‘There is tremendous freedom in not believing every thought we have.’
There’s something reassuring about September. After a heady summer, it brings us back to the ground to start nesting, letting go of what we no longer need, and preparing for the shorter, colder, darker days ahead. It might sound gloomy, but a good friend once offered this nugget of wisdom: enjoy the beginning. Often, we’re so eager to get to the part where we know what we’re doing or things are going as we want them to, that we wish the beginning away, especially if we’re not excited about it (or are straight-up dreading it). With a shift of perspective, beginnings can have a lot to offer. If we can sit with the discomfort of uncertainty for a moment and be in the present rather than projecting our future wishes onto the now, we might find that things we were dreading are actually quite cool — or at least not as problematic as we first thought.
We’re ready for you, September!
Cover image: Angkor Wat, Cambodia, being
Cover quote: Nicole Le Pera
G O O D S T U F F
This summer, The Minimalist’s first documentary, Minimalism, ended its run on Netflix. This prompted us to re-watch their second film, Less is Now (also on Netflix). It builds on the wisdom from the first docu but probes deeper into minimalism from the angles of capitalism and connection, and includes personal stories from people who were inspired by the first film and took up minimalism.
The perfect way to celebrate the last month that tomatoes are in season and use up old bread is with panzanella. There are many ways to make this delightful Tuscan salad, but we find that the simplest method delivers: cut the bread into cubes and soak it first in balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar) and then olive oil. Then, chop tomatoes, red onion, and cucumber, and mix it all together. Garnish with torn basil leaves. Buon appetito!
Learn how to breathe
It turns out, the breath can change everything — mood, health, performance — if you know how to utilise it. We’re big into the science and ritual of breathwork, and are excited to find that there are lots of free online breathwork classes going on around the globe. In the UK, there’s a session with Integrative Breath every Saturday morning. If you’re in another country, a quick Google search shows there are likely options for you, too.
N O T E S O N
Much of the English language is made up of words we’ve ‘borrowed’.
A word that has been imported into one language from another is called a ‘loanword’. However, unlike most items that we take out on loan, most of these words will never be returned.
Some (many food-related) are quite obviously from another culture: sushi / dal / affogato. Others may be trickier to spot. For example, ‘pork’ and ‘beef’ (porc and boeuf respectively) were borrowed from the French language. This was a common practice in the loanword arena: borrowing highly esteemed words from other languages solely for their prestige (also known as ‘luxury loans’). They’re unnecessary (after all, ‘pig meat’ would have sufficed — and perhaps fast-tracked vegetarianism?) but the borrower sees value in adopting them. In fact, a lot of French words relating to cuisine (‘kitchen’ in French) were borrowed by the British as their food culture was of much higher status at the time. Even more enmeshed in basic English vocabulary than culinary terms are loanwords like leg (Scandanavian) and peace (French).
Some loanwords retain their origin story as they travel into new languages. The phrase ‘gung ho’ was derived from the Chinese gōng hé, used to refer to Chinese Industrial Cooperatives — small industrial organisations formed to support China during the 1930s Sino-Japanese war. Shortly after, during WWII, it was transliterated into ‘gung ho’ and used by the American military to mean ‘work together’. By 1960, it was commonly used in the U.S. Today it still retains that meaning but also refers to someone enthusiastic.
A L B U M S F O R W H E N E V E R
“Young Dumb & Broke”
Khalid’s debut record, released when he was 19 (a year after the first single, Location, was released), is a document of his life as a teenager in America. From asking a lover to ‘send’ their location (via an Apple Maps pin, we assume!) to being ‘young dumb and broke’; from sub-tweeting to being eighteen and still living with parents, Khalid takes all of the seemingly mundane realities of Gen Z life and unearths the richness in them. He’s fantastic at homing in on the everyday specifics (I’m high up, off what? I don’t even remember, but my friend passed out in the Uber ride), and musically, it’s confident, mellow, and fresh.
