If I had to pick one word to describe this year, it would be “intensive”, followed closely by such words as “interesting”, “awesome” and “exhausting”. Whereas the year 2012 was about change and the home run for a lot of projects, 2013 was about packing those projects in and kicking off a new phase of life. After this one the suckiness of 2011 and the years around it are forgiven.
2013 started with almost every facet of my life going through a rapid change that started a bit before the Christmas of 2012. A couple of days before Christmas I got a phone call from a new job that was offered to me, which was a huge relief since I was clawing the bottom of my coffer and looking at a year of expensive education. A bit later in the evening I got contacted by this very interesting female with whom I went to a string of dates ranging from urban exploration in places we really shouldn’t have been in through watching Blade Runner as a film copy to wall climbing, archery, concerts and other fun. Those dates with Heli haven’t really stopped to this day, which makes me a happy camper.
The year started with some really interesting courses in the research dive school. They took me to test out pressure chambers, hard helmet diving under the ice of a mine lake and to the Red Sea to study corals and to have an encounter with a whale shark. All in all the first months of 2013 were both damn intense and interesting, although quite exhausting. The time is a hazy block of memories of waking up in an unfamiliar apartment at five in the morning nauseous from tiredness and jittery from a new relationship, skulking out into the world carrying massive bags of dive gear, bright intense days at the new workplace getting to grips with a rather demanding job, and walking a few kilometers back home from work through the darkness and a snowstorm, since I couldn’t afford the absurdly expensive zone 2 bus tickets.
I didn’t mind those walks that much, though. I was listening to the audio book version of Kerouac’s On the Road and there was a perverse joy in trudging through the blizzards over the string of islands that describe my commute. The wind and the snow really picked up speed on the sea ice and then jumped the road embankments so that the little needles of ice were at times coming literally from below. The moments spent watching the powdery ice snake on the ice of the dark sea illuminated by lonely harbor and cabin lights while listening to the excellent book are etched on my mind.
A Year of Everyday Adventure and Activity
In the past I’ve done to all sorts of interesting trips abroad and engaged in other such antics, but I’d still say this has been the most adventurous and active year I’ve had so far – in spite of me and Heli both having very little spending money outside of the necessities. I have a certain standard of getting things done now and a habit of not tolerating much inactivity, which is undoubtedly very annoying to others, but Heli’s the first person ever who’s made me feel a bit like a couch potato at times. I find it utterly wonderful.
On an average week we’ve gone to do sports (usually climbing or swimming), looked for geocaches, gone fishing on Lauttasaari shores, or just done something else that has taken us out of the house to try something new. Physically I haven’t been in this good a shape in this millennium, and even my bum knee that had been hurting non-stop for a couple of years healed itself miraculously. A quintessential week for us was the one last summer when we went fishing twice, turned a picnic into an impromptu urbex/geocaching trip where we found a way to wade into an outlying island and discovered carvings on the rocky shoreline that were over 100 years old, after which we went to try some horseback riding and I arranged a Padi Discover Scuba Diving intro for Heli. This wasn’t planned in any way, it just happened. Our evening geocaching walks turn regularly into urbex after we find an interesting underground garage, a WWI era bunker or something similar – for example in the Boxing Day we ended up skulking around an old jail that has been turned into a hotel, and taking some photos in an old group cell that’s been left in the state it was in 19th century.
I have never felt this good and restful with my everyday life before. Stuff happens all the time. There’s sports, adventure, activity, movement, life, fun. Mornings in bed watching films, evenings playing games and geeking out, going together to dumpster dive or to electronics courses, generally egging each other to try new things and kick the walls of the comfort zone. If I had to choose between a life of a steady grind punctuated by a couple of spectacular trips per year, and how things are now, it wouldn’t be a contest. Then again, seeing how things are developing, looks like we may get both in the future. For me it’s also been a life on the move. My clothes and backpack feel much more of a home to me than my apartment, where I spend just a handful of hours each week.
