Democracy Is In Danger – Let’s Start a Media Revolution

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In the center of Helsinki there is a curious sight. On opposing sides of the Helsinki Railway Square two collections of bedraggled tents face off. In February activists favorable towards refugees and immigration gathered to demonstrate, now still standing their ground in tents on the southern end of the square. Only weeks later “Finland First” tents had sprung up on the northern side of the square to counter-demonstrate despite the freezing temperatures and snow that still covered the square in early March. It’s hard not to see the events as symbolic of the attitude climate throughout Europe as attitudes harden and opinions polarize.

Walking through the square, I also find myself rolling my eyes and thinking scornful thoughts about the slogans of the Finland First group, among them EU critical bits – “Fixit – Finnish Exit from the EU”. Do they really not understand what all the EU has done for us? Stable and global markets? Human rights? Peace? Jobs and careers? Academic cooperation and research?  The list could go on …

But sometime later I ran across a video on the internet that really stopped me. In the video a man from Texas, apprehensive towards blacks, discusses why he feels the way he does directly with an African-American to try and change his feelings. The video illustrated how we all have reasons to feel the way we do and to fear the things we fear. And often that fear springs from a lack of conversation and information between us – a lack of open communication. Labeling this man a racist and telling him to get over his prejudices is not going to change his perceptions or help him get over his fears of others as a threat to his community and to his job.

What if instead of outright scorning the feelings of others, in this case even the quite radical Finland First group, I – we – at least heard what they have to say, even if in the end we don’t agree. What if I initiated a conversation where I really sat down with the people I disagree with instead of blaming, labeling or scorning what they have to say? Especially since the rise of social media, we seem to think that there are certain “bad” people who stand for things that we don’t like or understand, and thus everything that they stand for has to inherently be wrong. Opinions polarize and rational discussion disappears.

To really build a solution instead of dividing people, fears and problems need to be addressed from all sides before a solution can be found. There will always be radicals who are not willing to work towards solutions, and some beliefs may be so deeply rooted that only conversation will not change them. But when the media, our window of society, purports viewing the world objectively (which cannot be humanly possible in a world where we all have some background) we tend to view people and their opinions as static, fixed on certain preconceived notions that cannot be influenced. We understand opinions as simply “being” instead of “forming”, when in reality the majority of us do pay attention and consider our position, if someone also takes a moment to look us in the eye, see things from our side and listen.

Like the huddle of tents opposing each other on both sides of the same square, we are unable to meet each other in the middle to recognize that we both have valid points. If you are refugee and EU opposed, it does not matter whether you are worried about proper health care for your own family or jobs for yourself, you are labeled a racist and ignorant, thus denying the validity of your opinion altogether. If you are favorable towards immigration, you are labeled a hippie and an idealist with no real understanding of society.

We tend stick to our own bubbles of similarity; we interact with those of a similar social status and similar interests. When Brexit and Trump happened, they surprised the majority of the population, who just did not see them coming. Journalists worldwide are concerned about following their ethical principle of reporting neutral and unbiased news, but the bigger problem seems to be not saying anything at all about the problems and worries of underrepresented demographics and challenging the valid “truth” about society.

When I travel outside of the metropolitan area, I notice how much of a bubble we really do live in here with our tight-knit city layout, non-stop public transportation, shops open 24/7, medical care just around the corner, and entertainment facilities available for every taste and location. Meanwhile outside of the city areas, Finland stretches on in waves of green and blue countryside with very different worries and ideals. Each election we all wonder why the results look the way they do, why certain political trends happen without actually turning around and discussing the vantage point of the “rest of the nation”, whether city-dweller or country-lover.

Our modern understanding of the principle of democracy can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks. The original “demoskratos” could never be considered democratic by modern standards, as only white males with property were counted as citizens. Nevertheless, the idea that common people should be the ones deciding on government issues and taking part in the forming of government has passed down from the Greeks. Today we define democracy as “government in which people represent by voting”, but a core ideal of the original democracy was that every citizen should have the opportunity to make their voice heard and have the chance to take up a topic for discussion within the Assembly. Discussion was the main political activity of all citizens. But how can we discuss when the amount of participating citizens has gone from thousands to millions?

The demographic gaps in modern society, the trend of increasingly enclosing ourselves to our own spheres, and not openly hearing the rest only drives society further apart. So maybe we should go back to the origins of what democracy meant. To try to hear every voice and understand that for democracy to really work, we need to remember that society is a collection of people of all different backgrounds and with different needs. And for that we need a new perspective on how discussion works – or rather a quite old one; especially starting with public domains of discussion and representation.

