Don’t wander in someone else’s thoughts

Red cobblestone. This was our path through the lava.
This was our path through the lava.

I occasionally browse Netflix for something good to watch, but as there almost never is any, I return to the safe bets. That means mostly Star Trek (except for The Next Generation, which over 7 seasons only had a handful of episodes I liked), Sleepy Hollow (TV series), and a few films. My latest futile attempt to find something new led me to a rather disturbing title, Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates. Anyone’s head is likely to be a horror show, and I have no wish to find myself in someone else’s madness. Could you imagine getting lost in David Lynch’s head or worse, Stephen King’s?

Are you sure you want to look inside an author’s head, amyway? I spend quite a bit of time inside my own head, especially now that I’m so focused on wrapping up my translated manuscript. So when you see/hear me going silent, what do you think is going on inside? Could it be that I’m doing research? Imagine if I notice every little detail, every frailty I can use in a fictional character. Inviting an author to a party could be a little like inviting one of my three childhood companions, Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple, or Sherlock Holmes. They all had steel-trap minds, which meant that they didn’t miss much.

I frequently think about plots when I turn silent. One of the joys of having an imagination is seeing stories wherever I turn. I like dandelions, especially the seeds. I know they are not a favourite among those trying to create a perfect lawn, but in my opinion a lawn wouldn’t be perfect without the dandelions. The seeds look like fairies and I like the idea of being visited by creatures or spirits from the Otherworld, or even Tir na Nog.

My neighbour across the street seems to be in particularly high spirits. So much in fact that the big lighted Santa with multiple reindeer they have in the garden decided to stick around. I still see them from my sitting room window, and I ask myself why. What reasons could Santa Claus have for staying in Telemark? I have many interesting theories.

I sometimes have sinister thoughts about the evil wizard that have turned people into Christmas tree ornaments, or trapped them inside a snow globe, or chopped a head/foot/arm off a ginger bread/sugar cookie person. This is the other side of Christmas, a side where evil lurks. This is why I don’t like clowns either. It’s basically an old man wearing a mask, enticing children with tricks he knows they are going to be attracted to. I didn’t need Stephen King’s Pennywise character to shun the circus, which I never thought was entertaining.

I frequently got into trouble as a child because of my imagination, and this continued into my adult years as well. It’s the old story of “grow up and start being responsible for once”. I hope I have a more balanced view concerning my daughter. She’ll have to adjust some as she gets older, but I hope she doesn’t have to lose everything. Life without fantasy is pretty tame. I miss some of the stages we have left behind us, such as when I followed her to school through the downtown area. She was fascinated by the film The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl at the time, and as we crossed the town square, the red stones were the only safe path through the lake of lava. We couldn’t possibly walk outside these lines.

In some ways it was fantasy that saved me, so although it got me into trouble quite a bit, especially in school, I think it also worked  as insulation. It protected me against some of the harmful effect of my surroundings. I’m glad I still have the ability to create stories wherever I go, and I do have to admit, I get a certain amount of pleasure out of turning my least favourite people into a fictional character.

Finding JOY in pain

I also have a blog where I write about neurodevelopmental disorders, and I have referred to positive thinking there as something potentially harmful. I understand the logic behind, which is to use the positive strengths in us to influence our health. It makes sense that a happy and optimistic patient with a bright view of the future has a bigger chance of recovering from serious illness, and that healthy people have a bigger chance of staying healthy with a positive attitude.

The philosophy could still be flawed if it doesn’t include the chance to talk about the difficult things in life. I read about the Swedish psychologist Ida Hallgren a few years ago, and she wanted to balance positive thinking with negative thinking. It wasn’t about being negative, but about being prepared. There’s a chance you won’t be prepared, that you have to face a crisis with an empty tool box, if you always assume that nothing bad can happen.

One of many consequences could be depression. There’s a lot of debate about what depression really is. Some say it’s an illness, a dysfunction, but some also see it as a defense mechanism. It could be if we analyse a certain action, and decide that the benefits are not big enough to justify the cost. Imagine a situation that has frequently led to failure and/or humiliation in the past, and if we determine that there’s a good chance we have to spend more resources than we get back, shut downs could be used as a temporary self defense strategy. It could become a negative cycle it’ll be hard to break out of.

