Busy spring and summer are behind us, with presentations at European Society for RADIOTHERAPY & ONCOLOGY (ESTRO) and the Canadian Organization of Medical Physicists (COMP). It has been full activity in the lab, and at home. The students have worked very hard on their projects, solved many problems, generated new results and written manuscripts. I am very proud of them and impressed by their curiosity, commitment and hard work. At the same time my children have had summer vacation with camps and activities, relatives and friends have visited from Sweden and I have had many grant writing and review deadlines.
Summers are always stressful for a researcher mom, or at least for me. During the summer, when the sun is finally out, I would like to spend more time outdoors with my children. I feel guilty when I spend too much time at work. The guilt is there like a heavy cloud obscuring the sunny sky, no matter what I choose. The feeling that I can always do more, squeeze my hours and days so I can get the most out of it, that I always let someone down, my children, family, students, colleagues, the visiting relatives and friends or miss a deadline.
Part of our family vacation this year we decided to camp in the national parks of Quebec, and for the first time since I started working, I didn’t bring my computer and postponed the deadlines. After a couple of days, I could totally relax, disconnect with the world outside and enjoy the present with my family. Hiking, talking, enjoying the scenery, listening to the birds and animals, experiencing different scents of the forest with my children, and being there all together, not occupied or disconnected by a screen gave me strength to come back full of energy and totally recharged. I skipped the conferences at the end of the summer and beginning of autumn to be able to concentrate on what I care about the most; my family, students and their different projects.
Velvet green fields. Cotton clouds. Light blue sky. Wind down car windows. Modest breeze dancing reluctantly with playful hair. Silence. Music from another time. Small hills spread over a flat landscape. Summer flee market. A taste of strawberries. The old mill, antic shop, glassblower, dirty brown river, small waterfall. Coffee shops, libraries, places I have danced. Swing and jazz palace. Sweat. Smell of Lilac when biking home late evenings in May. The feeling of home. Where is home?
Foreign languages, mother tongues, not yours. Words tattooed inside you, hidden, in the heart. Not to be spoken. Past, present and now, visiting through the dreams.
The last coffee at the old mill, burning sun, a jacket, a tie. The cancer hidden inside your hazy eyes. Looking at me from the other side. Another me, another time. If only. Where is home? Is it next to your grave where wild animals graze? Home is here, there and in between. Home is not a place. It is time. Home is now or than. At the old mill. The burning sun. The silence.
Flamenco concert. The cantaor’s deep voice filled with sorrow, the rhythm and intensity of the guitar and Cajon, the red flower in the dancers hair and the fire in her eyes reminded me of the beauty of life and evoked many feelings, sad and happy. Longings after my childhoods spring river, apple trees, the unripe walnuts that could color the hands black with their green shells, plum trees, cherries, sun-dried tomatoes, those who are gone. The birth of my children. The long pauses in the daily life. Silence. Sitting in my red armchair and listening to music so low that I can barely hear it, looking at the tree outside. The big, majestic tree with leaves that changes color from green to orange-red to yellow-brown. How she loses all the leaves and is quite unashamed naked in front of me. How she dresses in white, beautiful as a bride on her way to her winter wedding. Bursting buds. Pain. No time for tears. Life moving like a stream of water, never still, has taken me from mountains of Kurdistan to Montreal. Is this the last stop?
Books, articles, YouTube clips and TV-shows remind us everyday how we should live our lives. Self-help books are a big industry and there seem to be a creative author around every corner of our insecurity, ready to advice us regarding which part of ourselves to enhance and which parts to suffocate. After we have remade ourselves to something we are not but in accordance with the latest trend, another book comes and totally interdicts the previous one. We have to shuffle up our sleeves and reinvent ourselves again.
We live in an exchangeable time, trends come and go and our lives spin faster and faster, for many out of control. Many of us live on autopilot, with the common sense disconnected. We need someone to tell us how many bottles of water we should drink, what to eat, how to educate our children, how to be a colleague, a team leader and so on.
Couple of days ago I stumbled on an article claiming that after years of intensive analysis, Google discovered that the key to good teamwork is being nice. Really Google? Do we need years of intensive analysis to come to the conclusion that being nice is good?
You don’t need years of intensive analysis or Paulo Coelho and his quasi-philosophical empty phrases in “The Alchemist” to tell you that everything is possible as long as you really want it or that it is what you do in the present that will redeem the past and thereby change the future. Take your time and visit your grand parents instead, have a tea or coffee with them and they will tell you the same. Disconnect your autopilot, and get in touch with your common sense, drink water when you are thirsty, eat and drink what you enjoy, be a good colleague, team member and team leader, ignore the ignorance. Don’t let any trends compromise your integrity. The rest will fall in place by itself. And don’t forget to be nice!
My son reads most of the time from a computer screen. While reading he Googles everything that he doesn’t understand, and jumps from one Wikipedia page to another, forgetting about the original text he was reading.
The mom in me dislikes this behaviour, to feed the beast of curiosity with a shallow knowledge. I am afraid that the flat screen will prohibit him of developing his imagination and that he will miss out on the joy of fantasising colourful sceneries with exotic scents and tastes in which the novel characters live. To immediately satisfy the curiosity cannot be good for a child’s imagination, or am I just getting old?
