Hva jeg leser – Slemme Piker av Camilla Sosa Villada

Original tittel – Las Malas
Oversatt fra spansk av Signe Prøis


Det første som drar meg inn i Slemme Piker, er språket. Det lyriske språket og den melankolske verden som den umiddelbart trekker leseren inn i. Fortellingen starter i Parken, som fungerer både som arbeidsplass og et slags episenter i romanen. 

Slemme Piker er en roman basert på livet til Camilla Sosa Villada. Hun vokste opp som gutt på landsbygden i Argentina, men følte seg aldri tilpass i kjønnsrollen hun var blitt tildelt. Så flyttet hun til Cordoba som student og begynte der sin reise mot å bli transkvinne, eller travesti.

I et intervju med LAG og Camino Forlag, forklarer Sosa Villada hvordan begrepet travesti, som i lang tid har vært benyttet som et skjellsord mot transpersoner i Latin-Amerika, nå i stor grad også brukes av transpersoner som har tatt ordet tilbake. Originaltittelen på boken, Las Malas, er også en refleksjon av hvordan det nedverdigende språket mot transpersoner i Latin-Amerika, brukes og gjenerobres av transpersoner. 

Slemme Piker er en fortelling om hvordan det er å leve i et samfunn som fornekter ens eksistens. Det er en fortelling om det å leve i marginene, i samfunnets ytterkant. En fortelling om hvor mye som må ofres for å kunne være den man virkelig er. Det er en fortelling om mangelen på aksept og mangelen på kjærlighet.
“Ungdommen renner ut mellom fingrene på meg, og kjærligheten kommer aldri.”[1]

Slemme Piker er en fortelling om overlevelse. Å selge kroppen sin er en måte å kunne overleve som transperson i Latin-Amerika. Samfunnet åpner ikke opp for at transpersoner skal få jobbe i akseptable yrker, og dermed blir prostitusjon den eneste løsningen for mange.[2]

 Sosa Villada skriver om hennes første møte med prostitusjonen. “En dag skjer det… Idet jeg kommer ut fra universitetet… stopper en bil ved siden av meg, og sjåføren lurer på hva jeg har fore.”[3]
Hun skriver om skammen og lysten til kundene hennes. Om hvordan de
avskyr og begjærer henne på en og samme tid. “Det lærer jeg temmelig fort,
om verdensborgernes hemmelige lyst på oss.”[4]
Hun skriver om prostitusjonens plass i samfunnet. “…livet ville ikke ha fungert uten oss der, i utkanten av det hele… Uten prostituerte ville verden dukke under i universets mørke.”[5]
Hun skriver om å forelske seg i sine kunder. Om kunder som er voldelige, kunder
som er ynkelige, kunder som er kjærlige. 

Slemme Piker er en fortelling om samhold. Da Sosa Villada ankommer storbyen, møter hun for første gang andre som henne, i Parken hvor travestiene arbeider. Gjennom dem møter hun også Tia Encarna, som er som en mor for de andre travestiene. Tia Encarnas hjem fungerer som en oase som skjermer dem fra resten av verden, både metaforisk og fysisk, i form av en patio overgrodd av viltvoksende planter.

Slemme Piker er en fortelling om å bli den man virkelig er. Om å elske og gi i en verden som ikke elsker eller gir tilbake. 

Slemme Piker fanger leserens oppmerksomhet ved å umiddelbart trekke oss inn i Sosa Villada sin verden. En verden som er skremmende, utilgivende og sårbar. Den forlanger at leseren bevitner alt. Det grusomme, det triste og det vakre.

 


[1] Slemme Piker, Sosa
Villada, s. 108, 2020.

[2] “Hevnen er
søt”, Fadnes, Fett Tidsskrift – Rus, 2021.

[3] Slemme
Piker
, Sosa Villada, s. 68, 2020.

[4] Slemme
Piker
, Sosa Villada, s. 70, 2020.

[5] Slemme
Piker
, Sosa Villada, s. 70, 2020.

 «Litterær samtale med Camilla Sosa Villada», Camino Forlag, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpDEsJoOFI8

 

How I (Didn’t Manage to) Delete Dating Apps for Good.

Dear Reader.

Fear not.

If you worried this would be yet another smug essay written by a white girl sipping an overpriced Flat White at a cafe in a gentrified neighbourhood somewhere in the Western Hemisphere, writing about how she managed to pull herself together and delete all her dating apps for good, and start a new, healthier life with much more time for self-reflection and self-love, then don’t despair. This is not that sort of article. (And if I ever order a Flat White, I promise to drink it ironically).

No. This article is for you, fellow Tinder Addict or Swipomaniac. This is a safe space. You don’t have to feel ashamed here. I’m not going to spend the following paragraphs subversively telling you that I’m a much better person than you, and that I have got my shit together and you haven’t. No. This is an article where I tell you what it’s really like. Out there. On the Apps. Or should I say in there. Because that’s more what it feels like. Like being sucked into a narrow maze. Or falling down a rabbit hole. Falling further and further down like Alice in Wonderland. Except the rabbit is not a fuzzy, white thing in a waistcoat, but a thirty-something shirtless man holding a beer can in one hand. You grow tinier and tinier by the second, except you never reach the bottom, but just keep on falling, with no safe ground beneath your feet.

Perhaps you’re new to the Tinder Game, or whichever of the other countless apps where you can presumably swipe yourself to love, or at least to some semi-decent sex at six PM on a Wednesday evening. Perhaps your skin is still aglow with the freshness of “newly arrived in Tinderland”. Perhaps you’re thinking to yourself while reading this: “It’s not really that bad, though. Is it? Surely she is overreacting.”

