Dec 29, 2013

And beyond 2014?

I sometimes wonder if there will be a 2015. For close to a decade now the focus here in Umeå has been set on 2014. First it was a fantasy, then a vision, then an application, then The Win, and after that years of planning for taking on the incredible and challenging assignment being The European Capital of Culture 2014.

It is incredible indeed. Every year, within the European Union, cities are carefully chosen to be the Capital of Culture. To start with it was one city (1985, Athens) 1999-2000, at the Millennium there were multiple cities, and after that mostly two a year. Sweden has carried the title once before, Stockholm 1998. 2014 Sweden was on the schedule for the second time, in pair with Latvia. And in competition with three bigger cities in Sweden, teeny-weeny Umeå way up north in our skinny country grabbed the title!

I once heard Fredrik Lindegren, artistic director of the year, bending his head, covering his face in his hands, saying: I wish it was 2016.
I can easily understand that. Putting together a cultural year by rank, all Europe watching, would make anyone sweat. Then organizing it.

The title has affected Umeå in major ways even though it hasn’t yet started. I think we are experiencing something along the lines of what happens in a place which is getting ready for The Olympics: gosh, this is going to be a big party, we have invited a ton of guests and we need to make room for them (nice rooms!) clean everything up and make our city a show case!

A bit like when you are having a party at your house; you suddenly have a deadline to change the towels in the bathroom and maybe you get to finally hanging that painting that’s been sitting on the floor leaning against the wall for months. And yeah, a new bulb over the front porch so they can find their way in!

The front porch in Umeå is what used to be the downtown port at the Umeå River many decades ago. Since then, it’s basically been a big parking lot. Not anymore though. The new building for cultural arts, Väven, has been under construction for a couple of years now. The Norwegian firm Snöhetta (the Alexandria Library, the Oslo opera house) is the architect and the exterior (the lower part of the building will be for the arts, the tall part a hotel) glass plates inspired by the black and white graphics of the birch stem.

Big changes always cause concerns among people, and this building creates a lot of change. First, it’s the building itself. Some perceive it as big and loud and out of proportion compared to the city center. It changes the skyline (we still have a very modest skyline though). Then it’s the content. The city library is going to move in to the building and this is making people very emotional. Its’ current location is optimal to many, and why change a winning team?

Cultural arts are also theater, dance, photo, music, film and crossovers from most anything you can think of, now spread all over town. Will they afford the rent in this new flashy city front porch?

During this fall it turned out that the City’s budget for the building only will cover the costs for running the place, there will be no money over for the different art scenes in the facility. This might sound like an incomprehensible problem to an American. But you see, in Sweden cultural arts are to some degree sponsored by the government, and we are relying on that subsidy for our operation. For example, my choir Kammarkören Sångkraft (Sångkraft Chamber Choir) is sponsored with 100 000 Skr (today about 15 000 dollars) a year by the City of Umeå. No strings attached. Yeah, it’s pretty amazing.

So, there is no wonder people are concerned about the future of the culture in the European Capital of Culture 2014. Also, the City has failed spectacularly when it comes to digging up private sponsors for the year, which leaves the question: what will happen 2015? Without a doubt 2014 has to deliver, so will there be any money at all left for the different art scenes in the future? And that’s how we are entering this big year of events. This New Year.

Hey, will there be a 2015 whatsoever? I feel a lot like I did before the Millennium. It was such an event. Nobody talked about an after in other terms than all the computers would be crashing and it might even be the end of the world for all that we knew. I was in Seattle (people over here were concerned; if something bad would happen, wouldn’t it be safer for me entering the Millennium here in the woods than in a big American city?) since I imagined that would be really cool.

Well, what happened? Some guy with explosives in his car was caught at the Canadian border heading south, and the big celebration at Seattle Center was cancelled for security reasons. Roomer had it that there was no money left after The Battle in Seattle. At 00.00 I was standing at a roof in Wallingford with family and friends watching a pretty lame fire works at the Space Needle, ousted by Bill Gates’ at the Gates residence on the other side of lake Washington. I would say it was an anti climax, and then the world continued with no fuzz.

2014. In only two days. Umeå European Capital of Culture. Will it be an anti climax? And will time go on beyond that like nothing happened? Will there be a 2015?

Dec 22, 2013


Her plan for this afternoon was to cut a tree in my grove. But it’s poring down outside and I wonder if she got it done.

Her name is Josephine. She is the grand daughter of my beloved neighbor Alida, 96 years old. Josephine moved back here this fall with her little baby girl.

Her dream, since she was a little girl herself, was to have a horse. To have a horse you need somewhere to keep it. And you need to take care of it. You need to be mature and responsible. Josephine is 22 years old and she takes care of two horses, a baby daughter, her grandmother and me.

Alida has been here for me all my life. For my sons all their life. For my mother all her life. And for my grandmother a big part of her life. Alida remembers and tells stories of great-grandmothers and grandfathers. And she is playing with her great-granddaughter. Alida is carrying every generation within her. She is a dear friend and the one I go to for grounding myself, and when she for some reason is not at home I feel like my back bone is gone.

Josephine tells me she always wanted to be a young mother, and she is. She feels her home is here in the woods and so she moved back here when her baby turned one. She is taking a break from school and is working for Civil Care, the home care company that takes care of Alida and me.

Her horses are Daisy and Grevinnan (The Countess). Daisy is young, only two years old, and Grevinnan ten, a bit more mature. Their winter home is an enclosed pasture basically on her front yard and my backyard. I can see them next to my Big Barn when looking to the north. They are so beautiful! I have never been a horse person and never been close to horses, but I love having Josephine’s horses as neighbors.

Josephine is the one now fixing my breakfasts. It’s such a treat! She comes here every morning, cheery and always in a good mood. We share our every day stories, big and small, high and low. I love it, and I know she enjoys it too. Sometimes her baby girl comes with her, and I love the idea that she is now getting familiar with my house the way I got familiar with Alida’s house when I was a baby.

I so admire Josephine. I have seen her with her grandmother since she was a teenager, always warm and caring. And now I see her with her daughter, such a natural mother. She doesn’t have a manual and yet she does everything right instinctively. I didn’t. You would think it’s in your genes how to take care of your children, but it isn’t. It’s trial and error. Some seems to be equipped with the right tools from the start though, and Josephine is one of them. Her baby girl is very fortunate.

Boy, it’s raining. I am not a big fan of snow, but for Christmas I would like some. Now it actually looks like we will have a Seattle Christmas, wet and foggy. I am thinking about last year when our Seattle-Becca was here for two weeks over the Holidays. Did she pick the right year for visiting her Swedish brothers and family! 5° F (-15°C) 3 feet of snow (90 cm) and clear skies. My place in the woods was an out of this world Christmas card and brought Becca a Holiday memory she will forever cherish. I am glad we don’t have any foreign guests this year; Sweden isn’t delivering!

Gosh. I am crashing on my coach. My choir Kammarkören Sångkraft (Sångkraft Chamber Choir) did just close the season with our traditional Christmas concert. Three full houses. As my back keeps being difficult I had no clue if I could do the concerts. Through this fall I have only been able to attend like every other rehearsal. My plan was set for two of the concerts, the one yesterday and the second today.

