The unintentional children’s book about losing your first baby teeth
Let’s begin at the top, shall we? Picture a cruise vessel (this was before the pandemic), somewhere in the Caribbean. It’s time for Sascha, our son, to go to bed. As he’s done often before, he’s asking for a bedtime story, and for once, I manage to come up with one. I’m usually not very good at this. But we had been talking about his teeth and his anxiety (small kids, small problems) that he was one of the last kids in his class to still sport all his twenty baby teeth. Sidebar: he ended up being the last one to lose one. At the time the new teeth had already sprung up behind and I pulled them both to create the necessary space. Anyhow, back to the ship and Sascha tucked into bed. Somehow, I managed to come up with this crazy story about a vampire who lost his fangs. Sascha loved it and I figured I’d better jot it down just in case he wanted to hear it again.
From Joe to Elizabeth
What a wonderful illustration. I love to work with Finn. He’s got such a talent to visualize my work.
Over the weeks after our cruise, I got to tell him the story a few times and he really loved it. But as is the case with all my children’s stories, I tend to put them aside. I know they need a lot of time and work. During the pandemic, as I was struck with a complete writer’s block (I still haven’t recovered), I began to edit the story, making sure it was the best it could be. Fast forward to late May and I had the idea to use this story to create a video with Sascha. We had done a couple of trailers together for my previous children’s books (here and here) and he’d done such an amazing job at reading the books that I figured, why not let him read an entire book? The idea had originally come from an author friend of mine, Bru Baker when I’d begun to read my own works live at the beginning of the pandemic (they, too, can be found on my YouTube channel.)
Meanwhile, in the editing process, Joe had become Elizabeth, as I figured the world had enough male heroes in books. I let Sascha name the vampire and he chose Elizabeth (he thinks it’s a great vampire name.) I reached out to Finn Swan, who’s been kind enough to illustrate my stories about princes Valerius & Evander. He agreed and created six beautiful drawings for it. He also created a GIF that I could use for the video.
The unintentional book
As Sascha’s summer break approached, I began work on the video and had the bright idea to create a PDF to add to the video description so that parents and kids could read along with Sascha’s narration. I used a native Mac tool to set up the pages, typeset the text, and create the PDF. Since I’m not an expert on typesetting, I sent it to my publisher for a once over. Here’s what she sent back:
“I’d rather not give you feedback on this. You won’t like it, but as you asked… The images are lovely – I saw them arrive in the Dropbox folder on Saturday. Finn’s brilliant. The story is awesome too, so you’re golden with the content, and the order of image followed by text works – that’s how we handled the V&E ebooks.
The formatting… oy. […]
Question: is there a reason you’re doing this yourself rather than through BTP? I’d already included it in this year’s schedule.”
She was right, of course. My response was short and sweet: “It’s all yours.” I hadn’t known that she’d put it in the BTP schedule nor that she wanted to publish this. Two days later, the book was out, and Sascha was still in school. That’s how things happen sometimes. Looking back, I’m glad that Debbie pushed for getting the book out. I think it’s a great tool for parents to talk to their kids about losing their baby teeth which can be both scary and exciting. My son was really anxious about being “left behind” in this regard and couldn’t understand that it is perfectly normal for some kids to begin losing their teeth at five, while others have to wait until they’re seven. The story provided me with an opening to talk about different being totally okay, not worse. This is a topic we’ll sadly have to revisit countless times as he grows up, in so many other areas of life. I’m sure other parents can relate to this.
We got to the video, at last
Summer came, summer almost ended, before we got around to actually sit down and record the video. Sascha was stellar (yeah, totally biased) and after a day of editing and Sascha choosing a musical score, we published the video on my YouTube channel. And ever since then, Sascha’s been asking me almost daily about likes. His generation is totally in sync with that sort of thing. So help him feel great about himself, watch the video and press the “thumbs up”, and feel free to like and share it on Facebook or other social media.
As always, the book is available as a paperback and ebook from Beaten Track and is sold worldwide from Amazon and many other retailers, online but also from local bookstores (ask for it.) If you’d like to give it away as a gift to someone and wish it to be signed by me and/or Sascha, you can buy it directly from me.
Thoughts after our first trip abroad during the Covid-19 pandemic
I wasn’t sure if travel summer 2020 was a good idea, but weirdly, ever since the lockdown began mid-March, and I saw how airline after airline stopped flying to Gothenburg, I began to long. More than ever before. It was almost as if the mere fact that I couldn’t fly made me want to fly even more. We had been in Switzerland for a week for ski week in February and had made preliminary plans for a short trip to see my husband’s mother and some relatives over Easter, none of which materialized due to a national travel ban. But apart from Easter, we normally don’t travel until the summer. Yet this year, I longed and longed.
My immediate family, what’s left of it… With only one parent left, we want to make sure our son gets to spend as much time with his grandpa as possible.
Homecation, the new normal
Our government informed us early on that we shouldn’t expect a normal summer and that it would be most likely that we’d have to vacation at home, i.e. in Sweden. As the summer approached and after our previously made plans had been canceled we decided that we still wanted to travel to Switzerland, but replace the week of a previously planned cruise, we decided to show our son one of his two native countries. We had also planned for a few short trips across the border to Italy but had to cancel all but one of those (more about that later.)
After having spent several months talking to my dad on Facetime, we were looking forward to seeing him again, and for our son to get to spend some time with his only remaining grandparent.
Same, same, but different: rules
Unfortunately, this pandemic has shown just how little the world cooperates. Not just within the WHO framework, but also within the EU. Every country did their own thing, which was okay given how quickly things escalated in the beginning, but after the Italian shutdown, I feel the EU should’ve sat down and begun to plan how to do things in a more concerted way. To see borders closed and fences going up in the middle of neighborhoods that had worked as one for decades was weird. The blame-game across borders which is still ongoing is even worse and will damage European relations for a long time to come. Yet, weirdly, as I look at the different countries we’ve been to, the rules (post lockdown) are largely the same, with a few differences. Here in Sweden, the elderly (70+) are still in lockdown and aren’t supposed to meet their kids and grandkids (and most certainly not hug them.) In Switzerland, this restriction was removed as part of their opening up of society. Therefore, we had no ‘legal’ hinder to go visit my dad who just turned 79. But we were careful, of course, because we really didn’t want to risk his health. No hugs, no handshake when we arrived, and my dad’s house is littered with soap and hand sanitizer.
