Dreaming of property and the slipperiness of time

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It’s already the twentieth. I can’t believe this month is escaping me as well. The to-do-list are never completely crossed over, new tasks appear every day. Life at the moment feels like a slope of sand rushing towards Christmas.

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We spent last weekend in Margate. Thanks to one of Gerry’s customers we got to stay in Arlington House, in an apartment on the 14th floor overlooking the harbour and the city. It was a bit like living in a slightly run down version of 60s utopia, which is lovely if you like that sort of thing (and I do). There were North Korean blue communal hallways with lonely plants lurking in the corners, an empty car park for five hundred cars that never appeared, grey concrete with grass and moss growing through the cracks, marble in the entrance, lifts that haven’t changed since the sixties, broken lightbulbs as you sweep past unannounced floors, the lift coming to halt with a shudder.

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Margate is a fascinating place. This is a good article if anyone is interested in finding out more about it. Living there seems impossibly cheap compared to London. Property websites tell me you can get a three bedroom flat with views across the sea for 60 000 pounds, a fraction of what a similar property would go for in London.

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And having just come back from the seaside I can’t help but dreaming of property. A recent Brainpickings article on writer Rebecca Solnit made me think about it some more. Solnit writes “the dream of a house can be the eternally postponed preliminary step to taking up the lives we wish we were living.” So what is this idealised life I’m dreaming of? The life I will lead when we have a house of our own? It’s like thinking about time and the lack of time. One day, when I have a lot of time, I will … But what is it I would do? What would I achieve with all this time and personal space that I’m not achieving now? Or change achieve to be, because life’s not and shouldn’t just be all about achieving, it’s about being, about resting in the moment.

I’m not very good at that. There are mad, stressful travelling times in my life when I’ve been able to live for the moment, forgetting about my fear of things ending. And maybe that’s why I also sometimes dream of having and owning my own home. To quote Solnit again “Maybe a house is a machine to slow down time, a barrier against history, a hope that nothing will happen, though something always does.”

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What is it this ideal house could give me? My dreams never stretch further than to a kitchen with yellow morning light, always this light streaming in as I’m drinking coffee and reading or writing. Perhaps this longing for a house is also a longing for newness and for change. But I will never get there, or anywhere, unless I work with and on what I have now.

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As Solnit writes.

Maybe we all dream of being God, the god who breaches dams, moves houses suddenly, erects bridges, decides where forests will be and who will die; and we graduate from the dollhouse to our own house if we are lucky, where we assume a role somewhere between God the Creator and the chambermaid, choosing but carrying out more painfully the clean floor, the dinner for six, the potted plants, the framed prints. The execution is difficult. The dreaming is easy and unending.

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The meaning of life and love according to Viktor Frankl

Image via pinterest.

I’ve been reading a lot of books about psychology and psychoanalysis lately. One small book I’ve picked up during my trawls through Amazon is existential psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. In the book Frankl, an Austrian jew, talks about his experiences at Auschwitz and other concentration camps during the second world war and how his experiences there informed his later work as a psychoanalyst.

I’ve not read many books about the life in concentration camps, but this one really brings the everyday reality home. Frankl talks about how stress, disease, fear of death, starvation and hard work affects him and the other prisoners. He also describes how he was able to find hope and faith in the darkest of hours. It’s one of the most moving things I can ever remember reading.

We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along one road leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbour’s arm. Hardly a word spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: “If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don’t know what is happening to us.”

That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and time again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who as nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honourable way – in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfilment.

My mind still clung to the image of my wife. A thought crossed my mind: I didn’t even know if she were still alive. I knew only one thing – which I have learned well by now: Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.

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A roadtrip, a gallery and a country manor

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Yesterday Gerry and I drove out to Margate to put up some prints for his up and coming solo show at the Margate Gallery. We’ve been to this seaside town before. It’s a strange mix of shabby and chic. Run down shops along tired streets with small, trendy boutiques and cafés thrown into the mix. Everything is cheap and there seems to be so much potential in this place, but then we hear about shops closing and there are people in the pubs early on Monday afternoons and some of the town just seems very rundown. But every time we go out there’s a new shop or a new café. It can be a charming town (in its own way), even on a cold November day.

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It was a grey and rainy day, but I got to spend some time by the sea so the weather didn’t matter that much.

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We spent the afternoon putting up prints for the show, aided by plenty of coffee and sugar.

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Earlier we had stumbled across an old style sweet shop. I normally don’t eat much candy, but the last few busy weeks have made it quite difficult not to rely on coffee and sugar for that extra push. It’ll probably be like this until Christmas.

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Mmmmm… lemon sherbets, a new found love.

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We finished late in the evening and spent the night outside of Cantebury, in Howfield Manor, where we got to sleep in a four poster bed(!). The place was cute, but slightly odd in the way small hotels can sometimes be a bit offbeat. We had dinner in an almost empty restaurant and plotted future travels.

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I didn’t sleep lots because I had to wake up at five in the morning to be live on Finnish radio. But we had some strong coffee with a full English before the drive back to London. And here I am back in the studio, eating left over candy and wondering when the sugar crash will hit me.

