Saturday, July 28, 2018

Whose help do you need?

I had an elocution coach once. In one of her lessons, she had us complete the following exercise.
She came to the board and wrote down “Someone stole my yellow pencil”
And then she would have us read that line, loudly, each time with an emphasis on a different word.
SOMEONE stole my yellow pencil — meaning an accusation and anger about not knowing who it was.
someone STOLE my yellow pencil — meaning  that perhaps it would have been alright if someone borrowed it, but the stealing was the the real source of annoyance.
someone stole my YELLOW pencil - meaning that it may have been fine if any other pencil had been stolen but it was the cherished yellow pencil that irked.

Without getting into the details, I recently found myself mired in all kinds of philosophical, social and identity conflicts around what to do when someone unilaterally decides you need their help.

And I thought about my elocution coach — and all the ways in which she may have helped me practice emphatically  making a point and declining that help. 
This may have been what we would’ve diagrammed out and practiced. 

i do not want your HELP — meaning, do not assume that I need anyone’s assistance for reasons of gender, title or that I am quiet.
i  do not want YOUR help — meaning that there are lots of people in this world whose help I actively seek and cherish. It is as yet unclear to me whether you have demonstrated your ability to help me successfully. Helping me (or anyone for that a matter) is a privilege that you need to earn. 
“I” do not want YOUR help — meaning, it’s nice that you want to help. Perhaps you could meet that goal by helping someone else?
i do not WANT your help — meaning, as much as you want to help me, I must WANT to be helped too. And perhaps your reasons for wanting to help me are not motivating enough. 
i DO NOT want your help — meaning, yes, I actually can decline your favor. It is one of those unsaid, basic human rights. And i can accept whatever consequence there might be for declining that favor.

And so I played out all of these sentences in my head — again and again. Word for word. Emphasis upon emphasis. None of these options seemed respectful, polite, dignified or kind. And while I have strong opinions on many, many things, I do strive to be kind, dignified and by-and-large a good human being. I try! 

As my conflict wore on, there was much dancing around the giving and (my) vehement non-receipt of said help. 
I felt increasingly weakened, undignified.  

I never found the right words to say.  What I ended up saying was this.
“Thank you for your feedback. I usually take a different approach to these problems and I’m going to stick with my approach for now. Perhaps your point of view may evolve. Meanwhile, I will try and be more open to your help in the future” 

What I really felt I was saying
“Today. I am going to be a closed, unopen person that you seem to think I am. It is a risk I am taking for I do not know what consequences lies ahead. But today, I am going to take that risk. 

And thank you for your feedback. I definitely believe in my own ability to repent these actions. Even if intellectually, I know that I’ve done nothing wrong, judging by how emotionally exhausted I feel, I wonder if I can do this again.  And so, in the future, i may very well find myself looking out for opportunities where you can help me so that you can look good, where you can talk over any sentence I dare to speak, where you can say “we” each time I say and do the right thing but say “I” when you do the right thing. 

But today, I am not going to have any of it. 

In the future, you may very well open my eyes. Already, I have started to see a few things. That you are on a higher perch than I for instance. Maybe you intend to maintain it that way? In the future, I might agree with you that the (im)balance of these perches are eternally important. 

But today, I am going to take the risk of standing my ground. 
And while you can hope for a different future, so will I hope for a better future..

So. Will. I. 

I still didn’t have the right words to say. 
But someone did ultimately help me. Someone who has clearly had to deal with this again and again in their lives rescued me and said “Let her talk! What she’s saying is important”

I now have the right words to say 

Sunday, January 17, 2016


"They" has been declared the 2015 word of the year. 

That means if you find yourself typing sentences with s/he or him/her, you are now allowed to use "they" or "them".

If you've always used "they" as a singular pronoun, well - I applaud you. But know this. You used to be wrong but you are now suddenly right by the magic and power vested in those committees that decide who is right and who is wrong. What power, indeed. I am unsure whether you are right beginning now or whether your previous wrongs have been retroactively writ right. If you are one of those sticklers who like to know how often they are right, these kinds of accounting details can be important. I do not have an answer for you. I apologize.

