Let’s face it - 2021 was shit for everyone, probably even more so than 2020.
With the increase in general anxiety level throughout the year due to the second wave, I think it’s fair to say that physical health wasn’t the only thing that got ruined.
Looking back, I think the years 2020 and 2021 can just be removed from the everlasting continuum of time. The passage of time in these two years was tough. Just when your eyes start burning and you wonder when this teacher is going to get out of your screen, you realise only forty minutes are over of your seven-hour long school day and start contemplating the entire point of your existence.
And yes, I’ve seen those memes (which can be better termed as conspiracy theories) floating around the internet, that 2021 stands for “2020 won” and 2022 stands for “2020 too”.
I’m not going to go on a rant on what was wrong with the last two years because I fear that if I start, I’ll never stop. Even though they were absolutely pointless, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the wins I had this year, however little or huge they might have been.
First of all, I got my IGCSE results back in August, and I got 9 A*, which is the highest possible grade you can get (just wanted to mention that I beat Shravan here, but he did get more A’s than me :)). But surprisingly, I wasn’t thrilled, I wasn’t ecstatic, I wasn’t jumping around my room hyperactively - I was simply relieved. 9th and 10th grade were hard-fought for me, and shifting to an international school that had a worldwide reputation for breeding cocky students didn’t make it easier for me. I still have the mail from my coordinator announcing my result pinned in my inbox and it will stay there till the time I get over it. When I saw my result, it felt like the air inside my lungs was the same as the air outside. I felt at peace.
Next in line, we have the time I painted my wall. Granted, it wasn’t a perfect piece of artisanship, but it was mine. And it lasted for a while; it went for almost 4-5 months without being spoiled (a quick shoutout to my brother for denting the wall without even realising it, kudos to you). The wall itself isn’t much of a prize, but I’m proud of the effort I put into it. An upside to painting it was that my workout for that day was over, so all-in-all, not complaining.
Boy, I had a really tough time coming up with this list. I’m not very good at remembering the good times that I had, and people often yell at me for not remembering stuff we did together. So for the third point on the list, I’m including every single second that I spent with my friends (in real life, not online, but don’t think you needed that clarification). All the meetups, all the get-togethers we had over the past year were absolutely wonderful, even though they all seem like this blur of unadulterated happiness for me. Even at the lowest of my lows, what kept my chin up was the hope of more such meetups and get-togethers.
I’ve said it multiple times and I will say it again - 2021 sucked. Congrats to everyone who made it through, with or without a smile on your face.
But that doesn’t mean there weren't some good times along the way. I feel that taking the time out to recognise the good stuff that you did in the year may reduce the pain and hardship you experienced along the way, if not erase it altogether. I did. Now your turn.
Out with the New, In with the Old
As with all good Between the Notes articles, I will start with an unnecessary anecdote.
As 2021 closed its doors on us (quite unceremoniously, might I add) and I grappled with the fact that we were another year away from 2019, the usual end-of-year posts popped up on my Instagram feed, all more or less either recapping the highlights of their year, setting goals or hoping the next year would be kinder to us all. One such post I came across was a Twitter thread- and it essentially talked about all the statistics that different companies had revealed about their customers in that particular year. Alongside Spotify, Google (and I’m sure other companies that have an excessive amount of our data too), had also released some of the most searched topics in the last year.
Most of those top-searched topics made sense to me - ‘climate change’ was definitely understandable, ‘how to start a business’ sounded more than okay, and honestly, it would surprise me more if ‘mittens’, searched most after Bernie Sanders’ infamous inauguration meme, didn’t make it to the list. However, one of the searches caught my eye:
@shityoushouldcareabout on Instagram
‘Y2k’, for anyone who doesn’t know, is an abbreviation for the phrase ‘Year 2000’ and essentially describes the entire culture of the beginning of the millennium - Nokia phones, Hollaback Girl, and lastly, the hideous fashion (an excess of leather cap things, if you ask me - it was B-A-N-A-N-A-S). In the last year or so, especially, I’d also seen this sort of ‘vintage’ fashion crop up here and there; it was the new fad. I mean, I’d seen this before- this affinity towards things that was of a previous time, especially the 80s and the 90s, and I would be lying if I said I hadn’t indulged in it too! Did I have a playlist of only Beatles songs because I thought it was old-timey? Yes. Had I previously saved videos of 'vintage' clothing that I hoped to recreate? Definitely. Would I consider selling my soul to have even a fleeting moment with young Joseph Gordon-Levitt?
