Wanderlust Au Naturel

Elina Wanderlust Cover

 

We’re all familiar with the stereotype of a young girl who goes travelling alone, oftentimes in Asia, and reports back home with Instagram photos of majestic mountaintops and awe-inspiring waterfalls. The captions include inspirational quotes and ooze strong, universal love for everything and everyone. The phenomenon of exceptional desire to explore is known by the term wanderlust, and this trend of discovering faraway lands and curious cultures has been strikingly visible in the western world for years. Sure, the urge to unearth what is new is a natural part of being human – the fact that in recent decades we have grown to know this trend of travelling is not telling us anything fresh about us people per se. We have wanted to see and conquer since ancient times, I daresay – but moving on from all the clichés, in this article, I am going to explore wanderlust itself.

Photo by Elina Virva

Photo by Elina Virva

The biggest and most straightforward reason as to why travelling has become more and more popular during the age of airplanes, and beyond, is simply economic growth. The development from such small salaries that they only cover every-day necessities to plumper wallets and affordable plane tickets may have had its ups and downs along the way of hundreds of years. However, spending on amusement has been self-evident for decades now, mostly in the western  countries, to be exact.

Thus, we can easily argue that travelling has become mundane years ago, partly because of monetary reasons. Contrarily, backpacking in foreign forests and admiring our earth from thousands of metres above is not every-day life for each young high school graduate, who form the majority of wanderlust campaigners. Take me, for example. I grew up in a small town, or to tell the truth, some country roads’ worth outside of a very small town. My quotidian view was a tall pine forest, a couple of birds flying about the backyard, and a silent lake. It took a car ride to even step out of the land owned by my family and relatives. I lived there for some 15 years, and the same year I graduated from the local high school, I was off to southern Europe, alone. Having spent a year volunteering and travelling around France and a little bit of Italy, having met and said goodbye to people from all around the world, having sensed something very different from the pine of the past, I now claim to understand wanderlust.

Photo by Elina Virva

Photo by Elina Virva

Discovering doesn’t always have to be cheesy and Instagram-captioned, it can also be silent and slow. Leaving family and Finland was hardly an easy step to take for the 19-year-old small town girl that I was, and during the first six months I didn’t encounter many #nofilter worth moments. It was mostly feeling helpless, homesick, lonely and tired from the constant combat with French and the French. I had a hard time learning how to do la bise and master the lengthy politeness poetry that was needed to act natural amongst the natives. It shocked a Northern newbie how every shop closed their doors at 7 pm, well before what would still be wonted working time in Scandinavia, the empire of efficiency. I struggled with being forced to take two hours for la sieste at lunch and then working late, while my inner self of the thousand lakes was crying for a faster pace.

This is a part of exploring a new culture that doesn’t always get exactly highlighted, but it still is a crucial part of the process. It is impossible to understand a different culture without trying to get accustomed to it, making mistakes and learning from them, and eventually, reaching that point where you feel comfortable within your brand-new home. For me, the process of fitting in peaked at around 7 months of living on French soil, and when it was the time to leave again, I had become so much of a stranger to my Nordic roots that I had to adjust again. When I, the grand, grown globetrotter, dragged my overweight valise again across the humble Helsinki-Vantaa airport, my family made sure to comment on my eccentric intonation and use of unnatural idioms in Finnish. Meanwhile, I had to gather all my strength to remember how Finns greet each other and, on my way back to life pre-wanders, to bury the idea of dropping by a boulangerie to purchase some Sunday croissants. Only after having been back in Finland for some three months, I felt at home again.

My French discoveries may not have always been Instagram worthy, but the sense of wanderlust I had been secretly growing inside of me for all my teenage years finally got satisfied.  I have come to learn to adjust; I have seen whole new types of trees, houses, manners, work ethics, coffee makers and dinner times; I have conquered a curious culture by adapting to it and learning from it – just for me. I travelled alone, and even though I made unforgettable friends along the way, it was still I who took the steps forward, who waited for the bus that was four hours late to go on a holiday on the coast by myself, who learnt which wine to order with a goat cheese salad in a Bordeaux restaurant, who found a way to an unseen place, who looked at it, and who remembered how to get back.

