A couple of months ago, I was leafing through Psychologies magazine (December 2014 issue) and stumbled upon an article on a new rising economy: the economy of sharing and swapping that has taken bloom in the UK recently. By some mysterious force, I found myself drawn to the article: from the writing style to the engaging content that depicts a rare initiative of reaching out to people who are complete strangers – it inspired me. I gathered up the courage and got in touch with the author of the article, Jini Reddy, to ask her if she would share some of her writing and life skills with me. An accomplished traveler and a writer/journalist who writes about eco-travel, nature-based experiences, wellbeing and sustainable living (pretty much everything I dreamed of becoming and still dream of becoming), Jini has quickly become a role model for me.
Jini was born in the UK, grew up in Montreal and graduated from McGill University with a BA in geography. Since then, she has forged for herself a unique path filled with adventure, positivity, exploration and self-knowledge: something that we all day-dream of doing as we toil away at our mundane tasks and unrewarding desk jobs. Jini’s path has not been deprived of its share of wear and tear and stormy weather, yet nothing about it speaks ordinary or usual. She kindly agreed to share some of her wisdoms and experiences with the McGill Community.
McGill Grad Life Blog: Do you have a definite style of writing or do you like to experiment with different styles?
Jini Reddy: I think over time I’ve naturally developed my own style of writing. I aim to write in a ‘warm’ style; I want to make it easy for the reader. That said, journalism by its nature is reductive and editors are often quite prescriptive about the style and word count they want. An article can get edited so what appears on the page isn’t always reflective of my ‘true’ voice. It’s a tough one for me – journalism has been a fantastic vehicle for experiencing the world and exploring my interests, and I’m grateful that it has worked out, but there is definitely some compromise involved.
MGLB: Have you ever dealt with tough editors?
JR: Well, certainly indifferent editors! When you freelance you have to develop a tough skin. A tough editor, for me, is one who asks for endless rewrites when you think that what you’ve written the first time round was perfectly fine! I’ve also worked with – and continue to work with – some wonderful editors, who allow me to just get on with the writing and offer positive feedback.
MGLB: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
JR: Go on a course or a writing workshop, start a blog to showcase your writing, and make writing a habit. You have to give yourself permission to write badly too – get something on the page and then you can edit it and hone it. Also, writing that comes from the heart has real power and beauty to it. Aim to communicate with authenticity, not by littering adjectives all over the place. Read a lot. Consider getting a part-time job so you’re not dependent on writing for your earnings – that’ll free you up creatively too. Be persistent when you pitch to editors. Just keep on at it.
MGLB: When do you find is the best time for you to write? It must be difficult, since you’re always on the move and traveling! Do you go with the classic pen and paper or do you prefer to type up on a laptop?
JR: I find it impossible to get into a writing space if I’m not well rested. So if that means taking a power nap in the middle of the day, then I’ll do it as I know it will be conducive to a spell of really focused, almost meditative writing. I find it easier to write later in the day for some reason, as my brain seems to have calmed down. I also try and create a bit of a ritual around it, i.e. lighting candles to signal writing time. And actually these days I’m not always on the move. I still write on travel (especially eco-travel) occasionally, but I’m much more interested in exploring deeper connections to place and self. So my writing now is focused around ways to experience enchantment in nature. How can we connect to the living energy in nature? How can we have a conversation with the earth? This is what really fascinates me. And yes, laptop definitely. Also, if I waited for inspiration to write, I’d never get anything down on paper. The trick is to just write anything – and then you have something to work with.
MGLB: When traveling, do you write your diary of the events of the day during the evening or do you heavily draw on memory?
JR: When I’m travelling I try to scribble notes as I go along and then type up the notes in the evening. But sometimes at the end of the day I’m exhausted, and so I get behind on the transcribing bit and end up with a book full of barely decipherable notes. Then I have to sit down when I get back home and plough through it all. I once went on a solo week-long hike and as an experiment took a voice recorder with me and just ‘spoke’ my notes. That was interesting, as when I played them back, I really reconnected to the energy of the moment.
MGLB: What are some important things to keep in mind when traveling and writing?
JR: I always set an intention to connect in a meaningful way to the people and the land that I’m travelling in. Once you make a connection, you’ll be deepening your experience and in so doing adding richness to your writing. You won’t just be an observer, painting clichés. I also trust that I’m being looked after and guided and in this way sometimes quite magical synchronicities occur. I also try to practice gratitude in a very conscious way – life on and off the road is sweeter when I do. In a writerly context, it helps to reflect on what an experience or encounter is honestly evoking in you. What emotions or sensations are genuinely arising in you? That’s where the juice is.
MGLB: What are some places you felt a deep connection with?
JR: I fell in love with Namibia – I was there in January and I travelled up the west coast. I was overwhelmed by the remoteness and sheer wild beauty of the land. Did you know it is the second least densely populated country on the planet, after Mongolia? I didn’t until I went. I long to return.
