This Time Last Year: Dear Friend

Dear Friend,

I’ve decided this is what I’m calling you now, though you know you’re not, and I know you’re not, and we’re both OK with it.

But they tell me everybody needs a name, and everybody needs a friend, so I guess I’m just killing two birds with one stone.

I’ve been meaning to write this for a little while, but I hadn’t yet decided what to call you, and you need to at least know that when you start a letter. So I didn’t. And then last week Facebook said you had a birthday coming.

So here it is, my birthday gift for you. A name and things you never knew. Read the full post here →

Fury

There are few people in my immediate social ecosystem I truly dislike.

I left one such person behind when I moved from Romania a few years back, and during that time, whatever negative feelings I’d had for them eventually faded into this colourless mix of mostly indifferent emotions. And I suddenly found myself in a good place socially speaking, no energy-draining animosities in the air. And it felt right.

Now, don’t think that I’ve gone out of my way to mess up my newly discovered universe of peace and sympathy, as I tend to mess up all good things in my life. This time, I most definitely did nothing wrong. Or not on purpose, anyway. And nonetheless, my disliking-people-is-so-paseé mantra is now itself a thing of the past.

Because these days, I’ve got someone new to dislike.

I’m not proud of it. And no, I’m not going to badmouth them on the interwebs or publish their Twitter handle for you equally spiteful people to poke fun at out of some deranged online solidarity. In fact, I haven’t and will not do anything about my animosity. I won’t be voicing my negative feelings towards them, I won’t be sending bad karma their way, I won’t be feverishly praying for the day of retribution. I’ll repress my emotions, like the responsible, perpetually unsatisfied adult I’ve grown into.

The other day I ran into this person in the street.

When someone’s mean to you, my Grandma used to say, just look at them. Look at them real close, and picture them smiling. You’ll realise they’re good people after all. Just good people having a bad day.

From a distance, I tried to imagine them smiling.

It didn’t really work, it was cold and getting dark and people were sliding in and out of the layers of air between us, and a smile would be nothing but a tiny horizontal line from where I was standing anyway.

It pains me that I’ve allowed a human being to make me not like them so much. It’s not a fading feeling either, or not yet anyway. It’s strong. You’d think you could squeeze it out of me and pour it in a cup, a thick, poisonous looking juice.

I gave up picturing smiles and walked into a nearby grocery store. I took my glove off to squeeze a mango, its skin stamped with the name of a country V and I were looking at visiting just the other week. I smiled. I settled on a baguette, pears and two bunches of daffodil buds. The clerk wrapped the flowers in Christmas themed paper. Too keep them warm until you get home, she said, and we smiled. I didn’t even have to imagine it, like Grandma had said. Some people, you could tell they were good without any tricks. I walked home and put the daffodils in a vase on the dressing table.

Someone once told me yellow is the colour of courage.

When I got back from work last night, none of the buds had opened yet and I worried they’d died. I cooked us dinner, did my accounting, read a little. As I was getting ready for bed some hours later, I noticed two of the flowers had opened. And not just a little, but fully bloomed and yelling their yellows like war cries. Had I been paying more attention, I’d have heard the petals part, I just knew it, and the thought that I’d missed it made me unbearably sad.

I suspect they’re not just having a bad day, this new person in my life. A bad day doesn’t do that to you, I wouldn’t think. They might be having a bad few days though, a bad few months, a year. A bad slice of life, and that might explain them being the way they are. I wish I knew what to do with this revelation, but somehow, even after all these years of playing the people game, it feels like the rules are changing all the time.

I’m off to hug someone now. They tend to smile when you do that.

Five Things Today

1.

We’ve had no hot water in our shower for three weeks.

Get a plumber look at it, you say? Well, you’re probably not up to date with the latest developments in London’s flourishing plumbing industry.

There. Are. No. Plumbers. Not one.

Sure, you’ll find plenty online, or recommended by friends, and believe it or not a handful of them will even return your calls and/or emails. But getting one to actually come and LOOK at your shower, now that’s a different story. They are busy, these people. Doing… not sure what really, but definitely not shower tinkering.

The last person we spoke to was quite funny. Too busy to come over, obviously, but kind enough to suggest we take our shower apart ourselves and keep the pieces in lemon juice overnight. And you know what? After nearly a month of freezing cold showers in the middle of winter, lemon juice sounds like it might just work. So yeah. Fancy joining me in a lemon squeezing marathon tonight, anyone? Anyone?

2.

Several of my friends have quit or are on the verge of quitting their jobs, with little to no future career plans in mind.

No, they’re not all Romanian.

Yes, it might be mid-life-crisis early-thirties-crisis.

And yes, I do worry about it being contagious. But then I just turn off my alarm clock and jump out of bed, dragging myself towards a keyboard yet again.

3.

I am, if somewhat reluctantly, making friends with people at work these days.

After a year marked by one or two social disappointments, I’m testing the waters again. I guess it’s true what they say, that we’re social animals above all else, even the most self-proclaimed antisocial of us.

