‘Think of love as an action rather than a verb.’
Happy Lunar New Year!
January has raced by, propelling us into 2022 and, joyfully, one of the most wonderful times of the year. While most of us are unable to celebrate this new year the way we usually would, the festival is still the perfect reminder to connect to yourself and the wonder that is nature (hello, new moon!).
We hope that in this issue of being you find whatever you could really do with right now — a friend, a new world, a hug, a fresh idea, or maybe a little extra spark to channel this year’s zodiac leader, the tiger.
Cover image: Sai Ying Pun, being
Cover quote: bell hooks
G O O D S T U F F
Better World Books is an online shop that cares about people and the planet. As well as selling affordable new and pre-loved books, the company also offers free shipping, gives you the choice to carbon-balance your order, and, for every book bought, donates one to an NGO such as Books for Africa (you can see their reach on their Impact Map). Oh, and being true book lovers, they never throw a book away.
An easy, satisfying green-fingered pursuit: growing an avocado tree. Stick four toothpicks around the middle of an avo pit and balance them on the rim of a cup of water so that only the bottom of the pit gets wet. Soon, white roots will appear at the bottom of the pit and then a green shoot at the top. When the top is sufficiently leafy, you can plant the pit in soil. It’ll take about six years to produce avocadoes, but in the meantime, you’ve got yourself a snazzy plant that continues to grow!
Listen (and learn)
CodeSwitch is an NPR podcast that explores race and ethnicity. The hosts — all people of colour — dive into a wide range of topics from the perspective of race, including recent events in the news and cultural phenomena. CodeSwitch has been around since 2016 but is still producing new episodes, providing a platform for those too often sidelined in the West. Episodes include “What is Latin music, anyway?” and “The Once-and-Future ‘Karen’”.
N O T E S O N
The moon’s journey is one of the many cycles that governs our lives. Many cultures, including Indigenous, Inuit, Celtic, Indian, and Chinese, see the moon not just as an orb in the sky but a reminder of their relationship with nature and the stories that have been passed down from their ancestors.
Perhaps the most commonly known moon calendar is the one created by the Algonquin people, native to Eastern Canada. Like many cultures, they name full moons according to seasonal change. For example, January’s moon is Wolf Moon because packs of wolves, seeking food and mates, howl louder than usual during this chilly month. Many months have two moon names, referring to two important changes in nature’s cycle. March’s moon is known as Worm Moon, so called because the ground, frigid and frozen in the few months prior, begins to thaw and soften, allowing worms to move freely. However, it’s also known as Full Sap Moon in accordance with maple trees being ripe for tapping. June’s moon — predominantly known as Strawberry Moon — is often called Honey Moon, an appreciation of how it seems to hang low on the horizon, taking on a warm, honey-ish colour.
The one we know best in Hong Kong is the Harvest Moon in October, honoured during Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations. It’s believed that the Harvest Moon is the brightest moon of the year and thus lights the fields for farmers harvesting their crops at night. Globally, the Harvest Moon is sometimes celebrated in September, depending on which month’s moon is closest to the autumn equinox. Either way, there are alternative Algonquin names for both months: Full Corn Moon (September) and Hunter Moon (October).
A L B U M S F O R W H E N E V E R
“Nothing Matters Anymore”
“Harlem River Drive”
A particularly poignant listen right now, Brian Dunne’s Selling Things explores disillusionment and what it means to relinquish the need to control things. Inspired by the 2016 American election, general political chaos, and Dunne’s own mental health journey, this record, in his own words, ‘faces down doubt and disappointment head on, learning to make peace with uncertainty and find catharsis in acceptance’. From letting go of the past to searching for solid ground, the indie-folk singer fights all manner of universal demons and plumbs the depths of what’s truly important on this nine-track album.
The songs might be existential wonderings, but they’re far from rambling or naval-gaze-y. In Dunne’s signature style, the album successfully melds everyday vignettes with personal experiences, and catchy melodies with subtle instrumentation.
Selling Things is the New York singer’s third album, following the mellow Bug Fixes and Performance Improvements (2017) and the folk-tastic Songs from the Hive (2015).
D I V E I N
In Silence: In the Age of Noise, writer and explorer Erling Kagge says that ‘the world’s secrets are hidden inside silence’. His belief is that silence isn’t nothing — in fact, it’s quite the opposite. He recalls an expedition in Antarctica during which he ‘could hear and feel the silence’ and found that the quieter he became, the more he heard.
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Many of us first encountered the word silence at school, specifically it being shouted at us. Teachers were prone to yelling it, cutting through the classroom chatter and the antics of antsy little human beings. In response, everyone usually froze, stopped talking, and returned to their seats, tails between their legs and redness on their faces. Through this common experience, silence seemed to acquire an air of negativity. Somewhere in our young, subconscious minds, perhaps we believed that silence was something to be forced upon us, something that stifled our natural abundant energy, made us feel embarrassed or guilty or anxious. This is no disrespect to teachers; there’s likely nothing more frustrating as an earnest educator than being confronted with a cacophony when you're trying to teach. Bellowing this word (or variants of it) is probably the most time-tested and efficient method of regaining control. Still, there’s a hope that schools today have different approaches, perhaps less hinged on associating silence with fear.
It’s not just at school. Most of our early experiences of silence are negative. We grow up in a society in which being gregarious and ‘extroverted’ is applauded, and places that often make us feel fearful and anxious — exam halls, medical waiting rooms, empty streets at night — tend to be silent. But there’s more to our issue with silence than just audio.
