May 12th 2011 marks one year since I started this blog—a happy anniversary to be sure. I have often commented throughout this past year that this blog is a labor of love, and it remains so. I enjoy writing it, and even though there are times when it seems as though I’ve hit a dry spell, ideas and thoughts come flooding back after a few days. The experience of hitting the dry spells followed by the creative periods or vice versa has been a good reminder about the importance of patience and of learning to live one day at a time. It has also been a reminder not to worry too much about the actual process of writing. I actually knew this from before, because I have been writing poetry for years, and can attest to the fact that inspiration ebbs and flows like the tides, and sometimes does seem to come out of nowhere. But of course I know that there are a lot of things always going on in my subconscious, and that ideas and thoughts can suddenly bubble up to the surface of my consciousness, and then it’s up to me to grab them and to make something of them. It is a challenge these days, amid all the stress at work, to grab a hold of as many ideas as possible. Because one thing is certain, ideas come and go, but when they go, it is almost impossible to get them back in the form in which they first appeared. You lose the specific angle, the edge, the tone of the idea or thought you wished to present. It is frustrating when that happens, and is why I carry a notebook with me so that I can jot down ideas as they arise.
On May 12th of last year, I attended a Town Hall meeting at the Hotel Bristol in downtown Oslo arranged by the American Embassy. It was the myriad of feelings resulting from that meeting that led to the desire to write a blog, to share my thoughts and feelings about being a New Yorker (and an American) in Oslo. I have realized that writing this blog has helped me reclaim my identity as an American. It is easy to lose one’s identity in a foreign country. You speak, write and read another language that is not your own. You must communicate with others in a language that is not your own. You risk misinterpreting what others mean because you do not understand the nuances in this new language. You risk saying things in the wrong way so that others misinterpret you. In the beginning, it is challenging and fun to live behind the mask of a new culture and language; it can become exhausting to do so and ultimately unnecessary. No one in this country is expecting me to be Norwegian; it is my own impossible expectations that I had to fit into this culture that have made me tired at times. I am sure if I had been easier on myself that I would be less tired now. I would not have fit in any better, but I would have more energy!
A lot has happened during this past year. Perhaps the saddest event was the death of my friend and colleague, the American woman who attended the Town Hall meeting with me. We always enjoyed doing such things together as Americans in Oslo. It is only now that I am beginning to understand how much I miss her. And I see that my workplace misses her too. People are part of our lives, and then they are not. The contrast is blinding at times, like intense sunlight. Another reminder to ‘see’ the people who are in our lives—to not take them for granted.
I watched a very good film recently on TCM—The Straight Story. I recommend it highly. It is the moving story of an old man who sets out on a journey to visit his estranged brother whom he has not seen or talked to in ten years. It is based on the true-life story of Alvin Straight who traveled from Iowa to Wisconsin to visit his brother Lyle who had recently suffered a stroke. What makes the trip unique is that he makes the journey on a tractor, and travels through parts of the USA that seem to have been untouched by the passage of time. He meets truly friendly people along the way—who help him when his tractor breaks down and who share small parts of their lives with him. The film is made all the more touching by the fact that the actor who played Alvin--Richard Farnsworth--was terminally ill with cancer when he made the film. He committed suicide about a year after the film was released. His physical problems in the film were in fact real—he had problems walking and was in a lot of pain. His film ‘journey’ was his last journey—his confrontation with his own aging and mortality. It must have been incredibly difficult for him to make the film, and yet he did. You can see all of the different emotions he must have been experiencing so clearly in his face. There are very few films that make me really cry, that touch a really deep part of me—this was one of them. Watching it was yet another reminder about how the movement toward forgiveness of self and of others is one of the most difficult journeys we make in this life. It is the most important journey of all.