Yet Untitled 026 - One Decade Apart
A story of two selves with a decade in between
Dearest Yet Untitlers,
I came across this seminar that immediately resonated on many levels. I was first drawn to Alex Chee via the title of his book: “How to write an Autobiographical Novel”. The moment I came across this title, I knew it was for me. Those who’ve been here for awhile know how heavily I lean on autobiography while writing “Yet Untitled”. I can extend that by saying I lean on autobiography for all my writing. Sometimes, I feel that this ‘ol life is the only point of reference I’ll ever I have for the wonder unfolding around me.
I constantly try to understand this relationship better - my relationship with my past that helps me understand the present. I’ve signed up for the Alex Chee seminar. The readings they send are fantastic. I never knew there were so many ways to write about the past; and I find the idea of looking at past selves as other people a liberating, illuminating device. Consider signing up if this interests you - even though one instalment is through, you can still watch the recording and catch the second one live in August.
As a result, this edition of YU is dedicated to an exploration of past selves via a device of my own. The idea is simple - we make a mark on the stuff we use, and this ends up telling something about us - who we were when we made that mark. Through this lens, pages in a notebook from 10 years ago are suddenly telling in more ways than before. Photographs from a decade ago reveal something about who I was when I took them.
Let me share some of these finding with you.
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Photographing the Taj Mahal, One Decade Apart
Vani is from Agra.
The first time we visited Agra after our marriage in 2010, I asked to see the Taj Mahal. I had never been. Carrying my Canon 40D, a camera with which I was still finding my groove (much like I with Vani and Vani with me!), I saw nothing but the astounding symmetry of this true wonder. Through the lens, my eye learned of this crazy monument’s perfection by observing the frame lose its magic with one centimetre of misalignment with its invisible meridians.
On the second visit in 2022, I didn’t really care for the Taj’s lines. Of course, they were there as they have been for 500 years, but I simply didn’t feel compelled to photograph them with my Leica MP and its 50mm Sumicron. Instead…
…I went looking for the thousands of posers from as many milieus who had teemed to this monument of love on a hot, humid July day to catch a trick-shot of themselves hilariously suspending the Taj form their index fingers and thumbs.
In 2010, was the Vasant who visited the Taj interested in no being other than Vani? And was the Vasant who visited in 2022 now peering out at the rest of humanity from the safe and secure haven of of his own solid monument of conjugality?
Two Journals, One Decade Apart
Journal 1 - 2011
This is one journal that survived the past decade. There were others. I trashed them. More on this later.
This journal has pages from three different writers’ workshops, and my very scattered journal entries from our travels in Switzerland and Italy; part holiday, part work (attending those workshops).
In the ‘work’ pages, I see a very diligent Vasant, writing down everything. In these pages below - from film labs and writing workshops - I see clearly the then Vasant who had not been to film school wanting to retain everything, wanting to convert information and knowledge into art right there and then. I see his impatience at not being able to make a film now, I see his frustration at the inability to convert all this inspiration into something substantial immediately!
In the doodles - the little bits of art springing up between paragraphs - I see the earliest impulse that eventually became Yet Untitled: the urge to have a medium to express thought and feeling at will. Words didn’t feel enough even then. Looking at a page filled with thought and image felt fantastic even then. To the present Vasant’s eye, it all makes sense. To that Vasant, it was all longing, wistfulness and impatience.
Ha! The holiday pages! I love “Got wasted at Hard Rock”🍷 and I 🤢 at “lots of loosies”💩. So much for a cultural tour of Florence! In here, I see a Vasant still figuring out what to do with a journal, not quite harnessing its potential still. Entries such as these are irregular; journaling is still not a practice. In between the lines are my memories of two young people, learning the lines and meridians of their love, walking down cobbled alleyways, drunk on 3 euro carafes of wine and on each other.
By the way, this page references a trip to Pisa, where we saw this. Familiar?
Journal 2 - 2021
January, 2021. We are still in the pandemic. In these pages, I see Vasant trying hard to bring structure to a life that threatens not to make sense every day. I lost my dad in the pandemic and at the time this page was written, I worried for my 93 year old grandma. One entry reads:
“I hugged Dadima and she said “One more day…”
We lost her exactly one year later in January, 2022.
In these pages, I have harnessed the medium, become adept at Bullet Journaling and I seem to have evolved my doodling style. Doodling here seems much more for entertainment than recording. There is confidence. Some of the desperation to express seems to have exited (thankfully) and I see a quiet confidence in expression that I know has been earned via a decade of trying, failing and trying again.
Man, these pages tell so much!
What another page makes clear is that it’s not just Vani and me anymore. There’s Ananya and Aahana too, and they are going to make their way into everything I do. Do I have a secret garden of creativity that only I enter for solitude and clear thinking? Forget it. These two barge into my dreams and draw their unicorns on the ether there.
So at some stage, I stopped fighting this and let them occupy my journals, my dreams, my newsletter and whatever else of mine they wanted to lay claim to. It’s been…entertaining. And loud.
I’m trying to make the most of it. I have a feeling that their teenage years might present me with a void where all this crazy activity - manifesting as their drawing, their apology notes, their experiments with expression - is an inexhaustible explosion for now.
Burning my journals
I used to have a Siberia journal (I referenced my experiences in Siberia in Yet Untitled 008). I chucked it.
At some point, I felt my older selves were holding me back. I needed to break free and leave them behind. The instinct wasn’t misplaced. But damn, I wish i’d found some other way than trashing that journal. Alas.
Where do I land?
Change has happened. Change is happening. Change is constant. Here’s the Heraclitus quote we all learn in our collegiate debating societies:
No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.
After writing this edition, I’ll be paying close attention to Alex Chee’s seminar. My life seems to depend on this excavation of the self. My hope is that you all - my dear Yet Untitlers - are finding something of value as I excavate away!
Is there a self from your past that you miss?
I want to know!
Seriously - it would give me untold pleasure to hear from you (and it would displace the feeling of writing into a void, which - with nearly 150 of you - I’m clearly not!)