2016 – a dynamic year

Retrospectives are a nice way to analyse what has happened and whether the changes have been for better or for worse and I am all about analysing.  In addition 2016 has been such an outlier, it should make for an interesting read years later when I discover this post.

A year ago I was still in the university. I had made the move from Sweden back to Estonia but my thoughts were still mostly back in Västerås concentrating on the defense that laid ahead. I traveled back there soon after the beginning of the year and did my presentation successfully. I received my PhD and that was that. From then on I was back in Estonia, thoughts and all.

Ivo standing in front of a whiteboard looking at a book.
Defending my PhD (Photo: Patrik Klintenberg)

Looking back now, moving to Estonia was for the better. Many things in my life have changed and while this process has been quite stressful at times, after four and a half years in Sweden, it was needed. Both me and Eva are more fulfilled now and can plan our lives more equally.

I have also reconnected with some of my dearest friends and gotten much closer to my family again. I see my parents almost weekly now and have found much more similarities with my brother than we had previously shared.

It has not only been about reconnecting. Making new close friends as an adult is difficult but necessary after being away for so long. For the most part however, it has gone surprisingly well. Nothing exemplifies this better than my friendship with Jim that was developed largely while recording the Popkulturistid podcast. We were friends before but this experience has brought us close and experiencing it in such a public way has been interesting.

Ivo and Jim squatting in front of geeky things
Promo photo for the Popkulturistid podcast – squatting like western spies (Photo: Gea Grigorjev)

Speaking about friends, as the year developed I began to look at my time in Sweden more often through rose-tinted glasses. While parts of the experience were very difficult, I met some incredibly lovely people who I miss very much. Social media is a great way to stay in touch but people I used to love talking to almost daily, are now often thousands of kilometers away. Takes a bit to get used to it.

Another thing that took a surprisingly long time to come to grips with was the fact that I was not a PhD student anymore. It had been such a big part of my identity that finally graduating left me feeling somewhat hollow. Happily it took me only a month to get back to work. Identifying myself as a governmental employee has been somewhat difficult for some reason but having such a practical outlet for my knowledge has been very rewarding and interesting. Plus, the people I work with are all very nice!

The year has also been defined by many side activities and projects that have helped me stabilize after such big changes. In addition to Popkulturistid, I have loved working as a co-author in the technology news portal Geenius. Having an outlet where I have to constantly think about the audience and consider both the accuracy and clarity of my texts has helped me grow as a writer immensely.

I have also had several very cool photo shoots this year. For a while I even toyed with the idea of doing something with my photography at a professional level but decided against it. Honestly, my skills are no where near that good anyway. The low stress experience of just going out with friends and making beautiful pictures together is much more what I need from photography at the moment. It is also something that we enjoy doing together with Eva, giving us a nice hobby to do as a couple.

Picture of Ivo sitting on a couch
In our new home, on a couch bought in Sweden (Photo: Eva Krustok)

So a year full of experiences as was to be expected with all the changes we had to make in our lives. From here, there will hopefully be some stability in which to grow both personally and professionally and enough change to keep things interesting.

I hope you all have great things to look back at today and expect form the year ahead.

Have a happy New Year’s Eve!

Mastering Spotify

Although playlists are undoubtedly a very large part of listening to music today, I’m not a big fan of them. The idea of a bunch of songs arranged together by some specific genre or emotion makes sense but I tend to prefer listening to full albums. Very rarely do I want to listen to just one specific song from an artists.

Playlists are of course useful but every time I have started to make playlists in Spotify they turn out horrid. Sometimes my playlists only have a few songs in them as I forget to add new ones. Then there are some with a bunch of seemingly random songs and a few albums in there for good measure. Plus they are not built up in a way that makes sense – there is no logical transition from one song to the next. There is no thought put into which song should follow the other.

Discover Weekly in Spotify

The problem has started to annoy me more over the past few months. The Discover Weekly function is the crown jewel of Spotify and I have found more and more new music that I like using it. I also listen to the new releases every week just to see if there’s anything I find interesting.

The question then comes up, how do I remember these new finds. Again, I am more interested in the full albums than just the songs. Ideally I would like to have separate lists for albums that I can categorize by genre. It would be a grid of albums much like the new releases section that I could sort by name, date added etc. I actually sent Spotify this as a request but I am not holding my breath that they’ll actually add this any time soon.

