My dear songbirds,
When we left off last time, I had covered my years and advice from year dot to twenty one. You can read that one here, ICYMI.
Now since December is busy posting time for me—almost time for my Great Books 2023 round-up!—I’m sending you part two in plenty of time and ten days ahead of my actual big birthday!
A reminder: if you look forward to this newsletter, if you open it as soon as it hits your inbox, if you enjoy reading my dispatches from my corner of the world, please buy me a coffee! It’s very little investment and it helps keep me motivated and writing to you.
When we left off, I was telling you about my twenty first year, when I chose to go on into journalism and abandon a briefly started masters degree in English Literature.
Year Twenty Two: Make financially irresponsible decisions every now and then. I chose to move out of my very comfortable parental abode and into the “real world” with a starting salary of Rs 7,500 (say 75 euros?). This mostly went into my rent, leaving me super broke and super stressed out but I’d done it, I’d moved out without a cushion. The years that followed got easier, I learned to live on my own and run a household, I learned to live with other people who weren’t my parents (only child, see?). It was immensely difficult and immensely rewarding. I think you should find the same thing for yourself.
Year Twenty Three: If you’re going to move into a house with your friends, you’d all better make your expectations clear in the beginning. Otherwise… awkward.
Year Twenty Four: Do that wild project you’ve been thinking about doing for ages with no expectations at all, except that you’ll have fun doing it. Did I ever tell you I was once a reasonably well-known blogger? I was famous for my blog. And I poured my heart and soul into that thing. It paid off, not financially, but in terms of building a public profile greater than anything I had with print journalism. My blog quite literally led to a book deal, and twenty years later, here we are.
Year Twenty Five: Upend your life from time to time just because you can. Move cities, move countries, or even smaller, move house. Take a really large decision at the spur of the moment, and then enjoy watching it come together. You’ll never regret it.
Year Twenty Six: I should’ve used all the publicity I got for my first novel and leveraged it into publicity for life. I had no idea how to do that. So, basically, talk to people who have been doing things for longer than you have and use their wisdoms to build your own. There’s only ever going to be one debut thing for you, and that’s when the publicity will be at its highest, so take it all and use it well.
Year Twenty Seven: Do not let your period of self-loathing allow you to get into relationships with people who are bad for you. You’ll always be happier alone than with someone who actively makes you unhappy.
Year Twenty Eight: What’s holding you back from creating your own good life? A partner (or a house, or a job, or a child) isn’t going to change the fundamental-ness of who you are. Start by living the way you want to, in my case, it was a tiny house, an annexe flat, once the servant’s quarters of the house next door, where I started again with my cat and hosted several dinner parties and sat on the terrace and watched the metro go by.
Year Twenty Nine: Take a chance on love, even if it might break your heart. Sometimes it works out in ways you’ve not even allowed yourself to dream of.
Year Thirty: (my thirties are all a bit of a blur, they spun by so fast so the advice for this decade might be out of chronology.) These next few years, everyone you know is going to have children. It’s a good time to decide what you want to do. You kind of know in your bones though.
Year Thirty One: YES you need more animals in your life, YES you will probably regret this whenever you travel, YES this is not a decision you should make impulsively, YES you love them so much even in the face of their mortality (and stinky litter boxes and vomit on the floor). Living with another species is a beautiful and unique human privilege.
Year Thirty Two: Bad jobs are really not worth the money you’re getting. Do you want to be unhappy every waking day of your life? Find a workplace that respects you and treats you like a person instead of an automaton.
Year Thirty Three: The best sign of an intelligent mind is someone who doesn’t know everything. If the politics of your country depresses you, try and find out why it’s happened and why it’s continuing to happen. It’s not going to leave you any less depressed, but at least you’ll be well-informed. I find from my psychoanalysis, that once I know why I’m feeling a certain way, it helps me cope. This was advice I should’ve given myself in 2014, but hindsight is 20-20.
