6/10/2018

I'm really bad at shopping. Like, really really bad.

When I go to a shopping mall alone, I last for about twenty minutes. If I'm with a friend, I can stay for some thirty minutes before I feel an irresistible need to leave. Which makes it sometimes quite difficult for me to shop - if I don't find what I'm looking for in first two shops I go into, there's a good chance I leave without buying anything. So I always have to be very strategic when it comes to choosing the shops. I basically need the first one to be the right one. And even if I truly need something, it may take me up to two weeks before I feel motivated enough to go to a mall and buy it. There is something about things, about great quantity of things, that makes me so tired in my head. I just don't like stuff.

I don't understand people who think shopping is fun. It isn't.

And I am one of those weirdos who actually thinks owning 25 pairs of shoes is unethical. It's morally wrong.

Which, of course, doesn't mean that I don't value certain things. I do. I have my mom's watch and it is immensely valuable to me. I have a violin which some well-to-do friends helped me buy when I was a poor student, and I have a very emotional relationship to it. S. knitted me a sweater as a Christmas present and I love wearing it. I have a cool ceramic kettle in my kitchen which I bought together with my mom and I'm glad I have it. I like the quality - emotional and sentimental quality - of things.

And the shopping rule also has exceptions. I like bookshops - for very obvious reasons - although I get tired even there. Then I like buying concert tickets online. The good thing about this is that I don't end up with more stuff in my drawers, I end up with more beautiful memories and this is brilliant. And then there is one more odd exception. In a mall, I can stand for 15 minutes and window-shop for watches. Considering my 20 minute shopping time limit, this is really something.

When I finished teaching Greek a month ago, I felt like celebrating. It had been a tough year and yet, all turned out so very well in the end, the students worked hard and the results were very good. Newbold was happy, I was happy. So I thought - let me pat myself on the back and reward myself. And oh, why don't I be creative and get myself a thing as a present this time. Maybe even a watch so that this one time I would really have a reason to turn my window-shopping into real shopping. And it would be such a nice reminder of my teaching year. Something tangible. A thing.

So I went shopping just before leaving the UK on Friday. I didn't take me longer than 20 minutes, honestly. And I left the fancy shop as a proud owner of a watch I have decided to call The Greek Watch, honoring the endless hours of preparing for Greek classes and commuting between Tallinn and Riga. So let me proudly present, a thing of a watch:


--

It is wonderful to be back home. Last week I was feeling pretty homesick so I got a little emotional when I saw the Old Town steeples from the plane window. There's no place like home! The first thing I did after dragging my suitcase home was to go to a grocery store and buy dark rye bread, real bread. Yesterday I got to taste first fresh strawberries and fresh pickles and I suddenly realised summer had reached this far Nordic corner of the world while I was away. Summer and home, ah! And today I'm taking revenge for the past Sundays when they made us sit in the classroom and study from morning til evening. I'm lazy-ing around my apartment, listening to my favourite radio program, reading the newest William Dalrymple book which Dr A. N. gave me as a present (W. D.'s Koh-i-Noor was published in paperback literally while I was in the UK so it's like a warm bread straight out of oven) and thinking about calling my Mister Little Brother to get together for lunch. Maybe a walk in the Old Town in the evening... Take that, classroom! Revenge tastes so sweet. But home tastes sweeter yet.

5/30/2018

You know those "In the beginning of the semester... In the end of the semester..." memes that have Barack Obama on them, on one picture beginning his time as the POTUS (all bright and shiny), on the other one in the end of those years (all gray and withered). Yes. That's me in Newbold, and it has only taken 1,5 weeks.

It's a bit of an army regime over here. 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. in the classroom, from 7 p.m. in the library. It gets harder and harder to get up every morning. If I drank coffee, I would totally do it now.

The whole process of getting accepted in Andrews was slightly frantic so the list of pre-intensive books which we should have read by now landed way too late on our desks. So everyone is desperately trying to get as much reading done every day as possible. And book reports written. Some evenings I get a double vision from all that reading and book-reporting which is something I rather didn't tell my doctor of an optometrist.