Stan Saanila’s Linguistic Joke Book

Illustration by Klaus Suhonen

This November right before father’s day one of Finland’s best-known dad-joke comedians published a humor book, “Stanin Ääntämisopas”, that seemed to have the corny humor category especially in mind.  Author Stan Saanila is well known in the Finnish media for his part in many humor shows, such as the popular satirical news-show ”Uutisvuoto”. Saanila created a guide for pronouncing Finnish using words, slang and sounds that are familiar (and pronounceable!) to speakers of English.

The project started last June, when Saanila posted a series of tweets on how to pronounce the names of the Helsinki metro stations. The tweets went viral and I also remember laughing at the best ones and groaning at the worst ones, faithful to the dad joke category. After publishing tweets on all the stations along the Helsinki line and also the new stations that are (possibly!) opening along the Espoo line sometime in the near-distant future, the tweets ended and Saanila’s pronunciation jokes were forgotten for the time being. Five months later Saanila debuted as an author with a broader and wider collection of “pronunciation guides” for all manner of Finnish names, places and things.

Picture from Stan Saanila's Twitter page

Picture from Stan Saanila’s Twitter page

As Saanila describes in the introduction to his book, the purpose is not so much to give a proper guide for pronouncing Finnish words for non-speakers, but to give Finnish speakers a laugh and a glimpse of what Finnish may sound like to those who do not speak the language. As such the book includes both fantastic examples that get very close to the original Finnish pronunciation, such as “Coke… Owl. Ah?” (try saying it fast) for Kokkola or Meets a man too for Metsämänty, but also many that are much harder to decipher. Some work well in a British accent, taking for example A car for Akaa, but sound completely different (and sometimes quite bizzare) in an American pronunciation, possibly explaining why it is near impossible for Americans to learn Finnish. Most of the pronunciations that Saanila creates would hardly stand up to linguistic scrutiny, but give a good laugh. (On a side (linguistic) note, hyphenating some combinations for clarity might have been a good idea: B. Virtanen as Bea-ver Tannin).

Saanila’s idea of using already existing words or sounds from English to give a rough idea of Finnish pronunciation is intriguing and quite clever. While doing business with foreigners at a retail company I spent some time working for, we often tried to teach customers Kiitos after a successful sale. The easiest way of getting even close to the real pronunciation was to teach our customers to say key-toss. Not only is the combination of familiar words easier to remember, but also easier to pronounce than a word you haven’t ever heard or seen before. The parting words of Saanila’s book thus particularly warmed my heart. Tack! Kiitos! Key toss!

Illustration by Klaus Suhonen

Illustration by Klaus Suhonen

Besides thanking us in Swedish, Saanila’s Finnish-Swedish background is also visible in another way in his book. Amicable rivalry with fellow Finnish-Swedish stand-up comedian André Wickström  or André Weak stream as Saanila has him “translated” has gained Wickström a spot in one of illustrator Klaus Suhonen’s cartoons with his pants down and his “weak stream” flowing. As illustrations Suhonen has cleverly drawn the very literal meanings of Saanila’s translations. Examples include Aleksis kivi as A Lexus Kiwi or Pekka Puupää as Peek-a-boo-Bach.

Saanila is known for being a very quick-witted comedian and his heartwarming introduction made me laugh out loud. His anecdote of giggling to himself on the metro platform when he realized Siilitie could be pronounced as “silly tea” was for me the highlight of the book. I could easily picture Saanila standing on the platform laughing out loud, while the rest of the passengers wondered whether he had all his wits about him. I was left longing for more similar content from Saanila in the rest of the book, as the collection of lists does not stand on its own as well. As it is, the book now functions best as a fun guessing game: “hey what place is “hell-singing eel, you piss-toe”, guess! ”. As one reader tweeted to Saanila, the book can also function as bathroom entertainment. The book’s raunchy piss and poo humor may also fit the bathroom scene better than other books, but as a guessing game the exaggerated and harder to guess examples that were included to fill the book and complete the lists are perfect brain-teasers as they are already much further removed from the originals,

Saanila has spent a huge amount of time coming up with so many pronunciation guides, but the book is somehow left hollow, as there is nothing to tie the different lists together. Nevertheless Saanila certainly proves his craft as a top comedian and his lists can be perused time and time again for a good laugh.

