Because I Have a Voice (but What Language is it Speaking?)

•March 15, 2011 • 5 Comments

It seems to me that by now everybody even remotely interested has got around to watching the King’s Speech. That low-budget, high acting, Oscar-showered British film really hit it home with its audience.

One of the pivotal moments of the film is when the King and his self-certified speech-therapist, Lionel Logue, come to a brutal confrontation in Westminster Abbey. Lionel finally asks King George why he should listen to anything he says, and the king (in Colin Firth’s marvellous rendering) bellows out “Because I have  a voice”.

***

I used to write.

Writing in a blog that I used to write seems redundant even to myself. Of course I used to write, that’s usually why people start a blog. Blogging is writing, or at least it attempts to be. (Though in some cases it’s more like collaging magazine-clippings).

What I want to say is something else: I used to write with a different kind of ambition. I had a dream of expressing something profound through research into the language I used, deconstructing and reconstructing the words I used to penetrate situations, and end up with new understanding. Sometimes, in certain serendipitous moments. I used to believe in language as a primary tool for understanding the world around me.

There was a time in my life when I wrote almost without interruption, trying to tap into feelings so intense I just had to let them out. I too wanted to have a voice. At the time there was a complete overlap of the matter I wanted to write about, and the linguistic tools I used to shape that matter.

I stopped writing with that kind of intention when I started travelling. Ironically, I started travelling around the world and kept at it for almost 2 years; all the time trying to find a moment and a place where I could really write, only to find that when I was completely immersed in a mixed linguistic environment, I could not write.

I came back, disillusioned, and started working on my sociology thesis instead. Certainly there was writing involved, but not much self-expression in the end.

Since then I’ve lived in Italy for a very long time, and now here in Canada for an almost equally long time (which makes me a very mature person, I fear). And for each linguistic shift, writing about my life, or even stories about other people’s lives, has become more difficult. How can one write about a life happening using several languages at the same time, in one language alone?

Vanina Marsot has encountered some of the same dilemmas when writing her novel Foreign Tongue

In order to write a novel about the differences between French and (American) English, and by extension, between French culture and American culture, I chose to make my heroine an accidental translator, a bilingual woman who runs away to Paris (the advantages of dual nationality), and happens into an under-the-table freelance job translating a mysterious erotic novel.

Marsot comments: it turns out my novel seems to be untranslatable, at least into the other language it is about, French.
There’s a lot of French in my book.  I think and hope it’s written so that even if you never studied the language, you can still understand what’s going on in the French passages, which are commented upon in English by my narrator.  But here’s the crux of the matter: the French phrases and expressions in the book are dissected in English; that is, understood and parsed through English.  So, though the novel is in English (the protagonist), there’s a necessary tension with French, the antagonist.  If you translate everything into French, the tension is gone.  You’d have to convey that the French-language voice is that of a bilingual American, who is commenting on the French language; so, you’d read a French voice puzzling over odd French phrases — in French! Perhaps a really good literary translator could do this, but I’m not sure how.

Trying to put my daily life down in writing, challenges me much in the same way. How do I describe a dinner table conversation that’s conducted in three languages? Of course I can translate all the single sentences and exclamations into one of the three languages, but then I’d miss all the little cues that make us change language for specific subjects; I’d lose all the exhortations from my husband to “speak as you eat” (ma parla come mangi) when our daughters slide into English; I’d lose all the references to childhood or popular culture specific to one language culture.

In the end, any writing where I minutiously recount episodes from my daily life, will either be untranslatable or they’ll lose a lot of the layers that they are made up of.

Another challenge, when attampting to write, is the fact that the realities I’ve been living in for most of the past 20 years don’t match the language I once wrote in. Frequently I’d find myself at loss for words to describe the thoughts I had in my current life, in a language that seemed far away from them.

Part of my difficulties have to do the with the specifics of Norwegian language. The fact that I wrestle with two linguistic standards for writing the language and an oral language that doesn’t conform to either, doesn’t make it any easier. If an idea comes wrapped in a specific language, it will frequently be in my spoken linguistic variation, it will use words that never appear in any authorized dictionary. And I feel unable to write my dialect any longer, I have moved too many times to have the immediacy I may once have felt when writing it.