I walk about 250 steps each day. Dorm - class - caf - library - dorm. My body is not happy.

But it's not all sweat and tears, of course. There are many wonderful things about this course and - make no mistake - I am very glad to be here! First, the group. We have 20 people in our cohort, all from different parts of the world, and I really like them. Obviously, I knew some of them guys from my Newbold days (NJ, for example) and others I had never seen before. But it has taken us no time to get into this good supportive group spirit. It was sometime last week, heavens, I am not quite sure when - probably Thursday? - when we watched a movie with our group (Remember the Titans) and suddenly pop-corn and crisps appeared and for the first time I felt like these were my people. Wonderful stuff. Almost all of them will come to the European Pastors Council in Belgrade in the end of August so I am looking forward to our first post-classroom-madness reunion! :)

And then, of course, there are all those wonderful lecturers. I popped by G. R.'s office last week and got him to agree to read the chapters of my future dissertation, once I get to writing it. Because I want to do my thing on Homiletics and G. R. was the first one to introduce me to the world of preaching. Dr A. N. had a full day of lecturing last week and I loved every minute of it. I am totally biased and one-sided when it comes to her but I don't care. I love that woman so much. And T. did a brilliant job yesterday when he lectured on Postmodernism and Metamodernism. I can't help but pop by his office every day - just for 20 minutes or so - to talk about stuff. He's one of the kindest people I've ever met. And talking to him always feels like a breath of fresh air. Things like this - no, people like this - just make me so grateful and happy to be here.

Obviously, there are a million assignments to do and mountains to climb but it's all good. The emails I get from home - about usual work stuff in the conference - seem to be coming from a different planet. I'm mentally very far from my every-day work, and that's probably one of the perks of my studies.

Again I have wasted some 30 minutes of perfectly valuable library time on my blog. Blogging really isn't or shouldn't be a part of an army regime, should it? No, sir!

5/22/2018

I'm back to Newbold campus, back to school.

It's eight years since I first set my foot on the campus, and I have been reflecting on the differences of those two comings a lot. Because they are worlds apart. And I have to admit, I like the second coming much better than the first one.

It's all about people. It sounds so obvious but I come to that same conclusion again and again - it's all about people. They make all the difference in the world. I remember the first coming and the way lecturers' name tags on the office doors made me feel. In my mind, these theologians were super men and wonder women, dwelling in unreachable hights of academia. I didn't know how to approach them. This time the first thing I needed to get done on campus was getting my Riga students' exams second marked by T. I slided the exam papers under his office door before my class started, by the time we finished for lunch, he had gotten them read and marked. And we had a wonderful conversation about Greek and Newbold and life after agreeing on the grades. I almost missed my lunch. And it's just one tiny example. For another, we are planning our annual London date with Dr A. N., having decided to take on Tate Modern this time. We were supposed to go last weekend but unfortunately I was feeling poorly (the combination of a runny nose and a flight can sometimes end in a health mess that takes a week to clean up) so we are trying to come up with another date that would fit my (endless) classroom hours and her busy schedule. Just now, after a lunch, T. and A. broke into J-C.'s office as this seems to be the only office in Murdoch Hall with a coffee machine in it. They had their afternoon coffee shot, I just enjoyed their company (and was made fun of for not drinking with them:). And then after that I ran into L., the librarian, who was so pleased to see me that she invited me to have a supper with her next week. "I'd love to catch up," she said, and I was rather surprised because we have never been friends or anything - I mean, I was just a student here, always in the library, yes, but nothing else. These tiny little encounters, people being happy to see me, some lecturers having morphed from professors to dear friends and colleagues, their warm inclusiveness and interest in my life... I still cannot believe it. I dont think I've done much to deserve it and yet here it all is. My people. My community.

