If I’m allowed to stay

uk border.jpg

I am not an immigrant tonight. Tonight, I am a resident of the United Kingdom. But tomorrow: what?
 
I moved from Athens to London in 1996, at age 18. This September, if I’m allowed to stay, I’ll celebrate twenty years in the UK.
 
If I’m allowed to stay. Can you imagine? Twenty years: that’s more than half my lifetime. That’s my entire experience as an adult; that’s pretty much everything I know about the world, everything I’ve learned about how to conduct myself in it, everything I’ve become. When I come to Greece, I don’t quite know how to make myself fit in. I am awkward, I am strange, I am, somehow, a little displaced. I don’t know how to ask for the things I need; I use English words where the Greek ones elude me. I apologise too much, and hold doors open for people who storm through them, casting me hurried looks of confusion or contempt. I have trouble crossing roads because the cars keep coming at me from the wrong side, and they don’t seem to obey the rules of traffic that I’m used to. I don’t belong here. My passport may be Greek, but I’ve been marked for Britain. I am a Londoner. I’ve never been an immigrant, so far.
 
To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never stolen anyone’s job. I’ve never accepted lower than average wages, making it impossible for the British jobseekers to compete with my rock-bottom immigrant standards. I came from a country that considered itself prosperous; I came to go to university, not to survive. I didn’t come for better; I came for good. If anything, my standards were unrealistically high.
    In the early days, in the late nineties when barwork was still cool, my colleagues behind the bar were all British, every single one of them, and we all interviewed for our positions. We were all on minimum wage and we all spent most of our earnings on beer and dancing and late-night kebabs.
    And later, when the EU opened its doors to many more nations, the ratio of foreign to native workers in the hospitality world settled at around 50/50, perhaps even tipping to 60/40 in favour of the foreigners, but it wasn’t because the latter were being chosen over their British counterparts. It was because the British weren’t applying. I know, because I was the one going through the CVs. Having gone off and done other jobs and got myself a Masters in Creative Writing, I wandered back into barwork in the mid- to late-noughties. My own generation had long moved on by now, and the kids, it seems, were no longer interested in serving drinks. I don’t know where they went or what they were doing, but they certainly weren’t queuing up for jobs in pubs and being rejected in favour of cheap Polish (and Greek) labour. Perhaps they were signing on: they were, after all, entitled to benefits; we were not. Because – in case you wondered – no: you don’t just stroll pst the borders and sign on, and then sit back and drink cider out of a plastic bottle and have lots of foreign babies to drain the country’s resources. They don’t let you do that. Funnily enough. You have to earn it.
 
In twenty years, I’ve never signed on. In twenty years, I’ve never applied for or received any benefits. In the twenty years that I’ve been making National Insurance contributions, both through PAYE and voluntarily, through self-employment, I have probably received statutory sick pay twice. In twenty years, I’ve visited NHS hospitals three times, and my GP perhaps ten, mostly to renew my prescription for the contraceptive pill (not a single foreign baby in sight). I’ve had one filling part-subsidised by the NHS. I’ve paid several thousand pounds in taxes. I’ve paid several thousand pounds more in rent to British taxpayers.
 
I think, on balance, I’ve probably put more into this country, financially, than I’ve taken out. I think, on balance, I haven’t drained this country’s resources all that much. I have earned my benefits, but I have never abused them. And I’ve chosen this country, I’ve adopted it as my own and Britain, in turn, has never treated me like an immigrant. So far. This Great Britain, made up of immigrants and thriving on the multitude of cultures that it’s embraced. Gradually, yes, and with difficulty at first, but bravely and wholeheartedly, for the most part, with the openness that makes this Britain great.
 
And yet, tomorrow: what? Will I become in immigrant, at last, in this country that made me who I am? Will Britain make me an immigrant, at last, twenty years on?
 
I think I’d like to celebrate my twenty-year anniversary in the pub. I don’t go to pubs that often anymore, but it seems appropriate. I’ll drink a pint of lager with my friends and later, perhaps, we’ll go dancing. We might even have a kebab on the way home, but a nice one, and we’ll sit down to eat it, with cutlery. Our standards are still quite high.
 
