Why I want to be a Swedish peasant

G. K. Chesterton said “The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.” Ah the prospect of self renewal! None are more susceptible to it than angst-ridden finalists trying to decide what, how, where to spend the rest of their lives.

Entering 2007, two of my friends have gone teetotal, one seems to have stopped leaving the house, all of them have given up smoking (bar one who has vowed to smoke more – she likes to succeed), and most people have promised to do more work, recycle more, write letters to political prisoners etc. Looking over my list, it includes ‘stop lying’, ‘stop stealing people’s food’, and ‘talk about yourself less’. What they add up to is ‘become a different person’. If I stopped lying and talking about myself, I’d have to shut up completely. The stopping part is all very well, but if you have nothing to fill the void you might as well promise to stop existing.

Hell, forget resolutions. In your early twenties the brand new soul quest, for the majority, extends beyond new year’s day. At least once a term during my time at York I’ve had an existential crisis of some kind, and I use the term existential loosely here. It’s a brilliant word for romanticising the very average trials and tribulations of an overly dramatic literature student, especially when combined with a penchant for fairy lights, candles and Erik Satie. Looking back on my melancholy indulgences, they were quite fun really, and always ended with a smug feeling of invigorated self-knowledge.

An episode in the Nan saga kicked off last term when I rejected my original post-graduation plan. Said plan was to move to the city to be a hedonist/typist before falling into a lovely career/lottery success, all in time to buy lots of rich clothes and move on from shabby chic before 30. I won’t go into details but my crisis culminated in a trip to Sweden in the second week of the new year. The purpose was to check out a folk high school I’m considering going to, but turned into a dissection of my reasons for wanting to flee, not just York, but the country, in favour of a very small Swedish village so small that its main mode of representation to the outside world is a ryvita-type flatbread produced there.

This latest installment has had surprising results. You know love-hate relationships? Well I’ve sort of had one of those with York, except without the love. And no, that’s not a convoluted way of saying I hate the place. Let’s just say, if there were a prize for whinging about York, I would bag it, hands down, with perhaps an extra mention for being particularly proficient: ‘there’s nothing to do, Toffs is shit, Ziggy’s makes me cry, York’s too small, York’s in England’. The main factor in all this, I’m beginning to realise, is that it allows the hypothesis, “everything is York’s fault, I will be better in a more exciting place.” Moving will perfect my soul, currently inhibited because within a 10 mile radius, a list of ‘what can you see’ reads, from most to least: 1. Hen parties; 2. Public school boy hair; 5 zillion. Winter-proof outdoor clothing.

The surprising truths that my trip forced me to admit are: a) moving will not make me the best person ever, and b) there are lots of good things about my life in York. When I got back to Stockholm, from aforementioned tiny village, I made a different sort of list, two actually. One of good things and one of bad things. The bad things list was heavily influenced by the reality show on in the background called The Virgin Diaries, involving a number of really gross teenagers broadcasting their desperate attempts to get horizontal. The diarist in question was Craig from Essex. His favourite things were “boys, girls, snogging, clubbing and shopping” and so all five items head my bad list, whilst “I didn’t grow up in Essex” made first place on the plus side.

More constructive things are also found, however; on the good list, things like my bicycle, which I love but probably couldn’t take to Sweden. Also, my organic vegetable box, my record player, my big mirror, living room and kitchen. All things I would have to leave behind. Then a long list of people, the English language, my family and my independence. On the bad list, Swedish porno and the possibility that going to craft college might give my life the unpleasant flavour of Demi Moore in Ghost.

My lists have shown that the things I enjoy are, for the most part, where I am. Choices, ultimately, have to be based on the prospect of an enjoyable lifestyle, rather than the naïve hope that remote countryside-induced introspection might make you into some sort of divine being. So I may have to resign myself to the soul I’ve got, but at least I’m not a 16 year old from Essex trying (and failing) to get laid before my birthday. And nor, I can safely say, will I ever be – be thankful for small things.

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