Feb 9 2016

Still Obsessed

I just started my second reading of An Echo in the Bone, Diana Gabaldon’s seventh novel in her Outlander series. I’ve gotten as far as the Prologue.

The body is amazingly plastic. The spirit, even more so. But there are some things you don’t come back from. Say ye so, a nighean? True, the body’s easily maimed, and the spirit can be crippled – yet there’s that in a man that is never destroyed.

And barely as the last word was read, my eyes started to fill with tears and I realized I was crying.

How? Why? Am I that much of a sentimental sap? I never thought so before. I have been reading and re-reading these books (and watching the TV series by Starz) since discovering first the show and then the books in the beginning of 2015, after my friend told me about them a few months earlier. And I can’t seem to stop. I can’t seem to be able to leave the world that Gabaldon has built and come back fully to my own. What is it about Jamie and Claire’s love affair and adventures and marriage and life that makes me want to be there with them instead of in my own life?

Granted, the last 4 years have been difficult ones, filled with sorrow, disappointments, illness and changes.

In 2011 my mother got sick and at the very end of that year I spent the last month of her life by her bedside in New Jersey watching as she slowly passed away. You can read about that month I spent with her under Saying Goodbye to Mom. On a cold January day my family and I said our final goodbyes at a wonderful funeral (if one can call a funeral wonderful) and a joy-filled Chinese lunch (her favorite sort of food) with friends and family. And then I returned to my home and my life in Stockholm. Once back here I managed with great help from her Finance Guy, Dave, to settle all her bills, tie-up loose ends, and pull together what needed to be done to file her estate income tax forms. Done! Chapter settled and closed! Or so I thought.

Then 2 years later, I received a letter saying I was being sued for unpaid property taxes! It seemed that the person who had been renting the property that I had inherited from my mom had not been paying said taxes as he should have been and now I was required to pay a huge sum of money in back taxes and interest. I almost had a heart attack. As luck would have it, I actually had a lawyer who could help me and even just enough money to save my property. The stress from dealing with all that finally ended up causing me to decide to start taking anti-anxiety meds. It has taken the last 2 years to finally work out the situation. I don’t believe in writing gratitude lists but I am very grateful for my lawyer Gary. He saved my sanity. What I have left of it at least.

Then just after finding out I was being sued, I heard that my job as a graphic designer, that I enjoyed and liked working at was soon going to end. IGBP was going to be closing down at the end of December 2015 and as I write this I am now officially out of a job. And looking for a new one. I think…..

And as a last straw, in October of 2014, my husband got sick. He developed an aneurysm that started to bleed right at the top of his spinal cord where all those little nerves are gathered. He spent 2 months in hospital, needed brain surgery and almost died. He is home now and still himself but the bleeding affected certain nerves leaving him dealing, for the past year and a half, with a number of physical disabilities and has  affected the way we see and live our life together – how we go forward. Oh, and did I mention those added anxiety and stress levels???

Sooo, as I said above, the past 4 years have been pretty crappy and I find myself often not really wanting to crawl out of bed.

But when I do, I find myself still standing and even still able to make a joke. But I am almost afraid to open my email – who knows what disaster awaits me there. I don’t feel very much like socializing since I am boring even myself with my negativity about life and my lack of enthusiasm. I don’t want to keep spreading it around my friends or I won’t have any left, friends that is. Facebook and Twitter are my main social outlets – I don’t have to get dressed or put on my face for that! Or even leave my bed!

I need to concentrate on finding a new job but I don’t seem to be able to muster much enthusiasm for that task either. Being a graphic designer is how I have earned my living most of my life and actually is the only work skill I really have. But, I don’t know – images are just all starting to look very grey. Words are what fill my head now. But getting the energy to sit myself down at the computer to write – that is so hard too. Its as though my computer has become my enemy and I can’t dare to face it. All my shoulda, woulda, couldas get saved to the very last minute before I can bring myself to attend to them. And I find myself getting very sloppy by the time I actually get to them. And its the sloppiness that bothers me. The not caring. The lack of … whatever it is I am lacking. Perhaps its just the will-to-do that’s missing.

