Who am I, on paper?

Posted: October 26, 2014 in Identity
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I own two passports: one belongs to a developing European country, and one belongs  to a highly developed member of the European Union. The first one I got by birth, as my defining identity. The second one I got by living in the country and contributing to its prosperity for many years.

There is much more to identity than what can fit a piece of paper, and I do not aim to talk about all of its complex aspects here. I want to look at the part of our identity that travels with us wherever we go.

My love for traveling has taken me to many places, distant and near, and my old passport has seen all of them. It has journeyed through the hands of many consular officials and is stamped with many visas. It has been inspected by border guards, scanned in their machines and during all that time it presented me the best way it could. There is hardly any page on it that is not full now. I held it in long lines at the border crossings, waiting to answer the typical question: What is the purpose of your visit? How long are you planning to stay?

Understandably, those questions are meant to screen the thousands of travelers and potentially uncover those with undesirable intentions. It’s nothing personal. But for each of the people waiting in the long lines, after countless hours of trying to “sit back and relax” in the never comfortable airplane seats, it becomes personal. “Why am I singled out? Why are they asking me all these questions? The girl who was sitting next to me just passed without being held at the desk so long. In what way is she better than me?”

In the past year I traveled with my new, European passport. It helped me cross the borders faster by using the automated border crossings, or the less crowded EU lines. It made my waiting shorter and the questions of the border officers magically disappeared. Sometimes, they would not even open the passport.

Instead of making me happy, this makes me angry. I am still the same person. Exactly the same. With the same name and surname, blood group and DNA. The same one that once delayed a whole bus full of passengers because they “needed to check something”. There was nothing to check really, it was just because it was a certain kind of passport.

I am still the same: in love with this planet and hoping to see as much of it as possible. But now, on paper, I am better. More “safe”. And just a bit angry at humanity.

mock of generic EU passport

mock of generic EU passport (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.” 
― Diane Arbus

“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” 
― Henri Cartier-Bresson

Thanks to digital media taking and sharing photographs has become part of our daily life. Unlike in the old times, when we were saving the precious film for very special moments, and were careful to pick a deserving occasion to snap our cameras, nowadays creating hundreds of snapshots is not reserved for professional photographers only. We all can do it. And because we can, this is precisely what we are doing.

You cannot walk along any street today without seeing at least one person aiming their camera or telephone camera to take a photo. During important (and unimportant) events, we are often present only through the lens, trying to capture the best image and captivate the moment. Sometimes it seems that we are not there to enjoy it, but just to make sure that we have photographic evidence that we were there.

However, if I look back to the time when nothing was digital and instantaneous, our photographs had a different life and meaning. They were much more personal and we shared them with very few people. We would proudly show our albums to our distinguished guests and spend intimate family moments looking through them, remembering past holidays, important milestones and celebrations. We kept them and cherished them. Through them our memories got color and detail. We cared if we looked good on them, but not too much. We knew that it was just an instant and that it did not matter that our eyes were sometimes closed. What mattered is that we were there.

If I compare it to the present time, the way we use photographs has changed in so many ways. Because of the possibility to share them with a larger audience, our photographic creativity has grown. More people take artistic shots and it is definitely a plus. But if I look at our modest personal snapshots, we are often handling them in a similar way we handle junk food: for fast, instantaneous gratification: we snap, share, wait for the affirmation and snap again. We take thousands of them and delete thousands of them. We store them, lose them and forget them. There is sometimes so many photographs taken on the same event that we never have the time to go through them.

Imitating professional magazines, we often try to emulate their constructions, by posing, and trying stubbornly to get that perfect shot in which we look like cover models. Knowing that some of the photos may be shared, we are forgetting to just be, because we think we need to be our best. The photographs stop being preserved memories, they are becoming constructions of ourselves and the events that we took part in.

All this makes me think about the way our children will look at the thousands of photos we have taken of them, when they are grown. Will they be as precious to them as our own black and white printed photographs are to us? Or will they be too busy photographing their own lives to ever sit and look back?

I Refuse!

Posted: March 24, 2014 in Ageing
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I am turning 40 soon. And here is what it feels like:

  • I refuse to dye my grey hair, because I think it is not shameful that your body is changing over time.
  • I refuse to hide the expression lines on my face because they show that I have laughed many times.
  • I refuse to dislike my body because it is the only one I have and the best instrument I have been given.
  • I refuse to be judged by what I look like because there is so much more to who I am than just what you can see.
  • I refuse to be defined by shoes I wear and the handbags I put my trinkets into, no matter how much I like them; they are just accessories.
  • I refuse to feel ugly without makeup because I don’t believe in constructions they create in magazines and on television.
  • I refuse to feel guilty when I have not had time to do my hair because it’s just hair.
  • I refuse to be stereotyped at work just because of my gender.
  • I refuse to be seen as the weaker sex, because there are many types of strength.
  • I refuse to be told that my place is in the kitchen, because that is not the only place where I can shine.
  • I refuse to be told that my place is not only in the kitchen because I can choose my own place without anybody defining it for me.
  • Instead, I chose to create happiness and beauty for myself and others.

