Great or Nothing
Synopsis: I talk about the motivational videos that show up on your explore pages once in a while, and why they should send you into a little bit of introspection.
On the one Pinterest board I turn to for motivation, I have these very quotes highlighted - ‘I want to be great or nothing’ and ‘a person should spend the first third of his life getting as much education as he can, the next third making as much money as he can, and then the last third giving it all away’. Multiple ‘#bossbabe’ accounts on my algorithm practically handed them to me, and I’m sure you will find them too. Being a “#bossbabe” is so much more deeper than Pinterest quotes though. And as much as I hate [or apparently, love] to quote Pinterest; ‘it’s an attitude’.
With motivational quotes comes a familiar realization; that everything isn’t black and white. Can I just work to achieve my goals? Will constant work help? Realizing the glorification of hustle culture has been a familiar topic doing rounds in recent times, surprisingly at the same time as productivity apps and functions have been on the rise.
It’s a complex field to navigate as someone who wants to be productive, but also constantly suffers from exhaustion and burnout - with the simultaneous guilt of not being productive enough and not using their time confidently. Even as of now, there is so much one can do with time, and one regrets not fulfilling all of it to the maximum. Time is so subjective, and only recently have I come to realize how much the phrase time means money is true. I recently saw a tweet that went like this:
I always hear from everyone how much working is good, keeps you active, and helps you stay in the game. The everlasting standard for productivity does not resound with people who have privilege handed to them. They will often look for easier ways out, essentially being more efficient. Why then, are we taught that the only way to being a #bossbabe is hard work, when clearly, a lot of us have very different standards of work?
I know I have the luxury to recognize that I need to call out my toxic productivity standards and take time to recharge, because generations before me have worked to give me the ability to have the time to recharge, and come back just as strong, without losing anything significant. I am able to recognize that there is so much more in the long term, and that survival is not my first instinct. Does everyone else have the same needs and wants as I do?
The last “need” you can have is self-actualization and it scares me that I may never achieve it. Our generation has lesser wants not because we're healthier or better, but because we are more provided for, and because we have the knowledge that there are easier, more efficient ways. We know that the way to being a #bossbabe is not indefinitely hard work.
And then the recurring, lasting question-
What will you become when you grow up?
“I want to be great or nothing - Amy March”
Knowing that everything is provided for, it seems almost unfair to the people providing for me, that I don't achieve the maximum possible.
I can only hope that these achievements are ones that are in my own limits, and ones that can be achieved without putting my health at high risk. I don't think I will ever be an Amy March - I will never have the aspiration to be entirely Great or consider myself as Nothing. Amy March is one of the true #bossbabes. But she does not preach about how she got there. She does not define it, in a manner that is not intersectional.
There's another part of the spectrum that is rarely represented or considered. The middle. The middle is quite a comfortable place to be. It doesn't set standards for the unachievable or perfection, and doesn't berate you for being the Nothing; it also has a definition that is never stable. You see, being a #bossbabe also means berating yourself for when you’re not being productive. Why are we defining our worth by our work?
I've always been quite middling, and doing better than middling is the aim I have for life now, and at times I'm not at my best.
Better than middling allows for improvement. Better than middling allows for growth. Better than middling lets me have my pride and gives me something to work towards. I’m not telling you to aspire to be middling. I don't have an ounce of authority to tell you what to aspire to be.
I'm in the first phase of my life, getting as much education as possible. I could be much more than middling now, and I aspire for it in my daily efforts. In the second phase of my life, making as much money as I can, the efforts become political and not as simplistic as studying is.
I wonder how nature documentaries of humans would go
would we record the slow movement of pinky fingers close to another’s hand,
would we record loud, embarrassing laughter,
would we record hired mourners at funerals?
would they watch predators approaching prey?
would we have cameras approaching rows of students in classrooms,
zooming in on the sweat on their brows and their trembling hands during
the inventions we’ve made to question ourselves?
Will they write research papers of how neurons fire in our brain and how
the only thing we cannot for the life of us figure out is ourselves?
will they be puzzled by the fact that the thing everyone is afraid of is being seen, completely
not only by the federal bureau of investigation or multinational corporations but by the people in our homes and those in our lives?
will they be puzzled by the lines around our eyes, when we smile and when we sob?
will these documentaries be narrated by an old british voice too?
