5 Years, 5 Lessons

5 Years, 5 Lessons | Nupu Press | nupupress.com

“You must not quote to me what I once said. I am wiser now.” — Romy Schneider

It’s the fifth anniversary for this blog! I’m amazed. What started off as an experiment has now become an integral part of my life and writing.

It is as CS Lewis wrote: “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes but when you look back, everything is different.” If I think back to the person I was five years ago, it feels like another lifetime.

All the things I worried about that didn’t happen; clutching at what I thought was important that turned out not to be so; expecting to find happiness in places that never held them in the first place; giving away my power because I wanted approval and fretted about confrontation..

Okay, so I’m still doing these. But here are some lessons I hope I have learnt:

Be picky

I shared this quote by David Whyte in an early blog post: “Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.” Over the years, I’ve really come to value the significance of this notion.

I have lived in cities or taken up jobs or been with people that were definitely too small for me – they wanted to contain me or I felt I could share only part of myself.

I see this often with other women and with gay friends because we’re dealing with historical restrictions as it is. We may not be our frank selves because what we say could be deemed inappropriate, scandalous or even illegal. Even if what is often held up as propriety is nothing more than a front for fragile egos terrified of being challenged.

I know from experience that speaking out can at times be actually life threatening, so I don’t want to be glib about it. The sad truth is that plenty of us also do it when we’re not living under oppressive regimes, but because we worry we won’t be accepted and loved for who we really are.

So I choose, as I hope you do too, to give myself only to people and places that give me the space to be in full bloom.

The universe takes care of you

Many years ago, a friend in London had her car stolen. She reported it to the police and filed an insurance claim. Her insurance money came through shortly, which was a relief. Soon after, her professor who was buying a new car donated his old one to her, for which she was grateful. Then the police rang – they’d found her stolen car and were returning it to her.

Around the same time, also in London, I bought my first TV. When it was delivered to my home, I opened it with great excitement – only to find the on-off button broken. I phoned the shop to complain and they duly collected the faulty set and delivered a replacement the next day. But the following day, while I was out, they delivered a second TV. I called the shop again to ask them to come collect the additional set, but they never did, despite repeated requests.

It felt at that time that there were a great deal of cars and television sets in circulation, which made my friends and I laugh. But I see this pattern all the time, this feast or famine. Sometimes it’s TVs, sometimes it’s eligible men. Sometimes it’s cars, sometimes it’s job offers.

I like to think I can apply myself to any situation and Make Things Happen, so I am surprised or disappointed when it doesn’t always work out the way I had planned it to. Sometimes it even backfires. But perhaps the universe doesn’t like being manipulated. I think that’s when we experience the famine.

I’ve found it much better to relax instead of hacking my way through the jungle, thinking I must do specific things to get what I specifically want. Unclutching is where it’s at. Then the universe has room to surprise us with her bounty. That’s when we have the feast.

Don’t support those who don’t support you

When I was getting divorced, I hired a lawyer who seemed professional enough. But as we progressed, I became increasingly frustrated with his behaviour and attitude.

There wasn’t an obviously huge thing I could tap my finger on but rather a series of small things. Moreover, sometimes it felt like it was only a “feeling” which I was reluctant to give weight to, thinking I was maybe being unfair or too sensitive. Perhaps all divorce lawyers acted like this, I told myself.

And so he carried on, being lethargic, too busy, too brusque – annoying me again and again. I reasoned with myself: this whole thing will only take six months from start to finish; just deal with it and I’ll never need to see him again.

Three months in, I decided I didn’t want to accept the situation any more. The relatively short length of time left for the job was irrelevant. It was an emotional and stressful chapter in my life, and I didn’t want to feel any worse than I needed to. I wanted someone supportive, not enraging.

A lawyer friend recommended a colleague at her firm, and I switched midway through the divorce proceedings. The new lawyer took charge of the situation and did her job efficiently and thoughtfully, making it as pain-free as possible for me. Most of all, I felt she was on my side.

A one-off experience may not matter but anyone we have to deal with on a regular-ish basis – tax accountants, landlords, managers, agents, etc – can cause unnecessary grief. We may think life is too short to pay heed to this relatively small discomfort but actually, life is too short not to.

Though my divorce happened more than a decade ago, similar situations have cropped up so many times in the past five years, it feels like a lesson the universe really wants me to learn. I have to keep reorganising my life in response.

To ensure I wasn’t overreacting, I began to use the rule of three, where I listed three things I found unacceptable – the logic being that just one or two problems could be explained, excused or simply a result of too high expectations.

Now, though, I know to trust that feeling when I get it, even if I can’t quite articulate why I do. My energy becomes tangled up and more laborious when I ignore my instinct. Trusting oneself is a form of acceptance, which is really a kind of peace. It is as Dominique Loreau describes the Japanese mindset in L’art de la Simplicité: “an acceptance of whatever life brings, without the constant need to dissect, analyse and explain.”

