Cambridge Recollections

December 24, 2008

On Monday December 15th 2008 I attended an interview at the University of Cambridge. This entry was written only hours upon my return, however not posted until now for reasons stemming from my poor conception of time—it is Christmas Eve already?


* *

The Sunday skies were clouded over, and though the temperature was too cold for me to appreciate, a light, misty rain fell. I was pacing around the house, worrying about everything and nothing, however Cambridge and the trip there in particular. I had packed my suitcase the day before, and though the items I had laid out—having deemed necessary to bring—did not appear to be unreasonable in number, they filled the suitcase to the brim. I have only travelled once before in my life, and fact is that despite me then being away for a week, I brought a lesser variety of items; it was mostly clothes. What I could come to need in Cambridge, I did not know; it was a completely new experience for me.

Eventually came the hour when I had to leave for the airport, and I left without much recollection of what I had actually done during the morning. Not that such a recollection is required, but it shows just how preoccupied my mind was at that time. To reach the airport from where I live takes about half an hour to forty minutes by car, and to me, that time just flew by. The volume of the radio was set quite high to make up for my silence, as I travelled with my father; all because my mind was blank, being filled with too many thoughts to recall even a single one. Indeed I experienced one of the greatest kinds of excitement, the anticipatory, humbling kind. Little me, frail and awkward Miss Josephine was on her way out into the world!

Such a mindset once more overcame me as I was seated in the airplane at Stockholm Arlanda, awaiting takeoff. I had zigzagged in-between people as excited as myself, but people with destinations different from mine. Indeed, I felt special at that moment, being the only one taking the afternoon flight to London Heathrow with the intent of continuing on to Cambridge. As I sat in the fairly, but not overly, comfortable economy seat of the S.A.S. airplane, I was struck by a wave of admiration over how fascinating life can be. What had started as a way to escape late last year’s intellectual distress had now become a real adventure! Words had been written and re-written, digital documents had been requested and returned, decisions and dates had been noted; all leading up to this. The flight came to symbolise this; that this was it.

It was already dark when the plane took off from Arlanda, and it was equally dark as it landed at Heathrow. The only difference I noted was that the Swedish airport was far more secluded than its English counterpart, all of this however only suggested by the orange glow of streetlights flashing closer and closer by as the plane’s altitude decreased. Upon landing I knew that I was in another country—one I had never been to before—and yet, it looked familiar. In the dark I imagine all airports look very much the same through the small windows of an airplane. Had I not spent two and a half hours suspended in the deep darkness which surrounded the plane’s lit interior I could easily have believed that I had only travelled from one part to another of the same airport; that minor were the differences.

Stockholm Arlanda Airports flight control tower at dusk. (I took this picture in may this year, having returned from a one-day visit to Drammen, Norway.

Stockholm Arlanda Airport's flight control tower at dusk. (I took this picture in may this year, having returned from a one-day visit to Drammen, Norway.

It was first when I boarded the Heathrow Express that I realised that there were differences. The loud, and yet surprisingly inaudible, mumbling of the masses at the airport had been replaced by a calmer atmosphere, one which allowed the conversations of my fellow travellers to be heard. Everyone spoke English, and the majority did so with a British accent. I found it greatly fascinating, how one can travel for a short while and find oneself in a different country. Though the airports looked the same, and both have express train-lines attached to them, the conversations overheard by me sounded different. In line with the honeymoon-phase of foreign travel I adored this audible change.

At Paddington station I changed from the Heathrow Express to the London Underground. As a Swede, it is no surprise that I have been told only one side of the story; that the Swedish system of public transportation is among the best in the world. I know too little to challenge such a notion, but I quickly came to the conclusion that the British system is not far behind.

I travelled with the London Underground from Paddington to King’s Cross where I changed for a train to Cambridge after having had a very small bit of fish and chips to eat.

It took just over an hour to reach Cambridge, and the journey was uninspiring as nothing was visible through the train’s windows but darkness, darkness however occasionally broken by the headlights of a car in the distance. Eventually Cambridge Station was reached, and as it was my first time in Cambridge—which also accounted for my father—a cab took us to the hotel, which turned out to be located little over half a kilometre (if even that) from the station. It was already quite late at the time, so taking a small tour around Cambridge was decided against, as I consider first tours of a city are better done in daylight, no matter how clouded over the skies may be.

Despite all I had experienced I went to bed—early for being me, but late for most reasonable people—upon arriving at the hotel. I could however, unsurprisingly, not sleep and I had several, instead of just one or two, reasons for being unable to fall asleep: the hotel room was too cold, and the bed was too hard; I was anxious, nervous and excited; a small bird insisted on chirping just outside the window, and a streetlight managed to shine me in the face despite the blinds being drawn. As dawn broke I fell asleep for an hour or two—I am not certain at what time the darkness grew lighter—but I nevertheless rose around eight o’clock.

