Wake up and smell the Coffee!!

Man is a strange mammal. He thrives on competition, glorifies in destruction, and flourishes through selective memory. Because yes – we love lying to ourselves don’t we? Or let us rather say that the individual has an intrinsic predominant love for himself, which leads him to remember (consciously or subconsciously) whatever suits him most.

Simply put – we love to love ourselves, which is why in most cases we end up remembering experiences and events which happened to us in a way which shows us in the best possible light… to ourselves that is. We are never wrong, or if we are, we were justified. We never make mistakes, but if we do, they are understandable in that particular situation/s, and anyone who doesn’t understand is at fault himself. Etc. Etc.

The same goes when it comes to the way we perceive the world around us. Because obviously, man does’nt lie to himself about his own person ONLY. We see our own image by reflecting on who we want to be, or who we think we are, not on whom we seem to be, whom others think we are, or who our behavior makes us out to be.

Similarly, we view the world (and other people) either the way we want to see it/them (for one reason or another), or the way we are AFRAID to see it/them. For example, a man may think his wife loves him because she had said ‘I do’ five years before, not wanting to admit how their relationship has changed, that she now prefers to spend her time with other people rather than with him, that there have been changes in their intimacy, etc. The sole fact that she rarely smiles at him any more, a simply factor which other members of the family may have noticed, could escape him completely. Not because he is blind or stupid, but because he simply REFUSES to see it.

Another example could be the way we perceive political parties. Or football teams for that matter. ‘Our own’ political party (or team) can do no wrong. If they make a mistake… well, everyone is human right? On the other hand, the opposite political party (or team, group, whatever) is evil through and through. They use up tax money paid by honest hard working people to line their own pockets, to the exclusion of anything else. This can be seen by the fact that there is traffic, the roads are bad, there is rubbish in the streets, etc. That is all. Obviously, the man who only sees what he wants to see, or what he fears to see, fails to see the whole picture. He fails to see the evolution in the educational system, the improvement of the health sector, the cleaning of historical sites, the development of new laws and regulations which give new rights to minorities, etc. He only sees what is wrong, because that is what he expects to see. That is how the human mind works.

One of my favorite 90s movies is Kevin Bacon’s ‘He Said, She said’, which portrays this mental self-conditioning perfectly. If you haven’t watched the movie, believe me, you should.

Basically the premise of the film shows us the relationship between two people from both their different perspectives. The first half of the film reveals to us how the two met and started dating, from the guy’s point of view. The second half of the film shows us the exact same story-line BUT this time from the woman’s perspective. You’d think the second half would be boring, since we see exactly what we had already seen before. Wrong. There are details of the love-story which are the same but the backstory, most of the events, etc, are almost totally different. How is this possible?

It is, because people never tell themselves the whole truth. They never even SEE the whole truth. Maybe they are afraid too. When one of two friends fights and comes to you for guidance, what do you do? In Malta in this case the adage tells you to: ‘isma l-qanpiena l-ohra‘, which roughly translates to ‘listen to the other bell’, meaning that you need to ask the other person his own side of the story.

This is because most of the time, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

What brought this on, you might ask? Nothing in particular. It’s just that sometimes, the sheer lengths people go to, to deny a particular fact or an obvious conclusion, is simply astounding.

… andddd I just realized that I’ve written a ton… hehe and I’m still sipping my first cup of coffee. This is what happens when you wake up early with your head churning with too many thoughts. Off to start my day now. Hopefully with a lighter mind.

Ta

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Making Noise

The day before yesterday was the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy. I spent most of the day seeing, and then ignoring, related posts of people remembering where they were that day, what they were doing, who they lost. It has become a yearly thing now. I said I was ignoring the posts after a while, not due to a sense of annoyance or to diminish people’s grief – the thing is that so many countries experienced so many such tragedies over time, that highlighting only one of them starts to feel kind of obnoxious after a while.

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Let me explain – yes 9/11 was monstrous. It was mostly monstrous not because people died (though that was awful of course) but because it was a willful act of hate and destruction, aimed at one country, but resonating throughout humanity. Unfortunately, throughout human history, there have been many others like it, such as the Holocaust, the repeated terrorist attacks in France, the terrorist attacks in the UK, in Brussels, and in many other places, many of which left people dead and injured, not just physically, but also emotionally and physically. They left whole countries scarred, a whole people in fear and loathing for their fellow man. 

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All of these events were serious and should not be forgotten. Ever. And yet, it seems like no matter how many atrocities take place, no matter how much humanity is shown the cruel face of its darkest side, no matter how many times we stumble, we get up again, brush our knees from the dust and the blood, and move on again towards the light. Or we try to anyways.

