World’s best novel? Sorry, I haven’t got the time to write it

 

Sven Wifstrand

e-mail: svensays at gmail.com

Update: 2019-01-10

 

Link to Swedish version

 

I am a super beginner. I have begun lots of things, but hardly one of them has been completed or even carried on for any long time. Living has, to my surprise, been going on for sixty-eight years, given you can count this as one (1) life, all those rags and small notes that lie scattered along various obscure routes where somebody looking like me is said to have been sighted. JE est un autre, Rimbaud says in a letter. It was not me, Shaggy says in his rap, smiling sardonically. That is real self-denial, isn’t it?

 

 

 

Once I believed I was somebody, and if you believe that, you are certainly not satisfied with being who you are, but you want to be something more and more etc. I wanted to be a poet, yes, I wrote poems and wanted people to pay attention to what I wrote. They did not, not very much, and that is no wonder, considering who were my idols: Stagnelius, [Swedish romantic poet], Hölderlin, Vilhelm Ekelund, [Swedish writer of beautiful poems and enigmatic lyrical prose] all of them being known for having written very much for their drawers. I should have stuck to Byron instead. That man with the crippled foot? Yes, one physically or one socially disabled, the one is as good as the other, don’t you think?

 

 

 

"I have always thought", you say, but did you really think so all the time? What you were thinking when you were born can probably be found out through hypnosis, but else, is there any opinion or experience that you have stuck to during all the time you were conscious of yourself? If there is, I think that is what really indicates that it was really me, and not some other undefined beings, who lived through all those happenings. “I think, therefore I exist” they claim that Descartes said, but how many of us have really read the work where he says so?

 

 

 

Frequently, I wake up from a dream, having a strong feeling not that it was reality, but that it reflects something I have been through and afterwards forgotten. Could it be somebody else’s experience that came to me while sleeping? Well, how did he say, Rimbaud? The "I" is someone else, at least partly. Being an aging man I am still in some sense a child, and in some sense a woman, to the extent that I have learnt from women’s more complicated view of the world. If you are a woman you may be astonished of me saying so. Good! Keep being astonished, and it may end with me becoming a woman in more senses, or with you understanding me.

 

 

 

To be a child, to be like a child. I am not thinking of Jesus now, but I am thinking of the vulgar saying about modern art: a child could do that. Exactly. He who says so, says something about himself: HE DOES NOT RESPECT CHILDREN. In today’s upbringing and education of children you do not work hard feeding the children with lots of grown-up doings and grown-up knowledge, but you pay attention to the ways children experience the world. The artists had this view already a hundred years ago!

 

 

 

To be a woman. Through the history of Western culture, those 2500 years that we have a good view of, there goes a long procession of artists who see woman as a heavenly creature, and another one of law-givers who see her as a piece of property. Occasionally, they march together, like in a hiphop video where boys wear heavy coats and hats and big shoes, while girls wear the smallest of bikinis. Cry out loud that the right to be who you are must belong to both sexes, cry it out loud, over and over again. What does S:t Paul cry out for the Galatians to hear: There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 

 

 

How did it happen that the Church lost this outright message? A woman who lets herself be burnt because she believes in Jesus, she is a good woman, you may have her as your idol, but a woman who is alive, craving for her rights, she is dangerous even today. To whom? To them, above all, who have something to gain from sustaining the old ambiguous vision of Woman. Then what is the truth about woman? Oh my, I am starting to talk like a preacher. O Woman, create your own truth, I believe in you! End of sermon.

 

 

 

But we have equality, haven’t we, well, it is still a long way to go, but at least we see equality as an ideal, still far away, but we can make it real? Yes, under democracy we talk openly about what must be changed in order to make progress, but the role of a woman, any woman, in this dialogue is for herself to define.

 

 

 

If I, a man, should yet make a statement on Woman, then I am much for the deity thing. Like many other men, indeed. The Venus of Urbino by Titian has far more truth than "the hat gets it and the bonnet gets it not" [much-quoted ruling from a Swedish regional law of the 13th century, meaning that only men can inherit]. What did I say about a complex view of the world? Woman sees many things in one, like God. I do not believe in God but this is a good substitute, don’t you think? Just joking. Let us have another try: that phenomenon which male thinkers through the ages describe as woman never being able to decide, never to be trusted, etc, it is no fault, it is a potential of hers, I mean. Being a man, I feel free to admire women, not only various individuals for various reasons, but all of them because they are women.

 

 

 

We men who have this feeling also know that women often have a trouble in accepting it, but we cannot decide for them how to interpret us. Our feelings belong to us. Shall women admire men equally, then? Stupid question to put for a man. He must be silent, not trying to make up some stupid answer.

 

 

 

However, you boys who think girls are simply too cruel, and you boys who like boys more, I am your friend too! Never think that I am writing this to persuade anybody in any issue. Still, it is unexpectedly hard to write down lots of thoughts and results that are your own, without loading your text with reasoning, as if you wanted others to agree with you.

 

 

 

I mentioned some literary idols before. Who do you think wrote this:

 

 

 

Whoever will remember the ills he has undergone, those that have threatened him, and the light occasions that have removed him from one state to another, will by that prepare himself for future changes, and the knowledge of his condition. - - - If every one would pry into the effects and circumstances of the passions that sway him, as I have done into those which I am most subject to, he would see them coming, and would a little break their impetuosity and career; they do not always seize us on a sudden; there is threatening and degrees.

 

 [Translated by Charles Cotton, 1877. The text was put into the web by Oregon State University]

 

 

 

Only a teenager, I already was fascinated by the endless verbosity of Michel de Montaigne. I too could do that, I thought. I filled notebooks with daily entries, I read a lot of books in regular studies or just for myself, and I thought of my reading, walking far in the Scanian plains where I grew up, and where I even today feel good every time I come. But this is a lonely life, living with books! You write as if you are talking to someone, who yet is not there. The modern Montaigne would do good if he went around with a tape recorder, talking to people, but I did not realise it then. Today, modern technology provides us with yet a new way of talking, or should we say a new channel on which you can send and receive, promising new possibilities which are still very little used. You, my reader, would you like to take part in e-mail-philosophy, or will you go for the chatroom Deep Thoughts On Existence?

 

 

 

It is well known that novelists reap lots of stuff from their own lives to build up their allegedly fictitious stories. There is a whole line of literary history, "laundry bill research" they often say, which aims at finding out who is who in fiction compared to reality. Some writers even are dragged into law suits by people who think they are unfairly portrayed in novels. I am NOT Carl–Ivar Rydberg, the obscure brother of Carina Rydberg [Swedish writer of scandal who gained fame by a novel intended to take revenge on a guy who had refused to lend her money]. My method is far more treacherous. You, my friend, may well figure in this story without ever having the slightest idea about it! What evil is in that? Well, I will be the only one to score the points, if there ever will be any. Carina’s Roffe, I think his name was, he too has become a much talked-about person by his involuntary posing in a novel, but I will not give you any such prospects. Your only chance is to burst in like Markoolio [Swedish hiphop comedian] shouting: It’s me! It’s me! and taking over the show. Would I really start writing the world’s best novel, it would be a cyber-interactive-documental soap opera whose actors take part in writing it, with hackers trying to break in to influence the work or just to spread manure in it.

 

 

 

I have not brought it that far yet. I always was - well, well, did you say always? – yes, I always was slow. I got my teeth late, started talking late, my baby teeth stayed long in place and so on. A sperm of Montaigne’s over-rich seed stayed on me when I was eighteen, and now at fifty it is time to give birth. I am in some way a woman, as I said before.

 

 

 

If I had been more eager to follow Byron’s trail, would that have made me faster? He was the one who said: I awoke one morning and found myself famous, he was 24 then. He got much sought after in society, and big game for ladies of the highest ranks. Still, all his life he had the feeling of being an outsider, just like me. He was famous instantly, and also it did not take long before he was tired of it. He died at 36, burning himself out. I think it may be healthy to be slow.

 

 

I never was close to death, but at least I was near its realm when I was in intensive care, rigged with pipes and instruments. Heart infarction struck me when I was right in the middle of Stockholm city. If this had happened some miles from Grangärde [faintly understandable reference to Swedish poet Dan Andersson, who was born in that village and also died young] I probably would not have been able to sit here writing now. During the first month of the first year of the present millennium eleven days of my life went by in a clinic, in a state of utmost stillness, with a band of nursing angels always near. But Sven dear, I say, you can’t really be that dreamy about lying in a hospital! Sorry, but I often think of how cute the nurses were, and almost all the patients being men, those two facts surely were determinative for the mood of the place. My daily pill, ever since then, looks like a little heart.

 

 

 

Weak men and caring women. A picture often painted, in various kinds of frames. I have seen neglective women too, believe me. The doctor who gave me calming pills when I was already totally passive. Mothers who smoke when they are out walking with their babies. Ladies who spend some evening hour in a gym, having sugar buns with their coffee afterwards. Sisters, brethren, let us not look down upon those who from ignorance and fear abuse their gifts, but will we instead pray for them with all our hearts, that their souls be enlightened now and forever! May all our wrath go against those dark forces who make use of forlorn souls to thrive: the pills industry, the tobacco giants, the prophets of the Cult Of The Body.

 

 

 

The Preacher in me had some more exercise, as you see. I was brought up in a Christian, Lutheran, creed, and on the whole I remained in it up to about the age of 15. Those years, like many adolescents, I started reading and writing poetry and taking interest in many kinds of art and culture. Thus I got into some aesthetic "religion", and I can say that I never got out of it since then, even if it has been maturing. Now, like then, I am convinced that art, music, literature etc are not only some decoration for your leisure, but a force active in building your life.

 

 

 

Faith is one such force for many people. Man has a need of seeing more than the eyes see. When we study religion, and I have done that for a considerable time, we look upon the differences between religions. The typical in them, and the struggles between them, mostly root in historical and social contingencies. We seldom inquire the depths that contain what they have in common. All religions (satanism possibly not) want to do the same: show to men that there is more strength to gain beside the forces that they can use on purpose.

 

 

 

I get that strength from the stillness of nature. A wood with rocks and tiny lakes early on a summer morning, like here in Nacka where I live, or a wide sandy beach in Scania, facing the vast open sea, those are places where I worship in my own way. But in winter where do you go? Into hibernation, if I could choose. I do not like winter.

