Aug 30, 2015

The elusive happiness

I have become, probably due to my hardships, a master of appreciating the little things in life. The after dinner cup of tea. A moment in the sun. An Arnold Palmer under my apple tree. The spotlights in my garden. A walk to my next door neighbor. The one creamy ice cream in summer downtown Umeå. Favorite TV series for the evening. A choir rehearsal. Breakfast at my front porch. A new bright colored shower sponge. Dinner at the foot of my pine tree. The little things.

Then there is my list for the big things. If only this happened I feel like I would get so much strength I could walk to the moon and back and be happy for the rest of my life! In my case that list is battles I am fighting and they are mostly practical matters concerning my house or the care I need. There should be a list for dreams too, but for me those have become utopias hidden so deep down somewhere I’m not sure i could even find it.

My place here at the end of the road is a 100 year old homestead built by my grandfather. It needs a lot of attention and has come to a point where that attention involves quite some money. The kind of money you can’t pick out of your pocket. The pump for the geothermal system has been over due for some years now and the winters a constant fear of it to finally break down. The baker’s cottage south wall panel needs to be replaced. The front of the woodshed/coach house is tilting down and needs to be lifted. And so on. Etc. It’s not “I won’t a jacuzzi!” but severe maintenance needs, and if I don’t take care of this now I need to sell my precious home to someone who has the resources for it. That would break my heart.

Parallel to handling the water damage under my kitchen floor during the winter I was working on taking a second loan on my house.  Well, it’s not a second, more of a third or something like that, and the only way I could solve my maintenance problems. The chances though were pretty much zero since my income is not one that pleases a bank. I started the process in January. “If only this happens I feel like I would get so much strength I could walk to the moon and back and be happy for the rest of my life!”

And it actually happened. I signed the papers in May. The event was fogged by some other stuff though and I wasn’t in a place where I could celebrate and dance around (of course not!) and go all crazy about it. But yes, I now have the means for my most urgent priorities.

The other big thing on my list and a fight partially won was the battle against the city for my most basic needs from my pain and physically restrained condition. This is really big, and for now I don’t need to worry about not getting the assistance needed for my daily survival.

So, am I happy? Of course I am! In both cases a hundred tons lifted from my shoulders. But the funny thing is, where do the happiness go?

This wasn’t about the ego happiness of a new car. This was the happiness of having a chance for survival. A profound safety-creating happiness. But where does the happiness go? Why do I not feel it in my bones? Why isn’t it a constant presence? Why do I not wake up every morning knowing my life is so much different in that sense than in January? Why do I wake up scanning my mind and thoughts for dangers, finding them quickly enough? Why am I a lonely antelope on the savanna?

Well, I guess, because I am. And I don’t think I am alone in this sense. We are programmed scanning for dangers, that’s how we have been surviving. Being on guard, on stand by. That’s self-preservation.

Happiness is a volatile feeling. Fleeting. Fugitive. Cursorial. A sudden sun beam. A hasty love. A delicious dessert. A glittering glimpse. Slipping through your fingers. There it is and there it’s gone. Uncatchable. Elusive.

It might be happiness has a chance staying longer when there is someone sharing it with. It might be happiness transforms to a more solid form when it’s been told. When it becomes a story. It might be happiness becomes life when it’s been let out, living. And if you don’t do it right away, at an instant when it hits you like a lightning, the moment is gone, the heat cools off to something tepid and the magic is lost.

Therefore, everyone out there, I need to tell you: since Wednesday there is a new pump for the geothermal heating system in my house!! I won’t have to worry about winter in that sense anymore, cause the life time of this pump is twenty years, and let’s face it, in twenty years there will be someone else worrying about this house.

Meanwhile I will work on finding a way to catch happiness when it comes, and keep it. Not only the Arnold Palmer under the apple tree and the turquoise shower sponge - not to lessen them - but the wins I've been fighting for. Sometimes I feel like there is a bubbling laughter deep inside me and if it had a chance to come out I would heal. So, there has to be a way.

Aug 23, 2015

Washington on wild fire

In state of Washington the expression “the wild fire season” is well known and an annual summer reality. But some years are worse than others and 2015 started burning early and it’s getting worse by the day. They call it the hellacious Pacific Northwest fire season, and it was primed by a poor winter snow pack followed by a summer drought.