There is also a pretty terrific click that happens when my actions, my needs and my beliefs are all aligned.

Anchoring

Benjamin Franklin once said: “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do things worth writing.”

Hell, yeah! My motto, for as long as I can remember was to do things worth writing about. A free spirit, I flitted, I fluttered. I moved towards adventure always. I yearned for a big life, one of daring and thrills. I liked Not Knowing what was around the corner.

I equated predictability and stability with boredom and monotony. I’ve changed my name, my passport and my home so often that my mother and sister still need to ask my current status.

I’d get smitten with a place or a job and declare it the best thing ever. Then – seemingly randomly, out of the blue, as things got a little uncomfortable maybe – something inside me would switch off, and I’d turn off and take off.

I thought that was me, and furthermore that it was the best of me: a creature of flight. Moving was the only thing I could reliably do when I didn’t know what else to do. Upheaval became my comfort zone.

I prided myself on belonging everywhere yet nowhere. For much of my career, I worked freelance on film projects that took me all over. Last year, I quit my job and signed up to travel around the world for a year. As I packed away my life into boxes for the eighth time in the last five years alone, I felt weary in my bones. A month in, I finally faced myself.

I was tired of moving, transferring my possessions and my life, getting on buses, planes, trains, ferries, boats, cars, long journeys that promised to take me to a destination but, even when I arrived, I wasn’t really there. I wanted to lay my head down and rest. Every place I went to had a clock ticking on it. Something that never let me feel at peace. Something that made me mentally start preparing the end, the packing, the boxes, the checklists, the goodbyes, the sadness.

So, I stopped. I dropped an anchor and moored. It felt monumental.

This life-long fluttering has been entertaining for sure, but it has also been a compulsion, often done against my own best interests. This I now understand better from Ayurveda – my constitution, vata, makes me wildly erratic when unbalanced. I jump from one thing to the next, unable to focus, unable to hunker down, unable to ultimately accomplish anything with so much anxiety.

So the kindest thing I can do for myself is get into a routine and become stable. Being grounded paradoxically allows me to soar. Who would’ve thunk it?

I still have giant question marks about other important arenas in my life. But making this one decision to Not Move is helping to create a stable structure that has been far from boring; it’s been liberating. So now I hope to focus on writing something worth reading.

Pass it on

This one is more a story than a lesson, though it demonstrates the power of words.

Quotes have been dramatically promoted – and sometimes wrongly misattributed – on social media, its pithy wisdom contained in bite-size tweets or pins. But I have always collected them. Long before this blog started, I would highlight my favourite lines from books or note them from songs, podcasts and films.

They give me food for thought or make me laugh, such as this by Dorothy Parker that I know by heart: “I like to have a martini/ Two at the very most/ After three I’m under the table/ After four I’m under the host.”

Anyway, some months ago, I was whining to my cousin about men so she sent me this quote by singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell:

“I don’t know if I’ve learned anything yet! I did learn how to have a happy home, but I consider myself fortunate in that regard because I could’ve rolled right by it. Everybody has a superficial side and a deep side, but this culture doesn’t place much value on depth – we don’t have shamans or soothsayers, and depth isn’t encouraged or understood. Surrounded by this shallow, glossy society we develop a shallow side, too, and we become attracted to fluff. That’s reflected in the fact that this culture sets up an addiction to romance based on insecurity — the uncertainty of whether or not you’re truly united with the object of your obsession is the rush people get hooked on. I’ve seen this pattern so much in myself and my friends and some people never get off that line.

“But along with developing my superficial side, I always nurtured a deeper longing, so even when I was falling into the trap of that other kind of love, I was hip to what I was doing. I recently read an article in Esquire magazine called ‘The End of Sex,’ that said something that struck me as very true. It said: “If you want endless repetition, see a lot of different people. If you want infinite variety, stay with one.” What happens when you date is you run all your best moves and tell all your best stories – and in a way, that routine is a method for falling in love with yourself over and over.           

“You can’t do that with a longtime mate because he knows all that old material. With a long relationship, things die then are rekindled, and that shared process of rebirth deepens the love. It’s hard work, though, and a lot of people run at the first sign of trouble. You’re with this person, and suddenly you look like an asshole to them or they look like an asshole to you — it’s unpleasant, but if you can get through it you get closer and you learn a way of loving that’s different from the neurotic love enshrined in movies. It’s warmer and has more padding to it.”

Joni’s so brilliant, right? My cousin and I marvelled at her wisdom, and I forwarded the quote to a few friends. Who in turn forwarded it to their friends. And one such friend of a friend who’s always been rather a charmer, enjoying his time with various women, suddenly sat up and thought, ohhhhhhh.

