deceptively still as they
race for finish line
Last year at this time Zippy and I were in Uppsala, Sweden, visiting our son Zebu. He took us to his favorite place to fika. In Sweden, everyone takes a daily coffee (and pastry) break with friends, family, colleagues, fellow students, etc. Unfortunately, we went during a non-fika time so the place was empty. Still, it was easy to imagine the rooms filled with students drinking coffee and eating enormous cinnamon buns.
As I write this, Zebu is in Colorado finishing up his third final final-exam. He graduates later this week and one of my hopes for his future is that he always makes time for such a mid-day break. Fika strikes me as a very sensible path to health and happiness.
Sometimes I read a scene I’ve written and think, “Whoa, that’s way too much choreography. You’re doing a play-by-play of your character’s every move.” Then I cut some verbiage, chastising myself for cluttering yet another scene with too much distracting movement.
Today, I came across this photo of Zebu and me taken last spring in Uppsala, Sweden.
There’s a whole lotta movement going on in this slice of real life and the photo is a good example of what I want from the choreography in my scenes. I want the movement to tell a story.
* Edgar Degas
This is one of my favorite photos from our spring trip to Sweden.
Zippy, Zebu, and I were walking across a square in Stockholm when I noticed this artful arrangement in the cobblestones. Who knew manhole covers could be so appealing?
Well, this guy, for one.
I photographed these carved figures with my phone while visiting the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, and have held onto the bizarre image for months as I waited for the right time to display it here.
Today feels like an especially good day in the Corporate States of America to share these figures from the Vasa’s prow.
I’ll let Wikipedia explain:
[The Vasa] was constructed at the navy yard in Stockholm under a contract with private entrepreneurs in 1626–1627 and armed primarily with bronze cannons cast in Stockholm specifically for the ship. Richly decorated as a symbol of the king’s ambitions for Sweden and himself, upon completion she was one of the most powerfully armed vessels in the world. However, Vasa was dangerously unstable and top-heavy with too much weight in the upper structure of the hull. Despite this lack of stability she was ordered to sea and foundered only a few minutes after encountering a wind stronger than a breeze.
Greed and arrogance.
The Vasa sank after traveling just 1300 meters.
Today I’m indulging in a little wishful thinking.
(NOTE: As a writer, I’m also thinking about how there’s truly no such thing as an original plot line. Greedheads gonna be greedheads, from the beginning of time…)
Last August, my 20-year-old son left for Uppsala, Sweden. He lived and studied there for two semesters. As I write this, he is flying back to Colorado. His study abroad adventure is nearly over. (The adventure continued up to the last minute: He and nine other passengers were caught in a long, passport line and arrived at their gate just after it closed, so Iceland Air stopped the plane out on the runway and had a bus deliver Zebu and the other nine passengers to the plane.)
Over the past several months, Zebu has said that his study abroad experience has been the best year of his life. It didn’t start out so well.
When he arrived in Uppsala, he discovered that TSA had locked his suitcase. Half his belongings, including his raincoat, were inside. He paid a taxi driver way too much to drive him into the city and then spent an entire rainy day hauling the 50-pound suitcase around the cobblestones, trying to get it unlocked. Kind people in luggage stores tried different keys, with no success. Someone finally directed him to a shoe repair store where the man cut the locks off the suitcase.
Zebu later confessed that that day, as he struggled with language barriers, a lack of wifi, hunger, and jet lag, he wanted nothing more than to turn around and fly back home.
Obviously, he’s very glad he stayed. And here he is in May, standing outside that shoe repair store.
I asked to see that store when we visited, because it felt symbolic. I was privy (via phone call and texts) to his frustration and panic as he couldn’t get his suitcase open, and tried to help from my end. He ended up finding his own solution. And ten months later, a confident young man is returning home after the best experience of his life.
For that, I am very grateful.
Today is the day, I thought. Today, the photo of me with the Stabby bus will make its blog debut. (The image was captured our first day in Uppsala. Zebu spotted the bus coming up the street, and I quickly handed off my phone and posed next to it when it stopped. Those who know me well know that I quite frequently “feel stabby,” which is why I was thrilled when Zebu captured the original Stabby bus image for me.)
Today is one of those “I’m feeling stabby” days. So I went back and found the photo.
Huh? That woman does NOT look as if she’s feeling stabby. She’s smiling, happy, and, aside from the claw-like curve to her right hand**, looks pretty damned relaxed. Not at all stabby.
I almost gave up on today’s stabby theme. And then it hit me: this photo is perfect for today’s post. Why? Because the reason for my stabby feelings is that I’m struggling with two characters’ friendship in the opening pages of my new project. I’m struggling to smooth out their interactions so as to establish their relationship and character arcs, and suddenly, it feels as if the first 60 pages are a steaming pile of mixed messages.
So what better photographic representation of mixed messaging than this photo of the smiling me next to the Stabby bus?
HA! I’m suddenly feeling slightly less stabby.
** me simulating holding a pointy object in preparation of stabby motions.
The world is full of poetry.
The air is living with its spirit;
and the waves dance to the music of its melodies,
and sparkle in its brightness.
