A World Tour of Books: One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina (Kenya)

The first time I heard of Binyavanga Wainaina was in 2014. Several countries across Africa had either proposed or passed harsher laws against homosexuality. As a response to this and after losing a gay friend whose family was thrown out of church when they tried to hold his memorial, Wainaina publicly came out as gay. He was the first famous Kenyan to do so and stay in Kenya.

There was some backlash, as one would expect, but also a lot of praise for his courage to come out in a country where homosexual acts are still illegal. I remember thinking that I needed to know more about this brave man and made a mental note that one day I should read something of his. 

The opportunity presented itself when I came across his memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place. 

It tells the story of his life, from a day-dreaming school boy to a depressed young student in South Africa to finally realising his call as an author. But it is also a chronicle of a changing country. When Wainaina was born, Kenya had been free from British colonialism for only a little over a decade. Followed did a succession of not so democratic governments, until 2010 when a new constitution was signed into law. 

Wainaina also writes about the evolving culture around him. Music is often mentioned as are books, his constant refuge. With the introduction of the Internet in the 90’s came new possibilities and through it Wainaina would meet the person with whom he would found Kwani?, the first east African literary magazine since the 70’s.

I really enjoyed Wainaina’s writing. His prose has a dreamlike quality to it and the stream of consciousness narrative takes you right into the heart of the story.

One thing I wondered a lot during my reading was how different the book would have been if the author had come out as gay before writing it. No romantic interests are ever mentioned and the reference to him being attracted to women are less than convincing (or did it just feel that way because I knew he was gay before reading his memoir?).

Interestingly, Wainaina published what he called a “lost chapter” of his book when he came out. Titled I am a homosexual, mum, it tells the truth he could not bring himself to say at the time he first wrote down his life story. I can warmly recommend it, as well as One Day I Will Write About This Place in its entirety. 

​A World Tour of Books: Kallocain by Karin Boye (Sweden)

I have been looking forward to writing this post and introducing to those of you who have yet to heard of her the great Karin Boye. Born in Sweden, in my hometown of Gothenburg, she is one Sweden’s most beloved writers and poets.

A talented and complex character, she struggled with her sexuality for most of her life. After a religious crisis (which inspired her novel Crisis) she embraced her attraction to women. For the last seven years of her life she was in a relationship with a Jewish German refugee named Margot Hanel. This at a time when same-sex relations were still illegal in Sweden.

Another interesting aspect of Boye’s life is her politics. A Marxist in her youth, she became disillusioned with the ideology after travelling through the Soviet Union. The authoritarianism she witnessed there was very likely an inspiration to the book I want to write about in this post: the sci-fi dystopia Kallocain.

Told from the perspective of the scientist Leo Kall, the story paints the picture of a grim future. In the totalitarian Worldstate all forms of individualism have been abolished. The state dictates how you dress, what you work with, where you live and even what opinions you are allowed to express. Individuals are seen as worthless in themselves and only part of a wider organism: the State.

But there is one barrier that have yet to be breached: the individual mind. Even with the “police eye” and the “police ear” spying on people in their very home, the State has no way of knowing people’s innermost thoughts and feelings. That is until Leo Kall invents a powerful new drug, kallocain,  that makes people reveal those very things.

Kall is an idealist, loyal to the State and initially very optimistic about his new invention. But what it will reveal is not only the secret world of those he injects the drug with but also something hidden inside of himself. A longing he will himself try to deny. A longing for love, liberty and a true sense of community different from the false one dictated by the State. 

Boye is cold and very matter-of-fact in her depiction of the world she writes. The story gives very little hope of things getting better and something about the ambience of the story reminds me of Kafka. 

Did Boye believe she was writing a depiction of a future that awaits us? Or was it a warning in hope that we would avoid it? Worth noting is that Karin Boye committed suicide mere months after the books was published. It is believed a personal loss was the main contributing factor, but could her beliefs about humanity’s future have contributed to her despair? 

Either way, Kallocain is a great classic in the dystopia sci-fi genre and has a well-deserved place alongside books such as George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. It will disturb you, make you think and cherish those personal freedoms we so often take for granted. 

France embraces progress after all 

Last night around 8 p.m. the results of the French elections were announced and to my relief Macron won with 65% of votes.

Lately I have been worrying more and more about the rise of the far-right in Europe and it has made me question some of my plans in life. If I get married, how do I know my legal union will not be made invalid in a couple of years? Dare I adopt any children? Will a far-right state one day take them away from me because they deem LGBTQ people unfit to care for kids? 

Many great things have happened in the last decades when it comes to LGBTQ rights. But there is so much hatred still, lurking beneath the surface. In many churches, even here in progressive Sweden, they still preach hate against people like us. I know because I grew up in one of those churches. There is far more enmity against us than they dare show openly and many are preparing, binding their time until they get a chance to strip us of our rights. 

