The end of a beginning
I used to think of Riot as an unending force that lived inside all of us, much like the Green Day lyric that we hailed as one of our unofficial mottos from the beginning. But more than it being a force, we’ve managed to produce something very real, something that encapsulates our thoughts and emotions for the world to read. Riot’s ending makes me feel a peculiar sadness that is tinged by something golden: hope.
A Djo song, aptly named ‘End of Beginning’, was something I put in my college decision playlist. But college is too far away, too mercurial of an idea at this moment. But the end of Riot isn’t, and this magazine has given me more than I could have asked for. A column with the freedom to say the things I was too scared to, friends I’ll never let go of, and a sense of accomplishment and belief in my future.
This too, is the end of a beginning. A beginning we forged for ourselves out of a common passion of writing. I wave goodbye to the end of this beginning. I know there will be many other starts and ropes to climb, but there is something special about Riot that I can’t possibly ever forget.
To trace my own history with this column, I started off with writing articles on a variety of topics and issues; the fluctuating tone and register that I used in my articles mirrored my own insecurities and volatile sense of self that I had possessed. But as my column grew with the number of articles it held, I found myself in bougainvillea plants and jars of pasta sauce. I wrote with a voice that I was proud to hear and call as my own.
Riot exists not in the past or the present, but inside me, and all those who found themselves in it. It gave me a beginning. It showed me who I was. I will forever be grateful to everyone who has supported my work in this magazine, especially Brishti and Shravan, who knew how to make this magazine what it could be.
Goodbye Riot. Goodbye, to this wonderful audience I’ve had the privilege to write for.
Goodbye, to the end of this wonderful beginning.
I’ll be the first one to say it:
The last To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before movie pissed me off.
Although this is a very arbitrary statement to make (and, apparently, not as unpopular as I thought), it really sums up my feelings about the ending of the franchise. As romcoms often are, I felt like the movie was just too ideal.
For people not well versed with the books and movies of the Jenny Han universe, the main character Lara Jean is transcending from one picture-perfect phase of her life (being a teenager) to the next - adulthood. She was going off to college - NYU, and she was doing so arm-in-arm with her high school boyfriend, irretrievably in love. Her life would follow an ever-blissful, permanently ‘main-character’ trajectory, and that would be it. That story - the one I’d spent years following - would just now be over. Forever suspended in a ‘happily ever after’, it would be neatly packed, and kept aside.
Why did she get to have such a great ending?
Now, you might say that my annoyance for said great endings (see: cool clothes, prestigious college, fluffy-hair boyfriend) stems from my own lack of those things; you could also argue that that was just not how the world worked. But something in me craved for that kind of goodbye.
I’m graduating from the school I’ve gone to for the last thirteen years, and am also bidding farewell to Riot for the time being - a magazine that I’ve been a part of with some of my closest friends for almost two years. Some part of me wishes that these large parts of my life could conclude like every romcom I’ve ever watched - a panoramic shot of New York, rolling into a credits scene with peppy music playing in the background, that everyone leaves the movie hall during. I wish those last moments of anything could be grasped at and put in a snow globe. Shake it and you see it come back to life; but when you want, it stays frozen right where you left it.
But, some really big problems pose threats to this fantasy of mine: a), I don’t live in New York. And b), They don’t really sell snow globes on Amazon.
I felt the urge to be a part of some fantastically choreographed final montage at the beginning of this year as well. 2022 had been an annoying year overall, but I was determined that for the sake of my Instagram feed, I was going to pretend as if I lived in a movie by making a Reel recapping the year. I poured over all those tiny moments I had documented through the year - the one of my friends and I making an amateur music video, the beach, cheesecakes. As I started compiling all those videos and pictures, however, I realised that my life really was a movie. Not Oscar-worthy in every sense (or maybe I’m being too modest), but it was mine to watch. Mine to take in.
And as we wrap up this segment of the movie - Riot - I’d like to roll the credits.
Without making it sound too much like an Emmys speech, I’d firstly like to thank our director, Brishti. You’ve pulled us together more times than I can count, and your ideas never fail to deliver. Although I’m taking this metaphor too far, watching you ‘direct’ has taught me more than I will be able to put into words.
To the rest of the cast, thank you for being some of the most talented people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. It’s intimidating sometimes when you find yourself amongst people of your guys’ calibre - but you help me realise my potential and be in awe of yours everyday.
To my wonderful co-star and coco (not the Disney movie. Stands for ‘co-columnist), Shravan. You are fully the Karl Marx to my Friedrich Engels. Our notepads are filled with jokes that keep me laughing well after we end our calls and if I could enshrine it any way other than copypastas, I would. We have an inside joke about PB & Js that I would love to attach here, but truly, you are the PB to my J.
And finally, you. The audience. Thank you for listening to what I have to say - even though most of it is about Timotheé Chalamet.
It’s been real. But for now, I’m saying ‘Cut’.
