Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bad dreams

For years now I have had a recurring dream. I am back at high school. There is an exam tomorrow and I haven’t studied at all. Sometimes I haven’t been to a single class in that subject. Sometimes I hadn’t even realized I was enrolled in the subject.

I am enraged at my own subconscious when I wake up from this dream.

What are you trying to tell me? That I’m not trying hard enough?

When will I have convinced myself that I’ve put in a solid effort in life?  Just thinking about it makes me tired and sad.

I have spent most of my adult life living in countries where I didn’t grow up, trying to make it all work while being perpetually just outside my comfort zone. I am a parent to two little girls. This year I went back to work as a lawyer. I can read and write Japanese.  Last month I rang a car mechanic and in Finnish asked for an appointment to have the tyres on my car changed.

Why have I convinced myself that this, my life, is a poor effort?

I admit, sometimes I do aim for an “adequate” performance rather than a job well done. I am sloppy with my foreign languages. I don’t try as hard as I possibly could at all times with my kids or my husband. There is plenty of room for improvement in my work-related skill-set. I snack too much and don’t exercise enough. I should call my parents more often. I never put my dirty dishes straight into the dishwasher and my ironing pile continues to rage out of control.

The list is endless.

Yet, even if I were a serial perfectionist, it wouldn’t help. I’ve had this dream even at times in my life where I was trying my absolute best; aiming for excellence across the board.

At this point, I’m tired. I’m just so tired.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Arctic Man

It was the late 90s and, love-struck, I had moved to Turku, Finland to be with my then-boyfriend while he wrote his thesis.

Before I left Australia, an older lady I knew mentioned that her son Trevor was planning to visit Finland. Politely, I handed over my Finnish contact details, never for a moment imagining that Trevor would actually call me.

He did call me. Not only did he call me, but a matter of weeks later he turned up on our wintery Turku doorstep.

He was a sight to behold. Tall, padded out like the Michelin man, and with no part of his body visible except his eyes, he had dressed for the elements.

As he started peeling off layers in the warmth of our apartment, he proudly divulged the reason he was so thoroughly protected against the cold. When clothes shopping for his Finland trip, he hadn’t wanted to trust the people at North Face or Kathmandu who had tried to sell him GoreTex. He did not believe that any ordinary clothes could possibly withstand the extreme cold of a Finnish winter. He decided to take matters into his own hands. He ordered a tailor-made bodysuit made entirely of sheepskin, complete with slit-eyed balaclava, booties, and oven-mitt-type gloves. His idea was that at all times he would wear this under his normal clothes, rendering him impervious to the coldest of temperatures.

(I later wondered, had he worn all that stuff during the entire flight from Australia? or had he schlepped it all on board in a huge carry-on bag and effected his Trevor-to-Arctic-Man transformation within the cramped confines of a Finnair toilet cubicle?)

Sadly for Trevor, Finland had a pretty mild winter that year. It was barely below zero the day he landed. By the time he made it to our door, he was sweaty and breathless.

And so his stay in Finland began.

The second day, I offered to show him around Turku. He obligingly walked around with me, but seemed bored and distracted. The third day, when I again offered to be his tour guide, he flatly refused. “I’m not really interested in sight-seeing”, he said, and proceeded to spend the entire day sitting at our kitchen table, intermittently reading a manual on motorcycle repair, and expounding his theories on life (which included: why watch the news -- who needs to know what is going on in the rest of the world? And: never eat sugar, because it is evil. He was ahead of his time on that one). It turned out that he was a taxi driver. Somehow, this fitted perfectly. He struck me as someone who had spent an awful lot of time with his own thoughts.

My Finn and I asked each other in whispers why on earth he had come to Finland if not to take a look around? We were baffled, not to mention just a teensy bit worried at the thought of just how many days he might want to spend within the four corners of our apartment.

On the fourth day, we were relieved when Trevor announced that he was going to Helsinki. We were puzzled, though – he had, after all, confessed to a complete lack of interest in being a tourist.

And then, shyly, he revealed his big news. He had come to Finland to meet a woman. 
To be more specific, he had come to Finland to find a wife.

He had done some diligent groundwork: he had placed advertisements in a few major newspapers, and four or five Marjas and Katjas had actually expressed interest.

“Why Finland?” we asked him. 

He smiled with unmistakable satisfaction – clearly, he had thought carefully about this and was dying to share his rationale. 

“Because Finnish women are the only pure women left in this world.” 

Three weeks after embarking on his quest, Trevor phoned me – to invite us to his wedding. Another three weeks later, I watched him walk down the aisle with his new bride on his arm. It was all a bit surreal.

He told me after the ceremony that he’d worn long underwear under his wedding clothes. 

Disappointingly, though, not his sheepskin bodysuit.