manifesto.

This year I’m going to put practice first.

This year I’m going to put practice first and do less. I’m going to do less and say “no” to things I don’t really believe in. I’m going to take time off and do activities for the sake of it.

This year I’m going to step down the career ladder and step away from the screen. I’m going to read less news and more fiction and begin to imagine again. I’m going to start dreaming once more and rebuild optimism, for pessimism has no future.

This year I will mark my successes and gloat when appropriate. I will change my name on my bank cards to “Dr” and not feel like its trivial. I will look at the final version of my PhD on my shelf and wonder what else I can create and achieve. I will think too about how to detach from the need to prove myself in academic pursuits.

This year I’m going to stop lamenting the dispersion of friends that were once so close and have faith that connections can bear the distance. I’m going to stop feeling nostalgic for a recent past where I remember living life less carefully, and where emotions felt heightened and bigger. I will remind myself that the confusion of not knowing what you want was never exciting and desire reciprocated is always better than unrequited.

This year I will put practice first. I will work to re-establish practice as my centre, my fetish, to secure order in the pending days of little money and little jobs and little that feels like home. I will dream of travelling to new places, learning new languages and becoming new.

I will find spaces within myself to give time and energy to those who need it and love the best that I can without giving myself away. This year I will put practice first and carve out something small but beautiful, starting with a few words here, in the hope that I will see the world again in light and not only darkness.

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Like Crazy.

Lana gets it.
Lana gets it.

It’s hard to say why some of us end up being the outsider. Sometimes you find people just tell you: ‘You’re weird’, ‘You’re not like everyone else’. But I wasn’t even trying, you think.

Discovering you are the odd one out can be a tiring, lengthy process that involves moments of social failure, bad performances and necessary isolation. It takes time to realise the difference in recognising you might be crazy and the later recognition that that crazy is not going to change. Being labelled ‘weird’ at school is fine so long as you learn to conform in time. But if you don’t, if you do things like read far too much, love far too much, or start a yoga practice (because we know yoga ruins your life); then you have to start to get used to life on the edges.

Being the crazy one serves an important societal function by reaffirming the blandness of the rest. Being the crazy one can also be entertaining in causing people discomfort when you choose to not adhere to the appropriate rules of the situation; if you do things at the wrong age, if you don’t have an investment account, if (as a woman) you don’t have a partner or you don’t want children, or if your life is sort of crumbling apart all the time and you don’t really mind.

We’re not the detached ones, we just far too fascinated by living to waste it becoming X-Factor watching machines. Sometimes we make no sense, we constantly interrupt the self-conscious account of ourselves, and it gets messy and we say the wrong things and we want to do it all over again. But we can’t because you were just born this way and for whatever reason the events in your life impressed on you in such a way that it can’t be undone. But we come undone all the time, we give ourselves over to the other all the time because the boundaries of life and death are always so thin living out on the edges; a constant awareness of the fragility and contingency of life means making risky choices, travelling across the world for adventures and falling into inappropriate encounters.

It might mean being greedy and idealistic and loving the wrong people, and seeing things the way others don’t. It means not really belonging to anyone or anything except the idea, the ideas that fuel you. It’s being the other woman, the one that got away, and falling for the one who never quite got it. It’s being a bad investment, scary and threatening; it’s never quite being the same thing one day to the next. It’s always seeking that place a little bit outside ourselves, either in a foreign landscape, the bottom of a wine glass, on the yoga mat, or inside the mind of another. It’s feeling people too much and never quite keeping enough of yourself to really know who you are. It’s laying yourself bare with no guarantees, it’s investing desires and dreams but never knowing where they will go, it’s about losing everything and your self over and over again.

Living on the edge of crazy is never easy, it can get exhausting and overwhelming out here. But it will be realer, it will be the realest thing you ever tasted.

what I wish I could say.

If I can fit the pieces of this self together at all, I don’t want them to be the way they were. Not because I thought I could be better defended either: what I wanted was to be realer. – Eve Sedgwick, ‘A dialogue on love.’

I’ve found it hard to get outside the door recently.

So I’ve been spending days in bed, morning practice, then reading – intermittent – staring at the clouds, idea-having. My supervisor tells me: ‘Because what you are going to do is make a significant contribution to theory’. Curled in sheets scattered in croissant crumbs it feels unlikely. Is this how all masterpieces were born? In solitude – emotional insulation – slacking off the formal university occasions. Am I a philosopher now? Wow, thanks. Surely I wasn’t trying.

But I have been watching lots of programmes about hoarders. Now hoarders understand, that need to hide oneself away, literally with objects, a house so full there is no space to move, to breathe. Its almost a regression back to the womb, a safe place, a clear barrier between the self and the troubling world out there. What is interesting is how loss lies at the centre of many hoarding stories. ‘Well it started just after he died…’ When we lose space opens up. And what do we fill it with? The habit is chosen seemingly arbitrarily, by circumstance or chance. To hoard is perhaps the act of filling space at its most literal expression; and yet the aim is the same; to bury oneself alive, to no longer be. The over-eater, the bulimic, the addict, the alcoholic, often seen as the ailments of the greedy, but is it not rather a matter of feeling unbearably empty. It’s not greed when you never manage to fill that space.

