I went into 2014 not really knowing what to expect. 2013 had been the culmination of a lot of projects such as the novel, the dive school, some deeper personal stuff, and the year was filled with a new relationship and plenty of adventure to boot. It all wound down for the 2013 Christmas holiday, which felt like the final approach to the home base after a long drawn out air campaign. Beautiful, quiet and unpowered glide. When January came I hit the tarmac with tires screeching and brakes glowing white, determined to slow down or rather consolidate my life a bit and take care of myself. Now, as I’m writing this I’m somewhat thinner, my elbow hurts, I’ve published a comic, I’m nursing a bunch of short stories, I’m soon unemployed and looks like I’m on the verge of the biggest change in my adult life.
Getting in Shape – And a Bit Out of It
The theme of 2014 was to be physical and mental wellbeing, me putting all the energy I’ve spent in other projects into taking care of myself. I got a splendid start. I’ve been a bit plump most of my adult age, but with Heli we’re leading quite the active and healthy life, so I decided to get rid of the 10 extra kilos I’m lugging with me. I don’t really believe in dieting tricks, outside of the fact that for most of us they’re the first and maybe only time we pay attention to what we’re stuffing into our mouths. I just started counting calories and tracking my weight, and stopped eating when I hit the daily limit. I biked and took the stairs whenever I could, we went climbing 2-3 times per week and I managed to squeeze some swimming in as well. For the first couple of weeks I was feeling so dizzy at times I was afraid I’ll fall from the boulder wall, but when it evened out, I started feeling really good, light and physically capable. My shirt size went from L to M in a couple of months and things were progressing splendidly.
Then, in April, I started paying attention to a stabbing pain in my right elbow, especially if I was climbing or squeezing something. It was beyond the normal pain of exercise. When I went to the doctor, he pinched my elbow, I jumped in the air yelping, and he pronounced it a textbook case of lateral epicondylitis, also known as a tennis elbow. So, no sports for me involving right arm for some time. This included bouldering, swimming, biking… pretty much everything I liked to do. All this before our Åland climbing trip.
This left me quite bummed. Having quite the banged up body (that was meant for a WoW-playing software engineer in the first place), I’m living in a constant little fear of something giving out properly and me having to abandon some activities for good. Having a bad lateral epicondylitis is a total nightmare scenario for me. Furthermore, my project was to be able to climb 6a bouldering problems with the same routine I had for 5c problems in the end of 2013, and I had almost reached it. The elbow cut out most of the exercise I could do, and things started getting really tense starting June, which sapped the energy from the calorie counting and lead into a slight relapse. Now, at the end of the year, my shirt size is still M and my belt is in the last holes, but barely.
The happy thing here is that after half a year pause the elbow healed well enough for me to start climbing and swimming again. The first trip to the boulder cave was really disheartening, but it took only a couple of visits for me to get back on the horse. To my utter delight and wonder I found out that I could continue from where I had left in April, and now at the end of the year I have actually reached my target with 6a problems. Next year, at this time, 6b it is. Currently the elbow still hurts, but it’s just one more ache to the repertoire. Hello newcomer, have you met the knee and the hip and the rest of the guys yet?
Nevertheless I have to say that overall I’ve never been in this good a shape in my adult life. I continuously surprise myself by running and leaping around and generally being very physical and feeling very capable without getting winded or having a stab of debilitating pain anywhere. I can jump and climb and generally have fun with my body, and it’s been a while since it’s been up to any effortless proper off-road rides. I think I’m addicted to this feeling.
A while ago I talked on Skype with an old pal about relationship stuff and she said something in the vein of “I remember when the two of you got together, it was all about adventure then”. My reply was something like “It still is! I just don’t post it all on Facebook anymore.” One of the reason I’ve written an online journal and blog is to remind myself of all the stuff that’s happened to me, because human memory sucks. This year has a definite bleak and tense vibe to it, and it would be easy to remember this as only stressful time. Going back to the photos for this and the couple of previous blog posts about the marine robotics conference and Quantum Game Jam made me remember all the awesome stuff that’s happened throughout the year.
