Maiju’s Teacup 16.2.2018 – Looking for my Tribe

I have wonderful friends on and offline. I have a community for Austen/Brontë-gazing and -gaping, I have my LIW peeps, and I have a lot of friends who are generally just bookish, love books, would marry books if they could, like me. Recently I’ve started squinting around in the blaze of internet for a group of writerish friends. I mean, I do have several of those, but I feel like I could do with many more.

I wrote about that online peptalk I attended a while ago. Well, I guess I still have the notes I made and the blogposts, but what mostly stuck in my mind, was the whole concept of a group of people to inspire me and be inspired by me.

I recently reconnected with a friend who I’ve known for twenty years. She’s has a doctorate in Modern Finnish and has lately been branching out from her academic texts into fiction. She used to write fiction as a kid but only returned to it last Autumn.

We met a month ago and had a nice long talk about writing and I made her borrow my copy of Writing Down the Bones (by Natalie Goldberg) which I thought would be perfect for her at this point. It breaks a lot of preconseptions about creativity and writing and opens up new ideas and attitudes towards it.

As my friend is a researcher and writes academically for her work, she isn’t even thinking about making fiction writing anything but a hobby. But when I talked with her last weekend again (she loves the Goldberg book, by the way), I realised how much I want to have these kinds of discussions.

I talk a lot about writing here on the blog, and also I have a Finnish blog dedicated just for writing matters. I tweet and chat about writing with people on Instagram, but I’m now looking for some kind of community to connect to.

And yes, there’s the ready-made community of Story. It would be so easy to just jump right in, but ultimately I would like to talk about this stuff in the language I do most of my writing. In someone’s livingroom, with a glass of wine or a mug of tea in hand. There’s the whole time difference debaucle. And I can’t currently afford the membership for Story 😦

My doctor friend and I discussed writing groups I’ve attended during the years, because my friend is considering joining one in her home town. She lives in the capital, so I recommended for her to go for it. My general experience of writing groups has been good. But where I come from, groups like that don’t grow on trees. They hardly even exist.

To exemplify my hometown: When I was in college, we had an Irish trad band and two of our members arranged both Irish trad dance and historical dance courses. Those courses were full of exchange students — which is nice, but doesn’t really make for a lasting group when they go back home at the end of term. We also tried to arrange trad music sessions, for years. We were the only ones to show up. Even all of the bandmembers didn’t show up for those. Yet there were instances when friends from other towns drove hundreds of kilometers (one came 350km north for our session) to attend, but the whole thing dried up because no one local ever came. The mentality in my town has long been: oh, someone’s organizing something nice? Well, I’ll ask if a friend went and if they enjoyed it, I’ll go next time. But there won’t be a next time if no one shows up the first time!!!

You can probably read between the lines that I’ve been exhausted and downcast by this attitude for years. Anyway. I don’t feel like my option is to try to arrange a local writing group. So now I’m considering other options.

Thoughts? Experiences?

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Maiju’s Teacup 3.2.2018 – Good Night Aunt Mary

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Ok, so today’s task from the 365 writer’s journal was to incorporate in a passage some of these words, the coining of which is claimed by Shakespeare.

advertising, moonbeam, undress, assassination, blanket, amazement, lackluster, madcap, critic, puking

So I started with a few practice sentences but then it run into this. And I really love it.

***

In my story night is something you can put in a nightsafe. You know, one of those that you see at streetcorners. Just a metallic slot in a wall. That’s why they need the security, because night is something so famous that wherever it goes, it needs to be kept safe from the commoners. The moonbeams and the unicorns and the wet blankets and the madcap critics that roam the streets at night. And the people who don’t know what a celebrity night is just want to keep it away. It doesn’t matter what kind of light there is, as long as there’s some light. A lamppost, a digital clock, the tiny speck of light that says the power’s still partially on in the television. Because night is dark. And because the darkness of night is something that they’ve been taught to fear. The absolute absence of light. That’s what it is. Right?

In the countryside it’s different. People are used to night. They wish it good. They look into the dark and they consider it a part of life. Like death after life after death. And they know what lurks in the dark, because they know exactly what’s out there. A building, a field, a holy grove, a cemetery, a church, the man who murdered Aunt Mary. But a building’s not a threat, nor a field either. The spirits in the holy grove are peaceful and the restless ones at the cemetery are fenced in by the subtle placing of rowans among the hedgerows. The church is inhabited only by a mouse family, that holds vigil over the plaque for Aunt Mary. The man who murdered her… Well, he’s not going to cross the stream. Everyone knows that. And he can’t kill anyone else. Then he wouldn’t be the man who murdered Aunt Mary anymore. And he won’t cross the stream. Will he?

