It was back to school today for most of the French children. My co-workers, the ones with children, came in to work a little later than usual, the dropping off had been done. Some of the kids went there for the first time, some were old enough to tell their parents to go to work or just get out of there and stop embarrassing them.

I honestly can’t remember any of my first days back after summer holidays. I just have a vague feeling of how I wanted to get back to school and my classmates. I suppose the fact that I usually had my birthday at school start helped blur the lines of what was a prioritised memory or not. I can’t say for sure.
Last week was my birthday and it wasn’t celebrated in any grand fashion at all. I got an extra kiss on my cheek from a colleague, I was taken out for a lovely dinner by my partner, and I got to hear my parents sing to me over a distance of approximately 3470 km.
 
 
Despite the fact that I turned thirty, which I hear is something most people dread, I was happy to finally leave my twenties behind me, to be closer to the age I feel in my mind.
Despite the even-ness and all the celebration that number should entail I was too distracted to really care. I was trying to pack as much and many of my belongings as I could into cardboard boxes and prepare for the end of the work week when I would get the keys to the house.
I’m here now, pretty much all installed. The first thing I conquered was the kitchen. I scrubbed it from top to bottom and filled it with things I love. I claimed it my own and have already managed to perform tiny, delicious wonders in it.
Most rooms are, if slightly empty with only an echo, habitable and unpacked. Going from a tiny flat to a big house without buying a large amount of new furniture does that I’ve noticed. It makes for a lot of free space. We’re not in a hurry. We like it here and want to stay for a while. There’s plenty of time to fill the rooms and decorate.
My home office is already starting to look great. I’ve found all the screws and bits to assemble my old desk that had been hiding in a closet these past three years. It is an inanimate object, I know, but I am convinced that it likes it better here than in the mould over in the old place.
All my books are unpacked but hardly in any organised fashion. I have huge stacks of them all over the desk. I’m thinking a few good bookcases is first on my to-buy list. If I had been handy enough I’d build them but I don’t have the tools and not enough know-how to figure out where to start. Perhaps I could ask someone for help, we’ll see.
 
It has been less than a week since my first full day here in the house and I have already forgotten most of the details. It sort of like going back to school. I knew I wanted to go, and it was fantastic when I finally got there. There’ll be no tests or exams this time but there will be challenges all the same. I have no idea what I should study for but I look forward to seeing what the future holds. Thirty is going to be a great year.

Fifteen times. That’s the number of times I’ve moved, including this one. Twice from one country to another. Soon I’m getting to live in the sixteenth place I’ve called home and I hope I will be able to stay there, happy and safe, for a long time.
I spent my morning packing things in the “kitchen” that won’t be used in the next week. I only saved two of each from the cutlery and plates out for us to use. The cupboards are very empty looking, which is a grand feat for such a tiny flat.
I’ve also packed most of my books. I put the heavy, pretty tomes in small cardboard boxes. Small, so they’re easy and light to carry. I put a few of my less sensitive paperbacks in my lovely four wheeled suitcase – Something I warmly recommend if you ever have to move and have a lot of books. Save your arms and back.

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Tomorrow will be a day to go through the closet. Sort out what to donate, throw, and take along. I hope there won’t be too many things damaged by the mould, that I noticed had attacked my winter coat in the closet, and I hope I have the sense to throw away the things that are broken beyond repair.

One week until we get the keys to the new place and I’m very excited and impatient to get there. The first place in France I get to live in that’s bigger than a shoebox. The first house since I moved away from my parents. The sixteenth place I get to call home.

So many months since I wrote here last but I’ll try to briefly recap some of the major events as best as I can.

January
held a large surprise in that I got a job offer, it was supposed to last for two weeks, then a month, and at the end of that month I was asked to stay until the end of the year. It is a job I’m still today learning to perform fully but I enjoy it very much and I feel that I’m making a difference. It doesn’t exactly make the world tremble of change but it creates a tiny shiver and I’m mighty proud of that minuscule undulation of good that I can actually do.
A cat came to visit, a very sick and undernourished cat. We took him in, we bathed, and healed, and fed, and loved him. He has been sharing our home for nine months now and our other fur babies have accepted him in the pride.

February
was all about work. Learning new things, trying to get everyone’s names right, getting used to a hundred cheek-kisses a day and so on. We had a big event where people from all our offices around the globe came over. There were meetings and greetings and I managed to charm the heck out of one or two people. Plus I got to speak, albeit briefly, twice to the CEO.
I saw, for the first time, a picture of my best friend’s baby bump. Living far away was a little more difficult than usual then.

March
The beginning of March was spent in bed with the flu. After that I spent a lot of time thinking up food things that I could make since I had an income and I was finally able to relax about my finances. After being unemployed for several years it was strange to get used to spending. It was very odd and wonderful to not have a completely empty kitchen at the end of the month.
An online friend published a book and I received a signed copy (Link to the book here)
I ate frog legs for the first time. I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t so bad. It tastes, not so surprising, like frog and it has a texture that is a mixture between fish and chicken.

