Dear L,

I remember the first time I had opened my eyes underwater — it was one of my swimming lessons. The instructor — for better or worse — would take us to the deep end of the pool and drop us in. Those were scary moments, and I would usually keep my eyes shut and mostly struggle to get my head above the surface. One day I had opened my eyes underwater. The pool was a natural pond with all the greenness and mud. It was a cloudy day, and the water underneath was dark; All I saw was dark green all around me. I couldn’t even make out my limbs. For a moment, I had frozen. I had forgotten I was supposed to swim upwards — it was fear I was experiencing, but a petrifying sort.

Every week when I stare at a blank piece of virtual paper, I feel the same. An empty page is intimidating — borderline crippling. And it gets scarier the longer I look at it. Some nights my already blank mind panics, and I quickly switch to the familiar comfort of curated emails and faux warmth of social media. My underprepared mind almost always grinds to a halt under the weight of a possibility space squashed onto a piece of paper.

At age thirty, I still tend to keep my eyes closed underwater more than two decades later. But now and then, I open my eyes to stare at the darkness for a few seconds before I lose it and swim upwards. Maybe, I will one day reach a point when I can keep my eyes open underwater longer than I can hold my breath. But at that time of swimming lessons, opening my eyes underwater had become mildly satisfying masochism of mine — oddly cleansing. The rush of fear quickly gives way to the relief of reaching the surface.

Tonight was one of those nights when I didn’t feel like writing; I was drained and incapable of coherent thoughts. I was sitting in front of my desk staring at my blank text editor, not having any idea what I would say to you this week; until I typed out the first words — all of a sudden I wasn’t drowning anymore.

These drowning sensations, however deep is almost always a few incoherent sentences to the surface. Whenever I’m away from the shallow waters of my mind, all I do is open my eyes. An oddly primal response takes over. Sometimes it grabs the camera, sometimes a keyboard; at times a frying pan, other times a video game. When the rush of escape subsides, I’m always left immersed in a world that is not remotely as dark.

It is by no means a call for more people to have hobbies; That might not land well on a planet that’s warming up already. And it’s not very helpful to preach hobbies — it has to come from somewhere more personal than an email in one’s inbox. But, even though I have had the privilege to delve into immersive hobbies — that don’t revolve around consumption exclusively — during my formative years, never before I felt the incredible power of such activities. From writing prose to building motorcycles, these can be immense sources of strength in the bleakest of times. Hobbies are not only a manifestation of luxury, neither a reflection of a prosperous society but also one of the strongest non-human anchors one can hold on to. I am terrified of an alternate reality where I didn’t have the hobbies that I have; I find life to be incredibly precarious without it. Be it drawing or beekeeping, or even solving crossword puzzles or skateboarding, I think any such self-driven directive can potentially provide essential psychological scaffolding when the familiar collapses or any novelty sediments. Being able to synthesize pleasure without being directly associated with brute survival — is one of the most underrated beauties of the human condition.

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