Bang Advice

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I don’t remember her name. But she always wore bangs, that I remember. She wore bangs when not many fashion conscious women dared even consider it. Her haircut wasn’t always the same, neither was her hair colour, but she always wore bangs… and she looked great. Looking impeccable at any moment seemed like an effortless endeavour for her, like it was an extension of her being. From all my mother’s friends, I liked her best. Beautiful, elegant and graceful, she had an extraordinary ability to combine elements and come up with the outfits that suited her perfectly. Unlike some of their friends, she was never ostentatious, she knew exactly how to discretely emphasize her features in order to look attractive without being vulgar or tacky.

But it was her bangs I was particularly interested in that summer, and I had a good reason for it. After all, I wanted to get bangs as well, yet I wasn’t allowed to. If I wanted to be pretty, I couldn’t have bangs covering my forehead or strands of hair getting into my eyes for that matter; besides, all I had to do was look around and see that no pretty girl wore bangs, I was told. I rolled my eyes, but my grandmother had deemed the conversation over.

I loved spending time with my mother’s friends. They were an endless source of interesting information and great gossip and they never filtered their conversation when I was there. I felt like one of the girls, not just a child, and being with those wonderfully independent, outspoken women was so much fun. They were nothing like my friends’ old-fashioned, boring mothers, even if some of them did have children. So in a moment of relative silence, while coffee cups were being refilled, I walked up to her and asked her, how come she always wore bangs? In my mind, I was going to put a flattering spin on my curiosity, but before I knew it, I had just blurted out my out of context question.

She stopped smiling. She stopped looking at me as though I were some adorable doll, the way she usually looked at me. All of the sudden, she was serious and I was her equal, I felt, as her eyes were staring into mine while speaking. She never wore too much makeup, I couldn’t help thinking, and her face was always fresh and natural.

“You make your own style. You don’t let fashion or people dictate how you’re supposed to look, do you understand me? You adapt fashion to your needs, to your personality, not the other way around. You…”

“Don’t depress the girl,” the one who was always the loudest and the most direct of them interrupted, giving her a friendly nudge. “She just always wears bangs, it’s her thing,” she winked at me. “Just like my thing is being a bitch,” she continued, noticing her friend’s sad, lost gaze. She caressed her hair and handed her a fresh cup of coffee.

Years later I would think of her when seeing the Samantha character in Sex and the City.

Somebody dispersed the tension by announcing she had a new lover. Everybody lit up cigarettes, sipped their coffee and loudly asked for details. I kept mulling over the serious style advice I had just received. Sure, my mother had told me the same thing, but it never hurts getting a second opinion… after all, mothers weren’t the most reliable source, were they?

On the way home, I was told the full story – I was old enough to understand and I had to know I hadn’t done anything wrong. Besides, my mother thoroughly enjoyed to have me as a gossip partner, since I could be trusted not to tell anything to my grandmother. Her friend’s haircut wasn’t a fashion statement, it was necessity. She had adapted her hair style to suit her needs after having been in an accident which had left more than emotional scars. There was also a very real, visible, long scar on her forehead, one she hid well with skilful makeup and by wearing bangs. She was self-conscious and didn’t like to be reminded of the trauma she had suffered, yet it was unavoidable, the scar taunting her from the mirror every day. I regretted having voiced my curiosity… or perhaps I didn’t really, since it had gotten me answers. Nobody was perfect, yet one could still be remarkable.

A few days later, while my grandmother was taking her afternoon nap, I was taking a pair of scissors to a chunk of my hair (what girl hasn’t done that at least once?). I contemplated the result with great satisfaction, even though I wasn’t yet sure it looked good.

As a result of my actions, I was rushed to the hairdresser’s. My grandmother couldn’t contain her outrage, while my mother couldn’t contain her amusement. I had been overly enthusiastic with the scissors and had cut a bit too much, so my amazing new bangs were too short and I looked slightly ridiculous. The hairdresser did her best to fix what she could; after that, all it took was patience over the following weeks, until my hair grew… and surprise, surprise, I discovered that I could still be pretty, even with bangs. Besides, what mattered most was that I liked my look, that I was happy with it. I was taking steps in the right direction and she had been right, I realized.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – A Piece of Advice.

Preserving Time

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Fine, fine, I admit it. I liked the Spice Girls for about five minutes, back in the ‘90s… or 20 years ago, as the annoying news lady decided to inform me the other day. That couldn’t be true… could it? But as I rushed from the kitchen to stare incredulously at the TV (as though that was going to change anything), I quickly did the math and horror of horrors, the lady was right.

Snippets of old videos followed on the screen and flashes of old memories ran through my mind. It’s been 20 years since my friends and I used to jump up and down in front of the TV, dancing to the Wannabe video, choosing our favourite Spice Girl and believing that “girl power” was a given. When the perky blonde came back on the screen, about to move on to some more depressing news, I made a face at her; in fact, I’m pretty sure I stuck my tongue out at her, a gesture strictly reserved for the most obnoxious drivers. But the perky blonde was not done with me, as her next piece of news involved a grey haired Jon Bon Jovi singing at a wedding, looking a lot older than a few years ago, when I saw him live in a concert. That’s what you get on a slow news day… although, ironically enough, lots of important things were going on in the world at the time. But clearly not important enough to push aside trivia reminding me that it’s been twenty years since then. In the ’90s sounds so much better than 20 years ago.

“You know, I told somebody you were 24 the other day.”

Ha? I paused, not knowing what one replies to that. Somebody had asked her how old her daughter was and apparently “24” was the right number for my mother.

“I see you’re not sticking with 28,” I finally recovered my voice.

She stopped counting at 28… not 29, not 30, but 28. I never lied about my age, but apparently my mother feels the need to, for several years now. I will try and preserve a little bit of mystery and won’t say for how many years I’ve been turning 28 according to her… suffice to say that she knows my age, yet she will not admit it to anyone, sometimes not even to me. And apparently, starting this year, I’m 24 again.

I can’t come up with a good reason why she chose that particular age, other than the fact that if I’m 24, she’s still in her 40s. In a way, it does make sense. She liked herself a lot more back then, so many things still seemed possible for her. I can understand why she would want to go back to those days, to somehow relive certain moments, so she could both have the chance to feel that happiness and make different decisions, take a different path. I know she chooses to often forget her own age and certain aspects of today’s reality, succumbing to the mirage of better days. Once in a while we all do that. Once in a while, when she doesn’t exaggerate, I understand her… after all, I’d rather say “in the ‘90s” than “20 years ago”… But I dread the moment she remembers how much she loved who she was in her 30s. If she keeps this up, I can see the day when I reach for my gin & tonic and she smacks my hand – soon enough, I won’t be of legal drinking age anymore.

Preserving time seems to be an obsession for all of us, trying to bottle up certain moments so we could repeatedly savour them at a later moment is not at all uncommon. Everybody has their own way of saving those instances for later use and their own reasons for occasionally sinking deep into those memories. For instance, aside from a plethora of photos, old notebooks and a variety of other things, I also have a couple of old dresses from back when I was about 18. I fear time, just like everybody else, so trying them on when I am really sad somehow makes me feel better, because I can still fit in them, and it also makes me laugh, because of how ridiculous I look. But what I don’t do when I’m sad is sink into happy moments and memories from the past, that’s just a recipe for depression. What can I say, we each fight time and preserve our sanity, our own way.

I’m not delusional about my past, I remember the bad at least as well as I remember the good. That’s why I think it might be about more than preserving time, it might actually be about preserving that person I was at a given moment – I may not have always liked my life, but I generally liked myself. That’s why the present can’t be overlooked and forgotten while we sink too deeply into the past – we need to set something aside for the future too. On that note, I think I’ll go and pour myself a glass of wine (while I still can) to go with my ice-cream and enjoy a nice summer evening, here and now… because who knows what’s to follow. Cheers! 🙂

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – For Posterity.

Opposing Moments

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“How did you do it? How did you call it again?”

The dishevelled person staring back from the mirror looks nothing like the one who used to be there on so many other occasions… or like the one who can still make an appearance sooner or later. There simply are such mornings, such days… such stages. It might have been a night of crying or a night of drinking and dancing and forgetting, it may have been days and days of exhaustion and despair that have pulled that unrecognizable creature to surface from the depth of one’s being. Those versions of the past and the potential future are simply unavoidable.

It becomes a reflex in most of the cases. Somewhere between several cups of coffee or tee, after all those smoked cigarettes, during those extra moments of applying makeup or whatever other daily rituals, one generally gets one’s face on and they’re once more ready to deal with the world… or at least to hide well enough until they are. We don’t really do it to protect others, or at least we don’t do it only for that particular reason. It’s self-preservation, the need to protect ourselves from the way others might react if they caught a glimpse of all that lurks under that socially acceptable mask. Some do it better; others find it difficult. In the end, it can even be a silent competition – who’s going to fall apart first, whose face will betray them, exposing that creature taunting them from the mirror early in the morning?

“How did you do it? How did you call it again?”

