The Philosophies of Merlin (according to T.H. White)

It is really no wonder that my idealistic pacifist mind so loves the legend of King Arthur and his Round Table. Of course, up until now, my take on the legend has been a very feeble one, based on children’s books and the movie “The First Knight”, which actually pictures especially Lancelot in a very different manner than T.H. White in his brick of a pentalogy “The Once and Future King”. Reading this lengthy narrative of silly little Wart becoming the confused Arthur becoming the kind yet troubled king becoming the defeated old King made me hope that these legends are indeed true and that King Arthur will indeed come again and set the world straight.

King Arthur was a king who loved jousting and warring while despising the cruelty of arbitrary Force. He was the king who sought to fight that Force with a righteous Force while building his democratic Round Table. The king who tried to slay the greed for power by equal distribution of power – how could anyone need more when they all had a just amount of power? The little bit too kind hearted king who was betrayed by everyone close to him: his wife, his best friend and first knight, and even his (illegitimate) son. The king who meant well, but was helpless against the brutal realities of humankind.

In the midst of an age, where disputes were solved by duels, King Arthur was a king who loved justice so much that he came up with a nonforcedriven justice system. He valued justice so much that when presented with the undeniable fact of Lancelot’s and Guinevere’s affair – which he was aware of for his whole life but decided to overlook for the love of them both – he saw no other choice but to act justly: he almost burned his wife alive, and was utterly relieved when his dear Lancelot did not fail him nor his Gwen but indeed came to the rescue and rode off with his wife.

Even then he was not done making decicions between love and justice for to make his life as miserable as possible, he still had to wage war on his best friend, the one huddled in a castle in France with his wife. Poor Arthur would have just left them there, for the sake of love and kindness, but Mordred had made sure that there was a feud that forced the King’s hand by way of justice for his own family. In the chaos of the Queen’s rescue, two un-helmeted nephews of the King were slayed. Lancelot swore he did not kill them, but if not he, then who? Cunning. evil Mordred, getting his revenge, setting his stage.

King Arthur was and illegitimate child himself, born of a relationship unjustly forced by the might of war. He was chosen by the magician Merlin to become the great King of England, one who would, with the help of wisdom from the animal world, end wars and human cruelty. It was a noble attempt and definitely something one would’ve hoped for him to achieve, but I guess nobody is surprised that in the end it all failed, even in a legend. Not even the sligthtly goofy Lancelot was able to help King Arthur in the end, for he had been banished for his traiterous sin of being the Queen’s lover.

Sir Lancelot, the Ill-Made Knight, was indeed ill made. Not even so much because of the apparently ugly face (which I had a very hard time picturing after seeing Richard Gere take the form of him in the aforementioned movie and thus in my mind more than two decades ago), but because of his rather feeble character. He was kind to a weakness, soft at heart to a fault, weak enough to absorb King Arthur’s ideas so throughly that he himself almost seized to exist. None of the arrogance of the movie character.

Lancelot was the boy whose only goal in life was to be the best knight in the world, serve King Arthur, and be blessed by being allowed to perform a miracle. Meek, yet strong. Childish, yet powerful. Feared, but not scary – unless you had to fight with him, and not only because he always won, but as much for his unrelentless mercy. Nothing more humiliating to a knight than to be spared by your opponent in addition to being held at his mercy by losing.

Sir Lancelot did indeed become the gratest knight in the wolrd and did perform his miracles, which in the end only served to make him ashamed for he understood that he was not worthy of them; no, for the betrayal of the King whom he loved before he loved the Queen, but did not love enough not to surrender to the love of the Queen, he knew his miracles were only due to the mercy of God and maybe King Arthur. For King Arthur had so much mercy and kindness in him that he let himself be influenced by Mordred and his whole thinking became muddled.

Queen Guinevere then? She was as fickle and fiery as Arthur was stable and solid. She was as feisty as Arthur was calm. She wanted to keep the cake and eat the cake. She did not much plod into her husband’s politics, as was the custom at the time – damsels were helpless and needed to be saved by the chivalrious knights from towers and boiling baths and other such atrocities – but she was active enough in her own court. She was particularily active in keeping the affair with Lancelot going. She would not let poor weak Lancelot go even when he pleaded for his freedom (to serve God).

