Tag Archives: writing

The Stories of The Old Basket Chair

Does this basket chair tempt you to come and sit on it?

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

I can see it from where I am just now writing.

The day is sunny, bright and cool. The window is open and I can hear the wind that is unusually strong today. It rocks the aspens in the garden, and the sound it creates resembles the hum of sea somewhere in the distance.

I haven’t written anything for a couple of weeks. I’ve been on holidays like everyone in Finland in July. I actually thought I wouldn’t write at all this month, but then I got inspired by that old basket chair. First I took photos of it, and then it asked me to write. It’s right there in front of the window. When I sit on it I can see what happens inside and outside the house, and inside and outside myself. During the weeks of summer holidays it is my watchtower, my nest for incubating ideas, my place for just sitting and staring.

Today my basket chair made me think of one particular aspect of life which I consider important: beauty.

I have adored beauty in its various forms throughout my whole life – in nature, in all forms of art. Treasuring beauty has been so important to me that I became a semi-professional painter, with the seriousness of a professional.

I even went to study aesthetics (see the definition at the end of the post) at the university. But I soon came to realize that my reverence of beauty was ultimately not of intellectual nature, and I did not bother to finish my studies.

I want to sense beauty. I want to feel it. And to me beauty does not only mean the sweet, pretty and lovely. There is beauty also in the raw and rugged. There is beauty in honesty that reveals the edginess and imperfection of reality.

My confession of faith could be: “I believe in God, the Ultimate Beauty.” Because beauty, as I see it, contains all the aspects that support and further life: harmony, peace, love, joy, courage, truth etc. In their purest forms all these qualities are simply – beautiful!

But let’s get back to the basket chair – on which, by the way, my late mother-in-law used to sit waiting for us when we came for a visit. As I was sitting on it yesterday I thought about blogging. I looked back to the end of January when I started. I even checked whether what I wrote on my About page still holds true.

I started to blog with the intention of giving myself a voice, of showing something new about myself. I guess this is the aim of many bloggers. I also wanted to challenge myself and decided to write in English. I wanted to share what life has shown to me. I felt that writing might help me to recreate myself after returning to Finland. Coming back “home” after years in other countries forced me again to ask the very universal and the very personal question: “Who am I?” – Asking this question is, of course, an exploration that continues until the end of life.

Right now I feel that I have reached many of the goals I set myself. But in the process of blogging something else has also emerged. Something that was not present in my original list of intentions. Something extra. Something that has been lost for years.

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

It is the joy of writing, the pleasure of using the amazing instrument of language. Being carried by words.

I look at again the old basket chair. The sun has moved on in the sky, and the chair now remains in the shade. It actually could be an image of me: An aging lady curiously looking into the outside world and curiously exploring the inner worlds.

* * *

aesthetics |iːsˈθɛtɪks, ɛs-|(US also esthetics ) a set of principles concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty.• the branch of philosophy which deals with questions of beauty and artistic taste.

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Entering A Quiet Room

Writing is sometimes like entering a quiet room in the soft afternoon light: I sit down at the table, and on the other side of the table settles The Text That I Write. We talk together, and the conversation gives birth to ideas that are novel to both of us. There we sit, for hours on end, and the dusk begins to fall, and the conversation just goes on and on. And gradually the evening changes into night, and the silence around us grows so deep and intense that I no longer discern my own thoughts and ideas from The Text That I Write. Along with the falling night, I fade away, and I transform and get mingled into what I write. And at that very moment I understand: this is exactly what I have been aiming at; that I could dissolve into what I write, and that through my vanishing I could create Another, a completely new and separate being, who in the growing light of the next morning would be looking at the world with fresh new eyes.

lehtiä kellumassa

Even this writing here was born of a desire to go into a quiet room.

I started to write this text already several days ago. I started without any particular goal in mind, my only aim being to transfer into writing whatever happened to be moving inside my head; without choosing any particular direction; having curiosity as my mere guiding principle; keeping in my mind the question: what comes out of this freely undulating moment?

