The Consequences of Jumping

It feels like it’s high time for an update here. So many things have happened this past year that I’m not entirely sure I’ve had time to appropriately reflect upon them. This post will be my sincere attempt at covering the most important of them. 

I think I should start off with some backstory.

At the end of 2015 I hit the proverbial wall after a fall term that definitely got the better of me – this following a period of less than four years of working as a teacher full time. Preceding this I had spent 5+ years studying to become an upper secondary school teacher in English (as a second language) and religious studies.

The collapse was the result of me being given way too many tasks to perform in a way too narrow frame of time. One of the reasons I became a teacher in the first place is that I care about people. Thus the realization that I did not have the time to be there for all my 100+ young students (and not for lack of trying my darnedest, mind you) was one of the things that broke me (coupled of course with the immense stress, sleepless nights, daily threats and insults that are also given parts of the teaching job). So I quit.

Spring term 2016 I worked part time at another school, but only in order to pay my bills. I knew that the situation was unsustainable, and that I would have to do something drastic in order to keep my head above the waves of anxiety that threatened to overwhelm me at every turn.

One of my greatest passions in life is and has always been writing and storytelling. When I was a kid I always told myself and the world that I was “going to be a writer” when I grew up. Growing older and hopefully more mature, I realized that one does not simply walk into Mordor, so to speak, and that I would have to get a “real job”. Thus the teacher thing. I had been freelancing as a pop culture reporter for the local newspaper since 2007, but the thought that I could actually honor my childhood dream by becoming real journalist had never seriously struck my mind.

But then and there, at the beginning of 2016, when my mind was falling apart and the smallest and simplest things threatened to send me crying and falling into pieces, one of my closest friends reacted. She told me something that I will always remember:

“This is not you. This is what you do: Pick two of your most important dreams, and then spend this coming year fighting with everything you have to make those dreams come true.”

And so I did. I jumped.

I gave up teaching. I sold off all the things I did not need and rented out my apartment. I enrolled to a one-year journalism education (a follow-up to an Internet based class I had taken previously) and moved to Stockholm.

I spent the second half of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 studying journalism, and slowly realized that this is what I was always meant to be doing. I learned much and made important friends and contacts. I learned things about myself that I would never have learned if I had not risked everything and jumped.

I also managed to get an internship at Aftonbladet, Sweden’s biggest evening newspaper, where I was also later employed. There I met many new friends and grew even more as a journalist. It would be an understatement to say that I had, if not the, then at least one of, the greatest times of my life.

When my contract was about to end I was offered to stay on board as a researcher for their TV-station, and initially I happily accepted. But then things happened.

A close family member fell ill and passed away while I was living in Stockholm. I managed to get back to my home town Gävle just in time to see her one last time, but the loss broke me once more. I realized the hard way what I had known all along: that friends and family is incredibly important to me, and that while I had landed my dream job 200 kilometers away in Stockholm, being so far from my close ones was driving me to a very dark and lonely place on the inside.

So I declined the job offer at Aftonbladet and moved home. I got my old apartment back, and retrieved my beloved cat-companion Sushi (image above) from my sister’s place where she had been living for this past year. Luckily, I managed to get a job at a newspaper staff in Falun, a neighboring town to Gävle. A full time, permanent employment as a digital/social media editor and reporter. Those of you who have insight into the journalistic job market in Sweden know how incredibly rare it is for Swedish journalists to have permanent employments. Thus I feel extremely lucky, and the fact that both my colleagues and my job assignments are great only adds to this.

So now I am back where I started, but with so many exceptions I can hardly count them.  I have a job that I love, a salary that allows me to live and not just survive, a bunch of new realizations about myself and a second education to lean back on.

Apart from all this I have also fulfilled one of the two dreams that my wonderful friend inspired me to chase. The first one, namely, was becoming a journalist.

Getting back up again after this summer’s loss and grief has not been easy, and I am not sure I am entirely back on my feet yet even now. But I am glad that I made it back home in time to see her. I know that she is proud of me, wherever she is. She told me many times while she was alive how happy she was for me, that things were going my way in Stockholm and in life.

I have not been able to write much since the day it happened, and I quit my micro fiction writing on Twitter almost entirely that day. But even as I’m writing this I can feel inspiration and creativity slowly returning to me. Maybe I’m starting to heal, or maybe it’s just the season. I have a history since childhood of what I suspect is what they call seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and autumn is always the easiest time for me.

