Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bye bye, Umeå

My year as a postdoc is up, and I am in the process of packing up. It's surprising how much stuff accumulates by being in one spot for some time, but unsurprisingly, the largest bulk comes from books.

So, what have I learned in this northern spot of Sweden? Apart from what I came here for (finish a manuscript, write some articles, meet new people, figure out the secret of my further research, all of which has been done), I have learned a few things about this country which is so close and so similar, and so subtly different from home. Let's start with the negative stuff, so I can end it at a happy note.

Personal number: The source of all evil. I didn't get a Swedish number, I got a "coordination number", which I could do as a Norwegian citizen not about to move to Sweden.

Banking: It may be as bad to be foreign in a Norwegian bank, but I hope I never need to find out. Source of many problems: No personal number.

Healthcare: Good once I got through the initial bureaucracy. My problem with the bureaucracy? No personal number.

Mail: I could never know how the mail would arrive, where, how, and where I could pick it up if I didn't catch the delivery at the right moment. And when I went to pick up mail, the main problem was... yes, exactly, no personal number.

Language: Swedish is very close to Norwegian, but there are moments when we just stare, stupidly, at each other. Being stubborn, I refused to speak "Swedlike", but yes, I did adjust my language, searching for more common words. I have learned a lot of synomyms for the most everyday things. I did not have to resort to English... much.

Weather: I have dried up like a prune from the inland dryness, hurt my back on the ice in winter, and become very sick of wind. Also, it got really dark. Thinking about it makes me want to go home, even if home has more rain and harsher storms.

Fika: For somebody who don't eat cakes, sweets or any other stuff which it's common to serve with coffee (and hardly drink coffee), this is a pretty useless social habit. It's nice, it's important, and one should participate. I have spent hours nursing a glass of water, smiling politely.

BUT there's another Swedish food habit I think is wonderful: Warm food for lunch. If there wasn't a well-stocked, reasonable and good place to buy a lunch that would meet all my requirements, I could bring my own and heat it in one of the many many microwaves spread in all the different spots designed to have lunching spots for all.

Bicycles: I love it. I would never use the car to get back and forth from work if I lived like this. Problem is that in Volda I don't go back and forth but up or down. This may be an Umeå thing though, but seriously, it made me buy winter tires for my bike, so I could use it all through the winter.

Maintaining roads: If there was five centimeters of snow, the next morning I'd be woken up by huge machines clearing the parkinglot outside my window. And before I got to the University, they would have cleared and sanded the walkways.

Coffee: Much cheaper and better and more varied than in Norway. I wish I liked it better than I do!

Prices: I kept changing into Norwegian krone in my head. Great fun.

And then there were the things that were surprisingly familiar.

People: Basically the same everywhere, these dressed sharper, but that's where the difference ended. Oh, and they kept telling Norwegian jokes. We don't do that in Norway, we tell Swedish jokes, and they are, of course, much better.

Organisations: No matter where you live, reorganising an institution is a pain. Very nice to watch from the outside, although it triggered unhappy memories.

Television: It's as easy to fall asleep watching Swedish television as Norwegian. Same wonderfully sleepy rythm to it.

To conclude: Going home is good, but mostly because I am returning to something which has, over a lifetime, become "normal". I could easily live with another norm - perhaps I could even learn to drink enough water and to moisturise - and be just as happy. Perhaps even more, the landscape in Umeå invites more for the kind of casual exercize I need than the west-coast of Norway does. I am not surprised by this knowledge, but over this year I have learned to understand it in ways which were theory before.

Would I do this year again?
Probably, and I wouldn't do much differently.

Would I have stayed for another year if I could?
Not really, I feel very ready to go home. But then if I had another year, I'd have been planning and thinking very differently.

Would I go back here?
I'd love to come back. After all, I finally know how to get around, where to find good tea, and what goes on in the restaurant next to the place where I live. I'd like to re-use this knowledge.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Same sex marriage

After years with legally binding registrations of partnership being possible between partners in same-sex couples, today the new law of marriage was accepted. Now same-sex couples can be married, in the legal sense of the word, and have the same rights and responsibilities as other married couples. This is controversial in Norway, particularly among christian conservatives, and accusations about the "gay lobby" are flying about on websites and in discussions. Be that as it may, personally I think that anybody who love each other enough to want to share everything, including the responsibility for each others' natural or adopted children, should be protected and supported by the law in the nation they live within.


They wanted 60000 words. I have been in the unusual, for academics, position of having to bulk up my manuscript. "But I write a compact language" I whined to my editors. "I noticed" Colin replied, laconically, and pointed out that I really could use more adjectives and adverbs if I wanted to.

But this will have to do. There are pictures, tables, screenshots and pretty drawings. And I am within the parameters of the book I wanted, without having to make up stuff I hadn't planned should be in it. Feels good. Now off to scan images and put everything together the way I want the world to see it.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Day of the Swedish Flag

I should have known, but the Swedes kept saying "it's nothing like in Norway" when talking about the Swedish national holiday. So now I am in an empty university, where even the automatic window opener refuses to work. The day "nobody takes seriously" is at least a serious opportunity for a day off. So I am out of here, and off to find my camera. Now I know what they were preparing in Gammlia this morning!

As a side note: tomorrow is the date of the end of the Swedish/Norwegian union, in 1905.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Found Stories

Where was all my life? Uuuhhh - I guess, hooking up people with things to sell and buy in the US?

