The Neurotically Happy

Sunday, 29 April 2018 09:00

In 1956, the photographer Bruce Davidson befriended and photographed Margaret Fauché in Paris and compiled the series The Widow of Montmartre. Margaret Fauché was 92 years old at the time (Davidson was 23) and she was living in a garret with huge windows overlooking the Moulin de la Galette, as one can see in The Widow of Montmartre #11, where the widow sits in darkness in her living room with her back turned to the view and the light outside.


It makes perfect sense: Loneliness, old age, moving like a ghost in a world that doesn’t include you anymore. But the perceived reality is also suspiciously familiar, in the way it confirms the generalized fears and presuppositions of a particular, vague as well as popular worldview that paints old age and death in grim colors.


Armed with Susan Sontag’s On Photography, I prepared to write an essay attacking stereotyping and media-induced conservatism, defending at the same time a woman defined in the viewer’s mind by the markers of age (old) and appointed role (widow).


She was 92, after all – an admirable age for anyone to reach – and quite independent. Her husband, the painter Léon Fauché, had died just five years before, in 1950, at the equally admirable age of 82. And she did own an attic in Montmartre – an enviable possession and a dream to many, although by no means a measure of satisfaction. The Bookkeeper (the imaginary being adding and subtracting our happy and sad moments in order to draw a conclusion regarding the quality of our lives) should be happy.


Margaret’s past was more private than her husband’s, so I researched Léon Fauché in order to piece together a happy life for them both. It shouldn’t have been bad at all: Impressionism was a revolution back in 1890, and they were quite progressive. Léon – who was twenty-two at the time, about the same age as Davidson when he shot the pictures of Mme Fauché –  had his circle and his style, his haunt and a substantial involvement in the movement, and Margaret, who was four years older, was herself quite extraordinary. I couldn’t find out much about their later life, although I wondered how they managed during the Wars, but it didn’t matter, as their brief moment of glory should have covered for any misfortune. The Bookkeeper would approve. Besides, I had another argument to follow through, namely the images themselves: The crude contrast and staged sentimentalism of couples kissing and children playing while the old, stooped figure walks away were enough evidence to overturn any platitude of late-life misery. After all, Mme Fauché was always spruce, and this was not due to a tragic sense of dignity.


The fury and decisiveness to prove it suggested a conflicting personal interest. It reminded me of someone I knew, who hit her work desk and shouted “it will be,” referring to the successful outcome of the upcoming holidays of another colleague, in an otherwise completely casual office conversation. She, just like me, wanted happiness first of all to exist and then to last forever, and would not take no for an answer. By the way, at the time of the incident, she had been recently divorced.


Happiness in middle-class, first-world settings, is usually a matter of choice. You decide you’ll be happy and channel your thoughts accordingly, with routine and discipline. You take an empty shell (the word ‘happiness’), fill it with substance (by repetition, until it gains in volume) and wear it like an intrinsic value. It is an act of rebellion, after all, to manage to be happy and conscious at the same time. So, in this manner, it is a choice. But when happiness is actually slipping away – perhaps because we’re horrible at both routine and discipline – it stops being a choice. In fact, it is the opposite, as you realize that you have no choice, but to be happy. It is a prerequisite to a life well-lived, and a hedonist would dare say that that’s the only life worth living. That’s when you desperately defend the Mme Fauché’s (it takes one to know one) and agreeable holiday goers of the world. You’d even hit the desk or analyze the whole human condition if you had to.

Published in thoughts

Will (not) work for money

Thursday, 21 December 2017 12:08

I can definitely tell my life’s story in terms of money. It would be divided in the money I had and the money I didn’t have. But even if I had to go deeper, into character forming, money has played an organic, vital role in my life, equally important as any one’s relationship with a caregiver or an addiction.

The truth is that I despise money. To be more precise, I despise asking for money, working for money or needing the money. I wish I could say there was a natural sense of justice behind this repulsion I feel. And there are wonderful reasons not to like money in general, such as the pretty basic stuff about unequal distribution of wealth, corruption, or how people tend to tie their self-worth to the money wagon.

