This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Two dusty suitcases

In mid-December, I dug out my suitcases. A dusty one from the walk-in closet, stuffed behind the clothes rack, and the other from the attic, where rust-water from the leaking roof had dripped all over it, leaving a red puddle mark on its side.

I had intended to replace my trusty old Rimowa with its twice-repaired zipper and torn interior lining before my first business trip in my new job, but such an occasion has not yet arisen. I guess luggage companies are struggling through these COVID-times as well.

As I dragged both bags behind me on my way to the metro which would take me to Copenhagen airport, I felt the long looks of passers-by. They were certainly no looks of envy, longing, and a shared passion of exploring new places. Most likely they were intentionally cast, so I would feel ashamed for intending to contribute to the spread of the virus. 2020, please be gone soon.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; December 2020)


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Interlude: about high-independence relationships

Lovely ones, even if I spent much time writing about creativity, introspection, and a quiet but robust sense of inspiration, just like most (all?) of you my 2020 was difficult, too. It seems that we all have gone through seismic shifts in our lives, even if many do not seem to relate to the coronavirus pandemic at all (perhaps they still do?). And so, while warming myself with a golden latte and new woolen socks, I want to share my journey.

I have spent much time this year thinking about high-independence relationships. I used to live with someone who needed much independence in order to feel free in a relationship. And if he was not feeling free, anxiety and unhappiness would slowly eat him from the inside.

The preference for high independence seems to be a millennial generation problem. Instead of getting hitched young and building up our selves in teamwork with a partner (a “cornerstone relationship” according to couples therapist Esther Perel), we first form ourselves as individuals and then, maybe in our thirties, we need to find a partner who checks all the boxes on our long list of demands. We look for someone who will maintain our individuality and help it grow (a “capstone relationship”). In our search for a life partner for whom we do not need to compromise anything, we run the risk of looking for a copy of ourselves. Yet, would a copy of ourselves keep us charmed and interested?

High-independence relationships take it a notch further. I did not even know this was a “thing” until I met someone who had all the arguments for why it was the best model: allowing each other the space to do what we liked and to grow as we liked sounded like just the right balance of teamwork and personal growth. “I do my thing and you do your thing, together” was his unspoken mantra. But when this philosophy ran into the minutiae of daily decisions, we ran into trouble. It would take us an hour to choose a movie because the only way for him was to choose a movie we both were in the mood for. Taking turns in allowing the other to indulge was not a worthwhile use of his time. Sometimes we got tired of searching and did not end up watching a movie at all. Choosing a restaurant was exhausting and 9 times out of 10 we gave up and went for sushi because it was optimal for his taste and health, and I did not mind compromising.

When we choose to live with a partner, we choose by our own free will to subject ourselves to a level of dependence. There is no way we can live with someone without depending on them. At the lowest level of functionality this means agreeing on how to share the contents of the fridge and how to stock it; and at the highest level, how to walk through life together in synergy as a loving, well-functioning team. “I do my thing and you do your thing” only works if both put the relationship first, not themselves. This is what clinical psychologist Stan Tatkin calls a “couple bubble”: a safe, loving, supportive space a couple creates and maintains around them, and which protects them from the rest of the world. It is also “an intimate environment that the partners create and sustain together and that implicitly guarantees specific promises.”

My partner and I never managed to create a couple bubble. I never truly felt I was included in his life plan. Often, I felt scared that his high independence would lead to a situation where he chose move to another city or country, and I would be given the choice to follow – or be left behind. Because it was against his values to ask me to forgo my freedom and come along, for his sake – and to say he needed me and he would support me in return, if I ever had a big ask for him. I felt afraid that he would not put our relationship first, and he felt shackled by my needs. There was much anxiety and anger. Living under the same roof was not sustainable, even with constant open communication and all the intimacy and love.

And so, just before the pandemic hit us, I moved across the country, to Copenhagen. On my own. And when the world locked down I realized that if I were to catch the virus, my partner would not have my back. I would have to create that bubble of safety, love, and support all by myself. And you know what? I found it quite easy to do because I, too, have enough independence to find my footing when the world is a windy place.

We millennials are a very individualistic generation, and along with our parents’ generation, we have in many developed countries pushed the divorce rate to fifty percent (and an increasing number of couples choose to not marry at all). And so, one year later, with better language to put my 2020 journey into words, I wonder whether it is possible to have a deep need for sovereignty and still share a household and a life with someone, in partnership? Is the need for high independence just a fear of unhealthy dependency? And what is the definition of healthy interdependence?

