The First

I know there is always a first time for everything, I just wish someone would teach me how to overcome the nervousness that comes with it. I’m about to do the scariest thing I’ve done in my thirty-three years of existence on this planet. Bearing in mind that I once encountered a shark; flew a Piper Tomahawk (the longest thirty-eight seconds of my life); performed CPR on two occasions; had my tonsils removed without anesthesia when I was a kid; watched someone take his last breath; hitchhiked and was picked up by a weirdo, who was touching my legs in the car; and I look in the mirror every day. OK, I do love my face, I just tend to tell jokes no one else laughs at.

I don’t know what your take on this is, but I didn’t like it at all when upon graduating from university, I was forced to enter – as one of my teachers used to call it – life with a capital L. Being a grown-up sucks sometimes and nobody prepared me for that. I’ve spent my entire twenties looking for a purpose, a “career” that would keep me motivated and make me want to show up at work every day, or at least, one that wouldn’t make me want to bang my head against the wall and eat the plaster that is falling off it.

I sacrificed painful years trying to stick to the “norm” and follow a regular path, but I constantly failed. I could never stay longer than a few months in a job (the record being a hundred and ninety-eight days) because I always felt trapped and I suffered. I felt I was wasting my life and that thought made me frustrated and even anxious at times. My patience and the number of days I was able to push myself to stay in a workplace got shorter and shorter and when I quit a decently paid, said-to-be prestigious job in London after only six days because it drove me crazy, I knew it was time to pull my shit together and do something with my life.

I was always jealous of people that knew as a child what they were destined to do and were working towards their dreams their entire life. I wasn’t that lucky. Even though I used to spend all my pocket money on new, shiny pens (some of them were even scented) and notepads of different sizes and colors and would write down everything that came to my mind, I didn’t realize until my late twenties that writing it was that I wanted to do.

So when the enlightenment finally came, I started scribbling down my thoughts in a more structured way and labeled them as stories. I was making notes all the time, on everything I could get my hands on. My scratchpad I carried in my bag, my phone if I didn’t have a pen on me, my laptop if I got inspired while working on something else, napkins in cafe shops, the back of a piece of paper torn off a poster, my palm, my arm, the back of receipts, plastic bags, the blank spaces on the pages of magazines, and even the leaf of a tulip once. Stories were born after another, but I never showed them to anyone.

I was terrified. I am terrified. But I always remember Robert De Niro’s words from “A Bronx Tale:” “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.” This thought stuck with me ever since I saw that movie, and I might not have talent at all, but it would definitely be a waste not to try to figure out whether I did.

Also, I’ve recently had the privilege to meet Bill Bryson, who told me that the terrifying feeling would never go away, so “I’d better man up and start sharing my work.” (“Work.” That’s what he called my scribbles and if mental orgasm exists, I’m sure I had one.)

Stories are meant to be shared.

So, here we go. My hands are shaking, my lips are dry, and I see black spots in front of my eyes even after I squeezed them shut real hard three times. I might faint in a minute, but I wanted to let you know that, as of today, I stop being scared. And I’ll go all the way. From now on, I won’t only write for my own entertainment but also for YOUR pleasure (or suffer). And if I’m lucky, you might even like my stories.

Enjoy my thoughts and let me know yours.

Sandra

Read another story here.

Perfectionism Develops In Childhood

I finished my run and was stretching my legs in the backyard when I caught sight of a colorful fallen leaf. It reminded me of an art assignment in sixth grade. We were told to find a bright-colored leaf and make a drawing of it. The one I picked back then looked just like the one I saw today.

I didn’t complete the assignment by myself. I made my aunt do it. This didn’t seem like a big deal then, but today,  I’m wondering:

1) Why did I want my aunt to draw the picture for me and claim it as my own work?

2) Why did my aunt (and mom) agree to that without hesitation?

The first one is obvious. I wanted her to draw it because I knew she could do better than me and I wanted the assignment to be good. Was this an early sign of perfectionism? And if so, where did it come from? Researchers used to say that unsatisfied (and dysfunctional) parents, who push their children too hard, are to blame, but the newest studies imply that perfectionism is genetic. Either way, thanks, Mom and Dad!

I’m not a perfectionist. I do have high standards and I can be too harsh on myself sometimes, but considering all the impulsive decisions I made and all the things I’ve tried in life, I don’t think I’m even close to being a perfectionist. Anyway, this isn’t the point I’m trying to make here. I just find absurd that I wouldn’t allow myself as a child to complete an art project in my own lame way.

My aunt’s drawing didn’t get me an A, by the way. I got a B and I was happy because I thought B was a good enough grade. So why didn’t I draw that leaf myself? Maybe I thought that if I had tried, I would only have gotten a C, which I didn’t consider good enough. Or maybe I was just too lazy to draw. Or maybe I just didn’t like drawing at all.

This got me thinking about some other things I didn’t do because either I didn’t feel like spending time with them or thought that the end product I could deliver wouldn’t measure up to my standards. I have no idea why I doubted myself so much, I was one of those gifted kids that flew through school with ease (and one who got an award for being the school’s best student) yet I created these enormously high expectations for myself and didn’t care what my parents or teachers thought of my achievements, if I didn’t think I was doing great, it was all for nothing.

