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Beyond the Lone Islands

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Feeling blank

We're still in a heat wave here. As usual, I feel like my brain ceases to work properly when the indoors temperature raises above 26 C. This afternoon we had thunder and rain and hail, the temperature outside went down a bit but instead the humidity increased. Trying to think of something to write, my mind still feels blank.

So I looked up "blank", and this is what I found:
blank, adjective 1. not marked or decorated. 2. not understanding or reacting.
noun 1. a space left to be filled in in a form 2. a situation in which you cannot understand or remember something 3. a gun cartridge with gunpowder but no bullet 4. a plain or unfinished object
verb 1. (blank out) hide or block out 2. (Brit. informal) deliberately ignore someone

Yes! That's exactly how I feel. All of it. There is still so much I need to do that is connected to my mother's death a month ago. A lot of forms left to be filled in, for example, quite literally. Things I have to understand and remember myself. Things to get my dad to understand and remember. Things to get other people to understand and remember. All sorts of projects started but left unfinished, by me and by others. Feelings to unblock. Questions and problems and people and forms I'm deliberately ignoring... And right now I feel like there's not even any gunpowder in my cartridge...

My mind feels blank. A short sentence that really says a lot!

Quotation of the Week (27/09)

In order to give one's self, it is first necessary to possess one's self; but it serves no useful purpose to possess one's self, if it is not in order to be able to give one's self.

Paul Tournier, Secrets

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Flying Off The Handle

We're in a heat wave here, but at the same time we've had very strong winds the last few days.

On Thursday, I was away for most of the day; and knowing it would be hot, but not knowing it would be so windy, I left two sunshades up on my balcony.

When I got home in the evening, looking up towards my balcony as I was approaching the house, there was no sunshade at all to be seen. Neither on my balcony, nor on the lawn below. Big mystery! No one else has a key to my apartment right now.

Out on the balcony, I found that the smaller sunshade had blown inwards and fallen onto the balcony floor, holder and all. (The holder had been attached to the parapet.) The bigger sunshade was nowhere to be seen. It had been standing upright in a big water-filled stand on the floor, not right next to the parapet but a bit further in. The empty stand was still there, but the sunshade, shaft included, was simply gone.

I was almost beginning to suspect the next-balcony-neighbour kids to have been playing some trick on me, when I caught sight of something white sticking up from some bushes below, a bit to the side. I went down to have a closer look, and found my sunshade resting peacefully upside-down in the bushes. The wind must have come in from below, simply lifted the whole thing, shaft and all, right out of its holder, turned it sort of sideways (because there is another balcony above), blown it over the parapet, and then sideways again down into the bushes. That must have been a sight. A sunshade/umbrella playing Mary Poppins all by itself...

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge #69

For the rules of the game,
and for more stories,
go to Raven's Nest.

The Slumber Party Mystery
Chapter 16
- The Letter

Mini challenge: motorcycle, grandiose, summer, flying off the handle, blue jays

Lt. Skittles was beginning to question seriously whether he really had the right qualifications for his job. Right now, he felt he would need to be a psychatrist to be able to sort out whether this young girl was suffering from serious grandiose delusions, or just babbling. How do you continue questioning someone who has just informed you that she thinks of herself as "the goddess of the hunt"? In combination with the summer heat, he felt himself dangerously close to flying off the handle. He looked desperately around the room for inspiration, but all the strange objects in there were no help at all. That picture on the wall, for example, of two blue jays sitting on a motorcycle… Actually, anyone could go crazy growing up in a place like this, he suddenly thought.

Ten Word Challenge: Chorus line, clam chowder, apples, jack-in-the-box, puddles, Iran, quarry, housekeeping, speed, letter

"Look here," he started to say, but was interrupted by the butler appearing like a jack-in-the-box, carrying a tray with a letter, a glass of water and the aspirins that Skittles had asked for earlier.

"Oh, Bumblebee!" exclaimed Diana. "You're a darling, you always know exactly what I need!" She rose from her chair, took the pills and emptied the glass, before Skittles had time to even blink. "I'm so sorry you have to do all the housekeeping this weekend, but of course we shall have to change the menu for this evening. Do you think you could manage to whip up that clam chowder of yours instead? And I was thinking of asking you to make raspberry tart for dessert, but if there aren't any raspberries, you could use apples instead." She was talking with such speed that Skittles suddenly got the impression of watching a chorus line, except of course that she was performing solo.