There are two reasons why you would think this.
One: You simply haven’t been in the game for long enough.
Two: You don’t have the mind of an addict.
I do. For people who are not good at doing things in moderation, a dating app can be a dangerous place. And I am not good at moderation. I like copious amounts of chocolate. Copious amounts of alcohol. Copious amounts of work. Hence, I can’t use Tinder in a “moderate and casual way.” I can’t have a Tinder profile and only check it once a week. I’m a Tinder addict. And I know I’m far from the only one.

I first downloaded Tinder on Valentine’s Day 2017. Ironic, I know. The only reason I remember the exact date is because of the clear irony attached to it. Since then I have been on and off Tinder and a variety of other dating apps like a Yo-Yo. Sometimes I’ve been off because I’ve met someone and we’ve dated for a while. Other times I’ve deleted the apps because I really, really, REALLY needed a break from them. The breaks have lasted everything from three months to three days (make it one day, actually).

I follow a similar pattern every time I end up deleting a dating app. It is a sort of natural cycle, much like the waxing and waning of the moon, only a lot less harmonious. The cycle goes something like this:
1. Protagonist (me) downloads Tinder.
2. Protagonist is filled with excitement at the endless possibilities of love, promiscuity and adventure that lie before her.
3. Protagonist swipes on multiple people, gets multiple matches, many of whom never initiate or respond to messages.
4. Protagonist begins to chat with various matches who in fact respond to messages. Sometimes there seems to be some sort of chemistry and a date might be proposed. The dates might go well for a while, until chemistry fades or something else unexpected occurs.
5. Protagonist continues swiping, now with less attention to detail and less fussiness. This leads to more matches, but fewer conversations of interest. Chats fade out quickly or lead nowhere.
6. Protagonist becomes progressively more restless, bored and craves more attention.
7. Protagonist swipes more and more fiercely through the app, now barely even looking at the profiles before swiping right (saying “yes” to a profile/potential match).
8. Protagonist’s blood pressure, cynicism and irritability increase steadily.
9. Protagonist no longer knows why she is using the app despite feeling a compulsion to check it every fifteen minutes or so.
10. Blood pressure, cynicism and irritability reach an all-time high, and protagonist in a fit of fury, deletes app and exits her abode for a long stress-releasing run, swearing to never return to that time-eating, soul-crushing device ever again.
11. Circle begins anew after a certain cool-off period (length of cool-off period may vary).

That’s the cycle. And it is extremely hard to break.

I have read my share of articles and blog posts stating why it’s a good idea to take a break from dating apps. Many mention how Tinder and other dating apps create an illusion of there always being something (read someone) better waiting around the corner. Hence the tendency to keep on swiping instead of settling for someone. I do agree with this point. But, as a self-diagnosed Tinder Addict, I mean there is something more that makes many of us overuse these apps. It’s the attempt of trying to fill a void that can’t be filled, at least not through the act of swiping.

For me, Tinder is a bit like a Monster. It is a patient Monster. You don’t see it as a Monster at first. It’s an exciting distraction. It opens up a whole world of possibilities. It has endlessly changing faces, metamorphosing always into something more tantalizing, more sexy, more alluring. It promises to take you by the hand and pull you out of the crushing sense of boredom, monotony and loneliness that has been lining your bones for some time now, and which is the reason you downloaded the app in the first place. Then, slowly, but not so slowly that you can’t notice, the Monster changes its shape. You can see it growing and turning into something ugly from the corner of your eye. But you’re so engulfed in the distraction it feeds you, that you don’t manage to act in time. You know you are being trapped, but you can’t move. All you can do is swipe.

Now I know I sound dramatic. But at it’s worst, that’s what using a dating app feels like for me. And yet, I don’t manage to stop. Not for good.

I don’t like what dating apps do to me. I don’t like the way they make me feel about the external world around me, about other people. They fill me up with cynicism and irritability. And they make me feel numb. When you’ve been on enough first dates, you don’t feel anything anymore. I mean, you don’t feel the excitement of going on a first date. You don’t have to pace the floor of your bedroom for half an hour, convincing yourself to go on that date, to just deal with the fluttery sensation in your stomach. Your heart rate doesn’t sky rocket as you approach your date who is waiting for you on the street corner. You’ve become rounded down to a smooth pebble that nests quietly at the bottom of a slow-flowing river. You don’t have any sharp edges anymore.

I miss the terrified excitement of a first date. I miss genuinely caring about what first impression I am giving to the person opposite me at the table. I miss real life encounters. The possibility of failure. I miss the sense of plunging off a cliff face, suspended in mid-air, holding your breath while you wait to see if the guy whose number you just asked for, will give it to you or shake his head and walk away. Because at least in real life, you eventually hit the ground, you get an answer. You don’t keep on falling and falling like Alice down the tunnel.

A Love Letter to Dublin

Beautiful,
Is not how most people would describe you.
But I think you are.

I think of you often.

St Stephen’s Green,
Where the London Planes stand tall and ancient,
Mulling over the history they have witnessed,
How once revolutionaries thundered below their leafy crowns.

Rathmines clocktower
Glowing in the dying light of day,
Like a cat’s eye.
The hills beyond.

Dublin after dark.
Whiskey and ginger ale.
Fog from the river
And music seeping out onto the streets.
Always music.

Kennedy’s on Westland Row,
Where us students went on a Wednesday night,
After one of our first lectures of the year,
Wide eyed and curious about one another.
Hours later we closed the bar.

McGuinness fast food on Camden Street with stools chained to the floor.