I grew up here. I have mixed feelings about the neighbourhood I grew up in, and the town. I love my town, but also hate it for the pain it gave me.
I have mixed feelings about the neighbourhood I grew up in, and the town. I love my town, but also hate it for the pain it gave me.

A christian blogger I’m following recently wrote a post about learning to find meaning in suffering, if we can’t lose it. That isn’t easy, but I think It’s a constructive way of thinking. She referred to the book “In Praise of Weakness” by Alaxandre Jollien. He grew up in an institution for severely disabled, but went to a regular school at the age of 17, where he discovered philosophy, which I believe he studied at the university. He views life as an ally, which is a pretty impressive attitude for someone with cerebral palsy.

Life can be pretty boring and we’re all damaged in one way or another. I like the way that is portrayed in the TV show Stranger Things. All the characters are flawed in one way or another. They have pain, estrangement, identity crisis, they are lost, and they have no idea how to fix it. I didn’t think of it as I was watching, but it’s fascinating that the Biblical scholar Michael Heiser wrote a book about the show. He views Stranger Things as a new way of telling the gospel. It could also serve as a reminder that a good life doesn’t necessarily mean a complete absence of pain. Life isn’t always robust either, so joy must be found where there is pain as well.

I sometimes have to remind myself that I have things to be grateful for. Life isn’t always a lot of fun, but there are also things that make me feel better. Sometimes it’s as simple and banal as a cup of coffee while I write in the morning. That is a great way to start the day. I also try to find meaning where there doesn’t always appear to be one.

One of the sources of pain in my life is connected to NVLD and Asberger. It isn’t my communication issues directly, but more how the world responds to them that cause problems. Dealing with disappointments, and the fact that I can’t always be what people want me to be, can make life challenging sometimes. It was hard when my workplace turned into a battlefield, and for a long time I didn’t see giving up my dream as a blessing. I was a teacher, and that’s all I ever wanted to be. I’m trying to see new opportunities now. I may not be able to lose the things that make life hard, but I can use it to find a purpose.

I’m not saying it works all the time, but instead of seeing the end of a career as a failure, I’m trying to see a new opportunity. It is true that I probably wouldn’t have started writing without the painful experiences that made me leave my former profession. That was exactly a decade ago, and it has taken me that long to find my way. I spent some years blogging about neurovdevelopmental disorders, but I focus more on fiction now. Great stories grew out of pain, in a way.

There’s still some of the negative. I have things to worry about, but my initials are still present in my life, J. O. Y.

Visual clarity for 2020

It was too tempting for many to pass, the play on words that the new decade offered. I saw several websites that started the new year with a headline about the roaring 20’s, and quite a few bloggers have written something about their 2020-vision. That reminded me of something I haven’t done yet.

I have always been a poor planner, and even in college I hated writing papers, because the professors wanted me to write an outline before I started writing the paper. The problem was that I never knew what to put in it. That came slowly as I started writing. I follow the same principle with creative writing. I have some idea about where the story is going, but a lot of it is developed much later. That worked for J. R. R. Tolkien, and he allegedly considered himself finished with hobbits after The Hobbit in 1937. He wrote the Lord of the Rings because his publisher requested more about hobbits, and the result was pretty amazing considering he didn’t really plan it when he started writing about Bilbo Baggins.

The thing I haven’t done is to write a vision statement. I didn’t see that as necessary, as my goal was pretty simple to begin with. I just wanted to write a story, but the project grew bigger farther down the path. I found a new identity, and now I write because I’m a writer. I’m in the same body I was born in, but it’s taken me a while to understand my identity. My immediate goal concerning that identity is to edit the translated manuscript, and secure a contract. I wrote it in Norwegian, but to increase my chances of success I have translated it into English. Besides, no one really understand fantasy in my country. My daughter came home puzzled from school yesterday. The teacher had given them an assignment, to write a short story, but when one of the kids wanted to write fantasy, he was told that he couldn’t write in a non-existing genre? WHAAAT?

I guess a vision would also include questions like what I do and why. The answers may change over the years, as my texts usually do, but at the moment I think my goal is partly to share some characters I love. There is also a very personal motivation behind. I don’t write about diagnoses on this blog, but nonverbal learning disorder (NVLD) and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a part of the picture. Many (including the family I was born into) have clearly seen me as less than I am. It wasn’t easy showing people that I was more than they realised, so there is an agenda behind my writing as well. I want to show that I am more, that we are more, even when we are not the next Einstein.

