It’s my first time. Half of my motionless body rests inside the white, clinical, cylindrical machine, in my head resembling an intergalactic coffin. I feel an itch, but I have to resist moving. I want to cough, to sneeze, to yawn, ugh, of course, at the most inopportune moments, for no reason I have to, and I have to keep it under control and be still. My legs are too tense, my lower body feels heavy. I am mentally calm. But my body wants permission to move. Since this is just a brain scan, I try to make a slight leg movement, but it feels like trying to lift an anchor. My mind keeps freezing. There is the buzz. It’s getting louder. And stranger. Then the clanking. The whirring. Suddenly thoughts of the few MRI safety incidents and fatalities I’ve read about vaguely infiltrate my mind in a weirdly serene way. I should have double-checked there is definitely no metal anywhere in or around this room. Oh come on, when something like this enters my mind, I think – what are the odds? and what is the point of obsessing over the odds?- and the thought melts away. I can remember basic aspects about my life, but there is something peculiar about this eerily cold, sterile room, this atmosphere; it’s holding back any specific memories, any feelings, any complex thoughts- I can’t really visualise anything about my past or about life outside this tube. I mean, the noise is quite obstructive, so whenever a thought or a mental image starts materialising, it quickly dissolves. I have a rare, evanescent, uncanny feeling that there is a higher presence or force watching over me. This reminds me of my pre-atheist, childhood days when I had an agnostic belief in animism and in magical thinking- the belief that one’s thoughts could influence reality, which was problematic whenever I had dark, “forbidden”, ungodly thoughts resulting in fear of divine punishment and futile attempts at suppression. There is a surreal atemporality about this space, it’s like reality is suspended. If my whole body slid into this alienating horizontal cylinder, it would really feel like I’m inside an eccentric, futuristic coffin. That’s spine-chilling. And yet, despite my claustrophobic tendencies, I wish I had a full body scan so I could be encapsulated and see what it would be like if my consciousness or my spirit found a way to return to my corpse a hundred years from now. I don’t believe in it, but I like fantasising. My ego is temporarily numb and any vivid memories are gone, replaced by brief, fleeting perceptions, and it’s one of the few moments in which I’m not living in the past or in the future. I’m living in the now. I feel alive and calm, oddly calm. An oddly calm combination of cells, lying down in a tube, with an ego on snooze mode. Oh, it’s time to get back out there…
Writing will always feel like a strange paradoxical venture to me because you’re supposed to curate your thoughts and words to establish an image, a style, an angle, a niche, fit into a genre, or take into account an audience, but not so much that you compromise with yourself, just enough.
Doesn’t that make writing inherently inauthentic, deceitful?
Or at least, incomplete? Perhaps dual? Every word, sentence, stanza or paragraph tinged with both presence and absence, permanence and transience, openness and confinement, revealing and concealing?
Writing is about the world inside and the world outside, about an appreciation of them, about the connection between them, about reducing the space between self and other.
It carries a compromise between subjectivity and objectivity, between an understanding and a lack of understanding; because every mind functions somewhat differently, every consciousness having a different set-up due to nature and nurture.
And yet, with increasing (especially spiritual) awareness comes the realisation we are all both different and alike.
Perhaps writers are aware of the limitation and power of language the most, followed by psychologists.
I have an infinite fondness for the postmodernists and the beautifully unhinged nature of their work, their literary and psychological fragmentation
Sometimes I see or feel characters and I incorporate what they represent, I give them a voice, in doing that, I give myself a voice- and vice-versa- by integrating them within my self.
This is sometimes exhausting.
It’s also bewildering, cathartic, empowering, a blessing and a curse.
When I write, I know nothing and I know everything.
