Sweden

May the intensity be with you

I sit here, nearly at the end of June, and with the traditional Midsommar festivities and the Summer Solstice on my back, reflecting on the month that has always brought me both extreme stress and intensity, but also relief and fulfilment: May.

Photo by Jengod. “The Brentwood Maypole tradition originated when Archer School for Girls was still the Eastern Star Home.” Wikimedia. 8 May 2012.

While you might think that the erection of a maypole is central to the chaos of the season, but no in fact this is not the reason. For many years, despite having danced around a few dozen maypoles in my life (with or without a certain frog dance), the month of May has always been a lot, and by a lot, I mean a lot. A maypole would be a walk in the park, but the ribbons surrounding it do represent a rather large amount of work, and so symbolically it’s very representative.

Photo by Lee Guan Wei Daniel. “OMM performs at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music Concert Hall in January 2009.” Wikimedia. 3 January 2009

First up, is the musical commitments. Whether it be ones I perform, or ones that I organise, May is filled with music and the end of term performances. This is mostly done to avoid the crunch of holidays that come in June, and the end of school terms. This year in particular, May 2nd and 3rd vexed me with an international music festival that required me to recruit, train, and get recordings of a new composition in less than 4 weeks. We even managed to perform it in front of the school, quite successfully I might add. Props to ya mama!

Then we move on to the worshiping of my own true religion, The Eurovision Song Contest. While most other religious observances happen for majorities of the world, this is the time for mine. Step aside Christmas, move to the left Thanksgiving, take a hike Diwali. With two weeks of rehearsals, a week of shows, and a lot of reviews, bopping around, dancing around, and worshiping the musical lineups to be had. It usually totals to about 10 hours of TV coverage through the semi-finals and final, but those who are long time readers of this blog know that I used to do reviews of Eurovision and Melodifestivalen, but that has long since stopped. My commitment to the cause of the European Broadcasting Company since the mid 90s has never waned. Who knows if I will pick up writing reviews again, but the memories of worshiping and fanboying Adam Svensson, Jonathan Fagerlund, Oscar Zia, or Edin Jusuframic , or any of the other worthwhile recipients of my affection, will forever be held in my heart, and in consequently on the pages of the internet.

Photo by David Mulder. “Grade book” Flickr. 24 November 2015.

Then comes the assessments, final exams, and marking, marking, and more marking. The life of a teacher really starts to pick up and tighten up in the month of May, and when you compound this with all the other stuff going on, it’s no wonder that sleep is lost. Whether it be the exams, or the comments required for final report card preparation, needless to say it’s a lot to do in a little amount of time. This year, with final grammar exams to torture my students and demonstrate how much more they need to focus in order to pass, the turnaround was very quick; almost too quick to manage. Despite this, I conquered.

Photo by Firkin. “Gemini drawing 6” OpenClipArt. 24 February 2017.

The only thing that I didn’t mange to fulfil was the deadline for ordering supplies. I was 1 day late, and I regret it a lot, but alas it got done. I welcomed June, despite the arrival of Gemini (which always tends to be rather fickle for us Cancerians), I managed to get to the end and conqueror the month of May. You might think it’s silly to think that the period of Gemini would cause some problems, and sure Gemini does get a lot of hate, but for me the hurt is real. Some people like to say May the Fourth be with you, but truth be told… Let the Force of May be Mine for the Taking. Begin copyright… ha!

Happy Hunger Games, or should I say, may the odds be ever in your favour!

Hey SL, don’t raise prises ; instead punish freeloaders

At the risk of sounding like the biggest Swedish Karen of all time, I read an article in Dagens Nyheter today regarding the possibility of SL (Stockholms Länstraffik) raising ticket prices again, for what feels like a perennial decision.

The reasons outlined in the article is huge losses as a result of the covid-19 pandemic, and that service can either be reduced or ticket prices raised. I can not express how much my blood boiled when I read this, and I’ll explain why.

I pay my tickets, and I’m an honest and productive member of society. I live by the rules, and I expect others to do so too. And yet at least 3 times a week I witness someone getting on the busses or trains in a concept called plankning which I think in English could be translated fare evasion. It’s a major problem, and it pisses me off. Why should paying customers be punished when non-paying customers benefit?

I don’t want to get into a fully expressed rant, but nothing is being done about it. They publish reports about how many times it happens, and operators “tick” each time they see it, but there is no consequence. They don’t stop them, they don’t fine them, they don’t do anything. In fact, in the last 3 years of commuting every day at last 2 times a day, I’ve only been fare-checked twice. TWICE!