At the end of the one yesterday I had to be lead out by my friend and alto colleague Agneta. Today I was in such bad shape I was thinking it had to be the worst decision this year heading off to Umeå stads kyrka (the Umeå City Church) to stand up singing for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Yet I did it. And yes I did it! I did the whole concert and was even able to be present and enjoy welcoming the Holiday together with my friends in the choir and an attentive audience. I am so happy and grateful.

Trouble & Trouble cut our tree some days ago and it’s all dressed and very beautiful. We will spend Christmas here together with my sister’s family, all together 13 people. Not since 2007 there has been a real big Christmas Eve celebration here at the end of the road, and I am so happy about it.

And at my neighbors Alida and Josephine will celebrate Christmas with their family. I feel safe knowing they are there. Knowing that our families will continue being interlaced with each other. Alida has been such a safety in my life, a warm and solid point. I am hoping that I can be Josephine’s. The woman in the house next door. The one who is always there.

Dec 15, 2013

Ship ahoy!

Oh how I loved being in Seattle during the Holiday Season! Just loved it!!

The Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Westlake Mall! The lit up Downtown, crazy with Christmas shoppers! The ferries filled with dressed up people going to Christmas parties! The neighborhoods competing about the most insane over-the-top light displays! But most of all I love the Christmas Ships!

For many years I made sure getting my dosage of Seattle Holidays. I packed my bags in December with an assignment of a story for Swedish National Radio or Television as an excuse and headed over for a week-ten days in a rainy city making the lights even more vibrant in the reflecting puddles.

I shot Seattle Men’s Chorus in Beneroya Hall and the Dreamliner Virtual Rollout, I reported about the different ingredients of the American Holidays and about The Washington Software Alliance. I told the story of the Cool House, the new city public library and I interviewed the author Russel Banks on a Seattle December visit. I also spent days sitting at the Blackbird Bakery on Bainbridge Island working on the texts for my photo show Away is Home, Home is Away. A couple of times the visit was postponed to right after Christmas, making me spend New Years in the Emerald City!

The Holiday memory I treasure the most though is the year we stayed in Seattle. Cause there can’t be any better place for a Holiday experience than Portage Bay overlooking the Montlake Cut!

Our place for the year was a small house that didn’t look like much from the outside, but was such a wonderful little home for my family. It was on Boyer Avenue about five blocks from University Bridge, and Portage Bay was the best entertainment all year round. I used to have my afternoon tea lying in my cushy cream colored love seat watching whatever was going on down on the bay through my big panorama window. I never got tired of that view! All those boats in different shapes and sizes! Trouble & Trouble and I had our different Argosy cruise ships favorites. Come to think of it, Trouble 2 and I actually agreed on the same preference.

This weekend is the opening for the Christmas Ships in Seattle. And I know exactly what Portage Bay looks like this evening! A parade of lit up, dressed up, spruced up boats glittering and glimmering in the dark night! And some of them have music, choirs singing on the black water!

Trouble 2 and I could sit for hours watching the floating lights waiting for our ship. Here it comes, there it is! Let’s just sit here forever and enjoy this! Oh how I miss that! And where did that little boy go?

Actually, he and Audrey are down in my kitchen making dinner for us. He is right here. In the woods at the end of the road. The opposite to Portage bay. No water for ships to sail on. I am doing what I can to lit up the dark though. Strings of lights in my maples guarding my gate. Light curtains from the roof of my front porch. Spotlights shooting up my dad’s ash tree down in the corner and the big pine next to the field.

There is one ship though! My grandfather’s old apple tree is lit up with spotlights and along the round wooden deck underneath sits a string of lights. Another string is attached to the rope tied around the stem at the crown of the tree and anchored in the ground some feet away in the lawn. That device actually looks like a backstay and in the summer I even connect a light piece of fabric to it, which makes you think of a sail.

It’s been snowing today. In the snow there is a lit up apple tree that in wintertime looks like a space ship. No, I don’t have any waters. And there are no ships sailing here. I might be able to arrange some singing though. On my space ship in the woods at the end of the road.

Dec 8, 2013

Italian like a delicate pencil drawing

A little more than half way through now!

I took German in school for six years. Spanish for one, we didn’t get along. But I’ve always been attracted to French. Like we would be a cute match.

Language studies were my thing in school. It came easy to me. I don’t think I have ever been more devoted to my studies than when I trained for being an assistant nurse. This came as a surprise to me as I wasn’t really on for the profession. But I figured out why. Learning every bone and organ in the body in Latin was nothing less than language studies and I just couldn’t help myself being bent over my books late all night!

Winter 2002 was a hard one. I was working on a documentary project for the European Broadcast Union and it was absolutely killing me. Spring came, I was finally out of it, and I laid my eyes on an ad in a newspaper offering language classes abroad. Studying French in Nice, of course, of course!!

Well, it turned out that taking Italian in Florence was less expensive, and hey, why not?!

I had never even glanced at Italian before, but here I was suddenly, late April in Florence, trying to learn a language I didn’t know a word of in a small group of German, Canadian, Japanese and American students, even a guy from Seattle! Our Italian teachers didn’t know any English, so this mix was quite an adventure.

The class was running extremely fast. The morning hours were every day filled with new grammars, and in the afternoons I was sitting outside the Dome, next to Ponte Vecchio, or at Piazza della Signoria going through my notes, trying to make sense of everything squeezed into my little head.

My roommate was a Japanese girl who didn’t know a word of English. Since my Japanese wasn’t quite there, there was no way for us to communicate what so ever. Although I, of course, kept speaking English anyway, I don’t know why, I could have walked around the apartment speaking Swedish for all that I know! Anyhow, at the end of my two-week stay we could actually communicate in three word sentences in our now common language Italian, and it’s actually hard to express the feeling when that happened. Pure happiness! We had conquered a giant obstacle, and this has to be how children feel when they get through to their parents in words instead of noises and cries!

When I left Italy after two extremely intense weeks, I felt like I had been run over by a jet plane. But I had really grown attracted to Italian. I loved the sounds, the speed, and the passionate way of expressing the most ordinary things.

The years to come, I took some evening classes to learn more. And then I found another ad. “Learn Italian like a child does!”

This was a self-studying course. Perfect! I had been thinking about that for a while. The ad was a little bit funny though. It looked like something from the Fifties. A pencil drawing with a text. But there was a website that looked a bit more promising. I ordered the class and some days later a brown card board box arrived.

In 2008 the Fifties arrived on my desk. The box was packed with stacks of thin yellow booklets. They looked like something I would have found at my bakers cottage attic, left there by my mother’s aunts. I opened them up. They were filled with text (and I mean filled), top to bottom, only once in a while interrupted by tiny delicate pencil drawings, a perfect image for that time and age.

It was interesting though. The text was only in Italian. No translations. And under the text lines phonetic transcriptions. You learn the language by a text where words are repeated in different contexts until you actually get it. There is also a dictionary following the chapters if you get stuck. And a manual, which explains the purpose of each chapter, what you are supposed to learn.

Boy, was this funny! The complete course is 50 chapters divided on 16 booklets. If you are an ambitious student working through one chapter a week you are done with the course in a year and you have a vocabulary of 4000 words. But I tell you, that’s a lot of work! This class is as intense as the one in Florence, although different.

