A Thursday Manifesto

A Thursday Manifesto

Have you ever quit smoking cigarettes?

It’s not that difficult, actually.

Breaking a habit takes the same willpower and consistency as forming one does, they just happen in the opposite direction.

Building a habit = sensation you are gaining something.
Breaking a habit = sensation you are losing something.

So when you quit smoking, you are operating under the perception you have lost something. Is there a solution? Sure. You can distract yourself, or even fill the void with another meaningless vice.

More-so, I think this habit situation may be the same reason buying new things is easier than throwing things away. We have attachment issues, but we don’t have a lot of space for everything.

Why am I saying this? Who knows, but let’s consider that it is a well-known fact one of the main goals of human existence is to consume. (Citation needed, but you know I’m right.)

We consume food to generate energy so we can…make more food to consume. But once we figured out how to do that with efficiency – and when I say this I mean, of course, exclusively for the people who have money to pay for food…survival IS a business after all- we got bored. So we started making other stuff. Making stuff is cool. Making stuff is equivalent to the sensation you are gaining something.

Anyway, to quit smoking is easy. Unfortunately, so is the relapse.

Imagine you’ve been clean for two weeks, and then you meet with a friend who smokes. It’s very likely that when they light a cigarette, you’ll follow suit.

Not because they are pressuring you, but because the habit is being normalized.

Don’t worry too much about it, you’re dying anyway. If you want to die from lung cancer, that’s your prerogative.

I’m not really talking about cigarettes here, I’m talking about identity issues. Particularly the ones that arise as a direct result from knowing other people. I think we can agree that we’re all a little uncertain about what it is we’re doing here. We’re on a giant rock, hurtling through space, and we still can’t find anything in common.

N. Korea wants to be taken seriously. Donald Trump wants to be taken seriously. Taylor Swift wants to be taken seriously. And the more attention we pay to these tyrants – (yes Taylor, I mean you) – the closer they become to being taken seriously.

But hold on, I was talking about identity issues. Today when I was taking a shower, I began to wonder, “what is the point of having a friend?” I believe we are prone to befriending people who we see ourselves in, but that is partially because we are very narcissistic (thx evolution). Basically, we need to maintain a general positive association about our identities – and this requires external reinforcement.

Think about your friends – what do you do together? Probably things you both enjoy, and this, in fact, is an ego-stroke. It is self-validating to enjoy the same things as other people. It means you have interesting interests. It means you are not a weirdo.

Sometimes, I bet you do things with friends that you are not violently passionate about, rather vaguely accepting of. This is because you are making a compromise. This is because being around other people is a lot less lonely than being alone. And did you notice, how when we’re alone, we tend to fill our alone time with the consumption* (vocab word) of content and characters who are, you guessed it, relatable? Then, there is the added bonus, that later on, we can relate to other people about our very interesting interests, a fantastic reflection of the self.

Which of your friends do you like the best? I bet it’s the ones who make you feel the most like you. But what are you like, in reality? Because you are constantly being influenced. By your friends. And your friends’ likes’. And your friends’ ideas’ of who you are. You look to your friends to help build your identity. You look to all of the people around you – your employers, your parents and in some cases, your cat.

This is not a problem. I am not anti-friend. I love my friends, and in most cases, they help me to be a better version of myself. They hold me accountable for my bullshit. They give me necessary advice, and, on occasion, decent music recommendations.

The real problem is not: knowing people, having friends, watching T.V., consuming things, or being alive. The real problem is habit. Did you know that a victim of childhood abuse is 3-5 times more likely to experience victimization as an adult? That there is an 80 percent chance children of abuse will develop at least one psychological disorder later in life? Why are victims of trauma more likely to have a repeat experience? Habit.

What we know – that is, what we have become exposed to, influences our identity. Abuse becomes normalized to those who experience it, meaning they are more likely to gravitate towards similar psychopathic behaviors in relationships, friendships and work situations. This evidence is not only important for people who have experienced childhood trauma. It’s important to anyone who has been in an unhealthy friendship or relationship. Sometimes, I think we are attracted to bad and negative things because we perceive them as being more honest.

I think this information is also relevant to anyone who is in the process of forming an identity. I heard they take a lifetime to create. The point is, you are not your friends. You are not your mother. You are not your childhood trauma. You are not your cigarette. You are both completely, only yourself, and exactly everything you allow yourself to be influenced by. You, in the end, are a collection of habits.

If you’ve ever tried to quit smoking cigarettes, you know it isn’t hard.