So I wrote for a while, and I was very pleased spending time in the quiet room with my companion, the Text That I Wrote. I felt that though I did not perhaps succeed in creating a whole being into existence, I was nevertheless creating something new; that at least I was very close to recreating myself.

But as it often happens, the real life, the external physical world forced me violently out of my quiet room, and the fruitful conversation with the Text That I Had Been Writing was abruptly ended.

When I finally returned to my room again, I realized that I had somehow closed the computer without saving my text.

Suddenly I was all alone.

I just had started to create something solid, concrete, something permanent, I thought. Or at least I had managed to get hold of the hem of the passing reality, of something absolutely new and important – and then it was gone!

I felt sad. I had lost a friend with whom I had been passing time. I was back in my own indefinite company, in my invariably changing moods, exposed to all kinds of external impulses; no more consistent with what I had called “myself”.

But today I came again into my quiet room. This time I have remembered to save diligently The Text That I Write.

The afternoon is cloudy, I have been following the course of my wandering thoughts, and I already wait for tomorrow; the moment when this particular form of existence carries me to some place I know nothing about today – perhaps to a story that is just about to begin.

The Journey of A Smile

A boxful of old photographs almost fell into my lap from a closet where I have been keeping them – a surge of memories, moments from the past, frozen by camera. Instants fixed on paper, remnants of times when images still had a material form and feel against the hand. All shoved into a brown cartoon box, sealed with thick packing tape.

Nicaragua uusin

I spread the pictures on the floor and sit down amidst them. There is so much of everything – places, people, events, experiences, and feelings. Episodes that had already disappeared and gotten lost into the labyrinth of my memory.

In one of the photos there is a serious-looking girl of six or seven years old. She catches my attention, and I begin to follow how she changes in the photos.

In the first photo – which is black-and-white – the girl’s posture is slightly stooped and she is tilting her head to the left. There is an air of sadness around her. She is standing in front of a Sami style tepee somewhere in Lapland, with a group of people, one of who is dressed in a traditional Sami costume. Her father is not there, but her mother and elder teenage sister are present. Everyone is looking straight into the camera. Only the two dogs in the front have turned their backs to the photographer. It is summer and the sunlight is bright.  The shadows on the ground are sharp, and everyone is squinting their eyes.

The next photo is taken a few years later. In a class photo the same girl is wearing her first eyeglasses, and that makes her look what she already was at that time – a bookworm. She has created a private world of her own, a place where she feels safe. The early signs of adolescence are visible in her greasy, straight hair, and the coat that she is wearing looks a bit too big for her.

More photos. The girl is growing and changing. Trips with schoolmates. Moments with friends during the years at the university. One photo is taken on her first trip abroad: three young women, the inseparable threesome, are standing in front of a cathedral in Florence.

In one of the photos she is floating in the water in the Dead Sea in Israel. It is a field trip of her theology class of the university. She has raised her arms up and her feet are sticking out of the water. She is demonstrating how well the salty water carries her.

Then there are a couple of photos of a mysterious Janus-faced young woman. She is already married. She is sitting on a basket chair, wearing hexagonal glasses and a classy dress. She has a plain short haircut. Her head is slightly turned to the side, but her eyes are looking straight into the camera. The look on her face is veiled, inscrutable, and her closed mouth looks like it is holding words inside. Is anger her shield, her protection against the world?

And then another photo, on the same basket chair, completely different. Again the young woman’s head is turned to her right side, but she is also looking up, past the camera. On her face she has a bright smile that reveals her teeth. Her glasses are reflecting the light that comes from the opposite direction. A careful inspection reveals a reflection of the photographer on her glasses.

