A Literary Easter Egg

Have I told you about this wonderful literary magazine, Five Dials, published for free by Hamish Hamilton? A new issue is out now, and I have just started reading. Photographs and voices from Greece - to begin with.

In case you are out of "påskekrim" (= Norwegian for "Easter holiday crime novel"), and need something to read while you digest your Easter lamb roast.


Enchanted Days

Some days I remember as if they were fairytales, they have this magic light about them. Often, it´s when I find myself unexpectedly in a magic surrounding. Exeter was just supposed to be an overnight stop, a place to sleep, put the luggage down while we went on a train&boat adventure to Dartmouth. But Exeter itself proved to be a gem. I suppose it didn´t hurt that it was such a beautiful evening, weather-wise. Our coming summer holiday trip is now fully booked (Portsmouth, Isle of Wight, Dover, and London), and I can´t wait!


Price vs Value

I suppose it´s normal to feel that the world is fucked up, particularly as you are getting older. The world is changing faster than you do, and suddenly people are using strange words, eating weird things, and the magazines are full of celebrities you never saw and never heard of. People have been having these complaints since ancient Greece, I know. Probably before that.

That´s why it´s such a relief to once in a while read someone (preferable younger, and affirmedly more with it than you are) who has seen what you see, and has taken the time to do the research and the analysis, and put it all into words that form beautiful arguments. And somehow, you feel vindicated. Someone has confirmed that you´re not just an old fool.

Nina Björk, a Swedish journalist, literary scholar, and feminist, has done just that in her fairly recent book "Lyckliga i alla sina dagar - om pengars och människors värde" (= happy ever after - about the value of money and human beings). I read it in tandem with a friend, who was equally uplifted by this book. As my friend said: "she is so right!". So, what is Björk saying? Well, she is asking questions, really. She is asking questions like:
  • How come we live in a society where people are out of jobs, at the same time as there is so much work that needs to be done? 
  • Why are parents urged to work longer hours for more pay, and then pay other people to care for their children, and feed their children fast food, because they have no time to cook a proper meal? 
  • How come every task that is not part of the monetary economy is considered worthless, and the people who perform them have low status? 
  • Why are we talking about families as businesses? Why are we talking about society as a business? What can we not talk about because we talk about families and society as businesses?
  • Why is the traditionally male way of acting and feeling the way we are told to strive for? Why are women told to stop having guilt-feelings about not being able to spend time with their children? Can´t guilt be a natural way of knowing when you are doing something wrong?
  • Why are people who try to talk about love and solidarity on the political arena being laughed at and dismissed as "unrealistic"?
  • Why do we reduce acts of love to a matter of exchange? Why do we hold humans incapable of doing anything at all without reward? 
In Sweden, which was once considered to be a socialist country (not entirely true, that), some very radical political decisions have been made in the last few years. Like it is now legal to run schools for profit. It´s legal to run care homes for elderly for profit. It didn´t take long for one case of gross neglect after the other to be rolled up by the media. Not just in private schools and care homes, of course. Even state-owned institutions are now being run like businesses. Patients, schoolchildren and elderly are customers.

This wouldn´t be so bad if those customers had the ability to go elsewhere if they didn´t get value for their money. Problem is, most of them don´t hold the purse themselves. It is held by insurance companies, parents, and trustees. And when they discover that they are not getting their money´s worth of medical treatment, education, or care, it´s often too late. Just recently, a privately run high school was driven into bankrupcy by it´s owner. He took the money and ran, to put it bluntly. And left behind him a number of teachers without jobs, and children without degrees. No doubt, those kids´ parents had chosen that school because they wanted to give their children a better start, as the general idea has been (as put forward by politicians) that private schools, run for profit, are better, more competitive.

Just the other day, a university professor in charge of an investigation into the consequences of this new school system, pointed out that the only place where a similar system has been used is in Pinochet´s Chile. And every assessment of the Swedish schools, domestic and international, shows that Swedish schoolchildren are not getting properly educated, not even learning basic skills. Even in universities, teachers are horrified to find students who can´t write a proper sentence (I know this from personal experience). It´s pretty darn bad, and the reasons are more complex than just being about the economical system directly, but the value system at the base of it makes more damage, in unforeseen ways that the engineers of this system never imagined.

