Experience

I used to think that relationships were based on hard work and constant effort. That’s what everyone says, don’t they? “This takes so much work,” my old roommate used to complain after hanging up with her long-distance high school sweetheart.

And it made sense that an independent woman would go and get what she wants. I was always taught that hard work would always get me good results. Perhaps in the recesses of my mind I knew that wasn’t the case, yet it was only through experience that the lesson was finally beat into me.

The truth is, it’s not about effort. This myth propagates unhealthy attitudes towards relationships. We sometimes distort this “you have to put in work for your relationships” platitude into an ugly, humiliating one-sided pursuit – allegedly indicative of our worth if we succeed – that in spite of it all yields little to no results. But twisted values and twisted experiences are sustained by the belief that if the person we’re interested in doesn’t reciprocate, then we have to work harder to keep their interest.

Most people don’t care as much as you might when you were a young, wide-eyed idealist first starting out. The majority of them are selfish and view relationships solely on the basis of validation and self-aggrandizement, partially due to the media telling us that “love and romance are healing” and somehow fulfill our entire hierarchy of needs. People fall spectacularly short.

Take, for example, girl from the monkey bars who was supposed to be a friend for life and then disappeared, or guy with the jacket who was supposed to always know what to say but then ghosted.

And yet, once I had a fleeting encounter with a stranger who taught me that even though we all have our Monkey Bar Girl or Jacket Guy, real, meaningful relationships don’t take hard work, but simply take time. And with a little patience, they are worth it.

Of course, I am saying this after spending only 4 hours with him, but we met in front of the tram station by the city hall, and from there he walked me through why going through relationships is actually worth it.

Before, I wanted to give up on them because I felt like all I ever did was get too hopeful, get chided for “catching feelings,” and then left a cynical mess, feeling as though the person made me change myself into something strange that neither they nor I liked or wanted in the first place.

But the stranger reminded me – amidst our stroll in a city of music and the scent of spring – that love isn’t something you need to earn. We should never feel forced to change ourselves in order to earn someone’s love. But under an influence that is mutually positive, we can be inspired to change for the better.

Monkey Bar Girls and Jacket Boys exist, but so do strangers who show us that the real meaning of “relationships take effort” is that “relationships take trial and error, resilience, and a lot of patience, but in the end are worth it.” And we should not settle for any less than we deserve.

When the stranger and I parted, he asked if we should hug or kiss. I almost regret choosing to hug, but he seemed to understand, and perhaps that, too, is a part of what he was saying.

I wonder if we’ll by chance meet again. I should like to say thank you.

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Faces

When we post on social media, of course there is the criticism that people curate their posts to paint happy falsehoods of their lives. However, I think the greatest issue of social media is not the glossing-over aspect in of itself, but rather that people don’t recognize that it is a creative process.

One of the things that my internship emphasizes is placing a “human face” to stories. But even that is a tenuous artistic license. It’s something we selectively plucked from the tree to display on the stand, arranged with a plethora of other items to weave the story to our liking.

At the prompting of certain relatives and friends, I posted on Facebook after a long time. But I’ve been trying to cleanse myself of social media, partly because I can hardly post anything without it sounding ironic and partly because I’ve done a lot of work weeding out certain people from my life. And excuse the grandiose statements, but that includes my old self. I don’t want to let them back in just like that.

I’ve always lamented being naïve. I’ve vied for a life where I was one of those cool edgy girls with a large social circle and wild adventures every night. And I, like the eager copycat artist, would try to use social media to make that real life. I guess if there’s any real takeaway I learned from a year out of the cloisters, it’s that social media is an art tool that everyone uses nowadays not necessarily out of malice, but simply to blur over the starkness of reality.

Social media is just paint. You can’t blame the medium for creating beautiful lies. And can you really blame the artist either for wanting to create in the first place?

That being said, there are better mediums of self-expression. And there are better mediums for appreciation. We turn to social media because the inner artist in us also seeks an audience, and social media provides the easiest access.

But I’ve decided that I do not mind obscurity. Let’s be like Mona Lisa before she was hung on a perpetual stage in the Louvre. If people truly want to know you, to appreciate you, they’ll seek other ways to do so.

Growing Pains

Old ghosts sometimes come back as you start something new. The street you walk down to get to work reminds you of somewhere you were last year. The man who waves hello to you reminds you of someone you once knew well before. The ghost plays hide and seek. Memories replay in your head.

You may think it’s like a movie or like The Carpenters’ song – “when they get to the part where he’s breaking her heart, it can really make me cry.” But then the lyrics of Regina Spektor’s “Birdsong” come to mind – “Hearts always hurt more while they are learning.”

