Sunday, July 31, 2011

Acceptance: a guide to getting it right for naives and hypocrites

A few days ago I had an argument with a friend. She got very passionate about the point she was trying to make, and I asked her to lower her voice and use softer words, so we can continue the exchange of opinions in a hospitable manner. ‘Why would you say that?”, she paused with a hurt expression on her face. ‘Why can’t you accept me for who I am?”.

I did accept her, to a certain limit. Had she not changed her approach, I would have left the room.

Rejecting an argument or an attitude is not equal to rejecting the person
I still appreciate my friend’s many qualities even if I won’t have her shout at me. I know how uncomfortable it feels to have someone disagree with you, but we need it and we should welcome it. Feeling bad about someone contradicting us is not their problem (even when they do it for the mere pleasure of upsetting us), it is ours. We need to let go of the I-must-be-always-right-otherwise-I-am-a-crappy-person illusion.

Acceptance is always conditioned
Thinking otherwise would be naïve and counterproductive. Parents accept their children if they eat their vegetables. If they look both sides before crossing the street. If they stay in school. If they have the right friends. If they marry well. If they love parents back. And so forth. Children are less demanding. They will accept their parents as long as they are loved. As for all other types of relationships, the ‘if’ factor seems obvious to me.

We do it to others as well
Re-ci-pro-ci-ti-ty. We ask to be accepted while we reject others, you know, for who they are. Anyone who got a divorce knows what I mean.

Being accepted does not mean we can stop making efforts
Good, lasting relationships are always the result of persistent effort made by all sides. We may live with the different opinions or lifestyles of the others, but we still need to see them caring for us and trying to, at least, not make our lives harder than they already are. Not doing that might get you free to say or do whatever you want, but you will do it all alone.

That’s what I tried to explain to my perplex friend yesterday. She didn’t like it, but I thought you might.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Less flower, more power

On Friday I rushed to Vama Veche hungry for sunshine, good music and a horizon line uninterrupted by buildings. I had been fantasizing all week about chocolate pancakes (bye bye diet, so long calories count), swimming, drinking beer on the beach, laying on the sand at night and gazing for hours at the star-soaked sky. I was prepared for that, but nothing had announced the lessons of courage and tolerance I came back home with.

For all you non-Romanian readers, Vama Veche is an iconic summer destination on the Romanian seaside, supposedly the summer capital of all hippies, rockers, unfulfilled artists of all kinds and any other sensitive, creative souls that resiliently distance themselves - some more than others - from the modern society and all its obvious flaws. It should be noted that while this was true for a few years in the 90s, more recently the village has been taken over by the heartless, improvised business men who charge Bucharest prices in the their cotton colorful disguises. In any case, Vama Veche remains one of the few local seaside options for people young at heart, or body (if you know the other resorts available, you understand).

But I digress, this is not a touristic review.

Vama Veche hosted this weekend a folk festival creatively named…. hooold for it… Folk You! So a lot of folk (you’d figure) and rock bands were invited to participate. In an interesting experiment, artists from completely different genres were also asked to contribute, probably in an attempt to point out that values, authenticity and passion are way higher than any hair style or instrument. An experiment or demonstration, as you wish, that failed terribly on Saturday evening.

Puya is a hip-hop artist that gradually made a name for himself in a place and at a time where speaking in rhymes about political and social issues was (is?) completely unsexy. His background in a well-known but controversial rap group apparently made him very unpopular with crowds like the one in Vama Veche. The hostility this particular audience felt became quickly apparent when Puya took the stage this weekend. Boos and swear words were pouring. A compact group of long-haired, pierced, tattooed, shirtless men were standing frozen in front of the stage, with their hands raised. As I approached them, I realized they were all giving Puya the middle finger. The rapper continued his show; the public got angrier, the shouting got louder. Puya and his crew became open targets for plastic bottles thrown forcefully at them. Puya continued unfazed, and kept dropping verses while making feints to avoid projectiles. He noticed, at a certain point, that the public in Vama Veche is more about the power than the flower, and I could not help but laugh despite the tragic circumstances.

