Author Archives: quill4

A short, short, very short story…

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Think of Memory, Migration and Monsoons….. The last post was dealing with works in progress.   Moving forward Quill4 (a contributor to The Workrooms)  is sharing a shorter work to keep up the momentum.  It’s always awesome to share little pieces of your projects when you’re creating.   This is a piece from a previous project:

Wrote this in 2008 for the North Shore Writers’ Festival Short Story Contest  

In Mumbai, skies would gape open and bare teeth. Taxis would awaken from slumber, their drivers clutching wheels like guns, ready for battle in the streets. Crows would descend, operatically unafraid, into the wet jostle for space and survival. And Mohan would open his eyes and walk to the window with a grateful pace.

‘Dr. Mo, will this hurt?’, and once again Mohan was exploring the metal laced mouth of Tim Stewart, who had the talent of being a thirteen year old comfortable enough in his own skin to talk at all times, to anyone, anywhere, and even with motionless lips. Tim’s utterances, however many, however nasal, were unforced, sourcing from some deep well of expression within him. Mohan thought about his own words, how they tended to meander, river-like, hugging curves of thought but never spilling honestly onto the shore. All the levies might break under all that pain, and that hope that held him prisoner to dreams, that shackled him here to this dentist’s office where his own name sounded foreign. ‘We’re actually done…you can close your mouth.’ Tim’s eyes had widened. ‘Are you okay Dr. Mo?’, and then unexpectedly, due to the youth of the inquirer, ‘Do you miss home?’. It was motherly, the intuitive concern, the complete lack of conceit. Perhaps, for once, Tim’s words deserved a response that matched their true worth. Mohan nodded truthfully, feeling as if the crows had suddenly burst into the office, as if the monsoon itself had released its blessed rains.

Picking Up the Pen…

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Why do I write? Why the resort to the pen? Expression, escapism, the need to feel productive, to merge the airiness of imagination with the earthiness of ink and paper, but my reasons have also changed with time. I was made acutely aware of this when reading my very first diary entry, dated December 1999 (let me defend myself in advance by stating that I was 14 ).I opened with the words “welcome people of the future”(I was also proudly nerdy)…I will not disclose the full contents of this first entry to save myself the embarrassment….but the overarching theme was an introduction of myself and my surroundings, documentation to be preserved for the future, something along the lines of a time capsule. The tone was an attempt to be impersonal, objective, a historian of sorts observing the flux of the world. “The world right now is in a stage of technological revolution” I wrote. I listed items “electrical fans”, “computers”, “wrist-watches”. I draw an elegant floral embellishment along the margins. Calm, cool and collected. I was trying to write to an audience, not self. However my efforts proved in vain… the first entry was an anomaly…my writing soon became infused with teenage politics, and rants, personal triumphs and dismay. Exclamation marks abounded. Underlined, capitalized words sprouted everywhere. Red ink came out, and pink, and silver. Words were blacked out with decisiveness, sometimes whole pages torn out in an attempt to discount the past and in a yearning to move forward unhindered. Plans were plotted, apologies to self were made, confessions were worded. Molehills became mountains, which shrunk into molehills again as perspective was gradually regained. There was absurdity and hilarity and silliness, the element of the ridiculous was dominant, but there was also something very redemptive in that brand of writing. An unburdening of thoughts. I also tended to gravitate towards writers with a fearless approach to the personal, Sylvia Plath, Osamu Dazai, Anne Sexton. I still keep a diary today but the tone is decidedly different, still personal, but not as zealous, perhaps a few steps closer to the objective historian but still ultimately subjective, as a diary is ultimately meant to be. Re-reading my old diary has made me aware of how the impulses to write, or draw, or creatively express in any other way, can be so varied. There are many reasons to pick up a pen, or a camera, or an instrument or a paintbrush, and they change by the days, and hours, and minutes. This is what can make art so unpredictable at times, but also so exciting and surprising. And yet there is also great comfort in the routine of it, in its rituals, I love stationary to this day because I enjoy the physical feel of writing as much as its less tangible rewards. So why do I pick up a pen? The reasons are many and complex I suppose, but I guess when I get old and grumpy it’ll give me something to do 😉

