So it begins

I’ve now been a week at NTNU, the institution where I will be trying to work and write and generally fight for my PhD. It has been a bit messy, as starting up at a new place so often is. I have been told the real work starts tomorrow. Right now I have an office space, a teacup and an internet connection.

My main supervisor, Dr. Alexandros Asimakopoulos, is an ambitious and driven man. He has high expectations of himself and those around him. It is the sort of infectious attitude that I hope can and will shoot us into the future on a cloud of hard work and passion. His passion for excellent science, and my passion for environmental protection.

I let him know straight away that my primary driving force is that of environmental protection. It is behind almost, if not all the choices I make and the priorities I set. To protect the environment we, of course, need excellent science and bullet-proof results, meaning our goals and priorities are highly complementary. Last but not least, we need to get loud.

Dr. Asimakopoulos has experience being loud and getting heard. He has been taught by some of the best in the industry, and I am in the fortunate position of getting taught by him in turn. His hard-working spirit is infectious and admirable. He may only be 3 years my senior, but in this field and in this climate, I think that may be an advantage.

I hope I can live up to his expectations and that we will spend the next four years doing excellent work. It is easy to see that here is an opportunity that does not come along too often, so long as I grab myself up by the collar, buckle down, do the work, and do my best to keep up with him. Having heard some stories about other people’s supervisors as well, it is also a comforting thought to know that right now, I feel confident that my supervisor has my back.

Who knows. Perhaps this will be the last positive and reflected PhD post? I hope not. I value the remaining scraps of my sanity and hope the next 4 years, although they will no doubt be intense, will still leave me with a little bit of time at the end of the day to breathe out, spend some time with friends, and generally breathe some life into my hobbies and social circles again.

I’m going to need it.

 

The last couple of days

The last couple of days

It’s the last week in London on my part. Or rather, at this point it is only the last few days. I’ve been stalling writing this post, just like I’ve been stalling actually packing my bags.

Two bags. One suitcase and one backpack. And the familiar feeling just before a big change. It was a lot more distant before I actually sat down today to see how much of my stuff I could actually get into the bags.

Most, as it turns out. Our place isn’t that big, and we always knew we were going back to Norway. The books are a problem. We’ll figure it out.

Friday, Norway. Monday, Trondheim, and a whole new chapter will begin.

Emil is terribly exited and has been looking at flats for the last couple of days. This time, maybe, we’ll get something nice where we can actually live.

So, of course, I had to go one last trip to Kew before heading off. Easily the best thing about London. This time they had a guided tour on rhododendrons. We even got a small tour of the old part of the herbarium, which we are told now houses over 6 million different samples, and where they receive over 30 000 new samples every year. Kew is amazing.

My life is in suitcases and boxes again, but at least this time we know what we’re going to.

So let’s Bilbo it up and get this adventure on the road!

The Name of the Wind

I am rereading it again. Possibly one of the most important stories I ever read as an adult. Most of all because, as a student, I never felt like I had time to read anything non-curriculum related. There was always a student’s guilt of not having studied enough, read enough or worked enough.

So it was with some trepidation and a slight bit of delight that I picked up The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, one mild summer afternoon under the Arctic midnight sun. I think I had just finished my exams, or maybe it was just that year’s lectures that had ended. I was free as a leaf on the wind, and I had been sending long glances after this book with the cliché cover and enticing back blurb. I had not let myself afford it before, but it kept beckoning me. Tempting me in the gorgeous bookshop that is oh, so common in both Norwegian universities I have attended, but woefully lacking in my partner’s London campus, as they are just not able to compete with Amazon.

As I mentioned, I had not read a book purely for my own enjoyment in years. I had a bad case of student’s guilt and an empty purse. The book cost at least half a week’s worth of good food. A whole week’s worth in a skint time. I was feeling hollow myself, studying because that was what I did.

Little did I know that the fat, little book would soon become my new treasure. A way back into the long-loved fantasy books of my youth.

In the very beginning, the prologue and mood-setting in the Waystone Inn confused me. It took a bit to get started. I thought I knew what was going on, doubted myself, but it turned out I had been right after all. I sat in my landlady’s good couch. The kind that is meant for snuggling up with a cup of steaming tea and a good, well-read book.

Once the book got started proper, the rest of my tea got cold. Over my head, the midnight sun wandered around the horizon in a way that is natural to the northerner’s but difficult to describe in writing. The feeling of night with the quiet, crisp silence and yet the light is bright as day. It is delightful, and a perfect setting for drowning in a book. And boy, did I drown.