 

 

 

I love spring. To find hepatica near a pile of snow. To sit basking by the lake and see the grey, aging ice breaking up. To have a picnic in a meadow, surrounded by birches clad in fresh pale green.

 

 

 

I love summer. The time near the beginning of June when the oaks have got their leaves and the weather is nearly always fine. The rich jungle-like green in the middle of the summer, with its deliciously shifting shades in the evening sun. The delight, with some tears, of seeing the girls who walk around with their cell phones and water bottles, wearing almost no clothes.

 

 

 

I love autumn. To sit by the sea, just looking, reading some meditational piece by Vilhelm Ekelund:

 

 

 

The sea in chilly days of autumn is stormy, the breaking waves rush in against the rocks like big white animals from the sagas. How wonderfully bright it is to sit down below the lighthouse where the sea aster is in bloom, light and blue in the white foaming clefts. This bright storm of sun, this singing blue and golden flow, cast a spell of symbolic, mighty, earnest and yet so full of joy. This bright clear storm stretches the mind out in calmness of delight …

 

 

 

Winter. No comments.

 

 

 

But spring will come! Do you want a dacapo of our symphony? OK, I lead the band – two, three, four – spring is a jumping vivid allegro! Summer is a slow movement: we lie on the beach or in a hammock. Autumn is a scherzo: we gather tomatoes to throw at each other. And then winter ….. morendo. Is there a symphony which ends with a song of grief? Certainly, the 6th by Tchaikovsky, but in Russia it is always cold, isn’t it?

 

 

 

Lovely spring! Vivaldi! Quattro Stagioni, not only a pizza but also a happy entrance for me and lots of other people into classical music. But please tell, what is classical? Not so easy nowadays when Louis Armstrong and the Beatles are classics too. Serious music, as if other music is just entertainment? Wrong. Artful music, as if other musicians did not see their work as a work of art? Still wrong. I would like to say "sit still and be silent"-music, because that is the rule of the opera house and the concert hall in our time. But not in Vivaldi’s. For Bach it may have been the rule in church, but clearly not in the coffee houses where he played much of his secular music.

 

 

 

I love many kinds of music, because you need different music for different moods. The blues, I sit rocking, feeling the vibrations of the bass in my stomach. Dixieland, I leap up, wiggling my bottom. The Wiener Walzer, I rotate, feeling like autumn leaves in a whirlwind! I jump and flap with Billy Joel in Uptown Girl, I jest with Shaggy in Boombastic, I long to go far away to Madonna’s La Isla Bonita! But of course there also is a time for the music of "sit still and be silent", by my standards rather a long time. Spending six hours with Wagner’s Twilight Of The Gods is like living a whole life in a comprised version.

 

 

 

Why did the dangerous doctor think I needed a sedative? She felt that I was afraid. Afraid of what? Afraid of the unknown. I had no idea of what was wrong when I hardly kept my balance, my stomach ached, I slept very little and I had the feeling of wearing a cap inside my skull instead of on top of my head. No test showed anything that could explain. No real lack of balance, I always was able to keep it when the doctor was there. No infection. No sore stomach or other internal damage. I dragged myself along the streets of the town of Lund, hoping that if I kept moving I would finally break down and be taken into a hospital, and … well, I didn’t meditate so much on what would happen then.

 

 

 

I returned to my lonely chamber, pulled the blind and put a knitted cap on my head to see if the warmth would be soothing. In the disc-player: symphony no 2 by Anton Bruckner. That music is like sun shining through the lifting mist and a light wind among the trees. I thought: YOU MUST BE KIND TO YOURSELF!

 

(and here the scholiast prudently has added: "because you cannot trust that others will")

 

 

 

Next day I went to the fourth or fifth doctor, can’t remember, I had quite an argument before they consented to letting me in. And he found out what was wrong: I had tensional headache. I did not even know there was a suffering thus named, and apparently some doctors did not know either. How eased I felt when I knew that I on the whole was not particularly ill. The mere knowledge of this became the cure!

 

 

 

I was not afraid when I sank into an easy chair to wait for the ambulance, not when they drove me in the ambulance, not when I lay as a packet in Intensive Care – there was a Danish nurse, I could speak a little Danish to her, it was nice – not when I lay on the table with local anaesthesia hearing the unnecessary chattering of the staff during the cardiac operation. I was just irritated that they had to move me into another hospital for the operation. The orderly who was with me in the ambulance lives in the same block as me. When I met him in the streets later, he told me that he had thought: "that guy who is standing, he surely is not so sick that we must drive him", and I had risen at just that moment because it felt quite as bad to sit or to lie back, but I was never afraid.

 

 

 

I am not afraid today. I shall not be afraid. You shall not be afraid. People who are afraid hurt each other, believing that thus they will be less afraid. _ _ _ _ _ and . . . . . . keep firing at each other because they are too afraid to sit down and talk. I could take my banjo and sing like Pete Seeger: WE ARE NOT AFRAID! You are afraid of me, because you fear that I may be quite different from what I look like, but I am not afraid of you, only sad. You do not understand what I say, and I do not understand you, because you are looking away while you talk. You are not looking at me, but at a monster picture of me that you have painted from your imagination. It is never too late to look one another in the eyes, instead of looking at a ghost which only one of us can see. Do not be afraid!

 

 

 

 

 

Can I walk with my eyes wide open

 

through the world full of cross-eyed withhold?

 

Yes I can, but I know there will be times

 

when it feels easier to go blindfolded.

 

 

 

Many decisive answers are given

 

by those who did not hear what was asked

 

and the deepest wounds can never be seen

 

least by the knives.

 

The weak make life hard

 

to get hard themselves.

 

 

 

The sombre sneaking thoughts

 

cover your face with slimy hands

 

but disdain will hurt no one

 

no one but the disdainful.

 

 

 

Our will is a blunt weapon.

 

In dreams all happens by itself

 

therefore dreams are better than life.

 

Life slips away from our hands

 

but dreams were never there.

 

 

 

Dreams were never there!

 

In the night, near to the sea

 

the counsel of strange powers is heard

 

on all that our distorted will and infected thought

 

the stinking drains of a starving mind

 

has struggled to ruin during day.

 

Yet in the morning we know nothing more

 

of the strength that somewhere beyond is still there:

 

the darkness, the eye, the dreams.

 

 

 

You there who choose an odd road

 

not wanting to meet me:

 

it is true that I walk straight, with a steady eye

 

but everything else in me is truly unmartial

 

- hope to see you some time!

 

 

 

 

 

 This was me, a quarter of a century ago. I told you I wrote poems, and this is one of them. I tried to enter into a manner of speech similar to Friedrich Hölderlin or Vilhelm Ekelund, but today I can discern the Preacher being there too as a co-worker. At that time I was unaware of it, but actually I once had this and some other poems on a recital programme in the Lund Cathedral, invited by a curate that I knew. Did she see my spirit with a sharper eye than I did myself, then? Also today I feel unsure about my flair for witty endings. It seems to me now that I had trouble in handling the tension between my fear of feelings and my attempt to form my own style of address.

 

 

 

 The Preacher has an old mate, let us call him the Platonic. Plato was, as many people know, a classical Greek philosopher who is said to have a "theory of Forms". The Platonic is that guy who claims that Soul is more worth than Body. Everyone who says "beauty comes from within" is in some way familiar with him. I, who have known him close for a long time, actually now am tired of him, because he cannot give me an acceptable answer to one important question: If there really is Soul and Body, and Soul is the important part, why do we then care so much about superficial things like neat clothing, good food and flowers in the window? The ladies who think of what jewellery to wear while they are decorating themselves, looking in the mirror, is it in fact unnecessary for them to do that? The world would be terribly dull, wouldn’t it, if all mankind were clothed in old sacks and all houses were painted in the cheapest-to-find colour, but when that old buddy is up and running, he really thinks this is the way it should be!

 

 

 

 You also can call him the Ascetic, from a Greek word meaning "exercise", and the aim of his exercise is to raise the power of the Soul and castigate the poor Body. After all these years that I have been meditating on these ideas, reading millions of pages, I think we should grant this old friend a medal and a pension, and we will hire the Preacher to give him an eulogy - …. some time.

 

 

 

 The poem starts and ends with the image of walking along a road. That’s me. In the past, and in the present. Always was, always will be. Nunc et in aeternum. If you believe in reincarnation, then I am an eternal wanderer. The nirvana thing, to coagulate for ever, I think it is nothing for me. Yet when I call myself a wanderer I do not think in the first place about Christian and romantic symbols of life as a path to follow, but I think of the mere physical activity of walking! My energetic parents were successful in handing this habit over to me: the whole family made long walks, to sites of interest when were on holiday, or Sundays to some little church in the countryside.

 

 

 

 Like many before me, I have found that walking outside is good for thinking. Jogging is not that good, because it makes you hot and tired. Cycling or driving a car, you must be observant of the road and the environment. Going by boat, I cannot tell, being no sailor. Train is obviously good since I started writing this piece when going by train back to Stockholm from Scania. But best of all is walking!

 

 

 

 One of the many: Friedrich Nietzsche. He got sick leave from his professorate in Basle, and for the rest of his life was touring around to places where he felt just a little little better. Walking all by himself in the Alps or along the Mediterranean, he thought of the learned work he had produced in the academic chambers, and then he thought of what he just had scribbled in a note-book or typed out sitting in his hotel (must have been one of the first typewriters, I think), and then he told himself: only those thoughts you have gained by walking are anything worth. And I, roaming the Scanian plains, the alps of Alto Adige or the rocky shores of Malta, carry these words through the decades as a mantra or a benediction:

 

 Nur die ergangenen Gedanken haben Wert.

Through all these years, I never ever put the question that occurs to me right now: Are you sure that all these thoughts really have worth? Couldn’t you walk yourself into bad thoughts as well? Surprised as I am, that this comes forth only now, I can give just a partial answer. It is obvious that if you sit at home, by yourself, looking at the wall, or if you are doing some tiresome household work while brooding over your problems, it must be destructive. Then, if you call someone on the phone or see someone outside to talk a little, it can be useful, but if this person is not available or does not understand you, I think you will feel still worse afterwards. When you are out walking, sooner or later you step over something that distracts you, making you change your line of thought, but can you really know immediately whether the new line is a good or a bad one?

