Feb 15 2019

The shape of a life

I haven’t yet reached the age where I feel that I can be considered really old but at the same time, I can no longer be termed a youngster either. I still have friends who are older than me and by that I don’t mean people just a year or two older but older by at least 10 or 15 years. It won’t be until I reach that pinnacle of age where all the people whom I know are younger than me, that I can call myself truly ancient and possibly worthy of being called wise. In spite of this lack of lofty ancientness, I still spend a bit of time, sometimes more than a bit, looking back at my life and trying to make sense of it, trying to push and pommel it into a shape that I can understand.

When I was still a daughter of living parents, I spent a lot of time doing this to my parent’s life, especially my mother’s, and let me tell you, she didn’t come out looking all that great. I used the shape that I had created of her life as a sort of guidebook of how not to live my own life. From the time I was 18 to the time I was 40, I pretty much decided to do everything differently from the way my mother had done it. I guess I saw my mother’s life as a complicated series of poor choices. I can now say complicated because as I grew older I was able to see the complexity behind those choices and I grew to understand them and have sympathy for them but still…they were poor choices and effected her entire life and not really in a good way. And, yes, I admit it…I am judgemental…live with it.

The big difference between my mother and me and which contributed to my being able to live a much different life than she did was that my mother had a mother who was a real bitch and I didn’t. At my grandmother’s funeral my mother was very insistent that the Rent-a-rabbi who did the service didn’t do the usual thing of speaking of the deceased in glowing terms. The best compliment she allowed the rabbi to utter was that Bertha was a strong woman who was able to do the things that she needed to do. It was left unsaid that being able to do those things didn’t necessarily make her a very nice person. My grandmother was bossy, opinionated, domineering and narrow-minded. She owned my mother. And left scars. I am grateful that my mother chose not to be like her. And until this very moment, as I write this, I never realized that like me, my mother made choices to be different from her mother. So I guess we actually have that in common.

From the time my mother was 13 or so, my grandmother was busy looking for boyfriends for her because, after all, what other point is there to a girl’s life but to be married. My mother graduated high school and continued living at home while she was working and contributing income to her family. She got married at the age of 21 to my father who she had known for barely a year. She once told me she married him because she felt comfortable with him and I guess that was as good as any reason for marriage, especially if you had your mother breathing down your neck. But when she told me that, when I was 16, I thought that was a terrible reason. After getting married, my parents moved into the second floor  apartment of the two family house where my grandparents lived on the first floor. Eight years later, when I was 4, the five of us moved from Jersey City out to Budd Lake. At least then we had separate houses…though still within walking distance. And that’s where my parents stayed until my grandfather and later my grandmother died.

I, on the other hand, left my parent’s home when I was 18. It wasn’t a distant journey, just 60 miles away and I moved into a college dormitory that was mostly paid for by my parents. I moved back home the summer after my freshman year but after my second year at college, I never moved back home again. I studied Art like my mother would have liked to do but never got the chance to do. From the time I was 25 I supported myself as a commercial artist, never needing to use the typing skills my mother was so good at and which she insisted I learn in high school so I could support myself. My mother worked at the same job for 30 years. It was just a job, not a vocation. I worked doing something I loved doing and which I had a talent for. And I never stuck around in one job longer than 2 years. Most of my time in New York I spent as a freelancer moving from one project to another. I never allowed myself to get tied down in a relationship either.  I waited till the age of 38 before getting married, after knowing the man who would be my husband, for eight years before deciding to make the plunge. And the plunge required that I move to a totally different country. All the choices I made in my life were diametrically different from those my mother made. I was never going to be like her!

And then my son was born.  And as he grew from a tiny blob of baby into a small child, I found that when I opened my mouth, my mother’s voice came out. Imagine my surprise!

