by Diana Rusu
You might have noticed that we recently started to write a Romanian blog, because why not, but more so because we found a gap in today’s Romanian culture when it comes to (speaking about) mental health. In my 4 years of living in London, I realized it wasn’t easy for anyone to find support whenever one would feel confuse, insecure or anxious. And I was often experiencing this overwhelming confusion and sometimes even depression. But somehow, I found myself many of times in various groups of friends or with complete strangers (the perks of working as a barista) being the shoulder they needed to cry on. I’m not the type to brag about my skills whatsoever, but I often found my mouth opening to speak without my consent. I mean, in a good way, I just could not stop! I remember when a girl came in the coffee shop as I was closing and ordered some tea. When all the customers left and I started cleaning up, she suddenly told me her boyfriend had decided to leave the country to travel without her, although they had planned a long trip together. I could sense a panic attack coming, but managed to talk, even though it was, for me, a really difficult subject. The kind of subject you don’t talk about because it sort of happened to you. She left the shop smiling and at peace, while I was struggling to keep up with my words (that can, apparently, bring a sense of awareness, presence and calm to others, except myself).
How do you handle a panic attack, be it yours or someone else’s?
Later that year I managed to learn how to talk to myself with kindness, though this would not have been possible without psychotherapy.
I remember when Iulia and I were working on the Heartbrunch website, and as we were writing the About section, Iulia came out with couch climbers. When this heartbrunch idea popped into my mind, I didn’t want it to be exclusively focused on the mind matters – whatever that might translate to – so I slipped a timid spiritual in there. Now, just like the father, the son and the holy spirit, Our Heartbrunch who art in heaven, cannot be expressed in one sentence. It is about the body, the mind and a bunch of other important stuff like gender and diary-style love thoughts. Something like the unfinished Reveries of the Solitary Walker that Rousseau started in 1776, in Paris (and never got to end).
Better yet, if we were living in the 18th century, our blog would definitely have had a Mesmerizing section, because we would most certainly have been followers of Mesmer. Born May 23, 1734, Mesmer was also a patron of the arts, supporting the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart when he wasn’t too busy curing women of hysteria with his animal magnetism. What a good subject to write about! And maybe later, at the dawn of the 19th century, we would have been Madame Benvenisti, one of Freud’s grateful Viennese patients. But not everyone knows that she was the one who gifted Freud with a Victorian day-bed, in around 1890. The sofa covered in a multi-colored, Iranian rug and garnished with cushions was so dear to Freud that he brought it to his new house in Hampstead, fleeing the war. This was the couch that later became a pop culture reference to psychoanalysis.
So, let’s climb it together.
One thing I would really want to explore more is the panic attack room. That’s why we are launching an invitation to talk about what’s in our mental health first aid kit, survival kit, secret box, whatever you want to call it.
Personally, I like the concept of paraphernalia.
The term originates in Roman law, but comes from the Greek parapherna, "beyond (para) the dowry (phernē)". Paraphernalia were the separate property of a married woman, such as clothing and jewellery, but excluding the assets that may have been included in her dowry. For example, a partner "could not sell, appropriate, or convey good title to his wife's assets considered paraphernalia without her separate consent" (source).
What's in your mental health first aid kit?
If the dowry represents your relationship with the ancestors, your heritage, your background, your social existence, then what you have apart might be serving another you through a collection of tools, safe spaces and all sorts of mechanisms for whenever your feelings and emotions are too much to handle. Some time ago, I wrote about my to do list in case of panic attacks, but if I were to put together a mental health emergency kit, this would probably change every other day. Luisa Omielan's show What would Beyonce do? saved my life about a year ago, five days in a row; later I discovered her follow up show - a true manifesto "about depression, self worth, fighting for your career and deserving of love"- which I absolutely adore. E. Tolle's voice reading, Allan Watts, Tash Sultana's notions of heartbreak and freedom, having a clean, organized, kitchen with lots of light and space (not necessarily for cooking), a good handful of essential oils, my notebooks and blogs, books I haven’t finished, Virginia Wolf, books on Iulia’s list, a letter I wrote to myself a few years ago. Hugs, sleeping in the other's arms. Sex, lots of it, and sometimes cigarettes. Meditation. Being in a park in London (and I could carry on with the list).
Since May is the mental health awareness month, we’d love to read your stories on what's in your mental health first aid kit, or if you have one. Spread the word and don’t be shy! I mean, look at us. We’re climbing our imaginary couch laughing out loud, hungry to explore the world around us. It does get easier when you have an emergency kit, we promise!
photo from the author's family collection
by Iulia Gheorghe
"Do not allow yourself to be diminished. Expand like a flower, like a heated gas, like a beautiful rising loaf. Expand into yourself, and never apologize for it. And for the young men in the crowd, who already know by some strange alchemy how to be large and expansive, I would say this: Let your sisters in this world grow, too, and do not consider their growth to be a diminishment of yours. The world is not a zero-sum game, and there is cake enough for everyone. Be the bigger man, and welcome the bigger woman.”
Elizabeth Renzetti, "Shrewed"
I had been caught in a platitudinous celebration of Women’s Day for a long time. Like really long, two decades maybe. They never explained us at school what March 8 really meant, instead, we were encouraged to write “I love you” cards for our mothers, buy them household appliances, expect flowers from boyfriends and fathers, listening to the same refrains about “the delicate women who make the world turn around”, the “mothers who sacrifice their lives for their children”, “the loving obedient wives”, the “adorable female colleagues”. Translation: the women who cook divinely, sweep the floors effectively, write accurately a work report, wipe their babies' ass and give vigorous blow jobs in the shortest span of time possible, maybe even in the same time while still looking good dealing with all this shit/sperm/sweat situations.
Later in life, thanks to books, Internet and sisters from other misters, I understood better the purpose and the stakes of the International Women’s day. It’s definitely not about receiving an ounce of gratitude for doing housework or giving birth or being well-behaved, it’s about women’s rights. History tells us that March 8 was suggested by the 1910 International Woman's Conference to become an International Women's Day as a strategy to promote equal rights (suffrage for women was one of the main goals in those times). UN states “International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities".
So as shocking as it may sound, March 8 is not some kind of women’s Christmas, a day when we get the “privilege” to be well treated and spoiled for our wonderful deeds as angels, princesses and walking incubators.
The thing is, who really needs that? All that validation we didn’t ask for? All that “you’re a heroine, I don’t know how you do it” but if you stop doing it you will be directly called a loser and treated as such?
We are not heroines.
We are not delicate flowers. We are not placid birds. We are not an ethereal creatures.
Like men, we have orifices and we produce stinky faeces. Like men we get angry, we burp, we have bad breath and dark circles in the morning, we sweat.
And we have rights.
We have the right to not be ashamed to bleed from our vaginas.
We have the right to put a tiny skirt for our own pleasure, not for engaging in a seduction game. We have the right to put loose pants and sit with a hand on our crotch and still claim sexiness.
We have the right to be respected whether we are or NOT : mothers, sisters, wives, courageous, adorable, multitaskers, ambitious, losers, calm, crazy and the list could go on forever.
We have the right to be valued even if we are messy, feisty, loud, too much.
We have the right to be shrews aka ill-tempered, nagging humans just as much as men have the right to be ill-tempered and unpleasant.
We have the right to stop being asked “what is acceptable behavior for women ?”. The only relevant question is” what is acceptable behavior for human beings? “. As writer Kate Bolick wrote in her book “Spinsters”: Are women people yet?
Of course they are, they say rolling their eyes. Let’s not debate this time about equal pay and the #metoo movement, but ask a very simple question: why owning a vagina costs more than owning a penis if we are all human beings with the same rights and responsibilities?
In 2012, Jezebel wanted to find out how much it costs to own a vagina in USA. The figure they come up with was $2,663.02. That included birth control, tampons and pads, yeast infections, public hair removal, smears, but not emergency contraception, pregnancy tests or abortion:
« Owning a vagina is a lot like owning a car: Even though you have a set amount of expenses when it comes to care and maintenance, sometimes we have accidents and need to draw on a rainy day fund ».
Unfortunately. politicians’ cojones and ovaries don’t give a shit about this. For them, the feminist fight means pulling off burkas or criticising unruly and opinionated human rights activists like Munroe Berrdorf or Rokhaya Diallo.
“Their bodies, words, and actions have become a locus for the type of inflammatory rhetoric usually reserved only for political figures. It’s as if each of these women is constantly igniting the line of acceptable behavior: you don’t know where it is until she steps over it, at which point it bursts into flames" media studies professor Anne Helen Peterson writes in her book “Too fat, too slutty, too loud”. Peterson’s portraits are about women who are considered "too much" and yet magnetic, “but that magnetism is countered, at every point, by ideologies that train both men and women to distance themselves from those behaviors in our own lives. Put differently, it’s one thing to admire such abrasiveness and disrespect for the status quo in someone else; it’s quite another to take that risk in one’s own life.”
We admire women who cause riots, but from a “secure” distance and I know that from my own experience. I think I was more unruly when I was 16 than now, 12 years later. Of course, I was making more mistakes back then, but I had a stronger voice. Transitioning to adulthood meant turning into a presentable and respectable person, with clean white shirts, knowing how to act with diplomacy, how to smile politely and hold on the curses or the tears in spite of the asteroids of bullshit coming straight to my face.
Let’s be honest, women are supposed to speak lightly, to be pleasant, to keep it low, because we all know very well : if a lady does a misstep, she will be called nasty, hysteric, unfuckable and instantly sent to the bitches' purgatory.
This is why, today, 8 March 2018, I am raising my middle fingers to those who put pressure on girls to shrink, hide, disguise, behave like eery soft-spoken dolls, wear strings, never curse, diet, not be harsh.
Middle fingers up. You can do it. You just have to raise your hand and show that beautiful middle finger. That will help you in the future, to step up, speak up, claim it, own it, make it. I know what you're asking yourself right now reading this “and if something wrong happens? What if I will lose something or someone because of that”? Girl, wrong things and loss happen all the time, but not because you decided not to stay small anymore. They happen because LIFE. Middle fingers up. You are allowed to do it (stop asking why, do you also ask why you are allowed to breathe?) and you’re definitely not a bad girl for doing it.
By Iulia Gheorghe
A couple of days ago, I was chatting with a friend about the labyrinthal path to self-confidence, dragging through it and having to deal with its sinuous serpentines, flooded lanes, gloomy caves, soggy mud-holes. Whoa, what a view to boost the stamina of two girls galvanized by the desire to figure it all out and in the same time knowing that it’s undoubtedly impossible. We could have poured some real cocktails on our thoughts to forget about the self-confidence cocktail, but she suggested pushing the investigation further.
So I called, one more time, on my beloved friends, the books. Beware of whoever tells you that you will find the absolute truth in a book (you are allowed to cross the street next time you will meet that person). Anyway, even if they existed, absolute truths would be like sirens: breath-taking in one’s imagination, hideous in reality. This is why, when I face a burdensome issue, I search in books not remedies and recipes, but morsels of wisdom, a different approach to discover other angles, a new and unexpected trail towards an answer.
I got back to some of those I read or skimmed and tried to understand why the process of becoming self-confident was paved with burning rocks which ironically turned us cold feet. All authors agreed that you couldn’t become fundamentally self-confident without self-respect. Amy Alkon (popular columnist also known as the Advice Goddess) writes in her book “Unf*ckology. A field guide to living with guts and confidence”:
“I won’t bullshit you. The road to self-respect is paved with humiliation and setbacks. Most of mine involved my desperate attempts to be loved. We all want love, but I had ulterior motives. In fact, the last thing I cared about was all that lofty crap like shared goals, resonating values, and building a life with another person. I just wanted to be wanted.”
Alkon discusses the self-confidence element in creating and developing romantic relationships, but what she says relates also to our professional relationships and the persona we build up at work. Precarious work markets and prevailing totems as perfectionism and marathons of achievements push us to the edge of wanting to be chosen, credited for and appreciated.
We crave to be wanted and in order to arrive there, we are capable of forgetting about the common sense values like fairness, loyalty or solidarity. This is why a lot of accomplishments don’t make us feel accomplished in the end. Perhaps we’ve lost the main essence of self-respect somewhere on the road. That “wanting to be wanted part” gets us to do things that we labelled as unthinkable in our adolescence, when we were rebel and full of dreams. Things like eating shit. And the most terrible part is that, generally, we eat shit because of assholes - nice people wouldn’t put us through it.
