The antifeminism of women.

by Puneet Sandhu in

I am interrupting this involuntary blogging break to make a mini feminist comment.

While skimming my Facebook feed this afternoon with an inattentive laziness I reserve for the weekends, I came across the image pasted below. It jolted me into the Facebook equivalent of a double-take, which I guess is this alarmed, brisk rubbing of the phone screen to gobackupwhatthehellwasthat. The caption that accompanied this picture said, "Gotta love being different. I know I do!"


The caption in itself reeks of a false sense of self-congratulatory empowerment, but that's another story altogether. My problem with the post is this: where is the feminist movement headed if we women continue to put ourselves and our peers in the same neat little boxes that the world uses to stereotype us unfairly? We are either vamps or saints, wives or whores, smart or pretty, or as in this case, average-looking and smart or sexy and dumb; but never one and the other.

The whole point of feminism is to break these stereotypes; to be seen as real multi-faceted people, you know, just like the rest of this planet's population. My intellect does not depend on how much cleavage I show, and nor does the lack of rouge on my cheeks make me any smarter. (And as I know now, reading definitely does not always make people more intelligent.)

I like to read; I wear glasses sometimes; I wear skirts; and I do a tolerable job in the make-up department (although annoyingly, the eyeliner on my right eye is always infinitely better than the one on the left). I am what most women are like, and we deserve better than to be put down in thoughtless Facebook posts put up to garner likes and soothe egos and insecurities. (Also, make-up is VERY DIFFICULT; if anything, it should be counted as a skill under the "smart girl" stereotype.)

I've read enough about Sheryl Sandberg's 'Lean In' to know that I'm not going to find myself nodding with enthused appreciation when I get around to reading the actual book. But I do agree with her on this: if women want to get ahead in this world, they first need to work on themselves instead of just crying foul at men and society. Or at least, if they can't improve the lot for themselves and their peers, then they shouldn't  be making it worse by promoting gender biases.

And there ends my feminist rant. And no, there shall be no bra-burning to celebrate -- no one really does that, if you're wondering; they're too expensive.

I got rejected. Ergo, I must be a writer.

by Puneet Sandhu in

This is a belated post in that it deals with events from a few months ago. But, I guess now is a good time to write this as I'm finally beginning to process My First Real Rejection as a writer worth her salt, which also means I should probably re-consider calling myself that.

I have long been a fan of McSweeney's Internet Tendency and when they opened the call for submissions from potential columnists this fall, I couldn't help but dream of my name appearing month after month on the holy white of that webpage. You see, I've always wanted to be a columnist - it's been an irrational childhood dream of mine - especially because I have spent my fair share of mornings reading the likes of Khushwant Singh's "With malice towards one and all." I had an opinion on what was going on around me; I wasn't an entirely terrible writer; I could write regularly; now all I wanted was for someone to think that my stuff was good enough to share with their readers.

I even had the perfect idea for a column -- something I'd been working on for a while -- and it was lying half-naked in a "drafts" folder on my laptop. "Today is your day," I said to the Word doc in question as I opened it lustily.

Three cups of tea and almost six hours later, I hit "send" on my email, worrying that somehow it would land in McSweeney's spam folder and no one would see it, or that the world would regress to 1994 and my email would get irretrievably lost in e-labyrinths. As far as I'm concerned, one of the two actually happened because -- you're not going to believe this -- they didn't pick me.

The names of those selected were supposed to be announced on the last day of August, which was also the first day of my vacation in Maine. My tendency to compulsively check my phone, instead of holding a conversation with fellow humans around me, was at an unusual high that day. I was waiting for a congratulatory email from McSweeney's, or at least, a consolatory one, where they would tell me I had almost made it, but not quite, and that they looked forward to reviewing my stellar work again next year, thanks for my interest. All I got from McSweeney's that day was stony silence, but then again, maybe they got my e-mail address wrong.

I expected to be the brokenhearted wuss who would ruin the trip for everyone and eat one too many lobster rolls to deal with the disappointment. Surprisingly, I remained calm and cheerful. (The lobster rolls, though, are another story). It was only later that I realized why.

Instead of sitting on my bottom and pretending to be an aspiring writer, I'd actually finished a piece and shared it with someone. And if I was ever to be a writer "worth her salt", that was a very good start. With a full-time job that I want to be really good at, dreaming the writerly dream is about all I've had time for during much of 2012. But having been rejected this first time made me realize how badly I need to stay away from the kind of life where I'm left finding excuses for not finishing and sharing my work. This time, it was out in the world, and despite the rejection, that felt good.

By the end of this thought, I was almost glad to have not been picked -- rejection is such a rite of passage for successful writers, and I was happy to go through it first hand. It made me feel like much more of a writer than ever before, and I then proceeded to tell my vacation party that R. K. Narayan, one of my favourite authors ever, had been passed over by publishers at least six times (the actual number varies depending on where you look) before his first book, Swami and Friends, was released. I plan to follow his lead fully, so as 2012 closes, I hope that the list of rejections I gather in the new year is long, robust and worthy of hanging on my wall - because if I'm not getting rejected, I'm probably not trying hard enough. And that would be a sorry, sorry shame for My Big Dream.

The writing advice you want to hear.

by Puneet Sandhu in ,

Far too much writing advice in the world is serious, predictable and frankly, dreary. (Write everyday! – Umm, yeah, okay. You clearly don’t have a day job. Or a boyfriend. Or a Netflix account.) As well-intentioned as it may be, it isn’t practical for most writers (unless that’s what they do for a living, in which case they don’t need advice in the first place), and let’s face it, quitting their day jobs and living off their rich uncle while they write The Novel isn’t a feasible solution for all writers because some of their uncles are dead now.

For aspiring writers, pretend writers with lazy intentions of getting serious at some point, and serious writers with writer's block, I offer below unconventional but useful advice on how to find the time, energy and inclination to put pen to paper – or fingertips to keyboard – whatever floats their writing boats.

Find a coffee shop to hang out in because nothing else says “legit writer” like writing in a coffee shop. Make sure it has a nice name – something writerly like New York City’s “Think.” Come to be considered a regular – get to know the barista well enough for her to know your name and your order. Spend at least a couple of hours there, seemingly engrossed in research and writing, but actually reading essays reeking of quarter-life crises on Thought Catalog. People watch. Overhear conversations from neighboring tables and don’t feel guilty about it. Write down all you see and hear, with the intentions of using it in your upcoming work. You just gathered a lot of material – now all you need to figure out is where to use it. Leave safe and comfortable in the knowledge that the jacket of your first book will read: This novel was conceived over hundreds of café lattes consumed by the author in New York City’s Think Coffee. And how that might get your photo up on the café’s wall or at least, a free croissant with your next order.

Get boozy. Go to all the boozy brunches and happy hours you get invited to. (And if you don’t get invitations, go to happy hour by yourself and get sloshed, constantly reminding yourself that writing is a solitary profession and loneliness is the writer’s birthright.) I could quote innumerable studies here to show that people get more creative when they’re inebriated, but I think we all pretty much know that from experience. Think about this and order another pitcher of mimosa or your fifth Jack and Coke. When you get home, freewrite the crap out of your keyboard or your notebook.

PMS. No, seriously. Write when you’re PMS-ing. Or when your girlfriend/wife is PMSing. Frustration, sadness and anger have been known to be far more productive emotions for writers than happiness, sunshine and blue skies. Give us miserable rainy days and gut-wrenching negativity any day and watch us produce our most stellar work.

Plan that vacation. What was that famous quote about how reading is like travel and if you don’t read, you’ve only been to one country or something? That. To make the reader feel like they’ve traveled just by reading your book, you need to do the actual traveling. Go to France. Now. On the plane ride home, think about how you’re going to make the Champs-Élysées the setting for that crazy recurring dream your main character will have in your next short story. Or how your novel’s protagonist’s love interest is going to look like your hostel owner in Giverny.

And when you're done with it all, I promise you this: the very least you'll be able to do is write a blog post on how to write.

I'm a Mom and I didn't even know it.

by Puneet Sandhu in

Six years ago, when I was studying journalism, I was required to write a personal essay for one of my classes. "It can be about anything as long as it's personal," said my professor. "Save your social angst for another time - make this one matter to you as a person, not as a journalist." After a week of thinking long and hard, I settled on my topic: I would write about my brother, that little human that had been living alongside me and my parents for almost 18 years.

Except he wasn't little anymore and I couldn't throw him around like a sack of potatoes like I used to because he was taller than me now, and he had stopped laughing at all my jokes, and had a brain that he used to be smart, and a heart and emotions that helped him make friends with people who lived in the outside world. As I processed all this, I slowly came to the bizarre conclusion that, oh. my. god., he had turned into...*gasp* - His Own Person. I mean, what kind of little brother does that?!

It was too much for me to handle, so of course, I poured my shock and horror into the essay. My professor, friends and family loved it and gave me an A+, lots of praise and encouraging comments and hugs. Heady on that success, I tried to get it published in a couple of newspapers' Sunday editions, but no one else seemed to give a damn that my brother had turned into His Own Person, so I let it be. I mean, he wasn't that interesting anyway, I guess.

Fast forward to the present and I am proud of the progress I've made in letting Little Brother be his own person -- of course, the fact that I'm in another time zone for 50 weeks out of the 52 helps. This week, he celebrated his 24th birthday and since the previous time I wrote about him, his talents and smarts have only grown - he is the light of my life, making everything infinitely better in a second, and the reason for my gradually greying hair and my stressed, pimply face -- all in a day's work. And he does it all so humbly, ladies and gentlemen, so unaware of the effect he has on his big sister that you wonder how such obliviousness could exist in this world.

If there is anything I've learned from having Little Brother in my life all these years, it's this: younger siblings are a practice exercise in parenthood. You protect them with everything you've got, buy them things they don't need but want, watch their moods from a cautious distance, cater to their whims and fancies, dislike their girlfriends/boyfriends by default, lecture them on life's big lessons every chance you get, pick them up when they fall, and love them to bits. And through it all - in spite of it all - you will never be cool enough for them. That is the irrefutable Law of Siblinghood. And yet they are so, so worth it.

As my eight-year-old self once wrote in a poem about my family: I love my little brotherI would never exchange him for another.

Happy birthday, Little Brother. Wait till you have kids of your own.