Monthly Archives: July 2009

Professions

Recently, I met with a childhood friend, who now is a professional playwright. We used to write creative assignments together at school. Now she gets paid for her stories. Wow! My job is very different, I have an “academic service job”. In a sense, our jobs are like night and day.

Still, when we discussed our biggest professional challenges, we named the same things: dealing with uncertainty and shame. Overcoming fear.

An experiment

Are you open for a quick thought experiment? For this experiment to be successful you need to be able to deconstruct some of your cultural conditioning. The topic of this experiment is often discussed in several forums including high and popular culture, religion, peer groups and families. For the experiment to be successful it is necessary to ignore what you have heard about this topic before. Please,  simply fulfill the request of the experiment without giving in to your immediate reactions clouded by your previous experiences or conditioning. Are you ready?

Now consider for one moment that you have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Say you are to have approximately two to three weeks of lifetime left. How exactly would that change your life?

Now what were your first feelings reading the paragraph above? Perhaps repulsion – was this it? Is this all hanba had to write about today? I cannot be bothered to do this. Nevertheless, please, look beyond that repulsion. Dissect it. Whose lessons did the paragraph make you associate to? Whose programming have you been subjected to? The Dalai Lama, Edith Piaf, your grandmother, the Sopranos, Paulo Coelho?

My boyfriend tells me his dying grandfather regretted having watched too much television in his days. I am trying to think what it is that I would regret. This requires more thought than what is apparent at a first glance.

The first thought I have is to question whether so much needs to change after all. Who is to say that when death approaches I will undergo a deep transformation? Of course there are the practicalities, such as perhaps signing a will and saying goodbyes to friends and family, which would involve a change from what I do every day. However, regretting things and being thankful of others is an ongoing process that happens even when death is not imminent. Perhaps this ‘change before death’ is not something universal but rather, enforced on us by cultural programming. Many people in our culture believe that some kind of a holy spirit takes over the dying, making them see clearly and be more respectable than others. The imminence of death makes a person ‘rise beyond’ the normal everyday life in many people’s eyes.

Furthermore, several people have confessed sins to a priest or a nurse before death, hoping for absolution and peace.

While I am not trying to take away the sacrament of dying, I would like to question the hype around the phenomenon. Just like giving birth, death is an important part of life. Somehow, though, the metaphysics seem more challenging. I think the fear many people have of dying influences the attitude we have towards dying, making it less of a normal part of life. Our thoughts are diverted, we feel repulsion thinking about death. Quickly we make the dying possess a special ‘holy spirit’ in order for us not  have to identify with the dying. ‘He is not one of us any more, he is marked by death.’ The viewer is purified from having to think of their own mortality, labeling the dying as part holy. Absolution is a part of this process, as if a person would be any more or less free from their sins on their last hours of life.

Hanba is just a regular everyday normal gal and does not give metaphysical advice. However, I do recommend you to continue this thought experiment through the rest of the day. Take this memento mori with you and consider whether you would do anything differently if you knew you were dying next week. Try to overcome the repulsion towards thinking about your mortality, if only for a day.

What is it that I believe to regret? Simple things, such as not having spent enough time with family and not having written enough. As for absolution, I am going to try to fix the two issues mentioned above so I do not need to worry about it when I peg out.

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Since I’m on holiday, I recycled an older hanbapost.  This one is one of my favourites, hope you liked it.

“Soul landscape”

Recently, I met a man who was born and raised in a country with spectacular mountains. Now he has lived in a flat country for years; he is married and has a three-year old child. For nearly a decade, he has not gone back to his mountains.

Instead, he has taken up rock climbing and even produced a documentary film about this hobby of his. He wants to show his child how the world looks like from the top of a mountain, but most of the time this quest ends up at hilltops. Being on flat land, according to him, makes him suffer from “small world syndrome”, which for him means that he is not able to see the vastness of the Earth around him. Instead, he only sees a couple of city blocks or a few kilometers of flat plains or woods. This makes him uncomfortable, maybe even anxious.

I cannot understand this “small world” feeling as such. I have been to mountaintops and have enjoyed it. It is nothing, however, that I would obsess about. However, I come from a country of lakes and forests. I get a feeling close to a religious experience sitting on a porch by a lake.  The surrounding dry forests, capable of supporting only stubborn moss, lichen and a bunch of tough trees, are what I consider homely.

In the Nordic countries, we see a great many German tourists. This despite of the outrageous Scandinavian prices. (A pint may honestly cost around 9 euros). What are the Germans doing here? Surely they don’t come for the beer. They come because they have cut down their trees. They come here, because the trees, woods, cuckoos, clean rivers are still part of the German soul landscape.

Think about it, do you have a special relationship to the kind of flora and fauna where you grew up? Other places, however pretty they may be, cannot really conjure up the same feeling. All the smells, sounds, sights.

Universal formulas

I fancy formulas. Such nice and simple way to view the world. “The amount of chaos in the world is increasing.” “Everything is relative.” Behavour of gases can be calculated from formulas.

Here’s one that is maybe not scientifically fully proven: the amount of suffering is constant. If one source of discomfort is eliminated, another will show up to take its place. Suffering is like energy in the first law of thermodynamics: it can never be created nor destroyed, it only changes form. Suffering is a human condition and cannot be eradicated. Tuberculosis is out of the window, but obesity and diabetes are gaining wind. While not as dramatic to the outside observer, these diseases are no less deadly. A friend of mine, who lost her husband in a car accident, is astonished how small issues people get deeply disturbed about. Poverty causes suffering, but existential problems have handicapped many people of the middle class. The rich suffer because of their wealth.

