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Sunday, May 10, 2020

Ideal Me

Confession: I've slept better during these few quarantine months than I had for ever since I had my first child, meaning 11 years ago. The kids are older now and they don't wake up 8 times a night, that's for sure. But also, not having to perform life has relaxed the hell out of me.

Because lately, it had turned into a performance. I had found what I call my Ideal Me — the kind of a diligent, socially active person that I had always admired — and I had started to test it out, to see what it would be like to become that person. I had become seriously immersed in several associations, not a week went by without organizing some kind of a gregarious event in the village, and this added to my usual work of writing novels, directing choirs and jam sessions and raising kids was starting to affect my tranquility.

So when the news of a quarantine set in, after the inital shock had worn off, I have to admit that I was secretly content to drop everything. Everything but writing, that is; still had that 8th novel to finish, but doing only that was a piece of cake. I started to sleep 10 hours a night of deep, restful, restoring sleep. I started to smell the forest again. I taught music to my kids, had long talks with the husband, baked bread and cooked slow, delicious meals. We decided to buy some hens: the man started to build a chicken coop.

I finished that 8th novel, too.

Tonight marks the last night of total confinement. I find myself stressing over enlisting in society once more. I feel taking up associative work a terrible bore. Hustle and bustle on the streets? Don't want it. I'm too content with silence.

Many people feel there has definitely been a change in them, in the way they see the world, in the way they feel about life. Many have felt useful for the first time and do not want to let go of that feeling. It is a precious feeling to be sure, the feeling of purpose, maybe even a meaning. I am no oracle, but I'm sure many will move to the countryside to be closer to nature, closer to family, closer to themselves. Many will change their jobs, vote for someone new, get involved somehow.

What will change for me? I'm almost certain to drop out of the associations and several of my social activities. I want to be able to sleep this well.  I will raise chickens, plant more vegetables, take time to meditate much more. I will take more time to look at my children and talk to them. I want to start living the life I want to live, and not the life I admire.

And what of the Ideal Me? What will become of her?

Oh, I love her. She's a dear! So active, so sefless, so indefatigable, such a smiley face and pleasant demeanor, such an enterprising ball of fire!

But she's not me. She's more like corona, a virus that will drive you mad, and in the end, if you survive it, will have taught you who you are, and most importantly: who you are not.

Friday, April 17, 2020

A dog in the mist

Boy, I tell you, PMS is a bitch. It’s even more a bitch when middle age is closing in. It’s utterly horrible when you’re confined in the same house with two kids and a husband, whom you love dearly, but who can not, in all honesty, provide comfort at all times and respond to my every psychological / philosphical need with an omnipotent blanket of patience and empathy. The worst thing is, we get into arguments over the stupidest things that exist. Conspiracy theories, people. Yes.

Not that he believes in them. Nor do I. But as we heard in the beginning of this week, we're only half way through with the quarantine. People are getting lonely, desperate for communication and understanding, and frankly going insane. I have never seen such an inundation of conspiracy theories on social media as I have during the last month. Not only the usual ones, but brand new ones have become mainstream, and it's pretty hard trying to avert one's eyes from seeing them every-single-day. (You know. The government doesn't do anything/ it overreacts; there are way too many people dying/ there are less people dying than ever; quarantine is inefficient, herd immunity is needed/ herd immunity is inefficient, more quarantine is needed; who is keeping masks from us/ who is profiting from selling us all these masks; why can't we get masks/ why should we wear masks, they are inefficient; why can't we be given chloroquine, they want us dead/why are we pushed to take chloroquine, they want us dead; 5G causes corona/ we'll all get it without 5G; New World Order is taking over as we look away/ banks are profiting from all these bankruptcies to get stronger; China is behind this, there are not enough deaths in China/ China has more deaths than anyone, they are keeping information from us; It was created in a lab in China/ it was created in a lab in the US/it was created by WHO; It was the Muslims/it was the Jews; only vegetarians are saved/ only meat-eaters are saved; It was Elon Musk/George Soros/Bill Gates/Emmanuel Macron/Barack Obama/Donald Trump/ the EU/ a serving of bat soup.)

