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2. A stick-child

In this chapter, I tell a little more about my deviant view of myself and the life around me. I explain how the «deviation» is reinforced and becomes fixed throughout childhood.

But already, we are also going to start talking about the big, the behind, the real, the true – the wholeness of which we are a tiny part.

How can we know anything about that which is hidden from us? How will the fish be able to detect the water? One answer is intuition, as I explain in the chapter.
Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.
Carl Gustav JungI was probably a «stick-child».

My dentist put this stamp on me. She is a social powerhouse that spends half the time drilling into people, not their teeth, but their minds.

She is around fifty and has several children, boys. Throughout their upbringing, she has been highly present in all their environments; at school, the football field etc. It made her discover the stick-kids.

Those who don't join the gangs of bullying and flirting children. Those who do not participate in soccer, dance or other activities. Those who sit down, anywhere, and play with anything – sticks, if that is the only option.

That sounds a little sad.

For me, it was not. For me, it has always been a sanctuary to be able to dive into something, ponder, discover. I escaped the impossible relationships with other people, creating my own wonderful world.

Those around me applauded it. It was reinforced for a particular reason.

My grandfather, Christen Finbak, died in 1954, seven years before my birth. He came from an old farm in a valley in the middle of Northern Norway but managed to become a professor of theoretical chemistry.

It was social climbing par excellence.

His talent was discovered early, and he was sent to Trondheim, one our biggest cities, to go to high school, funded by an uncle. He later received his doctorate in a dissertation on «Rotation of molecules in crystal lattices».

That was great stuff. A doctorate hung high in those days.

The focus of his scientific work was thus crystals, which were widely studied in the 1930s. The still young quantum mechanics had postulated several theories about the makings and function of atoms and molecules.

In Oslo, people watched intensely what was happening at the universities in Copenhagen, Germany and the USA. They followed Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Einstein and many others. They probably had scientific contact with several of them – without me having investigated this.

To study crystals, the method was to shoot electrons at the substance one wanted to examine and look at the light spectrum formed in the collisions.

A crystal is a stable structure of molecules. The molecules, in turn, are formed by atoms connected through so-called valence bonds. The outermost electrons in one atom are shared with another atom. They have it in common; it belongs to both. The molecules are also bound to each other with valence bonds.

Such was the theory at the time, and much of it is still valid.

My grandfather was also an exceptionally handy and creative man; he made, among other things, the most beautiful items in carved wood. So at the university, he was responsible for developing an apparatus for electron diffraction, the «Oslo apparatus» (Oslo-gogni), a cannon for firing electrons and studying the result.

A research group was established under the leadership of Dr Odd Hassel, who in 1969 received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the findings that emerged from this work.

Professor Hassel and my grandfather travelled to Caltech in Pasadena, Los Angeles, in 1939 to visit Linus Pauling, one of the world's foremost authorities in valence bonding. Pauling is also one of few to have been awarded two Nobel Prizes – in chemistry and the Peace Prize for his work against nuclear weapons.

On the long voyage that first went by ship to New York, through the Panama Canal and then up to California, he regularly wrote letters to my grandmother, whom I lived with for the first two years. The letters radiate.

I will not try to describe the scientific work further but rather borrow words from a later professor at the Department of Chemistry in Oslo, Kari Kveseth, who writes:
The story is rather unique. It is about how a small university at Europe’s periphery in the late 1930s was able to establish a world-leading research group.
Why do I mention all this?

Well, this was the story that defined the family and the spirit in which I grew up. My grandmother, a typical housewife, came from a family on the island Værøy in Lofoten, high up north, who produced dried cod (stoccafisso) – but she was common among professors and researchers.

I remember that we visited the Nobel Prize winner Hassel privately.

The third professor in Hassel's group, Otto Bastiansen, became the principal of the University of Oslo in the early 1970s. When I was a boy, we visited him too. He took me in his car and drove out to the Oslo airport to look at the big machines that came roaring at low altitude across the road at the end of the runway.

Was principal Bastiansen also a stick-child? At least he understood immediately what my interests might be.

I never met my grandfather, the chemistry professor. I did not know as a child what «rotation of molecules in crystals» meant. Only recently did I realise that what he was working on was, in fact, quantum mechanics.

