subtle change

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I may finally have emerged from a grey-food period. I was eating mostly the same mundane meal daily because it was easy, healthy and almost instant. But I’ve finally decided I should put in a bit of upfront effort and prepare some variation and make a few meals for a few days in advance.

My latest go-to, at the very least, is very colorful, although not necessarily pretty. With a base of a grain mix of quinoa, buckwheat, millet and amaranth, I throw in some beans (kidney or black usually), red and/or yellow peppers, red onions, asparagus, baby spinach, tomatoes and who knows what else? And then sometimes add a bit of salmon or a few prawns, if I am in that kind of mood (prefer mostly vegan eating but sometimes seem to need a change).

I think my laziest thing is that I don’t want to bother cooking, so if I do it all at once and make a bunch of well-measured out bowls and cook enough of this grain stuff to many such bowls, I don’t have to think about it every single day. I know people have been saying that to me forever – just take the one ‘hit’ in terms of time, prep, patience, and you will thank yourself. But even that, until recently, I could not force myself to do. But I suppose alongside all the rest of the changes this year, thinking ahead and preparing even for the most boring thing I can think of (eating) is something I can ken.

Now the question remains: will I ever bake again?

Contextual past and eventual becoming

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“I am writing for the person I used to be. Perhaps the person I once left behind persists, standing there, still and grim, in some attic of time – on a bend, on a crossroads – and in some mysterious way she is able to read the lines I am setting out here, without seeing them.” –A General Theory of Oblivion, José Eduardo Agualusa

In If on a winter’s night a traveler, Italo Calvino hints gently at context, and by envisioning parallel, fictional realities, we may be ripping some gem from its intended context and stuffing it into another to serve another purpose, to enhance another context. These are not even close to his words, and in fact, in my own paraphrasing I have moved his original words (in translation no less) quite far from their origin and intended context to justify my own. It is the intent, perhaps, that a reader should interpret and ‘steal’ concepts (I know that in one of the multitudes of books I have read this week, there was a passage somewhere about stealing and refashioning good ideas – but I don’t know if I saved the quote. A shame).

But this is my pattern. I read aggressively, voraciously, feverishly highlighting meaningful passages (stopping briefly to wonder if I might highlight different passages and quotes if I were in another frame of mind, or context). And later I find some application – or context – for those passages that meant most to me in some way.

Behavior eventually shows its hand and establishes a pattern if you wait long enough. I can change these patterns to change behaviors, but the underlying drive comes out the same. I shifted from television addiction to a reading addiction, which I would argue is the better of the two addictions. But both are addictive and almost compulsive behaviors. To compensate, I seek and find some balance, and my constant underlying drive is not just the search for balance but the search for change. And for me, change is always about the future and ensuring some otherness or difference from the now and the past. It is not about dragging vestiges of the past with me into new scenery; it is likewise not about erasing that past or its experience. It does not mean cast off the you who was, but does mean give careful consideration to the you who will be.

“This is what I mean when I say I would like to swim against the stream of time: I would like to erase the consequences of certain events and restore an initial condition. But every moment of my life brings with it an accumulation of new facts, and each of these new facts brings with it its consequences; so the more I seek to return to the zero moment from which I set out, the further I move away from it: though all my actions are bent on erasing the consequences of previous actions and though I manage to achieve appreciable results in this erasure, enough to open my heart to hopes of immediate relief, I must, however, bear in mind that my every move to erase previous events provokes a rain of new events, which complicate the situation worse than before and which I will then, in their turn, have to try to erase. Therefore I must calculate carefully every move so as to achieve the maximum of erasure with the minimum of recomplication.” If on a winter’s night a traveler, Italo Calvino

While many recognize and complain about their patterns, they do nothing to alter them. Change, after all, is what we most avoid. Because of this aversion to change, at least some kinds of change, the complaints are idle and the angst projected about them contrived. But we all have our blind spots, especially when it comes to other, unpredictable, people.

“…but at that moment it was as if an undigested bit of the past had come back up his throat.” –The Solitude of Prime Numbers, Paolo Giordano

Yes, people. Unpredictable people who jump around in the timeline of our lives. Almost dead within our archives, yet somehow we live on, almost as living, breathing people in the daily existences, of which we are (almost) no longer a part. I can control my books or tv viewing or the lengths of walks in the rain (though I cannot yet control the rain). I can control how much I sleep and how deeply involved I become in my mad dreams (how I love these). But people… and how much the past wears on and continues to affect (and infect) people.

Someone told me recently that “the past is a foreign country”, which sounds, not unlike my allusions and references to Calvino, like something lifted from a literary source (with which I am not familiar). This is poetic, but Calvino himself manages to describe the pernicious nature of the past with a far more apt simile:

“The past is like a tapeworm, constantly growing, which I carry curled up inside me”.