I was wrong about… Jyväskylä

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As our faithful readers already know from reading Jesper’s piece on Downton Abbey, the tradition with our “I was wrong about”-series is (quite obviously) to admit to having been wrong about something.  The other less obvious theme seems to be the surprise of trying something that you had always branded as “not for me” and finding out that you actually like it after all!

I won’t be talking about any of the many everyday experiences that could surprise you at any time anywhere. This won’t be about liking a strange new taste combination like waffles with bacon and hot sauce, or having raw egg in your liquor. I’m not talking about liking THAT series that you swore to everyone that you could never like (Downton Abbey, eh?) or a newfound passion for extreme sports or SUP boarding. What I am actually referring to is an extempore change I made in my locale a while back.

In September, I moved from the Helsinki metropolitan area to Jyväskylä in Central Finland. Now I’m not saying there’s anything shocking about living outside of Helsinki, and definitely nothing wrong with Central Finland, but for a girl who has always lived in a million or multimillion inhabitant metro area, and who hadn’t even applied to University outside of the Helsinki region, to voluntarily move to a city of a 100+ thousand was surprising to say the least… and in the middle of nowhere from a city girl’s point of view!

Obviously I was anxious about the normal problems that come with moving to a new place like having to learn anew all the small things from where to find your local grocery stores to which uni cafés to attend for the best lunches. To add to my normal moving angst, all kinds of small town girl nightmares were running through my mind. I mean every small town in Finland is the same right? A small shopping center in the middle with a market square and no decent bars, pubs, cafés, and definitely no working public transportation system! As you probably already guessed dear reader, most of these preconceptions turned out to be false when examined closer. Stereotyping just seems to be hard to avoid.

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Some of the time however, I ran into small town problems I hadn’t even realized to expect. One Saturday evening we decided that we would like to go for a little date and head to the ever-romantic dark halls of movie watching, locally known as Finnkino. We checked the time of one feature we had been thinking of going to watch and proceeded to freshen up. As oftentimes may happen with us females, getting ready took a few moments longer than expected, which lead to us arriving “a few moments” later than the official beginning time of the movie. This would never be a problem at 20:30 on a Saturday night at other movie theaters I had attended previously, but it turned out that as this particular feature was the last showing of the night, the ticket sales boxes had already shut at the start time and all doors were locked! Thankfully my preconception of local bars had been quite off in the student-centered “opiskelijakaupunki” and the night could still be carried out in style.

But to turn to confessing my sins, there were many things I imagined to be a problem beforehand, which often turned out to not be a problem, despite being true. Take for example public transportation: from an Espoo perspective, buses running every ten minutes often causes a problem in moving from one place to another, so how in the world could it work when there are only buses running once a half hour or once an hour? However, in a densely knit university-centered city, there is no need for buses. Everything is simply a kilometer or two away, and the local traffic runs on bikes, not on buses. The ease of getting around on a bike (or walking in the very likely case of bad weather during the Finnish winter) is hard to imagine when downtown in my new home was suddenly closer than the local grocery store had been at my parents’ house in Espoo or closer than my elementary school had been in my childhood home in the US. Walking home from the bar had never been an option before!

I was also worried about being an outsider. I assumed that in a smaller place it is harder to meet anyone, as everyone already has their own tightly knit group. What I seemed to find instead was quite the opposite. In Helsinki classes and groups are so big that everyone branches off on their own paths very easily. Being a student in a smaller community knits the groups much tighter, but also increases interest in a new face. The personality of Jyväskylä as a sporty and university orientated city helped me feel at home easily, and especially helped in finding like-minded friends. I even found connections with many real grown-up adults, who I would never have expected to bond with over university life and adjusting to a new environment.

For me the year away was really a way to find myself and get some distance on the things I had always held as self-evident. I came to really appreciate having a central location and being able to focus on my own passions. Getting some space enabled me to prioritize according to my own interests, instead of listening to what had always been expected of me by my family. I learned to appreciate taking my own time and space away from the hurry and hassle that life has always been while trying to manage the expectations of both myself and everyone else. They always say that you should walk a mile in someone else’s shoes to see their perspective, but I think walking that mile not only helps you see the way others think, but it often helps grow your own personality and helps you figure out what it is that you yourself want and need.