No. Unfortunately I’m far more selfish than that. My reasons are of a purely aesthetic nature. You see, I dislike whitened teeth, and this is what prospective employees flash like advertising neon signs vibrant enough to beat a power cut in any HR department, hoping to get the chance to fill more meaningless posts with absurd requirements.

This is the so-called “race” that the majority enters with high – and highly vacant – aspirations. And those smart people, with the smart clothes and the smart neon smiles, smartly and magically avoid the allusion of the slave trade, or how slaves historically had (and still have) to show their teeth to prove their worth. Nobody even cares if they’re being sold anymore.


[* "slavery" is the latest addition to the reds gallery]

Published in experience

the collective mind

Monday, 04 September 2017 11:23

It all started with this article about an exhibition of four outsider Finnish women artists who chose the difficult path of remaining faithful to their art, and was followed by this interview, where Jeanette Winterson talks about her working class background and the feeling of not belonging. And then I was talking to an acquaintance, and sure enough it didn’t take long for us – after some initial reluctance and waters testing – to reveal our artistic sides, hidden behind household stories, jobs to get by and crammed schedules.

    Finally it struck me, this thing that I know but tend to forget, especially under stress: Our experiences, the things and thought-forming processes we’re going through every single moment, are not unique. In fact, they are quite common. For the creatives, it should be seen as a duty to fight the restraints of what passes as normality, this order that keeps us and, perhaps more importantly, other creative people repressed and captive to their approved roles, usually money-earning and/or domestic, and suffocates their creativity due to lack of time, means and network.

We need to gather, open up, discuss and support, develop new platforms and movements together. Contemporary life is crippling not only creativity but also self-esteem. It’s the most difficult thing, it seems, to say “I’m an artist” without wanting to laugh at yourself for your ridiculous, childish claim. We are taught that others are better and we are somehow committing fraud. We should abolish the fear and guilt of being mediocre or bad, if there even is such a thing, and devote ourselves wholeheartedly to getting the most pleasure out of anything that offers it to us – in this case, being creative.

Published in thoughts

Women Talk

Wednesday, 15 March 2017 10:23

Today I was for four and a half hours on the phone, with just three people. It wasn’t a typical day, as days may go by without a call. Thus I do feel a little tired by all this listening, answering, interrupting, laughing, listening and then talking again, but I can’t complain. It’s not that my tendency towards fewer words has changed. It’s that I’ve finally managed to decode and profit from what is derogatorily called incessant blabbering.


Women are considered to talk a lot, and this quality is dismissed as frivolous. But would it be sustained if it were useless? Something lasting through the centuries must have a purpose.


I didn’t touch upon the current Dutch elections or the impact of the Frankfurt School on Marxism in my conversations today, and that’s probably a pity. However, I learned that two of my friends get intimidated at work and that makes them question their self-worth. I also learned that another friend feels socially awkward among the other mothers at school. So, besides being there to comfort them, to act as a counsellor and crying shoulder, how do I benefit from all this information?


Women tell each other their stories and pass on not only their experiences but the workings of their minds. Women are excellent observers of their own emotional life and sharing their insights ensures the preservation of an already immense network of support and understanding that leads to awareness and growth. Women are involuntary researchers, using the ancient and dependable techniques of oral tradition to communicate their findings.


In a day full of distractions and urgent tasks having people talk to me about their fear of rejection from their individual but commonly hostile environments wasn’t a burden. On the contrary, it was a lesson. Without them having payed attention to their own feelings and having decided they were important enough to discuss, I wouldn’t have realised how common my anxieties are: I’m not a freak and I’m not weak. Thus, by giving a stage to my friends’ ramblings I discovered that what has been looked down upon as a waste of time is no less vital for our species than buzzing is to bees – although equally incomprehensible to those outside the hive.



["forever friends" is part of the greens collection]


Published in experience


Friday, 01 July 2016 22:25

While writing the closing sentence in my last article, I hesitated. I felt I shouldn’t take it for granted that the result of the UK referendum would be respected, but then dismissed the thought as far-fetched and somewhat paranoid. It was probably my bad experience talking. Besides, I had decided to remain positive towards humanity for the day.