(Copenhagen, Denmark; December 2020)


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The champagne’s desire to escape

It was a windy, gray, chilling evening in early December. I had spent all day reviewing 2020 and playing strategy games with my new colleagues. My head was beginning to feel soft, but the time to relax had not yet come. First, I had to endure the test every new team mate goes through: opening a bottle of champagne with a saber. And I can tell you, while it looks fancy and impossible, it is way easier than tinkering with removing the wire net while pressing a thumb over the cork so it does not fly into the ceiling. All it requires is confidence, and a good determined swing from the shoulder, as the saber runs down along the neck of the bottle and sends the entire glass tip flying across the room.

And really, it was not I who broke the bottle; I merely supported the champagne in its desire to escape.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; December 2020)


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Best books of 2020

Looking for reading inspiration? Here are the best books I read in 2020 (in no particular order):

  1. Ryan Holiday: The obstacle is the way
  2. Olga Tokarczuk: Flights
  3. Tove Jansson: Traveling light (Resa med lätt bagage)
  4. André Aciman: Find me
  5. David Sinclair: Lifespan
  6. Jack Kornfield: A path with heart

(Copenhagen, Denmark; February 2021)


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Fresh start

Lovely ones, here I am again. Spring sunshine and a Saturday morning to myself are the best remedy for clearing up any cobwebs in my little head. And boy have there been cobwebs, especially the last month of 2020 and the first month of 2021. Not because nothing moved inside, but because so much was going on that I had no time to tidy up. And so, this last weekend of February, I am finally sweeping up those cobwebs, organizing my thoughts and feelings as much as I am able, and opening the windows to let the sunlight in.

Just before christmas holidays, Denmark went into another lockdown – and I went to Finland for a month. Even with the still life and the darkness, I discovered so much. There will be a backlog of winter photos while I post all the things I wanted to share with you, without the headspace to do so until now. And we may well be half-way through spring before my ramblings here have caught up with the weather outside.

2021 may seem like a sluggish continuation of an unexpected 2020. Or it may seem like a fresh start into a post-pandemic time bursting with opportunities in a world that looks the same but will never be the same again. 2020 gave me the opportunity to rewrite my life plan more than once (Yes, literally. I have a life plan and it takes up 4 pages in my notebook). And I can’t wait to begin to live it, step by step. What about you?

(Copenhagen, Denmark; February 2021)


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Kaamos

Kaamos is Finnish for “polar night”, the midwinter weeks or months when the sun does not rise above the horizon at all. Only about one quarter of Finland officially goes through gloomy kaamos weeks ever year, but all of Finland feel the lack of light and the long twilights in the morning and at night.

During kaamos, unless one lives very near the North (or South) Pole, there is enough daylight to go about daily activities: a never-ending blue twilight with deep shadows. Kaamos can be beautiful,too: in January and February, clear days roll through watercolor-washed skies of blues, yellows, oranges, and pinks, until the snow is colored a deep purple and finally sinks into the deep blue twilight again.

Copenhagen has a little over an hour more daylight than Helsinki, and I certainly feel the difference. Yet it is increasingly difficult to get up within the first half hour of my alarm clock. When there is so little color in the day, I crave color on my plate. While my digestion does not always agree with cold greens and salads in the winter, it helps to enjoy some of the last EU-produced colorful vegetables of the season.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; November 2020)


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In Frederiksberg Gardens

The beauty of Frederiksberg Gardens was once curated to the extent that no one poorly dressed was allowed in. And like a proper English landscape garden, the curves of the waterways are just a little too neat to be natural, and the tall waterfall looks gorgeous and natural – but out of place in flat Denmark. English garden styling is like the ideal image of natural beauty.

Scattered here and there between the trees, dozens of great gray herons hunker down for winter, standing like statuettes, necks warmly folded under the neck feathers. In windy Denmark, Frederiksberg Gardens is probably a nice resting place for birds. And on a cold Saturday in November, the park is a perfect place for a leisurely walk, some headspace, and good conversation.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; November 2020)


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Always a beginner

My pretty pink yoga mat had spent most of this year rolled up, propped up against the wardrobe wall. Save for post-work yin on Fridays, I had not touched it. The last time I did a sun salutation was in November 2020. What happened?

Life happened. And when life happens too much, too fast, and too painfully, I am overcome by the urge to run. And so I ran. Every other day (because every other day I forced myself to just walk). In fact, I ran so much I hurt my knee again in January 2020. This time, no surgery was required. Just spending most of my home-office hours with my leg stretched out on a chair. After all these years, I still find it impossible to roll out the mat when I need yoga the most: when I need to just spend the time to mindfully pay attention to my body and breath.

