Archive for the ‘Just ask Ingemar’ Category

Meanwhile, in Sweden: Unshaved

March 16, 2012

Dear Sweden,

Really? A picture of a young woman in a crowd at a concert with a hairy armpit goes viral and awakens a riotous debate in Social media? Over shaving? Srsly? Forgive me if I appear to be laughing (choke). But this is for real.

“It’s not just about a Hairy Armpit,” right? It can’t be. Is it about sexism? Is it about how Hollywood is changing worldwide standards of socially sanctioned concepts of beauty?* Is it about freedom of expression? Decency? Is it about the “Most Politically Correct Country in the World” falling from grace?

Hey. Hey guys. So maybe this debate thing is good. At least we’re talking about our feelings. So, let’s not invent problems, ok? Let’s face some of the things that are truly wrong here.** Is definitely possible. I’m just sayin’… (English!) (way more offensive than hairy armpits)

etc., etc.


/From the inside of a glass house, probably throwing stones.



**Oh, and take heed, America. It’s an election year.

Armchair Linguistics: Tranströmer

February 25, 2012

I have a book of Tranströmer, untranslated. I got it in the mail. I thought, this should be interesting. I thought, why not? So here comes one. Oh, and let me know if something doesn’t, erm, make sense.

Prelude, from “17 Poems”

Waking up is a skydive from dreaming.
Free from a choking whirl sinks
the traveler, toward the morning’s green zone.
Things flame up. He recognizes- from the
trilling lark’s vantage – the noble systems of treeroots,
their underground swaying lamps. But above ground
there is- in a tropical flood – greenness, with
lifted arms, listening
to the rhythm of an invisible pump. And he
sinks towards the summer, slipping down 
into its bright craters, down
through shafts of greendamp ages
trembling under the sun’s turbine. So it is halted
this vertical journey through the moment and the wings
spread out to the osprey’s perch over rushing water.
The Bronze Age Trumpet’s
outcast tone
hangs over the abyss.
In the day’s first hours consciousness understands the world
just as the hand grips a sunwarmed stone.
The traveler stands beneath the tree. Shall,
after the crash through the whirl of death,
a great light unfold over his head?
Uppvaknandet är ett fallskärmshopp från drömmen.
Fri från den kvävande virveln sjunker
resenären mot morgonens gröna zon.
Tingen flammar upp. Han förnimmer – i dallrande lärkans
position – de mäktiga trädrotsystemens
underjordiskt svängande lampor. Men ovan jord
står – i tropiskt flöde – grönskan, med
lyftade armar, lyssnande
till rytmen från ett osynligt pumpverk. Och han
sjunker mot sommaren, firas ned
i dess bländade krater, ned
genom schakt av grönfuktiga åldrar
skälvande under solturbinen. Så hejdas
denna lodräta färd genom ögonblicket och vingarna breddas
till fiskgjusens vila över ett strömmande vatten.
fredlösa ton
hänger över det bottenlösa.
I dagens första timmar kan medvetandet omfatta världen
som handen griper en solvarm sten.
Resenären står under trädet. Skall,
efter störtningen genom dödens virvel,
ett stort ljus vecklas ut över hans huvud?

read my stupid art

September 25, 2011

As I mentioned before, I’m in a creative writing seminar this semester. Last week, after attempting (and failing) to stave off the ghost of Ingemar Bergman and presenting my poor classmates with (what I thought was awesome) psychotic nonsense, my professor commented that all of my writing is “richly descriptive and intensely mental.” Whether he meant brainy or just simply insane is still something I’m grappling with. He urged me to try and write something more outside of the mind next time. He then proceeded to hand out this week’s assignment, a prompt reading: “Meditation, Object of contemplation.” Huh. Go figure.

So this morning I’ve at last managed to come up with 1,000 words of prose fiction that is only mildly psychotic. I figure since I’m spending a good four hours or so each week writing these things, I may as well get some blog mileage out of them. And part of learning to really write is learning to be unafraid of having your writing being read. So, edits and suggestions are wholeheartedly welcomed, o my dear grammar nazi readers.

Below is my response to “Meditation, Object of contemplation.” If y’all like reading these I can keep posting them. So yeah. Go ahead. Read my stupid art.


The fish hung, delicate and rotating in the wavering shadows. Its gills fanned in and out, its body expanded and collapsed with a rhythmic and soundless gasping. The meaty weight of it held the line taught. The fish circled the air such that Ruben grew dizzy trying to follow. Winding and unwinding, the animal was massive and so it spun slowly. Ruben looked at the fish’s eye: it was a perfect black circle inside a perfect silver circle. It hardly put up a fight. The failed breathing grew slower, deeper—sonorous—and at the moment animal’s jaw fell slack, Ruben knew that the eye no longer saw him.

