Some Unglamorous and Selfish Thoughts About Working On a Big Project

I feel I am an entity, not a person. I feel I am a business for art production, my morals have changed and so have my perceptions of decency.

The only thing I still care about sufficiently and urgently is hydration and exercise. All else, social commitments and family and relations and being emotionally available, must suffer. 

I have become a shell and I have realised that working a full day, even with art, even with what you cherish the most and will do anything for, is exhausting. I am vulnerable to criticism and hate being called a nagging, annoying woman by music journalists, although I want to be nagging, I want to be annoying, I want them to have to call me back, to pick up their phones, to write about me and about my art. To give me an answer, a clear answer, and that is why I keep calling, trying to keep my voice concise and professional, and I ask and then wait for them to answer, I don't fill the silence with uncertainty and apologies as I might have done before.

I am not in the business for moods this week: everything feels to urgent and yet slow, like a dead whale sinking towards you and you are right below it at the bottom of the ocean but you cannot move: you know you will get crushed not matter where you go.

I am walking beside myself these days. On the one hand there is me, and on the other hand there is the me who is working on the project, and thinking about the project, and making lists for what to do for the project, and making phone calls to journalists and news desks which always begin with, Hello, this is me and I am calling to follow up on a press release I sent about a week ago...

You are nagging and you are irritating and people have work to do, could you please stop calling me? I get about a thousand e-mails every day, what if everyone called just like you did, can you imagine how that would be? 

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And this is me, trying to write about working and what it's like to be an artist since people sometimes ask and I just want to give them a coherent answer. A blogger I like wrote about this summer that it was full of joy and anxiety, and I I can relate. I would like to tell you what this is like, this immense freedom and insecurity, this pushing and pushing away of realistic and pragmatic thoughts like, when will you get a proper job, what will you do after this project, how do you plan to pay for it all, will you make any money from it. I wish I could give you a good answer when you ask me how I am, because I would like to tell you that I am fine but only half, only half a person, half a life.

It is not sustainable, of course it isn't, and I would become unbearable and incredibly, terribly lonely and hateful if every week was like this one. I am not attempting to describe stress, or pressure, or explain how to manage expectations: I am simply trying to say, look, look at this and look at how I am right now. Can you not see that most of me is gone?

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there was something like a darkness

this is an essay I wrote for a class on Christianity back in 2015. It has been edited lightly and formatted to fit this blog and to fit me as I am, now. 

 

Let me begin this essay with the claim that religion is a lot of nonsense, and that Christianity is only good for one thing: to study, dissect and then abandon as we saunter forward. If you believe past the age of fervent, pubescent worship, you’ve already tipped past the point where we can discuss anything. I take a look at you, and have already decided that we’re standing on opposite sides of a vast, gaping hole in the earth, and although one of us might cross over to join the other one, there is no force in this world that can close the bleeding chasm.

This is what I believe, and continued to believe until my heart opened up one day. And no, this essay is not going to be a conversion story. It’s personal rather than academic, granted, but I don’t want to write about my newfound faith in Jesus Christ, because I don’t have it. 

But all I want is to explain to you what it feels like to have someone reach inside of your ribcage with smooth hands and unlock your chest with a dry snap and there is something so intense your spine curves in. You straighten your back and sit up. You’re listening now.

 

There are so many things that balance on the knife-edge between languagelessness and an immense desire to say something—anything—about it. Writings of this kind are usually bad, often incomprehensible, but once in a thousand year it makes all your razor sharp hairs stand up and whistle against one another. Great poets do this. It is done when Rainer Maria Rilke speaks to us as my lovely darling, you whom the most tempting joys have mutely leapt over. It is done when T.S. Eliot spreads us out against the sky like patients etherised upon a table, and when Bei Dao 

 

speaks of the arrogance of strangers

that can send down March snow

 

 

When something of tremulous importance happens to us, we forget to breathe. Thrown down on the ground, we realize that our shoulders have hiked up our lengths with a lack, a loss, some cycle not completed as according to schedule. I take a look at my wristwatch: it’s time to breathe again. We look around embarrassed. Did anyone notice that our technique wasn’t perfect? That our meeting with the mat not so smooth because a glance was shot at you from across the room and every bone in your body threatened to break?

 

This year I have fallen deeply in love. My joints loose and muscles sore, I come home every night with bruises on my wrists ankles the lap dog joints in my spine that contract when your hand lingers on my arm, and it’s only a hair too long, but for me never enough.  

This year I have fallen deeply in love, but not only with a person. 

This year I have fallen deeply in love with a concept that will not let me go, that chases me into my dreams and hounds me as I wake and strokes the inside of my knees when I try to go to sleep, and please let me have some rest, will you? 

This year I have fallen deeply in love with a sense of infinite expansion within myself that threatens to bring tears to my eyes and embarrass me in front of everyone. I’m flushed and warm and too uncomfortable but please never stop speaking and I’m enchanting my hand with those words hoping that something, something, something will be left on these pages when I hover over them later in this evening. 

This year I have fallen deeply in love with Christianity, or something like it, or it’s Satanic but seductive twin-brother, or actually I’m just spiritual I think but I don’t know anymore.

This year I have felt tears filling the inside of my smiling face as I thought about a children’s book, and I wondered how something so simple could have such enormous significance and meaning and essence that I’m willing to risk failing a gradeless class with the simplest essay topic ever and also my dignity and also, and most eerily, my sanity.

 

I could never understand the mystical writings we were assigned in class, except for Saint Teresa of Ávila because it reminds me of other kinds of writing, and I always felt a lack or strange pull downward like sand coming out from under your feet, it was the ocean all along. 

Milan Kundera fittingly enough writes about a young woman named Teresa in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. We read about her search for moments when her soul rises to the surface of her body like passengers to the deck of a ship, connected to some holiness she finds in literature and in Tomas, her future husband. This feeling, this soaring, upward movement of the spirit is recognizable to us all in lovers meeting at night, in learning something new, and thus, in union with God. 

