Category Archives: THINGS I LIKED

From the pinnacle to the pit

I heard you were a poet. But a poet of no words? (Shakespeare in Love)

As a writer it’s always strange when you find yourself unable to express something verbally. It’s as if your go-to toolbox has been misplaced. As if the screwdriver that worked fine yesterday no longer fits.

My stories are emotional turmoil processed by time and structured by hindsight. I can seldom express anything if the impact is too recent – like now. I sit here trying to verbalise yesterday’s experience at a Ghost concert, but I’m strangled by too much… something (can’t even find an appropriate noun).

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Me nineteen years ago. Strangely prophetic.

To describe this concert, I have to borrow from myself. Last summer I wrote some fan fiction because the new album totally fucked me up, and those words still ring truer than anything I could write today.

The lights explode into being, like the first day all over again: it’s the parting of light from darkness and the celestial dance that started then and hasn’t slowed down since. The music soars, guitars and keys and drums and bass, and the light splashes on Special where he crowns the stage, ghastly and glorious. As the auditorium erupts in screams, he holds his arms out to them, embracing them all. He’s a beacon of darkness, a charity for the hopeless. And when his voice resounds through the air, it’s a sizzle down Papa’s neck. Special isn’t just singing, he’s pulling his soul out with an iron fist, ripping his heart from its cage and holding it aloft, dripping darkly, like a sacrifice.

Papa shudders in equal parts horror and euphoria. He’s never seen him in action, never witnessed the transformation from flesh to flame. From the back, Special looks like the incarnation of Papa’s every desire. The shafts of light cut themselves on his dark silhouette. A platitude comes to mind – that the smallest light can banish any darkness. Well, look at this. You can shine the brightest lamp, but it only takes one man to stand in front of it and cover the world with his shadow. Everywhere he goes, the spots follow him and are devoured. Where he plants his feet, he slices through the beams. Nothing can get past him.

Special pauses in his singing, holding the microphone to his chest and staring out at the crowd. He knows. He feels it too. What Papa and he only dreamed of, what they planned but didn’t see the full scope of – it’s now conceived. It’s born and growing in the world. When the masses out there open their throats in praise, when they sing Special’s words back at him, it’s more than an invocation. It’s the realization of the impossible. A sea of lonely creatures coming together, truly coming together for one purpose. Yes, they talked about the dominion of the world, of an infernal new era, but this is that era not only nascent but adolescent. Special has become a demi-god. He has them in his fist, and they’re delirious to be so trapped.

(Scriptures of Abundance on AO3, enter at own risk
– it’s adult and blasphemous and bloody)

So… yeah. Ghost. Six years ago we saw them in a small venue closer to home, we stood ten metres from Papa and could have touched him. Last night we squinted at a tiny figure on the other side of a hall in Stockholm. Bigger, more lavish backdrop, bigger better lights. Everything turned up to eleven. From a perfect seed, this perfect flower. Two and a half hours of musical generosity. The heat of flames in an unapologetic celebration of life and death.

There’s nothing like lyrics about death to make you feel alive. When an entire hall sings “While you sleep in earthly delight, someone’s flesh is rotting tonight” it kind of makes you realise that no one in there is dead. For all our collective romanticising of the Grim Reaper, every one of us is still here, still on this earth – but we won’t always be. And isn’t that one of art’s ultimate goals? To make you feel alive and mortal, to make you grab what you have in the moment because the moment is all you have?

But it’s so goddamn lopsided. Yes, you can sing your throat raw and clap and scream and even write gushy fan letters if you’re so inclined, but in the end the communication is very one-way. I wish there was some way to reciprocate, you know? As I expressed it to my husband, “I feel like a dog that tries to lick your face when you pet it, just because it wants to give something back.” To which he replied, “Oh, okay, like – yes, hello Tobias? My wife wants to lick your face.”

Which is only half true!

It’s just… you want to convey that age-old fan feeling that a piece of art makes an actual, concrete difference in your life. That your soul would be less without it. That when a fictional stage character tells 14 000 people he can see through the scars inside them, you feel personally addressed. That you can hear something quintessentially Swedish in the music and it makes you ridiculously proud. And that when he uses Neil Peart’s phrase “plateau of untouchable” in an interview, you want to shout, “Yes! I can quote the entirety of Beyond the Lighted Stage too!”

But today, of course, I’m crashing. A “See Naples and die” feeling. The post-gig blues from hell – literally. Questions about what I’m doing with my life, why I’m not in a place where I feel as limitless as I did during Faith or Year Zero.

