Tuesday, January 10, 2023

A world without a face

Between my 3 years old son, my day job as an assistant professor at University, my evening job as a software developer, and my night job writing my Ph.D. dissertation, life is quite busy, and I don’t have too much time for existential questions.

I read the “Capital” newspaper while having my strong first coffee of the day. There is an ad “Nokia is looking for software engineers, specialized in distributed systems and object-oriented programming. Interviews in Bucharest in March”.  I am studying distributed systems for my Ph.D. thesis, teaching object-oriented programming courses during the day, and coding in C++ during the evenings.

I turn to my husband and say, “hey, these guys are looking for me.” He quickly looks at the ad and answers, “you need to apply immediately.”

I joked. It was a joke.

But he was serious.

1st of October that year, 10 days after I turned 30, I was standing in the airport in Helsinki. I am waiting for my luggage to arrive.

The belt is moving slowly, empty. I like the airport’s buzz, and hearing the people’s voices surrounding me, it’s lively. Then I notice something that feels odd. There is no buzzing. I look around, and all the people are still there. I do not understand what is happening. Are they talking, and I can’t hear? Am I having a stroke or something? 

And then I know. 

This is Finland, the country I am just moving in, the world I don't recognize, the world without a face. Life with the sounds and all I knew before is gone. I’ll need to learn to listen to silence. 

Sunday, January 08, 2023

Will I ever find home?

The phone rings. It’s on the table, screen down, and I can’t see who’s calling.

We are having lunch on a terrace in Crete. Petteri booked this vacation for us to celebrate my new job. My company announced a few weeks ago that the branch in Finland is closing and all the thousands of employees have been laid off. Given the job market situation in Finland, it was quite unexpected that I landed a new job in two weeks, and not any kind of job, but a VP position at a tech company.

“Don’t you want to see who’s calling?” Petteri asks.

I picked up the phone. My heart jumps. The caller is my former manager.  I move away from the terrace to answer. They are offering me a job at the US headquarters. I will need to relocate by the end of the summer.

“You said what??” Petteri seems to be upset.

“I said I will think it over.”

“What do you have to think over? You’ve got a great job waiting for you at home. It’s not like you need a job.”

“I know.”

“How about your kids? Mihai is supposed to start college in the fall. Antonia, she is just about to end middle school, and she will not want to move away from Finland and her friends.”

“I know.”

“You love your life. You are happy. Aren’t you? You can't be serious about considering the offer? Let’s forget about this, enjoy the last few days of vacation and when we get back home, you call them and say thank you, but no.”

I’m trying to concentrate. He is right. I know he is right. I still don’t understand why I didn’t decline the offer on the spot. There is no way I will move, so why leave this theoretical possibility open. It’s just pride. Why is Petteri so anxious? We should order a bottle of champagne and celebrate how lucky we are.

Instead, I hear myself saying, “I’m not feeling at home in Finland.”  Where did this come from?

“What do you mean? Do you still think of Romania as your home? And what does this have to do with anything? Wouldn’t moving to the US mean you move even further away from home? Pause. “And how about us?”

I can’t answer that. 

I can’t just decline the offer. I need to give it fair consideration. Maybe Antonia will not want to move, maybe we can’t figure out a way for Mihai’s college education, maybe this job in the US doesn’t make any sense, maybe I don’t want to live so far away, there are so many maybes and so many fears. The only certain thing is that Finland is not home. Romania is not home anymore, either. What difference then it makes if I’ll move to the US? 

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Solo travel and the book

When I turned 49, I decided it was time to gift myself a trip to Hawaii.

At that point, I’ve been a “divorced woman,” “single mom,” and “household head” for a while. I was used to being “solo” at home. I have been traveling around the globe by myself on business trips. I liked the freedom of traveling alone. I have traveled on vacations with only the kids to new places across different countries for many years now and enjoyed it. I never felt out of place because I was not with a man by my side.

Still, until the age of 49, I have never traveled solo for pleasure. 


I love Honolulu. The hotel has a lovely terrace restaurant next to the pool. I put on the turquoise dress I bought in Greece a few years ago and took my book.

-          A table for how many, mam?

-          Table for one. 

     I smile. I feel so free and happy.  

-          Just for one?

     The young hostess looks confused.

-          Yes, just for myself.

-          Okay, don’t worry, I will find you a good one.

I was not worried. Should I have been?