A few hours later, articles started to spring up all over the internet, stating that the referendum was provisional (which is technically true) and it would be perfectly sensible for the parliament to ignore it, that people shouldn’t be trusted with such important decisions, and that the referendum was a draw. Journalists and “progressive” individuals the world over supported plainly skipping the democratic principle, as if there will be no history to judge them. Along came petitions, and statistics supporting that the vote was uninformed and racist, and that old people sentenced future generations, as if old people should be thrown off the cliff, because they are, well, old. Then, of course, Boris Johnson withdrew, making Brexit seem even harder, if not impossible.

So, instead of adding more democratic elements to the world, more referendums and immediate involvement of the people in politics, we’re actually debating diminishing rights and muffling voices, with incompetence as the excuse, as if incompetence within our societies weren’t our own fault. The supporters of far-right policies, since such are the measures proposed to avoid the impending Brexit, will be equally devastated as they are now, wondering “how could this happen,” when in less than a decade extreme-right parties will start winning national elections all over Europe. Because this is what will happen, if no one else gives the poor, the old and the disadvantaged the sense that they are being respected. I’m afraid that by then it won’t really matter who’s in charge: It’s going to be authoritarianism one way or another.

Published in thoughts

No guests in anybody's country

Friday, 08 April 2016 13:18

Our perception of a place is very much if not solely related to our experience of its people. For example, I am fond of Germany, because I would go there on vacations as a child with my parents and would be embraced by a couple of loving locals that made life beautiful. I did return to Germany as an adult for my master’s degree – in a way searching for my roots – and although I found things different from how I’d left them (as I was approximately fifteen years older), nothing could or probably ever will erase the emotional importance of that place and its people.

When a friend from Greece recently told me that she has been taking the kids of a refugee family from the Elliniko camp to her home for a bath and a few hours of play per day, I took it for granted that the unconditional love these kids receive from a stranger is an experience that will escort them for the rest of their lives, and something they’ll give back to humanity in the future – and this is how the world becomes a better place. Also, these people will cherish Greece and the Greek people.

On the contrary, the refugees who faced racism or were taken advantage of by Greeks who e.g. sold them a bottle of water for five euros, will probably hate Greece and its people, and so on and so forth. The younger we are the more absolute our feelings, but in any age our minds tend to work with generalizations that one can overcome only with hard, conscious effort, if ever. We tend to reflect our experiences like precision mirrors, and racism begets racism. It is to our benefit to try and control if not eliminate racist tendencies in our populations, if not out of interest for the advancement of civilization then as a precaution, as, according to natural law, what goes around comes around, and it often hits you hard in the face.

    Just a few days ago, the ICCT [International Center for Counter-Terrorism] released a research paper called “The Foreign Fighters Phenomenon in the European Union.” According to the gathered data, the number of “foreign fighters” from the EU – meaning people who embraced the Islamic State propaganda and left their EU countries to join the war against the Assad regime in Syria as well as the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan – is estimated to be approximately four thousand.

Even though the paper recognizes the importance of segregation, stating, for example, that many of these people felt secluded and without access to growth opportunities, it fails in a manner typical of the European policies of the past decades: Although the importance of preventive measures is rightly stressed, the proposed measures are limited to the ‘high risk’ populations, supporting an interventionist approach that will mathematically lead to increased marginalization and an even deeper sense of alienation and distrust.

Similarly, a few months ago there was an article in Huffington Post called “The Mothers of ISIS”. Interestingly enough and despite its title, the article stressed time and again the lack of a father figure in most of these families. The viewpoint was fresh and the details sensational, but here too there was the attempt to present extremism as a phenomenon springing mostly from the deeper core of society, the family, and not as a result of societal dynamics.

For prevention to succeed, we should start our interventions from the deeply rooted racist tendencies within our western societies, providing not a new vocabulary but new cohabitation standards. Immigrants and refugees should stop being treated as “guests in our country” who should be constantly under surveillance by the authorities or the ‘concerned’ citizen who is filled with prejudism, presuppositions and fear.

Since racism, and the gap it creates, is always an issue of class – i.e. it refers mostly to the poor and is eagerly embraced by the little-less-but-still poor – I like to think of the rioting and terrorism potential in this oversimplified way: Imagine a kid, kid A, that goes everyday to the pastry shop and gets ice-cream, and another kid, kid B, who everyday passes by but never has enough money to get ice-cream. Kid A doesn’t empathize with kid B and even makes fun of her. Normally, kid B will just resign and accept that she might or might not get an ice-cream someday but, under certain circumstances, she may get angry and trip kid A up, who will then start crying and blame kid B.

