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.

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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.

Sometimes things don’t feel as easy as they should. The weather is grey and there is no one to talk to and I start feeling down and blue. We’ve slowly inched our way closer to summer without even having had temperatures that were warm enough for spring.
Yesterday we finally had some sun and I felt the energy surge back to my body.
Björn once said that I was like a flower, I wilt when the sun goes in hiding, and I think he’s right. Lack of sun affects me, suddenly and deeply. And just as violently, it returns with the first rays of warm, yellow light.

I have for the past few years had the odd ideas here and there for a fantasy story. In it, there are many different kinds of people with different cultures and religions and ideas about the world and its purpose. I have no idea if I will ever seriously finish that story. It has become such a large, organic thing that to just write about a part of it would not be fair to the rest of the world that spins and lives at the back of my mind. In the story is a large group of people that worship the sun. I will not share details and characters or anything but I remember that my idea of these sun worshipping people arrived during a several-day-long rain squall like the one we recently had.

Sun worship can be found throughout human history, all over the planet. Not often with the sun as a deity on its own, but a proof of the power of the creator/creators of this place we inhabit.
Stonehenge is believed to have been built after the march of the sun, marking particular places at different times of the year. An indicator or compass to read the signs of the sun.
The pyramids in Mexico and Egypt have strong associations and alignments to the sun.
Machu Picchu, the Inca site in Peru, is believed to have been built with astronomical purpose and for the worship of their sun god and greatest deity, Inti.
So, Ancient Egyptians, Mayas, Aztecs, Incas, druids, various tribes… All of these people, all over the globe, worshipped the sun as a great god.

Nowadays we know that the sun is a star. We know that every star in the night sky is a sun, somewhere, far away. The religions and beliefs of today are more about the soul and interaction than a visible force of nature. Still, some of us have celebrations at summer solstice. The earthly orbit around the sun is celebrated by most of us, as a happy new year. We set the way we think about date and times after it. Some bake themselves brown and freckly, year after year. The sun is connected to Vitamin D as something neccessary, the sun is dangerous and can give cancer. The sun is vital for plants, that make oxygen, that we need. No matter what we think of it, it is there.

The sun is important.

I’m not about to start praying to the skies on sunny days. The sun does something that my body can not do on its own. It lets me borrow some light. It helps me shine.

I was having a discussion with a friend about a book we’re both reading. It was written around 1860 by Wilkie Collins and is one of my favourites. The classic: The Woman in White. It’s my second time reading it and I’m enjoying the wonderful Wilkie-isms that I have noticed in a few of his other novels.

My friend commented on the ways that the characters were spending their evenings and, as I interpreted from his words, how it felt strange that they were so restricted in their activities and society.
I replied that people actually knew how to socialise back then and did not have to rely on television, internet and the other modernities we use to entertain ourselves today.
The discussion moved on to other details but that part stayed in my mind after we had finished. I didn’t feel satisfied with my own reply. It felt hasty and I had to think it all over again so I could explain myself better.

I live in the firm belief that humans are all very similar, deep down. At least as long as we live in a somewhat civilised society and stand on the moral ground of people in times of peace (as an opposite to wartime.) We function in basically the same way.
We love.
We hate.
We try to achieve something that’s worthy of admiration, from ourselves and others.
We give meaning to our lives through religion or something else.

Now, if you took: two sisters, a former teacher, and an artist and let them spend every evening for three months, in nothing but the company of each other, how would that go? They have a piano, some books, embroidery, and a deck of cards but apart from that they only have dim candle light and the people they reside with. How long would it take before one or all of them got sick of the arrangement?
So, what makes people today different from back then?

I have a theory.

Has it ever struck you as strange how seemingly stuffy and polite people seem back-in-the-days compared to now? How there always seems to be a few hundred rules of etiquette and directions for proper conduct? I’m not saying I’m right in my theory, but would it not seem like it could have been constructed from necessity?

So many times in classical literature you can read about the importance for women to be accomplished and for men to behave like gentlemen and how good breeding is essential. The great conversationalists are being showered in praise and the women who have (as an example) musical talent are greatly admired. I’m not saying that people with a gift for music are not getting praised today but it was so much more important for everyone to have these talents. They were the only way to alleviate boredom during the many dark evenings for those of the higher society. They had to take such care to not offend because otherwise the manors would be (pardon the image) strewn with corpses. It was important to be polite when all you had was those close to you.