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Thing is, sometimes it seems to me as though the 9/11 tragedy is given much more prominence than all the others. Why? Is it more important? Is that because it happened in the US? Because it was the sign of something which the other tragedies lack? Because we felt it more? Or is it… because the US simply made more of a fuss about it? I say this in a good way, because such tragedies SHOULD be made a fuss of. No, we should not remain silent and take it. We should not forget or let ‘bygones be bygones’. So, why are some tragedies less talked about than others?

In this world, no one stands up and listens to you unless you make yourself heard. No one will take their time to pay attention to you unless you attract their attention and tell them that you have something important to communicate. No one will take notice, if you don’t make noise, if you don’t scream, yell, cry, shriek, and make a ruckus. No one will give something importance, if you yourself don’t show that it is important to you.

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And so, yes, write, talk, scream, make a fuss, throw a tantrum. Some things are worth making a scene about.

Getting rid of the Garbage

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that one of the great joys of coming back home after visiting another country is taking a look through the photos and videos one has taken, and marveling again at the places one has been to. I usually do this bit by bit as I slowly upload my photos on social media, while savoring each memory of those times for as long as I can (or at least, before the next trip abroad comes along!)

During the last 5 years I have been to Sicily 4 or 5 times, and this Mediterranean island, which is the closest one to the Maltese archipelago, never ceases to amaze me. I admit, part of the fascination is the fact that it is so much like my own Malta… and yet, so different too. In fact I previously wrote an article about it, which mainly focused on the historical ties between the two islands, and which one can read here. However with the positive, unfortunately, one also has to face the negative aspects of each country, and while Malta and Sicily have a lot of amazing things in common, such as their heritage, architecture, art, food, etc, they also have one other thing in common which they could well do without.

I am talking about garbage.

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Every country, indeed every place where there is human habitation, generates an amount of garbage. That is normal. The responsible and acceptable thing to do of course, is to take care of this waste and recycle it, or at least dispose of it in some constructive way which does not damage the environment or ourselves.

Unfortunately, that much appreciated lassaize-faire attitude which both the Maltese and the Sicilians have in common, is, I think, the issue from which the waste-related problem stems. The so-called ‘u ijwa‘ (an expression basically meaning ‘I don’t give a damn’) attitude is why people simply don’t care enough to pick up their trash and take it with them whenever they are in the countryside for a picnic for example, or at the beach for a swim. What’s worse, larger junk and discarded appliances, such as BBQs, mattresses, fridges, etc, which in Malta is even picked up free of charge by local councils once or twice a week from the front of one’s own household, is, for some incomprehensible reason, left outside to rust and deteriorate, besmirching our natural habitat, instead.

And this is what I found in Sicily, and as I was looking at which photos to upload in my online album, the issue became even more evident. There were photos in my camera which I discarded, simply because the trash overwhelmed the beauty and nature around it. Why are humans so destructive? No other mammal or indeed, no other animal, is such a parasite on nature as humanity. And that is surely nothing to be proud of. 

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The worse is that these photos are just a pale reflection of what I saw – and here I mean both the beauty of Sicily, and the corrosive trash left lying around it. The only thing I can do, is hope that this ‘u ijwa‘ attitude is slowly eroded out of the population, either through education, or through the consequences of learning that living in one’s own filth, is of detriment both to the mind and the body, and is one of the unhealthiest things one can do. Sounds like common sense doesn’t it? So, how come we have this issue?

On Writing

There is a difference between writing facts and writing fiction. When you write facts, you write about things you have seen, experienced and felt. When you write fiction, you write about things you have invented, or imagined. On the other hand when you write imagined facts as though they were truths… well that’s either lying or you’re just copying and pasting other real writers’ stuff! lol

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This is basically the difference between being a writer, and being a mere ‘content filler’. 

I’ve had a number of offers, both locally and pertaining to online media, where either betting companies, or news-rags, just needed someone to fill-in some pages, either with adverts full of pre-determined phrases and compliments towards their products, or where the job consisted of just researching stuff online and putting it forward in another format. And I rejected them all. I’m not an automated content filler. I LOVE writing as a way of expression and a way to share my experiences and the things and places I love. So, no, I will never reduce writing and my capabilities to doing a mere job which any machine can do.

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Brandon Sanderson, when explaining the difference between a writer and a content-filler, gives the metaphor of the difference between a cook and a chef. The cook just wants to do a job, he follows a recipe to the detail, mechanically, always the same, and produces a cheese burger. The chef on the other hand, wants to express himself, he wants to create, he wants to change and evolve. He doesn’t mindlessly pour four ingredients into a mixing bowl to produce food, he wants to pour himself into something which others will love, and which will change them in turn. And that is the difference between a content filler and a writer.

A content filler is there only for the money. He doesn’t create anything. He copies and pastes. That’s easy.

