My latest book is The One Who Swam With The Fishes.

"A mesmerizing account of the well-known story of Matsyagandha ... and her transformation from fisherman’s daughter to Satyavati, Santanu’s royal consort and the Mother/Progenitor of the Kuru clan." - Hindustan Times

"Themes of fate, morality and power overlay a subtle and essential feminism to make this lyrical book a must-read. If this is Madhavan’s first book in the Girls from the Mahabharata series, there is much to look forward to in the months to come." - Open Magazine

"A gleeful dollop of Blytonian magic ... Reddy Madhavan is also able to tackle some fairly sensitive subjects such as identity, the love of and karmic ties with parents, adoption, the first sexual encounter, loneliness, and my favourite, feminist rage." - Scroll

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3 December 2023

The Internet Personified: Life, the Universe and Everything Part II

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.

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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.

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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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22 November 2023

The Internet Personifed: Life, the Universe and Everything Part I

My frisky bass guitars,

I think I can feel my Birthday Person-ness coming back to me this year. First of all, here in the Global North, they have been pushing Christmas at me since September. Like, I was wearing my Birkenstocks and a short sleeveless dress, and there’s a whole rack of advent calendars summoned up out of nowhere at DM. There were all sorts of things the Germans celebrated between now and September: the first day of school (the kids get these large paper cones filled with school supplies and sweets, but only for the first first day, not every first day thereafter), Halloween (make-up offers and skeletons), autumn in general (my favourite local bar strung up autumn leaves in between the fairy lights), St Martin’s Day (little kids running around with lanterns), but now all that is done, everyone’s like, “Right. Is it Christmas yet?” Office Christmas parties have already started, Christmas markets open their gates this weekend and glühwein has been on offer at all the small corner shops for some weeks now.

The weather is kind of miserable—very wet and windy, but it’s still not super cold* yet, so there’s something to be said about having your face tingle with cold while your body is warm. Nice, because it’s new, I guess. In a month we’ll all be upset about this but by then it’s actual Christmas. (We don’t discuss January in Berlin.)

*EDIT: since I wrote that sentence three days ago, it has since become super cold.

Anyway I’m due for a birthday next month* and I’m feeling sort of cheery about it. I’m turning forty two this year and I feel pretty good about my age as well, which is always nice. 42 is, for those of you who know The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the answer to “life, the universe and everything.” I look forward to my life having some answers, finally, when so far it’s just been questions.

*My birthday is the thirteenth of December, aka 1312, which is what graffiti artists here use to signal the term: “All Cops are B*st*rds.” Which becomes ACAB, which is hate speech and you can be prosecuted for it, so they settled for 1312, which corresponds to the letters ACAB on a numerical keyboard. You see 1312 all over the place, an easy way to remember one’s own 13th of 12th, if one needed reminding.

I do have some answers though, so I’m writing those down like one of those LinkedIn influencers who are all “here are 30 things I learned at 30,” except mine are better because the first piece of advice I have to give you is everyone else’s advice usually sucks unless it’s about something practical. So, take advice about where to eat in a new city, how to file your taxes, how to get in touch with someone and so on, but don’t bother taking advice on how to live your own very personal life, which means also that you can ignore this paragraph completely and live your life completely according to other people’s wisdoms. So meta!

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I’m going chronologically and telling you something I learned from each year I’ve been on this planet, so buckle up buttercups, this is one of those newsletters.

Year One: When learning a new language (or language at all), first learn the words that mean the things that you like the most. My first proper word was the Telugu for “bird.” In German, I have words I learned right in the beginning that stayed: “beautiful,” and “cat,” and then also words that summed up feelings: “the sorrows of the world,” and “the weight you gain when you’re sad.” (Only in German, am I right?)

Year Two: When you find something you love, do it constantly for the rest of your life. I learned to read at age two and a half, and I haven’t stopped since. I read every single day and also go to sleep at night with a book in my hand. (Pro tip: switch to a Kindle with a backlight for night reading, it’s easier to turn over and also you can turn off the lights and go to sleep as soon as your chapter is done.)

Year Three: When making new friends, offer your strengths to match their weaknesses and vice versa. My best friends are people who have something within them that I long for. When I started school for the first time, a lot of the other kids were crying at being left alone and I went up to them and asked why they were crying. I’m not sure this worked as a friendship tactic, but to this day I’m friends with one little girl who walked to nursery school with me every morning. (I don’t think she cried, she isn’t the crying type, but I remain delighted by her in general.)

Year Four: When the other kids won’t play with you, find your own games. I spent a lot of time alone at age four, but I had my own world and my own vivid imagination and eventually, another girl who I’d been eyeing across the park for many months became my close friend to the point that she couldn’t be punished by keeping her away from me, because that would be a punishment for me too. (Yes, she’s still my friend. Additional advice: stay in touch with as many people from your childhood as you can, because they know you in a way that no one else will.)

