Busy, busy

So, lately we’ve been preparing our move.

That has meant I’ve turned my focus away from books for the time being, and unfortunately from writing as well. That is, if we’re talking of something a bit more serious that lists of what to keep and where to store it or bucket lists of stuff yet to do.

I’ve got a ton of those, but I bet you don’t care about them. I don’t personally, but I’ll forget if I won’t write it down.

I had also no idea I had this much stuff. I knew I had a lot (because you cannot own around 600 books and not have a lot of stuff) but I honestly thought I’d led a pretty frugal life outside my beloved bookcases. I’ve come to the conclusion that I won’t need a single new piece of clothing until I’ve worn though about half of what I currently own.

And there’s so much to throw out. I have a way of getting attached to stuff, and I really have to shake the habit now that I have to store my things instead of just moving them from under one roof to another. To be honest, I’ve thrown out a lot, but there’s still a lot to go (like my make-up: I don’t use 90% of it, why do I keep it? No reason).

Yesterday¬†Last week we took my balcony planters to the nearby summer cottage. I wanted to keep them intact, because last summer I had the prettiest scented peas and ipomoeas and I’d really want to see the hybridization the plants managed (pretty, pretty pinks and purples and baby blue). That didn’t go quite as planned though, as my husband took and dumped the biggest planter straight out.

There I am, screeching ” What the hell did you do that for!?!” and him looking at me like I’m a crazy woman. Which I pretty certainly am, but usually he doesn’t give me that look. ( ūüėÄ ) Honestly, I had explained to him in length why we were taking the planters there, but obviously he hadn’t either listened or had forgotten. Sigh.

Oh well. As long as the little birdies didn’t eat all the seeds during the winter I’m pretty sure something will sprout.

I managed to read one book over Easter at my folks. (Hooray for someone else doing the cooking and cleaning up!)

It’s called Guns and Germs and Steel¬†by Jared Diamond. A very thought-provoking book, so if you’ve managed not to read it since 1997 like I have, do go pick it up. It does a good job explaining the contributing factors that led Europeans to colonize the rest of the globe and not vice versa.

(I won’t spoil the reading experience for those who haven’t already, so I’ll just leave it at that. Even if I’m not completely satisfied with that iteration, it was my seventh attempt and will have to do.)

At this point I’ve started and left this text about four times (hence the conversion of yesterday to last week -.-), and I have to admit I’ve pretty much forgotten what else I meant to say. I know there was something.

Well, it’ll make for another post if I do remember.



2016 in Retrospect

Slightly early, but since I won’t be home for New Year’s, I figured I’ll do it now.

It’s been a weird year, really.

On one hand, there’s been so much I’ve wanted to do and never the time to do it. On the other, I’ve at times felt at peace like never before.

I have grown to resent my job after just learning to love it again, and I’ve been set free from it. It makes me sad, because a part of me was so unwilling to give up and not ready to let go. But another part says that there’s never a day like today to change (clich√© as it may be).

It’s also been a year of personal growth for me, of learning to accept myself better. I’ve come to understand my imperfections better, and I hope I’ve learned to be just a bit more forgiving towards myself, as hard as it may be. (And as any possible deity will know, forgiveness I certainly need.)

I cannot say I’ve been happy, per se, depressed as I’ve been, but there have been moments of bliss and sunshine. The time I spent in Karelia this summer is a bright spot (as always), moments with my siblings’ children another (all 5 are wonderful in small doses, the older 2 for being older¬†now and the boys for being smarter than the older two were at their age – especially the youngest is such a sweetheart).

2016 was also a year of sorrow, not only for all the great artists who have left us this year, but also because of personal loss. My uncle passed away very unexpectedly this autumn, and although I hadn’t seen him for a couple of years it still saddens me deeply to see my uncles leave us one by one. Year after year, family photos become more and more filled with death instead of life. Although the memories are happy, for a time those pictures will be bittersweet.

I have come to see my place in the chain of generations, and all the death in the family in the past few years (since 2001, tbh) has been a difficult but eye-opening experience. I’ve come to see and accept that my parents are aging, and that I may not have them for very long, and that I must take my time with them if I am to have it. It cannot be just “someday when”, it has to be today, because tomorrow just might not be there. My father’s brothers have all passed away before 70 (2 under 65), and my dad just turned 70 this year. The fact of the matter is I just might not have him “someday” (and that hurts like hell, as I’m sure you all can imagine).

