Posts Tagged With: travel writing

The View From Over Here

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So… around about 1991, I was a professionally miserable student in high school, suffering avidly and expertly through the idiotic rigamarole of the usual vicissitudes of High School Life. I listened to The Smiths, The Cure, Ministry, Social Distortion… and Johnny Cash. I drew pictures. I painted, I wrote terrible long winded stories in fantasy or sci fi. I played role playing games. I lived in my basement. I read books. Basically your usual High School Existence(tm).

And I took an art class.

I was considered ‘talented’ in Art. I could draw pretty well, but it may also have had some effect that i had an ‘artistic temperament’ which meant that, throughout this art class I was mostly unsupervised. This meant that art class was sort of a haven for me. I spent my time making canvases i’d probably never use, pushing ink and paint around on things, and working on the borders for an illuminated page i’d begun working on.

Somewhere within my time in this art class i meant a friend. The first openly gay person I had ever met. Oh sure, there were rumors about this or that person. Rumors that eventually turned out to be true. Such rumors were always ALWAYS delivered with a sort of vicious derision that only High School students and certain political candidates can muster. Some of those folks about whom those rumors floated were accepted amongst tightly knit cliques who accepted them for who they were, but outside those groups there was a free for all. It was the wild west.

Anyway. I’m laboring the point. The fact is that my friend brought a LOT of life into my world. We’d sit around art class with giant books of Monet or Van Gogh, flipping pages and just ogling the pages. She had this gorgeous style. I can’t even describe it. But I seriously wish I had some of her paintings now. They were awesome. Full of color and light, with these intricate designs that i was envious of and am still inspired by to this day. You have no idea how much I STILL want some of that art.

I should say, we weren’t close friends. She was a year ahead of me in school, and aside from that one class, we didn’t hang out much outside of it. I was, and still am, a nerd and a seriously introverted one at that. And she was a bit more social. But I can say that she opened my eyes and i absolutely adored her. And do still, to this day.

Fact is, life was not terribly easy for her. She got a lot of hate. As in notes stuffed into her locker threatening her life. Over the course of the year I could see it weighing on her and on more than one occasion I had to threaten serious bodily harm to those who were tormenting her (when I found out who they were). Unfortunately, there were too many and she ended up leaving school. I can’t imagine, now, just what sort of crap she was enduring that I never saw. But the fact was that it pissed me off to no end. I’m not the fighting sort – as you might have noticed from the opening paragraph – but I would have gleefully battled the entire school, including every football player, wrestler, etc.) for the chance to give her the space to make her absolutely precious (to me) art.

So that’s where it started.

Two years later or so and i’m hanging out during a break in my acting class in college and another friend asks me casually what I’m doing this weekend. She was a bit of a firebrand – a ruthless feminist with molten lava for blood. Intense and awesome. Again, we weren’t great friends. Smoke buddies basically. We didn’t hang out, we didn’t see each other at parties (as I would have had to actually be invited and the idea of a college party at the time was kind of EEEEEK). Anyway. I had no plans that weekend. I figured I’d be doing what I usually did – studying, trying not to be annoyed by the hoedown in the hallway of my dorm, evading the pools of vomit that suddenly appeared in the hallways over the weekend. And I said as much. No plans.

She said she and a few other people were heading to DC for the gay rights march. Of course, I had no intention of going. I mean… drive from Stevens Point, Wisconsin to Washington DC for a weekend? That’s crazyness. And I was anything but crazy. Cautious would be more apt a term. And I persisted in this until thursday night, about 20 minutes before the caravan was to leave when I suddenly found myself standing in the parking lot and much to my surprise, loading myself into a car packed to the gills with people.

That march was… well… life changing. From the moment we got there, and the hostile reaction we received from the Dorm where we were being put up in a study lounge, to the march itself, it was an assault on everything I knew and thought about the world. From hanging out in Dupont Circle and first hearing the term ‘asexual’ – which, i thought at the time, was a sort of a joke. There was a spirit of community. There was this intense vibrancy of life. There were the speeches and I remember there was a sense of hope. Bill Clinton had just been elected president and folks had a feeling, I guess, that it would be different this time. That it would be better.

