Monday, October 1, 2012

Moment of Euphoria

Yesterday I was on my way home from my son's soccer match when I opened the browser in my mobile phone. Saw a notification on my Facebook profile. An old friend from Finland had posted a screen catch on my profile timeline. Finnish iBooks front page. Showing my debut novel Meduusa as the first one in section Thrillers.
I have to say I was surprised. In the beginning of the past summer, 3-4 months after my short story collection My Hometown Named Love was published, I had edited and partially rewritten Meduusa, originally published in Finland in 2006. I had added some more meat on the characters, added a few things and changed the cover design. Published it as an e-book in early July. In less than three months it was appearing next to some bigger names.
I compared the prices. Price for Meduusa was only 4,99 euros. Decent for an e-book. Others were asking somewhat 18,99. My conclusion was that getting to that page was probably due to lower pricing.
Some hours later I decided to Google some other charts, if such existed. I ended up in a site showing Apple iTunes stores in each country, songs, movies, e-books. I hit the top100 e-book downloads in Finland.
For my surprise Meduusa was at # 2. I nearly got a heart attack. The only one ahead was the first volume of much talked Fifty Shades of Gray. Behind me were Steve Jobs and Zlatan Ibrahimovic biographies, second and third volume of Fifty Shades of Gray as well as recently published new novel The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling.
As I came home, prepared to unpack the soccer team gear, making some lunch, taking the rubbish out, I wondered how many of my old friends had purchased the e-book. One of my old work mates had bumped into Meduusa when entering the iTunes store. I don't know if the price was an issue, but he had purchased it. Maybe someone else had, too. There are not that many Finnish e-books available in lower prices.
Some hours went in a small euphoria, even when the glamour is probably far away from these sales figures.
E-book sales in Finland are still very small. It could be a matter of few downloads to shoot passed the better known titles. It's also partially about the pricing issue. Whether to ask 11,99 or 18,99 euros or just 4,99 for the product. For less well known writers it matters.
But those hours and the picture posted on my FB wall did tell that work I've done matters. Those hours also restored my faith in e-book revolution. The revolution that has in English-speaking countries suffered from steep growth in numbers of e-books available for sale. When there are more titles sharing the same sales, figures often stay small.
Finland, a high tech IT country, still much sticking to traditional publishing, will most likely enter the e-book revolution later than many other countries. These kind of sales figures might be small for several years. Especially if the e-book prices will stay high and the value added tax for e-books stays in 23 compared to 9 for traditional books.
Still I've decided to invest in the future. Two, five or ten years from now things might be totally different than they are now. But I can see the dawn.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Holy moments

I believe anyone who has ever experienced finishing a big process, knows what a great feeling putting the dot to it is. Finishing it fully. Maybe years of work.
For a creative person it's a huge point to come to. Letting something you created go. See the pile of papers, whatever you've been working on for months, maybe years, right there.
It also means letting the work go. For a writer, it means sending it to a publisher or an editor. There may be more editing rounds coming up, but the first holy moment is when the pile of prints stands on the desk waiting to be slipped into that big envelope. Or the file attached to the message going somewhere waiting for someone to click the send button..
The second holy moment -later on- is getting the box of recently printed books from the post office. Opening the box and seeing the name and title on the cover. Touching the paper. Browsing pages. Seeing the writing that was only an echo of words some time ago in the head. Making its way to a story. Now materialized for someone out there to read.
When writer gets hard copies in hand, it's time for celebration, maybe raise a toast. But already then there's been a process of giving up. Processing the emptiness. You've let your characters go. You might miss them. The whole process. Sticking small pieces of papers you've written in the bus so you don't forget the idea you came up with. Placing something you suddenly thought of in the timeline of the story. Getting excitement when finally solving the puzzle with something you bumped into while walking the streets, reading the paper, seeing a person who reminded you of something.
Letting the script go in the first place is a bigger thing for many writers. Some medicate the sudden emptiness by getting drunk, maybe spending the whole week or two smashed or in a soft room. Some hop in the plane or train. Change the scenery.
I've had my own methods. Some years ago, after finishing a novel, I was considering taking a last minute trip. It didn't matter where. Anywhere would have done the job.
Instead I developed A Day. In fact, An Afternoon. No glasses of champagne, no cigar once a year as Paul Sheldon in Misery. Just a bus ride to the city. Little stroll around. Lunch in a quiet place by myself on a weekday afternoon. Choosing a film of my taste. Sitting in a nearly empty movie theater alone. Letting it all go.
In the early evening I'd take a bus home. Purified. Until the creative machine would soon start turning itself on again.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Did it touch you?

