Showing posts from October, 2015

absorbs all my spare time

I don't suppose I've talked about it much, but I am working on a painting. A painting of the Icelandic landscape. There are details left to be worked out, but its something I think about night and day, and work on every spare moment I have. Ive never considered myself particularly artistic, but this project inspires me, and I keep returning to it. I hope it will be the sort of thing I can consider my greatest achievement, second only to my son. The kind of thing worth all the effort.

2nd sleep

It is 2am on the west coast of the United States, and I should be asleep. I fell asleep at 9:30pm and popped awake around 1am, feeling tired now but my mind is racing. I heard actually about some historians that have found a lot of evidence for something people used to widely and commonly call "2nd sleep". It seems that before the advent to electrical lighting in the house, people regularly went to bed around dusk, and then would wake up in the middle of the night for several hours, before going back to sleep a second time. The midnight waking hours were productive times especially for leisure pursuits, like writing and composing music, in other words the progress of the humanities. Its been hampered, I suppose one could say, by the fact that we now are so efficient at using technology to keep ourselves awake to do practical, required work well past our natural time to sleep, rarely leaving ourselves an opportunity to explore our creative side in the middle of the night like

Looking forward

I had a long conversation in Icelandic today, with the rep for an Icelandic company with offices in New York. I tried not to spend too long complaining about things that went wrong that I didn't like, and instead steer the conversation about opportunities moving forward. But it's difficult, because I'm still upset that I didn't get the kind of help that would have made it possible to get things right the first time. But for everything there is a season, these things happen for a reason, I need to take care of myself and not rely on the goodwill of others, blah blah blah. Anyhow, who knows, maybe something good will come of it, the conversation left me hopeful and thinking big. In fact, I was so optimistic I even participated in some radio promotion to win $1000. My turn to win the lottery? But before all that happened, I was starting to draft a blogpost about some of my favorite songs, which may surprise some of my readers, and the automatic scanning app that has d

The value of a PhD

When I went to Berkeley in 2004, I already had a masters degree in Anthropology. For the first three years, I felt like I learned a few useful things, particularly in my narratology and new historicism classes. It was also good to go through the Poetic Edda. Preparing for my oral exams was also intersting. Then in 2007, I went to Iceland to start my PhD research, and did that all the way until 2010. It was a frustrating and lonely experience, and it wasn't until the last summer I was there that I really got any kind of valuable data. Between 2010 and 2012, I wrote and revised and wrote and revised, and read a lot of theory, and finished. It felt good to have it done. The job I have now does not actually require a PhD, although it did help me get noticed. Other jobs I've looked at and applied for would utilize my PhD even less. For some of them, especially in the museum field, the PhD is a hindrance - I don't especially want to leave it off my resume, although I suppose I

The empty vase makes the loudest noise

My dad has this phrase, probably an East Coast colloquialism, about the empty vase making the loudest noise. And I was thinking about that in conjunction with the U.S. incarceration rate. The U.S. proclaims itself to be the Land of the Free, but it has the highest incarceration rate in the world, save the few dictatorships that don't event report rates. 1in 100 people in the U.S. is currently behind bars. That statistic is so frightening, especially combined with our massive military spending. The entire country exist in a state of paranoid fear that something horrible is just about to happen, and is willing to spend billions of dollars to try to prevent it. So this is not the land of the free, this is the land of fear. But that isn't what any of the country western songs blaring on the radio will tell you. I would think sophisticated, politically savvy people would know this, that the more people talk about something, the less and less true it becomes. Words have a way of

Beaten up

This has been a very rough week, what with my purse getting stolen and a terrible cold and a demanding visiting artist in town. I'm not at all satisfied that I made enough of a priority of myself and my life. I let the artist get her way over and over again, compromising several of my own principles, for the sake of being polite I guess? Norwegians are known for being blunt, and she was comfortable with utilizing that national trait. Thankfully, I had a chat with a guy I know in Iceland, I like to think of him as my Icelandic body guard or bouncer, this morning. He's always been good at showing me, without telling me, that I need to stand up for myself more. Now Icelanders are generally known as risk-takers, and a bit naive, and those are qualities I have to some degree and which I generally assign to my Icelndic identity. But there are those rare, very critical and absolutely essential Icelanders who counter-balance that, individuals who have found a way to harness that ico