The Fifties design and approach was a concern to me though. I checked with my dear friend Agneta who is an Italian teacher: am I learning a kind of Fifties Italian here? She looked through the first chapters and approved of them, quite impressed by the grammatical ambitions.

So, I took my assignment on! I was aiming for a chapter a week, but then I found a tumor in my breast and made it one chapter per chemo treatment instead. And after the 6th and last treatment my brain shut down and I was incapable of any kind of studies.

My yellow booklets had a rest for about a year, and then I started all over again, repeating everything from the beginning. Summer 2012 I was back to where I was interrupted and decided on studying five minutes a day. Yeah, that’s not a lot, but I figured that’s something I could actually do.

And I have. Five minutes after writing my journal in the evening. The last thing I do before lights out is filling my brain with Italian words and grammars. That’s my daily brain-workout. At midnight. Some do Wordfeud, some sudoku, some cross words. I am learning Italian.

Now, five minutes a day doesn’t add up to a chapter a week. It’s more like a chapter a month. So it took me a while to get back to my Italian support Agneta for a check up. And when I did it turned out that Italian had changed from the Fifties after all… I am now finding out that I am learning an Italian that is only still spoken on Sicily and in the southern parts of Italy. The most conservative areas of the country. If all.

I am laughing long and hard at this. I find it quite funny. I learned how to play bar chords on my grandmother’s old hard stringed guitar. On that foundation every guitar thereafter was a piece of cake. I am fantasizing my Fifties Italian will work the same way!

Agneta, who besides teaching Italian, French and English also has a head for numbers is telling me five minutes a day makes half a high school course in one year. That’s not bad! And since my late night class actually varies between 7 and 15 minutes, I guess I am in fact doing one full high school course a year!

So, 50 chapters. And I am just now finishing up chapter nr. 26. I do not have a head for numbers, but at the speed of a chapter a month doing the math tells me it will take me 24 more months to finish the course. Two more years before I have a vocabulary of 4000 Italian words. I wonder if I will know how to put them together? Will they still exist? And will I put them together in a way that not even Sicily or the most conservative southern parts of Italy will understand in 2015? Will I come across as a delicate pencil drawing?

Dec 1, 2013

Missing Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving and 4th of July. The two days on the year when I miss Seattle and the US the most.

It might have been 1998, my second Thanksgiving in Seattle. Visiting with my family, living a hotel downtown life. My sons and their dad headed back to Sweden when dad was done with his work, and I stayed for another week or so to get my job for the Swedish National Radio done. This was the regular pattern for our shorter stays during a lot of years.

It was perfect. Family time with family friends added on with time for myself in the big city.

Only. My sons and their dad departing Seattle leaving me behind was the worst. I loved staying at what’s now Homewood Suites at Pike Street. I loved my downtown life. I loved doing my journalist freelance work. I loved the feeling of temporary freedom. But I hated the moment for separation from my family. I knew I would be fine in a day or two, but I just couldn’t bare them leaving me. Yet I chose to go through that, time after time.

So, 1998 (or was it -97?) they kissed me goodbye and headed back to Sweden on Thanksgiving. I was deserted. Downtown deserted. I cried. I cried my eyes out in my Homewood suite. This was my choice and I cried. Knowing that nice people would surround me in just a few hours didn’t help. I cried.

When it was time for it I crawled out of my self-inflicted misery, put some casual nice clothes on and made my face. I drove my rental through a quiet city and in a little while I was welcomed into a warm house by warm people. Close friends, friends, and friend’s friends. It was Thanksgiving.

My inside was still grieving. Knowing that Trouble 1 would be in pain on the long flight, his ears all clogged up. And maybe Trouble 2 was a little bit sad going back home without his mom. I don’t know how I was perceived that evening. Distracted. Uptight. Shy. Rude. Not quite there. Everyone was truly friendly and nice to me though, making me a part of their Thanksgiving spirit, which was still fairly new to me. The table was long and at my turn, saying the thanksgiving, made it a very special evening.

Late that night I drove back to my downtown home. I’ve never seen the usually 24-7 lit up Seattle skyline that dark. Understanding that most everyone at that time was sitting at a table somewhere surrounded by family or friends. And that some had a very lonely evening. You are never as lonely as when you know you are not supposed to be.

This year I am watching my playwright friend Elizabeth posting video clips on Facebook. Act 1 is already in the morning, someone starting preparing the food. The clips and different acts moves through the day at Grandma Betty’s house in the Catholic part of Capitol Hill where about 30 people from different generations are getting together.

Oh how I miss them. Oh how I miss all my Seattle friends on a day like this. I miss how they are loud and warm and crazy and witty and fun and smart and caring and… I miss them so it hurts. They are a part of me.

And I miss the little bit of American life that I once had. And wanted a lot more of. During those years when I was commuting between US and Sweden I often got the question: so where would you prefer living? A tricky one to answer. I remember responding that if I had to sell my place at the end of the road in my village to become a Seattleite, the choice would be very hard.

For many years though, I had the best of both worlds. But I always wished for more of Seattle. And that’s what I also always pictured. I can still hear myself driving my routes across University Bridge, Downtown, Arboretum, down to Lake Washington, Montlake Cut, Wallingford and U Village, saying out loud: someday I am going to live here! For real! Tanning in Gasworks Park, power walking around Greenlake, watching the sun set in the skyline from Kerry Park, strolling among the house boats in Portage Bay feeling it deep down in the core of my body: someday I am going to live here! For real! Just watch me!

In 2007 I took a first step for more Seattle life. Trouble & Trouble were 19 and 21, big boys already, and I felt that the stretches in Seattle could be extended. I bought a car! Yes I did! I would have my own car waiting for me whenever I landed in The Emerald City! And I invested in a storage unit for my Tempur Pedic mattress, my special Seattle clothes and other essential necessities, which until then had been dragged between tolerant friends basements. The storage even had a view of the new light rail! Yayy!

But life had different plans for me. And today I am thinking that I might have to find a way bringing back all my things to Sweden. It is not likely that I will be able to come back to Seattle. Even if I at some point could do the trip, I couldn’t do it by myself and I couldn’t stay by myself. If I am very lucky maybe my sons will go with me and visit if my body can do it. But a life in Seattle, as it once was and even more as I pictured it, longed for and wanted, no, my hopes for that is buried deep down in me.

So, hearing Elizabeth’s voice and laughter on her Thanksgiving morning makes me sad for myself. I know, it’s not a pretty feeling. But I love that laughter and miss it so much! And only hearing the North West Coast American English that happened to become my language is unlocking a piece of myself, (yes, go ahead and laugh my friends, I am aware of my accent and all my quirky slips, it is still one of my languages!). And I want to be in that language! I want to share 4th of July with 30 000 people at Gasworks Park (yes friends, laugh on, I will still love it!) and I want to be a part of Thanksgiving, I want it to be one of my Holidays.

I have tried introducing the thanksgiving into one of my Swedish holiday traditions. Not the turkey, the stuffing or the pumpkin pie, but the thanksgiving. I am finding the ritual everyone around a holiday table expressing their gratitude one of the truly most beautiful. My efforts, so far, hasn’t been glorious. But maybe I just have to be persistent. Maybe I need to give it a few more years. If Maria won’t come to Thanksgiving, then Thanksgiving must come to Maria.