So I lose myself in Diana’s world. Its not the same as when I read over and over again Peter and Wendy (the original book about Peter Pan) as a child or lost myself in The Lord of the Rings as a teenager. Its not just escapism.

Its like that prologue I quoted at the top of the page, that started me crying: I think I reacted to it because I too am looking for that part of me that is still not destroyed. The me that is still left. Her words are filled with that sort of thing that seems to be speaking to me directly.

Her story of Jamie and Claire’s life, of how they are as a married pair – I wish I had that as an idea of a life together. I almost wish I had read her books when I was young, in my 20s. My parent’s married life, the only example I had, was not really happy and I admit to avoiding pairing up for a very long time because of their example. In reading how Jamie and Claire are with each other, it gives me a different model to follow in my own marriage. I almost wish I had learned those things 30 years ago.

So I continue my Outlander obsession. Reading and rereading over and over again. Each time finding small bits and pieces that leave me weeping, with sadness or joy but still engulfed in tears, sharing their lives. Waiting for mine to recover and figure out what my next stage will contain. I sometimes wish I had Jamie’s resilience to disaster and hardship but maybe I have more than I think I have. I’m just waiting for it to bounce back so I can discover who I am again.


Aug 17 2015

Obsession (part 1)

Obsession /əbˈsɛʃən/
According to Webster’s dictionary, obsession is a state in which someone thinks about someone or something constantly or frequently especially in a way that is not normal.

As anyone who has had contact with me the last 8 or 9 months can tell you, I have become a person with a bit of a one-track mind. I have become obsessed. I cannot have any sort of conversation with anyone without referring, at least once, to the object of my obsession. I usually consider myself a person with a relatively wide range of interests and not having a particularly addictive personality but there you have it – I am obsessed, addicted really. I actually haven’t felt this way since way back in the late 90s when I would spend hours late at night reading all the web forums about Peter Jackson’s production of The Lord of the Rings.

I blame my friend Roz – its all her fault.
Sometime last year, 2014, she tells me during one of our many SKYPE conversations that she had discovered a really good TV series and if I got the chance I should watch it. She kept talking about it every time we talked so finally just to get her off my case, I asked my son to find it for me. Finally one evening I sat down on the sofa and watched the first episode. As soon as it ended, I immediately watched the second episode and the third. I would have also watched the fourth but it was getting very late and I had to get up the next day to go to work. But by then, I was hooked.

Claire and Jamie

It’s all about how he looks at her.

The 16 episode show is called Outlander and is produced by an American TV channel called STARZ. It’s producer/showrunner is Ron D. Moore, the man responsible for the re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica, a science fiction TV series that I had seen and really liked. Outlander is based on a book of the same name by Diana Gabaldon which was written in 1991 and has since been followed by 7 more books. Gabaldon is now in the process of writing the ninth book in the series. A second TV season is already in production, based on the second book in the series.

By now, I have watched each of the 16 episodes at least 3 or more times. I’ve just finished reading the 8th book and am in the process of re-reading Dragonfly in Amber, the second book, in preparation for the upcoming second season. I even watch all the interviews with cast and crew that I can find on Youtube. I read all the twitter posts relating to the TV show. I’m even a member of the Outlander-Sweden Facebook group. I know, weird right?

Quick Synopsis
The story begins in the mid 1940s just after the end of the Second World War. 27-year old Claire Randall has been a combat army nurse during the war and is now reunited with her husband Frank as they travel to Inverness in the Scottish Highlands for a second honeymoon. She goes up to a hill with a circle of standing stones, puts her hands on the tall center stone and the next thing she knows, she is waking up in the mid 1740s – 1743 to be exact. OK, there you go – there’s the Sci-fi/fantasy angle coming into play. But after that first bit of time traveling, that’s pretty much it. After wandering around, dazed and confused, Claire is soon rescued or taken prisoner (depending on how you look at it) by members of the Mackenzie clan and taken to their main fortress, Castle Leoch. The rest of the story tells of how she tries to get back to her own time and how she slowly falls in love with the other main character, Jamie Fraser, a tall, articulate highlander wearing a kilt.