Same, same, but different: hotels
We traveled for a week, by car. We figured it was easier than taking a train since Switzerland requires face masks and those things itch after a bit, so we only wore them when necessary and mandated. Social distancing works well, wherever we were, but how hotels organize things is very different and it was interesting to witness the differences, what works and what doesn’t.
Buffets are a challenge, of course, and I think most of us will see buffets through different eyes. Our first hotel, one we’ve visited many times before, kept the buffet, but added single-use gloves (few used them) and hand sanitizer and a one-way system. It didn’t really work because if you needed something from the “end” you didn’t really want to wait in line for everyone else to have gotten what they wanted. Another hotel we visited had adopted a different system, spreading out the buffet throughout the breakfast room, allowing people to spread out more easily. All food items were either covered with lids or e.g. plastic foil.
Another hotel we visited had abolished the buffet and replaced it with an a-la-carte menu. You ordered your breakfast the night before. Drawback: deciding what you’ll likely want to eat the next day and remembering what that was in the morning. I was lost. LOL, but the presentation was great and the food delicious.
Same, same, but different: face coverings
First time in my life I had to wear one of these.
I’m no fan of them, I’ll admit. Yet we ordered a few the other day for future use, and we obviously follow government recommendations and mandates. I can barely go on Facebook anymore as the debate from the US is simply disgusting. Yes, we can argue the scientific value of face coverings in this pandemic, but once a decision is made, you follow the rules. Period. You don’t murder people or steal just because you disagree with the respective laws. But yeah, America…
We first experienced face masks when we boarded our flight to Switzerland. I was happy to take it off to eat and drink but put it back on once I was done. On our trip to Switzerland, the masks were merely recommended. On our way home, they’d become mandatory. Things change all the time.
I think it makes sense to have that extra layer of protection in crowded spaces, such as airports (as abandoned as they are), shops, planes, or public transport. We complied using surgical masks we bought at our local airport in Gothenburg (the only place I’ve found them since March, excessively overpriced.) Sweden, along with other Nordic countries, does not yet mandate masks because of the lack of clear scientific evidence of their use, but I think we’ll need to change our approach not just because covid-19 is different from the flu, but also because of all the asymptomatic people not to mention all the covidiots out there, i.e. people who are sick yet insist on going out. But if you travel, bring a comfortable face covering (or four) along to use. The blue paper surgical masks are itchy and uncomfortable (my ears were going stir crazy having to bear both the rubber bands and the rims of my glasses.) Besides, if we have to wear a mask, make it part of your personality, your style.
Same, same, but different: uncertainty
Traveling is always accompanied by a certain level of uncertainty. You never know what might happen simply because countries are different. However, this year, even traveling to a country you know very well (I was born and raised in Switzerland) is accompanied by weird flukes. When we booked our trip, we knew that we were “allowed to”, both by the Swiss and Swedish governments. However, when we flew, the Swiss government had announced a ten-day quarantine for Swedish travelers, due to the high infection numbers in Sweden. We arrived two days before that rule went into place and didn’t have to. But it basically stopped our plans to travel to Italy because we didn’t really know if my husband would’ve had to quarantine after a day trip as he has no Swiss ID. Our son and I do, we would’ve been fine (silly, right?), but it just wasn’t worth the risk.
To make matters worse, after a week in Switzerland, the Swedish government “retaliated” and removing the green light from Swiss travel. Kind of nice when you’re already there. Our insurance was no longer valid (if anything had happened.) A few days before we returned to Sweden, the Swiss removed the quarantine for Swedish travelers and I expect Sweden to once again allow travel to Switzerland when they review their decision in two days. Silly, but that’s Europe 2020 for you.
But if you travel this year, this is something that might happen to you, as additional examples in recent days (UK, Spain) have shown. Things are very volatile and you better be prepared to pay your own medical bills or buy new plane tickets last minute. I am impressed with the Lufthansa Group’s decision and their “promise” to always bring you home. What it’s worth if push ever came to shove is a different story. There’s plenty of small print one cannot be bothered to read.
Same, same, but different: conclusions
We had a good vacation. We spent lots of time outdoors, we made sure to travel safely and avoid crowds. Sadly you can’t really avoid all the covidiots everywhere, but a good stare usually stops them from coming too close. We were well prepared and healthy and made the most of the time, and coming home after three weeks once again proved a well-hidden point about travel: you appreciate your home so much more.
Have you been traveling this summer? Plan to? What are your experiences?
The pandemic and the state of the world killed my muse
You probably saw my post last week about the art project that I’ve been a part of. It’s been a welcome escape from my regular writing. But even though the post is long and includes several poems, I haven’t “really” written anything substantial in the past three months. Most of the poetry included in last week’s post was written prior to the pandemic. I just can’t seem to be writing fiction anymore. The state of the world, and how quickly it is descending into chaos is deeply disturbing for a soul like mine, and the pain metaphysically alters my ability to concentrate and write.
The hunt for good news
March 17, 2020, the date none of us will ever forget. The day things went sour here in Sweden and elsewhere. The exact day may have varied. It was sooner in Spain and Italy, later in other geographies. Two-and-a-half months later, we’re still in the middle of this pandemic and I find myself staring at the statistics from the Johns Hopkins University ten times a day (at least), looking for hope, looking for the graphs to turn downward, the number of cases to drop, etc. Alas, so far, no such luck. As a European with tentacles all over the world, I follow not only the European numbers, but the American ones as well, and the signs are deeply disturbing. I won’t get into a numbers game or even try to understand how the numbers relate and compare (or not), as even my own country’s numbers can’t be taken at face value. Changes in testing, ramping up testing, changes in who’s tested, and so on and so forth obviously impact the graphs which still look worrying from the outside (if you don’t know how to interpret them.) Good news is scarce these days, but it’s out there, at least with regards to the disease, in Europe.
