When you're up a creek without a paddle, you don't want to listen to words of comfort; you want to know someone can hand you something - even if it is only a twig - to help you row.
A lot of people have been talking to me about money a fair bit lately. I'm always sympathetic when I hear about friends in financial difficulties, while at the same time trying to offer as much practical support as I possibly can. When you're up a creek without a paddle, you don't want to listen to words of comfort; you want to know someone can hand you something - even if it is only a twig - to help you row.
Money is a strange thing. As Henry Miller says in his book 'Money and how it gets that way' - "To walk in money through the night crowd, protected by money, lulled by money, dulled by money, the crowd itself a money, the breath money, no least single object anywhere that is not money. Money, money everywhere and still not enough! And then no money, or a little money, or less money, or more money but money always money. And if you have money, or you don't have money it is the money that counts, and money makes money, but what makes money make money?"
What indeed? As a child I was raised in what I thought was financial security; my sister and I grew up on a large sprawling estate and never heard 'There's no money for that kind of thing.' I'm very grateful for that because childhood, in my opinion, shouldn't be filled with worries about money. I've always felt that it's a very adult thing. But when I got a little older I realised that it wasn't financial security at all. That was a lie. My family were struggling and just because they shielded my sister and me from reality, it doesn't mean it wasn't happening. In my pre-teens and teens, I started to understand that there really was no money for certain things.
When I got a little older and began to travel, I was determined to be as independent as I possibly could. The thing is, it didn't always work out and I had several close calls between sleeping on the street and sleeping with a roof above my head. I remember sleeping in a few doorways when it got really bad. I remember stubborn pride, not wanting to ask mum for anything and indeed I stuck to my guns, only wiring home once for money when my passport and cash, along with my bag, got stolen in Buenos Aires. I'd call mum out of the blue and she always asked 'How are you getting on? Do you need anything?' and I always replied 'I'm fine, mum, don't worry about me.'
When I lived in New Zealand, my luck ran out. It just drizzled through the floorboards one day and just ran out. I lived through a nightmare then, sleeping in my car, showering in train stations, standing in the queue at the Salvation Army for milk and bread once a week, not having one dollar for a tin of cat food, having to give my cat up for adoption. Eating instant noodles. Eating bread and ketchup. Making my toothbrush last for eight to nine months. Feeling less than human in so many ways. I remember using somebody's shampoo on the sly once while they weren't looking and feeling worthless. I have tears in my eyes right now remembering how much I suffered. I can never look an instant noodle in the face, not even now. I hate them. To me, they represent my stark poverty.
I managed to finish writing a book and, in the middle of living rough, tried to get it published. I used to have a rosy view of publishing in those days and thought that my writing could save me (this was before my freelance writing days). However, it wasn't to be, and I got rejection after rejection. I used to babysit for 20 dollars twice a week for a family and mostly that's what I lived on. I still have all those rejection letters. Now I can look at them and not feel bitter. I can see the lines in them where I crushed them in my despair. I told myself that I needed to admit defeat and go back home to India.
Such a go is life, as P.G. Wodehouse once said. And such a go was my life. I had the good fortune of running into a former neighbour from my time living in Dunedin, and she loaned me some money, telling me to return it if I could, but to not worry about it if I didn't have it. My return ticket to India was still good, and I booked a flight back home. I landed a nannying job in Ireland, so I had a job to go to in a couple of months. In the middle of all this, there was some good news. My poetry was published as a book by an Indie press located in Central Otago. I got no money for it and earned no royalties, but it was an honest-to-goodness book of my poetry. I was chuffed.
I lived in Ireland for six months and went back home to India when my grandfather got really sick. He eventually passed away, and I lost the only positive male role model I had ever had. I elected to repay a loan of his and worked hard at multiple jobs to make that happen. Eventually, I succeeded and decided I had to do something positive for myself, so I enrolled in an AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) Montessori teaching course which I thoroughly enjoyed. Then I went back to the workforce again to work in e-publishing before taking a break from that to write fulltime.
What of me now? Well, I work as an Associate Editor at Asiaville, and I am grateful for my job every day. I think the best part of having a steady job is the stability that it offers you, and that's something I've craved for a long time. I don't miss my freelance writing life; the ups were nice when they came, but there were rather a lot of downs - rejections, late payments, payments that never came sometimes, and being subjected to the whims and fancies of the fates. Some months were plump with victories, and those months I cherished; others were rank with failure, and I struggled to keep my family afloat.
I used to believe that if you do what you love, if you are who you truly are, the money will follow. That's not entirely true. Money comes to you as a result of hard work. You don't always get to be who you truly are. If I were to follow my heart I would write another book or try to get my existing book published again, but I don't have the luxury of what-ifs. Too many people and animals are dependent on me. Something I did realise is that money exists to help other people. I was helped when I had no money. So now I help others when I can. Mostly I have realised that money does not define my worth.
This is my life. This is where I am now. If I had to do it all again, I wouldn't choose to do it any different. Everything that happened to me happened for a reason, and I learned a lot about life and myself and other people through it. Mostly I know that I am a survivor, and I'm proud of my journey thus far, and how far I've come. I did it all without losing sight of myself, and that's one of the things that counts.