Still Life Sunday: The Difference Between Two Minds

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20 The Difference Between Two Minds

Assignment: A young girl stands on a road that leads to the woods. With her she has only a backpack, on her a pair of hiking boots and in her hand, she clutches a first aid kit. It is up to you to write a beginning to her story, in 200–300 words.

Student Z:

The girl walks in the forest. It is green, the leaves are hanging from the trees and the path she walks on is wet. Somewhere, a bird sings but the girl can’t see it, as it’s hiding in-between the branches. She walks forward and comes to a lake. It is dark blue and silent. On the other side of the lake she can see a deer drinking the water. It’s a beautiful animal. But when the girl steps on a stick, it disappears into the forest in the blink of an eye.

The girl continues her walk, listening to the birds that sing in the woods. Somewhere she hears noises, maybe a rabbit hopping away, but doesn’t see anything. She starts singing to herself a song she heard on the radio. Suddenly, she stumbles on a root and falls. Her knee starts bleeding. Luckily, she has her first aid kit, which she now opens to find a band-aid. She needs two for the sore. After that, she stands up again and continues her walk. Her knee hurts but she tries to ignore it even though it doesn’t help. Finally, she gives up and turns around to walk back home.

Word count: 200

***

Student W:

Sandra had tied her bronze colored hair into a bun so that her vision would stay clear through the journey. She held the first aid kit tightly in her hand, hoping it would help her when help was needed, and most important of all, keep her alive. As she took the first steps into the forest, Sandra could feel her senses sharpening: her eyes searched for anything unusual, her ears seemed to catch even the smallest cracks and rustling sounds. Even her nose seemed to catch smells that were new to her.

She could feel the nervousness in her stomach. It made her shiver, the thoughts of what was waiting for her. At the same time, she felt courageous, the strength of her body, her fixed mindset. She had promised her grandfather to find the little fox that had disappeared some days ago, and a promise was a promise. No matter how much she feared the forest, how disgusted she sometimes felt about the bugs or how she would have rather stayed at home reading a book – she had to keep her word.

The thing was, the fox wasn’t an ordinary fox. Sandra’s grandfather had a special connection with it, the brown-orange furry thing called Paw. Grandfather called Paw his spirit animal, although his family had always thought it to be some kind of joke. But Sandra had known his grandfather’s words to be true, when Paw had disappeared: her beloved, laughing and hugging grandfather had turned into a different person – a darker, grumpy, silent version of himself when he was separated from his beloved Paw. And that was why Sandra knew she had to find the fox, no matter how much she wanted to be somewhere else. She wanted her grandfather back.

And with this thought in mind she entered the forest, without looking back.

Word count: 306

Still Life Sunday: A Goodbye Said in Silence

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19 A Goodbye Said in Silence

When he closes his eyes, he can see it.

He can see the grey rock he is standing on and the small guest harbor on the other side of the silent bay. He remembers how he and his friend rowed on a small boat to the other side one summer to pick up two girls who were curious to attend their Midsummer Night Party. It had been a good night: the other girl was a good kisser who hadn’t been afraid to use her tongue.

Now, he can feel the late August warmth on his skin, the setting sun coloring the view into pastels. He hears a bird – the crow of the island. The old grump keeps an eye on everything that happens, sitting on a branch high up in a pine tree.

Taking a few steps forward, he is now standing in the exact place where the five-year-old he fell into the water. It was his father’s favorite story to tell how he had jumped in the water to save his son, and chuckled at how only a few minutes later he had been drying his banknotes on the rock. The son lived and so did the banknotes after a moment in the sun, he’d say.

This island is filled with memories. Everywhere he looks he sees something that reminds him of a project long gone, a day or a social happening from a few years ago. He has spent thirty summers on this island with his family and friends.

He loves that island, the trees that sway in the wind, the fish that jump in the water, the smell of the wood-burning sauna. But he will no longer visit this place – the summers here have come to an end.

Not because his family is selling it or because he is moving away, but because it is time for him to set himself free from his past.

In his mind, he turns around to look at the red cottage they repainted the previous summer. He wonders if the credit cards cut in half and the keys to his childhood home, that he put in an envelope and sent to his parents, have arrived. He left no note, letting the contents of the envelope speak for themselves.

However, he isn’t curious to know how his family will react to his actions. He won’t answer any of the phone calls he knows they will try to make. He has set himself free from the traditions, the norms, the expectations and the people he used to call family.

