I’m having a bit of a difficult time at the moment. I feel disconnected, isolated, not really present. It’s hard to see all the wonders around me and to acknowledge how far I’ve come. In these instances it’s good to take a step back and look at where we are. So let’s do that.
It put me in a place of reflection, it made me consider my life and what I’m doing with my time. This week has been one of searching for meaning. I’m not at the end with these observations but we’re getting there.
I wrote down what the most important things are to me, the values which make me do the things I do: First of all, it’s Love. Love for life, for nature, for art and it’s also happiness.
The second one is Balance. I feel really out of sync at the moment so I try to do things that get me on track again: reading actual physical copies of books (not hunching over my laptop with the website of Elsevier or Springer open trying to decipher articles about mining wastes), it’s meditation and it’s long walks.
The third motivation for me is Learning. I love to learn, I love to study and explore new things. I love to widen my horizon.
All this learning leads to a fourth aspect: Change. I don’t like being stuck in one place for too long, mentally or physically. I have moved around quite a lot in the last year (Halmstad, Berlin, Münster, Cottbus, now Uppsala. It’s been a journey) and as I know myself, I will keep doing that in the future as well. But psychological change is also really important to me since it improves my life step by step.
I’m grateful for being here. I’m grateful to be able to live this life and to be in such a beautiful country right now with so many talented, amazing people around. And I’m grateful for the time I’m being given- time to write, time to be with friends, time to sing and laugh and walk through the forest, time to learn. Time is so valuable and we should use it the best we can.
Sunrise and sunset are chasing each other, battling on who will be able to inch closer towards midday. The same fight every year. Every year after heatwaves and exhaustion, autumn comes to soothe. I can feel autumn approaching, I can feel it as the icecold wind on my arms in the morning when I bike to school. I can see it in the warm evening light that illuminates the wooden houses and the trees in the forest. I can see it in the apples that seem to be everywhere and that people put in front of their garden fences with little signs saying “Varsågod”. You’re welcome.
I’m thinking back on how summer was. I’ve never been a fan of summer, to be quite frank. For me it was a time of desperately trying to kill Time. Of purposelessness. Autumn meant “back to school”, back to reading and learning, two things I enjoy so much. And now it’s autumn and I’m reading again, learning.
I overdid it, though. I stayed up nearly every night in the past two weeks to get my reading done. I read until midnight, went to sleep, woke up at seven and read until my lecture started. After school, I came back home to my books. It’s true that we have to read a lot. But this was not coming from school, this urge. It was coming from my inside.
I am pushing myself more and more because I need to perform, I need to be good at this. I need to take everything in as fast as I can, as much as I can. Now. And when I take breaks I calculate the trade-off. How much time did I lose during this break, time lost to read and write assignments? I have accelerated a lot over the years. I have become more efficient in my work. I read fast. I type fast. I think fast. But this did not aide me to calm down because I would be able to bring the results. No, it encouraged me to do even more, because I could. “You’ve always got by, haven’t you? It was always ok when you took on an additional task, wasn’t it?”
I had two visions in my head the other day. First, I didn’t know how old I was. I didn’t know how I had got here. I got my bachelors degree two weeks before I came here to Uppsala. I am a masters student now but I have had no time to process that. I didn’t know how I had got here. To Uppsala. My new home.
And then I envisioned my life in the future. I would sit in some small room with blank walls with all of my degrees but with the big question in my had: “How did I end up here?” Because everything had been a blur. Everything had gone so fast. And is still accelerating.
It’s ironic because in my course literature, the authors often discuss that “growth” is our interpretation of “progress”. We need to make more money in less time, with less workers, exploit all the resources that we can. GDP growth, yay! I’m doing the same. You could say, in economical terms, I’m growth-addicted. I’m accelerating, maximising output. The problem is that I don’t consider my inputs of time and mind space.