Out of the Red
The years 2010 and 2011 blew my finances to hell, and a big theme of 2012-2013 was getting that situation fixed. In mid-2012 I made a plan and took some steps, which have been a thorn on my side throughout the last 18 months. Things took a turn for the better in the end of 2012 with the new job, which even accommodated the expensive and time consuming dive school. I had an Excel Sheet of Terror to plan my finances with, and in the last year and a half I’ve all too regularly snapped awake at around 5am to a sudden realization that I had calculated something wrong and I should figure out a solution. Coincidentally, my birthday this spring marked the day when the tide finally turned and I started gaining money instead of hemorrhaging it. That made me drop my last freelance gig, which freed my evenings to writing the novel and living life instead of just working. That there was a decision motivated by mental well being instead of financial sense.
Covering the bill for the dive school was one big issue looming at the end of this year. It was an end of an era of sorts, since I covered a big piece of that money by selling off most of my role-playing game shelf. I had quite a nice collection of Warhammer stuff and there were some surprises, like fetching over 200 euros with INWOs One With Everything set (I almost put it on sale in our flea market shelf for 5€ before I checked eBay…). I also managed to sell the trunkful of CDs, which was a massive surprise. Used record stores don’t really take them even for free anymore, but in the flea market they gained me 200-300 sorely needed euros. Selling the games was a melancholy thing to do, since running games has been a dear hobby for me since the late 80’s. It went the way I thought it would, though – when I got the writer’s block with fiction done with, the need to tell stories via role-playing games just vanished. For me it was the difference of a quick fix vs. something more lasting.
Now, after a year and a half or working and planning and a close to five figure sum of damage control done, I’m flying steady financially – barring a surprise curveball from the world, of course. What this means is that I can start ignoring price tags in grocery stores, I can indulge in small luxuries like eating restaurant dinners and even buying some gadgets now and then without having to think too much about it. The last of the damage will be fixed in the coming summer, again barring stuff like a surprise firing or something shitty like that.
It’s hard to put into words what a relief this is.
In the end, there are good things to take away from these troubles. For most of my adult life I’ve been an entrepreneur or a freelancer, so I haven’t had a fixed salary. What I had was a continuous stream of 200-800 euro payments dropping into my account irregularily, and monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly and yearly payments going out, so the actual amount of money I had in any given moment was quite nebulous. Living with a fixed salary that comes once per month and that’s it was something I’ve had to actually learn to live with. Also, living with Heli this year has been an education. During the cushy entrepreneur years I got lazy and got used to throwing money at problems. Heli is a bloody wizard at making money work for her in terms of providing food, fun and necessities, which is definitely something I needed to re-learn.
Art and Activism
My biggest achievement on a personal level this year has been to get my first novel out, fucking finally. That really marked a watershed moment in my life in many ways. The last moments before the release of the novel were quite tense. Schedules kept slipping with the last proofreading rounds, the book release party location had problems with e-mail, the book printer kept having delays and screwing the covers up, and all this coincided with the last weeks of dive school before our skill test exam that determined if I’ll pass or not. In September-October I was so tense I hummed when wind blew past me, as I was trying to juggle the novel, the school, the day job in fast paced international communications, and the relationship, amongst other things. In the end everything went mostly fine and the fuck-ups haven’t caught up with me, so I’m going to chalk that period as a win.
This year has also been surprisingly active on the music front. If I counted correctly, I’ve been involved in releasing six albums (five by Viihteen Uusi Aalto and one by Älymystö), there was an Indiegogo campaign to fund Älymystö’s next full length album (which I kept an eye on but didn’t contribute too much), we went to play a gig in Latvia after a long pause, and we had a couple of gigs in Finland (in Alt Party and INFEKTIO). Additionally I got a short story out to be published in Osuuskumma’s upcoming anthology, which makes me happy since I’ve been somewhat worried about missing on the new wave of Finnish speculative fiction anthologies, that are going through a renaissance.
