Back to square one?

Have you ever had a moment of absolute certainty slowly taken apart till you’re no longer even certain you’re you?

A proposal you’ve made in complete confidence been accepted, and then you aren’t so confident any more?

I seem to be at sea, but it might not be a bad place for someone who wants to make a living looking for pearls, huh?

So, about what I’m doing now. I’ve gone and tied my fortunes to a budding idea. Thankfully it’s one that the institution I’m with is willing to tie itself to, too. Which means we sink or swim together. Right now, we’re floating. Just about.

It’s a spanking new university. Well, some parts of it have been around for the past 200 years, but as a university, it’s spanking new.

It’s a women’s university. I still wonder, sometimes, about that nature of the space. I definitely don’t think feminism is something only women are (or should be) interested in; at the same time, the fact that it is a womens’ space makes talking about gender and feminism much easier. The ‘exclusiveness’ of the academic spaces I’ve inhabited so far has always niggled; so working in a space committed to inclusion is wonderfully liberating.

At the same time, liberty is scary. This is a women’s university in a rural area – the kind of place that has only existed on the fringes of my reality till date; the other side of my nowhere, so to speak. Being at liberty here is exciting, like being an explorer. And just the little, teeny-weeny bit scary that makes it extremely fun.

I need to go back to school.

time to read

Before I start posting about work (as I’m very likely to start doing; I’m having a hard time not blogging about it!), I thought I should tell you about a certain classroom I visited in Bangalore. This was a first-year class of law students in a five-year course. I was asked to talk to them about ‘anything at all’.

And what a class it was! We started a little tentatively, but then got on fine. I think I might have gotten a little bit tedious, but they were all very polite about it. And at the end of the hour, a kid (who is going to grow up gorgeous, by the way) came and asked me how to find time to read fiction and stuff while in college.

And that set me thinking. Even with people who aren’t in college any more, I increasingly get a “nothing, really – no time, you know” response to the old “so, what have you been reading lately?” conversation-opener. Has everyone stopped reading or what?!

(I hope not; what will I do for conversation, then?)

But back to that classroom and that going-to-be-gorgeous kid. I never had a problem finding time to read stuff in college – no one I knew did, except maybe around the time we wrote the PIL exam. And I don’t think that was only because we ignored the class reading lists, either. We either had memberships at Eloor or that (then) new place in Vijayanagar, we borrowed books off people who had memberships, or we just borrowed books and I, for one, learnt not to lend mine around.

So, have class reading lists become heavier? Have teachers become stricter about having read the stuff on the lists? Why do people tell me they have no time to read?! 

Compassion

BikerGirl and I (me?) were having a heart-to-heart, and began to wonder about writing that evokes empathy, and writers who are good at doing it. Or speakers, for that matter. There are books, articles, essays that create that strange feeling, an identity with what is being written about. Situations, people far from our own realities, but these black-on-white words make them part of what we live.

When I lived in that little-town-half-way-across-the-world, my friends used to tease me about living in books. Not literally, but I wanted a taste of what I’d read about – from watercress to walking by the river. It was a longing to do in reality what I had already done when I read Enid Blyton and William Blake, and I indulged it.

Today, I read Sacred Games or Backlash, and sometimes, I have already lived what I am reading about. But it still has the power to merge my life with what I am reading about, to make me think as they think, share joy and sorrow, anger and frustration, exuberance and incredulity.

I wonder about people who can write like that. Do they feel it more intensely that I do? I am only a reader, after all. Or is it because they distance themselves that they can write like that? I wonder about their everyday lives. Do they participate in the lives of every person they meet, they know or know of, so that I may vicariously take part in the lives of a million others? Or is it because their lives centre only around themselves that they can create a million characters for me to empathise with?

Aha!

Someone suggested yesterday that the reason I enjoy myself so much at work is a love for speaking in public.

So what does this say about me? Or about what I should be doing?!

Paper planes

A bunch of paper’s gone flying today, and I can’t call it back. There’s this terrible feeling that this was a BIG BIG BIG mistake, but now I can’t do anything about it. What’s worse, I have to carry it through and finish it!

