The Essential Condiment of Failure- PART II

Previously on The Essential Condiment of  Failure, young Anusha desperately wants to learn how to ride a bike. But alas, there is always a price to pay before attaining success: failure. 

I toppled off the bicycle, scraping my knees against the concrete. An unmistakable surge of pain took hold of both my legs and arms, which I had stretched out in front of me to prevent the worst. My cousins, who were stunned into inaction by the travesty that had just unfolded before them, rushed to my aid.

After several frantic, “Are-you-okays?” and unprofessional medical exams , I slowly rose to my feet, brushed myself off, and went inside for cookies and milk.

At this point you may be thinking-Seriously? Cookies and milk? That was your heroic comeback after a harrowing defeat?

And to this snarky and judgmental remark,  I would say of course it was. As the young and easily bruised (literally) child that I was, I needed some time to recover from my mild and superficial injuries.

Nonetheless, several chocolate chip cookies, two band aids, two knee pads, and a helmet later, I returned to the daunting two-wheeled monster with renewed confidence. Although my cousins exchanged  uncertain glances as I saddled on the small seat, this time I was sure; yes, this time I would surely master the art of riding a bike!

Unable to contain myself, I took several confident steps forward, carefully guiding the bicycle across the sidewalk. And for a couple of seconds, I actually attained balance. I felt the sidewalk move steadily past my feet, the cool air rush in my ears, all before experiencing the all-too-familiar sensations of imbalance, disorientation, and fear of the imminent fallAs I felt the old and cruel pull of gravity pull the side of my bike, I quickly leapt from it to avoid the fall.

Having been abandoned of its master, the poor red beast careened across the sidewalk until it slammed against the pavement with resounding finality. Displeased by my second failure, I gave an exasperated sigh. But because I had not sustained any injuries, there was nothing that stopped me from trying again (Envision young Anusha falling off her bike). And again (Young Anusha frantically chases her bike down a hill).  And again (Crash).

Needless to say, I failed an innumerable number of times in my efforts to ride a bike. Everyday after school, I would confront the red bike, glowing in all of its fury and bright consternation.

You think you can ride me? What makes you think I’d take you anywhere? the slender, metallic beast seemed to spit venomously at the sight of me.

Determined to prove the derisive voice wrong, I continually endured the pain and humiliation of habitual defeat. Until at last, I found myself steadily balancing on the bike for an extended period of time. I tentatively peddled to find that I pushed myself forward with ease, feeling the cool air rush past my ears.

Exhilarated by the fact that I had not yet been acquainted with the concrete as I had been so many times before, I peddled with increased vigor and incredible excitement. I was riding a bike! Not a tricycle! A BI-cycle! That meant it had two wheels! This was for adults!

I was so overcome from my victory that I rode around my neighborhood several times, practically in a perpetual state of bliss and disbelief, until I finally came to a stop. My legs aching from the strain, I leaned against the side of a brick building, exhausted but incredibly happy.

After weeks of unending failure, I had finally been rewarded with shining success. If we would go back to the idea that “failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor,” mastering the art of riding a bike would be like an ice cream sundae, and failure would be the thick, chocolate syrup drizzled on top. It would be the rainbow sprinkles that gave it its crunch and appeal. It would be the maraschino cherry, dyed and sweetened beyond recognition. At this point, if I haven’t instilled you with either a great appreciation of the importance of failure or a desperate need for ice cream, then I don’t think I’ve done my job.

The Essential Condiment of Failure – PART I

Truman Capote once said, “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.” As an exceptional writer who faced constant adversity throughout his life, I’m sure Capote knew what he was talking about. At any rate, this section of my discussion is dedicated to pondering the meaning of his wise words. “The condiment that gives success its flavor,” eh? So, if some part of my life were characterized as crispy, golden brown french fries, salt, ketchup, chili sauce, mustard, feta cheese, pickles, or whatever else people choose to douse their french fries in, would be failure.

It is as if without the additional zest that these condiments deliver, that life would be bland, dry, and essentially meaningless. While we might like whatever substance we put into our mouths, our taste buds would not cry in sheer delight from the experience. We would not relish the exquisite flavor the condiments would release upon consumption. It would just be another meal. A dry piece of white bread. Oatmeal without honey, nuts, cut fruit, or sugar. In essence, while we all agree that the taste of success is delicious and saccharine sweet, the experience would certainly be dulled by the lack of failure or spice.

Anyway, I like to think about the meaning of Capote’s words in my own times of failure, because for better or worse, I tend to experience it more than I would like. And it’s not as if I’m entirely dysfunctional, clumsy, or incapable; I’d say if you took one hundred different circumstances in my life and examined the outcome of each (how embarrassing would that be) that there would be a roughly equal number of successes and failures.

Personally, I’ve always felt as if nothing has ever come immediately for or to me; I’ve always had to invest a substantial amount of time and effort into something in order to achieve any sort of skill, accomplishment, or reward. Consequently, the road to my success is often tempered with multiple failures.

Take for instance, learning how to ride a bike. Everyone who has had the privilege of riding a bicycle has endured the grueling first attempt. When I was in the first-grade, I was more than happy to zoom across the sidewalks on my tricycle. With my hot pink wheels, woven basket, and bright purple helmet, I felt as hardcore as any member in a legitimate motorcycle gang would. Yes, I could’ve carried on in my merry ways forever, until I noticed that several of my classmates had upgraded their tricycles to (gasp) two-wheelers.