"May I suggest bass instead of clam chowder, miss?" asked Bumblebee. "And by the way, I thought you might want to know that Puddles is back."

"Puddles? Who is Puddles?" said Skittles, hoping for some useful information at last.

"Oh, I'm so glad! I was wondering whether I would have to go out on a hunt again, with her as quarry," said Diana. Turning to Skittles, she added: "Puddles is my cat, a Persian. Like from Iran. I mean, Iran used to be Persia, you know. But don't worry, I don't really hunt cats any more, that was just an attempt at a joke." She took the letter from the tray that Bumblebee was still holding out to her. "Oh, excellent!" she exclaimed. "This is the blackmail letter I sent to myself. And the right postage, too."


Author's note:
Readers feeling as confused as Skittles at the last sentence are advised to look back at chapter 12 (wordzzle challenge #65), and also at chapter 15 (wordzzle challenge #68).

Monday, 22 June 2009

Quotation of the week 26/09

Vicky's message filled the kitchen, the hall and the room that still lay in darkness, it took up all the space, it consumed the oxygen.
"Hi, it's Vicky. Have you heard? Have you heard about the accident? It's about Yvonne. She's dead."
In the midst of the confusion I noted my own behaviour, as if watching myself from outside.
The strange thing was that I took out a clean tea towel and removed the strainer from the teapot before I called Vicky back.
No, it's not strange. It's how it is. The screw is there. In case of shock, please wind up for mechanical behaviour.

Vibeke Olsson (Swedish author)
(translated by me from a novel that I don't think is available in English, "Koltrasten i Tegnérlunden"; koltrast = blackbird)

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge # 68

For the rules of the game, go to Raven's Nest. For this week's words, also a special thanks to Dr John!

Since I've been a on a "break" from this game for a couple of weeks, I take the opportunity to make double use of this weeks words instead - first the 10 word challenge, then the mini, then all 15 together - to move along with my ongoing story:

The Slumber Party Mystery
(Links to previous chapters can be found in the margin.)

Ten Word Challenge: sow, close, console, lives, minute, polish, bass, pussy, complex, resume

Chapter 13 - Meditations in the Garden

While Diana was pouring her heart out to Lieutenant Skittles in the library, William and Adam were left together out on the terrace, not knowing how to resume the conversation, or even if they were supposed to talk at all.

William looked at the marigolds that he himself had helped the gardener sow, thinking about how much he would like to be close to Diana and console her. She had seemed so upset about the fire, even though it had been put out (by him, William!) before it had done any real damage.

Adam, meanwhile, absentmindedly polished the smooth surface of a marble statue with his handkerchief, contemplating how complex the whole situation was, and how people's lives can change in less than a minute.

A cat came strolling over the lawn. William tried to call it: "Pussy-pussy-puss…" but the cat ignored him and disappeared around the corner of the house. Seeing the cat reminded Adam of that time several years ago that he had caught Diana chasing another cat in the same garden, with a bow and arrow from her grandfather's collection. He did not know what to make of the young woman she had grown up to be. Deeply absorbed in his own thoughts, he hardly took any notice when William said:

"If the lieutenant asks for me, tell him I just went round to the kitchen to help Bumblebee with the groceries. I really need to explain to him why he got bass instead of stingray."

Mini challenge: bow, sewer, house, import, intern

Chapter 14 - Following the Cat

William followed the cat around the corner of the house. Entering the kitchen, he made a polite bow to Bumblebee. He had always found the butler a very impressive man, and he himself was really only a sort of intern at the grocery store, at least when it came to dealing with more important things than just driving the van.

"I'm very sorry about the fish, sir," he said. "I know you wanted stingray, but there was some kind of problem with the import regulations and the bill of lading, so we didn't get any. I took the liberty of bringing you bass instead."

For a moment, William felt that the butler looked at him as if he was something that had just come up out of the sewer; but then he just sighed and said in a quite friendly tone of voice: "Never mind, it obviously wasn't your fault. And by the looks of things no one will be wanting a barbeque this evening anyway…"

Chapter 15 - A Life of Pretending

In the library, Diana had had another attack of tears, and Lieutenant Skittles was trying to console her and make her resume her complex story; which he still sensed might possibly be of some import, although he found it difficult to understand.

