A Year of Challenges

IMG_1160I can’t remember the weeks before Asia. Just a silent, frozen Gothenburg at 3 am, an airstrip sunrise and a journal filling up with ideas.

The first two months, I rent a student apartment next to Chiang Mai University. I never meet my neighbours, but I’m lulled to sleep by late night bass practices, and every morning, I see an old man on the rooftop terrace across the courtyard screaming at the doves. I wake up early to run in a park full of trees from all over the world. I count my breaths and run and run, to the sound of chanting monks and the rising warmth of sunbeams leaking through the foliage.

In March, I fly to Japan. I arrive late and spend my first night at a hotel close to the airport. Walking through a dark industrial area with a bag of onigiri from 7/11, I can’t stop smiling. This is the furthest I have ever travelled, still it feels like coming home. My journey through the Japanese countryside is like a chapter from a Murakami novel, filled with the strangest characters and coincidences. I gather clues and write and write to make sense of everything.

Back in Thailand, I hold on for my life as a bus speeds through the April night. I’m convinced we will run off the road. Instead, the bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere and we arrive six hours after our scheduled time. Starving and sweating, I run into an American girl in the bathroom of the bus station, and it turns out we are both on our way to Mindfulness Project for a few weeks of volunteering. Living so close to other people is a challenge, but when we watch a documentary about environmentalism one night, I realize I’m exactly where I should be. Working together with others for a common goal, rather than trying to save (or ignore) the world on my own.

When I return to Sweden in May, I make a stop-over at my grandfather’s house in Gothenburg to run my first half-marathon. I remind myself of the mornings in Chiang Mai, count my breaths, and make it through the longest run of my life. On my way to the central station, my tram gets stuck, so I push the doors open and run another three kilometres to pick up my bags and get on the train back home with a few minutes to spare. Then I fall asleep.

At the beginning of June, my mother drops me off in Mundekulla, at the retreat centre where I will work as a volunteer for three months. I spend the afternoon painting garden furniture, dreaming of a peaceful summer, still thinking it will fit an eternity. A month later, I crash. My energy slips between my fingers. My thoughts melt together. My usual clumsiness is amplified to a point that scares me.

But there is wonder, too. In the quiet mornings and the afternoon runs. In the moonlight swims and the talking circles. In the simple act of staying through the challenge instead of running away from myself. As the weeks pass, I talk and cry and laugh and dance and yoik myself back to a place where I can breathe again. A place where I belong.

At the end of August, I take a train to Copenhagen with a bag full of homemade beetroot hummus and seed crackers for the birthday picnic of the most inspiring girl I know. I hug her, give her daughter my children’s book and stumble on the wrong words. When I bike back to my hostel after the picnic, I curse my social anxiety for holding me back when all I want is to reach out and be normal.

In September, I move into my grandmother’s old house in the forest, just a few kilometres away from the little town where I lived with my dad before he moved abroad. Back then it was too far away from everything, but now, it’s not far enough. I walk through the middle of the forest and come back with blueberries and my hair full of deer flies. Every Monday, I bike into town for yoga, and little by little, I learn to slow down.

The last weekend of October, I take part in a weekend course organized by the local Transition group. After years of keeping my pain for the world at a safe distance, it stirs me awake and breaks my heart open. I know I have to do something, but I don’t know where to start, so I book another journey in January to make space for finding out.

In the middle of November, I leave my grandmother’s house to a more long-term tenant and make another stop-over at my mother’s place. One day, my mother returns from her annual check-up with stitches. It’s the first time since she recovered from skin cancer thirteen years ago, and while we wait for the test results, I hide behind my work, terrified that giving too much weight to things will make them real.

On the fifth of December, I hold an envelope to my heart and squeeze my eyes closed. I place it on the kitchen table and tremble in my room until my mother comes home. When she shows me the letter, I have to read it over and over before the words sink in: No signs of cancer.

Ten days later, I’m on my way to Stockholm to visit Sofie, the drummer of my old band. On the train, I check the website of the Swedish Authors’ Fund, where I have applied for a translation grant. I know it’s impossible, but there it is: my name on the list of granted applicants. It’s just enough for a small monthly salary in 2017. Just enough to know that all my unpaid work wasn’t for nothing.

In the evening, Sofie and I go to a concert with a band I fell in love with as a twelve-year-old. Their lyrics are engraved in my bones, and I let the music catch me, thinking that after a year of running from challenge to challenge, of getting lost and finding myself in the strangest places, everything might finally be falling into place.

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You can read my summary from last year here: A Year of Early Mornings

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