The Space Between The Notes
French composer Claude Debussy once said, “Music is the space between the notes.”
Fast-forward to May 2021: around 6:43 PM, on the third of our several brainstorming calls, Ananya and I took a sudden flash of inspiration from that Debussy quote and decided that we’d name our Riot column after it. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever understand the multitudes contained within that one line; but as my time at Riot concludes, I’d like to take one final shot at it.
Tempi (yes, this is the plural form of “tempo”, and yes, I love it) have always been significant to music. The speed of a song says lots about its tone, mood, and intent. For ages, strict adherence to these tempi was considered the mark of a good performer, and holding a note for longer than instructed was considered an indicator of mediocrity.
But Debussy changed that. He believed rhythm should be inconstant and flow - “It is nonsense to speak of simple and composed time”, he said - and that this fluidity gave notes a whole new meaning and context. By changing the space between the notes, Debussy thought, he could alter the fabric of music.
And at first, I found it counterintuitive to define music as something so frequently heard as silence. But silence’s abundance doesn’t make it unremarkable; quite the opposite, actually. It’s in the brief silent pauses after notes that we process what we just heard and anticipate what we’re about to hear next. It’s during these spaces that we construct complete narratives out of the tiny musical segments we’re given - that we make music ours.
So, well, yes: it is nonsense (probably wrong, even) to speak of simple and composed time. Music is the space between the notes, and not just the notes themselves.
While pondering the wisdom behind Debussy’s words, I’ve found that so much of it is strongly connected to my journey writing at Riot.
Over the past eighteen months, I’ve written articles for this magazine about humour, astronomy, romcoms, and rock music; and I can’t say that when I started out, I could have never imagined doing any of that. The writer that logged on to Riot’s first Zoom call eighteen months ago is a very different person than the writer that’s sitting here typing this sentence out; he was just 15. He was more reserved and he was less principled. And it’s incredible to scroll through this column’s website and look at just how much he’s changed as a writer.
Whenever we think about writing, we think of output. That piece that went up on that publication. That finished article uploaded to our shared Google Drive. That issue that comes out once every three weeks. And while it’s easy to attribute how much I’ve changed to that consistent output, I can’t help but acknowledge how important the times between Riot issues have been to me. It’s when I’m not typing out an article that I think, observe, and draw inspiration from the most random ideas; that I simply exist and be, filling my head with metaphors, reflections, and arguments. Without that space between the notes, I never would’ve made the choices that made me.
And as I’ve matured, so has my work.
I wrote my first Riot article about the unchecked influence memes and humour have on my generation. At that point, I was a frequent Reddit user (in an era of my life I can only describe as repentable), and I noticed that more and more of the so-called “humour” I was seeing on there was nothing but an excuse to peddle bigotry.
But since I wrote it, figures like Elon Musk and Andrew Tate have used memes to spread discriminatory rhetoric without accountability. Far-right Internet communities have increasingly exploited pop culture to target and radicalise vulnerable teenagers. And when I read the words I wrote back then, I’m astounded by how much more meaning they’ve taken on with time.
Just like the pause after a note makes it relevant, contextual, and significant, this time sheds new light on the concepts I’ve discussed and will discuss. My words gain more and more weight as the world moves on and they’re included in a conversation larger than I could ever muster.
The space between the notes gives me room to grow, and my writing room to evolve into something greater.
But it’s not just as a writer that I’ve found significance in the spaces between the notes.
For me, 2023 is a year of endings. This is my last Riot article. In a number of months that I can count on one hand, I will finish high school. In September, I’ll move out of Bangalore, a city I’ll have lived in for 17 years.
But just because these are endings doesn’t mean they’re finalities. Maybe, in the grand scheme of things, my life is a symphony, and this is just the end of one movement. A big, dramatic movement with tons of notes (a Clair de Lune, if you will); but not, by any means, the final one.
Just because I won’t be with Riot doesn’t mean I’ll stop writing. I’m leaving high school, but I’m going to be at a great college studying subjects I love. Yes, I’ll be out of Bangalore, but I’ll instead live in Chicago, a beautiful city with tons of new restaurants to frequent.
It comforts me to know that after a phrase ends, there is a space. A space for listeners to bid adieu to the phrases they just heard, knowing full well that something more intricate and complex, but ultimately lovely, follows. A space to take stock of the past, shake things up, and prepare for the future.
So, before I sign off, here’s my final request.
To everyone reading this article, and everyone who’s ever read any of my articles; to my most detested adversary, partner-in-Hasan-Minhaj-adoration, and the best co-columnist I could’ve asked for; to my amazing fellow Riot editors and writers, whom I’m honoured to call my close friends, I implore you not to think of this as a conclusion.
Think of it, rather, as a beginning. The beginning of a space between the notes
An image of Claude Debussy, the dead man to whom I owe most gratitude.
