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2015 – The Year of Awesome Success, Too Many Goodbyes and One Snapped Neck

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2015 was a year that saw me enjoy the best summer of my adult life and bid farewell to a bunch of people, the capital region, a relationship that came with two awesome cats, an awesome apartment and a very important corner of the net, and finished with my luck finally running out in the form of one broken neck.

Oon meripeikko hä-rä-räh-hää!

The year 2015 dawned with me being unemployed for the first time since the 90’s. Unlike then, this time around I was waiting for it, ready to attack a dozen projects I had lined up. This included learning Unity & C#, writing a bunch of short stories and working on two candidates for my second novel, all in the awesome work room I had. I was also waiting for a certain very interesting work possibility to turn into reality. I took part in the Finnish Game Jam, where I managed to again pitch my game idea to a group that ended up having a whopping four coders. We got a first playable version of the game called Sinkhole out by the deadline, and fun was once again had.

Ready to jam!

Ready to jam!

In the beginning of the year I also finally got one thing done I had been waiting for: a vasectomy. I was in a queue on the public healthcare, and it took over two years to be called up. So, there I was in the operating room, my testicles poking through a hole in surgical sheets like the saddest, wrinkliest Valentine’s heart. The surgery staff didn’t let me see what was happening or take photos, but hinted I could follow the operation from the reflectors of the fluorescent lights in the ceiling. What can I say, I just find it fascinating to watch surgery done to myself, since how often can you see what you look like on the inside. After the surgery I was quite sore for a while, but got better, until came the day when I was sitting naked on the toilet, slumped over and wearing only a headlamp, and picked off the stitches on my nuts with barber’s scissors. So, that was the first farewell of the year: bye bye to babies, gelding lyfe represent.

After the vasectomy I had to go to the clinic to shoot some web in order to determine if I can still breed or not. What's there to giggle about, a medical procedure is a medical procedure. This adult mindset held right up to the moment where I saw the porn magazine on the music stand. Wow, what awesome luxury, couldn't have dreamed of this as a teenager. Well, as the local proverb says, "when the hymn book is open, you better sing".

After the vasectomy I had to go to the clinic to shoot some web in order to determine if I can still breed or not. What’s there to giggle about, a medical procedure is a medical procedure. This adult mindset held right up to the moment where I saw the porn magazine on the music stand. Wow, what awesome luxury, couldn’t have dreamed of this as a teenager. Well, as the local proverb says, “when the hymn book is open, you better sing”.

Goodbye to the Fear of Heights

After I had recuperated from the surgery I could resume bouldering, where I met my new year’s resolution of climbing a 6B pretty quickly, and upgraded it to 6C. Then I fell from a simple problem and landed nicely on my feet, but felt a tugging sensation in my nuts that soon turned to all too familiar pain. It turned out there was a minor complication with the surgery, which kept me in some endless queues in the hospital and convalescing for a short time more. Soon I was again up on the walls, and higher than ever. I had had almost a year long pause of wall climbing in favour of bouldering, since I was just so bored with the fear of heights limiting me. I couldn’t concentrate on the technique, only to pushing myself to go so high that I couldn’t physically move any higher.

Ronimisministeerium, Tallinn, Estonia

Visiting Ronimisministeerium, Tallinn, Estonia

Anyway we went to climb on the top ropes and I surprised myself by topping the easier high routes one by one, no problem. The fear was just gone. This inspired me to go to a lead climbing course, which would have been a mortifying idea a year ago. The difference between top rope and lead climbing is that on the first one the rope is attached to the top of the wall, and if the belayer is awake, you can only fall a very short distance. On lead climbing the climber brings the rope up themselves and clips it on the wall, so it’s possible to fall for several meters. Surprisingly enough I had absolutely no problem with lead climbing either – strangely even less so, since the stupid monkey brain thought I’m safer when I can clip the rope on the wall myself. A part of the course is to learn to fall properly across one bolt, which means a few meters. I didn’t have any problem with it until it was the time for the carding test, which was done on a different wall. When I tried to jump back the first time, my fingers refused to let go, and there was a loud screech of fingernails on climbing holds. The second attempt went better and I was carded.

January 3rd: "If today's bouldering competition would be a video game, it would be MASS EFFECT. Jesus, the Christmas kilos really took a toll. The first problem, the first try, fell flat on my back and skinned two fingers. Happy ending though, one green (six-something) done. But this rebound lard is SO GONE >:("

January 3rd: “If today’s bouldering competition would be a video game, it would be MASS EFFECT. Jesus, the Christmas kilos really took a toll. The first problem, the first try, fell flat on my back and skinned two fingers. Happy ending though, one green (six-something) done. But this rebound lard is SO GONE >:(“

I talked about this with a neuro researcher pal who commented what a stupid feeling fear is. Literally, the mechanism behind it is quite simple, and the reason people don’t get desensitized to phobias is that they don’t get near enough to the limit. I guess I was doing things right, then.

Carded!

Carded!

Achievement unlocked: tried 2x15l sidemount as a whim. Easier than I thought, trim was steady as a catamaran, although it took some time to get used to my ass being as wide as a dive center. 10/10 would ride to battle.

Achievement unlocked: tried 2x15l sidemount as a whim. Easier than I thought, trim was steady as a catamaran, although it took some time to get used to my ass being as wide as a dive center. 10/10 would ride to battle.