First off, the TV production is incredibly well made with very high production standards. Amazing sets. As a former Fashion Design student at Pratt Institute, one of the biggest pet peeves I have when watching historical dramas is that the clothing is so wrong – The big skirts don’t have any petticoats, there are no corsets in corset style dresses, the clothes all look brand new, there is too much “modern” design in it, etc etc. No problem in Outlander. The clothes the actors wear – from the main leads to even the smallest extras – all looked lived in. They have weight and bulk to them, substance. The shirts the men wear look like they have been worn for weeks and weeks and have been slept in too. You can almost smell them just by looking at them! Much of the show is filmed on location in Scotland and the scenery is beautiful and real. No CGI needed here! Real castles, real mountains, real shacks. People get dirty, for real! OK, sooo? There are other TV series that have good production values, maybe not many but they exist.

Secondly, they didn’t reinvent the story to fit conventional TV plots. They dared to film where Gabaldon takes her characters, even to the darkest corners. Though the scripts and the action change a bit from their source material, the dialog is taken almost directly from Gabaldon’s book. And while I don’t feel she always writes the best descriptive passages, she writes great dialog! Especially between her two main characters, Claire Randell and Jamie Fraser. Her characters feel real with intense inner lives not just superficial reactions. They are alive!

Then, thirdly, there’s the actors. No big famous names here, bringing all their previous personas with them.  The two main leads, Claire and Jamie are played by two relatively unknown actors, both in their mid-30s. Caitriona Balfe from Ireland plays Claire and Scottish Sam Heughan plays Jamie.  They inhabit their characters. They bring Gabaldon’s written characters off the page and give them body and form. Beautifully.

But why am I so hooked?
My reading choices almost always consist of hard science fiction, or sometimes fantasy, which this really isn’t. I don’t read romance novels and in all honesty, I probably would never have picked up these books if it hadn’t been for the TV series. And the Outlander series of books seems like the classic historical romance type of novel. A type of book which, excluding Jane Austen novels, I stopped reading when I was about 16 or so. Some of my favorite movies have been Wuthering Heights (only the original film version), Gone with the Wind and Dr. Zivago but I didn’t make it a habit to read the book versions. Gone with the Wind with its Civil War background follows the journey of Scarlett O’Hara as she matures from a spoiled 16-year old to a mature woman who finally realizes who she has loved all along. The Russian Revolution plays out as Zivago, forced by war out of his ordinary life, finds and ultimately suffers the loss of the great love of his life, Lara, but leaves behind The Lara Poems that immortalizes their love. While Wuthering Heights only has the wild Yorkshire moors as its background it also is about a great love that haunts Heathcliff for 40 years until he dies and can be reunited with his beloved Cathy. What Outlander has in common with those three movies is that it is a great love story that takes place over time and space against a large historical background with much longing and suffering. So it fits right in there with my favorite canon. But why have I been watching it over and over again and even reading and loving the books? For it to be having such a powerful effect on me it must be working on many different levels.

Tons of articles about this series have already been written and what many of them say is that this is a show about a strong female lead and told from her point of view. That it is Claire’s story. The female gaze they are calling it. That it is also a story of a marriage. That it has lots of great sex. And lots of violent and horrible scenes. That it is unafraid. That the sex and violence is not gratuitous. It has been described as “as good as, if not better” than Game of Thrones.

As I said, from the first episode, I was hooked. Resourceful, self-confident ex-army nurse Claire Randell was thrown into 1743 Scotland and forced to figure out how to survive there: a place with different customs, different language, different food, housing, weather. Just plain different. And I could relate. I found myself in a similar situation 34 years ago. I got there by airplane not a standing stone but Stockholm Sweden was a whole lot different from the New York City I was coming from. It had a different language, a different culture, a different way of doing things and a tall handsome man to take care of me when I didn’t know how to get somewhere or understand something. The first apartment I lived in didn’t even have hot running water in it. How’s that for different? I watched Claire in that first episode and I saw myself.  I loved the fact that, like me with Swedish, she couldn’t understand what the Scots were saying when speaking Gaelic. Been there.  I had to keep watching to see how she managed.