The major problem is, however, that there seems to be a consensus among all parties (with the exception of the far left) that this system is fundamentally good. That all it needs is a bit of tweaking and all will be fine. That profit-motivated people in charge of capitalist corporate structures actually is the way to run a good, caring society. The only thing a Swedish citizen has influence over in the general elections these days is who is going to be at the helm of this "Sweden Inc". And, increasingly, people are voting for the guy they find most charismatic. The one they like. They don´t vote for a party or an ideology any more. Politicians aren´t into ideology. They aren´t saying, "this is what we think a good society looks like, vote for us", they are saying "if you vote for me, I´ll make your wallet fatter". It´s a popularity contest, not politics. It´s hard to mention one politician who isn´t a turncoat. In fact, they are proud to be turncoats! And precious few, certainly not the socialist democrats, who practically made Sweden what it used to be, are asking their voters for something as outdated solidarity.

Even the green party, which has had my vote for the last twenty years, which has questioned the system from time to time, has joined the choir. And instead, up comes the xenophobic parties, evoking images of a golden age, before "globalism", blaming it all on "foreigners taking our jobs and coming to get rich on our welfare system". And one of these parties has even gained representation in the Swedish parliament. Something is rotten - for sure.

Also, there is the threat of environmental collaps. And the only way we seem to be able to lower emissions of carbondioxide, is by economic crisis. Greece, Italy, and Spain are doing their bit for the environment. Not willingly, though. And what Björk is saying, is that as long as we can´t see, can´t talk, outside this paradigm box that we have created, nothing will be done.

It´s like we are on a train heading straight for a cliff and instead of trying to find the break, everyone is in a committee-meeting talking about how to get the train to move faster. That´s how I feel much of the time. Perhaps I feel this more keenly as my own choice of lifestyle sometimes gets questioned. Aggressively even, to the point where I have had to cut some people off. I work part-time. I often say that it´s because I´m trying to write a novel. And it is true that I am. But honestly: I don´t have to work full time. What someone has to do, though, is run this home. (And keep an eye on mum-in-law.) And with a husband that has 1½ jobs that he loves, it´s really a no-brainer, considering that I have no desire to be "out there". What society is trying to do, though, is scaring me into working (or rather, "jobbing") more, earning more money, and consuming more stuff. Contribute to the economic growth. Rewarding me with a good (or at least a little better) pension. In case my husband finds a younger, prettier, and better wife. To improve his status, perhaps. Because that´s what I am told people do. That´s what we are told is what is natural to expect.

Well, what happens happens. God willing, as some would say, I´ll be all right. And I persist in choosing to invest in my relationships, no: to serve the people that I love, adding value to the quality of our lives, making time to be together, to eat well, to exercise, to read, and of course, to improve my writing. Perhaps one day I will have written that novel. Perhaps not.

And I am not alone. There is a whole grassroot movement of minimalists and other insubordinates out there, paying off debt, down-sizing, taking time to serve good causes, and do what they feel are important things, rather than chase the dollar, or the crown, or the euro. I could go on and on about this. As I write I think, oh, and I should mention that, and that, and... But I will stop here. Not everyone is born to be on the front-line. Some of us are here to just live our lives, even if we find ourselves in opposition to the norm. And that is not so bad. That is pretty darn important.


Happy Easter, Everyone!

The Little Bear Stories

I was reading the Guardian online, and found the obituary of Barbara Firth. She was an illustrator, mostly known for some children´s stories called "The Little Bear Stories", written by Martin Waddell. Being of a curious nature, I started click-clicking away, and before I came to my senses I had clicked the book into an envelope going my way, from Greener Books, London.

What does an old(er) lady like me want with a book for very smallish children? I rationalized the purchase by telling myself that when I had satisfied my curiosity about the illustrations, I could send it on to some friend´s child. And, you know, the book cost nothing. Postage was 4.02 British pounds, and the book itself was sold for a symbolic sum of 0,01 pounds. That´s right, one penny. It costs more to breathe, practically. No way does that penny cover the cost of acquiring that book (even if it was given to them, they still had to take it), putting it on a shelf, getting an ad out on amazon, getting it into an envelope, even just printing the receipt. None of those things. That business can only be run by true booklovers.

The drawings are beyond gorgeous. Intensely wonderful. And the stories are heart-melting. Very politically correct too, as neither Big Bear or Little Bear is of any particular sex. Not that they are queer exactly. They are both just bears. Like humans might be just humans, if there was no gender police around.

