Video work

As a part of my work at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I learnt to made video essays. I started using the camera to replace my eyes, and on the days when my depression overtook me as a person, the camera became how I saw the world. In my video work, I aim to make more and more narratives about my place in the world and eventually expand to poetry production.

Tiny Monthly Checkins

A very integral part of Povera and my work as a poet / educator / organizer was regularly checking in with friends, family, mentees. What helped me unlock most intimate connections was being the first one to open up – be vulnerable. When I moved to Chicago in mid-2018, I feared losing those connections. As a result, I mail out a letter on the 12th of every month to anyone who wants one. It serves as a diary, a letter, a call for action, a safe space to be.

 

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Good News Daily!

What ?

  • A set of cards/card sized paper prints with a fact that makes you smile when you read it. 
  • One side of the card has the “did you hear?” illustration in riso, or Good News Daily in old school print (has to be interesting enough for people to pick it up) 
  • The other side will have a typed out ‘news’ thing with a tiny note on the bottom saying these notes can be reused to give to someone who is having a bad day, or folded n put in a jar of feel good things, or a scrapbook. (I wonder if i can make that too )

Things happening around that have just made people smile. And think for a while when presented as “news.”

Being glued to the television, reading the paper or surfing the Internet increases ratings and market shares – but it also raises the probability of depression relapse.

Why?

  • Because these things matter
  • It’s important to put a lens to things that are very basic very day to day but are what make the day function the way it does
  • To demonstrate personal is political 
  • Erasure and detournement 

These are simple, no-frills strategies, like being present and showing up for what you can, like your work and your friends and your trivia night and your cat. Limit your phone time and consumption of Internet content, whether that’s social media, the 24-hour news cycle, or both. Our smartphones now feel like baby monitors that we should constantly be checking, but they can quickly turn into triggers for feelings of fear, isolation, sadness, despair, helplessness, anger, and frustration. Made time to see people in person, even if that’s just choosing to video chat versus texting — it made a huge difference. Got involved with the community (in my case Jones hall, SAIC)

Personal is political.  

Political is personal. 

Happiness as an act of resistance.   

How?

  • IRL : cards – riso and laser print
  • Online : Pinterest and Newsletter 
  • Gather ‘news’ through a google form and one on one asking 
  • A box titled ‘things that make you smile’ in Jones : calendar paper on top 
  • Erasure in newspapers collected in the last week to make ‘facts’

What do we have till now?

Fill out your news here : https://forms.gle/PVGrDH3y9ZR6he1U7

Exhale …

It has been two years since my journey with Spoken word Poetry began. More than 7 years since my recognition of my declining mental health did. Speaking about it, did not begin in the first 5 years. Neither did acknowledging it exists, so any prospects of help or medication was certainly out of question. I belong to a family of well-read, really aware human beings who somehow have failed to understand mental health as ‘being a thing’. I did eventually get help.

I have struggled with telling my story. So I have often resorted to telling it in bits and pieces to suit the person or the occasion I am catering to. Today is when I put it together for once. Offer it without filters. 

But this is not a sad story. It is not even a story that will make you cry. It is more of an exhalation. Me, finally speaking it all, out loud. Or rather, writing it down.  This is a documentation of these years that it took for me to finally be able to talk about it. And while I am doing this, I am aware of just how many people have had absolutely no idea of anything that has been going on, Including my parents.

Trigger warnings : PTSD, suicide, self-harm, repression and depression. 

My first episode with depression was when I was 16. I was unable to function or study. Being in class 10 came with all the pressures of being an over-achiever. Coming from a family of unrest, where all of were so scattered that we knew nothing about each other, I coped by learning to eat a lot. Chocolate was my go to. I remember gaining weight, being called fat, being body shamed, teased by everyone who’d never seen with an ounce of fat on my body. And guess what, I didn’t care. Eating the chocolate came easier. Another trick I had discovered was self-harm. If I hurt myself enough, anything else was just an addition to that. I could deal with the emotional stuff if I could manifest it on my body.

I was a 16-year-old over-achiever with a family almost divorced and an eating disorder. But I did top the school.  

