Dostoevsky Constructs Me a Nightmare

26th June, 2017 at 4:36 am

Day 29: I had forewarned myself to be wary of the Russian getting into my head. For I’ve had a sudden and most terrible fright tonight. As I lay on my side, I felt the devil had slid into the form of a snake and had grazed my skin only slightly to jolt me into a semi-conscious state. As I turned to my left, still half-asleep but gradually reconciling with my senses, I felt the snake nudging me to reveal all that I knew of Dimitri Karamazov’s trial. I recall waking up with a shudder, assuring myself of having come to senses only to find myself seeking the air-conditioners remote, which lay on one side of the pillow, and upon taking hold of it, I became aware of its shape resembling the very pestle with which the murder had been committed in the novel. My first thought was “My God! I have the evidence in my hand!” But fortunately, I was fully awake now. I surmised the darkness around me and placed myself safely upon my bed, beside my husband, in an unfamiliar room. I only say unfamiliar for I’m unaware of all its nook and crannies and every crisp, scraping sound at night makes me twitch with deathly anxiety. 

The chapters concerning Ivan’s conversation with the devil and Dimitri’s subsequent trial having interspersed with tales of snakes being killed before our arrival to this hometown were the chief cause of my momentary nightmare. Dostoevsky is not a good night’s read. I’m thoroughly rankled. That being said, now that I’m almost nearing the finish line, I shall see these Karamazov’s to the very end. 


Writing Hacks

Recently I came across an article listing 44 writing hacks to assist one in their story-telling endeavours. Out of the 44, I grouped a few of them which most resonated with me on account of urgency, reliability and my ability to put them to practical use.

Quantity produces quality – Ray Bradbury

Tactile Memory:

  • Write down passages from favourite books just to know what it feels like to have those words flow through my own fingertips.
  • Writing by hand is preferable to typing. As Raymond Chandler wrote, “when you have to use your energy to put words down, you are more apt to make them count.”


  • “The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” – Samuel Johnson
  • While you are writing, read things totally unrelated to what you’re writing. You’ll be amazed at the totally unexpected connections you’ll make or strange things you’ll discover.


  • As you go along, “Ask yourself if this sentence, paragraph, or chapter truly furthers the narrative. If not, chuck it.” – Elizabeth Gilbert. And as Stephen King famously put it, “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
  • “When someone tells you something is wrong with your writing, they’re usually right. When they tell you how to fix it, they’re almost always wrong.”

Physical Exercise: Strenuous exercise every day. Novelist Don DeLillo told The Paris Review how after writing for four hours, he goes running to “shake off one world and enter another.” Joyce Carol Oates, in her ode to running, said that “the twin activities of running and writing keep the writer reasonably sane and with the hope, however illusory and temporary, of control.”

Writing Process:

  • Writing is easier when the research is done and the framework has been laid out.
  • Embrace what the strategist and theorist John Boyd called the “draw-down period.” Take a break right before you start. To think, to reflect, to doubt.
  • Ask yourself these four questions from George Orwell: “What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?” Then finish with these final two questions: “Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?”
  • Focus on what you’re saying, worry less about how. As William March wrote in The Bad Seed, ”a great novelist with something to say has no concern with style or oddity of presentation.”

Audience: Envision who you are writing this for. Like really picture them. Don’t go off in a cave and do this solely for yourself. As Kurt Vonnegut put it in his interview with The Paris Review: “…every successful creative person creates with an audience of one in mind. That’s the secret of artistic unity. Anybody can achieve it, if he or she will make something with only one person in mind.”

Three Poems

My Sad Captain, by Thom Gunn

One by one they appear in

the darkness: a few friends, and

a few with historical

names. How late they start to shine!

but before they fade they stand

perfectly embodied, all

the past lapping them like a

cloak of chaos. They were men

who, I thought, lived only to

renew the wasteful force they

spent with each hot convulsion.

They remind me, distant now.

