by Diana Rusu
It was one of those moments when you’re stuck in front of a freshly bought coffee in a paper cup, steaming next to your idle computer, somewhere in the space of a well-connected area: everyone’s tapping at their devices all around, mixing plastic water bottles, packed lunches, extreme typing skills, emotions, etc. I unbuttoned my jeans (to be free baby!!!) and ... I completely lost it. What was I saying? What was this story about??
The coffee starts to kick in and I’m trying to get myself together. Right. I’ve only now finished a book that I started 3 months ago; a book that I consider to be one of the very best memoirs that came out in the last few years. If 2016 was Zadie Smith’s year, this is the book of 2017. And I’m completely going crazy about it. I’m basically throwing hands in the air and my pupils dilate every time I recommend it to everyone that crosses my path. I’m that Moses person, raising my arms and thanking the Lord for these 14 chapters that have been given to me through a divine intervention.
WARNING! This is not just a memoir that needed to be written by someone who understands the power of comedy and also knows grief; it is a book that needs to be read RIGHT NOW.
“I mean, it’s not called a snow-woman, is it? A seven-year-old in pursuit of the Paramount Objective of Despising Girls finds it all conveniently laid out for him: the culture, the language – it’s really no effort.”
When I first saw this book I was like “is that Robert Webb???!! Has he written a book?? I. MUST. HAVE. IT.” So I got it. And as soon as I got it, I cried the minute I saw the contents, in the bookshop, standing.
How not to be a boy starts with a hilarious adolescence memory and feels like it happened yesterday; it even makes me question my abilities to stay focused on the story and not drift off to a Mitchell & Webb sketch. But I managed to read the first ten pages with tears of laughter and then something magical happened: age 15 started a conversation with age 43!! And then it hit me, I was crying & laughing at the same time and I thought this memoir has something of Johnathan Safran Foer’s wittiness in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Plus, it is incredibly open and sincere. It is like writing a book based on your therapist’s notes about you (which by the way I intend to do very soon). Seriously now, these authors have some out-of-this-world storytelling skills, without forgetting to stay grounded. Writing, when you have this level of sensitivity, is as surprising as life; writing is the only consolation, as Pamuk would say it in his Black Book.
“15: Bit self-indulgent, isn’t it?
15: This. You, talking to yourself.
43: You were expecting to grow out of it?
15: I wasn’t ‘expecting’ anything. Christ.
43: Can you stop that?
15: Stop what?
43: Looking at my hair. It happens.
15: Sorry. Just a bit of a shock. I mean, what the fuck – “
(How not to be a boy, p. 13)
The pain of childhood
Robert Webb was born in 1972. I imagine him growing up surrounded by brothers, friends, parents and grandparents – and his father, Paul, who was a “proper” man, with an explosive temper sometimes. Webb kept journals which he constantly updated. A blogger, no less (the first thing that I liked about him). And then there was this other thing, called childhood. I don’t even know where to start!
“ together with Mum or alone in my bedroom, stories were a way to reach distant places. But also, and without noticing, a way to reach distant people.”
Looking back at himself in journals and memory, he clearly has a story to tell. And this is where it all gets interesting and psychoanalytical. Personally, I kinda see where he's coming from. And I reckon it’s easier for people who didn't grow up with all the love in the universe to understand what I’m talking about. The lack of his father’s presence and attention only opened a door to other ways of getting that love: stories, acting, being famous. Because “dads don’t hit famous children, right? They don’t ignore them either. They take them fishing. You can be quiet when you’re famous, but people can’t ignore you. Not really.” (p. 116)
For some reason I fully resonate with this. I wanted to be famous so bad when I was little! I guess children want to reach fantastic worlds even though they’re fully present in the moment - the problem is, parents are not on the same page (it might be slightly getting better now). A child has only got Here and Now, so when the others aren’t there, sometimes they're going to reach for Narnia.
“Here’s the wardrobe that never yielded to Narnia no matter how faithfully I reached for the cold air.”
