Sunday, 17 March 2019

The physiology of sorrow

Where to begin? Where to pick up the pieces to carry on, after an ending? There is a silence, which is a struggle to break through. Who am I to go on about my petty little feelings? My problems seem insignificant in the face of death. But then, what else have I got but my own fleshly experience? Life is for the living, after all, and the only (or most profound, at any rate) way in which those passed away continue to manifest their existence is in how their memory affect our actions in the world. Life is for the living, and I've promised to do my darned best to stay alive. I have hopes and dreams, plans and schemes, seriously meant but allowing enough of the chaos of the world not to be set in stone. Naïve enough to be inspiring, realistic enough to be flexible. But at times like these, when getting out of bed at all feels like the challenge of ages, they'll have to go on the shelf for a while. Survival mode is the name of the game. It is partly intellectual, with dark thoughts circling like hungry carrion, awaiting a weak moment in which to descend. But mostly it is a heaviness that resides in the body. It is a hurdle to get over in order to do things. Everyday things, things of habit, become mountains to scale. Things usually done without thinking requires a great deliberate effort, and things that used to be fun and exciting become chores to be endured. But I won't give up on them. Even when I have to push and drag myself outside I will reach for the salvation of the open air. To move, to breathe, to experience that no matter how heavy the burdens weighing me down, there is peace to be found in the sensual experience of nature. In the depths of physical exhaustion, there is room for a drop of joy to seep in.

Love and sorrow,

Friday, 22 February 2019

If this isn't life

Sunlight in my face
To feel the rain upon my skin
Icy waters swallowing me
Wind to dry again

Standing on a mountain top
To climb the tallest tree
See the birds
The stars, the moon
Reflected in the sea

If this isn't joy
I don't want no part of joy
If this isn't freedom
I don't know what freedom is
If this isn't life
I might as well be dead

Dancing in the streets
To see the smile upon your face
Wrapped up in your arms
The way my heart begins to race

Talking through the night
To feel your fingers on my skin
Telling all my secrets
Just to let somebody in

If this isn't peace
I don't want no part of peace
If this isn't love
I don't know what love is
If this isn't life
I might as well be dead

I could ski
I could climb
I could swim
I could run forever
To the end of the world
Maybe some day I will
But not this day
Today I miss you

So I'm gonna run
I will jump
I will dance
I will love forever
Till the day that I die
And some day I will
But not this day
I'll be coming home tonight

If this isn't home
I could do without a home
If this isn't me
I don't care who I am
If this isn't life
I might as well be dead

Love and wonder,

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Winds of Winter

The weather's been pretty insane of late. Hurricane winds, and loads of snow with them. Power went out, standing up outside was a challenge. I held a mostly improvised lecture on astronomy, by candlelight, to keep the spirits of the guests at the hotel up. It was fun, haven't done that in a while. Got a lot of positive feedback, too. Well, talking about space is pretty much the only thing I'm officially qualified for, so I'd damn well better be good at it.

My skiing, on the other hand, could use more practise. A lot more, in fact. As it is my limbs are still aching from both downhill and backcountry skiing last week. But I'm sure I'll be back on track soon enough, and I certainly don't mind the practising. It means I get to spend time close to the snow. Close to Winter itself. Apart from an aching body, last week's adventure resulted in the completion of (yet another) sonnet:

Come death and walk beside me, clad in white
Enfold me in a cloak of falling snow
In blizzard's arms encircle me so tight
And teach me things I never thought I'd know

Come bitter cold, sink claws into my feet
Come open up red cracks throughout my skin
Come steal away my body's precious heat
I'm ready, glad to let the outside in

Come longest night, descend your blackened skies
Remind me that it's time to build a nest
Give me a break from all that hurts my eyes
Come dark, and grant me time to heal and rest

Come white, come red, come black, and I will thrive
Come winter, and remind me I'm alive

Love and skiing,

Monday, 11 February 2019

The return of the Luminous One

The Sun is back! All hail the glorious orb of light! After so much darkness, working nightshifts nonetheless, daylight is pretty exciting. There are also loads more people around now. That's also exciting, but tiring as well. So I think I'll say fuck you to civilisation right now and go skiing for a few days. Expect me when you see me!

Panoramic view from outside work. Yes, that is sunlight on the mountains way over there in the distance!

Love and light,

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Identity, Motivations and the Meaning of Life

Eureka! I think I've just found the answer to three questions in one and the same insight:
1. What constitutes identity?
2. What motivates people's actions?
3. What is the meaning of life?

