on living an examined life

"A failed romance. A restless sense of belonging... These are raw ingredients that get mulled, weighed, processed - and ultimately transformed into art." - Walt Whitman

 

Well, this should have been an easy year for me. I've had quite a few failed romances. I wouldn't necessarily call them romances.. romances have some sort of continuum, and any inklings of romance that I would've had was carefully nipped in the buds, quite a few times. 

However, there were more instances of the restless sense of belonging. I played a careful balancing act with that this year. On the 2nd day into the year, I reluctantly adopted a kitten (who is now a fully-fledged crazy cat), and needless to say, it was one step towards a sort of a commitment to where I live. It was an unexpected, albeit happy accident. This time, I actually looked forward to coming home!

I don't think I'd ever been happier being alone as I had been this year. I just stopped asking the meaning of life. I wanted to live an examined life. But on my own terms, which was just being in the present. I had no answers any more. I just wanted to live. So I took on a long-awaited adventure with a trip to Iceland. I never thought there'd be a day for me, where I would be looking forward to travelling to a really cold country, alone. But I decided to embrace the fact that my desires may never be equal to someone else's. Also, this was the one country I wanted to go alone. This country makes you feel so free, and so glad to be alive. You forget you have longings for better things in life. You forget that there's a world out there that gives you validation on social media. You remember that you are a really small person in a beautiful world that is running on clockwork. You remember that you are a part of history. You also forget a lot of things. But most importantly, you forget that you are alone. Because you are not alone. You are finally, among things, that matter.

"You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life." - Albert Camus

"You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life." - Albert Camus

I live in a country that's very good to me professionally. But sometimes I also feel this place robs me of things that I always took for granted. I long for beautiful white clouds in the summer, something that is non-existent here. I long for greenery and foliage that I always looked past before. I long for mild breezes which you don't have to wait a winter for. But most importantly, I longed to feel validated without having to seek validations. If I want to be a brand here, I need to advertise myself. I need people to know me. I need to work constantly. I need to have amazing ideas. I need to be in tune to their needs. I need to say things to people that will make them love me. I need them to notice me beyond my frizzy hair and my fashion faux pas. I need to make sure my sense of self-confidence is not mistaken for arrogance. I need them to accept me, without knowing any hidden skills or talents I might have. I need them to love me. I need them to stop judging me. I need them to understand that I will never own anything branded, not because I can't afford it, but because I can't relate with them and I don't feel I need them to live a meaningful life. I need them to understand that I don't like giving into vices - and this includes alcohol or smoking or hanging out with people I have no interest in, no matter how trendy it is. I need them to understand that I will always favour a restless life over a life of financial commitments. I need them to realize that I'm past the stage where I feel the need to sell myself for some corporate gimmick. I need them to love me at the same time. I need to be an extrovert, without giving away any sense of insecurity. I need to be out there, with the in-crowd. So many needs. I have so many needs. All irrelevant. 

I forgot all these needs when I was alone in Iceland. 

It was one of the best trips of my life.

A few months later, this beautiful happiness came to a surprise end. I had a healthy dose of a reality check. I was told that I was living a life that favoured no one, except me, so how could it possibly be any good for me in the long run? It was all lovely on paper. But apparently, it was not meant to be a sustainable one in the long run. I was, in effect, living a life that seemed so selfish. Words hurt.

I was upset, but more importantly, I was angry. It was always the same again. Nothing I did was ever good enough. I wasn't enough. I had to get back into it. I had to get back to real life, where the currency is money and not mild breezes and saturated fauna. Your dreams need to be pushed asunder, so other people can see their dreams in yours. This is how they validated your life. 

I worked hard for the next 3 months. I hardly saw members of my family, who lived a few doors away from me. I hardly saw the gym. I hardly saw my life as having any value. My moral compass was in a turmoil. I met people. I lost contact with people. I stopped caring. I felt detached. I felt like I was in one of those time-lapse videos where the sun rises and sets, all in a 30 second video with an apocalyptic musical score.

But hey, the money came. 