He had recently met a woman he was surprised he liked as much as he did because she didn’t tick his usual (more superficial) boxes, but they had an honest connection. In earlier times, he would have nevertheless moved on to more casual fun and frivolity. But this Joni quote made him realise he’d just been falling in love with himself over and over again. So instead of following his usual pattern, he is now doing his best to make it work with the Honest Connection, introducing parents to each other and the rest of it. Nice!

When I told my cousin, she asked if she was part responsible for this new couple. I thought we should let Joni Mitchell take the credit, though she, I and my friend were the (invaluable) conduit.

Of course, Joni was quoting someone else – George Leonard, the author of that Esquire article – so perhaps it’s more correct to say that George via Joni via my cousin via me via my friend are responsible for this new happy couple. What was I saying about the universe again?

These five years

What you liked

The five most read posts over these five years:
Handshakes, Hugs and Eye Contact (woah! That surprised me)
Inspire Me: Aradhana Seth
A Compassionate Heart
Kindred Spirits: Tassaduq Ahmed and I
Killing Words

I always love hearing how people do things – and it seems you do too. I had the good fortune to interview writers Abeer Y Hoque and K Anis Ahmed. From my film community: production designer Aradhana Seth (also here) and costume designer Himani Dehlvi.

From my extended family: I also wrote posts on my cousin, animal welfare activist Rubaiya Ahmad, and my late, great uncle, social activist Tassaduq Ahmed – which many still tell me is their favourite post.

I also profiled my sister and my mother in posts, the latter of which I was delighted to hear inspired readers to write similarly about their own parents before memories faded.

While blog posts begin to resemble babies after a while (it’s hard to pick a favourite, etc), I do personally have a soft spot for two that captured seismic shifts in my creative and personal life respectively: Creativity in Silence and Clarity in Silence.

Another favourite is one where I didn’t even write the words myself, but collated lines from different songs to create something akin to an autobiography: My Life in Music.

I never expected to make money from this blog as I don’t sell advertising or even use affiliated links. But various lovely editors from numerous newspapers, journals and websites have reprinted posts with my permission, and so it’s been delightful to get paid in a roundabout way.

The other thing I didn’t expect was the influx of rather clever spam that drowns the blog’s in-box: asking to link a specific post from my blog to something they’ve written. I didn’t know this was a thing until I saw this post on writer Geraldine DeRuiter’s blog, making me cry with laughter reading how she dealt with it.

I recently received a vaguely legal email from China informing me another company was trying to register my domain name (nupupress) but with .cn, .cn.com, .hk, .tw, and so on. Was this connected to my company? And if it wasn’t – and it clearly wasn’t – then I could buy those domains from them before the other (mythical) company got them.

Honestly, if spammers found a way to utilise their ingenuity for the common good of humanity, the world could indeed be saved next week.

Where you are

Top five in descending order:
USA (hellooooo!)
Bangladesh (homies!)
India (new homies!)
UK (old homies!)
Brazil (Brazil? Wow! I love you, Brazil! Thank you for reading me so regularly! I hope to visit your country one day soon.)

This blog has been read in 132 countries, though it would be fair to say that the places with only a few clicks accidentally made their way to me and no doubt swiftly left (I won’t take it personally Namibia, Papua New Guinea and Belarus). I’m delighted by the super high click count from Sweden, China, Japan, Ireland, Russia and Romania (hi, all!) among others – countries I’ve always been madly curious about but not yet visited.

I have written this blog from London, Dhaka, Bombay, Boston, New York, Istanbul, Split, Johannesburg and wherever else I’ve been over these past five years. But honestly, it’s just me and my laptop. So it is extremely humbling and gratifying that this thing I periodically do actually reaches out to all of you.

I do very much miss the lively chatter from friends and strangers I’d get from sharing my blog posts on Facebook, and I’m sad to no longer have it. The readership also dropped dramatically when I deleted my FB account, as many came across my posts there. But what with the stalker and Facebook’s own increasingly dodgy reputation, I decided against staying on the platform for now.

So I’m extremely grateful to you the readers who still come to the site, like what they read enough to subscribe to keep getting the posts.

While it’s easy to say I write for myself, this is frankly not the case. I write my diary for myself. I write this blog for you.

As always, I love hearing from you and anything you wish to see more or less of.

A big massive heartfelt thank you for reading this blog. It means the world to me!

“I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn.” — Maya Angelou

Although I am no longer active on social media, I’m more than thrilled if you choose to share this post on your end, thanks!

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9 thoughts on “5 Years, 5 Lessons

  1. Keep writing, your posts are one of the best things I read online Nupu and the writing I look forward to reading most x

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