From Mother to Daughter

I spend a lot of time these days thinking about what I might be passing on to my daughter without even knowing it. I would definitely prefer it if she was more like her father, who I feel is better than me in almost every sense there is. I’m exaggerating a bit, but unfortunately it’s more true than I’d like it to be. His favorite moments are when I say “you are so much more intelligent than me” (which happens from time to time). Then he holds his hand out, like he’s holding an invisible microphone and is interviewing me, and with a gigantic smile he says “I won’t forget you said that”. And he never does, of course.

One of the things my mother passed on to me, and that I’m cursing every day, is my need for everything to be clean around me. I cannot stand dirt, and to have stuff lying around everywhere. A dirty kitchen can have me go out of my mind. When my anxieties get bad, I can feel it on my need to clean, and on the effect a messy apartment can have on me. As I clean and clean, and never feel like things can get clean and shiny enough, the tension rises as my hands scrub even harder, and the nervousness reaches its peak before I explode in tears of rage and frustration.

As a little girl I used to clean my room thoroughly from time to time. Well, actually, that is a big understatement. I used to remove every single object from my room until my desk, every drawer, even my mattress was out, and then I would scrub everything before putting everything back in its place. I suppose this doesn’t sound so bad in itself, but if you keep in mind that I was nine or ten it becomes a bit too much. Children are supposed to play, not clean excessively.

It’s obvious that I use cleaning as a way of gaining some sort of control, but this control I think I gain is no more than an illusion. I especially don’t like the fact that I use cleaning to get out of doing other more important stuff, like writing or playing an instrument. I’ve come to look at this cleaning urge to be an extremely powerful anti-creative force in my life, and I would love for it to be toned down. But it’s difficult.

At home it’s what makes me and my partner argue the most. He’s messy, and I’m not. He doesn’t care, I care too much. It’s the source of a lot of yelling and name calling. Therefore I’ve started to work on my ability to accept a certain level of disorder. Let the “dust bunnies” lie another day, let the kitchen stay dirty until tomorrow etc etc, and I’ve become better at letting go and just breathe through it. If my mum wanted to spend her time ironing everyones jeans it doesn’t mean that I have to do the same. She was also the person to tell me that “no, you don’t have to clean your apartment EVERY week, it’s ok to relax a bit”. So there. What shock. I didn’t expect that one coming.

A lot of the people I respect artistically are very messy people, and it makes sense to me that they’re messy. How can you follow a train of thought, or concentrate on creating something when you worry about the dirty dishes all the time?

It will be interesting to see what she picks up and what she doesn’t. I would like her to help out at home, set the table, clean her room, fold her clothes when she goes to bed, but I hope she doesn’t inherit the obsessive compulsive sides I have to my personality. I hope she becomes happy, relaxed, messy, and playful and that she feels that she deserves to spend time doing what she loves the most.

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I hear you Joni, I got the message…

Joni Mitchell on fame:

The people that feel the music… The trick is, if you listen to that music and you see me, you’re not getting anything out of it. If you listen to that music, and you see yourself, it’ll probably make you cry and you’ll learn something about yourself, and now you’re getting something out of it. You know? And those are the people… those, those are the people, you know, that, my communication is complete. Most of them, they know I’m famous, they know I’m this, but there’s no real communication, there’s just a phenomenon there, you know? And people will flick their bick at anything.

Interview from CBS Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEJuiZN3jI8

Joni, forever my intellectual and emotional godmother.

The Greatest Gift

I haven’t spoken to myself in 7 months.

I quit my job. Then I went on vacation. After that I started training for a new freelance job. And finally I discovered that I was pregnant.

I’m tired. Tired of this never ending introspection. I think I finally realise that my interior isn’t as interesting as it used to be. I needed to switch off, and forget about myself. It doesn’t feel like actively ignoring oneself, it just means that some kind of mist appears over the deepest parts of by consciousness, and I just pretend that I don’t know what is under there.

I’ve done this before, and it usually works well for some time, often for years. But it always ends in disaster.