Year Thirty Four: Get out of town! Learn how to travel well: what are the things you can live with and the things you can live without? Breakfast included is always worth it. Carry your own coffee stuff, it’s surprisingly hard to find. Remember to leave room in your bags for what you’re going to buy. If you travel light, you don’t have to wait for anyone and this is amazing. Do research only in the last week before you go and mark all the places you want to see on Google Maps. (Otherwise it gets overwhelming.) Always leave room for a rest-day, where you do nothing but read in a nice cafe. I also like to leave time for a daily nap, but I’m getting older, and I prefer naps to seeing everything.
Year Thirty Five: Go back to the same holiday destination over and over again for a whole year or two, till you know it intimately. The place becomes a friend. You’re a regular at certain places. It might sound dull—why go back?—but the pay-off is that suddenly there’s a place that’s not home, where you just go on holiday, that becomes a sort of offshoot of home, where you feel at peace and everything is familiar and yet, everything is so different from where you’ve just flown in from.
Year Thirty Six: Yes, it’s possible to get married and have a party and not break the bank doing it, but it should be something that you want to do instead of something you’re forced to. Some people love huge weddings, I never did. Your wedding is about you and not your entire extended family. This is sometimes hard to remember in India, but there’s only two people going into a marriage after all. Put your foot down and let it be one of the first acts of assertion in your married life.
Year Thirty Seven and Year Thirty Eight: Some years in your life are just a waiting period. You only realise this later, when you’re looking back at your life such as it is—maybe writing a newsletter about it—and you think, “What was the point of those years? I wasn’t doing anything, just repeating what I’d already done.” But you wouldn’t be here, at whatever new point of your life you’re in now, without those fallow periods, the patterns so deep you could do them sleepwalking. I am generally a restless person, but I’m also a very lazy one. I liked my 37th and 38th year, because I felt like I had curled into my life like a caterpillar, inside my cocoon. Eventually, you’ve got to split out of them, and emerge into the world like a butterfly blah blah blah, but sometimes you can stay in your cocoon for ages, hibernating like a bear (have switched animal metaphors but you get my gist.) (How terrifying would a bear-butterfly hybrid be?)
Year Thirty Nine: Massive world events will sometimes occur in your lifetime. Once you get over being stunned by them, you do the only thing you can do, what humans have done for centuries in the face of adversity: you look forward. What will I do after this, we all thought to ourselves. Sometimes you do the thing you thought you would and that’s satisfying. Sometimes you return to your life with a sense of gratitude, and that’s satisfying too. Don’t forget though. It’s important not to forget.
Year Forty: Making new friends is much harder than it used to be, especially if you work from home and only leave the house to meet new people, but everyone has the same problem and so the internet has several solutions. They may not be best friends, or even people you see after a short two month burst of enthusiasm, but every time you meet someone new you’re learning a little more about how to be comfortable in this situation.
Year Forty One: (AT LAST) What a great year I’ve had. After about a year and a half of inefficient German bureaucracy, I finally got my national visa and was able to stay in Berlin for longer than 90 days. This has changed everything, I finally feel like a resident of this city. Thanks to being here full time, I’ve managed to sustain friendships and take up hobbies and figure out writing rythyms and all sorts of other life-skill-y things. This was also the year Soft Animal came out, a book I’m extremely proud of. I’ll tell you one new thing from my forty first year that I think makes for good advice: I started challenging my own beliefs. Like, did I think I didn’t like something because I once didn’t like it at age 22? Or was there something else to it? I don’t want to become one of those narrow minded old people, who refuse to listen because they’re older and therefore know everything. It’s so easy to slip into that. I want to keep finding out things about myself and about the world. It keeps me young.
And with that, we end! Let me know what you think in comments or reply to this email.
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I have many other stories for you but those will have to wait till next time. Have you watched Fleishman Is In Trouble? We binged it all in one day, and it’s really good.
Who are you? Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of eight books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.
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