I recently received an email from a new Fulbright scholar who will be coming to the same city as me next month. While she has traveled abroad, she has never been to Finland and, like I did before arriving, she had questions about what she had gotten herself into.
I responded with an enthusiastic and lengthy email about how much I love Finland, and how wonderful it is to teach here, and how much emphasis is placed on research, and how fresh the food is, and how beautiful the archipelago is, and etc. etc. etc.
She wrote back and thanked me, saying that she had gone from wondering what she had gotten herself into, to counting the days. I am also counting the days, because she is coming from Louisiana, and she knows how to cook. Little does she know that the cooperative dinner schedule is already being planned. I’m trying to figure out how to set up a grill in the courtyard.
And then she told me that she had read and enjoyed my blog, and that she is also working on a blog, which she is thinking of titling something to the effect of “five or six weeks,” because this seems to be about the average length of a Finnish Fulbright blog. Is there something that happens after this time period, she wanted to know, and then you just sort of settle in?
She is not the first person to ask me why I haven’t been writing my blog. I was committed to writing an entry a week. And then I seemingly dropped off the face of the blogosphere. So what happened? Where did I go?
The short of it is that I’ve been on tauon, or hiatus. A hiatus is a break in or as if in a material object, according to Merriam-Webster. I feel a bit as if this experience has broken me open, in some very profound ways.
One obvious thing is the thing that all academics already know: I disappeared into the vortex of the semester (the term, as we call it here in Finland, since classes don’t all happen concurrently, which I will explain in another blog post). I became very, VERY busy. I received invitations to give talks at other universities (!) and then traveled to give those talks. I started my research, and that meant I was spending a lot of my time emailing people and setting up interviews, and then traveling to conduct those interviews, and figuring out how I will transcribe all of the interviews and suddenly nine months seemed like no time at all and I realized I could spend nine years studying arts funding in Finland. And I had deadlines. Deadlines for funding, deadlines for articles, deadlines deadlines deadlines. And I began teaching, which was fabulous (which I will also discuss in the blog post about Finnish higher education I’ve been sitting on), though of course time consuming.
And then there was just life. Kumppani was presented with research and lecture opportunities in Berlin and started making preparations for that. I started making my own travel preparations to visit (I feel like I am constantly involved in travel preparations, which is really a big bourgeoisie tragedy, of course). New York City came roaring back into my days with a vengeance: my rental company started bothering me with some ridiculous claim about incomplete paperwork for my sublet (why did I even try to do a legal sublet anyway??); I miss my cat horribly; there were bills and other ephemera arriving to be dealt with; I miss my cat so terribly; I got into a yelling match with Planet Fitness over google voice about why they still hadn’t cancelled my gym membership; the other day I said hello to an empty apartment because I miss my cat so much.
But then there’s another reason I took a hiatus from my blog, and that is an enormous swirling ball of feelings about being here, and not being there. I actually have written a couple of blog posts over the last month–the one on Finnish higher education and what it’s like to teach and do research here, and one on feelings of academic insufficiency and why it’s never, ever enough no matter how much you publish or how many awards you get. I haven’t published these posts, because they felt too deeply personal. It’s one thing to write funny posts about quirky discoveries in a new country, it’s another thing to write about my feelings. Of course, these unpublished blog posts aren’t the feelings themselves, they are symptomatic of the feelings.
The feelings are more like a confusing combination of, I miss my cat and my comfort food and friends and family + Finland is so awesome and so much nicer than the US and I never want to leave.
Just for example. In the US, like many people, I experience street harassment on a daily basis. This is a notoriously common experience for those living in New York City. That same wonderfully passionate spirit that makes us such great creators and consumers of politics, popular culture, opinions, and food apparently also makes us feel that we can say ANYTHING we feel like saying to each other. This isn’t necessarily about what you’re doing or wearing (although there have certainly been lots of pointed experiments on this note, such as “what it’s like to walk as a ‘woman in NYC‘ or a ‘woman in Hijab‘ or a ‘homosexual‘ or a ‘goth‘ or wearing ‘regular vs. cultural clothes‘ “), it’s more the general ethos of living there.
Street harassment is endemic throughout the United States and of course many other parts of the world. There are multiple campaigns to combat this like the US-based Holla Back and the global Stop Street Harassment. Also, I want to point out that in the US anyone can harass anyone so everyone gets harassed. Lots of people even get shot, or stabbed. Because lots of people carry weapons around and use them, randomly. And this violence that moves on the spectrum from verbal to physical is an accepted part of daily life in the US.
Since being in Finland for the last three months, I have not once experienced street harassment. NOT. ONCE. The closest I’ve come was one afternoon by the river when a drunk woman yelled, “hei, v*ttu!” while I walked by and I’m not sure if this was even directed to me, or her other drunk lady friends, or maybe she was just celebrating life. And lest a reader think, oh you just don’t understand the language, and that’s why you don’t know that people are actually harassing you, let me explain that people don’t say ANYTHING when they walk by. I would know if someone were muttering something stupid in suomi or swedish or any language, really, under their breath, I’m quite sure of it. Many times walking home alone or with Kumppani, especially at night, I’ll pass a guy or a group of people and feel myself unconsciously tensing for the commentary. It never comes. People mind their own business here.
I hadn’t understood how much rage was a necessary part of my daily existence in the US until it wasn’t happening anymore. Maybe I don’t need all the meditation and yoga and herbal relaxation remedies after all, I just need to live some place where people aren’t crawling all over each other all the time. And then I got depressed. Because I like feeling calm. And I realized that the US thrives on cacophony. That’s what makes it great! It’s a chaotic world of every kind of person doing every kind of thing. But then why does it also have to be such a mess of guns and garbage and racism and homophobia and road rage and elbows and plowing over others for that $100 television on sale the day after Thanksgiving???
And suddenly I felt like I should just live in a quiet, orderly place where people take a number to wait in line and they throw their garbage in the garbage can. And I thought: I never want to leave Finland. And I didn’t know how to talk about that without sounding idealistic (because of course I realize I’ve only been here three months and maybe all the Finnish mass shootings and hate crimes really start picking up in January?) and without alienating all of the people I know and love in the US by sounding like one of those obnoxious friends who went to the EU and suddenly all they can talk about is how much better it is over here.
So that’s the long explanation about why I took a hiatus from my blog. I just didn’t know how to write about my overwhelming feelings of sadness about how much I simultaneously miss certain elements of the United States (can someone please find a way to ship me a Dominican roast chicken from 157th & Amersterdam?!) and also I feel sick watching the circus of gun violence, the republican debates and disgusting nationalism, the anti-refugee legislation (not just sentiment–LEGISLATION), the underfunded school systems, the continued murders of queers, the continued murders of people of color, the refusal to recognize student activism as a vital part of the future of the country, the threats to reproductive health care, the imposition of right wing religion on people who are just trying to live their lives without having religion shoved down their throat…
I recognize that every place has beauty and shortcomings, both. And Finland is like every place. This, of course, is the value of keeping a blog, so I can archive my impressions and revisit them at a later time when everything will have changed–or at least I will have.
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