Speaking of ignoring, the memoir "with a hidden agenda” starts to reveal something else. We all know it, but prefer not to talk about it, innit? Webb talks about training young boys to ignore their feelings. Which is not bad, no, that's not enough: it is dangerous as fuck, but hey, we don’t have time to change the habits. Webb’s not surprised that most feelings of anxiety, fear or pain a boy might have will only come up as anger. He lived with it, and learned that boys aren’t shy; boys love sports; boys don’t fall in love (with other boys); men don’t need therapy; men are good at directions; men know who they are.
“And ‘femininity’ – what is it? Having hair? I mean, long hair on your head but none on your legs, under your armpits or within a square mile of your Feminine Ladysecret. Taste in scarves? A sense of colour? The capacity to shut the fuck up when men are talking? What is this stuff?”
Robert Webb starts a polemic against what he calls the trick. It’s a code name for all the gender nonsense that his young daughters and their male/ female friends often encounter. Now this is what I call parenting. Making sure that a child doesn't have to play different roles/behave in different ways just based on their gender. Not anymore, as someone's there to point out the trick. I wish every family talked about this, I wish there was a gender blender in every household. Yeah, the world would be a better place. Hell yeah.
My favorite bit of this memoir, though, is the bumblebee story. Which I'm not going to tell you about, so now you have to get the book and read it.
But I will share this, the most accurate portrait of a relationship in 2017, which I want to print on a giant canvas and hang above my bed:
“The stereotype of the Nagging Wife has proved very useful to those of us who are often the primary cause of all the nagging: the Useless Husband. Because these days, women who find their domestic situation deeply unsatisfactory won’t just need to complain, they’ll need to appologise for the complaining. Times change: the gin has given way to Pinot Grigio and nagging has gone post-modern.” (p.140)
Whatever Robert Webb wanted from this book and however he wrote it (it would be amazing if someday I could interview him) I’m grateful that he made himself helpful to others. Because not only women’s, but also men’s mental health is at a crucial point right now. It always has been. I don’t see it as a manifesto, and it doesn't need to be one, but as an excellent point to start a must needed conversation.
photo © Diana Rusu
by Iulia Gheorghe
If I were to consider the skin as a suit, I would definitely find myself in a shoddy dressing room with three options in front of me: neon-greasy glow on pores like opened grayish scallops boiling in their own juicy juice on a sunny beach, a jawline beaded with pomegranate shaped pimples or the freshness of a bored parsnip abandoned in my grandma’s pantry. Ever since puberty, I have experimented various stages of skin quality and none involved words like rosy, glow, immaculate or zits-free. I have been trapped in a “50 forms of mediocre skin” phase and approaching my thirties, I think I lost the last train to pristine poreland.
"She could have received retirement benefits after dealing for all this time..."
I wouldn’t bet my bottom dollar that my skin would get a holy revamp before menopause. My mother’s 40 years of skin problems experience comforts my hypothesis. She could have received retirement benefits after dealing for all this time with grease in summer and spots all time of the year. After trying to solve the unsolvable with a cocktail of lotions, phototherapy and mesotherapy, she accepted that pimples were there to stay, put some make-up on (become addicted to matte-mousse foundations and poreless finish powders) and lived her life.
I stole her acne-dealing philosophy. As Stanford professor Shirzad Chamine advises us in his book Positive Intelligence, I activated my inner Sage mode, freeing myself from resentment (why is my face on fire AGAIN?!) and bitterness (angel faces, go to HELL). I adopted a more or less disciplined skincare ritual, avoided clogging pore ingredients and felt lucky that I have never experienced severe acne, scars, rashes and other painful conditions that garnish the bad skin pandemonium. I didn’t consult dermatologists exclusively to ask for a zits mass-elimination formula, although I was still asking them for cream recommendations at the end of my annual appointments. After a poor-sleep night, bathed in anxious dreams with threatening moles looking like real psychopaths, the check-up usually turns just fine, endorphins flood my brain and I almost don’t care about the destiny of a couple of pimples just visiting. Years passed, and I tried a bunch of ointments (most of them stinky and sticky). Life is short, so the mucilaginous ones found themselves in my recycle bin. Skinoren and retinoid creams worked pretty well. Youcam perfect and a touch of Mac powder (ok, more of a coat than a touch, but not a fur coat, maybe the equivalent of a breezy blazer) were the cherry on the top of my pursuit of a decent skin.