There have been many authors advocating for a steady state in our economies, for a balance against the unlimited exponential growth. Because we cannot go on like that with the limited resources we have: clean air, furtile soil, clean water. I need to do the same. I need to find a balance in my life, between working and just enjoying life. I need to acknowledge my most important resource: Time. Time for friends, time for long walks in the forest, time for knitting and painting, time for ridiculously long philosophical chats with my friends back at home in the middle of the night, time for just being in the moment.
A friend of mine said: “I could never do what you are doing. I need my time off, going on holidays to some city and just eating cake for a week.”
For whoever needed it this week: Breathe. Take your time. Eat some cake. It’s going to be ok.
The mornings are cold, I awake with a sore throat and a little shiver. The air smells of apples and roses, of autumn. Yet the sun still sends its long beautiful rays out to us, to warm and to remind us of the past months.
Last week I have been in Jönköping, to visit a dear friend I met in Halmstad. She is studying to become a biologist and whenever we wanted to do something, we would choose the “nature option”.
One day, we went to a little island in the middle of lake Vättern. It looks more than a sea than a lake, to be honest.
We cycled around the entire island and sat down on the steps in front of a red barn to have our lunch. Leaves were flying around us and the air had this special taste that told us that autumn is not far. It’s so strange since in Germany, the heat wave is ongoing and summer seems to have a long breath this year. Here, we are already done with it.
The countryside is beautiful and reminds me so much of my childhood and the books of Astrid Lindgren I have read. “It’s so Småland” my friend always said: red wooden houses, blue skies, yellow fields.
We have had a lovely time together and it almost felt like a dream, exploring this new place. It was a good idea to travel a bit around Sweden before going to Uppsala. This way, I adjusted myself again, calmed down.
And now, I’m in Uppsala. Today, I took the bike into town to see how long it would take me. I visited the university with its beautiful old buildings, the castle, the cathedral, and walked along the river. This is the city I will be studying in now. These are the streets that I will wander on.
I’m so excited for this. I bought some notebooks today for my courses that start next week. I got some new wool with which I’m making myself a little wrap (I’ve been pretty much knitting all weekend since I was so exhausted that I needed a break. What better way than to knit and sit calmly)
It will be fascinating what I think of the city in two years time. Here is what I think today: It is quite busy with people but at the same time, there is a lot of space. It feels majestic with its old buildings and the atmosphere of the university. I almost feel the chatter and footsteps of generations of students before me who have chosen this place. I feel honoured to be able to study here. It is a place full of things just waiting to be explored, a city of streets that lead to new places and a city, where you can have everything you need. A city where old and new seem to clash but not in a negative way. Somehow, the balance is still maintained.
And finally, here is a painting I made for my friend back in Halmstad. I had so many unfinished paintings under my bed and she said that I should finish them one day. She particularly liked this one so I made it for her.
Today is my last day here in Germany, which feels really strange.
I finally got all my papers last week. A friend of mine and I went to Cottbus for the last time and picked them up. We took some pictures in front of our main study hall where three years ago it all had started. We had met in a chemistry pre-course, where we tried to brush up on our knowledge. I can’t say that it worked but at least, we became friends during that week.
And all the wonderful things we had done together in our little group of four: We shoveled 2m deep holes in the frozen forest ground for soil science, we participated in a resource simulation where we all played different countries dealing with resources and trying to protect the environment. We lay at the lake with little paper notes with all the exam knowledge on them and at one point just lost it and ran into the lake screaming because our brains were overfilled. We took a road trip together to visit a friend of ours in Poland and the little yellow car we drove in nearly broke down at one point and we stood on the highway and didn’t really know what to do and the situation was at the same time frightening and utterly hilarious. We walked three hours in the boiling heat through the forest and finally went into a valley where mosquitos were eating us up and our professor asked three of the guys to build a hole in the ground so that we could find lignite. Oh, the crazy things we have done. They have been great.
Yesterday, we had a little celebration/ goodbye party with friends and family. I will miss them so much but I’m so grateful that I always have a place to come back to. For Fika, I made some Chokladbollar, aka chocolate balls, which are non-bake vegan Swedish treats.