***

I love storytelling. I guess I always have, but I remember thinking as a child that I was terrible at it. We used to get assignments in English class to write about various topics. That caused me a great deal of anxiety because I always felt I couldn’t come up with anything entertaining. So instead of writing stories in English, I asked my mom to draft them for me in Hungarian (that’s my mother tongue), which I would then translate and improve. Never mind that this was three times more difficult, considering Hungarian is one of the hardest languages in the world. I was confident in my English skills but felt absolutely incompetent when it came to my storytelling abilities.

I spent a lot of time thinking about this as an adult. “How is it possible that someone that didn’t like storytelling and sucked at it (so I thought), became a writer?” I realized I had it all wrong. It’s not storytelling I didn’t like or wasn’t good at, it was the lack of creative freedom I couldn’t handle. They always gave us concrete topics to write about (which I found, most of the time, boring) instead of saying, “Tell a story about anything you like.” And only now, twenty-something years later, I can see how harmful and stupid that was.

***

I was part of an experimental class when I started school at age six. We were taught how to read and write using an alternative method, which encouraged individual work. This meant that as soon as a child could read and spell, (s)he was given permission to complete all the exercises in the book without any assistance, guidance, or supervision.

There were a few pupils in my class that could already read when we started school, so they were allowed to work on their own from day one. I wasn’t. I didn’t know how to read when I went to school and it took me a while to learn it, which made me irritated because I couldn’t bear the idea of someone else finishing the book before me. I begged my teacher to let me go ahead individually, but she thought I wasn’t ready, so she wouldn’t. (Man, was I upset!)

Finally, after five other kids had already been working on their own for months, I got the green light. I was over the moon. My grandma picked me up from school that day, and I told her that we needed to hurry because I had a lot of homework.

We arrived home (the journey felt like ages) and I was pacing around impatiently as my grammy was unlocking the door. When I finally got into our apartment, I ran to the bathroom, washed my hands, ripped my bag open, and pulled out THE book.

I didn’t have a desk at the time, so I placed the little red wooden chair, which my grandma used to stand on to reach the upper parts of the window in the kitchen, in the middle of the bedroom and kneeled down in front of it. I put the book on the chair, took a deep breath, opened it, and didn’t stand up until I finished it. The entire book in one evening.

It was way past my bedtime, and I remember my grandma and mom approaching me several times, asking me to take a break to eat something or just relax for a while, but I was adamant. (I wish I could have this focus these days.)

Why did I do it? I honestly don’t know. There wasn’t any reward for finishing the book, nor did I get any special treatment for doing it, so I guess the look on my teacher’s and classmates’ face was my prize. I wanted to show them that I could. Isn’t this crazy?

***

I was a lucky kid and teenager as I had a bit of talent for most of the things I had tried my hand at. And if I didn’t, I just dropped that particular thing because there were plenty others to choose from. Even when I was only second-best at something, I would just refuse to do that thing or pushed myself until I became the best.

My parents couldn’t always keep up with this. They wanted me to learn how to play the piano, so they made me take lessons for five or six years from the age of six. As much as I love music and my ability now to play an instrument, I loathed piano lessons. I hated having to practice every day; I abhorred having to perform twice a year in front of a committee that would rate us, and I despised the mandatory solfège class with all its sight-readings and solmization. Why? Because I never felt I was talented enough to sacrifice so much of my time and to put in so much effort. (But mainly because I felt that everyone else was doing better.)

So, when I was twelve, and my solfège teacher gave me an F for my performance (only because I sang the song too slowly), I never showed up again. My parents freaked out and were begging me to go back, but I was relentless. They took me to a psychologist because they thought there was something wrong with me. The shrink told them that she thought that a child who was part of the basketball and volleyball team, took private English lessons twice a week, performed in school plays and voluntarily attended a first aid course, might as well have the ability to decide whether she wanted to add more to the agenda or not. So my parents didn’t have any other choice but letting me be the boss in this. No piano lessons ever again.

***

High school wasn’t much different, except that there were many more smart kids in the pool, which meant more things for me not to be the best at. I went to great lengths to manipulate my environment in a direction that served me most. Don’t think of anything evil, I give you an example.

We were due to write a test in History class, which I didn’t study enough for (to get an A). Getting anything worse than an A would have been an unimaginable outcome for me, so I approached all my classmates one by one and asked for their permission to speak to the teacher on behalf of the class to persuade her to postpone the test for next week. And it worked. Every single time. People were grateful that they didn’t have to write a test that day and I gained the extra time I needed to prepare to write the best test the week after. Win-win.

In my junior year, all my final grades were going to be As except Chemistry. I got the same amount of Bs as As during the semester, and Mrs. Thompson decided to give me a B as my final grade because “I wasn’t going to study Chemistry in college.” I didn’t like her way of thinking. I went to see her after class and told her that I deserved an A because I knew everything I was supposed to know and I said I was ready to prove it. She was game. She gave me three days to go through the entire book again and said that if I answered all of her questions correctly, she’d give me an A. You bet I got it.