Nov 24, 2013

November 22 1963/On a brown sofa bed next to a teakwood furniture radio

I was having the midmorning coffee with my colleagues at The Institute for Ecological Sustainability when the Swedish Secretary of State Anna Lindh died from being stabbed in a Stockholm downtown mall. It was September 11 2003.

In bed a Sunday morning February 28 1986 I read how the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was shot and killed during the night. I had been celebrating my brother in law turning 30 while Olof Palme died. I was going to be a mother in 1,5 month. It was cold outside. That’s how I remember it.

The couch in my childhood living room was dark brown. Flat and firm. It was actually a sofa bed. The texture of the fabric was rough. I can feel the marks in my hands when moving my palm over it. Right beside the sofa was a radio. A big peace of teakwood furniture standing on the floor. It was actually a gramophone combined with a FM AM radio. There was a cabinet in the furniture filled with my parents Long Play records.

That’s where I was sitting 1963 November 22 listening to the news. The president of The United States of America had been shot. He was dead. I was seven years old.

The picture is very clear to me. Next to the living room is the kitchen. That’s where my mother was. I am guessing the radio was on all day. Newscast after newscast giving updates. Telling the same story over and over again. The president had been shot and killed.

I can’t put words on the feelings harboring in the little girl that day next to the radio, more than very uncomfortable and a vague frightening fear. And those feelings were probably my mother’s, not mine really. I was only seven, after all.

It wasn’t long ago that I was struck by the fact that I was born not more than eleven years after the ending of World War 2. Eleven years, that’s nothing! And that explains a lot about the general feeling about the world and life as a scary place when I was a little girl.

My mother was an anxiety-ridden woman. In her mind there was always a catastrophe lurking around the corner. We would all die in a car accident, the house would burn down, me and my sister would be kidnapped or someone would come into our house and kill us while we were watching TV in the basement. These were the ordinary day catastrophes that could happen at any time. And then there was the World War 3.

The World War 3 was hovering over my childhood as a constant brownish-yellow nuclear cloud. Until most recently I imagined every child growing up in the sixties had that experience. I was perplex finding out that wasn’t always the case. Some, I am sure, but not everyone.

I watched the movie JFK not too long ago. And this weekend the mini series Kennedys. And I am peeking into my childhood of teak furniture, cigarettes smoked indoors and Jackie Kennedy dresses. And I am seeing my mother. And coming to understand her better than I have done.

In my mother’s condition of general anxiety it isn’t strange the sixties was a constant fear of the World War 3. The Bay of Pig’s happened when my dad was building our house. We moved in to the new and shiny red brick home of two floors and a basement right before Christmas 1961 but my mother was crying. She couldn’t be happy about the house, World War 3 was coming and our lives and the house wouldn’t last. My parents lived there until they died 2004 and 2005.

I was five and of course didn’t know anything about world politics, but I knew my mother cried. For some reason I didn’t understand. On that brown sofa bed two years later November 22 1963 there was something in the fear that I could understand. I knew there was a president in America and his name was Kennedy. I knew his face. And the beautiful wife my mother so admired, her dresses, hats and purses. There were also two delightful children, a girl only one year younger than me. And the most adorable little boy, a baby brother. He had the same name as his father. The TV in our basement let the world come into our lives. I wonder if that helped or hindered my mom.

The Cold War made us freeze. Sweden at that time was literary in between the two super powers. Norway was NATO allied. Finland was through history and border close to the Soviet Union. Sweden was a tiny neutral skinny piece of land squeezed in between. If the balance tipped over ever so little we would be crushed like a summer mosquito under an annoyed hand.

The fact that Sweden was geographically close to Soviet made us feel more threatened by The Eastern Block. There was always The Russian. The image in my little girl mind was a big brown roaring bear wondering over a snowy field, a smoky breath from his nostrils. He wasn’t that far away. He could be close.

The small town where I grew up is located on the coast of the Bothnian Bay. Finland only four hours away by the ferry. And across Finland was the infinite and until the end of day cold and dark Soviet. What kind of impact on us was it growing up at the water facing the east? I wonder how children growing up in the Swedish mountains next to Norway feel about this time in history.

When I was twelve Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were dead two. The years up to my teens were lined with the most tragically political drama and I was covered in my mother’s anxiety.

They say Sweden lost its’ innocence when Olof Palme was assassinated. Anna Lindh was a beautiful highly liked and skilled politician who was bound to be our next Social Democrat prime minister, and someone stabbed her. Just like that. The February Sunday morning in bed, the midmorning September coffee at work, these are memories that will forever be stored in our collective memory and we all have our individual stories connecting us to the trauma and to each other.

November 22 1963. A seven year-old girl on a brown sofa bed next to a big teakwood radio. Her mother in the kitchen. A little girl is defenseless. Therefore, I think, the murder of President Kennedy is the political assassination that has affected me the most.

I was in Seattle when John F Kennedy Jr. died in a plane crash on his way to a cousin wedding. He was the pilot. July 16 1999. My family walked around Greenlake with friends that afternoon. It was overcast and a bit chilly. There was a tennis ball. We tossed it between each other. I was to be divorced. We had burgers for dinner at Red Robin next to the University Bridge. That’s what I remember. What did I do in the evening? I don’t know. This is how I remember it.

Nov 17, 2013

It's been a year now.

I am making me a warm cave under the down comforter on my couch. The house was mysteriously quiet when I woke up, the way it is when everything running on electric power is suddenly off. A storm chased through the northern part of Sweden during the night and the power was out, making my home unusually cold. 30 years ago, when I first moved out to my village, those things happened all the time. Nowadays it’s very rare, not at all like Seattle, which is a lot more vulnerable when it comes to weather situations and power outings. Anyway, the power is back and my house will be warm again soon.

On my couch, yes. Lying down writing. I am having a bad day body wise.

Today, it’s been a year. Since that November Sunday morning 2012 when I in despair called around to find someone who could help me through the day. And the night. Agneta S came and fixed me breakfast. Maria B brought me dinner. And Trouble 1 stayed over at night. Dear friends taking turns helping me out, Trouble 1 carrying the heaviest load, followed the week.

Week nr two a new chapter of my life started. I had to accept that I couldn’t get around on friends and family. I had to accept taking help from strangers. Taking the City home care into my house was a relief that I was grateful too and hated every second of. In a month 35 persons walked through my kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. They got me out of bed, helped me shower and fed me. Still my kitchen drawers are a mess from everyone putting their fingers into my orderly life.

Then came Peter. Peter from the small home care company Civil Care, which I switched to at Christmas. When Peter entered my house it was like a storm eased out. I was safe.

So, it’s been a year now. And this is an anniversary that makes me very sad. Neither Peter nor I imagined this scenario. He pictured me being up and running in a few weeks, I was slightly less optimistic. But I never ever imagined this situation being infinite.

The fact that summer came with less pain and body restrictions made me hopeful. I could still only take very short walks, but I lifted my dumbbells giving me my nice looking arms back and on good days I was actually driving when having a co driver. My friend Eva and I even saw Sting in concert! I started trusting a recovery. I started saying it out loud: I am doing better. I am doing a lot better!