The second time it hit me was the very next year. I was almost done with school. Ready to begin out in the real world when I was assaulted in Ahmedabad. There were two men who stopped just short of rape because my phone wouldn’t stop ringing and my best friend wouldn’t stop calling. I never told anybody about this. I did try to talk to a therapist in my family, a family friend actually who told me to ‘stop making it a big deal, it wasn’t even a rape, technically.’

I was a 17 year old at NIFT with a history of trauma, depression and self-harm. I was also still an over-achiever. 

Of course I could not catch up to the fast pace of a design college. By the time I got to my second year in college, I was an emotional wreck. I had amazing friends and yet had managed to get to a point where I had absolutely no idea I was so depressed that I had stopped eating. One meltdown day, I finally told my mother I couldnt stay in the college anymore that I was ready to die rather than stay there a moment longer. When she came to meet me, I was 30 kg in weight, I couldnt eat without throwing up and I could hardly breathe anymore.

2012 had me being diagnosed with 3rd-grade lung infection, which is a variation of tuberculosis, only a grade higher. I was allergic to my meds and that led to a drug-induced jaundice.

I was 20, depressed, had to drop out of college for a year, was on a bucketload of medication and weighed 30 kg. I couldn’t even breathe on my own. 

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The next two years were spent in recovery. The other two in college after I was better. But by the time I graduated, I was a different person. I was ready to come back to the city of Ahmedabad. The place where all my trauma began. I was also aware of the fact that I did not want to be a fashion designer. At all. Which is when I began this blog. Which is when I began writing again. I also realized I now have scars on my lungs which will last for my lifetime, as a side effect to my medication. Pulmonary fibrosis they call it.

The last three years I lived in Ahmedabad. I, am now a pro at the art of rebuilding a life. I was aware that all my plans had failed and now, I didn’t want to make one. Failing hurt too much. I was a woman untethered, ready to begin again, to give myself over to anything that caught my eye and to jump blind into this thing called life. Which is what led me to the best things that have happened to me. Everything from poetry to friends who are now family, happened because I walk through life as a blank slate, everyday. I wipe off the past everday and begin new every single day.

But the depression has no schedule. It hit me more times than I can count in these years. In fact I can chalk it all up to one big episode of being in a daze while trying my best to use a windshield in the fog.

I met a man who taught me the importance of letting people be. Listening quietly. And with all my knowledge and so-called wisdom, it took him telling me that it was not my fault, that I needed a therapist that I still suffered from severe PTSD, that I could finally gather the courage to find one. After 5 failed appointments and many downright bizarre experiences, I found one I could actually talk to. I finally stopped the self-harm, the cutting.

And while that has helped, immensely, sometimes the medication is a pain. But very necessary. I have learnt to accept my life with therapy and medication as integral parts of it. I have learnt to wake up on days feeling like a total failure and wanting to die. I have learnt that there are days when all i want to do is stop existing. I have learnt that I will want to scream, shout but I have repressed my trauma in a way that doesn’t allow me the liberty of space.

Every day I learn the extent to which I have repressed my fears. Every day I learn just how much exists in me that I didn’t know I had. Everday I change, my suffering changes. Every day, I go to sleep wishing I don’t wake up. I learnt I have multiple mental health issues. And while I thought all this time it was high functioning depression, it was last month that it became clear I am highly driven by my PTSD which goes beyond the assault, beyond the sickness, beyond the depression. It goes all the way to my childhood. But I am learning to ask for help.

And while I sit here writing all this down, hoping to make some sort of sense into this thing that I call life, I see no chronology anymore. None of what has happened has ever affected me directly. And everything I am is a jenga tower carefully stacked upon invisible bricks that might give up on me someday.

I am learning to breathe, everyday. 

What helped? 

Poetry helped. Everything from classical to spoken word to the amazing amazing utterly gorgeous people who are a part of the poetry community helped. Poetry was the first place I belonged. They let me breathe and I, in turn, tried to do the same to anyone in need. Poetry communities have been so supportive, so accepting, so attentive to all of this. There is a place for anyone who needs. I found a quiet nook to fit in.

And while I could list down a lot of things that did help, it was mainly friends and family I made through my art that helped. There exist in this world people who are constantly trying to be better, kinder, braver. They exist, and I am lucky enough to have found some of them. A lot of them. So while this post might be a confession to many, it is thank you note to a lot. Even if you are reading this, this is a thank you note to you.