* * *
In recent years, the word noise has come to refer to not only sounds but also an intangible kind of clutter. We talk of the Internet’s noise, how it’s like standing in a crowded room with a thousand different people airing their opinions at the same time, a saturation that makes our brains hurt. We speak of the ‘noise’ from technological devices, how they emit light and electricity and have an effect on the energy of our homes and bodies that we can’t quite explain.
It’s hard to find silence today, so much so that it’s also hard to imagine silence today. No sounds. No lights. No useless thoughts hamster-wheeling around our minds. Nothing demanding our attention. It certainly doesn’t help that we're wired to want continuous hits of loud, moving stimulation thanks to the dopamine loop in our brains. Many of us now can’t imagine being sufficiently stimulated by non-loud, non-moving things like a leaf on the ground or a line in a book. In a strange, sad paradox, to quote Kagge, ‘today there are so many noises, we barely hear them all’.
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We have a busyness epidemic. Not because we legitimately have a lot of essential things to do in a short period of time but rather because we’re afraid. Afraid, perhaps, of being inadequate as human beings, of the consequences of not keeping up, of facing truths. The working hours, expectations, and social norms continue to increase because we continue to not stop. Voilà, the much bragged about busyness in all of its toxicity. How does this relate to silence? “The Hard Work of Being Lazy”, an essay by The School of Life, proffers: ‘Someone who looks extremely active, whose diary is filled from morning till night, who is always running to answer messages and meet clients may appear the opposite of lazy. But secretly there may be a lot of avoidance going on beneath the outward frenzy… Their busy-ness is in fact a subtle but powerful form of distraction.’ Silence, in all of its forms, can be terrifying because it means we are exposed to realities about ourselves and our lives we may not want to deal with. Being audibly and physically silent means ‘risking encounters with certain melancholy but also necessary ideas’.
As children, most of us were not encouraged to spend quality time digging deep into our subconscious minds, urging our thoughts and feelings to surface so that we could calmly and bravely deal with them. So, like facing an unexpected moment of silence in conversation, facing ourselves is uncomfortable and requires bravery. The article posits, ‘We should think there is courage not just in travelling the world, but also in daring to sit at home with one’s thoughts’. Silence is important, but our understanding of it has made us believe that not only is it inessential, it also isn’t something we want in our lives.
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True silence in the auditory sense is a very rare occurrence, which is likely why the word is often used interchangeably with quiet or, tellingly, peace. We tend to make a conscious effort to go to natural, beautiful places (e.g., retreats, the woods) to receive a dose of peace, some semblance of silence that we hope will fill us up and somehow negate the noise we endure for the other 340 days of the year. We see silence as an antidote to life, not a cherished part of it. Perhaps it would make more sense to embrace silence (or its closest relative) as a permanent fixture, a necessity, a preventative measure. Maybe instead of expecting our lives to be loud and our trips to be silent, we could find ways to gain more silence in our daily lives. Silence itself is free. We might consider consciously making regular time and space for it, whether it's a brief interlude down an isolated side-street on our way home from work, or a second with our head stuck out of the window breathing in fresh air at dawn.
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When it appears unexpectedly, silence (in totality or its more common, diluted form) is hard to hold on to. It arrives completely unanticipated; a moment in the park when the kids have gone home and there aren’t any cars passing by, or a millisecond in an MTR carriage, no talking or chirping phones or noises from the rail. Your ears tune into it immediately because it’s not the norm. It’s so pure and vast, it sounds the way you imagine it would feel to glide through the air, slo-mo style; surreal. And just as quickly, it’s gone. The world has remembered itself again, activity has resumed.
* * *
We can actually experience silence with or without any kind of auditory silence. The proof is in ‘flow’, an essential aspect of what the Japanese refer to as ikigai (‘reason to live’). According to the best-selling book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, you're in a state of flow when you’re so engaged in an activity that ‘your ego dissolves, and you become part of what you are doing’. You exist completely in the moment and don’t notice that three hours have passed or that you haven’t eaten dinner. Even if your environment isn’t silent, when you achieve flow you often experience silence, the inner kind. Perhaps that’s the key to a more balanced life: a blend of seeking out moments of external silence and tapping into our own inner silence.
R E A D S F O R W H E N E V E R
Rebecca — Daphne du Maurier
A gothic classic, Rebecca tells the story of an unnamed protagonist who finds herself haunted by the lingering presence of her husband’s late wife. The young heroine falls in love with widower Maxim de Winter while in Monte Carlo, and the couple get hitched. Everything’s hunky dory until they return to his stately English home and its rather terrifying housekeeper, Mrs Danvers. From there, a series of chilling events unfold, leading to an unexpected, explosive climax.
This 1938 romantic thriller was adapted for the stage in 1939 and the screen in 1940 (an Alfred Hitchcock film). In 2020, Rebecca was made into a Netflix film starring Lily James, Armie Hammer, and Kristin Scott Thomas.
R O O T S
The word ‘obsess’ comes from the Latin obsidere, which means to ‘besiege’ or, more literally, ‘sit opposite’ (ob is ‘opposite’, and sedere is ‘to sit’). In Late Middle English, ‘obsess’ became a synonym for haunt, referring to evil spirits. It eventually took on a psychological tone, meaning ‘to haunt as a fixed idea’ and ‘to plague or vex’. All of these ring true today, but we mostly use ‘obsess’ in a non-literal, hyperbolic way (‘I’m obsessed with this purse’). Perhaps it’d be helpful for us to refer back to the original definition when we’re, say, digitally stalking our ex’s new spouse: we're sitting opposite the new lover, watching and generally being very creepy.