FAREWELL 2021 (About time…)

What a joy 2021 has been. Don’t you agree? You must be grumpier than me.

It’s not been plain sailing these last 2 years has it? However, I have to admit the hardship of these last few months has somehow developed a fortitude in me I’m grateful for. I’ve been pushed under the pressure to go beyond the usual, test my own limits, get to the bare bone of what I really want out of life.

For many, for too long being extra busy or stressed out bestowed a feeling of importance and meaning before the pandemic; you had to be overworked to feel like you’re living it, like a badge of honour nearly. The last 2 years stamped with the Covid pandemic have come and totally changed that mindset. Stress levels have never been higher at such a macro level, the stress joke’s over.

Mental health has never been this central in conversations; the taboo has been lifted, and it doesn’t ring odd anymore to claim the benefits of adding yoga or meditation to our everyday life. To the risk of becoming merely fashionable at some point (hopefully not), therapy is being democratised. People discover that some outlets offer very affordable therapy sessions or even free counselling; a lot of those solutions have always been there but are only now being put to light, because the pandemic has created huge interest around mental health.

A scientific UK review published this week has downplayed the efficiency of antidepressants, after the National Health Service recently formally advised doctors against routinely prescribing antidepressants. The recommended routes for mild illness are meditation, mindfulness and talking therapies.

All things considered, 2021 has pushed my mental boundaries and helped shift my mindset. I’ve been rudely reminded not to take certain aspects of my life for granted. When life gives you lemons…

What do you want? Happiness is a journey. Be kind to yourself. You have a choice always. Keep calm. Obsess over what you’ve already got; there will be little space left to think about what you don’t have.

We’re alive, so let’s live. Put some dance music on come on!

Be grateful. Be grateful. Be grateful.

I wish you to find the year end Magic, ENJOY AND THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

LOVING A CHILD

They say Christmas is children’s time. It’s the sense of magic.

What do children really want for Christmas? A lot of the usual suspects are pure enchantment for them: the streets and shops lavishly adorned with dreamy fairy tale decorations, the most extravagant front-house Christmas lightings, the school Christmas parties, the Christmas dinner with all its indulgences, and obviously the (coveted) gifts that bring up real twinkle stars in their eyes!

Could it be though that surreptitiously all children might be after something more meaningful? They may be allured to the carefully and sometimes painfully choreographed family reunion show. Christmas is that precious time when children can suck up a good portion of family love and fill their emotional tank in the process.

Arthur and Star

At least 2 children will not enjoy the wonder of Christmas this year. 6-year-old little boy Arthur and 16-month-old baby girl Star were tortured for months at the hands of their parents, and ultimately losing their lives consequently. Arthur succumbed to a severe brain injury last year, and Star of damaged internal organs and internal bleeding. The stories plastered all over UK media outlets have shocked the nation, leaving people angrily wondering why the senseless horror?

Two different families, two different children, similar viciousness. Both children murdered by their parent’s partner, their parents watching on, during the pandemic, despite social workers being alerted in both cases.

Arthur was repeatedly tortured, starved, poisoned with salt (feels crazy even writing this) by his father’s girlfriend while his father would stand by, allowing the atrocity to happen under his eyes, and even recording the craziness as footages testify! The little boy is heard begging for food on an audio, and in a heart-breaking video of him allegedly on the day of his death, he can be seen getting up off the floor where he had been assigned to sleep, saying “no one loves me” …

That footage has to be one of the most harrowing things I’ve ever seen. Not for the faint of heart, utterly heart-crushing and distressing.

Star was reportedly a punching ball for her mother’s girlfriend – a boxer, filmed for jokes while falling in stairs or off furniture. At the time of her death, she was covered with bruises with a fractured skull and a fractured leg. The mother, just like Arthur’s father, enabled the gore to unfold, participating in the jokes and allowing her child’s slow death.

Arthur’s father and his girlfriend have landed respectively 21-year and 29-year jail sentences minimum, while Star’s killer – her mother’s girlfriend – got 25 years minimum, and her mother 8 years.

