I turned thirty-eight on March 2nd. Birthdays do not upset me, overall, but I am now just that much closer to forty. Forty seems huge. And mature. Not sure where the years went.

Actually, that’s bullshit. It’s just something people say; I know exactly where the years went. In my early twenties I learned how to think long-term, not paycheck to paycheck. The learning curve on that one was pretty tough. The entire concept of a “future” was alien, much less planning one out, or even just beginning to aspire to one. You may have heard of “imposter syndrome,” wherein one is never fully convinced of one’s own skills. But there is also something I like to call “don’t dare to hope” syndrome. That’s where you know that in life Things Usually Don’t Work Out, and to protect yourself from disappointment you squash dreams of a better future. People assume it is laziness on your part, or a lack of drive, or—sacrilege—a lack of imagination. But they are incorrect. It is self-preservation. Do be a lofty dreamer means that you are Not Addressing Reality. And an acute understanding of harsh reality is the only advantage you have when you have nothing.

So in my twenties I learned to Dare to Hope for something besides working to pay the bills. It starts with a simple dream, a fantasy, wherein you imagine your ideal scenario without feeling like you are betraying your keen observation of human behaviour (your sharpest and most useful skill). You have seen those who walk through life living within a fantasy that has little relationship to their reality. You want nothing of that.

The trick, then, is to allow yourself to fantasize about what you want in life in a controlled way, without jeopardizing your armour. For those of you who have never faced this kind of challenge, who can dream endless possibilities without ever questioning whether or not it is possible because, by virtue of a fluke of being born into a pre-existing infrastructure of support (economically or emotionally), I envy you. Things Just Happen for you because Things Have Always Been That Way. You should thank the indifferent universe.

In my late twenties and into my early thirties, I learned to fantasize. Those scenarios (ever-shifting and sometimes fanciful) were small kernels of possibility beyond my immediate circumstances. Here is the most important thing about those fantasies: I indulged them without guilt or depression. That’s another thing others fail to understand: when your dreams never come true, when all you have ever experienced in life is that you have little to no means to achieve success (however defined), it becomes depressing to even dream. So you shut it down. I became determined to reframe fantasizing about my future as a tool to accomplish my goals.

It was slow, with many setbacks, as there was not a plan in place. It was part luck, part hard work, and part investment in psychotherapy—that wonderful Western practice of paying someone to listen to you, no strings attached. Friendships require reciprocity. Therapy requires only that you work on yourself.

By now, after fifteen years as an academic, methodically working through my degrees, one text, essay, class, and year at a time, I finally see a reward for my considerable investment of time, money, effort, and imagination.

Ever hear of the marshmallow test? It’s where they ask children to hold off on eating a marshmallow that is right in front of them with the promise of two marshmallows later on. Some gobble it up right away, some have the patience to wait it out. The test is designed to evaluate how children strategize the cost-benefit analysis: short-term pain for long-term gain. When I first heard of the test I thought with my childhood’s mind: but if I don’t eat it now someone else will come along and take it from me. A marshmallow now is way better than the mere promise of a marshmallow later, by some strange adult who I cannot trust to follow through on their promise. Prove to me that you, scientist, will follow through on your claim first, then I’ll pass your damned marshmallow test.

Poverty breeds such suspicion.

As I near forty, I feel pretty damn good about the future—a feeling that I can honestly say is wholly novel and damned wonderful. Despite dismal job prospects for PhDs and even dimmer avenues for religious studies scholars in bizarre and fringe areas of research, I am not worried. I am not worried because I have never lost my grip on Harsh Reality, and have learned to balance it with Fanciful Dreams. That balance is a tool like any other. Learn to use it.


If you want to get me a birthday present why not click the icon below to help fund my research?


I am currently back in Trondheim, but the past week in Tromso has been truly wonderful. I will post about my two-day dog-sledding expedition later on (it deserves its own stand-alone post) but in the meantime, here are some pictures that I took in and around Tromso.