And there is more. I am glad I never did much that I should regret in Newbold. There are no haunting memories. On the contrary, there are so many sweet and happy memories which I have come back to. Just a couple of days ago when I arrived on campus, I needed something from a grocery store and I walked down to that tiny shop in Binfield as I wasn't well enough to go to Bracknell. And as I walked, a memory just hit me, as clear as anything - how we walked back from the same tiny shop with U. on the day I was to fly back home for summer, eating ice-cream and discussing life. I don't know where that memory came from, and I didn't quite know what to do with it. But it made me very thankful for all that time I had spent in this place, for all my friends and Waffle Wednesdays and what not that filled this place to brim with wonderful memories.

But some things aren't changed, of course. The caf is the same. The classes and long and evenings are packed with library and books, and at moments I do wonder why I would want to go through this pain once again. Dorm life is... eh, dorm life (we're sharing the dorm with about 100 screaming Brazilian kids who don't go to sleep until midnight while my classes start at 8 a.m). So I still have to do some adapting to college life. And yet, I know it's all worth it. My work and my life and my worries back home have, within a week, faded into vagueness, if I didn't have to reply to occasional emails (I have an article to write to the conference's magazine, a BA dissertation to supervise, a training seminar to prepare etc), I'd forget home even existed.

It is time for me to stop wasting my precious library time and get back to my book.

I miss my friends terribly tonight. J. and B. and J. and A. and L. and K. and S. and all the others. All I can do is to thank God for the time we had together.

4/25/2018

Academia seems to be doing a bit of a comeback in my life and I am very pleased with it. I don't want to say things had become stagnant but I was missing some sort of a forward momentum in my life and the solution has come from a place as unexpected as it is expected - the academic world.

I have kept quiet about it until now as I wasn't sure this thing was going to work out well but now it's safe for me to tell about it - I decided to apply for the Doctor of Ministry program which will start in Newbold this spring. It's actually Andrews University program but they're cooperating with Newbold and all the studying will take place here in Europe (which is good as I am not exactly the biggest fan of America). I agonised over this decision for a while but then decided to give it a go. I wasn't sure at all I would be accepted because I wrote the required essays while on sick leave in March which means their quality was far below my average. I was not in a good shape. And then followed 1,5 months of silence which in the end I interpreted as not being accepted. But late on Monday night I received a glorious accepteance letter from Andrews. Which means my first classes will start in Newbold in three weeks time. Whooooop! Just the thought of being back to Newbold campus - even for a couple of weeks at a time - makes my heart so very glad. And I know some of Newbold lecturers will be teaching me which will make the whole thing even more special to me. Dr A. N. will be teaching, for example. And she has been waiting for my acceptance letter with almost as eagerly as I have. I told her yesterday I will be sitting in the first row in the classroom when she's lecturing, a student as eager as she ever saw! I get shivers when I think of it. :)

It's time for me to go back to school.

And it's funny, now that I think of it. I will finish my own lecturing for Newbold on May 8th when my Greek students take their final exam. And I will be flying to Newbold as a student on May 18th. Tell me about perfect timing.

And another thing. I have been sort of picked up by a very interesting organisation called Christians for Biblical Equality. They will have an international conference in Helsinki this coming August and I understood they were looking for someone from the Adventist church who could present there. They asked our former Division president who has been advocating gender equality in our church for a long time, but he couldn't go. So somehow - not quite sure how - they ended up contacting me. And now I have been in touch with them over the past months and have been scheduled to speak at that conference in Helsinki. I know it's not difficult to Google people these days, and we all do it, but I was still a bit surprised when they discovered my Diversity Lecture which I gave in Newbold some three (!) years ago and which is up on YouTube. And that's all about gender issue (from a linguistic viewpoint but still). So now the president of CBE has asked to have a private dinner with me in Helsinki as she wants to discuss a possibility of my contribution to a book they are writing. Very gracefully I accepted her dinner invitation. :) Whatever the outcome, I will need to do some serious research and presentation writing when in Newbold. Again I have to admit that the timing is perfect - there's no way I could consider participating in such projects if I didn't have the access to Newbold library every now and then.

