The joy of travel and the search for the Sun

Posted in Unwelcomed notions published for no obvious reason on November 25th, 2009 by Jeppe Grünberger

I have been in Denmark the last week or so, if you wondered where I have been and have missed me terribly. And now I am on my way home from the joys of Autumn Denmark. I was there to participate in my grandmother’s 80th birthday, which was lovely. Conversation just never dies out at a party where so many of the guests can’t remember what they said ten minutes ago. But then I also had to go home again, and for some reason that is just always so much worse than going out.

The first part of my journey was a train ride across the wet, grey desolation that is Denmark at this time of year. Now, the weather is not actually that cold, it really isn’t. But when you are waiting for your train to pull in, the wind will find you, and it will feel like it’s pulling the very life from your helpless flesh. It does not matter how much clothes you put on (but in Denmark you’d better try anyway), it will just tear right through it – dragging your will to live with it. It was also early in the morning, which just made it all that much more enjoyable, but no one knew what time it was anyway. You just can’t tell. The fact is, that when summer is officially over, Denmark is invaded by a layer of low hanging, grey clouds that flood in and hide the sun and sky for six months. It is like God just turned the contrast on his LED TV waaaaay down. The clouds only leave the sky to hurry out to sea and get more water to throw at you.

But, eventually I got into the train and found my seat. And I was soon joined by my companions who were hideously morphed people-walruses. They dragged themselves to their seats and tried to squeeze me out trough the wall. I fought relentlessly for my seat, and to be fair the woman walrus actually did try to contain herself to the natural habitat of her own seat. The male however was the real joy. He was the sort of person who didn’t exactly snoar in waking condition but instead moaned constantly like he was the horny German gardener in a porn-flick. I didn’t mention that fact to him, as his hand was larger than my head. So, he moaned obscenely through our four hour journey to Copenhagen Airport, to my delight. He was later joined in the seat next to him by the tiniest lesbian I have ever seen – and that soothed my pain slightly by relative comparison. I can only imagine the joy a tiny, slender lesbian must feel being squashed up against a huge sweating man-whale who moans constantly like he is having slow, noxious sex. So that really put my suffering into perspective for me.

So now I am waiting for my plane to board at Copenhagen airport. For those who have not been to Copenhagen Airport, it’s a contraption of fancy restaurants, fashion boutiques and jewellery shops exclusively designed to make you feel guilty about not having more money. No matter how much money you actually have. I would post this to my blog right now, if I could afford the price of the Wi-Fi here. But the fact is that it would be cheaper for me to upload it with my mobile phone, and I simply refuse to do either. So I will post it tonight, when I am once again in a country where you can actually tell the difference between early morning and mid day. A place where the sun still exists. So when you read this, I made it back and I am likely to be sleeping.

Tuesday additions

Posted in Texts and oddities on November 17th, 2009 by Jeppe Grünberger

Two small things published under Texts and Oddities today. I started writing them both a day when I was feeling slightly ill and tried making sense of them today. It’s rather remarkable how much your frame of mind changes under such circumstances. They are called Chessplaying Trolls in The Back Yard, and Solitary Argument.

Facing the fear of failing

Posted in About writing on November 13th, 2009 by Jeppe Grünberger

I think one of the most profound characteristics of writing is having to deal with failure; not failure limited to rejection by a publisher, but fear of encountering and facing a failure you yourself have crafted. Quite possibly this also applies to many other aspects of life; of daring to move beyond the familiar patterns, but I will contain myself mainly to the theme of writing here and let people make their own conclusions.

Our failures tell a lot about us, possibly more than we wish to know ourselves and certainly more than we wish to have others know. Therefor, probably, writers and other artists are often very protective of their works and sometimes reluctant to risk trying to publish it. Facing a very physical, crafted instance of your failure is hard to ignore. You wouldn’t believe how often I have wanted delete the short story of the IKEA sofa that I published here the other day, but I haven’t done it yet. To me, it’s a failure, and all I really want to do with it is delete it. And possibly it should be deleted so that no poor soul has the grave misfortune of reading it, but I have to learn and so I have to face failures. This blog is not just meant to be about me posting short texts to potential readers and curious friends but a sort of professional diary and mental work space. Yes, the idea of a mental work space sounds awfully pretentious, but give it a chance before you discard it.

