Saturday, August 20, 2016

On not-deadness

I'm not dead.

But I am starting to wonder if I'm becoming a zombie.

I came back here hunting for an old post I remembered writing when I was working on my master's thesis, describing how I really didn't want to write it.

Now I really don't want to write my dissertation.

Just the thought of it makes me drag my feet and make splooshy grumbling noises like a zombie craving brains, only, instead of wanting brains I now wonder if I shouldn't want a little less of them. See, I've reached the conclusion that writing a doctoral dissertation doesn't necessarily require an abundance of brains - in fact - the less brains, (almost) the better. More brains just allow for more distracting thoughts and stray arguments you'll never be able to defend properly anyway. Less brains might solve that problem.

If zombieism doesn't kick in soon, I might consider a brief lobotomy (yes. I do realize lobotomies tend to be rather permanent and that there really is nothing "brief" about them. But I don't want to end up all vegetable either, just slightly zombie-ish, enough for me to be abel to release my "just do it"-juices much the same way I imagine new zombies do when they first encounter the lovely dish of human brains. Hence, "brief").

Also, yesterday I bought a zombie bowling set, just to fully prepare me for the apocalypse ahead (or, should I say "behead"? Hurr hurr).

So, undead, then. That's the new plan.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

On Mrs P.

Sometimes I still think about Mrs P.

She used to be my neighbor where I grew up. She lived in the faded green house at the top of the steep road where my family lived. She lived with her husband. They had no children, and to my knowledge, no other close family or friends.

She had lived there longer than forever, or at least longer than the five-year-old's concept of forever. But also actually quite a long time. Probably somewhere in the neck of forty years, if I were to guess. They most likely built their house around the same time as my grandparents, who lived next door to us. The entire area was divided into lots in the 50s, transforming what previously had been a large farm into a small community of "working class upgrading to middle class" families. Self-made people. My grandfather built his house (and saved the lot next to it for whenever his son would build his - 30 years later, as it turned out), and I imagine Mr P. built his.

Actually, I don't imagine Mr P. built the faded green house. He worked in a bank, I think, or maybe an insurance company. Some job where he needed a brief case. Probably not the kind of job a man who would know how to build his own house would have. Or perhaps. People used to know things. I remember him as well, and I know he outlived her, but for some reason he isn't as vivid in my memory as she is, even though I technically remember how he looks whereas her image has forever transformed into a generic "old lady" shape.

She had old lady hair. White, or grey, and curly, short. Tidy.

She had old lady clothes. A neat coat, not shapely or pretty, but clean, and orderly, and proper, and tidy. An old lady hat, poofy but somehow still strict; a balancing act on top of her old lady curly gray-white hair.

She had an old lady purse. No explanation needed.

She had an old lady face, maybe. I cannot remember her face. But she was an old lady, so she probably had an old lady face.

She was an old lady, having lived in her house, alone with her husband who may or may not have built said house, since they got married, possibly, or at least since the house was new and the green color was clear and not faded.

Their garden was incredibly tidy. The grass was always cut, though I cannot remember that they ever cut it. There were always lawn mowers growling somewhere or other in the neighborhood, but it seems unlikely that any such intrusive sound would ever come from their garden. It would have been too noisy, too messy, too untidy.

She would spend winter mornings after the snowplow had been at work clearing up the road shoulder outside their picket fence, with a broom. Or people said she did. I remember her doing it, in her old lady shape, with her neat coat and her poofy hat, and maybe even her old lady purse, which seems odd, but then I don't know if I actually remember it or if it simply was repeated so many times that I pictured it in my five-year-old mind.

She was strictly opposed to anything untidy or fun or young. Like the teenage son of the neighbors across the road from her faded green house. Obviously he and his friends knew how much they annoyed her and found it amusing to tease her, by playing loud music or driving their mopeds at top speed up the steep road, spraying the fence and tidy shoulder on her side of the road with a fresh batch of brown snow to cover the neat white edges meticulously created by a broom.

