Little things

Although I hate it, I’m a workaholic. I have trouble letting go of work even after official working hours. It’s got a lot to do with not having fixed times or shift times. I’m used to seeing colleagues show up at work after noon and leave at midnight or arrive at 8 and leave at 4.

I’ve done it plenty of times myself. Sometimes I stay up late watching a movie, cleaning my room, or chatting with my roommates, oversleeping the next morning. Come to think of it, some of the stringent time rules in many workplaces are insignificant since they don’t consider the frivolousness of human nature.

Or that’s what I used to think.

I love having flexible work times—after all, isn’t that why everyone wants to be a freelancer? People think freelancing is the ideal way of life—PJs, late night snacking, mid morning brunches, and still damn good money. Alas, I now know that that’s just a stereotype the internet has inflicted upon us. Nothing about freelancing, or working flexible hours, is any more fun than working regular hours.

It took me over five years to realise this.

A few weeks ago, I was at work lounging—it was rather a quiet and uneventful day. I’d finished most of my tasks for the week and had plenty of time to kill. I’d been working so hard the couple of months leading to that day that I felt a gaping emptiness when I didn’t have anything to occupy myself. And so I succumbed to the YouTube temptation, watching a documentary about the Great Barrier Reef in the North Eastern coast of Australia.

It’s a three-part documentary, each running about an hour. And as I watched the camera pan across the ocean waters, and heard the narrator’s voice ring through my headphones, I realised how ignorant I’ve been about the world’s most gorgeous and vast spread of natural phenomenon. I had no idea it stretches over 1400 miles. Or that there’re 900 islands spread through the Reef, or that the Reef wasn’t formed until 10000 years ago—or that almost 40 percent of it is destroyed already.

Sure, I knew the Great Barrier Reef was a natural treasure undergoing an unnatural devastation, but that was the extent of my knowledge. I never had the time in my life to watch documentaries or read articles online about the world that surrounded my immediate office and work.

In a moment of shame and disgust, I understood how blinded I’d been by my work routine. I’d awake, exercise, go to work, return, and engage on social media before going to sleep. I read during the weekends and every other chance I get, but that’s limited to fiction, online articles, or general nonfiction. I’ve never spent time appreciating the magnitude of the world’s events outside of the realm of my work. I’ve been so obsessed with meeting my personal requirements that I’ve been missing the finer aspects of life—like widening my eyes in wonder at a coral reef, or experiencing the joy in my mother’s voice when I make time to chat with her.

I spent the last couple of weeks with my parents, and I made conscious efforts to indulge myself less in office work and more in my surroundings. And it’s served me well too. Now that office work doesn’t dictate my day, I’m noticing small things about work that don’t matter as much as I’d thought. Little delays or mistakes that would’ve upset me earlier don’t anymore. After all, there’s a lot more to life than the pay check.

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Hello, stranger

“Just send me a message if you need help.”

That was the last thing I told her. She was neither a friend nor a family member—just a colleague. I wouldn’t have met her if I hadn’t stopped by a friend’s seating location at work—she’d joined their team a few months ago and was, along with my friend and a few others in their team, expecting to attend her first corporate event in the United States. They were all preparing for the visa interview—filling up forms, double checking spellings and passport numbers, cross-checking each other’s details, and raining me with questions of what to do and whatnot.

It was amusing. I’d gone through the same nerve-wracking experience two years ago when I first applied for a visa. And so I was only too happy to help out these first-timers.

Every one of them was excited beyond words, making plans, discussing which places to visit, and what to eat on the plane. Tiring is an understatement when referring to the journey from India to anywhere in the US—it involves around 22 hours of flying time and additional transit times. No first time traveller has any idea of how they’d endure it. And every far fetched idea they do have evaporates when the plane takes off. I saw the same conundrum in their eyes. I could understand of course—growing up in a developing country, the only thing you want more than to visit the United States is to visit the United States.

But she wasn’t like the others in the lot. Although she, too, was excited, nervous, and earnest in her effort, she had more than blatant thrill in her eyes. She clung to it as if she couldn’t believe she deserved it.

She died in a car accident yesterday.

She should’ve attended her visa interview sometime this week. I’m sure she would’ve got through despite all her fears of not. I’m sure that would’ve cherished the jet-lagging journey and discovered a different side of herself in the new found land. She would’ve brought back more than candy for her friends—she would’ve brought back countless memories and an endless ocean of inspiration for her work. For she was an artist—one who inhales the world with new eyes, expelling a brighter, moe hopeful, version in a consortium of colours.

I never got to know her as a person. And yet, I felt a deep sorrow descend on me when I heard of her death. She wasn’t a friend or a family member—just a colleague I met by sheer chance.

It’s strange how much we under-appreciate the impact of people in our lives. We seldom realise how much we retain from even a brief conversation. I spoke to her only about three times in total. She wanted advice to clear the visa interview. She wanted assurance, and I was there at the right time to tell her it’ll all be fine. However, every time I spoke to her, I spoke from the top of my head—sharing my experience, my lessons, and my joys. Those weren’t deep, soul searching conversations, but they swirl in my head, haunted now, still in shock that the person whose pupils dilated upon hearing my adventures is no longer alive.

Football player kicks the ball - a stock image from Unsplash

Kicking around

From one to another
passing from hand to hand
an ideal that's oh so shiny
that everyone wants to see
to hold, caress, inflict upon
opinions and convictions
with the dirt in their feet
making a plaything of reality
leaving their mark on it
before passing to another
spreading it as wildfire
to fellow playmates—shrewd
and dirt-smeared as they
a game of shameless soccer
politics—dividing the world
Image source: Unsplash

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.

Vantage point

Lakeshore park in Austin, Texas
Lakeshore park in Austin, Texas

A concrete jungle

or a calming river town

perspectives define