Saturday, August 19, 2023

burning books - for food fire

 I got reminded a few weeks ago about a time when I realized that words matter and "mainly repeating things being told in a theoretical context" might hurt someone.

I was a 20 year old living in a dorm during second year of uni. It was a dorm where we shared one kitchen on 12 rooms (each room had its own bathroom) and we also shared a 'common room' with the TV. This was obviously in the dark ages where there was less internet, modems and no wifi, and TV had a cable package that we all shared to keep the costs down.

We lived together for years, 10 of our rooms with the same people, with two rooms being more transient students. Nowadays probably called "non-traditional" students. It was the Iranian exchange student who cooked food for all of us in the fall - when he made dinner he made enough for 12 people - as long as you wanted to eat at 10pm since it took time to make the rice correctly. (My goodness the rice was amazing!)

And then there was the woman who moved into the dorm room next to the TV room with her fiancee. They were born in former Yugoslavia, and this was post 1996 with the war and the siege of Sarajevo (1992-1996) the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina. I had been exposed to the war in my middle school and high school with having class mates from different areas of former Republic of Yugoslavia. Meaning we had students in the class with grandparents and other relatives in the different parts of the then civil war (e.g. Serbia - Bosnia-Herzegovina - Croatia ) and also Kosovo, which meant all of us youngsters needed to talk and get to some sort of agreement on how to address one another as it was very bad "back home for their extended families". (this is a VERY shortened version on what happened in the class)

By some reason I had forgotten some of this when I got to university. Maybe I was living high on my "I'm taking philosophy 101 and 201 and have high standards". Maybe I was just young and not thinking things through? 

Anyhooo, one night were were having dinner together and during the meal somehow we ended up talking about "things that we shouldn't do" and I piped up; "Burning books is BAD", you should never burn books".

And the woman from the room next to the TV-room looked at me, with a specific facial expression and apologetic stance and said to me "I'm sorry, I burned out books in small cooking fires for food when we were in Sarajevo. We couldn't get out of the apartments and get wood due to the snipers, so we used what we could for cooking food and warmth".

I don't think I've ever been more aware of context. I looked at her and felt so bad for making her feel bad. And said in somewhat of a sheepish voice, although she had been perfectly civil and visibly sad they had done this, "I obviously didn't mean when it's a matter of survival. It's more of a theoretical conversation from my class".

And felt like a fool. Burning books if you're stuck in a place and need to prepare food and warmth is not an issue. And I shouldn't have made her feel bad about it.

Still thinking about it to this day, more than a quarter of a century ago, that I feel fortunate this happened. It was a great moment of showing me the meaning of remembering "my experience in life is NOT ALL people's experience" and that there's so much value of knowing people from everywhere with all sorts of experiences. Like all the non-me people I've met moving around the world, changing jobs, volounteering in places and traveling and talking to random people - I always learn something new and it's always something that makes me more humble. Here's to learning more things every year of our lives!

Sunday, August 06, 2023

Beautiful Summer nights - endless possibilities

 It's been an odd beginning to the new year 2023 and now it's over half way done. I've been missing myself writing musings and thoughts in general. I've not come to a "new normal state" (whatever that might mean) after 2020 and the changes it brought on. I have not given myself time every week to sit down in quiet space and write. I miss it, and I know that I need to make time for this. It's on the bucket list and more importantly, it's on the "do now to take care of you" list.

It's especially clear to me since when I sit down and read through my "weekend read list" that I collect through the week (links from articles and newspapers, subscriptions I have to monthly magazines - hello NewYorker, Atlantic, SvD, DN). I have many thoughts, feelings and questions. And while I can discuss some of them right off the bat, a lot of them percolate and make their way into my brain where they fuse and connect with other thoughts and feelings that are there from other weeks' readings.

And then I push them down, move on to something else and miss the opportunity to elaborate in my mind.

Couple this with a sense of trying to answer "what am I doing?". As in; What am I doing career wise? When will I retire? Will I retire? What do I see myself doing in ten years? What makes me happy? What will make me feel ok when I'm old?" and so on..... I guess someone would call it a midlife crisis. Should I call it a midlife crisis? (There's no new red sports car.) So, maybe not crisis is correct terminology - maybe "midlife reflection and slight anxiety of inertia"? "Needing a more clear sense of direction moving forward?". Like the hip people say "intentional movement in a specific direction"?

After all, there's some irony that I'm currently here when I did a podcast episode for Recovering Academic about "Getting out of the Gray zone" (outside the ivory tower) back in 2017 (really, 6 years ago?!?!). When looking at the show notes I had some stuff going on.

"Be able to ask someone else, not you, and go through the experiment with you to see if there’s something you can salvage. Get a pep talk and get someone else to evaluate things”

“The other thing that makes me more happy professionally is that I see opportunity. Not feeling as unsure now that she’s beyond academia whereas as a postdoc, that was harder.” 

Not to mention “Believe in yourself and think that you know it” 

As well as my own blog post pretty much 6 years ago (feels like a life time) "ambition and the difference between contentment and complacency".

In my own defense, there's been a lot of water and a couple of bridges since. Things that happened and couldn't be changed. On the plus side, completing full marathons. And then a world pandemic which brought a few things that couldn't be avoided. And of course, I've been a brooder for a lot of years. Think Angel rather than Spike*.

But I can't ignore that there are a lot of things converging at the same time. And while the path isn't clearly visible and marked - there's a light just beneath the horizon, the sky isn't all dark, and there is a sun waiting to come up to shine the light for the path to be visible. 

Just like those beautiful summer nights in my hometown in Sweden. It's not completely dark, but dangling promise of the next day about to rise. Those nights where it feels like everything is possible and the air is vibrating with promise. Those nights. And I just have to find the idea on what to grab onto and then go with the light.... that's right there.

*probably both dated reference and missing the mark. I mean, I have never lost my soul and made to atone it, nor the other iffy things with the show I really liked back in the day. Ah well, let's just keep it with the blog theme and the outdated references.