King Arthur and the knights were at war a lot. There was the total war Britain and wars in France and wars to end all wars and in a way King Arthur was successful enough that he actually destroyed the feudal system and united the kings of Britain if only for his lifetime. When there was no war, there were the quests to fight Might with better Might and when that was done, there was the biggest quest of all: the quest for the Holy Grail. Finally there was the war started by the deceptive Mordred, heir to Arthur’s throne.

Mordred came up with the cunning idea that he’d speed up the succession by claiming that the King was dead, while he really was just on a wild goose chase in France. In the end, that war ended the regime of the Pendragons, as both Mordred and fater Arthur died in the chaos of a misunderstanding in the middle of the peace exchanges. If King Arthur had his pick, I believe he became one of those mentioned wild geese and had a good second life with the tender Lyó-Lyok, who had just accepted goose-Arthur’s proposal when Merlin plucked him back to humanhood.

The legend of King Arthur and his knights, the Orkeney clan (who were actually Arthur’s nephews), of Lancelot and Guinevere and of Merlin is an intriguing story but more than anything it is a story about war and a story about humanity. That White would make it such a (war)-philosophical work is no wonder, when you understand that White wrote the books in the aftermath of the First World War, then the threat of the next one, with Hitler rising already, and finally in the aftermath of the Second World War. To have Merlin live backwards – having lived his youth in the 20th century he was an old dude in Arthur’s time, sort of living in each time at the same time – was a rather clever way of inserting modern day knowledge into his teachings to Arthur.

Merlin was a pacifist from the very beginning of the story. He tried to teach the slightly dense Arthur to think outside of the time box he lived in, and in ways, he did. Merlin taught Arthur – actually Wart in his boyhood – lessons by turning him into different animals and letting the animals teach him. Merlin’s hope was that Arthur would learn how to end wars and maintain peace by experiencing the different lives and lifestyles of different animals. At the end of his life, Arthur finds himself depressed and guilt-ridden for having failed his mission, especially after a rather black-hearted rant by Merlin.

“The Book of Merlin” is the intended fifth book of “The Once and Future King” even though the publisher did not originally include it in the publication. Ironically, this fifth book got sort of lost in the chaos of war and the years of shortage that followed. The pentalogy was published in its intended form for the first time in 1958. “The Book of Merlin” is a sort of revisit to Arthur’s childhood years, to the atmosphere of the first book, where Merlin actively educates Wart with his fables and rants and the visits to the world of animals. In this last book the animals from the first book are all gathered with Merlin to finish Arthur’s education. The weary old King has almost given up, but finally rises up to one more lesson from his tutors.

Not that it matters much to Arthur who dies in the process of making a truce with his son – thought there is something to be said about leaving this world with a peace of mind, especially after being troubled and confused most of one’s life – but maybe we, the readers of the legend, can take something away from this final lesson while pondering Merlin’s ideas on nature and humanity.

When King Arthur was all broken and despaired in his tent on the last night of his life and war, he came up with the notion that the humans are not really homo sapiens, “wise human beings” but rather homo ferox, “ferocious human beings”. Merlin himself had pretty much come to that conclusion as well, with the humans being the only species to kill just for fun and wage war just for fun and sport. For, as Merlin noted, humans seem to have the tendency to get adrenaline depraved and need something utterly dangerous to satisfy their need for excitement and need for some sort of cruelty.

The badger of the story, the wise in its own way, yet totally aloof and absentminded communist of the story, had his own opinions about humans. His first notion was that they are actually homo stultus, stupid, but then thought a bit further and came up with a more intelligent word: homo impoliticus, the non-political human beings. Now, as much as we have politics, one could argue that this hardly is an intelligent option, but if you consider it from the animals’ point of view, ther may actually be a point to it.