One day, I looked at the mirror. My clothes didn't fit, again. An infant turned 2. Someone got engaged. Someone got pregnant. Some entered long-term relationships. Someone was travelling to an exotic place, with a guy they had just met on Tinder, but which blossomed into something more real. Where was I in all this? 

Most nights, at home. In front of a computer. I was trying to make my dreams. So I could feel validated and accepted. In Photoshop. It was a catch-22.

You're alone again, but this time, you're not in a field of bluebells and happily embracing being alone. You're amongst people, in a party, where your phone is dead, the crisps pack is empty, the drinks are not helping, you wish you were somewhere else.

You wish you were someone else with a better story, than the one you're living.

"There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person."  ― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol 1: 1931-1934

"There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person." 
Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs NinVol 1: 1931-1934

It is so easy to get overwhelmed with everything around us. We are constantly being bombarded by so much information. Everyone is trying to be loved. Everyone is trying to feel important. Everyone is trying to pay the bills. Everyone is trying to be needed. Everyone is trying to matter. It makes it a bit hard to stay afloat. It also makes it a bit hard to notice other people around you.

Love them.

Even if a little.

Because everyone has a story. They may not want to talk about it all the time. They may not know how to express it. They may feel like they don't matter.

But if there's one thing I've learnt this year, while being alone, loving myself, and feeling loved, and at the same trying to make a name for myself while trying to have my head above the water, trying not to drown in apathy and euphoria at the same time, is that everyone matters. 

The earth has a story, and we being a part of it, are the storytellers, all trying to get our stories out.

"In every grain of sand, there is the story of the earth." - Rachel Carson

"In every grain of sand, there is the story of the earth." - Rachel Carson

on saying goodbyes

It's 2 am, and I'm multi-tasking on 2 of my least favourite activities right now: editing photos, and filling out a cremation/euthanasia claim form.

obviously, i prefer the former activity more - i do it more often, but it doesn't always keep you up at night because it doesn't hurt.

my cat was 12. i thought it would be easier because he was older. you sort of expect this as time passes by, as you watch that little furball grow into a heavier, older, active cat. you pump up his insurance premiums just to be on the safe side, because you never know. you buy more expensive and healthier food for him to prepare him for what follows. change is inevitable, you tell yourself. change is a better word than death, or passing. change is expected.

you know what i find really sad these days? this avoidance with change. people say they're ready for change, but the fact is, they're not. if it ain't broke, why fix it? its the same with sadness, or avoiding sadness. we are so hell-bent on presenting this picture perfect life on social media, to show this side of us that are having the time of our lives, that it's supposed to be wrong or a crime, if you show anything else but. there really is nothing wrong with learning to grow from sad experiences. in fact, i think because i dwell on them so much, i appreciate my happy moments a lot more. suffice to say, my progress is slower, but im much happier because of it. well, yes, it is unfortunate if there is loss and grievances that follow, but, eventually, it was time after all and then there will be a time to move on as well. losing someone IS supposed to hurt, if you are attached to someone, or something. but i also know the importance of letting go. there is quite nothing like time to help you accept the realities of life, and it is as much as a part of the natural process of growth and change in humanity. so change IS expected, and should be embraced, and by all means, you should be prepared to accept change.

so you think you're prepared. you also tell yourself, its just an animal after all. you also tell yourself, after all, you've been living away from him for the last 3.5 years, and its not like he has noticed anything, because your brother has done an excellent job of taking care of this birthday gift of yours.  its just a cat, you tell yourself. and he's happy. and he's not just your cat anymore, he's everyone's cat. they all love him, bless them.

and then one day, or maybe for a week, he's sick. or maybe he's been sick longer, and you don't notice. when once upon a time, he used to be irritated if you touched him, now he cuddles up to you wherever you go. he swishes by your feet, you almost trip on him. you tell yourself that maybe he is just getting softer in his old age. you ooh-and-aah over him and welcome this new behaviour. 

