Just a rant

Today I wrote a whole 1000 word post and then saved it as a draft… I don’t know if I will publish it ever, because maybe tomorrow I read this ranting and decide that it is too bitter and not funny at all.
Soon I will have more drafts that published posts. But as I promised – I will post something every week, whether I have something to say, or not. This week there is a lot that I would like to say and none of it suitable for public space.

It is just one of those days when I once again question my decision to live in Greece. Sure, it is beautiful and I feel really really happy here. But some aspects of the Greek culture are just so so SO difficult to adjust with. The Greeks are like little emotionally unstable kids. They are so happy one moment, so angry the next moment and so unpredictable. Their moods depend on weather, caffeine, nicotine, grandmother’s health, hormones and random encounters. They want everything and they want it now, but what that everything is, that is yet to be defined.
I have learned to manage my own Greek’s mood swings and he is more mature in so many ways than most people I have ever met in what ever country. But there are a whole lot of other Greeks in my life and while I like all of them, I will never understand the fickle Greek mind..
Tomorrow is another day and maybe next weeks post actually has some content..

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The paralysing effect of praise

I got a lot of good feedback for my previous post. It was the most shared piece, I have ever written. I was very pleasantly surprised how many people could relate to this. As I often like to repeat – you will always find, what you are looking for. If you look for misery, you will surely find it. And if you look for happiness, you will find that too. The fact, that so many people enjoyed my piece means for me, that there are plenty of people out there, looking for happiness, finding it and rejoicing about it. And that makes me very grateful.

Good feedback in my case seems to be a double-edged sword. While I am incredibly grateful and happy to receive it, it also brings out an old pattern, learned through 12 years of school. Praise paralyses me. I can not write anything after that in case it turns out to be slightly less insightful, delightful and popular. Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of a hugely popular book “Eat, love, pray” once gave an interesting TED talk, where she talked about how difficult it is to write anything, after your creation has grown such amazing wings, as her book did.

Several scientists and authors have published in recent years articles about this phenomenon, that I instantly related to, when I first heard about it. Praising children about their talent, instead of work, teaches them to be afraid of failure, makes them lose confidence. How does it work?

Often a child will react to praise by quitting — why make a new drawing if you have already made ‘the best’? Or a child may simply repeat the same work — why draw something new, or in a new way, if the old way always gets applause? (Source)
Once that child hears often, that he/she is “smart” and “talented”, he/she starts to expect that always. It becomes part of his identity and any failure would be a direct assault to that identity. “What if I am not as talented as everybody seems to think? What am I then? Stupid?” There is no middle ground for a child like that. So as soon as they even smell failure or are afraid to perform less than perfect, they quit even before beginning.

From Psychology Today I found the following:
The Columbia University researchers Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck have found that children who were praised for their intelligence, as compared to their effort, became overly focused on results. Following a failure, these same children persisted less, showed less enjoyment, attributed their failure to a lack of ability (which they believed they could not change), and performed poorly in future achievement efforts. Dweck says: “Praising children for intelligence makes them fear difficulty because they begin to equate failure with stupidity.”

I was one of those kids. Always praised for being smart, I learned around grade 6 that as soon as I am face-to face with the possibility of failing, I quit before trying. And work? “That is for slow and stupid.. I’m too cool for that”.

psychoanalyst and University College London professor Stephen Grosz writes in his book “The Examined Life”:
“Admiring our children may temporarily lift our self-esteem by signaling to those around us what fantastic parents we are and what terrific kids we have — but it isn’t doing much for a child’s sense of self. In trying so hard to be different from our parents, we’re actually doing much the same thing — doling out empty praise the way an earlier generation doled out thoughtless criticism. If we do it to avoid thinking about our child and her world, and about what our child feels, then praise, just like criticism, is ultimately expressing our indifference.”

So what is a better solution as a parent? How to keep on evolving and make new mistakes instead of repeating the old ones?
The scientists say that the solution is presence. Be present, notice children’s work, give feedback, not just praise. You can point out what appeals personally to you, but be honest. And let them know that you are happy to see them try again, learn and work. Grosz quotes in his book a teacher called Charlotte Stiglitz:
“I don’t praise a small child for doing what they ought to be able to do,’ she told me. ‘I praise them when they do something really difficult — like sharing a toy or showing patience. I also think it is important to say “thank you”. When I’m slow in getting a snack for a child, or slow to help them and they have been patient, I thank them. But I wouldn’t praise a child who is playing or reading”
Grosz also says that presence, helps build the child’s confidence by way of indicating he is worthy of the observer’s thoughts and attention — its absence, on the other hand, divorces in the child the journey from the destination by instilling a sense that the activity itself is worthless unless it’s a means to obtaining praise. Being present, whether with children, with friends, or even with oneself, is always hard work. But isn’t this attentiveness — the feeling that someone is trying to think about us — something we want more than praise?

