Follow the heart. But will your heart follow you?

Aside for the jealousy, rejection, and the feeling that I wasn’t good enough for the French Village Boy, the feeling that has been haunting me in the past few weeks is: I have always felt ok with the idea of being alone, but I’ve always thought it without actually being alone.  Now I’m objectively alone: I have no one to justify my actions to, I can sleep with whoever I want, I can choose whatever job I want, not worrying if my partner will find a job there, or even want to come at all.

How good am I at managing all this freedom?  It’s actually a very complicated question, because we, as humans, tend to be braver when imagining things than when we actually have to act on them.  I’m a 32 year-old woman, I have two degrees, a job which I like and a good salary.  In theory I have nothing to worry about.  And yet, I am considering what I’m going to be like in 10 years.  My friends are, for the most part, either married or getting married, and having children.

I never wanted to get married, per se, but I honestly struggle with the idea to have no one who will care for me, who will worry about me if I don’t come home, who wants to share a part of their life with me.  The same goes for children.  I don’t want children now, there are still so many things I want to do with my life, and none of them allows space for children, but what will it be like in ten years time?  I don’t have the rest of my life to start a family, should I do it now for fear of time running out?  I think not, and I’m pretty sure of my decision.  I’ve been dumped twice, by two long term partners, because I wasn’t ready to give up my freedom for the sake of having a family, but what if I’ve made a mistake and I’m left with nothing?

What bothers me, more than the children as small beings that are born from me, is the fear of leaving no legacy behind.  And this is, I think, what haunts people all over the world: the fear of being forgotten.  When I was small I used to go with my grandmother to the cemetery of her small village.  Every now and then there would be a grave with no flowers, weeds growing on it, a faded photograph.  My grandma would always leave a flower saying “When you leave nothing behind, this is how you end up”.

Now, I’m not a big fan of the afterlife and to be honest what happens with my body after I die is not of great interest to me, but leaving this earth knowing that within a few years nothing will remain of me, that no one will remember me, that none of the things that have belonged to me will mean anything to anyone really bothers me.

My extended family always taught me, both in words and in actions, that our legacy is what we build, regardless how many children we choose to have, or not have.  And I believe this.  I have built my “extended family” in every country I’ve lived, I have friendships that will last forever, I have lost people and taken it as a personal duty to keep their memory alive, even if we weren’t related.

But then again, what happens when they go?  In my grandma’s house there are pictures of people who died a century ago, we remember them because we are their descendants and have passed on their stories for generations, but their friends probably remembered them until they died, but haven’t passed on their story.

At the end of Pasqualino Settebellezze, an extraordinary film by Lina Wertmuller showing the cruelty of the war in all the small, bloody and morbid details that every other director working the Second World War left out, the protagonist goes home after the war and tells his former girlfriend, who has waited for him to return from a concentration camp “We have to start again, make children, a lot of them, because they are the only thing that will make us immortal”.  It took me thirty two years but I’m starting to understand the intimate meaning of this statement, and the thought of being forgotten scares me.  A lot.


Perception vs. Perspective

Today it rains.  A lot.  And in an African city that doesn’t offer much, aside for grocery shopping and a coffee with friends, a rainy Saturday can be a problem.  It comes with music, some cooking and a lot of time to think.  Which of course curbs questions about why, for some reason, I am really easy to be wanted, but incredibly difficult to be loved.

As I was driving home in the rain I started thinking about perceptions. Someone told me recently that I had idealized my love for him, and therefore I was technically in love with someone who didn’t exist (he is the V from this post).  This is partly true.  But then again, don’t we all fall in love with an idea, or rather with the part of them the other person decides to show us?  Perception is what we fall in love with, the lucky ones remain in love after putting the perception into perspective.  Perspective is more complex, in my opinion a lot more charming (I like complications), but ultimately it’s the test to which you put your feelings.

Would the hot guy/girl, tan, great swimmer, good kisser, you met on a trip to Bali look as good without the tan, in the greyness of a winter day in an averagely grey city?  Probably not.  Context and perception push the heart off a cliff, then the brain comes in (thank God for that) and it skims feelings until you are left with something you can work with.