Now, it’s all gone, and I don’t know why. Can it be that my body is happy when it’s warm? When my bare feet can feel the grass and my wooden floors? When my arms are kissed by the sun? When outside and inside is a floating condition trough open doors and windows? I don’t know. No one knows. We just know that it happened. And although I have occasional pain windows (which have miraculously coincided with days when I really needed them!) I have basically been doing worse by the day during fall. Or more accurate: I am doing worse by every other day. It’s different in that sense: I am on a veritable roller coaster.

My very skilled and patient chiropractor Michael is frustrated. All through this year he has been able to lift me up even when I have felt down and discouraged. He has seen progress although I couldn’t always feel it. But now he is frustrated.

My physiotherapist has given up on me. It’s as simple as that. He shook my hand. Said good luck. And let me go. I felt deserted.

So, it’s been a year. At 57 I am a little (175cm) old lady with a walker next to my bed to get me out of it, help with the basic things in life and no way to get myself from one place to another without having a ride. I am still holding on to my new strategy of not giving in, going for what I want and planned, but often it totally takes the toll out of me and sometimes it’s frankly not worth it. Other times, it’s simply not possible.

I shouldn’t complain though. It’s just pain and immobility. Things could be so much worse. And I am very well taken care of.

My two free spirited sons who are struggling to make a future and living in art, music and film are both now hired by Peter and Civil Care. Their mother’s misfortune has given them a part time day job, which was exactly the fortune they needed, and I get to see my sons most every day! It actually works surprisingly well and so my lying-on-the-couch-life has become a win-win situation for everyone involved!

Well, that is, looking beside the fact that there isn’t a lot of winning in lying on the couch for me. I hate it. It is not the life I want.

Two hours later

Trouble 2 locked my door behind him when he left. Turned the lights out downstairs. Let my cat out although she didn’t ask for it. It’s set so I won’t have to go downstairs again tonight. It’s set for me moving around as little as possible.

Trouble 2 was here fixing me a nice salmon for dinner. I could hardly sit up in my couch eating it. I turned acute while he was here. Shooting pain in my right side. Shooting pain is the worst. It makes my body and me terrified. It makes me need the bathroom not knowing if I can’t get myself there. It shuts my brain down.

Trouble 2 just called. Telling me he and Audrey will be coming here staying over until tomorrow. I am closing my eyes trying to convince him that they don’t need to. I know, he says, since you didn’t ask me, but it feels better. I am saying I hate them needing feeling better for my sake. I know, he says, but it feels nicer. It’s not a sacrifice.

I let go of some built up moist in my eyes.

It’s been a year now. It’s a very sad anniversary. I don’t know how to get out of this physical misery more than a day now and then. I don’t know how to reach some stability to trust. I don’t have a clue. And my physio has given up on me. But I know there is a caring son and a girlfriend on their way over here. What more can I ask for?

Nov 10, 2013

Persistence X 2 = film

In Seattle there is Paul Allen. In Umeå, Krister Olsson.

As a storyteller and documentarian I have some dream projects. One is telling the story of John W Nordstrom, a Swedish shoemaker who emigrated from Nederluleå starting a shoe store in Seattle 1901. When I first came to Seattle 20 years ago there were 54 Nordstrom stores (which in modern days is an upscale fashion retailer) in the U.S. Today the number is 252 stores. Nordstrom is still widely known for their shoe department and their customer service, the head quarter is still in Seattle and oh how I would love to tell that story!

In Umeå, the dream story is the one about Krister Olsson.

Krister Olsson is the Paul Allen of Umeå. The main developer. The person who pictures the opportunities in a piece of land. Who has the visions, the economical resources and the persistence to follow them through.

They are also the persons who sometimes make politicians and public uncomfortable. The Swedish and American cultures are quite different when it comes to being successful, wealthy and powerful. Those three words are the American Dream in a short story. Sweden, as a basically homogeneous country where we are all descending from farmers with a couple of cows, some acres of land and at best a horse, is in general skeptical towards people who are making noticeable peaks on the national culture codex scale.

Therefore, it is interesting and a bit surprising noticing how the discussions and reactions to Paul Allen,Vulcan and Krister Olsson, Balticgruppen are very similar. Although Seattle is a fairly big American city and Umeå a smaller Swedish one. It seems like there is something about the size of the place and the dimensions of the developers’ acting. When the developer’s footprint gets big it turns intimidating. He (there isn’t a lot of female developers) simply takes up too much space, land wise, economically, and strategically. And this makes people worried.

Krister Olsson and his company Balticgruppen is involved in most every developing project happening in Umeå right now. I am crossing the Umeå River entering Umeå from the south side where my village is located. This fall has been the most beautiful I can remember in my grown up life. The birches and maples have been on fire reflecting in the river. And the flat red brick downtown silhouette has been added on with new buildings rising above creating fresh reflections in the wide and streaming river.

Downstream there is the Art Campus (Konstnärligt campus) and the Art Museum (Bildmuséet), boxes in various sizes out of Russian Lark designed by Danish Henning Larsen. In the city center the Winn Hotel blue and white cross-striped floors emerging from out of the Forsete block, and at the waterfront the Norwegian Snöhetta designed building for cultural arts Väven, busy with getting dressed in the black and white glass exterior inspired by the graphic stem of the Umeå birch, the tree synonymous to the red cedar for Seattle. Balticgruppen is the common denominator for the new Umeå skyline.

In 2004-2007 I made a film-documentation for Balticgruppen, covering a different project. Back then we were talking about documenting Krister Olsson’s life as an entrepreneur on film, and even started on it. Since then he has been busy realizing his visions about Umeå, and so the tale about him hasn’t been neither a priority nor focus. I have never given up the hope of telling his story though, and about every other year I have been making the calls, poking around to make sure the idea wouldn’t die, keeping it alive. Waiting for the timing to be right.

It’s been one of those really nasty November days in Umeå today. Foggy, rainy, windy. About freezing point but feeling like 14°F (-10C). I’ve been sitting on the third floor of Väven wrapped in a big long down coat. The building is still very much in progress and there is no heat inside. Camera man Tomas, sound guy Johannes and me all thought we were dressed and covered for the occasion (after all, we have some routine), but being still and focused on a long interview in a cold humongous building is just…very cold.

I think though, the interviewee was even colder, although the atmosphere was warm. Krister Olsson is known for his persistence. Well, I am too. After nine years of keeping the idea alive, this fall I finally got a yes for telling Krister Olsson’s life on film. I’ve been close a couple of times before but something has always come up. The fact that it is now finally happening has kind of been hard to grasp. Today it became real. And I am so thrilled about it.

And quite proud. And humbled. I have been given a great trust. And I will try my very best to do a good job.

So what about the Nordstrom story? Well, it is yet to be told, at least from the Swedish perspective. And Paul Allen? I wouldn’t say no if I got the question. That’ for sure.


Nov 3, 2013

Nurse Kerstin's navy blue coat

It was tailored for her. In a navy blue woolen material you can’t find anymore. In the fifties. When she started her studies for becoming a nurse. I kept it after she passed away. And last summer I lost it.

My mother and I had a difficult relationship. She didn’t like me. I can’t remember ever sitting on the lap of my mother. Or getting a hug. Not until she became old and week and needed the hugs for herself. And I didn’t like my mother. I guess you can’t afford liking or wanting someone who in every sense makes you feel unwanted and not likeable. This continued until she died, 82 years old.

