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Let me take you back a few years. Two handfuls to be more precise. I had lived in France for just a few months and my language level was scant and my social life was poor.

I decided to take action. I really wanted to improve my communication skills and I was desperate to talk to someone outside the family circle. After a bit of searching I found a group of half organised people that met up in a certain pub once a week, where they helped each other with language studies. The group consisted largely of students and young people, like I was back then, who had a passion for languages. I had a great time.

I had met up with the group for a few gatherings and I had already managed to make a friend. She was French but spoke very good English and she was majoring in French sign language and studying Swedish on the side, just for fun. We had a lot of fun helping each other learning the language of the other person and discussing, in English, the interesting differences in Swedish and French sign language.

Language group day was rapidly becoming my favourite day of the week. I wasn’t improving much, at least not noticeably. My new friend was so good at English and she took great pleasure in speaking it, just as I was happy to have fun and interesting conversations with someone intelligent. I was overjoyed to have a friend.

In the same moment as I was rediscovering the elation of socialisation, I had invested my tiny savings in a bike. This was not an amazing piece of technology, just a little thing to pedal in order to get from place A to place B. Taking the bus or the underground was not even on the agenda, that would have cost too much in the long run and walking into the city took an hour if I kept a good pace. I walked any time I wanted to go somewhere but I had decided to give myself a break. The investment would be worth it. I was poor and unemployed and it was all I had, my wonderful bike.

So one day I decided that I would ride the bike to meet up with the group. It was a gorgeous, soft afternoon with clear skies. I was looking forward to seeing my friend. I had decided to ask if she wanted to do something outside of language group hours someday. I was going to ask her out on a friend-date and I was sure she’d accept. My mood was high and I rolled with ease.

I had gotten halfway to my destination when it happened. Gravity grabbed me like a cruel mistress and pulled me close to her. My entire right side smashed into the ground. Head to toe took a punch from the paved surface my head was spinning and I was in pain. Several people rushed to my aid and fortunately they were all kindhearted. A man asked for my phone, asked if he could call someone I knew, and groggy as I was I handed over my phone to him. Someone else recovered my bag that had slid off me in the fall. A woman tried to make me stay still on the ground and not move too much, in case I had injured my neck or back. An ambulance came. I’m not even sure what happened to the bike but it got home somehow.

My helmet went in the trash, it had given its life to protect me and I was grateful. The right leg of my jeans was cut all the way up to the knee as I was taken to the hospital. I was badly bruised and had a crack in my arm. Opiates were ordained and I was incapable of moving anywhere besides dragging myself from bed to couch for a few weeks.

When I was still bruised but had healed enough to get outside again, my bike had been stolen. The lack of money made it difficult to buy another one, even a used one. I never went back to the language group. They had moved to a different pub, my friend graduated and moved to America. The bad experience of the fall made me reluctant to try it again. I didn’t ride a bike any more after that. The more the years passed, all I could associate with riding a bike was the terrible pain in my cracked arm and my bruised side.

Last spring I went to Berlin for almost a week. The weather was cool but not too cold to walk around outside for hours. At the end of the week I was asked if we couldn’t rent bikes and discover more of the city. The underground system is good but you don’t see everything that’s between the stops. I refused. The fear of riding on the side of a busy street in the capital of Germany had me sweating hot and cold. I was however talked into renting a tandem. The ride went surprisingly good.

I pedalled through the city with the frantic pounding of my heart in my chest. My eyes closed for a lot of the time in fear of losing my composure. The helmsman was calm and in complete control of our trajectory and his enthusiasm and energy made it possible for me to enjoy the ride. Something I had thought myself incapable of doing.

Last week I took the big plunge. I bought a bike. The lady that sold it had gone through extensive hip surgery and she had to admit to herself that she wouldn’t be able to ride her bike anymore. It had been standing abandoned in her hallway for the past three years. Loved but never used it was a jumble of flat tyres and cobwebs. After a little cleanup and restoration it was ready for a test ride.