The bears are living in a Bear Cave, reading Bear Books, playing Bear Games, and mostly falling asleep (eventually) in the Bear Chair. Simple, but brilliant.

And forget that I´m passing this on. I love this book, gollum-like. It speaks to my soul, and I shall keep it on my bedside table forever. And all the children I know are far too old for it anyway (I am totally not rationalizing that). And it´s translated to Swedish, so they have probably all read it. For sure.

"Can´t you sleep, Little Bear?"


A Literary Buffet

Do you know what a chapbook is? I didn´t. Apparently, "a chapbook used to be a small booklet containing short works from various authors. Back in the olden days (which I think means like pre-2008), publishers would use chapbooks to showcase their authors’ best work." So writes Joshua Fields Millburn of Asymetrical Press. (And I checked with Wikipedia, they have a slightly different, more substantial history of the chapbook. I suppose it would´ve been the paperback book of it´s day.)

View while reading chapbook: holidaymakers on the ice.
Having been a reader of the Minimalist blog for some time, I have also payed attention to their new publishing venture, and a few free publications have come my way. I haven´t had time to read it all yet, but I´m getting there, and it seemed a good idea to start with this buffet of taste-size servings from all their authors.

So, "Chapbook, Volume 1", what´s in it? What´s my impression? Well, it´s a good mix of fact and fiction. All the authors are young. They are all men. They are all ambitious. They question society, and try to live as they teach. They are all good writers. What they write isn´t all to my taste, though. A few days after I finished it, three pieces stand out in my memory:

First, there is a short story by Joshua Fields Millburn, called "Echo Lake". He is clearly ambitious, and he is not making it easy for himself, choosing to write in second person narrative. This second person is a woman, she is an older woman, she is crazy (swimming outdoors in winter? how old is she, really?), she is sexy, she is rebellious (in a kind of juvenile way, but ok). It unclear who is talking, but this woman/you/I/the reader, is having an affair with this younger man, who is a writer, who seems distracted and a bit tortured, as writers should be. It ends, of course, the story and the relationship.

Second person is hard, and you should have a real good reason to use it. And I don´t think it works well here. But I admire the effort, and the guts. The only one I can remember who used this technique to good effect is Torgny Lindgren in his "The Way of a Serpent". A book that I should re-read, come to think of it. Anyway, Millburn´s story doesn´t really do it for me. He just tries too hard, I think, and I suspect he is a bit of a romantic. I have more from his pen, and I will return to him eventually.

Then, there is "Requirements and Expectations of Excellence" by Shawn Mihalik. Here we meet a young man returning to his home town, getting a job at a restaurant. I don´t know why it grabbed me. I liked the way Mihalik tells a story, I guess. We get a flashback of how his father stole his mother´s university scholarship money, and how she went from having a bright future to having no future at all, just a kid to raise on her own. It´s an excerpt from a coming novel, "Brand-Changing Day", and I might read it.

Last, there was Colin Wright´s "Xerxes", a sample from a speculative science fiction series called "Real Powers". This bit is about how a sect leader decides to, himself, infiltrate a group that is taking his disciples away from him. This sounds like a bunch of fun, actually. And it´s been a long while since I read any sci-fi. But I have a lot lined up, so I have added it to my wish list on amazon. We´ll see.

I enjoyed the "Chapbook, volume 1" - or most of it. But I wouldn´t have paid for it. If it had been a proper short story collection, fine. But excerpts? No. That´s a  bit like paying for advertisments.


Concert Night

Thursday, we went to a concert at the Culture House. The first one in a long while, I´m sorry to say. They need the audience, and we sure need a dose of live music now and then.

Our local chamber orchestra, Norrbottens kammarorkester, had invited the Estonian conductor, Anu Tali, and on the programme was two Estonian composers, Tubin and Pärt, and also a bit of Mozart in between. All in all, I have to say, it was an evening of easy listening, compared to some of the things they put on. In later years, there has been quite a bit of challenging music on offer. Norrbotten Neo has been a real vitamin injection to the local music scene, and raised the bars for both musicians and listeners.

As I was queing at the wardrobe after the concert, I hear this young guy saying (approximately this) to his friend:
"I really liked what they had done with the percussionists in that last piece. There were like instruments, like, part of the music!"
This cracked me up. And then I thought, I hope he keeps coming to the concerts, and brings all his friends! The average age of a concert visitor must be around seventy-five. If they can´t get young people interested, what´s going to happen to the music repertoire in a small place like this? I think they should really try to bring in the students. And perhaps they should try to avoid hockey nights...



