The Languages of Love and Belonging

We have a universal need to love and belong, to feel connected, and to perceive that we are understood and accepted. In the recent weeks, parts (not all) of the world are sometimes (not always) reeling in confusion with re-arranged priorities and routines. My favorite moments recently are the ones where I spontaneously recall that health is suddenly being challenged and prioritized and realizing I forgot, at least for a little while, about the changing world order. By my observation, we’ve suddenly pulled health to closely follow a longstanding “safety first” mentality. I wonder if we’re renewing our understanding of “health and safety” as twinned concepts. But in our search for safety and security, I’m afraid the ways that we communicate are not serving our mental health extraordinarily, and I believe it’s because we are avoiding honesty with superficiality.

Full disclosure: I’m writing this because I’m tired of people asking me, “what is it like” where I am. Whether people abroad want me to report on the state of Germany’s health or friends nearby are curious for me to share my experience, I don’t have confidence that my response can fully encapsulate the world around me, and I don’t want to try to summarize. (Also I had to go to tutoring in fifth grade because I didn’t perform well on the summary questions in standardized testing.) Here’s what my answer might be now:

Germany has 16 individual states who make their own decisions with federal guidelines, guided by a scientist as chancellor; I appreciate you soliciting my perspective, but I don’t feel I can adequately answer. I am one person in one apartment in one neighborhood, and I am not fluent enough to read all the local news… Germany’s managed rather well, but I’m not a scientist or an economist. I haven’t crunched numbers, I’ve stopped reading most news (it doesn’t matter…!) and I’m much more part of a foreign community than any local perspective. I’ve moved apartments twice since mid-March, so the concept of “normal” is totally out of reach for me in the first place. If anything, I feel this crisis has barely touched my life.

I hope this reads as mildly irritated, because I am confused, and I like you, I want to be coherent. I want to be understood, too, but I’m afraid I can’t communicate concisely. I’m noticing that my conversations drag on and repeat themselves, suggesting that we’re not getting what we’re asking for. Or at least, I’m not giving what others are asking. When I talk with friends, family, even networking digitally with strangers… I’m afraid I can’t adequately respond. Maybe it’s time to stop skirting the question. Maybe we need to be a little bit more forward with the fact that many of us are confused and trying to make sense of our changing identities (or contrarily, confused that we’re stagnant while others are panicking) and that suddenly the world some of us thought we understood is not the current reality. I don’t think we’re going to get there with “how are you?” on the phone or by text or Zoom or…

I’m reminded of numbers 5 and 6 on a list called “8 Things Gay Guys Should Start Saying to Each Other (More Often)” — which I think is more aptly prescribed for all humans in modern society. I encourage you to read the whole list, and I’ll shortcut you here:

  1. I’m a strong person, but I’m hurting right now.
  2. I’m afraid of opening up.

Maybe we can seek connection not by asking others to summarize what’s going on, but rather by directly sharing what we need, think, and feel. Yes, I’d rather be strong than be vulnerable, but vulnerability is a path to greater strength. I would encourage us to try conversations that might include:

  • I’m finding it hard to feel connected in the ways I’m most used to. I’m glad to have you in my life. I know I would really appreciate a hug right now, and it would feel wonderful to have that desire acknowledged. Can I do anything to support you?
  • I’m doing the best I can, but some people I know have shamed me for not taking this as seriously as them. Being shamed doesn’t encourage me to keep trying my best.
  • I have lost my routine and the constant change has made me feel [insert emotional word here, e.g. numb, sad, dazed]. Would you be open to listening to my experience?
  • With so many new experiences, I struggle to make sense of the world around me. I know I’m not alone in this struggle, but I do feel that I am alone.
  • Many people are grieving as our identities and the people around us change so quickly. I have to admit that I feel sort of untouched by the new world order, and I feel uncomfortable that I’m not struggling.

