How do you remember?

I am writing tonight from a couch at the reception of the hostel where I am staying in Berlin-- an area that doubles up as a nice bar/ hangout space. Behind me, some people are watching a football match projected onto the wall with more enthusaism than I have ever fully understood (I think it's cool, though). Across from me a man is on an intense looking video call, and the room is full of people drinking, talking, writing, watching, being-- each in their own language, each with their own drink (mine is a giant glass of terrible red wine!), and there's something I love about that, that way of being together without necessarily interacting with each other. But that's not what I wanted to write about.

I spent today walking around central Berlin, including parts of the historical city, and I've been trying to tie together the experience in my head. in 2014, I was a teaching assistant for a class on Memory and Reconciliation at CONTACT South Asia (a wonderful peacebuilding program I have been involved with since 2013). We were working with a group where many of the participants had lived through civil wars, and we were trying to understand together how the act of memorialising, how the way we frame our past conflicts, can influence peace or conflict processes in the future. We looked at many memorials in that class, some celebrated ones and some that are acknowledged as deeply problematic and sowing the seeds of further conflict (a case in point would bee the Sri Lankan memorial which is, for one, known as the "Victory Memorial" rather than something like the "Peace Memorial", so it's debatable whether it was even conceived of as a peace-building measure or simply as chest-thumping). At any rate, we had talked extensively about the way Germany has chosen to memorialise its own dark history, very publicly, and in so many different ways. I was curious to see how these spaces make me feel in the flesh after all those abstract conversations about intention and execution, so I wanted to start my Berlin trip there.

I had already made plans to visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe with a dear friend later in the week, so I decided to start my day today with the Berlin Wall memorial. I thought this would be a small stop, but I ended up spending over an hour there, trying to take it in. You can find thousands of images of it online, but here's one of a small section that might help you understand this post better.

Okay, so in this one, just notice a few things: in the foreground you see a wall with lots of little "windows"-- each of those has a photograph of one person who was killed while attempting to cross the Berlin wall. A few windows have ben left blank to allow the possibility that there were others whom we do not know about, and to allow the possibility of their inclusion if we find out about them. Behind that, in the white with lots of graffiti is part of the remains of the original Berlin wall as seen from former East-Germany. And in the right corner, the rusting steel beams are how they have chosen to mark the parts of the wall no longer exist-- an interesting choice because they actually feel like the most menacing part of this stretch, and yet they allow a glimpse from each side into the other, which is also part of the metaphor of this memorial, I think. This photo is one tiny part of a long stretch with lots of photos, audio-video stopping points, sculptures, and more. A truly impressive amount of time, energy, and resources have gone into reminding the city of this past, into making sure that it is commemorated and acknowledged right in the heart of modern Berlin.

I kept wanting to be moved by it. But somehow, I just wasn't.

Don't get me wrong. I learned a lot today about that period of Berlin's history and realised that our high school history books kind of forgot about Germany once Hitler was gone -- the Berlin wall showed up in our history books more as a metaphor and less as an actual wall. It was interesting (in a morbid kind of way) to watch some of those video interviews and try to imagine this place in another time, and I gained a lot of information, but I struggled to relate to it in a way that meant something.

Then, I overheard a conversation between a British man and his 8 or 9 year old son that somehow put this in perspective. Struggling to explain the political historical connotations of that spot to his child, but very much wanting him to understand, the man finally told him "If we were standing here 30 years ago, at this very spot, we would have been killed. They would have shot us just for standing here." The boy's eyes widened a little, and he asked "And we are sure they won't any more?".

In the boy's wonder, in the hint of fear, and in the father's reassurance, I saw a bit of what was impossible for me to feel otherwise in the middle of this beautifully sunny and grassy spot full of art, this very very sterilised memorial where some people were walking dogs or going for a run, and where tourist groups hung out chatting-- the possibility of violence. That imagining made the site more meaningful, made history more current, just for a moment.

Later as I continued to hobble around Berlin (I'm still walking with a cane because of all the foot drama I've mentioned before), I found the other piece of this puzzle. My foot was starting to hurt, and I was just looking for a nice cafe where i could rest for a bit over a cup of coffee and a journal entry, and my cane stumbled upon this.