and then one day he just stops eating and drinking. he's emaciated. where once he had a pudgy belly that made the doctor call him obese, now he's wasted away and his rib cages are showing. he's so sick that you take him to a doctor, and they can't find anything wrong with him, but they tell you that he's been sick. they tell you that he's exhibiting all the signs of the dying behaviour of a cat - refusal to eat and drink, no control of his waste, opposites in changes in behaviour which would explain his lovingness now, and also the dying behaviour of a cat - disappearing into a nice, shady, cool place away from the owner so he can die in peace and not be irritated. i suppose that explains why you couldn't find him on that beautiful sunny friday morning for a couple of hours. so you rush him to the vet, where they gave you your options - let him die without pain, or let him suffer in pain.

and of course, you being in a whole different country, transatlantic flights and time zones away, ready to go out for your friday evening, are a little taken aback by this quick turn of events. because, lets face it... you were expecting it. he was 12, after all. a cat, after all. change is inevitable, is it not?

except you weren't expecting the consequences. you were expecting him to die, but you realize dying is more than just a word. dying is an action. dying is a floodgate of memories trickled with tears and memories. you weren't expecting to see flashes of his tiny kitten face, when he was a baby, his entire body that fit on the palm of your hand... now being carried, by his beloved owner, on both hands, face half choking on his tears and holding them back, and precious pet put on the back porch, so you could see your baby's euthanized body one last time, a million miles away on skype.

his face is covered by a napkin, because apparently their eyes stay open after they die. you choke back the tears, and you ask to remove it because you can't see his face, you just want to see his face, why can't you see his face.

they take away that napkin, and there, on that little tiny screen on your smartphone, you see the face of the thing you had playfully called your child to everyone who would listen. yes, he's a cat, after all, but he was your cat. he was your baby. he was the baby that kept you company when you'd watch a movie by yourself in the basement on a friday night, because you didn't have anyone else to go to the movies with. he never came to you when you were doing something by yourself like blowdrying your hair, and the music was blasting on the speakers, but somehow, he used to come to you when he could smell your tears on your pillow. or maybe he was just sensitive to a broken heart, because he was around for a lot of that. he wouldn't really do anything, he would just sit next to you, his feet tucked inside his chest, and he would eventually fall asleep right next to you, because he still preferred his space. because that is a cat after all, that is what they do, they give you that kind of unconditional love that sees no barriers or judgements. and it's these little things that they do, expecting nothing in return, that eventually help them transition from just a mere cat, to labelling them as your children. 

and after you have taken a screenshot of your dead cat, being covered ever so gently by your brothers and mother so he could be buried ever so gently in his little grave in your backyard where he loved to hang out so much, you frantically look through all your photos of the ones you had, and you relive moments that you don't usually relive, (because, its a cat after all, and you have a life). but now, suddenly, you find yourself scouring for the videos that you took when you visited home, and you hope you haven't deleted them, because right now, all you want to do is to just stroke his face like you did in that video, just like how you want to stroke his face and tell him everything is fine and he will be fine, as he lies there lifeless, his half-emaciated lifeless form, his eyes open, a drastic change from his adorable tiny kitten face floating in front of your eyes.

in the video, your eyes glaze over his unusual features like his extra thumbs, and his eyes, now heavier with age, and how much he purrs and moves around to your touch. you wish you could do all that, one last time, as they prepare to put him down his little grave.

its not the passing away that affects you so much, as it is knowing he suffered. that's the ultimate cause of grievance.

you then decide that you need to get over all this, because, well, he's just a cat after all. because if you don't, people will think you've got a few screws loose.

except he's not just a cat.

he was an extension of who you were. when you stopped trusting people, you decided that you could talk to him. when one day you question your own being because it seems no one can see the goodness in you because you aren't good enough to them, you realize that you're wrong, you are good enough, even if it's just to a cat. in their own little way, they help you heal and that companionship is cathartic. you learn about responsibility because having a cat to a permanently single person is the closest thing to having a child, you learn about patience because you have to wake up every morning to open the backyard porch for him, but most importantly, you learn about compassion, because that is what having an animal is all about. unlike your groceries or day-to-business, you do NOT have to be responsible for a pet. but you choose to take care of one, you choose to be responsible to one. for someone who hopes to have a child, this is as close as it gets, and you relish the opportunity as to how it may give you that minute, but euphoric feeling of satisfaction that can be similar to one.

