Why I stopped writing 

To be sure, I was never a consistent blogger to begin with but during the past six months I completely lost any incentive to write – at least on a public platform. It’s not that I suffer from a chronic writer’s block or an all-consuming work schedule. There is no shortage of thoughts and ideas that I mull over and develop into internal conversations. Sometimes I start writing only to end up with piles of drafts and half-finished essays. The reason these never see the light of day is that I no longer see the point. I’ve only ever written for myself and if unstructured stream of consciousness is what I mainly produce, well then it shall remain for my eyes alone. There was a time when I worked hard to produce something more readable and more cohesive for someone else to read but since my outreach is so microscopically small it was easy to lose motivation. It seems endlessly futile to be sharing one’s thoughts online when the effect is indistinguishable from writing them in one’s diary, or screaming to the wind. If I felt like I had something to say that someone else hadn’t already said better, perhaps then there would be a reason to speak, but alas, I don’t. 

Now would be the time to announce a new start, a new way of looking at writing – the Phoenix rising from ashes and making a glorious return to the blogosphere! But no. This is not a start of something new. It’s simply an explanation – or an excuse, not that I’m in any way obliged to give one. Not that anyone has asked for one.

Perhaps one day I’ll get back to it, perhaps I won’t. But for now, I am literally typing this on my iPhone, and that should tell you something.

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in-between

ska084

They say your home is where your heart is

But what if your heart is always

in-between

Climbing up mountains
Running down with rivers
Dreaming under stars

Home is with those you love
But what if you love the wind,
the rain
Sky splattered with clouds or stars or airplane trails

What if you love the road,
the leaving,
the returning,
the hundred-thousand steps

in-between

Where, then, is home?

All content copyright Anni Kruus 2017

A Girl Like Me

Today, the 8th of March, is the International Women’s Day, and so I thought I would say something about my experience of womanhood. It isn’t an easy task by any means, and the more I think about my gender, the less I can separate that experience from the rest of my identity. I was born a girl and I have always seen myself as a girl. Before I became aware of feminism as a concept I never noticed sexism in my life. In Finland, and other Nordic countries, children tend to be raised in a very no-nonsense manner where gender stereotypes aren’t enforced particularly forcefully. I danced ballet and played princess, but I also roamed around the woods and played basketball. All kids participate in same activities at school; boys do sewing and girls woodworking. Stereotypically, I have never been into ball games, maths or hammering things; but instead I loved figure skating, literature and designing clothes. So in many ways, I’m a textbook example of a girl.

Except that I was never really interested in boys.
At school, it was sort of necessary to have crushes on boys to be seen as normal, so I went along with it. My old diary entries are filled with childish pining for this or that boy or celebrity, and it was thrilling to slow-dance at parties or be kissed on the lips. But all of my friends were always girls. My home or school environment wasn’t overtly homophobic but you could still sense that most people found it kind of weird or gross. I remember when in secondary school, one of the girls in my class was openly bisexual. I felt wordless admiration at her courage but as I’ve always been a perfectionist people-pleaser, I didn’t allow myself to relate to her. None of this was conscious by the way. It’s only years later that I’ve pieced it together.
I don’t know what age I became aware of at least being more into girls than guys, but even that knowledge I only relayed to a few selected friends. Even though I never consciously kept my sexual orientation a secret, I think the biggest fear holding me back was that if I was to accept being gay, then that’s what I would only be known as: that lesbian. For a teenager with body image issues, anxiety and frail sense of self-worth, being labelled distinctly different from everybody else would have been a nightmare. In reality, it probably wouldn’t have been that that big of a deal at all, but when you’re 16 it’s all about life and death. When I came out at 18 most of my friends just shrugged or said something like “oh finally”.

So what is it like being a woman now?
Funnily enough, since I came out I’ve had more everyday challenges when it comes to being a woman. I’ve had to face the suffocating heteronormativity of our society where if I am nice to a male person, it is more often than not taken as a sign of attraction on my part when in truth I’m just naturally a caring person. Like any other girl wearing a skirt, high heels and lipstick, I have to suffer through catcalling and comments from random strangers. When I’m out alone in the dark, I’m always ready to kick, scream or run. I constantly blurt out the line “I’m gay by the way” because that works better than “I’m not interested”.
To me, the differences between sexes or genders are pretty insignificant, and I don’t identify as a woman as an opposition to men. I don’t know what it’s like to be a man any more than I know what it’s like to be a straight woman. Perhaps my entire experience as a woman is simply my experience as myself, as the person that I, and only I am.
I’m an outspoken feminist and openly gay, but if there wasn’t discrimination and prejudice against women and sexual minorities in the world, I don’t think these parts of my identity would be as important as they are. I shout equality for women and gays from the rooftops because so many cannot. I get irritated when I’m made to feel like I should apologise for either not being a man or being romantically or sexually interested in men.
It’s only really adversity that makes me think about my gender and how it is entangled with my sexuality, which is somewhat depressing I suppose.
Shouldn’t I find my womanhood empowering?