I feel 2016 crystallized somewhat what I want to do with my life. We (my husband and I) made a lot of plans throughout the year, and I think we both now have a better picture of the road we must walk. In a way similar to mine I also feel my husband grew a lot as a person this year.

All in all, it must have been the most difficult year of my life, even more difficult than my teens, more difficult than that awful year when my grandmother died. I have at times wished for death, and thought it might just be easier to sleep and never wake up than to go on.

As we say in Finland, though, there’s only one way to go from the bottom, and that’s up.

As I was about to hit Publish I realized none of this actually had anything to do with books or writing, so…

P.S. This year I also read less than I would have wanted to but more than I think I did. I liked most books I read, but also managed to turn some reading into a chore. I hate chores, so that was totally a mistake. I’ll take that back next year. That’s my resolution, and you are free to remind me of it if it seems I forget. (But I’ll finish the reading journal on Malleus Maleficarum, because there’s no other way I’ll get through the biblical references…)

On Critique

I happened to notice yesterday that my fanfic (as mentioned before) has been added to a community. This particular community seems to be a listing by one user. Apparently, the sole purpose of this list is that the person adding to it thinks that the stories added are rubbish. I quote:

Stories gathered that appear to be Mary Sue, Fallen Into M.E., Poorly written or things along that nature. I wanted to group them because I would never read them. Is your fiction here?
I am a writer irl and I get a lot of help in my writing. People feel their writing is flawless and after churning out just a few hours or work it is epic. So they whine to me it does not belong here instead of using this chance to grow as a writing and fix it. I admit I’m not the best writer. Can you?

From the second sentence of that quote I come to the assumption that they’ve not actually read any of the stories they add.

They say they get a lot of help on their writing from others, but I cannot remember ever receiving a constructive critique from the user that added my story to this group. Probably because she has not read the actual story. They are willing to judge without reading what they judge, and everyone questioning the reason for them being on this list are labeled as whiners.

I wonder why this person won’t take the time to actually read and and give critique to those they add to their little hate-list (little is used liberally, there are over 500 stories in the community). Perhaps judging a tale by a summary is easier than actually taking the time of reading the first couple chapters and finding out if the story is worth reading or not. I don’t particularly like some stories but then I just stop reading and move on. There’s something for everyone, someone else might enjoy a story I don’t care about.

I do not presume to call myself a writer. I do write, and I would cite writing as a hobby. I cannot support myself by writing alone and it is not my profession – though I sure hope it would be. I can admit I am not the best writer (those are some enormous boots to fill), but then, one would have to be very conceited to think they were.

I am also the first to admit that the story is nothing particularly astounding. It is a very basic romance, but that is all I wanted it to be. Sure, there is a lot I should change (and maybe some day I’ll get to it, but the story needs to cool down a bit first) and a lot to expand on, but all in all, it’s better than many other stories out there. First of all, for a non-native speaker I think my text is written in good grammar and vocabulary. I have tried to weed out every typo I could find, and there really isn’t a writer alive who wouldn’t occasionally typo something. The story is sound, sure there are clich√©s, but who can avoid clich√©s when writing a romance?

I do not see my main character as a Mary Sue. She might not be the most in-depth heroine ever, but for the purposes of the story she is perfect. She grows through the tale. She is not perfect, which is one of the key traits of Mary Sue-ness. She most certainly is not me – hey, I would certainly roll in the hay with √Čomer, were he not a fictional character – and I would not want to be her. I must remember to write a post about Mary Sues in the future.

This is an excerpt from their profile. This particular profile hasn’t published any stories so I assumed it’s only for the sole purpose of providing silly “criticism”.

It’s really hard to write and I find it funny so many people get defensive thinking their writing is so amazing and try to defend it with bad writing, unrealistic facts or situations, the same thing written in another light(over and over), over angst, fluffs, Mary Sues, falling into the plot by a magic portal and so on. Instead learn why it is not liked and make it better or you’re really not writing for anybody but you. If that is the case why are you posting it on the internet? If it is just because you like it and you’re not going to learn how to write or make that story better then put it on pen and paper and read to yourself. People here are always going to have an opinion and they will voice it. It is really up to the person if they will work and grow for their writing or if they will whine why people do not like it.

I have read some fantastic girl-falls-into-Middle-Earth -stories in my time. Apparently, just because of one major plot device the whole story is poorly written and should never see the light of day. It seems to me that this particular person needs to lighten up. Fiction shouldn’t be taken so seriously, especially when the site is named FANfiction. One doesn’t need to be a Literary Nobel laureate to write a fanfic. Just a¬†very patient person¬†with a basic grasp of grammar and lots of free time.