Where do we draw the line between adapting ourselves and our personalities to the people around us by making ourselves liked in order to connect with others and blend into social environments, caring about what people think just enough for it to act as a catalyst for fulfilling connections and successful interactions, and holding onto our individuality and sense of self based on inner beliefs? Up to a certain point, adaptability is normal in any interaction because, as social beings, we tend to bond by relating to another person’s experiences, thoughts, views, and so on, and for that we can’t be rigid or left unchanged, we need to be open to invite all this information from someone else’s world into ours; when inevitable differences arise, they should ideally be respected and sometimes accommodated. It’s also normal in the sense that, sometimes involuntarily, your personality and energy tend to be influenced by people you interact with and their own vibes, especially if you’re an empath, so, attuned to the moods and sensibilities of others. There is also a necessity for a certain degree of conscious adaptability and flexibility ingrained in many social interactions, in entering new environments, and facing a variety of people from different backgrounds, ages, and cultures. The social chameleon (I prefer this term rather than ‘people-pleaser’ which sounds pretty sad) is highly skilful in impression management and Self-Monitoring, being self-aware and aware of others; he or she thrives by reading social cues and charmingly acting and adapting accordingly to specific situations and types of people. Since adaptability is one of the main transferable skills you are asked to prove in interviews and job applications, this is a quality that is often valued in society and viewed as being linked to interpersonal and professional success.
When does this become a problem? When you bypass your personal boundaries and needs, such an attitude or way of living can take on a self-sabotaging quality and an unnatural influence over your life, that is ultimately detrimental to your well-being and your individuality. This happens when the focus you place on adapting to different personalities or social groups by making yourself liked and likeable at all costs becomes an impediment to living authentically and to being in touch with your feelings, interests, and desires. It can make you feel alienated from yourself and it can make others feel like they don’t really know you. The first steps you might take down this slippery slope could be silencing or diminishing your voice to accommodate someone else’s ego (particularly relevant to women tiptoeing around the male ego, or even around other women’s egos), switching between social masks and doing things to accommodate people in general, at the expense of corrupting your spirit, practising unnecessary humility, gaslighting yourself and doubting yourself too much when something goes wrong or when someone puts you in a negative light, putting up with (whatever you may see as) adverse or unfriendly treatment and making excuses for it, blaming yourself, and wanting to fix the situation, and so on. There is a fine line there between being empathetic and understanding of other people’s feelings and being unhealthily willing to compromise on your expectations and needs.
If it appears that you have people-pleasing tendencies, a lot of people pick up on that vibe and your boundaries may be challenged. There is also a shadowy side to people-pleasing: whilst it might seem like an altruistic act and it can be, it can also be a somewhat manipulative approach to get people to like you so that you maintain control over situations, but this is not inherently bad and not everyone who does this is conscious of it or a control freak or has a conscious ulterior motive. And the most harmful aspect is that people-pleasers associate their worth with the capacity to gain other people’s approval. You can be pleasant to be around- as that is clearly an advantage in most situations- but without being a push-over and without relying on people’s reactions and impressions of you, on their response to your behaviour. For this, you need to have a decently stable self-image- so know yourself- and what your expectations and standards are. And then you need to ideally spend your time with people who match those expectations and standards or otherwise, to communicate that need. Go beyond being pleasant. Be an inspiring, uplifting presence. Learn to truly listen to someone and allow trails of their consciousness to permeate yours, without filtering them through your fixated thought patterns too much. Just as I previously mentioned in an article that the best approach in the process of reading a book is to suspend your interpretative frameworks initially, you can do the same thing when you read another person, so you can invite their world into yours.