I don’t know. But regardless, I do know that I like being a girl. A girl like me.

In support of Mind

Not only haven’t I published anything in this blog for months, I also haven’t really written anything for months. I know I owe no explanations to anyone but the fact of the matter is that I do suffer with depression, and whenever something in my life changes it takes me quite a while to stop feeling overwhelmed. Doesn’t matter if I perceive the change as positive or negative – the mere reality of it creates confusion, and to some extent, stress. So what’s changed? Well, I got a job in late Spring, simple as that. It’s not a dream job but it’s taking up some of my time. Hence why I haven’t been able to write. I am constantly trying to get back to it though.

The reason I’m writing today is that in a week’s time I’ll be running my second half-marathon. My first one took place in May, and that one I ran by myself, for myself. This one, The Royal Parks Half-Marathon, I’m doing for charity. As alluded to in the title, the charity of my choice is Mind, a mental health organisation here in the UK. There were lots of other great causes to choose from but I find that mental health is one that really demands more awareness. I can’t think of many physical illnesses that would come with a social stigma comparable to mental health issues.

And stigma isn’t the only problem with getting help for mental illness. Oftentimes we downplay signs of depression in our own lives because the symptoms don’t seem serious enough to validate asking for help. Yes, suicidal ideation, drug abuse and self-harm are very clear red flags, but it doesn’t have to get that bad before you deserve help.

Here are five lesser-known signs of depression. Remember that each of them is a normal human experience every now and then; it is only when they come bundled-up over an extended period of time and have a noticeable effect on your ability to live life that you might have a reason to get worried.

1. Irritability
Personally, this is a big one. I have always been somewhat hot-tempered and especially as an adolescent I was often moody to an extreme. With age I’ve gained more patience, and at least I’m not as explosive.
When depression gets the hold of me, other people become hugely irritating in my mind. Your choice of words, tone of voice, the speed at which you respond to my messages, etc. can all set me off without a warning. I get snappy, rude and cold – and the worst of it is that I’m often completely oblivious of having offended you, and if I do apologise, it tends to take a while to occur.

It isn’t only interactions with other people that can push me over the edge; I easily get annoyed at my tech not working, or when the bus is late, or when things don’t go exactly as I wanted them to go. The irritation is so strong that I can feel it as physical tension all over my body, and it often boils over in angry tears.

Irritation is a normal feeling, but when it becomes your reaction to everything and everyone, there is probably something else than the universe having turned against you, going on.

2. Short attention span
This one is also right up there in my personal hall of fame. As a uni student I literally had to start tricking myself into reading and writing. I would take books to the gym with me and read them on an exercise bike for example. If I tried to read at home I would either get distracted or fall asleep. Even interesting lectures wouldn’t keep my attention for long unless I was either doodling in a notebook or playing Solitaire on my phone.

In general, it can be difficult to take on any task if you are suffering from depression. You might be motivated and have a footlong  list of things to do, but concentrating your mind on any one of them seems impossible. To an extent, being distracted and procrastinating are normal human qualities as our minds naturally wander. But extreme distractibility can be a sign of an underlying issue.

3. Difficulty making decisions
Big decisions can keep any of us up at night, but when you become paralysed when faced with everyday choices it is time to stop. Sometimes, when I’m asked whether I want to do a or b, my mind simply goes blank and I cannot summon the power to choose. Not to mention when I’m presented with an open-ended question where I don’t even have the luxury of picking a ready-made answer.

This flavour of indecisiveness is not the same as looking at a particularly mouth-watering restaurant menu, unable to make up your mind on what delicacy to order. Depression seriously makes you doubt that you are even capable of making a decision, any decision. It leaves you feeling like you’re just floating with nothing solid to hold on to, in the fear of choosing incorrectly – even when the choice is between a white shirt and a black one.

4. Excessive fatigue
It is a true challenge to get enough sleep in the hectic modern world where most of us are completely consumed with work. So naturally many suffer from persistent lack of quality sleep. But what if you still feel exhausted after getting a solid eight hours a night? Depression doesn’t necessarily make you feel sad or hopeless; it can simply suck every bit of energy out of you leaving your mind foggy and body heavy with sleepiness. Every time you sit down to read you find yourself drifting off to sleep, and no matter how many cups of coffee you ingest the drowsiness persist.

Sometimes sleepiness can merely follow from unwholesome habits such as a poor diet and physical inactivity. But if you’re otherwise taking care of yourself by eating the greens and moving around, extreme fatigue can be indicative of depression – or some other chronic illness.