Photo by Elina Virva

Photo by Elina Virva

Above all: the grass still smelled the same, the sky still looked the familiar shade of blue, the every-day life still felt as ordinary as ever. Only the details were switched around just a little, so that I had to either adjust them or myself. I commenced what became the most difficult journey that I have ever taken, but it also taught me the most about life that I could have ever learnt in one year. And now, I’m happy at home, though as a little changed version of myself.

So, as certainly as is wanderlust a fundamental part of human nature, it doesn’t always equal what you see nowadays on glorious photos in social media. It takes a lot of effort to really explore, and most often than not, you will actually end up exploring yourself instead of a park, a city, or a mountain. One thing’s for sure: if you ever meet this magical motivation to go and see, the one that is known as wanderlust, you should listen to it. Instead of a foreign land, you might learn to conquer yourself. Now, if that is not a healthy hunger – wanting to grow as a person through learning to understand what is different – then what is?

La Mer

BTSB la mer

She was brought up by the sea

her mind was the ocean, easily upset

fierce now, calm in an hour

her hair was made of the salt

straws, shadowing her complexion

raw, like the little rocks on the coast

not yet softened by the waves.

 

She found her core in the sea

her spine was the breakwater

her heart the shipwreck far out

her arms the eternal to and fro

her meaning on the crest of waves

her wisdom the salted blow of cold

that whistles in brave boys’ ears

on the coast

her heart, in wooden pieces.

 

She found her love in the sea

she saw it in the black mirrors that

she threw away, back, away, back

she felt it in the white froth

she smashed apart, back, apart, back

she heard it in the deep waters

she wept afraid, not – afraid, not.

 

She grew up in the ocean

her breath the blasting of tidal waves

her joy bright colours in the shallow waters

her pain caught in the drops wind delivers

to the hardened shoulders of the coast

her feet, tangled in a lock of seaweed.

 

There she was

drowning, but there was home

in the lightless freeze of the ocean,

in the sinking grip of the sand,

in the everlasting tie of the algae;

there were wild whispers of the salt

there were stories sung by the whales

there were rhymes cracked by the pebbles

there were taming beats of the seagull;

there lived she her eyes locked,

lit up

like the lighthouse on the coast.

Addicted To Nostalgia

Box of photographs

Do you know the pleasant tingling sensation you can feel at the back of your head when hearing the Moomin theme song, or when remembering how your primary school teacher used to ask you how your mother and siblings were doing? Or when having a flashback of your graduation day: sweaty palms, too much lipstick and tears of achievement? You know – that moment when it feels like something at the back of your mind, like a sneeze, freezes for a second and then slowly melts.

It can be a thought: old words that suddenly come back to you and you can almost hear them right now – like the ones your mother encouraged you with, after your first friendship drama in kindergarten. It can be a smell: how your grandmother’s house used to wrap the aroma of freshly baked cinnamon buns around every visitor. It can be a song: those ones you sang along to with your siblings when watching The Sound of Music. Or it can be an image, suddenly flashing in front of you: marshmallow-grilling at an old friend’s house, the front yard of which now looks greener than ever before.

The sneeze-like sensation warms up your long-time memory and drowns your consciousness in expired feelings. The voyage of déjà-vu can take you from overwhelming happiness to sinking sadness in a couple of seconds. It acquaints you with your memories afresh, releasing what I am addicted to: nostalgia.

 Box of photographs

 

i’ve got a sneeze at the back

of my mind

sneezeful of old thoughts

flashes of antique ego

expired feelings

tingling at the head

of my consciousness,

temperatures that existed

around my past being

smells that have long ago fainted

creep up the tunnels

of my sense

 

now

 

Nostalgia isn’t really the worst thing to be addicted to. It isn’t even a substance that you could buy, intake or abuse. On the other hand, it isn’t exactly the best thing to fill your evenings with either, because you could surely be doing something more productive than reminiscing. And for some reason, it’s always in the evenings when it arrives. I can’t recall of ever having drunk nostalgic tears at day-time. There’s something about that turn in the light; you see, when the day starts feeling blue and then, all of a sudden, gets tired of having to be so energetic, and travels. The rays of sunlight travel years –

 

teary eyes that belong to a moment

years backwards

ghosts that try to set themselves free

of my spine

 

They travel inside your spine, conquering the corners of your skull, then flashing bright in front of you again: look, it’s you at 16 years old, at that new school, meeting your future best friend! And, there’s more, you are next shown a scene of a group of feather-haired little humans watching a Disney film and eating candy so sour that everyone, in turn, does that awkward half-blink of their right eye. And you really sink in, letting nostalgia intoxicate you.