April
Björn (my better half) threw his back out and was forced to stay at home and not move for a few days. Work related illnesses at 32yo seems a bit too early.
I was asked if I wanted to be a godmother to my best friend’s baby. I said yes.

May
A beautiful baby girl was born up in the north of Sweden. My mind circulated about news and worrying about her as she spent many of her first days of life in the hospital.

June
Saw Queens of the Stone Age live. The sound was awful but the evening was great.
I studied a lot of German and I worked, worked, worked.

July
I wrote a story. We decided that enough is enough and it was time to look for a safer, bigger, and better place to live.
The flat became a health hazard after, as we found out much later, a water leak next door but the owner of our current home refuses to let us move out earlier. All walls have been attacked by mould, things have been ruined, the air is often uncomfortable to breathe.

August
Took a trip to Sweden to become a godmother to the happiest and most wonderful child I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Saw my family, and my best friend and her family. Sang, and ate, and celebrated my birthday a little early together with them.

And here we are, back from our short vacation trip. We just found a house that we love and will soon move into.
Reading through my diary notes from the past nine months has been very interesting. It feels like so much has happened and at the same time so little.

I hope it was interesting in some way to hear, if briefly, what has happened over here and I hope you will be around to hear about my upcoming creative projects and musings.
Until next time, my friends.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Yule warm and bright
With good food and people you don’t have to fight
I wish you a good rest
I wish you a song
I wish you a heart where love sings strong 

I wish you a Happy New Year of health and good times
I wish so much more than can fit in these rhymes
I wish you adventure
I wish a full year
I wish you to spend time with those you hold dear

 I wish you all this
And all other good things too
So, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

To you

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I love re-reading good books. Every time I read them I notice something new or see something from a new perspective. Each time I read those words, new things have happened in my life, so each time is different. Each time I fool myself into thinking that I already know everything there is to know about the story, and after each time I feel that there’s a new detail that is clearer to me.

The past few weeks I have dedicated a lot of my reading time to poetry. I am determined to find poetry that speaks to me. I want to find a poet that I enjoy reading. It has not been easy but some day I will succeed.
After reading some of the dreariest and driest verses ever penned in the history of mankind, I was mentally beat. These poems I had just finished were written by an author whom I admire. He has written some of the most magnificent stories I’ve ever read. Who this person is, is not important at the moment, sufficient to say I was incredibly disappointed and thoroughly bored.

That’s when I decided to set up an award system. A way to compensate for the torture I was putting my brain through. I would reward myself with a re-reading of a book I love. To layer each poem I tried to digest, with a few pages of something really enjoyable.

So I started the next tome of poetry, a collection of W. B. Yeats, and I started my old-tried-and-true-re-read. First of all I want to say that I, to my surprise, honestly liked some of the poems I read. But the biggest surprise was that, in this book that I have read ( and re-read more than ten times,) there are references to a Yeats poem that I had just read.

My mind was blown and I kept having that poem turning and turning at the back of my mind during the rest of the book. There had been so many common symbols, even a quotation. There had been a recurring theme in both poem and book. It had been there all along and I had not known, had not seen what was hidden in there. 

Sometimes, the new experiences we have in life will show us things that were hidden to us. Things we never imagined possible. We get thrown into situations that will change the way we see everything around us, for the rest of our lives. Sometimes we wonder how we could have been so blind how we could have missed the signs. Other times we just marvel at the wonderful way it all turns out. Just like a good book, we can never tell what life will give us with just a quick glance. We have to give it time and attention, and maybe some day we can say that we are getting closer to knowing what is really going on.

I like playing in my mind with the thoughts around the proverb there are two sides to every story / two sides of the same coin. What seems like the right thing for me might not be the right thing for someone else. We are all the heroes of our own stories and those who oppose us are the bad guys. 

I have this analytical fancy with the fiction I read. I’ve always had a thing for the baddies, the villains. Both the morally difficult anti-hero and the straight up antagonist. It’s not an attraction to them, but definitely a fascination. I read, and watch, and since I can’t help myself, I find myself asking; What made them into the things they are? What kind of thinking lies behind the acts that are taken against their counterpart? What’s the underlying motivation, their reasoning, and excuses for behaving the way they do? 

Books and films are full of them; villains, baddies, bad guys, black hats, evil agencies, antagonist, arch enemies and the nemesis. 
I love flawed characters with rich back stories, even if it’s not told completely you can hint it, like a vague scent of childhood trauma or the death of their loved ones. I enjoy any type of well written character but give me a good villain and I’m sold.

Fantastic minor and major antagonists, and characters of doubtful allegiance can be found in many places. We have Darth Vader, Gollum, Voldemort, The Joker… Just to mention a few.

The word villain comes from an old anglo-french word that meant farmhand. Not that farmhands are cruel or evil but it was used as an opposing term for a knight. So a vilain was an unchivalrous character, someone capable of doing things that a knight, being noble and honorable, would never do. It started out as a derogatory term and became more and more the word we use today. More a general bad person than a farmhand.

