Greater Heights (#munnardiaries)

We started off the next day, bright and early, with a number of places visit on our itinerary.

First stop – Mattupetty Dam. The infamous dam is known for being one of the most essential sources of power for the state of Kerala through its conservation of water for hydroelectricity. The tiny travel pamphlet I had on me also stated that it was a common visiting ground for elephants. Unfortunately, we didn’t bump into any at our time there but again, the view of the landscape and the large body of water proved its magnificence.

Next up was Top Station! The drive to the highest point on Munnar took a while but the cool air coupled with the nature that surrounded us made it a beautiful journey. Luckily for us, despite the telltale signs of rainfall in the sky, the view waiting for us at Top Point was not at all shrouded by the clouds.

1700 meters high, it felt close enough to touch the heavens. Sometimes, you visit places and see things that’ll never quite leave you. That’s what Top Station was like. It wasn’t just the spectacular view that etched a permanent picture in my mind but that feeling of being so faraway from…everything, far enough to liberate me from everything that was waiting down on Earth.

Mom, dad and I spent a good hour there before the growling of our stomachs got the better of us and we decided to head back to town to grab lunch.

On our way back, we made a brief stop at the infamous Echo Point. As its name would suggest, the river bank carries with it the natural phenomenon of an echo coming back to those who shout their lungs out at the spot. There was an abundance of greenery, as expected, with the lake in the middle and tall trees surrounding the forest on the other side.

It was crowded too, with families and kids standing near the edge of the bank and screaming their names, waiting with bated breath to hear their voice echo back to them. I wish I could say I’d shouted something too but I had settled for watching the others do it with a smile on my face.

And of course, without fail, we took a few more pictures there too.

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I think what I took away most from that day wasn’t just the hundreds of photographs or the aesthetic pleasure of witnessing nature at its finest. But the weightlessness of just being.

Living in the city, amidst the rush of life as a university student and surrounded by throngs of people that all have an agenda of their own, I am forced to move along with the crowd and toward a future that I am both excited and scared for. But at that moment, I didn’t feel any of that.

All I did was simply…exist. And sometimes, we need to take a step back and realize what a blessing that is in and of itself.

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You Are A Celebration.

Growing up, my mom used to ask me this one question all the time. “What do you want to be in the future, darling?” “A singer! An actress!” I’d exclaim, as a child. She would ask me the same question a couple days later, when I came back home with muddy shoes and dirty clothes, and I’d answer, “I want to save the plants! Can I be an environmental scientist?” She’d smile and nod. Time and again, the infamous question popped up with a variety of answers from my side.

I want to be a writer, momma. A basketball player. A teacher to impart wisdom! A business woman to showcase my leadership. A nanny because children are adorable! An activist for change. 

My answers were never set in stone, and every day, I wished to be something different. To try new things and to live a million possibilities in one lifetime. Yet, every time I voiced a different dream, my mother never shut me down. She’d pat my head in a sign of affection and promise me that I could be anything and everything I want to be, if only I put in passion and hard work.

Growing up, I never realized just how much that question means. But now I do, and I start to wonder if my mom was ever asked the same question and shown the beauty of possibilities. If she was ever given a promise to be anything she wanted to be or have the freedom to choose it for herself.

My mother is a housewife. I say this to the people who ask, and to the people who don’t, because I am proud of her. The reception to this varies from shrugs to the passing, ignorant comment of, ‘ah…so she doesn’t work or have a job?’

Yes. Yes, she does. She creates a space where I feel like I belong. She gives me nourishment to survive, both in body and spirit. Her unconditional love is a gift beyond anything any job could ever give. She sacrificed her dreams, put them on the back-burner, to promise me my own. And in exchange? She asks for nothing, but my own happiness.

You’re right. That isn’t a job. She is a Miracle.

It’s beyond anything that can be restricted to three little letters. My mother is a blessing. All mothers are. All women are. My mother is my best friend, my sister and my role model but mothers aren’t the only women worth celebrating today.

Women who balance their lives working 12-hour shifts and coming back home to their children and husband, to work again and to share their love deserve to be appreciated too.