Relationships wear masks as well, not only the people they involve. Silent, sometimes unintentional, sometimes quietly, mutually agreed upon masks. When the mask breaks in two and neither one of those halves can be worn convincingly, you know. You notice the cracks even if you try to look away, so you can “call it”, as my friend put it.

I met recently met a couple I hadn’t seen in a long time. They’re not close friends, just some acquaintances, but it was still nice to see them and catch up. He is a friend of my closest friend; she is his girlfriend. What did I think about them, after all those years, my friend asked… Among many other impressions I was left with after a whole day spent together, I got the feeling their relationship was approaching its end. She would end it, I told my friend. Sure enough, about a week later she informed him she was moving out, my friend told me.

How did I always predict it, he kept asking, as though I was some sort of relationship bad omen. I tend to notice certain details and this wasn’t the first time I had “predicted” such situations. There were cracks in her mask… cracks she was trying to hide, but which were obvious whenever he kept ignoring what she wanted, replacing it with what he thought she should want or with what he needed. Small things, here and there, symptoms of something so much deeper… symptoms he stubbornly ignored. If I – a person who didn’t know her all that well – could notice them, why didn’t he, the man living with for several years? Why was he waiting for everything to fix itself, if he still wanted her to be part of his life, if he still loved her?

But I knew the answer, or at least part of it, because I knew he had behaved the same way in previous relationships. You want the girl, you make an effort and you get the girl. But once you “have” her, that’s it – that is the destination, the final point and from then on there is nothing more that needs to be done. That’s the kind of guy he is… complete with the ability of stubbornly hiding from the fact that she is unhappy. When he forcefully has to accept it, it’s generally too late to do anything to change the outcome… an outcome that breaks his heart once more…

The masks fall – his, hers, theirs – and break into countless pieces. The moment becomes the opposite of what he thought it was. The moment becomes the one she was trying to avoid. The moment no longer inhabits the destination, it becomes yet another beginning – an unwanted and no longer avoidable one.

Many times, the kindest thing you can do is look away from the cracks and allow a person to wear their mask as well as they can… hoping they will show you the same courtesy. But when you share a mask with someone else, staring at the cracks from the inside, what is the best moment to stop ignoring them and start focusing on what they reveal?

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Opposites.

Partners… Or Not

2Those who come to the beach on their own often tend to search for a partner… someone with whom to share a brief, torrid, summer fling… or maybe someone who simply enjoys the same kind of beach fun they do. Either way, it’s always amusing to observe their group dynamics 🙂

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But here’s a cute reminder that we do have the strength to get over all those bumps on the road on our own as well. Not having someone to lean on at all times doesn’t make it impossible. Some may have the certainty there’s always somebody ready to catch them, yet so many face the hardest challenges on their own… and that’s not always a disaster.

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Partners.

Retro Gifts, New Memories

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A particular birthday present from a family friend really captured the essence of those moments… Not that it was expensive or out of the ordinary (it would certainly present no particular interest to today’s twelve year olds), not that it came from a person I so greatly admired at the time, what really mattered was the symbolism of the situation.

I had already decided that I was old enough to choose how I’d spend the big day – you’re practically a grownup when you’re twelve, aren’t you? – and not go along with the family’s dull ideas about the ideal celebration. Not surprisingly, the adults had a different take on the matter. They informed me that I was either having the party they had planned with the guests of their choice or no party at all… Naturally, I chose to be equally stubborn – if the adults were going to be unreasonable and childish about it, then I could be stubborn – and have no party. Not much of a sacrifice, considering that in our circle, kids’ birthday parties were more of an opportunity for the adults to show off and network than a chance for the young ones to enjoy themselves.

Shortly before that controversial birthday, this person I admiring from many points of view paid me a surprise visit, in order to bring a little token of her affection, a reminder that a special day is more than a good party. In her early twenties, beautiful and smart, about to graduate from a prestigious university, engaged to what I used to think should be the man of any woman’s dreams, she was my best friend, the big sister I never had. Her life was far from perfect and anything but easy, I would later find out, but that was not the reality of those days.

The nicely wrapped box contained her old photo camera, a couple of black and white film rolls and a brand new photo album. To my not so little little friend, so that she could make memories of her own, she said… I didn’t need to explain, she understood what I was going through; she always understood and she always knew the right thing to do. The days of mobile phones and digital cameras being as ubiquitous in a kid’s life as bubble gum weren’t there yet, but some of my friends were already allowed to occasionally use their parents’ photo cameras. Of course I wanted one of my own, but much to my chagrin, I was not considered old enough to be trusted with such technology…

When I saw the used, old fashioned, simplistic camera that was all of the sudden mine, I knew things were finally looking up. Memories of my own, I repeated, fiddling with the new toy. It had been a gift from her father, she was about my age when she had received it, and now it was my turn, I was the closest thing she had to a younger sister.  We wondered about all afternoon and she taught me how to use it, how to adjust all the settings and how to make the tricky machinery behave and capture all those memories for me. She was passionate about photography and she had a gift for it, but that cannot be taught, unfortunately…

I used the second roll of film on my actual birthday, for my non-party. My school friends and I decided it was a shame to waste such a beautiful day – my birthday, of all days – and time would be much better spent in a park, so we skipped school for the first time. A birthday I would spend as I pleased, starting to make memories of my own, growing up and independent from my family – she had gotten it right yet again – and the old camera played such a significant part in it, as the day turned out to be perfect in its simplicity.

The days when an old camera meant freedom and all the desired happiness and independence are gone; the kids running around the park that autumn day grew up and failed to stay in touch. The adults never found out about our little escapade; I used my savings to get the films developed and all my friends got copies of the photos. But those black and white pictures are still around, testimonies of days that sometimes may seem unreal.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Analog.

Pure

Who can claim to have never felt the backlash of misconstrued, subjective, narrow-minded ideas about what “purity” should entail? I shy away from stating that something/somebody is either “pure” or not.. We no longer live in a time when we can pretend not to know better, black or white are not the only options available to us when it comes to perceiving everything going on around. After all, we thoroughly enjoy nuances and we do expect others to notice them in us…. If we can find and appreciate beauty in the most unexpected and horrid of contexts, why couldn’t something pure occasionally reside in people, places and situations appearing less than pristine?

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Pure.

Beginnings, Beginnings…

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Adults were the enemy, no doubt about it… Yet they had all been young once, children, teenagers… So at what point did they start to mutate, when was it that they stopped understanding and started forgetting?

The 12 year old me had no answer to those daunting questions, and neither did any of my friends. But I was afraid it might happen to me eventually. No, no, never, that would never be me. Yet… what if forgetting is stronger than the human being? Not forgetting actual situations – adults seemed to remember many things, they all had childhood stories – but the feelings behind them, the implications, the reasons and the results. It wasn’t about remembering, it was about remembering it right.

There was only one thing to be done about it. I picked a nice mote book that I was saving for just such an extreme occasion and decided it would be the first of many. Everything had to be documented. There was no other way I would grow into one of those narrow minded, uncaring, depressing, oppressive people who accepted nothing but their own biased judgement and could not understand us… because they could not remember correctly how it was like to be us.

I was no exception, I soon discovered that most of the girls kept diaries… and even a few of the boys were bold enough to admit they kept “journals”. In fact, there was an absolutely hilarious afternoon when we were about 14 and we found one of these journals. One of the boys had been careless enough to bring it to school and leave it on my desk… My friends and I got our grubby little hands on it and the public reading that followed in a nearby park after classes turned out to be embarrassing to say the least. here were certain very private physical matters in there that no adolescent boy would like to have read by the girl he used to like in front of the girl he kindda likes… and all of her friends and his friends. Oh yes, we were merciless… But if you don’t want your classmates to read your diary, you don’t bring it to school, it was a known fact.

Whatever the reasons each and every one of us had, journaling was a widely spread activity. But that wasn’t writing, none of us perceived it as such… writing sounded too much like homework, that was just too tedious. Yet I was right about one thing – that first note book was followed by several others over the years. I may have denied their existence in front of my friends (that was just too girly a thing for me admit to), but the truth was that writing cleared my mind. It may have been meant for my eyes alone, but it was cathartic. It was calming whenever I could no longer control my anger; it was soothing when I felt I couldn’t control my tears; and it was comforting and motivating whenever I felt there was no hope.

I eventually came to understand my personal writing as the best way to gain some perspective. Writing then became dialogue. I would write letters to a good friend of mine who was older and had moved away. My closest friends and I had this notebook where we kept writing whatever went through our minds, everything that troubled us or that made us happy. We did start letting others in, but one thing remained the same – none of us could relate to, confide in or trust the adults in our lives, we had to rely on each other. That we did have in common, it was a fact, not mere adolescent rebellion.

Yet some adults were different. I couldn’t deny that when my middle school literature teacher came to me one day and told me I had won some prize in a writing competition. I vaguely remembered being told about that competition and I had dismissed it immediately; what did she want from me, I couldn’t be bothered with that, I didn’t write like that… She said nothing else, she just asked me to hand in another copy of a composition I had written as a school assignment. She send it in for me and apparently some people liked it… Hmm… who would have thought? She repeated the stunt whenever she got her hands on something I wrote and she liked; that’s how I won a couple more prizes in various writing contests for kids my age and that’s how I ended up accidentally writing occasional pieces for the school paper. Writing could help me if I let it, she made me understand. I didn’t have to take it too seriously, I didn’t have to make it into a career, I just had to allow it to be an outlet. That was my decision… unlike the various competitions she chose for me to enter unwillingly.