The euphoria of last night is a blue memory now, a thing of the past, something that almost never happened. Now there’s just us and the desolate waste and the rest of our lives, and nothing but our own hands and minds to till the land we don’t recognize. No authorities, no one to go crying to. No one to tell us what to do. What you can’t make for yourself you’ll never have.

That was always the message, wasn’t it?

But now it’s true, now it’s here. This is reality now. The dance is our own. We invent the steps even as we tread the ground, even as we test the firmness of earth that may give way at every turn.

You’re the conductor now.

(Before and After on AO3)

As the cardinal would have it, “this is the moment of just letting go.”

But I can’t let go, and so what remains but to engage in some symbolic consumption in the online merch shop?

Fernweh, homesickness, and the ever-elusive Here-and-Now

The Germans have some smashing words, Fernweh being one of them. Fern = far away, distant, and Weh = pain or woe. It means that you’re homesick for a place you haven’t necessarily been. Very Sturm und Drang.

I experience something similar, or in between, with England and Wales. Neither of them is my country, and yet… Gah. If Britain were a person, it would be “the one that got away”. It’s always there, like an evil siren, pretending to be something it’s not. Calling to me with memories whose silver nitrate sheen has nothing to do with truth. I know my image of the place is very different from the reality of living there, but there’s no accounting for childhood impressions. You feel what you feel.

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But I can also get homesick for the place I actually am. Filled with yearning for the present moment. When something is so overwhelmingly good in a banal sort of way, and yet impossible to handle or reach or know what to do with, because feelings are unwieldy beasts and my brain is too small for their limitless nature. How many times have I asked myself when I’ve actually been in England or Wales, “How do you wrap a whole country in your arms? How do you hug this sceptered fucking isle?” And the answer, of course, is that you don’t. You can’t. A country is vast, and you are small. We’re not built for it.

Except… we are. Humans, for all their flaws, have one redeeming feature: artistic expression. Through this one divine spark, we can touch something like the truth.

How do you embrace something that’s a thousand times bigger than you? The only way is through music, through writing, through art. You don’t try to hold it for longer than it takes you to play it, describe it, or paint it. You accept it, and let it wreak its havoc with you because really, there’s no alternative unless you want an ulcer. Life is a fleeting moment of euphoric dread. Those who feel it deeply can touch fingertips through the very best of us who have the gift to make it tangible.

”Is it not strange that sheep’s guts should hale souls out of men’s bodies?” (Much Ado About Nothing, 2.iii).

For me it’s always Elgar. The man whose auditive paintbrush is dipped in the misty green of rolling English hills. Who somehow looked into my soul before I was born and wrote the music that described my homesickness for a place I can never call mine.

And they say INTPs are emotionless machines!

No tasks done, no pretty planner!

DSC_0190_01.JPGSo I’ve been in a bit of a slump lately (grief, cloudy weather, incessant car problems, broken mobile, thyroid issues, and back pain can do that to a girl), and I almost felt like my post the other day was a total lie. It sounds like the bullet journal means I’ve got everything figured out. I don’t, but it does help. I think that without it, I would have been completely under the weather, but with it, I’ve managed to take one step at a time and accomplished a few things.

Like today! Today I had a brightish idea. I’ve been devouring images of other people’s pretty mood trackers, and their creative ways of ticking off each day prompted me to try something new with my “task boxes”.

To begin with, they looked like this:

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Simple and plain. Tick each box as I do the task. But it wasn’t very motivating, just demoralizing when I didn’t fill them in and the row of empty boxes stared at me accusingly at the end of the day.

Enter prettiness!

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Today I didn’t allow myself to really decorate my daily spread until I’d done my tasks. I decided that one task (student assignments I had to grade) would be a purple garland – purple is my colour code for the course in question, and the garland felt like a nice addition to the “g” in the Swedish word for Wednesday in my planner. And the brightish idea I mentioned above was that I couldn’t add my garland until I graded the assignments!

To begin with, I drew each leaf as I opened a new student document and then filled it in once I’d posted my feedback. I could have drawn them all first and then filled them in as I went, but seeing all my unfinished tasks felt too stressful, so I concentrated on one at a time. Towards the end, when I realized I would have the energy to complete them all, I drew the final five leaves in one sitting.

So the natural response to something like this is “Good god, girl! This way everything you do takes five times as long to complete. How does that help your productivity?”

