Ode to my Maple

There are so many things I could write about today that are related to my work and research. I mean, we are certainly living in extraordinary times. People and organizations have been forced to reinvent working routines and solutions in ways they never even considered before. For me this is, of course, fascinating because organizations that have, for example, said that working offsite is impossible or impractical have had to try it and now realize that maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all. For someone like me who has seen how one size fits all really isn’t the best solution – not everything works for everyone nor for all types of work – this is of course satisfying to see. Hopefully we’ll take some of the things we’ve learned during this pandemic with us and see more individualized solutions in the future.

And then there’s my book on men opting out, I could write about that. I could let you know that I have now basically completely the first draft of the manuscript, which is absolutely mind-blowing for me. It is something I have been working on for so long and now it is finally coming together. But I don’t feel like writing about that either. I want to write about the maple tree that stands in my garden.

These weeks of social distancing have, for me, meant slowing down. In a way it feels crazy that it’s only been a few weeks, it feels more like months. A lot has happened. I’m definitely one of the lucky ones. I live in a house with a garden, close to a forest where it is safe to be. I have work that I can do from home and I have teenagers who have managed their distance schooling very well. So apart from the anxiety of following all the horrendous news from around the world and worrying about the safety and health of loved ones, this social distancing thing really hasn’t been that bad for me.

One of the wonderful things I have experienced, thanks to the lockdown, is the spring. I am at home more than I’ve ever been before and I go out into the garden to just get out of the house and get some fresh air. I don’t have anywhere else to be so I take time taking everything in and I just love it. I have witnessed all the birds and flowers and trees come alive after the winter: cranes circling in big flocks over our house; more tiny spring flower than I have ever known existed, and the buds of our maple bursting open before my eyes.

I have always loved my maple. I can see some of its branches from my bedroom window and I often just lie there in my bed looking it at it as I contemplate whatever it is I’m thinking about at that particular time. I love it all year around; all the colors in the fall, the bare branches against the sky that are sometimes covered in snow or frost in the winder, the buds and the delicate, yellow flowers that bloom in spring, and the big leafy leaves that provide shade in the summer. This spring I noticed how beautiful the big, velvety, brown buds were for the first time; it felt weird that I hadn’t really noticed them before. On one particularly warm and sunny day last week, as I was standing under the tree admiring the millions of buds, they started bursting open before my eyes.

Because there are no airplanes in the sky at the moment and hardly any cars on the road, our garden is quiet. And as I was standing there, I could hear the tiny snapping sounds of the bud bursts, click click click click all around me in the air.

It was amazing. I feel honored to have been included in this beautiful event. Thank you, Maple!

Create, create, create!

I follow Elizabeth Gilbert on Instagram. You know who I mean, the author of best-sellers like Eat, Pray, Love. Although I have to admit I have never read Eat, Pray, Love, nor did I see the movie. But I have read a book by her titled The Last American Man. I have a beat-up copy that I bought at some flea market once when I was starting out on my research project on men opting out. At the time, I devoured any books about men I could get my hands on of any genre in order to gain insights into the strange and mysterious world of masculinities (I’m kidding about the strange and mysterious… sort of 😉 ).

Anyway, The Last American Man is a biography, or maybe rather an ethnographic account of the somewhat legendary Eustace Conway’s life and existence (no I hadn’t heard of him either until I read the book). And this might not sound like the most exciting read, but it was really an excellent book. The way Gilbert approached the whole situation and her style of writing was funny, entertaining, insightful, thoughtful and just so good. It was certainly a good read, and I became curious about this best-selling author that I of course knew of but who hadn’t really piqued my interest before. When things become hugely popular and everyone is talking about them and you’re constantly told that you have to read, see, try, do something, I get a little bit put off and then I just don’t. I know, I can’t really explain it, but there you go…

So after that, I stumbled across Gilbert’s Instagram account @elizabeth_gilbert_writer and I have to say, I really enjoy her posts. Again, what a funny, generous, positive, insightful and sensitive person. The other day she was interviewed live on Instagram, which I watched part of, and something she said just resonated with me. I can’t remember it exactly word for word, so I might get this wrong, but what it in essence was, was that we all have a natural drive – a need – to just create, create, create. Not just people, but also nature, nature of course creates too. It includes everything from creating life, creating order where there is none, creating art, creating beauty, creating meaning, creating connections, creating music… It’s what we do; we create, create, create.

