Life
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Defining Life

A hand gently holding part of a leafy, vibrant green plant. Everything is lit by bright sunlight, casting dark, dappled shadows.

Image description: A hand gently holding part of a leafy, vibrant green plant. Everything is lit by bright sunlight, casting dark, dappled shadows.

Who are you? Who do you want to be? How will you get there? Everything in life seems to be asking me this.

Autumn asks. For me, this has always been a time for new beginnings and important decisions, much more so than New Year’s. With autumn comes my birthday, too, and this time it’s the big 30.  It feels like no big deal, and a really, really big deal; I zigzag between the two like a bolt of lightning. A birthday is a wonderful thing, another year of life I’ve been given. Zig. By the time my mother was thirty, she had one kid and another not far away. Zag. Thirty now isn’t what thirty was thirty years ago. Zig. At thirty, my mum had released six records and toured every part of the country. Zag. I have such wonderful friends now who want to celebrate with me. Zig. I have three “educations” (a year of English studies, a bachelor in pop/rock vocals, and a fashion consultant diploma), but no job. Zag. I wouldn’t be eighteen again if someone paid me. Zig. I wish I didn’t feel like I’m running out of time. Zag. When I’m properly  old I’ll laugh at how young and naïve I was at thirty. Zig, zag, zig, zag.

My pen pal in Finland asks. She wanted to know if I have a future/dream-version Maria in my head, and if so, what she’s like. What does Maria do when she wakes up in the morning? What fabrics does she like to wear? What does her home feel like during the different seasons? How does she spend her days? What is her soundtrack? I know some things right away: Maria lives by the ocean, she wears red lipstick to the grocery store, she has a huge kitchen table and her house smells like books, coffee and flowers. I know which people I want in her life. I want her to be as happy as I am now. I also hope she is a little less insecure, in all interpretations of the word.

My friends ask about their own futures, and thus make me ponder my own. We’re in this weird situation where most of our group are looking for new jobs, or considering school options. We have to make important decisions, and it’s exciting and hard. We’re bombarded with thousands of opinions, presented to us in minimalistically designed websites, in coffee-stained articles in a newspaper, in the slightly nasal sound though a telephone, in half-whispered conversations late at night, through guidance counsellors, health employees and family. “Do what you love.” “Find something that pays the rent.” “Try everything once.” “Don’t become a teacher.” Good advice. Contradicting advice. Advice to sift through like gold diggers.

The part of me that wants things, asks, the part some call the spirit or soul or heart. That part is why my closet is overflowing with stuff, stuff for painting and writing and recording music and dancing and sewing and cooking and taking pictures. It won’t let me rest on any kinds of laurels, but grabs my hand enthusiastically and pulls me along, wanting to experience as much of life as possible, to become as good as possible, to learn, to change, to explore, and I love it because it’s a drive that comes from me, so it’s not pressure, but desire.

Unfortunately, that part of me is stuck in a body with the brakes permanently on. That makes it hard to plan for tomorrow, not to mention next year, or the next ten years. Having a chronic illness means balancing a hope and will to get better, with a realistic knowledge that it might not happen. I know life is always uncertain, for everyone, which is sometimes a relief. But I still wish I could depend more on my body for everyday things. For the future.

My doctor asks, my physical therapist asks, my psychologist asks, my counsellor at NAV (the part of the government that support me financially because of my illness) asks. They want to know I have hope, that I’m motivated, that I’m ambitious enough, but not overly so. They want me to get to a place where I can support myself financially. They want me to do it in a capable, long-lasting way. Because I’ve been sick for so long, my life has moved slower than for other people my age. In many ways, I still feel very young. So when these questions swirl lazily in my head on the tram, when they are hurled at me through the iPad screen, when they crash through me while I’m trying to sleep, I think about my anchors, the important things I’ve discovered about myself through my (soon) thirty years.

Firstly, I want to be happy. After all those years of depression, I know what strong, long-lasting happiness feels like. I don’t want to lose it again.

Second, safety. For me, that means having people in my life I can trust and rely on. It means to love and feel loved. And yes, to some degree it means financial safety; it’s not a need for a lot of money, but having enough to keep the everyday running.

Third, I think I understand what I most desire to do with my life. It’s actually hard to say out loud, because it feels so selfish: I want to tell stories.

Funnily enough, my gut knew this almost ten years ago, when I was a wry little music student. In one of my first years there, we had a somewhat… creative substitute teacher for a few of our band lessons. He made us sit in a circle, and asked each of us what we wanted in life. You have two choices in situations like that: you either take it seriously and give an honest answer, or you find a flippant reply without being straight-out disrespectful. The first guy said (honestly, I assume) that he wanted to have a good time, to do something cool. The next said he wanted to be the world’s best guitarist (said with an eye-roll, but perhaps not a lie after all). I was next. The Hermione in me had been thinking frantically while the others answered, but when Substitute Teacher looked at me expectantly, I forgot all my clever thoughts. “I want to tell stories,” I blurted out.

