Where the birds always sing

Death is so common and yet it manages to startle me every single time. Do you ever get used to the natural process of things? Do you ever get used to the pain one’s absence leaves you with? And if you could, would you want to?

These last days all I hear about is people dying or people getting serious issues - physical or mental. It’s that disruption of the normal-ness that annoys me, too. But what is ever normal? We’re lucky to have normal days. However, this is totally dissonant with our experience as human beings (and with the presentation I have to give on Sunday about stress - talk about irony!). We think we’ll be there tomorrow to finish our conversation with that particular someone, we think we’ll get to hug our partner the next time we’ll see each other, we get really anxious about our future and how this future will turn out to be. Am I gonna make the right choices? Am I gonna marry the right person, am I gonna do the right job, will I ever be happy? Of course we need this potential future to be there, how else would we do anything again otherwise?

But it’s not just that we need it. We’re totally immersed in this safety bubble. We literally forget that our time here is brief. So, so brief. And we can cry all we want to, but it ain’t gonna change a thing (trust me, I’ve tried). Today, a person I value deeply came really close to death, without having any serious health issues before. Death can be so intrusive, so disruptive, so violent. Life after death, too.

I’m afraid to lose the people I love. But I’m afraid I’ll have to, sooner or later. Yalom says the idea of death can save us, but can it save the people we love, too? Ok I know that’s not what Yalom meant, but having lived an unlived life is one thing, having to survive without the ones you love is totally another. And it’s that life that can be scarier for me, than anything else.

I think The Cure have very well articulated what I’m trying to say, in their song “where the birds always sing”.

But the world is neither just nor unjust It's just us trying to feel that there's some sense in it No, the world is neither just nor unjust And though going young So much undone Is a tragedy for everyone It doesn't speak a plan or any secret thing No unseen sign or untold truth in anything... But living on in others, in memories and dreams Is not enough You want everything Another world where the sun always shines And the birds always sing Always sing…

Yes, living on in memories is really, truly not ever going to be enough.

image from "the Guardian"

Lena Dunham on death

I recently read Lena Dunham’s book Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”. I love Lena Dunham for a million different reasons and as the book shows, we share a mutual death anxiety from a very young age.

Yet another time, I’m writing about death! This blog isn’t much fun, is it?

She writes:

As a little kid, an unnamed fear would often overtake me. It wasn't a fear of anything tangible – tigers, burglars, homelessness – and it couldn't be solved by usual means like hugging my mother or turning on Nickelodeon shows. The feeling was cold and resided just below my stomach. It made everything around me seem unreal and unsafe."

Yes, death can do that. It’s a cruel thing to think upon, even more when you’re a little child.

She also writes that she used to have a serious sleep problem (just like I've had) and that for her,

...sleep equaled death. How was closing your eyes and losing consciousness any different from death? What separated temporary loss of consciousness from permanent obliteration?”

Good question, Lena. And not one to dismiss easily, I’m afraid. She keeps writing:

I think a fair amount about the fact that we’re all going to die. It occurs to me at incredibly inopportune moments — I’ll be standing in a bar, having managed to get an attractive guy to laugh, and I’ll be laughing, too, and maybe dancing a little bit, and then everything goes slo-mo for a second and I’ll think: Are these people aware that we’re all going to the same place in the end? I can slip back into conversation and tell myself that the flash of mortality awareness has enriched my experience, reminded me to just go for it in the giggling and hair-flipping and speaking-my-mind departments because . . . why the hell not? But occasionally the feeling stays with me, and it reminds me of being a child — feeling full of fear but lacking the language to calm yourself down. I guess, when it comes to death, none of us really has the words.

I wish I could be one of those young people who seems totally unaware of the fact that her gleaming nubile body is, in fact, fallible. (Maybe you have to have a gleaming nubile body to feel that way.) Beautiful self-delusion: Isn’t that what being young is all about? You think you’re immortal until one day when you’re around sixty, it hits you: you see an Ingmar Bergman-y specter of death and you do some soul searching and possibly adopt a kid in need. You resolve to live the rest of your life in a way you can be proud of. But I am not one of those young people. I’ve been obsessed with death since I was born. […]

The fact is I had been circling the topic of death, subconsciously, for some time. Growing up in Soho in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was aware of AIDS and the toll it was taking on the creative community. Illness, loss, who would handle the art and the real estate and the medical bills — these topics hovered over every dinner party. As many of my parents’ friends became sick, I learned to recognize the look of someone suffering — sunken cheeks, odd facial spotting, a sweater that no longer fit. And I knew what it meant: that person would soon become a memorial, the name on a prize given to visiting students, a distant memory.”

