Paths from St. Petersburg part 1

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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:

DSC_0068 DSC_0068 DSC_0075 DSC_0075

The Great Return

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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.

Eins, Zwei, Polizei

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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.

Change of Perspective/Culture Shock

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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.

Addiction

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Addiction is something I have always had trouble understanding. I have always prided myself on having control over my thoughts and behaviors, and I didn’t think my ability to control myself was extraordinary. I had always told myself that I could never have an addiction, because I am aware of my body and my behaviors and I would be able to stop it before it gets out of control.

The product of this, unfortunately, is my systematic prejudice of everyone who has an addiction.

Although I always thought I would never have an addiction, I am very prone to obsessive binges. If I find a new thing that I like, it is common that I go overboard and have this thing in excess until I get tired of it and find a new thing. For instance, I discover a new cheese I like, and I buy and eat this cheese every day for a week. I never considered this addictive behavior because after that week, I wouldn’t eat it anymore, or I would eat it in moderation. I am aware of this compulsion even when it is happening, and if it interferes with my life I control myself.

When I meet people with addictions, I try to understand that there is a psychological problem behind the addiction, and I don’t understand why they can’t get out of this problem. I don’t want to be so harsh, but I can only know my own thoughts, and I can never know how other people think, and why they cannot work through their problems.

I’ve always thought with enough self-control, one can give up whatever they want. I used myself as an example in my journey to give up all caffeine from my diet. When I was 19 I started to get panic attacks and since then I have been searching to relieve myself from them, as it is a horrifying experience. I hated the side effects of medications so I wanted to try to find a natural way. From then I decided to start reducing my intake of caffeine. It was difficult at first and I relapsed a few times on chocolate binges, while deeply regretting it later. It took about four years, but I finally was able to say no to all coffee, tea, chocolate, and soda (I love sugar, and you don’t realize how much chocolate is used in desserts until you start to read all the ingredients!).

When I refuse any caffeinated product, I do it with pride. But looking objectively at myself, I never really liked coffee, tea, soda, or chocolate. How would I do giving up something I really love? Have I ever successfully given up something I really enjoy but that I can recognize is harming me?

There is a silly thing I do, that is always in the back of my mind: cleaning my ears with q-tips. I started to do this when I was a teenager, before I knew the damage it could do. I cleaned my ears so much, whenever I got out of the shower or felt any kind of dirt inside my ear, it would be unbearable until I stabbed it with a cotton stick. Sometimes I just wanted to feel the massage of the q-tip so I would clean two to three times a day. After many years of doing this I now experience extreme pain in any cool wind, and riding a bike on a cool day is a nightmare if I am not wearing ear muffs. Yet still, when I feel some water or dirt in the ears, or even just to relieve some stress, I poke my ears. So stupid! I recognize how ridiculous this is. When I have tried to stop, I last a miserable few days before going back on the ‘tip. It is especially bad when I am under stress and I need my moment of massage.

I try to rationalize by saying I haven’t dedicated myself to quitting, and if I did, I could stop. But something is preventing me from dedicating myself to quitting. The truth is, I don’t want to stop getting the nice feeling, I just want the pain to go away. But I know the pain will not go away. I guess the pain is not interfering enough with my life to give the issue a serious thought. Now the joy outweighs the pain. When I think of my life, I never want to be comfortable in my pain. I always want to strive to change things that are not good in my life. So why not the ears?

I am not so naive that I don’t realize my comparison of the urge to clean my ears is nowhere near a heroin addiction. But since I have never used hard drugs, this is the only thing in my life that I can use as a reference. Although it is a heavily muted desire compared to a hardcore addiction, I can possibly begin to understand the feelings of an addict, and why it is so difficult to stop doing something that gives one pleasure.

Gay Marriage: the other side?

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I believe that all humans have value, and they deserve to be treated as such. It’s silly to think that because of some invisible man-made borders, or slight differences in facial shape or which shade of brown a person’s skin is, there is some fundamental difference between humans. In every community there is the brave one, the comedian, the outcast, the nurturer, the gossip. I think many people can agree with me on this idea, and it is not so radical to make such a claim.

I also try to constantly understand others. If someone has a belief that I don’t agree with, I find it incredibly intriguing to find out why they think that way, and maybe they have some facts or life experience that help me in my journey of knowledge.

Even as a child I believed that homosexuality was “okay.” Maybe because somewhere in my childhood, the first thing I ever heard about gay people was something like “Sometimes men like men, and sometimes women like women, and that’s okay.” Even though my immediate family was not as open to homosexuality as they could be, somehow I always had heart for gay people. Maybe it was because I grew up with the value to love everyone, and I felt extreme empathy for anyone who was ridiculed. Even today, when I see that someone is in pain, it is as if I can also feel that pain. I am not sure if this is something I have developed consciously or unconsciously, or rather it is a trait I was born with, but it really helps me to relate to people and show grace and understanding.