I want to tell stories. So simple, and so true. Looking back, I can see that desire running through everything I’ve done, from making songs to writing stories to painting to dancing to getting dressed to cooking dinners. It’s so ingrained in me, I think, that for a long time I simply couldn’t see it. It’s easier, now that I do, though it would have been easier still if my wish was neatly tied to a profession or even a role in today’s society. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for that simple line, and the powerful desire behind it.

A whole life, a person, isn’t as easy to define as a wardrobe. There’s no dictionary or encyclopedia entry for “Maria Hansen Troøyen”, with a convenient three-line summary. Like you, I have to figure it out on my own, the multitude, the facets, the contradictions and abiguities. It helps, though, to have found some anchors. Happiness. Safety. Stories.

14 Comments

  1. I completely believe in you as a writer and storyteller, Maria. I am so glad that you are honoring that deep desire, even if you are still growing into it. I am grateful to be able to witness this journey, which speaks so uniquely to you and also reaches out to the part of me grappling with the very same questions.

  2. Maria, du skriver så nydelig. Jeg har virkelig tro på deg som historieforteller! Det er en egenskap du kan bruke til mye – selv om det kanskje er vanskelig å se mulighetene i det. Selv om jeg bare har møtt deg en eneste gang (på fotobloggertreffet ved Sognsvann for mange år siden), husker jeg deg godt og har lest bloggen din siden. Du er fantastisk flink til å sette ord på følelser slik at andre kan kjenne seg igjen i det.

    Jeg har vært i samme situasjon som deg – uten jobb, og uten å vite helt hva jeg ville med livet. Vi bodde i Oslo og kjæresten min jobbet mye, og hadde dermed ikke mye tid til å snakke med meg når han var hjemom. Det var ensomt. Nå har vi flyttet til hjemstedet hans i Telemark. Alt blir ikke helt som vi ventet her heller – vi flyttet mye fordi vi skulle overta barndomshjemmet hans, men foreldrene hans har ombestemt seg og vil ikke flytte ut likevel. Uansett, vi kommer til å bygge et hus som blir akkurat som vi vil ha det. Det er faktisk bedre enn å pusse opp et hus som aldri ville bli helt perfekt uansett. Og her på bygda fikk jeg jobb gjennom en nabo som kom og ringte på en kveld og lurte på om jeg ville ha jobb. Fra å ha tatt en femårig utdanning i bioteknologi jobber jeg nå med innhold og synlighet på nett. Jeg tar bilder, jeg leser statistikk, jeg skriver, og jeg hjelper folk til å oppnå det de vil. I Oslo ville jeg aldri fått en slik jobb, men her har folk bedre tid og jeg har hatt mulighet til å lære mens jeg har jobbet. Jeg trives veldig godt med det, og tror at dette er en bedre jobbsituasjon enn den jeg hadde hatt hvis jeg fikk de jobbene jeg søkte på tidligere.

    Så jeg håper du finner ut av det, Maria. Det ordnet seg for meg, etter mange års usikkerhet. Lykke til på veien!

  3. Maria, this is such an honest and thoughtful post. You are one of my favorite storytellers online and this post resonated with me. Best wishes to you and your future.

  4. Rosario says

    I’m 21 years old (almost 22, I guess) and I’m always worried about the tic tac running over me.
    I have the opportunite to start working a year ago while I was still on college, and nothing made me any happier than saying I started working at 20 years old in a job which was totally related with what I’m planning to do on the future. It wasn’t about the fact that I had a job as much as saying that I was youger than anyone in my class, and also at work. But sticking on being the youngest it’s a dangerous place.
    I’m always comparing, and making sure there is no one at work who’s younger than me or do the same kind of work I do. It’s really exhausting.
    And it’s quickly vanishing away. Because some of the people who enter this year to work are already younger.
    I’m very young, but I should be happier for being succesful than for being my age. Because that way I will become sadder the same time I become older. And that’s waaaaay too sad for living.
    It’s been a while since I stopped and hear you (literally I think I can hear your voice while reading you). I meet you for a silly “I cut my hair” comment I write for saying thanks to you, and I’m glad to hear the same spark which made me decide to cut my hair two years ago (now is kind long for my prom, but it’s waiting for being cutted off again very soon), and now encourages me for not sticking in life for time as much as for those anchors that make life turn and turn around, making a fun trip of it.
    I wish you the best, Maria.

