The power of community.

Some of you may know that I’ve been going through a rough patch lately. I lost my job in January, a job that I really enjoyed and that gave me a huge sense of satisfaction. My confidence took a massive hit, and I started feeling useless and worthless. To top that off, I felt like I was stuck in a creative rut; I couldn’t even focus on reading, let alone writing or singing or making stuff. For a while, it seemed like my life had no purpose. Things were looking bleak.

And I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to.

See, at first glance, my life looks perfect: I have a new and exciting job, I have someone at my side I get along with, I have a place to call home. Who wouldn’t dream of this?

Thing is, I feel like something is missing. And when I was in that dark place, I realised what it was.

It’s the sense of community.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my city, but it’s a pretty lonely place. Even if you have friends, chances are you don’t see them enough due to work commitments, different schedules or just something as simple as living on the opposite sides of London. And being in a relationship, as good as it may be, will never be a substitute for friendship. Enjoying the privacy of having your own place is all well and good, but sometimes even an introvert needs to talk to someone.

An idea sprang to my mind: what if I was to start my own community of like-minded people? A safe haven, if you will, for those who need someone to rely on, but without the burdens of relationship. Imagine: a big house with plenty of shared space for cooking, chilling and letting your imagination spring to life, but with enough room for everyone to have their own private space if they need it. Imagine being surrounded by people who bring out the best in you, who inspire you and who you can feel comfortable around. Imagine always having someone around you to lend an ear when you feel down. Someone to rant to when you’re angry. Or just someone to have a glass of wine with when you’re lonely and in need of company.

lifeyouwant

Some people would say that living in a shared house is a step back for someone who had their own place. But I don’t see it that way. It’s just a step in a different direction. Who said we’re all meant to find joy and fulfillment in the same things? Who said we all need to aspire to the same kind of life?

So, the idea is there. It’s still just that – an idea – but I hope I can make it real one day.

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Home is where the quirks are.

When I first came to live in the UK, I couldn’t understand the appeal of putting milk in your tea. Back where I’m from, this was what pregnant and breastfeeding women did, and I was neither. I would adamantly stand my ground and have my tea with lemon and honey, ignoring the weird looks I’d get from café employees and colleagues.

Fast forward 12 years, and here I am, sipping my tea with a dash of milk, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When you move to a new country, you inevitably find some things baffling. To some, you get used quite quickly. I don’t know how I’ve lived for so many years without a 24/7 off licence on my doorstep, cashiers giving me my change back right into my hand, or a fry-up for breakfast (hold the beans, though). Others, like putting milk in tea or driving on the “wrong” side of the road, take a bit longer to get used to, but eventually, they do, and they become obvious. You pick up slang words and idioms, and even if you don’t lose your accent, the language you use marks you as one of the locals. Without even trying, you put roots down, you make yourself at home.

I know I have.

There’s a few things I will never get used to. Take using two taps instead of one. While the rest of the world enjoys having water you can touch running from their taps, the Brits insist on: a) freezing, or b) scalding. Seriously, why?

taps
A burn or a frostbite? Take your pick.

Or Marmite. Apparently, there are people out there who love the stuff. I suspect they’re closet masochists.

Or the obsession with gardening. It doesn’t matter that your garden is the size of an A4 sheet of paper, spending the day in the local garden centre is perfectly justified.

garden
“I take pride in my garden.”

But there are some British quirks that even Brits don’t understand, and that’s OK. Because sometimes, you don’t need to. You just need to keep calm and carry on.

Gloomy goths, happy goths. Debunking a misconception.

It’s a beautiful, sunny day and I’m sitting on the roof terrace at work, having a delicious lunch. I can hear the sounds of the bustling city around me while I turn the pages of the book I’m currently reading. In a few hours, I will go home and cuddle my two cats. I’ll probably cook something, perhaps listen to some music, maybe watch something. I’ll enjoy the little things.

I usually do.

There’s this common misconception that goths are always miserable, sad and/or angry. That we never smile and constantly moan about anything and everything. That we all share a deep, relentless hatred towards life.

Newsflash: this is bullshit.