Art is powerful. Even so powerful that when it really hits the nerve and heart of a person digesting it, you can almost hear an explosion. When a work of art has dug through all the way. Found its meaning. When artist's intention in creating experiences, bringing up emotions or just pure joy, has been successful.
When I was studying Finnish literature in University of Turku, we had to read massive book packages for quite a few exams: Finnish literature, world literature, special genres...
For one exam with 2-4 credits, we easily had to read 30-40 books: novels, collections of poetry, plays, theory... I remember reading three plays and half of a thick novel overnight. Some of them really hit certain nerves: Jeppe of the Hill by Ludvig Holberg the laughter nerve, To Steal Her Love by Matti Yrjänä Joensuu the heart.
When I was reading Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, I couldn't stop after having read fifty pages. I was totally sucked into that magical psychological narrative Dostoyevsky had created. I could almost see the streets and backyards of Saint Petersburg through the eyes of Raskolnikov.
Therefore it wasn't a surprise to hear a story about some student in the past trying to find all those books to be read. Missing one, Crime and Punishment, and the only question in the exam being from that book. Failing the exam. Given a second chance to read the book, having the re-exam only one day later. Reading it overnight. Being psychologically totally sucked into this nearly disturbing content. Passing the exam this way probably left an unforgettable experience.
Sometimes some pieces of art don't hit you at all. It's like trying to pair with someone. Maybe it just wasn't the right time. Then. Maybe another time is better.
In 1993-1994 there was a big buzz about Polish film director Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colours Trilogy: Blue, White, Red. In the first round, the middle part, White, found me the best. I found the first part Blue fine, but nothing spectacular, even though it was visually stunning.
In August 1995 my dad died. Some months later I went to see Blue again in a film matinee in my student city Turku. This time the grief, Juliette Binoche torturing her knuckles by tearing them against a stone wall, really hit me. My own life experiences had brought me to assimilate to the widow character.
When a movie character falls in love, we may or may not understand what he or she is going through. When we find connections to our own emotions and experiences, we have a better possibility to understand what the one creating the piece has meant.
If the personal surface doesn't exist, but the piece has still managed to find you, the creator has succeeded even better. Making someone assimilate to a very different person in a very different world isn't an easy task. But as Dostoyevsky managed with Raskolnikov, we know it is possible.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sources of inspiration

Author George Bernard Shaw once mentioned Dubrovnik in present Croatia being a heaven on Earth. I don't know if he was ever particularly literally inspired by the place. I can imagine it probably gave him inspirational power just like some other places for people, especially artists, writers, composers.
Author Karen Blixen spent a lot of time in Africa and was deeply inspired by the continent. Even so much that she quit painting after coming back to her home country Denmark. In her earlier years, she had considered becoming a painter.
I can easily imagine how certain cities, towns, villages or regions have had a strong impact and are in many ways shown in artists' artistic outcome. Some places are not necessarily connected to any known major works. But would deserve it.
I've been lucky to live in places that have that inspirational atmosphere. You can almost see the streets and corners, parks, beaches and alleys being placed in the stories. The kind of places that make the imagination take off, creating new shops in the side of the ones existing in real life, new fictional people starting to live their lives as if they really existed.
I understood it last year, when a truck blocked New Street in my home village Malahide to give space for evening concerts as the crowd gathered together with their beers and cheerful mood to have a good time. That atmosphere had to be caught somewhere. At least a slice of it.
Since Malahide has the summer festival starting again today, there's no better time to give free a short story about a summer festival weekend in a village, similar to Malahide. You can read it here ->