I have to admit: I have tried reasoning. Pointing out inaccuracies and plain lies in the diverse theories. Boy, is that a waste of breath. The ideas just run at every direction, pointlessly, like a dog in the mist looking for a lamp post to urinate on. 

Then I've tried blocking. Just block and freeze the hell out of every fearmonger. As new ones flood in, it's hard to keep up. In some cases, it's a sure way to lose friends and acquintances, who believe you are either insensitive to their suffering, or just blinded from The Truth: that we're all being lied to and abused by The System, a hidden hand that guides us, so hidden that it's invisible actions are only visible to those in possession of remarkable mental clarity: themselves.

Are these complex hidden structures, that require an in-depth understanding of political theory and a knowledge of political history plus a vast comprehension financial theory and practice, are they seen and decoded by those with the most education, the most studies, the most experience? Logically, that is how it would be. In reality, I'm sorry to point out, it's the opposite. Hard-core conspiracy theoreticians are usually the less educated and the less employed.
It would thus be easy to dismiss this as another example of human stupidity and gullibility. E basta!

Not that simple. Many of the people I know and love are now flirting with these ideas. I can no longer dismiss them as just stupid or uneducated. Not when I see how afraid many of them really are, scared frozen, unable to help themselves, convinced that we are all heading towards our doom. 

Then a friend asked me if I had ever considered the idea of conspiracies being a religion. Well, maybe, I answered, I guess I sort of had. Except when I gave it some more thought, I realized that my friends  that are the most prone to conspiration theory thinking are those that are also the least religious. How does this all match up, then?

In the olden days, when a famine ravaged a country, when a debilitating disease ate its way through a population, when nature destroyed entire cities, it was not the crowned heads that the people looked to, fisrt and foremost. It was to God. If death took its toll, well, it was the will of God. What a relief that must have been to the kings and queens of those days. Sort of a generic pain killer, a palliative for the government.

When I was growing up, it was more common to be a member of some church or another than not. Then came the nineties, when leaving the church gained massive momentum. It was the intelligent thing to do, after all; a human did not need a higher power to explain his existance. What a silly thing, to believe in a higher power that controls us, a hidden hand that plays us like marionettes, that disasters, diseases and famines were caused by an invisible dominance!

Except in any given conspiracy theory, we ARE being controlled by a higher power, a hidden hand, played like marionettes by invisible dominance. 

In a modern democracy, these outdated scenarios of fatalism could, of course, never take place. A democracy places the people in the position of power. So when things go wrong, we do not look for an account to be given, no! We do not place the blame, we take the blame. We take responsibility. We take immediate action, we lead through example. 

Sound familiar?

Nope, to me neither. We hold our government accountable, for we have elected them as our representatives. But the problem is just that: the politicians represent us, they represent all of us. Not only the brilliant, all-knowing, all-seeing intelligent and accountable side of us. Being human, they also represent the lying, hiding, sniveling, back-stabbing, egotistical and greedy as hell side. So, when a disaster happens and an account has to be given, we are given the kind of account that we ourselves would give when caught unprepared, hand in a cookie jar. Nothing happened! This is nothing at all! I didn't do it! I knew this would happen if we left HIM in charge! No-one could have predicted this! Nothing actually happened, fake news!

Under authoritarian regimes, it seems there are much less consipracy theoreticians. One must wonder why. Is it because they're so much better off? In Russia, in China? So much happier with the way things are run, especially since they are not in any way involved with the decision-making processes, and do not really get to know what the government is up to at any given time? Of course not. They are just silenced, scared to disagree, and for good reason.

So, in a way, hearing all these people running their mouths at our government is actually good news. It means this is still a democracy, and people can still blather any old nonsense into the void if it makes them feel better.

And for those of you out there that still feel the icy, gripping hand of an invisible, invincible new world order around your unsuspecting neck, do us all a favor. Treat your fear as if it was fear of gods, which it sort of is. Become a non-believer. You are an atheist anyway, right? The word atheist comes from ancient Greek: a-théos, without god. What would the denomination be for a person without dogma? Adogmist?

