A long sabbatical from expressing myself. It has been a while since my fingers glided over this keyboard, not to answer another email or write another report or announce my state of mind on Facebook. Writing was stolen from me and given to a person posing as a scholar working on a thesis. Long hours of poised fingers waiting for inspiration, the sudden spark that would create a work worthy of a graduate degree. The sparks came and went, the blog suffered, sometimes silence is the best way to express. Now that all that is past, its time for a resurrection.
I am not sure if it is appropriate to use people's ill fortune as writing inspiration, but then again most influential works of literature have stemmed from empathy.
My boyfriend works for an architectural firm as an intern. Today his firm had the fourth round of laying people off. The economy has crashed, but I think there is a greater crash of morale taking place here. One by one, as he says goodbye to friends he has made over the last few months, I can feel his growing frustration of being in a space surrounded by empty desks where once colleagues became friends. I can feel his helplessness as he stays on, a guest for a few months, sure of his own job only because of its temporariness as he goes to work each day with a nagging dread of finding more empty desks and fewer familiar faces.
At such a time, I would be afraid to make friends, to get close to people lest I would have to face them as they packed years of work and dedication into a carton and left. But that's me, I live life defensively, but for many others there is hope that clings persistently and in such cases it is a huge blow to the morale every time hope lets them down.
Yet it would all be over if hope gets laid off....
So I fell in the shower today. I am not sure what prompts me to take up my pen again after all these days to recount a tale of embarrassment and pain, but well there it is....I fell in the shower today. It was not funny at the moment...not funny at all, but now that I look back I think it would make a great inspiration for Hollywood comedy producers, the likes of those who made Home Alone parts I, II, III, IIII .....You catch my drift.
What is worth recounting in this tale is not the specifics of what caused me to fall and how I hurt myself. I am fine by the way except for some very flattering, yes flattering, bruises. What is funny though is the actual act of the falling itself. It was no fraction of a second incident where one moment you are upright and exercising your vocal cords in an attempt to produce melody (something you would never dream of doing in public) and the next moment you are addressing a different plane of the planet and getting closely acquainted with the soap scum in the tub and the flooring pattern all at once as your body assumes semi human contours in its failed attempts to remain in control of the situation as gravity took over.
And that's where my story gets interesting. Rather than succumbing to the inevitable, my cerebellum put up quite a fight in that tub. Gravity vs. my two million year old instinct to stand erect. And what a valiant fight! Arms, legs, soap, shampoo and of course the shower curtain to add to the dramatic quality of erratic movement....it was all there. And relativity notwithstanding, this lasted good 15-20 seconds, not a fraction of a second that seemed to last much longer, but more of a 15-20 second struggle that seemed to last the entire morning. I grabbed on to anything that happened to be in the range of my flailing arms (later I found out I was fighting gravity armed with a shower cap in one hand and a loofah in the other...yeah I was taking on 9.8 m/s2 of acceleration with a fluffy soap applicator and a sheet of cellophane). I can't say for certain but what I believe happened was, for those fifteen or so odd seconds, my brain managed to keep the center of gravity of my body at a position that would allow for me to remain upright. It did so by randomly displacing my appendages in in different directions to equal and negate the pull of gravity, much like swinging your arms and walking, only in a far accelerated and unpredictable manner.
The outcome was inevitable, ever since soap had joined forces with gravity, I had no chance, especially for someone who trips and falls quite often on flat dry ground. Yet I think momentarily it was not my body alone that took a fall, my ego had crashed too, my first reaction was not to check for broken bones, but to listen for my roommate and see if she had heard. Being satisfied that my tumble had gone unnoticed, I proceeded to act as if nothing had happened (not that anyone was asking!) and with great caution finished the ill fated bath.
But now that a few hours have passed, I recall the incident and find the sufficient courage to laugh at myself by sharing the story of my very brave struggle to balance my own weight on my own two feet.
I recently found myself in Darwin's shoes. I was obviously borrowing many things from the man and applying it to a discipline I have long secretly abhorred. Before I go off on an abstraction trip (ssems to occur a lot these days since I have been walking among philosophers), let me elaborate.
