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.
– 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)