Year Five: Let animals into your life freely, with no care of the consequences.

Year Six: At some point you will thank yourself in the past for learning how to ride a bicycle. Why not get back on a bike today?

Year Seven: Give your heart to everyone, even the people who might not deserve it, or know what to do with it. Yes, you might get hurt, but also yes, you will learn how to love in an abandoned, let it all go sort of way that can never be unlearned. (I had many “best friends” this year who were sort of baffled by who I was, but it was my choosing them as best friends that made me a stronger person. Love doesn’t always have to be reciprocated.)

Year Eight: (this is harder than I thought because I don’t seem to have much from year eight, a weird blank year. Oh yes, I entered a bunch of contests.) Imagine that whatever you do is the best version of the skill, and proceed accordingly. Can you draw a little? You’re an artist. Can you put forward your opinion in a calm and rational manner? You’re a champion debater. No one has to slap a blue ribbon on your front for you to big yourself up in your own head. Do it for yourself anyway. Practice saying, “I’m actually really good at….”

Year Nine: why have I started this i have no idea what happened to me in the ninth year of my life and definitely no idea how to tie it into a pithy aphorism. I started keeping a diary around now I guess. Those diaries are really fun to read now. Look, you need a journal. We’re so used to social media that all our thoughts are filtered through public perception. How will my audience feel about this, you think. Don’t you want a place where you can be bitchy or angsty or super boring and no one will ever see it? Start a diary! And ignore all those bullet journal type Instagram accounts. It doesn’t have to be attractive. Just take a blank notebook and go, “Dear Diary, today I had to go to the supermarket and it was sort of dull but it also made me think about the party I’m throwing this weekend, and how unhappy I am that Neha* isn’t coming.”

(*no offence to Nehas, I know and love many Nehas.)

Year Ten: Travelling alone can reveal all sorts of things about other people—and also yourself. (Especially if you’re somewhat vulnerable and at the mercy of others, like me, age 10, sent off to the US to visit my aunt and cousins two weeks before my mother joined us.)

Year Eleven: Television is amazing and it can also ruin your day a little bit.

Year Twelve: We had no idea our periods were going to last this long, but I’ve got to say, despite the blood and the ache and the Period Pimple (why still? I’m so old!) and the Period Poops (this is a thing), I’m going to miss my Red Days when they go forever. It’s such a good way for checking in with your body. Am I OK? Is everything working as it should? (Of course if you have PCOD or ende-whatsit, then you have my full sympathy and they should really invent some sort of cure for that.)

Year Thirteen: Go on, have a disco-themed birthday party.

Year Fourteen: If you have a massive failure in your life and you’re really unhappy about it, that really sucks and it’s okay to be angry but also you’ve gained something no one else has and that is the opportunity to tap into your inner strength and emerge blazing on to the other side. (I flunked class nine, and went away to boarding school to get away from it all and y’know, I really think I enjoyed the turn my life took me on.) (In retrospect, of course. In the moment I wanted to die.)

Year Fifteen: Join everything. Rediscover the stuff that used to make you happy. (This is easy in Berlin, my theatre group is going great guns—and my German has improved as well—I know several people in choirs, there’s board game evenings and art workshops and all sorts of exciting things. Check out the Meetup website for your city to see what’s going on.)

Year Sixteen: Remember when we used to listen to new music all the time to try and shape our own tastes? We should do that again. Just put on a Spotify playlist (not “Weekly Top 50” that’s pretty bad) but a random well-curated list of songs by people you may not have heard of. I know we’re going to keep returning to the ‘80s and ‘90s—-and me, last night in an U Bahn, super sleepy and listening to “She Will Be Loved” over and over again—but it’s nice to keep your brain and your ears engaged with the world instead of constantly soothing ourselves with the same sounds over and over again.

Year Seventeen: If you’re reading this, you’ve probably been kissing people for a long time, but let’s make out (with whoever floats your boat) like we’re seventeen again. You know? That urgency, that not knowing what it is you wanted but you were going to look for it anyway. “Easier said than done, Meenakshi,'“ you’re thinking, but when was it ever easy, ya. All I’m saying is approach touching someone else (consensually) in the way a seventeen year old would, with great excitement and clumsiness and yearning and all of it. All of it.

Year Eighteen: Vote and drive responsibly.

Year Nineteen: Practise sitting in a room with a group of female friends and telling them everything about your life without filters. Practise listening when they do the same.

Year Twenty: Death will always be the hardest thing to write about. (I tried here.)