I want soundtracks with dramatic violin for when I get on a moving bus,
slow piano for days I spend waiting in the rain
I want high-range shots of concrete jungles and people who think I don’t know they’re there
I want them to try and capture the human essence, because you can never fully know a human’s story, even if they’re always right next to you.
I want them to see how hearts feel after soul crushing crises-
like sunlit shots of the forest floor after the fires have destroyed the thick canopy
You can always study the forests and the folds and valleys of their moss covered lands, but you can never study souls
I watched my first documentary quite some time ago. As is with the most mainstream of them, it was narrated by David Attenborough. It was on poisonous plants - ones that could kill you, to ones that would give you an itch.
Some time later, one of my favourite YouTubers had a sponsorship from BBC, and she talked about how much she loved bingeing the episodes of The Mating Game. Slightly curious, I clicked on to Our Planet - a Netflix series whose episodes had been put up on YouTube for public viewing. I watched Attenborough’s slow, old, incredibly British voice talk about flamingos for about 45 minutes, and I didn’t realise how absorbed I was. I’ve since developed an affinity for flamingos - they are, indeed, beautiful and unique birds. I know that I wouldn’t have gotten so absorbed if not for the way they were presented.
Something that’s vital with shooting nature documentaries is that humans are not supposed to interrupt the natural course of life for the beings they study. This poem was written after bingeing the entirety of Our Planet, Home, and Chasing Coral. I love all of them dearly. I hope you will too.
Family: A Revolution
Last year, when writing for the Pride Month spotlight, I ended my article with words that gave me comfort and shook me to my core till today- “Family can be found.” So much has happened since then for most of us, and especially for me. my whole world, as I’m used to it, changed. I left school, a place I’ve been for as long as I can remember, a place that had & still has most of the family I’ve found, and I still have growing pains. So much has changed at home - I see my parents suddenly as human, and as people who don’t have all the answers, and to my very curious, very questioning brain [in the queer way too, yes] this frightens me. I’ve discovered so much about myself, my love languages, my comfort people, how long I can stand on a moving bus and sleep, that I can wake up before the sun is up, and so much more.
The me who wrote the pride month article last year wouldn’t know the person I am now, yet I have never felt her words more than I do today. Over the past few months I have found so much safety in my writing and I’ve realized how much of my family I’ve found because they’ve resonated with it.
I wrote about how Priyanka Paul’s art gave her freedom of expression, and I’ve come to see that mine has been more of a set of wings, along with a comfort blanket I pull everywhere.
Queer people often lose the support and comfort of their families as they come out to the world, when they let everyone know about their identity. Something that helps them come to terms with this new world that is open to them is finding other queer people, often in the same state as them.
This is probably the only time I will make a Sociology reference in one of my works [I hope] but it is important in this case: “Chosen families are nonbiological kinship bonds, whether legally recognized or not, deliberately chosen for the purpose of mutual support and love. The nuclear family unit was historically believed to include a husband, wife, and children.
However, modern definitions of family have become more expansive and may include any configuration of individuals who provide support for one another.”
In conventional families, you don’t get to choose who to love, and especially with blood relations, you’re pretty much stuck with them for life. The phrase “chosen for the purpose of mutual support and love” challenges this. you decide, you decide who to care for and who might choose to care for you, and you decide when to trust them. This eliminates so many toxic dynamics, and essentially changes generational trauma.
From my best friend, to the girls on the bus who will offer to hold my bag for me to the people I text when I’m anxious, my chosen family isn’t something who can be categorized into the conventional labels of mother, sister, or daughter. I’ve seen having big families as something every South Asian person relates to online, and that seems to be something almost impossible to achieve in a queer world that is still developing and changing, and a place where we are all still learning how to find family and who to trust. Unlike conventional families, where we’re told that we can find comfort in our grandparents' arms and love in our parents’, we don’t get those instructions and we don’t see those conventions in our families. Instead, every queer’s chosen family is a network, is a new permutation and combination and is surely something you’ve never seen before, and there is a certain breathlessness that comes with realizing the freedom that gives you.
