Often when I take my walks and photograph what I see around me, the feeling of being there is difficult to convey. I mean, I can snap a picture of me in a fluffy down jacket and thermo pants, red-nosed and happy and all against a dull grey backdrop – because snow does tend to end up a dull grey, even though in real life, it shines. So these are my pictures of what it feels like to be there, in the silence of the snowy woods, by day and by night. They say artists lie to tell the truth – well, this is my truth. 🙂
A choice. How to make that choice? It’s all confusion! A snarly forest of thoughts that you can’t find your way out of.
But wait… What if you shut down everything not connected to The Choice? What if you cover your eyes and breathe deeply and weigh the alternatives in hands made more alert by the absence of distractions? By allowing yourself to really concentrate, to find your own quiet amid the endless, mindless chatter, you can see the two opposites more clearly. Maybe now you can see, within the diamond-sharp perfection of your mind, which path is better.
Or perhaps you can even see a compromise?
The horror. This is almost as bad as it gets – in fact, it’s as bad as it gets before the breakdown. It’s all the bad thoughts at once. Every worry, every stressful fear, every grief that builds up until you can’t think, can’t move, can’t breathe. It’s no use telling someone in this field of fire to ‘let it go’, ‘stop over-thinking’, or ‘keep their chin up’. As soon as they try to move in any direction at all, the swords cut them. They’re literally at the end of their tether.
So what can you do? I don’t know. Wait it out? Wait for help? Remove one sword at a time, cutting yourself for every movement, blood pouring down your hands and arms? All I know is, this card confirms what you’re feeling. It doesn’t sugarcoat or tell you to suck it up. It understands. There’s no way around it: sometimes everything is shit. Sometimes it hurts just to be alive. And every attempt to break out of your cage of negative thoughts slices open another artery.
Finally. I’ve tried to keep my chin up, but we’ve really not had much of that winter wonderland-y stuff this year. I remember my childhood, when the first snow came in October. By the first of Advent, the woods had fallen that special kind of silent that is only possible when there’s a thick layer of snow over everything. So far, we haven’t had that, but only frosty mornings and slippery ice on the roads. I’ve hardly dared venture into the woods at all for fear of falling and breaking my neck.
But today I got my fill of wonderland. I walked the same path I walked this summer, when the dewy grass swished against my calves and the sun didn’t set until half past eleven. The only thing that reminded me I was on the same planet as back then was the sky. It was pink and golden, just like it was six months ago. But what it shone down on was very different.
In July it was all misty forest and leaves and flowers. Now it was the same forest, but with all the branches weighed down by snow.
Crunching along in the tracks left behind by a skier with his dog, I felt alive again after a week or so of being completely wrung out, dish rag style. I believe they call it the postdoc blues…
I didn’t realize how much I needed it until I got it. It’s such a big part of Christmas, of the big wheel that turns through the seasons: this period of rest, of sleeping seeds and muffled quiet, that reminds you why it’s called ‘the dead of winter’.
Perhaps some wind in the trees, or the crunch of your own boots in the snow, but other than that – nothing. As if the world is waiting to be born again.
Which I guess it is.
There’s a Tori Amos song that tells us to shower the world in pink and glitter, and that’s exactly what the weather gods are doing here. Every day is like a study in pink. The sun just barely makes it over the horizon for a short time between ten and two, but the reward is that every hour is golden.
Frozen beard lichen hangs from every pine tree bough. The rising sun filters through the needles.
It’s just cold enough to freeze the droplets but not enough to melt them. Absolutely wonderful. Some of them look like Christmas tree decorations where they hang in the fir branches. I went a little crazy with the camera when I saw it, so bear with me… 🙂
But I must admit I was glad that there was a kettle to switch on when I got home, because the cold tends to creep into your very marrow. It’s beautiful but not harmless, you know? And maybe that’s part of the charm: a terrible beauty that you must watch from a distance in order not to get hurt. Look but don’t touch. 🙂
The darkest, longest night of the year is past. Now we change course and move towards the sun again. Every day, the world will become a little brighter.
