A Trillion Little Moments
Let’s bring back a Between The Notes recurring segment everyone knows and loves: game night, or for my dangerously sleep-deprived Gs, game midnight! Today’s game is called “How Many Photos Do We Take?”, and here’s how to play. Without using Google (or for the six of you out there using Bing, Bing), you need to tell me how many pictures you think are taken per year.
If you’re thinking somewhere in the realm of millions, think higher - much higher. If you’re heading towards the billions, go even higher. As you head towards an answer in the trillions, I, as the gamemaster, will step in to tell you that you’re empirically right! It’s around 1.72 trillion.
That’s a massive figure, but after doing a little research, I wasn’t all that surprised by it. Given that sources say anywhere from 2 to 7 billion people in the world own phones, it really just means that on average, we take around 180 to 640 photos a year, and that’s much more feasible. I have friends that could handle that much in just one (1) good outfit day.
What I was more interested in was why we even take photos in the first place. Not just photos, though - videos, diaries, Instagram feeds, Polaroids, everything. Why do we keep a record of the key moments in our daily lives?
The way I used to see it was that our memories were handled by some perfect system in our heads. We live through days, months, and years of interactions, moments, and events. Some of them stay in our head as clear as crystal, some of them are there but mildly fuzzy, and we completely forget the rest.
As we grow and develop as people, we start to adopt new perspectives on the experiences we’ve lived through. We retrospect, we push things out, and we stay awake until ungodly hours (another shoutout to my besties without rest-ies) thinking of all we’ve done throughout our lives. It’s only natural that the memories that remain are the ones that survive those retrospections (AKA, the ones worth remembering), and the memories that we forget are the ones that didn’t matter that much anyway. It’s the way in which we think about our past that determines what we remember and what we forget.
I was rummaging around my cupboard in excruciating detail a few months ago, trying to find a book. While I was doing that, I ended up finding a small envelope with two photos inside it; they were class photos from 7th and 8th grade. It’s barely been 4 years, but I could feel something build up in me as I scanned the photo from left to right, recalling everyone’s name after years of not seeing any of them. It was a simple enough occasion, but it helped me understand that I was wrong.
Memories aren’t just memories, they’re things that happened in our lives. Every single decision we made, every single step we took, and every single thing we did is fossilised in our brain as a recollection of the past. But memories shouldn’t be ways of looking back at our lives with rose-coloured glasses, they should be ways of understanding what we did, and how it made us who we are today. Every single one of the trillion little moments we’ve lived through has informed the way we think, talk, react, and act.
The things we forget aren’t the things that aren’t worth remembering, because everything’s worth remembering. They’re just the things that our brain decides to toss under a table somewhere with no real reason. Making records of our daily lives doesn’t interfere with some otherwise perfect system, it helps it work better. It gives us a tiny scale that helps us reach under that table and find something that makes us who we are. It lets us better understand how we’ve grown as people and where we’re headed next.
Like many other people in 2021, I created a Spotify playlist for every month of the year and added to each one the songs that I fell in love with that month. In a pandemic where time’s moved so slowly, I often listen to the songs I loved in January 2021 to transport myself back to that time. It brings back equal amounts of the good (getting to spend a lot of time with people that mattered to me) and the bad (nearly dying before my Hindi boards). Looking back at who we used to be in the past is hard, but there’s something strangely serene about understanding yourself.
That’s why we take photos, or videos, or write diaries, or Polaroids. To understand who we used to be, good and bad. To understand what life used to be, good and bad.
Life wasn’t simpler in the past than it is now. It wasn’t more sensible then. It wasn’t prettier then. Life was as complicated, stupid, and ugly as it’s always been, and we can’t use our memories as a way to pretend it was all okay.
But through all the complexity, stupidity, and ugliness, life was ours. Life is ours.
I’m having the most frenzied summer I’ve ever had. When this article is published, I will have started writing my board exams. I try not to get too overtly personal in these, but sometimes there’s no ignoring the circumstances I’m in, and I know many of you are going through similar things yourselves. At times like these, it’s imperative to keep yourself afloat - for me, that means good food, good friends, and good poetry. There isn’t a theme, this time. These are some poems that keep me, and hopefully, you, going.
To be punished
By Akshaj Balaji
blanket on a cold night
refuse to listen as I ruffle around the bed, freezing.
the chill on the bottom of my exposed feet is a knife cut
blanket is stubborn
at the dead of my night,
my scalp over and over
white flakes of dried skin pour down like rain drops
I scrunch my face, forcing myself to stop scratching, but
itch won’t go away.
the blanket and the itch
hard to handle.
should they be punished?
inconveniences happen, sure,
but you cannot punish an object, a feeling, yourself for something with no fault
ball and wear socks. and oil your hair.
the next time, at the dead of night, I will not complain,
i will not tantrum, not get aggressive
i will not, cannot, punish things with no comprehension
because I am not going to blame my life’s problems on a blanket and an itch.