She was right, I later had to admit… everybody should have a hobby to sink into whenever they need to let go of everything. As for the life of the misunderstood teenager… well, there was more to it than I had initially imagined. Some of that lack of understanding and tolerance was not about forgetting or about not remembering it right. Some of it was nobody’s fault, neither the adults, nor the kids could be blamed for the incredibly fast paced life and for the way everything evolved beyond everybody’s perception.

I got my first taste of that bitter reality very early in my twenties, when a friend asked me to talk to his younger sister about sex… So many things had changed from social and technological points of view in less than 10 years, that nothing I had written down could have helped me with some of the scary question that perfectly average 13 year old had. I remembered it right and I remembered it all, yet the context was no longer the same. It wasn’t only about remembering, it was also about adapting what I knew to her context, if I wanted to convince the girl that she could and should be her own hero, first and foremost…

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Origin Story.

A Numbers Game

3What’s your number? There used to be a time when that was nothing but a harmless question, which was simply perceived as somebody wanting to know your phone number… does anybody still remember that? We moved on and the loaded question acquired much more controversial nuances. But all in all, it’s a numbers game from all points of view we soon got to learn it.

Just because we don’t buy a ticked, that doesn’t mean we’re not playing the lottery. Whether we like it or not, that’s what we do every second of our life and the prize varies, we’re often not even aware of what it is until it’s too late. Birthdays, anniversaries, age, addresses, time, history, biology, chemistry, genetics, health issues, income, financial and social status, living conditions, entertainment, family, friends, success and failure and so much more, life in general, it all comes down to numbers. They’re the foundation of everything we build, of all we desire and hope for, they’re also at the core of our greatest fears.

How many times, how many of us have wandered what the point of algebra was, back when we were children? Yet nowadays it often feels like 3x+4y+5z=happiness … and that’s only in the simplest of cases. Then there are those times when the equation gets blurry, endless, untouchable. So different numbers start to add up and the sum or the questions it might raise aren’t always pleasant or even bearable. How many drinks in order to relax and forget? How many pills in order to feel better, to feel nothing or to simply make it from one day to the next? How many zeros in that ideal bank account in order to feel safe? How many people in one’s life in order to feel important? How many victories against how many losses in order not to fall apart? And that’s only on a strictly personal level… There’s certainly a not at all glamorous side of this numbers game as well.

Perfection – in any subjective interpretation – also becomes a matter of numbers, be it in real life, aspirations or in art. Various numbers have defined idealised perfection over the ages, but more and more often we seem to strive for “the one”. We add all the numbers resulting from our expectations and we tend to somehow reach the one as the the only result. The one ideal person, the one perfect home, the one acceptable view on life… In case the one we find or manage to provide ourselves with turns out to be wrong, we start fiddling with all the variables in the equation, but we hardly ever accept that the solution might be something else but one. One failed “one” yields one brand new quest for a new “one”, hopefully the right “one”. Once the right “one” is found, we move on and try to get another one of those ones that we crave so badly. All too often, we believe anything that isn’t the “one” equals zero…

It’s a numbers game. It’s life. Few of those variables can be controlled, but if we manage to come up with our own numbers and set our own rules, we might even win the game once in a while. And doesn’t it feel nice when that happens, when our numbers are the winning ones…

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Numbers.

Imagining Adventure

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I drove past the sign and as the car was moving faster, I started feeling less restless. I had just stopped by the petrol station, I had a full tank and enough money in my purse to refuel once more. Things had definitely been worse for me at some point in the past, but I didn’t want to think about that. I left the town behind and I could just keep driving… But where?

Some people get antsy when spring arrives, it’s like the warm air defrosts their adventurous side; others get edgy when autumn or winter start imbuing the air with their specific fragrance. For me, it’s summer, early summer. It’s always been early summer. That’s the time of year when I become particularly restless… some might smirk and call that restlessness careless or even self-destructive. I couldn’t argue with them, it’s been known to happen…

This is the time when I feel a desperate need to shake everything up, to uproot my entire existence. This is the time when I fantasize about change, about complete change that I cause voluntarily by simply turning everything upside down and starting fresh. Am I still able to do that, I wonder? I don’t know anymore, but every early summer I feel like putting myself to that particular test. As I drive past the city limits, I can’t deny the urge to never come back. Perhaps I’ve lived here long. Perhaps I’ve gotten all there was to get out of this place. Perhaps it’s time for somewhere else, for something else. Perhaps it’s time to pull everything down so I could rebuild something entirely new.

While I’m still in town, I try to distract myself by focusing on the small things. Maybe I could focus this energy on adding something new rather than on starting new. I drive past a cyclist and I think, I could do that too, he seems to enjoy it. Yes, I could do that, but I hate cycling, I always have; that’s no fun for me. I want something else, something more adventurous, more thrilling. Mountain climbing perhaps? I’m not the mountain climbing type either. I’ve tried it many moons ago, I ticked it off the list and then got over it. I can’t say I hated it, but it didn’t suit me either. Once I proved myself I could do it, I moved on. None of those things are me, I crave some sort of adventure, not a reinvention of myself.

I know how to handle this sort of craving after all the times I’ve experienced it. I also know I’m not a pleasant person to be around when this sort of mood hits, so I try to stay away from those I care about. The truth is, the main reason why my adventure fantasies remain just that and I prevent them from materializing is the fact that nowadays I have something to lose. The truth is I don’t hate my life; I actually am aware of all the things I have to be grateful for… The truth is I also have people I care about, people I wouldn’t want to lose. Yet these restless thoughts I get every early summer make me envision and crave just that – a brand new existence, with brand new challenges, because it seems it’s in our blood to get bored, to stop appreciating, to take things and people for granted.

Driving back on a more scenic route, the way I always knew I would, I feel a bit calmer. I always know when I want to leave a place or a person for good and I generally manage to focus on the reasons I have to go back. But imagining how it might be to escape my own existence and build a new one is still something thrilling, something motivating, something I ultimately and selfishly don’t want to share with anybody else. It’s my adventure, after all.

However, there are pertinent compromise versions of it – I hear that’s what adults do… Hmmm… I know that part of my restlessness is the fact that I miss travelling. After a year of going back and forth almost on a monthly basis, after practically living in two countries at once, now I realize I miss it. In spite of all the difficulties, I grew to like it… or at least to get used to it so much and so fast, that apparently now I miss it, on top of everything else. So I know that some small travel adventure – be it locally or internationally – is a compromise I could very well live with and enjoy enough to calm down these early summer urges. There’s the adventure we dream about and then there’s the adventure we can afford to live with in real life…

I’m often told that people “my age” settle down and should be perfectly fine with living uneventful lives; and if I crave adventure, I should just spend a day on the beach without solar protection. Well, call me crazy, label me hopelessly immature, but once in a while I need more than that. And as long as I can offer myself at least a part of that which I want and need, I will do just that, regardless of the frowns it might bring on certain brows… who, I might add, have no business minding my business.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Adventure.

Forgetting What I Learnt

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The words and phrases are floating over me, trying to break free from a fog refusing to dissipate. There is a certain familiarity about the text, I should known what it’s all about. I knew it at a point… But I keep reading, pushing those feelings of disappointment and panic somewhere deep and far away in my mind.

That’s what happens when you promise to help… You’ve studied something like this at university, right? I had to say yes, I couldn’t have asked why he wanted to know before saying anything… Serves me right – live it, learnt it!

Hey, wait a moment, this isn’t the same categorization we were taught, what the hell are they talking about? Rather than going straight to the point, they just confuse everything… how’s a person who doesn’t know about it supposed to understand anything… oh wait, a few pages later they finally do it right… good thing I know what the story is, that saves a lot of time.

But that’s exactly it, I do know, I do remember! A sigh of relief… my memory is still what it used to be, it’s not failing me yet, the years haven’t changed me that much from that particular point of view. Yes, I can actually help with this, I won’t make a fool of myself, nor will I be a nuisance.

I may be able to jolt my memory, I may be able to piece together information that I’ve assimilated, but I would definitely be a lot more challenged if I had to learn it now than I used to be back then. Well, this is exactly what my friend is going through these days and I can’t say I envy him. We’re the same age and while we both got admitted to different universities after high school, life got in his way a lot worse than it did in mine, and he is only now working towards getting his degree.

We learn differently, he and I… and many of the things we had to learn, we learnt together, both when it came to academia and when it came to life and its struggles. I helped him understand algebra in middle school and I frightened him into learning the conjugation of French verbs in high school. I found it terribly annoying that many of my class mates took so long to understand what to me appeared simple things; but he could keep up with me, so making him see how easy everything was became fun.

