It has been a long time (almost three months) since I wrote anything and every time I think about writing my mind curls up in a fetal position and I find something to distract me.
To try and work through this feeling I have been trying to take some more notes. I started by reading a book on how to take notes and then installed Obsidian and since then I have been trying to write a little everyday.
The book approaches writing and note taking as not just a way to demonstrate your idea but as the main tool with which you arrive at this idea. The aim is to always keep writing (your thoughts, your insight from books, papers, television, music) with some loose scaffolding (your workflow) in place. This then transforms your notes into your “idea-generator” — that you dip into to create. (There is a lot more to the book which I won’t go into in this note)
This method was made famous-ish by Niklas Luhmann (1927–1998). He would go on to use this method to write more than 70 books and 400 research papers.
The following is a diagram of my workflow. While the last bit seems a little hand wave-y — a month into this process and I am already finding patterns emergent. The more diverse topics I read, the richer the idea-generator.
Other than that — in the last few distant months — I took a break from work, my country went into a catastrophic second phase of the pandemic and then slowly recovered, and here in this quiet corner of the world — spring turned to summer.
As I went through the motions of living a stuporous life — in this silent village of a 1000 people — my home was falling apart. The second wave of the pandemic hit a nation that believed it was over it. Everyday I would call home, feeling nauseous about hearing from them but wanting to know at the same time — knowing there was nothing I could do. I would stare at my screen, lurk on social media — refresh to get more information about things I had no control over. Donate money at everything I could find like that could soothe the guilt of living safely in this sleepy town. There is a strange unearthly dissonance about watching your world burn from afar and just as I was getting used to this grating feeling, I got the call that I was dreading, that my mother has contracted COVID. She was fully vaccinated but she was severely asthmatic. So until she got out of quarantine, the frequency of calls increased. Screen time increased. Guilt increased. Any semblance of control vanished — I offered up my sense of agency to the gods of the internet for the time being so I could be kept abreast about what was going on in Chennai and could feel a little closer to home.
Meanwhile, here, everyone started putting their gardens in (like clockwork on Mother’s day weekend) and within the first month and a half we had our first harvest of radishes, spinach, peas, beets, and lettuce. Now two months in, the other plants are still coming into themselves and the corn, carrots, and soy beans I especially look forward to.
I also decided to take some time off from work starting July. Other than spending time in the garden and being a bird creep, I have been spending my time reading, making meals, learning how to swim, going camping, and training for a half marathon.
Equipped with my library card, I got some amount of reading done over the past three months. I am not sure I will make the arbitrary goals set by my local library but I think I am making good time.
Much of my reading when it comes to the library books is not very deliberate. Most I did not go out of my way to procure. I mostly read them because they were there. There is something liberating about this lack of expectation or attachment while reading. It reminds me of my thirteen year old self at the tiny library in the basement of the local mall with my friends, spending hours going through books while the librarian watched us from the corner of his eye.
The one recent book that did stick with me was Station Eleven, another post-apocalyptic book. I have put down my post-apocalyptic novel phase during the pandemic to some strange form of voyeurism — jumping into different universes where epidemics led to different outcomes. This book stands out mainly because of the presence and the importance of art in the potential reinvention of our civilization. This presence was presented in some charming ways that I won’t go into detail about because it will be such a pleasure encountering them yourselves.
This is an unexceptional activity that I find a lot of solace in. I have grown a lot through this meditative practice of making food. I am not good at it but it is an exercise in patience, observation, and sometimes creativity. I am still pretty heavy handed in my use of seasoning and I am hoping to learn to let subtler flavours do some work.
Learning how to swim
Swimming has always been a stressful activity for me. Almost drowning a few times as a child reinforced a healthy fear of the deep water. Now as an adult I am trying to unlearn and relearn swimming again. The pool I visit is full of little children who make swimming look effortless and my gracelessness is stark next to them. But it is getting better, albeit in very very small increments. The secret is to just keep swimming.
After eight months of not leaving the house, this July we went on a camping trip to Good Spirit Lake for 10 days. The lake itself is shallow for a couple of kilometres making it perfect for little children or nervous swimmers. It was an overwhelming experience to see so many people but it was time to play some board games, watch some birds, go for runs, and waddle in the water.
I recently got gifted a Garmin and I spend an obscene amount of time trying to make it happy. It increases my step goal and workout goal every day and I foolishly try to keep up with it. Most of my life is now spent trying to see how stressed I am. To put some of this activity and my watch to good use, I started training for a half marathon. I am mostly putting this down here so I have more motivation to stick to this plan. The half marathon planned for about 12 weeks from now.
Finally, at the end of this month we are embarking on a five day journey on the Trans-Canada highway to go back to the cabin in Nova Scotia. It has been more than a year since we have been able to go but now as Nova Scotia is slowly opening its borders to vaccinated individuals, we are hoping to sneak in.
Books read this past while
Station Eleven — Emily St John Mandel
How to take smart notes: One simple technique to boost writing, learning, and thinking — Sönke Ahrens
Whereabouts — Jhumpa Lahiri
The Red Garden — Alice Hoffman
How to Raise an Elephant — Alexander McCall Smith
Notes of Grief — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Good News — Meghna Pant
The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing — Sonia Faliero
Little Fires Everywhere — Celeste Ng
A Long Petal of the Sea — Isabel Allende
Deception — Jonathan Kellerman
Night Moves — Jonathan Kellerman
A Conjuring of Light — V.E Schwab
A Gathering of Shadows — V.E Schwab
The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the pillage of an Empire — William Dalrymple