Like Montreal (and Manhattan), Tromso center is an island. The city extends beyond the island to surrounding islands, in small, sparsely inhabited areas. At the top of the island is a lake surrounded by a park (also like Montreal, though Tromso is much, much smaller). I needed to get to the shopping mall on the other side of the hill to purchase some winter snow pants (I curse myself for not buying them before I came here–there are no people fat people in Norway, and I cannot find anything my size), hoping something in the Men’s section will fit. It’s about a 4.3 km hike, one way. So I don my winter gear and water bottle, and head up the hill.


This is the view behind me as I leave the Tromso city center.


And this is the view in front of me. Every Norwegian must have some wicked-tight leg muscles.


Just an idyllic house on top of a hill. The bastards.


At the top, here is the first view of the lake. I am not as brave as this man and his dog; even thick ice might break under my fat ass.


The lifeguard station.

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The dog pee makes it look like the Snowman is smiling because he just relieved himself after holding it in all day.

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As I exit the lake via a path, I walk down a hill again, but this time on the other side of Tromso, nearer the airport.

By the time I got back, I’d been walking for three and a half hours. I took a hot shower and relaxed, apologizing to my legs for not wearing my Long Johns.

Tromso and the Viking Feminists

Friday Feb. 20.

I fly from Trondheim into the Arctic Circle, to the city of Tromso. This trip is somewhat of a present to myself: I turn thirty-eight next Monday, and I cannot pass up the chance the see the Northern Lights.

I arrive and check into my lodgings, at which I’ll be staying for part of the week. I’ve divided my trip into budget travel activities (long wilderness walks, free/cheap museums and sites, grocery-store food), with a few higher priced adventures (dog-sledding, restaurants, beer). I’m staying at the Smart Hotel–hip and efficient, with micro everything, it is approximately the same size as my dorm room.

On the first night, I meet a colleague for a meal at Casa Inferno, a brick-oven pizzeria, with undertones of a Steampunk aesthetic. We discuss dissertations and magic, yoga and our parents. We lament the Norwegian male, who is a little unsure of his place in an egalitarian society, fumbling at flirtation, cautious not to offend.


What is it about Norway’s obsession with pizza? It’s EVERYWHERE.


House wine and Frutti di Mare.

Afterwards, she takes me to a bar. It is in the basement of the old police station, which used to be the jail. It’s cramped, made of stone, warm, and full of university students. I make conversation about chasing the Northern Lights, hoping to see them at least once. The bartender suggests I drink them instead. They are delicious.


Nordlys Pilsner (Northern Lights beer)

Near the end of the night, there is a Norwegian male standing next to me; he is bearded and blond, drinking and cool. I try to squeeze past him, as it is time to go.
“Oh, now I have to suck in my stomach!” He smirks, exaggerating with a sharp intake of breath.
“And here I thought Norwegians dispensed with chivalry, because you are all Viking Feminists.” He threw his head back, with a laughing roar, and in my mind’s eye I see him with an ax slung in a holster on his waist, drinking mead out of an animal horn.
“You just made my night.” He winks, and allows me to pass.

A little drunk and hoarse from conversation, I scramble back to my hotel in the cold and flop on the bed, already anticipating tomorrow’s hangover. As I close my eyes I notice the graffiti on the wall.


Thank you for validating my life choices.


I sleep until three in the afternoon.

Groggy, but with plans to hike across the bridge to take a cable car atop a mountain overlooking Tromso, I lug myself out of bed, don my wool underwear, and head out.



The small black dot is actually a duck. You can see the Arctic cathedral on the far right.


Crossing the Fjord.

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Finally, I arrive at the base of the cable car (getting lost along the way–my thighs are cold under my jeans). As we wait for the car, the operator lets me peak inside his booth, showing me the controls and pointing out how it works. Later, on the way down, I spot another young woman in the booth, smiling and laughing at his attentions. The sly dog.

On the way up I am among a group of middle-aged Scottish women. As the car lurches up with a start, one of them holds on tight to the bar, gives a little yelp (Oh Laird!), and tells her friend, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I am really, really scared right now.”
“Look at the floor and talk to me about something else,” her friend responds.
I am a head taller than all the ladies, and can easily look out the window as we ascend. The wind picks up, and it rocks the car a little.

At the top there’s a fenced overlook, and when you step outside the wind howls and rips at your clothes. I hold my camera tight, the sharpness nipping at my knuckles.


The view from up top.