“Modern definitions of family have become more expansive-” wraps around you like a hug. You aren’t nuclear anymore, you’re more like several sets of vines curling around each other, holding yourselves up. Changing the definition of family changes everything, since family is where we begin learning all we know: language, numbers, emotions, expressions, and most importantly, how to love.
Family is revolutionary.
P.S; the label part does not apply to every single friend who has sent me mom friend memes. I still love you & am not willing to part with that.
thank you to this paper
this is a list of all the plants i have had
divine [dios] & flower [anthos]
they are flowers with jagged edges that seem like they’ve been roughly cut by a scissor but they’re so soft
the carnation symbolises socialism and the labour movements, and I have every species I can find. I am the softest with edges cut like they were done with a trembling hand I am not neat. I am not clean and interesting and perfectly drawn yet you cannot help but be drawn to me, you will buy bouquets of me & brush me against her as you press kisses to her collarbone.
curative & a creeper
leaves shaped like hearts, they don’t have proven medicinal effects but my grandmother believes they help. the leaves are like yours & mine intertwined, and they are curling tightly around any support that I will put near it. I will curl around any support I get too, watch me climb & never come back down, I will find new iron, new wood, new bricks to hold on to, I have had enough & more of you.
monstrous / abnormal & delicious
aerial roots, large, glossy, heart-shaped, huge leaves, more holes/ “eyes” as they grow older. this is the only plant I don’t have but it is the only one I am. I am monstrous & my fruits could tear your mouth apart if you don’t wait long enough. I am still, somehow the most delicious thing you have ever seen. you will never see anything so simultaneously terrifying & I smell like pineapples & bananas. you will never want to taste anything more. I am just imperfect enough for you. come close.
blood-stained green leaves
luck-bringing ornamental plants, cannot tolerate the cold / excessive sunlight, has air purifying benefits. this one gets plant frostbite easily but I thrive in temperatures below 25º. take me to foreign lands with you & I’ll tell you how much I hate the cold, it seeps through your bones and holds you. still, I cannot live in any way but this.
MIMIC PLANTS AND OUR MENTALITIES
The first plant I grew by myself was an aloe vera. It was easy, useful, and didn’t need that much care. Recently, my grandmother gifted me a climbing shrub and it’s been growing promptly. Its only support is a small tree branch I stuck in the pot. It’s interesting to see how the plant seems to reach for anything to hold on to and to coil around. It was around this time that I started reading about climbers and creepers, and I came across this interesting species on my Tumblr dashboard.
It’s known for its ability to do one thing- mimic. The plant itself is a climber and grows along the forest floor while going up rows of trees. There is something that sets it apart. It changes with each plant it vines on. The plant does have a way it traditionally looks- something like this.
But once it goes off the forest floor and onto the next tree, it changes. It moves from its own structure to an almost exact replica of the shape, size, and colour of the supporting tree.
Let’s set that aside for a while and talk about humans. [we’ll get back to the plants soon enough, promise]. Humans develop their base identity from the various groups and conditions they are a part of. This is a theory by Erik Erikson, who I call Freud Pro Max 2.0. Erikson had one commonality with Freud. He believed that personalities developed in stages. But rather than developing “psychosexually”, we developed our social interactions.
Erikson goes through a lot of stages: trust and mistrust, autonomy and shame, initiative and guilt, identity and confusion, integrity and despair, and a few more. Through these stages, humans go through mental changes. If they do well with them, they emerge mentally stronger and if not, they may never develop in that particular sense.
I want to talk about one stage- Identity and Role Confusion. In this stage, the person goes through several crises- their ideas, values, sense of self, passions and so on.
For a lot of people, including me, their teen years are a period of constant change of self. You could have a whole different personality in the space of a year, and it would be understandable. Thinking about it from a more drastic point of view, I’d say changing entirely is terrifying. I couldn’t imagine being any different than I am now, but then again, the self I was two years ago couldn’t have imagined being the present me either. But it is also exciting, knowing that the person I am two years from today will be a better human, having known, read, and seen more.
Let’s go back to the plant. This is the boquila trifoliolata, and all the different leaf patterns you can see here, stem from the same plant. The only difference? The plant they’re growing on.
There is yet, a specific reason as to which the trifoliolata changes so much- It’s a defence mechanism. Some of these plants, which it grows on, are recognizably poisonous to animals. Changing itself to look like them discourages these animals from eating it, and allows itself to flourish freely.