When it comes to death, age doesn’t matter. Death has such an ugly face. But it’s the idea of death, as Yalom has said so many times, that can save us, can awaken us to lead a life more conscious. Lena Dunham has also expressed this in her own words:

I thought about all the things I hoped to get done in my life and realised: I'd better get cracking. I can never spend a whole afternoon watching a Singled Out marathon again if this is what's going to happen.”

And here I am, having spent a whole afternoon watching a “Mystery Jets” live on youtube and looking at photos of Northern France.

image from here.

2551 Saturdays

"There’s a website called 4000Saturdays and, among other things on the site, it contains a life calculator. You enter your birth date, and it calculates how many Saturdays you have lived and how many more you will live (if we take as given that 4000 Saturdays is the average number of Saturdays in a person’s life).

The website tells me I have about 2551 more Saturdays left to enjoy. Oh my God! Today, the day I chose to do this little calculation, is indeed, a Saturday, and a very dull one. I can’t live any more Saturdays like this! Life’s too short, 2551 Saturdays are not that much! I have to do something! So what do I do? I panic."

This is a guest post I did for the New Existentialists blog. Read the rest of it here.

Discuss it on reddit.

What should we think about death?

This is the title of a short Humanist animation about death, afterlife, and living in the here and now, narrated by Stephen Fry. I think it greatly points out various existential ideas in a short amount of time. People try to forget about death most of the time, but this video argues that the finitude of life is what gives us a sense of meaning and purpose. "

Imagine eating an endless cake, where would be the fun in that?,

asks Fry, in the video. Well, I don't know about you but I wouldn't mind a never-ending ice cream. Nonetheless, life is finite, "death is a natural part of life".

Great video. Worths your time, if you're ready to seriously wonder upon how you live your life.

Written & produced by the British Humanist Association, and narrated by Stephen Fry. Animated by Hyebin Lee.

Some thoughts on a conversation about emotions in a time of uncertainty

Last Wednesday Simon Critchley (the well known British philosopher) was invited by Onassis Cultural Centre ( to have a conversation with Kostas Yemenetzis (a Greek psychoanalyst) about emotions in a time of uncertainty. Uncertainty is a mild way to express what currently takes place here in Greece, let me assure you. Anyway, it was a nice conversation between them, which of course I’m in no place to reproduce, but I thought I could share the two or three things that made an impression upon me.

One of them was something Simon Critchley said about emotions in general, how an emotion is not something you feel inside you, it’s not a separate entity or something but rather something that’s out there, something taking place in-between you and the other person. It’s something that is co-created. This is very interesting for me, I guess I have never thought it that way. Of course I always considered emotions as something dynamic, which has a lot to do with the other person, but there are some emotions that have nothing to do with other people. Or maybe... not?

He also said that language comes before emotions and not the other way around. Ok, this one I can’t exactly remember if he was sure about or just wondering which comes first, the language or the feeling. At first I thought that’s just not possible, I always have a feeling and then I get to express it. And it was at that exact moment where it became obvious to me that I can never express a feeling that stays there unchangeable and static. It always changes forms while interacting with the other and of course who that other one is, plays a very big role into what the feeling will be later and what I’m going to say later etc. I guess this is very close to what they both talked about when they said that the word emotion has in it this very motion, it’s not static at all. I wonder if this could be the distinction between feelings and emotions or what is the general difference between them for that matter.

I’m going to end with what Yemenetzis said at the beginning, that uncertainty is what brings emotions, you don’t get many emotions while being absolutely certain. I guess he’s right, this is somehow what a lot of people say when they’re bored, that everything is somewhat flat, they want something to happen, they want a change. While I totally relate to that I cannot not wonder how can we ever be certain? Life is an act of uncertainty as I see it. You can be more confident for some things than for some others, sure, but certain? What is ever certain? I mean, except death. And on that happy note I’m leaving you, I know you didn’t quite expect it but I’d like to create that feeling of uncertainty I was talking about :p. Let me know what you think!

A book I'd like to read as soon as possible!