Thursday, June 26, 2014

On Building Homes and the Pursuit of Things

Last year, I left New York on a Tuesday morning, before the city had fully become itself. In the taxi, my driver hummed and lilted to the cracking radio but all I heard was the drumming of rain on aluminum. Because he may have seen a piece of himself on my skin, he asked me where I was from, and after giving it some thought, I retorted, "originally?"
We carry our homes so many places we go—bend them into pictures and postcards, emails and long-distance phone calls. Although I have a house in New Delhi, India, I have had the fortune of calling a litany of places ‘home.’
During my first week in New York City, I revisited all the places I loved last summer, from the Central Park Reservoir, to Dumbo, to a small bar on 23rd and Lexington that still remembers my face. I built tiny homes in all these places and all these places built tiny homes in me. That’s what places like New York give you ultimately, if nothing else—stories. It truly is the city’s odd paradox; it can mean so many things to so many people, but still remain utterly and irrevocably yours.
On some level, I will always be a writer first, and then a reporter. In my teen years, I spent most of my time lolling around my home and dorm room, ruthlessly inhaling page after page of Carver and Chekov, of Barthelme and Munro. On the simplest possible level, I was hypnotized by the worlds these authors fabricated from just their minds. I was drawn to journalism as a result of a similar impulse; the pursuit of new worlds, ones created and ones being lived.
Jump ahead to high school, the boarding school I attended (atop a remote hill range in southeast India) had a small but resourceful library that carried outdated versions of two magazines: Rolling Stone and The New Yorker. Between classes (we weren’t allowed to use cellphones during weekdays, go figure), I’d comb through issue after issue, my slow but growing obsession wasn’t the least bit stifled by the fact that I probably wasn’t the core demographic of either.
Jump to last summer, as I sat on the 18th floor of the Time & Life building in New York as an intern for Fortune, I continued my obsessions in the form of introductory emails, armies of them, sent to Conde Naste and Rolling Stone, the subject line always the same—please love me back. Naturally, I never heard from them— there was nothing ‘human’ or ‘resourceful’ about the auto-reply emails that suffocated my inbox. Through time, I convinced myself that there was more to magazines than Jann Wenner and David Remnick. I loved working at Fortune and met a team of amazing reporters and editors who, later, were happy to see me get into the ASME program and continue pursuing magazines.
Jump to today; I sit in the heart of the Financial District, working for a magazine that I didn’t know existed three months ago, but now am completely in love with. Working for Fast Company has given me a broader perspective of what a magazine can do for people. As I’ve learnt time and time again, a magazine isn’t just the words written inside it, it’s a package.
Two weeks ago, I got in touch with John Dioso from Cosmopolitan and asked if he’d like to get lunch. Within an hour, he responded and we met the next day. When I asked him what he thought got him into Rolling Stone, he laughed and told me “among other things, going to that barbeque where I met the photo editor of the magazine.” So much depends on chance that it can often be disheartening for an aspiring writer and journalist to even dream—there is no fixed formula for serendipity. But just over the course of this past month with the ASME program and the people I’ve met through it; I’ve been constantly reaffirmed of the fact that if you write what you love and love to write, things will be all right in the end. The summer is only half over, but my plans to come back to the city after graduation have already begun to take form.
Honestly, I don’t really know where I’m going to end up five years down the line—whether in magazines at all. But I can take comfort in the fact that I can trust my gut to take me to new places where I can continue building new homes. That’s the basis of my love for the practice really—to keep writing, keep experiencing, keep learning, and above all else, to keep pursuing.

––Written by Varun Nayar, Grinnell College, Fast Company
—Edited by Dora Grote, University of Iowa, Washingtonian

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