• Mathilde Fongen

It's a lonely thing, travelling to a city by yourself. A city that isn't home. A city you adore that doesn't adore you back. I suppose a city can be forgiven for that, being a city and all. Then a spot of blue sky opens up just as you look out the window of the café, the sun shines through and you feel like maybe it's possible that it does adore you back after all. It starts to rain when you're walking back to the AirBnB feeling lost and alone and it feels like the city understands how you feel. Maybe you need the rain just now. The uneven cobble stones are beautiful because they are uneven, broken, put back together. Like people. And you think that maybe loneliness can be a peaceful thing. Maybe it can even be shared.

Marbles Magazine, Elaine Gallagher's poetry and books from Dead Ink and Charco Press.

This weekend, I attended a book festival in Edinburgh. It was my treat to myself, a weekend to listen, discuss, think, read and write. Coffee, food, wine and books. Bliss. It was a small festival hosted by my favourite book shop, Golden Hare Books, and it was truly a wonderful experience.

Yes, I opened this post expressing loneliness, but I think loneliness is what made it all the more wonderful. Reading and writing, after all, are lonely experiences, but they can also be shared in the most beautiful way. I've listened to conversations on cooking, propaganda, feminism, the queer experience, discussions on writing and publishing and poetry read by the poet who wrote it. It's been useful, educational, eye opening and inspiring. It's been small, intimate and personal. And numbers aren't why we do this are they? Words are why we write, read and publish. And that's the powerful shared experience of the weekend, a love and adoration of words. A shared experience in reading, writing, interpreting and publishing words.

Golden Hare Books is a favourite of mine in Edinburgh. Another favourite is Smith & Gertrude, whose wine list I've now thoroughly explored. There's something about sitting in a room surrounded by people, a glass of wine and a notebook in hand with plenty of time to kill that brings me solace. The sound of fifteen individual conversations merged together in a backdrop of noise is, to me, the perfect soundtrack for writing.

As a reader, I walk away from this weekend with a reading list that'll last me years. It better not last me more than one year, however, as I hope to come back next October for another literary harvest, and even more books to discover. As a writer, I walk away from this weekend with new motivation, inspiration and shiny new tools to play with. It's easy to feel disheartened when you see tables stacked with piles of extraordinary writing. What am I doing, trying to add to it? Who am I to claim my place among them? But I can't help but feel a sense of belonging. I can't help but feel a sense of purpose as I return home to Aberdeen with a notebook full of scribbles.

I opened this post with loneliness because that's what I felt on the first day of the weekend. On my last day I realised that loneliness can be a beautiful tool used to find a sense of belonging amongst people who share my love of words, printed, scribbled or drawn as they may be. I suppose that's one of the reasons I started writing to begin with, in order to find a space for belonging in a shared human experience. That's what books give us and that's why we can never stop writing and creating. For the sake of peaceful, shared loneliness, we can never stop reading.

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  • Mathilde Fongen

There's something about experiencing live music that feels so inherently human. It can be a busker on the street playing to your mood that day, it can be a band you've never heard of playing in a club you've never been to before. It can be seeing that artist who's music is a permanent part of you in a stadium with thousands of people who feel the same way. It can be playing as part of a band in a rehearsal space, knowing full well that what you're creating there is something special.

When you're part of a crowd, however big or small, it doesn't matter where you come from or really, who you are. Right then you're a part of a group, all there for the same purpose. Complete strangers sharing an experience that might be fun just for that night, or it might stay with you forever. Or you're out with friends and all the stresses of every day life disintegrate as you dance with people you care about and who care about you.

A poem from the #MayMyselfandI challenge

I have the immense privilege of being able to play music and there is no feeling like standing on a stage in front of people who are enjoying what you're making. To be allowed to create a moment for someone else. It gives me a feeling I don't think I'm capable of describing. For years I had this experience on my own as a singer/songwriter and there was something unique about being the sole source of sound in a room full of people. For them to genuinely listen to words I've written and melodies I've created, to grab a loved one's hand or to close their eyes and sway. That said, nothing beats the feeling of playing as part of a band. It makes the whole experience bigger than one person. It gives me a sense of belonging that I've never found anywhere else.

