Delusions of grandeur

The first time we were going back to India after moving to the States, in the summer of ’97, my father declared that I was allowed one pair of jeans, one pair of sneakers and a shirt to travel in. My attire after landing in India was to be salwar kameezes, lenghas and long skirts. As a fifteen year old and a part of the 1.5 immigrant generation growing up in NYC, I cracked a few smart ass comments at my father’s dictate, but didn’t fight it too much. See, this wasn’t worth beating my already sore hands on the drums of teenagedom caught in the middle of the immigrant experience. I could mouth off to mom and dad, insist on my independence, rail against the stereotypes they attempted to impose on me and generally be an Indian version of the bratty American teen (where, really, my parents got off quite easy) all in the safety of my life in Queens. Being on Indian soil, however, wasn’t reality; it was vacation, where what happened in India, stayed in India. For a month or so while we visited family, I could play pretend and be the Sati Savitri type if that’s what my family wanted.

While in India, I never made an attempt to explain my life in NYC to my family members. Maybe it was sheer selfishness on my part of wanting to avoid the lectures on how I’m still Indian even though I live in America that came with opening up with my conservative family about my life in NYC. Staying general usually worked best: yes, school was good; yes, I still remember how to speak Kannada; yes, I do have Indian friends. I smiled a lot, I ate a lot, I wore what they wanted me to wear and I wrote in my journal a lot. I was polite, respectful and most of all, just plain quiet. We never discussed anything deep and certainly nothing related to sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.

My writing, however, has never been quiet. I will break my personality into pieces for the various different compartments of my life, but my writing is one place where I live, whole and complete with total honesty. It never concerned me in the past that when I get published (yes, I said it – when, dammit, when), as a creative non-fiction writer, I would be laying my life out for public consumption. With my immediate family, I began to hang the family’s dirty laundry out to dry starting at 16, so it would be nothing new to them. Everything else, I justified. My parents are so closeted about their lives that it’s not like their friends and acquaintances would recognize me as the child of someone they know. My extended family in India – well, I’ll just make sure the book never gets translated into Kannada and besides, how are one brown woman’s words ever going to travel across the ocean anyway? It’s tough enough getting published and being known locally.

What I hadn’t counted on was technology shortening the distance between my lived reality and the person I pretended to be to keep the peace with my extended family. Before, there were phone calls between NYC and India where surface words lay like sweet, sickly icing on top of a cake. Now, there are emails and Facebook updates between my life and my cousins’ in India. With the internet came Google and Facebook and off they ran, snatching my delusions that my writing and my life could be kept separate from my extended family in India.

While working with Noor to edit a short piece of mine for volume 7 of Papercuts, towards the end of the process, I realized I hadn’t changed one of the characters’ name. That realization broad-sided me as I realized I was telling quite an intimate tale that involved people other than myself. With Papercuts accessible online and subject to Google’s tentacles, there’s a possibility that my cousins in India would now have access to that part of me that I hid from them. (Sidenote: I’ve seen the re-designed website for Papercuts and it rocks. It’s shaped up to be quite a strong representation of the talent at Desi Writers Lounge. You all should be uber-excited!)

There was a brief moment where I considered breathing into a paper bag, but then the writer in me, the one who has always had the backbone, snarked, “Well, then you either better hope they never find it; hope that if they find it, they’ll understand; or if they read it and don’t understand, then you better get ready to deal with the fall out – because this story is getting told.” After another dirty look thrown at the hyperventilating pansy, the writer strode off to start penning the continuation of her story.

The Green Light

The three core members of the ‘Lounge based in Islamabad, met yesterday to talk about the reading and approximately three hours later, we had a full-fledged plan chalked out for the reading series and the first in that series, in particular.

We also covered the e-zine selection policies that were placed into effect with this issue and will be further refined for Vol 4. In the future, we will be allocating 2-3 months for the publication of each issue (beginning on the day the polls end), which will in all likelihood result in about 2 issues being published each year. The decision for the process now reads thus: once the polls close and the pieces have been selected by the core membership, a deadline date will be set by which all editors must have their pieces edited and finalized respectively, by each editor, feeling that they are all up to the par. After that, all pieces will then come to me, where the next 2-3 weeks after the deadline date will be devoted to going through them all . If I feel some pieces need to be further worked on, I will contact the respective editor asking for these changes. The editor will then see about those changes. This will thereby eliminate the need to eradicate any pieces that have been edited. I do however, stand by all decisions I’ve made for Vol 3.