And it was. A little. But the thing is, a little better – at that time – was a lot. It was a celebration. The AIDS epidemic that had run rampant over the community seemed to be winding down. People had heard of cocktails of drugs that didn’t cure it, but gave you a chance to live longer. You could see… well… joy. And hope. And it reminded me of that gift my friend in art class had given me. There was color everywhere. And there was remembrance. And it was absolutely beautiful. I think, for the first time, I experienced the world I wanted to live in.

I don’t know. Maybe it was all an illusion. Maybe it was situational. I think about it now, all of those people living their utmost in those short days and then putting it away and going to jobs that didn’t accept them, or back to families who hated them. But that’s kind of what those moments are for, isn’t it? To show you the world as you want it to be. And, my God, did I want to be a part of that world.

I got a little closer to the folks on that trip after that. Trevor with his brilliant flamboyance. Mike ‘the gay dad’. I was still very much an introvert, but it somehow opened a little crack in the walls that I’d built. And I let a little more light inside after that. I auditioned for, and got, a part in a play. I smoked a little weed. I went to a few parties and as quiet and closed off as i was, I considered them friends. I allowed myself to experience things: openly, clearly, with more curiosity than judgement.

Anyway… this blog is about my experiences in Norway. So here I am at Pride in Oslo. And let me tell you something. If you haven’t been to Pride in Oslo you need to go. It’s the second largest official parade in the city just behind their national day, Syttende Mai. And it’s a beautiful celebration of color and beauty and being and I absolutely love it. There is still, sort of, that feeling of ‘not quite there yet’ but there is also a feeling of beaming… well… pride. There is a feeling of accomplishment. That, somehow – at least here – LGBTQ have created something special – a space where they can actually be themselves freely and openly.

And it’s not simply for a weekend or a day. It’s 365 days a year. At least here in the city. I have it on reliable authority that the same does not apply further out in the country and that many of the small towns have about as enlightened a view of gay rights as my own small town did back in 1991. But this is Oslo. And it’s here. You see as many people lining the streets cheering the parade as are those who are actually in it. Here you see the chief of police – a lesbian – marching in the parade alongside those that the police actually DO protect. You see trade unions, firemen, the army, the navy, the entire government represented proudly alongside their LGBTQ countrymen. There is this feeling of solidarity that is breathtaking and wonderful.

Let’s put it this way, they rename a park near the palace Pride Park during the festival. In it you can find all the major political organizations represented. Including Norway’s FRP – who are hardly recognized as friends of Gay Rights. We walked through the park, bought a baked potato (it may sound weird. It sounded weird to me, but it was freaking amazing – a baked potato slathered with corn, thousand island dressing, bacon and cheese. I’d never had a baked potato so amazing in my life). We bought a few other little things – an Ace flag, the usual rainbow stuff, etc. And as i turn to get to the exit so we can watch the march my wife says ‘Oh look. There’s the Prime Minister.’

I turned. And sure enough… the Prime Minister of Norway is walking through Pride Park with a small entourage.

LGBTQ rights are enshrined here. You see representation on the posters on city buses and trams. The pride flag waves during the pride festival from every tram you ride on. It’s flying from flags on many of the major streets. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is literally against the law. And though Pride might be a little ‘extra’, you get the feeling that the people you see marching are not so different from the people who work their 9-5. When they go home after the celebration, there might not be so much of a disconnect, that their lives can be as full and open and as beautiful as they want to be. And that’s a great thing. I find myself wishing i could drag all of my LGBTQ friends here to see it. Hell… all of my friends – just to see what kind of world this world CAN be.

