New Writer Welcome: Thorsten Sahlin

Please join the COA family in welcoming our newest writer, Thorsten Sahlin! Thorsten’s bio will be available shortly on our About page. Subscribe to COA so you don’t miss his upcoming debut piece ‘Whistler’s Mother is LeBron James.’

Q: If you’ve ever had a opportunity to dispel a common misconception about Swedes, this is it. Go!

My family is a couple generations over so I don’t have a ton to say that would incorporate any firsthand experience in the country. Although, as conversations go, people will generally inquire about the derivation of my name. When they find out It’s a Swedish name, 90% of the time they will say something to the tune of “but you’re not even blonde”. Many people are under the impression that Brigitte Nielsen and Dolph Lundgren have spawned the entire nation. Truth.

I don’t know if it’s genes or upbringing, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized I’m actually the embodiment of several Swedish clichés. I’m pretty shy and reserved with strangers. I look through the peephole to make sure there is no one in the hall when I leave. I get anxiety walking my dog because people see having a dog as a conversational invite. Small talk isn’t my scene. I would say 25-35% of my diet is some variant of smoked fish.

I think the most Swedish thing I’ve done was participate in the procession of St. Lucia when I was very young. It’s a festival where children don robes and march with candles to celebrate St. Lucy, a martyr from the 3rd century. I was the only boy in the procession so I assumed the robe was a dress. I remember thinking “huh, so I guess my crazy mother is just going to be dressing me like a girl now.” That’s a pretty disconcerting scenario for a 5-6 year old who can count all his friends on one finger.

Q: What made you pick Chicago, and now that you’re here will you stay?

I used to tell people I came here to go to SAIC. In reality, I moved here for a girl. I don’t necessarily regret living in Chicago, but I regret the circumstances which brought me here. I had a good thing going in Seattle, but I was drinking too much and that definitely inhibited my decision making.

I had an old friend come visit me out there and she brought a friend of hers with whom I got along quite well. I kept in touch with her after they left. I think I visited her in Chicago a few times, she came back to Seattle once or twice and eventually I just decided to move here. I applied to SAIC so it would look like I was coming here for another reason. The fragility of my ego at the time wouldn’t let me go anywhere to be with another person, so I had to come up with something…

It was a pretty whirlwind development. At the time, I was generally inebriated 6 days out of the week. I don’t know how I got it together to meet someone, get along so well, and then move to another city in a 3-month span. Not surprisingly, the whole thing fell apart like a month after I got here. We broke up, I dropped out of SAIC and had to do some serious “find myself” things. After some terrible career experiences and a little self-improvement, I decided at 30 to return to school and finally finish my degree. It’s going well now and I’m almost done.

I’m not sure about staying here. My girlfriend and I have a lovely spot with our dog, and I’m pretty content with Chicago at the moment. A lot of it depends on my Master’s degree. I’m applying to a plethora of Universities, so it’s up in the air as to where I’ll be in a few years. I do know that I’m not geographically settled yet. There are so many more places I want to experience.

Q: Malort? Seriously?

Swedes know what’s up. I don’t really indulge anymore, but I can safely say it’s the best thing Chicago has to offer.

Looking out your own peephole drinking Jameson: Creepy as all hell.

Looking out your own peephole drinking Malort: Comedy Gold.

Thorsten Sahlin in the most shameless, writery headshot one could fathom.

Thorsten Sahlin in the most shameless, writery headshot that one could fathom.

Q: You’re currently a School of the Art Institute (of Chicago) student. What else have you been and how will it influence what you write about for COA?

I’ve worn a hat or two in my lifetime, but I can safely say the most important thing I have been to date is a train-wreck. I’ve had a slew of interests and occupations in my life and I’ve self-imploded through all of them; mostly through drug and alcohol abuse. You know, writer stuff. I’m very fortunate that I haven’t lost much do to external circumstances. Much of my grief in life has been self-imposed.

I think you can let a fact like that devour you, or you can shoot it in the junk and proudly strap it to the hood of your DeLorean.

I’ve undergone a personal renaissance over the last few years. I’ve taken up marathon running and rock climbing. I pursue activities that simultaneously strain me mentally and physically. Much of my success in these endeavors is rooted in the need to overcome those negative aspects of my past.

Watching yourself transform as an individual gives you a hypersensitive insight. Whatever I write about; whether it be sports, art or songs from the 90’s about butts, I’m bringing said insight and striving for improvement. That’s what it’s all about right?

