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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 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.
How old do elephants get? Who was the inventor of dental floss? What is the name of earths third largest cold desert?
When I was little, I asked a lot of questions like these and my parents answered them as best they could. Sometimes they gave me a fast answer, sometimes a very long one, and sometimes they told me to “look it up.” Now, if you’ve had any contact with any pre-adolescent child, you know that the questions are close to never-ending and telling me to “look it up” was probably more than once used to get some peace and quiet. I know however that this was far from just an excuse.
Bless my parents for their patience, both then and now.
Sometimes children ask really tricky things that you might not have the specialist knowledge required to answer. So what do you do? You look it up.
We had at all times in the house a great set of encyclopedias. Any time I had to know something that my parents couldn’t answer, I ran to the bookcase, grabbed the required volume and sat down at the kitchen table, sometimes reading out loud so everyone in the room could partake in my newfound information.
My father who has generously let me inherit his love to philosophise (among many other great things) has often told me “If you don’t ask, you won’t know.” I think this is a great way to approach many things in life. I’d rather look stupid by asking, and learning something, than to remain ignorant. I’d rather look a fool than actually be one.
You can probably say that a large part of my love for learning stems from these childhood memories. If I now see a word I don’t understand, I look it up. If I hear about a historic event or person that I find interesting, I look it up.
I am convinced that the day I stop wondering and asking questions, will never come.
Researching is one of my favourite parts about making a story. It is also one of my biggest procrastination outlets and the most time consuming part in the planning stage.
My book is set in a town and a nearby village. The locations themselves are fictional but are supposed to be located in the north of Sweden. The story takes place in the recent present, and around the 1920’s. The northern Swedish setting has to feel authentic and although that is where I grew up, I was surprisingly enough, not around to see the 1920’s.
Research was demanded of me. I wanted it to feel real. There were a lot of Who-What-Where-When-Why-How’s that needed answers. Was it even possible to do this while not being on location?
I had started out with a vague idea of things I wanted to include. After a short time of research I had even more ideas. All the information had blended with my imagination and I had scenes I longed to write, characters I was dying to be able to squeeze in but I had to stop myself. Yes, these ideas are all really good. But remember your actual story. Will this scene add anything or will it just make the reader confused and lose focus? I got rid of a few of the new ideas and kept going.
The facts I had found during my research weren’t always on my side but thanks to the fact that I write fiction, taking place in a fictional town I could fidget with a few things to appease my sense of drama, the plot progression and the geography of it all. Nothing major, I assure you.
Research can be terribly inspirational but should perhaps only be used as a source of inspiration during the first draft. After that, research is for correction and clarification. Why? Because it is too easy to lose your focus in “new” things that would be “fun” to add to your story. I know it’s not easy but it will be worth it. Have faith in your ability to tell a good story. Have faith in your story. Don’t sell yourself or your writing short.
I did a lot of research and very little of what I had found out ended up being used. This was however, not energy wasted. I took the time to learn these things and now I can confidently write about things that I previously felt insecure about.
When I have a question I will look it up, I will ask, I will flip pages, I will make phone calls, I will search online. I always ask questions, because if I don’t I might never find out how old an elephant can get.
Earlier this month I was asked to join in creating a game. So far the group is very small and consists of myself, Björn and his two brothers. It is a fun, little, family project where the main objective is to spend some time, creating something together. Björn is the natural leader as he is the oldest of the brothers and the one who initiated the whole project. I came in as a late addition as main writer of the story.
That they asked me to join their fraternal get-together gives me great pleasure and the fact that they’re all so talented in their own areas of expertise is incredibly inspiring.
We all come with opinions and suggestions on what direction our work should take and through our discussions I have already worked out a rough outline for the main conflict.
I grew up a gamer, not necessarily one that played much but the games were a large part of my childhood. As the youngest of three, and the only girl, I was the natural fifth wheel in most activities. Playing video games was not an exception.
We got our NES console one Christmas and through many long, dark, cold evenings when going outside to play was impossible (and I admit that many fine days were spent playing too,) I was seated near my brothers as they sat with a controller each and played Mario, Metroid, Megaman and so on. After a few years we got the SNES, the Playstation and soon enough we found out that games were also created for computers.
I remember how we all (even my mother) sat watching the screen during Zelda – A Link to the Past. I remember the amazing encounters in Chrono Trigger and the early Final Fantasy games. I look back fondly to my first encounter with the point-and-click games of Indiana Jones and Monkey Island.
Throughout all this, the gaming culture grew and the games got more advanced. The stories became more complicated and for me as a (mostly) spectator, more interesting to follow.
I could go on but I will try to restrain myself.