I keep skipping the perspective part, shutting out the brain.  And when Ms Brain kicks in and shows me a glimpse of what life following only my instincts would be like I try not to think of it.  I really WANT to be in love with the perception, I have no time for reality.  But, probably for the best, so far I have encountered on my path a few people who had no space for me in their perception of their own life.

I also have encountered people who fell in love, or rather were intrigued, by the idea they had of me.  And this is something I discussed today with friends who do my same job and lead a similar life to mine.  For a lot of people who do more “conventional” jobs, the mere fact that we work in development and in developing countries is adventurous, possibly inspiring and exotic.  We all agree that being seen as someone special is a good way to break the ice, but where does it lead?  Because once someone you like has an idea of you that doesn’t exactly reflect the reality, you are faced with basically two options: either burst their bubble and getting them to know the real you (with the risk of the “real you” not being as exciting as the imagined you), or keep feeding the bubble, until it eventually bursts on its own.  I personally prefer to go with the former, just because I think the real me is so much better than any projection of me – I’m 32 and with a long list of people who for one reason or another didn’t want me, so my perception may be wrong- but overall looking modest generally looks better than looking like a liar.  Rule of thumb.

The point of this post, which is probably just a follow up to the post “The heart is deceitful, above all things” is that very few things, when it comes to intangible expressions, such as feelings, are objectively true.  What we perceive to be true is what draws us closer to a person, and sometimes it is not validated by time and perspective, sometimes it is.  Some other times we meet half way, as we try to keep seeing the person we love through the lens of that first perception, while they try to adhere to it, because they love the image we reflect of themselves.  Sometimes a tango and a gin and tonic is all you really need on a rainy day…

The heart is deceitful, above all things

Several times in the last month and half I’ve been wondering how to establish whether something really happened.  A fact is a fact, and there’s no question about that.  But what about a feeling?  Were we really in love with our ex-partners who, in some cases, we now detest?  How many times have we thought “How the hell could I be in love, really in love, with that person”?  In my case quite a few.

I just discovered that my French Village Boy, as part of his transition into the more relaxed life of the countryside, has developed an interest for the feelings of trees (yeah, no kidding…).

If I think of him, of the scent of his skin, of how I felt with him every single second we spent together, of his ideas, of the books we both read and both love, I think that the love I’ve so swiftly declared to him is intact.  My heart is in the exact same place as 44 days ago: declaring undying love to a man, under the picturesque glass and iron roof of a French train station.

But my brain?  These weeks have put a lot of distance between the me in France and the me in Africa: I got back to my life and realized I can’t live without it.  Or, better, I can live without it, but I can’t give it up for a life in a small village in a beautiful region of France, where everyone is happy and relaxed and only sees the good things of the world.

I grew up and worked in a whirlpool of things that changed, of people who were forced to flee their countries, wars, peace agreements, villages burning and being rebuilt, I was literally present to the birth of the newest country in the world (South Sudan), and I really struggle with the idea of “retiring” to a happy place.  My life may not always be happy – working on gender based violence and sexual health in developing countries, the term “not always” sounds a bit like a euphemism.

This week I have been working on the discrepancy between brain and heart.  There’s nothing I can do about it, they go their separate ways.  I wish my brain had the strength to pull my heart in the right direction (i.e. kick the heart in the ass and make it move on), but clearly my brain has other things to focus on.

And to go back to the question that opened this post: how do we know that things happened for real?  The answer I gave myself is: we don’t.  But we know that feelings were real as we felt them.  When I told French Village Boy that I loved him and wanted to move to his village for him I meant it, and I probably would have continued meaning it if I had a more positive response from him.  My feelings had to change to adapt to the new dimension of rejection, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t true when they were felt.  Has he felt the same way, for even a split second?  I’m not sure, but for my personal growth all I need to know is that I did feel that, and I meant it.


Invitation au voyage – Invitation to the voyage

2017 has been a year of reflection, especially the last part of it.  My life changed twice, quite radically, in the last three months of it, and I realized that I had to start processing change fast or it would happen too fast for me to catch up with it.

It’s a strange feeling: change is happening without you being able to slow it down, or change its course, but before you get used to your new situation, another card in your game gets changed and you have to reassess, and do it fast if you want to stay afloat.  In some cases neither “going with the flow” nor swimming against the current are an option, and you need to figure out a third way out.