"The experience was half X-files, half Housewives of Beverly Hills"
A couple of weeks ago, the cherry was eaten by a lady in a white gown. I usually deal with internal saboteurs who bring their own biases to the decision parties in my head. This time, it was an external one. As I moved to a new neighborhood, I went to a new dermatologist for my annual check-up. The experience was half X-files, half Housewives of Beverly Hills, as I was trying to figure out if she was either an alien with no feelings or a shallow person that cared only about the so-called unanimous beauty standards. She barely looked at my moles as her frowned eyes bombarded my chin and jaw with a weird expression. "KILL THEM ALL!" She started to cry that I had to treat my acne. Puzzled, I told her that I had been dealing with mild acne since my teenage years and things never got out of control. She insisted that I had to try more. “You can’t live like that, you must fix this”. And then she recommended me laser hair removal because “waxing is bad”.
For a couple of seconds, I felt like Moaning Myrtle. Did she suggest that accepting my blemished skin is not a healthy option? Did she judge me for my passiveness? Moaning Myrtle turned into Hulk as I was filling up with rage. I consulted her to check if I’m cancer free, not to fix my skin by poisoning my body with nasty treatments. It was mild acne. I didn’t ask for her help. This was not a debilitating symptom that made my life unbearable. Maybe my skin was mediocre, but her work ethic was crappier. My inner bitch felt the need to riposte. The researchers from King’s College London discovered that people with acne appeared to be protected against the signs of ageing so I wanted to tell her that maybe if she had had some zits in her adulthood, she wouldn’t have looked like a crepe in her fifties. But I knew that was the wrong reaction: my own brain was sometimes biased by the standards that I was fighting against.
"We are so focused on criticizing the way it looks, that we forget its main functions: skin both protects us and gives us the opportunity to experiment sensations."
Skin quality is biology and stardust is to be found somewhere else. Our skin is a suit of the size of three bath towels. Maybe I wasn’t the big winner of the perfect skin lottery, but my skin is doing a pretty good job. We are so focused on criticizing the way it looks, that we forget its main functions: skin both protects us and gives us the opportunity to experiment sensations. Burnt people are very vulnerable to infections because of the damaged skin tissues. Wrinkled or not, acne-prone or not, it’s thanks to our skin that we can all feel in the same way the touch of our mother one on our cheek. The soft warmth of a ray of light on our forehead. The frosted snowflake on our nose. The tongue of our partner…you get it. I surely did. I found the derma Grail by respecting my skin for what it was: imperfect, but totally functional and generating pleasure and pain 24 hours per day.
by Diana Rusu
“Although the effects of the insanity of the egoic mind are still visible everywhere, something new is emerging.” (Eckhart Tolle)
Of course, to fully understand what E.T. is saying here (and I just noticed how his initials made me think of the famous animated character, and that’s probably not completely wrong) we must dig in his introduction for Practicing the Power of Now. I have to agree that today more than ever the amount of people ready and happy to “break out of collective mind-patterns” is astounding. But it’s also scary AF, since some of those mind-pattern-breakers happen to be some lunatics shooting randomly and killing people, if we look at recent events and try to eckhart-tolle them. What happened in Spain, for example. Or Vegas. Or Texas. No matter how much I try to write about the monstrosities and regardless of my serious google search addiction, I still can’t get a hold of what should come out of my mouth, or rather as an extension of my fingertips on the keyboard. With all the violence and insanity happening, I still cling to E.T.’s words: “A new state of consciousness is emerging. We have suffered enough!” Instead, I can only invite you to read on if you’re feeling the consciousness emerging inside yourself.
What I actually wanted to talk to you about is a scrambled egg of an idea that has been haunting my mind for a while now. It arose when I realized that many of my friends and acquaintances were growing an interest in non-fiction, to be more specific self-care and do-it-yourself therapy reads. This fitted on my hand like a glove, so to speak in Romanian aphorisms, and I started to develop a fascination towards this one video on YouTube, an audiobook called “The power of Now”.
