“The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.”
– Anaïs Nin
Four weeks back, I realised something bothered me about my blog. I didn’t quite know what it was. So when I came across Jeff Goins’ free Intentional Blogging Challenge for 21 days on Facebook, I jumped at it. Each day he posted a blogging exercise that I needed to do. I’ll admit it was a struggle. It made me re-think my blog and I had to stop blogging to figure things out. During this Challenge, I learned about many things I hadn’t even considered before I started blogging. It helped me be more honest with myself. I’ll also admit that there are a few things I still need to work on. But I’m back and so are my posts.
The challenge started with rewriting my About page. So do have a look and feel free to leave your comments.
One of the challenges was to post a blog that shares the story behind my blog, why I started writing, why I feel I have to write and what I hope to achieve through it. That’s what this post is about.
How it started
It all started with a story. I make my own animations, but I was too impatient to get the story out of my head and writing seemed like the shortest way to get it out. Just goes to prove how little I knew back then. Now, if that was the only reason why I started writing, I would have written the story and moved on, and never thought about writing again. However, once I opened the flood gates, it was too late to stop the flow. Thank God, because I’m rather sure if not for that, if I didn’t write, two things would have happened: 1) I would have gone mental with the thoughts swirling in my head, 2) I would have never found my true calling in life.
It feels strange to write those words. No, not the going crazy part, I always had an inkling that I was wee bit crazy, which I think adds to the charm :). I’m referring to the finding-my-true-calling part. Those are not words I would usually use. For a long time, I was the kind of person who knew exactly how my life was supposed to turn out, who had to stay in control of things – life, career, emotions, people. Somehow I had concluded that being in control would remove all uncertainties from my life. After years of struggle and some hard lessons learnt, I can tell you that there’s one thing I’m certain of: Uncertainty, though scary, is a good thing. Taking a leap of faith in life teaches you things that’s both exhilarating and enlightening. It not only opens your mind, but also your heart.
“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add colour to my sunset sky.”
― Rabindranath Tagore
Ever felt like your day was beginning to look like an overcast autumn day? You know, the kind of day that makes you remember the time someone told you that humans eat eight spiders on an average every year and you wonder if you have had your year’s share that morning because your head is so full of cobwebs that every time you move your head it feels as if your brain is bouncing off stringy webs like an excited kid on a trampoline? Well, yesterday turned out to be one of those days. I was beginning to imagine the taste of that last spider in my mouth and trust me, you don’t want to try it.
I sat down to write and I could feel my brain struggling against the cobwebs. I wrote a few lines. I stopped. I read what I wrote and stopped. So essentially, I was stuck in a write-stop-read-stop-repeat cycle. Why is my tone all whiny? Well, the number of hours spent writing a few lines is inversely proportional to the irritating pitch that can only come from griping. As the day went by, I realised I had to find a cure. And I’m happy to report that I did.
So if you are in a similar rut, here’s what I did. Mind you, if this doesn’t work for you, you should probably never come to Oslo. It wouldn’t do you any good, really.
I picked up my camera, a Nikon D3000, and walked through the streets of Oslo to capture the autumn colours. The chilly air nipped at my fingers. I walked along the coast, the water a murky grey with the wind sending ripples through it. I had no set route to follow, my head was too cloudy to undertake such planning. I just started taking pictures.
I could recite all the shades of green, yellow, red, and brown, but I’m not sure that would cover the colour riot I witnessed. Dry leaves littered every surface. The golden yellows, ochres, maroons, fading greens, they danced on the remaining rich green grass and the concrete pavements with equal joy, unfettered by where they were, untouched by the bleakness in the sky. A distant hill covered with trees, stood in stoic silence amid the grey water. It threw every shade of colour it could at me. As the slope rose towards the sky, its expanse seemed to heave with the vibrancy that only an autumn day can produce. That distant hill seemed keen to cheer-up the sky, as if goading the sun to steer clear of the clouds and show its bright face. Another hill, much closer, loomed behind the white Opera House. The brilliance of the orange, yellow and apple green rendered even the the old houses with red roofs dull in comparison.
I caught the last of the summer colours in scarlet flowers drooping from green leaves, purple flowers sticking out of nondescript flower pots, baby pink flowers blooming from dark vases high up on building walls, proof of summer’s defiance of making way for autumn. I looked up, and under the canopy of bright greens and yellows, I could barely see the grey sky beyond. Streets with mundane traffic looked as if someone had scrubbed it clean because all my eyes could see were the trees, sticking out their radiant branches as if they want to give everyone on the road a big, warm hug.