 

 

 

(and I didn’t even have to try at all to meet your eyes and then fall on my knees

and give up)

 

 

To reinstate the fact, or perhaps whisper it for the first time: I didn’t come to class to be converted, and I am, in fact, not. I lost my faith at 14 when I was going through the education for confirmation. The more questions I had the less the priest seemed to answer, and I can only recall one moment in which anything like a God seemed present. This fallibility in His messengers and human element disgusted me. Nothing made sense, and I let go of the faith that had been mine for borrowing: I felt like a liar and I still am.

 

 

one month ago: I’m skyping with my father, and he’s telling me about a tragic incident where a child died in the small town where I’m from. “Five hundred people showed up to the funeral,” he says, “and over a thousand came to the vigil. I think it’s in times like these that people need God.” I didn’t reply; I couldn’t. “Do you find it strange to hear me speaking like this?” he asked. 

 

 

I never expected to be moved to tears when Rilke was cited in class; half-remembered and drowsily I shrugged sleep off and looked up with tightness in my tongue 

 

for beauty is nothing

but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure,

and we are so awed because it serenely disdains

to annihilate us.

 

and I never even gave a thought as to whether anybody else were having the same experience as I was. I am not religious and I never plan to be. Mass is ridiculous and hypocritical more often than not, and I laugh at our parish priest every Christmas when I join the mandatory trip to church. This might be cruel, but I might now be moved just a little bit to say that if there can be something as beautiful as this in Christian writings, then I will be there, and I will listen; 

 

 

 

tickle me. amuse me.

 

 

 

and what if the most wonderful people I meet all embody the same thing and I see it everywhere and I cannot write coherently about it for fear of being mocked and driven out of town

 

What, then, does it feel like when there is no more room inside of you and you are filled up to the top, edge, rim and you don’t know if something is spilling over but it certainly feels like it?

and I’ve been looking for years: could this be it, then?

 

am I simply returning to naïve infantile gestures from a religiously secular childhood where Jesus was compulsion and there was a layer of dust over everything—rationality? 

do you think that this is just a fling, a sort of one-night-stand with some immature system of thought? am I in raptures because this seems to have the capacity to contain everything that I love and humor and joy and something akin to holding your breath for hours, days, and finally letting go of it all.

does it seem to you that I’m empty? do I have more to say? does this emulate belief? have I been calling it something else all along? 

 

Finally, my dear, I must speak directly to you, and I must speak through you, so that my words might end up on your dry bones fallen on the ground as the children stopped playing with them, dashing madly inside for sandwiches like it was the second coming

 

and I, in turn, hurtle after you as you grasp all my puerile fears and sense of loss and desire for

a life in which I am anxious no more: it is in sight

 

and could I please tell you that I’ve fallen deeply in love with something that’s more than an idea but sits in my flesh, right at the tender spot

between my first and second toe

Seize your fear, I’ll do the same. a hand smites down and my ribs are compressed like bad typeface

 

So, in turn, I do not know how to answer you any better than this, and it’s all I know. And if you will, then forgive me, I’ll attempt to do the same.

 

 

Bibliography

Dao, Bei. Unlock. trans. Eliot Weinberger and Iona Man-Cheong. New York: New Directions Books, 2000.

The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. edited by Stephen Mitchell. New York: Vintage International, 1989.

The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry. ed. Richard Ellmann and Robert O’Clair. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1988.

Part Two of My Love Letter to an Unnamed Residency

Part two: This was my project proposal for the residency. I was cold, I think, or at least wearing many layers; my borrowed chair by my borrowed desk (I was forever the impostor) was uncomfortable, or perhaps it was too comfortable, I cannot recall. I refuse to look back, I think this is a general rule I must set for myself in order not to drown in nostalgia, and this will not be an exception. 

I wonder about this, now: where do unfinished art projects go? What about the ones that were conceived but then aborted, either by force or from an unfortunate fall down the stairs, just a short trip to get marmalade from the pantry? Do they go to heaven? Do the evil ones go to hell?

 

I will tell you this, for this is what I have now begun:

It is a project where I bead and bead and bead my own passport photo so that I cannot recognize my own face. Parts of it may be visible, but there is a strain and one cannot breathe.

Beautiful though they are, words like strangulation and asphyxiation bring life to unpleasant dreams; you wake gasping and crying for air. We all have dreams, don’t we, where our fingers curl and stretch around our throats?
 

 

What does drowning feel like when it’s a relief

What does drowning feel like when water is more welcoming than dry earth

What does drowning feel like when the better alternative to life on land that doesn’t want you that doesn’t need you

What does drowning feel like with child clutched to your chest trying to get out and up


 

Cough and sputter all you want, but coming up for air is almost never a good idea.
 

I will never, probably, know what being an asylum seeker or refugee feels like, and I think that makes me grateful. My original idea was to seek asylum as a refugee in various European countries and document this. Though still on the table, something tells me I don’t know enough, I don’t know nearly enough.

So then I wanted to bead and to continue beading my own face, the face of an asylum seeker, a refugee. If I can cover these pictures drawings images with thousands of beads and spend time doing so, then surely I will be better equipped to understand the sheer number of people roaming across the Mediterranean in nothingness boats for a slight hope of something (life) better than nothing (death, or worse, a worthless life).


 

If I try to find every refugee and asylum seeker in the Unnamed City and speak with them, will I understand it better?

If I bead them all, will I understand it better?

(and why does it look so much like beat and I wonder and I wonder)


 

So this is what I want to do, and if I haven’t said so already then I might never get to the point. Listen-

If I don’t bead a thousand faces life-size on a slippery daffodil-colored boat this year in Vilnius, then I might never do it.

If I don’t embroider one hundred faces that on either side of the Great Divide (seeing and being seen, arriving and welcoming, rejecting and accepting), the citizens and soon-to-be- or never-will-be-citizens this year in Vilnius, then I might never do it.

And if I come to the Unnamed City and don’t embroider or bead at all then know I have not failed.


 

The title of my project is They Come At Night and is a work in progress and a mind plan and a master plan and also a blueprint drawn with flimsy water colors that slip off the page before you say cheesecake.

They Come At Night is a project that aims to identify and understand the integration and/or assimilation of refugees and asylum seekers in Europe, particularly the Unnamed City, through personal narratives gathered through interviews and meetings conducted by said artist (myself).