A few weeks ago a friend asked me what my word of 2018 would be, I didn’t know you had to have a word for the year and I hesitated to answer, but then life happened and I realized that probably my word is going to be “Perspective”.  I’m usually good at looking at things from different perspectives, so I’m not choosing this word because I need to shift the position I look at things from.  What I do need is to have is a better skimming of perspectives.

My problem is not that I have a narrow view of things, my problem is that the view is too broad, and I get lost.  When you never say no, when you try to grasp every little bit of this life, there’s literally too much stuff on your plate.  I am afraid of missing out so I don’t give anything up, but sometimes in life choices must be made.

In 2018 I want to narrow down my perspective.  Because, strange as it seems, the feeling of adrenaline rushing through your veins is much more exciting when it’s not a daily experience. Sometimes it’s nice to take a step back instead of running faster, sometimes the panorama of your life, what you see from your train seat, is the essence of what there is to enjoy, while most of us think the destination is what matters.

In his Invitation to the Voyage, Charles Baudelaire invites the reader to travel with him to a magical place.  The magical place is within them.

And as much as I struggle with my demons, with my ideals that scream to come out every time I tell myself it’s as good a time as any to just let go, I don’t want to change my nature, but take a breath and figure out what matters and what doesn’t.

Of jealousy and other ailments

No matter how relaxed you are with your partner, or ex-partner, hanging out with other people they may develop feelings for or start a relationship with, there comes a time when the idea eats at you.  There.  I’ve said it.

On average I’ve always been open minded and as long as I wasn’t cheated on (as in: not behind my back) I was ready to accept that relationships, especially long ones, don’t always have to be monogamous.

But as I keep telling my friends, now I’m old an emotional… I get attached, and the idea of someone else sharing what has been mine is not a pleasant one.  This made me reflect on ownership and possession.

We clearly don’t own people – the very idea that love is about ownership is the root, sadly, for most cases of violence against women and femicide- and I’m not justifying those who blame their entitlement of jealousy.  But I am experiencing jealousy and I want to explore this feeling, where is it coming from?  Why there’s that one person that makes you jealous (and turns saints into the sea) and not anybody else?  What exactly is jealousy?  Is jealousy really about ownership and entitlement?

I’ve reflected on it for several days, while the bug of those same hands are running over somebody else’s skin right now was cheerfully gnarling at my brain, and came up with a slightly more complex answer than “jealousy is about ownership”.

Deep down, I think, jealousy is not about the person, much like love, but about the way they made us feel.  And that’s why it’s more common to feel jealousy for one person in particular and not for everyone we ever slept with.  I don’t want other people to feel what I’ve felt, because I fear that if anyone else feels it, that same feeling will be “diluted” and it won’t be mine anymore.  Deep down some part of my heart wants the French Village Person to feel the same way, to think of me every time he peels a kiwifruit, every time he jumps into the freezing waters of the Atlantic Ocean, every time he speaks a language that is not his own.  The moment he does these things with someone else he normalizes them and they are not going to be about me anymore, he will move on (in my mind, that is, in his mind he has long moved on I suppose).

So yeah, jealousy, as it turns out, is more about ourselves than it is about the other person.  It’s about what we fear to lose, but in a less materialistic way than we think: it’s about the fear of not mattering anymore, of losing our identity as the other half of a whole.

That’s my take on it, but I would like to hear what you think… space voyagers who are reading from all corners of the world and from all time zones.

The rules of fire

Is neutrality a good thing?  A very eloquent friend claims his neutrality as the freedom not to judge and only take the best of people.  He says he prefers to look at life from a perspective of gain and personal growth, rather than with the need of cutting out people, places and situations just because they don’t sit well – as a whole- with his beliefs. Good point.

But can we always be neutral?  Or can we only be neutral about things that don’t really affect us?  And if they don’t affect us, why don’t they?

As you probably noted from this, this, and this post (but from pretty much all of my posts) I tend to be a very strongly opinionated person, I blame my rather passionate positions to my being Italian, but the truth is I like ideals and I don’t like compromise.

