Maybe my craziest idea so far

It all started with a vision. Imagine it: an outdoor art show with silk paintings hanging from tree branches in the very forest that inspired them.

Hmm… amazing as that sounds I wasn’t quite sure my silk paintings would be able to withstand the elements. Then I remembered, there’s a tiny cabin on the island where we live that has been empty for the past 30 years or so. It’s surrounded by pines, birches, rowan trees and junipers. It’s right next to a shore where terns screech and reeds sway. All the things I love. Plus, it’s ancient, really old, and I really like old things. It was perfect. I decided I would turn it into a gallery; a summer gallery in the magic forest that tickles my imagination and inspires me to paint. 

Well, when does anything ever go as planned? It was originally a completely realistic project, and I had plenty of time to turn the little shack into a gallery whenever we visited the island during the spring. But then I came down with Covid, which turned into post-Covid, and was simply unable to do anything, really, for weeks on end. Come midsummer, I was finally getting my strength back, and I thought I could quickly transform the abandoned house then. That in itself was of course ridiculous because before any transforming could be done the place needed to be emptied. But alas, we had a heat wave and it was too hot to do anything much. Besides I was busy with other work, I was on a deadline. So, nothing happened then either.

By the time July came around, I started wondering if realizing this dream was even possible anymore or if it would just have to wait until next year. I was quite disappointed by the thought and I wavered and I wondered. Then I decided, no, I was going to make this happen if it was the last thing I did. I can and I will!

Off I went to my studio in Helsinki to pick out some paintings to hang in the gallery. Note, at this point no renovating had been done yet. I came back a couple of days later and sent out invitations to the opening. It was high time because people obviously need several days’ notice. That gave me exactly nine days to turn the place into the much dreamed of gallery. 

At this point I have to tell you, I have done some painting and wall papering in my time, but in no way am I a professional, nor do I really like it that much. Also, my husband who is good at all things renovation and very supportive of all my endeavors, no matter how headless, was not able to help me very much. I was on my own. 

Every day I trekked through the forest to the tiny house, lugging paint and other supplies one way and giant bags of old stuff and trash the other. And as is typical for old houses, every time I did something in the house, I was met with unexpected, ugly surprises that needed to be dealt with before I could continue.

There were mouse droppings everywhere, more than I had ever seen in my life. And there was bigger poop in a hole in the wall that had to be scooped out. I can only guess that it had come from a marten. I was trying to come to terms with the fact that my gallery was also a wilderness toilet. 

Every once in a while, I would traipse to the hardware store in town, my husband in tow, asking for help to solve whatever my latest challenge was in the fastest and cheapest way possible. I mean I was working against the clock. At one point, when a very helpful salesperson was suggesting one intricate solution after the other, solutions that in normal circumstances would have worked perfectly fine, my husband exclaimed, “It doesn’t have to look good, it just has to work!” The poor man, the salesperson that is, something seemed to die a little inside him as I tried to stifle a laugh. 

I worked every day all day. My body ached all over and I even had to take Ibuprofen a couple of times in the evening in order to be able to sleep. I constantly second guessed myself, thinking I must be mad, but I just kept telling myself keep going, keep going, keep going. At least I was saving the house from complete decay. 

Then all of a sudden it was the day of the opening. Everything wasn’t done, but the most important things were. The walls were painted, the paths cleared. Signs had been put up and the paintings were hung (my husband actually had to help me with this last part because by then I was a nervous wreck). There were tags on the wall beneath the paintings and brochures on the table. Refreshments had been bought and set out on the table on the lawn outside the gallery. It wasn’t even raining (although they had originally forecasted 21mm of rain for that day…). We were ready for guests. 

So, we waited. At first no one came. We took some pictures and poured ourselves some bubbly. Still no one. I was getting worried.

Then suddenly they started coming. Over 20 guests in total walked through the forest to see my little gallery. We talked, we laughed, and we had a great time. They admired my paintings and I even sold a couple! 