They Come At Night is, in its dreams and ambitions, a multidimensional installation that can grow and run throughout my time at the Unnamed Residency. In its form, it becomes an online archive with the information harvested, sound and writing and image. In patience, I will bead it, or at least the people I see and meet, or perhaps only my own face, again and again, serious no contrast white background officialdom that never smiles.

They Come At Night tries to approach you with grace on its side and a knife in the pocket. Occupying both real and virtual spaces I envision it like a mold that grows uncontrollably, bereft of a predictable result (or else: you only notice it when your cheese, bread and ham are all devoured and long gone). Unlike a mold, however, I will not work alone and in the dark.

They Come At Night will also invite sneaky and suspicious-looking collaborations, must involve travelling, and requires a relatively open studio policy (from my side).

They Come At Night is already begun, if only in its simplest and most straightforward form: the beadings, one of which I have sent you.


 

I try, and I try, and yet again I try.


 

They Come At Night is something I have begun but also something that isn’t nearly begun, because it is a large and living thing (and births can be difficult and traumatic, we all know) and it will set itself upon the world in such a manner that I’m worried (certain) of losing control entirely.


 

My dearest darling:

This is my project and here you have it. Like a scaffolding merely, I am holding it together with dreams of being with you this coming Spring, patiently beading away on the Norwegian farm where I currently reside, teaching at the local middle school. Some days I pierce my own face one million times with a tiny needle and then extend the pain a tenthfold with the thread that drags itself through it: across the plains there are also beads upon beads upon beads. When my eyes later on, my countenance is heavy with tears and I wonder where it all came from.


Thank you. Thank you.

Application to an Unnamed Residency

Preface: I wrote this application in a frenzy some time late in 2015 at the teacher's room where I was a substitute. The Unnamed Residency is just that for privacy reasons, because I do not know if the Residency wants to be named and included in my art and writing, and because it might contain sensitive information about the Residency. I strip at the turn of the tide, but will hesitate to bare you naked too.

 

I saw you and I knew that you were perfect.

But first, let me tell you a story. Listen-

I spent the Spring of 2014 in New York at a residency program along with a bunch of juniors and seniors from other art schools in the US and Canada. Having no idea the scope or structure of the program, I figured I’d likely be doing what I was already doing: drawing attenuated lines marched up like soldiers on faded Chinese paper. For hours I could sit. It’s rarely a problem for me to be alone.

But I wasn’t alone, and the more time I spent in New York the less time I’d engage with my patience-demanding, back-aching, time-engulfing lines upon lines upon lines upon lines upon lines of ink (my brush had no more than 15 hairs, of that I’m sure). Surely there are still signs of my wear and tear on the communal kitchen and living room in the residency? Photos of the floor before and after we cleaned it, like from black to white? Or, to be honest, from a dark gray to a lighter shade…

We would sit in the kitchen and talk into the late hours of the night, and my studio became sorely neglected. Talking became listening, and I listened all I could, my ears big and red and sore. Economics and New York housing policy and gentrification, art and money and class and art, hashtags and activism and political meetings and panel discussions until something had to come out of me, I would overflow and drown.

Upon returning to my studio I discovered it was a complete mess. Drawings of naked ladies on the wall, big and dirty sheets of fake grass meant for a mini-golf court, marshmallows made out of baby clay and piles upon piles of paper printouts of screenshots taken from Rihanna’s video What Now (I was working with bondage for part of the year).

Dark gray became light gray and walls white. Tables piled into my studio space and I sent out invitations; the first of May two-thousand-and-fourteen the first Unpanel commenced, a somewhat haphazardly constructed (and poorly moderated) roundtable discussion about art and money and collaboration. Many came from Occupy, from alternative educational institutions, from my residency, from art resource centers, from everywhere. It worked well and it totally flopped and I learned a million things from it, but it wasn’t why I came to New York. It became the reason I loved it, and did something no one else had done there before.

The question I’ve been asked is why I’m applying to you, and I told you that my reason is because you are perfect. I told you this story about my time in New York because it was as rich as butter and cream, but not what I planned for it to be. When I first found you about a year ago (right after the deadline had passed) I thought that this was a place where arrival and departure can be two different things. Where something can be many things, and newness is something too.

I’ve told you this story, and in telling you I’ve got hopes that you could be one such story I tell later on. About giving back and stretching the definition of who we are and what we make and what we make art for

It is because of this: I came to New York to do one thing and I left doing something completely different. You are one such place. You are not a factory, I think. Neither are you a cow, where the same stuff comes up day after day after month after year, and milk comes and then poop: it’s predictable.

You are perfect, you are whole and unpredictable and strange and open and I don’t know what you want but creativity and art and thinking and working, and I want to be in you.

Some updates and joyous news!

It's been a while, I know. There are several reasons for this that are absolutely uninteresting for me to go into as they mostly involve me spending my days mowing lawns and planting flowers on a graveyard in Oslo. Fine, I went into it anyway, because I honestly really enjoy it, though it naturally gives me much less time to work and to write. 

BUT I have still found SOME time, and I always have time to read yeses or noses from people I've begged for money from. That sentence turned out a bit weird... Mostly it's noses, but I can finally say that I've gotten a yes, or actually, SEVERAL yeses! Alright, two yeses. I won't say too much about the second one because nothing's been finalized and I'd hate to come crawling back and say it didn't work out, but I can at least disclose the first one and what this wonderful, sumptuous and highly desirable yes will mean for me. 

As I have subtly disclosed in this interview I am going to Japan in the middle of the summer! I was going to do this anyways, but now I have also been given a gorgeous and generous grant to do so, from the Scandinavia-Japan Sasakawa Foundation. I know, I know, not supposed to brag, being both Norwegian and a flink pike (look it up, it's a rather common syndrome in Norwegian females, young and old), but I will. The trip to Japan will be month-long, and I'm going to spend my time there participating in an indigo- and shibori workshop led by Bryan Whitehead (this is his blog, which is so well-written and poetic) outside of Tokyo and traveling around the country visiting different places that are important to Japanese textile traditions and crafts. More on this later. I have also received homework, and I MAY or may not disclose the progress, but having been without homework for a year now I find that I'm totally out of the habit... As I prepare for the trip by doing research and DOING HOMEWORK (just have to actually write that) I will try to keep blogging about it, and I will naturally blog about the trip in da real time, as it iz happening. 