A twitter conversation with Spotify
While waiting, I came up with a system that I hope will work for me. The idea is that I have separate album and song playlists in addition to a few temporary playlists. The song ones are standard – just lists of songs for Christmas or that I played at our wedding etc. The temporary ones are for songs that I find on Discover Weekly or elsewhere. Once a week or so, I will go over the temporary lists and see if I just like the song or the whole album. If I just like the song it will go into a random favorites list. If the album is good, I will add it to one of my album lists. This way I start each week with a clean temporary list to hold new music.

I categorize the album lists somewhat by genre or feeling. The important thing is that it makes sense to me. While the albums don’t show up in a nice grid, the list kind of works and at least allows me to find an album that interested me a few weeks ago quite quickly.

My profile on Spotify showing my playlists

All the album playlists I make will be public on my profile so if anyone is interested in my favorites in any given genre, you can follow them. Hopefully Spotify will make the dream of album playlists a reality but until then, I hope this method will help me listen to more varied and interesting new music. Too often I feel like listening to music for a few hours and don’t know what to put on…

Summer full of pictures

This summer has been quite full of photography for me. I thought about making a separate post for each photo shoot but ended deciding against it. Most of the pictures I took were not really for me but for the people themselves and are memories of special moments. I was just able to help them out by giving them a digital representation of those moments.

It’s been a lovely summer and I l earned a lot about photography. Each shoot has been different and given me new challenges but I also learned something about myself during the whole thing. I figured out that I don’t want to work as a photographer.

Every time I have taken pictures for others it has been great and I love hearing that the people liked the pictures but it has also been quite stressful. Photography is difficult work and I am nowhere near the level of a professional who can deliver a consistently good product. I feel like I am in over my head most of the time and while I know that’s what learning is like, I don’t want to learn how to become a professional photographer. I just like to take pictures – especially of people.

I feel that it’s time that I take a little step back and figure out where I should take this skill from here on out. I have a few shoots that I have already planned to do with friends for the rest of the summer and I am looking forward to them. After that, I won’t be taking on much more projects until I have figured out where I want to go with my photography and how I want to get there.

Thank you to all of my friends who have given me a chance to take photos of them and have helped me work on my craft.

Vaiko Eplik singing

Vaiko Eplik with a guitar
Portrait of a woman

Portrait of a woman

Woman from the back

Paar seljatagant

Ivo laboratorium

(Virtual) moving day

For a while now I have been wondering what to do about my website. Until today it had been up on Squarespace, which is nice but since my website is not creating me any revenue, it is just too expensive to keep. Due to this indecisiveness I have refrained from posting any new things so I wanted to get it settled.

One option was to just let the contract run up and not do anything. I have a bunch of social media sites, do I even need a website? After a while, I figured I do. Mostly because I really like to have control over my virtual presence and I love owning my own domain (I actually have a few).

The other idea was to move everything to another hosting site and just run the website on WordPress. This seemed like the logical step as I have a lot of experience with it and while one of my older sites ran on Joomla, I really disliked it. WordPress is almost a no-brainer these days.

I started to do research on moving my website from Squarespace to WordPress and found it to be a bit more complex than I had initially thought. I got a lot of help from this post and Squarespace does have a way to export everything however I ran against many strange things. Importing the images was a huge issue. I finally figured out that the problem was in the theme I installed.

The scariest part was moving the domain from Squarespace to zone.ee. Luckily I had no problems with that and once I had confirmed the move on both sides, the domain directed to the new site. The best thing about this is that all the old links still work, so I guess it went as good as it could have gone.

There are many things I will miss about the old website. The main homescreen with the laboratorium image… Plus the post editor was really, really good in Squarespace. Nonetheless… I went from around 11 euros per month to two so no complaints here.

How many lives have I lived?

I recently happened to read a blog post by famed Youtube video person C.G.P. Grey with an interesting title “I Have Died Many Times.” I also listened to him discuss it on the Hello, Internet! podcast. The  blog post really spoke to me. It was about how we are slowly reborn every moment of our lives and after a while, we are in most aspects a new person. As Grey eloquently puts it:

Like the Ship of Theseus your mind replaces itself one small part at a time. Memories fade, memories exaggerate, the new pushes out the old. It happens slowly, but it happens, until your mind is an new inhabitant of an old skull.