One would be tempted to minimize an assohole’s influence on one’s life, believe that things could get better in time, or worse, that they could help assholes magically change (that happens a lot in movies, but even the Easter bunny has more chances to exist. Don’t get me wrong, change is possible, though is has to come from within the asshole and I know something about it ‘cause I’ve done some assholish things in the past. The only solution is to get the hell out of there as the “Asshole Survivor Guide” outlines:
When you’ve entered a den of assholes, you do everything possible to get out as fast as you can—or, better yet, to figure out how to avoid that lair in the first place.
Thank you, Robert Sutton (author of the guide and professor of management science) for insisting on prevention. Once we find ourselves involved with assholes (in no matter what kind of relationship) it’s pretty difficult to get out fast enough to avoid deep pain and trauma. If you feel stuck, try to focus on step-by-step solutions instead of ruminating on and on about the deep shit you’re in. Schedule time to think about those solutions – your first thought is rarely the best thought - instead of hurrying up to please every soul on this planet. There is a price to pay: maybe you will end up single, with less friends, facing a boss who hates you or not making so much money as you did before, but I guess when we find ourselves in this unwieldy situation, we’ve already experienced that feeling of “nailing it” and still feeling as empty as an abandoned champagne bottle after a New Year’s party.
If we build self-confidence only on the ground of perfectionism or serial achievements, we will probably finish by feeling miserable, because life streams are unpredictable, tumultuous and no matter how well we do, we can still hit rock bottom anytime. In those critical moments, we need something else than ephemeral successfulness to fuel that self-confidence engine.
In the foreword for Pema Chödrön’s (author and Buddhist nun) book, “Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better”, Seth Godin, bestselling author and former dot com business executive, pinpoints that going forward is to give up on “getting all the frogs in the bowl.” Getting all the frogs in a bowl is impossible (if you don’t want to euthanize them), as the frogs jump and you have to start all over again. Instead he suggests dancing while frogs continue to jump. Maybe you are telling yourself: “No, thank you, this would imply doing mistakes and witnessing messy outcomes. I will end up with a shattered self-confidence, that’s for sure”.
Naturally, the fear of failure is a terrifying place for self-confidence (the feeling of failing is goddam bitter), but eating shit is so much worse, a guided missile to ruin in the long run every ounce of self-worthiness.
If we look carefully enough in our multi-layered, multi-dimensional self, we can identify that version of us who can dance while frogs are jumping. That “me” who is confident enough - even when walls are collapsing and tornados are turning everything upside down. We can try to connect to that part of ourselves, by emerging in something that we love and makes sense to us. Life coach Jen Sincero, in her book “You are a Badass”, made it clear that this wasn’t necessarily about making fortune or solving the universe’s problems.
“Your calling could simply be to take care of your family or to grow the perfect tulip. This is about getting mighty clear about what makes you happy and what makes you feel the most alive, and then creating it instead of pretending you can’t have it. Or that you don’t deserve it.”
Going to that place, getting to know that “someone” inside us, already self-confident because he/she is doing something for the sake of it and not for validation or approval from somebody's ego, is essential for the trip to self-discovery. Ok, I agree, maybe it feels more like a bungee-jumping session than a real trip. But good news, that “someone” is ready to help us on how to say no to bullshit and focusing on doing instead of on being perfect. That “someone” is already in you, so give it a try and say hello. Who knows what can happen. Last but not least, take one more wisdom bullet (from writer Kathryn Harrison) for the road to fire it up when you find yourself discouraged and sitting in a puddle of wet Kleenex tissues:
“ We can’t control so much of what happens to us in life. Even our own actions unfold in time in ways we can’t possibly imagine. But there is someone inside who remains untouched by all of that. That person may not really exist in the light, but she is there, waiting, in the dark.”
by Diana Rusu
My whole body aches. I had some trouble going to sleep last night, and the last thing I remember is praying to the Universe, promising I'll be good and do whatever needs to be done, now that I'm making this change (and it feels dreadful and I really don't want to move a finger).
I looked at my phone; it showed 22:44. I fell back asleep and the Universe gave me what I wanted while I was dreaming something weird, as usual. A wave of pain took over my body that started vibrating from the sounds of women screaming while falling from high cliffs and smashing their bodies on the rocks. Blood.
I was menstruating.
Did you know that menstrual cramps, or Dysmenorrhea as it's technically called, has finally been ruled as painful as having a heart attack? Well jeez, I could have told you that plenty of times. 240 times, probably (I started menstruating exactly twenty years ago). No wonder my heart is shattered and I'm having problems with it, the poor thing.
I have been bleeding for twenty years and you still call me dramatic sometimes?
I’m sorry, I don’t see you bleeding out of your dick.
A month later, later edit
Dicks are people that make you feel rejected, belittled, ignored, not deserving. Not good enough, not smart enough. Too sensitive.
When a friend of mine told me her friend is doing this challenge of not sleeping with any man for a year, therefore calling it a no dick challenge, I was intrigued and quite excited. But then I thought, what difference would that make, anyway? It's not like I haven't done it before (just haven't named it). This needed to be something more, something beyond the dick. So, I decided to set up a symbolic #nodick challenge for this year. I mean, it's never too late, so I still have plenty of time. Unless I experience sudden death, which I just read about in a study; "most young sudden death victims with MVP were asymptomatic females without significant mitral valve regurgitation". Well fml, good to know. I could die at any moment, so why spare my precious time with dicks?
The #nodicks2018 mention of the month goes to some of those marching "the march for life" in Romania, an anti-abortion (among others themes) event organized by the Coalition for the Family. But don't even get me started, I am not a fan of politics nor religion, and I hate them even more when they work together in the remaking of Rhinoceros, Ionesco's theater of the absurd, only with a twist: a man marching with a banner writing "I regret my abortion".
by Diana Rusu
They say that the age of personal essays is over. Well fuck them.
London is a scary place. It’s like a pair of glasses that you don’t really need, except maybe for reading, but they don’t seem to help anyway. What they do help at is seeing your past as if it were someone else’s. You can rub your eyes all you want, you’re still going to remember the way that Mr. C. from Secondary used to make you jump those old vaulting boxes, climb those weird wall bars or push up those smelly gym mats – and all this whilst he was sending one of the boys to get him a pack of fags from the nearest shop. He used to smoke one in less than a minute. A cigarette, not the whole pack. And I still don’t know if I invented the memory or it was really me on that bench pretending to be sick just to skip the class.
The way we were told that we were normal if we were straight and didn't come from a Romani family. If we were sometimes bullied.
I found myself dreaming about that gym many of times, but the school looked totally different. It was always empty in my dreams, dodgy, always obscure; not in total darkness, but kind of like on a shitty, rainy afternoon. In my dreams, I would rush up the stairs, walk all along the corridors, looking for the one door that would be my classroom. I wouldn't go in, instead I would feel that I'm in someone else’s dream and I was living some place far away. This made me feel happy and safe, knowing I'm actually years and miles away from it. I took so much pride in this imagining I’m someone else, that writing came to me in perfect timing. I was doing pretty good at everything, but after the first few years of school, things started to shake. I was 13.
My first diary was a maths notebook. It had cars on the covers. No, that was my second one, after I’d lost the first one – which I kept away from my sister’s hands, hiding it in different locations all over the house. I’d probably lost its track, but when I started the second one, the year was ’99.
Ace of Base was still banging on the radio with all that she wants is another baby, she's gone tomorrow. And no one told me it's alright to feel that way for all the people I was attracted to.
My diary entries were usually about how I liked this or that boy in school (always more than one, usually two or three) or how I fantasized having a girlfriend after I've had my first boyfriend, what was I going to do that holiday, where did my family go last Sunday. It was great, I was writing pretty much every day. And my sister found it, eventually. Ripped off the first page and ran into the garden with my cousin, reading from it out loud and having a blast.
I have never felt such humiliation before. But of course, I had to let it go, I'd grown used to her/ their abuses. When I finally got it back, I just looked for a new hiding place. Life went on and so did my diaries. After a while, I had so many notebooks that it was useless to hide them anymore. They became poetry practice, fragments, drama exercises, one time I even wanted to write a novel. I was awfully bad at it. Horrendous. So, when I went to college I started my first blog.
During uni, things got out of control. I was writing blog after blog. Writing, editing, deleting, writing, chatting, emailing. There was a thirsty beast inside me that just wasn’t ever content with what she had, it always had to be more, and better.
Back then, I would have given anything to hear people say about me “she lives in Paris and London”, but that was just my way of being a Bovary while ignoring the educational and social system of my country, feeling stuck, unable to do anything about it. The traumas that I had gone through made me shift from Earth to another planet.
Today, I feel like coming down and taking over my body; and my life. I feel like becoming myself, eventually. Like all the pain and crying sessions and panic attacks have fled from my heart and I am blooming, coming down to earth back to my body and back to my roots. I see them now, I see the roots growing inside me, feeding on light. I watch the picture again, like trying to convince myself that I am wrong. I am looking backwards through my retroverted uterus, back into my body. And it's only me in there, my roots all over the place. What have I done?
By Iulia Gheorghe
It was the 14th of February 2003 and there he stood, tall and looking sheepishly at the door of my grandparents’ house with a fleecy, heart-shaped stuffed toy. I don’t remember what I said or what he said, but I do remember that I absolutely hated the toy, the gesture, the look on his face as if he cared or wanted me to care, this entire situation: he was my boyfriend and had to pretend that I was into him. In that very moment, I was doing it only to show off as any 13 years old adolescent with pimples and chubby checks would do (except those lean, porcelain-skinned girls who knew nothing about the guilty pleasure of extracting blackheads and eating Nutella sandwiches while your parents are sleeping).
However, even if his wet kisses didn’t make me shiver of pleasure, I was glad he was my boyfriend. He was 17 and I could brag about being in a couple to my mates who had never been kissed before (though they were mimicking it in the mirror).
On top of that, the plush heart had a strong scent. I think he poured a bottle of Axe after-shave on it. Years after and you could still feel that spicy sweetish fragrance! My mother laughed when she saw it, maybe because she knew how much I disliked everything corny back then. I was listening to Eminem and Metallica and reading Cioran, for God's sake.
From that moment on Valentine’s Day meant for me: a cheesy present from some doofus guy who I pretended to like because of peer pressure and hormones going crazy.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate romantic people. Somehow, I turned into a romantic myself. I believe in serendipitous coups de foudre. I happen to enjoy watching “Me before you” kind of films. One of my favourite albums is Nick Cave’s “Murder Ballads”, dark romanticism of course, but yet so sentimental - just think about “Henry Lee” or “Where The Wild Roses Grow”. I will forever cheer happy-endings. But the idea of inventing a day to celebrate all that, I simply don’t find it very appealing.
There is, of course, the typical Valentine’s Day grinch who fights it because of consumerism. Others hate it because they are absolute cynics; some are submerged by a wave of anti-Americanism. I tried to figure out in which group I could fit. At the end of the day, I was neither a cynic, nor an anti-American and I loved Christmas, which is a pretty consumerist holiday, too. I also love Easter and anniversaries, Mardi Gras and I didn’t hate Halloween. Why I was against Valentine’s Day then?
I found the answer in the reason why I celebrated all those other festive moments: conviviality. All holidays, except Valentine’s Day, are animated by a reunion spirit: we find ourselves together again, a glass in one hand, circling a dinner table, snatches of conversation, catching up, sharing a meal. Laughing at, then getting annoyed by the remarks of a tipsy uncle or severe mother. Feeling overwhelmed and blessed by our friends’ presence. That sensation of being part of a community, free to misbehave, because hey, everyone does it. There is no perfect family or perfect group of friends.
On the other hand, Valentine’s day is about two people who should strive to be a perfect couple, at least for 24 hours. There is nothing wrong in sharing a chocolate cake and walk hand-in-hand in the name of love, but it feels a little oppressive to do it on a particular day because you have to celebrate the idea of one kind of love, while we all know that there are a hoard of types of love. Everyone should be invited at the love party.
