Hi, I’m Nina, or “Nina from Norway” as the guy at the kosher deli counter calls me, and of course I am so much more than the ungenerous minimal description in the tagline of my blog. But it has a rhythm, some catchy words, and that’s important too. Maybe you’ll come back for more?
For those who are curious about who I am, here follows a lowdown. Some of these episodic checkpoints will surly inspire blogs, but as with most everything: there is of course more to the package than meets the eye.
Some Basics About Me
Birthplace: Oslo, Norway
Lives in: Connecticut, USA.
Vintage: 1965 (Not a boomer, nor a Gen Xer, but a betweener, in more ways than one)
Religion: Jewish (duh)
Status: Single, mother of 3 teenage boys
Favorite Drink: I want to say water. But honestly, it’s Gin & Tonic in the summer, Manhattan in the winter.
Interests: (that is, they are not finite)
– but read on and you will get a better idea about me
About Me I
You should know off the bat that I can’t help but write stories in my head; and it’s these essays and reflections I will post here. To give you an idea of who and what you’re dealing with, I may have had the rather commonplace experience of waiting in line at the post office, or visiting a 97 year old friend in the hospital, or maneuvering the minuscule bathroom on a flight from Paris, and all I can do is start laying out how the tiniest peculiar or humorous or annoying detail or scenario has a whole world of a potentially funny or moving story to offer. From the time I was quite young, I seemed to have managed and processed experiences through writing. Starting with op-ed pieces in the youth magazines of my day; as a budding tween it could be about the death of my much beloved guinea pig Charlie, to early teenage angst, or in later adolescent years, a face-off with my dad regarding my “jungle fever” (in the mid-80s Oslo!). Oh yes, those were red-hot Rasta days in the Norwegian capital, and I had braids to show for it. Suffice it to say I was an explorer, who would soon set sail, like my ancestral forefathers, the Vikings, toward different exploits.
After high school, my early life’s trajectory – on a jet headed west- landed me on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, with an au pair gig in CT resulting in audacious weekend escapades to the Big Apple. However, contrary to the many Norwegian immigrant generations before me who became farmers in the Dakotas and filled the halls of the Norwegian Seamen’s Churches, I found myself a handsome albeit balding Jewish American (you know what they say about balding men), joined his tribe (orthodox conversion to boot!), married the dude, and the rest is – well, my story, or as a feminist will say: herstory, that is, not his.
I use the term new-Jew because I think us Jews by choice have an important role and responsibility in the greater scope of Jewish things, and in those beyond as well. Firstly, it’s thanks to us that the gene pool is refreshed; yet we’re keeping a commitment to the perpetuation of one very tiny but unique peoplehood and history. We serve a kind of in-between function, softening the difference with our hyper-awareness between where we came from and where we have chosen to land, of what it means to be a new insider among a group that has historically been seen as the outsider, and constantly navigate the often deep waters that separate these worlds. A delicate and sometimes dizzying place to exist, requiring some particular sensitivities and sensibilities in the form of navigational tools.
On this matter, I will surely blog more.
Three strapping Viking sons later, and what seems like a whole life of conscientious multicultural home and community building (25 years is a chunk, isn’t it?), I find myself again facing a new adventure, in all the ordinariness that is the daily life of a divorced suburban mom. Holding a poorly paid but inspiring teaching job at my local University, disbursing my share of college tuitions (did you hear my cringe, because you should be able to hear it when I cringe about that one), schlepping to high school basket and football games, as well as getting through the grief of having lost a marriage and a parent in short succession, I willingly dream of alternate futures, now possible for my making. This awe-inspiring potential and responsibility can at times pummel me as much as it invigorates me. These larger shifts and movements, combined with the most mundane stuff of daily life, inspire writing. And I tend to do so mercilessly. Sans arrêt, without stop, as the French would say.
About Me II & About Some Random Topics
From motherhood and migration, cultural in-betweenness, yiddishkeit (Jewish way of life), food and beverages (alcohol too), aging and death, or aging and sex; love, hate, reconciliation, or even recycling, poetry and music, or just plain breathing and mindfulness; as far as I’m concerned, it’s all up for “writing grabs,” because it’s all part of that messy, exhilarating process called life.
I’m basically a skiing and yoga loving Norwegian mamma gone tribal balabusta (Yiddish for the ultimate household C.E.O., the logistical and spiritual queen of the home), with a penchant for all things Sephardi (like Jewish literature and culture from North Africa, because they speak French, which is one of my lingua francas), who just can’t stop observing the world around me with wonder, and relentlessly tell the story. Any story. And I’d like to share some with you.