True, they are not at rest yet,

but now that they are indeed

apart, winnowed from failures,

they withdraw to an orbit

and turn with disinterested

hard energy, like the stars.

O Captain! My Captain, by Walt Whitman

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;

                         But O heart! heart! heart!

                            O the bleeding drops of red,

                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,

                                  Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;

Rise upfor you the flag is flungfor you the bugle trills,

For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreathsfor you the shores a-crowding,

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

                         Here Captain! dear father!

                            This arm beneath your head!

                               It is some dream that on the deck,

                                 You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,

My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,

The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,

From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;

                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!

                            But I with mournful tread,

                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,

                                  Fallen cold and dead.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


No More

“There is no way for us to see what the Pillars of Creation — or anything in the universe — look like now. We see galaxies 3 billion light-years away as they looked 3 billion years ago. We see the Sun as it looked 8.5 minutes ago. If you were standing one foot in front of me, I would see you as you looked 1.01670336 nanoseconds ago, which is the time it would take for the light to reflect from your face to my pupil. While our brains live in their present, we see everything else in its past tense.”

Hunza Proverbs by Etienne Tiffou

Burushaski is an isolated language spoken by the Burusho people of Gilgit-Baltistan. It is an oral language, that is, it is predominantly spoken rather than written. I happened to come across a reference book “Hunza Proverbs” by Etienne Tiffou of the University of Montreal. He has been working on the Burushaski language since 1975, concentrating more on the Yasin dialect. The book includes a total of 565 entries expressed in the language. Following are some of my favorite proverbial phrases:


  • The bean is under my tooth.

Used when one is unable to take revenge on someone because both enjoy the friendship of an important person.

  • The sky is high, and the earth is hard.

Things are what they are.

  • Sunburn on my head, calluses on my feet.

I am dead tired.

  • For your red tongue, a blow on your black head.
    1. Don’t be surprised if you are in trouble after misbehaving
    2. It serves you right
  • The cooking pot said: “My bottom is of gold.” The fireplace said: “Where was I?”

When a man boasts of his good birth, another who knows all about him says: “I know all about your roots.”

  • You know the taste of a man sometime later; the taste of a fruit you know as soon as it is in your mouth.
    1. One cannot judge a man the first time one sees him
    2. After a man is dead, one remembers him
  • I don’t mind so much the cat’s stealing some milk as its licking its lips afterward.

Boasting about one’s bad deeds is even worse than doing them.

  • From one country to another, even the chewing is different.

Every country has its own customs.

  • Even with its muzzle bound, the calf remains under its mother

In spite of all, family links resist everything.

  • Water cannot flow down a straight stick.

Truth cannot be warped.

  • When the flesh is cut, the bone is also suffering.

One shares his relatives’ pains.

  • The tool makes the work and its owner boasts.

When someone takes credit for the work of others.

  • Nobody sees the dirt on the nape of his own neck.

Nobody sees his own faults.

  • If you tell kings that mice eat iron, they will believe it.

Kings have so much help around them that they are cut off from reality.

  • In through the door, and out through the chimney.

When the food supply brought into the house is rapidly consumed.

  • The heavy load bends the donkey

Even people used to misfortune suffer from it.

  • The thread is broken and the pearls are lost

Said when a nice, young or dear person has died.

  • When matches appeared, flint and steel lost their value.

Used by old men to protect themselves when a young man excels at something.

  • Don’t pile up straw in front of me

Don’t take one for a cow in front of which one throws fodder.


  • The tree said to the axe: “If I give you my arm, will you cut it?”

Said to a person whom you have helped and who turns against you

  • Do you hear voices from the beyond?

Said to someone who does not listen to what he is being told.

  • Don’t wear a leather cape – but don’t complain about the noise if you do.

One must not complain about something he knew was bound to happen when he started it.


  • Like fleeing from a bear’s dung and not the bear

To be extremely cowardly

  • They are like grains of millet in the desert

Applies to people who run away when one needs them the most