I have this pretty little watch that I have been thinking about getting a nice band for. I also have this cool watch chain, that I bought for my husband, but it was a bit short for him. When I looked closer at the chain, I realized it was stamped silver, dated 1858! The maker´s stamp is a bit blurry, but the city stamp is clear, so I can say it was made in Gävle, and by one of three silver smiths.

Today, it occured to me that it might be a good idea to wear them together.


The Art on My Walls

The other week, I wrote a post on the collaboration between a writer and a reader, and argued that it´s often what the writer leaves out that the reader is invited to add. It occured to me later, that I have some of that same thing happening with the art in my livingroom.

The first painting, real painting, that is, that I ever bought, was this one:

It´s "Green Venice" by Anneli Simonander (Hedström at the time), and it´s a view from a real place in France. She had made a whole series after a visit, and these paintings were, at the time, perhaps the best thing she had done. She is also a skilled frame maker, and the carefully selected frames were also something that set her apart from other local artists. She often managed to pick something that communicated with the painting, adding something to it, either in agreement or in opposition. It may sound silly with a painting arguing with it´s frame, but sometimes, that´s how it worked.

When people comment on it, and they often do, they say it makes them feel calm, or puts them in an introspective mood. Some have suggested that it would be a great motif to meditate on.

I have collected a number of Anneli´s paintings over the years (and we have become good friends), but I will start with showing you the last one, to tie up my argument:

I´m not sure this one has a title. Scribbled on the back of it, it says "The flamingo in my garden", but I´m not sure it is related to the painting. Anyway, this one is painted almost ten years after the first one. A lot had happened during those years, like three years of artschool, which had contributed a great deal to her maturity as an artist, I think.

It´s abstract, fairly large for a livingroom artpiece, and the kind of work that will jump at you, stick out, pretty much anywhere you place it. When people look at it, they often start looking for shapes, something tangible. Very often they see contours of a face or some such thing. But I never heard anyone talk about what it makes them feel.

I do believe that both readers of literary novels and viewers of art, as they become more experienced (reading and looking actively is certainly an artform in itself, a skill), become more susceptible to all kinds of impressions, both from within and without. Our first gut reaction, seem to be to compensate for something that isn´t really there, to make sense of it, or to make it whole. But if you engage in art, you engage in a conversation with the artist, and the more you practice, the more you grow in skill and maturity. You will find more to see, and you will contribute more to the work, which will make it more interesting. The viewer, or the reader, is part of the creation. If no one read, and no one looked at art, it wouldn´t be made. The impulse to make something, is a desire to communicate. Even if it´s just getting mum´s attention with a drawing you made as a child. Our motivations, our reasons, develop too.

If it is human nature to put things in order, find patterns, and try to make sense of it all, then it must be in the artist´s calling to reveal that any such order is done according to an idea, or a set of ideas, a paradigm. One way to do that is to reveal the chaos that our ordering gaze hides from us. Another is to demonstrate alternative ways to organize and explain things. No wonder artists are drawn to the destructive, sometimes creating disorder themselves, consciously or not.

I am a strong believer in re-reading, as well as spending much time in front of an image that speaks to you. Repetition, and trying to improve on one´s analysis, is what builds muscle, if cognition and intellect can be said to be a muscle. I suppose that in actual fact, we rewire our brains, increase our levels of dopamine and create more neurons or whatever. We learn and mature. And the world as a whole, becomes a more interesting place. If you are in the mood, you can look at any expression of culture as a piece of art. That is the best gift of art, and why it is so addictive. It turns the whole world into a magic place.

Some other works of Anneli Simonander that I´m lucky to have:

Above is a watercolour of a house in Mockträsk. The house is of a traditional type to the region: a norrbottensgård. I like it so much because it is kind of bleak. Often, landscapes are made out to be pretty, they can be ingratiating. Here, she let´s it be just as barren, and a bit dirty, as it really is in late winter. I like the honesty of it. And there is that warm indoors light, that sign of life and comfort, that invites you in, and gives you hope.

This is an early work, an oilpainting of Kaprash, a farm she owned in the 90´s. Compared to what she has done since, it is almost naïvist. It reminds me of an old sepia coloured photograph. And I have a fondness for houses.

