Old friends

I’ve known V for over five years. When I walked into the campus scared and nervous, she assured me everything would work out well. She guided me to the restroom so I could wash the sweat and tiredness from my face after a 45-minute commute in the dusty local trains of the city.

Everything was new—the scorching heat of the city, the slums on its edge, the barrenness that exemplified the smoke issuing from vehicles so old they shouldn’t even be on the street. It was my first time in the city, and I knew within minutes that I’d have a hard time living here, if at all. But I was also eager for the job interview to go well—it was an excellent opportunity, and I didn’t want to mess it up. And V’s simple gesture was a tremendous comfort.

I got the job, and since, the company’s employee count had grown over four times. V and I, however, are still here. It’s strange, but although V was so nice to me on that first day, we never became close friends. We were in different teams, under different supervisors. Our roles were different—she a developer and I a marketing writer. We shared no common whatsoever except an employer.

However, if we ever cross each other’s paths, we’d smile, and I’d oblige to some small talk.

That was the problem—the small talk. I’ve grown less interested in crossing paths with V not because I developed a disliking to her, but because not everyone’s satisfied with just a smile—the inherent human quality to frolic in frivolous conversations stretches awkwardness to new extents.

And now every time I see her dread rises from deep within me, and my mind entertains thousands of possible topics we could discuss, each punier than the previous.

And that’s why I prefer a longer route if I can avoid running into old friends like V. I don’t want to humour meaningless exchanges over other people’s careers when I could just sit and stare at space.

Ever felt that way about someone?

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Morning, sunshine

I awake to the sound of my favourite music—to the rising tunes of a strumming guitar. I snooze. It’s ok, I tell myself, for I’d worked late the previous night. I deserve more sleep. Before I know it, the alarm goes off again, this time more annoying than soothing. Sighing, I get up only to lean on the wall, palms resting on my chin. It doesn’t seem like a good morning.

As I force myself to brush my teeth and crack my knuckles, I feel a little more awake than before. Clinging on to that feeling, I begin my workout routine and feel better with each stretch. Now it’s starting to seem like a better morning. There’s still a long way to go, though.

Finishing my routine, I make a pot of coffee and slump into the chair—it’s browsing time. I scroll, without a second thought, through feeds and stories, watching but not caring about the lives of my connections and friends. It’s just a way to pass time while drinking coffee—nothing more, nothing less. Drowning the last of my coffee, I head for a shower. I let the cold water wash over me, feeling the heat evaporating as steam over hot cocoa. Soon, I’m ready for work. I plug in random trance music, as I leave, to help cope with the terrible walk to work.

With the slight buzz in my head, I reach office in a piece. I’m ready, sleep-deprived but not yet drooping, to face the day. Perhaps it is a good morning, I tell myself. I wave to my friend at the security desk, take the stairs two at a time, and arrive at my desk with work in mind. I prop up my laptop and open up the word editor—to write today’s blog.

Blank.

A morning. Blocked.

The why of writing

“So I heard you have a habit of writing every day?”

That’s the clear winner if there’s ever a contest for the silliest thing you can ask a writer.

And yet it still confounds many that a writer would, after all, write. Although I can see how the confusion arises, it’s surprising that we’re now part of a society where corporate copywriters aren’t writers in real life.

It all started with a colleague who raised their eyebrows as I admitted to writing every day. They couldn’t understand the reason. Why would I spend an hour or so every morning writing, before I started work which was also—writing?

As I stood there, stumped, I realised I didn’t have a ready-made answer. No, it wasn’t because “I love writing” or because “I’ve always imagined myself a writer” or because “I don’t know anything else.” Although those statements ring true in many ways, it’s also true that they’re resumé answers—something you’d say to impress a potential employer into giving you the job.

I have different reasons.