Children develop a sense of competence by seeing the consequences of their actions, not by being told about the consequences of their actions. Children who are praised for their effort show more interest in learning, demonstrate greater persistence and more enjoyment, attribute their failure to lack of effort (which they believe they can change), and perform well in subsequent achievement activities.
More about that in the PT article.

It takes a lot of work to first recognize and then break that pattern… And one of the things that I plan to do for breaking it, is to start writing every week. Whether I feel that I have something to say or not. I’ll just do it. Work. Persistence. Brr, itching to cancel the whole blogging thing already.

Why are Greeks so happy all the time?

I mean really… it is almost annoying! How come they are always happy? It’s raining cats and dogs outside and the wind tries to uproot trees – they meet, they laugh and joke. The country is deep financial crisis – they meet, they laugh and joke. There are so many things in this society in general, that could make you depressed. The repression of women and children in the family system, the ridiculous power of the the orthodox church, an education system that is so far behind, a bureaucracy that is so difficult that just for paying your monthly bills in Athens, you need to take two days off work, not to mention the huge debt and the austerity measures that slowly but surely are strangling the life out of the whole country. And still Greeks are managing to be just genuinely happy! Every day! How? Why?

Making these kind of generalizations is a very slippery slope. So I want to very clear that this is just my opinion that is based on my observations and comparisons with the people that I have met living in Estonia and Poland. There is a very real possibility that I just see happiness because I look for happiness. But I have a feeling that I have just snatched one end of a rope that has something interesting on the other end. The Greeks know something about being happy. Something more than I do. What is it?

Sure they complain. Sometimes a lot and very loud. But as soon as they are done complaining, they continue laughing. The other day my friend told me how her car got stolen – the whole story was told in such a funny way that we couldn’t stop laughing. Greeks are not afraid to laugh about themselves. They can sometimes descend into very dark humour, but they can turn everything into something amusing, if they feel like doing so.


While writing this post, I found and article that seems to support my idea. In 2013 Ekathimerini and OneEurope posted an article, which says that the Greeks are second happiest people in Europe despite the crisis. On the other side, The Press Project writes in 2014 that within a decade the Greeks fell from the happiest people in Europe, to the least happy. It’s hard to say if there even is an objective truth on this matter. Happiness is such a personal issue and statistics always show what the researchers intend them to show.

What ever the statistics say, I have observed a few things that we could all learn from Greeks, to live a happier life.

What makes Greeks happy:

1. The weather. Obviously. Sun makes everybody happier. We need the light and the warmth. And here, even in winter there are so many beautiful days when the sky is perfectly blue (or decorated with a few fluffy clouds) and the sun is shining. But that’s not all – even with a bad weather – extremely strong winds, cold rain and in many places even snow, they keep on smiling and laughing. It is like entertainment to have bad weather. Because you know that in a few days, maximum a week, the serene sunshine and calm breeze is back.

2. They don’t keep their emotions hidden. Everything comes out. The good, the bad and the ugly. If they get angry – the whole neighbourhood hears it. If they are happy, it’s the same. That means that no emotions stay stuck in the muddy waters of the subconscious. If you feel it, you show it. You let it out and then it is done, forgotten. No reason to torture yourself with unexpressed worries, anger, fear or sadness that keep on lurking at the back of your head. Throw it out and let it go.
And if they are happy to see you, you know it too. For a northerner it is something to get used to. They hug and kiss you, squeeze your shoulder and pat you on the back. They ask you how you are doing five times. It is strange and sometimes awkward for me, because the culture where I grew up, a lot of that would be viewed as rude or intrusive. So I learn. To let people hug and kiss me for a greeting and to do the same. To ask questions. To laugh and cry with them. Because it is healthy.

3.They take interest in other people’s lives. This one can be tricky though. On one hand, that means that your life is everybody’s business. Private life? What private life? There is no such thing as privacy in a Greek family. Everybody has an opinion on how you should live your life, cook your food, wash your socks and comb your hair. And they do not keep it to themselves. On the other hand it means that you will most probably not be left on your own on bad times either. Feeling depressed? Your friends will drag you out of the house, they will talk to you, cry with you, try to make you laugh, get drunk with you, if needed.

Not all is rosy on that department for sure. Depression and other mental health issues are still quite a taboo in the Greek society. Nobody will easily admit that they are depressed or go to the therapist. So there is a lot of work do be done to raise awareness that depression is not something to hide. But at least hiding is not so easy here. Everybody is so willing to discuss details of your life that maybe it helps a little.

Greek family will always be there for you. Maybe not always unconditionally – letting them help you means that you need to conform with their ideas on how you choose to live your life. But even if you do wander off the beaten track, they will still always welcome you back. Give you a good lecture, feed you until almost unconscious and laugh with you.