After a few minutes among a throng of freezing picture-takers, I go back inside the cafe for a hot drink, a waffle, and to warm up after my long walk here. The Scottish ladies have a full meal with laughter. The Germans drink beer. The Asians play on their iPhones. I look out the window and write postcards.

When I’ve warmed up enough, I amble towards the descending car, but notice a back door. It’s unlocked, and I step out.

It’s dark. The sole light is behind me from the windows, and I’m staring at a snow bank six feet high. A trodden path is to my right and I hop up the bank and walk away from the cabin. In the daytime there must be people that venture outside, as the snow is trampled down enough to support me. But now I am totally alone. In the night. With the ground reflecting white, and the sky above angry, threatening to storm. I turn away from the wind, as it wants to push me along, edging me deeper into the night. It takes just a moment before I realize I am staring at a massive rising peak across a deep crevasse.
What did I ever do to you, Wind? That you’d want me to fall down the mountain?
Intruder, it tells me, why don’t you see if you can fly? 
I do. For a few moments, at least, I picture myself lifting with the wind, up and over the Fjord to the next mountain peak.

As I wait for the return car I look out at the city. It is rather small, as cities go, but its lights are enough to obstruct any glimpse of the Northern Lights. It’s cloudy anyway, even if they were active tonight.




I wake up to large softly falling snowflakes outside my window. All afternoon the snow falls, and I wonder if they’ll cancel my Northern Lights adventure. I head out early to take a stroll before meeting my guide at the Tourist Center.

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At six pm sharp my guide arrives. His name is Henrik, a Norwegian about sixty years old. He ushers me into a van with four other tourists. We drive to Vågen, in the Ersfjord, which is still part of the Tromso area. He owns a cabin on the coast, and hosts Northern Lights evenings for tourists. On the way, I have my doubts about visibility, and it’s still windy and snowing.


But Henrik assures us the weather will pass. Predict Aurora activity begins around nine. We arrive at his cabin, and all head out to have a look around.
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All the other tourists are professional photographers, and they drag their tripods out around the property, to the water’s edge and down the path, hoping the sky clears up. For the next several hours we chat, have food and hot drinks, alternating between standing out in the cold, and being in the cabin, looking at aurora forecasts. By ten pm everyone was inside, beginning to feel a little disheartened, discussing booking another night. I decide to go outside alone.

I am invigorated by winter. It is harsh and beautiful and isolating. Bundled in your clothes you know the creep of its cruelty; to enjoy it is to take all the necessary precautions.

Strolling out of reach of the street light, I round a bend by the water’s edge. The plowed path ends here, but there’s an untrodden path leading to a small unlit cabin. I wade through the snow, grateful for my high boots and wool socks. The sky is clearing, and the deep midnight blue sparkles with bright stars. More than I’ve ever seen. Orion’s Belt and the Big Dipper, but also hundreds (thousands?) more.

I am alone at the edge of the world in the deep night, the water gently lapping on the rocks.

A Norwegian friend recounted to me that his grandfather told him that if he waved a white flag, the northern lights would come take him away. I pull out my white handkerchief, and signal to the sky. Come on then, I tell the lights, I’m waiting. 

Keeping my head back, looking up and north, I watch as the last of the clouds slowly clears away, moving east across the stars, over the mountain top.

Oh. That’s not a cloud. It’s greenish. 

Oh, so you’ve come for me! I’m delighted. 

The others can now be heard making their way down the path. Within a moment they are within eyesight, trudging with their camera equipment towards my isolated spot, which is free from electric lighting interference.

For the next couple of hours we stand in the snow bank, taking, taking pictures, marvelling at the ever-shifting green wisps of light streak across the sky. I am told later that this was a four on a scale of ten in terms of activity. They are still spectacular, even at forty percent.

My own little camera captures nothing but black. I will have to rely on organic, not digital, memory. But here’s a photo of my hot jasmine tea sitting in a snowbank.


If you’re wondering what to get me for my birthday, why not make a donation to my Norwegian adventures via GoFundMe? It’ll buy me more woolen underwear.

Kristiansen Fortress, Trondheim

I have a ritual in the morning, and it involves being very quiet.