So does this leave me without a voice?

Fortunately not.

I’ve struggled for many years with finding ways to release this voice; with finding  a language for it. Writing in a different language than my first tongue seemed like treason. How could I even attempt to get to the core of a story with a different linguistic tool set than the one I was born with?

When I finally, after years of struggling, sat down to write in English. I felt liberated. Somehow writing in my second tongue set me free from a lot of the hang-ups I had with authenticity, honesty and being me. I could see language more as a tool and less as a container of memories and relations.

Other writers have resorted to the same solution:

Joseph Conrad didn’t speak English fluently until he was in his twenties. Somehow his native Polish language was not the tool he felt more apt to write his accounts of anti-heroes battling with the world.

Conrad was a master prose stylist who brought a distinctly non-English tragic sensibility into English literature

Arthur Koestler wrote all his novels in his third language, after first changing from Hungarian to German at 17, and then from German to English at 34.

Samuel Beckett chose to write all his plays in French.

There are others I should have mentioned, but I’ll stop here.

***

Without comparing myself in any way to the above authors, I too am finally rediscovering that I have a voice, and right now that voice is English.

Breaking Out into Carnival

•March 7, 2011 • 2 Comments

In some places, these are days of colour and excitement. In some places these are days of ritual over-eating and sudden breaks from routine. In some places these are days to dance and be outrageous. And as I hustle and bustle and try to embed some of these traditions in my own home, despite their foreign-ness in Canada, I recall this song from 1987:

Don’t stop to ask
Now you’ve found a break to make at last
You’ve got to find a way
Say what you want to say
Breakout

For the unitiated: It’s carnival-season: An explosion of excesses with ancient origins. The Lenten period of the Church calendar, is the name given to the six weeks directly before Easter. Lent was (and still is to an extent) marked by fasting and other pious or penitential practices, it’s a time to turn inward to reflect. Traditionally during Lent, no parties or other celebrations were held, and people refrained from eating rich foods, such as meat, dairy, fats and sugar. The forty days of Lent, recall the biblical account of the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, and serve to mark an annual time of turning.

In the days before Lent, all rich food and drink had to be disposed of. The consumption of this, in a giant party that involved the whole community, is thought to be the origin of Carnival. The origin of the name “carnival” is disputed. Variants in Italian dialects suggest that the name comes from the Italian carne levare or similar, meaning “to remove meat”. Other sources suggest it means “goodbye to meat” or more symbolically “goodbye to the flesh”.

In northern Europe Fastelavn is celebrated much with the same intention.  Fastelavn is related to the Low-German word vastel-avent, or “The eve of Lent”. The last Sunday before Lent was designated as “Bacon Sunday” or Fastelavn-Sunday, the following Monday was blue Monday or Bacon Monday; and the last Tuesday before Lent white Tuesday or fat Tuesday which is the exact equivalent to the word Mardi Gras.

The Nordic Fastelavn swallowed up several earlier Pagan rituals dedicated to the shift from winter to spring. A surviving custom from pre-Christian times is the Mardi Gras Branch or fastelavnsris, that was used to awaken fertility.

In my home, we uphold the traditions of decorating the Mardi Gras Branch and make the typical sweet buns of Fastelavn: Sweet, fluffy and filled with whip cream and jam; an orgy of empty calories, but Oh so good.

The idea is to eat until you’re ready to repent and thus start the penitential season of Lent.

To get to really outrageous celebrations, however, I had to move much further south. The Carnival as it developed from Medieval times, was a set of popular practices that included wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, etc. Carnival would mean that a mask would protect you from the rules you would normally have to follow, and the mask would give opportunity to meet across social boundaries and classes, without being criticized. All was allowed and possible, if only for a few days. This tradition has been carried on particularly in Catholic countries.

The great expenditures and popular participation in The Venice Carnival must have left more than a few with regrets and economic hangovers. Wonderful costumes; lush textiles; incredible masks – and then the afterthought “was it really worth it”: The perfect backdrop for Lent.

I’ve never been to the Carneval in Rio de Janeiro, but from the pictures I’ve seen, I’d say the day after must be pretty much the same there.

