Weekly Kicks

Even though we might not realize it, every day we're surrounded by fascinating people with their own sets of goals and dreams. And so every week, I'm going to ask one of those people, "What do you want to do before you kick it?"


 

 
“I want to live in different countries, really soak up the cultures and languages. I'd love to make amazing memories my grandkids will want to hear about.”

“I want to live in different countries, really soak up the cultures and languages. I'd love to make amazing memories my grandkids will want to hear about.”

LÉA, YOGA TEACHER 
& TRANSLATOR

The Pros and Cons of Living in London

Considering a new life in London? Or, if you're already here, are you toying with the idea of saying, “Sod it!” and finally breaking camp?
With Brexit looming, let’s have a look at what's what.

 

London seems to be one of those magnetic cities where time moves differently than it does elsewhere. Curious travelers stop by for a pit stop, but more often than not end up staying – some for life. Statistics back this up, with about 40% of London residents classified as ‘foreign-born’ (that’s an official term, promise – I know it sounds a bit Trumpey). Over 300 recorded languages are being spoken in the city’s schools, making London a sort of modern-day Babel.

I’ve called The Big Smoke my home for six years now – not that that was the plan. It just kind of.. happened. Along the way, I’ve made friends for life, grew professionally, learned how to queue properly and how to be comfortable in dangerously large crowds. I’ve adjusted my expectations of how much a cup of coffee should cost ($3 on average, apparently), and I’ve learned that in a competitive city like this, falling on your face time and time again is standard practice. I’ve felt disappointment and loss like never before, and I’ve also had the best times of my life.

Boiling the last six years down to a few bullet points isn’t an easy feat, but if I had to choose my top London pros and cons, these puppies would be it:
 

The Pros
 

1. Internationalism

London’s a bustling metropolis, bursting at the seams with a rich and diverse culture. Being a Third Culture Kid myself, I love the fact there’s no such thing as the “a true Londoner”. You’re craving Nigerian food for dinner? No problem. Here are 28 options. Want to learn more about Nepalese culture? Check out this exhibition. Weird, experimental Indian-inspired cocktails? Bottoms up. What’s your poison? Whatever it may be, London’s got it.
 

2. An open-minded outlook

Inevitably, where you’ve got millions of people from diverse backgrounds cramped into a tiny island, they’ll have to find a way to get along. As a result, you’re eventually left with an above average concentration of liberal, open-minded individuals. The other day I saw a guy wearing a bear costume on the tube; no one cared. Cross-dressing, animal outfits, goths, punks, underwear, whatever – come as you are. No one gives a crap, and that’s awesome.
 

3. Jobs, jobs, jobs

Google, Apple, HSBC, Uber, Vodafone, Unilever, Virgin, BBC…everyone’s here. It’s a big, happy, capitalist family. Unlike other countries with several high-powered hubs, a third of England’s economy is generated in London. In terms of work experience and pimping up your CV, London’s a goldmine.


4. Let’s get it on (part 1)

London’s median age is 34. THIRTY-FOUR. Just to provide you with a frame of reference: New York City, also considered a ‘young city’, has an average age of 38. Berlin’s lies around 45 mark. Young, attractive people from all across the globe try to make it in London. And part of making it when you’re a young, attractive, single (though not in all instances) suburbanite is going on dates. Lots of ‘em. This is great news for anyone who’s single and ready to mingle. And by mingle, I don’t mean getting shacked up. Londoners in their twenties and thirties (and often into their forties) have absolutely no desire to settle down. But more on that later.
 

5. It’s all about connections

London boasts – count ‘em – six airports! Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, Southend, and City. It’s also got the Eurostar, waiting to whisk you away to Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Bruges or Lille at a moment’s (and all your hard-earned money’s) notice. The public transport system, though massively overcrowded, is efficient and will get you from A to B at ridiculous speeds (we tend to forget this, as the distances we travel within the city are substantial). The average speed of a Tube train is 33 km/h, handling over 4.5 million journeys per day. In comparison, the Paris metro travels at around 20 km/h.
 

The Cons

 

1. Overcrowding

As of 2017, nearly 9 million people call London their home. This number keeps increasing, and it’s palpable. When I arrived here in 2011, London was overcrowded, but it’s a whole different ballgame now. Try taking the tube at rush hour, and if you’re one of the luck buggers even making it onto a train (closing down key stations at peak times in order to combat overcrowding is common practice now), you’ll soon realize that the concept of personal space doesn’t exist. I’ve been closer to random people’s genitals, armpits, and faces than I ever cared to be.

It’s not just public transport, though. Remember when Patrick Bateman tried to make a reservation at Dorsia (it’s a fictional restaurant, no need to Google it), and the Maitre D’ starts laughing hysterically? Welcome to London on a Tuesday night. Most restaurants have realized by now that not taking reservations in the first place means more moolah in their pockets, so get ready to queue for an hour and half for your T-Bone. If you’re unwilling, book a couple of weeks ahead of time.
 

2. Competition’s stiff

Remember when I waxed poetic about all those CV-busting companies based in London? (Hopefully you'll remember, it was a few seconds ago.) Still true. Thing is, competition in London is fierce. So, you’ve got four degrees, speak six languages and have ten years’ work experience? Big whoop. That dude over there speaks eight languages and will do it for half the price. Getting on the career ladder in London will test both your patience and your sense of self-worth. Once you’ve made it, the upward journey gets a little easier, but man, your ego will take a good ol’ beating in the meantime.
 

3. Money makes the world go round

This is true for most sought-after international hubs, and London’s no exception. Be prepared to shell out a good chunk (around 66% of your monthly income) on rent. On average, Londoners spend two thirds of their income on having a roof over their heads. Side note: Those roofs are often pretty damn shabby. Defying all odds, the housing bubble hasn’t burst yet, and rents have steadily climbed into farcical heights. In comparison, Berliner’s spend a measly 28% of their hard-earned cash on rent. Stings, doesn’t it?
 