Turn off the news…
I also spend some time on Facebook, staying in touch with friends and family around the world, and my stream includes a lot of “other”, political memes, articles, and whatnot. That’s usually more disturbing than anything else. I read a lot of newspapers, too, from local news from Sweden to Süddeutsche Zeitung, FAZ, the Guardian, the Independent, CNN, The Washington Post, etc. I like to be informed, I need to stay abreast of what’s going on. Recently, good news has been scarce, or they drown in the pile of manure that is headlining. The first commercial rocket to bring people to ISS, an amazing feat, yet who cares? Instead, it’s hashtags like #ICantBreathe or #BlackLivesMatter which take up all the oxygen in the room, not to mention the evil that currently resides in the White House in Washington, and his utter lack of empathy for those less fortunate.
I wish I could turn off the news, ignore it, but I can’t. I need to know, I need to somehow feel, believe that the good of humankind will prevail over the evil. Right now, the optimist within me is desperate, losing hope. The signs are bad. Facing climate change, facing the biggest global unemployment since the 1930s crash, all of this coupled with an unprecedented divide between the haves and the have nots is not leaving me much to be optimistic about.
Even in a relatively healthy society like Sweden’s, the signs are troubling: our elder care and our healthcare system is anemic, having been deprived of much-needed resources for decades. Doctors don’t have time to visit patients, we send people home too fast, too soon, and what was once a retirement home is now a hospice where people go to die. Is this what we envisioned when the law was changed in 1992? Hardly. But that’s the reality. We pay our nurses so miserably they flee in droves to work in Norway instead. The same with doctors who pull insane shifts in ICUs to cope with things.
My mind keeps reeling: what will the future hold?
So I don’t write. I worry. I think. I try to come up with ideas of how we can overcome the situation. What can we do to fix climate change, fund our healthcare, get people back to work and create a society where everybody feels needed and is valued, regardless of how they look, appear, or whom they love? Is this really too much to ask for? I worry, and while I worry, I can’t write. Who knows when I’ll be able to listen to my voices again, to hear them speak to me, loud enough for me to hear them. Two things need to happen: either my voices start to speak up, speak louder, or the noise around me needs to quiet down. Right now, neither seems likely.
I’m struggling for words, hence the above title. I just cannot express appropriately what I feel, still. Maybe it is still too raw, too fresh. Yesterday saw the conclusion of a project that I have been a part of for a long time, first as a translator of some official documents to accompany fundraising efforts and later, intrigued by the concept, having applied and having been accepted, as a participant. “To write for dance and to dance written text” seemed such an intriguing project for a novelist such as myself, especially in the context of the LGBTQ context it was founded on. I simply had to be a part of it and I guess the “powers to be” saw the passion in my application.
Three Swedish authors, three international authors, and the dance company Spinn
On September 19th, we kicked the project off over a cup of coffee. Little did I know how it would affect me. The final performance yesterday is still swirling around in my head, deeply affecting me emotionally. Hopefully, we’ll be able to meet up again this fall, post corona, for hugs and much needed personal thanks to everyone involved. It goes without saying that I am greatly indebted to the organizations that have funded this project, enabling me to spend time expanding my artistic horizon, returning to poetry after all these years.
In the following, rather than expressing how I feel, I would like the art to speak for itself. First, you have a video of the final performance yesterday, which included two works of me, a poem I wrote about four months ago, I feel love, everywhere, which I wrote off a clue from my writing buddy Claire Carter, based on two of her characters. Secondly, there’s the live improvisation that Claire, Rannhvi, Izabell, and I did, a conversation of poetry and dance toward the end. Following that, I have included the video that Izabell and I created inspired by Matt–More Than Words, and finally the actual poetry I wrote as a part of the process. Enjoy! 🙂 Maybe in small doses. It’s quite intense…
Live Performance from the Museum of World Culture, Gothenburg, May 28, 2020
Eyes open, wandering
Mouth open, drooling
Pain, constant pain
Muscle spasms, cramps
No way to speak
Moaning, groaning, wailing
Behind those eyes,
Is there a mind?
Thoughts, ideas, dreams?
My mind is full of thoughts, ideas, dreams
I dream of walking
Walking toward you, touching you
There is so much I want to say
So much I want to tell you
But I can’t
I am a prisoner inside my body
But I see you
And I love you
I am human
I am Matt
I am more than words
Other poetry I have written for the project
Cowering in the Dark
Cowering in the dark, alone
A chameleon, hiding in plain sight
At first, you can’t see it, the light
It cuts through cracks in the dark
Extending toward you, caressing you
Dare you reach out? Dare you touch it?
In time you step out from that dark
and as you spread your delicate wings
Your soul takes flight, at last.
I feel love, everywhere
So good, so good, so good
I feel the beat
I feel the heat
Pulsating, through me
Calling your name
I can’t see you
Bodies, all around me
Moving, moving, moving
dancing, grinding, sweating
Calling your name
I can see you
Dancing, dancing, dancing
Your face, your eyes, your smile
Calling your name
Turntables at my fingertips
Beats, beats, beats
Pulling you across the dance floor
Closer, closer, closer
You and me, together
I feel love, love, love
Glitter of the disco ball
Colors of the rainbow
Recorded for Improv Session, May 27, 2020 (This text is likely going to be re-written and edited for further use)
Flickering faces on a screen
Socially distanced togetherness
Quarantined in a closet with windows
I may talk to you, even see you,
But I can never reach you
Like a childhood nightmare long ago.
I watch your every move from afar
A distant voyeur
I see your hair
Those lovely eyes
And how you look at me
Through that screen in front of you
Can you see me?
Do you even care?
I watch you, I see you
As you swirl, twist, turn
But do you see me?
Distance, Closeness, Intimacy
How can we bridge the gap?
Will they ever let me out of the closet?
And when they do, will I dare?
Live Improv Session, May 28, 2020 (This text is likely going to be re-written and edited for further use)
Flickering faces on a screen
Socially distanced communion
Separated by PPE, glass or space
Quarantine be hallowed
Isolated in a closet with windows
I may talk to you, even see you, But I can never reach you
Like that childhood nightmare.
I see the glass, beyond it the sky, the sun
Oh, that look you give me,
I miss your touch
Your silky lips against mine
Your caresses, body against body
Dance for me baby, dance
I feel like I’m in an aquarium
Surrounded by glass, freedom beyond
Yet here I am, drowning in water
I want to shatter the glass, the fish tank
I dream of the beach, waves coming ashore
Lapping against the warm sand.
Can you see it?
