Eveybody’s grown up, and then there’s me.

Seeing how many of my former classmates are all “grown up” with boyfriends, fiancés, husbands, kids, houses, cars and down-paid student loans have made me think thoughts that felt distant when I was at Augustana, but suddenly very close now that I’m here in Norway.

I’ve felt a combination of relief and gratitude for the freedom of not having to “grow up” yet; of not having to worry about buying a station wagon, finding a job, planning family vacations or weddings, arguing about how to raise the kids, and about making secure, logical and reasonable life choices.

But in between that relief and gratitude, there’s doubt. Logical doubt. Tempting shortcuts rooted inside comfort-zones. So many easier options, secure options, reasonable options.

“Am I making the right decisions with my life? Is my dream worth hundreds of thousands of dollars? Am I the only one in the world not wanting to settle? Should I settle?”

Photo: Mirjam Lavelle.

You see, Norway is a paradise for secure, logical and reasonable life choices. I’m surrounded by people who’ve done it all the “right way.” You know, the way banks, parents, teachers, coaches and neighbors have advised you to do things from the day you were born.

The Utopia for comfortable and predictable lifestyles is right here in Norway — everywhere I turn I see logic screaming for attention.

Still, I choose not to listen.

Please don’t get me wrong; my heart bubbles of joy when I see people who found their way, their job and their loved one. I’m thrilled to see that their relationships are thriving, that their coffeemaker was on sale, that their station wagon runs well, that their honeymoon-tickets were cheap, that their baby said a word, that the lawn is recovering from the winter and that their student loans are paid down. I’m happy for them, I really am.

But I also know that behind my occasional moments of doubt and temptation for “the comfortable,” I have to continue working towards my dream; the dream that won’t be satisfied by having a house, a car, a coffee-maker and a nine-to-five job.

In the midst of all the noise, I need to follow my heart and trust God.

Photo: Mirjam Lavelle.

So, what am I trying to say?

– In my head there’s nothing logical about NYU Tisch, or even attempting to apply to the program. Less than two percent gets accepted, and it’s so expensive that regardless of how fast I say the number, it still takes a great deal of syllables to pronounce the cost in its entirety. Meanwhile, I could have studied for free at a Norwegian university, settled with my journalism degree, gotten a normal job and started saving up for that station wagon — but once again I ignored logic and went with my heart.

Sometimes I feel confident in the decision, and sometimes I ask myself what in the world I’m doing.

Yesterday fit the latter description. I felt freaked out when I thought about the tremendous amounts of money that goes into my dream, and about the things I sacrifice.

But I tell myself that even if I’m not close to buying a house or a car, and probably can’t afford anything big enough to earn the name “apartment” for quite some time, I’m at least fueling my dream the best I can.

I don’t need a perfect lawn or a nice coffee-maker for now, I need to make films.

The rest is up to God.


Bite the Dust

Every time I come back to Norway for the summer I suddenly see my country with a different set of eyes, and things that used to be familiar and normal have a tendency to seem a little odd to begin with. That’s okay. I’ve lived in the US for three years, and the fact that I’ve become more “Americanized” with time should come as no surprise. But there’s one thing that has started to bother me more and more each time.

With the fear of sounding like some kind of a traitor, I’ll try to pick my words carefully, but this one Norwegian “characteristic” has become so annoying to me that I, at one point, told myself I could no longer see myself living here.

The concept is hardly unique for Norway, but from my experience it is far more prominent here than in the US.

It’s the “Law of Jante.”

If you’re not familiar with this crippling concept—good for you—but I’ll try to explain it anyway.

This may sound harsh to some, but for the purposes of demonstrating my point, I’ll say that to Norwegians the Law of Jante is what the Pledge of Allegiance is to Americans; in the sense that it’s so deeply ingrained into the culture that people don’t even think of it as a tad bit strange anymore. It’s noticeable as soon as you enter the domestic part of any Norwegian airport, and it reads as follows:


I hate it!

I never noticed how bad it was until I moved away, and I’m sure our society doesn’t even realize the grip Jante has on it.

I don’t think people necessarily mean any harm by obeying to this law, I’m just saddened to—once again—discover the tremendous impact it has on people’s lives and behavior.

The effects of Jante can be very subtle, and it can be very obvious.

Just because the general philosophy says that you shouldn’t stick your head out too far, or raise your voice too high, people rarely have the courage to confront you if they think you’ve put on too much of a show. But subtle or not, there will be consequences for not adapting to the law; backbiting, rumors, lost friendships and a constant feeling of swimming against the current, to mention a few.

This is the recipe for insecurities, inferiority complexes, stagnation and broken dreams, and it makes me feel trapped; trapped inside a room that was built for people who’s been taught to walk with their heads down.

“Don’t stand up too tall — you might get noticed. Don’t speak up — someone might hear you. And whatever you do, don’t try to be good. And actually, now that you’re at it, you may try to hide away those talents of yours, too. Just in case.”