Easter Urbex Roadtrip

Heli and I spent the Easter holiday by renting a car and going for a three day geocaching/urban exploration roadtrip in Middle-Finland. We spent the nights at my mother’s place and drove out from there to explore the day’s locations. We found an old abandoned foundry, visited an old tar factory where I had been meaning to go for six or seven years, and explored an abandoned hotel where the entry required buildering up to a second floor balcony. That place was awesome with all the old rotary phones and CRT TVs, band lists from the 90’s, a disco that was flooding with melt waters, and the kitchen where I learned that it’s not smart to open a fridge that has been closed since the 90’s, in case nobody had actually emptied it out. Additionally, we did some geocaching, partly on some damn steep and tall rock walls.

All in all, a damn great mini vacation.

Good Friday, they said. Come explore this abandoned foundry, they said. Free chocolate eggs inside, they said.

Good Friday, they said. Come explore this abandoned foundry, they said. Free chocolate eggs inside, they said.

The road trip hotel was in a nice location, but the check-in took decades.

The road trip hotel was in a nice location, but the check-in took decades.

Fear of heights pushed further away again - belayed down 20 meters of totally vertical, moss and crap covered cliff.

Fear of heights pushed further away again – belayed down 20 meters of totally vertical, moss and crap covered cliff.

Åland on the Rocks, Part II

It was again the time for our annual bouldering trip to Åland. We stayed in the same awesome cabin by the sea as we did last year, which I had dubbed one of my new happy places. The trip was pretty much what it was last year – enjoying beautiful locations around the area of Geta, cooking and eating gloriously too much food, evenings of sauna and beer, me going to explore the coastline alone and with Heli, whom I enjoyed taking to places I had found last year.

A sudden moment of clarity. "...the fuck am I doing?"

A sudden moment of clarity. “…the fuck am I doing?”

XXXtreme sports requires and XXXtremely silly cap.

XXXtreme sports requires and XXXtremely silly cap.

During the trip I made a somewhat unpleasant discovery about what was ostensibly the main point of the whole trip, outdoor bouldering: I seemed to find it mainly annoying instead of pleasant. I had been enjoying indoor bouldering for over two years, and made nice progress on that front. It was a bit of a surprise that there didn’t seem to be any transfer effect at all from that to outdoor rock. I was left scraping at “grade 4 suitable for children” problems, most often not topping them, since I just couldn’t keep my feet on the wall. Part of the problem was that there wasn’t much of a peer group there, as in people who sucked as badly as I did, with whom to scratch rocks in a an equally relaxed way. I wasn’t ready to give up, but I made the decision to find more climbing buddies who are on my sucky level and chill about it.

Åland Gothic

Åland Gothic

Evening walk.

Evening walk.

When it was the time to go home, Heli and I took some time in Marienhamn to go geocaching, which turned into impromptu urban exploration when we found some interesting and dangerous looking harbour buildings.

Impromptu urbex feat the safest possible place to take photos.

Impromptu urbex feat. the safest possible place to take photos.

I'm glad there was a double railing here.

I’m glad there was a double railing here.

…And It Was The Bestest Birthday of Them All!

This was the year when I turned 40. A milestone feared by many, but personally I felt this was the year when I had finally got my shit together properly, and I was ready to start actually enjoying life. Things looked really bright, since it looked like I could score all three of my childhood dream jobs within the year, those being a published sci-fi writer, a video game script writer and a diving marine biologist. Earlier Heli had asked me if I’d like experiences or stuff for my birthday present, and my reply was “always experiences”. And oh boy, I got those – parkour, ziplines in the tree tops, blindfolded horror theatre and escape room.

huippu8

The Best Break-Up Ever, Or Goodbye Relationship, Hello Adventure Buddy!

This spring Heli and I decided to face the fact that when it came to the relationship stuff between us, it kind of sucked, but when we were out in the world adventuring, we really enjoyed each other’s company. We made the decision to drop the relationship stuff while we still could stand the sight of each other, and to keep the adventure buddy part. It was pretty much as amicable as break-ups get. We didn’t even have a lot of belongings to negotiate over, since both of us had been busy getting rid of useless crap, and there was a nice transitional period when I escaped to the very very low seas to nurse my broken heart for the summer.

We met for a traditional Midsummer party, though, with a traditional weather.

We met post-breakup to celebrate the traditional midsummer party Juhannus, which came with the traditional kind of cold and rainy weather.

The Summer of Marine Biology

The summer of 2015 was without a doubt the best in my adult life. I worked for three months as a nature surveyor and a scientific diver in the Bothnian Bay area of the Baltic Sea. It was the summer of a lot of incredibly beautiful nature, diving with a purpose, learning new science and new skills such as piloting larger boats, fun colleagues and finishing long days on the sea with a wood burning sauna and an awesome meal.

Photo: Metsähallitus / Suvi Saarnio

Photo: Metsähallitus / Suvi Saarnio

The summer did come with a little bit of melancholy and worry, though. The melancholy came with the knowledge that this was the last year of a decade long VELMU project, which had employed most of the scientific divers during the summer seasons. When I looked at old photos of my colleagues in the past summers it felt like I had hopped in at the last chapter of an awesome book, and I couldn’t avoid a small degree of what-iffing, of which I usually steer clear. The worry came from an ear injury which had the potential of being something serious, but which I couldn’t get properly cleared until months later. Also, the autumn with the move to another city was barreling towards me relentlessly, which I managed to ignore for quite a long time.