I looked closer at the world surrounding me – London is a good place to start with - and saw that self-help books were experiencing an explosive growth. Which made me doubt their potential, to a certain point of course, as nothing with such a hype is guaranteed a long life or maybe even authenticity. It’s like when veganism was on fire, I just stopped being vegan. Thousands of seminars, books and programs, unleashing the power within, advertising and paying loads to get into the secret clubs, but the market seems to be hungry for all of this. We’re all hungry for self-change, more care for ourselves and more attention to our own mental health. Which is not bad.
I can see a future where traditional therapy is replaced by self-help groups, but what I’m fearing is that we’ll get to a peak so high that it will all become superficial or even worse, it will all be done to feed our ego.
Smashed Ego toast
But then what’s that got to do with it (got to do with it)?
Here comes the hard part, when looking for self-improvement and empowerment. Many of us do it for the sake of our own constructed identities. Or an identity is exactly what the Ego has for breakfast every morning, say. If we feed it, it will fucking grow!
It can even grow an “I’m better than you” belly and if that ever happens, we better be opening our eyes. Look the Ego in its face and smash it. Season it, toast the bread, smash it and serve it with those scrambled thoughts. Get your hands dirty and tame the beast. Because, as Tolle says, “the ego is destined to dissolve, and all its ossified structures, whether they be religious or other institutions, corporations, or governments, will disintegrate from within, no matter how deeply entrenched they appear to be.” (Eckhart Tolle, A new Earth, Penguin Books UK, 2016)
From within, my world is crumbling like an apple pie sometimes, or shaking like soft jelly. What the Ego doesn’t like about it is this not-knowing-for-sure, this tolerance and acceptance of all things as they are. What it does like, though, is the title of this story.
photo © Diana R.
by Diana Rusu
“But I will not be ignored. The soul that lives inside this body will not be ignored. I am here to stay.”― RuPaul, Lettin it All Hang Out: An Autobiography
Finding out that your Ego has not developed since childhood because you grew up surrounded by strong personalities is kind of life changing. Poor Ego, I imagine it being a little crippled old-baby man ☹. Still, I sometimes feel its tiny hands crawling all over my body and scaring the shit out of me. It’s ok, I know I’m having panic attacks quite often. To calm myself down, I’m listening to Banks’ Brain. I like her; if you want some inspiring talks on depression, intimacy and confronting herself, listen close, she’s absolutely amazing. Right, here’s a list of what I do when I feel like I'm about to crack up.
1. It’s hard, but I still try to listen to my inner self, eyes wide open, observing the surroundings as if I would see everything for the first time. Sometimes it’s like having a deja-vu while seeing yourself experiencing it. #psychedelic
2. When I read, I try and let go of all identities: I’m no longer a writer (sometimes, of course, the Ego kicks in with stupid comments like “whoa I wish I wrote that”, “wtf”, “can I possibly use this expression in one of my poems”), I’m no longer 30+, I’m no longer female. I’m no longer Diana.
3. I make things I have absolutely no idea how to (or even why): painting, cooking, photography, DIY toothpaste. What?
4. I observe myself struggling and I try not to judge myself. #checkmate
5. I feel my body. UNHhhhhhh! and / or I connect with others. Wait, what?
6. I am aware of my pain-body and I know when she’s hungry for tears, I let her have it. So she cries.
7. And if I don’t smile right after, it’s absolutely ok, for fuck’s sake.
8. I meditate, sometimes. I’ve built a safe space and use it as a hiding for when I feel I might go down swinging.
9. When I get applause (applause, applause - never standing ovations, tho) the little beast is smiling back at the person who complimented me and I’m like “yeah, that’s right, we did it!”
10. Because eventually, it’s all about being aware of your Ego and giving it a big high five, no matter its shape, color, gender or age, no matter if it’s not developed or if it grew five times more than your inner being. Well that might be a problem actually, but you get what I mean. It’s all about teamwork.
photo by author
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.
by Iulia Gheorghe
It’s that time of the year again.