After we managed to penguin walk our way through the crowds by the march, we stopped by our favorite bar, Politikern and had a few outside in the sun. Because, of course we did. This is Norway. It is summer. And outside drinking is a national past time. In the square in front of us was the national headquarters of Arbeiderpartiet – the workers party as well as an LGBTQ art gallery. I should have gone in to see if my friends artwork was there. It should have been. But I didn’t. We were both tired. Exhausted actually. But as we left several different groups of people asked us what our flag was for and I remembered how many questions I asked of people in DC. We carried the Ace flag. Apparently it’s not quite as well known. But in answering the question we continued in the process. And that’s such a beautiful thing. Broadening understanding. Answering a simple question. Sharing.

This is the world I want to live in.

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What to do, what to do?

IMG_0927This article is about panic. So if you aren’t panicking yet, why not? You should be. Or maybe that’s just me.

So, as regular readers of this blog may have gathered from my most recent posts, i once again find myself in Oslo. I’m not sure how much detail i’ve left in the other posts but let’s just say, for the moment, that i am in limbo. In fact, i’ve been in limbo for a long freaking time and it’s been getting on my blasted nerves. So what do you do when you can’t do anything? Why, panic of course!

A little back story: Almost exactly a year ago, i left my job on the hope that i would be residing in Oslo. I got a ticket, came to Norway, stayed with my wifey and hoped against all hope that we would figure out a way to let me stay as at that point we’d already been married for about six months and, as you might imagine, kind of liked the idea of actually being together. To make a long story short, it didn’t quite work out. Not that we’re not still together. That hasn’t changed. She’s wonderful and delightful and the best wifey you could ever want in spite of the fact that she reads books at about twice the rate i do and i’m no slouch in the reading department. Rather, i had to leave Norway 90 days after arriving because that’s as long as you can stay on a visitors visa.

Which sucked.

After that it was back to the states which were in no better condition than when i’d left them. Only now i was jobless. So i did what i usually do in those situations – i hit the temp services. It made sense considering i was already planning to return to Norway for christmas. (By the way, if you haven’t been to Oslo at Christmas you are missing out. Book your tickets now. Norway IS Christmas. You legitimately expect Santa to be standing around the park sipping an epleglogg.) In the intervening months from august to december i worked. No big. It was the usual thing – typing stuff into a computer system i barely understood, trying to hold the line between order and chaos until the person whose job i borrowed could return from maternity leave.

Christmas comes… (Seriously… come to Norway for christmas. Go to the julefest by the palace along Karl Johan’s Gate. Get an epleglogg. You will not regret it. It’s the best thing ever. Hint: do NOT speak to native norwegians about the proper julebrus. They all have their opinions and you are likely to be wrong 50% of the time) And i had a wonderful time. You may not be aware but Christmas in Norway means you open presents on Christmas Eve. And Christmas is about four days long. All of them glorious. I will have to write a post about it at another time because i’m totally getting lost.

Around the middle of January, i am forced – once again – to leave the wife and head back home. It sucks but we were prepared. Ish. America hasn’t changed for the better yet again. I am depressed. And i do the usual thing – hit the temp services for a job.

This time it doesn’t work out so well. I get one contract that lasts a few weeks – long enough to get the ticket back to Norway that i’d been aiming at, but not long enough to earn up the requisite cash for a good long stay as we are now aware that we CAN – in fact – apply for my permanent visa.

Here’s the thing about the application process that i might have mentioned. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: it takes a while. It was necessary to file the visa paperwork FROM Norway though because, from everyone i’ve spoken with, filing it anywhere else means it takes even longer. As in eight months longer. Which would have put me somewhere in winter – again – before i could return. During the time that your paperwork is in process you can’t come back to Norway. If you’re IN Norway, however, you can’t leave it. And WHILE your paperwork is in process, you can’t work.

Hence the panic.

So now i am in the unenviable position (though it’s okay if you do decide to envy me because i am at least in Norway and that’s much much better) of being here without a job. So what does one do when you’re in a foreign country and can’t apply for work there? Yup. You guessed it. A variation on the temp thing – freelance work.