Preview of homework. Not sure if this will work out, but we shall see!

 

 

Excerpt: Short story "There is a change in temperature now"

ONE (i)

There is a change in temperature now. The kettle is becoming more and more reluctant to boil my water each morning, and it's come to a point where I barely have time to let the tea cool before I drink it; my scalded tongue torments me throughout the day and is the cause of much misunderstanding. Where it comes from, I don't know, but they tell me winter is drawing up for the first time in a long time. The stores have even put out warmer clothes as a tentative measure and to see where the lay of the land is. Nobody takes their endeavor really seriously; their merchandise consists mostly of rugs and blankets haphazardly sown into shapes somewhat resembling human forms or potato bags. Yet some people do buy them, and it's become a sort of silent discord—you can hear it as a high-pitched tone of waspishness searing through the streets in the morning—between those who believe in winter and those who don't, and you can distinguish them by looking for human-couch hybrids hobbling around in the streets. 

There's also been another development in the realm of merchandise and goods for sale. Someone read in a book that children drink hot chocolate in the winter-time, and so the ingenious and scrupulous have stationed themselves outside the kindergartens and primary schools selling cocoa to the kids between and after classes, not even the Jewish school has been spared. It's nonsensical really—the children don't even have any money to pay for it!—but it's working, and there's now a whole hot chocolate black market up and running as a whole separate economy, it’s even attracted out-of-town investors. Some of the children have gotten involved, and are receiving discounts in return for running cocoa to the kids who have to sit inside during the break for causing mischief and have to write lines like: A FREE MARKET ECONOMY IS SURELY AN UNSUSTAINABLE SOLUTION, WE MUST WORK TOWARDS A DEVELOPED MIXED ECONOMY WITH STATE-OWNERSHIP IN STRATEGIC AREAS OF THE ECONOMY SUCH AS THE COCOA-SELLING BUSINESS fifty times (nicely) in sky blue ink.

I ALWAYS LOOK FORWARD: running on snow and other Norwegian norms

I always look forward to running on snow. Up and down the hills, on the road through the farm, across the fields and fields and fields for a long stretch, I look forward to the few kilometers (if even that) when we’ll run on snow. 

We usually don’t because not everybody’s feet are as big and flat and boat-like as mine, and not all ancles are as sturdy and stubborn as the ones at the bottom of my legs. I wonder if this is what I’m built for, if this is my purpose, if I ever had one. 

Running on snow = struggle. The lone streetlight at the other end telling us we’re more than halfway and very nearly there. Disco-effect when lights from cars and your headlight and the light from the road meet on the snow, dizzying. 

I don’t run very far and I don’t run very often and I certainly don’t run very fast. I’ve gotten to a point where I don’t dread tying my shoelaces and heading out, but I probably still enjoy the part that comes after more than the actual running. Except, of course, when I run on snow.

So let me tell you what’s so good about it, or how I’ve somehow condensed my feeling of intense bliss down to something I can pretend to explain in a logical manner. 
First of all, running in winter is something else. Everything is something else in the winter-time, we all know that, but running is something that’s remarkable. More clothes on don’t feel like a hinder but rather like a protection and a little bit as if you’re not doing it yourself. I am more secure with layers upon layers of wool and reflexive material and gloves and hats and vests, and I am less myself (the same goes for driving a car in the winter-time: that illusion of safety from dressing and dressing and dressing yourself with so much fabric, nothing can hurt you, no impact).

Second, the important thing when running on snow is just enduring. There is no technique apart from not-falling and there is no speed except forward and there is no sense of achievement because you are simply running, not winning or losing anything as is the case so often in life. Because of the slight obstacles in the path and in keeping your balance and not falling you (or rather, I) can’t concentrate on anything else. My worries, bills, thoughts of the future. It all disappears. 

This is cheesy, I know. Who hasn’t written about running being an ecstatic and meditative endeavor? Who doesn’t make grand, philosophical statements about running as life in its purest forms and how we are all running away from something all the time and issues with your father and so on, you see where I’m going with this.
So, that’s not what I’m trying to do here. I’m simply saying this: running on snow is so, so nice because I want to go forward and I need to go forward. There is no thought of stopping.

When I run on snow a thin veil appears to me. It is the fine, fine veil that separates fatigue and exhaustion from elation and ecstasy. In a way it's a voice telling me I've finally arrived, and that with every step I'm arriving. 

Språket

Det slår meg at Språket er et lite dyr som 

gjemmer seg i skogen bak vedskjulet. 

Det kommer aldri når du roper på det, selv om skinkebitene er spist opp når du lufter hunden neste morgen. 

 

Språket skremmes av alt og alle; 

høye lyder

sterke farger

latter (skingrende, klukkende, pertentlig, tørr)

men mest av alt tanken på at du kanskje en dag drar din vei.

 

Vi merker det de dagene vi vasker skoddene. Da stikker de ut fra veggen i stram givakt som om de vinker farvel og det er helt klart noe melankolsk over dem. De dagene kan jeg snu meg med skurefilla i hånden og se Språket stå og se på oss fra bortenfor annekset, lammet av skrekk. Slike netter vil jeg ligge våken lenge og hører Språket trøstespise på mønet med små, skarpe tenner som graver seg manisk inn i et treverk som uansett måtte byttes. Morgenen etter tenker du at det er en barkebille av grotesk størrelse, men jeg vet hva som er sant. 

Det var ikke alltid slik at Språket var vår nærmeste nabo. Språket er ingen ungfol akkurat og har nok latt seg sjarmere av flere familier enn vår. Salami, brødbiter i melk, middagsrester, grøt. Ikke rart det er et lubbent lite kryp. 