People are fighting over this and that – power, territory, imaginary lines between areas, women, men, ideas, you name it – and unable to come up with a unified political order to end the need for war. Apart from ants, basically, people are the only species so wholly unorganised. This, according to Merlin, is highly due to the fact that people have been around for so much shorter time and have yet to establish their system. And this, then, was the main reason for Merlin to inject little Wart into different animal communities; to learn from them and help the world of humans get  organized in a just and reasonable manner.

Merlin and the badger had had Arthur’s life time to banter back and forth about communism and capitalism and all manners of ideologies, still not coming to a full conclusion until Arthur (re)visits his life as an ant and then as a goose. It is only after these experiences which Merlin and the animals carefully watched, that Merlin came to the conclusion that communism, the ultimate state of everyone being a non-individual part of the state machine, was not the way to prevent war; rather it is individualism. The more collective the mind, the stomach, the thinking, the more prone to war the species is, while the more individual the species, the more it is prone to pacifism, was Merlin’s conclusion.

Looking at ants and geese, it seems rather obvious. The ants build their colony, their industry and their fort, where every single ant has its place and duty. In White’s ant colony there are no names, there are numbers. There is no moral system, there is only Done and Not-Done. There are no words for anything other than what the ant colony, the ant state needs. An ant straying into foreign territory, another colony’s territory, is immediately considererd a threat: it has no place here, it does not belong, it will disrupt and take our food and more will come and our system will break!

Where there is no state system, there is nothing that will break. There is no need to be territorial or jealous of land, collective possessions, system, where there are none. The geese fly through the sky without knowing any borders. They fly in flocks, families, and congregate in peace with other flocks and families. They don’t get jealous over a field they happen upon, just because some other geese happen upon the same field. They make their nests and only if that is threatened – the private property of a home – do they feel the need to defend what is theirs.

Anarchy! You might exclaim. Yes, anarchy seems to be what Merlin is after. He even states: “I am an anarchist, like any sensible person.” Merlin’s anarchy is not a destructive one, though, but rather constructive. He tries to find what is good in the world, namely the natural world, learn and teach Arthur what he has learned, in order to bring forth the individual kind of anarchy that would finally end all wars.

However noble the goal, he even concludes himself that it is not exactly achievable. Not because of original sin or any profound evilness of the human mind, but because of the way we are wired. Merlin goes into the anatomy of the brain, explaining that ants only have a corpus striatum, that acts like a one way mirror, while the humans – and geese – also have the neopallium, which is like a two-way mirror. This means, that the ants do not have a sense of themselves, only of the colony, the state, whereas humans and geese gain understanding of their own character through the neopallium, by seeing themselves through the eyes of others.

It is, according to Merlin, the corpus striatum that leads to a proletariat state and humans will never have that because of the neopallium. This double-mirror of neopallium is the doom of any communistic societies in human populations. There is way too much individualism for it to ever succeed. This seems to cotradict the idea of the wars being waged due to collectivism, but now the thing is that the human brain also has the corpus striatum. Thus, the idea of complete individualism is doomed too. While in nature animalscan be completely either, the human beings never will.

Somehow unsurprisingly Merlin and the animals never did solve the issue of warfare, the issue of stopping warring altogether. No, they actually came up with a list of pros and cons of wars. The pros including them being a venting system for the human need for blood or pent up ferocity as Merlin puts it, of wars being a population control system (a poor one, but still), and some more or less overlapping notions ot psychological and physiological needs for fighting. The cons, well, the royal we declares they know them already, so we don’t get a list. I suppose it could all be summed up in one word: misery.

Misery was definitely the state King Arthur found himself in on the last evening of his fight and life. Utter misery of a lifetime of trying to do right, but only ending up failing, being betrayed by everyone he loved and seeing the world no closer to peace than when he started. His misery only deepened when Merlin went into his diatribe of the failings and misgivings of the human nature. When Merlin snatched him from the sweet moment with Lyó-Lyok back to humanity, he broke down into a heap of nothingness.

It is, however, also in the human nature to be able to rise above oneself even from the throws of the deepest despair when needed. It was the urchin, the little overlooked flea-ridden urchin, who took Arthur’s hand and guided him to the spot on the hill, where he sang to Arthur while Arthur once again became the King he was. And not only the King, but England itself. He inhaled the country and his heart swelled in love for his country and countrymen and he returned to Merlin and the animal committee to finish his education. In the end, the student surpassed his teacher.

