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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King of all I survey

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I’ve heard that an important Swedish trait is our love of nature, which makes me go “Huh? Doesn’t everyone in the world love nature?” so I guess in my case it’s true. 😀 But apparently some people are put off by the prospect of miles and miles of forest where they won’t meet a soul. To me it sounds like paradise.

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Or even better than a forest: a mountain. There’s nothing like standing on the top of a hill and looking down at things that usually seem important blur into insignificance.

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Maybe that’s why the elk is so emblematic of Sweden. It’s a solitary animal that goes where it wants in the woods – it has its paths and doesn’t care about the roads we’ve built – and it looks so majestic where it glides along beneath the towering pines and firs. There’s even an expression in Swedish – älga iväg (‘elk away’) – which means walk with long big strides.

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So like the elk I like to roam free and feel like I own the world. 😀 And nowhere do I feel it more than in unpopulated areas. Nothing calms my soul like listening to the special kind of silence that speaks of distance: you may hear the odd car on a highway far away, but the very fact that the sound travels such a long way tells you how alone you are – how utterly peaceful. No chatter, no demands, no social mores or rituals to honour. Just you and the water and the air and the sun.

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On a related note, I also love ruins and abandoned buildings. All the heartache and intrigue that once happened there is history, and all the people who struggled are long dead. You can own the place, because no one owns it anymore.

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You can imagine the echoes, but they don’t touch you. Only the atmosphere of the place, the final outbreath when the battle is over.

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It’s both lovely and awful how nature takes over as soon as humans stop fighting for a place in it. Lovely because it gives me hope for the planet after we’re gone, and awful because it really takes all we have to stop both ourselves and our houses from falling into decay.

And at the same time it’s so funny how we tend to want to fight. We could easily let beautiful weeds overgrow our gardens, but we insist on ripping them out and planting things that don’t really want to be there, that crave a subtle balance of sun and damp and shade that has us toiling in our free time just to cater to them!

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It’s as if the fact that we have to work for something makes it more valuable – and maybe that’s true to a point. But if we’re plagued by stress and demands, and gardening isn’t a hobby or a way for us to wind down, maybe we should lower our standards and be okay with a little wilderness.

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Finally, I can willingly trade a cluttered beach on the Riviera for the peaceful solitude of a tiny strip of sand by a northern Swedish lake.

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And yeah, alright – I might be persuaded to share it with a tiny little frog. 🙂

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Going to the chapel

This weekend, hubby and I went on an outing to an old chapel in the middle of the wilderness. It was built in 1891, and the spot was chosen to be accessible from several surrounding municipalities – even though people had to travel 25 miles’ worth of primitive forest paths to get there.

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Back then it was also used as a school. There was no central heating, but there was a fireplace that the teacher or the beadle had to stoke.

The house was really pretty both on the outside and the inside. It recently won an award for ‘most beautiful building in the county’. It almost had a viking feel, probably because it was built during a time in Swedish history when people liked music, literature, art, and architecture that smacked of romantic nationalism.

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The afternoon light really did the room justice.

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Outside the chapel there was just endless forest – and miles of winding road flanked by wild flowers. It was almost ridiculously picturesque.

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But then on the way home the weather turned really dramatic, veering from violent winds and pelting rain to the brightest sunlight. I almost couldn’t snap these pictures at all, because the wind kept buffeting at me, my camera was drenched, and I had no time either to compose the images or adjust focus and exposure.

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The need to explore

One of my favourite sources for information on the MBTI is personalityhacker, and they’ve dubbed my auxiliary function as an INTP ‘exploration’. It’s what makes you want to discover new things and go where no one has ever gone before.

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As a child on holiday I always wanted to leave the main road and potter along tiny cobbled streets to find out where they led. I think I realised that they didn’t lead anywhere special – other than a park or a pocket restaurant or something – but I just wanted to feel like I was on an adventure.

And according to personalityhacker, that was a good instinct. All types benefit from developing their auxiliary function, even though it may feel like a chore at times. It’s often easier to fall back on your tertiary function – in my case introverted sensing, which stands for memory and routine and safety – than make the effort to grow.

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In the case of INTPs and INFPs, the auxiliary function to develop is extraverted intuition. These types become happiest if they try to discover new things and break old habits, tasting new food and seeing new places. In fact I tend to do this to a fault when I’m in a new town: every time I’ve moved somewhere new, I’ve spent one or two of my first days getting lost almost on purpose, because I’ve relied on my non-existent sense of direction to take me where I want. And maybe that has been a good thing. You never know what you’ll find when you take the road less travelled.

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The more I learn about the MBTI and my auxiliary extraverted intuition, the more I understand past experiences. For example I remember being really happy when hubby and I went to Santorini. I was in a rut at the time. I had this feeling that nothing in my life would ever change much. But then I looked out of the airplane window and saw those beautiful, alien (to me) houses, and hope was kindled – just because I saw something different, something I didn’t already know.

To quote my WIP set on that very island:

I haven’t dared believe it until now, but as I gaze out of the window, there’s only the sapphire sea all around. Not an island in sight. It actually looks as if we’re going to land on the water.

But then the plane veers right, and a startling sight comes into view: a monster of a mountain, towering above a small, dark grey beach. As the first few houses appear, I feel a welcome pang of happiness. This is something new. Something I’ve never seen before. Just what I need to get me out of the depressive coma I’ve been buried in for half a year. Nothing has been able to touch me, but now the sight of those houses – so different from the timbered cottages at home – gives me hope somehow.

Because this was why I went here in the first place.

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Extraverted intuition is also at the heart of my photography: it’s a way to discover new ways of looking at the same old things. I want to change my perspective, to see past the dullness of the everyday. I want to see everything shrouded in light. I want to see the tiny things that are so easy to miss.

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If you are an INTP or an INFP, you too can benefit from using your Ne. Sure, it takes effort to get out of that rut, but there are rewards – especially when it feels like the last thing you want to do. And you don’t need to invent the wheel – it can be as simple as walking a new path in a known forest.

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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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Variatio delectat

That was my favourite saying in college (high school or whatever, I was sixteen, okay?). And it still holds good. I like tasting the many different hues of life. Spending a weekend at the cabin without showering, wearing filthy old clothes and drinking only water from the well, only to make a total U turn and go for a night on the town. Alright, that last one is blue-moon rare, but you know what I mean.

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Today was just such a day. A perfect balance between working in the basement (still scrapin’ those floors), smelling the flowers and listening to good music.

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And on the way home at half past eleven at night, this was the view.

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The summer knock-out

This year’s weather is so strange that you can kind of forget that it’s summer, because you almost need gloves when you go outside. And then days like this one hit, and you’re left reeling from the realisation that yeah, it’s actually the end of June.

Sun spangles and the delicate gauze of beaked parsley.

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The remnants of dandelions.

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Luminescent cranesbill, like daytime moonlight.

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All saying, “Grab it while you can!”