When I discovered I was pregnant, a switch was turned on/off in my head (depends on how you see it). Suddenly I felt lighter, more relaxed, less anxious. I felt like I had a purpose. God, how I’ve been longing for something like this. All those years thinking, and feeling, like my life didn’t mean anything and I could just as well disappear. Now I have a job, an important job. I am to be the mother of this being inside of me. It is huge! It is beautiful! It’s the way things are supposed to be.

All my doubts about motherhood are gone. I used to think I was too crazy, to depressed or just unable to take care of a child. But once I know there was a life growing inside me, I suppose my subconscious, kick started by pregnancy hormones or whatever, just glided into this new role. Had I known I would react like this, I wouldn’t have been so nervous in the past.

The first three months were tiring and full of days on the couch with nausea. I’m ever so grateful to be working at home now. Had I still been in my old job this wouldn’t have been a good experience. I also know that I would never have quit my job like that with a baby in my belly. I wouldn’t have dared.

So here I am now, 5 months pregnant. The little one is kicking around in there, and I feel her every day. I’m having a blast. My usual anxieties show up from time to time, but I’m better equipped to handle them now. If they get worse after the birth I know I’ll be able to seek help and work on it. I’m not scared. I spend my days thinking about what I should eat, when to exercise, sleeping badly because of leg cramps, buying cloth diapers, even thinking about learning how to knit (I never would have thought THAT possible!!!) I only care about myself as long as it is connected to my baby. It feels great to ignore oneself, absolutely fantastic, but I know it’s a trap.

My boyfriend, and the father of my child, has been warning me from day one. He says: “You cannot be only a mother. You cannot forget about yourself. You need to put in place a system where you are able to do your work as well”. By “my work” he’s obviously talking about writing, singing, playing the piano. He’s not talking about earning money, meaning translation etc.

I love office work, I love having obligations and I’m grateful to have the health to be able to earn my living. I know it’s a fantastic privilege to be able to work from home. But I cannot go on using the need to earn money as an excuse for not having any interior life. I don’t know what happened. The flame just went out. Last year was so complicated. The year before that as well. But I was able to write from time to time. Song lyrics, stories… I’d take singing lessons, went to choir practice. I’d play the piano every day before I went to work.

I guess I’m just tired of being mediocre. I can’t stand it any longer. I can’t.

A couple of weeks ago I met the professor who supervised my Master thesis. He presented me (albeit laughingly) as one of his “star students”. My first thought was that he was joking, but maybe he didn’t. That would mean that I at least spent a moment ten years ago when I wasn’t mediocre. I’d like to remember how that felt like, and I’d like to tap into that feeling. I don’t need to be a star, or a genius, or famous or glorified in any sense of the word. I just want to not feel like a little shit, and I would love it if my child could be able to see me as a whole person, as someone who is comfortable in her own skin, and someone who isn’t ashamed of herself. To accomplish this I need to learn to feel good about myself, and not keep away from the things I love to punish myself or to avoid feeling anything. I can’t hide, because it won’t work. I can’t hide behind work, and I can’t hide behind my child or my role as a mother. She doesn’t have to feel pride, but I would love it if I could teach my little girl to love herself and feel good about her life. That, to me, is the greatest gift a parent can give to her child.

Oh, Alice… (Studying Failure and Sense of Self Worth)

For years I have been interested in the concept of failure. There is nothing extraordinary about this of course, I think any person who try to make something will be slightly obsessed with this concept.

I’ve felt like a failure for a big part of my adult life. There was a time where I would be on stage, singing, hearing people applaud, and feeling good about them telling me I’d done a great set. I felt proud of myself when I received good marks on my Master thesis in Comparative Literature as well. Then, at some point, after having to dedicate all my waking hours to earning money to pay my rent, doing things that I didn’t want to do (read: when the realities of adult life kicked in), something just went terribly wrong. I couldn’t find the energy to do anything. I was too afraid to apply for a grant to do a Phd, I was too afraid to sing, to be in a band, to write, to get to know people. I left my country and my home town, and wasted a couple of years working as a waitress in a big city on the continent (I could have written in my spare time, but I didn’t). Then, when I finally started my first office job, something in me just shut down. It’s been ten years now, and I still haven’t been able to produce anything of value besides my Master thesis.