No perfect Parenting

Age, experience, personal backstory, education, financial circumstances among other factors do play a role on parenting; they can make the experience particularly difficult, to the point where parents can lose the plot literally. I’m really trying hard not to be judgmental here because I know it can be hard, however in the case of horror stories like these mentioned here above, I’m wondering why those parents kept those children, if not out of sheer evil? In both cases, grand-parents and friends were the ones to raise their concerns several times with social services, to no avail. Couldn’t those parents entrust their children with the grand-parents that clearly were invested in their grand-children’s welfare?

Parents / foster parents / carers have a tremendous power that they can wield fatally. Parenting is no easy feat, that I can testify. It gets quite tricky to keep in mind that being a parent doesn’t mean we own a child. Be it out of choice or not, once we become parents, we are landed with a responsibility much bigger than us. It’s quite scarily easy to forget that parenting is ultimately more a service to society than a personal perk. They don’t really belong to us. In the ideal scenario, for a few years we rear them to become beacons of light once they’re out in the world, out of our watch. Once they leave the nest, they belong to the world.

There’s no perfect parent, because perfection in humanity simply doesn’t exist as we all know. We can only strive to do our best, and the least – and most important – we can do is love and protect our offspring. They will ask for gifts this Christmas as usual, but underneath it all love is really what they crave (the most).

What’s the takeaway for me?

A reminder to be intentional with my care in my own parental journey…a reminder that it takes a village to raise a child…a reminder that loving a child is a beautiful thing and a privilege and a moral duty.

In the meantime, good sob sentiments aside, my son asked for a Christmas gift that has cost me an arm…

Walking in the park…

I had the best mid-morning walk in my local park earlier this week, kind of an impromptu one as out of convenience (had dropped my car at the garage) that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Just like listening to music I love, reading a gripping book or writing here, walking is a comforting blanket for me. I feel home when I walk; I mentally jump in the world of endless possibilities, visualize my dreams, moving towards a destination full of bright promises. It’s a proper me-time when I can completely delve in my mind swarming with all sorts of things, ethereal or very down-to-earth: the wins, the mishaps, the may-be’s, meal plans, outing plans, grocery list, mental plan, you name it…

During the walk, I would sometimes get pulled back in the now by the extraordinary tranquil scenes nature and people gift us with, compelled to come out of my head and acknowledge the surrounding beauty and be in the present; the breathtakingly gorgeous autumn foliage of golden yellow, all orange hues, red, green and purple shades, jolly dogs cheerfully jumping aroundAutumn’s imposing beauty trumps the melancholy that the long gone summer leaves in us – even for a summer baby like me, you can’t but only be admiring of this outrageous mix of mesmerizing colors.

Whether my mind is wandering or not, walking is the best opportunity for me to regroup and breathe hope and perspective into my mindset; shake the dirt off my shoulders, cheer myself up and get ready for what’s to come.

SURFING EMOTIONS

I’ve always worked hard at suppressing negative vibes, you know the ones that come to cloud your mood and rob your joy for whatever reason. Seems like the most appropriate thing to do, but when I think about it logically, not the smartest thing… What fighting chances do I have to defeat a monster I refuse to see? I might not be a boxer, but surely in the ring you need the target in your sights to be able to hit where it hurts.

It helps me better to face those depressing emotions with calm and grace for myself, accept their unsettling presence and find a way to tackle them – if I want to. I like this quote from an artwork in my home that says “feelings are much like waves; we can’t stop them from coming but we can choose which one to surf”.

Acknowledging emotions head-on

Procrastination for example, a very common pet peeve, a bête noire haunting many of us is sometimes the result of anxiety, fear of failure or frustration. We will however conveniently confuse those emotions with tiredness. In my case it will look like me thinking I deserve to binge-watch TV shows or YouTube videos for a bit of escapism after a long day or a difficult week, putting aside priorities that require my attention. Of course, we need to rest to operate efficiently for sure; we need to relax to recharge but there’s obviously a limit to everything. I will deep down know when my battery is full, and when I cross the limit into procrastination territory. I have then the choice of either acknowledging the negative emotion head-on and deal with it or telling myself it’s nothing but mere understandable tiredness.

Owning up to negative emotions requires a lot of energy and courage really; as always it’s about choices and keeping in mind what’s at stake. We can decide to roll with those emotions or not, but at least acknowledging the ugly reality gives us the luxury to have a choice to make.

We need the target in our sights to hit, or not.

