A collection of my travel photos turned into art pieces….
As I may have mentioned before, I have been living the life of a vagabond for the past five years. I am currently in Sweden, and although this has been my home base for a while now, in some ways I still feel like a vagabond because of all the travel I get to do, and the fact that most of my friends are also vagabonds who are leaving Sweden as quickly as they enter.
One of my first experiences abroad was five years ago when I lived for four and half months in Germany. There I became close with many people, and when it was my time to leave, I was really torn. I thought, how can I go on with my life without these people? Even ones with whom I didn’t spend so much time were a part of this “family” that I would miss. Aside from a few sparse reunions in the years following, I am only in regular contact now with one person from that experience: my husband who I met there. After some reflection and maturity I have come to the realization that many people, no matter where I live, come in and out of my life in the same way. Only the ones with whom I have a deep connection manage to last.
Now, when people are crying as they say goodbye to me, when we have only spent a few partying nights together, I understand their feeling of loss, but in experience I cannot feel the same way. I know that in a few months I may miss their presence, but I doubt there will be a deep sense of longing in the same way I may miss a family member or best friend.
Yet there are a few people, those precious few, that their absence leaves me nearly devastated. Some people with whom I only spent a few nights. These ones that make me question my vagabond lifestyle. The ones who give me tears even months after they leave.
I now sit here and question my friendship levels by using these people as a threshold. How can I enjoy my current circle of friends when I know that this deep connection is not there in the same way as the ones who are countries away? And with the ones here to whom I feel really close, I am dreading the time when we must part, which will definitely happen in the coming year or two. A solution of course is to enjoy the moments, the now. But my highly emotional core never forgets.
And I sit here, with my heart in pieces across the world, almost with the fear of not giving any more pieces. But it is not that simple. It is not a choice. I cannot resist the magnetism of a person with whom I can feel totally comfortable to be myself. These people land in my life without notice, and there will certainly be people in the future doing the same, that I haven’t met yet. Luckily my heart does not get smaller as I give pieces away. The few people that get a piece never lose it.
St. Petersburg was full of incredible classical designs. I took probably over one hundred pictures of different motifs I wanted to path. I’ve recently had the ambition to develop my skills in Illustrator further, as it gives more options in pathing than Photoshop. I am still getting used to the differences though, and some annoying quirks such as auto-aligning to the grid. So here I present my first trials with Illustrator! I have begun with these two, more to come:
Throughout my years of moving and searching, I have recently left a place that I have called ”home” for a place that should feel like home. Due to Luca’s work, we have left Sweden temporarily to live for a few months in USA. My…..home. Okay, we all know that the United States is a big place, and since I come from Minnesota, no one expects me to feel at home in my current residence of California. But the “Americanness” of it all should feel comfortable.
My goal when I first arrived was to not make the same mistakes I did in Växjö. I would immediately get a job, start making friends, and pick up various activities out of the house. Two months later I can account for the job as well as doing some biking around the area for an activity. I attend a coffee hour once a week at the university to try to meet some international students, but so far I haven’t made any connections that result in a meeting outside of this coffee hour. I haven’t quite figured out how to make “adult friends” apart from the university setting. Well, the point is not to complain. I have a multitude of friends around the world, just none in my current place yet. To be honest, I haven’t really tried to the best of my ability.
Ultimately, I have been trying to figure out whether or not I truly miss Växjö as a place to live, or do I just miss the lifestyle I had there and the great friends I made. During the few months immediately before I left Växjö I was participating in an organization that helps with the integration of international students. With my position in the board I was able to meet and socialize with many interesting people who were open and excited. I became invigorated by their energy! Every social engagement was a new and exciting adventure, as if I was experiencing it for the first time again along with them. Often I actually was experiencing it for the first time. For instance I led a group of students on a trip to Russia, a place I had never been to before. I also had many great opportunities with the other board members by going to conferences and platforms in many different places and meeting interesting people who had a similar lifestyle to mine. I finally felt like I had a “place,” and there were people who understood and respected my international lifestyle as a peer.
