Talking to your kids about terrorism

Now it is our turn to talk to our kids about terrorism.

I had hoped we would never have to face it, but here it is, and luckily we weren’t in the vicinity when it happened and it hasn’t been as tough to talk about it as I feared.

Because the thing is – I don’t feel scared. Not more than usual, at least, because being a woman (and one that has been harassed many times, and physically assaulted twice) that is sort of the default.  A lone 18-year old kid running around with a knife is not too unusual for Finland, and him targeting women – that too is far too common in our country. And almost everywhere in the world in fact, because misogyny exists everywhere. Men who hate women exist everywhere.

I always thought I would be terrified when I had to talk to my kids about terror, but then I always thought an attack would more probably happen in Copenhagen where we lived, or in any big city we have visited. Not in little Turku, which is the closest thing to a big city that we have in our corner of Finland, and far from a huge metropolis.

The kid who did it was apparently part of a violent gang that roams the streets of Turku at night. Even that is not that uncommon. When I lived in Turku while studying at Åbo Akademi University, all us girls knew not to go certain places at certain times of the day/night. I was always on the lookout for any male gang, or any male that looked to be either violent or a bit odd. Sometimes just a glance from me has set someone off (male people yelling at me, for example), so I try not to take any chances because young defenseless women are apparently an  invitation to violence for some. At least time takes care of some of those aspects… But even now that I am over forty and no longer young and pretty, I am constantly aware of male persons in my vicinity if I am alone by myself or with the kids.

”Did you notice the guy that rode the elevator with us?” I asked Niklas.

He had no idea who I was talking about.

”Or what about the guy smoking the cigarette when we came from the Taco place?”

No, Niklas hadn’t noticed that guy either.

”Or the guy with the funny beard where we parked the car”.

Well, that guy Niklas had noticed, but only because I remarked on his beard. We all thought he was scary looking.

But all the other ones – I am the one who notices them. Niklas is the one with privilege who walks through life as a big white male who nobody messes with. Who nobody tries to touch inappropriately. Who doesn’t have to have an exit planned when he walks through a dark street or a restaurant at night. Who nobody dares do anything untoward or violent against, because who knows what he would do to them?  I am, or used to be, a free for all – just get all your hate against pretty girls out there.

So no, I don’t become more scared by a lone kid stabbing people on the square of our nearby city.

I am already scared because of all the friends and acquaintances I’ve had over the years who have been stabbed (by knife or axe), molested, harassed, raped. By men. By violent men. Because there are so many of them all over the world.

They are made violent by wars, like the ones we have had in Finland that have scarred many generations.

They are made violent by not having an outlet for their feelings. Not getting to express their feelings. By having to have ”sisu” or whatever their country’s equivalence of being macho is. Of ”being a man”.

They are made violent by society not focusing on mental health issues. And then they get radicalized in their own particular way.

If you are a Muslim – then maybe you become a radical islamist. If you are a white Christian – well, we all saw what happened in Charlottesville just the other day, or in Norway six years ago. If you don’t adhere to any particular ideology, but are a sort of misfit – school shootings might be your option.

That is why I think the best thing anyone can do when something like this happens, or even better – before this happens, is talk.

Talk to your kids about anything. Talk about feelings. Let boys and girls be whatever they want to be and listen to them.  Don’t mind so much what other people think – that is conforming to society, and that is not always a good thing for your mental health. Be who you are, not who other people want you to be.

I don’t tell my kids how afraid I am all the time, because they don’t need to know that, but I can show them that a terror attack in our neighbor city hasn’t made me more afraid. Turku is the same place as always, and as safe as always, because this was a lone person running around with knives who had mental issues that he took out on the world.

We have also talked a lot about how rumors get started when something big happens. The kids unfortunately were already aware of a bit of this  because of the clown scare that happened a while ago (I think the phenomenon came from the US, but it spread to our little corner in the archipelago), so this was a great time to talk about how scared the kids were then and that most of the things they heard were just rumors.

We also talk about how eyewitnesses can get things wrong, even when they witness the same thing at the same time. How your mind can play tricks on you, and make you see or hear things that aren’t there.

We also tell the kids that they can talk to us any time they want. They were really scared yesterday when it happened, because this is really close to home for us and so many people we know go to school or work near where it happened. But now after visiting the square and talking about it they feel calmer.  And I feel as if we did alright as parents.

The big difficulty will be when school start again on Monday, but hopefully the teachers and assistants will be able to calm down the kids at school. Which they have done wonderfully in the past, by talking about difficult issues and not putting a lid on it. Just as we do in our family.