***

You’d think I’m proud of myself for my achievements as a young person. And to a certain extent, I am, of course, but from an adult’s perspective, I have some unsettling thoughts.

Have I been manipulating myself through life because I’m afraid that I’m not good enough?

Should I assume that me always choosing the more difficult, time-consuming, and indirect routes is the result of being scared to take the direct path because I don’t believe in myself?

Does pushing ourselves harder and harder make us feel more accomplished, or in the meantime, do we lose the sense of what is important and fulfilling?

Would pieces fall in place easier and would success come faster if we didn’t compare ourselves to others, or if we didn’t try to exceed our own expectations all the time?

I’m yet to find the answers.

More in the mood for fiction? Read this.

The Old Lady That Looked Familiar

Another night when worries kept me awake. Insomnia came to pick me up at the same time every evening and we walked hand in hand until it became pointless to fight it. The lack of sleeping made me dizzy in the mornings. This Sunday dawn wasn’t different either. I crawled out of bed and washed my face, but I still felt like a marathon runner a mile before the finish line. I stopped drinking coffee because it made me jittery and somehow I felt more exhausted after having a cup.

I needed some fresh air to clear my head. The view of the mountains across the sea and the sound of water splashing against the rocks always made me feel better. So I headed to the harbor just like every Sunday morning.

I was walking down the coast and trying not to think of anything. It’s a difficult thing to do and I always find myself thinking of the nothingness I’m supposed to think of, which is thinking after all, so it never works.

The marina was quiet just like on any other Sunday morning.  The rising sun has painted the sky in a pinky shade and the fog hasn’t lifted yet. There were barely any people around, mainly dog walkers and elderlies that couldn’t sleep too long. 

Despite my best efforts, thoughts kept chasing each other in my mind and my head became so heavy I could barely keep it straight. I stopped and squeezed my eyes shut. I took a deep breath and massaged my temple and pressed on certain points on my face a reflexologist friend suggested once. It helped a little.

I rubbed my eyes and when I opened them again, I caught sight of a strange figure in the distance. She was hunching forward and dragging her left leg as if she was keeping a quarter under her foot to hide it from others. Even like this, there was something noble and elegant in the way she carried herself and although I couldn’t see her face as she was far away and walking the same direction as me, I imagined her to be a proud and poised woman. Her moves were like that of an old, broken music box – a few sounds were off, but the melody still filled your heart with joy.

As I was watching her, an unexplainable feeling of familiarness overcame me. I couldn’t tell why, but I thought I met her somewhere already. I got curious, so I picked up the pace to catch her.

All of a sudden, she halted as if she wanted me to gain on. I startled. And then something happened that made my blood freeze in my veins and the realization struck me in the head like a giant hammer that could break a skull open with one single hit. I knew her. Who else would do such a thing? She opened her arms and bowed to the sun, then spun around twice. Once clockwise and once the other direction. Otherwise, she gets too dizzy. How silly is that, really?! I know only one person who does that. I know her well.

Tears filled my eyes as I started to move again. Slowly but confidently, I was walking toward her.

I had to meet her. I needed to talk to her. I was sure she would know all the answers. I wanted to ask her and tell her that it was okay. In case, she felt differently. The distance between us started to shrink and I was less than a few feet behind her when she abruptly turned. I flinched. We were face-to-face and I could clearly see her then. A shiver ran through my body. My legs were shaking and breathing felt so heavy as if Mount Everest was resting on my chest.

It was her. No doubt. She hasn’t changed a bit. I mean, she got older, you could tell. The wrinkles and the silver hair were new, and her skin looked somewhat paler, but that mischievous sparkle in her eyes and her slightly crooked smile were the same. And that triangle-shaped scar on her forehead she got when she fell from the apple tree in her auntie’s garden. Those would give her away even if she disguised herself as a man.

We made a few more faint-hearted steps toward each other until we got so close we could have touched. She was a little shorter than me, and I could see the cowlick on top of her head that made it impossible to have a stunning coiffure for the prom. A bittersweet smile appeared in the corner of my mouth.

She lifted her head and gazed into my eyes. Her face was peaceful and warm, it made me feel calm. It felt like she could see right through me and I got scared that she would be disappointed and a lone teardrop escaped from the corner of my eye. She raised her shaking hand and put it on my shoulder. “Everything is gonna be fine,” she encouraged. Her voice trembled but there was something undeniably confident in it. Like she knew it. For sure. And I believed her. I wiped my face with the tassel of my scarf and looked at her puzzled.

“I have nothing,” I avowed in a hoarse voice. It sounded like I haven’t talked for days. “Don’t be silly,” she said with so much compassion I haven’t felt since Mom died. I had to swallow the knot in my throat and cough to be able to carry on speaking. “No roof over my head, no family, not even a job I would enjoy.”

She reached for my hand and buried it in hers, then lifted it to her face and gently pressed it against her cheek. She slowly moved her head, so my hand was stroking her skin and I could feel her smooth but cold lips and warm breath on my palm. She stared at me again. “You have this,” she said softly and put my hand on my heart. I could feel my own impatiently racing heartbeat with the tip of my fingers. And as I felt the warmth of her hands on mine, gratitude flooded my soul.