She was the kind of neighbor that would complain. About loud music or mopeds, about lawn mowers late (or not so late) at night, about anything untidy or fun or young. And by complaining I mean yelling. Shouting.

Synonyms: scoldupbraidberaterevilevituperaterail 
These verbs mean to reprimand or criticize angrily or vehemently.

Or so I imagined it. I don't think I ever witnessed any of her complaints. But I knew of them.

I was deadly afraid of Mrs P.

I was not a child that strayed, but had I been - the short distance between her house and mine, maybe 50 meters garden to garden or perhaps as much as the double from house to house - that distance would have been too long. I don't know if I was impressed by the teenage boys provoking her or just worried they were poking a dragon. Either way I never would have dared doing so myself. Seeing her, even from across our hedge, her fence, with the protective 50 meters between our gardens, filled me with immense terror.

She spoke to me once.

My parents probably tried to install in me all the usual precautions; "don't talk to strangers" must have been one of them. However, either it did not work very well (later evidence suggests this, as I was once briefly kidnapped. But that's a different story), or I did not think of her as a stranger (she was a very familiar terror in my life, after all).

She had observed me in the playhouse in our garden. Alone. I often played alone. I don't think I minded, but also, I didn't necessarily have that much of a choice. As mentioned, the entire area had been populated at the same time, mainly with families. It had once been a community where children could run around and play with each other (my father having been one of those children). Thirty years later those children were all grown and only some of them had come back with children of their own (and these were all older than me - the teenage provocateur being the youngest besides me). So there were no other children around, and consequently I was mostly playing on my own.

She had seen me play on my own, she said. In the playhouse. She had a present for me. For the playhouse.

It was a picture of a cat. A cat, ready to hang on the wall inside the playhouse. A small gift, but a generous gesture.

I thanked her, I think. I was a reasonably well-behaved child, after all, and despite being afraid of her I had summoned the courage to let her speak to me in the first place. I probably thanked her. I hope I thanked her.

The cat still hangs in the playhouse, now proudly claimed by my niece as her own. (It isn't. It's still mine. But she doesn't have to know that.)

I never spoke to Mrs P. again. At least I cannot remember that I ever did. But I don't think I was as afraid of her after that. She may have been the neighborhood hag, but she had shown me a kindness and I did not forget that. It has taken me many years to realize that her gesture might have meant quite a lot. She was not usually one to show kindness, but she made an exception for me. From one loner to another, perhaps.

Today would have been her birthday. She told me. That one time I talked to her. When I was five. I don't remember what she looked like, I don't remember which of the things I know about her are true or imagined, or exaggerations of a small truth buried in a collective neighborly memory; but I do remember this. Today would have been her birthday.

Happy birthday. Mrs P.

Friday, August 28, 2015

On socwardness (part whatever it is by now - who keeps count anyway)

It is an old, much bespoken, and thus well-known problem for Norwegians when encountering Americans that we misstep on one particular (and very crucial) part of initial social codes: the greeting. Anyone having experienced the horrified look on their faces when we reply to their greeting "how are you?" with an actual answer to how we actually are doing. 30% hilarious, 60 % awkward, and, if you're lucky, 10% insight that this is not something you will ever do again.

Globalization and all that - Norwegians and Americans meet one another fairly frequently these days. Most of us have learned that the appropriate way to respond to this polite question is the equally polite "Fine, thanks. How are you?" or some version thereof.

However, globalization and all that - the custom of asking someone how they are doing is migrating. I've noticed this more and more the past few years - you can hardly run into someone, American or no, here in good ol'Norway, without them inquiring the dreaded faux-pas-in-the-making: "Hvordan går det?" (which actually sounds quite ridiculous, and directly translated means "How is it going", because even silly customs adapt somewhat and the direct-direct translation of "How are you?" would be "Hvordan er du?" and that sounds ridiculous-er still, though why we don't just use the formerly perfectly acceptable and proper Norwegian "Står til?" ("Stands to?" Yeah, I know...) or "Hvordan har du det?" ("How are you having it?") is beyond me. But I digress).