I’m glad to have reached a stage in my life journey where, after meeting someone new and chatting for a while, instead of wondering “Does this person like me?” it’s more important to first ask myself “Do I like this person?”. I’m not a passive or self-sacrificing person, I’ve never been, but I haven’t always claimed my social and emotional agency to the point where my likeability becomes irrelevant or less relevant than authenticity and personal satisfaction-so there have been times when my self-presentation has overpowered aspects of my life which should have been more important – though not in a ‘blending in’ type of way. These days, instead of impression management, I ask myself questions such as: Does this person add a positive contribution to my life and well-being? Are they a presence I like being around? How do I feel around them? Shift the focus this way. It’s liberating. What value or qualities do people add to your life? It could be that they’re kind, they make you laugh and are fun to be around, they’re thoughtful, relaxing, considerate, helpful, interesting, they just get you, they have a stimulating mind in addition to similar interests or an openness to discuss your interests- or a combination of such traits that you simply click with. If my assessment is positive, then, I value their response to me on a deeper level. Anyway, people are more than a combination of factors, so I don’t believe in having a rigid checklist of traits for friendships or other connections because our minds often override pre-established ideas when we click or feel drawn towards people we wouldn’t have expected to do so or when we don’t click with people we apparently had so much in common with. I personally only have a clear, uncompromising checklist of what I profoundly dislike or am repelled by in interactions. When there is reciprocal appreciation and things really work out, that ‘pleasing’ part is organic and ingrained in your interactions, there is no need to perform or control as it’s all spontaneous and there is definitely no need to feel like you compromise your self.
If your focus is on people-pleasing, it can be self-effacing or, to sound more dramatic, self-annihilating, as you tend to lose yourself in the process of presenting yourself in the way you think others expect you to. This could mean your fashion sense, your personality, the current version of your identity. Identity is fluid, I’ve always believed this, and some of your personality variables are, in fact, altered by interaction. My life mantra seems relevant here: “I am rooted, but I flow” (Virginia Woolf’s words). You have a core, the part of you that is grounded, rooted, true no matter what happens. This is surrounded by waters in which you flow and with which you can merge, meaning you can be open to new experiences and be shaped and re-shaped by them. But be mindful of where you flow and don’t be scared to swim against the current when you have to. Meet new personalities, be amicable and let the right worlds enter yours, without losing yourself in the other.
– Empowered people contribute to the empowerment of those around them.
– Avoid judging things at surface level. You need to dig a few layers deeper without closing your eyes when you find treasure rooms or catacombs. On the surface, you might be trapped in a Fata Morgana.
– It’s true that high expectations often lead to disillusionment with the world; however, as long as you don’t let yourself be disillusioned with your self, high expectations can be used as fuel to build and improve your life.
– Falsity contaminates. Authenticity inspires; it’s contagious, enveloped in light, and arouses kindness. Its adepts are a dying breed, so value them.
– We all have both light and darkness within us. Some will see the angelic, others the devilish, and such judgements are partly reflections of the watcher. I wouldn’t say you should never see yourself through the eyes of another as that could inhibit empathy and diminish your humanity, or simply prevent positive things from happening- instead, be selective of the eyes you borrow, why, and when…
– …and whatever you do, never lose your own vision, lest you be swallowed by the mouth of the world and become a watered-down version of yourself.
– Sometimes you won’t know if something is right or wrong for you until you try it. If you realise it feels wrong, give up. If it feels right, carry on, regardless of external views. Not all compasses for life navigation reveal the same directions.
– Your beliefs, perspective on, or perceptions of many subjects will shift over time. This can manifest in your response to and interpretations of the world around you, which can, in turn, re-shape your world.
– You should create your life, not just react to it. Relinquish fatalistic views.
– Don’t fall into toxic ego traps.
– As you age, years start flying by in a blink. I’m young, and I already feel life slipping away so quickly. Don’t live in the past and don’t spend too much time lamenting the death of past moments or things that are out of your control.
– Don’t become complacent. If you ever feel ‘there is more to life than this’, whether you’re thinking of your job, lifestyle, or experiences, you are probably right. Explore and feel new things, pump up your dopamine and adrenaline levels. Take risks, but have a safety net.
– Embrace who you are. Maybe in your adolescence and your twenties that’s a meaningless or elusive statement since you’re constantly learning new things, going through changes, growing as a person. Well, hopefully your whole life will consist of that. But embracing yourself encompasses that fluidity too, it means giving yourself a break, recognising all aspects of yourself and accepting them (if they’re not harmful or toxic). It’s okay to cultivate happy thoughts and it’s okay to be cynical sometimes. It’s okay to be funny and it’s okay to be serious. Intense and light-hearted and giggly. Sociable and reserved. Impulsive or stoic. It’s okay to explore your provocative side and it’s also okay to be timid. To see yourself as a collection of thoughts and memories. To be made of many things, without any single aspect defining you by itself. It’s okay to be real.