For one, it was my writing habit that landed me a career as a copywriter. And despite writing countless types of pieces at work, I still don’t write what I want, the way I want. And for a good reason, too, because a corporate copywriter shouldn’t possess a powerful personal tone that disrupts the business’s tone. Therefore everything I write depends on the company, its offering, and audience. When I come home after a day of such scrutinised writing, all I can think of is work. Not only do I don’t have time for myself, but my thoughts revolve around work as well. The mind goes around in circles in constant debate and debacle—”perhaps I should’ve used a better title for the blog, or added a banner image, or tweeted it out with a GIF.”

Dabble in this long enough, and you’ll wane. A writer who’s lost the ability to expand beyond work isn’t far from losing the ability to write altogether.

Consider those who write only emails all day. They become accomplished at conveying their purpose in an email, but when asked to write something different—a comment on social media, a guest blog, a webpage, or even a catchy advertisement—they’d crumble under pressure. The reason? They no longer have the creative spark to think outside email jargon.

A full-time copywriter isn’t any better. The longer they seep in familiar territory, the more comfortable they become. They get used to using certain phrases and styles and avoiding others that don’t sit well with the business they write for. And it’s often already too late when they realise they’d forgotten how it feels to come up with something unconventional. When a writer foregoes the spine-tingling sensation that results from framing an excellent metaphor, or the jubilance that emanates from dropping a witty pun, a writer ceases to exist. What remains is the shell of a person who can create ideal corporate content.

That’s why I write every day—to keep the chaos within alive. I don’t write flawless pieces in my blog. I don’t put forth impeccable grammatical sentences or distinguished vocabulary. What I do write, instead, is random thoughts, scribblings, and haiku—all the things that help me remember why I still write.

An endless search

I walked out of the doctor’s room, dazed. Nothing made sense anymore. Of all the people I knew, I was meticulous, and the most watchful about what I eat and drink.

Some would say I bordered on neurotic obsession. I’d be mindful not to overindulge in deep-fried butter or pigs in a blanket blanketed with pork fat. And yet, there I was, despite stringent diets and careful observations, holding a report that deemed my cholesterol levels nigh too high.

I lamented. 

At 22, I knew no one as careful with their diet as I. I had to, too—diabetes, heart complications, blood pressure, and a hint of a brain tumour induced comma, all clogged my mother’s bloodline. I inherited, along with a few crumbling, unintelligible letters and premature graying, a lengthy list of disorders that could make my adult life miserable.

Therefore I took enough precautions to keep diseases away for as long as I could. I succeeded too-by choosing more fiber-rich alternatives to white rice and flour. I thrived on vegetables, millets, red rice, and bananas. Lamb meat and chicken were occasional because we’d get fresh meat every time I visited my parents.

Life seemed good-except for my weakness for peanut brittle, I’d become comfortable without artificial sugar, empty carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats. 

And then came the verdict: high cholesterol.

My doctor denied medicines. He suggested I stick to a proper diet, instead, and that everything should be fine then. Eat lots of vegetables and fruits, he said. “Eat,” he cupped his palm to indicate portion control, “but don’t overeat, meat. And get regular exercise, too” he raised his eyebrows at me, who hasn’t skipped yoga even for a day in the last five years.

What he didn’t know, and wouldn’t listen either, is that I’d been doing everything he said since 19.

Still, something had to change, I knew. Sure, I was cautious, but caution wasn’t enough anymore. I looked through my habits yet again. I was taking eggs and a generous amount of milk every day, in addition to a decent amount of meat every week, and a tad bit too much of it every two weeks. It seemed to me that I wasn’t distributing my meals as efficient as I should, and because of that, I was getting too much of one thing and too little of the other. 

Oh, trust me, you can have a careful diet and still be way off course.

I tried quitting eggs. It wasn’t hard because I never liked them much anyway. They involved too much work cleaning up without a stink that it was a relief not to deal with that anymore.

I felt good.

I wanted to keep feeling good and forget the fiasco that was my cholesterol.