It’s even happened on two occasions that I’ve stopped in the middle of the machine to prevent a person from coming on with my ticket. I flat out yell at them to pay their own damn ticket, and while most are surprised I even bother to say something, it’s about the principle and they sort of run away. We suffer because of the cheats, and yet they are never punished and continue to get away with it.

I even have photo evidence of an entire train car evading the fare inspectors because none of them had tickets. That was approximately 30 youngsters in that situation! The last I checked, the punishment fee is 1550kr, which means if they would have got that group, it would have paid the monthly fare for an entire two year period for one person.

So in the unlikely event that SL reads English blogs, or gives a hoot about what customers say and want, I plead with you: don’t raise prices, instead punish the cheaters! Find another way to catch and find them, and make them learn, because they aren’t getting the message with your passive approach.

And while you’re at it, please fine those smoking on train platforms where there are already clearly marked no smoking signs. It’s been illegal for years, and you could rake in millions, since nobody seems to give a hoot except the damaged lungs of passengers trying to walk past and not inhale second-hand-smoke.

09/11, 20 years later

It’s hard to comprehend time sometimes. It goes by so constantly and perpetually that we hardly ever notice change, until it’s too late. Whether it be the length of our hair, or the growth of our children, or even the way our society looks and feels. We simply don’t notice the moments of change until the transformation has already happened.

I suppose it’s thus important to take a moment out of our busy lives to remember certain dates that are defining in our histories as human beings. Of course, we would be taking this moment every single day if we took the entirety of humanity and its history, but let us limit it more simply to our own existences. I recently watched a Netflix series consisting of a six-episode series focusing on the events of September 11, 2001: Turning Point: 9/11 And The War On Terror. A bit hesitantly, I clicked on it not knowing what it would evoke in me, and not being sure if I’d learn anything about it that I didn’t live already, but watching it made me take a moment to reflect.

What are the defining moments in history in our lives?

Being born in the 1980s leaves me a bit limited in the history of the world, but I’m drawn to at least three defining moments that I lived and witnessed first hand:

  • The dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.)
  • The fall of the Berlin wall and reunification of Germany
  • The second referendum on Quebec sovereignty
  • The rise of widespread terrorism, ultimately symbolised by the 09/11 attacks
  • The creation and widespread adoption of Pokémon games and culture
  • The emergence of social media and interconnectedness of the internet

While some of these might not be consequential to many, they stick out in my mind as being largely transformative. I remember waking up in the mornings, ready to see the results of something, or my eyes being opened by disbelief as something unfolds before me.

While many of these moments can be considered political, largely related to identity of groups or interconnectedness of history, or pop-culture references, there is only one that truly changed the way the world works; that is the events of September 11, 2001 in New York City, Washington D.C., and in the fields of Pennsylvania.

I remember the day, I remember the weather, and I remember where I was sitting the moment history was being announced to me. I was ironically sitting in a history class, summarising and outlining the causes of Nazism that were going to appear on an upcoming text. The classroom was fairly silent, with a few conversations happening around, but mostly pens on paper and the scribbling of study notes or graphical organisers. It was this moment that the teacher announced in the most calm and somber voice, that we would all head down to the auditorium because we were going to witness history in the making.

We didn’t know what to think; we had no context in order to make sense of this. How could something be so consequential that would take us away from our studies? We were ushered across the school campus to the auditorium where obviously other classes were gathered. For the purposes of context, it was the early 2000s, wide speed DSL wasn’t available (especially where in the world I was), and so information wasn’t shared on the go like it is today.

Photo courtesy of BBC

There was a television placed on the stage to the left side, and it was being projected onto the big screen an image I couldn’t quite understand. A building was on fire, and the voices of my classmates were muffled. We didn’t have mobile phones to check what was going on, we just sat and watched the smoke billow from the World Trade Center North Tower. The news reporter was just repeating the same thing over and over, and there was so much confusion as to what was going on. Was there an explosion? How did the building get on fire? Why was this history in the making? I was asking myself these questions.

And then it was a few moments after I sat down, the voice of the newscaster stopped. There was a long pause, and we saw nearly live what appeared to be a plane fly into and explode into the South Tower. The images were striking, and while there was only speculation beforehand what was going on, the gravity of the situation hit me. How does an airplane smash into a skyscraper in New York City? How can this happen? I’d been on hundreds of planes before and I never felt like pilots were out of control, but then again I suppose I was ignorant of what was going on in the cockpit and the pilot. I remember gasping and saying “Oh my God” because it was something so unexpected and yet so real.

