The First Week of Travel – Heat, Traffic Jams and Empty Pages

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As I’m writing this, heavy raindrops beat the roof of our guesthouse room on an otherwise silent street. It’s the first proper rain we’ve had during this first week in Thailand – and I welcome every drop of it because rain helps calm things down: the traffic, the people, the mind.

Thanks to the weather, this is the first time I actually find the time and place to sit down and write how my traveling life has come to a start.

First Reactions to Bangkok

We arrived in Bangkok almost a week ago. The city was hectic. As a citizen of Finland, leaving a country of five million people to enter a city of eight million is somewhat of a shock. Especially the traffic jams felt insane: the way drivers have the courage to switch lanes although there’s no guarantee it’ll work out (but it always does), and how the scooters and motorbikes crisscross through the endless lines of cars…

It’s a lot to take in.

In addition to getting used to the traffic and the number of people, the heat has taken a great deal of energy. I know this kind of weather (the tropical heat of 35 degrees Celsius) is normal in Asia, but in Finland, it’s nothing we are used to. Therefore, dealing with the amount of sweat and the liquefied feeling of one’s body and mind has taken some time as well.

But even a Finn gets by in Bangkok. One simply needs a great deal of patience and the ability to stay calm in the heavy masses of people.

Finding Time To Write

So, I’ve become used to all of this: the people, the traffic, the heat, the way Thailand works and functions. But what I haven’t become used to, is writing while traveling.

Honestly, it’s been difficult to get any writing done. It’s a shame as I have been hoping to be able to record the whole journey in my diary and in these blog posts, maybe even let the experiences give some color to the stories I’m planning on writing. However, the pages have stayed empty.

During the few weeks of sailing, I was able to write during the windy and rainy days when we stayed in harbor. Here however, a little rain or wind doesn’t stop us from stepping to the streets and finding a nice café to order an iced latte from or find our way to a local restaurant. We’ve been active most part of the day – in other words, there hasn’t been any particular time of the day (or weather) that would have suited as writing time.

It’s been difficult. So many thoughts, vivid pictures of events, feelings and ideas that have been going through my head and nothing has been recorded – not properly. And that’s why I’ve realized that if I want to write, I simply need to decide when and where I want to write – and also what I want to write.

(It may sound obvious to someone but for me, it has clearly taken some time for the thought to become something worth to think about.)

Writing Routine for Traveling

So.

During this year of blogging, I’ve been an active advocate of routines as a skill for time management and efficiency. And I believe in those same routines even when I’m abroad.

If I want to stay in touch with my writing, I need to hold on to my writing routines. It was already difficult to get started with this blog post because it’s been over a week since I last opened a Word-file. For me, it’s a long time.

Writing is about routines, about persistence and continuity, and taking a week of from writing can be good but it can also be bad. Therefore, if I want to be a writer, I need to hold on to my writing routines and keep my ‘creative muscles’ active.

For me, it probably means writing in the morning either before or after breakfast but before we get going on our day and leave the guesthouse we are staying at. I will try to go for my usual 1,000 words per day five days a week and hopefully, in a few weeks, this has become a simple routine for me even though the cities, villages and countries will change every few days or so.

Dedicating a few hours five days a week to writing instead of exploring the cities we visit is a trade-off I’m willing to make, easily. This way I’ll keep up with my writing and let the travels influence my writing, something I’ll most likely value in a few years.

We’ll see how my plan works out. It’s a good thing I already have routine from the past year – now I simply need to learn a new twist to it: how to keep up with my writing routines while traveling.

 

A Traveling Writer

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Before I get into traveling and writing, an announcement: this blog celebrated its one-year birthday on Monday! Yay! Thank you, reader, for being here – it does mean a lot.

But now – let’s start the second year of blogging!

As we sold most of our things in June and packed the rest in four boxes and two backpacks, for the past month, I have been a writer without a desk. Or, at least I’ve been a writer without my usual desk – the white, steady desk of perfect height on which I wrote the last 30,000 words of Yellow Tails and my very first NC-17 fanfic, among many other things.

