The most unexpected people can hold the mirror to you and show you a side of you that you didn’t think of before. In my experience, people who know you rarely offer negative feedback. The closer they are to you, the harder they find to tell it like it is, unless there is a direct provocation. Mostly, they tend to live with your rough edges. Sometimes, a surprised glance, a hurt look, a flash of anger or a sharp retort could, if you are self aware enough, bring you to the path of self-reflection and acknowledgement of wrong behaviour.
On Saturday morning though, as I returned from dance class, the security guard below my apartment block stopped me. Hesitantly and offering prior apologies, he asked me if I specifically disliked being greeted with a ‘Good Morning’. He was concerned. Was he greeting me correctly? Was there something wrong in how he says these phrases that are obviously in English and not in his native language, Hindi?
Now the person I’m referring to obviously comes from very humble origins and with little education, but he has a dignified bearing that I always notice and appreciate. Puzzled and quite taken aback, I asked him why I would mind being greeted, and why he thought I minded. And he told me that unlike the other adult members of my family, namely my husband and my mother in law, I rarely responded to his greetings. Further, he told me I usually had a frown on my face and rushed past him without paying any attention to his politeness, leave alone responding to it. All this he said in a mild way, not being offensive, but continuing to be genuinely concerned.
Now imagine my plight! I have no idea what my face told of my feelings, but I went through a few seconds of complete bafflement! I’m not even sure I was gracious enough to properly apologise though I did assure him he was not at fault in any way, that I might have been pre-occupied, etc etc. As I climbed into the elevator to go home, I fully examined my own behaviour. And I accepted that I’m not a good listener, I do walk around with a frown or an ‘I’m busy’ look on my face, I do not adequately react to those around me. I said a silent prayer, appreciating the gentleman for his courage in having this conversation and vowing to change myself for the better. To smile more, to give every person I encounter full attention and a proper response, to reinforce basic etiquette and manners (something I feel we always teach our kids but tend to overlook ourselves).
I learnt something valuable this weekend. Feedback comes from the most unexpected sources and in the strangest form. To be tuned to receive it graciously, reflect upon it and act upon it is also a life skill to be cultivated. Life may not always be good, but its ever interesting, always an adventure, big or small and I’m grateful to starting this week with an enhanced sense of what a blessing it is!
I admire art and I admire artists more. Art demands an honesty and level of consciousness that is exhausting while requiring at the same the exact opposite, spontaneity. Anyone who can pull all of that off together while exhibiting magnificent technique and composition and content is a magician of sorts.
I try and bring that sort of almost brutal honesty to my writing, but I do find myself playing to the gallery once in a while or simply exploring tangents that take my fancy without real conviction. Those are also important aspects of the journey of an artist. And yes, I do consider myself a part artist or an aspirant at least.
But at what point does an artist know that she has arrived at a point when she can share her work with the world at large? When does she throw herself bare and invite reactions? Some artists I know say that they knew when they were ready. They just felt it. Were more confident and had more clarity. Others say there was no defining moment. They simply toiled away at it till someone pushed them to share their work. They took tentative steps forward into the public realm and only when appreciation came in did they realise they were on to something.
I guess in art, like in everything else, how you perform is as much a matter of talent as that of the personality of the artist. In this too, there are contrasts. Reticent and quiet people can be aggressive in self promotion and social, gregarious artists can be self deprecating and low on confidence. The training of an artist, therefore, needs to be about art and attitude in equal parts. Which is true for a lot of other things as well I guess.
It’s hard for artists though, because they rely on self discipline and mentoring to learn and progress. It isn’t usually an institutionalised process of learning and progression; and certainly not time bound. Finding the right mentors and having a sense of purpose and balance become critical ingredients to the artists journey.
But balance can often take away from the passion needed to bring out your art, deter you from taking a stand and inhibit expression perhaps. It’s an old joke, that artists are slightly unbalanced, eccentric, crazy. Indeed they must be, for they hold up a mirror to society and human nature, both of which are twisted and complex, and perhaps even unfair.
20,084 to be precise at the time I write this. To be frank, I didn’t know or think of what this meant until I recently saw someone on twitter getting all excited about crossing 10,000 views. I swiftly looked at my WordPress stats page and saw a figure of nineteen thousand something…then I began to get excited about this.
My attitude towards my blog is mostly to churn it out everyday and be true to what is top of the mind on each day. But I will not deny writing everyday has done wonders to my self-confidence. Page reads and comments, likes on Facebook do drive me to write. No, I do not see likes as a sign of loyalty by my friends. I am lucky to know people who will actually like only what they like. But its given me a lot of insights on people. I am often pleasantly surprised by reactions. For instance, I didn’t know a certain friend felt so deeply about parenting, or another someone loved music so much and was indeed a singer herself!
Many a time, I am corrected by a reader for factual errors or judgements made on erroneous or one-sided information. That kind of reaction gives me a lot of encouragement because it tells me that some people read my blog closely, not skimming down the length of it but actually evaluating what I have to say.
Negative or positive, reactions boost my self esteem immensely, as a writer and as a person. Today someone gave a very backhanded compliment. He said, “You’ve kept your standard. Your writing is hasn’t deteriorated at all!” I was proud I felt not a flicker of annoyance! And that’s the best thing I’ve got out of my blog. An ability to see humor in everything, an ability to observe the details, a keener sense of the life I am living. For those of you who feel like life is a haze, try blogging! You might find you have something very worthwhile to say.