I think I’d like to do that, if I’m allowed to stay.

On the wings of a Bentley (100 days of solitude: Day 48)

the-flying-bentley

 

I know a man with a flying Bentley and he’s going to fly it all the way to Sifnos. This is not science fiction: in the world this man lives, a world I travel to sometimes, flying Bentleys are just as possible as any other mode of transport. I have long ceased to be surprised.

We originally thought he should go for the next model up, the all-terrain Bentley, suitable for journeys on land, air and sea. This is not too difficult to achieve: apart from the standard engine (which is anything but standard, obviously, this being a Bentley), the all-terrain model is also equipped with two powerful propellers, suited to both aeronautical and seafaring purposes, and a set of fins that, at the touch of a button, unfold into wings, enabling the vehicle to float on the waves or glide on the clouds, respectively. It really is wonderfully simple. And comes with soft leather seats and a bitching sound system, as standard.

 

The all-terrain Bentley is a pretty advanced piece of technology, but it’s not the top of the range. That would, of course, be the space model, aimed at the universally minded traveller who doesn’t want to wait until the moon shuttle is ready to take bookings from the general population. It is still in the development stages, and a prototype is available for purchase, for which there is a waiting list. Early adopters are required to sign a disclaimer because the space model is limited in its functions: it is capable of launching into space, like a rocket, and then joining the orbit of one of a number of preselected planets, by killing the engine at the right moment (the car’s sensors pick this up, and a red light flashes on the panel behind the steering wheel to warn the driver), but no provisions have yet been made for further navigation or returning to earth. Very few of these prototypes have been released, but they are out there, circling the planets up above; with a telescope, you can sometimes catch a glimpse of their taillights as they go round.

I’m sure this man could get himself right at the top of the waiting list for the space Bentley if he wanted to; he has a way of getting what he wants, perhaps because he figured out, early on, that it’s essentially just as easy as not, and it’s simply a question of what you put your energy into. He doesn’t need to, however. He lives in a spaceship, and he can take himself up to the stars whenever he feels like it. He does that sometimes. But he comes back, with stories to tell.

 

We had settled on the all-terrain model, but then we realised we had fallen into the trap of conventional thinking. We were approaching the question in terms of a standard journey from central London to the village of Eleimonas in Sifnos: the drive to the airport, the plane ride to Athens, a cab or train or bus to the port, a journey on the ferry to Sifnos, and then the final stretch of road up to the house. Land, air, sea. But, of course, the beauty of a Bentley is that you can park it right outside your home and take off from there, flying it high above the London skyline and through the clouds, over the seas and mountains and cities and valleys of Europe and all the way down to Sifnos where, guided by the blue dome of the church next door, you can land it directly on my roof. There’s plenty of space up there for a Bentley, and the beams are strong; they can take the weight.

The flying Bentley has been ordered, in black, with tinted windows and heated seats, and a jack for plugging your iPhone directly into the built-in sound system. When it is delivered, he will pack a small bag and throw it into the boot, put some music on, switch the mode from “drive” to “fly”, and he will soar into the sky. He will be spared the traffic on the North Circular, and the discomforts of easyjet, the chaos of Athens, the indignity of the blue plastic seats of the economy lounge on the ferry and the long, cold wait for the off-season bus, and he will arrive in style, uncreased and smiling, in time for dinner.

 

This is not science fiction, and it isn’t fantasy. It’s just the way it is. There is a world where everything is possible and that’s the world I’d like to live in. Where getting what you want is just as easy as giving up on it. Where a man will fly his Bentley all the way from London to Sifnos and land it on my roof. He will come into the house and unpack the few items he brought in his bag into the space I’ve cleared in the wardrobe, and we will sit together in the warmth, while the engine of the Bentley cools down on the roof above. We might fly it to the beach every now and then, to spend some time looking at the sea, but mostly we will stay at home, together but a few feet apart, in a silence that contains all the words, and I will write stories about the lives we live on earth, while he thinks about his next trip up into the stars.