Vi la først merke til det en dag vi var ute og gikk. Hver gang vi stoppet kunne vi høre tassing og andpusten grynting, av og til observere en lodden rygg bak en tust eller sten (dårlig kamuflasje). Dette gjentok seg flere ganger. Språket fulgte etter oss opp på vidda, på høyfjellet, ned i daler og ut på myrene for å plukke molter. En gang hadde vi satt oss til like under en stein og Språket hadde ikke fått det med seg og forsøkte vel å ta oss igjen, så det tumlet nesten rett ned i fanget ditt, det nærmeste vi noen gang har kommet hverandre. Språket rettet seg kjapt opp og luntet raskt av sted på en meget ærværdig og stolt måte, som om det var meningen å falle midt oppi formiddagsmaten vår. Etter dette flyttet Språket inn i skogen bak vedskjulet. Vi så ikke noe mer til Språket på turene våre. 

Norsk, eller Forsøk På Språk, eller Et Verdig Nederlag

Jeg sier jeg er rusten, norsken min er ikke så bra lengre! og ler når de lurer på hvor jeg har vært de siste seks årene og jeg må fortelle at jeg har vært i Hong Kong, i USA, alle andre steder enn her. Så skal man si noe morsomt, og da forteller jeg gjerne at jeg, da jeg først kom tilbake, gjerne sa hei, hvordan går det med deg? på norsk til de jeg møtte. I begynnelsen kunne jeg ikke forstå hvorfor det tok litt tid for folk og svare, og hvorfor de så litt skrått på meg, til jeg kom på at man ikke sier det på norsk. Du sier hei, og det er det. Hvordan går det er for intimt, det er for nært, så jeg har slått meg til ro med står til? selv om jeg selv synes det er påtatt bondsk, eller kanskje mer jovialt enn det jeg noengang kommer til å bli.

Det jeg ikke forteller dem der jeg står og klør etter å kun finne tomatpuréen og sykle hjem men helst skal fortelle mer om meg selv, noe som kan bekrefte og definere meg, er at jeg har mistet retningssansen min i dette språket. For meg er det ikke lenger opp og ned, bak og frem, nord og sør. Jeg har mistet bakkekontakten og norsk som tyngdekraft blir svakere og svakere jo lenger bort fra jorden jeg svever. De vakreste ordene har jeg glemt. Jeg famler meg frem i blinde og vet ikke lenger hvor ordene mine treffer. Grusom. Enkelthet. Ensom. Sannferdig. Jeg sier ikke at engelsk er ekspansivt og vakkert og at tonene mine treffer der, jeg leker i og med språket og føler meg som et lite barn, mens kroppen min er gammel når jeg snakker og skriver norsk. Jeg sier ikke at jeg føler mitt ordforråd er som en trettenåring.

(Tyngdekraft er forøvrig et av de vakreste ordene som finnes, bare tenk på hvordan det ville blitt oversatt tilbake, force of weight). 

Noen ganger forsøker jeg å snike meg frem og finne det, stille. Ryggen spiss og krum med all luften gjemt øverst i lungene forsøker jeg å ta ørsmå skritt som nesten ikke synes. Jeg er en klam guttehånd over ryggen på kinosetet, oppover låret ditt. Det tar tid, men jeg kommer dit til slutt. Av og til kommer jeg nesten helt frem, så langt at jeg forsiktig kan la fingrene mine stryke leppene dine. Det er som å komme helt innpå. 

Det er kanskje også derfor norsk er et gammelt hus med takbjelker tynget av minner men som har glemt lukten og det fete følelsen av matos. Norsk er et språk jeg bruker med familien min. Det er et språk jeg bruker med hunden vår, jeg føler klangen og stemmen min men jeg kan ikke tenke på ord. 

Mamma snakker om at vi barna må få oss kjærester fra Lom (for de har så fin dialekt og kanskje de er skikkelig gode til å bake pluss at de åpenbart er svært beleste!) og jeg står ved kjøkkenbenken og tenker at jeg kun har hatt én ordentlig kjæreste på norsk. Resten har besøkt, de har kanskje lært seg tosen tak og gla i daj men det har stoppet der, og hvis de begynte på et norskkurs tok det garantert slutt da vi ikke var mer; kunnskap blir farlig når den bor i personer og ømheten du føler for dem heller enn kunnskapen i seg selv.

Ærgjerrigheten river i meg og jeg har dager hvor jeg tenker at det er færre kunstnere på norsk enn på engelsk, det er færre diktere, og det er færre forfattere. Det er færre mennesker på norsk. 

Kanskje dette er begynnelsen, å igjen skrive på norsk istedenfor å først tenke dem på engelsk og siden oversette dem på en dugandes måte. Kjære norsk, kjære kjære språket mitt, jeg kommer i mot deg, om du vil ha meg da.

P.S. Anbefalinger av norske bøker (opprinnelig skrevet på norsk!) mottas med stor takk!

Rejections



Every time I begin writing something like this I feel self-satisfied in the same way you do when you've let yourself eat the entire XL bag of chips: it seems like such a good idea at the time because You Deserve It but then you really just feel sick. I seem to have come to a point where the post-summer high is gone and rejections are piling up around me, cluttering my work space and making it hard to breathe. The Norwegian winters are also remarkably colder and longer than where I've spent the past few years (and I live in the south), so melancholy is easy to come by and then cradle and nurse through hours and hours often spent inside trying to work.

It's an exquisite feeling and I'm telling myself every day that this is gold, this not knowing, this fear of never succeeding, this I don't know where to go only what I want to do. It's silver streamers shot out across an abyss but I can't see if or whether they land or reach any point on the other side at all. 

Is every adults life wrecked by doubt? I do not think I've made the wrong choice, but I wonder if I'll feel the same way if I keep getting no and no and no, with few to no yeses interspersed. I guess that's mental strength and it makes me think that's the only thing that matters (in anything).

For the next year, I don't know where to go. I know what I want to do, but there's obvious the practicality. After some months I thought I'd have a better idea, and in some ways I feel like I've begun traversing the landscape of my creativity with greater agility and lightness of breath than before. I move around more easily, I can see the contours, I am like a 3d modeler inside although some of the angles are obscured and the largest shapes are often clouded by mist (I can't zoom out, it makes me too dizzy). 

But I'm not a practical person and I am beginning to think I never will be; is this the result of growing up in a country where mostly everyone has whatever they need and so immaterial ails suddenly grow out of journals and doctors visits and afternoon coffees with the neighbor? I don't wish I could do something different, and of course I always tell myself that I could be a mathematician (as in, I could want to) or a doctor. 