The discipline I speak of is historic preservation, or conservation as it is known among the stiff upper lipped nation and its bastard off springs. I have worked in the field long and close enough to realise it is absolutely unjustified to preserve even a small brick if some other brick elsewhere is to be forgone. And the beauty of this argument is that it works in reverse too. It is sacrilege to tear down even a single brick if some other brick somewhere else is deemed ' heritage'. How did we come to get so entangled in this higly convoluted argument of 'What do we preserve', when the question should be 'Why preserve'. Instead of focussing on the criteria for preservation, we have been trying to sell hogwash in the name of 'nostaligia', 'cultural beacon' and 'architectural aesthetic.' Behind such eloquent masks, preservation is no more than a staggering, struggling reason for a few flawed and misplaced sentiments and a great deal of exoticism. Having tried very hard initially to find a reason beyond capitalism and economic gain to preserve anything, it has dawned on me that preservation is completely at a loss to explain why it exists. Why make a heritage hotel? Well because a plausible economic machinery working to keep the shell that once held a palace from crumbling down fulfills much more: the dream of spending the night living like a 'Maharaja'. The old British orientalism is well and alive, in the hearts of every common man who dreams of an exotic land of which they can never be a part of, but will always aspire to.
But I am not going to get into that, lest I end up writing a significant segment of my thesis on my blog (which Procrastination forbid may actually get me somewhere). What I will raise here though, is how questioning preservation is almost considered immoral. Try telling someone that maybe if the need arises we may have to tear down the Taj Mahal or for the benefits of my 'Western' friends, the Parthenon to make room for future occupation. In fact those are dramatically extreme examples. But I choose to use extreme examples when making a point since they have a certain shock value. Let me ask you this. Try convincing me to keep the Taj Mahal, if it had to be preserved at the cost of my ancestral house where I had spnt many a happy summers. The subjectivity of it all immediately becomes clear as day.
Well anyway, a week or so ago, I happened to address the matter in a class full of highly intellectual architectural thinkers who were being guided towards finding the 'bigger answer' to the biggest question....of Life, Universe and Everything" by a philosopher of no limited calibre. (Everyone knows the answer is 42!) I know...what was I thinking huh?! Well I guess I wasn't. It just burst forth from me, because what I had known somewhere deep inside, had suddenly manifested itself with a brilliance of a thousand stars! (Okay I have a flair for melodrama, but the revelation was pretty awesome nevertheless). I suddenly realised, we dont have to make a conscious effort to preserve. No one person, or 'a team of experts' is qualified to decide for greater humanity what should stay and what could go. The process if left to itself is self sustaining and suddenly I had Darwin to help me articulate it.
It is a process of 'natural selection'....survival of the fittest. Whatever justifies its existance in the broader scheme of things and proves itself indispensible shall and WILL stay. The rest may go, and by 'go' I do not necessarily mean be torn down, I mean it will be modify, will 'evolve' into something new, a higher species, adapted to its times and needs. And yes, at times, it will be completely replaced by something new. But then again is anything ever new, or for that matter is anything ever old. All that we know belongs to the present, to the now. If you see an 'old' building it is as much a part of the now, as is the shining new glass building next to it. We inherit the past and it belongs to the now and we have appropriated it, no later than we have acquired it and acknowledged its existance. The original cannot exist in our time since it belongs to a different time and place. To try and even grasp that original past, let alone retain it is trying to disrupt the time space continuum.
What ensued, no sooner than I had thrown this idea out (most thoughtlessly) was no less than a morality court trail. I felt as though I had stabbed the very heart of humanity by suggesting that we may dispense with all relics of the past without putting up a brave struggle to retain some morsel of it, even if we do it at the cost of morphing and maiming and distorting it entirely. Perhaps I am being a stoic...but in fact I am being pragmatic. Someone wise, who has lived all his life blindly worshiping the physical remains of the 'past', had once compared old buildings in danger of falling into oblivion, with a hypothetical case of my ailing parents. 'Would I', was his passionate plea, 'allow may parents to suffer and die an untimely death, just because they no longer well hale and hearty as always.' He had really hoped, that appealing to my very strong sentiments for my parents would do the trick. But his comparison was flawed in its very concept. See to me, a building that can no longer sustain itself, has lost all function, is already dead, having lived a full life. It is no more than an empty shell, a corpse and I would rather see it cremated than try to mummify it, hoping to breathe back life into it, long after its soul has departed for a better place. I think, that is where our problem lies. We have managed to disembody function and cultural significance and aesthetics from what really upholds them and we have ascribed it to there mere physical containers. We have objectified our past, distanced and removed it from our present, treating it as an uncomfortable 'other' always to be negotiated and never appropriated or incorporated. We have become so attuned to this way of thinking, that anything that challenges this understanding of our past, and threatens its objectified monumentality is considered sacrilage and is condemned to public pelting.