There is also a message in my stories. I like heroes that find themselves alone, or in an impossible situation, and then learn to deal with it. I also create characters that learn to find the person they were meant to be, the person they want to be, and I write about people that lose their trepidation as they are drawn towards the light (as opposed to the dark forces that corrupt). As I continue to work, I lose some of the fear I used to have myself. This is a part of finding my identity as a writer.

Some call it a mission statement, while others seem to prefer vision. Mine may not be quite 20/20. I may not have total clarity, so perhaps getting that is a part of my mission statement for this year. All I know right now is that I’ve been on an incredible journey together with my characters, people that are very real to me, and some day they’ll break out of my universe, and into others’.

My word for 2020

The sun disappears early behind this hill in winter, but even the colours remind me of the promise of a new beginning.
The sun disappears early behind this hill in winter, but even the colours remind me of the promise of a new beginning.

I wrote several posts in December where I reflected on loss. I have spent years longing for the feeling I used to have around Christmas, as if time was circular. Sadly, it’s more like a river moving in one direction, and once an experience is over, it’ll be nothing more than a memory. We can’t go back.

People don’t follow traditions any more, but when they did, Christmas started on December 24 and ended 13 days later. That’s what I need, almost two weeks of silence. I also appreciate the religious aspect more than I do during the noisy every day routines. One of the modern Norwegian Christmas songs puts it like this, heaven and earth came together in a stable in Betlehem. Whether it’s true or not, it is as if we can hear the angels when we listen to silence. That’s a pretty good feeling.

There’ll be no more Silent Night, Coventry Carol, and The Shepherd’s Farewell this time, but I won’t be as sad as I usually am when it’s over. I find that it’ll be quite alright going back to normal. I didn’t get the holiday I wanted, but the one I needed. My plan every year is to give my family a nice holiday, whether I feel the spirit myself or not. It’s very stressful, but in the end I do get to enjoy it.

I don’t always feel the old Christmas spirit, but I appreciate the silence. I’m going to let the slow pace continue for a few more days, and I won’t start the year with traditional resolutions. I don’t know who came up with the idea, but choosing one word was a thing a few years ago. We were encouraged to choose one word to sum up who we wanted to be, and how we wanted to live our lives.

The silence of Christmas is one option. I could also have chosen courage, faith, balance, confidence, focus, grateful, determination, patience, connexion, hope, change, and freedom. These are examples many of us long for, which means that we focus mostly on us failing.

The word I’m thinking about right now is (I) can. We all know how important language and thoughts are. You can make yourself feel miserable if you allow your negative words to run rampant. I’ve been thinking I can’t for a long time. There were other reasons too. I have wanted to be a novelist my whole life. I never tried because I was pretty sure I couldn’t. I never doubted that I had some excellent stories inside, but I didn’t believe I was the right one to tell them.

There were other reasons too. I have encountered people that have sabotaged my career and my life, so my negativity didn’t come out of nowhere. Automatic and/or intrusive thoughts are a part of the stories we tell. They have nothing to do with reality, but we still keep telling ourselves these lies. Why don’t we tell better stories?

I wrote a post about ballet once, and how it can have a positive effect on the brain. It can benefit everyone from Alzheimer patients to aspies and even people with ADHD. The brain is basically conservative. It likes flying on autopilot, which is what happens when we let automatic thoughts continue unchecked. It doesn’t like change, but it can be persuaded. When the brain is forced to do something it has no idea how to solve, it tries to adapt. The result could be that we create new connexions in the brain. I wonder if language has a similar effect. It changes our brains. We can persuade it to tell a different story. I’ve been trying to tell myself a different story in recent years, which is why I have started writing fiction. I’m trying to promote myself to myself.

The sun refected in a pudle. The sun isn't always visible, but it sometimes comes down to us.
The sun isn’t always visible, but it sometimes comes down to us.

I can a lot of things and the point isn’t how slow or quick I am. I used to focus on what a slow reader and writer I was. The point is that I read and write, and when I started writing, I found that something magical happened. I could suddenly see a world that hadn’t been inside me field of vision before. Progress is progress, and I have made some of it since the previous year was new. In other words, I know I can. That’s what I’ll try to focus on every day, something I can do, but usually find hard to pursue, because it’s often darkened by doubt.