From the interviews we’ve seen, the music seems to reflect the man — he exudes a laid-back, self-possessed vibe, and offers honest, thoughtful answers. He’s done a load of collabs with, according to himself, people he feels a genuine connection with, including Alicia Keys, John Mayer, Billie Eilish, and Ed Sheeran, as well as a variety of rappers and r&b artists for his 2021 r&b mixtape, Scenic Drive.
His second album, Free Spirit (also a cracker), was released in 2019, and his third, Everything is Changing, is in the works.
D I V E I N
Playing in the street, dial-up Internet, a time when shops didn’t open on Sundays. Ah, nostalgia. (Meta question: can you be nostalgic for nostalgia? We think we just were).
Today, we understand nostalgia to be a bittersweetness that errs mostly on the positive side. Any sense of loss is cushioned by the total joy of the memory. Any sense of loss is cushioned by the total joy of the memory, as proven by our penchant for sharing Buzzfeed listicles about ‘90s snack foods and keeping old photographs.
* * *
The original definition of ‘nostalgia’ wasn’t this cheery, though. In fact, it was the opposite. The word was coined in the late 1600s by Johannes Hofer, a medical student who witnessed a certain type of anxiety in Swiss mercenaries who were fighting away from home. The word itself can be broken down into the Greek nóstos (homecoming) and álgos (sorrow/despair). Nostalgia was understood to be a physical and psychological disease with symptoms including fever, fainting, mania, and even death. It was also known as mal du Suisse (‘Swiss illness’) due to its frequent occurrence in Swiss soldiers, and it was often provoked by hearing a specific Swiss milking song. The condition was so prevalent that playing that song could result in death as punishment.
* * *
Shortly after, British voyager Sir Joseph Banks used the word ‘nostalgia’ to describe sailors and their longing to be home (in English, ‘homesickness’ is a borrowed translation of ‘nostalgia’). Fast forward to the 18th century, and medical professionals believed that nostalgia was born from a ‘pathological bone’ and set about searching for it. 50 years later and no ‘nostalgia bone’ in sight, they admitted defeat and realised that it was not a disease but a symptom of a process, a form of melancholia that could lead to suicide. Yet, American soldiers in WW1 and WWII were still being diagnosed with it as a disease. They were also made to feel ashamed and weak about it — the preferred antidote was bullying. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t work. What did, most of the time, was sending patients home.
* * *
Even today, there’s danger in nostalgia. Beyond lovingly remembering egg and spoon races and MSN Messenger, it can influence us to see the past as favourable and the future as negative. There’s a name for this bias when it’s translated to beliefs about society: declinism. It’s a way for us to feel comfort when our present feels bleak. This might feel familiar to us right now in our current world. Many of the ghastly things we’ve suffered in recent times (e.g. Trump, Brexit) are a product of nostalgia being used as a political persuasion tactic (apparently, politicians even provoke social worries so they can use nostalgia as a tool). What they perhaps didn’t anticipate is the nostalgia (and declinism) that would follow their success; we desperately want the time before this shit hit the fan. It might not be healthy, but nostalgia for self-preservation makes sense in our current climate.
Nostalgia is also risky for its inherent comparison. In her TV series, Atlas of the Heart (in which she discusses a few of the 87 emotions covered in her book of the same name), Professor Brené Brown says, ‘Think about how often we compare our lives to a memory that nostalgia has so completely edited that it never really existed.’ Reality versus desired reality, the extent of editing dependant on how desperate we feel.
Perhaps, then, it’s no surprise that all nostalgia arises from negativity. Brown states that ‘nostalgia is more likely to be triggered by negative moods, like loneliness, and by our struggles to find meaning in our current lives.’ In fact, in Atlas of the Heart, ‘nostalgia’ falls under the category ‘places we go when things aren’t what they seem’. This checks out; perhaps we’re more likely to fondly recall a time without mobile phones when we’re feeling confused by and disillusioned with our modern, disconnected, overstimulated society.
* * *
We wear rose-tinted glasses not only for the times we lived in but the times we didn’t. Most of us have an immediate answer to the classic dinner party question: which decade would you choose to live in? We wish we’d been around in the art deco ‘30s or the hippie ‘60s instead of today, simply because of what we’ve seen, heard, and read (The Great Gatsby! Woodstock!), even though we don’t have any personal connection to that time.