For the past three weeks, I have been a writer and a traveler.

But you know what? It hasn’t been that bad being a traveling writer. This was something I kept writing about in my journal every now and then for a few months before the Great Departure, wondering how I would keep on writing without my usual routines. Would I be able to keep on editing Yellow Tails? How about writing fan fiction I’ve enjoyed so much – could I still write and be active on that writing forum I decided to return to?

A Prolific Sailor

The first two weeks that were spent on a sailboat were the first test for me to try out being a writer while traveling. Sailing is usually the type of activity that keeps one continuously active – you’re steering, adjusting the sails, cooking food (which is a challenge on a rocking sailboat), navigating, fixing things or just focusing on the sea around you. There isn’t much time for anything else.

I was prepared for writing only in the evenings, maybe squeezing out a few hundred words on some current writing project. However, this sailing trip was somewhat different. The weather was almost always against us – most days the wind was too strong or from the wrong direction which meant that half of our time on the boat was spent in harbors waiting for calmer seas.

For the traveling (or the sailing) writer, this was excellent news.

I was surprisingly prolific during those harbor days! I started publishing a short (around 2,000 words) series of fan fiction on a writing forum and wrote about 3,000 words on a new one. In addition to that, I wrote a blog post and an article for a sailing magazine.

Although we were four people crammed in a small space, the wind kept howling in the mast and the boat was continuously rocking because of the waves, I managed to be creative and efficient in my writing. I did just fine.

An Hour A Day

This experience calmed my worries about the travels we have ahead of us. Many trips are filled with activities that begin early in the morning and end in the evening, keeping the traveler active 12 hours a day. We, however, won’t be in a haste while we travel – we plan on taking the time we need. This means that I can squeeze in at least an hour of writing time in the morning (maybe in a nice café?) or maybe an hour in the evening, depending on the day.

Of course, every day cannot be a writing day because of traveling from one place to another or because of something else – but at least I know I will have some writing time almost every day. This makes me happy because it means I’ll be able to keep my passion alive and my mind calm.

I hope to be able to make another update on being traveling writer in a month or two, just to tell you how traveling goes together with something that feels like the opposite of traveling (although, now when I think about it – I will be traveling both physically and mentally because isn’t writing always like taking a trip somewhere in your mind?).

On Sunday, me and my partner fly to Bangkok, Thailand. It will be a 15-hour flight and I plan on taking my laptop with me on the plane – I’ve never written fiction on a plane (only some academic notes for my studies) so we’ll see how that works out!

A Writerly Update

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Some ten months ago, I remember writing how sad it was not to be able to be a full-time writer after being one during the summer months. The reason for it was simple: in September, I was forced to start dedicating my afternoons for research on digital volunteerism and crisis communication instead of writing more of Yellow Tails or blog posts.

Of course, I did switch those writing hours in the afternoon for the big thesis project, so it was for ’my own good’ – but still, it didn’t feel right.

Fast-forward to ten months later and this Thursday, I can now declare myself a full-time writer again. Hooray! As the thesis has been accepted and the university has confirmed that I will be graduating, I can dedicate my days to writing again.

And I can assure you that is precisely what I have been doing.

A Writer’s Day

I start my day with clearing my head from the thoughts that swirl around in my mind by writing my journal. In that way, I have a clean slate and can dedicate my energy to my character’s ideas, thoughts and feelings, and write those on the page instead of getting influenced by my own personal thoughts.

After writing my journal entry, I eat breakfast, make some coffee and open my computer. Mondays are usually the day when I write the blog post of the week. On other mornings from Tuesday to Friday or, in best case scenario, Saturday, I focus on one of my creative fiction projects. One of them is my dear Yellow Tails (which I’ve finally started re-writing, super excited to share you some details later!) and the other one is a lengthy fan fiction story I’ve been working on for the past month.

In the afternoon, I try to keep on writing but this time on the one I didn’t work on in the morning. Usually, in the afternoons, it’s the fan fiction project I work on because I tend to choose to give my mornings, i.e. my best writing time, to Yellow Tails.

