You remember Megan, right? Well, Tor is her neighbor and she recommended we get together to chat. It took us several weeks to connect, but it was well worth the wait. Tor is a lovely human. He has a very gentle demeanor and such kind eyes and seems to share that with everyone he comes in contact with. Tor is a writer and a journalist and attributes much of his optimistic worldview to his curiosity. We sat in a research room that occasionally doubles as his office at the Deschutes Historical Museum, where Tor serves on the board. The catalogues that make up the background of his photo are archives of the Bend Bulletin, which he uses as reference material for his books.
Who are you and how would you describe yourself?
Well, to some extent, today I find myself thinking that I'm an American with a Swedish ancestry. Very early on when I moved to the United States back in the '80s, I explained that I was a Swede living in America. But I think over the years I have really kind of adopted my new home country. I feel very much like I'm an American with a Swedish ancestry, which is something that I never thought that that was going to happen. But it did. I've lived here for 30 years. Even when I lived in Sweden, I traveled to the United States and to Bend on many, many occasions, so I knew Bend from my many travels here. And I always thought, You know, it would be fun to live in Bend. Which is really kind of strange - when you think about the United States, you think about New York or Los Angeles or Seattle or Portland, whatever. But I felt very much at home in Bend, Oregon. And that's really who I am. I really am a Bendite today, which is very fun.
Back in the early '80s, I was an exchange student in an immersion program down in San Diego. And what I call my American mom and dad - they were from Bend, Oregon. Then, when they decided to move back from San Diego up to Bend, I kept on following them. So I was introduced to Bend. I was in my early 20s and it was very cool to see this town and get to know this town. My American mom knew another couple that lived down the street and they had a daughter. So my American mom and my American mom's best friend fixed us up on a blind date and we eventually got married and here we are today.
What does community mean to you based on your heritage and coming from a place where there's so much group support?
I grew up in a big apartment building. There were 10 stories, there were four apartments on each story. There were three different... so the house was 10A, 10B, and 10C, so 40 families in each of those. I knew everybody in the area. What ends up being 120 families, I knew most of them because most of them had kids the same age as me. It's like that old saying, It takes a village. It basically took an apartment building to raise all these different kids. We were friends. And then, of course, all my friends - their parents were checking up on everybody else. And then, of course, in that area there were hundreds and hundreds of apartment buildings. You stretched out and kind of had different groups that you entertained and socialized with and so forth. And then as we grew up, we all went to the same schools. So we knew each other from school, we knew each other from home. And we knew parents, which was a very important part of it. So that community feel was very important in my upbringing - to know everybody.
So now I come to the United States. First of all, it's not quite that easy because in the United States, most people, at least on the west coast, live in single-family homes. Which means that instead of 180 families in one place, you have 180 families living on a much larger plot of land, let's put it like that. But I've always felt like I still carry that sense of community. I want to know who my neighbor is. I say hi every morning and try to kind of talk over the fence, so to say. Make connections. I know a lot of the neighbors in the area. Bend, when I started coming here, was only 8,000 people. So the groups, the people that I knew back then, was of course a higher percentage of Bend compared to today. I feel like I have a pretty good sense of the original... what Bendites used to be. Of course, back then, the town was really... I wouldn't say an island in itself, but it becomes an island in itself during the winter when you can't really move out of the area. I mean, if you want to go over the mountain you have to make sure that you're well-prepared to meet snow and ice and all that kind of stuff. It's a little bit easier during the summer because you can really kind of move around. But Bend is, in many senses, a little island. So, I think the community was stronger back when - back when I visited or when I moved here, back in the 1920s and '30s - it was really kind of much stronger than it is today when you have almost 90,000 people living here. But I still feel that there's still that core group of people still living in Bend. That core is still there, but it may not be as strong as it used to be. So, I think Scandinavian communities are stronger because we all live much closer to each other in the sense that we all live in apartment buildings and so forth. It wasn't until much, much later that single-family homes became popular. But in my hometown today, they keep on building apartment buildings like there's no tomorrow. The difference, I think, between a Scandinavian community and an American community is that the Scandinavian is much stronger in the sense that the people don't move around as much as in the United States. It's a huge difference between 8,000 in the beginning of the '80s to 89,000 in a, what is it, short  years. And I think that affects the community.
Why do you find value in community?
By trade I'm a journalist. I'm a writer. I'm curious by nature and that kind of spilled over into becoming a journalist. I'm curious about what people are doing. What people are up to. What the thoughts are. Community is to learn to embrace your neighbors. Embrace the feelings and so forth. The community brings so much more into your own life because if you embrace the community, you get to learn the community, you get to know the people that live there. Again, it takes a village. It really takes a village to raise not only kids, but adults. I think that a community that is strong is also a community that is going to be able to go through what's going on around you - the politics, the outside events. If you have a strong community, I think that's so valuable. We don't all have to think the same way. That's actually a community that isn't functioning well. You have to have the diversity. You have to have people from all walks of life to come together in a community. And I think that's why I like Bend because it's a strong community and I think it has good diversity. Again, talking about the '80s Bend that I knew and the 2018 Bend that I know today, it's a huge difference when it comes to diversity. I think that's only going to help.