We started the year with a visit to Heli’s old stomping grounds around her former home city of Oulu. We had a long weekend of skiing, crawling inside bridge structures and exploring an old steam mill that now lies abandoned. That was the only bit of skiing I managed to do during the year, the snows lasted only for one day before the rains came in. It was a crying shame since I had planned on doing some long geocache-skiing-trips on the sea ice around February. The professional opinion of long time scientific divers and marine biologists was: “If you go on the ice, wear a flotation suit and bring a rope with you.”
In addition to the already mentioned bigger trips we’ve gone exploring abandoned places a few times, including one abandoned storage/lab area which I had visited twice earlier. This time it revealed new secrets, in the form of some abandoned row houses which were apparently meant for some of the staff. What made them interesting was that apparently they’d been built in the 80’s cold war scare or something, since they had their own bomb shelter. There were escape hatches on the yards, through which one could crawl into a labyrinthine shelter equipped with radios, hand-cranked air purifiers, old betamax-tapes and to top it off, some practice grenades used by the army in their city combat exercises. The most amusing bit were the company chronicles saved on the shelves – if there’s a nuclear war, at least the history of our firm will live on to the future!
The best and most relaxing thing the whole summer was a week-long holiday spent again in Heli’s mother’s place in the countryside in the north. There was nighttime fishing trips on the river, geocaching, urbex and some clubbing in the old observatory building. The most memorable urbex location of the trip was an old factory, where we made our way into the actual furnace, where we could look up the tall smokestack. The floor was covered with soot and coal that had partly decomposed to dirt, all the floors were matte black and there was howling draft going up the stack. Really impressive. We also did a day trip to the island of Hailuoto, which is a place where I’d like to do a writer’s retreat in. A few weeks spent in a hotel off season, with just the barren seaside for walks. Perfect.
I have to say that this spring I had the most melancholy urbex experience so far. In March we were spending a rainy and dark day geocaching when we stumbled upon an abandoned storage area. Outside there was a surprising amount of really personal, householdey stuff lying around, like clothes, furniture and photos messed up by rain and people. Inside the storage space had been used for illegal parties, but after a bit of exploration we made our way into an earthen floored sub-basement, which looked like it had someone’s life dumped in there: furniture, clothes, paperwork, toys… The contents of an apartment. We stumbled upon some photo albums and a ship’s diary, and realized this is where the stuff outside is from. You’re not supposed to take stuff out of urbex targets, but after some deliberation we packed up the diaries and photo albums, since some of the photos had already been destroyed. Our intention was to return them to the owners.
I didn’t really read through the diary, which was from the 80’s, but I leafed through it looking for clues. I managed to cross reference some names and some online research revealed a potential relative. As for the melancholy part, I’ll tread a bit lightly here because of privacy reasons. The first journal entries seemed to be atmospheric stories about sailing and morning hoar on the ship, the last ones done in somewhat wobbly hand about wild nights. When we returned the diary and the photos, it turned out the writer had actually drank himself to death in the back room of the storage space, coincidentally the room we used to enter the storage building. A sad story that definitely painted the trip with a melancholy hue.
Another very interesting location we visited was an old evacuation shelter that’s near Helsinki downtown. Vaulted ceilings, ventilation equipment from the 30’s and 40’s, old moldy hospital beds and surgical lamps from the 70’s, shafts to the surface through which you could hear people talking and laughing. Some urbex locations feel peaceful and timeless, and some… don’t. This definitely fell into the latter category.
There was plenty of other everyday stuff, like long geowalks with wallclimbing, diving trips (Heli got her OWD!), some urbex locations I’m not happy discussing publicly, going to hunt for free rubber boats after the Beer Float… We spent the midsummer holiday with Juha, Riikka and the boys in their cabin in Eastern Finland, where Heli, Jere and I got stuck in middle of a shipping lane in rain in a boat with broken engine and oar, which was a fun adventure. There was a camping trips to Nuuksio, a damn fun Christmas holiday in Greece, and so on and so forth. Sedentary and boring days and weeks were few and far apart.
When I was a child, we spend a lot of summers and weekends in my step-grandparents’ farm. When I was a kid, they had bull calves, racing horses, ducks sometimes. The hay was still made with horses, potatoes were planted and harvested manually, and so forth. It was definitely an important place for me, I still dream about it in one way or another 1-3 times per month. It was also the place where the road to north stopped, it wasn’t really anywhere as such, just at the end of the Road to the Grandparents’ Farm. I still remember the sudden flash of annoyance when, at adult age, I drove past the turn that takes there for the first time, heading to a music festival further in the north-west. The road was not supposed to continue. In the 90’s I stopped visiting there and lost contact with that side of the family for almost a decade, for no good reason apart from falling into my own life and navel. Since then we’ve gotten closer and there have been summer and Christmas visits.
