Sunday, November 14, 2021

The insecurities of writing

I’ve always wanted to write a book. When I was in my mid-twenties I thought one needs to have gained enough life experiences to be confident enough to write, after all, it’s the years of experience, feelings, heartbreaks, and sorrows that need to be explicitly laid down for a good piece of writing. With this concoction in mind, I was convinced that one can become a successful writer only in the latter part of their life.

Then I came across writers like Carson McCullers who wrote The Heart is a Lonely Hunter at the age of 22 in 1940 which is considered McCullers finest work. Then there is Mary Shelly who published one of the finest works in literature Frankenstein at age 22.  What has age to do with this? Well, I later realized that it’s one’s genius and the confidence to begin writing. Facing a blank page is a monstrous endeavor. It requires the confidence of a mammoth to sit down and face that blank page and begin writing.  

I nurtured the idea of becoming a writer at a very young age. All my life, I have always written, writing a journal at a very young age and then later writing/maintaining this blog for the past decade, writing has come naturally to me, I thought. Well, I like to put on record that I was wrong.

Writing is not easy! It needs a lot of consistency and discipline to write something substantive, like a book.  While working on my thesis for graduate school, academic writing was intensive and I assumed creative writing to be fun and not as grueling as academic writing. I also assumed that one can write freely in creative writing as compared to academic writing where one had to abide by certain rules and regulations. As simple as it sounds, both have their own perks and shortcomings.

Academic writing is gruesome and one needs a lot of research before tackling that particular area of subject interest. A lot of critical analysis is required and it should be well structured. Similarly, creative writing is structured but one has room to play around unlike academic writing. In high school, we were taught Walt Whitman, J. Alfred Prufrock, Plath, Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Shakespeare amongst others. I absolutely loved these works and I still do. These works were high level for a girl of my age to comprehend that time and in my mind, the level of poetry had to be something symbolic with a rhyme and a rhythm there like Wordsworth and Plath. That’s probably why I never took it upon myself to aim at writing poetry because I always felt utterly disqualified to write poetry forget about a haiku.

Like reading, writing is a lonely hobby. To write means one has to be lost in the ocean of imagination, has to live more of a hermit life often craving for a secluded writing space. I’ve often thought that writers are someone who loves to be away from the chaos and who enjoys solitude and their own company more. That’s what fuels their creativity. It’s also very painful sometimes to dig into the past memories, trying to remember everything and reliving it if the memories are painful especially if one is writing creative nonfiction. After all, memory can take you only so far. 

Most often, I’ve been advised to make time to write every day, no matter what. To make a ritual of writing. With a full-time 9-5 job, it’s hard to commit to writing. But I’ve learned that if I want to write, I must actively choose how I spend my time besides giving up a few unnecessary hobbies. Moreover, I’m always confronted with this awareness of not having adequate writer’s skills and that my work is premature and sucks, that people will find it boring to read something I’ve written. And that my work might remain “Still Just Writing.” I’m also aware that all these thoughts are very normal and no matter what I need to push myself to keep working on my draft. It’s a lot of patience, quietness, and hard work.  

Louise DeSalvo in her book “The Art of Slow Writing” suggests writers find their own rhythm. Beginning with only five minutes and moving on from there is the key. Learning how to sit at our desks without interruption is a necessary skill we can learn. That’s where my challenge lies. I get distracted too often and too easily. She suggests acquiring the practice of consistent writing, which is so essential to realize our dream of writing full-length work. Writing an hour every day aiming for two pages a day gives you ten pages of writing by the end of the week. And the most important is to keep faith in your writing during the most difficult times and trust that “somehow you’re going to work it out as you go.”

Talking to your writer friends, like-minded friends helps to boost your motivation and confidence. Another writer friend suggested that I should tell everyone I meet that I’m writing and not keep it a secret. That way I’m compelled to write and finish it. I think I might have taken his advice quite seriously since I find myself telling everyone I meet now that I’m writing a book. That way I can make myself accountable and keep my word. I quite like it!

The act of imagining the work, thinking about it, taking notes, and finally beginning the actual act of writing which is the different stages of the first writing process is daunting. I’m yet to embark on the second and the rest of the stages which will necessitate a different blog post for another time.

So, what is/are your writing process like? I’d like to hear your tips for me to improve.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Mid Year Reflection on Books

We are already into the second half of the year and it’s time for a reflection; a reflection on the reading list. Nothing excites me more than to talk about books. 