My mother always served dinner at 6pm. Her dinner plates were filled with her 3 main food groups; a form of protein either chicken, beef or pork; some veggie; and some kind of starch either noodles, potatoes or rice – except on Mah Jongg nights when we got served TV dinners. After I moved out, I never made dinner at six. As long as I lived by myself, I ate what I could find in my fridge or made something bought at the last minute that day. Supper usually consisted of broiling some meat or chicken and steaming some broccoli. I often ate out with friends or had small dinner parties at home when I cooked more elaborate meals. But when my son started daycare, suddenly dinner at 6pm made sense. I discovered that my mother had been right.

But now my son is 27 years old and about to move into his own apartment. My husband and I will be on our own, like we were in the beginning of our life together. And I find myself sitting here examining the shape my life has formed.

A friend pointed out recently that I would soon be an empty-nester. But I wasn’t one of those people who moved almost directly from being a child in a parent’s home to being in charge of a home with children in it. I was alone in my own nest for a very long time before finally having a nest-mate and then a nestling. And while I will miss my baby boy and will enjoy his visits (that he promises he will make) I think that being an empty-nester will feel like a return to who I once was rather than a totally new, uncomfortable state of existence. And my nest wont be empty – Håkan will still be sharing it with me.

My father lived to 77 and my mother to 85. That’s only 10 to 18 years away. And given that the past 10 to 18 years have passed so quickly, I assume the coming ones will too. There must be some kind of law of nature that states that the older one gets, the faster time moves. So I stand here on the cusp – one part of me planted firmly in who I have been and the other part facing what still might be to come. I have no great bucket list of things I want to do or places I want to visit. I pretty much have done the things I wanted to do. I didn’t want to jump out of a plane when I was 25 and still don’t. Same for climbing big mountains or skiing down them. I have traveled to various places – most of them had people I knew living there – the people living there were more important than the place. I never really had any wanderlust. The only place on the planet that I can ever remember desperately wanting to be was New York City. And I lived there – and now I don’t.

So here and now, I find myself at the age, which when I was 20, I would have described as, “Wow, she’s pretty old, man!” And since I no longer have any living parents to torture with my examination of their lives, I find I am left with examining my own.

Is it a good life? Did I fuck up a lot? Did I do what I wanted to do? What did I miss out on? Was anything I did important? Was I good at anything? Could I have tried harder? Has my life had meaning? To who? Where is it I have landed? And then of course the really biggest question of all – What is the point of this whole shebang – this thing called me?

I guess maybe I do have a bucket list after all – Its trying to find the answers to these questions – to discover the shape of my life.


Jan 24 2019

Outlander – it’s all about them…and them…and them too

Somewhere back in the late 1980s/early 1990s there was a TV show on that I really enjoyed. It took a while to get it, over here in Sweden and it took even longer for my apartment to get the cable channel that showed it so I didn’t start watching it till it had been on TV in the US for at least a year or so. It was called thirtysomething. I found myself relating to it a great deal. I felt like the show was about my life – though my story would have been more like fortysomething because as usual, being the late bloomer that I was, I didn’t start the kind of life thirtysomething was about till I was 10 years older.

Thirtysomething was a TV show about Michael and Hope, a young couple in their 30s, living in Philadelphia, and their new baby. It told stories about their life, how they adjusted to new parenthood, about how they dealt with their careers, how they dealt with their relationship with each other. I loved watching that show because my husband and I also were adjusting to being new parents too and I could relate. But it didn’t just tell the story of Michael and Hope and little Janie – because nobody just lives in a vacuum – people always have other people in their lives. While Michael and Hope were the center of the story, the show also had stories about Michael’s relationship with his business partner Elliot and Elliot’s wife Nancy. The show examined stories about Michael’s friendship with his best friend Gary, Michael’s cousin and photographer Melissa and her love affairs, and stories about Hope’s best friend Ellyn.  Thirtysomething lasted for 4 years on Television. And then we all moved on…but I never forgot the show.