5. Physical aches and pains
Personally, I haven’t really encountered this one but I have known quite a few people with daily headaches that just resist treatment. Like tiredness, aches and pains can arise from a multitude of conditions but when you’ve ruled out the most obvious causes, it might worth looking into your mental state.

Mind and body are not separate entities and so we shouldn’t overlook the interconnectedness of our mental and physical states. And it surely is time to erase the idea of mental phenomena being somehow less than real and painful. The stigma around mental illness arises from the perception that because it is in the mind, it doesn’t really exist in the same way as physical illness does. Of course, this is an ancient myth, and in reality the chemical imbalance in the brain is just as measurable as the depth of a wound.

I could ramble on and on, but I’m aware that most readers have already given up. If you made it this far, please consider taking a detour to my fundraising page and making a donation. I’m not asking for a substantial sum – £5 would be fantastic!

Resources:
Mind
Donate
NHS Mental Health info

Next stop: meditation station

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I have been trying to compose a piece of writing recounting my recent stay at a week long meditation retreat. However, to my great frustration the task has proven near impossible. This shouldn’t be surprising considering that every time I’m asked how the experience was I fall short of words. An appropriate expression doesn’t seem to exist, which is not to say that it was so fantastically amazing that words are not enough to describe; merely that it was unlike anything else, surprising but unsurprising, transformative in some ways but not others.
Purely practically speaking, it was a week spent in silence, sleeping less and eating less than usual. A week that felt like two weeks  – paying attention to every minute had the effect of making every moment last longer. Eventually even the constant chatter in my mind quietened down.

Sitting down to meditate, to establish a state of mindfulness is a whole lot easier said than done. The nature of the mind is to be anything but still; it wanders from plans to worries to daydreams, getting agitated by an itch or an ache along the way; making judgements about its own thoughts and feelings, abhorred by the boredom and lack of stimuli that the practice of meditation provides.
It is no wonder that our minds are racing at the speed of light most of the time since being able to multitask effectively is a crown jewel for a successful human being in today’s world. Ironically, we also tend to be deluded to thinking that it is only our minds that are totally chaotic and scattered, and that most other people must only think coherent thoughts and experience nice, neat, medium intensity emotions.
Of course it isn’t quite so; every human being has their own special cocktail of psycho-physical phenomena to deal with, and absolutely everyone sometimes thinks things they don’t want to think and feels feelings they don’t want to feel. Let’s take this moment to dismantle the idea that we are not able to learn mindfulness because our  minds are waaaayyyy to busy for that. We can if we want to.
Another related insight that I picked up is that in some ways I have less, but in some ways more control over my mind than I thought I did. In other words (that actually make sense), I have no control over my thoughts or feelings or whether or not they draw my attention; I do however have some control over the way in which I let said thoughts and feelings affect my behaviour.

My most persistent challenge seemed to be tiredness, and for whatever reason I really struggled to stay awake during sitting meditation – in fact, I once nearly fell over since my brain had kindly decided to switch off. I spent a lot of time at a halfway point just outside of sleep but not quite awake either. If you can recollect what it feels like in your body and mind to daydream, that’s the state I was at; just without any actual daydreams.
There were a couple of things that helped keeping me somewhat awake: recalling multiplication tables and steadily moving my hands up and down. As a last resort I would  sometimes stand up and continue the session on my feet.

Now a quick interlude to explain a mental noting method which should help clarify what I’m about to say in the following paragraph.
Imagine being able to slow down a cognitive process at will, like a video recording, and observing each individual step from the intention to do something to completing the action. In everyday life these processes are so quick that we don’t recognise them as series but merely as individual actions. Take the act of drinking water from a glass and break it down to intermediate steps, i.e. you lift the glass, drink some water and set it back down.
Or, you experience the sensation of thirst; you perceive a glass of water in front of you; you intend to take a sip from the glass. You move your hand toward the glass until your fingers touch its surface; you wrap your palm around the glass securing a solid grip with your fingers. You feel tension throughout the length of your arm as your muscles engage in the movement of lifting the glass off the table; you bend your elbow and wrist to direct the glass to your mouth, and stop once your lips make contact with the surface of the glass. You open your mouth, tilt your head back in tandem with the glass, which you lean against your lower lip until you feel water dripping onto your tongue. You note the cooling sensation as the water fills your mouth; you swallow as it reaches the upper edge of your throat, … and so forth.