Aunt Mary is not buried in the cemetery. She’s not buried in the holy grove either. She’s where no one thought to look for her. She likes it that way. She planted the rowans. She stirred up the spirits. She hallowed the grove. And she walks the night. She’s the one you should look out for.

Maiju’s Teacup 30.1.2018 – ‘Saudade’

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Today my 365 journal urges me to look up the Portuguese/Galician word ‘saudade‘. I did and found out it stands for a specific kind of profound nostalgia and longing.

Sometimes when I’m sad or when I feel like I’m on this precarious ledge at the edge of society, crossing into some unknown territory where not many dare to venture, I long for the people I used to be.

I have been so many things. I have been a musician, I have been a student, I have been someone with a conventional job. I have been a traveler and I have been an adventurer. I have been a depressed and anxious person. I have been a reckless and daring person.

I guess I can long for those times and the mindsets I had and the faith in the kindness of people I had. The faith that these people who were in my life would be with me for the rest of my life.

But when I think of all of these, I realise that at the same time I was a writer. That’s the one thing that never went away, the one thing that couldn’t be supplanted by anything else.

If writing has taught me one thing about life, it is that life is not a narrative. And life shouldn’t be, and we should relish in the fact that not every choice leads to a life-altering moment, the moments that are the least noteworthy if you are writing a story are often the ones that combine into a happy existence.

Who on earth would want to live in a novel? Who would want that pressure on their shoulders? Especially when you write stories, and know that for things to keep interesting there needs to be more conflict than harmony.

So all those times and people I’d include in my ‘saudade‘. All those tunes and streets and pebble beaches. They’re all my material. They’re still here. Sometimes I wish I could step back into my granny’s studio with the sunlight on the wet oilpaintings and read again that book that took my breath away, play again that tune at that session with that great guitar player who heard the music in his head the same way I do, write lyrics with my high school friend in her loft during the blizzard eating the sweetest of chocolates, smell that exact mix of salty Atlantic and peat fires and hot tarry asphalt with the backdrop of the Twelve Bens.

I sometimes wish it, but it’s still there. All of it. And every day, when I write, I use those impressions and smells and touches and tastes and feelings. It’s what my writing is made of.

Maiju’s Teacup 20.1.2018 – First Snow

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So, today’s assingnment from the writing journal was to write about the first snowfall somewhere. It specifically said it didn’t have to be a place where snow normally fell. Here’s what I came up with:

    *

It really shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I knew the pipes in the flat were old and rusty and the heating was iffy at best. I stepped out of the steamy bathroom clad in a thick robe, woollen socks, slippers and a towel wrapped around my head. It had been getting colder and colder outside and the flat was getting chillier by the minute. The reason I had braved the shower was that my hair felt grimy and disgusting, and I had also gone skating earlier in the day. There was a small cupboard of a sauna next to the shower so I turned that on beforehand to get some warmth into the frosty bathroom floors. I was feeling warm and cozy and clean and comfortable, until the chilly air of the hall hit my bare legs. I had only a moment to shiver before I noticed a huge snowflake slowly descending from the ceiling in fron to of my eyes. Surely it must be a strip of dry paint or some kind of hallucination. Soon it was followed by a second snowflake, and then another. I caught one on the sleeve of my bathrobe and stepped under the lamp. In the pale LED-light the perfect ice crystal held it’s shape until it caught the warm breath of my gasp and melted into a drop of water again. In a few seconds it was replaced by another snowflake. I stared down the hall towards my kitchen. The cat was sitting at the livingroom door, watching this strange phenomenon a bit uneasily. A few flakes had landed near her paws and she stood up and started sniffing at the white stuff. It melted quickly when it met her warm nose. The cat arched her back, bristled her neck and tail and bolted towars the sofa in the living room. I didn’t blame her.

I took a few steps towards the kitchen, expecting to see a lamp-post loom any moment from the white walls. I really regretted my choice of attire if I ended up in Narnia. But I got to the kitchen without mishap. I could see the snow outside, and when I turned, the hall floor was still covered with snowflakes, but I could still see the patterns of the plastic carpet through the frosty flakes. I ran to the bedroom to grab my phone. The snow would be gone in a moment and I really needed some proof of this. If for nothing else than to show it to my landlady. When I returned to the hallway door, the snow was gone. The heat from the sauna had finally descended low enough to warm the floor. The only proof was the spooked cat and some droplets of water on the hallway floor.

*

Mind you. My flat is pretty chilly. Like, really chilly. It’s been under -10C out for about a week now and the indoors temperature keeps to 15-17C when it’s cold out. The subject matter hit very close to home.