As I walked, I ended up in the grounds around Akershus Fortress. The last time I visited it, not too long ago, it was the poster child for summer. But now, it had switched its allegiance. Rows of towering trees rolled on as I walked through the grounds. One of the high walls in the Fortress was covered with crimson leaves. Between the lush grass peaking out of dry brown and yellow leaves, and the ancient grey stone walls behind, the wall of red seemed like autumn was flaunting.
As I headed back home, I came across these berry plants tucked away from the road.
I have no idea what they are, or if they are edible. But their medley of purple, white and green made me smile. And I realised, with each photo, a string of that maze of cobwebs in my head had come undone. The webs became wisps and melted away among the colours around me.
So the next time you have a cloudy day, take a walk among nature and irrespective of how the weather is outside, you will find the sun shining within you. It is that little ball of fire within each of us that makes us feel like a glowing star and that’s the sun that really matters. Because that sun can keep us going even in the harshest of winters. And everyone I meet these days keeps telling me “Winter’s coming”. So go out and stock up on your inner sun and kick those cloudy days goodbye.
What’s your cure for a cloudy day? Share in the comments.
“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of. ”
― Joss Whedon
The past couple of weeks, I haven’t been regular with my blog posts. This got me thinking. Because I’ve done this before – started writing a blog with enthusiasm, slowed down as days went by, and eventually I gave up on it. So perhaps I’m heading the same way again? That thought had me concerned.
The truth is I’ve been working on a story, a book that’s leading me into fascinating and unexplored territories, in my writing and in my life. And it’s taking up a lot of my time. This is probably the first time that I’ve ever mentioned writing a book in public. Except for a few people, no one knew about it. No, it’s not some secret mission. I’m taking it seriously now and it makes sense to tell people about it. As I’m juggling my time between a number of writing projects, I wanted to tackle the slack in my blogging by reminding myself why I began writing in the first place. And it turns out, it all began with worrying … a lot.
I used to worry about my career, about my life, about where I’m going in life. I love jigsaw puzzles. It’s thrilling to figure out how the pieces fit together. But in my life, when I couldn’t find a piece or I didn’t know how the pieces fit together, I would worry. My eyebrows would furrow and I would squint at the pieces with everything I had to find some connection, and I would worry. My imagination, though extremely helpful while writing, would take flight unbound, and I would worry. The result: a muddled mind filled with uncertainty. And I waited almost in a limbo to be sure, for things to be clear. When that didn’t happen, what did I do? I worried.
That’s when I started writing. I don’t know why, but that just seemed like what I needed to do. I wrote and pages filled up. Perhaps my imagination was preoccupied with writing, but clarity that I sought found its way into my life. So I wrote more. My writing improved. Strangely enough, I stopped worrying. I was happiest when I wrote. The words that appeared on the screen were like the magic wand that cleared the clutter in my head – I could finally label things. From a sense of feeling emotionally retarded, I could express what I felt with my writing. I had to write, for my own sanity. Writing became my catharsis and I know it’s going to remain so for the rest of my life.
Writing has brought me so much joy, I wanted to share it by blogging. The more I read why people write, I realised, I was not alone in using writing to face my fears and doubts. That’s how I found the courage to share my writing with the world. I didn’t know if anyone would want to read it. But once you have taken the leap of faith with writing, you want to jump as high and as far as possible.
I read this brilliant article on the benefits of keeping a journal, where writer Susan Sontag says, “Superficial to understand the journal as just a receptacle for one’s private, secret thoughts—like a confidante who is deaf, dumb, and illiterate. In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could do to any person; I create myself. The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent. Therefore (alas) it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather — in many cases — offers an alternative to it.”
So here’s what I’ve learnt – don’t worry, just write. You don’t have to necessarily open your heart to the world. You can share as much as you are comfortable sharing. If you don’t want to share, that’s fine as well. It doesn’t have to be a blog or a book or even a story. It can be a journal, your observations or thoughts, or just a series of events that happened to you. But trust me on this, you want to write. You may or may not find that book in you, but I promise you, you will find yourself. You will be surprised, you might be puzzled. But if you keep at it, you will be amazed by the insights you gain, about your life and the world we live in.
In a world addicted to instant gratification, writing gives you a few precious moments to pause and think, to figure things out for yourself, so you are not blindly swept away by the ever changing trends and what’s “in”.