i still remember his extra thumbs. everyone would gasp when they would see his 6 fingers on each paw. he would win them over with them. he did his own thing, but when he was sick, he would go over to my brother, who was more of a parent to him than i ever could, and my brother would keep him very close on his bed at night. my poor baby was getting older, but he was taken care of so well by his real parent, that i cannot fathom what he must be going through at this moment. 

but i tell them, he's lived a good, long, mostly healthy life. he was so happy being outdoors. he lived well. he was loved so much. he was shedding a lot, especially in the summer, but i think we all adjusted despite all the complaints. he was a blessing in disguise, for so long. he bought out your immature, childlike side. he was your companion in all of your single life. he would stay up with you during exams. he did a great job with guests. he sat next to you while you had your dinner, reassuring you that you are indeed a better chef than you gave yourself credit for. 

he's much more than a cat. he was my shrink, my movie partner, my bedmate, my dinner date in front of the tv on a friday night, my alarm clock, my little thumb wrestler, my sunshine when i came home after a long day. he taught me how to love unconditionally, he taught me what it was like to have compassion, and he was a piece of my heart, full of love. he also made me realize that the kind of person i should be looking for, or be friends with, or the ones i get along well with, are those that have compassion for animals.

the pic on the left was taken when he was a few months old, while the pic on the right was taken when he was 10. 

i'll meet you on the other side, my little bubba. 


on writing a thank you note to all those lovers

This post has been a long time coming, so please excuse... just about everything in it.

Before I start though, a quote (i love quotes.. they fix everything! also music):

People will love youPeople will hate you. And none of it will have anything to do with you.' - Abraham Hicks 

He should've followed that up with "Go dancing or celebrate or something", but I suppose genius sometimes has its limitations.

I recently won a kind of art competition lately. To put a long story short, there's lots of funky prizes involved, but the most rewarding was the fact that the winner would be taken on by a gallery and represented for a year. 

= Dream come true for an artist.

More about it all can be found here.

To those not involved in it, it won't mean much, but I suppose to someone like me, it's kind of a big deal.  I must say, after all that, I am truly overwhelmed most with the above, and the amount of support received by friends and family. I think I have a long way to go in this department/industry, but I need to start somewhere, and that somewhere includes a long list of gratitude. I suppose this is what it's all about.

I remember when I first started taking photos, it was just because I discovered 1) travelling and 2) a DSLR. Later on, it became an all-consuming passion, and instead of going out with my friends, I would coax them to take part in my photo projects. Little lambs that they were, they complied, and somewhere along the line, I think they started believing in me as well. My parents couldn't understand why I was chasing photos instead of hunting for a husband, but they had no choice. My brothers, extended family, friends also gave in and may have rolled my eyes, but eventually they all came around. 

Somewhere along the line, being surrounded by this new field of all-consuming passion for photography and art and culture and wide-open-eyed curiousity, I found something that gave my life a little more meaning. It wasn't just about taking photos anymore, it was about making a photo and giving it a name and using it to express something personal and nourishing it like a child and letting it out there for the world to view, assess, explore, judge, wonder, dislike... like letting a child grow up and letting him/her loose. 

Why am I talking about this? 

A lot of people left lovely comments, words of support, likes, and when I met others, huge hugs and words of support. People are genuinely happy for me. I try to brush it off, but .. well, I'm happy that people are happy for me!!! It's time I get on the social media bandwagon, and instagram, facebook page, twitter the crap out of it! Dead end here, because with the exception of instagram, I really suck awful at all of the above. The only thing I'm good at is writing long blog posts (i love writing), but even those can be an eyesore sometimes.

So I suppose this is all nice and dandy, what's in it for you?

That's just it. What's in it for you?

You give me your love and support, as fleeting as it may or may not be,  and I... what can I offer you? 