My plan is always to travel to the future, to be there when it arrives, but it feels strange to have arrived at the 2020’s. This decade seemed incredibly distant to classic science fiction writers, and I don’t think I ever realised that the future was that close myself. I love the season we’re entering now. It’s dark, but we get a couple of minutes more daylight every day. I especially like dawn, as it symbolises hope and a renewal. That’s not a bad message when the world is at its darkest, which is what Christmas is all about. We need the silence to listen.

The time traveller

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories
and into the windows of, even, the miserable and crotchety.
From the poem Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver

The sun is a hopeless cliché in photography, and if you ask professional photographers, a few of them would probably insist that they’d never even consider shooting the sun set or rise. Yet, I never get tired of looking at it, and I still see amateur photos on Instagram that have captured something new.

We think of this time of the year as a period where the sun is weak, but that is the opposite of what’s happening. We are actually never closer to the sun than in early January, and never farther away than in early July. I live far south in the country, and we feel the dark season too, but it’s not as dramatic as Tromsø (69 degrees north) and Bodø (67 degrees north). I spent a year in the first town in the late 80’s when I was doing my military service, and two years in the second teaching (2012-2014). Being that far north meant I didn’t see the sun in winter, but the colours the sun prouduced were still visible. The promise never leaves us.

Sunirse. 8:30 in the morning on January 2 2019. It's a cliche, but true, there's always a new begnning.
8:30 in the morning on January 2 2019. It’s a cliche, but true, there’s always a new begnning.

I’m usually struggling with mixed emotions during the last few days of the year. I have emotions I’m not sure how to explain. It could be a little melancholy, but not so much that I’m desolate. I think it’s more like a sadness mixed with a yearning. I appreciate what I have, at the same time as I’m not where I want to be. This is why I like dawn. Late December is the end of something, but a sunrise symbolises a beginning and new hope. The sun is low in winter, spreading its light over a larger area, but it’s nearness to us during the coldest and darkest part of the year is intriguing.

I’m not sure what would happen if we were close to the sun, at the same time as it was high on the sky, but I can imagine. Too much, even of something good, is never a good thing. That could very well have been a situation where life never started on this planet. In other words, winter protects us. I don’t believe in resolutions, but I’ll probably return in the new year with some thoughts about the future. My point will be that I intend to help my future self. I have more sunsets and rises to see, and of course books to write. I intend to travel to the future.

Grown-up Christmas memories

Nativity scene exhibited in a Christian book shop. It's the most inspiring story ever told.
Nativity scene exhibited in a Christian book shop. It’s the most inspiring story ever told.

Christmas is a brutal month. My previous post was about the serenity of advent, but the drama of Christmas has nothing to do with the story that started it all. According to Jewish law Mary could, and perhaps should have been sentenced to death. The family of three also had to flee the Roman authorities, and 30 years later the drama started up again. But I’m talking about a modern form of family drama.

It starts earlier every year, and this year it was pretty noisy already in mid-November. The search for the perfect 24th or 25th December takes the joy out of it. All the stress makes me look forward to January. I don’t really, because I miss Christmas. I think back on previous years and wish the magic would return. There was a period in early adulthood when I felt that I was in between. I was the one member of the family that struggled to achieve any of the adult milestones. It wasn’t by choice, but I found myself between adolescence and adulthood for a long time. I still had some of the childish sentiments about Christmas, but I was expected to grow up. So I tried.

I got some of the old feeling back when my daughter was born in 2005, but life has a tendency to happen, and it’s not always good. This decade started with a couple of nice memories. 2010 was the coldest winter since the mid 80’s, with a long period (40-50 days) of temperatures between 20 and 40 degrees below zero (C). We had a lot of snow too, and my mother was visiting. She was still in good shape then, and even with the cold air, the family played in the snow. I took one of those magical pictures of my daughter that year. She was five years old and raced down a hill on a sled. She had a face that expressed terror and joy at the same time, but still had to try again, so I guess the joy won.

I also enjoyed the next couple of decembers, but then there was too much happening. I haven’t hated every Christmas after that, but with the regular bullcrap and the stress, I get overloaded. I don’t love the first three weeks of December, but the last week of the year is usually pretty good. I just had to accept that life changed, and that the magic of childhood was gone. I suppose that’s what I lost, and not Christmas.