The Bernard Shaw,
With its pizza bus
And smoke-filled backyard.
The steps at the back where strangers always came to talk.
Now no more.  

That late night after the Christmas party,
At a flat.
Taking turns to walk two and two
Up the steep ladder
To the roof.
Gazing out at the triangular rooftops
And clouds lit with an orange glow.

Nightwalking through the city when sleep didn’t happen.
Stumbling across Molly Malone at four in the morning,
Cockles and mussels,
Alive, alive oh.
Her bosom shining like a polished apple
From years and years of passers-by touching her breast.
The Juliet of Dublin.

That early morning someone had placed a traffic cone on her head,
Bright and orange.
Another nightwalker passed by and said to me
Suits her, doesn’t it?

When I sat,
Exhausted at a busstop at the top of Grafton Street
As the birds began to sing again.
A homeless man asking me if I was alright,
I nodded and felt the tears sting in my eyes.

The beach at Sandymount.
The ripples in the grey, muddy sand,
Stretching like lifelines on the back of a hand.
The crows and raspberry brambles
On the path to the lighthouse.
The stench from the recycling plant.

The smell of rot as the tide pulled back,
The sense of infinity as the sea disappeared,
Revealing the endless sandbank.
Walking out over the flat, exposed sand at night,
Away from the street lights,
Towards the gaping empty of the Irish Sea.
A sense that I could walk into infinity.

The nightly walks along the promenade,
Earplugs in.
People parked in cars,
Hands digging into greasy bags of popcorn,
Steam fogging the windows.

The moon rising out East,
Like a golden finger.

Those other earlier night walks
Along the Liffey,
When the wind made ripples in the grimy water
As it flowed under the low bridges,
Lit from beneath with patriotic colours.

Summer.
The Forty Foot at Sandycove,
Which I visited with two friends.
We took the train out to Dun Laoghaire,
Walked down the promenade,
Eating 99 Flakes.

At the Forty Foot drop we watched the waves crashing in.
People jumping off the rocks,
Screaming with fear and joy as they hit the water.
I promised myself I would come back later in the summer
To swim there.
I never did.

The Luas station at Ranelagh,
The heron’s nest visible from the bridge.
Below it, the café where the cute barista worked,
Who I never dared ask out.

The bookseller in the second-hand store off O’Connell Street who
Each time I visited
Told me the same story
Of his cycling holiday in Norway,
Drawing me a map of the fiords he had visited  
On a paper napkin.

The Botanical Gardens with the Rapunzel tower
And the hot, steamy greenhouses.
The Gravedigger’s where I went on a bad date
And drank good Guinness,
That settled for four minutes at the bar
Before we were allowed to drink it.

Mary Immaculate Refuge of Sinners Church on Rathmines Road,
The beauty of the green dome,
Round and motherly like a breast,
The pillars glowing milky in the pink, fading light,
Making me want to take refuge inside,
Filling me with a religious longing.
I never entered the building.

Trinity College.
Walking out of my writing den at Oscar Wilde’s,
Exhausted but happy from writing for hours.
Through campus in the blue light,
The smell of wet grass and damp air.

Past the rugby pitch,
A right by the old museum building,
Past the stump of the Oregon Maple on Library Square,
Elation running like electricity through me.

The tiny doughnut stand on O’Connell Street,
The comforting smell of hot dough, sugar and cinnamon
Wafting onto the busy road.
A warm paper bag clutched in my hand,
Biting into the soft texture,
Sugar coating my lips as I crossed the Luas lines
And walked West.
Home.

Countess Markievicz solidified on Townsend Street.
Sweaty Dubliners marching behind her
On the treadmills in the fitness centre.

St Ann’s Church on Dawson Street,
With its red door,
Like a warm, beating heart set in a stone cold body.
Where Bram Stoker married his love.

Phoenix Park,
Where the Spanish tourists approached me,
Asking me
Where are the deer?
We want to feed them.

The abandoned, tumble-down farmhouse,
The beech trees on the hills.

Dublin,
You come back to haunt me.
The memory of your streets,
And who I was when I belonged to you.
Becoming someone I wanted to be.

Reading in The Time of COVID-19 – When Books Can’t Cure Loneliness.

Lockdown, along with nine months of unemployment earlier this year, gave me more time than usual to read. Yet, the amount of books I have gotten through since the pandemic began, is not particularly impressive. The thing is, a lot of the time I feel too lonely to read.

The phrase “reading makes me feel less lonely” is one I have heard multiple times, both in interviews with authors about their early reading experiences, or from friends who share my love of literature. I do love to read. But it doesn’t necessarily make me feel less lonely. In fact, sometimes it has the opposite effect.

Born an introvert, I naturally enjoy alone-time. I need to be alone in order to recuperate and regain energy. But even for an introvert there is such a thing as too much alone time. And lately, this has become clearer than ever. Social restrictions combined with the fact that I have recently moved to a new city and haven’t had much opportunity to expand my social network, means I have ended up feeling more isolated and lonely than usual (like many others in these difficult times).

While reading a good book used to be a sought after moment of alone-time, it now often feels like stepping further into a deeper layer of loneliness. Reading is a silent and solitary act. I have enough solitary moments as it is in my daily life, and so the idea of disappearing into the pages of a paperback doesn’t hold the same allure that it used to. I suppose that’s why I so often end up watching Netflix instead of reading.

