2016: The Year That Was

If I have to pick a single word to describe the year that was – considering no major upsets or joys come my way in the one week that remains – 2016 has been all about introspection.

There have been highs of the kinds I’ve never experienced before. And lows of the kind I haven’t lived since 2009. So I’ve ended up spending a lot of time, simply thinking, questioning, critiquing. This year has been about seeking answers to a lot of existential questions.

On mortality
There are four people who I consider as constants in my life. And this year, I saw three of them walk in and out of hospitals. It’s something you can never prepare yourself for. To watch someone you love struggle. To watch them in pain. To be there, holding their hand and joke, “Hey, nice bed huh?”

The truth is I don’t like hospitals. I can’t abide by white coats. I have trouble coping with misery. And a hospital is a breeding ground for it. Except for those families who have just witnessed a birth. Which is what I used to look for every time I was at the hospital. New-borns. Congratulate the parents. Grandparents. It’s the only comforting thing I could find in such a depressing place. But those moments were few and far in-between. Mostly I had to deal with seeing my mum or my dad or my uncle, lying on the bed, waiting for the nurse to come and give them the next dose of pain reliever.

The fact that people are mortal has never occupied my conscious thought for long. I skip obituary pages in the newspaper. I read only the headlines of articles that are about mishaps. I have not yet learned the exact words to say to someone on the passing of their beloved. But this year, seeing my parents, and my uncle who is only six years older to me go through the routine of being bed-ridden, being treated and then recovering, got me thinking about the fragility of the human body. Of how, no matter what we do to slow down the ageing process, the living body is breakable and the eventuality that death is, can be torturous, painful and slow.

On happiness (or lack thereof)
I have a high IQ, or so the tests I took in college seemed to suggest. I also have high standards. It’s a combination that is guaranteed to generate a lot of unhappiness. The world never seems enough. People don’t come across as being deep enough. Alternate lives that I can live, scream for my attention. The desire to explore and experience new things is always making me procrastinate. I work enough, both towards my career and my personal life so I am satisfied on most days. But on days that I’m not, stargazing seems to be the only thing that puts things into perspective for me. Of how tiny I am in the grander scheme of the universe. Literally.

I have had days on which I’ve been happy and days on which I’ve forced myself to be happy. The latter is not nearly the same as the former, but at least it has been a conscious effort. This year, I learnt that nothing in life is hard coded. No rules, no beliefs, no boundaries can force me to act contrary to my nature or my desire. Happiness is not some pot of gold at the end of a rainbow that I must seek; it is to be found in trivial, daily moments that are otherwise fleeting. Like asking SB, “Are you a practical person or an idealist?” and then sitting with her and dissecting life, the universe and everything in between. Like sitting at Starbucks, enjoying my coffee (which I have now quit) and striking a conversation with a complete stranger and discovering their life goals. Like having a second glass of wine, even though the first has already got me high (my tolerance for alcohol is quite low).

I’m pessimistic by nature. It is in my personality to prepare for the worst outcome. I’m not a perfectionist, but I need everything around me to be of an extremely high quality. So happiness is elusive because the chase is always for something better, something classier, something finer. But happiness is also a state of mind.

But happiness can also be a state of mind, something that I’ve come to realise in the last three months. A European holiday gave me much food for thought – it sparked my curiosity for learning, it gave me a taste of adventure and it gave me the story for my first book. So even though the year didn’t start off well, and by August my life derailed, I’m ending the year on a much more positive note than I imagined I would.

On starting life
I turned thirty this year. The mid-point of my life. Sure I could live well beyond sixty, but I also might not. So assuming, that sixty it is. I have already lived half my life. And what have I done with it?

I’m not one to seek achievements; anonymity has been a comfortable garb for me all this while. I don’t intend to be Steve Jobs. Or Walt Disney. Inspiring personalities both. I’m okay with being a nobody, recognised for nothing, remembered by my core people alone. But I am very much an experiential person. I have a compelling need to be around people, not in crowded or noisy places, but comfortable muted ones. Not talking. Just observing. Just absorbing. I flit from being in the presence of people to going into complete isolation. It’s how my brain gets its food. It’s how I get my stories. And this year has been the acknowledgement of my passion, for doing what I have wanted to do since I was 11 – write.