We had talked about these too in that memorialisation class-- the "Stumbling stones" memorial. Across Germany (and other parts of former Nazi territory too, 22 countries in all by now), these little 10 cm by 10 cm brass cubes commemorate the homes or workplaces from which victims of the Holocaust (mostly Jewish, but also other groups persecuted by the Nazis) were captured, committed suicide, or forced to emigrate-- basically, it seeks to commemorate the last place that these individuals chose to live in. Each plate tells you the names of the people, dates of birth, the date of the deportation, and the date (if known) of death. In the stones above, there was one eight year old and one twelve year old, two people in their thirties (presumably the parents?), and someone in their 60s. At the bottom, for each of them, it says "murdered" and in some cases gives one the date of death. That's it. That's all we know about them now, along with the sites where they lived, loved, fought, worked, dreamt, feared.

Some people find this memorial offensive, this idea of literally walking over those names and dates, as if it were an ordinary thing. For me, that was precisely what prompted a sharp intake of breath, the ordinariness of it. That was what made me forget my hurting foot and my search for a cafe, look back up at this building, try to imagine it in a different time, try to imagine this street in a different time, ask a hundred questions in a second about what happened here, how we allowed it, whether it could happen again here, or back home, and so much else. It brought the history into this living breathing moment, wrote those difficult questions into the sidewalk, made you mourn for these individuals and the lives they could have had-- the life this city could have had.

I thought back to the Windows of Remembrance at the Berlin Wall memorial, which also does remember individuals, including with photos. I realised that for me the difference was that there, they were memorialised at the site of their death; here at the site where they lived their lives. There, if you didn't want to think about that part of your history, you just didn't go into that ground; here, you will literally stumble upon it everywhere this tragedy took place (the project is still ongoing). Above all, there, the only thing that connects those people, and therefore their only identity, is that they were killed for trying to cross the wall, but here they are connected as families, as neighborhoods, as familiar categories of people-- as something I can imagine, and it is the imagining that breaks one's heart, forces the difficult questions, and hopefully strengthens one's resolve "Never Again".

The Possible

I know, I know. I haven't quite kept up the once-a-week promise, but hey, at least I'm still around! I'm writing this post on the train from Stuttgart to Berlin, where I am heading for my first holiday-adventure-trip thingy since getting to Germany. I realised this morning how long it has been since I travelled alone to an unfamiliar city... it was something I used to do regularly, all over the place in college, and then within India, but ever since I began setting up home in Shimla, all of my "getaway time" seems to have gotten concentrated there. That has its definite charm-- the way the city welcomes me back each time, the familiarity of a conversation with the vegetable seller, or noticing a tree having lost a branch or gained new leaves -- but I am thinking now how much I do want to make sure to do some solo-traveling into unfamiliar places, even if just for a few days a year. Something about it keeps one alert and alive to little things that one otherwise comes to take for granted. But more on Berlin later. For now, my news from Solitude.

In my last post, I talked about finishing up a new draft of my second book of poems A Kind of Freedom Song, and I have just emailed my publisher a final-er final version of the same. We may still do some edits, or drop a couple of poems, once she has read it, but for now, that project feels mostly behind me, in the loveliest way. This manuscript has been a hard one to write, and perhaps to read,  as it is many ways a violent book, but finally tying it up feels a little like having exorcised some important ghosts. There's something deeply restful and satisfying about it.

In the past ten days, my residency at Solitude has... opened. There's no other way to describe this feeling of immense possibility, like I have now scratched that surface of what i thought I was going to come here to do, and under that scratching lay the magical password to a whole other what-I-will-actually-do-here. Some of this I owe directly to the wonderfulness of the founding director here, Mr. Joly, whose comments on the manuscript (and whose excitement about my work in general) have been so deeply affirming it's hard not to believe more in it myself now!

The rest has been the way this space opens up to accommodate what we need rather than asking us to close up to what it demands. The most obvious example being me showing up here as a writer and longing for a pottery wheel... a few weeks of runabouttery later, this 18 century hunting castle has a little basement room with a wheel and clay and tools and so much that is now possible for me here! Similarly, I came here as a poet, but having finished this manuscript, decided it was time to begin work on a non-fiction/ oral history project I have been turning about in my head for years, so I requested to be allowed to spend some of my project budget on a research assistant and transcriber, which was also instantly approved. One Facebook post later, I have several leads for whom I could interview for this project, and in a quick week, it has begun shaping up more rapidly and beautifully than I could have fathomed-- I just need to figure out how to keep pace with it now!

