November is unconditionally my favourite month of the year. It's my birth month, and my mum's too. November is also the month in which I came up with the moniker 'The Dream Pedlar' more than a decade ago.
And today, this very last Sunday of the month, happens to be the birthday of a dear friend of mine from undergrad days. Happy birthday, Kitty! 🥳 🎉
I wrote a silly poem to mark my turning 42 last Sunday; it's a nod to Douglas Adams' tHGttG, in which the supercomputer Deep Thought declares 42 as the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.
YOU TURN 42 ONLY ONCE IN A LIFETIME
It is my birthday today, woo-hoo!
For now I'm all of forty-two,
and if what Douglas Adams said is true,
I now should have all the answers to
every question ever asked of me and you,
every how and why, every what and when and who,
but as it turns out, here I am again,
pondering, wondering, going a little insane,
with no questions left, getting a bit bird-brained,
there's something amiss, a lack of restraint?
Perhaps it is my brevity I seem to have lost in the bargain.
Birthdays aside, the first snow typically falls at around this time of the year, bringing a firm and final end to autumn and ushering us irreversibly into winter.
November has also been a very writer-ly month for me. After months of planning and preparation, I finally launched Tales for Dreamers, bringing back to readers those delightful short tales of whimsy and wonder.
There's a free 4-week trial; go ahead and give it a try. It's quite something to receive a bundle of whimsy in your inbox at the same hour every week, so I've learnt from both experience and through the grapevine.
My local library, the Burlington Public Library, had a literary festival going on throughout the month, and I had the opportunity to attend several talks, workshops, and panel discussions, and meet fellow authors, and independent booksellers and publishers, all the various members who constitute the publishing industry.
All this makes me feel quite grown-up as an author, because until now this journey has felt more like a floundering about in an endless ocean than as an intentional movement towards a particular destination.
For reasons that I can't quite remember now, November has become the month for me to take annual stock of my journey as an author-entrepreneur, to look back and reflect and then plan for the year ahead.
When I sat down to write my annual 'lessons learnt' post, I couldn't help but reflect on how different this year had been compared to the one that preceded it.
At the outset, shortly after I published my first full-length novel, Dying Wishes, I was riding high on the promise of a fantasy, romanticising any hurdles I'd face on the journey. My eyes were on the big prize at the end, and I completely lost sight of the day-to-day.
No wonder then that the following year, I struggled with every hurdle that tends to crop up because of the vast chasm that separates reality from fantasy. My day-to-day reality felt so bleak that I completely lost all hope of ever reaching the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and this, in turn, saw me turning away from my manuscripts more often than working on them.
It has been a very sobering experience, this plunge from the dizzying euphoria of embarking on something new straight down to the nadir of rejections and the lack of any kind of success or progress.
When the newness of a project loses its sheen, we somehow start to notice in great detail the cracks and crevices that had always been there but we had chosen to look away from initially, falsely believing that if we don't see them, they'd disappear of their own accord, that somehow all that euphoria and passion will carry us through and over the rough patches.
Doesn't ever happen that way, I've learnt now.
Going through this roller-coaster of an emotional journey feels like a rite of passage somehow. No amount of reading about or listening to other's journeys can prepare us for the mental and emotional toll it takes on us.
But right after this see-saw that has lasted two long years, I seem to have settled into some kind of a plateau, with a nice balance between the rigors of daily practice and the optimism that the vision of long-term success fills me up with. A balance between dreams and endeavour, between fantasy and reality.
The penny dropped for me in this context several times this month. I'll share two instances here. One, you'll find in the Books You May Love section towards the end of the newsletter. The other came from a talk that career-author Dean Wesley Smith gave on writing and long-term productivity at a conference earlier this month.
I don't remember the exact words but the gist of what DWS said was this: when we write (or undertake any endeavour for that matter), the process entails telling a story word after word, sentence after sentence. That's all there is to it.
But when we stop in that endeavour and start to think about what will happen next in the story, how the story will end, what genre it'd need to be marketed under, how readers will receive the tale, will they like it or not – we've essentially pulled ourselves out of the 'process focus' and propelled ourselves into what he calls 'product focus'. And that kills our process then and there.
