The Delights of Distraction No.56: Agony Aunts
Through our arc over the last year, we realized we’ve managed to connect with so many of you, readers who write to us saying they see part of themselves echoed in our experiences, who anchor them to something hopeful, or just as pleasant distractions from everyday boiler-plate misery.
However, some of you even come to us for advice.
As we aren’t trained counsellors or psychologists, we can only reply with the well-meaning, coddling, if a tad vacuous, wisdom of indulgent agony aunts. But we hope the sharing in itself makes you feel less isolated, and that you know your words don’t just escape into the ether but are met by an empathetic pair of listeners.
Here’s an excerpt of a mail we got from a reader - going through the tedium of a superwoman’s workload.
Dear Viv & Ami,
I am a mother of a one-year old baby, have a 10-6 job, have tons of work at home and then I have to soothe a wailing baby at night (when I desperately beg the powers that be for a few hours of sleep). Husband helps when he is in the mood to. To be honest, he tries. But I think he doesn't try hard enough. I resent that.
My help is a moody one. Dishwasher technician is still to grace us with his presence. Boss loves to pile up my desk with work while the rest of the men are discussing Deepika Padukone. Husband litters around the house like there is a robot to clean up. And I resent it all. There is so much resentment bottled up inside me that I needed to get an ECG done last week.
Amidst all this chaos, the intense anger, the tears, the sickness, I don't even know when I started reading your delights of distraction. How do you manage to find all this beauty on the internet? How do you find the strength, the passion to reach out to people week after week? How are you able to write such happy, laughter-filled lines?
Looking for answers,
Dear Sleepless mother,
Thank you for your email and the heart-hitting, vulnerability of your words.
Your pain-filled question holds great hope - because in order to connect meaningfully with the world we need to have some understanding of its innate tragedy. Unfortunately the world is not fair; and even though it's 2021, the game is still stacked up against women. Your husband, unfortunately was brought up by parents who taught him it was ok to still exploit the patriarchal way Indians live their lives: get wife, turn her into baby machine, then a baby zombie, then she needs to be wonder woman to handle house, home, husband and job.
The good news, is - that is IS 2021 and things are changing; you will teach your children the value of respecting all human beings and taking accountability and responsibility for their own actions. The world, with mothers like you, is perched to be a much better place.
As for your husband or your boss, you need to acknowledge, accept and then act. How you choose to act is entirely upon you - whether it's through clear communication or through channeling your energies elsewhere.
Paradoxically, the fragility of your question is its immense strength - and says something very profound about you as a person. Despite being racked with resentment and anger, you still seek out the beauty in things, and reach out for some sort of connection. We see you : your question is a testament to your light. Your pain and anguish really touched us, because we know you have the strength to get through it.
Sleepless, please take care of yourself. Seek out beautiful things, inspirations, connections and validating friends. Perhaps you could keep a journal and write stuff down. The written word can put to rest many demons. Identify things that concern you in the world and make incremental efforts to remedy them. At all costs, try to cultivate a sense of humour. See things through that courageous heart of yours. Be merciful to yourself. Be kind to yourself. Be kind.
There is a delightful treasure of a book by Charlie Mackesy, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, a children's book that contains a world of wisdom. We hope you read it to your child one day. There is a line that we would like to leave you with:
“What do we do when our hearts hurt?" asked the boy.
"We wrap them with friendship, shared tears and time, till they wake hopeful and happy again.”
Viv & Ami
And now to our favourite links and interesting things of the week:
"I’m not saying we’ll live to see some sort of paradise. But just fighting for change makes you stronger. Not hoping for anything will kill you for sure." —Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues. Wishing all of you a Happy Pride Month!
To read: The pandemic has brought forth a more robust discussion of mental health, but some of the technical pieces with recommendations from experts don’t feel particularly relatable. Enter Noah Smith, who collated his notes about depression into one place, and goes into what it actually feels like—as well as what people can do to help.
“During the most intense part of a major-depressive episode, what I've felt is nothing at all like sadness. Mostly, it's a kind of numbness, and utter lack of desire and will. Underneath that numbness, there's the sense that something awful is happening - there's a very small voice screaming in the back of your mind, but you hear it only faintly. There's an uncomfortable wrongness to everything, like the world is twisted and broken in some terrible but unidentifiable way.”
“Family and lovers are important, but really, the friendship component of these relationships has to dominate, so the depressed person doesn't constantly think negative thoughts about how they've let you down. Essentially, to help a depressed person, friends need to become a bit more like family, and family a bit more like friends. Also, you should realize that just because your depressed friend or family member is unresponsive, that doesn't mean that you aren't doing him or her a lot of good.