Thirty years later, there is Outlander. I started out by watching the TV series. Four episodes in, I had to read Diana Gabaldon’s books. That was in 2014. It’s been four years now and I am still reading the books, over and over again and am now almost about to watch the final episode of Season four which is based on book four, The Drums of Autumn. There are four more books in the series already published, another is possibly going to be published this year in 2019 and a tenth book is promised. So if everything works out well, I have 6 more seasons of the TV show to look forward to. In the meantime, I keep myself busy with the Outlander subreddit, posting occasionally when I feel I have something to say. I read the Gabaldon thread on The Litforum though I haven’t yet worked up the nerve to post anything there. I follow various people from the Outlander world on Twitter and I am a member of the Facebook group Outlander Sweden, even going so far as attending a real-life meet up with members of the group here in Stockholm.

I have to admit, it is mainly the 16 episodes of season one, in which Scottish Jamie and his English Claire find each other and fall in love, that I have watched the most often. During the almost year-long hiatus between the end of season one and the beginning of season two, I watched the episodes over and over again, so much that I could almost recite them by heart. The following 3 seasons, not quite so much but by then I was deep into the books, reading them continuously on my Kindle. On a Kindle all books look the same – same page format, same font – so its hard to remember which book I am actually reading at the time. All eight Outlander big books have somehow coalesced into just one very very long story and while I remember events in the story, I have a hard time remembering what happens in which book.

In my lurking around on Reddit/Outlander and even on Twitter, I have come across a lot of comments about how after Season one and two, there just isn’t enough Jamie and Claire. And especially now in season four there are even episodes where they are barely glimpsed and that in some episodes they aren’t even seen at all!! People are complaining that this is supposed to be a show about just them! Nobody else counts! It should be the love story of Jamie and Claire and only that. That’s what they come to the show for. I assume that the majority of these complainers are mainly non-book readers though there are a few who claim that when they read the books they skip over the parts that are not Jamie and Claire centered because…those other parts are just boring.

Now I admit I can understand the skipping-over-parts thing – because in my first read of each book I found myself skipping parts too. I skipped over the medical explanations; I skipped the battle planning scenes; I skipped the physical descriptions of various new characters; I skipped the parts that said what the scenery they were traveling through looked like. I skipped all these things because all I wanted to know in my first read-through was what is going to happen! On subsequent readings I read all those skipped parts because I either found I loved the way the descriptions were written or I realized that what I had skipped was actually important to understanding the story. But these complainers, whether they be book-readers or show-only viewers seem to think that all that stuff they were skipping or thought unnecessary was not really important to the story because the only important thing was the love story between Jamie and Claire and they wanted more of the intimate and needless to say, sexy scenes between them in all the series episodes and even in all the following books too.

Now Diana Gabaldon has in no uncertain terms stated that Outlander does not fit within the Romance trope – It is not just about how one person pursues another and after much trials and tribulations, they finally hook up, get married and live happily ever after. Those type of stories usually only have two main characters, the pursuer and the prey. Everyone else is unimportant and just minor page filler. If that was all Outlander was, I probably would never have made it through the book or bothered to open Dragonfly in Amber. Or watched more than the first season.

In case you forgot, I began this post talking about a completely different TV show. No, I havent absent-mindedly wandered off topic. When I read all these complaints about the lack of Jamie and Claire story, I keep thinking back to thirtysomething. Now, Michael and Hope were interesting characters that I related to and I liked watching as their relationship moved forward (and sometimes backward) but what made the show so great was watching how M&H related to all their friends and family around them and how these people affected M&H. The same can be said for Jamie and Claire.

The fictional lives of Jamie and Claire Fraser also do not exist in a vacuum. In the first book/season it is mainly Jamie’s family and the people he knows that we get to meet; his sister Jenny, his uncles Dougal and Colum. Jenny’s husband is Jamie’s best friend. We meet Dougal’s two henchmen, Angus and Rupert and grow very fond of them. And of course there is Black Jack Randall. By getting to know these additional characters and how they affect Jamie and Claire, we get a better idea of who our two favorite characters are, and what they are made of…in ways we wouldn’t know if all we did was see them in bed together. They broaden the story, make this fictional world more real, because like all of us, there are people all around them that they react to and affect. As long as those secondary characters simply circled around our heros, that seemed to be ok to the complainers. Our heros were always there to watch, standing in the center.