Humanities for the World

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Recently I ran across an interesting article on education and the respect of the society at large for humanities subjects. In her article Lotta Aarikka, Master of Arts in Finnish and creative writing, makes points that are especially valid considering the tense atmosphere in Finland right now over educational cuts and the status of universities in the country. In the article she sets out to crush the popular myth about humanities subject students who cannot find a job after graduating despite their university education. One of her most convincing points is that statistically there is no subject where Arts students are categorically educated to become unemployed, thus effectively breaking the myth from the onset.

Aarikka also points out that education in universities is not only about the subject matter learned, but encompasses the learning of many skills needed in working life from project management to research skills. Very often even graduates of a university may not realize how these skills are from the education they have received and are not in fact innate.

University education should not be built on the premises that we need employees with a specified skill set based on learning only these skills. The mind cannot be compared to a mathematical equation where putting in X at one end will always produce Y at the other. While learning diverse skill sets, we may set out to learn one skill, which, when combined with new challenges, leads us to learn others at the same time. University level thinking skills and the broad humanist perspective learned while studying is especially important for Arts students, who will less likely use only the subject matter that they have studied, but in addition use the skill sets they have acquired during their studies.

Besides being proud of our competence as university students, I believe we should promote the expertise that we gain from our studies, like languages. To take a simple analogy, we could compare the underappreciation of language professionals, translators and communicators to a massage therapist. Anyone can massage at some level, just like everyone (or many people at the least) can communicate with some degree of proficiency, often in more than one language. But only the massage therapist understands the anatomy of the body, knows the proper techniques and can actually bring about the needed change in muscular tension, instead of poking and prodding randomly. Similarly, the language professional knows and understands the workings of the target language and culture, understands the techniques needed to effectively convey the needed message and knows how to circumvent the most common pitfalls to avoid getting “lost in translation.”

This “everyone knows how to”-mentality is what to a great extent dims the respect for our trades. Similarly, in language professional careers, native speakers are often viewed as having perfect language skills, even though we all know many in our own country speaking our own language with less than perfect skills. We would hardly consider a car mechanic speaking Finnish as his mother tongue a “language professional” of Finnish, so why consider others with a different native language “professional” either?

Aarikka also points out that in the current mainstream discussion, we tend to focus on whether or not our education prepares us for working life, instead of discussing in what ways the level of education in Finland helps mold and shape the labor market and the jobs that we are creating. The labor markets of the future are built through the educational standards of the present, which are shaping the level of skills that the workforce has and can use in their own careers.

Instead of talking of over-educating the workforce, we should maybe discuss the opportunities that we are not encouraged to take in making the most out of that education. Armed with the skills and expertise of a university education we should be able to transform the labor market and create for ourselves the settings where we are able to use this expertise to the benefit of ourselves and our society. We have the knowledge and ways of thinking that could enable us to challenge prevailing methods of working and producing, and apply new ideas directly from research, but are not directed towards making the most out of the skills that we have learned.

This is also one key competitive advantage of university graduate employees. If we don’t have scientific research and graduates with university level knowledge and skills, how are we to stand out on an international level in any way? If we wanted to compete for cheap production, we lost that edge long ago to China, but the one thing that we have been known for (innovation and high educational standards providing a skilled workforce) should maybe not be the area to cut from in the forefront.

Aarikka’s main critique is that universities are not simply schools for employment. In fact, to take her point a bit further, teaching is only a part of what universities do and treating them as institutions for educating new employees likens their status in society to those of every other schooling institution. However, the main function of a university should be the creation of new knowledge in all areas of research (whether in humanities or natural science) whilst teaching students to continue this research tradition and to understand and be able to process the information created by universities in different expert positions. In the process, we also educate skilled laborers. This leads me to question what in our society is seen as the purpose of scientific knowledge and research?

Science in general advances the human race, not only in matters of invention and innovation, but also in challenging prevailing ways of thinking and the cultural norms at large. This second role is especially relevant for different humanistic subjects. This is evident for example in “Gender Studies”, which is often featured in jokes as one of the subjects that humanities students study not for employment, but for fun or out of interest. But how can we strive to create equality domestically or globally without research and expertise in the field to tell us where we have made progress and where we still need to focus our attention? Similarly the study of “Politics” is not to train new politicians, but to create research for advising and challenging the prevailing domestic and international systems.

In the eternal battle between natural sciences and humanities subjects we lose respect for the whole scientific community by not respecting the work that is done in all institutions. As an Arts student I fail to see how study on “the Politeness Strategies of Finnish-Swedes” or the way “International Human Rights Treaties have affected Domestic Constitutional Change” are in any way less important than “The Presence of Moss in the Antarctic” (all recent publications from the University of Helsinki).

