Oct 25, 2015

Where do you find the Nr 1 and Nr 5 wealthiest person in the world? Well, from this week in Seattle.

This week Jeff Bezos jumped up being third richest person in US. Warren Buffet is in between him and Bill Gates, who is number one.

And this week Jeff Bezos jumped up being the fifth richest person in the world. Bill Gates is number one. I am not sure if I am to congratulate Seattle or not.

I remember a hilariously funny show, a typical Seattle moldy basement show, somewhere around the Millennium. It was a one man show. The man was Mike Daisey. He had worked at the by then still fairly new company Amazon.com for some years but was now out of the cubicle. He also wrote a book, “21 dog years, a cube dweller’s tale”.

Ironically (as the book isn’t making the company looking good) I am finding it on Amazon:

In 1998, when Amazon.com began to recruit employees, they gave temp agencies a simple directive: send us your freaks. Mike Daisey -- slacker, onetime aesthetics major -- fit the bill. His subsequent ascension, over the course of twenty-one dog years, from lowly temp to customer service representative to business development hustler is the stuff of both dreams and nightmares. Here, with lunatic precision, Daisey describes lightless cube farms in which book orders were scrawled on Post-its while technicians struggled to bring computers back online, as well as fourteen-hour days fueled by caffeine, fanaticism, and illicit day-trading from office desks made out of doors. 

In the show, Mike is sitting with a plain light bulb above is head in a dark basement room at a desk made by an old door on two trestles, because that’s what an Amazon desk looked like those days. Bring some slackers in, add beat up doors and trestles, give them a phone, a stack of Post it and sell some books from this under ground thing we created!

What I remember the most from the show is what happened when Mike Daisy was looking for job, post his Amazon years. Because of Amazon in his CV he was offered high end job he had neither experience from or skills for. It’s ridiculous, he said, the only thing I did was sit at a desk writing down orders from people buying books!

So, this has been my image of Amazon. A dark dump basement. It’s hard to grasp the development from 1994 only in Seattle, where Amazonians now occupy 14 shiny buildings at the new South Lake Union campus in the middle of Seattle. In the next five years Amazon will have 10 million square feet (about 1 million square meters) of office space in Seattle. That's enough for more than 71,000 employees. And they have certainly moved up from the basement.

A New York Times article this summer investigated the work conditions at Amazon. Employes aren’t allowed to talk to media, but former “Amabots” testified people crying out of exhaustion at their desks, putting in inhuman numbers of hours a week. The article describes coldhearted bosses, annual staff cuts described as “purposeful Darwinism” and grueling hours for burnt-out employees.

I remember similar things said about Microsoft at my first Seattle stay in 1993. Important meeting scheduled after hours and weekends so that people having started families would get the hint they weren’t preferred anymore. And I myself have been on Microsoft campus in Redmond on a Swedish National Radio story, carefully guarded not to speak with anyone who wasn’t on my in before hand approved list.

For me, who only know Seattle since 1993, Microsoft has always been there, and it’s hard to imagine what the city had been without it and without Bill Gates. A man who was equally loved/hated until he turned respected and even admired.

Amazon, I can tell, is changing Seattle to something Seattleites in general don’t like and even fear. In fact, it’s all but guaranteed that at any given time someone somewhere is blaming Amazon for something: spiraling housing costs, worsening traffic jams or the specter of income inequality. And Jeff Bezos, well, so far I don’t hear much good about him

Oct 18, 2015

The end of one journey and the beginning of another

- You make a difference!

Most every day he is doing the updates on Facebook.

- Marie and Per were here tonight making waffles with our guests. All tasty and engaging.
- Eight hair dressers students visited today giving hair cuts to at least 50 of our guests. Amazing.

Torstein Bratwold is a friend of mine. Together with a former politician, Åsa Ögren and handpicked staff, they two weeks ago welcomed the first 150 refuges to the asylum accommodation in the old nursing home in Umeå.

All matters concerning asylum are, as they should be, strictly handled by the Swedish state and the Swedish Migration Board. It was only weeks before, that the nursing home and Torstein and his colleagues were approved of by the board. And now the first bus was here. Men, women and children who had been on the run for months. The end of a journey. And the beginning of another.

Torstein’s updates on Facebook makes my eyes tear. Because of the stories these people carry. Because realizing what a bad fit my well functioning Swedish society is to people without a social security number (personnummer) and a bank account (even if there is very little in there). Because of what Torstein and his colleagues are doing in this situation. And because of the volunteers who willingly and with great joy are making their contributions.

