This is my 20th story on Medium. A few weeks back, I decided to pursue writing much more religiously than ever before. I’m both glad and grateful for having continued writing. It’s one of those few moments in my life where I feel a sense of accomplishment.
In one of the interviews, the writer Jhumpa Lahiri said that she finds writing intimidating, and that she hopes that it always makes her feel that way. I can understand why she felt that way. For someone deeply involved with writing, writing isn’t just an act of pouring your heart out on the page. It’s the act of pouring your heart out on the page combined with getting the different elements such as plot, character development and prose quality among others right, with the hopes of moving the reader or changing how they think. Doing all that is difficult. And for writers, raising the bar is always a given.
Why do I write? It’s for the simple reason that writing is sustenance for my soul. I know on some level it sounds cloying, but for people whose survival is directly linked to putting the words on the page and giving it their best every time, it is the truth, a truth that gives their life meaning and a sense of purpose.
For as long as I can remember, writing has seemed to come naturally to me. I used to write essays in high school, essays that were written in simple language without any of the literary tools that most prolific writers use. At the time, I was fascinated with the Shakespeare play ‘Julius Caesar’. My fascination with the play arose because of a couple of reasons:
- We read the unabridged version of the book, so it was quite interesting to come across words that looked like modern English but weren’t actually so. The rawness of those words has stayed with me overtime.
- The principal of the school(or as we called him ‘father’ since it was a Catholic school) taught us the play. He used myriad hand gestures while teaching the play, and was quite adamant about the students paying attention.
In many ways, Julius Caesar shaped my writing over the years. I found myself going back to what I’d read in those pages. Words had the power to convince, to deceive, to do anything imaginable under the sun. It was one of those pivotal visceral experiences that one has in their formative years that defines much of what comes later on.
Growing up, I used to think I was good at math and thus naturally I’d be inclined to pursue a career in engineering. I went to one of the prestigious engineering schools in India, thinking it’d be a precursor to the ideal life that society always insists on leading – one replete with comfort and luxury. I quickly lost interest in engineering by the second year of college and found myself scrambling to score passing marks in the courses.
I continued to read more books during my college years, and one of the books that influenced me quite a bit at the time was Ayn Rand’s ‘The Fountainhead’. Like many other people, I was in its thrall for quite sometime, and then began to hate it after realising how far removed from reality the book was, and what a hypocrite Ayn Rand herself was. What that experience taught me was that writing could be quite influential and could change how you think profoundly. Once you’ve undergone that change, it’s quite difficult to get rid of it, even after realising how manipulative the writing was. College ended, and I moved into the next phase of my life: a period of disillusionment that continues to this day.
I quickly realised I couldn’t hold down a job, not as much because jobs were mostly dreary as because they involved trying to project a version of oneself far removed from how one actually is. Some people are naturally good at that projection, most sensitive people like me aren’t. While my nights were filled with devouring books, my performance at work continually took a beating. Work for me was strictly for money, and I had no grand dreams related to it. Books allowed me an escape – something for which I feel grateful to this day. 3 years into the job, I called it quits at work. At the time, my performance was the worst it could get, and I had managed to get into a university in America for masters. During those 3 years, the things that I most remember are:
- Reading a lot of books
- Periods of less to no sleep
- Feeling utterly frustrated and lonely
- Music, a lot of music
I wrote little during those years. Most of the writing didn’t come out as I intended it to be. But like a shadow, exemplary writing followed me in the books that I read, allowing me to imbibe the points of view that I hadn’t even thought possible. More than anything, it helped me feel accepted by telling me that thinking differently is what makes us unique, and that uniqueness is an essential part of the human condition.
I left India for America in August 2016 which some luggage and a few books. When I arrived in America for my masters at USC, I wrote regularly for a while about my initial experiences here and how different some things here were. But grad school isn’t an easy affair. So writing took a backseat for a while, and I’d to focus my energies on my courses. I spent most of my grad school doing coursework, working part-time on campus, volunteering at the arts initiative at USC, and building relationships with a few people that were on the same wavelength as me. As I channeled all my energies into activities that kept me busy, writing was always on my mind. Time and time again, it gave me the refuge I so desperately needed. Some days just left me feeling exhausted and depressed, and after a period of crying, I would sit down to write. Words just wouldn’t come, and I’d beat myself up about it and go to sleep sniffling, thinking about my family, what the future held for me and whether or not I’d be able to be truly happy someday.
I finished my masters and moved up north to San Francisco for a job. I continued to read everything that I could, and reading and writing continued to shape me. In the past 3 years I’ve been in San Francisco, I’ve learned quite a bit related to my work and a lot of what constitutes the American experience. I’ve continued to turn inward, and I’ve found both the beauty and the beast that is writing inside me, always waiting like a close friend.
Sometime back, I decided to embrace that friend that is writing. To that end, I started reading on Medium more frequently. Reading and writing have been my constant companions, and I don’t know where I’d have been without them. What I do know is this: If something is beckoning you and you think that this beckoning is the loudest when you’re sitting in silence, contemplating things, you should listen to that beckoning and follow it to where it leads. The destination is bound to be magical, and the journey an experience like none other.