PS: I had hoped for this post to be a chronological explanation of who I am as a person, but clearly, I am struggling with that. And I think almost all of us do, at one point or other in our lives. And though I am not okay, I am learning to ask for help. 

Artists who helped: Andrea Gibson, Neil Gaiman, JK Rowling, Dan Fogelman, Richard Linklater, Gilmore Girls, Lorde, Porcupine Tree, Audioslave, Sarah Kay, Anis Mojgani are few people (very very few artists) who help. Always.

This is me. Struggling, every day. Somedays on medication, somedays on self-loathing, some on pure adrenaline and some out of sheer will to not live. But I manage to take one breath after the next. This is the space where I live, in the attempt to take one breathe after the next. On my good days, I will try and be there for all people I can, on my bad days, I barely manage to get out of bed. But this is where I live, you know my address now.

I have begun using my poetry to talk, to create safe spaces, to talk more about mental health because I often struggled with it myself. And my struggle isn’t a solitary one.

So here it is. The coming out story. They say it begins by telling a loved one your story. Here it is.

(if you need to talk, need a friend, I promise to help)

 

 

 

 

 

Chaos

It has been a while since I got my bearings back. I mean yes, I have been posting and yes I have been very active on my social media but we all know the facade that social media can be. With almost every aspect of my life in shambles, I stopped talking, writing and immersed myself in binge-watching and binge-reading. Afterall, isn’t peeping into someone else’s life always better than examining your own?

But as JKR fondly says, rock bottom became the solid foundation upon which I built my life, I have began a similar attempt. Yesterday night, I tore out every single picture I hung upon my walls, all my resumes and portfolios and CVs and everything that in an explicable way was the world’s way to define me, or my own attempts to be less of an enigma and make myself more of an open book for the world to see.

That is where this came from. This collage is a collation of everything I tore down and the words that go with it, every emotion I felt while tearing everything down. This was also an exercise in #erasurepoetry, the words and the ideas came from all the words that are hidden somewhere in this collage and I guess, here, I start another attempt to try and make sense of the complete disorder that my life currently is. Maybe arranging the pieces of this upheaval, maybe the same broken pieces can turn into a roadmap to something that makes sense.

Collage artwork

Its strange how the image I’ve built of myself has been getting pixelated lately,
cracking right at the curves I was so proud to begin with
pixels turning into scraps into cracks
with glue no longer holding them in.

There are a lot of places you can find me
What you see is only the shell I choose to show
Colors I wish to be.
Most days you can see me gazing out the balcony
Watching days turn into nights
Till the light blues of the sky turn to pinks
Evenings into beautiful star-struck landscapes.

Or burning strands of my hair
Past
to fire to ashes; raven enough to take flight into stories I wish I were part of
Lives I wished I had lived enough to turn white.

I have a penchant for getting lost in between pages,
Losing parts of me I barely even recognised in the first place
Jigsaw puzzles barely resolved;
I think I have been a puzzle to myself all my life
Trying to either give away parts of me
Or walk into the night with a flickering flame
trying to find where I left them in the first place,
Watching the flame flicker into shapes it can’t hold itself into
Stretching and flickering hiding,
Trying to be everything it can in the short span it lives.

I have seen myself burn in these flames
I have seen faces and places
And just about everything a flame could be
Love
Lust
Violence
Anger
Greed
Desire
To be
More than what I would ever be
Flickering
Dying a slow death
Of decay.

Is all I am a list of my personal skills
Ones you can grade me upon
How will you count the black holes on my soul
Or indulgence and self loathing?

Somehow I always want to capture every sunset I am fortunate enough to see
The blue turn into oranges on the horizons turn to black,
Blending seamlessly into one another
Pouring gold into cracks till they no longer exist
though enough for me to see; Night vision
Till every light shines brighter and every spark shines brighter than to just make a little noise in the skies
But enough for anyone paying attention to see.

I try to mix paints to paint the perfect sky
Only mine isnt ever as seamless as it should be,
The darks are always darker and the brights always hint off their real color
Like reality seems reluctant to get inside the sheet of paper I pour it out on,
Proud off its originality
Too proud for me to imitate
Or attempt.