I see your swirls, your elegant moves
Our electronic Togetherness
A dreamscape, a Tsunami of emotions Let us break out of the confinement Find a Secret pathway
I long to be with you again
Don’t deny me this one thing. HOPE
A great big thank you!
Finally, a great big thank you to The Region of West Sweden, The Nordic Culture Fund, and the City of Gothenburg for funding the project. How lucky am I to be able to get paid to do something that gives me so much joy? A big thank you to the Writers’ Center West Sweden (Hedvig & Kristín) for organizing it and allowing me to be a part of it, to Danskompaniet Spinn (Veera) for working with us on this, and helping us expand our horizons, to the dancers, particularly Rannvhi and Izabell, for working with Claire and me, to the other writers (Sara, Hilding & Elias) for all the discussions, the open dialogue, and your creativity, and last, not least, to Claire Carter, for putting up with me, and literally blowing up any preconceptions I had about poetry, dancing and expanding my mind and my creative courage like the big bang. Your thoughts on the influence of text and dance, the interdependence between the two, has been mindblowing and I can’t express just how much it has influenced me. The project that Izabell and I did about Matt had not been possible without that, and I doubt our improv session yesterday either. Thank you, all, from the bottom of my heart.
It’s been a week since we finished the Netflix hit mini-series Hollywood. It’s impossible to NOT include spoilers in this post, so be prepared or walk away. But while my instant reaction was enjoyment, after the end, especially after the final episode, I was left troubled. I found the final two episodes really disturbing. I turned to my collective brain on Facebook to ask them about their impression and I walked away even more confused. The almost unanimous feedback was “great. show”, “it’s revisionist”, “it shows how things could’ve been, should’ve been”, etc. I’ve been thinking about those comments for days now.
Medici, Borgias, the Crown paved the way for this…
I’ve watched a lot of historic TV shows, some mentioned above, and then some. Doing so, I always have my phone in hand to check things on Wikipedia: is this a real character/event? And as has always been the case with TV and movies, writers and directors take significant liberties when creating their shows. I also watched “Once upon a time…in Hollywood“, the Tarantino movie which takes the murder of Sharon Tate and changes it significantly. I enjoyed that movie, to a degree. And it wasn’t primarily the fact that Sharon Tate isn’t killed, but the violence of the movie in general. Typical Tarantino, I guess. Just not my cup of tea.
But “Hollywood” is different on a completely different level. While very loosely based on real events from the post-WWII period, and using several historical figures, including Rock Hudson and Henry Wilson, to just name two of the most infamous ones. It starts out by depicting the arrival of Hudson in Hollywood, and his character is portrayed as the gay man he was. So far so good. The same is true for Henry Wilson, in all the gory despicability of who he apparently was. It also showcases the racial differences and how extremely difficult it was for POC in those days. And while some individuals were able to see past that and regarded people as simply humans, that certainly wasn’t true for society at large. There are scenes with Queen Latifah and Michelle Krusiec that are gutwrenching to watch, yet based on the reality of those days.
Suddenly, everything is different
There is a scene where the gay black screenwriter walks up to the studio head to warn her that he’ll be holding hands with Rock Hudson on the red carpet. By that scene, the improbable movie had already become a smash hit at the box offices and been nominated for a lot of Oscars. She warns him of the consequences thereof, but he, as they say, persisted. From there, the scenes are stacked up and blacks, gays, and the improbable movie “Meg” walk away with Oscars and the mini-series ends with the promise of a romantic gay movie being made. Yes, amazing, isn’t it?
Yet totally unrealistic… That gay movie still hasn’t been shot. No, Simon’s not it either. And while it’s close, it shows that even in 2020 we are so far away from even being close to treating minorities similar to the white ruling classes of Hollywood. #hollywoodsowhite anyone?
Yes, things have changed for the better, but…
I don’t mind fantasy. I don’t mind things being portrayed in rosy colors. But please, don’t change history. Why? Stupid people, simply put. And there’s plenty of them, sadly. There are hundreds of millions of people around the world with no sense for historic accuracy/literacy who do not know how to use Wikipedia while watching historic dramas (I’ve seen the comments about e.g. the Medici or the Borgias on Facebook) and they’ll take this at face value. Don’t believe me? Five letters: T R U M P.
The man and his regime change history on the fly. Suddenly we’re facing “Obamagate” (even though there is NO such thing and never was), Russia is replaced by Ukraine, the Trump campaign by the Biden campaign (which had not begun yet) but I guess beating on Hillary got old. Without any care for facts, we have seen how the perception of the world is changing. One day 45 trumpets about a malaria medication being a promising cure from the White House pulpit, the next day, people are poisoned in Nigeria because they (lack of education) believed him and overdosed on that shit. I’m just waiting for the first idiot to publicly spout from the rooftops that gays and blacks have no reason to complain, that things have been so great for them as the show portrays. And don’t tell me people will not react like that because there are literally millions upon millions who are incapable of separating truth from fiction. Sometimes even educated people. The worst part is how this will affect the perception of things like #blacklivesmatter and the ongoing struggle of the LGBTQ and POC communities for equality if suddenly people think there’s no reason to complain.
It was one of the great reads of my youth, George Orwell’s novel 1984. I remember how they went back to change articles in The Times to better and accurately reflect changes to IngSoc dogma. It was Winston Smith’s job, after all. I doubt that Mr. Orwell would’ve been able to even imagine a time, in the not too distant future where the president of the world’s dominant nation would lie so often and so callously that facts had become a perishable good. He changes his views on the fly and there is no Winston Smith there to alter the facts and clean up the mess. He simply ignores it, labels yesterday’s facts as “fake news” and moves on lying. I have family members reading every word from the man’s lips.
This is why I am so disturbed by revisionist (what an awful word btw.) TV shows and movies. Do fantasy and sci-fi, by all means, but don’t change the past (unless you do so the way time travelers do, where it’s all in the open and stated as fiction and an alternative reality.) It’s simply too dangerous in our time and age. I’m not surprised though. It’s the perfect form of entertainment for the Trump age where nothing is real anymore. Not the news, not science, not facts, not even history. That makes me sad and worried for humanity.