In August, I started a new job. The life change and pressure to do my best caused my back to stiffen up like a slab of concrete. “Not good”, my Thai masseuse tutted on my monthly visits as I groaned underneath her hands and elbows.

And so, one weekend in November, I finally grabbed my pretty pink mat, rolled it out on the bedroom floor, said the ashtanga opening chant, and folded forward into a first sun salutation. A very stiff one. I wavered like a toppling tree in the leg lifts. My hips refused to comply in the warrior poses. Like a beginner, I went no further than the standing poses, followed by the second half of the finishing sequence (and sore shoulders for three days thanks to the chaturangas). But the second time I went into the first seated poses. And the fourth time I completed the entire finishing sequence except for the headstand. This is a new beginning – and truly a beginning, once again.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; November 2020)


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My mornings, 2020 edition

I used to travel every week for two to three days. Sometimes four. For nearly a decade. Then 2020 came around, with two job changes and coronavirus. They downside is, I am losing my elite airline status. The upside is, I have gained a new morning routine for WFH and weekend mornings. They are many, and so sticking to a routine which works best for me now is easier than ever.

Why is a custom-built morning routine so important? Because it sets the foundation for a productive and energy-balanced day. What works, then? Well, I can only share what works for me, and it is not the 6 am wakeup with bullet-proof coffee followed by meditation and a workout that is favored by many.

The key to my own morning is the understanding of how my energy qualities shift during the day: I am mentally most productive before 2 pm, prefer a physically energetic workout in the late afternoon to relax, and a meditation at night to wind down for the day. This means that I pile up all writing, powerpoint slide creation, and planning before lunch and, if possible, push meetings and video conference calls into the afternoons. In the weekends, I begin my mornings with a concentration-requiring book followed by blogging, journaling, and other writing tasks until lunch.

I support my morning productivity with a protein-heavy breakfast to establish a stable energy level throughout the day. I used to do intermittent fasting for my entire adult life (and I had no idea it was a “thing”, it just felt better to skip breakfast) until just a couple of years ago. But when lunch became my main meal and I moved my dinner earlier, striving to be done by 7 pm, I realized I needed sustenance in the mornings. The overnightly fast is now a moderate 13-14 hours.

Here is my morning routine for most of 2020, version WFH:

  1. Wake-up 7.00-7.30 am (also weekend mornings. Consistency is key.)
  2. I open a window and burn incense, the fresh Japanese little sticks, to freshen up the air. A lovely Marie Kondo habit I adopted.
  3. I make a hot tonic and leave it to cool. A big glass of hot water with the juice of a quarter organic lemon, or fresh ginger or turmeric, with a quarter teaspoon honey. During more stressful times I used to go for lemon juice with salt (calms down cortisol levels) and cayenne pepper (wakes up a lazy stomach).
  4. Office worker’s stretch: Fold forward, arms hanging, to stretch legs. Grab ankle with both arms, legs straight, and pull back, stretching the hip of the other leg. Repeat on the other side. Sit down into a deep squat and extend arms forward to maximize the lower back stretch. Go down on knees and do 12-15 slow, careful scapular push-ups to prevent mouse-arm strain. Finally, stretch shoulders by standing up, interlacing fingers, folding forward, and bringing arms over head to hang.
  5. Tonic + supplements. I take a baseline of supplements supporting a woman on a meat-free and nearly dairy-free diet, along with a few performance-optimizing supplements.
  6. Reading. Could be as short as 15 minutes, also during work mornings. I usually reserve mornings for concentration-requiring or spiritual books. Right now I am reading A path with heart by Jack Kornfield.
  7. Breakfast. Plant-protein powered smoothie, or protein-powered oatmeal. Or gluten-free protein pancakes with berries if I have the time.
  8. Start the day. By now the time is around 8.30 am, leaving me enough time to get into shape for work and video conference calls before 9 am.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; November 2020)


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Around Damhussøen

Saturday sun felt like the first bright day in a month. What a nice day to saunter around the lake in Vanløse with a friend. There were swans, dog-walkers, and yellow leaves on the gravel road. And there was much head-shaking between the two of us, about how this year turned our lives upside down in such profound ways.

In the bleak but welcome November afternoon sun, we concluded that life still tasted good. So did the tea, cake, and waffles.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; November 2020)