What makes life worth living?

With a sudden curtailment of the freedoms a lifestyle in a western city offers, it removes all of the glorious distractions that makes such a place attractive to live. Suddenly in a densely populated city where people are living upwards, you find it suddenly feels very claustrophobic. This has been ever more highlighted in the recent week where restrictions have loosened and allowed sunbathing in parks. Right near where we live on days with beautiful sunshine, it somewhat resembles a field at a music festival.

So in this busy, crammed city where your normal routine is completely dashed and time for your thoughts is exponentially increased, it leads one to question “what restrictions would need to be relaxed in order to make things more bearable?”. For some people it’s simply seeing friends, for others it’s pubs, and others it’s travel abroad. The more I thought about it, the less I am sure about how to answer that question. Suddenly without the distractions I’m yet again faced with the question of what life it is I want to live. What makes my life worth living?
It’s hugely interesting to see on the news how countries are starting to put measures in place to allow businesses to open and international travel to take place again. In the face of a likely second wave or possibly even a third, it feels like they’re saying they’ve had enough and life cannot continue the way it was.

This pandemic as with every other trial in life will pass, eventually, how we choose to handle it is entirely up to us. If I could possibly leave this period with more idea and motivation towards a life I want to lead, that would be a great result of a very weird period in this life.

The World Today

The world today is not the world that it was three months ago. Or perhaps even two months ago in Europe. It’s crazy how quickly things have changed.

It is Easter Monday today and tomorrow I’ll be entering into my 5th week of working from home – 4 weeks into national lockdown. Whilst working remotely is something in recent years I’ve wanted to secure for myself, never would I have guessed that it would happen in this form. Covid-19 has taken advantage of hesitation from governments around the world and spread across the globe. To my knowledge, only a handful of countries have not yet reported a case although as we all know by now, confirmed cases and deaths are only as accurate as the reporting itself.

It’s occurrence is unlike anything we’ve ever known in this lifetime (most of us won’t remember the 1918 pandemic of Spanish flu I imagine) and how strange it all is. None of us could ever imagine something to occur on such a global scale, dominating the news until you’re sick of hearing about it everywhere you turn, and yet unable to stop thinking about it because it penetrates every aspect of your current life. As someone who doesn’t like feeling trapped, this turn of events is pretty suffocating.

There are fascinating things to come out of it, whether that’s statistically (biomed was my undergraduate degree so I find this all so interesting), politically, economically or socially. And whilst I’m sitting in my flat gleaning all these insights and collating all the articles and information I’m reading each day, all I can hope is that governments across the world are doing the same and better. I really don’t think much of the response to this crisis from some governments – slow to respond, and some absolutely ridiculous ideas have been floated around. When you have the government using the term “herd immunity” as a strategy against a virus for which there isn’t an existing vaccine for and an estimated fatality rate of 1-2%, that’s a pretty serious mistake particularly when a virus moves as fast and is as infectious as this one. Man oh man oh man.

Knowledge is power. That’s why countries like South Korea and Germany have had such success in comparison to their neighbouring countries. Find the trail of infection, if you know where it’s been and where it’s going, you can control it – short term and long term. For the period between now and when a vaccine can be mass produced and distributed, that is the only really conceivable solution, a national lockdown is not sustainable.

I’m so intrigued to see how the world will change after this. After the SARS outbreak in 2003, lots of East Asian countries including my home region of Hong Kong took it as a cultural habit to don a face mask whenever they were sick. Western societies seem to misinterpret it as people not wanting to get sick but it’s actually the opposite. They’re wearing the mask to avoid spreading it to others. Given the misinterpretation from the West, I doubt that this will become a common trend like in East Asia.

Things that I think will change:

  1. A shift towards more of a working from home/ remotely culture. For the companies that have moved remote (including my own), senior management may see that productivity doesn’t drop as much as they fear and actually be encouraged by the idea of revenue they can save by hiring less office space.
  2. Introduction of heat cameras at transportation hubs like airports, at least for the first couple of months after we’re allowed out again.
  3. A higher public awareness around illness, particularly on crowded public transport if people are coughing etc.
  4. In the UK, I sincerely hope (and this point is more of a hope than a prediction) that there will be more protection around the NHS. It’s unique and great quality that’s part of British life which has been dredged through hell and back in the last decade under tory rule. Hopefully this will help put it back on the list of priorities.