The other boys walked out onto the dock; it wobbled in the water with their heavy steps. They stood a circle of three with their poles held like spears beside them, their gazes fixed on the suspended fish. The sway of the dock died out in their speechlessness as the mosquitoes spun and poised themselves overhead.

“Holy shit.” Jonatan, the oldest cousin, wasn’t afraid to swear when he meant it. “That’s salmon.” Ruben smiled nervously. “You caught it. You brought it in. You really brought it in. I wouldn’t have thought you
could do it. No reason there should even be salmon here this time of year. Shit.”

Jonatan drove home. The whole ride back to Ringsö in the boat, Ruben didn’t look down at the fish in the bucket. He sat in the back seat, behind the outlines of his cousins, and looked straight ahead, although the wind made his eyes itch. The motor beneath them was a distant hum, sunset and moonrise were happening simultaneously on opposite ends the archipelago.

Ruben stepped cautiously onto the dock and hefted the bucket up onto the island, through the shallow meadow toward the houses. Lively chatter drifted between the cottages, where adults sat around tables and drank coffee with decks of cards. The cousins, older and without fish to bear, dispersed and disappeared amongst them. Twilight had settled and the yellow globular bulb suspended from the low kitchen ceiling was on, he could see it through the window. He pushed open the kitchen door to find his mother was inside leaning on the counter beside a sink full of washed dishes and picking distractedly at her fingers.

“I brought a fish.” His voice had no tone. His mother stood abruptly. “I don’t know how to clean it.” He hoisted the bucket with both hands and let it come to rest on counter.

She tucked her hair behind her ears and peered into the bucket. When she saw the fish, her lips parted.

“It’s big.” She said. It really was a beautiful creature, a muscular silver curve up the side of the bucket. “And salmon? Salmon? It must be late for salmon here. This fish most have been lost. Or somehow left behind.” Salmon fed in the Baltic, dancing between waves and islands for a winter before swimming back towards Studsvik or Trosa when the water temperature starts to change. They preferred to breed the summer in warm and festering ponds somewhere inland, and concealed by forest. “How, dearest, did you
manage to catch this?”

Swum downstream and into my arms. Hopped onto my line and into my bucket. I don’t know.

Ruben returned an empty look.

“I can clean it for you. Grandfather taught me. He and I came from a time when people still cleaned fishes everyday in the summers. Not just when they’re on holiday.”

“I’m lucky I guess,” Ruben spoke at last.

She prepared the surface, and the knife. Lifting the fish out of the bucket, a pool of brown water remained at the bottom. The meat made soft thud on the cutting board.

Someday this is something you maybe will need to know, father said. Take it, father said. She was afraid to touch something alive, but she took fish anyway. She removed the hook and stuck the small knife into its gill, slicing upwards. What was left of the fish’s vitality spilled out onto the ground, making a deep red splatter in the dust. Good, father said. She felt the last pulses of life flooding from its body, now slippery and limp in her hands. Now watch, father said, taking the knife.

She slit Ruben’s salmon down the belly; the inside was dark and wet. A muddy crimson rushed out when she cut near the gut and reached her fingers inside, deft and unafraid. The alien innards were set aside—
the jeweled coils of blood and cartilage gleamed in the white bottom of the sink.

She could do it all without thinking. Oh, how very many fish she’d cleaned since that day her father first held the dangling, weakly twitching animal out towards her? So many that every movement in the act now seemed to complete itself. Now, her hands worked with her mind, void of thought, not noticing. The laughter that floated between the buildings was absorbed by the air and the kitchen was left awash in a low frequency silence.

She severed the spine at the tail. Holding the knife flush against the flesh and sliding it just under the first layer, she shaved the spine alone out of the rubbery body. She held the detached spine up against the light, a flattened and translucent string of pearls. There was an art and a calm to it, dismemberment. Soon the salmon was just two long pink pieces, perfect and soft, lying side by side.

She raised her eyes from the fish and looked down at her son. He was crying noiselessly.

“Oh Ruben,” she set down the knife, wanting to embrace him. She looked at her hands, covered in fish. She ran them briefly under the water and wiped them on her apron. Ruben sat down on the floor and didn’t look up. She kneeled beside him, lightly touching his delicate shoulder. His hair was slicked against his forehead. The kitchen reeked.

“Ruben,” she said, her serenity breaking slowly behind her eyes.


Prose is Hard

September 19, 2011

Creative writing class, week one:

I turn in a piece of fiction meant to emulate a scene from Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury.”  The professor is confused. When I explain how it’s like, supposed to be like Faulkner and all, the boys with square glasses start to come out and say they, actually, quite liked it. This is all well enough for me, as the approval of people wearing square glasses is all I ever really aim for in all endeavors semi-artistic. No one in the class, however, gets the reference to HC Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid.” I’m partially heartbroken and partially relieved.

