Mamie

Today, my grandmother would have been 91. She passed at 85.

Mamie and I always had a strange relationship. Perhaps because of the distance – we lived over a thousand kilometers away. This was a time when the Internet was not quite simple enough for our elders to handle. Besides, she probably had never used a computer, even if those were widely available in the 90’s. We did not call much either, although I cannot really explain why. We would see each other according to my parents holiday’s schedule, which was directly linked to their bank account gauge turning green: not so often. Once grown up, I visited when I was passing nearby, only once I made an effort to take a very long detour to see my family in that area.

I valued the few times I had with her. I listened. When we were young, my sister and I would make a little fun of her Northern idioms and onomatopoeias. There was this man-mère that kept coming back. Textually, it is the Ch’Ti word for mother; literally, it means “My God” or “Holy Cow”. We liked her for these moments: the links to our roots and the folklore we knew nothing of.

She was the only person willing to talk about two important persons: my dad and his father (he passed in 1979, before I was born). Little stories of a teenager, of a husband – who would doubled up as the postman, of a family. Somehow no one else, certainly not my dad, spoke of those times. She had a sort of exclusive right to the family’s collective memory.

After her husband passed, things changed. Her children were adults, and she was nearly alone, living on a little allowance from the postal services. No easy times. She had eight grandchildren, of which I am the 5th. I like to think that her grandchildren made her proud too.

This picture is about to be 10 years old. I looked young and dumb then. She hated photographic flashes, in the same way that she hated only very few things: they passed and get ignored or forgotten. She has some grudges but new to overcome them. Somehow, on every picture I can find of her, she looks the same. As if her smooth cruising attitude to life and her forged ideas about the world had made a physical imprint on her.

CIMG2238

She comes from a time of faith – Christian faith that is, of loyalty, including to her late husband, of principles and values, of introspection. She would not miss a weekly visit to the cemetery, and the traditional Toussaint.

Now in a time of stress, of lack of faith – in the world, in the future, if not in a God – a time also of constant anticipation, I can look back; see her in my memories. In many ways, she gives me strength.

Memories and a few pictures are not the only things I have to help me remembering her. There are the mugs, and they have their little stories. One of those things that as a kid seems odd or awkward. We made fun of these mugs, but when we visited her apartment, this was the one thing I asked the family if I could keep. There are memories in those two mugs. There is a little of her in them. They are well over 30 years old now, still being used, the prints still in good shape (she did not use a dishwasher – our mom had the same mugs, the prints passed out long before their 30th anniversary).

There are the mugs, and they have their little stories. One of those things that as a kid seems odd or awkward. We made fun of these mugs, but when we visited her apartment, all of us together, after her funeral, this was the one thing I asked the family if I could keep. There are memories in those two mugs. There is a little of her in them. They are well over 30 years old now, still being used, the prints still in good shape (she did not use a dishwasher – our mom had the same mugs, the prints passed out long before their 30th anniversary). Somehow it seems right that the company that made them is still around.

It took my grandmother’s passing for me to realize the force she was for the family, for me and for my future. It is strange to think that we need our ancestors to think better about our future. Strange, but reassuring. It took her to go, and a few years of insouciance, for me to stop being stupid. And now it feels egoistic.

I am very fond of my grandparents. They all passed now. There are the memories, and there are the regrets of not having built more of these memories, stories, anecdotes, all those little things that make me, in parts, who I am and where I am headed.

No matter the years I got since that picture, the kilos gained and the extra hair, no matter how much I change, grow, do or not do from here, one thing will remain:

Mamie, I miss you.

New Year, New Napo

Today is the first year of the Lunar New Year. Gone with the Goat and in with the Monkey. The Fire Monkey, that is. Gone with the old and in with the new.

In many Asian countries, the Lunar New Year is seen as a fresh start, a new beginning. In very pragmatic fashion, this leads many to cleaning their home, decluttering, buying new clothes, getting flowers, etc.

Later this year, it will be 10 years that I live in Asia, and I cannot help but to take on some of the traditions on my own. Thus arrives a new Napo: the design of the blog has changed, the address is no longer on WordPress – yet WordPress still powers the whole site, and I am posting stuff with words again!

Stay tuned, and Happy New Year of the Monkey to everyone!

Two Months

The last post on this blog is dated for the 6th April: update is due.

Simply stated, the last 2 months have been heavy, busy, hectic, a little wild, somehow out of control and genuinely enriching. As I recall: I quit my job, sent my cat abroad, passed some exams (this and that), played quite a few hours of pool, move out of my apartment, lived in hotels, traveled to Cheng Du (to post postcards), relocated to France, and tried camping (bivouacking). More significant, I got my hands on two “Siu” – the first makes beautiful noises (meet her here) while the second makes life beautiful (glimpse of her here).

I feel that I have the hang of it – it being my life – again now.

And so I am back.

Alone with Hunter S. Thompson

Perhaps this is what I felt when writing the poem ‘Alone‘ – obviously he did a better job at it than me…!