This year my step-grandmother died, and it was only then that it hit me that that part of my childhood was gone and would never return. I think why it hit me that hard is the fact that the place, people, events etc. had gotten so encapsulated, so separate from my other experiences, into a world of their own I didn’t analyze too much, unlike every other goddamn thing. Also, after that ten year pause, when I got back in contact with that side of the family, we almost started where we had left off. During this summer’s visit in my aunt’s house I read a history she had written about the small village the farm was in, and it was a weird read. The description of the adult world that had been buzzing around me, with a lot of things suddenly making much more sense. Old jokes, things told by the neighbours, even a nickname of the farm, and so on. I never knew that their farm had been one of the central places in the village, the place with the only phone and the first TV, which all the neighbours had gathered around to watch.
A defining memory of that part of my childhood, and one which I told in my step-grandmother’s funeral, is about an event which became known as “the bull calf race”. I remember being in the main room of the house, probably something like five or six, playing on the floor, when there was suddenly some ruckus outside. I went to the window and a lone bull calf ran across the yard, having escaped from the cow shed. My grandmother had been cooking, but she wasted no time in dashing outside to join the men in corralling the bullock – still wielding the large, wooden ladle.
Six Months of Tenseness & The Work Situation
I’ve hinted that although a lot of good has happened, 2014 hasn’t been just fun and games. For the last six months I’ve been running on this weird double track, where on the other hand I’ve been simply giddy and happy about a lot of things working out, and totally exhausted, cranky and burned out on the other. I think things started getting tense on June, when the weather was rainy and bleak enough that I started getting honest-to-god SAD symptoms. The pace at work had gotten more and more intense, and I couldn’t avoid a certain fact anymore – I just had to get out of media & PR as a field.
This may be some sort of “salting the earth” to say this, but for most of my professional life I’ve been in the weird situation of getting a more and more impressive CV in a field I actively dislike. I started wanting to get out of media work in 2004, but I had fallen into my CV and couldn’t get up. My attempts at getting out mostly fizzled out – I almost went to a restaurant school but couldn’t figure out how to fund it in two weeks notice (I got accepted from the queue), studying biology led to the realization how shit the employment prospects there are, writing sci-fi doesn’t really pay in Finland, even research diving is realistically a side job for me. Also, I’ve stuck to the media & PR field because I have needed the money, and it’s something I’m kind of good at. Nevertheless, all this time the clock had been ticking and this year it ran out.
To be clear, I’m not dissing any single employer, and my last job was overall the best possible position in this country to do what I do – and the team boss and the team were genuinely awesome. It just wasn’t me and it’s really never been. Media & PR has taken me to interesting places I would’ve never gotten otherwise, but like the ungrateful special little snowflake that I am, I’m just saying that it’s not enough. It’s a bit like the dysfunctional relationship where you linger saying “but when it’s good it’s really good”, but in reality you spend 95 percent of the everyday life saying “fuck you” to your spouse when you meet in the hallway. For me, personally, doing PR and media is about telling what cool stuff someone else does, and a good day is one you finish with an empty table. Me, I want to be the person doing the stuff and in the end of the day I want my table to have something on there that I built and refined throughout the day. I’m through reporting, I want to spend the most productive hours of my days making and creating.
From since 2012 I’ve been paying off debts that I’ve gathered due to bad luck and worse decisions in the preceding few years. It took me two years to pay off the five figure sum, but this August I was done and feeling free. It also meant a whole lot of more mobility and choice. I started making some moves, but as I told here, it didn’t go so splendidly. The underlying theme of the autumn were the company layoff negotiations, which kind of put everything in limbo until the situation was resolved. Without going into details, come January 16th, I’ll be unemployed the first time since the late 90’s. Weird to say, but I’m kind of thrilled at the prospect: finally there’s time to do stuff. I’m learning Unity, brushing up C#, writing and generally catching up to self-improvement I haven’t had the time or the energy to do.
