Sep 30, 2016

Quoth the Raven, Nevermore

This bracelet is from amazing Etsy shop Jezebel Charms, and the text is from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven." Here's the what it says:

"Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, 
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before"

A beautiful piece that goes with everything, especially my steampunkier outfits.

Sep 28, 2016

Etymology Expeditions: Dark Clouds

Today, let's take a look at clouds.

The word cloud comes from old English clud "mass of rock, hill," apparently from the similarity of storm clouds to hills. Sky, from Old Norse sky, also means "cloud."

What about those fancy Latin names? According to Etymology online, they were thought up by British amateur meteorologist Luke Howard in 1802.

Cirrus is Latin for "curl-like tuft, ringlet of hair." The meteorological term is related to the shape of the clouds.

Cumulus means "a heap, a pile, mass" in Latin. That's a pretty good description of cumulus clouds. 

The word for a thin layer of cloud, stratus, comes from Latin sternere, to spread out. It means  "a thing spread out, horse-blanket, coverlet."

The word nimbus is from the 1600s, meaning a bright cloud surrounding a god. It comes from the Latin nimbus, "cloud."

Bonus:  Nebula, Latin for "cloud, mist,  vapor, fog, exhalation," has a sinister figurative meaning of "darkness, obscurity." The astronomical term "cloud-like patch in the night sky" is from the 1700s.


Sep 27, 2016

Watch CircOpera Live!

The Finish National Opera is broadcasting the CircOpera performance live on September 9th at 7 p.m. Helsinki time!

You can watch it here.

Looks like they'll be showing the Alice in Wonderland ballet and The Flying Dutchman later on. Very cool.

Sep 26, 2016

Science Fiction Classics: Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

Image from
Stand on Zanzibar has the worst opening I've ever seen, a bunch of out-of-context text extracts that read like gibberish. If the novel hadn't been on my Science Fiction Classics reading list, I'd never have gotten past the first chapter, and after I did I kind of wished I hadn't. This book annoyed the hell out of me.

Brunner's "innovative structure" of chapters is split into "continuity" (the so-called plot),  "tracking with closeups" (windows into the lives of minor characters/random people), "the happening world" short collections of descriptive passages, and "context" (scraps and bits of worldbuilding stuff like apartment ads, song fragments, newspaper headlines etc. etc.). It made the novel very hard to follow, especially as nothing much happened even in the plot chapters before about halfway through. I get that the structure is probably why Brunner won the Hugo award for the book, but I really, really hated it, especially the "context" and "the happening world" chapters. It just felt like Brunner had dumped his entire worldbuilding bible into the book. Thoughts like "why should I care" and "this is stupid" kept intruding on my reading experience. Apparently the structure is meant to mimic information overload, and I guess it succeeded.

It didn't help that the characters are unlikeable and the women are mainly there for sex, with the exception of the businesswoman Guinevere Steel, maybe. And nothing very interesting happened in the plot. And that annoying '60s slang: whatinole for what in hell (and different variations using "hole" for "hell"),  calling women "shiggies," and poppa-momma for p.m.. So, so annoying.

Okay, so anything I liked then? Well, the worldbuilding itself is interesting at times, with Brunner's exploration of how people would react to overpopulation. Brunner's future takes place in 2010, and on some counts his predictions feel eerily accurate. The muckers, people who go nuts and start killing everybody or plant bombs for fun, hit a little too close to home in this time of school shootings and terrorists, and people using drugs and alcohol to escape their unbearable lives feels believable. I also liked the concept of Mr. and Mrs. Everywhere, a fictional couple on TV who travel the globe and attend all the most exclusive parties. The idea is that for a fee the TV fixes you and your partner's faces on the Everywheres, so you can watch yourself do all the things you can never actually afford to do.

The name of the novel refers to overpopulation. In the twentieth century there was a claim that the world's population, standing, could fit on the Isle of Wight. Brunner's prediction of the world's population in 2010, seven billion people, would need a larger island to stand on, like Zanzibar.