“Am I gonna be happy?” I asked. And as the words were leaving my lips, I felt ashamed and started shaking again because I realized it was the wrong question. I took a deep, anxious breath and slid her hands in mine. I squeezed them a little and looked into her eyes again. “Are you happy?” I asked fearfully. She moved away so I couldn’t reach her anymore and flashed that cheeky look of hers at me one more time. Then she opened her arms, bowed, and spun around twice.

I burst out laughing but couldn’t stop the flood of tears running down my cheeks. They weren’t sad tears, though. They were tears of relief and love. And a sense of wholeness. She just giggled like a kid that catches sight of a butterfly for the first time and walked farther and farther away from me. As her silhouette started to blend into the mist again, fear overcame me. “Wait,” I shouted after her. “What’s the secret?”

I heard her heartfelt laughter fading in the distance as the morning breeze became stronger.“Share it,” the wind carried her voice and she disappeared on the horizon.

Were you an easy teenager or a nightmare for your parents?

I Was an Easy Teenager… Just Don’t Ask My Mom

I’ve been living my adult life in the absolute conviction that I was the greatest child and the least troublesome teenager ever, who never gave any reason to her parents to worry, freak out, or be unsatisfied. I excelled in school; I was good at sports; I had drama-free friends (sort of); I didn’t drink alcohol and never used any drugs. What else could a parent dream about, right?

If I could choose, I’d still prefer to be a college student for the rest of my life, but being a grown-up has its advantages, I can’t deny that. I’m wiser and understand things better. (Or so I believe.) I see things from a different perspective and finally have a normal relationship with my mother. We can actually talk for an entire hour without getting into an argument.

Taking advantage of that, a few days after my thirtieth birthday, I took my mom out to dinner. I planned to have one of those groundbreaking mother-and-daughter talks where we bond over a glass of wine while she’s telling me hilarious stories about my childhood and adolescent years. I started our conversation with a bold “I was a really awesome teenager, right, Mom?” question, which was more of a statement. This created an expression on her face that people would have in a packed metro car if a passenger took off all her clothes and started belly dancing. Confusion, a mixture of shock and surprise, and a sense of insult. “I wasn’t?” I asked in such a high-pitched voice I didn’t even know I was capable of. And then she started to talk.

She said it was “extremely” difficult to deal with me. (How dare she?) I got upset and gave her a dirty look. “Why?” I asked again in the voice of a Japanese cartoon character. So, here is a collection of anecdotes she recalled about my “easy” teenage years.

I love dancing. And I loved it already when I was fourteen years old. (That’s practically a child. With boobs. Barely noticeable boobs, in my case.) I had some older friends I hung out with those days, but they were fine, and Mom knew and trusted them. Kind of.

One night, I decided to go out dancing with my “mature” friends to a club out of town. I was going to stay out all night, of course, because that’s what disco is about, right? Dancing all night. According to my  fourteen-year-old self. I started getting ready in the bathroom when my mom appeared in the door and asked me where I was going. So I told her I was going dancing.

She didn’t get mad or anything. She quietly said, “You’re not going anywhere,” and calmly walked back to the living room. I ignored her and continued whatever I needed to do to feel pretty that night. Every now and then, she would pass by while I was doing my hair and repeat in a measured tone: “I told you, you are not going anywhere,” but I pretended not to hear it. When I finally got ready, I – very thoughtfully – reminded her that she shouldn’t wait up for me because, most likely, I would come home only in the morning.

That’s when she lost it. She raised from the couch, walked up to me, and shouted in my face: “Are you out of your fffff… mind?” That’s how she said it. Fffff. “I told you, you are not going anywhere, so you’d better move your ass back to your room and chill out.” We started arguing. It was pretty boring for the first couple of minutes. She would say I couldn’t go, I would ask why, then she would reply that because she said so, and I would say that was stupid and I was going anyway.

After minutes of word battling, I made my way to the hall and announced that I was leaving. She blocked the door with her body and wouldn’t move. We started shouting at each other and when I had enough of it, I looked her straight in the eye and in a calm but firm tone, I articulated, “I am going, Mom,” emphasizing every syllable, and with a gentle but solid push, I got her out of my way and left. Horrible, I know. But back then, I had absolutely no idea what her problem was, knowing that I was a “good girl.” In my understanding, she just forbade me from dancing, and that I found unreasonably stupid.

My next “stunt” that caused my parents a micro heart attack occurred when I was sixteen. It was in tenth grade, and I was still a top student. On a lazy September afternoon, I decided that I didn’t feel like going to classes anymore and I’d rather be home-schooled – only without any parental or tutorial help. I thought I could manage it all by myself without going to classes and only taking exams at the end of the school year. I’m not sure how this works in other parts of the world but where I come from, you can’t just not attend your classes if you are enrolled in a school. You have to be present all the time and can only miss a certain number of lessons if you have a medical certificate to prove that you were ill.