And probably, why Valentine’s Day pisses me off the most, is because it seems a little bit like an insult to my emotional intelligence. Firstly, I strive for more than “a cute moment”. Secondly, I clearly don’t want marketing “storytell” romance. I've been in a couple for eight years now and I know for sure that the steadiness of that intense feeling was not built on rose petals and Axe-scented plush hearts.
However, if you meet at a party, I’m not sure I will tell you all that if you ask me about how I celebrate Valentine’s Day. It’s such a long story, isn’t it? I would probably prefer quoting André Aciman’s wise words: “Whoever said the soul and the body met in the pineal gland was a fool. It's the asshole, stupid.”
by Iulia Gheorghe
If feelings had different colours, I would definitely be the Coastal Scents 252 Color Ultimate Eye Shadow Palette. As Feist says, I feel it all. I almost feel pregnant with a pulsatile rainbow that kicks and bounces from the top of my head to my pinkie toes (I don’t really know why, while writing this, I found myself searching pinkie toes on Youtube, but I can’t help it but share with you my discoveries). I don’t really show my feelings a lot, because for a long time I really disliked contrast and contradictions, and it happens that feelings are often contradictory and conflicting. There is, however, one feeling that I didn’t know much about. Sadness. I can be often angry, grieving, hurt, in pain, in denial or nostalgic, desperate or heartbroken, but rarely sad. Though when I feel it, I can almost palpate it, an invisible lump stretching under my forehead.
I felt sadness again a couple of days ago. It was just another Facebook pause, or at least that’s what I thought it was. And then I played this video in which Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie was asked by a French journalist if there were bookshops in Nigeria. The novelist was invited by France’s foreign ministry to appear as guest of honour at a cultural event. And then this question kicked in.
“When you talk about Nigeria in France, unfortunately there is not much said about Nigeria, when people talk about Nigeria it’s about Boko Haram, it’s about violence, it’s about security,” the journalist added.
Of course that Adichie responded in her wisely, yet irreverent, extremely intelligent way. But there I was, starring at the screen, feeling sad out of the blue.
I felt sad because I felt living in a world where the shit hit the fan. First we had the hate speech. Then the post-truths. And now, hooray, we violently indulge in feeding ourselves with assumptions and stereotypes, sometimes even pretending to lead the good fight against political-correctness (I would be so curious to see how the wise minds who attack political-correctness would survive - with a clean conscience - in a society based on anti-political correct principles). We tend to mirror ourselves in others: when what we see is different from what we expected to see, we become somehow worldblind, even if we are tied to the otherness on every level and layer of our existence.
I felt sad because it’s 2018 and we still divide people from developing countries in two groups: the savage majority and the brilliant exceptions who are actually forced to come up with various narratives in order to prove that “progress has been made” in their home countries. As Chimamanda wrote in Americanah:
“But of course it makes sense because we are Third Worlders and Third Worlders are forward-looking, we like things to be new, because our best is still ahead, while in the West their best is already past and so they have to make a fetish of that past. Remember this is our newly middle-class world. We haven’t completed the first cycle of prosperity, before going back to the beginning again, to drink milk from the cow’s udder.”
I felt sad because we live in an era of being able to access information at anytime, anywhere and there still are journalists (influencing directly the public opinion) who don’t do their job properly and build up interviews and storylines on lazy assumptions. If only the journalist had listened to Chimamanda’s Ted talk The danger of a single story. If only she had understood that “when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.” If only she had read Americanah, maybe she would have learnt about how not to ask ethnocentric questions.
I felt sad because memories came up the surface, fragments of dialogues that I pushed so hard and so far away in a grotto of unwanted souvenirs. You know, like when something whacko happens and you close your eyes hoping that when you open them, the chaos will be gone.
“Do you have toilets in your country?”
“Why they can’t be all like you, so well integrated?”
“Why so many girls from your country become prostitutes instead of getting a real job?”
As Katie Roiphe pinpoints “such small word choices, you might say. How could they possible matter to any halfway healthy person? But it is in these choices, these casual remarks made while holding a glass of wine, these throwaway comments, these accidental bursts of honesty and flashes of discomfort that we create cultural climate; it’s in the offhand that the judgments persist and reproduce themselves”.
I think those snippets of conversation made me feel as a transplanted organ in a body that can’t decide whether it accepts or not that unknown group of cells that didn’t belonged to it from the very beginning. The journalist’s question to Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie triggered that soreness in myself.
We often talk about our happy places, but I’ve discovered my sad one. It’s haunting, damp and quiet, but I have a masochist pleasure to visit it from time to time.
photo by Diana Rusu
some mornings I wake up to a different time in history
a different place from what I already knew is there, wondering, asking around, mimicking the question Is there another place than here
I imagine myself a man on stage reading out loud with his face and mouth taking the shape of every single word, like dancing - of this poem
reading it to a black room full of nothingness and pain; his insides are colorful, and I'm coming alive on that piece of paper he's holding as I reach the air, the human form of being; I feel caressed, stroked, embraced, kept warm, protected
nina simone playing in the background, dimmed lights, morning after
I wanted it to be summer; to wear a festival outfit, greedy to go out in nature, craving sunsets
chilly summer weather and that you are mine and I am yours reassuring hug
boozing around, dancing when you're not too tired, casting spells at the same nature that
created us, destroyed us and now is asking for redemption
we are her women. we miss having each other, touching each other, being each other
we are clouds travelling beyond the yellow lines
weird little houses, leafy trees, not wearing makeup today, sensing the smell of meat and the noises and everything that existed before today - the background does no longer exist
to warm up the air we need to feel naked without a book and have no shadow
closing the doors; mind the doors
my eyes are doors opening for the sun light, the paint light, the inside light
the sea light
by Diana Rusu
I had this thought the other day, why am I running in the underground when I could enjoy the sunshine somewhere?! Sure, people have suffered for centuries and they still do and it's a mad house back home. But am I just supposed to hide in one place until things get better somewhere else? They might not even get better. Ever. Does that really affect me?
I have been in a bubble since the day I was born, a spiritual, crazy, sci-fi world that surrounds my body. I was never afraid to show it off, to be honest. Always felt like my chest was a clear glass box where one could see through a sometimes-overwhelming bunch of emotions, colours, shapes and all that.
The funny thing is, everything else happens and had always happened by mere accident.
Falling in love, having a home, geting fantastic jobs. And I suppose it's only fair to lose all of that, by accident, one by one: loves, homes, careers; the bakery I was getting my bread and morning pastries from; the coffee shop that I religiously went to for an in-house roasted specialty coffee, perfectly brewed in a V60 filter; the green grocery that sold ten types of cherry tomatoes; I guess what I'm trying to underline here is maybe the need I had for all of those things to happen to me, ignoring the bubble that only had room for myself. I was so much already, I was everything. I just didn't know it yet.
And then the rollercoaster hit me in the face and I had to start all over from scratch.
I scratched my skin, I cried my eyes out and struggled with the "change", unaware of the simple fact that I had nothing to change. I was still in my bubble everywhere I'd go. Perhaps the only difference was that with time passing, I accumulated words to write down The Story. Sure, sometimes I’m broke, heartbroken and questioning whether London is of any use to me still, and not a vampire that sucks all life & possessions that I work for every day.
I once read that Capricorns are creatures of two worlds, they are goats with fish tails, they can climb the highest mountains, but they can also dive into the deepest waters.
I understand why I've spent ten months running in the underground, each and every single time visioning something or someone from the past coming towards me, instead of just enjoying the sunshine somewhere else. I needed to go there, I needed to lose and I needed to be challenged in a way I never thought it was possible: I was no longer in my twenties, I still didn’t know where the I don’t give a fuck feeling ended and where the panic attacks started; eventually, it all made sense in a way I still have no words to describe. I can only feel it.
No, I didn't move to London to make money. I didn't move to "improve" myself or exchange one world for a "better" one. But I did look for questions and answers, realizing that there's nothing else out there except the present time.
I always dreamed of being Amelie Poulain, but what I didn’t know all this time is that I was exactly Amelie Poulain. My dream came true, or better yet, it came through. I've never been more fascinated with life before. And that's something that I'll take with me, wherever I go.
by Diana Rusu
“Once you can tell a story - you can find people with similar stories and you can build a community. I guess writing is a tool for me to find people.”
A poet, playwright and performer whose work has appeared in print at Words Dance, The Delinquent and in other anthologies and publications, as well as on stage at the Vault, Brighton Fringe, Clear Lines and UNHEARD Festivals – Tanaka Mhishi is a busy, creative Londoner doing various writing workshops, collaborations with the BBC and touring an inspiring show for kids, called “Boys don’t”. His current on-going project is called “Icepick” and it is a Literary podcast that brings new works to an audio platform by creating a nice fusion between writers and voice actors. We met up with Tanaka and discussed all about writing!
Diana: Now, you probably know more about the London writing and performing scene than I do, so can you tell us what does this scene look like today? And in today, where are you, with all this content that you create?
Tanaka Mhishi: There’s lots of literary tiny worlds in London; there isn’t one overall scene, but I feel like where I am is really interesting. There’s this movement of spoken word and performance poets into traditional theatre spaces and they are shaking up the form, and that is about what performance poetry is, as well. There are some amazing spoken word shows, poetry publishers who are now publishing scripts of these spoken word shows, so all of that is really fun and I’m really enjoying it. The scenes are converging and I get to introduce poetry friends to theatre friends.
D: When did it all start? I mean, what was the first piece that you have ever written?
T.M.: I always think that’s a really hard question to answer because, if you go back far enough, we’re all just children who played. I feel like at 12, 13, 14 – you start to get serious and then all of the creative stuff emerges, so I think that’s when I thought “Oh, I don’t want to lose that stuff”. But I did write some really bad poetry as a teenager!
D: Me too! I think we all did. It’s just something that you must to go through; you have to start from somewhere.
“I had no idea about confessional poetry or feminism or any of these things, but I was just like “Oh, ok, there is this dead American woman who has put into a poem so much of what I’m feeling and she’s speaking to me from another era, from a completely different life”
T.M.: Yeah, it has to be bad before it gets any better. I do remember that moment, it was in English class, it was Sylvia Plath and like a lot of people I had a moment of rough time with my parents at that time, so I was reading “Daddy”. With no context whatsoever, I was 14 – 15 and I had no idea about confessional poetry or feminism or any of these things, but I was just like “Oh, ok, there is this dead American woman who has put into a poem so much of what I’m feeling and she’s speaking to me from another era, from a completely different life, and she gets me more than people around me – that’s kind of magic! It’s like time travelling! I thought that I could do this as well.
D: A lot of young kids find their inspiration first inside their family, or close community. I know I had peaked at my dad’s journals where he’d written poems in his troubled youth, and so I wanted to copy that. Did you have creative people in your family growing up? Did they support you in the process?
T.M.: Yes and no. Both of my parents were incredibly talented creative people. My mother was a visual artist and my father a musician. But all of this was ancient history by the time I was growing up. They would be creative in very quiet ways and neither of them viewed it as a viable career. I remember thinking that I’m not going out like that: they sacrificed their creativity for me, but I’m definitely not doing that. I want to make this work as hard as I can.
“I think the idea of creativity and art is a gift”
My mom was an incredible artist. I had story books as a child, but she would paint the story books and put me into the stories, and she would make them for me. It was wonderful, but I was the only one who experienced them. I think the idea of creativity and art is a gift and as a contribution it was really there in my family.
D: Research – creative – social issues – body trauma – gender – race. Writing and performing about all of this can be extremely hard, yet I know it offers not only you but also to anyone who will listen, a deeper understanding. What are you writing about at the moment?
T.M.: When I started out it was the performance poetry that led me into theatre, as theatre is more versatile. Now I’m doing a kids’ show called “Boys don’t” which is about masculinity for ages 8+ and it’s teaching boys a little bit more about emotional intelligence. I also have this other end of my work, where I talk about sexual violence in a very adult research context. And then, there are all sorts of stuff in between. I also work with the media every now and again, with the BBC and The Observer.
D: I guess if you want to tell your story no matter through what outlet, you have to use all of them.
