Shake it out
It’s been a while since I’ve posted, I know. A few people have asked me why, and its not because I haven’t been writing; in fact, my WordPress dashboard informs me that I have nine drafts in the queue, all in various states of disorganization. I wanted to post lots of winter fantasy pictures to convince everyone that living in the great frozen north can be nice even when there’s only three hours of daylight (if you can even call it that…daylight has consisted mainly of the sort of twilight state that I imagine nocturnal animals exist in), but it’s been a record warm, wet, cloudy and all around depressing winter so I didn’t have any really great pictures and haven’t really been able to collect my thoughts enough to finish a post.
It feels like a million years have passed since the fall, and even more since the summer, and at the same time it shocked me to realize it’s already been two and a half years since I moved to London. I’ve been taking some time lately to really evaluate my life and what I want, what I need, and how I want to feel on a day-to-day basis.
All that thinking kept coming back to one thing that seems pretty obvious when you think about it: I want to be happy. And since I’ve got sort of a moment to breathe between major life stresses, it’s occurred to me that I am really, really lucky.
So I guess this is kind of a catch-up post, a post about what’s been going on inside my head since last I wrote, and a bit of a photo dump. And gets a bit personal, so bear with me. There’s fun facts about Finnish and pictures of baked deliciousness if you make it to the end!
I started my PhD officially in January, and the project I was lucky to stumble into over the summer has dovetailed into an interesting thesis plan. I’m starting to design and plan for the next experiment, and in the meantime I’m working on reporting our results from the last one.
I’ve also started going to yoga classes at the gym, taking the 8am class whenever possible. I know that I’m not a morning person, but if I have something that I really love to do, I’ll happily get up early for it. Then once I’m awake and relaxed after yoga, I feel so much better about treating myself to coffee and taking some time to reflect on what I need to get done that day, rather than sleeping another hour and then having to rush to my first appointment. It feels like a loophole way to feel better about myself and my life, to get exercise, to be physically and mentally relaxed, to get up early, and to get out and be social. I think that’s the hardest part about the winter darkness here; it really just saps your energy and will to be social (and happy). But I think the key is to take charge of your own happiness, make the effort and make a point of taking care of yourself. It’s like being on a plane during a crash: you have to put on your own oxygen mask first, otherwise you aren’t any use to anyone else. That’s the key to feeling in control of your own life; you have to take care of yourself.
Just before the term started, I took a trip to Tallinn, Estonia, on just about the one weekend it actually snowed. I really liked it–it has a distinctly Eastern European feel, whereas Finland feels decidedly Nordic. Estonia seemed grittier in a way, more aggressive and almost antagonistically stoic. At the same time, it was ancient and romantic and seemed almost out of a Grimm fairy tale.
Finnish class is going quite well I think. We’re getting into some of the really weird grammatical constructions, which I find simultaneously fascinating and infuriating, and complex enough texts that it’s not really translatable into English. This is my favourite part of Finnish, that often a single word can have a whole network of meanings depending on the form and context.
When I first started learning it I couldn’t help but feel that it was a semantically impoverished, primitive language, with painfully efficient agglutinative constructions, no articles, few verb tenses, no gendered pronouns, and a host of meaningless noises that people will often use to have entire conversations. What a simple, silly language, I thought, that has multiple and often very different uses for a single word! Surely if the language was more elegant, each meaning would have its own specific word. I think this kind of thinking is probably a product of being taught to write well in English, where you should choose the single best word to really clarify the point you’re making.
But I’m starting to embrace the semantic artistry of Finnish, especially when we read these texts that don’t translate very well. I realized that it’s not a sign of crudeness that this language has many words that have many meanings; in fact, it’s a sign of much greater elegance and adaptability. It’s more connected to embodied cognition and the way we actually think, and it broadens the realm of semantic possibility, linking the specific meanings of all the different usages of a word into a strong network to support the concept that underlies it.
For example, take the noun kuori. Google translate gives no less than eighteen meanings, and in any case, using Google translate for Finnish is like trying to use voice recognition software while speaking pig Latin. Since Finnish is amusingly agglutinative, we can make infinite permutations of compounds words, especially with these words like kuori that are so deeply conceptual. Thus combined with a variety of other words, it can mean citrus zest, envelope, eggshell, any kind of fruit or vegetable peel or rind, a husk, a case, an external film or membrane, and most useful to me, aivokuori, the cerebral cortex of the brain. And of course it has its own verb, kuoria, which means to remove whatever external covering you were talking about in the first place. Coming from a monolinguistically English background, learning these things can be overwhelming and often mind boggling. But it’s this conceptual awareness, this very elegant and fluid relationship of meaning to lexicon, and the rather poetic result of speaking entirely in concepts, that keeps me motivated to learn it.
In mid-February, we had another Restaurant Day, this one even more successful than the last. It was stressful again at first, but we fell into a rhythm faster this time. I’m really looking forward to the next one, in May, when we can set up outside in the parks.
And now I’m looking forward to the summer. It’s light out now until almost 6pm, and it’s been so warm it feels like spring. I’ve resumed my summertime habit of wandering the city, window-shopping, watching the ships, and thinking. Sometimes the universe gives you a little reminder that whatever the future holds, it’ll be interesting at the very least, and you can figure out how to deal with it when it comes.