It is this “breaking out” of the ordinary I so much like about this season. There may not be any incumbent need for overeating in an over-fed western world, but the endless repetition of our lives cries out for breaks and pauses, for opportunities to go outside of the tracks we’ve made for ourselves. The flatness of our paths screams for bumps and slides. Carnival is such a bump.

My living room, normally nicely colour coordinated, is now adorned with my Mardi Gras branches that defy coordination. There is nothing classy about them, their aim is to bring the gaudy and glittery in to my life.

My healthy cooking is now supplemented with pure gluttony. Tonight we ate the Fastelavn sweet buns, once again. Tomorrow is the time for the Italian “cenci” or “chiacchiere”.

I wonder if the names of the Italian cookies refer to the aftermath of Carnival: “Cenci” means “rags”; “chiacchiere” means “gossip”. Whatever is the case, I think we’ll be good and ready for ashes and penitence, come Wednesday.

Happy Mardi Gras!

Ethical investment: Me and my Bank (and Madoff)

•March 1, 2011 • 1 Comment

My relationship with money resembles what some people have with feces: I know it’s a necessary part of life, but I’d rather not have to deal with it personally. The combination of this hang-up and the fact that I’m self-employed, really stretches my self-control to its extreme: Having to do bookkeeping, invoicing, occasionally pay other translators, calculate my taxes etc, are chores I hate to their innermost core.

Aside from bookkeeping, my general association with banks is hampered. I do use them, as they provide me with cards that help me pretend money doesn’t exist, but I postpone any eye-to-eye contact for as long as I can. Thus I find myself, on the very last day for contributions to my RRSP-plan (Registered Retirement Savings Plansimilar to the American 401(k)), in line at the local TD branch, to make my tiny, little annual contribution towards (maybe) securing my own future. Securing may be overstating it; it’s more like putting myself slightly above the cat-food-eating level some day when I no longer will be able to support myself through full-time work.

It so happened that I caught a glimpse of an article in Huffington post, where Bernie Madoff claims he’s a good person, right before leaving the house on my way to the bank. His exact words were:

“I’m not the kind of person I’m portrayed as.” And then went on to assert: “Everyone was greedy, “I just went along.”

Since I was already all worked up over having to deal with my money, I started analysing Madoff’s defense of himself. Certainly, the oldest line of defence in the universe is “It isn’t just me, everybody does it”. I’ve heard that more times than I can count from Italian politicians whenever they’re accused of nepotism, taking bribes, indecent conduct, abuse of office and anything else an Italian politician may do without giving it much thought.

The excuse doesn’t stick. We all know what we do is wrong when we break the rules, even if everybody around is doing pretty much the same thing. It only gives us the illusion that since so many are doing it, we’ll never get caught. Thinking that you’ll never get caught is, nevertheless, different in substance from thinking that you’re doing nothing wrong.

The other part of his defense is more credible. “Everybody was greedy” is a statement that describes even most of the small investors, even the people who lost most of their retirement savings in the crash. This greed, it has been argued, is what drives the capitalist system. Ayn Rand even described the Utopia of Greed as the “moral” basis of Capitalism. Though the few people who actually manage to finish the (atrociously badly written) books by Ayn Rand, rarely go the full length and accept her extreme economic Darwinism completely, the acceptance of greed as an important driving force usually sticks. It is greed that convinces us that we deserve to have amazing gains on the savings we have. It’s greed that make us rejoice when our shares go up while our neighbour’s stocks become worthless.

As I was pondering whether every individual investor’s greed was an acceptable excuse for Madoff, it was finally my turn.  Mr. Raimondi  brought me into his glass office, as if I were a real investor, and it dawned on me that this tiny operation of not so many dollars would give me more quality time with my local banker than I had wished for.

It turns out that my past payments had been put into a so-called “wait and see” account, wherefrom you’re supposed to move it to make real investment. In fact, from my point of view, it had worked as a “wait and see how log it takes before she realizes she’s getting no interest whatsoever”. So on top of making my payment, I needed to make some choices about “my investment needs”.

The bank has a neat little questionnaire online that is supposed to guide you quickly to the “right blend” of investment products. Pretty easy. No, I won’t retire in the next 10 years. Don’t want to; couldn’t do it even if I did. No, I’m not interested in high-risk-high-gain options. Money that’s made to quickly always carries a stench.