~ James Gates Percival
We’re back home from our travels. My body is slowly adjusting to its usual time zone, but I still feel like I’m sleepwalking through glue.
I wanted to document the wallpaper I put on my phone at the start of our trip. The Minneapolis Airport had an employee art exhibit that we really enjoyed. This painting by Julie Fischer is titled QUARTER-LIFE CRISIS, and it won Best of Show in the Airport Foundation Employee Art Show.
Over the past ten days, I saw this image every time I looked at my phone. Something about the oxygen mask and a jet plane through the solar plexus felt very apt.
We got up at 5:30 this morning, Uppsala time, and just barely caught the-bus-we-thought-was-a-train (when we purchased the tickets yesterday) to Arlanda Airport in Stockholm. From there we flew to Amsterdam. After promising that all checked luggage was our own and that no one had asked us to bring anything on the plane, we got on a packed plane. Our flight to Minneapolis took 7+ hours. Once in the airport, I got busted by the agricultural-sniffing dog for carrying an orange across the ocean. I relinquished the citrus and then we had to re-check our bags and go through security again because, you know, we could’ve spent that 7+ –hour flight filling our shoes with knives. We’re now sitting in a bar/restaurant, drinking local craft beer and eating fries while we wait for our flight to Denver.
It’s already been a loooong day, and there’s still miles to go.
This afternoon, Zippy and I took the train from Stockholm to Uppsala where Zebu has been studying for two semesters. He took us on a walking tour of the university town where I was thrilled to see evidence of a phenomenon he’d described during one of our Skype sessions:
Bikes in the river.
Thanks for making my day, anonymous bike-thrower!
This is a Western Jackdaw (image from pexels.com because those taken on my phone are poor quality). We kept hearing and catching glimpses of the bird yesterday, but weren’t sure what it was. Now we know. A Western Jackdaw!
The National Library of Sweden has very nice toilets that are FREE to the public, plus nice statuary next to the entrance/exit:
The last thing I learned? It’s WAY easier to take photos with my camera and download them to my laptop than to transfer between phone and computer . . .
Zippy and I are leaving today for Amsterdam. Neither of us has ever been to Holland, despite my maternal grandfather immigrating from there way back when. It’s late in the season for tulips (bad timing, huh, Barb?), but that’s okay. We planned this trip around our schedules and Zebu’s. He’s finishing up his study abroad in Uppsala, Sweden, and we will see him after our stay in Amsterdam. (We’re also spending an afternoon in Copenhagen on our way to Stockholm.)
I hope to post an image each day. Should liven up this mostly-Colorado blog!
Got a text from Zebu this morning (my time). It was already long-dark where he is in Sweden. He wrote: “Happy Solstice, Mom. This year I definitely understand your appreciation for today. We’ve bottomed out!”
Zebu has finally seen the light (sorrynotsorry!). He now fully accepts what I’ve been yammering about forever: the Winter Solstice is the best thing happening this time of year!
As has been documented here over the years, I’m a long-time Dylan fan, so wasn’t completely surprised when it was announced today that Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. (Although, as I said in an email to a friend, I do wonder whether Bob should’ve been disqualified from consideration due to his Victoria’s Secret commercial years ago.)Nonetheless, this year the committee chose to honor Bob Dylan’s work which, on a personal note, feels very fitting because Zebu is studying in Sweden right now. The award also feels fitting because of one Dylan song in particular that tragically never, ever goes out of style. For “Masters of War” alone, I’m good with Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Masters of War
Written by Bob Dylan
Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks
You that never done nothin’
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it’s your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly
Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain
You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people’s blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud
You’ve thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain’t worth the blood
That runs in your veins
How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I’m young
You might say I’m unlearned
But there’s one thing I know
Though I’m younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do
Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul
And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand o’er your grave
’Til I’m sure that you’re dead
© 1963 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991 by Special Rider Music
Zebu is studying in Sweden for two semesters and has been there just over a month. Phone calls are expensive so we rely on texting and Skype chats to stay connected. He’s eight hours ahead of us so our Skype sessions are usually at the end of his day. Today we talked as he folded the laundry he’d just washed and dried at the student housing laundromat.
He told me about the pick-up basketball game he played last night, in which he was (at 6′ 3″) one of the smaller guys on his team. All communication by his teammates was in Swedish, but because Zebu is taking Swedish classes he now knows how to count which meant he knew the score at all times last night.
He also shared an anecdote about his German friend who speaks nearly flawless English with a penchant for old timey expressions. Apparently this guy recently described something as “a hoot and a half,” which made Zebu and a Canadian friend bust out laughing, and then a bit later the German described something not-so-good as “no hoot, no half.”
Skype allows you mobility and we often move out of camera range as we continue talking. I started the session sitting at the kitchen bar counter but as I watched Zebu hang shirts on hangers and match socks, I felt unproductive. So I carried the laptop/Zebu downstairs to the laundry room to retrieve a load of my clothes from the dryer where they’d sat for over a week (I know, I know). Then I came back upstairs and folded in unison with my son who is nearly 5000 miles away.
The family that folds together, stays together. Or something like that.