So once again we go back to that routine, the one where we discuss the course material, because that way he remembers it a lot better. That’s how he learns. I, on the other hand, have always studied best on my own; group studying was a waste of time and it held me back. I had no problem studying efficiently while sunbathing on the beach, as long as I was left alone…

Here we are, once again… we spend a day and the better part of the night figuring out the course material I had studied too, although I attended a different university and took different courses. Sure, they labelled it differently for me, but it’s really the same dry, boring, theoretical stuff that I only managed to understand because I had a gifted professor who could create a context and challenging examples to get our attention… and apparently to help me remember something I hardly ever need to use. This might in fact be the first time I do…

That’s why I was worried when I thought I had forgotten everything… Not because I needed to remember it – I am aware of having forgotten a lot of useless things I studied and learnt mechanically – but because this had made sense at the time. I may have hated the theoretical side, but the applied part was great fun. And I always remember that which I have understood, that which has made sense, that which I could have even exemplify in an interesting way.

No, I am not good at forgetting. I have yet to learn how to do that. Just like this highlights of an irrelevant course, everything that I’ve learnt and experienced comes back to me one way or another, no matter how hard I try to not remember certain things. It’s exactly those instances I try to forget that have the bad habit of coming back to me exactly when I least expect it or want it. Good memory is an amazing asset… and it can be a tremendous liability as well. But once you’re used to having access to such a tool, no matter how challenging it might be to handle it, the mere thought of losing it is the kind of fear you still need to learn how to control.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Learning.

Jubilation in Small Pleasures

2The jasmine plant outside my window is trying to shake off heavy raindrops and my mind goes back to other jasmine imbued evenings and early summer storms. I open my windows widely because I want to breathe in the fresh air, the scent of rain and jasmine… because I want to feel the way I used to feel back then… because I wish I still liked the rain.

It was our thing, running in the rain, making a mess of ourselves and not caring about it… just laughing and running and screaming and letting go of all responsibility, fears and worries that made us so different from other adolescents. We never ran for shelter when summer storms were upon us, thunder and lightning made us feel free and invincible. If we weren’t already outside, together, leaning on each other when the rain started, then we knew we would inevitably meet in the nearest park. Everybody was running away… we were running towards… towards each other, towards the storms.

I wore high heels back then as well, I carefully did my hair and chose my outfits, but somehow it really didn’t matter what became of all those efforts. My hair was dripping wet, clothes were uncomfortably sticking to my body, rain water made my feet slip in my shoes or sandals, but none of that mattered. Torrential rain washed away all those thoughts and experiences burdening us, and although I didn’t know it back then, my friends and I were acting our age for a moment or two. That sort of underrated jubilation forges bonds able to resist time. I know that because even now I can still laugh and reminisce with one of those friends who used to run and laugh in the rain with me.

It takes something else to get that sort of happy squeal escape our lungs these days. It takes conquering new territories, discovering new places. It takes complex pleasures to trigger reactions, because we’re no longer able to allow the simple ones get to us – that would mean settling for too little, wouldn’t it?

Torrential rain means something else today. It’s getting annoyed about what it might do to my hair, to my leather jacket or to my silk dress, it’s running to my car, avoiding the puddles that might damage my cherished shoes. It’s worrying about all the dirt in the raindrops and doing my best to avoid them touching my skin. I suppose this is simply acting my age today.

But the scent of all those delicate jasmine flowers drags me to another time, to a different universe. Perhaps we’ll find the strength and courage to run out into the storm again, loving it rather than fearing it… After all, haven’t we found the strength to accomplish much more difficult tasks, to survive much more challenging situations? If I can still find reasons for jubilation in the innocent surprise of unexpected flowers, couldn’t I at least learn to tolerate the rain again?

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Jubilant.

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Apologies and Silence

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My grandmother was one of those persons who manage to transform silence into a guilt inducing, “think about what you’ve done wrong” ordeals that only a cherished adult can inflict on a child. Only later did I understand the manipulative power of such loaded silences and the fact that they were equally efficient weapons against any adult in the family, as they were not meant to keep in check only children. But this most efficient weapon backfired eventually – it was bound to happen after having been used so efficiently for a lifetime, even when it was not needed.

There are so many kinds of silence and they serve so many purposes, but it was primarily a means of attracting attention in my grandmother’s case. The punishment side of it was merely a bonus, I latter understood, after I had already given up on figuring out what I had done wrong in order to deserve the much dreaded silent treatment.

It always followed the same pattern: you got home and all of the sudden you were persona non grata, whose kind “hello” didn’t trigger a response anymore. Naturally, one tries to find out what they did to upset the dear old lady, and that was generally when one also gets the all too familiar, snappy “You know very well what you did wrong, and it’s too late to make it better now,” followed by a very disappointed, “I’m such a martyr” look.

Nobody ever knew what triggered the silence attack, because nobody ever did anything to deserve it. My grandmother was a very verbal, argumentative, bickering lady whenever a mistake had actually been perpetrated, whereas the silence was merely a way to become the centre of attention, to be consoled and cuddled, begged for unnecessary forgiveness, which she would eventually half-heartedly grant, after having had enough of somebody’s grovelling and little favours offered in exchange for her clemency.

But her strategy soon failed to produce the same results with me; logical thinking worked its magic, even if I was just a child: I hadn’t done anything wrong, I knew that for a fact, so why was I supposed to apologise and have imaginary remorse for never committed mistakes? Navigating through the tormenting guilt her unuttered words instilled in me in spite of all my logical thoughts, I discovered a completely new and precious side of silence: I could finally do my homework or read the books I liked without any interruption from my generally very curious, talkative and intrusive grandmother. Without knowing it, I had offended her silence; and I had consequently offended her, thus almost deserving my punishment.

Silence had turned against her, leaving her powerless, and that was when I learnt that the first one to talk lost the imaginary battle of wills between the two of us.Why would I have been the first to utter a word, when I was so quietly comfortable with all my books, while she was all of the sudden alone and in desperate need of a listener, of somebody with whom to share the latest gossip? So she would eventually enter my room like nothing had happened and start talking and talking and talking – we were friends again, all was forgotten.

Nevertheless, her strategy worked wonders with everybody else, including my grandfather, getting her everything she wanted, from that feeling of control and superiority to a nice leather bag, a trip to the mountains or whatever she felt entitled to receive from those around her. Yet I still cannot help wondering why they refused to see what lurked behind the silence of the old, but not often dear lady. Is it really easier to fall prey to this sort of manipulative silence than to confront it?

After all those years I became as talented at throwing silence in people’s face as my grandmother was – how else would I have defeated her, after all? Yes, I can master silence now, but I choose not to become a pitiful creature who uses it in order to get undeserved and unnecessary attention. Once you learn to be silent both in a positive and a negative way, you also learn how to break silence and transform otherwise uncomfortable moments into a source of genuine communication in this overly verbal, often unable to establish real connections era.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Apology.

A Time For Chance Encounters

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The car slows down and stops next to mine. We’re listening to the same radio station, I instantly realize, as our open windows allow for the warm wind, traffic noises and the same music to intertwine. I turn my head to the left, curious to see who else feels like listening to ‘80s songs today. Equally curious, the other driver looks to his right and just for a moment, through the dark tint of our sunglasses, our eyes meet. We exchange a quick, playful smile as our attention seems to switch back to the traffic. The light turns green, but we motion forward slowly even though ours are the first cars stopped at the traffic light.

Half smiling to myself, I scrutinize discretely while feeling scrutinized myself. He’s cute, he’s driving a great car and he’s younger than me. I know I don’t show my actual age and today I feel even younger, but it’s still flattering and amusing at the same time. I speed up a bit and so does he, keeping up with me.

It’s that time of year again… summer is in the air, it’s still mainly us, locals, so we still have the town to ourselves. First weekend this year when it really feels and looks like early summer and everybody’s enjoying the moment in their own way, it seems… From angry, aggressive, frustrated drives we become flirty drivers… at least for a few brief moments, until we get used to the summer routine and fall back on our jaded cynicism.

Nobody is in a hurry on such a day and it looks like many have taken their summer toys out for a spin, thoroughly enjoying them and showing them off. It’s fun to see 80’s music lover keeping close to my car even when I challenge him with a couple of unexpected turns. He’s played the game before, I see… But I must admit, today’s lazy traffic isn’t that tricky. As he passes my car and smiles at me once more, I can hear the same music. I catch myself inadvertently smiling and I effortlessly keep up with him for a couple of minutes and then pass him again. I’m a lady, he needs to chase after me, right?

I don’t normally drive with my window down, I simply switch on the AC. But even those of us, mere mortals, having to drive through life without a convertible, like to feel the wind messing up our hair once in a while. I don’t normally listen to that radio station either, but I’m restless today, I’m bored of the predictable, repetitive rhythms of the usual one and I don’t feel like playing something in particular either. I want to be surprised… And as I can hear the same music reverberating in the car next to mine at yet another traffic light, I realize the surprise is an entertaining one.