 

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Summer musings

It is definitely August and Harvest Month (the old Norse word for it) in the garden right now! So much to do, and so little that I do… I just don’t feel like harvesting anything other than our dinner at the moment.

But the corn will have to be eaten soon or else it will spoil. The kids got to chose their own produce for their own plots, and our teenager chose corn. I’m not a fan of corn, but if I do eat it – freshly picked corn is the best!

Lots of flowers in the garden right now.

We have many poisonous plants in spite of being a family with kids. They usually don’t eat plants, I have found. Rocks, yes, pebbles, definitely, but plants – nope. Unless it’s lettuce.

My pelargonium are flowering abundantly this summer.

The pond adds so much to our garden.

The sound from the brook drowns out the sound of traffic. We live right in the middle of our small town, close to a busy road.

Our rabbit Pricken (=Spotty) loves fresh carrots just as much as we do!

Fresh red currants on a cake that Niklas made. He loves baking and eating. I just love photographing his cakes! (and eating the currants)

We live in walking distance from the harbor. You can actually see the sea from our upper windows, and hear the sounds of seagulls when you’re in our garden.

I love going for walks near the sea. I can’t imagine not living near water. There is something so calming about the sea, and the way it changes with the seasons and the time of day.

Hopefully we’ll still have some more warm days this year!

 

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Changing my bucket list

You have to be in a certain state to have an aha-moment, and I definitely was when we were on the cruise. Which I am so grateful for.

“Other people salted away money for their old age, but Nanny preferred to accumulate memories.” – my favourite Terry Pratchett quote, and also why I went as Nanny Ogg on Costume Night on the cruise

I’ve been trying to find out what I want to do with my life for my whole life. I started out wanting to be an archeologist when I was little, then I wanted to be a researcher, but then some grownup (rightly) told me how little money there is in research. Then I wanted to do something with arts, but I couldn’t decide on what – becoming a sculpturist (but there were no programs for that), a photographer (the studies seemed boring), interior designer (no programs for that either) or an architect (too much of the job seemed to be designing office buildings). All of them felt fine, but not great. Not like something important enough that I would like to spend the rest of my life doing.

I went to an occupational psychologist  and she looked at my profile and asked me: ”Have you considered becoming a psychologist?”

That was the first aha-moment that I can remember, because it felt as if all the pieces of the puzzle just clicked.

Of course I was going to be a psychologist! I would get to use all my creative and academic abilities and also help people, and the art thing – I could do that as a hobby. I put all my effort into getting into the program, and succeeded on my first try.

Then life happened. I got my psychologist’s license and a teaching degree on the side, because teaching was what I then loved most, and my husband and I both tried to get jobs after graduation. We told ourselves that we would move to the place where the first one of us got a job, and started looking for jobs outside Finland. Niklas (who has a degree in business administration) got a consulting job soon after that in Copenhagen, a real stroke of luck, and only a couple of months after we even talked about going abroad we were living in an apartment in Österbro, the northern part of Copenhagen.

I knew that it would be difficult for me to get any jobs in Denmark because of the language barrier, but I didn’t mind. I was happy going to museums and looking for an apartment and then later renovating that apartment. I tried half-heartedly to get into art school, but that was mainly to get all the relatives off my back about me being a parasite who was just living off my husband… I didn’t get in to my great relief, and then we surprisingly got a child. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, because we were in fact trying insemination at a private clinic (for free! Denmark has great health care, or had), but neither of us thought it would succeed.

I had to rearrange my whole life now that I was pregnant, and lay all my career plans on hold. I was to try and get a job and then later on we would adopt a child, but now the child was in fact growing inside my body.

I was so scared being pregnant, so unhappy about not knowing how things would turn out or if I would do something to make the baby not have the best possible start in life, but I tried to have my private little moments with the baby when there were just the two of us in a sauna at the nearby swimming hall. In spite of that, he turned out to have a pre-birth defect that made his birth more difficult. And I got preeclampsia and had to be induced. And I almost died afterwards because of complications that the doctors hadn’t foreseen. And the doctor made a hasty judgment that injured me for life. And I got PTSD and didn’t get any help for that, in spite of my first words after surgery being that I wanted to talk to a psychologist to prevent PTSD.

(Here’s a tip: don’t go to hospital during the summer months when everyone’s on vacation!)

This was now my new life. Three surgeries to remove scar tissue from my vagina (we’re grown people here, right? I get tired of euphemisms sometimes…). Constant pain killers for many months in spite of me breast feeding my son. I was almost not able to walk, and still through all of this I did physical therapy with my little baby that had to train his neck every day for the first five years of his life and always be careful not to injure his spine or he could die or be paralyzed from the neck down.

