A night at the Moulin Rouge

The other day we had a very special night at the cinema. A famous comedian and band performed in what usually functions as our living room! In a record-breaking evening, 150 people were crammed into a space that usually holds, um, two or three…

Sadly we had to turn away some people who wanted tickets, because the cinema was really full to bursting point. It quickly heated up like a sauna, but what a night! The audience was in high spirits, and the show was at times funny and at times sad, with songs ranging from biting political satire to melancholic odes to bygone times and long gone people.

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Here are some pictures from the evening.

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And finally, here is a small memento from the evening. If you don’t understand Swedish, all of this is fucking funny, okay?*

* Hat off to Eddie Izzard for the original joke.

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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Agent down

When I got the news, it was like a sliced fingertip. First there was nothing, no sensation at all. Then that hot, tingly feeling that’s the harbinger of pain – the deep breath before you realize you’ve cut yourself, deep. And then… pain and blood, hitting with full force.

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We used to call you “our man in Berlin”. I don’t think you ever knew that. In hindsight, it’s almost too apt. You were undercover, off somewhere doing the impossible, and we watched from afar. Your absence was literal, but also figurative. You had your own Scorpio world, populated by phantoms and screams. We never really knew you. Maybe no one did.

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Our few moments of real connection – Nick Drake, Recoil, And One, always there was a soundtrack to these moments – were unexpected bursts of sun in a gloomy cloudscape where our efforts at communication were, in your own words, exercises in estrangement.

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And yet, even though we never really connected, it feels like a part of me is gone. How’s that for banal? But you once said it’s the banal stuff that counts, so I’m allowing myself a piece of clichéd emotion in your honour.

At one time, I even wanted to be you. I wanted that darkness, that mystery to be mine. Wanted my ordinariness to be excised. I was attracted, like you’re attracted to a sheer cliff. Like you toy with the idea of stepping into that nothingness beyond.

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But your cliff was something else entirely. It was real in a way mine never was, and now you’ve taken that step. This new absence of yours is total, concrete, unquestionable. And I want to tell you. I want to call you and say, “You’ll never believe what happened – you died!” We’d laugh about it – about the obviousness, the improbableness of it all. About how I wrote it in a song fifteen years ago. About ravens and Poe and fate.

But I can’t tell you, and so it’s like you’ll never know. That you’re not here. We’re all here, everyone who knew you, and you’re not-here. As if you’ve taken the concept of leaving a party early to go home and listen to Kindertotenlieder to a whole new level.

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And that’s how I choose to see it. That you left. That death took you with your consent. That you completed your mission and dropped your gun in the Havel.

 

As for us, we no longer have a man in Berlin.

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Clickbait your book! ;)

Had some fun today imagining my books as clickbait articles. I urge my fellow authors to try it – at the very least, it’s an exercise that can narrow down the plot of a WIP or help you come up with those pesky blurbs.

This man met his celebrity crush at a party – but what happens next will melt your heart

10 things only bulimics will understand

Only one in 50 literature buffs can identify these 23 Shakespeare references. Can you?

Can we guess your favourite trope?

23 ways to say ‘I love you’ – the sixteenth one will make you cry

This is why you should never have a pretend relationship

5 behind-the-scenes problems musicians don’t want you to know about

He was a doormat for twenty-nine years – but you won’t believe what happens when they accuse him of this

Readers are freaking out over this gritty “romance”

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How to experience life (abridged)

This blog post and the links in it contain advertisements for my books

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As an INTP, I’m wired to question received wisdom, and there’s one thing in particular that’s been preying on my mind lately – something that’s specific to one of my functions. It’s about Introverted Sensing (Si).

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You often hear that you should ‘experience the moment’ instead of photographing it and experiencing it later, through your photo. That you cheat yourself of, say, a holiday if you live it through your camera.

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But there’s another truth as well, one that I’ve been made aware of during this past year when I’ve truly lived life through my camera: that I live more intensely when I take photos. That I see the world differently – actually, that I see the world full stop. Things I would ignore if I didn’t take photos of them. Things I would miss if I didn’t search a scene for a subject. Wonderful places I would leave early because I would be bored with them if I didn’t try to create something of my own out of the atmosphere in them.

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I’m a restless person, and I’m not much for sitting in the sun and just feeling the warmth on my face, or just looking at pretty views without doing anything. But with a camera in my hand, I’ve got a project. I document and transform, I convey an impression. I engage with my surroundings, I melt into them rather than distance myself.

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I think this is because of Si. A Se user (Extroverted Sensing) can experience the world more directly. They can take in what’s around them without trouble. But at least for me, Si needs time to digest. I don’t realise that a ball is whizzing towards me until a split second too late. Likewise, I can’t fully be in the moment when something wonderful happens. There’s always a kind of delay, so that the memory of it is almost more palpable than the experience itself.