Now, I'm not saying that the entirety of our generation does things considered to be another generation's only because they want to feel like they were born in the wrong century - you could simply argue that we simply wanted to be around when Britney was actually free (technically she is also free at this point in time, but for the sake of the picture I’m trying to paint, let’s just pretend she isn’t). However, it's not the easiest to ignore: a lot of us do feel the need for a sense of nostalgia, even if we weren't even born then - much less have the ability to even comprehend what it was. But why? Do we just simply feel like we need to stand out in a world where everything seems the same?
Depressingly enough, a little bit. Along with the fact that in a decade that has started off rather sadly, it helps to imagine as though you belong to another time, sometimes standing out in certain ways makes you feel like you are not just another brick in the wall (and no, that was not me trying to reference Pink Floyd to reiterate my point). Experiencing life on different planes when the ground you’re standing on didn't give out so often is a way to cope - that's exactly what escapism is.
And hey, maybe the grass is greener on the other side.
Or maybe that's just the climate change.
Keeping Your Ears Open
We only have poem recommendations today. I considered putting one of my own poems in this issue, but I want to start this year listening instead. And these poems I’ve recommended are worth listening to.
A new year objectively doesn’t change anything, but isn’t it nice to imagine it does? It’s a new chance. A reminder to evaluate what you’re doing, what you want, and who you are. As Lucille Clifton states in poem recommendation 3, “i am running into a new year / and i beg what i love and / i leave to forgive me.”
Happy new year. Let it treat you well.
New Year’s Day by Kim Addonizio
Kim Addonizio was born in Washington DC, the daughter of a former tennis champion and a sports writer. She currently lives in San Francisco. Daniela Gioseffi, writing in the American Book Review, affirmed that Addonizio “is wise and crafty in her observations and her portrayal of sensual love, filial feeling, death or loss.” Gioseffi contended that Addonizio “is most profound when she’s philosophizing about the transient quality of life and its central realization of mortality.” (Poetry Foundation)
Burning the Old Year by Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother an American of German and Swiss descent, and Nye spent her adolescence in both Jerusalem and San Antonio, Texas. Nye’s experience of both cultural difference and different cultures has influenced much of her work. Known for poetry that lends a fresh perspective to ordinary events, people, and objects, Nye has said that, for her, “the primary source of poetry has always been local life, random characters met on the streets, our own ancestry sifting down to us through small essential daily tasks.” (Poetry Foundation)
i am running into a new year by Lucille Clifton
Lucille Clifton was born in 1936 in DePew, New York, and grew up in Buffalo. She studied at Howard University, before transferring to SUNY Fredonia, near her hometown. She was discovered as a poet by Langston Hughes. A prolific and widely respected poet, Lucille Clifton’s work emphasizes endurance and strength through adversity, focusing particularly on African-American experience and family life. Awarding the prestigious Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize to Clifton in 2007, the judges remarked that “One always feels the looming humaneness around Lucille Clifton’s poems—it is a moral quality that some poets have and some don’t.”
One of the most useless things in my room is a square cushion with illustrations of sleeping dogs on it.
I have cushions all over my house that are used on a daily basis. The soft ones on the sofa are used as makeshift pillows when guests stay for the night. The stiff ones with embroidery are used as back support. The large ones are used for pillow fights because they cause more “damage” than a lighter pillow ever could.
This cushion, on the other hand, is too small to be used as a pillow, takes up too much space to be used as a backrest and barely inflicts any pain when tossed at someone (unless it hits you in the eye; believe me, I’ve tried). Therefore, it is one of the only cushions in my house that is in good condition.
Apart from having a multitude of uses, cushions are, in my opinion, one of the most underrated décor pieces to exist. A gorgeous set of scatter cushions (also known as “throw pillows”) brightens up a room in an incredible and unique way.
Look at these gorgeous rooms. The scatter cushions add that element of homeliness that makes these rooms so appealing to me. While the wall décor and rugs also have my heart, this article is not about them. The patterned cushions are the stars of this article and they are what tie the room together. Moreover, the mixture of patterns makes the couches look all the more interesting without being too messy.
These pictures have been all that I could think about for more than two years. And the second I saw an old cushion at home, I immediately knew that it would be the cornerstone of my very own Pinterest-perfect room.
The obvious first step to achieving this was to tie-dye a white cushion cover. However, the closest thing I could find to a cushion cover was my brother’s old t-shirt. When I tried to dye it with watercolour paint, it looked less like something you’d find on Pinterest and more like something you’d find on National Geographic.