Heading out to the sea! (Photo: Metsähallitus / Janos Honkonen)

Heading out to the sea! (Photo: Metsähallitus / Janos Honkonen)

I think piloting Maia is as close as I'll get to flying a starship. I

I think piloting Maia is as close as I’ll get to flying a starship.

Additionally I had a couple of rather unexpected things to happen. First of all, in spite of spending the summer living weeks and weekends alike on uninhabited islands I managed to stumble into a surprising and delightful romance. The second thing was getting accepted into two schools without actually applying into them to study to be an ympäristönhoitaja, for which I can’t find a good translation. The direct translation is “environment caretaker”, and the job entails restoring and taking care of all sorts of nature locations.

The office.

The office.

Goodbye Capital Region, Hello Turku

I moved to Helsinki to start my studies in the university in 1997, which means I had lived there for 18 years – almost as long as I lived in my birth city of Jyväskylä. The streets and the familiar places had layers upon layers of my life slathered over them. Walking down a street I could see myself as a student in my early 20’s, listening to Jethro Tull on my minidisc player and enjoying the spring; a burned out PR professional in my late 30’s pondering about big chaotic changes in my life, walking to the rhythm of Zombies, Run!; a successful freelance/entrepreneur in my early 30’s, wondering if that was the life I wanted to lead and feeling the first twists of the vise, etc. All in all it had started to feel like the 9th season of a TV series, where every plot line had been resolved and everything felt like a rehash of a rehash of a rehash.

It was the time to move out. But where? I had already lived in Jyväskylä, Tampere, Helsinki and Espoo, and I didn’t want to move back to where I had already been without a damn good reason. I had been hanging out in and around Oulu for the summer, and while it was an awesome summer city, I suspect the only thing to do there on wintertime is to rearrange your shotgun collection according to the barrel taste. One of the schools I got accepted to was in Lahti, but that city just doesn’t appeal to me, and the other school was in Parainen, near Turku. Incidentally I had an very, very enticing potential job brewing in Turku, so that nailed down the decision.

Lissu the cat did not appreciate the move. Worth noting the clothes hamper was inside a closet with the door closed.

Lissu the cat did not appreciate the move. Worth noting the clothes hamper was inside a closet with the door closed. We spent quite a while trying to find the damn cat.

The weeks after I got home from the summer job were filled with stress, and they were also kind of painful. As I already told, ending things with Heli was amicable, and so it remained during and after she moved her stuff out to her new place, which I helped her to re-paint. What really grated on me was living in the torn-in-half apartment after her move, with scattered furniture, echoes and dust bunnies where we used to have a beautiful home, life, warmth and pets. Also, the yard and the streets around our building had been a continuously changing labyrinth of construction while we had lived there, and we’d been joking they’d finish it the week we moved out. We were wrong by two weeks, and the result was a beautiful little square with a cafe that was perfect  for writing, right when I didn’t need it anymore. That insult to the injury didn’t help.

That's it then - Heli and the cats have been successfully moved to the new digs, leaving this apartment more than half empty and full of echoes. Godspeed, in many ways you can't be replaced, just succeeded :) Insha'Allah I'll be out by October 1st.

“That’s it then – Heli and the cats have been successfully moved to the new digs, leaving this apartment more than half empty and full of echoes. Godspeed, in many ways you can’t be replaced, just succeeded 🙂 Insha’Allah I’ll be out by October 1st.”

One source of the stress was the apartment hunt in another city, while at the same time attending the school that had already started in August. I had to take a bus for every apartment showing, and I filled a handful of applications only to get polite “no”s for answers. I passed on one nice place to get an even better one, only to hear it had been rented out after I had already bought bus tickets to go to a showing. I had one nice enough place lined up, but the landlord was careful to the point of being annoyingly neurotic, and it felt like he was waiting for someone better to show up. I was technically kind of unemployed, since I financed my studies through unemployment fees, which is a wonderful way to learn a new trade as an adult. All the while the clock was ticking on when I would have to move out of the old place. Luckily we had managed to rent it out to a very nice couple we knew and who actually lived in the same building, so I could have my stuff in the old place a bit over the deadline, stashed in my old work room.

Last night in the old apartment. Just me, full moon, someone else's moving boxes and the steady murmur of traffic I've listened to so many nights in the former work room.

Last night in the old apartment. Just me, the full moon, someone else’s moving boxes and the steady murmur of traffic I’ve listened to so many nights in the former work room.

Finally I managed to close the deal with the super careful landlord, ignoring my premonitions that it would mean trouble down the road. The move itself went smoothly, although not without a final twist. Heli promised to drive my rental van to Turku and back to Vantaa, but of course the cats, the assholes they are, decided to eat some rubber bands two days before the move. Paraffin oil and picking apart cat shit ensued, luckily not an operation or a dead cat. The new place was an one-roomer with an awesome just renovated kitchen and large panorama windows facing some trees outside, with lots of birds and squirrels frolicking in them. I started getting along with the landlord pretty quick, and started settling down to the first new city in almost two decades.