The more the discussion revolves only around efficiency and euros, the more we forget to consider the importance of what our culture offers us. There are many things in society that we consider important even if they do not make money for us like equality, stability and information. We do not seem to be willing to pay millions for a news industry, but without one we would not even be a democratic country. On the other hand culture is also one of the biggest industries globally, though this is often forgotten when business is discussed. Popular culture in its many forms from film to print is a multi-billion business everywhere. High culture meanwhile lends itself to the task of challenging us and our societal values.

To agree with the message in Aarikka’s article, we need to say “no more” to putting ourselves down as only “humanists”, and to replace that with the attitude that we are here to prove to the rest what culture and human values give to our society and how vital we are to the proper functioning of not only our society, but the economy as well. We have a place not only in traditional cultural production, but also within the private sector and businesses, where it may not even be realized how much an Arts student may have to offer in the right places, whether communication, equality, cultural knowledge or something else is your branch of expertise.

You can read the original article by Lotta Aarikka (unfortunately only in Finnish) here:

http://aarikanlotta.fi/satu-tyottomista-humanisteista-on-haitallinen-kansantarina/

Reach Out

Alone by Alex Jonessmall

It happens to the best of us. You can’t predict it and you can’t evade it. It may be hard to believe at times, but we’re not alone in this. What in the world am I talking about, you ask. But that really is my point here. You see, I can’t know what it is in your case, what it’s like for you. But I can see you’re going through the same as me. I see that slight shadow in your eyes when I turn to look at you suddenly. I hear the slight falter in your voice when you’ve been thinking on your own and the smile that starts just a second too late. You try to hide it and from the surface I couldn’t even notice. Maybe I don’t notice, years pass and still no one knows.

I know; I’ve been trying to work it out too. Life keeps going and you hide everything away. No one will know. Maybe you don’t want anyone to know. It’s easier to keep it inside, keep it as your own information. And you have no need for talking, you’re doing just fine without anyone, thank you very much. I mean today you’re feeling good. You don’t have any problems, at least not today, right now. Some days are a fight to get through, but you get by. But let me tell you a secret. Most of us are hiding away some problem we don’t want to deal with. It’s not just you and me.

This year I took a huge risk. I decided to be open. I told all my friends how my life has been. The first time was incredibly hard. How in the world do you suddenly open up about things you’ve been hiding for years? How do you switch the conversation from mundane facts of everyday life to your own personal pain? And what if they don’t believe you, or even worse ridicule you. What then if no one takes you seriously. But the reactions I got were not what I expected.

Alone by Alex Jonessmall

I sit in the little corner table of a café on a rainy October evening catching up with a childhood friend, who I have not seen much in a few years. Hours have passed chatting in comfort and it seems we have already discussed much everything that we have done in the past few years, except for… Should I? I nonchalantly switch the topic of conversation. “So did I tell you about how I moved to a new apartment last summer?”. I continue talking, going backwards in time and watch as my friend’s reaction goes from just interested to worried to relieved, and the questions keep coming.

The café owner comes clear the table and we move on to the pub next door. The conversation pauses for a while and I turn to look at my friend much closer. She looks at me long and begins “I really haven’t shared this with almost anyone yet”. Hours later I know I have one more friend who will always be by my side. The rain pouring when we leave the bar at three in the morning doesn’t bother me. I feel relieved like the dust of years has been cleaned.

Trying my luck by sharing my personal life has left me no bad experiences. I found out things from my friends I would never have expected: being bullied for years, family problems, cheating, loss of loved ones, children’s homes, criminalities, issues with money, substance abuse, mental problems, family members who abandon, game addiction, depression, sexual abuse. You must think I’m exaggerating by now, and you don’t have to take my word, but you can only know where telling your own hurt will lead if you open up, little by little. People I thought I had known well for years became almost family.

Giving a piece of yourself and your hurt opens up the way for someone else to share their own. Whether small or big, realizing that we all have our problems and doubts proves that we’re all only human. But the problem is that this takes courage. Maybe you’re embarrassed to admit that your life isn’t picture perfect. Maybe you’re embarrassed to say that maybe I can’t handle this alone. Maybe you don’t even believe that anyone would care to listen or understand what you’ve been through.