It takes 10 minutes and you’re through the questionnaire. Then they direct you at different funds, bonds etc. My banker looks up and asked if I have any preferences. By this time my head was spinning, so at first I didn’t think so. Then it dawned on me: I don’t want my (small amount of) money to be invested in industries that destroy our environment, that have unfair labour practices. I don’t want oil sands (look here), mining or Nestlé to benefit from my dollars (even if I may benefit from investing in them). Now, there’s a challenge, and my banker knows it. We spend more than half an hour going through different funds and just about every single one of them contains one of the above. If I want to invest in a “safe” manner from a banking perspective, I’m pretty much forced to contribute to making the world a worse place.

And here I was hoping I could put my money into solar energy, wind power, electic cars, culture. Instead, according to the list of funds my bank offers, it is not so. In the end I chose the lesser evils, feeling rather unsatisfied.

The Natural reaction for people who have my kind of relationship with money, would be to withdraw to avoid having anything to do with investment savings anymore. I’d say, “Hell, I’ll eat cat-food when I grow old, at least I can do it with a clear conscience”.

It’s either that, or keep your eyes half closed when you make your investment choices, repeating to yourself like a Mantra “it’s not my few hundred dollars that are going to make a difference to how these businesses behave” or “There is no other way to put away money to support myself when I’m old”.

However, since most of us can’t keep our money in the mattress, nor have the self-control to keep it in the bank without spending it, I’ll suggest another path of action; collective action. Only by being present, and making our views known, can we change how investment portfolios are put together. And it won’t be me alone doing the trick.

For all of us who have RRSPs , small like mine, or more substantial: Let’s educate ourselves about where our money is put. Let’s ask our banks for sustainable and ethical investment alternatives. Let the pressure be felt enough that next time I say “no oil-sands”, my banker knows right away what kind of customer I am, and directs my to something that won’t make me rich but that may keep my money safe, while improving the world around me. Even I found a list of sustainable and ethical investment options as soon as I got home from the bank. I’m sure a the people down at TD could do even better.

The only efficient way to protest against the Utopia of Greed, goes through small steps taken by many people.

You can’t hide from politics

•February 23, 2011 • 1 Comment

“Ingen kommer undan politiken”, is one of the few refrains from the early 80’s that stuck with me. “No one ever gets away from politics”, Marie Bergman sang to repetitive ska-rhythms, grinding on her message that even if you don’t give a damn, politics will affect you. Whether you work in a factory or play music for a living, politics will affect you.

I believed it when I heard Marie Bergman sing all those years ago, and I believe it now, many years later. But the conditions around my own political participation have changed to a point that my natural position would have been that of a side commentator at best. For most of the past 20 years I’ve been residing in countries where I’ve been fully integrated linguistically, economically and socially, but where I in reality had no political rights. This has led to an ongoing process of testing the limits to of my denizenship, feeling excluded and refusing to bow to the forces of exclusion.

Not too many months ago we had an election of a new mayor here in Toronto. For the first time in years there was a real sense of choosing between clear alternatives, of public participation. For months I’d been following the mayoral race, becoming more and more worried about the possible outcome. I had participated in debates on the Internet, among friends and at public meetings; I was deeply involved in the issues in the campaign, such as environmental policies and public transit, but on the morning of election day I felt a long way from home: While everyone (well, not everyone, about 50 %) went out to the ballots, I didn’t have the right to vote.

I had participated thus far, but on the decisive day, I was left out.

There are certainly worse things in life than not being able to vote, there are people living with great uncertainty, that are stateless, and enjoy none of the protection or social benefits I enjoy.

Nevertheless, my lack of political rights leaves me with strange predicaments:

  • If  I have an issue locally and I want it to reach the attention of my local member of the city council, do I even have the moral right to contact him/her when I’m just a denizen?
  • And if I do, will s/he listen to me or just ignore me since I’m not actually represented by them, as a non-citizen?
  • If non-citizens are denied political rights, does it mean that it is not legitimate of me as a denizen to even use other channels for voicing my opinions, such as petitions, demonstrations and all other direct political action?
  • Am I as a non-citizen supposed to just “grin and bear it”, or leave the country if I don’t like the way things are done here?