Yet, now that I have left that place, and have a more “normal” lifestyle: early to bed, early to rise, go to work, make dinner… I crave my time in Växjö. When I left, I felt like I was being ripped away from that place, however I expected that feeling to go away by now. Still I feel a part of me is waiting there, and I can’t let go, and I am waiting to just…..go home. I believe that if I had left during the summer or sometime before the last months, I wouldn’t miss it nearly as much. There is nothing particularly special about Växjö… I don’t miss particular places (except the ones where I have great memories with friends), the weather is gloomy, the administration is frustrating… What I crave the most is the time with the people I had become so close to, some of which I fear I may never see again. Those who say that if someone was a true friend you will see them again doesn’t really understand that life gets in the way, and I cannot realistically see all the people in the world who I consider to be a true friend. Additionally, sometimes it is the special place with a special group that makes a friendship strong, and to remove those elements reduces the caliber of the feeling. For instance, playing a board game with the same four friends in the same apartment….. moments that I will miss, and I would miss even if two or three of us were to meet again under different circumstances.
I often say to myself, “Well, this is the life I chose!” which is mostly true. I always dreamed of a vagabond lifestyle, but I never understood the consequence of making deep connections with people that have only a temporary placement in my physical life.
I just returned from my second visit to Berlin. I first went three years ago while I was living in another city in Germany. Although I had lived in Germany for four months, and visited Düsseldorf for a weekend last year, this was the first time I really noticed the presence of the Polizei. I arrived by ferry on a bus from Denmark, and we were stopped at a police checkpoint and had to show our passports. This officer was quite pleasant, and completed his task in less than five minutes. I figured this was just a routine stop to make sure everything was legal, and it didn’t make me think twice (going through a security checkpoint in America might have been more difficult).
Going back was another story. Let me be clear, we were LEAVING Germany at this point, about five kilometers from getting back on the ferry to Denmark. We were stopped at the same checkpoint, and this time two officers boarded the bus to do the rounds. One guy was in front collecting passports and the other was behind him with a machine to look up any discrepancies such as false-looking documents I suppose. A blonde woman ahead of me scrambled to get together every identification she had because she didn’t have her passport. She frantically tried to explain and the officer looked a bit annoyed but accepted her plea. The officers continued normally down the line, often just glancing at the picture page of the passports without even taking them in their hands. Directly in front of me was a black man with a Spanish passport. The officer looked through it very carefully and after a few minutes the officer asked him if he has his Spanish papers with him (this implies that perhaps he was an immigrant and obtained citizenship). He said he only had his passport with him and the officer accepted that. When the police came to me I was now a bit worried. I had my American passport and a small residence card that has sometimes given me trouble in the past, but he took them, didn’t even read the card, and handed it back without a problem. Now I was becoming suspicious. A blonde woman who didn’t have any official documents and a small pale American girl with a vague description of residency went free without scrutinize, while a black man with a legal EU travel passport has difficulties. I didn’t conclude anything but this made me very curious so I continued to pay attention to the work of the officers. Soon they arrived at a man two seats behind me. The conversation went something like this: Man- “I don’t have my passport, but I have this travel document.” Officer- “What country are you from?” Man- “I am Iranian.” Officer- “21 Euro.” Without hesitation! The officer explained very coldly that you need a passport or else you must pay 21 Euros. The man said he didn’t have any cash so the officer said, “That’s fine, there is a cash machine inside, I will go with you and it will all be okay.”
Why didn’t the blonde woman have to pay? The only difference in this situation is when the officer found out she was Danish it was obvious- why would a beautiful Danish woman cause any problems on her way home? Now he can listen to her sad story and look at all her library cards to “prove” she actually lives there. It would simply be unjust to collect a fine from a woman so close to home. Also, why didn’t I get questioned like the black man in front of me? My only proof of residence in Europe was a small card without even my picture on it, written in Swedish. He had a Spanish passport!
At first I thought that the police were just looking to issue fines, and this is the reason why they were checking us on the way out the country. But the more I thought about it I considered that maybe they just get off on the power. In the end they didn’t punish the black man, just stood bigger than him and waved their finger. That wasn’t enough for them so next they were searching for a good target to make pay, how lucky for them that there was an Iranian man without a passport. I have left the country feeling quite sour about that.
