Uncertainty, writer’s block and reconnecting with the arts

Cover art for Kafka's 'The Metamorphosis'. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Cover art for Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’. Source: Wikimedia Commons

I sure have been absent from any efforts in writing in the last two months. I had promised updates on the lovely (and terrifying) things I found in India and I failed. The majority of my non-academic writing takes place outside of this blog, and that too has been on hold for so long. My last significant and serious attempt to write was the Science Borealis post, “So what, exactly, does an engineer do?“, and I remember, even while trying to write it, I felt less than fluid.

It’s not exactly writer’s block. I am still able to produce writing for everyday academic, professional and personal purposes (though with much more concerted effort), but it is as if there is something stuck within my emotional infrastructure that I have been trying to purge myself of, again and again, and no matter how many times I have attempted to write things out, it simply seemed to be the wrong medium.

I have even tried to find resonance in writings about emotions and mental well-being, most notably, Sarah Boon’s latest, titled “Choices“, but my beast seems to defy a lot of definitions and scope present in the majority of discourses in mental health issues in academia and beyond. Sure, I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, or what is popularly known as winter depression, but I manage it fine with exercise, socializing, and honestly, with the exception of a few bad days here and there, SAD has mostly left me unscathed over the years. The ongoing, ineffable and inarticulable mental nausea I was facing was nearly existential and spiritual, and was a result of much more than 20-something quarter life crises or the quotidian uncertainty of academia.

While I was in India, it took some time to readjust my mental landscape to the endemic and vastly diverse value and social systems. While that was to be expected and quite alright, the process was easily muddled by the series of gang rapes that occurred throughout India during my time there. I felt, somehow, fundamentally threatened, and yet I ignored feelings of isolation and hostility that were systemic, and instead, for a change, I felt privilege and security because of my parents’ privilege relative to the average person residing in India. There was also the effect of language – the emotions and thoughts I could not articulate in English over the years while staying in Canada rose to the surface with ease and volatility in the local vernaculars that I encountered.

Needless to say, by the time I returned to Canada, I was quite emotionally and intellectually…dishevelled, if not outright troubled. It’s an ongoing process, but I am still in the middle of recalibrating my comprehensive views on work, academia, research and more fundamentally, morality, gender and sexuality. Between the #ripplesofdoubt saga and the aforementioned epidemic of violence against women in India, I couldn’t help but feel there was a failure in contemporary mainstream and even Twitter discussions about these issues, that completely glossed over more of the intangible, inarticulable and grey haze of emotional ruins that such situations can trigger, that cannot be exposed in most formal modes of writing – that I am not even sure I want connected to my identity as a student or aspiring science writer/academic. I have since then been on the road to ‘repairing’ or reconfiguring my relationship with the arts in a way that transcends mere enrichment or enjoyment, but as a true supplement to my emotional and intellectual needs and as a loving, supportive buffer zone when I am in my lowest of spirits.

Last night, I went to see an Icelandic production of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. While some tend to think the work is quite overrated, I cannot help but return to it to explain moods and liminal states of mind that otherwise indescribable, when I wish, quite literally that I was someone else, or that I’d wake up tomorrow and all of a sudden things will be different somehow (even if for much, much worse).  As mature reasonable and science-oriented people, we may very well know intellectually that our emotions and moods are ‘irrational’ or due to a whole host of reasons related to circumstance, but how does that make us feel any better? It is for these spaces, when we simply need to refocus our energies internally and simply remain with these disconcerting feelings that I think a good connection with the arts is vital.

I want to know from my fellow science writers, grad students, and other people who seem to be in perpetually liminal stages what brings you comfort and contentment in times of crisis. My plans for the next little while involve binging on (within reason) Italo Calvino as well as re-watching Twin Peaks, but more uplifting suggestions would be helpful too.