In a nutshell, I was once again hovering at the edge of sleep at a sitting session. I remember thinking that I should stand up as it might help me stay awake – and then I drifted off. I thought about it again with more resolve, but somehow it felt as though I’d hit a dead end, and there was something keeping me from standing up. It’s all a bit of a blur but I know that I tried to make the decision to get up – and failed.
It felt like when your arm goes numb because you’ve slept on it and despite wanting to move it you can’t because your nervous system is all perplexed about the location of said limb. I had that same bizarre sensation of trying to locate the part of my brain that is responsible for making decisions but it just would not respond. This is not about struggling to move, but about an earlier stage of the process – you know, the process that I explained earlier. In the drinking scenario I mainly listed physical acts as consecutive steps but I could have added the intention of doing each thing as separate steps in between those acts.

This may well be total nonsense to some, but to me it was a very poignant lesson indeed. Do you ever walk into a room and then come to a sudden halt because you have no idea why you went there? Breaking everyday actions apart into a multi-stage processes helps understand why we sometimes just malfunction. The brain is a complex machine that runs multiple processes simultaneously. Not being able to do whatever it is you are meaning to do is not de facto a product of laziness or lack of motivation, but a genuine sign that you don’t have enough energy. After all, even the most insignificantly minuscule cognitive processes use up some amount of energy even though we don’t actively pay attention to them. Like apps running at the background on your phone still decrease battery life. Perhaps this is something we all sort of know to be true but it’s a lightyear’s difference to actually witnessing a simple process like standing up downright fail. You can study aerodynamics all you want but even all of that knowledge won’t make you a prodigy at snowboarding; you do actually have to get on the board and feel what it’s like in the real environment.

Some resources:
Calm – a meditation app for your phone. Download from iTunes or  Google Play
Sam Harris: Waking Up, chapter 1 – audio of the first chapter of Sam Harris’ book concerning meditation and spirituality in an atheist context
Satipanya Buddhist Trust – the organisation behind the retreat that I went to

An unlikely pair

unlikely pair
I happened to exchange emails with a dear friend of mine about our shared struggles in life a few days ago, and then found out through this poignant Guardian article that it is currently Depression Awareness Week. In the spirit of spreading awareness I thought I’d share my thoughts on two books that have given me surprising comfort in tough times. By the way I really do read authors that are not Patrick Rothfuss or Richard Dawkins. And one day I shall prove this – just not today.

I’m not into the self-help and spiritual literary genres at all. The brief encounters I’ve had with these kinds of books have always left a sickly taste of phoney sweetness and disingenuity in my mouth. In addition, being bombarded with popular self-help jargons like “you can be whatever you want”, “you can’t live a positive life with a negative mind” and “just be your authentic self” only enforces the deep shame of having a mental illness and not being able to cure oneself of it. Undoubtedly there are those who do find the delirious hype of self-help and New-Age literature motivating and eye-opening but for a sceptic, which I definitely class myself as, it rings hopelessly hollow.

Richard Dawkins: The Magic of Reality, 2011
This is a very different book compared to its most well-known predecessors, The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion, both of which are enveloped in their fair share of controversy. With The Magic of Reality Dawkins set out to write for younger readers, combining his exceptional skills in storytelling and engaging science communication. In spite of its target audience this is a book for anyone to enjoy. The language is by no means over-simplified or condescending, and you can always skim over the paragraphs that focus on explaining some really basic scientific concepts that you might already be familiar with. It’s a light read, and a very delightful one because Dawkins brilliantly succeeds in conveying his childlike admiration of the natural world in a way that stirs the same curiousness in the attentive reader.

Patrick Rothfuss: The Slow Regard of Silent Things, 2014
I have expressed my adoration of Patrick Rothfuss’ work in a previous post where I discussed the feminist themes in his to-be-trilogy, Kingkiller Chronicles. The Slow Regard of Silent Things is sort of a spin-off  as it focuses on one of the secondary characters in the main series. It stands on its own though: the references to the trilogy don’t disrupt the flow even if you don’t catch them, mainly because the protagonist, Auri makes references to a lot of things that remain elusive to the reader anyway. It’s actually quite difficult to pin down this book. The best way that I can think to describe it is a literary portrait – through sharing Auri’s daily routines, thoughts and emotions Rothfuss paints a picture of a sensitive, deeply affected and troubled girl who has escaped daylight to the shadow world underground and become something other to a regular world dweller.

At a first glance there doesn’t seem to be much that a science book for youngsters and a dreamlike novel could have in common but rest assured, for me it’s all in the details.
In The Slow Regard… we come to notice that Auri’s life is dictated by a set of rules and rituals, completely unintuitive to the reader. She seems to be functioning under a constant of anxiety that flares up and escalates into a rush of panic as soon as something disturbs her safety-net of routines. Any mishap or disappointment will drive her into a deep depression. Mental illness isn’t pretty, and being able to write a piece about it that is both beautiful and heart-wrenchingly relatable makes Patrick Rothfuss practically a genius in my eyes; romanticising this topic is such a tired and disrespectful trope.
Auri finds joy and purpose in the smallest of things – collecting objects that don’t hold any value to anyone but her, and embracing such mundane experiences as brushing her hair. She is mesmerised by sights, sounds and smells, and being hidden away from the busy and loud world above the ground she spends her time noticing a lot more than any of us in our daily lives.