I did not have much for breakfast, I was all too nervous to eat, but I never the less managed to convince myself to eat Scottish low-fat mandarin-flavoured yoghurt, a small serving of blackcurrant jam, cereal, and finish the meal with a cup of Earl Grey tea—my favourite kind of tea. It was after all an important day I had before me, and it was important to remain alert, no matter how little I wished to eat at the time. As I ate I considered how terribly unhealthy the foods were that stood before me, and how unhealthy my diet had been over the past couple of days, as well as how normal it had been. There is no doubt in my mind that one of the greatest dangers to the welfare of the human species is the food, but few listen to such notions. I have concluded that there may be two reasons for why that is, that either people do not wish to listen to a truly inconvenient truth, or that people cannot understand the arguments supporting the notion. Or, perhaps, it is a little bit of both. But, back on topic!

Following breakfast I headed to Emmanuel College an hour before I had to register there, in order to fill in my mental map of the area, which until then had remained completely blank. The hotel was located within walking distance of the college, and it took me no more than five minutes to get there on foot. Signs had been posted on the college grounds to guide nervous, prospective students through what at first appeared to be a large maze. Thanks to the signs I very soon reached the registration desk, and though I was there forty minutes before I was supposed to, I was able to register. Having registered, it was all a matter of waiting until the Thinking Skills Assessment-test was to begin.

Emmanuel College at sunset.

Emmanuel College at sunset.

A current undergraduate eventually arrived and brought about 20 nervous and equally excited prospective students, including me, to a computer room where the T.S.A.-test was to be taken on-line. As I sat down in front of a computer with log-in information in my hand, I did not feel very nervous. Thought I found this surprising, it was not unexpected, as I according to the sample T.S.A.-test, which I had taken a few times before, consistently scored higher than the average applicant to Cambridge. As the test began I felt a surge of nervousness, but it was gone as soon as I had answered the first few questions; I felt that I was doing all right. As the test ended I felt confident that I had scored within my expectations.—At least, that is what I hope!

After the test had ended I had one hour and a half to spend before I had to return to the registration desk to pick up the unseen reading. As my father had spent the last hour and a half exploring the city he now knew the streets adjacent to the college quite well, and we went to a coffee shop located by the Market Place where we had a little bit to eat. I say little, as we ordered ham-and-cheese sandwiches as we did not believe them to be as strange as turkey-and-cranberry sandwiches and the like, but we soon changed our minds upon finding both mustard and cheddar cheese in-between the bread halves. The ham was edible, however, which I appreciated (and especially so as I am a meat-eater!).

After having finished eating we continued to explore the city, and as I came across a wall of postcards in a small street close to the marketplace, I purchased the prettiest one, as well as a postage stamp. Thereafter, I wished to take a few pictures of Cambridge, but as I pulled the camera from my suitcase, I realised that it did not have any batteries, which was quite disappointing. My father, however, being very kind, offered to buy a few while I had the first interview, and so we returned to the college after having walked through the mall—whose name I have already forgotten.

The Christmas decorations at the mall were unlike the decorations so commonly seen in Sweden, a fact which both fascinated and amused me (as I am very easily amused!).

The Christmas decorations at the mall were unlike the decorations so commonly seen in Sweden, a fact which both fascinated and amused me (as I am very easily amused!).

While I waited for my name to be called, and for being given the unseen reading, I sat down with the postcard I had purchased, and started writing: “Dear Josephine...”Indeed, I am quite aware that I am not the sanest person to grace this world, but it is something I am proud over as I have never desired to be considered “normal”. Thus, I always send myself postcards when I am someplace from where I would like to receive one; I see them as souvenirs, of sorts, and they are perfect to add to my ever-thickening Moleskine notebooks in which I note many—if not most—of my conjured notions and strangely analytical observations.

Then—at long last!—my name was called and I was given a few papers; the unseen reading session was about to begin. Before I could start reading, however, I was taken to a quiet reading-room where a few other prospective students were seated. The text was not at all what I had expected it to be, but I never the less filled the margins with notes and observations; I always have so many, many things to say! Some twenty minutes thereafter an undergraduate student in a red coat entered the room and called my name, and I followed, being led to the first interview. While walking there, I took the chance to speak some English with the student guiding me across the maze-like college grounds, as it admittedly is quite rusty (I have not spoken English since early May, I believe). She told me I was doing quite well, but perhaps it was only to boost my confidence before the interview.

After we had entered a building constructed from red bricks—whatever difference that now makes—I only had to wait for a minute, if it was even that long, before one of the interviewing professors called my name and I entered the room. Thirty seconds thereafter I started to make a fool out of myself by at first getting my hair caught in my scarf as I was to place it and my coat on a chair in the room, and then going on with greeting the two professors—by then already seated—with a “Good morning” though it was already half past two in the afternoon. After those two mishaps I at least managed to avoid being awkward, and instead went on to being slow-witted and of limited mental capacities and intellect, which is not at all uncommon in the case of Miss Josephine, a.k.a. myself. One could quite truthfully say that I am a slow-thinking deep-thinker!

Originally, I had believed the interviews to be fairly simple—a true piece of cake—a conclusion I had drawn after having watched a few “mock-interviews” posted on Cambridge University’s website. I soon came to the insight that I had been wrong, the interview was nothing like I had imagined, and I very soon ceased focusing on the interviewers and their questions, and instead listened to a small voice which whispered in my ear: “You fail, Miss Josephine. You fail.” After the interview had come to an all too abrupt end—I would not have minded if it had lasted for ten minutes longer, for one more question to be asked so I could prove how intelligent and creative I actually am—I felt defeated. I have never been very good at reading the minds of people by simply looking at their faces, but I was quite convinced that the professors saw it as a relief once I exited the room. Indeed, I did very poorly.

