Blog Archives
##artists ##writing #aghostattheedgeofthesea #allisonlanda #ambition #anglosaxon #anniversaries #annpatchett #apocalypse #artists #awards #AWP #AWP14 #beyonce #blognote #blogs #blogtour #books #braggingforfriends #buzzfeed #California #carolemaso #cats #chai #characterization #children'slit #China #climatechange #community #craft #crossculturalrelations #distractions #dogs #education #eileenchang #english #etymology #events #failure #fairytales #fall #family #feminism #fiction #genre #gillianflynn #gratitude #helenoyeyemi #history #interviews #interwar #japan #kamilahaishamoon #kimgolden #kristinaweaver #kurtvonnegut #language #litakurth #lizgreen #lovecraft #LRB #manifestos #MariaTatar #marktwain #marthagale #MaryOliver #medicine #melissasipin #mental health #muppets #music #mynextgreatidea #mystery #mythology #names #nanowrimo #New York Times #nickturse #nilsenprize #nonfiction #NPR #objects #parksandrec #photos #poetry #poetsandwriters #psychology #racism #radiosilence #randomness #readers #readinglists #rebeccalynnforeman #rebeccasolnit #research #retro #reviews #robertfrost #russia #russiantales #sanfrancisco #science #shanghai #siliconvalley #slate #sleep #society #spring #steinbeck #Stockholm #stories #sweden #swedish #tea #theatlantic #thebrowndog #TheLoyaltyofWater #thenewyorker #thenovel #therumpus #thewritinglife #time #ttbook #TV #USA #vikings #washingtonian #waterofdeath #wateroflife #winter #women #wordhord #writers #writing #WWI #yeats mystery Required Materials WIP

Entries in #Stockholm (7)


Found at a Stockhom Flea Market

The weekend one at Hötorget, to be precise. I went with an eye for old Swedish books, and that's mostly what I found--with the notable exception of the 1926 Stanford yearbook, which was definitely odd. It's too big for my scanner, so I'll post portions of that one later on. I also came into a few Baedecker travel guides from the turn of the last century, filled with folded maps, and I'm going to have to figure out how best to scan them without hurting anything.

In the meantime, however, here are a few images of the books I brought home. I intended to cut them up, and maybe I still will...but several turned out to be far more interesting than I'd expected. So we'll see. I might have to go back for more.

"The White Slavetrader," 1943

An almanac with articles on industry, socialism, socializing, and other facets of Swedish life

"A Swedish Historical Novel," 1892

"Swedish Memories and Images," 1900


An Unusual Graveyard

This, however, is a typical sight in Swedish cemeteries

So a couple of days ago I took my cross country skis and went just down the street to this giant field that leads to a giant park with paths through the forest and beautiful views of the Baltic Sea. (Why yes, I am bragging just a little bit. When you only get 7 hours of sunlight a day, you gotta take what you can get.) I'm very new at this, but fortunately, it's not that complicated, and since many, many Swedes had been there before me, there were nice trails already cut through the snow. So I followed them.

This is the same place where, in other seasons, I go running, and yet it looks so different under a foot of snow--etherial, otherworldly, gorgeous, you name it. And yet, after about forty minutes, I found myself in a place I'd never seen before.

It appeared gradually, as I climbed up a hill with my skis pointed to the side, leaning on my poles so that I didn't slip backwards. There, in the middle of the forest, were these small lanterns, and as I got closer, I could see snow-covered headstones. It was a cemetery, and I held my breath just a bit as I awkwardly approached, feeling as though I were walking into a poem. Probably one by Robert Frost.

When I got close enough to brush the snow from the headstones and take a closer look, however, things began to seem a I couldn't quite put my finger on it until I found one that said (loosely translated), "To Penny. She gave me the best years of her life."

Penny, by the dates I saw, was only 16 when she died.

Click to read more ...


Why Are My Eyes Sad?

Not actually our tree, but still a Swedish Christmas tree.

So I bought a Christmas tree today from an Egyptian guy who had a bunch of them stuck out in the snow right by our house. It's a lovely tree, and it's currently in our apartment, upright, with two cats circling. (After all, not only is it a tree, but it came in with snow that they didn't have to go outside to experience.)

While he was wrapping it up in the tree-netting, though, after we'd discussed the relative merits of our home countries' political systems, he told me he wanted to ask me something.

Oh boy, I thought. Here we go. "Sure," I told him, preparing to turn down a date.

"Why do you have sad eyes?"

That one wasn't what I expected.

"Well, I don't know," I said finally. "I mean, I'm not actually sad."

"Ah, okay. Some people just have sad eyes. That must be it."

This wasn't the usual "Smile, gorgeous!" that creepy guys like to give women on the street now and then. And he didn't seem like a creepy guy. The conversation drifted to tree technicalities easily, and then I paid for the tree and dragged it home.

But this still begs the question: are my eyes actually sad? No one else has ever told me that. So either everyone has just been protecting me from the horrible truth, or maybe I really did look sad. The possibility that the young, lonely, cold guy who spoke no Swedish was trying to prolong the conversation and hit on me notwithstanding (my husband and my father, I know well, will pick this option), what could be causing sad-eyes?

1) Allergies. Definitely a contributing factor.

2) I'm deeply depressed but have no idea.

3) I was actually a little bummed about something just before I bought the tree and it showed on my face.'s number three (with a touch of number one). I didn't realize that it was going to be obvious, but as I walked from the mall to the tree place, I had just realized why I've been so reluctant to get to work this week. After a wonderfully productive retreat with the Stockholm Writers' Group, I now have a full draft. This will be (knock wood) one of the last full drafts of this book I ever write. In the new year, I'll send it off to my agent, and I hope with all sincerity that she'll then take it away to be sold.

