2017 - Winter

Me too

Image: © Lila Mabiala

Author: Lila Mabiala

Nothing can describe the recurring sinking in my stomach, or the invasion of shivers. My complete inability to understand whether I should like, send love, be sad or show anger; “wow” could never be a solution. Also difficult to express is the deep gratitude in feeling that this time, we’re on a roll. Not all of us are marchers, or politicians, journalists, rappers, or have access to a platform from which to express ourselves. But what a lot of us do have in common is social media. And through this system we insist on calling perverse (which it is, but that can’t overshadow the ways in which it is effective…!), we have managed to create a true wave. And what with? Two words. Two words to lend our voices to a cry which should never be quietened, let alone silenced.

In only a few days, we have shone a light on a monster we love to ignore. And you know what, I’d love to see how you go around ignoring us this time. The numbers are undeniable; you cannot argue provocation, drunkenness, naïveté, or any of the other “excuses” you cower behind. May you be damned if you don’t prick up your ears, ready to finally listen, or if you choose to deny the truth, again.

More than the sinking feeling and the skin crawling, I’ve been crying. Crying at a pain that’s so normal, we never even bother mentioning it anymore. An injustice we should fight against together, but that we are all too tired to address, faced as we are with other unrelenting assaults to our integrity. When I see how many of us are involved, somehow, I feel even more helpless. If so many of us have been through this, how come it’s still going on? But this, this feels like a new opening for this conversation.

Ladies and gentlemen, here is a feminist wave, a current event, that makes the involvement of men obvious. Without the oppressing group gaining consciousness, it all stays the same. So when each of us says “Me too“, we are lending you our voices – so that you can join our ranks, stronger from our avowals – and be a part of this fight against a patriarchy that makes sexual harassment and assault part of the normal fabric of society. This is not normal. It’s time we overthrew this system, all of us together.

2017 - Winter

Me Too – Moi Aussi

Image: © Corey Heimlich

Author: Corey Heimlich

When I say “me too,” it’s not because I’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted as the viral hashtag suggests. I say “me too” because I too participate in this patriarchy that has long been in need of a smackdown. I say “me too” in acknowledgement of the machismo that filters my world, in a myriad of ways that I don’t even realize. I too am guilty, not in the Agent Orange “grab them by the p****” kind of way, but by engaging in a society that silences and shames women after verbal and physical abuse. It is paramount that men are proactive in the fight for this fundamental human right, or we will never rewrite our “herstory.” Movements like “Me too” should not feel alienating to men…it should not make men put their heads down in ignominy, but make us begin the long overdue rewiring of our brains and patriarchal social conditioning. It’s like we’re watching a 3D movie without the flimsy glasses.

I don’t consider myself to be “lucky” because I’m a white male. Lucky isn’t the right word to describe a person that receives undeserved privilege. It’s more accurate to say that I have it easy, when I consider that I could easily do nothing about this for the rest of my life without being bothered. I don’t have to deal with the hardship of being valued merely for my physical appearance. I won’t feel muzzled and ashamed because I was raped or groped, and my boss won’t make inappropriate sexual advances on me at work. White men and all men are not “lucky,” and they should not have it “easy.” For any meaningful, lasting change to happen, men will have to swallow the stubborn pride of masculinity and face the problem straight up.

In an interview with Democracy Now!, Tarana Burke speaks about the “Me Too” movement she started some ten years ago:

[…]this movement is really about survivors talking to survivors, right? “Me Too” is about using the power of empathy to stomp out shame[…]it’s not a hashtag, right? It’s not a moment. This is a movement.

This is an epidemic, pandemic even, right? If you applied the numbers around sexual violence to any communicable disease, the World Health Organization would shut it down[…]But in actuality, it is that pervasive. And so, we need to stop thinking about it in spurts, and think about it as something that we need to constantly work on.