I had no thoughts of any career at this point, but after finding a physical therapist who helped me (Birthe Bonde, phys. ter. and also a sexologist) I could finally see a bit more clearly without constant pain. I also went to a great therapist specializing in PTSD and paid for it myself, and after that I was finally able to watch TV or talk on the phone again and not relive the same day over and over again.

I could breathe a little bit again and have actual thoughts.  I found out playing and talking to a restless child was not what I wanted to do 24/7, so I found a great little Kindergarten with just a few kids and lots of members of staff, and started studying economics.

Then we had our daughter through adoption. And then we had our youngest son. A surprise adoption, which almost never happens, but it happened to us.

I still can’t remember what I said in that one phone call, but it was life-changing, that’s for sure!

Suddenly we were a family of five, with the eldest being only four, and everything felt so overwhelming. We decided to scrap my plans of having a degree in economics. We scrapped the plans of moving to Sweden, and instead we moved back to Finland to be nearer to relatives and hopefully get some help with caring for the kids.

I really regret not living in Copenhagen anymore, but I don’t regret the kids getting to grow up here! The schools are great, the health care is excellent and the kids get to grow up sheltered with nature all around them. Now our family was on the right path with lots of help from both physical therapists and psychotherapists, and my husband found a job that he loved.

But what about me? Where did I fit into this narrative?

I had no idea. Suddenly I was adrift in a life that had tossed me in all kinds of unforeseen directions, and sometimes even because of a decision I had made. I had the life I had dreamed of, but I hadn’t come there by the paths I had thought I would take, and the paths had made me a different person.

I was home with three little kids and felt as if I was going a little bit more crazy for every day, so I started a blog. I thought: ”There probably isn’t that much money in blogging, but at least I can get some other things out of it like a sense of not just being a stay-at-home-Mom, and who knows – maybe a new path will show itself because of the blog?”

And it did. Many paths. I was encouraged to DIY our home, and we had our home photographed for many magazines and even a British book (the author came all the way here just to take pictures of my DIY:s!). Even our garden became interesting enough that many magazines wanted interviews about it.

I also made a craft book with a friend, and because of it got to make craft articles for a Finland Swedish monthly magazine, which I loved. I came in contact with so many new people through the blog, and got new friends (mainly before the smart phone revolution back then when people still commented on each other’s blogs).

This all would have been almost enough, if not for the fact that our personal economy tanked for the second time because of some bad choices that my husband made. This time I had more time on my hands when the kids had started school, so I thought  – now is the time to start with the whole writing business that you’ve always had in the back of your mind ever since you were five years old. The blog is not making you enough money, and how hard can writing be? you know how to put together a sentence. You have read thousands of books, and are always a critical reader.

I started writing and writing and writing. And listening. To podcasts, to lectures, to everything at least twice, doing all the exercises that they recommended. I did NanoWriMo twice, and while I was working away our economy got slowly better and I didn’t have the same pressure to submit anything, which was great because I still haven’t felt that anything I have written has been polished enough for submitting.

While doing all this – writing, trying to keep a damaged family together, trying to keep order in the household – I started doing my bucket list. I hadn’t made one in ages, and realized so many years had gone by without me even noticing that I wasn’t looking forward to anything. So many years spent taking care of others and trying to keep my head above water, that somewhere in all that I lost sight of myself and the part of me that defines me.

I wrote a bucket list and it contained only one item.

And that item was there only because I remembered it being on the bucket list from ten years ago. Not that I really wanted to visit the Chelsea Flower Show, but because I felt I ought to have more items than zero on my bucket list.

That is not a good sign, my friends. As a psychologist, I knew all the danger signs were there, but there were so many factors in my life that I had no control over. So many stressful things that I just had to endure.  But we muddled through somehow, and my husband finally found a psychotherapist that he liked and got to work on his issues, which lead to us becoming a better team taking care of the kids, and also the kids grew up and their brains matured, and they finally started enjoying school a little bit more,  and finally I had some space to breathe again.

I watched SKAM and remembered what I was like before life happened. When I was young and ambitious and wanted to change the world, be a positive force in the world.

I found a part of me that wanted to feel alive again, and I started on my YA-novel with new energy.

My narrative was still: ”I need to make a living out of writing so that I also have a place in the grown up-world”, and that didn’t sit right with me, not really. It was what I was telling myself and also others, but that never felt like the real story. There were still layers underneath that statement.