Women, who brave the scorn of society and go out to fulfill their own dreams by deciding not to get married are not to be judged for not ‘playing their role’ by sticking to motherhood. They’re fulfilling the purpose they set out to do.

Women who defend their countries in war-ridden nations and female activists that fight for a cause with their words and actions…they fight with their every breath to secure the future of the children in the generations to come.

Sacrifice in the form of being a housewife is a gift, yes. But so is every other dream. Because today isn’t just about the mothers in the world but the fighters, the business women, the leaders, the activists, the teachers, the women

We are all warriors in our own right.
We are all cause for celebration.

So, go!

Celebrate yourself!

Celebrate who you are, and what you do because no one, no where can achieve your dreams better than you do.

 

The Truth in Social Media

~ a personal essay I submitted for my English class I thought would be nice to share ~

Social media has evolved into an all-pervasive part of the 21st century, imposing a powerful impact on the current generation and the ones to come. 2001 marked the start of the ‘Golden Era’, with the rise of prominent social networks such as Facebook and Twitter leading to a subtle yet significant shift in the public’s perceptions. By the year 2020, worldwide users are predicted to rise to a third of the world’s population, a startling amount of 2.95 billion people.

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Social media is both a means for a global society and a gateway for corporate giants, political leaders and governments to influence public perception. The US presidential elections, for instance, have shown the extent to which social media can shape public opinion and put up a false front to the masses. The introduction of this form of technology has led to a change of dynamics in politics, with Donald Trump being a glaring example.

Western governments, namely the US and UK, use social media proactively, in comparison to other world governments, to engage and connect with the public. Most politicians put on the stereotypical facade of being loyal public servants and appeasing to their hundreds of thousands of followers. Trump, however, was blunt and unfiltered in his communications which led to his flame burning brighter than any other.

The world of social media favors controversy to reason. Although social media has led to timely information, transparency and accessibility, the authenticity of these sources is highly questionable. The distinction between real and fake has become increasingly difficult to make. Most of what we see on social media is a mixture of truth and lies, falsities and speculation. This application in a political framework is all the more concerning.

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The public perception of hegemonic structures is not as independent from the subject as most would wish to believe. As Louis Althusser proposed, with governments and political leaders exerting their dominance on the masses, everything we consume is a product of selective filtering and control by their very hands. The rise of social media poses a sparkling opportunity for exploitation of the truth that is perceived by the public whose votes and support they rely on.

Perception counts for everything in social media. When, as individuals, we try to project our ideal selves on Facebook and Instagram, it is understandable that politicians too would do the same for personal gain. Their intentions involve increasing their power and avoiding controversy, while simultaneously keeping the public in the dark.

Donald Trump, however, did the opposite and still managed to come out as the victor. By engaging in post-truth politics both online and offline, and portraying himself as an advocate against the media (which largely favored Hillary Clinton and the State), he not only made a spectacle of himself to his 25.7 million Twitter followers but secured public votes too. Objective facts were disregarded in the face of emotionalism. Trump used this to his benefit by feeding off the public’s distrust in government institutions and the media through his campaigns and social media presence. Although most of Trump’s unsubstantiated arguments were far off the spectrum of ‘rational’, his followers perceived it on an emotional level and voted him into presidency.

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We live in an information age centered around social media that is a combination of both truth and ‘alternative facts’, Trump popularizing the latter. Social media is a double-edged sword, posing massive benefits to its users while also diluting their perceptions of reality. In the hands of the wrong people, it is a manipulative weapon of the very truth the public wishes to know.

in pursuit of Reality

People live their lives bound by what they accept as correct and true. That’s how they define “reality”. But what does it mean to be “correct” or “true”? Merely vague concepts… Their “reality” may all be a mirage. Can we consider them to be simply living in their own world shaped by their beliefs? – Itachi Uchiha from Naruto

Have you ever had a conversation with someone, perhaps an argument, during which a snide retort may have been thrown about? Something along the lines of, “dude, get real,” because to that person, your perspective couldn’t have been more wrong.  Several times, I have been put in that position and several times, reached the compromise of agreeing to disagree because after all we all have our own set of beliefs, our own opinions.