It’s claustrophobic beyond measures.

Sometimes I want to use a sledgehammer to tear down the low ceiling in all these Norwegian rooms that makes it impossible to stand with your back straight.

I’m not saying that cockiness and arrogance is any better, but confidence, dreams and joy cannot thrive in these conditions. We need encouragement, support, enthusiasm, respect and a feeling of self-worth before we can even begin to talk about growth, progress and — happiness.

Imagine if we paid more attention to the reasons why the people around us will succeed, why they’re important, what makes them beautiful, and what they have to offer.

Jante, you’re not going to win. I’m not afraid of using that sledgehammer when I have to, and consider this my first swing.

I encourage every single one of you to internalize these words.
Live, teach and breathe them!

Your voice does matter.

Bless you,

Sexism in the film industry

With only a few hours left until this year’s Academy Awards will be kicked off in the Dolby Theatre, I wanted to re-share the editorial I wrote about the issue of sexism in the film industry. I actually first shared this piece two years ago, but the issue is still just as bad — if not worse — and since we’ll have to wait at least another year before we can see a woman receive the Oscar for best achievement in directing again, I feel the need to express what I think about it.

With today’s increased awareness around gender inequality, one would think that the film industry – with all its power and influence – would set an example for equality, but sadly, Hollywood is just as sexist as the rest of America.

This is an important issue to address because research has shown that the viewers’ opinions, values and perceptions are likely to be influenced by the films and TV-shows they watch. Film is one of the few remaining mediums that still possesses such power, and with the descending significance of newspapers and radio in our society, the film industry’s role is more important than ever.

According to Forbes’ list of top ten highest paid actors in 2013, the men made a total of $465 million, while the women collected only $181 million. Before we draw any hasty conclusions, we must take into consideration that male actors are more frequently cast in action films, and those films are more likely to bring in more money than for example drama and comedy – where the females are better represented. But the gap is still too big to be ignored.

In recent years, the “Bechdel Test” has been used to determine women’s role in the film industry. And to pass the test, the movie must have at least two female characters in it, who talk to each other, about something besides a man. Well, you might not even have noticed why a test like that would be necessary in the first place, but the horrifying truth is that less than 57 percent of the films in today’s popular culture actually passes it. That means women are either excluded or play insignificant roles in almost half of the movies on the market!

Daniel Craig as James Bond in Spectre (2015) Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / Columbia Pictures. 
Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Dwayne Johnson and Rufus Sewell in Hercules (2014) Photo: Paramount Pictures / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

It’s nothing short of a shame that the film industry’s power of influence has, too often, been used to glorify the stereotypical male hero, while the women seems to have been placed on the screen simply as “set-props.“ In my opinion, if the character doesn’t speak a single word, is partially naked, or dressed in sexually revealing clothes – which is the case for nearly 30 percent of all female characters, she is, in fact, more of a set-prop than a character.

There has, however, been a positive development within the industry, both on and off the screen in recent years. Marilyn Monroe’s image as an objectified temptress has become less attractive, and an increasing number of actors and female directors have taken a stand in the issue of gender inequality. When Hollywood’s own first lady, Angelina Jolie, was asked to play a “Bond girl,” she refused to take the part, and said she’d rather play James bond himself. Not long after, she was cast for the leading role in the action movie “Salt” – a role originally created for Tom Cruise. This is the kind of change we need!

Angelina Jolie as Evelyn Salt in Salt (2010) Photo: Columbia Pictures.

Unfortunately, the gender imbalance on-screen is just as present behind the camera. Did you know that the first Academy Awards were held almost a century ago, and that during that time, only one woman has won the Oscar for Best Director? Out of all those 88 award ceremonies, Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman who has had the pleasure of stepping onto the podium and receiving that 8.5-pound golden wonder with the inscription “Best Achievement in Directing” on it. This, of course, cannot be blamed solely on the Academy, as they are voting on the best films regardless of who made them. Whether or not the voting is fair and unbiased is a topic for another editorial, but there are too few female directors out there, and too few producers who are willing to give them a chance.

Kathryn Bigelow with her Oscar at the 2010 Academy Awards. Photo: Jason Merrit / Getty Images.

Maybe not surprisingly, there has, according to the New York Film Academy’s research, been shown an 11 percent increase in female characters on the screen when a woman directs the film. So, if we want a change, we, the women, will have to take matters into our own hands. There is absolutely no reason why a female should be any less equipped for creating movies that will both pass the Bechdel test, win Academy Awards, give a voice to other women within the film industry, as well as contributing to creating a healthy female ideal for the rest of the world to follow.

Maria Lavelle

That was awkward.

Do you ever crack yourself up by just realizing how totally ridiculous you are? I think it’s a gift; being able to laugh at yourself. I just wish I had the ability to see the humour as it happens, not after I’ve already swallowed a load of frustration and humiliation.

