Ca locuitoare ale blogului Heartbrunch, un spațiu de discuție și share-uit experiențe pe teme despre care nu prea avem unde, când și cu cine vorbi cu toată deschiderea, am lansat, acum câteva luni, o mini-campanie de sensibilizare în ceea ce privește sănătatea mintală. Desigur, noi ne-am propus să ajungem la cât mai mulți cititori, dar recunoaștem că încă ne alcătuim, de ici, de colo, pe-o limbă sau pe alta, comunitatea.
Vrem să vorbim despre vulnerabilitate și gestionatul crizelor existențiale, a oricăror încercări emoționale care, la noi, sunt considerate tabu; ori sunt arătate cu degetul și luate peste picior. Știți cum e, ne luăm în serios dar nu cu prea multă seriozitate, așa că vom păstra umorul, cu inima deschisă.
In acest scop, am lansat campania #mentalhealthkit ! ***
Am vrut să facem un kit colectiv de urgență, o trusă de prim ajutor pentru minte și suflet. Am primit câteva răspunsuri - însă campania rămâne deschisă! Iar până vă gândiți la kitul vostru, noi vă lăsăm în compania unei scrisori ca un croissant cald, proaspăt scos din cuptor. Dacă săptămâna trecută am publicat răspunsul lui Frances Cannon la întrebarea noastră, azi vă invităm să luați cafeaua (sau ceaiul) și să rămâneți în mâini bune: cele ale psihoterapeutei Dr. Raluca Anton.
„În primul rând, musai să spun că îmi place mult campania voastră! Se pliază atât de bine pe activitatea mea de zi cu zi, fie că lucrez la cabinet cu clienții mei, fie că lucrez cu diverse companii, scopul meu este să ii ajut pe cei cu care mă întâlnesc să își construiască un astfel de #mentalhealthkit personalizat.
Avem atât de multe rețete pe care le putem citi de la diverși specialiști din domeniul sănătății mintale sau, mai bine zis, a stării de bine încât, de multe ori, ne e greu să ne dăm seama ce e util de făcut. Din păcate, informațiile pe care le citim din cărți sau pe care le auzim într-un training pot fi foarte faine și pot sa funcționeze pe termen scurt sau mediu, însă nu cred că există o mentenanță pe termen lung a efectului. De ce? Pentru că nu e suficient să știi ce ar trebui să faci pentru a avea efectul scontat, e nevoie să le aplici zilnic – al doilea motiv pentru care îmi place ideea de #mentalhealthkit, adică ceva ce să ai la tine tot timpul, dar cred că ar fi util să nu îl folosești numai atunci când ești pe avarii, ci să transformi tot conținutul lui în obiceiuri.
Acum despre kit-ul meu care, trebuie să recunosc, a suferit multe ajustări de-a lungul timpului. Pe măsură ce m-am cunoscut mai bine, mi-am dat seama mai bine de lucrurile de care am, de fapt, nevoie. Așa că știu că acum am nevoie de câteva minute pe zi să îmi închei ziua de lucru, să îmi așez informațiile pe care le-am auzit de la clienții mei, întrebările care mi s-au pus în training-uri, vulnerabilitățile cu care am lucrat și soluțiile pe care le-am oferit. Am învățat să îmi aloc câteva minute pentru a mă gândi la ce am nevoie să se întâmple în ziua respectivă (sa fie liniște, sa nu mai rezolv probleme, să stau etc.) și, dacă e cazul să implic pe cineva în povestea asta, am învățat să îmi comunic nevoia. Apoi, eu am un soi de therapeutic cooking asa ca ma refugiez în asta când simt ca e prea mult și am nevoie să lucrez ceva cu mâinile pentru a putea să îmi limpezesc mintea. Asta vine mereu in asociere cu jazz pe fundal. Iar dacă timpul nu îmi permite să fac mai mult, o cafea bună dimineața sau un pahar cu vin bun pe terasa casei la ceas de seară sună minunat.
Va doresc să reușiți să va construiți un kit cât mai funcțional!”
*** Ce e în kitul tău de prim ajutor pentru sănătatea mintală? Poate fi vorba de locuri sigure (safe space), prieteni imaginari, hobby-uri, animale de companie, obiecte - tot ceea ce funcționează ca un colac de salvare atunci când te simți stresat, obosit, luat pe sus de valuri de emoții sau când vrei să te reconectezi la energii creative și pozitive.
by Diana Rusu
In 2010, a group of Dutch researchers led by Dr. Jaap Peen found that living in a city doubles the risk of schizophrenia; urban living was also in charge of raising the risk of anxiety (by 21%) and mood disorders (by 39%). Whilst these brilliant minds are so interested in the effects of city life over human beings, I can't say my mental health has been deteriorated by the city where a group of architecture students in the mid 60's, were secretly rehearsing their music in a tearoom, in a basement on Regent Street.