If you have never found yourself typing s/he or him/her because you always thought "they" was correct - well, please refer to comment above. But if you were the sort who simply defaulted to using "he" and "him", please know that I like you a little less. Whoever you might be. The ability to like someone a little less is infinitely vast. So it does not matter how many of you there are. I like all of you a little less. Henceforth, please use "they".

But, if you, like me, keep typing him/her and grating your teeth at how difficult it is to do in Whatsapp or finding the whole insertion of a "/" standing out like an ugly, sore, attention-demanding punctuation mark (they all are, actually), then revel in your liberation.


One more step into a world where we will all have a conversation with a lot of "theys" and "thems" and not know if its a single person or many persons and whether they are girls or boys or gender-fluid people. It's a merry world. If you get confused in 2015, let's hope 2016 has a word for it.

Also, does anyone think that if "they" is now a word of the year - which happens to be a world that already exists - we are entering an era in which they are going to be fewer and fewer neologisms. Does that mean that we now have a vocabulary to describe anything and everything? Or perhaps that means we no longer communicate through words, but with pictures and vines and instagrams and short tweet. Or does that mean we are no longer communicating at all.

I do not know. All that I can say is that I was a bit disappointed that the 2015 word of the year was not something more jazzy. But perhaps it's just as well that it's a word that provides the illusion of beginning to fix the faults of the past. There is much to applaud in that.

Friday, January 15, 2016

4 years

Why do you not write anymore, someone asked.

It started to feel pretentious, I said. Suddenly? I suppose the answer is not - it started to feel pretentious; that it always was (as is my insistence on using a lot of semi-colons. What to do. I like them!). The answer is that I didn't want to do pretentious things anymore.

There are many more answers.

This is an attempt to document them all. And then call it a blog post. And then mute that damn voice that keeps reminding me from time to time that I have stopped writing.

I do not know why I stopped.

Life started happening... or maybe it stopped happening. Who can say.

Maybe instead of letting it happen to me and observing and fuming at it from a distance, I started happening. I reckon you might call it growing up. Or something in that vicinity.

There's also the loss of anonymity.

You see - my most prolific years of writing was when I used a pseudonym. Anaztazia. I picked it from a newspaper - someone named Anastasia had played tennis or won tennis - or something. Who knows. Go google it if you care. But that's how I made up that name. And then I just started writing. Quietly. To myself. To an audience I did not know, that I did not seek, that I didn't think might come to me. And then I joined a blog community - still anonymous. I wrote. I wrote everyday. For an unfathomable reason, my younger self knew that if I just kept at it, I would get better. It's true. It flowed. There was no dearth of thought, of imagination, of ideas, of expression, of fancy, of words - definitely no dearth of semi-colons.

And then, an audience came. And they feted. And I liked it. And I began editing myself. No more just being myself but now in service of something else. Was that the beginning? Was that the end? I will never know. But I made the folly of revealing myself. Do not get me wrong - I was no axe-murderer or stalker or depressed, gloomy soul. It is just that there are thoughts - innocent, naive, pointless as they might be - that can only be had in private, that can get nurtured when you write about them, that can transport you to a world so unique, so wonderful, so vast and rich but yet so tender and fragile that they annihilate the moment they come into contact with someone else's imagination. Maybe it was that.

I became careful. Too careful. Of what I said. Of who might read it. Of what they might think of it. I lost track of the very reason I was writing - to get away and not into, to lose myself and not find me, to trap those fleeting will-o-the-wisp lives and give them life, give them eternity, give them a space to be. But somehow unbeknownst to myself, I gave my own writing a mortality.


We can backtrack can't we.

We can go back and hide in some corner of the world where no one can hear no matter how much you scream.

Let us start from there.

And let's start writing again. Let's.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

The Agent

Listen carefully, sweet girl. Because I am going to let you in on a secret.

When its time to replace your agent, its time to replace you!

You say you’ve been in this industry 3 years now? 3 years? And you’ve starred…… starred in 3 full-length movies. And you were the most prominent of a gaggle of waitresses in an unreleased…. unreleased 4th full-length movie?

And you call this prolific work?

I started in the movies, the cinema they called it then, when I was 16. A whole 3 years younger than you are now. And by 19, that’s how old you are my dear, in case you’ve forgotten to count because you’re in my presence…. It happens….