When my best friend and I were eight years old, we decided to go stargazing. We prepared for weeks. From begging her parents to let us go on the terrace to begging my parents for a sleepover, we thought of it all. That night, we had everything ready: snacks, a large rug, and a book on stars that we’d borrowed from the library. The only problem? The sky was overcast.
But nothing could have stopped us. So, we unrolled the mat, opened the box of snacks, and tried to find constellations in the cloudy sky. We may not have been able to see stars that night, but I could see something brighter.
What’s the difference between the stars in the sky and your best friend’s smile?
At that point, I barely knew anything about stars; I just knew that they would always be there. Whether there were clouds in the sky or the Sun was shining, whether I saw them or not.
I moved out of our apartment a few months after that. And now, ten years later, she’s in college in another country. We may be looking at different constellations, but I’m sure that she’s thinking of me and I’m thinking of her. And that’s all that matters.
What’s the difference between the stars in the sky and the ones in my mind?
My mind gets filled with clouds all the time. I find it hard to step out onto the terrace and look at the constellations of people I love. I find it hard to trust the world and let go. But through the years, I’ve figured out that even though the world only turns in one direction, it’s always the right one.
I don’t know a lot of things — what my friendships will look like in four years, what college I’ll go to, or whether my veins are blue or green. I can find the answer to the third question by taking a quick online quiz, and the second by taking a few entrance exams. Finding the answer to the first one, however, is a lot trickier, and there’s no way to know it for sure. But what I do know is that I love my friends and I want them to be a part of my life forever. For now, that’s enough.
What’s the difference between the stars in the sky and hoping for a predictable life?
A life without surprises isn’t beautiful or natural. Pushing against nature never works; believe me, I’ve tried so hard. Pretending that everything is going to stay the same doesn’t stop things from changing. Hiding things from the people you love only hurts them. Pushing your feelings down only makes them erupt.
I feel different things in different places. Anger makes my hands shake. Sadness settles in the pit of my stomach. Fear runs in haphazard circles around my head. But nostalgia wraps its arms around my chest and hugs me until my heart aches.
What’s the difference between the stars in the sky and the twinkling fairy lights at midnight?
The stars have always been there. When I lost two of my kittens and felt like my heart was irreparably shattered. When I stayed up alone all night to work on a school project. When I talked to my friends for eight hours one night and realised that life can be incredible and wonderful. The stars listen to my hopes, dreams, and conversations.
I look at the night sky and think of Cafe Terrace at Night, one of my favourite paintings that reminds me of two of my favourite people. I think of unadulterated happiness; a life that I’ll spend with the people that I love. When I go to my terrace, I don’t look down and think of jumping; I look up at the stars and think of what’s to come.
What’s the difference between the stars in the sky and the tears in my eyes?
When stars fall, wishes are made. I always wish for things to stay the same, but sometimes letting go is the better option. Leaving doesn’t always imply finding a way back. This is the last article that I will write for this column, and I know I’m never returning. Everything is changing and I can’t push against nature any longer.
Right now, all I can see are clouds, but I’m trusting the universe and letting go.
What’s the difference between the stars in the sky and saying goodbye?
Thirty-two issues, a year and a half, infinitely many memories, and here we are: the last article on Killer Queen before Riot goes on hiatus. In my previous article, I spoke about being “better”; and in a similar vein, I want to talk here about my growth as a writer and how I found my voice.
Originally, Killer Queen was going to be a column focusing on economic articles because that’s what I thought I’d be interested in writing; my first article for Riot Mag was about the economic situation in India due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But if you look at my more recent articles, they’re completely different. They’re broader, more personal, and more socio-political. This brings me to my one key takeaway as a writer: the significance of change.
You’re not going to be the same writer that you start as; you’re going to grow and learn from your mistakes. But you will eventually find your lane. To be completely honest, I am not a fan of my early articles, especially the ones where I talk about how my life was different as an only child (Issue 6) and complain about my school (Issue 8). Sure, those pieces were about things I wanted to talk about, but they weren’t relevant to anyone else.
My first article about economics was too disconnected from myself, and subsequent articles ended up being too connected to me. But as the issues went on, with the help of our head Brishti and my peers, I learned how to give an article purpose while also making it relevant to myself. Two examples of this are my pieces about sentimental obsessions (Issue 13) and hobbies (Issue 11). This is when I started giving my articles structure.
Sometimes I forget that although I write for myself, my work has to have some substance for people to gain something from. In Issue 15, for example, I wrote a really lengthy, overburdened article about what my personal relationships mean to me specifically. Since then, I have made it a point to write only when I have something concrete to write about; and I think it is important to realise that you’re not going to be able to become the best writer that you can be without failure and practice.
Now, most of the articles I enjoy writing fall under two categories - personal and socio-political. The pieces about my anxiety issues (Issue 12) and problems with validation (Issue 29) are two instances where I have managed to write about something personal, vulnerable, and true to myself. The two-parters on implementing targets and limitations in our lifestyles (Issues 24 & 27) and academic expectations in India (Issues 17 & 18), as well as a critique of the racism in the Jungle Book (Issue 30), are examples of my more serious political pieces. This is the style I have found works best for me as a writer, and when Killer Queen returns (yes, we will be back), it’s what I will be focusing on.