The Twelfth Night, the Immigrant Experience, and other Thoughts…

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Sand in her hair, corset drenched, Viola from the ‘Twelfth Night’ finds herself on a windswept beach in Illyria, understandably disoriented after surviving a shipwreck she asks “What country, friends, is this?” and then, more pessimistically “what should I do in Illyria?” For the audience it’s the start of Shakespeare’s great comedy about identity confusion, ignorance, insanity, (the Bard understood the hilarity of the human quest to make some sense), but our heroine’s opening lines also speak of the age-old anxieties of arriving on foreign shores.

Feelings of being displaced, uprooted, unsure, of being barefoot and without home, whether of one’s own volition or not, of wading into the problematic muddiness of self-definition. I attach the immigrant experience to all of this and more (nostalgia, loneliness, reinvention, hope…). When I reflect on the journey my own parents and grandparents made from India to the Middle East to Canada, knowingly entering the unknown, weathering the tempest, I think about the idealism and courage that accompanied that decision to carve out a place in the world, and the ability to feel that free and that powerful. As for myself, being a child when I followed their nomadic trail there was no real choice, I was more like Viola and less of the narrator, I wasn’t following a dream or planning ahead, my ship was blown off course, it hit some rocks and I was where I was. My surety and clarity crumbled away. I went to school and felt stupid. Some loud-mouthed kid criticized the colour of my hair. In P.E. I played soccer and scored against my own team (unknowingly, not with purposeful rage). It was challenging for all of us, I was just more aware of my own discomfort. I remember our collective happiness when yellow flowers began sprouting miraculously on our front lawn; and then our collective astonishment when our neighbours complained to the municipality that our mini garden of Eden posed a health hazard, because dandelions shouldn’t be grown in such abundance and certainly not with such enthusiasm. J  I became increasingly aware of how others saw me, how I sounded, I wanted to know the magical formula for ‘normalcy’ that others had memorized. W.E. Dubois eloquently called this mad state of mind “double consciousness” : “the sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” Mad and sad is this pursuit because there is no clear measurement or formula for what is normal or natural, nor should our worth be quantifiable. What seems most natural to me is diversity, you see it everywhere in nature, it defines life on this planet. Of course it took me a while to come to this and other realizations. Before moving to Canada, when I was quite young I possessed a world and inter-planetary view that was highly distorted (to put it mildly). I lived in Sharjah, which is in the United Arab Emirates, which is a pint-sized country that sprouts futuristic skyscrapers, (which from an airplane window is simply an expanse of sand), and I literally believed that I lived in the center of the universe; that my world was wielding the conductor’s baton used to produce the celestial ‘music of the spheres’. Sharjah was Earth, Earth was Sharjah, it represented what was ‘normal’ and ‘familiar’, warm and fuzzy. Other countries I believed were literally on other planets (seriously I believed this). What proof did I have? None. All I can say is thank goodness I received an education. My world was the ‘known world’, everything outside its boundaries was shrouded in mystery, everything else was ‘different.’ And what did not have a name (since I did not even know certain countries existed) was simply consumed in darkness.  My young ignorant, egotistical self had a lot to learn, many things I still had to name and less tangible forces I would try to define; I had (and still have) a fertile imagination; I was definitely a sheltered child, the youngest living in an extended family setting; and, of course, at that age, I could not see too far past my own needs and happiness. It was a very comfortable and cohesive and solid sense of self, and the only kind I needed at the time. I can perceive now the danger that accompanies this sort of comfort, this retreat to the familiar, this labelling of what ‘normalcy’ encompasses and what ‘difference’ means. My sense of place is no longer so firmly cemented in terms of geography, but is grounded in what I have learnt and keep learning from my experiences, and from those of my family. My grandfather’s stories of adventures at sea, of putting a padlock on his school’s doors so he wouldn’t have to attend class, of playing cricket in Mumbai’s lanes, still resonate deeply with me. He is one of the best storytellers I have ever met.