It's been a few d̶a̶y̶s̶ weeks since I left this draft unfinished, open like something on the operation table; until today, when I tried to remember what was it that I wanted to write about.
Don't ask me what I was doing in 2010. What did my dreams look like, Where - oh wait. I could probably tell you where I was. Travelling from one city to another, starting up my masters degree in Romania and not having a burning desire of moving abroad. On the contrary, perhaps, when I had the opportunity to study for a good six months in la belle France, I felt so overwhelmed with the happiness of being there, with (what seemed to me) the miracle of being able to study contemporary literature and art with the support of extraordinary tutors. Overwhelmed by the amount of things I could learn, my way of thinking changed with the speed and drive I never have experienced in terms of education, from school to uni, in my country. It looked so much like a dream, that I rejected its reality. I wanted to go back to my small town, to my friends and family.
Little did I know my life was going to *dramatically* change again when I embarked on a one way flight to London.
Probably most of my friends grew up watching shows such as Sex and the City. The early blogging, the strong female characters, a mad city, diversity, careers, fashion and everything in between. I mean, how could you not fall in love with it? It was one of the phenomena that inspired me to break down gender and all sorts of stereotypes. Also, my fantasies of discovering a different place were quietly growing every day. And when I say different, I know I was a sucker for diversity. But diversity as I knew it in my small hometown and later in my university city, was nothing compared to the Big City that was going to steal my heart, at 28.
As I became more conscious of my states of wonder and of what captured my attention, I thought there might be some sort of addiction, a Big City addiction so to speak, and I began to wonder if there are other people out there like me, if there is a way of getting over it or if you simply have to accept it and live with it. Because, when you move to London, it's like something hits you in the face. You can often question your own feelings and maybe get to a denial stage. And when it comes to leaving London, the struggle is real, I would say similar to drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms, for some. Just to let you know, I hear you, sister. It's ok. I don't know if my words will come in handy one day, but here's what I learned so far.
The 5 signs I was addicted to a big city
1. The culture addict
I wanted to be able to visit a different gallery/ museum every week, go to a different venue and see a different show/ discover a different garden/ park every weekend. This wasn't so much goal oriented as it was like a thirsty beast had awaken in me, ready to drink all that London juice like a drunk teenager at a beer pong party. I did try my best to keep up with the ever changing cultural scene of the city. The best thing was, though, the fact that I had the freedom to decide when and where to be, at every step, and always find something inspiring.
2. Eating became a learning experience
I would eat Chinese today, Italian next week, Korean the next one, and so on. This fueled my creativity in the kitchen as well as testing my limits and stepping on my feet. At first, I didn't mind travelling for an hour to get to a restaurant if the place really interested me. Then, over time, I learned how to find the gems nearby, but still didn't mind waiting for up to half an hour to get a table. Some would call this habit time and money consuming, but for me, it was something quite unique, something that reached deep inside my guts to the little girl that was not scared of seeing what's inside the wolf's belly.
3. A lesson of positive thinking
In the big city, my work, effort and talent were appreciated. I was not judged. As a genderqueer, I felt welcomed into the world. One would assume this is normal in any civilized country, but anywhere in Romania, this isn't the case. In London, people are way more open, but you already know that.
4. I cannot breathe in a place that has no diversity
Diversity is an invincible super-power and we can only accept, embrace and surrender to it. Just like breathing is a basic human function, being surrounded by diversity is to me a basic human need. London is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, with more than 300 languages spoken within its territory. Many of us have crossed the streets of a big city, enjoying the cultural diversity in all its splendor; when living there, I felt like I was made up of all the roads people have taken to get to London. And I didn't want to get used to it or take it for granted.
After all, you never know what passage way to a different world the next street is going to be.
5. I wanted to measure time in my own way
Finally, I realized that not only I had my freedom, but I could also measure time in my own way, no matter if I had a job or not. Time could flow from the very end to the beginning, with glimpses of unknown, un-lived memories. With the feeling that, if I once had a deja-vu, I saw myself in the future seeing myself in a past life. The future was this very moment in the present time, myself having limitless love and all sorts of emotions, and that past life, well, that must have been this overwhelming experience of living in a city without boundaries.