“Very good. We understand the puzzle,” said King Arthur as he rose from his chair and bid farewell – or Orrevoyer as the urchin said – to Merlin and the animals. Finally, it was mercy that ended his life as well as his son-enemy’s. King Arthur offered half of his kingdom to the rebellious son and he accepted. It was only due to a miserable mistake caused by a snake that the whole peace fell into pieces and both Mordred and Arthur died. Maybe from each other’s swords, maybe of someone elses. Lancelot never made it from his exile to King Arthur’s side. He only made it to bury his King and friend.

White is a very contradicting writer, a hugely troubled mind. Especially this Book of Merlin is more of a dialect of two opposing minds – in the forms of Merlin and the badger – than any kind of straightforward philosophy of a mind made up. This duel of minds makes it even more interesting for it offers more questions than answers, more suggestions and proposals than facts. It leaves space for one’s own speculation. It is not a polished product; can be refined further and a keen mind no doubt will. Mine was definitely intrigued by it – by the notions of positive anarchism, pacifism and individualism.

They say curiosity killed the cat. Idealism killed King Arthur. Long live King Arthur!

Year 2017 in stats, pics, and books

Countdown to the New Year, 2018, is currently 7 hours. Time to make a recap. I’m lazy and doing this in English only this time.

Overall, this year has been a rather good one. We’ll get to the highlights (and the lowlights) in a bit, but putting it all on a scale, this year definitely stays on the plus side of things. Blog-wize, it has been a slow year. I haven’t written that much, and the blog was down for a couple months, and thus, the amount of visitors has been an all time low of 1,979 this year. All autumn long I’ve been busy with a different kind of writing project.

My favorite thing about the stats (as I really don’t follow the visitor count too much) is the search terms that lead people to my blog. We’ll start with the top 6 list of those:

  1. fingerpori tulit mieleen (reference to my favorite daily comic strip Fingerpori, specifically one specific strip)
  2. kirous on ohi (the curse is over)
  3. sinirusettiseura (blue ribbon society)
  4. tiina saa rollaattorin (tiina gets a walker, reference to a preteens’ book series)
  5. lakunenät (liqourice noses)
  6. ruotsalainen leka (swedish sledgehammer)

As for my year, let’s take a look.

January

January kind of slipped by without too much noise. I think we were mentally getting prepared to move out of our lovely old house and into my late grandparents’ row house apartment.

Stats: 5 posts, 421 views
Book of the month: Lemmy Ace of Spades (Mick Wall)
Pic of the month: Dogs smelled a rat

February

Proud month for Finland: gay couples finally got their marriage rights.

Stats: 7 posts, 254 views
Book of the month: The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)
Pic of the month: Blinis at dad’s birthday

March

My husband got his Finnish citizenship o/

Stats: 4 posts, 219 views
Book of the month:  The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe (Andrew O’Hagan)
Pic of the month: Icy waterdrop, taken with my new macro lense

April

We moved to our new home and started the kitchen remodeling that still isn’t complete, even thought the kitchen is fully funtional and has been since June. I also visited the ER due to some bad stomach pains that turned out to be codeine induced galbladder cramps.

Stats: 1 post, 93 views
Book of the month: The Loney (Andrew O’Hagan)
Pic of the month: My library <3

May

Kitchen remodeling and stuff. Blur of a month.

Stats: 3 posts, 1 view (not exactly accurate, since the posts were originally made to the old SFFM archive)
Book of the month: Hammurabin enkelit (Max Seeck)
Pic of the month: On the “Maapallokivi” (Earth rock) with dogs

June

Company trip to Tallinn. Foo Fighters at Rock the Beach I..I

Stats: 2 posts, 115 views (SFFM back online)
Book of the month: Somebody to Love – The life, death and legacy of Freddie Mercury (Richards – Langthorne)
Pic of the month: Mike Monroe on stage with the Foos

July

Got married with my husband for real, finally <3 Spent a week in Vuotso, Lapland on summer vacation / “honeymoon”.