The keeping pace part has been made somewhat harder by a sudden inflammation of one of my chronic illnesses that demanded a course of debilitating antibiotics and slowed me down considerably in the last few days. I have taken lots of naps in the last 72 hours, and  done some pottery, and I feel myself gently returning to myself now. I brought my laptop along on this holiday so I could spend an hour or so everyday catching up on work I would otherwise have done over the weekend, but let's see if the city allows me that!

My train has almost reached Berlin, so I will sign off here for now. Some of the specifics of this roundup might change -- some of the projects themselves might change. But that's sort of the point: here, at Solitude, in a context completely different from my own, I feel able to change, feel nurtured and believed in enough to jump off a couple of ledges, take a few risks, and let myself grow.

I leave you with this image of my favourite mug from these last few days, embodying my 2018 vision of making space for whimsy!

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3 weeks of Solitude

It is strange to think I have already been here at Stuttgart for three weeks. On one hand, Delhi seems so ridiculously far away that it must have been years. On the other hand, where did the three weeks go, and why do i not feel fully in the groove yet? This was the entire length of some of my other residencies -- Sangam House, for instance -- and here it feels like it has barely begun. I did finish a whole new draft of the book, one that is structurally very different from the last 6 or 7 drafts, in ways that definitely feel so much more honest, organic, even fun. And I did some 12 doodles towards this. And I began research and reaching out to people for my next project. And I have done a fair bit of logistical runnabouttery trying to figure out ceramics space. Plus it turns out that settling into a new country, especially one that loves its bureaucratic paperwork, takes a long time... I finally have a bank account (but still no debit card to use it with) and in a day or two I should have a bus pass as well, after which I should be totally settled in logistically. This is not too little for three weeks, and yet, it is hard to understand where the time went, what I am making of it.

A couple of us were talking with the program director, Mr Joly, this evening, and one of the fellows said something about how wonderful it was to be in a space conducive to artistic work without any particular deadlines or expectations. Mr. Joly responded that that is one of their criteria when selecting fellows -- making sure they look for people who are grown enough in their artistic practice that they will be more internally driven to use this time well than the drive any external deadlines could exert. It makes sense to me, this idea of letting people meander and find their ways to the work they are here to do, and it makes me wonder what using the time "well" entails.

Every other day or so, I make elaborate schedules of my workday, but I have not yet once stuck to my schedule. In an imaginary universe my workday is structured from 10:30 AM to 6 PM, but in reality, I often only get down to working properly after lunch, and then I often work much later into the night than I am accustomed to. I struggle to wake up before the sun rises (which can be as late as 8:30 AM here), but then I am amazed at how much of an evening I have left after the sun has set. I am sometimes too tired to be social, and at other times, I am too deep in wonderful conversations with new friends to be tired. Above all, I am amazed at how much time my brain likes to keep for staring out of windows... I like to tell myself that I am unconsciously processing important manuscript questions as I do so, and in some cases I am, but in others, I know I am just savouring slowness, the incredible luxury of doing less, of stepping out of a hyper-productive lifestyle and noticing the way the snow melts on the rooftops my window looks out at. Surely this is valuable in its own right, regardless of whether it shows up in the manuscript.

Even as I say that, I am planning out the next week, the next month, promising myself a more productive February. But even as I do so, I know that the greatest gift of these 6 months might simply lie in the learning to follow my body and mind where they take me rather than controlling the process too tightly from the outset. Let us see where this goes.

This, too, is called "settling in."

I've had a crazy ongoing drama with what was initially just a little corn on my left foot since September, including 4 removals by the surgeon, 2 weeks of antibiotics, and all kinds of other things. We thought it was getting over by the time I left Delhi, but then over the last few days, my foot got so swollen that i couldn't fit into my shoe any longer this morning. So, since today also happened to be a freakishly lovely day for January, I put on open sandals and trundled into town to see a doctor. She scraped my foot again, then gave me a prescription for meds for a month, and she did not charge me for the visit as we aren't sure if insurance will treat this as "pre-existing" and hassle me about it-- said we'd figure out payment if I wasn't better in 4 weeks and needed to see her again.