This year will see a different Earth, regardless of how we feel about that
This is the third month of the Covid-19 pandemic here in Sweden, and while we have reached the plateau and our state. epidemiologist informs us that our R-number is below 1 right now (meaning that each sick person infects, on average, less than one person) we see no end in sight. Our rules of social distancing, no-travel, work from home, etc. are still in place and today, I feel a great deal of sorrow. Not only is it the fact that there seems to be no end in sight (experts speaking that this could be going on well into 2022 depending on when a vaccine becomes widely available) but the psychological effects of the pandemic are palpable, everywhere.
Isolated for weeks with no end in sight
While we’ve been lucky here to have avoided the most severe “lock-downs”, the rules here in Sweden are less draconic, but still: our airport had one flight per day for 7 weeks, we’ve worked from home for almost two months, theaters, playhouses, the opera, and all concert halls have been closed for as long. We had to cancel attendance at birthday parties and some planned dinner parties with friends have never made it out of the planning stage. And while our government is proud to claim that the avoidance of a total lockdown enables us to sustain our restrictions for a much longer time, I’m not sure I even want to contemplate another two years of this. I can’t even see summer coming without a trip to see my dad.
I’m not alone. I think loads of people feel the same, and while 99.99% of us follow the rules, some “idiots” have taken to the streets to complain loudly, armed to the teeth, which says a lot about their true intentions. But even regular people around the world probably wish we’d wake from this nightmare, that we’d be able to attend concerts again, go to the movies or drink a beer in a bar. Alas, that day eludes us.
The victims are found everywhere, from mass graves to the gig economy
Now, I mustn’t complain. There are people who’ve lost their jobs, their livelihoods, their homes. I have friends, family in much worse situations. I watch on in horror as mass graves are dug around the world to dispose of bodies nobody’s claiming. Not just in the slums of the poorest cities in the world, but in the west as well, e.g. New York’s Hart Island. For weeks, my most visited website ahs been the Corona page of John’s Hopkins University and every weekday at two pm I’ve been tuning into the press conference of our authorities to get the latest “scoops” in the fight against covid-19. I haven’t written a word of fiction in over two months. My mind just isn’t in it. I do grocery shopping for the elderly on the island which is super rewarding. Yet, looking back, my own life hasn’t really changed that much. Yes, I’ve lost a major consulting gig with great potential because of the pandemic, I probably sell fewer books because of covid. But my husband still works, our son is still going to school, and I’m used to working from home, have done it for a decade. My life is not much different than it was compared to last spring. What’s changed is the perception of it.
For the hundreds of thousands who’ve perished, and their loved ones, reality HAS changed, and this new reality is grim. For those hanging on to live in ventilators around the world, fighting for every breath, this new reality is about life and death. For people struggling to put food on plates, the new normal is anything but normal. For companies trying to stay afloat without their customers, covid-19 is a game-changer. This pandemic is altering our societies, our economies, and our way of life forever. And I doubt it will ever go back to the way it was before, and that makes me sad.
Is there a silver lining?
We don’t know what the future will look like. Will the clear water in the canals of Venice and the dolphins stay? Probably not. Will the people of Delhi be able to enjoy blue skies even after the pandemic? Not likely. There are reports of wildlife reclaiming their habitats as humanity (temporarily) retreats. Sadly, chances are the backlash will be swift. Although, there is hope. There is hope that the people of Venice will get used to seeing dolphins and will want them to stay and enact measure to protect them and the clear waters. There is a sliver of hope that the people of Delhi will cherish seeing the blue skies above them and will enact legislation to protect the environment. There is hope. For Mother Earth, our environment. There is hope that fewer planes in the air will help the climate, that politicians will make sure that the post-covid society will be more gentle to our planet.
Once upon a time, going places. Taken 30,000+ ft in the air.
In psychology, grief theory suggests a number of steps to go through: rejection, anger, depression, bargaining & acceptance. It would seem that I’m in the “depression” stage, right now. Eventually, you might see me talk about how “amazing” things were in the past (not sure though), but there will be a time when we come to accept what has been will never be what is, and I presume that is good. The world has always been changing and throughout history, events like pandemics have always altered societies, sometimes for good, sometimes not so much. But change is inevitable. It is up to us to make the best of the situation. I for one hope that we see a gentler, more caring society emerge, a society where we invest more in healthcare and the common services we all share and cherish in this difficult time (schools, elder care, libraries, etc.)
I will travel again…
I miss traveling, weirdly enough because I’m not supposed to, not because we had to cancel any trips. But I know that I will travel again. The wandering gene within me has not been switched off. And whenever, and however, restrictions are loosened, I know I will be going to the airport and board a plane to elsewhere, to meet new people, experience new things. Until then, I have Instagram and my friends around the world. As any seasoned traveler will tell you, anticipation is one of the greatest perks of travel. My next trip, to the undiscovered country, has me in anticipatory stitches right now.
I haven’t written a decent word of prose since March 4. I just can’t. My mind’s not there. I’ve been lucky to have been writing other stuff, but nothing new. We live in ding-ding times. But let’s not speak of that today. Because today is one of those special days in the life of an author when a brand new book reaches readers. Today is the release day for Matt–More Than Words. I’ve spoken before about how Matt first appeared to me, more than a year ago, on one of my walks, and just this morning I read an article in the Guardian about authors and their “relationships” to their characters. Interesting reading.
The cover of Matt–More Than Words
In this context, you may wonder how a character unable to communicate spoke to me…
Well, first and foremost, it may be worth pointing out that Matt is a literary character. I often have to remind myself of this distinction, as my characters feel so real to me, I see them out in the world and they really take on a life of their own. However, their world is physically contained within the confines of my skull (and that of other readers.) In a way, Matt finally gets to move out of my mind and inhabit others. But his conversations with me were more of a metaphysical kind, empathy mixed with telepathy if you will. But unlike many other characters, Matt didn’t speak to me in words, which made writing him more challenging than others, finding the right words tricky even.
Matt isn’t the only character in that book…
There is not a huge array of characters in this novel. Matt lives in a very, almost corona-adapted, world. He has his mother and his assistants, s’it. The biggest change comes from the constant change in assistants, and most of them are painted in sketchy colors because they come and go in a steady stream. There are two exceptions, Timmy and Colin. Timmy is also one of the people from whose point-of-view the story is told. There is so much going on in and around Matt that not everything can be told from his perspective. His mother’s and Timmy’s perspective were important from a narrative perspective. Both Timmy and Matt’s mother go through major changes in their lives and their journeys are supported by tertiary characters, the owner of a restaurant, parents, and friends. You’ll see.