We also change in these ways to survive the environments we are in. Our environments change often in our teen years, be it in schools, colleges, universities, or homes and moving out. People often say that your friend groups define you, and this is why. You adapt yourself to fit into those groups, and in a few senses, you become them. Although you could try to choose every social group you’re going to be in, the predictability of that is low. The trifoliolata is a close-to-perfect example of human survival through adaptation, and as humans, most of how it works is a mystery.
The trifoliolata is unlike humans in one way- it changes back to its original form once it stops vining on the host plant and goes back to the forest floor. Humans may never go back to their original form, so there is only one thing we can do.
Accept change and love the selves we’ve been and those we will be.
After all, they all have been our body and brain trying to keep us the safest we can be.
You can read more about the boquila trifoliolata from National Geographic, this research paper, the tumblr post I mentioned, and this article on bacteria in the trifoliolata, which sent me down a rabbit hole.
env to person | the conversation: children + sense of self | APA: identity crisis | ASU: identity | identity statuses as developmental strategies
Content Creation and Crises
“Media consumption” refers to essentially everything you read, watch, and listen to. The media you consume, regardless of if you pay for it or not, directly profits the people who make the media. I truly enjoy media consumption, although it is something that comes with something of a toll: feeling the need to consume all media and know as much as I possibly can about something I love. I made rules for myself so I wouldn’t feel the need to consume media [and it has done absolute wonders for me, but I digress, and we’ll come back to this later]. Here, though, I’m not too focused on consumption, but rather, creation.
A lot of___stagrams [i.e bookstagrams, writergrams, cooking profiles [@satyshaa my absolute favourite Manglorean ever!!] turn basic parts of everyday life into beautiful pictures, documented neatly and in an easily consumable order.
However, these “hobbies” turn into profiles that are intimidating, providing crises and comparison to other people with the same “hobbies”. I recently tried a little bit of content creation myself and found it to be pressurising, putting a success scale on something that could have been a fun summer project. Although I do enjoy and love creating the art I create, the numeration of content that is deeply emotional is frightening. Not getting enough likes or shares or followers in a particular time frame gave me, and several other creators I reached out to, anxiety about what they did wrong, if they had gotten “shadowbanned,”** or if it generally wasn’t enough. [As if creating art was something that had to cater to people’s tastes; as if art had to do anything but exist.] This was crisis number one.
When creating content one often has to compromise on quality for consistency, something that seems to be an elemental practice to gain numbers - (followers, likes and comments) on art that shouldn’t be quantified in the first place.
Content creation also requires coming up with ideas frequently, and they should ideally be in tandem with current trends, for maximum reach. This makes for videos, songs, and works that make out to be of no use in the current sociological and political context, bringing nothing new to the table. At some point of time, one stops having fun and begins to think of creation as a chore; something that they must do to increase their value numerically, which inevitably becomes connected to their self-esteem, making what was once a hobby now something that causes them great mental distress. This was crisis number two.
Authenticity - when it comes to consistent creation that is in contact with all the above rules, authenticity and your values take a back seat. It’s terrifying to question everything you put out, and might lead to a daily/weekly/biweekly identity crisis, based on your frequency of putting out content. Here was where I came across crisis number three.
Accessibility - try something for me: look for indicators of money and considerable privilege during your next Instagram scroll through the reels section. I’m sure you’ll find many. Content creation is also something that works for people with time, and they must have enough stability to be able to spend that time on creation rather than working to sustain themselves. Essentially, time is money, and you need money to spend time. This was a reality check and also, crisis number four.
Monetization on social media platforms often comes in the form of ads, or brands who will sponsor you to try out their products. It is usually required to add a tag, a note, or something that says it is an ad in more recent guidelines, but content creation itself is a process of indirect marketing for everything you put out - you could be marketing yourself, your products, your brand, your services, or the usage of the platform itself. Are you doing enough to earn? Are you capitalising on your time enough? How productive are you being?