Faux-pas-in-the-making because even though we have learned not to burden Americans, who only meant to be polite when asking this (when you think about it really quite) intrusive question, with an honest answer, we still struggle with knowing how to deal when we're meeting the same issue among our own.

It's a fine balance. Because this migrated greeting is still new to us, we can't yet be entirely sure that the answer we have learned to provide when meeting the greeting in its original form is the correct one. If you reply "Joda, bra. Hva med deg?" (or some version thereof), you risk being met with suspicion. It sounds too much like a formula. We haven't internalized the greeting enough to have such a formula. Thus you need to provide some form of flesh. But how much?

"Hvordan går det?"

"Nja" (you don't need to know much Norwegian to realize that when someone starts their reply to that question with a contraction of the words for "yes" ("ja") and "no" ("nei"), it can't be good...) "[insert long rant about how you actually feel because it is autumn and we had a shitty summer and you have not slept well for weeks and you think you might be catching a cold and you are currently experiencing one of your periodical antisocial bouts which people are not actually respecting (probably because you only tell them through growling extra much before replying with a semi-honest answer to their question of how it is "going") and you secretly (and not so secretly) worry that you are setting yourself up for failure at work and you hate the fact that you have not cleaned the bathroom in two weeks which obviously makes it super disgusting but you also have absolutely no energy to actually clean it and if you could you would just stay at home all that and bake but you can't because pastries makes you fat(ter) and you have to go to yoga]".

Well, actually, you won't reply that. Because since you meet people, even here in good ol'Norway, who ask you this (when you think about it really quite) intrusive question on a daily basis, and thus you have experienced the formerly American-specific-but-now-globalized version of the face even here in good ol'Norway. You have told someone the brutal honest truth, and you've seen the blood drain from their face, their eyes blink slower than normal with that extra squeeze when the eyelid reached the bottom of their eye as if to buy them time before they have to open their eyes and look at you again. You have seen them heave seemingly insignificantly (but really quite visible when you look for it) tighter, longer, deeper than normal when they take a breath of air. You have seen the face of regret. ("Why did I even ask?")

You have seen that face before, and so you reply, instead: "Joda, bra. [insert customized comment about the weather] Hva med deg?"

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

On audio input

I've developed a new habit/addiction.

I used to listen to Spotify on my way to and from work, but as much as I love music, it would eventually get boring as music frequently works more as a way of shutting out the world than to entertain or otherwise engage me. I've tried reading - while listening to music, even - but it doesn't really work (and the music or lack thereof has nothing to do with it). If I take the bus I will get travel sick from looking down too much, and if I'm on the subway it's frequently so crowded that it is difficult to find a seat, and reading standing up isn't really my thing.

However, a while back a friend told me about "Serial". The podcast. As I'm sure everyone in the entire world has heard of it by now I won't go into details, but if there are anyone left out there who hasn't listened to "Serial" I think they should. Go find it online. It's free. Listen. Get hooked.

Anyway, "Serial" is over (or at least the first season), and I needed more. With little over half an hour travel time each direction, I need more than an hour per day to fill my needs. Hence, I would need a lot of podcasts. I've tried several, and while others such as "This American Life" or "Radiolab" are good, they don't hook me the way "Serial" did, and with all of them there is a quantity problem. I need more. (I really do sound like an addict...)

Thus, I discovered audiobooks. First, I got a free trial one from Audible (which turned out to be "free", as they automatically connected that to my Amazon account, took my credit card details from there and proceeded to charge me monthly without me being aware that I had signed up for any kind of membership... Bastards!). After that, I moved onto an app called "Storytel" [sic - not a typo - one L only].