So things have got moving again and I am very excited. It's an academic comeback!

--

Classical music has totally taken over. In my last singing class we watched Joice DiDonato with my teacher. Now this is on repeat.

4/18/2018

Under the palm tree
If anyone is wondering why I went so silent after my 'under the palm tree' trip then no, my plane did not crash. I got home safe and sound and have been back to work for some 3,5 weeks now. It's just that it has taken me some time to continue where I left off, to pick up all the balls I dropped, to get back to normal routine, to get days and nights back to the place where they ought to be.

The last weekend was awesome. I had been in touch with Dr L. T. for some two years, inviting him to Estonia. He could never find the time to come so I kept asking again and again, and when I got tired I took a break and then asked him again. In the end he told me our story was looking more and more like the story of poor widow and unjust judge (I laughed out loud when I read that email), so he decided it was time for him to come. My persistence had paid off. I was so very excited, can you believe it - Dr L. T., The Legend himself would come! I knew I could not properly explain to others why it would mean so much to me that he'd come. People would have needed to go to Newbold and would have had to sit at his feet for three years in order to understand. In any case, I was impatiently looking forward to his visit. I counted weeks, and then days. Until the day dawned. April 13. There was a real mess with flights on that day so in the evening, when I was in the airport, waiting for him, learning that the previous flights had been canceled and no-one knew when his plane would land or whether it would land at all that evening, I felt panic rising in me. It can't be happening, it can't, I kept repeating to myself, he has to come, all needs to go well after so much waiting! And indeed he finally landed, some 1,5 hours late but that was a small matter compared to my joy of seeing him again.

What followed was a lot of hard work - getting to bed way too late and waking up way too early - but I didn't mind any of it: I translated the whole weekend until my brain ached, but I didn't want to let anyone else translate him either haha! He preached and then taught a seminar on Genesis, and it all brought back the sweet Newbold feeling - what it was like to learn real theology, the kind that would make your view a littel wider and your world a little bigger. There's so much terrible theology out there, the kind that makes people's vision turn into a tunnel vision, and that makes them suspicious and unkind, and at times I get so terribly tired of it. Then it feels like a breath of fresh air - to do serious exegesis, to dig deep into the text and find a beautiful and broad world in there. Dr T. did his magic and the good ole Genesis text was suddenly all new and thrilling! People sat with their eyes and mouths open in astonishment. Oh, wow, oh, wow.

On Saturday night when it was almost time to go to sleep, Dr. L. T. agreed to come to a cafe for a cup of tea, and again a miracle happened. He asked me how my latest vacation had gone, and I couldn't help but tell him why I had really needed that break. And why stuff keeps me up at night. And what the years after returning from Newbold five years ago have really been like. How much struggle and heart ache I've seen. I felt almost sorry for him because I quite literally poured my heart out, but he turned into a pastor right away and listened to me very kindly. Gave me some pastoral advice which I was so grateful for. Tea and cake also helped. Later, when I walked him back to his hotel through the old town, there was so much gratitude in my heart I didn't quite know what to do with it.

People like Dr. T. give me hope and courage. Restore my faith in humanity.