 

legs that suddenly lose their weight

as if i was really running

at these seconds ticking away right

of my now

and i get confused

the sneeze does not come

of my self

 

But then comes a grey thought. Then a couple of even darker ones, spiralling up to paint a grave of a memory. There’s his nervous laugh, those are the keys you threw at him that last morning, oh and how you had just kissed – then French clouds and hundreds of kilometres above earth. You wish you had never met him as you, again, swallow salty tears, then and now.

 pexels-photo-30732

smoke that burns here like my naivety did

off my skin

it pierces my seams

i sneeze

smoke

off you on my mind

 

how hard i have tried

to maintain this abstinence of reminiscing

because see i do not

want to be stifled by

all that i have thought

off my mind

therefore only i remains

 

Moving on, you want to see something more harmless and heart-warming, you try your best not to be fooled by bad nostalgia. And there’s how your mother used to call you self-confident when you were 12 and here’s your reaction: you frowned in disbelief and surprise, and the next day, you got that new haircut! You could feel the heavy ends of your curls on your shoulders again, and as if encouraged by them, you decided not to believe your mother. You did not feel confident in your young self.

 

well, child

well, mother

well, you run in between

careful not to lose those lightweight thighs

 

- carpe diem

 

There you are, carefully listening to teachers repeating how you have to know what you want to be when you grow up, but at the same time, pressuring you to live in the moment – and not to forget your inner child along the way either. You were so confused, remember? This one does not pleasantly tickle at the back of your mind, no – it hammers the edge of your comfort zone; it spreads false tunes all over your brain cells. All of a sudden, you are all grown up and it feels right, oh wait,

 

but where do you see yourself in five

years that have grown you into this

off your been brain

an alien feeling

this woman far from all that has been

how could you resist

going back, well

off this ground

 

You manage to switch off the hammering beat of the grey; now you float again. Although you are amazed as well as terrified at how you have become who you now are, by going through all this and that, and even the black moments – and you really are different now than you were then – you eventually just relax. When it feels this safe, this comfortable, this happy – while nostalgia is singing you a soft lullaby – how could you resist going back to

 

the good old days?

 

And why should I not repeat it all over again tomorrow?

The Horror of New Beginnings: Confessions of an Introvert

Night sky

Imagine the horror of beginning when at the start-up market of new life situations there is never a role in your size available.

You are not the funny or the sporty one. Your forte is definitely not small talk. You don’t have a fabulous fashion sense that would instantly make you friends. Clubs and activities your new school offers don’t interest you. You aren’t nerdy enough to be the one everybody comes to in order to hear the correct answers to homework assignments. You are – well, who exactly are you?

You are the introvert. How unfortunate for you, I must say, as it means that your every-day life is inevitably more complicated than that of those who have received the gift of extraversion in birth. You are strangely aware of yourself as well as of everybody else around you almost every minute of your days. You noticed that cold glance some blonde girl – who is approximately 4,567 times more beautiful than you, by the way – threw over to your general direction just now. You feel the current angle of your eyebrows’ arch and question whether it might look a bit too confused, too happy or maybe too uninterested to people around you. You get a headache from being ashamed of that little mystery stain on your left shoe – where did that come from anyway? You realize as if it was being shouted at you that your tone had an accidental slight hostility to it when you said hello to some new acquaintance. You try your best at small talk but your stomach is quietly burning when you hear yourself go on about the price of your asthma medication… And when you

finally

get

home—

familiar fists hit hard, repeatedly, until you are convinced all over again that you should have listened to those words you scribbled in your black, black notebook in the summer of 2007. I mean, who else would know what you deserve than you.

