Wednesday 5 October 2016


One of the pleasures remaining to us of a certain age is to have unplanned encounters with hitherto unknown fellow humans. I have to admit that this is a relatively new experience for me. When I was younger, I tended to avoid coming into contact with strangers for several reasons.

I am by nature a solitaire, quite clumsy in using the various modes of getting into and keeping social contacts. To that has to be added a slightly paranoid affliction – stemming from my early childhood experiences, no doubt – which shows itself in fearing my integrity being threatened or being manipulated by people I am not familiar with. Fortunately, age has whittled away most of these concerns.

This process of liberalization took off when I went on my quest to California, back in 2010 and thereafter. People in the US, especially in California, are very easy to address and I got a lot of interesting and warming contacts, whilst busy with documenting student life and city life in Berkeley and its surroundings.

Since then, I am trying to maintain the good habit of opening up to other human beings. I even have gone so far as to invite readers of my website to contact me and seek counsel, if they feel the need for it. To date, only one person has taken me up on that offer – in the four years the website has been on Internet – but I am glad to say that it was to mutual benefit. I could help the person carry his thesis project through, in view of difficulties to communicate with his thesis adviser – quite common – and we keep having pleasant lunch meetings ever since.

The other week, when I was on my way home along Lumagatan, I happened upon a vehicle that I first thought to be a movable office van. But inside was a woman doing housekeeping chores, so it was a camping car I saw. We came to chat about this and that and, gradually, it dawned on me that she must be from Californa, to judge from her pronounciation. So I decided on the spot to invite her home for a coffee. She graciously accepted but asked me, could her husband come along? He was at a repair shop in the surroundings to get his "drone" fixed – Yes! We have shops for even this in my neighborhood. 

Eventually the couple arrived at my doorsteps, but accompanied, to my surprise, by a young Norwegian friend of theirs and a lot of food they had thought to prepare for dinner and brought along to my place instead. A cosy evening followed, with chat, food and drink, and we had a great time. Especially since the view from my apartment was at its most generous, with a grand sunset as shown here in the two pictures.

An interesting topic came up during our conversation. The husband, although a lot younger than me, but apparently in the middle of a career make-over, told me of his plans to start giving seminars to people about to retire. He saw it as his duty to help the soon-to-be pensioners find their right path through the remaining 30 years of their life (as he expressed it). To my surprise he went on to say that it should be each person's duty to round up his life as if writing the most important, albeit final chapters of his book.

I was astounded! Had I not seen my life after work in exactly the same fashion? Had I not produced not only one, but two books as the final act before the curtain would fall? At the same time I was in a quandary: had it not taken me "only" seven years to accomplish this task, and now this new friend was talking about having to fill all of thirty years with meaningful activities?

Long after my guests had left me, I continued to ponder this issue. Austrian as I am, my life would not extend to fully 23 more years, I was sure; already an odd type of consolation. But wasn't it reasonable to count on living at least ten more active years? What to do with the remainder of my active life, since my life's project was already accomplished? 

But I should not have worried. Our brains work in mysterious ways, and circumstances contribute, to bring meaning to the life of even an old geezer like me. For instance, looking back only to the beginning of this year, I have since then already been amazingly busy with doing what I like to do most; to work with pictures and to design books. As a result, a good friend of mine received his book in excellent shape and could publish it this summer; and a new book is in the making, an anthology of articles written by my retirement association. 

Rounding it up, I got a new job, as Member of the Board of Fulbright Sweden. This makes me content: am I not a Fulbright grantee myself, and don't I have Fulbright to thank for my year in Berkeley in the 'seventies, which eventually gave rise to my first retirement project? Last, but not least, I am invited to make a guest appearance at the University of Stockholm next week, to get young students familiar with the dramatic financial crisis years in Sweden in the early 'nineties. 

To sum up, filling your life with a plethora of meaningful activities can bring as much pleasure and satisfaction towards its "blue hour" as laboring on big projects like "The Great American Novel" or the two books I have produced within the past seven years. Speaking of the "blue hour", just before my guests left me after a cosy evening, we made a last detour to my balcony to savor the views. You may glimpse my neighbors at the dinner table, enjoying the same view whilst eating. With autumn cool sneaking up on us, a jubilant bounce like that of June last was not in the air.  ;–)