My six flatmates are all Norwegian, which surprised me. The student housing complex I live in is one city block full of twenty identical three-floor buildings.


I occupy one small dorm room (with its own tiny bathroom) on one floor with six other people, we share a kitchen and common area.

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The large apartment on the end is a self-contained studio, with its own kitchen. The people who live there are the “others”. I have never seen them, but I know they exist.

I am told that there are other international students in the complex, but that most residents are undergraduate Norwegian students from outside of Trondheim. I was also told, for those who followed my missing bed saga, that the administration used to supply beds for all residents, but they had an infestation of bed bugs two years ago. Wish they would have made that clear when I signed the lease. All it read was that my room was “equipped.” Credit card and IKEA to the rescue. As a sidenote I am terribly glad they supply instructions, or I might not have figured out how to unroll my mattress.

Ah, so that's how you do it.

Ah, so that’s how you do it.

But back to my morning ritual.

Because my flatmates are all in their early twenties, they sleep rather late, until noon, most days, unless I hear one leave for class. They do not, as a rule, wake up early and have leisurely breakfasts, as I like to do. Any food they prepare in the kitchen begins in the late afternoon.

The kitchen is a wide open space, and sound carries down the hall. I am concerned with making noise in the morning, especially as I am now more or less adjusted to my domestic schedule of going to bed around midnight, and waking up around eight, hours before the younglings begin to stir.

In order not to rouse them too early, I sneak into the kitchen soon after waking, and shut the door behind me. That at least muffles the sound. I carefully open drawers for dishes and cutlery, preparing breakfast. The cupboard is eased open, then shut slowly. The plate coaxed out of a shelf and placed on the counter with the minimal of aural disturbance. The toast buttered with a knife that I dare not clang in the sink. I then squirrel away to my room to eat the food and drink my morning coffee as a get ready for the day.

Don’t wake the babies, I laugh to myself.

Mostly, I do this so as not to miss the light. It is rather easy to lounge around, as I have no fixed schedule and my work is done at any time of the day. But if I leave the house around lunchtime, it is already getting dark. I don’t fear for my safety walking after the sun goes down, but I am just now navigating with confidence. Daylight helps. And the pictures are nicer too.

This week, I went to Kristiansen Fortress, on a hill near the city center. Every time I take a long walk a choose a different route. I can now visualize the Trondheim map, and can usually place my movements within it. Learning street names is still a struggle, as there are difficulties grasping the nuances of a non-Latin-based language. Spanish, Italian, and especially Portuguese come rather easily to me, as I speak French. But I have not yet been able to intuit the Scandinavian languages; I am reading the Latin alphabet with the Latin-based language map I have in my head, and it is interfering. The vowels are longer. The emPHAsis is placed on a different sylLAble. Some re-wiring is required.

When you travel alone to foreign countries, you have to get over any shyness at speaking to strangers. I have asked for directions and instructions many times, as there is no signage in English: do you think you can tell the difference between clothes detergent, fabric softener, and other cleaning agents when the brand names are not recognizable, and images on the container are ambiguous or non-existent? Similar problems arise in the grocery store, so I carry a list of translated words indicating my food allergies. That list has now grown with other items: smør = butter; fløte is cream, not coffee cream nor whipping cream, but a thick cream used for baking which most Montreal grocery stores do not sell; kjøtt is meat, but I’m never sure which kind when it often comes processed as dry sausage or lunchmeat. Though, I’ve never been disappointed.


Horseporcbeef is delicious any way you slice it.

As I now am more or less settled I am looking into traveling North to the arctic circle in order to see the Northern Lights–more on that as I research the cheapest way to make this happen.

In the meantime, here are some photos from my trip to the Fortress.

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The body of water in the background is the Trondheim Fjord.

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A local enjoying the view.

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Cim. Trondheim

On my way there, with the Fortress in the background.


Down by the water, crossing the bridge into the city center.


A friendly Norwegian. I miss my own kittehs terribly.

Research and Academia: Or, what the hell am I doing here in Norway, anyway?

There are two main reasons for my presence in Norway.