That said, I also feel some writers have suffered because of the lack of a 100% effort put in by their editors, and for that I sincerely apologize. With these new rules in place, this will be eradicated in future issues and I thank those who graciously received their rejection letters. It was a ridiculously hard thing for me to do, having been the recipient of one myself. But…it only makes you stronger. And I have no doubt that our members will deliver for the next issue.

There is also another event planned in the future, which will be announced after the reading which itself, is planned for the end of March. We will be calling out to our members based in Islamabad to please email in their poems for the reading, or…if they have nothing new, to choose from their old material they would like to present. The emails will be going out presently.

For the event hinted at above, we will be chalking out an extensive marketing campaign.

Again, we urge our members in Islamabad to let their friends know about the reading…the only way we can get the message out there is through word of mouth, which is about the biggest weapon we have. After this, we’ll be opening up our readership to everyone else out there. Call the first reading a test run. And, to answer another question, we will be bringing in celebrated writers and poets as our readings progress. The reason why we aren’t introducing any in the first reading, is because of organization. We need to be thoroughly organized and professional, and once we’ve done it a few times and have a thorough feel for the whole thing, we will better be able to handle it when the celebrities waltz in.

So, everything has been discussed and once a date’s been decided, I’ll post it here emailing our membership to let their friends and/or family and other relatives out there interested in readings (not restricted only to poetry), to rope ‘em in. At the end of each reading, we’ll have a sign up form to let people sign up for the next reading, giving us their names and email addresses (or other contact information).

As you can see, we’ve covered all our bases. If you’ve got any questions relating to the reading, ask away.

The Icky Stuff

In case some of you don’t know about the recent fiber optic cable cut beneath Egypt and Italy, allow me to introduce you to the facts: no internet. Or at the very least, spotty internet. What does this mean? It means the publication date’s been shoved forward. Just because I can’t do it, however, doesn’t mean the work won’t still be done…I’ll be pulling the strings while the GM (global moderator) will be doing all the hard labor. Tough job, but someone has to do it.

Naturally, because an ocean separates us coordinating times and bypassing risky schedules has put a damper on things. That being said, however, we are working around this.

The reading is still planned, any ideas any of you might have you can drop into the comments of the blog or email me personally at maryam@desiwriterslounge.net. We do appreciate the feedback you know, and contrary to legend, we don’t bite.

Promise.

Going forth into the Tunnels of Darkness

I must thank Clarice, below, for writing in my absence. Though the internet did fail us for a little less than 24 hours, it has returned in full force. So things, are in that sphere at least, well.

There have been no changes in the e-zine publication plans–we will be moving forward with publishing it sometime at the end of January–the interim month will be, as per our now established Editorial Policy, devoted to editing pieces. The reason that it has already been pushed back several times, is because of the search for quality and the understanding that it needn’t be rushed.

The editors will shortly notify the finalized set of writers under their respective categories, although The Poets will be notified a little later. Reasons for this diversion needn’t be discussed, here. Suffice to say, there’s a reason for everything we do.

One thing must be noted absolutely, however: protocol must be followed. Currently, the deadline for which all editors must have their respective finalized pieces is January 18th, 2008. Anyone who doesn’t follow this to the dot, will have their piece(s) struck from the final published list. I need to make this absolutely clear now. We’re all on a schedule here, and allowances for everyone have been made with the rather accommodating date. So to all the finalists out there: ensure that you’ve got an approved and complete piece by then. There are some pieces that require severe, heavy edits before they have a chance to make it in. To these writers, especially, you must follow the guidance of your assigned editor until he/she is satisfied. I will, however, make the last judgment call if there is one to be made.

I am well aware that I am no professional writer, but as Editor and Administrator, someone has to do it. I apologize in advance.

The E-Zine’s publication date has been set for sometime in the last week of January.

A new design inclusive of new logo might be instituted some time before then, or it may make its debut with the new volume. That remains to be seen based on my own time and planning. Suffice to say, it is in the works.

I can only hope Vol 3 is a roaring success, and jump starts our reputation outside of the web as a literary magazine to be reckoned with, hopefully cemented with the reading planned for March. The posters, fliers, bookmarks etc will be promoting the website more than the reading itself, although we’ll probably have a separate batch for that as well, distribution limited naturally, to Islamabad only.

The material for marketing the website, however, will be distributed as noted earlier, in the three main cities where our members reside: Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi as well as a special package mailed to our international member in Washington D.C.

This is all in the pipelines, which I’m hoping doesn’t mean it never materializes! :)

Wish us luck, everyone!

The Jury’s In: Hold On to Your Seats!