WANT TO JOIN MR. SAHLIN ON THE COA TEAM? 

Remember, we’re always seeking new writers, photographers, whatever-ers for the COA artist family. If you’d like to get paid for your craft and have it promoted on our dime, please drop us a line through the Contact Us form.

The Thoughtful Ballerina

‘The Thoughtful Ballerina’ is Emmie Strickland’s first piece for COA. You can check out her new author Q&A piece here if you want to know a little more about her or get some guilty-pleasure music tips.

I spend the majority of my days perfecting my portrayal of a fairy. Between musicality, perfectly executed choreography, and adding in some light acting, this can be overwhelming. Dancers, and in particular professional ballet dancers, are known to be self-critical perfectionists. There’s always room for improvement. We’re just crazy enough to drain ourselves every day in a career where the ultimate success is unattainable.

Classical ballet is dominated by magical, ethereal, romantic, feminine, appealing, emotional, and otherworldly characters. Sometimes I’m swan. Sometimes I’m a fairy, or ghost of a young bride. It’s  centuries-old with messages that still matter. It is a traditional mode of visual storytelling that celebrates the god-like potential the human body has to produce beauty.

And when your studio is lined with floor-to-ceiling mirrors, you are locked into perpetual self-reflection.

This makes ballet dancers some of the most self-aware people you’d ever encounter. We’re on a never-ending journey to fully know ourselves physically and mentally, because well-danced ballet demands that. It’s full command of all body movements, be it facial expressions, breathing, or state of mind. Because ballet is arguably the most exact of the many forms of dance, those of us who dance it as a profession are attentive and self-critical of our ballet technique to the point of obsession.

It consumes us.

We repeat the same step in front of the mirror countless times until it looks flawless, only to come into the studio the next day and be completely dissatisfied with it because of the tilt of the head or angle of the wrist. Tears are shed over the details. We are hyper-perfectionists. Our bodies are driven to the edges of cliffs and we are devastated beyond words when they cannot do what we want them to do, or subsequently (but not surprisingly) get injured.

We neglect important aspects of life-like relationships, nutrition, and sleep just to inch a little closer to this unreachable mastery of the set of motions and positions, all unnatural to the human body, that is ballet technique. And since not a single one of the professional ballet dancers in the world would claim to have perfected it all yet, each day we are led back to the studio, happily hooked by the idea of becoming our most perfect selves.

Emmie Strickland, The Thoughtful Ballerina

Emmie Strickland, The Thoughtful Ballerina. Photo by Jonathan K Taylor.

Yet despite the bliss experienced dancing through a dream every day, there lingers a cloud of uncertainty that gets in the way of my fully experiencing the art form. The all-encompassing world of professional ballet has handcuffed my ability to affect genuine change to the world we all share.

I have eight hours of work every day in a temperature-controlled studio, perfecting my portrayal of a fairy, while children die of starvation, bombs decimate villages, and the earth’s coral reefs petrify.

Big picture stuff, for sure. I’ve recently found myself thinking, how is dancing ballet relevant while I grumble over imperfect pirouettes. How are those pas de chats fixing the issues in civilization that my heart is aching to resolve?  It’s a maddening irony that ballet, my passion, nurtured the realization of this disheartening truth. I need me being a swan on a huge stage to somehow cure en epidemic. Right now, that swan shyly cowers under the shadow of her wing.

And while it might seem a comical proposition, I do firmly believe in my art form’s ability to enrich our audiences in countless ways. The fine arts are a necessity in a civil society; ballet included. We do find an occasional respite from elite theaters and velvet seats by performing outreach shows for underprivileged children. The art keeps history intact while breaking through walls that previous performers thought impermeable. It inspires and entertains. It reflects the human condition in a way that few art forms do.

Providing an artistic vessel for future difference-makers to have their own revelations is my redemption. I need it, and I hope they do too.

Maybe it is naiveté. Maybe it shows an inflated sense of self, that I believe I could affect real change It could just be a subconscious scratching of my ‘save the world’ itch. The hopeful (or hopeless, depending on you look at it) answer is that I should just pursue the obvious solution: save the world and dance. Fairies don’t need that much sleep, right? Conversely, maybe this is all the over-analysis of a thoughtful ballerina.

Artists and Nine-to-Fivers, alike: what do you do when your dream-career leaves your soul wanting? Tell us in the comment field below!