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.