Anti Loneliness Project
When I was in my early 20s I had this art project I always dreamt of doing but never fully realized, called the Anti-Loneilness Project.
Back in 2003 or so I wanted to create opportunities for connection in situations where connection was not the cultural norm.
One of my favorite ideas from that time was Mixed CD’s for Cab drivers.
It made me feel so strange to be in situations where I was meant to basically ignore the person in the space with me; or to treat them as a vehicle for a service or experience I wanted.
More than a decade later, I am realizing I was profoundly lonely and that my project was an attempt to manage the anxiety capitalism’s structures were causing me. And the main way I experienced how it manifested in my reality was at my waitressing job. I couldn’t deal with feeling like a means to an end; to be talked to and talk to others within a narrow scope of what was “appropriate” conversation.
I wanted to know about people and who they were, but mostly I think I wanted them to feel seen.
I was at my most go-with-the-flow in those days, having moved to New York for college and having this attitude that I could be blown by the wind and somehow end up where I needed to be. I had no concept of being responsible for steering my own ship back then.
I also had no true idea about how much I was receiving and internalizing information from the outside world with little discernment: whether it be my professors or artist friends, my reality wasn’t something I was actively constructing but more like something I was trying to grasp based on others perceptions.
I falsely felt like I was really beginning to undo what was “untrue” and replace it with something more real. And I guess in a way I was, but ideas of what was “true” were still external to me, I was still giving away my power to other people’s way of seeing.
Now that I see most of life through a sort of anthropological spiritual lens, I am always asking, what do the systems and behaviors I see around me mean and what experiences are created by systems of belief or cultural structures?
Looking back on my “Anti Loneliness” performance art project, I realize that creating connection with strangers rather than becoming more comfortable with myself amongst my friend group reflected so deeply how foreign I felt with my friends, and sometimes on this planet.
I was not born in this country. I was born in the Philippines. My name Xenia is a Greek name which makes me foreign to my own country in a way; We made up the way we pronounce it because my dad read it in a book and I don’t even say it the way my mom and dad do. So in that sense, it’s a reference to something we imagined out of thin air. That is pre-internet magic.
“Xenia” is an Ancient Greek idea that suggest it is best to show Kindness to Strangers because they might be gods or goddesses. In English, Xenia roughly translate to “hospitality.”
I used to throw parties at my house all of the time and one day I realized I never had a good time at these parties, I just loved that everyone else did. I would get blackout drunk before everyone even showed up because I was so incredibly anxious.
I now see energetically, I was and am so entwined with others that I can only imagine being “happy” or fulfilled by making others happy or fulfilled and empathically taking that as my own.
I cannot own others feelings and only be happy when they are happy. I cannot feel uncomfortable when others are uncomfortable. It is depleting, as much as I once thought this level of compassion was romantic and interesting, I now know it’s disempowering and treats others as children.
I needed to heal the loneliness within myself back then, I just didn’t know. And now I do.
I need to heal the belief that if we are not useful to others we are worthless, which is a distortion of the beautiful helpfulness that is part of Filipino culture but does not translate here in America for my particular soul.
I am here to know myself and feel my feelings. To offer myself the medicine I so easily want to offer others. To feel valued and connected within myself for myself.
I offer this permission to myself as an example of any of you out there who feel like if you stop people-pleasing, you won’t have a clue who you are.
The thing is you won’t at first. But then you will. And I assure you, you will discover that you are a treasure beyond your wildest dreams.