Älgjakt pågår

Standard

The moose hunt is underway. Again. I noticed all the signs went up along the roadside this sunny-frosty morning. And then I spotted whole groups of people in camouflage and orange suits carrying their guns around in various fields and parking lots all over the area.

Seems a little bit barbaric.

Random gum: Halloween 2017

Standard

The Good Goo of Random Gum – Halloween 2017
The Last Toast to the World & Cosmos

So, even though we are a full month out from Halloween, I have been extraordinarily organized and have finished putting together my Halloween CD mix for this year quite early. The mailings have begun going out in the post.

And, as I have written in the note that accompanies the CD, the time has come at last – this will be the last of my random gum CD mixes. At least of the physical, postal-mail variety. As technology has rendered the CD a useless would-be Frisbee, I am looking for another solution for sharing music (other than Spotify playlists at least). I may still send cards/greetings by post because I’m still old-fashioned like that. But continuing this effort is fruitless. It has been a roller coaster of randomness these 13 years that I’ve been making and sending these mixes. And to reflect an end as random as this gum has always been, I’ve chosen fittingly strange and random music.

Although I have not expressed these sentiments in the letter I included with the CD, I do feel like I am shedding a skin – or some kind of layer(s) – again – as though I am preparing for something else. I don’t know what it is. But I have largely left behind my TV addiction, my baking addiction, and now this (and most of my postal letter writing in general). I don’t know why these things no longer interest me the way they used to, except to say that my disconnection from feeling and indeed, often, from actually living, has dissipated. The end of the embargo against living, I suppose, means that new things and new people occupy my time and, more importantly, my heart.

Until I do find a better and personal sharing solution, you can follow me on Spotify and also find the full track listings and descriptions on my blog. Normally I seek out and post the YouTube video of these tracks, but instead… here is the list.