Friday, July 6, 2012

Overcoming reader's block

I'm a mood reader. Recently having several phases of reader's block. I don't know how I'd cure it. Fully at least. One treatment is to go back to those old books that I've once categorized as highly content, personally inspirational, touching, meaningful, entertaining.
I don't know if they have much in common. Some of them have well-thought plots, off the beaten path language often with that poetic "sing", which tells about the atmosphere, humanity, writer's desire to write, finding in a natural way the inner vulnerability of the individual in place. The no-super hero human being whose skin you can crawl into.
Often my favourite tone is somehow melancholic, maybe having slight quiet sadness, still not necessarily having the story ending unhappily. I love ambitiously written survival stories. Or the ones that end up with the protagonist having inner peace, some kind of harmony.
The most important books for me have a strong touch and taste of life. Some of the books that have brought back my trust in the power of literature have been from my country of origin, Finland: The Home of the Dark Butterflies (Tummien perhosten koti) by Leena Lander, To Steal Her Love (Harjunpää ja rakkauden nälkä) by recently deceased Matti (Yrjänä) Joensuu,  Two Cities (Kaksi kaupunkia) by Harri Sirola,  Train to San Pellegrino (Juna San Pellegrinoon) by Jukka Pakkanen.
I've had similar feelings when reading certain works from authors like Raymond Carver, Anton Chekhov, Kahlil Gibran. And watching movies, which add more to it with the whole atmosphere: pictures and well-selected soundtracks.
If I went to list the films that have had the same affect on me, I'd have to mention two of my favourite Italian films: Cinema Paradiso directed by Giuseppe Tornatore and Mediterraneo (by Gabriele Salvatores).
Some of the more rough ones would include Seven Pounds (by Gabriele Muccino), Dead Mans Shoes by Shane Meadows, Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa, Four Friends by Arthur Penn and City of Hope by John Sayles among others.
I sometimes go back to read the full books or certain pages that have that strong emotional affect on me.
The first chapters of Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren. The pages where the big brother dies when jumping from the window to escape the fire with the little brother on his back. To save him (true brother Lionheart). Meeting again after passing to the other side, Nangijala.
It's not about that moment only. Some of the highlights in literature live in my mind again and again. But I want to find new, earthshaking reading experiences. That would make me read the whole pile of books of some amazing author new to me.
I don't know why I recently haven't found anything totally touching and new. I've browsed piles of books I've taken from the library shelves trying to make a connection to some new, touching, intelligent authors who have "that something" in the story, language and tone. Apart from some excerpts from Paul Auster and Tobias Wolff, and some new names to me such as Haruki MurakamiI haven't found anything that would have blown me away. Therefore I seem to go back to the old ones, to browse those Raymond Carver prose poems that have touched me so deeply all these years.
But I want new ones. Probably with YOUR help. If something moved you or blew you away, let me know.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Testing the e-book revolution

It's been an interesting year.
Last year, around September, I started diving into the world of e-publishing by following what an American author Vincent Zandri, one of the very successful authors in the e-markets, had achieved. Some months later I wrote a story about him and the e-book markets in the big world for a newspaper in Finland.
After having browsed some sites for weeks, I realized I suddenly had a big light bulb flashing over my head. I figured out, why wouldn't I do the same thing. I had had two novels published in the past years, was working on new ones, editing old ones. I had recently finished a short story collection, which I had already partially translated from Finnish to English.
So I translated the rest of the book in only a period of 1,5 weeks, wrote three new stories directly in English to replace the ones I dismissed at this point. Sent the package to my wonderful editor Alisa. After the editing rounds were finished, cover designed, author pictures taken, the e-formatting done, the e-book was uploaded into distributors' meat grinders and sites. It was similar to those holy moments years before. Receiving the package with 12 or 20 author's copies of those just printed novels. Magical feeling of touching the book. Seeing it there. Finally. After all that creative work.
But this time it was different. Books were not waiting in the storage room of some warehouse, hoping someone would order them to their bookshops. Within minutes the e-book was for sale on distributor's website, soon also on Amazon US, UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain... Then within weeks through other e-retailers such as Diesel, Kobo, Sony, Apple, Barnes & Noble, WHSmith...
In addition to jumping the language fence, it was to be a nice test to see how e-markets would go.
Little did I know where this would bring me. I still don't. The whole market is expanding and bringing new dimensions to it as months and years go by. E-book has a long run.
Somehow I feel it's little uncontrollable, but can bring many chances. There are free giveaways, contests, hooks authors are throwing out to get new readers.
The numbers of books available are enormous. But markets are more open than ever before. You can reach a person in the backlands of Australia in seconds, if they just have internet connection available. There is no need for thinking  if the editions will run out or if the book ordered via mail will arrive in a week, three weeks or ever. Or is it available anywhere anymore at all.
Earlier this week I noticed news about renowned author Margaret Atwood joining Wattpad with some of her texts. I followed Atwood's path and joined Wattpad and added the title story from my short story collection My Hometown Named Love to be read there for free. It can be read HERE. (Remember to vote!) If you liked the story or wish to read more, you will find the rest of the book with its other 19 stories as an e-version on sale HERE.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Magical Soccer Summer 1982

