Thursday, March 26, 2015

On midwestern adventures (part three)

Five years ago I went to Ann Arbor, Michigan to visit my friend Tami. Little did I know that I someday would be coming back for work (and to visit Tami again, naturally).

So far it's been mostly work, as you kinda have to put in long days when your job sends you to the other side of the world for a few weeks to gather material for your research project. You don't wanna come home short on material (so, naturally, I bring home way, way, waaaay too much). However, I did get to hang out with Tami and some friends of last weekend, and this weekend we'll get together again.

In the meantime, my only adventures have been walking around on campus, on my way to the archive. They have geese there. And squirrels. On campus. Geese and squirrels in search of an education, no doubt.

Gesse. Because, geese. 

Squirrel. And some nut who didn't realise her mitten-cup-combo was in the shot...

Column. With a certain phallic quiality, as columns tend to have. 

Crocus. And a surprisingly ghost-ish tree shadow for mid-day. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

On the transvisual transgressions of the transatlantic tranquilizer trajectory.

I spent all my creative energy on that title, so now all that is left is for me to pretend I really meant to and compose a short text devoid of any creativity whatsoever.

It shouldn't be too difficult.

I am, after all, trying actively on a daily basis to subdue creativity to get non-creative things done (insofar there exists such a thing as a non-creative anything). I am getting good at it. Well. Not necessarily at getting the non-creative things done, but at subdue creativity, at least! Hooray!

Now, let's not be bleak. This is a good thing.

Creativity is overrated.

Well, no it's not. I don't actually mean that. I already revealed that I at least on some level believe creativity takes a part in most anything human beings do (not that this belief necessarily demonstrates the importance of creativity, though).

And it's not even true. I don't subdue my creativity. It just feels like a natural part of the process. A process of "growing up", "having a job", "writing a PhD-thesis", "being a normal human being" (except for my belief that "normal" "human beings" actually are "creative" all the time. Except everything, really).

This text turned bleak despite my intentions not to let it. I meant to have it cheerful and happy, in order to present a joyous view on the world (of which there are too few, generally, I think), exemplified in the fact that it's spring (yay!); that I get to go abroad for a month, tomorrow (yay!); that there exist such a thing as semicolons (yay!); and that today we had a solar eclipse (though I didn't see it due to clouds and general indoorness, so yaaeii?).

I'm going to the U.S.

For a month.

I have in the past been eager to travel.

I have in the more recent past been less eager to travel.

I have this time again found that eagerness, but then also, the less eagerness lurking behind.

I get to travel but I have to travel.

I get to see lots of interesting documents but I have to see all these documents.

I get to be all by myself but I have to be alone.

But there are more redeeming factors this time around. I get to hang out with an old friend. I get to visit a new part of the U.S. that I have been eager to see. I get a preview of summer before returning home to full spring. And when I return home I get to stay home. I can travel more, but I don't have to.

Away, away, o'hoi and away!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

On long time, no see

People tend to resurface.

I met this girl, we used to know each other. We said "hello". "How are you?" "What are you doing now?" and that was it.

I met this girl, we never really knew each other. We said "hello". "How are you?" "What are you doing now?" and that was it.

We got out before it was too awkward. The first just before. The second just after.

There was nothing there, other than a mutual agreement that we could not pass each other without acknowledging that we had once known/not really known each other.

We met, we talked, we moved on.

As I was swimming, I saw it floating by, and I picked it up.

I made a scheduled appointment to see someone I used to know. I still know him. But I almost never see him.

I tried to make a scheduled appointment to see someone I used to know. I might have known him. I might still know him. But I almost never see him.

We are actively rekindling what we used to have/still have. We are trying not to make it too awkward. The first because it would ruin everything. The second because we already made it awkward, and then we fixed it, and then we made it awkward again. And then we fixed it.

We'll meet, we'll talk, and then we will move around it for a while.

As I was swimming, I dived down to pick it up and hopefully bring it back to the surface.

I am travelling across the ocean to visit a friend I have not seen in five years.

We have stayed in touch without concern for the distances that divide us. Awkward has never been one of those distances.