The way we spend time together now is so different from then. If we want to talk to someone we pick up the phone. Distance means nothing. If the person on the other end of the line has nothing more to say, if the person is boring, if the person is rude, all we have to do is hang up. We log off. We go home and do not need to wait for the horses to be ready.

During the days of Wilkie Collins, you visited your friends and family for weeks at the time. The only people you met during short visits were people who lived nearby. If you wanted to talk to someone who lived in a different town you had to write a letter, a far cry from the instant messaging that was going on between me and my friend on the other side of the planet.

If my theory was correct, which I would like to think, it would be so much easier to understand a little part of that seemingly needless obsession that some of the characters in classical literature. It is not an all-compassing explanation. There’s so much more to the way we behave towards each other, then and now.

The rudification (it is a word now, because I say so) that we have gone through has brought us a way to be more direct and honest in our dealings with our fellow man. We still have a long way to go and many completely unnecessary taboos left to break. I’m not saying it’s good to be disrespectful. Far from it. Honesty is good but should be dished out with diplomacy and empathy.

It’s good to be able to tell my friends I love them, no matter if they are male of female. It is good that we can reach the people that are far away from us, just by lifting the receiver and speak and listen to that voice we long to hear. I don’t watch television but I would miss my internet connection and wouldn’t trade this blog post for Miss Fairlie’s renditions of Mozart, even though I’m certain they were lovely.

I would not object to having more people work on being accomplished than updating their social media profiles, but it seems we can not both eat the cake and keep it. The advances of technology changes how we interact so we change our manners while interacting. We do not know anymore how to entertain ourselves for a longer period of time without this technology. So how could we entertain other people?

Is there some tiny morsel of sense in my theory? It is difficult to put this idea into words but I hope it felt reasonable to someone other than myself. The book is great, I should add that before I leave. But more about that, some other time.

I am searching actively for a “real” job and while I try to find myself one of those I’m also registered with a temping agency that gives odd missions that require next to no experience.

My work today was to monitor a three hour long end-of-year exam for a group of 18 year-olds. Since these exams are serious business, we were two doing the surveillance, and the students were all so worried about their grades that they scribbled frantically for the entire time without uttering a sound. So, I basically got paid to sit and read.

I was still mentally exhausted when I came home. I have done baby-sitting at that school before and my experiences have ranged from only-had-to-roar-once to I-was-so-close-to-tears-I-almost-went-home. However, beggars can’t be choosers, so I take whatever work the agency throws at me.

I had prepared myself for a really rough day and came home exhausted from the stress I had built up in anticipation for the worst.
I was too tired to edit. It would demand too much of my poor brain but I still wanted to work with something creative.

Since I’m one of those people who needs to constantly create, lest we explode, I dabble in many different forms of art. I sing and write, both songs and stories and feel quite confident in doing so. After that it goes downhill with knitting, and drawing, and photography. But I do that other creative stuff anyway because it fills a purpose in my life that only those activities can fill. They are outlets for the ideas and expressions that float around in my head, the incorporations of ideas and feelings that can’t be fitted into words, at least not then and there.

So, the thing I sat down to do, to spare my brain from stringing words together, was visual. I made myself a book cover.

I had done one, just for fun, a few days back that I rejected upon reflection. It had been too obvious. It didn’t suit the book. It didn’t reflect on the story, just the title. It didn’t make you wonder what kind of story it was. It didn’t wake your curiosity or interest. It was a pretty image, I suppose, but not a good cover.

The cover that I made today is quite different. I put so much thought into it and I’ll probably look at it tomorrow morning and laugh. But if I still like it in a few months, perhaps you will be allowed to see it. Perhaps. If you’re nice.

It’s not easy, going out to do “real” work when your body screams after creativity. When you thirst for inspirational people and tasks, and instead you get a horde of teenagers who are doing everything they can to cheat on their exams. One day I will figure out how to work the way I love with the things I love. Until then I’ll work with what the agency gives me and “work” at home with whatever my heart gives me.