If the Labour party is clever, there is a potential to shift public favour towards their way. However, given the recent change in party leadership, the timing may be against them as the news hasn’t been that much of a forefront of the headlines due to covid-19 and so far Keir Starmer hasn’t really been able to do much to turn the tides. What with Boris Johnson probably gaining some national sympathies from his infection with the coronavirus, Starmer will have to really start getting a plan into gear if he is to lead Labour into a win next election.

So that’s some of the ramblings and muddled thoughts I’ve had so far in my month of quarantine. All in all, I’m not in a position to complain. My partner and I are both working from home and both are currently not at risk of losing our jobs. It is just difficult living in a city when the main reasons for you to live there are all currently moot and shut down. In a city, without all the bright lights, culture and bells and whistles, at the end of the day is just a grey monolith of a prison. Mentally, that’s probably the hardest part. It is a long journey and we’re only partway through it, so just pace yourselves, we will get through to the other side.

This Too Shall Pass

That is the phrase I have tattooed on my leg in Hebrew. “Gam zeh ya’avor”.

I got this because a friend had said it to me during the really dark period of my life a couple of years ago. It was such a short phrase said almost as a throw-away attempt to comfort me (nothing brought me much comfort in those days). It stuck and it seared itself into my memory becoming some sort of mantra.

This too shall pass.

This time shall pass. This awful feeling will pass. This horrific time will pass. This journey will pass. This amazing time in South East Asia will pass. It will all pass, good and bad, all of it.

There are so many things to take away from that phrase. It did bring me comfort. In the days where I was hurting so much I wanted the world to burn with me, it comforted me to know that at some point it probably will. In the days after where I went travelling to heal, it reminded me to savour every beautiful, precious moment out there, because it too, undoubtedly will pass.

And now, in my more settled state in London, I find myself still lost, having been lost since I got back. I know what direction I want to go but I’m scared. It will require sacrifice of time, effort and hope. The last one being something I know how scarce and valuable it is. So I don’t dare dream, I don’t dare strive. I try and build towards my dream within the tiny sandbox that I have penned myself in. It’s impossible to build a real castle inside a sandbox.

Today was the first time in a long time where a conversation with the right person ignited my enthusiasm, my passion if you will. It was there all along, it’s never changed or waivered. I just needed the right person to help me unearth it. I don’t belong in a sandbox. And it is scary to try and invest in this. There’s no guarantee it will be a good investment. But time will pass, it doesn’t hang around. You don’t have eternity so get moving now. You’re never going to be as young as you are now so what are you waiting for?

London

Having never wanted to move here in the first place, never wanted to stay, never wanted to come back after travelling, I mean every word when I say I do not want to stay in London. I will truly be heartbroken if in ten years or maybe even five years time I am still here. But no matter how much I mean that, I also know there will always be somewhere in my heart for this city. Like a long term relationship, it has shaped and moulded my life in my years as a newly fledged adult. That will forever remain part of my identity. Like everything else that has influenced me in my life, I would not be the person I am without having been here. With nearly 7 years since I moved here, that’s a significant proportion of my life.

I write this as I sit on the bus home just going past Tower of London and going onto Tower Bridge. It is these moments when there is that moment of stillness as the almost empty bus sits in momentary traffic just in front of Tower of London that I think “I’m pretty lucky to be here”. This city swallows and spits out people everyday, and I am here, still standing. It’s a reaffirming message – you’re alright, you’ll be fine.

Checking In

It’s been a little while since I’ve done any writing. The last month to 6 weeks have been manic – I’ve barely had time to have a thought to myself. So much for my intention of coming back into London life and making more time for myself. Sadly, I just get too caught up in wanting to do things so that everything planned just happens at once. It’s a perpetual cycle of doing too much, doing too little, doing too much, doing too little. The problem with doing too much is that I don’t get much time to self-reflect or process things as they happen. You get so caught up with trying to get things done that there is no real thinking behind it. I wonder if it’s a London thing or if it’s a me thing. I certainly didn’t have this pace in lifestyle when I was away travelling.

I am very tired. Hopefully June will be slower paced but who knows…

 

 

April’s Fool

I recently went through a wobble in relation to my work and lifestyle at the moment. Coming back from travelling into a full blown long hours London lifestyle was something I chose for several reasons:

– because I craved working in the mentally stimulating environment of the business sphere

– it was a good way for me to support myself with a decent wage whilst trying to figure out what it was I ultimately wanted

– because it was familiar

Having seen that I don’t need a lot of money to be happy, it’s felt wrong to be here since I’ve been back. I got so caught up trying to use this period as a stepping stone that I had a mini freak out at the idea that I might be settling back down. The last thing I want is to get too comfortable and then never leave. What is it with my mind and always thinking like each new development is the end all and be all?