What if I told you to hold that thought? That, ‘getting real’ is not just some casual shade being thrown your way but an impossible challenge in itself. What if we all lived in our separate realities and no matter how hard we try, we cannot break out of our individual worlds?

When my English professor started the analysis of a short story by Guy de Maupassant titled ‘The False Gems‘, I, along with everyone else in the class had no idea there was more to the text than meets the eye. I was interested in the concept of ‘perception versus reality’ that he put forth, and in particular, the conclusion we arrived at that perception is reality. Some agreed with this, and others did not. I found myself belonging to the former.

Think about it.

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The nature of Reality

Reality is a fluid concept that is formed on the grounds of our individual belief systems. Those belief systems may differ from person to person. When my teacher proposed this, it was met by objections from an especially passionate classmate of mine who argued that reality is not fluid but a fixed, changeless state of the world. He pointed out that reality is based upon facts. But…is it really? Isn’t fact a completely distinguishable notion from reality?

Facts can be proven through investigation – that is to say, science. But aren’t the very facts written in textbooks and put forth by scientists all based off judgments made by humans over the course of history? Isn’t it possible to have different interpretations of the same ‘facts’? Different, say, schools of thought?

The problem of defining reality is rooted in our living in a world which forms the ground for our conscious life and yet, cannot be completely deciphered. Hence, we try to perceive it in all the ways we can – through physical and mental means. That, then poses the question of whether reality itself is a physical or mental construction,  or possibly even more than what our range of perception is limited to. It is this puzzle, this mystery of the ultimate truth that scientists try to uncover through observations, and facts.

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Popular German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s idea of the noumenal world presents the possibility that reality is a separate construction, a ‘thing in itself’ – the reality that exists beyond our perception.  According to Kant, the true nature of reality can never be known as we are contained and limited to our individual perceptions of it. He believes our very perception is what disconnects us from reality itself. This poses the alternative notion that perception is not reality but merely, a means by which we can attempt to understand it.

I, personally, believe that perception is reality and we are limited, in this way. However, there is a possibility of a collective reality, shared by those who believe and see things in the same way.  People who are open-minded have an opportunity to widen their perceptions, and as a result, be exposed to a greater scope of reality. By being more receptive of other people’s perceptions, we constantly transform and redefine our own world.

A Marxist Perspective

I don’t know what it is the Germans put in their beer that gets their gears turning but time and again, they produce these genius philosophers that turn things around. Karl Marx – that’s a name that should ring a bell and if it doesn’t…have you been living under a rock? I kid (not).

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Dear ol’ Karl is known mostly for his contributions in politics, economics and his ideas on society but a lot of it can be applied to different fields and subjects, including literary theory. Following Karl’s footsteps, some Marxists believe that literature portrays imaginary ways in which people perceive the real world – therefore being a creation in itself of a sub-reality, than a reflection of it.

Louis Althusser (a French philosopher who identified himself as a Marxist) further builds upon this theory by referring to the world we live in as a ‘virtual reality’, a means by which we engage and interact under the influence of culture and ideology. He too believed that our realities are mere constructions of our perceptions, that are formed through hegemonic structures. People in power, that is to say politicians and the government, impose their values on the mass population which soon dominate the mainstream culture. As the political structure changes, with it follows a change in the values and ideology of the people – impacting reality.

Though Althusser brings in a more political view of reality, if you think about how  our governments and political leaders exert their dominance on the people, it brings it into context. Everything we consume is selectively filtered and controlled by those in power. Wouldn’t our realities therefore be confined to the systems we live under?

Transformation of the Inconceivable 

Reality is limitless – and with that realization comes the knowledge that knowledge too, is limitless. Brilliant scientists  such as Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein have admitted that science itself cannot make a definite claim of what reality is, the latter going so far as to call science his ‘religion’ – deeming it a matter of faith. Every scientific discovery is rooted in the assumption of reality, rather than the certainty of it. For all we know, what we think is real might not be at all.