I don’t know if I’m able to convey this in a way that makes any sense, but it just made such perfect sense to me as I was sitting there in my kitchen on a Sunday evening, preparing myself for another week of social distancing and distance schooling (my kids) and (what feels like) a million meals and absolutely maddening amounts of dirty dishes. Ironically, or perhaps not, this feels like one of the most creative periods of my life, which kind of sounds funny since I’m not painting nearly as much as I usually do.

About three weeks ago, like for so many others, my calendar was wiped clean. Everything I had planned, events, talks, silk painting courses, my exhibition… everything was either canceled or postponed. That is generally bad news for entrepreneurs (and I know there are so many entrepreneurs out there really struggling right now), but in a way it was a blessing in disguise, because I finally had the time and space I so badly needed to actually finish writing my book. And I am making great progress – I’m planning on having my first draft of my manuscript done by the end of April (I know can you believe it?! I barely can).

That is of course very creative to say the least. And I want to point out to those of you who were thinking you were going to work on that book you always dreamed of writing during the Corona lockdown but haven’t been able to get started: this isn’t that. There is so much to deal with both practically and emotionally during this time that just managing to get what has to be done from one day to another is more than enough. It really is, so don’t beat yourself up about it. This is my day job, what I am supposed to be doing but have been struggling with due to a lack of time. It’s not a dream I’m finally making happen (although in a way it’s that too, but that’s a long story).

But that’s just my book. I think for all of us, this is a time when we really have to be creative and do things differently, and I think people are rising to the occasion in a way they probably never thought they had in them.

I’m not doing the heroic work that health care workers are doing, or my kid’s teachers who are absolutely amazing. For me it has entailed being creative in the kitchen and cooking a variety of meals like never before. It has meant walks in my nearby forest, which have become so important to me. It has meant activities with my teens. And for the past couple of days it has meant sewing a whole bunch of face masks for family members who need them.* It has meant doing things I have never done before, and it has meant doing them in a way I have never done before. All of a sudden, I’m at home and I have time on my hands because I have nowhere to be. It means that I allow things to take the time they take. I do them slowly and perhaps not surprisingly, doing things slowly makes the process both more enjoyable and more meaningful.

As I sit here, and wait this situation out, I’m not dreaming of all the things I could be doing instead. I’m just here, and I create, create, create. I create so much that I have little creativity and energy left to paint. But that’s okay. My upcoming exhibition has been postponed, so I’ll have all the time in the world to do that once my book is written.

The point is, we all create, and whether you have been defined as a creative person or not has nothing to do with it. So, in that spirit, remember: create, create, create! And while you’re doing so, stay safe and well!

 

*If you want to make a face mask of your own, you will find a free pattern here: https://www.craftpassion.com/face-mask-sewing-pattern/

 

Quality of life

I recently had the honor and pleasure of being a prereader of an amazing book that is yet to be published. I can’t really tell you very much about it and I won’t give anything away, but there was one thing in particular that I read that struck a chord with me and that I have thought about ever since. It is about being present in the moment and the effect that has on our wellbeing.

The thing is that life can get hectic. We’re pretty much expected to be all over the place at the same time all the time. Time accelerates and for many this can cause a feeling of life spinning out of control. In fact, research has shown that doing many things at the same time – everyday life for most of us – intensifies time to the point that we actually feel like we have less time. So, by doing many things at the same time, we’re actually not saving time, but maybe rather wasting it, or at least feeling like we’re running out of it.