Where I once sauntered to school with my tricycle, showing it off as a wondrous, pink display,  I now actively avoided using it, aware of the fact that it had suddenly become socially unacceptable. No one would directly point out, but you’d learn of their quiet derision through the snickering in the hallways.

Yes, it was certain, I would have to learn how to ride a bike- and not just a tricycle.  I would have to master the art of riding a two-wheeler, independent of third party assistance.

In my desperation to learn and to become “cool” once more, I sought the help of my two older and wiser cousins who only lived a few minutes away. Having two formidable two-wheeled vehicles of their own (and no, I’m not referring to motorcycles), they were masters of the careful balancing act that I’d seen so many others effortlessly perform.

After I informed them of my woeful predicament, they readily agreed to impart their knowledge to me, a young, wide-eyed disciple. They started by having me sit on the small, elevated, and uncomfortable seat of a bicycle without their assistance.

“You have to find your balance,” they told me resolutely.

I smiled and nodded confidently. Okay, how hard can this be? I don’t even have to ride it, I just need to balance.  That’s all.

I started with a few uncertain steps of my right foot to push the bike forward, but rather than a smooth lift, I found myself precariously tipping to the right. Determined to prolong the absurd ride, I jerked my body to the left to counteract the cruel force of gravity, only to begin wobbling uncontrollably. I was losing my balance; the earth had ceased to be a constant, horizontal companion at my feet, and started to shift threateningly towards me. But wait. The earth couldn’t move towards me, it was a relatively fixed element, which meant- WHAM.

What just happened to our young protagonist? Will she ever learn how to ride a bike? Learn all this and more in the next installment to The Essential  Condiment of Failure.

The Origins of Our Aspirations

What are the origins of our aspirations? Do we make our own decisions? Are we truly self-made? Or are our thoughts open territory for others to invade?. Are we impenetrable stones or pliable hunks of clay, ready to be smashed into shape each passing day? And in all of this, is there a price to pay?

I remember asking this one girl what was her favorite thing she did in school that day, when she furrowed her eyebrows and stared intensely at the ground for a few moments. I was just about to start offering a list of fun suggestions, when she interrupted my-

“We did a lot of really fun things today, but I think my favorite was duck, duck goose!”

“Yeah? I love that game,” I answered, amused by her thoughtful pause and candor.

“Yeah! Except I can never catch anyone!” she squealed, crossing her arms and pouting a little, evidently frustrated with the relative speed and agility of her companions.

“Aww, I’m sorry.But hey, don’t worry about it. You’ll catch them all one day.” I patted her on the shoulder reassuringly.

She nodded vigorously before going quiet for a little while. Seizing the opportunity to ask one of my favorite questions, I ventured, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

I always like asking children this question because it’s one that even a lot young adults struggle to answer. It also tells you a lot about their values, perceptions, and aspirations for future stability and happiness. As a child myself, I had gone from wanting to be a lamp  (the light of people’s lives), to an artist, to a scientist, to a hippopotamus, to finally a doctor. In those simple words is an inquiry along the lines of: When you’ve obtained the intellectual and emotional maturity to contribute to society in some way, how would you go about doing it?

My little companion answered instantly, “A cardiac surgeon.”

Wait what? This girl couldn’t have been more than seven-years-old, and she wanted to be a cardiac surgeon.  A cardiac surgeon. 

“Really?”

“Uh huh,” she answered absent-mindedly as she watched an ant scuttle across the top of her shoe.

“A cardiac surgeon?” I repeated stupidly, striving to make sense of her oddly specific response. I would’ve been impressed had this girl just said doctor. But no, this girl took it one step above and beyond. This girl didn’t just want to be any kind of doctor. She wanted to be a cardiac surgeon.

“Why?”

“Because  cardiac surgeons make a lot of money,” she answered coyly.

I inwardly groaned.

Oh god. Out of all of the answers she could’ve given me, this was definitely the worst.

“Anything else?” I inquired further, giving her the opportunity to redeem herself.

“Hmm, well I could also help a lot of people, since my parents say a lot of people have heart problems when they’re older.”

Ah ha! So it was the parents!

“What else have your parents told you about being doctor?”

She smiled broadly before saying, “That I’d get a fancy white coat, and a stethoscope, and that all of my patients would love me!”

“Well I mean, if you just want people to love and respect you, don’t you think that all students love their teachers? You don’t have to be a cardiac surgeon to get people to like you a lot.” I asked, gently challenging her ideas, seeking to broaden her perspective by just the slightest margin.

“Yeah, but being a doctor is different! You get to save people!” she insisted.

But couldn’t you argue that educators were equally essential? That they saved countless individuals from lives of hateful ignorance on a daily basis?

I wanted to question her further, asking her things like, “Couldn’t you also make  a lot of money as a lawyer or an architect?” or “Did all compensation have to be financial in nature?”

But, hey, this girl was only seven, so I decided to cut her some slack.

After that, we dropped the topic of careers and got into an intense game of I Spy, and all was well on that bright sunny day. But I found our previous conversation hard to shake.

It was incredible how much of an impact people could have on our own thoughts and actions. With just a few wishful words, her parents had managed to direct this little girl’s hopes, aspirations, and dreams into becoming a professional in the medical field, an indubitably noble  goal. But it still made me uncomfortable.

If we are constantly influenced by those around us, how can we ever distinguish our own dreams from those of our friends or family? In spite of their well-intentioned advice, wouldn’t a few words of encouragement suffice?