At the end of the Twelfth Night shipwrecked Viola reveals her true identity, gets the man of her dreams and lives happily ever after in Illyria, so it’s fair to say that she learns to settle in. Despite the hardships faced she finds her sense of place, and as one of the stronger, more textured17th century female characters, all I can say is ‘more power to her.’ Idealism renewed, stability restored, the play ends with a bountiful feast and yet in subtle Shakespearean fashion, a final song darkens the mood, suggesting that this sense of idyllic comfort is always short-lived, that “the wind and the rain” of change is as old as this world, that Viola’s journey into the unknown has no end in sight.

Quil4….My story so far…

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I majored in International Relations with a minor in English literature, as part of my BA studies, and recently graduated with an MA in International Affairs, focusing on human security and development. Residing in Vancouver, I’m currently contemplating law school and searching for gainful employment. Creative writing has always been a hobby(though my readership has been mostly limited to myself), and though somewhat technologically illiterate, I’m truly excited to learn more about the world of blogging.

I’ve always loved the idea of being a storyteller, with all its romantic implications. If art is defined, above all else, by what one feels, then what better way to live life than to live it feelingly. Throughout my academic years, creating and enjoying art, in whatever form, seemed to offer both escape and elevation. It wasn’t the focus of my studies at university, so I linked art with leisure and pleasure and indulgence, it was satisfyingly separate from my professional reality and academic exercises. It was dessert.

But that didn’t mean I didn’t need it. Tired with reading about wars and dead political theorists and evidenced-based studies on global health issues and harsh international realities to which I was becoming increasingly de-sensitized to (my major was international affairs), I craved the release of reading less objective, less empirically sound, less strictly worded material. I wanted to be moved. (I like this expression that denotes internal emotional mobility and dynamism, that can be both a quiet shift or dramatically seismic). I wanted to read words crafted to evoke an emotional response, and I resented having to avoid those words in my own papers (though I understand the necessity of staying away from a propagandist’s agenda in the realm of political science).  I resented referencing every sentence, citing my words, searching for peer-reviewed articles to substantiate my thoughts; my writing felt impersonal, I didn’t feel particularly articulate. I missed the malleability of creative writing, that freedom to sculpt out your own meaning with the scalpel of your choice. Writing with style and texture. Inhabiting a story. Hiding meanings between the lines. Floating around as the omniscient narrator, going on a power trip and getting into characters’ heads. The creative process is incredibly empowering, as Josh Groban would say: “It lifts (you) up, so (you) can stand on mounntainnns.” As the ‘creator’ you have an incredible amount of flexibility, can traverse vast landscapes, can bridge past, present, and future; in short, you can be something of a superhero.

So while immersed in academia, I also allocated time for some creative writing, and often felt like when I was writing I was at my best as a person. (I heard author Zadie Smith talk about this in an interview). At my most empathetic. At my most understanding. At my most forgiving. At my most good humoured. For me, (being quite slow at most things, like eating) rallying my thoughts together takes time, when I speak my words are less thoughtful than when I write. When you write you can trace your thoughts all the way to completion, you have room for eloquence. You can take a breath and avoid jumping the gun, you can backspace your assumptions and other errors of ignorance, you can best traverse the shades of gray that color human life, you can wade through people’s complexities, digest them, and eventually learn to love all parts of them.

So creative writing was never purposeless for me, yes there is a level of self-involvement that I draw from, but equally a sense of connection to others. There was thus much gratification be had by me from investing in my so-called ‘diversions’. Escape and elevation, and lets also add, expression. Expression of self in relation to others, self’s connection to self and others…(I honestly don’t know if that makes any sense..expression is often difficult and problematic and …so is self). So now that I have my degree in hand, I am faced with the challenge of reassigning the role of creative endeavours in my life. To pursue it as a career is daunting for numerous reasons, financial of course, but I also lack discipline with my writing. I write when I feel like, I don’t know if I can do it any other way. And if it’s not my dessert…what does it become then? Unenjoyable, health conscious (financial health) writing? That’s no good. Hence, this blog, that I am so happy to contribute to, keeping me in line with due dates but encouraging creativity for the fun of it.