Not every pain can be dealt with in the open. Sometimes the cut is too deep to be shared with many others, but there should always be someone to tell. And the end result may be two people who are closer to each other than before. The more I open up, the easier it gets to say everything out loud. Part of getting over is accepting and going over what you’ve experienced. Sharing is like giving away a small portion of the hurt that you’ve been holding and giving it away for someone else to take care of for you.

But what responsibilities does this place on us as the receivers of someone else’s trust? Many of us have obviously read about the hardships that people go through without anyone’s help. Social media is bursting with stories of those bullied at school or struggling with finances alone. But how many of us have really stopped, looked a minute at our closest and dearest and seen just a slight shadow in their eyes or heard a slight falter in their voice. Have we stopped and looked that person in the eyes, and asked them “How are you really doing?”

Many of us shy away from other people’s problems thinking we don’t want to intrude, we don’t want to make a fuss, what if we hurt their feelings by prying etc etc etc. Maybe you even honestly just feel too uncomfortable. But maybe it’s not all that hard, just maybe, all that person needs is that small question, “are you okay?”.

In the midst of problems – big or small – it is incredibly hard to take even a small step towards reaching out to others. In a difficult situation, the human instinct is simply to hold on and try to survive. We fear opening up will make us vulnerable. We share some of our deepest feelings and lay ourselves bare for others to judge. Expressing our fears exposes what we hold most important and it is then up to our listener to decide how they handle our inner self, our self-confidence and thoughts. Do they meet us with contempt, ridicule and a pat on the back to “cheer up” or with sincere concern, the ability to just listen and then perhaps understand even just a little bit of what we have been going through?

Many of us may not even have realized how much we’ve been going through, how much we’ve been fighting just to hold on until someone stops us to ask “how are you holding up?”. In the midst of a wonderful summer vacation, on a girl’s night with good friends, a friend’s simple question wakens feelings I have been holding in the back of my mind and bit by bit I cry my soul clean.

I’m not afraid to admit: I’m not perfect, and never will be, my problems will only make me stronger in the end. One cold shoulder won’t keep me from taking a risk and sharing with others how I have felt, no matter how much every indifferent gaze sears my pride.

Closed Doors

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There is a small clock high up on the wall. A round white frame with little black numbers inside, it ticks away the seconds with two bold, black hands in an echoing, raspy discord. The merciless hands spin away – fast-forwarding every minute, leaping onwards in great spurts. My awareness hangs on every second that I hear rushing past. My eyes are drawn back to the black and white pane no matter where I turn. How can a small clock make so much noise; it seems to be all I hear, while my heart jumps to its insistent rhythm.

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I try to turn away, but the endless ticking echoes loud in the silent room. I walk to the fridge. Opening the door once more, I scan inside for anything. Without even looking I quickly close the door. I walk to the table and sit down. My eyes draw immediately to the little black numbers, dancing in a circle on the wall and the relentless tick stirs my restlessness again. I stand up, walk to the window and look out. Glassy-eyed I glance at the street, but the harsh street lighting quickly drives me further from the pane.

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I flop on the bed, but jump right back up again. I pace the small room and then try to sit down again. I check my phone, hoping for anything new. Drifting to the other end of theroom I stare at the familiar books on the shelf, but nothing strikes me, nothing interests me.

What to do? Mmm, yes, what a good question. No, not a question of what should I do, that I know, I’ve been planning it for some time now. But the real question is can I? Will I?

The uneasiness I’ve tried to bottle up breaks the dam. Anxiety beats in my chest and muddles my thought.

So many things could go wrong. No no, there are so many reasons to be excited. Focus on the positive. You’ve made it this far and the decision has already been made. But then again, it could all be awful. It might not work out.

I glance at the clock again. How fast it seems to move. There isn’t much time left to decide.

It has all been known weeks in advance and schedules and papers spread out over my tabletop. Apprehension gnaws at my resolution; couldn’t I just leave it? Forget everything? From underneath the mess of papers on the table I take out the map, which I’ve drawn routes, buildings and new landmarks on. The bright colors and excited scribbles mock my confusion. All the excitement seems to have vanished and left a knot of disquiet in my stomach.

Colored pencils and symbols on paper won’t help you find the right doors and even less the right people. You won’t know anything anyway, and they won’t know you. They won’t care to know you. They’ll have their own groups and their own rules. And you will be an outsider, while they’ll know everything, know everyone. Not to mention that you will be different, with different ways of acting and different ways of speaking and dressing and thinking and eating and breathing and; Oh I don’t want to go!