Year Twenty One: When the opportunity arises, as it will, over and over again, you will have to choose between retreating indoors or going out and facing the world. I first did this at 21, when I picked a job over continuing my education with a master’s degree. So far, I mostly choose the world with all its delights, but as I’m getting older, the interior life of an academic* is becoming more appealing. I’d say choose the world when you’re looking for something to write about, choose your room when you’re ready to write.

*I don’t mean literally an academic, I just mean anyone who is choosing to study or think or be, even outside of a university context.


All right! I’m going to end on a cliffhanger—if advice posts can have cliffhangers. To be continued, sweeties. Remember to tip your waitress if you enjoyed this.

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Yesterday at our theatre workshop, we all had to pretend to be animals and I picked a butterfly, because I like the German word (SCHMETTERLING) so I decided to add butterfly gifs to this whole thing.

Speak later this week with the second half of this thing! Comment or reply to this email to let me know you’re listening, I get lonesome when none of you reply.

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Have a great week!



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.

Follow me on Instagram! (I have a special account for book recommendations)

Forward to your friends if you liked this and to really obvious advice givers if you didn’t.

Also, write back to me! I love to hear from you.

31 October 2023

The Internet Personified: Tuesday Link List

My friends, my friends!

Here I am bursting into your inbox with my links

Ah man, it’s 5.30 pm (on Monday, but I’ve cleverly titled this the TUESDAY link list so I can send it out tomorrow and assuage my guilt) and outside is pitch black. Like middle-of-the-night black. Like, I should have finished my dinner and be brushing my teeth for bed black. I’d forgotten this about Berlin, how dark it gets suddenly in the middle of the day. See, I’d been tending to romanticise winter—it’s so cozy! everything smells good! there’s soup and novels—but as the months go by, I’m going to see less and less daylight until finally, you get one strip of bleak grey sky for about an hour in the morning if you’re lucky and by 3 pm, here we are, dark as coal, cold as the Arctic. This is really Berlin’s season though. In the summer, you forget, it’s so beautiful here, the days are endless, the nights are warm, but that’s just a party dress she puts on. This is the time of year that Berlin is more comfortable in, often wet, quite cold, where the nights are endless instead.

Chalo, at least we have a few weeks left of autumn. “Herbst” they call it here. The trees are all red and gold, and my underlayers are still light. I have to go out this evening, but it’s already feeling like “too late.” K is away for the rest of this week and so I’m going to have a solitary life, where, in all likelihood I will fall asleep at 8 pm just because it’s dark as fuck outside and my body is super confused.

The global north is weird.

Anyway! Moving on to the purest form of escapism, ie, reading, and boy, do I have a lot of links for you this week. Who’s got two thumbs and is hiding from the news right now? THIS LADY. Who’s got two thumbs and also has read enough to acknowledge the privilege she has in being able to ignore the news? ALSO THIS LADY. Who hates the term “acknowledge your privilege” because it’s become a catch-all get-out-of-jail-free card where you can basically be as douchey as you like and wave it away by saying “I acknowledge my privilege” like a Gwyneth Paltrow type person? DING DING DING. Bah. Once you get old enough being a writer, you start to write yourself into circles, like a dog chasing its own tail.

Also Matthew Perry died, which makes me very sad because I’ve rewatched Friends a zillion times and feel like Chandler Bing was a part of my life when I needed him. Apparently Matthew Perry himself was a part of many people’s lives when they needed him so RIP to someone who seemed like a great human being.

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“What if he was your son??” someone posted at me angrily. This comment is emblematic. It’s not the kind of thing one normally says about an artist getting a critical review (unless the criticism is extremely over the top and disproportionate to the status of the artist in question). Generally, the point of presenting an art show in public is to see if it can hold the attention of people who don’t directly know you.- From: The World’s Most Popular Painter Sent His Followers After Me Because He Didn’t Like a Review of His Work. Here’s What I Learned (Artnet) (Editor’s note: I’m linking this because I’ve been thinking about reviews and criticism a lot lately. I feel like the lines between artists and reviewers have blurred, especially because of social media so anyone can jump over the line and say anything they want to. The old rule of “not contacting reviewers because it’s bad manners” just doesn’t seem to apply any more, so it’s likely that if you give a social media star a bad review, they’ll come after you. Not me though. I read the weird reviews, I feel hate in my heart and then I just internalise it like everyone in my generation! It’s ok! I’m in therapy!)