I was picked up by the undergraduate student in the red coat, and taken back to the Common Room. On the way back the undergraduate student wondered how the interview had gone, and I told her that I believed I had done poorly. This, she told me, did not have to imply anything, as she claimed the professors interviewing her last year practically had to give her the answers, just as I felt that they had to give me the answers. I felt a little bit reassured by this, and I am very grateful to her for being so kind. Her name, I am afraid I did not catch. Once more, I had an hour and a half to spend before returning to the college, and I met up with my father. He had purchased a few batteries for me, and this lifted my spirits a little as it meant I could take a few pictures of Cambridge before it became too dark.

King’s College by King’s Parade was fun to take pictures of!

King’s College by King’s Parade was fun to take pictures of!

Those who know me also know that I have no sense of direction—whatsoever—but having studied a map of Cambridge, I think I walked down Sidney Street from Emmanuel College, past Christ’s College and then following Market Street past the Market Place. Outside Great St. Mary’s I took a picture of three red phone booths, because I am all too easily entertained by simple things. I then followed Market Street to the Senate House and followed King’s Parade towards King’s College, taking a picture of each of the buildings as I have never seen anything quite like them ever before. I then followed a path through King’s College’s yards, walking past Clare College and crossing two bridges over River Cam. I then followed a path beside Queen’s Road—picking up some genuine, reddish-brown Cambridge mud under my shoes—before starting to head back to Emmanuel College by following Silver Street, Pembroke Street and Corn Exchange Street before again walking through the mall where my father and I stopped for tea and a piece of chocolate cake at Starbuck’s before returning to Emmanuel.

Overlooking River Cam, having crossed King’s College’s grounds. The buildings belong to Clare College.

Overlooking River Cam, having crossed King’s College’s grounds. The buildings belong to Clare College.

I did not have to wait long in the Common Room until my name was called and an undergraduate student—without a red coat—followed me to the building where the second interview was to be held. I had to wait outside the room for a couple of minutes, trying to tell myself to calm down and that this interview in no way was more dangerous than the first—a reassurance which did not calm me at all. I was called into the room, and actually managed to not greet the two professors with a foolish “Good morning”. I found this to be a good start, as a “Good afternoon” was much better suited considering the darkening skies outside the window in the small room. After the interview was over, I felt that it had gone better than the first—or, at least, the professors did not roll their eyes at me, only sighing a little when I asked them to repeat the questions for the bazillionth time.

As soon as the second interview was over, and I felt a little bit as an intellectual mistake, I returned to the Common Room to meet up with my father. We then had to leave in a hurry in order to catch the train, and as the station was a fifteen minute walk away, we decided to take the bus there. It was a good idea, but unfortunately the bus was slowed down by the congested streets, which I suspect were more jammed than usual as there had been a traffic accident farther down the road. We made the station a minute too late, the train leaving the station as we stepped onto the platform, and had to wait a few minutes for the next one, which was much slower than the one we had hoped to catch.

Having ridden the train from Cambridge to King’s Cross, we then rode the London Underground to Paddington where we managed to catch the Heathrow Express a minute before it left station, meaning that we had caught up with time despite having had to take the later, slower train from Cambridge. Soon we were at the airport with two hours until the plane was scheduled to take off, and we therefore had time to have a bit to eat as no meal would be served on the plane. I had strawberry yoghurt, which I did not notice had been seasoned with “mixed seeds” (poppy, sunflower, pumpkin and sesame). Seeds and yoghurt—especially strawberry yoghurt—has to be one of the worst combinations ever, and it tasted accordingly. Having finished the little meal we toured the airport’s selection of shops which we exited without any purchases, except a book. I had read the first eight chapters of Dawkins’ “The Selfish Gene” on the plane to England, but I did not feel like finishing the book on the return trip, already having read it twice. And so I instead found Austen’s “Mansfield Park” to be much more appealing, and especially so for the mere £5.99 it cost me, as I am used to the Penguin Classics being much more expensive.

London Heathrow Airport—or at least part of it!

London Heathrow Airport—or at least part of it!

The plane took off a few minutes before it was scheduled to, and it was a quite uneventful flight despite some turbulence. The turbulence was mild, and I was silly enough to enjoy it as it made the flight a bit more exciting, as spending even an hour—little less two hours and a half—in an airplane is terribly boring—especially for restless me. As the plane landed I felt quite at ease, the stressor for the past month now having been left in the past, many miles away. I did not feel delighted—which I thought I would—but I did not hold myself in severe contempt either, which actually is quite a success as far as I am concerned. For once I was able to find content in the fact that I had done my best, and though not many hours had passed—only eight, and remember, I have no conception of time!—I was able to look back at the interviews and feel proud of myself. I had been there, I had answered the professors’ questions, and it was unlikely that I failed completely, no matter what I tried to convince myself of when exiting the interview room.