“I was looking for something to fill that void inside”, sometimes this statement is said in regards to a yoga practice. Nothing else worked, so says Russell Brand. Oh and he tried. And don’t we all want to return to the womb, to reach that point of non-existence, to momentarily shed the tiring fact of being. This is not to ‘be in the moment’ as the adopted mantra goes. It is more an awareness without thought. After all it’s not a coincidence that it is only in the yoga practice room where I don’t feel the anxiety.

But it’s hard, hard to remember that some people don’t have death as the centre of the way they live – but nor do they have life – they just have fear of both. Fear is it own fortress. And yeah yoga helps. But you won’t find any anecdotes here. Though here’s a funny story. I represent a pretty successful recovery story. Parents dead by age 15 and an eating disorder for a good 7-8 years or so. Ask me how I recovered, and I have no idea.

Thinking in spaces makes more sense. Both in the way spaces close up and empty out depending on the people we have in our life and who we lose. When the space gets too large, feels irreplaceable, we might take up strategies to fill up that space, and those strategies might create their own problems, like burying ourselves alive, or destroying our insides. But sometimes that same space is comforting, its a cushioning, we can reclaim it as our own. And then there’s the people we allow into our spaces. I recall the comment of a customer I once served, “You become like the five people you spend the most time with”. I spent many years of my life closing off my spaces. And the people that occupied my space were critical and negative, “You need to open up more”, “Why are you wasting time going to India”. This helps no one. If I was to attempt any form of recovery story it is this; move out of the spaces that don’t serve you. This happens both through simply picking up and leaving, as well as opening up the spaces for newness to enter in. For me this resulted in meeting people who supported me for who I was. And yeah yoga, that stuff helps. Especially with opening the heart chakra.

I have a wise friend (he is younger than me but ah well) who used to tell me I hadn’t yet come to the realisation of being the odd one out. “Only then will you be free” he advised. But I have! I am free! I would cry. But I still spent so much time being disappointed, carrying expectations of the world, of people. I thought the only way out was to somehow transform, to let go of everything; and then there was the pressure to figure it out, and quick. But somewhere along the line, say a couple months into my stay in India, I started to lose my fear. It coincided no doubt with the time I fell ill. And no this sure as hell wasn’t any spiritual awakening. It was more a moment where I stared at the ceiling and the fan spinning above my head and thought “I feel like I’m going to die. No-one is coming to save me. And I don’t care”.

Sometimes the boundaries of the self, life and death blur so much you get a sense that living as the odd one out is really not a big deal because, and this is my deep realisation, we are all human and we all die, and who cares about the rest of the stuff, like the chase to ‘be’ someone, or going up the career ladder, or getting a mortgage. Running away is not running away, it’s the search for better ways to live. It’s creating a life for yourself where you can experience all you want to experience. It might mean being a little crazy. And as for the things that do matter, well they lie in the moments you encounter along the way, they are the people you love, and they are all the things I wish I could say.

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sort of inspired by Rashmi Munkempanna’s work: What I Wish I could Say. And she is based in Mysore.

ugly feelings.

Something happened to me at the start of the year, but it’s been too close to talk about. But let’s leave that for a moment because I love to watch Korean soap operas and I’m gonna tell you why.

The narrative of the Korean soap opera goes something like this: plucky female heroine, unconventionally beautiful, poor family background, unsuccessful career, meets handsome, rich, egotistical man with burgeoning career and father issues. On meeting they dislike each other and argue profusely for the whole 16 or so episodes, all the while trying not to admit they are in love with one another, culminating in heartbreaking scenes like this (Info about the clip: they weren’t really married – another great thing about Korean soap operas is the often preposterous story lines):

Who loves someone for so long without respite, without return? This is love gone ugly. How long is too long? A couple months, 6 months, a year.

This is not about patience, this is a gesture that reads: even when I know you are not coming, I’m still waiting. This is a situation of suspended agency sustained by ambivalence. Ambivalence is not calm or linear or cathartic or moral, it offers no satisfaction or release, it bubbles away persistent, no object to direct it, no recovery in sight. And so the feelings of a love frustrated become ugly not transformative or magical. It interferes and obstructs, the single self-determining self is suspended indefinitely, and the love frustrated fills the environment, fills the space between the self and the other, its everywhere, huge but pitiful. It’s characterized by it’s flatness (lack of events) and yet expectant (hopeful for that one moment).

Anxiety is a negative affect that emerges at the emptying out of the imagination. When everything becomes equivocal, anxiety floods to fill the space, that terrifying space of non-signifiers, of the meaningless, the death of the imagination. Anxiety becomes a way of clinging on, compulsive habits give a structure in the horrifying swirl of what is not in the desperate attempt to stop the self-unraveling.

