Monday, April 11, 2016

Right Now in Sweden: Coffeeshop Lurking and Getting Back on Track


I am sitting in the coffeeshop that became my second home during the long dark days of the Drowning in Work and Hating All the Things chapter of my life here in Sweden. That chapter was about three months long, which, as far as chapters go, was a bit longer than I think anyone wants a chapter to be, especially one like that.

I came here today without work to revel in the fact that I can bring my personal laptop, not my work laptop, and write something for myself, instead of writing pages and pages of feedback on essays, or boxes and boxes of PPT presentations. Unfortunately, my computer rebelled against my months long refusal to submit to the endless pestering from Windows 10, and somehow in the night last week it decided to go rogue and "upgrade" against my will/without my knowledge. Now, either the word "upgrade" needs to mean something else, or I need to call what it did to itself something else, because no improvement has been made. I now have a tragic interface that is so desperately trying to be hip that I just want to wrap my arm around Microsoft and say "honey, I know Jobs is gone, but... you're still not the cool one." Everything has a self consciously "edgy" and "clean" and "geometric" feel to it, and I keep getting notifications at random times, and something called Cortana never stops asking me to ask it anything. The only thing I want to ask it is why it's here, which seems to be rude, even to a computer program who showed up uninvited. I also don't want to get petty, but this is the worst time to get awful on me because my work romance with a Macbook Air was already making it hard to come home to this old beat up thing. 

Speaking of old beat up things, I have decided that the best way for me to move forward with Sweden is to give her a clean slate, and firmly quarantine the first three months in a box labeled "Work Experience and Professional Growth", as it was certainly not very much of a living abroad/setting up a new life/enjoying new discoveries kind of experience. Since I have only been here since Jan 3rd, but I didn't really feel like I started living here until about a week ago, I am saying, for all intents and purposes, that my time in Sweden, as a country, as a home, not just as a place that gave me a job, is starting April 1st. That gives me two and a half clean, fresh, unsullied by stress and work surprises months to dig in to my new home. I am coming to  America for a visit this summer, and I need to have a place I want to return to in August. I would hate to leave Stockholm in June still feeling lukewarm about it, and return for another 10 months to be tepid and uncommitted.

When I look back on Laos, I loathed living there from the end of August until the beginning of January. Hell, my finally starting to like Laos was such a revelatory aberration I wrote an entire blog post about the first time I really enjoyed myself there. We're talking a bit over FOUR MONTHS before I warmed to it, and by the end of my first contract I was signing up for a second year. Albania was easier, but it still took me a good three months to get in a real routine. In general, no matter how many times I've moved countries, (four times now!) it seems like the first month in a new school/country are just full on, the second and third months you are still figuring life out and settling into a routine (where is the gym? how does the post office work? where do I find peanut butter?), and then you build on that routine for a few months so that by month six, you really hit your stride. Month six is when you have worked out all the kinks, big and little, you know your way around the entire city on bicycle (Japan), foot (Albania), scooter/tuk tuk (Vientiane) or public transpo (Sweden). You have favorite places and a rhythm and a social calendar and all in all you've created a new life in a new place.

I will say, it isn't that different from my experience moving from Texas to Colorado. It just fundamentally takes time to set up a new life from scratch. I think that is why, perhaps, people might turn back when they move somewhere new. Sometimes it feels really uncomfortable, and lonely, and you think you have made the worst decision ever. But come on- ANYTHING is going to feel bad compared to a place where you know your way around, you have a ton of friends, you know a good chunk of the local language/culture, and you have a place in a community that is familiar. That feeling of strange newness you get when you travel? It's enjoyable only because you know it's going to end and you are going to go home to your familiar house. But when you move countries every few years, that feeling, that exact same experience, is stretched out for a few months, and you have the burden of knowing that the only thing that will make it go away is for you to turn wherever you are into your home, because you aren't going back home- you ARE home, even though it doesn't feel like it.

But for all the discomfort of that process, for all the pain of unknitting myself from an amazing community and going into an unknown place to start all over, that is exactly what I find so fascinating. Over and over again, it is the same thing- I go somewhere, it's meh to mildly uncomfortable to uninspiring, I question my life goals/decisions/capability to be an adult, I get furiously disappointed in myself for needing to bounce around so much, I chastise former me for making such a dumb move, I bathe in nostalgia and longing for My Last Home, which is now the best place in the world since it is not where I am now, and I generally just doubt my entire existence. Eventually, things start clicking into place. First this, then that. Small things, they give you a bit of ease, but not much. Then bigger things start to fall in, and then you start to understand the language around you and realize the two months of study have paid off, or you finally get your visa/ID card/work permit, or you witness the first change of seasons. Suddenly, out of nowhere, you realize, as you are walking down a street, that everything around you makes sense, you know exactly what stop you need to get off at without thinking, you have things like a favorite grocery store and burger joint and yes, even a favorite coffeeshop found under duress and kept to enjoy newfound freedom in.

When this nostalgia/doubt transition hit me in Laos, as I was pining for Albania, I thought it was due to the stressful nature of the huge life changes that were happening. When it hit me in Albania, as I left Colorado, it also made sense because I was leaving all my friends and family right after the loss of my sister, But since it is happening again, in the exact same way, here in Sweden, I now know that this is just the way it goes when you pull up your roots and roll on down the road to the next place. It is entirely possible that, a year from now, as I am nearing the end of my contract in Sweden, I will be feeling the same reluctance to leave as I am now. If anything else, I'm curious to see how I will feel when I get there. And I have to live here, and stay here, to get there.

I think now, the question is when will I tire of the novelty of the process of moving, putting down roots, building a community/life, and then pulling up roots to start all over again. I am feeling, for the first time, like I can see where this might be winding down. I don't mean at the end of my contract here in Sweden, not necessarily that soon; it's more like the idea of "I could do this forever" has now been replaced with "I wonder what I will do when I am done with all this moving around?" That, in and of itself, has been an interesting new development. 

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