Conversations, like improv scenes, start to sink if they sit still. Takers can paddle for both sides, relieving their partners of the duty to generate the next thing. It’s easy to remember how lonely it feels when a taker refuses to cede the spotlight to you, but easy to forget how lovely it feels when you don’t want the spotlight and a taker lets you recline on the mezzanine while they fill the stage. When you’re tired or shy or anxious or bored, there’s nothing better than hopping on the back of a conversational motorcycle, wrapping your arms around your partner’s waist, and holding on for dear life while they rocket you to somewhere new. From: Good conversations have lots of doorknobs (Experimental History). (Editor’s note: Ever since I read this piece I’ve been thinking about how good conversations work. Doorknobs! Try it next time you meet someone new.)

It is hardly possible that Mohammad hasn’t heard that innocent civilians were killed in the attack. Photos of the dead bodies have also been broadcast on Arab-language channels. Does he feel sorry for the victims, many of whom were his age? Mohammad doesn’t answer before letting out a laugh and looking imploringly at his friend. "Just say that you think it’s terrible when innocent people die," his friend tells him with a grin. From: The Mood on the Berlin Streets: "I Actually Don't Like Hamas, But..." (Der Spiegel) (Editor’s note: oh man, the conversation around Israel and Gaza is SO WEIRD here. Super polarising. But the German government has taken a strong pro-Israel position and that is officially what most people stick to.)

In the 1950s, the British psychoanalyst John Bowlby posited that being separated from a maternal figure in the first years of life warps a child’s future ability to form close relationships. He and other psychologists later added nuance to what became known as “attachment theory,” taking into account new research, such as a longitudinal study of children who’d spent their early years in residential facilities, which indicated that some children had more resiliency than Bowlby had initially grasped. In the ensuing decades, the idea that breaking off a primary attachment would do lifelong damage became influential in child-development spheres and eventually infiltrated popular culture. Early in this century, several adoption attorneys “hit on this thing of attachment” and saw its utility, Dale Dove, who co-chairs the Academy of Adoption & Assisted Reproduction Attorneys’ foster care committee, told me. With the supply of adoptable babies dropping, foster children were becoming a “hot commodity,” he said, and he and his colleagues (among them Tim Eirich’s law partner Seth Grob) realized that attachment experts could be called into court to argue that foster children needed to remain with their foster parents in order to avoid a severed bond. From: When Foster Parents Don’t Want to Give Back the Baby (ProPublica) (Editor’s note: Found this longread very interesting. When children become a commodity, obviously there will be a tussle between who gets to take care of them all framed under the narrative “it’s the best thing for the child.”)

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It’s a form of dancing I haven’t done in front of anyone for years; it’s the kind of thing I used to do with a group of other young women or girls when there were no boys around, or at least no boys we cared to impress. That’s what this entire concert reminded me of — time I spent in my own teenage bedroom, singing songs and pinballing between sexy stripper moves and goofy square dancing. Maybe that’s what Eras really is: the acknowledgment of girls as people to memorialize, of who we are and who we were, all existing in the same body, on the same timeline. You are your sluttiest version, your silliest version, your most wholesome, your smartest, your dumbest, your saddest, your happiest — all at once. From: This Is Not a Taylor Swift Profile (NYT) (Editor’s note: What I know about Taylor Swift could probably be expanded into one paragraph but she’s a phenomenon and reading about phenomenons is always fun, especially in a sassy “experience review” of a concert like this one.)

It's true that my wife and I had been calling Gary a lot. About a year and a half prior, we'd walked into his office in the Berkshires, in Massachusetts — home to white folks who love the Boston Pops, farm to table, and Lyme disease — and signed a contract for Gary to build a pool in our backyard. It made me feel a little bit like an asshole to be honest, the idea of having a pool. Just the rich-person-ness of it. But what is life if not a long march toward losing all your morals and shame. And thanks to the support of my friends and family, I was able to bury my feelings deep inside and become invested in the idea of having a pool. A pool could be evidence that my life hadn't amounted to nothing. When I found myself at a party with intimidating people, I would sometimes say to myself, I am a person with a swimming pool, so I could believe I had the same right to exist as anyone else. And people would have to be friends with me, right? Because who doesn't want a friend with a pool? It would be like when Jeff Allen's mom used to let him have pool parties at his house in eighth grade. Sure, after everyone ate all the grilled cheeses his mom had cut into triangles and sneaked shots of vodka and then thrown up in the bushes, they all left and didn't invite him to come along. But wasn't that better than sitting at home alone on a Friday night, which was probably what Jeff would have been doing otherwise? Wasn't that a win? From: The Great Zelle Pool Scam (Business Insider) (Editor’s note: I’m always afraid things are scams, so much so that I’ve joined the subreddit r/scams so this whole story is dodge AF but in a schadenfreude so glad it didn’t happen to me way.)