01 Aliza Gabbai – “Mimigdal Shalom”
Israeli pop from the 1960s. Too cute
02 Rola Saad – “Min Bein Alkoul”
Because Lebanon
03 DIANA – “What You Get” …Echo comes back to your lonely room/Said my head, my heart, I can’t take it anymore…
Stuck so much in 2017 on the concept of place – real, imagined; in the world or in the mind
04 Savoy Motel – “Souvenir Shop Rock”
Nashville is for dancing
05 Tindersticks – “My Sister” …Here I am, this is me/I am yours and everything about me,/everything you see,/If only you look hard enough/I never could…
Had this spun up but was unsure til I talked to a Norwegian in the mountains who was listening to Tindersticks. “Our life was a pillow fight…”
06 Trio Esperança – “Filme Triste”
Yummy 50s-60s Brazilian pop. Can you see where we’re going here?
07 Dean & Britta – “Night Nurse” …I am the night nurse, I am the most/I am the visitor, you are the host…
08 Blouse – “1000 Years” …I move the furniture around/And trick you into lying down…
“I would never hurt you/Or disappear/I’ll love you for a thousand years”
09 Jillian & the Giants – “Mr Airplane” …I don’t even mind…
Up in the air. “Here we go again, sure was nice for a little while/That rosy pink glow/turns red hot when you go/Too high into the other side”
10 Aquaserge – “Virage sud”
Vive la France
11 Connie Kim – “Lý Luận Tình Yêu”
Vietnam. The 70s. What more can one say?
12 Snail Mail – “Thinning” …I don’t think there’s anything wrong…
13 The Horrors – “Sea Within a Sea” …So you might say/The path we share is one of danger/And of fear/Until the end…
For J, the sea within my sea – a sea of constant gentle waves interrupted with the occasional giant waves
14 Lindstrøm – “I Feel Space”
For me, it’s Norway meets Chicago
15 Melike Demirağ – “Hasret”
Türkiye!
16 Meshell Ndegeocello, Sinéad O’Connor – “Don’t Take All Night”
For the love of all that is good in the world
17 Weyes Blood – “Names of Stars”
Places like beauty, simplicity and the cosmos
18 U.N.P.O.C. – “Beautiful to Me” …From time to time I think I must be going blind…
The dear, green place that is Glasgow
19 Evinha – “Vou Seguindo”
Year 2000! Goin’ to Rio! (Naomi)… and our ears take us back to some other time (SD: “I’ll get a job some other time!”)
20 Palace Winter – “Soft Machine”
Not frequent that I get to include Denmark (especially with a dose of Australia). “Acting so obscene/Well by all means/Now that you and I are free/And I’m off my knees”
21 Kristin Hersh – “Nerve Endings” …We’re idiotic optimistics/Rubbing salt into my wrists/Till I feel almost nothing…
So far from soft-eject beige
22 Damien Jurado – “QACHINA”
Seattle. “I lost my mind, so I stepped out for a time/Went for a walk on a long road to unwind”
23 Khruangbin – “Ma Be Ham Nemiresim”
Texas, if you can believe it
24 Destroyer – “Hey, Snow White” …When the company goes public, you’ve got to learn to love what you own…
Oh, Canada…
25 Solar Bears – “Cosmic Runner”
Ireland
26 First Hate – “The One” …You treated me so carelessly/You kept imagining the one…
Copenhagen… another Danish set… so much like the 80s
27 Lea Porcelain – “Out Is In”
My sort of cities (Berlin/London)
28 Moon Duo – “Cold Fear”
Portland
29 Monomono – “Tire Loma Da Nigbehin”
Nigeria… and memories of Billy, Travis and me in happening Årjäng
30 Luna – “Chinatown”
Winter 2017
31 Suburban Lawns – “Flavor Crystals”
Sounds sort of fresh but is almost as old as I am; everything old is new again
32 The Breeders – “Fortunately Gone” …I wait for you in heaven/On this perfect string of love…
It’s so good those days are gone. The past, too, is a place. Both distant and near
33 Richard & Linda Thompson – “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight”
34 Mary Timony – “Return to Pirates”
Lost in the particular Mary Timony sound. “I cannot love you more/Said the doctor to the whore/I wanna be in the garden of love/Led by a lamb and a little white dove/I know you can/But I don’t think I can/Swim in your river/And sleep on your sand”
35 Miss Universum – “Fertilize” …I need a man, I need him quick/I need his sperm, I need his dick/I do not need to be seduced/I just need to be reproduced…
When I first heard this, I didn’t really expect it to be Swedish.
36 Hand Habits – “All the While”
“Bring me to the deepest pit/You can push me right off the edge/And when I show up in your dreams/You got away with it”
37 Eefje de Visser – “Ongeveer”
Dutched up. Almost convinced Dutch could be pretty…
38 Mark Eitzel – “The Last Ten Years” …Spent the last ten years/Trying to waste half an hour…
39 Aimee Mann – “Labrador”
“Daisy, you/shouldn’t do the things you do/but you’re just so incapable of changing/you lie so well/I could never even tell/what were facts in your artful rearranging”
40 Joel Alme – “The Way We Used to Beg”
Göteborg. “You were a cold hard stone/But how does it feel to be alone”
41 Teleman – “Glory Hallelujah” …However do you haunt me…
42 San Mei – “Until You Feel Good”
Thank you to Travis
43 Mallu Magalhães – “Culpa do Amor”
Gone back to Brazil, yet again
44 Mazzy Star – “Blue Flower”
Kitchen singalongs and traumatic high-school-era memories
45 Wooden Shjips – “Everybody Knows” …The longing for home/We’re only alone…
46 Aamina Camaari – “Rag waa Nacab iyo Nasteexo”
Bet you couldn’t have guessed I’d take us to Somalia?