The Magic of Reality is compiled of a series of chapters each tackling a natural phenomenon through myths and stories, leading up to the scientific account. What are rainbows and earthquakes, and who was the first human are some of the questions that Dawkins takes on and explains. One might expect the mythologies related to each problem to be most entertaining part of this book, triumphing over the dry logic of science; but on the contrary. Scientists who have the rare gift of communication are so incredibly inspirational and compelling when explaining the mysteries of nature that they easily make fairy stories sound unimaginative, and Richard Dawkins is no exception. I always loved biology in school because I was blessed with multiple amazing teachers, but I have never been as impressed by evolution as I am when I witness Dawkins addressing it. He is so invested in science and reason without any hidden agenda that it’s hard not to absorb some of the excitation. The Magic of Reality is all about stopping to study things that we take for granted and finding out how they actually come about. It simultaneously encourages the reader to be an independent and critical thinker while also appreciating the small, seemingly inconsequential things.

The unlikely pairing of these two books is a perfect remainder for a conflicted mind to look for moments of peace and wonder in the details of life. Small revelations of everyday don’t have to be tied to some New-Age guru’s 30-day soul healing detox programme but are best experienced with a clear and rationally tuned mind. Negative thoughts and emotions are not poison, nor can we have any control over their emergence. What we can control are the things that we choose to linger on – and should those things be tangible and firmly rooted in reality, all the better I say. “You can’t think your way out of a thinking problem”, is one of the best lessons that I have learned, which is why I try to embrace as many things that exist outside of my thoughts, as I can. The fact that we see stars in our night sky, and that the very existence of those stars is what allows us to exists too, is one of those things.

Myths about atheism

5film3As an atheist and a follower of public discussions of religion one runs into strange misconceptions and myths about atheism and atheists. In my personal life I have only heard a couple of these but because I am interested in debates and that kind of stuff I’ve been exposed to a lot more prejudice indirectly. Also, as Scandinavian living in England following this discourse which is mostly happening across the pond in the States I will say that between Finland, UK and US there seems to be an increase in negativity towards atheism the further westwards you go.

1. Atheists hate God and worship Satan

The term ‘atheism’ is built up from three parts where theos is Greek for any god, -ism indicates a system of principles and practices, and a- expresses not or without. Atheism at its core, stripped out of all additional meanings simply stands for an unbelief in any god. It’s not defiance of a god, nor a pretence – it is simply a lack of belief. Satan is just as fictional to atheists as is God, and so it is safe to say that atheists don’t tend to practice devil worship either.
When it comes to feelings towards the concept of the Abrahamic god in particular there are undoubtedly many who would say that they despise him. Christopher Hitchens called himself an anti-theist to emphasise his disgust toward Yahweh and the kind of dictatorial theocracy that the Abrahamic religions promote. Richard Dawkins has endured his fair share of religious outrage for the following passage in The God Delusion:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

At the most, some atheists hate the fictional character, God and his influence over non-fictional beings.

2. Atheists worship Richard Dawkins

At least Professor Dawkins is real, but no, he is definitely not the High Priest of Atheism. This myth encompasses a set of misjudgements about atheism. Being the opposite of theism – or religion, atheism is often seen as a unified movement comparable to any other political or religious ideology. Public advocates of atheism are easily taken as spokesmen and representatives for all atheists, and as a consequence an illusion of a likeminded group of people with common agenda, beliefs and values arises.
In reality the only thing that all atheists have in common is the unbelief in god or gods. Our morals and values do not come from a set ideology but are as varied as our favourite colours and foods. Atheists don’t have an agenda. Some of us might but again, simply not having a religious faith does not lead to any particular direction. In fact, another thing that atheists do share is perhaps a strong aversion to dogma and authoritarianism. The Atheist Agenda is kind of like The Gay Agenda – we just want to live our lives without being subject to organised religion and being attacked for our non-belief.
When it comes to Dawkins, there are many atheists who adore him and there are many who don’t. The only consensus is that atheists are not an organised movement with a single figurehead whose views we all subscribe to. There are numerous public atheist whom I look up to but I don’t need Richard Dawkins or anyone else to speak for me. That I can do for myself.

