Where I Am

On Turning Thirty

The morning of my thirtieth birthday found me in Oxford, dreading the phrase ‘the morning of my thirtieth birthday’. In the preceding months I have agonised about that figure enough to test the limits of my partner’s patience (Sam, 26 years old, understands nothing about aging, practically a baby, o god). It’s not so much that I have been anticipating turning into an (old) pumpkin once the clock strikes midnight. It’s more that being thirty sounds synonymous to being adult, and that comes with a set of expectations I currently have no desire to fulfil.

I graduated with a Master’s from Oxford in spring 2015, and the last two years have been spent in accidental employment. Temping is great for getting a vacancy quickly, but it is hardly the best way to build a career: you start feeling like the human equivalent of Clippit, the Microsoft Office Assistant, and about as useful. Finally, in a month I shall be starting a new job at a place that is one of my favourite parts of this city, and I am looking forward to it the way swallows yearn for the African shores.

An older relative of mine has a habit of wishing me happy birthday in the most aggravating fashion: when I turned nineteen, he congratulated me on starting my twentieth year. When I turned twenty he congratulated me on starting my third decade.

Despite the marketing logic behind the Clearblue test ads that have been following me on the Internet for years now (e.g. see this post, conveniently titled ‘Those fucking Clear Blue adverts’), my only real time-connected goal was to have a television series of my own by the time I am thirty. Alas, my dreams of becoming a successful screenwriter were postponed when I got approached over a novel manuscript instead. Both projects remain in progress, but I am okay with that: they will be better texts for taking their time.

An older relative of mine has a habit of wishing me happy birthday in the most aggravating fashion: when I turned nineteen, he congratulated me on starting my twentieth year. When I turned twenty, he congratulated me on starting my third decade. I was unhappily anticipating his words for my thirtieth birthday. A suggestion that I am now in my fourth decade would probably make me cry.

Instead, I heard from him: ‘Happy birthday. Here is to coming of age!’ Alright. Alright!

In the King's Arms
IN THE KING’S ARMS. SEPTEMBER 25, 2017. MARIA GALLIANI DYRVIK / CHANCE & PHYSICS

The Proust Questionnaire

The Proust Questionnaire got its name from French author Marcel Proust, who has left several copies of his answers to the interview-like questions, proposed to him in Victorian ‘confession albums’ from the 1880s onwards. This is what they did before Buzzfeed and its ‘Which Harry Potter Character Are You?’ quizzes.

Here are my answers as they were formulated on my thirtieth birthday. To be revisited on similar future occasions.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? A moment I would not want to change anything about. Like that time when I was twelve and on Valentine’s Day I received a note from The Boy. After lessons, I was walking along the Moika Embankment and feeling absolutely invincible.

Another such occasion was when I heard Belle and Sebastian perform live for the first time. I guess, perfect happiness is those bits of life you would make amber from.

What is your greatest fear? Growing up into Carolyn Burnham.

I guess, perfect happiness is those bits of life you would make amber from.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? The tendency to pave the road to hell with good intentions. In other words, making more promises than I can keep without damaging myself or disappointing others in the process.

What is the trait you most deplore in others? Carelessness.

Which living person do you most admire? My Gran and Malala Yousafzai.

What is your greatest extravagance? I tend to acquire books with a greater speed than I can read them.

What is your current state of mind? It’s a mixture. A cocktail – a variation of gin and tonic, if you will. Just replace tonic with nervous excitement and gin, with heady convictions. Decorate with a slice of lime for that slight tinge of disappointment.

Portrait of the Artist As a Young Woman
PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG WOMAN. SEPTEMBER 25, 2017. MARIA GALLIANI DYRVIK / CHANCE & PHYSICS

What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Obedience, followed by chastity.

On what occasion do you lie? When telling the truth would invite a conversation I am not willing to have. ‘No, this coat is not made of furry space mollusc from Andromeda. Nope. Not at all. What? How old am I? Twenty-six.’

What do you most dislike about your appearance? That it does not fully reflect who I am. Yet, I do consider my appearance a work in progress and I try to approach it as such. Looking the best one can under the circumstances should always be enough.

Which living person do you most despise? I am on Twitter, so probably Donald Trump.

I consider my appearance a work in progress and I try to approach it as such. Looking the best one can under the circumstances should always be enough.

What is the quality you most like in a man? The ability to engage in fields which are not considered to be typically masculine. Also, broad shoulders.

What is the quality you most like in a woman? Intelligence, sharp tongue, and an inherent understanding of third-wave feminism.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse? I love you.

Looking Up
LOOKING UP. SEPTEMBER 25, 2017. MARIA GALLIANI DYRVIK / CHANCE & PHYSICS

What or who is the greatest love of your life? Saint Petersburg.