Love a Simple Life!

Posted: February 14, 2014 in Contemporary life
Tags: , ,

Image taken from morgueFile photos

Nowadays we live in the world where information travels faster and further than ever before. Successful products, companies and people have entered almost every household in the world, and social networking makes it possible to share and exchange thoughts and ideas with physically remote, like-minded people almost instantly.

Television screens and all other media are populated with people who ooze success. When you hear them talk, they usually share the same few soundbites: believe in yourself, follow your dreams, work hard and you WILL succeed. Easy. But what nobody tells you is that there is much more to the type and magnitude of success they achieved than just belief and hard work. For every successful person who is making their way to becoming a household name, there are hundreds of thousands, equally capable people, who believe in themselves, follow their dreams and work hard, but they never reach that kind of success. And it is not for not being special enough, or good enough, or persistent enough. Or anything “enough” to that matter. They just may not have the same luck, connections, pitch or set of circumstances. However, this does not make them failures.

The idea that you have to be globally or massively successful for your work/mission/life to be worthwhile, and that all it takes is dedication, is twisting our perspective and potentially side tracking a lot of us from achieving a happy, simple life. In fact, the constant bombardment in media with people boasting of their achievements is making the simple daily joys seem small and insignificant, they are put in the background: it is all about showing off how successful you are. And when success is put at such pedestal and measured so inadequately, this is making us feel like we are not working hard enough or we are not adequate enough to succeed.

I am not saying that we should not try our best, believe in ourselves and fight for what we stand for. I am just saying that there is not one model that fits all, when it comes to success. Not all missions are large and global: many are small and local, sometimes even in the domain of our own family, and yet their impact is big enough.

There is nothing wrong with living a simple life and enjoying the small things. In fact it is an art in itself. Making yourself and people around you happy is a worthwhile mission. It may not give you media exposure, or tremendous material wealth, but it is definitely a fulfilling task. Nobody on their death-bed wished they were richer or more popular.

Without further ado, here are the things that I wish I’d read somewhere before I had kids:

1. Tidiness is the luxury of single people, or old people. Up until your children are over 10 you can forget about tidy. Disclaimer: obsessive compulsive parents are not included here. Neither are tidiness Nazis.preview

2. Every single thing you do during your day and that you take for granted now, will be taken away from you. Think going to the toilet when you want, unaccompanied. Think sitting down quietly. Think waking up when you set the alarm clock and not at random hours at night.

3. Your body is not only yours anymore. It will belong to your children as well. They will not only depend on your body for nourishment in their first months, but they will need to feel your physical closeness for comfort, security, belonging. Sometimes you will feel that you never have any personal space, but you will not mind.

4. You will re-connect to the most basic way of human existence. Seeing your child reach important milestones will make you remember that it is great to be able to sit, walk, talk, grab things between your two fingers and that most of the things you do on auto-pilot nowadays you had to learn. Those simple achievements will bring you back to enjoying being alive (while exhausted for the lack of sleep).

5. Your home will become new to you, suddenly full of dangerous objects, sharp corners, loaded drawers. You will find a lot of things you looked for and took for lost a long time ago. Well, your child will find them.

6. Your concept of time will change and bend. Sometimes it will pass way too fast (when the child is sleeping) or way too slow (when you are trying to put the child to sleep) within the same afternoon.

7. Having time for yourself will cause you a lot of joy but also a guilty conscience at the same time. With time you will learn to cope with it, but in the beginning you will beat yourself up every time you do it.

8. Sometimes you will want to tell your friends how tired and angry you are, and how you feel like a failure when things are tough, but you will feel ashamed to do so. The pressure to be a great parent will be too big to recognize that parenting is not a competition, and that you cannot win at it.

9. You WILL talk about all those things that parents of young children talked about while you were rolling your eyes.

And yes, there are nine items here, even though the title says eight. Because you will learn to stop nitpicking about unimportant things, your children will teach you to. And that was the number 10.