Well, in this book I mentioned, I read about the importance of slowing down, being in the moment and noticing our surroundings. I know this is important; research tells us it not only calms us, but also helps us remember who we are and what we’re doing. It’s about allowing ourselves time for reflection (whether or not it’s done purposefully or just by being in the moment), which, in turn, helps us create coherent narratives about ourselves and our lives. And the ability to create these coherent narratives is essential for our wellbeing.

So, this passage really spoke to me, but not only because of the parallels in my research. I have actually also experienced this and it has made a great difference in my life.

I’ve always been one to notice interesting colors, shapes and patterns in my surroundings. I think it’s the artist in me. But for the longest time, I didn’t really allow myself the time to actually slow down enough to really see what was around me. I didn’t do this knowingly, I was just constantly on my way somewhere, always in a hurry because I felt I was needed where I wasn’t. I was always feeling guilty about never being in any one place enough at one time. I was never at work enough, never at home enough, never anywhere enough.

Well, when I started painting again a few years ago, I also started allowing myself the space to notice my surroundings for inspiration. Gradually I started seeing things more and more. The way the wind tickles the leaves of the trees. Or how the sun shines through those leaves on a sunny October day, making them look like a million sources of light. Or how they fall and land creating polka dotted paths for us to tread.

And you know what else I have noticed? The more I do this, the more I see the beauty that surrounds me everywhere I go. And the more I do that, the better I feel. It makes me feel happy inside. And it calms me, at least for the short moment in my hectic day when I stop and think, wow, look at that!

So, take that moment. Stop and admire what you see around you, even things that at first might strike you as ugly. Notice how interesting and intricate they may be. Maybe just a tiny detail. And carry that with you as you continue with your day.

Sometimes it is just that simple.

On being authentic and getting things done

When I opened Instagram the other day and started scrolling through my feed, the first thing that popped up was an inspirational quote: “Surround yourself with people who feel like sunshine.”

I scrolled on without giving the quote too much thought and, believe it or not, the very next post was another motivational quote: “Surround yourself with people who are on the same mission as you.”

Being an extraverted introvert, I shuddered at the mere thought of being surrounded, and quickly closed Instagram before I was told to surround myself with yet a third type of people. Don’t get me wrong, I like people, but to be surrounded? No thanks!

Okay, okay, I know these quotes aren’t necessarily meant to be taken literally. And I also know that they have a point, at least the one about people being on the same mission as you. Kenieshiear Czetty, the wise, talented, and absolutely charming person behind The Opting Out Podcast, talks about the importance of finding people who can walk with you on your opting out journey (because not everybody can) and I know that is what that second motivational quote is about. But the first one is a bit problematic I think.

It is as if we, today, feel that happiness is a human right and that anything that hampers our happiness can and should be cut out of our lives, even people. But there is more to life than happiness and only keeping people in it who make us happy (or who feel like sunshine) makes us miss out on having a real life. Because life is not only about happiness, and happiness is not the only important emotion. But not only that, it seems to me it also makes us lose part of our humanity…*

Which leads me to another thing that Kenieshiear said.

Okay, let me backtrack a bit. Kenieshiear found me and my research a few months ago through the internet and in many ways, we are kindred spirits; opting out sisters. We have similar approaches to opting out and last week we spoke for the very first time. During our conversation, she said one thing that I found particularly profound, and that has stayed with me all week.

We were talking about the importance of feeling like you can be yourself, of being authentic, and how many people don’t necessarily feel that they can be themselves at work.

We talked about how we have both reached a point where we just want to be ourselves and if we are “too nice” or “too colorful” for someone or for some organizations, so be it (although to be honest, I don’t think either of us think we are too much of anything).

She talked about how when you are authentic, you are real, and you wear your feelings on the outside. You are honest, you say what you mean, and (here it comes) you get things done.

Now, I didn’t think to ask her what exactly she bases that on, and I definitely want to continue discussing this with her soon, but it really resonated with me.