By Iulia Gheorghe
A few years ago, personality tests to find out your learning style were extremely fashionable. This is how I learnt that I was a visual learner and definitely not an auditory one. Listening exercises were, indeed, a pain in the ass. That didn't change in time.
Give me something to read or to watch (but not static youtube videos) and I will gladly summarize or memorize it. Give me something to listen... and after the first minute, my attention will get lost in the fields of daydreams, worries, crazy ideas, notes to self and phantasmagoria. Listening to something turns my mind into a lively jungle. Even songs are triggering hectic scenarios in my head. However, reading something turns my mind into a Swiss factory, a flowgasm state of mind as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (does his lengthy surname ends in his first name?!) says in his famous book "Flow":
“But anyone who has experienced flow knows that the deep enjoyment it provieds requires an equal degree of disciplined concentration.”
That flowgasm feeling is more difficult to find when I'm listening to something. I have a weird relationship with podcasts: I love them, because I anticipate the fact that they are packed with wisdom and new things to discover, learn and enjoy, but some circumstances have to be reunited to actually start listening to them. A quiet day + a quiet brain + some spare time to spend guiltlessly. Hard to get these circumstances together, right? This is why I listen to podcasts quite rarely.
But when I do it, I lay off multitasking (drinking coffee is permitted AND encouraged, obviously) and I focus on the generous characters who are sharing a slice of their knowledge and feelings with the world. I also give myself a couple of hours to do that, so I would listen to a couple of episodes of different podcasts, like an auditory brunch.
What's on my menu?
Let's start with the frothy cappuccino. This is, for me, Design matters hosted by the wow-artist Debbie Millman. A classic, a goldie. Don't be fooled by the name, it's not a podcast about design, but on creativity in general, "an inquiry into the broader world of creative culture through wide-ranging conversations with designers, writers, artists, curators, musicians, and other luminaries of contemporary thought". You can start with the episode featuring Seth Godin, author, blogger and brand consultant, if you search for someone who is always giving resourceful advice.
My all-time favorite episode is the one with Brainpickings editor, Maria Popova. Maria knows and writes about tons of interesting things in a sensitive, yet very on point and humble way.
Next: some orange juice, freshly pressed, for rejuvenescence. The On Being podcast is more than an award-winning conversation about spirituality and its relationship with science, art and social issues; it's a journey thorough the different elements of what makes us human. Hosted by author Krista Tipett, this podcast is not only thought-provoking, but also shakes you to the core. Some episodes are so powerful, that after listening to them you feel almost shocked and ravaged. I recommend you this episode with doctor and author of "Being Mortal", Atul Gawande, on mortality and what matters most in the end.
After this deep moment, I need something delicious and fun, like eggs. "The Monocycle", hosted by Leandra Medine, mother and queen of Man Repeller and awesome human being. It's a funny, ultra-relatable monologue (quite unique, because most podcasts are conversations) that instantly makes you feel better and ready to go out in the world and kick some ass or jump in bed and have a party with your pillows. Exactly like after eating an omelette. If I had to pick one episode, it would be the one on self-esteem.
In Good Company
At this point, I need a coffee refill or I am going back to sleep. A shot of espresso. In Good Company, hosted by Otegha Uwagba, brand consultant and author of modern career guide Little Black Book, gives you that necessary dose of practical advice to make a step ahead on your professional pathway. Listen to this episode featuring Reni Eddo-Lodge, author of "Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race" about the challenges of freelancing.
The Great Discontent
It's time for some amuse-bouche (also, it's that moment when you pop the Prosecco, because it's not morning anymore!). In 20 episodes, The Great Discontent podcast features 20 makers/artists/risk-takers whose stories give you the goosebumps and encourage you to finally be in charge of your dreams, because it's doable with the right strategies (and a pinch of Universe stardust). These people are so creative, they're making my brain speed on new ideas and concepts like a hamster on a wheel. The Great Discontent also offers an incredible collection of written interviews - check out my dearest one, with artist Elle Luna.
Of course I won't forget the croissants, which are a delicious treat anytime (even at midnight). Magic lessons by writer Elizabeth Gilbert are without any doubt the croissants. There is one episode for everyone, so I would recommend you to read the descriptions of all episodes and choose the ones that speak to your own doubts and unanswered questions. I love this podcast not only for its content, but also for Elizabeth's voice and friendly spirit.