And the answer is, well, the alternative is I don’t do it at all but sit in a corner and whimper, okay? 😀 Some things in life you have to do even though you hate them, and one of those things for me is to tell others how to write correct references according to the APA system. I hate writing references myself, and I hate telling others what to do, so when you combine these two… you get the picture. So really, having a system like this where I get a silly little reward for each time I point out that someone missed a comma here or should have italicized that, it really helps!

Oh, and I also completely drowned my October cover spread in Too Much Stuff, so it went from this

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to this!

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A kick in the behind for the creative mind

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Are you a highly creative person who constantly struggles with structure and efficiency? Who flings yourself with abandon into every shiny new thing, and then you lose track of your thoughts or lose interest once you’ve jotted down your ideas in a notebook you’ll never look at again?

If so, this blog post may not help you at all – but you already know that, don’t you? Because you’ve already poured hours of your life into an Internet drain of tips and tricks to get more organized. You’ve hoarded planners and notebooks and pens – you’ve even tried Outlook’s calendar because everyone said it was the future. Or you’ve put things into your phone with alarms attached, but when the alarm went off you still didn’t do the thing because the time was wrong, or you missed it because it wasn’t in the to-do list you were following on that particular day.

Well. I know how you feel. And I hope I’ve found a Panacea.

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This has nothing to do with the blog post, but my hands are beginning to resemble my mum’s. It’s so weird to look down at them and see HER hands!

You may not be like me (INTP, 5w4, air-and-fire chart, cold-but-sensitive, disciplined-but-lazy, razor-sharp scatterbrain), and you may not be helped by what I’m about to tell you. But I’ve had an epiphany, okay? And who has the strength to keep quiet about epiphanies? So anyway, my big Eureka moment came when I realized that it’s essential for me to play at work. To use precious time to do silly things like writing and rewriting and colour-coding things in a planner, or drawing elaborate brain-storming maps on giant pieces of paper.

And perhaps, perhaps using a bullet journal.

You see, a while ago I got a relevant ad on Facebook. I know, unicorn, right? Never happens. But it did happen. I got an ad for this blog, and I checked it out because I sensed that it would speak to me. Sure enough, it proved to be a veritable rabbit hole, and I dove in with all the death-defying grace of Evel Knievel. After a few hours of reading, I took Little Coffee Fox’s advice and decided to apply my creativity to the most boring aspects of my life. To force those boring things into my world of colour and fun.

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I did struggle for a while. The whole of September disappeared into a frenzy of trying to merge my new bullet journal system with the GTD system I’d been using so far. I read David Allen’s book a few years back and it changed my life, especially the “next task” bit which has really helped me get control over my planning. But I used to use a binder and rip out my ugly, prefab weekly spreads when I was done with them, which meant that I didn’t keep any memories from my life. It’s like I obliterated the days I’d lived every Friday, and when I came across bullet journalling, I realized I didn’t want to live like that.

Okay, it wasn’t just the bullet thing. It was also the death of a friend. I suddenly felt like oh my god, this stretch of time on Earth actually is precious and I want to remember it, savour it, live it consciously.

And here was this system that would let me do exactly that.

But integrating bullet journalling into GTD was easier said than done. Results partially demonstrated below.

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I’ve been using a binder for so long that I’ve forgotten how not to move pages around all the time. As I improvised with the new system, I had to rip pages out and glue them in where I needed them – and then redo it all again when that didn’t work either.

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Pretty, yeah? Nah. Not exactly something you’d post to Instagram to brag about your planner.

I pondered going back to my binder so many times, but there were two things that stopped me:

  1. Every so often – since I’m a total klutz – I’ll drop things. And when binders hit the floor, well… basically, papers fly, which means you can kiss your careful organization goodbye.
  2. The fucking rings! They’re in the way 24/7. You can’t write on the left side of your spread, and bullet journalling absolutely depends on The Spread. I was not going to miss out on The Spread because of the fucking rings.

So I persevered.

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Not very far into my bullet journal adventure, I realized that having pages with Random Stuff in between my weekly spreads was a no-go. Scotch tape to the rescue! But does it feel inspring to use a falling-apart planner with scotch tape all over the place?

No.

So after a few weeks of agonizing, doodling, thinking, ripping-out, glueing-in again, and taping together of pages, I finally decided to abandon my first “growing-pains” journal and migrate to – yes, I fell for it – a Leuchtturm1917. :-/

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And it actually seems to be worth it. I love the dotted grid and the prenumbered pages. I love the discipline it inspires in my hand.