As I was swimming, I moored it to the shore, and now I am returning to pick it back up again.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On a police car, four helicopters and a Canadian mountie

I must be going crazy, and I'm drinking peppermint-chocolate tea.

No, bear with me here. I could be going crazy. There is no sure-fire way of telling. My hair is too long. Or rather, it's in need of a cut. Not necessarily a get-much-shorter-cut, but a get-rid-of-the-split-ends-cut, for sure.

Jess is failing high school. It's before he becomes Peter Petrelli, so he still has that to look forward to. Or not. I don't know what happens to P. Petrelli in the end, as I never made it past season three.

My knee is making a weird noise. Icky. Rory is valedictorian. And I don't know what "valedictorian" means. I could google it. I know the gist. But there are red pandas in the world, and my boyfriend bought me a comic book.

Nick Offerman's "American Ham" is really great. But then Nick Offerman is really great too. And ham is okay, I suppose. I'm not a huge fan, even though ham is probably my favourite breakfast meat. I'm not that big a fan of "pålegg" in general. (I'm sure I've explained the oddity of the Norwegian concept "pålegg" before, so I'm not doing it again, In case I didn't, you can google it, or worse, take my clue from the valedictorian debacle and decide that you probably know what it is and remain in ignorance, while you distract yourself with another episode of "Gilmore Girls").

The turtle is staring at me judgingly. Probably because it knows I should be transcribing Henry Kissinger's notes instead of sending myself angry Facebook messages. Yes, I do that. Cruella can be truly cruel. Mari replies in kind (which is to say, not kindly).

I like seeing people happy. I think that is a sign I may not be going crazy. Or at least a good quality. Also, my laptop is running out of battery, and I'm starting to be annoyed at Lorelai. A little. We'll make up.

I suppose I should get to the point if there is one. (Or, I could plug in the laptop. That would avoid the need to make some sort of point.)

I've come to realize that one of the biggest challenges of my current line of work is to actually go to work on the days when it just isn't working. When I'm not working. Not being capable of working. When all I can do is be disgusted by the world and myself and watch "Gilmore Girls":

I've also come to realize that the valedictorian is the one wearing a slightly different robe than the rest, who holds the speech during the graduation ceremony, and I actually cried a little, during Rory's speech. It's an emotional episode.

I don't have a point, and my tea is getting cold. I might be going crazy, but at least there is another season to watch and new days to fail and fall down and stand up again. And maybe enjoy the fact that the title of this post does not match its content. Again.

Friday, August 29, 2014

On socwardness (part three)

As I've claimed on this blog before,  I am generally a fairly socially adept person, with some notable exceptions. No, really. It's partially a personality trait I've had since I was quite little and somewhat baffled realized that other people occasionally enjoy my company(!), and partially a skill I've developed through the collection of experiences I sometimes refer to as "life". It's cocky of me, though, to claim "life" taught me social skills - at least the kind of social skills I am trying to get to explaining here (I just get caught up in digressions sometimes, not that you didn't know that...) - as probably about 80 percent of them I acquired during my last stay in Japan. Working at an embassy doesn't necessarily make you diplomatic(!!), but you'd have to try extremely hard to avoid a major part of our job if it doesn't make you at least a little bit more equipped at small talk. The kind of small talk that arise in social settings that involve (some) alcohol, pieces of food intended to be eaten in a single bite ("finger food" is a ridiculous name for it, at least in Japan, where there always are chopsticks available), and clever little gadgets that attach your wine glass to your plate so that you have a hand free for shaking or exchanging business cards (of course, you are really expected to do the latter with both hands in Japan, so the really ought to make a gadget that attached the plate and wine glass directly to your body, and then somewhere which wouldn't be affected by all the bowing you also will do. I'm thinking hip or knee).

This kind of setting frequently arise when you work in an embassy, and thus you become extremely good at talking to people you barely or not at all know about mundane subjects (remember, no politics or religion!) for a relatively short time. At the end of my stay in Japan I was almost as good at small talk as the average hair dresser (which is saying something - think about it!).

However, this skill/personality trait doesn't necessarily translate well to other types of social situations, and especially not the one I'm about to describe: Friday lunch.