With close to 500 000 acres (about 202 340 hectars) burning or having burned, an area larger than Seattle, Portland, San Fransisco and Los Angeles combined, 2015 now marks the worst fire season in the state history.

Washington is divided into Western Washington and Eastern Washington by the Cascade Mountains. Western Washington is typically cooler and rainier as the low pressures roll in from the Pacific and stays west of the mountains. East of the mountains has an inland climate, colder in the winter and dry hot summers. Therefore Eastern Washington is at a much higher risk for wild fires, that’s the nature of it and something to always be prepared for.

Right now north central Washington is an inferno of fires and flames, merged and spread by heat and gusty wind over the last several days. Four huge complex of fires - each bigger than the size of Seattle - are keeping thousand of homes endangered and likewise thousands of residents evacuated. Only in Okanogan County 5 100 homes are threatened by the flames. The Okanogan Complex has already burned numerous structures, but the situation is so chaotic in the huge county that officials have no estimate on how many have burned.

4 400 firefighters are on duty and thousands of volunteers are getting in touch with the Department of Natural Resources to offer their time or equipment in the battle with the fires. A fleet of 34 helicopters and 13 heavy firefighting air tankers is flying morning until dark, dropping retardant and water to try to save homes and hold back the devastating disaster.

Normally June is still a “spring” month, a bit wet and cool, but this summer June broke a heat record and the fires started early in the season. The fact that even the rain forest over at the Olympic Peninsula was burning states that the situation is remarkable and severe. It just shouldn’t be possible!

President Obama declared an emergency Friday in the state, and has ordered federal aid to Washington. The president’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate disaster-relief efforts. That means Washington will get back up to 75 percent of costs for battling the wildfires. The declaration also will provide direct assistance on the ground in affected communities — with food, debris removal, grief counselors and other resources. 

With Washington now among the hardest hit of Western states dealing with unusually fierce wildfires this season, reinforcements are streaming in from other states. Oregon, Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming and Minnesota are among states which have sent or are sending crews and equipment to help battle blazes here.

Three fire fighters were killed on the mission on Wednesday. Four more are injured, one critically. Countless of people have lost their homes and everything they own. Land and property at the value of millions of dollar are up in smoke. Thousands live in fear for the next hour, the next day and what their lives will be like when the flames eventually are gone and there is only warm, wet and black ashes left. This is truly a hellacious Pacific Northwest fire season.

Aug 16, 2015

Twin Peaks, 25 years later!

It will happen, it’s official, it will happen!

Coming inside The Great Northern for the first time was a strange experience. It was Easter Day 1993 and I was there with a KIRO TV crew, covering the Easter brunch. Well, not me covering, I was a one day intern with reporter Bob Branom and camera man John Sherman. And The Great Northern wasn’t of course The Great Northern, but Salish Lodge.

To me though, a Twin Peaks fan, it was The Great Northern. The dark place with the dark people and the dark music sitting at the top of the impressive and somewhat scary waterfall. But Salish Lodge at Easter brunch was filled with happy families dressed up in bright colors having waffles with maple syrup. And the sun was shining through the cascades of water spraying from Snoqualmie Falls, creating rainbows.

Twin peaks was on air 1990 and 1991, so arriving in Seattle 1993, the world of Twin Peaks was still fresh and vibrant. Finding that Double R Diner actually existed (although the real name was Mar-T Café, now Tweede’s) and even the cherry pies, made the world even more real. Since then my visits to Snoqualmie and North Bend are uncountable, it was the given field trip with all our visitors from Sweden, and Trouble & Trouble in front of Snoqualmie Falls at different ages is a cute chronological through their lives.

Over the years a return of Twin Peaks has off and on been speculated about. The final episode didn’t give any real answers but kind of left us hanging, so there was definitely room for anyone with desires for the TV series, to wish for a sequel. And the real Twin Peaks nerds keep the interest alive with visiting the annual convention taking place in Snoqualmie and North Bend every summer. 

So can you imagine the exaltation when Showtime executives on Tuesday confirmed that Twin Peaks will be back and David Lynch will direct all episodes, with the production doing some shooting in Washington state in September?!!! 