Heading home by car on streets glazed by a pouring rain, coloured golden by the streetlights’ orange glow, I gazed into the darkness surrounding the lit lane and hoped that the four professors of Cambridge had realised that I have potential I know myself having as being offered a place to study at the University of Cambridge is the opportunity of a lifetime, and one which I know I will make the most of, am I only given the chance. Though I may not become one of the famous people whom the university prides itself with having educated—one never knows, however!—but I will surely become something great and admirable. Of this, I have no doubt.


* *

Quite intriguingly, I have also noticed that I during my stay in the United Kingdom seem to have picked up bit of a British accent, which I of course find highly amusing. My native tongue being Swedish I have never had much of an accent to speak of, but the little accent I had was American. I have long claimed that I am a cultural chameleon, being able to adapt quickly to any environment I find myself in—of course this is a great exaggeration!—but my new accent only seems to support this. Once more, I feel compelled to mention it, I am very amused!


Gold is Not All Trains

October 13, 2008

Unlike most days, today was one of lessons to be learnt: that the truth of old proverbs still to this day remains unchallenged. The expressions may be rewritten to include modern events, without the meaning being altered.

As my lectures ended some ten minutes ahead of schedule, I walked slowly off campus in direction of the train station. I am used to running as my train departs only minutes after the lectures are supposed to end. Today was hence less stressful and I intended to make the most of it.

When I was 250 metres from the train station I could see a train approaching; the blue a stark contrast to the yellowing trees. I glanced at my watch and realised that it was full time, the train arriving was the train I was supposed to catch, thinking that my slow pace was too slow – which would not be too surprising. I was about to miss the only train in half an hour!

I panicked. And I ran.

Because the train station is located 10 metres above street level, with a gravelled slope leading to the tracks, running to not miss the train is something one only does when determined to not wait half and hour for the next rain to arrive. (Especially so when rain is in the air and cold breezes are blowing.) The slope in question is most unforgiving to run up for, as the deep layers of gravel make one fall back two steps for each step one takes to move forward.

Eventually, I made it. The conductor was kind enough to wait a few seconds for me, which I was most grateful for. As soon as I had entered the train I sat down on the nearest unoccupied seat and collapsed into a pile of exhaustion, much to the amusement of the other passengers.

Outside the autumn landscape passed by my view.

And then my station passed by.

I glanced at my watch again, and the remembered that the watch in question always is set ten minutes ahead of time, so I won’t miss the train. It worked, I didn’t miss the train. I just caught the wrong one.

The next station was miles from my area, and I could do little but to wait for a train to take me back.While I stood there in the autumn cold and watched the yellowing trees, two thoughts travelled through my mind. First, I thought, that a world around a blue star would be most depressing as its plants would be yellow, at least according to an article I read in Scientific American Magazine on the topic of astrobiology. The second thought which ocurred to me was that the old proverb still is true to this modern day.

Gold is not all which shines.
(And I beg you for your forgiveness when it comes to my lame translation.)

In a more modern context, coupled with my recent experiences, the proverb should go like this:

Not all trains which arrive at the same time as one will take one to one’s desired destination.

Science in the Morning

October 5, 2008

I cannot say that the past month and a half has been among my most productive, but it is a fact I am used to realising around this time of year. When the days grow shorter and the year slowly approaches its end, I simply do not feel like creating, be it either pictures of writings. My muses leave me on each cloudy day, but I cannot blame them; I wish I could do the same.

Most of this morning I have spent lost in the world of a book. Had it been a novel, I assume I would have been excused, but it was no novel, no fictional work of written art. Had it been university course literature I would have been worthy of an accolade for my motivation to succeed, but neither was it that kind of book. No, as usual, I was lost to the realm of science; a field wholly unrelated to my current studies, a field taunting me with all the achievements it requires before one is deemed worthy of entering its lines.

Outside the winds are howling, determined to scar an aging land more than what is called for. The trees may be on fire, there is no doubt, but neither rain nor wind can extinguish them. These blazing fires will cease when their time has come, and then the wind will strip the last colourful leaves of the dark tress’ branches. Not before.

The rain which falls is cold and heavy, and the farther the distance from where I gaze the softer it appears to be. Across the immediate lands within my view the rain has formed a soft mist, a whisper of summer’s rain. It veils the landscapes while they await the arrival of winter, a month and a half from now, give or take.

Sheltered from the outdoors’ cold I sat, my foot moving like the tail of a delighted dog. Surely, I had much better—more productive—tasks to tend to, but for the moment I was content with paying them not a single thought. Neither the weather nor the season matters to me whenever scientific writings are near. In a season of no sunshine, in a season of rain and howling winds, science is my sunshine, much like it should be the inspiration of the whole world.

August is drawing near its end and September is preading its cloaks across the lands. A scent of autumn rain and falling leaves is heavy in the air, the mist thick between the stem of far away trees in the early morning. The eight month has always been considered as one of summer, but this year begs to differ.

Though the summer skies have been clouded over and grey has taken the place of blazing blue, its end is one of abundance. The treasuries of nature are well-stocked; the rubies of the apple trees are shimmering in between matte leaves, the amethyst plums are blushing with a faint haze, and the fruit-bearing bushes have all adorned themselves with the most elaborate riches they could aquire. The garnet of the mountain ashes are the first of fall’s colours to appear, the deep forests mines where the gold of chanterelles is to be retrieved. – It is almost as if nature is silently apologising for the summer sun’s persistant absence.