And, as the evening comes, I tend to dedicate some time to reading other writers’ fan fiction stories and comment on them, giving them some feedback on their writing. This way, I’m taking in some new stories, other styles of writing and at the same time, improving my own writing skills by looking at what makes writing good.

Love for Every Moment

As you can see, most of my daily hours go to writing. I don’t know how many words I manage to write per day, maybe everything between 1,500 and 3,000 which isn’t that much – but still, it keeps me busy all day long.

And I love every single minute of it. I just don’t get tired of it! When I’m not writing the fan fiction project, my mind is going back to the story, wanting to keep on plotting, and when I’m not writing Yellow Tails I’m almost longing to return to my own, self-created characters and wanting to tell their story (again, yes, but only this time better).

My writerly days and the love and the continuing thirst I have for them make me feel two things: one is this weird feeling of knowing that for so many years, I was willing to consider writing as only a hobby or even something I used to do when I was little but not any more.

How wrong was I? Because the other feeling I have is pure happiness and some kind of serenity for the fact that, in a way, I have returned to my childhood dream and my roots by becoming a full-time writer.

And that is something not just any job can give.

Why Fan Fiction Could Be Good For You

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During 2007 and 2011 I wrote over one hundred fan fiction short stories that I published on a Finnish writing forum. The stories I wrote were a way for me to stay a bit longer in the beloved world of Harry Potter after the books had been released, but it was also an opportunity to try writing alternative histories, throw the characters into new sorts of adventures or make them go through something I myself had experienced.

The active years I spent there helped me develop as a writer as I read several hundred, if not up to a thousand, good pieces of fan fiction and got feedback for my own stories as well. Also, I loved finding a community that shared the same passion for the fandom and for writing.

A bit over a month ago, I wrote about my wish for finding good writing company. I was feeling reluctant to return to the same writing forum and start writing fan fiction again as it felt like I had outgrown it, but after some thinking and browsing through the familiar forum I noticed an HP short story idea starting to form inside my mind. Something I thought would be worth publishing.

So, after an eight-year-long break, I decided to make a comeback. And it was nice to return.

Developing as a Writer

During the past few months of my fierce and stressful thesis-writing, I’ve had Yellow Tails resting on the shelf (quite literally, it’s on the highest shelf of my wardrobe). I didn’t want to have two big projects going on at the same time because I was certain I couldn’t give them both the high quality energy they deserved, so I opted for one of the two.

Nevertheless, I haven’t been able to keep my mind off fiction writing. A writer needs to keep on writing and therefore, instead of writing novels, I’ve been putting my creative energy into something where the stakes are a bit lower: fan fiction.

I’ve spent the past months reading some great works, both one-shot and longer, and I’ve practiced giving feedback to writers on their stories. I have also written and published a short story with four parts (1,000 words each), and at the moment, I’m working on another story that will have five parts. Small things – but things, nonetheless.

Ten years ago, when I was a newbie in fan fiction, I used to write fan fiction almost on a daily basis and as soon as I was done with a piece, I would usually publish it right away and eagerly wait for some feedback.

Today, however, I have become more tolerant with my work. I give it the time it needs after the story is done before I start editing it and read it through several times before publishing it. I focus more on the reader’s experience and try to make the story as easy to read as possible.

Things I don’t think I even considered ten years ago.

What I wasn’t expecting upon my returning is that, as time has gone by, I notice how much I’ve developed as a writer.

The Many Benefits of Fan Fiction

In the same way as I see my own progress, I’ve also noticed the many things how writing fan fiction can help probably anyone develop as a writer.

Back in the days writing fan fiction was only something I did for fun. Today, as I see writing almost as a science, I’m making a comeback to the writing forum with a clear aim and for a purpose: to become a better writer.