Stats: 3 posts, 244 views
Book of the month: Lady Midnight (Cassandra Clare)
Pic of the month: White wine in Lapland

August

Finland was shaken by a disgruntled refugee boy, who stabbed eight people in Turku.

Stats: 2 posts, 99 views
Book of the month: H is for Hawk (Helen MacDonald)
Pic of the month: Kitchen got tiles on the walls

September

I don’t think too much was going on, other than the life as usual. Maybe some more kitchen remodeling stuff and putting up new lights in our home.

Stats: 3 posts, 167 views
Book of the month: Utopia (Sir Thomas More)
Pic of the month: Autumn sun and leaves

October

If the biggest thing in our life was getting along without our car for a couple of weeks after some part of the transmission stuff broke, I think our life was pretty good. Oh, Cats at Hartwall Arena.

Stats: 1 post, 104 views
Book of the month: The Sunrise (Victoria Hislop)
Pic of the month: Old Deuteronomy

November

I spent a few days in Dublin in the European SharePoint Conference.

Stats: 5 posts, 168 views
Book of the month: Born in Fire (K.F. Breene)
Pic of the month: Temple Bar

December

Finland turned 100 years old. Company trip to Prague.

Stats: 2 posts (not including this one), 94 views
Book of the month: The Island (Victoria Hislop)
Pic of the month: Orchids and the winter sun – a rare sunny and snowy day

Happy New Year!

Impressions of Dublin

Sitting at the Dublin airport, waiting to fly home. Deaf ear is ringing like a bastard after a week of continuous noise . I loved Dublin, but I’m so ready to be back home again! I miss my kids, my dogs, my husband. I miss my own bed, I miss the quiet. I don’t miss the rain  and the cold – the weather here was not too much warmer, but it was pleasant this week.

Between the conference and two evening parties, my week was pretty busy. Still, I did manage to do a little bit of shopping too, and saw a nice slice of the city by walking almost everywhere. I saw Dublin in the dawn, I saw Dublin in dusk, in daytime and even late at night – inside a 3km radiuis from my hotel next to the Christ Church, that is. It seems that I picked my hotel from an excellent location, though, right there at the edge of Temple Bar, with the conference center, Jameson Bow St, Guinness Storehouse and both north and south Dublin shopping areas within that radius. Patted myself on my back for that!

My first morning in Dublin I woke up early. I’m not an early riser as it is, but still I somehow managed to wake up by 6am, which is 8am at home; that is of course already half an hour later than my usual wake-up time on weekdays. I tried to idle in bed for some time, but gave up by 7:40, took a shower and was out of the hotel by 7:20, and in search of a nice little coffee shoppe t0 have breakfast in.

There’s no shortage of coffee shops in Dublin, I noticed. However, not all of them are open that early. I had my cappucino and some bacon and eggs in a cozy little coffee shop and continued my walk towards the conference center as the sun was slowly rising behind some cranes at a “skyscraper” (maybe 20 stories high, which is tall for a low city like Dublin, or Helsinki for that matter) construction site.

The first thing I noted about Dublin was the colors. The city is in many ways very similar to Helsinki, very homey in that way for me, but there are some significant differences, the biggest one being the colorful storefronts. I absolutely loved those painted wood fronts that were further decorated with flowers, flags, decorative paintings and the elegantly crafted or painted business names. Temple Bar pub is obviously the most iconic one of them all, but really, the same theme goes all around!

That first day we had drinks at the conference center and after that there were some sponsor parties to choose from. I went to this one at Jameson Bow St, where we got to do the distillery tour. Not exactly in the distillery, but a tour of the distilling process in the old distillery. After that and the Leprechaun museum experience, I was just amazed by the Irish’ ability to tell a story craft a tour. Pretty amazing tours! Guinness Storehouse tour was no exception either, without the narration, though (since I did not take the headphones).

Last night was my last one in Dublin. After the conference ended, I took yet a different route back to my hotel, walking through the main shopping street on the northern side of the river, as I still wanted to visit the Arnotts once more. I also popped into the H&M in Ilac center (cringe, but it was my best bet for a hoodie for my youngest teen) and returned to my hotel for a little rest while plotting my dinner plans.