He is letting go of something to gain something. What his family represents is keeping him in place, holding him from getting onward, keeping him from developing into something else that could be better and more fulfilling.

It isn’t exactly easy to do what he is doing. Sometimes he thinks it would be easier to live his life as expected, without too many surprises or plot twists. Then there would be no conflicts, not too many questions. Only silent and satisfied approval. But that isn’t a way of life he can accept. How can he ever learn how he wants to live his life if he is constantly hindered from trying to live it?

And that is why he opens his eyes and says goodbye to the island quietly in his mind. Life is revealing itself to him in a new way and he is ready to welcome it with open arms.

Still Life Sunday: Reviving Resilience

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18 Reviving Resilience

First, everything’s quiet. But then – a crash of ceramics on the wood-paneled floor. Then a yell, someone telling someone else to grab something, maybe a jacket or the phone. A door opens, panicked footsteps echo in the corridor. Someone trips on their own shoelaces or misses a step or something, but gains their balance quickly and continues their way down the stairs.

Then the scream comes: “Fire! Everybody out!”

The doors open, almost in a synchronized movement, as if all the residents of the house have been waiting behind their front doors for the order to come.

Until this moment, an elderly man on the third floor has stayed in his armchair, not bothering to stand up in vain. But now the smoke is starting to seep into his apartment too and he feels like he must get up and join the others.

As he grabs the armrests with his white hands weakened with age, the doorbell rings.

“Tom! You need to get outside! Are you in there?”

He walks to the door and opens it. It’s his friend, Elsa, from the apartment one floor down. Tom feels warmth in his chest, appreciating Elsa taking the time to walk up the stairs to warn him despite her anxiety and bad knees.

“I’m on my way”, Tom says, keeping his voice calm, and glances at Elsa. What does she have with her? “What should I take with me?”

“Nothing!” Elsa’s first answer is colored with panic and some sort of determination. But then she thinks for a second, and decides differently. “Take your jacket. It’s cold outside. And your keys, of course.”

“What about my…”

“There isn’t time for anything else, Tom”, Elsa interrupts with a high voice that sound like a cry, unable to stop the panic from taking over. “Come!”

Tom follows in the steps of his friend. He walks from his apartment, carrying his coat and keys. He glances into the apartment, only for a second, letting his eyes rest on the old wooden writing desk of his for a short moment. He would like to sigh, but he doesn’t seem have time for that – Elsa begs him to stop wondering and start walking.

So, he walks down the steps, three floors down to the front door of the building, and joins everyone else in the yard.

It doesn’t take long before the fire is raging in three floors out of six. It had started on the fourth floor, the floor above Tom’s, and continued in two directions, up and down, quickly and aggressively.

It’s as if the fire knows it will be extinguished soon enough by the fire department, and decides to destroy as much as it possibly can before its time is out.

That’s a thought Tom would’ve liked to write down. But it isn’t possible. All his journals are inside, probably being eaten by the fire at that precise moment.

I hope the fire likes my words, Tom thinks to himself and wants to chuckle at his own joke. But it isn’t funny, not really. He’s aware that it’s only a mechanism of the brain to protect Tom from the truly awful truth he already knows – that all his work is being destroyed, right now, inside that building. Everything he has created, every word he has written. Gone. And there is nothing he can do.

In the distance, the fire trucks sound their alarm. They are close, coming at a surprising speed. But it’s already too late.

However, as the cold November wind makes everyone shiver, Tom thinks this: maybe all the thoughts will come back to him. Maybe he can write them all again, just like they were before. But at the same time, an elderly man with dementia… Tom sighs, this time out loud. What are the odds of him remembering everything again?

“Tom, it’s going to be alright”, Elsa says to him, in an effort to sooth both her friend and herself. Tom pats Elsa’s hand that has a tight grip of his arm. He appreciates her effort.

“Life has a tendency to find its way”, Tom hears himself say.

He is unsure if he has belief in his own words. But that isn’t anything one thinks of in a moment like this. At moments like these, one holds on to hope, to resilience, at any price. And Tom does that too, for now. Just to keep Elsa calm.

Still Life Sunday: An Instant Message on a Saturday Night

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17 An Instant Message on a Saturday Night

 Hey friend,

How does life in a new town feel? Do you already have a favorite café to pick your morning coffee from (where the barista is cute so that you have someone to wink at)? And have you learnt a route to the office from your apartment that you already walk like you’re on auto pilot? 