Signage is the other concept that has challenged my thinking on belonging recently. I’ve learned the German word for “current” through reading countless signs that encourage people to stay 1.5-2 meters apart “in der aktuelles Situation”. I see it in English texts, too. Everyone’s talking about the “current” situation, and part of me thinks that we’re doing ourselves / each other a disservice by not naming the reality. Then again, it might be unfair to universally prescribe meaning to an experience that everyone perceives differently. If I were making these signs, I might forget about the introductory clause, and jump straight to the point, avoiding the emotional-avoidance, like technical writers are taught. Good error messages don’t say “Oops! Something has gone wrong,” because the vagueness leaves space for the user to interpret they should be concerned or that they screwed up. Implying abnormality can evoke shame, which triggers disconnection. Don’t blame the user; blame the product or the documentation.

In this vein, we could create a better sense of communal belonging if businesses post signs that say:

  • “Please save 1.5 meters for yourself, and we look forward to serving you shortly.”
  • “You’re welcome here. We appreciate if you give space between you, staff, and other customers, and we’ll give you space in return.”
  • “Thank you for trusting us with your time, money, and health. We invite you to take at least 6 feet of space between yourself and others.”

What do you think of my revisions?
And can you help me belong by confirming any of my observations? Are there conversation formats or messages that have made you feel especially appreciated and maintained your sense of belonging in recent weeks?

Cool, Compassionate Thoughts

I feel preemptively fulfilled imagining that I could take at least one conscious breath and mindfully observe one heartbeat every day of the rest of my life. This imagination brings so much peace and relaxation to my mind and body. Like damn…. I’ve thought about it for a week, and it still feels profound, beautiful, and aspirational. And I’m really grateful that I’ve now conditioned my mind to automatically initiate a deep breath in certain moments of false crises. (Real talk: I don’t need to panic when the audio or video is shifty on a conference call.)

Many of us are living, breathing, moving, feeling, and thinking in a world that works quite differently than what we’re accustomed to. We might be uncomfortable at times, and as I learned in Jordan, it’s not so easy to step outside our comfort zone when we’re not so comfortable in the first place. I’ve taken to therapist Esther Perel’s in-progress weekly broadcasts. (Watch live Wednesdays 3pm EDT / 9 pm CET, or watch recorded versions on YouTube). While I don’t relate to all the challenges that she describes of kids and partners at home in quarantine – on the contrary, I’m either alone or with newly acquainted flatmates – I especially like that she counters “working from home” by suggesting we’re “working with home” and all the accompanying and challenging factors. Similarly, I’m as big a fan as ever of Brene Brown, and my recent highlight from Mama B’s new podcast program is her reference to FFTs (f*ing first times), acknowledging that yes, it’s hard to do new things, and it’s okay to feel uncomfortable. Cool – let’s learn something(s)!

My first conscious realization that the sky is always blue, after capturing the midnight summer sky on Lake George, NY, USA, August 2010.

To shift beyond discomfort, I feel inspired in response to these thoughts:

  • The sky is always blue. Yep, even when clouds cover the atmosphere or when the sun sets at night, the sky itself is still blue. I try not to let the weather choose my ‘tude.
  • The breath is always present. I can choose to breathe voluntarily or let the subconscious operate; either way, I’m always breathing!
  • The whole world shares one moon (and one sun, but it’s not so healthy to stare in awe). For those of us at significant distance from anyone we love or like or think of, just take a gander at the big cheese ball in the sky, and remember someone else is looking, too.
  • Oh, and “discomfort” isn’t pain. Discomfort is being without strength (Latin: fortis); discomfort is my body and mind giving me feedback that I’m exercising something new.

I guess there’s a theme here: unity. We’re all – humans, plants, animals, fungi, viruses, bacteria, etc – in this life/world/earth/moment together, and it’s nice when we choose to take care of ourselves and one another. Care means something different to each of us, and it changes from moment to moment. I’ve learned in reflecting on relationships that we all need doses of compassion. In some circumstances, two parties each need compassion, and both feel like the other needs to step in to support; that’s hard! When I find myself “stuck” in a conflict with someone/something/myself and looking for compassion, I try to consider whether I might step forward and give compassion first.