4.They take time to enjoy life. Greeks work hard but they never forget to take time to relax too. They can spend countless hours over coffee and a meal, talking to friends. During the workday they take moments to talk to friends, smoke a cigarette, gossip, eat, laugh, cry and what ever else they need to do. The shops and businesses close for several hours in the middle of the day and some days don’t open again on the afternoon.

From a Germanic cultural background, this is incredibly annoying. What do you mean you have a life and feelings? No! Nein! You work, so you could work, earn money and think about future, when you retire. You are not entitled to have a life today. That happens some time in the far away future. Today you are meant to labour through your endless grey days and if you need a pee-break, that has to be exactly 2 minutes 54 seconds. Back to work now. Quickly. Do not smile to the customer unless you are told to. Do not even remember that you have family or friends. When you work, you are a machine…

Greeks do not subscribe to that idea. They allow themselves to be human. There is time for everything and what does not happen today, will probably happen tomorrow… or the day after. But things will get done eventually. Of course enjoying today without too much worries about tomorrow is part of the problem, why the country is in such deep crisis today. But if you can combine the relaxed attitude with some discipline, you might just have a recipe how to have a life today and tomorrow too. Many Greeks who have moved abroad, have adopted a different work ethics but still kept their relaxed attitude and they are thriving in life.

Back in 2008 I visited Corfu and returning from there I had to take a bus, to make it to the airport in time. Counting on the fact that the local buses are on time (big mistake) and everything happens as it is supposed to, I ended up being very late in the bus station. The bus to Athens was full and about to depart in 10 minutes. Breathlessly I explained to the man in the ticket office that I absolutely NEED to take this bus, or I will miss my plane. He lit a cigarette, said “wait” and left. Came back, said nothing. I asked, what is going on, can he make it happen that I get on that bus? “Wait” he replied from a cloud of blue cigarette smoke. 10 longest minutes of my life passed while I was pacing back-and-fourth like a caged tiger, wishing that I had not quit smoking may years ago. The guy in the ticket office was leaving his cubicle every now and then, ignoring my pleading glances and replying nothing. The bus did not leave on schedule, which only prolonged my agony. And just as I was about to chew off my suitcase handle, the guy came to me, lit another cigarette and told the magic words – yes, you can take the bus!

Everything finally gets done. In it’s own strange way and pace.

Greeks take time at work and they take even more time on leisure time. A 5-hour lunch that turns into dinner? No problem. Late breakfast that turns into brunch that is followed by having coffee in the next café? Sure! Two-hour phone call? Any time. They spend so much time just enjoying the company of other people that it makes a proper Finno-ugric person wanna scream, run and hide. But of course I do nothing of the sort. Because as a proper Finno-ugric, I do not show emotions.

5. They talk. All the time. Loudly. With hands. Whether happy or sad, joyous or angry – all the talking is so incredibly loud. I mean really – the decibels that come out of a Greek yiayia just when she is calling the grandkids for a meal, are deafening. The kids on the playground yell just out of the pure enjoyment of the game. The mothers yell, the fathers yell, the neighbours yell. And that is constantly accompanied by gestures. Mostly with hands but also with the head or other body parts… depending on the conversation. 

What have the decibels in common with happiness?
It is less about the decibels and more about self-expression. All the negative energy that could be trapped inside and slowly poison everybody are released by the extra decibels and energetic hand movements.

They also swear a lot! My language skills are not yet good enough to catch all that. But apparently the vocabulary of elaborate and very adult expressions is huge in variety. While I would not suggest that everybody should start swearing – there is a certain release and enjoyment of uttering some juicy swearwords at the right moment and place. It helps you steam off move on. And if you need inspiration, how to use swearwords in English (and how to care less about unimportant stuff in life), read this.

A very good point that I probably would not have found on my own, is that

6. their God, his son, the sons’ mother and an extensive network of male and female Saints, that seem to help on demand, are very much still an important presence in many Greeks’ lives. While it may just be a beautiful fairy tale combined with a network of money hungry religious leaders, it does provide relief for a lot of people. It means that if something good happens, the “Great father figure” is rewarding you. And when something bad happens, he will either take care of it or it is part of His big master plan and surely there is a reason why he decided to send that misfortune. It is a coping mechanism. Whether healthy or not, it works. Just as prayer helps even those, who are not religious – it changes the mindset.

How to get rich? Preferably fast, please.

I have given so many promises to write more frequently. But the god(ess) of inspiration or motivation still seems to avoid me. Maybe it’s just about personal discipline!? I have considered giving myself a task to write once per week, starting from… tomorrow… or next Monday… or some other convenient date that is very much in the future. But it is so easy to break the promises that you have made for yourself. And although it is easy to find the excuses to do that, it still makes you feel like a failure. Maybe I should give a promise instead to treat myself more gently? Feeling like a failure does not enhance creativity or inspiration.