A writer is writing because he not only enjoys it for its own sake, but because he NEEDS to write, in order to feel complete. Each time he writes, his emotions and experiences pour onto the page and fill it with character and color. This leaves part of him into everything he writes and creates. It is not easy, but it is fulfilling, interesting and wonderful.

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Each time someone asks me if I’m interested in a job as a content filler either using my own blog (this one) or their own magazine/website, I admit that I pause, and I admit that this is because of the pay. Let’s face it, who doesn’t need money? But the thing is, I have a good career and a good wage, and I never wrote for the money itself (though yes I do get paid), but mostly I write because I love it and I write only about things which interest me. So that is my priority, and each time I receive one of these offers, THIS is why I pause and ask myself, am I going to write this review/article because I will enjoy doing so, or just for the money? And this is what I suggest writers – those who love to write and do it to express themselves, to do.

Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t sell your art, because even if you say you are going to do it ‘once’, you will end up doing it again and again and in the end have no time to write what you really want.

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Write what you feel. Write about where you go, what you see, and about what happens to you. Write about your hobbies, your passions, your life. Don’t write fictions as though they were fact just because you are paid to – because yes readers DO notice the difference between those articles/stories which communicate real passion and real experiences, as opposed to the arid ones which just repeat already coined phrases ad infinitum.

It’s not easy, but in the end, it all boils down to your priorities. And to whether you are a real writer or not of course! 🙂 

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Growing Up

What is fate? If you spend years of your life trying to avoid something, only to have it thrust at you randomly at a turning in the road, does that mean that it was destined in your ‘stars’, or does it simply mean that you suffer from bad luck? Should you struggle, tearing yourself apart in order to escape at all costs, or should you cease swimming against the current, and simply accept it? Would that be defeated resignation, or merely another way of growing up?

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Generally we can control most things about our life – our achievements, our relationships, our careers, yet when it comes to certain things like health, colleagues, coincidental disasters, of just bad luck, there is actually nothing we can do. We can react yes, but as far as running away from those things we cannot change, this is simply not possible. I guess that is what growing up means. We have to simply buck up, and face those challenges which life throws at us, even though all we might feel like doing is just turning away and go grab a drink.

Perhaps it is actually these challenges which forge our character, aiding us to evolve into more capable individuals, able not only to pull through when under pressure, but to actually appreciate the things we have, and the people around us, all the more.

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After all, how can you ever become a better version of yourself, if your life is always easy? How can you learn to manage and survive using your own abilities, if you always find everything ready on a silver platter? How can you trust yourself to be able to overcome ever tougher decisions and issues next time they come up (because at some point, they will), if you don’t already know you can be a survivor, without needing anyone’s help or using anyone as a crutch to lean on?

People may get older, but not all of them grow up. Some remain selfish little children forever, sulking, having tantrums, and playing copycat instead of learning how to simply be themselves, without any need for social approval or metaphorical pattings on the back. After all, in the game of life, it is only we who can decide whether we have won or lost and no one else. We are our own spectators, and the only approval which matters, is ours.

 

Minimalism and why it doesn’t work

I’ve been seeing a lot of blog posts about ‘Minimalism’ lately, and they’ve been jarring my nerves for a while. Ever since I was a little girl, I was taught to only buy what I indeed needed, and to recycle or give away things which I did not need any more. This, after all, is mere common sense. Yet these days, plain common sense is so rare, that people seem to need to gird it in newer fancy words, and make a fuss over it, in order to distinguish themselves.

Minimalism is a trend which has been slowly infecting our Maltese shores, among others, during the last few years. The precepts of Minimalism embrace the aim of achieving freedom through the voiding of materialistic trappings which are accumulated in relation to a capitalistic-minded society. Originally, the onset of Minimalist per se originated as a term describing visual arts in the post-war Western world of the 1960s and 1070s.

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Personally, as I said, I understand the concept in moderation, however putting an unneeded emphasis on it, not to mention trying to adhere to its more extremist tenets, only ends in showing up that the Minimalist agenda is not only unpractical, but actually going against its own targets. While, of course there’s nothing inherently wrong with owning material possessions, equating one’s own personal value with how much money is in one’s bank account, what car one drives, or what mobile phone one uses, is obviously self-deceiving. This however, is not the issue which is actually tackled by Minimalists, whose main tenet endorses having no more than 100 possessions in total. One could for example, still own and brag about only a few costly items, while having less than 100 ‘things’. So, in actuality, having a few items does not necessarily mean disassociation from the idea of material gratification. Attaching meaning solely to ‘things’ rather than people, personal experiences, or emotions, is the seeming crux of the Minimalist credo, and yet, having chucked all but a few of one’s possessions in the bin, does one really end up forsaking the company of his/her pc, or the fascination of an XBOX (if one keeps one of course), for human contact? Not likely.