  1. What are some of the compassionate actions you’ve received or would like to receive recently?
  2. Consider the last person you spoke with: what might it look like for you to give compassion to that person?

More Human, Less Tech

Imagine: a tech conference where the hardware is a human handshake, where the user interface is face-to-face, where low battery means “I need to eat some fruit,” where networking is discussing personal perspectives instead of troubleshooting guest Wi-Fi, and where API might as well mean All People Interfacing. On the tail of participating in Copenhagen’s Techfestival, I hold reverence for the organizers’ success in organizing a conference focused on humans, not users.

Techfestival’s delivery met their marketing, which challenged conventional language of the technology sector: Care, or Die (rather than Disrupt, or Die); Humans, not Users; Trust.

I returned to Copenhagen, because Louise Beck Brønnum invited me to join her summit workshop on food tech after her June presentation on her work at Alchemist Restaurant’s Taste Lab and with teaching gastronomy to children. Following my ever-growing interest in food, I felt fortunate to sign-up for multiple sessions related to food at Techfestival. Food isn’t always recognized as a sector within tech, and I appreciated the diversity of their program. My schedule included two six-hour workshops and a two hour lecture, all focused on food, as well as time to attend a session on brain science and mental health and an evening workshop about the future of leadership in work. I wished I could have also joined the Endings summit, where the participants explored “how to design endings in four main areas: Products ; Services ; Relationships ; Life.”

Surprisingly to me, all of the sessions challenged the traditional notion of conference presentations, measuring up to the namesake and leaving me grateful that I packed shoes comfortable for standing and walking. This wasn’t a take-your-seat-and-listen event. With hundreds of topics to explore hands-on, Techfestival is much more an interactive festival than a conference.

In every session, the agenda encouraged me to meet multiple other participants, layering the agenda with time to share answers to: “what do you think will be the challenges and opportunities of participating today?,” “why did you attend this session?,” “what are you taking home from this session?,” and “ask why twenty times”. Thankfully, none of the presenters asked us to introduce ourselves by answering the ubiquitously deflating (and meaningless) question: “what do you do?”. (I’m still working on being, not doing.)

Many presenters presented brief introductions, then handed the majority of the time to other speakers and participants to collaborate – or more specifically, to co-create – on the topics at hand. Flipping away from the lecture method lent a depth of learning that’s not often found in conferences and workshops. Some formats that were new to me:

  • Workz prepared four topics from their research on the future of work. In groups of three, we identified potential challenges for one topic, then placed their Solution Map cards adjacent to the challenges to indicate subsequent solutions, questions, answers, and additional information.
  • Basque Culinary Center’s Innovation team demonstrated backcasting, a method where groups of 6-7 people imagined a future (in this case, via a potential news headline for the year 2050), then deconstructed the steps and decisions that might lead to the future vision.
  • To conceptualize a shared understanding of food systems, each team member placed diverse board-game-like pieces, one at a time in a round-robin format, to create a visual and tactile representation of how we see food systems. Once we constructed the present version, the team adjusted the pieces to represent the possible-future state – this time in silence! We also utilized backcasting in Louise and Frederik’s workshop, facilitated by chaospilot Eirik Haddal.
  • To literally breathe life into the topic of mental health and bodily awareness, a Kundalini yoga instructor Amanda Nørgaard taught an intermission: a thirty-minute class, introducing pranayama, mantra, meditation, and seated asanas.

All this talk of food and the body made me hungry at times. Fortunately, Techfestival’s organizers coordinated affordable (yes, even for Copenhagen’s high prices!) options for food at lunch and dinner, as well as making fresh fruit available during every session. On top of their foresight with fuel, all the volunteers I spoke to were friendly and competent. I find it so validating when I need directions or guidance at an event, and a volunteer responds “yes, I can help with that” instead of “sorry, they didn’t give us that information.” Techfestival is an exception to the monotony that plagues conventional conferences.

