This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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About plants, and survival

bonsai2012Some plants become lifelong friends. Like the weeping fig I grew from a cutting from my mother’s tree when I was 17, wrapped around a rock, and grew into a bonsai tree. It has moved to Holland and back with me, and it made it to Denmark a year after I did. It looks a bit funky today as its apex is missing: half of the tree died when I spent a year in the UK. A big love was shattered during that year, too. Both it and I survived, but we are not the same anymore. The photo was taken a year after our crash-and-burn. I was doing about the same.bonsai2020Then there is the jade plant, which originates from a cutting I snatched from the botanical gardens in Helsinki at the age of 19. When I intended to bring it over here to Denmark I discovered it had been forgotten for so long that the parched soil had shrunk from the pot edges, the wire holding the roots down had corroded and snapped, and the plant had capsized, lying sideways with its roots in the air. I apologized profusely, stuffed it into a bag and flew it to Copenhagen with me. Today it looks shaven on the sides because many leaves cracked off during the transport, and overgrown because I have focused on nursing it back to life before repotting and pruning. Life mangles us all up from time to time.

Recently I caved and bought an “it-plant”. Although I suppose the fiddle leaf fig was an it-plant five years ago, and should now be considered your garden variety hipster millennial living room species. They’re supposed to be high maintenance, and they’re supposed to wither and die with too much light, too little light, too much water, too little water, too hot, too cold, too anything.

Right now my baby fiddle leaf is pushing out new leaves two at a time. I whispered a secret to her: she will not end up in a bonsai pot, wired into shape. She will get special treatment and only the room ceiling is the limit for her. I hope we will remain friends for a long time. lyrata(Copenhagen, Denmark; March 2020)


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In Copenhagen, confused and concerned

CPH-1Lovely ones, my new slow life has begun. In Copenhagen. For now. After two weeks in a lovely apartment in Østerbro I found myself in a furnished, bright little place in Nørrebro, with a view over the ring of lakes that divide the North half of town.

Instead of weekly travels to London and criss-cross the Nordics I now find myself on a monthly travel schedule to Belgium, plus a tour of a handful other European countries this spring (provided I can avoid coronavirus hotspots). Instead of crazy 8-9 hour workdays I find myself deeply entrenched in one project for 6-7 hours a day. Instead of dragging myself out for a run or onto the yoga mat at 5 pm I find myself running around the lakes mid-afternoon, before going back to work with more energy.

It all sounds wonderful, right? In truth this is a tough training in how to live with uncertainty: where will I live after May 1st? Where will I work next year? What if I can’t find a job if I really like? What if nobody will like me well enough to hire me? Is there a future for the relationship I’m in, now that I had to move out? What if I just can’t muster the energy to work all this out?

And the biggest question of all: I will turn 40 this year. How will I set myself up for success for the next 10 years, including healthy aging? CPH-2(Copenhagen, Denmark; January 2020)


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Capoeiristas, concealed toilets, and unordered life plans

christinaenea-4Spent the morning in Christina Enea park and was quite distracted by four white-clad, surprisingly chubby capoeiristas spinning and tumbling about to drum beats from a boom-box. What’s the deal with wearing white? These well-rounded capoeiristas seemed to represent a local club, with Brazilian flags on their shirts and cameras rolling to capture their dancing battles. The one lady of the trio revealed her convex belly and an awfully bright yellow yoga bra, but who cared? She rocked the outfit, and she could do things while wheeling on her hands and feet that I will probably never master. christinaenea-2I seemed to sit right under a quince tree, as a lady with a little fat dog busied herself around my bench, picking fruit into a bag. The dog was quite as interested in what was on the ground as her mistress, but not helpful at all in picking quinces.

Gave up on the summit of the park and the capoeiristas’ acrobatics in favor of looking for a toilet. Or “los servicios comunales” as they are often called here. Thanks to a quick Google search pulled up a map of the park and found the toilets, unmarked and well hidden from anyone who necesita el baño. The peacocks I passed on my way look at me with disdain. There is nothing elegant about a tourist desperately in need of a bathroom.

After I successfully completed the comunales project the park was nearly empty. Most families had probably retreated for a late Sunday lunch, and I repaired underneath a tree which at close inspection appeared to be a Californian redwood tree. In Spain. And it certainly was not planted yesterday – or less than a century ago.christinaenea-1The whole aim of this trip to Christina Enea park was to create a life plan: what would I like my life to look like 10 years from now? 5 years from now? What needs to be kicked off next year, or this year? I sat underneath the redwood tree and gathered bits and pieces: getting hold of Spanish and then spending the rest of my life trying to decipher French; completing the book manuscripts I have in my head; ensuring my job either includes home office time or a max commute of 20 minutes door-to-door; and ensuring I have enough creativity and headspace in my life. And oh yes, living by the sea. And oh yes, the person I live with wants to move to a landlocked country. 

The bits and pieces refused to create order among themselves. Like the insane pioneer claims in a favorite poem by Margaret Atwood, “this is not order but the absence of order. He was wrong, the unanswering forest implied: It was an ordered absence.”