When we first experience pain it really does feel unparalleled. But when we experience it the second time – whether it be a scraped knee or a broken heart or bruised pride – it doesn’t seem to hurt as much. We grow calluses atop our scars.

And that’s the irony of life. We need this pain that we so assiduously try to avoid. We need to touch the fire to know what not to do and to have the burn marks as a reminder. We need our ghosts.

i am not bored, please don’t break up with your girlfriend

Three things:

1. Why is it that Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish and the likes always put their song titles in lowercase? This was also a trend on Fanfiction.net in 2006 for writer wannabes who wanted to fool readers into thinking they were reading quality.

2. Why do we think that being dismissive with our emotions rather than embracing them is the cool thing to do? If you’re bored, then why does that entail and subsequently justify encouraging cheating? Feminism seems to now put pressure on us to deny our emotions. Yet we need more pop songs like “The Louvre” by Lorde where the singer, in an interview, openly proclaimed how cool it is to wear your heart on your sleeve. I prefer Ari in “thank you, next” where she fully confesses her past attachments but also implies that she embraces it by wholeheartedly loving herself.

3. On that note, I am ready to admit that when I am interested in someone, I get attached way too easily. But right now, I am 100% not interested in anyone, and I have never felt better about being alone by myself. Yet why do I find myself caught in not one but TWO separate crossfires?? I am friends with two males both obviously on the verge of breakups who seem to be relying on me for emotional support and proclaiming things to me they almost certainly shouldn’t. Is it because modern pop culture like via the titular song is painting harmful pictures of us women to men? Is it implying that women are becoming more flippant and willing to engage in adulterous behavior?

I feel especially disappointed because these two individuals helped me pick myself back up when I was down because of a lingering attachment. They were the ones who helped me reflect more on who I am, and through that, I’ve set my priorities straight. Yet I fear they are doing exactly the opposite – using me as a proxy to cushion their fall when the breakups occur. Thinking that I am available as a single woman to pillow them, re-channeling whatever emotional attachments with their girlfriends they had into me. I only want friendship, and for me, friendship entails emotional support and positive affirmation. That should never be mistaken for romantic or sexual intent.

I am far from bored, and even if I were, I would not form a disingenuous relation of any kind on the basis of my ennui and would certainly not condone breaking up with your girlfriend for entertainment, selfishness, or otherwise. If you are suffering, then you need to find ways that are healthy to individualize yourself again. Someone else loving you can only fool you into thinking you love yourself for so long.

Vulnerability Is The New Buzz Word

Don’t mistake me. I’m more than a strong advocate for honest, open communication, sharing of emotions, and facility of disclosure. But just like the media ruined “mindfulness” and “feminism” such that they now sport almost smarmy connotations, I fear that “vulnerability” is quickly becoming the next trendy phrase in 2019.

I would hate to see this because vulnerability, of all things, is probably one if not the most important keys to having fulfilling relationships and a good support network. But we must remind ourselves that being willing to share your deepest fears and secrets does not automatically swing open the doors for friendships to develop. Yes, be vulnerable. But don’t prioritize spilling your own secrets over your responsibility to be considerate of the other person.

Vulnerability is important, certainly. But to really develop a good, healthy relationship, we need to recognize that it’s two-sided. We should defend our own boundaries, needs, and self-worth, but we also must pride ourselves on our abilities to be understanding of others. We need to genuinely want to get to know others. It’s more than one-sided vulnerability – it’s two-way empathy.

Valentine Reads: “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair”

We all know Valentine’s Day is commercialized. We should be celebrating our loved ones every day, singles get the short end of the stick, most of us only care about the chocolate, etc. etc. Instead of drowning in despair over capitalistic hedonism, why not drown in the despair of Pablo Neruda’s “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair?” Ideal if you’re a secret hopeless romantic who is mad at your partner, you’re a pining single, and/or you’ve run out of quality fanfiction with your OTP.

These poems are beautiful, striking, and heart-wrenching. Neruda twists surreal imagery with truths of human connection. The result is a powerful narrative encapsulating the experience of being romantically involved. When I read these poems, I too almost felt like I was going through the motions – falling in love, futilely hoping, having my heart broken.

Read it in Spanish if you can, otherwise I recommend the version I linked above.

Some memorable lines:

Here I love you and the horizon hides you in vain. / I love you still among these cold things.

– “Aquí te amo”

Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

– “Puedo escribir”

The birds of night peck at the first stars / That flash like my soul when I love you.

