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.
With a foot on each continent
This month has, in many ways, helped me ease out of my life as an Augustana student and into what feels like a layover while I wait for my next flight. Don’t misunderstand; I love my family and my country, but shifting between continents has a tendency to make me want to stand with one foot on each side of the Atlantic Ocean. It works for a few days, but for every hour that passes, I can feel the pieces of land sliding further and further apart and before I know it, I’m in splits.
Unless you’re a gymnast or ballet dancer, I hope you can relate when I say that sitting in splits can get rather uncomfortable for prolonged periods. I can only free myself from the discomfort by placing both feet next to each other, but that means I first have to pick one. Choosing one in front of the other is hard when you love them both so dearly, but this is the price to pay.
I have to understand that parts of my identity now belongs to America and that certain traces of it don’t always make it through customs when I go to Norway.
When I’m in the US, I’m a student, a classmate, a filmmaker, a public speaker, a foreigner, an activist and an artist.
When I’m in Norway, I’m a daughter, a sister, a native, a former track athlete, a former bodybuilder, a former-a-lot-of-things and a girl who goes to school somewhere far away.
It can be frustrating, draining and confusing.
But even if it may seem a little cynical, I would not have traded it for anything, because I found a place where I can spread my wings and be myself—my whole self—and I know that I’m loved despite my shifting geographical coordinates.
This year, however, the transition felt smoother than before and I didn’t even have to try to sit in splits; I got to bring a piece of America with me instead. My family got to meet with some of the people who have influenced me greatly over these past three years at Augustana, and I realized that a few of the things I thought I’d left behind weren’t gone after all.
Even if it was just for a moment, my two worlds united.
I left you hanging a little longer than I would have wanted after my previous post, but so many small details had to be put into place before I could share the big news. Now, however, it’s time!
I apologize to the few individuals who already know about this but started expecting some other big news after reading my last entry. If I already told you it means you’re a part of my inner circle, so try to see that as something nice.
If you’ve read the blog regularly, you probably know that the three letters N-Y-U have been the source of a lot of excitement—and despair—for me over the past few months. You may remember my post, “So very bittersweet,” about how I got accepted to the graduate film program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and about how I was $30,000 short and couldn’t go. I was heartbroken, but I told God that I wanted to walk on His path, with or without NYU. I let it go, right there in that moment and chose to trust His ways, while I started looking at other—and more affordable—ways to fullfill my dream of becoming a filmmaker.
But then, some things happened behind the scenes, and I wrote the follow-up, “Mysterious Ways,” where I shared that I was suddenly just $15,000 short. Changes in the budget and several donations from family, friends and strangers made the whole thing seem a little less impossible — but still not quite within reach.
In the weeks that followed, I was asked to do a number of interviews with the media, and I told all the reporters that “Yes, I’m going to NYU, and I look forward to starting my studies there in the fall.” When I didn’t say anything on the blog, some of you probably thought “oh, she must have found a way to pay for it then.”
At that point I had only told a few people about my secret because I wanted to wait for all the paperwork to to be completed. But now I can finally write the words:
Thanks to God’s amazing grace, my family’s support and the tremendous generosity of Mary Hart and Burt Sugarman, I now have the money I need to attend the first year at NYU!
I honestly don’t know what to say. I’m still blown away, and I realize that this sounds like one of those stories you only see in the movies: “Foreign girl without financial resources gets accepted to prestigious university, and a Hollywood-couple—whom she has never met—watches her zero-budget documentary and decides to give her the help she needs to fulfill her dream.”
This is the short version of the story, but the truth is that most of this happened without me knowing. My family did what they could to help me on my way, but when they couldn’t go any further and had to let it go, some people picked up that near-doused torch before the relay eventually ended up in Los Angeles where Mary and Burt ran the final leg of the race.
God surely works in mysterious ways.
I did not see this coming, and words cannot express how grateful I am. I laid down all my plans of going to NYU that day when I wrote the first post about it, but there was a way there all along. I just couldn’t see it on my own, and I needed help to run the distance. I don’t know how I’ll finance my 2nd and 3rd year in New York, but I believe there’s a way for that too.
I want to thank my family for doing everything in their power to help me make this happen, as well as my friends and the Augustana community for their support and encouraging words.
I want to use my talents to honor God, and I will do my absolute best to make sure these resources are well-spent.
A Thousand Days of Prairie
My Augustana adventure ended no less than 11 days ago, and based on my activity on social media one might think my blog career ended that day as well, but I can assure you that’s not the case.
After having successfully moved out of the dorms—and less successfully condensed all my belongings into two suitcases—I made it back to Norway for the summer. Now, however, after some actual relaxing and quality time with my family, I felt the urge to blow some life into this place again.
This past week has been filled with a lot of reflecting and a lot of trying to calculate the length of a day, because I still can’t seem to understand how my three years at Augustana could go by so fast. When I think about this chapter as a whole I feel like there’s a whole chunk missing; almost like I closed my eyes for a moment and suddenly woke up ten minutes later — only to realize I slept through a whole night. But when I think about everything I’ve done, experienced and been a part of, I’m amazed it hasn’t been longer.
