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Turning The Page – Or “Eets Feenished!”

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The positive insanity of this October is over now that the book publishing party and the final skills test of the scientific diver school are successfully done with. Those were also the last milestones I’ve set for myself a long time ago, and they signal the end of an era in my life.

kirjajulkkarit

A 30 year old dream

Writing and publishing a novel is the oldest concrete dream and goal I have had. I remember thinking about it when I was in elementary school, I’m pretty sure when I was about eight or nine years old then. I wrote a lot of stories through my childhood and my teens, and even managed to whip up a novella and a novel draft. Neither of them got published, although they did get some quite encouraging rejection slips. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood, and so the October 5th saw the publishing party and release of my first novel, a new-weird/scifi story of psychogeography, linguistics, memory and surrealism called Kaiken yllä etana. The  photo above is me holding the book for the first time in the publishing party, and the photo below is me in the following morning.

A hangover morning nude with the book publishing party gifts behind and on me.

A hangover morning nude with the book publishing party gifts behind and on me.

A month after the release the book has received some encouraging reviews and comments. It’s not the easiest little story to digest, and balancing the surreal elements, mysteries and the explanations was a nerve rending job. Although I tried to write the book to be entertaining as just a story, there are plenty of elements you need to get to understand what’s going on. Were those too self evident? Totally impenetrable? So far it seems the balance was about right, for which I have my editor to thank.

Promoting the book at this year's Helsinki book fair.

Promoting the book at this year’s Helsinki book fair.

So, the book is now out there, in the world. My biggest pipe dream is to get enough money to have it translated to English. My language skills are not good enough, it has to be a native level professional translator, but we’ll see. I’ve been thinking about some crowdfunding alternative, but it’s not without its problems. The main thing being that getting the book translated is not a guarantee it will get picked up by a publisher, plus not sure how many would be interested in funding something like this. And no, the hype around self publishing e-books is far less rosy than many of the demagogues make it out to be by cherry picking the teeny tiny handful of people who sold more than 20 books. All good ideas on how to go about with this are very much welcome! The translation issue is now on the back burner, but the next idea for the novel is already bubbling happily and ready to hop out of the pot, plus I will finally have the mental horsepower left to start grinding out short stories for anthologies, which are living a sort of resurgence here in Finland.

The book trailer for Kaiken yllä etana.

This is me babbling on stage at the party:

The dive school almost done

The book publishing party was on Saturday, and on the next Monday we started the last week of the dive school, which culminated in the final skills test a week later. I am rarely nervous or feel insecure about exams or such, but there was quite a lot riding on this, so I was more than a little jittery this time around. The school has taken about one week per month of full time studies for the last year, and getting it to mesh up with a day job and some side jobs has been on the furthest side away from easy. There are two parts to graduating, one of them being the diving skill test, the other being a written work. The latter is not a problem, but the skills test felt quite challenging. We practiced for the skills we need for it on Friday, such as midwater navigation. I did fine in the morning, and totally fucked up things in the afternoon, which made for a rather interesting weekend waiting for the exam.

Scientific diving is extreme diving!

Scientific diving is extreme diving!

In the test there are assignments like finding a buoy rope in midwater without deviating from the set depth (and this is Finland, so visibility is good if it’s five meters), tying knots, measuring stuff, attaching stuff to other stuff etc., all under rather strict time constraints. I had slept about three hours in the previous night and had to wake up at five to catch the bus, and the test started at nine in the morning. I was the second one to do it, so for the rest of the day there was nothing for me to do but await for the results, which we got quite late in the evening. I haven’t generally noticed getting too narced at 30 meters before, but of course I found myself in a bottom of a buoy rope in a dark mine lake, narced out of my brains, with a shit lamp that insisted on switching to blinking strobo mode, trying to handle a folding measuring stick, all while the surface was giving me info through my dive radio about how little time I have left. When I got up, I was sure I had fucked up at least three things, and you’re allowed to fuck up once. Cue eight hours of waiting just to hear I passed with one little warning that had nothing to do with my dive, and it was about something we had been taught in a different way than the exam inspectors thought.