This is not the time to be quiet, like a dog with its tail between its legs, only to forget the lesson in due time. This is a time for men to recognize the severity of their actions and stop it from the ground up and on every front. Women participate in all kinds of social movements led by men, but why do some men feel uncomfortable with a Women’s March or the Feminist movement? So, I say “Me Too” not because I’m a survivor of abuse, but because I’m open to have the most important conversation of our time.


“Meet Tarana Burke, Activist Who Started “Me Too” Campaign to Ignite Conversation on Sexual Assault.” Democracy Now!, 17.10.2017.

2016 - Winter

Friends, Lesbianism, and Censorship

Image: Friends Logo by NBC. Source

Author: Sandrine Spycher

While discussing the episode 19 of season 4 of the memorable series Friends (David Crane & Marta Kauffman, NBC, 1994-2004), a friend and I realized that a particular plot element had been radically changed in the translation from English to French. Two main plot lines are developed in the episode “The One with All the Haste” (Kevin S. Bright, David Crane, Marta Kauffman, 1998). First, the evolution of the relationship between Ross (David Schwimmer) and Emily (Helen Baxendale). And second, the apartment switch between Monica (Courtney Cox) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) on the one hand and Joey (Matt Le Blanc) and Chandler (Matthew Perry) on the other. The girls have been living in the guys’ apartment for a while after losing a bet, but are getting sick of it and want to switch back. They first try to charm Joey and Chandler with year-round tickets to go see the Knicks, but when that doesn’t work they propose a second bet. They end up losing both the apartment and the tickets. However, while the guys are at the match, Monica and Rachel move back into their apartment. (Read the script here)

The scene that interests me here is when Joey and Chandler come back from the basketball match and discover the new apartment switch. Chandler is quite upset and hammers on the door of what he deems his apartment but where Rachel and Monica have just moved back in. They guys, especially Chandler, feel cheated, but the girls refuse to listen. After a few minutes of quarreling, Monica and Rachel finally open the door to Chandler and Joey. To convince them to let them have the apartment, here’s what they propose (watch it here):

Rachel: All right. We figured you might respond this way, so we have a backup offer.

Chandler: Oh no-no-no, no more offers. You can’t offer anything to us!

Rachel: Let us keep the apartment and…

Monica: As a thank you, Rachel and I will kiss for one minute.

As the viewer can clearly understand, Joey and Chandler have accepted to watch Monica and Rachel kissing for one minute. Joey even brags about it at the end of the episode, telling Ross that “Monica and Rachel made out.”

The gender cliché of men being aroused when they see women kissing is so obvious that it won’t be analyzed here. What rather interests me is the translation and rewriting of that short moment of lesbianism into the French version (I’m using this subtitles version by Stéphane Levine and Marie-Laure Fauvart, but the doubling by Jacques Dualliac is pretty similar). The rest of the plot is identical, but here’s what the offer sounds like in French:

Rachel : On s’attendait à cette réaction. On a une offre à vous faire.

Chandler : On ne veut plus de vos offres.

Rachel : Laissez-nous l’appartement et…

Monica : Pour vous remercier… on s’embrasse pendant une minute.

The francophone viewer thus understands that Monica and Rachel will kiss Joey and Chandler for one minute. And again, this is confirmed by Joey at the end of the episode when he tells Ross that “Monica et Rachel nous ont embrassés.”

The guys are therefore not aroused by seeing the girls kissing but by being kissed by them. The choice of this translation puts a radical change in the plot by censoring any hint of lesbianism. Yves Gambier tells us that a translator “cherche à éviter d’offenser les sensibilités des récepteurs” and the translation is most often than not ideological and takes into consideration what is politically/morally correct. (Read the article here, the quote is from paragraphs 34-35)

Consider now the following question: What is usually taken out of dialogues because it “offends the sensibility of viewers”? My spontaneous answer would be sexual content. Following this instinct, I would argue that the conversation (not even the act!) about a kiss between two women is considered by the French translators to be sexually loaded and therefore offensive and/or politically incorrect.