Here's the insight itself:
Humans need a coherent and continuous self-image.

Our experience of identity is a story. When the story becomes incoherent or inconsistent with itself, we have a hard time coping. Enter the state of identity crisis. This crisis can be solved either by adjusting the self-image (e.g. through afterconstruction of motivations) or through changing behavioural patterns (the latter requires more work and is thus less likely to occur). 

This must be the reason why many have problems with the thought of identifying themselves with a hypothetical copy of themselves, or with sudden changes in general. The continuity is broken, and it takes a while to reconstruct the narrative so that the transition from one state to another becomes less noticeable. 

We have a hard time admitting that we can be reduced to a configuration, one which changes all the time. The atoms in our bodies are exchanged, new experiences, impressions and circumstances change our personalities. Negligibly so from one second to another, but palpably over long spans of time. When the change is abrupt it hurts, but even slow changes can be painful if we afterwards fail to see a logical explanation behind them.

The motivations behind our actions simply stem from our need for a coherent self-image, and the justification of them is about upholding the narrative constituting our life as continuous. That's why there are so many different moral systems and religious doctrines. None of them are necessarily more true than others; they're just different stories. Stories about the world for us to fit ourselves into. 

That's also where the question of the meaning of life comes into existence. It is probably impossible to determine whether it has an objective answer, but the root to the longing for meaning is simply the wish that Life, the Universe and Everything shall be a continuous story. That's why we're prone to seeing cause and effect where there is none; to fill all the plotholes in the narrative of existence. The sense of each event serving a purpose grants peace of mind.

All this is because we handle information most effectively by constructing narratives. The world isn't a coherent story, because it contains quantum mechanical randomness and chaotic systems. But we remember it better if we tell it as such. From mythological campfire stories to scientific articles.

Does it have something to do with the development of language, or just biological prerequisites? Would an artificial intelligence necessarily be constrained by the same needs? Is it possible to free oneself from narrativistic thinking, to some degree, or does the emotional need for existence to make sense run too deep? 

I don't know. What do you think? Am I onto something here, or am I out on a bicycle ride (as we say in Sweden)?

Love and philosophy,

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

To breathe the air

Sometimes I think I’d like to breathe the air
I could go out and meet the world outside
But then I think I'd better stay inside
Where I am safe from people who would stare

Sometimes I think I’d like to see the sun
Above the earth, and watch the things that grow
But then I think I'd better stay below
The ground, where I will never have to run

Sometimes I think I’d like to hear my voice
And say what has been on my mind for years
But when I'm mad my eyes fill up with tears
And when I speak my words come out as noise

My life has been a dream upon a shelf
But soon I think I’d like to be myself

Love and frustration,

Monday, 21 January 2019

Two weeks before sunrise

Views from my windows, at noon. They say the amount of snow is uncharacteristically small for the season, yet it has piled up so high we can hardly see out anymore. Temperatures have dropped below -10 degrees this past week, and the lake has finally frozen over. I went skiing 12 kilometres yesterday, under a full moon on the rise. Moonlit mountains could well be the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. It is exhilarating to find that I am growing stronger and braver each time I head out. The distance to loved ones is gnawing at my heart, but I'm holding up okay overall. Prospects of making it through this winter look good.

Love and winter,

Sunday, 13 January 2019

What I've learned from relationship anarchy

I established long ago that I am polyamorous. I practise this through relationship anarchy. What, exactly, do I mean by "relationship anarchy"? Whether you are happily monogamous, lost in the jungles of polyamory, or a fellow anarchist looking to trade notes: read on. This might be of use to you.

Now, there are about as many ways to construct relationships as there are anarchists, so don't mistake this for an attempt at a universal definition. I believe it's in the nature of anarchists to disagree with one another, so that's just as it should be. This is personal, and highly subject to change. So rather than a set of rules, or a manifesto in the traditional sense, I'm going to phrase my philosophy as a set of questions. Questions I believe could be valuable to ask even in monogamous relationships.

What does fidelity mean to you?

There are many answers to this question, and none of them are either right or wrong until you and your partner* mutually agree on one. Is sex with other people out of the question? How about flirting, or dancing, or sleeping next to others? Is even having romantic feelings for someone else a dealbreaker?

What does it take for you to trust your partner?

Let us say you agree on a set of rules for your relationship. What do you want the conditions to be? Is anything permitted, as long as you talk about it? Or are you more comfortable with a "don't ask, don't tell" policy?

