I’ve been a quiet fan of the app Buddhify for years. Although I’ve dabbled once or twice in the rest of their myriad meditations, the one I use almost every time I open the app is a walking meditation called ‘Connected’. It consists of saying in your head to everyone you see as you walk down the street, “Have a wonderful day. I hope you are happy.”

It’s so simple, but it has an almost immediate and very powerful soothing effect on my soul.

I struggle a lot with a desperate, aching loneliness. It’s something that I’ve fought tooth and nail against, and still seem to deal with at the end of every day, in every silent moment, at every turn. It’s something that I long thought I could, or should be able to, change. But I have realized that my options for responding to it are a) hate myself for being an extremely boring person incapable of making friends, or b) accept the fact that some people are just constantly alone. 

My father, for example, doesn’t have a Sex and the City-like gaggle of friends – in fact, outside of my mother and her friends, I’m not sure he ever spends time with anyone else. My mother and sister on the other hand are both extremely likeable people that seem to very easily get close to others, should they choose to do so. We all have different strengths in life – and I think this is one such widely varying characteristic. 

… And this new zen-like attitude is a nice way to transition into my next point. As I was discussing aging and growing up with one of my birthday-partners this week, we decided that perhaps “becoming a grown up” involves being able to have the realization that no matter what you are going through, it could always be worse. A small but significant slide away from the teenage-like belief that whatever happens to one is the worst thing that has happened to anyone, ever. It’s not exactly acceptance, but it’s something like acquiescence. 

And my actual point is that it was my birthday this week and I felt the need to make a rather odd and rambling birthday post. I guess I should make my usual achievements round-up.

While I was 24, I:

/ Graduated
/ Got the job that I wanted
/ Progressed enough at my job to have something resembling the beginning of a career
/ Finally learned to dance salsa
( +bonus / Quitting smoking feels a little bit more real this time around?)

Here’s to being over the hill.

x

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words

So I impulse-purchased a tattoo appointment today, which I didn’t even know was a thing. So that’s kind of exciting news.

There’s a wonderful quote by Anne Lamott from Bird by Bird, which goes:

“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”

It’s a statement that I now know almost by heart, that I find myself coming back to time and time again, almost unable to believe that a paragraph can capture the truth about my entire life so elegantly and simply.

And yet I found in my own time of particular need – two weeks ago, when everything seemed to crash all at once – that not books, but poetry was the thing that soothed me most. On one awful Wednesday morning I made a conscious choice to not look at any screens until I did something entirely distracting. So I got out of bed, made a cup of coffee, and headed out onto the balcony with my cigarettes and my long-suffering, well-loved copies of The Collected Works of both T. S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens. And I opened the well-creased pages of the former to The Waste Land.

As I read, I felt that I was not so much reading the poem as traversing it, like I was exploring a childhood home or some other place from a distant past – something so familiar yet still so full of surprises. If I zeroed in on some particular detail that I had never noticed before, the whole piece took on a different meaning. I climbed the walls of the poem, turned random corners, peered through railings. I enjoyed its mere existence as well as its profound beauty.

Then I read Preludes, and here every word, every beat, every syllable was so utterly familiar that it was like wrapping myself in a favorite blanket. Comforting. Warm. Soothing.

I switched to Stevens and read first Sad Strains of a Gay Waltz and then a few random pieces I hadn’t looked at before. I read them out loud. I got lost in their rhythm.

There’s something about poetry that makes it irresistible to me. The compact confines of the form both necessitate very precise wording and tight turns of phrase, and yet allow the freedom to be so wonderfully playful with sounds and meanings and metaphors. And the magnitude of potential ideas and images hidden within those particularly-placed words makes it the perfect distraction.

All that to say I’ll probably be getting a line from a poem tattooed on me soon. Yay! Don’t tell my mother.

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a rock

You will feel pain. Gut-wrenching, machete-to-the-stomach pain, and it won’t go away with cigarettes and peanuts with m&ms and bottles of wine. You are going to have moments, days, weeks, when it seems as though every possible piece of your life has fallen exactly into the wrong position and is perfectly at odds with everything else. And when you’re sitting there feeling really miserable, utterly sorry for yourself, guess what? Something else horrible will happen. It’s going to get worse. And it’s going to fucking hurt.
You will want to scream, to curse anything you could possibly blame for the existence of existence, you will cry and you will wallow, you will sleep for days and have horrible sleepless nights full of waking nightmares.

But you know something?
You will get through it.
And you’ll come out stronger the other side.
Bad things will not stop happening to you. Ever. Because life doesn’t get easier. You just get stronger.

That’s what I had wanted to read when I sat down to drown my sorrows in books this afternoon. But despite a lot of beautiful, inspirational things, I didn’t find this. So I wrote it to myself. It’s mostly about a boy and a cancelled vacation and a few bouts of ill health.

Sometimes I’m afraid that I’m trapped in the mind of a teenager. That all my pain, fear, agonies, and joys are the results of such trivial trifles that if anyone ever actually realized what the inside of my head looks like I would be fired and then laughed out of existence entirely. Boys. Crushes. Hating my body. Wanting approval from my boss.

It sounds grade-school. And it’s embarrassing. But then sometimes I think that maybe the big unspoken secret of adult life is that our problems never really change, never really become more interesting or more existential – we just start to give them different names: love, loss, pride, acceptance, belonging. They’re all base instincts in the end. And I would like to think that I’m not the only one who has these problems rattling around my brain most of the time.