"Friday lunch" might sound like a specific concept the way I just put it, but in reality it isn't. It's lunch, on a Friday. However, the difference between Friday lunch and Any other day lunch is the simple fact that Friday is the day before the weekend. And thus Friday lunch invites a certain go-to conversation (or, if you will, small talk, to tie it in with the digression that introduced this particular point).

Every single Friday, at lunch time, you stand at risk of being asked "so, what are your plans this weekend?".

Now, I realize I outdigressed myself a little today, as this isn't normally what I think of when I say "small talk". Technically, the dictionary defines it as "light conversation" or "chitchat", but I frequently add "with people you don't know very well" to that, as I find that the moment you know people well enough to have proper conversations with them, you tend to stop with the small talk. I still occasionally have lunch with people where I do definitely practice small talk (by any definition), but since I work in a place with a manageable number of colleagues I find we usually have fairly meaningful conversations during lunch. Which is nice. However, even when you know people this well conversations inevitably every now and then hit a lull, and someone needs to find something to keep it going. On Fridays this will, often, be the above (and below) mentioned question.

"So, what are your plans this weekend?"

To me, this is an incredibly tricky question.

First of all, it is, like many other reasonably generic (as opposed to situational or you-specific) questions, reciprocal in its nature. You're supposed to ask it back. The agony here is to time your answer so that it won't be too long since the original question was asked before you return it. Nothing says "socward!" like ending up spending a disproportionate part of the conversation on yourself, thus not allowing the other party/-ies to participate (thus not making them "parties", as much as an "audience").

Seemingly, this timing problem might be solved by simply limiting your own answer to a few well chosen points, and then let the other party be a party. However, when the question is being used as a conversational catalyst you don't want to keep your answer too short either, as this will quickly put an end to the entire conversation. Consequently, you will have to find some kind of middle way, and that can be tricky. (I believe this particular situation has given rise to the conversational technique "But enough about me; what about you?". )

Secondly, however, you also face the age-old problem of ugly truth vs spiffy façade. You can, obviously, admit the ugly truth, and it might be refreshing that someone owns up to his/her plans of spending the entire weekend in their jammies, watching bad television and eating junk food. In reality, however, there appears to exist a social convention that dictates that even though people realize this is what you mean, you have to camouflage it into something akin to "oh, you know, nothing much. Just have some me-time. Wind down from the stressful week, really. Maybe go for a walk."

If you go all in façade-wise, though, you might also invent a few cool weekend activities you plausibly could attend. I have never gone this far down the road in trying to impress a colleague with my interesting life, but I may have indicated once or twice that I was planning on going to a party I was invited to (but didn't intend to actually go to) or maybe concretized extremely vague plans with some friend I knew never really would show up.

However, this brings me to the third of the problems the question brings about. Because debating whether to be frank or deceitful isn't just a question of façade. Sometimes it is also a matter of self defense. When you know someone well enough for them to ask what you are doing this weekend, it is often a risk that you also know them well enough for them to ask the following:

"Oh good, so nothing special, then. How about...?"

And then they have the audacity to suggest some alternative activity, frequently involving themselves!

As you have now revealed that you are not otherwise occupied, and thus you do not have the option of turning their offer down politely. Either you have to accept (against your will), or you have to tell them that you simply do not want to do whatever it is they are suggesting (as opposed to the kinder "Oh, I really wish I could, but I already planned X" which you could have answered if they hadn't already forced out of you that you weren't).

This is problematic for several reasons. You might really want (and need) that "me-time", even if it only involves jammies, junk food and jelevision. You might have a very good (or bad) reason to not want to do that particular activity - say it's a wine tasting and you cannot drink alcohol due to a medical condition, something you might not be too eager to reveal; or maybe you're being asked to help someone move, and you simply don't want to. The latter may not be a very good reason, but it should nevertheless be your prerogative to choose whether you want to do something or not. Finally, and this last one is bad, you might not want to do any kind of activity with that particular person. I have occasionally been attempted befriended with people I do not wish to be friends with. It sounds awful to say so, but it's still true. Now, I don't want to be cruel - just because I have no desire to hang out with someone doesn't mean I want them to know that. I don't want to offend someone, and at any rate it might not even be personal (say you're working with them and you feel your professional relationship might be hurt by a personal one; or maybe you simply cannot manage to keep up with the friends you already have, and don't want to add to the burden), but even when it is I still rather let someone down easily than be forced to tell them upfront that I would rather spend my weekend doing absolutely nothing than be forced to hang out with them.