There it goes again, that dog in the mist, wandering aimlessly, looking for a new lamp post to micturate upon.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Civil disobedience

Do you realize that we've been qurantained for less than 3 weeks now, and that we might still have a month or two to go?
I don't, let me be honest about that. 
Until now, it's been like a qurantine honeymoon. I had long understood that I had taken on way too many responsibilities and added to my work load. Now I just write. It is a refreshing change, almost a relief. I write all day every day. That could be a good thing, since I have a deadline to meet for my next novel.

But I have two children and a husband. Each of them has needs. Kids, as you well know, are the Grand Canyon of need. They need my attention and care even when I'm supposed to be writing. This means that all the writing I was thinking of accomplishing is constantly disturbed by "mom, she BIT ME", "mom, she's IN MY ROOM", "mom, there's no TOILET PAPER", "mom, I'm hungry NOW", "mum, she's rubbing cat poo into my HAIR".

The "old saying out of sight, out of mind" does not apply in quarantine. I may close my door, but they're still behind it. Every day, all day.

My husband is a patient man, I'm a patient woman. We've been together for so long that we can stand the sight of each other. I mean, come on. It's spring out there, we have a terrace to go to, a forest we can walk in, instruments we can play, and generally, it's not like rural France is the worst place to be during confinement. We have stood by each other in Paris when we didn't have enough money to buy food and we had to live together in a 8m2 appartment with mice. We can get through this. I mean, as I'm writing this, I'm sitting half naked in the 24°c sun with my window open (no, I'm not taking a selfie, thanks for asking). Life could be much worse.

But the kids. They are at each others throat all the time. I've never seen anything like that, other than in the Middle East politics and the US presidential debates. Now, I'm not a technology buff, in fact, far from it. I only allow one hour of screen time per day to my children. We have no computer games, no consoles, no iPads, and only one smart phone that no-one uses. But I've got to tell you, this is the first time I'm questioning my analog upbringing methods. 

Let's not mention the home schooling. Confession: I am no math teacher. I went to school in the 80's and 90's. In Finland, too, not in France. Nothing I know of maths corresponds with what my children need to be taught on a daily basis. Kids are like beasts, they sense weakness. If I show my ignorance, they will ridicule me to no end. So I find myself watching math tutorials on YouTube on my free time that I'm supposed to use to meditate, relax, recharge batteries and all around try not to go insane. Not doing so hot on the sanity front.

I am getting desperate for human interaction, let this be known. So when someone knocks at your door (a neighbor borrowing some eggs), you get all excited! There are PEOPLE! You savour every step to the door. Wonder who that could be! I've noticed that there are secret ways to get some more human action. It's like the black market of social interaction at the village. There are rumors, whispers. "Go to the grocery store on Saturday mornings! The queue is at least 5 people long, you may get to talk to people for 30 minutes if you're lucky!" Hell, one is not supposed to stop to talk to people, but if you're queuing for 30 minutes, are you supposed to stay quiet? No! That's torture! No! I'm talking when I'm queuing! try and stop me! That's my sole moment of civil disobedience, and I'm taking it!

This is what early settlers must have felt like when they heard commotion from their front door after 6 moths of total isolation with the family and goats and a staple diet of beef jerky and dried fish, when they open their doors with a crazy gleam in their eyes. 


Two more moths to go, folks.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Fear and hoarding in Villecomtal

My friend, Mr. X, left his native land to come and stay as isolated as he could in his refuge at the French countryside. He is a cautious man, and thus obeys the rules of confinement to the letter. He did have to go get some groceries, though, and the lines outside supermarkets can be very long; not more than 10 people are allowed in at a time. So he was standing there, queuing like a Brit (the norther you go in Europe, the more orderly queuing you'll find, unlike our French and, say, Italian counterparts), minding his own business. The wind was cold and he was standing in the shade, so he moved a bit toward the sunny spot right next to him. 
"Almost got my face bashed in", he sighed afterwards, "some guy thought I was jumping the queue, started waving his fists and threatened me with physical violence". 

I was yelled at as well, for bringing home a take-away pizza from our local restaurant. They had to close, but could remain open for take-away. I don't know about you, but when you're spending your days in quarantine, thinking various apocalyptic thoughts and listening to your kids scream out of sheer boredom, a take-away pizza does not sound bad at all. So I took a pizza home and was deliriously happy eating food prepared by someone else. Not that I mind cooking, in fact I love it and can proudly state I manage it well indeed. It's just that when you can no longer go to a restaurant, all of a sudden, the thought of restaurant food becomes more tempting as ever, forbidden fruit syndrome and all.

