I can’t seem to stop wanting.
14th September 2022
I’ve spent much of the last few weeks solely working on my book, Famous Last Questions—or trying to anyway. The more I felt like I was doing what I’ve always been meant to, the more restless I got. The closer I felt to producing some kind of truth in my writing, the more I checked my phone.
First Instagram, then Twitter, then LinkedIn, my fingers tapping the icons in the order they always do, deftly keeping a pulse on other people’s lives and desires.
This has been dangerous, to say the least. I was spiralling into a now-familiar pattern, which was most intense at the start of the pandemic. Being cooped up at home with no lines between work and family and self, technology infused into all these tracks of life, splitting them further into abstractions that distorted the real things. Wherever I looked on the internet, everyone was doing what I thought I could too—sometimes better than them, sometimes in wishful awe of the very idea. In my imagination, anything can happen.
I may stumble upon hidden but large reserves of talent, draw from them assiduously, and walk, practically overnight, into the inevitable fame and grandeur that I believed was—and still want to believe is—my destiny. I could also embarass myself any minute. Every Instagram story, every tweet, every post a potential means for people to discover that I’m not as cool or aware as I try to be, not as smart as I’d like them to think, and not as silly as I want them to know I am.
I am extremely silly.
Most days I want to upload videos of myself screeching. Or jumping off beds and in front of cars as they scramble to swerve away from me. Is that not art? It would have been shoved down your throat for free anyway. What is art?
Let’s talk about why those videos may have been funny. What is at all humourous about deliberately inconveniencing someone? Is it not, in fact, grotesque to think of deriving pleasure from possibly being a source of hurt? Let’s not even get into the class-caste-gender-religion dynamics of doing something like this in India. (Isn’t it privilege to even suggest this?) But my intentions would not have been to hurt.
In fact, to those who “get” it, it would’ve been funny for being precisely such an abnormal re-enactment of life: the way it tends to get under your skin when you least expect it, how it forcibly reminds you how little is in your control just when you think otherwise. “Cringe comedy” is a genre that rests on this very discomfort. In elevating for laughter what you’d rather cringe at, in awkwardness or horror or pain, it dissipates that very discomfort, and makes you think about your best response to life. You can’t always get what you want—and it may turn out to not be what you wanted anyway—and you may also, a lot of the times, get what you know you don’t want. So why douse yourself in the utter indignity and humiliation that being alive inevitably is, at least sometimes? Why not laugh instead, however conter-intuitive that feels at first?
It has perhaps never felt counter-intuitive to me. I’ve been drawn to whatever subverts ideas of “good” and “normal” and “acceptable”. This is fine, you agree, but what if, you ask, somebody gets hurt as a result of such little jokes? Refer, then, to the intention, to the Andy Warhol quote above, to the nature of life: despite our best intentions and efforts, things may not go as planned. Is it our fault to have not known better? If we are making the same mistakes, again and again, perhaps it is time to apply some observational and inferential skills to course-correct. The better terms to use then are not “good” or “bad” or “evil” or “toxic”, but “skilled” and “unskilled”.
Even a man who keeps making the same mistake over and over—hurting either others or himself—is probably unskilled, not evil. That terminology makes reality easier for us to accept, it quells our anger enough that we may act, not unskillfully in turn, but skillfully even when we had reason not to. And why must we do that?
Because only skillful actions get the desired results, do they not? Be it our own happiness or peace or awareness or another’s, or both? And also because, when we have been unskillful—not evil or horrible or terrible—in the past, haven’t we been forgiven? (If not, you’re likely not reading this.) Haven’t we been given the chance to endlessly change ourselves, presumably for the better?
So who draws the line, for whom, and where?
I am perhaps writing about something else entirely by now. What I meant to say is this: I have been consumed by desire all over again, even though I am doing exactly what past-me thought I always wanted. I am not at rest. Now I have the desire to be someone funnier than me, to have many thousands of followers, to tweet better, be crazier, to feel freer.
And as I felt trapped in all this desire again, I recognized the source of my discomfort, this time, as always: it is me, myself, and I.
The mind has a proclivity for endlessly inventing meanings. Our brains are pattern-matching and -seeking. We create meanings, we get attached to them, and then we problematize our attachment to them. Where does it end?
We should read my book to find out.