I pulled an all-nighter then. Something I have only done a small handful of times in my entire life. I read the whole little brick of a book in one single setting, only interrupted by a call of nature. And because I was slow to the party I had the liberty of being able to walk back to the bookstore the day after and pick up the second book. This one I did not read in one sitting, but it was a delight all the same, even at less than 48 hours. Not as much as the first one perhaps, but there is always something special about being first.

Because I have a tendency to go a bit mad once I latch onto somthing, I searched for more of his works. What I found was his blog, and I read happily through the archives for perhaps two days straight. After that I still keep tabs on it. He has a lovely way with words. A lyrical way that dances through your mind, even without the melodic rhymes of a song or a verse. It just rolls beautifully off the page in thoughtful, lilting syllables. He rekindled something in me that had been forced under a lid for several years as I felt too busy by my science curriculum: A love for the well-written word and stories that don’t just follow the narrow path.

At some point I actually sent him an email. It was gushing and embarassing, but underneath was a question that had burned inside me for a very long time. Because all the good fantasy I had read was in English, I was somehow conditioned to think in English, especially when it came to fantasy. I wondered, anxiously, if it was possible for a non-native English speaker to write well in English. To write compelling, beautiful stories in a language that was not their first.

I was not really expecting an answer. Imagine my delight when one arrived in my inbox almost a week later. It was short. At only 27 words it is possibly the least verbose I have ever seen the bearded bard.

Even so, it was 27 words I held close to my heart. By mentioning Russian author Dostoyevski (who wrote in English), he validated years of rocking back and forth between yes, no and maybe.

Then there was The Slow Regard of Silent Things. And Rouges. And Bast. Old Holly was another small delight, even just for the beautiful flow of the words.

For Christmas my partner got me a Kindle. I had not wished for one. It was not that I did not see how one might be convenient, but I do try to keep a decluttered and fairly minimalistic life. It was simply not on my list. Yet now I am finding I quite enjoy it. Whereas before I would bring a book to the airport, and be done and disappointed long before the journey’s end. Now I can bring more than a book, a whole bookshelf worth of books. It is like a magnificent book of books, and it is glorious. I can bring my favourite, most verbose author while still bringing Gaiman, science and new authors I discover along the way. Like Abercrombie, and Lynch. It doesn’t weigh any more in the least, and it has quickly become a tiny treasure trove. An easy way to keep reading because the device itself is slim and light, no matter what heavy tome has currently caught my attention.

This might be a strange way to go about it, but in some strange way of things, I am trying to write out my appreciation to the author who brought me back to the comforting home of fantasy novels of all kinds. I thought about writing reviews, but they would probably have become far too meandering and easily distracted. Probably it would have turned into one long mess of a thing where I try to review all two books and short-stories all at once. And I suppose that simply will not do for a good review.

It is true that I am, somewhat anxiously, returning to the world of science and research in a few months. But this time, I am determined not to let the world of dragons and magic slip me by while I do so. I even make fledgling attempts at crafting stories of my own. They are fledgling, mercurial things. But there is enjoyment in trying to find them in between the words and spaces. It is a delightful hobby, and I hope to keep at it.

So thank you, Rothfuss, for giving me back the delight of well-told stories. For setting my own imagination once again alight.

 

The road goes ever on and on…

The road goes ever on and on…

So, last Friday I got some pretty world-shifting news. In one relatively short phone call, I was suddenly going to be a PhD student.

This was never something I really aspired to. I felt I lacked the ambitions and the background to make such a thing happen. I was happy with getting a degree in environmental chemistry and helping the world in that way.

As I might have mentioned before, the recession hit as I graduated, and my aspirations towards working in an environmental monitoring lab was temporarily stalled. In London my crafting hobbies were difficult for some reason, which led me to pick up my age old hobbies of reading and writing instead, which was relaxing and enjoyable. I still wanted a job though. Something permanent and preferably related.

Then this PhD position showed up in my job searches back at the university where I did my MSc. It was pretty much an open application. You contact the supervisor, together you craft a proposal, and then you send in a personal proposal along with your application and CV. It was a rare chance, but I avoided it, intimidated by the prospects.

At some point, I realised I was being an idiot. What better chance would someone get to delve deeper into environmental science than to actually have a hand in crafting the proposal yourself? In the ever famous words of… who knows by now? “If not me, who?”

So we crafted a fantastic proposal on new and emerging pollutants and how such pollutants can be easily studied and analysed. And, to my astonishment, we got it.