As a fan of Marcel Proust who loves the way he perceives the world as depicted in À la recherche du temps perdu, I thought I should write down my answers to the most popular version of his iconic questionnaire in my first unequivocally personal blog post, even though my answers may very well change tomorrow:
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Time travel. Interplanetary travel. As for a slightly more down-to-earth answer, visiting the most beautiful, inspiring- ethereal or eerie- places, absorbing every moment spent there and feeling connected to the place, living in the present, and having a cultivated soul.
What is your greatest fear?
Death. Non-existence. Annihilation. Oblivion. Aging. Bugs.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Literary figures: Virginia Woolf & Sylvia Plath.
Which living person do you most admire?
Tilda Swinton. Richard Dawkins. David Lynch. Plus anyone who positively influences the world, who is aware of the whole picture and manages to focus on the good rather than the bad in the world, overall.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I will mention a few, although I have conflicting feelings about these traits as I don’t always deplore them: cynicism, the low-key need to be in control, fickleness in some respects, ricocheting between emotional frostiness and impulsiveness, scepticism to the point where I start being sceptical of my own scepticism, and taking myself too seriously (but otherwise I probably wouldn’t be able or feel propelled to write!).
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Duplicity, hypocrisy. Prejudice. Lack of empathy and inability to listen. Arrogance. Wrong life values. Underestimating me.
What is your greatest extravagance?
My luxury perfume collection. Not sleeping at night.
What is your favourite journey?
towards self-awareness and self-development, through self-indulgence and creative fulfilment.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Patience. Sympathy (not empathy). Contentment. Humility and prudence in women’s case.
On what occasion do you lie?
When the conversation doesn’t matter, or when I’m convinced that telling the truth wouldn’t be beneficial to anyone involved.
Which living person do you most despise?
anyone who uses their power to negatively influence, harm, ruin, or eradicate the lives of innocent people, either on an individual level, or on an organised level.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
aesthetic. surreal. oh my god. yeah. no.
What is your greatest regret?
caring when I shouldn’t have. not caring when I should have.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
perfume, cinema, music, labyrinthine architecture
When and where were you happiest?
I don’t remember exactly but I’m gonna say it was probably a case of frisson- “aesthetic chills”- that I experienced whilst watching a hypnotic, revealing, or epiphany-inducing film or piece of art.
Which talent would you most like to have?
a mesmerising, emotion-inducing, magical singing voice.
What is your current state of mind?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’d give myself an infinite dose of productivity and the capacity to love the world freely and unconditionally. Getting rid of grudges. Being less fickle/wishy-washy in some respects.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
rising from the flames like a Phoenix.
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
a fairy or a nymph.
What is your most treasured possession?
my perfume collection, my films collection, my velvet dresses collection,
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
not living the life you want, letting obsessions or demons consume you, feeling trapped.
Where would you like to live?
in a beautiful place adorned with paintings and different styles of decorations on each floor or in each room (Gothic, minimalist, dreamy, airy fantasy style etc). Also in the distant future, maybe on a different, ultra-advanced planet. Either that or in one of the many film fantasy worlds I love.
What is your favourite occupation?
What is your most marked characteristic?
being artistically-inclined. being headstrong, perceptive/astute, experiencing derealisation and zoning out (this sounds contradictory to the astuteness, but it’s actually not!); inquisitive, independent-minded, and a freethinker. looking sad or annoyed when I’m actually in a neutral or thoughtful mood.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
Intelligence (including emotional intelligence), genuineness, confidence -not cockiness, self-awareness
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
strength, genuineness, intelligence, confidence, self-awareness
What do you most value in your friends?
kindness, authenticity, having my best interests at heart, trustworthiness, & respecting confidentiality
Who are your favourite writers?
Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde, Vladimir Nabokov, Hermann Hesse
Who is your favourite hero of fiction?
Jessica Jones, Vanessa Ives, Violet Baudelaire, Rogue
What do you dislike most about your appearance?
I like my appearance overall, but there are two or three things I would/will probably change if I can.
Who are your heroes in real life?
Inspiring women who are unapologetically fierce and do whatever they feel like (unless they are psychopaths or something equally worrying).
What are your favourite names?
Morgana, Diana, Ariadna, Artemis, Mordred, Crystal.
What is it that you most dislike?
pity, prejudice, labels.
How would you like to die?
Knowing that I will be revived as an immortal goddess, mostly because I want to live forever, but all the other perks would be fun too!
What is your favourite motto?
Do no harm, but take no shit. // C’est la vie. //
Incantation-“You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.”
Quotes-“I stopped explaining myself when I realised other people only understand from their level of perception.”
“There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”
“Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
“To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance”
Write your own answers to all or some of these below, I’m interested to see!
Published in Education in the Digital Era, March 2019
“Books are not only the arbitrary sum of our dreams, and our memory. They also give us the model of self-transcendence. […] They are a way of being fully human.”- Susan Sontag
The multifaceted nature of literature encompasses an abundance of purposes when it comes to the act of reading, such as functioning as a vehicle of escapism, working as a tool to enhance self-awareness, setting in motion cultural and social change starting from individual transformation, inspiring metaphorical deaths and resurrections of selves, summoning childhood magic and nostalgia associated with books we grew up with and memories entangled with their reading, perceiving the human spirit as shaped through time within specific historical and cultural frameworks, as well as strengthening our connection with others by making us recognise ‘the other’ within us, and providing a mirror that we can use to face the world with empathy and acceptance as we fully acknowledge its realness and complexity.
Reading can be seen as a spiritual journey, since it inspires a form of awakening. Stories we read during our formative years, during an early stage in our lives that is of utmost significance memory-wise, those stories will potentially remain the most enchanting reading experiences, because they enter our mind at a time when we tend to simply absorb every evocative image, every symbol, indiscriminately, unassumingly, with naivety and curiosity, and when simple yet vivid memories are formed. Later, as we mature and acquire more knowledge- not exclusively literary, whilst we learn to be more discerning, selective, as well as developing critical thinking, we are encouraged to deeply reflect on the strings of words in front of our eyes- sometimes, however, at the expense of the child-like wonder and the child’s way of seeing, of disappearing, and truly living within a story.
While expressing her views on reading, Virginia Woolf emphasises that, whereas we should follow our instincts in reading rather than having someone else dictate the way in which we experience a literary piece, we should also avoid falling into the trap of projecting our pre-conceived ideas and judgements onto a piece of writing immediately, and instead, at first, decrease the volume of our critical voice in order to embrace the author’s voice and the creative process, to open our minds and let the thoughts of another flow into them. Afterwards, as cultivated readers, we can ponder on underlying themes and psychoanalytical symbolism, stylistic categorisations, meta-references, the larger aesthetic value of the work, character development, feminist interpretations and critiques, and the historical, socio-cultural, political or conceptual frameworks. As a Literature and Film graduate, I have found that temporarily tuning out certain aspects of this critical side that became a natural inclination in my reading is ideal if I wish to retain the pleasure of the act and to prevent disillusionment. Otherwise- and I have known Literature and Film students at university who faced such concerns- the enjoyment of a piece of writing or art in general might be diminished. When we let ourselves be fully engrossed by the words, something pure and beautiful happens: we disappear and live within a story, we allow ourselves to be bewitched by lyricism, to recognise the emotions evoked in a poem, to let them inspire us; we perceive and visualise the world conceived by another mind, unfolding within our own mind. That is when we can identify with a character, as well as finding traces of this character within ourselves, savouring every mental image, finding something interesting and revealing in every echo while devouring a good book. This way, we shift from clichés to something more intimate, from patterns of thinking to a unique taste of and insight into individual consciousness.