T.M.: Yes, and also it keeps me from getting complacent. I know that if I just do one thing over and over again, I’ll stop pushing and I’ll stop learning. And I guess it always comes down to language, that’s the thread that runs through everything. One of the questions you sent me was would I rather be a writer or a performer? And I had a whole identity crisis! I really don’t know! They’re both so entwined. The thing with the writing and performing is that I get a chance to be a hermit and then once I’m prepared, I get to share my work. So, I think the two are really connected. But I wouldn’t perform without writing, I’m not an actor.
“I write a lot for other people”
D: Tell me more about what inspires you to write, from literature to real life.
T.M.: It comes from many places; a lot of it is autobiography. I do have that thing where I’m always watching my experiences and think “oh, this is good material”, which is a weird way to live your life and sometimes it’s not the healthiest. Everything is sort of autobiography in some point.
I write a lot for other people. There’s a show that will be going on in February, which came out after a long conversation that I had with a friend of mine who was saying that she never sees full lives of queer, lesbian or bisexual women represented – you always see cut-ups; you never have the sense of longevity or the sense of a person aging – in terms of the representation that we get. You don’t see relationships that have been there for twenty years. Very often. And I can see how it might be difficult, in the sense that you don’t have a picture of what your life will look like in 40 years from now. But I’m a writer, so this is something that I can do. A lot of the times I’m responding to a lack of stories and weird gaps, or things we don’t talk about. Of course, everything is in one way or another, meant to fill a gap that you have in yourself.
D: Speaking of real life, I think traumas have a big role when it comes to writing.
T.M.: There’s this really interesting theory in trauma studies about language, for example, one definition of trauma is “an event or a series of events that you cannot process through the language senses of your brain”. The actual pain is described such a thing that happened, but you cannot tell a story about it. So, for me, being able to tell a story, being able to put it in words is very important because words are what we use to connect to each other. Once you can tell a story you can find people with similar stories and you can build a community. I guess writing is a tool for me to find people.
D: It takes a huge amount of courage to write about yourself. You can go above and beyond of finding yourself, belonging to yourself and then not belonging to yourself anymore, but to your audience. And that’s scary and beautiful. What is your creative process?
“I helped someone; that was worthwhile. I could do that for the next 60 years of my life and that would be fulfilling for me”
T.M.: I had a moment when all of that crystalized for me. I was 20. I had a really good friend who went through a dark period. I ended up doing a lot of care there, I was happy to do it but I wasn’t the priority, so all of my feelings went into poetry. Later I performed one of those poems and afterwards, this woman came up to me and she said “I’m really glad you did that poem, because I went through almost the same thing as you and hearing it, has helped me.” And I remember I was really glad. I helped someone; that was worthwhile. I could do that for the next 60 years of my life and that would be fulfilling for me. And that’s such a blessing to have. I knew then that this is not just about me.
D: My last question is what is your favourite poem? And if you could have written any poem from anywhere in the world, at anytime in history, what would that be?
T.M.: Wild geese by Mary Oliver.
By Iulia Gheorghe
The Macmillan dictionary says a hero is “someone who has done something brave, for example saving a person’s life”. Naturally, when we hear the words “life” and “saving”, our minds instinctively fly to doctors, soldiers, lawyers, sometimes social workers, artists, and psychologists. We rarely think about people who are incredibly close and almost mundane characters of our lives. Family is more associated to giving life than to saving it. But when defining “living”, let’s not limit the concept to breath, heartbeat and neural connections. Perhaps living is also about acknowledging self-worthiness and respecting oneself. Saving a life is not only preserving a bunch of cells, animating a body, but also empowering a spirit, nurturing a character and freeing someone from the tyranny of clichés including gender roles centered on rigid ideas about how men and women should act and live their lives accordingly to what has been done before.
When it comes to poisonous and destructive behaviours, our marvellous species didn’t do so much progress. It’s crazy to think that we are able to create artificial intelligence which (who?) is capable to teach itself and figure out pretty anything, but we are not able to regulate our own emotional intelligence and still struggle with atrocious conducts and abuses on a large scale, that the #metoo phenomenon has taken into the limelight.
And while two camps are debating whether men should have or not the right to “bother” women, little girls and boys are still not treated like human beings with universal feelings, but as packs of hormones trapped in a mix of power struggles and seduction games. Maybe time’s up also for children to be seen and heard just as they are and damn’ they are much more than reproductive systems enclosed into bodies that should either grow a beard or shave their legs, cooking dinner or trimming the garden. Childhood is the rabbit hole. Of course, people can change, heal, improve, and figure out issues later in life, however, a good start is jumping over a big pain in the ass.
I’ve grown up, like a lot of children in the early years of capitalist Romania, in a family in which the role of grandparents was crucial. My parents were very young (charming, but nonchalant) and working full-time, so I was spending a lot of time with my mother’s parents. We even shared the same house. My grand-mother was ruling over pretty much everything, except what was happening in the what we call in Romanian “sufragerie”, some sort of dining room in which we rarely dined. Most of the time, we used it as a workspace. I shared it with my grandfather. He was a history teacher and also a journalist. He breathed to read and his biggest pleasure was to lock himself in the “sufragerie” and devour the morning newspaper. I could feel the burden of the world fading away, worries discoloring on a canvas when he was starting to write an article.
I remember being a curious kid, eager to absorb everything and he always treated me not as a little girl, but as a human in progress: he respected my choices, he praised my curiosity and he never told me that I couldn’t do something because of my gender. He didn’t serve a moralistic sermon as expected from a man born in the ‘30. Instead, he thought me about Hera, Athena, Artemis, those Greek goddesses in all their complexity, generous and vicious, capable of great love and vibrant wrath. About Elizabeth I, fierce and tormented. About Veronica Micle, the lover of Mihai Eminescu, a popular poet in Romania, and her sorrowful pathway. I don’t think that he did it on purpose, as an enactment of a feminist official position; he was doing it naturally, from a humanist point of view. He simply watched through the curtains. And there was also the way he told my grand-mother “I love you”. I laughed so hard when he told us (without any malice in his voice) that he adored my grandma’s hairy legs. “Being hairy is normal”, he was saying. Gosh, I guess he was more millennial than a true millennial. Sometimes, he told me and my mother “You are beautiful”. In a transparent unflawed way.
Later in life, I discovered Simone de Beauvoir, sexism, gender inequality, me too experiences. I'm not saying that I haven’t fallen, sometimes, in the trap of gender roles; it’s obvious that I did. My hair comb is bright pink and how many times I didn’t do the first step, because I thought it was not appropriate for a girl to do it (or maybe that was just a lukewarm justification to hide the universal fear of rejection)?. I can’t help but shave my armpits and I often heard myself saying ‘I’m a girl, I don’t know how to change a light bulb, so you should do it!” (like really?!)`
But I am so grateful that there was by my side, in the first years of becoming myself, that person who saw the human in the woman and saved me from later possible frustrations by encouraging me to pursue my path in my own freakin’ way. Thanks to him, I am able to see through the curtains too. And to trust myself and other human beings, all genders included.
by Iulia Gheorghe
Infinity Mirror Room by Yayoi Kusama at the Museum of Fine Arts in Nancy, France
Some background (because I love over-explaining)
Ever since I’ve started to share photos on HI5 (a social media network from the Pleistocene era) I’ve been fascinated with the connection between self-expression, identity and image. In “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life” the sociologist Ervin Goffman writes about his studies of the “impression management” aka the actions we take on a daily basis in order to be seen by others as we wish to be seen. I guess selfies play an important role in the making and the breaking of our impression management strategies (even unconsciously).
As far as I’m concerned, I took my last no-filter selfie on Sunday, 31st of December, 10:33 AM, while chatting with Diana on messenger. It was the day we launched our first newsletter (subscribe here if you haven’t yet). I’d just woken up and definitely moaning. She has such a great energy in the morning and she wanted to review the last details of our letter, but my brain was feeling so cloudy that I sent her a selfie with my swollen face as a response. Take it easy on me, girl. I have binge-watched stuff on Netflix the night before and somehow I managed to wake up and not look human. Have you ever heard about this species, the “puffy”? Well, now you have. I was a “bloated-and-not-so-eager-to-start-the-day-puffy”.
I took my last proper selfie on Sunday at 8:33 PM, using the disco Facebook filter and sharing it on a private group of friends. I did it because I wished they were there, in the same room with me, so I could entertain them. Before midnight, we had our family portrait taken with a Fuji Instax. While the Polaroid picture was drying, I was browsing through Instagram.
And then, the questions popped in my head like popcorn (in an XXL bag).
In addition to all that, I’ve always felt a strange tickle every time I posted a photo of myself and received a lot of engagement, but almost no engagement at all when I posted a link to an article or an interesting reading. Beautifully written pieces on interesting topics by journalists or authors full of potential were acutely ignored, while likes pilled up promptly for a profile photo.
I see this happening a lot in my social media feeds, so it might have happened to you too. It gets frustrating in time, because one can feel that the only path to transmitting a message, promoting one’s projects or sharing an opinion can be an impulsive self-promotion through staged portraits and selfies.
There was only one way to figure out some of these issues or at least to dig as deep as I could.
This is why for one year, I give up selfies. Published or unpublished. On my public social media feeds and on the private feeds as well (Messenger and WhatsApp included). I will write periodically about my experience on heartbrunch.com, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
I don’t think that selfies are Nosferatu or that they should be banned. Putting yourself out there is an excellent tool to promote self-worthiness.
My goal is to better understand:
A. the desire to push that button and take that selfie (& maybe edit and retouch it, then eventually release it)
B. everything that happens if/when we fight that urge.
But most importantly, for one year, I want to raise awareness about the projects and causes that don’t receive the attention they deserve.
The Internet is chocking with content and gagging on algorithms that privilege paid campaigns. I believe we should be more selective about what we publish and how frequent we do it. Thus, every time I will feel the urge to take a selfie, we will publish instead a picture of an inspirational project/work of art/cause.
And we count on you to help make those initiatives more visible by sharing them on your networks.
While some of us can spend one year effortlessly without any selfies, there are others who couldn’t live or work without. I am somewhere in between. I am in for one year, but you can try it for a day or for a week to see how it feels and what happens.
Please drop me a line about your experience at firstname.lastname@example.org
Join the #oneyearzeroselfies movement by posting a photo (or a link, a message, your choice) with a project/work of art/cause/opinion that you think is worthy of attention. And to make it easier, if you need a hand, each month we will propose a theme.
This month’s theme: support inspiring Instagram projects/accounts with less than 10.000 followers that don’t have a budget to surf through algorithms.
by Diana Rusu
Did you notice that facebook has now got a setting that lets you choose a legacy contact just in case you die?
“A legacy contact is someone who you choose to manage your account after you pass away. They'll be able to do things like pin a post on your Timeline, respond to new friend requests and update your profile picture.” (Facebook settings)
Oh wow, I didn’t see that coming. I mean, from now on, it will be possible to make friends AFTER YOU DIED. Which reminds me, tomorrow is a big day! Tomorrow the 3rd series of Black Mirror is out!!! #bingewatching
Over the years I’ve developed an acute sense of control, although I’m still the most flexible and adaptable person you’ll ever meet. Looking back though, I’m sure as hell that sometimes I looked like a control freak. Having everything prepared, coming to a party with all of the food, making everyone smile. Never smoking that spliff.
And rarely, maybe once in a few years, I would do something over the top: with a most dramatic feeling taking over my body OR quite the opposite – with no feelings at all, that’s how I ended up deleting my first serious blog. It was going really good, I was getting plenty of attention, followers and comments. And back then, I didn’t use any other social media. Later, after a while of having my first fb profile, I deleted that as well, but couldn’t keep my hands out of the internet and got another one instead. I was using my teddy bear as a cover for me searching through ex-lovers’ pictures and status updates. But that’s another story for another time, because my teddy bear was a traveler, so he actually needed this facebook profile.
I think the time has come to loosen up a little bit and do what the voices in my head are saying: delete it delete it delete it
So, I started with the teddy bear and making my way up to the main one. Thing is, I barely use it anymore, but I can’t stop thinking of all the people sharing awesome things and how easy it is to get inspired or learn things. It’s ok, it’s also easy to get hurt. It’s ok, the voices are saying, you’ll find inspiration in nature and people that are present and in yourself and you know, there’s always Instagram, Don’t you dare delete that!!