So I casually mentioned our friendly village grocers how much I had enjoyed eating a take-away pizza. Just to talk about something else than our nemesis the Corona for a while. Like Mr. X, minding my own business, searching for a bit of comfort. And like him, immediately attacked. A village guy, previously very friendly toward me and the family, started yelling from the top of his lungs. "So they sell pizza to go, do they! And you go and buy some, do you? Well, it's because of connards like that we're all going to DIE! (Connard, as it turns out, is not that forthright to translate. The online dictionary suggests either "asshole", "shithead" or "motherfucker" as the most appropriate translation.) I looked at the guy, fuming now. "Man, you're just plain exaggerating", I told him, shaking my head. " The pizza guys are by law allowed to sell their pizza. I for one am very glad they do."
"Well, I hope you're still glad when you're kids are dying, gasping for air in a hospital in front of you!" the guy yawped, red now. "Now you're inducing panic", I hissed from between my teeth, "and that is not a correct thing to do". I was trying to stay calm and turned away to leave. The hell if I was going to get mad over a damn pizza. "You're no longer welcome at my home!" the guy screamed after me.

This was a week ago, week 1, and 2 days into the quarantine. Now we're at week 2. I just got back from the village grocery store. Sylvie, my friend the grocer, shook her head at my question when I asked if she had any eggs. "No eggs available. There are beginning to be more and more holes on the shelfs", she whispered. She pointed at the newspaper headline. France pleads any able-bodied person to help farmers. 

That felt strange. As a poor metro-tunnel singer  (see blog postings from the years 2011) I used to have so little money I counted cents to buy a loaf of bread, so I've lived with meager means before. This is the first time I've seen a slightest sign of a food shortage in my life, a food shortage that isn't my of own doing, that is. I'm 44 years old. Somehow I feel this will not be the last time.

Now, some of this aggressive behavior can be construed as just ye olde consumerist withdrawal symptoms. We have been told for so long to spend our days working and our free time shopping that it has become the norm. Sure, it's hard to look back at one's life and realize it's been nothing but an elongated shopping spree. It's even harder to change, since it would mean a change in what we call the western way of life

But if epidemics are to become the new normal, the food shortages, the fear and hoarding, the name calling and fist-waving at the grocery store, what will the western values become? How fast can they change, and into what? In my crystal ball, I do see one thing. I see hoards of people leaving big cities to look for those values in the countryside. 

Welcome to the second week in quarantine. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

The Crown

It's been about 8 years since I last wrote a blog entry. A careful observer will see why. I have become a full-blown professional writer, published 7 novels, mini-series and an audio book while raising both hell and two kids. I have not had the time.

Now I feel the urge to write again, and one can easily see why currently I might have a bit of time on my hands. Our world changed in a matter of a weekend, and no-one know yet how profoundly, how permanently, and plain old HOW.

The world got sick.

I live in a small South-western France medieval village, in which I had found a refuge from the modern world. Its thick, redstone fortifications, close neighborhood social connections and oozy cheeses protect me from all harm. With just a minor hiccup. The coronavirus didn't know that it wasn't invited to the party.

I am the vice-chair of the Country Homes association. I play the organ at the local Catholic church. I am a choir master for two different choirs and a jam master for the legendary Villecomtal Wednesday Evening Jam Session. With my husband, I invite people over to eat at least twice a week. We have noisy, wild costume parties (our New Year parties have become legendary). I am what you might call a socially active person, delighted that I have managed to make friends with the French at last (there is a desperate blog posting here somewhere on the subject of trying to socialize with the Parisians. Country folk is a different can of worms altogether, so I've noticed).

And then. All of a sudden, that which had kept me active, alive and cheery, had turned into something that might take my life. The numerous, crowded, close-knit evening meals and jam sessions and choir practices and masses and garage sales and village balls... a death trap? Could one believe it?

The villagers didn't. At first, the cafés were as crowded as ever, if not more. Boisterous farmers announced with booming voices: they were going to enjoy their apéros and card games no matter what. They had lived through worse, (which is probably true). I agreed.