The car on my right is slowing down, waiting for me to do the same. As I don’t, he speeds up until he’s right next to me. While waiting patiently for pedestrians to cross, he points to the right, to the parking lot belonging to a trendy pub. They’ve gotten their umbrellas out and the terrace looks so inviting. I know they don’t play ‘80s music there… He still looks at me, his head tilted to the right, smiling crookedly and inquiringly. I smile back when the last of the pedestrians is on the other side of the street and I really have no excuse to be stopped there anymore. With a quick wave of my hand, I drive straight forward while he pulls over in the parking lot to the right. I can see him wave good bye as well. Then the street bends to the left and he disappears.

Yes, it’s that time of year again… when the sun brings out the best and the worst in us in this little corner of the world. It’s that time of year when the fun begins again, when it’s acceptable to be wild and young, no matter how old you are. This time of year, in other years, I would have stopped to have a drink with a cute stranger and see what chances a chance encounter stands to become more. Yet these days I keep driving, and not because of my age, but because I choose to. There are chance encounters and chance encounters… some of them serve as innocent reminders that the person we have in our life for the time being is one we have chosen, not one we have settled for, in lack of better options.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Chance Encounter.

Down To Earth Or Up In The Clouds

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As children, many of us are often told we can do anything and become whoever we want when we grow up. Then we start growing up. With every year that passes, more and more of those options are stricken off that imaginary list. We discover ourselves, we understand what doesn’t suit us, we figure out what we don’t want to or cannot do. Whether we like it or not, we learn that wanting something doesn’t necessarily mean we can find a way to get it, contrary to urban legends and positive thinking myths. Yet we keep going, we still plan ahead and we find new purposes every day, because the present and the past are not enough, we also need some sort of hope for the future we can hold on to.

The dreams may not be full of grandeur, our younger selves would have probably not even called them dreams, yet realistic expectations and the anticipation of something more, something new or at least something we have experienced, loved and want to relive is not something to ignore. But what happens if we’ve exhausted all the items on that imaginary list – either because we’ve accomplished them or because they will forever be out of reach – and we have nothing else to replace them with, what happens then?…

She really has nothing to look forward to, everything she ever hoped for is behind her now and she is not that old yet… The thought crossed my mind, while wondering how long the woman can go on about her cats. I looked at the phone once again – over half an hour since that conversation had started and it didn’t seem to come close to its end. As usual, she had no regard for other people’s needs or for their time. Had she paid as much attention to the people in her life as she did her cats, her marriage and her life in general would be so much better, I couldn’t help thinking…

Much like Icarus, she got too close to the sun. It had been a relatively quick and sweet ascent and she’s been in some sort of chaotic free-fall ever since, it dawned on me. Every time you thought she was about to hit the ground, you realized she can somehow avoid it – anything to avoid being down to earth, accepting the reality for what it was and dealing with it. Nothing could compare to that blinding, cruel, mesmerizing sun; nobody could compete with the sun. She couldn’t find a way to keep living up there, suspended above everybody else, looking down on a world inferior to her and her sun. She couldn’t duplicate the flight to perfection, that was a once in a lifetime experience. But she would not accept herself for who she was and what everyday life meant either, somehow avoiding to crash into reality at any cost.

The cost had proven to be rather high. There had been false suns and the pretence of flight, she had hope and dreams of getting back up there, above everything and superior to all, yet all those hopes and dreams inevitably dissolved into sad, hopeless, dreamless reality. She couldn’t have the sun and she couldn’t live up in the clouds, so nothing else mattered, nothing and nobody would be good enough. One by one, real, decent, accomplished people who loved her where pushed aside or torn apart because they were here, on earth, living real lives, with their amazingly nice, terribly bad and boringly neutral moments. None of them could ever offer her the height of the sky, a palace in the clouds, so they were clearly against her, a drain and a burden on her existence.

Her list was empty and she was determined to keep it empty. There was nothing she could have anymore, nothing great would happen to her again, because she didn’t consider anything or anyone real worth wanting. Her memories of the glamorous past were exaggerated and at times made up, and the beauty of sun didn’t make it less untouchable, but she wouldn’t hear of it.

I looked at the phone once more… almost an hour. Nonsensical cat stories, invalid complaints and constant self-pity left no room for any interest in others and their sad, happy or average existences. She may lead a sad life, but that doesn’t mean I have to do the same, even if I do try to make it better for her. So with one semi-transparent excuse, I’m back down to earth, breathing a sigh of relief. I know she’s pouting, but I also know this would not be our last conversation… because I am one of the very, very few people she’s got left. What can I say, it’s cloudy up there…

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Earth.

I’m Not One For Idols

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There was a time every year when those dreaded words had to be uttered… I knew it, yet they always snuck up on me. Some teachers have a twisted, malefic sense of humour, I thought to myself, contemplating again the necessity of writing yet another composition about the person I admired most / the person I wanted to be like when I grew up. Not only was having such an idol (sure, call it role model and that will make it so much better) mandatory in my school, but apparently it was highly necessary to write said person’s praises on regular basis.

What was wrong with figuring out who and what I became step by step, rather than set a pattern for myself and try to mould my personality accordingly, I wondered… What was so terrible about simply becoming myself, rather than endeavour to be somebody else? I was able to notice and focus on, maybe even obsess about people’s flaws from a very early age; wanting to be like somebody else meant voluntarily taking on those flaws which were often unacceptable, not only reproducing their admirable qualities. If you add the fact it was generally expected of girls to write about their mothers (grandmothers, aunts, older sisters were also acceptable options in a pinch) and for boys to choose their fathers as role models, the banal homework assignment became a veritable ordeal.

Hmmm… I certainly didn’t wish to grow up to become my mother (talk about one’s worse nightmare…), other female relatives were even less desirable options so I was left with imaginary characters and a vast variety of people I had never met, yet I was supposed to get a clear enough idea about who they were and want to emulate all their qualities and flaws. So a fictional character it would be – at least you knew what you were working with in that case.

I remember Scarlett O’Hara was one of my early choices. I had yet to read the book, but I had watched Gone With The Wind and I liked what I saw. I honestly think I could notice my teacher’s jaw drop as I was reading. I wasn’t even 10 and acting out that way was absolutely unacceptable, she informed me in an angry tone. I normally wrote so well, what had happened to me? I rather liked my composition and I had trouble understanding why slightly incoherent girls got better grades. “I love my mom a lot” was the only reason they had for wanting to be like their mothers; the truly profound ones also mentioned mommy being a very accomplished cook or having pretty hair.

The importance of saying what a person wants to hear, not what you really believe was one of the main things I learnt in school; therefore I instinctively learnt how to rebel against this tendency. I generally got very good grades, so I could afford to splurge once in a while and speak my mind in glorious, hilarious, at times even offensive ways. As for the “idol” composition, I remember a masterpiece detailing what I admired about a stray dog that bit me; there also was that piece about my mother, a “how not to” account…

As we go older, it became acceptable for movie stars, singers and public figures of all sorts to be what we aspired to become, but it didn’t make it any easier as far as I was concerned, so that particular assignment remained an opportunity for mockery and entertainment. Of course I preferred certain singers, I had favourite authors, I liked certain well-known people better than others, but the truth was I didn’t like to dig into their personal life, nor did I enjoy learning everything there was to know about them, the way it was presented and fed to the public. I generally separated the person from the artist – I may have enjoyed the art, but that didn’t mean I would also appreciate the artist that created it. So school presented me with another ordeal, the task of looking into authors’ (or any other relevant persons’ we studied about) background.

The dry list of years and events connected to various individuals bored me to death… until I understood there were more comprehensive and fun ways to learn about them. If you perceived them as characters, you could simply read their story and if you were lucky enough, you managed to find all sorts of juicy details that were not included in the boring synopsis provided by teachers. There was also a positive side to this not so amusing endeavour. Those titans became a lot less intimidating, they were in fact people just like us, with flaws and shortcomings, and their brilliant minds didn’t necessarily guarantee their happiness; even success and recognition were often out of reach during their lifetime. So there was hope for all of us… Unfortunately, once you got to learn more about the person, it became more difficult to respect the work.

I did admire people for various reasons, even if I didn’t necessarily like them entirely and I learnt to take bits and pieces from them, to value those features that made them great, to appreciate what they offered directly and indirectly. It was sometimes as simple as enjoying somebody’s music (of course, it didn’t hurt if the way they looked made your teenage hormones wild and your knees weak with emotion). Alas, I was not allowed to put up posters, damaging the paint was a big no-no, one set in stone by my grandmother. So one day she came home to find the furniture in my room and the door covered in posters of singers and bands I liked, adored or even barely tolerated.

She had only mentioned the walls, after all… and it had become a battle of wills. It had all started from the one poster I wanted to have and since she didn’t allow it, it became crucial for me to display all the posters I could get my hands on. I found the loophole in her rule and there was nothing to do but look mortified. She appealed to a higher court, but since my grandfather couldn’t care less about what I did with my room as long as nothing got broken, I won. A few weeks after having made my point, I took most of them down, careful not to damage the furniture, and only left the one I initially wanted. Jon Bon Jovi showed off his toned body to all my visitors. Unfortunately one afternoon I quietly entered my room to find my grandmother ogling the image with a certain indiscrete, hungry look you really don’t want to see in your grandmother’s eyes…

Years later I saw him live in a concert and the experience brought up so many mixed memories and feelings… It was amazing, that much I can say, a child’s dream that the adult made possible. I may have been fascinated by the man on the stage and by his voice, yet call me a narcissist, but I was also my own “idol” for a moment there as well…

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Admiration.