So I’m hitting the pubs for the now compulsory after work pint, catching up with former colleagues for lunch, mingling at office parties. It still feels a bit like I’m walking around wrapped in an unfamiliar skin, but it’s not an uncomfortable one.

I was chatting to an old friend the other day, and he said something that made me think.

Growing older, he’d realised he could no longer judge his friendships like he’d used to. He couldn’t just walk away from people who’d disappointed him at one time or another anymore. He couldn’t dismiss people based on one or two incompatibilities with the perfect friend image he’d built for himself. His best friends now weren’t people who finished his sentences or got all his jokes. His best friends were the few people who’d stuck around. Imperfect in their friendship, but still there.

4.

Do NOT give me Amazon vouchers.

I’ll just buy ELEVEN books in one go and then you’ll find me feverishly browsing for another bookshelf, because there’s only so many paperbacks you can stack on your windowsill before they’re blocking the light. Who knew light and reading go hand in hand anyway?

For what it’s worth, I’ve so far read seven books this year, which is a miracle considering how much of my time I’ve been spending glued to a pint. Alcohol and books is the way to go, people! That is, if you want to make it out alive of this forsaken, snowed-three-times-this-month London winter!

5.

In other news, V and I are very busy these days.

We’ve just thrown a belated New Year’s Eve party for a friend who had emergency surgery during the real celebrations, we’re taking another friend on a post-breakup seaside trip this weekend, joining a bunch of people for a clubbing night out (Don’t. Ask.) for Valentine’s, and leaving London for our yearly anniversary trip the following week. Then guess what, it’s spring! Season of concerts, bank holidays and tennis tournaments!

So yeah, I’m excited to say the least. There’s something absolutely delicious in browsing your Google Calendar to see brightly coloured squares marking the end of each and every one of the coming weeks. I’ll try and document our this and that as much as I can, especially now that it seems I’ve finally kicked the January blues away, and I’m feeling more like a living, breathing, and only occasionally moaning human being.

Wishing you all a lovely, brightly coloured weekend!

Where the Wild Things Are

My new job is making me ill.

I’ve been spending today in bed, tucked under a mountain of blankets and Kleenex tissues, fighting for breath. I’ve read a little, had a little tea, sent a few emails, but mostly I’ve just sat there, hopelessly trying to fool myself into falling asleep. Thinking.

2015 is shaping up into a strange year.

I’ve been meaning to write about things more than once these past few weeks, and more than once I’ve decided not to. I couldn’t say why.

Originally, my first post of the year was meant to be very different from what you’re reading now.

I was going to title it “Happy in a jar”, and I’d have written about this friend who’s been keeping a large jar on her desk all year. Hapinesses, 2014, it said on the label, and every time something made her really happy, she wrote it on a post-it and dropped it in there. I was going to write about how she’d opened it and gone through the dozen or so yellow happy squares. Silly things, she’d told me afterwards. Things she’d forgotten about. A new pair of shoes, a kiss at the end of a movie date, a job promotion. Things that didn’t matter, she said, but I wasn’t sure.

I wasn’t sure that happinesses weren’t in fact almost always the sum of things that didn’t matter, and that’s what I would have written about.

But then, you know, something extraordinary happened.

In between traipsing the country, postponing resolutions and raising our glasses, my friend C got in touch for the first time in almost two years.

He’d gone home for the holidays and found a notebook I’d written for him the summer before we graduated. A parting gift, it would be, but we din’t know it then.

We spoke for six hours, through the night and well into the morning. Things we’d left unsaid for almost a decade, pains we’d hidden, lies we’d lied. We didn’t leave anything out and only after we’d said goodbye and I was at last getting ready for bed, only after I’d wiped my mascara off and I’d stepped into the shower, did I cry the cry I’d been holding in me for god knows how long.

So the next day, I binned my “Happy in a Jar” post and started a new one. I was going to call it “Videli Noci” and I’d have written about my friendship with C, and how after The Year I Almost Had Cancer, The Year I Fell Out With My Sister and The Year Of Our First Home, 2015 had chances to become the greatest year of all. The Year Of A Never Ending Friendship.

But what I realised as I was writing about C, was that I wasn’t really. I wasn’t writing about him, that is. I was writing to him. And I wasn’t writing a blog post but, as scary as it seems even now, many days later, I was writing a book.

There’s one thing I’m more and more convinced of these days, when I’ve got no choice but go with the flow and look back on my life, draw a line and make new resolutions like all self respecting adults: it feels like I’ve never seen anything coming, ever. Like every minor, average or life-changing thing that’s ever happened to me, even the carefully planned ones, ended up following unexpected paths and taking me by surprise. Scary, right?

At least this book thing, it’s a good kind of scary.

What with all the craziness going on in the world and in my world, what with this new job looking really shiny and exciting from a distance but showing its dents and scratches the moment you step closer, what with waiting by the phone for new test results (I thought The Year I Almost Had Cancer was done and dusted, but is anything ever?), what with relationships being what they are, uphills and downhills for ever and ever until you’ve worn the soles of your shoes paper thin, well, what with all that and more, the thought of having a book inside me makes me feel good. Of all things, a book! Sure, I’ve got no idea how to pluck the thing out of me and I probably never will, but it’s there, and that’s really something.