After my discussion with Kenieshiear, I continued the conversation with my husband. He and I were speculating about why that is, why is it that authenticity leads to getting things done? Is it because when you’re authentic you only say you’ll do things if you really mean to? Or is it because if you’re authentic you don’t have a hidden agenda and you only promise what you know you can and will deliver? Or is it because it’s just easier to know what you will and will not do and can therefore be forthright about it without giving it a second thought?

I’m not sure, but this is something to think about. What do you think?

 

*For more about this see my post ‘The Search for Happiness’ and Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Smile or Die.

Life is like a box of chocolates and other thoughts on blogging, on not being famous, on men and on being complicated or not

It’s true, you never really know what you’re gonna to get. For example, I never know how my blog posts are going to be received. I never know which ones are going to be the popular ones, which ones are going to get a lot of likes, which ones are going to be shared, and which ones are basically going to go unnoticed by most.

I used to try and see the patterns, and sometimes I would think I knew. I would write a blog post and I would feel certain that this one would hit home. And then it didn’t. And the one that I was certain no one was going to read, turned out to be the one that got shared and shared to the point of circling the globe several times over.

But I’ve stopped trying to understand. I know that it depends on so much more than what I write. It depends on much more than whether or not I come up with a catchy title. It depends on things like what day of the week I post, what time of the day I do so, and what time of year it is. And of course, on whether something major is going on in the world that is drawing everyone’s attention.

You know what, I don’t really care. I didn’t start this blog to become wildly successful or famous (To those of you who do want to become wildly famous on social media: a blog like mine with texts on issues that are sometimes hard to digest is probably not the answer…).

I started this blog because I wanted an outlet where I could share my research and my thoughts, and a place where I could write creatively and not be bound by the very rigid rules and standards of academic writing. I don’t want nor need to put energy into trying to market my blog as widely as possible. It’s here if you want to read it, and for as long as it fills some sort of a function for me. Although having said that, I of course love it when people read what I write and treasure every comment and reaction, so feel free to share and to comment! I will respond.

My point is, I’m not going to lose sleep over how many hits my blog is getting.

But back to the box of chocolates. My all-time most popular post, is one I posted a couple of years ago and was certain no one would care about. It gets hits every day from every corner of the world. Sometimes people react, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they like it, sometimes they hate it, and sometimes I get sarcastic comments that I seriously don’t know what to do with since you can’t have a constructive dialogue with sarcasm. This post is about men, but it’s not about putting men down, nor about ridiculing them. It’s about explaining that we are all complex creatures, whatever gender we are. We are complicated but at the same time we are really quite simple in that we are all human. Anyway, you can read it here.

In the meantime, I’m wrapping up my work to go on my summer holiday. My posts may be sparse while I’m off enjoying some well-deserved free time with family, however it will be business as usual again in August (when I will be moving into The Art Place*! See last week’s post!)

Happy summer everyone!

* You can now follow me and my process on Facebook as I set up The Art Place! See The Art Place Finland

Should finding your passion really be your life goal?

“If you don’t know what your passion is, realize that one reason for your existence on Earth is to find it.”

Oprah apparently said this. At least according to Thrive, an Instagram account I follow.

So, what do you think about that? I saw the quote the other day as I was scrolling through my Instagram feed. At the time I paused and reflected over my passions – writing and painting to name two – and felt lucky to have these passions and to also actually be able to make a living off them. Still, something about this quote just bothered me, as motivational one-liners often do. The thing is, we seem to really love these motivational quotes, but the fact is, life just isn’t that simple.

I was a bit surprised that Oprah had said this because she is usually quite insightful and nuanced, and to be honest, I think telling people to dedicate their lives to chasing their passions can be quite problematic.

Well, I scrolled down to the comments section because it’s always interesting to see how other people react, and I was happy to see that many of my fellow Thrive followers were much more pragmatic and nuanced than Oprah on this particular occasion.