It was also a time of finishing pieces. For example, I painted this clock for my family, for the kitchen:
And then I made a new portrait of Meryl. Because… Meryl. Obviously.
This has pretty much been my week. Lots of packing, organising, bringing paintings to people, and a tiny bit of celebration along the way. I have to say I’m really nervous right now, I even feel stressed out. I know that I will be fine and that I cannot plan every detail about my next few months, especially since I’m not even in Sweden yet. But my brain is trying to and thus hits a wall. I think I’ll make myself a cup of tea now, put on some music, and try to calm down for a while. And then, back to packing and cleaning and running around the house with fifteen different items piled on top of each other so that I don’t even see my feet anymore. It’s fun, this wandering life. But it can also be quite challenging. Nevertheless, I’m so grateful to be able to live it.
I have a rather complicated and probably four-hour long evening routine. I can only do it in its full beauty now because I have so much free time. During my internship in Münster it was practically impossible. I came home without any energy left, ran to my room past my roommate who always wondered if everything was ok with me, ran out again to my bike, got some groceries and nearly died on the hill I had to cycle up, came home, cooked, ate, slept. You can see, it was a lot of running during that time. And not much time for long chill evenings.
Now, I do the following: I love to take a wonderful evening walk when the sun has already set and it’s beginning to cool a little. I walk all the paths of my childhood and sometimes even explore new ones. It’s like exploring my mind as well.
I come home and I still need to finish some painting commissions for friends and family before I leave. So I sit down in front of the canvas, put a nice audiobook on (currently Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones) and paint. I usually completely lose track of time there.
On good days, on motivated days, I do some yoga with a wide open window in front of me, in the complete dark. Let the cool wind from outside carry my movements. I don’t light candles that much right now because the mosquitos come in and eat me up at night. If I’m really good, I will even meditate for a while but usually I lack the patience for that. Which is sad and I know that meditating is the way of developing patience. I guess I get caught in an evil circle there.
Sometimes if I’m not really tired yet and my mind is still buzzing, I like to work on some choir arrangements for songs that I found and loved. It’s funny because I don’t even lead a choir right now but deep in my heart I know that some day I will have a choir again that I will be singing these songs with. So on my laptop, there is a large folder which is called “Sheet music for the choir”. Pretentious? Maybe. But I love the thought of it.
Since I’m moving to Sweden, I have developed a habit of practicing Swedish every night as well. I use Anki for that and there is a nice card deck that I found online which compiled the most used phrases in Swedish. The words are ranked according to their number of occurences in literature and then put together. I listen to those sentences, translate them, repeat their pronounciation and this way I have made large improvements in my understanding. The last few weeks that got a little boring so instead, I started listening to audiobooks in Swedish. Which was the coolest. One night I couldn’t sleep and started listening to Harry Potter “De vises sten” (Philosopher’s stone) in Swedish. I mean I have read these books so many times that I can practically speak half of the lines but I understood nearly every word of it, even in my sleepy late-night mind, so that made me quite happy.
Talking of habits: At one point during my thesis writing process I decided that I was on my laptop too much and didn’t make enough art anymore. I have a rule that there must always be an empty sketchbook and an empty notebook in the house because I have ideas for new projects all the time. I took the sketchbook from my bookshelf and started doodling what happened that day. It became another way of recording for me. These sketches are really easy and fast, but that is the beauty of it. It also helps me develop my sketchnoting vocabulary, which will be useful when I’m back in university in September. I’m filling this notebook with the events of my days and it’s a lovely thing to look back on. I will probably have more to tell once I’m in Sweden because right now, I could just draw one huge camping chair with a book on it and a glass of water on the side. Maybe some knitting work. But apart from that, there’s not that much happening. Summer laziness, beautiful summer laziness.