It takes willpower and consistency.

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“Masti cazzi!”

The two shared a laugh, as I methodically stabbed a piece of cantaloupe with my fork and lifted it to my mouth.

“Do you know what this means? It’s one you should learn.”

I had been sitting on the outskirts of their conversation, a comfortable place I have learned to call home.

“I always mix up the profanities, but ‘cazzo’ means dick, right?”

“No, no, it’s not a profanity! It means ‘nevermind.’”

“What’s the literal translation?”

“These dicks. But that’s not what it means.”

“Ahh okay. We have phrases like this in English, too.”

“But it’s not a phrase. It’s a lifestyle! For example, you wake up late? Masti cazzi. You forget your laundry in the washing machine? Masti cazzi. You lose your job? Masti cazzi.”

So it’s the Italian hakuna matata, but with dicks? Ho capito.

“How long have you stay in Italy?”

“Otto mese.”

“Why haven’t you learned Italian yet?”

“Sono pigra.”

I have the latter part of this conversation at least once a day.

“I’m lazy” has always been a lame excuse for something deeper.

“I battle with a constant, depressive existential crisis and struggle with interpersonal self-motivation,” is not exactly polite to say. Even if I said it, I don’t think it would mean anything.

Now, ‘I’m lazy’? People can really sympathize with that. And I’ve built a solid defense for this excuse. But I accidentally learn something every once in awhile. Piano, Piano. It’s not a phrase, it’s a lifestyle.

Over the last six moths, I made an important transition from “living in Italy with a random family and being totally clueless” to “living on my own in Italy and being totally clueless.” I have been teaching English for a private company in Monteverde Vecchio, which I recently understood quite literally means “old green mountain.” This old green mountain, which sits 298 steps above the tram tracks, is adorned with vibrant vines climbing up the sides of distinctive romantic houses, in pale yellows or baby pinks, contrasted with deep-hued shutters on door-sized windows. The ceilings are tall, just like the trees, and everything feels a bit closer to the moon when night begins to fall.

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Teaching English has been a strange and rewarding experience. Before, I never had to think about why my verbs agreed, or how time and language are so deeply tangled together in an expression of existence. Now, I have been asked to explain things for which I had never previously assigned reason to.

“What dose how mean?” an adult student once asked me, causing my brain to implode. How do you explain how? It’s something I’ve been considering ever since. It’s the way by which something is done, but also related to a state of being. It can express both quantity and quality. Methodology and measurement. When she asked, I didn’t have a thoughtful answer. I believe I said, “ummmm.”

It felt like I was teaching someone how to breathe. I don’t know how, it comes naturally.

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Apart from needing to consider my language in a thoughtful way, I also began an exposition into the psychology of learning. I had 40 students, aged 7 to 40. Some were in small groups, others individual lessons. Each leaner needed to be motivated in a different way. The biggest challenge in teaching is keeping students interested. The school is full-immersion, which means it’s forbidden to speak in Italian to the students. I can’t speak in Italian anyway, so it was an easy rule to follow, but it proved to be very trying in a class with eight 7-year-olds who don’t speak a lick of English. Some of the worst-behaved kids were my favorite students, because I saw a lot of myself in them. The bad kids were usually the most intelligent. They were bored, so they clung to distractions.

In a way, each class was its own chemistry experiment. I had to learn through trial and error how to be relatable. The first step in learning a language is a desire to communicate. I quickly learned my younger students are Justin Bieber fans. My 10 year olds even had opinions about Donald Trump.

Sometimes I would have to separate students, or a few kids would be absent. This completely changed the classroom dynamic, and I started to understand more about the influence of a social setting. Different combinations of students brought out different social environments. I learned the importance of developing an individual relationship with each student. Disappointment is a more effective tool than anger.

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The school year ended last Wednesday and I realized it’s been six months since I published on my blog. Everything about life has changed. When I moved to Italy and began this blog, I was really bored. I thought if I threw myself into an ambiguous situation, I would finally have “something to write about.” Roma has not disappointed, and I feel incredibly shocked and lucky each day that I’m here. I hope to continue writing, and I thank anyone who takes the time to read. I’m not an expert on anything, I’m just a girl with a hypothesis.

336A8731.jpgHas anyone ever metaphorically spat in your face? It just happened to me. I received a long lecture on how abruptly leaving a job as a caretaker is, well, careless. I was told I was not respectful, and to do what I’m doing makes me a bad person.