And, as it turns out, a gallery in the middle of the forest in the Finnish archipelago isn’t such a crazy idea after all!

My summer gallery is open until August 14. If you’re in the neighborhood, do drop by. Contact me for exact coordinates or visit my Instagram account @ingrids_silk_painting for pictures and more information.

Now I’m happy and tired and more than ready to take a few much-needed days off. Over and out!

If Finland is the happiest country in the world why do people long to opt out here too?

I’m reading Anu Partanen’s book The Nordic Theory of Everything at the moment. It’s really an excellent read; I wish I had read it sooner. Partanen’s book so clearly explains the differences between life in Finland (or the Nordics) and the US and how these two very different social, political and cultural systems come together to create independent or not so independent individuals. 

Now, especially if you’re from the US, you may be guessing that the US system is the one that creates independent individuals, not the Nordic welfare state, but, perhaps surprisingly, it’s not. It’s the Nordic system that does that. 

One of Partanen’s messages is that the Nordic countries are most certainly not socialist, despite popular (American) belief, and that any Nordic person would balk at the idea. On the contrary, the Nordic model of social security and support allows individuals to be independent and to create good lives for themselves, instead of having them depend on for example parents, family members and employers just to be able to afford important, but basic, things like education, health care, day care etc. And yes, if you visit the Nordic countries, you will see that individualism actually does run strong throughout our cultures, for better or worse.

I strongly recommend the book, but that wasn’t actually the point of this blog post. What I want to talk about is how it is possible that opting out experiences can be so similar in both countries despite the differences that rank Finland at the top of so many lists* and the US much further down? How is it that people in a country like Finland long to opt out of their current jobs and lifestyles just as much as Americans do? 

Finland has recently, once again, been declared the world’s happiest country. It kind of makes you wonder, if this is the case, why is it that the opting out stories I have collected in Finland and the US are so remarkably similar? Why is it that people who live in a country with free education, free health care, more reasonable working hours, five weeks of legislated vacation time per year, long maternity leaves, paternity leaves, even longer parental leaves after which they are guaranteed their job back, high quality affordable day care etc. etc. etc., have very similar experiences to those who do not enjoy any of the above? 

How can it be that they also feel exhausted, they feel a lack of control over their lives, and they also have difficulties creating coherent life narratives? How can it be that they also reach a point when something’s got to give, or if not, at least long to leave their current way of living and working?

How come so many of the world’s happiest people don’t seem so happy?

Well, first I want to say, that no system or country is perfect. The happiest country in the world does not necessarily mean absolute happiness at all times. Finland is also ranked one of the most gender equal countries in the world, but that does not mean that the work here is done. Finland has not reached a state of perfect gender equality, nor will it any time soon at the rate we’re going.

I recently read that Finnish mothers are among the most stressed and exhausted in the world. The main problem is (in addition to the all-consuming motherhood ideal of today) that while Finland has among the highest percentage of women working fulltime, women also continue to be mainly responsible for childcare and household chores. While working life has become more equal, home life has been lagging behind, compared to Sweden for example. 

But one factor that has become glaringly obvious to me during all these years of researching opting out and having the privilege of hearing countless people’s opting out and in stories, is that regardless of any national differences, one common denominator is corporate cultures and ideals. They tend to be similar throughout the world thanks to globalization and global organizations, and they also tend to override local practices and sometimes even legislation. 

Let me give you an example. 

It happens, in Finland, that when a man wants to take some legislated paternity leave to get to know his child and to share the load with his partner, his employer may let him know that ‘it is simply not done in this company’. 

Research has also shown that men with low incomes are more likely to take time off to care for their children than are men in high-powered corporate positions. 

So what should we do? We need to work on changing work. We need to create corporate cultures that belong in the 21stcentury. 

* In addition to being ranked the happiest and one of the most gender equal societies, Finland is also considered one of the most stable, best-governed, least corrupt, and best-educated countries in the world.