This moment in my life is quite controversial. As I love to tell anybody, who asks – my personal life is flourishing and professional life is non-existent. I don’t even know whether this could be considered a failure to achieve balance in my life or is this just a normal temporary phase between different stages of life. If the latter, then I would really like to know how long this temporary thing can last? In Estonia we say often that there is nothing more permanent than temporary solutions. I really hope that this is not the case with me.

In the end of the summer season I was really hoping that my writing job will pick up again. This did not happen. And while waiting, I guess I did not put enough effort into finding other alternatives. Last month I had a very clear revelation – while hanging upside down on a yoga mat, it hit me with a brutal clarity. When it comes to finances, I am totally screwed. There is no way, my life as it is now, could be sustainable. And that is the reality despite the fact that a lot of wonderful things, that I was wishing to happen, have come to my life without extra cost.

I seem to be really good at manifesting into my life the people, things and activities that I need, except the tool called money.

That of course calls for a very thorough investigation of my thoughts and actions. What have I done or not done, to find myself in this position? As I believe that all our life is a manifestation of our thought patterns, I need to find and change the ones that hold me back. And of course – find and cherish the thought patterns that have served me so well by bringing into my life a wonderful partner, amazing friends and great kids!

I have been waiting for the right circumstances and moments to click, so things in my life would make sense. So far it has been mostly a mess with a title – what do I want to be and do, when I grow up? I can not work just for the sake of it. I need to do the things that truly make me happy. Then I will be like a force of nature – unstoppable and unavoidable. And when you do the things that make you happy, abundance will follow naturally. So. Follow your bliss!

But what exactly is my bliss?

I asked that question one evening a few months ago. I really gave a good thought into what fills me with joy, inspiration and all kinds of other warm and fuzzy feelings. The answer came quite easily – dance and gardening! These are the two things that save my rainy day and make the sunny day even better. So after finding that answer I spent a blissful evening of window-shopping at an online shop for new dance-sneakers, because once you find your way, universe will respond by showing the way how to achieve it. And guess what happened the next day?!

No, the sneakers did not magically appear behind my door. Quite the opposite actually. I had a sudden onset of idiopathic (for no apparent reason) and acute knee inflammation! What the hell was that? Hello universe, this was NOT the answer I was looking for! Try again please!

For two weeks I was avoiding stairs and applying all kinds of natural treatments that I could think of. Fortunately the inflammation disappeared just as mystically as it appeared. But it still leaves me with a question – WHAT am I supposed to think of that? Dance is not the way for me? It is, if I persist and overcome obstacles? What? Universe can be extremely confusing sometimes.

Quite recently I had a much better and clearer insight into the possible reasons that have brought me to this point in life, where in early thirties I have no profession or income to speak of. If goes back to the same word, that I constantly bump into – gratitude!

My closer and extended family, who taught me the values in life, is not really very good at this gratitude thing. There was always something lacking. And in a very real sense – there WAS a constant lack. My mother raised me as a single mother with only symbolic financial and zero practical support from my father. Life was a constant struggle to make ends meet. And this struggle was constantly accompanied by non-said but mentally very loud complaining. My mother, grandmother, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews spend too much time focusing on how unfair, difficult and cruel the world is. There might be occasional moments of not complaining. But the majority of time is spent on cursing the unfair and egoistic people around them and the lack of luck and prosperity in their life. Of course I have very successfully learned to focus on the lack in my life, instead of how rich I am. Only recently I am learning to turn this around with the help of my Greek man.

The reality is, that I have so much to be grateful for. I still have to remind myself that every single day. Changing the mindset and mentality is a slow process and seeing the results of this change is way too slow! But with some persistence and patience it will happen. Getting rich is not about getting more. It is about loving and appreciating what you already have.

Now, where can I find that patience? Anyone? Ideas?

Responsibilities – the big word and small deeds behind that

Greece has another unusual cold front sweeping over the country. Barely 5-7 degrees here on the island, incredibly strong winds and constant rain. As an Estonian, I am more accustomed to the idea of bad weather so I try not to let it bother me much. Our home is warm, we don’t have to go far for anything and in less than a week this too shall pass…
I will take this as an opportunity to stay indoors and spend time in front of the screen without any regrets. When it is sunny and beautiful outside, you constantly feel that I should be out there. It seems like a waste of valuable time to stay cooped up in our two-and-a-half-windows-apartment, when the sun shines, the wind is mild and caressing, the sky has a few clouds just for the dramatic effect and the sea is shimmering in all shades of blue.

Some recent events and conversations have made me think, what really is responsibility? It is a big word that is often used but rarely put into action. When is too much responsibility destroying us and our loved ones. When does the lack of responsibility turn into egoism and self-centeredness?
We have many responsibilities. To ourselves, to our family, to the place and the environment, where we live. But all too often we see an unhealthy approach to responsibilities. Why is it so? Why too many people take responsibility for things that are none of their business while neglecting to be responsible for their own lives?

