(Re)orientation

This semester, this month, this week, stress abounds. (Largely, I’ve created this stress for and all by myself.)

As I hurried to deliver a seminar on a topic I felt less than prepared for, cursing the construction which put me a bit further behind schedule than I was comfortable with, I passed by one of the most iconic spots in Helsinki — Senate Square.

I pass this particular spot often when I teach / lecture at the main campus at the University of Helsinki. And, the view never fails to ground and reorient me beyond whatever nonsense surrounds me. This spot reminds me of how insanely fortunate I am to live this life. A life I never imagined possible and one for which I am extremely grateful.

And, just like that, nothing seemed quite so awful or stressful any longer.

Senate Sq.jpg

A glorious, colourful reminder

Life in Finland. Years ago on a business trip to Amsterdam, after listening to me talk about life in Finland, the person to whom I was talking stated simply, ‘So, you’re on the tourism board of Finland then?’ His statement oozed with sarcasm.

There are so many great things about life in Finland. Incredibly efficient public transport. Health care. Top-notch education for all. High quality of life. Fresh air even in the capital city. And, one of the least corrupt places on the planet — if you drop your wallet on the street in Helsinki, you’re likely to get it back with its contents in tact. One of my favourite aspects of life here involves the insistence on giving each new member of Finnish society equal opportunity when born. Yes, it’s a great place to live.

And, then there’s the weather.

For all its loveliness, Finland is not a fair-weather haven. Quite the opposite. Summer is typically lovely, with its long, long days and abundant sunshine coupled with mild temperatures. Winter is dark even when it’s light. The oppressiveness of winter leads us to leave each year for the worst of it. It’s how we survive. But, the seasonal extremes are typically sandwiched between seasons of wet and wetter. When the autumn rains begin, you hope you make it through the worst. You learn to live with it, but it is anything but easy. Personally, I’ve never been quite so affected by a place’s weather. I never understood seasonal affective disorder. Until we moved here.

We have endured an unusual weather year thus far in Helsinki. (In truth, 2017 appears to be a year-long test for us all, weather simply another section of this multi-phase trial.) October has not been cold, but it has been insanely wet. This follows a rather wet and chilly summer, one which even Finns are less than thrilled with. Given that we typically get one glorious season, it’s cruel when we endure winter only to endure a less than sunny and chilly summer. On top of this, the first two weeks of October brought rain. Nearly. Every. Single. Day. Not just a light mist or drizzle, but rain. Heavy and soaking. And, utterly unrelenting.

For the last week, it’s been (mostly) glorious. Absolutely gorgeous and glorious and oh so welcome. Thankfully, this break in the autumn rains coincided with the most colourful period as well. And, again, it’s been glorious.

Thank you, Finland. Thank you for the reminder that you are quite lovely even if your weather generally sucks. It’s moments like these that we live for.

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Silent majority

Across social media, women (and others) declare ‘me too‘ in an effort to shed light on just how prolific sexual harassment and violence are. Yes, it’s incredibly empowering to make a declaration and to publicly describe instances—not all of them by any means, but a sufficient number—attempting to wake others, primarily men, to the realities women live. It is also gut-wrenchingly disgusting. It’s disgusting because women have no problem believing it isn’t most but all of us who have lived with this shit our entire lives.

Whilst my mother’s generation took sexual harassment and assault as a fact of life, likely internalising most if not all of the blame, I suspect most women in my own generation are less reluctant or at least more idealistic about speaking up and out. Yet, we, too, have been silenced. And, we, too internalise it. For every ‘me too’ post we see, countless others remain silent. Why matters, naturally. But, that silent majority has their reasons, and all I or anyone else can really say is ‘you are loved, you are valued and you are believed’. Perhaps more importantly, ‘you are believed and I hope you are safe’.

I’d like to thank those men in particular who have voiced their support, their love and their horror reading our histories. Please, whilst you continue to support us, call out your buddies. Most of us women have tried, and often we’ve failed simply because we are not the dominant nor equal sex.