When and where were you happiest? Consistently so, during my years at the University of Helsinki. I was living on my own, with a cat and an ever-evolving collection of literature, while majoring in English Philology and minoring in Philosophy, and Film and Television Studies. That was a time of intense learning about the world and myself, and I enjoyed every bit of it. If at school there had been some subjects I had liked and the rest I had had to do regardless, at university every subject was my favourite. It was fantastic.

Which talent would you most like to have? I would like to be able to play a musical instrument. I had a brief stint with the harmonica at sixteen, but then the instrument got stolen, and I never went back to it.

I want to go to London, to spend a couple of years in Helsinki with my partner, and to try living in New York. Concrete jungle where dreams are made of! Also, Saint Petersburg is home and I have Nevsky Prospect for my spine, and I rather miss it all.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I would not have PCOS.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? My friends. I have lived in three different countries, and I have been lucky to have met wonderful people each time. Oxford would not be home if it was not for my coursemates, former colleagues, College friends, and everyone else who decided to laugh at my jokes.

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? A river goddess or a giant sequoia.

Where would you most like to live? I want to go to London, to spend a couple of years in Helsinki with my partner, and to try living in New York. Concrete jungle where dreams are made of! Also, Saint Petersburg is home and I have Nevsky Prospect for my spine, and I rather miss it all.

Blues
BLUES. SEPTEMBER 25, 2017. MARIA GALLIANI DYRVIK / CHANCE & PHYSICS

What is your most treasured possession? My skateboard. It’s black and yellow and has TOY MACHINE written on the deck. I named it Yolk.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Lack of choice and freedom, coupled with no way out.

What is your favourite occupation? Reading a great book, with a cup of tea at my elbow and worlds unfurling at my feet.

My friends are a wonderfully eclectic group of people, and I value how unique each of them is – and how they are experts in very different areas, from modern animation to the Ptolemaic dynasty to air traffic communication and microbiology.

What is your most marked characteristic? Lethal curiosity and a proclivity for bad puns.

What do you most value in your friends? Generally speaking, kindness and a sense of humour. My friends are a wonderfully eclectic group of people, and I value how unique each of them is – and how they are experts in very different areas, from modern animation to the Ptolemaic dynasty to air traffic communication and microbiology. There is a lot of passion and diverse thinking, which I find engaging and humbling.

Who are your favourite writers? Kurt Vonnegut, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Daniil Kharms.

Who is your hero of fiction? Moominpappa in The Exploits of Moominpappa.

In the Poet's Corner
IN THE POET’S CORNER. SEPTEMBER 25, 2017. MARIA GALLIANI DYRVIK / CHANCE & PHYSICS

Which historical figure do you most identify with? Alexander the Great, except he never conquered the world, but got carried away listening to Aristotle and spent his twenties thinking about ethics, writing poetry, and admiring his own abs. The potential is there though. Oh gods.

Who are your heroes in real life? I doubt I ever had heroes or idols: I cannot feel much for people I do not personally know, and once you do know someone, the haze of idealisation is necessarily replaced by their humanity. Which makes it easier to empathise and understand, but rather gets in the way of modelling your aspirations on theirs.

There are people I admire for their professional work (Brandon Stanton), or for their wit (Stephen Colbert and Stephen Fry), or for their sense of style (Iris Apfel).

What are your favourite names? Bubble and Squeak for a couple of Guinea pigs, and Hieronymus Bosch for a wolfhound.

What is it that you most dislike? Boredom, stupidity, double standards, and fried liver.

I think I would like to die when I feel like I have accomplished everything that I set out to do. I have a television series and a book, I have produced that beautiful and controversial feature script that is knocking around in my skull, I have visited every country in the world, I do not owe any money, I have climbed the real and metaphorical Mount Everest, and the person inside of me matches the one visible to everybody else.

What is your greatest regret? I do not think I have any regrets. That is, I don’t believe I have done everything right in my life, nor do I subscribe to the ‘All those difficulties were necessary because they made me the person I am’ point of view. That is unbearably smug, as well as dismissive of all the damage that occurs when relationships, health, and well-being suffer.

What I mean is somewhere along the way I decided that regret is a pointless emotion and I shall treat my life experiences as a trial-and-error method angled at shiny, shiny success and dreams. That stuck.

How would you like to die? There is an anecdotal story about a German man who is about to commit suicide. He comes home from work, has a glass of water, observes the clouds behind the window, then climbs onto a stool – and is about to put his neck through the noose when he realises he did not wash the glass. So he goes back into the kitchen, washes the glass, puts it to dry, and only then kills himself.

I think I would like to die when I feel like I have accomplished everything that I set out to do. I have a television series and a book, I have produced that beautiful and controversial feature script that is knocking around in my skull, I have visited every country in the world, I do not owe any money, I have climbed the real and metaphorical Mount Everest, and the person inside of me matches the one visible to everybody else.

On a practical note, I would like to die fresh and sharply dressed, with my nails done, after a damn good cup of coffee.

What is your motto? to eat flowers and not to be afraid.


Current album: Lorde, Melodrama
Current book: William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Current TV series: Daria, Series 1 (1997)

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