02 - sarah massih
When someone knows a lot about life, and they know they know a lot, it takes a special kind of personality for them not to rub people the wrong way. Sarah Massih is one of those people that truly embodies the age-old ‘peeling the onion’ adage, as likely to reveal a completely unknown fact about herself years after you’ve met, as she is to break out a story about a far away place you never knew she’d been to. We meet for a sunrise photoshoot at a beautiful natural rockpool at Curl Curl in Sydney, and through the lens, I immediately see exactly what I’ve always been fascinated by - her grounded nature and easy body confidence. After a chance meeting several years ago, Massif has become one of my spiritual gurus, of sorts, always grounded and learning, sharing her introspective cognisance in a uniquely subtle, generous way.
L - I know you’re a super private person and have zero online presence, so I really appreciate you humouring my questions for you! What's the first thing we should know about you?
S - I'm not sure, I guess it's up to you to take away from this what you choose.
L - Fair enough haha. When we’re together, I feel like we delve a lot into the idea of introspective development. Can you talk a little about that?
S - It's just about reflection, I think. I've seen what the mind can do to a person and have felt it too. I thought if I could clear my inner landscape, no matter what happened in my outer one I'd be doing okay. Plus, I think it just comes down to curiosity. I spend a lot of time in my head, I gather all of my experiences derive from it. So looking at it seemed natural.
I was just a moody kid. And so that made me lurch from ideology to ideology as a salve to that, under the assumption that intellectualising something is an aid to curing it. Life is full of insane things and I think it's a true measure of a person how they approach those things. That is something that I am still developing. I'm developing my ability to weave in and weave out of these spikes and lows of emotion and find some tranquility in the centre. I've learnt to forgive myself , in the process, which has been so enormous. I forgive the moments where I'm impatient, or lazy or short tempered or deceitful. I almost like these things. Theyre not admirable, but they're honest. And if I can feel comfortable enough looking at them, then if I want them to, eventually they'll develop into something different.
L - What's your idea of success?
S - Not being fucking miserable. Or knowing how to change your circumstances when you find that you are.
L - I love that, just about whatever self agency looks like to the individual. So what would you tell your 18-year old self?
S - Don't sleep with your exes. Everything else you'll figure out yourself. Don't force it. Life will teach you how to live it along the way.
L - I remember the day you got your first ‘Smart phone’ - literally only a few months ago, not even? You, Sam and my Dad are the only people in my life that don't use social media, tell me about why you're not on socials? What do you do when you first wake up in the morning if it's not scrolling through Instagram?!
S - Man, when I stopped being online Instagram wasn't even part of the dialogue. I think I used it once and afterwards had this awesome shame hangover where I looked at myself and what I had done like...what the fuck was that. So I stopped using FB before that by increments. Over about a year I'd come off for a month, then longer, then I stopped entirely. That was about four...five years ago? I just didn't like how I felt when I used it, so I stopped. I'm a pretty private person. I don't like the idea of going on the public record saying anything. It's so nice not having the looming pressure of how I am going to articulate events online shadow the moment itself.
L - I definitely remember thinking that about you the very first time we met, that you’re very private. So thank you for going ‘on the record’ for me haha. What is the most important thing you've learnt in the last year? In the last 5 years?
S - The last year? If you're making a mistake, stop making it. My sister said that to me once and it seemed like the simplest thing in the world. Over five years of accumulating experience, I've noticed that I can do all the things I wanted to do and assumed I couldn't. I was the only one one assuming I couldn't and I was the only one who could rally all my strength and gather all my resources and make those decisions. It's like I expected some ‘deus ex machina’ moment where I would arrive at my goal, or I would meet someone who would aid me completely. That never happened, I assume it won't and I hope it doesn't. Inversely I've learnt that trying to fix someone else isn't going to work, and it isn't fun and it isn't fair. I've learnt that its no way to spend a life. That focusing your attention on someone else’s problems - they seem so easy, you don't feel how deep they run - as a way of turning from your own, is a total fucking cop out. That one took a few goes before I finally understood it.
L - What do you love most about your partner? What's the most important thing in a relationship?
S - Hahaha it's so simple. We get along. I'm comfortable with him and always was. I've cried in front of him a million times and he asks how my menstrual cycle is (very important) and he is fun and funny and compassionate and intelligent enough to take pause over situations and consider them from a whole bunch of different perspectives. He's well reasoned. He doesn't fly into passions and I do and I enjoy learning to balance that. You know, learning not to totally fly off the handle in a spew of ideological vitriol because some suit has taken a seat at my table and not bothered to ask if it's occupied. He calms my jangling nerves and soothes me when I'm having a hard time. I find him endlessly interesting and I like the circles we talk ourselves into and out of and I enjoy having picnics in our bed or on our bedroom floor and learning from his big beautiful brain. It's so much fun. I'm starting to realise what a privilege it is to sit in a room with someone I care deeply for, and tap away at our separate projects, sort of dip in and out of conversation, and live quietly and pleasantly alongside each other.
L - Do you believe in God?
I guess short answer, no? Long answer.. I think I've approximated what people talk about when they say 'close to god' and I liked it, so I kind of get it. I don't, however, find I need it.
L - What's most important to you in life?
I had to think for a while about this one. In my own life, some days it's one thing, other days it's something totally different. I guess, in that case, it's the freedom to be whatever I am on any given day. Some days I want to be quiet, and have solitude and a good black pen and a nice notebook. I want access to lots and lots of books and the privilege of being able to read them. Some days I want loud music and good friends around and to be in a kitchen making a meal together. Some days (most days) I want to stay in bed all morning and walk around all afternoon in the hills around my house. The most important thing is freedom and the resources to find things.
L - If you could have coffee with 3 people, who would they be and why?
Ah.. I think my mum when she was my age. So I could understand her better. She's kind of private, but shes very important to me. Then maybe someone who I wished I could have spent more time with but didn't take that opportunity when I had it. And then no one, because I like drinking stupidly strong black coffee and letting my brain explode in my journal.