Mar 31, 2013

Diving into it/The presence from an Easter review mirror

It was a sunny Easter Day, just as it is today in Seattle. The cherry trees were floating like white overwhelming clouds all over the city. But this was 20 years ago. I had landed in Seattle for the first time a little more than two weeks before, and here I was on Salish Lodge at the top of Snoqualmie Falls, the big room packed with dressed up people having Easter brunch. Not me though, I was in company with a KIRO news team covering the Easter story.

Now, for those of you who aren’t Seattleites: Salish Lodge and Snoqualmie Falls is Twin Peaks country. Snoqualmie Falls is the impressive waterfall pretty much a character in the TV series, and Salish Lodge the Great Northern Hotel where Agent Cooper stayed through his unforgettable investigations of the murder of Laura Palmer. So this is historic land, and back in 1993 still warm from David Lynch presence.

It’s funny; suddenly I can feel the smell of waffles. Yeah, I remember the big waffles served with I think maple syrup at the tables of the lodge that Easter day. Big families together. Little girls in cute dresses playing with their Easter bunnies. I felt impressed, a bit unreal, estranged but at home. Since my company was a TV crew.

It’s interesting reading my journal from these early weeks of my first Seattle stay that would last for three months. I was an overworked stressed out TV reporter back in Sweden, and since Christmas I had been looking forward to having oceans of time off with my young sons who at home hardly saw their mom, picturing us just lying in bed reading children’s books, cuddling and sleeping. At this Easter Day Trouble 2 had just turned 5 and Trouble 1 would turn 7 in a couple of weeks.

So, what happened? What did I do? Well, on my second day in this foreign city in a foreign land on a foreign continent I walk up to a TV crew that we happen to run in to on our first visit at Seattle Center and asked them if I could come visit at the station and maybe go with them on a story. That’s what happened. That’s what I did. On my second day.

Now, note, that I am also every day in my journal expressing my discontent about my English. How I am struggling with the language. How I constantly stumble and fall as soon as I am trying to express anything. Anything. And how American English feels totally foreign to my pretty little British school English, which in combination with my Swedish accent makes people just don’t understand what I am saying. My everyday English lesson is picking one article in Seattle Times, reading it top to bottom and looking up every single word I didn’t understand. Every single one.

Yet, here I am, on Easter day at Easter brunch on famous Salish Lodge on top of the falls with reporter Bob Branom and cameraman John Sherman from KIRO. And during those first three months in Seattle I am lining up visits at KING, KOMO and PBS Channel 9, all the TV stations in Seattle. I am also doing freelance work for Swedish National Television SVT, enjoying the crew feeling with KIRO cameraman John Sherman, bless you John! And participating in an underground live broadcasting with some young Nirvana-Soundgarden grunge siblings. Yes, 20 years ago was sure land marking times in modern Seattle history.

Now, was this a good thing or not? Yes, I would say it was. I am very conflicted about my constant urge for being productive. My drive and my power to act on what makes me move forward. My pulse for all kinds of creativity. Even today, on my couch handicapped from pain I am constantly active. Now, it’s a lifeline. But “just being”, now and back then, is a skill I can’t say I am mastering.

So, did I screw that whole stay up? No, I didn’t. I can honestly say. My sons and I had lots of cuddling time. And we did everything two little boys could possibly wish for in Seattle. The Zoo, the Space Needle, the Monorail, the Fun Forest, the Aquarium, Snoqualmie falls, swimming in Lake Washington, eating tons of pizza and burgers, and playing and flying kites in Gasworks Park. And we laid the ground for the love of a city that’s been in our harts and lives for 20 years now, and continuously will.

And for myself? Well, I remember exactly the moment when I switched from my cute awkward school English and became an American, as much as I could. Although I (on a very good day) am even mistaken for being one, I am still struggling with the language, always wanting to express more than I am able to. And I know, if I ever had the chance arriving in a new city in a new country with a new language, I would do it all over again. Just dive right into it.

Trouble 2 turned 25 two days ago. He lives in Paris now, where the cheery trees are floating like white overwhelming clouds. He moved there not knowing one single word of French. One of his jobs is as an afternoon nanny in a family where the children don’t know any English. Trouble 2 is, at 25 learning French the same way that he as a 5-year old learned English. He has dived into a new city, a new country and a new language. And he likes it. And is doing good. Did I screw up our first Seattle stay exactly 20 years ago? No, I don’t think so. I think I did good.