Riiiight, so, it’s time to go outside. The sun’s out, finally, Mercury is no longer retrograde, we lived through the longest night of the year and I don’t think I wanna be a likes-fed guinea pig anymore, although I still need “all those daily molecules of proof that we, as people, are meant to bond together and change each other’s lives, with or without filter.”
by Iulia Gheorghe
When I write, I do it in a pretty unorthodox way: nesting in the couch, with my notebook as a faithful lapdog, a dozen of pens, a cup of cooled coffee, and a hodgepodge of post-its, magazines, paper clips, plastic flowers, tiny bottles of perfume, a laptop, some chewing gum reigning on the table in front of me and a couple of books on my left and right side. This is not a Bible-inspired scene, but I have this peculiar pleasure of choosing three-four volumes from the bookcase and flipping through them while reflecting and writing. Sometimes I read a fragment, but I often just sit there, smelling the pages, touching them, fixing the cover and charging with some kind of creative energy that I can’t really explain, only genuinely sense. I don’t belong to a bizarre cult of having a physical relationship with books, but I do agree that I consider them resourceful and inspiring companions.
Books are friends that emulate, stimulate and mind their own business (THE thing to do in 2018 according to Issa Rae), such a rare and precious blend for my inner balance. The ones which stand beside me at this very moment are also those which shattered some of my deep-rooted beliefs and deviated the linear perspective I had on diverse topics, which all finally relate to what it means to be a human being in this universe. They shade some light on several murky spots and even if I don’t like to stick to universal truths, they definitely answered my questions from new, invigorating angles.
If you haven’t read them, maybe 2018 is the perfect year to invite them on a date: be ready to succumb to their snappy charm, catchy rhythm and pertinent remarks.
You are wired to worry
I am a natural born worrier who refused to accept the easy way out of the rumination jurisdiction. As a fashionista sets trends, I am a “what could happen-ista” who sets a myriad of possible scenarios to every encountered situation. Thanks to Allan Watts (click here to watch a short inspiring video), stoic philosophy and some eureka moments from my daily existence, I succeeded in slowing down the worry machine. Occasionally, worries are still unmanageable no matter what and they feel like small bones crackling in my chest. I would like to spit those bastards out, but it feels like they are part of my skeleton configuration, like stars (at first sight faraway from each other) are tied in ethereal constellations. Is it possible that worrying is encoded in my genes?
This is where historian Yuval Noah Harari steps in with his “full of shocking and wondrous stories”, as the Sunday Times reviewed his masterpiece Sapiens. A brief history of humankind pinpointing that « From the very advent of agriculture, worries about the future became major players in the theater of the human mind (…) The stress of farming has far-reaching consequences. It was the foundation of large-scale political and social systems.”
I understood better why I felt those extra-bones in my body. I am wired to worry; as our ancestors started to worry from the moment they planted their first harvests. A lot of things could have happened. Droughts, soil erosions, flooding, war. Millennia have passed; nevertheless we are still fretful in front of the harvests of our actions and the jungles of the uncontrollable variables of our lives. A lot of things still can happen. The drought of our bank accounts, the erosion of our relationships, the flooding of our desires, the war among our intentions. When will the rain come has turned into When will that phone ring?
Sure enough, worrying has a lot of things to do with happiness or at least the pursuit of it. Our desires are shaped by an external imagined order. For Harari, follow your heart it’s the blend of the nineteenth century Romantic myths and twentieth-century consumerist myths : « Romanticism, which encourages variety, meshes perfectly with consumerism. Their marriage has given birth to infinite ‘market of experiences’, on which the modern tourism industry is founded. The tourism industry does not sell flight tickets and hotel bedrooms. It sells experiences. Paris is not a city, nor India a country – they are both experiences, the consumption of which is supposed to widen our horizons, fulfill our human potential, and make us happier ».
It’s so fashionable to buy experiences and to search that feeling of being whole again in exotic faraway places or adrenaline pumping experiences, but we all know in the bottom of our clever hearts that kind of satisfaction vanishes pretty quickly when Lady Purposefulness is not a part of the scenario.
Don’t fall in the victim hole
All this searching for happiness/meaning situation makes me think about the plethora of things we can’t control (for instance, we’re born into families, nations and cultures that we didn’t choose), but one important choice that we can make is the one to not act like eternal victims. Not because injustices don’t exist, they are like the horsemen of the Apocalypse, galloping at the speed of light.
Nevertheless, once we start acting as a victim, we feel tempted to adopt that attitude more and more often until we morph into it. As journalist David Brooks explains in The social animal « we have the power to choose narratives in which we absolve ourselves of guilt and blame everything on conspiracies or others. On the other hand, we have the power to choose narratives in which we use even the worst circumstances to achieve spiritual growth ».
Inequalities tear down today’s societies. Horrible things can happen to what we would call genuinely good people. But playing the victim is a perverse game, as it often finishes in attention-seeking, manipulation, gaining pity instead of respect. Every time when I’m caught in shitty situations, I remember Brooks’ s saying. I look around. It can be damn hard and stinky! If I feel like a wretch-looking fountain of tears&curses, I can bitch about it, be sad or angry about it, but I try not to fall in the victim hole, ‘cause I know that my voice will not be truly heard if I’m stuck in that hazy tunnel.
You will die anyway
However, even if we gain in strength and resilience, we still experience painful feelings and aching memories. For a long time, I put them in a folder like a clerk that handles some account statements and tried to ignore it. Bad idea. That was not a regular dossier! It was alive, twisting and hurting. Overlooking this pulsatile collection of anguish, loss and hardship was not assuming a slice of myself.
As the pen fairy Annie Lamott writes in Bird by bird: “Remember that you own what happened to you. If your childhood was less than ideal, you may have been raised thinking that if you told the truth about what really went on in your family, a long bony white finger would emerge from a cloud and point to you, while a chilling voice thundered, "We *told* you not to tell." But that was then. Just put down on paper everything you can remember now about your parents and siblings and relatives and neighbours, and we will deal with libel later on.”
I believe Bird by Bird was the most enchanting encounter that I had with a book in 2017. I felt like sucking up the words of a wise, honest, straightforward, adorable and gifted writer and distilling them in shots of useful guidelines in times of doubt or torment. An example: for more than two decades, I was eaten up by perfectionism. As our society tends to reward perfectionism and it considers it as an impeccable flaw (the one that you can mention at a job interview), more and more people are trapped into its toils. I will be forever grateful to Lamott for explaining so intelligibly the relationship between perfectionism and accepting our mortality :
“I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it.”
In 2017, after reading Bird by bird and after five years of not writing (perfectionism screwed my willingness to create) I repeated myself: I will die anyway. I will die anyway. I will die anyway. Initially, I was too afraid and superstitious to shout it loudly. But I finally did it. It was my exorcism.
Soon after, I started to write again and guess what? I felt more alive than ever.
by Diana Rusu
Saturn has a storm, photo source
The winter solstice or the rebirth of the Sun has always been celebrated and marked in the wheel of life as the shortest day of a year. Today, the hours of daylight are at their least (think 7 hours and 49 minutes). That leaves us with the longest night for more than 15 hours.
I started my day the exact moment it was light outside; I brewed my coffee. I sat down and turned on the circle of life itself, the Internet, and begun the digging: 13 opened tabs later, I was drowning in astrology websites and blogs, horrified and fascinated by what they have to say about the winter solstice. For example, did you know that in pagan times, this was the moment where people would “replace” the sun with other forms of light? The Romans decorated their houses with evergreen trees; the Yule traditions would include bonfires; the Swedish still keep their beautiful Goddess Lucina, celebrating the return of the light.
But according to astrologer Neil Spencer, this year's Solstice is going to be a special one, as for the first time since 1664, the Sun will move into Capricorn just a few hours after Saturn makes the exact same shift. Solstitium in Latin means that the sun is standing still. Well now she will stand still next to her fellow Saturn and its extraordinary beautiful rings. Handsome guy, that one. Lining up, they’ll seem to create a phenomenon which is expected to have uncomfortable consequences!
"This year the solstice arrives on 21 December at 16.27.55 GMT, with the Sun moving into Capricorn a matter of hours after Saturn makes the same shift. Such an occurrence is not without precedent but it is unusual; you have to go back to 1664 to find something comparable."
So.. what do we do about it? Mercury is still retrograde, but will come to its senses after tomorrow, the 22nd of December. Oh, but apparently he’ll leave a shadow over us all for the next week or so, meaning this whole dreadful bleak midwinter is NOT over yet. Astrologers advise us not to make important decisions until January takes over. And it makes sense, as the whole nature hides under the ground, in snow or cold, damp mud, ready to sprout once again with snowdrops as soon as the sun gets her ass out there. We just have to be patient, for a little while, and hibernate these days. If there’s a time to feel honestly miserable and accept it – now’s the time! Allow yourself to cry your eyes out. Cleanse your body and soul. Stay in and watch Netflix (I’ve just finished The crown).
Here’s what today will look like according to Neil’s horoscope. But go check the whole story of this December. Also, highly recommend Susan Miller’s !!!
“Venus is in your skies until Christmas Day, ideal for a charm offensive, attracting people to your side, and spending too much money on a good time.”
“Meanwhile a great deal seems to be happening behind the scenes, either because your plan for world domination is not ready to unveil, or because you are using the pre-Christmas period to rest up (good idea).”
“Aquarians are known for their detached manner, and you may have to adopt a chilly attitude here. It isn’t time for sentimentalities, despite the festive season.”
“There seems to be more work to complete, more arrangements to make, despite imminent holidays. You may be able to push things back to post-Xmas, when Mercury is behaving again and Saturn has moved on”
“Saturn reaching the peak of your ‘scope on December 21 – for the first time in 30 years – opens a more demanding phase in your public life”
“The move of Saturn into Capricorn on the solstice is weighty and significant for Taureans, aligning one earth sign, the Bull, with another, The Goat. If you are in the business of acquisition – which most Taureans are – then Saturn can help over the next two years.”
“At worst Saturn sets tasks at work, brings grumpy partners, physical stress and grey skies. Its departure lightens the mood (…) allows you to despatch a practical matter that’s been bugging you for most of 2017, and/or to find closure to a problematical relationship.”
“The major news of late December is that Saturn moves into opposition at the solstice, (…) it is a challenge, though one you can overcome by staying firmly on the front foot. Drifting along is not part of Saturn’s agenda.”
“Venus, also in the Centaur until Christmas Day, promises sweet company, art galleries and the social whirl – nice work if you can get it (and you can get it if you try).”
“Saturn may have loaded you up with domestic or family anxieties in 2017 but the taskmaster planet moves on come the winter solstice to a far more obliging position in Capricorn, a fellow earth sign.”
“The midwinter solstice has especial importance for Librans this year (…) For those of you born close to the autumn equinox (September 23/24), the effect could be pretty instant, as Saturn hands you a hot potato marked ‘fresh responsibility’”
“The new Moon of December 18 promises to be something of a turning point in the way you handle finances, as Saturn changes sign three days later. A debt may be called in, or a loan not get repaid, or an income stream evaporate. You need to be alert.”
By Iulia Gheorghe
One of the reasons I cherish late December days is the frostiness of the air that stops dead the oily secretions of my sebaceous glands. It’s a Christmas miracle: my head doesn’t look like a disco ball anymore. Hot summer days and nights be damned, I prefer the red nose and Rudolph’s panoply than spitting grease through my pores. In winter I don’t have to “powder my nose”, an euphemism of choking in a stratocumulus of sheer oil free pressed-powder for a limited (ten to fifteen minutes of almost matte skin) effect. Therefore, putting my face on winter days is a kind of jolly experience: six minutes tops of painting myself while my dog is taking pleasure in scrubbing his ass on the fluffy microfiber bathroom rug. Of course I’m too concentrated in applying eyeliner to organize its expulsion in a Trump-alike intervention, so the dog gets an exceptional visa for the bathroom territory thanks to make-up.
There are some products that I can apply only in winter, especially in December when we exhume enthusiastically sequin bustier dresses and silver lamé shirts so nothing is really over-the-top. I feel like winning one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets, except it's not for the chocolate factory, but for the glowing skin. The true glow, not the greasy shine.
