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There were no buskers where I grew up. There were no street performances, no pop covers on the corner, no reggae in the park. I grew up on the country side in a village so small it hardly qualifies as one. The music I heard was played on the stereo or fell from my mother’s lips.
The first busker I saw was in a film they showed on the television. Nothing fancy, just a man playing his guitar as people tossed small change in his open guitar case that lay on the ground. I don’t remember the film, but I remember the busking, and it was glorious.
I didn’t see a real busker until I was about twenty and had moved to Scotland. Suddenly the buskers were everywhere. I have been singing in front of people my entire life but always in organised situations.

“Let’s go busking!” said my guitarist a few weeks ago. “I’ve never done it and I’ve always really wanted to.”
“That sounds like so much fun
” I replied. “I’ve always wanted to as well, but I’ve never done it.”

That last thing was a lie, but I didn’t mean to. I just didn’t remember at the moment.

Once, when I was a little girl somewhere between the age of seven and nine, I visited my friend who lived in town.
Town was this big and magical place where people lived in apartments instead of houses and where the children played in fenced-in areas filled with sand, instead of playing in the forest. It was an odd place with paved roads, litter, noise, and so many people. And no one said hello to anyone else – ever.

The adults were busy that day and paid us very little attention, so we went outside to the playground in search of something to do. After a short while my friend grew tired of the swings, she could use them whenever she wanted, for me they were an unimaginable luxury. She pushed her smudged, thick glasses higher up on her nose and poked with her sneakers at an empty chocolate bar wrapper that had flown into the sandbox.
“I wish we had some sweets”, she said.
After some mutual agreement over the tastiness of caramels, we remembered that if you wanted sweets, you had to have money. I didn’t have any money, I never needed it out in the forest.
My friend, though a full year younger than myself, was a bit more used to the workings of the world. She told me that people sometimes collected money for children in need at the local grocery store. Her logic was too strong for any possible reticence I could muster. For what were we but children in need?
We returned inside and took the biggest coffee mug we could find in the kitchen cupboards and attached a handwritten note saying “CHILDREN IN NEED” on it, and we were off.

The people milling past us at the checkout were not in the most generous mood and my friend had once more a brilliant idea.
“Why don’t you sing something to get them to notice us?”
Her idea was to attract their attention with my singing. They would definitely give a coin or two for our good cause, once they had a chance to notice the mug. So I sang. I sang every little song I got in my head and the result was better than we could have imagined. As the coins accumulated so did the dreams of chocolate and lollies.
I don’t remember who found us and snagged our dreams and money away but I remember being scolded for disappearing AND for committing something called “fraud”.

So, in a sense I didn’t lie to my guitarist. Fraud and busking are two very different things, although I really did feel like I was a child in need.

In a few weeks were taking the streets of the city. We have put together a long list of covers and we’ll avoid any false, or morally grey, advertisement. Nothing fancy, just two women singing, a guitar, and the open guitar case in front of us. It’ll be glorious.

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Today was the National Day of Sweden that is a rather new concept as a national holiday. Not many people celebrate it but they’re still happy to have a little break from work in these early days of summer.
One thing that I can guarantee has happened today is that the de facto national anthem has been sung. The lyrics can be translated into something like this

Thou ancient, Thou free, Thou mountainous north
Thou quiet, Thou joyful beautiful!
I greet thee, loveliest land upon earth,
/:Thy sun, Thy sky, Thy climes green.:/

Thou thronest on memories of great olden days,
When honoured Thy name flew across the earth,
I know that Thou art and wilt remain what thou werest,
/:Yes, I want to live, I want to die in the North.:/
(translation from Wikipedia)

All in all a rather positive song that is unfortunately used in nationalistic circles as a statement of the patriotic superiority.
Although this is an important matter to discuss, I do not wish to argue with anyone today or become angered. All people, no matter their origin, are equal in my eyes. Xenophobia has no place in my world, except when playing scrabbles. Nobody choses where they’re born. We chose how we act.