Mar 26, 2013

Woman down / Perspective from in under a little white chest drawer

I woke up with my head under the small white chest of drawers. I was lying on my back on the bathroom floor. It’s a beautiful blue mosaics floor, but dangerously hard. And I had fainted and landed on that shiny surface.

I have a bad cold with a high temperature. And this was Saturday morning. My blood pressure has a tendency of dropping when I for some reason am weakened, very tired or sick. And this morning was one of those mornings. I felt it coming but didn’t make it out of the bathroom. And there I was. My head under mom and dad’s old bedroom drawer. It’ wasn’t painted underneath, I could tell.

It wasn’t just that I was out on the bathroom floor. I was also very sick. And with my back problems I couldn’t get up. I tried. But of course it didn’t work. Fainting is a way of giving in. To the body. And giving up trying to get up was one more giving in. I have fainted before but been able through great struggle get back to bed, but this time not so.

I think it took me half an hour before I pushed the button. Since November when my back went out I have a safety alarm on my arm. I haven’t used it before, haven’t needed. Now I was in great need and it was right there on my arm, yet my resistance was severe. Giving in. Calling for professional strangers to come rescue me.

I spent a good hour on the blue shiny floor. I couldn’t tell how my body was doing. I managed to reach a couple of bath towels to cover me so I wouldn’t get too cold. And I put one under my head. That helped. I think I dozed away for a while before a friendly woman and man put the key in my door and came save me. I was the fifth person down that morning.

I don’t know that my bed has ever felt as good as it did when I was finally back there. And some hour later my home care angel Peter from Civil Care was sitting at my bedside holding my hand. Holding my hand firmly while I was telling him the story. Not just holding my hand. But holding my hand in the way telling me that he was there and I was not alone. He gave me breakfast and the next time he was back he brought me a beautiful Eastern bouquet of yellow roses to put on my bed stand. During the whole weekend he attended to all my needs in a way that makes the word caring feel week, I would say loving. And my gratefulness is beyond words.

The last couple of weeks have been my yearly cancer check up. Thursday I met with my oncologist who told me that everything looked good, breast and skeleton all clear. Normally that response gives me some weeks with an elevated sensation of life, for life. But this time around I was just too damned sick from a lousy cold. And then I landed on the bathroom floor. So I have been more in chock then in joy.

How did my head end up under mom and dad’s white drawer? I don’t know. I must have gone down in a way that’s hard to figure out. But from the pain in my body it seems like I have fallen on my left side before I landed on my back. And considering that there are no soft spots in my bathroom but exclusively sharp corners and hard surfaces it’s a little miracle that I could even stand on my two feet when they got me up. And that my legs moved. Not even my back seemed terribly shaken.

Before the evening though, my neck started feeling tight. Sunday morning I couldn’t lift my head from the pillow. And I got scared. Really really scared. Had I added a whiplash on top of my list of chronic conditions? I felt like when I discovered the tumor in my breast: if I survive this I will never ever complain about anything in my life!

Peter took me to the ER Sunday evening, and the doctor didn’t find any evidence for whiplash. Neither Peter nor I felt a great confidence for that very brief exam though, so I had a second opinion from my chiropractor Michael, who I really trust, yesterday. He checked me thoroughly, looked at me and said: Maria, this is not a whiplash.

“Maria, this is not a whiplash”. To hear those words. Was like hearing “Maria, your breasts and skeleton are all clean”. And my promise to not complain about anything in my life seems (for now) very easy to stay true to.

Today I am able to sit up on my couch without fainting and terrible pain in my neck. The sun is shining through my extremely dirty March windows. And I am able to take in, enjoy, and be so grateful and happy about that I am cancer free and that the pain in my neck is just soar muscles from a fieldtrip from in under my mom and dad’s white chest drawer. Not a whiplash that will haunt me for the rest of my life.

I was lucky. I was so lucky.

Mar 17, 2013

Lilacs on a birthday

I am looking at a piece of art. I am touching a long sleek smooth wooden creation with wholes you can cover with your fingers and make music. I am fingering a birthday present that made me speechless.

My dear friend Mats and I have this very nice March tradition. Our birthdays are three days a apart from each other, and for some years now we have been throwing a birthday party for ourselves and our families and close friends. As our birthdays happened this week, the party took place yesterday.