In October 2014, it was announced that Twin Peaks would return for a limited series, but things didn’t work out and in April David Lynch jumped off the train to a future probable success, at least a lot of attention. Twin Peaks fans were incensed and the show’s cast began voicing support for Lynch’s vision of the revival on social media. And eventually, he jumped on the train again.

So is co-creator Mark Frost and Angelo Badalamenti who composed the film score  which by the way was written before the scenes were shot as a guide for the actors (!). 18 episodes are planned and they will probably be ready in 2017, or maybe even 2016.

Do you remember the dancing dwarf in Agent Cooper’s dreams? And the final episode with the little man slowly swinging among the red velvet curtains? The actor was Little Jimmy Scott, a jazz singer with an unusual high pitch voice, a contra alto. In summer 1995 I interviewed Jimmy Scott. He was just the sweetest man, welcoming me in a bathrobe and a turban around his head, a man who thought fondly about his character in Twin Peaks. Jimmy Scott died in 2014, so he won’t be in the new script, and the cast is still a secret. 

One thing is clear though, Kyle MacLachlan will return as Agent Cooper. Did you know he is a native Washingtonian himself, born i Yakima, east of the Cascades, the mountains where Twin Peaks has it’s home? And that the cherry pies was not in the script to start with? Lynch found Mar-T’s Café while scouting for locations, he and Kyle MacLachlin loved the interior, the pies and the coffee. And the rest is TV history.

Aug 9, 2015

This is the case. My case/part 6

Something unexpected and good has happened. Yes, surprisingly.

For those of you following me, you know I am in a legal process with the City regarding my needs for assistance as I am physically restricted. The contentious issue is regarding being helped getting from my bed and couch to the bathroom, as well as being assisted to my treatments twice a week. A year ago my application was denied by the City and in November I appealed to the Court of First Instance (Förvaltningsrätten). And lost. 

This was a big disappointment of course. Although my lawyer and I had very little hope about a different outcome, we decided to go forward in the process, appealing to the Court of Second Instance (Kammarrätten). This happened in January. The verdict is absurd in so many ways, and we needed to make our voice heard one more time, no matter the outcome.

Meanwhile waiting for the verdict in the higher instance I have had a second application in process with the City. This time regarding assistance getting dressed in the morning and undressed in the evening, as well as supervising/help while washing myself, brushing my teeth a s o, those basic things we all need to do every morning and evening. It was first denied, but in the spring my administrator was exchanged for a new one, and I made it another try.

This woman was not more accommodating than the ones before her. She was here to see me and noted that nothing had changed. No exactly, I still have the same needs! She later sent me her investigation which was filled with inaccuracies, sloppy mistakes and conclusions taken from thin air. I filed a complaint which I worked long and hard with. Then waiting.

A couple of weeks ago she called and told me I would get the morning and evening assistance I needed! And while on the phone, I somehow managed to convince her to give me the help for dressing and undressing my self too! Afterwords I was lying here, all empty looking up the roof. What happened? What did just happen? Will I not have to worry about the mornings and evenings anymore? I didn’t feel safe though until Civil Care, the home care company taking care of me confirmed. Yes Maria, we are provided more hours a day for helping you out!

At about the same time my lawyer contacted me, with the even more unexpected news. The Court of Second Instance (Kammarrätten), has approved my appeal, which means they are willing to look at the verdict from the Court of First Instance (Förvaltningsrätten)! That’s all there is, the outcome could be in favor to me or not, but  the important thing is, there is something in the verdict they are questioning and are willing to look in to!

Neither my lawyer nor I saw this coming and I am so happy for the both of us. He is just the sweetest person, who has put in I am sure at least 30 hours on me, only charging me for 5. And I could tell from the expression on his face he was really excited to get a case like this in Court of Second Instance.

So, now it’s waiting time again. But I feel I have one two partial victories. My second application with the City is harbored. And the Court of First Instance (Förvaltningsrätten) verdict is questioned. That’s big. That’s really big.

Aug 2, 2015

40 years x 5 lives. Real lives.

The Evas came first. Eva M and Eva N. Eva M carrying the same woodchip basket on her arm as she did all through high school. Back then it was filled with books and the binder for her job as the class prefect, keeping track of us. In the evenings those items were occasionally exchanged for wine for parties.

