Monday 25 July 2022

A Fully Functional Feminist tackles Ageism and the art of Hustle

Dear Readers,

I hope you've been well and if you're in the northern hemisphere, you've found a way to keep yourself cool and safe from the blistering heat.

I've been hot and bothered this summer. And not just because of the 75% humidity combined with the rising mercury in Doha.

As many of you, who know me via my writing journey, know that I like to inflict the pain of submitting my writing to literary journals every now and then. I do this for two reasons:

1) to get published -- perhaps this is my ego based reason. 

2) to expand my writing horizon: write about topics I haven't found the courage to write about yet or explore genres which have thus far felt out of reach. 

The second reason is a non-egoistic reason. It's the 'being a student for as long as I'm alive' reason. This reason feeds my curiosity and makes me indulge in what I love--the practice of writing and reading. This reason makes me appreciate and be grateful for the privilege of being able to write. Writing is a privilege indeed. I'm thankful to my parents for the education they supported, to my teachers for the education they imparted and for my place in the socio-economic fabric of society where I am able to find the time to write and share. 

Sometimes, these submissions bear fruit and a piece gets accepted. Like, this one in March 2022:

It's called A Fully Functional Feminist. It was carried by Gulmohur Quarterly 

The joy of acceptance can hardly be contained in a post. I'll always be grateful to the editors of Gulmohur Quarterly for housing my voice.

Like any journey worth its salt, the writing journey is challenging and revealing. The more I write and share my stories and poetry, the more this world reveals itself to me.

Recently, while filling out a Google Form, I ticked the last 'age box' which read 50 +. I've been very comfortable about my age since 2015 when I wrote Adventurous Auntyjis arrive in Himachal. In 2015, it was the physical fading out of women of a certain age that had rattled me enough to pour my heart out into a post.

Age is a number and it's what you do with your time, not how you look that matters in the end. I get that. I live that. I imbibe that.

But, this form tingled my age antennae because the boxes preceding my 'age box' were:


25- 30





And then there was


No, the Google form wasn't for some physical prowess type contest. It was for a poetry/storytelling platform. 

I proceeded to submit my entry anyway. Ego is a tricky thing.

But, the form and its boxes troubled me. It's the fading off of my creative/intellectual/ intelligence calibre in the eyes of the beholder that pinched, hurt.

Is this an age thing or a gender thing or a technology thing or a talent thing? Am I crying sour grapes because I lack what it takes?

I know I've entered the foray of poetry and storytelling late. I make no excuses. I was busy raising myself and then my family in my teens, twenties and thirties. By the time I was able to sift time for myself and my writing, I had turned forty and then fifty. 

So, does that mean that my stories, which are not always and only about young love, heartbreak and pining are not worthy? Of course, I'm not claiming credit based on my age, but don't write me off because of it.

Looking at that last age box made me feel like after all the struggles of climbing a mountain, I'd lost my way and instead of finding a road ahead, I had reached a plateau where all those above 50 (who are starting out anew in arts or pursuits of their calling) are assigned to fade away, noiselessly, without disturbing the status quo.

Sometimes, I feel that I have no business being a participant in such forums. And that I'm better suited to be a part of the invisible audience where my claps will be heard but anonymously. That by now I should've made my mark in this field and if not--I should shut up and go home. That trying out new things is a privilege suited and suitable only for the young. That I should've chosen this path in my teens to prove that this was my true calling. 

Perhaps, I'm a fake artist. Or an artist of convenience--someone who's quit their job to pursue a passion because they have the means to. Have I become that someone? Am I that vain? That blind? That greedy to be famous? That inept to see my own true self?

Am I an imposter after all? 

Art is my solace. Books rescue me. Poetry pulls me out of the deep whirlpools my fading visibility threatens to push me into.

I read a post by Idea Smith on Instagram last week. She'd shared her experiences of being boxed into age-related-ideas by the world at large. She mentioned the invisibility cloak the world is always eager to drape over 'us' -- women who are not in the 20-30 box anymore.