Watching TV makes me feel less lonely. The sight and sound of other people filling the room. The activity on the screen does a little to help fill up that void of isolation that seems to linger in my living space. Considering the amount of screen time I have, I have watched an impressively small amount of actual films. I tend to re-watch TV-series for the second, third or sixth time. Or I end up falling down Youtube rabbit holes, jumping aimlessly and half-heartedly from one distraction to the next. Before I know it, the clock is pushing bedtime and it is too late to read.

During the first global wave of the pandemic, I remember there being countless articles with recommended reading lists for people in lockdown. Now, they stated, was the time to finally get around to reading those classics one never had time to delve into back when life was normal. People finally had time to read War and Peace, Moby Dick, and Ulysses. Back in March or April, I picked up Anna Karenina. By August I had gotten to page three-hundred and something, finally admitted defeat and returned it to the library, some six months after I started reading.

I love to read. But, during this pandemic I have realised that reading, much like any other activity, requires a particular state of mind. If I feel restless, lonely or sad, reading becomes difficult. I feel those sensations a lot, especially lately. And so, despite having an ever-growing “to-read” list, I often lack the will to pick up a paperback and settle down into the written words on the page. I do honestly believe that if I was in a relationship, I probably would read a lot more. There’s something about that constant solitariness that keeps me from feeling content enough to settle down with a book and just be.

I miss people. I miss connections. I’m tired of being with my own thoughts every evening when I get home from work. I can’t eat a meal without either watching something on my computer screen or listening to a podcast. I seem to need a constant distraction, some sound or voice to drown out the monotony of everyday life. Likewise I can’t make a meal or clean the flat without Spotify on in the background. I miss voices. I miss conversations. I miss hugs.

Reading can provide many benefits. It expands the mind, encourages creativity and lets you escape into another world. But literature is a poor substitute for loneliness, in my opinion. A book can communicate to me, but I can’t reciprocate. A book can make me laugh, but it won’t listen if I try to tell it about the funny thing I witnessed on the street earlier today. A book can be read in a comfy chair, but it is a poor excuse for a cuddle buddy.

The very thing that in my opinion makes reading worthwhile, the joy of having time to oneself, is rarely appealing anymore. I already have too much time to myself. The pandemic has left us all wounded, more vulnerable to loneliness, boredom and depression. I hope and wait for the day when sitting down with a good book can again feel like a much longed for moment of alone time, and not like a deeper plunge into loneliness and isolation.


If you are struggling, feeling low or need someone to talk to, reach out to someone you trust. Or contact a mental health service close to you.

Some useful points of contact:

UK:
https://www.samaritans.org/
www.menshealthforum.org.uk
https://www.mind.org.uk/
https://giveusashout.org/

Ireland:
https://www.samaritans.org/samaritans-ireland/

Norway:
https://mentalhelse.no/fa-hjelp/hjelpetelefonen
https://www.sidetmedord.no/
https://meldinger.kirkens-sos.no/#/

“I’ll Tell You What My Dream Job Is” – Daring to Dream as an Adult

I have been to a few interviews lately. Like many, caught in the grips of the coronavirus and global recessions, I have been unemployed for several months. Since December 2019 to be precise.

At every single one of these recent interviews, I have been asked the following question; “Tell me, what is your dream job?”
Like the good interviewee that I aspire to be, I have responded truthfully.
I have said: “Well, my dream job is to be an author, to publish my own books someday.” The response from my interviewers has been the same every single time. Laughter. Good-hearted laughter, yes. And perhaps a little condescending. As if the interviewer on the other side of the table is thinking to herself: “What is this young woman? Twelve? Will she grow up already? Author? That’s hilarious. Did she understand the question?”

In order to soothe and bring the interviewer back on track I will laugh along, wave a hand dismissively in the air and say something along the lines of: “I know, I know, it’s quite unrealistic. And there’s not exactly a lot of money involved in it either!”
Internally, I almost instantly regret adding those next lines. Because, in truth, all I did was answer the question I had been asked. What is your dream job?

But, it seems that one is supposed to deal with that question the way one is expected to deal with everything as an adult; in a rational manner. One is not expected to blurt out childhood dreams at interviews. It is unprofessional. Those unrealistic dreams should by now be well buried in the graveyard of youthful ambitions. I don’t know quite what these interviewers expect me to answer when given the question What is your dream job? But, I suppose, considering I have a Masters in Creative Writing, it should be something along the lines of copywriter for a highly respected law firm, or perhaps content creator for an innovative and thriving advertisement company, or I want to work in publishing. Now, there is nothing wrong with any of those jobs. But, none of them is my dream job is all. And I was simply attempting to answer the question they gave me.  

If you are going to ask me what my dream job is, then I am going to tell you what my fucking dream job is. If, what you really mean by your question, is: “What is your preferred realistic occupation of choice?”, then I suggest you re-phrase your question. I ask you, dear reader and to-be interviewers, if we cannot be free to dream and imagine uninhibitedly, then what is the purpose of our lives? Are even our dreams to be dictated by the realistic outcomes and limitations of capitalist society? The mind is supposedly free. And so, I will continue to stand by my answer.

Life, for the most part, is not fair. Some of us are statistically more likely to “succeed” than others, due to our race, class, gender and so on. I am in most ways, among the fortunate ones. I started the race of life with a well-dealt hand of cards. I am a white, middle-class, cis-gender, able-bodied woman. Yet, I am still getting laughed in the face when honestly telling interviewers what I dream of one day becoming. But our dreams (and opportunities) should not be dictated by who we are. Our dreams, regardless of our socio-economic backgrounds, should be our free havens, a place we can turn to for hope, aspiration, and the will to keep going.