Phew - the whole large apartment cleaned for the pals moving in, my stuff packed into one small room to wait for my move next weekend. End of an era, with equal shares of enthusiasm and melancholy.

“Phew – the whole large apartment cleaned for the pals moving in, my stuff packed into one small room to wait for my move next weekend. End of an era, with equal shares of enthusiasm and melancholy.”

It took a few days to settle down and get rid of the feeling that the move was one huge mistake. I took some pages from Heli’s playbook and put some effort to making the first bachelor pad since the 90’s a home, not just a meat locker. I went out to find cheap and free stuff to do, of which there was a lot. I put the museum card I got for my birthday to a good use, got to know the city and local history via geocaching, went to boulder in the local boulder cave and got bitch slapped with the Turku Nazi grades, randomly crashed the art exhibition opening of a local Gamelab and IGDA active, spent time in the library eating candy and reading old UG comics, cooked so much that I had to go buy more Tupperware to store it all, kicked my caffeine habit and got into drinking tea and so forth. I even finally had an appointment with a proper ear doctor who finally cleared me of all worry regarding diving.

I didn’t expect much from Turku, but when I started getting to know the city, I was very pleasantly surprised. It’s much smaller than I thought, and has a good amount of small shops and wooden buildings. In Finland, when you start digging into the history of whatever area you are standing on, more likely than not that place was still forest 50 years ago. In Turku it’s like “oh, so there was a Dominican monastery here in the 13th century”.

The new work room, with almost as awesome a view as the old one.

The new work room, with almost as awesome a view as the old one.

Once I had settled down Heli dropped in for an geocaching / urbex day. We went out to drive around Turku and the surrounding areas, doing stuff like checking out the massive open quarry in middle of the idyllic town of Parainen. When we were driving towards Helsinki, we randomly found an abandoned water park.

In our adventure day, first we visited a beautiful little cafe in the town of Parainen, then ran into ISENGARD in middle of the place.

In our adventure day, first we visited a beautiful little cafe in the town of Parainen, then ran into ISENGARD in middle of the place.

A surprising abandoned waterpark appears. Anyone feel like a swim?

A surprising abandoned waterpark appears. Anyone feel like a swim?

The summer romance wound down for various reasons, mostly practical. It left me feeling warm and delighted, and happy that it too concluded amicably. I had done a bit of dating and finding new friends via OKcupid, but wound that down as well. One of the many reasons was that finding single women close to their 40’s who didn’t want or have children was pretty hopeless. I found myself being happy and content living alone.

I started slowly relaxing after a year defined by uncertainty and waiting. In Finnish there’s a saying about hanging on a loose noose, and it really defined 2015. Everything had been about waiting an indefinite time for poorly defined things to happen, combined with vague feeling of responsibility, as in if I just did something, things would work out faster. I was still exhausted and raw, causing me to be a bit self centered and abrasive. That said, I felt that day-by-day I could breathe a bit easier. I was still feeling a bit lost and confused, trying to figure out what’s next for me. It didn’t really help that the autumn came with a rather big epiphany that had me reparsing a lot of stuff throughout my life, while being unable to actually do anything with it.

Return to the Dark Side of the Moon

I didn’t have too much money during the autumn, but I made one fiscally irresponsible but mentally totally rewarding choice, and it was buying plane tickets to Antwerp to crash the Iron Sky 2 shoot. I went there for two days to meet Timo and the rest of the crew, and to join the shoot with the fan extras to be Third Man From The Left. Apparently Timo had forgotten to tell anyone that I was planning on doing that, since the costume department was a bit confused, but quickly whipped up a Moon Base Denizen costume for me. When I got out, wondering if there’s going to be a dusting or make-up, suddenly the crew’s radios started to crackle. “Janos… are you Janos? Quick, run, they need you on the set!” I dashed around the studio with my super painful shoes, and ended up doing a short impromptu solo scene. Let’s see if it ends up on the cutting room floor or not.

Moon Space bum reporting in. Already had my two seconds in front of the camera in a close shot - let's see if that makes it into the film.

Moon Space bum reporting in. I had my two seconds in front of the camera in a close shot – let’s see if that makes it into the film.

What a damn nice day on the Iron Sky 2 film set! Got pulled right out of the wardrobe to snatch a decapitated head, got myself full body 3D scanned and textured so they can make a digital legion of me, managed to catch a couple of words with Udo Kier in between scenes, ran away from a rampaging T-rex ridden by Hitler, and after my stuff was over went to see the stuntmen and women fly through the air and crash at things. My blisters have blisters from the costume shoes, but a small price for such a fun day. Now off for a late dinner and Trappist beers with Herr Direktor and other pals from the production, and tomorrow off to explore Antwerp!

What a damn nice day on the Iron Sky 2 film set! Got pulled right out of the wardrobe to snatch a decapitated head, got myself full body 3D scanned and textured so they can make a digital legion of me, managed to catch a couple of words with Udo Kier in between scenes, ran away from a rampaging T-rex ridden by Hitler, and after my stuff was over went to see the stuntmen and women fly through the air and crash at things. My blisters have blisters from the costume shoes, but a small price for such a fun day. Now off for a late dinner and Trappist beers with Herr Direktor and other pals from the production, and tomorrow off to explore Antwerp!