 

 

 

I really ought to be sure of this, having been in this sport for so long. Sincerely, I cannot find in my memory any moment when my walked-into thoughts were bad. Is it because you are not sufficiently critical against yourself in your inner talks?

 

 

 

And now for some self-criticism. Household work is not always that dull. What do you do on a rainy day, yourself feeling low? Read a book? Which book, I’ve read them all. Hear music? Not so easy to choose, and probably will help only for a moment. I know: make a dough and knead buns from it. This small amount of exercise at the baking table, and the satisfaction you get from smelling the newly baked bread, will heighten your mental state with megahearts!

 

 

 

Those many wandering thinkers were all lonely people, but is it necessary that you walk alone to capture the good thoughts that come flying? Isn’t it really like this, you go on meditating on ideas that you already have come to through reading and conversations? Often when I was out, I asked myself, wouldn’t it be a treat to walk together with some befriended soul and think out loud? It is a pity that I never could try this, because no soul of that kind ever showed up. The woman I shared a life with for 20+ years was the kind who rather sit talking inside somewhere, and she used her superior intelligence and mastery of the spoken word to keep me down rather than to favour a sincere talk. Am I bitter about this? Bitter because of myself, then, who could not find a way out of this narrow den. Instead I got into a state of nearly lameness which increased the damage. It can take twenty more years for me to understand how this can happen, you try to be earnest and end by being seen as a dangerous person!

 

 

 

A little more than a year after the heart attack I visited the town where I was born, Lund in southern Sweden, to take part in an academic event which was held to celebrate the memory of my father who was a professor in classical Greek. Many people whom I hardly had seen since my student days were there. While sitting on the train back home, with mixed feelings about old recollections and ghosts, I naturally thought of what had become of me since then. Speaking in terms of career and success I am a failure, since I have had so many great plans and hardly fulfilled any of them. I always felt strong about what I chose to do, and then I followed my feelings quite as much in deciding to quit. But then, I thought, this too can be something good, not having stuck to one trail, but to feel that much is still left to be tried? Thus, somewhere along the line, near Tranås or Mjölby, the title of a Super Beginner came up.

What I am doing now, on and on, still going on if I may point it out (*s*), is in some way what I always wanted to do, but also part of a wholly new attempt. I explore the world outside the narrow den, and I discover new worlds within me. The words I write serve as a map, a log book and an album of photos, but it is a somewhat doubtful record, because while I write on, paragraph after paragraph, the parts already written somehow change themselves. In other words: when I go back and re-read what I wrote I notice how the thoughts transform, comparing to when they only were in my head. Yet since I started, I have not changed anything except some small slips. Who reads this may see still more than I do myself of the alternate universe which moves inside and behind the visible one.

 

 

 

THE alternate universe, said I, as if there just were one such, and one that is regular. No, no, no. There is only one universe, or there is an infinite number of them. The particles of thought can be named and observed, but I never can be sure that I have found all of them, or that they will act the same way the next time. I can describe Body and Soul as body only, or as one emanation of a purely spiritual power. Body and Soul, form and contents, good and evil, catholic or protestant, all those ruptures I can mend, and their being ever broken can be seen as a completed experiment. Now what did Descartes say? I think, therefore I exist. Do you think that he thought that he proved something thereby? No, but you need a starting point, he said. I did look up that passage.

 

 

 

Trivial knowledge is good, I think, if you want to play Trivia or to have an interesting conversation, but there is a less useful side of it, too. Through it many sayings that are only half true or even quite misunderstood are kept going for a long time, until some bright researcher does a TV show on them. How many have read the whole Discours de la méthode and considered what Descartes wants to say? I haven’t, I just looked into it to check that the famous phrase really was there: je pense, donc je suis.

 

 

 

Why this talk of René Descartes once more, or Renatus Cartesius as he is called on the massive monument by Johan Tobias Sergel in the Church of Adolf Fredrik in Stockholm? Just because. To a Swede like me, this French free thinker is kind of a fellow countryman, since he met his end while enduring a winter in Sweden. That piece of trivial knowledge is correct. Even in our days one is sensitive to new germs when changing one’s habitat. It is no wonder that poor Descartes rather soon got pneumonia in cold and dirty Sweden about 350 years ago!

 

 

 

He should have remained in Paris, even though the Jesuits were hard on him. Myself, I would gladly have remained in Paris. Oh, to dream that the 8 days I spent there in 1999 would have changed into the horizontal eight! Early in Easter morning I sat in an obscure café, seeing the Notre Dame beyond blooming cherry trees, and remembered a lady friend who would have been 50 that week, if she had lived. But she died some weeks before her 25th birthday from taking too much painkillers combined with alcohol. Then I thought: "You should not be alone in this city", and burst into tears.

 

 

 

Never say "don’t cry" to someone who is crying. Say: "cry, you will feel better afterwards". You can get into tears for a lot of different reasons, but the relaxation that follows is always good! The sentimental poets of the 18th century who claimed that tears were sweet rather than salt, they knew what they were talking about.

 

 

 

Since that day in Paris I never cried that much in an instant, but my eyes get wet at least once a year around the day of S:t Lucia, when I hear children in white sing the traditional songs. [The Feast of S:t Lucia, December 13, a very old catholic celebration which survives and flourishes in ’’protestant’’ Sweden]. How come that, after all these years, me having three children, I haven’t got suited to it? I feel no need of an explanation. I just cannot resist it.

 

 

 

Last time I had fallen in love at work, I was crying every night in bed, lying beside my peacefully snoring wife. A young woman was appointed in the middle of winter, and at first I hardly noticed her, but then came summer and holidays, and then I thought of her all the time!

 

Those tears were tears of tenderness, not really of sorrow, or perhaps I cried for joy over new feelings that I had not known of before. There is a prejudice about redheads being vivid and whimsical, but this very redhead was shy and introvert, like me, a sister soul I thought, and I felt she had secrets within her which I longed to discover. Apparently she did not appreciate the little attention I tried to show her, so there were no discoveries made. Besides, at that time I still believed that my marriage could be saved, but anyhow two years later it broke up. Que sera sera.

 

 

 

"What happens, happens". Or, in my slightly aggressive version: Whatever happens, I face it. Not that I am a tough guy who can stand everything, but I am prepared when it comes. I may be crushed, or I endure and come out of it, maybe stronger than before, and most likely with some new knowledge. I was down many times, and stood up again.

 

 

 

"We need to talk", my wife said to me one night. I said: "Yes, what about?" She said: "Divorce". That was by far the worst bomb that ever went off right in my face, but I had felt some fuse burning for a while. During two months after this, I hardly could distinguish days from nights, because of overheated thoughts that spoilt all my calm and all my concentration. No sleep at night, and in daytime I somehow endured in the office, thanks to tolerant fellow workers. Since then I never thought back of what could have happened if I had not managed to keep up my work. There were some people I could talk to confidently, and with their help I toiled on.

 

 

 

Once in a lunch break I met a woman in the food store who had been my boss some time before, and a good boss, one of the best I had. Let’s call her B. She was about my age and born in Scania like me, so we had something in common beside work. After her being transferred some year before, we had encountered every now and then in the corridors and spoken a few words. I thought: "She is sensible, I could have a talk with her", so I suggested to her that we would meet for a walk and a cup of coffee or something like that, and she agreed at once, apparently she had no doubt about it. Somewhat later we met at a rather peculiar time in a plain coffee-shop which luckily enough was open. I told her what was the matter with me and thanked her for coming to see me early in the morning on a work-free day. She said she had thought a good deal about why I wanted to see her, and she also told me that once it had been near a divorce for her too, but the step had not been taken and the marriage had been repaired. After that talk, we met a second time for a walk, and a third time visiting a museum. In the morning of the very day we should have met next time, she phoned, to say not only that she could not make it, but also that she did not want to see me any more!

 

 

 

Cold, weak, appalled, floored. What words do I use to describe how I feel when I, already in a hurt condition, get such a stunning announcement in an issue which I consider simple? What reason did she have, you wonder? Her husband had muttered at her for "abandoning" her family to go to a museum with me on a Sunday, so now she did not dare any more. I answered that I, being a gentleman, certainly respected her feelings, but I asked if I could at least see her once more to say good bye sincerely and not just so plainly on the phone, but even to that she could not agree. I never yet went by crutches and fell because somebody hit a crutch for me, but I think that would be similar to how I felt in this moment. The question also is, did she tell me whole truth about her decision, but I surely will never get to know that.

 

 

 

Where you are not, there is happiness. Dort wo du nicht bist, dort ist das Glück. Thank you, Franz Schubert, that you with your song Der Wanderer have saved for us this exquisite line of the otherwise totally obscure poet Georg Philipp Schmidt von Lübeck! There is no better way, at least no shorter and clearer way, to explain what is meant by ROMANTIC. You long to go to some other place, but you cannot tell why or how that place would look, you just long for the unknown because it is unknown. You imagine various things that disappear in the same moment, and lead your life in a double picture of dream and reality. Certainly it is sickly always to yearn for something indefinite, always to be a wanting soul, but isn’t it still worse to feel the bitterness when you fail to make a dream come true? And is it not this marvellous ability to discern something more beautiful and sublime than the eyes can see, that makes us strong enough to live through the darkest times of our life? Happiness is where I am not, can mean that I simply abstain from trying to make my dream real, because then at least I have the beautiful dream still with me and can dream it on! Dream being better than life, because you lose control of your life, but in the dream there never was any control to lose.

 

 

 

All dreams are not beautiful. How romantic is your life, if in your inner world you encounter creatures with teeth in their bottom, like in a Dali painting? I do not know. My knowledge of human soul does not cover that. Of course I have had nightmares, everyone has some time, I think, and sometimes I felt outcast and worthless, but I never was afraid of myself, and I never struggled to keep awake for fear that the nightmare would come back. Sometimes I say to myself, I could be a good psychologist since I have much patience, but quite as often I doubt that I have the empathy that is needed too. I think that many who like to watch horror films are as ignorant as me; that is why they watch, they want to be fascinated by unknown worlds. The so called "horror romantic" is genuinely romantic, just as much as those sweet feelings that are generally thought of, when you use the word romantic.