For the first time in my life, I was scared to applaud an artist, but this weekend in Vama Veche I cheered for Puya looking over my shoulder. I cried looking at the screaming men and women who did not take five minutes to listen before attacking. Puya eventually interrupted the show and left the stage, the only wise thing to do in that situation. I tried to go backstage and tell him he did the most inspirational show I had seen in a long time, but no one was allowed there. So I’m telling him here, now.

I was impressed with the courage to stand in front of thousands of furious, irrational, drunk people and risk your safety to make a point. Not any point, but a valuable one.

I admired the inner strength and deep confidence in his work one must have to take so much rejection, yet continue to perform.

I applauded the professionalism of not missing a single beat, not one word in those awful circumstances.

As of Saturday night, I am a fan.

So Puya left and several hours later Vama Veche returned to being the iconic summer residence of flower-power devotees, you know, those peaceful, tolerant people who would rather make love instead of war. Still, somehow, I could not wait to get back home.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The less fun side of fun

I have recently discovered Breaking Bad, and I would like to share some thoughts and concerns with you.

Breaking Bad is a popular TV series that puts on screen the life of a chemistry teacher turned criminal. It is not the first of its kind; Weeds and Dexter for example go by a similar storyline. All three shows are very well written and played; they are imaginative, captivating and therefore quite successful. Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder, is this type of shows healthy for the public?

Here are just three things that upset me about these shows.

Firstly, in all these shows the starting point on the road to all wrongdoing appears to be out of the main character’s control. Nancy Botwin’s husband drops dead one morning, making her a widow struggling to make ends meet; Dexter is severely traumatized as a young child, and Walter White learns he has inoperable, 3rd stage cancer. Now, the fact is, we all go through all sorts of difficulties in life, some hitting us out of the blue. What we do in those situations, don’t you get confused about that, is entirely under our control. Most of us choose (and I cannot emphasize the word ‘choose’ hard enough) to overcome life’s challenges in legitimate ways. I would much rather watch the real story of a regular housewife turned entrepreneur because she became all of the sudden the sole provider for her family, but I just don’t know of any show about that. Why didn’t Nancy work a regular job for several years before deciding to deal weed instead? (and I expect an answer other than ‘Because it’s too damn hard to wake up early everyday and work your butt off for at least 8 hours per day in exchange for just enough money to get by’). Why didn’t Mr. White get a second opinion and treatment before his little career change? Before crying for Dexter remember that Oprah was abused as a child, and she managed to break through that horrible experience and went on to became one of the most successful people on the planet.

Secondly, the motivation for wrongdoing seems positive, making it harder for the audience to keep a zero-tolerance attitude in front of the antisocial behaviors of the main characters. Even Dexter, plainly a very sick gentleman who kills and cuts his victims into pieces manages to get a sympathy vote, since, you know, he only butchers proven offenders (!!). I chew on my popcorn thinking it might be wise for the producers to remind the public more often that sick childhood aside and all, Dexter remains a very bad guy, period.

Thirdly, moral principles are not a big issue with Nancy, Dexter and Walter. While Dexter is a psychopath and is expected to function by a different set of psychological rules, one would expect Nancy Botwin and Walter White to have a harder time adjusting to their new social role. But, infuriatingly enough, they don’t. They are a bit sick at first, but nothing that a beer and a good night sleep can’t fix. They don’t get recurrent nightmares. They don’t obsess about the consequences of their actions. They don’t overeat. None of them fears God. You know what they do instead? They move on, and most disturbingly of all, they start enjoying aspects of their new life.

So? Is life all white and black? No. Are sometimes good people caught in really bad situations? Yes. Would I want my children to watch these series? No. After all, playing ball outside remains much healthier.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Truth or aggression

When we go back to a lover that treats us badly, when we cling to a job that burns us out or forces us to trade our moral principles for money, when we continue to hang out with the same group of so-called friends who keep disrespecting us, we stop being the victim. We add to our old self a custom-made product of our adaptation mechanisms, a new little voice within that insists it isn’t all that bad, or there is not better option, and which praises all the upsides of being in a really bad situation. And that’s when almost unnoticeably we turn against us and become our own aggressors, a point where we need to stop blaming others and start looking at ourselves. This is usually a very painful process and we tend naturally to avoid the discomfort of admitting our own flaws and errors, which allows the abuse to continue.