There are two ways, however, you can go around this. Either you have to be an exceptional talent in sport (and I’m talking Olympics level here) or a doctor, a neurologist or psychiatrist, has to give you a piece of paper, which states that school visits are not recommended for you. (Basically saying that you are mentally impaired in some way.) My decision to join the basketball team was solely based on the fact that I was in love with one of the players, so you can guess which option I went for.

My mom went to school with a guy, who – lucky me – became a neurologist. So I convinced my dear mother that she asked the dude to give me the required document. And she did. And then he did. So I filed the paper and stopped going to school.

You need to understand, though, that my intention was never to not finish school or not go to college. I wanted all that. I liked studying and I was good at it. I just felt at the time that I couldn’t be in the school, among all those people. (Whom I’m still friends with.) But no matter how hard I tried to explain to my parents that I still wanted to be an exceptional student, they took it all in the wrong way. Huge drama.

My dad thought that beating me up would be an efficient tool to change my mind, but all he’d achieved was that I got upset and didn’t talk to him for months. Mom was only desperate and confused, so she cried. But the point they both agreed on was that I needed to get a job and pay for my lodging because “now that I stopped going to school, I obviously had all the free time in the world.”

This I found unreasonable and ridiculous because I thought that learning everything on my own was much more difficult than sitting in school and absorbing everything there. (And boy, I was right.)

I couldn’t see how I would have the time to work after all the studying I had to do, but in the end, I did take a part-time job to make them feel better and also enrolled in a Saturday language course to prove them that I was still into studying, and that gave them some peace.

The school year flew by quickly. I passed all my exams with good results, and one day, I woke up with the idea that going to school wasn’t that bad at all and I wanted to go back. So I started the eleventh grade in the same class with my old classmates like nothing had happened. Until this very day, I couldn’t figure out what made me not want to go to school in the first place. But who understands teenagers, right?

Another episode of my adolescence my mom didn’t handle well was dating a guy, who was ten years older than me and had a girlfriend he shared his home (and life) with. Our affair lasted for more than a year, but eventually, I dumped him. He didn’t take it well, which made him do all sorts of stupid things. He followed me everywhere; threatened every single human being I was in any kind of relationship with; stalked my new boyfriend and held him captive in his car for hours; ruined my holiday with my classmates; and made a habit of embarrassing me in front of the entire school.

But that’s a story for another time.

Wanna know why there are so many single people these days?

Why Are We Single?

I know so many attractive, fun, and intelligent young people (there’s one right here, typing this) that are single. Why is that? Why are there so many eligible and available women and men alone? Why don’t we find our partners in crime, better halves, soul mates, lovers, buddies for life – you name it?

Have we become too picky? Or too ignorant? Or are we just blind? Have we become people that only pretend to be longing for a relationship but secretly prefer to be on their own? Because it’s easier and effortless, it doesn’t require any compromises, and it’s safe? Or is it because we don’t need to shave our pubic hair that often? Convenience. Comfortableness. Security. Laziness.

I travel a lot and rarely stay in one place for longer than a couple of months, so my family and friends always blame my lifestyle for not having been in a stable, long-term relationship for quite some time.

I thought about it but when I took into account those friends of mine that have been living in the same place for years yet are still alone, I realized there’s more to this.

So what is it? Why are we single?

One of the reasons must be the past. Many of us had nasty and painful experiences, and fixing a broken heart isn’t a walk in the park and takes a long time, so we’ve become more cautious and reluctant to get into anything that could potentially hurt us. And for those, who only had these dreadful experiences and no positive ones, it’s not as easy to change the I’ll-never-find-love-and-die-alone mentality to an I’m-an-open-book-let’s-make-babies attitude.

I consider myself lucky because even though I haven’t had a proper boyfriend in years, I was fortunate enough to have had healthy and loving relationships in the past, so I know what it feels like to be in one and what I’m looking for. (Don’t worry that one of these loves happened seventeen years ago, it burned into my memory forever.)

I’m an unconventional person in many aspects of life, but when it comes to relationships and love, I’m probably more traditional than anyone from the same age range and background. I believe in love, and I think that no one ever should settle for anything less and be in a relationship just for the sake of not being alone. To me, being together with someone I’m not in love with is a burden and it feels suffocating.

I want spark and passion and laughters that shake my whole body, butterflies and fireworks, long gazes in the eyes, hugs so tight I can’t breathe, and rose-colored glasses. And as an eternal optimist, I’m convinced that we all find true love sooner or later, but I’m not surprised that it’s difficult to find someone that sweeps you off your feet.

Although there are a lot of free “catches” out there, we don’t always bump into each other. And not everyone suits everyone and the chance to encounter a right fit is getting slimmer and slimmer as we age. Meeting new people used to be easy when we were in college. Not only because we had an infinite pool to choose from but also because we had the opportunity to meet on a regular basis and were forced to talk to each other, at the very least in class. So we had the time and “setting” to get to know one another and pick accordingly.

As life got more complicated growing up, so did meeting somebody – I can’t deny that. But we can either whine about it or do something. In case you don’t belong to that one percent that meets “The One” on a subway ride, you won’t fall in love if you don’t go out there to see people, and loneliness will become the norm. So my advice: move that sexy ass of yours and increase your odds.