I also love the slew of coloured pens I splurged on because… well, I can rationalize all I want, but I needed to say ‘fuck you’ to certain aspects of my life (dead friends and all that), so I felt like I deserved something frivolous. Also I needed to reconnect with a younger me who loved all things colourful and stationary-related (and who hadn’t met said friend yet… You want symbolism? I’ve got symbolism!).

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So yeah. I remember now. Pen and paper was my first love in life. That said, I love – no, I adore – computers and gadgets and editing software and the Internet. But now and again, I need to touch base with pen and paper in hand, with doodles and colours and the actual physicality of putting pen to paper. I need to feel the structure in the page, the way the ink flows from my fingertips.

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Sometimes I think I deserve my back pain. This is my idea of ergonomy – and always has been. No desks for me as a child. Floor or bed works fine.

It’s simple, really. A child would understand it. I’ve always known I was creative, but when life/work/accountant types have told me to suppress it, I’ve dutifully suppressed it (until the drudgery of soulless work drained me of all sense of fun and I lost the will to live).

But no more. Nowadays I follow my whims and spend time decorating my planner, thinking through the day to come with colourful pen in hand, however frivolous it may seem when I’ve got tons to do. Because sooner or later, I know I’ll check off all my duties, but since I’m inspired to do them, I’ll be much more efficient.

So when I’ve tired out my brain with reading scientific reports for two hours, I don’t force-feed it more scientific reports just because there’s still a pile to get through. Instead I turn to something else, something fun and silly and “pointless”, and I let myself do that until a new spark leads me in a more “serious” direction again – which invariably happens!

You just have to trust yourself to get back in the groove after your little outing into la la land. Because if you don’t allow yourself to play, you won’t do the other things well either.

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Funnily enough, this way of living often leads to the opposite of procrastinating: I do things that don’t need to be done in months, instead of what’s actually on my desk at the moment. But the great thing about this is that when the deadline for the future thing approaches, I’ve long since started the project and perhaps even half finished it, so I already have wind in my sails!

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To sum up, I firmly believe that if you’re creative (and I mean deeply, pathologically creative), you need to make your life creative, even the boring things. Like, sure, you can curse your way through paying your bills and cleaning your house, or you can – I dunno – put on some music and dance with the broom? You know best what will work for you, but my point is that we have a choice either to suffer through the boring stuff by closing our eyes and thinking of England, or we can make the task adapt to us instead of the other way round.

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Finally, a note on the often gorgeous spreads you see on Instagram and the like: those are the result of painstaking practice and countless mistakes. Nothing is perfect the first time – or the thousandth time. There’s always a different truth behind the scenes.

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Art, artsiness, and pretty things

This is art. We know this because it’s called art by people who know these things. In this case, it’s art that I love. It was made by Mats Caldeborg and is called Himmelsförsök och Hund (rough translation: A Try for Heaven and Dog).

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But it’s kind of rare that I love visual art that’s officially recognised as such. I have no patience for naivistic painters or splotches of colour. Others love it, great. I want to see what it’s supposed to be.

Like these pictures I got at a second hand shop yesterday. I actually hesitated before buying them, only because I was worried they were too vulgar. But so what? I liked them. They fit my hallway. Why is this even an issue?

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Because of prestige. Because liking figurative art, especially if you like it indiscriminately (as in, I’ll hang any old picture of a flower or a boat on the wall as long as it looks like a flower or a boat), is looked down on in some circles. And I get it, I really do. I want my movies to make me think, and I like music that surprises me. I’m not always in the mood for anything lightweight there. But when it comes to visual art, I just don’t want to have to work for it. I want it served on a silver platter. I want it to be pretty.

Because I really love pretty things. Kitschy, vulgar, glittery things that shimmer and sparkle and have lots of colours. I want it to be over the top and gaudy, otherwise what is there to look at?

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Sometimes I think I’m caught in some kind of time warp where I’m compelled to buy things I would have adored as a ten year old. It’s definitely the case with fabric, since I am in no way a seamstress, and yet I can’t help buying all these pretty swaths of cheap, spangled material that I never find a use for except to hang from the ceiling in my Indian room.

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It’s how I write too. Some people would probably call it purple prose. I call it verbal painting, music in words. What’s the point of text if it’s not beautiful? Over-burdened, yes perhaps. And there is also beauty in simplicity. But to translate a feeling into words, you either have to create a situation for your character that sparks the same reaction inside the reader, or you have to create the image for them by conjuring glitter and sparkle with the help of language.

