It was a mother’s day in England on Sunday, and I had the rare luxury of getting hold of some good old printed Finnish women’s mags. They are a fresh breeze from a world that is both so familiar and distant to me, having lived in (only slightly) warmer temperatures for the past twelve years.
In addition to the pleasure of reading in my native language, I often like the worldview they represent. In comparison to their global sisters, it feels to me that they are not as obsessed with success – or that success is defined in broader terms than making it to the FHM’s sexiest women in the world list. They cover fewer people who are famous for being celebrities. Anything from overcoming an addiction to running a business to skiing to the North Pole will be ok. I was reading about Mira Karppinen, skiing 2500km across Norway this winter. No novice to the remotest areas of the world, she’s has cycled in Patagonia in the Southern tip of Argentina and spent four years on Svalbard islands (the archipelago between Norway and the North Pole that I’ve heard mentioned on a Geography class). On this solitary trip (which she blogs about here), she takes comfort in the Internet brought knowledge that there will be one other person completing the same challenge round about the same time. (For a Finn, any more would be a crowd.) Kodin Kuvalehti quotes Mira:
“Sometimes there’s a voice inside me trying to say, hello, you’re in your thirties. You need to have children and a permanent job. Then I ask the voice, says who? … I don’t let the fear take over. I want to push my limits and head towards the frightening… At least I’m trying to realise my dreams. Not everyone does.”
I wonder if this romanticisation of both physical and spiritual journeys, is a very Western pastime. Finance assistants running away with the circus, and other ways of self-actualisation, may not be what the vast majority of the world’s population have in their radar. As Dear Boyfriend reminds me, perhaps self-actualisation is used as an alibi for poor life planning and peripatetic careers. We are on the peak of the needs hierarchy, which in fact looks more like an hour glass than a triangle anyway. With the love and family bit in the middle having shrunk, all the sand is racing to fill either the physical needs or the need for self-actualisation at each extreme.
Yet, like hungry stomachs, it seems that even the need for self-fulfilment needs to be satisfied again and again, and weighed up against other choices. Even the circus “isn’t always as exciting as tumbling across elephants in feather headdresses, juggling on a unicycle or swinging across the sky on a mile-high trapeze. Some performers say they have made tough lifestyle choices: leaving a marriage, forgoing health insurance despite high risk of major injury and living out of tiny trailers in venue parking lots.”
With my fruitless efforts of finding a job in Peru, I’m a bit fed up with Pinterest and Instagram feeding beautiful landscape pictures with inspirational quotes (you know who you are); I don’t want to watch anymore TED talks; who is Arianna Huffington; and puh-lease spare me this mindfulness business. I feel like a bit of a twit most times I face an average middle class Peruvian who’s devoted their life to boring work to offer their kids education and their parents a health insurance, things I so lightly traded for stamps in the passport.
It’s a bit like arriving on Mars and just as you are about to write an epic FB status that would merit its own hash-tag for at least a week, you are met by an astonished Martian who instead of congratulating you, repeats you paid how many billions to get here? Welcome to IRL. And then you realise that, yes, the local education provision does kind of suck. And that Martians have ‘first world problems’ but without the parody. If that wasn’t enough, the nagging voice travels across the space from home at the speed of sound: “so we’re not that happy ever after, after all?” The Finnish version of the ‘world is your Oyster’ saying is ‘it doesn’t pay to go further than the sea to fish’.
But on the other hand, if you survive an illness or an accident, for some time at least, you will want to go further and think about the moment you have and not so much ‘the after’. And this is why I continue to draw inspiration from the non-famous women pushing the limits. I realise that I’m lucky to have many friends doing just that. My friend Anne, a mother of a four-year-old who runs a health food business in the wee hours after finishing with her ‘real job’. Or Liisa who secretly from her employer completed an MBA while taking care of a toddler. Or Lotta, a mother of four who, in her late forties, the last time I checked, was learning freestyle BMX. It is these every day trapeze artists I want to read about. I suppose I could finish this, which was not about oysters at all, with a bit of an ode to the Finnish woman with the cojones – who I could say is my ideal man. I love their grit, adventurousness, physical and mental stamina and the Sahara dry sense of humour. It is a mystery to me, how in the collective black hole of pessimism and xenophobia that Finland represents to me, there are so many of these Northern Stars, glimmering hope on the sometimes misguided path of this aspiring ultramarathoner far from home.
“Inside all of us is Hope.
Inside all of us is Fear.
Inside all of us is Adventure.
Inside all of us is… A Wild Thing.”