Letters from a Hopeful Creative
The last course should be refreshing and healthy (at least this one!): fruit. I really enjoyed the new podcast hosted by online business owners and bloggers Sarah Tasker and Jen Carrington called Letters from a Hopeful Creative. They are answering letters from creative minds struggling with diverse obstacles like Instagram anxiety, quitting your day job, transforming your creative channel into a business in a condensed conversation, full of factual and valuable advice.
London Review Bookshops podcast
I think this is all, theoretically. Practically, I still have cake after fruit, so that would be the London Review Bookshops podcast - listen to episode 9, with Sheila Heti about her fascinating book "Motherhood".
Now it's your turn, I'm all ears!
By Iulia Gheorghe
Julie walking the golden line in the Far West © Carnetsdetraverse
I’ve never met you and still, I have to say those words that we usually say to a presumable soulmate whom we meet in a bar on a Friday night, and whom we (think we) want to marry, four hours later : I feel like I’ve known you for all my life. This may sound weird, but hey, it’s 1:54 am, almost a full moon and as a bonus, a total lunar eclipse tonight - things are expected to get crazy. Astrologers announce important shifts and movements, shadows to be exposed. Chani Nicholas warns us that « this eclipse is abundant in its ability to rip through the predictability of life and produce a completely new paradigm ». This unpredictability, you knew it very well. But your philosophy was to never doubt the beauty of being alive, even when life was playing us. Life is still playing us, Julie. Life is still beautiful, though.
What I am writing right now was not supposed to be a letter. I wanted to write an article about travelling, in a funny tone; my regular, typical one. I wanted to write about shiny & shitty moments while travelling. I am sure you had some of those, too. I wanted to write about travelling as an introvert and I think you would have understood me. And I particularly wanted to write about travel shaming. Unfortunately, it became part of the current travel culture, to despise the conventional forms of travelling. Tourist-bashing is flourishing, be an adventurer or go home. I cant’ be that kind of traveler. Sometimes, I only want to lie my head on a sand dune and breathe. I think that there is definitely place for all of us and places for everyone to enjoy and fall in love with forever. Why bothering with labels ? We are born travelers : in space, in time, in between loaded hearts and twisted minds. Touristy places can be magical. Your photos of Venice are a perfect example. In one of the captions, you were saying that you were feeling like an explorer discovering a new world. I think you were also exploring your own artistic world, whimsically.
I felt like seawater, and your written words were the breeze that kept carrying me from one shore to another, from one city to another
Beside your exquisite aesthetics in photography, there were your notes. And your notes were the ones who made my gut mend, my eyes produce droplets of salty fluid, my exhale wispy – I felt like seawater, and your written words were the breeze that kept carrying me from one shore to another, from one city to another, from one highway to another, from Tokyo to Ireland, from Jack London to Hemingway. You built a travel cosmos, complete and truly inspiring, without the FOMO and all the crap. Carnetstraverse is one of those social media universes which doesn’t let you quit social media. The eye is genuinely trapped in that moment captured by an image ; in the meantime, all of one’s senses are awoken by your belles lettres – the humbleness of this powerful combo gave me goosebumps and God, I love this feeling.
Julie, three hours ago I started an article about traveling and I deleted everything, because something was missing and I remembered my favorite travelling account on Instagram and I searched for it, found it and everything was sublime as usual and then, only after a few seconds, I asked myself why are they travelling without her? Somehow, the algorithm didn’t show me the video posted this winter on your feed. Somehow, the algorithm refused the unbelievable.
I am re-reading the last paragraph and I find so many ands. Maybe it’s a word that unfolds something about you. Julie and Renaud. Julie and Renaud and Louise. Renaud and Louise.
I instantly felt like travelling back home
Julie, they are doing such a great job. I can feel the same grace, smoothness and finesse when I swipe through their journeys that I felt when I swiped through yours. Right now, it’s the crispy aura of the Norwegian coast. They are sailing together, Renaud and Louise. In one of their latest posts, he talks about the Norwegian light in summer - alive, glistening, empowering – reminding him about Romania. I instantly felt like travelling back home.
I feel like travelling back to myself. Back to a blank page. Maybe it’s because of that eclipse stuff or maybe it’s because of you. I searched for my own carnets. They are not red, as I understood yours are. They were waiting on a dusty shelf, and it’s the first time when I’ve had the courage to look at them with a clear intention: another kind of journey, which doesn’t involve planes, Google maps and Airbnb. But it does involve good things, or at least I hope so.