The discussion about extending voting rights to resident non-citizens across Europe, has been on since the late 70s.  Locally in Toronto it’s taken hold in the past 10 years. And, boy, has it stirred some emotion.

One of the city council members, Michael Walker, put forward a simple argument “Just become a citizen”.

That would have been a solution even for me, only my native country of citizenship doesn’t allow me to keep my passport if I obtain citizenship somewhere else. And it’s a big step to take to renounce of your birthright, just ask anyone who’s done just that.

There are other’s  who’ve had the same predicament I do. In the summer of 2006, a non-citizen resident of the city of Mississauga – a suburb of Toronto, Canada – made a formal request to city council to allow him and other non-citizen residents the right to participate on official municipal boards and committees – a right not currently extended to non-citizen residents. The resident in question was German citizen who, despite having lived nearly 30 years of his life in Canada, has not obtained Canadian citizenship for reasons having to do with German citizenship laws (double citizenship wasn’t legal until 2001 and is still rather restricted with infringements on certain rights as a result).

The request was rejected by a majority of Mississauga city councilors with many expressing disbelief that a non-citizen would even make such a request. One councilor went so far as to say that immigrants who have not yet obtained citizenship should stop treating Canada as if it is a “buffet table” of “rights and other good things” .

It is hard for me to see how political partecipation can be likened with a buffet table. Political activity is in itself frustrating, time-consuming, at times boring, and often with little reward in the end. But it does make you feel a part of the “we” of the society you live in. And feeling part of the “we” certainly must voucher for a healthier society, than keeping groups excluded.

I reflected on these issues again in Mid-February when a spontaneous movement of women in one of my adoptive countries, Italy, decided to organize a protest in every square in Italy to say “enough is enough” to Berlusconi’s scandals and general view of women.

I spent 10 years of my life in Italy. I know its political history. I follow it on the news. But I’ve never been a citizen, never will be probably. When I saw my Italian friends in Italy burn with excitement, I stayed on the side, urging them to keep going. It wasn’t until I realized that I have two Italian daughters that deserve better than the state of affairs in Italy that I threw myself into the campaign. In 4 days we managed to organize a protest under the common banner Se non ora, quando (If not now, when), so show solidarity with women in Italy.

And it was then it hit me: I can’t hide from politics, but it sure can’t hide from me either.Taking politics out of the dining room

Valentine’s and other mating rituals

•February 9, 2011 • 3 Comments


 

 

 

 

“If I see another heart, I think I’ll puke”, my 17-year-old exclaims. She’s a self-professed guerilla-worrier fighting all things cheesy.

In the most sociologically detached way possible I tell her “you know, mating rituals are necessary in all societies, it’s a way of reproducing and maintaining the social structure”.

She looks at me with pity:

– “C’mon, mom, I know you couldn’t have participated in this charade of pretending Valentine’s is the night that seals your love, or in the ridiculous idea that a date on the 14th of February is of vital importance”.

– “Of course I didn’t, I hadn’t even heard of Valentine’s day when I was your age”.

– “You see, you were free from all this”.

– “I don’t know how free I really was”

– “Yeah, sure”

– “Anyway, a Valentine’s date sure beats arranged marriages and mail order brides as a way of forming couples, I’d say”.

In hindsight, I can see that many things were lacking in my youth. Light entertainment and dating for instance, were both banned, either by social convention or because no one around had looked up from what they were doing long enough to invent them. In that rural, Arctic world, with one television channel and an underlying conviction that TV should be used to educate people, having fun was an action and it usually involved sweating.        “You only have as much fun as you make yourself”, my father used to repeat like a mantra, as we struggled with our skis uphill to the nearest mountain. “No pain, no gain” was another one, mainly used on the way downhill when your muscles gave in and you crashed into a tree or a rock. There was certainly entertainment in this, but there was nothing light about that particular kind of entertainment.

Dating didn’t even have a proper word in Norwegian, and even the English term was foggy to me until the late 80’s.