Well, what is a life without books? 

Reading is escapism to many, an escape from the harsh realities of life. It’s a coping mechanism, rather. It helps one to develop empathy which in my opinion is the most humbling trait one can have. If there’s one character I’m asked to hold unto, it would be empathy and nothing else. 

Reading has become an extension of my limbs. I cannot go to sleep without reading for 30 minutes at the minimum. When the lockdown began in Thimphu in December/January 2021, I started this ambitious goal of reading 50 books this year. By far this is the most ambitious goal I’ve set. However, there was this dilemma of the availability of real books to hold and to read. Even if I want to read, there aren’t books of my choice easily available in the local bookshops. I hope I will live to tell the future generation of Bhutan how hard it was to get books in Bhutan during our time not to mention the overpriced online shipping charges which take an indefinite time. 

These are the times I miss having access to free public libraries in America. I used to go bonkers whenever I entered the libraries there. I was like, “Can I borrow all these books to read for free?” 

I was a Nazi when it came to ebooks or reading books on kindle or online for that matter. However, graduate school exposed and accustomed me to online reading. Before, I could never understand how one can compare the pleasure of holding a physical book, turning its pages, and the smell of books to that of reading an e-book. But as always, humans can adapt to anything. And this human turned to read ebooks on the kindle and mostly on phone. I’m a convert now! 

I can set a daily reminder for my reading time, and it congratulates me after having read for 30 mins. It shows my progress and I can read anywhere as long as I’ve my phone and the battery is functional. I don’t have to worry about lurking a huge book everywhere I go. Of course, nothing beats the charm of carrying and reading a book, but like I said adversity necessitates adaptation. 

At the beginning of this year, we had almost 40 days of lockdown which gave me ample reading time. Having kick-started then, I’m on my 24th book of the year, as listed below in no particular order, 6 books behind schedule though. 

1. Breasts and Eggs 
2. Too much and not the mood: Essays 
4.Writers & Lovers 
5.Good Economics, Bad Economics
6.The Rosie Effect
8. Love, Loss, and What We Ate
9. Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle  
10. Chutzpah- Why Israel is a Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship  
11. Strange Weather in Tokyo 
12. Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life
13. The Year of Magical Thinking
14. On emotional Intelligence
15.Think Again
16.What to Read and Why 
17.Crying in H Mart
18. Beach Read
19.The Memory Police
20.The Great Influenza 
21.The Art of Slow Writing
22. Ten Lessons for Post-Pandemic World
23. The Little Book of Hygge 
24. Some Rain Must Fall 

I made a conscious effort to include 10 non-fictions in my list starting from The Great Influenza and The Lessons for Post-Pandemic World which gave insights into the beginning of influenza in history and the modern technology that was developed to combat influenza to what/how countries can do better in the post-pandemic world. It was an eye-opening read and brought new perspectives on the current pandemic. 

When things got a lot depressing and foggy, I switched to light or romantic read like Beach Read and Writers & Lovers, which basically portrays the young adults in love while juggling a writing career. Two books on Israel, Chutzpah, and Startup Nation further provided insights into how a small nation like Israel can be a top-notch technology empire in less than a century. Bhutan has derived some best practices from Israel in its upcoming projects. It’s not a wonder for Israel to excel in what they are doing, a topic of discussion for another time from a biblical point of view. 

Breasts and Eggs and Too Much and Not the Mood were some feminists work of literature which was fun to read and resonate to. After having loved The Rosie Project, I had to look further to what adventures Don Tillman and Rosie led in their lives in New York City, a very funny read though. Some books like The Memory Police and Verity were dark with a pinch of psychological thrillers thrown about which was hard to put down.

Crying in H Mart made me cry as it details a mother-daughter bond in an Asian-American household. Asians usually don’t say ‘I Love You’ or hug you but that form of love comes in the question of ‘Have you eaten?’ always which means that you’re cared for and loved. This book stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for months' end and I also searched up her music and fell in love with her indie band. 

The Art of Slow writing was a brilliant read for aspiring writers. A Virginia Woolf Scholar, Louise really discusses at great length on her personal writing process with anecdotes from her favorite writers which are exquisitely done and very helpful. I will have to revisit this book sometime soon. Other memoirs like Love, Loss, and What we ate talk in detail the autobiography of the famous Master Chef Padma Lakshmi and her road to fame with lots of South Indian achar recipes. 