If you don’t believe it, do me a favour: go to a goth club. See all those happy people on the dancefloor, prancing about merrily to Siouxsie and the Banshees and singing along with Peter Murphy? Yes, these surprisingly lively creatures are goths. Sure, some do mope about, usually for a reason: they’ve run out of drinks money, they’ve just had a tiff with a friend, or they’re just a bit tired. It happens to everyone, right? Some of the happy ones are probably a bit high on whatever substance they favour; but then, again, aren’t non-goths, too, occasionally?

If you’re expecting to see some lonely figures hiding in dark corners, writing angsty poetry or crying their eyes out, you’re in for a surprise. Instead, you’ll see clusters of people chatting, drinking, and dancing. Oh, and some of them might even be – shock, horror! – smiling.

My point is that we may look different from other people and like different things, but we enjoy the little things in life just as much as the next person. I’d even go as far to say that there’s more things out there that we enjoy that the non-goths. Because we take pleasure in the “normal” things (a cup of coffee, good food, a stroll by the river) as well as the darker things (a stormy night, a video of a cute bat, a spine-chillingly spooky book).

nemi
Nemi is one happy goth girl.

The fact that we dress in black doesn’t mean that our lives are all doom and gloom, just like the fact that someone wears pastels doesn’t mean they’re perpetually happy. Not that anyone would ever make such a ridiculous assumption. So why make similarly ridiculous ones about goths?

20 things goths never say.

So I got sucked into a YouTube vortex this morning. We’ve all been there: you watch one video, then another, and then, all of a sudden, three hours have passed. Anyway, I stumbled upon this and this and this. If you’re in need of a laugh, watch these videos. Seriously, they might just make your day, like they made mine.

Needless to say, my own list of shit that goths never say has immediately started forming in my brain. And because I’m terrible with videos and couldn’t edit one if my life depended on it, I decided to write it all down before it disappears forever.

So, here’s 20 things you’ll never hear a goth saying.

  1. “I just love shopping in the spring and summer. All those pretty pastels and lovely florals! Winter clothes are so boring. Remember last year? Who needs all this black velvet?”
  2. “Of course you can touch my hair and tattoos and clothes! Yeah, I know you didn’t ask for permission, but you really don’t have to. After all, it’s a perfectly normal thing to do, right? Nothing wrong with invading a stranger’s personal space if they look a bit different.”
  3. “I think I’m getting too old for this goth nonsense.”eldergoth
  4. “Wave Gotik Treffen? Nah, let’s just go to a nice resort in a warm country and lounge by the pool, working on our tans.”
  5. “This dress is really cute! I wonder if it comes in pink.”
  6. “Is this too much eyeliner? Maybe I should tone down my look.”
  7. “Nothing is more flattering than being perved at by random fuckboys or fetishised by sweaty old men with moustache.”
  8. “Bats? Ugh, gross.”
  9. “So remind me again, when is this Halloween thing?”
  10. “Yes, I do worship the devil. And yes, you’re right, all goths are satanists.”
  11. “Guys really shouldn’t wear eyeliner, it’s just not right.”
  12. “No worries, I can do your Crow makeup for you. You’re my friend, right?”
  13. “If you really want to be a goth, you better start self-harming.”
  14. “My favourite goth band? It’s a tough choice between Evanescence and Marilyn Manson.”
  15. “It’s laundry day, I better get started on separating my blacks from my lights.”gothlaundry
  16. “Twilight is my all-time favourite vampire book. The story is so innovative and gripping, and the characters are incredibly well-written. Plus, it’s the best love story ever written.”
  17. “He told me I’d be pretty without all the makeup and piercings and black clothes, so I changed for him. I know he may sound like a dick, but he just wants what’s best for me.”
  18. “Of course I love it when random strangers point fingers and shout abuse at me when I walk down the street, minding my own business. If it wasn’t for them, I would never know I’m a goth.”
  19. “Yes, I’m actually going to a funeral. It would be ridiculous to wear so much black if I wasn’t.”
  20. “Right, I think I have enough boots.”

Can you think of anything else? Or perhaps you’re a goth and you’ve actually said some of these things? Unlikely, I know, but the world is full of surprises.

