While Isabella Strand had come to terms with being an unusual coach, but that she would probably never tell anyone about it similar thoughts were brooded over in Östermalm. There, in that small apartment, the concept of “normality” was also equally important. Perhaps even more.
What is “normal” really? Or even realistic? Or real for that matter? If a writer should write a murder plot and make the characters stick out completely from their context and still maintain that they will not be noticed in a crowd that writer would be exposed to huge amounts of criticism. On the other hand you would never expect Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple or Sam Spade to have a “real” life, would you?
Many writers have created pretty unrealistic characters. The character Lisbeth Salander by Stieg Larsson is a perfect example of this. And the Albino killer from the same writer or the other Albino killer by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code. Then of course we have all our heroes: Indiana Jones, Lara Croft, John McClane and Ethan Hunt. They are supposed to live in the real world but do not behave as you would expect real people to. And they don’t even speak Klingon, use lightsabers or are born on Krypton.
In an apartment measuring 34 square meters with only a small kitchenette you can’t expect to find a large family in Sweden. Fine. No risk of that here anyway. But what can the neighbors expect to find? That is, what appearance can you assume not to be noticed? There are a few stories you could tell your neighbor if she or he would ever ask. They seldom do, actually, in Östermalm. One is to say that you are a student and that you make extra money working night somewhere. That would make it completely normal for you to come and go at any hour of the day. The other story you could go for is that you really work abroad but that you have this small flat to stay the night when you visit Stockholm on occasion. Also realistic. And the name on the door, at least in Östermalm, must appear European or Swedish.
Both stories have to look plausible of course. If you say you are a rich world traveler you can’t look like something else. And if you “are” a student you would not be expected to wear expensive brands. To be fully clothed in a nudist camp would draw attention to yourself, right? Or to dress like a clown in Parliament, even if some would say that such suits would suit politicians better than they think. So the What, Where and When is important. Even for Murder.
Even the inside of the apartment has to look right. A neighbor might turn up to make inquiries on tools, a cup of sugar or if the laundry room might be free. So your flat must fit your story too. In this case the student story was chosen, making it essential to make all the furniture look cheap, borrowed or found in a jumble sale or in a container somewhere. A student also has to have books. But not any books. There has to be a slant towards book in the field you pretend to study – in this case English. And there must be no trace of equipment used for dirty deeds of course. That must be hidden into the five closets or in well closed boxes in the basement storage room. And you have to have normal stuff too. A daily newspaper, a TV, a CD-player or something. And follow all the unwritten rules.
It takes quite a bit of preparation to act like a “normal” Swede today. “Acting as if” is not as easy as it seems. Perhaps you would need a mentor or coach to do it well?
Isabella Strand had never received any coaching request on that subject and perhaps never will. On the other hand every person had their own agenda. Isabella had just been to the local store to buy coffee, tea and some other things for the office and was mounting the stairs thinking that the charm from residing in a building from the late seventeen hundreds is well balanced with the lack of an elevator. Isabella felt that she had not been training as much as she would have wanted or needed for that matter. Suddenly her iPhone rang. David had adjusted her ringtone to that of an old telephone instead of the usual Marimba sound.
It was her next client Erica calling to say she couldn’t meet her appointment today. It was the second time she did exactly that, calling at the last moment to cancel. Isabella had very clear booking rules stating that you have to cancel at least 24 hours before the appointment or you would have to pay anyway. And that was not all with Erica. Erica had “forgotten” to appear several times and of course also not done her homework on occasion. A classic case of a client that will not continue her coaching eventually. Right now Erica was fighting the shame of not doing what was needed versus the shame of giving up on her coaching process. Erica was unhappy with her job, unhappy with her relationship and unhappy with her apartment. Everything, including herself. Isabella had suspicions of perhaps a drinking or another drug related issue, but she was not sure. But her intuition told her that something was seriously wrong with Erica, something that regular coaching could not fix. “But to put that question on the table Erica had to show up – and that is maybe why she doesn’t?” So Isabella had a free hour extra on her hands now. She decided to grab a coffee at her favorite spot in the Old Town and to do some e-mailing there.
Isabella had found a small café in a place that was also a hotel in an alley just walking distance from the office. Not many people had found that spot so it was ideal for taking a coffee and to do some thinking. It was also a fine thing just to take that walk and leave the office for a while. The Old Town had infinite possibilities for nice walks if you knew where to go. The alley named after a certain Sven who had been into wine turned up and Isabella made the few steps to the hotel. As she had been there several times before the owner greeted her in that manner you would a regular customer. “Returning clients are the ideal clients even for coaches.” Isabella smiled back and ordered her usual Caffe Latte made with low-fat milk and a sandwich with Salami and Brie cheese. A sudden Tuesday vacuum turned up in Isabella’s brain. A classic post cancelling syndrome. When a client cancels suddenly you are faced with a quick need to fill that space with something meaningful to do as you know you have millions of thing to do as an entrepreneur and mostly you deliver coaching hours. All other time available must be used purposely or you would be in trouble. But you could always clean out your inbox or at least skim over it in order to find the most acute issues. Cleaning it out is just a dream. Isabella sometimes dreamt of having an agent as she had seen on TV all the stars having. Agents making all dreams come true. Isabella came back to the real world pretty soon though, laughing at herself for dreaming of such things. The rest of Isabella’s coaching day was nothing like a dream.