Maiju’s Teacup 17.1.2018 – Snowglobe

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The prompt for today was that if I had to build a diorama to represent my interior world, what would people see when peering in.

    So the first thing I did was to google the word ‘diorama’ to make sure I had the concept right. According to Wikipedia, (which I will trust on this):

The word diorama /ˌdaɪəˈrɑːmə/ can either refer to a 19th-century mobile theatre device, or, in modern usage, a three-dimensional full-size or miniature model, sometimes enclosed in a glass showcase for a museum.

This made me think about a snowglobe, because that’s what I’d make if I built my inner world as a diorama. It would have to be a huge snowglobe because I would need there to be and ocean of tea. On the other hand, that could be represented by just a dop, or a cup. Nah, I want an ocean of tea.

The houses would be wooden in the centre but turn into ones built of books the closer to the edge you got. Miniature me would be sitting on a wooden terrace at the edge of the tea ocean, next to a sauna. She’d have her diary at hand, pen at the ready. There would be vast forests spreading from the shores of the sea and small cosy cabins here and there with bookshelves lining the walls. There would be a path that led through the forest to a small town with only a teahouse, a library, and a yarn shop. Because what else would you need? And the town would be inhabited by hedgehogs and cats. Hey, it’s my diorama world!

An when you shook the snowglobe, thousands of tiny words would spread and flutter across the snowglobe skies and when they landed on the ground and on the trees and buildings and on the tea ocean waves, you could read what kind of strange and random poetry they’d make. And of course the snowglobe would also be a music box and you could wind it and it would play The Rolling Wave, the traditional Irish Jig that should never end.

Maiju’s Teacup 8.1.2018 – Reluctant Suspension of Disbelief

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My theme from the 365 journal for today were scars. I wondered wether to tell you about my measles scar that reminds me of the first time I finished reading Emily of New Moon, or the story of the scar on my brother’s forehead which has been told so many times in our family gatherings that history became legend, legend became myth, and for two and a half thousand years… Wait… What? The real story has passed out of all knowledge.

But instead I’m going to write about a matter that’s been in my head for many months now. It was touched upon in the StoryCraft pep talk webinar that I mentioned.

Distraction.

There are many kinds of distractions in this world. Especially for writers. An interesting meme on Tumblr. A monthly group challenge on Instagram of poetry about goldfish memories. A shiny piece of paper on the floor that you compete for with the cat. It makes a wonderful crinkling sound and rattles when it falls.

These are the smaller, momentary distractions. Then there’s that gnawing feeling when you look at your bank account and realise you can barely afford the rent and the cat food. Though, I find that lack of money works well focusing your attention on the things you really need. I’ve got so much writing done because I couldn’t afford to go somewhere and do something else AND because I can’t afford a monthly payment to Netflix or Viaplay. I could barely afford internet and that was pure luxury (also necessary as my writing website is online).

Now that I’ve been working, there are even more distractions! With income I can afford to go places, buy books, go to the cinema etc. I can invite friends over when offering them a splash milk and biscuits with their tea isn’t an extravagance I don’t even want to admit.

I’m also starting to plan vacations in places which require saving money, and saving money means making more of it than I spend in a month which cuts heavily back on writing time because travelling from Finland to anyplace that isn’t… Estonia or Sweden, is expensive. Hell, travelling within Finland is pretty expensive if you don’t reserve the tickets in plenty of time for the cheapest bus imaginable.

So yeah, distractions.

But what keeps me going is what I like to call the “reluctant suspension of disbelief”  (referring, of course, to Coleridge’s “willing suspension of disbelief”). It’s that mad, insane, totally based on false narratives, bonkers, utter nonsense belief that one day, one day this text will be something joyful. Will be finished and make sense and will have readers.

Being a writer is sailing between those two lines. The suspension and the disbelief. I call it reluctant because it really require’s a lot of work and madness and faith and insanity to sail those seas. And the biggest distraction of all is when that suspension falters.

I’ve been teetering on the edge of disbelief for a few days now. The task ahead seems enormous. No, it is enormous. On the other hand I could choose to take a safe cushy job where I could earn enough money to travel and see friends and do fun things and not skimp and scurry around the edges.

And it even feels selfish to choose to be creative. Yes. My friends and family have to worry about me more. People have to extend their brain power over the normal amount when they hear that I’m not actually just doing manual jobs because I’m getting back into gear. I’m doing them because I’m writing a book and these kinds of jobs won’t take too much of my creative energy. It feels selfish to demand that attention.