One Twitter friend told me, of the platform’s current condition, “I’ve actually experienced quite a lot of grief over it.” It may seem strange to feel such wistfulness about a site that users habitually referred to as a “hellsite.” But I’ve heard the same from many others who once considered Twitter, for all its shortcomings, a vital social landscape. Some of them still tweet regularly, but their messages are less likely to surface in my Swift-heavy feed. Musk recently tweeted that the company’s algorithm “tries to optimize time spent on X” by, say, boosting reply chains and downplaying links that might send people away from the platform. The new paradigm benefits tech-industry “thread guys,” prompt posts in the “what’s your favorite Marvel movie” vein, and single-topic commentators like Derek Guy, who tweets endlessly about menswear. Algorithmic recommendations make already popular accounts and subjects even more so, shutting out the smaller, more magpie-ish voices that made the old version of Twitter such a lively destination. (Guy, meanwhile, has received so much algorithmic promotion under Musk that he accumulated more than half a million followers.) From: Why the Internet Isn’t Fun Anymore (The New Yorker) (Editor’s note: Great minds! I wrote about exactly the same thing in my last newsletter which you can read here if you missed it.)

Postscripts: Reconciliation on Death Row. ** People Are Shocked When They Find Out How Old I Am. Here's Why It's Not A Compliment.** 40 trailblazing companies that are beating the West. ** And a throwback to one of my favourite shows, here’s “Where’s the bathroom?” from Crazy Ex Girlfriend.

Have a great week! Speak soon.



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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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20 October 2023

The Internet Personified: You used to call me on my cellphone

Marvellous murder hornets,

Autumn is here. When exactly it slunk up on us, I can’t say, but the days are cold and the nights are colder. It’s not so cold that I can’t wear my nice (read: fashionable) coats, but it’s too cold for bare legs and arms. My cashmere socks have been dug out of the drawer they lay unattended in for four months. Only four! Summer that seemed so endless and perfect has given way to a memory of something that we once had. This morning—grey, rainy—the lamps are on, but not the ceiling light. I like the pools of warmth they give off. Our heating is not on yet, we live in an ugly but functional new building, very much post-war, so our windows are snug and double insulated. The neighbours have turned on their heating so our house is warm through them and slightly smelly because the windows are closed, but cozy. I started to take my vitamin D supplements in September, these might be a placebo, but I’m not feeling the bone-tiredness, the melancholy moods of winter just yet. It’s 8 degrees celcius this morning, and tomorrow, my forecast promises, will be a golden autumn day with a high of 18, so Berlin is hard to predict if you were packing for it.

Winter clothes, winter mood. (Portrait of Katharina Merian by Hans Brosamer) (I don’t know who they are but I liked her face and also her pendant.)

When I first visited Berlin, November 2015, that was a golden autumn if there ever was one. The outside was bright, sparkly, the insides were snug. It was warm enough to just wear a coat over a t-shirt. I walked on the road and drank in public, and thought I never wanted to leave. People warned me it wasn’t always like that, but I thought they were exaggerating.

I still never want to leave though. A day like today, a wistful melancholy day, the trees beginning to lose their leaves, everyone under their umbrellas, and me with no errands to run outside the house at all, what bliss. I look at the news and feel the crunch of despair just pushing down in the centre of my chest till I have to sit down and so I’m even more thankful for, you know, all this.

I hesitate to say I’m “too old” for anything, it seems so simplistic and so final. “Too old” is the “sorry I can’t come tonight, not feeling great” of life excuses, something you toss off and feel wordly wise or weary about. What you mean is that you’re tired, you’re not ready for a new experience, you don’t feel like you can cope with the situation in this particular time of your life etc etc. (I just saw a Substack whose intro opened with, “I’m 33, and that feels too old to write for free on the internet.”)

As of this morning, writing this newsletter, here are some things I am doing/have done recently that I would have, for sure, told you I was “too old” for. Joining a drama workshop where we all speak German and act together. Got more comfortable biking, despite the fact that the last time I was so confident about biking, I was twelve. Stayed out till 3 am (okay, I started protesting at around 1.30, but I powered through!) The things I believe to be true about myself are not actually that set in stone. A thousand years after I decided I didn’t like fresh tomato, I have begun eating it in sandwiches again! I bought silver boots! I am currently listening to Taylor Swift! I meet people much younger and much older than me, and I realise that their ages aren’t the first thing to strike me in the face (unless they’re very self consciously youth performing, that annoys me).

But there’s one thing I realised I’m actually “too old” for. And that’s migrating social media platforms. X (Twitter) has died, and I’ve joined everything that sprung up in its place, your Bluesky, your Threads, your Mastodon, your Substack Notes. But try as I might I couldn’t get the platform/s to act exactly the way Twitter did, back when Twitter was a party. Back when it felt like you didn’t need to actually go outside to socialise, because you could do it online, and if you did go to an actual real-life party, it would be with other people who you followed and who followed you.