The goal for Torstein and his friends’ company “Umebygdens etableringscentrum”, is to create the best asylum accommodation i Sweden. Their standards are way above The Swedish Immigration Board’s. The good energy is spreading and people show up at the accommodation to contribute with what they can. Here is a selection from Torstein’s updates:

Andreas, you are amazing! Today you made an invaluable contribution when you came to our asylum accommodation with a large roll of paper and a lot of pencils. But the most important thing of all was that you gave of your and your kids time. Quickly the children gathered around you and began to draw, some drew animals and the boats they traveled over the Mediterranean Sea.

Today was the first day that breakfast was cooked in our new and nice kitchen. Our partner the Swedish Church with matron Carolina, delivers organic produce which our guests cook themselves.

It is not until Thursday we start our regular teaching, but today Nils Seye Larsen, at the request of our guests, spontaneously was teaching Swedish. What a feeling when 40-50 people after an hour are counting to ten and saying "My name is .... and I come from ..." in Swedish, with big smiles. All over the house I hear the vowels ååå. äää, and ööö as the evening is settling. And I am happy I get to experience this along with all the dedicated and talented people.

The last few days the guests at the accommodation received the first Swedish social studies in Arabic and Persian. The knitting circle was a success, God knows everyone will need a warm scarf up here! The goal for the accommodation is to give the guests possibilities to be an active part of the Swedish society as soon as possible. And let’s Torstein end this post with a quote summing up the first ten days of his, his colleagues and their guests new life together. The end of one journey, and the beginning of another.

Ten days have passed since our first guests stepped off the bus and slowly but surely we have procedures in place. I am impressed and proud of all the good will that we encounter from both the authorities and individuals. The Swedish Migration Board, the City council, the public dental service and the police. Everyone wants well, although we our society do not have the habit to receive people who are without social security numbers, bank account numbers, identification cards, cash and Swedish language. Situations arise daily, but in most cases we solve the problems. I would especially highlight the Immigration office in Umeå, who passed a nearly overwhelming task these past days. Together we will create the best accommodation in Sweden.

Oct 11, 2015

The illusion of control

Looking at the world from my couch I am fascinated by control as a concept.

My Facebook feed is inhabited by people who are often on the move. Traveling. Going to concerts. I am thinking they are booking their tickets presupposing they will actually take that trip. See that concert. And I am sure most often they are. Nothing happens that will not make it happen. They decide, they act upon it and follow through. Looks very nice.

Grown up people are in control of their lives. They have a job, a workplace, colleagues, a salary coming in every month, sick leave benefits if they get the flu and pension kicking in when they retire (in Sweden). They can pay their rent or mortgage and maybe even have money over for those travels.

This is the every day control in general. Then we love the idea of controlling our thoughts and feelings, our bodies, our minds. I am just today reading about the app Muse keeping my thoughts in order. Dual N-back works my RAM. Lumosity challenges my mental processing speed. There is no end to what we can come up with to be in control. Be more in control.

But. We never are. Tomorrow you can be out of job and everything falls apart. Someone close can die and you loose your ground. A divorce splits your life like a gorge. You wake up one morning with a tumor in your breast and death breaths your neck.

Am I sounding morose? Well listen to this.

The Cold War is forever over and someone starts the agenda to recreate the glory of Russia. We would never forget Treblinka and Auschwitz, and neo-Nazis are marching all over Europe. A couple of years ago people in Syria were living regular lives going to jobs and school, today 4 million people have fled the country. And then, of course, there is the natural disasters.

Where am I going with this? I am not sure. But I think my life ruled by my body and the circumstances around leaving me exposed to fortuity, risk, hazard and the random has made me very aware of the concept of control.

I am not in control of anything. What I can do NOW and NOW can be changed during the AND. Can I take a walk when Josephine comes here for dinner? I don’t know. Can I water that plant that would need it? I don’t know. If I move just a little bit here on my couch, what happens then, does The Knife stab right in my sacrum? I don’t know. If I walk down the stairs, can I get up ugain? I don’t know. My choir is about to have these concerts next week, will I be able to attend? I don’t know, probably not. If I do attend, will I be able to make it through the concert? I don’t know. 

It’s the City who decides how much help I am allowed. Right now I’m good, but my experiences tells me to not trust it, changes for the worst is just a phone call away. Working in home care is often a transition job. I get to know the ones coming here to help me out, I build a relationship, start feeling safe, get attached, just in time to let go, and then start over again. That’s the nature of it. Although I’ve been extremely lucky with personnel over the years. 

I have a beautiful house so I’m safe and warm in that sense. I own it, but due to conditions out of my control it won’t be for as long as I would want or need. I have a home but I am sort of here on borrowed time, and I don’t know how much time I have. I have a home for now, but am feeling homeless.

So, my life is a 24/7 blue light flashing. And therefore I am very sensitive to situations where people are exposed and vulnerable. Without control. I remember very clearly first time in Seattle when I was facing a homeless man. The sign: no job, no food, no cash. He looked just like anyone. Like you and me. Like it was his first day on the street. I was struck by the thin line. Between being in control and not. And I see a lot of that in the world, here from my coach.