I’m not sure what to say about this Christmas. It’s nice. Not magical or wonderful, but we are spending it with our favourite people, eating good food, and reading good books. I’m almost to the point where I think back on 2019, and some people even make resolutions. I’m not where I want to be, but I’m pretty sure I have taken some small steps towards my goal this year. Patience is a good thing, and if I just endure something long enough… It’s tempting to say that success will come if I want it enough, but that’s a load of crap. Plenty of talented people didn’t make it, or they had success too late to enjoy it. There are no guarantees, but deep down I still believe in magic.

We usually talk about Jesus during this holiday, but Joseph and Mary’s story is pretty inspirational too. I don’t know what happened during the years the gospels don’t write about, but it probably wasn’t easy keeping him out of trouble. I write a lot about life’s challenges, and the difficulties of being different. The family from Nazareth probably knew quite a lot about that. The parents didn’t give up, and they even left the country when the son’s life was threatened. That’s a pretty strong story.

I created some memories this year too. There was no magic, but I’m moving towards a goal that would be super magical. It will be.

My grown-up Christmas

Purple is the liturgical colour for advent.
Purple is the liturgical colour for advent.

December has been a challenging time for me. I lost Christmas many years ago, and I spent a long time looking for it. I missed the feeling I had in childhood, and I wanted it back. I suppose the problem was that life changed, and I didn’t like that.

I kept a lot of the childish interest for Christmas into adulthood, and still watched films like The Snowman (Raymond Briggs), How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Polar Express, Prancer, and Prancer Returns. I lost more and more of that, and one day Christmas meant a lot less to me than it used to. This is still a very Christmassy home. I make an effort for myself and for the family, but the feeling from years ago never comes back. I think the real problem is stress, which is why I usually get the spirit for periods. It’s just not the same as before.

It isn’t all lost. In terms of TV-watching I still have some classics left I enjoy watching with my family, such as Little Women (I prefer the 1994 version with Winona Ryder, Christian Bale, Susan Sarandon), The Chronicles of Narnia (The Disney films are alright, but I still like the BBC TV-series best), A Christmas Carol (1970 Albert Finney), and Peanuts specials. Losing Christmas made me sad, but then “I thought of something I hadn’t before. What if Christmas, I thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!” (Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas).

There’s no doubt that I have appreciated December more for advent than for Christmas in recent years, which I suppose is natural. It’s not about lights, gifts, loudness (sound as well as visual noise), perfect feelings, and perfect behaviour. The last four Sundays before Christmas are called advent, and it’s a time for reflexion. There are different traditions concerning the advent wreath, but what they have in common is that this month is a spiritual preparation for the birth of Jesus. To Christians the idea is of course to stay true to what Christmas is all about in their religion. It is important, but in my opinion not as important as Easter.

The candles are called the Prophecy Candle (to remember the prophet Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Jesus), the Betlehem candle (represents love/the manger), the Shepherds candle (represents joy), and the Angels Candle (represent peace). These are the four candles of advent, and in our tradition they are all purple, while some use a rose-coloured fourth candle. There is also a tradition of the fifth candle, a white one in the middle of the wreath. The Christ Candle is lit on Christmas Eve, and this represents purity.

I have no problems with people opting out. Religion is tricky stuff, but I think I would still appreciate the slower pace of advent. I like the chance to hear my own thoughts, to reflect on where I am, and where I want to be, and to listen to great music like the Christmas Oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach, Messiah by Georg Friedrich Händel, and the Nutcracker by Pjotr Tsjajkovskij.

It’s sort of a mindfulness kind of situation. I create a peaceful environment, and ideally I would bring this with me wherever I went. It would be good to have advent all the time, a sort of advent state of mind. That’s not easy when you have bills to pay, all sorts of people and situations to deal with, health issues, and all the things that can overwhelm us. It’s hard to get that good feeling, to feel at home when the gravity weighs us down. In some sense you are never home if you don’t have that feeling.