In 2019, I wrote this little essay for an online publication called Paper Planes. It was about time-specific nostalgia, how you missed a place in past tense. I find myself thinking about that today. I miss Twitter as it used to be, a few years ago (maybe five?) when you could say something and people would jump in and interact with you, and you had your “viral tweets” and your people sending screenshots of each other’s tweets on WhatsApp groups, it was an actual space, even though it was online.

I, more than anyone I know, know how real an online space can feel. I used to have a blog, it was a nice blog. I used to have a community. I mourned the end of that, but Twitter swiftly replaced it in a way Instagram couldn’t. Instagram was too polished, too many selfies. I was never that interested in my own face—it’s a nice enough face but eh, I get boringly obsessed if I look at it too often, I see my flaws and I start to think about them and it’s all so annoying, even if I’m telling myself I look pretty, what even is pretty, right? It’s a very dull conversation to have, even inside your own head—and I only took nice photos when I travelled, otherwise it was just cats and sofa and books and clothes. By contrast, I was tweeting all the time, any time I had a strikingly random thought. Such as:

Do cats understand dogs or is it like hearing Portuguese when you only speak Mandarin?

A FRIENDS-SATC mash-up where Carrie goes on a date with Chandler but his friends are the red flag for her. “I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of man wants to spend all his time with five other people all the time.”

Listening to an American speak German with a v thick American accent, wondering how come their accent stays the same between languages and Indian English sort of vanishes the longer you live abroad

Berlin hipster coffee shop with self service: I go to pay by card. "Oh," says the cashier, "You can select tip or no tip and then pay." His eyes look at me, waiting. Cowardly, I select "tip" for everything including collecting my own coffee & taking the dirty glasses back.

sending some of my best texting banter to people who respond with thumbs up emojis. (which is also a good metaphor for the state of my novels)

how does all the spiderman stuff get passed down genetically to spiderbaby? unless the spider recodes your dna or whatever.

See? I had good stuff there. Some of the above, I even tweeted hopefully, but most went unnoticed, one or two got a single like or one lonely retweet. I have a lot of followers (close to 10,000), I used to have a verified button, and now—crickets.

It feels like a loss. I even surprised myself by talking about the death of Twitter to my therapist the other day. It’s not something I would usually mention, a current-affairs-y thing. My sessions tend to be far more inside my head. Deep inside, like childhood memories and shit. But I began talking about Twitter, complaining about how I couldn’t spread the word about anything anymore, not my new novel, not my book launch and not my fleeting thoughts as I push through the world. I realised I was more upset about losing all this than I realised. Twitter was a writer’s social media more than anything else, and now it’s gone and with it, a tool that I depended on to find out I wasn’t alone.

It’s not just existential loneliness either. All writers these days are expected to sell their own books. Publicists and sales people will tell you that “word of mouth” is the only way to sell books these days, and those mouths are accounts with large followings. I emerge from writing, from inventing new people and new worlds and then I have to sell. “Look at me!” I have to say, “Here’s my new book! Please buy it! Please tell me I’m relevant!” And the problem with all of this playing out online is that you get very cynical about everything, which is the worst thing for your writing. I don’t mean that you can’t write with a certain ironic flair or be flippant or whatever, but you’ve got to believe in your own writing otherwise what’s the point? Instead you begin to “what’s the point” everything else, including your role in the world and your own self-worth. It’s awful and it’s killing any baby creative thoughts that might be creeping up inside your brain, getting ready to grow.

I had a book launch last week in this brand new city where I don’t know any publishers or media people or influencers. I had a small box of books I offered for sale at the event, a venue whose details I worked out a couple of weeks before with the people who run it and a tiny mailing list consisting of friends and acquaintances I’ve made over the past two years. I told my mum, “I’ll be happy if ten people come.” I was expecting six. I put a post up on my Instagram (mostly followers from India) and then considered Twitter. I follow a lot of random Berlin-based accounts on Twitter, just because they were suggested to me around the time of Elon’s great takeover that ruined everything (GTTRE). I used to think if I could see them, maybe they could see me, so whenever I tweeted about Berlin, I sat back, like a child with artwork, just waiting for them to discover me. They never did. I didn’t post about my book event on Twitter in the end. It went really well—about thirty people, the small room was full. It might’ve been a fluke, just good timing and curiosity and friendly people, but it was the first time I attempted something like this—in a new city! on the other side of the world!—without the help of a social media following.

The other day I got an email from a reader who had just bought my new book. She hit reply on an old thread we apparently had going, from the year 2007, back when I was an anonymous blogger and she had gotten in touch to ask what my first book was called and when it was going to be out. “Is this still you?” she asked.

It’s still me.