4. “Stress is my middle name”

Work hard, play hard doesn’t even begin to cover it. Londoners work really damn hard and drink even harder in order to forget how damn hard they work. Which makes the next day in the office even gnarlier, and so the cycle continues. London’s economy is booming, and there’s a reason for that: Londoners are actually robots. Robots who walk twice as quickly as anyone else in the world (Berliners seems catatonic in comparison), need less sleep, and don’t mind having their pints in the freezing cold, while they’re betting battered with horizontal rain. Sure, burnout might be a thing in Mainland Europe, but here, it’s all about the stiff upper lip. On you go, mate.
 

5. Where the sun don’t shine

That pretty much sums it up. The sun, when it does decide to make an appearance, is more of a supporting player rather than a series regular. If you like the feeling of waking up to sunbeams gently tickling your nose or, let’s say, not looking as though you’ve just accidentally been locked in a Cryo Chamber for a day and a half, London’s not for you. You might try Barcelona.
 

6. Let’s get in on (part 2)

While you won’t have a hard time meeting *cough cough* new people, the part that’s a bit trickier is finding someone who’s looking for a relationship. I could compile a book out of stories – some my own, some told to me by distraught friends ­– that would read like Sex and the City – The Later Years. But I won’t. That shit is too depressing.
 

7. Brexit

While no one’s ever really been too sure about what “Brexit means Brexit” actually means, it’s now become crystal clear that Prime Minister Theresa May is pushing the UK’s divorce from the European Union through at all costs. Whether this means Britain will be leaving the open market for good, or whether free movement of people between the UK and the EU will be restricted remains to be seen. We don’t know much at this point, but what we do know is that things will change – and pretty drastically. Only recently, the BBC reported that rent prices are likely to reach previously unknown heights. But even if they won’t, this separation will hit London, a city famous for its international outlook, hard, with a good chunk of its multinational residents already considering clearing out in the near future.
 

So, what's the bottom line, mate? Like any bustling city, London will demand a lot from you before it lets you reap the rewards. The city will have you questioning why you decided to stick around in the first place. It’ll drain you, and it’ll take all of your money. It’ll bring you to your knees more than once. It’ll make you doubt all of your choices, and it’ll kick you while you’re down. And then, the first day of Spring arrives, and you fall in love with it all over again.

Now, it remains to be seen how the UK, and London in particular, will cope with the fallout caused by Brexit. Stay tuned…

 

This land is our land: why the notion of the self-made man is a half-truth

This article was originally published on Thought Catalog on Feb 6, 2017.
 

When I was a kid, my grandpa used to tell me how lucky I was that my generation in the Western world has only ever known peace. Both World Wars had come and gone, countries had been rebuilt, the economy had recovered, and divisive thinking had been replaced with a newfound appreciation for the importance of sticking together, no matter your background or religion. I knew he was right, because when he was a young soldier fighting in the war, a piece of a ricocheting bullet got lodged just above his eyelid. You could still feel it there, which made him a total badass in my eyes.
 

My badass, bullet-dodging grandpa and I

My badass, bullet-dodging grandpa and I


But those untroubled times he was talking about now seem like a distant reverie. Britain no longer believes in the merits of the EU, Donald Trump is building walls – both metaphorically and physically – and, in the aftermath of terrorist attacks across the globe, countries are fortifying their borders. Utopian notions of togetherness have been brushed aside in favor of the classic, cracker-barrel concept of us vs. them.

“This is our country,” they cry. “That, over there, is your country. Go back to your country.”

As everyone scrambles to defend their land, their morals, and their religion, people have lost sight of the most basic of truths: each one of us is an amalgam, our DNA composed of countless molecules, each one only a sentence in the chronicle of who we are when we enter this world. Think of how many people came before you, had to exist so you might also one day. No one person is one thing; we only are because of others, as a result of a unique marriage of genetics, cultures, language, and butt load of serendipity.  

I was born in Lebanon during the civil war in the 80s. I don’t know much about my biological parents, but I’ve been told money played a role in their decision to give me up for adoption. My parents, who were stationed in Beirut at the time, were looking to adopt a baby, and as the result of a million lucky coincidences, our paths should cross. I don’t know what my life would have looked like if they wouldn’t have stumbled across the hospital I happened to be born in; or if they had never met in college a few years earlier; or if they had never felt the urge to explore new countries together. What I do know is that things would have turned out very differently for me. Not because I did anything to make this happen, but because of happenstance. People tend to forget this.

The United States run on the credo of the “Self-made man”, from dishwasher to millionaire – it permeates every fiber of cultural consciousness. This idea that you can be whatever you want to be – an astronaut, a rapper, president – with just the right amount of elbow grease is the reigning mantra. You grew up in the ghetto? No matter. If you want it enough, you’ll eventually end up on Park Avenue with a vacation home in the Hamptons. It’s right there, waiting for you. All you have to do is reach out and grab it. What, you haven’t made it yet? You must be lacking the necessary stamina.

Some people believe in this tenet so strongly that they forget that no one gets to where they are without a generous helping of fortuitousness. Some of us undoubtedly work harder than others, some of us are more successful than others, and part of that success, indisputably, is rooted in blood, sweat and tears. But there’s this whole other part that people ignore because it doesn’t sound as sexy on the back cover of their autobiographies. I’m talking about the part made up of external factors: mentors who push us when we need it the most, timing, and – most importantly – dumb luck.

Because I was at the right place at the right time, I now get to enjoy a so-called “privileged Western life”. I work hard, sure, but I was afforded the opportunity to receive the education I needed to succeed, to be allowed to stumble and fall on my face, and to always have someone pick me back up, dust me off, and encourage me to try again.