Now number five! Another thing I struggle with is the definition of content creation as “content”, because most content put out by individual creators and independent publishers is art. The capitalization of basic human activities is only the first of many, many pressures that living in a capitalist setting brings about. There is little left to be monetized in life, and it is a heavy realisation. Unless one has comparable privilege and power, it is close to impossible to survive in a society that values profit over living and turns living into something that is only available to those who have profited. Remember that rule I told you about in the beginning? This was another crisis: how was I supposed to live “fully” by consuming the minimum? [hint: we can’t]
I’m not sure what the solutions to these crises are, [crisis number ???] but the remedy I’ve picked up for now is the occasional reminder that me and everyone else is beautifully alive outside of these platforms, and has a true life outside the consumption of media. I don’t have much hope for a revolution in society to reduce capitalization in the near future [hello Elon Musk + Twitter] but I do believe that reminders and taking minutes to function humanly for ourselves helps, if we have the means to do so.
**SHADOWBANNED/ SHADOWBANNING - Instagram removing prioritisation of accounts from the home feed
Last week was "Independence" day, and there was rightfully a lot of discourse on the value of this independence along with a lot of displays of nationalism. That got me thinking, what is nationalism? And what does nationalism mean to me? And why didn’t I feel the special connection to it that a lot of people did? Was it my ideology? To me, nationalism felt like identifying with my nation and seeing myself growing with it. By competitive nature, it made sense that nationalism was also to the detriment of the interests of other nations. A large portion of the speeches and the campaign put across the message that India was “better” and it would out beat other nations easily because of the qualities it had. But was it always detrimental to other nations, or just other communities?
I decided that it wasn’t entirely me being directly opposite to the government on the political spectrum. Nationalism isn't entirely a leftist or a rightist thing, it's been associated with different movements all through history. In the 1920-40s, it was allied with right-wing tendencies, but more recently it's been allied with left-wing, communist, anti-colonial movements.
Was it because I saw nationalism as bad rather than a good course of development for the country?
There isn't a lot of grey area in the discourse on whether nationalism is good or bad - the bad is Hitler and the Holocaust, and the good is the Zionist movement that created modern Israel, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Nationalism can uplift the idea of working for the greater good. Citizens would be less resistant to paying taxes and redistribution of income would probably be much easier. But I like most of my characteristics grey, so I believe that nationalism is a tool that can go both ways. Good nationalism builds a state and helps organize a community and help it move towards good, democratic values. The bad sort of nationalism is a power-hungry ideology that seeks to eliminate and crush rather than include.
If I looked at a more cynical interpretation, I could say that nationalism is good when it works and bad when it fails. For a long time, the excuse of nationalism has been used for acts of brutality, marginalization, and has led me and a lot of other people to question its morals. It should seek to unify the people and become all-inclusive. However, since independence, we have become more conscious of what brings us apart. Our democracy is built largely on parties pulling strings at different communities in whatever way benefits them. And the biggest party that calls itself nationalist is "majority oriented". This too could have been one of the reasons I didn’t identify at large with it. I clearly wasn’t a part of this majority.
Wait, let me go over the majority oriented thing again. As for a representation of India, the "majority" that comes to mind is a Hindi speaking, Hindu guy from Uttar Pradesh. He might also like the idea of being the majority, but is he? Hindus are about 80% of the Indian population, and the majority doesn't speak Hindi or come from Uttar Pradesh. And that's not even mentioning his caste, he might be part of the 10% of Indians that are Brahmin.
And there’s Hindi, something I never identified with but felt essential anyway. And also, one of the topics I went down a rabbit hole about while researching for this article. There are about thirty-five official languages in total (not the 1637 that Shah Rukh Khan mentions) and they're spoken by over a million people. They're not dialects or subsects, they're full language systems. And the native speakers of these languages are almost all minorities. A lot of people understand and speak Hindi, well, thanks to Bollywood, but the technicalities are largely unfamiliar to people in the South and the North-Eastern states of India.
So what's the solution? What is the perfect alternative that keeps everyone included equally and allows for comprehension everywhere? A medium of communication that is equally distant from all spoken languages so that everyone is easily included without being ignored would be ideal. We see this ideal in China, where there's a common script that allows people that couldn't comprehend each other while speaking to write to each other. Consequently, alliance networks in China have been multilinguistic since the Middle Ages. Russia, on the other hand, has a lot more linguistic diversity than China and its language is written in several scripts like Arabic and Latin. This diversity put in obstacles to forming alliances across linguistic boundaries. There were instead a series of nationalism movements for each community which helped lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union and previously the Romanov empire along ethnic fault lines.