I hope I could give you a glimpse into how we’re all growing with practice as writers and how purpose is one of the most important building blocks of an article. Our style, voice, and audience can evolve and transform, and it’s important to not confine ourselves to a box.
Killer Queen has been something that I never could have perceived in my wildest imagination. I never thought I’d get this far as a writer, or even have a platform to do so. So, I cannot end this piece without stating how thankful I am to my friends. If I’m the Killer Queen, then For Better or for Verse would be my royal advisor and poet, Between the Notes would be my constant right hand, Magnify would be my royal artist and painter, Intricate Connections would be my royal scientist, Aléatoire would be my royal duchess, and Goodness Gracious would be my royal family. Only with all of these parties can we form the royal court (I adore metaphors). Give these columns a read; I'm sure you'd like them!
Riot Mag and Killer Queen are the best things that have happened to me, and I cannot thank my peers enough for all the help and support they have given me. I cannot stress how much I have grown and improved as a writer, and how every writer out there has the potential to do the same. I thank each and every one of you for reading my pieces, and I hope that Riot Mag will be back soon with a blast. But until then, I wish that this article and this column have been of some benefit to you. And with that the Riot season comes to an end, good night. :)
In the words of the band Queen, in their song Killer Queen,
“She's a Killer Queen
Dynamite with a laser beam
Guaranteed to blow your mind
I don't know if I blew your mind, but I sure hope I could tingle it.
This is it.
I’ve been leading up to this in past articles, stating that I’m leaving, but it doesn’t feel real now that it’s actually happening. I hope this column has given you something; taught you about poetry, helped you make sense of your life, made you feel less alone. Shown you some beauty.
Today, I’m wrapping up loose ends. I’m making space for something new. Like I did in an earlier article, I’m going to let you in on a secret: beginnings and endings aren’t clear-cut. They overlap. They get muddled up. They drive me goddamn crazy. Another secret: I’ve spent the past two years pretending I know anything, but we’re all growing and learning, and most of the time I can’t even imagine summoning the wonder I preach about.
But we can’t give up. Life is made up of little moments that end too soon. Let them go. Hold them close. Make space in your head for contradiction. Kick yourself out of your head and catch the rain in your mouth. Mess up. Forgive yourself. Try again. Forgive yourself. Forgive yourself.
Why do we read poetry? Because we are alive. Because we are, for better or for worse, overflowing always. If there’s one thing you take away from these twenty one months of my life, let it be that there is never ever a reason to stop caring about and seeking out truth and beauty.
In this last article, we have a poem I wrote recently and, instead of my usual recommendations, we have selected articles from this column. Thank you for everything. I’ll see you in the next one.
By Brishti Chakraborty
on the last day of sun i lie down. on the last day of sun i stay indoors and waste it. on the last day of sun i call you and hang up before the second ring. on the last day of sun two new books face down on my floor. on the last day of sun and it's all ending.
you hardly need to feel to feel bad. you always need to feel to feel good. maybe if i knew where i was going to college i wouldn't feel like a pencil sharpened all the way down. maybe if i listened to some new music i wouldn't want to claw my ears out. form follows function. on the last day of sun i cut my nails into points.
don't forget to join us for an online seminar on financial aid! two weeks left of high school. every day i check my email thrice and don't read any of it. every day the dust in the air weighs me down. every day i decide not to get my dumbbells out. headphones in. on the last day of sun i forget.
breathe. in. out. sunset at three pm and the light is heavy like molasses. on the last day of sun and it's all beginning.
Brishti Chakraborty (she/her), our poetry editor and curator of this column, is starting again.
Making Poetry Accessible, Issue 1
The article that started it all. I hope I have accomplished what I set out to do; I hope you read poetry now. I hope you love it, too.
https://www.riot-mag.com/for-better-or-for-verse (scroll all the way down)
Choosing to Live, Issue 11
My best article. We are all alive right now. Wake up.
Looking Around, Issue 21
Living is something we do together. Thank you for helping me. I hope I’ve helped you.
The final step
In my mind, endings are always grand. They’re filled with balloons, confetti, and a large banner attached to the ceiling that says “We Will Miss You! Best Physics Teacher Ever!” I felt the need to honour my endings so much so that I threw myself a going-away party when I shifted schools after the 8th grade.
But soon after that, I started to detest endings; I realised that they weren’t always joyful affairs like the guard of honour Sachin got in his last test. Sometimes, endings are underwhelming, sans celebration, like how Dhoni retired with a simple Instagram post. They are silent odes that express a sense of gratitude, accompanied by a resolution to move on to other things. That’s what this article aims to be - an ode to Riot and Intricate Connections.