During the trip I was doing some sightseeing with my colleagues and we encountered a small concert in one of the main squares. There was a large Christmas tree and a Norwegian woman was playing upbeat Christmas music, with a not more than one hundred people watching and dancing in front of the stage. We weren’t so interested in that so we continued ahead. A few meters behind the stage were two groups of police officers on either side, each group containing about a dozen officers. They were facing forward ready for action, wearing their riot gear. What?? Isn’t this overkill? About twenty five police officers with batons in hand at a tiny Norwegian Christmas concert?? My colleagues stopped for a rest but I was really uncomfortable the entire time and couldn’t relax the tension until after we had left the area. It was one of the first times in my life where the presence of police officers made me feel less safe. I don’t know if it was the weird situation that made me feel uncomfortable or the fact that Luca has been watching videos lately of police beating up protesters around Europe, and our discussions about them afterward. He has a completely different view than I about police, and I suspect it is because he has encountered more cases of corruption than little me whose only interaction with the police was during traffic stops in small towns where the police officers are just another member of the friendly local community- “Drive safe now out there, ya hear?”
I guess I just get what I ask for: travelling to learn about the world, find the truth, and mature. It can’t all be delicious food and learning new dances.
The first year I came to Sweden I felt like I was in a fantasy world. Everything seemed absolutely perfect, and anything that wasn’t perfect didn’t matter. People who had been here longer than me were telling me about the troubles they face and I thought they were ungrateful and exaggerating. Soon the annoying things began to trickle into my life and the fantasy of Sweden was turning slowly into place that I wanted to leave. I wasn’t sure if it was other people’s negativity dragging down my normally optimistic attitude, or if I was simply realizing that I was not living in a Utopia.
A friend recently brought to my attention that this is a normal response of having culture shock. When I would think of culture shock before, I thought it was something that would only last a couple of weeks, like the homesickness I felt my first few weeks in Germany. But I think I have experienced an extended culture shock.
Now that I have become aware of this, I want to see if I can get myself out of it. I don’t want to be negative about where I am, and I want to reinvigorate my positive attitude, no matter what people around me are saying. Whatever negative thing I think about Sweden, I will actively try to turn it into something positive. I have started by responding with something positive when someone asks me what I think about Sweden, whereas this past year I have been complaining. Also, yesterday I tried a new approach. I used to complain about something that happens to me very often: The fact that it is difficult to integrate with the Swedish people because whenever I am around them, they ignore me and speak in Swedish (although most of them are able to speak English near fluently). I have tried to tell myself that its normal, we are in Sweden, I should learn Swedish, etc. Yet this doesn’t stop me from being annoyed and feeling alone in those almost daily situations. Yesterday I finally decided to try something different. Instead of getting angry, or secluding myself like usual, when my colleagues began speaking Swedish, I would remain in the conversation and seem interested and really try to listen. When I hear a word I don’t understand, I ask, so they know I am still there and still listening. This actually worked, because I changed my perspective, have been able to learn some more Swedish (which I honestly believe I should be doing), and they saw I was still there and even changed back to English.
Furthermore, because I imagine I showed my interest in integrating with the Swedish, it opened up communication as to why there is such a divide at our university between the Swedish and the international students. All the time I have only known “our” side and how we simply blamed the Swedish and their culture for not being interested in getting to know us, but I learned from one girl yesterday (without even asking) that she believed the international students were only in Sweden to party and didn’t take their studies seriously, which is a stereotype that is not completely untrue. I hope that showing her that I am dedicated to integrate that she felt comfortable to reveal to me her feelings about “my” people, and additionally I was reminded that there are two sides to every story.
I am sure my negative attitude toward the Swedish culture was evident and turned people off from wanting to speak to me, which was a snowball effect. I am hoping I continue along this path, make some Swedish friends, learn the language, and enjoy my time here.
I’ve finally finished my big quilling project and I am so proud of it! I started in January and I finished in June. The raised pieces are mountain peaks, with relative heights. The green swirls are representational of the ocean currents. Here is some detail:
Here are some images of the process:
I started by drawing out the outline onto thin cardboard
Then I placed the mountain peaks:
And more land…
When the land was finished I made general sweeping currents before filling them in.
It was really fun and meditative! The hardest part though was getting through the end of it by just placing white circle on the border. It didn’t take much creativity and was pure monotony. I actually put it away for about a month because I was so bored with placing the border. but finally I gained the motivation and completed it!