There are good things here, Julie, you said.
You wrote it in your travel note « 03 -The Hacienda » in February 2016 :
I see spinning Renaud, bright eyes and smile on the lips,
A silent nod and a camera in his hand.
I know what it means. There are good things here.
First moments in the Hacienda San Jose,
The air is very sweet, I would say 26 or 27 degrees,
An elegant jungle all around us; extraordinary large trees, walls of blue color, ocher, yellow.
Jungle songs, birds of paradise here and there.
Around every building I expect to meet my dear Hemingway, a glass of gin in hand, welcoming us.
I close my eyes and I am standing in that garden of the Hacienda. Your notes are quantum spaceships. Thank you for sparking my « eureka » moment through them. Thank you for your desire to continue your project through your legacy and your family, inspiring others to take a pen or a camera in their hands. Julie, I hope Hemingway welcomed you, a glass of gin in his hand as you wished. I don’t know where, but perhaps another traveler, like Kerouac, might know that better.
There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep rolling under the stars.
by Diana Rusu
I don't really feel like writing, I haven't written in thousands of years and if I catch a word on its way to my fingers, I turn on the police sirens. Wailing. Alarm, alarm. Of course I'm literally shitting myself thinking about the next step. Self confidence has never been my strength.
Ok, maybe not the police sirens, but sometimes I can be like a squealing baby, if something has been triggered, some distant memory, perhaps.
So, I moved country again. I was scared of many things, but changing my life wasn't one of them. In case of a panic attack, I would have been prepared and I was certain I could hold my horses, when the smells around me on the streets of Bucharest took me on a wave of anxiety. I am home again; and it was all too intimate. My brain refused to speak the language.
"Today, intimacy is INTO-ME-SEE"*
With so many options and not enough guidelines, how do we know that we found the one?, I'm hearing *Esther Perel talking through the screen of my computer. Of course, it made me think, was it London? Was it Cluj? Is it any other city in the world? - I had no idea. But then, whenever I had the slightest doubt, I also realized that this wasn't an experiment. There isn't another person with whom I could write the apartment newspaper, invent a story that would last nine years and still be as exciting as it was in the beginning, sing out loud or plan our holidays for when we're 88.
"Fake news isn’t just for politics, it also applies to curated Instagram lives where we craft and filter these perfect stories and no one knows what goes on in the lives of other couples" (E. Perel). It does sound like marketing, but in the same time, it's something that I've been thinking about for quite some time, since I finished reading probably the only non-fiction book I ever digged: Future Sex. When E. Witt is trying to convince herself that it is worth risking contentment for the sake of experience, but it's also important to acknowledge both desire and inhibition, I'm already seeing my past sex, and everything seems in order for the present moment.
"Have some patience, grow a beard. This is real life, not Instagram; we're people, not dogs. Dogs are nice, people are complicated."
As for the filtered lives, aren't we all dealing with our imperfections and pains - when it comes to relationships, as if they are part of a collective story? I'm grateful to have a group of friends where a problem is never my own; I share it with them, but I don't get consolation and silence: I get awareness, context, different cases, history, interpretation AND some banter. It's refreshing to be reminded that you're living in real life, sometimes, if that makes any sense, like when he told me to leave him alone and I kind of freaked out, and just like in the good ol' days when one would log in on a forum to ask for advice, I texted my friends; my friend's response was: "I can yell at him whenever he's disturbing me, especially when I'm reading and I'm in my bubble. He also gets annoyed if I disturb him while he's playing. Have some patience, grow a beard. This is real life, not Instagram; we're people, not dogs. Dogs are nice, people are complicated." (I.)
"It took us A LONG TIME to learn and we're still learning. Relationships are like musical instruments, you cannot just pick one up and expect to know how to play it instantly, you have to learn it" (A.)
Truth is, a relationship for me is not like riding a bike. I don't remember how to do it, even if I've done it before. This into-me-see that Esther talks about is a good catchline, but what if we don't know how to address it? Oh well, I actually started typing this post two months ago, and I guess we'll have more than enough time to figure out plenty of catchlines. In the meantime, I'll try to write well, and edit often.
