A Blog Break Update

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Hello friends. 

It’s been a month since I wrote here last and told you I’m taking a break from blog writing. Now I’m here to tell you it’s going to be a month more.

Despite the covid-19 situation, I’d like to say I’m doing better than I was in February. Yes, I’m still looking for a job (although the current situation isn’t really in my favor) and I’m sad to tell that my grandmother passed away last week which has been a surprisingly emotional thing for me to process.

In February, I wrote a little over 5,000 words. In March, the total word count was 9,700. So, one can see some improvement, some writing recovery happening there. I even participated in a writing competition! But most importantly: lately, I’ve been finding that joy in writing again that I feel like has been lost for many months now. You know, the true, exhilarating happiness over writing something that gives you joy?

And finding that joy feels so precious and something so delicate, that I really wish to hold on to it with gentle hands covered with silk gloves. I wish not to distract myself from that precious feeling, and that is why I’m taking another month’s break from the blog. 

But I hope to be back in May. I really do hope that, and hopefully things will be even better then than they are now.

A lot of hope, I know. But it’s something we need during these months of self-isolation or mandatory quarantine, depending on where you live.

Keep safe and stay in good health, reader. And remember that forgetting yourself in a story can be one of the most pleasurable and okay things to do in times like these. I’ll see you in May!

It’s Time For A Break

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So, this is the second Thursday in a row I miss my weekly blog post. It really isn’t great, I know. I’m my own biggest disappointment – and I think I need to take a break from blog writing.

I have my reasons. Let me share them with you.

First (and most important) of all, February was a writing disaster. After a prolific January with 26,000+ words, I managed to scrape together 5,000 words during February – and that was mostly from blog posts. On the fiction side of things, nothing much happened.

It probably had to do with the fact that we flew from the other side of the world back to Finland and have after that been living with either my or my partner’s parents (and, being 25 and living on my own since I was 19, this is an… interesting change). I just feel deflated from being a guest all the time and never really finding the right place for writing.

But it also had to do with the fact that writing didn’t give me that happy, energetic feeling it usually does. First, I was just tired.  But then I realized it wasn’t just a lack of physical energy I was feeling – I was feeling unmotivated about writing overall, and still am because lately, writing hasn’t felt meaningful and it hasn’t given me that fun, energetic feeling it usually does.

The second reason is that I’m trying to find a job – and it’s frigging hard.

Most of the places I’ve sent my application to, I have had less than one percent chance of getting the place. There are 120+ applicants for one position – and I’m not the only one who has recently graduated and is looking for a job. I know I have value, I’m quite sure I’m looking for the right kind of jobs, but the competition’s really rough and I wonder how I’ll stand out of the crowd.

In addition to this, actively looking for jobs is quite stressful, whether it’s writing or making a video application. Especially, when you keep waiting for a call or an email but rarely get one – the amount of time and energy invested in looking for a job is a job in itself. And because finding a job is one of my first priorities at the moment, it’s time and energy away from writing.

The third reason why I think it’s time to take a break is that I very recently found out my grandmother has cancer and only has days or weeks left of her life. It’s a lot to handle, especially after last summer when my grandfather and a close relative passed away only one week a part. I’m just kind of tired of dealing with death, and really sad for my grandmother.

The thing is, this blog means a great deal to me, and that is why I want to announce it nice and clean that I’m taking a break from the blog for March.

I am simply letting myself to not write, to not update, to not obsess about Thursdays being the blog post day. By doing this, I hope a break will let my mind rest and my creativity and motivation to find strength again so that when I come back, I can honestly be proud of my content on this blog.

Hopefully, March will be the month when I find a job so that I can get an apartment so that I can stop living with parents. I also hope that during March I will find passion for writing again, that it will get easier to keep working on my current writing projects and that the stress around writing would ease a little bit.

And when April comes, I hope to return to this blog and get back to my traditional posting schedule. I’ll let you know how I’m doing – but so far, I wish you a great March and I’ll see you in April, dear reader!

A Stranger’s Act of… Kindness?

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A few days ago, something interesting happened. I say interesting because it was untypical behavior from me and I still can’t quite understand why I did what I did. But I have a hum, an idea of what happened. Let me tell you.

I was in the city center at the shopping mall, when a young man with an immigrant background came to me and asked in English, if I could give him money for food. I didn’t have any cash with me so I said no (I also think it’s always problematic to give money to a stranger because you don’t really know what the money is used for and even if I had cash, I probably wouldn’t give it).

But then he pointed to Burger King next to us and asked if I could buy him and his girlfriend a meal. I said no as politely as I could and left the situation.

But then I watched them ask more and more people for the same thing and everyone kept saying no, and I noticed how this started nagging me. I had just spent fifty euros at a hairdresser and another fifty to buy myself new jeans – but I couldn’t, I wouldn’t, buy two people a meal? And in addition to this, I was also curious: were they here, every day, asking for money for food?