In my home today, we play a lot of video games. We like playing games. We spend many hours of our free time on the bottom of the ocean in Rapture, on the planet of Pandora, and running around in places like The Citadel. I still really enjoy being the onlooker but I play much more than I used to.
We don’t hold any fantastic expectations on the game we’re in the process of creating. We don’t delude ourselves into thinking that it will become anything commercially viable. But we are having fun together. And that, my friend, is what gaming is all about.
A few weeks back I was asked by a friend how long I’ve been working on my book. I had to start counting and think far back, to my first winter in France. I remembered how it all started during a conversation to that very same person.
So, the book has been worked on for five years. But so many changes have been made on the original idea that they’re not even the same story (plus I wrote another story halfway through it all) I don’t think you can say it has been five years, even if it has. My active work and writing time can perhaps, at the most, be said to be two years.
Two years of reworking ideas, moulding perceptions of humans into full characters with minds of their own, dreams and goals. Two years of writing, plot-structuring, scribbling, researching, writing, rewriting, writing and writing some more.
I have completed revision number two and managed to come up with a solution to a gigantic plot hole that I had left in because I was convinced I would “figure it out eventually.” And I finally have. Now I need to restructure events so the elimination of the plot hole is complete. I have been putting this off for some time. Why? Because the step after that is scary. The next step (after a quick spellcheck) is to hand it over to my small test reader group.
Back in gymnasiet (Swedish school for ages 16-18) I took an optional course called Creative Writing. We got divided into groups and gave each other constructive critique, feedback, and opinions, and so on. We had one class/ week and each week we had a new writing assignment. I loved this class.
I don’t think there are many things that I have worked so hard for as doing a good job in that class. It must not have shown because I didn’t get (the equivalent of) an A. Now, this might not seem like a big thing, and it shouldn’t have been, for anyone but me.
I had always been a mediocre student. I love learning but the classroom model has never made me feel inspired. I was an average student, not brilliant but not failing. I always felt drowned out, distracted and unmotivated. The few times I made a real effort, it went by unnoticed. I could not comprehend that I was learning for my sake, for my future, for my own benefit. I doubt that many kids come to that realisation while they’re still young enough to benefit from it.
So, there I was, almost an adult in the eyes of the law, working my mind in ways I had never though possible. I had all these wonderful, creative and talented people to discuss things with and I learned so much about how I wanted my writing to be.
And my teacher doesn’t see it.
She doesn’t see that I am really giving it my all. That I think about writing and stories all day and sometimes into the night. She doesn’t understand that I have done all the assignments without complaint and without fault. I knew they filled all the criteria. I was never late or absent, I wanted time to hurry so I could get to class. I was always active during class, in discussions and I read outside the required course material. I wanted to be better, to do more. I wanted to write. I enjoyed this.
Then she drops the bomb and gives me a grade I can’t comprehend.
This was the only time I ever argued with a teacher. It didn’t start as an argument but it sure ended like one. She refused to acknowledge my effort. I felt so disappointed and humiliated. And I stopped writing stories. There was no joy left in me for writing them.
Fast forward to my first winter in Toulouse, almost a decade later, and I’m chatting over Instant Messaging to my friend. She is a writer and she is telling me something about how she is working on a book. A tiny spark hits the cinder of memories and a rush of emotion floods my chest. I suddenly see myself running from the teacher’s office with tears streaming down my face and that sad, little, evil voice I had inside me that had said: “Your writing sucks, that’s why you didn’t get the grade. You did everything correct, in theory, but you are a lousy writer. It was just so bad she couldn’t give you that A.”
And I remembered, there in my couch, that I once used to love writing.
I remembered that there was a pleasure in making stories, not just reading them. That by removing the element of melody from my songs I had never really stopped, I had disguised it from that inner, critical voice that only tells us what we fear the most. It tells us we are not good enough, beautiful enough, not worth the effort, or whatever it is that constitutes our distorted self image.
Self doubt is, on some level, something natural and sometimes educational, if you are aware of its presence and try to beat it. I battle with my self doubt every day. She gives up a good fight but I usually win. I now know she can’t stop me from knowing, deep down, that what I write is more than something that needs outside approval or a good grade. But she still throws me the odd thought that perhaps my test readers will come back with puzzled expressions and the question “What is this horrible thing you made me read?”
The fear is there but I will conquer it soon. I battle it as I am writing this. It will hopefully not take me ten years to finish the book but if it does, it’s not the end of the world. I will always know that I am a writer. Perhaps I will never get published but at least my friends and family and other people will be welcome to read my stories.
We all doubt our own abilities at some point but we should never let those doubts paralyse or stop us from doing the things we love. I try to remember this. I can not measure my happiness in a grade, I will keep the stories coming and the text flowing.
I am a writer, because I write.