Do all these poems mean anything?
The search for empathy and acceptance
To change to world
With black and white
Or trying to paint the night sky?

Am I more than what you see
And what you don’t ?
I build houses on shaky foundations
That aren’t even mine to build upon

An odyssey without a destination
And I have just begun.

– Chaos

 

Spoken word poetry : The journey so far!

It hasn’t been long, my dalliance with spoken word poetry. While I always have been writing, I never really found a direction I wanted my writing to be taken in. It was always trying my hand at this and that and seeing what works the best.

And on a very similar conquest, I came across spoken word poetry. It was by a fluke that I realized, this is something I can do! and one thing led to another and here I stand. Finally knowing where I belong! It has been a short but one hell of a journey.

Started with Sarah Kay, about a year ago. I read the quotes below and just had to see the woman who wrote them. And then came Mrs. Ribeiro! And that’s it, I was in love.

Poets who really do it for me are so few and far between, and if this is what Sarah Kay has to offer in her 20’s I cannot begin to imagine what her life long career and future works will be like. Simple unadulterated play on words and metaphors. One of Sarah Kay’s key skills is to make everything relatable. Common experiences which we sometimes fail to take notice of just because we are clouded by the white noise around us.

So, it has just been six months and look how far I have come! I got to attend a one on one workshop with Sarah Kay, when she came to India for the first ever National Youth Poetry Slam. And boy, oh boy, was I, in true Darshita fashion, nuts!

I walk inside the workshop and almost slip, because there she was, right in front of me. Not ten feet away. #fangirling

I had been excited for a week, ever since I heard about the workshop, you see I had the added advantage of attending a 3-day workshop with the two most beautiful people and enormously talented guys i have come across : Ikenna Onyegbula and Kyle Luow. Their workshop, changed my life and it made me the person I am today. I write my poems the way I do, because of all that these two taught me. So if I got one with Sarah Kay, I wanted to see what that would be like!

Sarah Kay’s workshop, it goes to show why she is who she is. The hype, is not hyped up at all, and she, the most beautiful, vibrant buoyant person I have seen. Her words, they travel, they hit me right out of the screen and she is such a dynamo in real life, she is full of energy. Even when she’s listening, you can see her brain working, thinking, feeling the words, all the time. And she has the Dumbledore gaze. The one which stares right into your soul kind.

Seeing her in action has been a privilege. Seeing her act a word, gives the world a whole new level of resonance. She makes the words travel, they hit, right where they have to. Turns a word into an experience, a full blown performance and she tried her best to teach it all to us. Us, young poets who were busy fangirling over her,  not able to believe she was in front of us! And believe it or not, once you get over the fangirling part and start doing what she’s telling you to, it all comes together so beautifully.

She embodies poetry and words in a way that really personifies all my beliefs about poetry. you don’t need for your spoken word poetry to be indignant. It just has to be you. It doesn’t need to say anything yet, it says a story which will stay with people for a long time. All the three poets I’ve had the privilege to work with, all of them made this pretty clear. It is not about the point you’re trying to make, it is about honesty. And vulnerability. And if you have the courage to put a little bit of yourself out there, for people to see, once you bare your soul, you receive a millionfold in return.

After the workshops, I can see, feel the shift in the way I write! And if there is one thing I hope to keep forever from these people, it’s the art of appreciation. How every life, every story, every word, matters.

 

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The poetry workshop with Ikenna Onyegbula and Kyle Luow

 

It just goes to say that I’ve had the distinct privilege to have seen and met the most brilliant spoken words poets out there.  I got lucky. Flukes have always worked for me.

All in all, I guess in a way this is the first time ever, I have been satisfied with something I wrote and can actually say Just how much, meeting these brilliant poets did for me. I finished writing this just the day before, and let’s just say, All that Kyle, Ikenna and Sarah Kay taught me, didn’t go in vain 😉

Do let me know in comments how you like the poem!

(This is the first time I am liking my own poem)

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Sarah Kay on How we measure creative : https://www.bloglovin.com/blogs/brain-pickings-3114621/poet-sarah-kay-on-how-we-measure-creative-4782836175

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