Answering a bunch of question over and over again

tonight I had my purse stolen. The cop who took the police report asked a few simple questions, all reasonable. Then fun task of calling all my credit card companies began, from the counter of the store where this took place, because of course my cell phone was in my purse and I don't have a land line at home. The credit card companies asked question after question, and kept transferring me here and there and everywhere. At least that was better than sprint, which didn't even have any after hours customer service. The automated prompter still asked me a bunch of questions though. So well I was going to write a blog tonight about poverty in Mexico, but I must say, I'm highly under motivated to delve into all that now. I will say that I wish there were more honest people in the world.

Diversity in Scandinavia roundtable

We had an event last night where myself, three students and another faculty member, got together to discuss the myth of Scandinavian homogeneity. I talked about the Viking Age as a time of diverse and fluid identities. My colleague emphasized the continual indigenous presence, through the Saami and other non-hegemonic ethnic groups. The students however were more interested in the present situation, where immigrants feel marginalized. One discussed Islamaphobia, the other her experience as an Ethiopian immigrant in Norway, and the third how Norwegians exclude migrants on many levels, including by presuming the Norwegian perspective on the outdoors and outdoor activities is superior and ought to be adopted by all immigrants, along with the language and politics and food, etc. Basically, the efforts to erase difference through "integration." We discussed how that has its origins in the national romantic period, when it was in politicians' best interest to pretend they ruled

Funny and smart and cute

This week, I am working at installing an exhibition by a modern artists from Norway. I liked the idea of the show the first time I heard about it--a Norwegian looking at Norwegian-Amerucan culture sounded so intriguing. And I liked it even better once I saw it in person installed at Vesterheim museum in Iowa, sitting there like a little gift, a moment of relaxation in a leather chair. The exhibition is unusual, this mix of serious photos and high art videos with whimsical touches, such as colorful pillows in the middle of the room. The photos are amazing though, kids and dogs and cats, all with good Scandinavian names, but wearing very American clothes, plaid shirts and linen pants and baseball hats, all so adorable. Now the show is finally getting installed in my gallery, and I'm excited, even though it is a lot of work. I am really looking forward to it all being done, and to the wine and cheese reception.

The politics of forgetting

I am preparing a bit for a Round Table discussion we will be having on Wednesday evening. The subject of the Round Table is Diversity in Scandinavia, and it is part of a new exhibition I am working on called Forgotten Nordics: Ethnic Diversity and National Narratives. We are doing a bit of a preview exhibit now, with the full exhibit opening after the holidays. The title of the exhibit is inspired by my dissertation, particularly chapter 4 of my dissertation, which was in my opinion the dissertation's theoretical core. Thordar saga hredu is an oddly happy saga, with characters that seem to lack some of the developmental complexity seen in the more inscrutable saga characters, like Gudrun of Laxdaela saga or Njall of Njall's saga. And the saga has a happy ending, which of course the other sagas do not. So well perhaps I lack a certain literary sophistication, but I relate to Thordar saga hredu, since I tend to be an optimistic, happy person. But even to me, it seemed to be t

Clear difference?

I bought an Audi, but it is not a diesel. Which means it should not be pouring the air nor the manufactured to be deceitful. I believe the people who made my Audi are braver than that.