The past, and the people who populate it, has a voracious appetite and will eat away at one from the inside, if one lets it.

The interesting part is that the phantoms, those living in the past as though it were yesterday: they are often the most honest ones. Maybe not about how the past was (they can in fact be quite blind and/or deluded), but they aren’t hiding their intentions or papering over their defects. And the people laboring along in the firm belief that they are living in the present and looking toward the future? The veneer of calm does not hide the high-strung individual underneath, paddling away from reminders of the past like poor swimmers with no instinct for floating – there is no actual serenity in those who so desperately seek it. Maybe, like Daniel Hall writes in “Love Letter Burning”: “The past will shed some light/but never keep us warm”.

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.”Slouching Toward Bethlehem, Joan Didion

Dual contracts

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“The weariness of being loved, of being truly loved! The weariness of being the object of other people’s burdensome emotions! Of seeing yourself – when what you wanted was to remain forever free” -Fernando Pessoa

Do you feel at the edge of something life-changing? Or maybe that everything has already changed, slowly, almost imperceptibly – to bring you to where you are?

Sometimes I feel close to that edge – like something that will alter or maybe even has altered everything is within my grasp. Other times, like tonight, back home again, as others celebrate Midsommar, I find myself alone watching the sky get dark around midnight, working even though this is still technically my vacation. And I think, sitting in encroaching darkness, “Nothing has really changed at all.”

Some things do change, though, in surprising ways. I think frequently these days about how, as kids, as adolescents, our parents want to know everything we do, going so far as to snoop and spy on our secretive young selves. And yet, as an adult, it’s like they just don’t want to know. And don’t ask. Much of my life, how I feel about things, is in a public-facing blog, but my mom has read maybe only two entries in her life. Not that it matters if she does, but it’s funny that it does not interest her at all now, but in youth… what parents would not have killed for that kind of unfiltered access to their teenager’s mysterious thoughts?

Sometimes I feel like I embody the duality of both the furtive, cagey adolescent, hiding away my real thoughts, feelings and life’s events, and the concerned parent, questioning my own thoughts, motives and feelings.

 

the whole cake

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It strikes me every time I read something from several years ago how many repeated patterns there are in the lives of all the characters involved, including myself. It shouldn’t come as a surprise – I am a certain type of person, and despite changing my surroundings, approaches, and putting up solid boundaries when needed, it does not change the fact that I am the same person at my core, and the feelings with which I respond are essentially the same. It also does not change the kinds of people I encounter in my life, or the preferences my heart (or mind) seems to have. None of this is a value judgment – just observations about how fundamental, deep change is not easy or quick. If it happens at all, it happens like soil erosion – it is happening but isn’t visible to the naked eye or even perceptible for many years.

Autumn 2011 (?) – excerpts from an email

A weekend of major baking (1200 cookies for a PR event at work). I invited a young German assistant to come and help me.

Latest drama: Mal is convinced he is going to die, like a total hypochondriac, despite not actually having real symptoms of anything. All I could do was roll my eyes, even if I wanted to be sympathetic, because 1. what a total overreaction, 2. go to the fucking doctor if you are so scared, 3. he was sooooooo unsympathetic when I had my own much more realistic health scare not long ago and has not been sympathetic or understanding when I have told him about the actual health problems I faced. Eventually he saw a doctor who told him that his symptoms were imagined/psychosomatic. Being the dramatic manipulator he is, he uses even fake health crises to milk what benefit he can get from them. He told me he feels he has had a “near-death experience” now. Oh my god. Seriously. Until they are cutting your balls off and shooting radiation into some part of your body, don’t even talk to me about near-death. He apparently told a mutual acquaintance that if he had been diagnosed with something terminal, he would immediately pack up and move here, as if he had been invited to die at my house. At some point he told me the same thing, imagining I would be flattered that he would choose me as nurse and caretaker for his final days?! Me, being the cynic always believing the worst in people like him, I said, “Oh why… better free medical care in Sweden?” He got offended and said, “No! To spend my last days somewhere beautiful with someone who really cares about me.” I guess that is a nicer sentiment, but note that it is always about who cares about him, what he can get out of it and not about for whom he cares or some kind of mutual care or respect.