Even on the morning when the quarantine was announced.

I got up and went to my favourite café, the one where one gets an easy smile and a loud exchange of rumors. "Sorry, love, we can't sell you a coffee", the bar matron whispered. "But if you want to take it to go, and you bring your own mug..." I ran back up the alley to my kitchen, brought back a mug, and got my coffee. "But you can't stay and drink it here", she warned, waving a nervous finger. Someone had seen a police drive by. A fine had been set to 135 euros, and I for one was not willing to pay that much for a cup of coffee. "We'll see you in a couple of days!" she exclaimed, hopefully. "I'm sure we can organize a hidden jam session somewhere! In a basement or something!"

In a few days, when the jam session time came, everyone was so freaked out that the thought was silently buried. I heard my neigbor Didier play a few notes of his lonely trombone. That was it. And when the news of burial coffins running out at Bergamo, Italy, actually not that far away, the villagers started to get paranoid.

This is where we are now. My usual easons for being happy are pretty much extinguished. My kids are dying to sneak out just for the smallest of walks. My husband of 20 years, the best bass player in the world and my oldest friend, whom I love dearly, is starting to get on my nerves.

And this is just Day 5.

Viruses shake things. Heads, for one, and crowns, too. Crowns and heads wearing them have fallen because of viruses; crowns have been bestowed upon new heads because of them. And this one is appropriately called Corona. The Crown.

The Crown. It's also the name of my favorite Netflix series, and I'm always eagerly awaiting a new episode thereof.

I'm less thrilled to see the next episode of this.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The divine writer

As a your girl (which was, in fact, not that long ago )when I thought of a writer, the first image that came into my mind is a lone fellow with a week-old beard sitting by his desk in an ancient monastery-looking writing chamber lit by candlelight.He has a throbbing hangover, and his hand trembles as he reaches for a bottle of booze on his desk by a chaotic pile of yellowing papers. He lights the hundredth cigarette of the day, inhales deeply and takes his quill into a shaking hand. He takes a profoundly spiritual look toward the ceiling, and words start flowing onto paper as a divine inspiration, a call from God himself, quakes the very soul of this fragile entity. 

My image has slightly altered of late. That is, ever since I've been proud to claim the title "writer". Though my first novel has only been in bookstores for barely a month, proud I am, because I always wanted to be a writer. Secretly, of course. So secret was my ambition, that my editor was among the very first people who even knew I was writing. 

I had thought writing was some magical, mystical process that requires a long-suffering existence, a drug addiction and scarcely-clothed loose women laying around. Even though I wrote, this stereotype of a Real Writer haunted my brain. A Real Writer could recite hours of complex poetry from memory. He would walk into a room full of people, who would instantly be silenced by his intellect and his piercing eyes. A Real Writer's whole existence would be marked by his painful yet intriguing path. 

I couldn't see myself in that picture.

And yet, I was writing. Or more likely, I couldn't stop writing if I tried. I scorned my sinful writing-habit as just "scribbling" and "a little hobby" and laughed it off, until one day, the novel was finished.


What was I to do now? Add it to the pile of hidden manuscripts in my drawers and start another one? 

Or dare let someone else read it?

Maybe even an editor?

Six months later, I got the call that changed my life. And altered my image of a writer.

A writer is a woman, in her late thirties. She has two children, both under four, and she hardly ever has a hangover. She has also quit smoking (for the moment). She cooks healthy, wholesome meals, takes brisk walks and leads a generally happy life. Although her work space is in fact, by some strange coincidence, an ancient monastery writing chamber, her house is filled with toys, diapers and cooking pots like any house with kids in it. There are no booze bottles or quills laying around -piles of paper though, oh goodness, yes- and the woman hardly ever waits for a call from God or other divine intervention inspiration. She sits down and starts writing. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Liberté, égalité, maternité - or Baby Bleus