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The camera changes that. It gives me the key to Nirvana, and I think it’s because I’m engaging Extraverted Intuition (Ne) as well as Si. Ne helps me ‘get at’ reality by exploring it and trying to create something new out of the familiar. It brings me out of my thinking shell and lets my hand pass through the veil and touch the Now. By making something, I exist in the moment.

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I always need to create in order to live. If I can’t see the creative use of a thing, I’m not interested. I loved Shakespeare for years without caring about the particulars of his life, but then I suddenly decided to write a book about him, and then there was no end to the ‘facts’ I devoured in order to be able to pull it off. So now I know that his neighbours Hamnet and Judith Butler lost a string of children, that Shakespeare’s parents had a legal dispute over a piece of property with his aunt and her husband, and that his childhood ‘friend’ Dick Field signed a petition to stop him and his company from converting a building in Blackfriars into a theatre.

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Talk about trivia. And the only reason I learned those things and not, say, the capital of Albania, is that I had an immediate use for it. The day I write a novel set in Albania, I will learn the name of the tiniest village if the story needs it.

And, um… well, true to my explorative auxiliary function, I’ve now strayed from my original statement about Si to the nebulosity of Ne, and I’m struggling to tie this text together with a catchy summary. But maybe I should just let it stand like this: unfinished, left hanging, with possibilities sticking out of it like stray hairs. It’s not wrong or sloppy or pointless. It’s just another way of being.

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Linnaeus’ fave

This post and the link in it contain advertisements for my book.

Yes. Linnaeus, the Prince of Botany – the guy who first thought of categorizing the world of plants according to sexuality, and naming each specimen in Latin based on its “family” – played favourites. He even named his beloved twinflower after himself – Linnaea borealis.

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The twinflower. It’s a fitting symbol for Christer and Henrik in The Seventh Flower. Despite their differences, they really are soulmates. I didn’t realize this as I was writing it, but the twinflower makes the connection to Linnaeus and Artedi and their shared passion for taxonomy even more poignant.

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Linnaeus and Artedi, 18th century tragic bromance brothers, linked to Christer and Henrik’s modern day Midsummer flower picking – all through this one tiny plant: the twinflower. Pink and romantic, small but proud.

Linnaeus’ favourites: was Artedi among them?

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The dreamer in a world of rationals

This post and the links in it contain advertisements for my book

Christer isn’t a loner. He may look like one where he skulks at the fringes of every party and doesn’t talk to people unless he absolutely has to. But really, he’s not a loner. He would love to be with people. It’s just that in his experience, people don’t want to be with him.

If school and work and life in general has taught him anything, it’s that he doesn’t fit in. Not necessarily because of his bisexuality, but because he has the wrong hobbies, the wrong body, the wrong outlook on life. Even in his own family, he’s the odd one out. Where his parents and siblings are rational and down-to-earth, he’s an out-of-touch dreamer who can’t seem to settle down. Yes, he’s been married, and yes he has a job of sorts, but compared to his brother the academic and his sister the seamstress, he’s sort of… blurry. Unfocused. And worst of all: doomed to be disappointed.

Because that’s the fate of romantics in this world of overachievers: they can’t keep up, and the world can’t keep up with them. They wish for magic, for perfection, and the more mundane parts of life just don’t measure up.

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Maybe that’s why he’s so shaken when he meets Henrik. It’s not just the weird power balance of him secretly knowing who Henrik is, it’s also the scary thought that this man who Christer has been putting on a pedestal for a year won’t measure up either. It’s actually impossible: the golden persona Christer has projected on Henrik is too divorced from reality to result in anything but disenchantment.

So of course he stays away, right?

Wrong. When has Christer ever done the right thing? Even though he knows that he’ll only bore Henrik to tears with his lackluster conversation, he can’t stop talking to him, telling him stories about the history of his own family and the derelict village where they’re celebrating Midsummer’s Eve. It’s as if a door has been opened and there’s no stopping the wind from blowing right through the musty old house.

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It’s frightening. It’s dangerous. Even if Henrik could ever see anything of worth in Christer, there are just too many obstacles in the way of an actual relationship. And make no mistake, a relationship is what Christer is after. He’s not the one night stand type and he won’t settle for less than perfection.

So yeah, it’s doomed, because A) Henrik is a serial dater, B) he lives five hundred miles away, and C) Christer is pretty sure that he’s only ever dated women. Not that this necessarily means he’s not bisexual too, but why would Christer have such luck? He’s used to his boring life where nothing out of the ordinary ever happens.

But then again this is Midsummer’s Eve, and miracles can happen – if Christer only lets down his guard enough to believe in them.

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Should art be censored?

