If Shakespeare had a sister

If you go back around the time of Elizabeth you’ll realise every other man was very much capable of writing brilliant sonnets and songs. It took several decades for a woman (Aphra Behn) in English literature to come forward and start earning professionally from her writing (it was her only means of survival because all men in her family were dead). If you read about history of women you will hardly find anything till 18th century, excluding the royalties. Only historic mentions about middle class women are that that she should be tamed, protected, can be beaten by her father or husband if she is hostile, and should follow millions of rules to be an ideal woman. Isn’t it ironic that she is of the highest importance in fiction, but practically she was completely insignificant until last few centuries! She is the prose, dominates kings and their lives, some of the most poetic and inspiring words are written for her in the oldest of our litreature, but in real life she is absent from the history, she was slave of any boy whose parents forced a ring on her, and she could hardly read, was a property of her husband.

I find it a little absurd, that how were there no women capable of writing poems back then? What if, hypothetically Shakespeare had a sister, equally talented, equally creative and equally genius, could she have been the next Shakespeare? Lets see- On one hand Shakespeare was given the best of education, logic, grammar, litreature, languages, history, sent to the best of schools. He travelled places, explored his passion, joined a theatre where he held horses at the stage door and very soon got to work in the theatre, became a successful actor and writer. He had the time of his life, he met everyone, knew everyone, could go on streets or could go to the queen. On the other hand, his extraordinarily gifted sister stayed at home. She wasn’t allowed to go to school, there was no one who would give her the best of education, she cannot possibly go out without a male company. Even if she tried writing she was told to focus her attention on cooking or stitching. And even she wrote something she had to hide it or may be burn it because if they were found it will be nothing less than wreaking havoc. And as soon as she came of age she would’ve got married. But lets assume she was rebellious, and knew she could make something of herself in theatre. She had to run away to join theatre and nobody let her in, women were not supposed to be actors back then. Men laughed on her face, rejected, used, abused and ridiculed her. She had nowhere to go, no means to earn, nothing to live for. Her life would end as every Shakespeare tragedy does.

Women cannot write the plays of Shakespeare, they say. And I think that’s very much true. No women could possibly write like Shakespeare at the time of Shakespeare. To write something so masterfully, women need that specific state of mind and opportunity, financial independence, that most men already had and the worst men had to face was indifference. It was not the same for women, with time they get bitter not because of the indifference but with the hostility they were constantly surrounded by, even their mind was not free to think for themselves. So when they wrote you could see the bitterness. Even though men could write things about women like incapable, inferior, weaker, dumb, shameless etc. if women wrote things about the other sex which are true but not complementary they were (and are still) called the arrant feminists. Society always did put more emphasis on which book has more importance, the book on war and politics is more significant than a book about woman refusing to marry.

Virginia Woolf’s essay “A room of one’s own” proves her thesis that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction (or any art really)”. The freedom to think intellectually comes from financial independence, it gives you liberty to call a spade a spade, it gives one the power to contemplate and a room to lock outside world gives you the power to think of oneself. If there’s anything I’ve read that best explains the situation of women through out the history it is this essay. Virginia Woolf wonders throughout her essay why there were more books written by men than women, she wonders how her female counterparts would have written differently if they had their own writing desk, and equal opportunities to go in to the world by themselves, she created a fictional character- Shakespeare’s sister to show us what women had to deal with back then. And there by she has created a beautiful and vital piece of art that would help everyone to understand what feminism really is and why we need it.

Few things in the essay that made my mouth drop are how women were not allowed to inherit any wealth, their income was solely the property of their husband. They were not allowed to walk on turf but only on gravel. There’s even an incident where the author herself is not allowed in the library without a male companion or a letter from the superiors (obviously men). Can you believe the audacity to tell one of the most prolific writer of our age that she’s not allowed in the library because of her gender? I cannot!

Although it’s been a century since this essay was written, several laws have been passed, lot of work has been going on towards betterment of women in our society, we are still not there yet. We’ll get there sooner or later. And till then Virginia Woolf advices women to stop giving excuses. She tells us that now is a different time, women are very much capable of carving their own path, earning their own money. The excuse of lack of opportunity, training, encouragement, leisure, and money no longer holds good.

And may be then when Shakespeare’s sister is born again, and she will find it possible to live and write her poetry again. But she would come only if we work for her, in poverty and obscurity, it will all be worthwhile.

And to conclude this post with Virginia Woolf’s piercing wisdom:

Anything may happen when womanhood has ceased to be a protected occupation.

Applying Schrödinger’s Cat paradox to real life

Storytime. Our boy Will Grayson tries to live his life without being noticed and finds romance drama unbearable. He somehow ends up with a crush on a girl called Jane. Or maybe not. He is oftentimes confused about whether he likes Jane or not. She eventually gets tired of Wills indecisiveness and gets back with her ex. And that’s how Will realizes he is in love with her. It’s his thing, you know, he doesn’t want someone in his life until they’re gone. This is a bit familiar. Oh wait! we have done this one time or the other, haven’t we? I hope it’s not only me.