But then why is it not censored in the original American version? Thinking about this kiss in terms of a to-be-censored sexual act brings me to this: sexualized women are the norm in American TV shows and thus their portrayal does not offend the viewer. Oh come on, they’re not sexualized, we don’t even see them kissing, you say. The kiss itself would offend the viewer, so of course it’s not present on screen. However, notice Chandler’s and Joey’s behavior as they walk back into their apartment and straight to their respective bedrooms, slamming the door behind them.

So. What have we learned today?

First, that the best way to convince a man of anything is to offer him some sexual entertainment. Second, that a lesbian kiss is always considered sexual. Third, that American TV producers/directors don’t hesitate to oversexualize their female characters by having them exhibit a kiss for the male characters. Third still, that French translators are too shy to allow lesbianism on TV and would rather deal with the issue by deleting it altogether.

I also learned that comparing the translation to the original made me realize the connotations of Rachel and Monica’s negotiation with the guys for the ownership of the apartment. Translation is more important than one would first think, and it can certainly be creative and change the meaning of a story instead of being bound to the original plot, as we have seen with the case of “The One with All the Haste.”

2014 - December

The Power of Fiction

Image: Photo © 2014 Sandrine Spycher

Author: Sandrine Spycher

The Power of Fiction

Last October, in my American Literature class, a question was raised about the “limits” of fiction and who decides about them. The debate was about an author who had to face a trial because one of his characters expressed racist ideas.

That is so wrong on so many levels, and I need to raise a few points in the matter.

First of all, let’s think about Roland Barthes. To simplify his theory of the “death of the author” to the extreme, it says that the author loses their identity in the act of writing. The author somehow dies symbolically in the act of writing. No, this doesn’t mean that all your favorite writers are dead (although, sadly, mine are…). What it means is that it is not the author, but the reader who gives meaning to the text. Each reader interprets the text in their own way, which might be different from the author’s—who, let’s not forget, is also a reader. Tell me just how then can an author be accused of their character’s behavior when that character is actually open to diverse interpretations?

Let me make another—different—point. I won’t even try to explain Derrida’s theory in detail (you should rather ask Elvis for that; he’s a big fan!), but I’ll just say this: there isn’t only one meaning to words and this enables fiction to speak about society in different ways. So instead of accusing the author, we should read in between the lines, deconstruct the text so that different meanings arise. Moreover, Derrida condemns binary oppositions. In this case: author versus reader, or reality versus fiction. By deconstructing those binary oppositions, we can put the reader on the same level as the author, with interpretations just as important (like I argued above using Barthes’s concept). And fiction would become as important as reality? you ask, skeptically frowning. Yes, just keep reading, you’ll understand.

I’m sure you all know the famous Doctor Freud and his theory of dreams as the perfect place to analyze the unconscious. In short, the theory says that dreams, although they’re most of the time absurd, show the desires/thoughts/lusts/will of murder/etc. that are hidden in the unconscious of the subject. Now replace “dreams” by “fiction” and “subject” by “society” and you’ll see my point (which was actually suggested to me by Elvis). So fiction is the unconscious of society; what on Earth does that mean? It means that society’s repressed problems appear in fiction, just like repressed desires appear in dreams. And, as an author, once you’ve noticed that, you can play with it, you become the psychoanalyst of society and, one by one, you reveal each problem. You then start making people aware—conscious—of everything surrounding them.

I will now come to a more personal explanation on the matter, using my own work as example. My work is fiction, yes, but to some extent I want it to be realistic and reflect the society in which I live. Therefore I will not write some sort of politically correct stuff. I will not have only WASP male protagonists. I will not write of a world where the norms of the elite rule society. I will not write of a world where everyone loves each other and goes happily hand in hand. My characters might be racist, they might be gay, or they might be cold-blood killers. I want them to have various personalities and origins. I want my readers to believe in them. So if you are shocked because my racist killer has shot my black character, just open your eyes and look at the real world. Look at how that kind of story happens every day.

