When A Writer Falls Silent

It has been awhile since I wrote. And it has been a long time since I wrote an entry in The Thirty Diaries. I have of course, been growing deeper into the 30s. But for the first time in over 11 years, I’ve gone such a long stretch without writing.

I just couldn’t bring myself to write. The writing engine in my mind has been getting slower and slower and eventually just upped and died some time ago. And each time, inspiration seem to flicker, the thought of writing made my heart sink.

But I have been meditating a lot. Not just in that wise-old-man-in-yoga-pose way. Letting silence settle. Inside me. All things seem clearer in silence.

Writing, I realise, is not healing. It’s catharsis. For a lot of us, it starts with an outpouring of things, usually negative things that find no expression in the outside world. Especially on a medium like the internet, the immediate response is validation. As one of the first people to play in this space, the almost instant celebrity that hit with it was addictive. I got lost in the echo chamber of dark sentiments that found immediate validation and craving that, I wrote more of that. Every writing takes you to the place in your mind from where the sentiment rises. And each time you relive it, it becomes a little more firmly rooted in your head. Break-ups, death, politics, broken friendships, disappointment, anger, pain — all of these and more found a place in my blogs and my writing. Voices came to resound with mine. Voices of equal clamour and pain. And in our multiplied frenzy, we kept each others’ pain-addiction enabled.

What do you do when you don’t want to dwell in a place of pain anymore, I asked my digital universe? How does a writer survive? None of the answers satisfied me. And eventually, I knew the only way was for me to accept that I might have to give up writing altogether. I hesitate to call it a decision because that would imply that I had choice. Does a leaf caught in a current have a choice in where it is headed? Well, neither did I.

Who am I if not a writer, I wondered. To my pleasant surprise, I discovered confusion again. I say pleasant because I also remembered that it was a place of possibility and peace even, not fear. If I don’t have to carry the label of writer with all the heavy expectations, fears and tangles that come with it, I am free to float and in whatever part of me floats away, I come a little closer to discovering who I am. And in that leaving behind, I looked down and saw all the nice, pretty things that I could take happiness from, in the life I was saying I was willing to leave behind, as a writer.

My longtime dream of being a published author came true this year. In the least dramatic and most stable, contented of ways. One of the projects I’ve been working on completed a year and my client decided to commemorate it by asking me to write a piece of my own choosing (“Basically anything at all that you want to say”). I did. And then, they collated all our work into a book that was circulated to some people within the company. It’s not a book that I can talk about since it is company-internal. It may never reach the numbers and climb to a bestseller list. But it is a bonafide book. Most of the work in there is mine. It became a book because what was written in it, reached people, touched minds and hearts. It is a book because it did what it was intended to do and showed the promise of even more. It even has my photograph at the end with an endnote (the commemorative piece I wrote as an open letter to the people I worked with). How much better this is than the vision I had of myself as an author, sandwiched nearly apologetically on an overcrowded bookshelf. I am very grateful for life’s surprises. Author? Me!

Alphabet Sambar, my most recent baby grew by leaps and bounds of its own accord too. There have been several difficult nights like all new parents have. Tears, fears and pain are a part of any writer’s journey and we’re talking about a community of tens of writers. But it grew nevertheless, reaching people only by word of mouth, growing in new directions with every new member who brought in their perspective. We grew in numbers but also in genres, experiments and what we saw as possible. Twelve members attempted their first novel via the group last year. A student decided on writing for her future studies, after a year at Alphabet Sambar. A wide-eyed young woman dared to dream about writing, then novel and most recently standup comedy, becoming one of the small but growing number of female performers in the medium in India. She credited the group with giving her the space and the confidence to try it all. One of my longtime writing mentors who I’d never have imagined would be interested in this group, joined and built a relationship between this group and the bigger writing community she straddles. A writing compatriot wrote about us in a local publication, listing us as one of the top community entertainment options in the city. What an uncommon thrill it is, to have been a part of all these journeys in my own way. This totally happened by mistake, a very very happy mistake and I can’t believe the opportunity to be here and do this just fell into my lap.

Love became a possibility, if not a reality last year. I got trapped in fear and confusion and medication. But it was all a process of healing and growing. And I came out of it filled with sadness but with the grim hope that love still could bloom in what I thought had been left as a barren heart.

Do I find myself wiser? I always visualised wisdom as this gigantic encyclopaedia of answers, all of which I would know. I have even fewer answers now than I did ten, five, two years ago. But I’m finding it easier to remember the simple mantras. Breathe in, breathe out. Really, that’s the only one. And at the end of a few breaths, the world looks like a more manageable place to live in. If that’s wisdom, I guess I justify the white in my hair and the tooth that I had to have extracted.

And while I was having all these thoughts in silence, I realised I needed to say sorry to someone. Before the impulse vanished under pride, fear and distraction, I sent a message. And an evening meeting materialised. Perhaps because I had began dropping away the trappings of ‘writer’, it felt easier for me to not go around in circles trying to find the best words to express what I felt.

“I just wanted to say I am sorry,” I said.

Curiously, he understood. It was a very different evening from any I’ve had in years. I let myself stay in that place of not knowing, of feeling desperately vulnerable, of handing someone the chance to hurt me with rejection, condescension, pity or malice. And none of it happened. There was no dramatic flourish either. But it did not hurt.

And when I came back home, suddenly, I felt like I could write again.

I didn’t rush into it immediately. I’m learning to take deep breaths. Nothing seems very urgent or frenzied after a bit of oxygen. But a few weeks later, the words seem to flow in my bloodstream. Not pounding through in place of blood as they once did. But there’s something there. And look, I’ve written an entire essay! I am writing.

But mostly, I’m still discovering who I am. And I’m alive.

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*Also published on The Idea-smithy.

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