 

 

 

Someone does or says something that is horrid and incomprehensible to you, but to him it is obvious because he has a hell within him which he can see much better than he can see what is around him, those things we others see. He is as helpless as you, but he is not so willing as you to admit it. I think Nastasia and Rogozjin in Dostoevsky’s Idiot are two such people, and they must destroy each other when they come near. The idiot, who is that? Not only the silly benevolent Prince Myshkin, but all of us, who stand beside watching, unable to do anything.

 

 

 

I read Idiot the first time when I was 18, just having finished school, the second time when that bomb I talked about had blasted, and the third time while writing this. It is a bit like revisiting places where you have been before: you are a little unsure of what has changed and what you have simply forgotten. Does a book change, you can’t mean that, oh yes I mean it, when I read it and re-read it I enter a world that I do not know thoroughly, neither then nor now! For me, it feels like the doings in Idiot take place on a more or less dark stage, and out of the shadows a figure suddenly appears whom maybe I have seen before, or have not noticed up to now. Dostoevsky often describes minor figures in a way like they nearly, but only nearly, act on their own, as if there was a supplementary novel within the main one.

 

 

 

Nastasia is a real bitch. Even though I travelled so much in the world of Idiot, I am still unsure of what she really does to scare everyone so much. She is a 25-year-old smashy chick who comes out of nowhere, as it seems, with lots of money by which she can lead a luxurious life on her own and subdue all the men who want her and/or her money. Dostoevsky’s picture of her is so shadowy that the monstrous features dim the more subtle details of her personality. Monstrous or not, she herself is scared when she meets a man who, although a bit scared himself, is not imposed by her, but treats her with the respect a gentleman always shows to a lady, Prince Myshkin I mean.

 

 

 

Rogozjin then, what label would we put on him, if he appeared among us? Is there a male equivalent of "bitch"? Or is an egocentric and arbitrary behaviour so natural to a masculine that we do not need to categorize it? A clinical category perhaps, like incestually abused? I do not know. A fourth reading of the novel will be necessary to find out about this.

 

 

 

Myshkin is far more easy. He is no real idiot, although he has been in mental care for a long time, on the contrary he is more intelligent than most other people in the novel. By today’s standards he is a ninny.

 

 

 

The others call him an idiot a couple of times, because he is inept in social life, but through the whole story he does nothing worse than this: he misunderstands some dealings so that the others present are embarrassed, and he gets a little hot during a party and smashes a valuable vase. Around him, there are people who cheat and mock at each other, make scenes, fight, drink, and steal. Myshkin is as polite to the upstart mademoiselle with a dubious past, as he is to noble ladies, and he stays by the murderer’s side comforting him until the police come to get him. He has an inner self-confidence that does not compel him to assert himself at the cost of others, but it helps him to cope with troubles that come by. However, even if he does what he can, he cannot avoid the final catastrophe.

 

 

 

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, says Luther in his hymn. God will forgive you, if you believe in God, but if you believe in mankind, will men forgive you then? You should not count on that.

 

 

 

When I think more of this, it feels like time to read the novel again for the fourth time, but no, that can wait. I just look up the scene where Prince Myshkin proposes to Nastasia the first time, or more accurate, offers to marry her. How can the ninny come up with such a surprising idea after he has met her only twice, both times in company, never alone? It is hardly even his own idea, since he is provoked into saying it by another gentleman present. Nastasia of course is rather put out when she understands that she cannot tame this man with all her rage and all her money. At first she seems to accept the offer, and she makes good use of it, teasing the rivals, but finally she insults Myshkin and leaves the place together with Rogozjin, the brute.

 

 

 

It is the heat of these confrontations that, above all, makes me come back to Idiot again and again. Speaking generally, I like to read tragic books to strengthen my belief that this is not what always must happen. We can make a better life, I am sure!

 

 

 

But dear Sven, now you are back into "aesthetic religion". Can you really say definitely that your life has been better from reading Idiot three times? Better than it would have been if you had spent your time chattering in pubs?

 

 

 

Such a question could be awkward to me, because I cannot easily say no and admit that it really does not matter what you do, but if I say yes it would feel like I boasted and praised myself, and I do not want to do that either. Therefore I can give no answer except to myself, so what, I am no preacher and have no need to make you think like me! Religion you can call it indeed, since I refuse to dispute it. This is simply my way of life, and has nothing to do with valuing works of art according to moral standards, or with any other such clever theories.

 

 

 

Come vivo? – Vivo! I could sing with Rodolphe in Puccini’s La Bohème. How do I live? Well, I live! All questions of "would have been" are annoying to me, for what has happened can never be changed, and what am I supposed to do with the conclusions that could be drawn from it? One thing only: ask the Preacher. He has been quiet for a while, but now he strongly feels it’s his time again. The wise Preacher (P) will talk to the unsure Dreamer (D) who dwells in another chamber of my heart.

 

 

 

P: You already know, since a long time, what is most important. Be sincere. Tell what you feel. Express your thoughts immediately, not preserved or fermented. Never think of acting a part in order to influence others, and do not try to direct what others do by deciding for them how much they need to know! Even the most well-meant manipulations can go very wrong.

 

 

 

D: Certainly, but your wise instructions, do you know what I think they are, they are preserved, just as you said! When I am in the middle of things happening and have to decide in every moment what to do now, then it is not at all sure that reality is formatted so I can run philosophy-of-life.exe on it. And in my dreams it is the same thing, what I see in dreams has colour and form and words as if it were really happening, quite as difficult to grasp. I can dream of something I want from future, but it is inevitable that the dream also calls back what I did want once, in spite of your jolly phrases like "what’s done is done, now we want to look forward".

 

 

 

P: Yet, occasionally it can be that the dry principle comes to life in a way to show that it is not always so very dry. Think of what happened recently when you were going by underground, reading one of your train books as usual, and in the book there was one single sentence that scorched you, so that you could not read any more for a long while:

 

 

 

Tout l’art d’aimer se réduit, ce me semble, à dire exactement ce que le degré d’ivresse du moment comporte, c’est à dire, en d’autres termes, à écouter son âme.

 

"The whole art of loving is, I find, contained in your saying precisely what you are filled with by the moment, or in other words, in listening to your own soul."

 

 

 

PD unisono: This is SO true. What Stendhal says in De l’amour will be another mantra or benediction, for sure. That work, with its lengthy documentation and reasoning, can be seen as somewhat parodious, but this sentence alone is more worth than several whole books!

 

 

 

Lots of poems and songs tell things like "you are my whole world", "all this and heaven too", and many novels and films deal with the devastating compromises that necessarily occur when anyone tries to lead a life in such a spirit. Art is lying all the time, or speaking with a double tongue. The holy scripture of aesthetic religion is not there, but can be written only for me, by me only.

 

 

 

Is that what I am doing now? I doubt. To promise such a thing would be precarious, after so little work done. On screen it can seem to be lengthy, but on paper it is not more than a skilled writer would produce in some hour.

 

 

 

One of the many who thought about aesthetics and religion two hundred years ago, in the romantic era, was Friedrich von Hardenberg who called himself Novalis. He took a degree in civil law while thinking and writing, and thinking and writing, and was in love with a teenager named Sophie. Often he called her Philo-Sophie, a good pun, since the Greek word philos means loving, a philosopher is one who loves wisdom:

 

 

 

If the spirit sanctifies, every true book is a Bible.

 

 

 

The only real temple in the world is the human body. - - When you touch it, you touch heaven.

 

 

 

Most people do not know how interesting they are indeed, what interesting things they tell. If one could truthfully render and consider what they are saying, they would be astonished by themselves and feel inspired to discover a new world within them.

 

 

 

Just some fragments from a life which too turned into a fragment, since he died at 29, and then Sophie was dead already. The toil of mourning is intense in his writings of the last years, numerous letters and long manuscripts.

 

 

 

Sophie and Friedrich – two who died young in a time when infectious diseases were still highly mortal. You might think that she must have been an extraordinary girl, being attractive to a man ten years her senior who was already making a career as a writer and a civil servant. Scholars say that her letters and diary tell only of simple everyday matters, but how do they know how much she herself may have destroyed during her illness, or if her family did dispose of such things that a bourgeois girl should not properly write down?

 

 

 

All that he left, lots of poems and reflections, and an unfinished novel, was published in print, but only connoisseurs read it nowadays. However, there is one famous item. The hero of the novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen sees a blue flower in a dream, and he believes the flower to exist somewhere in the real world, so he wants to find it.

 

 

 

The blue flower of romantic! A symbol of yearning that is well-known. But what was Novalis trying to find through his enormous writing activity, and what did I want long ago when I read it all and made notes of it in a black book?

 

 

 

I think it was vague to him, as it was to me. While in quest for the flower, Heinrich finds an illustrated book with himself in many of the pictures, and the pictures show things that have not yet happened, but the text is in a language that he does not understand. That maybe is what I am doing now, I see pictures within me and try to decipher the yet unknown text that comes with them. When I have done that, you can understand what I have written, but how do I know what strange pictures may appear to you when you read it?

 

 

 

It is not easier to imagine what you would encounter if you could see me in real life. Who I want to be, or who I think I am, can be someone who nobody has ever seen. And vice versa, I would probably not recognize myself in your picture of me. A confused sentimental old man who does not know his place, but tends to assert himself quite unnecessarily? That sentence about listening to your own soul keeps scorching me all the time. Now I read another book by Stendhal, Le Rouge et le Noir, much more mysterious since there are imaginary personalities to discover. The young private teacher Julien who is flirting with the mother of his pupils just to exert some masculine power, and the mother who tremblingly falls more and more in love with him, I need only a few pages during an underground ride to feel like in another world. Julien, with so far-flying thoughts within him and so frightfully scarce means of letting them out, this could have been me at 20 years. But I surely would not have done like him, if there had been such a lovely woman of 30 so near me, so near to my soul.