Basically, no matter how you spin it the second question is deceitful, as it isn't what you set out to answer when you replied to the first question. Except, with time I've been accustomed to the possibility of getting that second question, and thus I will (as described, in detail) feel more than a little skeptical when the first question is posed. As a consequence, my response, more often than not, will be the following:

"There are several things I'm considering, but it's not set in stone yet. Why?", which leaves me with a handy (if somewhat cynical) solution to problems 1-3.

I realize my statement from the beginning of this post [" I am generally a fairly socially adept person"] may seem odd in light of the wall of text since. However, I stand by my initial comment. I am generally a fairly socially adept person. The fact that I am also a grumpy and cranky fart who does not always appreciate this particular skill/personality trait of mine is not contradictory to that.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

On feelings you might be having right now

The feeling of taking the last of the Nutella because you feel entitled to it.

Of arriving late at work because you can.

Of reading one of the free newspapers taken from a stand at the bus stop, and realizing it made you think of a friend you haven't seen in over a year.

Of actually sending him a text, suggesting hanging out again soon.

Of actually getting a reply, and a positive - and specific - one.

Of listening to light jazz without having to deal with canapes.

Of being more concerned with an achy knee than all the work you had planned to do (but didn't).

Of hating yourself a little because you forgot to order your iced latte skimmed.

Of compensating for this by hating yourself more by finally being concerned with the work you had planned to do (but didn't).

"Hate" is too strong a word, fortunately. Resent, perhaps?

Well, most of the resentment is at any rate subdued by a glimmer of happiness caused by nothing other than the fact that it is summer, sunny, a relaxed mood in general (though "in general" is too strong a term - so many places in the world in turmoil, and even if the heart becomes blasé with wear and tear the morning news still affects it).

The glimmer of happiness shines, however, brighter than the ache of the heart - or for that matter the knee - fortunately.

And it is also the feeling of slight irritation that the automated blinds try to override your manual setting.

The feeling of considering whether to write what it is that really bothers you, with the risk that it will put yourself in a poor light because it isn't something you are actually entitled to be bothered about.

Of knowing, secretly, that you weren't entitled to the last of the Nutella either, but that it still feels somewhat comforting that you took it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


We meet again, old vague acquaintance.

I never did get the hang of you last time.

Your entry into the White House was sudden, unexpected, tragic. It was inevitable for you to end up in Jack's shadow. History didn't change that.

Your domestic experience gave you no credit among students of diplomatic history. Whatever foreign policy you led, we usually accounted to your predecessor's memory. Besides, your foreign policy = Vietnam.

You are little more than a footnote in books about U.S. policy in the Middle East, and he only thing really worth mentioning is your strong support for the State of Israel (but then this isn't exactly unique among American presidents).

You are said to be one of the main inspirations behind Kevin Spacey's character in "House of Cards" (along with King Richard III of England). Good for you.

Your name. Lyndon! It sounds like a character from a 1950s superhero comic (though no the hero. Not the villain either, I think. The jury is still out). The only U.S. politician sounding more like a superhero comic character is Spiro Agnew. You can't beat that.

You did leave a legacy in domestic politics. But I don't study domestic politics.

You're from Texas. Which called for another footnote in the books about U.S. policy in the Middle East, as you were already accustomed to deal with oil companies. So no need to mention that part of your foreign policy either.

Your wife is called Lady Bird. That is all.

You share initials with your wife (and your daughters, and your dog), though I think it would be much more entertaining if you also shared her middle name. Lyndon Bird Johnson makes you sound even more like a character from a superhero comic (though still not the hero).

We were never friends. I don't think that will change this time either. But perhaps I might get to know you a little better, at least?

I am not sure how I feel about that.
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