Monday, September 26, 2005

A spring in my step, and hospital cheesecake is yummy (or so I'm told)

I have the worst writer's block ever. Hard to believe, given my fingers are moving smoothly enough typing this up, but when I switch over to the important stuff, to the two grant proposal abstracts that must be written or fingers freeze. I need to scare them into thinking the worst, conjure up nightmarish scenarios of research funding drying out and yet - they don't move an inch. My fingers have resorted to wily ways, and I need them to good to me, at least for a few months as I cope up with a dissertation.

On to more pleasant stuff. Ergo, ego boost that had me smiling and humming to myself, till thoughts of the unwritten abstracts intruded. So I had gone to pick up a package that was delivered at the office of the management service that takes care of our apartment buildings. In front of me was a boy who was obviously an undergrad, and he strikes up a conversation:

Boy: So, how do you like it so far?
Me: Hmm....I like the neighbourhood a lot.
Boy: So, you in freshman year, or sophomore (Gosh! that's as far as he would let his imagination wander? Ach, habibi, these undergrads I tell ya, so cute)
Me:, actually I've been here for over 5 years.
Boy: Really, so you're a senior then. (How deluded, and yet how sweet)
Me: No actually I'm doing a PhD.
Boy: Oh. Oh really?

I mean it used to be great to be mistaken for a freshman 5 years ago, but now it is positively fabulous! Especially since I've gained like what, 20 pounds at least, and just a few days ago Em pulled a strand of white hair from my head (the boyfriend wanted it to stay!). However, I have noticed that when the undergrad boys discover that I'm older and they're still romantically interested, they tend to become very, very persistent. I remember asking a freshman a few years ago why he insisted on a date with me when I was almost 6 years his senior and he'd met me a few hours ago. The fellow promptly draws up a 10 bullet-point list!

In other news yesterday S and I went to the hospital to visit a dear friend recuperating from an operation performed earlier in the day. It was very strange at first walking through the corridors of the sanitized space, so far removed from the frenetic chaos of an Indian hospital. It was evening and most relatives had perhaps left and what was left was silence and measured tones of the nurses and attendants. On the way up, we saw kitschy spiritual parapharnelia that adorned the hospital chapel and the teddy bears on sale in the hospital gift shop. As we walked towards the room of our friend, I could sense that most of the rooms had their doors open. I say sense, because I was afraid to look around, for fear of meeting some unbearable agony, some sign of suffering.

We found her room, and her boyfriend was there as well. She looked relieved but tired and exhausted, but her face beautiful and serene. The room was bare and dismal as hospital rooms can be, and looked even more dismal in the fluoroscent glare. We started talking, and gossiped and laughed till it was time to watch the new Simpsons episode. After the Simpsons we talked and laughed some more, gossiping some more about mutual friends. Suddenly I realized that I had stopped being so acutely aware of the hospital room, it had become less forbidding, more comfortable.

It had taken me a few weeks to be comfortable in my surroundings as a social work trainee in a hospital for mental diseases. However, when my patients started telling me the stories of their failed marriages, their garment shops, their hopes and aspirations, their children, when we played table tennis together, it was possible to look beyond the suffering that had so unnerved me in the beginning. I don't think I was desensitized or hardened, but perhaps my empathy had allowed me to overcome my dread of witnessing suffering and pain. I realized suddenly that I hadn't been in a hospital in a while, I had lost my comfort levels around men and women in overalls and labcoats. When we walked out, I wasn't averting eyes any more, I was taking in the surroundings as I would anywhere else. Our friend was discharged from the hospital this morning and is already planning a weekend trip. Sure sounds like fun!


Anonymous AB said...

You can't believe how it is worse to get a writer's block when your job is to write.

And speaking about hospitals, I don't think I like those places a lot. Once I was told by the doc that I would be operated for apendicitis. I was excited because there would be so much of sympathy and no studies for a few days. But when the doc told us the place and time, tears started rolling down my cheeks. One of the memories I can't help remembering when hospitals come up.

By the way, can I ask you something - How old are you?:)

3:23 AM  
Blogger K said...

Imagine you have a six o'clock deadline to meet for a 500-word story. You are lazy and start only at 5.15, maybe even 5.30, after all 500 words should be a snap. You get writers block. You sit blankly staring at a piece of Bill Gates' software. You die five million deaths contemplating life on the pavement or wondering if a particular editor likes sodomising his reporters. Fear motivates you write 500 words of what you believe is utter tripe using every cliche in the book and quoting what you heard your friends say last night. Your editor calls you up later to tell you that it is 'The Best article' that you have ever written. Its not quite the same when you have a few days to finish something.

4:48 AM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

@AB: Oh, I can completely empathise now!

My friend couldn't wait to get back home, even though it meant having to deal with a bunch of courses and the rest of the semester. Hospitals can leave you very emotionally drained.

I actually celebrated my 30th birthday last month, which was not the cataclysmic event I thought it would be when I was a teenager. Perhaps 40 is the new 30?

@K: Actually, give anyone a long rope and they'd probably hang themselves. That's why this world needs deadlines. But you write very well, so no worries :).

4:26 PM  
Blogger Gamesmaster G9 said...

Sent your previous post to my intrepid roommate, a former Techer. He appreciates the humour greatly, and we still wonder why he never gets (or attempts to get) any.

1:44 AM  
Blogger PS said...

We journos can at least take refuge in faffology (to be used only when suffering from acute writer's block)...that's a sure-fire method to save a sinking ship. Guess, you can't resort to such tactics while doing a dissertation. I remember we were supposed to submit one sometime in college, I hadn't even hueard of the term before. It took me three months to figure out what's it supposed to mean and how its different from an extremely elaborate composition/essay...Come to think of it, I may have forgotten the difference already :(

4:31 AM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

@Ani: Oooooh, that's probably the first time anyone's ever mailed a post of mine to someone. And that too by the champion of mailed posts. Just ask K, he was forwarded your Bonglomeration post by some random person.

By the way, for a counterpoint to my post and for proof that Techers are indeed gettin' some (at least some of them), go here:

@PS: Oh you'd be surprised PS, very surprised (or maybe not) at the amount of faffology that goes on in hallowed academic corridors. We're just better at keeping appearances, I guess.

2:37 PM  
Blogger said...

where did you learn to say habibi?

6:23 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

@gypsynan: From my Palestinian friend who would greet me with a broad smile and "Habibi! How is your habibi?" I don't really say it often, in fact rarely because I cannot manage to pronounce it the way it should be. For the most endearing terms of endearment, this is right up there with "Azizam", "Jaan" and "Agapi-mou".

7:40 PM  
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4:23 PM  

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