I believe that responsibility starts from honesty. First you have to be brutally honest and clear to find where are the healthy boundaries. Face your fears, your insecurities and pain. You owe it to yourself. It is not an easy job to be honest with yourself. Some people learn it their whole life, some never even try.

When I was in high-school, one of my most inspiring teachers told us that words are like sparrows. Once you let them go, you can never catch them. So I guess taking responsibility for our words starts with one of my favourite sayings

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Not that I follow it all the time… god no! I speak too often without thinking. Don’t we all? I remember how annoying it was when my mother told me – if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. But in many situations it has helped me a lot. On the other hand, it can lead to unhealthy people-pleasing. When you only say, what is pleasant to others, you will too often betray your own needs and beliefs.

Taking too much responsibility is a disease that most parents have. We think that it is our job to do everything, take care of everything (except ourselves), orchestrate and organize everything. While very much true in the first years of our children’s lives, we tend to forget the art of letting go. Our kids are visitors in our life. Year by year they will get more independent and sooner than we know, despite our best efforts to make them depend on us, they will fly away. So why not help them, instead of trying to hold them back? When you give children a chance to take responsibility, they will learn, grow and let you do the same. For example:

Mornings have never been the best time for me. I hate waking up early, I get cranky, I bump into furniture and yell at people. Obviously sending my daughter to school in the morning without biting her head off before that, is challenging, to put it mildly. I tried to prepare everything at night. To spend minimum time finding and preparing things in the morning. But still – two sleepwalking people in the morning can create a mess and a quarrel despite that. An that continuous nagging – get up, get up please, get up please now, get up NOW, get dressed, take your PJs off BEFORE getting dressed, put your socks on, where is your shirt, it was just here a second ago… and so on, and so on, and so on. It is exhausting!! And it leaves me feeling like the most abusive parent in the world. I hate nagging.

After reaching a breaking point I realized that I am taking too much responsibility by assuming that she has to do what I tell her in the morning. She is not 3 years old anymore. She can take care of getting dressed and having breakfast on time.
So I changed my approach. I explained that from now on I will wake her up once, prepare her breakfast and luchbox and besides that the only thing I say, is how many minutes she has left before she needs to walk out of the door. No nagging. Just informing.

I was a bit unsure, whether it would work. But it did! Better than I had imagined. She suddenly realized what is her responsibility. And our mornings transformed completely. Both of us feel less disgusted with the idea of waking up in the morning. We just get up, she will usually spend 5-10min on the living-room couch wrapped in her blanket before getting dressed, while I make breakfast. I let her be – I know that by the time food is ready, she will be dressed and ready to eat. And then I just remind her every 5-10 minutes, how much time she has left. That’s all I do. And that is so perfect for me. No excess talking, no nagging whatsoever. Just doing.

I’m sure that many parent will roll their eyes and scoff. “If I don’t tell him/her what to do, it will NEVER get done. I know it!” But have you tried? What about NOT telling them how much to eat, what to wear or not to wear etc.? It does not mean that they will have no boundaries. It is about respect. Do you order your partner around? Probably not so much. Does it mean he/she has no boundaries?

Why shouldn’t you treat your children with the same respect and trust? You can always explain them why you would prefer them to eat properly. Tell them about the importance of vitamins and minerals. Explain that they will not have enough strength for their favourite sport or hobby. You can always give reasons, like “It is raining so I believe it would be wise to put your raincoat”. Instead of telling them to do things the way you want them to be done, just because you say so. And if they still refuse, let them experience. How does it feel to do the training with an empty stomach. How uncomfortable it is to be soaking wet in the rain. It will not kill them. But it will teach them that their needs matter. And their opinion matters. One day they will leave home and you will not be around to tell them how to dress or what to eat. Teach them to understand and take responsibility for their needs before it’s too late.

There are so many other angles on the topic of responsibility that if I tried to cover all of them, I would get lost.
I have no claims on the market of truth. Although searching for it constantly, I do not claim to know what is right and wrong. All truths are subjective and that goes for responsibility too. In my own little world of truths I have found that when I try to find what is my responsibility and what is not, it all comes down to taking care of my own needs first. It may sound egoistic, but it works. Because I also have a need to feel loved and respected. I need to feel that I am fair and honest. These needs function as the perfect lighthouses in the sea of interdependent society.

True wisdom comes from constantly questioning your beliefs. I will try to keep on doing that.

Of love and freedom

These days the Estonian government is discussing the new legislation that would give an opportunity to register a partnership, whether it is between people of opposite or same sex. This is a way to legally proclaim a wish to commit to each other and agree on obligations and rights that this partnership has in matters of raising children, finances and inheritance. It is not marriage. But it does fill a legislative void for many people, including same sex partners. It gives two consenting adults equal rights to tell the world that they are committed to each other.