But for now we can breathe a little bit more freely. France didn’t choose the path of bigotry and hopefully it will influence the rest of Europe. 

Next year there will be an election on my country. Two parties have actively been fighting LGBTQ rights. One is a small, nearly extinct Christian right party but the other one is a far-right party with roots in neo-nazism and it has increasingly grown in popularity over the last couple of years. 

I’m thinking about getting involved in political activism next year and join the fight against these destructive forces. I haven’t decided yet what party I’ll join but it will be either the Centre Party or the Liberal Party. Either way I’m ready and will not give up my rights without a fight. 

Numb

If there’s a word to describe how I’ve been feeling since Friday it’s that one. Numb. I didn’t feel much when I first heard of the terrorist attack in my country’s capital. Especially not surprise.

Terrorist attacks in Europe are so common now that when a new one happens it isn’t much of a shock even if it’s still horrifying. Sad to say but it’s starting to feel like the new normal. 

That it would happen in Sweden was more or less inevitable. We have one of Europe’s highest numbers of members and sympathisers of ISIS and the government here is known to be especially lack with punishing these fuckers. The only thing that surprised me a little bit was that the attack happened in Stockholm and not in my birth city of Gothenburg, known to be one of Europe’s biggest recruiting grounds for ISIS. 

I’ve been hearing people say that we need to keep doing everything the same to show the terrorists they aren’t winning. But realistically we can’t pretend we are just as safe as before. Earlier this year I already made the decision to not attend any Pride parades anymore. After the Pulse massacre and knowing the hatred these ISIS fucks have for LGBTQ-people, I can no longer feel safe doing that. And I’d rather avoid getting shot or ran over by a truck than make a statement about not being afraid. 

I’m probably not the only one feeling this way and maybe that’s a small victory for the terrorists in the short run. But they won’t win. Rationality, science and atheism are the way of the future. We must never stop fighting for a secular and logical society if we want the world to be a better place.

There is nothing these religious lunatics fear more than just that and maybe that’s why they hate the modern world so much. Maybe the childish minds of the very religious can’t handle living in a world where magical thinking doesn’t work and things aren’t real just because they have faith that it is.

Well, that’s their problem.  Willful stupidity and ignorance can win over science and rationality as much as a rabbit can beat an elephant to death. The religious terrorists’ childish fears cannot and will not stop progress.

Still, right now I feel numb. The nightmare inducing images (that some sick people shared on social media. Seriously, who does that?) from the attack are etched in my mind. The horror feels at once surreal and far too real to comprehend. 

But maybe it’s okay to take some time to let everything sink in. Recharge the batteries before planning what to do next. Because I sure will not just sit on my ass while religious fools are killing children on the streets of my country in an attempt to force their religion on everyone else. 

I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to do. I’m thinking about getting involved  in a Swedish organisation that fights for a secular society.

Right now, though, I’m going to go ahead and feel numb. Then I’ll probably feel dread and sorrow. And then, like my country, I’ll get back up and keep going.

I’m 3,3% Neanderthal and other things I learned from my DNA test 

Back in December I ordered a DNA kit from the company 23andMe because I was curious about what my genome could tell me about me. Several weeks later I got this box in the mail:

In it was this little plastic tube I had to spit into:

Then I put the tube back into the box and had it shipped to the 23andMe lab in the Netherlands. Fast forward two and a half months later and I got an email that my results were in.

The first thing I checked out in my online 23andMe profile was how many procent of my DNA was inherited from Neanderthal ancestors. The reason is that I kind of have a nerdy fascination with this extinct species of humans and was eager to know if I’m in anyway related to them. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I am actually in the 99th percentile, meaning 99% of 23andMe users have lower Neanderthal DNA than I have! 

It can seem a weird thing to be happy about but I’m kinda weird so there you go. Having a high procentage of Neanderthal DNA can also tell you something about you. It has been discovered for example that it can lead to having a higher risk for depression but also a better immunity to certain diseases.

Then I looked at my ancestry. Having a French father and a French-Swedish mother I was curious of what it might look like. This is what I found:

As expected I was mostly French. But as was a little bit surprised to find out I was more British and Irish than Scandinavian. Overall I think it was cool to be able to see my ancestry all over Europe, from Finland to the Iberian peninsula. 

Next I looked up what genes I may have that carried potential for different medical conditions:

To my relief I didn’t find anything unusual and worrying. But certain features were locked, like info on whether you have the genes for Alzheimers and breast cancer. It seems you have to ask to have that unlock, probably because a lot of people prefer not to know when it comes to these conditions. I’m myself still pondering whether or not I want these features unlocked.