Helmet on and hands white from the tight grip on the handlebars, I took off. The bike made a terrible clattering sound. The bike wasn’t in a bad shape, I was just shaking so much that the frame rattled from my tremors. I was afraid, but I did it anyway.

I have now been on two longer bike rides, my bottom is not yet used to the saddle but that will get better with time. I’m not riding fast or in busy areas but I can start finding pleasure in it.

It’s like that; life and riding a bike – you never forget how to do it but you might need some encouragement to get back in the saddle after a bad fall.

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Do you have any hidden talents? he asked me.
Well, how do I answer that?

As we saunter through life on our stroll of consciousness we find to our surprise that there are a few things that we can do that people find more or less extraordinary.

I have always loved singing, and people tell me that I’m really good at it. They ask me how I got so good, so I tell them I’ve been singing since I could talk and perhaps even before that. It started early, I was encouraged to continue. It was fun – so I kept singing.

Most of our talents are like that. We discover them early. We discover that there is something that we enjoy doing, so we do that thing. Practice makes perfect, as they say. At first the notes were probably not very sweet, but my heart was there.
If you keep working on something, you become more proficient at it. If what you’re working on makes you happy, you want to do it even more. This applies to most things and it’s worth remembering.

But then there’s this thing.

Hidden talent.

And I’m not talking about something you’re good at that you don’t tell people. I’m talking about those things that you are really good at. Things even you didn’t know you could do. Perhaps you’re like me, constantly doubting yourself and your abilities. Or maybe you just never had the opportunity to try something.

Let me take you back to the middle of November.

I go through a box of things that I hadn’t unpacked yet after moving. In the box was a bag of stuff that I  hadn’t had time to sort and see if I wanted to keep. Basically a bag of rubbish that I wasn’t ready to part with yet. Among the rubbish was a keyring with a tiny Rubik’s Cube attached to it. I gave it a try. It was tricky but fun. And then, to my surprise, it was done. It’s probably not a very impressive skill but it surprised me how easy I found it.

What else could I do that I thought I wasn’t capable of doing?

In another part of my life I’ve been wondering what challenges I should give myself. I feel a great urge to learn and develop and create something amazing.

I am definitely finishing my book this year.
I am practicing my instruments.
I am studying Japanese.
– I am looking into computer programming.

What if I had this amazing talent for coding that I didn’t know about? How can I know if I don’t look into it?

Do you have any hidden talents? He asked me.
I sure hope so, I answered.

Fifteen times. That’s the number of times I’ve moved, including this one. Twice from one country to another. Soon I’m getting to live in the sixteenth place I’ve called home and I hope I will be able to stay there, happy and safe, for a long time.
I spent my morning packing things in the “kitchen” that won’t be used in the next week. I only saved two of each from the cutlery and plates out for us to use. The cupboards are very empty looking, which is a grand feat for such a tiny flat.
I’ve also packed most of my books. I put the heavy, pretty tomes in small cardboard boxes. Small, so they’re easy and light to carry. I put a few of my less sensitive paperbacks in my lovely four wheeled suitcase – Something I warmly recommend if you ever have to move and have a lot of books. Save your arms and back.

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Tomorrow will be a day to go through the closet. Sort out what to donate, throw, and take along. I hope there won’t be too many things damaged by the mould, that I noticed had attacked my winter coat in the closet, and I hope I have the sense to throw away the things that are broken beyond repair.

One week until we get the keys to the new place and I’m very excited and impatient to get there. The first place in France I get to live in that’s bigger than a shoebox. The first house since I moved away from my parents. The sixteenth place I get to call home.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Yule warm and bright
With good food and people you don’t have to fight
I wish you a good rest
I wish you a song
I wish you a heart where love sings strong 

I wish you a Happy New Year of health and good times
I wish so much more than can fit in these rhymes
I wish you adventure
I wish a full year
I wish you to spend time with those you hold dear

 I wish you all this
And all other good things too
So, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

To you

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I love re-reading good books. Every time I read them I notice something new or see something from a new perspective. Each time I read those words, new things have happened in my life, so each time is different. Each time I fool myself into thinking that I already know everything there is to know about the story, and after each time I feel that there’s a new detail that is clearer to me.

