Still Life Sunday: The First Day of a New Life


The First Day of a New Life

He had laid in bed for almost thirty minutes now, his eyes open, watching closely the shadows that moved on the ceiling. He felt awake, more awake than he had ever been before but something, maybe the realization itself, kept him under the blanket. The warmth gave him a sense of safety and he was almost afraid to put his bare feet on the cold wood-paneled floor. Because if he faced the cold, it would mean he accepted the mission, the new truth of life.

That was the reason to why he was still in bed: he wasn’t sure if he wanted to accept it. Was he willing to let go of his former beliefs and values and face the new, slightly colder world?

Everything around him seemed to be proof of the fact that he, actually, was ready.

Yesterday, his car had been towed away from the parking space outside his apartment after he had ignored the many parking tickets for five weeks in a row.

It was a matter of hours when the electricity would be cut off. If he would get up now, he thought to himself, he might have time to brew himself some coffee and take one last hot shower.

And everywhere his gaze focused in the room, he saw the signs of a new life waiting for him to take the first steps:

His clothes in the corner of the room were still unwashed and would stay that way until he would find the time and energy to take them to a laundromat or buy completely new ones.

His backpack, leaning against the only chair in his bedroom, smelled like mint-flavored cigarettes.

The red sneakers had muddy smudges on them, telling the tale of the most wonderful and horrifying night of his life that had happened only a few weeks ago and had been the very first chapter of his new life.

He had made an active choice to let everything go this far and he wasn’t planning on tracing his steps back. He had no intention to pay the electricity bill or get his car back. He didn’t care too much about leaving the apartment, even though it had been his home for the past ten years and held many dear memories to him.

Although everything remained, nothing was the same. Not to him, at least, not after that one night. And nothing would especially be the same, if he would get up now, face the hardness of the floor and brew one last cup of the finest espresso one could get his hands on in this town.

His smartphone beeped. One new message.

It’s time.

The words made him spring in action: without even thinking of it, his feet touched the floor, he made his bed one last time, put on his light jeans and a dark green shirt, and packed the rest of his clothes in his backpack. The process felt quick, easy and painless after the many minutes spent in doubt – the text message encouraged him to stop thinking and get moving.

For one last coffee from the former life, he walked to his fridge: instead of an espresso, a store-bought cold-brew would have to do for now. Drinking the mint-flavored coffee in large gulps, he stood for a moment looking out from the window to the street.

He saw the green van park on the space his car had been towed from only sixteen hours ago. It waited for him. It was time to leave: both physically and mentally.

A moment later, as he closed the door to the apartment behind him, he thought of the physical space he was leaving behind but also of the person he was leaving in there, trapped with the old memories, values and structures.

For each descending step, he took in his new identity and his new mission.

The front door of the green van was already open, the empty passenger seat waiting for him. He nodded to the man behind the wheel he had never seen before, placed his backpack on the floor between his feet and shut the door.

“You’re M, right?” he asked the man, somewhat nervous but at the same time exhilarated.

“Yes. And you are Mr. White”, the man answered him.

After that, they didn’t speak a word. But for Mr. White, it was enough. His new identity felt already a natural part of him. As the miles passed, he felt the old values drain from his body and a new determination fill his mind.

Mr. White wasn’t sure if he would still be alive after the mission was completed. But it didn’t matter because the new truth he had decided to take in made him feel more alive than he had ever felt before. It was better than a hot shower, a strong espresso, and clean clothes.

It was, after all, nothing less than the truth.

Still Life Sunday: Tête-à-tête


22 Tête-à-tête

”May I open that one for you?”

The voice is friendly and the gesture accompanied by it conscious and balanced. He clearly knows what he is doing.

“I’ve got the bottle opener right here. But thanks, anyway.”

I turn him down, although that self-confidence of his feels appealing to me. He doesn’t seem to mind my refusal.

As the cork falls off and meets the table with a distinct ‘clink!’, I see him nod in an approval. Strong and independent woman, I think to myself and smile. How he analyzes my smile I don’t know but at least it makes him lean in closer – not to look at me but at the bottle.

It is a Japanese beer, blonde in color, its scent thick. Earlier that day, when I had walked to the liquor store without knowing what I was searching for, my eyes had focused on this specific beer for two reasons. First, the owl was cute and reminded me of those zen-like Japanese fish that swim in ponds in a peaceful manner. And second, it was the last bottle of its kind which made me think it had to be good.

“Is that your only drink for the night?”

The voice is still friendly and I can’t read any kind of judgment in-between the lines. Even his eyes are friendly, simply curious on my choice of drink for the evening. I nod.