There are perfect solutions to each of these problems, and feeling disconnected and excluded isn’t just a “me problem”, it’s a problem for all the minorities that make up the majority.
Something else that might push this all-inclusive sort of nationalism along would be the people in power supporting civil organizations that connect to people across ethnic divisions.
This representation of the supposed majority is what we see in the central government at large and that's why people don't identify with it. Looking from my perspective, there isn't a lot of connection I'd have with the current government. However, if I saw someone from my community, even just from South India, talking about issues we faced here, I'd be a lot more likely to identify with my nation then. Andreas Wimmer, a professor at Columbia, found that almost all stable countries have the most inclusive of the communities within them.
I'd also feel like much more of a nationalist if the government (not foreign NGOs or the private sector) provided public goods equally across the country, rather than just where they had a majority (free vaccine who?).
In conclusion, inclusivity and equality need to be at the heart of nationalism for it to work properly, have smoother functioning and have an overall passion for the betterment of the country. We'd all be a lot better off if we felt like we belonged, and righteousness probably would make you feel better than the morally grey.
Documentation - The #RealWay
Recently I told one of my friends I wanted to start journaling. No, not the type where you write an entry each day, but one of those pretty bullet journals which track your life. I barely have any sense of responsibility, so I probably wouldn’t be able to keep up the commitment. And inspiration for me strikes only when I have pressing deadlines and rules in place (Like this article, totally not written at midnight). So I came across messy art journals on Pinterest, and suddenly I found documentation to be such an attractive prospect.
So while doing research to find the perfect sort of documentation for me, I came across the One Second A Day project or 1SE. 1SE was Cesar Kurimaya's project, and he started working on it during his year off, when he spent time with his family, went on a road trip and ticked a lot of stuff off his bucket list. It essentially only required recording one second a day for every day of your life; not of yourself, but a first-person view of whatever was happening around you.
The end product, or the final thing when you couldn’t record anymore, was a video that had one second every day. After a year, you’d have about six minutes of footage to look back on, and almost every second would trigger a different memory.
I liked the idea that one day I might look back at the things that make me scared now and smile. I liked that one day I might see myself differently, that I might be more aware of a part of myself I haven't discovered yet. And 1SE’s sort documentation seemed like the perfect way to do that.
When looking at the downsides of documentation itself, I found out that documenting every single detail wouldn't be amazing either. What if I placed importance on life being good enough to put in a journal? What if I was thinking about my journal spread for the day, not having lived the day itself? What if the day had been a really memorable one and he wanted to preserve it all? Cesar revealed that it was difficult to choose just that one second, so he'd choose a random one, and it would remind him of the rest of the day.
I did want a pretty journal. But a lot of it scared me too. What if my habits weren't as consistent as the squares I drew to make my tracker? What if I couldn't come up with something I'm grateful for every day? What if some days weren't aesthetic and peaceful enough to use my good black pen on? Wouldn't writing about them finish the ink quicker, because I had a lot more to say when I was scared?
Cesar talked about the importance of documenting the bad days too because they'd remind you to treasure the good ones more. This struck me because I tended to change my view of myself drastically, I tried to show myself only as the best possible self I could be, when I'd do a lot better to remember that it's okay not to be completely fine and happy all the time.
It's okay to have drastic mood changes throughout the day and it's okay not to build an intense habit. I'd rather my journal have a lot of chaotic happy, sad, angry and anxious moments that make up me, and I hope that future me knows that I had as many #sadgirlsummers as my #bestdayevers and that it's okay to have those moments far apart as long as I see them as real too.
A little more about the 1SE project:
1SE does have an app that’s both android and ios compatible. It lets you record each video, edit them all together, and create different projects for different life events. You can also add journal entries about your one second to look back on!
1SE project: https://1se.co/ourstory
Love Languages and Tapioca
Recently, I've been seeing many expressions of love, not just because I read a lot of romance to vicariously live through. Love and expressions of love haven't been something I'd been big on before becoming a teenager. I never felt lacking in love until I came across American family shows, which had clear, loud expressions of endearment, be it romantic, platonic, or familial. They yelled it out of car windows, with huge bunches of flowers with thorns, at bedroom windows in the dark, even at people on big stages.