Then, of course, there was partying. I left Antwerp in the grips of the worst hangover in a year, but immensely happy for having met with friends and acquaintances, and Udo Kier.

Also, a thing that seems to keep happening to me in my dating life occurred once again. Just as I had again settled down content with my single life, I got asked out on a date by quite an interesting acquaintance while I was in Antwerp, totally out of the blue. Which, of course, was a nice.

The Environment Warden School

One of the defining things of the autumn was attending the nature warden school. It was the kind of trade school you could go to at 15 years of age, right out of the legally mandated education, and then it was a full time school. Alternatively you could do it as adult education, which meant one week of attendance per month and independent studies for the rest of the time. The school entails ecological and environmental studies, like waste management, recycling, the very basics of environmental law, and then very practical things like learning to recognize a three digit amount of plants, the most common mushrooms and gnarls, far too many birds and bird songs, a good amount of fish, etc. Then there was the really practical portion, like chainsaw theory and practice, including felling trees. There was also boating and navigation, and learning how to move around in the nature, including orienteering.

Like I suppose in all adult education, our class too was a collection of pretty oddball characters from a variety of ages and backgrounds, who brought their own interesting spice into the mix.

I loved the hands-onn approach of the school.

I loved the hands-on approach of the school.

Boating practise and campfire coffee.

Boating practise and campfire coffee.

Moss microscopy, Marchantia polymorpha

Moss microscopy, Marchantia polymorpha

Greetings from the classroom. Whee-o, I guess all the years of geocaching paid off. First at the last checkpoint - found all the others very easily, except two which were marked with just a piece of pipe or something. Spent half an hour circling the locations and re-orienteering to them from different landmarks. I'm sure I was nosing around within 20m of both, but ragequit in the end :P

“Greetings from the classroom. Whee-o, I guess all the years of geocaching paid off. First at the last checkpoint – found all the others very easily, except two which were marked with just a piece of pipe or something. Spent half an hour circling the locations and re-orienteering to them from different landmarks. I’m sure I was nosing around within 20m of both, but ragequit in the end :P”

Today at school - mushrooms. Tomorrow, learning 94 birds from scratch :S

“Today at school – mushrooms. Tomorrow, learning 94 birds from scratch :S”

Mediapolis Game Jam

Later in the autumn I attended the weirdest game jam I’ve been to so far. Mediapolis Game Jam was held in one of the biggest TV studios in Finland, and the idea was to make games for the TV studio equipment, like the robotic cranes, the virtual studios, the motion capture equipment etc. I took the role of a designer/producer and managed to sell my idea for a game again (I seem to have a knack for it, 3/3 so far) and we set off to work.

This is a robot camera crane / dolly, and one of the teams designed a lightsaber training game for it.

This is a robot camera crane / dolly, and one of the teams designed a lightsaber training game for it.

It was a pleasant long weekend on many accounts. The date with the interesting acquaintance had sparked off quite nicely. We made some nice plans for the Christmas, which we were planning on spending in Tenerife. I would have one day in Turku after that, and then I’d leave with a bunch of friends to Wales to do some caving and to celebrate the New Year. Life was starting to look pretty awesome.

A Year of Short Stories

This year one of my resolutions was to publish three short stories, and I only not met it, but did one better. The year started with Käärmeenliekit anthology of dragon stories, which includes one of the more inspired stories I have written called Itse ilma syttyi tuleen. It’s one of those stories where the idea just hit me when I was stepping out of the office one day, and by the time I was in the lunch restaurant, the story was ready in my head just waiting to be written. Kristallimeri is an anthology of pirate stories, and there I have a story called Piru erehtyi vuodella, where I poured all my diving related fears and which I spent almost a year doing background research for. The first draft was a 9000 word monstrosity, but it got whittled down. Usva International was a target of opportunity, where I managed to get Formicidae, one of English language stories of insects and alienation I wrote in the summer of 2012. I had to edit it in an island that had no electricity, in a tent where I couldn’t even sit up, because my work habits in 2012 weren’t too organized. ROCKNOMICON is an anthology of rock and metal themed stories, and my story Maailmanlopun meininki was one which I wrote by actually putting post-it notes on a wall, trying to get an idea, then based it very loosely on an Älymystö tour in the Baltics, and just went totally overboard, giggling when writing it. I was expecting a rejection with a note to calm down, but to my surprise the editors loved it. Along with the Käärmeenliekit story this was one where I scrapped the original idea that I had, almost withdrew from the anthology, but then just came up with the new story barely making the deadline.

In addition to these stories I published a couple of drabbles in some collections, and a comic story in the second Torsobear album, Torsobear Volume 2: All Stitched up. I had a different artist from before, Carlos Zamudio, again a totally awesome one with a great style. I have worked with text so long seeing those words turn into images still feels me with amazement.