The beauty of writing is that it forces you to stay in the present, to live in the moment. Try as you might to dwell in the past or project into the future, you have to be here, in this moment, to write your thoughts down. In that moment of solitude, you are free, to see what’s important, to feel what you want to rather than what you think you should. You are free to be who you are, instead of all that you thought you should be. You find connections that you didn’t know existed, the common threads that bind our universe together. When you connect the dots, make sense of things in life that seemed meaningless, that appeared to serve no purpose, it’s a rush you are better off experiencing yourself. A word of advice, that leap of faith I mentioned earlier, you have to want to take it. You must be willing to launch yourself from solid ground into the unknown. When I started writing, I had to let go of many preconceived ideas I had about myself and my life. It was not easy. But it was necessary and it took me a while to see that. So take the leap, open your mind and jump into the unknown. Just … write.
How has writing helped you? Why do you write? Do you want to write but don’t know where to begin? Share your thoughts in the Comments.
“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
– Sylvia Plath
I was speaking to another writer and I realised how much we writers deal with doubt. But as I talked to her, I found that I have learnt some valuable lessons since I started writing, lessons I wish someone had shared with me when I first decided to string some words together to tell a story. So I’m sharing some of them in the hope that it will help other writers.
1. There’s no perfect time to start
There’s just one way to be a writer: You write. There’s no point waiting for the muse, or sitting at your desk staring dreamily into the future where you see yourself winning the Man Booker Prize, or arranging your writing space till all your pens and pencils are perfectly aligned. If you want to share your words with the world, if you want to be a writer, start now. Make time each day and write. Bum, chair, write. You are welcome to change that sequence to suit your needs.
2. Learn how to tell a story
Whether you are writing a novel, a short story, or a blog, storytelling is an essential skill and it’s a skill that can be learnt. There are a number of books you can read that will give you valuable pointers on what makes a story work and how to write it, such as On Writing by Stephen King, Hooked by Les Edgerton and The Writer’s Journey – Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler, which is based on Joseph Campbell’s book, The Writer’s Journey. If you want inspiration and motivation to write, follow Jeff Goins’ blog, where he generously shares his insights on writing and life.
These are just a few drops in a sea of advice that you can find on writing and storytelling. But remember, these are not strict rules, they are merely guidelines. When you search google maps or any GPS navigation device for routes, it usually gives you a number of route options. Whether you use one of them or a combination of them, you can still get to your destination. You can be as adventurous as you want to be. It’s the same with writing.
3. Use your imagination
You know how people tell you to “Write what you know”? Well, if everyone wrote only what they know, world would be full of boring books, and the fascinating and thrilling books would all be written by sociopaths and killers. Yes, writing what you know is a good place to start. But don’t stop there. Explore and research. Dig deeper. Find out things you don’t know, little titbits of information can trigger a story. Use your imagination, we writers have been gifted with a vivid imagination. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be writing. Cultivate your imagination. It’s simple really. Take any dull situation and apply ‘What if …?’ to it. Say you are falling asleep at work or at a class in college, what if your boss or teacher turns into a dragon? What if he disappears right in front of your eyes? What if, in the middle of a meeting/class, he can’t remember who he is? Or what if he gets attacked by a ninja, drops down dead and people look to you to go after the ninja? I could go on like this whole day. It’s a lot of fun. But please, do be aware of where you do this and who is around you. You can be Walter Mitty if you want to be, but don’t blame me if you get fired trying to save your grumpy boss from an imaginary ninja.
4. Call yourself a writer
Go on, do it. Say this aloud, ‘I’m a writer’. Say it again. Remember these words. Keep repeating them till you find yourself saying it in your sleep. Remember them when you are full of self-doubts and you think you can’t write. Tell yourself this every morning when you wake up, irrespective of what your day job is, whether or not you believe it. Soon, you’ll believe in yourself and your abilities as a writer. And you will write better because you’ll make the effort to ‘be a writer’. And remember, like Spidey says, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Well, Uncle Ben Parker said that, but Spidey makes it sound so much cooler … at least the way I hear it in my head.
5. Listen to criticism
Find some writers you can trust and ask them to critique your writing. When I say critique, I mean constructive observations intended to improve your writing and story. Bullying or putting some one down is neither constructive nor acceptable. Don’t get defensive when someone tells you something isn’t working in your story. Hear them out. Whether you agree with them or not, that’s completely up to you. But if you turn a deaf ear to criticism, you’ll never learn. Writing requires learning, constant, persistent honing of your craft, like a sculptor chipping away at a chunk of stone to find that masterpiece.