All in all, I can't recommend this book to anyone but the most hardcore science fiction fans. As luck would have it, there's another one of Brunner's books on my reading list. And it utilises the same "revolutionary structure."  And it's six hundred pages. Oh, joy.

Science Fiction Classics read 44/193.

Sep 24, 2016

New MOOC from the University of Iowa: How Writers Write Fiction 2016: Storied Women

New MOOC, coming up! Here's the info:

"October 11-November 21, 2016: The International Writing Program at the University of Iowa will open a new Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on fiction writing, centered on female authorial voices and female literary characters. This online course will be offered completely free to all participants and will welcome writers of all genders."

 Every University of Iowa MOOC I've taken has been awesome, so I'm definitely going. Maybe I'll see you there? You can read more and sign up here.

Sep 23, 2016

The Circus Bracelet

This is the bracelet I wore for the CircOpera. It's from an Easy shop called Mama's Little Babies. They don't have this particular one anymore, but there are lots of other equally cool things. Browse at your peril, it's pretty much a want-one-of-each situation.

Sep 21, 2016

Etymology Expeditions: I Want Candy

Up this week: all things sugary and sweet!

The name cotton candy is fairly self-explanatory, from cotton+candy, but it has many fun names like fairy floss, candy floss, spider webs, and candy cobwebs. Although spun sugar has been around from the 1500s, machine-spun cotton candy was invented in 1897 by the dentist William Morrison. (A dentist. Irony much?) My favourite name for cotton candy is the French one, though: la barbe à papa, "papa's beard." In Finnish it's hattara, like a fluffy cloud.

A sourball meant "a constantly grumbling person" in the 1900s before it became the name of a candy 1914.

Tootsie roll is from tootsie, the baby-talk substitution for "foot".

Did you know that Pez dispensers have been around since 1956? The name comes from German pfefferminz meaning peppermint. The company that made them was Austrian, so that's probably the reason. The first Pez were peppermint-flavoured, then, I guess?

Gob-stopper comes from the English word gob, meaning mouth. On a related note, jaw-breaker meant a hard-to-pronounce word before it became a candy.

Lollipop is a mixture of loll "to dangle (the tongue)" and pop "strike, slap." Another theory has the loll part coming from the northern dialectal lolly, a word for tongue.

 Are you teeth aching yet? Okay, I think that's enough for today.


Sep 19, 2016

CircOpera and Grotesk

The Finnish National Opera has done some interesting things recently, the latest of which is CircOpera, a combination of circus arts and opera. Of course I had to check it out.

The opera entrance had a circus sign on it and bright lights hung from the balconies. 

The performance was amazing. I don't want to spoil it for anyone who's going to see the show, but the singers totally embraced the circus side of things with stunts of their own and members of the orchestra got a chance to shine on stage. Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee" and the runaway piano were most memorable. Best of all, everyone seemed to be having a blast, especially the singers. 

The circus performances were awesome, Cirque du Soleil quality, but more fun. The Wheel of Death act had me holding my breath the whole time, and the acrobats and ballet performances were eerily beautiful.  Even the Phantom of the Opera made an appearance! This was hands down the most fun I've had at the opera. 

They're only doing eight performances, so you'll have to hurry if you want tickets.  Click  here to go to the National Opera website to check availability.

We also had dinner at restaurant Grotesk. It's carnivore's paradise, but there was something for the vegetarians, too. Best mushroom pasta and sweet potato fries I've ever eaten. (Yup, I stole half of Hubby's fries. Not sorry.)

The decor was nice, but the bar looked even cooler. Just look at the cocktail menu!