 

 

 

There wasn’t. Now we turn age upside down, and suddenly get into real life. Did I wrong to declare my love for G S (Gorgeous Soprano), a member of the same church choir as me, me being old enough to be her father? As a gentleman, I can tell myself that I ought not take the risk of embarrassing a woman or make her angry, but how much does that take? How would I feel, just giving her looks and making some little tries to show her some attention? Would it not be better to tell the truth? And what happened when I really did? I must say I felt so released in that very moment. I understood I could have no hope, but I proved to myself that I am not afraid of my feelings.

 

 

 

Ha, you are curious! What did G S say? It seemed she took it quite nicely, she rejected me of course, but in a way which was not contemptuous or shameful. However, it is evident that she got embarrassed after thinking it over a bit, because we hardly talk to each other since then, although we are still in the same choir, seeing each other regularly. Through telling my love, I lost a friend. Sorry, I did not mean it that way, I want to whisper, but how can I make her hear me?

 

 

 

I can only hope to be able to hear my own inner whisperings, it seems. Let me seek comfort in song:

 

 

 

I spend a lifetime waiting for the right time

 

Now that you’re near the time is here at last!

 

 

 

I think Elvis was terribly nervous every time he was near the microphone, and thus he got that wonderfully trembling voice. I am never nervous, so I can never be that good, but still I love to sing. When you try to be who you are in ordinary life there are social conventions to stop you and your own inhibitions to block you, but when you act, like singing someone else’s text and trying to carry the message of it, then you can give all you have!

 

 

 

Can this be the reason why many people choose to act a part instead of being themselves, in common life where you think common people are just common? Hold it, it is not that simple. You put it very roughly when you mean there is one unique "self" and a lot of possible "roles". Look at the ways of life among young people today, and you will find that "finding yourself" is quite like "creating a role" or even "swapping roles", and the idea that binds all this together is that if you are invisible you are nothing!

 

 

 

This idea of life also is spreading to more mature ages. My friend Platonic, heigh-ho, where are you? Gone. He has nothing sensible to tell those who are convinced that fitness, beauty box and heavy muscles are the core of human dignity. The Preacher sends word that he is working on the eulogy, but soon maybe it will not be needed, because no one will understand what he says?

 

 

 

Why then do so many feel for sure that they must act their lives, instead of living spontaneously? The fear of what will happen if the real You comes into sight is so strong, that you must build a character which you feel able to control since you have consciously created it. Someone among these frightened actors even takes on as a tyrant director, forcing upon the others the scripts of the parts they must play, in order to prevent the terrible …

 

 

 

Whatever it may be. The truth is, sooner or later the involuntary co-actors discover that they are in somebody else’s play, and so they in turn are frightened, and they wonder what level they have reached in the PlayStation of Life.

 

 

 

There are other roles acted in common life, more openly, sex roles for instance. In Sweden in the sixties, during my teens, this term came into everyday language with the rise of feminism. I was sceptical then, thinking: it shouldn’t be difficult to treat humans like humans? It is more difficult than that, of course, as I realised later on. But the debate of sex roles is much older. Stendhal, whom we already know, is critical to those rulings of society which put limits to the opportunities for women to gain knowledge and work. He deals with such questions both overtly in De l’amour and through the mind of Julien in Le Rouge et le Noir.

 

 

 

Not only men play roles, words can do too. We talk about symbol or allegory. A house is not always a house. Quite often words are used to say not what the dictionary orders them to say, but to represent something else. Meaning rolls away towards the edge, and often overturns totally.

 

 

 

Those words we call abstract were originally concrete. We may think this is a modern phenomenon, to change the function of terms already existing, but then we are wrong.

 

 

 

In the Old Testament they talk about face, meaning personality, or about spirit, physical breath, meaning inner life. "To lose one’s face" we say even today. So I believe that when Jesus says that the bread is his body and the wine is his blood, he too is telling something else than he seems to. In my opinion, the tedious debates of theologians around the creepy sorcery of the communion, the bread and wine turning into flesh and blood of Christ in that very moment, are quite unnecessary!

 

 

 

The bread is the body of Man, I think, the very base of basic food, an everyday source of carbohydrate, protein and minerals, and the wine then is Man’s own blood and a basic supply in the sense that a form of human culture without any drugs has not yet been found. What is Jesus called, the others call him Lord or Master or Saviour, but what does he call himself: Son of Man!

 

 

 

It is Easter now, I do this to his memory, which consequently here means to remember my own fate: I take a glass of wine in one hand and some snack in the other. But then a word comes into my mind, not from Jesus but from Nietzsche:

 

 

 

Wenig macht die Art des besten Glücks.

 

 

 

Little is needed to be really happy. So little, and so hard to get. Solitude is much in my thoughts, because I am mostly alone. You can very well live alone, there are substantial advantages in it, and it is convenient to be able to decide always for yourself in details of your life, but you should never be alone in your mind.

 

 

 

Never ask what will happen, to know is dangerous

 

It may be written in the stars but stars do not care for us

 

Try to think like this: whatever happens I will face

 

This winter may be our last

 

Or there are more winters to come

 

But please, close that gate

 

And pour a glass of wine

 

While we are here talking time goes by

 

Try not to answer today the questions of tomorrow

 

But take care of this day

 

 

 

 

 

I think Pilate had read Horace’s poems, and talked with his sensible wife about them. Take care of the day, carpe diem, is known to friends of poetry as Horace’s trade mark, and many who do not read poetry have heard that phrase and know what it means.

 

 

 

Horace must have been rather much like me, then? Well, yes, I did not try to make a true translation, but I wanted to steal into his mind, to be Horace. Most important here is the phrase "whatever happens …" which I have had as a motto for many years without really knowing its origin. One summer, long ago, I read most of his work because it was in my course of Latin, and that was a fine summer with a great reading experience. But everything you read cannot remain in the uppermost part of your consciousness. I think I have been Horace since then!

 

 

 

Here I would have liked to say some more words on Horace, but all of a sudden it feels too hard to discern him from myself! He was not fond of glamour, and did not seek adventure, but he wanted a quiet life, just like me. Wounded by passion, like me, he did not dwell in bitterness, licking his wounds, but went looking for what could be of comfort.

 

 

 

Go not to the crowd to learn from them if you have the right to live. Go to the sea and the moorlands and the deep western storm.

 

The sea, the woods, the air, clouds, trees – all of them tell you: yes!

 

 

 

This is not Horace, not me, but another of Horace’s grateful readers, Vilhelm Ekelund, born in Scania like me. When he wrote these lines about the sea in 1922, he thought of the wide open sea along the Scanian coast, and not of the cosy inlet near my home where I often go for a morning walk. However, later in life he came to Saltsjöbaden, near to Nacka where I live, and found himself very well at home in that region. I sometimes go to see his grave by Baggensstäket.

 

 

 

In Ekelund’s world the graves are alive as the flowers and the trees. He wanders in open air with writers of other ages and talks to them, as if they were walking beside him, and the literary scholar finds it difficult to describe who of them is who, but how much does that matter? Ars longa, vita brevis, art is long but life is short, the saying is, and I want the sense of it to be this: if I can learn some knowledge, some tradition, and use it for my purposes, I can also bring it on to someone who will use it long after my voice stopped talking.

 

 

 

Now I suddenly came forward, walking beside, oh yes, this is about me too, and you, and our friends, and it does not concern literature only but all things that we cherish. Have I a great zeal, do I see myself as one of those walking thinkers whose thoughts will walk on, like Horace, like Kierkegaard, like Nietzsche? Yes and no. In one way this is for me only, I write down my thoughts to ensure that they do not only spin around inside my head, and I save it in a website in order to have a copy not only in a machine that can stop working or be stolen.

 

 

 

In another way I want you, who sit somewhere else in the society of dead poets, to know that here another one like you is to be found. If YOU really are to be found.

 

 

 

One way of investigating I have already tried. Into the search window of Google.com I write the famous names that are in my text, at first only a couple, and then more and more. The search engine finds collections of quotations and educational reading lists, still fewer after every added name, and finally there is only one hit, to my own site that is. If there is another one who keeps writing this kind of thoughtful diary with literary reflections, he or she is doing it in private, not in the web. I am unique in the whole world.

 

 

 

In 1978, I wrote in Lundagård, the magazine of the students’ union in Lund: Rightfully all novels should be endless or unfinished. I thought that a novel must be finished because it is wanted for print. A TV series can go on for a long time, but in the end the actors and producers do not want to do it any more. But life goes on! I can tell you which is the world’s best unfinished novel, one that kept on until the writing hand got forever stiff. It must be Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, The Man Without Qualities, by Robert Musil. But the big novel that is getting bigger still, where is it? Probably somewhere in the dark, for reasons of copyright.

 

 

 

When I first thought of this, surely some military and scientific people already used means of storing and reworking text without writing it on paper, and now all people can use these methods! Most wonderfully, it never has to stop! I can give my password over to my children, so they can keep on thinking when I am finito.

 

 

 

Soeren Kierkegaard walked by a while ago. He had no children, at least not recognized, but he could have had some if he had not turned Regine off. It is well known that he broke up the engagement and commented on it in his many heavy works. Regine once said that she wanted to be with him so much, even if she were compelled to live in a cupboard. Soeren then ordered from the carpenter a cupboard in a size fit for her to get into. He wrote in earnest and lived in irony, you could say. I make the opposite, no not really, I try to avoid irony in my writing, but sometimes I simply cannot. Many people in all the world read those books, and the cupboard is on show in the City Museum of Copenhagen, but who gives Regine a thought anymore?

 

 

 

It is probably as well for her to be forgotten. Many women who were near the so-called great men got into mischief or were harshly judged by posterity. The men around the much fewer famous women seem to have got more luckily away, partly because those women probably could manage well without them.

 

 

 

And yes, even I must confess being guilty of some time having lived ironically, and at times I also was used in somebody other’s ironical life. Long ago I loved a girl, found myself in bed with another one, and very soon was courted by a third. What happened? Nothing more happened. Suddenly they were all gone. They did not know of each other, so any jealousy was not near, but I did not grasp what was going on, so I just quitted. My career as a casanova took an end before it started. But for a Super Beginner it is never too late, is it?

 

 

 

And here I tell for true that the spirit of my life, which dwells in the most sacred chamber of my heart, began to tremble with such a force that was felt in my finest veins, and in trembling uttered these words: BEHOLD, A GOD IS HERE, STRONGER THAN ME, TO TAKE POWER OVER ME.