You Win some, You Lose some…

Gardening fatigue has definitely kicked in. Even weeding my borders or mowing the lawn feels like climbing the Kilimanjaro…

The last draw was when I came back home from a week-holiday late last month, to find that my tomato plants were literally roasted. Burned. 5 huge grow bags full of lush green tall tomato plants – with barely any fruit though – gone to waste. All that organic soil full of tomato fertiliser and organic seaweed, my blood, energy, time, money, sweat and tears…Heart-wrenching it was!

I came out of the taxi straight to the back garden, and absolutely did not expect such a shocking display.

HOWEVER. Next to the dried-out plants were standing the ever-resilient almighty pepper plants, covered with juicy-looking shiny green peppers, in all their glory.

In a matter of minutes, I went from lamenting aloud while snatching the fried leaves off and cutting off the dead blackened stems, cursing all the elements known to man, to philosophising on what this was supposed to teach me…

Well, you win some and you lose some.

Nothing really is guaranteed in life is it? But one sure thing is we will learn from our predicaments if we allow the teaching to hit us.

This tomato plant disaster could seem trivial at first, but it reminded me that losing can be purposeful. As horrible as it was, the peppers next to them were telling a different story. “Yes you messed up the bloody tomatoes (and the strawberries…), but the picture isn’t all gloomy is it? Cheer up!”

I’m definitely better equipped now in knowledge before my next go at growing tomatoes next year, thanks to all the mistakes that happened in the process of growing them from seeds. I know exactly where I missed the mark and should – hopefully! –  be better at my next attempt. Will I grow from seeds again? Not sure…

I’ll pick my first peppers and dig out the first carrots next week, we like firsts like that!

I’ve got winter vegetables seeds and spring flowers bulbs ready to go in the soil, but I’m in no hurry to start sowing again just yet; I’m giving myself another couple of weeks and will get back at it.

To the next lessons (oh yes there will be more)! Life is a wonder…

Social Media Influence(R)

I spend a lot of time thinking about time, to try and find a way to make the most of it; time is after all the supremely sought-after currency out there.

There are tons of useful tips on how to manage time efficiently, even though personal circumstances will in the end dictate how we implement those best practices in our real life – or not.

While stealing quite a bit of my time, Internet and YouTube in particular for me have been a wealth of information. I can honestly say that I would have eschewed lots of mistakes, had I been exposed to that level of knowledge pre-social media era. The amount of invaluable and free content on YouTube alone is just incredible; the astounding diversity of the offer is accelerating the obsolescence of television. I think the main attraction on TV now has to be the fictions, because everything else and more can be found on social media (not to mention the streaming platforms that are the other major threat to television).

As time passes, social media platforms are now becoming inescapable, making them irresistible platforms for companies of all sizes to advertise their product and services.  Venture capitalists pour astronomical amounts of money in this fascinating industry, and are here to make the most of this boon while it lasts. Take You Tube; it weighed $120 billion in 2020, a capitalism jewel that’s for sure. It’s not only You Tube big bosses reaping all the big cash fortunately, as life is not too shabby for the so-called influencers either, the bread and butter of the business.

However I don’t know about you, but to me it seems like the social media scene is slowly getting saturated and becoming a bubble not far from bursting. Up to last year, the main players were Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and You Tube; since then the Chinese powerhouse TikTok has erupted to shake the status quo, but it will surely not be the last addition to the circle. Being a content creator on those platforms is the hot ticket, very lucrative for many influencers.  If more come in to claim their share (more platforms or more aspiring influencers), revenues will likely get diluted and maybe the quality of the content might suffer from this as well.

For now we’re still in a somewhat monopolistic situation where the throne belongs to the big 5. The pandemic has dramatically increased the social media following, as the likes of YouTube or TikTok became the substitutes for staples like restaurants, theatre or clubbing during the multiple lockdowns. Being a YouTuber is now a full time job for many. Small businesses that found it hard to reach a sizeable audience for their products or services via traditional media like TV or radio can now enjoy significant exposure via influencers. Bigger businesses are obviously not missing the mark, neither are politicians, well established personalities or even journalists being influencers now too. Digital marketing is a hot commodity, and the influencer lies at the heart of this gigantic social network machine.