Storytel doesn't have the greatest catalogue, but for now I am satisfied. I've been through quite a lot of memoirs, which are made infinitely better when the person having written them also is the one reading (so far, I've listened to Lena Dunham, Stephen Fry, Kaitlin Moran and more). Love that! I wish I could find such audiobooks from the politicians I am writing my dissertation on. Would be so interesting (I did buy another book from Amazon, since they had already charged me I might as well make use of my "credit" - but I'm not sure Jimmy Carter reading about something other than the topic I am researching will have the same effect, and at any rate there is no hope to find anything from Nixon or Ford, and I don't think Kissinger is the greatest audio performer - though he is unmatched when it comes to the written word).

I like thematically appropriate listens, so when I was meadering around on a U.S. university campus (specifically University of Michigan in Ann Arbor) this spring, I listened to Stoner by John Williams. The world of academia is more than a mere setting in this novel; it's almost a character of its own. Thus my circumstance made an already interesting book even more captivating, though I am sure I must have looked odd to the people around me - walking around with my ear plugs staring at campus buildings as though I saw them in 1915 rather than 2015.

When I came home I went back to podcasts for a while, having discovered Neil deGrasse Tyson's "Star Talk", where he enter into discussion about topics reaching far beyond the extent of his field of study (which is saying something, seeing as he basically is studying the universe...). Funny and interesting. After having gone through the entire backlog of this podcast, however, I went back to audiobooks. 

This time I've finally settled for something that will keep my addiction covered for a while. After the season finale of "Game of Thrones" a few weeks back I realized I craved more. Thus far I'd been staying far away from the books, or rather, I started reading them, but they did not appeal to me, This was way back when the first season aired, and the show was following the book closely enough for me to feel it redundant to read them. In addition, the books felt "wordy" to me, which is weird, because I normally really look big, fat, wordy books. 

Anyway. Now everything is different. First of all, it's been four years since I saw that first season. Even if the first book is following it closely, it doesn't matter, as I've forgotten a lot. A lot. 

Secondly, it's almost an advantage that the books are wordy. It means they last longer, and seeing as I listen to them during my commute where constant distractions might interfere, it isn't so problematic if I miss a detail here or there. 

Finally, I really like the guy who is reading (which is a BIG deal for audiobooks). He even does different voices, which I adore. I could listen to him forever (a good thing, seeing as each book is about 30 hours,,,) 

Yeah, that's right. Each book is about 30 hours. And there are five of them (with two more in the making, but as everyone knows by now the release dates of those are anyone's guess). 

I'm already halfway into book number two, though, so I'm wolfing them down a little faster than I'd planned. Somehow, my commute time tends to stretch out these days... The way it looks, I'll be hunting for more sustenance to feed my addiction come autumn. (Insert mandatory "Winter is coming") 

Any suggestions? 

Friday, May 8, 2015

On Good and Bad Bosses

Being a PhD student (especially in Norway, where it is paid employment) is in many ways a sweet deal. You get to spend time working on exactly the thing you're (supposed to be) most interested in. You get to have a narrow focus on a topic so specific (and often insignificant) that most people know next to nothing about it. You get to become an expert on this topic. You get to devote time, energy, intellectual capacity and whatever skills you've developed over time on working on just one, single issue that need not be of any particular interest or use to anyone else (though naturally you have learnt how to argue that indeed it is of particular interest and use to everyone else - you've gotten some kind of funding for this project, after all...). You get to do all this for a longer period of time, usually about three to four years, and in the meantime very few people are going to bother you in any significant way with meeting deadlines, making progress or doing any of the most basic things most employees are expected to do in their jobs: show up at a specific time, show up at all, actually work...

Of course this latter point isn't entirely true.