This is a student work, one of three amazing enamels made for a school exhibition. At first, I wanted one with pretty poppies on it, but she sold that one straight away. I´m actually grateful for it now, I think this one has more in it to discover. 

A tiny piece that I got for a gift, perhaps made more to advertise creative framing, than to express something profound. I love it, though. The cheerful dog is a reminder to stay positive and choose happiness when you can. The piece as a whole has also has taught me that sometimes the packaging is the content. And that that is perfectly all right.

Not a typical Simonander, a fun diversion and experiment with techniques. If I remember correctly, this was part of a trade. I had made a stool that I think I brought to an outdoors art show (to sit on), where we both exhibited, and she fell in love with it. We just swapped.


Torsten Ehrenmark, Master of the Causerie

Poul Ströyer: The illustrator most associated with Ehrenmark.
The other day, I was watching a documentary about American intellectual Paul Goodman. A close-up of a magazine revealed that he had been writing a "causerie". I had never heard that word in English before, and apparently, it´s not much used. In Sweden, however, if you read no literature at all, at least you will read kåseri, and in the 60´s, 70´s, and 80´s, everyone read Torsten Ehrenmark.

When I was little, my mother would buy his yearly collection, published just in time for Christmas, and then she would chuckle all through Christmas Day, while we kids were busy playing with our toys. It seemed like she was having more fun than us, so I would be second (and last, perhaps) on the book. I became very much enamoured with Ehrenmark, and I still read him with delight. The illustrations by Poul Ströyer contributed a lot, I think, to his literary persona.

Ehrenmark´s parents were actors and he grew up with his grandparents.

He made himself out to be a most impractical man,...

...constantly embarrassing himself with barbaric northern manners.

Also, as it happened (because I´m in this vortex of synchronicities right now) I had just had the librarians search their storage shelves deep and hard for a copy of his eight-part series from 1979, "Jorden runt på 8 dagar" (= Around the World in 8 Days) published first in 1975 in the national newspaper Dagens Nyheter (the Daily News, his employer from 1963 until his death in 1985). I remember this one from when I was a kid, not just because of Ehrenmark´s texts, but for the illustrations by Björn Berg. I was very much into drawing and illustration, and it is still an artform I much admire.

What Dagens Nyheter did, was to send Ehrenmark and Berg around the globe in the footsteps of Phileas Fogg and his trusty servant Passepartout, to report on the adventure in an amusing manner. The library had a hard time finding it. Finally, they tracked down a copy in Malmberget, a big print edition (for the visually impared), but they assured me that the illustrations were all there, so I agreed to have it sent to me. Oddly, the big print didn´t extend to the illustrations, which were much smaller than I remembered. One drawing was so shrunken that much of the finely drawn details were invisible. Odd priority, considering that Berg´s drawings contribute greatly to the work as a whole. To me, as an 11-year old, to imagine having a job travelling the world to draw, and getting paid to do it, seemed like the perfect career. I still think that.

But look at the cover! How can anyone have thought it a good idea to make a cover like that? This, is what the original book looked like:

Ehrenmark lived much of his life abroad. He was a correspondent with several Swedish newspapers from 1955, and lived in Paris, New York, and London, where he settled for life, finding, I think, some affinity with the English and their ways. Still, in his causerie writing, he always made himself out to be this big child from Örebro, in a suit, perhaps, and with a cigarette, perhaps, but really just pretending to be an adult. A happy child, in fact, not even having a proper job, as he would assume his reader and every other properly grown-up person had. This way, he became a representative for every small-town Swede in a big, dangerous, and very strange world. His dog would drag him into trouble, his wife would save his skin, and his children constantly amazed him with their savvy ways. He made himself out to be a bit cowardly and indolent. In real life, however, he was a very versatile and sharp reporter.

Ehrenmark with students in Yokohama.
I would like to give you a taste of his writing (he is not translated, of course), and have selected a few pages for you, from when they go on an excursion in San Francisco:
"Hundreds of people stood on a lawn around a black jazzband playing deafening music, and the brave got carried away and started to dance solo with cramp-like quivers and closed eyes. It seemed more like a religious rite than popular entertainment, a kind of Western dervish-dance. I, who lack all understanding of rite and ecstasy, withdrew self-consciously. It is not the kind of behaviour one expects from people when one is from Närke where we stand with both feet firmly in the mud. 

Houseboat living in San Francisco.

