This is the only life I will ever have.
Klišee. But this thought haunts me night after night. Sometimes I wish I believed in god, so I could also believe in some sort of an afterworld, where I could start all over again. But as the studies say, Estonia is one of the least religious countries of all. And at least in this sense, I am a prime example of a typical Estonian, whether I like it or not.
I’m not saying I’ve had a hard life. We were poor for the first three years or so; the Soviet occupation had just ended, making for a newly independent state of theoretically infinite possibilities, but a whole lot of confusion in practice. Fresh out of university, my parents were desperate for jobs. And whatever they got, they worked hard at it. Overtime, weekend work – anything to get by.
|Talinn, Estonia – Painting – Ethan Hu|
They worked themselves up to the top, and I do think that’s something to be proud of. By the time I was old enough to remember, it was no longer about “getting by.” We had plenty of food on the table and I could have most of the new and shiny toys I wanted. But having mom and dad at home for dinner together, to play with these new shiny toys together? That was not something money could buy.
Sometimes I have the craziest thoughts. I learned to play the violin for eight years. One day, I’d be thinking of moving south, of meeting some wonderful people in Spain or Portugal or France, of starting a band, living as gypsies and busking around the warm, welcoming streets for a while. The next day, it’d be South America, travelling from farm to farm, doing honest manual labour in exchange for food and board. I’m a city girl, don’t know much about farm work, but surely I can learn.
|Rohuneeme, Estonia – The end of the cape – Julius Jansson|
Such are the thoughts that have given the term “millennial” a negative connotation. The dream of seeing more of the world than you do on one yearly week-long trip at a time may seem alien to our parents, unable to leave the country at all during the Soviet era. A reluctance to dedicate our lives solely to work is interpreted as reluctance to work at all. Entitled. Egoistlik. Lazy.
But is it a generational thing? Is it a universal gap between the young and the old? Is it wider in a post-Soviet country like Estonia, where the old often accuse the young of not valuing their freedom enough? All I know is that this gap sure feels like it is there when I talk to my parents. When we talk about freedom, we talk about different things. When we talk about happiness, we find its sources in different places.
|Parnu, Estonia – A sunny summer day – Garijs Polskis|
But maybe it’s not so much about our messages being different. Maybe, rather, it’s about getting them across. I was raised mostly by my grandma, so I haven’t had much practice in heart-to-hearts with mom and dad. It feels kind of like talking in catchphrases that you ought to use, rather than really sharing our thoughts. Maybe they also think that less work would have brought in less money, but more happiness? I guess I’ll never know for sure, as I’m afraid to ask, afraid to look like a characteristic millennial. All I know is that this is the only life I will ever have. Klišee. I’ll have to make sure that in the end, I don’t end up longing for another.
|Talinn, Estonia – On the road – Silver Ringvee|
I’ve been working virtually my whole life. Scrubbing toilet floors after school at age 12 – I failed to see anything strange about it then, because it may have been tiresome and tedious, but it was the only way for the two of us, my mother and I, to get by.
I’m good at hard work. And when the Iron Curtain fell, work became something you could do not only to survive, but to be able to afford all sorts of other things. Beautiful clothes. Home appliances that exceeded the bare necessities. A new car, even a relatively luxurious new house. For the first time in my life, the doors were wide open: I could have it all if only I worked hard enough for it.
So I did. It was tough, to say the least. Although it was relatively easy to start a business, it was just as easy to suddenly lose it all. The regulatory environment for a new market economy was only beginning to form; social guarantees were not really guarantees at all; and many of my friends were well-off one day, but hopelessly out of a job the next. This was something I couldn’t afford with my newborn Anna to care for.
|Tartu, Estonia – Finally – Jaanus Jagomägi|
Three or four years passed. Out of the blue, my husband and I realized we could afford anything we needed – and more. Me? The pre-teen girl cleaning toilets to afford food? This, of course, added fuel to my idealization of our newfound freedom. I didn’t want to go back to insufferable poverty, to having to do whatever mundane work the state assigned to me. To being unable to travel outside the country – or even within it, for that matter. To not having time to spend with my daughter because we both had to work for a living.
Now that I am writing this, it’s clear to me that I didn’t see the whole picture back then. Having the freedom to do business and earn money, I buried myself so deep in work that it was all I had energy for. I thought there was no way the company could go on a day without me – although it certainly could have – so I never took a day off. Those vacations abroad were a distant dream to me – yes, I held the passport of an independent republic, but I never actually gave myself the freedom to use it.
|Talinn, Estonia – Touched – Ilya Orehov|
Whenever I talk to Anna, I feel that something is missing – a genuine connection, maybe. I used to think of it as a generational thing: someone who’s spent most of their life in a closed-off totalitarian state and someone who’s never experienced this sort of thing are bound to have different perspectives on life. Lately, however, I’ve been feeling as though we’re not all that different. I just haven’t taken the time to forge that connection.
At times, I find myself reading about supposedly “millennial” qualities and wondering if, maybe, these are universal. I didn’t want to work my life away, I simply had the perception that the circumstances demanded it. As did most of my generation, at least in Estonia. I wanted to see the world, have fun hobbies, spend some time figuring out myself and the world. Now I wish I could tell my daughter all this, but – although it makes me sad – I feel unable to.