And yes, there was time to do a bit of book shopping. Here's the catch of the day, minus a birthday present for my nephew, because spoilers. I've never read Murakami before, so I picked Norwegian Wood because a friend recommended it to me. To my surprise I also noticed I've missed a Night Watch book, The New Watch. They didn't have that one, except in Finnish, and I've read all the others in English and don't want to swap languages at this point, so I'll have to order it from Amazon or just download it on my Kindle before reading The Sixth Watch. Oh, and if you haven't heard about the Goth Girl Nemi comics, you need to, they're fantastic. You can read some of them in English on the Metro site. 

Sep 16, 2016

Coffee and Cake : Gaggui

There are many great cafés in Turku, but I rarely visit them, although I'd like to. To change that, my friends and I decided to check out a café per month (or thereabouts), just for fun. Coffee, cake, and gossip, where's the bad?

First up: Gaggui. The name is a Turku dialect version of the Finnish word for cakes, and that's no accident; cakes are their specialty. The menu is in the Turku dialect, which probably won't mean much to any English readers, but in Finland, the dialect is considered funny. It's hard to explain, but some think it makes us sound like hicks or simpletons, maybe? There's also a bit of funny intonation involved, and the tendency to use the negative when asking questions. (Those aren't sticky buns, are they? vs. Are those sticky buns?) There's a humor publication called News from Turku that's news written entirely in the dialect. It's a big seller. Yeah, go figure.

Here's an excerpt from the site for the Finnish readers out there:

   "Tervetuloo gagul ja kaffel. Meijä päivän gagguvalikoima koostuu gaguist, suklaagaguist, juustogaguist ja muist jälkkäriherkuist, sekä tuareist, kaffelas alus asti leivotuist kroisanteist ja herkullisist leivist. Gagguvalikoima vaihtelee melkee päivittäi, mut tiättyi suasikkei me leivotaa teil herkuttelijoil joka päiväks."

The cakes have names like Ai minttuu vai? (Oh, mint, you say?), Kamala magic (Awful Sweet), Varför Paris?(Why Paris (when we have Turku)),  Heaven On Örth (self-explanatory, right?), and Eioota (Got Nothin') (the vegan and gluten free option).

I had the lemon-raspberry cake called "When Life Gives You Lemons." It was perfect. 

Here's the address for anybody who wants to check it out. It's quite close to the railway station, but only a few blocks from the center of town (let's face it, we don't have that much town):

Humalistonkatu 15a
20100 Turku

Mon Closed
Tue-Fri 10-19
Sat 10-18

Sep 14, 2016

French Class is Starting!

Yay, it's that time again! Here's one of my favourite French songs, "Rendez-nous la Lumiere" by Dominique A. Click the title to see the music video. It's très étrange.

On voit des autoroutes, des hangars, des marchés
Des grandes enseignes rouges et des parking bondés
On voit des paysages qui ne ressemblent à rien
Qui se ressemblent tous et qui n'ont pas de fin
Rendez-nous la lumière, rendez-nous la beauté
Le monde était si beau et nous l'avons gâché
Rendez-nous la lumière, rendez-nous la beauté
Si le monde était beau nous l'avons gâché
On voit de pleins rayons, de bêtes congelées
Leurs peurs prête à mâcher par nos dents vermillons
On voit l'écriture blanche des années empilées
Tous les jours c'est dimanche, tous les jours c'est plié
On goûte au vieux mensonges des cieux embrigadés
Tant de vies sacrifiées pour du cristal qui ronge
On voit des fumées hautes, des nuages possédés
Des pluies oranges et mauves donnant d'affreux baisers

Lyrics from

Sep 12, 2016

Richard III

Trailer from Youtube

I saw  the Almeida theater production of Shakespeare's Richard III last week at Finnkino (part of the Event Cinema shows this year). The play was directed by Rupert Goold, with Ralph Fiennes as the man himself and Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Margaret.

There's been some speculation on whether the historical Richard really was the villain he's painted, but Fiennes gave us a truly despicable Richard to loathe. His Richard III didn't plot and manipulate as much as threatened and took what he wanted. Fiennes emphasised the character's brutality, especially towards women, and his cold stare makes you shiver. There isn't any redeeming characteristic in this Richard, nothing to sympathise with.