To say that this incident crushed me would be an understatement. From then on, I tried my level best to stay away from all things cushion-related. Until one day, as I was passing through a furniture store, when a certain cushion cover with illustrations of sleeping dogs on it caught my eye and the rest is history.
This cushion set the precedent for how my room would get decorated: I would scroll through Pinterest for hours, pick a project that I would fail miserably at, and finally come up with something that fit my room a lot better than the initial project ever could.
The dream catchers, wall stickers, and water-coloured sheets of paper that surround me make my room a private sanctuary. Looking at these souvenirs of my mental breakdowns make me feel safe because they act like a tether and remind me that the void does not have to blink first.
While I may not use the sleeping-dog-cushion for anything, it makes me smile every time I look at it. So, I would like to end this article by rephrasing its first sentence:
One of the most important things in my room is a square cushion with illustrations of sleeping dogs on it.
Before starting on this endeavour, I should clarify what I mean when I say obsession. To me, obsessions are usually positive things that I am attached to for various reasons. It could be an object, an experience, or even an action. I am curious as to what forms an obsession and what makes them sentimental to people and I attempt to explore it in this article.
There is nothing more serotonin-inducing than finding something you really love doing, and then, quite simply, doing it. Take for example my obsession with wearing shirts. Everytime I wear a shirt I feel more “myself” than ever, it makes me feel euphoric and all round amazing. And I wear shirts everyday, so I think it counts as an obsession. Along with shirts, the only form of shorts or pants I own are Jeans and they too form a part of my identity. For the days that I'm really excited, like birthdays or get-togethers or just a normal day when I feel like doing it, I wear ties too. Ties are by far my biggest obsession - I have more ties than the days in a week. That might not sound like a lot, but managing ten ties is quite the ordeal.
I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that not a single day went by last year when I didn’t wear a shirt and jeans, and that, I'm sure, does sound like a lot. Because it is. I wouldn’t be me without them, and wearing them forms a small part of my identity that I treasure with all my heart. We all have our own little obsessions that we hold close to our heart and the reasons for these obsessions vary from person to person and from obsession to obsession.
Other than clothes, I am obsessed with the concept of sentimentality and nostalgia in itself. I try finding and collecting random objects that relate to certain events in my life and give them a sentimental value because I want to look back at them later and smile about the amazing time I had. I also look forward to and imagine similar things happening in the future, and it forms a sort of excitement in me. I have everything from a pet rock that I named Rocky (don’t question it) to a tiny metal ball I found on the floor. You could say it is a form of association that acts as a way to relive past experiences, and anticipate future ones.
After talking to a couple of friends, I got a better grasp over what constitutes an obsession and why they are sentimental to people. For some people, their obsessions act as a form of escapism, a sort of redirection to something other than reality in itself. Reading books is something a lot of people absolutely love doing and I am trying to start doing as well. We, as humans, form emotional connections with characters and specific books and start being attached to them over time as we form bonds with the concept of reading by itself.
People’s obsessions can be something they really enjoy as well, something that they can have fun with no matter the time or situation. Some might enjoy watching sitcoms, edits and musicals while others might enjoy playing with their pets, sleepovers, wearing bracelets, collecting earrings, painting their nails, researching various flags, the subject of physics, an entire language, listening to their favourite songs and artists or even using an emoji excessively. (Heck the obsession can just simply be Timothee Chalamet as well).
Some things require low energy to do like researching flags, listening to music, playing with pets and watching sitcoms. Based on what I’ve heard from people, it is this very aspect of predictability and things requiring a low amount of effort while yielding exponential happiness that makes them comfort inducing to a person and hence sentimental. A profound idea I heard from one of my friends is that we don’t know ourselves completely. We don’t know the entirety of who we are and it is when we explore these obsessions and dig deeper into why we love them that we start figuring ourselves out more and more. I really love the idea of that, and I definitely agree with this theory.
Obsessions can be absolutely everything as long as they are healthy and don’t harm anyone. I think it’s important that we respect each other’s obsessions and the sentimental value they hold to us as individuals. Let it be a deep rooted love for physics or an entire language, sentimental obsessions are beautiful in every single way. And I for one will now wear a shirt and then look at myself in the mirror and think “Ah, which tie should I wear today?”. Oh, and this column is a sentimental obsession to me and I'm grateful to have this space to talk as a writer. That’s been my time, take care and good night!
