What motivates you to write? This is a question that I would like to ask all the writers of the world. Ashok Rajamani’s life story is closer to fiction than non-fiction; yet he has lived the story and now written about it.
Put aside everything you know and just focus on this interview.
Ashok Rajamani is an internationally published writer and poet in New York City. His recently-released, critically-acclaimed memoir, THE DAY MY BRAIN EXPLODED (Algonquin Books) is currently available in bookstores worldwide. The book, an irreverent and electric account of his amazing survival from a full-throttle brain aneurysm, is the first of its kind by any Indian American author in history.
Visit Ashok Rajamani’s Official Website..
Did your brain injury lead you to writing more seriously? Tell us about your amazing journey to the THE DAY MY BRAIN EXPLODED: A TRUE STORY.
It was not a question about being more “serious” with my writing. I have always been serious about this craft. The difference in my writing, since my brain injury, rotates around one word: ‘authenticity.’ It took this horrible near-fatal incident to make me realize the extreme limitations of our lives — in other words, it made me realize, fully, the simple cliché: life is short. As such, an artist must do what s/he can to create inspiring work which rings true for the reader. It took years to write this memoir, and I hope I’ve been able to bare my soul in the process. I am extremely proud of the end result.
You write poetry, essay and books. How do you shift so seamlessly from one form of writing to the other?
I actually change my identity as the written word dictates. For instance, at one point I am Ashok the Poet, one point I am Ashok the Memoirist, and so on. I unconsciously alter myself to fit whatever media or expression I pursue at the time. I am also an artist, so Ashok the Artist is another identity too.
What do you think new writers should do to be successful in 2013 and beyond? What shouldn’t they do?
Plain and simple: new writers should never give up. Publishing is an incredibly horrifying profession; the rejections are countless. To be successful you have to be strong enough to face the criticism. More importantly, you have to be strong enough to break the rules. Many writers hear about how important it is to have an agent, or how to do queries and other such things. But, believe me, don’t listen to them! All those rules are a bunch of crap. I got a deal without an agent. I simply cold-called the editor. I wrote queries in my own strange way. I never followed – nor follow – rules. To be successful from here and beyond, don’t listen to the rules. Write what fulfills you – and stop at nothing at getting your words out. Self-publishing, digital publishing and other possibilities, are all new ways books are read. No more do we have to fear the old “establishment” of publishing houses. Be bold, be brave. But no matter the hurdles, keep on writing. Keep on Keeping on. We should always realize that, in order to get where we want to go, persistence is a must. No book, or poem, can exist without a full narrative.
As a writer who has dealt with brain injury, what kind of advice do you have to give to writers who want to deal with difficult health issues? Is there anything like too much honesty when you write about the darkest moments of your life?
First off, I want to say that the book was difficult to write because of my motor skills (my hands would often quiver on the keyboard), cognitive disability (I had to keep writing and reading notes due to my amnesia), and my visual handicaps (the hemorrhage left me blind in half of both my eyes, and I have faced multiple sight distortions). But I kept moving forward.
I swiveled the mirror so I could see; I made comprehensive outlines; I used a ruler to help me delineate the margins; I did whatever it took to keep writing. So, to all the disabled writers who don’t think they can do it – you’re only as good as the limitations you set for yourselves.
Now, to answer your question: writing about one’s health issues is a personal matter. What happened to me is not unique – brain injury is faced by many. I think what made the difference is that I had a compulsion to document it. It takes a certain motivation (some would say derangement) to write about your health nightmares. So I can’t advise other survivors or patients on how to move forward with writing their experiences. All I can say is that it is not easy to revisit the terrors you’ve experienced. Be prepared to have meltdowns in the fight to write about your life.
As for being honest, I don’t think there is such a thing as “too much” honesty about disclosing a health crisis. Even a lie always reveals the truth. The main problem is trying to convince your family not to hate you for revealing family secrets!
Is there any writer who has inspired you more than your life?
There is not just one writer who inspires me. There are many, all of whom have been able to conflate sorrow with humor. My memoir never gets too mawkish; laughter is stronger than sorrow. Tears of joy carry more power than tears of pain, so I adore poets, novelists, and memoirists who understand the importance of mixing comedy with drama. Faves include the following writers: Katherine Dunn, David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, T.S. Eliot, and Herodotus. On a grander scale, you can’t beat the fictional or non-fictional Vyasa, the mythical wordsmith credited for writing the greatest poem ever made: The Mahabharata.
Thank you Ashok for your time. Your advice is invaluable to writers who procrastinate and those who try, and to people world over who have encountered rebellions of the body. Hope your book gets all the success it deserves!
Posted in: Interviews with Poets