Some people aren’t so lucky. Their lives are marked by war, or poverty, or any other number of obstacles, because the hand they were dealt just happens to suck. As we enter another undoubtedly turbulent year, let’s not let fear cloud our judgment; let’s resist the urge to label those who are different from us as weird, weak, or sinister. Let’s listen to people’s stories – really listen – instead of relying on mental shortcuts, such as race, religion or gender.

The term sonder refers to the realization that every passerby – the angry guy on the subway, the barista brewing your coffee, the girl who just smiled at you – is living a life just as complex and detailed as yours. Take a moment to let this realization wash over you. Smile back.

 

How traveling taught me to disconnect from my phone and connect with the real world

We live in a hyper-connected world. Never before has a generation been so relentlessly defined by communication. Think about it: when was the last time you walked down the street without instinctively pulling your phone out of your pocket? According to a new study, we touch our phones over 2,500 times a day. Let that sink in for a second. Sure, “touching” is a pretty broad categorization, and includes swiping, picking it up, tapping it, clicking it, and so on. Still, the average Joe engages in roughly 80 “active sessions” a day. That means checking emails, scrolling through Facebook, stalking exes on Instagram, checking in at brunch, etc. That’s absolutely bonkers.

I’m not saying I’m any better. The first thing I used to do in the mornings was check my notifications. I hadn’t even had my coffee yet, and already I’d be bombarded with dire world news, emojis by the bucket, and friends’ relationship problems. We process an unreasonable amount of information on a daily basis, most of it dispensable. As a result of this compulsive need to constantly be in the know, our attention spans have become shorter and shorter. When was the last time you watched a movie from beginning to end without clocking out from time to time? We’ve become so used to flooding our brains with unnecessary information and imagery that there’s barely any room for our own thoughts. And who are we if not our thoughts? We think, therefore we are, after all.

For me, the one thing – the only thing, really – that has worked as a sort of antidote to this overpowering need to be a sponge to the constant stream of information is travel. When I’m on the road, everything else falls by the wayside. New sights, sounds, and smells flood my senses – it’s intoxicating. All of the useless junk normally monopolizing my synapses starts to feel pretty inconsequential. At first, it’s an uncomfortable feeling. Like with any addiction, we have to pry ourselves away from our unhealthy habits before we get to reap the rewards. We go cold turkey, and for a while, it makes us feel like crap.

Anyone who’s ever been without Wi-Fi for a couple of weeks will tell you the same thing: it’s damn hard – until it isn’t. For me, it typically takes a few days to acclimatize. At first, we feel disconnected from the world. Over time, we slowly come to realize that what our phones provide us with is nothing more than a snapshot specifically engineered to satisfy our supposed needs. (You look at a pair of sneakers once, and they follow you to your grave. Once, dammit!) When we disconnect, we eventually become a lot more aware of what’s actually going on around us. We start noticing the little things again, like someone smiling at us from across the room, a beautiful sundown, or a path we never thought to walk down before. It’s a little like watching your favorite VHS from your childhood as a Blue-ray for the very first time.

When we leave our routine behind, even just for a little while, we learn to genuinely connect with people again. We find out about their stories, their ambitions, the moments they’re most proud of, and the ones they’d rather forget. Unlike ad targeting on social media, which just reaffirms our – let’s be honest – pretty restrictive world views, listening to people’s stories from across the globe – the rickshaw driver in Delhi, the Masai in Tanzania, the little Berber boy in Morocco – forces us to abandon our confined cosmovision in favor of something more all-embracing.

In turbulent times like these, marked by cynicism and fear of ‘the other’, the most compassionate thing we can do is switch off our phones and switch on.

The Peter Pan effect: should I stay or should I go?

“All children, except one, grow up.”
 

We all know this famous quote kicking off J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. It’s wiggled its way into our collective memory. Why? Because on some level, we all relate. Because growing up is tough. 

As kids, we live in a bubble, unaware of the heartbreak ahead. Eventually, it dawns on us that our parents are real people facing real problems. In addition to dealing with all the crap life throws at them, they also expend an unequalled amount of energy trying to shield us doe-eyed, bushy-tailed tots from this real-life, dream-busting shit. Saints that they are.

But, unlike True Detective would have us believe, time is not a flat circle. Eventually, we grow up, we leave the house, go to college, get our first job, pay our own bills, deal with our very own disappointments. We’re also forced to realise that the protective armors our parents painstakingly forged for us no longer repel the real-life stuff we’re now confronted with. The daily grind becomes inevitable, we’re on the proverbial treadmill called adulthood. Our kryptonite, if you will. (Alright already, I’ll stop with the superhero analogies). 

Some of us thrive in this kind of environment, finding solace in the repetition. Kryptonite has nothing on them (last one, promise!). Others question the purpose of it. If the journey is the reward, but the journey doesn’t challenge us, doesn’t open our minds, doesn’t help us grow, they argue, then our bounty starts to look and feel a lot like fool’s gold. 

My own life has always been marked by change. Having never spent more than a few consecutive years in the same place, starting from scratch is second nature to me. It doesn’t scare me. On the contrary, it’s probably the most comforting feeling I know (followed closely by Netflix and pizza in bed). When I was 20, no one batted an eyelash. “You’re off? Cool. Send a postcard.”

Now, a decade later, my friends and a few family members (sorry, grandpa) are starting to shift uncomfortably in their seats, unsuccessfully masking their disapproval at my mercuriality. “But what about settling down? Don’t you want that?” 

The truth is, I don’t know if I want that. Sure, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like my safety net – we’re all creatures of habit, after all – but there’s still so much to explore. Maybe I’ve fallen prey to the Paradox of Choice, or maybe I’m just a big kid suffering from Peter Pan Syndrome. Maybe it’s delusional to think that I can be a nomad my whole life, and that I’ll keep all my friends, and that my bank account won’t suffer, and that I’ll live happily ever after.