 

 

 

Dante felt thus, when he for the first time saw Beatrice, "she who makes happy". He tells about it in his wonderful little book Vita Nova, New Life. In my young days I made a Swedish translation of this passage in a deliberately bloomy old-fashioned way, to be ironical. But that is wrong doing, as I have later understood. If you jest with feelings, you are truly afraid of them, and there are better ways to deal with that fear, as I know now, having got rid of it after a long time.

 

 

 

But once on a beautiful day of early spring in Lund, when I felt like Dante, I was afraid.

 

 

 

 

 

Something at once took hold inside me

 

shook me with heavy force and to my right a smile

 

went by while I in confusion only could

 

lift my hat

 

 

 

How could this touch me so

 

hard that I nearly could not breathe?

 

Always there is unknown tension in a

 

not awaited encounter.

 

 

 

 

 

To be a teenager in the sixties was hard. It was hard in other times too, sure, but I say so because I know from myself. The so-called sexual liberalism was big then. Serious writers wrote pornography, and to read them was held to be radical, and there was talk about sex everywhere. I who was brought up in a conservative spirit and had not thought much of revolting it, at least not in this issue, I felt always uneasy. But while sex was talked about and pictures of naked people were shown, in everyday life no one looked so very sexy, I thought. Because I was immature? No, I think so even today when watching old films and TV clips. The girls look awful indeed. The clothes are horrid, like the spectacles and the shoes and the hairdo. All that stuff should have been transported directly into the museum just like the blotty pop art. To complete the misery, I never was a success with those girls because I am short.

 

 

 

There was comfort in the music. A new song from the Beatles or Rolling Stones or Procol Harum made a glorious event, and it happened often, since in those days songs were edited as singles first, and then collected into albums. The productivity was huge. I can mention more names who got into sudden fame and soon were forgotten, due to the competition, and still they were good, so good that I don’t just feel nostalgic when I listen to them in radio today, in the Radio Vinyl channel which is very popular in Sweden. The sixties was a baisse in visual beauty, but a golden age of music!

 

 

 

Here, there and everywhere. The song Paul McCartney wrote when he thought of marriage has stayed inside me since it appeared in 1966. I know it was not yet Linda then, but still I think of her. She was lovely, it seems to me. Now some years have gone since she died. I shed a tear when I saw it in the paper. John and George are dead, what Ringo is doing I am not sure, but Paul is in good health, still working with music, and as far as I know he has not disappointed anyone in any other way, either.

 

 

 

Some disliked that Linda was always a member of Paul’s different bands, but I think that is sweet too. I want her everywhere, says Paul in the song. That is the way it should be. As Swedish dance band singer Lotta Engberg puts it: If we do it, we do it a hundred per cent!

 

 

 

To lead a better life I need my love to be here – but apparently most of us must reckon ourselves happy if we get 40 per cent. Must it be, when a woman comes into a close relationship with a man, that she also provides herself with a secret, locked and alarmed basement where she continues living as if nothing had happened? Men have their ways of cheating too, of course, but I never had to consider that because I never had or wanted such a relationship with a man. I also think women are the more clever in hiding it.

 

 

 

I manage very well alone when the thing is to be strong and patient, make decisions, do things, take blows, but what kind of a life is it, always to be like that? In between I need to be soft, loosened, do nothing, just be, and then it is that I feel the most longing for one to share a mollusc life with, or one who is strong when I am slacking. But to discover that the loved one is not there, even when it looks like she is, that is far worse than to be alone.

 

 

 

Or else, I am the one who is not there, but when that happened, I did not know until afterwards.

 

 

 

 

 

Say nothing of death

 

no, nevermore

 

It was cold when we stood there

 

in the dim sunshine of autumn

 

brown leaves on the ground

 

even falling down into the pit

 

dug for the urn

 

but I have to tell you:

 

the stones can not speak

 

the strength of our mind fails us

 

if we stand numb before the short grey words

 

the names tell nothing of what really is there

 

and the figures mean as much, I say

 

as figures do when you talk about life

 

if men could welcome each other that willingly

 

that tenderly and gratefully

 

like the earth welcomes the ashes -

 

then death is no more there.

 

 

 

 

 

The first time I visited Greece, there was a local cigarette brand named BYRON, whose ads showing the portrait of the poet were up at various places. I do not think Byron was a smoker, even if he was hard to himself in many other ways. He did lots of things during his short life, not only write. He was a Hemingway of his time, travelling, sporting, going to war, etc. What sport, with the bad foot? Horses, swimming, boxing! Much money was spent, and the poor body was wasted.

 

 

 

But he brushed his teeth like a good boy, he did! In his letters to the publisher back in England from all the many stations of his restless journeying, he talks of literature, and of money of course, and every time he asks the publisher to send more dental care materials. That is nice. I have been at Cape Sounion where he carved his name into a marble column, and in Messologion where he lay dying 1824, still waiting for a real combat with the Turkish occupants. The most famous literary man and golden boy of the time ended as a would-be war hero fleeing from failure in family life, and after his death there was fuzzing and fighting over the remains. His manuscript autobiography went up in flames, and so we never got his own version of some dealings the scholars still find dubious.

 

 

 

His poems we have, not so widely read today, which is a pity because of the beauty of his language. The school book writers may well repeat their phrases about Byron as a poseur and a pop star, but what an address he had! There are rivers flowing of pain and humour and phantasy through the allegedly long-winded reports on Don Juan’s doings in the bedrooms and on the way between them. If you can make an animated movie on Hercules or Chinese wars, you can make one on Byron. Will you please do that by 2024, you computer heroes?

 

 

 

How did Byron get in here? His work is not in the style of my funeral ode, is it? No, but there is a connection. The poem speaks of ashes, and Byron was one who burnt himself. For me he could get in anywhere. I always think of those who had a bitter life but now are the sweetest of angels in the heaven of art. Like Hölderlin and Schubert. I can walk with them, and write down our talks, but I want to live sweetly now!

 

 

 

When I held my new-born daughter in a green cloth I sang Im Prater blühn wieder die Bäume to her. [ The trees are blooming in the Prater again, by Robert Stolz ] I hope I can be there to sing when HER daughter is born, well, a son will also do, of course. The feelings around having the first child cannot come again, I am afraid. When the second child arrives you know much of it before, and at the coming of the third one you are experienced. Is this the reason why third children often have a hard life? I am a third child, mark well what I do say.

 

 

 

My mind goes to other parts of the world where other children are born, not with a song but with helicopters droning and bombs blasting. Man has an unbelievable force of building where the ruins are and creating new life in the very realm of death. It is a force of spirit, and a natural force, like when the fresh green comes back into the black spots after a forest fire.

 

 

 

Force of spirit and natural force, did I make a slip now? I said I would not use those distinctions? Right, but I still can use the traditional terms in some way. Through them I can get nearer to my real issue. You can invent new words, I have one already (megahearts), but even then the message of those words probably is not totally new, but it refers to concepts already known. Isn’t it typical that I invented that new word when I was speaking out an admonition, I who have said that I shall not preach to anybody but to myself!

 

 

 

If there is one thing of which I want to persuade you, this is it, a thing I always am near to, sneaking and sniffing around it: forget body and soul, forget inside or outside, beauty does NOT come from within but simply is all around us already, it is personality that counts, and personality is the entire human being, and even at some wonderful moment it is more than that, and for that moment there is ONE word already which we all know!

 

 

 

The Preacher says that his work is a little slow now in summer, but he is at it! My thinking walks however are at their top. Now is the best time! The summer until now, beginning of July 2002, has brought rain and sun evenly, so those forest fires have not come, and berries grow and ripen well. In the radiant summer morning I go around the garden hearing the flowers whispering . . .

 

 

 

 

 

Im leuchtenden Sommermorgen

 

geh ich im Garten herum.

 

Es flüstern und sprechen die Blumen,

 

ich aber, ich wandle stumm.

 

 

 

Es flüstern und sprechen die Blumen

 

und schaun mitleidig mich an:

 

"Sei unserer Schwester nicht böse,

 

du trauriger blasser Mann!"

 

 

 

 

 

. . . but I, the man in the poem, remain silent, and what the flowers say is not very comforting. Do not be mad at our sister, you gloomy pale man. Heinrich Heine has been on a thinking walk that went wrong. The love story that begins all so merrily, and then loses itself in dark painful emptiness, is not told in detail in his cyclus of the poet in love, but flashes of it appear and disappear, just like the bright moments of one’s life very soon are memories only. Heine has walked far on the road of romantic, and returned from it.

 

 

 

She was like an early summer with white blooming bushes, blue-eyed and blond, a face of rather straight lines and a pale complexion. I can no more hear her voice in my inside ear, since it was so long ago, that makes me sad, but I remember a little how I felt hearing it. Charmingly giggling, always keen on society and entertainment, but she had something else too that not everyone saw or cared for. This party doll who dreamed of having seven children, but did no more than buy a dog, soon found a grave which I have not visited since the day when I was there for the last ceremony. Gloomy and pale, not sore at one who was dead, but at them who had ruined her life, and unsure whether I too had been one of them.

 

 

 

Le Rose et le Vert. The pink and the green. With those beautiful flowery colours Stendhal wanted to portray a young woman who takes her own life when she has lost control of the intrigue that she herself has started. He never completed the novel. It even seems quite logical that it died early, so to speak, because the writer moved his resources to objects of a sounder build. In the completed chapters and in the sketches to the story of the woman striving to have a man who is already had, there is no comment whatsoever of that what is likely to come if she succeeds: children. Evidently it was too difficult for a male writer in the first half of the 19th century, having no children of his own, to work out this idea convincingly, fascinating as it is in its outline. The Brontë sisters would have done better of it!

 

 

 

Unfortunately the state is almost as bad in the male section of the colour scheme, that novel which was completed, about young Julien who ends with sacrificing his blood (Red) in the treacherous game of the priests (Black). Louise, his first love who is a mother of three, and young Mathilde who bears his child, they unite in mourning, but the child is not to be seen. I claim that this marvellous thrilling colourful nervy novel Le Rouge et le Noir is completed after all, yes, but NOT complete. There ought to be a sequel about the fate of Mathilde and the child.