47 Blonde Redhead – “Where Your Mind Wants to Go” …If it’s not me or you, then why?…
48 Jane Weaver – “The Architect”
Be the architect of your spaces and places
49 The Bombay Royale – “I Love You Love You”
Melbourne
50 Yma Sumac – “Karibe Taki”
51 Feist – “I Wish I Didn’t Miss You” …I was so disappointed I didn’t know what to do…
52 Young Marble Giants – “Brand – New – Life”
Cymru am byth
53 Eerie Wanda – “I Am Over Here” …And I found you and we make/Sweetest memories/Now I’m here and you are overseas…
We are the world: Dutch band, Dutch-Croatian singer
54 Hater – “Cry Later”
Malmö
55 Richard Hawley – “Tonight the Streets are Ours”
56 Tennis – “Night Vision”
Can’t listen to Tennis without thinking of Esteban
57 Guided by Voices – “Game of Pricks”
“Prick with fork” – love to my mom and to Naomi
58 The Novacs – “Found”
Airdrie! (The Scottish one, not the weird, middle-of-nowhere Airdrie in the Edmonton-Calgary, Alberta corridor)
59 Haifa Wehbe – “Albi Habb”
もう少し Lebanon
60 The Kills – “Monkey 23”
61 Big Thief – “Shark Smile” …she said woo/baby take me…
“She held us, gunning out 90 miles down the road of a dead end dream
she looked over with her part smile, caught up in the twinkle it could take awhile”
62 Linda McCartney – “I Got Up”
Getting up is also a place, a real place
63 Haley Bonar – “Kismet Kill”
“I was impossible when I was beautiful and now/Cartoon deaths just don’t seem so funny”
64 Blouse – “Trust Me”
Famous last words: “Trust me, I’m the one who loves you”
65 Globelamp – “Washington Moon” …I want a California sun/And a Washington moon…
66 Jessica Pratt – “Bushel Hyde” …Words mean more that they did before/In that other place…
67 Robyn Hitchcock – “Sayonara Judge”
October in Oslo
68 Linda Perhacs – “Chimacum Rain”
Lichen. Lichen. Lichen. Oh, dear T’Pow
69 Amália Rodrigues – “Abril”
I love Amália Rodrigues and was surprised to see that that particular tune was one of the least-ever listened to on Spotify. I decided to remedy that all on my own
70 Life Without Buildings – “Sorrow” …Difficult people slip away…
Glesga Glesga Glesga (Glasgow for those not in-the-know)
71 J&L Defer – “Hard Fiction Road”
For SD: Refer to theme song of Canadian children’s show “The Littlest Hobo” at this time. How’s that for random? Even though this is a band from Winterthur, Switzerland, y’know?
72 Wand – “Melted Rope”
“Desire, I barely thinking/In the dark/And life, life is what you wanted/It’s what you are”
73 Koncz Zsuzsa – “Keresem a szót”
Hungarian. And had to choose… for the name Zsuzsa. Just for Martina.
74 She-Devils – “I Wanna Touch You” …can you read my mind?…
Montréal
75 Kikagaku Moyo (幾何学模様)- “Kogarashi”
Tokyo
76 The Limiñanas feat Peter Hook – “Garden of Love”
To France and beyond
77 Yasmine Hamdan – “Samar – Oriental Skeee Remix”
No escape from Lebanon
78 Cold Beat – “62 Moons” …It’s cold but I don’t mind/I’m accustomed to ice…
The Bay Area…
79 Kerem Güney – “Sicak Bir Sevda”
Istanbul grooves
80 Alvvays – “In Undertow” …You made a mistake you’d like to erase and I understand
“What’s left for you and me?”…
On, on Toronto – pulled in and pulled under
81 The Magnetic Fields – “Strange Powers”
Song is so New York, so Las Vegas, so outer space
82 Cults – “Go Outside” …I think I want to live my life and you’re just in my way…
83 ShitKid – “Sugar Town”
Sweden remakes
84 Santo & Johnny – “Pineapple Princess”
Aloha from this arctic hula doll
85 Sam Cohen – “Kepler 62”
“Strange neighbors as you know/They come and go/They live in a world without you”
86 Imarhan – “Assossamagh”
Algeria/Tuareg
87 Whyte Horses – “The Snowfalls”
Manchester
88 Rana Alagöz – “Vah Bacim Vah Mehmedim”
That’s nobody’s business but the Turks…
89 EL VY – “Paul is Alive” …Nobody stays above/Out in the waves of love…
90 Carla dal Forno – “What You Gonna Do Now?”
Aussie. Transcends
91 Sanisah Huri – “Joget Malam Berinai”
Singapore/Malaysia. I said I’d show you the world, baby. I just didn’t say it’d be through your ears
92 Monument Valley – “Dear John Letters”
93 Lea Porcelain – “The Love”
94 Grizzly Bear – “Mourning Sound” …Let love age/And watch it burn out and die…
“I stare at the face/Looking through my eyes/I move at a pace/That I cannot survive”
95 Marjan – “Kee Seda Kard Mano”
Iran
96 Heavens to Betsy – “Axemen”
Like being in a high school gym pep rally (as in the song) or first miserable year of uni
97 Mia Doi Todd – “Pancho and Lefty”
A pretty version of best-songwriter-ever (and now-near-ubiquitous) Townes van Zandt tune
98 Pridjevi – “Ako Je”
Hrvatska
99 Widowspeak – “When I Tried” …I was more alive when I tried…
100 The Proper Ornaments – “Cremated (Blown Away)”
London. “I would like to be cremated and blown away…”
101 Věra Příkazská, Plzeňský lidový soubor, Lidová chodská, Zdenek Blaha – “Ó radost má”
Czech check. Love to Martina, Anne
102 Cigarettes after Sex – “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby”
“Whispered something in your ear/It was a perverted thing to say/But I said it anyway/Made you smile and look away”. Lovely but also sounds like it belongs in an 80s John Hughes romance
103 Adia Victoria – “Mortimer’s Blues” …Heaven help me how it hurts…
Back to Nashville
104 Patti Smith – “My Madrigal” …You pledged me your heart/Till death do us part…
“We waltzed beneath motionless skies/All heaven’s glory turned in your eyes”