Above all, the absence or obscurity of tech itself impressed me at Techfestival. While I carried a laptop in my bag, I never once needed it, nor my phone. From my program, none of the sessions required participants to use any digital or electronic technology. None. And, get this? The technology worked seamlessly for the presenters. Yep. Not a single instance of “which dongle do I need to project?” nor “why isn’t the audio in this video working?” One session included a live tele-presentation. The screen displayed the presenter’s video feed, as well as his slides. Three microphones synced to the presentation, for the facilitator and audience to have seamless conversation with our video guest. If that’s not how to spell mic drop, then have you tried restarting?

Without doubt, Techfestival utilized technology in impressive and discreet ways, leaving the human participants to focus on the human dialog. Where technology plays a role in evolving the future of our lives, humans are the ones that live the experiences. In the words of presenter Emily Whyman, “we’ve created technologies that isolate us.” We. Us. It’s up to us to do the work, to co-create the world we need, and Techfestival is leading the way.

The Circle Stage hosted Friday night keynotes with Chris Messina, Payal Arora, and Jimmy Wales.

On Being, 84

The old man danced in the cafe and appeared to have no worries in life. Alice doesn’t know that her story stuck with me. I don’t remember her exact words. I don’t remember what she said that he said. I do remember making the decision: Yes, I want to be eighty four years young, dancing in a cafe. That’s my dream age, and sometimes, that’s how I choose to act.

When I stated my goals of my sabbatical, one intention included:

Work (doing) is a distraction from life (being), and I am pursuing a different awareness of my preferred balance.

The balance is a hot pursuit. Taking a sabbatical has largely been an experiment in retirement. Well-known graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister speaks about his own sabbatical philosophy: taking the first five years of retirement and distributing one year of retirement every seven years of his career. His idea stuck with me after the second time I watched his talk. I’ve observed my grandparents in their different forms of retirement, and I recognize that if I want to be at peace with that lifestyle someday, I need to start now. The me who loves to get things done will suffer immensely if I feel my being is insignificant at an age when it is perhaps my most – or my only – significance.

The balance of doing and being ebbs and flows. I’m naturally a do-er. My Enneagram personality type 3 description aptly explains that:

“Threes know how good it feels to develop themselves and contribute their abilities to the world, and also enjoy motivating others to greater personal achievements than others thought they were capable of.”

THE ACHIEVER, Enneagram Type Three, Enneagram Institute

My personality hyper-focuses on getting things “done”, on gauging my worth by my productivity, and on human doing instead of human being. To make matters harder, my drive is largely about the “done” and less about the act of “doing.” It’s about the destination, not the journey. In the past three-and-a-half months, my effort, my exertion has tended toward shifting the mentality and slowing down. I am focused on operating at a lower speed and enjoying the thrill of deceleration, acceleration, and everything in between. Maybe you know the feeling of braking? The body leans forward to counterbalance the shifting momentum. I’m slowing from a run to a walk, tapping the brake pedal while driving a car, pulling the brakes to bring a bike to a surprise stop sign. It costs energy to slow down, to lean against the forces of the world, and I want to enjoy the experience when I spend energy. I want to be in balance instead of in opposition with the world. I am practicing what New York Times columnist Bonnie Tsui calls “fallow time” in her summer op-ed: You Are Doing Something Important When You Aren’t Doing Anything. I am practicing the act of slowing down, of speeding up, of moving with awareness of my speed.

Awareness of being is also a critical aspect of yoga philosophy. While some modern yoga forms focus heavily on achieving a specific shape, the ancient philosophy also emphasizes the process of finding the shape. Furthermore, the shapes of yoga (the asana) are vessels for the mind to calm and for me to start observing myself. Being in a human body necessitates being aware, of the physical body, the mind body, the breath, and many more aspects. Part of yoga entails the process of becoming aware: the process – not the achievement – of awareness.