Then suddenly on the cruise I got my aha-moment. Emma Newman had had a lecture about fear and writing, and so many emotions ran through my body. It felt as if layers of skin peeled off and the raw me emerged, and she was filled with lots of other explanations for wanting to write than the more analytical side of me.

Emma told me ”You are coming from an academic background, and are seeing this as an academic exercise – but it’s not. It’s art, and art hurts.”

And that was it! My aha-moment. The second moment in my life when I felt that the pieces of the puzzle that was me fell into place.

I realized a few nights later that my narrative had changed. I was telling people I want to be a writer because I want to use all the experiences that I’ve had, all the education, all the difficult periods in my life and make that into art that can help people. I want to be my teenage-self again, she who wanted to make the world a better place, if only a little.

That talk about making money – that had only been a superficial argument, because if I had analyzed myself more completely (which I usually do, but this was my blind spot apparently) I would have seen that I have turned down job offers, because they would interfere with our family life, which always takes precedence. I’ve turned down queries about ads on my blog, haven’t written sponsored content almost at all, and turned down lots of little doses of well-needed money because I felt they would cause me more pain than gain in the long run. They would have chipped off a bit of what I felt was me.

And that is why ”I want to make money writing” is not the complete picture. That would be great, but that is not my main reason for writing. My main reason is to be truthful. To be part of the community. To get to tell stories that make the world a better place for my kids. To write stories for my adolescent self, she who was fed up with girls not getting to go on adventures in books or not getting to be anti-heroes.

To be that idealist that my husband and the rest of the world thought was a bit crazy, and not grown up enough. But that is who I am, deep inside, and that is what I want to be when I grow up. This crazy, idealist woman, who inside is still a teenager feeling everything in deep colours, and who wants to use all the impulses and inspiration that she gets from everywhere in art. In writing.

My new bucket list is very Prague-oriented – luckily we live just a cheap plane flight away from Prague, so this feels like something we might actually do some day!

 

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Being part of a minority

I’ve started on the material for the ”Writing the Other”-class that starts next week, and that got me thinking about the particular minority I belong to – Finland Swedes.

We are a minority that don’t look like a minority. We get to be both privileged and persecuted at the same time, and even people from our community most often can’t agree which one we are. A part of a majority, or a persecuted minority. And that is because everyone’s experience is a bit different.

If you grew up in a small town surrounded by your culture and never really met anyone from other communities except maybe as tourists, you are going to think there aren’t any difficulties being from your particular culture.

If you grew up bilingual and could pass for a Finn as well as a Finland Swede, you probably aren’t going to have that many negative experiences either.

But if you grew up like me – never able to talk more than heavily accented Finnish (I swallow the endings of words in Finnish, because I never know how they are supposed to end!) and not just staying put in your original village, not content with fitting in with ”the Law of Jante” – then you might have a problem.

I’ve been harassed twice by strangers. Once when I was about thirty years old talking Swedish to my husband on the phone on a bus in Denmark an young Arab guy with a lot of resentment grabbed me. ”Don’t speak a language that I don’t understand!” he yelled at me while throwing me physically through the corridor of the bus. A mother with a seven year old daughter tried to get the bus driver to stop, and tell the guy to get off the bus, but the bus driver just kept driving. ”There are wars going on in the world, stop your whining” he told her, and me, and made me be just a little bit more scared about what kind of a place the world was turning into.

The other time I was nineteen years old, and to this day I still don’t know if the man that attacked me did it because I was a young girl or because I couldn’t answer him in Finnish. He asked me something, then grabbed at my breasts and ran after me all the way to my apartment, and because of previous negative experiences with the police I didn’t even consider calling them. I phoned my Mom and went back to my parent’s house and had nightmares for many nights.

I never even considered asking the police for help, because in my limited experience they didn’t help people like me who spoke Swedish with a Finland Swede’s accent.  I’ve tried to report a dangerous situation to the police, only to be forwarded to the lost-and-found-office over and over again (because they were the only ones who had someone on staff that could speak Swedish, despite the laws in this country stating that all government officials should speak both official languages).

When I was little we were on our way to the ferries to the Åland Islands and a policeman stopped our car in a crossing. The light had turned red while my Dad was still trying to navigate the crossing, and a policeman happened to see it and had questions. My Dad politely asked him what was wrong, and the moment my Dad opened his mouth the policeman’s behaviour changed. He looked aggressively at my Dad and in my childhood memory he yelled at my Dad and put his hand on his holster. My Dad immediately switched to Finnish, something I am not so certain I could have done in that position.