Image by S Donaghy 2017

The silent woman

Standard

“The real trouble about women is that they must always go on trying to adapt themselves to men’s theories of women.” —D. H. Lawrence

“It has taken me most of my 40 or so years as a conscious person to realize: I don’t owe anyone an explanation.” – Me

Today I read an article by Danish writer Dorthe Nors on the invisibility of middle-aged and older women. She writes: “A middle-aged woman who’s not preoccupied with handling herself or taking care of someone else is a dangerous, erratic being. What is she up to? And what’s the point of her being up to anything?” It fell in my lap at the right time, seeing as how I’m sidled right up to middle age, and have always been a bit invisible anyway.

In that sense I, perhaps wrongly, feel like I can see this clearly and objectively, but I doubt this is true. Perhaps it is, as one dear friend commented when I shared this article, “I think middle age must come as much more of a shock to women who fit the current standards of beauty. For someone to whom men have never paid much attention, there is not much difference in how we are considered in middle age. While difficult to deal with when young, you are forced to find your self-worth outside of a man and man’s view of you at an earlier age.”

This article arrived at a moment when I was otherwise contemplating commitment and choice. We are led, at least by the media, to believe that our choices become ever-more limited, and scarcity rears its terrifying head – in the workplace, in terms of potential relationship or sexual partners, even in our friendships. I don’t think any of this is as acute as we’re told, but it is also not universal. It depends on you, where you are, what you are doing, what you want and all kinds of other factors. In the midst of all the infernal thinking, someone said to me, referring to more specific things than I thus applied it to, “There are still a number of points ahead of you at which your life branches off in multiple directions. You still have options, choices.” Logically I know this but a combination of inertia and grief, and a soupçon of fear, has stopped me in my tracks. I feel a bit like I have been shaken awake and have no time to lose.