So advent is about coming home, about being less lost. Gravity is especially strong at the end of the year, and along with a massive amount of stress, media wants us to just relax and be happy. This search for happiness just adds more stress, in particular if you can’t find it. This is where advent can help us. It can give us a chance to opt out of the frantic “let’s create a perfect family joy and peace-mode”. It doesn’t have to be either or. I have seen headlines recently about politically correct families that claim to have stopped giving each other Christmas gifts. They give each other their time and company instead. That’s almost like hearing Jean Luc Picard from Star Trek saying that all they want is to better themselves. They have put all human egotism behind them. Excuse me while I barf. Why not give gifts, as well as time?

I don’t go to a lot of family parties during Christmas, which is why I can be more relaxed. Many find silence uncomfortable, but I imagine that authors like it more than most. My only addiction is writing, and I spend a lot of time in solitude working on my story. Christmas is a nice mixture of solitude and family. We have good food like pinnekjøtt (salted, dried, and smoked mutton), turkey (American Christmas dinner), sweet potato pie, different variants of pickled herring, and smoked salmon. There’ll be boardgames, a few films, books to read, and some walks to burn off the crazy amounts of excess calories. Most of all there’ll be the advent state of mind.

There is a risk involved with silence, because there could be a certain amount of sadness mixed with joy. That happens when you listen to your own thoughts, but the point is dealing with them, and not letting them take over.

A library for everyone

The library at home is a monstrosity, but it has been home to me since childhood.
The library at home is a monstrosity, but it has been home to me since childhood.

I like libraries with rules, which is why I don’t like the library where I live now. We moved here a year ago, and it took me a while to figure out why a town with well over 50 000 people had such a small library. Then it dawned on me that the reason their book collection is small, and the reason they seem to allow a lot of noise and disruption is that people don’t go there for books anymore.

They don’t go because with an app, a code, and a number from your library card, you have free access to a large collection of e-books, newspapers, and journals from all over the world. You don’t actually have to go anywhere to loan the books. The library is “a social venue with a content formed by the people using it”. That’s a part of the marketing for the new main library in Oslo, which will open in March next year. That inspired a local politician from a socialist party to ask a question on his blog: “Will this invitation include drug addicts/alcoholics, homeless, mentally ill, and others that may have challenges to deal with?” He also refered to San Fransisco as an example of how it could be like, where 15 percent of the customers are reportedly homeless.

Being inclusive and tolerant sounds nice, right? I’m not sure it would work in Norway, because people are expected to behave here. We like to think of our society as a warm and accepting one, even though there are constant reminders of the contrary. I see headlines from time to time about someone that have fallen on the snow/ice, and no one offers any help. They see the seemingly helpless person on the ground, but they continue walking. Is this acceptable?

I can understand the argument about the library as an open house where no one is denied access, but there is something about the Norwegian personality that makes me skeptical. People are expected to behave here, but if they don’t, there isn’t much you can do about it. There’s a lot of bullying in Norwegian schools, and I know about too many cases where the victim is punished. Not always directly, but I know there is a pressure to accept a return to normality. How do you think a victim feels about forgiving, and going back to the situation before the teachers knew about the bullying?

I grew up in a small town with big city-issues, which gave it a national reputation as a place with a drug problem. It’s a peaceful place most of the time, but I lived downtown the last four years before I moved away, and saw some disturbing behaviour. There could be sudden outbursts of anger and violence, usually between drug addicts, but when this happens in a confined space (shopping street, shopping center, bus, or a library), innocent people could be caught in the middle.

I’ve had many different jobs, and one of them was cleaning a mall. We were three people working from about 3 in the morning, and the last area I cleaned on my shift was one of the restrooms. Instead of picking up the sack from the paper towel thrash can, my superior wanted me to stick my hand into it and take the paper out , so that we could use the same bag for days, but my co-workers fortunately warned me against it. The problem was that there were sometimes a couple of used syringes together with the paper towels. This happens when you have hospitality with no rules.

People like to pretend that they welcome everyone. The anti-Trump campaigners are no different from Norwegians during the so-called Syrian refugee crisis. They appeared to be calling for open borders, with absolutely no restrictions. This wouldn’t cost us anything as the refugees would start working as soon as they arrived, but everyone knows that the employment rate is much lower among immigrants (78,5 percent in the whole population not counting immigrants, compared to 58 percent among Asians and 51 among Africans). So where would these jobs come from?