But by book 3/season 3, we get two new heros who slowly seem to start taking center stage away from our central love story  – we get introduced to Brianna and Roger. Like our initial heros were when we first met them, Brianna and Roger are young and you can tell that they are destined to fall in love and fall in love hard, like Brianna’s parents did 20+ years ago. Both Brianna and Roger are very important people to Jamie and Claire and their story needs to be told. Brianna and Roger are like a reflecting glass to Jamie and Claire, showing us more about who J&C are by the way they react to their daughter and her Roger. There are whole chapters devoted to just Brianna or just Roger. And an entire season 4 episode without any view of either of our favorite heros. And then there is Young Ian, who shows us how Jamie would have been as a father if he had had the chance to raise any of his own children. Whole chapters just about Ian – how will they do that in the show I wonder. Sacrilege, some will cry I am sure! And further on in the books, lots and lots about William, Jamie’s son who in the series we have just barely begun to get to know. And as the books go on, Gabaldon draws more and more characters that rub elbows with the two people in our favorite love story. How the show will deal with them, who will make it into the episodes, who will be forgotten and left to inhabit only the books, is anybody’s guess at the moment. Only the show writers will decide that (perhaps with help from Diana).

But in spite of the growing number of important characters who appear, our beloved Scot and our beautiful Sassenach are still the center of the story. It is because of them there is even a story at all and we always keep coming back to them. They are like the stones dropped into a large shallow puddle, lying there in plain view, in the middle of the widening rings spreading out from the place where the stones landed. So I am more than happy to read about/watch episodes only showing Brianna or Roger or Ian or William and any of the other characters who Diana writes into the lives of Jamie and Claire. Because by getting to know them and how they are related to our heros, by the time I meet up with Jamie and his Claire again I know so much more about these two  characters who I have grown to love through eight books and 4 seasons of TV. I can’t wait to follow all the threads that Diana and our TV writers weave around Jamie and Claire Fraser.


Jan 11 2019

The good news.

Well, so the good news is…the sun came out today! I saw its bright glow shining on the wall of my bedroom closet doors as I woke up about noontime after I had slept a few hours since arriving back at my apartment around 9am from my all-night vigil at Södersjukhuset’s ER.

The other good news is that I am not dying. My dizziness wasnt because I had a stroke. The wonderful ER doctor subjected me to all manner of stroke tests which you have to do and I passed with flying colors. It was sort of like being back in kindergarten and playing follow the leader. I could touch my fingertips to my nose with my eyes closed; hold my arms up in the air for the required number of seconds also with closed eyes; I could easily move my left heel down my right shin from knee to toe and the same applied to my right heel; I followed her pen as it moved in front of my eyes, going back and forth and up and down. It was sort of fun, if playing games in the hospital qualifies as fun.

I also seemed to pass the test for what is known here as krystalsjuka or benign positional vertigo in English. The doctor did all kinds of tests moving my head back and forth and up and down and it didn’t make me feel worse. I didn’t really think that was what I had anyway since the waves of dizziness and unbalance came on me when I was not really doing much to move my head. The final episode, which sent me to the ER, happened when I was calmly sitting at the kitchen table reading my kindle – no head movement going on then at all.

I told the ER doc about the infection I had 3 weeks earlier, thinking that might be causing the inner ear problem but that infection was now gone due to a cure of antibiotics. She asked if I had any feeling of impaired hearing or pain in my ears. I have no ear pain and while I probably do have a bit of impaired hearing, that is probably due more to attendance at rock concerts long ago and age.

So…what was the result of my spending 8 hours (from 1 am to 9am) in the ER?

Well, first I got to spend some quality time with my programmer son, we got to talk and bond a bit. That was very nice. He stayed with me till the ER doctor told me at just after 6am that she recommended that I stay the additional 2 hours until 8am when the hospital neurologist came on duty. After all, she said I had been there so long already it was worth it to stay another 2 hours and talk to the specialist. So I sent Bevin home and asked the nurse for a pretty, dark blue hospital blanket and with the room light turned, off I settled in for the wait.