I can see your halo halo halo…
It is said that this pastel-coloured powder pearls hold the secret to Stardust technology thanks to a light-creating polymer which envelops your face in a radiant perfecting halo. I’m not sure that I want to know what polymers are and how they are chemically obtained, but I was surprised by their natural and impeccable “hit me like a ray of sun” effect. Of course, if you are used to YouCam Perfect photo filters you won’t be that impressed. The bubbly pearls are confined like precious Ladurée macarons in a flowery box and they smell like a violet-sucking sexy vampire maiden. Before dipping into the piggy bank, note that they are pricey, but they last for ages.
Santa baby, been an awful good girl
An awful good girl who doesn’t blush. For that invigorating, cheerful tint of pink I turn to this product with an austere description; “a duo blusher powder for adding colour to your face”. This is so Angela Merkel lost in a drugstore…but the result is more like an air of Karlie Kloss after a sleighing ride. What I like most about this blush is that it makes you look healthish even after a drinkmas session or a late-night “we didn’t reach the yearly business goals” work reunion.
Kiss me, and you will see how important I am (dixit Sylvia Plath)
I love a bold, statement lip, but finding a lipstick with a flattering shade that lasts smooth for a couple of hours can sometimes be more challenging than finding the love of your life. This lipstick deserves to be nominated to the Nobel Prize of happy lips. The chilly hue is gala: make me merry all night! Moreover, feel free to snack constantly, it resists pretty well to lip-licking. Who cares about the lipstick stained hot cocoa mugs when you finally smile like you mean it!
You’re a shooting star I see, a vision of ecstasy
The cherry on the cake is this multi-skilled audacious highlighter: you can use it on your cheeks, for strobing and also as an eye shadow. Your whole face is invited to the party! Purists be reassured: this nacreous formula is paraben-free and talc-free. If you are tired of subtle effects and you wanna play big for this New Year’s Eve, use it as an all-over-finishing powder.
Whoever you are, you are more than welcome at the glitter soirée
What about your winter fetish make-up products? Are you more of a minimalist or an extravaganza devotee? When it comes to putting my face on, what I enjoy the most is the diversity of creative ways to do it. And as Ian Thomas Malone wrote in The Transgender Manifesto:
“Makeup can be used to express yourself. Those experiences should not be limited to women. Everyone should be free to be as colourful as they want to be.”
So let’s shine on, you crazy diamonds!
by Diana Rusu
I’ve been diagnosed with MVP (mitral valve prolapse) two years ago. Statistics show that 2 – 3 % of the population has it. While it can be risk-free, it can also give you cardiac arrest. But “individuals with mitral valve prolapse, particularly those without symptoms, often require no treatment”. I’m going to keep the mild palpitations, anxiety and low blood pressure, I can’t control having them, but what I can do is hold their horses.
Hold my horses, I love this saying. I’ve been an expert in holding horses since early childhood. My parents say I was quiet and submissive every time a nurse came to me with needles and syringes - while my (same age) cousin would literally hide in the closet, I would put my stress in the closet. Well it’s needles to say that neither of us two is 100% mentally healthy today. My little monsters had little babies in the closet, and now they love to release them in the world, every once in a while. They let them out early enough to mess up with my veins and make my blood flow backwards (and made me not want to wear skirts ever again since age 18).
Teenage years were a nightmare in terms of making friends. My palms would regularly get these itchy blisters that would eventually break and cause infinite pain and even more anxiety of not showing my hands to anyone. It was called dyshidrotic eczema and doctors believe that you have a greater chance of developing the condition if you’re experiencing a high level of stress (either physical or emotional). Springtime was always the beginning of a beautiful dyshidrosis and wouldn’t leave me alone until autumn. As I grew up, the condition disappeared completely in my early twenties. Scientists can say all they want about how the exact cause of dyshidrotic eczema is unknown, but I know. I mean, it’s the monsters in the closet.
On the other hand, living with a heart condition can be challenging sometimes; it makes you think twice before you start “choking with dry tears and raging, raging, raging at the absolute indifference of nature and the world to the death of love, the death of hope and the death of beauty” (as Stephen Fry says it better than anyone else).
I take this challenge as a marking of a limit: how far should we go, anyway? Sometimes I wish I was Bjork and have limitless emotions, but then I realize I’m just an ordinary, average woman and those conditions are/were my boundaries. Or maybe not, but as long as Mercury is retrograde I feel like hiding myself in a closet until the days get longer and everything is reborn.
by Iulia Gheorghe
I find myself once again in the panic attack room, sitting as still as I can with an angel on the right shoulder and with a devil on the left one. This scene is familiar to everybody, I guess. (Unless you are the Dalai Lama or somebody very wise and stoic). Every time those two inner, yet outer voices collide into a stormy chorus, I roll my eyes defeated: searching for balance is transforming me again in a casualty of compromise. This time, I decided to write about it because I clearly couldn’t stop the continuous ping-pong mode debate I was witnessing. Yes, even now while I’m typing the world “typing” my two barking buddies are still trapped in a little dust-up.
The heart of the matter?
Documenting our lives on social media : to do or not to do?
I know, this is a tricky one. Somehow, social media is part of my identity as I’m a digital native millennial. When I open my feed, there is a lot of noise, some crap, a bit of overthought content, a scoop of neverthought content, but also wildly inspiring stuff, collective intelligence, glimpses of genius, talent galore, showers of courage and entrepreneurial spirit, artistic touches and droplets of pure wisdom. Swipping up and down in my social networks makes me feel like Peeping Tom lost in the microcosm of instagrammable breakfasts, quotable resolutions, relatable rants and everything in between.
Falling in like
I remember a few lines of Jonathan Franzen from his commencement address at Kenyon College:
“Alongside the eagerness to be liked is a build-in eagerness to reflect well on us. Our lives look a lot more interesting when they’re filtered through the sexy Facebook interface. We star in our own movies, we photograph ourselves incessantly, we click the mouse and a machine confirms our sense of mastery. We like the mirror and the mirror likes us. To friend a person is merely to include the person in our private hall of flattering mirrors”.
Maybe it’s more than a Narcissus effect. He fell in love with his reflection in the water, but we fell in like with our distorted-by-technology reflection - a new persona, radiant, flourishing and clinging stubbornly on the network. Maybe, through all of these filters, hashtags, mentions, profile photos, cover photos, selfies, posts, tweets, snaps, instastories, we are constructing some kind of parallel dimension; maybe it's not as frightening as the upside-down one from Stranger Things, but still artificial and toxic, inhabited with our embellished, and in the same time, disembowelled selves. We gain in attractiveness and magnetism, we can be more easily desired, appreciated, hired or admired, but we also lose in authenticity by throwing up a burka-like filter on our more unstable attributes, those beautifully entangled threads of vulnerability and glimpses of mistakes, regrets and struggles that attended the ballroom of our daily lives.
Are we all likes-fed guinea pigs?
Undermining our authentic self is perhaps the consequence of our addiction to approval and praise. Tech giants understood the crazy dance of dopamine and how they can use it in their own interest. Numbers speak for themselves: for example, as of the third quarter of 2017, Facebook had 2.07 billion monthly active users and daily social media usage of global internet users amounted to 135 minutes per day (thank you statista.org). We are all in the loop, but the background may vary. Some feeds are all about personal moods, family and friends, others are work and career oriented, some of them are a potpourri of all that. If we were to do a street interview about the motivations before hitting ”publish”, we would hear the need to express oneself, peer pressure, helping others, draw attention to a cause, be in the spotlight.
Perhaps you just want to show your dumb classmate from secondary school who bullied you that your life is so incredibly appealing or to your ex-partner that you are better without his/her fartsy pants in your washing-machine. Or we may do it for the five-seconds firework show in our brain which happens when we update the feed and notifications start to pour in. Ramsay Brown, neuroscientist and co-founder of Dopamine Labs, believes that the computer code give us rewards which have no actual value, but trigger your brain to make you want more. For instance, on Instagram, the likes come in a sudden rush. We find ourselves in trance: checking several times per hour if new little hearts are flapping their curvy silhouettes on our screens. However, Brown’s vehemence - “You’re guinea pigs. You are guinea pigs in the box pushing the button and sometimes getting the likes”,– is a little chilling.
Tools to share our story
At this point, one might be asking: “Should we all delete our social media accounts or can we still make something meaningful of it?”. As in a lot of multifaceted situations from the carousel called life, I find myself somehow in limbo. Surprisingly, I don’t feel trapped. I accept that those hearts and thumbs (and their effects on my synapses) are fugacious and unreliable. A lot of posts will fly back to the upside-down world of social media chimeras. And a couple of them will tattoo my inner life, because they are impregnated with inspiring art, honest narratives, memories to learn from, random acts of humanity, all those daily molecules of proof that we, as people, are meant to bond together and change each other’s lives, with or without filter.
Austin Kleon, author of Show Your Work! explains brilliantly the crucial role of sharing stories :
“Story is such a source of nurture that we cannot become really true human beings for ourselves and for each other without story— and without finding ways in which to tell it, to share it, to create it, to encourage younger people to create their own story”.
For the first time in the history of humankind, we have so many tools to transmit, share, compile, re-create stories, accessible to almost everybody, a borderless space for expression and meeting.
I’m hearing the angel admonishing the devil: “You see, documenting daily life on social media is more than bolstering one’s self. It’s about togetherness” and the devil laughing, “I can’t argue with you, ‘cause you’re high on likes”. They are both right and wrong.
We’re facing a crazy bet: building unfeigned connections and encouraging freedom of expression, while wiping off the ego sauce that splattered on our social media constructed mirrors. Do believe me, this ego sauce tastes awfully good, like your all time favorite food melting slowly on your taste buds. But with a little exercise (awareness mode on), you can train yourself to discover other tastes, too. Honesty’s taste, for instance. By showing your honesty you contribute to writing a sentence in the Big Story: the story of being unquestionably human and likable thanks to all of the flaws, gaps and scrapes and not in spite of them. They are instagrammable too!
Of course, when you are honest on social media, you expose yourself to rejection, indifference, even misunderstandings. This is why it can be painful and difficult to do it, especially at the beginning. But there is something stupendously liberating about it. Honesty tastes likes umami. #TryItOnYourOwn *wink*.
by Diana Rusu
“IS IT WARM ENOUGH FOR YOU, INSIDE ME?”
This time last year I was digging Insecure, one of the most empowering shows I’ve ever seen. I completely and irreversibly fell in love with the story, the characters and the music. And when the show was done, binge-watched, devoured – there was nothing left but the music. I became obsessed with it. And then, one morning, my youtube shuffled to one of SZA’s songs.
OK, I was like, who is this girl and why is everything she saying going straight to my core; I know, I might sound petty and whatever, but who gives a shit? Somehow, when I most needed to heal my wounds, out of nowhere – something hit me. Without any control whatsoever, I stumbled upon The power of now exactly when I was drowning in the past. For a few months now, I can’t listen to anything but this album. Ctrl opened a gate through my left ventricle going with the flow of blood back into the left atrium. It’s called MVP (or mitral valve prolapse, but we’ll talk about it another time). Back to SZA, I haven’t had such a crush since The dark side of the moon.
I don’t see myself
Control is an illusion, but it is also real af. On a scale of 1 to 10, how much of what’s happening in your life can you control? When I did this exercise, I instantly circled 1 and 10. That’s where my emotions took me, controlling my hand and the pen I was holding, circling those numbers.
“I freestyled how I felt”, (SZA talking about the opening song of Ctrl, here). There is so much power when we acknowledge the flow of our own energy and our inner being, that most of the time we end up asking ourselves what was that all about? It’s usually after a little while that we understand the meaning – mentally. The body understands it when it happens, and we (should) have no control over it. Like a diary entry, painfully honest.
“Leave me lonely for prettier women
You know I need too much attention
For shit like that
I could be your supermodel
If you believe
If you see it in me
I don't see myself
Why I can't stay alone just by myself?
Wish I was comfortable just with myself
But I need you” (Supermodel)
How much of what we see can we actually control? On what are insecurities based?