In December 2014, due to a weak minority government, the parties in the Swedish parliament made an agreement for stability and for damage control of the social conservative party. The agreement would last for the next eight years. Friday the Christian Democrats broke the agreement and Sweden is facing a totally unexpected government crisis. What seemed to be under control isn’t.

So what’s the point here? It’s a good thing most people don’t have my experiences. Or the Syrian refugees. Or the begging Romanies on their knees outside every grocery store in Sweden. It’s a good thing most (Western) people feel safe and in control. It’s a good thing they can book a trip and take it. But anything can happen to anyone. Control is only an illusion.

Oct 4, 2015

2 cities, 4 years and 201 postings!

For four years now this has been my routine, what would I do with my Sundays if I didn’t write my blog?

I had planned on starting a blog for quite some time. The purpose was to share stories from my two hometowns Umeå and Seattle. Stories about two very different cities with a lot of things in common. The northern locations in their countries, the cultural arts scene, the Waterfront design, the building cranes, the tolerance and open minded Seattleites and Umebor, the moving forward spirits.

My very first posting was entering cyberspace on October 1 2011 in the Seattle Montlake neighborhood in the lovely apartment I was renting from the equally lovely Dita, only one block up from where me and my family were living 1996-97. And I am not sure it wold have happened right then if it hadn’t been for my back turning acute and I had to stay put on Dita’s couch instead of running around the city having fun.

I didn’t see it as a sign back then (thanks God) that this would be my future life. Staying on a couch instead of running around.

Anyway, I have been telling stories about my two cities. About the Waterfront projects. About the Seattle process and the Umeå process (democracy is strong and we take our time). The traffic situations, architecture, the bicyclists, Refused and Nirvana, developers and preservers, and Swedish politics verses American. To name a few.

I love that. I love doing a good research and get the story right. I used to be a journalist. A public service broadcast journalist. Therefore, every time I am reporting about a city-plannning discussion or a traffic gridlock situation I am feeling like I am doing my job. In two aspects. I am telling about something real and important, hard facts. And I am following my original purpose for Home is Away, Away is Home.

I wasn’t planning on being personal at all, except for stories connected to the original purpose of the blog. But as time passed, life provided me material with great impact on myself, and therefore close to my heart and easily transferred to my fingers tapping the computer keyboard.

And what have I learned about my readers over these years? Well, to a journalist something really frustrating. It turns out only a few are interested in city planning and politics. But hey, you love reading about my misery! When I am in despair over body issues or about not getting the help I need from the city, that’s when the curve on the Blogger diagram is peaking!

Am I surprised? Not really. This is what I am teaching when I am preaching storytelling professionally. Fill your story with people, emotions, images, and stay true. That’s how you can reach someone’s heart. Also, as a former news reporter I know tragedy sells.

So why am I annoyed? Why frustrated? Well, I could come up with something heartwarming or heartbreaking to tell most every week. But I just find it too…easy. A facile point win (does that work in this context?). And I don’t want Home is Away, Away is Home to be an all mushy porridge of emotions and sentiments.

Four years and two cities. What’s been up? Well, the cities are still true to their soul. The engaged citizens and the building cranes at the core. 

The Umeå waterfront is pretty much done, the new shiny Snöhetta designed cultural center up and running, liked by some and criticized by quite a few. I think though everyone agrees on the parks running along the Umeå River being a great addition to downtown Umeå, they are marvelous!

Waterfront Seattle is still mostly on the drawing table, but those drawings looks so much like the Umeå waterfront parks, they could be siblings, one of course a lot bigger than the other. When it comes to Seattle though, the change of South Lake Union and the impact on Seattle is what’s loudest.

The 1-year Home is Away, Away is Home anniversary posting was written on the Iceland Air flight taking me from the lower Queen Anne penthouse Seattle view back to Sweden. 2013 and 2014 I was here in my Swedish home at the end of the road, as I am now. The fall has been pretty much as warm as the summer (which was cold), but today I saved the last yellow roses from the garden, as we might be below freezing point to night.

Sometimes I am asking myself why I am still taping my fingers to the computer keyboard every Sunday. I don’t think I have tons of readers - the Blogger statistics is absolutely impossible to understand, so I don’t really know. I guess my texts are a bit challenging. First, they are long. Second, the language. To Swedish readers English can be a threshold. And to English natives I am sure my broken English is petty annoying. I apologize, since I am not able to spend time in Seattle anymore I am missing my English teachers and not improving!

I do like my Sunday routine though. And I get to practice my English such it is once a week. I enjoy writing and expressing myself. And I love my two cities, Umeå and Seattle. I don’t know my readers, but I am very grateful for your attention and I would love to hear from you! Home is Away, Away is Home, going for the 5 year anniversary!