It is not named “legalizing same sex union”, but essentially it does that. And of course the conservatives and Catholics (as few of them as we have in Estonia) are up on their feet, throwing a temper tantrum. What do you mean that some people are not better than others? What do you mean that we are all equal? This nonsense has to stop! Give us good old 17th century so we can send all the heretics to burn on the stake!

Estonian LGBT Association asked people to share their stories and thoughts. Whether you are gay, lesbian bisexual or just a supporter of their cause. What does family mean to you? What are your dreams and hopes? How do you perceive the life of your LGBT friends or family members? How would this legislation change their life? I decided to share my thoughts and I translated that story also to English, to share here.

freedom

Love and freedom

I have always taken for granted, that you can not give orders to your heart. When you fall in love, this will be the strongest force inside you. Nothing or no-one can forbid you to love. Not the other people. Not the society. We may try to follow the norms that society has set for us. But no matter how many masks we choose wear – we can never deny, give orders to or force the heart. What can you do, when the person you love happens to be from the same gender as you? No matter how much you punish yourself for it, no matter how much the society punishes you for it – you can not change it.

I am a very ordinary straight girl. My life is easy. When I fall in love, society accepts that. Am I better than some of my good friends who fall in love with a person from the same gender? Does sexual preference determine a person’s „quality“ as a human being?

For me, it does not. There are many criteria that can define people, but whom they fall in love with, is not one of them.

My last employers were a gay couple. Two French guys who have been together over 16 years. They are both wonderful persons and really good at their chosen profession. Their relationship is just like any other relationship after many years spent together. Sometimes they get tired and frustrated with each other but at the same time they know each other better than anybody, who is close to them. In addition to that, the one thing that alligates them is the fact that when travelling the world, in some places they still have to pretend that they are merely friends. How is their relationship less valuable, that it still has to stay hidden?

Recently I was introduced to a guy who „turns straight“ every time, he visits his family. He is in his forties. Every time he spends time with those, who should be his first support system, he pretends to be someone else. For decades already. His family is still hoping that he will find a nice girl and get married. He does not dare to introduce his nice boyfriend, with whom he has no hope to ever marry in this society. Would he decide to love a woman, if he could give orders to his heart? I believe he would. Because his life would be so much easier if his family and the society would support him and he could always be himself.

Love and freedom are inseparable. Without freedom, love turns into obligation and without love, freedom turns into loneliness. The freedom to love and to declare that to the whole world, is a right that we were born with. No matter if that person is the same or opposite sex – when that love is mutual, everyone should have freedom and equality to express it.

Life goes on, people change and the society changes. There will always be people who oppose change because anything new is scary and uncertain. But the changes take place nonetheless.

I will always support with all my heart all the changes that bring us closer to the freedom to be ourselves without shame and guilt.

Hairy monsters with green teeth

Recently I found myself binging on youtube. You know how it is – you start watching something, this leads to the next thing. And before you know it, you are watching the life of extremes – eating disorders, teenage murderers or religious cults with a mixture of disgust and fascination. Mostly disgust though..

This time I began with an interesting article: How Playing Good Christian Housewife Almost Killed Me. It describes the most sinister kind of emotional abuse within a family – the victims do not usually even understand, that they are being abused . She defines spiritual abuse through Christianity – in spiritual abuse, a person’s faith and ideas about God, the supernatural, and the afterlife, get intermingled and entwined with relational and behavioral choices so that the situation is not only about the way a person thinks, acts, and relates – it is primarily about the condition of your soul.

After spending a few hours watching mostly nonsense, like the Duggars and Sister Wives, I was seriously doubting my mental health and asking myself, why do I spend my mental energy on that? There must be something that fascinates me or touches me? Do I even want to know the answer? The answer came a few days later. Spiritual abuse is not just about Christianity! It can happen in any religion and spiritual movement. When ever you find yourself trying to “be positive” at all costs, this is already a kind of abuse. Because we are not always happy, balanced, generous, loving and peaceful. We are just humans and I believe that we chose this life, to experience all kinds of emotions. Nothing is stupid…
Sometimes we are angry, tired, frustrated, even depressed. But every spiritual book in the world tells you how to “let go” of those “negative” emotions. How to be a zen monk. How to focus at the positive side of life, not feed the negative.
Breathe. Burn candles. Do yoga. Smile. Smile some more. Be kind and generous. Always! Stay in the present moment. Be a f*cking saint, because you want to be a better person, right?!