It’s an age-old battle between the ornate and the minimalistic, and neither is an obvious winner. Sometimes you need the baroque, and other times a bare space.They’re different modes that speak of different things. So yes, I love the riot of colour in my home, but I also love artsy black and white photographs of musicians.

Which is all to say fuck all really. 🙂 Here’s a couple of artsy black and white photographs of a musician.

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Book hangover

Just finished re-reading my absolute number 1 favourite book of all time, and now I’m… in that weird mood. Book hangover mood.

I’ve read this book maybe ten times since I was sixteen and first got it from a relative, and I’ve been waiting so long since the last time because when you know a book by heart, you’re not really reading it. So I had to wait until I could feel it again, and now I’ve done it. Squeezed the last drops out of it for a while, and it makes me happy and sad and nostalgic, and now I don’t really know what to do with myself…

But hubby’s making something yummy downstairs, and food solves all problems, so I guess it’s dinner and a glass of wine, and another five year wait until I can read it again. Because I will. Because some books are like friends, and even if you lose touch, you’ll never forget.

I guess I’m saying that books matter. Whoever the writer is, whatever their views and politics and prejudice and whatever, a book is a world unto itself. Books may come through us, but we don’t own them. And for every person who reads, they mean something different.

The artist is flawed. The work is perfect. Just be grateful for those times when the words or the notes or the colours settle in the pattern that’s just for you, because nothing can take that away.

The power of art

Today I watched the movie Pride again. Fourth time in a month, and it still has the power to punch me in the gut. To others, it may just be a run-of-the-mill British feel-good film about miners, but for me it pushes all the buttons and then some.

To begin with, Wales. *sigh* I can’t begin to express the beauty of that country. As a child, I was dragged back and forth across the Black Mountains year after year, and it remains my secret second home.

There’s no feeling like standing on top of the world, looking down at that patchwork of hedges and fields while the sheep graze around you and your skin shines with something which is neither mist nor drizzle, but something in between.

I love Wales. Love it. The cherry pies, the pretty villages, the welcoming people, the bracken and the foxgloves, the sheep and the rabbits, the castles and the churches. And you know what they say: if Wales was flattened out, it would be bigger than England.

I’m sad to say I haven’t been to Onllwyn, but I’ve sort of skirted it. The dotted line on this map shows some of the roads I cycled as an eleven-year-old who didn’t have a clue what had gone on here just two years before.

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Onllwyn is at the bottom of the image, just above Seven Sisters.

I could go on about Wales all day, but I’ll move on to Gethin. He has all of 1% of the storyline, but that’s what really stays with me. I know all about coming from a small village and getting the hell out of there because you’re the local weirdo. When Hefina wishes him Nadolig Llawen over the phone… oh Lord. I get misty just thinking about it.

And then there’s Bill Nighy. Christ, he’s good in this film. His scenes don’t feel like a movie at all, but like a documentary. When he speaks about the “dark artery”, it feels like listening to a real person, telling their own story. Actually, that’s another of this movie’s strong points, that it does such an amazing job of telling several people’s story in just a few brush strokes. They don’t spell it out, they rely on the audience to get it, and it’s extremely effective.

Like Maureen’s son who objects to the “gay invasion”, but you can see him fidget and fret about it. Like the god-awful scene at the nightclub between Tim and Mark. Perfect, understated, beautiful. A stab in the heart. Or like the first time the van arrives in Onllwyn, and they look out to see the children with their bikes, standing around in the street because there’s nothing else to do. It’s so real. I see it around me today.

What else? Oh, Bread and Roses, the song/poem that speaks about how you don’t just need to survive physically, but that you need something else, too – dignity, culture, love. Because without that, what are you fighting for? I cry every time. In fact, all the music is spot on and almost another character in the film. Not to mention the perfect blend of 70’s and 80’s fashion that sets the tone.

This is not the last time I watch this movie. Maybe in a while it’ll only be once a month, but it’s shot straight up there to my top ten of all time, and it won’t budge for less than a miracle. But more importantly, it has told me something about my own life: I need a Cause.

So that’s my vague almost-resolution for 2016: to find something to believe in and fight for. I have no idea where to start. I’m sure people around me have lots of suggestions, but I need to find it for myself. If I don’t feel it, it won’t happen. But I know I want it, and hopefully my brain will catch on when the opportunity comes.

Because I have heard the message of Pride: while we’ve been gathering our iPads and shoes and knick-knacks, and while my own damn country is building a fucking fence against the rest of the world, something important has been lost. And I, the most individualistic of all individualists, intend to find it again.