Summer is long gone and Christmas not close enough to allow yourself to drown in glitter and coffee-drinking gorilla pattern gift-wrapping paper. I woke up like this: dismayed by the alarm clock. I usually hate that annoying jingle of « hurry up, don’t be late again » sound. However, now I felt something else was floating in the air. I was so confused that I literally didn’t hit snooze. I was astonished with myself as I jumped in SpaceX mode straight from my bed to the mirror. I always check my phone first! My face was almost tan free (so unhappy to loose the natural glow of happy summer days), but also heat bumps free. Finally, the cadaveric whiteness is not so bad after all. I opened the window and there it was: the crisp air of a November greyish morning. I felt shivery, but quite enthusiastic. For me, this month is so bloody ugly that you can focus better on your goals. Basically, it’s the month of second chances. The revival of all the good resolutions. We practiced them for five days in January and then we've thrown them out in the garbage of wishful thinking. They are waiting in the purgatory for salvation. Hooray, you get one more shot to get your shit together before the end of the year (and the clock is f*cking ticking).
If the idea of a new start excites you as much as it excites me, let me introduce to you some soul exercises that you could embrace this November. I can assure you as a conservative Taurus that I am: these activities can spice up your life without leaving yourself bare naked and helpless.
"Can confirm, it will be easier for introverts/couch potatoes/ introspection addicts to sit still"
1. Stillness can be a good idea. I’m sure you love travelling (who doesn’t?), but going nowhere can also open your eyes and your soul towards the world. As Pico Iyer says in The Art of Stillness, “The need for an empty space, a pause, is something we have all felt in our bones; it’s the rest in a piece of music that gives it resonance and shape”. Can confirm, it will be easier for introverts/couch potatoes/ introspection addicts to sit still as hyperactive people will certainly cling themselves to it with despair, but at least, all of us will now have an excuse to just sit on our asses without remorse. And bonus, the 2-Hour Rule: one a week, block two hours just to think.
2. Rage Yoga. The problem with thinking it’s that while you are doing progress about figuring out stuff, you’re inevitably feeding that bitchy monkey mind. You will need meditation, yoga or anything that involves mindfulness to calm it down. If you are not the “sugar and spice, everything nice” type, why not trying rage yoga? The mantra of this type of yoga that involves stretching, foul language, laughter, and even beer-drinking (luckily before or after the session) is “be zen as f***k”. If this class is too heavy mental for you, you can do guided meditation for inner f*cking pece. Choice no. 1 or my fav, the shorter version. Breathe in white light, breathe out bullshit.
3. A crash course on Sarah’s Cooper work. How can you just not love her way to depict everyday struggles and nonsenses of office life? She is a natural in describing those wtf situations we are all experiencing at work. I would consider marrying her on a beach in Honolulu and live happily ever after on fruit smoothies and long talks. Meanwhile, I will keep following her on Medium where you can find her articles. The most accurate diversity in tech report you will ever read is dope.
"1 in 4 people in England will experience a mental health problem"
4. Understand the impact of stigma and discrimination on people with mental illness. According to NHS Digital, 1 in 4 people in England will experience a mental health problem any given year. Basically, this means 1 in 4 people you meet is living a hard time. Maybe you are living a hard time. Nobody should be ashamed about dealing with a mental health issue, you are not the one to blame. You can help by speaking up, as these people do it on their blogs. Or supporting a friend or a stranger in his/her journey through the peace-making process with the nasty monsters who can eventually be tamed and even understood.
5. Give yourself the right to create. I will talk about the right to write, because November is also the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Perhaps you’ve already heard about this now famous creative writing challenge initiated by the freelance writer Chris Baty in 1999 with 21 participants. By 2015, more than 400 000 people participated from all over the world. The rules are simple and anyone who reaches the 50 000 word mark is declared a winner. I find this concept awesome, because it pushes you over your boundaries without the pressure of “what the heck should I write”. Just practice and show up. If you want to prepare mentally for NanoWriMo, you can check out some timeless advice on writing – a collection compiled by awesome Maria Popova published on her well of wisdom, Brainpickings. I would love to marry her too, but I’m not sure how she feels about polygamy.
I’m sure you also have some tips to better deal with November and its gloomy behaviour. Feel free to share them below! As far as I’m concerned, even if I’m definitely a spring girl, I start to kinda’ like it – it’s somehow like my period: uncomfortable at first, but quite helpful in the end as I give myself permission to stay home and reflect, do some art and think more seriously about helping others.