By 19, I had starred in 8 full length movies. And I had starred in them. The trailers said “starring Gwendoline”, and after that “starring name-him-what-you-will-lame-impotent-actor” . By age 19, I had attempted 4 full-length suicides. And they were all released, in every single newspaper and every last tabloid.

And I had a different alternate name to use in every single hotel in America. Freddie kept track of the names.

Freddie, my agent.

Did you memorize my secret, sweet girl?

You can stretch your face thin, and paint your face white, and your hair black, or purple, or fuschia. I’ve done all that, and its as marvelous and simple as they make it sound. Just got to keep the wine cellar well stocked.

You can even walk around in Loubotins and tango around with Versace and dazzle everyone with Harry Winston rocks.

But there’s one thing you never can do. Never replace your agent.

Freddie’s been dead for 4 years now. Dead! Gone! He was too old, they said. Wacky, they said. When he brought me that mother’s role, I realized that too. Play a stepmother he said. The young second wife of a millionaire, who has 2 sons. Only stepmother he said. It’s got character, he said. The Oscars, he teased.

Me? Play a mother’s role?

We fought all night. All night. Freddie died sometime then. It was the only thing we fought about.

He’s still my agent, of course. He taught me everything he knew. So he remains, my dedicated agent. I take all the calls in his name – he taught me ventriloquism. And I pretend I’m him. No! I am him!

2 movies I’ve done in the last two years. I played a man in one. Freddie would have wanted me to. Oscars, he would’ve teased. And I played a man, like any strong, handsome, self-respecting man like Freddie would’ve played a man.

Because… I always listen to Freddie. He’s my agent, after all.


Gwendoline looked at the machine. Someone had called, and Gwendoline had immediately routed them to the answering machine.

The man had introduced himself as Andrew.

“Freddie. This is Andrew. How have you been? Listen. I know I stood you up the other night. It’s been 4 years now, so you probably don’t remember. But I have a great deal for you old pal. For Gwendoline. I keep telling you to start working with other actors and actresses – well they all call themselves actors these days, but I keep telling you to work with someone else. Get a little color in your life. Variety. Anyway, I knew you wouldn’t listen.

I finally have something for Gwendoline. You may have heard the rumour that Gary has a new script he’s working on. Well, I’ve read it and it’s perfect for Gwendoline. You think you can have her audition? There’s just one catch though.I will have to be the one representing Gwendoline.

You know Gary? He’s a bit peculiar.He doesn’t like working with agents who are dead.

Well, anyway, I hope you call back old chap!”

Gwendoline was shivering now.

“He doesn’t like working with agents who are dead” She played the message over and over again. It didn’t change. It never changed. “He doesn’t like working with agents who are dead”

Gwendoline looked around, eyes dilated, heart thumping wildly, the walls around her seemed to resonate with her heart, the earth trembled.

There was no Freddie to go to now.There was also nothing, absolutely nothing to lose now. Freddie was gone. The movie offers never came. The fan mail had long since stopped. She could go out into the street, dark glasses or otherwise, and no one would recognize her.

The paparazzi had long since abandoned her for meatier, perkier, more scandalous people. Far more scandalous than what happened to Freddie. And it wasn’t her fault.

They had fought. They had fought all night. The last thing she had said to Freddie was “I don’t know why I still keep you as my agent except for one stupid rule that you taught me!. How selfless of you, Freddie”

And he’d walked out that minute and gone home, to greet death, to relieve Gwendoline of THE RULE.

Gwendoline had arranged for a quiet funeral for Freddie, her friend at the orphanage. There was no one to invite after all. And Gwendoline had simply told no one. There was no one to tell after all.

She looked at the answering machine. In one hasty moment, she called back,

“Andrew. I don’t know who you are or what you think of yourself. But if you think you can threaten to tell the world Freddie’s dead and make some money off me. You’re right. You can. I have nothing to lose now. But I’ll tell you this. It wasn’t my fault. I expect you to come to my house, because courtesy demands that you meet the one whose life you’re about to destroy, and hear me out. And its been so long since I saw my name in the papers. So I’ll consider what you’re doing for me as service. But you’ll represent me to every newspaper and to every tabloid. And you will answer all the press. And you will get me Gary’s role. As my new agent. Freddie would have wanted this.”

[This was this week's writing assignment.
The same can also be found here]