Don’t spend your energy on choosing between A and B. Spend it on rejecting this dichotomy.
When asked what I like most about Budapest, I would answer in a rather vague yet honest way: there’s no certain way how the city is pushing you to be.
You don’t have to be a writer, a yoga instructor, or simply anyone with a way of living that would be considered ‘cool’ or interesting. Just freakin’ walk on the street, and have your nicely cheap cocktail by the 4-6 tram line. No-one cares.
With all the worrisome political problems, I still love Budapest for that.
I thought I wouldn’t get that in London. Whatever the image I had of this city, I thought it would inevitably influence me in one way or another. “Would I be able to go out in my old shorts and sneakers?” I secretly worried – that and being completely broke – and maaan I laugh at that worry now! I mean the first worry. I don’t laugh at the second worry, oh no.
In a way, that’s something you want from a place, right: for that place to change you, with all those opportunities and people you can encounter there. After all, that’s why you’re here.
After half a year in London of constantly observing different styles, music choices, accents, hats and sneakers, I think the turbulence of “wait, should I be/look somehow different?” is passing. The multiple pressures have subsided. It’s just me with my love for ugly sweaters, hobbies that are mostly not exciting, and Christmas socks all year round (my housemates can confirm this).
Yet this is all surface, of course, no matter how important that surface secretly is.
Underneath, there are also narratives: good narratives we create and try to live by, shitty narratives we tell ourselves, and there are narratives, I claim, that we have to actively reject and refuse to participate in since engaging in them brings us no good.
The narrative of how we should or shouldn’t be in a relationship, the narrative how certain things should be desired or certain things achieved, how climbing a certain ladder is definitely good for you, and so on. On top of everything, there are also the old narratives that invite us to come closer, to lean in. Thinking they’re being friendly, they whisper to us: your future has been determined by your past.
These are the narratives that we need to question tirelessly, to cross out from our list, to reject completely.
That conscious effort to reject worthless narratives is like meeting an old friend: suddenly, everything falls into place. You know what’s really important, and you laugh at the things you found significant just some hours ago.
I think different places have the power to push us into certain states of being, prioritising, and wondering. Some years ago, my worries varied from ‘how to pack a papaya and five huge avocados into my backpack and not die on my way home from the market’ and, a longer time ago, to ‘what if the border crossing doesn’t end too well…’ Now, in London, I catch myself constantly assessing the pros and cons of dating apps or, you know, thinking how significantly better my life would be if my body fat was lower (I blame you, Hummus chips!).
My point is: the small narratives might change, but let’s be vigilant when it comes down to the big ones.
Let me share a story about a big narrative.
A year and a half ago, after over 35 years of marriage, my mom left my dad. Being from a tiny place where everyone knows each other – and not necessarily in a cute and idyllic way – it was an enormous deal. “But what would people think?” could have played a strong role here.
Yet it didn’t. My mom rejected the narrative of just “accepting the way things were”, “appreciating the fact that things could be worse”, and whatever other horrible narratives she and her environment had been presenting to her for decades. It was an incredibly bold move that required an insane amount of inner resources.
My mom has rejected her narrative, and it’s not a new chapter she has started. It’s a freakin’ new book.
Now that was one strong ‘No’ to a narrative that has been seemingly imposed on her.
Coz it’s never truly imposed. What is real, though, is the mindfulness, dedication, and courage needed to override it. And I think we lift each other by sharing these stories.
So let me leave you with another – rather ridiculous this time – one.
I was at a supermarket in Brazil, probably my first month after having moved there. My Portuguese was – a generous description – lower intermediate. The lady at the checkout asked me something about a card, I didn’t understand exactly what she wanted, so I thought that saying ‘No’ is the way to go. I thought she was asking me if I had a loyalty card.
What she was actually asking me, it turned out, was how I would pay: by cash or card. I realised that soon after and silently whispered to myself, “Yep, I’m just not gonna pay, lady…” (“não, não vou pagar…”).
I believe this is how we should be rejecting certain narratives in life, imposed on us external or internal voices which serve no purpose. It’s not an A or a B: you don’t have to choose. It’s just a strict and straightforward “não, não vou pagar”.