What My Grandfather Taught Me

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Tomorrow is my grandfather’s funeral. He died peacefully at the respectful age of 95 on a beautiful Friday morning two weeks ago. I visited the care home that morning to see him one last time and I was happy to see the peaceful look on his face – it felt important to see him one last time.

After he passed away, I’ve been going through some old photos I found at my grandparent’s apartment before the place was emptied as they had moved to a care home.

Most of the photos I found have been taken by my grandfather, some of them have been taken by someone else as my grandfather is in the photo. The photos have made me wonder who he was, what he believed in and what of his values has he passed on to me.

He was a silent and a thoughtful man who did smile but not very easily. I remember how he was always reading the newspaper or sleeping. He liked sweets and baked goods. He was always organizing papers and staying updated about what was happening in the country – they subscribed to four different daily newspapers.

Those are some of the memories I have of him. But for the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about his legacy – what he taught me through his way of being and how he lived his life. This is what I’ve realized:

Routines

My grandfather was a man who followed his daily routines. He would wake up at 4 AM to read the newspaper and then take a nap (it was usually my job to go and wake him very carefully and kindly for breakfast). Then he would read or organize his papers, maybe work for a while at his work apartment in the house next door. In the afternoons, he went for his walk. Every single day. Even at old age when Alzheimer was taking over his brain, he could remember all the streets he walked through during that afternoon walk.

I don’t know why he had his routines – I never asked. But he must have known they were good because they give so much more time and space for some proper thinking and for understanding things. Maybe I’ve simply taken after him?

Knowledge

When I was little and did some homework after school at my grandparents, I sometimes needed help finding out about a fact. Most often, I turned to my grandfather who was known for knowing great many details about what seemed to be everything.

However, when I asked my question, may that have been about history or geography or grammar, I never got a straight answer from him although he probably knew it. Instead, he would go to the great bookshelf and pick up one, two or three books about the subject. He then helped me find the right page where I could find the information I was looking for.

I believe he knew that if I would find the information myself I would remember it better – and I believe he was right.

Literature

As you might have realized by now, my grandfather was a man who respected information. He was a history guide and a tour guide on trips in Europe – and together with his team he won several years in a row a competition where the team is supposed to drive from one place to another and answer some detailed questions about the city.

He knew a lot without getting any help from Google, Siri or Sierra.

In addition to love for information, my grandfather respected books. My grandfather was the one responsible for buying us all a book for Christmas. He didn’t mind that they were fiction but I think it meant a lot to him to know that all his grandchildren were fond of reading (I wonder what he would think about Yellow Tails).

Although I wouldn’t maybe hold on to as many books as he did while he lived, I still like to think his love for literature and information has passed on to me.

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In addition to these things, I remember him for his good humor, wisdom and excellent board game skills. One time, me and my grandfather were a team while playing Star of Africa and we won the game by finding the diamond in time and returning home rich as any. He was a clever man.

There’s so many things I would like to ask him now – real grown-up things that I wonder about and would like to hear his thoughts on. I hope he would’ve written a diary of some sort to know what he thought and believed in. But I can’t do that, not ask questions or read his thoughts. It’s too late for that.

But I have his photos, I have my memories – rest of it I’ll just have to build up on my own.

Still Life Sunday: A Memory Space

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12 A Memory Space

We live in an apartment that used to be my grandfather’s work office.

His wooden desk was always filled with papers – important bureaucratic documents, newspaper articles about stocks and other interesting news stories that had to do with the value of things.

Where my grandfather’s wooden desk was before (and which seemed gigantic in my eyes when I was little), there’s now a dining table for six. It’s for the two of us and we use it for eating and for working. We share the space that used to be my grandfather’s alone.

Living in this apartment has a greater meaning to me than it has for anyone else. This is because of the many things I know about the apartment, its former life, how it was filled with books, facts, information, knowledge. I know something about the person who spent so many hours every week inside these walls.

One memory in particular: I remember being little and calling my grandparents. My grandfather used to answer the phone first when he was at his office. I never really had anything to tell him (at least what I remember), so I politely asked him to connect me to my grandmother as I was eager to book another appointment for a tea party. He always did without a moment of hesitation.

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Big windows let in bright light from the inner courtyard. The colorful leaves of Fall paint the view from the window. Opposite the view used to be the great old black typewriter my grandfather used to write lengthy documents. It could be letters, complaints, sometimes even stories from his travels. He never used a computer, maybe never even touched one. Sometimes he let me write a few words on the old typewriter. The sound was loud in my ears but he was used to it. For him, it was the sound of efficiency.

Instead of an old typewriter on a small table we have two arm chairs with a small table in-between. The table has some books on it – modern books, fantasy books, books about the pain of growing up. My grandfather was more interested about facts than fiction, his book shelves bearing the weight of encyclopedias, dictionaries and hundreds of folders.

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The more I think about my grandfather, the more I realize how little I know of him. About how he viewed the world, or what he thought we people are supposed to do in this life. What would his answers have been to the questions I’m thinking about now?

The big wooden desk, the old typewriter, the books and papers are long gone. The kitchen and the bathroom have been renovated, the old wall papers have been ripped off and the walls are painted white. Instead of an old plastic mat covering the floors there’s now a grey-ish parquet. Everything that reminds me about the history, the previous owner of the apartment is now gone.

But I guess if my grandfather’s memory is strong in my mind, his legacy, memories, documents and type-writings will live on. And maybe something of it will become a part of me. Because he was always the best player in Monopoly, and the one who returned to the home base rich as a king while playing The Lost Diamond. And I would love to be as clever as he was, even if only in board games.

My Early Works

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This is the cover of the newest Harry Potter me and my friend decided to write and send to J.K. Rowling back in 2002. We thought it took way too long for J.K. to write the fifth book of the serie so we decided to take action – we would write the next book and send it to her for publishing, including a note that would say:

”Here you go, J.K. Rowling! You can publish this one and start writing on the next one!”

(Funny enough, the first chapter was very similar to the first chapter of the third Harry Potter. The name was also very original: Harry Potter and the Poisonous Snake)

Unfortunately, we never got past the first chapter. Maybe it was because we wrote it on paper with a pen instead of using a computer. And because it actually requires a lot of work to write a book. However, after all these years (it’s been 16 years – we were eight years old at the time) I still respect the effort. I mean, the cover is amazing, isn’t it?

Today I want to tell you about my early works. This book was one of the first ones that got started, and after that there’s been many different writing projects. So let’s dive into my early works of fiction!

Horse Stories and Fan Fiction

The first novel I remember writing independently was on my parents’ old-school computer, located in the basement of our house. It was a story about a girl who desperately wants to participate in a riding camp but can’t afford it, so she decides to do different projects to get money and save up for the camp. She would sell some of her things, do some cleaning, grass cutting and so on.

Even now I think the idea was great. I just never finished. I wonder if the story is still saved on that computer – the machine’s still in my parent’s basement.

After that I wrote several shorter stories. Many of them involved either horses or a mystery – the two subjects I was most passionate about at the time. On fourth grade I wrote a short story in school that was so great that I decided to turn it into a play. The script was about three pages long and took probably less then 15 minutes to perform on stage but my class rehearsed and did the play for two different audiences! This one was about a girl who becomes friends with a dragon and tries to save him from the people of the village who want to kill him, thinking he’s dangerous.

Many of the stories were never finished. They were everything between four and ten pages, some of them divided into four or eight parts. Some only got started when I already had a new idea in mind that I started to write on. I never published anything or sent any texts to magazines, although I thought of doing it. But in middle school I started to get into fan fiction.

I was still a huge fan of Harry Potter and found out that writing stories about characters that already existed and whom I loved was so much fun. I still have all of the short stories saved on my hard drive – they are over a hundred. Some of them consist of only 100 words but the longest fan fiction story I ever wrote, You, Me and Him, is over 100 pages long. Those years that I spent writing fan fiction were also the years when my writing improved a great deal. I was able to get active feedback and comments on my texts from other enthusiastic writers of fan fiction and felt as if I was a decent writer.

Unlike my earlier texts, these I published actively on a fan fiction forum. It was fun and gave me courage and motivation to write more and push myself to try different things and improve my writing, for instance when it came to what words I chose to use or how do develop my (or J.K. Rowling’s) characters.

Three Full-Length Novels

During and after my most active time as a writer of fan fiction, I also became curious about the National Novel Writing Month that takes place every year in November. I was tempted to try to write 50,000 words, a full-length novel, in only thirty days. I had never written anything of that length before – and decided to give it a try.

The first time I entered NaNoWrimo was in 2009. The story was called Harte and Agne, a story about a 15-year-old girl who becomes friends (and more than friends) with a man who is six years older than she is. I got a great start that year and wrote almost 20,000 words, but I had a lot of emotional issues to deal with at the time, and never finished the story.

After that I had two successful years in a row – in 2010, I wrote A Hundred-Year-Old Railroad, finishing with 50 087 words (although I only got halfway in the story) and in 2011, Hear Me Roar On The Inside with 50 146 words (3/4’s of the story written). I am really proud of both of them, because 1) I managed to write over 50,000 words in a month, and 2) they are stories located in worlds that I really loved creating.

However, in 2011 I started dating my first boyfriend and forgot about writing. I didn’t really write anything proper for five years. The relationship ended in 2013 and after that I just didn’t have the motivation and self-discipline to sit down and write. I tried to participate in NaNoWriMo in 2012, 2014 and 2015 but never managed to write more than 2,000 to 3,500 words.

Studying my rate of failures, I started to think that maybe fictional writing wasn’t for me after all. I loved to write but fiction didn’t seem to work for me so I thought ”maybe I should focus on factual writing instead.” So I didn’t even try to keep up my writing, focusing on other things instead.

But in Fall 2016, when I was in Galway, Ireland as an exchange student, I decided to give NaNoWriMo one more try. I had gotten an idea from one of the drivers of the tourist buses, telling a legend of a curse that one of the Irish soccer teams has on them, and because of which they haven’t won a single championship in fifty years. So that November I wrote 1,667 words every day, finishing both the contest and the story on November 30th with 50,291 words.

It felt great, it felt as if I had really accomplished something. But I also felt deflated and didn’t have the energy to start writing anything more regularly. After writing a full-length novel it felt as if I had given everything I had, and didn’t find the energy, motivation or even ideas to write more.

That led to another break in writing for more than a year.

A Fresh Start

In February this year, I was feeling extremely frustrated at my life. I had the feeling I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do with my life. Instead, I was doing something that didn’t have any value to me, only forcing myself to do it day after day. I was a painful partner to have, I knew that, with all the negativity and complaining and frustration that I was dealing with.

But then my partner suggested to me that I would sit down every day and write for half an hour, thirty minutes. No more, no less. It could be anything – writing fiction, fact or a diary. I decided to give it a go and realized soon that this was one of the most fulfilling things I had done in a long while. I felt joyous satisfaction for using my imagination and twisting words into sentences that created sentences with a meaning.

I began by writing diary-like texts about my life but after a few weeks I changed my direction to fiction and started writing a full-length novel about an idea I had been thinking about for the past month.

This time fictional writing gave me the kind of pleasure I hadn’t experienced in a long time. There was no time-pressure, simply the requirement of writing thirty minutes five times a week. Sometimes I wrote 500 words, sometimes up to 900, depending on the day. And I kept on doing that for almost six months.

After I quit my job, that is a month ago, I’ve been able to dedicate to my writing more time than before. And that’s on the way I’m now – writing two blog posts and a short story in a week plus working on my book. And let me tell you, it feels good to dedicate this much time to something I really love to do.

Becoming A Published Author

I wanted to become an author when I was only nine years old. But for the past 12 years I’ve had trouble believing that I could actually become one and have therefore been searching for other career alternatives. I’ve tried working in a café, as a communicator for an organization and as a newspaper and radio journalist – always thinking this is what I want to do, only to find out that this isn’t fulfilling, I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life.

Now I’m trying to re-establish my belief in becoming a published author. It’s not the easiest thing to believe in but nothing gives me as much fulfillment as this kind of writing does – and that makes me think that there’s something in here, something worth working for.

On Thursday I’ll talk about becoming an author – or how one can become one. At least according to a published author I talked with. See you then!