--

I don't remember what I told you about my newly found interest in music. I never go back to read my old blog posts but I remember saying some things about the concerts and the practising of my violin. Well, there are some rather lovely developments in this area which make me very glad. First, the singing classes which I take from the Music Academy. The Music Academy is like a wonderland to me, I know it wouldn't be like that if I actually had to study there on a daily basis, but just going there once a week and meeting all our famous conductors and pianists in the hallways give it such a mysterious and romantic flavour. I am always thrilled when I get to go there. And I am very glad to be able to study singing. The teacher is quite a character though. I remember the last class before my vacation/sick leave when I was so tired I couldn't get anything right. She would get quite angry and would be like, What's wrong with you today?! C'mon, let's try again! Don't stare at me, don't do this, don't do that! And I remember thinking to myself, heavens, and I pay for this. But yesterday I had the eighth class of this semester and suddenly something happened. I can't quite describe it but something clicked in my brain, a light bulb went on, and I suddenly got it. I get this, I get this, I thought to myself, ecstatically, I can actually sing, and I understand what the teacher pushes me to do! And the teacher was also very glad because she saw clearly that I had had a revelation. And she said, well, your 10 classes which you paid for will be over soon but I'll give you some extra classes just because I can see how much you want to study, and because you are making such rapid progress. I'd advise you to take singing seriously from now on, like, solo singing. I couldn't believe it. I walked away from the Academy, floating on air, grinning from ear to ear, wanting to tell every passer-by about my singing revolution. I mean, extra singing classes! How cool is that? I think if I were ever to take my third uni degree, it would have to be in music. Yup.

But then the magazine Music which I have started to read regularily and whose head editor I have spoken to. Well, the thing has developed as far as this - my first concert review will be published in Music in May. They sent me the concert ticket, the word count and off I went. The whole process went suspiciously smoothly, like, it took me some 1,5 hours to get the review on paper after the concert. The concert itself was lovely - gotta love Bach! - and the words sort of put themselves on paper, without me having to sweat at all. Then followed a month of silence and I had almost forgotten about the thing but just two days ago I got another email from the head editor with another concert/review offer. I am thrilled! I could do this for a living. :)

But it's not only classical music. Right now I am listening to Laura Mvula, every day, every day. She will give a concert in Tallinn in two weeks time (it's not my review concert though haha) and I need to get into shape by that time. My current favourites are Sing to the Moon and She. She's the Nina Simone of our days. Whoah.

3/10/2018

I arrived on Wednesday and I’ve already succumbed to the easy life of a lazy tourist as if it was all I had ever done. It is a bit unnerving how quickly one gets used to having one’s room cleaned by someone else every morning, having one’s meals cooked and dishes washed, and how easy it is to get used to doing nothing. But, I tell myself, this is exactly why I came or rather why I needed to come.

My doing nothing routine mostly consists of long walks on the seaside, (reasonable) sunbathing, an occasional swim, and some reading although the last one I have somewhat neglected. It might have to do with strict instructions I received both from I. and A. not to take any books with me on the vacation. So I only took two Hemingways which seemed like a decent compromise to me, especially given that the first book was already half read when I came and the second one was on the slim side.

Weather wise I’ve got much more than I bargained for. I expected a spring, I got a full-blown summer. It gets up to +30’C in the afternoon which is as lovely as it is hot.

The best thing about the whole trip is the fact that I have been able to sleep more or less normally again. That’s something I haven’t been able to do for more than a month now and it feels wonderful to wake up in the morning and realise that I can actually function like a normal human being. I visited my doctor before flying out and I sort of expected her to prescribe me sleeping pills but she didn’t and I almost felt offended. But she knew what she was doing. She said, go on that trip, and you know, try to feel the stuff you avoid feeling. Because if you keep avoiding certain things during the day, they will keep haunting you during the night, keeping you awake. I am not exactly sure what she meant or what I ought to do but I’ve tried to allow myself to think about the stuff I usually don't like thinking about. And it seems to be helping me, even if only a little. There are a couple of important friendships which I have lost or am in the process of losing, and I much rather skipped the grieving part because it’s dull and painful. But I guess I can’t. I need to feel it. Sigh.

I seem to be the only person around here who’s traveling alone. I know it can’t possibly be true but I only see couples – very cute ones, elderly Scandinavians and Brits, walking hand in hand – and young families. It feels slightly awkward to go to the restaurant and have breakfast all by myself. People notice it. But it is what it is and there’s no escaping it. Just the other day, while sunbathing, I was going through a women’s magazine they gave me in the airport, and there was this 'tips for summer' section where women were encouraged to go on a vacation alone. So I guess I’m living someone else’s summer dream. Traveling alone and all. Being my own boss. Not being responsible for anyone else. How lovely.