It’s been one heck of a ride. In all honesty, Intricate Connections has been nothing less than a godsend. It’s been a place for me to write whatever’s on my mind. In a world where we have to change ourselves to fit in, it’s been the singular place where I could simply be me without feeling pressure to put on a facade, simply talk about things I want to talk about like maths and science instead of what I’m supposed to be talking about, like college essays require me to. It’s been the place where I’ve written about both my peaceful 11 am thoughts and my insane 2 am epiphanies. It’s been the place that has allowed me to grow as both a writer and a thinker, and it’s taught me the importance of consistency. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
And as I write this article at 4 am, things have finally come back full circle. Everything works out in the end, huh?
My final article for Riot would be incomplete without a callback to several motifs that I’ve developed throughout the column. The rants about the evolution of entropy marking the arrow of time (cue “Shut up nerd”) and the quirky mathematical anecdotes about the Collatz conjecture have been all that I have lived for. Intricate Connections would be as incomplete as Gödel’s theorem without consistent references to the heat death of the universe (sadistic? I know). At Its Essence, it’s Perfect.
I have a confession to make.
When Riot began, we were given the task of coming up with a name for our columns, and I took the longest. It took me a week - or maybe even more - to give this place a name. Nothing seemed to... fit. I want to show you a list of names that I had conceived of, along with abridged comments on each of them courtesy my beloved fellow editor and brilliant best friend, Shravan. Here goes -
Cathartic Nonsense: gives me chaotic vibes that are kinda comforting too. kind of an oxymoron but I think that fits pretty well! only complaint is that the word cathartic is a bit aggressive, but I don't mind it
Numbing Silence: gives me emotionless robot-ish vibes, sort of like the moment before an earthquake. sounds like something Oppenheimer would say. very creepy.
A Solitary Tear: melancholy. MELANCHOLY. guilt about being unable to cry. sad vibes, complex emotions. also not 100% your vibe.
Perplexed Chaos: not exactly "pretentious" but big grammar vibes. chaos is a bit on the nose but otherwise I like it.
Chaotic Cohort: not bad, but I feel like this is more of a whatsapp group name than a solo column name
Mundanity: simple, one-worded. a nice distraction/stand-out from the other parts of riot that are focused on chaos, kind of a straight man character (like someone who remains composed amidst chaos and eccentricity)
Intricate Connections: feels like a column about discovery and learning. gives off the same vibes as your starry night article, I love this one. seems scientific but also very creative and free
I want a revelation: gives off a similar vibe to "intricate connections'', but a little less whimsical and more strong because angelica immediately comes to mind, and she's a very firm character. If you're going for something tough, I think this is great.
Don't Get Me Wrong: simple but very general, and not very easy to find what your column is about. but definitely does give me some refined grammar vibes.
A Spark of Inspiration: like this one, fits with our logo, pretty general but also seems kinda focused on creativity
The Inevitable Arrow of Time: what the frick-
As you can see, I was very confused. I didn’t really have a clear idea of what my column was going to focus on; I only knew that I would write what I thought was important to talk about and that my column would have a recurrent interest in STEM. But I didn’t want to be limited by that.
Maybe what took me a week was that I was looking for perfection all along.
Honestly, I can’t tell you exactly why I chose Intricate Connections. It never really felt right either. But it grew on me. And I think I know why.
Notice how it says ‘Intricate Connections’ and not ‘Intricate Things’ or ‘Intricate Objects’; subconsciously, I included what was most important to me. Considering things in isolation just wasn’t that intriguing; it was the relationships and bonds between them that interested me. Making random connections between a merry-go-round and a black hole seemed more like me. And it is these bonds and connections in Riot that have kept me going, day in and day out.
So this is a thank you to those bonds. Without the people at Riot, I doubt we would have been able to make something half as amazing. I don’t know what I would have done without you.
And to everyone who is reading this, whether this is the first time you’re reading my writing or the last, the pleasure’s been all mine.
GOODBYE, GOODBYE, GOODBYE
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had trouble with goodbyes.
Be it bawling on trips back from my cousin’s house at six years old or tearfully parting with stray dogs on the road today, the nature of whom I was saying goodbye to and my relation to them were inconsequential. Whoever (or whatever) they were, I had been close to them once, and I couldn’t be any more.
Until the age of three, we’re all blessed with something called object impermanence. What that means, essentially, is that we do not remember an object, person, or place when it isn’t visible to us. Out of sight, out of mind. But I feel as though I have the opposite affliction: I think of things more when I can’t see them.
Every December, I crave the bright summer sun. But when it finally shows its face, I realize it is not enough. Because I long for the summer sun from seven years ago and the love that surrounded me then; the memories I made then, that I can only relive through faded snapshots.
I often think of my best friend from seventh grade. Of the way I looked at her and wondered if she knew how much of my heart was in her hands. I wonder if she thinks of me when she drinks orange juice or plays Alanis Morrissette.