I managed to tear the fascinated Passepartout away from all this exhibitionism and get him down to Fisherman´s Wharf. I thought it was the name of a restaurant, but it was the name of the entire waterside, with hundreds of restaurants, fishing boats, and yachts. It smelled like sea, crabs, and lobsters, but our crab was rather drab, and cooked without European imagination. 

Haiphong Road, Hongkong.

The boat rides to Alcatraz with one and a half hour tours of the empty prison, of the prisoner´s canteen, the lounges, the cells, the isolation cells, and death row, were sold out weeks in advance to people who have never been to prison, and relieved we gave up the idea of such entertainment. We walked south again towards the centre, leaned back with tripping steps downhill. And staggering, leaning forward with our noses to the ground like sleuth-hounds, uphill.

The lifeless, tree-less streets in the middle of town filled me with the anxiety and ennui that I call "Sunday Afternoon Blues", a melancholy I suffer from when I am faced with any kind of organized leisure. I, who have never worked a machine do not understand what leisure time is for. I realized that what I really needed was sleep, and promptly fell asleep on top of my hotel bed at sex o´clock, fully dressed. I woke up without feeling at all rested at midnight, and lay awake wondering what time it might be in Tokyo, but it was impossible to figure out. I undressed and continued to lay awake half the night. I woke at eight in the morning, still feeling weary. 

New York.
It occured to me that it was Monday morning again, or as the maid sighed in my youth: "It´s always, always Monday morning, but never, never Saturday night!" I had experienced one Sunday in Tokyo and one Sunday in San Francisco, I had had lunch at Fisherman´s Wharf on Tokyo´s Monday morning, and now it was Monday morning again. And soon it would be Tuesday morning in Tokyo and the day after that it would be Tuesday morning in San Francisco. I would live through every day twice for the rest of my life, just because I had passed the International Date Line in the eastern direction. A carbon paper had been placed between the pages of my life. I was just about to go crazy, when Passepartout came in and saved me..."

I had a very short-lived interest in autograph hunting (about one afternoon, when I sent away twenty or thirty requests) when I was about thirteen, and one of the autographs that came back was Torsten Ehrenmark´s. I treasure it so much that I keep it locked up in my safe-deposit box at the bank, even though he managed to misspell both my first and last name. I think the envelope is really cool, too, because it has an old Fleet Street adress on it, that he has crossed out (being of a frugal generation, with his feet still somehow rooted in Närke´s muddy fields, no doubt), as proof of his romantic vocation. Plus, he got to live in England, and how lucky isn´t that!

The yellowish tint to this photo come from the light source available in the bank vault...

 Torsten Ehrenmark - I miss you. Poul Ströyer and Björn Berg - I miss you, too.


Amazing sky - just outside my window

I know, you can see the reflection of the camera. But really, it´s too cold to step out on the balcony...



Yesterday, I had a minute to spare and popped in at the art gallery in the Culture House (next to the library). There was a lot going on, so I focused on what was easiest to digest at the time, and these watercolours by Lars A Persson are just wonderful.

When it comes to watercolour, the master - the Master! - is Lars Lerin, and it´s hard not to compare every watercolourist by his standard. Persson´s choice of motifs also correspond somewhat with what Lerin is doing, so - he is not making it easy for himself. Persson is without any hesitation, very, very good, though. He provided a bunch of cards, business cards of sorts, and I have simply photographed them to give you an idea.

Persson also has a website, where you can see more of his work. What I found special, and unusual, about his paintings, was his use of collage technique and how he had done several motifs, or versions of motifs, on the same paper.

About this exhibition, he writes:

"With the eye of the draughtsman, and the mind of the watercolourist, I have over the last year moved in northern landscapes, like northern Norway and Iceland. To me, the painting itself is always more important than describing the places where I am. Everything is subordinate to the expression of the watercolour! The northern barren, bright, and plain landscape has always fascinated me, sometimes sparse and almost monocrome, but just as often forceful and unexpectedly colourful." (my quick and dirty translation)

Persson is not hideously expensive either. What´s on offer here ranges between 3.800 and 12.000 SEK. I could afford this, if I wanted to.  So often, prices make proper art out of reach for us average earners.

The exhibition lasts until April 17, and I have every intention of going back to look some more. I´m going to try and get an artist friend to come with me, she is great fun watching art with, as she is so knowledgeable about techniques, and I always find that she provides another depth to the art experience than when I go alone. It´s hard to find a good companion for these kinds of excursions.


