The Happiness Machine

A watercolour illustration where a man overlooks a bridge in Alexandria, and the word scrawled on the walls of the bridge reads 'wahashtini' — meaning 'I love you'.

“In the Arabic word is wahashtini which means “I miss you” addressing a female. The city’s name is also female, and as I saw this hashtag on the old corniche on a day I was barely able to see the sea, I felt it was symbolic – almost as if it was a complaint from the citizens who miss their city.” — architect Mohamed Gohar on Alexandria.

My first exposure to Nick Cave’s music was — believe it or not — came from this compilation album for my favourite TV series at the time, The X-Files (to say it was a favourite would be an understatement, I practically worshipped the series). Nick Cave wrote and contributed a few songs, along with his band at the time The Bad Seeds. After that, I never actually listened to any of his other works. Until I was introduced to his newsletter, The Red Hand Files, where he answered fan mails sent through Tumblr with poetic thoughtfulness.

Grief seems to be a recurring theme in his newsletter, especially after he lost his son Arthur in an accident. Struggling with handling grief myself, I find myself numb when facing questions from others who had lost their loved ones on how to deal with the emotion — in fact, emotion isn’t even the perfect word to group grief in. It isn’t a phase either, you don’t outgrow grief. One adapts with grief. If I could write within an ounce of as good as Nick Cave does as so I could offer comfort to these people, it would be nice. I have been taking notes.

There’s a question today on handling anger, fear, and being possessive. The poster lost her mother in a city where everyone also loved and cherished her, and she was angry that she felt she didn’t get to claim her mother for herself. Cave answers, in no way at all invalidating her anger — where in many occassions would often be framed as negative, but not to Cave — as he apologised earlier on if he “fall short” for he “cannot claim to understand the complexities of your situation”:

It feels to me, that the meaning exists within the anger. Not only is your anger justified, it is compassionate and essential and, as you said, connects you to your mother, even as those around you take possession of her, eclipsing your feelings with their own needs. The righteous energy of your anger is the flaming sword you hold above your mother’s memory. It may be the very thing that protects her, shielding her from the suffocating demands of the world. Perhaps, at this time, your anger is a way of safekeeping the spirit of your mother, of caring for her, of seeking her, of calling her to you. It is a pure and holy anger.

Then there is also another form of grief — as we all know it’s not exclusively for people, for it encompasses all aspects of loss — of a city one lives in, as shown by architect Mohamed Gohar in trying to document both the past and the present of his hometown Alexandria, the ancient Egyptian port city. “For a long time I have been attached to the past – or the past is attached to me. The constant fear that the essence of the city will disappear and that I will lose all traces of my own past here, as well as the pasts of others who have lived in this city over the centuries gave me the urge to start documenting what is still standing before people or time tear it down.” Grief is feeling the grip of attachment, or what’s left of it.

Some related, some not:

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