I should probably let it go. I should make a child so that I can think about something besides myself. I should go to my office job and earn my money, think about buying a house… I should do whatever I can to stop this excruciating introspection, whatever I can to concentrate on other people, on the wellbeing of my partner, of my family, on the poor if you will (I’m not joking, I’ve often thought of this).

Should, should, should…  In those darkest moments when I wonder why I am alive at all, what the use of it all is, and why I should continue to live when I’m not able to do so with joy and with some kind of purpose, the only thing that really means something to me is music and literature. There is nothing that makes more sense to me then telling stories and entertaining others with songs and words. Music and literature is what makes me want to continue my life. Not love. Not other people.

Art. Work. Storytelling. Imagination. Knowledge.

I can’t let it go. If I let it go, I let go of my feeling of purpose.

But let’s get back to failure. It doesn’t make sense to talk about failure without understanding what success is. I think every person makes his or her own personal definition of success. I think my definition of success would be to live a whole life filled with interestingness and knowledge, without being crippled by fear of failure. I would like to live without feeling like a failure, without feeling like a nothing.

It is frustrating to feel like I have all this unused potential inside of me which can’t come out before I learn to tackle life differently. I don’t think talent means anything if you don’t know how to navigate and understand the social sphere where your work is supposed to exist. I’m constantly worried about other people, and how they will look at me if I present something that doesn’t have quality in their eyes. They all see me like this talented person, and I don’t want to disappoint them. I don’t want to be the subject of ridicule… The press is so mean these days. The internet is a jungle, it’s filled with abuse and mean people. I don’t know, it all just freaks me out.

If you don’t feel like you’re not worth something, how can you see your work as anything but garbage? How can anything substantial be produced by a person who doesn’t have any self worth?

We all ask ourselves these questions. Why write if you don’t have anything important to say? Why sit down every day and write if you’re not worth anything, if what is coming out of you is nothing but clichés and bullshit? Who would want to read your pointless babble? What’s the point of doing it? The more you ask yourself these questions, the more absurd it becomes to sit down and actually do it. Finally you just don’t do it anymore. You don’t write, and you stop feeling ridiculous. You feel better for a while, a couple of weeks, a couple of months. But while you just sit there and do nothing, the sense of worthlessness grows and grows until you’re an old bitter lady who hates everything and everyone (if you even make it to old age that is. You might not if your life doesn’t have any meaning, any purpose).

This is my solution: I still do it. Even thought I feel like a fucking idiot for imagining that anything of quality will come out of it, I do it. If I fail, I want to fail as an artist. I don’t want to die of grief, and fail at being a human being, but I can accept to fail as a writer. At least I’m a writer. A failed writer is still a writer. A kind of writer anyway.

I try. I fail immensely all the time, but I try again. And while trying, I keep being a student of the concept of failure. I guess I’d like to try to understand why people end up like me. What the fuck happened? I was such as successful child, such a successful student, before fear got the best of me.

I’ve been wanting to read about Alice James (the younger sister of Henry James) for a long time. I’m attracted to all sorts of tragic figures, especially women. I want to study them, study their lives, study their minds, to figure out what happened to them so that I can avoid ending up like them. On my summer reading list I have put “Alice James – A Biography” by Jean Strouse, and I just started reading it this morning. After the first chapter I had to get up and write this, because what I read sounded so familiar to me. It’ll probably be a painful, but important read. I feel a lot of love and compassion for her, and a lot of rage when I think of all her unused potential.

As I’ve already said several times, I don’t give a shit about succeeding in the official sense of the word. I don’t necessarily need to publish or make an album. I do need, however, to succeed at living a life where reading, writing and music has enough space to flourish and nurture my soul. That’s the only life I know how to live. It’s the only life I feel is worth living. If I’m able to use some of the potential hiding inside of me as well, that’s a bonus, but first of all the goal is this: To feel good about myself, so that I can love others, and contribute positively to their lives. And then I want to die feeling like I’ve lived, not feeling like I’ve spent my life hiding and excusing myself for existing.

Now, let me get back to my book, and that big cup of exquisite green tea waiting beside me. This rainy Sunday has just started, and I mean to enjoy it to the best of my ability.

Alice James

Alice James (1848 –1892)