Anyway, things are looking up, and I’m feeling quite good today. So good, in fact, that I think I will open up Word and try to get some writing done.

This would be a really good thing, because you know what? The second dream I chose to fight for back then, when my friend intervened in my destructive spiral, was “Getting a book published”.

And I think it is high time to start fighting for that dream now.

Thank you for reading, it really means a lot to me.
All the best,
cof
Chris Smedbakken

 

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On That Malicious Thing Called Writer’s Block

You know that wretched feeling. You’ve had it too, just admit it. Or at least I hope so, because otherwise I’ll have to feel doubly bad about having it myself. I’m talking about the terrible, despicable, malevolent malady that cuts your wings while at the same time it mocks you unendingly for your pathetic inability to fly. I’m talking about that voice that coaxes you to create, while simultaneously locking your hands behind your back and whispering discouraging degradations in your ear. I’m talking, of course, about writer’s block.

I know I’ve suffered from it before, and many times at that. It’s just that every time it passes I tend to forget it was ever there. It’s like my mind’s trying to block out the memory of that terrible state, in naïve hope that it won’t come back if I hide from it (and even the memory of it) well enough. And maybe this is actually a good way to tackle it, but in that case I’ve never managed to find a sufficiently good hiding spot. Because it always comes back.

The downside to this memory repressing approach is that every time writer’s block returns to once again grip me with its poisonous claws, I tend to panic. Why can’t I write? Why do I suddenly want to throw up at the mere thought of GM:ing? Where the fuck is my inspiration? I can’t remember just how bad it was last time, or the time before that, and thus I have no frame of reference to help me understand that this time around won’t be the end of the world either. That it will pass and that my inspiration (together with my incurable creative hubris) will return once again. Of course I know this, theoretically, but I can’t see it.

The current blockage has been a long one. I’m always at my most creative during autumn and early winter. That’s when magic happens. But this year not much writing happened even then. Well, of course writing happened — I’m a journalist after all. But now I’m talking about creative writing; that kind of writing that flows from your soul and builds worlds — not just documents them. I’ve managed to force some pages from my mind, but that’s all. I haven’t been able to fly for almost a year now, and it bothers me to the brink of madness.

I blame two culprits for this. The first one’s name is burnout, and the other one is called performance anxiety. I hit the proverbial wall in late 2015 and haven’t quite recovered yet (but that’s another story). My mind seems to have coped with this by locking off certain areas and gearing down. Together with a tendency of mine never to settle for anything less than perfect, this is a flawless recipe for creative shortage.

Now the mere thought of sitting down to write makes my mental safeguard put its hand on the emergency brake. Because I tell myself, deep down, that I can’t produce. That I won’t be able to live up to the stuff I’ve written in the past. That I might as well stare into a wall as try to create something, because it will amount to about the same result in the end. Writing has become so charged for me that I’m almost afraid of trying — because failing would kind of be the last drop. So I don’t write, I stare into walls instead.

Now I’m also well aware that this, too, will pass. Everything passes. But maybe it’s high time for me to work out some kind of strategy for coping with the malady of writer’s block, so that I’ll be able to handle it better next time it happens — whatever the reason it does. I’ll need to de-dramatize writing in my own mind as well, of course. I have to learn to settle for less-than-perfect, since that is perhaps one of my greatest problems. But that, too, is another story.

I think my next step will be to make a list of things that I can do to find an outlet for my creative urges, that don’t require me to write fabulous epics or game-mastering intricate RPG:s. Yeah, that’s what I will do. I guess I’ll post the list as a blog post once it’s done, so that you’ll be able to see what I came up with.

And finally, writing this post was in itself a part of my coping strategy. Without thinking about it I have actually been able to write more than 700 words without those stupid claws poking at me. Yay! And also: now I have clear as day documentation about this round of writer’s block actually having happened. Now I won’t be able to pretend that it has never befallen me before the next time around. Score.

Now that you have bravely trudged yourself through this my helplessly self centered wall of text, what do you think? Have you ever felt those restricting claws poking at you, and how did you tackle it? If you have any great, good or perfectly average coping techniques for dealing with writer’s block — please let me know. They’d make a wonderful contribution to my upcoming list. 🙂

And until next time: write safely.
Dreams is a dangerous place, after all.