One of the main messages from the comments section was that if you don’t have a passion, and maybe not everyone does, that has to be okay too. Because if you tell everyone that they should spend the lives looking for passion that might not be there, it’s “a mindset that can work towards frustration,” as one person put it. Not everyone has a passion, but if they are told that they must find theirs, it invariably sets them up for a feeling of failure, or not being good enough as a person, or not looking hard enough. Or maybe you’re passionate about something mundane that can’t be translated into a successful job? Does that mean your passion isn’t good enough? (No, it doesn’t).

Or maybe all jobs don’t have to be based on passion. Maybe not everyone wants or needs to be passionate about their jobs and that has to be okay too. Or maybe they can’t. Maybe they found a passion and tried pursuing that but then realized that they also needed to afford to live.

You get the gist.

The thing is, I’m all for passion, but I’m not for sweeping generalizations where we forget that the world consists of a multitude of people with different realities, hopes, wants, and needs. I’m all for dreaming and encouraging others to do the same. What I’m not for is one-dimensional motivational quotes that become mantras and that many just can’t live up to.  Life isn’t just about passion, it isn’t just about happiness, it isn’t just about living your dream. It’s so much more, and thank goodness for that!

How do we design technology that actually enhances our quality of life instead of making us lonelier?

I’m reading a book* about iGen at the moment. iGen is the generation of kids who have grown up with the Internet, computers, smart phones and the like. In other words, my kids’ generation. It’s fascinating reading and they are a remarkable generation in many ways. They are tolerant and sensible and instill hope for the future, at least for me personally. I like the book’s approach, the way it says their values and ways of life are not good nor bad, they just are. I like that because we spend so much time judging iGen kids and comparing their ways to the reality the rest of us had when we were the same age, even though the realities they deal with now are completely different from what ours were in many ways.

One thing that strikes me though, yet again, as I read about those who are young today, is the issue of loneliness. They are a lonely generation, and as research has shown in a number of different countries, loneliness among young people today is a huge and rising problem. And one of the problems is, of course, social media. I think no one is surprised by that.

While social media is supposed to connect people, it has especially young people meeting online rather than face-to-face. They have friends who they socialize with, but due to many reasons, they mostly socialize with them on social media platforms. And, as may also not come as a surprise, chatting on social media does not fill the same function as meeting in person. Humans need relationships, we need intimacy and closeness. We experience connections on a deeper level when we meet and have conversations with people in person, which we just don’t do in the brief chats and messages we exchange over social media. These deep connections provide meaning and a sense of community that we as humans all need.

Not only that, research has also shown that even when they are at home with family, iGeners will often rather be alone in their rooms on their phones with their doors closed, than be with the rest of the family. So even though loved ones may be there on the other side of their bedroom doors, they are still often alone.

But what strikes me is that even though social media may exacerbate loneliness among iGeners, possibly even cause it, it isn’t really social media as such that is at fault. Social media is just technology that we humans have developed. It is how we have designed and defined it, and how it has been programmed to be used that is the problem.

The same goes for AI (artificial intelligence). Many feel threatened by it, and worry what it may or may not do to our lives. But the fact is, that it is we humans who decide what it should be and what it should and should not be able to do. The threat is not social media, it is not AI, it is how we humans decide to define and develop it.

There is so much happening in society now. Life as we know it is being redefined as we speak, and we need to make sure it is done in the right way. Social media can be great. AI can change our lives for the better in uncountable ways. We just have to make sure that it is developed to do so, and not to harm us and our wellbeing.

So instead of having social media designed to isolate us and make us lonely, as it seems to be today, how about we design technology to bring us together rather that to keep us apart? How about reinventing social media so that we actually interact with each other more in person and not less? How about using technology to actually enhance our quality of life, and not isolate us and make us lonelier?

This is for all you programmers and developers out there. Please design technology to be the resource it could really be.

*iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant and Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood (and What That Means for the Rest of Us) by Jean M. Twenge, PhD