Goodbye Whitechapel

This year saw me say goodbye to the only online forum / community I ever felt like I belonged to, and which made a big difference in my life. Whitechapel was a forum founded by Warren Ellis for his Freakangels online comic. It had people from Warren’s previous online projects and new fans and walk-ins like me (well, I’ve been a Transmetropolitan fan for ages, but never knew of the guy’s strong online presence). What defined the forum was that it was polite, constructive and had people who did all sorts of creative and weird things. The politeness came from certain anarchistic enlightened dictatorship from Warren. Once upon a time he had closed down a thread by posting a huge Japanese squid/eel porn picture with an all caps “EVERYBODY SHUT THE FUCK UP”, which gave rise to the concept of Arse Eels, invoked whenever a thread approached typical annoying internet bickering or bullshit. “Pals, we’re close to Arse Eels now” was usually enough to get things back on track.

whitechapel

I know a bunch of people who had their art or other projects started thanks to the encouragement by Whitechapel. I’m one of them. I doubt I would be writing without that forum. I made a lot of new friends, some of whom I’ve met in the meatspace. I’ve met people who have expanded my horizons, encouraged me in my art and life, called me on my bullshit and actually helped me come to some rather big realizations about myself.

Alas, all things come to an end. Freakangels ended, after which Warren handed Whitechapel over to Si Spurrier and his Crossed and Disenchanted comics. Crossed came to an end and the forum just started petering out, until it started having some technical problems and got overrun by spambots this autumn. I was running a couple of threads there, and when they concluded I decided that it was the time to say goodbye to the board. At some point resuscitation becomes necrophilia.

Whitechapel and the friendships it facilitated live on elsewhere.

So I Broke My Neck

x-ray

My C6 and C7 were more “adjacent” than “on top of each other” as they traditionally are. Nothing a little titanium won’t fix.

Something weird and fast had happened. I was lying on the ground, on my stomach, my face smushed against the asphalt, aware that I should protect myself. There were kicks, and I was sure someone would sit on my back and start hitting me on the head any second now. I tried to curl up, but my legs and arms didn’t respond. I snapped to, this was serious. The many first aid courses I had taken kicked in. I started shouting “Help, I’m paralyzed, don’t touch me, don’t turn me, call an ambulance!”, hoping someone would hear, since my voice came out surprisingly quiet and mushy.

It was the last week of school, one full of moving in the nature and orienteering. In the previous day I had beaten the whole class in an orienteering challenge. My plan was to buy a bottle of bubbly and enjoy an evening of playing Pillars of Eternity and drinking wine.

I heard someone’s voice asking me if I’m okay. I told them I’m paralyzed, I’m not joking, don’t touch me, I can breathe all right, just call the ambulance. The world flashed on and off. I came to an authoritative voice asking people if someone knew who I was, and I rattled out my name and social security number. The voice chuckled: “Well that was brisk.” Someone grabbed me by the head and body, and started turning me around. “DON’T MOVE ME!” I shouted, panicking slightly – was this the moment where some well meaning idiot messed up my spine beyond repair? “We must” answered a voice, while I groaned because that was the first time my neck really hurt. It was the police.

Later in the evening I started losing interest in the game, which frankly didn’t impress me too much. I was engrossed in online conversations with some pals, and started hunkering for some craft beers. I grabbed my jacket and a clean T-shirt and headed out, not realizing that would be the last time I would see that apartment. The corner bar didn’t feel like a good choice, so I hailed a cab and asked the driver to take me somewhere with a good beer selection.

I came to. “You’re seriously hurt”, said a voice. I replied something. There was light. An ambulance, paramedics. 

I came to, in an ambulance that was speeding through the city, sirens wailing.

I came to, in the first aid. “So, we’ll have to cut off your T-shirt”, a paramedic said. “Nnnoo, my favourite T-shirt”, I moaned jokingly – although wondering when will I get a new Laibach Whistleblowers shirt. I said something about my pants. “Your pants are already gone” a paramedic said. I hadn’t noticed at all.

In CT scan.

Joking with a paramedic who is fastening traction screws on my temples. Snrkt snrkt goes my skull. The pain is distant.

I tried to lift my arms, and they didn’t quite work. My hands were contorted into weird claws. I didn’t mind my legs that much, but the hands chilled me. “So, I’m paralyzed?” Noncommittal comments. Well shit, I’m not going to walk out of here tomorrow with a hangover and a good story, and that’s a fact.

Who the fuck to contact about this, people will be worried if I’ll just vanish? Oh hell, my official ICE contact doesn’t know most of my relevant friends. Hell of a time to realize that. I figure out the best person to handle things. “Call my friend, he’s a teacher of paramedics!” I nag until they get my phone. He doesn’t answer. We send a text message.

“Hah, I’m a writer, this is good material.” “What?” “Good material for stories.”

“Should I stay awake? Can I sleep?” My legs start feeling cold, these weird shivers going up and down. “Am I going into shock?” The paramedics wrap me tighter under a space blanket and tell me that yes, I can sleep.

I get woken up when my friend calls. We talk about the situation, I ask him to contact a number of people.

I’m ferried to the intensive care unit, in skull traction. I’m processing and feeling like shit, largely due to the “I hate myself” phase of the hangover. I know enough anatomy to know what’s going on. So, I’ll be paralyzed for the rest of my life, then. Disabled. That’s it for diving and climbing, traveling and working in the nature. I’m an invalid from now on. Well, shit.

The ICU was a noisy place. Hissing and gurgling 24/7. Multiple monitors around me on stalks, like something out of the Portal games. My vitals were visible in one monitor – heart rate, breathing, blood pressure and all. Later I noticed that if I control my breathing, I can draw a Batman head silhouette with the breathing curve. I had IV cannulae on both of my wrists, and I got fitted with a subclavian cannula, which made my heart flutter in a fun way for a second.