Bright Green Balloon

Out of all of the incredibly complex emotions that humans regularly experience, one of the strangest is missing someone. How is it that the absence of someone can weigh so heavily on our hearts and minds? How can loss manifest itself as a very real sense of longing and dissatisfaction?

Perhaps I find it so strange because we constantly link our feelings, reactions, and beliefs with the presence of different stimuli. For instance, if you’re happy, it could because you’re in the presence of someone who makes you content, or that you’ve received praise and acknowledgement for all of the hard work you’ve invested in a project, or that it’s a brilliant summer day and you’re just happy being able to enjoy it. But when you’re missing someone, you’re doing the opposite. It is the absence of something or someone that causes you such profound dissatisfaction.

When I was younger, I would miss things passionately and often, almost to a fault.  For instance, when I was around seven years old, I remember being given a bright green balloon for the promotion of some sales event in a grocery store. And of course,  I was absolutely delighted. Green was my favorite color. Balloons were just airy balls of joy. Yes, yes this green balloon was a marriage of everything beautiful in the world!

What could possible make this balloon even better? little Anusha had gotten to thinking. I looked at the pale tiles of the store for a moment. What if I were to share it with my friends? That’s it! Show-and-tell! Genius!

Upon leaving the building, however, I must’ve momentarily forgotten how balloons work, because I let my grip of the green ribbon slip. And WHOOSH!

The cruel, unforgiving balloon was snatched up by the wind and quickly made its ascent into the bright blue sky.

“NOOO!” I screamed at my bright green companion before bursting into tears. For an hour I was inconsolable, cursing my lapse of judgement and agonizing over the horrible loss.

And this was just over a balloon. Just imagine how hard goodbyes with real people must have been. For years I struggled to cope after parting ways with a loved one.

Hot tears would sting my eyes. A lump would well up in my throat. My heart would ache with a debilitating sense of loss. It was incredible.

It was as if, by leaving, that this person had taken a piece of me with them to wherever they were going.

And I guess they were.

But over the past several years, I’ve found that goodbyes aren’t as shattering as they once were. Yes they still hurt, but the intensity of the pain isn’t as strong as it once was. What was once a torrential downpour of sorrow  and yearning has now become a dismal drizzle, which quickly parts to reveal the sun.

As a freshman in college, I’ve heard a lot of complaints from my peers. From the pressure of work and academics,  to boyfriend/girlfriend drama, to the appalling conditions of the bathrooms on Saturdays and Sundays (believe me, you do not want to know what’s in that sink.), but one I’ve heard most frequently is that of homesickness.

Homesickness? What is it exactly? Much unlike seasickness which manifests itself as a host of physical symptoms such as of nausea, fatigue, and dizziness, after spending periods in a craft in water, is characterized by a distinct yearning for home and family after  prolonged  separation. Those who suffer from it often experience far off and mournful glances out the window, hearty sighs, and a lasting dissatisfaction with their current surroundings.

Now this may be a strange confession to make, but I have rarely ever felt homesick since my time in college. Of course there were times where I longed for the company of my old friends and family, but they never lasted for more than a few moments. Because regardless of where I was, there would always be something drawing me back to the present. All of my new friends. All of the work I had to do. All of the places I had to be before the day was done. So in essence, I never really had time to dwell on what I no longer had, but instead chose to concentrate my efforts on what I had been given.

But just because you’ve been enraptured by the present doesn’t mean you have to sever ties with the past. I realize that maintaining relationships with regular contact via phone, or texting, or email, or Skype is great both for our emotional and intellectual health. At the same time, I’m not going to brood over a loved one’s absence. I realize that I miss you and would rather have you with me rather than wherever else you are, but that’s not going to be an impediment to my happiness. I’m not going to drown myself in a sea of sadness, self-doubt, and agony because of your absence, and if you loved me you wouldn’t want that either.

Rather than see goodbye as a heart wrenching death sentence, I like to perceive them as brief pauses in time. As see-you-laters. And if our relationship means as much to you as it means to me, then I definitely will see you later. I’ll cherish the time we spent together without wallowing over the time that we could have been spending. I’ll think of you fondly and smile, but abject despair just isn’t my style.

The Happy Life of a Sedentary Stone

You know those expressions that have been used to the point of incomprehension? The ones that possess an intrinsically potent message, but are often obscured by unclear analogies or metaphors? Let’s take: A rolling stone gathers no moss. When I first heard this expression, I was at a loss at what it meant. I imagined a heavy, gray boulder thundering down a steep slope at full speed, trampling whatever vegetation it came across. Why people constantly obsessed over its destructive path was a mystery to me. Like the boulder, was I expected to quash whatever obstacles that came before me? Would I then be a rolling stone?

After years of wondering about the meaning behind the expression, it occurred to me that I could simply look it up. And so I have: The expression, “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” refers to the idea that a person who does not settle in one place will not accumulate wealth, status, responsibilities, or commitments.” In essence, the moss is representative of worries, promises, and stressors that plague individuals who have chosen to settle in one place. In contrast, those who are constantly on the move don’t allow external forces to burden them with various commitments or responsibilities, leaving them free to do as they please. Hence, the idea: a rolling stone gathers no moss.