My little brother and I were so scared, I think we both started crying after the incident, or maybe it was just me, or maybe I only cried at night.

The only thing my Dad had done wrong was talk the wrong language.

So my experience of being a Finland Swede is not just roses and rainbows, or summer cottages and crayfish parties, like some people’s.

I grew up with stories about friends from the University who were chased by drunken men when they went out to party in a more Finnish speaking neighborhood.

I read the news and follow politics and watch as political parties try to erase my culture from the history of Finland. Nowadays some people try to rewrite history so that Finland was never a part of Sweden, but a country occupied by an oppressive power.  People want us to ”go back to where we came from”, which is where exactly? My ancestors came to this island when the ground rose up from the sea, about the same time as the Finns moved in here.  We’ve been here longer than all our Finnish neighbours.

If there is an original people of Finland, it is not the Finns nor us Swedes – it is the Saami. And they are treated even worse than us Swedes are. Probably sometimes also by us, because even though you are a minority, that doesn’t exempt you from being racist or privileged in some ways.

I try not to get discouraged, but sometimes it is difficult.

More and more Swedish speaking Finns are doing just what the racists want, and move to Sweden. I think there are as many of us now living in Sweden as there are living in Finland, and so, slowly a culture with its own set of values, history and connotation disappears.

Which is a great loss to the world, because the best thing about being a Finland Swede is that you don’t belong to a specific ethnic minority.

What defines you is language. The ability to speak Swedish with a Finland Swede’s accent. And even then you get to self-define – if you don’t feel like a Finland Swede, then you aren’t one.

And if you do speak Finland Swedish – you can be a Finland Swede in spite of your skin colour or country of origin.

Because our language is our culture, and our culture is what we are. With all the little inconsistencies and inner arguments about what it means to be a Finland Swede.

 

 

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This is where part of my heart lives

I’m just going to pretend nothing like the news exists, and just post pretty pictures today.

We had such a wonderful time on the cruise, and it was great to visit two of our favourite cities, Copenhagen and Stockholm, and a new kind of favourite, St Petersburg.

First we visited Copenhagen, where we lived for almost seven years, and the only place where I have felt completely at home. I loved being able to just hop on a train and be abroad in 20 minutes (Malmö), and all the international happenings that took place there, and just fitting in with my personality.

I <3 Copenhagen!

 

 

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Interview with Niklas about what it was like to be a spouse on the Writing Excuses Retreat

So how was it like being a writer’s spouse on the cruise?

It was fun to see you are not as odd as I’ve believed! There are plenty others that are crazy just like you!

 

What about the programs for the spouses?

It would have been nice with more programs, but on the other hand I had time to myself (i.e. eating half of the desserts on the boat on our balcony)

And the content of the programs?

”Supporting the writer” was almost a bit sexist in my eyes, because most who gave their talks were female spouses who supported their male spouses, with more traditional values i.e. women taking care of the kids and the man having the career.

There should be some middle ground where supporting the other doesn’t mean that one part takes care of the whole family thingy, and the other one has the career which in this case is writing. There should be a balance to things, where both can support each other’s life choices, and sometimes that means compromise.

I would have liked to have a male perspective on the same issue, where their spouse is female.

Something else you want to add?

The culture of discussion at dinner table was different than what we’re used to. It was fun to even talk religion and politics at dinner table! We as Finns are not used to especially talking about religion.

The cruise was superfun! Both for your sake, and for me personally. It was well arranged, you were obviously psyched and it was nice to talk to people with the same areas of interest.

 

 

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Writing Excuses Cruise – tips and tricks

What I did that worked:

Before going on the cruise I tried to read as many of the authors as I could. That turned out to be not all of them, because we were simply so busy trying to get the kids prepared for us being away for ten nights and all the other arrangements we had to have in place.

I quickly found out I wouldn’t have time to read full novels by all the instructors, so I opted to instead read short stories (many short stories can be found online for free). And that was so great, because it also gave me tons of inspiration for my own short stories!

I was deliberating which short story to send to my short story critique with Mary Robinette Kowal, and ended up sending the one that wasn’t already polished to my satisfaction, but that I felt needed more feedback on. And I’m so happy that I sent it, despite it not being finished, because the feedback that I got was great. There was almost no surprises, which just confirmed that I am on the right track, and thanks to the workshop I now think I know how I can transform the story from a good one to a great one. I am not there yet, that I know how to fix everything, but I can see when things are not working properly and if I get the right Beta reader’s they can help me identify the problem.