I may be a terrible psychologist because I find it so damn hard to understand what people are thinking. But I think – think –that even the most illustrious and/or irreverent minds I have around me still struggle with these same concerns.

Perhaps they’ve all just gotten stronger?

Or maybe I’m just an infantile prat, in which case, please don’t show this to my boss. Thanks.

 

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on the beauty of happenstance

“MOVE ON”, the Geneva Airport security check told me at 6:15 on Monday morning. To further illustrate its point, an illuminated arrow –> helpfully guided me away from a weekend mired with reminiscence and into a week of discovery, curiosity and adventure. I was ushered down the well-trodden path and urged not to look back by the impatient, frustrated crowd behind me.

So I moved on.

When you cannot turn back anymore, you have no choice but to go forward. When you turn around and realize there’s nothing there except a sea of misery and frustration, you have no choice but to look with a small glimmer of hope towards the future. And sometimes all you want to do is curl up in a ball and sleep for a year, refusing to acknowledge the absolute vacuum you have suddenly found yourself in – neither here nor there, not certain of anything, grasping to shreds of normality in the persistently buzzing memories. But sometimes in those moments, there is a sign. MOVE ON –>. And so you go on. Sometimes life is beautifully simple and simultaneously surprisingly poignant. Sometimes there’s no use in being tired, or afraid, or hopeful, or forlorn. You just have to move the fuck on. And it doesn’t matter how much you’d rather do anything but. 

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“Your problems are still ahead of you,” he said pensively, staring intently into the brown mass in his hands. “The depression runs quite deep.” He turned the tiny coffee cup towards me and showed me something that looked, well, like a pile of poo. “Right now you’re in a very positive place though.”

That wasn’t really a surprise, given that I was sitting in the blazing morning sun in the middle of a gorgeous park in Istanbul, on the first day of my first vacation since starting my “real” job.

My couchsurfing host was about to take me on a whirlwind tour of tourist-free Istanbul, starting with the aforementioned massive park, then a walk along the Bosphorus river, followed by a ferry to the Asian side and the “town” of Kadikoy, then a night of drinking and reggae music in the heart of Taksim.

And that was just one day.

Istanbul was a super quick, but incredibly colorful trip, one that made me feel like my body and mind finally reconnected again and I could actually feel and experience things fully rather than just observing them from a distance. 

Something that I wasn’t sure I would write about but it fits with the previous sentiment: I’ve always been bad at photos, but seeing the few photos that other people took of me on this trip was a horrendous wake-up call. They are so much worse than before. I’m inevitably positioned at an awkward angle, my body somehow tensed up and turned to make me look as wide as possible, my attempt at a smile coming across as a painful grimace, the entire image being one of a person with absolutely zero self-confidence and awareness of their body. This is a big part of me losing contact with anything except sitting in front of a computer for the past 5 months, and it needs to change quickly. 

My host’s reading, by the way, was spot on. He said I’d have a lot of professional success, and when I came back from my holiday I got a permanent contract at work. Hooray!

But I also came back with a gnawing sense of restlessness. I have a desperate desire to travel, and not just for weekend trips. I need to immerse myself in new environments, interact with new cultures, explore, get lost, meditate. It’s the only time I really feel alive. It’s the only time I feel like there’s a purpose to all of this.

It’s so easy to get stuck in routine, and not realize how stuck you are until you escape for a second. And once you come back, the routine gently enfolds you and slowly sucks you back in, creeping up around you until you find yourself right back in the mental fog and don’t even notice. 

 Well, that got depressing quickly. I guess we’ve come full circle. Here are some Istanbul photos to bring us back up again:

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First Kiss Flip-Flop

Why is everyone so outraged that the First Kiss video turned out to be an ad and cast people in the industry rather than “real random people off the street”?

What is it about filmmakers and photographers that makes them unreal people? I assume people who are outraged about this imagine bankers and lawyers, and grocery store cashiers and call center people, looking haggard after a day of work, gloriously un-made-up and in shitty wrinkled clothes.

…. When is the last time there was public uproar about a filmmaker casting people who were too pretty and too styled in their film? What makes this project different?

What is it about something being an ad that suddenly negates it as art? Someone still had a good idea, still did a casting, and a shoot, and a pretty nice edit. Just because a brand is involved and someone is getting paid for it means it’s not a good creative idea? Should an artist always be starving? (Obviously this is a bigger topic very close to my own heart.)

Please, don’t throw up your hands in disgust and walk away when you hear the video you shared and aww-ed at “turned out to be an ad!” I want to know what made you have that response. Why is it heart-melting one second and disgusting the next?

Question the simplistic execution. Criticise the flat production. Or the edit. Or even the fact that it’s an ad — but please not blindly.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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brief note on self-annihilation

The extent to which the mind and body craves that which you can’t have (or perceive that you can’t have) is incredible to me. People, cigarettes, the idea of a better life. It’s so much more than a simple desire — your brain turns on itself to the point where you become consumed by the desire, where everything that happens becomes a rationalisation as to why you must have it. Why you deserve to have it. Why you can’t live without it. 

Of course we’ve been using this principle forever to play the dating game and it’s well-known that it’s the reason that nobody ever really quits smoking – and it mystifies me that we haven’t come up with a way to defeat it. 

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