Addicted to Reading

It has occured to me lately that I read too much and too indiscriminately. Is it possible to read too much, you ask? Well, everything can be done to excess, can´t it? But having a cocaine habit is more frowned upon than having a reading habit. Admittedly, cocain will destroy your body and possibly your soul, but injudicious reading will only waste your time. Or let´s pretend that it´s so.

Here is a prime example. This is Philip Hoare´s biography on Noël Coward, a big fat book (I had to put my hand in the picture just so you´d really see how big this thing is, totally a blunt object) I ordered from the library on a whim, after reading that Coward had been a spy during the war, trained at Bletchley Park (which is one of our favourite places to have visited). Ok, so I was in a bit of a feverish haze at the time, from the influenza. This is the danger with the internet. Have an idea, and immediately send a request to the library, buy something you want, start any process that will be difficult to reverse. Do it all from the comfort of your recliner. As we all have learned by now, twittering is best not done under the influence, and Boney M was also onto something when they sang "don´t change lovers in the middle of the night". Restraint is sometimes a good thing. Consideration, and re-consideration, is recommended.

Anyway. That bookmark doesn´t say how much I have read, it says how much I have skimmed to try and find the Bletchley Park bit. And really, what do I care about Noel Coward? Sure, I know who he was, his show "Cavalcade" was the favourite of the Mitford sisters, Pip Torrens (excellent actor) has played him on a couple of occasions, and my husbands sometimes plays his songs when he is goofing around on Spotify. But certainly my smallish interest in Coward does not justify the time it would take to read all that. Also, for a relatively new book (what, 1995?) it has aged terribly. The paper is yellow and the book smells, not a good thing for my cough, not good at all. That I still can´t just close the darn thing and send it back is probably a fair measure of my addiction.

No, I need to be more selective. I have decided to limit myself to one book a week, preferably an e-book, and spend whatever spare time I have on other things. Good things, like meditation, going to the art gallery, taking a walk in the sun. Writing [hysterious laughter]. I probably need a separate twelve-week program for this, though...


Mentoring Gold

I have to share this with you, brought to me by the Minimalists: an interview with the fabulous Stephen Fry. It takes a half hour to watch, but I think it´s well worth it.


The Process of Creativity

For the last twelve weeks (or fifteen, I had two weeks holiday and one week off sick) I have been working with Julia Cameron, and her course on how to balance the creative process: "Walking in this World" (Sw. "Konsten att vara kreativ. På vandring genom livet."). Her most famous book is perhaps "The Artist´s Way", which I have also read, some years ago. Cameron started out as a journalist, married Martin Scorsese in the 70´s and got into writing for film. She has also published novels, poetry, written plays and musicals (yes, music! which I find super-impressive), but perhaps she has been most successful as a teacher.

I have had this book for some time, I have read it twice right through. Now, as I knew I had to make some changes to the way I spend my own time, and I knew it was going to be a difficult process, I decided to read her as she has intended to be read, as a twelve-step, twelve-week program. I needed to hold someone´s hand, and she has proved to be the perfect companion.

Cameron doesn´t exclusively adress writers, but writing "morning pages", a kind of warm-up exercise to any type of creative craft, is a practice that she calls "the bedrock tool of a creative recovery". The second tool that she advocates is the "artist date", where one goes out, alone, once a week, to play in a way that pushes one´s comfort zone a little. It´s like filling your fuel tank with inspiration. Some of the blog posts I have written lately has been reflections on such exercises. Playing, or allowing oneself to play, is not easy, though. As she points out, either in the book or perhaps somewhere on her website, the work ethic often over-rides the need for such frivolities.

It´s interesting how the layout of the book seems to anticipate what´s going to happen in the consciousness of the student. Cameron is a recovered alcoholic, and no doubt her partiality to the twelve-step method is based on some real profound insight into how we overcome ourselves. She writes a lot about the Great Creator, and how making art, any art, good and bad, makes us more human. I totally think she is right. And honestly, from a rational standpoint, making art is the most useless occupation in the world. A bit of faith - a lot of faith! on whatever it is founded - is essential. I found myself caught up in a wave of syncronicity and flow, and have made some surprising discoveries about how I work, and, perhaps more importantly, how I sabotage for myself.