 

> This is Day 48 of 100 days of solitude. If you enjoyed reading it, please consider buying the book, in paperback or on Kindle. Thank you.

#projectavalanche

projectavalanche

Ever since I self-published my first book, 100 days of solitude, I’ve been standing at a precipice, high over the world, scuffing at the edge with the toes of my shoes, and watching dust rise up and stones tumble down the slope. One, maybe two at a time. I watch them roll down, gaining momentum sometimes, sometimes dislodging a small rock on the way and taking it down with them. I watch them hit the bottom, the impact they make: another cloud of dust rising and settling again. Again, I nudge, pulling another stone from the soil; I get down on my knees, freeing one more with my hands and setting it loose down the mountainside. I watch. I wait. I start again.

I want an avalanche. I want a landslide. I want that magical, inexplicable something that brings my book crashing into the world with a great, rumbling roar. I don’t want it to be a wave, gently lapping at the shore and pulling back again, to disappear into the ocean. I want it to be a tsunami, a great sweeping mass of words and thoughts and joy, rushing into the lives of thousands. Millions. I’m done being waves and pebbles. I’m done being quiet and small. I want the magic. I want that something, that moment when my book goes from selling a thousand copies to selling a million. Because that’s all it is: a moment. A click that sets it all in motion. That’s all it takes: some magic, and a click.

Perhaps literary agents and publishers have the big, industrial machines that tear chunks out of mountainsides and cause landslides that bury the villages below. Perhaps they have massive ships that cut through the ocean, dislodging the seas, turning waves into tsunamis and drowning coastal towns in their authors’ words. Perhaps they do, and it’s not sinister; it’s just the way it is. But I have no such equipment. I am just a girl chiseling away with my hands, but my words are just as big as theirs, and there’s another way.

The world is changing, and we can make our own magic. We can make our own destiny. We always could, but perhaps we have turned a corner and we can see it, now. Perhaps the dust from their big, industrial works is beginning to settle, and we can see it. Perhaps we’re done being told what we can’t do. Perhaps we’re done waiting. Perhaps we’re done being lodged in the ground, calling out for someone to come along and kick us free. Perhaps we’re done being rolling stones in other people’s landslides. There are mountains enough for all of us, infinite oceans of possibility. We can be our own landslides. We can make our own waves.

I owe the phrase project avalanche to my friend Leo. We were having coffee, and I was trying to explain the magic moment, the click. “Avalanche,” he said, and I saw it. I’d known it from before when, in another magical moment, I suddenly understood, on a level entirely separate from intellect and real-world odds, that this book would go far. I’d known it, but I had no visual, and then Leo said that word, and it all came together and I saw it: the avalanche, the landslide, the tsunami. Sweeping into the world, graceful and magnificent; a natural phenomenon, but not a disaster, because it’s words I’m sending into people’s lives, stories to make them better. Because, as pretentious as it may sound, I really do believe that books can change our lives. And this is a book that’s all about changing, and finding your own path, and finding joy. This particular book has already changed my life. And it deserves its own landslide.

In real-world terms: this book, 100 days of solitude, that began as a humble blog recording my own journey, with no expectation of reaching any further, is going to sell a million copies and top the bestseller list. In real-word terms: money. But it’s not about that. It’s about having the means to carry on doing what I love, and this book is the way. Because another thing I believe – another one of my pretensions, if you like – is that we all have a purpose in this life, a gift, a thing we are uniquely qualified to do. And this is mine: writing. It’s what I do, and I do it well. And I deserve the chance to carry on doing it. We all do – whatever our thing might be. And the real-world odds can go fuck themselves. There is another world, where anything is possible. And it is just as real as you make it.

There is nothing noble in stoically accepting the odds, nothing admirable in admitting defeat before you’ve even begun. This gift, this purpose: it shouldn’t be taken for granted. It needs to be defended. I have written a book, and it’s a good book, and it’s no less humble because it’s being read by millions; it’s no less valid because it sells. If the thing that you love doing funds doing what you love, isn’t that the perfect way for the world to work?