"Tällä rannekkeella kaikkiin laitteisiin!"

“Tällä rannekkeella kaikkiin laitteisiin!”

The first day and a half before the operation was the most unpleasant time of my whole hospital stay. I was in skull traction, so I was lying on my back the whole time. I could only see the ceiling and some small slices of the room, and nowhere was there a clock in sight. Not knowing how long it was ’till the evening, the next meal or whatever was a form of torture. I had no idea when I would be operated, apparently they waited for some more skillful surgeon to be available. The police came to interview me, a lot of doctors, nurses and therapists came to see what’s up, as well as the new girlfriend and Heli. I heard people were really worried and waiting for more information, so we took a photo of me and I dictated a short message to post on FB.

Then it was the time to go under the knife. I wasn’t really worried about it, but made a decision to check that my arms still work right after I regain consciousness. I was ferried in the operating theatre, where a nurse managed to drop the traction weight, which hurt like hell. The surgeon fastened the traction screws until it felt like my skull would crack. “Nyt voin rehellisesti sanoa, että vanne kiristää päätäni“, I told the surgeon, before it was the time to knock me out.

When I was back in the ICU, one of the nurses told me that when I was being transported back and in the elevator, still intubated, I waved my hands around looking really happy. What really surprised me was how quickly I was made to do stuff. Starting from the operation day +1 I was hoisted up to a big wheelchair, made to eat by myself using a spoon fastened on my hand with a multipurpose strap, and I almost got to do the first post-paralysis urbex trip the day after the operation. Physically my situation was much better than it could be. I was paralyzed nipples down, but I still could feel touch and which way around my limbs were, although no heat, cold or pain. Also my fingers and left tricep didn’t work too well and my hands were tingling numbly like I had slept on them, but otherwise things were pretty much in order. A nurse and I had an interesting while poking my legs and fingers with scissors and an ice cube, trying to figure out what bit felt what. This wasn’t an ASIA test, just for our own interest.

I managed to pick this up with the paralyzed fingers already at the ICU. Oh, that neck brace was the bane of my existence. Sleeping with it on hurt like a motherfucker.

I managed to pick this up with the paralyzed fingers already at the ICU. Oh, that neck brace was the bane of my existence. Sleeping with it on hurt like a motherfucker. First it would just press agains the back of my head a bit uncomfortably, but soon it would feel like a spike being slowly pressed through my skull.

The ICU nurses were a really damn fun bunch – enthusiastic, empathetic and professional (also, I think they enjoyed having a patient who could talk and was actually conscious, for a change). I was taken to a tour of the hospital, including the pressure tank ward from where we borrowed a PS2 so I could watch films instead of just the broadcast TV, which I thoroughly loathed. With some negotiating I got to have my Kindle with me, provided I have it offline, since no mobile devices were allowed in the ICU. It was also this time I started getting some signals that my legs might start working again. I could twitch some muscles, and eventually wiggle my toes Kill Bill style.

This thing is called a Motomed, it's an electric excercycle you can pedal with your hands or legs.

This thing is called a Motomed, it’s an electric excercycle you can pedal with your hands or legs.

After ICU I was transferred to the trauma ward for about four weeks, which meant the rest of the December. There the schedule of my days was dictated by the rhythm of meals, pee and poo. When my neck snapped, I was living on -500kcal per day, which was 1500kcal in days I didn’t do sports. In the hospital I was fed close to 3000kcal, and I was mostly in bed rest. Never in my life have I felt so bloated, and I had to tell all the visitors explicitly not to bring anything edible. As for the pooping, since the nurses didn’t have the time to hoist me over a toilet, diapers it was, usually every three days in the form of a gross and fetid poonami. I almost feel sorry for my numerous room mates. There was physical therapy, a bit of occupational therapy, and long evenings spent in the day room, which was just an end of a corridor, staring at the same view and reading numerous books.

The first time outside in over three weeks! What a treat to get to smell the crisp -7C air instead of the hospital trifecta of broth, hand sanitizer and stale farts.

The first time outside in over three weeks! What a treat to get to smell the crisp -7C air instead of the hospital trifecta of broth, hand sanitizer and stale farts.

When I finally got my iPad in front of me, I typed an update for people. It might sound ungrateful or impolite, but I was annoyed with the idea that people out there were worried or thinking that I was in huge duress, and I wanted to tell everyone that I was okay and feeling fine, not a distressed victim. I guess a big part of it was not wanting anyone to pity me. The first update I wrote by tapping the iPad with my pinky knuckle, which was quite far from quick or pleasant. I wrote a big part of the second one like that as well, until I got an actual stylus. This is the second update:

So, chummers, sorry for dropping off the grid like that. Had to drop in to a cyberdoc to get some titanium plating for my spine, since unlike my skull, apparently it doesn’t take being thrown head first into a wall too well. So, that’s what happened apparently, resulting in two of my vertebrae being more “adjacent” than “on top of each other”. It’s a police matter so that’s all I’m going to say about that, except that the perp is caught and everything there is handled in full. Personally, I’ve filed that as something that has happened, and honestly I don’t think or care much about it. So, case closed on that for now. The less speculation, prying & rumour mongering the better, please & thank you. Then, to the relevant part: the present and the future.