She was a nurse, my mother. A member of the first generation educated women with a monthly paycheck. Making them independent of men. My mother and her colleagues were all outspoken, fearless, strict, stern and strong in their professional confidence. I grew up among women who had an obvious place in the community and new their value.

She worked at a nursing home, my mother. That wasn’t what she wished for, she wanted something more, but in the small town where I grew up it was the only option. During my high school summers I worked there too, as an assistant nurse. And that’s how I become aware of my mother as a different person than the wife and mom.

She was a good nurse, my mother. She cared about her patients. She was nice and warm to them. Her group of colleagues was a tight gang who dominated the male doctors and ruled the place. They had a lot of fun together and you could hear their laughter and giggles filling the corridors. At her job, my mother was happy. I very rarely saw her happy at home.

Her fifties nurse uniform had a place at the back of the family walk in closet. A blue and white striped weekday cotton dress. The black wool Sunday dress with pin tucks. And the navy blue double-breasted wool coat. My mother kept her figure most of her life, and I remember her wearing the black dress for Good Fridays and Christmases. Nobody wanted to work those weekends, so my mom and her colleagues made it a thing dressing up, making it more fun and paying respect, although times had changed into white coats and scrubs.

It’s a mystery how those pieces of clothing fitted me perfectly! We were both slender, but my mom was at least 4 inches (10 cm) shorter than me. Yet, the sleeves go all the way down to my wrist. I loved that uniform. It was something about the quality. And weighing the heavy coat in my hand, rubbing my cheek in the Sunday dress, made me feel like they were a door to who my mother was as a young woman. Before me. The child who made her angry and upset.

I didn’t grieve my mother when she died. It wasn’t a loss. And I didn’t hang on to a lot of her things. I didn’t want to be reminded. But I kept her navy blue nurse coat.

I kept the part of my mother who I could bear. Who I could tolerate and even appreciate. I kept the professional woman. The one who cared for her patients and was warm and nice. I kept the laughter and giggle. I kept the happy part of my mom. I kept Nurse Kerstin.

I wore the coat for her funeral. And I wore it for a different funeral last summer. My choir was singing from the church stand and the navy blue was hanging in the coatroom. It was a warm day, and I walked out of there in my summer dress, simply forgetting about the coat.

The day after, it was gone. Someone had stolen Nurse Kerstin’s coat. My relative Lisa who is the church organist looked everywhere for me, but it was gone. I couldn’t believe it. And oh how I blamed myself loosing the only thing of my mom I wanted to hold on to.

I grieved. This was when I lost my mother. Seven years after her passing away. I couldn’t accept that her coat was gone. A part of myself was lost. I spread the word on Facebook and I even put an ad in the local paper: a photo of my mother graduating as a nurse, and begging the thief please to return the coat where he picked it up.

Nothing happened of course and I slowly had to accept the fact but never forgave my carelessness.

A week ago, while writing my weekly posting, Lisa sent me a question: is this your coat? A mobile photo, a bit blurry, followed the inquiry. It was a dark double-breasted coat tossed over a table. My jaw dropped. Picture number two showed Lisa with the coat on. I closed my eyes. I was shaking my head. It was unreal. But yes, it was Nurse Kerstin’s navy blue coat.

One year and three months later it was back in the church coatroom. Just hanging there. Lisa passed the space, like she does a dozen times a day, and from the corner of the eye something called for her. She has never even seen the coat, only heard my description, yet it caught her eye.

Where has it been? What story could it tell?

This weekend is All Saint’s Day weekend in Sweden. Friday evening my sister and our families went to our family graves to celebrate our gone loved ones. A quite Seattle-like rain fell making us cold and wet in the dark November evening, but the cemeteries were glowing from candles at most every stone. It was beautiful.

At my mother and father’s grave in my home town we let them know that Audrey was keeping the rain away with Grandma’s faded pink umbrella, and Trouble 2 was wearing Grandpa’s dark blue fifties hat. And then we told them the amazing and incredible story about a lost, much missed and astonishingly found navy blue wool coat. It was quite a moment.

This Sunday evening I try the coat on for the first time. Unfortunately I have grown a bit too big so I won’t be able to where it (anymore?) (for now?), but it makes me happy just watching it hanging in my hallway. Like it’s never been away.

I rub my nose in the dark fabric. So weird. It smells like my childhood walk in closet. Where has it been? I stick my hands in the pockets. There is some fine debris at the bottom of the right one, feels a bit like saw dust. I am turning the pocket inside out. The dust is reddish-brown. I am putting my nose to it. It smells like my father. There has been a cigarette in the pocket.

My father died from lung cancer five months before my mother passed away. He had been smoking most of his life. The scent of my dad was cigarettes. This is a bit overwhelming. I am washing my hands. The smell is still there. I have wrapped my mother around me and from her right pocket my father is saying hello. I am drinking a glass of cold water.

And then I continue writing my Sunday story. I wonder who took Nurse Kerstin’s coat. I wonder where it was for more than a year. I wonder how it came that the thief returned it. Did she see my ad in the local paper? Did she read my begging for her to return it? And did, 15 months later?

I will never know. But I know Nurse Kerstin is back with me. The part of my mother who I was able to like. I think it will be healing. And my father unexpectedly popping up from her pocket is a welcome greeting from a loving dad.

So, mom and dad, this All Saint’s Weekend. Thank you. 

Oct 27, 2013

A happy story featuring my number 100 posting!

The day was close to miraculous! This is what happened this week:

October 24 has been in my calendar for a while. It’s been noted with an exclamation mark although in my mind with quite some unease. What I was to do was in every sense fantastic but required me on my feet for a whole day. Something that's been feeling absolutely impossible for the last month.

I used to be a TV reporter and producer. And later I started my business in storytelling, which included telling stories as film. And I loved it. I loved every part of it: research, shooting and editing. Research is a lonely job; you do it yourself. Shooting is teamwork with cameraman and sound engineer. And editing is tem work with an editor. This is when you have a budget for a crew of course. A lot of times I have been doing the photo and sound myself.

So, I love the whole process. But most of all I love being on the field shooting with a crew. I love the feeling of three persons doing their job together. Trusting each other. To work with a cameraman who I know will provide me the footage I have in mind and even surprise me with some  that I didn’t picture myself. And a sound guy (man and guy are expressions here, from time to time they are women but I must admit it’s not that common) that will add to those shots an enhanced experience, which a mono camera microphone can never give. A chain is only as strong as the weakest link. To be on a shoot confident that all links are equally strong is nothing but pure happiness.

Now, as I have been physically challenged for the last five years I haven’t been able to hunt for or take on film productions and documentary work. Except for a little thing last summer I haven’t been out on the field with a crew since 2007. 2007!

October 24 2013. In my calendar: Shoot the opening day for the new downtown mall Utopia, the new Winn Choice hotel, and research the cultural arts building Väven, still very much work in progress.

I will get back to the reason for all this in a posting ahead; for now let’s just leave it at the fact of a crew shoot in my calendar.

Trouble 2 and Audrey have stayed here for the last three weeks, that’s how bad my back has been. Which was such bad timing (is there ever a good timing for a back being out?) as I had just landed a big documentary storytelling project. The thing was, I had been doing so much better during the summer, and throughout the process of writing the synopsis and working on the budget I really felt like it would be possible for me to do this! That I could pull off a documentary story even including traveling! Ha!