(Notice that in this paradigm I’m not getting into the causative details at all. Both subjects are kids, thus none of them is really responsible for their status or, to a certain extend, their behavior. And this is exactly the standpoint I believe we should adopt, since otherwise we’ll just get tangled in “the chicken or the egg” kind of argument.)

The major issue here though is that kid B takes action in the seemingly more harmful and hateful manner, so this is the action and thus the kid on which we tend to focus on. Instead of overanalyzing the behavior of kid B, it would be a good idea to place equal emphasis on the behavior of kid A, correct them both, and build a constructive relationship between the two. Pulling kid B away from the display window will only treat the symptoms, and only for a little while, but if we put in the extra effort to instill cultural understanding and empathy in kid A we can avoid much hurt, with long-lasting and transforming results for society as a whole.

Published in thoughts


Tuesday, 22 March 2016 15:40


“We’ll probably be safe here, if WWIII breaks out.”

“I have to call the airline and change my flight, or better cancel it altogether.”

“My husband and I are safe from the attacks.”

These are the first reports I got from today’s Brussels attacks. Many would consider these first reactions selfish. Then, of course, people can and will also fight about the most proper stance: “It was to be expected,” “We are all Belgians,” “Blood diamonds,” “EU’s official collapse is imminent,” etc. I gave it some thought and believe it’s a natural reflex to fall back into yourself in the face of disaster.

Myself, with all its shortcomings, is the best place I can fall back into when I think about the surrounding stupidity. The stupidity of those who placed the bombs. The stupidity of those who were supposed to stop them from doing so. The stupidity of the media covering the incident. The stupidity of those in charge. The stupidity of the legislators and what comes next. The stupidity of the vox pop. You can never be safe around so much stupidity. And it’s a factor so haphazard that you can’t really protect yourself from it. It has little to do with wealth, education, religious affiliation. Stupidity is everywhere and it’s the real terrorist. Brace yourselves.





Published in thoughts

Ode to Women

Tuesday, 08 March 2016 08:59

When I decided I was done with exploration and started to actively search for specific qualities in people, those who emerged through the fog of human relationships happened to be women. In time, my existing relationships became stronger, I’ve reunited with friends from the past and my long-distance friendships flourished. It was only then that I started to consider gender identity as perhaps something more than a crude categorization for sociological use.

In many past instances I would have reacted differently, if I had the friends I have now. In fact, considering their impact, my whole life would have been different. My women friends are my guardian angels. Women have shown me immense compassion and forgiveness. Women have offered me everything they had to offer, spontaneously and unconditionally. Women have accepted me and I have found them to be so satisfyingly complicated that I enjoy their company as much as I enjoy tea and a good book.

And then, there are the women of all ages I meet on the street, in shops, at the park, on the tram. There is mutual understanding and a spirit-lifting momentary bond in a smile, a gesture, a touch, in offering and indeed in asking for help. There is a restless sea of silent emotional interaction between women out there – a fascinating ecosystem that doesn’t need saving.



Published in experience

The Poverty Line

Saturday, 28 November 2015 19:47

At my grandparents’ house, circled by grandmother’s cousins like prey circled by hyenas, as they commented on how motherhood had made me prettier – although I couldn’t recall having met them before – and stuffed twenty euro bills in my puzzled toddler’s hands, I couldn’t take my eyes off the platters that lay on the baroque-style table. It was just as I remembered it from my childhood. There was at least a kilo of dried nuts – king hazelnuts, modest almonds, oily walnuts, salty pistachios, humble roasted chickpeas – a chock chip cake, pralines, buns, cookies, middle eastern sweets, coffee, liqueurs – and all this just for two guests. I instantly shrank to my ten-year-old self, only now I couldn’t help but start calculating the cost of this array.