I was so nervous beforehand to attend the critique group, not to receive the critique (I have a teenager. I get critique for my stories!) but to give the critique to the other parties. I was the only newbie in the group, but they took great care of me.

If I had known beforehand just how great everything would run, I wouldn’t have been so nervous going on this trip. Whodonit Productions are just great, and all the instructors and everyone involved in the retreat went to great lengths to make it a safe and encouraging environment. And they totally succeeded!  I think all us anxious newbies felt welcomed and if you went by the sound level during dinner – everyone definitely hit it off. Big thanks to all the people arranging the retreat and the encouraging talks in the beginning (like encouraging the veterans to take care of us newbies – that definitely worked!).

My iPad had problems, but we were able to fix it while still in Kiel. I am so grateful we went to Kiel with time to spare. We got the main part of the shopping done (the kids expected gifts when we came home) and we had time to fix my keyboard.

We packed a rucksack and that came in use all the time. Both on the boat and on the excursions.

I usually have problems when being in spaces with AC, and this was no exception. I am so glad I brought my eye drops and antihistamines, they helped a bit.

What I should have done:

I should have brought more pens.

I packed four of my favourite pens, and they all broke! My plan B (to visit a stationary shop in Copenhagen) also backfired because we were in Copenhagen on a Sunday, but we luckily got a free pen that I used on the whole cruise.

I should have brought an empty water bottle. We ended up refilling a bought one, but a proper sports bottle would have been better.

I should have taken pictures of our dinner companions every night, and not just the few nights I remembered. We talked to so many people, it is difficult to remember with who on which night. I should at least have written down the names of the people we had dinner with, but we were always so tired when we went to sleep, I totally forgot.

I brought a couple of books for some of the instructors to sign (which they did very gracefully, thank you!), and then in Stockholm we went to the Science Fiction Bookstore and bought books by almost all the rest of the instructors. We had some books on Kindle, but looking back I wish I had bought all the books beforehand in paperback instead of Kindle (because I love signed books, and not signed Kindles!). I am happy I got over my Nordic shyness and asked everyone for their signature, despite myself yelling inside my head ”No you fool, stop bothering these people – they don’t want to be disturbed right now when they’re on this fantastic cruise.” I am so happy I didn’t listen to myself!

I am happy I made the most of the cruise.

I talked to so many people, and would have loved to talk to everyone some more.

Every day we met new people on the cruise, even after we were certain we had talked to everyone, and I know there were some we never got around to talk to. That part was the best – to find your own tribe, people who like the same things you do, who think in the same way and that are so helpful and encouraging.

I asked all the questions I wanted to ask of the instructors. I asked the dreaded ”Am I on the right path, and do I have what it takes to be a successful writer?”.

I showed my first three pages to one of the instructors (Thank you , Piper!) and didn’t die on the spot. I even got some great feedback so that I now feel I know what to do with the novel.

I even asked a question in front of the whole group without the ship immediately crashing into a suddenly appearing iceberg, or me having a massive heart attack. I did have a muscle in my face that twitched suspiciously immediately after asking the question without anyone pretending to notice. Later on two guys came up and talked to me about that very question and gave me some great advice, so I am so happy I found the courage and said something.

I even did cosplay, my first real cosplay if you don’t count one Halloween when I went as Madame Vastra and our then-not-teenager was the Doctor where not one of our friends (we were only a handful of families at our house) knew who I was! This time I really put an effort and went as my favourite  spirit animal at the moment – Nanny Ogg, from the books of Terry Pratchett. I need to be more like her, not minding what anyone thinks and just collection memories instead of trinkets. This was definitely a cruise she would have loved!

…and not many people knew who I was cosplaying as, which was also funny!  Plus Niklas won a medal for best prop, which was superfunny!

I also, after talking to Emma Newman (we all love her – she is the best!) took the rest of the week off writing, and we decided not to go to Tallinn in spite of having already booked a tour. We took the day off and sat in the hot tubs, had massages and had really cruisey drinks and took selfies and pretended we were on the Love Boat (Yes, we are middle aged and that old!), and tried to make everyone on Facebook jealous without succeeding (thanks Mum and Dad for the likes!). Because it was just that awesome to be on a proper vacation after so many years, knowing the kids were great and everything was taken care of.

Advice I want to give myself If I could time travel to before the cruise:

Don’t fret. It will be great – everything is taken care of, and if there are glitches the people arranging the retreat will fix it

Don’t think you will remember everything – come on, you are trying to be a writer. Write a journal!

Do make the most of the cruise, and try not to be so anxious – you are with like minded people, and almost everyone is as anxious as you are, if not more. These are your people, remember that!