When I last wrote a release day post, I promised an epic ending. I do no such thing today. I could tell you how the book ends. It is not the point of the book. So, yes, Matt will eventually find a way to communicate. The point of this story is a completely different one: it’s to highlight the plight of some of our siblings in society who are in Matt’s shoes, and how society is getting better at helping them to live life to the fullest. We have amazing tools at our disposal to enable help and assistance, if only we give them a chance. Matt–More Than Words is an exercise in empathy, to spend a few hours in the shoes of someone so very much unlike us, someone unable to tell his own story. I hope you will give Matt a chance. The eBook and paperback are available starting today, the audiobook will be coming shortly, narrated by the amazing Michael Bakkensen.
If you’ve read this post, and it’s 4/30, why don’t you join us today for a small release day party on Zoom? 11 am PST, 2 pm EST, 8 pm CET.
After three homophobic attacks in six weeks, I’m exhausted
It’s been a long time. I shouldn’t have gotten used to the feeling of it’s over, we’re good, society has finally accepted us. Because under the veneer of legislative progress, there is still an underbelly reeking of hatred and disgust, there are still people publicly stating “we don’t hate the gays, just the acts”, etc. Friday, January 31, marked a chasm in my sense of security. It was late, after ten pm, Alex and I were watching TV, as we usually do on a Friday night. Tired from a week of work, I was half asleep when I suddenly heard a noise, less than two meters to my left, a loud banging followed by a male voice screaming “fucking faggots”! I literally flew out of my chair, my heartbeat pulsating in my throat, as I approached our back door to see what was going on. I open the door, look around and see a guy walking down the street, dark green hoodie, pulled over his head, low. Wearing slippers, I follow him, calmly, now more upset than scared, at the act. He starts to run, I follow as quickly as I can in my slippers but lose him to the night and the forest he disappeared into.
A sleepless night and the aftermath
I don’t get much sleep that night, and I end up taking a sleeping pill to get any rest at all. Monday night, a neighbor knocks quietly on our front door after our son had gone to bed. As I open the door to see what she wants, her first reaction is staring at me saying “I’m sorry I scared you…” That’s how visible my fear still is, 72 hours later… And it took weeks to get over this violation. No, I’m not trying to compare this to rape or physical abuse (been there, experienced that, too, sadly) but we often consider our homes our castles, our keeps. Places where we are safe, and we do not expect strangers to simply walk into our properties to harass us. It’s bad enough we have to endure this shit in public but in our homes?
Then came last Friday. Alex was tired and had gone to bed soon after ten pm. I was still up, trying to wind down, hanging in my chair, soul dangling, when the banging and the slurs scare the heeby-jeebies out of me, again. Once again, I follow, this time barefoot. Bad idea. I hear the young man’s footsteps as he ran away into our nearby forest. Not a good to follow without shoes. The next morning we talked about what to do. Alert social services? Report to the police? We decide not to because it’s just a waste of time since the police obviously have better things to do. Instead, having a hunch that this might be a troubled young man and since it is important to me to show that we’re not going to be scared (as much as we are, tbh, but we refuse to let our lives be run by fear.) Here’s my letter to the young man. I published it, after much deliberation with my husband on an island forum:
To the young man…
Who banged and yelled at our door last night, like a madman, for the second time in a few weeks.
Your consumer information did not come as a surprise to anyone in the house. We knew that long before you were born. As for “devils” [used to strengthen a curse in Swedish.], we are no deities, not in anyone’s book. Just ordinary people, with young children who sleep this time of day.
Both times I followed you a bit, but you are certainly afraid to talk to us. You ran into Arbores quickly, both times. Unsurprisingly perhaps.
I suspect I know what’s going on deep inside you. And that knocking on the door is more about something else you are actually knocking on, from the inside, your closet door. You would hardly be the first one. Homophobia is strongest among those who are most afraid to be discovered.
Our door is there to ring, the day you dare to talk. But then preferably daytime.
Poor mailbox, what did you ever do to anyone to deserve this?
Seven hours later…
The young man’s response came swiftly, just seven hours later, and I can only assume that my post hit a nerve. I woke at 1:30 am to a loud banging from outside our bedroom. Someone was going berserk on our mailbox. Naked, half-asleep, I decided not to get up. I hear a moped leave the premise. Too late. When I woke up in the morning, I see the damage. The mailbox is a wreck, and someone had unloaded all his hatred and rage upon it. Just ours. Nobody else’s mailbox was visited that night (as sometimes happens here, sadly.) This was a direct response to my letter. Had I hit a nerve?
Our Sunday was solemn, cleaning up the mess, going to town to buy a new mailbox, setting it up. We also bought our first-ever security camera, not something you really need on an island where many people don’t even lock their homes. But this was maybe not the last mailbox we lose, but the last time we do not identify the perp…
Regardless of whether the young man is closeted (and struggling with accepting himself) or just plain homophobic, the real question is: why? Why are we still having this discussion in 2020? Why would we make young people feel that coming out is more painful than unloading their wrath on innocent people? Why does being LGBT still cause so much pain and anguish? Could it be that despite all the progress we’ve made, our society still regards us as freaks? You don’t have to go far to experience that. Here in Sweden, it’s preached from the pulpits of churches (Pentecostal, Mission Covenant, Catholic, Salvation Army, etc.) and mosques, from political parties (Christian democrat, Sweden Democrats), from radical feminist groups (TERF) or go to neighboring countries like Poland (“LGBT free zones”) or Russia (“Gay Propaganda Laws”, “Chechen Concentration Camps”) to realize that our young are still in daily contact with views that there is something wrong with them. There is so much conflicting messaging out there, no wonder our young are still confused.
I was recently reading brochures on mental and physical health and young LGBTQ people are radically overrepresented in those statistics of people who are not well. And that is not because there is something inherently wrong with us (as the crazy lot will tell you) but because we’re bullied and ostracised. Every day. In every aspect of life.