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3The beautiful thing about the abstract is that it leaves room for interpretation.

2“I wanted to use drawing and painting – since after all they were my weapons – to probe deeper and deeper, and to understand the world and people so as to make this knowledge freely available to all of us every day… Yes, I realize I fought like a real revolutionary with my painting.”

Pablo Picasso

3In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Abstract.

Driving Through The Fog

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The grey early evening seemed sticky and was threatening to liquefy in a matter of seconds. Yet somehow it felt like ashes would start pouring down instead of rain. A couple more minutes and I’d be home and cosy, closing the curtains on this depressing, dreary weather. Some good food, a nice cup of tea… oh, let’s be honest, a nice glass of wine is more like it.

My car slowed down and then stopped, together with all the other ones, before I became aware of the reason or even of the fact that it was happening. Instinct, force of habit, muscle memory, all of them combined and more, it’s what keeps us safe when driving while completely immersed in different thoughts. Well, not all of us… the line of red lights from stopped cars was leading to a set of different lights, blinking ones, piercing through the heavy fog. Not that again… now it’ll take forever…

I would normally see my building from where I was stopped, but on that fog I could barely distinguish those distorted lights blinking ahead. Nothing new, that bend in the road is yet again the scene of some incident. The visibility is terrible and even if they moved the crossing further down the road, that doesn’t stop people from using that exact place in order to get on the other side… of the street, of course. Many have lived in the area for a long time and changes of that sort are simply something they cannot accept – nothing can determine them to walk a few extra metres, even if that distance could be what separates life from death. If you live or work around here or if you simply have to drive down that street often enough, then you know better and you slow down, just in case someone decides to plunge right in front of your car without looking or thinking twice about it; but if you don’t, then you’d better have really good breaks… Nothing special really, there are so many spots of the sort in any big town, that you hardly think about it anymore.

Damn it, I should have stopped by that little pastry shop… an assortment of their delicious treats would be just right for the evening… after all, if this isn’t the weather for that kind of splurge, then what is? But we’re barely moving, it’s rather late already, by the time I manage to get back there, they’d be closed. Now I’m not going to be able to stop thinking about their chocolate cake all evening… and those éclairs, their so delicious and the choux is so light… I’d make it back there in time, but for this stupid traffic jam… Damn it, damn it, damn it!

Oh look… that must be the car… and that must be the person who tried to get on the other side of the street… Some people would normally get out of their cars for a better view of mundane drama. But nobody wants to be out in this weather, not even the few pedestrians can be bothered to slow down and take a closer look. Everybody’s in a hurry to get to whatever sheltered destination they’re heading to, so the paramedics can do their job undisturbed.

But maybe… let’s see… I close my eyes for a moment and review the contents of my kitchen cupboard. Yes, that’s it! I could make brownies tonight… the good ones, the really chocolaty ones. Do I have all the ingredients, do I have enough of everything? Maybe I’ve got the recipe on my phone as well, I can’t remember the exact quantities… I know I have it on the computer… no, no, it’s not on my phone… why would it be on my phone anyway? Oh well, I’ll see what’s what when I get home.

The old lady seems fine, she’s standing and chatting with the paramedics. She’ll probably get away with a few bruises and a good scare. Maybe she’ll cross the street somewhere safe from now on… Or maybe not – I know a few persons who have been through similar experiences, yet they haven’t learnt anything. Somehow it always comes down to blaming others for your own carelessness.

There’s the driver as well, leaning against her small car. I get the feeling that’s the only thing that prevents her from collapsing, that’s how terrified she looks. She’s about twenty and judging by the license plates on her car, she’s from another part of the country.

There’s really nothing to see. Slowly, one by one, the cars drive by the accident scene without paying too much attention. We’re jaded. We’re resilient. But above everything, we’re used to it. We live in a big town and such accidents are all too common. We’ve all seen much worse than this, most of us have witnessed car crashes and/or people being run over by cars at least once in our lives. See this sort of thing often enough and you’ll become immune; you have no other choice, if you don’t want to go insane.

The girl’s terrified face somehow got to me through the fog. The pedestrian wasn’t badly injured, the little car had no visible dent or broken bits, so she must have been driving slowly, carefully… I know the general tendency is to blame the driver, yet who was really to blame, who was the reckless one?… I remember how much I used to hate driving through that kind of weather. But after having done it enough times, I got used to it; I can’t say I particularly enjoy it, but I don’t mind it either. That’s just the way things are. I do remember how afraid I was, though… the same way I remember how I was afraid of running somebody over when I was learning how to drive. Each time I avoid hitting somebody who suddenly decides to run in the middle of the street for no apparent reason, right after that instant the danger has passed and my heart can start beating again, I remember that fear.

Some feelings and sensations are difficult to outgrow… so how come we’ve managed to outgrow our own instincts, our survival instincts? I’ve seen stray dogs looking left and right before crossing, or waiting at a traffic light for people to start walking first and only then would they also start crossing, convinced they were safe. Yet judging by the way some humans tend to simply throw themselves in front of moving vehicles without taking the slightest precaution, I can’t help but wonder why we imagine we’re such intelligent creatures.

They’re the ones driving, they can stop. They should be careful. I’ve heard this kind of statements more times than I can count or remember. I dug my nails deep into my mother’s arm once, preventing her from stepping in front of a car just because some unknown revelation made her believe the other side of the street would was better place to be. Very displeased with my actions, she noted that I bruised her arm by doing that – anyway, what was I trying to prove? The heap of metal driving her way would have hurt a lot worse, I thought. Well, they should have stopped, they should pay attention when driving and protect pedestrians. But what if they didn’t stop, what if they couldn’t have avoided you? Obviously it’s their fault – you’re not trying to blame me for crossing the street where I wasn’t allowed to, are you? – they are the ones driving. Would it hurt any less just because they were driving? Would you enjoy being an invalid better just because they were driving? Would rotting in a grave be more satisfying just because they were driving? I hated her that instant – she used to drive too, she knew what a difference a second can make and how difficult it is to avoid certain situations. If you care that little about your life and wellbeing, why do you expect anybody else to care more?

I decided not to go straight home – the brownies could wait a little bit longer. I drove through the fog for a while. We learn to bend our survival instincts to suit the risks we need to take on a daily basis. We also accept the metamorphosis of these instincts, the walls we need to build to protect our mind and soul in order to thrive. Metaphorically speaking, we are both road kill and daring drivers, sometimes both at the same time; we are aware of it and supposedly we know how far we can push the boundaries. So what’s the point when we decide we’re invincible on all plains? When and why do we decide it’s other people’s duty to protect us more than we are willing to protect ourselves? Somewhere, somehow, we decided it was acceptable to relinquish even that responsibility to ourselves, that it was acceptable to burden other people’s conscience with our own self-destruction.

I got back home none the wiser. I enjoyed the chocolaty brownies and life went on, the way it always does. I didn’t expect to find answers in the fog, but it was a good reminder to ask the questions – as long as I still ask myself certain questions, I feel grounded in reality.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Risk.

Dinner and Drinks

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I like to be spoiled once in a while… who doesn’t? It takes a lot to spoil a woman, many tend to believe… yet so many times it actually takes so little. When his idea of a long walk is going all the way from the door to that uncomfortable spot at the far end of the parking lot, but he suggests an afternoon walk in my favourite park, I know he’s only doing it for me. We walk a lot because I like it and I know he doesn’t mind it too badly if I’m there with him. Hours later we can collapse on comfy chairs on a terrace and spend some quality time with delicious cold drinks. That’s for both of us, just like all our late dinners.

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Food is one of the many joys of travelling and discovering local restaurants can be a small adventure in itself. From infuriating to enlightening, from disastrous to delicious, it’s rarely what you’d expect it to be, that much I’ve learnt. But after a long day of walking up and down a place you don’t know too well, after taking in as much as you can – museums, shops, shows – nice, cold drinks are just what a girl needs.

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Yes, small things can make a great difference, when you get the feeling someone has been listening and paying attention. What we tend to forget is that we can and need to be that ‘someone’ for ourselves and for the special persons in our life.

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We can treat ourselves to something delicious, even if that might be something as insignificant as homemade bread. As for the walk in the park… hmm… that might entail having to put up with another James Bond movie in return… Oh well, the things a girl will do for a man who spoils her 🙂 …

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Dinnertime.

Names and Identity

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A word gains magical depths when connected to an individual, to a personality – that’s the moment it becomes a name, it can open or close doors and it can shape destinies within the blink of an eye. In spite of all the instinctive prejudice and socially awkward situations certain names might trigger, we tend to make peace with these words, accepting them as part of who we are, but not necessarily as the best description of our identity. Ultimately representing notions we’ve imbued with traits of our character as adults, names will still occasionally haunt us with some of their hidden memories and undesired associations.

