Oh my God, finally! We’ve only had clouds, clouds, and more clouds for longer than I care to count. And okay, yes, we need clouds if we want snow, but come on. The sun is only up for four and a half hours this time of year, so a sun that’s actually visible is very much appreciated.

And today it was. I headed out before lunch to catch some rays before they disappeared behind the mountains. I chased the sun up snowy forest hillsides and got all wet and cold and snowy, but lord was it worth it. Everything was so beautiful.

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Frozen droplets in the trees.

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Yellow rays on the bluish snow.

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Mist over the snowy lake.

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Fluffy clusters of ice crystals in the trees.

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Clouds turning pink as the sun disappeared behind the tree tops at one o’clock.

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And on the subject of ‘the things we do for a photo’…

But it was a wonderful day that really wiped my soul clean of all the weariness I was carrying around. Now I’m tired in a more physical way, which is better. Time for some mulled wine and Christmas decorating!

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Why get up at 5.30am even though you’re working from home and can sleep until 7am?

Because you can freeze to death at a brightening twilight beach.

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Because you gradually realize that the dots out there aren’t clumps of grass, but geese.

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Because of honking swans in the thin veils of mist.

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Because the sky turns pink.

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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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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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The light returns

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The darkest, longest night of the year is past. Now we change course and move towards the sun again. Every day, the world will become a little brighter.

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It couldn’t come at a more fitting time for me. Last Friday, it was the day of my defense. In hindsight, I realize that I’ve been under more pressure about this than I thought – and I was aware of quite a lot of pressure! It feels as if for five years, I’ve slowly, excruciatingly rolled up in a tight ball, like a cramp or a Big Bang, and now that knot has loosened, the world has exploded into being, and I’m free. And at the same time, the sun returns. It’s almost too symbolic.

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I can’t believe it’s done – that it’s finally over. The longest project so far in my life, and it’s now finished. My road has been very stony, dark, and misty. I haven’t had a clue where I was going. It’s all been very confusing.

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But the defense went really well, I had a wonderful discussion with my examiner, my whole family was there to watch, my colleagues and friends and of course my husband. Instead of terror, I felt a cautious kind of joy. My work was accepted by the person I respect most – and whose model I used in my studies! Talk about coming full circle.

The party afterwards was wonderful, and I’m not as tired as I should be. I feel like a load of stones have fallen from my shoulders, and I can begin to straighten up again. And above all: I can now be an ordinary person again. I’m not a PhD student anymore. I’m a doctor. I’m done. There’s nothing more to prove. I can go about my business like everyone else and not have to reach for the stars. I can relax. I don’t have to know everything. I can let things be as vague as they are in the real world and not pretend to have an answer.

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Well, at least as long as I’m not talking to the media, but you know… :-/ I can move on! Maybe on one of these. 😉

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Frozen

Oh my, what a morning. I had a gut feeling yesterday that today would be beautiful. The aurora was a sign that the night temperatures would dip below freezing and that the sky would be clear at dawn – perfect conditions for backlit frost pictures.

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But first things first. There was some mist going on, so I hurried up a hill to capture some hazy light and veiled woods.

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I don’t know if it was the cold or the bright light, but the camera seemed to have some trouble focusing. I don’t mind that much, since the pictures still convey the mood, but if cold is an issue, I’ll be learning to focus manually this winter!

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The edges of frost are so pretty, both from a distance and close up. It defines each and every leaf, where just now there was only a blur.

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So, yeah. Autumn was kind of early this year (after a fabulous summer, so I’m not complaining), and so is winter, it seems. Or is frost this early normal? I forget. I don’t usually pay that much attention to the weather. That obsession is completely tied to the camera and my new way of seeing things.

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On the way down from the hill, my path was a burst of glitter and grass. Everything gleamed, wherever I looked. Everything was white or pale yellow. Like a hundred year old photograph that someone had spilled a box of spangles on.

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Sometimes I ‘correct’ pictures like this that are completely blown out, but sometimes that’s exactly the effect I’m going for. Just like my eyes are blinded by the morning sun, the camera is too.

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This was funny: frozen pearls of dew on a clover leaf. As if winter made a surprise attack on it.

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You know what? I actually quite like the movie Frozen – not the silly snowman, but the depiction of mental health issues, creativity and SNOW. The scene where Elsa leaves the town and discovers the full extent of her powers – that imagery is simply irresistible to someone who spent her angsty teenage years writing countless poems about snow, stars and blood. Okay, so blood plays no major part in Frozen, but hey, there’s ice crystals enough to make up for that. And that whole I-thought-I-was-a-wreck-when-really-I-just-needed-to-get-away-from-all-the-bullshit… Yep. Ask me to rule and be a ‘good girl’, and I’ll wither. Leave me alone and I’ll create beauty.

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Look at that! Is it any wonder Christmas decorations are what they are? This looks exactly like tinsel.

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And this. Two hearts on a stem, taking comfort in each other.

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I’m a total magpie for everything that’s bright and shiny. Fairy lights, gold and silver, spangles, snow, stars and frost. And when coupled with strong colours? Count me in. Like these maple leaves on our garden furniture. I mean, there’s just too much awesomeness going on here: first of all, a maple leaf – symbol of Canada, home of Rush. Then, the complementary colours of blue and orange. And finally the cherry on the autumn cake, frost.

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Have a nice day everyone, and don’t forget to look!

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Morning fog

I got up early again, because I missed yesterday’s spectacular dawn with gravlax pink and gold shining through the bus window. But when I reached the hill where I’d planned to snap my pictures, I was just too foggy. Made for some atmospheric shots of the woods, though.

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These are some interesting geese. They’ve been following the swans around the pond for weeks now. As soon as the swans move, so do the geese!

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The sun finally rose over the misty hills. Here seen peeking at a sleeping lorry.

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