Anxiety is a restless undramatic signifier that says: something is not working. But the ambivalence arrives because as we know, it is awkward and troubling to detach from what is not working. Expectant emotions weigh heavily and colour in a picture of a life that could be lived. The anxiety can subsume to a baseline irritation, perhaps after being smothered by the chosen antidote, and the niggling fears and anxiety become minor and reabsorbed once again into the system of failed relations that produced them. Irritation becomes useful and functional when it adopts new objects of self-improvement and dancing on one’s own.

In the world of Korean dramas the two protagonists end up happily together. The waiting is finally provided with an endpoint. The flatness is filled with shapes and events and the love is recognised in one another and no longer shameful and ugly. It is beautiful and blossoming.

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I have played with Sianne Ngai’s idea of ‘ugly feelings’ from her remarkable book Ugly Feelings (2005), Havard University Press.

I’m wide awake.

The thing about growing older is the realization that the dream of finally living life, of becoming a ‘real’ person is only that, a dream. It’s the devastating realization that the life you are living right now is all there is and that you are no longer secluded by that childish voice that declares: ‘When I grow up I’m going to be…’ You’ve grown, you’ve lived; the surprises peter out from here.

And each day comes round no matter how distant they appear at first, a year seems such a long and beautiful or dreary stretch as a child. A year now is too soon and too quick and too easily forgotten. A year has to be tied to a meaning, a purpose, it has to be collated with activities. What did you do to clutter your days? And what of the days, weeks, years forgotten, for if we cannot remember our lives, we are stuck in the continual present of active forgetting. We do things in order to remember them or write them or capture them in art and elevate them from the day-to-day drabness.

Growing older is a continual loss of all the persons you could have been and all the things that could have happened. It is a process of collecting efforts and successes filled with hard work and varied encounters and lots of nothingness and loneliness and failures and happy accidents. It’s happening upon unhappy events and wandering through them and being changed or chipped away by some indescribable forces like loss and grief and friendships and relationships that fall apart. It’s sitting at a table on your 28th birthday surrounded by beautiful faces you never even knew existed a year previous to that day. It’s seeing a life a year at a time instead of daily, and reflecting on whether you lived up to the expectations of your age. It’s wondering why I feel so childish and naive and innocent at an age where I should feel experienced and skillful. But it’s also about being able to confidently say what you mean and losing the irrational insecurities of youth. It’s an incomprehension of girly fixations on weight or looks and beauty and seeing the fleeting and empty nature of it all. It is feeling ambivalent about the prospect of losing looks which you feel you have yet to be rewarded for.

It’s thinking about what really matters. It’s thinking about what makes a good life. It’s the heavy beating heart that keeps me awake at night and the object in my eye-line. It’s not about feeling good but it is about desire and unwrapped sensuality. It’s about love but not obligatory love for the self or the body. It’s a journey home filled with love and happiness that feels both too much and not enough.

It’s about choosing to perform what is considered a normal life and trying to make that meaningful or a radical rejection of what is already not working. It’s about building ways of living outside the dream of the ‘good life’ that are not hopeless. It’s about never getting ‘back on track’. It’s about exploring unbeaten terrain. It’s about ways of living that are inappropriate and happy failures. There’s no self-realisation or rebirth or new identities or other temporary cages. There’s only the finite and the haphazard search for a life worth living.

notes from the white city.

I.

We’re in the middle of nowhere and we’re lost. We’ve been looking for the lost souls. After turning the corner from the McCafe we sunk into silent roads and estranged surburbia. The locals peer at my snow covered faux fur and red-chilled cheeks. Inappropriate shoes wade through untread depths. The journey gets odder with each twist. The train to the end of the line, the tram to the end of the line. We’re at the boundaries, walking without signposts.  And then, a sign points through an assortment of factories. Individuals abandoned to obscurity, no glamour, no fanfare. Death collected in a little field. I sat in the snow, wearing black in my mourning.

II.

It’s approaching midnight and I’m tap-dancing outside Cafe Central. The courtyard is empty save for the few pairings that meander through the night. The snow is heaped at the side of the road and glistens under the street lights. The cobbles shiny, the buildings grand; a deconstructed kind of romantic. Love is a kind of madness they tell me. My gut is resisting. This form of happiness is wearing. At midnight, I’m alone and the words ring in my head: I love you, I love you, oh brother of mine.

III.

Rot wein, bier und whisky. Kaffee Alt Wein, Kleines, Ich liebe dich. The boy with the long greasy hair lights another cigarette and he is beautiful. In different wor(l)ds everything is enticing  Groups of youth sit around the big tables over tankards reveling in debate and laughter and good food. The walls are lined with posters. One picture catches my eye, a female figure. She is nude and distorted.

IV.

In the day we see galleries of naked men. ‘Cock and Jeans’ the title reads. In another photograph the cock rests in a pint glass full of beer. Children walk past me indifferent as I muffle my giggles.

Each night I dream of rape, uncomfortable sex, nudity. A furious desire to feel. It shivers my bones.

V.

It’s so quiet I can hear my soul creaking. The morning is raw but nothing stirs the slumber except the melange und apfelstrudl. I feel something dark and powerful inside. We’re constantly in translation. Without language, the landscape is terrifying and nothingness. To cling to my self I remember to note all the things I have lost.