I think of her dog and how happy he seemed, and if that happiness is everlasting. Our goodbye was not a goodbye at all; more a drifting apart, like two rivers diverging into their own paths. Neither a celebration nor a tragedy - just a fact of life.
It is harder to come to terms with goodbyes when I am the only one still breathing. Then, my memories are in constant replay, a broken loop repeating the brightest smiles and the sepia-tinted affection. I think of how unfair it is that they can never watch another tired sunset, never sleep in loving arms, never taste the salt in the sea. I think of how I can never experience any of those things with them. But time has its own way of fossilizing the deepest of wounds, and I’ve come to appreciate that.
I already miss all the friends I’ve ever made. All the words we’ve shared, whispered, or screamed, in joy, rage, or reverence. We are all portraits of moving memory; as a dear friend put it, we are mosaics of everyone we’ve ever loved.
I am trying to make peace with goodbyes and understand that they are not forever. I am trying to learn that there is beauty in impermanence, in ephemeral glances and words of affirmation. So, to everyone reading this:
I wish you goodness, even if it means goodbye.
TO BE LARGER THAN WE ARE
I think the only thing scarier than change is the possibility that things may stay the same. The worn out ballet flats I put on every Thursday are tokens of finiteness, a sign to remind me that some things will end. I know that after I perform the piece I’ve been working on for months on end, I’ll have to move on to something new and more challenging. I have a new pair of tougher, shinier shoes sitting in my drawer waiting to be worn that can endure higher jumps and harder falls. I don’t need them yet, but I know I will soon. The thought that someday I will be bigger than the thing that challenges me most today, is what keeps me prepared for change.
Every year I replace my old ballet flats with new ones; every year as the pirouettes and the high jumps become harder, I feel as though I grow larger - in size. I feel as though today, I’ve outgrown the life I’m familiar with. Six months ago, I felt like turns on two feet were larger than life. Now that I’ve mastered them, that I’ve grown, I feel myself reaching toward the ceiling. I’m ready to grow farther through it; to move on.
Today, in January of 2023, I feel more suffocated than ever. I feel like I need to shrink and contort in order to fit under the roof above my head. The superposition between this ending and the next beginning, the tightrope that is the shared border of two lands, is probably the most anxious and suffocating place to be in. Sometimes, I have this terrifying thought that I will become the biggest thing I can imagine. I’ll be seven feet tall with my head pressing against the ultimate ceiling. But today, I look at my ballet flats and picture wooden pointe shoes taking their place. And the thought that I’m not nearly tall enough to fit into them, and that I won’t be for years, brings me great comfort. And this feral desperation to be larger than I am.
AN EXPERIENCE OF ATOMICITY
Did Riot Mag's absolutely amazing New Year's issue inadvertently save me from self impending doom? (Yes, this is me advertising Riot Mag as I write an article meant to be published in that very magazine because I have absolutely no shame) Well yes, but let's rewind a bit, more specifically to the last week of 2022.
New Year's was right around the corner and the one thing it always signifies is a party, but also the daunting act of creating new resolutions. I, for one, come up with these crazy, life-changing resolutions that I never seem to follow through with. Exhausted by constant failure in the past years of not creating realistic and attainable resolutions and the fact that not following through with them was my biggest bad habit of all, I felt a pronounced need for change.
But, I was conflicted. Where would this change stem from? What would it be? And finally, how would I execute it? It was as if my guardian angels heard this plea and my boon came in the form of Riot Mag's Issue 31. From having bumpy rides to becoming better and how time doesn't really matter but what I do is, reading this issue made me realize that the first thing I needed to do was start. And so, I started thinking about how I would change my life by a 360 and the first thing that came to my mind was, dun dun dun, a self help book. Shocker I know, but not any self help book. This is that one book I say I'll read but never do, the one that has made its permanent home in my TBR, you guessed it! The guide to making and breaking habits, Atomic Habits by James Clear.
And so, I sat and concocted my very easy, and very realistic 5-step plan while sipping on many cups of coffee and my first order of business was reading the book. I presumed this plan would be realistic, but it was anything but…
Sure, the book was worthy of its accolades and praise as it certainly did get me started on a healthy habit system, but it was grueling to read. The beginning was rough and a lot of the information flew right over my head, and so I tried to oversimplify it.
The book talks about the 4 laws of habit formation and its opposite for breaking die-hard old habits: cues, cravings, responses, and rewards. Much to your fortune, I'm going to leave all the boring technical stuff behind, and skip to the most exciting part of this article: how I implemented these laws.
I love reading, and I'm sure a lot of you do too. But I for one have zero self control when it comes to reading. I often skip doing homework or even studying for important exams and taking my dog out on a walk because I'd rather be cooped up in bed, reading. So, how do I put an end to this? First I switched off my phone and kept the paperback I was reading away, while keeping busy and not having those few minutes to switch from doing something productive to something pleasurable. I motivated myself to study or do my assignments with the looming thought in my head that after this, I would get to read the much awaited chapters of my current read. The anticipation of reading those chapters far outweighs the actual pleasure of receiving it. Also having my textbooks and work beside me in a proper pile signified both how much I had left, as well as, effortlessly motivating me to do the work since it was on hand. And after all this strenuous work, I rewarded myself by reading those chapters proving to me that doing the work was worth it.