Despite the fact that I don’t go to work, I wake up every morning around 6 or 7, write two or three pages in my journal, sometimes meditate, and often practice yoga for anywhere between 5 and 90 minutes. The whole routine takes between one and three hours. Are you impressed? I made myself a poster of goals, separated by today, this week, and upcoming. I needed this structure. I started logging my to-do list in the beloved Asana software system that I learned to love in my work at Formlabs. Are you impressed? I try to make plans to socialize or meet with at least one friend or acquaintance every day. Some days, I swim, bike, or run. One day a few weeks ago, I wrote a short yoga sequence, then biked 45 miles through the forests north of Berlin, came home, relaxed (shocking, I know!), and talked to two close friends on the phone, for an hour each. Are you impressed?

I eat at least two scoops of ice cream every day. Now are you impressed? 😉

“Look at me. I’m impressive. I’m developing myself.” The gut-wrenching truth of being a “three” is that I want to be affirmed, to distinguish myself from others, to have attention, to be admired, and to impress others. The motivation to achieve is innate to my being. Being a three isn’t enough; I need to constantly prove myself by doing. If my truth sounds harsh, I recognize that other personalities are motivated by: incessantly righting injustice, (over)extending altruism to be helpful, ensuring their own originality, knowing and understanding, creating only secure relationships, creating constant happiness, maintaining strength and power, or stabilizing peace.

I recognize that I shouldn’t change who I inherently am, and in this recognition, I want to fully embody myself. If I’m driven to get things done, at least I want to enjoy the doing by having awareness of my being. My to-do list has become a curation of the experiences I want to have, rather than the tasks I want to say I’ve done.

When I talk about my sabbatical, many people admire my courage and even express jealousy. This isn’t what I ask for, but it’s what I see. Everyone wants a sabbatical and “fun”employment. Tongue-in-cheek “fun,” if the verbal sarcasm is not obvious.

My truth is that moments of self-doubt pepper between every one of my daily achievements. The Enneagram also describes:

“Threes want success because they are afraid of disappearing into a chasm of emptiness and worthlessness: without the increased attention and feeling of accomplishment which success usually brings, Threes fear that they are nobody and have no value.”

Even though I told her, I’m not sure whether Adriana – an Italian – knows what her words meant when we snacked on pastries on Sunday: “I don’t like when people describe themselves by what they do. ‘I am a graphic designer.’ No. I am working as a graphic designer, but graphic design is not who I am. I am a person with a personality. Who I am is not what I do. I’m fine to talk about what I do, but it’s not the first thing I will say when someone asks me to describe myself.”

I wish this post had a visual. I want to unfold the thoughts that pass through my brain. A picture might speak a thousand words, but I’m afraid that even a thousand words can’t explain the challenge that an achievement-oriented person experiences in separating their value from their achievement. I think this mentality is ubiquitous in the United States, and I’m taking a different perspective.

I am more than my accomplishments. I am enough for my being. I remind myself this almost every day, sometimes multiple times. And I think that it’s slowly starting to work. I’m peeling away my attachment to my achievements. This band-aid requires a slow peel. There’s no high-speed route to calming the mind that feeds on business.

I challenge you – next time you think to ask “what are you doing?,” “what do you do?,” “what did you do today?,” or any semblance of creating value by evaluating someone’s productivity – instead ask “how are you feeling?,” “what is your way of being,” “how did you feel today?,” “how do you want to feel on your vacation?,” “what does it feel like to be you?”… and be ready to answer in return. Yes, these questions sound like nonsense to a mind that struggles to be. And if you catch yourself neigh saying, chances are high that you’re like me, ripe for the challenge. It’s not easy being human, is it?

Hence why I’m practicing to be 84.

My Privileged Diet

“Is this normal for you?” I asked my Italian-Danish friend at the counter of Social Foodies, a Danish shop that partners with African farmers to create quality food and sustain value in both communities. Why ask? Regardless of normality, ice cream before lunch is one decision I unapologetically support.