I twisted and turned for a couple of minutes thinking about it – but then walked back to the couple. 

The look on their faces was vague amazement, like they didn’t really dare to hope for what they thought was happening. 

“Don’t you have any money for food? Ever?” I asked them.

“Well, yes, when we are at home in Tampere”, the young man answered me, speaking with his accent. “But we are here to look for a job.”

And I nodded and said: “I can buy you a meal, this time.”

And so we walked to Burger King. 

Reasons For Taking Action

I asked how old they were. The man was 22, the girl 19. He was the one who spoke English quite well, the girl could only a few words. I watched them make their order and paid for their meal that was 17,95 euros in total.

The young man shook my hand (although it was a weak handshake, and I would have liked to tell him how important a good handshake is) and thanked me, but the real gratefulness was in the girl’s eyes.

“Thank you”, she said with her struggling English as she hugged me.

“Take care”, I answered and hugged back.

I think we shared a moment, then and there, me and that girl.

But then, afterwards, I started thinking why I had done it. Why did I help this immigrant couple? Why did I give them money when I’m trying to find a job for myself and don’t really have a regular income?

I can’t say it felt like I had done the good deed. I didn’t feel especially good about myself although one could categorize my action as charity and charity is supposed to give you a good feeling. I didn’t even know how to share what happened with anyone because I didn’t know what I thought about the whole thing. 

So what happened in my mind when I decided to go back to the young couple and offer them a meal?

After turning it for a few hours in my mind and finally sharing it with a friend, I came to one kind of conclusion: instead of being an act of kindness it was more like an act of rebellion. Rebellion against the stereotypes, the hate speech, the prejudice.

I believe it is so rare in our western society to help the less wealthy especially if we don’t share the same skin color and language. It’s easy to judge someone based on their appearance. 

And still, these two were clothed normally, they behaved well, they didn’t shout or curse or throw ugly glances at those who didn’t want to give them money.

I have seen many Finns who behave the exact opposite.

Somehow, it was seeing the reactions of other Finns when someone with an immigrant background asks for their money that made me turn back and do precisely the opposite most people I know would do. And I wanted to know – it was curiosity – why did they have to do this? Why was this happening?

The Future of Societies

The thing is, I can’t be sure they told me the truth. It can be that they live in this city rather than somewhere else, that they have money and they simply want other people’s money just because.

It can be that they spend their money on other things and that leaves them without food, and I can only hope it isn’t drugs, alcohol or any other addictive substances. There is still doubt in me: were they really as poor as they made it seem?

The only thing I could do, this one time, was to trust these people and give them what I could spare.

The world is changing – the immigrants are here to stay, the societies become more and more multicultural and we have to work hard to have a society where we can trust each other and believe in the good in strangers. 

Because how can we help if we don’t trust? And how can we trust if we don’t help?

I don’t know if I would do it again and that makes me wonder what it tells about me, about good deeds and the future of our societies. But may that be another thought process for another time.

Instead, after all this, taking action and wondering about it, my friend said it quite well: “It’s a good thing to do surprising things, every now and then, as long as it doesn’t throw you off your budget. And it’s good for the brain.”

And it’s good for the brain. That I can agree on – definitely.

 

Coming Home

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After a 25-hour flight, walking down the corridor with swollen ankles and a tired head, I am greeted by things that feel, that are familiar:

The simplicity and clarity of Finnish design, mostly using wood as the main material – one of the great resources we have plenty of. 

The sweet, intoxicating smell of cinnamon buns at the café – one of the desserts I’ve missed the most because no other place in the world makes cinnamon buns the way we do in the Nordic countries.

The taste and smell of Finnish filter coffee (especially after drinking mostly instant coffee since Australia).

All these things greet me with their familiarity and I welcome them, thinking to myself as I enjoy the wet and foggy landscape on the train ride to the city centre: I’ll make this work.

Then the jet lag hits me. 

The first day everything goes well despite only a few hours of sleep on the flight, but the day after that, I struggle to stay awake. I decide to go to bed early, only to wake up three hours later, at one o’clock in the night to realize I’m alert and awake like a nocturnal animal. I try reading, and have to force myself to at least rest after two hours of page-turning.

Days after that, I get headaches. I find it hard to concentrate. I get no writing done and for every day that passes without words, it feels even harder to open any of the files I felt so inspired by in New Zealand.

It becomes a pattern.

Slowly, it feels like everything I believed in in New Zealand loses its value. The short story I’ve been working on, the longer fan fiction story, the ideas I wrote down while living on the other side of the globe. It doesn’t seem like they are going anywhere, not anymore.

My remedy? I ask Netflix to play the next episode of Anne With an E. I check Whatsapp for new messages in a writing group I was added to (which is, actually, awesome). I update my email over and over again to see if something’s happening and when something is, I close the app and decide to do something else.