So, here follows a spirited blog of sundry musings by, I’m guessing, the only Viking Jewess you know on earth with PHD in the exquisite but not so useful profession of French literature, and who, as a perpetual observer compulsively writes about the many and often diverse contexts of her life.
Nothing is too ordinary; everything can become an adventure. It suffices to tell the story.
The Stranger is Me
Perhaps you may find some of my reflections a bit strange, but that’s ok. I am, after all a stranger, and am reminded of it repeatedly: each time I enter the U.S. I do so as an alien (one of permanent residence, but still a stranger in matters of national security). Despite how Jewish I may feel, and how well integrated I am in most Jewish communities, the Hebrew term for a convert is ger, and literally means “resident,” but still a foreigner. And it is no secret that after more than half my life away from my native Oslo, I feel much like a stranger in my own land every time I return. Strangely enough, the passport control police at the Oslo airport never says, “Welcome Home” as the U.S. immigration officer often does with a smile when I return from a trip. It’s all very confusing. From maneuvering in the streets of Oslo (this was never a one way street before, officer…) to different neighborhoods (this is where you go for the best Indian spices?!), I miss out on innuendoes with references to popular culture and most painfully sometimes have to search for words. All this “not quite here, nor quite there, but always somewhere in-between,” makes for some pretty spectacular, or is it specular, observations.
Which brings me to another important element in my writing: my language(s).
About My Language(s)
I am happy if my writing can pique your attention, if it makes you look at something familiar in perhaps a novel way. If it makes you laugh or if it moves you, I would feel fulfilled. And if an entry can get you to linger here in the text for a few moments and cause you to marvel with me at an idea or a scene that you may have just passed by before, then I shall be one happy camper. I mean blogger.
But remember, I am not a native English speaker, so sometimes you may actually burst out laughing not from my intended humor or irony, but from some ridiculous or pathetically mistaken choice of words. So be it. And if you are thin skinned, and the occasional obscene word makes you cringe, this may not be the blog for you to follow. As the Norwegian Ski Association motto says: “There is no shame in turning around. Stop your journey and return home to safety if you feel threatened.” Sometimes, you should know, I let it rip. It may sound better in French, or more exotic to you in Hebrew, but you’ll know it’s naughty when it’s there. Although my operating language here is primarily English, I juggle in my head, often simultaneously, Norwegian, French and Hebrew in addition. These languages jostle for playtime and space, and when it happens that a particular word in one language is just the one that best expresses the meaning, the feel or the ambience I am looking for, then I will use it. When that happens, I always provide an explanation, that hopefully, rather than detract from the reading experience, will enhance it, giving it the most honest and true impression and expression of the mind behind the story. I have to craft any text I produce carefully, weighing each word and its meaning perhaps being a bit more paranoid, and a bit less effortlessly, than your average native speaker. What I offer you is in earnest. Even the naughty-bits!
About Writing Curiously
I coined this a “curiosity blog” because ever since I was a kid I was always a very inquisitive creature, perhaps even a bit too nosy for my own good. I was certainly a little odd, constantly intrigued by my surroundings, especially drawn to older people and animals. Was it because they had time to listen? This capacity to not only observe but marvel at the contexts where I often found myself, was, I surmise, a way for me to make sense of and optimize what I have come to understand as a pretty lonely childhood. A good one, but one where I was often left out and had to figure things out on my own. I did not fit in with the mold of the rest of my peers. Not emotionally, nor developmentally.
In The Portrait of A Lady, Henry James wrote that its heroine, Isabel Archer, “…had an immense curiosity about life, and was constantly staring and wondering.” I know it is not very ladylike to stare, and my kids often catch me doing just that when we are out and about. I cannot help it, for the wonder of it all never ceases to pull me in. I have this from my father, because I remember noticing him doing the same, and only realizing later in my adult life that he did this because he was always genuinely interested. While my writing may at times tackle similar “profound” issues as those making Lady Archer affront her destiny head on, like the challenges of personal freedom, responsibility, and betrayal, I often pick up a much smaller thread, one many may not even notice where it lies on our path, and weave it into a picture that may resonate with you.
It is befitting that I should feel called to create an object of words – this blog – that (hopefully) arouses interest in readers, in that it aims to offer a fresh take on the ordinary as well as on the extraordinary moments of life.
So I invite you to follow my curiosity blog: The Viking Jewess.
Baruchim habaim! – as we say in Hebrew; Welcome! Feel free to invite your friends!
My peeps and I are big on hospitality.
And now you can take a breath with me.