So now i am actively seeking freelance work. Something i can do while sitting on the couch. And hey, i’m a writer and a pretty good one, i think. But have you SEEN the offerings out there for freelance work? I mean… holy crap. What do these people think we eat? Air? In the last 3 hours i’ve seen more job postings offering $2/per hour than i’d ever care to think about. That isn’t a typo. TWO dollars an hour. I saw one that offered 1 cent per word.

So… what to do, what to do?

Well… i’m so glad you asked. The answer is – you write a blog post about it. Oh, and you go for a lot of walks. And you lose weight because you’re now eating air. I aim to learn how to cook (always a good idea in Norway because they don’t do an awful lot of processed food here and what they do do in that regard doesn’t last long because they haven’t nearly the number of preservatives we do in America.) Also… cooking is far far far cheaper than hitting a restaurant.

Luckily for me, Norway is a great place to walk in. There are parks everywhere. Literally everywhere. I mean, half the country is basically a park. Not that i can get there because, no money. But anything in Oslo is fair game and seeing as Oslo is 80% forest, it leaves for plenty of excellent options. It also happens that taking a nice stroll someplace beautiful is a VERY norwegian thing to do and has the added benefit of heading off the employment/dwindling bank account panic i am currently experiencing.

So you MIGHT see me post a few things in the future about the joys and horrors of attempting to freelance while overseas. And by horrors i mean the pay scale (looking at you bulgarian job poster offering 4 dollars an hour or the ‘I want a travel writer in the US to write about travelling… but only if you live in the US’)

On the other hand… Come to Norway for Christmas. It literally is the best. Stay for New Years because you haven’t seen anything quite as spectacular as the city of Oslo basically exploding on New Years Eve. I will be existing on those memories for a while because they’re slightly more filling than air.

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New Country, Who Dis?

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It’s been over a week. I have been busy. Well… to be a little more honest, i have been VERY busy with being absolutely not busy at all. The wifey and i have made a bit of a pact that we shall be deliberately doing as little as possible for the first week here. Mainly so we can shuck off the jet lag.

Which isn’t working by the way. So let’s just start there shall we?

You get on the plane at 7PM in Chicago. Which, by the way, is a fricking zoo. It’s an apocalyptic zoo. Sort of like walking into a music festival where you hate all the musicians playing…. and everyone is a vampire in a bad mood. Or a Werewolf with mange. In our case, we sort of bustled to the nearest bar, had a seat and had a few. This is part of my flying routine. Generally, i am so absolutely stressed by travel (and particularly leaving the comfort of my home Butt Groove) that pounding back two (no more than two) vodka cranberries before a flight helps to steady the nerves. Why no more than two? Because you might get a wee bit tipsy and you don’t want to give them any excuse not to let you on the plane.

I was excited by the prospect of an open lane in my seats on the plane. It has happened on this trip before – particularly if your seat is towards the back of the plane. I ALWAYS take the back of the plane. It might be a bit smellier, the seats are tiny, BUT the further back you are, the closer you are to the bathroom and the less fear you have of getting locked into your seat when the service carts start moving. AND the more likely it will be that there may be open, unclaimed seats. I have personally witnessed one intrepid traveller on a larger flight sprawl out in the center aisle seats. I have also had a row to myself once. If you haven’t travelled much, know this – that having a row to yourself is absolute bliss.

Unlike this flight.

Remember the mangy werewolves i mentioned? Well… one ended up sitting right next to me. Here i thought i hit the jackpot and had the row to myself again but at the last minute it filled up – one incel writer type in a tweed jacket that he did not take off despite the canned and sweltering air and another… well… mangy werewolf is the best description. There was just something… off… about that guy: shaved head, sketchy darting eyes, blotchy. He was the fellow right next to me. He climbed into his seat which is basically the reverse of being born, sat down and sacked out before the plane even left the earth and stayed that way until it touched down.