However, upon considering the implications of this well-worn expression, I’ve realized that I’m not cut out for life as a rolling stone. Perpetually tumbling down a steep slope, the hefty boulder is sure to live a life full of freedom, excitement, and movement, one without a moment of dull pause. And yet, such a glorious lifestyle does not come without a cost. For in their constant efforts to propel themselves forward, these individuals can never appreciate what is before them because they’re always in search of something else.

Whether it be loyal friends, loving family, a beautiful sunset, or a garden at full bloom, all will be nothing more than a pleasant and dizzying blur for the perpetual traveler. After enjoying a brief respite for several days, the rolling stone’s mind will once again become restless.

Where to next? Where to next? the troubled rock anxiously thinks to itself. Alas, it is doomed to seek the evanescent happiness that comes from unfamiliar places.

This place is nice and all, but I gotta get going. It’s starting to get boring. Same faces. Same trees. Same scenery. Maybe I should move to New York. That’d be interesting. Or maybe California. Oh, Florida sounds nice!

And while the rolling stone is sure to have a great number of adventures in its harried path forward, it will always find itself in the same conundrum-agonizing boredom with the friendly familiar and a burning desire for the unknown. But the rolling stone doesn’t know that longstanding contentment does not arise from exploring the external, but appeasing the internal.

What do I mean by that? The source of our fatigue with the familiar is not the shortcomings in our environment, but a void in ourselves. A void that we strive to fill with glittering distraction of the new and intriguing. But once the sheen of the exciting unknown is replaced by the dull coating of the ordinary, we again fall into despair.  We are unaware that this void has been generated by unrealistic expectations and the misguided conception that there is always something better somewhere else.

In contrast, those of us who have chosen to forgo the bustling life of the rolling stone have chosen a place to settle. Sure, we’ve collected the heavy moss of commitments and responsibilities over the years, but look at our stability! While we also enjoy the new and unknown, we take heart in the fact that there is always a home waiting for us. That we are always tethered to a place that’s safe, welcoming, and familiar.

In essence, while the life of a rolling stone may seem glorious and enthralling to some, it’s certainly not for me. Regardless of where I roam, home is my distant anchor, always providing a sense of security and substantial support. Looking back at my discourse, it seems that I’ve embraced the happy life of a sedentary stone.

So You Don’t Have A Best Friend?

Then you’ve come to the right place. Or if you do have a best friend, then please consider staying a while longer to discuss the subject further.

Allow me first to place you in a hypothetical situation. You’ve just met someone awesome- they have a great sense of humor, shared interests, an infectious personality, and basically everything that urges you to befriend them, and you’re off to an ideal start. But as they’re sharing snippets of their past or some of their crazy anecdotes, they say something, and your heart suddenly snags on their words. It’s as if they’ve twisted a sharp dagger in your side, causing you to fall to your knees, writhing in pain and agony. What exactly are those words? Best friend.

Wait what? Allow me to explain. Within the context of the conversation, it usually sounds something like, “So, my best friend and I were at the park when…”but regardless of how the story ends, whether a bear ends up attacking the pair,  or if one of them slips on a banana, or even  ends up getting launched into outer space leaving the other responsible for a rescue operation, it doesn’t matter, because I’ve pretty much stopped listening.

I’m already hung up on the words “best friend”. They resound in my head like an infuriating chant. Best friend. Best friend. Best friend. Guess what, Anusha? You don’t have one! And look and this awesome individual! They’ve already found their soul mate! Their maid of honor/best man! Their trusty companion! Their pal! Their buddy! And what of you, you lone lonely loner! Where’s yours, huh? Oh yeah! They don’t exist, do they?

And try as I may to push the aggravating little voice aside as I continue the conversation, it’s always nagging me at the back of my mind. As an undergraduate student, I tend to encounter this situation a lot because of the sheer number of interesting/amazing people I meet on campus.

And allow me to explain my situation further. It’s not as if I have no friends whatsoever. That I eat lunch in a secluded little corner far away from other human beings. That I have a pet rock named Henry that I confide all of my deepest, darkest secrets to. (Pet rocks are too unresponsive for my taste.)  I actually have a great number of people that I love, trust, and converse with on a regular basis, and I absolutely could not do without them.

Then what’s the problem? one might astutely ask. If you have friends and family that love and support you, why does it bother you so much when people categorize each other as a “best friend”? Shouldn’t you feel secure in your own relationships?

And to those inquiries I would say, wow you are perceptive, someone deserves a gold star! But it’s not so much that I’m dissatisfied with my relationships, but more so that the title of “best friend” strikes me as incredibly exclusive.

When someone says “best friend”, it implies that this person is their number one, their nùmero uno, that no other friend could even compare to the level of intimacy, love, and respect that is between these two people. And for me that’s kind of a downer. It tells me that no matter how much time, effort, and commitment that I invest into this relationship, that I’ll only ever be second best. Only a supporting character, but never the lead role. An appetizer but never an entree.

And as the delicate little flower that I am, this bruises my ego. Why must people structure their friendships in a hierarchical order? Why must one person take precedence over all of the rest? Why can’t people refer to those closest to their hearts  as “best friends“? See what I did there?

Let me repeat that stroke of genius again, “best friends“. Rather than exclude all of those other people who love and care for you dearly, you could acknowledge them all by just adding an”s” to the end of that infuriating word! And just like that, you’ve opened up the possibility to promising acquaintances of entering that fantastic circle of individuals.