 

 

 

The mystery of creation. We men will never know how it feels. Many times I put my hands and my ear on the round stomach to get some faint idea of what was going on within. I sang tunes hoping that the little life inside would grasp them. What was going on inside of me I know better. Things that were high in value before lost in rank when this new life came near, a kind of vita nova different from Dante’s, but this too was brought by a woman.

 

 

 

If women were sensible - they are not, you know - but IF they were, they would launch a massive informational campaign aiming to show to us men how fun it is to have kids - it is, you know. The knowledge you get from seeing friends with kids, when you yourself have none, or from visiting a kindergarten, says very little of how it really can be, since that way you see mostly the awkward parts. Not to speak about numerous occasions when you have watched parents and children having rows in public. What you do not see from outside is the calm, the silence, the intimacy between parent and child which is so important for both of them. To be near a child growing is perhaps not a full time job, but it takes almost all your attention. When I am not where you are, my child, I long for the moment when I come home to you again.

 

 

 

Soon the time comes when I am the one at home, wondering when the child will come back, and then I do not believe that the child longs so very much to be back home with me. For both of us this is a part of getting mature. Not look at the watch and yell, but be glad that she is back and all right. Talk to her for her own sake, not judgingly, when something has happened that is not all right. My daughter and her friends were in many ways women already in their early teens, and it was not always self-evident how to treat them, as intelligent grown-ups or as unexperienced children.

 

 

 

The world of yesterday, when young people had to move correctly along lines drawn up by elders, was a world of slow development. Today innovation is not excludingly a youthful affair, but what we elders get from the young helps us to develop ourselves and support them. Parents who crave total power over their children not only hurt the children and themselves, but also steal a mighty resource from society, from the rest of us.

 

 

 

Power. A notion that has become difficult to grasp. It is of course important to gain power, but it is not à la mode to say openly that you have it. We have democracy now. All of us have our say, haven’t we? A successful politician can keep refusing several times to be the leader of the party, and then finally accept, having an air of doing his duty. Famous company executives can say it is fun to do business. A king by inheritance still parades in the attire of a high commander, but a president elected by the people does not. On the other hand, democracy often gets undermined by the strength of leading personalities, and the seemingly hard competition among commercial entities is weakened through hidden cooperation. But the power over ourselves we can have, or fight for if someone tries to take it away from us.

 

 

 

Unfortunately, sometimes this will force us to fight an old-fashioned war, man-to-man. If I see a smoking overweight dog owner I immediately put out a sign of warning, but the vibes are not always that easy to feel. The attacks can come from behind. Those who seem to be on your side can be wearing false uniforms.

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus is right AND wrong saying "turn the other cheek". The AM, Aggressive Man, WANTS you to fight back. If the CM, Cool Man, does not, then AM tries once more, and if there is still no fighting, AM gets frustrated and feels like locked up in a mattressed cell. That is a pity. What then must CM do? Overcome himself and fight back, to be in a way loyal? My answer is no. If CM stays cool, at least one of the parties is satisfied, the CM, even if the arguing was unpleasant. But who ever saw an AM being satisfied? I never. They always want more.

 

 

 

That was rough, you think. Yes, but this is the way you do it when you investigate, at first you draw a rough sketch. All dog owners may bark at me now, yelling that I am the aggressive one. I can take that. The Preacher is too busy now to come in and defend this position. "Aggression" is a label, a very surfacial description; there is no proof that all phenomena gathered by this label have anything in common. Look at the goings-on in society: fighters with fists and knives get caught rather soon, while school authorities that allow mobbing in their domain usually are acquitted. Yet the wounds deep down in your soul can keep bleeding long after the crushed nose is restored.

 

 

 

I hear the choir singing "Forget, and get on with your life" in multiple voices. Those who sing want to be comfortable with themselves, that is to protect themselves from critic, whether from others or from their inner self. Let them do so. We will have to protect ourselves from them, but I think we will manage.

 

 

 

Even if I should want, I will never get away from my past. Flashes from it come at any time, in my dreams or changing moods. I may as well think back voluntarily, trying to understand what happened.

 

 

 

But well, how do I succeed in that? Maybe I do it that way just because I am a reflecting type and do not know of any other way? I remember the ills I have undergone, and how hard it felt in those times, but I have put them aside in my consciousness that much that they do not worry me every day or confuse my other thoughts. Do I really understand? I cannot tell if I have grown so much smarter from this.

 

 

 

Montaigne, in a way the father of my thinking, even claims that you become more apt to face whatever happens to you, and maybe I have got some more patience through the years. But the conclusions that you may draw, are they not rather discouraging?

 

 

 

Thinking back on all the eras of my life, all things I have begun and closed down, I find many moments where people wanted to depress or even crush me. Why did they need that, me being so kind and harmless? Or maybe I am not, save in my own world? The calm and patience that all can see in me, for them it may mean that I am hiding my real intent to hit hard and precisely when the opportunity comes, and therefore they must prevent it by hitting first?

 

 

 

Hurt me they could, with their assaults and tricks, but crush me, no, not yet. I am at health, and keep some positive view of the world after all. If I try to be Montaigne now, I should ask: What will they bring next time? How much more of this can I stand? Had I better work on that Mr Hyde personality they think I have?

 

 

 

I could be a criminal, let’s say. Not in the first line to hurt any other person, but I could go into theft and fraud in order to be jailed and see if they can crush me there?

 

 

 

The MOOD of being in jail you can have without any crime. You get water and bread for a meal, and you can go out every day, but you cannot have much more than that if you are out of work. Well, I exaggerate a bit. I look for bargain prices in the food store, and entertain myself with doings that are free or cheap. Three months is a short time in relation to my 25 years of clerical work, but your pace of living lowers fast. The few things you have to do, and the few more you CAN do by your limited means, can now take all your time. The most evident difference is that I myself have the key to my cell.

 

 

 

Or, you can put the name of Freedom to this. An empty space you can fill by your own will. If you know what your will is. Superficially it is easy to get started with lots of activities, even to plan time and routine like an ordinary work. But your plans and skills will do nothing to overcome the sense of meaninglessness that will appear even though. Those feelings can affect you even when you are employed, but they grow much easier in you if you have no given task to master! One traditional method against all kinds of worry is to force yourself to work very hard all the time, trying to forget what bothers you. Or you can do the opposite, press the brake, accept this state of mind when it comes, because it does come! Whatever you do, the purpose is the same: to regain power over yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

Let all be bright around us:

 

white clothing, wine of the Moselle, sunshine, waters gleaming

 

the mirror shows us darkness from within

 

 

 

 

 

Comfort, even joy, comes from music. Now and before. Mozart’s clarinet quintet shows to my inner vision all beauty by easy, simple pictures - up to a point in the last movement where the viola suddenly comes forward in a monotonous figure in minor which is repeated a couple of times. Then there is a sharp chatter from the clarinet, and so the piece comes to an end in the same delightful calm as before. What happened? A crying child came to mum and did NOT get comfort, because mum had other things to do?

 

 

 

It is not true if you say there IS feeling in music. I cannot prove what Mozart had in mind when he composed. However, it is known that listeners in his time were upset by some passages in his works that to them were unexpectedly sad. I tend to see pictures within me when I listen to music that I like, but I do not necessarily conclude that others do. For those who have the most sensitive musical ear, the music may be full of meaning just as it is. I also know that such music that to some is calm, can get others into full rage, making them demand heavy metal or disco bang-bang. To me now, the gleaming light of the clarinet quintet is a means of remembering the beautiful summer of 2002. Music gives me pictures, and the pictures help me to hear the music within me.

 

 

 

About turn – halt! There is also music that comes to us with heavy loads of the composer’s intentions. An opera by Wagner is not only music and words and a plot, but a vision of the world. There are also instructions by Wagner himself or by authorized disciples how to adopt that vision. However, I refuse to adopt it. I can feel drawn out into the overwhelming waves of sound without thinking narrowly those thoughts that are meant by that very sound, and I can admire Wagner’s unique treatment of the German language without going through all the philosophy he has put into it. This man who wrote all of it himself, music and text, and had a theatre built for him to secure his ideas of staging, he evidently wanted total control of everything, and of everybody too, it seems. He does not control me. I listen to Wagner and think much about what I hear, but I am not subject to his dictature, neither anybody else’s, in art or life.

 

 

 

No rule without an exception. In the labour market the boss still rules. The entrance of every place of work ought to have a sign: YOU ARE NOW LEAVING DEMOCRACY ZONE. I think this is an important reason why long time sick leave and early retirement increases, even though it looks like society is improving in many ways. There are laws and agreements that denote the terms of labour as if you and the employer have had a discussion on values, and yet with all these benevolent principles written down, the employer has all possibilities of treating you as completely worthless. How many working people can stand such a treatment for how long a time? Lots of them have their regulations of working time and holiday, but their holiday is poisoned by their fear of going back to the job. A hundred years ago there was hardly a democratic state in the world, and now there are many. Is there a hope that the ongoing century will bring a similar rise in labour democracy?

 

 

 

I lost a job, but I retained my health. They did not manage to crush me there either. Amid the cold of winter I light my candles and listen to Bruckner, seventh symphony, which is a world as much as a Wagner opera is, only that Bruckner never provided any guide to it. I have walked its paths by myself for more than thirty years.

 

 

 

 

 

I blow twice as many horns

 

to make silence heard

 

humbly, majestically

 

 

 

he who lost the fight

 

has another win to hope

 

on his own grounds

 

 

 

I no more believe

 

you must harden

 

or extinct

 

 

 

suddenly one raises a hand

 

the blast comes

 

and the mountain is gone

 

 

 

I also would like to be Atlas

 

heave the world on my shoulders

 

if I could dance with it

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing music as pictures within me, I think Bruckner wants to see what it is look like beyond the mountain, and then he does not climb it like a well-behaved classic symphonicist, but he removes it. That is why many think his symphonies lack form. If he were talkative like Wagner, he would explain what is intended by his way of building a structure and taking it down before it is ended, but he hardly talks at all. His third symphony is dedicated to Wagner, and his ninth and last he wrote for "dear God". THAT says a lot.

 

 

 

Do I talk with a split tongue, I who sing in a church choir, giving voice to the words of faith at concerts and services, although I do not believe? Tell me what you think.