We are amazingly malleable and powerful spirits.

A sure sign we’re doing something wrong is feeling uncomfortable when we speak about the situation we are in, or avoiding the topic altogether. If something is on your mind but you’re annoyed to talk about it with your friends and you feel like no one really gets you, please stop for a moment and think about it. The unpleasantness you’re feeling may be your deep self asking for help.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Are you ready?

I can't wait for the concert tonight. I have nothing but admiration and respect for the powerful, consistent artists that Jon Bon Jovi and his band colleagues are. In case you haven't made plans yet to be in Piata Constitutiei tonight, check out this performance; it should get you rushing to the nearest ticket sales point:

See you there :)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Relationships hurt. Duh!

I feel like an elephant sits on my chest.

While deep inside I believe we are all alone in this world, I am equally convinced that we cannot go through life entirely on our own. We need others. We need their love, and help, and encouragement. If people are indeed emotional onions then the core of the bulb is loneliness, but the scale leaves are the relationships with the others that provide us with the warmth and sense of being cared for that enables us to get out of bed every morning.

Every now and then one of the scale leaves turns rotten, and a painful decision must be made. Either you remove it at the cost of ripping yourself open, or you leave it and risk a fester.

In time I got really good at extracting bad leaves from my emotional bulb. No more bullies, no more life-sucking leaches allowed in my little garden. Yet a simple phone conversation with one who used to be so close to me still leaves short of breath.

Letting people in almost always ends in pain and disillusion. But there is no other way. We need people, and they need us. As Bono put it, we get to carry each other, well, I mean, you know, until we’re being dumped.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Foreign investment opportunities in Romania continue to abound

Using public transportation comes with benefits and disadvantages, just like anything else in life. I would like to start positively and encourage you all to use buses and trams more often. They do provide a way you can save some of the money you would normally spend on gas and parking, reduce your carbon footprint, enjoy a nice book on your way and watch all the very funny faces people make when they are unaware they are being observed (yes, they do, do try it one day). The downsides are somewhat obvious: it takes you longer to get from point A to point B, you have no control over the route or the stop points, pick-pocketers, and if you wear a skirt, you’ll be doing a very bizarre dance avoiding all the bags, backpacks and umbrellas that threaten your stockings! Still, the most unpleasant shortcoming of them all must be THE SMEEEEEEELS.

Oh yes, it takes a really well stuffed up nose to bear a trip by bus these days in Bucharest, now that the summer is here and we are all enjoying the warm temperatures. Now, we are all humans and perspiration is healthy. We need it. We cannot deny it. We can however wash it regularly off ourselves, and use deodorants to reduce its impact. Anyone can do it, and please don’t give me the ‘I cannot afford fancy toiletries’ speech, ‘cause my grandma is really poor but she never smelled in the life!

So, for all you guys out there who use public transportation, stop smelling, please! As for you soap and deodorant manufacturers, know there are still tremendous business development opportunities for you in our country.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Damaged beyond repair

It turns out I’m not the only one pissed off after a trip to the bank, although Printesa Urbana seems to have gone through a bit of a different situation.

Now, what upset me about her post is the way she refers to the bank officer and how she calls her corporate as an insult! To work for a corporation is, to some, a sure sign of being not a very smart asshole.

Now, I can easily see where Printesa’s frustration with the corporate world comes from, as anyone who has at least one acquaintance working for one should. Corporations are a fine example of a good idea with a crappy implementation. Groups of people working together to put the best product out on the market? Excellent! Going across borders in search of the best ideas, resources and cost options? Fantastic! Selling your own mother for it? Uhmmm, no, thanks.

You know, it’s not P&G that messes people up, or OMV, or ING. It’s the unhappy, disoriented and lonely people working for them, who have been viciously led to believe that the only genuine measure of their significance comes from the money and status of their corporate jobs. Innocents who had no idea of the sham they were about to buy into when they got a job with a big name then spend years trying to find their way out of the system (trust me, I’d know). What dazzles me is that corporations don’t seem to get it, or get it and just don’t care about it, because they sure aren’t doing much about it, except some PR(=propaganda) that raises more skepticism than anything else. Clients, suppliers and an increasing proportion of their own employees have come to believe that the corporate wagon is riding fast right into a stone wall. As for survivors, I only hope that by the time of the crash they will not be damaged beyond repair.