6. Read a lot and learn
These days when I read a book, I not only enjoy the story, I love figuring out what makes the story work. Things I like and don’t like become learning tools. I think about how I would have told the story and how different it would have been. And I learn from every book. You don’t have to necessarily do this. But read, a lot. As much as you can. One day when you are stuck with a plot in your book, you’ll find a way to fix it by remembering something you read in some book. Our minds have amazing ways of storing things, including books. Use it.
7. Don’t let someone tell you how good a writer you are
Perhaps your English teacher told you that you should never write another word, ever. But you think you’ll be a good writer. You try and churn out some stories. But the face of your old school teacher looms in front of you every time you sit to write. Do you give up? Well, that’s completely up to you. How much effort are you willing to put in and how badly do you want this? There will always be people who think you can’t do the things you think you can. Don’t do something just to prove them wrong. Do it because that’s the only thing you can see yourself doing, because you are willing to wake up on a cold morning, sit at your computer, and write for the next ten to fifteen years. Write because you have something to say and you need to say it. Learn everything you can about writing, and practice, a lot. Persistence is the key to being a great writer. It’s not enough to want to be a good writer, you have to do your very best to be a great one. Doing the best that you can is the best thing you can do. And don’t ever let anyone tell you how good you are at writing or in life. Only you know how good you can be.
8. Speak to other writers
I made a recent post about why art shouldn’t be lonely pursuit. We writers think we need to sit in our bat-caves to write “good things”. But we forget that there are people out there, going through similar experiences, facing similar problems and difficulties, people who share our passion for writing and understand the frustrations that come with it. The idea that sharing a problem makes it easier to face applies more than ever to writers. We need to share, that’s fundamental to who we are and what we do. So reach out and connect with other writers. You’d be surprised how generous your fellow writers can be, how willing they are to share their process or give advice on how to solve that pesky plotting problem you are having. No one expects you jump right in and pour your heart out. Take your time but don’t hide behind your computer, typewriter or notepad. Meet other writers and speak to them. There’s no reason you have to do this alone. And you never know, you might end up getting some amazing ideas or meeting another kindred spirit who could be your writing partner. As a writer, it’s very easy to stay in a cocoon. We need it sometimes to dig deeper into ourselves. But you need to come out at some point. You know what happens to the caterpillar that doesn’t emerge in time from it’s cocoon as a butterfly? It dies – cue in dramatic music.
9. Be generous
As an aspiring writer, your views on sharing can be split into two categories. One, people will steal my ideas. Two, I don’t know anything.
There are a lot of ideas and stories to go around. Even if someone is following a similar idea, there’s only one you. Find your unique voice and no one can take that away from you. That doesn’t mean you prattle on about the brilliant idea you have for a story to anyone and everyone. As a writer, you should know when to talk and when to listen. That skill never grows old and is always useful to have.
Don’t let your insecurity come in the way of sharing what you know. And trust me, you do know something. When you are just starting, your thoughts usually revolve around, “I don’t know anything”, “I don’t want to say something because people will think I’m stupid”, “I don’t want to ask for help because they’ll know I don’t know anything”. Say you are an engineer and another writer is working on a story in which the protagonist is an engineer and she wants to know what that really involves. She would be grateful for the information that you can share with her because you have the real life experience of being an engineer. So don’t shy away from sharing what you know. And before you start saying something on the lines of “a story about engineers would be so boring”, people probably said that about archaeologists before Indiana Jones.
If you are still afraid someone is going to steal your ideas, write them down and put them in a vault. Don’t forget the combination for it though, or your ideas might never see the light of the day, literally.
10. First drafts are crap
So you’ve written your first draft to that mind-boggling novel or short story. You’ve left it for a few days and now you are ready to sift through it and polish it. You sit down to read it and it hits you, like a truck, full of smelly manure, all tumbling down on you – every word is crap. What do you do, sit crying and rocking in the shower for hours because you can’t get rid of all that smell? Oh the drama! All that would do is give you a cold, make your bum sore and waste a lot of water. So when you are tempted to do something like this, remember these words: first drafts are almost always crap. And yes, it happens to everybody.