Generally, writing is thought of as a mental, intellectual creative art form. It’s about having the ideas and the thoughts, and while that may be partially true; more than anything else its a craft. The idea changes profoundly on its way from your mind to paper, no matter how thoroughly you think you have it thought through. Writing is something that you get better at by doing it, that you rehearse and practice constantly if you want to be good. To create a text, to build it, is a very different thing from analyzing it. Sure, it can help to be good at analyzing your own work, but if you want to build it yourself, you analytical skills are more likely to inhibit you than assist you. Take the sofa-story for example – I still believe the idea of it could have worked. It could have been amusing and even just the slightest bit interesting, but it didn’t turn out that way. And that is not the idea in itself, its just poorly crafted. The sentences don’t flow the way they should, and the implicit structures that should have formed the basis for making it funny somehow just collapse.

Again, the sound of implicit structures and flowing sentences sound intellectual, but they are actually not. I don’t think that many if any writers plan every finer point of their writing – the flow and the interesting structures that make it good. Its a craft, a feel that you have when you are doing it, that this is right. This works. And sometimes it doesn’t work. You toil with a text for hours on end, and you keep changing small tings to improve it – but it doesn’t happen. Perhaps you are having an off day, or perhaps you are simply just not good enough as a craftsman to make this yet. That’s what happened with the IKEA story, took me several hours of annoyance, and I just wanted to delete it. Admittedly, I wasn’t having my best day and did have some trouble keeping my mental focus. But there are also lessons for me to learn from this abomination of my mind, so that the next time I try to create a story with two layers that are suppose to interweave into something amusing I will remember this failure. And hopefully I will learn from it as well and get better. I believe that if you have taken the strange choice to write, you cannot fear failure – you are more likely to encounter it here than in most any other professions. And you will only have one person to blame for it as well.

But like any other craftsman it can help to have a place that is defined as where you work and where you can evaluate your own work. A place where you go when you work, where your tools are. That is a keyboard or a pen to a writer, but more than that it is a place in his or her mind. And I actually made this blog partially to expand that workplace. So that I didn’t only have my current novel and my private battle with it, but a place to make small attempts at other things and practice daring to make them public. To practice having people either love or hate what I did.

Now, none of this will help anyone who already read Of Hopelessly Immature Furniture and feel that I owe them five minutes of their lives, but perhaps they find it a bit more forgivable now, seeing as I still spent more wasteful time writing it than they did reading it.

We cannot be afraid of failure, for only the lessons of failure and the will to risk failure will help us expand ourselves beyond the boundaries in our lives that inhibit us and shorten our days and our lives. Fear keeps us at home where we feel safe and where the days pass, literally, like sands through the infamous hourglass. Writing is where I come to seek out failure, to do battle with it every day – and a few times I feel like I win. But certainly not always, and even when I don’t win, I still have to write about it. Because, that is what I have chosen to do.

Of hopelessly immature furniture

Posted in Texts and oddities on November 11th, 2009 by Jeppe Grünberger

My wife and I tried to purchase a couch yesterday, and somehow that turned out to be a strange, little novel in my head. It is based on a true story, though, so… Well, it is anyway. It can be read here.

Review: The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana

Posted in Reviews & Recommendations on November 6th, 2009 by Jeppe Grünberger
  • Title: The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
  • Original title: La Misteriosa Fiamma della Regina Loana
  • Author: Umberto Eco
  • Published: 2004 by RCS Libri S.p.A – Milano – Bompiani

I believe that there is a certain path that many people took in regards to reading Umberto Eco. It started out when they read the best-seller In The Name of The Rose, which has Eco’s first published work of fiction. Many people loved that book in spite of the very academic passages that sometimes seemed to sneak in between thrilling scenes of the main plot – or at least they loved the film with Sean Connery.  From then people would go on to read  Foucault’s Pendulum – the second published work of fiction by Umberto Eco. Foucault’s Pendulum is however not a particularly accessible book, one might even say that it can come off as slightly pretentious. Or very perhaps, depending on how many years you have spent studying philosophy, language theory and so on. And then I think many people sort of gave up on Eco. Not that he doesn’t sell well – he surely does, but have you noticed how suspiciously new and untouched many of his books look up there on the book shelves in people’s homes? It has seemed to me that Eco was in danger of becoming the sort of author many put on their shelves for looks rather than to read. But then, suddenly, this book called The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana comes out and it is time for everyone to pick up a book by Eco again, I promise.