In the next photo she is 23 years old, and she is standing at a railway station. A railcar and people are standing right behind her. Her old father is next to her, looking down. He is wearing a leather hat with a brim, and a brown winter coat. The coat is slightly open and reveals a striped tie. The young woman is keeping her hands in her pockets.  Her head is covered with a green woven cap that does not quite match with her winter coat. Her shoulders are slouched, and her eyes are down. She looks sad and depressed. There is snow on the ground, and the afternoon shadows behind the father and the daughter are long and distinct, like the seventeen years that have elapsed since their previous encounter.

Kodan edessä - uusin

Next photo. She is already a mother expecting her first child. She is sitting on a bed in a light blue night-dress. She has had her hair permed to get herself curls that nature did not give her. She is leaning against a bed head, and a pillow is supporting her back. Her tummy is big and heavy-looking. Her arms are resting on the sides of her tummy, both hands meeting in front of it. She is pursing her lips and tilting her head forward. She does not look into the camera. What is she thinking, that serious young mother, behind the thin curtains through which the light filters into a quiet bedroom?

Next photo. The turbulent years of divorce are behind, but there is still a shadow of sadness in the woman’s eyes. She is on her first trip to Africa, under the  brilliant sunshine, on the shore of Lake Nakuru in Kenya. Right behind her back there is a huge flock of birds, hundreds of pink flamingos. On the  left side of the woman stands a man with blonde curly hair, tangled by the wind. They both have a very straight posture, as if they had decided to defy whatever life throws at them.

Then there is a very different photo. The woman has come to Nicaragua to pick coffee. In the photo she is laughing with her mouth wide open, and tilting her body backwards. It looks like the laughter is coming out of her whole being. She is standing on a dirt road with another woman – and a guerrilla. A machine gun is hanging from the guerrilla’s neck, and he is holding his arms on both women’s shoulders. It has just stopped raining.

… And so the stream of the photos goes on, and over the years the images begin to disappear into the hard drive of the computer, and they become more ethereal and intangible. The sadness of the little girl in the first black-and-white photos gradually begins to fade in later photos, and the veil in front of the eyes of a young woman disappears, for most of the time. There are more and more photos with a smile and laughter on her face, but even in the later photos, that are now stored on the computer, there are still moments when she does not look into the camera, but into a quiet place inside herself.

*

Äiti ja minä

There I sit on the floor looking at the story of my life unfolding in the old photos. It comes into my mind that in everyone’s photos there are those fleeting moments when the camera has captured the instant of a sad child peeking through the armour of an adult person.

I sit and think that actually my story is not so unique, that we all share the same story; the story in which a defenseless and helpless child faces something overwhelming, something that she cannot deal with. It is the same story for everyone, experienced in myriad versions and in varied quantities. The story in which we all experience our bigger or smaller share of human suffering.

And as I look at my old photos I think of the lesson that I’ve been studying during the past years. It is the lesson of acceptance, compassion and love, not only for other people, but above all else, for myself. For me it has meant meeting the little girl inside, feeling her feelings – and then embracing her with all my love and warmth. She is part of me, part of my life and my history.

The Beatles Were Right: Let It Be

Energy has been cumulating inside me. It hasn’t had a proper outlet because it has been boiling under the tight lid of somewhat limiting circumstances. For about a week it has made me feel like an old stuffy attic or a stagnant pool where the water is not moving.

I’m talking, of course, about my need to write, about creative energy.

I turned on the tap of words last September, after years in the world of images and visual art, and now it seems I can no longer close the tap.

Why did I start to feel like a boiling water under a tight lid?

March was a very sociable month for me. First of all, our lovely, funny and wise daughter was staying with us, and she brought a lot of fresh, young energy to our home during her visit.

At the beginning of March I spent a fantastic long weekend in Austria, visiting an old friend who is presently working in Vienna. This friend of mine is a lively person with a great sense of humor, and of course we spent those three days laughing a lot together. On the other hand we also wept tears of sorrow when we shared some sad stories of our lives.