That isn't to say I wasn't loved. I am loved. I have a roof over my head, parents who ask about every aspect of my life, try to give me everything they have, and more. Things started changing when I started associating love only with the kind of affection I saw on shows. I have since learnt that love is so much more intricate than that. And especially in Asian and other POC relationships, it isn't as straightforward and cut out for you. Love's been expressed and will be expressed in very different ways, most of which I talk about in this piece.
Every time the adults around me call someone they love, the introductory question almost always is "Have you eaten yet?" When I stay away from home for the few days I can, my mother calls me with the same question, except with lots of details and in a very, very annoyed tone. Until recently, I found that question incredibly annoying.
With slightly irritated and vague replies with efforts to change the subject, she would let it go.
Food is one of the most prevalent love languages I've discovered. Every time my father makes his special curries, he talks to me about how his mother made them exactly the way he liked it and used to serve him tapioca with sides of fish and green chutney. Even though I dislike both fish and tapioca with a burning passion, the warmth with which he speaks of it is moving.
Every day after work, one of my parents would come home with a box of cut-up fruit from anywhere they could stop off on the way back home. I remember separating as many bananas and papayas from the rest of the citrus-scented fruits as possible and eating them at last with an offending glare. It didn't amount to much in my head then. I did register in the back of my mind the look of guilt I got when I told my mother I missed the fruit she used to get for me when the pandemic took over and we couldn't go out anymore.
As I've grown, I've slowly been taught to cook my favourite food and a little bit of teaching which I’d require for “survival”, which I do as seldom and as quickly as possible. But on my down days, my parents yell at me with my favourite sort of chicken or Christmas dessert, even if it's the middle of April. I only remember the words "I love you" being said years ago, or when I'm asleep, but the fruit cut up and slow-cooked chicken curries haven't stopped. As I've asked my grandmother while writing this article, it probably won't until I've moved out and become "A Successful Author". I'm hoping you, dear reader, will help me with keeping that day as far as possible. I do like my parent's food quite a bit.
With a little bit of reading, I've found that it's sort of a universal thing; offering food rather than emotional encouragement and teaching a child life skills with lots of force just happens to be one of the ways they ensure they never have to live without anything.
While a few people point out to me that I don't say the words "I love you" that often, it bothers me quite a bit. It seems easy enough for others to spill it out on any random occasion. After several months of psychoanalyzing and failed efforts of saying it to people and not quite meaning it, I concluded that love wasn't only present in the American way. One day, I will make excessively spicy South Indian food for the ones I love, and words will go unsaid, but not unheard.
The Laugh Track Life
The concept of comfort shows didn’t really strike me until I came across YouTube compilations. Though they have since come to be both the boon and bane of my existence since, they’ve also brought to my attention a few things that made a show lovable and comforting.
The shows weren’t very fascinating; the plotlines were pretty bland, the characters were mildly likeable, pretty average and most of them were pretty old. So why did I like these shows so much? I could find only one common factor - the warmth all of them radiated. There isn’t any crushing sadness or on-the-edge-of-your-seat mystery anywhere. The Guardian termed that sort of event, or lack thereof, “non-event television”.
On the rare occasion that there was a deep emotional event, the characters dealt with it lightly and with a sprinkling of their quirks. A funeral in F.R.I.E.N.D.S did have the atmosphere, but beyond that, it was just a step back from the character’s usual banter. It conveyed enough grief to be understood and not taken to the heart.
Older shows reminded me of a time where things were simpler. For me and a lot of Gen Z, that was a time when we either didn’t exist or were too small to fully comprehend it. Stepping into a less stressful, less happening reality helped disconnect and shut off the larger than life problems we had to think about. There’s also a certain safety in getting attached to the characters because there isn’t going to be anything extreme happening to them.
Newer shows are different. Issues are dealt with in deep and difficult conversations. Characters aren’t the black and white good and bad anymore, it’s a whole spectrum where each character has their ambiguous moments. I also have to tiptoe over and around spoilers, making the extra effort to block them from social media until I get to watch it.
