Rosalyn D'Mello: What gives meaning to our lives?

Dec 08, 2017, 07:25 IST | Rosalyn D'Mello

I don't necessarily want to be 'famous', or even 'rich', or 'well settled'. What I want, really, is for my life to hold significance

To know what to say when, to have the verbal acumen to counter an argument despite the cognitive dissonance you feel in your blood, to have the serenity to listen, and the wisdom to speak with eloquence are not characteristics typical to most people. I include myself here. I am often at a loss for words, and I am aware of the irony of making a statement like that, considering I make my living as a writer, and implicit in the vocation is the talent for baiting the elusiveness of one's own vocabulary, retrieving the syllables at the tip of my tongue so I can make sense of my irrepressibility, so that it is laundered through the prism of grammar and assumes whatever coherence to which it can lay claim. This is why writers have to depend so utterly on the habit of reading.

In The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, Midge takes to the microphone one drunken night to deliver an impromptu set about her predicament that the audience finds hilarious
In The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, Midge takes to the microphone one drunken night to deliver an impromptu set about her predicament that the audience finds hilarious

It is why we must continually evolve our craft by exposing ourselves to the languages of others, so we can gauge how they are able to wrestle with the question of articulating a sensibility. I have measured the success of my book (can you believe that tomorrow it will have been exactly two years since its launch?) not by the number of copies it has sold, which I've been told is not a conservative number, but by the volume of readers who have confessed to me how my words have sheltered them through the immensity of their heartbreak and the enormity of their own desires. It is a humbling experience. To know that something you wrote, perhaps a phrase or a sentence or a whole paragraph or chapter even, was instrumental in shaping the texture of a reader's emotion at the time when they confront your text.

This is known and understood by anyone whose income (or lack thereof) is premised on creativity. But I thought about it more profoundly a day ago, when, because of my sister's enthusiastic nudging, I took time off to watch the pilot episode of The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, Amazon Prime's latest offering. My sister knew I would take to the show, and we exchanged fangirl messages shortly after my viewing of the American period dramedy conceived by Amy Sherman-Palladino, known for her excellent writing for Gilmore Girls. Set in New York in the late '50s, the show is centered on Miriam Midge Maisel, a Jewish housewife who is audacious enough to deliver her own wedding toast, but who, by the end of the first episode, has to deal with the crisis of her husband, who had aspirations of being a stand-up comedian, leaving her and their two children for his secretary.

In the beginning, it is she who seems to manage his ambitions, making brisket to bribe the owner of the club to give her husband Joel a performing spot, much to the dismay of Susie Myerson, a butch-like woman with a keen ear for spotting comic talent, who knows instinctively that Joel is essentially copying, or "borrowing" as he puts it, his stand-up material and resents Midge's wifely predisposition. It turns out that Midge discovers her own innate talent for comedy, for quick deliveries and swift-footed wit, and when things fall apart, she takes to the microphone, one drunken night, to channel her irrepressibility. Fearing having to reconfigure her identity about being suddenly 'alone' and 'divorced', two very stigmatic propositions in the '50s and '60s (has it changed, really?), she unwittingly expresses these apprehensions to the fiercely independent and unmarried Susie, who replies saying this, "I don't mind being alone. I just don't want to be insignificant."

I gasped a little when the line was delivered. It had all the implosive weight of a linguistic bomb. It felt like someone echoed precisely what I have been thinking all these years but had never managed to articulate. Mostly because I have either been conditioned or feel compelled to second-guess my self and my desires. Am I single because I haven't found someone I think is marriage material? Do I really believe in the institution of marriage? Do I even believe in the spirit of monogamy, not just sexual exclusivity, but emotional and spiritual, considering I derive those kinds of sustenance from so many varied sources, and particularly through my female friendships? My most recent conclusion was that I didn't want to be limited by the trappings of a conventional, hetero-normative relationship. But really, it's because I don't want to live in someone's shadow, nor do I want my labours, whether physical or emotional or intellectual to be rendered invisible. I don't necessarily want to be 'famous', or even 'rich', or 'well-settled'. What I want, really, is the same as Susie, to not be insignificant. What that implies, I still do not know, but I am certain that by simply not wanting to be that which I fear I could become, I am already its opposite.

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 mailbag@mid-day.com

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