If you have arrived to this page than you probably share the same problem as millions of other people: you want to get fit/slim but that goal somehow remains unattainable. Or perhaps you need more information, advice, knowledge and magic pills. In the vicious cycle of trying to be disciplined about food and exercise and succumbing to the delicious call of cake and tasty, greasy food,  most of us  give up so many times in our lives, that we have lost hope to ever have the healthy, fit body that we want. Dieting

Here is what we all do and how we all fail, eventually. We:

  • Spend endless hours HOPING to lose weight, thinking and talking about it. It usually renders between zero and zero results.
  • Spend even more hours searching for a 3 minute workout that will burn 1000 calories and make you lose 10 kg in a week. Not going to happen. Losing weight and becoming fit takes hard work, time and patience.
  • Weigh yourself every single day, preferably several times a day to track progress. This is the best way to get discouraged.
  • Spend another batch of endless hours looking for recipes online which will help you eat better, but change nothing in your diet.
  • Count every single calorie while starving yourself to exhaustion. Not only does it make you hate dieting, but starving also puts your body in starvation mode, and everything becomes slower – your body clings on to the energy instead of spending it.
  • Start working out doing cardio exercises in the gym until utter exhaustion. No wonder it is difficult to keep yourself motivated to continue doing it. Being healthy should not feel exhausting.
  • Do targeted exercises to lose fat from certain areas of your body, because somebody sold you this story/workout/specific machine. This will just result in a disappointment because there is no way you can target fat loss. Period.
  • Compare yourself to fitness models, and set yourself a goal to be like them. . Yes, there are many very good-looking and fit people, but their physique is their JOB. That is the only thing they do – workout and eat to look like that. Every day. All the time. Also, one very important word about this one: Photoshop.
  • Give up on the first (or second) available occasion. Insert your latest excuse here_____________________.

To sum up: we want immediate results for something that we are not really doing, or, are doing completely wrong. I now invite you to search the Internet to find the best way to lose weight and get fit. Let me know what you’ve found!

keep-calm-and-send-them-to-their-roomBeing a parent is a state of mind, and it is usually – out of your mind. From the first few blissful moments with your newborn, until the moment they start their own independent life, parenting makes you realize that caring for another human being is the most challenging and rewarding task you have ever been trusted to do.

Luckily, you are not alone in that task: an army of family, friends, well-meaning neighbors, teachers and caregivers will try to be a part of it too, and their help will oftentimes save you. But it will also, inevitably, be a source of unnecessary frustration.

If you are not the epitome of a perfect parent (you know the mythical creature that never seems tired, grumpy or irritated) but are somewhat leaning towards disorganized side, then you are more than likely to be volunteered all kinds of advice from all of the caring hands around you. I have some sneaky little tricks to share with you that will help you through the many mini-breakdowns that await you:

Relatives and elderly neighbors:  they will always have useful advice, usually put in a way that implies that you are doing everything wrong. Well, maybe not everything, but almost everything. Most of them  simply do not understand that times have changed and that the challenges that you are facing may be completely unknown to them. Of course, there will be a lot of sound and meaningful advice as well. The earlier you learn how to spot it and ignore the unnecessary the easier it will be and fewer awkward situations you will be in. Just ignore.

Parenting books: read them, enjoy them and forget about them. According to parenting books, every problem that you have with your child is easy and can be fixed with several simple techniques. Most of those wise techniques will fail when you try then with your child and will only make you feel like a failure. Learn about child development from them, but understand that children are also individuals and there is no one-size-fit-all way of dealing with problems you may encounter during your parenting adventure.

Kindergarten/school staff: trained to care for children professionally, you will entrust your little treasure to their care, believing that they will know what to do. Some will, but be prepared to deal with people who simply ended up having a wrong job. In majority, they will not have enough time/energy to dedicate to your child only, which means a lot of misunderstandings and frustration. This will lead to them preaching you about your child, while, often not understanding anything about your child. Always remember: you know your child best.

Your friends: if your friends also have children you will end up in a variety of situations, but beware of the competitive friends: the species that uses every opportunity to measure their child against yours, and always to your, or your child’s disadvantage. Of course, they will be more than willing to share their ample and amazing skills and experience with you. Avoid them in the beginning, you will be too tired to deal with additional peer pressure.

Childless work colleagues: they will always be very vocal about not understanding what the special thing about having children is, and how they would never have children themselves. This will particularly be difficult in moments when you are suffocated under a pile of tasks, chronically tired and sleepy, and wondering if having children was a wise decision after all. They too (or most of them) will eventually settle down. Around half will probably be the most annoying parent specimen, utterly obsessed with their offspring. Just pay little attention to their comments, most of them will anyway pas over to the dark side.

In most cases, the advice will be well-meaning and helpful, but if it is not – just smile and carry on. And if the children are impossible – just send them to their room. It always works!