I am slowly accepting that the person I am today is similar but not the person I was last November. I think it was just harder this time round because I had such hopes and expectations built into that version of me and the path that I would take. There’s no reason why I couldn’t go back down that path again though.

There is no rush Louisa. You can enjoy your time whilst you are here. As the tattoo on your leg reminds you, “this too shall pass” so you may as well try and be present whilst you can.

A Game of Flee and Return

Currently on an airplane off to Spain for a couple of days of climbing. It’s just dawned on me that this is the first time I’ve left the country since I got back from the US in November. That might not sound long – it is only the end of January – but it feels like a lifetine ago. All the joys, feeling enthralled, hurt, sorrow still echo inside me but have become more muted. I suppose that’s an advantage (or disadvantage) of being based somewhere fast paced like London.

I suppose I am fully back now. And yet, every single step I take, I don’t feel like I fully returned. I am physically here, but not all of my soul is. I like to think it’s because I’ve scattered it across the world in some sort of romantic but really quite impractical manner. The urge to leave that resonated with me before my travels is akin to an elephant tripping and crashing into a pots and pans store.

Sit down Louisa, think up a plan and execute it. One day, this game of Flee and Return will become Flee and Visit.

New Year, Old Me

Just some scattered, rambling thoughts today. I like to use writing like a silent therapist/ philosopher buddy.

How is it that we trust? It’s an interesting aspect of human connections and although it is not unique to homo sapiens, what makes it remarkable is that it is something which we can build and place in complete strangers who we have no right to meet in the natural world. Someone born in South America can very conceivably meet and become friends with someone from Europe in this day and age which suggests location is not a limiting factor.
So what is it then? Thinking through it, I distilled it into a couple of elements:

1) Meeting the expectations set. In the sense, if you have a good friend, likelihood is they are seen as reliable by you that if you were in a time of need, they can be there for you. When someone suddenly drops off with no explanation, it can bring about feelings of abandonment and neglect since we do not expect that. So long as said friend meets the expectations held for them, this helps continue the trust. Although I would argue that perhaps this is a variable factor in its importance of trust depending on the individual.

2) Your impression of that person. You think you know that person, so therefore they are a relatively known quantity and thus you can make the judgement of whether you can place trust in them or not depending on the scenario. However, and this is the bit I don’t understand, people are never a fixed quantity. We are constantly changing, adapting, learning and we continuously have to learn new things about ourselves. So how is it that we view the people in our lives as set personalities?

In response to the second point, I think partly we have to operate on this level to be able to conduct our own lives with us in the centre, we cannot try to learn and understand down to the smallest detail all the people around us. Time is limited and therefore we build “profiles” of what we know about people in order to understand where we sit (and thus what the options are) and how to move forward.

But humans are a perfect example of a paradox in so many ways. Particularly, for the purpose of this essay, in the way that we crave change but at the same time hate change and crave routine and/or stability. The modern society churns out people who are eager to go to school, go to university (optional but preferable), find a job in a career, find a partner at some point, settle down and start a family. And yet, as mentioned above people are ever-changing so how can this restrictive template fit all people? Perhaps that’s why it’s a cliche that people go through some sort of crisis anywhere between 20-60 or perhaps even later (because we all know that cliches have some element of truths). We are conditioned from such a young age that there are constants in your life – or near enough. And this helps creates feelings of being connected, purpose and security. And yet, those of us with curiosity and the courage to explore, will not be satisfied by just those. If those three aspects were the only things we ever craved then no-one would ever move away or travel.
As I write this, I realise I am wholly speaking for me and possibly other people who might think along similar lines to me. I am aware that there are masses of people who are born, grow up, live and die in the same town – knowing the same people, same routines their whole lives. Each to their own but I don’t personally understand that. Side note – how much does it count as philosophy if the conclusions you draw are very much biased to only you? Hmmm….