Ha yeah… I turned acute same week as I landed the project. I prepared cameraman Martin and sound guy Johannes for doing the Thursday October 24 shoot on their own. They have been working together before, and I felt safe they would do a good job.

Wednesday my body felt different. Not twisted. No cramps. More even and leveled. Some pain of course, but tolerable. And I went to bed feeling the shoot wouldn’t only be possible but fun! I fell asleep not only looking forward to waking up in the morning but, I couldn’t wait for tomorrow to start!

I am stopping myself right there. This is such an unfamiliar feeling I need to look into myself in search of when I last couldn’t wait for tomorrow.

I am searching. I am looking. I can’t find it. There must be? No. I cannot remember falling asleep desiring the day to come. My days are putting up with. Bearing. Coping. Holding up. Endure. Abide. Breathing in and out. Surviving.

And hear I am, lying in my bed, my chest happy and high like the night before summer camp when I was a girl!

My body didn’t fail me. I was on my feet all day. The opening of the mall. The walkthrough the vast and tall Väven including ten stories (!) downstairs. And then, as a finale, getting access to the corner room on the top floor of Hotel Winn. Thursday had been foggy end heavily overcast like a Seattle fall day, but as the remote controlled blinds came up with a buzzing sound, the sun peeped out under the low clouds and transformed the east to west city view over the Umeå River to something we haven’t really experienced before.

Umeå isn’t a pretty city. It’s not bad or ugly, but it’s not pretty by regular standards. It’s flat and it doesn’t have an interesting architecture. It looks like any other northern Swedish coast town; they are actually hard to separate from each other.

From the 12th floor we experienced something different though. Martin, Johannes and I, all three of us, had the same reaction: Look at that! Umeå looks good! Umeå is quite pretty! Umeå is surprising us!

And we are realizing that we can’t really see Umeå because there isn’t a viewpoint to watch it from! We need a constructed height like a tall building to give us some perspective! The old City Hall (1889) to Väven (2013) and everything in between (most of Umeå was lost in the big fire 1888) actually makes the city architectural diverse and colorful!

2007. I hadn’t been on the field with a crew since 2007. But it was as natural as rain. Like it was yesterday. And every day before that. I knew I missed it, but I didn’t know how much. I knew not being able to do it is a big loss, but I didn’t realize how repressed my grief and my needs were.

I felt let out of the closet. I felt real. I felt true. My blurred eyes took a shower and started framing pictures. My plugged ears popped and became aware of the city sounds. My shut down mind came to life and I remembered how to do this. My methods, my signature. And my love for being a part of a film crew, trusting the creative process we are composing together.

And that was that day. Thursday October 24. Friday I was still high from being out in the world, doing what I feel I am meant to do. Saturday I woke up with my pelvic screaming “danger ahead!” That Thursday was miraculous. And I am so incredibly happy and grateful that it happened. A blessed bliss.

Oct 20, 2013

Happy boys/professional men

-       Scene 1:2b, take 1, cat out the door!

My house smells from hot fall soup and fresh baked bread. Another Maria is doing the catering for the film shoot happening at my place this weekend. A crew of about ten trying to follow the schedule for the three-day shoot is having lunch at my kitchen table, eating themselves warm.

They were 10 years old when the first film was shot here, at the end of the road. Christina Arneback was the DP, I the producer. It was a documentary about a rare, difficult and deadly disease. Not an entertaining subject, but Trouble 2 and his friend Martin were having fun running around, learning how to stay out of the shooting angle and away from the expensive camera. At one point, when Christina had to change location for the camera, she let Martin and Trouble 2 move it for her.

-       Really?
-       Yes, but remember, it’s worth 350 000  Skr.

So, that was the two boys first encounter with professional film producing. A couple of years later our family bought a video camera. Trouble & Trouble had saved up 1000 Skr each, and their dad and I added 8000 for the silver JVC I picked out. Boy, video cameras coasted a fortune back then! As my sons had many friends who were all fascinated by the new family member we had one simple rule for the camera: only Trouble & Trouble were allowed to do the shooting. Reason: I didn’t want to end up being all crazy mad at more sons then my biological ones when they ruined the camera. There wasn’t an “if”; it was just a matter of when.

I don’t know if it was related to the price, but that camera surprised us all with lasting forever. Forever! I taught my children to treat it with care. I marked the batteries with numbers so they could separate them from each other to keep track of the charging. They learned how to write on tapes and cases to know what was on them. With pencil though, as the tapes were recycled after loading the computer with footage.

The favorite topic for sons and friends when it came to shooting was jumping. Jumping from the swings. Jumping from trees. Jumping from big rocks. Jumping in water. Jumping in snow. And most of all, jumping in sand pits. How do you think the camera liked being in sand pits?

I don’t have a clue how many times that camera was in for service and the message coming out of it was: we found a lot of sand in it. Really?! Again, I don’t know if it was related to the price, but we never paid anything for those services. It must have been one hell of an insurance coming with that camera!

The video camera was a Christmas present to all of us, although I bought my Sony PD 150 right after, and the camera became the kids. But it really was a gift to all of us. Not just my family, but all the kids from the neighborhood (which was about five villages) hanging here.

Once, at the age of about 16, Trouble 2 and Martin was shooting some kind of chasing each other over the front yard and down in the grove. I watched them from my bedroom window noticing they jumped the 180-degree line while shooting.

The 180-degree rule is a basic guideline regarding the on-screen spatial relationship between a character and another character or object within a scene. An imaginary line connects the characters and by keeping the camera on one side of this the line, the axis, for every shot in the scene, the first character will always be frame right of the second character, who is then always frame left of the first. If the camera passes over the axis, it is called jumping the line or crossing the line. And it makes the audience confused.

And you can’t have the audience confused right? So I went outside to perform an important film lecture to the young moviemakers. They stopped for a sec, shrugged their shoulders with an “oh well”, and continued their interrupted chase.

That spring, going with them to the introduction for the special film program they submitted to at high school, my smile was big and a bit smug when the teacher Fernando Altamirano stood before them emphasizing the importance of learning the art of depth of field, white balancing and the 180-degree rule. Two young men were making funny faces at me over their shoulders from their desk, and my smile grew even bigger.

That evening they didn’t know they would be accepted at the program and that high school would be three years of uninterrupted happiness, education and friends for life. They didn’t know that their future would be in film.

-       Scene 7:x, take 5!

The maples let go of the brilliantly colored leaves Wednesday night; the sound of the snaps was magical in the cold evening. Today is a beautiful fall day. There is ice on the water ditches, the grass is crisp under the boots. Even a day with mild weather turns chilly when you need to stand perfectly still as the camera and sound is rolling. And, at freezing point a film crew definitely is cold at Scene 7:x, take 5.

The clapperboard makes it’s sound, does its job. There are two names in red on the board: director Trouble 2, camera Martin Gärdemalm. Looking at those names, together, in capital letters, I am picturing two 6-year olds, just getting to know each other. Out of thirteen years in school, Trouble 2 and Martin spent ten of them in the same classroom. They really go way back. The childhood film crew on my field today is added on with friends and alumni of different ages from the film program.

