Choosing the thrill of uncertainty
Even though permanence is a craved yet elusive state at this point in my life, I try to capture its essence in the little things that make me happy
Never before in my three-year-history as a columnist has my life been so uncertain. Never before has my fate rested so dramatically in the hands of people I may never meet. I have little choice but to stay put, to embrace a state of stasis, to wait, anticipate, and be patient at that too. Never before have I previously encountered such an intensity of wanting something while knowing it is not just right for me, but is the logical next step in my "career". I told Mona last week that if the funding for my PhD didn't come through, for whatever reason, I would feel shattered. If, after everything I've accomplished in my career as a self-made art critic, I am still not considered worthy of being granted a scholarship in order to intellectually contribute to existing scholarship on South Asian art history, I would indeed feel defeated. She rightly told me that I would be shattered for a while, but soon after, I would find the grace to move on.
The feeling of uncertainty has been accentuated by my growing disenchantment with my current freelance lifestyle, where I write between three to five stories a week, for publication in various magazines, papers, and journals, and have yet to continually suffer the ignominy of not being taken seriously by the industries in which I operate. It's usually at the level of not being paid enough, or on time, or not being considered for anything beyond my journalistic writing. This, alongside being frequently broke, always in new and marvellous ways, and having to rely repeatedly on the generosity of my friends, adds to the feeling of future precariousness. At 33, things should really have looked up for me, instead, each morning I wake up and stare at the crisis that is my bank account balance and I try to configure new ways of stretching my resources.
On Sunday evening, though, after a long conversation with Bhuvana, who, being older than me by five years, is infinitely wiser, I came to realise that it was my approach to the uncertainty that was misinformed and misguided. I had inadvertently chosen to give power to circumstances outside my control to validate my identity and my self-worth. I had chosen a freelance lifestyle not only because I wanted the luxury of unstructured time, but primarily because I didn't want to participate in the "rat race". I had willingly opted out of a world that is governed by "key performance indicators" and "appraisals", and in which leave had to be pre-sanctioned before you could get excited about a holiday. I had decided that I didn't want to play that game. Why, then, was I now putting myself down because the spheres in which I operate were not giving me the requisite appraisals I'd already decided I didn't need? I was subconsciously falling into the same trap of allowing other people to determine my value and consequently affect my happiness and state of mind and being.
It was time for me to re-orient my approach; to regain perspective. I only had agency over myself and its parameters, not the decisions and choices of others. I had to learn to fully embrace the uncertainty. I found respite in the kitchen. I woke up early, did some research, and began a batch of starter dough. My solace would lie in the process of fermentation. I found inexorable joy a few hours after I'd mixed flour and water together and saw traces of gestating yeast in the form of frothy bubbles. I also soaked rice and urad dal so I could grind them later and watch the mixture ferment. I sowed more seeds in my garden. I've begun buying watermelons so I can juice them and store the pulp in old wine bottles. Summer refreshers are now a kitchen staple, even though I'm only meant to spend two more weeks in Delhi before my next bout of travel.
Last year I coined for myself the term 'domestic itinerancy", it was my way of qualifying my impulse to always set up a feeling of homeliness in every space I inhabit, however temporarily. When Mona and I spoke on Sunday afternoon, she picked up on an extension of the term. We called it "unsettling". This is my fate, I've learned, given the choices I've made and continue to make, that do little to facilitate any state of permanence, because each choice and decision I make is processed from the exhilarating vantage point of risk. I had to remind myself that no matter what, I have been doing, as work, things I love… writing, editing, thinking. The moment I stop being happy with the work I do is the moment of impending crisis.
For the moment I must realise that no one else has the right or authority to gauge my levels of contentment. Right now I've chosen to invest my happiness in little things; new leaves on sentinel trees, yeast culture, watermelon juice, and mango salsas. I am privileged to have my kitchen as my sanctuary.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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