The vast majority of our population, from what I’ve noticed, are materialists. They believe that what they see, is what they get – that whatever images, sounds and information that their brain processes is the ultimate reality. Can we then pose the question – where did the ability to rationalize reality come from? How does our brain judge real and not real? Can we rely on what our minds concoct to draw the final line between reality and fantasy?

Some turn to religion and their faith for answers. Others, to science. In our pursuit of Reality, as humans we have this unquenchable thirst for knowledge – for the transformation of the inconceivable into a definite truth. However, every door we open just leads us to another endless maze of twists and turns – simply because there is no ultimate ‘Truth’. The subjectivity of our individual perceptions is what stops us from seeing the whole picture, if there even is one.

This is what I believe. But hey, for all I know, I could be wrong. You and I might not be real at all. We might be..in the Matrix.

What it all comes down to is the acceptance of multiple possibilities on the subject of reality. I am open to discussing this with others and learning their views, while at the same time, expanding my own. It’s a never-ending journey of constantly pushing our limits and trying to get as close to the Truth as possible. Personally, as of now there is only one truth I am willing to accept.

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At the end of the day, as long as I get my share of finger licking chicken and delectable chocolates, any reality is just fine!

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Why I Stopped Writing

Until quite recently, I had been at war with myself, although that should come as no surprise to any of you. I’m constantly at war with myself. My mind can be a bit of a hellscape, you see. But the thing is, it’s rare for writing to be the reason behind my struggle, and most importantly, for so long.

I’m both a writer and a perfectionist (among other things). And let me tell you right now, when you factor in my perfectionist streaks with the part of me that holds on to writing like a life-line, it is not a fun combination. Handy at times, yes, because that means I never settle for anything less than ‘perfect’. But what is perfection? What is a ‘perfect’ piece of writing? Is there really a combination of words and techniques that can  flow across a page in a way that leaves no possible room for improvement? I’ve been trying to find the secret behind attaining such a standard with my own writing.

But let’s get real: there is no such thing. There is always room to grow, to get better, to be capable of greater things. If a single artist on this planet believed that even one of their works was absolutely perfect as could be, would they have continued to produce more? No. Even if there was, I doubt I’d ever reach that standard because I am never 100% satisfied with anything I produce. Over the years, I have learned to somewhat suppress my overly analytical voice and just write. But like your typical villain popping up in a novel when things seem to be going picture-perfect (pun? ha), it struck again.

It all started about a month before I published my debut novel, A Midnight Reverie. I wrote the book during NaNoWriMo of 2014, and was delighted when I ended up with my first completed novel. Excitement pursued when, upon sharing my works with friends, family and on writing communities, I received good feedback. They all encouraged me saying, ‘you should totally publish this! It’s such a wonderful and heartwarming story!’ I was very skeptical – after all, I wrote this book at the tender age of 14, and I knew my writing had a long way to go before it was anywhere close to being publish-worthy. But the positive feedback continued to keep coming in and I figured – ‘hmm, well, I guess it couldn’t hurt to give it a shot? After all, it’s my first book and I’m only self-publishing it!’

Fast-forward three years later and through the several change of hearts that I went through before I finally hit the ‘publish’ button during late-2014. The book was officially in the market, available for order. And I felt so good. I kept touching the laptop screen, with my name written as the ‘author’ in disbelief. I’d just published my first book. One of my biggest dreams just came true! ‘This can’t be real,’ I kept thinking, and I think that disbelief is what my writing dilemma really stemmed from. Although it was more of a happy disbelief at the time, the seeds of doubt had been planted.

A month after I’d officially published A Midnight Reverie, I started to wonder if I’d made a good decision. I hadn’t been expecting that I’d become a best-seller or something over night. I wasn’t that foolish but…this book would mark my first in my journey as a published writer. Was it really good enough? Was I?

I pushed the thoughts aside and decided to work on my next project: the prequel to A Midnight Reverie. I already had 110,000 words written of the first draft and decided to dedicate my time to completing the story, editing, then finally publishing it. The deadline I set myself for all that? June/July 2015. Why that time?