Now you might say ‘oh gee, you lucked out’. Which is not the case. Because, as it happens, folks who sack out that hard and that consistently on an international flight are aberrations from the depths of hell. And they tend to flop. And flail. And the fellow did both. Often. Right on top of me. I’m in coach, of course, so there is precious little space to begin with but having a 250 lb man snooze closer and closer eats up what little space you have rather quickly and i couldn’t exactly create more without actually opening the window.

Anyway… Back to the jet lag.

The thing of it is, you’re not just flying east by seven hours. You’re also flying north. This makes a huge difference. While Oslo is not the land of the midnight sun, it’s close enough that you can smell it. So not only is your body off by seven hours when you land, but you’ve also just experienced the shortest night ever AND the light, when you land, is all sorts of wrong. We landed in Reykjavik at 7 am. It felt like 3 PM. And that displacement would only get more pronounced the further west we travelled.

Unlike, Chicago O’Hare, Gardermoen Airport in Oslo is a paragon of grace and beauty. They have an actual Munch painting right there in the long, wide, parquetted concourse. The space inside the terminal is nothing short of glorious. Angelic. I swear, if it weren’t for the general subdued noise echoing off of natural wood interiors, you might hear a choir of angels sing or Handels Messiah playing as you make your way to arrivals. It’s literally the prettiest airport i have ever seen in my life, a fact made all the more precious by the fact that it is well run, well organized, and actually makes some sort of rational sense.

Norway is part of the Schengen area – a set of european countries that have abolished the need for passports at entry. This means that once you pass through customs at Keflavik in Iceland, you are done with the customs process. And passing through customs at Iceland is USUALLY a licketty split process. This was the first and only time there was a bit of a wait. It might have had something to do with travelling on a saturday. But either way, there is nothing much to do at Gardermoen except take your leisurely time getting through the gloriousness of the airport -maybe enjoy the view of the distant mountains outside the concourse windows. Then you collect your bags. There is no glowering TSA agent waiting for you to hand in your little slip of paper or check your Fast Pass. There is a door that says ‘nothing to declare’ and that’s it. Go through that door and you’re out. (Unless, of course, you have something to declare.)

By now it is 11 AM. And i am temporally displaced in the extreme. Because the arrivals area of Gardermoen is so well ordered it actually FEELS like a nice quiet sunday morning. I grabbed my bags and headed out to the pick up area which, again, is busier than i have ever seen it. Which is to say it’s 300 times LESS busy than O’Hare on an off day. It’s quiet. Peaceful. Beautiful. Not much to do but take in clean air and watch pigeons and magpies battle each other for scraps of fresh baked bread from the various kiosks in the arrivals area. And smoke. I’m a vaper. So i vape. Ten hours of flying has turned me into a chimney.

Ordinarily, at Gardermoen, you’d simply hang a right through the ‘nothing to declare’ door, head to the Flytoget (Plane Train) kiosk and get a ticket into Oslo. That’s what i did every other time i’ve been through and that’s why Gardermoen is like an airport for silent monks. There is no need for the hustle and bustle of absurdity that is the pick up for every other airport i’ve been to. You simply get your bags, get a ticket, get on the rather sumptuous plane train, and whisk your way quickly to Sentrum. This time, my wife’s parent’s picked us up.

So now i am here. Home. It took me about 48 hours to remember the homeyness of it. I still missed my butt groove. But one walk to the grocery store from our apartment and it was like putting on an old pair of jeans. Lilacs dripping down from fresh green lanes, people meandering along the roadways, the quiet peace of the neighborhood.

Oslo, or at least my current section of it, is what i would have imagined had i had the tools to imagine it. It’s what i would have built if i knew how to build it. It’s quiet, but there is some sort of odd reverence to it’s quietness that doesn’t feel enforced. It’s not… well… demanded… but respected in some way. As though there is an agreement among everyone that this is how it should be – the tiny little lanes, the footpaths that meander into woods, the way the rock of the fjord and mountains jutt through and are worked around. It’s as though elves live here or something – determined to preserve as much of the natural beauty of the place as they can while still building around it. I love the rock protruding from peoples lawns, the miniscule forested areas with their little paths. I love the outside seating areas around every bar or restaurant – the seats covered in sheeps wool, empty wine glasses still sitting on the table.