Somehow, today, my thoughts go to you. (And yes, I’m aware that it’s a cold and grey Saturday night. But don’t read anything into it, my friend. Don’t get too excited. It’s just a regular evening for me and on nights like these, my thoughts, well, they tend to wander.)

I think about that year in elementary school when I decided to write a play. I wanted the whole class to participate and I came up a role for everyone. But when I announced the different characters and who would be playing whom, it came apparent that no one wanted to be the other end of the dragon, the butt. Sarah was super happy to play the head of the dragon so that was fixed, but no one wanted to be the other end.

Not at least until the teacher told you to switch role from a villager to a dragon butt. I’m sorry you had to do that… but at the same time I’m not. So, sorry for not being sorry. 

Even after all these years, the memory makes me laugh. You were so angry at the teacher and frustrated with me – you kept asking me why I had to choose a dragon. Why couldn’t I just choose something that stands on two legs, like a Minotaur? You even tried to persuade me so that I would change the dragon to something else – how you knew I loved dried dates, I still haven’t found out to this day.

But in the end, you performed the role of the dragon tail. And today, on this Saturday evening, my thoughts go back to that and I realize that the whole play wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for you. Maybe the teacher could have appointed someone else to do the role but I don’t think anyone would have performed it as whole-heartedly as you did in the end.

So today, I just wanted to say hi, write a few words and tell you that I’ve been thinking about your Oscar-worthy performance as the dragon butt 15 years ago. 

And I also wanted to tell you this: I don’t think I would have become a theater enthusiast and ended up working for theaters if it hadn’t been for you. If the play had been a total catastrophe, I wouldn’t have thought that I could do it in the real world.

So, thank you for helping me out that day. Thank you for grinding your teeth, putting on the dragon tail and kneeling behind Sarah’s bum all those rehearsals and finally, the actual play.

Thank you for finishing the play.  

(I hope that barista winks back at you one day.)

Still Life Sunday: Élan Vital

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16 Élan Vital

Still wrapped in a black garbage bag, I was handed over to a stranger.

The newspaper wrapped around me was supposed keep the warmth in, prevent the moisture from evaporating to the chilly November air.

While still outside, trying to keep myself warm and somewhat cozy, I got handed over from one pair of hands to another. A muffled sound of gratitude, then steps, a door opening and closing.

The warmth made me feel like I had been reborn. That I was, once again, alive after battling in the cold winds and the misty dampness for what felt like forever.

I was brought inside, pulled out of that black garbage bag and unwrapped from the thick layers of newspaper that was filled with old news, stories that had already lost their value. It may sound sad, but for me this was a moment of joy.

After waiting for a long time, I was able to breathe again. To take deep gulps of fresh but warm air, stretch my muscles up towards the white ceiling, to the sides, trying to grab the white walls that were, however, too far. Or I was too small.

But I am ready to grow taller, wider and stronger. Take in the energy that is given to me, breath in the carbon dioxide and release the oxygen. Because in that moment, as I was being pulled out of the garbage bag, it felt as if I had been born again and remembered my place yet again.

I remembered what I was supposed to do and why I had chosen to do what I did. A great reminder that had already diminished in my memory during the long wait in the darkness. But the light, the fresh air, the friendly arms that brought me inside and showed me my new home, brought the original thought back to me.

My aim is to grow in all directions. To put down strong roots but also to stretch upwards to the ceiling. And one day share a part of me with another pot filled with earth, ready to start reaching towards the white walls and get stronger every day that goes by.

Still Life Sunday: A Method for Sleep

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15 A Method for Sleep

Every night at 9.30 PM, when the lights go out, the game begins.

It’s right after the parent wishes her daughter good night, makes the room go dark and leaves the door ajar. That’s the moment when the colors begin to gather. Some nights they are more pastel, some nights darker. It depends on the day.

The daughter draws the blanket right up to her ears, letting the warmth take over and observes how her body gets heavier. It’s as if the mattress is in love with her arms and legs, her back and her head, and squeezes her closer. It’s a nice thought. I like you too, bed, she thinks to herself.

But then it is time to spin the wheel and choose a story. The imaginary colorful wheel of stories spins and spins in the daughter’s mind until she thinks she can’t take the chaos of color anymore, and stops the wheel. The story for the night is… the wolf girl in the woods. The daughter smiles a tired smile, her eyes closed, her body heavy and already a little bit sleepy. This is one of her favorite stories.