It is an interesting idea and I too have thought about my younger self as a very different person to who I am now. Even 10 years ago I felt like I would have really hated my per-teen self in a universe where I would have had the chance to meet him. Today I feel like I would go crazy trying to talk to my 17 year old self. While he wouldn’t be more annoying to talk to than the average 17 year old, I do feel like he would aggravate me to no end just because I used to be him – and then again… I am not him – not today.

The main point in Greys article is the importance of letting go of ones past – to reinvent oneself over and over again. This is something that I fully agree with. The past has an influence on how we get to the point we are today but it has very little to do with who we are today. It almost doesn’t matter. You are here now. 

I am fully aware that some of this may sound unpleasantly New-Age-like. Grey also brought this out about his own article but it is a difficult topic to cover without having it sound a bit wishy-washy so let’s just try to continue…

I have had an interesting opportunity to live in several different places. This has made self reinvention a lot easier as you not only leave your past behind mentally, you have physical distance. The first time this happened was when I went to the university. I got to go to Tartu University which meant moving 200 km away from most of my friends at the time. It meant moving away from the past.

At the time I felt quite a bit of sadness and I naturally I understand why that was. After all, leaving behind your family and friends (who you have seen almost everyday for the past 10 years) is not easy. I wasn’t escaping, at least not consciously anyway.  I actually enjoyed a lot of my high school time. So I ended up visiting my friends, visiting my school, my parents, my home, my town etc. quite often. Letting go was hard. But you know what? I made a lot of amazing new friends and had really amazing opportunities as did my old friends. Going back wasn’t important all of the sudden – and really it was complicated… everyone had changed and so had I.

The second big change was moving to Sweden and this one was a biggie. At least when I moved to Tartu I had some friendly faces. A few of my old classmates and friends joined me. I also had friends in Tartu before. There was no big culture shock. I just had to learn to heat up rice and pasta and see that the bills are payed on time. With Sweden I just had a job I wanted.

A new country, a new language and no familiar faces. A year before I didn’t even know the town I was moving to existed. Irregardless the first year in Sweden still felt like a bit of a transition. Since my girlfriend was still in Estonia at the time, I would try to visit as often as I could. Every time I got off the boat in “the old country” I felt a rush of serotonin in my brain and the first two days I almost felt like I was high. The happiness was quickly replaced by depression when I got back to Sweden. I still couldn’t let go.

While the time with my girlfriend, family and friends was definitely enjoyable, it was not sustainable. With every visit my friends grew more distant and in all honesty – I felt like my time in Sweden had changed me a lot as well. Something happened near the end of my first year though. Perhaps I finally found my place in my new country and started making more friends. As I had less and less free time, I couldn’t go to Estonia as often as before. By then we had decided that my girlfriend would come to live with me in Sweden. From then my home was there – no more hanging on.

It is not like I could never go back to Estonia – the Ivo who left in 2011 can’t but I sure can… Or perhaps a future Ivo. It’s just that I would have to find a new life there because, as everyone who has to leave home will find out, life goes on without you and while it can be a sad though at first, it is the normal way of things. It is something to be embraced not feared. I have learned that it is never sustainable to hold on to the past as it stops you from becoming a new person, better suited to the present. Ivo ca. 2015 is much more adapted to living in Sweden than Ivo ca. 2011.

I know that from a perspective this may be a bit harsh. Even while writing this I keep thinking to myself how many awesome people I still have contact with from my “previous lives.” For each of them though, there are many more I have lost contact with. We meet, we talk, perhaps there is even a sweet feeling from the past but we are really not a part of each others life. Not in that way. It’s no ones fault, it’s just the natural way of things, it’s life. Perhaps future me and future them will someday meet and forge a new friendship, who knows. I do know however that holding onto these things will only cause more negative emotions.

I keep thinking of this today because I do feel that a new change may soon be upon me. I have been doing my PhD for over 3 years now and at one point, it will come to an end. Hopefully. After that – who knows. I was very sure I will want to stay and do a PhD in Tartu after my Master’s degree. That turned out well. Maybe I’ll become a baker. Or a woodworker. In any way, I must be able to live a new life. Perhaps I’ll be more fit in that life too! I guess present Ivo must do a bit for that as well 🙂

In lieu of a proper conclusion I will leave you with one of my favorite comic strips of all time from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. Click on the image below to get to the full strip – trust me – it is worth it.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weiner.
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weiner.