(And apparently the skin of an elephant.)

Allow me to explain: Not so very long ago I had a conversation with another writer. She does dabble with romance novels and they are published. Feel free to roll your eyes if you will when I say romance novels. However she is a great writer with her research in two ways. One she would search dictionaries and the net for her perfect words so you are not reading the same words over and over and to find words that stick with you; that are stuck in your mind. Two she throws herself into that real life situation (easily being she writes mostly modern).¬†[…]

I mention this to explain how engrossed you must be in research to make it real to your readers. Nobody expects anybody here to be published. If a writer expects everybody to love their writing when they have not even taken the time to research their topics they will only have an audience that is as much the novice as they are. Keep in mind you are publishing on the internet which is public and if you cannot suffer the slings and arrows tossed at you then you would never be a writer. Choices are to do something and do it well are entirely up to each person but do not expect respect for something you did not put research or effort.

Engrossed in research? You say this when you add stories to your little list without even reading them?

I did my research. I read the entire History of Middle-Earth series (which I bought specifically for research, might I add), studied maps (The Atlas of Middle-Earth <3), re-read the books, underlined paragraphs, took notes… I hope one can see that I didn’t take the easiest route if one takes the time to read a chapter or two. Oh wait.

I wasn’t that upset after I first noticed the community and read the manager’s profile. But today at word the absurdity just started to peeve me. I mean, I’m basically told two years of work is garbage because I cannot write a good summary. I cannot answer to this critique-less criticism because then I’m a whiner who should grow as a person and learn to see I’m not as good as I think I am. (BTW, then I would have to be pretty crappy, I don’t think that highly of myself…)

I cannot deny that I have room for improvement. But I don’t need to be told that by a person who sits on a horse so high they can’t see down. If you want to criticize others you will have to offer some insight as to where you’re yourself at. I would love to read a sample of this person’s own writing, but alas I’m not offered the chance.

Well, I think that’s all I can say about the subject. I know the addition of my story to the community is baseless (by the criterion set by the manager themselves), but I’m not going to try and do anything about it. It isn’t deserving of my attention past this post.

Basically, I wrote all this to rail at a perceived injustice. Anyone is free to judge my story for themselves. I have and I am aware of its faults.

Springtime Blues

I’m not a spring person.

I don’t mind the winter, even though the Finnish winter is very long and very dark. But when the winter starts to draw to an end I’d just want to skip the next step, be done with ice and snow and cloudy weather. Snap my fingers one morning and get a sunny sky and warm weather.

Of course it will never work like that and I have to live with melting snow revealing all sorts of gross things hidden underneath until grass starts to grow and hides it again.

Nature is starting to get all creative, but all my creativity goes down the drain. All I’d want to do is sleep, the more the better.

Getting myself to start doing anything during springtime is next to impossible, all I get going is procrastination. That is also one job no one ever gets finished with, curious that. Always something more to do in that regard.

There’s only one known upside to this: it’ll be over eventually. By the end of April the weather will be reasonably mellow, trees get some leaves going and not everything is monochrome anymore (apart from the 70’s-80’s apartment buildings, but those are monochrome all year ’round).

So, yeah. I’m going to sleep until April’s over (I wish, gotta go to work every day anyway). Unless I get a totally unprecedented spurt of inspiration before then, I doubt I’ll get much done. I don’t really think it fair I push out something mediocre and uninspired only because I feel I should.

So, see you in a few weeks.

Media Criticism

For quite a while now I’ve been thinking that people just cannot tell whether a newspaper, internet site or even TV news are telling the truth or whether they have an agenda of some sort. The other day my doubts were confirmed. A large newspaper around here had an article last week¬†about how kids cannot tell the difference between reliable sites and others that have ulterior motives.

A study by the University of Jyväskylä found that only about a third of 12-year-olds can assess information sources with necessary criticism. In the study, the kids were shown two texts, one a university paper about the health effects of energy drinks, the other a press release by a company manufacturing said drinks. Almost all could tell that the university paper was reliable, but only one in five could tell the latter text was commercial.

The researcher conducting the study thinks the results are worrisome, especially since the results do not seem to improve with age. Even 16-19-year-old students seem to have issues with media and source criticism. She says in the article that a majority had no criticism towards what they read. So that means that they basically believe everything some half-wit puts on paper? Wow.