Also, this searingly visceral visual, of what it's like to be in the darkest depths of depression: "being staked out in the middle of a burning desert with a spear through your chest pinning you to the ground, with your eyelids cut off, staring up at the burning sun...forever."
To follow: Speaking of depression, Ratna Golaknath runs a mental health and wellness blog that uses her expertise in CBT counselling and her Phd in psychology to bring an Indian cultural context to the prevailing psycho-social landscape. Her posts are full of wisdom and insight, and reading through them can help untie the tangled knot of overwhelming thoughts that simmer in the mental soup of your mind. Here’s an excerpt from one of her posts:
“Many Indian women struggle with the idea of self care or the idea of taking time out to nurture themselves. Self care is seen as an indulgence or a selfish act. For so long women have been told that selflessness is a value to aspire to. They have been conditioned to meet everyone else's needs before their own. They have been celebrated for being sacrifical “mother india” figures. The flip side being that women with careers have had to work two shifts, one at work & one at home to prove that they are "motherly" and "wifely" and " womanly" enough.Look at the stories of women that society chooses to celebrate for example Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Naina Lal Kidwai and Indira Nooyi. Their stories reinforce the idea that you will find acceptance only if you make great economic success if opting out of the traditional social structure while maintaining a semblance of family work life balance. And that's where taking out time for self care is seen as a waste of time, an indulgence perhaps even a sign of weakness.” We are big fans of her work. Do follow her for more truth bombs :)
To cook: We’ve been going down the rabbit hole of the subreddit channel: /old_recipes. This page has a mix of generational recipes handed down into heirloom gastronomic gems that get it right every time, to weird old depression-era cooking methods, where you made do with minimal ingredients, like potato peels and sawdust. We love this subreddit for unearthing those most obscure recipes that stand the test of time, usually scribbled on little note cards. And the easier the recipe the better. Here’s a fail-proof one for bread-and-butter pudding, a time-traveller of a dessert, harking back to simpler times.
To joy scroll: "The hardest thing about problems isn't the problems themselves... it's that they stick around."
This Peanuts fan comic by Marina Kittaka doubles as an examination of the nature of selfhood, as per the canon. It’s her emotional comic dedication to a five-decade project coming to a close, featuring Linus and Charlie Brown.
Toby Ord is a Senior Research Fellow in Philosophy at Oxford University and has dedicated this website to digitally restoring the only photographs we have of Earth to their full glory, some of these are iconic images, and other unknown gems that have been dusted off and brought to light. Do read his fascinating essays on why and how he embarked on this project; how images of our fragile, blue planet floating in space could be a factor in quelling nuclear war.
Lockdown life offers us the interesting opportunity to test the limits of reality in new and strange ways. Follow this surreal adventure of Classen and Lepka as they document images of faces in their everyday belongings.
To listen: Pakistani artist Arooj Aftab reimagines centuries-old ghazals, that she grew up listening to with her family. Inspired by Sufi-ism meditating on the intense longing caused by separation from God, Aftab either sets the poetry to original music or entirely transforms existing songs, eschewing the frenetic traditional instrumentation for minimalist and acoustic orchestral arrangements. This song from her new album Vulture Prince, powered by her undulating, velvet-throated talent, left us spellbound.
To watch: In 1957, the first earthling to go into orbit was a dog named Laika, aboard the Sputnik.
Laika is a re-imagining of the true story about the first dog in space and what may have happened to her on her momentous journey. If you have tear-troughs, prepare for them to well-up. (Here’s hoping Laika met all her friends in the meadow just shy of the Rainbow bridge)
To learn: Do check out the website, Eunoia: the searchable directory of words that don't translate. Eunoia itself is one of those untranslatable words, which essentially means a well-mind or beautiful thinking.This website has over 500 of them in more than 70 languages. A Lithuanian word we learnt today that captures the mood is Sielvartas: a grief-led “soul tumbling”. A delicious new English word we learnt, Vellichor: The strange wistfulness of used bookshops.
'Prayer': A poem by Arundhathi Subramaniam
May things stay the way they are
in the simplest place you know.
May the shuttered windows
keep the air as cool as bottled jasmine.
May you never forget to listen
to the crumpled whisper of sheets
that mould themselves to your sleeping form.
May the pillows always be silvered
with cat-down and the muted percussion
of a lover’s breath.
May the murmur of the wall clock
continue to decree that your providence
run ten minutes slow.
May nothing be disturbed
in the simplest place you know
for it is here in the foetal hush
that blueprints dissolve
and poems begin,
and faith spreads like the hum of crickets,
faith in a time
when maps shall fade,
and the vigil end.
Have a hope-filled and safe weekend. Be like Naomi Osaka, and protect your mental health,
Viv and Ami
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