Itchy feet.

Every now and again, I feel like taking a long break from life and going on an adventure.

Where I’m from, gap years are not that common, and unless your family has never had any money worries, you’re probably thinking of looking for a job right after graduating. Once you do, you hold on to it for dear life, because there’s not many jobs going on, and you feel like you should consider yourself lucky to have one. Travel? What travel? With what you’re making, a week in a beach resort in Egypt is probably the height of your dreams. Getting three or four weeks off? Forget it, you might as well quit. Then, there’s the societal pressure to settle down, get married, have children…

In short, once you’re a proper adult, there’s not much chance of you going on a proper adventure.

I’ve always felt slightly envious of those people who do crazy stuff. People who go quit their jobs to go to Malawi and build orphanages, or trek through Asia on a donkey, or some such. The wacky adventure I’d like to go on one day seems like a walk in the park in comparison.

See, I really, really want to ride from Land’s End to John o’ Groats. Alone.

In the grand scheme of things, the 874 miles is nothing. It’s perfectly doable in 2 weeks if you take it easy, less if you push yourself. It’s finding the time to do it that proves the most challenging. There’s always something else going on, some other trip planned already, and never enough annual leave to cram it all in.

But I promised myself I will complete it before I turn 40. So I still have a few years left.

lejog

The route, commonly known as LEJOG, is one of the most popular long distance rides in Britain, and takes you from the southwestern tip of the country to the northeastern one. I’m normally great with planning things, but I’ve never done a really long ride or a cycling holiday before, so even the thought of packing is daunting. How much stuff would I need? What should I leave behind? Should I camp it (probably not) or stay at local B&Bs and hostels (which sounds like a much better option)? When is the best time to go? Should I go hard and pedal like crazy, or take it easy and enjoy the experience? Should I do it for fun or for charity? So many questions, so many things to consider.

For me, the biggest challenge is doing it on my own. I’m very fond of travelling by myself, but a long distance bicycle ride is a whole other story. It takes a lot of resilience to keep on going, even when you’re knackered and you just want to rest your legs. To get in your seat, even though your arse is screaming in protest. To solve problems as and when they come, with no help from anyone. Yes, it’s terrifying, but also exciting somehow.

One thing I know for sure: I will do it, eventually. Because even though to some people completing LEJOG might seem like nothing major, to me it would be a massive achievement.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

The art of being alone.

– So, what did you get up to this weekend? – asked S. when I bumped into her on Monday morning.
– Oh, you know, the usual – I replied. – A night out at Slimelight on Saturday, a spot of shopping and a nice lunch on Sunday…
– Nice! Who did you go with? – she asked, looking at her phone screen.
– Well, I bumped into some friends at Slimes, but I went on my own. Same on Sunday. It was nice – I answered, watching her frantically type a message.
– You should have called me – S. exclaimed. – I bet you felt lonely.

She’s right, you know. I did. But that was all part of the plan. Because sometimes, being on my own is all I need.

Some people can’t stand being on their own. They find themselves lost and confused when they’re not surrounded by others. They never do anything by themselves, the idea of going for a walk (or to the cinema, or to the pub) without company terrifies them. They need the constant reassurance of other people’s presence, and when they’re alone, they feel as if they didn’t exist at all.

I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s just, I was never one of those people.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely antisocial. I can see how having friends around can make some experiences better. Festivals, gigs and clubs are so much better when you have someone to share the experience with.

But there are some things I enjoy just as much (or even more) with just myself for company.

Let’s take holidays, for example. Sure, it’s fun to go away with a bunch of friends or your significant other, but there’s something liberating about travelling on your own. For one thing, you don’t have to compromise: you pick the destination, the activities, the food; you decide if you’d rather do an all-inclusive cruise, or camping and hiking in the mountains; you choose if you’d rather go to a local bar and get drunk and dance until dawn with strangers, or spend the night on a beach, watching the stars. No arguing, no dragging others along against their will, no hard feelings. Isn’t that liberating?