The deconstruction of the sidechick
“The feelin' is wreckless
Of knowin' you're selfish
Knowin' I'm desperate
Gettin' all in your love
Fallin' all over love, like
Do it to last, last” (The weekend)
How did I get from talking about MVPs to sidechicks, I have no idea. There must be a connection, though. The Weekend is one of the most powerful poems I’ve experienced lately. At a first glance, it reminds me of The boy is mine and makes me think a bit more about sharing. Are we sharing now? Have we always shared? Have we always been desperate for love? Yes, we have. At a second glance, it reminds me of my own experience of being a sidechick (been cheated on with a job/passion). It wasn't very easy to accept it. Not having control, being the other. The mistress. We have to deconstruct the concept and see through: there is no such thing. We’re not side dishes, on the contrary. Each of us is a human being looking for the wholeness, we do it to last, last. We do it forever. By accepting it, we take control over all the dark echoes a “you’re like 9 to 5, I’m the weekend” situation might bring in. And that situation can happen anytime, in any form. The sidechick can be no more than a passion, a hobby or a job. I know, it’s a different view from the point The Crunk Feminist Collective has on sidechicks:
“Further, why are side chicks vilified while dudes who have side chicks are celebrated? The fact that men are not held accountable for their culpability in the destruction of their own relationships, and the onus is almost always and exclusively put on “the other woman,” implies that men can’t help it”
Don’t even get me started!
With that being said, I’m going to end up my uncontrollable eating of this brunch today, with my fav quote from Ctrl: “Pretty little bird, pretty little bird
You've hit the window a few times
You still ain't scared of no heights”
And all is good.
photo ©Diana Rusu
by Diana Rusu
“I had not chosen to be single but love is rare and it is frequently unreciprocated. Without love I saw no reason to form a permanent attachment to any particular place. Love determined how humans arrayed themselves in space.”(Emily Witt, Future sex)
I've been single before, but never in my thirties. In fact, when I moved to London I had recently broken up with my first girlfriend ever. I was 28. It was love at first one-night stand.
Pushing on the fast-forward button on my memories, I remember the exact feeling that I had when I landed in Victoria station, like an alien from a distant world. I can't say I was marveling at the buildings, mouth opened and eyes with sparkles. Not at all. Instead, there was a peace and happiness coming from within myself; I was somewhat smiling, thinking that it's ok now; everything is alright, the planets have aligned with the sun and the stars and I finally felt... home.
Of course, the feeling goes much deeper than any words I'd use to describe it, but you get what I'm saying. So, I was happy. And, what a surprise, I was single. As I'm just falling in love with Emily Witt's "Future sex" at a speed that I have rarely experienced when reading a book, of course it inspired me to write.
It was like we were there accidentally, without any idea of why we even met.
I don't know about you, but I decided to give all my time and attention to the big city. I watched its every performance, I stalked its every corner shop, farmers market, vegan restaurant. I discovered that I was good at writing poetry about it and all that jazz. At some point, it was time for me to move on to the next level. Meaning after the first 2 months of learning how to get around with doubledeckers, oysters and the mighty tube, it was time for me to step up the game; I had my first job, so I told myself I could handle a dating app and find my way to a date in the city. Yay, so much fun!!! Although, all my dates were with women and all of them stopped after a first meeting. It was like we were there accidentally, without any idea of why we even met.
It wasn’t that bad, after all; at least I can proudly say I've been ghosted by some interesting people. I wasn't bothered at all, until I really liked this Greek short girl who was passionate about theatre and wine. Whom, by the way, I saw three years later at the pride festival, sat right next to her & her gf, awkwardly trying to avoid looking at them. I met a lot of girls from everywhere and nothing seemed to work out. A year passed, and I gave up the bloody dating apps, when I met my soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend (it's still weird to think of him as an ex). This happened in real time and in real life, but oh well, I’ll skip over almost two years of relationship and fast forward again. It’s now: surprise, surprise! I'm single and not ready to mingle.
Why is it that I cannot put myself out there?
No, I don’t have any dating apps on my phone, although I did try one for a few weeks; only this time I didn’t give myself green light to go out and meet new people. I really didn’t have the energy and until this day, I cannot be bothered to go on dates. On one of my overthinking sessions, I tried to understand why? Why is it that I cannot put myself out there? Am I scared of how they're going to see me? (pffffff like I would give a fuck!) but what if I’m not young enough anymore? What if I’m not their type? Or I’m too quiet? My walk ain’t no cat walk, that’s for sure. But it’s funny, at least. Well, this is a challenge I didn’t expect. I wish I could give you some advice; the best I can do is tell you that once you’re there, if you’re there, keep an eye on the word problem, as there is no such thing. You’re smiling, aren’t you? You’re either reading this or you have no idea that this text exists, maybe you don’t speak English or maybe you don’t have access to the internet. Maybe you were just born and can’t read, maybe you’re dead. You can be all these people and still don’t have a problem. Because somewhere, sometime, you existed. And you still exist; I remember you. I remember your funny walk.
photo by author
by Diana Rusu
It was one of those moments when you’re stuck in front of a freshly bought coffee in a paper cup, steaming next to your idle computer, somewhere in the space of a well-connected area: everyone’s tapping at their devices all around, mixing plastic water bottles, packed lunches, extreme typing skills, emotions, etc. I unbuttoned my jeans (to be free baby!!!) and ... I completely lost it. What was I saying? What was this story about??
The coffee starts to kick in and I’m trying to get myself together. Right. I’ve only now finished a book that I started 3 months ago; a book that I consider to be one of the very best memoirs that came out in the last few years. If 2016 was Zadie Smith’s year, this is the book of 2017. And I’m completely going crazy about it. I’m basically throwing hands in the air and my pupils dilate every time I recommend it to everyone that crosses my path. I’m that Moses person, raising my arms and thanking the Lord for these 14 chapters that have been given to me through a divine intervention.
WARNING! This is not just a memoir that needed to be written by someone who understands the power of comedy and also knows grief; it is a book that needs to be read RIGHT NOW.
“I mean, it’s not called a snow-woman, is it? A seven-year-old in pursuit of the Paramount Objective of Despising Girls finds it all conveniently laid out for him: the culture, the language – it’s really no effort.”
When I first saw this book I was like “is that Robert Webb???!! Has he written a book?? I. MUST. HAVE. IT.” So I got it. And as soon as I got it, I cried the minute I saw the contents, in the bookshop, standing.
How not to be a boy starts with a hilarious adolescence memory and feels like it happened yesterday; it even makes me question my abilities to stay focused on the story and not drift off to a Mitchell & Webb sketch. But I managed to read the first ten pages with tears of laughter and then something magical happened: age 15 started a conversation with age 43!! And then it hit me, I was crying & laughing at the same time and I thought this memoir has something of Johnathan Safran Foer’s wittiness in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Plus, it is incredibly open and sincere. It is like writing a book based on your therapist’s notes about you (which by the way I intend to do very soon). Seriously now, these authors have some out-of-this-world storytelling skills, without forgetting to stay grounded. Writing, when you have this level of sensitivity, is as surprising as life; writing is the only consolation, as Pamuk would say it in his Black Book.
“15: Bit self-indulgent, isn’t it?
15: This. You, talking to yourself.
43: You were expecting to grow out of it?
15: I wasn’t ‘expecting’ anything. Christ.
43: Can you stop that?
15: Stop what?
43: Looking at my hair. It happens.
15: Sorry. Just a bit of a shock. I mean, what the fuck – “
(How not to be a boy, p. 13)
The pain of childhood
Robert Webb was born in 1972. I imagine him growing up surrounded by brothers, friends, parents and grandparents – and his father, Paul, who was a “proper” man, with an explosive temper sometimes. Webb kept journals which he constantly updated. A blogger, no less (the first thing that I liked about him). And then there was this other thing, called childhood. I don’t even know where to start!
“ together with Mum or alone in my bedroom, stories were a way to reach distant places. But also, and without noticing, a way to reach distant people.”
Looking back at himself in journals and memory, he clearly has a story to tell. And this is where it all gets interesting and psychoanalytical. Personally, I kinda see where he's coming from. And I reckon it’s easier for people who didn't grow up with all the love in the universe to understand what I’m talking about. The lack of his father’s presence and attention only opened a door to other ways of getting that love: stories, acting, being famous. Because “dads don’t hit famous children, right? They don’t ignore them either. They take them fishing. You can be quiet when you’re famous, but people can’t ignore you. Not really.” (p. 116)
For some reason I fully resonate with this. I wanted to be famous so bad when I was little! I guess children want to reach fantastic worlds even though they’re fully present in the moment - the problem is, parents are not on the same page (it might be slightly getting better now). A child has only got Here and Now, so when the others aren’t there, sometimes they're going to reach for Narnia.
“Here’s the wardrobe that never yielded to Narnia no matter how faithfully I reached for the cold air.”
Speaking of ignoring, the memoir "with a hidden agenda” starts to reveal something else. We all know it, but prefer not to talk about it, innit? Webb talks about training young boys to ignore their feelings. Which is not bad, no, that's not enough: it is dangerous as fuck, but hey, we don’t have time to change the habits. Webb’s not surprised that most feelings of anxiety, fear or pain a boy might have will only come up as anger. He lived with it, and learned that boys aren’t shy; boys love sports; boys don’t fall in love (with other boys); men don’t need therapy; men are good at directions; men know who they are.
“And ‘femininity’ – what is it? Having hair? I mean, long hair on your head but none on your legs, under your armpits or within a square mile of your Feminine Ladysecret. Taste in scarves? A sense of colour? The capacity to shut the fuck up when men are talking? What is this stuff?”
Robert Webb starts a polemic against what he calls the trick. It’s a code name for all the gender nonsense that his young daughters and their male/ female friends often encounter. Now this is what I call parenting. Making sure that a child doesn't have to play different roles/behave in different ways just based on their gender. Not anymore, as someone's there to point out the trick. I wish every family talked about this, I wish there was a gender blender in every household. Yeah, the world would be a better place. Hell yeah.
My favorite bit of this memoir, though, is the bumblebee story. Which I'm not going to tell you about, so now you have to get the book and read it.
But I will share this, the most accurate portrait of a relationship in 2017, which I want to print on a giant canvas and hang above my bed:
“The stereotype of the Nagging Wife has proved very useful to those of us who are often the primary cause of all the nagging: the Useless Husband. Because these days, women who find their domestic situation deeply unsatisfactory won’t just need to complain, they’ll need to appologise for the complaining. Times change: the gin has given way to Pinot Grigio and nagging has gone post-modern.” (p.140)
Whatever Robert Webb wanted from this book and however he wrote it (it would be amazing if someday I could interview him) I’m grateful that he made himself helpful to others. Because not only women’s, but also men’s mental health is at a crucial point right now. It always has been. I don’t see it as a manifesto, and it doesn't need to be one, but as an excellent point to start a must needed conversation.
photo © Diana Rusu
by Iulia Gheorghe
If I were to consider the skin as a suit, I would definitely find myself in a shoddy dressing room with three options in front of me: neon-greasy glow on pores like opened grayish scallops boiling in their own juicy juice on a sunny beach, a jawline beaded with pomegranate shaped pimples or the freshness of a bored parsnip abandoned in my grandma’s pantry. Ever since puberty, I have experimented various stages of skin quality and none involved words like rosy, glow, immaculate or zits-free. I have been trapped in a “50 forms of mediocre skin” phase and approaching my thirties, I think I lost the last train to pristine poreland.
"She could have received retirement benefits after dealing for all this time..."
I wouldn’t bet my bottom dollar that my skin would get a holy revamp before menopause. My mother’s 40 years of skin problems experience comforts my hypothesis. She could have received retirement benefits after dealing for all this time with grease in summer and spots all time of the year. After trying to solve the unsolvable with a cocktail of lotions, phototherapy and mesotherapy, she accepted that pimples were there to stay, put some make-up on (become addicted to matte-mousse foundations and poreless finish powders) and lived her life.
