Still Life Sunday: A Zip Code Error

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25 A Zip Code Error

Sometimes I wonder if I was sent to the wrong country. What if the mail delivery service got it all wrong when they sent me here? Maybe the tag said “Fiji” but I was sent to “Finland”.

I think of this possible error when I struggle to keep the icy wind on the outside and the warmth of my body on the inside of the jacket.

I think of it when I wake up in the morning and see the ever higher piles of new snow, freshly layered on the old coat of white.

In the Finnish language, there are over a hundred different words for these small ice crystals. The fluffy, huge snowflakes have a different name than the tiny small, weightless snowflakes. New snow is called one thing, old snow another.

For instance, the snow that stays on the ground or on the trees has different names depending on how it stays. If the wind is strong, the snow that falls is called tuisku. If you can’t see through the snowfall, talk about pyry.

But for me, most days, the snow is just snow. There’s more of it, there’s less of it. It’s piling up, it’s melting away.

I watch the snow from my kitchen window, how the white flakes fall from the sky, their lightness enabling them to descent in a frolic matter, inviting me to play with them.

If I were the kind of person who enjoyed snow activities, such as ice skating and skiing, I would love it here. So many months of cold weather make excellent conditions for winter sports! But for some reason, I’m more of a runner, a biker, even a swimmer-in-the-sea kind of person. A fact that makes me think that there must have been some sort of delivery mistake made at some point – someone got it wrong.

My longing for Spring and Summer comes at odd times. Once, I was standing on the street, waiting for the pedestrian lights to turn from red to green. As the light turned green, my ears filedl with the loud sound of car tires trying to grasp the snowy, slippery road to get going – but without succeeding. I breathed in the smell of gasoline and enjoyed it because it made me think of Summer. It reminded me of all the youngsters on their motorbikes who roam the streets loudly, leaving behind them the smell of fuel and an odd silence.

Snow is a part of the Finnish identity – more than hundred names for the white fluff proves it. It’s also a frequent topic in the newspapers: how much snow will fall, how cold it will be, and if compared to the previous fifty years, is there more or less of snow, is the temperature colder or warmer than before.

For many, snow and snow-related activities are some of the best things about the four seasons of the North. The fluffy dogs love rolling around in it, the kids shriek with excited laughter as they go sledding down the hill.

Sometimes I like all the whiteness, how it brightens up the darkness and makes the sounds of the world softer. As I lie in bed under the warm blanket, another body pressed against mine, I like the snow. But even then I think, if I lived in Fiji, I could still experience this as a tourist, of my own choice.

I’m almost certain there was a mistake made by the mail delivery service back in time, 24 years ago. Why else would I think of these things? You see, Fiji doesn’t use zip codes but if you must include one, for online orders for example, you can use the code 00000. I was sent to Finland, with the zip code 00100.

A simple error in the zip code.

No wonder I’m here instead of being there.

Only a one-number-difference – a humane mistake that made all the difference.

The Cat Who Ate Too Much

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After a month-long break from my first draft of Yellow Tails, I took it out from the closet where I had hidden it and started reading the whole thing.

Now, I would like to share with you a few notions about reading a fictitious draft that was born under a longer-than-usual time period:

  1. When I began writing Yellow Tails, I hadn’t written any fiction in many years, except for the drafts I wrote during NaNoWriMo (successfully in 2016 and not so successfully during 2015 and 2014). I had only written essays and my Bachelor’s thesis, some random journal entries and that was all. And you know what? When a person then suddenly decides to start writing her first draft… well, the lack of practice in creative writing shows. The first 30–40 pages were awful. I literally had to take a break from the whole thing and do something else for a few hours to be able to continue reading it. I don’t know what I was expecting but certainly not that kind of reaction… However, as I kept reading I did realize something positive which leads me to point number 2.
  2. Write daily is a common advice given to many writers. For some it works, for some it doesn’t, but for me it definitely works. The effects of writing almost daily for ten months are only positive: not only has it improved my writing skills, but my endurance and ability to focus as well. So, after the first shock, I actually enjoyed many aspects of the story. I even had fun reading it (which is a positive sign, telling that I still like what I’ve written)!

However, what I’ve written requires a great deal of revising as I didn’t plan all that much during the writing process. But the good news is that despite the pantsing, my story seems to follow a story line and has a structure. To me it means Yellow Tails isn’t hopeless at all! Quite the contrary, it even seems to have potential!

At the moment, I’m reading a book about writing (general advice when it comes to structuring and what to think of when executing the different story arcs) and after I’m done with the book, I’ll start making the required changes to the structure and focus on the things that need improvement. We will see where the editing process takes me.

But what I know is that I’m really looking forward to getting started and make the story better than good.

Tell The Tail

I thought I could share a few things about the story itself. I believe it might help you, the reader, understand better what I’ll be talking about here from time to time, if you know what the story is about. I also think sharing something about the story helps me think of Yellow Tails as an actual book, something that’s becoming a real thing.

So, what is Yellow Tails about?

In short, it’s the personal development story of an overweight cat called Jello.

A bit longer version would be something like this:

Jello is a big, yellow, overweight cat who loves to spend his days organizing fondue parties to his little friends. However, when his longtime but long gone childhood friend suddenly returns to his life, Jello needs to figure out who he’s turned into and what he really wants with his life.

It is said that a novelist’s first book tends to be personal. Well, Yellow Tails certainly is that. The idea was born during a cycling session at the gym as I pictured in my mind Fit Diva stealing the cheese meant for Jello’s fondue parties and Jello getting all upset about it.

After that, I was unable to let go of the story setting and the characters. I had to write about them – and that is how Yellow Tails was born.

What The Story Is And Isn’t About

Yellow Tails is not a romantic story (but it does talk about love for food).

Although Jello is an overweight cat, the story doesn’t include dieting tips or exercise programs.

Neither does it contain any large-scale car-chase kind of action scenes. However, I can promise some wild fondue-partying. I find the mood of the story to be quite peaceful although there’s something happening all the time.

Yellow Tails has only three characters and takes place in one house, mainly inside the four walls and the round entrance hall. Some visits are made into the outside world.

Ultimately, it’s a story about change and what making a change entails for the mind, the body and the willpower. It’s also about how a change affects many more things than we primarily think it does.

***

So long, my friends and readers! Have an energetic Thursday!

Still Life Sunday: The Grand Production

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24 The Grand Production

Hotels are like grand theatre productions. You have the life on this side of the curtain, the one visible to the audience, and the other side behind the curtain, where the magic happens. But the magic cannot be seen during the daytime buzz. If you want to see it, you need to opt your timing.

And when is that?

It’s when you wake up at six in the morning to go to the gym for your morning workout or to take a dip in the cold sea, the first rays of sun warming your shivering skin. That is the time when you have the best chance to have a look behind the curtain.

This is what you could see:

In the stairs, you meet a beautiful latino woman who works as a cleaner at the hotel. As she wishes you good morning, you notice her beautiful (she is like a secret talent of the theatre but works as a side character, yet to be discovered).

In the long corridors, you see the cleaning lady, forehead heavy with wrinkles. She’s focused on vacuuming and you do not get her attention (she would be the grumpy caretaker of the theatre, better to watch out for her).

In the reception, two men: one of them has been up all night managing the desk and the other one has come early this morning to take over the shift. Both sip their coffee and chat idly, trying to keep themselves awake (they are two actors from the cast, tired from rehearsals).

And then there is the busybody – a man who seems to be all over the place, organizing the flower setting or straightening up piles of plates and cups that are waiting for the conference guests of the day (he’s the director’s right hand, obviously).

This is something you get to witness at six or seven in the morning. The curtains are still open, the set still somewhat chaotic, the staff running around fixing small details. But when the clock shows eight and most of the hotel room guests wake up to enjoy their breakfast buffet, the curtains close and the magic of it all is left behind the velvet.

The grand show is on.

The cleaners disappear as their shift is over. The tired night receptionist gets to go home for a good morning sleep. The busybody has finished all the tasks that require running around and can take a break, disappearing somewhere behind the curtain.

All the workers seem to improve their posture, build up a friendly smile that never leaves their faces when they work, ready for a new day at the Grand Hotel.

For the guests who make their first appearance of the day at eight, the Hotel is simply like on this side of the curtain – they would never guess the hustle and bustle that happens behind it.

But the early birds who take a morning dip in the sea, a relaxing moment in the sauna or a refreshing walk outside on the grounds – they get to see the production process of the Grand Show: the hustling of making everything seem perfect, the power structures behind the roles, all of the magic.

Most people only come to enjoy the show. But for those who are curious to know how the magic works, what happens behind the curtain… they can see it – if their timing is right.

Still Life Sunday: The Stoic of the Crowd

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23 The Stoic of the Crowd

The town feels all too quiet as it rests under the newly fallen snow. The cars drive by slowly, stopping at almost every intersect to look out for other vehicles and people who walk quickly through the streets, their shoulders drawn up to keep the warmth in and the freezing, unpleasant wind out. No one wants to stay outside in the cold air more than they need to. Instead, they all seek safety and warmth inside their box apartments, closing the doors behind them and drawing the blinds in front of the windows. No one wants to be reminded of the cold, the darkness and the ice that covers the sidewalks.

To escape the quiet, the slow-moving cars and the people who avoid looking anyone in the eye (it’s best to keep the eyes down on the ground and look out for icy spots), my steps take me to the local library. I walk through the lobby, past the shelves filled with books aimed for children and young adults and turn to the right, and take the stairs up to the adult book section.

I can see the wind making the snow fly in swirls outside the window. I shiver and start to wander around aimlessly, simply browsing the shelves with my eyes.

The new books. They stand proudly on a table as if declaring their excellence, that they exceeded everyone’s expectations and now take their rightful place on that surface with the note ‘Newly arrived books’.

I wonder if these books got rejected several times before getting published or if the process was painless and quick, the first publishing house declaring they wanted to publish the book. The books stand here now, proud and convinced that they were meant to be there in the first place. But how long was the journey before they were printed, published and brought to the library?

I move away from these proud books and take a turn to the philosophy section instead. The classics, the Plato, the Aristotle, even a book of Nietzsche’s thoughts catches my eye. Then the modern philosophers, most of them unknown to me.

This section seems all too quiet, too pondering, all too filled with thoughts that would pick my brain if I’d let them do it. None of the books seem to talk, only ponder about the world and the meaning, slightly humming to themselves. It makes me nervous so I continue my wandering. I walk past the religious books, seeing the row of Bibles waiting for curious hands to pull them from the shelf and browse the pages, the scriptures. How many times a year is a Bible borrowed from a library, I wonder.

The travel books are lined up on several shelves, divided into different countries in different parts of the world. They all look similar, giving the impression that all countries are more or less the same. And they are, too: they all battle the effects of the economy, of the climate change and try to make life as enjoyable as possible for everyone living in the country. They all have people who are rich and who are poor, they have cats and dogs, fruits and vegetables, good and evil, right and wrong.

But still, all the countries have been given their own book that tells them why they are unique, why they matter.

I stop at an old book with a brown, blank cover. The book is too big to fit in an ordinary shelf and has therefore been placed outside it, on a single shelf that travels along the side of the wall. The brown, blank cover catches my attention. It doesn’t try to sell me anything or tell me any stories that I could regard as truths – instead, it invites me to create my own, subjective thoughts.

It’s a book filled with maps, drawn by hand ages ago. Filled with exquisite details, drawings and texts, the pages give an impression of the passing of time, thoughts and ideas. It holds on to my focus, not giving me all the answers right away but instead, it invites me to look, to search for the smallest details and then, finally, letting me go and agree on turning the next page.

The book is different from all the other books in this library. It’s even quieter than the philosophy books and is filled with mysteries like the religious works. But this book I like.

And although it has certainly earned its rightful place on this shelf when it comes to the delicate craft and age of the book, the brown covers give the impression of quiet serenity, peace, unlike the brand-new books on that other surface. This brown book of maps could be hidden somewhere behind all the other travel books and would give the same air of serenity as it does here.

And that makes it the greatest book in the library.

Still Life Sunday: Tête-à-tête

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22 Tête-à-tête

”May I open that one for you?”

The voice is friendly and the gesture accompanied by it conscious and balanced. He clearly knows what he is doing.

“I’ve got the bottle opener right here. But thanks, anyway.”

I turn him down, although that self-confidence of his feels appealing to me. He doesn’t seem to mind my refusal.

As the cork falls off and meets the table with a distinct ‘clink!’, I see him nod in an approval. Strong and independent woman, I think to myself and smile. How he analyzes my smile I don’t know but at least it makes him lean in closer – not to look at me but at the bottle.

It is a Japanese beer, blonde in color, its scent thick. Earlier that day, when I had walked to the liquor store without knowing what I was searching for, my eyes had focused on this specific beer for two reasons. First, the owl was cute and reminded me of those zen-like Japanese fish that swim in ponds in a peaceful manner. And second, it was the last bottle of its kind which made me think it had to be good.

“Is that your only drink for the night?”

The voice is still friendly and I can’t read any kind of judgment in-between the lines. Even his eyes are friendly, simply curious on my choice of drink for the evening. I nod.

“I prefer quality over quantity”, I say.

A short chuckle tells me he is amused by my comment which most likely means he has understood my point. Every few minutes I can hear someone opening yet another beer can, the distinct ‘tsskr-POP’, and the laughter spirited by mass-produced lager fills the room.

I take a sip of my Japanese beer. It’s a strong one but I like the taste. Without thinking about it, I offer the bottle to the stranger who has a friendly voice, conscious gestures and a curious look. He takes it, thanks for the offer and takes a sip.

“It’s good”, he says. “You have good taste in beer.”

I give him a short nod and a smile.

“This owl… it reminds me of Japanese koi. Do you know them?” He continues without waiting for an answer. “Did you know that they have an average lifespan of 40 years? The age can be determined by testing the Koi’s scales because they produce growth rings like trees.”

He’s good, I must admit that. He knows precisely the right words to say to get my attention, to keep me from turning my back to him and leaving in order to search for another quiet corner in the room.

So, I stay put. Take another sip, give him another nod and a smile.

That’s seems to be all he needs. And that’s all I need.

Still Life Sunday: The Ten-Round Swimmer

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21 The Ten-Round Swimmer

After I’ve taken a shower, I put on my swimming cap that tightens around my scalp. I adjust my swimming glasses, and already I know that after I’m finished, they will leave marks around my eyes. I’ll look like an urban panda bear for the rest of the day.

When I have my glasses and my swimming cap on, I become anonymous. I become as anonymous as everyone else in the swimming pool. It calms me, makes it easier to focus on why I have come here today. I walk to the pool, take the steps down to the water. First, it feels almost too cool.

Then I start swimming.

I love how the chlorinated water caresses my body. How my ears fill with the steady rhythm of inhaling and exhaling, listening to the sounds both under and above the surface.

I feel my heart beating heavily, trying to distribute blood and oxygen to every cell and organ in my body, to keep me moving.

Sometimes I watch others, how they swim. Especially underwater.

I love seeing how their bodies move with ease, feet pushing the water, taking the body a little bit closer to the end of the pool.

But mostly I just count. The swimming pool is 50 meters. Swimming from beginning to end and back makes 100 meters. My goal today, and every other day, is to swim 1,000 meters, which means I swim ten times the pool from one end to the other and back. This takes me about 30 minutes but I never count time. Instead, I count the rounds.

So, I swim, and with every stroke I chant in my mind: one, one, one, one… It calms me. It also helps me focus, keeps my thoughts off certain things. For every round, I manage to ignore the negative, frustrating feelings and let them go as I focus on the rounds: three, three, three.

At the same time, as my body moves in a movement called breaststroke and my mind keeps on chanting (five, five, five), a process of some kind takes place. It’s the kind of process you are not aware of but when you step out of the pool you’ve somehow found a solution to a problem or decided on something you did not know the answer to before stepping in.

But first, I have to finish my rounds.

Eight, eight, eight.

The last rounds I do not think about anything else except the rounds. I am close to reaching my goal and as I reach it (ten!), I take hold of the edge of the pool and pull myself up. It always feels great. The feeling makes me think of female breaststroke swimmers who are so energetic and happy when they win the Olympics.

In the shower, I take off my cap and my glasses and with my fingers I trace the panda bear shape around my eyes.

From being anonymous for the last thirty minutes, I become an individual again.

This is me.

Choosing a Direction For 2019

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Happy New Year, reader! May your 2019 be energetic, motivated and filled with fulfilling things!

But here’s the thing: I wish you all that but we both know it’s not up to me if your year turns out that way. It’s up to you, my friend.

Now, you might think: ”Alright then, I shall make some New Year Resolutions!

I, however, advice you to do something different.

False Hopes and Aspirations

This Tuesday, when the new year began, I wondered what I thought about one year ago. The human memory isn’t that powerful that I’d remember what I did and thought about that day, and unfortunately I have no journal entries from that day.

(Oddly enough, I didn’t write anything personal at that time and had no idea I would be writing more than 140,000 words that year. Life is a funny thing.)

So, there is no way of knowing how I felt one year ago, on the 1st of January 2018. However, I would like to believe I felt all those typical New Year Feelings: happiness, energy, motivation. Because, that’s the way we are supposed to feel, right? Isn’t that the way we usually feel at the brink of something new?

When a new year begins, we feel motivated. We have all these hopes and aspirations about the new beginning that is starting right now, in the beginning of January. I guess we’ve all been there: we have these great plans about new challenges, the improvements we will make in our lives. The bad habits we will get rid of, the new good habits we will adopt. But there lies a challenge: despite how lovely and wonderful this feeling is, despite how much we believe in the changes we plan to make, it can all be false if these feelings and thoughts are grounded on something outside our own control.

Because of the society, because of the social norms of the world we live in, because of our environment, the people around us, we are programmed into feeling great in the beginning of the new year – because every one else is feeling that as well. It’s contagious! And that makes it oh-so-powerful.

However, the contagious energy of the new beginning fades as quickly as it comes – if we don’t embrace that feeling when it’s on our doorstep and make it our own.

And this is what I’d like to write about today: how to embrace that energy and gain as much control as possible over your upcoming year.

Resolution vs. Direction

As I wrote, I have no memory of 01/01/2018. We had just come back from our two-week escape to Spain and Portugal over the winter holidays, and I had a week or so before my classes would start again. I probably had some thoughts about the new year, what was on its way. I would finish my journalism studies, work for some newspaper or radio station that Summer and in the Fall, begin writing my thesis.

But all these things were already prescribed, planned by someone else than me. They were a part of my Master’s Degree curriculum – and therefore, not entirely my own plans. And as I reflect back to the beginning of 2018, I wonder: did I have any other plans? Any of my own that I had control over?

I honestly don’t think I did.

In January 2018, I didn’t write anything else except Instagram captions, chat messages and school assignments. I was in the beginning of my weight-loss project and troubled about what my future would bring. I had no goals for the year, no idea of what I wanted to accomplish (except for weight loss). Last year ended up being awesome thanks to my self-discipline and an amount of habits I adopted, all without any specific plans. But as in everything, the beginning is always easy.

For instance, the first hours of learning a new language are usually easy: learning to present yourself, numbers from 1 to 10 and how to order a coffee in a café. But the more pro you want to become the tougher the lessons get. Suddenly, you need to put in hours of dedicated, focused work to actually learn the more difficult words to be able to make proper conversation or learn the small details of grammatical rules.

To be able to go pro, one needs a plan.

Last year, I managed to write my first draft. It was a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing, nothing all too planned and something I managed to do by setting myself a rule to write 30 minutes every day from Monday to Friday (which turned into 1,000 words per day later on). But this year, I’m more dedicated to go pro and that requires more than one thirty-minutes-per-day rule.

However, instead of making a bunch of resolutions I’ve done something differently this year.

As you probably know, a resolution seldom sticks. It’s because they tend to be too abstract or too high-hopes. The resolutions tend to be set in the dream land, the utopia of your own making, instead of finding a place for those promises in the realistic environment called life (if you want to read a post about intentional goal-setting, check out this post by Ashwini CN).

I realized this a few years ago and decided to start my New Year without any resolutions.

However, I’ve noticed that a resolution-less life seems to resemble a life without direction.

A life without direction can be wonderful for a while – the freedom of moment, of choice, of life. But that also means that your direction-less life can be steered by the environment, the people around you, by the society and social norms. And suddenly, you might realize that you are no longer in control of your own life. Suddenly, you are heading for a career you didn’t really choose or invest your time and energy in a project you never had an interest in.

To me, it sounds like some sort of nightmare.

So – to avoid this kind of uncontrolled direction of life, I did the following:

On Monday, the last day of 2018, I walked to a café, ordered a cappuccino and sat down for an hour or so to write down a plan for 2019. I chose on a direction.

A Tangible Plan

What I did that afternoon was that I categorized my life according to these different goals I want and think I can reach as this year goes by.

One was for education (goal: finish my thesis and graduate),

one for writing projects, divided into two (goal: 1. Edit Yellow Tails and get it published, 2. Write the second novel and get it as publishing-ready as possible),

one for this blog (goal: post twice a week + be active on Instagram 3–3 times a week),

one for self-care (goal: learn more about HSP, take care of your physical fitness, keep on journaling) and,

one for self-development (goals: reading books, both fictional and fact-based, listening to podcasts about self-care, writing and creativity).

But in addition to this, I also added micro-goals and attached a specific deadline to them. For instance, I now have an editing – beta reading – editing – final edits and off-sending timetable for Yellow Tails. I have micro-goals for developing my physical fitness (gym 2–3 and yoga 1–2 times a week) and for finishing my thesis.

What I’m trying to do is make my goal as approachable and tangible as possible. If sometime during this year, for instance, I feel like I’m slipping from my goals to have an honestly finished version of Yellow Tails ready to be sent to publishers, I can take a look back on my micro-goals and the deadlines attached to them and get back on track.

In this way, my goals and the attached micro-goals are giving me my direction. They mark the path I have decided to walk upon this year, and as I’ve invested a good deal of energy into planning them, I hope they also help me stay on the path.

(Throughout January I will probably make the micro-goals even more detailed to make them even more tangible than they are now: write down ideas for this blog, put in Youtube-links for yoga videos for me to do, find resources that help me get on with the research for my second novel and so on. I don’t think the goals can ever be too approachable.)

I’d say the clue here is to 1) decide on a goal for the year (for instance: in the end of 2019 I will be an author with two ready-to-be-read novels), 2) attach micro-goals with deadlines to them, 3) break down the micro-goals into detailed resources, ideas and thoughts so that you won’t have trouble finishing them.

So, hear this: instead of resolutions, choose your direction and follow the road – but instead of opting to walk the whole road in one try, try walking from one rest stop to the other, from one park bench to the other. When the next park bench is in your view, aim for that and maybe, by the end of the year, you’ve reached your goal.

And in the end, I think the goal will come to you suddenly, unexpected, and might not even feel like one big victory because you’ve had so many micro-victories along the way. That’s what happened with Yellow Tails, at least. It was one long row of micro-goals reached so that when I wrote the last sentence, it didn’t feel like I had finished a novel. It was as if I had reached the end of the road and started looking for the next one to walk on.

***

I would love to hear your thoughts on resolutions vs. deciding on a direction! Share in the comments one goal, one direction of yours, and some micro-goals that will help you reach your goal. Let’s make this year into a year with a direction, friends.

Thank you for reading!