Shopping is another activity some people see as a social thing, but I really enjoy it better on my own. Somehow, when going shopping with friends, I always come back empty-handed. There’s always someone who needs advice, or someone who doesn’t want to go into certain shops and huffs and puffs when you want to go in, or someone who’s attempting to talk you into trying on things you wouldn’t be seen dead in, or someone who snaps away that item you wanted and pretends not to notice, or someone who has more money than you and sneers at charity shops. I don’t really enjoy shopping that much (except charity shopping), but when I do go shopping, I go on my own. That way, I can focus on the mission at hand – and be done with it quickly, to save some time for reading and games and other fun stuff.

Another thing I find hard to comprehend is the stigma around going to restaurants on your own. I mean, why is McDonald’s OK, but Malmaison isn’t? I see nothing wrong with wanting to treat yourself to a nice meal. I’ve stopped blushing when a waiter asks me if it’s just me or if someone will be joining me later; I guess living in a big city makes things just that bit easier. I used to whip out a book or stare at my mobile phone’s screen whenever dining alone, but I find myself less likely to do that these days; I just enjoy the food, the atmosphere, and the time alone with my thoughts. In today’s world, we’re constantly bombarded by messages, stuck to screens, always contactable, always on. I find it refreshing to switch off every now and again.

owncompany

So let me give you a bit of advice. Want to take that city break in Copenhagen, visit the new pop-up restaurant, see the obscure band none of your friends is interested in seeing? Do it. Because if you wait for someone to do it with you, you might keep putting it off forever. And what’s the point of doing that?

10 things I can’t live without.

So we all need air to breathe, water and food for sustenance, and clothes on our backs to not look ridiculous in public. But apart from the bare essentials, is there anything you couldn’t live without? Not literally, of course, but what makes your life worth living?

I tend to obsess about things and say I couldn’t live without them a lot. Seems like hyperbole is one of those things. But on a more serious note, I found it really hard to limit myself to just 10 things. So hard, in fact, that it took me three days to compile this list, and I still feel like it’s incomplete. But hey, sacrifices need to be made sometimes, right?

So, here goes,

  1. Books. This was the first thing that came to my mind, and one of the few things on the list that were not up for discussion. I’ve always been a keen reader, and although a lot of things have changed about me, this one remained the same. I wholeheartedly agree with what George R. R. Martin wrote: ‘A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.’
  2. Travel. When I was a kid, I never used to go anywhere. I’d spend my summer holidays at my Nan’s, or camping somewhere with my family, but that was about it. I feel like I’m trying to make up for the lost time now, and see as much of the world as I can. I get itchy feet when I haven’t been anywhere new for a while. travel
  3. Music. I’m forever in awe of how combinations of sounds can evoke so many emotions. I’m not particularly fond of crowds, but I do like going to gigs. There’s something almost mystical in hearing the songs you’ve listened to millions of times performed live. Also, even though I still listen to a lot of the stuff I grew up loving, I like discovering new sounds.
  4. Coffee. ‘Nuff said.
  5. Friends. I’m a bit of a loner by nature, but I like knowing there are people out there I can rely on if things go south.
  6. Family. I wrote a post a while ago about my fantastic, close-knit family, and I really can’t imagine not being in touch with them. I only wish I could see them more often.
  7. Makeup. I don’t care how shallow this sounds. I feel empowered when I slap stuff on my face, and wearing bold lipstick instantly improves my mood.makeup
  8. Trying new things. Seriously, how boring would life be if you never did? Whether it’s new food, new exercise, new pastimes and hobbies, I’m the kind of person who would try (almost) anything once, just to see if I like it.
  9. Work. You know how people say they’d never work again if they won the lottery? Well, I’m not one of those people. I’d probably take a few months off to travel, but after that, I’d start working again. It may sound weird, but I need a bit of structure to my days, otherwise I’d probably just waste time and slowly spiral into depression.
  10. Spending time on my own. Don’t get me wrong, I like being around people, but I tend to burn out when I haven’t had the chance to just be by myself for more than a day or two. Being on my own recharges my batteries, relaxes me and makes my moods more manageable. So, if you ever text me and don’t hear back for a bit longer than expected, it’s not because I don’t like you; it’s because I’m probably recharging.

Is there anything you can’t imagine living without?