.. only ran faster. But suddenly another figure appeared out of nowhere and made a grab for her neck. She tried to dodge but unsuccessfully. The assailant had clamped her neck too tightly from behind and was now determinedly trying to work the chain with the pendant off. With another shout Leon (the guy–we don’t know his name yet, so we’ll call him that for now) jumped on his back to pry the assailant away from her. They both fell backward and rolled over but when he came to his feet, there was no trace of her.

3. “Where is she?” he demanded fiercely at the same time as the assailant, yelled “Now look what you’ve done!” Without answering the question or waiting for an answer himself the assailant darted around a corner and… disappeared. Without a trace .. just like the girl, the love of his life. Though he didn’t even know her name.

Dejectedly he turned to pick up whatever meager belongings had fallen from his pockets in his scuffle,  when he noticed a small bag–the kind one gets at a jeweler’s though he wasn’t to know that–that presumably, his assailant had dropped. Pebbles, he thought feeling them, but then remembering her pendant opened the bag to see if there were more gems.What tumbled out instead was candy. Crystalline and glittery bits of sugar, that looked sort of like her mesmerizing eyes, but were leaving his fingers sticky. “Don’t..” he heard someone say the instant before he licked a sticky finger clean and also disappeared.

4. Elsa–that was her name–didn’t know his name either–and wasn’t sure  she’d be able to find out. Having made the first dash away as fast and far as possible to escape he would-be captor, she needed to make sure she hid and stayed hidden. And hiding wasn’t easy in for a tawny-eyed tigress wearing a fortune in tiger’s eye  around her neck. Going to the local zoo was not the answer–its how Sim had found her in the first place. And while he wasn’t evil.. he was a pest and needed her tiger’s eye as badly as she did. Well.. she wasn’t going to give it up … not without a fight. Especially now that she had found him. Whatever his name was. Trouble was without human help she had no way of either hiding or changing back into human form,  Baying at the moon–that was for wolves, she thought disgustedly. Even crooning to the sun, the preferred heavenly body for the leonine, had no effect. Whatever was she to do?

“Rest” she though wearily. “First I need to rest.” Furtively she slouched along the streets when near the Public library she looked up to two stone lions resplendent in their indifference to the problems of the world. “Close enough” she thought to herself and leapt up on one of them and sunk into the stone for a much needed nap.

5. When Leon–as we shall continue to call him–came to, he was in completely unfamiliar surroundings–a cross between hall of mirrors at a carnival or department store dressing room, and a cathedral with stained glass windows, except here all the windows were stained in the golden browns and deep bronzes.

“Where am I?” he wondered bewildered, and as if in response, he heard the opening chords of the Survivor’s song (what else?), The Eye of the Tiger!

“Get up, get up” he heard a voice say. “If you want to rescue yourself and your true love you need to fight your way out of this tiger’s eye chamber.”

Completely disoriented, he got to his feet and staggered into a boxing ring that had inexplicably sprung up right in the middle of the chamber. “That’s right” said the voice. “It’s like the TARDIS–bigger on the inside.”

“Inside of what?” he asked? Instead of an answer, what should he see but a beautiful tawny tigress facing him in the ring, the patterning of her stripes a perfect match for the light that filtered through? Elsa, for it was she, was as bewildered as he to find herself there, but she unlike him was was elated. She after all, knew who he was. Joyfully, in a single bound she leapt on top of him.

“Whoa!” he said in some consternation, and tried to roll away but she was too big and too strong and too affectionate.

6. And so began a romp the likes of which had never been seen in the tiger’s eye arena, then or since. There was shape-shifting and supernatural goings on as one might expect in a fantastical story like this one, and there was also a lot of sex, which one may not think appropriate to mention, but which both parties hugely enjoyed especially since the audience had long disappeared, and by then he too had become a tiger. Or at least sometimes. Since he was a tiger now, calling him Leon no longer seems appropriate, and we should probably reveal his name, Calvin. Which was great because Elsa’s full name was E. Hobbes. And as everyone knows, Calvin and Hobbes are a magical pair.

Enjoyable as they found their life in the tiger’s eye cave, it was also limited and soon they wanted out. But they had to pay a price. Either live in staggered shapes forever, or go in for adoption (if the alternatives seem strange, remember everything about this alternate universe was strange). Furthermore they had to pay a price for the adoption–the candy–without which they could never return to this wondrous cave again. With such agreements in place they went to collect their baby, only to find out it was a baby tiger!

So they adopted the baby tiger, although it grew quickly and didn’t stay a baby for long.Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 10.17.33 PM Everyday they take it for a walk. Neighbors are getting quite used to the sight of the tiger on a leash. Sometimes the couple take it out and sometimes it’s just Calvin with a tiger. On such days, but only if you look closely, you might notice something different. One cannot be quite sure, what precisely the difference is, but it is there. And if you walk by the library, you’ll notice that one of the carved lions guarding the entrance has one tiger’s eye.

Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 10.18.03 PM(#31)

 

A  bit of playing with the forms of two rhyming words that I have been using repeatedly over the part two months. Silly but hey I found it entertaining. Think of it as a Seuss-ian moment. Or a Nash-(via Ogden)-ly impulse:

A particle is an article, but an article may also have many particles.

One could have particular article but I am not sure if there is such a thing as an articular particle.

There are also particulate articles,  but articulate particles would be very strange indeed.

While an articulated particle is entire possible, I am not sure that an article can be particulated.

But an article might have a particularity where a particle cannot have articularity.

I could go on with this article which already has several particles (of information) but fear I am running out of my powers of articulation.

But not particulation … for it doesn’t exist!

And so ends this particularly silly article. [Full stop].

(#32)

A job application that I am down to the wire on in making the deadline wants me to write, in addition to the usual suspects–cover letter, research and teaching statements–a “statement of contributions to diversity.” And because I am having trouble getting started I thought it might help to free-think some ideas here (and get my weekly quota of blog writing up as well).

The main reason for my troubles with the statement is that I am not sure how to write something that won’t come off as whiny or strident, self-glorifying, trite or any number of other pejorative adjectives that I can think of in the context of the issue of writing about diversity. First there is a Duh! factor: which is that I contribute to diversity on any number of fronts just by being–I am a woman, a “mature” candidate (would I count as “post-mature” in the jargon of my social scientist colleagues I wonder) and ethnically an Indian. Even as I’m listing these features it occurs to me to create a new acronym, OBG–for “Old Brown Gal”–which just happens to bring to mind the “woman’s” doctor in medical science, the ObGyn (As I’ve said, equally sincerely in other blog posts, this pun or whatever wasn’t planned…it just happened, I swear). I also happen to be diabetic and while it does not affect my workplace activities or needs, it is still one of the featured conditions in the disabilities section of any Equal Opportunity/Demographic questionnaire.