Aquarel Plums

Aquarel Plums

For the first time the many fruit trees of the garden show their true potential, and I am determined to allow little to go to waste. With many future delicacies in mind I have spent a couple of hours in the garden, picking the sweet plums kindly offered to me by branches struggling not to break below the weight of their riches.

A Quartet of Sweet Plums

When a soft rain started to fall, I retreated inside, already having collected more than enough. Two large bowls were filled to the brim with juicy fruits, gathered only from the lowest branches which were the easiest to reach. Their quantity amounted to near 3 kilograms (7.5 pounds) and though it was tempting to save them in their untreated state, I knew it never would be possible as the even the finest of silever tarnishes with time.

Therefore I decided to turn them into the kind of preserve my family became very fond of the last time – many years ago – nature was as generous to us. As the recipe is breathtakingly simple and the resulting jam is most pleasing to one’s senses, I have decided to share it with all who may be interested.

Gifts Supplied by a Generous Garden

Gifts Supplied by a Generous Garden

The Recipe:

This preserve is delicious either frozen or hot, and especially so together with vanilla ice-cream. It may, however, be used together with all dishes whose flavour is enhanced by jam’s sweet savour; such as with pancakes, on toast, on and in pie, and in muffins – only to mention a few examples where this versatile jam may be put to good use.

Preparation Time: 20 minutes to 1 hour.
Cooking Time: 2 hours
Ingredients: 3 kg (7.5 pounds) plums (~500 cherry-sized plums) and 2 kg (5 pounds) ordinary, white sugar.


  • If you have picked the plums yourself, you may wish to pick-over clean them: remove leaves, stems and damaged parts, as well as washing them with clean water.
  • If you have purchased the plums, be sure to wash them with clean water to remove potentially present pesticides, pollutants and pathogens.
  • Make sure to count the plums, as it will make your job removing the stones much easier later on.
  • Add the plums to a large saucepan (not aluminium) and make sure the rim is not reached as it means the jam is to boil over – and that will be insanely sticky.
  • Add the sugar.
  • Add just a little bit of water (one cup will be too much) in a circling motion above the pan to make sure it is well-distributed.
  • Allow the pan to stand for 10-15 minutes to make sure the water (both from the plums and added) settles at the bottom.
Sweet Plums and Sugar

Sweet Plums and Sugar


  • Heat the plum and sugar-mixture on medium heat while ocassionally stirring thoroughout the whole process to keep the heat evenly distibuted, while making sure that it does not boil over.
The Heat Works Wonders

The Heat Works Wonders

  • Once the plums and sugar have been turned into something resembling jam you will notice that a foam is collecting on the surface. Remove it as it contains wax from the plums’ skin and pollutants. (You may need to repeat this a few times before the surface is completely clean.)
The soon-to-be jam is boiling, the plums are cooking, and foam is collecting on the surface.

The soon-to-be jam is boiling, the plums are cooking, and foam is collecting on the surface.

  • When the foam has been completely removed, it is the start of the fun part!- collecting the stones. This is when you appreciate having taken the time to count the plums before cooking them. Allow the jam to simmer while you collect the stones as it will help the jam to attain the right consistency once cool (the longer it boils the thicker will it be). But be sure not to burn yourself as it is very hot even when simmering.
Stone-Riddled Jam

Stone-Riddled Jam

  • Once the last stone has been collected and you have sighed in relief having found it, you may lower the heat and boil a few jars to sterilise them.
  • While the jars are boiling, taste the jam with a clean spoon! Sometimes it may be a little bit sour depending on the sweetness of the plums. If it needs more sugar, add some and then up the heat a little more and stir until the sugar has diffused into the jam. And if the jam is very viscous you may want to allow it to boil for a few more minutes, allowing the excess water to evaporate.
  • Once the jars have boiled for a few minutes, remove them carefully from the water – while not burning yourself – then pour the jam into them and seal immediatly afterwards. (If you have the opportunity to seal them with wax it is preferable, but it will work well without it.)
  • When the jars have cooled down you may put them into the freezer if you are not immediately going to use the jam. The preserve will remain just as delicious, in addition to staying that way for longer.
  • Enjoy!
Blushing Plum-Jam Enjoyed on Toast with Tea and Fruit

Blushing Plum-Jam Enjoyed on Toast with Tea and Fruit

Though the sun is shining outside and the weather is quite amiable, I feel as if my life is going no-where; that all I am really good for is to sit in front of the computer and do no-thing but stare into thin air, awaiting the arrival of something extraordinary.

Though, the extraordinary is so much more than the ordinary, and as my life is devoid of even the most mundane of ordinary events, I believe I will have to stare into nothingness for eternties before something extraordinary accidentally happens to stumble past my glazed vision.

I am anxious as I intend to apply to Cambridge University’s Archaeology and Anthropology-program this fall, in little more than a month, and I need to finish my application.

I have a certificate of Advanced English (though I in reality would have preferred a certificate of Proficiency in English, something my own inability kept me from attaining).