It’s a risky adventure for sure. To turn to writing full-time. To leave a job I’m comfortable at, that I’m good at, and instead, choose not to have the security of a notification that arrives in my inbox at the end of every month when my salary gets credited. So I made a very bold decision, and the support of my family and friends has been invaluable in the previous weeks. I imagine myself sailing a ship of my own make, on seas unknown, in search of the promised land. “Don’t turn into a pirate!”, I hear SB cheering me on, and I laugh at the thought. There’s a thank-you owed to her right here.

On promises (vague) for 2017
I’m not calling them resolutions because they are a part of my bucket list and it doesn’t matter if 2017 doesn’t see them getting checked off from the list. But since next year I get to re-prioritize my life, and that’s an amazing opportunity, I’ve taken stock of all things, correctional and learning-wise, that I need to get started.

#Goals2017

  • To brain food
    – First conversations (0)
    One of the ways I plan on feeding my need for interestingness is to keep a count of strangers that I strike a conversation with and maintain a record of anything interesting I learn from them.
    – Learn/do something new (0)
    Maybe learn Italian. Or pick up that guitar I’ve had for eight years and finally learn to play it. Or study about black holes. I want to discover new hobbies and learn about new subjects.
    – Read 100 books (0/100)
    That’s about a book every three days. Easy in theory, practically not. So that’s a mighty task ahead of me.

 

  • To creative pursuits
    – A photo a day (0/365)
    It’s the one creative act that takes minimal effort, except for a perspective and an anecdote to accompany it. So to 365 photographs in 2017.
    – Blog (0/100)
    I have enough matter to fill up my blog every single day. I do not have nearly enough time, though. To keep it relaxed, I’m aiming to publish 100 posts next year on this blog.
    – Write handwritten notes (0)
    There’s some magical element to ink and paper. The days of handwritten letters are long past. I don’t even know where the post office is. But I’m going to make an effort to write to people; I want them to get away from their screens, hold a piece of my writing in their hands and feel what I’m conveying.
    – Write that first book 
    So that dream, about me being a novelist? That’s what this is about. I can’t say if it is enough time. Or whether it will be too less. And surprisingly I’m not tagging a quantity against it. Just that I need to do it in 2017.

 

  • To focusing on my body
    – Go vegetarian for a week (0/7)
    If you know me, you’d know of my love for food. Which means I’d try anything on a plate. The most exotic thing I had this year were frog legs. But while I do love my food, I want to exercise restraint and make healthy choices. So I want to give up animal products for a week. This one’s more of a mind challenge than anything else.
    – Quit coffee (0/0)
    Caffeine is something I’ve been addicted to for decades. First, it was the love of Coke I had to control. Next year, it’s going to be coffee. Good thing, I’ve already been coffee-free for two weeks. So I’m hoping that my days of transgression will be few and far in-between.
    – Walk/run every day (0/365)
    I’m not a morning person, so there’s no way I’ll get up at 6 in the morning to attempt this. I’m usually too busy working in the evenings because that’s when I’m at my most productive. So I’m not exactly sure where in my day will I fit this in, but still, challenging myself to 365 days of some physical activity.

 

  • To happiness
    – Deal with my insecurities (0/0)
    It’s never easy acknowledging to oneself, much less to an audience, what one’s imperfections are. But if I don’t, I shall never find myself outgrowing them. I have quite a few shortcomings, but the one that always screams in my head is my self-doubt. Starting 2017, I want to silence it.
    – Happiness Is (0)
    I’m going to start a #happiness list. Call it a gratitude journal or a record of all things that make me smile in 2017, I plan on keeping a log of stuff that make me tick, people who make my day, conversations that make me laugh with abandon. To make it challenging, none of the things on the list can be related to romance or dating.
    – Travel to some place I’ve never been before
    This one could be a new country or even a new city; the only condition being I should be visiting it for the first time. And a sub-task to this is to go on a holiday with SB. We’ve shared many nights in cities away from our homes. Lived in the same hotels, same apartments, even done touristy things together. But we haven’t gone on a holiday yet. So in 2017, I must go on a holiday with my best friend.
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