You can also look up other interesting genetic traits you have:

Some are not that super interesting, like the texture of your earwax. But others can be very helpful to know. Like for example I learned I have a higher number of fast-twitching muscle fibers, which makes me better for strength training than endurance training: 

This has actually helped me make a decision. I’ve been pondering lately if I should focus on running or go back to weight training. As I’m genetically much more built for strength training that’s what I’ve decided to focus on. After the 5K I have in the beginning of May, I’ll get back to the gym! 

The 23andMe website has other cool features to help you learn more about yourself, like it can help you find genetic relatives. This has actually helped people who are adopted reconnect with their biological families. 

You can also browse raw data if you’re looking for specific genes:

There is even a website you can upload your genome information to and learn more about your genetic makeup. A word of warning though: you might learn some things you would have preferred not to know. 

Overall I’m glad I took this test. I learned a lot of interesting things about myself  that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. I’m definitely not done researching my DNA and I hope to continue learning more about it. 


Here is the link to the 23andMe website if you’re interested in taking their DNA test: 23andme.com

Goals for 2017!

I’m someone who believes in having a plan. I believe it makes it easier to reach one’s goals in life and encourages one to muster the self-discipline required to always keep working towards new ones. So before every new year I make a clear, easy-to-check list of things I want to do/achieve in the coming year.

I have now finished my 2017 to-do-list and here it is:

 

Have top surgery!

After healing from top surgery, get back to the gym and make some GAINS!

Get a haircut at a real barber shop

Go to the beach and swim with my shirt off

Walk in the 2017 Pride parade with my shirt off

Run in the summer rain with my shirt off

Get my own apartment. (Nearly impossible with the current housing shortage but a guy can always hope :/ )

(If I get my own apartment) Adopt an animal from a shelter

Find a boyfriend

Apply to school program to become a web developer and, if I get in, start my education

Learn as much HTML and other programming languages as I can before starting school

Reach 1000 followers on Twitter

If I reach 1000 followers on Twitter, start an author Facebook page

Finish writing part 2 of The Sorcerer’s Sword and publish it

Get a traditional shaving kit that is also vegan (will definitely blog about that!)

Start my secret blogging project 😉

Visit the US for the first time

Get my DNA tested for ancestry and genetic information such as predisposition for certain illnesses

Continue to be involved in the resistance movement against the fascist orange Cheeto

See Star Wars episode VIII in December!

 

I will be blogging about many of the things on this list so stay tuned!

 

Two weeks on T! 

TMI/trigger warning: mention of downstairs stuff 

I have now been two weeks on testosterone and here are some changes I have noticed this week.

Higher libido

Definitely higher libido. To the point where it’s kind of distracting and quite frustrating

Beginning of voice changes?

I have been experiencing this strange feeling in my throat for some days now. It feels itchy and tight but not the same way as when you have a cough or a sore throat. It’s kind of hard to describe and I’ve never felt something like this before. Could this be the start of voice changes? I don’t know but let’s hope so.

Energy levels and workout performance 

My energy levels have steadily gone up since I’ve started T and it’s a welcome change after having struggled with fatigue for the last two months. I’ve even started exercising regularly again. And I’ve noticed sometime interesting: when I have exercised these past two weeks I have been able to push myself further and for longer than before. Workout that would have left me exhausted before are now not even making me tired.

Downstairs growth 

Barely noticeable but it’s there. It seems to have grown more in girth than in length.

 

Not much else has happened but I’ve learned something in the past week: testosterone gel is pretty inconvenient and I will probably go on injections when I get the chance.

What bothers me is not having to take it everyday. After a couple of days it becomes just another part of your routine, like brushing your teeth. Rather it’s, on one hand, having to constantly worry about contamination. I’ve caught myself doing things while wearing short sleeves like giving someone a hug or carrying my cat on my shoulders only to suddenly remember that I might contaminate them. It really limits how much physical contact you can have with others for a least 6-7 hours after having put on the gel.

The other thing is that it limits what you can do during large parts of the day. As you can’t sweat or get wet for 6-7 hours, you can’t exercise or go swimming for all that time. As I love working out and am looking forward to go to the beach after my top surgery, I’d rather not have that to worry about.

5 things you can do to help beat the winter blues

The winter time can be an emotionally draining time for those us who live in the north. The cold and the darkness left behind by a sun that does us the pleasure of visiting only a few hours a day can feel quite depressing.

Where I live, Scandinavia, the winter blues is a very well known phenomenon. The general mood drops during the cold season. Some even become severely depressed (something called seasonal affective disorder).

Luckily, there are some things you can do to help elevate your mood during these (literally) dark times. Here are five I have tried myself and found to be effective. But first:

A disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. These advice are based on personal experience and second-hand information. They are not supposed to substitute for actual medical advice. If you are experiencing major depressive symptoms, seek the help of a medical professional. 