A couple of weeks ago, I forbid the screen time entirely and encouraged him to read a book instead. “Why?” he asked. “I am reading. You know mom, it is not the 80s anymore, people don’t read books.” Eventually he was bored and got a taste of the 80s by reading an old fashion paper book.
Later that week I told one of the students, lets call him Mr. Curly hair that I was going to the library with my children. “Library? Do they still exist?” said Mr. Curly hair with a shrug. It made me worried that the existence of libraries seem not to matter for the young generation.
To be exposed to the smell of old library books and to stroll around the library and borrow as many adventures as small arms can carry should be a part of every childhood. Possibility to travel through time and space, follow Frodo Bagger and his inherited ring, solve mysterious with Sherlock Holms and Dr. Watson, follow The Famous Five on their adventures, hide from the Nazis with Anne Frank inside the dark and damp secret annex at 263 Prinsengracht or fantasise how the Family Moskat lived their life pre World War II in Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Poland.
Mr. Curly hair ended up as a smart, hardworking and pleasant young man, despite the lack of library visits, I am confident that so will my son. However, next time we will go to the library with the children I will bring along Mr. Curley hair, it is time for him and his young friends to visit the library, so that they can fight for its existence. A society without these rich reservoirs of knowledge and fantasy would be a very poor one.
A couple of days ago I saw pictures of three little girls, younger than my daughter, that were sold as prostitutes in India. Their big, intense black eyes pierced the camera and through my computer screen burned a big hole in my heart. In their eyes I could see an unending grief, if I just could see those dark eyes, I would have thought they belonged to old women that hadn’t done anything but suffering throughout their entire life. What have those beautiful eyes gone through to become so empty? They didn’t resemble eyes, but rather giant black holes that sucked me in and emptied me on all my energy. How can the world be this cruel? How can the men and women exploiting these children call themselves humans?
I wish I could grab them and bring them to me. I wish I could erase the darkness in their eyes and replace it with sparkling stars and hope.
I grow up partly during the Iran-Iraq war. A blue cloudless sky, sunshine and stable weather were associated with fear since the risk of Saddam’s bombers turning up increased during these conditions. Schools would close under long periods and parents would send their children to safer places if they had the opportunity. My grandmother lived in a village with the mountains as protection for the bombers. When I was in primary school, my brother and I were sent to her during school holidays, or any time school would close due to the risk of air attacks.
My grandmother had a big dark storage/pantry room on the first floor with a dip blue wooden door. When the longing for my parents became too strong and I needed somewhere to hide and cry so that my brother would not see me, I used to sneak into the storage room. Amongst the crock jars filled with home made tomato paste, baskets of fruits from my grandmothers fruit orchards, bags of rice, lentils, walnuts, dried basil and grapes hanging from wooden beams in the ceiling to dry out to raisins, there were boxes of the magazine “Danestaniha” that my uncles left behind. Danestaniha, which means knowledge in Persian, was a science magazine in Iran, written for layman with articles about science, technology, culture and nature.
I used to open the boxes and take a magazine, seat on a bag of beans or a barrel of pickles and read while I was crying. After a short time I would be totally absorbed by the articles and forget all about my parents and the world outside. I couldn’t understand everything I read, but it was fascinating. I could travel to the cities in ancient times long gone, the laboratory of foreign scientists, jungles of amazon, glossy images of writers in black turtlenecks and get a glimpse of the wild life of the animals. Sometimes I could just browse through one number after the other and look at the pictures. My grandmother used to once in a while stick her head in and ask me not to shuffle around my uncle’s boxes too much, but I could hear in her voice that it was ok, so I continued.
The magazines and this dark room, with scents from Ceylon tea, saffron and fresh fruits were my hideaways to cope with a world not entirely shaped for an eight years old big sister who loved her younger brother more than anything.
My children are bilingual (French and Swedish), my maternal language is Kurdish and I speak Kurdish with them, they understand but answer me back in Swedish. They do speak English as well. My son, who is the older one, has started to swear in English and in the middle of his French or Swedish sentences a “damn” or two can sneak out. He would never swear in the languages that he masters, since he can put the words in a context and understands that it doesn’t sound good.
A couple of days ago we had a discussion regarding this and he ensured me that I was exaggerating, after all he had googled if “damn” was a bad curse and according to google it wasn’t, so I didn’t have to worry at all. Well then, I will just go back to my grant writing and let google raise my children.
My father was diagnosed with cancer and passed away very quickly last year leaving me in a spiritual void wondering about the meaning of life. Finley, I came to the conclusion that for me, the meaning of life is hidden in small moments in my everyday life. It is hidden in the laugher of a child, memories from past that leaves me with a warm feeling, small arms around my neck and a snotty kiss on my cheek without asking for it, morning coffee spiced with love, messages from people I care about, smile of a stranger in the subway or a cheerful good morning from the students. I need to stop once in a while during my day and acknowledge these moments before they are gone.
The best thing with the weekends is to walk the kids to their activities, and have time to answer all the why, how and whens. To listen to their theories and thoughts about the form and shape of the snowflakes, what happens if one falls into a black hole, what was there before the big bang, and what happens after you die? I cannot answer all the questions, we philosophize together, holding hands, sometimes have a quite moment listening to the snow crunch under our feet, that moment does not last long and is disrupted by yet another why.