It’s also worth noting that the most prolific influencers, namely YouTube vloggers are paying a hefty price for their success; I saw a recent interview of a prominent vlogger who was explaining how creating content nearly around the clock was sucking life out of their life experiences. They’re enticed to document every moment online, significant or not. The financial reward is too good to resist, as stacks of views translate into brand deals and steady ad revenues and soon enough personal life and content creation are completely enmeshed, leaving little chance to balance in their lives.

The so-called gig economy (freelancing industry) in which social media influencing is deeply rooted is obviously not the most stable industry despite the possible lucrative revenues. Algorithm biases, the tokenism of non-white content creators, pay gap between men and women (surprise…) are some issues among others plaguing this social media industry. Also, voices are rising to address the issue of the ineffectiveness of collective action to better protect the creators’ rights; the TikTok Black creators’ strike staged 2 months ago for example was to denounce the lack of credit they get for their hugely popularized content constantly going viral. Did it change much? Not really, as the amount of content coming from other sources is so significant that such collective action doesn’t pull much weight.

How to hold these giant companies accountable then? Industrial action has always been the way to go for workers to put pressure on their employers and achieve advancement of their work conditions. Financial precarity is a reality in the gig economy, so hopefully we’ll see a shift happening with the new generation of platforms coming in.

This is way too long of a post at this point, so much more to say on this topic but I’ll end with sharing my top YouTube channels, tricky task considering the 100+ channels I’m subscribed to!

Khadidja Mbowe

Comprendre L’Afrique

To My Sisters

Alice Capelle

Karen Britchick

For Harriet

ARTE

Pick up Limes (I had to add this one, a couple of weeks after the original post)

What are your favorite ones? Going to Ikea now, wish me luck…

CHOOSE YOUR HARD

Me realizing that last time I published a post was 3 months ago already, reminds me of how hectic life has been, for me at least…

About this time last year I published my first post, and despite some time lapses I might manage to hit an average of 1 post a month. The initial plan was to write twice a month, needless to say it hasn’t been the case…Nevertheless this is something I love doing, so will stick to it. To keep the tempo up, I’ll start posting short pieces in-between like this very one.

I saw some hard-hitting quotes on my YouTube feed and had to share them here. They tell/remind us that life really is interesting, because nothing is easy about it. Absolutely nothing.

Marriage is hard, And divorce is hard

Obesity is hard, And being fit is hard

Being in debt is hard, And financial discipline is hard

Communication is hard, And not communicating is hard

And we can add plenty more dichotomies highlighting the same truth: life is hard, but very interesting. You won’t escape effort, heck even being lazy is hard as you won’t avoid the hard consequences of your inaction sooner or later.

So what’s left for us to do? Do we have any choice? Not a real one. We don’t choose between hard and easy, we do choose between contentment and discontentment.

Hard and hard. At least it sounds simple.

I DARE YOU

I’ve been in a mood for new things lately. To be more exact, I’ve felt a bit braver to try new things. Some radical, some not. I figure why not? Times we’re living entice a lot of us to learn and live fully again, rediscover and love life with a renewed strength.

At the minute I’m past the “just start!” phase, and settling in the “go hard!” one; albeit not sure at all of processes or outcomes. Worrying about jumping in an unexplored experience tends to be paralyzing and off-putting. Well, I’m going in head first, because I do not want to have regrets about not trying to grow vegetables for example. Yes, it might be very simple for some of you, but for me it’s a new world. I used to stop short at buying potted herbs from the supermarket that would eventually die after a few weeks.

I would devour gardening TV programs and admire lavish and flourishing raised vegetable beds from afar, not daring to consider achieving the same feat. Green fingers among my acquaintances would prompt me to just have a go, secretly convinced – I suspect – that I’d never do; who can blame them? I would always pester them with a thousand questions, overprocessing, overanalyzing the simplest things like putting a seed in a pot and cover with soil…

My very own first greenhouse! Carrots, Lettuce, Spinach, Kale, Herbs etc.

Anyway, we’re over the doubt hump: I’ve started about a million cultures, the living spaces in my house as well as my cheap and cheerful mini greenhouse are full of them. What a delight to see the first signs of life out of the soil!  Absolutely exhilarating to witness those green shoots coming out. Not all that easy as gardening is a science, but all the same very fun. And the little mishaps are part of the process…

Daring looks like Kyle Mc Donald, a Canadian chap who got on this crazy social experiment, vying to get a whole house from a red paperclip… In July 2005, he started this bartering cycle by trading the red paperclip for a fish-shaped pen, then the same day traded the pen for a hand-sculpted doorknob… 12 exchanges and a year later in July 2006, he ended up with the sought-after prize, a house.