The article continues by saying that even grown-ups have difficulties with discerning what the actual source or agenda of a story or article really is. I can totally vouch for this. As I may have mentioned, I work at a huge supermarket. We sell quite a variety of different gossip magazines and other such material known for less reliable sources and variable quality of writing. I’m regularly amazed at how many people take everything printed on that trash seriously and think it’s true.

There is a historic backdrop to this. Not so long ago (20 years back, even), Finnish media was rather reliable. You wouldn’t hear similar half-truths or direct lies in any respectable newspaper or on the TV news as you can today. Not everything was turned into a huge issue overnight like seems to happen all the time today. OMG, the prime minister made a happy tweet the same day (hours before) some huge disaster took place on the other side of the globe: he must be totally disrespectful of human suffering! (And unfortunately that’s not just an example I made up.) From this perspective, it’s really not so surprising that some people think the media is still the same. Newsflash: it is not.

From where I’m looking at this situation, some people have totally relinquished their free thought. The press (especially the yellow side) has taken up petty sensationalism over other, more important things. Now, I don’t want to sound like a total conspiracy theorist, but it can’t be a total coincidence that when there’s something that should really be discussed something minor and inconsequential (some person’s 20-30 years younger new spouse or a messy divorce of some useless celeb) takes precedence and the important stuff is just glossed over.

Then there’s the issue of social media bubbles. People only have friends who think like they do, who only share news they can agree with. If you have the wrong opinion you might even get unfriended (is that a word?) or at the least lynched by people who disagree with you. These people just bounce around their thoughts from other similarly-minded friends and start thinking everyone must think the same way (because everyone they know does!), even when they were in a minority.

So, is there a solution for this? Trying to tell the truth of things or to even moderate the shitstorm rarely works. Teaching kids media criticism will likely have a positive effect in the future, but what do you do about all those grown-ups who can’t be made to learn? They’ll just happily prance around with their bubbles firm in place until one day they drop dead… unless some personal experience forces them to learn it the hard way.

That sounds horribly depressing, but I guess that’s just the way of things. The subjects change, but some general themes just stay the same

Reading journals

Several times over the years I’ve tried to write down thoughts about whatever it is I’ve been reading. That always ends up in a disaster, as at some point I just get very immersed and forget I was supposed to write about what I was reading.

Long time ago one of my teachers gave out an assignment to us to write a reading journal and then an essay about the book using the journal as basis. I read the book alright, but my notes took the entirety of five lines in my notebook and were pretty much useless in my essay.

“This book starts off mighty boring.”

While writing the sentence above it might feel like the most observant thing anyone has said about the literary work described. It’s really of no use, though.

Although the book might be boring as f***, there ought to be something more you can say about it. Off the top of my head at least a ‘why’-question might be necessary. Yeah, that never pops up when I’m actually doing one of these journals.

“Pace picks up at page X.”

So what happens then? Then you actually start getting engrossed in the book. This is usually the point when I stop writing for about 100 or so pages, just because … I’m actually reading¬†the book.

This is usually the point where I totally forgot the point of the entire reading journal thingie. I mean, if you want to get kids to read, just give them an interesting book they’re likely to like and let them read it. If you want to make sure they don’t really enjoy it but also to make sure they’ve got proof they sorta read it, make them write a journal about it.

“I like how Y behaves about themselves.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’d really want to be able to write one of these analytical, witty reading journals that some of my classmates were able to write at 6th grade. I just can’t.

Just analyzing what I read can be a bit of a hassle sometimes. Honestly, more often than sometimes. Fiction is one of those things I just can’t make myself analyze in too much depth. In my weird inner world, works of fiction are made to be enjoyed (or loathed, like the Paul Auster books I had to read for my entrance exams one year while trying to apply into a university) as they are. They aren’t supposed to be thought about too much. Too much analyzing can destroy the image the writer wanted¬†to portray by writing it just so.

Scientific literature is easier that way. What is written is supposed to make sense and stand up to peer review. If you can’t make sense of it, think of it a bit more, read the sentence again. If you still can’t figure it out, maybe it’s not your field or it really doesn’t make sense. Easy.

“I didn’t really understand this book.”

Yet another one of those sentences that really tells everything and nothing. Bit like that so called essay I wrote about that book. I guess I hid really well that my journal was a stub. The essay didn’t betray the fact, and thank goodness the teacher wasn’t interested in the actual journals.