3. Hitler and Stalin were atheists therefore atheism is evil

First of all, we don’t actually know for sure about the religious convictions of either one.
Secondly, even if they were non-believers neither one proclaimed that it was their atheism that inspired them and justified what they were doing. A crime committed by a religious person is not always motivated by their religion, nor is a crime committed by an atheist necessarily motivated by their lack thereof.
Most importantly, there just is no way that this argument holds water even if we granted that both Hitler and Stalin were atheists, and that their evil came from atheism. In the grand scheme of things the centuries of religious wars, violence and persecution would still massively outweigh atheism in the overall amount of suffering inflicted upon humanity. From this line of thinking it would automatically follow that religion is even more evil than atheism.

4. You can’t disprove God therefore atheists are wrong

You can’t prove God therefore theists are wrong?
There is a sliver of truth in this claim and a more accurate denomination for most atheists is probably agnostic. However, agnosticism is such an elusive concept that it doesn’t really serve a purpose in describing one’s views. A theist is likely to interpret an agnostic’s stance on the existence of God as 50/50 – that there is an equal probability either way. Perhaps this seems trivial but there really is a huge difference in being 90% convinced of the non-existence of God compared to that halfway position that agnostics are easily prescribed.
It is important to remember that we are agnostic about many things. The most famous example of this is the cosmic teapot analogy coined by Bertrand Russell. It is simply to say that we cannot prove that there isn’t a teapot orbiting the Sun somewhere between Earth and Mars, which obviously doesn’t automatically mean that there has to be a one. This illustrates the logical fallacy inherent in the claim that because something is scientifically unfalsifiable it must be true.

5. Science is the religion of atheists

One sometimes encounters the claim that knowledge based on science requires faith in the methods of science and is therefore just as believable as religion. The distrust in science today probably stems from the tsunami of pseudo-science spawned by the shady corners of Internet. Not everything that claims to be science is in fact science, and this creates confusion. One study trying to prove anything is never enough to be a basis of reliable information.
Scientific truths are different from dogmatic truths in that they are fair game for review and critique. Scientific theories face rigorous scrutiny and multiple attempts to disprove them. This ensures that the knowledge that earns the gold star of being true has passed through such a volume of close examination and nit-picking that it’s nearly bulletproof. But only nearly, because even after being accepted it can still be tested and disproved.
Moreover, trust in the scientific method is founded on the fact that good theories make accurate predictions regardless of who is conducting the experiment. Science observes and seeks to explain how stuff works and when it succeeds things like eyeglasses, computers and skyscrapers get developed.
Science doesn’t require blind faith, it doesn’t have an inbuilt agenda and it doesn’t tell us what to do and how to live our lives.

6. “You just haven’t endured hardship. When you do, you will find God.”

Not only is this dismissive and presumptuous, but it also reveals how limited and childish religion can render its follower. I have nothing against those who feel better at the thought of an omnipotent, celestial being watching over them, but to insinuate that faith in supernatural is the only way to overcome obstacles and be fulfilled is stupidly unimaginative.
Personally I have found much more comfort in looking up to the early morning sky and spotting Jupiter; in learning that all elements that make up my body were forged within dying stars; and simply knowing that whatever happens there are real flesh-and-blood people in my life who will stand by me and physically hold my hand if I need it.
Surrendering to a metaphysical force is a gateway to ignoring responsibility and agency in one’s own life. That said, I’m not drawing a direct line from religious faith to infantilism. It’s a path that can be taken but certainly not by everyone.

7. Atheists are arrogant and look down on believers

This would be just as valid if it was reversed. Neither claim is based on evidence but on prejudice. Some people are arrogant, some people are funny, some people like cats. Atheism in an of itself doesn’t lead to arrogance – it is simply a way of abbreviating the statement: “I don’t believe in god”. Trying to force atheism to mean something other than it does will always reach a dead-end. I’m repeating myself but atheism is not a belief system like Christianity or Hinduism are. There are no atheistic traditions or core ideas because it is not a religion.
When you learn that someone is a Hindu you can immediately make some assumptions about them based on your general knowledge of Hinduism. These assumptions may or may not be accurate in the case of every single individual but they are reasonable because they originate from a set of known beliefs and values, which said individual has just identified with.
Learning that someone is an atheist merely informs you of something that this person does not believe in. The rest is up to you to find out.

Imagine being bald and never even growing any hair, and then a group of people insist on braiding and combing and curling your hair. You’re trying to draw their attention to the fact that you don’t actually have any hair nor are you going to. Your grandma is like “don’t be ridiculous, everyone has hair”. Someone gets offended and starts yelling at you “so you hate everyone who has hair!”. No guys, it’s fine, you have hair and I don’t. It’s not a big deal. Just don’t shove it down my throat. Literally. Pls.