After announcing the Big News, the first words that I heard from my immediate family were: "My God, you're not thinking of giving birth there?" I could just hear their organized Nordic minds going a hundred miles per hour. "It's just not hygienic." "Are you sure they have the newest equipment?" "Are their doctors qualified?" "Do they have ultra-sound machines?" All great concerns. I couldn't answer to any of them, because it was going to be my first time in attempting to reproduce on French soil.
At the time, we lived in the city of Ivry-sur Seine that starts where south-western Paris ends. Getting out of my house and in two minutes, I was in Parisian China-town, the 13th arrondissement. And as much as I had feared the great big Parisian hospitals, I caught a lucky break - my birthing clinic was a small maternity ward, just 50 meters from our home. As close as this was to Paris, it was the suburbs, and I was their first ever Nordic patient. From my first visit on, the nurses and mid-wives and doctors had a bunch of questions to ask me on my native Finland. "Do they have the newest equipment, over there?" "Are their doctors qualified?" "Do they have ultra-sound machines?" All great concerns.
As I was soon to find out, they sure were a qualified bunch. I needn't worry about anything. Everything was taken care of. Me and my fetus were in good hands. Of course, being the Viking matron that I am, I got some remarks about my sizable frame, and their greatest concern was my possible weight gain. Never has a human being been weighted more often. A warning finger was wagged - do not succumb to gourmandise or you will be huge and a danger to your baby! How had Nordic women managed to give birth up until now without this precious advice! Little did they know that after my initial weight-gain burst during the first trimester, I actually hardly gained any weight at all. Problem solved.
A major concern of my fellow Finns had been - could I afford a pregnancy in France? How expensive would it be? But, no problem. Being a Finn, thus an European citizen, and having worked in France for more than three years, the French social security took the whole of my pregnancy expenses in charge. Just as they do in Finland. As my pregnancy advanced, I also got a hefty check in the mail. "Birthing bonus", they called it, and every French mom is entitled to one. For me, I had mostly feared the notoriously over-worked and mean Parisian medical staff. Again, no problem. Apart from one cranky ultra-sound doctor, I received good humor and smiles all the way. I was the cranky one, with a hormone cocktail that could have been described as explosive as a Molotov's cocktail. But hey, no problem! My clinic was staffed with mid-wives specializing in homeopathic remedies, herbal medicine and acupuncture, all taken in charge by social security. After a few relaxing and calming acupuncture sessions, my long-suffering husband hardly recognized me.
I did have some long discussions on the subject of having kept my maiden name in marriage. Also, my ex-husband's name lurked somewhere there in my files, and that raised some eyebrows as well. I noticed that the French were more traditional on the subject of the holy matrimony, and all that family name stuff. I had to go through fire and brimstone of paperwork and lengthy explanations to  make them understand that although I had my maiden name, I was married, and my baby would get my husband's family name after all. (Still, the day I gave birth, my daughter carried a label with my family name on it.)
When the happy day of birth arrived, it was actually night. We had since moved from our Ivry-sur-Seine home (with no running water and a mold problem) to a more family-friendly apartment in a mile radius. As Parisians, we didn't have a car, and when my waters broke, we had to take the taxi. The only issue was, taxis don't take birthing ladies in, for the fear of getting their car interior ruined and getting stuck in traffic and having to act as midwifes. So I put a big over-coat on and pretended I was just a big-boned gal, asking the driver to drop us off a few blocks from the clinic.
And off I went to this adventure where the outcome is uncertain. There was a Senegal mommy in the bed next to me, talking animatedly to a cell phone between contractions, and young French girl whimpering in agony while her mother-in-law shouted to the night-shift doctors. But I was, once again, in good hands. It took way longer that it should, so in the end my daughter came out surgically. But now, I have hardly a scar to show for it. And it turns out that my little girl was the first completely white-haired baby born in the Clinic Jean Rostand, ever.
Now as I'm preparing to take my second maternity leave, I'm no longer in Paris but in southern France. I am to give birth in a country hospital, where every room is a single one, and the sunflower fields can be seen from the labor room. My Finn family are happy with my decision to give birth in France. "Oh, they did such a wonderful job the first time!" My baby's happily kicking away in her bubble universe. All is fine in the animal kingdom.
However, I have yet to convince the medical staff to write my maiden name down in my medical files. It's got to be my husband's name. They shake their heads and make up all kinds of lame excuses: "You know, what if there was a mix-up? What if yours was confused with another baby with the same name?"
Honestly. How many babies can there be, in this southern French country hospital, with the same unpronounceable Finnish name?