Our mating rituals were different. We’d move together as shoals; girls on one side, guys on the other, and in mystic ways, sometimes with the help of moonshine produced in someone’s cellar, we’d move closer and things would start to happen, most of it hidden to the human eye by the distracting movements of the rest of the shoal. Being part of the shoal has great advantages: you don’t stand out; you have constant support from your group, but it only works as long as they recognize you as the part of it. Just as impossible as it is for a sardine to be integrated among herring, was it for me to move in synchronicity with the others when I became a teen. Giving up my individual quirks to become one with the others seemed impossible. Instead of finding my place, I felt out-of-place.

 

The path to this self-discovery could have been rock hard, but in the meantime, the culture around me had changed. American sit-coms had finally made their way into our national television, and with it a whole new set of concepts were available. Discovering that mating could be an individual, instead of a group activity, a chance to shine on my own and be myself, released waves of relief. It also triggered my urge leave my fjord and go to places where I could learn, and be part of, this new ritual; this better way.

 

Several years of feeling awkward and in the wrong place passed before I could experience this first hand. In the meantime I increased my vicarious knowledge about dating weekly, through an ever-increasing stream of American content on TV. And I practiced it all in front of my bathroom mirror.

 

I think back on that first date, and know my lonely hero had overcome all kinds of hardships to ask me out: my obstinate leftism despite being in Reagan-land; my disdain for local sports and flag waving, the sweaty hands and the baby-blue polyester blazer bearing testimony of his struggles. And I realize nothing could have prepared me for the sudden aloneness I felt as we ventured out to the movies, the two of us, with a new distance between us that wasn’t there before, when we had lunch together in the school cafeteria.

 

I shudder as I remember all this, and wonder if I’d have the strength to go through it all again; the anticipation; the regret; being your own experimental guinea pig. And I make a mental note of avoiding conspicuous hearts for the next week.



St. Valentines, mating rituals, multiculturalism, valentine-cards, television, entertainment, dating, Norway

Have snow – need colour!

•February 4, 2011 • Leave a Comment

A couple of days ago, we had our very first snow-storm of this winter. Even though the forecast “Snowmageddon” never actually happened, the snow kept falling, daylight never seemed to seep through entirely.

Grey and dreary.

Snow doesn’t really bother me. I was born to snow. Where I grew up, there’d be years when we felt the presence of snow all 12 months of the year: the last snow melting only at the middle of June; sudden cold-spells drizzling the near-by mountains with powder in July; and the first real snowfall of a new cold season the last week of August. I even know how to enjoy the snow when I finally get my butt off the computer chair and venture out in the cold.

So it’s not the snow in itself.

But looking at myself in the mirror in Mid-winter makes me yearn for light and colour, and white and grey simply don’t do it for me. I wouldn’t call it depression, it’s rather abstinence from vibrant colours. Even the best laid make-up can’t cover up this fact.

In language we have codified the relationship between colour and our emotional states. We are “green with envy” and we  “feel blue”? We see the world through “rose colored glasses”?

On a physical level it has been shown that the effect of exposure to pure red light is stimulating. There is an increase in heart rate, respiration and blood pressure. Red light has an exciting effect on the nervous system, especially the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system.

On the other hand, exposure to pure blue light has the opposite effect: lowering of the heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure with especial effect on the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system.

Our physical reactions to colours must have been discovered in different cultures, and with different application.

The Egyptians and Chinese, practiced chromotherapy, or using colors to heal. I see examples around me the Chromotherapy is still selling well today as a holistic or alternative treatment.

Now, I’m a sceptic at heart, and would object to anyone claiming universal effects of colour that colours have different meanings in different cultures. They’re even divided in different ways linguistically (a colour that to me is clearly light green, is always azzurro- or light blue- to my husband). So I don’t really believe that painting my kitchen walls orange will invigorate me enough to overlook my cold feet and slushy sidewalks. I even laugh at the different colour-confidential shows on TV, and at people who believe that the colours they choose will make a permanent change in their lives.

However, on Wednesday night I realized that colours do have an effect, and that lack of colour is not  a good thing.

Completely uninspired, as I started cooking dinner, I decided that the main ingredients should be leek and cauliflower – veggies that had been waiting in my fridge for 3-4 days. The leeks were made into one of the staples in our household, leek-risotto. The cauliflower got steamed and then made au gratin in the oven. Both dishes were both wholesome, seasonal and didn’t taste too bad.