Poetry from my college days

Years ago, I got something in the mail about submitting a poem for publication, and so I did, in some sort of vanity press, where the real point was to have the people who submitted the poems and got it "published" then buy the book. I did submit a poem, but I didn't buy the book, and I doubt it is catalogued anywhere. The poem I submitted was an old poem I had written while I was a freshman in college, 19 years old I guess. I was into creative writing back then, I had a comedic piece published in the school paper at UC Irvine, and I used to spend my time between classes writing in a journal. I was trying to develop my own sort of poetry, I guess you could say. Or well at least that is what I thought, an experiment at setting the mood more than trying to say anything in particular. The mood was always lonely, always about loneliness, I don't really know why. Anyhow, here's a sample: As I stood there, looking out the sliding glass door, the memories came floo


When I was living in Iceland, the doctor's told me my hormone levels were very low for a woman my age. Which was an upsetting revelation, and I did not appreciate that this news was delivered to me without any sort of recommendation of how it could be reversed or addressed. I blogged about it at the time, because I felt the Icelandic medical system had not done well by me. So I ended up googling everything I could about hormone levels, and stopped drinking coffee (an estrogen simulator). I also started ordering an herbal ssupplement called Macafem, made from the roots of the maca plant, which only grows in the Andes of South America. I took it for three or four years, sometimes twice a day, sometimes once, sometimes skipping a few weeks or months, especially when I couldn't afford them. They aren't cheap, and I suspect they made me gain weight. But the worst part is that they do not seem to have worked very well, if at all. Well, my symptoms didn't get worse, and so

Strategies to avoid boredom

I have been awake for a while, but since my son is laying next to me, I don't want to get out of bed. Laying in bed 2 hours after waking up leads to a definite sense of boredom, almost enough to risk waking him up but not quite. (I kept him up late last night watching Encounter at Farpoint). So I've done Facebook and email, now I'm blogging with my smartphone. In bed on a Saturday morning. Not the healthiest, but an effective strategy against boredom. I've also been talking to my son about how he can be less bored in elementary school. It occurs to me that teachers, at least good ones, are supposed to ask a lot of questions, to get students thinking. But what about the other way around? Shouldn't students, at least good ones, also be encouraged to ask good questions? I told my son that I wanted him to ask one good question a day, a "why" question that shows he's thinking. I even emailed his teacher, telling her that was his extra assignment from me.

Not a chance in hell

Ben Carson was on CNN tonight, being interviewed by Wolf Blitzer, and I was amazed anyone as self-satisfied and boring as him was even being given half a chance to win the Republican nomination. He's so much less alive than Donald Trump, seems to put a damper on everyone else around him. I guess I can understand people in the cult-like Tea Party dillusionally begging for his approval, but beyond that, I can't see that he has appeal to the general public. He does not give forth energy or humor or even fresh new ideas. Don't listen to him, America!

Made my flight and all is well

This crazy situation of my son living in a different state than I live in is at least an improvement over the crazy situation where my son lived in a different country than me. But on days like this, where I work through a frenzy of activity, having several different conversations at once, and then make a mad dash to the airport are especially tiresome. I do not recommend living a double life! All day today, each time I walked 10 feet, I had to completely shift gears. Though most days are lively, I don't intentionally try to overlap so many things at once. Thank goodness the meeting I had planned, about the bylaws, got cancelled! At one point in time today, I was simultaneously checking in with the painters refinishing one of the rooms in the center, meeting briefly with my co-curators on an upcoming exhibition about diversity in Scandinavia in my office, dropping in at the meeting of the Danish Siterhood taking place in our meeting room, and helping the alumni office and then


Academia breeds an inherent insecurity, a good scholar always feels there is more they should do, to meet some invisible standard of due diligence. No matter how many books or articles or how much thought has gone into something, how many footnotes or how long the bibliography, there is always more that could be done, always some way in which the scholar is failing.  I don't need to appease anyone's guilty conscious for this that or the other, because I am not in the business of giving people guilt trips to begin with. But I am very annoyed at myself for being so good at appleasement (a word I just made up - do you like it? See, there I go again!). I am always doing things that I think are pleasing to other people, making one more suggestion, sending one more email, broaching an uncomfortable topic, etc.  Like a performing monkey . Trying to prove to the world that I have the intellectual acumen or emotional character that would mean I actually belong in the company of g