That was pretty naive, and as if that wasn’t enough, no one has ever mentioned treatment of mental disorders (and even poverty alone can cause PTSD), resources to special education, and the racism they have to deal with. Coming here isn’t necessarily easy. There is a limit to how many one country can help, and as long as you allow someone to stay, you are obligated to help. No one wants to talk about it, but there is a price to pay. You also have to make sure that the existing population don’t pay a too high price.

We’re developing into a society where no one is supposed to object to anything. There’s a lot of things that don’t make sense. Many Norwegians like to attack Christianity as a religion of hate. They use selfish and evil individuals as evidence, but the same mob celebrates Islam as a religion of love and tolerance. I’m not going to make a big deal out of that in this post, but in a society where you only have freedom of expression if you express the accepted ideas, or where you are not expected to intervene no matter what you see, an open library may not be as harmonic as this socialist politicians imagines.

Libraries never ask people why they have come there. I suppose that’s a good thing. No one treats me like I’m different there. No one judges me, and I’d love to let everyone get that feeling. It still wouldn’t be the same place anymore. It already isn’t where I live now, because there is too much noise. When there are no rules, there is never harmony. There is less civility in general, which makes me think we are moving towards dystopia, and when things start breaking down, there is a bigger need for rules than ever. When people look for someone to blame, there are certain groups that are vulnerable.

So for a library to be safe for everyone I don’t see this politician’s vision as realistic. Not in a country that doesn’t think security. There was a shocking report on the news a couple of days ago that should have outraged all of us. An 18 year old guy walked around inside an upper secondary school for four hours before any of the teachers reacted. He was carrying several knives and was dressed in a military field uniform. Nothing happened, but this could just as easily have been another Anders Behring Breivik.

Perhaps the solution really is to stay at home ad read e-books?

Confusing art

frit bowl.
Didn’t realise I had so much art, but I think I prefer Cezanne and Van Gogh.

There are probably as many definitions of art as there are people. In my country the authorities started using the term “the extended concept of culture” in the early 1970’s, which also included sports. The final of the Norwegian football cup was played today, and the team from my hometown was one of the finalists. There was a time when this would have excited me, but as I had already started playing Bach’s Christmas Oratorio I wasn’t going to switch to something that trivial.

Football mostly provokes me today because of the money that goes into it, including public funds. There is at the same time less and less money being spent on people that really need help. It provokes me when that happens to a larger and larger extent in countries that pretend to be socialist. Football certainly isn’t art when Norwegians play it, but I must admit I used to like watching players like Roberto Baggio, Andrea Pirlo, and Fransesco Totti. Still, it bothers me how much money disappears down this drain. I still have the capacity to enjoy a football match occasionally, but it gives me a bad feeling most of the time, so I’m trying to focus on other things.

So I see Bach and Händel as culture it’s worth listening to in December, while football excites me less. I don’t think there is a definition of art people can agree on, but personally I don’t understand things that doesn’t have beauty and/or meaning. Granted, we are talking about very subjective understanding. My first encounter with art was the public art gallery in my hometown. They have a lot of visiting exhibitions, and my class took an excursion there when I was around 10-12 years old. What made the strongest impact was a piece where someone had applied red lipstick, and used their lips as a stamp pad. I have seen a lot of things since then that mystified me.

Some may not call what I’m working on art, but the fantasy story I’m writing is art to me. I don’t pay much attention to what others are doing. I certainly wouldn’t waste energy of envy, but it sometimes puzzles me what people are willing to patronise. The latest I heard was a performance artist that duct taped a banana to a wall and sold it for $ 120 000. Clearly the buyer didn’t buy the art to put it in a museum. This was meant as spontaneous art that would vanish. I guess it’s all about being the first one, and if someone else tried it, they would be acused of lacking originality.

One wonders if we are doomed. There was a time when our ancestors spent all their resources on survival. Then things got better and they had time and energy to do more and more that had nothing to do with sustaining life. When I look at some of the things we focus on today, I wonder how much longer our civilization will last.

I suppose it’s positive that we still live in a world willing to support art, and we probably all benefit from a general inrerest in art, but I’m sometimes surprised at what is successful, and what is not. As for what is art and what role it has in society, I know it isn’t only about creating paintings of flowers and landscapes. It’s also about reminding us of who we are, and how our culture came to where we are now. It’s about exposing what is hidden, and changing the world. I believe in art that will inspire people more than a decaying banana. I believe in telling stories and showing how the world could be like. I don’t know if a banana could do that.