While starting the change wasn't all too much, sticking with it has been far more difficult than I ever thought it would. While small changes do compound over time to form strong and healthy habits, sparking those small changes as well as continuously following through was and still is easier said than done.
I wish I could say I'm a changed person and the “best possible version” of myself I ever have been after reading that book and that these new habits have made me turn over a new leaf, that would all be deceitful, as ironic as that may seem. These new habits are certainly effectful but maintaining them proves to be quite a challenge much unlike the climactic, main-character-moment worthy way I thought it would go. While I am still the same me (maybe with complex self-help lingo floating in her head, but all the same) with some of the same old bad habits, I also have some new good ones.
So my quest to maintain these good habits and truly become the "best version" of myself prevails yet another day.
TURNING A NEW LEAF
I have a plant in my room named Joan. It sits atop a shelf, basking gloriously in the light of my window until sunset, where all of a sudden, its pretentious brilliance seems to diminish, and it lies there meekly, slumbering until once again, the blinds open and it gets to exhibit its natural beauty once again.
We have had a lot of laughs together, Joan and I. Sometimes, I gaze at it pensively, thinking, “Did I water you this week?” Other times I stare at it, my eyes slowly widening, realizing, “Oh my, this plant is about to wither off the face of this planet” and rush off to water it. Very few times do I catch myself observing, “Well, that is one healthy plant!” Boy, have we had some good times together. I think Joan really enjoys this silent, one-sided banter.
I realized that Joan has occupied the same spot on my shelf next to my desk for two and a half years now (except for that brief period of time where it was banished to the balcony due to an ant infestation). I’ve watched it grow from a collection of small, leafy shoots to the magnificent, overgrown vine that it is today. I remember fondly exhibiting it as a prime example of phototropism in my tenth grade biology class as if it was just yesterday. But now, it’s in that awkward teenage phase where it doesn’t want anything to do with me. It keeps a low profile, sulking behind my shelf away from the light of the window in all its egotistic glory. Even so, I notice that although the vine is too heavy to grow upwards and towards the light, the leaves still face the window.
Joan has watched me grow, sprout new leaves, maybe even wilt a little, but always grow back with a little help, just as I’ve watched it do the same. In more ways than one, Joan has perfectly mirrored my growth over the past two and a half years of having it as my roommate. Recently, its growth has stagnated as my 18th birthday fast approaches, along with the accompanying nightmare that is adulthood. Just like Joan, my leaves know that the sunlight is there behind the shelf and that it’ll never magically disappear, but I still hide.
Change is hard to accept. Sometimes, the most ubiquitous aspects of life are the most difficult to digest. We know it’s coming, but we somehow never see it until it really hits. Until you start looking at your plant as a metaphor for your life.
Although change may often seem frightening, it’s a fundamental part of life. Without the ability to accept change, we wouldn’t be able to grow or learn or become better people. Even though I don’t want to leave my childhood behind, I have no choice but to do so. I know I won’t immediately embrace adulthood, and those leaves that I’ve had from the beginning won’t fall off anytime soon. But I’ll learn to get used to all the new leaves that form, and maybe they won’t all have to compete for light. It’ll definitely take a while, but I’ll have to make my way out from behind the shelf and bask in the light of the window. Because, after all, plants need sunlight to grow.
It took no time at all for me to get back into deflecting my feelings through plant metaphors.
From its pretentious, vestigial roots growing on the vine to those cute little developing baby leaves and everything in between, I love this majestic houseplant. All it needs to face the light is a little push. I can sense it’s not quite ready yet, but it’s warming up to the idea. And look at that – there’s a new leaf.
FINALITY AND GOOD THINGS
“All good things must come to an end.”
Do you like ice cream? Do you like vacations? Do you like sleeping under a warm blanket in the cold seasons during the night? Me too. I love all of these things. Just like I do RIOT.
But like all good things, even RIOT must come to an end. Finality and the feeling after a job well done are two emotions that give me satisfaction like nothing else does. But linger on for too long, and you begin to feel the sense of emptiness that only something special can fill. However, as you move on from this emptiness, you realise there’s a lot more to look forward to: A new Ice Cream, A longer vacation, a better sleep or…
A new RIOT.
You never know how long you may have to wait. It could be weeks, it could be months and god forbid, it could even be years. But trust me, no feeling is better than when the moment you long for finally comes. The wait will have been worth it.
But what can I do while I wait for my new special place?
Acceptance is the only way to move on from losing something. That too may take a long time, but when you finally accept it, you can look forward to other ventures: writing your own articles, reading them, editing them and showing them off to your closest friends are just a few of those wonderful things.
