blackbirdonline journalSpring 2010  Vol. 9  No. 1
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Under Skins
     “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. . .
     until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
          —Harper Lee,
To Kill a Mockingbird

I will imagine the character at first. A man with the capacity of devout, bhakti-like love. A man who struggles with the filth of his past and his longing for a woman who does not notice him. The name Abid, for “worshipper,” will come easily enough. Based on this—a mere name for inspiration—I will write the first of countless shitty drafts, wherein I will barely scratch the surface of my character, let alone make a dent large enough to slide even a finger under his skin. Abid, I will quickly notice, appears infinitely more interesting in my head than he does on paper. 

So, I’ll do what they advise all writers to do: I’ll put the story away and read other books. I’ll watch movies and sitcoms. I’ll lift weights. Walk until my calf muscles burn. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night to scribble down a bit of dialogue or a paragraph on a note that I’ll stick on the wall beside my writing desk, even though the idea itself may never be used in the story.

I’ll go back to the manuscript every weekend with the honest intention of doing something productive to it—more writing, even rewriting. Half of these attempts will be spent sitting at my desk for an hour, shuffling around the words of a single sentence or, more often, simply staring at the blank page of a Word document.

I will distract myself again—this time with other pieces of writing or bookkeeping or vacuuming.   

I know that it will happen out of the blue. I will come across a word or phrase scribbled among the countless coloured sticky notes saved up from nightly inspirations. Perhaps something about checking a trial balance will make me realize that my protagonist needs to be more anal. Or perhaps the dust from the vacuum bag will remind me of some inaccurately written paragraph about sandstorms.

All I know is that when something like this happens, I will toss everything aside and go back to my manuscript. I will not be lucky always. There will be times when my sudden inspirations will be clichés, mirages, flashes in pans.

But I will go back each time and hammer away on the keyboard until I manage to slip away from the stale air of the heater and the iced windows of my room, and immerse myself in a world that smells of sea breeze, dust and Dettol, sweat steaming the back of my orange custodial uniform.

Perhaps someone will switch on the television in the room next to mine. A woman will sing an old Hindi song about fearless love, the ghungroos on her ankles rattling while she dances.

I will continue typing, the image of her forming in my mind even though I cannot see her. She will slide into my world in a blur of colour and silvery sounds.  end