I can offer you some lessons in what I've learnt from my journeys. I can tell you that if you want something really badly in life, you must work really hard to get it. I am NOT a celebrity (as dubai people seem to think), I am NOT some amazing artist (ALWAYS a work in progress... I *just*started after all), I am not some saint, but I do come from a family where I've seen my dad work really long hours, where I see my mum sacrifice her youth for her children, where I see my brothers and extended family work really hard for what they believe in... so I have some idea that to get what you want. Critics? There will always be critics. One artist from the competition wrote to all the other artists, including me, and said that another artist deserved to win... because he's an established artist (???!?!?!?) Two things went through my mind when I saw this. 1) Ouch. Sour grapes, much? and 2) Who *really* cares? Let it go. You can always forgive immaturity (vs. stupidity.. those cannot be undone. Know your rights as a forgiver).

Another thing I've learnt is: if you really really like something.... *really* like it.. just drop everything and go for it. Stop worrying what people will think, thats the least of your concerns. Make sure you have some money or support to get you by, and just do it. There is no shame in loving something with your heart, and going for it. I have no shame in telling people I take photos for a living. Sometimes people think that all I do is click photos all day, and that I must work for 3 hours a day, and how I must be so rich and do I even have a real job? I mean, a real job in Dubai is being an accountant or some GM or anything where you're in the office for 10 hours a day. I get asked if I even worked today? Well. To those I say, I'm sorry for the fact that they do not know empathy, because as an artist, that is the one thing I have learnt to do really well - to look at their lives or their jobs with their perspective, and give it value. I can only hope that one day they will learn to do the same with mine. Or a more real-life example, its not all about selfies! It's about the other person as well... its about Group shots!

Another thing that goes hand-in-hand about getting what you want in life: STOP depending on other people to do things for you. I call these hand-outs. No one owes you anything. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Stop thinking you're the centre of the world and you deserve this and you deserve that. Get off your high horse. The world owes you nothing. I know these are all cliches, but it's true. The only way to get something is to go out and get it yourself. This means you will become poor. You will have to grovel to people you don't fancy. You will have to sell yourself short at times. But the good thing is, it will get better. It won't go away, (sorry to disappoint!) but it will get better. Learn to accept that this is how it works in the real world. Along with all this, comes the ability to accept. I've learnt to accept that now I will never be as rich as I want to be to buy a laptop that doesn't break down with some glitch or the other every month (the frig, Apple!), I will never be as pretty or as tall as I envision myself, I will never get that dreamboat of a man who is also an amazing chef and the heart of an angel and a thrillseeker to boot, I will never travel to every country in the world as I thought I would..... but it's ok. Learn to say OK. With thanks.

I've learnt another thing as well. If you must be happy, be happy like a child. Stop being such a grown-up about everything. After you've paid your bills and cleaned your kids' diapers (i know money and babies can be stressful), remember how to be like a child again. Laugh at dumb jokes. Watch movies that warm your heart. Sing in the car and who gives a crap that they can see you bobble your head?! Hug someone the way you want to when you see them, not the oatmeal limpy handshake to show your coolness. Wear that dress that you've been dying to wear but thought people would laugh at you if you wore. Call up that person that you've been obsessing about all week. Love even when you know it may not go somewhere (but don't be an idiot though, know your limits, dont stalk for God's sake!) Travel to that place you've been meaning to visit. You really want to be creative and live a fulfilled life? Stop putting limitations on your life. You have nothing to lose. Shame is over-rated. Insanity is under-rated. Be a child. 

I'll end this note with my last piece:

If you must be anything in life, be honest (with yourself). Be kind. Be humble (not weak). I am none of those, but I am working towards them all the time. Sometimes... no, MOST of the time, I'm a hypocrite, but trust me I am trying. When I try, that is when I learn those lessons. Initially, I feel like the lessons will destroy me. They hurt. Truth hurts, reality hurts. BUT... there is no greater gift than time. Time heals everything. Heartaches and heartbreaks. Pimples. Confidence. Awaiting for that movie release (except hunger, time don't heal hunger and starvation!). Patience is such a beautiful thing. I am super impatient and spontaneous, so I am just learning to be patient with my life. 

That's all for now. Very haphazardly written, but this is all I can offer you for your love and support - My words and my support for your life :)