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Currently re-reading: The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman, originally introduced to me by bestie Samit Basu, which also has a really good TV show based on it which I’ve also seen, but the books are so good that it feels like I’m reading them for the first time. Snarky adult Harry Potter meets Narnia meets millennial angst.

Currently re-watching: Sex and The City because I finished re-watching Downton Abbey and this felt like the… logical? sequel. We also began watching a really fun sci-fi show called Counterpart, set in Berlin, starring JK Simmons. Everything seems like it’s set in Berlin these days.

If you’re searching for the link list, I have migrated those to their own issues.

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It seems that Substack is the last place we’ve got to talk to each other, so talk to me, tell me things from your life that are particularly interesting even if it’s just that you discovered two ladybirds mating in your balcony palm tree.

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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.

Follow me on Instagram! (I have a special account for book recommendations)

Forward to your friends if you liked this and to news organisations who keep typing X (formerly known as Twitter) (we get it) if you didn’t.

Also, write back to me! I love to hear from you.

5 October 2023

The Internet Personified: Thursday Link List

This is a free newsletter but you can support me by buying me a coffee!

From the British Library’s free-to-use online collection of images on Flickr

My terrific terabytes,

I’ve had a busy week already—October 3rd was a holiday here for German reunification day and also a dear friend’s birthday, so we celebrated madly starting Saturday with a day time party at a club called about: blank. I don’t like techno music much (or staying up past my bedtime) (or spending a lot of money to enter a place where I’ll have to do two other things I don’t like) so this was ideal. The music was gentle, the entry was donation-based and we entered at 4 and left at 8 and were nicely in bed by 10.30. The ideal Saturday! Sadly, I’ve only discovered this concept much too late, it’s cold now and getting colder, so outdoor raves will soon have to be shelved till spring.

One thing it’s the perfect weather for is book launches! And so I’m DELIGHTED to announce a book party in Berlin next weekend, Friday the 13th (oooOOOooo). Tell your friends!

However, we’ve had a string of Golden Days, warm sunshine with that particular light you only get when the days are getting shorter and everyone’s readying up for the cold. It was grey and gloomy all day today for instance, but now, nearly 5 pm, the sun has just come out and the skies are blue once more. I have my favourite writing playlist on (this one) and have just managed to finish the second draft of a short story I’ve been playing around with. And so, with a little time to play: onward to the links! (Remember to use if you’d like to bypass a paywall, works on most.)

Thanks for reading The Internet: Personified ! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.

“if you are the kind of person who wants to see the loyal, loving, trustworthy part of yourself in an animal, you will look to dogs. If you want to see out of the human world, into another world, where a different animal lives without these defining human needs, you will love cats.” In other words, loving a dog is like gazing into a particularly flattering mirror. Cat people look outwards, through a window into nature. - From: Purring, parasites and pure love: what exactly makes someone a cat person? (The Guardian)

Related (and also sent me into a rabbithole of researching having a pet rat)

The rats teased the humans. They performed freudensprung, a German word that means “joy jumps.” They also emitted the kind of ultrasonic chirps that have been linked to what scientists dryly call “positive affective states.” (“You can say it’s laughter, but it’s not sounding really like human laughter,” says Sylvie Cloutier, an ethologist who pioneered research into rat tickling but was not involved in the hide-and-seek study. “They’re more like little happy chirps when you can hear them.”) After the experiment, and rather chillingly, the researchers euthanized the rats that played with humans in order to further study their brains. - From: In Defense of the Rat (Hakai Magazine)

And, okay, okay, not leaving dogs out

Before a dog starts barking to express an urgent drive to go outside, they often have come in to check on us as we fixate on the computer, stare at us, nose-bump our leg, give a little whine, and, if none of these work, come out with a bark (all these levels of attention-getting can be seen in interaction between dogs too). If we would rather they not bark to talk, better that we be alert to that first attempt to communicate.- From: What do dogs know about us? (Atlantic)

Animal link quota reached! On to the humans:

There’s a huge difference between asking to reschedule a coffee date with a coworker pal, and telling your best friend you won’t be coming to their wedding next week. If you’re overly apologetic for a fairly minor cancellation (e.g., “I’m the absolute worst. Do you totally hate me? Can you ever forgive me?”), you run the risk of making your buddy feel like they need to comfort you. (It also just comes off as pretty insincere.) But being really casual and nonplussed about a kind of significant cancellation isn’t a good look either. If you’re tempted to overcompensate (or be rather dismissive), it might be because you’re actually feeling a bit vulnerable or uncomfortable about your choice. - From: How to cancel plans without losing friends and feeling like a jerk (Self)

I really enjoy Jessa Crispin’s newsletter.