 

1. Make some changes to your diet

One of the best things you can do for your health is to learn all you can about proper nutrition. What you eat becomes the building blocks of your body so your foods choices are of great importance. And when your body feels good it will have a positive impact on your mind.

Some general nutrition advice are: avoid empty carbs and white bread, instead choose whole grain. Avoid refined sugar like the ones found in cakes and candy. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. Make sure to drink enough water (about 2 liters a day).

When it comes to food that are good for the winter blues, look for food high in B6, B12, omega-3, tryptophan and vitamin D. Read more about what foods to eat here.

2. Meditate 

Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years and has been studied and shown to have a wide range of positive effects on health, from reduced stress to slower aging. But most of all it helps people find inner peace and face the challenges of life with a bit more “zen”.

I have suffered from depression and anxiety for most of my life and I’ve found that few things help me better than meditation. During the dark and cold months of the year I appreciate meditation and the inner calm it brings even more.

This see a video beginner’s guide to meditation click here.

3. Invest in a light therapy lamp 

If you cannot get your needed daily dose of daylight naturally, why not try artificial daylight? Light therapy lamps mimic the light of the sun and are used as a treatment for winter depression. Sitting one to three hours a day in front of this type of lamp can help ease the feelings of fatigue and depression associated with the winter blues.

I have personally bought a light therapy lamp and noticed an improvement in my energy level and general mood. Read more about light therapy and how to choose a lamp here.

4. Exercise

This advice might be the hardest to follow. When you have the winter blues it can be hard to find the enthusiasm to do anything, let alone exercise. But physical activity has been proven to improve the symptoms of depression and improve general brain health. Exercising regularly is one of the best habits you can develop to take care of both body and mind.

Try exercising in the morning (preferably outside or near a window in the hours after the sun has gone up so that you can get some sunlight in the process). You will likely be left feeling refreshed and energized to go on with your day.

5. Travel to the sun 

If you have the possibility and can afford it, consider making a trip to a sunnier place. In addition to giving you some well-needed warmth and sunlight, taking a sunny vacation gives you a break from routine and the stress of everyday life.

I’ve had some of my most interesting and uplifting experiences while travelling. It is a great way to make memories for life.

 

Update: one month on Strattera 

Today I have been one month and one day on the ADHD medication Strattera so I thought I’d do a little update about what has happened since my one week update.

There are three things I have noticed since then. 

The first one is an increased sensitivity to sound. I’ve always been easily disturbed by noise and I need silence when I do anything that demands focus. Even something like the ticking of a clock annoys me to no end. But in the last weeks I’ve been distracted by sounds even more that I used to before. It’s nothing I can’t handle but it’s little bit inconvenient. 

The second thing is weight loss. I usually put on weight very easily. Even with a healthy diet, if I don’t exercise regularly I put on weight in no time. But in the last four weeks, I have been losing about 1-2 kg per week despite not having made any big changes to my diet or not having exercised much more than before. I’m not completely sure the weight loss is caused by the meds but either way I’m glad it happened. I’ve had a really hard time keeping off excess weight since I hit puberty so this is a welcomed change.

The third thing I’ve noticed is forgetfulness caused by being so focused. For example, the other day I walked half the day with my shirt turned inside out without noticing because I was so focused on what I was doing. I’ve also been forgetting my keys and cellphone on several occasions because I was so focused on getting to wherever I was going. I’ve had to put effort into being a little bit mindful lately and actually try to not focus too much. 

When it comes to my ADD-symptoms, Strattera is still helping a lot. My ability to concentrate and my energy levels have never been better. I can barely believe that I managed as well as I did without these meds. 

Overall, I’m happy with my treatment and the outcome of it. 

Book recommendation: City of Hope and Ruin by Kit Campbell and Siri Paulson

Some weeks ago I was looking through some tags right here on WordPress when I stumbled upon Siri Paulson’s blog. I read about her novel which she had co-written with another author, Kit Campbell, and got curious. So I bought the book from the Kindle store and I have to say: I’m really glad I did! 

City of Hope and Ruin is a story about two women. Theosophy is a warrior, fighting every night against the monsters who hunt the streets after sundown. Meanwhile, Briony is trying to convince her family to leave their home and town. More and more refugees are coming everyday and the Scarred, a mysterious and cruel people who carve their victims up while they are still alive, are approaching. 

The two women live in two different worlds but through a series of events they will make a connection across the dimensions. Together they will discover the secrets of the fractured world and find strength in each other. Perhaps even something more.

I really enjoyed reading this book and seeing the plot develop. So many mysteries in the story awoke my curiosity: Who are the Scarred? Where do the monsters come from? What happened to the City? All these questions kept me scrolling through the pages.  

I can gladly recommend this book. If you wish to purchase it, it is available on Amazon both as paperback and on Kindle.