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.