At a quarter after 8, neurologist Jonas (doctors here in Sweden always just introduce themselves with their first names. Sweden is very informal that way) came in and turned on the overhead lights. He seemed to have already read the detailed report that the ER doctor had written up and proceeded to ask a few questions of his own. He did a few of the stroke tests with me and shook my head about to test for that positional vertigo thing. And then he told me that in his opinion, I was perfectly fine. I had just had a case of unexplained vertigo and that it would probably be fine. He suggested that it might also have been due to a bout of low blood pressure, which was something I had thought too. In any case, at that point of the morning I had to admit I was definitely feeling mainly just tired and no longer dizzy. So he sent me off with a Good Luck and a paper describing exercises for positional vertigo, just in case.

So the second and probably most important result of my hospital adventure, is that I am fine. I am not dying. Well, we are all dying eventually but I am not doing it today. And that is nice to know.

When I got there, I posted on Facebook that I was sitting in the ER waiting room. My son who despises Facebook and wants to have nothing to do with it, thought my posting was too much public information. But as most of my friends know by now, I’m a blabbermouth. I like sharing about my life (just as much as I like reading friend’s posts about what is happening in their lives. I am not so happy about people just posting impersonal stupid memes, but that’s another story) I have to say that the response I got back from people offering their concern and care was heartwarming. Is that too cliché to say? Whether it is or not, what I want to say is that I really appreciated it. So that was the third result of my ER adventure. I found out that friends actually read my posts and what’s more, care about me and what I write. That was much more effective than “copy and pasting” stupid texts about Facebook restricting my wall to only 25 friends and then asking friends to write something like “hey” to get around that particular algorithm and see them on your wall. To misquote a movie I never really liked, “If you write something, people will come.”

So a big thank you to everyone, family, friends and even the doctors for all you do. And while I am not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions, mainly because I know they rarely get followed up on, I am hoping that this year I do a better job of getting out there and interacting more with you all.

Happy New Year 2019

 


Oct 15 2018

Found (a follow-up)

Coco is found

Coco is found

Coco is found. She is home again, where she belongs. I just thought I would tell you, in case any of you still were concerned.

The next-door neighbor to a friend of mine here on the island called me about a week after Coco went missing, after falling 4 stories out of our window. We had plastered Reimersholmen with posters of Coco, asking if anyone had seen her. The neighbor called to tell me that she was fairly certain that she had seen a cat answering Coco’s description up behind the building next to hers, on the highest part of our island of Reimersholmen, near the edge of the car park. We hadn’t been looking there, so Bevin and I went to investigate. Benigna, the neighbor, came out to meet us when we went up to look and she showed us exactly where she had seen the cat. We were so grateful for her concern. Just at the edge of the car park the ground drops, forming a kind of cliff. I wasn’t able to walk down that steep slope, my mountain goat days being long over, but my son could. He could see cave-like holes leading into the side of the cliff. Small holes, just the perfect size to fit a cat. We started taking turns going up there, leaving food near the biggest “cave”. I would go up during the day, bringing a book and sitting and waiting and calling her name, to see if she would appear. My son went up in the evenings after he got home from work and it was starting to get dark.

After several days of this, my son is up near the cave area and we are WhatsApp texting to each other – I am at Stavsnäs, our country house and he is in town. It is evening but still light enough to see and he finds a cat sitting in one of the caves and sends me a photo of it. We discuss whether this is the other cat that has gone missing here on Reimers. Suddenly he writes “She’s back” and then sends me a picture of our Coco as she calmly walks up over a moss-covered rock towards him! She goes over to him, rubs across his leg and looks up at him as if she is asking, “What are you doing here?” He gathers her up in his arms and brings her home. Her week and a half vacation out in the wild is over.


Aug 29 2018

Missing

It’s been four days now since she’s been gone. We weren’t really paying much attention. It wasn’t that we were so busy. We were just tired. It had been a busy week.