Paradoxically, it’s often not the given names that exert the greatest amount of pressure on a young person in search of their identity. It’s all the other words gaining name-like valences and all their implications which are often the most difficult to bear, especially for those still struggling to discover who they are and where they belong.

Years ago, on the first day of high school, I made an unexpected friend – we knew each other since kindergarten, we lived in the same area, but it was only that day that we bonded instantly, in spite of not having anything in common.We never became best friends, but an inertial type of connection kept us close throughout those four years.

Like so many teenagers, this friend of mine – let’s call her D – was terribly insecure and had various self-image issues, constantly lashing out against what she believed to be a world conspiring to hate and destroy her. I remember all her notebooks had her name on their cover and first page, except for one – and this was the one that I and another friend of ours started to dread. Whenever she had a bad day, we would receive the nameless notebook with the explicit request for us to write her something, preferably what we thought she was feeling (because she wasn’t able to express it, she’d occasionally mention).

She didn’t like reading books, but she loved it when we wrote her various quotations from authors she hadn’t heard of, especially if we added personal interpretations, which she would later assume as her own. She didn’t like to be told what to do, but she wanted us to write her what we thought her behaviour should be like, pointing out real or imaginary flaws, often becoming hysterical if we didn’t agree with her self-deprecating attitude. Other times she simply needed us to write whatever thoughts were going through our heads at a particular moment. She would read everything over and over again, her joy perceptible whenever she could find some similarity between our thoughts and her own – that meant she was on the right track, she could say she was just like us, and for a moment all her identity issues were solved. Her only contribution to the big book of teenage thoughts was the colourful scribbling of our names around the written fragments. Her name was absent.

She eventually found herself an identity, but to this day I wonder whether it was a real one or simply an assumed version meant to help her fit in a group. I was there when it happened. All it took was one rock concert and perhaps it was the music, perhaps it was the drinks we all had such easy access to, perhaps it was the surreal atmosphere, but by the end of the night D was no longer D, she was a convinced rocker. The following week brought a change in wardrobe and makeup aiming at expressing her newfound identity, the one described so much better by a word entailing her musical interest rather than her own name.

It didn’t take long for the other kinds to start referring to her as the rocker, rather than D, especially since there was another girl with the same name in the class. ‘Which D?’ was a question answered without too much thought or regard to personal feelings – there was ‘the cute one’, ‘the nice one’, ‘the hot one’ and there also was ‘the rocker’, ‘the crazy one’, ‘the bitch’… So many other words can become names without us even noticing it…

In her turn, D had no problem relinquishing her own interests in favour of those generally accepted as defining the social group she had joined. She still wanted us to be friends, in spite of my eclectic taste in music (much as I liked rock music, I enjoyed other genres as well, which disturbed her quite a bit), but all her future friends would be chosen strictly according to their musical preferences. She would still ask us to write various things in the big book of thoughts; but new names – those of her favourite rock bands – found their way in the nameless notebook as well, together with lyrics from their songs, which D would write from memory over and over again.

As time went by, those names and lyrics started to invade all her notebooks and textbooks, her desk, they were on the shirts she wore, on her backpack, on her jeans and often on her skin. She clearly didn’t pay that much attention to her own name and thoughts, but she needed those of others in order to define herself. She used to get upset when people referred to her by means of descriptive nouns, even when they weren’t offensive, but she saw nothing wrong in labelling everybody else with a series of rude, derogatory terms. The big notebook of other people’s thoughts started spreading over several volumes, but it never contained any personal expression of D’s own ideas.

After graduation, the feeble connection broke as suddenly as it had appeared. Other names got between us, names of people, names of universities, perhaps even some choice words she had addressed to me instead of my actual name. D continued her desperate search for herself in the names the abusive man she married calls her every day… and it makes me think that some of the saddest situations derive from those cases when names are merely a façade for despair and insecurity, when there is no real personal identity behind them.

In response to WordPress Discover Challenge – Identity.

Giving the Past a Future

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“Can you tell where the cracks were?”

Yes, I could. He had a keen eye for detail and unfortunately, so did I… But I knew there was only one right answer to his question. The piece of furniture had been beautifully restored, yet at a very close glance, you could tell what some of the most damaged spots had been. I knew he could tell, I knew he knew I could tell as well, so why was it so important to him for me to ignore the previous flaws? After all, he had done such a great job reconditioning the old nightstand… But I knew why, just as I knew I could work my way around that answer, if I wanted to be kind and compassionate to him.

“Not in this light… it looks great,” and that wasn’t a lie – it did look great.

We initially bonded over a somewhat shared interest for fixing things and an entirely shared love for shoes. No matter how badly we disagreed with each other or how great the gap between us would become over the years, those shared passions would always be our safe space, our common ground.

The first times he asked me that question I answered without hesitation and promptly proceeded to point out each and every little fixed problem I could spot. I thought he would appreciate my attention and interest in his work; instead he seemed angry and cold. He pointed out a few more marks I hadn’t gotten around to noticing and then he moved on to some impersonal topic. Every time, the same reaction… well, if you can’t handle an honest answer, why bother asking the question in the first place? Why such a childish cry for validation from a man his age? But then I got to know him…

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Furniture restoration was his hobby, I had been told. In fact, it was so much more than that… He was truly talented and for a while, he really enjoyed doing it for a living (if you ask me, he would be a much happier person today if he hadn’t given it up; but nobody asked me, so…). But that had been in a rather distant past; the future of that past transformed the results of his talent into a hobby and a slightly touchy subject.

A great part of their furniture has been rescued and then patiently refurbished by him. The older, more deteriorated a piece of furniture was, the more stubbornly he would insist on saving it and restoring its past glory. Friends would bring him old pieces they no longer needed or wanted and he would carefully and patiently turn them into beautiful objects again. An antique mirror frame was the first item we ever discussed, my smug remarks igniting his anger. As I later learned, it had been broken into more bits than I was able to count on the restored version and a friend of his was taking it to the bin when he got his hands on it. To everybody else, it was a heap of rubbish; to him it had the potential of becoming beautiful again. It took him a long time, but he eventually devised ways of putting all the bits back into place and holding them together. It had a brand new life ahead.

He liked to show me how he went about fixing all the flaws, the small ones and those that appeared to be beyond repair alike. I had fun learning some simple techniques that I would later try myself. He wasn’t trying to hide the damage caused by time and by intentional or unintentional human error. It was important for him to know that the final result, the present version was appreciated for what it is and not judged for the sad state it had been in for a certain period of time. Once he was convinced of it, he had no problem talking about all the damage he had fixed, no matter who was pointing it out during the conversation.

He was like his furniture, I slowly discovered. Was he aware of it? Will he ever be aware of it? I doubt the future is able to bring any more answers than the past did concerning these questions. He put himself together and repaired his damaged being with the same patience he had when restoring sad, beyond repair furniture. He disclosed his past and his healed scars the same way he always talked about putting together broken bits of wood and covering the cracks – with a mixture of pride and shame, sometimes with anger referring to stupid mistakes, other times with sadness, thinking about unavoidable incidents.

I knew there was only one right answer in that case, because he deserved a caring answer, in spite of everything else. Once we finished going through all the details of the repair work the broken nightstand had required, he could pack it carefully and take it back to his mother’s place. For better or worse, he had managed to fix the damage caused by the past and instil future life in that piece of furniture. But who can tell how long it will take until it – until he – will fall apart again?…

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Future – This week, share an image that represents the potential of things to come.

The Typewriter

 

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The computer is resting casually on my knees – ubiquitous part of a calm, quiet afternoon at home; but once in a while my glance wonders off to the old typewriter… Oddly enough, the object belonging to such different times doesn’t make for a strange anachronism.

I wanted to take it apart as a child, even before I could read, that’s the first memory I have of the typewriter which had to be stored out of my reach, on the top shelf or in a hidden corner. Even if the characters it produced made no sense to me at that time, once I understood what it was used for, I immediately concluded it held the mystery of all the books I pestered my grandmother to read to me. She was the keeper of that great skill that allowed her to magically transform the gibberish on the page into words, into mesmerizing stories, but she didn’t feel like sharing this gift with me as much as I would have liked her to. So it only made sense that once I solved the puzzle of the typewriter – by taking it apart, of course – everything else would fall into place and I would learn all the secretes of those books my grandmother refused to read.

What can I say, the oddest of things can make sense to a child… My grandfather was the one to put an end to my destructive impulses, showing me that the typewriter is the source of new mysteries and in no way the solution to understanding the already existing ones, enclosed between book covers. Once in a while he’d write lectures, speeches or even some fairy-tales he had made up for me and those were the moments when I sat on his knees, while he typed and uttered the words out loud, so I’d know what the mystery maker was compiling. My grandmother rolled her eyes disapprovingly at what she considered to be a boring, useless activity, but I was fascinated by the eloquent discourse and the clicking of the keys.

It was a time auspicious for fast, radical changes and much like the typewriter, my grandfather became obsolete, lost and irrelevant after his retirement, losing his identity in the blink of an eye. The old and noisy typewriter would make itself heard occasionally, as it was trotted out for him to relive the glory of long forgotten days. But much like him, the mystery maker had lost its power and nobody would ever listen to the somewhat nonsensical words filling the pages that my grandmother would immediately deposit in the bin, muttering about wasted time and noisy typing devices.