You, at the moment of beginning something new, you know how to straighten your spine smiling, lick your lips moving and curl your hair shining Gossip Girl and Friends up to a kilometre. You are a great actor, actually, that is whilst you are able to come back home every evening, close your door and curtains and breathe for the first time in a day. After a couple of weeks, however, you start lacking energy and so you close your door for the whole weekend. Then maybe for three days. Your flatmates don’t come knocking at the door the whole time as they are used to you spending hermit days.

The worst part is that your pain is not visible. Anyone can see that you’re quite shy even though you can make convincing efforts from time to time. Actually, it isn’t always shyness that is the problem, it is your introverted personality. But, hell, you just spent a year abroad alone, giving presentations and leading group activities in a foreign language in front of thousands of foreign faces. Nothing should be wrong with you then. You are very well able to do wonderful things in your life and you are even keen on trying to develop yourself and thus make your life in this society easier.

These efforts bear fruit for some time. Then comes the occasional afternoon when you stop in the middle of a poem and realize once again that this is never going to be over. You will have to make efforts for the rest of your life and you will ever be able to reach the flow of normal living only once in a while. Even if you did so well at the beginning of this school year, you, who began university in a new city all by yourself and who wasn’t even nervous when you sat down in a classroom for the first time. Your face didn’t smell of fear, you did not have migraine that morning and you spoke to a hundred humans. You did such a good job. You didn’t have to eat alone in the canteen. Victory. Then you smoothly found your way from the library to a new building and a classroom full of expecting eyes – you kept on sipping your coffee and smiled to yourself as you were completely calm. Victory.

What happened next? It is a blur, you can’t get a grip of it, because at some point people became friends and were tagged on Instagram but you… Well, you had found a new, even better wine than that last Syrah you so very much enjoyed. You did still find friendly faces to talk to during lectures, so all was fine…? Then came the freshmen events, however, and you shivered a little when you read on the internet that you had to form groups beforehand in order to participate. After all, you ended up talking with a girl who had added you on Facebook and you joined their group. Victory.

A little later, you were smiling at your books – this is what you like to do, isn’t it! But then, you felt this emptiness in your lungs. You took one, two doses of Ventoline. You poured yourself a little glass of red. You lighted a vanilla-scented candle and tried to remember what makes you relax. You wrote a few lines, oh how great you felt, and you were again with your very own self.

The next day, you were having coffee with some faces you could just match with names and their favourite foods. You kept trying to come up with a reasonable excuse to leave early. It had only been 17 minutes. Why did those people go on about some films you have never seen, celebrities you don’t recognize, events you’re not interested in, cats instead of dogs? Why were you actually doing this ‘hanging out’, even though you felt like a whale in a non-maritime beauty contest? You felt forced as you always do, your life is only 15 percent of what you actually want to do. You cannot see the point of all this suppressing socializing. You are constantly in a role you don’t know the lines for and are not able to relate to. Why were you still in this coffee shop where you couldn’t even breathe?

To wrap up this story of your most recent new beginning: I tip my hat to you, fellow introvert, for now, after some two months of university, I believe you have solved your identity crisis. You have found your little place in the oh-so-chatty community. You have also accepted that you cannot always remain in your holy hermit home and that if you just keep on making efforts, it will all become a little easier after a while. So, congratulations, you have made some progress and you are wholly capable of enjoying this new chapter in your life as greatly as anyone else – even those who have got outgoing nature in their DNA. In spite of your occasional development, those moments, days, years of feeling different, insufficient and lost in the middle of pointless chit-chat – I will have to be frank with you, they will probably never cease to exist.

Night skyYour daily challenge is not a deadly disease but it is a personality type that is underrepresented and not nearly enough appreciated in today’s society and media. You can only hope there is a change coming. Maybe one day it will be totally okay to stay in on a Saturday night to read Pride and Prejudice for the fourth time. Maybe one day you will not have to feel guilty for wanting to escape parties after the first 15 minutes. Maybe one day you will be able to forget about excuses. Maybe one day you can tell your friends, without feeling weird, that you are actually going to stay home to write instead of going out with them. Maybe one day you can accept your way of living as an option that you have chosen because it suits you the best, not as a burden that has chosen you as its victim. Maybe one day it will be enough just to be you.

Until then, have a Happy Halloween.