It's the sharing side of music, the universality of it, that makes it so human. It's a way of sharing experiences and emotions that makes us feel at home in each other, listeners and musicians alike. These live music experiences are when I feel the most alive. Sometimes fearlessly alive. I don't think any blog post could accurately depict the way I feel about this, so I'll leave you with a memory:

A favourite band of mine is Band of Horses, and one summer I experienced them at one of my favourite festivals in my favourite city, PiP Fest in Oslo. My friends wanted to stay on the grass further away, so I walked right up to the stage and soaked it in on my own. Then, they played the last song, and my best friend comes to join me, throwing her arms around me in one of the most genuine hugs I've ever been given. That was one of those moments where happiness overflowed and streamed down my face in the form of salty tears.

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  • Mathilde Fongen

Or at least some of it. Mindfulness can be a vague word, but it's also so simple. It encompasses every aspect of life which makes it daunting and basic at the same time. I must admit this word used to annoy me. It seemed to be the solution to everything, the magic cure to the stresses of every day life, but I couldn't wrap my head around it. Now, it's a word I carry with me through everything I do. Or at least I try to. It seems to crawl into every piece of advice I give and all the everyday things I do that have resulted in me being the happiest I've ever been.

It's been almost seven years since my brother and I went on our three month trip to South America. It was on a walk near a village called El Chaltén in Argentina that I kept stubbing my toe on rocks, not quite used to walking in FiveFingers just yet. Now, my brother is a Buddhist. My brother is also a very knowledgable person, so I know that his advice has value, but when he, upon my pinky toe's fifth meeting with a large rock, told me to be "mindful" of where I step, I was pretty ready to punch him in the face. I didn't. I did the classic girl thing of silent anger with outbursts of snappy comments.

Walking the Inca Trail in 2013

Seven years on, I'm still a barefoot runner and I love both my FiveFingers and Vivo Barefoot walking shoes. I adore the concept of mindful walking, mindful running and feeling the texture of the ground beneath my feet. I also do yoga most mornings now, another thing influenced by my brother several years ago, and the combination of the two gives me an exercise and movement routine that suits me well.

Yoga and barefoot running were my introduction to understanding mindfulness, but I didn't quite grasp the concept until I started meditating a couple of years ago. A friend introduced me to an app called Headspace and I took the challenge to do a three minute guided meditation every day for a month. I didn't understand it. I didn't feel any different and I felt like I was wasting time with this whole meditation thing, but people, my brother included, kept talking about how good it was for me, so I kept at it. I kept doing these three, five and ten minute meditations almost every day and little by little, it grew on me.

It was only recently that I discovered that an understanding of mindfulness has crept up on me. I understand now what it means to live mindfully and how important awareness is in every aspect of life. It encompasses my relationship to myself, to other people and the planet, the choices I make and how I spend my time and money. Bringing mindfulness and awareness into the essence of everything I do has been life changing. I know how this sounds, and I'm rolling my eyes at myself as I write this, but it's also clear to me how true it is, how right my brother was, that if I just step mindfully, I won't stub my toe.

Living in awareness and being mindful in my choices and actions has led me to a place where I can honestly say I'm happier than I've ever been before. I can't say that I know exactly what I want in life or where I'm going, but awareness of what makes me happy day to day and of what might need to change is what has made the difference in my mind. Learning how to treat that uncertainty with mindfulness and respect has been key for me. I have bad days, of course I do, and I have weeks where I fall out of my routine. It's not like mindfulness has made me more than human, but meditating regularly has taken a lot of stress out of my life and I urge anyone reading this to give it a go. Three minutes every day for a month and it'll creep up on you too, in a good way, I promise.

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