The answer, it’s slowly starting to dawn on me, is sacrifice. Are you willing to sacrifice certainty, routine, and stability? Would you be OK with living less comfortably than you are now? Are you ready let go of that picture in your head of how your life as an adult is supposed to look like? If the answer to all of these questions is YES!, well then, my friend… happy trails!

“Dreams do come true, if only we wish hard enough. You can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it.” – Peter Pan

Here's to the ones who dream: why La La Land is more important than it appears on the surface

2016 was a shitty year. Not all of it of course, but between Brexit, Syria, the US presidential election, et al. even the biggest dreamers among us are starting to let go of their hopeful views on the world.

With world politics shaky at best, Global Warming percolating, and financial security starting to seem like a relic of generations past, it's easy to see why La La Land swept everyone - audiences and critics alike - off their feet. It's warm, it's gooey, it's full of hope.

Life is but a song: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land

Life is but a song: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land


Going in, I was expecting to come out with a mile-wide smile on my face and a sudden urge to hit the nearest jazz club. What surprised me was how hard it would hit me. Sure, there was singing-and-dancing aplenty, which had me nodding my head and tapping my feet enthusiastically, but man, this one was heavy on the heart too.

Chazelle is fascinated by the idea of suffering for your art (see also the incredible Whiplash), and La La Land feels like a continuation of this meditation on creativity vs stagnation, dreams vs reality, relationships vs individual fulfillment. Should we, as Gosling's Sebastian muses, "just grow up" for the sake of financial stability, or should we keep chasing that which makes our hearts beat faster? 

Without giving too much away, the part that really hit me right in the feels was Mia's (Emma Stone) final audition:
 

Here's to the ones who dream
Foolish as they may seem
Here's to the hearts that ache
Here's to the mess we make


I'm a lucky dude. I have a job I don't despise, a supportive family, a not-too-shabby roof over my head, I'm in a loving relationship, and I've got great friends that would listen to my bs at 3 in the morning if I asked them to.

And yet, ever so often, I can't seem to shake this nagging feeling that I'm not living my full potential, that somehow my best years are wasting away. As I sit behind a desk for the majority of the day, others are dedicating their lives to creating something, pouring their heart and soul into something, mending their broken hearts by making them into art, as Meryl Streep so poignantly quoted the late Carrie Fisher in her Golden Globes speech.

This notion of giving your all to something - even if it comes at a cost - to feel so strongly about something, whatever that something may be, that you're willing to drop everything else and live on nothing but your ambitions... this credo has sunk its hooks into me and won't let me go. And, much like some things can't be unseen, some ideas can't be unthought. Once they take hold of the mind, it's only a matter of time until they become resistant to defiance, until they eventually become... you.

And what to do when they do? To me, there's only one real solution. Some might call it naive, reckless, gullible. I call it being a dreamer. And if there's one thing the world undoubtedly needs more of in this time of cynicism and doubt, it's dreamers.


Photo: Summit Entertainment

 

5 things I'd tell my 15-year-old self (if I had a badass time machine)

High school can feel like a battle field. Between hyped-up hormones rushing around our bodies, romantic trials and tribulations, and the need to stay up-to-the-minute with the dopest fashion, music and movies, it’s no wonder kids are buckling under the pressure. 

 

High school’s an awkward period, filled with insecurities, shame and rejection. Suddenly, every harmless comment or benign glance becomes a huge deal, and it can feel like we’re the only ones carrying the weight of the world. It’s all very reminiscent of a Spanish soap opera.

 

And then, eventually, we grow up; we leave the nest, buy better clothes, get our first – and second and maybe third – job, make friends for life, meet our partners, experience heart ache. We wallow, and put ourselves back together, and grow in the process.

Before we know it, we’re adults, and what once seemed so earth-shattering now makes us chuckle. How, we ask ourselves, could we have ever cared about these inconsequential things? We realize that we could have spared ourselves a shit load of teenage angst, if only our future self could have traveled back to the past to tell us: Hey man, chill out. Everything’s gonna be fine.

Here are five things I wish I would have known back in the day:
 

1. Don’t worry so much about what people think of you (also: no one thinks about you as much as you think they do)

This one’s the holy grail, the mantra that would have spared me a lot of grief. Take note. You will never, ever be able to please everyone. Stop trying. It’s an existential conundrum, it simply can never happen. That doesn’t mean you should go around being an asshole to everybody. Just be you, the best version of you (yeah, I realize that sounds like a Dr Pepper commercial, but bear with me). Some people will feel you, and others won’t. And that’s alright. It goes both ways – think about it: you don’t like everyone either, even when they really, really, really try to get you to. It’s just how things work.

The second thing I wish I would have known back in the day is that most people don’t spend their days thinking about you. Sure, you might cross their mind from time to time, but the only one obsessing about their opinion of you is you. Just let it go.

 

2. Don’t try to be someone you’re not

We were all guilty of this one in high school. Whether it’s the clothes we wore, the albums we bought (no seriously, no one actually enjoys listening to Limp Bizkit) or the people we hung out with, the need to belong is the food which fuels our teenage brains. This need can be so strong that we end up making horrible choices, like fostering friendships with people we don’t actually like; or spending our nights throwing up cheap liquor; or wearing pants that are five sizes too big, just so we can show off our awesome Joe Boxer boxer shorts.
 

The need to belong is the food which fuels our teenage brains.
 

This one’s a cliché for a reason: the people who choose to be around you because of who you are (even if you are part of the elusive 0.1% who enjoy Limp Bizkit), are the keepers. The rest will fall by the wayside naturally – let it happen.