It’s hard to disagree with, and brings up memories of me leaving from a string of situations on less than graceful terms. Naturally, it has snowballed into an overall speculation about the nature of my existence, and if, in fact, I am “bad”.

To answer this question, one must first understand what defines bad or good.

If you take a dog for a walk on a day full of sunshine, a soft breeze tickling the hair on the back of your neck, whispering in your ear a melodic cacophony of early spring, this might be good.

If you’re getting a last miute haircut by the only hairdresser who doesn’t have clients booked, and the blow drier short circuits causing a spark to light a fire that burns down the building and also envelops your whole head of hair, this might be bad.

However, both applications of these values are created by yourself in the scenario, meaning they don’t construct an objective reality for which we can build a consensus. Generally, most people would agree that these situations are “bad” or “good”. But what if you change perspectives with someone else in the scenario? What if the dog really hates you, and being forced under the control of your subordinate leash brings him great anguish and turmoil? What if you’re walking the dog past a girl who had her own dog die recently, and the sight of your dog triggers her grief? Alternatively, what if the proprietor of the building always secretly hoped for a fire because he had a big insurance policy? Now he is happy. And I don’t think he cares about your hair.

The problem with morals is they are subjective. Everything in reality is. Physics tells us time does not exist the same on street level as it does the 9th floor of a building. I constantly vow to give my sisters “tips from the future” because my day occurs 8 hours ahead of theirs. This is a different problem, though, and we can talk about it later.

So what are these morals, and where do they come from, if everyone is looking at the same situation with different eyes? Most of us assume that murder is wrong, but is it still wrong if you murder someone who is trying to murder you? Where do we derive our rules for how to navigate life? For many, it’s religion. But throw religion away for a second, and pretend it isn’t real. We could still probably agree on the golden rule. “Treat others as you want to be treated.” Okay, that’s nice, so *WHAT IF* I’m really into being tied up and spanked? Does this mean I go around tying up people and spanking them? Seems like a bad rule of thumb.

I was asked to turn the situation around, and see it from the employers perspective. I tried to explain I’ve gone inside and out of the matter, but sometimes you just have to let other people talk. “What if we decided we were throwing you out, with only three days notice before you must leave?” I said I would have to create a plan and find somewhere else to go. This was not a satisfying answer. “Yes, but what would you tell other people when they asked you about this situation? You would say we were bad people.” For me, the idea of having to find a new place to live seemed like it would be the most important thing on my mind. She did not believe me.

One time in college I was sitting on a bench in a tree-spotted greenspace referred to as the oak grove. I was pretending to do trigonometry homework, but mostly watching a group of “larpers,” or, individuals who do role-play jousting. A dog stopped beside me, who I began to pet, surprised by his outgoing personality. The dogs companion, an old gentleman with white Einstein hair and crystal blue eyes, approached me next, and started telling me conspiracy theories about JFK’s assassination and what really happened on 9/11. He then told me he used to teach sociology at IUP, segwaying into a lesson I didn’t ask for. He explained the “A,B,C theory of emotions,” developed by Albert Ellis in the 1950’s.

Einstein-man told me “A” stands for an action. Life is comprised of action and inaction. There is no connotation associated with these things. Nothing is “good” or “bad,” it just is. “B” stands for the conscious or subconscious belief we have regarding the action, which provides the action with assigned meaning. “C” stands for emotional consequences, or feelings we derive from the meaning we assigned to an event. For example, A. Sally sees a snake. B. Sally has heard bad stories about snakes. C. Sally is scared. With this logic, we assign meaning to everything, and that meaning is left up to our conscious or unconscious thoughts to translate into our emotions. Realistically, we can control our emotions about an event by assigning our own meaning to it. This is a therapeutical technique aimed to shift the traditional viewpoints and approaches about human behavior from assigning a one-size-fits-all template to “actions,” and instead giving an individual the power to customize their feelings and beliefs. That was a really long sentence, and I’m sorry.

I’m headed to London tomorrow, and before leaving, I was asked to pack up my belongings and reimburse the employer for 30 euro. This is all action, and my conscious belief tells me after I’m on the plane, I’m going to be just fine. I’m headed to visit a dear friend for his final photography exhibition, as he graduates from the University of London Arts with a degree in photojournalism and documentary making. His project is called “sonostalgia,” the inverse of nostalgia, which is the phenomena of feeling homesick for home while still living there. It’s feeling homesick for the way things used to be – a place you can never go back to. And when I return to Rome, I will begin a new life, something I have become quite practiced in.