So, these are the pros with fan fiction I believe will improve my writing skills:

  1. Just like reading books helps one to develop as a writer, so does reading fan fiction. There are so many great works online! By reading all those short stories and novels, one can learn a great deal about writing. It also helps to realize what makes fan fiction good – and what does not, something one can probably translate to writing original stories as well.
  2. When the world and the characters are familiar, it is easier to develop your plotting skills and focus on creating an intriguing storyline. There isn’t the same kind of pressure in writing fan fiction as there is in writing something original: when half of it is already there, you can direct your focus on the things that need it the most.
  3. However, just because the world and the characters are familiar doesn’t mean you get to be sloppy with them. It’s a fine challenge to try writing about the world and the characters everybody already know as authentically as possible. The world needs to feel real and the character’s actions must seem realistic, in-character. This way, writing fan fiction helps a writer to find ways to think about the characters and the world on another level: what are the qualities of this character, how does he or she think or feel in this kind of situation? How does the world actually work, what would be a suitable explanation for this thing that is happening?(A good example is an HP fan fiction work called Manacled (K18 / NC-17!) that I’m reading at the moment: the characters and the world feel so authentic I’m amazed by the writer’s skills)
  4. At least on the writing forum I’m active at, there are several different writing challenges anyone can join. For instance, there’s a challenge where writers are invited to write fan fiction about forced marriages. Another challenge offers the opportunity for the writer to write a story where one uses their knowledge of a certain topic, e.g. Biology or Political Science, in the story. In this way, the writing forums offer new ideas to write about and an opportunity to try writing something completely different.
  5. One of the best things about writing fan fiction is that the stakes aren’t that high. The audience can be demanding but no one will banish you from the forums if you write something less intriguing. You are writing and publishing on that forum for one reason: to develop as a writer. Therefore, it is also an opportunity to try one’s wings on new genres or writing from an odd character’s point of view.(I’ve done this more now than before: the story I wrote and published in early April was written from an 11-year-old boy’s view, something I’ve never done before, and the story I’m now writing has some detailed sex scenes in it. I’m really walking on strange land here)

The only downside about fan fiction writing I can come up with is that it can become very addictive to write fan fiction only because it is easier than writing something of your own. After a while, writing something original can become too daunting, and that is a thing to be aware of.

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Have you written fan fiction / are you writing right now / could you consider writing?

Help for Heroes – Or How To Realise an Idea

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I was standing on the platform waiting for a train to take me to another city. A woman in her thirties walked past me. Her style and the way she walked, proudly, made me think she was an advocate for something. She was wearing a black hoodie with a text written in white on it that said Help for Heroes.

Still with minutes left to kill before the train would arrive, my mind started thinking about the words it had seen. Help for Heroes sounded exciting and immediately a thought, an idea, started forming inside my head. What if there was a person in the world who would not be a superhero herself but would come to the aid of superheroes – in a way, she would be the superhero of the superheroes?

How would the story look?

For instance, would the hero of this story, the helper of the superheroes, have an office where she would sit on one side of the table and Hulk on the other, the green giant holding back tears because the puppies were just so cute so he got distracted and that’s why he failed to save the world? And the helper would tell Hulk that ”Hey, puppies are your soft spot, Hulk, and you just have to learn to be okay with it. It’s unnecessary to keep putting energy on wondering how the hell the puppies ended up in the warehouse in the first place. More important is to discuss how you can deal with your weakness and make it into a strength.”

In that moment, I got into the wonderful wheel of spinning on ideas. It’s a great feeling and for me, it’s one of the best things about writing – coming up with ideas, creating more ideas around them and creating a new world of everything that is exciting. But then I got hit by a wall – a wall I’d like to call too mainstream. While standing on the train platform, I saw the whole Help for Heroes enterprise build in front of me – the movies, the comics, the miniature toy figurines. And that made me realize that my idea was so identical to so many of the superhero movies and books that are published today – and in that moment, the idea lost its appeal.

And that made me think of this: if I wanted to make the idea wonderful and unique, I’d have to find a way to use the idea in an unexpected way. But how does one realise an idea without it becoming a copy of everything that already exists? How to make an idea unique?