Time is on my side?

It’s interesting, but young people act as if they had no time, while old people seem to have all the time in the world.

Persuaded by the limits of internet banking, today I went in person to the bank to put some of my finances in order. Hesitatingly I looked at the two offices available to private individuals, trying to decide which one is best to sit in line for. A gentleman had just went into the office on the right, so I naturally picked the other, thinking chances are the clients inside will be finished before the guy on the right.


The clients I was waiting after were a couple of elders, I would say in their 70’s. I’m not sure what they were in for, but the vacillation on their faces suggested they were yet innocent of most banking operations. They were however enjoying the attention they were receiving; they had a million questions and about a hundred additional inquiries for each answer they received. The man seemed, at a first glance, the one in charge: he was signing the forms and typing codes in. The woman soon proved to be in charge of the man himself. ‘Don’t forget, it’s 1,000 RON you need to withdraw’, she shouted at the man who had just left for the cashier office, determining him to stop and loose precious minutes reprocessing this information over and over again. ‘Are you sure you typed the right numbers in?’ she checked with the poor guy on whose face you could read only abandonment and apathy. So he stopped again for several more minutes replaying the numbers in his head; no, he wasn’t sure anymore, so the lady from the bank had to take them again through the procedure by which they added a security code to their account.

And as I began fidgeting around the office and visualizing all the little things I would have done in the quarter of hour I had been waiting, I wondered not only why banks don’t put up a special window for retired people and those who still believe that credit cards are the devil’s tools, but I also reflected on the special relationship each one of us has with time. And I’ll admit that maybe, just maybe, in the same way that the senior couple in front of me needed to speed up, I might have needed to slow down.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Such hope, such pain, such sadness, yet such hope

I don’t think Hanoch Levin was this positive, outgoing and easy-to-talk-to guy who made small talk and enjoyed social events. I think he was a consumed artist with a big heart, two wide open eyes and one loud mouth that still gets him in trouble, even now that he’s dead. His art points the finger at a world stripped naked of social pleasantries and addresses big issues of life and death in a manner that won’t win him a popularity prize anytime soon.

Last evening I went to see one of Levin’s plays called Such Hope, a relatively new show put on stage at the Odeon Theatre. The director is Radu Afrim, and this should already be enough warning to spectators. Radu is well-known for his modern approach, so if you’re a big fan of Moliere, you might want to skip this one.

The play is a series of 20 sketches that pull out the drawers of different cabinets of human experiences, just to turn them upside down in the middle of the stage. They touch the sordidness love falls into, delusions we build to make convenient sense for ourselves, the lengths we will go to in a desperate quest for love; the threats of ignorance, false intelligence and deceiving information; the tainting and tarnishing of religion; and many more. It’s not just what they say it, but how they do it as well. Sex, death motifs, nudity and strong language take spectators out of their comfort zone and rub their faces in the topic at hand.

Out of his comfort zone was indeed one of the spectators last night, who shouted at the actors right before the end applauses began: “Talented actors, schizophrenic play!”. While some of the artists were obviously offended, I got to thinking maybe that is the best proof that they did a good job. No doubt the asshole who insulted them should be banned from the theatre; however, he is part of the re-education process these people are engaged in. To keep an open mind, to accept that others may have different opinions or tastes in art than you and to express that appropriately are skills that one learns in the advanced stages of personal and social development. The Odeon theatre does its part to teaching these lessons to the extent and pace they can, in groups of several hundreds of people at a time.

Did I mention all the actors were very good? I was particularly impressed with Antoaneta Zaharia and the gorgeous Istvan Teglas, both of whom I hope will have fantastic careers.

I did not leave the theatre sad or uncomfortable, despite the gloomy topics or the incident at the end. Instead, I felt inspired by all these actors who dedicate their lives to diffusing such messages out in the world. I left touched by the grace and beauty of the actors. And I left hopeful, that as long as others share my pain, I am not alone at all.