Most people feel this rush seeing their words flow on a page. That’s good. But the real work comes after you have finished it. It takes a lot of editing and rewriting to get a polished story that works. It’s part of the process and you’d have to be daft to skip it. And the fact that you recognise what makes your writing good or bad just proves that you have grown as a writer.
You might have read about writers who spew gems in their very first draft. They are the exception. Yes, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be one of them. But when you are just starting, it pays to learn as much as you can and be humble. In fact, it always pays to be humble, no matter how many books you have sold.
11. Live your life
There are many writers who have spent their life in isolation, crafting literary masterpieces. You could be one of them. But is that really what you want, a life of solitude, without the support of family and friends, without experiencing the beautiful world around you, without having walked on dew-covered grass or soaked yourself in the first rain of the season? The more you live your life, weather the highs and lows of life, the more enriched will your writing be. Travel and see new places whenever you can. It doesn’t have to be expensive trips. You will gain vast life experiences. You will draw inspiration from them and from the people you meet. Since I started writing, odd bits of conversations that I hear inspire me to write. I’ve found story ideas from words I thought I heard someone say. With my imagination, I hear the wildest of things and it has resulted in some fascinating stories.
The added bonus of living a full life is that instead of being a depressed writer leaning towards self-harm, you will be happy and alive to share your writing with people who enjoy reading it 🙂
For the past few weeks, I’ve been surrounded by news of violence, past, present and future. The Israel – Palestine conflict in Gaza is escalating with inhuman consequences, while Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine last week killing all the 283 passengers on board. Two days back, on July 22, it was the third anniversary of the Breivik terror attack and mass murder here in Norway. And today, I woke up to the news of warnings that Norway might be the target of a terrorist attack in the next few days. There are times I’m not sure how to make sense of all this violence. So I’m writing for peace.
This poem is for all the people who have lost loved ones to violence, who have suffered or are suffering in violent conflicts all over the world. My heart and prayers go out to you.
We hide from the dark,
So we hide from the light.
If one is too deep,
The other is too bright.
The perfect world, where is it now?
Look around you,
This one we have, it still has life.
Arms we bear,
But what do we fight?
A thin line separates,
Justice from pride.
Right is wrong,
When innocence is lost.
Whatever the cause,
Does every life matter not?
Oh, the wretched irony,
Wielding violence for peace.
All that it leaves are,
Shattered lives with hopeless dreams,
Broken bonds buried in bloody memories.
Who is to blame,
We ask again and again,
The answer is plain,
Humans kill each other,
We just give it different names.
We hold our own,
Within fences and walls,
Their only fault,
They walk tall,
When we want them to crawl.
Divided we are,
By who owns what,
The land we won is already lost,
With rotten flesh and congealed blood it’s clogged.
“An ivory tower is a fine place as long as the door is open.”
– Darby Bannard
This week I met up with some fellow writers from my writers’ group, The Oslo Writers’ League. We sat in the beautiful green surroundings of Frogner Park. We feasted on strawberries, chocolate truffles, water melons, cheese and crackers, and more picnic goodies. As we relaxed on the lush green grass, we got our creative juices flowing with a micro-fiction exercise where each of us would start a story, pass it on to the person sitting to our right. That person would write a middle for the story and pass it on again. The third person to the right finishes the story. At the end of the exercise, we read out all the stories. We even had hungry seagulls and sparrows as our feathered inspiration! You can read our creations here.
Since I joined this group, I’ve realised what I’ve been missing. This is the first time I’ve ever been part of a writers’ group. The support and encouragement I’ve found in the group is amazing. We have writers of all levels and we inspire and motivate each other. I’ve even got ideas for stories from conversations with other writers in the group. This experience has only reaffirmed my belief that art should not be a lonely pursuit. The image of an artist toiling away in a cabin in the middle of nowhere may sound idyllic. But how long can someone sustain that?
“Putting out something that’s new in the world requires temporary removal from it.”
– Sarah Lewis
Writing, like most art forms, requires intense concentration and persistence. Writing a novel or a story when you are distracted by emails, tweets, Facebook updates, and family commitments can be exhausting and annoying. Just as you lift up your head to answer a spouse’s queries about dinner, you catch a glimpse of the tail-coat or skirt hem of your muse fleeing away from your mundane life. You make a desperate attempt to grab it, but it’s too late. The idea is gone, your spouse is upset because you snapped at them to chase that fleeting idea/muse which they obviously cannot see, and worse, you have to move on to make dinner. Easier to just live in a hermit’s hut you think? Trust me, that doesn’t work.