 

3. Things have a way of working themselves out

When I was 15, I was convinced that, at 30, I’d have my own swanky corner office, that I’d be driving around in a pimp car, and that I’d have so many dollar bills, I wouldn’t even know where to put ‘em. Things don’t always work out the way we imagine, but they do have a way of working out – if we let them. So, you didn’t get to date that boy/girl you had a crush on. And you didn’t get into your number one college. And you also didn’t get that job you thought you wanted so badly. Welcome to life, man. Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t.

The trick is to divorce ourselves from our rigid expectations – stop trying to make your life look a certain way; instead, be open to new trajectories, even if they’re not what you initially imagined. Not only will you expend a lot less energy trying to swim against the current, you’ll also experience things you would have never otherwise.

 

4. Don’t wear this Cartman t-shirt

 

Just don't.

 

5. Some people stay in your life forever, others are only passing by – and that’s OK

 

Popularity is prime currency in high school. The more people you surround yourself with, the higher your rank. You know you’re the Big Kahuna when even a quick trip to the vending machine (mhhh Chex Mix!) turns into a group outing. On that account, losing a friend as a teenager can feel like the end of the world – your market value drops, and it stings. But that’s not the reality, of course.

Over time, I’ve learned to make peace with the fact that some people are central characters in your life, while others are only guest starring (think Gwyneth Paltrow on Glee. Actually, don’t think Gwyneth Paltrow). What it eventually boils down is this: relationships with a shorter life span – whether friendly or romantic - aren’t automatically devoid of meaning. It’s a fallacy to think that a bond is only meaningful if it stands the test of time. As people, we change as we grow older, so maybe it’s unrealistic to think that every person we meet along the way will be there for the long haul. Enjoy the moment and don’t think too far ahead. It’ll all work out in the end.

 

Photo: skotcher.com

 

Neither here nor there: growing up nomad style

"Do not spend your life searching for a place to call home. Make the bones in your skeleton the only structure you need"

- Haley Hendrick

 

“Where are you from?” I dread these words. Not because I’m averse to small talk, but because this is such a difficult question to answer. I take a deep breath and say, “Well, I was born in Beirut – Lebanon – and then, well I’m adopted, so my parents are German. I’ve got a German passport, so that makes me German, officially. But really, that’s more of a formality. I don’t really “feel” German, if that makes sense. Like Birkenstocks? Naw, man.” At that point, the well-meaning inquisitor typically makes a beeline for the bar, and I don’t blame them.

The problem is, I don’t know how to be more succinct. I don’t have a “home”, not really. Having been hauled from one place to the next every couple of years growing up was as amazing as it was scary and sad and intimidating and thrilling. There was Beirut, then London, then Germany, followed by the U.S., then Scotland, now England. I’ve loved all of these places, they’re all a part of me. But I’m not a non-partisan spokesperson for these places, and they don’t represent me the way that others feel a country/a city/a place epitomizes them. As amazing as my Third Culture Kid* upbringing has been (and continues to be), it can also be a pretty lonely experience at times.

As a wee wayfarer, you’re forced to adapt rapidly, make new friends, familiarize yourself with each culture, talk the talk. It’s fun and exciting and thrilling, but what you quickly come to realize is that no place is perfect. Every spot is beautiful in some ways and pretty shitty in other ways. It’s like you’re always constantly creating pro/con lists in your head, shuffling and re-shuffling impressions as you go along. You end up thinking it’s completely normal to go through life like that, and then you eventually realize: not only do most people not get it, they also think you’re an arrogant prick. They confuse impartiality with derision, non-alignment with contrariness.
 

They confuse impartiality with derision, non-alignment with contrariness. 
 

I’ve always admired people’s ability to pass over glaring imperfections when it comes to what they consider to be their domain. Imperfections shouldn’t be negatively connotated – life is made up of imperfections. One thing doesn’t make a place, much like one thing doesn’t make a man (or woman). As part of every chapter of your story, you take what you love, and leave what you don’t, you grow, you experience, you learn things about yourself – some illuminating, some embarrassing, some painful – then you grow some more.

Some people get it, others never will. The toughest part for any self-proclaimed vagabond is stop drawing comparisons, and to just be. To be in the moment and in that place. For now anyway.

 

*Wikipedia defines Third Culture Kids (TCKs) as "children who were raised in a culture outside of their parents' culture for a significant part of their development years."

Image credit: theartidote

 

How to shake friends and not be influenced by people

If, like me, you hate disappointing people, chances are there are quite a few people floating in your orbit that probably don't deserve to be there. The average person knows around 150 people; that's 150 people you interact with on some level. But obviously, you're not going to be discussing your grandest hopes and dreams with your barber (or maybe you are, you crazy oversharer). Think of your friends and acquaintances as layers of an onion - sexy, I know - with the closest layer to the center representing the select few deserving of the title "Good friend". According to several studies, that number is somewhere in between six and twelve
 

                                           Franco and Rogen in Pineapple Express (source)

                                           Franco and Rogen in Pineapple Express (source)

Now, you've got the mental capacity for six, maybe twelve good friends in your life. And yet somehow, every now and then, you let someone sneak in who really doesn't belong in your inner layer. "Get out of my damn onion!," you think, and yet, they stick around. And that's your fault. Sorry to be blunt, but it's the cold, hard truth, my friend.

We're all culpable. Most likely because we feel cutting someone out of our lives somehow makes us a bad person. Ironically, hanging out with someone for years just because you're afraid of hurting their feelings makes you a much worse person. Because there s/he is, person x, sitting across from you, having the time of their life, while you're mentally queuing all the Netflix shows you'd rather be watching right now. And that doesn't serve either of you. 