After a near three hour discussion over finalizing all e-zine related pieces, earlier tonight, out of an overwhelming 60+ pieces polled, the list has been narrowed down to all of 20. It is, conceded, a little more than I would have liked, but these are all, or mostly all, solid pieces.

Lists will be put up tomorrow evening, with the appropriate writers being contacted and directed according to protocol. Because of my own unavailability for editorial duties, work will be redivided with the four sub-editors. I will, as always, comb through each piece before sending it in to the e-zine.

Protocol must be noted, and followed: we, the editors will be working with selected writers according to a predetermined deadline. No piece will be allowed final entry until and unless the assigned editor has approved. If, supposing, the writer of a specific piece doesn’t respond to his/her editor, the piece will be struck from the list. So if you’ve been selected, and are among those contacted tomorrow evening, you are expected to follow through with protocol. The rules will not be broken, or bent for anyone. After all, if we do it for one person, we have to do it for everyone.

There are a wealth of things planned for the upcoming quarters, including a new issue as well as the reading. If there are things you feel should be added to the site, or any suggestions you have for the reading, please do drop a line either in the comments, or to me personally. I have a knack for writing back, irrespective of anything.

And now, my minions, I bid thee farewell. It’s been a long night, and I should be in bed, snug as a bug in a rug, by midnight.

Adios, and keep your eyes peeled on the forums if you’re a member, and on the e-zine scheduled for release in late Jan, if you’re just a reader. We welcome you in either capacity!

10 Things I Hate About This

No, I’m not going to start listing them down, I just really wanted to use that phrase. Ridiculously short story I have no plans on expounding, which makes mentioning it entirely unnecessary. Lovely!

Now that I’ve located what looks like a promising designer, the only drawback is that they’re located here…as in Pakistan here…as in, in my city Pakistan. Yes. After a rather saddening experience with an Indian developer (God bless the Indians, though; they’re not all bad, one bad seed notwithstanding! Tons of bad seeds in Pakistan, too!), I would much rather not deal with subcontinental developers. However, their ratings, client references and portfolio seems to speak for itself. And they have now graciously agreed to providing me with a mock up…which is basically a prototype of where they’ll take the design of the site, along with showcasing what they can do. Since I was deprived of this previously, and not wanting to take any risks this time around, taking the advice of my very knowledgeable sister, I am a little more optimistic. Of course, the development that I’ve planned and outlined in this blog is still scheduled. But first and foremost, is a face-lift.

Addressing quality related issues is another thing entirely, and which will hopefully be addressed and put to reasonable rest by our small “board” some time this weekend or next week. I don’t know whether it’s the editorial policy or the fact that a small set of members are the only set that post and re-post and thus, are the only ones available for e-zine polling. There are some marketing related issues and plans up my sleeve, which might unfold subject to agreement by the others. There are a lot of things to be decided, and specifically towards our new look, logo and design etc.

There is still the dream of making it to print, which might, ironically, be more quality oriented. The problem with being web-based is that though you’re able to reach a wider base, it becomes a tad problematic when you’re using it for quality assurance. Not everyone’s at the same level, which shows through in the forums, where the pieces are…”workshopped” according to one of our members. Although most of the hardcore stuff happens behind the scenes in the ‘editorial’ stages, which brings me to another question: are we not doing a good job of it? Should we be pushing our writers harder…or what, exactly? I realize that everyone ages at their own pace, and to that extent we should give them both time and space for growth, but this worries me. Because some how, in some way it’s setting us back.

A few posts back I mentioned how a complete stranger stated that my work represented on another website was far better than the content put on display in our ‘zine, which though flattering to me, was a disappointment. Everything seems the same. Are we not pushing creativity hard enough? Not focusing on pushing the envelope? After all, isn’t that part of what a workshop does for you? It pushes you to be your best. One piece or maybe two from members is good, and then they slip again. I need to know why.

I suppose the easiest thing to say is that writing isn’t the same for everyone, which is what I am constantly being told time and time again. It’s frustrating to hear the same thing from different people: not everyone’s like you, not everyone takes writing so seriously. It isn’t about taking it so seriously…it’s about actually using criticism to improve. It’s the want to get better, to progress, to push the envelope. That isn’t asking for much, is it?

Weekend Blues

I see Clarice has started to post…well, well! Welcome! Really, she’s given me far too much credit, but I’m so taking what I can get.

Had a hectic weekend–those who live in Pakistan know this is full on wedding season–which apparently also means you go to weddings of people you barely know but work with. Hey! Society’s the bitch we all love to hate.

Lahore was…blissfully calm. No riots, no nothing. But all that’s political talk. Let’s get on on to the real stuff.