I am by no means promoting racism, sexism, homophobia, or any other kind of discrimination. I am denouncing it. And to do so, I have to make my stories real, inspired from this “modern” society which needs to be cleansed up of all kinds of problems instead of repressing them into its unconscious. I want to deconstruct—or even demolish—received ideas about how fiction should make readers evade into some sort of otherworld made of happy endings. (I guess that’s why I drifted away from writing heroic/epic fantasy.)

Moreover, I think fiction should not be censored. If you do not want to see discrimination, then I would advise you to go live on your own in the most remote place, maybe somewhere in Antarctica. My work is not a victim of censorship because I chose to self-publish it. I am the writer. I choose my subject. I do not think there should be any “limits” to fiction, as long as the readers are aware of the extent of potentially “shocking” material in it.

So let’s re-focus on what was the main point of the article. That author (whose name I stupidly forgot) should not have had to face any trial because of his character’s racist convictions. I think it’s time we opened our eyes on our surroundings. And it is not by falsely accusing an author of staging discrimination that we will stop actual discrimination.

Sandrine Spycher

2014 - December

Learning A New Language

Image: Photo © Lila Mabiala

Author: Lila Mabiala

 Learning a New Language

I’m currently trying to learn Flemish. This time it’s out of love. I say this time because I’ve had my fair share of learning languages. French and English are respectively my mother- and father-tongues. People are often confused by this; French seems natural as my mother is Swiss, but my Congolese father seemingly didn’t have any reason to speak English with his children. Explaining this would take a whole different article but let’s say that I probably got my language genes (if there are such things) from him. Long story short, he’s an English teacher and chose this language to communicate with us. So French and English were the first in my collection.

Next came Swahili, during a year-long stay in Tanzania. I was then just about to turn 10 and had no prior notions of this Bantu language. In order to help us to adapt and integrate, our parents opted for sending us to a local school. The trick was in putting us in a standard (year) 1 class with children much younger than us, but with whom we would learn the basics: the alphabet, spelling, numbers, etc. This, added to playtime conversations and neighbourhood games meant we were soon able to understand and be understood. It was also during this stay outside of a conventional school setting for us that we started to learn German. This was done with the perspective of later being able to re-join the Swiss system with the same language level as our peers. We did this in such a playful and almost detached manner that I never really had the feeling I was actively learning. I still remember the songs my sister and I made up to remember the genders of all the animals, so that was obviously an effective technique. More than 10 years later (and having had a refresher course of 6 months half-way through this time), I have realised that my Swahili, while completely operational at an everyday level never really went beyond that. In fact, I might struggle to have any specialised conversations involving specific vocabulary. Interestingly though, when we travelled to the eastern, Swahili-speaking region of DRC, our childish brand of Swahili was considered over-structured and almost pompous in comparison with the local dialect.

My learning of German resumed 2 years later. I was then back in Switzerland, in year 7. I was allowed to have private tuition hours with my teacher considering I had missed out on such a long period of time. I didn’t have these for very long and again I don’t have a clear feeling of having had to work hard to catch up. Instead it meant that I felt comfortable and enjoyed these three years of learning. I went on to get my “certificat” and even got the class prize for German, which I’m still proud of today. This tendancy continued and after my “maturité” I went on to briefly take university classes in German literature and obtained my level B2 Goethe certificate.

Back in year 7 I had two other language learning experiences. First, having to study English with my classmates. Though annoying and mainly boring, I’m sure this gave me a deeper understanding of the language as a foreign one which I hadn’t got while at primary school in England. Then came Latin. Now as opposed to my breezy navigation of German, Latin did not come naturally, and I had the catastrophic marks to prove this. I really struggled with learning vocabulary, and translations were a troublesome, but at least funny affair. What do you mean in French? I cannot understand what you mean in English. I applied what my teacher called the “hat” method where I would disregard the cases of words and translate their meanings into a sentence in random order. This was the first time I struggled with a new language but I put it down to it being dead and therefore literally impracticable. At least I gained an insight into the DNA of French, and I guess I can have fun trying to make up some Italian when I’m abroad.

