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Letter 1: Dealing with covid-19 and starting a letter of hope

Shweta Taneja
Shweta Taneja
Welcome! Dear Penpal is a fortnightly newsletter by me, Shweta Taneja, to support you in your creative journey with tips, opportunities and a few laughs. Thank you for being here.
In my 1st letter, I talk about a stressful April, lessons I learnt to continue to write, and why I’m starting this newsletter in such dark days. Also, bird porn that helps with stress and how you can send your name to Mars.

Dear Penpal,
It’s been a tough month for all of us. For me too.
I heard the news that all my family, six of them, in Delhi were covid-19 positive. I wanted to go to them, help out with food, logistics, hugs, anything really. However, covid-19 is such a creature that it builds walls around all of us, closing us down in worrisome loneliness.
The same week, my spouse also tested positive. Now I was a caregiver, saving up millions of advice and emergency contacts from the online world. I was heartbroken, suffocating, panicked, and unwell too. I vented online, vented to friends, worried and perhaps added to the chaos.
Then I called up my mother – who was going through the infectious disease, dealing with breathlessness and extreme body pain. I called her instinctively as I always call her when I’m stressed and need assurance. You know what she said?
“So what?“ she said. Her voice was weak, but her spirit, oh her spirit vibrated with power. “Now that we have it, we will see how it goes,” she said. “Whatever will happen, will happen. You worrying for it won’t change a thing.”
She was suffering physically as she said it, and I knew she was suffering, but the sheer mental strength of her approach to her body’s suffering, brought me out of my piteous wallowing.
Why do we always think of the worse given a stress situation? And cloak this thinking, this panicking and worrying as being realistic? And this is not limited to reality. It’s a habit. It’s a habit that I’ve decided to consciously break out by starting this newsletter.
My mother gave me strength in that five-minute phone call. I decided not to ponder on the worse. I consciously, with a lot of effort, to take the most positive, most hopeful route in the logical turn of events in my head.
That all of us will come out of it in a few months.
That it would be all okay.
A newsletter of hope when everything is dark?
I decided to channel my frustration, my sadness into writing these letters to you.
Use the medium I love - of writing - to tell you about what I’m going through. Use these letters, as a process of collective, creative healing, for you and me both.
This is about encouraging you to make the best of your life and ambitions, as a creative person, a writer or a reader or a prodigy whose time hasn’t come. We are all together, struggling, and I want to struggle and hope and cope with you.
These letters are about optimism and delight in living our lives. About not allowing our fears to become definitions of who we are. I’ll use all my emotions and skills to fill these letters with stories that make you and me feel good.
I’ll talk about the art of writing, things that inspire me, of living life to the fullest and capturing these moments through my art. And I hope to encourage you to do the same.  
I’ll be there for you all, my dear readers, through your ups and downs. We will together become our best, most joyous creative selves.
For we all need that little optimism when we’re low. And we all need - more and more - those friends who can listen without scrolling us into a void. 
I’ve committed to you, fortnightly on alternate Sundays, and I’m hoping to keep that up. If you don’t get a letter from me (for I’m known to break promises), you’re most welcome to write to me and demand one. I would try to not miss one, though!
Sundry Sunday
  • Bird porn: What kept me sane and gave me hope through the lockdown, the stress of covid and health issues were these amazing Youtube videos of birds made by David Stanton (Thank you David!). I feel so lucky that I’m here, alive, and that I can possibly travel in a month or so to say hello it India’s forests. Do forests mean anything to you? What gives you hope?
  • Meditation time warp: I’ve never tried meditation, but the other day, I did. I managed to last five minutes thinking it was at least half an hour. When I’m on Whatsapp, I think I’ve been for a minute, but it’s 20 minutes. Read about time perception and how it’s a field of psychology. Have you experienced time stretching on and on?
  • Xaxa and data: I’ve been concerned about data privacy, more so recently with the way authorities the world over is taking over. This poem by Abhay Xaxa on casteism and data, really hit it home for me.
Send Your Name to Mars
My writing joys
  • Celebrity scientist Sonam Wangchuk talks about my book! My recent released book, They Made What? They Found What? on Indian scientists (it’s a wacky flipbook!) was talked about the amazing Sonam Wangchuk with a selfie on Instagram. Isn’t that rather generous of him? Read his childhood story in the book. Buy on Amazon.
  • What happens when dolphins take over the world? Read my science-fiction story, The Songs that Humanity Lost Reluctantly to Dolphins, to find out. It recently released as part of a solarpunk anthology Multispecies Cities, comprising of mindboggling tales by top Asian writers. (More here)
  • Translation to French: Les Chants que L’Humanité abandonna aux is the French version of the dolphins taking over the world. This was published in one of the most known SF magazines in France, Galaxies No 66!
  • New story on Bangalore’s history: I tried my hand at historical fiction by writing for Eleven Stops to the Present: Stories of Bengaluru, a wonderful anthology on fiction in history by Intach Bangalore. The Biryani Choke is about spunky Salma, wrestling and biryani set in 1920s cantonment Bangalore. (Buy on Amazon.)
Question for you, dear Penpal
How are you dealing with our collective trauma? What gives you hope?
As I said at the beginning of this newsletter, this is not a one-way street. Tell me about your journey as a reader, a creative person, tell me about your passions and what you’d like to do, talk about your struggles, about what makes you laugh with joy, about how you’re dealing with the collective trauma we’re all facing. 
Floor me with your story. For, I’m listening.
Oh, and while you’re writing, if you have suggestions for the next letter from me, send me those too.  
Be positive and keep writing!
Shweta
P.S. If you like this newsletter and want to support it, you can:
1) Buy one of my books
2) Connect with me on Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn so we can grow our creative selves together.
3) Forward this newsletter to a friend with an invitation to subscribe right here: bit.ly/dearpenpal
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Shweta Taneja
Shweta Taneja @shwetawrites

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Shweta Taneja, Bangalore, Karnataka, India