I’m not a patriotic person. I am however proud to be Swedish. I’m proud that I grew up somewhere sheltered from war. Somewhere I was educated under equal conditions as a boy. A place where it is encouraged to be the unique individual you are, as long as you respect everyone else’s need to be the unique person they are. Respect and empathy was etched into my deepest core, and I’m grateful for being so lucky.
Sweden is incredibly beautiful, but it gets way too cold and dark in the winter and that’s not my cup of tea.

If someone asked me to sing the national anthem for them I would not hesitate. It is a positive song about a lovely country. But that’s not the reason I like it.

Let me take you back a good few years. It was the end of term celebration at my school. The summer holdays were just a few minutes away and my teacher had asked if I could round up the celebration by singing the national anthem for the school. I stood up and sang in front of the entire staff, every teacher, every student, all the families assembled. I was six years old and it was my first solo performance.

Every time I sing the national anthem I get struck by the realisation of how much has changed. How much I have developed as a singer, as a human. I thronest on the memories of those great olden days, but there are many more beautiful days in the future. If ever I doubt myself I think back to that little girl. The joy she got from standing there, singing her heart out to lyrics she couldn’t really understand but loving every second of it.

Let me take you back a few years. Two handfuls to be more precise. I had lived in France for just a few months and my language level was scant and my social life was poor.

I decided to take action. I really wanted to improve my communication skills and I was desperate to talk to someone outside the family circle. After a bit of searching I found a group of half organised people that met up in a certain pub once a week, where they helped each other with language studies. The group consisted largely of students and young people, like I was back then, who had a passion for languages. I had a great time.

I had met up with the group for a few gatherings and I had already managed to make a friend. She was French but spoke very good English and she was majoring in French sign language and studying Swedish on the side, just for fun. We had a lot of fun helping each other learning the language of the other person and discussing, in English, the interesting differences in Swedish and French sign language.

Language group day was rapidly becoming my favourite day of the week. I wasn’t improving much, at least not noticeably. My new friend was so good at English and she took great pleasure in speaking it, just as I was happy to have fun and interesting conversations with someone intelligent. I was overjoyed to have a friend.

In the same moment as I was rediscovering the elation of socialisation, I had invested my tiny savings in a bike. This was not an amazing piece of technology, just a little thing to pedal in order to get from place A to place B. Taking the bus or the underground was not even on the agenda, that would have cost too much in the long run and walking into the city took an hour if I kept a good pace. I walked any time I wanted to go somewhere but I had decided to give myself a break. The investment would be worth it. I was poor and unemployed and it was all I had, my wonderful bike.

So one day I decided that I would ride the bike to meet up with the group. It was a gorgeous, soft afternoon with clear skies. I was looking forward to seeing my friend. I had decided to ask if she wanted to do something outside of language group hours someday. I was going to ask her out on a friend-date and I was sure she’d accept. My mood was high and I rolled with ease.

I had gotten halfway to my destination when it happened. Gravity grabbed me like a cruel mistress and pulled me close to her. My entire right side smashed into the ground. Head to toe took a punch from the paved surface my head was spinning and I was in pain. Several people rushed to my aid and fortunately they were all kindhearted. A man asked for my phone, asked if he could call someone I knew, and groggy as I was I handed over my phone to him. Someone else recovered my bag that had slid off me in the fall. A woman tried to make me stay still on the ground and not move too much, in case I had injured my neck or back. An ambulance came. I’m not even sure what happened to the bike but it got home somehow.

My helmet went in the trash, it had given its life to protect me and I was grateful. The right leg of my jeans was cut all the way up to the knee as I was taken to the hospital. I was badly bruised and had a crack in my arm. Opiates were ordained and I was incapable of moving anywhere besides dragging myself from bed to couch for a few weeks.

When I was still bruised but had healed enough to get outside again, my bike had been stolen. The lack of money made it difficult to buy another one, even a used one. I never went back to the language group. They had moved to a different pub, my friend graduated and moved to America. The bad experience of the fall made me reluctant to try it again. I didn’t ride a bike any more after that. The more the years passed, all I could associate with riding a bike was the terrible pain in my cracked arm and my bruised side.