On the activism front, this is a pretty interesting year for copyright issues. I’ve been active on that area since the 2005 Lex Karpela when I managed to kick off an e-mail campaign that caused a satisfying brouhaha in the parliament, and I’ve been following and participating in the conversation since. It’s been mostly very frustrating trench warfare, but looks like this year has brought a change to it. A citizens’ initiative that aims at rolling back some of the Lex Karpela changes and making the law fairer for the consumers was passed and it’s going to be rej… processed by the parliament soon. Suddenly there was a whole lot of actually sensible bridge building and talk from both sides of the issue, especially from the copyright conservatives who seem to have finally realized that this discussion isn’t just going away. I was interviewed by Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest newspaper in Finland, about these sorts of issues, and to my surprise I got the leading page of the culture section for my interview. I was also invited to participate in a think tank type of event in the parliament. It was under Chatham House Rule, so can’t talk about that too much, but it was a very interesting event and a great way to take the discussion forward and to build more common ground. All this, of course, happened in middle of the school/novel chaos of this autumn.
Diving For Science – Paperwork Pending
For all intents and purposes, the research diver school is done apart from the final paperwork. I passed the skills test and our written work was not only accepted, but reviewed with the standards of a scientific paper since we went so much above and beyond the requirements of the school. Another study we did during the school year on the Red Sea corals in Eilat was presented in The International Conference of Coelenterate Biology earlier this month, and the paper is going for a peer review. There are other projects brewing, maybe a couple of papers in the works, but nothing public yet. All in all it’s a bittersweet thing – the school was a really taxing thing to handle amidst everything else, but it gave me so much in so many ways that I was really sad to see it end. I’m hoping the paperwork gets handled soon, since it’s the most annoying part and there’s some very frustrating faffery around it, but I’m hoping things will get sorted out sooner rather than later. Oh, I also got paid for the first actual work in the field of marine biology / research diving, so there’s that.
Turning the Page
Before setting out to write this end-of-year post, I again read the previous ones for perspective. It’s fun and rewarding to see the progression from year to year, and kind of painful to read some parts of the posts. It’s incredibly satisfying to see that last year’s cautious optimism has paid off in full. This Christmastime was in the top-3 of my adult life, not the least because it was the first holiday season I remember having this millennium when I didn’t have a deadline, a side job, a writing project or an obligation of any sort to either handle on the holidays or looming just after it. Heli and I cooked and ate ’till we were silly, went to see Nightmare Before Christmas in the same theatre we saw Blade Runner in on one of our first dates, we’ve gone out to do geocaching or sports almost every day through the holiday, and played games ’till the morning hours. Just enjoyed life and relaxed – something I was seriously overdue for, since this was my first actual holiday in a year and a half. I’ve far more tired than I’ve cared to admit, so this sort of holiday was sorely needed.
I’ve worked like crazy to put all the projects and issues I’ve had to rest by the end of this year, so that I can start 2014 from a genuinely clean table, and looks like that succeeded. Packing everything up freed a huge amount of mental CPU time and soul real estate for other uses. For the next year I have only one real aim: I will take that energy and aim it at personal wellbeing. Earlier this year I managed to shed quite a lot of weight, but turns out that when you’re counting money and hours for school, a demanding job, novel debut etc., there’s no room in the brain for counting calories. Now there will be.
Well, I am facing a very difficult choice that boils down to a decision between Interesting and Sensible. In matters like this, all my life I’ve mostly chosen the interesting option without batting an eyelid, but I think I’ll need to do a Sensible once in a while. There’s still room for interesting later, life won’t be over if I skip this. This is what I’ll be telling myself this summer when I’m standing at the office instead of… somewhere else.
In any case, 2014. Weight loss. Exercise. Mental wellbeing through everyday adventure, activity and fun arts. Fun diving and upping my climbing skills (I can do four out of five 5Cs on boulder and did my second and third 6A on the Christmas holiday, so I’ll need to get comfortable with 6s next year). When all this is well underway, I’ll start on the second novel and kick out a few short stories for anthologies. Maybe do the second IF game. These latter things not because I have to, but because I can. The difference is huge.
Looking forward to the future. Long live the new flesh.