When you say “best friend” (note, singular) you’ve essentially built an insurmountable wall between yourself and everyone else who isn’t that special other person. You leave sensitive and vastly ambitious people like me feeling deflated and embittered by the prospect that the quality of friendship you offer will never be quite as good as someone else’s.

And to all of this, someone might say, “Well why does it matter what someone else thinks? I have my best friend, and that’s all there is to it.” And this is a perfectly respectable stance to take on the subject. All I’m saying that is that every relationship is slightly different. Of course, you may enjoy spending time with some people more than others, but by placing one person on a pedestal far above everyone else, you leave those below you feeling neglected and insignificant.

What I would prefer instead of a singular best friend is a close network of people for you to love and rely on. And in this way, not only are you avoiding placing incredible expectations on one person alone, but you’re also distributing the warmth and intimacy of your relationships with those you love. By looking past the “best friend” mentality, you’ve opened up infinitely more possibilities of enduring and flourishing friendships.

Pizza Panic- PART II

Previously on Anusha’s most embarrassing experience: A waiter at Pizza Hut has just asked our young protagonist to sing before everyone in the establishment because it is her birthday.

At this, he was met with hearty applause and cheers from his fellow coworkers. Hurrah! Hurrah! We shall make this shy little girl make a fool of herself in public! Hurrah! Hurrah!

And in all of this happy hullabaloo, I sat there shocked and motionless, as if all of my wits had suddenly abandoned me. Me sing? At Pizza Hut? In front of all of these strangers? On my birthday? NOW?

It was as if I had been given some incongruous puzzle that I was slowly piecing together. My first, instinctive response was denial.

“I don’t really want-” I was suddenly cut off by the eager voices of my family members.

“Sing, Anusha! Sing! Sing for us!” they chanted incessantly.

All at once, I wanted to run as far away as I could from that place, demanding that my pizza be on the go.

But I couldn’t. I had been conveniently squeezed between my uncle and cousin, leaving me helplessly glued to my seat.

Slowly realizing that there was no way out of it, I meekly asked the apparently sadistic waiter what song I should sing.

He grinned at my forced compliance and asked me to stand on the table that we had previously been eating on.

Still incredulous that this was actually happening, I gulped and felt my feet clamber onto the hard surface of the table.

I looked down to see my family members smiling at me from miles away. They seemed to be saying indistinct words of encouragement. I couldn’t be quite sure because the only sounds I was aware of were my rapid heart beat and the blood rushing up to my head.

I made the mistake of looking away from them and at the other people seated in the restaurant. There were several other families who had ceased their pleasant conversations to turn and look at me in anticipation. They were waiting. For me. To sing.

Having fulfilled his request to stand on his cruel platform, I repeated my question in a quiet, timid voice.

“What song should I sing?”

“‘Vande Mataram!'” someone shouted. The hymn to the Indian mother land? Oh no, I would just awkwardly stumble through the Sanskrit and Bengali, making a bigger idiot of myself.

“‘I Will Always Love you!” came another voice. Seriously? A Whitney Houston song? What were these people thinking?

At last there came, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star!” Well I mean, I knew all the words. The song would only last thirty seconds if I sped through it, mercifully ending my public humiliation. It seemed like the best option.

“I’ll do it,” I said audibly. I had had enough of this nightmare. It was time for me to face the music. Literally.

I began to sing loudly and clearly, staring fixedly at the ceiling so that I wouldn’t have to look at my audience.

Only now can I imagine how hilarious the entire situation must’ve been. A small ten year old girl standing on a table at Pizza Hut singing “Twinkle Twinkle,  Little Star” to the ceiling. If it hadn’t been me standing at the mercy of my family and Pizza Hut, I probably would’ve died of laughter.

When I had finally finished the painful ordeal, I heard scattered applause. I looked at my family once more to see jovial smiles and several thumbs up, but I was burning in shame and anguish.

Maybe I had just imagined it, but I thought I heard a child’s derisive laughter come somewhere from the audience. That was it. I had done terribly. All of this had been a cruel mockery of my subpar singing abilities.

My embarrassment clung to me like unpleasantly wet clothing that I wore all the way back to my grandmother’s house.

And while the agony I feel whenever I recall the event has dulled with time, I still cringe a little whenever I see Pizza Hut looming in the distance. I call it “Pizza Panic”.

Concealed Curls

I’m going to start off by stating a simple truth: We all want what we don’t have. From jobs, to homes, to people,  to clothing, to basically everything else, we’re always striving to achieve something that is just out of our reach. And when we finally get the object of  our concentrated efforts and aspirations, when our dreams have finally materialized, we simply move on to the next thing. Oh I got that internship, well let’s see if I can get this job. I finally got got this person’s number! Now why aren’t they calling me?! Oh my plant has just grown a leaf! When will it ever flower and bear fruit?! (While I am exaggerating a bit, I’m striving to make a point).

And while this chronic dissatisfaction with what we’ve achieved so far is beneficial in that it pushes us towards greater success, it’s also unfortunate in that we fail to appreciate what we already possess.

And even in spite of my worldly rant of the subject, I too am guilty of this. I too have obsessed over something to the point of tears. And what have I always desperately wanted, craved, desired, and aspired for, one might ask?

Straight hair.

Yes, you read that right. Sleek, shiny, smooth and manageable. Ever since I was little, I loathed my puffy curls, viewing them as an unsightly burden. All of the glamorous celebrities would have flawless smooth strands framing their gorgeous faces. Oh how I envied them. How I longed to possess their seemingly effortless beauty.