She takes me to a table somehow in the corner with a splendid view. Gets the sit for me.

-          Here, she says. We will take good care of you.

     This is nice. I have never had such a kind hostess. But somehow, she acts like she is taking care of an invalid. Or am  I imagining it?  

-          What would you like to order? A cocktail or a glass of wine to start?

     Ok, it starts to feel normal.

-          A glass of Pinot Gris, please.

I relax on the chair and start to look around. The restaurant is not very busy yet. Some couples and families with kids. A pleasant atmosphere. Soon will be sunset, and I will have a perfect view from my table to enjoy. I am not taking my book out yet.

    In just a quick moment, the waitress comes with the Pinot Gris. Wow, this is fast service!

-          Here is your wine, mam.  

    The waitress is closer to my age. She smiles. I smile back.

 -          Are you all right, mam? Is there something we can do for you to help you be comfortable?

It’s my turn to be confused. I am very comfortable. Don’t I look relaxed?

 -          I am just fine, thank you for asking. I can order now.

When she comes over with the food, the feeling that there is something I don’t quite understand becomes stronger. She puts her hand on my shoulder. I’m getting uneasy.

-          If there is anything we can do for you, anything at all, just let me know. I’ll be coming to check on you often.

-          Thank you, you are very kind indeed. I am perfectly fine; it is a wonderful evening, and the food looks delicious.

As she leaves, I open my book on the table. I can see her looking back at me. She notices my book, smiles back, and nods approvingly.

I figured it out by the end of the trip. A single woman (my age??) having dinner in a restaurant in Hawaii is unusual. With the book by my side, I became socially acceptable.

Back in Seattle, I’m still wondering if I somehow missed the clues all these years. I chose an Italian restaurant close to home to go out for dinner. Nobody cared if I had a book or not. Thank God!

Monday, January 02, 2023

How to remove obstacles with a newspaper

When I was in kindergarten, my mother would read me stories every evening before I went to sleep. And while I was happy that I could hear the story, I would have liked to be able to read it myself. There were times I didn’t like the stories mom was choosing. Other times I would love one story so much that I would have liked to hear it again and again, every night, and she would get tired of it and say, “no more.” 

I wanted to be able to read. Choose the stories, and re-read the ones I loved for days in weeks. I asked my mom to teach me to read. She was a teacher, after all. But she told me that the time to learn to write and read is when I will go to school. There is no need for you to learn before it, she said.

One early spring afternoon,  I was about 4 years old, I took a blank sheet of paper and put it on top of a newspaper. I copied every letter from the newspaper onto the blank paper sheet. A full page. It took me a very long time. I don’t know if it was one hour or many hours, time seems to pass at a different speed when you are 4 years old, but I felt like it took me forever.

When I finished the entire page, I went to my mom and said – look, mom, I know how to write. Would you now please teach me to read.  

She got angry. To this day, I don’t understand why she got angry, but she did. She told me that it is called rubbish, not writing. She said you should not waste your time with this “pretending” writing but wait to learn it properly in school. Learn to do it properly.

I started to cry. I so much want to read, mom, I said. You didn’t want to help, so I tried to do it alone, but this is all I could do. Why are you angry?

Her voice calmer now, she asked – you wouldn’t give up, would you? I looked back at her with tears in my eyes - I can’t wait, mom; I need to read now.

So, she taught me to read.

When summer came, and we visited my grandparents, I could already read short stories.  It took me a long time to finish one story (and be able to find out what happened in the end)  - but the whole process brought me a kind of joy I had never experienced before. And when I would find a story I really liked, I would hide with the book in the cornfield near my grandparent’s house and read it again and again until I heard my grandma’s voice calling me to dinner.

To this day, when I find a book I like, I look for the cornfield kind of place, a gate to the imaginary world.

Sunday, January 01, 2023

What is lost will be found

"Pieces of Me" 
You don't know this new me; I put back my pieces differently. 

I’ve been opening my laptop today, thinking of writing my first assessment for the course I’ve just started. The course is "A year of writing to uncover the authentic self."  Each week, a new theme. The first week’s theme is roadblocks.

But as I open my file, I see a title I wrote down some time ago “ What is lost will be found.” 

Nothing else, just a title. And no matter how much I have tried to focus on the roadblocks, my mind constantly slips toward “what is lost will be found.”

Maybe it’s a better theme for the first day of the New Year, anyways!


So, what have I lost over the years? What have I found?

