The Internet Personified: In your head
I is for inner voices and imposter syndrome
We are definitely leaving. Suitcases are packed (ish, I keep removing and adding things, and let’s be honest, it’s more adding than removing so I am being very strict with myself and saying “ok if you take out two dresses then you can add two also.”) Our baggage allowance is 46 kilos each, which sounds like a lot, until you attempt to stuff the better part of your wardrobe into two suitcases which your parents bought you back when you published your first book and were going on your first book tour and you needed a set of luggage. Did you think these suitcases would accompany you on part one of your two-parted departure to Germany? Did you think you’d ever leave the country or were your roots, so deep, so vast, so all reaching, so fixed that you thought you’d stay here in Delhi forever, swaying a bit in the wind while other people left for different things and better worlds?
Man, I am maudlin. But also I am thrilled to be escaping. New adventures! What will the future hold?
(I know someone is going to ask me about the cats, but they are well looked after and anticipated for, do not alarm yourselves on their behalf, we are grown ups and responsible about our dependents, even if we’re not super responsible about ourselves.)
This is The Internet Personified, and this is the letter i edition. I is for inner voices.
I started therapy a month ago. Did I tell you? I’ve been curious for some time, but also oddly resistant. I always thought if I went to therapy, I wouldn’t be able to write anymore, because all my shit, as they say, would be sorted out, and then what would I put on the page? Hah, if only. And as if. My shit, you’ll be happy to know, is endless. It’s thirty nine years of shit, calcifying. It’s the sand and silt at the bottom of the clean well of my day to day consciousness, when just a twig applied gently to the bottom and twirled can make the water all dusty.
My therapist is a woman. I think she’s about my age. We talk on Skype, and when I say “we talk” I mean I babble on endlessly and she listens and occasionally says something to make me think deeper about stuff. I haven’t Googled her or seen if she has any socials or looked her up on LinkedIn or Instagram. I prefer to have her almost anonymous, a person I talk to who I know nothing about.
It’s been a weird year, mental health wise. I mean, I have coping mechanisms. We all do, to some extent. But usually, seeing friends, chatting over endless drinks or in a living room late at night, clutching a cushion, saying whatever came to mind, that was therapy, in a way. You talk about your feelings, you feel heard, you go home full of goodwill. (This only happens when it’s just you and your close friend in a room, otherwise it gets full of feelings towards the other person you feel less kindly towards, which was the tricky part.) But with a solid year of not being able to do that—or even in our brief respite between December and February—not being able to do that as often as you’d like, you wind up with a volcano, a storehouse of all these thoughts and nowhere to process them.
Funnily enough, I started therapy when I was in a relatively good place. Nice things have been happening for me, both professionally and personally. I had a few hard months (again December through February) but I weathered the storm and came out on the other side with an even stronger sense of being centred and whole.
Hearing about other people’s therapy is about as boring as hearing about their dreams, no? Don’t worry, I won’t go on about it. I’m enjoying it though. Despite my lack of crises, which makes me feel like I should invent some to talk to her about. Instead I talk about my small anxieties, my soft fears, my petty jealousies. It’s hard work, but having that outlet means I’m much more cheerful and energetic with the rest of my life. (The only fly in this ointment is that she doesn’t have another slot free for my timings, so I will have to wake up one morning a week at 7.30 am German time to unload.) It is an experience I would recommend to anyone, even if you feel “normal.”
I is for imposter syndrome.
A few nice things have happened for me professionally (including one EXTREMELY AMAZING THING) and I am unable to talk to you about them because I’m scared I’ll jinx it and it’ll go away. This is such a common feeling I don’t even have to explain it to you, I’m sure you’ll get it, but it occurred to me how weird this was, how strange. All of our hard work and we think it’ll be undone so fast, just by talking about it? I’ve noticed friends doing this to me as well, telling me details of an excellent promotion and then following up with “Don’t tell anyone yet, will you? It’s not final.” In my case my extremely amazing thing will hopefully lead to more extremely amazing things and when that second round of things happens, then I will tell you all, that being a lot easier for me to handle than to tell you now and then have to explain when it all goes away, as I am afraid it inevitably will.
I began professionally writing very early, The Asian Age had a kids’ section and my mum’s friend was the editor and she asked me to send her pieces. I asked if she’d pay me and she laughed and said, “Why not?” Laughed, because in those days, if a child was printed in a newspaper, it was reward enough.
I had already had one small Letter to the Editor published in The Pioneer (RIP) the year before. I saw a travelling bear, a sad sight, led around by a ring on his nose and I wrote in asking if people would like it if a bear rode on them. (What? I was only 11.) I signed off with a flourish, my name, age and school, and forgot about it, until one week later, an Older Boy appeared at my classroom door and asked if I was “Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan.” It might’ve been the first time in my life I was asked that question. Turns out, the editor was so tickled by my letter, he gave it pride of place in the op-ed page, accompanied by an illustration even, and the headline: Can They Bear It Themselves? Everyone was super impressed, and the Older Boy was there to inquire if I would like to join the school Nature Club with other Older Boys and Girls.