On my front yard there are some lilacs. Some of them planted by my grandfather, some by my father. Some old fashioned what we call Farmers Lilacs, some the more modern and foreign Hungarian Lilac. My mother didn’t like the Hungarian ones. The flowers not as pretty and without that breathtaking lilac smell that fills the air in the early summer evening here.

A couple of years ago it was time to take down one of the Hungarian Lilacs my dad had planted. It had grown too big, taking up too much space in the garden. I am colored by my mother’s opinions when it comes to the Hungarian ones and didn’t shred too much tears about it. But as it was a fruit of my father I had plans for a future life for it.

My friend Mats is a very interesting person. He works in computer programming, although he used to be a classical music radio producer at the Swedish National Radio. But his training is as a flutist: recorder and baroque flute. Educated at The Conservatory of Music in Haag, Netherlands. And, he is very passionate about carpentry. Although Mats’ heart is in the Baroque I would say he is quite a Renaissance man!

Mats is combining two of his skills – the flutist and and the carpenter – in a very special craft: he is making baroque traversos, wooden flutes. Beautiful pieces of art created from out of special types of wood: they have to be very hard, such as boxwood, rosewood, different kinds of fruit wood, and…

…lilac. So, of course I handed the thickest stems of my dad’s lilac over to Mats. Who let it dry for as long as it needed to and then started the slow, delicate and very precise craftsmanship to make a traverso flute out of it.

I love Mats’ instruments. I am not a flutist, but I love the sense of them, the touch and the looks. And I love the sound. That I can’t make myself.  I would want one, just the way I want a gorgeous pair of shoes that I cant walk in because my back wouldn’t agree. But it so happens that I, on occasion, by those shoes anyway, as “sit shoes”, shoes to wear at a sit down dinner. And I also perceive them as design objects, finding place for them as decorations in my interior design.

At the birthday table yesterday our families were gathered around tasty food and exciting conversations, we are all interested in music and active in different ways. Then, out of a sudden, Mats is handing me a beautifully wrapped box. And inside… there are three wooden pieces. The middle one -the body - with six finger holes. The bottom one - the foot joint - with the one shining key. And the top one - the head joint - with the essential mouth hole. Lilac is a light color wood, so Mats has stained it a darker brown. I am carefully without breathing putting together the different sections that are held together by lathered parts that in the Baroque days used to be ivory but are now of course plastic.

I am breathless. I am speechless. I can’t remember that I’ve been so pleasantly and overwhelmingly surprised ever. I can’t believe that this is happening. I can’t believe that Mats is giving this flute to me. I know it’s worth thousands (kronor), and to me of course much more than that.

Even making a sound from a flute is hard to start with. Finding the right angle for the air to meet the wood and the mouth hole. But Trouble 1 finds it right away. And is hooked.

I am touching my precious flute. Smelling it. Caressing my cheek. Letting about 20,5 inch (52 cm) of lovingly handicraft wood slide through my hands. I know it’s going to end up at Trouble 1’s. As much as I would like to keep it here as a design object Trouble 1’s is of course the right place for it. So I am enjoying the flute’s presence with delight while it’s still here.

I am holding a large piece of compressed life in my hands. My dad’s Hungarian Lilac. Which my mom didn’t like because she preferred the Farmers Lilacs planted by her father. My dad’s lilac had to go though in the end to let more light and space in. Which became wood substance for my friend Mats. Who made a beautiful instrument out of it. And eventually gave it to me as the most unexpected bouquet ever, on a very casual birthday. And I can already imagine the music Trouble 1 will bring out from it. His grandpa’s lilac.

Mar 10, 2013

Sliding down memory lane

      -       That’s mine!
-       Can I have those?
-       That’s a keeper!

My mother’s aunt Gunhild was a photographer. A professional photographer. She was a very interesting woman and a great inspiration to me, and I am sure I will find a good reason to write about her at some point. Anyway, when Aunt Gun died, her slide projector and projection screen ended up at our house. It’s the women in my family who have been carrying the photo tradition, but for some reason shooting slides came to be something my father took on.

This winter my sister and her family is selling their house and in the mode of cleaning out whatever they don’t need or want/cant bring to a smaller place. My dad’s slide collection has been sitting in their attic since we closed up our childhood home when mom and dad died. And now, it’s got to go.