But a lot of sluggish meandering through literary contemplations on women, communication, relationships and marriage had to happen first.

Finding a voice

For a lot of women, finding their voice – the voice that represents them truly, not just the voice and content she uses as a conciliatory mediator, but the voice and content as the one who gets labeled as a bitch or troublemaker or a roadblock simply because she actually is the smartest one in the room, knows what she is doing and has thought through all the potential outcomes and problems. The voice that is not just a cushion, a boomerang, a mirror for something a man says or does, but the voice that is not afraid of or concerned with how she is perceived. This is mined with risk. It is all easier said than done. It’s not just having the knowledge and eloquence to hold forth on a given subject, it’s as Rebecca Solnit posits, just being able to assert the right or space to say anything at all:

Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being. Things have gotten better, but this war won’t end in my lifetime.” –Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit

I am not sure how much of my own difficulty in asserting myself is rooted in age-old shyness (as opposed to my being female). But, as an adult, I also live in Sweden, so I don’t find that men are quite as domineering, particularly when they have sought out my expertise in my own field. Right after I wrote that sentence I happened to see this opinion piece by Paulina Porizkova on feminism. She realized when she moved to Sweden as a child that suddenly “my power was suddenly equal to a boy’s”. In the Swedish world, “the word ‘feminist’ felt antiquated; there was no longer a use for it”; after all, “Women could do anything men did, but they could also — when they chose to — bear children. And that made us more powerful than men.”

It was only later, in comparing the roles of women in her native Czech Republic, in Sweden, in France and finally the United States that she could embrace the need for feminism:

“In the Czech Republic, the nicknames for women, whether sweet or bitter, fall into the animal category: little bug, kitten, old cow, swine. In Sweden, women are rulers of the universe. In France, women are dangerous objects to treasure and fear. For better or worse, in those countries, a woman knows her place.

But the American woman is told she can do anything and then is knocked down the moment she proves it.” –Paulina Porizkova

I also tend to have the upper hand in business dealings because everyone else is using English as a second or third language, and it’s my first. But I certainly recognize that battle of trying to gain the right to speak. And the ability to say what I want or need to say without being interrupted or talked over or “mansplained to”. This isn’t scientific, my observations/thoughts. But being this insular, shy person for my entire life, while teeming with vociferous opinions, thoughts and ideas, I experience the ongoing struggle, but then I also experience this with louder, more domineering women who stubbornly want to hear the sounds of their own voices and repetitive thoughts (they’ve probably learned to behave this way because they too are fighting for a space for their voices). I also keenly feel that these communication difficulties (not mine specifically but more general, gender-related mismatches) have informed my opinions on male-female communication, relationships, and have contributed a lot to my desire to be alone.

It often takes us such a long time as people to find our true voices, to be ourselves, that it’s a shame that it’s twice as hard for women of all ages under most circumstances, and that by the time we as middle-aged women find our voice and claim the agency to speak openly and freely and to demand the floor, so to speak, we are silenced by this invisibility (or as Alex Qin explains in her SkillShare TechSummit 2017 keynote, linked above, being hypervisible and invisible at the same time).

right place, wrong time

Standard

…And today in Swedish life…

Det snöar!

E: they just don’t know how freeing and full of contentment it is to do and be just what you wnat
E: want, even if you are not always convinced that you ARE what you want to be
J: I prefer “wnat”. Like the word “gnat”.
E: Yes, wnat, gnat. maybe these office people are wnats: the corporate, humanoid version of gnats
J: It is also very liberating to annihilate that correlation between phonological realisation and orthographic representation (as you have just done). gdon’t you gthink? Gknee that correlation in the groin…..⁠⁠⁠⁠

easter

Standard

I appreciate the long Easter break but am not sure I will ever get used to it. I managed to send out the tons and tons of packages before Easter (everyone needs to be a Norwegian chocolate convert), and now for a few days, most things will be closed. Actually that’s not totally true. In Norway everything closes, while in Sweden it’s all a bit relaxed, and not only are all Swedes out stocking up on liquor today, the Norwegians will undoubtedly have flooded across the border to do the same. They need their cartloads of liquor, soda, chicken, bacon and candy. (Even Norwegian candy is cheaper in Sweden than in Norway.)