Development progresses, albeit more slowly than I would care to admit. With e-zine publication slated for the first week of January, this is as mentioned below, going to be an excruciating two months. But, do vote…if you’re a member and if you’re not, my God! That’s just tragic…after all this!

The template (our main design) is still on the rocks with the designer not quite clear on what I want despite showing him repeat versions of what goes where. That said, having talked it over with a cousin while in the City of Food, I’ve decided to revise our current Orange/Maroon color scheme primarily because they’re both from the same family. (She’s an artist. She ought to know). I should have some workable color schemes within a few days, however. Something like Maroon/Light Blue or Orange/Gray–that sorta thing. But we’ll see how things turn out.

The Podium is still under construction, but we do have a ready made gallery which means our members will actually be able to see us! Yaay! Pictures of meetings and events and anything associated with or held under, the DesiWritersLounge.net banner. Speaking of which, although nothing has been made official yet, we’re planning on a poetry reading sometime in March in Islamabad. Not quite clear on all the details, yet but we will in all likelihood host an invitation only event for members and those people our members know. I’m looking into options for printing bookmarks with our logo, color scheme and website URL on its front and back respectively. Kudos to my artist-cousin for giving me the heads up about this option, because after all, we want people to remember us and if you don’t have some sort of remnant of the evening, our message is lost. So there’s that in the works. We might have it covered as a podcast and/or video upload for members unable to attend.

In other news, we’ve got both the event calender/bulletin board still in the works although I’ve begun to think the Nov 29th deadline will no longer hold and for me at least, it’ll be a mad scramble between work, editorship and working with the developer to prove value for money.

I think that about sums everything up.

And oh yes, I got a request from one of our new members to post on this blog…which I’ll grant, so this will become something of a medley between viewpoints, random posts and weekly updates so: Keep your eyes glued to this space.

Numb

That’s the title of a story I’m hankering after. Note the word usage – “hankering” because I haven’t got anywhere yet – throws my last post into a tizzy, doesn’t it? I’ve got a nine hour work day, which comprises mostly of sitting before my laptop, doing market research and trends, and then writing about it. So at the end of the day, you’d much prefer not spending any more time with the widescreens of this world. Hypocritical, I know.

The problem isn’t with the idea – I’ve got it all nailed down – I’ve got the two leads and their lives all planned out…okay, mostly, not completely but still. And now of course, my time table’s changing after tomorrow – Friday, I’ll be reporting for work at 6.30 am. Yes, you read right. But we’re off at 2.30 pm so something needs to be said. No sleep after sehr, then eh? Worse things have happened. I’ll live.

But back to this elusive idea – the story appeals to me – it picks up on the emotional underbelly, which for anyone who has ever read my past stories, knows I love. It isn’t just the darkness that’s drawing (while simultaneously repelling) me closer each day, it’s the wealth of emotions I’ll be dealing with. And of course, the families and their protagonists are from backgrounds I understand and to a degree, can empathize with.

And after pushing away my trademark conversation dialog: dry, witty, sarcastic – I’m finding myself being drawn back. Though, let’s face it: I’m good at it. I like looking at life through unfocused lenses – it’s like looking at the world through the bottom of a glass – I like the skewed, distorted images transmitted back. That may be the reason the darkness of things so attracts me, because here’s a fact: it’s so much more fascinating to write about. How much can you write about happiness and birds chirping? The evil, dark side of our emotions are so much easier. No? Am I the only one seeing the complexities, here?

I suppose, to put it simplistically: the psychological and anthropological aspects of it are what really attract me.

I think we each have the capacity to commit something truly heinous, but the right blend of time, circumstance and the fortification of our relationships is what stops us. I also believe that the root of all evil, lies in society and the lack of understanding it affords to the lesser fortunate, and if we are to truly realize that in every walk of life, we should at least try to understand. The only way I can understand, or at least live through their lives (from my own perspective, of course – the writer’s perspective inevitably seeps in – or if it doesn’t, that’s just another thing I need to learn), is to write about it. Sure, it might not be something I know, but we often need to step out of our comfort zones to straighten the crookedness in our worlds, to get a broader experience and perspective.

Choose to be broadminded.

I’ve said time and again, that the perspective and changes my work affords me, are unparalleled and have forced me to alter my opinions and mind on things I observed with rigidity, to the surprise of family and friends. And yes, I can be torn sometimes between following what’s right and what’s expected, but that’s only human.

But I believe in justice, in finding the truth no matter how unfavorable or ungainly it might be and my journey often takes me to places (both personal and social) I wouldn’t be able to traverse otherwise. So I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, in the hopes that I will continue to find answers.