First of all, most universities will by now have instated some kind of checks and balances system to keep a little control of their PhD students. It will still vary greatly from institution to institution how rigid this system is, but I would guesstimate that you nowhere anymore can do what seems to have been the "norm" many places in the past - you show up at the start of your doctorate and then nobody sees you again for four (or more) years until you show up again for your defense with a 1000 page dissertation.

These days there are some requirements. You have to take some courses (here I know Norway is still on the lighter side. In many places it still is more than justified to call the PhD students students, as they do plenty of course work and have papers due and everything - our system is more flexible and it can be argued that it is just as correct to call me and my peers PhD fellows). You generally will have some deadlines along the way (we, for instance, have a halfway evaluation, which I will take sometime this summer or autumn). And technically I am supposed to show up for work during work hours at any time I don't have a justifiable reason not to do so (a conference, field work, those courses I talked about), but in reality I am fairly sure I could stay at home for several weeks at end and no one would notice (except my office mate, but she wouldn't tell on me, and a simple Facebook message saying "Working from home for a while" would put her at ease). And even if they did notice, it wouldn't have any consequences.*

Many of the requirements, then, are more for show than actually breathing down your neck like the proverbial distrusting boss would do.

However, I do have one of those bosses as well. The problem is that she is not always a good boss. And before you jump to conclusions about me slandering my boss in social media, I should clarify: I'm talking about myself. (My real boss is a man, so there.)

My Bad Boss - me - isn't always a bad boss. The not bad part is what makes her a boss at all. Because in a system where so little pressure is put on you for any day-to-day production (but HUGE pressure on the long haul production with the far-ahead deadline way out of your sight), you really need to pull yourself together and force yourself to do some work every now and then. You need to be your own boss. You need to tell yourself what your tasks are, and then you need to do them. Otherwise, you've already lost.

On occasion this works for me. I can have whole days and several days in a row, even, where I work like a normal person (one of those with real bosses), and get stuff done. My Good Boss manages to give me clear instructions and as a Good Employee (because I am, honestly, even if this post so far might suggest otherwise) I get it done.

This is improvement on my part.

I remember when I wrote my master's thesis I was absolutely horrid at getting stuff done. Every word came at an insufferable price - it felt like I had to pull them out of me like fingernails from a torture victim (you're welcome for that mental picture).

This is because then I only** had the Bad Boss. The Bad Boss still comes around too frequently for me to be particularly happy about it, though. The Bad Boss doesn't motivate me or give me instructions; the Bad Boss tells me that the final deadline is coming closer with every day (well, duh!). She tells me that I have a come nearly halfway in my PhD, but I have not produced half of the text for a PhD dissertation (and my objections that I have done plenty of other useful stuff that doesn't necessarily reflect the amount of output you can touch and feel but nevertheless contributes to the end result have no traction with her). My Bad Boss makes me feel insecure, worried, and generally pretty useless.

My Bad Boss most frequently visits when I am tired, hungry, stressed out, or that one week of the month where most women feel more insecure, worried and useless (if you're a man and you've no idea what I'm talking about, I envy you and I'm about to punch you in the face. Go away. Bring me chocolate before coming back).

Most annoying of all - my Bad Boss makes me a Bad Employee. And as I mentioned, I am not really a Bad Employee. I am a Good Employee. Whenever Good Boss is around it's pretty visible too, so you don't even have to take my word for it.

So. Like a terrible academic*** I have arrived at the problem far too long into the text I'm writing. In order for me to be a Good and Productive Employee, I need my Good Boss to speak louder and more frequently than my Bad Boss. But how do I do this?

Like an even more terrible academic I was very close to ending my text with a question. Because a question, at this point, is about as good as I can do. I don't really have an answer. I can't predict when the Bad Boss will show up, or how long she intend to stay (though I can of course try to avoid the situations I know she is most likely to appear, but even so - it's not like I can avoid work one week every month, no matter how relaxed the system might seem).