What gets on my nerves here is that there is no history in this place. On my walks – some 5-6 km to one direction or another – I have only seen hotels and restaurants. It seems to be a world created solely for tourists. Which is something I could not possibly enjoy longer than for a week. I already miss my evening walks in Tallinn’s Old Town, and oh, how I miss Estonia Concert Hall. I wonder how my favourite musicians are holding on – with me missing their concerts and all!

The only curious, 'non-touristy' sight I have come across is the sight of some locals – they must be locals – who sit on the street corners, watch passers-by and eat oranges and seem to do absolutely nothing (at least not anything I could categorise as 'something') for the whole day. And although I’ve gotten used to the sight, they still surprise me every time I see them. Because they seem to be suggesting that a different kind of life is entirely possible. I’m still suspicious – a neurotic Westerner as I am who thinks everything ought to be done now, things need to be achieved now, the world needs to be changed now for my time is running out (because, you know, cancer). These people seem to come from a different planet and I watch them curiously from behind my sunglasses and wonder if they might really be true or whether they’re just an illusion. Go figure.

But Hemingway then. I had never read him in English before and I’m deeply impressed. It’s almost as if he’s fooling you with his simple words and simple sentences. But before you know it, he’s got you under his spell and you believe everything and anything he says. Truly impressive. Here are two short paragraphs on spring which I re-read for a couple of times because they were amazingly beautiful. By the way, the book’s called A Movable Feast and talks about his life in Paris in the early 1920s. I know 1920s are long gone but I it still feels like that old Paris is a personal friend of mine now.

„Sometimes the heavy cold rains would beat the spring back so that it would seem that it would never come and that you were losing a season out of your life. This was the only truly sad time in Paris because it was unnatural. You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintry light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person had died for no reason.“

„When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.“

2/27/2018

There's a pattern to my blog posts. I am more likely to write when things go well and exciting things happen, and I tend to keep quiet when things get rough.

It's been a long while since my last post.

I don't want any of it to sound too dramatic. But my health started to get worse and it had a clear connection to the state of my spritual/mental health. The sleeping problems returned, as did the anxiety. It was a couple of weeks ago - when I got an average of 3 hours of sleep a night - when I had to chair a meeting in our office, and everyone saw I was more or less brain dead so I. talked to me rather sternly that evening and told me to take a sick leave. It wasn't possible for me to do so right away, there were still too many things to get done, but since yesterday I've been on the sick leave and have taken a considerable amount of time off.

So, yeah. I'm sick.

I'm at my cousin's in Tartu again. He's family is out of town for a week and they needed someone to take care of their cat. I needed a place to stay and wind down. So it's a win-win situation although I find it very amusing that I've turned into a cat lady already. I thought it would take me another 30 years or so. But you know, there's no escaping your fate. What makes the whole deal better is a) my cousin's massive two-storey apartment and b) the fact that their cat is the most beautiful cat I've ever seen. Plus we get along well, most of the time anyway.

It's not nice to have canceled preaching appointments and plans and stuff but it does look like I need some time to recover. If only the sleeping problems went away... And it is funny how my brain has not yet adapted to the change. Yesterday morning I got up and thought - alright, these are the things I want to get done today, if I go to the gym at this time, I'll make it to the movies at that time. Then I'm free to meet up with E. in the evening. I was scheduling things I wanted to get done. It will probably take me a couple of days before the realisation that I don't have to follow a plan or schedule things sinks in. It will take longer for me to get well enough to get my sleep back.

I try to stay away from my computer, and I even leave my phone home when I go out. It's not nice outside, weather wise I mean (it's so cold that my lungs start freezing), so I'm mostly staying indoors and reading. Or playing with the cat. I finished reading Viet Thanh Nguyen's acclaimed book The Refugees earlier today. Two Hemingway books are waiting.

Next week I'll go to a place a bit warmer. Tenerife should be nice and sunny this time of the year.

After that I hope I can think about getting back to work.

Things will get better.