Then, ladies and gentlemen, I attempted to learn Japanese. This was some six years after last beginning a new language from scratch. I decided to take it up as my second subject at university. I took it as a challenge, to compensate for taking English Literature, which I felt very at home with (and considering English is still taught as a foreign language for the first few semesters, I feared the boredom would return). Looking back, I can’t really tell what exactly went wrong with that plan. But something did go wrong and I experienced true failure for the first time in my career as a student. I enjoyed learning to write kanas and basic kanjis, I understood the grammar, and could do exercises. But it’s as if I grew out of breath and soon couldn’t keep up with tests and eventually failed the first year exam. Twice. And when I repeated the first year and passed, I gave up half way through the second year. So now I had to work on a theory to explain this failure. If I failed at Latin because it is a dead language, why couldn’t I learn Japanese, a language which I could hear being spoken around me (I was tutoring 5 different Japanese students at the time, helping them learn English, French and German according to their school settings)? How come I didn’t find the motivation to outdo myself and enjoy communicating with people I was close to? I have a tendency to think that university isn’t the place to learn a language. Dusty old rooms aren’t made for learning a vibrant, living language (it’s a cliché but I can tell you we were stuck into the oldest, dustiest corners of the University of Geneva). Other times I think that the others in my classes were so enthusiastic, so into Japanese as a culture, a frame of reference and a way of life, that I couldn’t keep up. Having neither ever read a manga or watched an anime in my life, I didn’t connect with my classmates. Maybe this stopped me from being motivated enough to invest myself 100%. Or was it the teachers? Rather strict, with a grammarian approach to the language, taking things out of books? Either way, it just didn’t work out. I do hope that I’ll be able to use my basic skills to build up my Japanese somewhere further down my path, in a better setting. Though I started out just wanting to learn something new for the fun of communicating in a different way, obviously I lacked the motivation to take it seriously.

So now I’m learning Flemish. In fact I’m learning Dutch, and will count on my boyfriend to break down the aspects which don’t correspond to the Belgian way of things. So far it’s going rather well. I’m using a website/app which I can access whenever I have time. It practices the speaking, listening, writing and reading aspects of the language. Lessons are organised by subject, which at first I found rather frustrating (why learn about to say “turtle” and “rhino” before I can even count…??). But soon I found it drives me to learn faster in order to get to the vital bits. 2 years ago I had no notions of Dutch at all. After meeting my boyfriend and spending time with his family, I gradually developed an ear and can now understand most of what is going on during conversations. But I realised understanding was nowhere near enough to allow me to express myself. I was hesitant, shy, and relied too heavily on “frenemy” language German to say the most basic things.

So here I am, trying once more to fold my mind into the right configurations, using memorisation, intuition, and all those long forgotten techniques. Funnily enough, it also comes at a time when I’m studying education sciences and the best strategies for learning, and cognitive psychology of language. It makes me feel more aware of the processes I use and will hopefully help me to correct the elements that went wrong before. I think my experience proves that the setting in which we learn a language, rather than a specific age window, affect our motivation and success rates. Not only is it important to understand this when learning a new language, but for the teaching-inclined, these are vital things to keep in mind. So here’s to hoping I make a good impression at the Christmas dinner in my Belgian family! Oh and then what, you ask? Well, maybe Spanish. That’ll help with the next destinations on my travel wish list. Claro que si!

P.s: If anyone has the required skills to understand the riddle in the picture (seen in Venice, summer 2014), please come forward. Some kind of mystical language is involved I suspect.
2014 - December

The Forgotten Muse

 Image: Photo ©

Author: Charlotte Courdesse

The Forgotten Muse


On the question: have you heard of Violet Piaget, most people will certainly answer negatively. So, one prim reader who is a (tiny) step ahead will try to make the best of your unforgivable ignorance by schooling you on an ill-starred and ill-defined figure. Let us hope that no bad writing will join these baleful premises. At any rate, I give you now Vernon Lee (aka the above romantic name); woman with many personae, whose knack in writing is not the most prominent of her numerous skills.