It couldn’t come at a more fitting time for me. Last Friday, it was the day of my defense. In hindsight, I realize that I’ve been under more pressure about this than I thought – and I was aware of quite a lot of pressure! It feels as if for five years, I’ve slowly, excruciatingly rolled up in a tight ball, like a cramp or a Big Bang, and now that knot has loosened, the world has exploded into being, and I’m free. And at the same time, the sun returns. It’s almost too symbolic.
I can’t believe it’s done – that it’s finally over. The longest project so far in my life, and it’s now finished. My road has been very stony, dark, and misty. I haven’t had a clue where I was going. It’s all been very confusing.
But the defense went really well, I had a wonderful discussion with my examiner, my whole family was there to watch, my colleagues and friends and of course my husband. Instead of terror, I felt a cautious kind of joy. My work was accepted by the person I respect most – and whose model I used in my studies! Talk about coming full circle.
The party afterwards was wonderful, and I’m not as tired as I should be. I feel like a load of stones have fallen from my shoulders, and I can begin to straighten up again. And above all: I can now be an ordinary person again. I’m not a PhD student anymore. I’m a doctor. I’m done. There’s nothing more to prove. I can go about my business like everyone else and not have to reach for the stars. I can relax. I don’t have to know everything. I can let things be as vague as they are in the real world and not pretend to have an answer.
Well, at least as long as I’m not talking to the media, but you know… I can move on! Maybe on one of these. 😉
Hubris and despair. That’s how I’ve seen it described, what I’m doing (pursuing a PhD). And it’s actually spot on. Five years of confusion are behind me now, and tomorrow I have to defend the finished product before an external examiner, a board of university people, my colleagues, a gaggle of students taking a course on critical literacy, and my family and friends. Nerves? I don’t have the energy. I’m just here, you know, polishing my armour and waiting for the sun to rise over the field that will be drenched by the carnage.
By now I just want it to be over. It will be such a draining day. All the things that freak me out, all on one long day! First being criticised by the most intelligent person I’ve met in front of people that belong to very different parts of my life (identity clash, anyone?), and then dash home to prepare for a party for 35 frigging people. All fun of course, but Jesus. I’ll be DEAD on Saturday.
So to steel myself, I went for an extra long deluxe walk, and I stopped in the middle to record a bit of rambling for you. No need to watch! 😀
One of my favourite days of the year is December 13, when Swedish people gather to remind each other that the winter and the darkness and the cold won’t last forever. Through a peculiar merging of an Italian legend about a saint and a time-honoured Swedish tradition where medieval young men got drunk and brawled in the streets, we now have a procession of light accompanied by lovely Christmas and Advent carols. Here is an example.
In this video, though, it’s just me. 🙂 I was inspired by this phenomenal lady and her breath-taking Lucia videos to make my own version, complete with flu-y singing voice! 😀 Enjoy. 😉
The things we do for love… of pretty pictures! I actually thought my big toes had broken in two before I finally came back home. Have you ever been that cold? Jack London’s To Build a Fire cold? It really makes you feel small – in the universe. Like there’s no shield between yourself and the dead of space. It doesn’t just feel uncomfortable, it feels dangerous.
But it does make for beautiful frosty images.
I played around with some softer photos today – deliberately less focused to bring out the afterlight from the vanished sun. I don’t know why, but I like the result.
It feels vaguely silver nitrate-y. Lord of the Rings-y. (Which I’m re-devouring at the moment, by the way. The coming week feels exactly like the scenes where Frodo and Sam have to cross the plains of Gorgoroth. But more on that later.)
And behold the reason behind my deep frozen toes: the moon, that decided to rise at the exact moment when I should have turned homewards and curled up in the sofa with some glögg (mulled wine). But when you’re a lunatic, you’re a lunatic… 😉
Later still, when the moon had risen so high I couldn’t fit it into the picture. But the light!