I don't know how to end this. I suppose I wonder where my borders are. And what will happen.

Why It's Not So Bad


I can't remember if it was one conversation or a series of intermittent dialogues spread out across the days I sat bent on the concrete floor reading one of the books you'd brought (I finished my own in the first few days in Salvador). Sometimes I'd be alone and I recall heating up the coffee our host had not finished before he left for work early-early and that it felt like a betrayal and so tasted delicious (other peoples' homes are the only places the coffee is sweetened). Your old, old phone left on the table playing white birch while I composed long letters about nothing in particular (a horse in the mountains; monkeys playing in the trees like armed robbers). I remember being bored at times and I remember that it tasted too-sweet like something slightly rotten but not dangerously so; a kiwifruit left a day too ripe, alcoholic and dizzying in its exaggerated fruitness. 

We talked about what we'd do and I had, as usual, a million plans (not one) that I'd been working on before coming to meet you: I'd apply for a scholarship to Japan and I was going to a residency in Iceland and another in Italy, I only needed to apply and I was putting together my portfolio and gathering letters of recommendation and so on and so forth. I was so busy and so occupied before coming, and now I was doing nothing, with you. I remember crying, I think because of this, on a hard wooden bench you'd slept on weeks prior, perhaps I felt that I was trying to touch too many things.

I probably got a bit mad with you when judged for having such expansive and impossible ambitions. As if it was a bad thing, something tasted sour and I didn't know how to explain to you or defend myself. Whenever I think about coming back to Norway after my degree, there's one moment in this little house in the jungle that keeps coming back to me, as if that was when I decided not to do, but to try to be. 

I think I betrayed myself a little bit there, but it's like I've ignored it. When I meet old friends I explain, with a self-deprecating laugh, that I'm living at home as a 22-year-old. Somehow that fact seems so fragil and young that I rush to its defences without even stopping to listen, and then what I hear is that so is everybody else. They're all living at home, and they all feel somewhat weird about it, but the thing is that my weirdness comes from other ideas of who and what I should be and aspire to be. It doesn't need my protection, my little situation, and it doesn't need my ego getting in the way of what it needs to be doing. 






About Anger

I'm a pleasant person to be around. I get along with people, play nicely, and tend not to provoke, cause problems, disagree or fly into fits of rage. I rarely argue and am, all in all, a bland and likable fellow. This is, at least, how I think about myself most of the time, because this is how I am to myself.

I know they say that traveling's really all about you. It has little or nothing to do with the actual country you're traveling in, since introspection is the main souvenir you want to bring home. You've learned something about yourself, perhaps you can't put it into words yet and perhaps it doesn't really show in any significant way when you still get up and have a comfortable and relatively peaceful breakfast back home, but it's there. The hidden knowledge about yourself, something gross, perhaps, or beautiful, who knows?




Just a poor, innocent tuk tuk driver, not knowing that this crazy white woman is soon to descend upon him... 


The point of this is that seeing a slum, or even better, touring a slum and speaking with (not to) the locals, makes you a better person. This isn't just traveling and it certainly isn't tourism, it's Traveling and Education and Becoming A Well-Rounded Human Being With Regard For Others And An Understanding Of The Unfairness In The World As Well As His/Her/Their Own Privilege.

I knew this, as I have a quite privileged education. And since I am a pleasant person it was my goal to remain this way WHILE also Traveling in India (note the big T, folks).

Pleasant people do not yell at taxi drivers. Pleasant people also don't get unreasonably mad when someone who's obviously a million times poorer than you is trying to cheat you out of what's actually less than $1. Neither do pleasant people lose it with the tuk tuk driver who obviously doesn't speak English and probably didn't understand where you wanted to go in the first place.



Looking at this gorgeous and superbly scenic photograph of a Kashmiri landscape it's quite hard to believe that this was the Indian state where I was without a doubt most angry!


So I'm a terrible person, I guess. But jokes aside, it was actually very unsettling to see how I reacted in a way I just didn't think was... me. Obviously I can justify myself and say that I was extremely annoyed by constantly getting unwanted attention from people, in some places more than others. Kashmir, for example, is a prime example of a place I will never go again without crossdressing since we (being two young women WITHOUT the company of a Responsible Adult Male) would not be able to walk down the street without hearing "Where are you from?" and "How are you?" from almost every passing male. 

Then I'm supposed to say that it's a courteous and hospitable culture (which it was/is, in some parts more than others) and that those men were simply being helpful and welcoming. And I was a visitor, which I get, I know it's not Norway where nobody will talk to you EVER unless you're closely related by blood, in which case you'll be bound together forever. 

I know this is the age-old question of How-Am-I-In-Another-Culture-And-Can-I-Even-Complain-About-This? Maybe it's not very original either, but I just don't know how to think about this. Do I store that version of myself away from other situations when I feel harassed? Is it more okay to be harassed in a foreign culture because I, after all, chose to go there, and is it less alright for me to be upset about it? Do I adjust my expectations because I'm traveling in a place where women are thought of differently? If so, how? 



After this extended rant about other cultures not being like my own, let's just throw in a picture for good measure of myself doing all the wrong things in India. Spot the vices!


An Attempt At Somewhat Honestly and Less Bitingly and Guardedly Sarcastic Entry On My Trip To The Indian Subcontinent

Trigger warning: I'm trying to be a little less joke-y because it's becoming a little bit annoying to me, but it's honestly so hard to write about my trip to India without making it unbearably sarcastic or dripping with some sort of Wisdom. 

I remember coming to India and thinking I'd never tell both romantic and true stories about the trip. I was standing in my friends' apartment looking through the gritty steel bars out at Chennai and thinking I'd been someplace like this before, and it was too easy to compare. In my mind I've got categories that spell out Undeveloped Nations ("Busy", "Crowded", "Colorful" and "Chaotic But With Its Own Beautiful Logic: I'll Never Judge But Will Definitely Buy Your Overpriced Mugs, Native Woman" are tags for this) and Developed Nations (hereunder we find the Ugly--almost the entire United States, let's be real--and the Beautiful--most Western European cities). These might not be correct or fair or Right (often confused with Righteous), but years of indoctrination, cultural influence and lots and lots of stereotypes have made me so, or I have made myself so. 