So now I am in this strange place where I suddenly have to realign my thinking into not just looking up at those ambitious PhD students I’ve spent time with in university already, but actually being one of them. It is an intimidating and at the same time humbling experience.

I suppose since I want to work on environmental issues, I might as well give it my all!

I really want to do this right. The feeling of being equal parts excited and intimidated does not seem to fade. I am still waiting on the official contract from HR, but I have no reason to believe there will be any issues this time, not like the unfortunate incidents around my exchange to Brazil.

I still hope to keep writing though, even if I know there will be far less time for such things. Far less time for anything, really. And still I have every intention of living and enjoying life back in Norway with forests and nature at my doorstep and crafty, inventive friends ready with a cup of tea and long discussions.

It has been two interesting years in the English capitol, but I am ready for a new kind of adventure now.

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Source: PhDcomics

 

Two Man Show

Two Man Show

So, my partner got tickets to the Two Man Show at Soho Theatre this weekend. Not just that, but when he mentioned the show to his supervisor, she made sure his entire class got tickets to see it. He’s been hyped up about it for months, seeing as he missed his chance last time when the tickets had sold out.

As with the time when we went to see the amazing Kate Bornstein last year, I am afraid to admit that I had very little idea about just what it was we were going to see. It is very much my partner who is the theatre geek, but I do appreciate it when it is not too loud.

Two Man Show was well written. I am not sure how it might look to someone who is not at least somewhat familiar with feminist concepts, but I have an inkling that such people might not have found their way to this show. It was located all the way at the top of Soho Theatre, a small, intimate room with limited seating and close proximity to the performers.

It was raw, and aggressive. But it did so without ever really ridiculing the humans they were performing. The men were, make no doubt, men, and yet they were perfectly human and at the same time annoyingly blind to their own privileges. The kind of man you just want to shake because they just don’t get it, and no matter how you try to talk about it, it just isn’t taken or comprehended in the way it was intended.

Both the women and men were presenting several facets in a way that, hopefully, will make us all remember that gender is more than stereotype and expectations. The female characters were tough and vulnerable, just like the male characters were. They hi-lighted issues around problematic tropes like “wearing the pants in a relationship” and “being a man”, not to mention how the entire language we use is structured around male dominance and female submission. Naturally, they opted to turn away from spoken language for several sections of the show, relying on body and dance instead to make their point.

Without giving too much away, I can say that it was good. Well timed to run just before 8. of March. I was thoughtful when I left the theatre. Stuck in my own head for the duration of the trip back home. How can I help? How can I be supportive? What is the best way to reach others with all the issues close to my heart? Veganism, feminism, pollution, overpopulation, discrimination, global warming… don’t ask me to pick just one, because they are all important to me and I want to fight for them all.

At the same time, I am amazed at what has been accomplished in the last 100 years. From Votes For Women to female professors lecturing university halls on feminism and equality. There is a long way to go still, but a lot has been accomplished as well.

My father recently made a comment when I was home for the holidays last time that he had noticed I had grown more political over the last years. Although one of my initial thoughts was just that I had finally grown some opinions.

I suppose he might be right.

Confessions of a 20-something WoW-addict

It’s been niggling at me again lately. That scourge of a game that swallowed so many hours, days, weeks, months and years of my life as a late teen and early to mid twenty-something. I left it many times, yet like so many, I kept coming back to it. Right now, stress and depression means I have a strong desire to play World of Warcraft again. That endlessly time-wasting game that could shut my mind and the world out for ages at a time.

Luckily, it’s not just easy to get back to it. A year ago, I managed to save up to buy a new laptop. I’ve been running exclusively on Ubuntu ever since. To get WoW to work here, I’d have to fiddle with a windows emulator and pull our some small programming effort, read tutorials and download a massive amount of gigabytes over our slightly wonky wifi.

I suppose all of those things are problems I should be overcoming or cursing, depending on my mood, but on the contrary. If they can keep me away from that game I don’t really want to play, that is good. Or rather, I want to, but don’t want to at the same time.

Right now, a part of me really want to play. Work is stressful and a depression is looming. I want to play with my partner too. But he knows no one who played WoW who was not addicted in some way and he is very apprehensive about it. Luckily for me, as it adds yet another layer of obstacles on the road to playing again. Most of these obstacles I’ve laid myself, and with good reason.