As human beings, we never reach the true limit of our abilities. We always have something to look forward to, pushing our boundaries, inch by inch, till we achieve perfection. And yet, we yearn for more. That is simply the way of the indomitable human spirit. So, while we aren’t around, push yourselves. Manifest your true goals, whatever they may be, and smile while doing it as a bonus, because saying goodbye is hard. But moving on? Unimaginably harder.
And now a small thank you note from my side.
Despite having written only two articles for the magazine, RIOT gave me an outlet. Whenever I felt down or angry, I opened up a Word Document and started writing whatever came to me. The people at RIOT would edit my thoughts, suggesting better ways to communicate my points until they became clearer. So to the people of RIOT Mag, thank you for accepting me for who I am. And you, reader, for always sticking with us, eagerly waiting for our next issue. So keep your chin up and your head higher because…
“The End is just the Beginning”
WHEN THE NARRATOR'S RUNNING LATE
I apologise dear reader, my tardiness seems to have finally had consequences. Let me do my best to catch you up on what’s happening. HEY protagonist? Could I please have a synopsis real quick?
“Silly narrator, you know the others can’t hear you. Will you finally let me help?” Michaela yelled at the sky.
NO. NOT MICHAELA. ANYONE BUT HER. Why must you do this to me you vile, foul, fiend of an author. Send me a character who’s competent, I beg you. You do remember Author, you imbecile, how terribly she wrecked the story in the previous chapter? She’s responsible for Queen Mara turning from a protagonist into a villain!
Author? No changes? Why must you do this to me?
“Well, I'm your best hope, so do you want my help or not?” said Michaela, with a roll of her eyes.
Alright, seeing how this bastard of an author has left me with no choice.
“OH MY! You, the oh-so formidable, omniscient narrator is accepting help from me? A character, a side character no less? I consider myself truly honoured”.
Oh get along with it, they’re WAITING.
“Oh, yeah about that. I have no idea what’s going on” she laughed. “All I know is, Leanna is currently mid-invasion. She’s attempting to rescue Jordan, who’s CONVENIENTLY being held hostage by Queen Mara. OH MY GOD, that woman is drop-dead gorgeous. That jawline could slice steel. Oh also, Anastasia gave birth to these two horrendous babies, who WILL NOT stop wailing. Take these pliers and tie my tubes would you? And - “.
MICHAELA, that's enough. You do love testing my patience don’t you, you loathsome, lonesome author. Well, I give up. Once again, you win. Your games and tricks grow tiresome and I swear on the characters in this tale, I will have my vengeance.
So long, Author, until next time.
- POCH SALDANA
Straighten the slots and act
like a Billy. Car gone
again, eyes strung wide,
driven along the salty side
of the view. Opaque duct
tape over the dorm windows.
Wet pants on stage
from nervous sweat, plastic bottles,
or the sounds of the Portland Zoo.
over old sayings then go tyrannical
and let the other four cast
in the back.
Quell and yell
when the shit out your spout hurts
more now than before. Sit alone
with washed sketches who’ll
walk past and leave too.
- POCH SALDANA
There will be a few nights where your
arms will feel
a little too slow. When a head
dangles by its bob and the tiny wires hide the headlamp
by his bed. The nats will crowd the corner
cobwebs because you left
the window open
and the chill nights will turn
to take away any smell of left piss
that someone had to see but never bothered to clean.
- POCH SALDANA
On tiny ponds,
where milkfish flood under
growth he told me he once saw,
there will be someone
there to tend to whatever’s beneath
the water; it all tasted sour
like a note that came a little
too low. Maybe night tide
bruised the bangus,
anyone snatched them
to shore. Or someone just forgot
to dump the feed for a day.
There’s a rot in wind,
tinging and stinging just
a bit. Not enough though
men, he’ll say to someone
dragging a packed net, though
he needs help dragging a down.
The midges whirl about above
and sink back to the surface.
A POEM IN WHICH I’M LONGING TO BECOME THE SHAPE OF MY PRAYERS
- MUHAMMED SANNI OLOWONJOYIN
The universe shapes us until we want
To become the shape of our prayers. Once,
I started a poem with fire and ended it at
The scars of my fathers in search of healing.
Which means we’re metaphors for relics of hibiscuses.
In this poem, I wallow in a body of water
Hoping to banish myself from
The trench of an half-empty home where tankards of
Threnodies now spill like morning prayers.
Say Pray! & it wouldn’t save a country from anguish.
Once, I walked on my hands like an amateur
Contortionist to see the inverse of my hurt, but
The opposite of hurt isn’t healing but care.
See, I just want to be small enough to wade or big
Enough to prevent—like wind in the storm or a
Storm in the wind. Sometimes, I dream myself as a
Burning place setting free, or is freedom too little to seek?
Here, I am a boy planting himself into the loam
Of his prayers, hoping to sprout as a body that doesn’t repel grace.