Coffee?

Nature in balance

Standard

Balance
Adam Zagajewski

I watched the arctic landscape from above
and thought of nothing, lovely nothing.
I observed white canopies of clouds, vast
expanses where no wolf tracks could be found.

I thought about you and about the emptiness
that can promise one thing only: plenitude—
and that a certain sort of snowy wasteland
bursts from a surfeit of happiness.

As we drew closer to our landing,
the vulnerable earth emerged among the clouds,
comic gardens forgotten by their owners,
pale grass plagued by winter and the wind.

I put my book down and for an instant felt
a perfect balance between waking and dreams.
But when the plane touched concrete, then
assiduously circled the airport’s labyrinth,

I once again knew nothing. The darkness
of daily wanderings resumed, the day’s sweet darkness,
the darkness of the voice that counts and measures,
remembers and forgets.

Photo (c) 2017 William Wolfe (down the street from home!)

On Shrinking Violets: The Secret Life of Shyness

Standard

“Shy people unsettle others because they unsettle the tacit conventions of social life.”

Shrinking Violets: The Secret Life of Shyness was not as great a book as I, a lifelong shy person, expected. It did not shed a lot of light on shyness and all its forms and shades – it mostly just introduced us to a slew of famous shy people and the various forms of shyness that ailed them. I expected something more informative or rigorous/scientific somehow, but oh well. Sure, there was some exploration of history, psychology and philosophy and what those disciplines have to say about shyness. But not quite enough.

A few interesting points but mostly it boils down to what I knew before (even if that seems arrogant to say; I know I don’t know everything): being shy is being shy, many people are surprised when they learn that you consider yourself shy, it is not a rare affliction, and sometimes you can fake it (i.e. fake not being shy) in certain circumstances. You never totally get rid of it, but you can tame it – it’s a strange and often mercurial beast.

It has been a swift read as a result of its brevity and lack of depth, so pleasurable and entertaining even if nothing I would necessarily recommend except for a few spots that intersect with topics and conversations I’ve touched on with different people.

Notable bits/quotes:

“Zeno founded the school of Stoicism, a philosophy of self-reliant estrangement from the world and of equanimity in the face of public approval, since status and fame were mere baubles. ‘Stoicism has qualities which foreordained for the bracing of shy souls, as if the men who framed its austere laws had prescience of our frailty,’ write Dalton in Apologia Diffidentis. ‘It is the philosophy of the individual standing by himself, as the shy must always stand, over against a world which he likes not but may not altogether shun.’”

 

“Unlike many of his compatriots, Taine did not think English reserve was the result of an obsession with rank and class that had constipated their emotional lives. It was rather, he felt, that they were brimful of feelings, which were all the more affecting for so rarely bubbling up to the surface to disturb dead-calm waters. The English expressed their passions in ways overlooked by the inattentive, but those who watched carefully could see ‘the emotions pass over these complexions, as one sees the colours change upon their meadows’.”

 

“Shyness may have its roots in human self-consciousness, but it leaves us at the mercy of our animal emotions — making us, in extremis, shake with fear, run away, and hide.”

 

“Shyness did not always have to be an inadequacy but could be a positive quality – something you were rather than something that stopped you from being who you were. Shyness’s energies are often reactive and damage-limiting…; “If you can somehow prevent your shyness from clotting into neurotic risk aversion, it can help you face the world with an added layer of gentleness and curiosity.”

 

(Society-level) shame has receded while (personal) embarrassment has grown: “Although we are more able to retain our self-respect in the face of others’ disdain, we are also more likely to feel ashamed when others might see no reason for us to be.”