Sometimes your story’s protagonist is the villain and you find yourself, at least partially,  cheering for what you know is the evil side. Like when we follow Michael Corleone from The Godfather and we find ourselves rooting for the Corleones despite all the shady maffia dealings they get up to.

“There’s never been a true war that wasn’t fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right. The really dangerous people believe they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do. And that is what makes them dangerous.” – Mr. Wednesday in American Gods, written by Neil Gaiman.

I like flaws. Flaws complete a character, they make them feel realistic. We all have flaws. However in the literary aspect flaws can range all from saying inappropriate things, to some more extreme flaws like Hannibal Lecter’s interest in digesting his victims. Flaws like that are harder to swallow, if you pardon my pun. 

I think that my biggest interest in villains is my need for reason and understanding. I always want to know why people do the things they do. In real life as well as in stories. I need to understand why people sometimes do bad things. Characters on a page are easier, and probably safer, to study than visiting a psychiatric institution or a prison. I have seen some cruel people in my life and I have taken a long, hard look at them to picture their side of things. Some made me question my responsibility in the situation and others I could not comprehend at all. But I will keep trying to understand and find compassion, even if they do me wrong. I will look at the other side of the coin to see the story they see. Because I hope that if I do someone wrong, they would find it in their hearts to see my side, to do the same for me.

Me and my friend, San, decided we should challenge each other to do something fun and new to us. The rules are that it should be free, safe, and we naturally have the rights to veto what the other person comes up with. Within a week, from Thursday to Thursday, we shall have completed our challenges.

I have sent San on a hunt to:

– Find a trumpet and pose in a picture with said trumpet.
– If at all possible, he shall try to play it.

He had mentioned once that he had never held a trumpet or even seen one up-close. I thought it was a good starter challenge for him, considering the other craziness I have thought up for the upcoming weeks. Let’s see how many crazy things we can get him to do.

Then, it was my turn to receive a challenge. I sort of feel sorry for San since I’m a chicken when it comes to certain things. He probably noticed this after giving about a billion different suggestions for me and I declined to do them. But then he came up with this.

– Draw a comic strip. It has to be six frames minimum. It has to contain a minimum of three characters.

So, here I declare my challenge completed. I call it “In Hardship”

(Click on the picture to see the entire image)

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It has been a long time now since I last received a letter. My latest correspondence (that wasn’t from the bank or the temping agency) was on a handful of post-its, lovingly tucked into a parcel with two purses and some sweets. It was a wonderful bunch of yellow sticky notes and they had many nice words on them.

It was over two years, since the last time I received a real letter, page up and down with handwritten squiggles and lines.

I read a lot of classics nowadays, as I might have said here a hundred times already, and in them it is evident how much our letter writing habits have changed throughout the years. Postal service and messengers were sent across the country, to loved ones, to family and to invite and to seek advice. Hours were spent at their writing desks and they never let the inkwells run dry. They had to wait for days until a reply came and sometimes the replies gave them more questions than answers.

And here I sit, two years since someone last sent me a proper letter, smiling over a handful of post-its. Times have changed.

There is something touching about letters and handwritten notes. There’s something emotional and personal about it. When you get a letter today, it is not for the same reasons as there used to be. Today a letter will not be sent as the only way of communication or enquiry. We have faster ways of finding out things now. If you’re lucky, you get a postcard from someone who is on vacation.

However, there is one form of letter that doesn’t seem to go out of style. It gets revived every so often when a couple gets temporarily separated, the love letter.

What is it about love that turn so many of us into poets and old fashioned romantics? What is it about love that makes us take the pen and compose? Was infatuation and romantic feelings something that was easier to express before?

The art of writing by hand is slowly diminishing. Doctors are no longer the only ones that get accused of bad handwriting. We spend hours in front of computers instead of shaping the curves of the letters, and our hands forget how to make things legible.

The way in which we are all so accessible makes the act of actually taking the time to craft something, trace the words by hand and send it, so much more important. It’s the reason we stand in line for hours to get the author to sign what he/she has written. Not only to see the person behind the words, in person. We go because we want something tangible to remind us of that person. We want them to take the time to make our copy special. So we get them to sign their work, we can see them, leaving a visible, personal mark on our lives.

In a day when so many things are mass-produced and copied and repeated, we like to find those things that stand out. That meal someone makes from scratch not only tastes better and is healthier, it makes the meal special. The jumper your grandmother spent hours knitting, pouring her love for you into every stitch, even if it’s itchy as hell and two sizes too big, it’s special.  The letter someone wrote, just because they wanted to say “I love you,” it is priceless.

Time is something people never seem to have enough of and when you find yourself, trying to decipher the blotchy ink squiggles on a paper, you are filled with gratitude and emotion that someone took the time to write it to you, put it in an envelope and post it. That piece of paper has traveled for miles, from their hand to yours.

It’s not only letters that do this, we just have to make sure to take time for each other because it is in those meetings that life is special.