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Others maintain that Minimalism targets excess, that it leads to better prioritisation, and that it ultimately leads one to spend less. It advocates discipline and de-cluttering, yet its oppressive regime and illusion of control sees one stressfully trying to get by without certain commodities, which, instead of leading to some kind of transcendental ‘freedom’, actually ends, in many cases, by causing an even bigger backlash of ‘materialism’. Minimalism is anxiety-inducing in that one ends up feeling a failure if one cannot conform to it. Optimising the use of minimal products can lead one to over-technologize one’s lifestyle in a bid to use tools or IT systems which do more with less, leading to the conclusion that Minimalism is a movement targeted towards those who are well-off, and not towards the majority, since it also actually results in more money being spent. Once you chuck something you are keeping in case you might needed it in the bin, you cannot get it back – meaning that you’d have to re-buy the item when you actually do need it. Again, this goes against the aim of ‘spending less’ targeted by Minimalism.

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Yes ultra-capitalism is a sickness. We are not our things. Yet, if the other end of the spectrum offers only extreme austerity promoting a Spartan repressive lifestyle, this is just as detrimental. In the end, human beings need to express themselves, they need to optimize their own style, and feel free to overindulge in moments of tension, in order to be fully at peace with themselves. 

Minimalistic decor can have a therapeutic effect, especially if one suffers from OCD-related problems, however there is an invigorating liberation in a spontaneous carefree use of space. Feeling comfortable and at home in one’s own personal space definitely leads not only to creativity and freedom of expression, but also to a more inspiring and eclectic outlook. Wealth is not how many things you have, or how expensive they were, it is the ability to have options and to be able to fulfill them.

If you want to give more worth to important things, try creating certain tools instead of using mass-marketed ones. Try to jazz up or individualize your space instead of latching onto an easy conformity. Re-use and re-cycle instead of chucking out ‘outdated’ stuff you haven’t looked at in a while. Don’t limit yourself or your options. Instead, embrace a more positive and DIY attitude.

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Clutter and chaos is not something to strive for. On the other hand, living in a wasteland is not conductive to an energetic outlook either. In the end, extremes are not beneficial to anyone. There is nothing as healthy as balance.

A slightly different version of my article was published in the online magazine LivingInMalta.

Before Tea Time

She had stolen mother’s lipstick. Her crimson gash of a mouth was stretched in a satisfied smirk. Her dirty bitten finger-nailed hands opened and closed slightly as she held D. My treasure. My hope. My friend.

I asked her to let her go.
First, I asked her softly. Tears hidden. Lips rubbery.
Second, I asked her mockingly. Hands behind my back. Flawless syntax.
Third, I asked her forcefully. Cheeks cherry with rage. Feet shuffling.

She only laughed.

I rushed at her and it was over suddenly. That bubble gum face disappearing down the stairs. The surprisingly tepid thump as she hit the bottom. Those clutching hands, broken, lifeless under a twisted back.

I looked at Dolly. Dolly looked at me. A wave of love and compassion stole over me. Poor dear had her hair all plastered to her head. Time for some tidying up.doll

© Melisande Moonsong

This is a quick piece of flash fiction I wrote for the ‘Ad Hoc Fiction Competition‘. Don’t really expect to win anything, but it was fun to do.

Searching for Knights

Pennons float, then snap in the conquering winds.
Shiny helmets flash in the meandering sun
Dappled horses sweat and paw at the ground
Strong hands grip somber cruel lances

The dust flies, the blood rises
steel meets flesh in a bath of cries and screams
Killer or killed, victim or destroyer
One and all – monsters and gods

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Yesterday I started my research for my latest writing commission (I had written about it here – https://ddmoonsong.wordpress.com/2015/01/04/new-freelancing-job-writing-about-medieval-malta/). Since part of what I was asked for was a rendition of the history of the Order of Saint John in Malta, I started reading a lot about it, and it brought it all back to life. Blessed be my unbound imagination.

Although I had learnt a bit about the Order of Saint John in my history class at school when I was quite young, most of it seems to have slithered past me since those years. Reading in detail about it, with the mind of an adult instead of a child, put everything in a different perspective. I remembered certain things which at the time, did not seem important to a child’s mind, but which now have different connotations. I read and remembered that they are the oldest Order of Knights still in existence, that they were rivals with the Order of the Knights Templars, and that while they were in Malta, since the Church had been stopping a large percentage of their income, they turned into smugglers and corsairs, that is pirates who raided Turkish towns upon the coast of North Africa, and then sold the plunder they took.

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What does that do to the concept of the ‘Knight in Shining armor’? Knights who fought for their honour, became nothing more than pirates when they lacked money. Not so heroic is it? Most girls dream of the perfect hero to come and sweep them off their feet, only to encounter the harsh reality – that no man is perfect, and that when one is in love, they have to put up with compromises if they want their relationship to work.

That, I guess, is called growing up.

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