Creative writing class, week two:

I attempt to use a linear storyline, a relateable main character, and  lyrics to Cowboy songs. I try to write sentences instead of lines, paragraphs instead of stanzas, and choose words for grammatical and logical coherence rather than just purely sound. I end up writing something I’m not too fond of. But the professor absolutely loves it. “What did you do different this week from last week?” he asks.

Later on in the class, I explain how I really liked one of my classmate’s pieces because I could really understand and relate to the main character’s almost uncontrollable obsession with finishing a somewhat mundane project. The author later reveals that said character is meant to be schizophrenic. I’m somewhat perturbed.

Creative writing class, week three:

I spend all morning mountain biking with Sabrina in Marin (via the technical prowess of KP) and don’t start writing until three hours before the deadline. All I can think to do is recast a scene that’s been playing in my head, but that must have also existed somewhere within an Ingemar Bergman film at some point. I decide to run with it. I set my story in a very cold place and name my character Lena. There’s lots of bleakness and introspection. I had to restrain myself from writing parts of it in Swedish. I’ve apparently also sunk back into back to nonlinear time, grammatical disaster, and depressing, psuedo-demonic themes. My teacher’s gonna love it, and my classmates are definitely NOT going to think I’m insane.

Schwiezs Guld (och Blå)

June 4, 2011

“You are not going to buy any Swedish food,” I tell myself resolutely as I walk into IKEA, Geneva.*

Switzerland is a land where freshly baked baguettes and the best Gruyere cheese straight from Alpen cows grazing Heidiland are found on every corner supermarket shelf. Where ripe red tomatoes come from Italian fields and juicy apricots come from Spain (danger!). Where we are really not all that far from France, the birthplace of the modern conception of cuisine. Where restaurants serving the food of almost every culture under the sun are within walking distance from your apartment. Where even the CERN cafeteria (which I can officially not afford to eat at) is a culinary éxpériéncé.

Let’s just say the likes of Präst ost, Kalles Kaviar or Senap Sill seem, ahem, out of place. Let’s just say that Kex Chocklad is not quite up to par with the world’s finest Swiss Chocolates.

Walking into IKEA, Geneva, all of a sudden I think that all the prices are in kronor (500 for a sofa? Wow!! Oh, wait…), until I remember that the sign above the “Entreé” read “HEJ! Bienvenue à IKEA.”  Sure, IKEA is always a somewhat of an international constant, at least in the West. Everything is as expected, except for this IKEA is a little smaller (but you know, still huge), and there’s an omelet on the cafe menu instead of a shrimp sandwhich. After all, the world is the world is the world, and it’s really only the little differences that matter.

After getting What I Came For (a bedsheet) I can’t help but see what the food section holds. Lingon saft, Fläder saft, skorppor, köttbullar, knäckebröd, pepparkakor….precis vadsomhelst.

All of the usual suspects. However, I  notice that this IKEA sells Norrlands Guld, the official Redneck beer of Sweden. I have to laugh: Such a thing would have never happened in Sweden. Yet there it was, gleaming gold on the shelves, like some sort of stylish import. At 1.50 a can, the Genevois ladies in line in front of me were buying lots of it. In this land where the finest wines are produced just a hop, skip, and a jump away, Norrlands Guld? Really, fancy Genevan ladies? Really?

As it happens,my resolve to not buy any kind of Swedish food holds up just about as long as fancy Genevan ladies in front of a shelf of Norrlands Guld.

Ibland är det så att allt i livet man vill ha är lite svenska godis.

In my defense, Salt Sill is, as far as I can tell, not available in the US.  Also, that fish looks uncomfortably smug.

Sometimes, nostalgia wins out over actual quality. And god, that lingon sylt I bought is gonna be good in my gröt tomorrow morning.


*Yes, one week here and I’ve found my way to IKEA. I would’ve gone sooner if I’d had the chance. Not ashamed.

January 22nd and 17th

January 23, 2011

January 22nd, San Pablo Reservoir and Mt. Diablo From Tilden Park. I kid you not. January 22nd.

January 22nd, 2010 (today) I wrote this on a scrap of paper.

“Ibland saknar man riktiga vintern. Man håller på att drömma om snöflingor och skidor.

och ibland, särskilt på dagarna som idag, gör man det verkligen inte.”

(Sometimes you miss real winter. You start to dream about snowflakes and skis. and sometimes, especially on days like today, you really don’t at all)


January 17th, 2010 (a year ago) I wrote this on a scrap of paper, Swedish-induced misspellings are left intact for comedic value:

“Snow-lapped swings left untended by children

Coppar leaves line the fences

it is all too cold to rot—

mouths too still, a stone silence.

I wipe the ice from the corners of my eyes

and think of Mercury,

kviksilver, poison, marriage.”

Conclusively, Swedish winter is good for poetry, but bad for combating depression. Just ask Ingemar.