A year ago this evening, I rolled off an Øresund train at Malmö Triangeln station with a patient but frazzled Katie-Jane, and walked out into a light rain to get a lift from a friend to my new digs in Sweden.
I’ve always been prone to noting the strange dual fluidity of time’s passage, particularly as I’ve gotten older. This year it feels like everyone’s got far more of a taste of atemporality than they ever wanted, if indeed they ever wanted it at all, and so I don’t intend to dwell on it too much. Frankly I’ve been pretty lucky with my experience of the Plague Year, a luck which was somehow sealed some time before it started, the last piece of the puzzle being my having unknowingly booked my relocation on what was effectively the last week that it would have been possible to do it without hideous amounts of extra obstacles and challenges. That the timing was right; that the relocation itself—planned and re-planned in a fog of obsessive anxiety—went without a hitch across multiple borders and infrastructural systems; that I stumbled into a housing situation more stable than most newcomers to Sweden without even really trying; all these things are gifts which seem all the more unlikely and surprising in hindsight.
It hasn’t been a year-long picnic, mind you; while the Swedish pandemic restrictions have for the most part been lighter and looser than elsewhere, I’ve basically spent a year working in glorious isolation from my colleagues—all the more ironic given that part of the appeal of moving here was to finally have a working environment in which I would be surrounded by peers who knew and understood and appreciated my work, and vice versa. It’s not that I haven’t seen them at all, to be clear—but the refactoring of academic life around remote teaching has kept them busy, even during periods of light restrictions. So much of my work life has been mediated through those softwares and platforms with which so may of us have become more familiar than we’d ever wanted to… but again, it’s a gift to have a job that can be done in such a way, and that hasn’t been at risk from economic or sociopolitical crisis.
I’ve been lucky, too, to have a few local friends who’ve been there for me in person, as well as friends fro the old country who’ve kept me as a part of their own extended digital networks—you know who you are, but thank you, nonetheless. The year had its emotional tragedies, too, which I shall avoid raking over in public; suffice to say that while I’ve changed a lot over the last few years, there are fractures and faults in the geology of me which will presumably never be fixed, and which—as always—can only ever be worked around, lived with, factored in. It’s taken many many years to realise that accepting my shortcomings doesn’t mean having to like them, let alone revel in them as defining characteristics. But denying them is equally foolish, in a different way. Coming to terms with oneself is the only way to make yourself something better, I think. Or perhaps I just hope that to be the case… but hope is important, on a personal level as well as the societal one. One can’t unmake one’s mistakes or turn back time—but one can face the future informed by a better understanding of one’s past, and thus work at being better, and doing less harm to others.
Selah. I’m not much of one for anniversaries or birthdays or anything like that, but this—my anniversary of arrival, if you like—seems like something worth marking, as a point in the annual cycle, but also as the start of a life’s second act. Quite how that act might arc ahead remains to be seen… but the mere possibility of its arcing at all is, like so much else, a gift: not unearned, to be sure, but not deserved or fated either.
As Ursula Le Guin used to say, “how you play is what you win”—but I’m not sure the causality is strictly one-way in that statement. (As a Taoist, I doubt Le Guin thought so either.) It feels to me like I won better than I’d been playing; so now comes the work of playing in a way to retrospectively merit it.
Perhaps one step in that direction would be to write fewer of these navel-gazey self-analytical blog posts, eh? We’ll see how that goes, I guess…