Of course I am not supposed to be talking to him at all since my deadline for getting rid of him was September 30. It really had become such a chore and difficulty that I literally had to give myself a deadline. It is beyond difficult to just cut someone off, even someone so destructive and selfish. I have put a lot of distance between us, causing him to call me a “frosty fucker” the other day (haha). I enjoyed being called a frosty fucker so much that I just had to repeat it. It has grown easier, though, because I’ve been working and dashing constantly from place to place – Oslo, Trondheim, New York, Seattle, Stockholm, and will be right up until the end of the year, meaning there is no time to mess around with his nonsense, inconsistency, excuses and bullshit. I sometimes find myself in the position of sort of missing him when we are out of touch for a while, but as soon as I talk to him again, listening to his stupid excuses and bullshit-filled banter, I am back to wanting to forget that this summer happened at all…

Actually being around R (the dentist), I was just struck again, hard, by the realization that it is just so easy to get worn down into a pattern with some people (ML) where you accept and think something, some pathetic behavior, is okay or even normal, which it totally is not. R is open, funny, generous, warm … he barely knows me but he invited me to stay in his house during this extensive dental treatment. We had some great conversations and even greater laughs… and you know, he did not have to do any of that – I was not his friend, but his sister’s, but he still did. I like to think I am a lot like that most of the time. I am not a taker, so when I am taking (like from R this past week), I am extremely grateful and gracious, offer to help in any way I can, offer whatever I have (in this case, I brought a shitload of cookies to him). I just don’t understand people who can take and take and barely register that it might require a thank you.

I was telling R about this situation with Mal, and he laughed and said, “It sounds like an indie movie… full of unknown actors.” It made me think… maybe I should write a screenplay or something out of this ridiculous summer. Then I would at least feel like I walked away with something.

These days, after this stupid summer entanglement and its idleness, I am oddly contemplative/reflective on what it is I really want to do in life… ever since Steve Jobs died the other day and I re-watched his Stanford commencement speech about death (or threat of it) being the best catalyst for taking action in life. Do I want to write product sheets about the Android OS for the rest of my life? No. The last thing I want is a routine life.

…And then on compatibility, with your husband and with people in general. I understand what you are saying about choosing the “right qualities” when you decided to be with him… his stability and some of the more fundamental things. Yes, you might have liked to have been with someone who wants long, deep conversations and shared literary interests, but it is rare (if possible at all) to get a whole package. Isn’t it a matter of what is most important – and how you can get by and relate in the day to day? And I guess, as we may have discussed before, you can get some of the more in-depth conversational needs taken care of with close friends, even if it is still not quite the same thing.

And if love is important – or what makes you feel loved, rather – I just talked to my German assistant about this. She is young, so inexperienced. She asked whether she should wait around for someone if she is in love with them and they just don’t respond to her in kind. I assumed she was talking about Mal (and if she wasn’t, that means she has gotten herself into yet another unhealthy situation with someone else), and it made me so intensely sad for her to know that she KNOWS it is not going to change. She is just an accessory and a “safety/back up” for him. It is not that he does not care at all about her, but that he cares more about himself. Obviously. He is always going to give her a few crumbs to keep her hanging on but will never give her the whole cake, so to speak. To which I almost screamed, “Don’t settle for stale crumbs. Wait for – and accept – only the whole cake.”

underthings and underlings: shedding layers part five

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The latest to go are the invisible (to most)… socks, undergarments and the like.

It’s strange throwing some things away, trying to remember exactly when they were acquired. Realizing it was more than a decade ago, when you could have sworn it was just three or so years back. No wonder these things need replacing. Time just flies by and clothes (under or over) are not my top-of-mind thought.

shedding layers part four

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My next discard is a boring, ugly dress. I will chuck it at the weekend. It has come to symbolize a lot of things, including moments of tremendous self-hate. It has come to remind me of many times I would rather forget. I never liked it in the first place but almost as if woven into the fabric, it’s just a sad rag clinging to who I don’t want to be. It’s going.

“You will always be a loser…”: A ballad of users and takers

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Heading into a new phase, discarding and changing.

Ages ago I bought a cheap-as-hell blender so I could blend fruit and veg on the road (in my long commute days). I never took it out of the box until now. I’m all about the spinach and kiwi gorilla juice. Or some knockoff gazpacho made of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. This cheap little blender works – improbably – better than my relatively expensive KitchenAid blender ever did. Sometimes paying more is not better. But the trick is learning when it matters and when it doesn’t. This is true for things you purchase and for the people you let into your life. How much can you really spend on someone else before you’re running on empty?

But the concept of spending anything is so remote… I’ve spent so much time, so much money, so much patience, so much care, so much compassion, so much understanding, so much love, so much tongue-biting frustration, so much support, so much much much much much that was all for nothing. I am numb – what is it in my karmaorwhateveritis that makes the people who get close to me so damaged, petty, troubled and such users and takers? Sometimes it’s narcissism. Sometimes it is a weird brand of self-hate. You know the self-haters who have to be as cruel as shit to you to take you down with them, right?

For a couple of days, while shedding stuff and moving forward in a real way like I haven’t in years, I’ve been crying – a lot. Improbable things set me off. Like at the end of the latest season of Orange is the New Black, suddenly the cheesy Foreigner tune “I Want to Know What Love Is” played over the end credits; soon tears are shooting out of my eyes like arrows. Sometimes I cried out of anger and sadness but sometimes just because it felt cathartic to shed tears in the same way I could shed a tattered sweater or a pair of tights with a hole in the heel.