The summer I turned 10, I spent a lot of time at our summer home in the countryside. It was the summer of 1982. The first month filled with soccer fever. The World Cup taking place in Spain was everywhere.
And suddenly our small portable TV broke down. We had to listen to some of the matches from the radio. Some of the best ones. Luckily most of the commentators were great. They really made it all come alive as pictures, even shaking feeling.
Especially the greatest match ever. The semifinal West Germany vs. France. West German goalie Harald Schumacher knocking out French defender Patrick Battiston. The match going to extra time. Two French goals, West Germans getting even with their two goals. The penalties until the seventh pair. West Germans finally taking it all and going to the final. The full drama.
1982 World Cup was the biggest and most magical for me. My favourite team was Brazil. The squad that is probably one of my top 3 all time favourite national teams along Hagi-led Romania (World Cup 1994) and "Danish Dynamite" Denmark (Euro1984). Zico, Socrates, Eder, Falcao and the guys had that great creative rhythm of samba in their play. It looked so easy as if the ball was obeying their magical touches just from their thoughts.
During those years in early 1980's, I was mad about soccer. Played in a team myself. Bought or subscribed to some magazines and read the sports comic Buster, which consisted mostly of soccer series.
I suppose kids have a tendency to suck all the information in the world when there's still capacity in the hard drive. My soccer fever has calmed down from those days. 
But now I can see the same thing that happened to me 30 years ago happening to my son. He's buying and reading all the weekly soccer magazines. Browsing internet to see which player is moving from one club to another and what kind of money figures are involved. How the world of soccer is turning around.
Generation has changed. Things are the same, technology more developed to get all that information in real time. There are more possibilities to keep up.
I wonder how much faster the hard drive fills up. Will this information coming from everywhere overload the senses as well. And if any of these today's events will be as magical for my son thirty years from now as the Soccer World Cup in the summer of '82 is for me.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Life is stranger than fiction