And she managed. She wouldn’t let anyone intimidate her. She stated her mind, gave as good as she got, fought back and wouldn’t give up. I liked that about her. She was a new addition to my panoply of strong female characters that I had gathered over the years; Jane Fonda in Barbarella, Diana Riggs’ Emma Peel in the Avengers, Ripley from Alien, Sarah Connor from Terminator, Starbuck from the re-imaged Battlestar Galactica – just to name a few. And now Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser. She was someone who I was willing to follow along in her story. So on to the next episode. And the next. And each time over again.

But its not just Claire that catches my interest. There’s James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser too. And without him, Claire is only half herself. Yes, he is very attractive, that Jamie. Sam Heughan is perfect in the role. In no other photos pre-Outlander is he as fantastic as he is as Jamie Fraser. Because quite simply its not just about what he looks like. There are a lot of good looking guys out there in TV land. Its more about how he looks at you – in this case at Claire. But as I already said I relate to Claire so I can pretend he is looking at me too. He sees her. He listens and hears her. From the very first moment they meet, he recognizes her, in some mysterious way. I have my theories about that but I’ll write about that later.

Many of the reviews and fan posts say that this is a story about Claire. But I disagree. It isn’t about Claire. Claire is the one who tells the story (most of the time) but the story is about Jamie. From the time we meet her until the latest book, Claire is pretty much who she is to start with. She learns more, she becomes a doctor, she ages but she is still herself. From the moment we first meet her she knows what she is meant to do with her life and the 2 men who both love her, recognize and respect that about her. The real story is how, Jamie, this young man without responsibilities that she meets in an alien place grows and matures to become the man he was destined to be – a true leader of men. The kind of man that is able and willing to take responsibility for the people within his sphere of influence. A type of man we see very little of these days. Which makes him all the more unique and admirable and exciting to watch. OK, and he is also nice to look at.

I have always liked stories that take place over a long period of time, watching how things or people change. Most novels or movies or stories are just a short cutout piece of a longer tale. Cinderella ends with “and they lived happily ever after”. But what kind of life does she really have with her prince? We never get to find out. Gone with the Wind ends with Scarlett promising herself that she will get Rhett back but that’s where it ends and we don’t get to see if she does. But Gabaldon doesn’t want to just give us a short piece out of the lives of Jamie and Claire: They meet, fall in love, he rescues her, she rescues him, they go to France, they come back to Scotland, they experience a terrible war and then they are forced to part probably forever. Sad ending but great love story. In the normal case of such stories we would never know what else happens. But Gabaldon is still writing the story. As of book 8 they are in their 50s or 60s, still in love, still having adventures, still together. I can’t wait till book 9 comes out in a few years. In the meantime I have season 1 to watch over and over again. And season 2 to look forward to.


Jul 18 2015

Advice for the new 50 year old

The daughter of one of my cousins is in college now where she is a member of a sorority. Occasionally she will post a photo on Facebook of herself posing with a large group of her best friends. I look at these photographs and see 10 or 12 very attractive smiling  young women, all with the same color dark hair in the same longish style, all of them around the same height and weight and all wearing similar variations of tank tops and extremely short cutoff jeans. As I peruse these images, I get the very strange feeling that if I were a visitor from a far distant planet I wouldn’t feel more alien than I already do when I look at those photos. The reason for that is that I have never had that kind of experience in my entire life – to be part of a group where I was just like everyone else – looked the same, talked the same, liked the same books and films and TV shows.

From the time I was very young, I was taller than everyone else, with long, skinny arms and legs. I had green eyes and thick curly red hair when everyone else was blond or brunette. I read horse stories when other girls read stories about some cute blond heroine who goes on vacation and solves a murder mystery. (I received some of those types of books as birthday presents one year and though I managed to read them, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to buy more to read) I read Science Fiction when NO ONE did, except perhaps those nerdy guys in the A/V club. However, when I was in grammar school I did sort of belong to a group comprised of other girls. We hung out together on the tarmac behind the school during recess and other breaks. The group consisted of me, the tallest girl in the class; Carol, the shortest girl in the class; Margaret, the fat girl; and of course Alison and Susan, the twins. Are you starting to see a pattern here? All of us were different from the pack. None of us was was like anyone else, each different in our own unique way. And that was why I liked them. I haven’t seen them in almost 50 years but we are Facebook friends these days. I hope they don’t mind me writing about them.