We tasted flavors like havtorn (sea-buckthorn/berry) and meandered through the coastal neighborhood to reach the beach, where small children enjoyed the seaweed strewn shoreline and their parents observed casually. As we dodged kids ferrying wet sand and toys and tiptoed over ripples of seaweed, I wondered for how many people was this just another day and how many families came to the beach because of the pseudo-holiday. The Danish government is required to call an election no later than four years after the previous, and this year, they chose to coincide with the national Constitution Day.

“So what’s the political state in Denmark these days?” I asked Nicola, back at home, between bites of fresh pasta and vegetables, facing each other with sunlight fully illuminating our skin and the peaceful ambiance of his rose garden below.

He explained that the immigration debate receded and climate is the critical topic of debate. A total of eleven parties nominated candidates and campaigned in this election, and the winners would be responsible for forming a coalition with their peers after the election. The liberal parties claimed that we are not doing enough to protect the environment and live sustainably. The parties that side with the conservative coalition took the position that the world is in tact and governmental policies have done enough to support and protect the planet. I wondered what affect this warm, sunshiny day would have on last-minute voters: yes, the planet is fine; no, this is abnormal. The next day, I learned that less than 5% of Denmark’s land is “wild,” the way it would be untouched by humankind. I wonder whether the myths of nostalgia or future distort voters’ perception.

I journeyed into the city by train, and spent the afternoon exploring the progressive cuisine and wares of Torvehallerne: ice cream made from bananas, oats, and dates; natural organic skincare products; potato-rosemary Skyr; vegan sandwiches; a real butcher, next to a knife sharpener and vendor; juices and health shots of many varieties; and a surprising amount of plastic packaging.

I stopped to write at Paludan Bogen, my favorite cafe. In the midst of reflective writing exercises, I recognized a burning desire to swim. I set that mini-goal for myself and stopped at Svanemølle Strand on the train journey homeward. I found the beachfront full of cheerful, attractive Danish families enjoying their half-day holiday. I wondered if the weather would decrease voter turn out. (The numbers showed 84.6% of registered voters participated, whereas in 2015, 85.9% cast their ballots.) The frigid water temperature quickly deterred any desire to do serious swimming, but I enjoyed a quick dip and an hour of reading in the sunlight.

Back at home, Nicola and Jonas arrived with a small batch of fresh produce to host friends for an election dinner and watch party. We cooked together and set the table in the garden. Promptly at 8:00, we needed to be in the living room to watch the first results from the exit polls. The news anchor announced the preliminary results with sophisticated graphics and live video broadcasts interspersed from each party’s election. In spite of not knowing enough Danish to understand the full broadcast, I was impressed about how well all three Danes and the two non-Danish residents explained the positions of each party and their opinions on whether their results were favorable. We watched the broadcast, with progressive updates as actual votes returned from the polls, for about two hours before people filtered out and decided to go home. The conservative, anti-immigration parties lost about half their support compared to the previous election, and the so-called “red bloc” saw gains. Fortunately for everyone, the openly racist, homophobic candidate didn’t earn the 2% of votes that are required to gain seats in parliament.

In the subsequent two days, I spent my afternoon at Respond, a conference hosted by the Danish engineering association, featuring talks and exhibitions about engineering a more sustainable future, including perspectives on food security, environmental stewardship, and management of plastic and toxic waste. The first speaker I heard asked how many audience members work for companies that have clear commitments to meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. I didn’t raise my hand; I don’t even know what the SDGs include, and I felt a pang of guilt that these important global needs aren’t a part of my conscience or dialogue. Two days later, I saw the SDGs advertised in the Vejle city center and again in a poster in my other friends’ home office. Get it together, Stephen. What can you do to contribute? I’m making a point to learn about the SDGs and figure out where I can incorporate them in my lifestyle and being. I side with the leftist Danes who believe that we – the humans who live and work on this earth today – need to live and work far differently, so that the planet will be a healthier ecosystem for all species to live and work in the future.