I have always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a child. I remember vividly a particular day during my teens. I must have been fourteen or fifteen. The whole year at my school went to a “study and work convention”. A huge hall full of stands and little, white tents, where us teenagers could walk around and consider various future studies and occupations.

I remember stopping at one of the stands along with three or four other classmates. The man at the stand smiled warmly down at us and proceeded to hand us white sheets of paper. They were some sort of fill-out form with a bunch of questions on them, supposed to give us an indication as to what we should be studying in the future, based on our interests and goals. The final question was: What is your dream job?
I boldly scribbled down my answer, and I can tell you with certainty, I didn’t do many things boldly back then. But, of this I was sure. No hesitation. I want to be an author.

When we were all done filling out our forms, the man smiled down at us and held out his hands like some good-willed preacher, asking for the papers back. With a dazzling smile on his face, he flicked through the forms, looking at what we had responded to the final question. I remember him reading one answer up at a time, beaming down at us one by one. Doctor? Yes, yes, very good. Engineer. Oh, excellent choice! Lawyer. Bravo! Then he came to my sheet. I stood there, for once, with absolute confidence and pride, waiting for this stranger’s approval of my dream occupation. Instead his enthusiastic smile froze momentarily in its tracks when he read my reply. He didn’t say anything, but hurriedly stacked the forms away and then proceeded to usher us on to the next stall, towards our bright, brilliant futures.

I remember at first feeling humiliated. Why had this grown man quietly dismissed my answer? Then realisation and embarrassment dawned on me. Because my answer had been childish and unrealistic. I should have written down something else. I wasn’t taking this convention seriously. I wasn’t ten years old anymore, and couldn’t keep running around telling people I wanted to write stories for a living. For the rest of the day I walked around the remaining stalls, and tried to display great interest in career opportunities I felt no connection to.

Now, some twelve years later, I have returned to the adolescent in me. The girl who, despite being insecure and timid, so boldly wrote down her answer on a white sheet of paper, handed to her by a grown man she didn’t even know. When asked now, across the table from other strangers what my dream job is, I return to that fifteen-year-old, gangly, shy girl, and I answer truthfully.
“I want to be an author,” I say. I will otherwise follow the protocol. I will dress appropriately for my interview. I will meet up with a friendly, professional aura and I will display the right amount of drive, commitment, and can-do attitude. But, when asked what my dream job is, I will not compensate. Because if I cannot be true to myself even in my dreams anymore, then I frankly don’t know what I am doing here, in life, at all.

Who’s Afraid of the Monster in the Lake? – Remembering Folklore Creatures from Childhood.

Most Norwegian children are at some point during their childhood, confronted with the creatures that populate our folklore, fairy-tales and myths. There are many of them, some benevolent, others evil, some a bit of both. There are of course the trolls, who live in the dark woods and mountain ranges and who will burst if in direct contact with sunlight. There are the Norse Gods such as Odin with his two ravens, and the mighty Thor. And there is the Hulder, a female creature, often disguised as a beautiful woman who lures enamored, young men down to her underworld.

As children, we often fear the beings we hear of in our fairy-tales and folklore, for many of them have cruel intentions and should be avoided at all costs. Some of us begin to fear the unseen; the darkness beyond the garden hedge, the stone steps leading down to the damp and musky cellar. But, as we grow older, we learn that our fears are irrational and tied up in childhood superstition and ignorance. We laugh at the terror once lodged deep within us, and dismiss it as childhood folly.

I moved from Norway to London for studies at the age of twenty, and left behind the landscapes of my childhood. I also left behind the fantastical beasts and monsters that inhabit the land. For a while, immersed in the rush of a city that was wild in so many new ways, I forgot all about them.

Perhaps because of this short-term memory loss, the beings I had forgotten about for so long, returned to me stronger than ever when I eventually returned to Norway. I currently live at the edge of an expansive forest full of oak, birch and pine. Roots run over the footpaths, reminding every hiker who this place belongs to. Patches of untamed bog grow in the clearings. The trees are strange. Some have roots that have practically forced themselves up and out of the earth, which then elevate the trees above ground, creating the illusion that they are floating in mid-air. Others are hollow or grow horizontally off rocks and small cliff-faces.

Lakes, or rather tjern, are scattered throughout the forest. I can’t find an English word that properly describes the Norwegian tjern. Lake comes close, but it’s not quite the same. While lakes can often be huge and clear and almost resemble the sea itself, a tjern is more commonly found in a forest and is a darker sort of lake, often full of tall grasses, reeds and waterlilies.

A few weeks ago, a heat wave swept over this part of the country. One day I walked through the forest to one of the lakes or tjern on my own. It was a weekday afternoon, and once I passed the first lake closest to the road I saw no one else on the forest track. I reached the second lake, hemmed in by a sheer rock face on one side and the forest-covered footpath on the other. There was not a breath of wind and the lake lay black and static before me. I walked down to some smooth rocks that jutted out towards the water, and stripped down to my swimsuit. Then I lowered myself into the water, which was cool and pleasing against my hot, sticky skin.

When I peeked beneath the surface, the water immediately surrounding me was clear. I could see my pale legs dancing against the stone and mud-covered bottom. But not far beyond them, clarity quickly turned to murky darkness. There was no way of telling what lay further ahead of me in the water. It is perhaps not so strange then, that a being I had learned of in my childhood, resurfaced in my mind: Nøkken.

Nøkken is a supernatural being that lives in the many deep, dark lakes, or specifically tjern, that cover our country. It can take on the shape of a human or a beautiful, white horse, in order to lure people into the water. It is also said that the cry of Nøkken is a warning of death to come, by drowning.