Simultaneously, and more startling, are the posts I’ve seen by men and more shockingly women suggesting that we all need to speak up. I suspect for many it is far, far too hard to do so. Hell, it’s been nearly 20 years since I was assaulted by someone I trusted and thought I knew better than most of those in my social network. Nearly 20 years later, after posting about my own experiences yesterday, the nightmares I experienced for a least a decade returned. A very large ocean and continent, not to mention a lot of therapy and healing, stand between me and that individual now. I know unequivocally that I am safe. Yet, last night subconsciously I did not feel safe at all. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a husband who not only gets the pain and horror I felt then but continues to support those dark days that return each year around the time of my attack, reminding me that I am loved and believed and safe. And, yet, in an instant, I can return to that incredibly vulnerable place I found myself in nearly 20 years ago.

The worst case involves those countless individuals currently living with similar experiences who do not have any sense of safety or support. Too many still fear their attackers because they cannot escape for whatever reason.  And, just as many are not believed. We may believe them, but those in their immediate surroundings do not. Those who have the power to step in and stop such attacks don’t. Those are the silent majority.

The voices of the silent majority are not to blame for not speaking up just as they are not to blame for the attack(s) they experience(d). Instead, let’s blame their tormentor and attacker. If we ever hope to allow all those who have experienced sexual harassment or violence in any form to speak freely and openly, we have to stop blaming and doubting them. From my very privileged position, it took the case of Brock Turner and nearly 20 years to feel like I could speak up openly.

Out_Of_1000_Rapes 122016.png

Taken from RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system.

On a free press

It’s astounding to me that the current President of the United States continues to wage his one-man (or one-party?) war on the press after any and all criticism or negative press is lobbed his way.

Given that a free press is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, I wonder if our Commander in Chief’s attention waned given that it extends beyond 140 characters:

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

I’ve emphasised the text he might be most interested in. He’s a busy guy, you know. I’ll also give him the benefit of the doubt. It takes a huge amount of time to tweet his own discontent with Senator Corker, various football players and members of the NFL as well as Kim Jong-Un. But, perhaps he’d like to know the thoughts of a few others regarding a free and independent press uninfluenced or uncontrolled by the state.

Perhaps the words of Thomas Jefferson might resonate with him, since they’ve shared the same job title albeit at very different times in our short history:

‘If a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was & never will be. The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty & property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves; nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe. ― from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, Volume 9: 1 September 1815 to 30 April 1816

If Mr Jefferson doesn’t help, perhaps he assumes that this is something that can be simply reversed by whomever at a later date:

A freedom given up is not so easily regained.’ ― Rivera Sun, Steam Drills, Treadmills and Shooting Stars – a story of our times

Perhaps he doesn’t understand the potential power of fact-checking or allowing individuals to decide which writers to trust:

‘Let every writer tell his own lies. That’s freedom of the press.’ ― Norman Mailer, Deaths For The Ladies

Or, perhaps he simply can’t tolerate criticism or opposition:

‘Freedom of the Press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticise and oppose’ ― George Orwell

We’re hurtling down an incredibly slippery slope it would seem. And, whilst comparisons to Hitler are insanely cliche, the reality of that slope becomes increasingly chilling:

‘It is the press, above all, which wages a positively fanatical and slanderous struggle, tearing down everything which can be regarded as a support of national independence, cultural elevation, and the economic independence of the nation.’ ― Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

More than anything, someone needs a reality check. If only the current reality wasn’t quite so terrifying for the rest of us.

Countdown to half

I must be mad.

Shortly after struggling through a mere 10 k, I foolishly decided to sign up for not one, but two half marathons. Yes, yes, I really must be mad.

I have 221 days until the starting line of the Helsinki City Run, the first of the two half marathons. That’s 31 weeks give or take. After struggling to find my motivation following that soggy Helsinki Midnight Run at the beginning of September, I’m returning to base training starting this week.

Many runners including a good friend (who also happens to be my own personal running hero) recommended Hal Higdon‘s half marathon training programmes. My mornings since receiving his book largely consist of reading a chapter from his training book and attempting to keep the panic at bay.