  • I would begin first year of university in June. Uni sucks up a student’s time, and I, being a very studious one *cough* geek *cough* would make studies my top priority above everything else.
  • It doesn’t help that I’m opting to do a double-degree course: a Bachelor’s and Master’s equivalent combined into the time-span of three years.
  • I’m voluntarily stepping into academic hell. And yes, I am aware of the fact that it sounds like complete insanity. ‘But do not worry, Beatrice! You can surely find a way to squeeze in some writing time amidst a busy course like that! After all, you’ve got the weekends!’
  • I very recently learned that I’ll have classes on Saturdays as well. I get just Sundays off. 

I started to worry about how much time (or lack thereof) I would have for writing that I forced myself to work my ass off on my next book, and to do it fast. There are two F-words in that sentence that are absolutely abysmal for a writer to do: ‘force’ and ‘fast’ (shame on you if you thought anything else).

As I continued working on my novel, I started to grow a little paranoid. I didn’t like what I was producing. I read over the whole 110K I already had, and what I had added to it, and didn’t like it. I needed it to be perfect, and all I saw were flaws.

So then I decided to scrap the 110,000 words (I wish I was kidding) I’d written so far and start from word number one. I started, then stopped again. How could I forget the research? The story’s taking place in ’80s America and to get the descriptions spot-on, I need to know more about that time! Plus, I need to make my characters’ sob-stories realistic.

I did a heck-lot of research, made detailed character bios and chapter descriptions so I wouldn’t go wrong anywhere. I planned everything, almost to the details of what color undies my characters would be wearing (okay, maybe that’s pushing it a tad and completely irrelevant but this goes to show how stressed I was feeling).

After I completed all the research I needed and felt I was ready to start the actual re-write, I sat down and decided to do just that. For four days, I kept a Word Doc open. For four days, I stared at the screen, fingers settled on the laptop keyboard, 100% ready to get this novel written and yet…not able to get the first word out. That’s when I realized what I’d been doing wrong all along.

Writing should never be forced. It should never be a source of frustration and anger, the exact opposite of what it’s been to me my whole life. I’ve always loved creating characters, and discovering who they are and who they’re meant to become along their journeys. They’ve taught me, their creator, as much as real, living people have. After all, these characters are fragments of who I am. Writing out of desperation than actual passion wasn’t just destroying my love for the art, but it shattered my self-confidence and respect for myself as a writer. I was trying to force the story out – and that’s why I couldn’t do it anymore.

I stopped writing. 

I stopped because I didn’t enjoy it anymore. I was too paranoid about making every little detail perfect to actually cherish these characters the way they were meant to be cherished. For several months, a separate struggle had been raging on whether or not I should un-publish A Midnight Reverie. I started to deem myself unworthy to be called a ‘writer’, and a published one at that.

I took some time off to think. It did me a lot of good, and I found a solution to the problem that had been plaguing me for several months.

 

I wanted to write again, simply because I loved doing so.

I wanted to write again, without restriction, without any bounds.

I wanted to write again – just for myself.

So I silenced the voice in my head that kept telling me I wasn’t good enough, that my work would never be good enough and poured my heart and soul into writing again. Into a story that brought me tears of laughter and joy, into characters that never told me to quit writing them unless I could make them perfect. They just wanted me there, and are, till today my life-savers.

This doesn’t mean I give up on the re-write of my novel. I will get around to it when I feel like I’ve gained a healthy balance between my love for the book and my perfectionist side. That story awaits, and I know that when I get around to writing it, I won’t fail the characters. I want to do them justice, but before all that, I need to relight the fire (such a cliche, I know, but it applies)!

For now, I am going to write without a deadline pinned on my calendar. I am going to write without worrying about if I’m ‘good enough’. I’m just going to write because it makes me happy.

Oh, and I’m definitely not going to un-publish A Midnight Reverie. A Midnight Reverie clearly isn’t a master-piece but it’s the first step and effort I’ve made into writing one in the future. I’m not going to take a step back. In fact, hopefully someday when I’m an accomplished writer, I’ll look back on it and see how much I’ve grown.

After all, we all start somewhere. This is just the beginning.