So, what is it that I’ll want to do with my life, profession-wise? Living by writing sci-fi is out, as long as I’m working in Finnish, so realistically it’s making games or making science, preferably both. I’ve been wanting to make games since the 80’s, and I’m not getting any younger, so I’m taking the unemployment as a kick in the pants from the world to stop whining and do shit. If I could snap my fingers and get my dream job in games industry, it would be game writer/designer at Telltale Games. This is obviously right now a pipe dream, but it’s a mood board depicting what sort of thing I’m aiming at. I have already been actively applying for jobs in game production, design and writing. I’m not giving up until I land a job in the field, and there are already some very very promising prospects out there.
The New Apartment
This summer Heli and I decided to move together, and we had a short yet very productive apartment hunt. We ended up getting the second apartment we went looking for, which was a total find – a three-roomer in a high-rise with a sauna and a glazed balcony, and an awesome view. This is by far the best place I’ve ever lived in, not the least because of the writing den I have here. Instead of having to stare at the flaking paint of a wall, I have a 14th story view over the neighbourhood. We share the “no useless shit lying around” mindset, so a big part of the summer went into going through my stuff and simply selling or throwing out things I honestly did not need. Fuck sentimental value, matter is a shackle. When getting a home insurance, I almost had an argument with the insurance salesman since he didn’t believe how little crap we actually have. I was also kind of surprised and dismayed to realize that some stuff in my apartment was still in the same place where I set I down when I moved in at 2012, and there were mummified piles of old paperwork around the place. Neither of this is like me. That apartment had indeed been a storage unit more than a home.
The move itself was quite painless, and it was a celebration of good organization. We had color coded todo and chattel lists shared in Google Docs and the actual move went without a hitch, even though the schedule of July was a total nightmare for me. June and July were extremely busy at work, and the aforementioned summer holiday around Oulu was a definite lifesaver. It was like playing a difficult level in FPS, dashing from cover to cover and finally finding a corner where you can rest for a bit, get your health to regenerate to 25% and make the screen stop pulsing red. That’s what the week with Heli in the north was for me.
After the holiday there was four days of packing while working, the move was at the weekend, and on next Monday I flew to San Diego for Comic-con. Make no mistake, it was a work trip. I’m not a con person and especially not a big commercial con person. I’m always a bit confused by what people get out of them as visitors. Professionally, I definitely get it – I’ve spent cons and festivals running after journalists, arranging PR, presenting stuff on the booths etc., but as a visitor I don’t get much out of them. Note that this is not a value judgement, on the contrary I think I’m missing something by not getting the gist of things. I much prefer smaller non-commercial stuff like Ropecon. They were much more participatory than rows upon rows of booths that sell you stuff and long lines to get photos signed. Well, I managed to take part in one very interesting event, which was a TV writers’ “hints for a writer” type of panel discussion. That was genuinely useful. Outside of the work I visited a stand-up comedy event and just wandered around San Diego, avoiding the con throng, exploring and geocaching.
When I got back I didn’t have a single day of rest, since I had to clean up my old apartment and give the keys back. This year’s June was very dark and rainy, but to overcompensate July was sweltering hot. Cleaning the old apartment was an interesting study in being uncomfortable. I was so hot and sweaty I couldn’t look down at my phone because of the sweat dripping on it, and I was genuinely afraid I’ll pass out on the stepladder and break my neck. Got my deposit back and actual adoring thanks for how clean the place was. I had a couple of more free days, which I spent setting up my own stuff in the new place – Heli had arranged most of the stuff while I’d been in the US. In the end I had one free day after the move / work trip chaos, which I spent wandering idly around the new surroundings, playing Ingress, reading in cafes and having a lazy afternoon beer just enjoying the sunshine.
But the apartment, I love it. Also, I love living with two cats. We had some doubts about that, since I’m allergic, but with air purifier, weekly thorough cleaning and me eating antihistamines it hasn’t been a problem at all. Heli’s cats aren’t very destructive and they don’t bite or claw you, which makes them spectacularly non-annoying as cats go. I had given up hope about living with any substantial animals (ie. something big and smart enough that you can relate to them), so having these furry fuckers around makes me very very happy.