The cameras were pointed right at the burning tower. It was only natural that we witnessed something we never expected. In retrospect it was hours before we saw video being sent in from the first plane, from every different angle, but since the first disaster happened, everything was being reported. We sat there, in disbelief thinking how could this happen, why could this happen, who would drive a plane into a building? And then I heard the word for the first time: terrorist.

I didn’t quite have a solid concept of it, I mean it’s not the first time the concept was used. There has been terrorism in the world before, but I suppose it was how it was being used that really was new for me. Seeing it was different about reading it, certainly. And we just sat there, teachers in the front looking shocked, but not saying anything. There was a sense of panic in the air, a confusion barely vocalised but obvious in the tension that we felt in the room. We sat there for an hour, and during that time more people came to the auditorium and more teachers gathered us into this room.

It became apparent to us that our next class was going to happen, and I think it was maths but we just sat there and nobody told us to do anything. No bells rang, no other sounds we heard except the voice of the the news reporter on the screen and the images being broadcasted. More information came in, more eye-witness reports, more devastation, and eventually it was clear that there wasn’t two crashed planes but actually four, another hitting the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and the other crashing into a field. We had been sitting there uncomfortably for about an hour when we saw the South Tower collapse. It was like witnessing a train-wreck; you see it, and want to look away, but you can’t. Your eyes are glued to it and the image was engrained in your mind forever.

Eventually we were ushered back to our classes, but I think most of us were so confused, we didn’t even remember what we did for the rest of the day. Even though I was nowhere close to this, I remember being nervous going home on the bus. Sure no plane was going to drive into the bus, but it was clear that hijackers took control of the planes, and couldn’t they do that anywhere?

And so in the coming months the words became apart of our general vernacular: terrorist, hijacker, suicide bomber. I’ll never forget where it started, but twenty years later I can still see and feel the shift of the world. The paranoia, the fear, the impending unknown or uncertainty became somewhat permanent. To be completely honest, thinking about those feelings, it’s the Covid-19 feelings applied retroactively. All of that uncertainty and fear, it was happening again.

And so we wonder. This happened exactly 20 years ago, but what has changed or what has happened? The Netflix docuseries has clearly outlined the failure of the “War on Terrorism” that was waged, and it’s highlighted by the departure of Americans and Allies from Afghanistan departure a few weeks ago and the Taliban taking over the vacuum. When I was hearing it in the news I thought, what progress was made, what purpose was there, how are we back to where we were 20 years ago?

Under that 20 years, Afghans made huge strides to return to modernisation of pre-Soviet invasion and Taliban rule. Women became active parts of society and had access to education, more children went to school, there was relative safety and security that was maintained with the help of the world. They rebuilt and retrained and sought after a better life, and saw hope. It wasn’t perfect and people suffered under the civil war, but it was progress. I had the pleasure of teaching some Afghan men and women, and I listened to their stories and why they moved here, and from what they escaped, and the hope that they felt and pride they felt for their countries traditions, culture, and language. And then in what feels like hours, the world saw all of those freedoms and progress disappeared, as the Talibans took over Kabul and essentially all of Afghanistan overnight.

My heart breaks to think about this, and while I don’t want to spread out sadness into the world, I think it’s important to reflect on those moments that change the face of our world. Changes to national security, to safety and fear, to air-travel and freedoms. The way we see each other, and wonder what we are capable of? Do I know a terrorist, whether foreign or domestic? It’s about the way we see and talk about different cultures and religions, and how we need to build bridges to come together instead of build walls to tear us apart.

That change came twenty years ago, and the hate upon which those events were based still burns in the hearts of millions of people lurking in the shadows. Lest we forget the ones lost, and take stock of how our world is today. Care more, love more, and show empathy to more people in need. Don’t just turn your back. If I’ve learned anything in my life, is that we are more connected now than we have ever been, so do what you can and stand up for what’s right. Someone else will be grateful for it, I promise.

A giraffe walks into a bar

So what happens when a giraffe walks into a bar with a group of friends adorned in glitter, angel wings, and a wedding dress covered in blood? I guess you just had to be there…

I took a trip back to my previous home, Eskilstuna, for a Halloween party. To my own surprise I had a lot of motivation to actually be in costume and do something. It helps that my friends actually asked me out. As I pondered for days over what I could be, I reflected on my past costumes and how they have always been so innocent and not death-related.

I was a bunny, a clown, an M&M, a dark faerie, a light faerie, North Star, Peter Pan, among other things. So needless to say when I was looking through online costumes the first few things that popped out to me were turtle, giraffe, and hippo. All so cute. I chose to be tall and proud.