I’d stare in the mirror dejectedly, cursing every strand on my head to its roots. Why? Why can’t you just stay in place? Why must you always rise like freshly baked bread! Why must you always curl into a messy tangle of springs! Why can’t you just be perfect and straight!?

Each day this ritual of self-loathing went on and on, until I’d decided to forever hide my unsightly curls by braiding them into pigtails. And this wasn’t just once or twice a week. This was every day. 24/7 from preschool all the way into middle school.

My friends would sometimes ask, “Why don’t you ever leave your hair out?”

“Why don’t you ever do anything new with it?

I treated these inquiries with a mixture of fear and dread, immediately seeking to evade their hair-related inquiries. There was no way they could see the hideous monster that lay behind the neat braids. No. No. No. There was no way. I would have to distract them somehow.

“Yeah, I totally will guys…Oh hey did you do that math homework last night! Super hard, am I right?”

And so it went, on and on, my constant battle against my gnawing insecurity. Upon reaching high school, I realized that pigtails may appear too juvenile and so gently transitioned to a ponytail. And even this was met with tremendous encouragement from my friends.

“Wow, Anusha! I love your hair! It’s so bouncy and curly!” they cried at the site of my partially exposed hair.

“Aww thanks, guys!” I’d always gush. But even then an insidious little voice would always whisper, they’re only saying that because they’re your friends. It’s hideous. Keep it away.

And so throughout my four years of high school, I allowed my hair only a little more freedom in a ponytail, which I would sport tirelessly on a regular basis. Of course, it wasn’t long until I encountered the same problem that I faced in middle school.

“Anusha, why don’t you ever leave your hair out?”

I cringed. Oh the agony! Why does everyone want to see my horrible hair?! Why can’t they just let it be?! Why can’t a ponytail be enough for you demanding fools!? 

As always, I continued to retreat further into my insecurities, evading the question altogether, refusing to entertain their imploring requests.

Then before I knew it, my first year of college hit, and I was still rocking my ponytail. With all of the new friends and people I met on campus, my hair history wasn’t much of an issue. After all, most people didn’t even know about it. It just seemed like it was a strong personal preference rather than the harrowing insecurity that it was. So I wore a ponytail everyday, what was the big deal?

But it didn’t take long even for my new friends to notice. You didn’t have to be a genius to see that I was desperately hiding from my hair, choosing to always keeping it back and away from my face. And even with my insistence on the hairstyle, something always tugged at me at the back of my mind.

Yeah, Anusha. Why can’t you wear your hair out like everyone else? I’ve seen other curly-haired girls do it, and they look great!

And then I remember a conversation I had with one of my friends  while we were studying for our respective classes. Somehow she had strayed far from her analysis of the demand and supply curves of monopolistic competitions and I from my synthesis of 2-pentanol, and we instead found ourselves watching an extended string of Dove commercials on YouTube.

When we’d gotten to the one where Dove tricks several women into believing that their new product, the “Beauty Patch” significantly improves their outward appearance when in reality it did nothing but boost their self-confidence, we lost it. How could so many women be lead to believe in some magical beauty patch? Wasn’t it so obvious that it was nothing but a farce? A fallacy? A mere trick of the mind? How could Dove create a product that suddenly made everyone more beautiful? Wasn’t beauty subjective anyway?

Could it be that some women’s self-confidence was so lacking that they were desperate for a magical solution to all of their insecurities? That all women were all hiding from parts of themselves in someway?

My friend must have started thinking along the same lines as we both grew silent.

“Do you think some women are really that insecure about themselves?”

Myself being a shining example of insecurity, I answered almost immediately.

“Absolutely. Women have so many things they dislike about themselves. Their size. Their skin. Their facial features. Their hair…” I added as a guilty afterthought.

A pensive silence hung between us for a few moments before she said, “I’ve always been self-conscious about my hair.”

I looked up at her, incredulous. This girl’s hair was the type of stuff I’d lost sleep over. Blonde with streaks of brown, glossy, smooth, well-kept, and straight, it was everything I’d ever wanted.

I was so shocked that for a few moments I was completely at a loss for words.

“You’re crazy!” I gushed, continuing, “Your hair is perfect! What could you possibly dislike about it!?”

And the thing was, I wasn’t just saying all of this because it’s friend code to have each other’s back (even though it is). I was genuinely stunned by the fact that she didn’t see her hair as exactly what it was: flawless.

She laughed at my absurd facial expression before saying, “Yeah, I just wish it wasn’t so flat. I wish it had more volume and life. Kind of like yours…”

Woah. Woah. Woah. Woah. Okay, I thought this girl was a little confused before, but now I know that she was certified crazy.

“What!” I shrieked.

“You want more volume!? I’ve always hated my hair because of its volume! Because of its curls! Because of its inability to stay in one place! Because of its inability to just be perfect, and smooth, and flawless like yours!”

It was like something inside of my had snapped, and years worth of my insecurities had come bubbling to the surface.

“But I love curly hair,” she insisted resolutely.

“What? No way,” there was no way this could be the truth. No one could ever want what I had.

“No really,  your hair is so bouncy and interesting to look at.Why do you think a bunch of people curl their hair? Straight hair all kind of looks the same.”

“I guess we want what we don’t have,” I said before cracking up. We both laughed at the absurdity of it all. Why couldn’t we just be happy with what we had?