One of my favourite films, Magnolia, (directed by one of the those directors whose films I always want to see as soon as they are released, Paul Thomas Anderson) starts with three stories full of coincidences. Each ending with a haunting narrator voice saying: "And I would like to think this was all only a matter of chance."
Sometimes I feel the same way. It could be said that some of life's strange events could be used as a material for creative work. Sometimes life is stranger than fiction.
In the turn of August, 1991, me and a friend of mine were on InterRail around Europe for three weeks. At one point we took a night train and bought tickets to the sleeping cart. There must have been four other people we didn't know in the same cabin. In the morning, when the train was getting closer to the final station in Holland, one of the people pointed outdoors, showing buildings near the tracks. There were five high blocks of flats, all different colours. "There are lots of students living in them", the man said.
Almost two years passed. I graduated and started my mandatory military service. Towards the end of my service I saw a notice in the newspaper about this new international business studies program. Half would be in Finland, half in Holland. I applied and was accepted.
Already the first semester was in Holland. After arriving in Holland, we were taken to our accommodation from school. And guess what? My room was in one of those colourful buildings. The same ones the man in the train had pointed over two years before.
My dad died in August 1995 of cancer, after a battle that had lasted two years and nine months, somewhat thousand nights. In the weeks he was getting close to death, a slow song named Tuhat yötä hit the Finnish charts. The song title translated to English would mean Thousand Nights. Telling a story about someone being awake for someone for thousand nights. That's how I felt then. The song hit the number 1 spot two weeks after dad's death.
When me and my sister were going through dad's younghood belongings our grandmother had given us after he had passed, we found some short stories dad had written as a young man, around age 20. Some had been published in a regional newspaper in the region he grew up. One of the stories mentioned a character dying on the last Sunday of August. Dad died on the last Sunday of August.
World is small. Only seven billion people in it. Around 5,4 billion in the early 1990's when my sister traveled to Australia to meet some relatives and travel around. She traveled to Ayers Rock in Central Australia. One evening she spent time with fellow travelers, started talking to this German girl. After hearing my sister was from Helsinki, the girl mentioned she had a pen pal there. Told what her name was. My sister said, one of her best friends had the same name. The girl picked up her address book and showed the girl's address. The pen pal and the best friend were the same person.

And I would like to think this was all only a matter of chance.
Or was it?
This cannot be "one of those things..."
Or maybe it was.
Strange things happen all the time.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Reader- who are you?

I'm pretty sure most of us writers think at some point, if anyone really reads their writings. I'm wondering if the stories I write touch anyone anywhere. Even for a moment. Or for a longer time. And who are these people? Where are they? What do they do in their lives? What kind of daily routines do they follow? And if someone happens to like my writing, what is the basis for that? The writing itself? The reading habits? Something in their own life that raises the feeling of assimilation?
I have no clue. But would love to know.
Until lately, getting feedback was even more difficult. At least in my present home country Ireland.
My first two books were published in Finnish, and in my home village there are only a few Finns. In the whole Ireland probably somewhat 1300. Nothing compared to many other foreign nationalities in this country.
My potential audience was pretty much elsewhere. In the distance, if internet is not taken into account. Also restricted as there are only approximately five million native Finnish speakers. Small market, though Finland is one of the most hard-reading countries in the world.
In English, it's handy to connect with the surrounding literary world. Whether it's just around you or around the globe. The whole e-book system has brought possibilities. After joining some book sites and following results from some ad campaigns, it's possible to sit by the computer and see who and where happens to connect with your book.
I feel honored to see a doctor from Thailand suddenly liking the Facebook page created for my short story collection. It's great to follow people clicking the ads on Goodreads and add the book itself to their to-read shelves.
It's extremely interesting to do a small sociological research whether the person is from the Philippines, from Brooklyn, Colorado, Upstate New York, Oregon or from somewhere else. It's enlightening to see what other characteristics the person has. Whether the potential reader is a female or a male, and what kind of background and virtual book shelf the person has. And to see, if they will eventually read the book and even write a review about it.
Apart from my friends and reviewers, I hardly ever get any feedback. Especially from the people I don't know personally. Someone I might meet randomly in another occasion might ask, if I'm working on the next book. If they happen to know what I do for living.
Still it would be interesting to get back some more thoughts. I'm not sure if the people who have actually read the book don't want to interrupt. Or the book was just one of those in the line. Not worth talking about. Or if giving feedback is at all part of their priorities or habits.
Or whether they think it could be embarrassing to give feedback to a man who has written about the theme of love. If so, it would be interesting to know how much embarrassment or fear there is to give feedback to people who write about serial killers, junkies, sexual themes or about flesh-eating soft tissue robots that let politically incorrect phrases out of their mouths.
Feedback would be most welcome. At least you would feel something would materialize. That your work didn't just go out as a puff in the space when it once left your computer.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The 27 Club and Friend Andy