Of course I can’t simply make that statement- “I contribute to diversity just by being” because not only is it trite, it is also simply not enough. Just being a minority does not do much, if anything, for the betterment of the community, and to be frank, I have never been much for identifying with a community based on one aspect of who/what I am. Furthermore the categories represented in the label don’t even begin to cover the gamut of issues on which we need diversity–which label is usually used for talking about women, Ethnic/racial minorities, people with disabilities, the LGBT cluster and increasingly religion. Age, which I included in the OBG category, is asked about for demographic purposes, but seems to…

~~~

Well I petered off at that point two days ago, but did manage to get the formal statement, and hence, the application completed. In the end I began by “outing” myself as an OBG, though I did not use that term. And the diversity I focused on for the bulk of the paper was linguistic diversity. Addressing the issues of ESL/EFL student support for one, and that of linguistic impoverishment (again, though I didn’t use that word) within academia and ways to address it. I also managed to sneak in some pop culture–outdated as it might be to most–with a reference to that old Adam West Batman movies. Holy Tower of Babble Batman! you might say à la Robin.  I thought it apropos, and hope the readers get a kick out of it. (#33)

The thought occurred, while answering an email about my current book project, that in  that I should write about the various strategies I have adopted in the years since I conceived of this book, in order to tackle a large project  more manageable. That my title is alliterative is just a happy co-incidence.

Stepping stones: Every project has its stepping stones and they come in many forms. I am reminded as I am typing this that a formal proposal is a natural stepping stone, but the one that I was thinking of particularly when I started to write this is what I call a stepping-stone publication. Undertaking such a project eases one into the larger task so by the time one actually officially “begins” the latter, there are already bits and pieces ready and available to be patched-in, expanded or otherwise modified. Two papers that I published, in 2014 and last year, are two stepping stones of slightly different types. The first was a “preview” of sorts–call it testing ground–where I first floated the central idea that eventually became the basis for the book. The inception of this this paper goes back a few years earlier actually–but at time the “book” was yet a dim possibility. It still serves as the outline for my larger project–10 pages to the roughly 200 that my book is supposed to be. The second paper, is a far more specific, and details a specific argument based on a specific archival find. It was an actual stepping stone, the first official paper that I wrote before picking up the courage to tackle the larger, more intimidating book itself. Funny thing is that I didn’t actually get to the content of the paper until recently, almost two thirds of the way into the book. But having it there helped. A third project currently underway, is a segue from the book–a way to suss out some ideas and get into material that is less familiar to me.

Spin-offs: Such articles are exactly what the label implies. Home in on a particular aspect–one idea or something–that has already been written into the book and spin a slightly different angle or go into greater depth about it. I recently submitted my first spin-off effort (which I actually began as a stepping stone) but didn’t really get into until recently by which time the chapter had been written. But as I wrote the paper I found myself revisiting the chapter and changing details (of course I do that at almost every reread in any case, but this time the changes were more substantive as opposed to merely cosmetic. I have more spin-offs from my dissertation (but no stepping-stones, although paradoxically, the first paper has that phrase in the title). And while it may seem repetitive, I think spin-offs are hugely useful exercises because they keep you in the game.

So that’s my two bits worth on my writing life (#38)

Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 8.32.10 PMDescribe the tone of a loved one who is deceased. Or about the inability to hear it.

I’d completely forgotten that I’d noted this prompt down from my book Writing from the Senses, and came about it sort of accidentally today. I really cannot remember whose voice I wanted to write about at the time the prompt caught my eye, but encountering it today made me think of my two grandmothers and their voices and speech mannerisms and thought perhaps I should try and record those memories.

First, my paternal grandmother Kamakshi Patti, who died a long time ago in 1982. The first thing that comes to mind with her is a visual, but I do have some vivid memories of her habits or speech and her sayings, and since this post is about the memory of sounds, tones and voices, I’ll stick with that. The thing I remember most of all is her whisper. The adjective “sibilant’ might have been coined with hers in mind, so onomatopoeically perfectly does it suit. Her whisper was not the type one associated with secrets, far from it. It was a carrying sound in which every syllable could be heard with crystal clarity. Probably because, oddly enough it was guttural too, in tone. I remember how my cousin Kappu once fondly said that while she often strained her ears in vain to hear gossipy conversations between her Mom and Patti (after the lights went out at night and everyone including the women were in bed) when they spoke in normal voices, she could relax and hear everything once my grandmom resorted to whispering. And since Patti saved that voice for the juiciest bits, my cousin never missed an important detail — can’t say I remember any details myself, but yes, I too share fond memories of listening to those whispers.

Two more specific sound related memories: My grandmother never spoke English but she would always talk about a song that she learned during her brief years of school, and sing (sort of) the opening line to us. “Welcome welcome, hearty welcome” it went in a Tamil accent, whose tune I couldn’t for the life of me reproduce. But I always remember (and hope I always will) the pride and joy with which she told us about the song. Then there was the way she said the words “beans”–always mispronouncing it as “beems.” For some reason this infuriated, or at least irritated, my obnoxiously snobbish brought-up-on-English self at 7 or so and equally all-of-those-things younger brother. We would try and try to make her say it right and she would patiently repeat it after us but get it wrong every time. Poor thing–she never got upset with us kids despite our atrocious rudeness.

One last memory of her that I’d like to record in this post is not exactly about her voice, but related, which is her remarkable facility for communication with all and sundry, despite not sharing a common language. As far as know Kamakshi Patti never spoke anything but Tamil, but she was the quintessential intrepid soul who could with gestures and a lot of hand waving, she could make herself understood when needed. I particularly remember the way she got a visiting American boy called Raji Thron (who may or may not be the same person who has a yoga website) to perform all sorts of chores like grinding dosa batter on the old fashioned stone or  fetching water to clean said stone, which she certainly could not get myself or my brother too. She was widowed relatively young and still made her way to on her own by trains and buses (and changing them) all the way to the Hindi-dominated North India where we lived, on her own several times. Like I said, intrepid soul.

Intrepid is not the first characteristic, I associate with my other–ie .maternal–grandmother, Chuppu Patti, who might have been the kindest person I can think of in many ways. I would have said gentle, but while her soul was gentle–perhaps the gentlest of anyone I’ve ever encountered–her voice was not. It was strong, slightly hoarse (as was my K Patti’s too). She had a great facility for various Indian languages and could speak some half a dozen of them to my knowledge. I particularly remember visiting her in Sringeri in the state of Karnatka, just a few months after they’d moved there, and being amazed at how easily she seemed to speaking to all the local shopkeepers in their language. Not so my grand-dad who’d moved there the same time, although he being of a more scholarly bent of mind (more on that below), when he got around to it also learned to read and write the language.

I have many more memories of this grandmother since she was with us until 2013, but I don’t have the kind of specific anecdotes about her voice  as I do about my K Patti. This last is just a tiny bit ironic because this grandmother actually shared her name–Subalakshmi–with one of the most famous Carnatic music singers ever, down to the initials M.S. that preface the given name. What I remember most about C Patti is her gentle but consistent nagging of my grandfather to do whatever he was supposed to rather than read whichever book he happened to get his hands on on any given day. Actually come to think of it I just remembered something after all–an exasperated remark, in Tamil naturally, to the effect of “As if he’s going to do a PhD with all that reading!”

On that note this sleepy person who did go on to get a PhD by reading (and writing other things besides blogs), during said Patti’s lifetime–though regrettably not until after Thatha, the non-PhD avid reader passed away–will end this post, which may have actually caught me up on my blog-once-a-week resolution made on June 10 (#40).

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