I bought Dad On Beauty for his birthday, and as usual, finished reading it before he’s gotten round to it. There’s a point in the book where a mother is wondering how her daughter’s turned out the way she has, and she thinks something to the effect that she’d tried so hard to protect her from self-loathing, from the images that magazines and movies pushed down teenagers’ throats, but it seems to permeate the very air… I wish I could find the passage, but I’m feeling too lazy to go look.

It struck a chord, somehow. Reminded me of my mother. Thank God? There are times when I don’t, but most of the time I do. Whether it was her, or the fact that I studied at an all-residential Uni, or my sensible bunch of friends, I think I am reasonably safe from that self-loathing.

Yeah, only reasonably safe. There are times when I’m tempted to punish my body to match up to something I see, but thankfully, they’re fleeting!

And now I have a chance to explain my stand on ‘looks’. ‘Feminist’ doesn’t mean I have to be against feminine beauty, or even feminine beauty as defined by ‘predominantly male social norms’, but I’ve always found it difficult to explain this.

I find beauty in many things ‘feminine’: the curl of an eyelash, a dangling earring, tossing hair, the curve of a waist. A loud, confident laugh, the flushing of a face when angry: these may not be what come to mind when you say ‘feminine’, but I think they’re more beautiful in women than in men.

So my problem is not with the norms of beauty themselves, it is with the idea that (only?) men can set them. I agree with some of the norms, so I’m asked what it matters who set them. Well, I suppose I have a moral authority to set the norms, since it’s my body we’re talking about. And a norm, whoever’s set it, that leads to self-loathing, has no moral authority at all.

I can just hear you going “Norm who?” Shut up.

I wonder what the norms for masculine beauty are, though. Anyone have an idea? 

Tag?

 About a month ago, Tharunya tagged me.

 Write out as many things as you can that you admire in others, whether you have them or no.

And she said, for some reason, that *my* list, she would see. I told her it might take a while, and it has. Not because there aren’t things I admire in others, but because there are so many.

And because the same things that seem admirable at one time seem irritating or positively painful at others. So I don’t know whether I should put them down!

Tharunya, I didn’t know this was going to be so much work!

But for what it’s worth, here’s the list, in no particular order and with the caveat that each of these should be taken in proper doses, at the right time, preferably with a pinch of salt.

  • persistence, obstinacy, determination, will
  • the ability to fight laziness and distraction
  • the gift of the gab, wit, the ability to discuss things without turning it into an argument
  • a high metabolic rate
  • perfect skin
  • good teeth
  • intellect
  • intelligence
  • thick skin
  • sensitivity, sensibility, sense
  • tact
  • being able to flutter your eyelashes properly
  • dimples

I could go on, of course. And on and on and on.

And I’m not tagging anybody. Sorry, T, but I can’t put other people through this! If anyone who’s reading this wants to, however, please make a list of as many things as you can that you admire in others, whether you have them or no. And leave a comment here to let me know!

Jommetry, Headology and a Personal Statement

I finished the last, so felt entitled to a bit of the first two. Yes, I’ve been reading Pratchett, and hugely enjoying myself. (Thanks, BB, for lending me Equal Rites!)

I’ve also been accused of talking too much, and realised how true it was when I picked up a hugely excited Pooh from the airport yesterday – I’m not surprised people confuse the two of us though we’re five-and-a-very-important-half years apart!

But back to the accusation of being so talkative… I suppose I do miss the daily one hour dose of my own voice quite a bit during the hols. And I suppose it does have a little to do with being a woman.

As I was explaining to AB the other day, it has to do with Granny Weatherwax‘s explanation of the difference between witch magic and wizard magic. Witch magic, according to Granny, is mostly a good knowledge of how things work plus a good bit of Headology. Wizard magic is jommetry. For headology to work, you need words. And I mean need.

Now, it’s natural for witches to be women, and when a witch decides to be a teacher, she needs all the headology she can muster, doesn’t she?

So do you wonder that I talk so much?