In short, while the rest of you might get to enter this imagined world sooner rather than later, my own period of intimacy with it is almost done. For six years and change, I've been at it, off and on–but mostly on. I've spent so much time with these characters that they are as real to me as many famous real people out there I hear about but have never met. More real, even. And just now, just as I'm getting things to where I am really happy with what the book is and does, I have to send it away. Maybe it's kind of like sending a kid to preschool just after you get them toilet trained. And I do joke that I'll tell our kids (when they exist) that this book is their older sibling.

Jokes and comparision to kids aside, I know I can't be the first writer or artist to feel this way near the culmination of a large project. I'm actually pretty bad at finishing projects in general. I took a personality test once that gave you indices of how driven you supposedly are by all of these theoretically-motivating factors. And guess what I got for "Completing Things," or whatever it was called. Yes, that's right: 0. That was my lowest score, even lower than "Neatness." (Swear to god, Mom, it really was!) It's probably tied into why I write novels vs shorter pieces in the first place. This way, I get to sit with these characters and their world for years.

I wish for all possible success with this book, I really do. But it's still bittersweet to give it up.


I Didn't Expect This

So despite the weather--or, more accurately, because of it--I'm having a really hard time staying in to finish the novel. I'm so close. I'm in that magical part where things are just falling into place as though they were always meant to be that way, and it's SO much fun, so energizing, etc. (And I am in no way taking this for granted.) 

And yet. There's a whole lot of snow outside. There are only so many hours of daylight. And while my snowboots aren't quite as warm as I hoped, my parka is performing impeccably, and I sometimes even get hot. And I just found out about these spikes you can strap to your running shoes so you don't fall on your ass on the ice. And did I mention that I'm going to pick up a pair of used cross country skis tomorrow morning?? The boots guy stood me up, but I won't let that stop me for long. After all, what else am I going to do with a pair of skis and poles besides go ski in the giant snowfields and woods just next to our house?

It's pretty great out there. Sorry, locals. I love it. And fortunately for my novel, I do actually get down to work when night falls, which happens these days around 3pm. (Still love it.)

(All temps below in celcius. It's just so much more dramatic that way when it's cold.)


Here in November

Approximately 3:30 pm, mid-November, looking southwest. Doesn't get any lighter than in that direction.

The leaves are almost all gone, save for a late-turning bramble bush in the courtyard outside and some stubborn willows. The grass remains, for now; the snow that fell while we were back in California wasn't nearly enough to burn it out, not yet. But it'll go, too, in time. And the sun begins to dip below the horizon at about 3:30. Or maybe it's 3:20 now. I haven't looked in a little while, and we're still losing something like five minutes of daylight with each spin on our axis. 

As far as I can tell, complaining about winter in Stockholm is the ex-pat sport of choice. And maybe I'll partake once it's February, or worse, March. But for now, it's just above freezing, sometimes even closer to 10 degrees celcius (one of my favorite temperatures, as it equates exactly to 50 degrees farenheit). I can handle that kind of weather. I've only brought out my mega-parka once, when I went to get some pizzas while fighting off a cold, and it was still overkill.

Granted, there is the darkness. I've spent so much time asking myself what I think of the darkness that I don't really know what I think. It's light when I wake up, which is good, though I know that won't last. And five pm in the winter, regardless of where I live, seems like a very reasonable time for it to be fully dark. So it's really just about that strange window of darkness, now lasting for just over an hour, in the late afternoon. 

It's tricky, that hour or so. I have to remember that it's not dinnertime when I get hungry around four--just time for a snack. My work for the day isn't done yet, either, and if I plan on running outside, since I like to run in the woods, I probably should do so a little bit earlier than usual. It really is the flip side of summer, when I would consider maybe sort of winding down as the sun began to vanish, only to realize that it was already 10 pm. While it's probably treason to admit this in this country, in this month, that actually got a little annoying. When we went to New York in July, there were stars. I'd missed stars.

But it would be naive to expect that the weak winter daylight (or lack thereof, really) won't get to me eventually. When I told a friend of mine where we were moving, he responded, "Oh cool. I've always wondered how I would respond to an environment that extreme." I guess it really is that, when you think about where humans originated; we were/probably-still-are designed to live awfully close to the equator, and we haven't been away from it for that long, evolutionarily speaking. It might do strange things to our brains, the lack of warmth and daylight. I'm sure it's no coincidence that the so-called "vodka belt" is located entirely in the great white north. Alcohol is a pretty reliable pick-me-up, at least in the short term. Self-medication is nothing if not an indication of human adaptability at its finest. (And don't get me started on Nordic countries and coffee. What I miss most about food and drink in the States is decaf on demand. Yeah, I said it.)

But on the other hand, I'm actually a pretty decent example of the extent to which people have managed to evolve for life well away from the equator. Blond hair, blue eyes, pale pale skin--check, check, and check. Back in California I had to remember both my sunglasses and sunscreen, or I got burned. Literally. Forgot about that.

So we'll see how we get along over the next few months, the darkness and me. I'm really hoping I won't turn into the inverse of Al Pacino in that movie about murders in Alaska where he can't sleep because it's too light. (Eyeshades, Al. Eyeshades are a necessity.) But I don't actually know how it'll be. After all, we're only about a month out from the solstice, at which point it'll start snowing (I hope!) and gradually getting lighter. Right now I light candles, turn on the music, consider the gym, research basement jazz clubs--and think about those poor people up there in Kiruna, or worse, Alert, Canada. Now THAT'S darkness. I really don't know anything down here.