That wasn’t the first time either. Before that, there was a children’s magazine called Target (RIP) and I wrote a poem about a magic feather that took you wherever you wanted to go. (Still the dream.) And my teacher liked it so much she sent it in.
So by the time The Asian Age gig happened, I was an old pro, sorta. I wrote three pieces for them, for Rs 350 each, a nice sum in those days. One was about an imaginary band I created with my friends, it was called The Buck Teeth (I suffered terribly before I got my braces in) and I was the drummer and the song writer. I even remember one of the songs I made up, about a chemical reaction I was studying: heat from a body at a higher temperature, flows to a body at a lower temperature! Things begin to happen—right now! Things begin to happen—and how! Okay, it’s no Bohemian Rhapsody, but I remember the tune and everything. I even bitched about my friends in print, which got me into a lot of trouble with them, but it was a funny story, I thought, and worth the public shunning I got for the next few weeks.
That was kid stuff. Later, I got into college on the basis of my writing, I got my first writing job with a newspaper, I wrote a blog and a book, and still, always, looking over my shoulder, waiting for someone to unmask me, to say I was a fraud, because I didn’t feel like I was working hard, or slogging away, or doing all the things people do at “real” jobs, I wrote another book, and another, and then by the time they were published, and people asked me, admiringly, how long they took to write, I said, “Six months” or whatever, and cringed because it didn’t sound like much, what was six months, my books must not have been very good because I “dashed them off” or “sped through them.”
My favourite new age internet abbreviation is YMMV. It’s so great. It means “your mileage may vary.” I can now say, “My most recent book, plus the three drafts editing it took about six to eight months, but YMMV.” We can do things differently. There’s no set-in-stone version of being a writer. I’ve been a writer foreverrrr, it seems to me. Before I could write, I drew little pictures and invented my own stories. Before I wrote down my stories, I made up long sagas and amused my cousins with them, so much so that they followed me around from room to room going, “And then what happened, Minna, and then?” and that power, man, those were excellent early reviews. I told a friend I wanted to write books at age 16, something she still brings up, admiringly. But you know, I never took it seriously. It was just my thing, like being right handed, or curling my tongue or curly hair and myopic eyes. In that mix was also a need to read books and to write them when I felt I wasn’t finding the exact book I wanted to read.
And still—imposter syndrome. My little ol’ books. My little ol’ newsletter. Good things happening to me, and still I’m going “Really? Do you really mean me?”
These days I think I’m far more confident that the books I write are really really good books, an excellent addition to the literary world, books that will make you happy and sad and curious and excited and will amuse you, above all, so you’re also like, “And then what happened, Minna?” But it took —wow—so many years before I’m able to admit that to you, that I think I work hard (do you, says the small snarky inner voice) and that I deserve every success (there goes my inner voice again, curling her lip and raising her eyebrows: you? Please.)
Anyhow, when I have definite news to share with you, re: exciting things, I will. For now, just know I’m in a good place, professionally speaking. And for a writer, for every writer, ie, not just me, the professional is so tied to the personal, that I’m also in a good place elsewhere. What a terrible time to be happy when the world is going to shit, and you feel guilty for your small joys, but it’s ok, sometimes nice things have to happen too, otherwise, how would we continue to hope?
June 3rd, the day I land in Germany, is the five year anniversary of this newsletter. I’d like to do something special, but I don’t know what. Can you tell me what you’d like me to write about? You can either reply to this email or post a comment below using this handy little button.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Can I get a minute to say FIVE YEARS HOLY FUCKOLY. How time flies when you’re having fun.
Links! Not a lot, but a few.
This—reviewing someone’s Google search history—made me laugh.
Longread 1: A massive, head-holdy, pontificating view on influencers which I found quite interesting.
Oh, I wrote a nice piece on floral prints and Margaret Mitchell and Scarlett O’Hara.
Longread 2: Since I watched The Woman In The Window (veryyyy bad) I had to re-read the piece about the author of the book. This story is completely off the rails.
Obsessed with any story about twins, but I liked this one particularly.
Who gets to decide what food is disgusting? (I love rock salt, K cannot be in the kitchen when I am sprinkling it on things.) (Ooh, same subject, Axone on Netflix is such a beautiful example of this.)
Finally: a beginner’s guide to finding the right therapist.
Have a great week! I’ll talk to you all next FROM GERMANY. (omg.)
Where am I? The Internet Personified! A mostly weekly collection of things I did/thought/read/saw that week.
Who are you? Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.
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