Yet, I can’t seem to be able to lie about it. I read an article where an author wrote about how they always told people anything else but the truth. True, it’s easier to say “I’m working here part time now” and leave it at that. And I do, if it’s a person I barely know. But I don’t want to tell that to my friends. Even if the dreaded “oh yeah, what kind of a book are you writing” follows. It’s so much of what I am. Of what I do. Of how I behave and react and live. No one expects my friends who are at home with their kids to deny they are mothers, do they?

So yeah. And yet there’s the little voice telling me that maybe that new cushy job wouldn’t be so exhausting and hard that I couldn’t write as much. And that maybe I could afford that new computer that wouldn’t leave me in a lurch every once in a while. And maybe…

I don’t know.

I write to find out.

I strain against the reluctance.

 

 

 

 

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*The photo at the top is from 2003 on a hilltop in Abergavenny, Wales, taken by my good friend Hanna, who would never doubt I can do this.

Maiju’s Teacup 7.1.2018 – Small things

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I had a few rough days because I’ve been feeling under the weather.  The tasks set for the past two days were really interesting, involving a family portrait, but I didn’t have time to blog about them and I want to keep to the date. I’ll probably get back to them though,  because they resulted in ideas that I’ve had for years and never really properly set down in fiction.

Actually, on Friday I would have had time to blog, but instead I spent the evening watching (even participating a little) a webinar about creativity. I didn’t even realise how much I crave for a creative community, before I watched the webinar. It was a pep talk by StoryCraft that I would really recommend if at all interested. Story is a conference about creativity that my friend Amber has attended for a few years now and she swears by it. I can understand why now. It would be awesome to be able to attend this year, but the timing is a bit off. I would have to be able to afford to book the tickets and flights now when they’re still cheap, and I can’t afford to do that. Or I might be able to do that, but then I’d have to work more this Spring than I’d like to which would cut back on my writing time and be pretty counterintuitive. I’m going to aim for next year though, since I have more time to plan and save.

Anyway, I’m filling my diary with ideas and realisations I had attending that webinar and may get back to it later. Now to the task at hand:

Today’s prompt wast to think of the past week and remember what was something strange or wonderful that happened. This morning I couldn’t come up with much. The cold has had me pretty exhausted all week, so that timeframe doesn’t work for me. But I’m widening my net. Because, not only is the week ending, the job I had at the store as a clerk ended yesterday too. I’m going back, but it’s not entirely sure when or for how long. Sooner rather than later, the boss said and didn’t even remove my keys or work clothes, so I believe her. But as I looked back on the nine weeks I worked at the store, so many wonderful things come to mind that I wanted to list a few of them.

My absolutely favourite thing about the job was that on the way to the dressing and break rooms I passed through a stairwell that was on the other side of a wall from a pet shop. I could hear the birds singing in their cages every time I passed. While not a fan of caged birds, it did add an otherworldly quality to the stairwell. That patch of tropical forest in the middle of the mundane.

I loved people who hummed while they packed their groceries. When I lived up north that was a much more normal occurence. People sang or hummed while walking on the street and talked to strangers more than here. The town I live in is bilingual and I think it has something to do with the fact that people don’t speak to each other as much. They’re afraid of the other person not understanding them and thus feeling ridiculous. Or that’s how I think it affects the locals. And as a result people who talk to strangers (me) are thought a bit nuts.

I really liked the last young kid at the counter in a group of teenage boys. The store is next to two schools so there’s no lack of kids buying candy on their breaks. Every once in a while there’s this group of 3 – 7 boys who come in and talk loudly and buy loose candy and soda and don’t look at you over the counter except for a nanosecond and only talk at you to tell that they don’t need the receit. The last little boy in this crew, however, is usually the sweetest one. He’s polite and he talks to you and when you wish him a merry christmas or a happy new year, he thanks and wishes it back.

Another kind of customer I really liked were those middle aged people who stand in the line looking as if they’ve swallowed a barrel of lemons but when they get to the counter they are sunshine itself. I like the overly polite and kind older ladies and gentlemen and the man who shook my hand while wishing me a happy new year. And also the shy people who look at you shiftily but are polite and you can see there’s so much going on in their mind and you might be the only person to whom they’ve talked all day and you try to be kind but not too invasive because you’ve once been them yourself and know how they feel from the heart thumping in their ears to the cringe when they remember later that they forgot the milk and are too exhausted to go back.

I liked the rapping, clinking sound that comes after the day when the evening shift counts their cash when the store is empty. And the stuttering sound of the old calculators when they print the numbers on the strip of paper.

All in all, I’m glad to be off but I’m really looking forward to these things when I go back.