But what if I just want to be me? The good, the bad and the ugly? I don’t mean to undermine the importance of self-development. It is the most important thing for everyone in this life to constantly learn and grow. But learning and growing may sometimes mean that you need to cry, scream, be angry, hurt and vicious at people. Every emotion is part of our life and sometimes those who seem to be saints are just really good at hiding it. Deceiving themselves and other people.
Emotions only help us learn and grow, if we let them be. Dive into them, experience them. Feed them, pet them and then set them free. Don’t worry – the world can take them! If your emotions are sometimes in the form of a hairy monster with big green teeth and claws, then let those free too. If you refuse to set them free, they only get stronger, hairier, stinkier and grow more teeth. If they seem to eat people around you, then you need stronger people to surround you. True caring friend is never frightened by even the hairiest emotion-monster! They will stare that monster straight into the eye(s) until the monster flees, tail(s) between its legs and never returns.

And then you can emerge on the other side a little wiser and happier. Until the next time.

So the next time you feel slight discomfort, while reading book titles that promise to teach, how to think right, eat right, feel right, behave right and parent right – go have an ice-cream and forget about that. What feels right, is right. Just that.

Nothing is stupid!

Nothing is stupid!

This is a passionate statement from my younger daughter, who will be soon five years old.
One day the girls stayed home with their nanny while I was working, in June. They were listening a song on youtube and the babysitter expressed her opinion, that the lyrics of this song are stupid. My daughter replied with a passion – nothing is stupid! People are not stupid, food is not stupid, clothes are not stupid, toilet is not stupid… she continued with a long list of examples, concluding that NOTHING is stupid!

I believe that this little girl is despite her young age much more mature in her way of thinking, that so many adults. She embraces the world in all its colourfulness. We, adults, could learn a lot from that. Instead of holding on to norms that are so subjective and condemning everything that is out of our box of normality.

What is normal?
I think most of us agree that this is a very difficult question that has many possible answers that depend on our background. Our race, sex, nationality, family history, upbringing and so much more. But besides our personal standards on “normal”, there are certain standards in the society that are considered “normal”. And most of us do our best to follow those norms, whether these really support our well-being, or not.

A huge part of the world follows the pattern that normality means white-ish skin, fairly good education, middle-class lifestyle, striving for success which is defined by more money, monogamous heterosexuality, getting married, having 1-3 kids and dedicating your life to the family (for women) or work (for men).

Some of those things we are either born with, or not. Your race, the colour of your skin, hair and eyes will determine, whether you are normal, or not. And you can do nothing about it. It varies a bit in different parts of the world but the cold hard truth is that in most “first-world” countries you have to be white, to be considered normal and safe.
Supermodel Cameron Russell made a very bold and inspiring TED talk in the beginning of 2013 saying out loud that she has won the genetic lottery. How many people are not that lucky?

Living here I have also realized, that I have won the lottery with where I was born. With my skin colour and blue eyes I am considered a beauty here. I have got a good education (without paying for it and starting my adult life in debt), I come from a background that supports women to be free, independent and ambitious beyond being a housewife. I am not bound by religious beliefs so I am free to search for my own spirituality. I don’t have to look far to see women who are not half as lucky. They live their life being enslaved by deeply religious and patriarchal society. And a lot of them don’t even know that there is a different way of living.

There is a young woman in her early twenties, working at a fast-food place in our village. She comes from Albania. She is already married and has two kids aged 3 and 1,5. She works on two jobs, getting maximum 4hrs of sleep every night. Her husband, who also works on two different jobs, uses her as a stress relief, whenever he feels like f**king her. Every time a woman “gives in” to her man’s desire without being in the mood for sex herself, is literally letting herself being raped. And this is normal. Because she is his wife and the mother of her children. They both think it is normal. This is the way they have been raised. The woman’s job is to be a good housewife, a good cook and a cleaner but also provide for the family by working and be available for her husband’s physical needs whenever. The woman’s worth is measured by her ability to cook and clean. She is her husband’s property, given from her father to her husband in the marriage ceremony.
We think that times are changing and so are social constructs that do not serve us anymore. But really… are they? We are not so much further from 19th century!

I recently read an inspiring piece on Elephant Journal about 5 reasons not to get married. The author Krystal Baugher points out how outdated are the marriage rituals in today’s society. Passing on the girl’s hand from father to the husband as a piece of property – a ritual that is saturated with inequality and starts off the marriage unbalanced. Keeping alive the myth that our sexuality is “normal” only in marriage.  She points out the hollow heterosexual normativity “the practice of encouraging people to fit within heterosexual strict standards of being monogamous, married, usually protestant/Christian, usually white, usually middle/upper class while shunning and making feel guilty those who do not.” Being a heterosexual white girl, I find this normativity absolutely “normal”. But I also find other versions of life and love very normal! I agree with Krystal that “I think the world would be a much more beautiful place if we were all more accepting and open to other ways of love.”