  

My sweaty forehead to show you I went to a Hot Place. There isn't much more to say about this, except that it was taken at the Qutub Minar outside New Delhi.



I remember coming to India and thinking that I wanted to learn something, and I wanted to change. There wasn't anything in particular about myself that was bothering me at the time (I know it's a horrible sentence, just bear with me and try not to read it out loud), except for perhaps my tendency to make everything self-reflexive and Life Lesson-y. 





This is a filler picture since I don't have any emblematic photographs of my Thoughts or Reflections, so this is a pretty and interesting bowl filled with something gross that still managed to be surprisingly photogenic. From a coir factory on our way to Alppuzha, Kerala.



When I came to India it felt as if I was split in two consecutive personalities or ways of reacting. The first Johanne (J1) would always think something about a situation, and then the second Johanne (J2) would sweep in to save the day and tell the first me that I should be more culturally sensitive, that every other White Female Tourist probably thinks the same, and that I'm obviously seeing this from an imperial standpoint (though to be fair we Norwegians never colonized. Except for the Vikings, but that HARDLY counts, since it was more a sort of doing stuff (raping, pillaging, burning villages) and then just leaving. And for my American friends, we were the first to get to you but left after non-hostile interactions with Native Americans. I know I'm back home in Norway when self-righteousness feels natural and perfectly good to me!).
So I've got two Johannes, and one of them is heavily censoring the other one, telling her she should be more appreciative of the culture and yada yada yada.
J1 would be thinking that it was staggeringly noisy and messy and why is everybody staring at me?, while J2 would remind J1 that I'm a guest after all and this is their country and I should merely be a passive observer, and then J1 breaks through the door and I'm My Own Woman Goddamnit, I Deserve Some Respect, and Look I'm Even Wearing Indian Clothing No Such Tank Top Business! 
My mind = complete chaos. I wonder if this is what every traveler to India experiences. 

I also remember the months before I went there, and how I'd inevitably get two types of responses from everyone I told; either they'd be terrified and more or less tell me I'd be raped a thousand times before my first sunset on the continent, or they would explain to me that India was their spirit animal or country or whatever and that it was a very special place (told in a sort of seductive/drowsy whisper). Let me also mention that these were reactions post-India, even after I'd try to explain my side of the story, in which I tried not flattering either opinion. I probably came across as a terrified, PC tourist with an expensive education that taught her how not to say things as straightforward as possibly. 



This is also from the Qutub Minar, I think. I just love lawnmowers because they remind me of home and summer, but here it seemed somewhat absurd. Plus the green grass UNCUT seems so much nicer and fresher than the dry and bristly grass that's been mowed.


Honestly, I haven't really talked that much about it since coming home either, and it's been quite a few months. Though that might also be because I'm an antisocial hermit that shies away from people I'm not related to by blood, and I'm suddenly sounding like I'm from the Norwegian equivalent of the Appalachians... 
People ask (not just the Oh-how-was-India-let's-talk-about-your-mother-now, but actually ask), and I say "Weell, I don't know... I really don't know..." and then they know it's not going to be pretty or something, either way they don't seem to want to continue and so we leave it. And so I've just left it. I've left most of my thoughts about India, my real thoughts, somewhere behind, perhaps in the diary I was trying to maintain while there. The only times I've gotten to take a somewhat closer look at what I really thought has been while talking to the friend I traveled with for the entire trip, but it's satisfying in an attention-seeking way to also vent those frustration in a more or less public space.

So I'll try. I'll try to write something about India that isn't just about how you can get SUCH a good mango lassi there for like NO money at all and how people are SO friendly although they are SUPER poor because that is rot. This is a start. 

Some as of lates's


Couple of tidbits: I'm organizing a show of my own work in Norway in about four weeks time!
This is obviously thrilling and seems completely counterintuitive, and lots of second thoughts are announcing their arrival but I guess that's the regular gist of it. 

I even went totally professional and used part of my grant to get postcards printed. If you can't see that's my gorgeous eye peeking out at you. The grant money was given to me by Trafo, a lovely little organization in Norway that supports young artists by arranging workshops, offering mentorship by and feedback from professional artists, as well as GIVING OUT MONEY TO DO STUFF, which is the best part. So thank you!


I naturally went all out and post-ordered beads. 


I have also seen Ai Wei Wei! In London! He has a giant show up, and I was lucky enough to see it. Enormously impressive, though parts of it were kind of flat, in my opinion. Video about steel bars and earthquake top-notch, though!

Hope to be updating more soon, but for now the show is consuming most of my time not spent in school!

Tidbits and Norwegian habits

I have some new goals, and though I'm hesitant to share them here (or share too much about projects I'm working on, as they will change plus involve others... better to wait, methinks), I'll say some few things: 




I've gotten a grant to do a project related to the beadings, which is both TERRIFYING and absolutely thrilling. I feel very lucky, and very un-Scandi to be bragging about it here. I have some ideas, and it will take a slightly different form than this I hope (it should develop anywyas). More to come on that. And in that vein I'm also planning to show these works FINALLY, and this will likely happen in December but THAT IS STILL SECRET.




Funnily, second piece of "news" is that I am super super super bored of the beadings that I've been so proud of on social media and here on this famed blog AND have gotten money to do more of. And I'm sick of them. Serejuslay, so tired. But that's okay, I'm thinking it's just downtime or something. Moms with newborn babies have that, right? Like, tired periods? Where that baby is just... crying so much. Well, not to equate my "burden" with theirs, all I'm saying is that making art with only ones own deadlines is 1. challenging and 2. supa liberating.




Can't remember what was supposed to be here... I'm working on some more, uh, daring? pieces now, but don't really want to show them because I've suddenly realized that NOTHING LEAVES THE INTERNET and I LIVE IN NORWAY WHICH IS SUDDENLY MUCH SMALLER and it feels like I'm related to everybody, so I'll keep that a secret too! For the time being. 

There are more exciting projects for next year also, for which it seems I'll be needing a ridiculous sum of money. I don't know if that's really good or really bad... As in, does it make me more of a real artist that I'm planning to apply for at least 25,000 Norwegian kroner ($3700 roughly)? Or more I-come-from-a-stupidly-rich-country-that-still-has-half-decent-arts-coverage?