I am done with odds. I am done being pebbles and waves. I am done being the tortured artist selling drinks and dreaming of words. I have written a book, and I’m standing up for it. Will you stand with me? All it takes is some magic, and a click.

click

(Click it. Don’t be alarmed: it’ll only take you to another page, where you can find out how you can help.)

Moontalk

pexels-photo

On the night of the April full moon, Susanne and I spoke on skype.

‘I’ve just come back from my friend’s place,’ she said. ‘We did a full moon ritual.’

‘A what?’

A full moon ritual, she repeated. Whereby you hold a clear quartz crystal up to the full moon, and tell it what you want from life.

‘And the moon will grant it?’

Susanne confirmed it would.

‘OK,’ I said. ‘I have a quartz crystal, as it happens. I think I’ll have a chat with the moon.’

‘Do it,’ Susanne urged, ‘but be very specific.’ That age-old warning: be careful what you wish for. Like magic lamps, moonlight and quartz crystals may come at a price. And if there is such a thing as a free lunch, it might not be exactly what you ordered.

Forewarned but undeterred, I said goodnight to Susanne, fetched my crystal from my desk (quartz crystals are said to protect against radiation, so mine lives by my computer screen) and drew aside the curtains of my single, tiny window over Battersea Park Road. As luck would have it, the moon was right there: round and huge and bright, shining down on South West London on a rare, cloudless night. Taking this as an auspicious sign, I climbed up on my bed to open the window, and pushed my hands – and the crystal – through the narrow gap and over the busy street below. The wail of police sirens, the roar of bus engines and a bass-heavy hip-hop tune from a car stopped at the traffic lights on the corner came rushing into my room, but I fixed my faze on the moon and focused. I didn’t have to think for long: I know what I want and it is very specific. There was a moment of uncertainty when I realised I knew nothing about this ritual except that it involved a crystal and the moon. But something told me the crystal should be held in both hands, and that Namaste – palms together – should come into it at some stage. So I held the crystal up to the moon until I got the angle right and the moonlight shone through and then, having established a connection, I pressed it between my palms, with arms outstretched, and I talked to the moon in my head, and I told it what I wanted. I said some good and true things, and I thought about the moonlight and my crystal and myself, and how the three of us were linked, in this moment, and about the whole universe of potential and possibility that contained all the things I wanted and which were connected to me and the crystal and the moon in exactly the same way, and I called them to me. And then I touched the crystal to my forehead and my heart, and gazed up at the moon until my eyes stung and watered, and then I bowed my head, said ‘thank you’, and shut and window and jumped off the bed, and the ritual was over.

And I would have thought no more about it, or perhaps mentioned it anecdotally, in passing, if it weren’t for the fact that a few days later a man appeared on my doorstep, and he was exactly what I’d asked for. And just to clarify: I didn’t actually ask for a man, and I didn’t ask for this man, in particular, though he has been in my life for many years. If all I wanted was a boyfriend, I’d join Tinder; I’m sure the moon has better things to do than to play matchmaker to randy Londoners. Nor is it in the habit of delivering flat pack boyfriends to your door, like some cosmic IKEA. What I asked for is much bigger than that, and it doesn’t come with instructions for putting it together: joy and fulfilment on a professional, intellectual, emotional, creative and spiritual level; kindness and love and peace, for myself and those around me. Just like my crystal, I have many facets, and I’ve gotta get the angle right, and expose them all to the metaphorical moonlight, if I am to function as a whole. I may be new to this, but I intuitively understand you shouldn’t focus on the means but on the end, and trust whichever forces are at play to provide the means they deem most appropriate, even though they might surprise you. And the end, for me, is as simple and as complicated as this: to be myself, the best and truest version of all that I can be. And then, next to me, side by side, a person who accepts me exactly as I am. Not someone to fill a gap, but to stand beside me; two wholes that happen to fit together, and drive each other forward, in a journey that’s both separate and joint. I explained all this to the moon, and it gave a nod. ‘Alright,’ it said.