Since then, I’ve started leaving my hair out more often, allowing my curls to freely bounce with the wind. I remember looking in the mirror one morning and thinking, hey, I look kind of cute today.

And that’s something I had never, ever done in the past. Rather than curse my curls for their natural springiness and volume, I started appreciating them for what they were. Rather than tearing myself down, I started building myself up. I realized that what we despise could be the object of envy in another’s eyes.

The First Step into Oblivion

Upon entering the threshold of a university in the pursuit of a higher education, the prospective college student is seized by a storm of emotions- fear of the unknown, the sadness of parting with old friends and family, but mostly the excitement of beginning an adventure anew, of meeting new and interesting people, of challenging your own beliefs and views, of ultimately becoming the best version of yourself that you can possibly be.

But before you do all that, you have to start with the basics, right? I mean you can’t just eat a massive ice cream cake within a matter of seconds, at least not without getting a serious stomachache. You have to take it piece by piece. Spoonful by spoonful, right? The same goes for the college experience. You need to take it step by step.

So if you’ve decided to live on campus for the upcoming semester, then I’m pretty sure one of your biggest questions is roommates. What’ll they be like? Will we be best friends? Will we do fun college things together- like studying outside or going to football games or going to beery parties or playing Frisbee when the weather’s nice?

At the same turn, I’m sure you’ve been exposed to your fair share of roommate horror stories. Frenzied fights, messy move-outs, miserable miscommunication, drama with boyfriends or girlfriends, on and on and on. So what’s a clueless freshman to do?

Which end of the spectrum will you fall on? Best friends or mortal enemies? Will we be exchanging warm embraces of friendship and brotherly/sisterly love or  engaged in furious combat, with our teeth bared and fists flying?

Now what if I told you that the most realistic option is somewhere in between? That you very well could end up rooming with your next best friend or mortal enemy, but there’s an 80% chance that you’ll be in neutral territory?

If your roommate is a normal, respectable human being with reasonable needs and expectations (which they most likely are), then chances are good that you’ll strike some sort of balance. If you’re an early bird, she’ll turn out the lights when you’re asleep, and the next morning you’ll pay her back by being as quiet as you can as you get ready for the day ahead.

But if the uncertainty of random roommate selection absolutely drives you insane, you might be tempted to room with a friend. I know I was.

Maybe you could avoid the unpleasant surprises, the boyfriend/girlfriend who drops in and never seems to leave, the possibility of being sexiled, the passive aggressive sticky notes plastered around the room. Maybe rooming with someone you know is a safe and smart choice. Hey, it should be totally be in your comfort zone and you have a good idea of what you’re getting into. But would I recommend it myself? Not particularly.

But wait, Anusha. You’ve just listed all of these terrible things that might come to pass if I don’t room with a friend. How could you possibly be in favor of plunging into the unknown?To diving into the abyss?

To these intelligent inquiries, I say yes this is true. But is it not also true that every action merits some degree of risk? Even if you were to strive to avoid the possible repercussions of rooming with a stranger, you’d still have the risk of discovering some crazy quirk of your rooming buddy that drives you crazy! What if they wake up at an odd hour of the night to do their salt water gargling to maintain their oral hygiene? What if they scream vengefully at their computer screen when working on different assignments? What if they like leaving the AC on at full blast mid-December while keeping the window open and turning the fan on?

All of the craziness of rooming with someone aside, choosing to live with someone you don’t know pushes you out of your comfort zone. It gives you the opportunity  to discover how to communicate effectively with someone new, to understand what being a considerate roommate is, to learn how to compromise but not to subdue your own needs.

And even if you and your roommate don’t end up being the best of friends, what about your floormates? Those fine individuals who might not share a room with you but are just a few doors down the hall? Just think about how close you guys might become! From cookie-filled movie nights, to yoga classes, to random tea parties in the lounges, to countless trips to the diner, who knows? Your best friends might just be right outside the confines of your room!  All because you took that first step into oblivion.

The Bitter Taste of Defeat

Sometimes I think we take ourselves too seriously. Upon experiencing defeat, public ridicule, or embarrassment, we tend to turn a bright, rosy red, experience a biting sense of loss and self-directed loathing, and struggle to overcome the injuries our large egos have sustained. I know because I definitely was one of these individuals.

Upon experiencing any sort of failure or public embarrassment,  I would proceed to contemplate the incident for hours on end, agonizing over my monumental stupidity or the injustice of my circumstances. My temples would grow hot. Tears would burst forth from my eyes. I would scream at the heavens for deliverance that surely wouldn’t come from my petty problems. But at this point, I would like to say that I’ve grown from my previous juvenile rage and shame and cultivated a healthier mindset when it comes to failure.

Alas, I now feel as if I must give you some context for my sudden discussion of failure and coping. Well-allow me to start from the beginning.

I was born on August 23 in a little hospital in-just kidding. I wasn’t planning on going that far back. And now allow me to outline the real circumstances of the day my public humiliation occurred.

It was in my colloquiam class for a scholars program that my university offers. After  our professor finished his lesson, our teacher assistants promptly stepped forward.

“Now we can hold elections for different members of our executive board for this Scholars program. Those of you who want to run for positions have to come up and give a one minute speech.”

The other bearded TA finished, “And now, who wants to be president?”

Shocked at the sudden call for power, I remained firmly rooted to my seat. There was no way that I would try out for that. And after several, silly college students sauntered before the class and gave their self-important speeches, I voted for the candidate who I believed was best fit for the position. As for the actual voting process, the TAs would ask the potential candidates to briefly leave the room as the counted the votes of the students.