This lake, with its still, black water, fringed by forest, is just the sort of place Nøkken would reside. How then, out there on my own, could I help but picture a broad-faced beast’s head slowly emerging from the middle of the lake, waiting patiently for me to venture out towards it?

My body felt relaxed while submerged in the water. The feeling was therapeutic. And yet, I didn’t swim out from the shore. I remained by the rocks and swam short laps of a few strokes from one rock to the other, back and forth, while the hot, eerie stillness of the day settled around me. After a while, two British girls appeared on their bikes. They stopped, undressed and jumped into the lake. I heard their chatter and the swishing sound of their arms and legs moving through the water. Soon they were out in the middle of the lake. There they split up, one of them swimming over to the shore below the steep cliff face, the other swimming further out. I wondered if either of them had ever heard the tale of Nøkken.

As I floated in the water, I caught myself almost wishing that Nøkken really was down there, at the bottom of the lake. Of course, the logical part of my mind doesn’t want the beast to truly exist. If it did, I would never venture anywhere near the lake, let alone set foot in it. But the imagery of the beast is so strong that I cannot disconnect it entirely from the landscape surrounding me. In my mind it belongs there, as surely as the stooping ferns, the crows and the water-lilies. It completes the landscape. Its presence is assertive. It has a right to be there.

I will continue to swim in the tjern that are dotted throughout the forest. But the beasts that populate this country’s folklore, will continue to appear in my mind whenever I do. Because that is the only way they can survive. They need us, the people, to remember them. Feeding off our fear and imagination, they make sure that we do not forget about them. They are always there, at the periphery of our vision, lurking in the shadows.

I believe we need the creatures of our folklore and fairy-tales, now perhaps more than ever. Because they remind us to respect our natural environments. Because they distill in us, hopefully, just the right amount of fear needed, to not interfere too deeply with the natural world.

“Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead” – What I’ve been reading

I first came across Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead during a work shift at the independent bookstore I worked in while studying in Dublin. The title, taken from the work of William Blake, made my eyes rest with intrigue on the blue paperback cover. Several months later I finally got around to reading it. I finished it in a matter of days and was left with sensations of unease, pleasure and the realisation of having discovered a new favourite author.

              Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is the translated novel of Polish Nobel Prize in Literature winner Olga Tokarczuk. It can be described as a philosophical noir eco-thriller, and is set on a mountainous plateau in Poland, bordering the Czech Republic. Its protagonist is Janina, although she hates being called by her given name, a woman in her sixties who lives year-round in a cottage on the plateau. She is a hobby astrologist who enjoys translating the works of Blake.

              The plot sucks us into plateau life, which is disrupted by the ominous murders of several members of a hunting club. Our heroine Janina is certain that these killings have been conducted by animals, as revenge for the brutal murders of their own kind by these hunters.

              In the current world climate, gripped by the fear and uncertainty brought on by Covid-19, Drive Your Plow makes for a timely read. It echoes the current anxieties that many of us are feeling now; an unease with how separate we have become from the natural world and the consequences this has for us and the planet’s health. Several scientists are currently speaking out about how a pandemic such as Covid-19 could be a result of the planet’s overbearing meat and poultry industry[1]. In Drive Your Plow it is clear from the start that the protagonist sees a world around her which she means has lost touch with the natural environment. A world where us humans have placed ourselves at the top of the pedestal, regarding ourselves as the only living creatures with souls, and therefore the only creatures whose lives are sacred. The protagonist regards this disconnection between humans and other living beings with discontent and fear. “Is this nightmare really happening? This mass killing, cruel, impassive, automatic, without any pangs of conscience, without the slightest pause for thought…”[2] says the protagonist when airing her opinions on the way humans are currently relating to the animals they slaughter and eat.  

From reading the above, one can easily be misled to assume this is some sort of eco-fascist, hippie, vegan-pusher book. But to the sceptic I would like to say this book avoids all clichés when it comes to the themes it engages with. This is thanks to Tokarczyk’s acute intelligence, storytelling abilities and knowledge of the human mind. With a background in psychology, Tokarczyk is well equipped to create fully formed characters. The traces of her former occupation as a psychologist are scattered throughout the book, much like the frequent occurrence of animal footprints in the snow in the story. Tokarczuk knows the human mind, the way it can leap from one subject to another. This is demonstrated through the protagonist’s thought process as she reflects on everything from humans’ place in the world, animal rights, the soul, good and evil, fate and the joys of a well-made mustard soup. Every character in the book is equally peculiar in their own way, and also believable, real.

The protagonist is an unlikely heroine in many ways, an elderly woman with no husband or children, living on her own in a remote environment. She is aware of the fact that most people, particularly the authorities, see her as a batty, old mad-woman. She acknowledges that she lives in a world that does not accept her and her worldviews. Yet, she reflects on what it means to be a being of apparent insignificance. “But why should we have to be useful and for what reason?” The protagonist says. “A large tree, crooked and full of holes, survives for centuries without being cut down, because nothing could possibly be made of it. This example should raise the spirits of people like us.”[3]  

              In this philosophical, eco-thriller, Tokarczuk challenges humans’ positioning in the world, while simultaneously engaging with the most intimate aspects of what it means to be human. This storywill take you by the hand and lead you into a world where the eccentric becomes the ordinary, where the landscape is bleak, melancholy and trembling with life, and where animals are suspected of murder. Drive Your Plow is the first work of Tokarczuk that I have read, but it will certainly not be the last. I have found a writer who has the sorcerer-like ability to pull me into her world. I dare you to read her, and not feel somehow changed.