Sometimes you get what you deserve, but sometimes you have no chance at all to realize it when it happens. Even afterwards can the lesson to be learned be hard to find. Isabella had two clients this afternoon before she could call it a day. The first was a job coaching client assigned to her through the employment office.
These clients came in very varying caliber. Some were pretty much aware of themselves and their situation and had some basic knowledge about how things work, but some had more problems to deal with. Lately Isabella had seen more and more of the latter category arriving at her doorstep.
“Hi. Elisabeth?” “Yes.” So far so good. The right client arriving on time. Isabella always wondered if that would be the case and this time the session started well. The first rule of a successful date is if both parties show up. A mild blond woman in her early forties stood before her. “Coffee, tea or water?” More and more clients chose tea or water these days. Perhaps they wanted to get calmer and expected coffee to excite them more or they had already had one cup too many this day. After all Sweden is placed at the top ten of the coffee countries in the World per capita. Finland leads followed by all the other Nordic countries. Only the Netherlands breaks the Nordic dominance by entering at number five. Sweden has been number two but has slipped down to six. “Tea, please.”
When it came to job coaching Isabella had long ago discovered that most job coaching clients did not need coaching, but concrete advice on what and how to go on from their present position. Their present position was “nowhere”. Just to accomplish a CV was sometimes impossible, they had none or little job experience, some had difficulties with Swedish as they had not lived in Sweden too long or had dyslexia. Some even had severe psychological issues on the border to therapeutic needs.”So Elisabeth, have a seat.” Elisabeth sat down and Isabella placed herself on the other chair in the room. She noticed that Elisabeth looked down instead of meeting Isabella face to face or instead of scanning the room to see what was in it. A sign of worry. She just sat there, waiting…Isabella decided to go slow not to frighten her. “Welcome Elisabeth. Did you have any difficulties coming here?” Isabella realized of course that the question was ambiguous. Elisabeth could answer with something about her process at the unemployment office or she could just say something about the actual travel to the office. There was a moment’s “Hamlet” silence. Elisabeth was trying to figure out the “best” answer. And Isabella had not really started with real questions yet – she was just making initial conversation. She knew that this session would be tough for both of them. But Isabella decided to act as if everything was fine. Elisabeth made the same decision. “No problem.”
Then Isabella started the session by asking her client what she knew about coaching and what she knew about Isabella and ISIS. Generally job coach clients are supposed to find the coach they wanted by looking into a search page on the employment office’s website. There were statements from every job coach plus links to their websites. There were several ways to make thorough research if you had the initiative or stamina to. “My contact person at the employment office suggested you.” Isabella was astonished. Again a client had said just that. Isabella had been told by the employment office that they had no right to suggest any specific coach and that they would leave all the decision making to the clients. But no.
Isabella would not call them to say “Please, don’t lead any clients this way!” She was not stupid. Not in that sense anyway. As a marriage consultant she would be no star with her track record – or on the other hand she might be just that, knowing all the snags that can arrive around the next corner.
“I’m flattered that they think I’m doing a good job.” Isabella did her best to hide her inner feelings. “But we are not going to be talking about me, are we?” “I guess not.” “So Elisabeth, what do you want us to start with? We have several things that should be included into job coaching and I guess there are also things that you would like to get into our process. We have three months for this according to the rules set by the Government. I would suggest six sessions which would be about twice a month. To start with a bit closer between sessions and a wider span towards the end. And finally a closing session in which we fill in a form of what we have done to send to the employment office. How do you feel about that?” I guess that’s OK.” Elisabeth was not really able to say anything about this suggested arrangement.
“Good. So who are you Elisabeth?” Isabella tries this approach now and again knowing that is one of the toughest questions to answer. A client could go anywhere from that question or nowhere. Mostly nowhere. “I’m divorced.” “What does that mean for you?” My husband left me for his thirty-two year old colleague saying she was prettier and smarter than I.” “That was not very nice. And how long have you been out of work?” “I’ve never had a job, really. Apart from taking care of the home and my husband. I married him when I was nineteen. He was a young lion at the stock exchange, extremely rich, handsome and had a fancy car and everything. I was pretty, I guess.” “Have you any education at all?” “High School. Then only a couple of classes in cooking, interior design and painting.”
Isabella tried hard to keep from sighing and said “Would you ike another cup of tea?” “Yes, thanks.” Isabella left the room to make the tea and wondered how on earth she was to help Elisabeth to produce a CV and also wondered what the contents of it would be.
In the 34 square meter apartment “box” we now know quite well there was also plenty of thinking going on. And secret smiles about all the splendid plans already made for the near future to compensate for the bad plans made in the past. But outside the “box” it was important to act as if everything was normal. Schedules had to be maintained, dress code kept and everything had to look as if not under pressure.