Ok.

What the Autobahn said to the Indian Highway: A Story of Next-to-Pakistan-and-Bangladesh continued


Readers, readers, please be still! I have promised you the tale of Bratwurst, Sauerkraut and Smorebro, and I will not fall short on my promises, not once, not ever! As you can tell I'm also busy devouring the fifth book of Game of Thrones instead of consuming the Booker-prize winners I told myself I'd be doing whilst out of school... Oh well.



Where were we... That's right, time had stood still, and to be fair the story hadn't really begun, since I technically haven't even described my descent upon India in the fiery beast that was Qatar Airways (and my walk of shame in Doha airport covered from head to toes in loose clothing yet still feeling like a promiscuous Western wench) because it is irrelevant! I get ahead of myself and then stumble when I go backwards.




Either way, I'll plow on. We--Sauerkraut the Saucy, Bratwurst the Brawny and Smorebro the Sun-Kissed Goddess of the Northern Lands, Ruler of Scandinavia and... eh, well--WE, the Golden Girls of Germanic-Nordic Gallafalidaldi we're in Mammalapuram outside the Dusty City that is Chennai, also known as Madras to those of us with a colonial inclination (and boy did it feel strange to see British travelers in India, "surveying their former colonies," as I think the Brawny one put it).



One quick recap from Mammalapuram, also called Mahabalipuram (does that sound more familiar? I thought so...), as I can hear your parched throats scream at me in unison: BUT DID YOU EAT KRISHNA'S BUTTER BALL?

Well, since you ask:



Yes, I did, and I did it with pride and a great appetite.

BUT WE CONTINUE ON THE PATH! For where did the windy road that actually isn't so windy but Indian drivers are reckless and make it so? India, oh India, the land where any three-file autobahn will feel like the Karakoram Highway snaking through the Khunjerab Pass (highest in the world as highways go, and my fellow travelers, if you want to take me there I will NOT SAY NO), you are a beauty disguised in the beatings of my heart as I actually feel safer keeping my eyes off the road than on.

I digress, for we moved on after having divulged in caste politics (non-PC) in Madras Cricket Club and shopped on other people's money (actually that was just me). A government museum was also visited, and you may not believe it, but they have a prize-worthy collection of holographic images. Whatever that conjures up in your mind, the reality is much, much stranger, I can assure you.

A sneak peek on the next legs of the road:


Will Sauerkraut buy the Reclining Ganesh WITH A LAPTOP for her Honorable Mother?



Will Smorebro get her tongue unstuck from the devious water bottles sold to trap tourists in Chennai airport?


And has Bratwurst turned into a boat on which her friends continue the journey through Kerala, the place where minimum wage competes with dosa as the peoples' favorite dish?


STAY TUNED FOR MORE!


Images are either private or (in the case of those juicy-juicy portraits of The Three Thistly Tarantulas) they are taken from here, here, and here.





India Part One: where Sauerkraut, Bratwurst and Smorebro are briefly alluded to; Lime Water is Observed in Colonial Fashion (through bars); thirty-two eight graders do everything in unison; and a flabbergasted sculpin is discovered at the bottom of a drawer.

I've been thinking if I should write about India. I mean, I WANT TO and I also promised to (myself, my sense of reflection and justice to the past, propriety of memories and processing etc.), but somehow all I can seem to think about these days are 12-15 year olds. And yup, that sounds REALLY CREEPY but it honestly isn't.

Then I thought, HEY, why don't I just make a CARTOON about India? So, you know, keep up with it. Might just hit you in the face one day as you read my blog as part of your daily morning ritual.

Then I thought, what if I just write about fun stories from work and school today? Then that actually violates my contract. So no fun in that corner.

But INDIA, land of A Thousand Spices and Lots of Sad Books About Childhood and Family that's all Westerners ever know about Indian Literature (God of Small Things, A Fine Balance, Family Affairs: let me spoil them for you, they are all depressing as something flabbergastingly depressing!
OR Amitav Ghosh who writes well about colonial-era India and Hong Kong (spoiler alert: Hong Kong becomes a British colony, hur hur), but unfortunately in books that are so big that reading them feels either pretentious or slick, like I'm carrying around 50 Shades (yes, I have weird shame connected to books sometimes).


This first Johanne's version of Kim or Passage to India or Other Colonial Literature I've Never READ But Still Have An Opinion Of will be quite BRIEF yet as always amusing and diverting and informing you, Internet, what the deepest recesses of my mind ponder as thirty-two eight graders all scream in union whilst I just sit there and stare into space, oblivious of The World And All That's In It.

So consider this an India pre-facial! Above you can see my thirst for knowledge being quenched (geddit?) by this curious contraption and/or custom observed in the jolly town of MAMMALAPURAM (say it really fast. Now imagine thirty-two eight graders all screaming this in union again and again and again and again. This is my life now.).
Before you ask in the comment section below that is HEAVILY USED (no seriously, please don't comment any more. I can't handle it. It's too much. I'm drowning. To understand how I feel, imagine thirty-two eight graders simultaneously commenting with intelligent yet funny yet profound comments on your post-graduation-angst-filled blog), YES THIS IS LEMON WATER.

It is a LEMON IN WATER, and I didn't understand, so naturally (being a jerk tourist), I took a photo.



I've seen that I've already spent my writing today... By that I don't mean that I've spent myself, because I can literally write about nothing all day, but attention span of millennials, and so on, so I'll leave you with this Picturesque Scene of Arjuna's Penance (right?) and me in front indulging in what is obviously both an intellectual AND culturally and historically informed argument with fellow travelers. You can tell because my mouth is half-open.

More on India and The Journeys of Sauerkraut, Bratwurst and Smorebro to come! (Wait, who are these?, you ask, New characters? A total cast of Characters, you say? Yes yes, but wait for it! They will be duly, and anonymously introduced, though I have to get better in Photoshop/Paint before this operation commences.)

Back to the eight graders.

All photos belong to Sauerkraut, Bratwurst and Smorebro Corporation Ltd. Exc. NGO CEO, please do not use without AYCSPLICIT consent from the licencees which will only be provided in SPAM.