The past few weeks I have dedicated a lot of my reading time to poetry. I am determined to find poetry that speaks to me. I want to find a poet that I enjoy reading. It has not been easy but some day I will succeed.
After reading some of the dreariest and driest verses ever penned in the history of mankind, I was mentally beat. These poems I had just finished were written by an author whom I admire. He has written some of the most magnificent stories I’ve ever read. Who this person is, is not important at the moment, sufficient to say I was incredibly disappointed and thoroughly bored.

That’s when I decided to set up an award system. A way to compensate for the torture I was putting my brain through. I would reward myself with a re-reading of a book I love. To layer each poem I tried to digest, with a few pages of something really enjoyable.

So I started the next tome of poetry, a collection of W. B. Yeats, and I started my old-tried-and-true-re-read. First of all I want to say that I, to my surprise, honestly liked some of the poems I read. But the biggest surprise was that, in this book that I have read ( and re-read more than ten times,) there are references to a Yeats poem that I had just read.

My mind was blown and I kept having that poem turning and turning at the back of my mind during the rest of the book. There had been so many common symbols, even a quotation. There had been a recurring theme in both poem and book. It had been there all along and I had not known, had not seen what was hidden in there. 

Sometimes, the new experiences we have in life will show us things that were hidden to us. Things we never imagined possible. We get thrown into situations that will change the way we see everything around us, for the rest of our lives. Sometimes we wonder how we could have been so blind how we could have missed the signs. Other times we just marvel at the wonderful way it all turns out. Just like a good book, we can never tell what life will give us with just a quick glance. We have to give it time and attention, and maybe some day we can say that we are getting closer to knowing what is really going on.

I like playing in my mind with the thoughts around the proverb there are two sides to every story / two sides of the same coin. What seems like the right thing for me might not be the right thing for someone else. We are all the heroes of our own stories and those who oppose us are the bad guys. 

I have this analytical fancy with the fiction I read. I’ve always had a thing for the baddies, the villains. Both the morally difficult anti-hero and the straight up antagonist. It’s not an attraction to them, but definitely a fascination. I read, and watch, and since I can’t help myself, I find myself asking; What made them into the things they are? What kind of thinking lies behind the acts that are taken against their counterpart? What’s the underlying motivation, their reasoning, and excuses for behaving the way they do? 

Books and films are full of them; villains, baddies, bad guys, black hats, evil agencies, antagonist, arch enemies and the nemesis. 
I love flawed characters with rich back stories, even if it’s not told completely you can hint it, like a vague scent of childhood trauma or the death of their loved ones. I enjoy any type of well written character but give me a good villain and I’m sold.

Fantastic minor and major antagonists, and characters of doubtful allegiance can be found in many places. We have Darth Vader, Gollum, Voldemort, The Joker… Just to mention a few.

The word villain comes from an old anglo-french word that meant farmhand. Not that farmhands are cruel or evil but it was used as an opposing term for a knight. So a vilain was an unchivalrous character, someone capable of doing things that a knight, being noble and honorable, would never do. It started out as a derogatory term and became more and more the word we use today. More a general bad person than a farmhand.

Sometimes your story’s protagonist is the villain and you find yourself, at least partially,  cheering for what you know is the evil side. Like when we follow Michael Corleone from The Godfather and we find ourselves rooting for the Corleones despite all the shady maffia dealings they get up to.

“There’s never been a true war that wasn’t fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right. The really dangerous people believe they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do. And that is what makes them dangerous.” – Mr. Wednesday in American Gods, written by Neil Gaiman.

I like flaws. Flaws complete a character, they make them feel realistic. We all have flaws. However in the literary aspect flaws can range all from saying inappropriate things, to some more extreme flaws like Hannibal Lecter’s interest in digesting his victims. Flaws like that are harder to swallow, if you pardon my pun. 