And despite the undeniable comfort of my relinquished American Butt Groove, there is nothing so wonderful as this place and my home. Even as i write this, my tiny but unbelievably fierce part Norwegian Forest Cat, Spoon is staring at me. It’s cool. It rained this morning. And it’s quiet. I may still have absolutely no idea what time it is, but in this moment i don’t care. It’s enough to be here. To be building a new butt groove. To be home.

There are homes we are born to, and no matter how hard we try we will never fully escape them. That’s what America was built on: memories of homes we left – ethnic festivals, cuisine from the home country. It’s why lutefisk is served in Minnesota. It’s why we have a Polish fest in Milwaukee (and Irish Fest, and Italian Fest). These places are always a part of you and will be forever. Even longer, in fact, than you are part of them yourself. They live on in families, in traditions, in stories and you pass them on generationally. But there are also the homes you build, the ones you find, the ones who creep up on you unexpectedly and maul you with their promise of peace and light and life. Sometimes, you’re lucky enough that you have both and they’re the same place. But sometimes it’s all you can do to drag yourself from one to the other, reluctantly, painfully, inexorably. It’s hard pulling yourself from one to the other – particularly when they’re so far apart – but it’s worth it if you let it. If you learn to leave off the resistance and just love the space you find yourself in.

Home is where you make it. I choose to make it here.

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Have Pen, Will Travel or Get The Heck OUT THERE, Writer!!!

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Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re a writer. Congrats. I can tell by your moleskine notebook and brace of pens, the book crammed under your arm, your messenger bag, your laptop. That’s nice. Oh look, you’ve made your way to the coffee shop. That’s great. Whatcha working on? Huh? Huh? Not going to tell me are you? That’s alright. I get it.

But here’s the thing, writer. There’s a little more to writing than… well… writing. So put that pen away for a second. No, i’m not going to stop bothering you. Put it away and listen for a second. This is important. No really. You’ve got to hear this. Are you listening?

Good.

Get out there.

Look. We’re all better off, as writers, sequestered in our respective monastic cells tapping away our stories and such. It’s one of the reasons we do what we do and love it. But there’s really more out there that you need to experience. You need to travel. You need a vacation.

Well. Duh. Is what you probably just said. But, seriously. There is a huge pile of experiences and stuff that you need to be having to restock the warehouse of ideas. There’s things you need to see, people you need to meet and experiences you must have that will just make those pages sing a little louder, a little more confidently.

But it’s not enough to just pack your bags and sallie forth. You’ve got to be open to the whole thing too. In the next few blogs i intend to post a few little whys and wherefores on the whole travel thing. Again, they aren’t meant for everyone. They won’t be a ‘do this or else’ list. In fact they’re just going to be a few things here and there that helped me on my most recent travels and stuff i’ve been reflecting on since. Things like what bars you should frequent while out on your travels, What sort of tourist traps should you hit – if any – and which one’s you shouldn’t. Then i’ll key you in to my own little travel log. Or whatever.

But let’s just start here for now. You’ve got to get out there. Find a retreat. Find a conference. Go. Hang out among the locals and get to know people. Be open. Take public transit and most importantly, chat with total strangers. Travel is an opportunity that writers must take. It’s the big golden gate to your brain that doesn’t open nearly enough. When it does amazing stuff pours in. Stuff that can and will color your words and creations more vividly than anything else.

So think of this lame post as an exhortation and an introduction. If you’re interested, just stay tuned for more. I’m hoping – of course – to tell you all about my most recent travel. I’ll be getting into specifics, so it may end up sounding a bit like a travel review type thing but i promise there will be plenty of writery stuff to it as well. And yes, in case you’re wondering, that big ship at the top has something to do with it.

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