Curiouser and curiouser, you must mutter to yourself, and you will be right to do so. I personally would not have taken the trouble of delving into Mrs. Lee’s works – apologies, Mr.: one has to be on one’s guards, especially if one is a female in a phallocentric Victorian society (but the gender swapping is confusing; why hadn’t she thought about that?). Setting aside the mystery, I present you, this time in the customary formal fashion, an author whose areas of expertise cover not only cultural studies, but also Gothic literature (yes, that point should induce anyone who has got a sweet tooth for anti-normative horror– I strictly forbid any vampire-related pun).

The all-encompassing portrait does not stop here, for the exceptional nature of the writer still remains to be disclosed! Educating herself at home (with the notable help of a Swiss governess), polyglot (proficient in French and Italian, not mentioning her mother tongue), changing her name, were not the sole acts of daring Vernon Lee undertook. A counterpart of her male peers, she actively embraced the hack job, writing for periodicals; travelling worldwide ; publishing her first breakthrough work at twenty-four, not a model, albeit not a blueprint either: the Studies of the Eighteenth Century in Italy still propels attention nowadays. Moreover, as a female writer, Lee/Paget was primed to play with the oppressing norms, and many of her stories raise issues of female power; conflicting identities at odds with societal coercions. For instance, her novel Mrs. Brown rewrites Henry James’ Portrait of a lady, with a slightly different ending: the sour triumph of James’ heroine returning to the wedlock is here pictured as a capitulation (but this is not the place to rant on an author who deserves our respect and admiration. I will therefore contain my impulsions).

Anyway, Vernon Lee kept on with the good work and published a compendium of short stories, Hauntings, in 1890, Decadence era par excellence. Fin-de-siècle influence transpires through the eerie atmosphere and the textual ambiguity of her plots: never do we know the standstill moment when, from the certitudes of reality, we swing into the realm of fantasies. Every male narrator of Dionea, L’Amour dure, or The Wicked Voice, partakes of this feeling of estrangement. We don’t, cannot know – save that the object we behold is supernatural, strange, and marvellous. Lee pointed out that her ghosts were not genuine, but internal; expressing repressed (and often immoral) desires, a Sigmund Freud would even state. As the critic Nicole Fluhr insightfully says, “ Lee’s stories emphasize the cataclysmic consequences for subjectivity that ensue when one person seeks to know another”. That is a gate-away to surprise, on both sides of the sheet. In Dionea, an Italian doctor finds himself befuddled before the feats of a foundling child, rescued from a shipwreck and brought up in a nunnery, but little does he know that she is, in fact, Venus herself. Likewise, in L’Amour dure, the (again) male narrator fells in love with Medea de Capri, long-time dead duchess of the XVIth century, and would do anything to bring her back to life, even to the price of sacrifice; of himself, of morality. The wicked voice of a tenor of the XVIIIth century hinders a composer from writing his own melodies, but no proof of the reality of the ominous influence is given. The unreliability of each testimony (epistolary genre and diary) makes the reader wobble between truthfulness and mendacity. Past pervades present; pagan gods tread this earth; dead resurrect and address the living. Multiple enunciative voices speak out and contradict every tinge of common sense, but this uncertainty is what makes Lee’s stories so gripping. The word haunting acquires a significance it has rarely had.

Plus, Lee does not content herself with quiver-inducing narratives. On a first level of interpretation, one can assume the high strain of tension mingled with fear that the reading induces. On a deeper level, the causes of this bristling perhaps resides in the mystery of the hermeneutics, and the endless questions the text engenders. To what extent the absorption of a personality could go? Is the femme fatale an objective element unrelated to the narrator, or is she his own projections? How can an epoch be encapsulated in one individual without fictionalisation? And finally, how does one conscience construct her network of meanings? Vernon Lee’s texts are hotbeds for speculations, and the reader would have to undertake a hide-and-seek game to flesh out all their meanings.