Decided on Hard Rock Cafe which was not too far from the hotel, but far enough for me to imagine that I might find an ATM on the way. Turns out ATM’s aren’t really any easier to find in Dublin than they are in Helsinki (or most other places for that matter), even though you need cash for such things as taxis and bus fares. I ran into some Anmesty facers, told them I’m already a donator (which I am), highfived them and asked about an ATM. They pointed me to the closest one, which just happened to be one block away from the Hard Rock Cafe.

I had a local specialty – Guinness Bacon Burger – and a strawberry mojito and bullshitted a bit with a young Samuel L. Jackson lookalike waiter. One of the best damned burgers I’ve ever had! Slight bit on the sweet side with the Jameson marmelade and dark Guinness sauce, but absolutely wonderful tasting burger! I left the restaurant totally satisfied and stuffed and started my walk back through the rather crowded Temple Bar. I mean, there is no such time or place in Helsinki. Not ever, not anywhere!

Walking past the actual Temple Bar pub I decided that stepping in for a drink was an absolute must – as it happens, it was the only pub I visited. At that moment, just like at the Guinness Storehouse, I really wished that I could drink beer. Since that is not an option for me, I just got a Bacardi cola and stood in the crowd for the time it took me to sip my drink, listening to the live band play that gay Irish folk music. Listening to that music, I really don’t even wonder why leprechauns can’t resist dancing. I think I’m part leprechaun.

The first thing i noticed about Ireland, as the aircraft was circling towards the runway, was the patchwork of fields, with rows of identical houses lined up neatly in between. Each row was unique, but none of the houses were unique on the outside. Even the mansions on their bigger lots were placed one next to the other, identical with each other, facing the same way. Quite different than the city itself.

One of the Irish curiosities that caught my eye while walking around the city was this interesting fashion of shorts paired with a winter jacket. Another one was the exterminator. I mean, I have never ever in my life seen an actual exterminator, in full suite and with the tank proppen on his back and all that. Only in the movies. And in Dublin.

There’s a whole lot of bicyclists in Dublin. Perhaps because in a city like Dublin it seems to be way faster to ride your bike around than drive your own car or take the bus. Bicycling culture in Helsinki is quite aggressive, with bicyclists rarely taking heed of red lights and whizzing by pedestrians, slower bikes and dogs with warping speed. I’ve been grazed by bikes, leapt to safety from out of their way, frantically pulled my dogs to safety before. Here, the bicyclists are no better. Actually, I think they’re worse if possible. Yep, nope. There’s no love on my side towards bicycling Dubliners, either.

Apart from the bicyclists, I absolutely loved Dublin. The very best thing about the city? Te bookstores! There’s so many of them! Some big, some small, some new books only, some used books only, some both. I visited at least five or six different bookstores during the week and at the end of my stay, I packed several kilos of books in my suitcase. Eight books in total. Also a couple cd’s and a BlueRay, from the big Tower Records on Dawson Street, on the other side of the street form the wonderful Hodges Figgis multiple story bookstore.

This morning I woke up too early, again. Not finding the opening time for the hotel breakfast bistro, I walked in through the open door of the room at 7:2o. A waitress there informed me that the kitchen won’t open until 7:30, but offered to bring me coffee. Before the kitchen opened, two other ladies walked in too, and to my utter surprise, they too were Finns. So there we were, three Finnish women, waiting for the kitchen to open.

I got my breakfast eggs and toast (and such), ate in peace and returned to my room to gather my stuff. I hauled my heavy luggage out, paid and took the bus to the airport. Aerofort. I’d love to learn Irish (Gaelic)! It’s somehow a totally cool language. It’s kinda useless, like Finnish is useless on a global level, but it seems like a total hoot.