A writing friend of mine has this book also, she keeps it in her bathroom and reads a bit of it every day. When I said I have started working with it again, she said "shit! that woman is wise!". I can´t say it any better, really. Julia Cameron is very, very wise, and any creative, ambitious, aspiring artist can learn a great deal from her. She offers courses over the internet, and that may suit some, but I also find that there such a thing as too much sitting in the classroom. In the end, practice is the best teacher of all, and one must get one´s feet wet at some point. I know a lot of people who get stuck in the self-help swamp (for whatever reason), and that´s no good either. Some, I think, even become teachers because they feel so comfortable in that situation. Or so the number of aspiring teachers I have met over the years lead me to believe.

Bottom line, I have learned that a good teacher is her best when I allow her to teach me at her own pace. Because a good teacher knows a thing or two about my pace as well. And most of us are lacking in the patience department. I certainly know I am.


An Homage to Childcraft

Today, my eyes fell on my bookshelf, and the only set of books I still have from when I was a child: "Barnens Bästa", or, as they are known in the US, "The Childcraft books". They were published by Field Enterprises in Chicago from the late 40´s and my edition is adapted to Swedish and published in the early 60´s. There are fifteen volumes: 1. Poems of early childhood, 2. Storytelling and other poems, 3. Folk and fairy tales, 4. Animal friends and adventures, 5. Life in many lands, 6. Great men and famous deeds, 7. Exploring the world around us, 8. Creative play and hobbies, 9. Science and industry, 10. Art for children, 11. Music for the family, 12. You and your family, 13. Your young child, 14. Your child goes to school, 15. Your child in today´s world.

The first book is in shreds, most of it contained in a plastic folder. And, leafing through it, there isn´t much that I really remember about it. But clearly, I have played with it. I like to think this is the toy that made me comfortable with books.

The second book is also well read, but these stories and illustrations I do remember. The illustrations more than the stories, actually, so I imagine these were read to me while I was looking at the pictures. There is a lot of information about the world already snuck in these stories, and some moralities, too.

I don´t mind moralities, I happen to think these are great. If you can teach children that science is about progress for the betterment of everyones lives, that everyone should be friends with everyone no matter their skin colour or language or other preferences, that can not be a bad thing. Stories where the bad guy gets his ass whipped have always had a strong attraction on me, as well. I suppose I was the kind of child who´d rather play alone, and other children and their games were mostly in the way. I would sit in my room in the afternoons, liberated from a tough day at school, totally identifying with stories about famous inventors as children, doing experiments grownups don´t understand. At heart, I´m still convinced I would have been a great man doing great deeds if I had only been left alone...

The illustrations are wonderful, and made by many different artists in many different styles. I find that I still loose track of time when I look at them.

The Moon is a Griffin Egg.

Peter Rabbit

The Emperor´s new clothes.


Snow White and Rosy Red, who saved the Prince, then married him, and his brother.
George Washington Carver, with a book. Total identification!

I see now that volume four and five are not much read, and they don´t ring many bells either, as I leaf through them. Animal friends and life in many lands seems not to have appealed to me as much as great men and famous deeds and exploring the world around me. When I look in those well-read volumes, I realize that I pretty much everything I know comes from these books. Anything I have later learned, has somehow been attached to these first images.

The last few books were perhaps not as influential. By the time I was that age, I had moved on to other kinds of literature. They are also a bit more about growing up, and that probably didn´t appeal to me, not in the way of the 50´s and early 60´s, anyway. Times had changed, I suppose.

Thomas Alva Edison failing creatively. This almost happened in real life.

Did I mention my grandpa was a goalie, too? A real hero.

The seed of my devotion to Time Team. (And perhaps why I think archeology is so sexy.)

I still have a good grasp of what is moving in the sky.

And of course I did all these experiments.

And when I look at volumes 8-11, I laugh and think that in so many ways, I am still a Childcrafter! Here it all is, the basic instructions to all the things I still do, and the way I do them. My grandmother once reflected that I don´t do things like she did and like my mother did - the explanation is, I learned everything from Childcraft, even cooking!

How to write a story. I do this every day. Sit and stare at the wall, that is...

A whole book in the series is devoted to different types of art. 

The Bayeaux tapestry, depicting the Normand invasion of Britain.

Seeing this totally cracked me up, because...

...the last week or so, I have been working on this.

If I ever really do become a great man doing great deeds, and someone asks me to write my memoirs, I shall structure them just like the Childcraft series. That way, I think they will become most true to the way I´m really thinking.

Yeah, I see what I just wrote. My memoirs will be about the way I´m thinking. Of course.