[1] “Is factory farming to blame for coronavirus?”, Spinney, 2020, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/28/is-factory-farming-to-blame-for-coronavirus

[2] “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead”, Tokarczuk, p.112, 2018.

[3] “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead”, Tokarczuk, p.243-244, 2018.

(Delayed) Birthday Thoughts

I turned twenty-seven yesterday.

I have two fine lines on my forehead.

I went to the cinema twice last week. One of the films was in black and white, which made the scenes where blood was spilt, less vivid.

I was in the car with my mum the other day and we saw a submarine docked in the harbour, it looked like a black, mechanical whale, and I wished I could board it and sail on it as it burrowed itself into the dark core of the North Sea, and journeyed soundlessly through the still waters like an air ship moving through space, until it jettisoned itself out of the water into a new time and place.

I have recurrent insomnia.

I ate cake yesterday.

I turned twenty-six last year, I went to eat crepes with my college friends on Rathmines Road in Dublin, afterwards we went to the Bowery and drank cocktails and laughed a lot.

I miss Dublin sometimes, the canals with the willow trees that trail the water, the Dart that runs like an arrow from O`Connell street, up through Dawson street and on to leafy, suburbian Ranelagh, the many pubs with sticky countertops and music and loud people.

I wish I had a driving license.

I am single.

I turned seventeen ten years ago, back then I attended high school in the city centre, that winter the lake between the school and the bus station froze and snow fell on top of it, every day after school we would cross the lake to get home.

I am unemployed and live at home.

I want a Dark and Stormy.

I am reading too many books simultaneously and as a result will probably not finish all of them.

I turned seven twenty years ago, back then I played vikings with my friends in the belts of spruce that grew alongside the golf course just beyond my back-garden, there were tribal meetings and there was plundering and hunting and hiding from enemies.

I want a new dress for my upcoming graduation in spring.

I spent three hours on the phone last Sunday with first one, then another friend, I was walking round a lake and it was cold and windy and then it started to rain, I went inside a building to warm myself up, there was a gathering for Christian people there and the hall was full of families with small children running around, the signs for the toilets pointed the wrong way, I sat down at a table in a corner of the venue to rest my feet and warm up, no one bothered me.

I am agnostic.

I think turning thirty will be fine.

To Apply or not to Apply; A Postgraduate`s opinions of a Creative Writing Degree

On a balmy morning in late August 2019, I handed in a bound copy of my thesis in Creative Writing. Finally, I had completed the last step in a year-long M.Phil (Masters in Philosophy) course at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

From the moment I understood the concept of a career I wanted to be a writer. After an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and two years of work, I decided to re-enter academia (and the accumulation of yet more student debt) and apply for a place on a Creative Writing course at Postgraduate level. I applied to a range of universities, was declined by some and accepted by others and finally chose to accept an offer from Trinity College Dublin in Ireland.

Before applying, I spent a fair amount of time on research. I was trying to figure out whether attending a course in creative writing at university level, would be worth my time or not. I read numerous articles that listed the pros and cons of creative writing courses, written by well-known published authors as well as former attendants of these courses.

Now, having completed a degree in Creative Writing myself, I figured I might as well give something back, to others who may be considering this life choice and wondering if it is worth the investment or not.

So, would I recommend attending a creative writing course at university level? In short, yes. However, there are various factors to consider when making such a decision. Below I will attempt to list my experience of the course I attended, and who I would recommend such a course to.

During my own research, the most common argument against creative writing courses that I came across went something like this; creative writing courses are a waste of time because talent cannot be taught. British novelist Hanif Kureishi is one of many who holds this viewpoint. In an article from The Guardian he says; …”Creative writing courses are a waste of time… A lot of my students just can`t tell a story.”[1]

To a certain degree I can sympathise with the above viewpoint. But, to a certain degree only. There are of course aspects of writing and any other creative art form that cannot be taught, because they come from intuition and from the individual`s way of perceiving the world. But as novelist Matt Haig points out, in the same article by The Guardian, writing is part instinct, part craft, and the craft part can indeed be taught.

I must side with Haig. Talent and intuition are important factors for creating good art, but without practise and dedication the artist will not succeed. A common myth seems to exist around artists; the idea of almost otherworldly abilities to produce something extraordinary without seemingly even trying. But ask any novelist or musician for that matter, no matter how talented, how many hours practice they have put in every day over years and years. The number is sure to be astoundingly high.

Many to-be writers may have great talent and intuition, but they might still benefit from structured feedback and advice on how to better craft their work. And may I add, no one becomes a good writer without writing a lot. We all (some of us more than others) will have to wade through a lot of metaphorical shit before we get to the good stuff. And if there is one thing a well-structured creative writing course does give you it is the time and space to write, to practise your craft. For this very reason, I deem creative writing courses to be excellent opportunities for ambitious writers to delve into their practise and to become even better at their craft.

One piece of advice I would give to anyone considering applying for a creative writing course is, don`t take yourself too seriously. No one expects you to produce a contemporary classic on your first attempt at writing. But just keep writing. Stopping and lamenting at how bad your writing is won`t benefit anyone, least of all you and your wordcount.

In a creative writing course one of the things you are paying for is the time to write. So, make use of it! For most of any writer`s life, writing will not be an activity that is given endless space and time in everyday life. It will have to be squeezed in between full-time work, relationships, kids, break-ups, funerals and kitchen refurbishing. If you`re going to pay thousands of euros or pounds or whatever currency on a degree in creative writing, make sure you make the most of that time and write!