Having been raised in Montreal I feel huge joy when I return. It’s a really intense feeling – memories come flooding back and I feel so happy wandering the streets, revisiting old haunts and discovering new ones. I love the food there too. I’m always trying to plot ways to return. Sitting on the steps outside the Geography building at McGill on a sunny day, watching campus life, just as I did as a student, is my idea of heaven. I’ve loved the Atlantic provinces too – Canada is always, always in my heart.
There are some really beautiful places in England too, and I just love the coast. It feels healing and rejuvenating. Especially in Cornwall – it’s glorious walking along the cliff paths there. The skies are luminous. I always feel happy heading to Wales or Ireland. And India – I’m of Indian descent (two generations removed) and though I have no family on the subcontinent I’ve had many adventures there. I’m not a big fan of cities but I love the creative vibe in Mumbai, the sheer energy of the place. . Oh and I adored Iran and Pakistan – the people were so warm and kind and friendly and the landscapes, especially in Northern Pakistan, breathtaking. Seriously, I could go on forever.
MGLB: Did the philosophy of living in a less materialistic way and becoming more attentive to one’s essence come to you naturally?
JR: Definitely it has been an organic thing, but also born of necessity. I’m a freelancer – my actual earned income is shockingly low (though obviously the travel is an amazing perk). So I’ve had to find ways to live richly with less. I’ve always had an inherently esoteric nature and I’m drawn to healing and energy medicine and shamanism.
MGLB: Any favorite reads?
JR: Way too many to mention! I’m currently reading ‘H is for Hawk’ by Helen Macdonald, which I am loving. Passion in every line. I think everyone ought to have a copy of ‘The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible’ by Charles Eisenstein. High atop a mountain in the Pyrenees last summer, I read ‘Plant, Spirit Medicine’ by Eliot Cowan. It felt like a healing in a book. I loved ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce, a really enchanting novel. I’ve enjoyed all of Manju Kapur’s books. Ruth L Ozeki’s My Year of Meats was riveting – I think I might revisit it! But these days I don’t read enough fiction. I need to remedy that.
MGLB: Do you have any books coming up? I think I would love to read a collection of your travels!
JR: I’ve just started writing a book around my quest to experience enchantment in nature – that’s very much a personal project, drawing from my experiences. I’m also hoping to get a guidebook on ways to connect to nature commissioned.
MGLB: What made you choose to study geography as an undergrad and how did you transition into writing? I think many undergrads spend so much time worrying over how their choices in university (from the courses they take to the grades they get) will tie them down to a specific career for the rest of their lives. Somehow, the concept of flexibility is not very present. What are your thoughts on that?
JR: I studied geography because I wanted to travel – that was it really! But I didn’t really feel very inspired to be honest – it was all about meteorology and cartography, even statistics (yuck), but very little deeper exploration of people and places. I probably would have enjoyed Anthropology or Psychology more. After I graduated I went and studied in France – first I did a diploma in French Languages and Literature, and then an M.A. in English Literature. I had a French boyfriend at the time, so I needed excuses to stay.
I’ve always naturally been keen on books and literature. As a child I read voraciously and I always felt that I’d write someday – that was always my dream. Then I ended up in the U.K (where I was born). I was keen to work in book publishing, so I applied for lots of jobs, and eventually started at Penguin Books as a secretary and worked my way into a copywriting job, writing the blurbs on the backs of the books. I’d spend all day in a book-lined office reading, sipping coffee and writing. Bliss! I did that for four years, and then quit to go travelling. I eventually ended up in Hong Kong virtually penniless and worked for an educational publisher there – dull in contrast, but I was grateful for the work – before returning to the UK. Then it all went horribly wrong and I was pretty much adrift for a decade.
Nothing worked: I couldn’t get a job, despite my experience. I had to do a lot of temping, which I hated, I taught English as a Foreign Language, I did small editing jobs – you name it. I didn’t have an easy ride. It was very, very difficult. On a personal level things were very bleak and dispiriting too. Plus I couldn’t pay the rent at times. But things change. Life is cyclical. I wrote one article about my experiences of volunteering in Calcutta at Mother Theresa’s orphanage and sent it round to all the newspapers – it ended up in the Times. I eventually did a journalism course and suddenly things began to click into place. The relief was overwhelming. Sometimes I still pinch myself. How did I turn my life around? I just don’t know. Fate, faith, luck and persistence, I guess. Supportive parents too – I’m lucky in that respect.
So to an undergrad I’d say please, please just relax: you have your whole life ahead of you, and potentially multiple careers. Life isn’t straightforward. It’s full of peaks and troughs. Just stay present, trust your intuition, remember to breathe, practice gratitude and enjoy the ride. As a very wise friend said to me: learn to appreciate the sacredness of the barren ground and the potential that lies therein.