"Come, come," he said in a deep bass voice, "take a minute to calm yourself, and then try to explain it all to me again.

"My grandmother used to say, we all reap what we sow," sighed Diana, "and I guess she was right, wasn't she, although we were never really close. It wasn't all easy, you know, growing up in this house. Sometimes I felt like an intern, a prisoner, or something they had had to rescue from the sewer. It often seemed to me that in this family, we had to polish our lives as well as all the silver and brass. But all that shiny stuff, that's not really me. So that's why I started making up my own adventures. Like pretending Pussy was a tiger, and borrowing grandfather's bow for the hunt, to make it feel real." She looked at Skittles to see if he understood, but he just stared back blankly at her.

"You don't get it, do you?" she said. "The only thing I felt I had as a child that was really my own was my name: Diana. And Diana is the goddess of the hunt. That I learned from these books." She made another gesture around the walls of the library. "So all the games I played as a child were based on that. And when I took up writing – well, I didn't realize it at first, but I do now – it's just been another way of continuing the same game."

Friday, 19 June 2009

Midsummer's Eve

Midsummer Dance by Anders Zorn, 1897

In Sweden, Midsummer's Eve was formerly celebrated on June 23th, but since the 1950's on the Friday between June 19th and June 25th (and Midsummer's Day on the Saturday). It is probably the most uniquely Swedish of all our holidays. The main celebrations take place on the Friday, and traditionally include raising and dancing around a huge maypole (majstång), nowadays usually called midsummerpole (midsommarstång), decorated with leaves and flowers. The connection to fertility is naturally linked to the time of year.

Folk music is played and some people (especially folk musicians and dancers) wear traditional costumes. The menu usually includes pickled herring (which I never much liked, though), the first potatoes of the season, and the first strawberries. Many people also drink a lot of alcohol; but alcohol was never part of my own family traditions. Actually, come to think of it, neither was the maypole nor the dancing...! In my teens and later, though, I sometimes took part in bigger midsummer festivities, maypole dancing included. I especially remember the first midsummer I was allowed to spend with friends, and stay out all night. (I must have been 18 because I had got my driver's license; so I suppose no one could forbid me, really...) At that age especially, one is supposed to stay up all night (it's the shortest night of the year) and watch the sun rise early in the morning. It was exciting mainly because it was the first time. It was also cold and damp and a lot of mosquitoes...

Traditionally, Midsummer was thought to be one of the times of the year when magic was strong, so it was considered a good night to perform rituals to look into the future. For example, to pick a bouquet of seven or nine different flowers and put them under your pillow and then in your dream you would see your future spouse.

This year, I'm quite satisfied "celebrating" by just having a quiet day to myself, after the past very intense weeks. It's been raining most of the day anyway. I had chicken instead of herring (which, as I said above, I never liked), but I did have strawberries and icecream.
The neighbourhood is very quiet, I suppose most of the neighbours have gone away to celebrate.
At this age, I have no desire whatsoever to stay up all night; on the contrary, I very much hope I'll be able to go to sleep at my usual bedtime, and not wake up until well past the sunrise... ;-)

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Listen To A Book

I listen to a lot of audio books. I'm not sure whether their popularity is equal in all countries, but in Sweden more and more people seem to enjoy them, and they are also popular at the libraries. Back in the 90's, I used to listen while I did something else, for example in the kitchen. Later, when I got problems with my neck and had to spend a lot of time just lying flat on my back, the alternative to listen to books, without having to hold them and turn the pages, became even more valuable to me, and it still is.

I love a good "bedtime story", and audio books have taken me through many a night when I have had trouble sleeping because of pain problems. If I fall asleep while listening, that's just good. And if I can't sleep, at least I get something else than my own problems to think about! I listen to CD's or tapes, or MP3 with a timer, so that they turn themselves off after 30-60 minutes. At night, I usually prefer to listen to a good book I already know, so that I don't have to concentrate too hard. With audio books, it is not only the content of the book that is important, though, but also that you like the voice.

Those of you who sometimes read my margin or my weekly quotations won't be surprised that some of my bedtime favourites are children's books like Winnie-the-Pooh, the Chronicles of Narnia or Harry Potter. Other books/tapes that I have listened to more times than I've ever bothered to count are Three Men in a Boat by J.K. Jerome, and some stories by P.G. Wodehouse. (I do have a strong preference for British English...) Recently, I've been re-listening to some Swedish classics by authors like August Strindberg and Hjalmar Bergman (late 19th - early 20th c) which I have on tape.