I’ve found and lost love. Two marriages, two divorces, and three good men who shaped my life. 

I’ve lost my faith and found it again several times. I seem to lose it, it just slips away when life gets easy, and I find it again with a gasp when the going gets tough. How predictable. And how disappointing that after so many cycles, when I finally became aware of the phenomenon, I still can't hold on to it forever. 

I started life without too much confidence in myself, built it, lost it, and found it again many times. I've always been clumsy, no good at sports, and not capable of building anything with my hands. These traits are the ones essential in early childhood. The lack of them meant I was a failure. And then school started, and I discovered that if my body is not good, my mind can work. Math was my favorite class. Sports class was still the most dreaded one. But I have gained confidence and learned that there are some things I can do better than others. The teenage years came, and while I was already at peace with my lack of competence in sports, parties were the thing of the day, and dancing became a critical skill. My body's lack of coordination triggered another cycle of confidence drip. And then, after a while, it became apparent that most of the boys didn't care about my dancing skills; the 'ne sai quoi' in my eyes (?) was enough. The cycle kept continuing; there was always something I couldn't do as good as others, only to discover after a while that it didn't matter anyway. 

I've lost my home and found it again. Moving away from Romania and leaving behind family and friends hasn't been easy. I've been homesick for years. It took a long time to start feeling at home in Finland. And then I moved again, leaving behind again family and friends. The second time though, I knew we keep home in our hearts. Romania is still home. Finland is home. And now Seattle is also home. 

I’ve lost and found my desire to write, to create. Throughout my years in school, since I learned to read, I knew I wanted to be a writer. There was simply nothing better in my mind than being able to write stories that people will read when they want to escape into a more beautiful world. I chose to go into computer engineering instead. As a career choice, it made sense, but I was convinced I would still write stories and publish them. Years passed, kids were raised, and careers were changed. Finally, I had to admit that lists are the only thing I have been writing for a long while (and possibly the only thing I can write anymore). Hence I started to paint. What a wonderful surprise to be still able to express myself, even if in a very unexpected way. Interestingly enough, after a couple of years of painting, I found the desire to use words to complement the images. 


What is lost will be found - it is cyclic. Nothing is ever lost forever or stays forever within us once found.

The thought of this cycle is both sad and hopeful at the same time.

Never lose hope that you are going to find what you’ve lost. Never think you are going to keep it forever. Be prepared to overcome the obstacles again and again. Learn, and improve yourself, but mostly – know that at the next turn of the road, some obstacles will be the same, and some will be completely new, but as long as you don’t give up – what is lost will be found. Always.

In the end, it looks like I’ve found what I needed to finish my “roadblocks” assessment.  

Saturday, December 31, 2022

New Challenge for the New Year

I'm taking on a new challenge for the new year.  "A year of writing to uncover the authentic self" course.

I’ll allow myself not only to write but to be vulnerable and share with you, my writing journey.

Wish me luck 😊

Friday, December 16, 2022

The happy dance


“I looked at Antonia and I saw that she is beautiful” - said my son.

He was five years old, and his sister, Antonia, was born a few weeks ago.

In the weeks and months that followed, he became utterly protective of her. Worried that flies would hurt her while she was sleeping outside. Angry of the neighbor kids when they were playing in the yard, they were too loud and would wake her up. Sad when she was crying, getting more and more irritated by my apparent lack of capability to comfort her properly. “Is she hungry mom? I think she is hungry! Maybe she wants something else than milk? Can we please give her something better to eat?”

Not surprising. She was still inside of me when he started to become concerned. Watching cartoons one night, he suddenly declared. “Mom, you should eat the TV! The baby is all alone inside your belly, and she is probably so bored, has nothing to do! If you eat the TV, she could at least watch cartoons!”

But then, Antonia learned to stand. Holding on to the furniture she liked to “dance”, moving her butt up and down and making happy sounds.

That summer day, Mihai was in his “happy” place, playing Crash Bandicoot on the PlayStation. Completely immersed in the game, life outside Crash was irrelevant.

Antonia managed to crawl next to the TV, got herself up and started her happy dance to Crash Bandicoot’s music, her little body covering the whole TV screen.

The brotherly over-concerned and protective phase ended in that exact moment.

It took another ten, maybe fifteen years for him to look at her again as the little sister that needs care and protection, and not the annoying little loud thing, looking for attention, interfering with his life.