A week and a half ago, on a Sunday afternoon, my son and I went to an apartment viewing. I had seen the 44 square meter apartment announced on Hemnet and immediately felt it would suit my son very well. He had been talking about wanting to have his own place for a while now but hadn’t gotten around to starting the process of actively looking yet.

I told him, “On Sunday we are going to look at an apartment.”

I sent him the link, so he could look at the pictures of the place. He liked what he saw and was excited about going to look at it. So on Sunday afternoon we took the bus and subway over to Kungsholmen to take a look.

There weren’t that many people at the viewing when we were there. Mostly young people, like Bevin. We walked around the apartment investigating the bright livingroom and small but adequate bedroom from all angles. The kitchen was clean and modern with a small dishwasher and a nice gas stove, plenty of storage for a young man with not much in the way of kitchen utensils anyway. The bathroom was small but very well designed and it even had a small washing machine. The bedroom had good closets and enough room to walk around in even with a 140 cm wide bed.

Bevin fell in love with it and on Monday put in a bid for it. Unfortunately so did someone else. The bidding war went on till Friday. And for various reasons the other bidder won. My son was disappointed but, hey, how often do you actually get the first and only apartment you look at and like. There will be more to look at and he learned a lot about buying an apartment.

At the same time as the nerve-racking bidding war was going on, our friend Gayle was visiting us from New York City for a few days. Håkan and I took her out to Drottningholm that Wednesday and we took a tour of the theater there. Then we got her settled in, in our co-op’s guest apartment.

Thursday was spent doing chores while Gayle tried to put back into her suitcases all the stuff that had exploded out of them in the week and a half she had been in Stockholm. While I made a very late dinner of home-made Swedish meatballs with sauce and potatoes, Håkan had to dash down to our so-called office to finalize a sale of some photo equipment to the guy who was coming by to pick up the stuff. Dinner for all of us, was finally on the table just before 10pm. Phewwww.

At 3 o’clock early Friday morning, I helped Gayle drag her suitcases down to the street and said goodbye as she got in her cab. Then I went back to bed.

Friday evening, Bevin texts us that he didn’t get the apartment. A feeling of gloom envelops our home. Bevin texts us again, saying he will be meeting some friends right after work. He comes home late. He acknowledges me as he passes by on his way to his room but that’s about it.

I honestly don’t remember much of what I did Saturday morning – probably got up late. As I said, we were tired.

Around 2pm Bevin asked us if anyone had seen Coco. We do a half-hearted search around, looking in all the usual places our cats find to sleep in. We can’t find her so we start to look in the unusual places. Still no little brown cat. We look harder. She is nowhere to be found in our apartment. We’ve all been home all day so the door to the hallway hasn’t been opened. Slowly, we start to realize she must have fallen out of one of our two slightly ajar windows. We know (because we’ve seen her there) she sometimes pokes her head outside, putting her front paws on the slanted outside window sill, sometimes more than half her body is outside by the time we notice and pull her back in. Saturday we weren’t paying attention.

She must have fallen out.

Coco the cat

Coco the cat

Our windows are four stories up. We rushed outside, looking under all the bushes below our apartment. No dead brown body. But no cat either. We looked all around calling her name. Nothing. After dinner Bevin sat outside on the park bench, watching till almost 10pm, in the drizzling rain. He had his umbrella.

It’s now been four days since she’s been gone. We covered the island with color posters of her and my telephone number. I placed an announcement with her picture on the Reimersholmen Facebook page saying she is missing. And another on a missing cat website. While Bevin’s at work I go around the island looking for her, talking to all the dog walkers, asking if she’s been spotted on their rounds. People recognize my name on the posters and come up to me, asking if she has been found yet. They put my number in their phones, for, you know, just in case.

While Coco has never been outside, here on Reimersholmen, she is not totally unfamiliar with the outdoors – she spent all summer at our country place running around outside, proving herself to be a very able huntress. But Reimers is not the same as Stavsnäs. There’s a lot more danger here; more strange cats, more cars on more streets, more people with dogs. I hope she’s savvy enough. I hope she finds her way back to our building. I hope we find her.

We miss her.