And then after all these activities (they usually already take three hours), it’s writing time. It’s usually what I end my evening with. I record what happened that day or my thoughts on whatever happened. This is my work in the first document. I started it in April and it has currently 140 pages. Then, I like to go on to a project I’m working on, like writing a book about climate change or one about forests or a memoir. I have so many documents sitting in my writing folder and each evening, I like to pick one and put some words into it. It’s lovely to see how they are growing. They are all huge works-in-progress and I don’t like to add any pressure because I know that would freak me out. It’s ok if they take time.
I just sat outside in the heat, in the camping chair, quite laid back, knitting. I had a thought that came to my mind, when I gathered some dreams of mine. I noticed that of all the things I like to do in the evening, writing is by far the most fixed one. I always write, no matter what. It’s such an important aspect of my life somehow. Even in the most stressful phases (even during studying for exams or trying to adjust myself in a new country) I wrote NaNoWriMo for three years already – 50 000 words in 30 days. Even when I’m not capable of anything else anymore, I still write for an hour.
(This text was only supposed to be five lines long but in the end it’s become this. I guess that just underlines the point, doesn’t it? :D)
I would love to make a little book out of my thesis (which would be less technical than the actual thing. Less graphs and less “methods and literature review” 😀 ) Maybe also including some other things I have learned about throughout the years in university. Would you like to read something like that?
This week has mainly been filled with me typing away on my laptop. On Wednesday, I will hand in my bachelor thesis and there are still some other assignments to be written. I love writing, though, so that’s not a big problem. Only that at one point you lose your motivation. That has been a little exhausting sometimes. It’s been three years of studying now and I’m really happy to have had great teachers and that I have learned a lot. But I’m craving for a change.
It hasn’t been all working and studying though. I also got to enjoy the great weather during a weekend at home…
And when I was back in Cottbus, back at my uni, I rode my bike out of the city every day. It’s so refreshing and so calming to have all the trees around and the river so calm beside you. I’m normally working a bit in the morning and then when I hit the first wall of writer’s block, I go downstairs, hop on my bike, and just ride away. It’s been lovely.
I have less time for drawing than I would like to have but I know that when my studies are over for this semester, I will have all the time I want. So instead of painting or sketching much, I have worked on my pullovers and jackets a little. It doesn’t take any setting up like painting (which is, by the way, the only thing I don’t like about painting). I just grab whatever project I’m working on currently (there is a huge variety of them to choose from) and start. One row or sometimes I work until the yarn ball is finished. It’s really calming and I don’t even have to be creative in any way for the moment. Just knit. And why am I doing this? I need to prepare myself for the Swedish winter. 😀
And it was also Midsummer last weekend! I haven’t experienced Midsommar in Sweden yet but I would love to. Maybe I will make this possible next year and join some of the craziness that is going on on that day. Instead of jumping around a midsummer pole or making a flower crown for myself, I have painted some flowers. These cards are really small which makes them easy to finish in two hours. And I learn a lot about botany along the way, which is always great.
Then there was the highlight of this week: The choir concert. In Sweden last year, I have been in an absolutely amazing choir. It had a great leader who taught me a lot about singing and about holding a choir together so that everyone has lots of fun. Which she definitely achieved. I got really sad when I had to leave this choir to go back to Germany but in my head, an idea developed. We didn’t have a choir in our university in Cottbus back then so I thought: Why not make one? So I did.
I wrote lots of emails and one day, the leader of the student theatre called me and asked if I would like to set it up there. Which I did. We are 12 people all together now and we sing mostly modern pop songs that are really quite fun. I learned loads about conducting, about harmonies, about sounds and especially about group leading through this experience. And after 13 weeks of rehearsals, it was time for our first concert:
We had an amazing time and a big audience in the small theatre as well. Probably around 50 people were there. The voices in the choir were a little shaky in the beginning but during the concert I developed such a calmness that the others said that I calmed them down as well. We had loads of fun and I couldn’t stop smiling. The best moment was when we taught our audience a canon we had sang before. We split them into three parts and they sang beautifully. I stood there, surrounded by the choir, looking at the audience, conducting. I thought: “This has been a dream. And now it has come true”.