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