Then, when you’re ready, please join the conversation. Click on any of my soon to grow list of recent or older posts with a title that may catch your fancy, and leave a comment. I try to respond to all. I don’t believe in monologues, they get boring after a while.
“You only are free when you realize you belong no place
— you belong every place — no place at all.”(Maya Angelou)
OK – så langt – alt bra – likte det eg leste – og vi har då ein del til felles – både det med viking og det med å vere jøde etter eiga val.
Så – eg trur nok eg vil kome attende til deg – verkar interessant det du vil dele 🙂
Takk for tilbakemelding Robert, og takk for at du leser. Videre!
Beautiful! I look forward to following you and watching the development. I am quite envious of anyone who can put words together so beautifully!
I should have door-prizes for my ten first followers! Congratualtions! 😉 …and thank you.
BTW forgot to mention your beautiful description of the importance of gerim to the Jewish community! We are right behind you on that and obviously agree whole heartedly!!!
Thanks for reading, Judie! And yes, I imagine you and your family can also identify with the notion (and emotion) of in-betweeness. Don’t need to be a Viking Jewess for that!
Can’t wait to read more of your blog, Nina. I enjoyed your texts from Norway so much (wasn’t one entitled “Dark, darker, darkest”?).
Yes, Michele, I might post some of those here. Thanks for reading! Hope all is well with you!! Happy new year.
You go Viking momma and tribal balabusta!
Go, going, gone! Thanks Lisa!
Wow – ja det må jeg si Nina! Gleder meg til fortsettelsen – you go girl! 🙂
Stor klem til deg fra meg:-)
Hyggelig, Liv! Koselig at vi kan ha enda en måte å holde kontakten på! Takk for at du følger bloggen!
I can not wait to read more! Belgian-Catholic, married to a Reform Jew in Connecticut for 18 years and mother of three, I feel a real connection and look forward to more of your life stories!
Thanks, Sarah! Navigating the balance between it all can be quite the journey for those of us having chosen a life of in-betweenness. Sharing it can be redemptive.
Nina… Just a quick word to say that your blog posts have been some of the most entertaining and enjoyable reading I’ve done in a long time. Thanks and please keep it up. Your wit and outlook on life have been making my days.
Oh I’m so happy you are enjoying them, Jim! Not to worry, lots more where they come from. It’s dripping here! Steadily.
So happy that I happened into you today at Yoga! Looking forward to your next entry and so happy to know about this! Being the daughter of a conservative father and an orthodox raised mother I often felt the in-betweeness just in the Jewish world. I went on to marry a great Irishman! A wonderful orthodox rabbi coined him a protector of the Jewish people, which he has always been. A good inbetweeness role 😊
Same here, Debbie. I think in the end, we all experience some in-betweenness in our lives. Some of us are just more attuned to it than others. And some of us had it served on a platter, or perhaps, sought it out. Happy you found some resonances in my stories.
Luv it! Can’t wait to read more!! (DramaDuck says the same!!). Go girl!
We all need a little Drama in our lives!
“These languages jostle for playtime and space.” I love it Nina. What a gift you have and now I have the gift of knowing you even better!
And who knew it’s the gift that keeps giving!;-)
So you know, I will be reading every word. This is awesome.
Let my blogs be your study breaks while you’re in med school, Livja!
Dear Nina/Viking Jewess, What a blessing to have stumbled across your essay in the current issue to Lilith… that brought me to your blog.. that introduced me to your voice and meanderings. Love your writing (I love FOTR/Tevye too!!), your humor and your curiosity (oh, I do know of what you speak.. I’ve been cajoled and criticized by friends – new and old – about my friendly ‘interrogations’!). Gut shabbes & all that jazz, Amit (aka Bali Jewess 😉
My mom is Nordic and my dad is Jewish. I would so much rather be 100% Nordic than half Jewish. I am White enough to know how amazing it is to be white, but I can never escape my inner Jew.
You should not reproduce or have kids, its not fair to them to be born as mischlings, not sure if they are white or Jewish. Its not fair to Whites to give away your Nordic genes, and thus your superior characteristics to a foreign tribe who will use them against Whites as a whole.
If your mother isn’t a Jew, then you aren’t either. So, you don’t have to worry about your false superior characteristics.
Who is this response to?
Mishlings’ comment a couple of years ago.
I see you are divorced, of course. same with my parents. It sucks that for my mom, and likely you to, there was no man in their life, such as father or brother, man enough to tell them not to marry a Jew. If you think you are a stranger, how do you think your kids will feel???
Death to the Jews
No such thing as a viking Jewess. I don’t care how long your family have lived in Norway. You are not Norwegian. You are a Jewess and having exactly zero to do with the Vikings or their descendents.