But the old man would never accept that his trusty companion was no longer of use to anybody, having become the laughingstock of the contemporary world. He was dead set on reaffirming the relevance of the old device which had survived decades of changes, happiness and misery. So it became a habit for him to type invitations to all sorts of family events, invitations which my grandmother would surreptitiously throw out, telling him she had mailed them. It worked out fine, until one day when he decided to mail the invitations himself, thus offending his wife’s sensibilities. The infamous typewriter was immediately stored away in some obscure corner of the house – much like when I was child – and he was told it had suffered a bad fall and was no longer functional. The old man muttered for days. Much like everything else that accompanied him along his sinuous path to success, defining who he had once been, the typewriter had been suddenly taken away from him, without any possibility to be redeemed, because he no longer had the energy to fight for it.

I wasn’t quite sure why, but when I left for university I felt that the old typewriter had to go with me. Several years passed before it saw the light of day again, I had actually forgotten I had it. But it was such a pleasant surprise to eventually rediscover this childhood relic! From that moment on, it could finally live its retirement days in peace, in its own corner amongst old books and photo albums, receiving the appreciation and respect it always deserved.

“It gathers dust, but it looks very cute,” my mother very pragmatically noticed when she saw it. That may be the case, but the retired typewriter is so much more! It lives as a constant reminder that there still are instances when dreams come true and some persons can shape and control their destiny, reaching the peaks of success and achieving the goals they set for themselves. Yet life has a perverted sense of balance – or perhaps a sense of humour – pushing the same persons into the abyss without any warning. And there are cases when no amount of caution can save them. All we can do is enjoy our personal moments of glory and do our best to type a happier sequel to our sad stories of despair.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Memory.

Poetry of Spring

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“Could you tell me how to get my poems published?”

The guttural, insecure voice made us all turn our heads. Had he really asked that? We stopped staring at the clear spring sky through large, unwashed windows, we stopped wishing we could be somewhere outside, taking in all that warmth and freshness.

She was taken aback as well. She paused, holding a book and some papers with handwritten notes up in the air, halfway from her bag to the massive desk. Had she not been one of our favourite professors, most of us would have taken advantage of one of the first beautiful spring days instead of being there, in that stuffy room, counting the many, many minutes… That woman was never at a loss for words. She had written several books, she had read more then all of us together and we had yet to find a question about art, culture, politics, travel or education that she couldn’t answer. On top of everything, she was in her early thirties, attractive, had a great sense of humour, an amazing fashion style and a career most of her peers envied, having taught in a variety of universities abroad. What can I say, those of us who didn’t want to be her, wanted to be with her… Yet she was silenced for a second by his unexpected question.

“Do you write poetry?”

That was the question on our lips too, but she was the one to voice it. He grunted some kind of affirmative answer. Most of us were already jaded; shocking situations didn’t always shock us, but somehow the thought that he could and would write poetry was unimaginable. The kid who could hardly express himself coherently was writing poetry? The kid who often stopped our professors in the middle of their discourse to ask them what this or that rather common word meant or how to spell them, was writing poetry? The same professors who strived to allow us our creativity and freedom of expression, thus overlooking occasional mistakes, had their patience tested whenever he was the one speaking. But this was the guy writing poetry… By that time we were aware of each other’s intellectual ability and we often wondered how and why he was a student. He failed to understand simple facts and assignments, he lacked creativity and he only managed not to fail all his exams because he studied like a maniac all these things that made no sense to him. But now he was informing us that he wanted to be a published poet…

Envisioning him as a poet made us cringe. Weird didn’t begin to describe him – in fact, we were all somewhat weird in our own way, so weird was the norm. He was something else. He wasn’t simply different, he was “naked under the trench coat, exposing himself to girls on the street” strange. In truth, after getting to know him a little bit, we learnt to stay away. It wasn’t just that we didn’t like him. The girls feared him; the boys were tired to listen to his obscene stories of how he had been with all the girls, when everybody could tell they were just all too detailed accounts of porn he had been watching. He had amazing, non-discriminative stalking capabilities. As a girl, if you were at all nice to him – and by that I mean answer his Hello – you were bound to find him loitering on your street for no good reason, until someone else took your place in his heart. As a guy, he would obsessively try to convince you to include him in a “guys’ night”. On top of everything, his poor personal hygiene certainly didn’t do him any favours… But he was writing poetry…

Our professor provided him with names and addresses of several literary magazines where he could submit his poems. She praised anyone who had the courage to write poetry or fiction in general and subject their work to the public eye, as she didn’t believe she could bear the unavoidable negative critic. (None of her books were works of fiction; but she was an astute literary critic, who knew exactly how a writer is judged.) No, she was sorry, but she couldn’t read his poems; however, she could recommend some reading circles, if he was interested. But she was the one we felt sorry for – he relentlessly followed her around the university until the end of the semester and she soon became the protagonist of his disturbingly pornographic accounts.

As he ran after her to ask who knows what, we couldn’t help ourselves… we had to take a look and find out what sort of poetry he wrote. It didn’t improve our opinion of him – he was delusional, just like in so many other respects…

But he thought himself a poet and that’s all that mattered. After all, who can really tell what person hides behind a poem? In a way, we wanted to find that his poetry was something we could appreciate. In a way, we hoped his poetry could change the way we perceived him. In a way, we wished he had something that prevented him from turning into the monster we feared he might become…

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:–
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

William Wordsworth – Lines Written in Early Spring

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Half Light – Share a photo inspired by a poem, verse, song lyric or story. 

Celebrate Poetry

“By paying tribute to the men and women whose only instrument is free speech, who imagine and act, UNESCO recognizes in poetry its value as a symbol of the human spirit’s creativity. By giving form and words to that which has none – such as the unfathomable beauty that surrounds us, the immense suffering and misery of the world – poetry contributes to the expansion of our common humanity, helping to increase its strength, solidarity and self-awareness.”

Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

We owe a debt of gratitude to all those beautiful people who have to willingness and ability to turn words into art when expressing their thoughts though poetry. They enrich our lives, they stimulate our creative side and they open our souls to culture, empathy and sympathy. The least we can do is read a poem today and appreciate the struggle behind the words!

Just Dance

No story to go with this one… No trip down memory lane… I’m taking this challenge literally. 🙂 Just dance!

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Dancing lights, dancing souls…

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Dancers and audience become one. Feel the rhythm 🙂

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One can dance to one’s own beat. Just dance like no one’s watching 😉

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Dance like there’s not tomorrow!

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In response to the Wordpress Weekly Photo Challenge: Dance.

One Love… Or More?

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“Forever desiring, forever weary of his conquests like the great trickster of Seville, he always subjected himself to just a single woman, only to liberate himself from her through his works.”

Brassaï about Picasso

So many ways types of love and so many occasions to experience them, if only we allow feelings to flourish… Each of us perceives love (in all its shapes and sizes) in their own personal way and it’s certainly too subjective a matter in order to be boxed in or limited by fixed, blind rules. But one general assumption might just be true for all of us: no two loves are the same, regardless of whether we refer to romance, family, friends, people we may not even have met, or to things, jobs, pleasurable activities that embellish our lives in various ways.

It might not last forever, but each and every love we have experienced leaves a mark, it changes us, it becomes a part of who we are. It is a growing and a learning experience at the same time, even in those (many) cases when the dénouement is anything but positive or when it has proven to be painful rather than pleasant. It might leave us broken, but as long as we manage to put together the pieces, we often emerge stronger, with a clearer view of who we are and what we need. And it’s in those situations when we reach out to those other kinds of love that we hopefully have in our lives, relying on them for support we may not even know we need.

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There are certainly more than one love related myths out there and aside from allowing us to hope and dream, they also set us up for disappointment, fostering unreachable standards and expectations, often blocking our perception of reality and true value. It’s funny how something that’s supposed to make us so happy actually frustrates us and makes us miserable because it doesn’t fit the pre-set pattern. Apparently we sometimes are so desperate to make ourselves feel inadequate by comparison to those untouchable ideals, that the already existing myths are not enough, we constantly come up with new examples of how love (any kind of love) should be in a perfect dimension… we even idealize examples from the animal kingdom…

Let’s be honest, even that generally considered a romantic symbol of monogamous, perfect couple is just that: an image, not reality. Yes, apparently sometimes not even swans mate for life, nor do they have a perfect couple life. They occasionally ‘divorce’ an unsuitable partner, they sometimes cheat on their significant other and they do look for a new mate in case the first one dies. Fun fact – it seems the black Australian swans are the friskiest of them all, on average one out of seven eggs is the result of an ‘extramarital’ affair. Sure, they have good reasons to behave this way; yet even when their couple life is successful, it’s not so much because of love or great romance, but because they’re practical creatures – they’re stronger together and they stand a much better chance to survive and thrive. Hmm… that sounds somewhat familiar…. 🙂

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So why not make love a personal experience, one that suits who we are, what we believe and what we need? That could prove to be so much more constructive than judging and labelling ourselves and those around…

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: One Love.