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with love from Finland (from a residency)



finland-1

Repetition is of the essence.

Do something enough times and it becomes a habit. Apparently 21 days is the least amount of time you need to repeat something before it becomes practice.

Repeat repetition until it becomes second nature.

Repeat the same routine every day until I actually have no clue what day of the week it is, repeat to the point where it doesn’t matter whether it’s the 24th or 25th or neither, Tuesday or Sunday.

Repeat because it’s another writing day in Finland.

I get up early today. But later than yesterday. And earlier than tomorrow. As daylight diminishes, sleep becomes longer. I put up the blinds hoping everything outside will be covered in white but unfortunately yesterday’s snow hasn’t made it through the night. I put on the blue slippers that were given to me at the beginning of the residency because dirty shoes shouldn’t come into the house. Finnish design is perfect in its craft and mostly in its upkeep.

I walk downstairs still half asleep and find black coffee already in the french press. It’s very convenient that Dominick always wakes up before me and needs coffee as much as I do. I drink coffee and write in my journal. Little pleasure that become immense pleasures. Journaling and drinking black bitter coffee prepared by someone else.

Bella appears. We talk about our sleep – today was better than yesterday, still having night terrors, she’s still following her mother’s advice to put the mattress facing a different direction.

I make breakfast. I refuse to have smoked salmon on rye. Am I getting sick of salmon? Impossible. I’ll have it for lunch instead. Breakfast is pears and peanut butter on bread. Eat to keep warm. Eat when we’re bored. Eat when we’re happy. Eat before and after writing. Eat if you can’t write. Eat because the kitchen is where all good things happen inside this house.

I go upstairs and put on my heavy jacket and change into warmer pants. Walk downstairs again and change my slippers for my Doc Martens and curse the day I decided to bring Doc Martens to Finland. My toes are already freezing and I’m not even outside of the house yet.

I step outside where it’s quiet, still and beautiful. Should I turn left or right at the bottom of the road? Decisions. Today left. I walk aimlessly for some time and finally make into the forest where the moss is surreal and where my toes are no longer toes but frozen little endings dangling from my feet. There’s no sound, no birds, not cracking leafs. I realise how little I’ve listened to music this whole month, except for my incessant play of  Candy May and that’s mostly because But I never wanted to look sharp / down the barrel of broken heart is a line I may want to steal. One song for 30 days.

Repetition.

Finland-2

I am still outside and the fog is getting thicker. The air is clean and my lungs are happy. I look at house number 90 and at house number 92 and at house number 94 where there’s a stable and a horse. I look at the red house and at the yellow house and the other yellow house where there’s already a Christmas tree. I don’t know how long I’ve been outside but my brain is a little more still and I can start walking back with my frozen toes. I curse the Doc Martens.

I make it to the shower. Seven people living in one house with two bathroom and I’ve never had to wait to use one. Finnish design, Finnish upkeep, could we also be running in some perfectly symmetrical Finnish time?

I sit in my desk and stare at my computer. I write something. The start of something. It’s titled “Some chapter of home”. I look out of my window into the field with the yellow crop. The lake is glassy today and I want to go throw rocks on it and see the ice crack. I curse my Doc Martens and decide to stay put in my chair.

I can see Tom walking, he’s wearing his big orange headphones. He stops in the middle of the field and takes out his pack of Camel Lights and lights a cigarette. He’s probably thinking about the next chapter of his novel. A novel, what a brave venture to write a whole novel.

I write something good. Decide to keep on going. A couple of lines later, I decide it’s awful. Decide to leave it. Maybe I just need some coffee. Maybe what I really need is less caffeine and instead I’ll make mint tea.

Kitchen. Su is making a snack – spicy noodles and black coffee. I tell her I don’t think I can actually write. “Neither can I”. I make tea, she eats her noodles and we walk back to our desks to write.

I sit down and fidget. Revisit the awful writing and decide it’s actually got some potential. Jue comes to my desk and says feedback will be at 6pm tonight. Deadlines, my good old friends. I keep on writing about the faraway tropics. The heat, the green, the homesickness. I get up and go to the kitchen.

Ryan is making tea and fried eggs. His friend from London is visiting. A new face in the kitchen.  Ellie comes in to fill up her bowl of nuts. We talk about David Attenborough and Planet Earth – should nature have a narrative? Should we be rooting for one animal or not? We agree how devastating it’ll be the day Mr Attenborough passes away.

“I can’t write.”

“Neither can I.”

We go back to our desks to write.

It’s 4pm and it’s almost completely dark. This house is always cozy but it gets even cozier at this time. I am not in the kitchen but I can hear them talking. It’s Pan and Tom. There’s talk of some almond cake. I restrain myself from going straight to the kitchen. Harriet is sitting in her desk behind me and she also has her lamp on and her tea. Perfect time to write. No daylight and almond cake is at the finish line. We type.

Kitchen time. “Who wants to go in the sauna tonight?” Yes please. “And after that a movie?” Yes please.

“I can’t write”

“Neither can I”.

We all go back to our desks and type.

finland-3

It’s some day of the week and repetition gets broken. It’s time for a trip to the supermarket where I marvel at the biscuits and at all the different types of rye breads and how can salmon look and taste that good?

I stand in line to pay and proudly hold up a watermelon which I cannot believe I’ve managed to find in the depths of rural Finland. A watermelon from Brazil. The woman at the till with her pleasant smile and her little English but giant compared to my non existent Finnish is telling me that I forgot to weigh the watermelon. Before I can somehow sign language that I’ll go weigh the fruit, she’s off to do the job for me. Behind me, a long queue of people has built up and I’m trying to smile an “I’m sorry” but they don’t seem to even notice the wait and I wonder if patience comes with being Finnish. Even the anxy looking teenagers with their different boxes of chocolate and crisps seem to be completely fine with this glitch in the system caused by a watermelon craving.

The routine keeps breaking. We don’t go straight back to the residency but instead decide to drive to the second hand shop in the giant warehouse in the middle of this town and the next town.

At the front of the shop there’s tables decorated in yellow and orange flower patterns straight out of a American sitcom set in the 70s. Men with white long beards have their coffee and cake – none of which are second hand – in silence and make their way to the slot machine in the entrance to gamble. One round. Two rounds. Three rounds. None of them seem to be in luck that day.

I leave the store with a 1939 magazine in Finnish. Tak leaves the store with a giant oxidized saw, a brown briefcase and some vintage frames for his artwork.

We get back and go straight to the kitchen to unload our food shopping. Make tea. Make dinner. Wash dishes. Eat biscuits. We keep forgetting to buy ice cream.

“The sauna is ready”  If the sauna doesn’t cure you, you will die – is the last line on the list of rules at the entrance. We go in groups of five – we take our clothes off in the first room, wash in the second room with a bucket full of boiling hot water mixed with freezing water and go into the third room.

The upper level is hotter and whoever is sitting at the top gets to decide when to throw water on top of the rocks to get the steam rising. When Ida or Teemu are in there the steam rises quickly. Finnish who have spent their whole life doing this and their lungs are used to the steam, their bodies are used to the heat.

We walk in and out of the sauna. Outside I lay myself on top of a rock with shiny soft moss to get my breath and heartbreak back to normal. I’m ready to go back in for a few more rounds. An hour passes between these in and outs until I’m ready to put my clothes back on and walk back to our house. Everything is dark and the grass is a bit icy. I curse the the Doc Martens again.

Kitchen. This person and that person and this other person. Someone drinks wine, someone drink beer, the others drink mint tea. Midnight snack. Midnight story. Midnight work. “I’m going to go write.”

Yes, I’m going to write too.

Author: Laura Steiner

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