There is hope
The outpour of support from our community was huge. Almost two-hundred-fifty people reacted and commented on my post. Yes, it wouldn’t have been advisable for the haters to do so publicly, and they abstained from doing so. They prefer the shadows obviously, but we had several neighbors visiting us that day, people came with hugs and flowers and many called to offer their help and support. That feels amazing and reaffirming to live in a community where we’re welcome and accepted. We’ve lived here together for almost twenty years, and I’m coming up on twenty-five… And we’re not alone. In our neighborhood alone, there are three LGBTQ couples living.
Yet I worry about the young man. Why does he feel the way he does? Is there a way to reach him without risking another $200 mailbox in the process? Without wasting half our weekend? And particularly, without the fear, the sense of insecurity in our own house? That’s really the worst part of it. I can’t describe how it feels to not feel safe in your own four walls. It’s awful. I don’t wish this upon anybody. I still hope to reach him. The bigger question is how do we reach the rest of them? The Putins, the Pences, the Kaczyńskis (incidentally, all three closet cases themselves), all those men and women spewing hatred against the LGBT community? To that, I still don’t have an answer.
Eleven months ago, today, I embarked on an incredible journey…
Just around the corner from here, shortly after I took this picture, Matt appeared to me for the first time. Taken March 28, 2019. Photo: private
Two months from now, the book will see the light of day. It’s funny to go back and look at the date a file was created. Thursday, March 28, 2019, at 15:46. I remember it well because the circumstances of Matt’s appearance in my life were unusual. He suddenly popped up as I was out and about walking across the island, as I did every Thursday back then. I vividly remember the spot, an area carved out by ice age glaciers just before you climb up a small hill, trees all around the path. After returning home from that walk, I began writing. A lot has happened since then, one of which is that I’ve barely blogged in recent months. My apologies. I’ve recently taken up a small consulting gig for an IT firm in town and I’m working more than 50% there, which takes two valuable days out of my schedule for writing. On the other hand, my bank account is looking more pleased than in a long time.
Matt: from hereon in
I finished the manuscript in January and have since been working on covers. it depicts a lighthouse in the fog, but unlike the white light of a regular lighthouse, the one on Matt’s cover is green, which is eventually how Matt will learn to communicate. With a green light, not a lighthouse. 😉 The next step on getting the book out include, of course, typesetting, editing, and proofing, but also the recording of the audio version. I can’t wait to hear the magic Vance will bring to this story.
To write about someone who’s “unlike” the author is always tricky. Last summer, I attended an LGBT event in the US where someone from the disability community quite vocally accused me of not knowing wtf I was doing because the back matter of my novel Spanish Bay used the word “wheelchair-bound” instead of “user” as the current nomenclature recommends. It was a harrowing experience because said person had neither read the book nor considered that the US isn’t the only place where people speak and use English. Don’t get me wrong. My publisher and I immediately updated the cover to reflect the updated language and I am well aware that language is a living matter that changes and evolves. And I am happy to learn about such changes. It wasn’t the message per se that shocked me, more how it was presented with the explicit accusation of not caring, of attention-seeking, of appropriation.
At the time I had already begun work on Matt, and I was deep in research about his capacity, physically, mentally and emotionally. Matt suffers from cerebral palsy and while I have close friends who live with this affliction, none of them are as impaired by it as Matt. My research had to go deeper and so I reached out to people in the field who work with people like Matt. While they may not have the same diagnosis, the effects of how their body responds are similar: lack of movement, lack of the ability to communicate freely. All the while writing and changing, with the fear of getting it wrong in the back of my mind.
We live in a day and age where minorities have more voice than ever before, which is a great thing. And unfortunately, some people tend to take (still) advantage of others, for personal gain, for political reasons or as the pun of a joke. When you write about a character for the sake of checking a box, I can understand that people might react. I sometimes feel the same when I watch movies or a TV show that highlights LGBTQ characters. Are they in there to tick off that box or do the creators genuinely wish to reflect the fact that we are everywhere in society? Not always easy to answer.
My characters pop up, out of the blue, but they obviously don’t do so without some sort of context. I have a very good friend to whom I speak almost daily, and as she is differently-abled herself, the topic of disabled characters in books comes up every now and then. I should probably write “the lack thereof”, as there are few books who showcase differently-abled characters in the main role. I was very proud of having written Spanish Bay, with the main character a wheelchair user (see, I learn), and I stand by my book, the story, and the cover. I guess Matt is born of the many conversations with Tracy, my upbringing around people with mental impairments (my mother’s best friend’s daughter, probably fifteen years my senior, was severely impaired, but that didn’t hinder us kids from playing together just fine.) As a father, I think it’s important to teach my son that the value of a living being is constant regardless of their physical appearance or mental capacity, whether we are talking about animals or human beings. At the core, I believe that this is what humanity is all about.
A fictional character, but
I have read many posts, comments, and reviews of books where people comment that the character “isn’t like me” and therefore cannot be realistic. Well, here’s my take on this: it doesn’t matter if a character isn’t like you, isn’t a mirror image of what you are like. That is true for many reasons. I don’t disavow Romeo and Juliet because they’re not like me (gay.) I don’t toss Harry Potter aside because he’s got dark hair where mine’s dark blonde. The problem is labeling books as being of a certain “kind”: this is a gay book (which kind of turns away straight readers) or this is a “disability book” as if it’s only meant to be read by people with disabilities. We have a tendency to box ourselves in so much that we expect to read fictional stories about ourselves rather than trusting various authors’ capacity to create stories that speak to the human condition.
I’m always saddened when people say “I can’t read your books, I’m not gay.” Well, my books are hopefully good enough to appeal to every kind of person interested in a certain topic, and hopefully, I’m a good enough author to bring people of different backgrounds closer to whomever, regardless. Empathy. That’s what this is all about. On the flip-side, labeling helps authors and publishers to market books. If you want to read about a gay character, you will find my books that way, even though the story may be about Alzheimer’s, or being of old age or, as in Matt’s case, being unable to communicate with your surroundings. But most importantly, if there is any message that spans across all my books, it’s that we are all human beings, regardless of who we are and the things we go through. You could say that I write about the human condition but from the point of view of a very specific subset of people.