LEE, Vernon, Hauntings and Other Fantastic Tales (1890). London: Broadview Editions, 2006.

FLUHR, Nicole, “Empathy and Identity in Vernon Lee’s Hauntings”, Victorian Studies 48.2, 287-294, 2005

2014 - October

‘The Importance of Having Friends’

Image: Photo © Rebecca Frey

Author: Rebecca Frey

The Importance of Having Friends’

In search of a suitable topic for my contribution to this first online issue of Muse, I was thinking that I should probably best write about a subject that interests me personally and keeps me busy right now besides work and university. The topics I discuss with my friends a lot. Like theatre, our love- and sex-life, strategies how to battle street harassment, or maybe it all comes down to one not so simple question: How to be a happy and confident young women approaching her thirties and at the end of her studies, on the brink of real life…

(But then again, what does ‘real’ life mean exactly? Why should I think about my current life as less ‘real’ than what I can expect it to be in the future, when I finish my studies, work full time and fully provide for myself? I have always focused very much on the present moment in my life. Even if at times a little more planning or at least thinking ahead could have saved me from making choices I would later regret. But from those few mistakes I always learned and I also learned to accept them as part of my history.)

Well, I am drifting am drifting away here, while I am actually figuring out what I really want to write about: Friends. ‘The Importance of Having Friends.’ (Why did Wilde not write a play about that topic? But only about twisted relationships full of deception, façade and intrigue?) Anyway, this article is intended to be a eulogy on behalf of my friends.

In the course of this last year I have once again fully realised to what extend friends make your life so much better. Not that I am against loneliness. I am actually convinced that spending time alone is also essential (at least for me). Loneliness is not necessarily a bad thing. Ask Coleridge, Shelley, Keats and Co. Although I am not an expert on romantic poetry, I always felt that the ideas of loneliness and experiencing the sublime are closely linked. But on a more pragmatic level I believe that loneliness is less of a monster when loving, caring, funny, inspiring, faithful, honest and at times annoying, overwhelming, unreliable friends – just good people – surround you. Then it often happens that you need to be alone from time to time, to relax, procrastinate, do nothing, sleep, sing, play computer games, play the guitar, go swimming, anything. Then you actually perceive loneliness as a freedom and a blessing.

When I ended my last long-term relationship about a year ago I was devastated because I realised I was not only losing my loved one but also one of my best friends. Nobody knew me better, in a more intimate way, I thought. But when I had to break away from that person I realised to what extent my friends were there for me. They listened to me reasoning with myself, supported my choice and helped me be strong. Friends can be better (and are much cheaper) than any psychologist! When you are close enough to someone to be able to tell them exactly what your fears are, the mistakes you make and how unfair you sometimes feel the world is to you. I believe that good friends take you very seriously while at the same time they manage to relativize your problems. They care and don’t at the same time. They listen to your stories and they make you discover other sides to them.

Sharing about personal experiences is another thing friends are great for. You can compare, realize that your feelings are often similar, that your reactions are ‘normal’, that others have the same problems but that they might have other strategies for solving them. Being that open and intimate with good friends does make us vulnerable on one hand, but it also helps us to accept our vulnerability and be stronger after.

But what makes us able to build such intimate relationships with others and why do we need them? (Sometimes I wish I had studied sociology…) Well, there are many things I do with my friends and which I love them for. Eating is one important thing: shared lunches, brunches, dinners and the occasional lemon tart. Spontaneously inviting them to your place, cooking for them, which forces you to finally clean up your messy kitchen (“Ah well, while I’m at it, I might also quickly vacuum my living room”). Obviously drinking together is also an important friend-factor. Although I must say that I also enjoy a glass of wine on my own from time to time along with a cheese sandwich in front of some TV series’ latest episode. But it is great as well to drink a lot of beer with friends and then decide together to be abstinent for a month, and pay very close attention to whether the others are cheating or not. But not only alcohol, coffee also: I love spontaneous sleepovers, or friends squatting my living room and sofa for several days. At night we watch a movie and in the morning I make them coffee, a nice creamy cappuccino.

