My whole world

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No matter how small the creature, it’s always at the centre of its own world.

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Hubby and I sometimes talk about this in relation to spiders and flies: how they must view the world so differently from us – not only because they have more eyes, but because they hang upside down from tent ceilings and windows. Wonder how this garden looks from their perspective, we say. Do they even have a concept of it, or do they just see their immediate surroundings and ignore the rest? Is the ant’s world comprised of the blade of grass directly in front of it – an obstacle to overcome – or do they think about the ant hill and dream of reaching it faster than yesterday?

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Every single organism is at the nave of its own universe. It’s the receptacle for sun and rain, for wind and weather. Everything that happens to it happens in relation to their unique self.

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Even in a field of endless waving grain, every seed is an individual.

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But what about fungi? Their self resides under ground, and the bodies we see poking up through the forest floor are only satellites revealing a larger presence beneath the surface.

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And we humans – can we see beyond our immediate surroundings? Can we grasp the concept of the garden even though we can only see the blade of grass that blocks our way?

Are we individuals, or a seemingly unique expression of something else – something constant, something whole?

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Making a museum

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One of the perks of living in an old house is that you never know what you will find. In attics and basements, in outhouses and barns, you can discover old junk that someone stored there ‘just in case’. Things that first lost their value in the onslaught of the modern, but since then have gained another kind of value through the romantic tint of Olden Stuffe.

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During our latest stay at the cabin, we started cleaning out an old barn in order to display some of these old things in a museum-y way that heightens that value. You only have to put something in a frame or a context to make people see it in a more positive light. What looked like rubbish just now, lying thrown in a dusty corner, is suddenly a relic, an artifact. Like these old cake tins.

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It takes some doing to brush away the filth of the decades, but it’s very refreshing to survey the result.

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And windows that sit in the cracked old concrete walls of a barn where cows were once kept can suddenly become picturesque just because you put some ancient paraphernalia in them.

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Pretty, isn’t it? So let’s ignore the piles of still-unsorted junk right outside the frame…

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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 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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How to enjoy a good herring

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Perhaps you’ve seen them – the videos of people retching and yowling like tortured puppies over a tin of Swedish fermented herring like it’s the worst thing that ever happened to them. And yeah, I laughed the first time I saw them too. But come on. Sure, it smells a bit funny, but so does a chip shop. And you don’t swallow a whole fish with bones and all and assess a goddamn delicacy that way. I mean, what if I chomped down a platter of only prosciutto and dissed the entirety of Italian cuisine because I found it too salty?

Ridiculous.

So how are you supposed to eat fermented herring? Well what do you know, that’s exactly what I’m here to tell you. To begin with, you need accessory foods. Opinions differ – as they always do with traditions – but I like my herring with Swedish thin bread, potatoes, red onion, sour cream, and tomatoes.

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You may also want to indulge in some accessory drinks. Some people swear by milk, and others by beer. And why not a home made schnapps made with seeds of fennel, caraway, and coriander soaked in vodka?

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You can eat your herring with the requisite accessory foods as a regular meal, with everything laid on a plate, but I find it more festive to make a tunnbrödklämma – a piece of thin bread with a mound of toppings that make it almost impossible to eat. So it’s a challenge as well!

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Eaten this way, the herring provides a salty, tangy accent to a mouthful of quite bland, sweet foods – absolutely delicious!

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(Good enough to kiss! :D)

Fly by night

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

More documentation than art, but it was really nice to see these guys again. We think they live in the attic of our cabin. Normally we only see them in August when it’s darker, but this time we were treated to a display against a bright July sky. 🙂

Orphan Bats

Lyrics: Vaughan
Music: Vaughan/Gardiner

We are unwanted but loved
We are the scary squatters
We hang hidden in black
We won’t go back where we came from

And we won’t die
Even though you turn us away
We will keep crawling
Out of attics everywhere

And come twilight
You can see us
Winging our way
Hunting our prey
Through the horrid night
You can join us
Seeing with your ears
Knowing no fears

We are the children of chance
We are the brainy critters
We see your world upside down
And we are blind to progress

We may seem silent
And our flight random and queer
But we’ll keep on sending
Our voices everywhere

And come twilight…

There is something in the night
Something seems to move
A band of orphan bats
That don’t need you to approve

Dark and gruesome exteriors
Sprung from fevered dreams
But in the heart of darkness
There’s a light that ever gleams

(From Just Playing)

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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