 

 

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Our first Worldcon (but not our last, it seems!)

Being the only Finns at the cruise (WXR2017), we kept getting the same obvious question: ”So, you’re going to Worldcon?”. But no, we had no idea if we were going or not. We kind of used up all our babysitting hours on the cruise (10 nights away from Mum and Dad will do it!) and thought that we would see in what state the kids were when we came home before making any Worldcon decisions. Luckily, amazingly, the kids had a great time when we were away, and all the preparing we did beforehand really paid off. It is not easy to leave your kids when they have a trauma background, but this time it worked. The ship didn’t sink, Mum and Dad were still alive and healthy, if with a bit of a sore throat, and everyday life could continue. We had some meltdowns, but not major ones, so we decided to roll the dice and attend Worldcon on Thursday.

After bribing the younger kids with them getting to go as Leia and Luke, we set off for Helsinki. And we had such an amazing day!

It started off with a grumpy Mum, i.e. me, not liking Messukeskus, the place where the convention was held. Everything was so confusing and the maps didn’t really help. I get really annoyed when people don’t organize things properly! (by the way – there was nothing in the organizing of the Writing Excuses Cruise to get annoyed by. Everything went smoothly, and the organizers immediately fixed every little glitch). The maps were confusing, the signs were confusing, and the rooms were too small for the amount of people who attended. We walked round looking for the panel we  wanted to attend, and when we finally found it, it was full. That was to be the story of the day. People stood in line for ages for some of the panels, and then half the people of the line got turned away.

The kids found a book, yay!

Nalo Hopkinson! And our Leia!

But despite that we had a great time! We met so many people from the cruise, and it was amazing to see them in Finland of all places. We were surrounded by fellow geeks and got to see our idols (our eldest: GRRM, myself: Nalo Hopkinson).

Happy teenager after listening to his first panel discussion – the only regret was that he didn’t get a picture of himself with Ken Liu (it’s now on his bucket list!)

Our boys even attended a workshop led by Robin Hobb! They have no idea who she is, but I was star-struck! She is the reason I even read fantasy – I had read lots when I was little, but when I was growing up in the eighties it felt as if fantasy as a genre had become lackluster and just spit out the same plots over and over again (like David Eddings and Terry Brooks) . But not Robin Hobb. I am an omnivore when it comes to reading, but at one time I almost gave up on the fantasy genre. Except for Robin Hobb’s books, because they were just that great and had that certain something that set them off. So she is one of the biggest reasons I kept reading fantasy books, and kept discovering new things about them, and finally got to the Writing Excuses Cruise and Worldcon 75. (Her short story ”Neigbors” is one of the best short stories there is, in my opinion, about a woman with Alzheimer’s – look it up under Megan Lindholm!)

This girl had amazing contacts! So many amazing costumes at the convention

It was so fun to attend Worldcon with our whole family. The kids were photographed all day long, and women kept coming up to our Leia and curtsy and say: ”Your majesty”. She posed for so many pictures, happy as a salmon as we say in Swedish!

Happy teenager with a new Tardis-mug in the bag

We went home with a car full of sleeping kids and memories, and with a teenage son who is adamant that we have to start saving up for our next Worldcon! Hopefully in Dublin in two years time

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Prinsessor i skogen

 

 

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The Writing Excuses Retreat 2017 – my two cents

This was such an life-changing experience for me and my spouse Niklas – I don’t think I can do the retreat justice, but apparently now ”I am a writer!” so I’ll try.

”This is real. This is really happening!”

I’ve been listening to the Writing Excuses-podcast religiously for the last two years. Whenever I get stuck on something in my own writing, I google an episode about where I am in the process and after listening to it I always get inspired to keep writing. The instructors on the show are so encouraging, and just as much if not even more in real life!

So it felt like a once in a lifetime-opportunity when the WXR came to the Baltic Sea. Niklas and I scraped together the money for it and just went for it. All in, in all ways possible. I tried to read everything I could find on blogs about people’s experiences of the retreat, and then I took their advice.

I printed business cards (they did come in handy lots of times!), I read books of almost all the instructors (didn’t have time to read them all). I wrote down questions for the instructors. I prepared my texts. But nothing could prepare me completely for what an amazing experience it would be, in spite of everyone on the blogs gushing about it.

You need some context to really understand what I am trying to tell you.

First of all, I am from Finland, and in spite of being extroverted I still feel anxious when I meet new people and wonder what  kind of impression I leave. I have had many bad experiences over the year with people not liking my personality, which makes me a bit apprehensive when I meet new people. I had no idea what to expect from the cruise.