So why am I reminiscing about all that right now?

Girls on the balcony

Girls on the balcony

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a tjejfest. That’s Swedish for girl’s party. Besides me there were 12 other girls (ladies? or are we supposed to be some sort of politically correct and call ourselves women now? I don’t know.)  But me and the gals met at an apartment in Stockholm whose balcony offered a magnificent view of Stockholm rooftops. Well supplied with margaritas made by Catherine, whose apartment it was, we sat all squished up together on the big outdoor sofa cushions, chatting, joking, noshing yummy quesadillas made by Cecilia and laughing a lot. It reminded me of my cousin’s daughter. Most of us were Americans. And we all had different stories about how we happened to end up somewhere other than America. As I sat there pressed shoulder to shoulder with all those other women, my third eye, that nasty bugger who hovers above me impersonally observing all I am doing and commenting on it, said to me, “Look at you, Hilarie, you’re part of this group of fantastic women. They’ve let you in and you fit!” It was a great feeling!

Raindrops put an end to our balcony sitting and we moved indoors to wine and guacamole. The evening was a bit of a reunion. Though it was here in Sweden that we all got to know each other a number of us have moved on to other places. Tonight we were gathered together  –  Jane was in from England, Sally from Malta, Amy from Florida, Yasmin was here from NYC and Christin from Massachusetts. The common denominator between us is that we all live or have lived in Sweden. We are all different; from hippy-dippy graphic designer Hilarie to super smart scientist Yasmin, to psychologist Stina and strategist Jane. Some are business women. Many are writers. All are interesting and different. In a way, its like my group from grammar school all over again but without the nerd factor.

The party’s second agenda item was to celebrate Christin’s 50th birthday! All of us, except for Cecilia who is still 50- are 50+, with me and Carol being quite a bit more than the others but the youngsters seem to like us anyway. It was suggested (notice my use of passive tense here because I can’t remember who suggested it – Yasmin perhaps?) that we go around the circle and everyone describe to Christin their idea of what it means to be over 50. To pass on advice or “Words of Wisdom” so to speak, to her. So, after eating the fabulous birthday cake that Susan made, we started. I won’t try to recap what others said but a common theme was that once you’re over 50 it’s easier to just do what you want to do without getting hung up about what others think of you.

Halfway round the circle it was my turn. (Someone, I won’t say who, gave me a scathing look and said, “It’s supposed to be positive things!) I had been giving this some thought since the topic was suggested and listened with interest to what others had to say. And in all honesty, this “aging” question is something I spend a lot of time thinking about.

50! My god, that seems so young to me now. And so long ago yet it feels like just yesterday. How is life different over 50 than younger than 50? Yes, what other people think of you becomes less important to you. But its not that simple.

When I was in my 20s I spent a lot of time trying to see who I was and to figure out how to make myself into the kind of person I wanted to be. The kind of person I wanted to be was pretty much a mashup of the roll models I respected or admired. And no, they weren’t my parents! Roll models: Mrs Peel from The Avengers TV show (the original), Veruschka the model (look her up if you youngsters don’t know who she is), Marlene Dietrich because she could be sexy without taking off any clothes, Katherine Hepburn just because she was like no one else. And because a girl doesn’t have to have only female role models, Yul Brynner in The Magnificent Seven because when he walked down the street, he owned it – a good skill to have if you live in NYC. I’m sure I had some others I respected, admired and wanted to emulate but that’s all that come to mind at the moment.

By the time I reached 30, I had pretty much made myself into who I wanted to be. The 20 years between 30 and 50 were pretty damn good. I came to Stockholm the first time. I met Håkan. I had 7 fun years working as a freelance graphic designer in the A/V business in NYC. I got married at 38, had my kid at 40. Spent 10 years fixing up a run down country property and learned to like country life and my green rubber boots. And all the while doing good, creative, satisfying work.