Demi Skipper, an American in her late 20’s is trying to emulate his success           , and has taken on her own daring trading end of last year: get a house from a hairpin.

So far among other random things, she’s got earrings, a vacuum cleaner, a camera set, collection sneakers, an electric skateboard, 3 tractors (?), a peloton bike…the latest thing she’s yet to barter is a VIP Chipotle card – Chipotle is a popular chain of Mexican cuisine restaurants in the US, and their VIP cards allow the happy few to eat free meals there for a year.

Let’s hope this barter trend is a growing phenomenon that could come and disrupt the reigning capitalism just a tiny bit. It’s not only fun but also a real hope for some of us not able to access certain basics or privileges the “standard” way. I’ve actually vowed to do more thrift-shopping from now on, which is half-way there to bartering; great for the planet, great for style originality and great for the purse!

Daring is obviously relative – me deciding to run a 10K race would be another day at the office  for a dear friend of mine who does it every year…Waking up around 4.30am at least 5 days a week – my latest goal – is however no easy feat for most of us.  The satisfying feeling I get from being awake that early and actually being productive when most people are deep asleep is immense. A lot of times though it’s hard to go to bed before 9.30PM, so some days I can’t make it. Work in progress, but I would definitely recommend to fit in at least a couple of very early days in your routine. Results are immediate, guaranteed!

Who we become in the process is the prize.

Evolving, dramatic change, revolutionary change, metamorphosis will require a slice of daring, so let’s take down the wall of fears brick by brick, and dare more.

SELF CARE

Well, it’s been a minute.

Was it the lack of wanting to write the cause of this extended break? Certainly not.

You know what it is like, when you feel that knot in the stomach every time you get a mental reminder of a task you imperiously need to do, but just don’t have the actual time or are not in the adequate mental space to proceed.

That’s been me battling with that urge to sit down and lay thoughts on paper. Why, because everything else somehow became the priority. Was I fair to myself? Certainly not.

2021 has been a lot. At all levels, for most of us.  I’ve however – finally – reached my lowest tolerance limit, and the urge to write is too strong, too loud to keep on ignoring it.

And goodness does it feel good to fall back in my safe place…

What is your safe place? Your happy place as a friend of mine likes to call it?

When there’s so much going on in the outside world, we paradoxically tend to neglect our safe place. Paradoxical, yes. Natural, unfortunately yes. We’re drawn towards the magnetising 24-hr sensationalized news, external loud alarm bells fighting to captivate our focus.

Covid. Covid casualties. Covid vaccines. Women abductions. Missing people. Economic recession. Global warming. Business closures. Online scamming. Just to name this month’s highlights in my part of the world… STOP.

There’s only so much toxicity I / we can take. When the bucket is full, water overflows. We must turn the tap off, and find refuge in our safe place. That place for me is more than one thing, and writing is certainly in the top 5 of my self-care regimen.

The fantastic thing is we have a phenomenal internal compass! Our body will communicate its need to sleep, fast, move or eat. Our soul will whisper or shouts to us that something is amiss. We sometimes will stumble, we will fall, we will get distracted, we will lose sight and hearing; we can nevertheless rest assured that we will always know when we need to switch things on or off.

Self-care is the fuel that takes us beyond surviving; self-care is simply living the moment, taking time to stop and enjoy the gifts of life to us…The cherry on the cake is that giving ourselves grace that way empowers us with the tools to enrich, support, and be an asset to others. Full circle.

Glad I’m back!

Cheers to All…

I took a leap of faith earlier this year and mustered the courage to start this platform, to give in to a lifelong passion of mine that’s writing. By far not an easy task given my sheer incompetency at using this WordPress tool!

You Reader have accompanied and supported me in these infant stages of my public writing journey, by reading and/or commenting my posts. I warmly thank you for that, and am looking forward to carrying on sharing my views, as well as welcoming yours.

I wish we All make the most of this (festive for some) year-end break wherever we are, and not worry too much about the disheartening news all over the media or whatever circumstances we cannot control…

Here’s to the next chapter, bottoms up!