Maybe someday I’ll write those socio-religio-politico stories everyone thinks I’m in the midst of, but until then.

Now, all I need to do is move past this first line…

Lightning…thunder! LIGHTNING.

Writer’s block. You hear about it a lot, but the concept is a relatively new one, created like all new things by the American writers. Blocks weren’t considered or even accepted by the English speaking world at large, until the Americans came along and decided to compartmentalize the world’s woes. Don’t believe me? Do your research. I did. What can I say? I’m curious.

But I jest – it traces its earliest roots to the Romantics – it seems a little “artistic” to justify a lag in creativity by suggesting that the artist is so talented and immensely chock full of ideas, that when something’s wrong, it’s presumably because something has happened stemming that flow. Does it exist or is it just an excuse? I think it’s a bit of both, but I do believe with careful dedication and determination, you can push right through.

“Writer’s block? What writer’s block?” That kinda thing. I remember reading a quote somewhere about having to chase creativity with a club, instead of waiting for it to happen, which is a sound concept. You can’t expect lightening to strike twice, after all. Or you can subscribe to the Romantic notion, and imagine it does.

But what about Edison’s golden rule? Genius is 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration.

Although writing is part of the arts, in general, it does merit respect on its own. The wonderful thing about writers is that they’re able to see art in everyday life. What separates us from the rest of the world, after all? One of the major things we’re always asked is: where do you get your ideas from…I mean, that’s just it isn’t it? We don’t wait for them to come to us, because how does that separate us from the people who write occasionally or the office worker who sits on his report for the next big thing, because the idea hasn’t “come” to him yet?

I used to be among the lightning crowd, not realizing that writing, like its counterparts, requires discipline. Sit down each day and go after the idea, honing, refining, allowing it to bide its time, and you’ll never suffer a writer’s block. Your mind isn’t blocked – it’s a state of mind – if you want to think it, you’ll want to believe it, because isn’t it just so much easier to say you’re “suffering” from writer’s block instead of “I lack the drive to finish what I’ve started”?

And I find when I open my mind up to new and different ideas, they come with no hint of subsiding. As long as the wheels in your mind are turning, what else do you really need? And let’s face it: the mind never stops working. If you’re serious enough about your craft, you’ll chase the words down, and they won’t stop until you tell them to. Because writing is a lot about control – it’s part of the reason why writers feel like gods in their worlds – they’re in total control. What happens when you let it slide?

You get lazy, that’s what.

No idea what’s on the horizon next. As it is, I don’t feel this was written quite as well as my other posts. Oh well…long day. Lame argument, I know.

Policies, Reborn

Ahh…it’s nice to see the site’s header and color schemes here – it gives this place a touch of familiarity – it seems a little strange that I’m writing here instead of on the forums.

I mentioned the editorial policy yesterday, which I’m going to expound upon now. When we first brought out our e-zine in March 2007, there were some problems – formatting irregularities, how pieces were sent in, whether or not they were revised, and the entire brunt of the work aside from managing the site and the people within, seemed to fall on my shoulders. So going into the second issue, I knew something needed to be done about it.

Now, we have a little panel of people who effectively moderate the site and who’ve been there from its inception, so naturally the “policy” itself needed to be discussed in conjunction with them. End result being: editors (moderators) would work with the approved writers themselves to produce an edited version of what was up on the forums, which would only make it into the e-zine if it had been given the seal of approval by its assigned editor. All documents would then be sent to the assigned editor who would then forward them to me. Neat, huh? They would of course, need to stick to a preassigned format.

I must confess however, that although the process in itself is organized and an accomplishment, it doesn’t take away from the disappointment I felt when I reviewed the edited work. Somehow I thought my editors would come up with something better. Most especially the prose pieces. The poems assigned were truly something – especially those I thought were lost forever – reborn. It was a nice turnaround.

Eventually I would like, although my moderators disagree on this, to turn this into a more professionally run amateur literary journal, which would include editors more suited for the task. People who understand that with each new issue, the bar is being raised higher. Quality was better this time around, but still not up to the bar of some of our pieces. I must confess: at this point, the original members are still miles higher than the newer posters, although improvement is a two-way street.

It can get frustrating sometimes – knowing there’s so much potential out there – and yet, still not moving forward.

Somewhere down the line, I’d like to actually open up a physical Writer’s Lounge with impromptu and planned readings, book signings, workshops and general literary awareness in the capital. Something of a budding theatrical society seems on its way to being canonized. It just seems like we’re waking up, and it’s a slow process of reawakening, like a snake shedding it’s skin.

Now the problem is: do I have the patience to sit through the transformation?