Before you start rolling your eyes, before you dismiss me as some crazy new age fool, I will ask you to suspend your judgement for a moment longer, and bear with me while I try to explain: I have spent the last two years working in a yoga studio. Immersed in a world where talking about chakras and referring clients to a medicine man who does egg readings is as routine as checking the inbox for email enquiries (which, incidentally, were often headed “Sat Nam” and, on one occasion, signed “Namaste in advance”). A place where you might, at any given moment, be stuck with acupuncture needles simply because you mentioned you have a headache; where you are just as likely to be complimented on your aura as on your earrings. My colleagues and I hugged each other with alarming frequency, and people floated in for kundalini class all in white and with crystals stuck to their foreheads, and we didn’t laugh at them. I have managed to maintain a professional tone when replying to an email about obtaining a guru (though my instinctive response – I am not ashamed to say – would have been ‘How about you get a life?’), and kept a straight face through a 60 minute guidance session with a lovely lady who talks to the archangels, during which Gabriel himself advised me on my spiritual development and personal life. I won’t lie to you: it wasn’t always easy; there were times when I really struggled with all of this. I am a strange mixture of cynical and gullible, fluctuating between the two extremes but mostly settling somewhere along the way.

But, in a funny way, it’s the extremes that keep me balanced. If I weren’t reduced to hysterical laughter by a grown man banging on a tiny percussion instrument and instructing a class of forty to “receive the beautiful music”, I would be too far gone. Equally, if I let my sarcasm loose whenever something rattled its cage, I would have missed out on a lot of wonderful, unexpected experiences, and would be pretty bad at my job, to boot. So I remain sceptical, but I’m open to everything. And I unequivocally believe that positive thinking works. And what’s a moon ritual, when you strip it down to its essence, if not positive thinking? It goes by many different names, answers to assorted deities or forces and takes on a range of forms, but positive thinking is everywhere: from the most mystical of ancient philosophies all the way to 21st century pop culture; from the sacred texts of Hinduism to The Secret and its grandfather, The Celestine Prophecy; and from the yogic sankalpa to wiccan rituals to the prayers of Christianity to New Year Resolutions to birthday cake wishes. It all comes down to the same thing: setting an intention, focusing on what you want, and calling it to you. So yes, when someone tells me I can wave a crystal at the moon and ask for what I want, sure, I’ll do it. Because I know it’s not really about the ritual or the crystal or the moon; it’s about me putting my soul into the things I want and opening the way for them to find me. And if that makes me a crazy new age fool, then so be it. I’m a crazy new age fool who’s manifested a whole load of cool stuff. Including a free lunch, which I’m now going to sit down and enjoy, regardless of the ingredients.

It’s been a month since the last full moon, and in that time I quit my job, left my flat in London, and moved to Athens for the summer. I remembered who I am, all of what I am, and I have been that person every day since. I am writing; I am staying up half the night to write. All these things are in line with what I asked for from the moon, and though the process was set in motion before the ritual, I don’t believe the way it’s all happening is coincidental. If you only believe in straight up cause and effect, you’re not leaving any room for anything magical to happen. Like being true to yourself. Like writing. Like a man on your doorstep. And the man is no coincidence either; this man I manifested, who believes in manifestation, and who’s also manifested me on his doorstep many times before. Who has stood beside me and will stand beside me again; who has waved me off on my journey, knowing that I’ll come back when I’m ready. I asked for what I wanted, and this is what I got, and I’ve gotta trust the moon knows what it’s doing, no matter how it chooses to go about it, because essentially it’s just me, opening doors to a universe of infinite possibilities. Which is why I repeated the ritual the other night, with the full moon of May, on my mum’s balcony in Athens. I stood there with my crystal, in my bare feet, and I greeted the moon like an old friend and the words came a lot easier this time because I know now that we have an understanding. And as I repeated the things I wanted, it occurred to me, as fact, that they were true. So I said it to the moon, All these things are true. And the moon nodded.


This essay is an excerpt from my book This Reluctant Yogi: everyday adventures in the yoga world. Available to buy on Amazon, in paperback and on Kindle. Free on Kindle Unlimited.this-reluctant-yogi-daphne-kapsali