My privilege is having the choice to spend time on a beach with clean water and warm sunshine. My privilege is eating and cooking with fruits and vegetables that are imported from throughout the world and paying prices as if they came from the local farm; bananas don’t grow in North America or Europe, and apples don’t grow in June. My privilege is eating homemade venison meatballs on Saturday evening, from a deer that my friend shot on Tuesday. My privilege is paying less – financially – to fly from Berlin to Copenhagen than to take a train. My privilege is affording what I want to eat, and not limiting myself to a budget of starch and beans. My privilege is having the freedom to not eat everything on my plate if I feel full, while knowing that 1/3 of all food production goes to the trash. My privilege is having the financial security to spend multiple months traveling and living, without earning a paycheck, knowing there are people that can’t afford to miss a single hour of work, even when they’re sick.

Inconvenience costs now; convenience costs later.

“Is this normal for me?” Yes, my normalcy is full of privilege, and I believe it won’t last forever. I refuse to be unapologetically privileged. I’m committed to understanding my privilege and making decisions that allow more of the world to eat ice cream at 10:30 am, or at all.

Life on Pause

I’m on the brink. Literally on the border. My train from Copenhagen to Stockholm stopped at a non-central station just across the border. 10:55. The train host alternates announcements in Swedish and English. The police shot a man in Malmö central train station, and now the bomb squad is searching the station and surrounding area. We don’t have any further information. So our train is waiting to pass through. Symbolism? I’m in this period where I’m pausing, watching the construction cranes nearby and the wind blow, while I get my bearings. Other people are working, building, moving; I’m contemplating, holding steady. I’ll grant myself “permission” to continue my working life when the time comes.

For now, I am where I am, on a non-moving train passing between foreign countries. It’s the tail end of five days in Denmark. The universe pauses my movement, reminding me to embrace the privilege of returning to a country I learned to love eight years ago. I’m grateful. Tusindtak, Danmark. A thousand thank yous.

You’re welcome to leave the train for fresh air on the platform. 11:07 am. After a brief hesitation, I leave my stuff in my seat and go outside. I film myself doing a few minutes of yoga on the train platform. What a special place to breathe, to move, and to wake my mind from the previous trains’ slumber.

I arrived on one-way flight early last Wednesday morning. It’s a quick 50-minute flight from Berlin. I’m becoming more conscious of the carbon impact of flying, and I’ve chosen to take as many other legs as possible by… train. I also wanted to slow down. I’m not in a hurry. I guess today that includes a full pause.

I didn’t have plans for Copenhagen. A generous Italian friend from my study abroad days agreed to host me in the beautiful suburban apartment that he now owns with his Danish boyfriend. I caught the train from the airport to their place, and then sat at the kitchen table with Nicola while he took a work call and ran wastewater runoff simulations. The thrilling life of a wastewater engineer, eh. Meanwhile, I discovered that the Danish national engineering association would be hosting an event focused on “how science and technology can be used to develop new solutions to global challenges,” so I put the Respond Festival on my to-do list for Thursday and Friday.

Nicola and I stepped out to walk to the nearby coast and — pause.

Sometimes, we have to take a few steps backward. I’m in the middle of writing about Denmark while leaving Denmark. 12:18. The train has been canceled. Please disembark and make other arrangements or contact the customer service. It’s an odd feeling: to be just out of reach of something familiar and into the unknown. A million options circulated in my head: go back to Copenhagen and fly, wait here until the trains resume, cancel the Stockholm portion altogether, find a bus to Stockholm…

I milled around the deserted city square with a hundred or so other passengers, all with canceled journeys and little information. Some spoke Swedish and wanted to get home. Some spoke English and wanted to go anywhere. Some I didn’t have any idea what they spoke, thought, or where they wanted to be. Our shared oblivion brought me peace of mind. We all wanted to be on our way to somewhere else, but what could we do? This wasn’t anyone’s fault, and none of us have control. I watched the departure schedule flash a train to Copenhagen every 20 minutes, each marked delayed or canceled for the next few hours. I went down the escalator, affirmed that the trains were still not boarding. I rode back up, affirmed that the departures were flashing more delays and cancellations. I went down again. The train host said we could go to Malmö Central and wait until they allow passengers in to talk to the customer service desk. It’s easy to feel confused when there’s no answer. Everyone was equally in limbo. I thanked her.

