Saturday, January 11, 2014

Uncreative writing (or re-purposing!)

stuck here
on noisy, incoherent, thuggish earth
is a tribe of lousy carpet weavers
trying to pattern their lives

it's not violence alone in the air
he fell for a mexican dancer
she searches for the mother who left her
an old woman she resembles

they say here, it's not for the kiddies
but this kid's applied for a job as an angel
a job dark, demanding
and he's already keeping busy
with a city making heroes of gangsters

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How does the above poem sound to you? I wrote it, but you can argue that it is no creation of my own, because it is simply a mash-up of phrases taken from the 'G' and 'A' lists of a Movie Encyclopedia- a list of film titles and a one-line description of their stories. Conceptual poetry may not be everyone's cup of tea, but in the words of the Creative Writing professor who inspired this poem, 'writing has got to get up, make a move on and catch up with the changes of times.' An artist in 1969 said: “The world is full of objects, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more.” Well, the world is full of texts now- vast, unbelievable amounts of texts, and according to literary critic Marjorie Perloff, our notion of 'genius' is outdated. The changes brought on by the Internet mean it is no longer about what additional text you add to the world, but around the mastery of the incredible amounts of information available to us and its dissemination.

There is a course in the University of Pennsylvania called 'Uncreative Writing'. Students are penalised for showing any shred of originality. They re-type what has already been written, improve on it. They present essays written by other people and defend the arguments the essays hold. The result? By suppressing 'creativity', the students produce the most creative works. Because it is impossible to repress self expression. Even the way you reframe a piece of writing, what you chose to work on and how you chose to refine it, tells as much about yourself as a piece originally written by you.

What do you think?


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Snippets from 2013

It's my grandmother's bed-time and it's going according to schedule. Like everything she does in her life. We lift her from her seat at exactly ten. At the sink, she takes off her dentures, soaks them. 'Did I take off my dentures?' she asks. 'Yep,' we answer. She washes her spotless, lovely-smelling hands in the same way, soap bar trying hard to slip away from her thorough scrubbing. 'I washed my hands?' 'Yes'. Once she is lying down in bed, I kiss her goodnight, wondering at the mystery of old age. How that re-emergence of childhood dependency blends gracefully with the demanded respect of elderliness, gracefully enough to make this dependency dignified. Before switching off the lights, we tuck her in, throwing the blanket over her. It covers her face for a second before we pull it away. Antin her helper finds this hilarious and bursts out in loud cackles. When my granny's face re-emerges, it's grinning- a toothless, beautiful grin.

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Noddy and I bond over books, junk food, life questions, beauty care and silence. Today it's a combination. We're munching on flaming hot cheetos with our orange-powdered hands, big glass of water in the other. We look at the muted television screen without really looking- the sound of our crunching filling the room. When we're done, we down the remaining of our glasses, end the ceremony with a satisfied 'Ah' and sit there for a while with our full bellies in appreciative silence.

Later on, she watches me squeeze a honey-covered lemon slice on my face and lets me do the same to her. 'It's good for our skin' I tell her, and she believes me like she always does, just asks how long we have to keep it on. I brush her silky hair that doesn't need brushing while we wait, and she asks me her latest questions on life- why some people are social and others aren't, why I'm scared of animals and why the friends in the book she's reading have arguments. 'You're the perfect sister,' she says, but the truth is that she is perfect, with her round, curious eyes and her all-time trusting soul.

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Awesomeness has another name- Skoon. You will never meet anyone quite like her. We're at her baby shower and she tumbles in, pregnant belly, still not ready. 'What do I wear?' she moans, before getting distracted and changing the subject. In Skoon's world, randomness and spontaneity rules and there are no protocols about ways people are supposed to behave. It's two hours into the baby shower and nothing has actually happened yet, but everyone is having a great time. Skoon moves around a natural ease, bonding with each of her guests without making any effort, spilling her thoughts and feelings on a tray and handing them to you as raw as they are.

I go to visit her at the hospital a day after she's given birth. Nothing can change Skoon and her down-to-earthness, not even hours in painful labour. 'Hi!' she says animatedly, eyes screaming fatigue but voice unchanged. We look down at her adorable little girl with red cheeks and puffy eyes. She giggles- 'When will she wake up, man?' Skoon was trying to take selfies when she was giving birth. I told you she's awesomeness. I don't stay long, leaving her to rest and bond with her baby. On the way back, I can't stop picturing how much fun Skoon and her girl will have growing together.

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If there was a measuring device for positive vibes, graduation ceremony halls would win. I have never seen so many truly happy people at once. We march inside looking ridiculous in our blue hats and gowns- to a hall buzzing with the pride of parents, professors and friends. They watch us move around and go up stage with smiles that crease their teary eyes. When the cooped-in parents are finally released, they mix in with the blues. Everywhere around, mothers are crying and hugging their kids. I lean in to kiss mine, and we take a million pictures. There is enough happiness in the air to energize a nation. Then we group up and take that obligatory picture, the one where we throw our hats off. It's a symbol of the end of my academic life- that lovely, comforting world. Over the past three months since I have started working, I have had a lifetime of experience. From keeping confidential the sensitive information of some of the largest firms in the world, climbing fuel tanks, counting in locked warehouses to meeting new people- the inspiring, the weird and the ugly- and struggling to remain diplomatic in a politics-infested world. Some days are good, some not so good, but each one brings me so much more to learn, and though it hurts to wave goodbye at the dreamland period of my life, it is exciting that the real life has only just begun.

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