Every night she plays the game. She spins the wheel, then makes it stop and takes the story it offers for the night. She tries to recall what happened in the story the last time she visited it and then lets her imagination take over. It’s her favorite way of making the time go under the blanket while she waits for the Sand Man.

(She isn’t quite sure if she still believes in the Sand Man but as she doesn’t know any other reason for why she falls asleep every night, she continues to refer to the mysterious man while she waits for her sleep.)

The wolf girl in the woods is one of her favorite stories because it is always filled with the most exciting adventures. In the woods, she gets to run through the blueberry bushes, letting her naked legs get scratched (but it doesn’t hurt). She can climb the trees, jump from rock to rock, take a dip in the cold but refreshing spring and sleep under a pine tree. And she can do all of this with her wolf friend, Otto.

This particular story is so wild, fun and adventurous that the daughter is almost less willing to fall asleep. Sometimes she wishes she could stay awake the whole night because then she could roam the woods as long as the stars stay in the sky.

She needs to take care of Otto and her wolf friend’s siblings. You see, they are in great danger. There’s a huntsman in the woods – a brown-haired, tall, heavy man, whose heavy boots can be heard from afar.

And the huntsman wants Otto and his siblings. Not as pets, not as friends, like the girl does, but for their fur. The daughter knows this and therefore she needs to stay in the woods with her friend and protect him from the huntsman. It’s important – she’s the only one who can trick the evil hunter to fall into the big, deep pit that they’ve been digging for several nights.

She is the heroine of the story, the one who can save the day. Otto is the other main character, her right hand (or rather, her right paw). And the huntsman is the enemy.

Night after night the daughter returns to this dream (if the wheel of stories is in her favor) to help Otto and his siblings escape and hide from the huntsman. And every night she tries to find out a way to trick the man into the pit. It’s a slow process, but she knows she will eventually succeed.

The daughter loves this story. But every night, after only a short time of continued adventures as the wolf girl in the woods, the Sand Man comes to her, and she falls asleep. Before the dreams take over, she tells herself that Otto must wait for another day for her to come to the rescue. But she will come to the woods again. She knows she will.

 

Still Life Sunday: An Optimized Route

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14 An Optimized Route

I stand on a crowded street, letting people, bikes and cars pass me by without really seeing them.

I am here to test something. A route. A passage that I have planned for days.

For days, even weeks, I’ve taken notice of how other people walk from one place to another. On which side of the road they opt to stay on, in what traffic lights to cross the street to the other side. Who of them step over to the lane meant for cyclists in order to walk faster and who stay on the pedestrian side.

All these things I’ve observed.

And what I’ve concluded from my many observations is that hundreds of people opt for a route that isn’t the fastest, most efficient one. No. Instead, they waste seconds that turn into minutes by choosing streets that are crowded and traffic lights that do not change color in the favor of pedestrians.

What a waste of time, I think. What a waste of energy! I would like to tell this to these wasteful people walking the streets.

I’ve spent most of my life optimizing my time. I am an optimizer (I ask you kindly not to confuse it with optimist, because that I am not). Therefore, I have planned and altered and optimized this route I’m about to take. I’ve put down so many thoughts, so many hours to be able to save as much time and energy as possible.

It is important, I tell people. I am optimizing my well-being.

Some think it’s unnecessary, pointless to put this much energy to plan something so little. It’s only a few minutes from your day, they say. Why make such a big deal out of it? Why not enjoy the fresh air, the commotion, the moment?

I tell them that instead of enjoying the moment on a crowded street with honking cars and sometimes angry but mostly passive-aggressive cyclists (you might notice the sarcasm here), I want to enhance my route, develop it into the best possible route from place A to place B. I want to be in control of my own time and resources, I say to them.

So here I am, in the beginning of the route I’ve thought out in advance. I am about to test the passage for the first time today.

It is Monday, the most stressed out day of the week. As I stand on the street, I can feel the stress in the air. The impatience, the sweat. I can almost smell it. So unnecessary, I think to myself, such a waste of resources.

But after taking only a few steps along my pre-planned route, I halt to remind myself of two things.

Reminder number one: My route may not be any better than the energy-draining route other people walk every single day. I might be just as wasteful of my resources as they are.

But my case is different: I am in control of my route.

Therefore, reminder number two: As long as I’m consciously thinking about my route and critically evaluating it, I will be taking many more steps forward compared to all these people who walk their routes in an auto pilot mode. I am developing while the others waste their time walking these streets.

I start taking steps again on my pre-planned route and I think: I’m already ahead of them.