Oh my, am I really opening this can of worms? Evidently I am. Maybe I have a death wish. But I feel like both sides need to be heard, in the same text – and I like the sound of my own voice, so here goes. 😉

First things first: do I consider myself responsible for what I write in a novel? Yes. I wrote it, no one else did, so who is responsible if not me? Sounds like a no-brainer, but I want that to be really clear from the start. I believe that reality is created by what we say and do, so I can’t hide behind a shield that says “it’s fiction”. It may be fiction, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful. If fiction wasn’t powerful, we wouldn’t care about it.

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On the other hand, I also believe that opinions and tastes are the result of social conditioning and societal discourses: people rehash what they’ve been taught. We are what we eat, and if we were raised to be hateful bigots, it can be hard to break free from that. When we voice opinions that hurt people, maybe we weren’t even aware that we did: we’re just retelling a story we’ve learned, and we didn’t stop to question it.

So should we question art? Shouldn’t art be allowed to explore the dangerous and the obscene? Can there really be any art at all if we’re not prepared to offend?

I once read a weird but genius short story by Joakim Pirinen called Familjen Bra (The Good Family), in which nothing happened, because everyone was happy and respectful all the time. In the end, the atmosphere in the story got really eerie, because no one disagreed with anyone else, and everything was “Really good!” The moral was that every story needs conflict. In fact we love conflict in fictional form. We love exploring the limits of our bodies and psyches from the safety of our sofa, be it through disaster movies or soap operas. The question is, how much exploration is enough? Should we draw a line where the pushing of imaginary boundaries just becomes too gross?

In the eighties, there was a lot of controversy around heavy metal music and video violence, issues that continue to elicit strong feelings to this day. Things like The Chainsaw Massacre whipped up a wave of moral panic, and heavy metal was held responsible for shootings and suicides. In my own country, a powerful TV personality staged a veritable character assassination of a 23-year-old editor of a music magazine in front of a hostile studio audience, because he wrote about bands like W.A.S.P. In hindsight, it looks ridiculous – even cruel. Who was he to police what people enjoyed? The heavy metal fans I’ve known are some of the kindest and most polite people ever.

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But maybe he had a point. Art does influence us, after all. Who hasn’t felt inspired to do or say something after watching a movie or reading a book? Who hasn’t felt strengthened in a resolve by having their feelings mirrored in a work of art?

Of course, most people don’t directly copy what they hear in a song or see in a movie. Someone who’s mentally stable doesn’t listen to Marilyn Manson and then go out randomly shooting people. But maybe, just maybe they feel justified in their actions by having them mirrored in art? Maybe it can even make the law more lenient towards perpetrators, and more prone to blaming the victim?

I saw a documentary once where soldiers in Afghanistan were shown pepping themselves for the coming slaughter by listening to Burn motherfucker, burn. Charming, huh? But the war in Afghanistan wasn’t the band’s fault. We can’t blame artists for writing songs that people use to bolster their courage in a horrible situation that was created by politicians and global companies. And said politicians can’t decry violent art one second, only to invade foreign countries and massacre people the next. In the end, art depicting death isn’t as real as the concrete act of killing.

Bottom line is, if artists glorify violence, the reason can be found in the world around us. It’s everywhere. Should we lie and pretend that these atrocities don’t exist? Should artists be held accountable when warlords aren’t? After all, artists only mirror reality, they don’t necessarily create it.

Or do they? I believe things like racism and other forms of hate are naturalized through language and stories. By speaking, we create the world. Violence begins with words, with calling people “rats” and “cockroaches”. Art can contribute to a conversation that dehumanizes a group of people, making it easier to hurt them. Lene Riefenstahl created an image of the Nazi Übermensch. Wagner’s music was used to strengthen German nationalism. Similarly, if rock videos show women being tied up and whipped, or books romanticize domestic abuse, that contributes to the conversation about violence towards women.

So, should art be censored? My gut instinct says no, and yet there are things in film, literature and music that I really wish didn’t exist. What, then, is the answer? Self-censorship? Should we willingly muzzle ourselves instead of staying true to a creative vision that might hurt people?

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These are some of the questions Michael and Jamie are forced to ask in the fourth book about the rock band Pax, Cutting Edge. And perhaps the answer is to always, always reflect on what we do instead of being defensive about it. For example, I’ve used the crazy girlfriend trope in one of my books. I had no good reason, either – I just didn’t think. I hope I gave her enough motivation to be credible, but still: I contributed to the cliché of women who ruin things for the guys in a band. In a way I regret that. But it’s done, and can’t be undone unless I rewrite the entire book, so maybe I can compensate for it by making sure my next female character is less of a stereotype. I can even bring poor Sapphire back in a future book and try to clear her name.

I guess my point is to keep questioning ourselves. Artists mirror what they see, but through their creations, they also influence the world. At the very least, let us be aware of how.

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