I tried quitting milk. It would’ve failed had I woken up one day and stopped drinking tea altogether. It would’ve driven me mad. Instead, I switched to low-fat milk. I scanned labels analysing differences between skimmed milk, 2%, and fortified milk. But I soon learnt the risks of skimmed milk, and not too long afterwards, the vague health verdicts on milk altogether. I realised it could do more harm than good. From full-cream milk, to skim, to skim milk powder, I hopped on and off, before getting tired of them all. 

Good food shouldn’t be so hard to get. By the time I realised the potential risks of consuming adulterated daily and meat, I no longer craved it.

I was beginning to feel great.

Black lemon tea and drip coffee never tasted better after that.

I crave other things now-stuff that has little to no room for contamination or heated debates in lifestyle magazines-vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Not only did they taste great, but these foods also made eating a less stressful practice. The idea of relying on a plant-based diet freed up my mind from worrying about the side effects they could cause in future.

Now that I’ve acquired a taste for plants, I don’t think I’d want to go back to a meaty diet, to feeling bloated every morning or being uncomfortable after lunch on Sundays.

The best part is that I’m discovering new plant-based foods every day. My options, unlike popular notions, are abundant even to the point of overwhelming. This search could never end.

Crawling around Austin

I love exploring a city on foot. I enjoy walking so much that I don’t even care if the place I’m visiting isn’t ideal for walking. Take Austin, for instance. Unlike where I’m from, Austin has dedicated sidewalks and decent pathways. In spite of that, though, you can’t help but feel that the city is more of a car owner’s paradise.

No matter where you want to go, whether a grocery store, a shopping mall, the Texas State Capitol, or even to see the Congress Bridge bat show—it takes you at least 45 minutes on public transport or almost an hour and a half on foot to reach from anywhere else in the city. Although that makes it sound like Austin is so widespread with massive ground space, it isn’t. It’s a tiny town—gorgeous, mind you—but with such twisted bus routes that take forever to cover a distance that’d take 10 minutes in a car.

Walking in Austin, Texas
Walking in Austin: 33 minutes on the bus to cover 0.8 miles.

Regardless of all that, what’s great about visiting for just two weeks, is that Austin’s hard-to-navigate systems didn’t dissuade me. Instead, I took it as a challenge to explore as much as I could, by walking or taking the bus whenever possible.

And so you can imagine my amusement when I saw an activity where tourists got drunk and biked throughout the city.

It’s called the Pub Crawler, and five minutes of searching on Trip Advisor will have you spend a good amount on this mad, but a rather fun tour. Even though I’d heard of it before, I didn’t trust myself to drink and ride around the city while on a solo trip. Not to mention that I’m quite stingy when it comes to engaging in typical touristy stuff.

I was returning from a splurge at the Whole Foods Market (fun fact: Whole Foods was founded in Austin), and as I turned into Bowie Street, what should I see but the Crawler in front of me! I’d seen it not long ago, full of enthusiastic tourists and locals alike, laughing at themselves and the ridiculousness of pedalling and drinking at the same time. They seemed to have such a great time that I couldn’t help but smile at them myself. Now, however, the crawler stood empty with the owners sitting on either side of the vehicle, their chin on one palm and a phone on the other.

Pub Crawler, an interesting tourist activity in Austin, Texas
Pub Crawler is an interesting tourist activity in Austin, Texas.

Compared to the high-level energy I’d seem emanating from the Crawler earlier, it now resembled a deserted and haunted building. Most of Austin’s streets don’t see a lot of pedestrian activity, and so as far as the eye could see, the road was void of anything but the Crawler and me.

It wasn’t scary—far from it. It was weird to realise that without tourists and their crazy fixations, everyday life is quiet, routine, and boring even. For a moment there, I saw what the city would look and feel like to a local. That’s when I understood that we take things so much for granted that we seldom appreciate the blue skies and the fruit-studded trees.

We all seem to rely on aliens to show us how fun our lives can be.