The important thing for me was that being a nerd was allowed.

The adults looked at me and probably thought, okay – here comes one more of the same kind.

It was allowed to be brooding, buried in something strange, analytical. It was encouraged in the family and at school.

What more?

What is the life of an injured child like me?

Take fifty people and place them in front of a camera. At the back, towards the edge or in a corner, you will find one or two people, but not next to each other, standing and looking intensely at the photographer.

They may smile when the picture is taken, but it is not a hearty smile. They are not in it; it's superficial.

As soon as the picture is taken, they are either left in the background while everyone else pulls out and starts chatting, making redeemable comments, often making a joke that loosens things up. Small groups are formed.

Or they go to the photographer's position to see how the scene looks from that angle as if to calculate how the image may have turned out.

The last time I was in such a situation, on my father's 80th birthday at an inn just outside Lübeck in northern Germany, I did exactly as described.

But I did one more thing.

I had my tiny camcorder with me.

Before and after the photo was taken, I walked around freely, filming the guests who struggled to take their positions; like Fellini in the movie Satyricon lets the camera slide slowly around among the participants in a Roman meal feast. The abdomen of roasted pigs and oxen is chopped up, and glistening, greasy sausages spill all over while the guests are soaked in red wine inside and out.

They gaze questioningly, indifferently wondering, into the camera, a machine brought into the situation from a time two thousand years into the future. They look like curious, insecure animals through the lens and do not understand that they are being filmed and analysed.

They have no idea what's going on.

I am the photographer behind the photographer. I am the one who sees those who think they see.

That is how my vigilance works, my need for control.

There are one or two of us among the hundred, maximum.

We struggle to explain ourselves to others. We have some abilities that others do not understand. They come from these experiences with intense studies of everything small and big and strange.

There is nothing mysterious about this, but we have access to a large and deep world.

What is the content of the insight? This depth?

To answer, you need to understand what we are doing while «nerding»; while organising sticks and bricks. Redirecting water. Building with sand. Studying ants. People at a photo shoot. Social situations. Swallowing twenty volumes of world history. Enjoying Frank Zappa's guitar solos. Studying online what different versions of a particular aircraft model exist.

We study everything possible. Everything is of interest.

The common denominator is pattern recognition.

We are looking for patterns in everything. We find them everywhere. We do it to understand and learn, but basically to secure ourselves. When it succeeds, it provides great satisfaction.

When we see that principles from one field are relevant to another, the satisfaction is even greater. We observe, test, analyse and connect.


You will probably wonder when we present our «truths». Maybe you'll be scared.

You might perceive me as dangerous or highly arrogant and elitist. It's inevitable when I stand out and you feel insecure because you do not understand from where I get it all.

I realised early on that I was not quite like others. They were interested in girls/boys, football, bullying, power struggles and snooping. They were measuring themselves against each other, looking for their flock. They were busy finding their position in the herd. Fighting for it in subtle ways. Trying to increase their status, make themselves popular, attractive and admired.

That is how we humans are.

We define ourselves through others. It's all about relationships. We seek recognition. Without it, we are weak and insecure about our core. That is how we are when we look outwards and measure ourselves against those around us.

We who are oriented inwards have a place of refuge. We observe the interaction between people. We see that everyone wears masks. We know that they are fighting for themselves and theirs. Even when we are friendly, loving and lovable – there are often selfish motives.

We see it immediately. We know that it builds up. We observe that people choose facts and words and direct their gaze and attention to what benefits them. Life is a continuous struggle, often with a smile. Dressed in sportswear or wedding gown. A competition to be cool, tough, intelligent, beautiful, rich, untouched, admired, sexy.

Everyone is doing this. We, who have the gaze directed inward, know, for we discovered it at a young age and could not later forget this knowledge.

It is tiring.

It's tiring to see so much. To not be able to displace. It's disillusioning.

But it also gives great joy because we watch people when they don't know they are being observed, and then they are sometimes sweet, confused, naked.

The majority of people do not conduct an internal, conscious, in-depth analysis for every meeting, every conversation, every glance. They have spent their lives learning the game. The surface game. The game of normalcy. The social interaction.

They thrive on it. They thrive with others, enjoy conversations, feel the response from others and appreciate the closeness. They behave like sheep, and that's all alright.