Even though Will likes to think she is not his types, they both like a lot of similar stuff, for eg. a band called Maybe Dead Cats. The name of the band is derived from the famous Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment. Let me try to explain this experiment as plainly as possible (don’t try this at home)- A physicist, Niels Bohr came up with a quantum mechanics interpretation (Copenhagen interpretation) that says a radioactive atom is literally in two states at once- decayed and not decayed. Another physicist, Erwin Schrodinger, found this interpretation ridiculous. So he came up with an experiment that proves how absurd the interpretation is with his imaginary (emphasis on imaginary), feline friend. He kept a cat in a closed box with some radioactive stuff. The box may or may not release poison depending on the state of the radioactive atom. And as the interpretation says the atom is in both state that means the box contains poison and also does not contain poison, which means the cat is dead and alive at the same time until we open the box and find out if it is alive or dead.

Okay, the physics part is over let’s get back to our confused boy Will. He is in a similar place, he does not know if he wants Jane or not. Maybe the relationship cat is dead or maybe it’s not. Not that he doesn’t want to know, he just doesn’t want to deal with his feelings that will arise if he finds out the cat is dead. After a bit of romantic drama, he finally reaches a conclusion:

Keeping the box closed doesn’t actually keep the cat alive-and-dead. It just keeps you in the dark, not the universe.

And if you thought you’ll never use Physics in your love life then let me prove you wrong. It’s totally possible. Like for a lot of people who avoid taking decisions, for them, it seems that all possible results are happening at the same time and there is a little pleasure in it. But you can’t possibly live like that. Someday or the other you have to open that damn box and deal with what’s in it. You don’t have to live your life with closed boxes. You have to take that risk, and 50% of the times the cat will be alive and that’s a pretty good probability to live with.

In the end, Will and Jane decide to open the box and give it a try. Things are alive for now, but who knows? In the future, it might all fall apart. But that’s okay—Will finally realizes that this stuff is all part of living and loving. He doesn’t want to opt for closed boxes anymore. He wants to pull off those lids and take his chance with what’s inside. Yay!

From the book- Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green.

How I manage my Anxiety

Four years ago, going through 2-3 panic attacks a day was a norm for me. That resulted in poor physical health, toxic relationships, bad career choices, and a warped sense of reality. It took a near life and death nervous break down to realise that something needs to change for me to survive. It took 2 years of medication and therapy to calm myself down. Was I cured completely? Not really. I relapsed several times, but one thing that kept me going was knowing that nothing lasts forever, not even my Anxiety.

I made it as my side project, I read lot of stuff about it, I identified my fears and triggers, opened up to close friends, wrote about it here. And I’ve understood this from my few years of extensive research- Anxiety is natural human response for stressful situations. It helps us keep safe from danger. Sometimes certain situations, traumas or childhood experiences makes us feel as if we are constantly in danger and hence the fight or flight response. It also comes from self hatred and low self esteem, because you would not expect horrible things for someone in the near future if you really loved them. Almost all our emotions are trying to tell us something, and we often prefer scrolling on social media to distract ourselves rather than acknowledge the problem underneath, sweeping it all under the rug until it creates a monster. No, deleting social media and going in Himalayas is not a practical solution. Here are some of the things I have been doing that has help me tremendously to keep my mental health in check:

  1. Understanding the difference between need and want: When I said I had warped sense of reality, this was the biggest problem. We need things to stay alive, like food, water, oxygen, shelter, etc and we generally want things for our ego. When I say I need a guy to text me, it means I want that guy to text me. I will not die if he doesn’t. This may seem like a very ‘duh’ thing, but when you’re in a panic mode and it seems like the world is coming to an end, you forget most basic things.
  2. Allowing myself to feel all the feeling for a given time: I’ve learned this the hard way, if I don’t acknowledge or address my anger, sadness, jealousy, at the right time, they come back in worst way possible depression, existential crisis and self hatred. A rule of thumb I follow- acknowledge what I am feeling currently, accept that its okay to feel so and give it some time to process, and move on.
  3. Creating boundaries and space between every relationship: For creating boundaries I first had to find out what are the things that work for me and what doesn’t, what are some non-negotiable values I follow in life that I cannot risk no matter what. Boundaries and space in every relationship helps me put myself first, and respecting my needs instead of ridiculing them.
  4. Facing my fears: Anxiety is a liar. Most of the fears if you examine closely are just fears, they don’t materialise into anything in real world. To face my fear of being alone I started small with going on walks for 15 mins by myself, and then slowly leveling up to go to a cafe, movies, saying goodbye to toxic friendships, etc. You’ll love yourself a little more every time you do this.
  5. Asking for help: Most of the times things don’t turn out the way you planned, you lose your job, the guy you like doesn’t like you back, you have to spend an year in quarantine, you know, normal life stuff. Somethings hit harder than you anticipated and it doesn’t matter how wise and better you are than before. We need people in our life. So when things become too much for me to handle I open up to someone. It doesn’t matter if its a stranger, a professional or a friend. Talking about my feelings and struggles makes me feel lighter and better immediately (even though this is the hardest one to do).

I remember reading a story about a woman suffering from Dissociative disorder and amnesia. She had blacked out all her twenties and didn’t remember anything. It took her a decade to identify and fix the problem. She is now happily married and has adopted kids, doing well in her career. She ended up doing everything a decade late than her normal peers would but she doesn’t regret anything, because she was healthier and happier than she has ever been. Reading her story made me realise I spend too much time comparing myself with others and rushing to do things on time. But everyone has different struggles, and different timelines and they do not necessarily have to match with what society says.

The only way out is to go on a non-judgmental journey of self-discovery and befriend yourself along the way. I may not be able to control or get rid off Anxiety completely but I can change my perception towards it and make it okay to live with.

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