Although gay rights is something that I “know” to be right, I still want to try to understand why some people do not believe it is acceptable. I have been thinking about this for awhile, with a concentration of thoughts over the past few days, so I am hoping that by writing my thoughts it will give them some sort of order.

There are many contentious issues in the world today, as always, although I particularly don’t understand why some people are fighting so vigilantly against gay marriage- a thing that I believe would not affect their lives in the slightest. If they are worried about the message it would send to their children: preventing gays to get married does not prevent the couple from being gay. Either they are gay and unmarried, or gay and married. And there many examples of children being aware that gay couples exist and do not turn out to be gay or immoral people.

But as I become more and more frustrated with these people, it does not help me to understand them. Because it becomes clear to me that this issue goes beyond pure reason. If everyone used purely rational thinking, I believe this wouldn’t be a problem. So I must try to identify which emotions are at play here. The most prominent one I can recognize is fear. Fear is a very scary and legitimate emotion. I have fears every day: little ones like when I fear looking silly for saying the wrong word in Swedish, or big ones like driving on a rural Italian road. My constant philosophical/worried thinking produces several fears on a constant basis. I deeply understand the power of fear. Will this help me to understand the fear of anti-gay activists?

When I started to write this post, I supposed that I would end up talking about lack of education being the cause of anti-gay thoughts, but my fingers directed me to go in another direction. I want to touch on this subject for a moment though before I continue because I think it is an important idea. By lack of education, I do not mean formal education. We have all seen ivy league graduates in powerful positions expressing anti-gay views. Additionally, we have seen young children who know a gay couple and have learned that there is nothing wrong with it. This dichotomy of views is likely passed down through the family, but I believe it is not static. In an anti-gay family, if a family member is brave enough to come out, it has the possibility to change the views of the family in a positive way (unfortunately this is not always the case).

I have a new theory through which I have been working, so it is still fresh and ill-defined. There is this idea of “the loudest”…you know, where people only pay attention to the loudest ones and see them as a representation of the whole. It is shown in the case of Muslims, with radicals being the loud voice, and the peace loving moderates get pushed into the background and are not seen. It could be this reason that people have the wrong idea about gay people. They see representations of lesbians in porn films or in the stereotypical tom-boy dress and think that lesbians are only over-sexualized or bull dykes. They see the attention seeking “fabulous” gay men making out during the gay pride parade and think all gay men are horny transsexuals. Any gay distant relative or co-worker that does not fit this stereotype is the “exception” and is ignored as a piece of evidence against their idea. They have no time or desire to research otherwise. Therefore, they are content with their negative view of homosexuals.

What many do not see, are the “average” people who do not shout to everyone “I am gay!” because it does not define who they are as a person. I think when homosexuality started to become okay in society, it was because of those loud individuals, and therefore they are necessary for the cause, but they are only part of the whole.

Maybe I can write more on this later after I’ve developed my thinking. But back to fear.

I can suppose there are two main arguments against gay people, which are either tied to religion, or that it is “unnatural” and “gross.” Perhaps the people who have religious-based opposition have the ultimate fear of going to Hell if they allow homosexuality to become acceptable. For The Bible says that no man should lie with another man; when this action becomes a part of our society there is Hell on earth. I cannot argue with this person, for their irrationality goes far beyond a simple explanation of gays being okay. For the person who thinks homosexuality is unnatural and gross, I can imagine their fear being something like having to witness public displays of affection, or that a homosexual person of their same sex would have sexual feelings for him or her. As someone who has experienced unwanted sexual advances, it is something very uncomfortable, and has caused me to avoid certain situations out of fear of this happening. Although I think it is uncommon, I don’t doubt that someone has misinterpreted a situation to believe that it is okay to begin flirting with someone who does not want it, and I can understand this fear. Perhaps they are afraid if they become sympathetic to gay people, they themselves will be considered homosexual and receive unwanted sexual attention. Even though I am an advocate for gay rights, it took me some years to not get immediately offended if someone asked me “Do you like girls or something?” (Maybe because I was shocked at the inappropriateness of the question.)

Anyway, this seems like it is becoming more about gays’ right to exist more so than the initial goal of talking about gay marriage. But it is always interesting where my mind ends up when I do stream-of-consciousness writing.

This topic is becoming a bit tired, because I feel annoyed that it is even an issue. To me it is so obvious that gay marriage should be okay, and it is obvious that homosexuality exists and shouldn’t be condemned, and I am feeling out of energy to hear arguments about it anymore. It is for this reason that I feel anyone who is arguing against it cannot be changed by shouting louder than them or giving them facts because the facts are already there and they refuse to look at them. Its deeper than facts. All I can do is continue trying to understand individuals and their situations and live my life in peace.