Physically I’m paralyzed from the solar plexus down, but I feel touch, just not pain or temperature. We had fun times with the ICU nurses (who btw really rock – what a combination of stone cold professionalism and genuine empathy!) as we were poking me with scissors, ice cubes etc. just out of interest (and science!). I’ve regained a bit of control over some muscles in my left leg since, i.e. just twitching them, and I can wiggle the toes of my left foot. Paralyzed legs aren’t limp, btw. Feels like they collect some sort of “neural energy” and then if you touch them, they dance and do a little jig. Yesterday I almost kicked my breakfast to next Thursday. The “energy” feels like Ingress fields look 😛

My fingers then: imagine sleeping on your hands so they’re super prickly and totally numb. Then imagine it doesn’t go away. Not for a minute. I don’t have pain, but that feeling gets on my tits when I’m tired, and painkillers don’t do shit.

In spite of practically no finger mobility, I can do a lot. I’ve made functioning a puzzle game of sorts – a Cripple Quest, if you will. From since operation +1 days I’ve eaten with a spoon and a fork, brushed my teeth, held a phone, papers, my Kindle, the remote control etc. Mostly I cheat: try holding your hand limp and turn your wrist up and down. Notice how your hand opens and closes? That goes a long way, although I feel like one of those YouTube otters stacking cups, which is my new totem animal. I also have this handy strap thing for holding on to things.

The prognosis is good but with neurological stuff it’s always unpredictable. I’m starting every day with “okay, if this is as good as it gets, fine – what can I do?” If I could choose, I’d get my fingers over my legs, since I want to play the motherfucking Fallout 4 >:(

Mentally, I’m okay with what occurred and I’m going onward in high spirits. I’m not trying to blow rainbows up your asses since obviously I’m not _happy_, but I’m dealing and moving onward. Not bitter or traumatized, this is just one of those random things that happen. And honestly, I’ve been steeling myself for something like this for years, since I have so many high risk pastimes and I am a dumbass. That little what-iffing seems to have paid off. Attention, here be dragons: even a well meaning “no, you ARE really traumatized and you don’t just get it” will be met with disproportionate annoyance 🙂 Yea, I’m seeing the counsellors they have here since hey, free mental health – plus it’s fun to tell them inappropriate cripple puns and see them try not to laugh 😉

Also I can’t lie, there are aspects to this that are utterly fascinating, like the whole mind-body disconnect. Also having someone screw bolts on your skull while you’re awake and chatting with them is an… unique feeling. 🙂

But, months and years of recuperation it will be, both good days and bad. Then again, what I had planned for 2016 was healthy eating and exercise anyway 😀Also, I’m kinda happy that through the years I’ve played this body awareness game where you aim to flex just one muscle in your body when I’ve been bored – really pays off now 🙂 For the next few weeks I’ll be here in Turku, then it’s off to Tampere in a specialist institution.

If you’re interested in my condition, happy to indulge your curiosity if I can and feel like it 😉 Ask away.

Considering my situation, being a tetraplegic, I was feeling pretty much okay. New bits started working all the time, and all my needs were taken care of, including the bureaucratic stuff. I can’t lie, having to cancel the week in Tenerife and the Wales caving trip stung like fuck, especially since the Christmas at the ward wasn’t too inspiring. My low tolerance for noisy and moronic commercial TV got lower still, and the lack of privacy started really getting on my tits. The TV thing wasn’t just dislike, I felt the noise scattered my thoughts and attention in an infuriating way, making it impossible to concentrate on anything or even think clearly. On the plus side, I heard that the job I had been angling for a year would indeed start, and it could wait for me ’till late spring.

I was surprised that they did the surgery through the throat, not the neck. After the surgery my throat was a bit sore. "Oh, they just probably needed to move your windpipe and gullet out of the way, it'll get better soon."

I was surprised that they did the surgery through the throat, not the neck. After the surgery my throat was a bit sore. “Oh, they just probably needed to move your windpipe and gullet out of the way, it’ll get better soon.”

The only thing I have to complain about my care is that they made me a man bun without my consent. Ethics board!

The only thing I have to complain about my care is that they made me a man bun without my consent. Ethics board!

There are a million little observations, occurrences, victories and musing I could write about here, but truthfully I’m a bit exhausted rehashing all this. I kept a journal of sorts on Facebook about all the funny hi-jinx that took place during the four month long hospitalisation, and I’m thinking I need to let the whole deal simmer before I open it up again, and maybe start writing that book everyone and their grandmother is nagging for me to write.

There’s one more thing I could tell here. I concluded this year of extremes in a victory that was a major step in regaining my life: writing and editing a story for an upcoming anthology by poking my iPad with a stick.

At least I could still write.

The view through the "day room" window. I spent countless hours in front of this reading a book, lying how long I had already been sitting, and trying to flex my paralyzed buttocks to get some bloodflow. This was the closest of being alone that I had the whole month.

The view through the “day room” window. I spent countless hours in front of this reading a book, lying how long I had already been sitting, and trying to flex my paralyzed buttocks to get some bloodflow. This was the closest of being alone that I had the whole month.

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