Secondly, Niklas and I haven’t been on a proper vacation for more than fourteen years! We went to the Mediterranean a few times when our youngest was still a baby, but at the time I was in so much pain from giving birth (I almost died) and the following surgeries, that they didn’t feel as much as vacations as a form of recovery trips, with me going back a bit more rested but still with the same ache and PTSD as before. Then we had the two little ones (who are not so little anymore! They are both 10 at the moment) and we just never had the opportunity for a proper vacation. Our private economy went belly up along with the rest of the world, and the kids were traumatized and needed stability and having parents who stayed with them 24/7.

Thirdly, I’ve actually never spoken English for more than a few minutes at a time. I listen to English every day, I read almost conclusively in English, but speak – just a couple of times for more than the short while it takes you to buy fish and chips.

And fourthly, I felt this was an opportunity to get a confirmation that I am on the right track writing-wise.

 

So  when say it was a life-changing experience, I mean life-changing.

 

We came back from the cruise well-rested and relaxed, and I have, wonder of wonder, been able to keep that sense of relaxation with me ever since (fingers crossed it remains!). I’ve slept well for the first time in more than ten years. I’ve met new friends that are my crowd, a place where I don’t feel as the odd one, but just one of the guys, one who can contribute.

There was no threshold for talking to people. Everyone was so welcoming and encouraging, even the most introverted souls on the retreat who probably were more anxious than even I was.

I’ve learned so much about LDS and Mormons (I used to be a teacher and taught religion, so I had a lot of questions that I finally got answered, like why are there so many Mormon craft blogs). I found out I speak a bit like an American when I try to speak, in spite of the school systems effort to make me sound British. I also didn’t know I had such huge blind spots when it comes to Americanisms, and had no idea a lot of Americans pronounce Copenhagen the German way (we always say ”Copen-HAYgen” when we speak English). I got to feel like a European. Haven’t felt like one since we were in South Africa, but now I suddenly identified as one, and that was a fun thing to ponder.

I love thinking about cultural differences, and on this cruise I found many likeminded individuals.

I also found people to talk pop culture with, who dig my kind of pop culture (Star Wars and Star Trek, all the SciFi on Netflix etc – you know, all the geek stuff). I didn’t feel the need to dress up if I didn’t want to – this was definitely the crowd who would have loved our 14 year old’s Doctor Who T-shirt or his Deathnote notebook! By the way, he was so jealous he didn’t get to go on the cruise! And he would have loved it.

Every night people brought out the board games or sat at tables discussing writing or awesome books or awesome movies and TV-shows. My type of crowd! I even found people who loves etymology as much as I do, which hardly ever happens.

We discussed grammatical differences and the third pronoun in Swedish, and got so many book recommendations that my reading list is about ten times as large as beforehand.

nobody got my Ann Boleyn reference btw! Not many Brits around and with them I talked other stuff… The necklace is my version of Ann Boleyn’s B-necklace

 

I felt really overwhelmed in the middle of the cruise and talked to some of my new friends who told me to go and talk to Emma Newman, and then I did just that. She was so supportive, and after that I felt relaxed and had new confidence.

I am on the right track, I can do this, I just have to stop pushing myself so hard and allow myself to go to the progress at a pace which my body also can accommodate.

After that talk I felt as if this was the best trip ever, the best vacation, the best …anything. But then amazingly it got even better!

On the last night I met not one, but two women who could totally relate to my personal story, and we had so much to talk about that I feel so sad that the trip ended that quickly, and I so hope we get to meet again in the future some time!

I’ve gone for 14 years without anyone understanding what I went through with almost dying while giving birth.

I’ve gone for 14 years without anyone understanding what it’s like to have chronic pain in your pelvis, and have your husband always having to help you with stuff.

And now suddenly, here they were – women who completely got it! I cry when I type this, because it was just such an amazing experience. I’ve googled my symptoms so many times, have tried to find support groups etc, but then I find support there on the Writing Excuses Cruise! It was just amazing.

And that maybe tells you a bit of what you can find when you are writing. Writing is not just an academic exercise, as I thought beforehand (I tried telling my brain it wasn’t, but I didn’t believe myself). Writing is art. Writing is about emotions. Writing is about finding what is hard in your life and to talk about those things.

Writing changes people, and it changes me.

I feel like I am in the perfect spot now that I am middle-aged and have all these experiences, and maybe, just maybe I can help someone through my writing and use them for something that adds to society.  Even while writing dark fantasy, because dark things happen to people and we need to read about them to process them.

 

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