Coming April 30, 2020
Matt-More Than Words is coming April 30 from my publisher, Beaten Track. And as with each and every one of my novels, I’m really looking forward to this one. It is an important story for a great many reasons, and I hope it will find a home in many readers’ hearts. Matt will also find another way to express himself. I am part of a write dance project and in May we’ll go on tour with our work. I am working on a poem about Matt, and together with an amazing dancer, we’ll perform a piece. I was intrigued by the challenge to put in words (poetry) Matt’s predicament of being unable to communicate, and almost more so about dancing the inability to move voluntarily. Izabell, an insanely talented dancer has taken early drafts of my poem and sent me a recording of an improv dance she’d created. Based on her dance, I went back and re-wrote the poem. We bounce off of each other to create a piece that hopefully will hold up and can be displayed to an audience here in West Sweden and Oslo, as we go on tour in May. Stay tuned, either here or on my Facebook page, for updates.
The world we live in is pretty depressing right now. Nationalism, tribalism is on the rise, social cohesion is in rapid decline, and all around us, conflicts escalate, wars increase and it seems that for every opinion uttered, two loud voices argue fiercely against, oftentimes regardless of the topic, just to spite.
Social cohesion is lost
When I was a child, there was a lot of social control. The society I grew up in exerted a huge amount of social control. One example I’ll always remember with shame was when I first bought a pair of torn jeans, paying good money for someone else tearing those pants apart in just the right places. It must’ve been either 1987 or 88. Wearing them for the first time in public, on my way home, an older woman on the trolley approached me and asked me if I couldn’t afford a whole pair of pants. That simple question is still haunting me, and it took decades before I wore torn jeans again. Social control at its worst, but social control also creates social cohesion, especially if it is used to make sure kids are safe (I had to yell at a kid the other day who jumped down on the tracks of our streetcar line as a car was approaching), etc. It feels we’ve stopped, be it telling people not to park in the wrong place, or whatever other transgressions (against laws!) people are committing. We simply look the other way and think that it’s not our problem. Thing is, our laws are our problem.
We simply need to differentiate between rules and legislation. If you believe it goes against your religion if a neighbor mowed the lawn on a Sunday, keep mum, as long as it’s legal. But if someone breaks the law and you see it, speak up. If you disagree with the law, speak up! Talk to your parliamentarian, raise your concerns, lobby for a change in your favor.
Societies drift apart
If you look at economical statistics over the past fifty years, it becomes obvious that the rich keep getting richer and the poor fall behind. The middle class is slowly disappearing, and it was the backbone of our western societies for decades. In the fifties, the average CEO would be paid about 20x what his workers were paid, in 2017 that number had risen to 361x. And that is simply insane. There is no reason for that. It’s not like the cost of living for the average CEO has risen more than that for their workers. I might argue the opposite, as tax burdens for the rich have been lowered all around the world.
There is a huge risk associated with societies drifting apart. The happiest societies are the ones with the least amount of economic inequality, while societies with a large economic inequality see effects on e.g. public health. And as we see societies drift apart, we also see tensions between generations (hashtags #okboomer #millinnials), between the “left” and the “right”, haves and have nots. Is there a breaking point? Are we heading toward a new 68-revolution? Or worse, a 1918-style revolution? Bolivia, Chile, Iraq, Lebanon are just a couple of examples where entire societies are in upheaval, and where traditional lines of conflict no longer seem to apply.
Are social media (at least partially) responsible?
I have a theory that our use of social media has sped up this process. As the algorithms turn our lives into virtual ghettos where the only people we talk to are the ones most like us, where we unfollow or block views we dislike, or worse, report them, we rarely need to second-guess our own views and convictions. So how are we to learn? How are we to evolve our own views if all we ever see or hear comes from within our own chosen echo chamber?
To believe (as I do) that this also exacerbates extremist views is not far-fetched. We tend to idolize those we follow (fiercely) and dismiss everyone else as a scam, a fraud. I see these tendencies all around me, and we forget that most people, even politicians simply want the best for their societies, even if we may disagree with their points of view. Things get personal, very quickly, and we refuse to see other arguments, other points of view. Unfortunately, I feel this is also influencing global politics and adds to the tribalism around us, as wedges are driving between entire peoples.
What can we do?
I think the most important thing is to keep an open mind, to educate ourselves. When I woke up this morning, to the news that Evo Morales resigned as president of Bolivia, I accepted that as a fact. Then I read Jeremy Corbyn’s reaction to it, basically calling it a military coup. Given Mr. Corbyn’s position, I was worried that there had indeed been a coup. Then I read a friend’s post on Facebook who said that he feared for something similar to be needed in the USA after the 2020 election, implying that Mr. Trump might not leave the White House even after a defeat. Someone else immediately and very angrily asked if he really wanted a right-wing military coup in the USA. Well, so far for disinformation and polarization.
I’ve since tried to make sense of this, and here are the facts: Evo Morales had been elected President for a fourth term recently, despite a referendum restricting presidents to TWO terms shortly after he’d won his third term. How he was able to even run for a fourth term? I don’t know. Mr. Morales was also accused of election fraud by international monitors. Public uprising ensued and it seems the military and police finally abandoned him yesterday, upon which he resigned. These are the facts we have. I don’t know nearly enough to make a statement about the military or police or who they support or not, whether they’re “right” or “left” (but ask yourself this: why did they support him for three terms?) It’s so simple to jump to conclusions. I reserve judgment until I know more. But it seems Mr. Morales love for democracy is limited. Why else stand against his own constitution and cheat to be re-elected?
What else can we do? Well, go vote! And resist the urge to protest vote. I know it’s enticing, to teach ‘them’ a lesson, but it might just backfire. Look at the US, and what Trump’s draining of the swamp has led to? Look at every nation where extremist parties have grown and come into power. Divisions increase, co-operation seizes. The American Congress, largely incapacitated, is a good example. Westminster another. But the list goes on and we see tendencies to this everywhere. Again, talk to your parliamentarians, tell them what you expect.
Here’s my wishlist:
We need to focus our public sector: less is more. Make sure infrastructure works. Invest in schools, social care, healthcare. Stop the divergence of the haves and have nots. Make sure people have jobs, meaningful things to do. Invest in security and safety so people feel safe. Work together to fight global warming, invest in commerce and global, open and free trade, but start to move away from constant growth. Find ways to improve the world, apart from simple economic growth.
I’m an optimist, I know, but I just can’t help it. As a father of a young child, I worry endlessly about the world I leave behind, the legacy we all leave to our kids and grandkids.