I gave up and went for pintxos and local wine.christinaenea-3(San Sebastián, Spain; August 2019)


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Life as a lotus

bologna-5To the buddhists, the lotus is a symbol of purity and transcendence: its feet bathe in the muddy bottom of the pond while its flowers and often leaves, too, rise into the pure air above it all. It is a reminder that one can have one’s roots entangled in mud and mess while still keeping a clear and pure mind above it all.

As I walked around the botanical gardens of Bologna I thought of how my own feet were currently so deeply embedded in the mud and mess and madness of this world. And how it seemed that the level of mud was rising dangerously close to my head. With honesty to myself I admitted that my head was probably already covered in spatters of mud, messing with my mind.

It is easy to see one is messed up. It is much more difficult to pinpoint how, and what to do about it. I almost wrote “and how to get out”, but really, getting out never helps. It is all about getting in, and working it out from the inside. bologna-6This year I have been following a personal development plan which revolves around identifying negative energy inside and around me. One of its action points is to repeat to myself when needed, “I am not my emotions”. I have found myself repeating this mantra over and over again these past few months. Another action point is to KonMari incoming energies, impressions, and matters: sort them at the door and not letting every single one in. And if needed, put the newcomers in separate rooms, close the doors, and deal with them later. I have found that my mental rooms are nearing overcrowded.
bologna-4Robin Sharma says that because a lifetime is precious and finite, there is no time for negative emotions. At all. That thinking a negative thought is to waste the time it takes to think that thought. This may sound like a highly platonically theoretic view, but when I think of all the time I spent dealing with negative emotions the past year I could probably amass a few weeks of life better spent doing other things. For example fully enjoying the botanical gardens of Bologna.

A dear friend once criticized me for being too solution-oriented. For offering my help in solving a problem when she would rather just wallow and swim in it for some time, until perhaps a solution slowly emerged. She gently told me that not all people want help, because not all things can be helped. Her words hurt me so much that I could not bear to spend time with her for two years. Some years ago I learned that not all problems can be solved. Not immediately, and perhaps not ever. Accepting the company of a deep injury for the rest of my life was possibly the toughest lesson I have learned in life so far.

And so I continue to trudge on through this life with my feet in the mud. As long as I remember to stretch upwards into the clean air, keeping my head relatively pure and sane like the lotus, I will be alright. bologna-7(Bologna, Italy; July 2019)


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On the wing

wingsunsetOne random wing shot in my smartphone camera roll. I cannot remember where I was going, or where I came from. Helsinki, Copenhagen, Billund, London, Stockholm – could be any of them.

There is clarity up there, while I gaze out on the wing. There is time and space to think. To compose, reflect, and create. Some people are most productive in thought while walking or running. Others while taking a shower. For me it is the cramped airplane seat that works best. Not being able to leave my half a square meter space (possibly even less) for hours. This is when I review my behavior the past day, taking responsibility for the rights and the wrongs. When I walk through crucial conversations that need to take place. And it is when I revise the steps in my life plan: what to do, learn, read, and create next.

Voluntary confinement 10 kilometers in the air works for me. What works for you?

(Somewhere above Northern Europe; May 2019)


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About life, above NYC

The difference between these two photos is two hours of bittersweet life stories among three Cambridge alumni classmates. Up above the Manhattan skyline we made attempts to have a light, pleasant reunion after 8 years, but discovered time after time that life was not always light and pleasant.

Thankfully there was a delicious Korean BBQ dinner to keep us entertained among stories of weddings, losses, relocations, and bravely defeated illnesses.

“Life is bittersweet. And it is alright when it is more sweet than bitter,” another classmate of ours once concluded, with a sigh. Once upon a time I would have considered such an opinion a defeat. Not an acceptable goal for a good life lived. But perhaps he was right. The sweet moments are there to be enjoyed in full and then let go; and the bitter moments are for reflection of impermanence and the slow buildup of strength of character.

And so, up on the high floor above Manhattan, three (nearly old) acquaintances laughed and sympathized with life as the sun went down over the city.

(New York City, USA; April 2019)


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Celebrating bureaucratic roots

Silkeborg-9Today I am consciously enjoying the longer midwinter daylight in Denmark compared to dark Finland. And the fact that I am no longer an “illegal immigrant” but actually have a registered Danish address and social security number. After six months of drifting I have bureaucratic roots again. And as I am (unfortunately?) a human conditioned to like modern society, bureaucratic roots help generate the sense of individual roots and foothold.

It is a good lesson to learn that even if a sense of belonging to a place is all in my mind, having a contract with a country about my intention to stay helps. And I just heard from my employer that I will be advised to sign up for a course on introduction to Danish culture – in essence, a guide on how to become Danish. Or at least how to understand the Danes. I have no need to become Danish. But as I also have no need for a Danish language course (Scandinavian languages are inter-comprehensible), perhaps a course on how to understand the cultural quirks of the Danes beyond “hygge” will be useful.Silkeborg-11(Silkeborg, Denmark; February 2019)