So we have been playing these ridiculous smartphone games instead. For hours and weeks when we have spare time in the evening and on the weekend. It might be just as much a waste of time, but at the very least a smartphone has limits. It has a limited battery life and there is a limit to how big the games can be, just as much as there is a limit to how complex they can be. After a certain amount of hours or days, we grow bored and move on to something else. They give that gratification of a few hours wasted on a mindless game, but without the hook of just another level or just another X, Y or Z.

It is something I have never been able to explain to someone without an addictive personality. That pull and desire to get back at the colourful, fantastic world in front of the screen. A world where you are good at something without much investment. A world where you earn money, complete quests, level up and life seems to work.

Yet, and this might sound odd considering all I’ve just written, I don’t really want to play. At some point, I realised that I didn’t want to be good at tailoring or alchemy or herbalism in some game. I wanted to be good at those things in real life! It might sound ridiculous, but that was my revelation, and I’ve tried hard to clutch at it whenever the old desire rears it’s head and makes me stumble.

I have googled more than once how to play WoW on Ubuntu, but I am happy to say that I have not actually gone to the step of downloading the game. Yet. Knock on wood, etc.

I want to write,  I want to draw, I want to create and… to my own astonishment, right now I also want to research and do science. Good scientists don’t waste time on WoW. I try to tell myself, which is ridiculous, of course. They do if they want to, they are people just like everybody else.

In less than five months we will pack up our belongings and return to Norway. If we are lucky, perhaps we might even return to a city with a healthy, thriving viking reenactment community where the urges will be stalled by crafting nights, tea, laughter and hiking in the fresh, crisp air of the mountains.

And I want to keep writing and creating. While we are here, writing is the easiest, but I hope to take courses in ceramics as well. That feel, that smoothness, that touch a good artisan has with their trade, that is not something any amount of skill points in a computer game can replace.

At least, that is what I am trying to tell myself.

I might just put on The Hobbit again. The gorgeous craftsmanship and attitude of the hobbits always seem to help quell these urges. And have you looked in the art books? Goodness me, those things are gorgeous! Enough to make even someone like me want to pick up carpentry and woodcarving as well!

2016, and writing one word after the other

Ho, boy. It’s been a long time since I published something on this blog. Or maybe it hasn’t, and I just feel that way since there were so many things happening? Preparations for the holidays are always somewhat erratic, and I am finding myself more and more excited to go back to Norway in half a year.

I started writing more too. A tiny part-time job as a content writer is pushing me to write tiny articles every week. Even if this has nothing to do with my hopes as an aspiring writer, I am hoping it will still keep the writing muscles somewhat active. They felt a little dead after I finished My Friend Lucy this summer. I just didn’t know what to do next. Even better, this job is online and can be brought along wherever there is a computer and a wifi connection.

My partner and I threw romance ideas back and forth, but none of them really stuck. It wasn’t the type of story I wanted to write. But what did I want to write?

It’s been churning at the back of my head for at least a solid year in one form or another. It’s just that I’m afraid of messing the story up, so I’ve put off writing it just because I wanted to be a better writer by the time I tried to tackle this story, which felt important and promising in my head. My problem was trying to write other stories when the story I really wanted to write was right down there at the back of my head, poking me with sharp sticks and demanding attention.

I yielded. For the past week and a half, I have been thoroughly enjoying plotting, planning and pondering characters and plot points in my little narrow-lined moleskine(the regular wide lined writing books of most brands get no love from me) in between holiday get-togethers and cookies, nut roast and homemade caramels. I hope it will be good, and that I will be able to write it.

Just as I was grieving over how slowly I put words to page, with encouraging texts like “write 5k per hour!” and other major achievements, we got the gem of a book from prolific mastermind Neil Gaiman. The View from the Cheap Seats was a welcome tonic to all the encouragement of writing faster, better and more. His own anecdotes of “Just putting one word after another” was strangely encouraging, and as I sat there with the white page in front of me, I decided to do just that.

Oh, what a change it was! From banging my head at any brief pause in a writing session, I could sit down, relax and just write in a leisurely and thoroughly enjoyable pace. The small session in the cold basement of a Norwegian home suddenly became filled with joy of writing again, rather than being yet another chore I set myself to try to write out the stories I would tell myself in my head.

My new kindle tells me that I am not even 20 % of the way through Gaiman’s new tome of non-fiction, but it has already given me tons of encouragement. Plus, series of shorter writing is really practical when there are family members and friends wanting attention east and west, and you only manage to squirrel away for a handful of minutes to read most days.

Happy holidays, god jul, and here’s to looking forward to a whole new year!