“I prefer quality over quantity”, I say.

A short chuckle tells me he is amused by my comment which most likely means he has understood my point. Every few minutes I can hear someone opening yet another beer can, the distinct ‘tsskr-POP’, and the laughter spirited by mass-produced lager fills the room.

I take a sip of my Japanese beer. It’s a strong one but I like the taste. Without thinking about it, I offer the bottle to the stranger who has a friendly voice, conscious gestures and a curious look. He takes it, thanks for the offer and takes a sip.

“It’s good”, he says. “You have good taste in beer.”

I give him a short nod and a smile.

“This owl… it reminds me of Japanese koi. Do you know them?” He continues without waiting for an answer. “Did you know that they have an average lifespan of 40 years? The age can be determined by testing the Koi’s scales because they produce growth rings like trees.”

He’s good, I must admit that. He knows precisely the right words to say to get my attention, to keep me from turning my back to him and leaving in order to search for another quiet corner in the room.

So, I stay put. Take another sip, give him another nod and a smile.

That’s seems to be all he needs. And that’s all I need.

A People-Pleaser’s Autopilot


Question: Do you know what a people-pleaser’s biggest fear is?

(Hint: it’s only one word)

The answer: No.

The biggest fear of a people-pleaser is saying ’no’ when someone asks for something, may that be a favor or a meeting. It’s the fear of creating a conflict, of provoking the person who is asking, by saying the simple but oh-so-dramatic ’no’.

I haven’t written about people-pleasing in a while. That is mostly because my life has been pretty calm and there haven’t been that many requests or favors asked of me. And it’s been nice. I’ve been able to focus on more important things, on myself, on my writing.

However, now I have something to say, something to update you on. Progress, so to say.

The Autopilot

After I decided upon quitting my people-pleasing behavior (progress that has been going on for a year or so, but the active, conscious decision was made this Summer), I’ve done pretty well saying ’no’ to many things. If I haven’t felt like doing something or meeting someone, I’ve simply declined and moved on with my life. Of course, everyone hasn’t been quite okay with me saying no to them, but I’ve tried my best to accepted that.

Instead, I’ve focused on myself, prioritized my school work, my own interests, my own time and energy. They have come in the first place while favors and other things have come second.

However, there is a thing here: all the favors and meetings have been asked by friends and acquaintances. When the people asking for favors are part of my family, it’s a whole different story.

When they call and ask for something, it feels like I turn on an autopilot mode. I don’t even consider saying ’no’ to them because I’m already thinking how I can say ’yes’ to the thing they are asking. It’s insane – and still it happens.

Let me give you an example.

Last week, I was extremely focused on finishing the theory part of my thesis before the deadline on Friday. I invested huge chunks of time writing it in the library and prioritized the thesis over everything else (except my creative writing and habits). On Monday, my mother called. She asked if I could to do her a favor on Wednesday, two days before the deadline. It was something that would probably take a few hours of my afternoon. It would help her a good deal, she said.

While holding the phone to my ear, I already knew what my answer should be. I knew I should say ’no’ to her. I knew that I needed all the time I had scheduled for my thesis-writing that week and if I’d spend ”a few hours of my afternoon” executing that favor, it would definitely put me behind my work. I’d probably even miss my deadline. In addition to that, I knew the favor wouldn’t take only a few hours. I would put down energy and time before that favor (whether I wanted to or not), waiting for it to happen, and I would probably need a good deal of time for the after-effects of that favor, processing the experience and my thoughts about it.

In other words, the favor wouldn’t take only a few hours of my time. Instead of two hours, it would probably take five or six hours of my day, most likely the whole day.

While on the phone, I was aware of all this. I knew I was supposed to say ’no’ because it would have been the right thing to do for myself. It was my deadline, my biggest and most important essay for school, I needed to make that deadline in order to get onward in my life.

But here’s the thing: a people-pleaser never puts herself first. She always thinks of others before she thinks of herself. And this is why, while my mother explained something on the phone, my brain started going through these thoughts:

”Maybe I’d be able to get everything done before the deadline if I just re-scheduled my creative writing or postponed it altogether, prioritizing my thesis instead of Yellow Tails. After all, Yellow Tails doesn’t have to get done as soon as possible, even though I’d like to finish the first draft as soon as possible.”

”Even if I don’t make it to the deadline, it wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen. I could probably ask for more time, say I only need a few days more if it were okay. I could finish the theory during the weekend. Yellow Tails could wait.”

