“Michael Stalmarsk – cultural anthropologist, publisher. The author of a number of publications and books devoted to various countries and regions, with particular emphasis on Scandinavia, Italy, Poland and the USA. Lives and works in southern Sweden.”
The above sentence was meant to be a simple presentation of myself and what I was up to before. Unfortunately, the company that designed my website insisted that I elaborate this thread and write more about myself and what motivated me to create this website. I don’t know if it will satisfy the designer, Google algorithms and readers, but I had made a promise so now I present you with the extended story. Please do not treat this text as a sentimental, egocentric confession, but simply as another article about déjà vu and about a man who was forced to repeat many times throughout his life: “You reap what you sow”.
"You reap what you sow"
On course: the worst school in the city
In my adolescence, I did not care much about school duties. I attended school, but I was not in the top of my class. The only thing I was worried about was what I would tell my mother when I returned home from school with a report card full of barely satisfactory grades. However, a year or two before graduation, I was somewhat surprised to find that I was a real star in lessons such as history and geography. The A grades slightly improved my average score and without problems pulled the wool over the eyes of my busy mother. My results were still poor though and I wasn’t accepted into any top school. However, they were good enough to get me place in the worst school in the whole city. So I had to say it: “You reap what you sow”. Or maybe not.
Poor education in a profession I hated physically had one small advantage. There was an additional subject in the curriculum that I could shine on. Now, apart from history and geography, I also had a citizenship education, and these subjects again increased the average score on my report card. After five years of studying at a school that I didn’t like, I “crawled” through my exams, but not for love or money I wanted to work in the profession I was trained in. After long reflection and intensive searching, I found a job that I could accept. I started working in a great library with huge collections and centuries-old tradition. Elegant work colleagues and impressive library rooms gave me the feeling that maybe my place was there. The infatuation lasted only a month, exactly until the day I got the envelope with my first paycheck. It turned out that for the whole month I earned as much as 1 monthly travel ticket, 5 cans of ham and a can of gasoline – a quarter of the national average wage. I had to say it again “You reap what you sow”. Or maybe not.
Casemates of knowledge
The large library with multi-story storerooms, with books and magazines collected over the centuries, had one great advantage for me. In my spare time, I would sneak out of the beautiful library room to discover what was gathered in the dark basement of the library, under thick layers of dust. I was completely engrossed in exploring the collections. It was the same feeling as I have when I’m surfing the internet today. A feeling of exceptional freedom, unlimited access to knowledge accumulated by contemporaries and previous generations.
Penetrating the library collections took several months, and finally I left the underground dungeons ready for a new start. I was so “boned up” that I easily passed the university admission exams. After calculating the obtained points, the honorable committee stated that I passed as a top student and thus granted the privilege of receiving the index from the rector himself. Studying in a new, prestigious field was the most pleasant and easy thing I did in my young life. I also found a job without any problems after graduation. This time, an elegant and prestigious gallery of contemporary art in the city became my haven. My surfing on the wave of success continued because of a certain talent: I was able to talk long and effortlessly about the most intricate problems of contemporary art. My skills were recognized and rewarded with better salary, foreign travel and the position of gallery manager. I was satisfied with my work, but not entirely. What I was telling people was not what I really wanted to convey or what I thought was really important.
Charm of the red rainbow
Everything changed on the day when I accidentally discovered dozens of propaganda posters from the 1950s under the mountain of papers destined for recycling. They were a perfectly preserved collection of socialist realist images through which the “mother Party” wanted to shape ordinary citizens who had the misfortune to be on the wrong side of the border of post-war Europe, and to guide their lives. The rough reality in the clash with the luminous image (except of course for the description of American imperialism) propagated by the posters, their symbolism and their colors completely absorbed me. I decided to show people what their parents experienced and give my peers a chance to compare poster socialist realism with the reality of the time. Theoretically it was a good idea, but on closer inspection it turned out to be very, very bad, and even dangerous… for me first and foremost.
An exhibition showing what socialist realism was, and then a few others with similar accents have become my hallmark. I was successful in the audience, but my superiors liked it less and less, and it turned out to be clearly unacceptable to law enforcement officers.
I was aware that perhaps I would suffer the consequences of my actions, but it was only on the day when I was crossing the border with one bag, a passport and 50 Swedish kronas in my hand that I had to admit that it was not good. This feeling deepened even more when I realized after a few days that I had to start my life and education with the proverbial ABC. I left behind my language, family, education, money and practical skills that would give me a chance to survive in a new environment. So: “You reap what you sow”. Or maybe not.
My education in the new conditions turned out to be very smooth. I quickly learned the secrets of a new country, its customs, and values. I started creating a new life for myself in no time. Metaphorically, it was “life 2.0”. I forgot about what I had been through in my previous life relatively quickly, although I shouldn’t have. I was surprised to find that my old life experience combined with the knowledge gained in a new country gave me quite a unique perspective on the problems of everyday life. Moreover, I noticed that people were curious about what I had to say. In order not to prolong the argument, I would only say that within a few years I created a number of illustrated magazines about Sweden for Poles, about Poland for Scandinavians and about Italy for Swedes. I also wrote several books about the United States written from a European perspective.
I was completely satisfied with what I was doing, although I followed the changes in the press market with some anxiety. I came to realize that the nearest bookstore was in the neighboring borough, and the press stands were getting smaller. One day I discovered that the average book and newspaper stand in the popular Swedish pressbyrå was smaller than Red Bull or an iPhone case stands.
On the last day of my professional career, I regretted that my passions and interests were completely different from what people wanted. A well-deserved rest after a chaotic and dramatic professional life might seem like a bright prospect, but I knew that a new era was before me: idleness, excess time and the “luxury” of doing nothing. Another déjà vu: “You reap what you sow”. Or maybe not.
From evidence to agitation
The “miraculous” 2020 has come, and with it Covid-19, political extremism – both left and right – the climate crisis, recession, inflation. Everyone had a lot of free time for discussions and started to wonder how it could all happen and accumulate in such a short space of time. The arguments for and against various theories were analyzed both at the kitchen table and in the living rooms.
Arguments and historical parallels have been used more than once. However, one did not have to go too far back in history to recall the previous disasters: epidemics, political extremism, recession, inflation, etc. Quoting history was a convenient way of arguing because it invoked later, already known solutions. This does not mean, however, that we learn from the history and mistakes of earlier generations. History is just a history and will never happen again, but it can give us much food for thought. This reflection, confronted with reality and not always rational human nature, is a help in deciphering our present situation.
Now, after reading over 1,200 words, you can understand why this site was created and who is behind it. I have thrown myself into the virtual space and anxiously await the “hype & hate”. I hope I won’t have to say again: “You reap what you sow!”
Welcome to „Déjà vu Raport”.