In my younger years I had a friend. Let's call him "Andy". He was a short, quiet boy, who would sit in the school classes drawing heavy metal band logos or rock lyrics to his notebooks. He was often in his own world. Thinking. Being creative. Composing stories in his mind. Trying to put them into words. Whether they were lyrics for a band a mutual friend of ours had, or for the short stories he wrote.
Andy was extremely talented. His English skills were superb for a boy growing up in a Finnish suburb. He went abroad later on as an exchange student. Ended up getting best grades in his creative writing class in the school he attended. I often waited when Andy would get published. It was to be only a matter of time. So I thought.
I remember a moment around Easter 1999. Having a dinner with a friend couple in a restaurant in the city centre of Helsinki. Suddenly the other friend of mine breaking the news. Andy had been found dead in his apartment. Andy had turned 27 the month before. He had apparently had a seizure or something. Nothing suspicious.
I often think what Andy could have become. A husband or a father to someone. A talented, published writer. I wonder what kind of stories he could've ended up bringing to this world. In many ways, Andy was ahead of his time. He was often talking about the kinds of streams in literature or popular culture that only became known or popular years or decades later.
I remembered Andy as I came across a story about a Finnish band Hanoi Rocks. I was in sixth grade in school when the band made a wonderful album Two Steps from the Move. It was to be the first step to their massive international success. Finally there could be something coming out of Finland. Surely there had been some wonderful bands, but for some reason they never made it across the big pond, not even to the other parts of Europe. Hanoi Rocks had the chance.
Then came the December 9th, 1984. Redondo Beach, California. Two friends jumped in the car to get some more booze to their party. They were intoxicated, the driver speeding. These men were Razzle, the English drummer of Hanoi Rocks, and Vince Neil, the singer for Mötley Crüe. The car driven by Neil crashed into another car. Razzle was taken to South Bay ER, but was declared dead on arrival.
Pretty soon Hanoi Rocks split. Over the years they've reformed and split again. Still for me the golden age was just before and during the tragic times in 1984. I wonder what they could've become as a band.
Hanoi Rocks has had an unusually strong impact on later glam-rock wave. They inspired bands such as Guns N' Roses. Some very well-known rockers still honor Hanoi Rocks as their big inspiration.
Somehow I feel Hanoi Rocks died as a band with Razzle. Every time I hear songs like Don't You Ever Leave Me or the one dedicated to Razzle, Million Miles Away,  I think of what waste accidents and addictions cause in this world. I wonder it in the context to my own life. Thinking it as a parent of a kid, who is getting closer to the puberty. How I should raise my child so he wouldn't end up mixing himself with substances. Even cigarettes.
We've had our talks. Discussing how my son never got to see his grandpa, my dad, who died of lung cancer at 52. How these rock stars Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain and others never got to make more powerful music as they did already during their short careers.
Why take the risk? There is nothing fancy to be on the verge of death at 27. Additionally, life can be full of surprises. Interrupting life anyway. Causing sorrow.
There will never be replacements for people who pass away. There will never be dreams that came true. And as me and my friends remember: there will never be new Andy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cheap Journey Down Memory Lane

I sometimes have this habit of spending time browsing Youtube and Wikipedia at the same time. Often listening to the songs from the 80's, when I grew up.
It's a nostalgic journey to my memories. Remembering the first week of March in 1986, when I was in seventh grade in school and we got our first cable/satellite TV with Sky Channel, Music Box and the local cable channel showing a wide range of oldie TV series such as Kojak, TJ Hooker, The Fall Guy...
The music brings back the memories of those moments in pictures, even scents. Sometimes it's even possible to remember the feeling of warm or cold air on the skin as it was back then.
I could easily spend several hours going through this music-information combination. When finding a good song, I might search the lyrics and if there's a story behind it available, I'll read it from Wikipedia or elsewhere. Sometimes I bump into stories I never even understood existed when I was a teenager.
Some of them are part of a dialogue between real people. Not necessarily the person performing the song, but the songwriters. The singer is just a megaphone for all that felt heartache, pain, hatred or other unprocessed feelings.
I never knew that Feargal Sharkey was one of those megaphones with his two consecutive hits A Good Heart and You Little Thief.
The first one was written by then only 19-year old Maria McKee about her relationship with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench. The second one was written as an answer or a payback by Tench about his relationship with McKee.
Sharkey ended up placing the songs next to each other on his debut album. It would be interesting to know how much commercial thinking this all had. Or was it done purely out of opportunity. Natural way, of course.
I don't mind. The songs are memorable. And the story, now after over quarter of a century, is still alive. For me freshly. Even when it doesn't have that mystery in it anymore.
As still has You're So Vain by Carly Simon, released in the end of 1972, my year of birth. According to Wikipedia, the song is a critical profile of a self-absorbed lover saying: "You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you." The subject's identity has long been the matter of speculation, suspects including a wide variety of celebrities from Warren Beatty to David Bowie, from James Taylor to David Geffen.
Artists are artists. They get their material from everywhere. It might be nabbed from real events, from own, friends' or neighbours' lives. The content might have been grabbed from imagination, stolen from the bum passing by, or from the vegetable salesman they've known for years. Or the real life events with some small piece of news from the newspaper. Sources of inspiration are endless.
For whatever it is; music, literature, movies, somehow all these speculations might boost the sales, or at least interest towards the song or the person behind it.
I'm just wondering what kind of feelings does it boost in the mind of a person who created that actual piece. Relief of having let it all out by writing or composing? Relief of telling all the world about the reality behind the scenes before? Feeling of vengeance? Feeling of love finally let out in public? Feeling of being an artist and getting attention? Feeling of being able to touch someone's heart? Someone, unknown, out there?
Feargal, Maria, Benmont... I don't care. But you got me. Even over quarter of a century later. Sometimes the pain in heart brings great results.
Feelings. Nothing more than feelings. But also nothing less.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Theatre of Shame (and Joy)

I should be ashamed. I've lived in Ireland for over six years and the times I've been to theatre here can be counted with the fingers of one hand. Considering that in some phases of life I went to see just about everything available, I should be tied to a chair in a theatre.
I grew up in Martinlaakso in Vantaa, Finland, often known as the childhood suburb of famous formula one drivers Mika Häkkinen and Mika Salo. Helsinki city centre was only a twenty-minute train ride away.
The suburb I grew up in was one of those fast-built complexes reflecting the fast urbanization of the 1960's and 70's. It wasn't exactly the worst place to live in, but not the best one either. The earlier childhood still had its memorable moments.
In the end of 70's life was not about what we had. It had content. Some kind of feeling of togetherness. Therefore it wasn't a surprise that my very dispersed home city put some money into providing free or near free cultural events.
At one point they started handing out free theatre tickets for children. The stage was in the school auditorium. The school I would once enter when I'd be thirteen, and would walk out of with my white graduation cap on when I'd be nineteen.
To get those free theatre tickets, people had to queue outside the local swimming hall early in the week. If I remember right, it was on Monday evenings. My mother was there every Monday. And I mean EVERY Monday. I really should be thankful for her now that I realize how valuable those Saturday plays were for me. Me and my friends must have seen a big bunch of plays for children. One I remember well was When the Robbers Came to Cardamom Town.
Even though my parents were cultured and always cheering me and my sister up to read good books and replace nonsense TV series by watching critically acclaimed films, seeing the great plays on stage was something magical for a kid growing up in a concrete suburb. It was such a good experience that I must have told my friends about it. Soon some of the slightly rougher boys ended up going to the theatre with me. With the tickets collected by my mother.
The second theatre phase I entered, was when I was working as a journalist in my twenties in Turku region in Southwestern Finland. I used to get free tickets so we'd write reviews of the plays. At one point, I must have seen just about all the plays in the nearby areas.
There are some very good professional theatres in Turku. The official ones that have their monthly paid staff, having also their summer theatres in beautiful surroundings of this former capital city by the Aura river.
I was quite young then. Maybe therefore I found the smaller, younger, professional, semi-professional or amateur theatres more tempting. Their plays were often more out of mainstream. The people working on stage and behind the scenes were hungry. Really willing to put themselves fully into making great, meaningful and innovative, fully entertaining theatre. In addition, they really seemed to have all the fun doing this.
During those years, among all other plays, I got to see Patrick Marber's Closer on stage at TeatteriSusi five years before it was made into the big screen with Jude LawJulia Roberts and one of my favourite actresses, Natalie Portman. I saw Death and the Maiden (written by Ariel Dorfman) first time on stage in Uusikaupunki, directed by an old (young) college mate and friend of mine Toni Enholm. I still remember the gruesome, but natural faces Toni had managed to get out of his main actors and the actress on stage. Haunting in a positive way. I saw a new version of Dracula with an amazingly haunting music composed in Turku, just for this play.
I saw Shallow Grave, also known as a movie as well as Death and the Maiden, adapted to stage. It was adapted by a team named Jorma-ryhmä (Jorma Group). Always innovative, not using the fanciest stages, but often old warehouses or factories as their premises.
I can still remember the play going on. Them using strobe lights and slow motion of actors to picture an unreal dream-like event. Simple, but well-working trick. I remember the characters talking about packing the body into a car trunk. Then opening the side door of the stage, pulling the "body" into a real car trunk and driving away. With a real car.
Somehow it brought the whole fictitious story to reality. To the point where theatre can be larger than life even with just small innovations connected to real life.
But also giving life to people who would manage to find the meaning of content of what theatre can give at its best. Imagination. Escapism. Even changing slightly the life of a frustrated boy growing up in the grey concrete suburb.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Treasure Box of Stories