A few months ago, I decided to de-clutter my life. The older we get, the more we juggle, the less time we have for the things that truly make us happy. If you’re sitting across from someone at dinner, while you’re really fantasizing about Netflix and a bucket of Ben & Jerry's, is it really worth it? Time is our most precious asset; don’t waste it. Where to start? There are a few archetypes to watch out for - start with these:

1. The friend who never asks questions

So, you just spent half an hour listening to person x about their new boyfriend and their rocking sex life, and their amazing new job, and this insane juice cleanse they're on that you just have to try. And then that little pause sets in that typically signals a shift in topics; this is where most people would ask, "What about you? What's new with you?" But the question never materializes. Instead, they take a deep breath and start again. And you're sitting there, your eyes glazed over, trying to feign a smile. After a few hours, you part ways, without you having divulged a single piece of information about your life. These people, these so-called emotional vampires, drain you of all of your energy. They feed off of you only to feel better about themselves; to them, you are nothing more than a sounding board. Get out while you still can. 
 

                                                                            (Source)

                                                                            (Source)


2. The friend who's joined at the hip with their partner

It's inevitable - eventually, most of us will couple up from time to time. I've come to realize there are two types of people: those who still place a premium on pursuing their own shit, and those who can't seem to go anywhere without their partner anymore. While it's totally acceptable to, on occasion, bring your partner along, it shouldn't become the status quo either. (See also: codependency). Don't get me wrong, partners are fun and nice and good for cuddles and all the other fun stuff, but s/he'll still be there when you come home at night. If your friend can't seem to make any time for you without their better half being present, consider consciously uncoupling from them.
 

                                                                          (Source)

                                                                          (Source)


3. The friend who only gets in touch when they need something

We all get texts like this: "Heyyyy! So sorry for not getting back to you earlier, but like, I've been so swamped and stuff! Hey quick question, can you watch my dog / front me some cash / find a good hitman for me? Let's grab a beer soon byeeee". Friends watch friends' dogs (I think), and that's cool, but if the only time you enter someone's mind is when they need help with their tax returns, then something ain't right. I'd recommend Googling "Dog Walker/borrow money/dependable hitman", sending them the info, and leaving it at that.
 

                                                                            (Source)

                                                                            (Source)

If the above sounds a little harsh to you, I get you. But trust me, it'll turn your life around. For the longest time, I was this Yes Man who couldn't entertain the thought of disappointing others. And I always tired all the time. Eventually, I realized what drained me of all my energy were people who had no idea what a reciprocal friendship was. When you start ridding your life of all this dead weight, you have more time and energy to spend on those who really matter. You'll be more focused, less tired and generally much more chipper. The people around you will notice, and they'll thank you for being less of a grumpy dick. And everyone's a winner!
 

Main image credit: BLU in Berlin

5 non-fictions books you should check out before you kick it

Whether you consider yourself “a reader” or not, these non-fiction books will change the way you view the world, or at the very least, they’ll make you want to reexamine your own experience – whether it be your job, your home, or the interactions you have with the people in your life, these authors will shake up your vantage point a little. Some of them will do it while making you laugh out loud. Without further ado, my top five picks for best non-fiction books to check out before you kick it…

 

1. Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton (2011)

As a kid, I was convinced I’d become a chef one day. When I was six years old, I assembled pancakes out of flour and orange juice (we’d run out of milk), and proudly presented these to my bleary-eyed and mightily confused parents. Of course, my dream never materialized – I became an adult, and as so often happens, eventually realized that being a chef is a lot less glamorous than it looks. When I stumbled across Blood, Bones and Butter, I had no idea who Gabrielle Hamilton was. Turns out, she’s one of the most famous chefs in Manhattan. Her restaurant, Prune, is a favorite among critics and hungry patrons. Her memoirs do an incredible job of transporting us back to her childhood, introducing us to the rousing soirées her parents used to throw, and to her rebellious teenage years of coke-fueled nights and shoplifting days. And then, of course, her dream of opening a successful restaurant, propelled by her love of food and unconditional determination.

What sets this memoir apart from all of the other top chef autobiographies out there is Hamilton’s writing style. Hamilton has an M.F.A. in fiction writing from the University of Michigan, and it shows. BB&B is possibly the most beautifully written memoir I’ve read to date. Whenever I feel low or uninspired, her story and drive fill me with a thirst for action, which makes this the perfect read for anyone who’s ever wanted to build an empire of their own.

 

2. Into the Wild by John Krakauer (1996)

If there’s one thing I love more than food, it’s travel. And I don’t mean the kind of “Let’s hit up a beach resort for a week” travel, but the kind of travel that will disorient you, that fills you with feelings you didn’t know existed, that introduces you to sights, sounds and smells you’ve never experienced before. The kind of travel that makes you reconsider everything, your whole life, your goals, your outlook, that makes you want to start fresh somewhere completely new with only a few bucks and a backpack. If you’re like me, you will have most likely already read Into the Wild, or at the very least, you will have watched the (pretty damn incredible) Sean Penn movie adaptation with Emile Hirsch.

 

                                           Emile Hirsh as Christopher McCandless (Into the Wild)

                                           Emile Hirsh as Christopher McCandless (Into the Wild)

Into the Wild is the story of Christopher McCandless who, soon after graduating college, decides to leave his entire life behind, cutting all ties with his family and friends, in order to explore the Alaskan wilderness. In addition to examining our place in society, materialism and Wanderlust, this book unearths feelings every nomad has buried deep down. I tend to go back to Wild whenever I’m going through a phase of dissatisfaction, or whenever I’ve lived in a place for a couple of years and am starting to feel that itch again. The majority of my friends can’t relate to my urge to explore and leave routine behind (why fix it if it ain’t broke?), and so knowing that there are others out there, others like Christopher McCandless, makes me feel like I’m not alone. And isn’t that kind of the whole point?

