Independent Routine

Fayes T Kantawala made a conscious effort to start having more "experiences"

Independent Routine
A visitor to your world often renews in you that sense of wonder that you’ve probably become too jaded to notice. I feel it in Lahore when I am taking a tourist around the Old City or the Badshahi mosque. How wonderful it must be to live in a city this historic, they say. I suppose, I reply, thinking with dread about the two hours of traffic we’ll have to endure to get past Data Saab in the heat.

But they are right. It is wonderful. And it reminds me that the great tragedy of possessing something wonderful – a nice house, the opportunity to live in a historic city, a spouse you don’t hate – is that once you have it, you often take it for granted.

It is to undo this negligence that I promised myself I would actively start enjoying things around me in the way that a tourist might. Not every day, of course — that would be awful — but at least mindfully once a week. I am lucky to be able to live in New York in the summer, why not do something with it? And so I’ve been making an effort to have “experiences”, like buying last-minute tickets to ballets, operas and plays; like going to see that crowded show at a museum I wouldn’t ordinarily stand in line for; like taking the train for a 45-minute journey to have that one taco that the newspaper devoted a five-star review to.

It was on such a train journey that I picked up a pamphlet on the subway for summer classes in NYC. This particular leaflet was on cooking. Anyone could decide to pay a small free and join a class on, say, “French Sauces” or “The Art of Pizza Dough”. I like to cook but the only thing available when I called was “Thai Cooking for One”. I suspect the suicide rate would be a bit too high in that particular group of people, so I decided to look elsewhere. And looking opened up a whole world of classes offered in Manhattan alone: painting, shoe making, blogging, rock climbing, Israeli mixed martial arts, Japanese tea ceremonies, Igbo woodcarving, you name it and they have a class for it. How silly I’d been for not taking advantage of this all this time! But as much as I’d like to be the kind of person who could say “I’ve got to get to my rock climbing class, see you later”, deep down I knew I’m not.

So I looked online for something that may be useful to me in the long run. I’ve told you before that I am in the middle of writing a longer…I hesitate to call it a book so let’s just call it project. Yes. Writing project has a nice, non-committal ring to it. I’d been doing it for a few months when I hit a bit of a road block and so began looking for writing classes that may help me.

The universe replied with occult synchronicity. An ad popped up online advertising “Novel Writing: Draft 1” taught by a Writing Workshop in Times Square. I’ve always been wary of writing classes, having taken some in college I knew that most of them are basically people sitting around a table offering their opinions. There are few things I find more useless than other people’s opinions, especially on creative work in progress, and so I’ve stayed away. But this was different. In this class, you wouldn’t show anyone your work. You just met once a week to discuss different ways of staying on track with the actual mechanics of writing (finding the time, word count etc.) and after ten weeks you’d have a nearly or wholly complete first draft. Probably not a good first draft, granted, but a first draft none the less. I signed up immediately.

And so it was that I went up to the 30th floor of a high-rise building right in the middle of Time Square at 7 pm. The classroom was on the corner, so that flickering shifting glow of the giant ads around Time Square made the room dance in different colors. I was surprised how nervous I was; it had been a minute since I’d been in a classroom and that familiar dread at having to introduce yourself and wondering if the teacher would hate you came rushing back to me.

The class has fourteen people, all writing different things and from completely difference backgrounds. Olga is a 22-year-old recent grad writing a sci-fi novel – a passion she shares with Jerome and Danielle, who are also writing about aliens. Latika is a middle-aged Indian woman who comes to class wearing a bindi and white sneakers and she is writing a fantasy novel. Next to her sits Corvette, a man in his late twenties covered in tattoos and writing a novel about a drag queen who discovered she had psychic powers. There is Shaun, a retired ad exec who likes noir books and behind him is Paula, an overworked secretary who loves mystery novels and has a daily commute of 90 minutes each way from home to work and back again.

I sit next to Kent, a pudgy Scottish man in his late fifties who used to work as a TV comedy writer and who I suspect is a functioning alcoholic. He’s smart and funny though, and his book is about a ghost who writes a self-help column for the living.

I’m about half way through the class and beyond the very real advantage of having upped my word count (turns out I’m competitive), I have experience the thrill that accompanies you whenever you step outside of your comfort zone and experience something completely new and slightly scary. And so I wanted to take this time – when we are relaxing at home through our Independence Day and Eid holidays – to ask you to think about something you want to do in the next month and go for it. Fitness, cooking, writing, swimming, or maybe not a class. Perhaps it’s reading a book a month, or finally learning the tabla. Everyone is interested in something. Become familiar with something other than your routine and you never know: maybe in that sliver of independence you’ll learn to rock climb after all.

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