And then I hit 50! Yes. Yes. I know, positive things! But it’s difficult. Just after I hit 50 a major recession hit us here in Sweden. Many of the clients my husband and I had, dried up and died. Money became tight. Life became difficult. While in my 30s I felt in control of my life. In my 40s I felt in control of someone else’s life. In my 50s I started to feel like I had very little control over anything. And for a recovering control freak like myself thats a really bad feeling. But that was all over 10 years ago now. I can’t say life got a lot better after everything fell apart but many of those things that happened after I turned 50 were circumstantial not metaphysical. And that’s the important difference!

So here are some of the things I learned since I turned 50.

1. I can’t control everything. Partially because I’m now just too tired and partially because you just can’t. So stop trying. OK, Ok, you can try a little.

2. You can’t change other people. So stop trying to do that too. It will only make you unhappy. And you know the second part of that “advice”, when they tell you that you can only change yourself? Well that’s a lie! You can’t really change yourself either. You might think you are but you’re not. I spent all my 20s creating the Hilarie that I wanted to be. And for the most part, I became that person but underneath it all I was still the original Hilarie – insecure, self-conscious, afraid of change. You’re stuck with you no matter what so you better start liking yourself. But after 50, you’re more willing to say, “Oh, what the fuck! This is me!”

3. And that brings us to the thing that many sitting around the circle mentioned. Being less influenced by what other people think about you. I personally don’t think this should be something that only applies to “older” people. From the time I was 16 years old and 6 feet tall, I worried what other people saw when they looked at me. I spent years controlling, as much as possible, that image that others saw. I don’t so much any more. Its just too much damn work. I even dare to go out without any makeup on these days (but mainly only in my own immediate neighborhood) The only thing that really matters is what you yourself think! When I graduated art school I took my portfolio around to everyone I could think of for advice on how I should present my work. Everybody gave me different advice. I realized then that the only opinion that really mattered was my own. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ask for advice, but the buck has to stop in your own backyard. And nobody knows your backyard as well as you do.

4. Here’s something else not specifically for 50+ers but for anyone. Figure out how to laugh. Learn how to tell a joke and make other people laugh. Because life is so crappy sometimes. It hits you when you least expect it and if you can’t laugh then you’re doomed.

So here I sit 14 years past 50 and you know what I feel like? I feel like I did when I was 14 years old, all over again. When I was 14, my body was changing in ways I couldn’t imagine, with new bumps developing in different places. I spent a lot of time wondering what life would be like after I leave my family, what was I going to work with, where was I going to live, how would I support myself, who would be my new friends or family, etc etc etc.

And here I now stand, on the brink of retirement, again about to start a new life. Just like when I was 14! Once again my body is rearranging itself. (not always in equally positive ways as it did the last time) I wonder what I will be doing after I stop “working”. How will I stay creative? Where will I live when a large apartment will no longer be needed. I wonder what life will be like when my family – my son –  leaves home. And I readily admit I am scared shitless. Back then I had the possibility of 80 years ahead of me. Now I have most of my life behind me and if I’m lucky barely 30 more to go. (and probably not 30 fully healthy ones) But if I allow myself to calm down a bit I also have to admit a touch of excitement. Because I know I won’t be doing it alone. I’m a member of a group.


Jun 23 2015

Travelers

Some people are travelers. They have the desire or need to see and experience as many different places as possible on this vast yet tiny globe that humanity inhabits. I am not one such. While I have traveled to a number of different places,  I have made but two great journeys in my life and both of them have been journeys of the heart. The first was when I moved my suitcases across the Hudson River from my birthplace of New Jersey to New York City. There I found the city of my heart and thought I would stay there the rest of my life. My second great journey was across a wider river of water to Stockholm, Sweden because it was there my heart found love.

Many of the people I have met here in Stockholm in the 25 plus years I’ve lived here are the traveller type. While on their journeys around the world they somehow for one reason or another have ended up here in my little corner of the world. And they continue to use this corner as a stepping off place from which to continue to explore the other places they are curious about. But this little corner of mine has become, for me, more like the last stop on the bus line. Not really a final destination but just the last stop, from which the bus goes no further.