Spending time with my friends enriches my life immensely. I feel more alive; it boosts my energy and my enthusiasm. Discussions fuel my intellectual hunger, my thirst for knowledge and sometimes even motivate me to actually start writing that paper I have only been complaining about so far. On the other hand, when I am not at all in the mood for intellectual talk, when in fact my head is spinning and I need to get out and back in touch with my body, friends motivate me to do some exercise: “How about we pick up modern contemporary (or is it contemporary modern?) dancing?” or “Let’s run the Lausanne Marathon on that Sunday when we come back from our trip.” – “Are you crazy?” – “Well, I’m hoping that way I’ll be able to sleep at night despite our jet-lag.”

There are many more things friends are great for, like planning weekend trips, travelling, planning to go see an exhibition and never actually do it, talking about your flirt adventures, about your sexual adventures, about broken hearts and butterflies, about bees and flowers, about how reality laughs when you suddenly stop having your period, about family planning, about hypothetical unconventional plan B family planning, about the names of your future kids, being childish together, being angry together, being badass self-sufficient persons together (yes, together it is easier!), being completely lost together. But even when you’re lost, friends help you to organize your day: “Are you at the library tomorrow?” – “I was planning to. Let’s have lunch together.” – “Great, that will force me to get up early.” They help you find apartments, move, find jobs, translate stuff, they correct your papers, they lend you money, they plan your Friday nights, they are your matchmakers, your surrogate sisters, your surrogate brothers, your role models, your troublemakers, your mirror, and your shelter.

Thank you guys, for helping shape who I am and for making me feel alive!

2014 - October

The Perfect Word

Image: Writing to Father by Eastman Johnson. Source

Author: Corinne Morey

The Perfect Word


Have you ever witnessed the power and yet incompetence of words? They sometimes move nations and change hearts and yet are such small things; not even real if you think in linguistic terms. Words are human creations, barely sounds, that can simply fade into silence without reaching their goal. They are but mere movements of the air that sometimes bear meaning; but that is all. They are simply ideas put into a physical transmittable form. And yet these sound waves have the capacity to wring in your mind again and again and stick to your every thought, moving your soul.

Have you ever heard a string of words so beautiful that it stayed in your mind, echoing a meaning deeper than what your conscience can quite grasp? Like in a song or a poem, or even in a novel or someone’s speech. An experience described so perfectly and yet for some reason you had never thought of it; as if the author had reminded you of what really is; as if the writer had helped you – like you would a blind person – to see the world, or as if you had untied a knot in your brain you did not know was there – a description so bright, that you literally feel like someone shed a light on your thoughts. How come a person other than yourself can better express what you think and feel? How come you are only able to make the link once you’ve been pointed to it? Why is it that words are so hard to find? How can someone else’s words echo in you?

Have you ever searched, dug and maddened in the pursuit of the words and phrase that would finally make your mind clear; the words that would unveil your thoughts and let your soul flood your page, transporting you, soaring. Have you ever suddenly realized your whole body was stiff of the frustration of this everlasting chase? Or worse, experienced something that greatly moved you, yet once you attempted to put words to describe it, the feeling seemed smudged or simply disappeared? Loosing your pass to paradise.

Words are paradoxical things. All these words that we use everyday, on purpose or unwillingly, cautiously or very lightly,… how can these elements translate so much of one’s reality and yet fall so short of it? How can one use words to write about words? Our experiences are so much vaster than our words could possibly describe. For we are all limited by our language’s grasp of reality. So why do we still persist in this pursuit of the words that will translate our minds? For once you take the time to truly verbalise what you mean, you often find yourself resourceless when it comes to catching the perfect word.