You said you are curious by nature. Is it so simple as that? That you care about satisfying your own curiosity and your neighbor may not. Is it okay for that to be the end of that story?
That's a good question. I think when you start talking to people... somebody said that it's always easier to talk about yourself than get to know other people. As a journalist or writer I always ask people what they think. What their story is. And I think - I'm hoping - that that curiosity kind of rubs off on other people. What we have been doing for the last 40-45 minutes is to get to know each other. And I think that's very important - getting to know each other. And hoping that other person that you're talking to - across the fence or in the grocery store or at work - that my curiosity will kind of rub off and people will say, Hey, I want to know my neighbor. I think you have to start somewhere. If everybody's kind of going in their own little world and thinking that My neighbors don't know me, I don't know my neighbors - maybe the fact that somebody else opens up will also open up on their part. I guess that's my off-the-cuff answer to that one. But I think if you ask, then somebody will answer. And if you can take those answers and learn something from it, then hopefully that will happen on the other person as well. They will learn about Sweden, Scandinavia - I mean, I always talk about my upbringing and my experiences and so forth. Megan, my next door neighbor, is from Boston and grew up there. And I want to know more about them. And hopefully Megan is kind of accepting some of my stories and thinking, Oh, that's cool!
Will the majority of people - who feel how you feel, who support community and say hi to their neighbors and are friendly in the grocery store - end up getting a louder voice than the minority voice?
Back in Sweden, I think the last time there was an election, there was over 80% that voted. In the United States, you're very lucky if you can kind of move around 50%. And then rest of the 50% are the ones that either don't care or maybe they don't have the opportunity to be involved in it or they feel disenfranchised and so forth. So, I've always heard about this silent majority and that is something that really blows me away, comparing it to Europe. It seems like the minority is getting more attention because they are the ones that scream the loudest and really make noise for their specific program, for their specific way of thinking. While the other, the silent majority, is kind of saying, Ah, I don't worry about these guys. I'm steadfast in my way and I don't really care. I think a community has to have some kind of friction. Because if you don't have that friction, the different sides are not going to learn from each other. But, the minorities who are loud and the minorities who are quiet - that's what I'm worried about. That they don't hear each other. There are so many walls between the minorities who are loud and the minorities who are quiet.
The American society is so polarized now. You're either on one side of the fence or the other side of the fence. And no one seems to be leaning over the fence and saying, Hey, I understand what you're talking about. Can you tell me more about it? The silent majority and the vocal minority - they don't seem to engage in communication anymore. I think that's so important. And, as a journalist, communication is my business. To communicate with people and get to know them and learn more about them and hopefully tell their story in a newspaper, in a book, in a magazine article. And people are saying, Oh yeah, I feel a connection with that person that I'm reading about right now. So much is now online and so much is so fleeting. You just kind of keep on going. You scroll over on your tablet or your phone or you click on another story - it's fleeting. I see that as a great loss for the American society - that we no longer seem to listen to each other.
What do you wish for the future?
Picking up on the breadcrumbs that I've spread throughout this interview, I think community and communication is going to be so important in a polarized society. To communicate with your neighbors, your friends, and other communities - that's going to be very, very important for the future of the United States. I don't think we're going to civil war, but there's almost a feeling of militarism in this society. If you don't listen to me, I'm gonna take up a weapon and start shooting at people at random that I don't seem to like. So if my belief is that some groups of society are against me, I go out and shoot them. The same thing if the other group thinks I'm not their friend, I stand a chance of being hurt for expressing my opinions. If we can't solve that problem in the United States, then the United States is going to have a really hard time keeping on being the United States.
Do you have anything else you want to put on the record?
It's scary thoughts, but I'm a positive person. I'm not a pessimist. I'm really hoping that the United States can get from where it is today to become something more united in the future. I really think community, states, country - we really have to start working on understanding each other and communicating with each other. Otherwise... no, I'm a positive person. I think it's gonna happen.
My parents were very positive. It's in your upbringing. As a journalist, as a reporter, as a writer, you can't be too comfortable. If you're a good writer, a good journalist, you have to be a little bit uncomfortable. But you also have to be curious, you have to be positive. You have to open. You have to be positive. I think I get that from my parents. They were positive people. Both my brother and I are, I hope, positive people. To adopt and to listen, communicate. I think that's so important.