And despite men still drinking more than women, both in units of consumption and in the percentage of the population, and despite men also suffering from poor health effects and addiction rates from alcohol consumption, most of the new media attention on overconsumption of alcohol started to focus on women's problematic drinking. In the course of any day of my media diet, I see newspapers and magazines asking women over and over, “Are you drinking too much?” And if you answer with a panicked “I don't know!” you'll get hit with, “Well, buy this thing from us to find out.”- From: Selling Sobriety (The Culture We Deserve)

Ziwe’s new book has been excerpted all over the place recently and it sounds amazing.

This is a theme in my life. I share funny stories only to have my audience emphatically warn me never to repeat them. Here’s a funny story that is actually sad. To celebrate Grandparents’ Day, my second-grade teacher, Mrs. [REDACTED], asked her students to draw things that we liked to do with our grandparents. All of my grandparents were already dead, information that I politely relayed to my teacher, only for her to insist that I draw an image of what I would do with my grandparents if they were still alive. I drew a picture of four angels pushing me on a swing. I find this hilarious, though it’s a story that friends tell me not to repeat. And now it’s in print forever! - From: Best Foot Forward (The New Yorker)

Staying on the books theme with two related articles. First:

I am a full generation younger than Lahiri, but my Indian America is not much more diverse. There are more of us now, but in aggregate, we remain relatively homogenous, and respectability politics remain prevalent within our communities. I encounter it everywhere. Once, at a conference for immigrants and children of immigrants — all recipients of a prestigious graduate school scholarship, thanks to our high achievement — an Indian American woman asked me something like: “Don’t you feel like you shouldn’t write ‘bad’ things about our minority community when there are already so many ‘bad’ narratives about us out there?” I heard a young Black writer ask a Pulitzer Prize-winning non-white author the same question at a talk, once; I’m asked it constantly by young, desi aspiring writers. They — the outside world — hardly know who we are, the question implies. Why would you show us at our worst? - From: Good Immigrant Novels (The Drift Mag)


Another time, she tells us about her friend who does not have a shower in her apartment, writing, “Nell did not smell bad or have hair that was dirtier than any other hip young woman—as I’m sure you know by now, washing one’s hair too frequently strips it of vital natural oils, etc.—so I asked her how she was so clean.” The aside about washing one’s hair too often is the sort of thing that would be in a listicle, an Instagram reel, or a YouTube tutorial, which is why she assumes that we know about it. The narration is scattered with these sorts of irrelevant details that have nothing to do with…anything. They remind me of when I’m talking to someone and they say something for which we have no established basis: “I can’t believe [insert celebrity] died,” or “eating cured meats will raise your blood pressure.” What are you talking about? I want to ask these people. I don’t know this celebrity; I’m not even eating salami. Why do you assume that I will be aware of what you’re talking about without introducing it first? I feel like we are living in different worlds, and in a certain sense, I guess we are. In this regard, Fake Accounts is an effective account of a millennial consumed by the internet, but the question remains, does it work as a novel? - From: Against the internet novel ( 3 Quarks Daily)

I will read anything about Berlin, a new convert gobbling up the city, but this was particularly beautiful.

Meanwhile, tonight the bridges in Kreuzberg and the gardens at the former Tempelhof airport—now a vast park littered with signs and monuments to past national atrocities and containing an American baseball field as a remnant of the former US Air Force base—will be filling up with youthful drinkers and women walking hand-in-hand with their Club-Mate bottles gleaming under the bright theatrical lights outside the Späti, or just creating an ad hoc techno party with a small wireless speaker in an illuminated bus shelter like figures out of Caravaggio. Our hosts’ Kiez near the old Wall offers this counterbalancing sense of liberated public space that is Berlin’s most endearing quality, a go-anywhere, do-anything, talk-to-everyone, dancing-on-the-abyss city with an intensely hedonistic and sexually frank twenty-four-hour vibe that isn’t fake-friendly (or even friendly at all, which also can be refreshing). Even in its expanding expat areas with brutal rents that vibe like Brooklyn East, Kreuzberg is a pretty ugly place where one feels it would be nice to live if one had the resources, but everyone tells us that this is just how things are in the summer. Locals describe how elbows and tongues sharpen in the ghastly gloom of winter at the point where the daylight ends in miserable darkness, with official sunset times before four p.m.- From Delirious Berlin (Bennington Review)

Small things I also liked:

A funny review of Millie Bobby Brown’s new ghostwritten novel. ** The man who thinks he can live forever. ** Revolution on the installment plan. *** Against newsletters. (I’ve been thinking of giving my almost defunct blog a makeover and turning it into a proper author website and I really like this one + the essay.)

And a video I loved, Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush in Medieval English.


That’s all! Speak soon! Hopefully you live in Berlin and are coming for my launch!