Learning from Others

This question of realising ideas has been boosted by the literature I’ve come across during the past month. I decided to alter my reading list and switch from adult books to young adult literature. So, in the library, I walked to the young adult section and picked out books with a catchy name and an interesting back cover.

I like YA as a genre; the books tend to be hopeful with a valuable lesson to learn and the characters can be great role models for young readers (and why not for older readers as well). But the best part, what I noticed while browsing the shelves, was that the ideas for YA don’t seem to have any limits. I mean, speed dating in space? I’m in! People having nine lives instead of one? I want to know more! The ideas are daring and awesome – and I was intrigued to see how the idea would take form in the story.

However, as fun and even a bit crazy these ideas are, when I started reading the books I noticed how the idea only takes the book so far. These novels were built on a good idea but had such weaknesses that exhausted the power of that idea: there were too many characters or they were too weak; there were too many subplots that didn’t seem be important for the main plot; the storyline was foreseeable which made it boring and so on.

It feels like many books are built on a great idea – but the execution doesn’t do justice to that idea (or vice versa but that’s another topic). So, how to write a story that presents the idea in the best possible light?

Make It Your Own

As there are certain ingredients needed to bake a cake, so are there for writing a novel. The story gains a good deal of structure when it follows the classic story structure of a hero’s journey. A story needs a set of characters and some subplots to engage the reader and create feelings of excitement or sympathy for the characters.

But a writer needs to find a way to make the novel stand out from all the other novels that are written. It is said that every story is unique because no one will write the story in exactly the same way as you do. And it’s true. But on top of the things already mentioned, the idea that gives life to a new novel needs to be realised in a way that will leave people, in some way or the other, amazed and surprised.

How to do that? I don’t know – but I can guess. This is what I’ve come up with:

  1. Don’t get too excited creating tens of characters and subplots for the story just because they give a fun twist to it or show new sides of the idea. Instead, focus on crafting a strong storyline that thrives on the idea without becoming too much of everything.
  2. Don’t cut the corners while crafting the storyline, i.e. don’t settle for the typical, foreseeable story structure most of us have learned to recognize. Instead, try to analyze the story structure points in a new way, in your way. Can a mentor be something else than a person? Can ’the darkest moment’ be interpreted in a different way?
  3. Think about the idea through your own values or the life lessons and experiences you’ve gained. What values or lessons do you want to pass forward to the reader through the story you’re writing? For instance, in Yellow Tails I’m trying to show the reader the difficulty of change – something I’ve learned first hand. This will make the story even more unique because it becomes more like you.

So, sure, your story needs structure, characters and subplots to work and realise an idea – but do a favor for yourself: don’t cut the corners while working on your idea. Do the analytic work. Kill your darlings. And make the idea work for you; make it your own.

To come back to that moment on the train station: although the primary idea for Help for Heroes feels very mainstream, I’m certain that I can find the twist that makes the story more complex, unforeseeable and, most of all, unique. But to manage that I need to be willing to do the thinking work it requires. We’ll see where it will take me.

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How do you go about when realising an idea?

Still Life Sunday: A Moment’s Notice

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31 A Moment’s Notice

I was in the middle of an article about the new education reform when a short clink sound of the letterbox interrupted my reading. Frowning, I looked at the table where a low pile of letters had dropped through that same letterbox only a few hours ago. Did they deliver mail twice nowadays?

Leaving the newspaper on the table, I walked out of the kitchen to the entrance hall and crouched to pick up the freshly delivered letter. The light blue envelope felt smooth under my fingers, the surface reflecting the light in the ceiling. The envelope had our address on it but the first line told it was meant for my wife to read and not for me – or us.

I turned the envelope to see if there was a return address on the backside but there wasn’t, of course not; mysterious, hand-written letters like these never had return addresses.

The letter was thick, heavy with information that was not meant for me.

There was no one in the yard and even the street looked deserted as I peeked through the window in the door. Neither the mail-carrier or the mysterious letter-carrier could be seen, but then again, of course not. Why would the person stay around to see if the letter found its receiver? If there was a doubt about it, he or she would have rung the doorbell and given it to the receiver directly to be sure. But this person didn’t; clearly, he or she was certain that the letter would be opened in the right hands.