Of course, I see most thing through the lens of my job, which puts me face to face with all the evil in the world on a daily basis, so yeah… I’m passionate because I have to be and because I couldn’t not be.

It’s funny, just before saying goodbye for what will certainly be a very long time I said “I love you because I can’t not love you”, I guess the story of my life replays itself over and over again… I don things because I can’t not do them.

But would I be able to be less engaged if I wasn’t doing what I do?  Probably not.  I envy my friend’s neutrality, because I wish I could live in a village in France and only focus on my community, but I also fear that the knowledge of what’s “out there” would ultimately force me to go back to my life.  I want to be part of this game, I don’t want to shun myself from it.

My life, my job, come at a price, or many.  One of them is always being torn between what you chose and want to do, and what would probably make you saner and happier.  Also, the knowledge that happiness is, in most cases, and for people like us, a temporary status.

Heartbreaks are often useful -which you can only see when you are out of them and look at them from a different perspective- to re-evaluate your life.  Even the big things that seemed to have nothing at all to do with the heartbreak itself.

Move over Marie Kondo: the ultimate list for finding inner peace.

Making lists helps us put order in our thoughts, and many of us make lists even when they are unnecessary. The protagonist from Caos Calmo (an Italian and French production, if you haven’t watched it do it) makes lists to remember things about his wife, who has passed away, leaving him alone with a seven year old daughter.

Eduard Limonov wrote an entire book to glorify a list: Le livre de l’eau is in fact a list of all bodies of water he has swam in, drank from, crossed, feared, dreamed of, had nightmares about, longed, wanted to see or return to.

I want to start this new year, after a rather eventful 2017, with peace.  I want to take a deep breath and start a new phase of my life, without carrying the heavy baggage of the past.

My list is an imaginary one: it’s a list about the things I would have wanted to say to some of the more meaningful the people I’ve dated.  It’s a list about being stricken by the right thing to say when it’s a little too late and it would be pathetic to go back and say it when things are over.

  1. To A. I would like to say that the day I jumped in the freezing ocean I didn’t do it to impress him. It did it because somehow, despite the cold, the wind, the knowledge that the water would have been cold, but the blade of the wind once out would have been much worse, seemed so perfect.  In my mind I was playing Bang Bang by Nancy Sinatra.  The second my body touched the water I realized that as much as I would have wanted to dream of a love between us, it would never happen.
  2. To G. I want to say: Let go. Stop trying to prove to everyone you are better than them, only by letting you can be happy. Happiness is not about being better than your partner, but enjoying each other’s victories and defeats together.  When you broke up with me I listened to Carlos Gardel for a week, dreamed of going to Argentina, kept my job in Africa instead, moved to India and then asia, and then Africa again, did the job I had dreamt of for all my life and pursued the life I wanted.  By breaking up with me you freed me, you thought I would fly back to your nest, afraid of the big wide world, and I grew stronger wings instead. Fort his, I thank you.
  3. To E. I wish all the best. And that’s it. Our brief but intense, outrageous and adventurous love has had a quintessentially ‘80s soundtrack.
  4. To V: My heart has bled for you for years. Every time you called, wrote a message, hinted at a possible contact between us the hair on my skin would stand right up.  You were right, I idolized you and unfortunately I compared other men, who loved me, to you. They always lost in the comparison, but I was setting them up for failure by comparing them to someone who doesn’t exist.  I’m deeply grateful for the standard you have set: you may not be in real life what I thought you were, I may have missed a chance with very decent and loving people, but I now know that I can’t be in love without shivering with passion.  And you taught me what that was.  Your song is By the Rivers Dark, by Leonard Cohen.
  5. To F. I want to send a lot of love, he is in a very dark place and needs love, not resentment. I have no resentment for you, I cherish what we shared even if you then took a long lonesome road when I couldn’t find you anymore. Times are a-changing, I hope for you.

To you, unknown person who will cross my path next: I have little to offer and I’m not good with promises and forevers.  But I’m good with lists, books and songs. Let’s travel, let’s do stupid things but meaningful ones too, let’s read the same books and fight over them, let’s be romantic and passionate, let’s fight, cook, eat, make love.

I’m not waiting for you, come find me. Or let me find you.