 

3. Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson (1999)

Taking us from somber to side-splitting is Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Big Country. Bryson’s my favorite travel writer – his books make me laugh out. And I don’t mean a soft chuckle, I mean proper belly laughs that will make my fellow passengers on the subway eye me suspiciously. Even though I love all of Bryson’s travel memoirs (Notes from a Small Island, Neither Here Nor There, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, A Walk in the Woods), this one always stands out for me. Maybe it’s because I was fifteen when we first moved to the US, which meant I initially experienced it as an outsider, before really getting immersed in the culture and eventually becoming a part of it. The outsider’s perspective is fleeting (soon enough, you get used to the way things work), and Bryson captures the interim beautifully. Whether he’s talking about infomercials, breakfast pizza or the batshit crazy war on drugs, Bryson pokes fun at the little idiosyncrasies of life in America. A must-read for anyone who’s ever felt like like both a native and an outsider in their own country.

 

4. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell (2005)

Malcolm Gladwell is the undisputed king of popular science. His research covers psychology, behavior, and marketing. Gladwell’s popularity is rooted in his ability to take complex topics, like behavioral psychology and stereotyping, and to then break these down into bite-sized data. A few grumpy critics have argued that his claims are too bold for the thin evidence he provides. But really, if you’re trying to hit that elusive intersection between science and airport literature, you really have to choose your battles.

 

                                           The dude's got great hair (Malcolm Gladwell, source: Getty Images)

                                           The dude's got great hair (Malcolm Gladwell, source: Getty Images)

Flimsy evidence or not, Gladwell does cover a wide range of behavioral topics and brings these closer to the interested masses. And since I genuinely believe the world would be a much better place if everyone tried to understand each other’s motivations a little better, that alone makes Blink worth reading.

 

5. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon

Just kidding – I couldn’t make it past the first ten pages.

 

5. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X (1965)

Some of us living in our comfortable Western bubbles think of racism as something more or less extinct, something abstract which possibly exists out there somewhere, but not really though. Well, fuck. Just look at some of this year’s headlines. Now more relevant than ever, The Autobiography of Malcolm X is an examination of the many facets of man. Malcolm X was a chameleon, changing from a criminal into an activist into a humanist into a martyr. Thanks in large part to his memoirs, Malcolm X has become a key influencer on several generations of black men and women.

This book follows Malcolm Little’s life from his childhood to his imprisonment and, ultimately, his work as a spokesman. What makes Malcolm X so important beyond its subject matter is the fact that it forces its readers to think about the author as an unreliable narrator, and of history as something that’s – at least to a certain degree - subjective. Autobiographies are no more than a collection of memories, and memories fade and shapeshift over time. The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a fascinating, contradictory character study and an essential read for anyone living on this planet (especially this kook), now and for many years to come.

10 horror movies you can't miss before you kick it

1998 was a great year for me. It was the year we moved to the States. It was also the year our parents were so riddled with guilt about us kids missing our friends back home that we pretty much had free reign over the TV remote. And so 1998 became the year of South Park and horror movies. Man, did we watch a lot of horror movies. This new Netflix & chill generation will never understand the pleasures of hitting up your nearest Blockbuster on a Friday night. It was magic. My teenage years in the US were some of the happiest years of my life. It was also the time I learned to love being scared shitless. I’m pretty sure some of my memories of these movies are inextricably linked to my hyped-up teenage hormones back then – everything was awesome! And so some of the below movies probably aren’t objectively good, but whether it’s nostalgia or something else, for one reason or another, I always go back to them.

 

1. The Shining (1980)

No horror movie best-of is complete without this Stanley Kubrick classic. The Shining, based on a Stephen King novel, just smashes it across the board: starting with its cast - Jack Nicholson, what a legend! - right through to its tight script (history of cinema has proven time and time again that turning King’s ideas into a movie worth watching is no small feat). More importantly, it’s just damn scary without relying on any of that torture porn crap that has dragged the genre’s name through the mud recently.

 

                                                                   Here's Johnny! (Jack Nicholson in The Shining)

                                                                   Here's Johnny! (Jack Nicholson in The Shining)

 

2. Misery (1990)

Another Stephen King adaptation, Misery really left an impression on 15-year old me at the time. After famous novelist Paul Sheldon swerves off an icy road in a blizzard, he’s rescued by nurse – and number one fan girl - Annie Wilkes (played by the incredible Kathy Bates) who takes him back to her house in order to nurse her idol back to health. As it soon turns out, Annie’s not quite as mentally stable as a patient teetering on the edge of consciousness would hope for. Bates for the Academy Award for her performance in 1990, making Misery the only Stephen King adaptation to win one of these bad boys.

 

3.  The Ring (2002)

Next on the list is The Ring, a movie that blazed the trail for a whole host of American remakes of Japanese horror flicks. My friends and I used to buy tickets for whatever PG-13 movie was playing at the time so we could sneak into our Rated R picture of choice (we were such rebels). The fact that we could legally buy tickets for The Ring struck us as a little strange, and so our teenage expectations were pretty low (“PG-13? This must suck, dude!”). Boy, were we wrong. I’m not sure if one of us actually peed our pants, but it wouldn’t surprise me. We left the movie theater in what I’d now describe as a state of catatonic shock, and when I called my friend later that night and whispered “Seven days!” into the receiver, she didn’t talk to me for a month. True story. I recently re-watched this little gem, and it’s still as good as it was back then. What really struck me this time around, 14 years later, is how beautiful the camerawork and cinematography is. Ignore the god awful sequel and revisit this one, you’ll dig it.

 

                                                   Who even owns VHS anymore? (Naomi Watts in The Ring)

                                                   Who even owns VHS anymore? (Naomi Watts in The Ring)

 

4. The Evil Dead (1981)

With Ash vs. Evil Dead making waves on Starz right now (for good reason), I thought no better time than the present to go back and watch the original Sam Raimi produced Zombie badassery that started it all. The perfect mix of camp, horror and dark comedy, this low-budget 80’s passion project has since amassed one of the biggest cult followings of all time. It also launched Raimi’s and Bruce Campbell’s careers and spawned several sequels, including the somber and gory-as-hell 2013 remake Evil Dead (which apparently shattered the world record for fake blood used on set – 50,000 gallons to be precise). While I don’t mind blood and guts, what really sold the original for me was the perfect symbiosis between laughs and screams. Groovy!