You see, I’ve been down with a flu for four days, enduring 102-degree fevers while watching castles of Kleenex build around my bed. I felt horrible, and I looked horrible. Today, however, I had to defy my body’s advice of staying in bed because I had a very important errand to run at the grocery store. If you’re a woman you’ll understand what could possibly be that important; it starts with “tam” and end with “pons.”

(Thankfully, I did not have any pictures from todays incidents. This will have to do.)

As I staggered my way into HyVee with hair so greasy I looked like I was trying to pull off the “wetlook” and wearing my less fashionable winter coat and uggs, I picked up a box of Ben & Jerry’s and a bag of potato chips on the way; just to add more weight to my already sloppy appearance, you know. And yes, I just realized that “add weight” has a dual meaning in this context.

After being discretely judged by the freshfaced cashier with a fancy updo, I withdrew 6o dollars that I put in my pocket.

As I exit the store, I choke so badly on the wind that I have to turn around just to breathe through my useless nostrils. Then, my baseball cap flies off and nearly gets run over by a truck, but my head was no longer in the cap at that point, so it could’ve been worse.

Relieved that I made it all the way back to my car, I suddenly see a 20-dollar bill glued onto my door. (At the time, I didn’t realize it wasn’t actually glued, but rather held in place by the extreme winds we’ve had in Sioux Falls this week) *Hey, lucky day! I found 20 bucks!*

Then, as I reach down into my pocket to introduce my newly adopted 20-dollar bill with my other 60, I’m mortified to discover that my pocket is empty, and that the bill I found on my car was the lone survivor of the 60 I had just withdrawn. The other 40 were taken by the hurricane.

*May you rest in peace* or, preferably, *may you be a great blessing to whomever finds you.*

Clever, Maria. Truly clever.

This situation instantly reminded of that time I had to check into a sketchy small-town-Minnesota-motel at 2 AM, wearing nothing but my pyjamas under that same unfashionable winter coat, and the receptionist repeatedly asked me if I was planning on staying alone the whole night, or if I was expecting any guests at any time during the night? He clearly thought I was a prostitute. Or a victim of domestic violence. Or just high. Or all of the above. Showing up in PJs with bloodshot eyes, and no luggage — at two in the morning — did perhaps not diminish those stereotypes.

Little did he know that I had just escaped from my friend Rachel’s apartment because of a SEVERE allergic reaction to her adorable cat. I didn’t want to wake the whole house, and with my rapidly constricting airways I simply could not stay long enough to pack my suitcase. I had to prioritize breathing.

After the receptionist’s interrogation I went to my skimpy room, laughing. Dear Minnesota, what an adventure.

My point with this is that you’ll have so much more fun once you stop caring about people’s perception of you. Wear those PJs, let your dollar bills fly in the wind and rock that wetlook in public.

Liberation, ladies. Liberation.

Photo: Naras Pramswari.


Why I am single

My relationship status on Facebook has remained untouched since … well, I’ve stopped counting the years, but it’s been a long time since I had any romantic news to share. For that reason, people have made some very interesting assumptions about my sexuality and lifestyle-choices, so I figured I’d use my blog-voice to explain a thing or two.

When people ask me about my love life, I have a number of manufactured answers that I alternate between. They usually include the following words: “still waiting,” “busy,” “not enough time,” “busy,” “and more “busy.”

It’s not far from the truth, because I haven’t put in much of an effort in finding the one, and nobody seem to have put in much of an effort in finding me either. But that’s a terrible excuse, I’m aware of that. I know you have to give something to get something, but right now I embrace the freedom of being single, prioritizing my own projects and focusing on what I want to do.


If you’ve followed the blog for a while, you may have noticed that chasing a dream as a film director is not a hobby — it’s more like a fulltime job. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to find love. In fact, I want to find great love. I want to get married and have kids. Many kids.

But not until the time is right.

It may be in 15 years, or it may be next year.

So, to clarify:
I’m not secretly becoming a nun,
I’m not asexual,
and I’m not gay.

I wanted to include the latter, because, over the past few years, more girls than guys have hit on me. I don’t know why, but I should take it as a compliment, I guess. Anyway, very few guys have shown any interest. The guys who have, however, told me they put it off for a long time because they thought I was so intimidating (!)

Hellooo?! I think I’m a real sweetheart, so how anyone can think of me as intimidating, is beyond me. But even if I am, that shouldn’t be an issue. I mean, just look at the word: intimidatingintimate dating — that should give you all the courage you need!

This is my intimidator-pose. Photo: Naras Prameswari.

I do admit that I have wondered if maybe there’s something very weird about me that keeps the guys away, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a real catch, so until my man comes and sweeps me off my feet, I’ll snuggle up in all my weirdness and enjoy every minute of my single-life, because once I step out of it — I don’t plan on returning.


Bless you all,

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