I bounce out of my seat, knocking the chair over. Panicked, I lift my gaze to the clock above. I know the moment must be drawing near. Suddenly the long hand seems to slow meaningfully and then tauntingly strikes the hour in slow motion in front of my shocked eyes. It’s time.

My mind screams fight or flee. The choice must be made now. There are two ways forward, but I have to choose the direction. Soon it will be too late to go. The plans that cover the table dance before my eyes, alternating between pretty pictures of what all it could be and dark visions of how I fall apart.

Disturbed by my dark reflections, I swipe the papers from the table. Papers fly through the air flashing times and addresses, names and dates in a swirling frenzy of information. Whispering voices echo around my head. “Foolish”. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing”. “Coward”. “That’s not what we expected from you”. “Naïve”. “This was such disappointment to us”.

No, maybe this isn’t for me after all. I should have turned back earlier. What are the prospects that this will work out? What were they ever? Did I lie to myself and flatter my abilities? Imagine that I could be anything I wanted?

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I glance out the window again, yearning and hoping that someone or something would beckon me forward. But the harsh lamplight won’t call out. There is no one who will notice if I don’t arrive. I give up and defeated slump on the bed. Emptiness and the soothing dumbness of having decided lull me into stupor.

But my subconscious won’t let me be. The possibilities I’ve dreamed about flash through my mind. You know you can follow the path you’ve wanted to choose. But it takes the courage and will to face the unknown. And in my mind I believe I can find that. I see myself rising, checking the clock – not in panic, but in excitement – brushing back a loose strand of hair and opening the door. A final look around the room, bag on my shoulder and I turn to new possibilities. Steps echo down the hallway fading slowly into deafening silence.

 

A loud tick stirs me to movement. I’m drawn to the window as if by force, compelled to see how I take those last steps out the door and down the unfamiliar street. My gaze follows the springing gait down the street. The corner comes and I don’t see anymore, don’t know which ways the road turned or how far it would go.

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Since then I keep the ticking of the clock company. It has a new voice now. The hands of the clock inch languidly on, with a mellow click slowing by the hour. Day in and day out, I listen to the whisper of the hands breaking the deafening silence.

Dedicating Yourself to Passion

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“Talent is cheap; dedication is expensive. It will cost you your life.”

-       Irving Stone

There have been many times when I have been ready to throw my skates at the wall and say this was it. NO MORE. Times when I felt like I don’t know how to do anything and the only progress I make is backwards. The demons in my own head tell me that there is no point in trying, there are always going to be others better and younger than you.

There have been many times when the pain of another fall has seared so bad, I found myself fighting my subconcious to get up and try again. I try to fool myself into jumping again – and again. And falling – again and again and again. Throwing myself into the air, I come down on locked legs and smash into the unforgiving ice thousands of times before finally learning a jump. Years of work go into the learning of a new element and there will always be new elements to learn.

There have been many times when I could not sit down for the throbbing pain in my backside, or could not wear shoes other than rain boots for the blisters covering my feet. Bruises often cover my legs and my hands swell from catching myself. There have been sprains and broken bones and more inflammations than I can count.

There have been many times when people ask me “How?” and even more “WHY?” – “25 hours a week, you must not have any other life outside of your skating”!  And of course there have been many times when I heard of my friends going to places and seeing things together, which I once again missed. My days begin at the rink before eight, continue with studies and end again with hours of practice, finally getting home 14 hours after setting out.

So I suppose I must admit that I have no life outside of skating.

Every athlete goes through a stage where motivation drops and one finds oneself image1questioning the direction they have taken for their life. Is the amount of work put into sports ever going to give back as much to compensate? The same dedication and the same question can be applied to any activity from sports to music to a career. What is it that keeps me going week after week, year after year? Is it only for those few moments of joy – when you finally learn something new, or when you finally stand victorious on the podium or something entirely else?

Figure skating as a sport has given me a sense of freedom. When there have been rough times in my life, I found freedom in the feeling of soaring over the surface of the ice, a rush of adrenaline in my veins. I also had something to dedicate myself to which was outside of the normal flow of life and controlled by only me. Seeing the outcome of my dedication also gave me energy, when I felt drained. Passion is fed by positive feelings, and the feeling of making progress or learning new skills motivates and boosts even fragile self-confidence. The euphoria of finally mastering a new element that you have been working on for years is addictive.