My best bet is on the realization that I have a Bad Boss, and that I have a Good Boss. I know there are two of them. So for the times when it feels like only the Bad Boss is the one showing her ugly face, I can try to tell myself that she will not linger forever. The Good Boss will show up eventually. In fact, if I manage to ignore the Bad Boss she sometimes tires of pestering me, and goes away all on her own. Sometimes, sometimes, even the Good Boss pops her head in directly after, just to check on me.****

So it boils down to this: I need to get rid of my Bad Boss but I should probably also be aware that she will never disappear completely, but rather keep in mind she will also never stay put for good.


*For the record, I also have a supervisor, and she is very active, and she probably would notice both my absence for longer stretches of time and definitely my failure to meet deadlines and produce text. So in my case the potential slacking off has a very real limit. But not every supervisor is as active or attentive, so it is not entirely impossible that you would find cases where not even he or she would know if the PhD student had stopped working altogether for a loooong while.

** This is a truth that needs some moderation. I did write the damn thesis, and it's not all bad, so at some point the Good Boss must have been around then as well. But it didn't feel like it - I suspect maybe the Good Boss simply was a deputy back then, and thus did not really dare to challenge the authority of the Bad Boss. At least that is my theory. I am glad that the Good Boss' career has taken an upward turn!

*** For some reason I really want to write "academidian" instead. But then my Bad Boss told me I could not justify a title clearly derived from a crossover between academic and comedian. As I am neither (can you see what this hag is doing to me? I need her to GO AWAY!!! And not come back - not even with chocolate).

**** Sometimes she brings chocolate! :)

Friday, April 17, 2015

On leaving the U.S., again

Let's start at the beginning: what does a pop tart really taste like? I have been in the U.S. long enough that I should have had plenty of opportunities to find out, but honestly, I've never tried one. And never really felt like trying one either. Especially not for breakfast. I have vastly different ideas about what a good breakfast should and should not entail than what most Americans do (judging only from the breakfast aisle in any given grocery store, naturally).

Well, even if I am leaving I have made sure I'll get the chance to figure out this mystery. I've bought a box of pop tarts. I fully expect I won't like them very much, but at least now my expectations aren't too high...

Don't get me wrong, I approve of a lot of breakfast related things here too. For instance the concept of going out for breakfast (even if I normally would choose a different dish than pancakes, but even I get that this only makes me weird...). Or even better, brunch. One of the restaurants in the vicinity of my hotel in Atlanta advertizes that they serve bottomless mimosas* or Bloody Marys for Sunday brunch. Even if that makes me think of Kenny Falmouth of Monkey Island, it does sound like a sweet deal.

My own breakfast routine most days while I've been in the U.S., however, has been quite a bit more sober than that. I've been in two different hotels in two different parts of the country, but I could always find some channel that showed reruns of old shows - especially "Charmed". Interestingly I never really watched "Charmed" when it was a big deal way back when I was a kiddo (many of my friends did, and I can't remember exactly what made me not watch it, though I suspect it might have had something to do with the fact that we didn't have cable or satelite, and thus a very limited range of channels). Anyway, with all these reruns - and not just this time, but last time I visited the U.S. too, as well as when we went to the U.K. for vacation in November - it seems I have the show pretty much covered. But then, yesterday, the seemingly endless string of reruns ended. The very last episode of the show! Now what will I do for breakfast? I suppose it was only fitting as I am leaving today. Also, I am ignoring the fact that they started over again with the very first season this morning, so I really could watch it all if I only stayed a couple of months more - with three episodes per day that should probably cover it...

Even if I haven't watched it religiously in the past, however, I still know the show well enough to have the benefit of rewatching, as the best thing about watching old shows, of course, is that you don't have to pay very careful attention. So I could walk back and forth, take a shower, get dressed, eat, or even work a little while it ran in the background. While this has been a perfect mode for the minial task of sorting through archive documents as afterwork from my visit there during work hours, I am relieved it is over. My back aches from being slumped over my laptop for long stretches at the time, in uncomfortable seating positions in a hotel bed. My eyes are sore and my head hurts from trying to remember archive codes and sorting the files into their right place. My fingers have paper cuts from old documents, and I am sick of working twelve hour days (even if portions of them have been accompanied by "Charmed"). I even missed out on vacation days during my stay here, as most Norwegians take the whole week of Easter off.