 

5. Drag Me to Hell (2009)

When Drag Me to Hell hit cinemas, it was rumored that Raimi, who wrote and directed this puppy, and his team had asked theaters across the globe to crank up the volume for the movie’s many jump scares. I’m not sure this turned out to be true, but it definitely felt like it at the time. I seem to have a penchant for horror comedies, and Drag Me to Hell is the king of ‘em all. When loans officer Christine Brown rejects an elderly woman’s plea for an extension on her mortgage, she soon after finds herself haunted by evil forces. What follows is genre-bending 90 minutes of crazy, scary fun. The demon’s attacks are brutal, and Raimi impeccably balances campy gore and real scares – think bug-ridden vomit, cartoonish nose bleeds, gallons of slime and eye balls. The audience at the time was laughing, screaming and cheering all at the same time. Probably the most fun I’ve had at the movies, ever.

 

6. The Cell (2000)

I know I’m probably in the minority here, but to me this is one of the most underrated horror films of all time. So why the underwhelming response at the time? Maybe it was the fact that, even though Jennifer Lopez was at the pinnacle of her career at the time, she just wasn’t seen as a respected actor (though she does solid work here), or maybe it’s because The Cell is a clear example of style over substance. The lukewarm reception notwithstanding, The Cell holds a special place in my heart and my now-dusty DVD collection. J.Lo plays social worker Catherine Dean who – and I’ll spare you the how and why – is asked by the FBI to enter the mind of a serial killer who’s refusing to give up the location of his latest kidnapee. The story’s pretty tenuous, but the breathtaking visuals, borrowing from Hirst, Giger et al. more than make up for it. Director Tarsem Singh (who also directed the beautiful but anodyne The Fall) is a visual genius. The Cell is hands down the most beautiful horror movie I’ve seen to date.  

 

                                                           Serial killer psyche fashion (Jennifer Lopez in The Cell)

                                                           Serial killer psyche fashion (Jennifer Lopez in The Cell)

 

7. The Invitation (2015)

Last year’s The Invitation wasn’t just a box office success, it also received critical acclaim, and it’s currently sitting on an 88% approval rating on Rottentomatoes. Two years after a tragic accident resulted in the separation of Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his ex-wife Eden (the excellent Tammy Blanchard), Will and his new girlfriend, played by Emayatzy Corinealdi, are on their way to a dinner party thrown by Eden and her new squeeze. Will’s trepidation is palpable and understandable, as he’s neither seen Eden nor his old group of friends – also invited – since the accident. As the night progresses, things get increasingly weird. Or is it all in Will’s head? The tension builds and builds and, ultimately, as is expected of such genre fair, it all culminates in one hell of a denouement. So do yourself a favour and RSVP ‘Yes’.

 

8. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

One, two, Freddy’s coming for you… Did I mention I love me some campy horror? And what could be campier than a hipster-looking, fedora wearing burn victim with badass looking knife claws who says stuff like, “How’s this for a wet dream?” as part of a waterbed fatality scenario? One-liner heaven! Freddy’s probably the most iconic horror movie villain of all time, and it’s easy to see why. The setup is simple yet clever, the kills are original, and each sequel adds another layer to the Nightmare legacy. With six sequels, culminating in the pretty avant-garde Wes Craven’s Nightmare, and a spin off (the stupidly fun Freddy vs Jason), I’m envious of anyone who hasn’t delved into the franchise yet – you’re in for a hell of a time. Make sure to steer clear of the humdrum 2010 remake though, that one blew.

 

9. 28 Days Later (2000)

If The Evil Dead is tongue-in-cheek, 28 Days Later (and its sequel, 28 Weeks Later) is its depressed and angry counterpart. 28 Days Later takes no prisoners. Its vision is brutal and unflinching and often bleak – but man, is it effective. I’m a huge Danny Boyle fan, the man can do no wrong in my eyes. And with this little film, he singlehandedly resuscitated the genre. Long gone are the days of slow-walking, comatose zombies. These bastards mean business, they’ll outrun you and they’ll gauge your eyes out. They’ll kill you in all sorts of ways, while the bass-heavy soundtrack does the rest. Thanks to its frenetic editing, superb cast and its unblinking script, 28 Days Later will stay with you days after the credits start to roll.

 

10. Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Leave it to Joss Whedon (the mastermind behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, The Avengers) to turn the haunted cabin in the woods genre on its head. I've loved Whedon's quippy style ever since he introduced the world to a certain Buffy Summers nearly two decades ago. In his hands, no horror trope remains unturned. When asked about the inception of Buffy, Whedon joked that he had seen one too many movies about blonde damsels in distress, running from whatever lurks in the shadows. And so he made the damsel fight back. Cabin in the Woods follows a similar pattern. When a bunch of hot twenty-somethings decide to enjoy a relaxing weekend in an isolated cabin in the woods, we think we know how the story ends - until we don't. Cabin pulls the rug out from under its viewers, going mega-meta in the process. Things soon take a turn for the crazy, but Whedon stays true to his self-aware style. The outcome is unlike any other horror movie out there.

 

                                         What big teeth you have! (Cabin in the Woods)

                                         What big teeth you have! (Cabin in the Woods)

 

Honorable mentions: The Exorcist, Scream, The Strangers, The Babadook, Dead Alive (aka Braindead), Switchblade Romance (aka High Tension), Rosemary’s Baby, It Follows, Green Room, The Descent, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane

Photo: New Line Cinema