And don’t ask me where and how to find him or her because I don’t know! Go jogging in the park, volunteer, join the local community theater or attend yoga classes, go to Meetup events, stalk people in that new juice bar around the corner, put aside your prejudices and give a chance to online dating, pick up a new hobby, get funny-drunk in bars and dance the night away, send a smiley face emoji to that hot colleague of yours, or accept invitations to friends’ friends’ birthday parties where you don’t know anybody. And show up. Whatever suits you best. Experiment. And stay receptive.

Being single is a choice. It’s a way better alternative than getting stuck in an unfulfilling relationship or being with someone just because you can or don’t have anything better to do. So if you’re single because you’re not willing to settle for less than you deserve, give yourself a pat on the back and be proud. And if you don’t like being alone anymore, do something about it.

Start looking. Initiate. Talk. Dare.

Maybe that girl from your local grocery store is thinking about the same thing whenever you two cross paths with each other.
Or maybe it’s your neighbor’s cousin who visits every Sunday.
The bartender of your favorite club, the guy you see on the subway every morning.
The last listed name in the book you borrowed from the library.
The stranger that glanced at you at the entrance.
The person you’ve known for a decade but never looked at “that” way.

Anybody.
Everybody.
Go and get them.

Want to know how I had pancakes with my dead mother?

If It’s Possible to Die From Tea Poisoning, I Might Be Getting Close

I gulped down a gazillion gallons of hot tea and shocked my body with a pile of Paracetamol pills but I still don’t feel strong enough to leave the house. What house, I’m chained to my bed. My whole body aches, my head is heavy, and every miserable attempt to swallow my saliva feels like somebody was stroking my inner throat with a rake. Sounds familiar?

When the three-minute walk to the corner bodega I took to replenish my home remedies made me so exhausted that I felt like lying down on the sidewalk, I decided to crawl back to my bed and embrace the malaise. As in wearing pajamas the whole day and not showering. And drinking so much black tea with honey and lemon that I needed to gag just by thinking about it. It’s supposed to alleviate cold symptoms.

Just to make sure I do everything I can for my quick recovery, I bought a box of Belgian chocolate chip cookies because shockingly, I have no appetite for any regular food but still crave sugar. Who understands this? The combination of eating crap food and lying in bed all day surely is a great way to keep fit.

Staying in drives me crazy. Not so much the “being home” part but rather the “not having a choice” part. I’m held hostage in my own house because even though my mom is not here to forbid me from going out like she did when I was a kid, it feels too hard to get dressed or walk to the door, so I stay in, by choice.

I tried to look at the bright side and the idea of catching up with emails, binge-watching TV shows on Netflix, and finishing at least one of the sixteen books I’d been piling up on my bedside table for months cheered me up for a second, but my enthusiasm rapidly vanished when I realized that I didn’t feel like doing any of these. As if being ill would have turned me into a completely different person. I just wanted out. Of the house and the feeling of miserableness.

It used to be so much fun to be sick! When I was in school, not having to attend classes for an entire week felt like hitting the jackpot. My grandma would stay home and take care of me. When my tea got cold in the mug, she would always refill it with freshly made, steaming hot brew with lemon and honey. She would tuck me in tightly and open the windows for a couple of minutes to “air the bacilli out.”

She would always ask me what I felt like eating for lunch and even if I’d said Boeuf Bourguignon, she would have made it for me. (Don’t worry, I usually stuck with boiled potatoes or pancakes.) From time to time, she would put her hand on my forehead to check my temperature and ask, “How are you feeling, sweetheart?” and the empathy, selflessness, and love in her eyes made me feel better already.

I enjoyed being my granny’s patient so much that I made a habit of it. From sixth grade on, I “scheduled” sick leaves for myself, at least one per term. When I got tired of school and felt like having a break, I decided to become sick. As in pretending to be sick. And I must admit, I’m a little proud of how I mastered the ability of simulation over those years.

I didn’t only have to fool my mom but also the doctors, so I had to make sure that my illness seemed real. As much fun as that would have been, I couldn’t fake mumps or chicken pox, so I stuck to the good old flu. I knew most of the symptoms from my previous experiences, but just to be on the safe side, I also did some research in the school library.

Timing mattered too. School always started on Monday, so around 2 pm on Sunday, I started to complain to my mom that I wasn’t feeling well. When she asked me what was wrong, I said I felt weak and my arms hurt and put on a miserable face like every move would exhaust me. It worked every time, and with worry in her eyes, she would always say, “Oh, I hope you don’t have the flu, darling,” and put her hand on my forehead. “I don’t think you have a temperature,” she said, but she would bring the thermometer anyway.

And that was always a risk until I learned how to fake fever. My first attempt for hacking the thermometer failed miserably. I held it under running hot water and it exploded in my hand. Being the most hopeless empirical learner in the world, this encouraged me to experiment with other methods. On the next occasion, I was rubbing the thermometer against my pajama pants. It required more effort and time than the hot water trick, but it worked perfectly and was completely safe.