Tattoo musings

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I thought I had sort of narrowed down the kind of content I was going to be posting here but as it turns out  random topics – or formats – outside my predetermined spectrum keep popping up. And who am I to resist the urge to write when the mood strikes?
With this briefer than brief prologue let’s jump into the world of tattoos, or rather one specific tattoo: my most recent one.

For some of us, tattoos are a way of self-expression, for others they represent significant things in their life. One gets a tattoo because they like the look of it, the other builds an image around a carefully thought out concept. Personally, my tattoos must have a meaning deeper than their aesthetic. I had my first one designed by a friend following my instructions, the second I borrowed from the cover art of an album, and the third was an idea, sparked by words. I simply told the tattoo artist this:
“I want a small green butterfly, on the right side of my neck. No outlines, just a splash of colour. About 5 centimetres across.”

Here, I have to cross over to a topic that I more than enjoy talking about, but that I usually refrain from writing about especially if I’m attempting to seem like I know what I’m saying. See, the source of the words that morphed into my latest tattoo, is one so emotionally laden for me that discussing it in a calm and collected manner feels like holding my breath while running up the stairs. This is a territory that my analytical grip cannot reach despite my best efforts. You are possibly wondering what sort of deity or magic I am referring to, but rest assured it’s nothing more mysterious than a rock band. How’s that for an anti-climax?
I do actually have some thoughts on the nature of music, and why I find it so difficult to describe with words but that shall be a discussion for another day.

There’s this band called Nightwish. And everyone who knows me well and is reading this, I’m imagining all of you sitting there with a smug grin upon your faces because you know how much I’m struggling to keep this together. The danger of soppiness is looming.
All you really need to know about Nightwish is that their music has been one of the nearest and dearest things to me for about a decade now, and that many of my most vivid and treasured memories are related to it. For the longest time I wanted to get a Nightwish themed tattoo, but one that wouldn’t be super obvious e.g. the band members’ faces as a sleeve (not judging anyone who likes that sort of thing though). Long story short, from amongst gazillions of lyrics there was one passage that, at a certain moment just lit up in my mind. I’m picturing this as one of those cartoon moments where a lightbulb appears above your head.
This is how it goes:

An obese girl enters an elevator with me, all dressed-up fancy,
a green butterfly on her neck.
Terribly sweet perfume deafens me.
She’s going to dinner, alone.
That makes her even more beautiful.”

The simultaneous strength and fragility and everydayness of this situation always resonated with me, but then again, there are countless other bits in Nightwish lyrics that do. This it the one that feels personal enough to be the story of my tattoo though.

Let’s start with the butterfly. I am very profound when it comes to research, even the research of a tattoo. As I was already very drawn to how a butterfly would look like as an image on my skin, I focused on getting familiar with its symbolism. Across cultures and religions butterflies tend to represent some aspect of rebirth and freedom from earthly burdens. I don’t practice any religion but the thought of escaping from the weight of life is a compelling one; not through death but rather through dreaming, forgetting and letting go for a moment. A more mundane rebirth of the tired mind.
Very much alike, the colour green is the colour of life and growth. It can also be the colour of envy or of sickness, but perhaps the weightless existence of a butterfly can counteract those aspects; and of course any symbol carries a multitude of meanings depending on the person reading it. Nevertheless, my green butterfly is first and foremost a vessel of life and energy.
It is also a reminder of the temporariness of all things. The lifespan of a butterfly is brief, and its flight past one’s eyes easily missed in the blink of an eye. Kind of like the many little details of our everyday existence that are left unnoticed as we rush past them.

 Where is that girl in the lift in all this then?
Although obesity is heavily frowned upon and considered anything but beautiful in today’s world, in this context it seems to bear no more a negative than a positive connotation. However, for me the notion of physical bigness relates to a challenge of my own. I admittedly view myself through somewhat dysmorphic lenses. Separating the distorted picture from actuality is a struggle that perseveres, and although I have never actually been of a size considered obese, something like that is how I tend to experience my bodily form. And of course the majority of women can relate to the sense of unhappiness regarding their appearance.


I find the thought that the aloneness of this girl makes her “even more beautiful” a particularly endearing one. Going out alone is another strange social taboo. As if we weren’t good enough just to be by ourselves. As if loneliness, or aloneness ought to be kept from sight.
That girl then, being obese – yet dressing up, and being alone – yet going out, directly opposes what is considered normal and acceptable, thus rising above criticism to live her life with a lighter mind. To resist condoning to norms and expectations asks for a little bit of bravery and faith in oneself and that in the long run many of the things we are easily judged by don’t really matter all that much. In the whole of the universe a human lifetime is only a blip in time, which might sound dramatic and deep but what it really gives me, is perspective and the license to stop and appreciate all of those other small, temporary things that will be gone in the next minute.