During literary studies at university, our way of reading pieces of literature is, indeed, interestingly shaped, to a certain degree, by the modules we opt for and their structure, particularly the recommended critical interpretations and analysis of the works in question or, more broadly, of literary movements, periods, and other divisions. Once you place everything in a cultural, social, or historical context, or consider the psychoanalytical dimensions of a text, or interpret narratives from a feminist point of view, it can influence your process of experiencing other works and how you delve into them. This aspect is also facilitated by a tendency towards syntopical or comparative reading, which is recommended within an academic context- particularly in analysing critical theory books and essays- and rightfully so, since it is a useful tool for finding your own voice, forming your own opinions, gaining perspective, and developing critical thinking skills which are so essential in various areas of life. As a result, while reading prose fiction for instance, our minds may involuntarily jump to underlying commentaries and themes, paying more attention to connotations of nuances and how they fall into a wider sociocultural, ideological, or psychological framework. This may seem like a double-edged sword because it appears to be in contrast to the previous idea of experiencing a written story viscerally, intimately. However, as previously mentioned, the mind can be trained to read differently for pleasure, inspiration, or educational purposes and everyone can shift between different methods of reading.
Placing a literary piece into the complex puzzle of history, can be particularly revealing and useful, for instance, when we read literature associated with silenced voices and with otherness: such literary works give us the chance to get an insight into the psyche of figures whose lives seem so distinct from ours and explore uncharted mental territories, an inner journey which will also prove to be self-revealing, whilst at the same time requiring transcendence. Reading can, indeed, often initiate us into a ritual of self-transcending. Language mediates our connection with our own selves as much as it mediates our connection with the world around us. Reading can be viewed as a process of merging contrasts: between temporality and atemporality, the tangible and the incorporeal, presence and absence, closeness and remoteness, self and other, the intimate and the universal, the evanescent and the eternal, a grasped world and an elusive one.
She was standing by the window, her face seemingly puzzled by the familiar noise of trains rushing incessantly and birds making harpy-like sounds. It was really taking her back. Back to the days when she made connections between the number of the floor she was living on and the corresponding circle from Inferno, in hopes of attributing some grandiose meaning to her existence. Those were bleak times. It had to be the seventh floor. You were destined to dwell among the violent, submerged in boiling blood. Or the violent against self, being fed to Harpies. Harpies! Eyes shut for a few seconds. Opened again by the distant desperate sound of a cat in heat. I am here now. Rooted in the present, very rarely floating towards the realms of the past and the future.
Their music submerged my body in cold waters- red, blue, and purple lights piercing into the depths. Their voice embraced me, the melody wrapped me up in a liquid swirl, whilst my mind was surrounded by the haze of the late 90’s when I was a child and the very early 90’s when I was not born yet, but it somehow made sense. The fabric of the universe, the condition of being human and of simply being, were reflected in the icy singing. It could be the soundtrack of a trip to the moon, or a trip into the underworld. Of running and never stopping, following an endless white line on the ground, or running and jumping off a cliff not knowing what is on the other side and whether you will survive the crash. Of brides saying ‘I do’ in glittery white dresses inside Christian churches; of a little girl’s tears on her grandfather’s coffin. That moment extended into infinity, the music encompassed everything, and that is how a thousand experiences enriched my mind in an instant.
On the other side, I see your face distorted among plants and fish; you smile and I’m happy because I know you know how I love rivers, lakes, and the sea from afar, and how I used to take swimming lessons when I was little, yet was never eventually able to swim for long distances as I always ran out of breath. You might also remember that I loved facing gigantic waves during storms, letting myself be lifted up and carried by the motion of the sea. Despite this, we probably talked about how I would not want to live by the sea, rather, I always wanted to find out what it would be like to live up in the mountains for a while, with the people I love, a dog, and a cat, surrounded by the warmth of a fireplace, drinking hot chocolate, watching the snowflakes tracing patterns on small windows. Would it be nicer than getting lost in the chaos of a big city?
The universal shift of focus
from being to seeming
permeates our age of confusion.