It had never occurred to me before that I grew up in an affluent larger family, as there was always a certain amount of whining and an unfaltering dedication to hard work. This was the main ailment of my grandparents’ generation, the once-hungering generation that had survived a world war and a civil war: Working like there’s no tomorrow and building houses for getting old in and for passing on to the children seemed to be hardwired in their brains. No cinema, no disco, no holidays in unknown lands, just the occasional taverna and visits to relatives. Yet, these people were considerably wealthier than I will possibly ever be.

    I was so shocked by this exhibition of excess that I had to tell my husband the moment I got out of there. “Is there an ambassador visiting?” He asked. “That’s how people used to receive their guests,” I replied. “How come we only get biscuits when we visit?” He said laughingly, and I couldn’t but share the laugh and shake my head.

The image of the table blurred my thoughts as I slided with clear goals through the supermarket aisles, grabbing milk and choosing pre-cut salad. I only had a few items, so I stood at the express line. I had briefly noticed the man in front of me before, as we had entered the store together. He was rather tall, but something must had struck me as strange with his clothes, as I came to realize later.

The man had emptied his basket at the register and moved on to the front to fill his bag. I could now see both his purchases and his face. He wore a worn Lacoste varsity jacket, and that must have been what had subconsciously struck me before: I hadn’t seen such a jacket since the early nineties. His jeans were also an eighties cut and acid-washed. This wasn’t a statement: He couldn’t care less. Everything he wore was handed down to him.

Under his jockey, his oily brown hair was crudely cut with household scissors in front of a half-broken, aged mirror. All these I had seen before, but only now did I come to verify and add significance to, through the narrative told by his countenance: His was the tormented, pale face of malnourishment. The slight tremor of his lower lip attested the dilapidated state of the senses of time and identity in his mind, distinct in the chronically homeless. His hands were very clean, and there wasn’t a single hole in his clothes or shoes, as his existence screamed in self-sacrifice: “Don’t pity me! I don’t want your charity!”

On the counter, there were three packs of instant noodles and a bag of apples. This would be his breakfast, lunch and dinner. This was his long-term diet. Comparing that to my grandmother’s soiree, my mind high-wired on the thin poverty line, and did what it is set to do in similar situations: It sank into vertigo.

Published in thoughts

The clash of the classes

Sunday, 12 July 2015 22:57

In my last article, just before the referendum, I wrote that a society can never be truly democratic unless it cultivates certain values in its people. I wrote that, until this happens, “democracy will be an illusion and a dummy word for essentially fascist regimes,” leaving an open-ended implication that Greece is under a fascist regime. During the past week, I’ve been wondering whether I’d been too harsh in my claims and whether this leftist government was a sign of progress. The latest Greek reform proposal submitted to the creditors – which was in essence the same as the last one, and was voted for by an 82% of the Greek parliament, which thus loudly ignored the 61% of the people who voted against it in the referendum – came as proof that my implications weren’t that harsh after all. This realization was quickly followed by a question mark, about why did the referendum take place in the first place.

There is the official viewpoint, saying that the government was indeed hoping to put pressure on the creditors by asking the support of the people, publicizing the matter and blowing it to heroic proportions and to the level of notions and ideals. On the other hand, some support that the government was counting on propaganda and the bank shutdown to force a “yes” outcome, since they didn’t want to take full responsibility for the new rough measures and their counterblast. And of course, there are many theories in between and beyond, which basically shows that few people know what is really going on.

However, regardless of the goals of those who called the referendum, I believe it brought an unexpected change: It made people conscious of their political and even social identity. The referendum, according to its results, was a clash of the classes. Simply, the richest areas voted for “yes,” while the poorer voted “no,” with extremes such as the upper class northern Athenian suburb of Ekali, where 85% voted “yes,” and the traditionally working class Ano Liosia, with 80% of its residents voting for “no.” Nevertheless, many people – notably, middle class people – told me that they would personally benefit more by voting “yes,” but they voted “no” because they thought of the others, the less privileged. So, although many now feel disappointed and angry at the government, arguing that their vote and hopes meant nothing, I, on the contrary, feel that having an opinion and voting for specific questions – and not for political parties – means in itself a lot. Realizing who you are and what you stand for is a very important step towards conscious living. My only wish is that the awakened social and psychological dynamics will eventually lead to more responsible choices and mindful citizens. And solidarity is the value we’ll be needing most in the ensuing years.

Published in thoughts
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