Another common argument against creative writing courses is that they weed out any form of authenticity in their students and create mass producers of similar content. Literary editor Jason Sanford made this comment, saying that editors looking through submissions to literary magazines, had to wade their way through countless stories that all seemed to resemble each other.[2]

I can see the potential danger, especially for younger, perhaps easier influenced students, in wanting to please one`s professors and hence ending up producing content one thinks they will applaud, rather than what one really wants to write. But, as with anything else in life, you as a student should follow your gut feeling and make your own decisions about your writing. Your professors and peers will be there throughout the year to comment and give feedback on your work. You should listen seriously to this feedback and consider the potential ways it might benefit or improve your writing. But, at the end of the day, you are the master of your own work, you decide what advice to take on board as valuable and what advice to quite frankly flush down the drain.

My favourite part of the course was the weekly workshops. In these, the class was split in two and every week, two to three of us would submit roughly fifteen A4 pages of our own work. The rest of the group would have about a week to read the submitted work and give feedback in the following workshop. Before I attended Trinity College, hardly anyone had read my prose. Once I attended the course, my work was being continuously scrutinized and commented on in great detail.

I found it immensely helpful, not to mention exciting, to have other people read my work. My workshop companions varied in age and background, from a Brazilian girl in her early twenties to a retired man from England. As a result, the advice I was given often varied. This meant I had to decide what advice was useful to me and my work. The feedback and not to mention support that I received from my lecturers and peers throughout the year, was without doubt the most rewarding part of the course for me.

I consider myself very lucky to have landed in a year where my peers were supportive and where we all worked hard not only on our own projects, but also to make sure we gave the best possible advice and feedback to each other. We heard from former students on the course, that it was no given that the group would be so supportive of one another. Previous years had apparently seen more antagonistic or at least, less helpful groups of students, where most were mainly focused on improving their own work and less enthusiastic about the work of their peers.

I would stress that the most important aspect of a creative writing course is the people in it, professors and students alike. Workshops especially, will only work if everyone is engaged and actually reads each other’s work before class. You can`t have a productive workshop if people have not read the work that is being discussed. Sadly, what your peers will be like is difficult to predict. However, considering the steep prices one pays to attend these courses, one would at least assume that the people attending them will take their own work as well as that of their peers, seriously.

              Another positive aspect of the course was the friendships I made during it. Writing is a solitary act. As exhilarating and liberating as it can be to create a world that is only yours, it is also something you must do on your own. No one else is there with you when you write. And often, that`s hard. Enrolling on the Creative Writing course made the process of writing seem less isolating. Although I still had to do the actual work in solitude, my peers were never far away and we keenly discussed our writing processes, joys and struggles over pints or cups of coffee throughout the year.

              Something that I found useful when attending the course, was that I had a structured idea of what I wanted to spend my year focusing on. Although I switched from writing a magical realism story to a contemporary coming of age novel in term two, I came to the course with a project in mind, something I wanted to focus on throughout the year. Although the project changed, I believe it was beneficial for me to have a specific goal during the course, in my case it was to write as much of a first draft of a novel as I could. An excerpt of my novel in progress became my thesis. You do not have to know what your thesis will be when you begin the year, but personally I found coming to the course with a project in mind, helped me retain my focus.

Finally, I cannot talk about a university degree without mentioning the P-word. Privilege. University education is a privilege. We need to think about who gets accepted to Creative Writing courses and why, who has the means to be accepted to them, and who is being left out of these opportunities either they want them or not. A degree in Creative Writing can be useful, but this alone will most likely not secure you a publishing deal. However, the prestige that comes with having such a degree will create advantages for you, and I believe it is important to keep such advantages in mind after graduation.

Getting into a Creative Writing degree is surely a result of your talent, as you will have been selected from a list of other candidates. But, also bear in mind that others who might be at least as talented as you, might not have the same opportunities to pursue the same life decisions as you do. So, make great use of your year, but bear in mind that there are several ways to become a published writer. So, when out there in the world, with your Creative Writing degree in your pocket, don’t look down upon and set yourself apart from other writers who don’t have an official degree for their efforts. Their work is as important as yours.

In short, I would say that attending a creative writing course can be beneficial to you if;

  1. You are willing to not take yourself or your work too seriously, but be open to constructive feedback from your professors and peers.
  2. You are of sound and set enough mind to be able to evaluate which advice that you are given is useful and which is best ignored. And that you maintain your unique voice while developing as a writer.
  3. You understand that a degree in Creative Writing will most likely not get you a publishing deal, that the hard work has only just begun once you graduate if you intend to be a serious and published writer, and that if you want to be rich you should probably study engineering or business instead.
  4. You intend to make good use of the time you are given and write and read as much as possible. Pick up that paperback and do not succumb to the allure of endless Netflix streaming!
  5. You understand that there are many ways of taking steps towards becoming a writer, a degree in Creative Writing is just one of many. Your degree is a privilege. Use it, don`t flaunt it.
  6. You are willing to make friends and support your peers, read their work and consider it as if it was your own. A good writing workshop is built on cooperation, not self-preservation!

If you agree with my six golden rules, I believe that a creative writing course might be the thing for you. If you, like me, are lucky enough to have the opportunity to do something like this, then do it and enjoy it and make the most of it! And if someone says you`re wasting your money on something that doesn’t need to be taught, tell them that practise makes perfect!


[1] Flood, “Creative Writing Professor Hanif Kureishi says Creative Writing Courses are a Waste of Time”, The Guardian, 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/04/creative-writing-courses-waste-of-time-hanif-kureishi

[2] Ellis, “The Cons of MFA Programs”, jenniferellis.ca https://www.jenniferellis.ca/the-cons-of-mfa-programs


Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus you own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.