Saturday night, I had trouble sleeping. I often have trouble sleeping. If it’s not the upstairs neighbours deciding to rearrange furniture and fighting after midnight it’s my own mind playing tricks on me. I have however discovered a way to keep my mind occupied during most such nights.

I call it replay.

I like thinking about old memories. Good times I’ve had with people I care about. But when you are sleep deprived, and on the verge of something that feels like insanity, real memories can turn sour. So I replay other memories, the memories of my fictional characters. I play the scenes from the book over and over through the memory of the people involved. Don’t call for the people in white uniforms to pick me up. I’m not crazy, just a writer.
So, the night between Saturday and Sunday was harsh. I was so incredibly tired but my body refused to let me fall asleep. I played through scene after scene from all characters available and all of a sudden something happened.

A strange picture came to my mind. A conversation between three of the characters started and it was one I had not written, I had never thought this before. I lay still in the darkness and just watched this product of insomnia and imagination. And suddenly, through their conversation, it all became clear to me. The essence of the story.

I have been writing and working with this story for months and months (and months) but there, only a few days ago, I finally understood why I wrote it, what it really meant to me. Sure, there had always been a meaning, a story, a message but that part was just, in loss of a better word, material. I had never truly seen what it meant to me.
The realisation made me so agitated and excited that I gave up on sleep, got out of bed and tiptoed out to the living room and my computer. I spend all night editing and didn’t stop until a few hours after sunrise.

Making this story better for my future reader feels more urgent than ever. I’m sure this new-kindled affection will fade, in a few more days of intense editing, but the knowledge of the essence will remain and remind me of the magic of stories.

I set myself reading challenges. Two years ago I had decided to read a certain amount of books during that year. Last year I had decided to start reading classics and see what everyone was talking about. This year I will read more scary books.
I’m not sure this was a wise decision, I get sucked into what I’m reading. I get caught up in the stories and if they are scary, I get scared.
So I made myself a deal, more doesn’t mean nothing but. I’ll just make the effort to read a few more than usual.

I’ve already read my way through Stephen King’s The Shining. I chose to read it because it is Björn’s favourite and he is not a great reader, so something good had to be hiding in those pages. After that I went for a reread from one of my favourites, John Ajvide Lindqvist.

One of the things that Sweden has a lot of, is good writers. There are so many great books published every year that I get homesick just thinking about it. John Ajvide Lindqvist is one of those great writers and here are three short reviews of what I’ve read.

Let the Right One In (Låt Den Rätte Komma In)

Let the Right One In (Låt Den Rätte Komma In, 2004) was the first novel published and made Ajvide Lindqvist the king of Swedish horror writers. The book was adapted to both Swedish and American cinema and has been classed as vampire romance. The mind goes in the wrong direction with those two words, but don’t let that scare you away. It’s definitely not a traditional love story. It is dark and troubling with the gritty reality of Sweden 1981. It is a disturbing, twisting coming-of-age story with the perfect mixture of innocence and horror.

Harbour (Människohamn)

Harbour (Människohamn, 2008) tells a supernatural tale about a the people on a small fishing island, the loss of a child, and the sea.
Having decided that he wants to live, Anders comes back to the island where he lost his daughter two years ago.  We get to know the island and the people on it. Most prominently Anders’ grandmother, Anna-Greta, “the smuggler king’s daughter,” and Simon, the old magician that possesses something quite remarkable. Anders struggles to find his way back through the mists of alcohol and grief but sees signs of his daughter’s presence everywhere.

Little Star (Lilla Stjärna)

Little Star (Lilla Stjärna, 2010) is the latest and probably most disturbing and brilliant of these three books. A man finds a baby girl in the woods, he brings her home and with his wife raises her in secret in their basement. At the same time another girl is born. Their lives connect and the world will never be the same again.
It is difficult to say more but the story touches on isolation, idolisation, alienation and violence with complexity and terrifying insight into dark minds.

I always try to read books in their original language (if I know it) but I have heard great reviews of the English translations so I definitely recommend them. Now that I’ve read these, I might have to go back to King. I have both IT and The Stand waiting to be read.
But not tonight, no scary books before bedtime.

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