Skating has also been emotionally therapeutic. We all need some outlet for the emotions we feel (good and bad) and the emotional side of the sport has always appealed to me. When there are emotions bursting out from every seam, for me the easiest way of letting them go is to express them through movement. The strength of feeling that you can express when you immerse your whole body into a fiery song is tenfold to simply listening.When I step onto clean ice, the rush of passion I feel is like the pen spreading ink on paper for the writer or the swell of music in the climax of the song for the musician. Once the passion for the sport has been born, there is no other way of satisfying the restless burn.

Even with just the basic movement, there are emotional and inspirational levels. The rhythm of the skating movement carries in itself a soothing lullaby for the restless mind. The rhythm helps numb everything outside of the body and its physical capabilities. In the elements the moment of flight in a jump and the effortlessness of a good takeoff have side effects similar to having taken a healthy dose of alcohol, I feel invincible and believe I can fly.

10 Reasons Why Cleanliness is Overrated

A little under two months ago my flatmate suddenly decided to move out, leaving me the sole master of the house. I rejoiced! No more would I have to rinse beer cans and liqueur bottles after her late nights or wipe crumbs from bread I had not eaten. No more would I find dirty plates two weeks old in the washing machine, or have to endure fallen hairs sticking to my feet from the bathroom floor. As an extra bonus there would be no more endless arguments over cleaning chores either. My euphoria lasted for about a week, until slowly I found my apartment deteriorating into chaos.

Unread papers pile up on the kitchen table, the vacuum seems to have disappeared into the cleaning closet and what used to be a sofa is now simply a pile of used and unused clothes. The closer I get to exams and the deadline for my BA thesis, the worse my apartment gets. As there is no one who my dirty dishes could bother anymore though, why should I bother to clean up? So instead of stressing over how I should get my act together and clean my apartment, I decided to get comfortable and take some inspiration from Buzzfeed: I give you my ”Top ten list”!

Ten good reasons why cleanliness is simply over-rated
1 Well, let’s face it, a little mess is only comfortable. No one really lives in a house ripped from the page of an interior decoration magazine. The pile of books on the table simply shows that this is a home not a house. And that mountain of clothes on the couch simply shows that your place REALLY is not a picture from a magazine.

2 Another obvious bonus is the energy you save by not wasting it on keeping your apartment looking fresh. All that scrubbing, dusting, picking up and washing, why not simply leave it and do it all at the same time, when you really do have the energy to clean all 50m2 from bottom to top. If you ever find the floor under the mess of things on top that is…

3 Not only do you save energy, but time as well!! That time, which you should put into cleaning is obviously more needed elsewhere. And even if you end up putting in hours and hours searching for things you can’t find anymore, I assure you that keeping things in order would still require more time and energy than not caring.

4 People of course say you can’t find anything if you don’t keep things where they belong. NOOOT true! I mean you always have a vague feeling about what each pile of stuff holds in it and if you started cleaning and moving things about, how could you ever find what you need?

5 Storage space is no problem, as you have no need for closets, drawers, boxes, shelves or the like! You may have to stop buying new things when you run out of floor space, though.

6 You know that annoying feeling when you’re really tired, but your friends just won’t leave you alone? I can guarantee that when surprise visitors can’t find places to sit, as you occupy the only available seat in the house and have trouble just finding a path into the house, the bother of having people over will quickly diminish. Who likes company anyways?

7 When you decide you don’t need to keep your place clean, you also don’t have to argue over who does the dishes and who vacuums. A good alternative for washing your clothes or dishes is buying new ones, until you feel you have the energy to wash the exploding clothes basket or empty the overflowing kitchen counters.

8 As your wardrobe empties of clean clothes to wear, you make all kinds of new discoveries in the back of the closet! I would never have guessed that I still fit into the t-shirts I wore in 6th grade! As an added bonus your clothes won’t wear out in the wash, when you only wash them a few times a year.

9 Allergies are often treated with immunotherapy, but this can cost quite a bit of money. When you let the dust settle thickly on your furniture, before wiping it clean, you treat yourself to a more student budget friendly allergen immunotherapy.

10 As a student I don’t have money to upkeep any real pets, so I was super excited to noticed that I now have new friends in the corners: dustbunnies! My new pets don’t need any food, don’t need to be taken out and never bark when they aren’t suppose to. They are also very fuzzy and like to move about the house. On the downside, they aren’t much company either. But then again, who need friends, clean clothes, floor space, sitting places or dishes anyway?