And there is the story of my butterfly, and how it represents things that I aspire to be and things that I find important to remember.

My Perfect Prison

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It is hard to begin writing. I stare at the blank page that stares back at me and continues to stare even as I frustratedly slam down my laptop screen and rush out to do something else in an effort to get distracted from the blankness. I enjoy writing. I’m even fairly decent at it, but I seem to suffer from a chronic writer’s block. There are dozens of topics I would like to turn into words but as soon as I sit down with purpose to write, the words cower somewhere to the far corners of my mind and I’m left with an aggressively white screen and an ever-growing, pounding irritation towards myself, the keyboard, and in some cases, life in general. I claim to know what is at the root of this issue, and so I should simply confront it, fight it, eliminate it. But of course it is not that simple. Why is it never simple? While I dare not call it a disadvantage, in this case knowing the problem does nothing to help me solve it; like the hindrance of many an endeavour, mine alike is fear – the fear of failure. Perfectionists are more often than not seen as straight-A-students, career junkies and generally hard-working, successful people. While this observation is not entirely wrong, it merely scratches the surface.

The word, perfectionism, carries the weight of its origin, perfect, which, in turn relates to faultlessness, precision, correctness and absolution. It must be said, and I’m stating the obvious here, that while a perfectionist’s ambition might be to reach perfection, even to embody perfection, perfection itself is not an innate quality to one striving for it. In other, more sensible words, that straight-A-student who always seems to succeed can still fail – a fact known to and accepted by everyone else but said perfectionist. And really, what all of us perfectionists have in common is the terrible, paralysing fear of failure. In fact, perhaps we are not driven by our goal of perfection, but rather by the fear of failing to achieve it. The difference between the two might seem trivial but it draws a line between ambition and obsession. I never considered perfectionism a struggle comparable to things like ADHD or OCD, but merely another personality trait among others. In the world where competition is encouraged and success rewarded it seems natural to set the bar higher and higher. I strongly identify with the term “perfectionist”. However, like any other label it easily becomes a way for me – and others – to minimise my experience. For instance, feeling stressed out I might bring it up to another person by stating: “Oh, I’m such a perfectionist I can get anxious just about anything”. What a wonderful way of simultaneously asking for sympathy and shitting on myself. When the statement has escaped my lips it’s as though I’ve given a permission for everyone to perceive me the way I perceive myself.

“Chill out! You’re such a perfectionist.”

“That’s just who she is, a total perfectionist.”

“It’s not a big deal. You don’t have to do everything so perfectly.”

Words are powerful. When uttered frequently enough they start to represent truth. They reinforce the idea that this is what it is; this is how I’m perceived so this must be who I am. As it becomes common knowledge that I always strive for perfection, my fear of failure increases. Now it isn’t only myself whom my shortcomings will disappoint but everyone, absolutely everyone. What if I they find out that I’m a fraud, an imposter, only pretending to be something special? What if I fail to meet the expectations that my perfectionist armour suggests are reasonable? What if it turns out that I will only ever be average at best? Ambition can be an incredible force for good when paired with passion, courage and resilience; unless, for whatever reason, it morphs into an obsession fuelled by panic, where the slightest misstep is a ground-shaking disaster.

Fear, like cancer, spreads by contaminating its surroundings, turning a body against itself. The fear of failure, if allowed to feast on its carrier, shrinks one’s universe into a very small reality where everything is so controlled by a looming terror that the simplest task becomes an arduous chore. In the midst of this turmoil, the perfectionist has completely ignored the fact that no one really expects her to never fail, and that the outside pressure is only her perception of how she is perceived by others. How to start a project of any size or amount of required effort when every idea is immediately plagued by the hypothetical failure at the end? “Just do it”, says the Nike tagline, but what if the anxiety is so paralysing that choosing which brand of non-dairy milk to go for, or whether to set the alarm for 7AM or 7:10AM becomes an ordeal. In such a fearful existence creativity does not come easily: it has to be fought for. Annoyingly enough, just doing it, really is the only way to stop the cycle.

The blank page has turned into a less intimidating mishmash of characters, lines and paragraphs toning down the irritating brightness. Now the only disconcerting element is the ‘Publish’ button. I allow myself to opt for ‘Save Draft’ and go obsess over something else for a time. The true challenge of perfectionism is accepting that whether you try or not, you still won’t be perfect so you might as well go for it. Trying and failing may even lead to you being the worst of all, which is singular in its own way, whereas remaining passive just gives your voice to someone louder.

So there, getting up close and personal right out of the gate. Now that I’ve minimised my own and everybody else’s expectations of this blog we can get started, hopefully with less of the aforementioned looming terror and more with  embracing Salvador Dali’s words:

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it”