THE MAGIC CLOSET
I will put in my closet,
All my special clothes,
All my artwork,
And things I behold.
I will put in my closet,
The wind from a beautiful summer night,
The first snowman I ever built,
And all my trinkets from the fair.
I will put in my closet,
Water from a pool,
All my ice lollies,
And all my shoes.
I will put in my closet,
My first time on a loop-the-loop,
The yummy taste of a hot dog,
And the first day at my new school.
It's fashioned from wood,
And holds my secrets.
The bottom is a fluffy carpet.
I will dance in my closet,
With my blaring speakers,
Then look up at the twirling disco ball,
The colour of a rainbow.
SQUID GAME AND SOCIETY
HOW SQUID GAME CRITIQUES CAPITALISM
Money controls every single aspect of our lives.
More specifically, those with unimaginable amounts of money and power control every single aspect of our lives. This fact is inescapable, and it is the point that Squid Game hammers into our heads throughout the series.
From the very first game of ddakji that our main character, Gi-Hun, plays, in which he tolerates physical abuse in return for a relatively meagre sum of money, to the concept of the ‘game’ itself, this message is never concealed.
But the question remains - how far would you go for money? Would you sell your body? Your morals? Would you step on the backs of whoever you could to get ahead? And finally, would you turn a blind eye to the villains in front of you?
Squid Game asks, and answers, most of these questions. But contrary to several other shows that only contain subtle hints and under-currents of anti-capitalism, Squid Game revels in it. The show’s plot is less a heavy-handed, poorly-disguised metaphor for capitalism and the working class and more a mirror to the life we live today.
If you’re one of the three people on this planet that still hasn’t watched Squid Game, (I envy your self-control), the show follows the lives of hundreds of people from financially-unstable backgrounds that are forced to play childhood games (with a deadly twist) to win a jackpot prize.
There was a lot of discourse on LinkedIn about Squid Game recently. Yes, LinkedIn. This is about how companies can learn from Squid Game in terms of employee management, moral lessons, leveraging knowledge and teamwork.
While there is nothing wrong with finding lessons in the darkest of media, the amount of dissonance in these ‘positive messages’ was jarring. While discussing individual games, they suggested using empathy and compassion, and made vague observations of ‘honing your instincts’ and ‘setting clear goals’.
The problem with these suggestions, so to speak, is how blind they are to the message of the show itself. Where Squid Game delivers a scathing critique to the system, these ‘tips’ change the narrative, and tell us, ‘Hey! The system’s great, actually, and here’s how you can get better at being a part of it.’
Squid Game is unapologetically anti-capitalistic; the entire basis of the show is the struggles of the working class under corporate overlords, all at the mercy of the 1%. To reframe the horrors of this show (many true to life) as a ‘learning experience’ would be invalidating the essence of the show, as well as the lived-in experiences of billions around the world.
Brands on Twitter are capitalising on the popularity of the show as well, making Squid Game memes to advertise their products and boost engagement. But it feels inauthentic, and laughably ironic.
Most of the characters of the series are employees and people who have fallen on tough times. Corporations, and their stand-ins in the storyline, are completely unsympathetic if not downright villainous to their struggles. The show tells it like it is; and how it is, is devastating.
Bonding with multi-billion dollar establishments is hard on a good day.
Bonding with multi-billion dollar establishments about a show that condemns them?
But it’s not just corporations that are diluting Squid Game’s message. There are plenty of trends right now on social media platforms that involve recreating the games from the show and posting them on the internet. Not to mention the hundreds of memes about the show that serve as better advertising than Netflix could ever provide. But the icing on the cake is the commercialisation of Squid Game, its characters and logos. There are posts showing off credit cards with the infamous Squid Game logo and Squid Game themed birthday parties. Tone deaf would be putting it lightly.
The commodification of anti-capitalist themes is hardly new. We saw it years ago with ‘The Hunger Games’, a scathing commentary about the media, and the glorification of class struggle. The book, which criticised an autocratic, profit-oriented government, was translated into everything from marketable plushies to eyeshadow palettes. Even the movies had questionable themes and marketing, glossing over the point author Suzanne Collins was making in the novels.
Now, is it fair to expect the themes of a show to remain unadulterated even as it becomes popular? No, of course not. And it’s not fair to expect everyone to consume content and discuss it the same way. But it would be a tragedy if somewhere along the way, we lost sight of what the show means, even though it’s been yelling it at us this whole time.