A Short Story Challenge

Wed, Jan 7, 2015 8-minute read

TL;DR You are right. Now get some popcorn before you start reading.

Noni is a dreamer. Not a day dreamer (she is more realistic and practical than I am, in most things that matter) by any metric. But she seldom wakes up without a dream. I can probably count the number of days she woke up after a peaceful sleep. Her dreams are superb fantasy, gory violence or she is flying across the world. Yea, I know. On the days of the gory violence, she wakes up visibly tired after 8 hours of sleep – so much for a dream!

Last week, she told me some of her fantasy dreams. It is what I would call “fantastic”. There are no bounds, no logic and are truly creative and vibrant. So I challenged her to write them down. Everyday after she wakes up, if she recollects her dream she should write it down. With a pen, in a notebook. Old school, but quite important. I read enough articles that said writing this way stokes your creativity. I didn’t read the dissenting comments. She has been doing this for a couple of days now. And she is really enjoying this stuff.

Yesterday night, as she was writing down her dreams from the previous night, I was annoying her. I was too tired to sit up and give her company, but was not tired enough to just crash and sleep: Perfect recipe to annoy someone. And out of nowhere, she challenged me to write a short story. A short story with one living being and one non-living thing as the main subject. I managed to convince her that I was too sleepy to write anything and that I would positively write one the next morning. She relented (of course, she knows all my schemes). I knew I would forget all about this. I secretly hoped she would as well.

She didn’t. Today morning she reminded me of my promise to write a story. And I had to. I wrote a three page (to-be-continued) story. I am very happy for what I wrote. It did not have the subjects the way she wanted. But it is a inter-planetary satirical comedy. This is a complete surprise to me. I have never thought about what I wrote down today. It wasn’t a dream. I wrote extempore. I never knew I could do something extempore – 14 years of school and 4 years of college taught me otherwise. Three years of IIT tried to fix it a little, but most of work life after that re-asserted what my school and college taught me. So doing something spontaneously is almost unimaginable.

It was a surprise I would write on a topic related to space. “Gravity” movie shook me up so much that I decided I won’t even volunteer to go to the ISS. Oh yeah, I always wished I would at least go to the ISS. But recently I found out that I won’t even go on a roller coaster, forget going on a space craft. Gravity just proved I can’t go to ISS. If the movie can freak me out, I’d probably do the entire ride closing my eyes and chanting out some Anjaneya slokams.

It was a surprise I could write something funny. I am not particularly known for my jokes. I can pull off some good come-backs from the myriad drama and cinema dialogues that I have mugged up over time. But that’s about it. And these get quickly stale and start irritating people. Most people know me as a serious guy. But I don’t like serious stuff. I love comedy: illogical and absurd. Some of my choices are so downright absurd that Noni wonders if I am borderline insane. But I love that stuff. I think they are superbly creative coming from perfectly normal but intuitive and creative people. Like the Monty Pythons, Douglas Adams or our very own Crazy Mohan. Ok, Crazy Mohan has a formula, but absurdity is the crux of it.

And I wrote satire. Satire? Yes. I am fairly sharp tongued and rude when it comes to giving my opinion. I have learnt a little to play them down over time, but it does come out here and there. And I am heavily opinionated. And you are always wrong. Noni is an exception. Kuti also is, sometimes. Most others are always wrong. Some of my previous bosses were exceptions as well. Mostly because, they one upped me very early on. I respect how much more learned they were and how much more kind they were to recognize me and give me a chance!. So thinking about it, Satire is perhaps not very surprising.

I sat down to reason out where all this comes from. Like I said, I love comedy. So, that I wrote something that I find funny is not a surprise at all. And the lines are a cheap imitation of Douglas Adams. They roughly have that tone (although the choice of words are much poorer. _Well, I never gave GRE and I don’t even know 6000 words in English! Google tells me its 1500; I didn’t even know that). _So comedy ain’t a surprise either.

The only work of fiction that I fully enjoyed reading is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It still leaves me wondering how much of a pure genius Douglas Adams had, to come up with that stuff. Either that or he really traveled across the galaxy. And the only favorite TV series, as a kid, was star trek. I did catch a little bit of the Star Wars franchise – Shame on me! I know. And like I said, I did nurture some dreams of space travel as a kid. Until school taught me how absurd and unproductive that idea was. Everyone studied computers, that is where the money is. What will I do in space anyway? It is already filled up with vacuum, you can’t add more. So, space travel fantasy isn’t all that a surprise.

One thing that remains a surprise is how my mind pulled all this together to write something: incoherent, absurd and funny.

Oh! And I loved it. 15 minutes and 3 pages later, I learnt something else. I figured out that I am way too impatient. I want to write at the speed I am thinking. Which, we all agree, is quite absurd. All through college, my handwriting was my biggest enemy. And I always ran out of time in most theory exams. Even in school, my handwriting was very bad. But at that time, someone told me that bad handwriting was a blessing. Look at all those doctors and their shiny cars. Bad handwriting will do you a lot of good. So I decided to take their advice. Well, I have a shiny car alright.

So I am too impatient. When I made typos and stupid indentation mistakes in my code, I assumed that I was being a bad programmer. People write their code once and it just works. They must be masters. I admired that of all my bosses. They all were masters. But now, thinking about it again, they were “patient” masters. They mastered patience more than technology. So when they had to solve a problem, they could look at it, understand it, assimilate it before commenting on it. They could take the time to visualize the solution, understand the full implications of the solution before they wrote down one. And so when they wrote the solution, it usually worked.

I am too impatient. I need to write the solution even as I see the problem about to occur. I can’t wait to understand it fully. My brain is already calling me slow for not reacting to the symptom. So I start out with silly code, buggy solutions that evolve as I impatiently gather more relevant inputs to solve the problem correctly. As a result, my first solution, almost always, is incorrect. Eventually, I get the correct solution. Luckily, my impatience meant I didn’t lose too much time to piss-off people. Also, computers don’t kill people and most of my work was not with nuclear war heads. So impatience is not a huge problem. Of course, I am ethical enough to never accept a job from ISRO, DRDO or the healthcare industry. Banking maybe, but then I am sure they’d find out from the interview that I’d do more damage because of this virtue.

So, I am very impatient. I have to write the second word even before I finish the first. So, half the times, the words are not legible. And most of the times simple verbal forms of “be” and some conjunctions are always missing in my text. And that damn notebook never underlines with “green” or “red”. How am I supposed to find out?

To summarize, I learnt a lot about myself in just a 15 minute story writing session. I know I want to do this some more. At least until I develop some patience. Patience to write every word fully.

Yes, I’ll put up the story online. Not on this blog, but someplace else. Maybe on tumblr. And I’ll share a link all over the world (facebook).

Thanks! You read this far?? You must be a Zen Master!