 

Audio Story: “This is Ground Control”

Another audio story happened, yay! This time I have taken the mike to my original text “This is Ground control” which can be found here.

But for this one something amazing also happened. I was contacted by super talented graphic artist Mio Dal, who wanted to make animated artwork for my recording. It’s totally awesome and you can watch it by clicking the video below. Then you should really check out their Instagram: @miosresidue. I mean for reals, just do it.

And here goes:

The music track this time is called “Eleanor” and was composed by Josh Spacek. You can find more of his music here.

This will also be my submission for November’s Open Mic event on the site Words and Feathers.

I really hope you liked the story and the fantastic artwork. Feel free to comment (I love comments) and check back again later for even more stuff like this.

In a while crocodile!

May it Be

May the brightest star that is
shine to light your way
So you can find a safe path through your life
every night and day

That guardian light I send to you
is bound to never fade
‘Cause like the moon with its silver light
of eternity it’s made

May a gentle wind carry you
on your journey, so let it be
May your steps be light, and so your heart
May your road be the one of destiny

And if darkness comes between us
and the end draws near it seems
May we meet again someday, somehow
in a world beyond the dreams.


I vividly remember writing this one. I was sitting at my old desk – I had had it since childhood – at my parents’ house one dark night back in December 2002. I was fifteen years old, my cousin had just died in a snowmobile accident and I felt guilty for still wanting to dedicate this poem to my then-boyfriend. Some memories just stick, don’t they?

Anyway, this poem has switched meanings for me several times over the years – but I think now it has finally found its way home.

A Good Talk In The Night

Most good talks happen during the night. What I had not managed to convey well enough before I was able to tell him tonight, in those secret hours between twilights where rules and conventions simply don’t apply. Then he listened.

He listened while I told him everything. About how my mind had started turning from beginning insight already three years earlier, even though I didn’t fully understand it at the time. About how I had fought, ever since then, to hold myself together, to stay the same. Not to lose anything and everything. But after that trip nothing was the same. It journeyed farther and farther away from the same, as did I.

I told him about the numbness that came over me during this struggle. Repressing insights growing inside of oneself takes also repressing thoughts and feelings and passions. He listened, and I saw in his eyes that finally he began to understand. This was never about him. I never meant to break his dream and his story, I wanted to be part of it but I couldn’t.

One thing I didn’t tell him, but in that moment maybe he knew that as well. It felt like that, anyway. And he smiled sadly but knowingly, when finally I described my feelings when in the end none of my struggles were enough. When I realized I had failed, that I could not repress this and that this had always been a losing fight. But that it was never about him, that those feelings were never affected. This was simply something I had to go through to be whole, to be me. And I saw no other way than the changing of everything to make that happen.

I was finally able to explain to him this whole transgender business and all the thinking and contemplation and development I had gone through since last we spoke, more than a year ago. He understood, finally, how things had exploded in my life after I left his. How so many thoughts had been released and finally allowed to be thought and how I had changed in all ways imaginable. On the inside, at least.

And of course I listened to him as well. He had much to say, and I respected him for all of it. He had his own struggles and battles and fears, and he had his own story about all of this. But it was not about me, not entirely. And I felt such relief to hear him talk about it, because I had worried for him and thought about him every day, not knowing anything. A monumental weight was lifted from my shoulders and from my heart by just hearing him talk about the things I had been thinking for so long.

We agreed, finally, that we both had our own, personal stories. They intermingled and entwined, but they were not the same. His story was his, and my story was mine, as all people’s stories are their own. We could not save one another, but we could do our best to understand and so make our own stories more whole. We would speak again, he told me, and hugged me, and let me go. He let me go.

And I don’t remember what I felt or thought when I walked away and he walked away, each back to resume our own separate stories. But I was lighter, I was almost flying. I hadn’t broken anything, I hadn’t failed. All I had done was to allow my own story to tell itself finally, and now he understood that as well. He and his story would be alright, and we would speak again. And then I woke.

How come that most good talks, the ones that really matter, happen in dreams? How come that I always meet him there, and how come that talking there always feels so good but makes me sink like a stone upon waking? I don’t know any of this, but I know that I am crying as I am typing these lines and that one of my greatest regrets is that all our good talks only ever happen inside my own head.

Christina Smedbakken 2015-10-31