The production began with the exhumation of Richard's bones at the archaeological dig site in 2012, and then shifted back in time. The costuming was mostly modern day, with some armor thrown in. I felt they used the modern setting well, and there were some funny moments, especially with the cell phones.

The cast gave fantastic and moving performances. In addition to Fiennes, I really enjoyed Redgrave's Queen Margaret and Susan Engel as Richard's mother.

My favorite Richard III is still the nineties Ian McKellen movie version, but this one was well worth seeing. I have the Hollow Crown version waiting, but I haven't gotten around to watching it yet. It will be fun to compare performances when I do.

Sep 11, 2016

Want to Talk Story Structure With K. M. Weiland?

Just a heads-up to anyone working on a novel: K. M. Weiland is doing a live webinar at Writer's Digest University next Thursday called The 3 Missing Pieces of Stunning Story Structure. The webinar includes a critique of one story synopsis, so it's a fantastic opportunity if you're struggling with the structure of your novel.

You can read more here.

Loot Crate: Anti-Hero

Here's last month's loot. The theme was anti-hero, so that's what we got. (I skipped July's crate, because most of the franchises represented weren't for me.)

An Archer for president T-shirt. I haven't actually seen any episodes of Archer, so not my favourite item. 

Kill Bill socks. Kind of splattery for my taste, but socks are always useful. I do like the movies.

Now this one I loved, a Harley Q-Fig! You can write whatever you want in the speech bubble. I kind of wish the edges of the bubble were black instead of blue, though.

A Hellboy ceramic bank. Kind of cool. Looks good in front of my Hellboy comics. 

The pin unlocked some WoW stuff, but as I don't play, I didn't look at that too closely. 

Sep 9, 2016

Follow the White Rabbit

They're finally here, my first pair of Minna Parikka shoes! I know, everybody else goes for the Raquel  heels, but I love these bunny sneakers!

Come on, behold the cute!

Favourite. Sneaks. Ever,  

Sep 7, 2016

Thoughts on the Whitman Class

Whew! The Whitman MOOC is officially done. I met some interesting people and enjoyed discussing Whitman and writing in general with them, and the professors were amazing. I learned a lot and even tried writing poetry, which was quite challenging.

For me, the best thing about the class was getting out of my comfort zone. I write speculative fiction, but for most of the class assignments I wrote about my own experiences. As the subject was writing and imaging loss, this involved ripping open some emotional scars and transforming pain into art. Writing about something that really happened to real people was harder on an emotional level, but easier on a craft level. Usually I have to make up everything from my characters to the world they inhabit. This time I knew my "characters" and I could just pick telling details from my own memories. These characters automatically sound like real people, because they are.

That raises the question, am I hiding behind my speculative fiction lens, keeping the writing at an arm's length? Or is it a good thing to have some emotional distance? Will the story become therapy if you write about very personal things?

I honestly don't know.  I do know that while I was comfortable sharing the assignments with the class, I wouldn't submit some of them to magazines, no matter how much good feedback I got. Too personal.

On the other hand, some parts of me will always get into my writing, even if on an unconscious level. Probably people close to me can see it clearer than I can. Nonetheless, I'd like to bring that raw emotion and honesty that came through in these pieces to my speculative fiction. I think the last piece I wrote for the class struck a nice balance between fiction and documenting what really happened.

All in all, I enjoyed the experience and will absolutely take part in next year's class, assuming they have one.

I just found out that one of the students is thinking about collecting and publishing some of the work we did for the class in a poetry book, and I said I'd participate if one of the less personal pieces would do. We'll see. I'm glad she's doing it, because many of the pieces I read and gave feedback on were really moving and beautiful, so it would be a shame if only the people in the MOOC saw them.

Sep 5, 2016

Should Every Writer Read the Classics?