 

Oh yes yes yes!: “All through history, letter writing has offered salvation for the shy.”

“A correspondence via the Royal Mail has the potential for show-growing intimacy, enhanced by a deliciously expectant wait between sending and receiving, which e-mail and text messages have since destroyed.”

 

“The Nordic countries rival Southeast Asian ones in the subtlety of their language of embarrassment. A shy Finnish historian I met once told me all the different Finnish synonyms for “embarrassed.” Nolo, the most common word, had a negative sense — for instance, in the phrase “Vähän noloa!” (How embarrassing!), “Nobody wants to be nolo,” he said, “because it also connotes being pitiful.” But there were others words, he added, that roughly tallied with embarrassment — kiusaantunut, vaivaantunut, hämillinen, hämmentynyt — which evoked a more general sense of confusion or discomfort and had a neutral or even positive meaning. Another word, myötähäpeä, the vicarious embarrassment one feels for others, what schadenfreude’s kinder cousin.”

 

(Charles) “Schulz came to believe, in a classically Minnesotan form of self-laceration, that his own inhibitions were upended narcissism. ‘Shyness,’ he wrote, ‘is the overtly self-conscious thinking that you are the only person in the world; that how you look and what you do is of any importance.’ But the lesson of Peanuts is quite the opposite. Who, after all, is a better model of humanity: Lucy van Pelt, who shouts at the world with bone-shuddering conviction, or Charlie Brown, whose shyness has made him a gentle, fair-minded stoic?”

 

“Cultures with a reputation for fostering shyness, such as the Nordic, seem to have a higher tolerance for silence than most. The Swedish ethnologist Annick Sjögren, raised in France, noticed that in her adoptive country the spoken word “weighs lightly” and is no sooner dispensed than it will “vanish into thin air”. French conversation is a rhetorical performance, detached from oneself, so one can say things without thinking, simply to enjoy the sound of the syllables on one’s tongue, without being afraid that one will be called to account for it. In Sweden, by contrast, what one says is a personal marker, and words are pondered for their meaning. Small talk is kallprata, “cold talk”, and Swedish words for the talkative, such as pratkvarnar (chatterboxes), pladdermajor (babblers), and frasmakare (phrasemongers), convey a suspicious attitude toward talking for its own sake. ‘Talking apparently never ceases to be a problem for the Swedes: a lean across an abyss,’ reflected Susan Sontag after living in Stockholm at the end of the 1960s. ‘Conversations are always in danger of running out of gas, both from the imperative of secretiveness and from the positive lure of silence. Silence is the Swedish national vice.’

The Swedish and Finnish words for shyness, blyg and ujo, carry positive associations of being unassuming and willing to listen to others. Many Finnish proverbs point to the value of choosing words carefully and not saying any more than necessary: ‘One word is enough to make a lot of trouble.’ ‘Brevity makes a good psalm.’ ‘A barking dog does not catch a hare.’ ‘One mouth, two ears.’ According to the Finnish scholars Jaakko Lehtonen and Kari Sajavaara, in an essay on ‘the silent Finn,’ the overuse among their compatriots of what linguists call backchannel behavior — nodding, eyebrow raising, saying ‘hmmmm’ while the other person is speaking — is considered intrusive and the preserve of drunks.”

 

My exact observations when I saw film in question; so few words: “The Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki’s characters are similarly sparing with speech. They work away silently in dull jobs at supermarket checkouts or kitchen sinks and drive through the country’s backroads, chain-drinking vodka while exchanging cryptic grunts. In The Match Factory Girl (1990) thirteen minutes pass, in a film just sixty-eight minutes long, before anyone speaks. …”

“Even in the Nordic countries, silence can carry awkward or hostile subtexts, Ingmar Bergman, in his autobiography, attributes his stammering s a boy to the determination of grown-ups not to speak to a misbehaving child until the child was visibly contrite — a cold shoulder far more painful, he recalls, than the ensuing interrogation, wheedled-out confession, and ritual fetching of the carpet beater. The SWedes have a phrase for it: att tiga ihjäl (to kill by silence). Different cultures may differently assess what constitutes a healthy balance between talking and listening. But silence can be deadly in all of them.”