Another implication of the thinking you know someone (because you think of them based on your prior knowledge and experience of them), is that your library of knowledge is limited by being built from historical interactions. Since we do not spend 24 hours of everyday with anyone, not even our partners, how is it that we feel like we know someone? How much do we fill in the gaps with our imaginations? And is it even possible to know someone? (That one’s a real con in the relationship debate)

The last paragraph was driven by me having just re-watched Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (great but very sad movie) in which there is a point that is made that you can continue to learn about someone even if they have expired. Just for context. But it’s a very real question that circles in my mind. Any opinions are welcome.

I don’t really make New Years Resolutions because as a true realist, I know new habits do not take unless you build them into your routine. But for 2019 and onwards, I do aim to try and adopt the perspective that people are less of a permanent quantity. For some who may read this piece, it might sound not that big of a deal, for me as I am it is.

Happy New Year and Good Luck to all in 2019

Back into the Fray

A week back into working in the urban jungle that is London. Things feel different – I guess largely because I’m different.

One difficult thing that I’m still coming to grasp is my hunger to do everything. When I’m out backpacking in the beautiful landscapes of SE Asia, I miss the mammoth menu of things to do, see and eat in London and cities. When I’m here, I miss the wilderness, the anything-goes attitudes and the pushing limits and horizons. I want it all; it’s incredibly hard to reconcile. I think it’s the main reason that I’ve never been able to specialise and focus on one thing. Because to focus on one thing means sacrificing the breadth of your experiences. This has always never been an appealing trade-off for me historically.

Being back has led to some interesting questions being asked internally. Do I want a focus? Is that why life feels lacking? If so, what is it? What is important to me? Money – I don’t need much. Success – completely subjective. I’m good at what I do, but reaching the top doesn’t appeal to me – it’s too egotistic to me. Family – don’t really want for one. Relationship – I’ve never met a person who can quite keep up. So what should I seek? When I think through all that I’ve done, I want to create a life where I feel the most alive, at peace – that makes me the most happy.

I don’t subscribe to the mass-prescribed modern life template. Be educated, go to uni, get a good job, find a partner, settle down, buy a house, have a family – in varying order but nevertheless the same milestones. Once you blow the template out of the water, then what? You get to decide what you want to do. 80 years of life where everything you choose to do is accountable to your decisions. And that’s terrifying – too much for some people. I still have trouble grappling with it but it makes the most sense to me.

Question everything. Why do you do the things you do?

Crickhowell: A jolly weekend jaunt around Brecon Beacons

Went away for a short weekend trip with my friend S as we both just wanted to get out of London and breathe in some fresh country air.

She suggested it about three weeks ago and it was pretty easy (and relatively cheap) to sort out accommodation (airbnb) and transport (rental car). Logistically, we could’ve been a bit more organised with the timing of our journey out there as we ended up right in the middle of rush hour traffic – it took us two hours to get out onto the M4.

When we eventually got there though, we were warmly welcomed by our host Richard who was friendly and accommodating throughout our stay there. It was definitely nice to have a warm lit fire to return to after a long day’s walking and exploring!

Crickhowell is a tiny village located within the Brecon Beacon national park in South/Mid Wales. We chose it because it was situated within the national park but also a close enough drive to a slightly larger town called Abergavenny which we did so to go to the supermarket (Crickhowell only has local grocers and prides itself on not having a corporate branded supermarket) and to stretch our climbing muscles on an indoor wall.

Being in that area of the world, everything is scenic anyway but our walk yesterday up to Table Mountain (not an actual mountain) was absolutely breath-taking.

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The view at the start of the trail up to Table Mountain

We were blessed with the perfect weather and although it was about 4 degrees, by the time we had started on the steeper parts of the route, we were down to our baselayers. The top of the hill was still sprinkled with residue snow from the day before and gave a very serene quality to the landscape:

It was a lovely walk which took a meagre 3 hours. Certainly worth a walk to experience some amazing views!

Today we decided to do a short hike up Sugar Loaf, the hill next to Table Mountain, before heading back. The route we followed (found online) felt shorter and less effort compared with the one up Table Mountain, although it did say it would take only 2 hours. We did get lost in the woods near the peak and subsequently was a bit clueless as to whether we actually made it to the peak or not (there didn’t seem to be a clear peak point as there had been on Table Mountain) so I’m of the opinion that we may have missed the actual peak… This route started off through woodland which was a nice change of scenery from the route yesterday. We went through an unusual forest of stunted oak trees which looked rather peculiar.

It was a great weekend. I fully recommend anyone looking for a short walking trip to head towards Crickhowell way.