I stole her acne-dealing philosophy. As Stanford professor Shirzad Chamine advises us in his book Positive Intelligence, I activated my inner Sage mode, freeing myself from resentment (why is my face on fire AGAIN?!) and bitterness (angel faces, go to HELL). I adopted a more or less disciplined skincare ritual, avoided clogging pore ingredients and felt lucky that I have never experienced severe acne, scars, rashes and other painful conditions that garnish the bad skin pandemonium. I didn’t consult dermatologists exclusively to ask for a zits mass-elimination formula, although I was still asking them for cream recommendations at the end of my annual appointments. After a poor-sleep night, bathed in anxious dreams with threatening moles looking like real psychopaths, the check-up usually turns just fine, endorphins flood my brain and I almost don’t care about the destiny of a couple of pimples just visiting. Years passed, and I tried a bunch of ointments (most of them stinky and sticky). Life is short, so the mucilaginous ones found themselves in my recycle bin. Skinoren and retinoid creams worked pretty well. Youcam perfect and a touch of Mac powder (ok, more of a coat than a touch, but not a fur coat, maybe the equivalent of a breezy blazer) were the cherry on the top of my pursuit of a decent skin.
"The experience was half X-files, half Housewives of Beverly Hills"
A couple of weeks ago, the cherry was eaten by a lady in a white gown. I usually deal with internal saboteurs who bring their own biases to the decision parties in my head. This time, it was an external one. As I moved to a new neighborhood, I went to a new dermatologist for my annual check-up. The experience was half X-files, half Housewives of Beverly Hills, as I was trying to figure out if she was either an alien with no feelings or a shallow person that cared only about the so-called unanimous beauty standards. She barely looked at my moles as her frowned eyes bombarded my chin and jaw with a weird expression. "KILL THEM ALL!" She started to cry that I had to treat my acne. Puzzled, I told her that I had been dealing with mild acne since my teenage years and things never got out of control. She insisted that I had to try more. “You can’t live like that, you must fix this”. And then she recommended me laser hair removal because “waxing is bad”.
For a couple of seconds, I felt like Moaning Myrtle. Did she suggest that accepting my blemished skin is not a healthy option? Did she judge me for my passiveness? Moaning Myrtle turned into Hulk as I was filling up with rage. I consulted her to check if I’m cancer free, not to fix my skin by poisoning my body with nasty treatments. It was mild acne. I didn’t ask for her help. This was not a debilitating symptom that made my life unbearable. Maybe my skin was mediocre, but her work ethic was crappier. My inner bitch felt the need to riposte. The researchers from King’s College London discovered that people with acne appeared to be protected against the signs of ageing so I wanted to tell her that maybe if she had had some zits in her adulthood, she wouldn’t have looked like a crepe in her fifties. But I knew that was the wrong reaction: my own brain was sometimes biased by the standards that I was fighting against.
"We are so focused on criticizing the way it looks, that we forget its main functions: skin both protects us and gives us the opportunity to experiment sensations."
Skin quality is biology and stardust is to be found somewhere else. Our skin is a suit of the size of three bath towels. Maybe I wasn’t the big winner of the perfect skin lottery, but my skin is doing a pretty good job. We are so focused on criticizing the way it looks, that we forget its main functions: skin both protects us and gives us the opportunity to experiment sensations. Burnt people are very vulnerable to infections because of the damaged skin tissues. Wrinkled or not, acne-prone or not, it’s thanks to our skin that we can all feel in the same way the touch of our mother one on our cheek. The soft warmth of a ray of light on our forehead. The frosted snowflake on our nose. The tongue of our partner…you get it. I surely did. I found the derma Grail by respecting my skin for what it was: imperfect, but totally functional and generating pleasure and pain 24 hours per day.
by Diana Rusu
“Although the effects of the insanity of the egoic mind are still visible everywhere, something new is emerging.” (Eckhart Tolle)
Of course, to fully understand what E.T. is saying here (and I just noticed how his initials made me think of the famous animated character, and that’s probably not completely wrong) we must dig in his introduction for Practicing the Power of Now. I have to agree that today more than ever the amount of people ready and happy to “break out of collective mind-patterns” is astounding. But it’s also scary AF, since some of those mind-pattern-breakers happen to be some lunatics shooting randomly and killing people, if we look at recent events and try to eckhart-tolle them. What happened in Spain, for example. Or Vegas. Or Texas. No matter how much I try to write about the monstrosities and regardless of my serious google search addiction, I still can’t get a hold of what should come out of my mouth, or rather as an extension of my fingertips on the keyboard. With all the violence and insanity happening, I still cling to E.T.’s words: “A new state of consciousness is emerging. We have suffered enough!” Instead, I can only invite you to read on if you’re feeling the consciousness emerging inside yourself.
What I actually wanted to talk to you about is a scrambled egg of an idea that has been haunting my mind for a while now. It arose when I realized that many of my friends and acquaintances were growing an interest in non-fiction, to be more specific self-care and do-it-yourself therapy reads. This fitted on my hand like a glove, so to speak in Romanian aphorisms, and I started to develop a fascination towards this one video on YouTube, an audiobook called “The power of Now”.
I looked closer at the world surrounding me – London is a good place to start with - and saw that self-help books were experiencing an explosive growth. Which made me doubt their potential, to a certain point of course, as nothing with such a hype is guaranteed a long life or maybe even authenticity. It’s like when veganism was on fire, I just stopped being vegan. Thousands of seminars, books and programs, unleashing the power within, advertising and paying loads to get into the secret clubs, but the market seems to be hungry for all of this. We’re all hungry for self-change, more care for ourselves and more attention to our own mental health. Which is not bad.
I can see a future where traditional therapy is replaced by self-help groups, but what I’m fearing is that we’ll get to a peak so high that it will all become superficial or even worse, it will all be done to feed our ego.
Smashed Ego toast
But then what’s that got to do with it (got to do with it)?
Here comes the hard part, when looking for self-improvement and empowerment. Many of us do it for the sake of our own constructed identities. Or an identity is exactly what the Ego has for breakfast every morning, say. If we feed it, it will fucking grow!
It can even grow an “I’m better than you” belly and if that ever happens, we better be opening our eyes. Look the Ego in its face and smash it. Season it, toast the bread, smash it and serve it with those scrambled thoughts. Get your hands dirty and tame the beast. Because, as Tolle says, “the ego is destined to dissolve, and all its ossified structures, whether they be religious or other institutions, corporations, or governments, will disintegrate from within, no matter how deeply entrenched they appear to be.” (Eckhart Tolle, A new Earth, Penguin Books UK, 2016)
From within, my world is crumbling like an apple pie sometimes, or shaking like soft jelly. What the Ego doesn’t like about it is this not-knowing-for-sure, this tolerance and acceptance of all things as they are. What it does like, though, is the title of this story.
photo © Diana R.
by Diana Rusu
“But I will not be ignored. The soul that lives inside this body will not be ignored. I am here to stay.”― RuPaul, Lettin it All Hang Out: An Autobiography
Finding out that your Ego has not developed since childhood because you grew up surrounded by strong personalities is kind of life changing. Poor Ego, I imagine it being a little crippled old-baby man ☹. Still, I sometimes feel its tiny hands crawling all over my body and scaring the shit out of me. It’s ok, I know I’m having panic attacks quite often. To calm myself down, I’m listening to Banks’ Brain. I like her; if you want some inspiring talks on depression, intimacy and confronting herself, listen close, she’s absolutely amazing. Right, here’s a list of what I do when I feel like I'm about to crack up.
1. It’s hard, but I still try to listen to my inner self, eyes wide open, observing the surroundings as if I would see everything for the first time. Sometimes it’s like having a deja-vu while seeing yourself experiencing it. #psychedelic
2. When I read, I try and let go of all identities: I’m no longer a writer (sometimes, of course, the Ego kicks in with stupid comments like “whoa I wish I wrote that”, “wtf”, “can I possibly use this expression in one of my poems”), I’m no longer 30+, I’m no longer female. I’m no longer Diana.
3. I make things I have absolutely no idea how to (or even why): painting, cooking, photography, DIY toothpaste. What?
4. I observe myself struggling and I try not to judge myself. #checkmate
5. I feel my body. UNHhhhhhh! and / or I connect with others. Wait, what?
6. I am aware of my pain-body and I know when she’s hungry for tears, I let her have it. So she cries.
7. And if I don’t smile right after, it’s absolutely ok, for fuck’s sake.
8. I meditate, sometimes. I’ve built a safe space and use it as a hiding for when I feel I might go down swinging.
9. When I get applause (applause, applause - never standing ovations, tho) the little beast is smiling back at the person who complimented me and I’m like “yeah, that’s right, we did it!”
10. Because eventually, it’s all about being aware of your Ego and giving it a big high five, no matter its shape, color, gender or age, no matter if it’s not developed or if it grew five times more than your inner being. Well that might be a problem actually, but you get what I mean. It’s all about teamwork.
photo by author
by Iulia Gheorghe
When the category « No sex and the city » was still in our brain’s belly, I was discussing with Diana about the most fervent subjects related to love life (and its demons) that we could explore. She gave me a lot of examples about the joys and sorrows of dating in the bustling city of London and she has a lot of stories to tell that I’m more than eager to devour.
"And now we're giving you the look-look"
As far as I’m concerned, dating is not exactly my niche. In fact, I’m out of the dating world since 2011. There was no Tinder back then, I had a flip phone and no strobing for my wedding make-up. Nobody knew what boho chic weddings were. I’ve never thought for a second about the color of the table runners or placemats. The flower bouquet was more expensive than the dress. The boy wore a Zara suit and the fanciest and corniest thing that we had at the ceremony was a chocolate fountain where children got sticky moustaches and fudgy fingerprints. I was 21, he was four years older and when I popped the news, almost everyone (except my grandmother, for whom founding a family is figuring out the meaning of life – insert rolling eyes here - ) gave me THE look. That peculiar look, acid like a rusty blade. It came in all forms:
The “you are too young to get married” look.
The "marriage is not for cool people” look.
The “will you become a desperate housewife?” look.
And my favorite one, the “statistics show that people who get married young get divorced sooner” look. Statistics also show that you have 1 in 10 chances to die from heart disease, 1 in 608 to suffocate to death, but only 1 in 45 808 to be killed by a foreign-born terrorist. Now turn on the TV or eavesdrop on a conversation in a café. The same people who will serve you the “statistics” argument for not getting married young are hysterically ignoring the odds on how they will kick the bucket.
Even the “Join the married people's side” look was creepy: I definitely wasn’t (and will never be) ready to enter the club of joint Facebook accounts. (Plus, sharing one account with somebody else is against Facebook terms. All those cute couples’ accounts are basically illegal).
Married or single, be ready to mingle
Of course my decision was written in stone. Dear younger me, you should have encouraged everybody to take a crash course in astrology. As a Taurus, I don’t take life lightly, but when I take a decision, I stand by it with all my heart and horns.
The most difficult thing to accept, though, was that “The look” came also from the people I cared about. I could understand their confusion, because I was always shouting out loud that I didn’t want to get married at all. And when I changed my mind, I was angry at me for contradicting myself and at them, for not fully believing that this decision wouldn’t change their friend. However, if we had switched places, I would have probably marriage-shamed them too, so finally that was a crucial lesson for me to learn in my twenties.
Years have gone by and approaching 30, now I get the other look when people hear that I’m married. The one full of relief. The one of “lucky you”. As our identities are solely dictated by our civil status! One of the girls in my language course told me she was going for a one-year world trip and while I was applauding her master plan, she added : “If not now, then when? After that, maybe I will finally find a man and have children and it will be too late to travel. I am 27, the clock is ticking. I often ask myself: when I will find him???”
No girl, it is never too late to discover the world. And love doesn’t wait behind the corner for your signal. It can come at 27 or at 80, so stop self-single-shaming yourself. I don’t know whose clock is ticking; do you really hear it or do you only hear society screaming that the clock should be ticking?
We can find a soulmate or we can be our own soulmate or both and who the hell cares about details when you step into love (any kind) as in a trip to Coney Island (never been, only in my imagination), pushing a stroller full of respectable feelings (hi there gratitude, honesty, acceptance) and gulping on a slurpee. Marriage can be like that. Being single can be like that. At the end of the day, we all have something old and something new, something borrowed and something blue in our luggage. Sometimes, it's a goddamn heavy suitcase. Other times, the suitcase turns into a teeny-tiny clutch bag, just like Cinderella's pumpkin that turned into a magnificent carriage.