I wanted to seem credible, so I always kept my fake temperature around 100 °F on the first night of my fake illness. This wasn’t as high that my mom would freak out and call the doctor but high enough to make her believe that I had the flu. I went to bed earlier than usual that night, proving that I really wasn’t feeling well and my mom would always say, “Sweet dreams, darling, I hope you’ll sleep it off and feel much better tomorrow.” And that’s when I had to raise the stakes. It was time for some serious coughing fits and frequent toilet visits.

I fake-coughed the whole night and made sure that I did it loud enough to wake my mom. If that wouldn’t have been sufficient, I also went to the bathroom at least three times, made a lot of noise, coughed a bit more, and let the water run – just to be absolutely certain that my mom was aware of my night-time agony. And she always was. She would always come to my room in the middle of the night, hand me a glass of water and a coughing pill, stroke my head, and give me a sympathetic look.

Just as planned, I looked terrible the next morning when my mom came to wake me up… to tell me that “there was no way she would let me go to school.” I could barely hide the victorious smile that appeared in the corner of my mouth. She kissed me goodbye and from the door she shouted back, “Grammy is on the way; she’ll be here in an hour, try to go back to sleep until then.” And as she closed the door behind her, I jumped out of bed and did the dance of joy.

I know it sounds like I was manipulative and took advantage of my mom’s good faith, but oh boy, I miss those times!

Adultness sucks. None of the parts of being sick can be the subject of enjoyment anymore as we have all these annoying adult responsibilities to deal with. Like trying to make a living and feeding ourselves. When you are on sick leave, nobody does the work for you. The longer you stay away, the more swamped you’ll be upon your return. Where’s the fun in that?

Nobody takes care of me now when I’m sick. My grandma resides in a nursing home and needs to be taken care of herself, my mom lives a thousand miles away from me, and I don’t have a significant other who’d be sitting on my bed and feeding me with chicken soup. Or maybe I just keep to myself when I’m sick because I don’t want anyone to see the dark circles under my eyes, my grayish-colored, lifeless cheeks, and my unwashed hair hanging in my tormented face. Or smell my pajama top I haven’t taken off for longer than twenty minutes in the last three days.

Whatever the reason is, being sick is just one of those things that was more fun as a kid.

It’s always the little things we love, isn’t it?

The Morning I Hated My Life And The Moment I Started Loving It Again

It was my last day at work. I quit my new job after a week. You might think I’m crazy (and you’re probably right), but I had my reasons. And the daily commute in London was one of them. Unlike thousands of ambitious, hard-working dwellers of the vibrating metropolis, I couldn’t deal with it. It consumed me. Every minute I was forced to press my body parts against strangers added another layer to the rage building up in me. Maybe I wouldn’t have minded the extremely close human contact if I had only been surrounded by well-groomed, good-smelling, handsome guys. But how many of those you see in an average morning on a London train?

As I was walking to the station, I kept wondering whether I’d made the right decision. Knowing that I’d burned all the bridges and there was no turning back made me anxious. The crowd at the entrance of the station was massive. Everyone looked confused and stressed out, and that was before eight o’clock in the morning. I was already late (and therefore agitated) because my roommate sneaked into the bathroom before me, and I don’t want to know what she was doing in there, but I couldn’t get in for forty minutes to brush my teeth and pee.

I tried to push myself through the throng to see what was happening, and a couple of tskings and eye-rolls later, I learned that there was a signal failure (the second one within a week) and we wouldn’t be moving for at least half an hour. We were advised to look for alternative travel options. This was a thoughtful suggestion, except that the Internet didn’t work on my phone and I’d just moved to the area, so I had no clue where to go.

And I didn’t know how long it would take me to get to work on a different route.  I followed the crowd and so I found out that I could take the train. I headed down the stairs and when I saw my fellow commuters fighting for a spot on the platform, I couldn’t help but think what an amazing move it was to resign and how grateful I was for not having to participate in the rush hour nightmare from the very next morning on. That put a huge smile on my face until I had to get off and change to the subway.

Hundreds of people were lining up like sardines from the train platform through the exits to the stairs that led to the even more packed metro platform. We were moving in chicken steps and I could see how everyone was trying to keep it together, but you could almost cut the tension with a knife, and I kept thinking how badly I wanted to let out my frustration in one giant scream.

I bet I wasn’t the only one thinking of that, but we are so vexingly well-behaved all the time, so no one did anything. We all just swallowed our anger and exploded inside. Some were muttering under their breath, others were staring into space; I tried to distract myself by observing the people around me.

I got lucky on my left: a suave guy was inching along next to me, almost rubbing his broad shoulders to mine. Less fortunate on my right side where a poor five-foot girl was trying to save her larger than five-foot plant from people breaking its leaves. Eyeing up the hunk gave me more pleasure, so that’s how I kept my mind occupied for the next few minutes. As I was watching how his suit strained on his biceps and how perfect his jawline was, I realized I could have used that opportunity to get into a conversation with a cute stranger. But yeah, I’m a pussy and I don’t hit on guys in public. Funny enough (or sad?) that I caught him watching me out of the corner of his eyes. So maybe he liked me too and had been thinking the same. But that we’ll never know. A few minutes later, I lost him in the crowd and my excruciating journey became a lonely fight again.