(I think my favourite thing about this visit was that she wrote down the homeopathic medicines I am taking with the same seriousness as the allopathic treatments undergone so far, even quickly looking up one of the homeopathic ones in a reference book on her desk. My second favourite thing was that there was a stress-ball and a big box of colour pencils in the waiting room).

Then I limped over to a pharmacy, and after filling out my prescription, the pharmacist gave me a free bar of chocolate. Just because.

So I don't yet have a favourite cafe or bookshop in Stuttgart, but I totally have a favourite pharmacy and doctor. I think that's as good a start as any as far as making a new city home goes, no?

When books become houses and poems need paintbrushes

Over the last couple of days I have had some wonderful conversations about the structure of my next book of poems with a new friend from Macedonia here at Solitude. He is an architect, and he helped me resolve some of my dilemmas about the structure by getting me to think about the book as if it were a house.

This morning a few of us went to a lovely art store where I bought drawing ink thinking of the “dot that went for a walk” drawing project I did in 2016 as part of the Clay Time program organised by Atelier Lālmitti.

On the bus ride back I had a great conversation with a Colombian visual artist about her work (and I got to speak in Spanish after ages!).

This evening, I received the news that I will be able to use the Ceramics workshop at an art school in town and started thinking about the poems I want to sketch for that project. Somewhere in the midst of all this, Akhil was on Whatsapp, reminding me not to lose the sense of whimsy and buoyancy in my manuscript, even when I write about tough things.

Suddenly, all of that coalesced into a bunch of little doodles of lines from the manuscript that are becoming an interesting organising principle for the book now — there might only be 8 or 9 of them peppering the book, but they pull together something important I have been grappling with now that I am thinking of the book as a house. I will explain that process in a longer blog post sometime!

So THIS is why we do artist residencies. I get it now! :)

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Room to Read

Now I know this might seem sacrilegious coming from a writer, but I often don’t love libraries. I love the idea of libraries, sure, but not the way most of them are structured, not the imposing shhhhh that makes me feel too on-edge for any pleasure, not the shelves upon shelves of books someone decided are the most important of any given field. I feel small in those spaces devoid of whimsy, as if I can’t quite match up to the seriousness being asked of my presence there. In general, I am much more at home in used bookstores or pavement stalls or busy cafes with well thumbed bookshelves.

This week, though, I found at the Akademie Schloss Solitude a library I immediately fell head over heels in love with. This library is a small room on the top floor of the building in which I live, and all the residents have a key. In one corner there is a computer where you can look for particular titles, but the pleasure here is in browsing. You see, this library has been lovingly put together over nearly three decades by over 1300 minds: Each fellow who stays at the Akademie is asked to recommend two books the library must own, and the books are then categorised broadly and arranged alphabetically, a mix of languages and genres and the most eclectic tastes. Inside each book is a little card with the name of the fellow who recommended the book and the year in which they did so. That’s it, no authority deciding the most important books for one to read, just hundreds of artists over the years saying “ooh, I loved this one!” There are no elaborate systems for borrowing either; you simply fill out a card with the details of the book and your town details and leave it on the shelf where the book was. That way, if any other fellow is looking for it, they know know which door to come knocking at.

Earlier in the week, I picked up Susan Sontag’s early diaries, a book of poems, a  gorgeous Palestinian novella called "touch" and a whimsical illustrated book called “Ants have sex in your beer.” I also browsed trough Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist and a thick book on the history of rape, but I decided to keep the heavier reading for another day.

Over the last couple of days, I was struggling with feeling out of place amongst much of the artistic conversation here, feeling like I was back in graduate school in an all-white classroom, reading and writing within a cultural context that felt unfamiliar at best and overpowering at worst. Here, at the Academy, although fellows come from many different countries, the bent of the current cohort is certainly mostly European and very white. In the midst of the alienation that can create, Adiana Shilbi's Touch created for me a deep sense of warmth and fellowship, an unspoken camaraderie not just because of the author's nationality and concerns but also for the way that book itself so beautifully captures the experience of being alone while surrounded by people, of sounds and smells and touch, of a world that is so intimate and so far away at the same time.