What I want to be reading . . .
. . . and what I actually am 

If you've been reading the blog, you know I'm trying to read my way through The Guardian's 100 greatest novels of all time list and a science fiction classics list of about 190 books. Some of the books I've liked, and I'm not really talking about those in this post. Of course you should read the classics you like and enjoy. I've read many classics before this project, just because I wanted to.

But what about the one's you wouldn't read if they weren't on the list?

I've found myself doing a lot more "obligation reading" than before. I've read books I hated, books that I found so boring it's like time stopped when I read them, and books about subjects that I would rather avoid. If someone has decided a book is a classic, does that automatically make it a good book? Do I need to read the entire In Search of Lost Time to be able to appreciate Proust, or is it okay to stop halfway through? Some books seem to be on the list for historical reasons, like Clarissa, which was the first epistolary novel. Even my friend who actually likes that kind of thing said it bored her to tears. Maybe just an excerpt would suffice? I'm very bad at not finishing books. If I start something, I have a need to finish, even if I hate it. Persistence or stubbornness, I dunno.

Is life too short to read books you don't enjoy? I can't help wondering whether this is a colossal waste of time. I could be reading something I like, something that interests me. I could be writing. These are weeks and months of my life I'll never get back.

On the other hand, most of the time I can at least see why the book is considered a classic, even if it's not to my taste. I can learn from it. And it's nice to be able to discuss the classics. You can't be part of the conversation if you haven't read the book. Especially with the science fiction classics, it's also about the history of the genre, and that's important, too. Maybe it would be better to think of this as studying? Studying is hard work and you're not supposed to enjoy it all the time. When you do, it's a bonus.

For writing purposes, I feel like what works best for me is reading the weird stuff I like, especially non-fiction. With the classics, I worry that I'm just reading the same books every other wannabe writer is reading. Will this lead to unoriginality? Of course everyone gets different things out of what they read, so it's not that simple.

It's also worth noting that taste is subjective. My Want-To-Read list is probably someone else's Most-Hated-Books-Of-All-Time list. Sometimes I also wonder if I'm just reading the book at the wrong time of my life. Maybe sixty-year-old me will love Proust? Maybe I'm just too young and impatient and immature?

So, what do you think? Are classics you don't like worth it?

Sep 2, 2016

Viking Glasses

Finally got those Viking glasses I was looking for. I'm not sure where you can buy these in other parts of the world, but I got mine from the Turku Castle gift shop. They have all sorts of cool reproductions of medieval glasses, too, complete with those decorative bumps that kept the glasses from slipping out of greasy fingers. 

The great thing about these is that the glass parts slip right out and you can put them in the dishwasher. Not terribly authentic, perhaps, but saves you the trouble of washing them by hand. 

Sep 1, 2016

Whitman's Civil War: Writing and Imagining Loss, Death, and Disaster week 7

The final week of class already. This has gone by so fast! The theme this week was peace and reconciliation, appropriately enough.

We studied Whitman's prose writings from Memoranda During the War. In "Two Brothers, One South, One North," a short piece about brothers who ended up fighting on opposite sides and wounded in the same battle, Whitman tells of the personal cost of the war, of families torn apart. But there is alway hope of mending what was broken: the younger brother asked to see the elder, who at first refused, but the younger brother came to his bedside anyway and they reconciled. Both brothers died of their wounds a short time after.

In "Convulsions," Whitman briefly worries that his memoranda will read as "a batch convulsively written reminiscences," but then he goes on to say that convulsiveness is actually the best way to describe the war. I was immediately curious about the etymology of the word, but Professor Folsom saved me a trip to Etymology Online by including the origins in his introduction: convulsion is of Latin origin, from com "to come together" +  vellere "to tear apart."  A fitting sentiment.

In "Three Years Summ'd Up" we see again the idea of reconciliation. Whitman talks about volunteering at the hospitals and points out that it didn't matter to him which side the wounded had been on, he comforted them just the same. In his Sequel to Drum-Taps, he puts the idea into poem form in  "Reconciliation."