  5. Dear Maria!
    I absolutely understand You! I have become 30 this June and would never like to be a teenager again. I am also struggling with some questions that are in my mind: what job should I look for or what “should I do” in my life… I do not know but it seems that our age and experience made us think in this way… My dreams are similar to yours I want to be Happy and fulfilled and loved and aware that life really depends on us in some big part. I am also a blogger and struggling with dividing time between my Love, family, job sport etc but I also want to write and share my thoughts with people! I keep my fingers crossed for You, for your writing for your dreams and health! Never give up!!!! Xxx <3

  6. Karla says

    Hi Maria,

    I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time now. I came here because of the pixie cut, I think. I stayed for your beautiful writing.
    I just want to say that I relate so much to this. Because of a chronic illness I also feel ‘behind’ compared to other people my age. And I am only 23. But 23 and just starting my studies in september while other people are already finished and now looking for a job. So in a way I indeed feel younger than all those other people. But I also feel much older. Because of my illness I have been through things that most people experience later in life, or not at all. I have been forced to do a lot of psychological work with myself, to deal with all the things that life has thrown at me. So it’s this weird kind of balance of feeling older and younger.
    I also really related to the struggle of an curious and adventurous soul and a weak and not-so-healthy body. Always wanting more than your body can handle. It’s like I’m constantly living with a small child that I have to take care of. I always have to be aware of what I’m putting my body through and if I need a rest. That really sucks sometimes. I wish I could be as free as other 23 year olds, not having to think about my energy levels so much. Also what you wrote about hoping for the best while still trying to be realistic, I feel the exact same way.
    Thank you for writing this, it feels so good to have someone else write down exactly how I feel 🙂

  7. Patricia says

    At 56 I am almost twice your age. And I can tell you that the search does not end. I look back on my life thus far, with all its ups and downs, and perhaps the one thing I am proud of is that I have no (or very few) regrets. I have made choices that I second-guess today, but maybe time has not yet run out…I can still write that book, paint that picture, travel the world. We wax and wane, grow, stretch, fit into the different nooks and crannies and channels our life wanders through. It’s a never-ending, beautiful, painful, mysterious and wonderful process. Good luck, Maria.

  8. This may seem odd, but I was recently diagnosed with Wilson’s Temperature Syndrome (not the same as Wilson’s Disease) and reading the little things you’ve said about how you feel makes me wonder if you have it too. Does your body temperature run a little low? If so, take a look at it. I’m still reading up on the treatment, but I think I’ve had it for YEARS, undiagnosed. If you body temp averages normal then forget I said anything, but if it’s low then a simple treatment may make you feel much better!

    P.s. I’ve been an avid reader/lurker for a long time, and I love your stories too!

  9. Thea says

    Dearest Maria
    I usually only read blogs that post new stuff regularly, but your blog has made me come back over and over again. The reason why is your stories. I love your stories.

  10. I haven’t commented before, but this post nearly made me cry — I had to say something. Like you, I’m chronically ill (and near your age), and what you’ve written here is a beautiful, and very real expression of how I’m feeling at this point in life. Also like you, I’m hungry for the world, always wanting to do and learn and live, and struggling constantly against the bounds of my body, trying to make peace with that over and over again. I think that we can, though — all of us chronically ill people. And the first step is something like that (lucid, simple, and heartfelt) list of things you made.

    Your desire to tell stories seems perfect from you. (This from a complete stranger, but still.) When I first found your blog, I crawled back through pages of archives and just *read* … it’s unlike everything else out there floating around. Your writing is so poetic and storied, whatever you’re writing about; it has a dreaminess and realness and vibrancy to it. I hope you do keep telling stories.

  11. Maria: I first started reading your blog when I came across your articles on pixie cuts and the gamine way of dressing. Mind you, I never got that pixie cut. I also never commented before, and I know I might be too late, but I just wanted to share something with you.

    I don’t know what it was about your blog that kept me constantly waiting for more, constantly reading, re-reading, re-re-reading. I’m not a patient or analytical person, but something about your writing just… lured me in. I never realised what it was until now.

    It’s humanity. Not like some other writers, who seem to be awfully aware of how they need to show their human nature – in shape of a pun, a picture of their dog, et cetera – but you seem to show the vulnerable side of being human with such a natural way of presenting it. It only struck me now that everything I read that you wrote has that same… human-ness.
    And I just wanted to tell you how beautiful and refreshing it is to see someone write so openly, so unapologetically real. As a writer myself, I hope to one day assume the role of such a vulnerable narrator. Thank you for your presence.

  12. Chris says

    Maria,

    I’m sure you’ve heard, “Prostitution is the oldest profession.” I dispute that. I think storytelling is the oldest profession.

    Not only is storytelling very old, in many cultures, the official storytellers held a position of importance and prestige. Especially in the cultures who had no written language, the storytellers accurately preserved the group’s history.

    Your desire, your drive to join this ancient and illustrious group of individuals is noble indeed.

    Best wishes on following your star!

  13. Dear Maria,

    So glad you found your anchor in telling stories. Certainly you have the soul for it. And the talent. I wish you all the best. Am not religious but I fervently pray and wish good health for you – both in mind and body. Much love.

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