[More photos of Dublin in Flicr]

The Book Thief

In the ever growing list of books that have left an impression on me, The Book Thief went straight to the top when I read it. The book that is a touching story about a girl in early WWII Germany, a girl who picks up a book, learns to read and learns to love books. The story would be touching even without the books. Without the narrator, who just happens to be Death. It would be touching just as the story of a girl who loses her dad to Nazis and her brother on the way to be given away to foster care, because her mom had to hide; her parents were communists. What makes it a spectacular read, is Death as the narrator, and the books, that are like salt in food. Not necessary, but brings out the true flavor.

The common thread begins when the girl’s – Liesel Meminger is her name – brother is buried by the railroad after dying in the train and one of the gravediggers lose their handbook in the snow. Liesel picks up the book, holding on to it like it could bring her brother back. At the time, she doesn’t even know how to read, but she keeps the book as a relic under her mattress until one night her step-father finds it and using the book, he teaches her to read.

That one book, as grave as it is, is the one possession she holds most dear. She reads it over and over again, until she gets her second book: she retrieves a smoldering book from a nazi bonfire, after everyone has already gone. She is overseen by te mayor’s wife, but she stays silent for her own reasons. The true paradise for Liesel opens up as the mayor’s wife invites Liesel to her library, telling her she can come over any time to read. She understand’s Liesel’s love for books and stories and she nurtures it. Liesel is in awe and for a while she can barely breathe.

Liesel and her foster parents are a humane kind of family. People who value people and refuse to hate jews while trying to maintain a balance where they wouldn’t be in danger themselves. The father with his accordion, the mother with her big heart and foul mouth, Liesel with her love of stories. The best friend who takes a swim in the icy river to salvage Liesel’s book. The jewish refugee, who writes his own story on the leaves of Mein Kampf (after painting them white) for Liesel to find and read when she is older.

The book grasps the horrors and fears of little town in Nazi Germany like none I have read before. And I have read quite a few of them, books about that age and time. Anne Frank was almost an obsession to me and visiting her hideout in Amsterdam an almost religious experienvce. Leon Uris with Mila 18, excellent book as well. Corrie ten Boom. And who knows how many others. Most of them haven’t stuck; I can’t remember half of what I’ve read. Only the most powerful reading experiences leave a permanent mark in my mind.

This book about the little book has all the makings of a classic. The extremely compelling storyline, the rich character of Liesel, the human tragedy that comes with the nazi/jew territory, the love of books, for all things. Not jewelry, not coins, not toys. A passion for books and reading and how it all starts and evolves. In the midst of the hardships of Hitler’s reign, of poverty, of missing family members, of the terrors of war. It is Liesel reading to the people in the bomb shelter that calms them all down. It is Liesel reading to the old lady missing his sons, that gives her a wee bit of joy each day. It is the stories that weave the stories. And the biggest stories of all, are our lives.

Quite often I like to watch movies made of books I have likes. Almost as often I am heavily disappointed. Like with the Veronica Roth’s Divergent. It was an ok movie, but the differences just were too much. And the second book-to-movie, Insurgent? The trailer was already so absurd compared to the book, that I completely dismissed the movie. Or like the Shadowhunters. Cassandra Claire’s books weave an awesome captivating world that you just want to dwell in. But the movies and series based on her books? Meh. I watch them simply because they give a tiny Shadowhunter-fix despite the differences.

With this in mind, The Book Thief movie was a really pleasant surprise. Of course you need to simplify things and cut some corners when making a two hour movie from a novel, but this movie made it in a totally classy way. The movie was every bit as powerful of an experience as the book. It captured the atmosphere, the feeling of the story excellently. So for once I can truly honestly say: if you’re not really a reading person, at least watch the movie. It’s a story every person in this western world in the era of Trump et al. should read or watch. Just to *remember*.

3-year AN-niversary

Three years ago today it was Wednesday. At 6:45 I was sitting in the lobby of Töölö hospital right here in Helsinki, waiting for the lab to open so I could have my final labs taken before the surgery. At this time, 10:45 I was already way under, my head open, maybe two hours into the surgery. After everything went dark due to the anesthesia around eight, nearly ten hours passed before I opened my eyes again. I was already two hours out of the surgery, lying in the ICU, when I woke up to the urgent thought that I need to make dinner for the kids. I opened my eyes to a bright fluorescent lamp practically blinding me, thought “oh, nevermind then” and went back to sleep.