Her post made me think about my age, my visibility, my stories and this old-new word I've been seeing and hearing a lot recently--HUSTLE.

As a verb, hustle can mean 'to jostle, to push roughly or to obtain illicitly or by forceful action.' As a noun it can either mean 'a state of great activity' or 'fraud or swindle.'

I'm told that 'hustle' is the ticket to get noticed these days.

And I see a lot of 'hustle' in the field of the written word. 

But the question is, does it appeal to me? 

I post regularly on Instagram. It's a routine I enjoy. I share because I like to share. I get visibility for my work via Insta posts. I like that. I've made meaningful connections via my posts. And even those posts where I smile at the camera to simply show off a saree are important to me. It's my visibility cloak.

Are my Insta posts my hustle? Am I being fraudulent? Is my reel-ism bleaching my real-ism? Questions such as these churn me up. Churning births art, clarity and a deeper understanding of the self. 

I prefer to post when I'm in my 'creative' phase; those morning when sitting on my dining chair, propped up on an old, faded sage green cushion, I start my day by writing a post, a page or a line. In my non-creative phase, I pick up a book to read instead. That's been my rhythm forever.

The age-boxes broke my rhythm and nudged me into the mulling-over-things phase. I've been brooding over the idea of ageism, visibility, art and creativity ever since. 

Is 50+ the retired area of story-telling and spoken word performances? Hence, assigned a one size fits all box?  Do we not deserve an incremental improvement of our art every 5 years like those in their twenties and thirties? 

And why am I hankering to be boxed in when I should be breaking free? 

Confusion is the enemy of creativity.

Suffice to say, I wasn't able to focus on any writing for an entire week.

I know there is a unique point of view assigned to every age-group. A five year old's story of struggle to convince his Ma to let him eat ice-cream for dinner is as valid and true as the pain of a teenager's first heartbreak which is as raw as a forty something being called auntyji by a complete stranger.

Discrimination on any grounds hurts art. 

I'm not saying I feel discriminated against because of my age because I haven't. Not yet, anyway. But I do see too much of the same old stereotypical story-lines and poems circulating around. So, how do I pick myself up and dust off the disappointments and focus on my art, my voice?

Another poet friend, Parth, sent me a message yesterday. It read--"the need to express and the want to express sometimes seem to go separate ways---acceptance is the key-- acceptance of the fact that art will always be there."

I thank my lucky stars for these seemingly co-incidental connections. I find my answer in Parth's words.

Yes, art will be there.

True art needs no hustle.

As long as I have visibility of my truth, I should stop wasting my time on what others are doing and focus on how I can share my truth truthfully--without fraud or jostling.

My duty is to my art. By writing and sharing and speaking the truth of how I feel is the only way I know to break the boxes and step out of 'isms' that restrict and constrict. By speaking my truth I can at least, at last shine light on my despairs and hopefully, resonate with others who've felt this way.

Hard-work has no substitute. And talent? Well, I believe in honesty and hard work and practice, practice, practice.

Together we can strive to keep our true selves visible to ourselves, to each other and for each other.

Kahlil Gibran says this about 'Self-Knowledge' in The Prophet

Say not, 'I have found the truth,' but rather, 'I have found a truth.'

Say not, "I have found the path to the soul.' Say rather, 'I have met the soul walking upon my path.'

For the soul walks upon all paths.

The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.

The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.'

Poetry rescues me every time. I scrub off the dust of false self-perceptions from my fading ego and settle down to write my story in my voice. I settle down. I sit. The unfolding of petals cannot be forced. It will happen when it's meant to. 

"The soul walks not upon a line. The soul unfolds itself..."

My job is to use my voice to live by the principles I truly believe in--equality and kindness.

If any of the above has found resonance with you or you'd like to offer your point of view or share your self-care strategies with me, you know I'd love to read your comments. 

Wishing you a restful and joyful day wherever you are.

Till we meet again.