I also have grades far above what is required, something which at first surprised me and which I now appreciate as it is one thing less to be worried about.

The school/college reference I trust one of my high school teachers will be kind enough to complete for me, as they are most delightful people – all of them. <3 Yet another thing I do not have to feel anxious regarding, in other words.

…And then there is the personal statement, the most important part of any university application. Though I have laboured its creation for more than half a year (I believe it being) I have come nowhere.

Though I believe myself independent and carefree, I can not help at the same time being bit of a cultural chameleon/social sponge. I absorb and react to the environment I am in; a trait of mine I am not fully convinced is either good or bad.

However, this means that though I am Miss Josephine who is no-one but herself, I have also adapted to fit into Swedish society, something I always have feared doing.

As I outlined in my January 18th entry It Is Taboo To Believe, it is hard for a genuine Swede to believe themself valuable.

The effect of this – my inability to value my own accomplishments and to fully understand who I am – has created problems for me as far as the personal statement is concerned.

It is hard to outline one’s potential and accomplishments when one believes in them, but during a whole life has been taught that no one else does. Of course, my family has always supported me, but to not be looked down upon by society and subsequently enable one to succeed, one has to fit into one of the templates assigned to one.

So, in other words, it is hard to write a short essay about what one during a whole life has been taught is taboo to even speak of – one’s value, potential and future.

And so I sit here, wondering what I have accomplished. I have come to the conclusion that though my grades are good, they are not the best. Sufficient, but not amazing.

I wonder, how am I supposed to explain in my statement my reasons for studying a subject unrelated to the one I now wish to pursue? To write that I am stubborn is probably not the best as the University is looking for applicants with minds open to new ideas. But then, I ask myself, as I realised my original convictions wrong, can then not this be considered as an openness of mind?

I do not know.

How shall I explain my academic potential impeccable when I have gone through little to illustrate my value? In reality, having dropped out from a college of high standards, claiming the courses offered were at a level too low would be sufficent illustration of this – but that is in my own mind.

Is having dropped out from a college and spent half a year on a quest to once more find oneself proof of academic potential? Have I wasted six months of my life to no good? For, I could very well have done something different – accomplished something. But then, had I done that, I would still be looking for myself.

I am now about to study a full-time course in Archaeology at the University of Gotland. Being terrified of ever moving away from home – but at the same time having realised that my future lies far away from the lands of my birth – I study the subject on-line.

Doing so, though the course is offered full-time, means I will have a lot of time on my hands to spend in the pursuit of other accomplishments. What has be kept in mind here, however, is that Miss Josephine is a Swedish native (even if it is involountarily so) and thus unfamilar with the status surrounding accomplishments. In many ways, it is a dimension of life unknown to most Swedes.

So, there is a nagging voice in the back of my mind, the inner Miss Josephine who is anxious beyound comprehension about the prospect of probably not being good enough to ever fit into a fine British University, telling me to do something.

But, what to do?

I could very well apply to become a substitute teacher, but I have no experience whatsoever with previous work with children. Further, I have already been rejected once by the association, something I like to believe being because of my then prospective full-time nursing studies, though I in reality know it was because of my severely lacking skills when it comes to interaction with other human beings.

So, if that option is impossible, then there must be others.

I had an idea, one which appealed to me greatly, of studying two full-time courses this upcoming year: one in Archaeology at the University of Gotland and one in Japanese at the University of Stockholm. One on campus, one on-line. I could have passed both two courses with flying graces, be sure. I do not doubt my own potential, I only doubt people’s convictions in my own potential.

However, I happen to live in Sweden – which should be obvious this far into the argument – something which makes my life very complicated. I have stressed these points before, but what is one more time when it is my future I am speaking of?

In Sweden, there is no way a student may be allowed to take two full-time courses at two different universities. No way. Never. Whatsoever. And so, I had to choose. And I chose Archaeology because I want to study Archaeology and Anthropoogy at the University of Cambridge next year. I believe it will show the admissions committé that I am passionate about my prospective subject.

However, not being able to study Japanese means I still am without proof of further accomplishments.

I could of course take a part-time job, but as I lack academic training and because there is no such thing as anthropology in Sweden, that option is also exhausted, to not say impossible and unattainable. (For, what point is there to be employed at the local food-store when it is no accomplishment to mention in one’s personal statement?)

Then, the creative Miss Josephine tells me: “Why do we not become artists?”

I could very well send my artwork to a few publishing companies for consideration. I believe myself somewhat talented, enough to land a position as a children’s book-illustrator. Perhaps. Mayhaps. Maybe.

But what is such an accomplishment to mention in one’s personal statement when it must be completed in little more than a month? It is to no use, and is thus a future plan, not a current one.

I could of course continue writing my own children’s books and illustrate them, as well as continuing to go insane over my novels(s) and my short stories. I could of course continue to paint my stones, bead my necklaces, embroider my dolls, sew my plushies, write in my Moleskine, sketch in my notebooks – being creative.

I would like this very much. But it is nothing one can put in a personal statement. That I am an artist and an anthropologist at heart may be too ambiguous for the admissions committé to appreciate. And still, that is who I am.

The person I see myself as being in 20 years of time is exceedingly boring, and still the prospect of it makes my heart skip a beat.