Another good thing about ending my TV-meets-work streak now is that I don't have to watch commercials anymore. We have commercials on most channels in Norway too, but first of all I don't watch all that much TV at home (I have Netflix and HBO Nordic, after all), and secondly, last time I checked our commercials were less disturbing than many of the ones here.

What mostly baffles me are the medical commercials. This and this drug will help you with this and that disease. It will have the following side effects: [insert long list of terrible things that almost always ends with DEATH for good measure]. Talk to your doctor today!

Talk to your doctor? Why would I, as the patient, go to my doctor and explain about some drug? Isn't it the doctor's job to tell the patient what the best treatment for whatever disease or ailment they have should be? I realize doctors in the U.S. are frequently sponsored by the medical companies and thus might have preferences for specific drug for other reasons than what works better, but if that's the case you really ought to find another doctor with a better sense of ethics, rather than presenting the one you've already got with a lecture based on a TV commerical.

But that set aside, back to the commercials themselves. Can we all agree that they are pretty disturbing? Listing all those side effects is obviously something they are obliged to do for legal reasons, but I still find it amazing that someone would take them up on the offer of talking to their doctor after having heard all the horrible things this drug might inflict, presented to them in a voice of an actor you can *hear* is wearing a fake smile (how can you hear that, you ask? Well, just listen the next time one of those commercials are on. You can hear it).

Secondly, why are they always walking on the beach in these commercials? Strolling along the shore, or in a forest, or playing in the garden with a pet or child. Always the same setting. Fake smiles. Super disturbing.

Finally, the most disturbing thing to me isn't the medical commercials themselves, but in combination of another type of commercials: the mass lawsuit ones. "Have you or your loved ones experienced [insert terrible side effect caused by medical malpractise]? You might be entitled to compensation!" I realize there isn't a coherent line from people suggesting to their doctors what medicines to take for their ailments to them suing the doctor (or whomever) for having suffered consequences of malpractise. But it seems to me there is something strange about where the system puts liability. The patient is supposed to advice the doctor, while the doctors and other parts of the healthcare system are forced to focus on covering their butts legally rather than providing the best possible option for the patient. I'm not saying it's necessarily different elsewhere or that I have a solution to this, but I am saying the frequent commericals serve to give a creepy reminder of what a nasty world it can be.

I'll miss things too, though. I might have issues with certain parts of commercial America, but I don't think I'll ever stop marvelling at the selection in stores here. Whether it is grocery shopping or browsing for dresses, I keep finding myself enchanted. It's dangerous for my wallet, but it's making my little shopping heart burst with joy. Every time I visit the U.S. I seem to end up with a new wardrobe and don't even get me started on bookstores. When I came here in 2009 the selection seemed wider (I miss Borders!), but give me a good Barnes & Noble any day, and I'll be lost that day. They even have coffee in there! Why would you ever want to leave?

More important than the things I leave behind (good or bad), though, are the things I'm going back to. I miss my home, I miss my friends and family, I miss the regularity of my daily routine (the normal one, not the one involving "Charmed"), Norwegian language, food and weather (!), Oslo, my apartment, all the things I know and love. Most importantly, I miss my boyfriend. Four weeks is a long time to be away from everything, and even though I've enjoyed my stay in the U.S. I can't wait to go home.

Now I'm going to make the hotel cat who has been keeping me company this morning go back out into the corridor so I don't accidentally pack him, and then I'll finish stuffing my suitcase. Somehow, it gained weight during this trip (see section about "shopping" above).