WORD over all, beautiful as the sky!
Beautiful that war, and all its deeds of carnage, must in time be utterly lost;
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night, incessantly softly wash again, and ever again, this soil'd world:
…For my enemy is dead—a man divine as myself is dead;
I look where he lies, white-faced and still, in the coffin—I draw near;
I bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin.
           --Walt Whitman, Sequel to Drum-Taps

In his foreword, Professor Folsom speculates about the use of the word "white" here. Whitman's notes concerning this poem haven't survived, but he tended many black soldiers in the hospitals and also wrote down their experiences, so it is possible that the "I" in the poem is a black soldier. Why else would Whitman so emphasise the word "white"? Folsom also pointed out that others see it as exactly the opposite, an exclusion of the black soldiers who also fought in the war, or a betrayal of the liberated slaves by expressing kinship between white men on different sides.

In the lecture, Professors Folsom and Merrill pointed out that Whitman doesn't really explore the issues of slavery and the emancipation of the slaves in his wartime poetry. Perhaps to amend this, he later added the poem "Ethiopia Saluting the Colours" to Drum-Taps. It's a strange poem to read. Is Whitman racist?

Ethiopia Saluting the Colors
WHO are you, dusky woman, so ancient, hardly human,
With your woolly-white and turban’d head, and bare bony feet?
Why, rising by the roadside here, do you the colors greet?
(’Tis while our army lines Carolina’s sand and pines,
Forth from thy hovel door, thou, Ethiopia, com’st to me,
As, under doughty Sherman, I march toward the sea.)
Me, master, years a hundred, since from my parents sunder’d,
A little child, they caught me as the savage beast is caught;
Then hither me, across the sea, the cruel slaver brought.
No further does she say, but lingering all the day,
Her high-borne turban’d head she wags, and rolls her darkling eye,
And curtseys to the regiments, the guidons moving by.
What is it, fateful woman—so blear, hardly human?
Why wag your head, with turban bound—yellow, red and green?
Are the things so strange and marvelous, you see or have seen?
            --Walt Whitman, Drum-Taps

The instructors point out that you have to consider the narrator here: a racist union soldier. The slave-woman's voice is only heard briefly, and even then she uses the object form "me" instead of the subject "I," like she still thinks of herself as an object, property. Maybe what Whitman is trying to show is that the American flag was suddenly a symbol of something positive to her? The union soldier doesn't understand that, can't see things from her perspective. I don't know what to make of this. I'm very interested to see what the African-American writers in our course think.

We also studied the final poem of Drum-Taps, "To the Leaven'd" Soil They Trod," that has a palpable tone of relief and rebuilding.

To the Leaven’d Soil They Trod
To the leaven'd soil they trod, calling, I sing, for the last;
(Not cities, nor man alone, nor war, nor the dead,
But forth from my tent emerging for good—loosing, unty-
ing the tent-ropes;)
In the freshness, the forenoon air, in the far-stretching cir-
cuits and vistas, again to peace restored,
To the fiery fields emanative, and the endless vistas beyond—
to the south and the north;
To the leaven'd soil of the general western world, to attest
my songs,
(To the average earth, the wordless earth, witness of war
and peace,)
To the Alleghanian hills, and the tireless Mississippi,
To the rocks I, calling, sing, and all the trees in the woods,
To the plain of the poems of heroes, to the prairie spreading
To the far-off sea, and the unseen winds, and the sane im-
palpable air;
…And responding, they answer all, (but not in words.)
The average earth, the witness of war and peace, acknowl-
edges mutely;
The prairie draws me close, as the father, to bosom broad,
the son;
The Northern ice and rain, that began me, nourish me
to the end;
But the hot sun of the South is to ripen my songs. FINIS.
          --Walt Whitman, Drum-Taps

 This feels like the perfect end to Drum-Taps, doesn't it?

Our last assignment was to compose a piece grounded in the possibility of hope and reconciliation.