What do you expect from your partner? What does your partner expect from you?

As a relationship develops, we tend to take a lot of things for granted. However, these expectations aren't necessarily mutual, which sooner or later tends to complicate things. Therefore it's useful to articulate the unspoken, both to yourself and between each other, repeatedly throughout the relationship. How much time do you expect to spend together? Which aspects of each other's lives do you expect to be kept up to date with? Do you expect to be introduced to each other's families? In what situations do you want to be able to depend on your partner's help?

What constraints are you willing to put on your own freedom?

Defining your own boundaries is useful whether you are in a relationship or not. Ideally, write them down, hand the list to a trusted friend, and have them check in with you on whether your boundaries have been overstepped by someone. How much time do you need to spend alone? What secrets do you wish to keep to yourself? Would you be okay with stopping seeing certain people because of a partner's jealousy? How would you feel about a partner making demands about your appearance? What do you consider to be abuse (physical or emotional)?

What constraints do you have the right to put on another person's freedom?

Compare this with your own boundaries. Is it reasonable to ask someone to give up something you are not willing to give up yourself? What conditions and assurances do you crave in order to be with someone, and what needs do actually lie beneath those cravings?

Where is the line between friendship and a romantic relationship?

What degree of physical intimacy do you consider platonic? Does sex necessarily imply romance, and vice versa? Is a distinction between friendship and romance necessary at all?

What words would you like to use, and how important are they to you?

Partner, boyfriend, girlfriend, lover, friend, fuckbuddy, significant other, spouse... There are many labels to use for relationships, and most of them are ambiguous in their definitions. Which one(s) do you prefer to use about each person, and which one(s) are you comfortable having used about you? Do you prefer not to name your relationships at all? The answers don't have to be the same for everyone you're involved with, and can furthermore be dependent on who's asking.

Do you necessarily value romantic relationships higher than friendships?

Who are the most important people in your life? Does someone automatically mean more to you because you're sleeping with them? Do you have a tendency to stop spending time with your friends when entering a romantic relationship?

Do you prefer to live together with one romantic partner (or several), with friends, or on your own?

It can be great to live together with your partner. Sometimes, it's more constructive to live apart. Consider your own needs, and what compromises you're willing to make, before moving in with someone.

What's your ideal family constellation?

Do you want kids? In what kind of environment would you like your kids to grow up? There are a lot of ways to be a parent, and families don't have to be built upon romantic love.

Are there situations where you don't want your romantic involvment with your partner to be known?

If so, let your partner know and make sure you're on the same page. Correspondingly, ask yourself whether you are okay with your partner being open (or secretive) about your relationship in various situations.

Just to make it clear: there are no right answers to these questions, except the ones you agree on. To me, that's the beauty of relationship anarchy: the freedom to make it up as I go along.

At its heart, anarchy refers to the absence of hierarchies. There is no authority to tell us how to structure our relationships and how to treat each other, and no pre-ordained formula for how to value relationships compared with one another. It doesn't mean that we don't value the various people in our lives differently; rather it means we question conventions regarding what gives some relationships a higher value. It doesn't have to mean there are no rules; rather it means the freedom to make up one's own rules. Always done openly and with consent, of course, otherwise it's just cheating.

That's most of what wisdom I have to share about relationships. You'd think that after practicing polyamory for the better part of a decade, I'd have some solid answers instead of a bunch of questions. But I've come to realise that to keep asking is really at the core of the matter. Questions with open answers, therein lies the freedom I hold so dear.

Love and anarchy,

*A note on wording: "partner" is here used to refer to "a person you are romantically or sexually involved with", regardless of what label (if any) you have chosen to put on your relationship.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

On leaving university

The Earth has completed another orbit around the Sun, and apparently I managed to survive this one as well. As per usual, the close of the year found me at a place I could scarecely have imagined at its beginning.

The most profound characteristic of 2018 was that I finally left university behind. To tell the truth, I half excpected it would never happen. I'd grown so used to its way of life, mostly as a student, but also as an employee. This Temple of Knowledge, where people devote their lives to the Search for Truth. Nothing should appeal to me more. Not to mention the fact that after having spent the better part of two decades essentially in school, the prospect of stepping out into the world outside is daunting, to say the least.

After my employment had come to an end, I pretty much had to take that step, however. It was either that or try my luck at finding a PhD position. But while life as a researcher still appeals to me in theory, there is no longer any denying that in practice it ate my soul. Maybe I had unfortunate circumstances, or maybe I'm just not cut out for academic pursuits.