This “formula” of mine is difficult, since it is not universal between people. Some do suffer more than others. I do not wish to be disrespectful to the people who have a really difficult “lot in life”. What I’m saying is that if there is no obvious reason to suffer, many humans somehow and somewhere find their suffering anyways. This I have seen in so many people I have met that I dare suggest it may be a law.

Of course, I am not the first to suggest suffering as human condition. There have been countless before me, Christians, Buddhists, philosophers, you name it. Here’s a link to Artur Schopenhauer’s views on suffering.

I think it’s interesting how parents, out of love, often try to shield their child from suffering. Doing this often just leads to a different kind of suffering. It is easy to make comments when you don’t have kids of your own, but to you parents out there, why do so many parents make such a fuss about shielding from all harm? Some suffering I understand you have to shield from, but all of it? Not eating a single apple peel when pregnant to avoid dangerous chemicals harming your child? Not training a kid in basic life skills, because the training situations, i.e. life’s events are deemed “too harsh”?

Happy endings

A friend of mine has joined a facebook group called “Disney movies have given me unrealistic expectations of love”.  I found this to be a very charming group. In a Disney film, there is always a happy ending, when the beast gets his beauty or Pocahontas gets her whoever. In an earlier post, titled literary devices, I talked about how the multitude of stories in our lives has affected the way we view reality. We are constantly bombarded with stories, which are descriptions of events that follow a narrative.  Narrative, however, is not real life. We see stories all around, making it increasingly difficult to distinguish the difference between events in a narrative and events in real life. (read this) The concept of an ending surely plays  a part here. My unmarried friend, however sarcastic and witty she may be, by joining this fb-group confesses (in a funny and endearing way) that she longs for the end of her story, her prince and half a kingdom.

Are there any endings? Surely, like pauses in any symphony, a change in conditions can be called an ending. A person finishes school, a jail sentence or gets married. Death, obviously, can be seen as an ending. A change in conditions, however, is a fundamental concept of existence. Change keeps coming back, it’s neither the beginning nor the end. It is with us all the time. I believe forcing a change in conditions to be a beginning or an end creates unrealistic expectations for life.

Happy endings often give the reader a sense of cosmic justice. The evil is defeated, the tension broken, a state of eternal happiness has been suggested. When a victorious couple rides into the sunset, the reader can feel somehow purified. A happy ending restores faith in life. Real life, of course, seldom offers static happiness. Have we, who are subjected to stories all the time through tv and other media, came to expect cosmic justice or eternal happiness through our daily exposure to stories? Do we have a false world view due to unconscious expectations? Again, unrealistic expectations?

To fight the cheesy, eternally peaceful happy ending, some authors prefer a sad one instead. The protagonist loses – or worse still, gets killed. He becomes a victim of suicide or homicide, betrayed by those he trusts. Evil wins, prevails and reigns. This solution may take the worst cheesiness out of a story, yet it still provides closure and leaves the reader laden with emotions – which for many authors is the raison d etre of literature.  A story is no story if you aren’t touched by it. Make the reader feel something and you’ve got yourself a successful novel.

Why does an ending need to be happy or sad, why doesn’t the plot just end? In real life, there is no closure, only pauses in the rhythm of life. Why pretend there is closure by giving us emotion-laden endings? The reason is that not doing so may leave the reader feel betrayed, incomplete. “Did I just read 500 pages for nothing?” This very feeling is what I want to dissect with this blog post. Why do we desire closure? More specifically, why do we desire emotion-laden closure? Also, turning the question upside down, is our desire for closure a result of the multitude of stories we have experienced?

As a saying goes, “the opposite of love is not hate but indifference”.  The opposite of a happy ending is not a sad one, but an indifferent one. A non-ending. Indifference doesn’t sell books, so if there is an indifferent ending out there, it is probably in a postmodern novel without an audience.

I could form a facebook group called “beginnings and endings (happy or sad) have given me unrealistic expectations of life.” Hmm maybe a more successful method might be to rid myself of our unrealistic expectations, I’ll just ignore the beginnings and endings, the past and the future and look around me. What do I see, feel or do this very second? Change is present in every second we experience. My hair is slowly thinning, my youthful face ageing, my breakfast is digesting. Change is omnipresent and not confined to beginnings or endings. Life, while we live it, is not a story.

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ps. I finally finished the Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. At the end, I decided I liked it and consider it worthy reading – because of the ending. 😉 The novel could have been shortened by quite a bit, but I believe her epic style is a part of her uniqueness. I respect her for sticking to her style, however much it demands of the reader.

A small break and a long novel

Still on a holiday. Taking a slightly longer break from blogging than anticipated. Still in Finland, busy enjoying sauna/lake-combo trips. Still reading Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead. Am halfway through and have hit a wall. Everything is against the protagonist. Feels like reading a 500 page Donald Duck – novel. (Without the nephews helping Donald out.) I’ve been told it gets better. Going to get some more reading done tomorrow on a major train ride across the country.

Any reading recommendations for a blogger on holiday? 🙂 Something thinner – in style with Bonjour Tristesse?

On a holiday

Hanba is on holiday. Visiting friends and family. Take care of your loved ones, eh? Some lovely buildings here in Eastern Finland, too.  I have tried to get into a habit of asking when interesting buildings around me have been built. It’s nice to try to build a mental timeline of the cities I visit. It’s a nice way to make cities open up for you.

More about the weather – as promised – in my next posts… Stay tuned on the HANBABLOG. 🙂