I wanted to stay in Denmark longer, and I booked the trip to Stockholm in order to volunteer at a conference on the future of food. I couldn’t control the timing of such an interesting opportunity, and saying yes to this open door felt right. The conference guide advised us to wear black pants, which I didn’t pack. Time to go shopping!? I wandered into the posh mall across the street from Malmö’s Hyllie train station and spotted everyone’s favorite Swedish brand, H&M. Nothing like trying on new clothes with a backpack full of clothes in tow. After scouring the racks, I purchased a pair that fit and felt properly European. 13:55. I needed to charge my phone. I wanted to eat my Danish kanelsnegl cinnamon bun — and I wanted more deeply to eat it when I wasn’t aimlessly confused. I also needed to figure out where I was going and how to get there. I stopped at the mall information kiosk, and the middle-age blonde Swedish woman was very helpful to advise me where I could charge my phone and that if I crossed the city square, there were buses to the Copenhagen airport, just 30 minutes away. Aha!

After a few minutes of charging while looking at flight and train options, I crossed the square to find the parking lot mixed with Denmark’s public DSB buses and charter buses displaying the DSB ticker. Ah…. relief. The charter bus driver gleefully welcomed me. I plopped my bags in a seat, noted the electrical outlet under the window, and exhaled every vertebrae into the seat. Wow, I spotted a sign. They even have free Wi-Fi on this bus. The woman in the row behind me confirmed that the journey was free and would take about 30 minutes. This all felt like a good sign. I gleefully ate my kanelsnegl.

As the bus departed, I continued to search flight and train options on a half-dozen browser tabs in my phone. 14:37. Balancing time – when could I surely reach the airport? – cost – would the train company refund me? reimburse other bookings? including flights? – and security – when could anyone safely travel through Malmö again by train? – I opted for a 7pm flight from Copenhagen. Ugh, I don’t want to fly, but I need to get there. The bus arrived at the Swedish border, and two police officers boarded to quickly inspect every passenger’s passport. The bus continued and crossed the bridge that I’d filmed in reverse just three hours before. After three failed attempts — I’m sure my bank is thoroughly confused by my travel activity and last minute expenses in unfamiliar locations — I booked the flight from my phone, and noted that I had four hours to cancel without penalty.

I smiled, perhaps inside and outside, as I walked back into the airport terminal where I’d arrived last Wednesday morning. I didn’t expect to be back here so soon. I spotted the Swedish train kiosk and browsed the touchscreen for additional trains. The 16:36 departure glitched. Canceled? Unknown? The 18:36 departure was bookable but would mean a midnight arrival. Meh. I wandered further into the terminal to find the Norwegian Air flights, meanwhile looking at train options on my phone. Oooh, an overnight train with a sleeper car option. And it’s cheaper than flying.

Standing in front of the Norwegian Air check-in counter, I fumbled through their two-factor authentication log-in system, and yes, I canceled my flight. I didn’t want to fly anyway! 15:32. I immediately booked the sleeper train and bought myself six hours of free time in Copenhagen… what a dream. I could go anywhere. With two clicks, I bought a ticket into the city center on my phone, grabbed a seat at the front of the driverless metro, and ventured toward my favorite cafe, Paludan Bogen.

And here I am. Delayed. Paused. Relaxed. At home. 17:29.

Nicola and I stepped out to walk to the nearby coast and — pause. We went for ice cream last Wednesday morning, and that’s what I’ll probably do again soon.