As I head back to return this lovely little book to its place on the shelf today, I am reminded of the way books can give me that company, that window into the world I have come here seeking, just as much as my peers can... and how much more so for the books recommended by peers across the decades! In this small rooftop room with gorgeous windows and the silence of solitude rather than authority, I feel more at home with books than I have felt in a while.

Week One at Akademie Schloss Solitude: Creating the mahoul

Last week, I began what promises to be one of my most interesting artistic adventures yet -- a writing residency at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany. The Akademie is located in an 18th century hunting castle on the outskirts of Stuttgart, and I am here alongside artists from around the world -- writers, painters, filmmakers, musicians, performing artists, web-based artists, architects, and more -- for 6 months of silence, community, conversation, and hopefully lots of new writing. I have never before taken 6 months, or anything more than a month, really, to just focus on being an artist, so this prospect is simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. But mostly, very exciting. One of my goals during this period is to maintain a weekly blog to reflect on my artistic process as well as my time in this campus/ city/ country/ continent. In the past, I have often wished I had documented some of my journeys better, because even though I keep up my daily journaling and my nightly gratitude log while I'm away from home, those tend to reflect mostly my inner neuroses, dreams, and joys, and very little of the externals worlds I pass through. I am hoping that the public-private nature of a blog will allow me to do a little of the latter. It is also, of course, just a great way for me to stay in touch with folks in faraway homes who might want glimpses into my life here.

So, I completed my first week at Solitude yesterday, and I am finally settled in to my studio apartment here. I grew up with an architect mother, and I inherited some of her passions about space and how one shapes it. While a lot of kids dream of the big mansions that they will one day live in, twelve-year-old me wanted nothing more than to one day have a studio apartment. There was something about the particular challenges of one large space that needed to br broken up into sleep/ work/ hang out/ cook spaces without any walls that particularly interested me. I had forgotten this part of myself until I landed here into what initially felt like a too-large, too-grey room for cosiness.

Over my first three days here, I did not unpack my suitcase because i wanted the furniture to remain light enough to move around over and over. Despite a significant limp thanks to a corn that has been bothering me for months now, I managed to move all my furniture around, closets and bookshelves included, three times before i found the version I was satisfied with -- a small table by a window in one corner for work, a larger architect-style table by my bed that doubles up as a nightstand and a space to sketch or do other larger work, another single bed dragged across the room under another window and covered with a colourful bedspread to create a home-like divan, a lovely armchair pulled next to it for a seating L, a third desk dragged into my kitchenette for counter space, and closets and bookshelves sitting around it. Then, the colour: little colourful postcards to brighten up overwhelmingly grey closets, a tiny rug to tie the seating L into one space, a collage of photos from home to brighten up the wall near my bed, fairy lights over one window, lovely little ceramic ware from the local flea market, and a bright red dupatta over one window to soften the grey light of German winters. Finally putting up binder clips on the wall with adhesive putty so that i can clip papers up as needed without worrying about bulletin boards, and then two large sheets of chart paper on the wall next to it because i brainstorm better standing up than sitting down. A little plushie of my favourite cartoon character, handmade mugs I brought from my studio in India, and a colourful Rajasthani mobile later, this room finally feels like me. Now I can get to work here!

I think this sounds like an excessive amount of time and energy spent decorating to some people, but I am becoming more and more aware that this is part of my artistic process -- creating spaces that welcome me, that reassure me, that encourage me. Add in the soft strains of Shiv Kumar Sharma playing on my portable speakers and lavender-grapefruit oil burning in the ceramic essential oil burner i found at the flea market, and I am immediately more energetic, more present, more able to create. Here's to the next twenty three weeks of creating now :)