Whatever the reasons, I failed to shield myself from the stress that university's obligations entails. And while I, mostly at the cost of my pride, managed to avoid plunging into the deepest recesses of exhaustion, I constantly found myself teetering at its edge; a nervous wreck clinging to whatever strands of sanity left above an abyss of fatigue and self-recrimination.

Some people manage to make a distinction between their self-worth and their professional achievements, I'm sure. Or maybe their achievements are grand enough that their sense of identity don't suffer much from it. Myself, I had a hard time not identifying myself with my results, regardless of the amount of effort behind them. This is problematic, because regardless of the degree of success, it leads to a deep dissatisfaction. Every result could always be in some way improved, which at best spurs the will to learn more and investigate further. At worst, however, it makes one a slave to the pursuit of an ever-elusive success, which even when achieved rings hollow because of its superficial nature.

I freely admit that maybe it's just my failure to be smart, dedicated or persistent enough that has made me bitter. Even so, life at the university fed my tendencies to identify myself with my achievements to a destructive degree. In hindsight I believe that's the essence of the cloud of stress which was constantly hanging over me, eating away at my mental and physical well-being. To this day, the shadows of this stress are still haunting me.

So instead of attempting to immerse myself even deeper in intellectual pursuits, I applied for a bunch of unqualified jobs. Cleaning, gardening, carrying out mail, checkout, anything, really, which didn't require much brain power. Having hardly any experience of hands-on, real-life work, however, I didn't even hear back from most places I applied at. Maybe over-qualification was perilous, after all. Why would anyone employ an astrophysicist to mop floors and clean toilets, when someone else surely needed that job more?

I was on the verge of resigning to following in my father's footsteps and become a teacher, the fate of many a failed academics, when I unexpectedly got a job offer at a mountain lodge I had applied at mostly just for the hell of it. Moving to the far North, to work night-time as a janitor, starting as soon as possible? Dropping everything, including numerous social obligations, to spend a few weeks at one of the most beautiful places on Earth?

I'm not good with impromptu decisions; I like to weigh pros and cons and consider potential consequences for weeks or even longer before committing to things. But there was no time for that now, so after consulting the well of wisdom consisting of my friends I ended up following my heart's constant yearning for adventure: hell to the yes!

And so a few weeks turned into an entire summer, which turned into an entire winter, which has only just begun. I've traded hard studies and a desk job for a mostly mindless, physically active job. A constant stream of obligations and intellectual problem-solving in the name of science for the removal of bread-crumbs and bodily fluids from a hotel. Coming home in the evening with a mind feeling as if squashed by a brick for coming home in the morning with an exhausted body but with peace of mind. The constant gnawing of doubt at my intellectual capacities for a very tangible feeling that I am physically being of service to people. The endless amusements of a city for the quiet grandeur of nature.

The best thing is I don't have to choose one way of life over the other. I can spend summer and winter in the mountains, indulging in adventures in nature and solitary contemplation. Then spring and autumn in the city, indulging in social adventures and collective creativity. Regardless of what the future will bring, this migratory existence suits me quite perfectly for now.

I remember ten years ago, when I was working in cleaning the summer after high school. I swore to myself that I would get an education, so I wouldn't have to work with this kind of drudgery ever again. Now I'm working in cleaning, possibly being among the most over-qualified janitors in history. And I love it. To think that it would take a master's degree in astrophysics to make me appreciate the simple things in life!

It's funny, the turns life can take. A job application made mostly for fun turned out to re-shape my existence profoundly. So much good has come of it that I'm thinking I should make "just for the hell of it" into a governing principle of life. Who knows where it will take me? Perhaps I'm getting back into university eventually, but I've got so much to figure out first. Having started to shrug off the yoke of stress at last, I finally have space for profound contemplation. The key to Life, the Universe and Everything wasn't to be found in academia, so how about in other people, or the mountains?

Don’t try to be too clever […]. Surrender yourself directly to life, without circumspection. Don’t worry, it will carry you straight to the shore and put you on your feet. What shore, how should I know? I simply believe that you have a lot of living to do yet.
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment)

Love and life,

Friday, 28 December 2018

At home

Back in my paradise. I haven't seen the sun for three weeks, and I could hardly be happier. 

Snow. Mountains. Stars. Moon. Aurora. Work. Skiing. Reindeer. Books. Reflection.

20 hours of darkness, 4 hours of twilight. Waiting for the lake to freeze.

Joy. Peace. The dragon in its element.

Love and WINTER