Photo Courtesy of Ywon Bar & Grill Instagram

So this photo actually was taken by a friend of mine that works at the Ywon Bar & Grill because, well other than the fact that were were the few people there, it was surreal. A drink in a mans hand while he stands more than 190cm tall thanks to heels and a double head, clothed in a onesie is bound to draw attention. It’s proof that I was social and actually connected to someone (rare as it may be).

And there he stood, for at least 1,5 to 2 hours talking to a stranger that was sitting at the bar. It was my friends that pushed me into this situation so I just went along with it. Drinks were shared, informal and personal topics discussed and the whole time I was thinking, “why did my friend push me onto this guy?” I mean he was a 39-year-old punk loving hipster with non-matching socks. Totally not someone to whom I would normally find myself talking, let alone with whom I would be flirting.

It didn’t actually occur to me that my behaviour or his behaviour would have be considered flirting, and given my clueless history of people hitting on me, in retrospect I wonder. He did offer me a drink and shared his own with me. He did continue the conversation and asked questions. It didn’t even think about flirtation until he made a comment about a ring on my finger and asked if I was married. I remembered stopping, looking at him and formulating an answer. And even after that, I still had my doubts. Everyone that knows me, knows that I would never make a move. It seemed safe, but there is always some obliviousness that prevents me.

We joined the group after a long time and he bought everyone a round. It was very generous and I was definitely feeling warm fuzzies, despite the sinking feeling and my doubts about his intentions or interest. And then a casual comment was dropped, and I thought “AHA I knew it!” and I felt vindicated that I was right. We all departed and he even asked me for a hug and mentioned how genuinely good of a time he had. It made me smile and I drunkenly stumbled out the bar.

Between the double cab rides and walking through town, not much of me being a giraffe was noticed or said until the evening ended. We walked down the bar street and suddenly drunk adults approached us. One harassed me, then started crying because she felt bad. A guy named Andreas felt the need to talk to me about how he can tell if people are gay by the shape of their eyes (I think he was too drunk to notice that I had huge heels on).

My friend departed and I walked down the street, fearing for my life, as my previous lone-walking home experiences in Eskilstuna resulted in being chased, harassed, or otherwise accosted in some way. But instead I was complimented by women and men alike. Even two women approached me for a photo and wanted a hug to say I was so fabulous. Their costumes were lame, like wearing bunny ears and a slutty dress lame.

And so I got back to my hotel, laid down and hoped to sleep and awake to have a delicious breakfast. Even after all that happened I still think back and wonder… What if I had said something, or did something, or did I come off as a frozen cold bitch that I feel I am? The jury is out, but at least I had fun.

In need of protection

Courtesy of Tumblr’s @lionguard

While the title of this post could often be misconstrued by the overly sexualised humans that roam the Earth and peruse the internet, I am not in fact writing about contraceptives such as condoms. I’m talking about the protection of people; let me elaborate.

I was reading some things on reddit, as one does, and a situation that someone presented made me think of something and it led me to a reflection upon the needs of a person. User u/Independent_Year describes how he, as a straight man, seems to be falling in love with a gay friend of his:

I have tried to rationalize my attraction – he’s a delicate looking guy – so I must have been thinking of him as a ”substitute girl” of sorts, and putting myself in the role of ”badass” protector. But rationalizing haven’t lessened my feelings at all. At first I though hey – you feel like a big brother from another mother for him, that’s why your so protective. At least that’s what it might have been at beginning. But seeing other guys in the LGBT club hit on him .. makes me feel angry and quite possessive…. Not quite fraternal .

And it’s these comments that led me to imagining this protection that he wants to provide, and that I would imagine a lot of people in the history of humanity yearn to find. It is something that we want; we want to know that we are safe, we want to know that we have someone or something that can protect us, and we want to know that someone will be on our side when the goings get tough.

It’s a valid thing want, what with the world being in such a whirling wreck and so much hate all around. And even if you can’t empathise with me, at the very least we wall want to feel safe. I know it’s something that I’ve always imagined, always pined for, and it never appearing. I’ve had it in dreams, so many dreams since a young age, where there is a faceless defender and protector being there to support.

Now I will also clarify that this doesn’t fall the damsel in distress archetype, but more of the moral and physical reinforcement. In my dreams, will the face reveal itself an identity? Will this person ever encounter me, or feel the need or want to protect my wellbeing? Or will it just stay a figment of intangible imagination that will forever linger in my mind?