Dredging for vascular plants with precision instruments.

Dredging for vascular plants with precision instruments.

That essentially was the hard part over,  now we’re just waiting to get the written exam finalized, and then it’s another batch of qualification cards for us. I really never expected I could pull it through with the school, mostly because I never thought I could make it happen while working. Although the school weeks have been massively great and the whole school the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my adult life as a whole, I’ll have to say I’m relieved I don’t need to dodge the work and school schedules anymore.

Milestones met, now ship the fucker

I mentioned earlier that the book and the dive school were the last milestones for me, and that’s quite literally accurate. Getting them done is a turning point of sorts for me. I spent quite a big part of my childhood more around adults than around kids, so I was in a bit of an outsider mode with both my age group and elders, watching them conduct their lives in ways that often didn’t make sense to me. I also always had this weird hunger to create, experience and learn stuff, but on the whole I didn’t really know what to do with it, being a reasonably introverted kid. What happened was that I drew some conclusions and made some decisions about what kind of a person I do and especially don’t want to be, and what kind of a life do I want to lead, and came up with a… well, a plan of sorts how to reach that. Of course I’m not going to insult anyone’s intelligence by hinting that there was some intricate master plan, since  a better way to describe it is a set of internal and external goals and plans on how to meet them. The plans have changed with the times and sometimes into totally misguided directions, but the goals themselves have changed surprisingly little.

I grew up on Jacques Cousteau documentaries, but of course no Real Person in an inland city in Finland would do anything like diving, let alone marine biology.

I grew up on Jacques Cousteau documentaries, but of course no Real Person in an inland city in Finland would do anything like diving, let alone marine biology.

The personal goals shall remain personal, and I don’t want to go into too much detail about the concrete ones either. I haven’t talked about them much, not the least because then they would’ve been out there as yardsticks to measure me with, and I’ve had enough dealing with my own disappointments about missing some of those goals repeatedly before. Also, I once opened my mouth about them when I was 14 or 15, and got more or less called a child and laughed at because my silly childish dreams, which in the long run made me angry enough to try a bit more. Stuff like that doesn’t really encourage disclosure, though.

To simplify the gist of the more concrete goals, I wanted a life that has science, art and adventure in it. The science was supposed to be astronomy or marine biology when I was a kid, got sidetracked to psychology in senior high school and turned into a couple of years in computational linguists through my studies. That just wasn’t me, and I started studying biology again in the open university. I almost applied to be a full time student, until I read about the employment figures of biologists, which made me forget the whole thing with no little amount of disappointment. The research diver school gave me a cheat code of sorts to reaching this goal. After a year of what’s essentially trade school, I have my name tentatively in three or four scientific papers, one of which is going to be presented this December. Today I sent the first bill for actual work in the field. I can’t believe my luck.

A-yup, that's a plant.

A-yup, that’s a plant.

The art part has always been about writing books, with games being the close second. Preferably a text adventure. Well, the novel is out and my first piece of interactive fiction was published and won a prize a year and a half ago. I’ve always considered myself as totally unmusical, in spite of my mother showering me with musical instruments to play with when I was a kid (she worked in a music store), so the band stuff and dozens of gigs in front of a paying audience with Älymystö and later with Viihteen uusi aalto  came as a total surprise.

The gig venue for this August Älymystö trip to Latvia. Yep, it's a massive floating apartment block made out of concrete and resonating metal sheets.

The gig venue for this August Älymystö trip to Latvia. Yep, it’s a massive floating apartment block made out of concrete and resonating metal sheets.

As for the adventure, yeah. At least those are the ones fit for discussion in a public forum. On this front the universe has thrown a perfect bonus, since the whole year with Heli has been one utterly awesome string of everyday little adventures and activities, be it dangling from bridges, fishing, geocaching, sports or entering areas where we have no reason to be. That’s the kind of everyday life that really suits me. For the bigger stuff, in the future, there may be… mountains.

Just another evening in our household.

Just another evening in our household. Head over heels, I tell you.