Exactly hundred years ago, a well-known ship Titanic was about to sink. On the deck before the ship sank, was a Finnish-born couple in their thirties and their Finnish friend, aged 17. The husband of the couple was a reverend named William (originally Wilhelm) Lahtinen, the woman his wife Anna. Their friend was their relative named Lyyli Silvén. She was with them to emigrate to United States. The couple had been living there before. Their destination was Minneapolis in Minnesota.
As we all now know, there were not enough life boats on the ship. Anna was given one of the last seats in life boat number 16. But in the last minute, she decided to stay with her husband. They had lost their little daughter to tuberculosis only some weeks before. Anna gave her place in the life boat to Lyyli. As the last glimpse of their friends, Lyyli saw Anna being nervous on the deck as William was smoking his cigar calmly. She never saw them again.
Lyyli and the others, including Lyyli's friend Anna Siukkonen, in life boat 16, were rescued to Carpathia, brought to Jewish 'Welcome Home' in New York in address 225 East 13th Street.
We don't know much about Lyyli's later times, though she was in letter contact with some relatives in Finland. She married a man named Otto Mailanen, apparently also of Finnish origin. She lived her life and died in Berkeley, California in 1974, 62 years after the sinking disaster. She was 79 years old. 
The connection to this blog is that Lyyli was my late grandmother's cousin. My maternal grandmother was thirteen years younger than Lyyli. My grandmother died in 1973. I was then only six months old.
I heard about this Titanic story only in the late 1990's when living in Turku, Finland. It was natural for me to start digging information from the website archives at the time. I ended up going through some of the Migration Institute archives which, by coincidence, were located only a short distance away, also in Turku.
At that time I wondered what kind of subconscious interest I had had of Titanic all the years before. When I was in second grade in school in early 1980's, I remember having written a story about Titanic. If there were coloring books, which had Titanic in them, I immediately bought them.
Surely Titanic drew interest to just about anyone. During my studies in Turku, I was working as a security guard. I remember seeing the crowds coming out of the cinema when the film Titanic was just out. One of the local, worn-out street bums known to me, walked out of the cinema telling he had gone to see the film. The whole story had to have some tragic magic in it.
It's now hundred years from the disaster. There are no survivors left. But the story continues. It's a treasure box for opening old and new stories. What happened to the people inside. To the ones who survived. To the people who were connected to the people who had experienced the night. This network could go on forever.
In this blog, I'll be bringing up hopefully interesting stories, comments and observations of life and its more or less quirky events. They may not be as monumental as the story of Titanic was, but some might have a big meaning to just one person somewhere.
Hoping you'll enjoy the journey. Hopefully there aren't that many icebergs on the way.