Psychology 101

Yesterday evening I had dinner at a great French restaurant in Fairview (near Bellingham) with my niece, Bryndis. She has just started college at Western Washington University. Over dinner we discussed her classes and also what she might major in, and I ended up telling her my story about Psych 101. You see, I was in International Baccalaureate in highschool, which meant I wrote extra papers and took extra tests to demonstrate that I was up to snuff with an international standard. One of the tests I took was in psychology, after taking half a year (or was it a whole year?) of psych with Mr. Kroger my junior year of highschool. Anyhow, I was telling Bryndis that I completely aced the test, Mr. Kroger told me that I actually set the national curve, no one in the country had done better at the IB Psych test that year. He was so proud he revised up my course grade. So when I got to college, it occurred to me that perhaps I should be a psychology major. I registered for the first course in

Skagit Valley

Today I drove out to an old barn, built by a Swedish immigrant, that has been converted into an events venue - like for weddings and workshops. We are thinking of using it to stage a Norwegian play, a two person show based on Knut Hamsun's book Markens grode. The location was amazing, what a lovely valley. It is the first place in Washington settled by Nordics, and I don't think it is hard to see why, with views from the snowcapped mountains to the glittering sea, over rich farmland and rolling hills, filled with eclectic towns and independent-minded people. Of course, the people living there have a bit of an inferiority complex about the big city, just an hour away. I don't hate the city, definitely not, but it is not a place I long to return to. I have been to the baseball stadium, gone to Pike's Market, visited the Seattle Center, all those famous sites that get photographed all the time, and I have sort of checked them off my list in an obligatory fashion. Photo

Weather in Seattle

By this time of the year, we should be getting a good, steady downpour of rain, if I understand the situation correctly (being relatively new to the area). But instead, we have gotten a few short, light showers, followed by days of dry weather. This isn't much to hang one's hat on, in terms of the drought being rectified. Coming from California, where there literally is no water, I am still of the mindset that things are OK here, still taking long showers, etc. But perhaps I need to be more conservative. After all, I don't want to be stuck doing some ridiculous rain dance.

One step forward and two steps back

or One steps forward and two step back? I was in a good mood until I looked at Google Plus. It is so depressing that a company that seems to have so much going for it could have come up with such a dud of a product. I guess it is a ghost town that no one bothers to update anymore? Still, it is upsetting. There was another mass shooting by a depressed, white, young man in a public place in the U.S. yesterday, at a college campus in Oregon, a place south of here right that I have driven past several times. So the news scared me, certainly. Especially because last year, there was a similar incident at a university just north of my university. But I have been trying to reconcile why it is that these incidents do not awaken in me a huge sense of indignation, an immediate desire to take guns away from people. I can't really explain it, except to say that I personally do not own guns and will do everything in my power to make sure my son does not turn into the sort of person that woul

A satisfactory ending

I just watched Project Runway, one of those reality TV shows that is a contest. As the name suggests, the challenges each week are around designing clothing. I turned on the TV to keep me company while eating dinner by myself, and ended up watching the whole episode. Fabrics, sewing, and clothing design I like, both for the creativity and the materiality of it, there is something meaningful in ones clothing choices. Anyhow, usually the contestants on this show are very emotional, artistic types with tons of drama. Through the whole show, there is backstabby snarkiness that no one should take too seriously. So at the end of the show, when the one designer with the worst design is kicked off the show, it is usually filled with tears and anger. But in a surprising and welcome change of pace, tonight the loosing contestant was perfectly happy to go. There was no dramatic exit interview, no whinnyness, just a mature admonition that the right decision had been reached. I bet she had real

Revisionist history

The next exhibition I am working on is called "The Forgotten Nordics: Ethnic diversity and National narratives". Each of the six sections is going to focus on a different moment in history, when overt attempts were made to exclude people living in the Nordic region from the dominate identity. Though there is a certain radical element to such an exhibit--it reads as if we are judging people in the past that they were wrong to do what they did--what interests me is the remarkable efficacy of revisionist history. When the decision is made, for whatever reason, that one identity is the dominate identity, all the other ones fade instantly out of relevance, completely. And even if just a few moments ago, historically speaking, a different identity was considered paramount, that can all change. The victors write the history books is an overwrought platitude, and I think that phrase fails to convey the absolutely miraculous way in which a narrative, reconceived, reorders everythi