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Modern aches and pains or what I think living really means (at the moment at least)

Image via Yume.

This is quite a heavy post. I will talk about death. Just scroll down if this isn’t what you’d like to read about at the moment.

Earlier this year I had my heart tested. I was healthy, but anxious, my pulse rising rapidly at the sight of a doctor. Just the thought of my heart beating fast was enough to scare me. This humbling experience made me realise a couple of things; the NHS is pretty amazing; our minds can cause us a lot of heartache.

This happened after a period when everything felt so dark I started to wonder what the point really was. During this time a small voice popped up in my head every now and then. “You’re going to die today,” it said. Now this wasn’t a voice as in “who is that in the room speaking to me”, it was more like a premonition, my subconscious playing a joke on me… let’s see if she believes this. I was standing in the shower – “you’re going to die”, I was doing a live report on radio “you’re going to die.”

These constant thoughts of death and dying was making everyday life tiresome, especially since my life was otherwise going pretty well. If you had looked in from the outside you’d had wondered what all the fuss was about. I was newly married with my first book out. I should have been happy. But as most of us know, shoulds don’t really work when it comes to happiness.

I know that contemplating death is sometimes encouraged by Buddhists and Stoics. Their reasoning is that if you’re aware of death then you will appreciate living more. What’s better than staring the reality of what being alive really means in the face? Well I can easily come up with many things that are better than thinking about death all the time – ice cream, kittens, fallen eyelashes on your fingertips, kissing, a rainy day, deadlines… pretty much everything. Although that doesn’t mean I think the Buddhists and Stoics are wrong in this instance, it was my own thinking that had become a bit warped.

Image via Sarah Ann Loreth.

Over the last fifteen months I’ve slowly climbed my way out of that valley of misery. I stopped eating gluten (which seems to be what people do now days when they’re depressed), I started doing things (that helped a lot). I got better, happier. I started to feel more like myself again. The voice in my head stopped babbling as much.

And now I realise that during the times in my life when death has seemed like the only thing I can think about I’ve not been living fully. I’ve stopped taking risks, pursing dreams, doing things because they’re fun and I’ve become afraid. Maybe this voice was just a part of me asking “are you living fully right now, are you doing your best to get the most out of your life?”

This mood has struck me two times before. Once when I was nine and couldn’t fall asleep because all I could think about was getting or having cancer. Once after I’d moved back to Helsinki after an Erasmus year filled with infatuations, friendships and parties and it felt like my life had ended. Fear and change can cause this, fear and change that leads to me spending a lot of time by myself trying to think myself better. But just thinking isn’t going to help. Doing will help. Talking will help. Loving, laughing and living, those are the things that will help.

*I’m no expert on mental health, I’m just sharing my story. If you stumble across this on the internet because you feel like this or if you feel depressed, talk to someone (see your doctor or a counsellor), ask for help. Don’t tough it out on your own.

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Dreaming of northern places

Baffin island. Image by Alastair Lee via The Telegraph.

Last night I googled the largest islands in the world. It turns out the fifth largest island is called Baffin. It’s a place I’ve never heard of before, but when I found it on a map I realised it’s that large island north of Canada which sort of looks like an upside down unicorn. Apparently it’s a popular destination for base jumpers because there are many amazing cliffs. It’s also home to around eleven thousand people. The capital is called Iqaluit.

Iqaluit. Image by Leslie Coates via Innovation.ca

I sometimes read a blog called Where is Acacia, by photographer Acacia Johnson who travels to many amazing northern places, trekking over snow and ice. She is pretty inspiring. This morning I checked my bloglovin feed (because I didn’t want to start writing just yet) and Acacia is currently in Iqaluit. I find these coincidences interesting. When you hear about something new it starts popping up in random places.

I would like to go to Iqaluit. I’d like to go to Greenland, Svalbard, to the North Sea coast in Norway and to remote Scottish islands.

A while ago I read an article on Aeon magazine by a British writer who left her life in London behind and moved up to Orkney to work with Cornrakes. It’s an interesting and peaceful read.

Perhaps it’s because it’s early in the morning, perhaps it’s because I’m a bit stressed and it’s grey outside and the nights are creeping ever closer to the mornings, but this sort of life holds a lot of appeal to me at the moment – the sea wind blowing outside, a fire keeping away the worst of the winter cold, air that’s not been polluted by hundreds of thousands of cars and buses.

When I first moved to the UK I liked the softness of the colours here, all that pollution in the air, the greens and blues muted and warm, there’s a hint of yellow in the leaves and the grass. Now I miss the clear, harsh blue of home. I miss the white of winter, the dialed up colours of clear summer days. The bright reds and yellows in the autumn.

I grew up in a small town in rural Finland. I didn’t see the trees and sea shores and the open skies. I didn’t listen to the rain beating against the roof at night or the wind howling during autumn storms. I hated chopping wood for winter fires and raking leaves in September. I wanted to escape, I wanted to go away, learn, grow, run around big cities with a take away coffee in one hand, hailing taxis and reading books in cafés like cool people do in movies. And here I am in London. The pendulum swings past where it all started, to another extreme.

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