Then Karin and Åsa arrived. We were standing in the chilly afternoon at my front yard looking at each other, hugging hugging hugging, laughing. Is this for real? Is this really happening? I actually felt like I was inside a glass bubble. These familiar faces, together here…

Eva M, Eva N, Karin, Åsa and I spent the last two years in high school together, and this summer it’s 40 years since we graduated. The Evas, Karin and I live in Umeå, Åsa in Stockholm. Eva, Eva and I sang in Kammarkören Sångkraft (Sångkraft Chamber Choir) together for many years, and as Karin is an actor we used to bump in to each other  at the Umeå cultural scene occasionally when I still was up and about. Åsa though… I can’t even remember when I last saw her. I have a vague memory from a line to a jazz concert many many years ago.

And here we were. 40 years later. Five women who left this specific constellation at the door step to the grown up professional life. Today, we are only a few years from closing the professional life. And in between. A life. Five lives.

The familiar basket on Eva M’s arm, it couldn’t be the same, could it? But yes it was, the very same, how is that even possible! And Wednesday evening it brought Eva’s fresh baked bruccetta and a bottle of wine. Very soon my kitchen table was filled with all sorts of delicatessen. And stories. Oh those stories.

As I was thinking of this evening to come during the days leading up to it, I knew it would be filled with life and death, laughter and tears. Some of us has been through severe difficulties, and I felt we probably would share. I was looking forward to that.

Thursday morning I woke up speechless. Grateful. Touched. Moved. Emotional. Overwhelmed. Exhausted. The whole day I was in some kind of unfocused wiggly fog where now and then strong and unmanageable feelings popped up like needles pinching me. Six hours with my highschool friends. I still don’t have words. Yet I will try.

Let me put it like this. If there had been a camera in my house Wednesday evening, we would have had five full length films. And they would all have been of the character you would have to watch them with a lot of space in between. Because it would just be too much to take in.

I am thinking about the Facebook lives we see. The lives presented through a tiny keyhole. The lives presented through the filters of happiness, smiles, tons of friends and success. The only things possible to present, because everything else would be perceived as pessimism, negativity or God forbid bitterness, words and state of minds so banned in this time and age you would be considered pariah spreading bad energy.

I am thinking, being a part of those stories shared on Wednesday evening, can it be that the five of us has been afflicted (or challenged as the contemporary term wood be) with lives exceptionally hard? I think to some degree we have. I am absolutely positive some people are hit harder by life than others. But I am also thinking, this is life. This is real life, which we all agreed on.

So, imagine most people struggling with their lives. Not just everyday struggle as having a cold, getting your kids to school, stomach flues or a demanding boss, but in depth struggles. Which remains to a large extent hidden because there is no place for despair, shame, sadness and grief in our lives anymore. Whatever happens to you, these times expect you to find the bright side of it and move on, forward upward. And the Facebook version will be “I am so grateful for being given this experience”. 

Imagine that terrible world wide lie. Imagine that global pretending game. Imagine that sticky web of keeping your face. Everybody's face. Facebook is actually just the perfect name for the official version of our lives. Don’t you just want to puke? Not to talk about the great danger of not being allowed to grieve.

But on Wednesday evening five women who haven’t seen each other in this context in 40 years sat at my kitchen table sharing their lives with each other. I did too. And even though I felt like I took up a lot of time I just scratched the surface. Which we all did, what was room for during those hours was only fragments. Fragments of a life. Five lives. Still, no writer could have come up with the scene that evening. Fiction would not stand a chance against reality.

During the years I have often been thinking about my life, it would be an interesting dramatic film or a never ending TV-series, but I so wish I didn’t have to play the lead character. On Wednesday evening I realized my teen age friends too are lead characters in films they from time to time wouldn’t have written the script to themselves.

I am still trying to take in and harbor. And what is most amazing to me and moves me the most is how five women who sit down together after 40 years have such trust in each other. The trust to place our lives in each others hearts. The trust being that naked.  That vulnerable. No pretending games. No faces kept. But embracing. For me Wednesday evening was a warm and cleansing bath washing the fake Facebook face of the world away and I am realizing it was a very long times since I felt that safe.

I am incredibly grateful. And I also feel a little bit less lonely. Sensing my friends also are main characters off and on struggling with the roles in the story of their life.