A big social event was my trip to Sweden at the end of March. I stayed a week at Ängsbacka course centre near Karlstad, studying Zen coaching. A very intense week passed quickly in the company of inspiring people and with an intriguing topic, in a relaxed atmosphere. (Zen coaching is an approach developed by Norwegian Kåre Landfald, and it aims, among other things, at recognizing our own nature as awareness. This realization helps us to be less identified with our mental positions and judgmental attitudes toward ourselves and others. You can read more about Zen coaching here.)

After a stimulating trip to Sweden I came home at the end of March full of ideas and inspiration. My deep desire was to withdraw into my own world and mull over everything that had happened during the past month.

More than anything, I simply wanted to sit down in some quiet corner and process my experiences through writing.

But of course I could not do that.

The social life continued at home. It was Easter holidays in Finland, the usual several days’ break of springtime.

Blessed haven of privacy

Now, if I have to define myself on a binary scale of introvert versus extrovert, I am definitely more on the introvert side of the scale. Not to the point of being a misanthropist though – I do love the company of people and the exchange of views with friends and acquaintances. But I also need a lot of privacy and time in solitude, and just as I like to travel and meet people I also enjoy exploring the horizons of my inner landscapes.

From the fact that I’m now writing here – in a public library – you can conclude that I’ve finally succeeded in conquering for myself that blessed and longed-for haven of privacy and creativity. My internal and external worlds are in harmony, and I can take a deep breath.

Ah…

Kuumailmapallo

Boiling under the lid

But let us not quite finish the story yet.

You see, my suppressed energy of creativity forced me to make an inquiry into the essence of frustration. Why did I get so frustrated? Why was it so difficult to postpone my writing?

Sure, I have set myself deadlines, but my personal deadlines are very relative, and in the big picture of life there is actually only one real deadline, and it is The Deathline – which, by the way, is getting closer and closer as I age.

I was frustrated because during the past week I have felt like I had been prevented from fulfilling my need to write. That then created another kind of need – a compelling urge to kick hard against the circumstances.

I understand that the more expectations we have in life, the more we can expect to be disappointed, too. The harder we try to control life, the harder it often hits back.

“Panta rei”, said already Heraclitus. Everything flows. Life moves, changes, surprises us. It gets out of our control. – All this I tried to say to myself.

Why then didn’t these philosophical viewpoints help me when I was on the peak of my frustration?

From resistance to relaxation

I finally discovered the answer. My problem did not resolve, because I was not having an intellectual problem. My feelings were very much involved. I had become irritable and crotchety toward my closest people. And isn’t it that having an emotional state like that is not quite acceptable, is it?

So I condemned my “bad” feelings – and that made me feel even worse. On top of my crotchety frustratedness now settled another unpleasant feeling – a heavy weight of moral disapproval.

I soon realized that by means of thinking and judging myself I was not getting anywhere.

I gave up.

It was exactly then that something interesting happened. The very moment I gave up trying to understand intellectually my feelings I remembered my fresh discovery: I can allow myself to feel my feelings as they are! Accept them.

– “Let it be”, like the Beatles used to sing.

I took another look at my frustration. I wished it welcome, stayed with it, spent time with it. I allowed myself to feel its every single sharp edge in my whole being. (But please note that I no longer put that feeling into action!)

What a relief!

I have been studying this lesson with other feelings, but this time it came in the form of frustration. Again I had to remind myself of the fact that it is the resistance to my own feelings that creates my misery. It is the judgemental words of my inner talk that create the tension, whether as acceptance of feelings opens the door to relaxation, and relaxation allows solutions to come to me through intuition, without hard thinking.

My solution was right in front of my eyes. I remembered the public library, the fragrance of old books, the rustling of paper when someone turns a page, the muffled voices of people speaking to each other in the reading room. Could there be a better place for writing!

It was so simple – I just had to look at my feelings with compassion.

But that is often the most tricky part. I’ll come back to that in another post.