We humans are social creatures and art is a means of communication and self-expression. So who are we communicating with if we don’t want to be around anyone? Temporary isolation is essential for an artist. But the problem with complete isolation is that we give up on having a support system. Artists are prone to depression, self-doubt and self-loathing because we have been led to believe that we can do our best work only in absolute isolation. Being social does not mean you should stop in between your painting or writing to tweet. You don’t build support systems that way, you only manage to procrastinate. What sustains us are meaningful relationships formed with supportive and encouraging people. The alternative: You run out of ideas, inspiration, and life, while you wait in that idyllic cabin on your own to create that all elusive masterpiece that refuses to happen. And you end up alone, without anyone to listen to you gripe about it.
I’ve found that being a part of lovely group of fellow writers (or artists) has many benefits. You have others who go through similar struggles as you do – trying to find time to write, fixing a plot or characterisation problem, searching for references for a historical or scientific fact that you want to include in your story. They understand, and they generously help and share their wisdom.
It can be terrifying to trust other people who do what you do and open yourself to criticism. I’ve met some artists who avoid talking to other artists because their biggest fear is that someone would steal their ideas. It’s sad that we are constantly told that we live in a competitive world and the only way to “win the game” is to not share what we know with others. Of course, there are people who do steal others’ ideas, who like to put down others to make themselves feel better. But they are not the norm. They don’t realise that it’s much more fun when we share what we know. Sharing knowledge helps us learn from each other, learn from each other’s mistakes.
As a writer, it’s great to have people who can poke holes in a story you’ve written and be objective about it. It’s certainly helps to find problems in your story before you approach an agent or a publisher who really don’t have the time to help you learn. The benefit of having a fellow writer read your writing is that they don’t just read as your audience, they read it as a writer. So they can tell you about ways to improve it and they give you a different perspective, which adds depth to your writing. Since I’ve joined the writers’ group, I’ve had more “Aha! I didn’t think of that” moments than I can count. I get to learn and I get to share what I know. And I’m glad that I have people to help me, and I don’t have to do it alone.
Are you an artist who likes to interact with other artists and how has it helped you? Share your experiences in the comments.
“I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.”
― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
When someone asks me where I am from, I hesitate. My answer varies depending on what I think they really want to know about me. Sometimes I say I’m from London. Sometimes I add that I grew up in India. When I meet someone who is familiar with India, the next question they ask is where am I from in India. I pause. I hum and haw. With an embarrassed smile, I tell them it’s difficult for me to answer as I’ve lived all over the country and I couldn’t really call one place or city home. Now I’ve moved to Oslo and it’s not getting any easier to answer. And just yesterday my husband asked me if I’d ever want to live in New York!
Though I grew up in India, I’ve moved so much there, I’ve never felt a sense of belonging anywhere. I’ve studied in over five different schools and lived the longest in a city I got used to but never really loved. I’ve nursed a secret envy for people who have childhood friends, the ones they’ve known since kindergarten. As a child, it was easier to think of our move as a game. I got to see a new place, meet new people, learn new languages and experience new cultures. What’s not to like? I got to learn so much everywhere I lived and I’m eternally grateful for that. And somehow, never once did I question where I belonged. “Nowhere” seemed like a perfectly good answer.
When I moved to London, for the first time in my life, I felt at home. I missed my parents but I was surprised at how quickly I adapted to my new life. It’s not meant to be that easy, is it? Perhaps because I was in love and I got to enjoy life as a real adult (you know, living in your own house, cooking, working, paying bills) and I got to share my life with someone great, everything felt right. I guess I had fine-tuned myself to jump from place to place. I was right to question the ease I felt. It didn’t last long. The crash came soon enough when I struggled with my career and was drowning without a sense of belonging. The flood gates I had held tight shut were thrown open when I least expected it. The waves kept hitting me and I shattered under it’s force. I could not avoid the question anymore. I had to brave finding an answer or face the risk of losing myself completely. Slowly and painfully, I sifted through my life and I realised that the sense of belonging I was looking for does not come from a place or from certain people. It had to come from within. Rather than belonging to a place, I found that when I was happy with myself, I belonged – with my life, with the people I love and who love me, with everything around me. That feeling of love and contentment within made me feel secure. That is home after all, a place where you can be yourself and feel safe.