We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and — in spite of True Romance magazines — we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely — at least, not all the time — but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don’t see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness.

Hunter S. Thompson, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967)

Declutter

I am a little late on this one, but it remains relevant regardless of the time of year!

So here it is, 2015 has come. At last! – as far as I am concerned. In other words a new year is here and for many people, this means looking at one’s life and decide for some changes, the infamous ‘New Year’s Resolutions‘.

I can be straight and blunt. Resolutions are a bunch of imaginative little bits of crap, that emerge once a year in our lives. Commercial entities push in that direction too: ‘New Year, New You‘ one can read across online shopping websites. No one holds to their resolutions, simply because they are a feel good artifact of our culture(s), not a feel good property of our identity. We think we have a mini mid-life crisis every year after Christmas, just to make sure we forget it by the first lights of the new year. An artifact is what it is: a mirage.

As much as the psychological benefits of making resolutions every year are in my view inexistent, the idea of re-evaluating one’s life from time to time is appealing. The date is irrelevant, and I even think that choosing a date (new year, birthday, etc.) is a factor for failing to change a habit. Dr. Carter (see this article) agrees with me on this.

A few months ago, my life started to change. There was difficult times, and there was great times. 2014 was a year which brought me a deep knowledge of myself. Not because I sought that insight, but because of the experiences I had, which helped me understanding myself better. They allowed me to look inside and see what is actually there, deeper than ever before. Do not laugh: it is far more different, powerful and sensible than what you may think. I am incredibly grateful for all the hard times I had. For a long time, I found the idiom “Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are” (attributed to Kurt Cobain, the late Nirvana bandleader who performed this amazing performance) to be attractive. Now I have come to realize that its meaning is more insightful than it appears. In so many occasions, we – you, me, everybody – are trying to be someone else; or, we are trying to appear to be someone else. The distinction is important, but for my purpose here I will consider them to be equal.

So how? If we look inside deeply, and found some different than expected, what is the right thing to do? I do not believe there is a cookie-cutter type of answer, but I can offer my answer. If I find it works for me, perhaps it can work for someone else.

My expectations in life have often been high: ambition and success, with the material comfort often associated with them; being the best, not to brag but as a confidence-boosting mechanism; a solid family to lead. Patterns of the advertised successful life.

It turns out these are artifacts. I found that I could not care less about these things. My true identity revolves around different things: leading a meaningful life, reaching to others in a deep and fully engaged fashion, contributing to mankind – even if achieving a very minor contribution. Certainly philosophy has influenced me, but I truly believe living well and being good is a fundamental key to one’s happiness.

And this is probably the core of the question. What is it to ‘Live Well‘? In this wonderful book, Sarah Bakewell shows what answers would Montaigne may have given. Many approaches are inspiring, and echo what I found elsewhere: Socrates on the (ir)relevance of Death for example.

But one thought kept occurring to me: am I free? I was quick to conclude that living well requires a large freedom, much wider than what I ever had and could conceive. Then I realised that I have a golden opportunity, now, to reach that freedom.

Without going into details… My savings would allow me to go without work for quite some time. My rental agreement expires soon. I have no (longer) dependents. It seems the universe is telling me that if I want to do something, all elements to give me the freedom to say ‘Go for it!’ are in place.

And I know being meaningful and mindful is what freedom should be used for. I have many ideas, more than I can turn into life plans.

As I progress towards realising some of these ideas, clutter comes in. I have stuff, too much stuff. Far too much stuff. You too – everybody does. Well, almost. This stuff, whatever it may be, is holding me down. I have the Freedom and the ideals to move forward, but I also carry dead weight.

Upon realising this, I starter to declutter. Not only my wardrobe and my office, but also my life. Pairs of trousers I will never wear again? Gone to charity. Ugly but good quality scarf offered for Christmas? Gone to the needy. Wine bottles in store? Sold. Extra sets of towels, glasses, etc.? Gone. Old papers? Shredded and sent to be recycled. Apps on my phone? Deleted. Newsletters that I delete before I read them? Unsubscribed. Newsletters that I read but takes me away to real things? Unsubscribed. Facebook? Once a week, maximum 5 minutes. I would not close it because it is the only I have to reach some good friends across the world (phone numbers change, Facebook does not).

It is not an easy process, it requires some discipline. I gave away clothes I really loved. I threw out things that have had a sentimental value. Cherishing memories in my head does not need paper. Not simple, and there is still a long way to go.

I could expand on all the steps, but also do not want to go over 1,000 words. So in summary, I can now write a formula, my formula:

Happiness = Living Well = Freedom + Meaningful and Mindful Actions – Everything Else

Reboot

For quite some time, this blog featured random stuff. Then I sort of closed it for a while, hiding all the posts. Now, it is time for rebooting it: new look, skinny menu, and only 3 posts to start with.

I hope you will enjoy the words.

Get in touch here.