The second reason, is that studying in a different academic environment other than my home university demonstrates to potential employers that I have international experience. My bachelor, master, and (in-progress) doctoral degrees have all been at the same university. The reasons for this are a combination of funding (I worked full-time throughout my bachelor and master degrees, in a job that was not guaranteed elsewhere), support for my research (my department has been openly encouraging of my fringe research from the start), and domestic logistics (I have animals. They are as important to me as children, and uprooting them is a serious consideration).

By studying abroad for a half a year it shows I can adapt to new academic environments. Doctoral candidates are in this odd liminal space, where we are often part-time faculty, yet still students earning our degrees. We are considered professionals, but professionals that are in the process of building our careers. My portfolio now includes specialized research abroad.

The first, more significant reason for being here in particular, is to study under Dr. Jesper Aagaard Petersen. We are examining two thematic currents: the very broad category of Western esotericism, and the more specific modern religious Satanism. My dissertation focuses on one of the self-identified religious Satanic groups, the Church of Satan. Satanism is born within and responding to contemporary popular notions, while also reinterpreting ideas from occult and magical discourses. That is, Western esotericism informs how modern Satanists think and act. My work with Dr. Petersen investigates the relationship to, tension with, and reinterpretation of these historical arcane ideas into modern religious activity.

Now here is the Most Important Reason for me being physically in the same space as Dr. Petersen: when we met for the first time we had a general conversation about our plan here and discussed esotericism and Satanism, and it was the first time, ever, in a dozen years as an academic, that I had had a long conversation with a scholar that knows the field more than I do.

I cannot emphasize enough how important this is to the process of academic learning. Being able to bounce ideas off of another scholar, even if, especially if, you disagree is an integral part of advancing as a critical thinker. My supervisor at my home university has provided necessary and unflinching critique of my work (he never holds back, and I’ve eaten humble pie a few times!), but Dr. Petersen can catch problems with my work that might not be seen by scholars that do not know my field. Between my home supervisor and the host supervisor, I have a critical balance of feedback.

To put it bluntly, I’m looking forward to arguing. And being a nerd about all the weird stuff that interests me.

Trondheim City Center

It has been ten days in Norway.

Trondheim is a city built on small rolling hills that rise up from the fjord. The streets are not laid out in a grid pattern, but instead twisting curlicues that creep up and around and down and in between the ridges and slopes. Houses are quaint, nestled in their treed yards, accessed via rounded paths.

It is easy to get lost. I did, once or twice.

Mounts and dips.

Mounts and dips.

Before traveling to a new city, I study the maps. I like to know which way is North, and where I am in relation to everything else. When I arrive I at least have a mental map of my surroundings, if not exact position.

I have spent the better part of the past week walking the city and accumulating things. A pot and a pan. Cooking utensils. Eating utensils. A plate and bowl. Dish soap. Hand soap. Oil, soy sauce, and sugar. Coffee. Cream. Rice. A plastic storage container. A small dish that is oven, dishwasher, and microwave safe. The all important bed, and blankets and a pillow and a shower curtain for my window (it was cheaper). All acquired at Ikea, the grocery stores, and Fretex, which is what they call the Salvation army here in Norway. Still looking for a cheap, all-purpose knife. The Swiss Army tool is working well in the meantime.


A familiar logo.

I am still quite jet lagged, fighting the impulse to keep my ryhthm: the first several days I was up until 6 am and slept until 2 in the afternoon, missing the brightest light. Instead I force myself out of the house by 9 am, and walk the city. This is a glimpse of rare bright light at the peak of day.

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Outside my dorm room window, about  8:30 am.

Outside my dorm room window, about 8:30 am.

Today I hiked to the ctiy center to present myself at the police station; they handle the immigration process, and NTNU has arranged an all-day appointment for its students. I show up early, and barely have to wait, so it allows me to tour the downtown and take photos.

When I was a young girl I caught a vampire horror movie on TV late one night, likely at a friend’s house. Apart from being scared, I remember that the premise was that two yound men had somehow got caught in a vampire world, where there were no mirrors, and the sun never shined. Even in the daytime, the light was subsumed and muffled. Trondheim winter reminds me of that. The sun never rises high in the sky. It is always at eye level, usually hiding behind a hill just out of eyesight.

On the return I took the photos below. It is quite beautiful, really, my pictures do not do the city justice.

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