The first week of university is over, as is the first week of September. Sticking to my resolutions has gone relatively well so far. I make my bed every morning, do not watch TV at breakfast apart from the news and tidy my room for a couple of minutes every day (this really does make a difference). What I find hardest is to combine this month’s resolutions with last month’s ones: now that most of my time is spent reading literature, writing essays, doing research and meeting deadlines, I struggle with eating healthy, working out and taking time for myself. I have a small notebook with all these ideas for my happiness project, and distinctly remember writing one resolution down. Do not be too hard on yourself. I tend to overthink everything, feel guilty for not doing things I should be doing and get into a mood for thinking too many negative thoughts. Instead of letting my negativity get to me, I am trying to stay positive by remembering the resolution not to be too hard on myself.
Last week, I only went to the gym once. The rest of the week, it was either raining, I was too tired or just did not want to go (I admit, it was mostly the latter). I decided that, for that week, it was okay. The moment I accepted that, not going to the gym did not feel like I was failing; I gave myself some room to breathe. I spent time with friends: going for drinks, going to see a film (Irrational Man, a-ma-zing, definitely a must-see), cooking dinner, and talking and laughing for an entire evening. By being organised and productive, I managed to spend quality time with friends, stayed on top of my homework and worked for 16 hours. I barely worked out, but for this one week, it felt good. Had I punished myself for not doing more, I would almost certainly feel resistant towards going to the gym again. Instead, with the start of a new week, I looked forward to going: I started my Monday with an intense leg-training at 7am and that also felt good. I am looking for routine, but I do not want to force myself and stress out if my days are different than expected.
To remind myself that I should not be too hard on myself has helped me tremendously last week, but so has something else. Music. Whenever I am stressed, it has the power to calm me down and cheer me up. It has always had a particular value to me, especially growing up being surrounded by music most of the time. My father has a vast music collection, ranging from jazz and classical music to rock and the blues. I remember that, when I was younger, my father always let me pick something to listen to. His CDs are in alphabetical order and I always reached for the same one: Songs for Drella by Lou Reed and John Cale. Not because I loved the music so much, or because I could sing along, but because of the beautiful, dark velvet cover. I used to trace the cover with my fingers – I could have picked it out with my eyes closed. Having that CD cover in my hands is one of my first recollections of my encounter with music. Another encounter was infinitely less positive: the fifth number on a Tom Waits album, named “Kommienezuspadt”. When I hear the song now I cannot help but laugh, but I remember I associated the song with Death (the way he appeared in the computer game The Sims) and it scared me. Luckily, after that time my father did not play it to me anymore. Instead, he let me listen to singers and songwriters that have found their way into my heart. We listened to Leonard Cohen, Luka Bloom, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Erik Satie, Tracy Chapman, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison. More recently, he introduced me to José James and Benjamin Clementine. Today, I listened to Damien Rice, as I do so often, and was yet again in awe – his voice and his lyrics get to me every time. Today, his words from It Takes A Lot To Know A Man kept playing in my head, because there is so much truth to them:
“It takes a lot to give, to ask for help,
To be yourself, to know and love what you live with,
It takes a lot to breathe, to touch, to feel”
I have had people comment on the music I listen to – a while ago, someone told me that I listen to music for 50-year-olds when I had Tom Waits’ Ol’ 55 playing in the background. Usually I am bothered by what other people think of me and what I like. When it comes to music, I find that I could not care less about what people think. That I enjoy listening to Rihanna when I work out, and Taylor Swift when I am dancing in my room does not change anything either. I used to think of some songs or music as my “guilty pleasures” because the people I hung out with had an opinion about them, but I stopped doing that. They are “pleasures”: thinking of them as guilty pleasures implies that I should not be listening to them, or that I should feel in some way ashamed. My favourite singer, Leonard Cohen, is 80 years old. I have been to two amazing concerts and those days are high on my list of favourite moments. Does that mean I am boring? According to some people, it undoubtedly does. To me, it does not. To me, it just means that I inherited my father’s brilliant taste in music.