The next two, three days were a blur. I mostly slept, waking up enough to eat and talk with visitors for maybe five minutes at a time. Eventually I was forced up, to the toilet and to the shower and walking more and more each day. I was terrified at first, since simply sitting up gave me vertigo, but with each try, everything gradually got better. After five days in the hospital it was time to return home, to our house of three floors, where I could not avoid walking stairs if I wanted to. In retrospect, that was probably a good thing, recuperating my balance faster.

The first weeks were tough, the first of everything making me dizzy, but slowly but surely it all got better as my head got used to everything again. In no time I was taking our dog for walks again, I was driving again, I was going to the store again, I was able to shower properly again. Truly it felt to me like I was learning everything in life again. No part of normal life was a given anymore, and sometimes it felt like I’d never be the same again. I was reading about the new normal and tried to adjust.

Now, three years out of surgery, I am almost completely recuperated. My new normal is almost the same as my old normal. My balance in everyday life is as good as needed – sure, I gave up dancing from frustration due to balance issues – and the biggest nuisance is the SSD, the single-sided-deafness, but even that doesn’t bother me too much generally. I notice things like if I have been doing physical work (home renovations, yard work etc.) for a full day, I get so tired physically that I start to stumble and trip. Then again, I have always had the skill to trip on flat surfaces and bump into doors and whatnot. My mom used to call me “konkkelokoipi” when I was growing up. Basically it means clumsy in a bambi-like manner. I guess my AN just enhanced the skill ;)

it-takes-real-skill

As for the SSD, I remember the early weeks like yesterday. After the surgery my head had a constant hum inside, like there was a huge truck on idle inside. I thought I might just go crazy if it persisted, but it didn’t. Now the truck only visits my head after a particularily noisy or exhausting day. Sure, there is tinnitus all the time. but mostly I tend to forget all about it, ignoring it fully.

The first time I tried to watch a movie after the surgery, in our nice tv room with full surround 5-speaker home theater system, I burst out crying when I realised I could not make out a single word of the movie dialogue due to the separate speakers all around the room. I needed flat sound and even then, subtitles for support. Now, I have gotten used to watching everything with subtitles (English for hearing impaired or Finnish if the English is not available) and I don’t really think twice about it. I leave the volume adjustment to the fully hearing family members and that’s ok. Surprisingly enough, movie theaters are a pleasant experience and mostly I can actually follow the dialogue without reading the subtitles there.

I have also gotten used to asking people to switch places with me at lunch so that I can be at the correct corner to maximize my hearing abilities. With friends from work, I usually don’t even need to remind them of the reason, and even if I do, it’s enough to touch my deaf ear. Many of them remember anyway, sometimes even better than I do myself! I am not bothered by needing to tell strangers about my SSD either; I do it rather matter-of-fact and people are ok with that. And, when it gets real noisy and I simply cannot hear, I let the others know that now it’s impossible for me to hear. What happens then depends on the situation and how important it is for me to hear what they’re saying.

Maybe the most annoying thing about SSD in my opinion and experience is the inability to understand where a sound comes from. Like when I lose my phone (which happens frequently for I am aloof and just set it down *somewhere*) and I need other people to help me locate it even when I hear it ringing. Once this happened in a store… Or when I sit at a doctors’ office in the waiting room and then the doctor calls my name, from behind a corner (very bad practice in my opinion, by the way – note this if you happen to be a doctor!) and I have to ask the other patients where the call came from. Or when I call some family member at home and even they don’t bother to elaborate on their location. Highly frustrating!

ssd

Yet, all in all, like I already noted, I mostly feel completely recovered. I can walk, I can work, I can climb (walls and trees), I can dance (if not really able to advance like before), I lead a completely normal life. My stamina is not what it used to be – I tire very easily – but hey! at least I sleep way better than ever before, thanks to the bright side of the SSD: when my good ear is against the pillow, I don’t hear all those disturbing noises that used to wake me up before, as I am a very light sleeper by default.