Akshaj (Chaand) is a high school student who loves writing and is considered by many as a generic music student. Akshaj dabbles in poetry whenever possible and really enjoys playing with his cats.
A Little Closer to the Edge by Ocean Vuong
Born in Saigon, poet and editor Ocean Vuong was raised in Hartford, Connecticut, and earned a BA at Brooklyn College (CUNY). In his poems, he often explores transformation, desire, and violent loss. (Poetry Foundation)
Ways of Rebelling by Nathalie Handal
French-American poet, playwright, translator, and editor Nathalie Handal is originally of a Palestinian family from Bethlehem. Handal’s poetry draws on her experiences of dislocation, home, travel, and exile. Critic Catherine Fletcher writes, “While alternating stylistically between the narrative—tinged by the Romantic tradition—and the slightly surreal, much of Handal’s work is also marked by various forms of fragmentation.” (Poetry Foundation)
In this short Life that only lasts an hour (1292) by Emily Dickinson
Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was an American poet. Little-known during her life, she has since been regarded as one of the most important figures in American poetry. Many of her poems deal with themes of death and immortality, two recurring topics in letters to her friends, and also explore aesthetics, society, nature and spirituality. (Wikipedia)
I’ll Open the Window by Anna Swir
Anna Swir (Świrszczyńska) was born in Warsaw, Poland, to an artistic though impoverished family. She worked from an early age, supporting herself while she attended university to study medieval Polish literature. Swir’s awards include the Krzyz Kawalerski Oderu Odrodzenia Polski (1957), Krzyz Oficersk Orderu Odrodzenia Polski (1975), Nagroda miasta Krakowa (1976), and Medal Komisji Edukacji Narodowej. (Poetry Foundation)
For the Boy Standing Under the Drainpipe by Cheryl Savageau
Of Abenaki and French Canadian heritage, Cheryl Savageau was born in central Massachusetts. She graduated from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and studied writing at the People’s Poets and Writers Workshop in Worcester. Savageau’s poetry retells Abenaki stories, often focusing on the unrecognized lives of women and the working class; her work is enriched by the landscape and ecology of New England.
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
Can I get up high in the clouds and never come down?
Can I experience heaven and forget hell?
Can I bathe in the light and get away from the dark?
Can I have the blue skies and not the gray?
Can I be young forever and never age?
Can I twirl with the angels and leave the devils?
Can I have the blessings without the curses?
Can I always be happy and never sad?
Can I always succeed and never fail?
There are so many things I cannot do,
But I wish for them and so do you.
Is there life without pain and just blue skies?
Is there life without the lows and just the highs?
RUNAWAY CATS AND THE IMPERMANENCE OF LOVE
i lost my cat two weeks ago. lost, in the truest sense of the word; like a kid at a carnival enthralled by the blinding lights, hands slipping out from each other. lost, like a balloon drifting in the sky. you know it was loved once, but now it is untethered, never to come home again.
i tried to keep my grieving to a minimum. “i couldn’t afford it”, i told myself. i had exams to write, classes to attend, a life to live. but in doing so, i neglected the very real truth that it hurt. i had spent every summer afternoon with my cat purring softly in my lap, cool stone against my skin. he had a terrible habit of breaking into our house in the morning - 7 am sharp; my very own living breathing alarm clock, yelling for me at the foot of my bed. as much as i detested it then, i miss his loudspeaker yowls in the morning. i’ve already started to forget what they sound like. i have begun to forget the feeling of his soft fur between my fingers, the sound of his soft snores.
i tell myself that just because i cannot remember, does not mean it wasn’t real. love is not permanent. we’re told that love means more when it lasts, when it stands the test of time, but we have to take a minute to remember all the love that didn’t. take the time to grieve.
in depriving myself of that closure, the ability to feel that grief, i forgot all the love i had for the time we spent together. and that felt even worse.
i heard someone say that grief is just a summation of all the love you never got to give. it is love that went unexpressed; and there is no worse kind. grief, they say, is simply love persevering.
love is not permanent; and that’s alright. i think there’s beauty in its transience. sometimes it’s easier to cherish something fleeting. think of it this way: a vacation is only special because it lasts a week. if life was a vacation, every adventure would feel mundane. the magic would be lost. to live has so much meaning to us because one day, we will stop.
we are mosaics of every person we have ever loved. dogs, childhood mates, music teachers, old neighbours, internet friends. all that love, the love we hold for the world, makes us who we are.