Comfort television is also great for the big streaming services like Netflix, their originals promoting non-event shows and trying to bring a balance between both ends of the new-old spectrum. A lot of Netflix Originals take crises and make them heartwarming and relatable, helping you revel in them rather than letting them pull you down. Grace and Frankie for example takes on a late life crisis and Never Have I Ever talks about intersecting identities, coming of age and handling grief.
The characters are close to our realities, but not too close that we’re afraid of becoming them. A lot of us don’t have runaway gay husbands or work in paper companies with hilarious bosses, but we have soft spots for those who do.
So, this is me telling you it's alright to love your taped laughter cleansers, it's okay to watch the long camera stares, and feel like you're not being in the moment enough, as long as you appreciate how much more inclusive and developed new media is. Comfort shows give you familiarity, love, and a sense of community when the world does anything but.
Character and Crime
I think I was first introduced to crime novels when a librarian handed an Agatha Christie to me because I walked around the library at a loss for too long. I don't remember which one it was but I do remember that I will be ever thankful to her. Since then, almost every gift I’ve gotten has been a Christie novel. They've also been subject to listening to me talk in much detail about Hastings’ affectations, Poirot's loving reprimands and how "I totally knew what was going to happen".
Detective fiction came out as a smaller genre of crime fiction when (surprise, surprise) Edgar Allen Poe wrote ‘The Murders In Rue Morgue’ in 1841. Auguste Dupin, the eccentric character who used clues to find out who did it, gave rise to the concept of a detective in fiction itself. So we can say that Poe created the genre. But Arthur Conan Doyle was the one who gave it a lasting impression and made a template for future authors (Agatha my beloved) to come. He wrote about 50 books with Sherlock and Watson.
I've often wondered why and how crime novels are so gripping and what makes only particular ones good. I don't have an answer to that yet, but it did interest me how morally ambiguous this was making me out to be. And so, after some research and deepening self analysis, I've come to a conclusion of sorts and I'd like to share that with you.
I found one theory that resonated with me - people are fascinated by other people. We're interested in human behavior, and not only because it’s our counterparts we’re observing. People are also interested in seeing an almost-perfect crime being committed, and then it being brought to justice at the last moment.
And then there's the factor of each person's ‘dark side’. Not all of us necessarily have a dark side; some of us may have light grey ones and some of us jet black. Since crimes are faraway concepts to most people, everyone's usually interested in the motives, the method and finally the consequences of such heinous or not-so-heinous to some) actions. This is much like the pattern parents take voluntarily or involuntarily while teaching children differences between right and wrong. You do something wrong, you’re taught about the bad things that happen after it and what punishments you’d have to go through if you repeat the action. Consuming media that talks about and explains crime allows us to experience the excitement, the suspense, and growing fear while living in a safe bubble that doesn't let the threat get too close.
Finally, the need for the existence of a side character. For every main character, there needs to be a side character, else they would be brilliant without any comparison, which just makes them intimidating. The side character brings in a sense of relatability; you can sense their anxiety and suspense. Their own arcs bring in some heart to the story too. You'd never appreciate someone who solved the entirety of the crime in one page and waited it out slowly giving out slight hints for the rest of the novel. Hastings and Watson carry you through the story, telling you everything they can see, and leaving you to try and look for what they cannot. If Holmes or Poirot constantly impressed upon your brain how smart they were, you would find it annoying (note: Poirot does occasionally repeat what a genius he is, but we find that quirky). A higher level of intelligence is nicer while admired by another person. Feeling sort of stupid and the "oh, I didn't think of that" factor lets the reader relate to the character.
There is then the natural human affinity for puzzles. I tell myself all the time, “I detest puzzles, they only serve for my annoyance” and yet, you'll catch me red-handed with thirteen twisted assumptions in the middle of a novel. I'm consciously aware of red herrings now with my close observations, but they still get me because they're placed very subtly and cleverly. You’re now safe from me carrying out very well-planned murders in capitalist spaces, I have enough and more fiction to last me a lifetime.
Crime fiction in its own right deals with all the classic styles of storytelling - romantic star-crossed murders, comedy, and tragedy. It’s like an intensely attractive package deal and gives all those factors to you at their best. Come to think of it, it isn’t that big a surprise that it works so well!