By Iulia Gheorghe
It never took me such a long time to write an article as this one. Maybe it’s the anxiety to write about anxiety. I am attempting one more time to finish it and, weirdly enough, I’m currently googling "time on Mercury” and ending up reading about how long a year lasts on the other planets. The thought that a year on Neptune lasts as long as 164 Earth years makes me acknowledge that in the best case scenario, people live for a half of a Neptunian year. I’m not very good at math, but it means that me postponing writing this article took, in fact, a couple of seconds in Neptunian time. So let’s pretend for a second that we all live there, while we can. Buh-bye anxiety. In fact, on Neptune I don’t feel I’m losing time. On Neptune, lifetime is short, but time feels expanded. Exactly like a moment spent in anxious “bigbens”.
During March, I did an Insta poll asking my friends what topics would they like to read about, if they had to choose between anxiety and criticism; most of them chose anxiety. Of course, criticism may be hard to process, but nothing is harder than swirling through the anxiety spiral. Somehow, anxiety is like a guardian angel gone crazy. Our brains are wired to worry, but can we make this guardian angel less wacky?
When shitty things actually do happen, we end up, in most cases, good or at least better than we’ve anxiously imagined in vivid fantasies. However, damage is done, because living in a permanently anxious mode is life-consuming and eventually burning us out. In order to do something effective about it, we have to go to the core of anxiety’s functioning system: sweating palms and breathing into a paper bag are only the tip of the iceberg (and the stereotypes circulating in media and cinema when depicting an anxious person).
This is why I deeply relate to Sarah Wilson’s story about anxiety in her book “First, we make the beast beautiful”. It's almost like an invitation into a lab/library/safe space, where her personal struggles meet philosophy, poetry, psychology, science and oriental wisdom in a frank exploration of a feeling that turns our heads and hearts upside down. There is one main idea that made me understand better the language of anxiety, and helped me create a toolkit ready to use in anxious times. I could see clearly through it, and was reminded about my spiritual self.
The idea was this:
High-functioning anxiety is the bitch.
You can be suffering from anxiety even if you are not blushing, sweating, losing your words or trying to breathe. This is the description of a panic attack and not all anxious people experience it. A lot of us suffer from high-functioning anxiety, committed to doing and being busy and especially being needed and solving everything by planning, sorting, running and moving as fast as we can:
“We are a picture of efficiency and energy, always on the move, always doing. We’re Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh, always flitting about, convinced everyone depends on us to make things happen and to be there when they do. And to generally attend to happenings.”
I have this image in my head of me, maybe three years ago, in my shower: instead of relaxing after a hectic day, I kept ruminating on and on about all the things I didn’t do and should have done and those ridiculous thoughts tangled in a thick mass like a fur ball. Except that I wasn’t as wise as a cat and I didn’t spit it out. I guess nobody could suspect that I was experiencing anxiety in that way. High-functioning anxious persons rarely manifest something beneath the surface. You watch those people going up and smiling and they look perfectly fine, more than fine, they seem productive and successful and always doing something new, never “sleeping on it”.
As Sarah Wilson pinpoints very well, while depressed people are stigmatized, high-functioning anxious people are sanctified, but often their busyness is a way to protect themselves: doing to forget, doing to avoid, doing to feel useful. This behavior leads eventually to more anxiety, as we are always feeling that something is missing and we are less and less connected to our own core:
“We don’t have time to adjust, to work out our priorities, and to reflect on whether what we’re doing when we’re running around madly is actually meaningful to us.”
The ugly truth is that anxiety does not only hit hard, but also, it hits frequently. In this very moment, I feel a wave of anxiety banging my mind. “First, we make the beast beautiful” is a book that simply breathes resourcefulness; thus, should I write a lengthy article about all the problems and solutions tackled or should I just invite the reader to grab it and digest it in his/her own manner? Why am I anxious about all this? Maybe because of the same reason we accept anxiety in our lives, in the very first place: we want to do what’s best and we forget the joy of just experiencing that activity as mindful as we can, without worrying about the future (and trust me, worry is my middle name). Why can’t I be serene and grateful to be able to read an enlightening book and to write something about it on a blog that I’m writing with a friend? Instead of feeling anxious, I would rather feel blessed to have the opportunity to own a bookshelf (better yet, two of them, a classical one and a virtual one), an outlet to express my feelings and my voice, a writing companion, friends that read my scrambled thoughts and a comfy couch to sit and type when I feel in the mood for it. All this is precious stuff for me. It’s abundance.
When I first scribbled some ideas about this article, I wanted to write about the mental health kit of an anxious person. There is one thing in this kit whose presence, in my opinion, is not negotiable: gratefulness. Gratefulness made me understand what really mattered, and as Sarah said “I also emerged knowing this was enough. It was perfect.”
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
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