THIS AUTHENTIC LIFE
Have you realised that the best journeys in life are when you travel inwards?
I have always written; written since I was very young. But I only began writing with intent since 2012. No it goes back further than that. I began writing with feeling and direction a few years prior to that when I moved to Hong Kong, to live on my own for the first time.
No husband, no parents, no friends, no one I knew at all. I’d been dropped into this alien city from the future, a confluence of the East and West. Stranded on my own in my little 400 square feet flat on the 25th floor of a block, from where I could look into the flat of my neighbour in the tower opposite; I could look to the horizon where the buildings shot upwards to the heavens. Trapped in a web of human flesh and concrete which entrapped the soul and did not let you touch the ground. No space to rise up and feel the air of the open sky.
Hong Kong is the base chakra of the universe. The root of much commerce, and the more basic instincts in life. Lust and greed: a surface contentment that soothed your skin but never touched the cells just below. As outward looking as you can get.
My first night there I couldn’t sleep. My heart fluttered, raced as if it were caged and being pursued at the same time. As if all my fears and insecurities, for a future I could not see and a past that had been cut off, had left me suspended with nowhere to call my own. And unable to understand my reaction to the city I began to write.
I wrote to understand the unseen emotions around me, to record the unexpected encounters with people from distant countries I was meeting. Many of whom had been dropped into this strange city and were trying to
find purpose in life.
I wrote to confess what I was afraid of, to give shape to the turmoil that churned inside. To finally give voice to the questions I had about why I behaved the way I did, when faced with new situations. Which is what you do when you live in a foreign place. You are so starved of human company, that you go out and force yourself to meet new people. You try new things because there are no old patterns to recreate. You realise you can come and go as you want for there are no other demands on your time. And if one day, you decide to sleep the day away and awake at dusk, that was okay too. Imagine a space without rules. Where you really can do what you want … and you open your eyes one day, and realise something is still holding you back from letting go.
You realise you need to give yourself permission to go forward and experiment with life. Go ahead and allow yourself to write. Push aside those voices which say that writing could never be a career. Face the fear that the only logical conclusion to following your writing dream is to die
penniless and unknown in a basement somewhere. Strange isn’t it, we never know what you’ve absorbed from the environment, or what is holding you back till you dare to take the first steps on the journey.
And so I began the series of stories which I continued writing over the next many years, and which released as my first novel The Destiny of Shaitan. And yet, yet I never took it seriously, that this really is what I wanted to do, for this was me. I knew it, but couldn’t accept it. And didn’t want to pay attention to that instinct inside that still kept me coming back to my desk to just try to pour out what had been bubbling inside for a while.
Of course it’s timing too … Moving to London in 2005, finding my feet again, learning to manage my response to a completely new climate. To go from living in 38 degrees with bright sunshine to a place with four seasons, where you change externally and internally every three months as the seasons change. Where you dress differently at different times of the year and find your physically react to the blooming of buds in spring, and the late summer evenings when the sun sets at 11 pm to walking through falling leaves and never seeing the sun some days for you’ve spent most of it inside. Patterns within patterns. And you are reacting to those micro patterns, and not realising why some days you are so angry, and some days so joyful and some days just so sad. Figuring out the cues from those around you, a different culture where you maybe panicing inside but really you don’t say it aloud or lose your temper out in public to get your way, for then you lose the respect of those around you. But then you wake up one day and realise, you can’t really live anywhere else, for you love this city that is the greenest city you’ve ever lived in. You love its parks and woods and trees … oh! Those life giving trees that whisper to you as you walk by and shield you when you are pensive. And that you actually like the weather for it prompts you to look inside and introspect and finally you find your feet … until you lose your balance.
Which is what happened in 2011. A miscarriage, a near death experience and the bewilderment of realising life does not go as planned. That those things which only happen to someone else can also happen to you. They
do happen to you. And you surface from the morphine induced haze and ask yourself. If I were to die tomorrow what would I regret the most? And then it’s so clear. You know what you have to do. You have to write. You have to feel a more authentic life. And that’s when it really begins.
When you realise that you have limited years in your life, when the icon of a ticking clock is so clearly always there in your mind, then you find the time to write. And the more you write and create, the more you cut out things to make more space to write.
And you write, and write, and write again, and realise it’s not easy. It’s great you want to write, but it’s a craft and it’s dynamic. So you write and your writing evolves. You persist with it and your dialogues get crisper, your plots clearer, your characters more nuanced, your plots more layered.
And you know you have to keep going, keep at it, being persistent. Through the four seasons, through people who come and go in your life, through houses you change, through day jobs you shift, through countries you move. Through love, and death and heartbreaks.
You keep at it and then one day you begin to make sense of what you are trying to say. And you begin to watch and study your own evolution as a writer and as a person.
And you learn to lay bare your most secret fears, horrors and dreams. In a world filled with mirage, it’s this authentic realness that stands out and
gets people to read you, for in your desperation and your revelations they see themselves. And yet you keep writing and strip back the layers of yourself. And then you can’t hide from myself anymore, and you can’t hide from the world. As you write what you feel, you become on the outside as you are inside. You become that which you feel and think and believe. And you pretend less and less and less. You become you, one day. You begin to lead an authentic life.
Following are a few key themes that I have discovered in my writing life which I hope will benefit other authors too.
a. Compulsive ideas: An idea that has legs is the one that sticks in your gut, and which you then cannot get rid- off, for days, weeks or months on end, it keeps haunting you and then you just have to get it down. And therein lies the makings of something powerful, be it a novel or a story or
a blog post. For it’s what will not rest till it has been poured out and painted into a semblance of a vision for the world to see. It has its own momentum, an organic speed which will take you by surprise
b. Those ‘a-ha’ moments: The highs and lows of lifem when you are truly alive. Milk your grief, pour out your joys. This is gold dust. This is when you discover what it is to be really human; when you re-discover that you are real, and your feelings exist and you have this weird, so real-it's- surreal sense of connection -- with the world around you. Perhaps it’s a bit like being born or reborn?
c. Go boldly where you wouldn’t go outside: Don’t shy away from the good and the bad, the ups and the downs. What are you afraid of? Really afraid of? That you will fail? And if you don’t jump at what is new and untried, if you don’t expose yourself to the uncomfortable, how do you know what is really is you? For it is only when you are faced with choice and decision you realise what you are from that response.
d. Go where you dread going, inside: Once you start writing from the gut, you realise you are plumbing your own sub-conscience to tap into the unsaid and unexpressed. Perhaps due to the kind of person you are or due to the society where you grew up, where expressing what's really on your mind is not always allowed, there is so much leashed inside. Allow yourself to go where you dread going inside. And then give yourself permission to write from that space. It’s fine, it’s allowed. There, doesn’t that feel better now, when you do that?
e. It’s a marathon, not a sprint: We all have talent. Many of us are willing to work hard too. But do you believe enough to keep going, and going, and going. Even on the days when you’ve lost all hope can you keep going. Can you persist for there is no other way, there is no turning back. Can you do that?
Laxmi Hariharan blogs for the Huffington post, has written for The Guardian and has been featured in publications including The Economic Times, The Times of India and Verve. Married to a filmmaker and fellow author, her life often resembles a dramedy of errors film script. Born in Bombay she now lives in London, where she writes while listening to electronica and is an avid street art photographer. She is also the proud owner of a mononym Twitter handle @laxmi .
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