“Darling!” I raised my voice so that it would reach my wife who was brushing her teeth in the bathroom (or more likely in the bedroom, staring out of the window naked, because that was just one of her quirky ways of being). “Come downstairs, will you?”

While waiting for her, I returned to the kitchen. The newspaper was left on the table, the political article completely forgotten. My curiosity for the letter’s content exceeded greatly the new education reform which was still in the planning phase and might not even see the light. My eyes were focused on that envelope that now leaned against the vase of colorful Spring tulips. Who had written her a letter and why?

When my wife walked into the kitchen, fastening the silk belt of her dressing gown and her brown wild hair still all over the place as it was in the mornings, her eyes locked on the letter immediately. She let out an excited shriek, as if she knew exactly what the letter held, and had been waiting for it.

“It came after the usual mail delivery”, I said and took the letter into my hands, looking at it again. “It’s for you. What is it?”

My wife walked to the table and reached out her hand towards the letter. As I gave it to her, I noticed the slight quiver of her hand and the eager way she grasped the letter. Suddenly, I felt a twinge of doubt in my chest. This letter seemed so important to her – why hadn’t she told me anything about it?

“Honey?”, I tried again, as I hadn’t gotten an answer on my question. “What is this all about?”

“Oh”, she said, her eyes gleaming with excitement as she looked at the address written on the envelope. “It’s a…”

She sighed as if she didn’t know how to explain.

“I’m getting worried”, I said and chuckled gently. “What is it, an invitation to Hogwarts?”

My wife gave a small laugh but didn’t answer. She turned the envelope and opened it gently, careful not to break the paper. I watched her take out the letter, the many pages folded in half, and followed the movement of her eyes as she began reading the words. It seemed as if she had forgotten me, as if she was completely unaware of the fact that I, her husband, was there, and had asked her question.

She stood in the middle of the kitchen, her feet bare and probably getting cold from the cool kitchen tiles which she usually disliked – but she didn’t seem to mind. Clearly, there were more important things in her mind right now. But what? The curiosity inside me was slowly turning into a worried doubt. A fear for the anonymous writer and what he or she had written on those pages my wife was now eagerly reading, page after page, was starting to get a grip of me.

I wanted to know but at the same time I wondered if I really wanted to – if I really wanted to make my life shift, because that’s what it felt like in that moment as I sat on the kitchen chair, looking at my mesmerized wife.

After five long minutes, I started getting tired of my own restlessness and my wandering eyes that tried to focus on the newspaper again but glanced at my wife’s face every fifteen seconds or so. I stood up, took the one step to my wife and covered the content of the letter with my hand. I saw the handwriting – a woman’s, surprisingly.

“What is this letter?”

My voice was harder now as restlessness had taken the place of my earlier patience. My will to understand and accept the letter and its content had turned into a steady determination to know what was written on those pages.

“Well?”

My wife seemed to be struggling with words. She seemed enchanted by the content in the letter, couldn’t take her eyes off the pages although my hand was covering it.

Just as I was about grab her arm to get her attention, her eyes focused on me.

“I’m sorry, honey, but I need to leave for a few days.”

“What?”

“Right now. I’m sorry, I really am. But I need to go and pack, I’m in a hurry.”

Her voice was filled with hopeful determination which should have meant that I had nothing to worry about. But from what I knew, I had everything to worry about. I tried to follow in my wife’s steps out to entrance hall and the stairs but she closed the door to the kitchen behind her. And although it wasn’t locked and I could’ve easily followed her, I stayed put. I felt numb, powerless against that letter. What the hell was happening? In the corner of my eye, I saw the envelope that was still on the kitchen table. I didn’t want to touch it, not even look at it. The whole thing felt cursed.

Only a minute later, I heard my wife rush down the stairs. I waited for her to come to the kitchen to explain or to say goodbye at least, but I only heard the outdoor opening, the empty coat hanger clanging a few times against the wall, and then – the outdoor closing.