But as I set the table I realized my mistake:

The stunning lack of colour made us lose interest in the whole meal.

Conversation died down and all 4 of us felt the weight of winter.

Too late did I realize why, and even putting a small bowl of baby carrots on the table at that point was useless.

Come to think of it, some of the traditional meals from my childhood: fish-balls in a white sauce with potatoes on the side; rice porridge; steamed cabbage, they all must have contributed to seasonal depressions almost as much as the inevitable lack of sunlight.

So as of yesterday, I’ve made a conscious decision to bring colour into every meal. Even if it may not have therapeutic effects, the kitchen table will look much better when we sit down to eat.

Even good girls get lost

•February 2, 2011 • 2 Comments

I’ll start this year’s blogging with a confession (after a long break):
In the past 3 months I’ve been a good girl.
Sure, someone could debate me on the “girl”-part, but there’s no doubt I’ve been good. I’d go so far as to say that I’ve been able to become someone I’m not, and display traits that really weren’t mine: Finally I managed to become that super-focused and together woman who had got her priorities straight.
If I only knew what had got into me, I may even have ventured out to become one of those self-help gurus that get rich by dispensing general advice to people looking for specific solutions. I’m pretty sure there’s a market for a 12-step-program for recovering procrastinators. Unfortunately I wasn’t focused enough at the onset of this new phase of my life, to actually become aware of any tips I could sell to others.

During times when I wasn’t such a good girl, I’ve searched the World Wide Web for remedies. For every self-accusatory point I listed, there was always at least a dozen gurus, coaches and motivational speakers (they tend to self-identify into these categories) with clear answers.

Unable to focus?

Procrastination?

Losing focus during a task?

Side-tracking?

For every point on this list there’s more advice than you can digest in a lifetime.

And if we follow that advice and finally curb our natural inclinations to do what we have decided we shouldn’t, to take alternative routes to the quickest, most straight-forward path, then life will be better;  we’ll have success; we’ll spend less time in self-loathing. And with efficiency we get more done, and when we get more done, we’re happier with ourselves, and thus happier in general.

Now that’s a story I would like to tell!

Instead my great endeavour came rolling back over me like a train with faulty breaks.

After 2 months of being a good girl, I was far from happy. Turns out that putting work first, and keeping to your list of priorities isn’t the prozac the time-planners out there claim it is.

My experience with being focused and disciplined, is that focus often becomes tunnel-vision. And while it is a good thing to manage to achieve goals, not seeing what’s around us, disorients and makes us lose the context of what we want to obtain.

I remember that while studying languages, I’d get extremely frustrated with myself for getting lost in the dictionary. After looking up that first word, others questions would be triggered and I’d go on learning new words for half an hour. A whole half-hour that didn’t bring me any closer to finishing my assignment. I dreamed of more self-control, control over my brain and being able to just get things done in an efficient way.

Many years later I’ve realized how all that “wasted time” is what has made my abilities in different languages develop to the point they have. Speaking and developing language is all about being side-tracked: Why else would we go on producing synonyms? There would be no need, would there, since we already have words that convey the exact same meaning. And since the invention and development of language is all about side-vision, changing directions and playing with structures, why should language learning be any different?

Come to think of it, there are multitudes of areas where being too focused is detrimental to the outcome. Any policy that focuses too narrowly on solving an isolated problem, tends to lose vision of how the problem is intertwined with other problems and other systems.

Keeping your side-vision certainly makes it harder and more cumbersome to find a solution, but it limits the risk of finding yourself reaching your target, only to realize that the context around is falling to pieces. The environmental disasters we see around the world bear witness of ingeneers, industrialists, politicians that were good boys and girls, focusing only on the task at hand. No time for side-vision or even looking up.

So, one month into the new year, I’ve made this resolution to myself: I’ll embrace my side-tracking; I’ll struggle to keep my 180 degree vision; I’ll learn all I can from the things I do while I really should be doing something else. Some would call it:  smelling the roses.

Hopefully that will give me time for thinking new thoughts and blogging regularly.

Certainly it will make me happier on a day-to-day basis.