I was almost pelted and I know when Darwin said we evolved from apes, he was pelted too. Because we all know, the world was created in seven days, or sprung from Bramha's naval or whichever version you choose. And we know Man appeared a few thousand years ago out of nowhere as God's most illustrous being and his past is more sacred than a monkey's butt.
The tide of time has washed me away. I sail beyond, to the unknown. Will there be new shores beyond yon horizons? The wretched past stretches behind me; A panorama of memories that will soon ebb away, As time and tide washes me afar, towards the unknown.
Old ties tug at my heart. They stretch beyond vision, beyond memory, beyond time. I try to sever them but my flailing arms grasp nothing, only air. But from yonder comes a whiff, Of a fragrance once known, Of a familiar touch.
The mind sails away to the beyond. The heart washes ashore oncemore.
Is it hypocrisy that when I finally do hear all that I always wanted to hear....it all sounds like a bunch of lies? Can I be truly so cynical, or is it possible I have turned so hollow inside that all that is good is merely an act for a more sinister ulterior motive. Am I so inured to the lack of sincerity that it has ceased to exist.
How vocal is too vocal, how much silence is deafening?
There is something about the process of moving that bears proof to the human capacity to adapt.
Stage 1: Home Here is a familiar setting. You look around to make a visual imprint in your memory of what your home looks like as you see it in all its familiarity for the last time.
Stage 2: Rupture It takes exactly a couple of minutes for the all comfortable home to transform into the irreversible moving scene. Boxes, the ever so elusive tape and scissors that sneak off together at the first chance they get, clothes, PAPER, garbage and most importantly all those things you thought you could never live without but suddenly take on a dispensable appearance- the little box you though could be converted into a 'oh so cute' letter holder, the cool key chain in th shape of a football helmet that also doubled up as a bottle opener (I actually had one of these), the wrapper of the first candy you shared the special someone who is not so special anymore etc.etc.Chaos and disorganization are slowly sorted and packed in neat boxes and taped off. Oh the glorious sound of the tape being stretched taut over a well packed box brimmed with chunks of you life. And then of course the sinking feeling of 'did I pack that......' that warrants the undoing of the days labor in search of the small trinket that has been tucked into your purse all this while.
Stage 3: Dislocation It is amazing how heavy a burden we carry throughout our lives and how much heavier they get as days go by. In my case my burdens comprised mostly of books and some throw away furniture. Hauling these through the streets and places that would separate you from all that is familiar, you find yourself at a new threshold. Empty walls welcome you sometimes with the telltale marks of previous homes dismantled. Suddenly all the chaos and disorganisation has found a new address. It sits perched at every empty space that you or (if you are rich) your movers found to stack them. You and your life's burdens have a roof again.
Stage 4: Home again. I think it is the instinct for nesting. A restlessness creeps over as soon as the sweat has been cooled off by the noisy fan in the living room that you mean to talk to your landlord about. With renewed energy whose source remains a mystery to me, you find yourself creating order again from amidst the chaos. Imaginative visions that had appeared when you first saw the house are slowly realised with some successes and some disappointments as you find that the futon you so wanted in that corner does not fit in there at all, or that the 'great spot for the TV' is a room length away from the cable point. Familiar sights emerge from the many boxes and take on old places within new settings and you are home again as old stains and dust outlines fade on empty walls somewhere slowly becoming the unfamiliar again.
Frankly this post is a guilt trip for not having posted for eons. I have often sat at my computer hands poised, thoughts rushing without a satisfactory syllable being produced. The backspace remains my most rubbed off key on the keyboard with the spacebar a close second. What do I write about? Hmm...a pertinent question but somehow one that never rose before.
What can be significant enough to put into coherent and entertaining language and share with the world? Initially it is an overwhelming flood of ideas that storm into the mind . But one by one the elimination process cuts down on most, not good enough, not funny enough, not defined, not cogent, not credible, not this, not that....not...not ...not. Obviously my life does not make for good anecdotes for anyone but me. The one's that do make it from the editing shears begin with great promise...a few catchy phrases, some charming sentences swirl around alluding to the glorious possibilities of the poised hand waiting to embark on a torrent of eloquence. But alas! Nothing, maybe a few squirts of jumbled words and then the hiccups and then the pen runs dry. With persistence I attempt again and this time with lesser success. Something inside has bottled up and there is the realisation: I don't want to talk about it, whatever it is. I do not want to articulate it, nor pin it up for the whole world to see. I feel naked as raw emotions gnaw at the unperturbed surface, the scab is being peeled at, the wound almost exposed, but it would take much more than a few well phrased posts to tide this storm that brews inside. It may take a whole book yet, but for now the ink is clotted ... the scab survives yet again.