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana is about an ageing antiquarian named Giambattista Bodoni (named after a celebrated Italian typographer) who has a stroke and loses a vital part of his memory. He remembers every detail in history and anything he ever read very well, but he remembers nothing of his own life. He knows not his wife, and does not know his own name – yet he recites Plato flawlessly. In short, Bodoni carries with him the memory of his time, but not the memory of himself. He sets out to remember himself then, which he eventually tries to do by revisiting a reclusive house in the country that his family lived in during the years of the second world war. There he finds, undisturbed, the physical remains of his childhood memory in magazines, books, records and such. Bodoni then begins a journey through the history of his youth, but The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana is perhaps more accurately a history of Italy itself through the period of fascism and war. Not a solely a factual history, but a history of the nation’s soul and what it went trough during those years – torn between nationalist fascism and joyful, almost naive Americanism. Throughout it all, Bodoni is chasing the story of his first love, a face that he cannot find but that he knows to have dominated him throughout his entire life.

First of all, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana is just really well written and one of the most enjoyable reads in our time. In my opinion this is by far the best book by Eco (I haven’t read the The Island of The Day Before yet, though) when it comes to the feel, flow and strength of his language. In the other Eco books there is always a feel that the storyline is consciously interwoven with facts on history, philosophy, religion and linguistics in a way that divides the narrator into two separate personalities: Eco the dramatist and Eco the tutor. In The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana the narrator is a more natural and poetic instance than seen before. At the same time the image of Italy during this period of time is just painted marvellously and the use of colour prints of adverts, stamps, magazine covers and such printed in the book itself works really well. Its sort of a journey of critical nostalgia through a questionable time in Italian history, and its a journey you won’t regret taking. Of course, Eco couldn’t resist having a true academic as a narrator, as it gives him the options to reflect on the contents of his story, but it has never worked as well before as it does here.

This is a book that everyone can read, and that everyone should read, if it were up to me at least.

Something otterly and perhaps utterly useless

Posted in Unwelcomed notions published for no obvious reason on November 2nd, 2009 by Jeppe Grünberger

Monday was back. This time it didn’t sneak up on me but rather jumped right in my face and started yelling. This has made it very hard for me to focus all day. The constant distractions of Monday are spawning the oddest ideas in my head. To give you an impression of just how bad it is, here is an idea that I actually have taken the time to tell you about.

Today I was chatting with a good friend of mine during my lunch break and one of her many periods during the day where she refuses to do her mindless, soul-annihilating job. We were discussing this quote from How I Met Your Mother:

“When you date someone, you’re taking one long course on who that person is, and when you break up, all of that stuff is useless. It’s the emotional equivalent of an English degree.”

And since she has exactly an English degree, she agreed – declaring her utter uselessness. But in the heat of the moment it came out as “otterly useless”, which I felt sure was not exactly correct. Awed by the power of her English degree, though, I thought I had better look it up before pointing the error out to her. A quick googling revealed that the word otterly actually does exist, though it means something different altogether. At least at first inspection.

The word otterly means, of course, exactly the same as humanly – just relative to an otter rather than a human. So things that can be humanly possible, can also be otterly possible or not. For example swimming seems to be otterly possible, while space travel is less so. At the moment at least – you never know. But the misunderstanding started with the phonetic similarity between utterly useless and otterly useless, and that got us thinking about what otterly useless actually means. My friend had said something that wasn’t actually incorrect, but what had she said then?  What did it mean?

Otterly useless must be something that is useless to an otter and as it turns out, if you think about it, almost anything apart from fish and water would be considered otterly useless. What, for example, would an otter do with an iPhone? See? Good. But wait, there’s more!

So, what then is the difference actually between the expressions “utterly useless” and “otterly useless”? Utterly useless is defined by Webster’s to be complete uselessness, but since (as we have just agreed – yes you did, I was there) anything apart from water and fish and perhaps a few other things found in nature would also be considered otterly useless, what is the actual difference? If I said that a thing was utterly useless, it would almost always also be otterly useless – unless I was talking about water and fish, and then I would by all rights be flat wrong in any case. So, as it turns out the sentence “otterly useless” is not only correct in itself, but is also pretty spot on in actuality when used to describe the use of anything also considered utterly useless.

Of course, there are certain drawbacks to using otterly instead of utterly. People may wonder why you are being so specifically otter-related in your assessments of things, but as long as you just say the word without spelling it out to them, you should be okay. Only you will know that you are actually talking about the uses related specifically to an otter and not everything else. It may also make the conversation a lot more entertaining to you than to anyone else involved in it, and it doesn’t seem to lead to any obvious misunderstandings.

So, that was a thought from this Monday for you. And it is very obviously otterly useless, I am yet to decide if it is also utterly useless.

An otter, obviously

An otter, obviously