Last spring I went to Berlin for almost a week. The weather was cool but not too cold to walk around outside for hours. At the end of the week I was asked if we couldn’t rent bikes and discover more of the city. The underground system is good but you don’t see everything that’s between the stops. I refused. The fear of riding on the side of a busy street in the capital of Germany had me sweating hot and cold. I was however talked into renting a tandem. The ride went surprisingly good.

I pedalled through the city with the frantic pounding of my heart in my chest. My eyes closed for a lot of the time in fear of losing my composure. The helmsman was calm and in complete control of our trajectory and his enthusiasm and energy made it possible for me to enjoy the ride. Something I had thought myself incapable of doing.

Last week I took the big plunge. I bought a bike. The lady that sold it had gone through extensive hip surgery and she had to admit to herself that she wouldn’t be able to ride her bike anymore. It had been standing abandoned in her hallway for the past three years. Loved but never used it was a jumble of flat tyres and cobwebs. After a little cleanup and restoration it was ready for a test ride.

Helmet on and hands white from the tight grip on the handlebars, I took off. The bike made a terrible clattering sound. The bike wasn’t in a bad shape, I was just shaking so much that the frame rattled from my tremors. I was afraid, but I did it anyway.

I have now been on two longer bike rides, my bottom is not yet used to the saddle but that will get better with time. I’m not riding fast or in busy areas but I can start finding pleasure in it.

It’s like that; life and riding a bike – you never forget how to do it but you might need some encouragement to get back in the saddle after a bad fall.

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 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.

So what have I been up to these past few days?

We have had a public holiday here in France and me and Björn took the opportunity to watch through The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the extended version. There are few books I love as much as LOTR but I still manage to enjoy the screen adaptation. There are not many books-made-into-film that I feel that way about. They always seem to miss those details that made me love the story in the first place.

I always try to read the book first, if I can, and it always turns out to be the winning strategy. In my opinion, the book is better. I understand that it’s a very difficult job to take hundreds of pages of text and mash it all down into a comprehensive and compelling visual feast. I understand that scenes must be rewritten, characters redefined, timelines altered, inner monologues voiced… But sometimes it goes wrong. Sometimes so much gets changed that the essence of what it was, gets lost in the translation process from paperback to silver screen. When you read a book you create the images yourself, you get inside the characters in a completely different way. You get the full picture that, no matter how high the budget, a camera can never capture. If you see the film first, you walk into the book with ready images, with ideas of how things should look and feel and when you encounter something that is different, you’re not sure who to blame. If the book came first, you can’t really blame the author but you still feel like you want to.

I guess there are people who disagree with me about this, claiming that the only right way to do it is to watch the film first but I’d rather spoil the film than ruin the book it was based on.

There are a few exceptions to my general view of the-book-is-always-better. Such times are when the book has been based on the film (Jane Campion wrote the book after she had written the script for The Piano,) when the film has been based on a short story (Curious Case of Benjamin Button,) and when I’ve seen the screen adaptation so many times that the book just feels wrong (Pride and Prejudice.) I’m sure there are the odd golden nuggets out there but if you ask me, I will probably vote for the book.

Last month, with my book club, we read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. This book has been adapted at least three times into screen version (that I know of, there might be many more, I haven’t investigated) and I took the time to watch two of them, after I had finished the novel.

I watched the Hitchcock version from 1940 and the televised mini series from 1997 (after a quick glance I saw that the one from -79 didn’t work for me at all.) To give a quick and spoiler free review of this experience I’ll have to say that Hitchcock managed to capture the gothic feel to the novel but the mini series was more true to the plot. I guess it is easier to follow the original story if you have more hours to work with.

I’m spending today working on my book. How fun if it was a film. I wonder who’d star in it? But before casting starts, I’d better finish writing. Take care, my preciousss.

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