I feel conflicted about meeting friends and family because I don’t know what to say to them. For them, six months have gone by quickly as life as we know it has been happening. For me, for us, the past six months have been a lifetime. Now, I’m supposed to have a plan. People expect us to have a plan. 

And I do, or at least I did. But everything that felt right in New Zealand… It feels like I lost it somewhere during those 25 hours. It’s like the change in environment has affected me more than I realized.

I do believe this is only temporary and that the inspiration and motivation and energy for doing things are somewhere there, hidden in the back of my mind. But instead of giving myself the time to land, to ease into being in Finland again, I keep beating myself up for binge-watching Netflix, reading for hours, avoiding contact with people I know – and not writing.

It’s nice to come home but it isn’t as simple as I had thought. 

In 2016, after my exchange semester in Ireland, I was happy to come back and had no problems with it. Now, it seems different. I wonder if what I’m feeling is fear – fear of actually starting to do things that seem meaningful to me? Writing and publishing a book, maybe getting started with that idea about youngsters and reading.

If it is fear, I think it’s a good sign. That usually means you’re on the right path, despite the fact that resistance tries to keep you from not acting. I think I just have to give myself a few more days to get used to the cold weather and the fact that this country is the place where I have decided to actualize my dreams.

It’s not easy but it is definitely the right thing to do. Then, hopefully, I will be able to get my hands dirty (or my fingers sore from all the writing).

Ways To Connect With People

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Thought-provoking art work by Peter Stichbury (NDE, 2013)

Thanks to our digital devices, the developing technology and all the opportunities available online, it becomes easy to isolate ourselves from the real society around us.

It’s definitely easier to be social online without needing to worry about your looks or your energy levels, the weather or what cake to choose in the café. It is also definitely wonderful to find inspiration online on social media, on blogs and random websites, and to connect with other like-minded people. To know you’re not alone with your passion to write a book, start a business, go separate ways with your long-time partner or start a new life somewhere else.

But all of this exists also outside the Internet, social media and forums. You can find it in real life as well.

As we are rounding up our half-year adventure, we flew from Christchurch to Auckland to spend a few days in the capital city before returning to Finland. As we had been renting a private room in a house in Christchurch, staying at a hostel seemed like a refreshing change. It would be nice to meet new people, right?

The great thing about hostels is that it’s impossible to not meet new people. You share a room with them, you eat breakfast at the same table, you make travel plans and get advice from more experienced backpackers. Hostels are backpacker hubs. That’s what we thought, at least.

But our digital lives have changed that hostel culture.

I could already see it in Malaysia when we were staying at a hostel in Cameron Highlands. In Auckland, however, the effect of technology and digitalization could be seen even more clearly.

The combined kitchen/lounge area of a hostel is supposed to be the place where people talk and get together. Instead, we saw people sitting alone, eating their food while facing their phone, watching a video or scrolling their feed, isolating themselves from their surroundings with headphones. One time, when we tried talking to a girl, she was too busy taking a perfect picture of her food for social media to stay on track with the conversation we were having.

It’s weird that people wish to hold on to their social media fees, keep on following the same content producers as back home – why travel if you’ll only do the same things on your phone abroad that you would at home?

Only sometimes, when we played Skip-bo or any other card game, we could spark up some conversation with the few who weren’t distracted by their phones or who had dared to sit at one of the bigger tables. But taking out your phone or turning on the TV – it’s a conversation killer, a passive force that takes over and to which we so easily succumb to.

Hostels, the places that were supposed to be backpacker hubs, where the free travelers gather and talk, seem to be dying. Or at least, changing form, if our digital consumption continues as it does. The cultural exchange goes lost when you can do it online, the conversations die when you can have them on your phone, the stories are already out there, on the Internet. What do we need social, real life experiences for anymore?

However, there is hope.

Lucky for us, we got to meet curious characters elsewhere in the city. We met a couple of Swedes queuing to the same impressive gelato shop and ended up sharing our ice cream experience with them. Two days later, at a café, we shared a table with an older man who knew surprisingly lot about Finland and its history with Russia, and we got into a conversation about the differences between New Zealand and Scandinavian countries.

And the thing is: I think both conversations bloomed because we kept our phones in our pockets and instead opted to observe our surroundings. We looked like we were up for a conversation, open-minded and curious about the people around us.

The Internet is a wonderful place but only if we use it wisely. If we let ourselves become isolated, if we find it ”too hard” to let go of social media, if we can’t let go and instead embrace the awkward silences, the seeking conversation-starters and sometimes even weird conversation partners… I honestly don’t know what the world will look like in ten years.

It’s already happening in hostels, the sacred places of connectivity and feeling of community. And if it’s happening there, it’s most likely happening elsewhere as well. But  believe me when I say that putting away your phone, headphones, laptop or any other mobile device will do wonders. For you, both internally and socially.

Let’s prioritize real human connection. Our phones and social media feeds aren’t going anywhere. People around you, however, might.