Quite recently, I found this website: Free Classic Audio Books, where you can download some free classics as either MP3 or MB4 for iPod. Good place to start if you can't afford to buy, or just want to try out what it feels like to listen to a book, if you're not already used to this way of reading. Enjoy! :)

Monday, 15 June 2009

Quotation of the Week 25/09

Times are hard. It's a hard time,
but everybody knows all about hard times.
The thing is, what are you gonna do?
Well, you cry and try to muscle through.
Try to rearrange your stuff.
But when the wounds are deep enough,
and it's all that we can bear,
we wrap ourselves in prayer.

Paul Simon, Wartime Prayers
(Album: Surprise, 2006)

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Preserve Your Memories

"Preserve your memories, they're all that's left you..."
(Paul Simon; cf. this post of mine from 17 April)

The sun did not shine, but neither did we have to huddle under umbrellas, on the day of my mother's funeral. It rained in the morning, and it rained the next day; but not right before, during or just after the funeral.

We managed to get the very last time availabe before the church closed for a renovation this summer. (I did not even know until the day of the funeral that if we had chosen a later date, we would not have been able to use that church! It is a beautiful church and I don't really know what they need to renovate.) The surrounding landscape is at its best this time of the year, all fresh and green. Since my mum always loved being out in the woods and in the garden, we kept to hymns and songs connecting to that theme throughout. None of us had met the vicar until he came to my dad's house a week before the funeral and talked to me and my dad. But he turned out to be a good listener, and able to pick up just the right things and express them well at the funeral.

Mum and Dad did not have all that many close relatives and friends, and many of them have their own health problems; but nearly everybody whom we really wished to be there was able to come (around 25 people altogether). Dad himself has a neurological impairment which affects both his ability to walk and his memory and concentration now, and we were worried how he would get through the day; but he "did well", on the whole. Instead of walking in the procession between the church and the grave, he agreed to be taken round in the car by my brother, while my aunt and I walked behind the coffin, with the other guests following.

After the last farewell at the grave, we all went by car to the church hall, where a cold buffet was served. Dad refrained from trying to make any speech himself; but my brother made a very good one, and so did one of my dad's cousins and also a representative of the local historical society in which my parents have been active members over the past 17 years. I also said a few words but chose to express myself mostly in a sort of memorial scrapbook/ photo collage which was displayed on a separate table in the church hall. All in all, I feel that we managed to keep the focus on grateful memories.

This is a picture of my mum from a few years back,
(in December) overlooking a lake near where
they live, from the top of a bird watch tower.

And this is a picture of my parents, sitting on a park bench
overlooking another lake; this one was sent to me
by a friend of theirs after the funeral.
This photo, too, reminds me of the Bookends/Old Friends
lyrics by Paul Simon,
from which I borrowed the title of this post.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Brief Update

Over the last two weeks, between making arrangements for my mother's funeral, and organizing more home care for my father, and talking on the phone to relatives etc, I have had very little time or energy left for "myself". I also find it difficult in the midst of a situation like this to transfer my thoughts spontaneously into the English language, because everything that is happening is so tied up to (Swedish) cultural traditions and social context. I hope that maybe in a week or so I'll be able to begin to "catch up with myself" a bit…? (The funeral is tomorrow.)

Monday, 8 June 2009

Quotation of the Week (24/09)

To meditate, to seek the will of God, is not to know securely what this will is. Far from it! It is to grope for it in the darkness, to often be mistaken, sometimes even to remain for long periods with no response to our pressing questions. It is to run a risk, but it is to persevere obstinately, despite all difficulties, for it is more important to seek than to find.

Paul Tournier, Fatigue in Modern Society
(link to Wikipedia article)

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Quotation of the Week (23/09)

To one as young as you, I'm sure it seems incredible, but --- it really is like going to bed after a very, very long day. After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
(Dumbledore to Harry)

I'm very touched by all the comments I received on my post "Life Is Fragile" last week. Since then, the little energy I have has been split between funeral arrangements for my mother (the funeral will be next Thursday) and organizing a "new life" for my father, who is also not well.


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