So when we thought about moving to Oslo from London, the decision to move was a leap of faith that my husband and I decided to take. We wanted to experience living in another city and Norway is great for work-life balance. We knew Oslo would be a big change from London. But, Oslo surprised me.
There is a notion that Norwegians are not friendly and they are reserved and not open to new people. I don’t know how true that is but since I’ve moved to Oslo, I’ve met some amazing people. I’ve lived in London for years and hardly seen my neighbours. The day we moved into our flat in Oslo, every single person who passed by were friendly and welcoming. I joined the Oslo Writers’ League – a writers’ group predominantly made up of expat writers from all over the world. Some of them have lived in Norway for many years. I met fellow writers who are warm, encouraging and generous. As luck would have it, they were in the process of publishing their second anthology. And the themes for the anthology: Crossroads and Identity! So I submitted my poem, “Vulnerable”, and it was included in the anthology. On May 20th, we had the book launch for the anthology, All the Ways Home ( available on Amazon US, Amazon UK and The Book Depository). I heard some of the writers speak about their writing process and their story or poem in the anthology. I was surprised how much all us have in common. Each straddling different cultures and homes, all bound together by our passion for writing. Some called two different cities home, while some, like me, realised that living in different places has changed them in so much that they don’t feel like they really belong in any one of those worlds perfectly. Fitting into a single world is not meant for us. As our editor very wisely put it, we are figuratively homeless and we search for identities and homes that extend beyond a place. For some, home is where the heart is. But if your heart lies spread across countries, a firm sense of “This is where I belong” becomes a journey of exploration.
I read the book and every tale took me on such a journey. A woman who had a miscarriage and felt relief that she could finally have a career, a poet who paid tribute to a friend who had committed suicide, a writer who saw her life as chapters split between Lebanon and Norway, a writer who never felt at home anywhere – the stories kept coming and I was drenched in their emotions. And when I finished reading it, I knew I wasn’t alone in my search and that I had others to share it with. In life, it doesn’t matter where we start or where our destination lies. The journey is what matters. Our identities are not bound to a single place. It’s decided by our experiences and how we see ourselves through them. It helps us learn more about ourselves and who we really are. And with every lesson, we find our sense of belonging within ourselves.
All the proceeds from the sale of this book is going to Utdanningshjelpen, a charity in Norway that sponsors education for children in countries such as Kenya, Ghana, Mozambique and Ethiopia. Everyone who was involved in the making of this book, volunteered their time and talents to make it happen.
So go ahead and buy it, because the stories and poems in this book will change the way you look at where you belong.
My poem “Vulnerable” was published in Oslo Writers’ League anthology, All the Ways Home. The themes of the anthology were ‘Crossroads’ and ‘Identity’. I submitted this poem under ‘Identity’.
All the proceeds from the sale of this book is going to Utdanningshjelpen, a charity in Norway that sponsors education for children in countries such as Kenya, Ghana, Mozambique and Ethiopia. Everyone who was involved in the making of this book, volunteered their time and talents to make it happen. If you want to read soulful and poignant stories and poems by some very talented writers, do go buy the book and support a great cause.
“Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.”
― Jodi Picoult, Salem Falls
Ogilvy & Mather (O&M), Beijing and The Center for Psychological Research, Shenyang have spearheaded a campaign to make the Chinese public aware of the destructive effects of verbal abuse. They told the stories of six juvenile offenders in Shenyang Detention Center, who committed serious crimes like assault and murder. Here’s the video of how they found that words can become weapons:
Words are not just a jumble of letters. They carry meaning and intent. That’s why books are so powerful, they are full of words after all.
Words can describe the impossible and the unimaginable. They can build worlds and introduce us to places and people we never knew could exist. And yet, we throw them around without thought and caution, without regard for the consequences. Every time someone uses words to support discrimination, injustice, hatred and violence, the divide between people widens. The only way to face hateful words is to speak up with words of kindness and compassion, to say loud and clear that words are not meant to divide, they are meant to unite; that words are never meant to be used as weapons; that words are not meant to hurt, they are meant to heal.
How have words influenced you in your life? Share in comments.
Traditional reporting involved presenting a set of facts clearly, without prejudice, so the reader could form their own opinions and deductions. Your writing skills were solely meant to put forth the findings without compromising the truth.
However, today we live in a world where content is everything. Content creation has been turned on its head and you have millions of people pushing their content in your face every minute. So who decides what’s the “truth” and what facts should be presented?