In 20 years – or perhaps much sooner that that – I see myself the resident of a adorable cottage in a rural area, the surrounding fields mine to roam, the surrounding forests mine to explore, vthe elvet-black starry skies mine to marvel over.

In that future, I am married with children. I am a trained anthropologist and I hold a part-time position as a university lecturer as I also am a teacher at heart. When not elaborating complex therories regarding the origin of the human form, its evolution and its current situation – its thoughts, its psychology, its purpose – I will be a mother, a novelist and an illustrator.

Academic works and novels both flow from my hands and imaginationg, alongside with children’s stories and associated illustrations, not to forget the short stories and their moral messages.

It is a future I find delight in imagining, and still, I believe the qualities of mine which bring me such joy are those which will keep me from attaining the future of my dreams.

That I am an artistic anthropologist is not something to be proud over. Oh no. In this world one has to be specialised, interested in one area only. Passions may not be many, they shall be few.

But then, is there any room left for one’s own being to grow, as one’s true purpose in this world is to be both happy and realise all the quirks of one’s own person?

I believe not.

So, who is this elusive creature otherwise known as Miss Josephine? What is it she wishes to write on her personal statement and knows she may not?

Miss Josephine wishes to explain her potential through an elaboration os the following concepts:

  • That she possesses an open mind as she is able to realise original, foolish convictions wrong.
  • That she is a creative scientist, something she believes a pre-requisite for academic success – to possess both wits and imagination to propel scientific advances forward through.
  • That she sees herself as a teacher, her aim being the attainment of a doctorate degree.

These are all marvellous concepts, so why is Miss Josephine in doubt? She does not know herself, is the short answer to such a question…

(…but it may have something to do with that she just accidentally snapped her last beading needle in half, is running out of beads, and the supply store is located a 40-minute walk away from her current location as commuteer communications are scarce over that distance, and she can not leave home as she has been assigned to baby-sit her two youngest sisters who are reluctant when it comes to covering distances 40 minutes by foot.)

Ah well, all I have to do is to labour my personal statement for a month and a week longer before the long wait of anxious anxiety begins, being ended by devastating disappointment or by ambiguous appreciation.

A Sleepless Night

July 16, 2008

Though I perhaps went to bed at too late an hour, it is something I am used to. Most often, it takes my mind a couple of hours to fully relax and fall asleep, but during some nights, I seem unable to recall the mental processes required for succeeding in carrying out such a task.

My logic is at times impeccable, if I dare say so myself, and I am of the stubborn conviction that all which is necessary for one to fall asleep is to simply lie down, close one’s eyes and relax. Sleep is the reasonable conclusion of such a succession of acts. And still, my being seems unable to manage to complete those three steps. Somewhere, along the way, despite my efforts, I fail.

As dawn broke and the sun started to color the trees’ most persistantly reaching branches with its gold, and the birds started to sing a symphony dedicated to the new day and its rosy morning, I lay in my bed, twisting and turning, unable to find peace.

A few other hours passed during which I covered my head with a thick pillow to mute the birds’ delight and to rid myself of the too intimate beams of the sun. Though, none of my efforts bore fruit, and I admitted that my struggle was futile, and I surrendered.

Upon rising from the bed where I rarely find rest and peace of mind, I was no beauty; my eyes were swollen and my face expressionless. Truly! the punishment one suffers, being unable to snare the elusive maiden of sleep, is most severe.

Three slices of toast–lemon marmelade, orange marmelade, ginger marmelade–and a cup of black tea of of low viscosity composed my first meal of the day, all chosen with great care to ensure my mind’s attention would not falter at such an early hour.

Though now, with a few hours having passed since such a shock rich in both sugar and caffeine, I can feel my whole being screaming out in despair, longing for the blessings of sleep. I do however know that no matter the strength of my desires, I am destined to never truly enjoy the fruits of my efforts, as when I go to bed this evening, having slept little over the past weeks, I am once again going to be unable to complete the simple task of falling into the unconsciousness of night.

Today was the day the celebrations of one of Sweden’s most pagan rituals commerced. Midsummer is sacred to the Swedish people, not only because of the promises of half a day off and always-the-same-traditional food, but because it marks the brightest day of the year. Of course, this day it was a little off the summer solstice, but originally, it was not.

When it comes to traditional Swedish celebrations of the Midsummer rituals, foreigners get a good laugh. This is mostly regarding the Swedish people’s strange custom of dancing like leaping frogs around an abstract interpretation of male genitalia while singing strange songs. (The song associated with the frog-leaping-dance is my favourite: “Små grodorna, små grodorna, äro lustiga att se…” which translates as “The little frogs, the little frogs, they are a joy to behold…” [my translation].) It is obvious to most why this may trigger a laugh or two among those who are not used to the “Swedish way” as I have chosen to call it.

My family is not traditional – not in any sense. Of course, we enjoyed a meal of the traditional dishes, but upon having finished them, we were delighted that it would take a while for Christmas to arrive, and with it, the promise of the same dishes.