30 poems in 30 days

This April, I did that thing that makes most non-poets (and, to be fair, many poets too) roll their eyes: I took on 30/30, that challenge where a bunch of poets around the world commit to writing a new, complete poem everyday for 30 days. A lot of people are confused by 30/30, ask if poetry can — or should — work like that, if mass production isn’t the antithesis of poetry. Put like that,I understand their concerns, but for me, this year above all years, 30/30 has been a revelation of the opposite sort, something between meditation and therapy. This year, 30/30 has, for me, meant a deep, sustained, careful attention to my inner world— an attention that was, in moments, completely exhausting. April was a difficult month, personally and professionally, and doing 30/30 this month has meant a refusal to avert my eyes from any of my feelings and insecurities. It has meant an insistence on sitting with deep pain and deep love, of noticing each caving of chest, each hollowness in stomach, each fear in throat — of learning how to say “I see you, and I am present for this,” over and over, to all sorts of emotions. It has meant sitting across from friends in cafes, writing through tears, refusing to hide. It has meant writing on the toy train, between Marie biscuits and mountain views; it has meant finding poems on Mall Road, and in my grandmother’s stories, and in response to the news. It has meant making poems out of other people’s words, questions, betrayals. It has meant the kind of self-discovery that makes me print poems out and take them to my therapist saying “look! I just explained me to myself!”. It has meant poems that almost broke important relationships and poems that created new relationships, poems that taught me to honor my anger or hurt, and poems that taught me to forgive. At some point, this poem-a-day exercise became an exercise in mindfulness, an insistence on getting through things rather than simply getting over them.

30/30 has been about the ability to nod at a feeling without immediately trying to change it. 30/30 has been about learning to wrap words around hurts, but also about learning that sometimes I need not bandage, sometimes the wound must ooze before it dries. 30/30 has been the ability to look without fear at a moment/ relationship/ feeling, distilled down to its absolute essence, and somehow, this looking is itself a kind of gaining of power.

Over the same month, I have been reading The Body Keeps the Score, a fantastic book about trauma and healing, which was recommended to me for the work I do with young people, but which has been just as meaningful at a personal level. In one section, the author, a psychiatrist, writes about how relearning how to name our emotions is intrinsic to healing from trauma— about how being able to locate emotions in one’s body is a big step in reconnecting with the parts of ourselves we shut down when we were in survival mode. Without getting into too much detail, I too have spent the last year or two recovering from a point where I had forgotten how to identify my own feelings, how to trust my own gut. The attention to inner landscape demanded by 30/30 pushed me to redevelop that vocabulary, and in naming those emotions accurately, I was able to regain a sense of autonomy and agency. This, for me, is poetry doing its best work, making me more whole, more present, more resilient. Everything else is a bonus.

This April has also been the first time I have shared early drafts of my work on social media: Almost a third of my poems made it onto Facebook, visible only to friends, but still, out of the private realm well before they were polished or otherwise shielded from their own vulnerability. When I wrote about a close friend’s engagement, he told me he couldn’t have captured the night as well. When I wrote a letter to a Kashmiri friend with my dreams for her son, we reconnected after months separated by the violence that my government has been perpetrating in her city. When I wrote a letter to my own six year old self preparing for her first surgery, several friends texted or called to offer love or support (which surprised me because I didn’t think the poem had any information they didn’t already know!). In many ways, the vulnerability of putting up fresh writing opened space for other conversations and other vulnerabilities to surface.

Are all of those poems good? Of course not; that was never the point. Will they all be revised into pieces that go out into the wider world? Again, probably not. I do think I could get ten good poems out of these thirty (and that’s a lot of good poems for a month), but the real reason for 30/30 runs so much deeper.

Overall, I am probably going to remain that person who is currently working on the ninth draft of her second manuscript, and who doesn’t put anything short of a fifth draft up anywhere, but who knows? Maybe this month of sharing will teach me that it is okay sometimes to let that guard down, to be unfinished, or messy. Maybe it’s okay for some poems to walk out into the world in their pajamas; maybe freshly combed hair is overrated. Maybe what counts is the courage to show up, see, and be seen.

A slightly modified memorial

For 5 years in a row, I did different memorial posts on 8th December, the day my friend Masako Delalieu, to whom my first book was dedicated, passed away in 2010. Today, in 2016, I decided to modify this a little: I decided it's time to stop commemorating the day she died and to start commemorating 7th December, the last day that she lived. After all, everyone dies; what set her apart was how powerfully she lived, especially in that last crazy year of fighting cancer, being declared cancer free, and then fighting it all over again. I realise too that at this point, 6 years later, I am finally at a point where there are no more stories to tell about this woman I knew intimately for less than that length of time. That between my poems and my posts, I have by now put down on paper every last memory I have of her. And that the need to tell stories about her, to protect our time together by writing it all down, is fading. That she has finally settled into a crevice of memory, periodically awakened by a joke or a story or an activism or an accent, but otherwise content to lie there, content to be an important past without being an indispensable present.