It hasn’t been just champagne, strawberries and adventure, though. To be blunt, we are a pair of opinionated hyperactive control freaks with very clear ideas what’s the correct way to handle things, so one can guess that fitting our idiosyncrasies in one apartment has caused some bumping of elbows. Nothing I didn’t expect, honestly. Mostly it’s been very healthy and constructive, just things settling down, although with the work crap and the lack of time to recuperate, the timing could’ve been better. That’s life, and overall our everyday life is pretty damn good.
Writing Stories and Comics
This year I made my debut in writing comics with the Torsobear: Yarns from Toyburg anthology. You know that romantic notion of creativity where ideas just come to writers in a flash and you don’t really need to work on them. You know, how it really does not work? Well, exception to the rule and all that. There was a call for writers, I checked the original story of the anthology and checked out the world bible – and bam, I knew exactly the story I wanted to tell there. I got paired up with an absolutely wonderful artist and I’m really happy how The Big Wind-Up turned out.
I’m also giddy about the fact that nowadays whenever I sit down to write, I can actually produce text. I have six short stories lined up for next year, four of them which have an anthology already attached, and most of which are in the 1st or 2nd draft stages. I also had one story, which I originally wrote in English, published this year in a Finnish anthology of ghost stories and the first two chapters of the next novel in some sort of shape. This is the situation I’ve been looking for most of my life – I can write and I have outlets to actually publish the stuff. It’s hard to put to words how happy this makes me.
Christmas in Greece
When I spent my first Christmas in Egypt diving, I decided that the new normal for holidays will be to do something interesting abroad. It’s taken four years for the second chance, but it was worth the wait. Heli and I left for Greece and Thessaloniki a few days before the Christmas, and spent the holiday with my pal Constantis. It was a Christmas filled with the usual gluttony (involving unusual foods, though!), but also activity and adventure. Heli and I did a lot of geocaching, we visited the Byzantium museum, went for a small hike in the hills around Thessaloniki, played boardgames and as a pièce de résistance, a road trip in the mountains and the pillar monasteries of Meteora.
Our plan was to go bouldering, but we didn’t manage to find the boulders that were supposed to be near Rizoma. In the net there were awesome videos, but no coordinates at all. We kept driving into smaller and smaller villages, and an old guy gave us directions that led to a side-road that had random ribcages lying around. Having seen the relevant movies, we turned around and got some new directions. These lead us to prehistoric caves in a nearby mountain, which unfortunately were closed for visitors. I got to learn how to back a car down muddy dirt roads in the mountains, and in the following night leveled my driving skills a couple of points more. The hotel booking service our host used had a fluke of giving direct, not driving distances to hotels, so it just happened our accommodation was on the wrong side of a rather large bunch of mountains. We spent a few hours driving in pitch dark and rain over very windy mountain roads with turns over 180 degrees, somewhat lost in a height of over one kilometer, and phoning periodically to our hotel in Kipseli for more diving directions.
The roads were often covered with large rocks, some of which we needed to move in order to continue, and there was a number of tunnels. At one point we noticed a dark fork in the tunnel and just had to go and explore the unfinished part. When we came out, we spent some time looking down into a dark valley with a lit power station, which is when we noticed a weird, self-illuminating nacreous fog starting to flow in through a mountain pass and flood the valley. That was probably the most Cthulhu thing I’ve ever seen. We found the village and the hotel in the end, had a good evening with some Finnish gluhwein and exploring the place.
The second day’s ride back over the mountains was less hazardous and more beautiful, although this time there were goats and cows on the roads, as well as some icy spots. The pillar monasteries of Meteora were stunning and we were just in time to visit one of them. We spent the rest of the time just climbing around and exploring the place.
All in all a very fun Christmas – certainly different from the traditional one. Fun people, excellent food and a perfect ratio of activity and idling.
On The Cusp of Change
As the title hints, this year has felt like a weird interlude of sorts. I didn’t manage to make it quite the year of wellbeing that I wanted it to be, but I did make good progress. I’ve definitely managed to tie up more loose ends, accomplish stuff especially in writing, and lay groundwork for new projects. Importantly, I haven’t been bored.
This twist right at the end of the year, actually switching careers after a decade of trying, is a massively big thing for me. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been in a totally different mindset compared to the last year, which made writing this post an interesting view back.
I feel free. Unburdened. Not trapped. Enthusiastic about new opportunities, burning with desire to learn new things. Full of the idiot’s optimism that something will turn up, and even if not, I’ll manage.
I feel very much relaxed, content and alive.