Our midsummer celebration started with dinner, a much earlier one than the ones I am used to as my grandfather was coming over to celebrate with us. Before we sat down to eat my grandfather showed us a picture which he had found at his house. It was a black-and-white picture, over 50 years old, that featured my father. Gosh, he was so cute at age 4 with a bowtie, squeezing the life out of a fat cat.

The first course consisted of pickled herring, shrimp salad, eggs, smoked salomon and shellfish. This first dish made me bloated, as pickled herring is just delicious, especially the mustard variant. Pickled herring is an intriguing phenomenon. It is basically raw herring that has been pickled and seasoned – and yet it manages to taste so good. At times it is referred to as “Swedish sushi.” It was during discourse on this topic that my father shared a story with the rest of us, one about a pair of Brits’ reaction to the Swedish way. Apparantly, the Brits had been invited to celebrate Midsummer with my father’s family, and upon having been served pickled herring and the additional shot of spirits, they said: “Is this what you are serving us? Raw fish and petroleum?” In my opinion they spoke of the truth, though the raw dish indeed is delicious (and this can be repeated many times by me!).

The second course contained roast beef, ham, potato salad, fresh potatoes, ordinary salad and for me, more pickled herring. Though, I did not take much of this course. As aforementioned, I was bloated.

The third dish was the dessert and it featured strawberries with custard and rhubarb pie with cinnamon. Following this dish was a slight feeling of despair on my part as I could not recall the last time I had been so full. Though, this feeling soon subsided and I ate some more pie as it is truly delicious.

Upon having finished the meal my grandfather left. My family is not much for social activities, not even carrying on a small conversation. His departure was followed by a few hours of idleness on my family’s part. The normal Swede is having the (drunken) time of their lives at this time of day, but as I have mentioned before, my family nor I are normal in any way.

When the clock grew closer to 11PM, my father decided that we should go water-shopping. My mother and I tagged along, for we like it when exciting things happen (you can from this make a scale on how interesting my life is, i.e. not at all). And so, we went shopping for water. Though, Midsummer is a national holiday in Sweden and all stores were closed. With no cars even on major roads and the sun setting in a cascade of fire-related colors, we felt a little as the last survivors of an atomic war. But, having circled the area for an hour we found a gasoline station which was open and that carried water. Having purchased the water and some not-so-needed crossiants we went home again.

It was now dark and muffled voices of long-lasting Midsummer parties could be heard in the distance together with faint blasts of far-away fireworks. My eldest younger sisters decided that the night was the perfect time of day to fly their model air plane during, and as I was bored, I tagged along.

We started with walking in the middle of the street and soon thereafter being followed by a police car. We jumped off the street onto the sidewalk and the police drove past us. It appeared as if we were not people they deemed interesting enough to keepi an eye on.

We soon reached the soccer field where a few teens were playing soccer. We commendeered another field and started flying the airplane. This was when the police car made its second appearance, driving us past, then reversing as it had ventured into a dead end. It was obvious that the police were not from our area.

As the police tried to reverse their way out from the narrow road a gust of upward-blowing air caught the airplane we were playing with and made it land, out of our control, on a nearby roof – someone’s roof. Of course the sister of mine to whom the airplane belongs freaked out. How would we get a hold of the plane?

As we skittered off over the soccer field and crossed the road, placing ourselves in front of the house on whose roof the airplane had landed, the police drove us past a third time. I am not sure who of us were the most surprised, but I dare guess that it was the police. As soon as they had driven past us, we ventured into the front yard of the house the airplane had landed upon.

Brainless as one can be on an adrenaline rush caused by trespassing with the police nearby on a holiday during which many are drunk and still more people are even more drunk, we did not know how to get a hold of the model airplane. Thankfully a gust of wind corrected the previous gust’s wrongdoing and sent the plane floating down off the roof. With it, we skittered across the front yard of the unsupecting house and continued to fly the plane on the soccer field.

A few minutes later the plane had run out of batteries and we went home. On the way, in the darkness of un-dark summer nights, my sisters and I managed to scare ourselves half out of our senses. We were still adrenaline-high from the adventure of the model air plane and the yellow, gleaming eyes of a black cat in the dark by the road made us jump. Even more so did it scare us as it leaped from the darkness, onto the sidewalk right beside us. We ran, screaming with joy-filled fear and stopped below a railway-bridge. Of course, the train passed us over at this very instance and we continued up the middle of the street, screaming and laughing.

Soon we reached our home. There I sat down in front of the TV and watched a few episodes of Seinfeld that I had recorded during the week. Whilst watching I wondered why my life of nothingness was not as exciting as the TV-series’ nothingness. Then, I realized, that my life is perhaps sometimes more interesting despite me not being on TV often enough.

I also managed to find a slice of bread and eat it as I was starving, despite having been bloated and almost dying a few hours ago. I enjoyed the bread that I had turned into a toast with some butter and ham. The sugar-bloated bread and the cup of non-caffeine free tea that I enjoyed with it, have made an impression on me. It is 3:00AM and I am not tired. I am high on both sugar and caffeine, and perhaps even some left-over adrenaline from earlier tonight.

Still, my untraditional Midsummer, my Midsummer-less Midsummer was quite eventful, despite me not having made a Swedish fool out of myself by dancing like a leaping frog around a Norse, pagan pole of fertility.