– “Inclinado en las tardes”

Pablo Neruda and Edna St. Vincent Millay are my favorite poets and are big inspirations to my writing.

Check out more of Pablo’s work and maybe look up some of Millay’s poems to top off a perfect anti-capitalistic hedonism version of Valentine’s Day.

Sketching in Monaco

I fell out of the habit of sketching three years ago when I entered Wellesley because I got sucked into academics. But this past year, I slowly started drifting back into it. In Monaco, I went to the Japanese Botanical Gardens and Larvotto Beach intending to sketch.

Art has always fascinated me, because with the exception of photorealism, artists never show the world as it truly is. I wonder if artistic “creativity” is sometimes simply perception error causing a rift between what they see and what they put on the page. But whatever it is, through their morphing of reality, we see a more aesthetic, ideal vision of the world.

I sat on a rock overlooking the koi pond while I sketched. Curious strollers would stray off the path to watch. And a few times, we had some brief conversations – one Moroccan young woman whose brother lives in LA, and one Monaco native who also enjoyed drawing.

During the trip, I also talked for 3 hours with a man on the bus about everything from Benin culture (his wife is from Benin) to the olive and cork trees that are cherished in southern France. He showed me photos of his grandson who is growing up quadralingual and taught me a lot about the Jean de Florette-esque life of Provençals. I also had a long exchange with our Blablacar driver, who taught us about Carnaval traditions and the beauty of Eastern France.

It’s these kinds of brief encounters that I and many others simultaneously crave and fear. Pleasant connections with individuals who teach us how to appreciate the world around us, who remind us of small things that make life special, but who disappear after helping us discover a bit more.

Memory is faulty. The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve condemns even the most seemingly indelible of memories to transience. But that is why we do things like draw and write, I believe. Making art of a situation captures the memories in a way that Instagram photos cannot. By imbuing our memories with our subjective perception – however inaccurate – we remember not only how we saw the world in that moment, but how we felt then too.

The Imperativeness of Being Earnest

To be honest, honesty is overrated. Earnestness, on the other hand, is extremely undervalued.

Who hasn’t before heard (if not said) the passive-aggressive preface, “Just being honest?” Firstly, honesty is not an excuse to be an asshole. Honesty should only be used where an outsider perspective that conflicts with another’s interpretation of events is constructive, whether that be to truly help someone for their own benefit or to defend yourself if your rights are violated.

Secondly, honesty is an abstract notion. Honesty, according to Merriam Webster, is “adherence to the facts.” But when we preface a subjective statement with “just being honest,” we are not honestly adhering to the correct definition. Who is to say that my interpretation of reality is a fact? The only fact in that statement would be the fact that you think something different.

Finally, people know that being “honest” can often provoke others. They sometimes thus use honesty as a pretext for inaction, likely also blaming the other party for not permitting them to be honest, which brings me to my next point.

We seem to confuse honesty of words with something virtuous. Sticking to the “facts” is impossible. But being sincere is not.

It is an age old adage that “actions speak louder than words.” Honesty is certainly not always the best option, but earnestness usually is. If you truly, honestly care about someone, it isn’t so much the content of your words that will demonstrate it as it is your actions. Listening to people. Reaching out to them. Gestures that show you want to understand and care for them. Is this always completely possible? Of course not. But it is indeed the thought that counts, and more.

The Taming of the Who?

A brief clarification: refuse to pursue those who aren’t worth it. In other words, those who don’t reciprocate the same level of openness and accountability for their actions when it comes to their relationships. Choose friends and companions who show they care.

I am constantly reminded of Antoine Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince and the notion of l’apprivoisement. L’apprivoisement is, in short, the deliberate action of making friends. It is singling out an individual one feels is worth knowing and deliberately taking action to further understand said individual. Unfortunately, while it accurately connotes the patience it takes to forge relationships, it doesn’t fully encapsulate all of the complexities that come with it.

Forging or maintaining a relationship is a reciprocal action. It is not simply a domesticator and a domesticated. There must be volition on both sides. It is not as simple as my declaring that I want to be your friend, persistently asking you questions to get to know you, and then happy end.

I find that expressing feelings through writing when rejection or disappointment occurs is cathartic. But it is just that – expression. It is not necessarily a basis for decision nor an attempt to apprivoiser through flowery words like Cyrano de Bergerac and Roxane.

We need to stop mistaking feelings for finality and start choosing people who prioritize us as much as we do them. When it comes to the people we choose to stay in our circles, we express our feelings with writing. But we make our decisions with our brains.