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 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 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
When the category « No sex and the city » was still in our brain’s belly, I was discussing with Diana about the most fervent subjects related to love life (and its demons) that we could explore. She gave me a lot of examples about the joys and sorrows of dating in the bustling city of London and she has a lot of stories to tell that I’m more than eager to devour.
"And now we're giving you the look-look"
As far as I’m concerned, dating is not exactly my niche. In fact, I’m out of the dating world since 2011. There was no Tinder back then, I had a flip phone and no strobing for my wedding make-up. Nobody knew what boho chic weddings were. I’ve never thought for a second about the color of the table runners or placemats. The flower bouquet was more expensive than the dress. The boy wore a Zara suit and the fanciest and corniest thing that we had at the ceremony was a chocolate fountain where children got sticky moustaches and fudgy fingerprints. I was 21, he was four years older and when I popped the news, almost everyone (except my grandmother, for whom founding a family is figuring out the meaning of life – insert rolling eyes here - ) gave me THE look. That peculiar look, acid like a rusty blade. It came in all forms:
The “you are too young to get married” look.
The "marriage is not for cool people” look.
The “will you become a desperate housewife?” look.
And my favorite one, the “statistics show that people who get married young get divorced sooner” look. Statistics also show that you have 1 in 10 chances to die from heart disease, 1 in 608 to suffocate to death, but only 1 in 45 808 to be killed by a foreign-born terrorist. Now turn on the TV or eavesdrop on a conversation in a café. The same people who will serve you the “statistics” argument for not getting married young are hysterically ignoring the odds on how they will kick the bucket.
Even the “Join the married people's side” look was creepy: I definitely wasn’t (and will never be) ready to enter the club of joint Facebook accounts. (Plus, sharing one account with somebody else is against Facebook terms. All those cute couples’ accounts are basically illegal).
Married or single, be ready to mingle
Of course my decision was written in stone. Dear younger me, you should have encouraged everybody to take a crash course in astrology. As a Taurus, I don’t take life lightly, but when I take a decision, I stand by it with all my heart and horns.
The most difficult thing to accept, though, was that “The look” came also from the people I cared about. I could understand their confusion, because I was always shouting out loud that I didn’t want to get married at all. And when I changed my mind, I was angry at me for contradicting myself and at them, for not fully believing that this decision wouldn’t change their friend. However, if we had switched places, I would have probably marriage-shamed them too, so finally that was a crucial lesson for me to learn in my twenties.
Years have gone by and approaching 30, now I get the other look when people hear that I’m married. The one full of relief. The one of “lucky you”. As our identities are solely dictated by our civil status! One of the girls in my language course told me she was going for a one-year world trip and while I was applauding her master plan, she added : “If not now, then when? After that, maybe I will finally find a man and have children and it will be too late to travel. I am 27, the clock is ticking. I often ask myself: when I will find him???”
No girl, it is never too late to discover the world. And love doesn’t wait behind the corner for your signal. It can come at 27 or at 80, so stop self-single-shaming yourself. I don’t know whose clock is ticking; do you really hear it or do you only hear society screaming that the clock should be ticking?
We can find a soulmate or we can be our own soulmate or both and who the hell cares about details when you step into love (any kind) as in a trip to Coney Island (never been, only in my imagination), pushing a stroller full of respectable feelings (hi there gratitude, honesty, acceptance) and gulping on a slurpee. Marriage can be like that. Being single can be like that. At the end of the day, we all have something old and something new, something borrowed and something blue in our luggage. Sometimes, it's a goddamn heavy suitcase. Other times, the suitcase turns into a teeny-tiny clutch bag, just like Cinderella's pumpkin that turned into a magnificent carriage.