Now this doesn’t mean that I haven’t been anywhere except Budd Lake, NJ or New York City or Stockholm. I have travelled a bit in my life. I’ve been to Washington DC to visit with my roommate Roz and again to various towns in Maine to see her there too. I spent a great month in California when I visited another of my roommates, Lynne. We spent hours building up our tans round her swimming pool, then happy hour at the local Mexican restaurants drinking frozen margaritas. Together we traveled the coast road to San Francisco and went to the San Diego Zoo to see the Kuala bears. Greensboro, North Carolina is another place I’ve been to when I drove down there with three friends in a noisy Volkswagen bus to visit one more former roommate. On the way we stopped in a few local southern diners who’s customers didn’t seem to look too fondly on the four of us in our ratty bell-bottomed jeans and long, below-shoulder length hair (the two guys included). I’ve been to the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York to visit my friends Tom and Wally at their 100-year-plus house and they drove me on country roads up and down the very green hills. I took the train to Washington DC to visit my New York City friend Nancy after she moved there. And I saw the sights of Philadelphia when I went there to stay with Linda who I had gotten to know here in Sweden. I took the train down to the south of Sweden to visit Gerd at her house near Trelleborg. I’ve been to Denver, Colorado where one of my besties from Pratt Art school, Irene, lived with her husband. They took me up to walk amid the Rocky Mountains. I’ve been to Florida a few times. First to Hollywood, where my grandmother lived and later to Miami where my former Philadelphia pal, Linda, had relocated to. I went there with my husband and son and while there we, of course, couldn’t avoid taking in the sights of Disney World, Sea World and all the other theme parks in Orlando. I’ve even been to Heidleburg Germany when Håkan and I drove down there to visit my cousin Devorah and her husband and kids who were living there.

So I have traveled around a bit. But if you look to see what the common denominator has been for all these trips it wasn’t because I wanted to see interesting places in the world. It was because I had people I knew in those places. The reason I traveled to those places was because I wanted to see the people not the scenery. I saw a bit of scenery on the side but it was the chance to once again meet the people I knew that enticed me enough to go to the trouble of packing my bags and going out on the road. Without the people, and the stories we shared, the places are just places. And I have to admit that in regard to places, the place I love the best is often one I find in my own home, where I can sit on the sofa, with my shoes off. And just relax with a good book. That’s really the only traveling I need.


Apr 12 2014

Pictures of life

In a golden, Godiva chocolate box, I have a collection of loose photographs. There is no order to them. Godiva photoboxThey encompass many years, most of them from before I moved to Sweden, and are collected from many places. Inside can be found some baby pictures that I took from my parent’s photo albums. There are a number of photo ID cards, some from Pratt Institute where I was a student, some from the Metropoliten Museum where I worked after graduation. There are some old driver’s licences – yes, I did once have one. Some pictures were taken in photo machines – one strip dating back to 1970 and another with me, my very young son and my husband crammed into the frame. There are also a bunch of old Polaroids from the 70s, with their white borders loosening in places.

I’ve had this box since I worked on a slide show for a production company in New York City back in the 1980’s. The production time-period included Valentine’s Day and we who were working there were working our asses off with long, stressful days and very late nights. The owners of the company came around on V-day and handed out to each of us, a large box of Godiva Chocolate – to keep our spirits up, I guess. Every night, I would go home very late, carefully choose one piece of chocolate from the box, eat it and fall into bed for a few hours of sleep – till I had to go back to work the next morning. It was a beautiful box, covered in embossed gold paper, and I didn’t want to just throw it away after all the chocolate was gone. In those days, I almost never took photographs. I’ve rarely owned a camera actually, and never a really good one. I had a Polaroid camera for awhile and one of those cameras that used a special film cartridge. It actually didn’t matter much what sort of camera I owned, I was a terrible photographer anyway. Because of this, I never had a lot of photographs lying around but I did have a few. I decided that the new golden box was the perfect place to put my meager collection. So that was where I put the polaroids that I took as reference material for illustrations and the few things from college and the baby pics. The box is now pretty filled up and I rarely put new stuff in there. Occasionally, however, I open it and look through the images that are there.