So there. That’s me these days. I walk, I talk, I forget things.

As for us all… It’s probably time we did something extraordinary for once. Who knows, we could try growing new limbs soon, new hearts, it sure feels like just the right time for our bodies to rebel and do something crazy like that. Crazy enough to change the world. 2015 sure sounds magical, doesn’t it?

Time will tell.

In the meantime, I’m wishing you all overflowing Happiness Jars this year!

 

These Are The Words

It feels like I’ve got less and less to write about these days.

There’s little to moan about, I’m not sad, I’m not going through any crisis. I haven’t picked up any new exciting hobby, I haven’t fallen in or out of love, I haven’t traveled anywhere exotic. So I’ve been finding it fairly easy to resist my compulsion to record everything on the interwebs.

And then last night, we were at a John Bishop comedy show with a friend on Wembley Arena, and in between giggles and bouts of proper hysterical laughter, my phone was constantly buzzing in my lap with notifications from WordPress. Hours later, stuck on a tube as they were trying to remove a stray Black Friday enthusiast who was apparently strolling up and down the tracks a few stops ahead of us, well, I finally took my phone out of my bag and checked my blog’s dashboard.

People were reading, I realised. Real people, with lives and stories of their own to tell.

It’s exciting, if hard to believe. And scary, in so many ways.

I’m building myself into a shape strangers can look at and check for defects.

And then I thought. I mostly write when I’m a bit down or mad about something. It’s when it comes most naturally to me for some reason. I rarely document my happinesses, my good days, and that’s a pity, because I’ve got plenty of them to go around, and it’s what I’d surely rather read about when I’m old and grey and in a mood for looking back and poking fun at my silly moaning self. I’d appreciate being reminded of the happy times too, if only in passing.

So I’ll try to do that more often from now on, write about the good stuff.

Right now for instance, V and I are sitting in the living room, perfectly content. He’s playing Call of Duty against one of his buddies, and winning twenty-something to six, which makes him giggle, pinch or tap my leg and point to the updating score every other minute, at which I need to react by at least jumping up and down and waving my hands in the air like a maniac, or else I’ll have failed in my super important Call of Duty cheerleading responsibilities.

It’s been quiet today. A furniture delivery, the last one in a while now I hope, a trip to the car wash and the local shops. Then driving back with a huge, impossible-to-fit-in-the-car-and-still-reach-the-pedals potted Yucca plant, putting some music on and in between glasses of leftover wine, almost carbonising our dinner. It’s good to have a boring Saturday for once.

Last week we held our house warming shindig.

I’m not a manic party planner, I don’t drive myself crazy over putting together intricate culinary delicacies, or polishing every surface to perfection six times over. I’ve never been a good cook and I’ve always been quite tidy, so it doesn’t feel like I’ve got anything to worry too much about when we have people over, except maybe making sure we’ve got a couple of takeout menus close at hand. It feels to me though that everybody else takes these get-togethers a million times more seriously than I do. People dressed up. Brought gifts. Everything felt important, official. Like it marked something vital, this day, when it didn’t really. It was just a random day when neither of us had any better things to do.

We ate, drank, talked politics and about our many hopes and fears.

I sometimes can’t help feeling that most Romanians I know in this country are competing to prove to me that their lives are infinitely better and more exciting that mine.

The way I look at my relationships with fellow nationals has changed dramatically since I moved here. I used to feel so alone early on, and so I was really drawn to the few Romanian expats I knew in London. I overlooked their every flaw, and invested all I had into building and maintaining those pretend friendships, based on little more than the fact that we shared a language and had grown up watching the same TV shows. More than a few bumps in the road later, I’m more selective when it comes to who I spend my time with, Romanian or not.

And still I realised, as I was cooking breakfast the following morning for the few people who’d spent the night in our improvised guest beds, my social life here is still far from ideal. My relationships still lack something. We’re only connecting up to a certain level, and past that, I’m pretty much on my own. Maybe it really has nothing to do with being away from home, but more with a certain drifting apart that comes with growing old. You’ll never know then, I said to myself, and flipped the omelette with a pretend-expert turn of the spatula, burning my thumb in the process.

In other news, I found such incredible joy in not having enough chairs to accommodate everyone at our dining table. It’s tiny things like this that for a fraction of a second, make me feel like I’m slowly building something in this country.

Oh, and I completely forgot.

I found a job last week.

I don’t know how, I wasn’t really looking.

I mean I was, in a way. As in, I knew I’d have to start looking in a few months. I’d known for exactly four days. But I wasn’t, actively, doing anything yet. And then it just fell in my lap, this exciting thing there’s a chance I’ll be doing for the coming months, years, who knows, and when I learnt about it, I hung up the call and just stood there, in the middle of the deserted reception room at work, elevator doors blinking their floor numbers up and down the spine of the building, and felt afraid.

Things have been going well. Too well, I can’t help thinking.

It’s sad, isn’t it, how I’ve grown into this person who finds happiness, first and foremost, suspicious.