INTERPRETATION OF MISERY
- SHAURYA ARYA
“Misery breeds art,” my granduncle had proclaimed once.
Funny then, I remember thinking, why being miserable isn’t something we strive to achieve more than anything else. To oppress our soul (or whatever we call the encapsulation of our consciousness) with the unrelenting pressure of this thing we call life, to have it willingly step into an inescapable black hole that’s devoid of any trace of joy or happiness, to subject it to a pain that borders on agony…
Sounds foreboding, doesn’t it?
My granduncle’s maxim was part of a tale he shared with me, one he claimed was “as real as the sun that gives us warmth, as the water that quenches our thirst.”
“There is a large field close to where I used to live as a kid,” he started. “I had never been there. Theories support that it’s haunted, and I was too scared to not disbelieve it. Anyhow, over the course of its existence, several stories have sprung from its infamous legacy. According to one of them, anyone who walked through the seemingly endless treacherous path – a territory ruled by walking demons who breathed out fire – to get to this field was emancipated.”
As a kid, I didn’t know what “emancipated” meant, but I didn’t disturb him.
He continued. “They are the ones, it was said, who had truly endured sufferance, who didn’t submit to those demons, and attained glory.”
He leaned a little closer then, and, looking at me squarely, took his time before continuing. “These people are called artists,” he said, letting me absorb the story. “Misery breeds art, always remember that.” Only when he saw me nodding did he go back to the football game he was watching on the TV; leaving me, a mere nine-year-old boy, wondering just what the story really meant.
I wanted to ask him if he’d had a bit to drink, but I held my tongue.
That story came back to me many years later, when, last week, I finished the first draft of my debut novel. I don’t know if it’s any good (to tell you the truth, I would call it a relentless and ridiculously long rant), let alone if I’ll be able to find a publisher who will back it. And, even if I do, it’s highly unlikely it’ll sell well. It took me two years to write it, and, regardless of its probable fate, I can say that I’m quite proud of it. Going through the massive pile of the hard work I’d put in in the last couple of years, I discovered a sense of relief wash over me; and what followed that relief was what I would like to call, for the lack of a better word, emancipated.
Yes, exactly like the victors who had trudged through the treacherous path and tasted the glory my granduncle had spoken about. Oh, how these warriors must have felt as they stepped onto the carpet of freshly cut grass, the sun on their faces, the sinister demons behind them. The elation, the sheer joy they must have left.
But, as I think now, would this emancipation even be realisable if it wasn’t for my own treacherous path that I had to move through? For the needles I had to walk on, with cuts and bruises all over my feet as I determinedly put one leg after another? For the fire breathing demon chasing me, his face a horrid mix of revulsion and sinisterness?
Or perhaps I’m blowing things a little too much out of proportion. But, then again, exaggeration is a useful asset for a storyteller. And, after the last two years, I do get to call myself a storyteller, don’t I?
Maybe my miseries aren’t as significant as some of the more pressing – more tangible – issues our world faces today. I have a job, one which gives me no reason to complain financially. I have a place to live; and, even though I rent it, you don’t take a roof over your head for granted. I have friends and family who care for me. I am in good health; sure, I could cut down on unhealthy habits (too embarrassing to be specified), but I do maintain what I can safely call a reasonably fit lifestyle.
And isn’t that all that we need?
But, yet, time and again I find myself… miserable.
Especially when, for example, I have just had a tiresome call with a disgruntled client who, unhappy with the services our company was providing her, called me a “thief” and a “sadist”; and a panic so deep and formidable set in me because the cycle (“part of what I’m being paid for,” as I would be reminded) would repeat the next day, and the one after that, and the one after that. Or each time I would let my aunt walk all over me pointing to how my boy, who dropped a year in high school, was a “failure”; while, inwardly, I’m visibly seething, cursing myself at not being courageous enough to tell her off. Or even when, sucked into the wormhole of memories from my past, I am forced to relive the bullying and the name-calling I had to endure in school because of my stuttering. Kids in high school are ruthless, and anyone who says otherwise is either lying or incredibly fortunate.
I opened about how these instances leave me miserable to a friend a few years ago, and she, a well-wisher as she likes to call herself, was quick to point out that I “can’t keep all this bottled in,” or that I’ll “erupt like a volcano,” with the “lava of these miseries scorching everything they so much as touch.”
Quite a colourful picture, isn’t it?
Today, as I leaf through this documented rant that I ambitiously call a novel, I say to her, “Look, Nancy. I erupted.”
A drop forms at the corner of my eye, and I don’t bat it away.
“I finally erupted.”