I also have a newer collection of photos taken after I moved to Sweden. My husband is a good photographer so we have lots of pictures. A large portion of them fill about 4 small IKEA photo boxes which sit on the shelves of a bookcase. The storage boxes contain neatly organized envelopes, the kind you used to get from photo stores after they developed your film. On each envelope is written the date and a brief description of the photos. Most of the envelopes contain double photos – that’s what we always ordered – so we could send pictures to my family back in the States. I guess I didn’t send a lot of photos because most of the envelopes still have their doubles. Or else I just sent the ones I looked good in. Occasionally, when we would have guests, the envelopes would come out and we would bore our friends with 30 or 40 pictures of us doing things.

In the late 90s, photos became digital and I stopped collecting envelopes of paper prints and collected them on my computer instead – in well organized folders. These days I don’t have to drag out envelopes of photographs to show to people, I show them on Facebook instead – and only a few of the best.

Facebook recently celebrated its 10th anniversary by offering to make a 1- minute video compilation of your Facebook posts. Many of my Faceys (my Facebook friends) did it but I was hesitant. There was something about it that bothered me. Was it because I didn’t want a machine to remind me of who I was?  Occaisionally, I find myself looking through my Facebook Photo Albums, reminding myself of the images I have posted there. I’ve even gone back and taken a look at posts I have written through the years. I had this idea that I might collect them and list them all in one long blog post –  as a way of seeing what I have been thinking about over the past 7 years since I have been a member of Facebook. But, like so many other things, I never got around to doing that. Now, however, here was FB offering to do it for me – collected into just one minute. Part of me was curious but part of me thought it was creepy. Well, curiosity got the better of me and I finally did it. I would send you the link so you could see my life too but it only works if you are logged in as me.

A few weeks ago, I listened online to a short radio program (www.thetakeaway.org/story/facebook-best-place-archive-our-memories) about the type of effect Facebook and its personal collections of photographs and texts might might be having on people in the long run. One of the ideas that was brought up was how, instead of showing our real lives, on Facebook, we only show the sort of life we want to project outwardly. It only shows the good side, our best self – that it is a scripted narrative. More recently, there has been a trend away from posting exactly what’s on your mind and instead posting something that illustrates how good your life is. The question asked during the discussion, was,
“Ten years down the line, will people look back and think that this “artificial” life  is what their life was actually like? Is this the only thing that will frame their past and how will it effect the way they remember their past?”

My response to this question is, so what? What is the big deal – how is this different than before? Our memories of our past have always been framed by what we keep and what we show. Whether its the boxes of junk left over from every move we made, still sitting in the garage; or the photo albums collecting all the photographs taken through the years; or the journal writings we made or the letters we sent to or received from others, telling bits of news of our lives. Some people have more and some people have less of these tangibile reminders of the life we have lived. A friend of mine who was the youngest of 5 kids says that by the time she came along her parents had gotten tired of taking photos and there are very few of her but masses of her oldest siblings. Some people wrote journal entries every day and others barely managed to send out a Christmas card once a year. I remember what my dog Skippy looked like from the photo I have of her and me when I was 5 years old. I have other memories of her but they are fleshed out by that photo. The same goes for many other past events that I remember. Sometimes the memory has become vague and faded but the photograph proves it was real and actually happened. The black and white photographs which my mother so very carefully arranged, with captions, in her photo albums with their black paper pages and white photo corners were a selection of the best images of her and her friends that she could collect.  And that is how I know her past. Facebook isn’t really different from this. The medium is different but the purpose is actually exactly the same as it was 70 years ago. The only thing to really worry over is whether the medium we use today will have the same possibility to last as long and be looked at as long as those old albums with their paper photographs. I can look at my mother’s photographs without needing the correct operating system, the right hardware or a particular App or Program. All I need to do is carefully pick up the slightly falling-apart scrapebook and gently turn the pages.

I sometimes wonder if the youngsters of today will be able to reminisce and enjoy looking through the images which they today capture in their smart phones with the same pleasure that I feel when I rummage through the contents of my Godiva Chocolate box. When they are 62 years old – will their images even still exist to be looked at? Will they still have something real to look back at to help them remember who they were? Will they still have something as sweet?