In retrospect, what amazes me is that I had a one hundred percent valid excuse to say no to my mother’s request and I knew it. I knew it – and still I was doing some serious B-planning in that moment! I was actually considering putting a favor in the first place, and letting my thesis, my novel, my personal well-being take the second place.

Now, a week after that phone call, I wonder how could I even consider it. But I did. It was so close that I would have said ’yes’. However, I managed to say that I needed to check my calendar first. I’d call her later that evening.

So, hello. I’m H.E.R., a recovering people-pleaser who almost relapsed last week.

Two Realizations

That phone call last week made me realize that my family truly is the weak point of the people-pleasing side of me. The members of my family are the people who trigger that people-pleasing behavior in me and even take it to the next level, the insane level.

It isn’t any wonder that it’s my parents and my sisters who trigger the behavior in me. The people-pleasing habits of an individual are often created in one’s childhood. As children, we want to please the people we love in order to avoid conflicts and not add to the burden. I recognize myself there – I never wanted to add to my parents burden. Therefore, I was always the kind, trouble-free, helpful, well-behaving child. The one, who always had the time and energy to help others out.

And now I’m paying for that.

The happenings last week helped me realize another thing as well: my role in the family has always been to be that person who gives her time and attention to the other members of the family. I have always been that person who helps out, listens and does favors. I never ask anything for myself, in order to not add to the burden. I manage everything myself, but when someone needs my help, needs to lend my ears, my attention – count me in, I’ll be there.

Until now.

Saying ’No’

It’s a tough boggart to fight. It’s tough saying ’no’ to one’s family – after all, haven’t they done so much for you? Haven’t they always taken care of you, helped out when needed? Wouldn’t saying ’no’ be ungrateful?

The answer: no.

It’s tough to say ’no’ because you know it will provoke a conflict, questions about your attitude, your behavior. Your family will remember that you said ’no’ – and they will remind you of it later.

It’s even tougher to decline when I know my family doesn’t understand that me saying ’no’ is actually completely normal – they’re not just used to it.

Despite all this, the answer is: no.

Saying ’no’ is the only option I have if I wish to quit this kind of behavior once and for all. It was my family that brought up that behavior in me when I was a child and they are the people who trigger the behavior in me today. Saying ’no’ to my parents and my sisters, when it feels like I’m doing wrong towards myself in order to please them, is the only right thing to do if I want to stop pleasing other people.

It’s a battle I must take on. I want to be the kind of person who holds on to her own values and uses her time and energy on her own terms. A person who respects herself and who doesn’t recognize an autopilot mode when it comes to doing favors.

And that is why I told my mother I couldn’t do her the favor she asked for. I didn’t say it in the moment, on the phone, but later that evening as I had promised I would tell her when I got home. It was already late when I got home so I sent her a text message, explaining about my deadline and how important it was for me to use every hour I had to be able to meet it.

If she understood what I tried to say and if she respected my effort, I don’t know. She only informed me the next day that she had managed to get someone else to do the favor. I was left with mixed feelings, but in retrospect, I’m proud I said no. Because now I know it’ll be easier to do the same next time.

(And yes: there will be a next time.)

Refreshing the Closets – And The Mind

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Me and my partner have moved around a great deal during the last two and a half years. Five times, to be exact. This means we’ve packed our clothes, our kitchenware, towels and bed sheets together approximately every six months. In the following weeks, we will move for the sixth time, and the plan to stay in that next apartment is, again, somewhere around six months.

You might think it’s crazy to move around that much. Doesn’t it take up huge amounts of energy, time and money – the three valuable things I’ve talked about so much on this blog? My answer to you: yes, moving does require all three of those, and no, I’m not too happy about it.

However, as we’ve been searching for furniture for this particular apartment (as we’re living in a furnished apartment at the moment) and been spending time at the new place, checking electrical stuff and so on, some thoughts have come to my mind about moving.

Adjusting to the Many Moves

How I look at it, a few good things have come out of relocating every six months or so:

  • We’ve become extremely aware of the differences between different furniture, and the value of good ones. As we’ve been living in a furnished apartment a couple times, we’ve experienced sofas that make one’s butt hurt, showers that are extremely sensitive to adjustments in temperature (which results in either ice-cold or way-too-hot water) and beds that make one’s back ache. So lately, as we’ve been shopping for furniture, we have a clue about what to look for and what’s worth paying for.
  • When visiting a new apartment, we know a little bit better what we want to check. How quickly the water changes from warm to cold, does the floor feel chilly, how the air changes in the apartment and so on. Small things that are, however, extremely important. The apartments we’ve lived in have had problems with at least one of those things. And it’s not nice, not in the long run.
  • This goes with the previous one but deserves its own point: the location. We’ve lived in quiet areas and we’ve lived next to streets with a lot of traffic. Being aware of what kind of area the apartment is on, is important. Is there a great deal of traffic, is there noise pollution and so on.
    • Here one might also mention neighbors. Do you have a weekend-party-goer or nearly deaf elderly couple as your neighbor (we’ve had both)? You might want to think again. (Or at least, you’d want to. But you can’t choose your neighbors, so, I don’t know what to say. Maybe just that it’s good to be aware of the environment, the surroundings when moving to a new place.)
  • Because of soon six moves within less than three years, we’ve become some sort of minimalists without never really aiming for it. Nowadays, we don’t own very much, just the things we need and use actively. The only physical memory I haven’t been able to let go of just yet is a wooden parrot I bought on Tenerife when I was five years old. But everything else we own fits into two backpacks and eight storage boxes. The last time we moved, it took us only one day to pack all our belongings. And that’s pretty awesome, I’d say.
  • As we change things up every six months, we never really settle. Instead, we keep on adjusting, finding new routes to the grocery store, the gym and the university. We refresh our minds constantly which is good for the human brain. I guess you could also describe it as stepping away from your comfort zone for a while.

But as one might guess, moving around this much also comes with a few not-so-good things:

  • When living in a furnished apartment, you can’t really start buying new sofas or beds if you don’t like the current ones or they don’t suit you and your body. That means you might have an aching butt or back the whole time you live in that apartment – and you just have to deal with it.
  • You can never really settle, invest in things such as plants or spices because they will become problematic when you want to swoosh things up and move to the next apartment. And when you move from one furnished place to the next or have to get some furniture for only the next six months, you never really have the opportunity to choose the furniture you want because you have to be very practical about everything (more about this on Thursday).
  • One’s creativity suffers when moving around. Because moving is about practical stuff and includes some bureaucratic paperwork, it’s away from your creative flow and efficient creative working. Even after the move is finished, it takes some time to get back on track, to get those creativity levels up and running again. (I might add that this is also the reason I’m writing about moving this week – it’s all I can think of for the moment and there hasn’t really been time for any other thinking.)

Intervals of Moving

During these last couple of years, I’ve begun measuring time through these moves. As they are so closely together, ranging from five months in one place to nine months in the next, it is also easier to have a to do -list for bigger things that need to be completed before the next move. For instance, before we move from this apartment to the next, I’d like to take the two big Ikea-bags filled with old clothes to recycling. And last weekend we prepared a dish that required two ingredients I wouldn’t consider buying myself but what the actual owner of the apartment has (sesame seeds and a bag of bread crumbs).

I’d say it’s more efficient to live like this than living in one place for five years. When moving around, bigger chores can never lay around too long. It’s also a good chance to go through all of the belongings, empty the fridge and the cupboard for dry foods. Everything from clothes and food to the mind gets refreshed every six months or so. But this kind of lifestyle suits those who prefer this kind of efficiency. How much stability and continuity one has in life is a whole other question (although habits and routines help out here a great deal).

However, I’ve been longing for something either more stable or more upbeat for the past month. These previous years have felt more like an in-between phase, like I am never really here but always thinking about the next move, the next phase. Feeling like this makes me restless, less focused. So I think it could be a good time to switch things up a bit, try something completely new in the near future. We’ll see what happens.

But for now, we will continue preparing for the next move. I hope you have a lovely Tuesday (see you on Thursday)!


How Our Discomfort Zone Changes and Evolves

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During that weekend of sailing I managed to come to some sort of conclusion that living on a sailboat would be a good way for me to keep myself curious but also gently push me to my discomfort zone.

This is a good thing because I know that being outside one’s comfort zone has several benefits. And because I know this, I’m actively thinking I should be out on that zone more than I am now. Being social, trying new things, pushing myself to be more than I feel like I am. However, I also love to stay at home, cook some good food and watch a movie or enjoy a book.

One could describe it as a love-hate relationship between me and my (dis)comfort zone: I love my easy nights at home while at the same time I’m also pining for something exciting to happen. And this love-hate relationship with my (dis)comfort zone could be an answer to my feelings of restlessness but also an answer to the conflicting thoughts I have going through my head.

In other words, I think the reason behind my restlessness is the fact that I’m not pushing myself enough to be on my discomfort zone more often. This makes me wonder: would it be possible that I’m chronically searching for things that make me feel uncomfortable, continuously challenging me to adjust to new things, to keep my life interesting?

On the Escape Route

Let me tell you about my history with my discomfort zone.