4 years ago, when I first started thinking of her in past tense, I felt guilty about doing so. In the poem "Letter Written at an Abandoned Amphitheatre," which I wrote at Sangam House on 8th December 2012, I lamented that she was becoming "a story told so often it is fading." I was afraid that forgetting any little detail made me a lesser friend somehow, a less conscientious keeper of dreams and imaginings that she had shared but never been able to realise. Today, I am no longer sure what I was holding on to so tightly, what I thought I was going to lose, why I was so afraid.

As it turns out, I still remember the dreamed-of futures of the past: the cafe she would one day have started in Paris, the Guatemalan child she would have one day adopted, the cartoon piglets she would probably have painted in both, the cafe and the child's bedroom. I still remember the petitions on Amnesty she would have been sharing, the doctoral work on the Guatemalan femicide that she would probably be pursuing, the man who took such good care of her in her final months whom she would probably still be loving. But i remember these things in a gentle sort of way, not with the clutch of panic associated with the early years of stockpiling memories after her death, more with a soft kind of wonder: Who knows if she would have been any of that? For that matter, who knows if we would still even have been as close as we once were? After all, there are enough other friends from that period of my life who were equally close, who are still alive, and whom I haven't spoken to in years -- who is to say she and I would necessarily have been different?

And I guess that's the magic of holding on to her in memory, the way in which she is now frozen in time for me, frozen young and playful and determined and dreamy. And while that doesn't compare with the magic we lost -- the possibility of growing old as friends, or getting annoyed with each other, or making each other laugh, or traveling the world together -- it does have its own special magic too. And this year, on the sixth anniversary of the last day of her life, I'm going to bask in that-- to allow myself the basking instead of the mourning, to acknowledge that the softening of grief is a gift, not a betrayal. I think she would have liked that.

 

Speaking from a quiet room

Those of you who have been following me on Facebook know that the last year has been too full of the work of organisation-founding and entrepreneuring for me to have blogged regularly. But then the last two weeks, since the Trump election and the currency demonetisation, have scared me off social media a little. While I'm all for being well informed, and while my Facebook newsfeed often points me to super-interesting reading and analyses that I would otherwise have missed, and while some of the original content generated by a few of my Facebook friends gives me buckets of hope and sanity, I still think of Facebook as my recipe for overwhelm. And so, while I have no intention of altogether quitting that space any time soon (see reasons above), I feel the need to move away from there and back to this space, back to blogging, where I feel more able to think aloud without feeling like I am shouting over a din of voices in a too crowded room. So there's my old-year resolution for the last month of 2016: I want to start taking a half hour a week that I'd otherwise have spent on Facebook and start using it to think aloud here. I make no promises to fulfil any such resolutions, but voila, the seed has been sown!

It's been too busy a year for art in some ways, but it's also been a super art-full year in other ways: a few weeks ago, I finished draft 6 (of at least 7, unfortunately) of my second manuscript, and there's been a lot of editing, writing, rewriting, and moving things around that has happened in the process. I also enrolled in a fantastic year-long clay program, which I am not being able to make nearly enough time for, but which is still pushing me into some really interesting bringing together of my different artistic practices, particularly in the form of clay cubes and dolls made out of different poems i've written.

Today, after spending a morning working on a clay-poetry doll based on my poem "Notes to Self" (which you cannot yet find on the internet, sorry!), I'm more inclined than ever to return to my art, to return to what art does to me. Yesterday was a difficult day, today began full of panic about all the work that needed to still be accomplished... and then somehow, in the process of ignoring deadlines to make art all morning, I found myself recharged enough to actually meet all the deadlines this afternoon that I'd never have met if I'd had those extra two hours! My brain works in funny ways, clearly, and for those of you readers who are still around and interested in following its new journeys, welcome aboard all over again :)