So, this week, Trouble 2 being temporary back from Paris, we all gathered for a slide show marathon. Three generations of different documenting techniques: mid format black and white negatives, Instamatic colors and Iphone Youtube clips. My sister and me, four out of five sons, girlfriends, a wife, and then our two aunts.

I am not quite sure which year the slide projector joined the family, but somewhere in the neighborhood of the late seventies. So, there are all the weddings in my generation within the extended family as well as my sister’s and my closest friends. And there are the christenings of our sons. There are Christmases, vacations, our parent’s 60- and 70-year birthdays, and most of all the childhood of our sons, mom and dad’s beloved grandchildren.

Trouble 1 and Trouble 2 are very close to their cousins, my sisters sons, let’s call them 1st, 4th and 5th. They are practically brothers the five of them, and they spent oceans of time with their grandparents. Retired, they started a second career as devoted babysitters while me and my sister and our husbands were off somewhere, mostly singing in different constellations.

So, the slide show this Monday was a parade of cute little boys in cute little outfits and caps climbing trees, hiding under giant rhubarb leaves, picking flowers in the field, eating blueberries from a cup, sleeping in strollers and riding on grandpa’s back.

2PM-11PM we slided down memory lane with aahs and ooohs and wows and yayys and laughters and a couple of sighs. And of course one break for food and one for a fika - coffee or tea with home-made cardamom buns and different cookies provided by the aunts.

It felt a lot like Christmas Eve, distributing the precious gifts amongst us. And yes, we were pretty much as tired when we were done too. It was many hours, it was emotional and there were decisions to make. Even with sharing the pictures on about ten persons we couldn’t keep them all, and some didn’t feel that important. But I know that in some years we will start questioning why we didn’t. Because, after all, it’s history. Our history.

I guess, as I am the photographer in my generation, it so happened that I have in my possession two big sacks of Aunt Gun’s photographic lifework: photo albums, films, glass slides and boxes of random pictures. Well, they seem random now, but of course they weren’t at the time. It’s people immortalized by parts of seconds of light, although many of them already long forgotten.

There are especially three beautiful albums that I keep holding. Brown or green patterned leather. Brass buckles. Albums so thick they fit perfectly in my fully arched hand. Heavy. The sacks have been sitting in one of my outhouse storages, the content smells from that, and it’s a smell I find really hard to endure. But what to find between those leather covers is my genes. My history. My story.

My aunt I-M is pointing at those beautiful studio photos from the late eighteen hundreds giving me some names. There are five little girls, my grandmother and her sisters. There is their austere father. There are their relatives. There are villages. Although I-M just turned 85, she only knows a fraction of these people.

When we are not emotionally connected to people or things they loose their value to us. A Christmas ornament that was very important to my mother because she remembered it as her grandmother’s doesn’t ring in me since her grandmother isn’t even a name to me. So, here I am, my lap full of mostly unknown people from whom I may or may not descend. And it smells. So, what to do with it?

I just can’t throw it away. I am thinking I will have a date with I-M and write down all the names she knows and how we are related. And I found an empty spot in my bookshelf right under my own life, my every day journals back since I was 13 years old. And hopefully the outhouse storage smell will fade away eventually.

It’s 11PM Monday evening. My sister, our sons and aunts are calling it a day. Depicted memories, fairly recent and easy to hold on to, have found new homes. Trouble 2 is the next generation photographer (as my sister and I are lacking daughters), and he is now the trustee of Aunt Gun’s (to Trouble 2, of course grandpa’s) slide projector and screen. It’s been a good day.

My sons are still very young, only on the verge to a grown up life. I am surprised at their interest of the stories and light reflections going back beyond their grandmother. It might be connected to the fact that they grew up in her childhood home. They picked the summer flowers at the same fields. And it might be that they have a storytelling mother.

Those leather albums that just found a new home in my bookshelf won’t mean anything to them if I am not filling them with life, as much as I can. It breaks my heart that people, perfectly preserved in an image 100-150 years old, are lost and gone forever in man’s mind. Trouble 1, Trouble 2 and their cousins are grown up with crashing hard drives. Loosing photographic memories is a part of normal every day life in their generation. And even those not lost, we have no idea for how long they will last. Those memories. So, maybe three heavy, smelling, beautiful leather albums from the 19th Century will be yet more valuable then I can even picture. As we are sliding down memory lane.