Finally, The Little Book of Hygge (the only book in hard copy which is borrowed from a friend) and Ikigai discusses why Danish people are ranked the highest in the Happiness index (Sorry Bhutan) and what is the secret of living a fulfilling long life in the world’s most aging nation. One thing I found common in both these books was the support from the community or having a good circle of friends and the little things in life like being present and not stressing about the future. 

Some Rain Must Fall is the second book in the series of My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgard that I’m enjoying at the moment. Honestly, his books are a bunch of crap about his daily life and how he got wasted but I tell you, it’s really interesting! That’s what I applaud in a writer – the magic of hooking the reader. 

26 more books to read in the remaining year, let’s see how far I can get. Like the Danish and the Japanese, I like to live in the present and not think about the future. A lot of the time, I also research the writer and their writing process. Life is too short to read books one doesn’t enjoy. 

I hope you enjoyed this succinct review of mine, let me know if you have read any of these books, we can do a virtual chat or meet over coffee to talk about it if you’re in Thimphu. Is there any book you would strongly recommend to me? Leave a comment below and I’ll make sure to include it in my list. 

Monday, January 4, 2021

New year and a dumpling party for one

The last time I made dumplings was two years ago while in graduate school. Contrary to popular belief, I like to believe that making dumpling which we usually do from scratch in this part of the world is a tedious task in itself with all those chopping to be done for the filling, kneading the dough, making the wrappers etc. As we are in the midst of second lockdown, how to pass each day is the biggest thing on everybody’s mind now. I haven’t been obsessing over the increasing cases of COVID-19, mainly to avoid losing my sanity and as far as possible I’ve tried to stay away from watching and reading the news save for occasional updates.


I had all the time in the world. What could be better than to make dumpling to pass the time? With my playlist on, I first began kneading the dough to give ample time for it to rest. Next, I started chopping the cabbage and red onions which left me crying for a couple of minutes. I chopped some pork and ginger and prepared the filling. Adding freshly grated ginger changes the whole flavor of the dumpling, a trick I learned. There’s this fresh invigorating taste which helps to subside the aftertaste of the onion.


To be honest, I was never a big fan of dumpling or momo as we call it here. Nor did I know how to make it. That was two years ago! BUT I’m a convert now. My love for momo started when I was in the US for my graduate school. Being away from home definitely does that to you. One is always homesick for that authentic home food. We were fortunate to have two Indian supermarkets (Patel Brothers and India Market) in our area where we basically got everything starting from Samosa, Jalebi and Dalle pickle and where we used to do most of our veggie shopping and speak to the guys at the counter in Hindi. That was the closest we could feel about home. 


Making dumpling became a tradition for us to celebrate the end of the year school party. I learned and hosted the dumpling session a couple of times for friends from school. There was so much diversity and we were celebrating the end of school by eating dumplings and drinking root beer. Some were vegetarian and wanted coconut filling, it felt weird at first but was so yummy. Some wanted to try shrimp besides the regular beef and pork. I introduced to them the cheese momo which was an instant hit. The different shapes and sizes had their own interpretation. With snow falling softly on the ground outside, the hot dumplings we ate by the Christmas tree warmed our hearts as we chatted about school, friends and winter break plans.


As I was wrapping the filling last night, a sense of nostalgia overcame me. I remembered that dumpling parties from two years ago, the fun and laughter we shared after a stressful week of finals at school. The things we talked about late into the night after we were super full from eating and drinking. I remember the light from that first Christmas tree of mine which my love and I hauled it up. I remember how I showed him to roll the small ball of dough on my kitchen table as he shared a traumatic story from his childhood. We both cried in each other’s arms. But once the dumplings were steamed and ready, he forgot all his pain as the exhilarating burst of the ezay and the beef dumpling was popped into his mouth and a large smile appeared on his face. ‘God, how much I love this man, I thought’ as I watched him help himself to more dumplings. I loved it with a tinge of jealousy when he said that he would choose dumplings over me given a choice.


I wonder how my friends are doing now? Although we are in touch through social media, things have changed a lot. I’m ever grateful for crossing paths with them for they made two years of grad school an amazing and unforgettable experience.

Dumpling definitely has been my comfort food and with it comes the warm and comforting memories of the time spent in Boston as I sat down in my apartment to a plate of freshly steamed dumplings for dinner, alone this New Year in Thimphu.


Happy New Year 2021! I hope you are doing well, stay safe. Like all things, this too shall pass :)


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