I've fallen prey to this kind of thinking – worrying about how the story will be received when I'm in the midst of writing it – way too often this past year than I'd like to admit. Ever since DWS spelt it out the way he did in terms of the writing process, his words have managed to draw me back whenever I tended to go astray.
This is precisely what the Bhagwad Gita also says about how we ought to work for its own sake (process focus) and not lay claim to the rewards (product focus) of our labour.
And this is the state of mind I hope to be in as I move through the days ahead of me. Writing, for the simple joy of telling a story. But also marketing and promoting my books and stories, driven by the desire and hope that my works will reach and touch and inspire many more readers in due course of time. Doing both, but one at a time.
More importantly, I'm no longer afraid of tackling difficult challenges or making mistakes or having projects blow up in my face for no fault of mine. It is all part of the endeavour.
Isn't it amazing how the Universe suddenly dropped all these nuggets of wisdom into my lap the month I turned 42?! 😄
Tales for Dreamers
a birthday wish
For this month's tale, I went looking for something else in the archives but found this gem instead.
As we light the candles, I take in a huge gulp of air, puff out my cheeks, make a wish, and blow out. And all my hopes and yearnings mingle with the flames of the candles and the air and the wind and I grow more and more certain of this – I am one with the world, and the world is one with me.
I wrote the lines above and the tale (not so much a tale but a vignette) below nine years ago, and reading it made me see how much has changed yet how much has remained the same in all these years. Perhaps all my birthday wishes have indeed come true!
Books You May Love
This month's recommendation is The Ink-Black Heart by Robert Galbraith, the pseudonym under which JK Rowling has been writing her Cormoran Strike detective series.
I spent almost an entire week delightfully lost between the more-than-1,000 pages of this book. Rowling tackles online persecution in this book, and this is such a current-day book what with all the countless chat sessions and Twitter feeds that make frequent appearances throughout the book.
It took me a while to get the hang of reading them at first, especially the concurrent chat sessions, but once I figured out what worked best for me, it was pretty easy-going after that. (Tip: Don't try to read them concurrently. Read one in its entirety and then get to the next one. It all made much more sense to me that way.)
Two co-creators of a popular cartoon are attacked, leaving one dead and the other paralyzed and unable to walk. When Strike interviews the survivor, Josh, the latter is wracked with guilt and is also terrified about carrying on living with his disability.
'All – all I wanna do right now is live long enough to see fuckin' Anomie caught and fucking jailed. After that ... I'll be checking out.'
'No, you won't,' said Strike calmly.
'Don't tell me what I will or won't be fuckin' doing,' spat Josh. 'You can still fuckin' walk!'
'And you can still think and talk. Six months' time, you might have more function back. A year after that, they might've found a way to mend your spine. They're making progress on this stuff all the time. Stem cells. Implanted chips.'
'And in the meantime—'
'Yeah, well, that's the hard bit, isn't it? Acceptance of the present. You've got to stop thinking long-term for a bit.'
~ The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith
That was the bit that spoke to me unexpectedly and made me hyper-aware of the importance of remaining present in my own writing process.
About not thinking long-term for a bit. About simply focusing on the next word and the next sentence in the story. About doing what I can in the present moment, without sacrificing it at the altar of imagined future scenarios.
It was a very enjoyable mystery to read and as always, I loved the romantic tension between Strike and his partner, Robin. The detective agency has also hired a British-Indian investigator, and reading that made me happy. I've come to realise that just having that diversity of cast makes a book that much more rewarding for me to read.
That brings us to the close of this edition, dear readers.
As always, thank you for letting me share my journey with you. I hope you find in these monthly missives a little something.
Perhaps a spark of inspiration to follow your own path. Or a salve to soothe your fears and doubts. Or even the realization that messiness is the very nature of it all, of every project, of life itself.
And if we haven't yet found a way to bring order to the chaos, perhaps we've been barking up the wrong tree. Maybe chaos simply does not wish to be analyzed and slotted into patterns and made more palatable for human comprehension.
Maybe it is time for us to denounce our cleverness and opt for bewilderment instead, as Rumi is supposed to have urged his people centuries ago.
Maybe it is time to stop asking questions and seeking answers, to stop searching for patterns and looking for guarantees or predictability or certainty in all that we do.
Because no matter what question we ask, the answer's always going to be 42. 😉