My life hacks

I wouldn't recommend eating as a way to deal with emotions, but it is true that coffee and pepper/ginger snaps are pieces of happiness in December.
I wouldn’t recommend eating as a way to deal with emotions, but it is true that coffee and pepper/ginger snaps are pieces of happiness in December.

I follow Psychology Today on Facebook, which means that I get a few links everyday. Most of them are junk, but once in a while I see a headline that is worthy of my attention. There’s been quite a few ones about loneliness, depression, anxiety, stress, , grief, guilt, personality disorders and so on. Some of these are specifically about teenagers, which is sad and fascinating at the same time.

We are constantly being told that no matter how bad we’re feeling, life is better for the vast majority than it has ever been. That is true. Poor people today are better off than poor people in the past. Some of my favourite children in literature have been created by Roald Dahl, C. S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling, Rick Riordan, and Charles Dickens. Some of the children I’m thinking about wouldn’t have had a good life, and even though Charles Dickens was a little more realistic than the earlier Jane Austen, reality was a lot worse.

Still, we have things to be grateful for, which is my point in this post. There is something about modern life that breaks us. We work less than previous generations, but still have more money than people used to have. Life should be better, but it isn’t to many people. So we have people telling us what we can do to feel better. It turns out I’m already doing some of them.

One of the recent articles Psychology Today shared was mindfulness hacks to feel better instantly. I’ve never tried any of the conventional methods, but we were intoduced to Qi Gong during one of the periods I did occupational rehabilitation. It wasn’t my thing at all, but the PT-article mentioned some strategies that I have been doing without thinking of them as therapy.

One of them is called negative visualization, which means that you try to visualize negative outcomes in your life. Think about what you have and what you have accomplished, and imagine how your life would have been without them. I couldn’t imagine life without my wife and daughter, so when things don’t go my way, I think about the life I could have had. That would not have been a good life. My family have been a part of the journey I hope will lead to publication, and this will be our success. It makes me appreciate what I have, but I also see that there could be multiple outcomes. Things could go wrong, but things could also go right. Writing a book is definitely something that has gone right in my life, and the joy I’ll feel when it’s completed will include a fair amount of exhoneration.

Another hack I like from the article’s list of five is adopting a story-telling frame. Maybe all of you wouldn’t agree with me, but I think a few would say that life is pretty boring. Life in itself doesn’t always feel like a miracle, which I suppose is a side effect of modern life. It’s the content we fill it with that adds the flavour, but it isn’t fun all the time. There is a fair amount of adversity, things we don’t want to do, or are not able to do, and we encounter mean people. So how do we deal with life?

One way is to look at your life like a story. I like reading about the adventures my favourite character embarked on, but I’m glad it’s them and not me. I wouldn’t mind having some magic abilities, if that were a possibility, but I don’t want to fool around in the Dark Forest, encounter He Who Must Not Be Named, Queen Jadis, Greek Gods, or any other shady character. I want my fictional heroes to do that for me, but these stories are familiar to us because life is a lot like a story.

We have periods where life is a series or successes, but like our heroes there are also setbacks. Personally I have encountered a few Voldemorts, Dementors, Malfoys and professor Quirrells in my life. Two of them are especially tricky, because they may not agree with their master, but they serve him because they are too weak to resist. The result is still the same. So there is not a straight line to your goal, but thinking like this tells you that life is a battle you can win. You have options when the road is blocked.

I sometimes read real life stories, as well fictional ones, that upset me. They also give me hope, and I think that’s what we can learn from them. It’s alright to despair, but I try not to focus so much on angst that I’m left compromised. The result is that I’m pretty content with what I have. I am in a situation I wish to improve, but I still find that I can live with what I have. That’s one of my benefits of reading and writing. It’s the written language that helps me deal with life.

P.S. I want to add that Psychology Today should be read with critical eyes. Many of the articles there are written by psychologists, psychiatrists, and academics. Some have published books on the topic they write about, and some have a private practice they want new patients for. They also have a directory of therapists and treatment facilities in the USA. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading them, but keep in mind that a lot of the content is more like personal blogs and advertisement than scientific articles.