Snapshot 1: Talinn, Estonia – Cityscape – Toimetaja Tolkebüroo (Unsplash)
Snapshot 2: Talinn, Estonia – Painting – Ethan Hu (Unsplash)
Snapshot 3: Rohuneeme, Estonia – The end of the cape – Julius Jansson (Unsplash)
Snapshot 4: Parnu, Estonia – A sunny summer day – Garijs Polskis (Shutterstock)
Snapshot 5: Tartu, Estonia – Finally – Jaanus Jagomägi (Unsplash)
Snapshot 6: Talinn, Estonia – Touched – Ilya Orehov (Unsplash)
Cinemblem voiceover: Caterina Piagentini
Cinemblem: Perypatetik youtube channel
The Syncretion of Polarization and Extremes
Ahmed, Amina. Growing up with Abuse: A Life of Extremes – Lebanon. April 2019.
Alencar, Joana. Lack of Social Trust – Brazil. January 2019.
Antonyan, Hayk. Polarization Does Not Equal Extreme – Armenia. September 2019.
Awdejuk, Pawel. Pole-arization – Poland. June 2019.
Baccino, Alejandra. Polarization within Ourselves – South America. January 2019.
Bondarenko, Evgeny. What You Sow Does Not Come To Life Unless It Dies – Ukraine. May 2019.
Butt, Kashif. Shrinking Space for Dialog – Pakistan. October 2019.
Cannarella, Daniela. A Past-Present Dicotomia – Italy. June 2019.
Casas, Marilin Guerrero Casas. Balance – Cuba. May 2019.
Cordido, Veronica. Hanging by Extremes – Venezuela. January 2019.
Dastan, S.A. Polarization and the Epidemic of Extremity – Turkey. August 2019.
Deiana, Sarah. The Unbearable Weight of Being a Woman – Italy. September 2019.
Escandell, Andrea da Silva. The Illogic of Extremes – Uruguay. May 2019.
Escobar, Christian. Between the Sky and the Earth: Looking for Love – Columbia. October 2019.
Gomez, Javier. The Canyon Inside Us – Argentina. July 2019.
Hernandez, Jonay Quintero. Extremism Is Now the New Hype? – Spain. February 2019.
Husseini, Maha. Bilingual Par Excellence – Canada. August 2019.
Israyelyan, Mania. Polarized Within Ourselves – Armenia. June 2019.
Julber, Lillian. Difficult to Understand – Uruguay. July 2019.
Kanunova, Nigina. Role of Polarization in the Life of an Individual and Society – Tajikistan. July 2019.
López, Virginia Sanmartín. Why Live on an Edge? – Spain. August 2019.
Montano, Osvaldo. Progress in the Face of Polarization – Bolivia. February 2019.
Mwangi, Kenn. Religious Extremity and Exploitation – Kenya. October 2019.
Pavicevic, Nikolina. The Law of Silence – Montenegro. September 2019.
Protić, Aleksandar. Linguistic Balkanization as a Means of Polarization – The Balkans. June 2019.
Ranaldo, Mary. Social Polarization – Italy. April 2019.
Ray, Sanjay Kumar. At the Crossroads – India. August 2019.
Romano, Mavi. Censorship and Cultural Survival in a World without Gods – Spain. January 2019.
Çakir, Peren. Needing a Sustainable Future in the Midst of Political Polarization – Argentina and Turkey. September 2019.
Sariñana, Alejandra Gonzalez. Student Movements – Mexico. March 2019.
Sekulić, Jelena. The Polarizacija of Serbian Culture – Serbia. June 2019.
Sem, Sebastião. Brandos Costumes – Portugal. July 2019.
Sepi, Andreea. A World of Victims and Perpetrators? – Germany and Romania. February 2019.
Sevunts, Nane. The Era To Close – Armenia. March 2019.
Skobic, Alexandar. The Loss of Identity – The Balkans. April 2019.
Sitorus, Rina. Polarization in Politics: All a Cebong or Kampret – Indonesia. March 2019.
Spirito, Julieta. A Thought about Polarized Insecurity – Argentina. April 2019.
Valenzuela, Monica. Adults and Children – Peru. April 2019.
Vuka. Extreme Immunity to Functional Tax and Judicial System – Serbia. March 2019
Wallis, Toni. Walls and Resettlement – South Africa and Angola. February 2019.
Williams, Jazz Carl. Unfinished Episodes – Spain. May 2019.
Zakharova, Anastasiya. Feminism – Russia. August 2019.
CW 45 – Ghana – Kwasi Amankwah Awuah
CW 46 – Dominican Republic – Aura De Los Santos
CW 47 – Montenegro – Nikolina Pavicevic
CW 48 – America – Talia Stotts
CW 49 – Philippines – Kristian Uusitalo
CW 50 – Italy – Martha Corzo
CW 51 – Hungary – Zoltan Monar
CW 52 – Syria/UAE/Egypt – Ahmed Ibrahim
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed