Tuesday, 27 March 2018

One Life. Preserved in Brine.

Some books create a living scene in front of your eyes. Like you had just watched a film. Of course most of the books give some sort of feeling about the place and environment. But some more vivid than others. I don't like it when every detail of a muslin dress or home decor is described in a novel or story. It leaves so little for the imagination. And one thing I really hate is too detailed descriptions of the characters looks. I wonder how it would be to read a novel about people whose looks are not described at all? It might be interesting if there would be only about the personality, thoughts and how the characters react and act in the situations and circumstances given. I guess we see the characters in a very different ways. It would be actually an interesting book club topic to talk about the looks and personalities that people give to the characters. I think that when we read books we unconsciously try to find people we know. Not precisely connect fictional characters with the ones we know but maybe we add some extra to what is described by the author by the experiences we have had. Also it is good that the reader has a chance to add features that one wishes to see in the characters. Have you ever read for example a romantic story where the one who is supposed to be the target of dreams is described wrong in your opinion and you can't get over it? Like you question who an earth would fall for that? Well, maybe some people share the same taste. It is also difficult to identify with the main character if they are described too precisely. I have to tell you one example. I was reading this novel years ago and wanted to identify with the main character. But the main character weighted 50 kg and I am a way heavier. Sounds silly but it spoiled some of the great story and the plot wouldn't have suffered if that detail would have been left out. 

13/52 Leena Parkkinen: Säädyllinen ainesosa (2016) Best books reveal their world and characters in a subtle way. Like you don't remember reading about the rooms, objects, dresses, looks of people, you just know like you would have been there. Leena Parkkinen's Säädyllinen ainesosa is one of those novels that introduce a fictional world so that after reading the book the real world around you seems unfamiliar, so deep you have dived to what is seen by the characters. The novel's happenings are mainly set to fifties Finland and memories take back to second world war era. Saara is a housewife who has decided to do things right and create a good home for her son and husband. In challenging circumstances she counts the pennies economically and prepares good meals for her husband and pays attention that the home shines. But inside her head she is deeply unsatisfied with her life that is based on the norms of the society not her own will. To stay in her decision to be a good wife she tries to get rid of anxiousness by medication that numbs her. 

In the same neighborhood with Saara and her family lives charming Elisabeth who seems to be a centerpiece of her own social circles that consist of different kinds of creatives. She has an unknown background and it is whispered that she could even be a spy. She does have a personality of an action hero that goes from adventure to another. Even though at first Saara and Elisabeth seem different quite soon they get to know each other better and start a love relationship. The novel is an entertaining page turner that goes on with a fast pace and is spiced every now and then with cryptic recipes. Yet the novel is not as light as it first seems. Under the surface is a world were not everyone is free to fulfill their dreams and be with the person they love. Saara brought to my mind another fictional character, Marja-Liisa Vartio's Mrs. Pyy from Kaikki naiset näkevät unia. The main character Mrs. Pyy is unsatisfied with her life as a wife and mother and seeks for adventures and intellectually interesting social circles. Like Mrs. Pyy Saara is also suffocated by the life that she is put to live. Vartio's novel is written in 1960 and it describes the same era as Parkkinen's novel. It is interesting to find the same atmosphere in both books. That time's societal issues that had an influence on people (the post war era, strong gender norms) have been transmitted to both life stories. I think it also tells something about our time that Parkkinen's novel is written in 2016 and that Mrs. Pyy's emotions are relatable and current for today's reader, not only part of history brought us in a form of a book.

No matter the circumstances it is impossible to be something one is not. In some situations it is easier to play a role to get over it with as little harm as possible but for longer term acting is a job that takes of all energy and will. Saara plays the role to keep safe but ends up breathing from day to day without actually living. Her life doesn't look bad for an outsider who doesn't get to know her. And that is the point. It is easy to say that someone is having a good life what comes to appearances and tell what is good for others. But we can only make decisions for ourselves because we can't know anyone else so thoroughly that we could tell how their life should be. And that one goes another way round, all those well meaning people who try try guide us to achieve our best self  might get us to a wrong direction if we can't sort out what is good for us. 

This novel also made me think about how women are expected to behave. Elisabeth has something similar with traditional action figures. She stylishly goes from situation to another, survives and charms people pushing them out of their comfort zone. Sure her character is deeper than that of an average action movie hero's but why I make this comparative is that usually different norms guide our thoughts what is right for women and men and how we interpret their behavior. Women are supposed to be loyal and stable but who questions what happened to Bond's last lover when he is already in a new situation and mission to save the world. Elisabeth's skill is to change people's lives and get them act their own. Like all action figures she has her tragedies that keep her in a constant move. Instead of feeling sorry for her and thinking that she lacks something that would make her happy and content it might be that she is as she is supposed to be, person who appears from nowhere, shakes things up and then carries on to land unknown.

Some of Leena Parkkinen's books are translated and Säädyllinen aineosa novel's rights have already been sold to Italy. 

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Adulthood and Other Abstract Concepts

This week I have developed a huge reading appetite. Some books just demand to be read as soon as possible. They refuse to close and keep one reading through a night. These kind of books also don't want to be left alone. Even though I know I won't have a minute to read a book during the day I will carry it with me in a backpack, just in case I have five minutes between one activity and other. At least when I open my backpack to get keys, phone, wallet, the book reminds of it's wonderful existence.

It doesn't happen with all books that I want to read all night. It becomes rarer the more I read. I am not very critical about books. I don't want to criticize. If I don't like some book I can leave it and choose another. No need to spread bad vibes. If someone can write a book and after that is brave enough to get it published and that way demand people to read it I give my highest respect. Especially the part to press publish button is the most difficult thing in all creative work. It is still relatively easy to create just for yourself and maybe understate your work if someone happens to see it. But to really expose your work to people's gaze and stand behind it is another thing. And I think every book has it's reader, the one who it is written for. Not every story can speak personally for all.

You know that special moment when a book you have just opened tells the tale of your life, in every detail, like you feel that it has been written of your life. Every word and phrase could be from your mouth. If given the same situation as the main character in the book you would act exactly like that. When I read Saara Turunen's first novel Rakkaudenhirviö over a year ago I felt it was the novel I had been waiting for so long. I had not heard about the novel when it came out and actually found it from a thrift store. It was easy to relate the main character's life story from early childhood to young adult because the world she lives in is so familiar. The novel gave a realistic picture of what it is to be a woman looking for a career in creative field and what kind of pressure comes with it. I felt all the insecurities she describes, ponderings what path to choose in life and how to make your own mind in the middle of expectations of the others, were easy to relate.

12/52 Saara Turunen: Sivuhenkilö (2018) novel continues the main character's story from the point that she has just released her first novel. Writing a book has been a big goal in her life and she has hoped that it would change her life and people's attitudes towards her completely. But nothing seems to happen and she begins to feel ashamed of her book and questions her book's worth. Instead of her book getting respect in her social circles she finds out how people have moved into so called adulthood. One way of adulthood that makes her feel outsider because she doesn't have a partner, kids, solid paychecks from work and pretty home. Still in these modern days there seems to be one ideal picture of happiness that everyone is supposed to achieve and if not one is a failure. Maybe we wish something grand and become surprised how mundane the world is. I would like to have croissants with jam, macarons, coffee and orange juice for breakfast when there would be silent classical music coming from the radio, I would love to travel more, attend to cultural happenings and collect art and antiques. And all this is actually possible, it doesn't even require huge amounts of money. I didn't say I would like to have a penthouse from boulevard. If I make a savings plan I can buy a trip, antiques table or art. The croissants are 49 cents at the grocery store and my heritage radio from the 80s plays music with the cost of electricity. But somehow there is a right way of doing life, a plot for everyone to live as written in advance.

If you step out of the plot your co characters will continue to live according to it and you are left out. Like the main character of the novel who waits publishing parties and ends up alone in her home receiving baby news from her friends and relatives every now and then. One would think life as a single would be an equal choice among others but it still has a stigma. It is connected to loneliness that is followed by some problems with cats, collecting too much porcelain or otherwise peculiar behavior. I like how the novel questions the ideal picture of human life, one that ends up in a happy family life. It also brings up the needed question if being single is not a phase before the ideal but the end of the journey. We are living in a time of feminism that questions many norms. Still in 2018 a person that approaches thirty easily confronts the situation where friends around you have disappeared to family life and you see them less and less. It makes one question the goals in life and if the decisions made have been the right ones. Like the novels main character I know how some people begin to assume favors from you because you are a spinster who has time (and especially if you a woman you should have an inbuilt will to serve others). It would be drastic to use that time for yourself (it is wrong when everyone else sacrifices so much for the sake of their family) so they give you tasks to make purpose for your poor single life. And in the end the single life you have, whether chosen or not, gets tones you don't want.

Being single and working in the creative field, keys for social exclusion? It was interesting to read how differently the main character, the people around her and society in general qualify her creative work. An artist has a need to express, people seem to have a need to know the worth of that expression in money and society in general seems to value certain kind of work that describes universal themes. Or as the main character points out, universal themes that men have written about through the history and that have gotten the status of great literature. This is a societal theme that deserves attention. It might be pointless to divide literature according to the sex of the writer. But there is a way of writing that backs from the history where men have been in better position and the word of men has been more appreciated. I remember reading that Virginia Woolf got feedback from her writing style, maybe she mentioned about it in some foreword. Stream of consciousness questioned the way of writing. Who is writing and to whom it is written. I was surprised how fluent and easy Woolf's novels are, I get to the stream I guess.

In Sivuhenkilö the themes of the book main character has written are questioned by the literature world. Is there a grand theme that everyone wants to read about and that deserves to be lift up? I doubt that. It is a question of equality that books talk about various themes. At east I have a need to read about characters that live a life that I can relate and have the same thoughts I am dealing with. It is no one to say that the theme brought up is not relevant because it is not about the life of the majority, or what is thought to interest the majority. And I also think it is healthy to respect others and read about people who live a very different life. I have read novels and stories about people who think very differently and who have very different experiences in life than I have ever had. It builds understanding to give a thought why someone thinks as they does or lives as they does. It gives a new meaning for what we think as given and universal. In a narrow way of seeing we can't notice how strong meanings we give to concepts that are actually quite abstract and many sided. Like adulthood we are pushed to achieve. It holds many unspoken meanings that we just feel and we also know deep inside if we think we have failed to fulfill the norm. If different perspectives are not respected we bury a grand part of reality and let one interpretation of the concept win. And that means there is no discussion or re-evaluation but the old myths are left to prosper.

This book is written in Finnish and not yet translated to other languages (correct me if I am wrong). If you can read it in Finnish I truly recommend!

Happy Weekend!


Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Wall Plate Installation

Permanent markers. A pile of old plates that are originally from a thrift store. And few pictures from inspiring views. 

When I make my long walks I tend to stop and take pictures if something interesting catches my eye. Some weeks ago it was bright sunny day and I saw tracks on ice. Tracks looked like a graphic print to my eye. Back then I was making a quilting project and all that I saw connected to quilting. You know, I have quilting weeks (or months) when I quilt a lot and then I have a break and do other projects. So when I looked at the surface of the ice I thought it might work as a stitching pattern. I let this thought rest and went to plan next projects. 

Then two weeks ago I came across two white wall plates that I had in my cabinet. I had all sorts of ideas to decorate the plates but then I remembered the pictures I had taken of the tracks. I actually first thought about making these plates black and white. But why if there are all these spring colors to use. Free hand I began to draw the tracks that snowmobiles, skiers and people by foot had made to the ice. Then I colored the drawing. Working with permanent markers was a good school about accepting mistakes. It was not that easy to go and correct and I just had to let go and draw. When I followed the circling paths people had made I came to think about how it is said in Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago that "Life is no stroll through the field" (I like this saying and I wrote about it before when I talked about Cheryl Strayed's Wild). Actually these colored patterns on ice look like pictures taken from fields. I still think I might draw black and white version on paper using very thin marker. It would look like graphic print. It would be also easier to work on paper compared to slippery plates and permanent markers. When you scroll down you can see the two pictures I used when drawing the plates.

Monday, 19 March 2018

DIY Easter Twigs

Easter twigs are an essential part of traditional Easter decor. Here in Finland it is still winter on Easter. Easter twigs have been used to count how many days it is till leaves arrive to the trees. If I remember correct the number of days it takes for twigs to get leaves when brought in is the number of weeks it takes for the spring to be here. Because Easter twigs have been used to wish good luck for friends, relatives and neighbors I came up with the idea to decorate twigs with cute little gift tags. To the tags I wrote words that come to my mind when I think about Easter and Spring. You could also write short poems or wish good luck for the one you give an Easter twig. On an Easter table setting these simple and beautiful words work well and bring positive associations.

This is a fun and relaxing one evening craft. The materials are easy to get from store and you don't need to go to a specialized craft store if you don't have time. At least here in Finland bigger grocery stores sell cardboard paper and Easter craft supplies like feathers.

You will need:

Cardboard in subtle pink or white
Feathers in white, natural white and brown
Cotton yarn

Black marker

Step 1. Make a model for the gift tag. Draw 4 cm high and 2 cm wide tag and cut 0.5 cm from the corners. Then draw gift tags to the cardboard paper with the model. Write something to the gift tags with black marker.

Step 2. Cut out the tags and use a needle to add a hanging yarn. Hang gift tags and attach the feathers to the twigs. Choose a vase that goes with the natural hues of the paper, twigs and feathers.

Happy New Week to You All!


Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Secret History. When reality becomes blurred.

I don't know what took so long with Donna Tartt's The Secret History. I had a similar reading experience with A. S. Byatt's Possession. Both novels are enjoyable and have an interesting plot that keeps a reader hooked. When reading The Secret History I was keen to know how things will end up.  Still it took over two weeks to read this novel of 629 pages. I read Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina in eight days (as a challenge) but with this one I had difficulties to read more than 50 pages per day. I have been quite busy these past weeks and as a result I have been tired in the evenings when I usually do the reading so that might be something to do with it. Yet normally when I find a good read I tend to binge it quickly no matter what the circumstances. In the beginning this book made me anxious and I might have tried to avoid it's heavy atmosphere. When I got into the story it didn't feel that oppressive and I learned to read it as a good story. Also I liked that it took place with a group of classics students as I have studied both Latin and ancient Greek, many years ago that is, but still I found it as a fascinating detail. I have already forgotten the most I learned and I never went so deep in my studies that I could have spoken in Latin or ancient Greek (It is not usually even the point to learn to speak those languages). Neither were my study group in any way like the one described in the book which is only a good thing. 

11/52 Donna Tartt: The Secret History (1992). Young Richard is looking for a lifestyle that is completely different from his background. He works hard to attend to college as his parents are not willing to support his studies. When he hears about a group of special students that are studying ancient Greek he wants to get in. Other members of the group have some kind of elite upper class background and Richard lies about his parents to fit in. When inside the group he is drawn into a different way of thinking and seeing the world. Because the group spends so much time together they don't seem to operate with the same terms as the rest of the world. It is both fascinating and scary how the ancient culture and language they study begins to effect their logic. 

Ancient tales have been born in a culture that is different from the one we know now. Even though the Greeks and Romans have had a huge impact to the way our culture has formed it has still been a society based on norms and logic we do not share these days. When the group of six students and their teacher dig deeper and deeper to the ancient texts they begin to loose the modern world and their sense of reality. Closed groups are seductive with their power to make one feel special from everyone else. I began to think of a short story by Susan Sontag that I read some weeks ago, Old Complaints Revisited (I wrote about the collection of her complete Stories here!)where the main character has been part of a group and evaluates how it has affected to their life. It is good to find an interest of one's own and people who share the same passion. It is in human nature to need a group but sometimes groups can be too closed. In The Secret History it is described in a stylish way how small steps apart the classics group from other groups, other students and other thoughts and how fatal effects it has.

The small group twines together in a world of myths and ancient deities. The members of the group don't seem to find other students as their equals and communication with the others is sparse. Instead their thoughts are inspired by the classics they are studying. They are a group of absolute hedonists who want to live the roles given by ancient myths. This rises a question whether anyone has a right to demand divine experiences to fulfill one's own sense of superiority? Is it right to demand the knowledge about the essence of life that no one else has or to seek to live forever on the Earth when everybody else has to die? Is it right to keep oneself wiser than everyone else? And all this with the cost of others. It was scary how they sort of lost their sense of reality and began to see themselves as superior who have the power to evaluate others. It is the danger that lies in every group that is too closed and works just in a small circle not allowing anyone in to criticize it's logic. In a group where people encourage each other to think in a certain restricted way it is possible to create an own system of right and wrong. 

When the irreversible acts have happened the group of students begin to deal with guilt in different ways. If the reality was blurred for a while then after the horrible events the world and it's rules and laws begin to look clearer.  Their act that felt justified for a moment looks unforgivable in the daylight. It was interesting to follow the group's thinking process and the way they rationalized and made right something that is wrong in every aspect. What was justified according to the group's interest's was in huge contrast with the moral codes of the rest of the world. It is shocking how wrong decisions the group can lead itself when there is no one to bring in a new way of seeing things or to give objective opinion. An example of a different kind, one can try to find a solution to a problem but nothing comes up or the solutions are poor. A brainstorm with few people make one see things in a different light and find better solutions. When the members of the classics group become a one unit that comes up with bad solutions they should try to get a different perspective, but they don't. Also it is a good bad-example how group can lead itself to a sick decisions when all the members back each other and the group's inside reality becomes the only reality. They seem to lose their empathy for a while and act like in a game where they want to win without counting the costs. Afterwards the bad things they did to others begin to haunt the groups coherence. They begin to see each other as potential enemies. If the group could come to a such decision against one of it's members who is to know if that kind kind of joint decision is made again and I am the victim.  

Excellent read, truly recommend! Have you already read The Secret History? What kind of thoughts it provoked in you?

The open books in the picture are Latin to Finnish dictionary and The Bible in ancient Greek.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Comb Ceramic Inspired Easter Eggs

Easter is not so far away and I think it is time for a small Easter DIY project. I am not taking huge pressure about Easter decorations. Although I have to tell you about a nightmare I had in January. I saw a dream that Easter had gone and I hadn't decorated any Easter twigs and in that dream I was very sad about that and thought that now I have to wait another year to make things correct. It is a bit funny actually that after that dream I knew it was a nightmare but now that I think about it it would't be that tragic if I don't have any Easter twigs, laugh. But because of that dream and the feeling of disappointment I had in that dream I have already bought feathers to make Easter twigs. Also this Easter my friend from the other side of Finland is coming to spend the holidays with me so I want my home to look festive. Some decorative eggs, Easter twigs with feathers, Easter grass and a bunch of chocolate treats will do the thing. I have a storage full of decorations I have made during the years so I might bring some of my favorites to display. 

My recipe for a relaxed celebration is to spend some time with a simple craft that goes with the theme. Every now and then I like to put hands in clay so to speak and mold and ponder what shape the it will take. When I concentrate on some simple project it allows me to focus that moment and forget all the busy thoughts that sometimes occupy the mind. The best thing about this Easter Egg DIY is that the technique is easy and materials needed are minimal. In this DIY project you get to examine nature's own patterns, plan what kind of pictures to draw and feel the material taking shape. I got the inspiration for this project from the current terracotta trend and old comb ceramic objects that have the most interesting patterns. 

You will need:

Plastic Eggs
DAS Modelling Material in Terracotta Color

Tools to make patterns:
Get creative and look what you have in your cupboards. 
Look for example shells, wooden sticks, forks, knives, buttons, pearls, yarn..

Step 1. Cover the egg with modelling material. Put some water to your hands to make the material work better. Use knife if needed to make the surface about even.

Step 2. If you need guide lines to make the decorating easier, yarn is a great help.

Step 3. Decorate the egg with some pattern tool or draw triangles and lines with a toothpick. Here you can see some examples of tools that make interesting patterns. Shells are wonderful and create beautiful organic shapes. With a chopstick it was easy to make a fun dotted egg. Herringbone and triangles I have drawn with a toothpick. 

Step 4. Let the eggs dry about 24 hours or more. Turn the eggs to make them dry from all sides. Now you have trendy terracotta colored Easter eggs that go to different styles from minimalist to bohemian.

Inspiring new week to you all!


Monday, 5 March 2018

Winter Routes

River is a route. Highway since ancient times. Nowadays built roads have made the map a bit different. Before villages and houses used to situate by the river side. I would say quite a few people have a boat they can use in these modern times. During the summer time I take walks following the river line and my walks are bound to human built bridges. Winter gives me back the ancient route and makes it possible to walk to places that are too far in the summer time. 

There are many kinds of routes on the ice. Paths to walk, skiing tracks, snowmobile routes and car roads. Sometimes these little paths appear to curious places which tells a lot about the human nature. Shortcuts can be made through a pile of snow. One is ready to clear a path no matter how tricky it is and how much snow goes into the legs. This is me, this is my territory. I need to leave a mark. I have a freedom to go through, walk straight. And that freedom is used. Trickiest routes have butt prints. I guess it was worth it to stumble. Or maybe it is in human nature to seek adventure. On a way home, with large shopping bags in your hands you don't choose the pedestrian walk. Instead of that a slippery shortcut through a thick bush seems more appealing. 

When you look at these pictures you might think that there are no people anywhere. There is a contrast between what the pictures tell and how I would describe the same moment. On a sunny and warm winter day the river ice is full of people. Some ski alone enjoying the feeling of freedom and vast scenery that makes you think you can ski as long as your feet and skis take you. Some are with a friend sharing latest events of life. There are families having a picnic. Dog walkers. Enthusiastic sports people. What makes the pictures so empty is the space. Nature is something so big that only the prints on ice tell about the traffic. Human being alone looks small. The prints, stripes, dots, abstracts, that we make every day make us visible.

Adventurous paths to your week my Friend!