The small silver JVC camera is exchanged for a heavy black RED. Martin’s focus in his professional life as a filmmaker is on photo. Trouble 2 is the editor. So what’s happening at the set this weekend is a big thing. The idea for this short (film) is Trouble 2’s. The script is his. And he is the director. This is my youngest son’s first film as an originator and director. I am listening to him giving directions and cheering everyone to do their very best. He is doing a good job.

I am, again, watching them from my window. They are playing on the field, like they always have. The baker’s cottage is occupied by a gang of creative people like it always was. Today though, they know everything about depth of field, white balance and the 180-degree angle. My hallway is covered with shoes and clothes like it used to be. A crowd of boys and a couple of girls are gathered round my kitchen table like they used to do.

I have a new kitchen table though. And Trouble & Trouble’s old cluttered room is transformed into my airy office. Funny though, hearing their loud and excited voices from my office which they made theirs for the extended weekend, discussing the scenes yet to shoot. Like they used to. Like they always have.

I need to keep myself from joining them. I have to stay out of there. Not to interfere. Not to ask questions. Not to accidentally slip some good advice they don’t need. Because they know what they are doing. The happy boys running around have grown up and become skilled and confident men in their field. And I am so happy and grateful that I am here to watch it. And that they are letting me be a part of that.

Oct 13, 2013

Back out-giving in/Backbone-will power

I am giving it one hour, I told Trouble 2. I was on my feet for the whole four-hour session.

I am trying out a different strategy this time. Because, damn it, I am not going to be flat on my back one more winter!

He dropped me off at Backenkyrkan, the Backen church, where my choir was lining up for the first out of three Wednesday evenings, recording a CD. I was linking my arm in his and he carried my bag with the sheet music binder and a thermos with hot tea. And I told him that I probably couldn’t do more than an hour, I would call him.

Trouble 2 and Audrey moved in with me on Monday. That’s when I called them and told them I had turned acute. Again. I managed to get myself some breakfast, but that was all I could do. I was on my back again.

I have been so much better this summer. Even had the confidence to say it out loud: I am better! I am doing a lot better! Starting to trust a real turn around. But September came with more pain and body restrictions, I actually got worse by the day. Two weeks ago the first sharp pain said hello, hasn’t happened since April. And this Monday morning I had to put on my “back-out-pants”, comfortable sweat pants that are the only thing I can manage by myself when I get this bad.

I still have home care, and they make my meals for me when I can’t do it myself. But when I get really acute, the nights are my nightmare. When I get this acute it is not safe for me to spend the nights alone. There is the night patrol. The city home care night patrol, they see to old or handicapped people who can’t take care of themselves during the night. It is a good thing. And for a month last December they put the key in my door every night. I was grateful and I hated it. I was brave and smiled and chatted cheerfully with different people every night, and I hated it.

This Monday morning struggling to put the back-out-pants on, I was thinking, I couldn’t take it. The sweat broke out only from the very thought of having foreign people come up my stairs putting their rubber gloves on. And I am realizing last years experience is a trauma. I just have to do everything I can to not put myself through that again.

So. I am calling Trouble 2. A year ago I couldn’t because he was in Paris. Now I can. And I do. And he says: it’s a beautiful day. Audrey and I were talking about driving over looking for chanterelles anyway. We can make dinner and then we go from there.

A couple of hours later they came up my stairs carrying a beautiful fall bouquet of yellow roses. Oh how I prefer yellow roses over rubber gloves!

I was served chanterelle pizza for dinner and hot fruit with vanilla ice cream and coconut flakes as dessert. And they said: we will stay here for the night. Don’t worry.

My children. My beautiful caring children. I cried. The relief. To postpone the night patrol. And maybe I will be better in a few days? I was half lying, there on my couch, having to tell myself out loud to be able to trust it. To relax and enjoy the dinner and my children: I won’t be alone tonight. I am safe for now. They have stayed six nights now. Trouble 2 brought his big screen computer and is cutting a short (film). Audrey caught a cold and is studying for her class wrapped in blankets and hot tea. My yellow kitchen is warm. It’s nice and cozy. It’s safe.

And, then, in the middle of all that I am standing on a hard and cold church floor singing for four hours. What’s that all about?

It’s about not giving in. For years now I have been listening to my body. Cause that’ what you are supposed to do, right? Now, to be clear; most of the time there hasn’t been any other option. You can’t negotiate with a knife in your back; it’s as simple as that. And you can’t walk if you can’t walk. You can’t sit if you can’t sit. You can’t drive if you can’t drive.

Before I became a weak and to some degree crippled person, I was a woman driven by will power, ideas and tons of energy. It took those worst-case scenario flues to stop me from whatever was on my mind and in my calendar. Although I woke up stiff like an iron rod every morning I went to the gym three times a week and at the age of 50 I looked like a super fit 19-year old. Although it was way too much for my from pain exhausted mind I anchored public radio all day hourly news casts and returned back home in the evening too tired to be a good mom. Although my back was bad I crossed the ocean several times a year, dragging along my super heavy Tempur-Pedic mattress, which was the only bed I could sleep on.

And I miss that person! Not the no good mom (well, it wasn’t that bad), but the person who performed and completed most everything she decided on and put her mind to. Since my first big back collapse in Seattle 2008 (that’s when the back-out-pants were purchased at Old Navy) I feel like I have been forced to put my will power in a drawer and lock it hard. Like this is not up to me. Like I have no say in this. It’s been more than five years. It’s been a very long time.

So, on Wednesday afternoon, knowing that my friends and colleagues of the Sångkraft Chamber Choir are preparing for making beautiful music together out of our fall rehearsals, my heart and soul are screaming: I want to be there! I want to be a part of that!

Maybe it’s time to speak up! Trouble 2, Audrey and I are having dinner. I am having problems even half sitting on my couch, but my mind is set on the recording. Trouble 2 is questioning me: is this a really good idea mom, aren’t you supposed to listen to your body? Yeah, but I haven’t done anything but listen to my body for five years now, maybe it’s time for a different strategy! Maybe it’s time for an alternative mind-set!

So, we arrive at the church. I am giving it an hour. I take my place between my alto colleagues Agneta and Ulrika. I sing. 95% focus is on standing up right. 3% is on not triggering a knife in my back while standing up right. 2% focus is on singing. But I am singing. I am there and I am singing. For four whole hours.

Last night my amazing neighbors Jenny and Hannes came over making a delicious dinner, and we had a great Saturday evening together. And they just left after cocking me a hot potato and leek Sunday soup. I am so grateful to them for food and wonderful weekend company, they are the best! Tomorrow it’s a week since I had to give in to asking for more help. I am hoping that I will feel strong enough sleeping by myself in a few days. It’s such a wonderful treat having Trouble 2 and Audrey here, but they need to get back to their lives.

I am thinking I need to find a way to visualize the Maria I once was. To remember what she felt like. I know she was always scared. Yet courageous the way she jumped from her mental diving boards, not always knowing there was water underneath. My body is scared now, but maybe I can find that Maria-will power somewhere deep inside me. Or unlock that drawer I put it in five years ago, gently take it out, put my hand over my heart, incorporate it in my body and make it my backbone. Ah, I like that. With a backbone made out of will power, there can’t be any more back outs, right?