When I finally reached my destination, the usual exit was closed and we were diverted to an alternative route. After following signs for minutes, I came above ground only to realize I had no idea where I was. So I followed the herd again, and after a huge detour because of an on-going construction, I finally recognized the place. What a successful start of the day!

Waiting at traffic lights, crossing roads, another construction.

A worker was trying to signal something to me with his hands, but I couldn’t make sense of it. In the next moment, I got a decent amount of water sprinkled on my head, so I guess, his gestures were trying to prepare me for that. By that time, I was so late that I thought I might as well have a tea and popped into the Starbucks around the corner.

Needless to say, the credit card reader was broken, which I was only informed about after I happily wrapped my hand around my hot spicy Chai. You know those coins you never have when you needed them to do your laundry? This is why. I scraped together all the pennies from my pockets, rolled my eyes at the poor barista, who squirmed and said sorry three times, which made me feel like an asshole (I did behave like one), so I apologized to her and dashed off.

In front of the building, I spilled the tea on my blazer, and it didn’t even catch me by surprise that my entry card didn’t work when I tried to swipe myself into the office. I’d only been awake for two and a half hours, but I already wanted the day to be over.

But then a sense of harmony overcame me as I realized that the next day was the beginning of a new era where I wouldn’t have to deal with any of this for a long, long time. Or hopefully ever again.

What are you dreaming of?

To Be or Not To Be (a Parent)?

Babies are cute, aren’t they? I know. How about screaming babies? Do you find them cute? Or rather annoying?

Let’s just admit it – no one likes it when a baby weeps even if it’s the sweetest creature on Earth. But hey, that doesn’t make you a horrible person.

Screaming babies drive me nuts. And wherever I go, they always seem to find me. On planes, in grocery stores, parks, by the lake, and even in the laundromat. Can’t see what those parents were thinking, but I also saw a baby at a rock concert once. Maybe I’m too conservative, but really? They all smile at first, some of them even giggle, but it’s only a matter of time before they change their mood and the shrieking begins. And I don’t mean the sound of a whimpering cute little dumpling, I mean that screech that sounds like the poor thing was being tortured.

I grew up the same as ninety-nine percent of the female population: with the idea of having babies one day. I don’t know what caused my change of heart – my unpredictable lifestyle, seeing the struggle of my friends, or the lack of meeting potential father figures in the past few years – but I’ve become unsure if I want to be a mom, and these random episodes with wailing infants aren’t encouraging me to go back to the original “plans.” Or let’s say, fulfilling “traditional expectations.”

I was on vacation in Italy last year and spent one of my mornings in a beautiful but overcrowded and, for my taste, too touristy town. By lunch time, I was dying to have some peace and quietness. So, instead of going to a packed restaurant, I decided to buy a slice of pizza and take it to a bench by the lake. Sadly, so did a French family with their toddler. A cute little unbearable anger ball.

How loud do you think a baby can cry? I did some research, so let me give you a little guidance. The limit that a human ear can comfortably accommodate is around 90 dB. A jackhammer measures 105 dB – hence we can barely stand it – and the sound of a rock concert reaches 120 dB. But all this is a piece of cake compared to a baby’s cry, which can go up to 122 dB! Need I say more?

I have no idea what happened to that little French fellow, but he wailed like a banshee. And not only that, but he also threw himself on the ground (and I was trying so hard not to guess how many people spat or peed there before) and was kicking around, twisting his small body, and bawling his head off. Yet, his parents didn’t seem to care. Good for them! They looked so relaxed, it was almost irritating.

I get irked in such situations and the way I try to distract myself is by thinking how much worse this is for the parents. Only, in this case, this didn’t seem to apply. “Does this happen so often that they’ve become immune to the voice of their own child?” I wondered.

I’m clearly not ready for this journey, and lately, it occurred to me that I might never be. Is this strange?Unconventional? Does it bother my parents? Maybe. Is it acceptable? Is it my call? Definitely. I don’t think that everyone needs to have a baby or that raising a child is the ultimate purpose of a woman’s life. And I don’t think that just because someone doesn’t want any, she is a horrible and unhappy person, who will never have a fulfilling life.

What’s wrong with being different? Why do people raise their eyebrows when a woman openly admits that she is too selfish and irresponsible to be willing to take care of another human being? And why do some people think that judgmental comments or sympathetic looks would turn everything around?

I might or might not change my mind in the future, I don’t know. But the one thing I’m sure about is that I don’t need a baby to feel that I have a purpose in life. But who knows, a friend of mine says that it’s not up to me. It’s the hormones. He said that no matter how I feel now, I would wake up one day with an unbearable urge to push a baby out of my vagina. If we put it this way, I wouldn’t make a bet on that.

I don’t want to give you the false impression, though. I like babies. And they like me. Even the grumpiest ones grin when I hold them. (Maybe they do that just because they’re pooping in my arms and they know it.) But there is something beautiful in the moment when I can hand them back to their parents.

I adore moms. My mom, who’s been one for over thirty years; my girlfriends, who’ve been trying their hands at this new challenge and doing so wonderfully well. I admire you all; I’m just not sure if I want to join you in the fun.

Would you rather read know my truth about online dating?