I groaned inwardly at the tedious process. “When would this ever be over?”  I despairingly glanced at my wristwatch, and cringed to see that it was 7:45 PM. I just want this to be over so that I may drink hot chocolate in peace!

Once the student body had selected its president, our TAs continued, “Well, congrats Joey Bob! Now we can vote for secretary.”

Now unlike the position of president, which entailed numerous responsibilities of governing meetings, seeking out new opportunities, etc, secretary seemed to be far more manageable.

When one student asked what responsibilities were involved he replied, “You take notes at our meetings.”

Taking notes? Was that all there was to it? And though I had never before run for a public office, I began seriously considering my options.

Well, Anusha. It would look great on your resume- secretary for the executive board. It wouldn’t take up too much time. And you take notes every day! Do it! Do it! Stand up and express your interest!

The powerfully optimistic voice urged me to get to my feet. To let myself be known. To seize a potential opportunity.  But not to be outdone, another bleaker, condescending voice called, “And what if you don’t win? You’ll look like an idiot! Sit down, you fool.”

Torn between the possibilities of possible victory and certain defeat, I slowly stood and made my way to the front of the class, where the two other candidates stood. As I passed the numerous unfamiliar faces of the voting body, Ii was immediately seized with a sense of disbelief.

Was I really doing this? I hadn’t even prepared! In fact, I had no intentions of running for this particular position until only a few minutes ago. Could I go back? No, that would be worse than never standing up at all.

My legs moved mechanically towards the front, seemingly unaware of the great emotional conflict that was bubbling inside of me. When I was finally there, our TAs signaled for us to start.

Too uncertain to take the lead, I allowed my competitors to start their speeches. Their speeches consisted of previous leadership positions they had held in high school, a passion for note taking, and promises that they were hardworking, meticulous, and efficient.

By the time it was my turn to speak, it was as if they had taken the words right out of my mouth.

Once the crowd had settled down once more, I meekly opened my mouth to repeat those same tired old words.

“My name is Anusha Kambala,” my voice sounded oddly frantic as if the panic was seeping into my words.

“Just like the others, I too have extensive experience in note-taking.” I paused for a few more seconds, thinking of what else to say. I looked at all of the ninety-other faces in my scholars program and felt my knees slightly wobble.

If I were secretary, I would not only make sure that we’d have the best notes, but I’d also seek to make sure that our program had cool programs like movie nights and field trips.”

At a loss of what else to say, I quickly finished, “Thank you for your time.”

Seeing that I had concluded my meager claim to power, my TAs stepped up once more before saying, “Alright, so now our candidates can briefly step outside while you guys vote.”

The results hadn’t even been announced and already I felt the burning surge of shame and defeat rise to my cheeks. It wasn’t long until we were standing just a few steps outside the building.

Standing in the light of the waning day for a few moments, I realized how much I liked being outside. The slight chill in the autumn air quickly woke me from the fatigue of classes.  The fading sunlight was filtering in through the golden leaves of the trees. It would have been even more beautiful if I wasn’t waiting for the results of a doomed election. I looked at my fellow candidates who had also taken a stab in the dark and exchanged a few blithe words to dispel the tension.

“Well that was interesting.”

A few of them chuckled and nodded their assent. And just like that,  one of our bearded TAs peered outside from the door and ushered us in.

Oh my gosh, the votes have been cast. I began to think frantically. Democracy has been executed! I even have a fighting chance of holding a position of power! Who knows! I might even win!

My hopes of success continued to soar as my TA made to announce the results of the election.

“And our new secretary for the International Studies Scholars Program is…” Anusha Kambala. Anusha Kambala. Anusha Kambala. I held my breath in an infuriating mixture of burning anxiety and hope.

“Dolorous Huxby” (note: I have changed the names for the sake of privacy or whatnot). Dolorous’s face brightened as she beamed at the class that had so unanimously wanted her to become the organization’s secretary.

The balloon of hope of potential pride, and glory, and success and power that had just begun swelling in my chest burst with a deafening roar, leaving me deflated and shattered.

I spent the duration of the class woefully distracted from the lecture material itself, choosing to nurse my wounded ego rather.

My internal dialogue, as it always is, was infuriating.

My god, you must have sounded so stupid! an angry voice screeched in my temples.

But it’s good I tried, right? I mean that took some measure of courage, yeah? a weak and optimistic voice inquired.

At what cost, you fool?! Now everyone will see you for the weak, indecisive, and unqualified bumpkin that you are!

And so it went, on and on- one voice brutally tearing me down and the other seeking to build me up in some way.

In retrospect, I was the only one painfully mulling over my bitter defeat. I think it’s safe to say that no one else in my class was sadistically chuckling to themselves, thinking, “Wow Anusha looked terrible up there. Loser.”

Or even if someone were thinking that, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be the best of friends. Ultimately what matters in the wake of crushing personal defeat is your own perception of it. While the freshly deferred dream seethes with a continued longing for success and aches with a terrible sense of loss, one that has withered away with age is far more benign in nature. Yes, you’re still disappointed that you didn’t succeed, but you understand what you did wrong. You’re proud of yourself for pushing yourself past your insecurities and putting yourself in a risky position. You’re optimistic for the prospects of future success. All in all, who knew that the bitter taste of defeat could be kind of sweet?