Anyway, I have found craigslist AND I have found a source of stories of my favourite kind. You know, the kind of stories that are about what might have happened - if. Desperately seeking Susan stuff, right there at 'missed connections'.
Green, Washington, Blond, Main Line, Boston, Washington, Flight, Grandma, Upper West, DUI, CA, JET B, Philly U, Delaware, not a good day, I know how it feels, time to change that..

What goes on here? It's parts of a conversation, I think. And how did he or she feel? And how can it change? Others are not as cryptic, but just as evokative, in their "almost touching" kind of way:
You got on at Atlantic and stood by the doors until Wall St. I'm pretty sure you noticed I was staring and I'm sorry about that – I just found you incredibly attractive. I was the brunette with short curly hair and a black v-neck sweater, sitting down. I tried to see if you were wearing a ring, because I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if you were taken. If you aren’t, drinks sometime? If you are, have a great day. ;)

It may just be my New York fetish that kicks in, that all these missed connections are a reminder about life happening, constantly, in such a huge mass of people. But I think it's the potential, all the things that could have been started if somebody had taken another step, asked the right question, left at the right station, forgot about propriety and given out the number:
Ok, so you asked for some 'advice" on something and then my phone number. Maybe I should have just gone for it. Would like to meet up for a beer or coffee - you were cute. Now the inevitable question - what did you ask about? ;)
But I am not the only 'missed connections' reader, and some think this is a good place to tell others how to behave:
Unbelievable. A guy has the courage to approach you and ask for your number in person, you reject him, and then you post a missed connection looking for him. Why? I'm asking a serious question, I can't understand this. Are you just hardwired to reject everyone and anyone, no matter what, if they display interest in you?
Ohhh, the drama, the nosyness, the humanity seeping through every post. It makes me want to go back to NY and then read this section every day after a trip on the subway. Perhaps I find something like:
You were lost in the book you were reading. Your glasses kept slipping down. I wanted to take them off you to see what colour your eyes were. But how could I, when you never looked up. You were wearing a red jacket, black jeans and hiking boots. Tell me which book you were reading, and I'll pay for the drinks.
I think perhaps the most interesting story with this kind of ads (I read them in the papers, when that's where they were to be found)is that people don't walk through life unseen. Even if it's the guy who helped you pick up the groceries after an accident, we're seen, remembered, looked out for. It is pretty romantic, really.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Virtual Walking

The title is flashy: Paralysed man walks in Second Life, but the reality is much better: they have found an interface from the brain to computers, which lets the paralysed person control computer programs. In this case it's let the person control the motion of an avatar in SL.

This is a wonderful story, and looks much more uplifting than Monkey brain controls robot arm, which is, pretty much, the same story only with slightly different technology. Also the monkeys are a bit more sophisticated, while it's cool to be able to control an SL avatar, tre dimentional movement which can result in being able to feed yourself and not dependendt on being fed is pretty impressive.

It all reminds me of the email I got, almost two years ago, from a woman who had spent the last 12 years of her life in a wheelchair. She had forgotten, even in her dreams, what it was like to move around. World of Warcraft had her jumping and dancing in her dreams again.

Computers can give us back the feeling of freedom and control which circumstances makes us lose - not just because we think we are free and in control, but because we are. The woman who wrote me could, through WoW, play games, crack jokes and have fun with her children, who were hundreds of kilometers away. For her to go and actually do that in the physical world would have been a huge effort.

Computers, even computer games and virtual worlds, do real things, because they are real communication devices. So, some of the communication is a bit more elaborate than other modes, but hey, it's shared experiences!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Final touches 1

I haven't written much about it, because I feel so apprehensive and actually quite shy about the project. I am currently writing a book, to be published at Peter Lang's publishers, some time this winter I hope. It's the book I have always wanted people to read before they come to me and ask if there is something written about game research. To this end I am packing it full of game research references, but also declare my defeat, immediately. There's no way I can cover it all. All I can do is try to get enough variety that the person who is planning to do "something" about game research goes off and does a few new, more informed, searches.

When I finally dare write about it, it's because it's coming together now. The editors have asked me for what they want changed, the illustration issues are kind of solved, I have found a way to increase bulk while also following some of the advice I have been given (hugs Ragnhild), I have a proofreader waiting impatiently for the text and financing for that, too, and I have received some reassuring noises from the editors about my writing. I am just too efficient for them. Use more words, they say. It hurts my journalist heart, so I am afraid all I'll do about that is to add content.

The most fun part of the recent changes has been on the advice of Ian Bogost. I haven't drawn any illustrations for publishing since 1981. My early dreams of a career as a graphic designer and illustrator died as my love of academia hit hard and suffocated all else. But now I am doing that again. And again, that shyness. This is a part of me that can not be backed up by references or research. When I publish the graphics in this book, I am going somewhere new and scary. My only comfort is that I am really not planning to change careers. So if people laugh themselves silly over the graphics, it's OK. As long as they understand what I am trying to show.

I still have a chunk left to add. I miss about 5000 words. I know what's going into it though, and I am racing through the rewrites earlier in the book, in order to reach that section. I just realised that I am telling the truth: That is why I have been so driven lately. I have something I really want to write. I just need to get there.

So, I guess that tells you all where I am off to. Actually, I am off to fetch the mail at the office, have coffee with at least one group of people-I-should-see-more-often at Umeå University, play some AoC so I can see if my enthusiasm is triggered when I reach level 20 (out of 80), and generally try to be something other than a driven hermit maniac. We'll see how that works out. This morning I hurt myself in an attempt to care for my health. Now I may be crippled and doomed to remain in hiding for days. YAY!