I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!
Olivia Newton-John, Breastmilk, Suppressed Banter… Nimaya Addresses her Subconscious on Medication
May 4, 2017
Upsides to taking Malaria pills every week: 1) You don’t get Malaria and 2) Nightly dreamworlds that consume more experiential hours than some of your days.
From crossing marshlands that slowly break into giant hexagons pieces, floating in stars, to battling tasks that risk it all and only demand that I form a sentence in Tamil, to what feels like hours and hours sitting in a bakery I’ve never been to, trying to avoid eye contact with my ex, these dreams are incredibly long, vivid adventures that come back to me in the morning with severe clarity. The more I dig into them, the more details I remember and I realize just how much is successfully stored in my subconscious: names, faces, facts that I can’t come up with here, but in retrospect, are quite accurate.
These aren’t random moments sewn together with blurry edges like typical dreams; one world persists, going through typical events in a reasonable time frame so it truly feels like I did fly through these streets a few feet above the ground honking my horn to avoid a herd of black and white goats. It truly feels like I reconnected with my friend from elementary school while visiting my mom in Colorado because she spent about five days living in the guest room upstairs with white flowered wallpaper in a house I’ve definitely never been to. These dreams test my ability to come up with thorough plans to suit a variety of needs, to perform certain skills under pressure, sometimes they just present intricate surroundings and leave me to look at them, touch them, try to appreciate them. I suppose it makes sense, my time (awake) in India is mostly on that edge of the known and the unknown. Even in what have become familiar places like the Centre, I’m often caught off guard as expectations and plans flip on their heads. I’m regularly standing in front of a dozen children who can moderately understand me, trying to run a class, after having as little as 15 minutes to draw up a complete lesson plan. Otherwise I’m out in the city trying to think on double speed just to pick up on English in a sea of unfamiliar sounds, or trying to navigate a menu without any letters, or trying to catch a moment on my camera while being pulled away at breakneck speed.
It is not stressful, you would think I’m stretched thin, but in many ways it is much easier than ‘normal’ life. In these deep, metaphorical times, I’m drawn to Yoda’s over-quoted quote along the lines of “Do or do not, there is no try:” silly as it sounds, all there is, is “doing.” That is, there isn’t much point in moving with conviction, or anticipating the world from a logical point of view, because the typical constructs that allow you to command your time (like an agreed upon notion of time and scheduling) are fluid or nonexistent. I cannot predict the day, I cannot prepare for what will consume my attention at a given moment, so it is living with the camera at the ready, and my trusted years of improv at the tip of my skin, that’s all I can do.
I can relax. It’s just responding. And when not responding, a kind of meditation in the sights and sounds of a moment, because it’s hard not to desperately want to be here as consciously as possible when everything is so, explicitly temporary.
Still I get homesick. Clearly, because last night’s dream was, after starring in a disastrous drama at the Chennai airport (confronting the daily trouble of switched identities and institutionalized racism, a commentary on international traveling), I went home. Yes I drove back from Montreal in my Dad’s car, full of story telling and jokes, and then we pulled up in front of the house, I hoisted my massive backpack out of the backseat and walked inside. That evening I brushed my teeth, felt the hot water rush from the tap, changed into the wonderfully soft pajamas I didn’t pack, having all the normal thoughts about what I hadn’t realized I missed. I lay in my Vermont bed trying to push away the nostalgia that came up in me. It was all over. Back to the normal world. No more surprise Elephants or sticky, sweaty afternoons drinking searingly hot tea. I pictured the ride to the Centre in the mornings with Jasmine, I tried to taste the breakfast Sambar, see it staining my fingers. I tried to conjure up the smells of the road, sweet, and dirty, and like a farm all at once. In this dream I yearned to just have the option of seeing it all again. And I felt cheated, because, in this false reality, I couldn’t recall the last two weeks of my trip….
Even as MetaGirl it was surreal to wake up, still in Madurai.
As a thought, I believe I’m overusing adverbs at the moment—no, I don’t tend condone them in writing, I’m not a completely atrocious human being (completely? really Nimaya?) but we have been drilling adverbs in class all day. I apologize.
In other news, I have a new housemate, Olivia, or Olivia Newton-John as the women here have begun referring to her. I had no idea how much I missed the sight of a female person in flannel pajamas.
From our first hurried introductions I realized my whole identity has been squirming inwardly and coming out in odd angles and phrases because of consistent, subtle verbal suppression over the last few weeks. Consciously speaking slowly and clearly, using words I rarely use, moving conservatively and politely and constantly adhering to the behavior around me has become a gradually growing weight and finally, someone who could talk, I mean really converse, in casual, fast, thoughtless English! (Nine adverbs in that sentence. Nine.)
Not only was speaking normally a huge delight, but at last there is someone who has never been to India before and who is seeing this place and its customs the way I am. Part of the loneliness and surreality of this trip is the constant feeling that your own judgment on what is weird, hilarious, or curious isn’t actually weird, hilarious or curious at all to anybody else in the country. It’s been a long few weeks of internal commentary and unspoken thought processes too tricky to communicate in noisy moment-to-moment life. I’ve developed the routine of letting my tongue out for a brief stretch in the evenings, while writing or calling family, but I had no idea how much suppressed banter had built up in me. In any case, hanging out with Olivia felt immediately like finding an old friend, where we are somehow inexpressibly united simply by knowing the same references, noticing the same weird customs, both being girls traveling on our own, not initially knowing how to use the toilets…you get the idea. All at once everything unnerving and peculiar seemed very funny, and it was oddly validating just to…agree, just to be on the same wavelength.
It is late, and I’ve found a very damaged (apparently unedited) copy of Harry Potter to devour (and edit) so I’m off to my alternate reality. If I get to sleep on time, I just might motivate myself to wake up early and concoct some tea with a very rusty camp stove and the small sack of milk I picked up from the local grocery store. This is what I’m learning from living in a third world country: who needs cartons when you can have weirdly warm plastic sacks that are only moderately reminiscent of breastmilk?