*Huh. When I googled "bottomless" to find the link for Kenny, Google automatically suggested "bottomless mimosas atlanta". Apparently, this is a big deal here!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

On people I meet

Sometimes you meet people who make an impression.

This week I met one of the Presidents I am writing my PhD on. Jimmy Carter, even at 90, is still working hard, and thus spends a fair amount of time at the Carter Center in Atlanta. However, for a researcher to catch a glimpse of him is still a rare treat. I didn't speak to him, but must admit I was rather starstruck by his mere presence in the cafeteria where he, like everybody else, queued to have a 4 dollar lunch.

Despite the central role Carter plays in my current work, however, he was only one of the people I've met recently that I will remember for life.

Today I met some guy whose name I didn't catch. I frequently don't catch names here, even when people introduce themselves. The Southern accent is foreign to me, and it often takes me a while to figure out what I understood from what people were saying - a lot of it gathered from context rather than a direct comprehension of the actual words uttered - and names tend to disappear in this process (besides, I am notoriously bad at names. Faces, I remember. Names, never held much importance to me anyway).

Anyway. I was trying to catch a bus. At the bus stop, I was approached by Some Guy. Had it been in Norway, I would have shied away from a conversation. But having been in the U.S. for a few weeks, the last of which in the South, the local social code is starting to rub off on me. I've progressed from small talk to conversations with random strangers (side note: Random Stranger at a zebra crossing the other day - he commented on my t-shirt. It's a Harry Potter shirt, with a big, Hogwarts logo on it. He asked me where I'd bought it, and I said London. He was all impressed that I'd been to London - not yet having realized that I wasn't American, presumably. "You speak any French at all, then?" he asked. I could have pointed out to him that this was a rather strange question to ask after having learnt that I had visited the British capital, but instead I just shook my head, wished him a good day upon the turn of the lights and our departure to the other side of the street, and made a mental note that it was far more important to appreciate the fact that we had this nice little talk than to point out to him his obvious lack of geography skills).

- so conversations with random strangers - and with this new social code guiding my conduct I've talked to everyone from grocery store clerks to the hobo in the park I pass each morning (he just wanted to know if there was a fee to go see the Jimmy Carter museum. I told him I believed it was, but that the grounds were free of charge, and beautiful, so well worth the walk).

Thus, talking to Some Guy at the bus stop wasn't all that strange for me anymore. And I am glad I did.

This was a man with a storage of stories, and the key to open them all at once was simply being an active listener. I learnt all kinds of interesting things about the city of Atlanta, the specific area of Atlanta I'm staying in, African-American history, the Democratic party, and about Some Guy himself. He gave me pointers about things I should see before I leave, showed me a picture with him and Obama (who recently visited the area, apparently), and even shared his hotwings with me. When the bus finally arrived (it was very late, due to a lot of traffic over a Barnes & Noble booksigning with Google later informed me was a YouTube phenomenon - there were crying teenage girls queuing all around the block for YouTube Guy), he told me to pay attention to the driver, as she was a character all of her own.

She was. Talking to herself, yelling at traffic, and making conversation with the passengers made for an entertaining bus ride as well. "What's that guy doing in the Mustang?? Oh, noooo, you didn't!!!" I probably would have given up on the bus without Some Guy, It was worth the wait.

When I go home in less than a week I'll be glad to retract back into my Norwegian shell, where we don't make conversation with strangers unless absolutely forced to, and where the only small talk you make on a bus would be to ask the passenger next to you to let you out if they haven't already noticed all the subtle non-verbal signs you've given them the last minute or so (most do. In all my years of using public transportation in Oslo, I've probably only had to ask about five to ten times, if that).

Until, then, however, I am glad to have been let out of my shell for a while. It makes for good stories. It makes me appreciate the world. It makes interesting things happen, and it makes me learn things I otherwise would have never known.

I was startstruck when I saw President Carter, but most of my time here I've been struck with awe of the extraordinariness of ordinary people.

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