I watched her from the window. She didn’t take our car. Instead, she started walking briskly down the street towards the main road, carrying with her a backpack and, on her arm, her light blue jacket.

She didn’t look back. When I couldn’t see her anymore, I felt a silence take over the entire house. I was alone and had no idea why.

Still Life Sunday: The Staring Contest

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30 The Staring Contest

“It is told that Archimedes was taking a bath when he realized that the volume of irregular objects could be measured”, I tell to the backs of the students sitting in the classroom.

Then I prepare myself to sprint from the back of the classroom to the front, saying – – “And this made him leap out of his bath tub and run naked through the streets of Syracuse yelling Eureka! Eureka!” – – the last two words come out as a yell which makes some of the sleepier students jerk back in their chairs in surprise.

As I halt into a stop right before hitting the blackboard, I get a surprised laugh from my audience of 8th graders. I chuckle. The Eureka sprint works every time, and every time I feel a small sense of pride of the fact that I’m able to make someone as dull as Archimedes of Syracuse into a memorable, impressive character.

The same love that I feel for natural sciences can rarely be seen on the faces of these acne-colored, insecure faces of teenagers who sit here simply because they have no other alternative. Many of these kids couldn’t care less about Archimedes, Einstein or even Hawking – but they have to because the state and the school curriculum dictate so.

Therefore, the best thing I can do for these youngsters is to make these classes on electrons and neurons and what-else into something fun and memorable.

“This discovery helped Archimedes friend Hiero detect a goldsmith’s fraud. The bastard was supposed to make a crown out of pure gold but had replaced some of it with silver. Thanks to Archimedes and his method, the poor goldsmith probably lost his life.”

Once again, I’m able to trigger some smiles and even laughter. But I can feel how I’m already losing my crowd: the wandering or glazed gaze, the restless hands already starting to close books and putting away pencil cases, prepared to escape the room the second the clock rings. There’s only five minutes left of this class, so I’d say it’s understandable.

However, in this group, there are two girls whose gaze never leave me during the class. They never pack their bags before the class actually ends. Even now, with only a few minutes left of the class, they sit still and observe me.

They might not be the brightest future physicians of the group but they are the only ones who actually focus on what I try to teach. Their gaze is only lost when they scribble long notes to each other – probably boy trouble, the desperate search for Prince Charming, and when he is found, the constant questions about what this and that means. Although they shouldn’t, I let it happen. They are teenagers, after all.

Especially the other girl, the slightly less talented of the two, has an especially intense gaze I’m not able to look away from once I get caught. Her eyes follow mine as I walk around the classroom and mine follows hers when she gets distracted. And then, when I stand in front of the class and she’s paying attention, we lock eyes again and don’t let go.

I’m aware that our eye contact can be interpreted in many different ways, some of them less fortunate. But her gaze is truly active compared with all the other kids in this class, and I’m drawn to those eyes because of that. I’m searching for an active listener, and she pays attention; is actively present here in this class room. For me, that’s exactly what I need to keep on going with my goofy interpretations of Archimedes and other famous people.

I am not making up these entertaining scenes for her, for sure, although her smile brightens up her whole appearance. But kids like her make me feel like I’m not doing it all for nothing. Kids like her make me feel as if I’m making a difference; I’m making learning difficult things fun.

“So, from now on, if you hear someone yelling ‘Eureka!’, you can tell them to take their clothes off to make the discovery even more authentic.”

Then the bell rings, the classroom fills with movement and the rustling sound of paper as if I had pressed a magic button that defrosted them all. Many of the students wave goodbye and leave – the last joke hasn’t made its way through their brain because of the ticking clock on the wall. But I get a smile, from whom else but the most attentive student in the class.

“See you on Thursday!” she says, the smile still bright. I wave, smile and then focus my gaze to my notes on the table. I’m finally able to draw a breath and recover from that intense staring contest of the past 45 minutes. But I wouldn’t change it for the world.