New Zealand writer, Janet Frame, struggled with a lifelong shyness that crippled her, was subjected to extensive electroshock therapy and nearly lobotomized. Finally found a therapist who understood her (Cawley), who did not ask her to change herself but instead encouraged her to live alone and write – embrace her nature. Learn to live with shyness.

Storr (another psych), “Like Cawley, Storr came to feel that solitariness had its uses and that salvation did not always lie in others. … The naturally solitary could find meaning in their lives by embracing this inheritance rather than simply, as Freud advocated, trying to cure make-believe with cold reason.”

Tove Jansson, the creator of the Moomins, was famously shy and retiring and not a particularly pleasant personality. And her Moomins reflect this. “Jansson was a great admirer of the book Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle toward Self-Realization, by the psychoanalyst Karen Horney… ; …According to Horney, there are three kinds of neurotic ‘solutions’ to feeling unsafe or unloved: the expansive, the resigned, and the self-effacing. The expansive neurotics pursue mastery over others; the resigned neurotics strive for independence and self-sufficiency; and the self-effacing neurotics are conflict-phobic, criticizing themselves before others have the chance.”

“Jansson’s lesson is not that shy people should come out of their shells; it is that they should learn to become unneurotic introverts. For Moomins may sulk and skulk fleetingly, but most of the time they are neither needy nor neurotic. Their response to a problem is to think deeply and then make something — a hut, a painting, a poem, a boat carved out of bark — as a way of whittling meaning out of a terrifying world.”

The book even delves into Morrissey and his awkwardness and shyness, which, unlike many others so afflicted, managed to make his shyness work to his advantage. And what I most related to: “In this pre-internet age Morrissey relied, like many other shy British teenagers, on the marvelous efficiency of the Royal Mail and the cheapness of its second-class postage to keep in touch with his fellow human from a distance. The most intense crisis of his adolescence, he later said with his trademark blend of flippancy and dead seriousness, was when the price of stamps rose by a penny.”

And within the Morrissey section, a sub-section on Keats:

“The natural mode for the shy lover was the lyric poem: it recollected one’s embarrassment in tranquillity, at a safe distance from the beloved, and eternalized it within a classic literary form. In Keats and Embarrassment (1974), Christopher Ricks argues that one of the great consolations of poetry, with its public articulation of intensely private feelings, is that it helps us to express embarrassment and put it to creative use, making us feel less lonely and estranged in the process. Keats, he says, was a poet particularly attuned to , and insightful about, embarrassment. He felt embarrassed by his lack of formal education, his lowly apprenticeship as an apothecary, his poetry’s poor critical reception, his height (only just over five feet tall)…”

Keats realized that “among the sane, fortifying, and consolatory powers (nature) has is the power to free us from embarrassment, to make embarrassment unthinkable.”

“Keats’s willingness to face the subject of embarrassment in his poems and other writings allowed him to turn awkwardness into ‘a human victory’.”

The keys, though, if you could even call them ‘keys’ as opposed to ‘grin-and-bear-it’ grit (just get through it) come nearer the end of the book.

When offered anti-depressants and other pharmaceuticals to help, the writer concludes pretty much what always crosses my mind: “The sadness caused by shyness is real, and helping others to take the edge off that sadness is a noble aim. But taking a drug for social anxiety — for feeling stupid, boring, or unlikeable — feels like shouting at the wind, arguing with the rain. It feels like trying to find a cure for being alive.”

“All the people I have written about in this book were as shy at the end of their lives as at the start of them. They found ways to hide their shyness, channel it, finesse it, or work around it, but it never went away.”