This sort of reflecting has also made it very clear to me that these three years have been the best of my life, thus far. Which is something I give God the glory for.
And do you want to hear a fun fact? I graduated exactly 1000 days after I first arrived on campus. Yes, one thousand days! How cool is that? Y’all know I have a thing for whole numbers. You see, despite my lousy math skills, I do recognize the beauty of a round, whole number. If I was to write a book about this, it would be called A Thousand Days of Prairie. I like the sound of that round, whole title too, haha.
Anyway, in my previous post I told you I had some big news to share, and even if I hate to leave you hanging, I have to ask you to wait a few more days. The details just have to be ready first. But I can tell you this: since I’m an actual journalist now and have to maintain certain standards and avoid so-called sensationalization with my writing, I think I can say that these news are pretty extraordinary. Oh, by the way, I’m not pregnant, engaged or any less single than usual, so don’t expect anything of that sort — although, that would’ve been almost as surprising as these news. Just stay tuned.
Bless you all,
Why I feel called to be a filmmaker
I first discovered the wonderful world of cinema when I was 11 years old. I mean, I had always enjoyed movies, but it was not until that particular year that I started to realize I no longer had a choice in the matter – I had to be a filmmaker.
In retrospect, I see that I had many filmmakers’ symptoms even before I knew what they were. For instance: when I was introduced to E.T. at age eight, I spent the next months relentlessly searching for a flashlight that could create the same kinds of light beams I had seen in the movie. I even went as far as putting ‘flashlights’ all over my wish list for both my birthday and Christmas – not knowing that those beautiful cinematic beams were caused by the haze in the air, and not the flashlight itself. That was the beginning of my film-nerding phase.
Screenshot from E.T. Dreamworks 1982. Directed by Steven Spielberg.
But this story does not really start there. I am not writing this because of a fascination for “Spielbergian” cinematography, or because I saw one single film and decided I wanted to be a filmmaker. No, I am writing this to share the story of the months that changed my life, and slowly made me discover a passion that goes far beyond light beams and flashlights.
It all began when I was ten, and one morning woke up with terrible stomach pain. To make a long story short: the doctors found three cystic tumors on my liver, and as my health was quickly deteriorating I was and sent to a hospital in a city three hours away for treatment. You can read the whole story here: “The tumors that changed my life”.
During this time, movies became a way for me to escape, and they allowed me–even for just a moment–to forget about the cold liquids that entered my veins through the IV standing next to my bed. I let Charlie take me to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, I saw Ms. Trunchbull hammer-throw little girls by their ponytails in Matilda, and I witnessed Pippi Longstocking’s superpowers with the same excitement I had seen Elliott’s bike fly across the full-moon in E.T. a few years earlier.
The thrill of seeing the young characters overcome their struggles, explore the unknown and stun the world with their abilities made me hungry for more. Despite their young age, they had already experienced severe adversity, but that did not in any way lessen their success. I wanted to be one of them, and I wanted to tell stories like theirs – stories to encourage and inspire.
In the years that followed, my family faced a number of challenges because of my mother’s health, but together with our mutual faith, movies have always been something that united us. It is that time of the week when we are all together, we forget about tomorrow and we sweep through several movies back to back. It is our thing. And it is great.
More than a decade has passed, but my goal is still the same: I want to make films that make people feel what I felt when I was first introduced to Matilda and Charlie, and I strive to make people feel what they only experience in their dreams, or when they look back at their past. That does not mean I only want to make those glossy, orange-filtered music video-looking films that remind people of their glorious youth. No, I want to make films that can inspire people to expand their own horizon, help them see beyond where they are and what they have, and encourage them to believe in something bigger.
As an adult, I see that it was not Matilda, Charlie, Pippi, or Elliott themselves that inspired me – it was their stories; they were ordinary people on extraordinary journeys.
I may never invent anything that will have a universal impact on people, but I want to use my talents to tell stories, and let them speak for themselves, something I think is more important than ever. Not just for entertainment purposes, but because, in my opinion, film is one of the mediums that still possess the power to truly influence people.
So what about the things I said in the introduction, about not having a choice in the matter, and that I had to be a filmmaker? Well, that is how I feel, even if at this point do not have the financial resources to go to film school. I guess some people feel called to be doctors, carpenters, lawyers, priests and teachers, while others are called to make films. I have many times wished I were not so ridiculously passionate about it, because it is certainly not the most secure or financially rewarding job, at least not to begin with, but I am determined to do everything I possibly can to tell those stories that are just waiting to be told on the screen.
It’s been a week since I got accepted to the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and like I mentioned in my last post “Mysterious Ways,” people have reached out and suggested ways to come up with the money. So, after a lot of debating with myself and a lot of “peer pressure,” I have now stepped way outside my comfort zone and started a GoFundMe profile.
It’s really uncomfortable putting myself out there like that, because this time around I’m not doing it on behalf of the homeless community or anyone else. I also keep thinking that having a roof over your head, food on the table and a basic education is a right we should fight for, while going to film school is not a human right — it’s a privilege.
But for me, it is about embracing an opportunity that will allow me to tell more of those important stories. I want to change lives with my work, and I believe NYU can help me on my way.