One book I have to admit (to my immense shame) of falling into this category is Tuntematon sotilas (The Unknown Soldier) by V√§in√∂ Linna. Sure, I know what it is about, I know the general flow of the story (show me a Finn who doesn’t know the story at least through the movie and I’ll show you a liar) and I know the central characters. But there is this one spot towards the end of the book where I always get confused who was who and did what. I’ve read Tuntematon maybe five or six times over the years (three times for school) and that same spot always confuses me.

As a granddaughter of a war veteran this is especially embarrassing to admit…

So why do I care about them stupid journals?

I wanted to study language and literature in a university once. I gave up on that dream after I had tried and failed the entrance exams four times for two different universities. While I never got to know what exactly I could have done better for three of those, I know exactly why I failed the fourth one.

I told you earlier about the Auster books I loathed. In the exam I¬†was to write an analysis of the books (The New York trilogy I believe it was). As I absolutely hated them, I of course said so in the essay. I believe that combined with my lack of skill in analysis got me to fail (along with the fact I don’t belong in a certain minority of Finland that is somewhat favored in said university). I never really learned to analyze anything during my Finnish classes in high school – I really didn’t (and still don’t, really) see the point and I wrote prettily enough to hide my lack of skill whenever we had a test on the subject.

After my first failed exams I pushed myself to study the subject twice more for the next time. During that studying it dawned to me I have no idea how to analyze literature. Reading has always been to me a thing of pleasure, and now I was supposed to figure out all those whys and hows. Needless to say that wasn’t taught in any book and I failed twice more. After that I gave up and figured university wasn’t a place for me after all. (Or maybe I should have listened to my English teacher, majored in English and gone to Bruxelles to work for the EU as a translator. Oh well, bygones.)

When I was done wallowing in self pity I thought it’d still be a useful skill to know if I really wanted to write a book (being modest is very me, but being modest about writing isn’t). If I wanted to be a successful writer I should know what really made a good book, right? That got me back to that old task of writing a reading journal. Except that I still didn’t know how I was supposed to do that either.

I get those moments of revelation (you know “Ohhh, I see what you did there, you sly fox you!”) from time to time, but if I intentionally try and read a book and understand why this part is in there or why we’re told about this thing Y, I usually just draw a blank and move on. Dwelling on a specific¬†subject is something I’m definitely not good at, at least when I can think of nothing remotely relevant. You may have noticed something of the sort from my random ramblings…?

Anyway, having forgotten and rethought the point of this blog post for a few times now… Have you written reading journals? How’d you do? Teach me how to do it?

No, really, tell me how you do that.

Happy New Year and stuff

First off, Happy New Year to all and everyone.

My unofficial but very real holiday break is now over. Unofficial because I really didn’t say anything about it to anyone, and real because I spent both Christmas and New Year’s eve in places without internet connection.

(I also had no recollection how stressful and tiresome my line of work is during the holidays, even after 6 years on the job. If you think shopping before Christmas is bad, try working retail.)

First post for 2016 then! I don’t have anything really new to post – my parents made a point of not letting me bury myself in books over the Christmas weekend and my husband’s drunk friends aren’t really conductive for doing research either. I’m sure you know how someone pushing a beer can your way and insisting you go out for a smoke and shoot rockets is way more fun. At least until the next morning arrives.

So, I figured I’d write a word or two about Goodreads. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the site, but here are some of my thoughts on the matter.

Few months ago I finally got around to registering. I’ve no major beefs with the site, per se, just that when you’ve over 460 books and you’ve read maybe three times as many the managing of said literature turns out to be a bit of a hassle.

I downloaded the app for my tablet (I think it’s unofficial? Hasn’t been updated in ages…) and tried adding books while watching TV. Well, the app goes unresponsive after 4-6 searches. Don’t use it unless you really buy your books one at a time. Or if you only want to use it to see what you already have (that you’ve put up with something other than the app).

Unsurprisingly, there are no apps (at least any that seem trustworthy) for Windows phone. That really is not a surprise, but it would have been handy to have a list of your books wherever you go to. You know, because of all those inspiring conversations you have with people until you can’t remember the name or author of that one killer book. You never have that happen? Well, aren’t you the first person ever – or just equipped with way better memory than me (either way, I’m jelly).

But yeah. So I’ve been procrastinating adding my books (160/463~?) because when I add them on the tablet I have to go over them on my PC to make sure stuff is where it should be and making sure I’ve got the correct edition chosen out. Work in progress, at this pace never to finish.

Maybe someday I will have all my books up (even those I haven’t found in the database yet). Until then, if you’re interested, my shelf can be found over here.

If you happen to have any useful tips send them this way. Could really use some.