Mar 3, 2013

Baby steps making a Big Foot

Today is the opening day of Ubmejen Biejvieh - the Sami Week - here in Umeå. My friend Eva is the project manager coordinating this festival featuring cultural arts, intellectual nourishment and a lot of plain fun celebrating the Sami culture in Sápmi: the name of the cultural regions of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia inhabited by the Sami people.

I know it’s going to be a week filled of colorful food for the soul: Eva is a rock always bringing it together! I can’t be there though, but I trust Eva giving me the stories in her debriefing-after-festival-mode. I will also miss out of Norrlandsoperans (NorrlandsOperan, the opera house of Northern Sweden) winter production La Boheme. They premiered Puccini last week, but feeling the music in my body doesn’t quite take me there.

I am used to this now. Umeå is a great city when it comes to all kinds of cultural arts and festivals, but it’s been many years since I was able attend the events and venues. As I can’t trust my body at all times, it’s too risky buying tickets in advance, and therefore I need to make peace with experiencing the variety of Umeå through reviews and friends big hands on Facebook.

I am still suffering from my back crashing back in November. I spend practically all time at the house on my couch and I still have home care and the safety alarm is the ornament on my arm. I often feel like there is no progress at all, but that’s actually wrong. It’s happening so slowly I have a hard time really noticing it, but yes, it is happening. Little by little. Baby steps. But it’s a lesson in patience and not aiming for the Big Foot.

At Christmas I was able to dismiss the night patrol watching over me. I can’t even express the relief I felt about that! And at the beginning of the semester I could start singing again! Looking back now, that wasn’t a baby step: that was a pretty big step! Only sitting up with my back support at a chair for 2,5 hours on Wednesday evenings is like running a marathon. Add singing to that. But although I am crashing on my couch exhausted afterwards I am so grateful and happy that I can do it. Will I be able to stand up for our next concert that happens in three weeks though? I have absolutely no idea!

Some time after New Years I could also start taking baby walks. 100 meters. To Alida’s house and back, 160 meters. To my new neighbor Ondina’s, 200 meters. At the end of January I could even walk all the way to the creek, 400 meters x 2 (half a mile)! I was so happy I could do that already, celebrating the accomplishment on Facebook! Well, since then I haven’t walked a lot. There are weeks when I can’t walk at all. So, that part isn’t going too well. Today though, to Alida’s apple tree, 180 meters.

Since 1,5 week now I am sitting at my kitchen table having breakfast!!! There are days when I can’t do it but most of the time I can, and it’s so incredibly wonderful! I am reviving my routine of listening to one of my morning records (there are different music for different times of the day in my world), and the early spring-winter sun is saying hello to the morning paper. And suddenly I found myself sitting down in my naprapath’s waiting room! Until now I have been waiting for my turn standing up, glancing longingly at those chairs impossible to reach. But all of a sudden my body felt like it wasn’t dangerous to sit down, and so I did! It took three months to get there, but I am there now and I’m so grateful.

Last week I also quit moving the walker from the bed in the morning to the couch. I can now stand up from the couch only supporting myself putting my hands on the couch and table! And I am now allowed to watch TV without enjoying my favorite shows THROUGH the walker, what a treat!

So, my great room now doesn’t show any signs of a handicapped woman except for my couch campsite. I am still mostly lying down, good days half sitting or sitting. You might ask if I’m not bored? No. I am always busy. There is always work to do, and I have even had client meetings here at my couch office! As a matter of fact, I even feel stressed out at times.

So, not bored. But oh how I wish I could go to the opera and enjoy Puccini’s Rodolphe and Mimì. And it would be so much fun sharing The Sami Week IRL with my friend Eva, experiencing her hard work and all her efforts for real. But this is where I am at today.

And it’s not too bad. I am in a lot of pain of course, but pain isn’t dangerous. Although it can be scary, it’ just a drag. Peter from Civil Care was here a couple of hours ago fixing me a tasty dinner. Oh, and shoveled some snow. And tomorrow Trouble 2 will arrive from Paris for a weeks visit. I think he will note my progress clearer than I do, as he hasn’t seen me since Christmas. He will probably measure my steps on a different scale and tell me that many baby steps might eventually add up to one Big Foot!