I think that my biggest interest in villains is my need for reason and understanding. I always want to know why people do the things they do. In real life as well as in stories. I need to understand why people sometimes do bad things. Characters on a page are easier, and probably safer, to study than visiting a psychiatric institution or a prison. I have seen some cruel people in my life and I have taken a long, hard look at them to picture their side of things. Some made me question my responsibility in the situation and others I could not comprehend at all. But I will keep trying to understand and find compassion, even if they do me wrong. I will look at the other side of the coin to see the story they see. Because I hope that if I do someone wrong, they would find it in their hearts to see my side, to do the same for me.

Me and my friend, San, decided we should challenge each other to do something fun and new to us. The rules are that it should be free, safe, and we naturally have the rights to veto what the other person comes up with. Within a week, from Thursday to Thursday, we shall have completed our challenges.

I have sent San on a hunt to:

– Find a trumpet and pose in a picture with said trumpet.
– If at all possible, he shall try to play it.

He had mentioned once that he had never held a trumpet or even seen one up-close. I thought it was a good starter challenge for him, considering the other craziness I have thought up for the upcoming weeks. Let’s see how many crazy things we can get him to do.

Then, it was my turn to receive a challenge. I sort of feel sorry for San since I’m a chicken when it comes to certain things. He probably noticed this after giving about a billion different suggestions for me and I declined to do them. But then he came up with this.

– Draw a comic strip. It has to be six frames minimum. It has to contain a minimum of three characters.

So, here I declare my challenge completed. I call it “In Hardship”

(Click on the picture to see the entire image)

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It has been a long time now since I last received a letter. My latest correspondence (that wasn’t from the bank or the temping agency) was on a handful of post-its, lovingly tucked into a parcel with two purses and some sweets. It was a wonderful bunch of yellow sticky notes and they had many nice words on them.

It was over two years, since the last time I received a real letter, page up and down with handwritten squiggles and lines.

I read a lot of classics nowadays, as I might have said here a hundred times already, and in them it is evident how much our letter writing habits have changed throughout the years. Postal service and messengers were sent across the country, to loved ones, to family and to invite and to seek advice. Hours were spent at their writing desks and they never let the inkwells run dry. They had to wait for days until a reply came and sometimes the replies gave them more questions than answers.

And here I sit, two years since someone last sent me a proper letter, smiling over a handful of post-its. Times have changed.

There is something touching about letters and handwritten notes. There’s something emotional and personal about it. When you get a letter today, it is not for the same reasons as there used to be. Today a letter will not be sent as the only way of communication or enquiry. We have faster ways of finding out things now. If you’re lucky, you get a postcard from someone who is on vacation.

However, there is one form of letter that doesn’t seem to go out of style. It gets revived every so often when a couple gets temporarily separated, the love letter.

What is it about love that turn so many of us into poets and old fashioned romantics? What is it about love that makes us take the pen and compose? Was infatuation and romantic feelings something that was easier to express before?

The art of writing by hand is slowly diminishing. Doctors are no longer the only ones that get accused of bad handwriting. We spend hours in front of computers instead of shaping the curves of the letters, and our hands forget how to make things legible.

The way in which we are all so accessible makes the act of actually taking the time to craft something, trace the words by hand and send it, so much more important. It’s the reason we stand in line for hours to get the author to sign what he/she has written. Not only to see the person behind the words, in person. We go because we want something tangible to remind us of that person. We want them to take the time to make our copy special. So we get them to sign their work, we can see them, leaving a visible, personal mark on our lives.

In a day when so many things are mass-produced and copied and repeated, we like to find those things that stand out. That meal someone makes from scratch not only tastes better and is healthier, it makes the meal special. The jumper your grandmother spent hours knitting, pouring her love for you into every stitch, even if it’s itchy as hell and two sizes too big, it’s special.  The letter someone wrote, just because they wanted to say “I love you,” it is priceless.

Time is something people never seem to have enough of and when you find yourself, trying to decipher the blotchy ink squiggles on a paper, you are filled with gratitude and emotion that someone took the time to write it to you, put it in an envelope and post it. That piece of paper has traveled for miles, from their hand to yours.

It’s not only letters that do this, we just have to make sure to take time for each other because it is in those meetings that life is special.

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