I never regret that I married and that I divorced. I am grateful for those years that I spent with the father of my children. And I am also grateful that I come from a society where divorce is allowed and part of the “normal”. Because  I don’t believe in “forever” and big white fluffy princess dresses do not give us a guarantee of “in sickness and health, in good and bad”. Women dress up as princesses, hoping that in his eyes they will be queens for the rest of their life. While a lucky few will really be queens, the rest of them will spend their life being third or fourth in line for the throne after work, hobbies, friends or even other princesses. Why give up your position in life – a true queen does not need a king to rule! But with a good king next to her, she may be happier.

People change and grow and unfortunately the partners more then often do that in different directions and different pace. A relationship that was perfect for many years, may start to suffocate and hold back both partners. What is the “normal” solution? Searching for ways to get back on the same path and pace is great. If that succeeds, it bonds people together more than before. But some people don’t succeed in that. And keeping them together with a piece of paper, condemning relatives and society rules is just torture.

In China, there is a tribe that is called the last matriarchy of the world. Women there do not marry and their lovers are not determined by anybody else, but themselves. And many of them have long and happy relationships that last decades. They don’t have to give each other promises of forever. But they may be happier that most married people in the Western world. Sometimes we hear and see the best “norms” from people who are considered primitive – native tribes or our own children.
Nothing is stupid! Marriage is not stupid, being single or in a free relationship is not stupid, being gay is not stupid, being from a different race or culture is not stupid! What matters is that we do no harm.

Time for myself… and kittens

I feel like I have gone back in time about 11-12 years. That’s the last time that I had a summer like this.

I sleep long in the morning. Get up, have breakfast, chill, lounge, have wonderful long conversations with my dear. And not only..
Then I go to the beach, read a book, swim. Sometimes I take the dog with me and we play. When I get bored, hungry or tired we come home to have a late lunch or early dinner and then I may go to the village centre to meet some friends or just stay home and do what ever I feel like.

To be completely honest – relaxing and dedicating time for my own needs does not come naturally anymore. I really have to dig deep to find the feeling that I had back then when I was a lot younger and had no responsibilities, but taking care of my own needs. I have so completely and utterly taken the identity of a caretaker, a mother – it is really hard to just spend time manicuring my toes and taking care of nobody.

Ironically enough, the first night off work I found somebody to take care of! A newborn kitten, abandoned in the garbage bin. I’m not even going to get into the possible motives of a person who would do something like that – dump a living healthy newborn kitten in the garbage. Unfortunately this kind of behaviour is not unheard of here in Greece. Although the living conditions and awareness about stray cats and dogs is slowly getting better thanks to the tireless work of the local animal welfare society and volunteers, there is still a lot of misconceptions and just pure ignorance about keeping pets and caring for them. Neutering and spaying is by far not as common as it should be and as it is in many other countries

This kitten unfortunately did not make it. Nothing can replace a mother and though I tried my best, this little soul found the beginning of this life to be too hard. Due to some internal problems it passed away only after a few days. And just as I managed to catch up on sleep (having a newborn in the house is exhausting, no matter what species) I met another kitten than stole my heart.
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This one is older and stronger. – about three-four weeks. It was abandoned in front of my friend’s shop and I helped for a few days to take care of it. For many reasons, including keeping my own sanity, I gave it back but at the moment it is still looking for a loving home.

Taking care of those kittens helped to unearth some issues in me that I had very carefully buried and hidden. I seem to have some unresolved emotional trauma from those years when my own kids where babies and needed care and attention 24h a day. I was quite young when my older daughter was born, just graduated from university. I was very ambitious, adventurous and hungry for life. A baby did not quite fit into this picture. I love my girls with all my being but I was nowhere near ready to become a mother at 24. I did what a proper young overachieving mother does – I learned, practiced, read, listened until I knew so much about raising babies that I continued to teach others. Intellectually I aced my task. But emotionally I just built walls around me. I felt alone, scared and despite all the support from my girls’ father, I never let myself to be or to feel taken care of. I made myself a victim of my own choice.

Now in the emotionally safe environment I can slowly work with these feelings. I can take responsibility for my own decisions without feeling that this is not my choice to make. And I can reject responsibility that is too much for me to carry. This is never an easy task to find the right balance between taking responsibility and leaving space for yourself. It is a long road to learn this. But I am fortunate to have a man next to me, who helps me stay on that path. Who reminds me that I deserve to put my own needs first even if it is only for a month. I have put the needs of my family before my own needs for such a long time. It is now time for me, myself and I. For two more weeks.

In the beginning of August I will start work again but this time it will be something that I am really looking forward to! Just as I was beginning to lose hope that I will find a good job for the summer season, I got a call from a nice little classy restaurant. I will be working next to a professional French sommelier, learning all about good food and good wine. Once more life shows that when you know what you want – it will happen! Sometimes you just need to have a little patience.

Working life

Greek summer is here. Full on! The scorching heat during the day and relieveing breeze in the evening after the sun has set. Sand everywhere. Salt on your skin and hair. The ripe melons and watermelons. Sunglasses become a part … Continue reading