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Yet Untitled 008 - What to do with Siberia?
The act of translating significant life-experiences forward
See the girl in the photo? Of course you do, the light’s bloody fantastic, making her glow as if lit from within!
I spent a week with her in the Altai mountains (an overnight bus ride north of Novosibirsk, capital city of the Siberian Federal District, Russia) in the summer of 2003. It was a summer that changed the script of my life. It made me, for the first time, the protagonist I really wanted to see filling the pages of my book when I got around to writing it.
In a place where nobody knew me or anything about where I came from, I reinvented myself for everyone I met. On one occasion I was asked to sing a Bollywood song, which I did, but when I didn’t know the lyrics beyond the first verse, I just made them up - confidently, since nobody was there to call me out. To everyone in Siberia, I was the sole ambassador of the exotic, and this deception thrilled me. While my present self tut-tuts a bit at this, it does acknowledge that I gained something by playing this reinvention game - leaving behind what I thought were the bad bits, taking on something new.
This act of impersonating someone who till then had not been me felt like inviting someone new to start living inside my body. What’s interesting is this: the new guy stayed! He was more adventurous, perhaps even a little reckless. He helped me claim a new territory in my life - which I accept as reasonable rent for letting him take up residence inside my body.
Still curious about the girl in the photo?
She played her part. On the second day of our trip, she chose someone else as her bedfellow. I really wanted to hate him, but he complicated things by being so frickin’ kind to me that I took him as a friend. One morning I found him cleaning his shoes in my room. On looking closer, I saw that those were my shoes he was cleaning. It was a simple, sincere act of friendship that I’d never forget.
Here’s our international love triangle (with me clearly on the wrong apex!):
All this forms a small part of a fantastic experience from my youth - full of stuff you just can’t make up - and I’ve struggled with what to do with it - many false starts, many torn pages. Once, though, it literally burst out from my fingers with an immediacy that surprised me. In the photograph above, there’s a lake behind the three of us with a dark story associated with it. One day, unable to hold back, I drew it. See below, and do click on the images to see the details; hopefully you’ll be able to decipher my handwriting and read this eerie tale that stayed with me:
Art and cartooning had only been a sporadic part of my life till then - I’ve referenced some of this in Yet Untitled 002. I had never really made a concerted effort to develop a style or a craft with any purpose till then, but it was as if every little scrap of skill that happened to be there suddenly made itself available. This was, apparently, enough to allow the story I so desired to tell the expression it needed.
Doing this - allowing this story to find its way out in an unexpected way - was, hands down, one of the happiest experiences of my life!
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Darren Aronofsky and The Fountain
Here’s something that inspired me.
Did you know that Darren Aronofsky first failed to make The Fountain - his expansive saga of love that tries to conquer mortality - before he succeeded? There were various reasons, but mostly because the project got so big initially that it imploded on him. He was a wreck - an indie filmmaker out of his depth making a big budget film. On top that, it happened at a time when his mother was commencing chemotherapy. The world had collapsed on top of him.
But The Fountain was a story could he could not hold back.
So he collaborated with an artist called Kent Williams and produced a graphic novel telling the same story in a different form. In the process, he started seeing things differently and started toying with the idea of a film again - doing it like he knew how: as a lean, mean indie picture. He replanned the shoot, chopped down the budget opting to use microphotography of ocean organisms to stand in for the expensive CGI he’s need for the film’s extensive space sequences.
Both the graphic novel and the film were completed around the same time. And by the time he finished, his mom was healthy too.
This stuff makes me think. Writing is my job but it’s also what excites me and nourishes me. Sometimes I get all weary and fatigued because of my job. However I can vouch for being on the lookout for new ways to channel the things you want (need?) to say. For a long time, blogging seemed a ‘lesser’ medium, but dang, it’s feeding my soul every week, undeniably.
What did you think? Does this resonate in any way? I would love to know.
I used to find the idea of “keeping a journal” daunting. At the same time, I felt the need to for a receptacle (horrible word!) of sorts to dump the myriad sparks and splutters emerging from my brain. A folder in my computer, a collection of notes on an app on my phone - they all felt like hyper-pixellated versions of what I wanted, with life and spirit sieving through the empty pixels.
Then I discovered Bullet Journaling - aka BuJo 😄.
Nobody explains it more eloquently than Ryder Caroll, BuJo’s creator, who had initially evolved this method (of efficiently turning simple notebooks into efficient, searchable though still wonderfully analogue tools for productive mindfulness) to counter his ADHD. Read more about it on Read more about it on https://bulletjournal.com.
For me, BuJo deeply satisfied my organisation OCD in the manner that a chilled Friday evening beer brings the weekend on; and on top of that became the receptacle (forgive me!) for consistent, unorganised and playful expression not only in the body of its prescribed short-form “micro-journal” entries but also in margins, back pages and covers. It’s also a place where I collaborate with my kids - Ananya and Aahana - letting them draw wherever they feel like, often drawing on top of their art or vice versa.
I love how BuJo made creative expression less “precious” for me, turning it into an everyday and routine act, which - like everything else - sometimes sparks and sometimes doesn't.
Think someone you know would benefit from Bullet Journaling? Share this post with them:
That’s it for this week!
For any of you who joined via a link or a share, here’s a question I posed to my email subscribers in the preamble to this edition:
“Is there a story living in you that must be told? What do you think would happen if you tell it in some way?” Would something change?
I’d love to hear your perspective. Do respond to this email or drop me a comment with your answer.
See you next week!