Following a few longer yet rather difficult runs the past few weeks, runs which left me feeling completely uncertain and lacking enough confidence to get beyond 5 k let alone 21 km, I decided to start with Hal’s base training programme and work up to the novice half marathon training programme. These two programmes consist of a total of 24 weeks of training, giving me 6 weeks of wiggle room for any potential injury or illness in the interim. Touch wood I don’t need those extra six weeks for either.

Today’s run? A very simple 1-mile (or 1.609 km). It felt great and helped boost my confidence, even if it was short and sweet. But, also given my shortage of time in recent weeks, beginning with short runs helps me sandwich in training around everything else. This might just work.

It’s a long way to 13.1/21km, but I’ll get there.

 

Week 1 of 24

The view along the paths on today’s run. Day 2 of week 1 of 24; countdown to half marathon #1.

Crazy Cat Ladies — On ‘Kedi’

It’s safe to say that in this house we are crazy cat ladies.

At some point when I find a bit of free time, I’ll finally sift through the photos from our last trip to Cuba and put together a post I’ve been mulling on ‘El Gatos de la Habana’ — The Cats of Havana. I must have hundreds of photos of cats. Just cats, doing what city cats do. With catitude.

Naturally, one of our favourite non-anger-inducing documentaries in recent memory features cats and the crazy men and women who love them.

Kedi‘, which premiered in 2016 in Istanbul, follows the lives of various city cats who inhabit the streets of Istanbul and the humans who live alongside them. It’s rather fitting that the personalities of each of these twitchy-tailed and -eared creatures rely on narration from the humans who feed, care for and watch over them as they come and go at will, occasionally hissing and swatting at any unwelcome attention. These cats are not merely known to any one neighbourhood’s residents; they are considered fellow members of those communities, each individual with unique personalities, character flaws and moods much like their human pals.

Throughout each cat’s story, the humans in its life detail each cat’s quirks, habits, likes and dislikes. Power struggles. Histories. Annoyances and indicators. And, naturally, relationships. Both with other cats and humans. Take what you know of your own community and extend that intimate knowledge to the animals in your hood. That’s what this documentary offers for a city filled with cats.

More than anything, this is a story of symbiosis. The cats of Istanbul, as told by one human character in the film, enjoy a long and storied past, and one completely intertwined with humans. They arrived from various locations far and wide primarily via sailing vessels. Once trapped as their ships set sail without them on board, they then added a bit of diversity to the feline population of Istanbul. After they earned their keep as controllers of the rat population in the city’s sewer system, they took on a rather more important position, and one not entirely without some sort of mystical quality. Rather touchingly, several of the humans narrating individual stories speak of how they feel various cats ‘saved’ or ‘healed’ them. And, just as many humans feel that, ultimately, caring for cats might just help us humans care for and be kind to one another again if only we would try.

Cheese factor aside, this documentary is a must-see for any aspiring or confirmed crazy cat lady. Even if you aren’t particularly fond of cats, it provide a bit of insight into why so many of us are.

On ‘Six Words Fresh Off the Boat’

SIX WORDS FRESH OFF THE BOAT: Stories of Immigration, Identity, and Coming to America (ABC)SIX WORDS FRESH OFF THE BOAT: Stories of Immigration, Identity, and Coming to America by Larry Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The story of the United States is the story of immigrants intermingling. (It is also one forgotten, where most of those migrants decimated native populations as well.) But, capturing the stories of immigrants in six words only is as compelling and beautiful as it is tragic.

‘Six Words Fresh off the Boat’ eloquently pieces together six-word narratives alongside longer stories and context, illustrating all that it means to be an American in today’s anti-immigrant climate. George Takei and Chimimanda Nogozi Adichie provide shorter reflections from their own lives alongside the painful truth of undocumented DREAMers who have lived invisible lives.

‘Nobody is ever just a refugee’, warns Adichie. Indeed. No-one is simply ‘American’ regardless of how recent they arrived.

These collections are poignant reminders that America was already great. And, it will remain so as long as we cherish own rich diversity and patchwork histories rather than dismiss them in search of uniformity.

My own six-word narrative as an American?

‘American falls in love with Cuban.’

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