Above all I understand my sheer massive luck in all of this coming to be. Sure, I have worked hard to get here, but  I was lucky in so many ways that I had the chance to do all this. Things could have gone fatally south in so many ways, due to my own idiocy (which certainly is a force to be reckoned with at times) or unforeseen circumstances, but they never quite did, and I’m happy for that. I had a point in my life when I was seriously considering why should I torment me with all this shit, I should just give up and be content with what I have done. I tried it for a span and man, that was one of the worst decisions of my life. I’m so happy the circumstances never forced me to abandon my dreams.

Shut-up sequence initiated

One of the things that has been waiting for this to happen is that I’ll start being somewhat more quiet on the internet, specifically on social media. I’ve been thinking for a while now that the way I use the net is not good for me anymore. Feeling stressed, tired and anxious, one of the worst ideas for me is to get some aimless net surfing done – but it has also felt the easiest and the most enticing at that mood. Watching whatever funny videos and pictures pop up, hanging around in social media, checking for messages and comments whenever there’s nothing to do for a nanosecond, all that shit. Like a bag of potato chips: very pleasant to gulp down one link, argument or like at a time when you’re stressed, but in the long term not healthy. That kind of fast feedback loop with instant and intense gratification fits the restless mood, but also feeds it. In a word, it feels draining. I’ve been doing some human trials on this lately: if I’ve caught myself about to hit the net without a clear idea what I’m going to be doing there, I’ve picked up a book or a film instead, to good and totally opposite effect. Art recharges the soul.

I think it’s important to note that I’m not talking about any sort of net addiction here, since some minds are sure to go there. Just something like automatically turning on the TV when you’re tired and annoyed after work, although staring at whatever crap is on just makes you more lethargic and pissed off at wasting the evening doing nothing sensible. The vibe of “channel-hopping for the 21th century” and a displacement activity.

Something I'm really going to miss in the dive school is getting to play with all these awesome toys, like this underwater ROV we got to pilot.

Something I’m really going to miss in the dive school is getting to play with all these awesome toys, like this underwater ROV we got to pilot.

Then, of course, there’s the actual content online that makes my life worse. I like arguing in the internet, and I have to say I think I’m reasonably good at it. It doesn’t really require much: just a smidgen of ability to admit to yourself that you may be wrong, an elementary level background research of what you’re talking about, and some ability to try and see the issue from someone else’s point of view. Not rocket science, but surprisingly rare nevertheless. I usually have fun with these discussions, since it’s just so very pleasing to construct a good point, but lately I’ve started to get really tired of the same old dance. The same old goddamn muppets who back their anti-LGBT-sentiments with religion and biology without knowing jack shit about either one, the “I’m not a racist” people who pin very complicated societal issues on immigration/Islam/whatever alone, the black and white IP-piracy conversations, the anti-vaccination people and the whole anti-science crowd who literally don’t know what science is – all that. I’ve had the same conversations for tens, if not hundreds of times. I’m pretty sure I’ve done more good than harm, but I think I’ve had enough for now.

No, I’m not going to do something bloody stupidly black and white like deleting my social media profiles or anything to that effect, although I did delete the Facebook and G+ apps from my phone – if I really need to check something, I can do it through the phone’s browser. What I’m going to do is make the internet a meal for me, instead of a bag after bag of potato chips. Something with more personal substance. A tool for publishing, research and entertainment instead of quick gratification.

So, what now?

I’m more or less where I’ve wanted to be, so what now? Idle living and watching telly? Well fuck no, that would defeat the entire purpose of the exercise. I guess the bottom line to this godawful introspection is that I’ve always had a ton of projects and things to do, and I continue to do so, because it is how I want to live. The difference is that before this there have been plenty of projects I’ve needed to get done, projects that have felt like hornets’ nests nailed on my forehead. After this moment there are projects I just want to do. No hornets, just a basketful of puppies ready to be played with. Sure, things will probably turn stressful and less than pleasant with some of those, but it’s of a different kind of stressful. So, on the face of it I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, but the mindset is so different it’s hard to put to words.

More playing, less achieving – with a hint of deep contentment.

This is mah happy face.

This is mah happy face.

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