The Internet Personifed: Life, the Universe and Everything Part I
Forty two things I've learned by forty two, numbers one to twenty one
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.
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.
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.
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