I was the kid in school who wasn’t very gifted in gymnastics. I never found a sport I was good at or would have enjoyed which led to a deep dislike towards weekly gymnastic lessons in elementary and high school (and weight-gain, as well). In addition to that, winning didn’t matter to me that much, not at least at sports which meant that I never fought whole-heartedly to win a game or score a goal. This didn’t help me get more motivated in gymnastics, either.

So, as soon as I had completed the final obligatory course in gymnastics, I waved goodbye to my gym bag, feeling satisfied that I’d never have to do sports if I didn’t want to.

Another example: while I was in Scouts, I avoided hiking as much as I could. I was lousy at orienteering, having no sense of direction, and as mentioned before, not a fan of sports. Therefore, hiking never felt like an enjoyable activity to me and I can count with one hand all the hikes I ever participated in during those thirteen years I was an active scout.

I probably would have had the chance to participate in double that amount but because I didn’t feel comfortable hiking, I didn’t take up the challenge either.

And one last example:

After playing classical piano with the same teacher for eleven years, I decided to switch both genre and teacher – I applied to pop and jazz school, got in and started almost anew. I had never learnt the theory behind piano playing so almost everything that had to do with pop and jazz piano was unfamiliar to me. Especially improvising was the worst part of the whole thing and I avoided it as much as I simply could.

After three years of trying I stopped going to lessons, and was, in a way, relieved that I didn’t have to push myself anymore to play something I didn’t feel good at. From now on, I could play whatever I wanted, never having to feel the discomfort of improvisation again.

The lesson from these examples – well, it’s clear, isn’t it? In many different areas of life, I have been avoiding uncomfortable situations as much as possible. Of course, I have challenged myself to do many things that have made me nervous – piano concerts, taking responsibilities as chief editor for a magazine, public speaking… but I’ve also managed to avoid many things that I now believe would have benefitted me.

Into The Light

As it’s been quite a few years since my last obligatory improvisation lesson, orienteering hike and school gymnastics class, I’ve gained some insight in these discomforting situations. They were chances for me to grow as a person, to learn new things about myself and also to gain self-confidence. However, I bailed at every single one of the activities.

Now, if someone would ask me to tag along for a hike in the woods or join a volley ball class today, I’d go for it. Dare to ask questions about orienteering, dare to fail at passing the ball and admit that I’m really not that comfortable at improvising while playing the piano. I could correct all those failures from my childhood and teenage years. I could finally become comfortable in the things that for years felt uncomfortable to me.

But if I returned to the things that were challenging for me then and ”overcome my fears”, would it really help me develop, get more creative and benefit me in ways that being in one’s discomfort zone does?

The thing is, I really don’t think it would. Because today my life is about different challenges altogether. If I’d spend time doing things I was uncomfortable with, it wouldn’t get me that far. In conclusion, I have to let go of the things I failed at becoming comfortable with in my past. Instead, I need to take the lessons learned from it and stay curious to new things, keep my focus on things that make me feel uncomfortable.

As we grow older and develop as humans, our (dis)comfort zone does the same. Therefore, we should always be looking for new challenges. But how do I realize in time what discomforting things are worth becoming comfortable with and what are not? Is it worth my time and energy to get rid of my fear of snakes, for instance, or learn how to kill a fish I’ve caught?

What are the things I should do (i.e. the things in my discomfort zone that I’d rather avoid) and can they become the things I want to do? Is there a way to align these two? Because, if I think about it, that would probably be the way to reach the feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment.

The Next Step

On a sailboat, I might be able to align these two things. It’s not just about sailing, which I already know a few things about. There are a great deal of other stuff to learn, many of them being on my discomfort zone – mechanics, technical things, oily and greasy maintaining, plumbing, electrics… that I have no clue of and my first instinct being that I would really want to avoid all of that. At the same time, my second instinct says that it is precisely something I should do. And by doing those things, I would be able to sail onward. Does it make sense?

However, as I wrote on Tuesday, the sailboat dream is something for the future. Right now, it’s about other discomforting things, such as writing my Master’s thesis, dealing with conflicts and creating even better habits. And as time goes, other challenges will come in my way. It’s the way life is, and it’s something we have to deal with and adjust to over and over again.

Just as self-development, pushing oneself to one’s discomfort zone is both time- and energy-consuming. It’s tough and it requires a great deal of self-discipline and willpower to challenge oneself with something that is new and unknown instead of relying on revisiting the old challenges.

I do believe it does pay off – we just have to realize when the discomforting challenges are in front of us and meet them with curiosity instead of escaping them.

What are the things you felt uncomfortable with before and what are the main issues on you discomfort zone you’d like to address right now?