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Yet Untitled 005 - On Adaptation
Surfing mediums, negotiating waves
Hello hello dear subscribers!
This past week has had me thinking about adaptation. This was likely triggered by watching the new Dune film and the old Dune film in quick succession over the weekend, and dipping into the original novel by Frank Herbert thereafter. Perhaps at a deeper level, the thinking was triggered by the loss of my grandmother (something that wrote about in my last substack) - adapting to life without her and, inevitably, reflecting on how I’ve adapted to life without my father for over a year. A lot of it has been about repeatedly negotiating an earmarked pocket of time when a phone call would come.
While such moments create a potential for a variety of responses, including gloom, I have to thank you all for motivating me to channel these (and other) feelings into this newsletter, where they translate into a variety of forms, mostly positive. Adaptation?
Provocation: What is the act of writing but the adaptation of thought into something more substantial, more transferable?
I’m loving how writing Yet Untitled takes me on a ride very week - one that is both cerebral, emotional and thrilling. I’d like to think that you’re on the ride with me, and experiencing at least some of the wind rush I feel every time. There is a palpable suspense I feel about where that week’s reflection is going to take me. It’s like entering an attic, shining a flashlight and finding a bunch of fascinating old stuff that you’d thought you’d lost . Here’s one artefact I found:
Boarding School: Adaptation 101
That’s me on the right, in boarding school, doing… guess what? Publishing a weekly newletter! I look happy! - doing something I loved and still love; but make no mistake: there’s a substantial accumulation of adjustment pain that needed to be traversed to reach the happy place I’m at in the photo.
Don’t get me wrong - I do not regret going to boarding school. I earned some of the strongest friendships of my life there (both the lovely gents with my in the photograph are still very close, dear friends), and became independent enough to manage anywhere on my own. But adapting to that place took time, and there was a lot of homesickness, anxiety, growing pain and lots of hunger. Thankfully, there was the ol’ ‘Weekly’. Publishing The Weekly played a big part in getting me through 7 years at that place.
And here we are, together in this life-affirming, weekly dance again!
PS: That PC in the photo was the latest tech-shit we had ever seen those days. Now, it looks that’s about to say “DANGER-WILL-ROBINSON!”
Adaptation - how I taught myself screenwriting
c. 2004: In my Mumbai salad days, I worked for a boss (now a dear friend and mentor) who was away a lot. I used to come to work everyday to a garage full of DVDs and film books. And yes, this here squire went to town, bingeing before bingeing was a thing.
I did an experiment - the stash happened to have the book of short-stories by Annie Proulx that included “Brokeback Mountain”. I also found the screenplay of Brokeback Mountain lying around and before long, I dug out the DVD, which (surprise surprise!) was there too.
This was the first time I walked through three mediums looking in at the same story, and it was fascinating. What you’re able to see when you do this is an anatomy of choice-making in the process of adaptation. You see both interesting choices and downright crappy choices made and manifested before your eyes. Reflecting on this, I wonder how much the writers were able to predict whether their choice would land or not. That was their battle, but boy can we benefit from their trailblazing through this three-medium exercise.
For me, each time I see an interesting choice executed I glean the confidence to be audacious enough to try making a similar choice myself. It’s like seeing someone roller-blading, or cycling hands free, and then wanting to try it for yourself. Bruises-schroozes. Bah!
I’ve repeated this exercise many times since with film/novel in two dimensions, but very seldom with all three. I repeated it with Notes On a Scandal - again an illuminating exercise, where the film, the book and the screenplay were all of a very high quality. I’m repeating this with Dune now.
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The Pandemic Adaptation University - Standing Workstations
Need I say more? Boy, have we been forced to learn so much just to be able to carry on! But a lot of that forced learning has been good too. Something that I will definitely carry forward are new, positive work habits. As you can see, my workstation got a lot of love, and a collapsible standing desk:
I experimented with different arrangements of additional screen and laptop placements until I got to the optimal setup where I could transition between sitting and standing with minimal effort (if any of you care to know more, just ask me in a comment. I could write a book on it!). All the while, I couldn’t help thinking of one of my favourite polymaths - Walter Murch (who, among his many accomplishments, was the editor of The Godfather films, and also their sound designer). Walter has a thing or two to say about standing and working, and I just love where all his research goes!
Adaptation - Wrestling with Change, Rilke style
Change often scares us. We often resist it. But there’s lot of good to be had in not just embracing it, but adapting the kinetic energy of its onslaught into energy and growth. Somewhat like King T’chala in Black Panther, whose suit stores up all the hits he takes and then allows him to sonic boom Killmoger’s ass while slow-walking at him.
See what Rilke had to say about wrestling with change, represented here by an Angel who decided to show up and disrupt a day in the lives of Old Testament wrestlers. While on one hand it makes for a mind-bending mashup between a WWE segment and Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the poem looks at our continuous grapple with change with insight and humility.
The man watching by Rainer Maria Rilke (excerpt)
… Think of the Angel who appeared to the wrestlers of the Old Testament: when his opponent's sinews in that contest stretch like steel, he feels them under his fingers as strings making deep melodies. Whoever was overcome by this Angel (who so often declined the fight), he strides erect and justified and great out of that hard hand which, as if sculpting, nestled round him. Winning does not tempt him. His growth is: to be the deeply defeated by ever greater things. (Click here for the full poem)
Aao Surf Karein (Hindi - “Let’s Surf”)
My favourite metaphor for how humanity can positively translate change into an act of beauty is the image of the surfer.
So, y’all - thanks for helping me ride the Wave. It is my sincere hope that you find something in these missives that helps you ride it too.
Do take a moment to think about anyone else who may enjoy reading this newsletter and…
See you next week!