In an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine called “Old School”, detective Jake is excited to meet an ex-detective who wrote a raucous novel about ‘badass’ cops in the ‘70s. The reality, though, falls flat. The guy is a pompous homophobe, and Jake’s colleagues remind him that the ‘70s were ‘not a good time for the city or for the department... Corruption, brutality, sexism.’ Soon, he sees that the stories (and person) he has idolised don’t fit with the context of his life and the current world.
It’s likely that our wish to have existed in another era is a yearning for belonging; we believe we would’ve been better suited to those time periods or ways of living than our current ones. Like Jake, we’re experts at filtering out the negatives for one pleasant, simplified image that backs our cause. Perhaps this longing for a different era supports our belief that our discontentment comes simply from ‘wrong place, wrong time’ and not the myriad issues and traumas we’ve suffered in our childhoods, adolescences, and adult lives. Maybe it’s more palatable to romanticise our malaise and believe we can’t do anything about it than to confront the terrifying things that we’ve buried within ourselves.
* * *
Nostalgia isn’t all bad, though.
Research found that ‘romantic nostalgia’ (remembering happy moments in a relationship’s past) can help to strengthen a relationship in the present. In an episode of The Big Bang Theory titled “The Romance Recalibration”, Amy fondly recalls the start of her relationship with Sheldon, gushing, ‘Aww, I remember signing our first Relationship Agreement’. Wittily, Sheldon replies, ‘You seem to be forgetting the “no nostalgia” clause’. But, as fans know, their relationship gets stronger over the course of the show.
This seems to be true not only of romantic relationships but all relationships. That said, there’s a fine line between an entire relationship being based upon shared nostalgia, and nostalgia being one of the many facets of a relationship. Much like a mutual hatred of someone, nostalgia as the base of a relationship probably won’t lead to a long, healthy connection.
* * *
There is a Portuguese word that has no single-word translation in English: saudade. It can refer to longing for something that has never happened or knowing you won’t experience something ever again, while also simultaneously feeling affection for what was or could have been. One description (translated), courtesy of writer Manuel de Melo is: ‘a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy’. A blend of sadness of absence and happiness of memory. What separates it from nostalgia is the combination of understanding the significance people and places have had on our lives and knowing that we will never be the same again.
R E A D S F O R W H E N E V E R
Hot Milk — Deborah Levy
Deborah Levy’s 2016 novel, Hot Milk, follows twenty-something Sofia’s Spanish summer as she deals with her mother’s mystery illness, a relationship with a new friend, her absent father, and her future. The locations (Spain and Greece) are palpable, as are the small details of life that are filtered through Sofia as an anthropology graduate (‘Yes, some things are getting bigger (the lack of direction in my life), but not the right things. Biscuits in the Coffee House are getting bigger (the size of my head), receipts are getting bigger (there is so much information on a receipt, it is almost a field study in itself), also my thighs (a diet of sandwiches, pastries…’). The novel is also a comment on the political and economic turmoil in both countries at that time. Levy’s Sofia calls everything as she sees it and doesn’t shy away from dissonance or ugliness, making for a compelling, relatable read.
R O O T S
Orchids are named after testicles. Yep. ‘Orchid’ was coined in 1845 by John Lindley in a plant book. Orchis means ‘testicle’ in Greek, referring to the shape of the plant’s roots. That, in turn, came from a Greek myth in which Orchis got wasted and tried to force himself on a priestess. He was torn to pieces and his father requested his restoration, but the Gods changed him into a flower instead. Lindley erred when dissecting the plant family name, so we have ‘orchid’ instead of orchis. Around 300 years prior to Lindley’s coinage, the plant was known in Middle English as ballockwort, which means ‘to swell’ and is associated with round things and ‘the notion of tumescent masculinity’. Ballockwort came from ballocks (‘ball’). Today, the British use the colloquial word ‘bollocks’ to refer to testicles or to swear.