 

 

 

I think I know what Martin Luther would answer. He would say that all you do, within or without church, is to the service of God and of men, and that it is better honestly to disbelieve than to imagine or force yourself to a faith.

 

 

 

Anton Bruckner was a believer, and wrote sacred music while he was employed in church, but later on the symphonies were his main work. But even they were made for "dear God" or celebrating Richard Wagner who was nearly divine. The mess of heathen ideas that Wagner loaded into his music Bruckner did not observe at all. He just listened.

 

 

 

That standpoint I can take as an example for myself, regarding church music. Whatever the message it is meant to convey, it is also a work of creative will in men, in those who wrote it and those who gather to perform. If the believers hear our singing and feel that it somehow is a support to their faith, then I have done something for them, haven’t I, Martin?

 

 

 

Thereabouts I draw my limit. I go into the church, but I do not kneel before the altar. The kingdom I live in is of this world, but I respect those who want to live in the faith of their fathers.

 

 

 

I read the Bible too, but as a book among others. Through the ages, power-seeking people have used Christian creed for their own purposes, and who can be sure that no such tendencies have got into the book itself, during the time that passed after Jesus lived and until the words were written down?

 

 

 

In the New Testament, if we put an ear to it, we can hear voices of simple men who have witnessed great things. Some of them have made it their life’s work to tell about it, to let others share the great experience, and others may have told anyway, not having any special intention. We can share it, reading some texts that are recorded some decades after the events, in a language foreign to those who saw it happen. We also get fed with the preachings and disputes of theologians through the centuries, and today the original simplicity is far, far away. How can we get back to it?

 

 

 

Preacher:

 

 

 

May I step forward?

 

 

 

Dreamer:

 

 

 

I say, what is this, are you going to preach about Jesus, all the clergy does that very well, I mean well enough for those who want to hear!

 

 

 

Preacher:

 

 

 

Not at all, I would rather say that I preach AGAINST Jesus.

 

 

 

Dreamer:

 

 

 

Oh dear, have you turned into such a convinced atheist who wants to talk the faithful out of their faith, that is not better.

 

 

 

Preacher:

 

 

 

No way, that task I leave to those who call themselves philosophers. Now hear:

 

 

 

Prophets of love are all over the place. All you need is love, all of us shall always love each other, and that stuff. Yeah, great, of course we shall. But you who must live without love, for how long will you be able to give love without getting any? That they never tell, Jesus not, John Lennon not.

 

 

 

24 000 people daily die of starvation, according to statistics by the WFP, World Food Programme. They would be overjoyed if someone could provide them with some barley loaves and small fishes. It can be done. No one does it, though.

 

 

 

One shall not believe what one cannot know, they often say. But how do we know what we know? For sure? Those who told about Jesus walking on water, they knew what would happen if they tried it themselves, but they knew nothing of gravitation or density. Today, we get fed up with information every day, but not a promille of it we can check for ourselves. In every issue we have to trust those who say it is like that. However, nearly every day we hear someone revealing that it is NOT like that. What then is fact, and what is faith, in here? End of speech, thank you!

 

 

 

Thank YOU. The Preacher goes back to work, and the Dreamer keeps on dreaming!

 

 

 

In the lovely sunshine of spring the dirty heaps of snow are drained, until soon the dirt only remains, and I who have not yet found a job go for longer and longer walks every day. Sometimes I know where I am going, and sometimes I change my goal suddenly, or stand thinking for a while. Often there is a halt somewhere on the trail, like going to Hötorget [ in central Stockholm ] for a load of bargain bananas. If I should write a novel it would be just so erring and vague in contour, like now when I stroll among thoughts and feelings without ever having decided where to go. I just rose from a filled bath tub and discovered that it was standing on a balcony, rather high up with a view of the sea, as if I had tried to take the sea up to the flat or the bath tub had moved because it wanted to see the view, and now I am in a scarcely furnished bedroom where evidently no one has slept since long, and the walls are off-white like in an art gallery, but there are no pictures on the walls, and only after waking up I realise that the bath water will pour out on the balcony under. It is of course difficult to make a note of what you really "think" in a dream, and when awake I like many other writers dream of using words to capture what is between and behind words.

 

 

 

If I only could, like Agnes von Krusenstjerna [ Swedish novelist, first half of 20th century] , write ten lines about a street in Stockholm or a manor in Småland [ southern Swedish province ] , so the inner eye could see it! But look out, the person, most often a woman, who walks the street or roams in the park can suddenly be far away, in the world of dreams or back in childhood. The world of the Misses von Pahlen is clear and dim in one. One little detail is pointed out and soon it is gone, but much later it reappears in another form, and the colours change rapidly from the mildest pastel to sharp crude contrast. If I should want some music to sustain these visions it could be a symphony by Mahler. Women who seek mature love, real life, not being satisfied with matrimonial security only, that is the main line of these novels, but I do not think of them as feminist because reading them is such a great adventure.

 

 

 

Feminism is OK with me, yes, but when I read a narrative or lyrical text I do not put the message detector to it. The message will still come, in the slow light of reflection. Agnes von Krusenstjerna is an idol due to the struggle she had for her work, against conservative kins and guardians of social morals. When first meeting a work of fiction I try to be open to what is yet undefined, even dangerous, especially when the text is narrative AND lyrical, which is often the case in Krusenstjerna’s works. Words and phrases fade out into flowing waves of dreamy feelings, such as the awakening erotic between two pregnant women who are not lesbians, or what a young wife experiences before she kills herself because she does not want to become a mother. In fact I tried to read a treatise that wanted to analyse all this from a feminist point of view, but very soon I stopped. Later, some time, perhaps.

 

 

 

Now again it is Easter. And spring! I found the Hepatica, and snow, not exactly beside, but a bit further away in a shadier place. After singing in the Easter day service in Engelbrekt Church I walked down sunny Humlegården. This is Agnes’ realm. She lived at the corner nearest to the church in her young years when she first thought of becoming a writer, but then the church was not yet built, this part being the outermost of the town.

 

 

 

Krusenstjerna is one. Dostoevsky is. Stendhal is. Magicians of thoughts and feelings: ours, their own, and those of the imaginary characters. And then the message is there, all right. Krusenstjerna on the difficult roles of woman in a changing society. Dostoevsky on Russia and Christianity. Stendhal on the alienation of deeply sensitive young people in normal social life. But to me these ideas come into the focus only when the magic is fading.

 

 

 

Magic is also around the child hero Harry Potter, a magic of a more tangible kind. This is suitable for the young readers who have not yet worked out their view of reality, and thus do not like us grown-ups see it as very important that everything in a book is real and logical. But there is a message in the Potter books too. What message? Well, well …

 

 

 

One message which I can read out of any book, or out of the indefinite total of them, is this: Nothing is EXACTLY what it seems to be. There is always one more point of view that you can apply. And while you are viewing, something happens both in you and in your object.

 

 

 

I often think of a work of art that I saw at the Royal Academy of Arts in Stockholm, in 2002 when some students’ works were on show. In a glass showcase there was something of a mouldy moonscape with a little junk here and there, and this mess started moving when you approached it. Probably similar things have been made elsewhere, I do not know, the name of the artist in question is Henrik Eriksson.

 

 

 

My work is not unlike. A strange rocking verbal terrain in which you are a pioneer every time you go there. It expands steadily, and its parts has an inner move which cannot be foreseen. Still after two years, in the Swedish original I have never changed what was once written, except for a few obvious mistakes. But this is not at all a fixed principle. Sooner or later my mind can set on rolling back in my tracks, confusing them so much that I only know what happened.

 

 

 

This English version however I have made during a few weeks, and I must confess that, myself rewriting myself, I have felt free to make some new little turns here and there.

 

 

 

 

 

the star up there

 

looking down on someone else

 

if it falls dying

 

my wish also will

 

 

 

most things are forgotten

 

like when skiing in soft snow

 

the wind takes the tracks away

 

 

 

someone before me

 

may have written this

 

 

 

 

 

Tracks in snow, tracks in sand. All things must pass. Not quite! The dinosaur in Africa is gone, but you can see it has been there. A section of rail still left in the street because no one has bothered to break it up, can be a symbol of destitution, but also it can lead your mind to some painting of, say, Albin Amelin, with cargo vessels and cranes and locomotive steam. That painting is as real now as before. Our modern society changes rapidly, but as a counterweight we have a culture of memory that is more vital than ever.

 

 

 

Modern technique, generally thought of as making things faster and distributing them faster, is also the best ever for preserving, and even recreating what we thought was lost. Phantasy writers are often in for travelling to the past, but I say that the road we are on leads to living in several eras simultaneously.

 

 

 

Die Vergangenheit ist mir lieber als die Gegenwart, aber ich glaube an eine bessere Zukunft.

 

 

 

The past is nearer to my heart than the present, but I believe in a better future.

 

 

 

Nietzsche wrote that in his diary when he was 18. I think that many among today’s phantasy-reading, role-playing youth would undersign such a statement.

 

 

 

Today we preserve a lot, but we also tear down a lot. When changes in building and ambient are in question, it generally is described as a fight between economical claims of renovating to make more money, and antiquarian claims of preserving for aesthetic and historical reasons. I think that to ordinary people a third claim is the most important: that of feeling at home. In recognition there lies much feeling of security!

 

 

 

And the opposite is true too: not to feel at home is inquietude.

 

 

 

Home? How do we know what is our home? The old authoritarian society wants us never to be unsure of that. A couple of estates is a village, a couple of villages is a parish, a parish has its church, and every estate has its own bench in the church. We shall stay where we are and never think of being anywhere else. This society is old, but still extant in many parts of the world, even as small cells right in the middle of that world of European-American culture that our media describe as a global entertainment park or smorgasbord. No one knows for how long there still will be people who WANT to subordinate, and others who take it as their task to keep them down.

 

 

 

Hand on heart – your hand on my heart – the smallest cell can be you and me. If you say you love me, do you say it in order to command or to obey?

 

 

 

Honestly I do not want you to want either of it, or maybe there could be a little of both?

 

 

 

More I cannot say before I have heard your answer. While waiting I go on living in eras and believing in a better future.

 

 

 

The little that is needed to be really happy. That which everybody wants but nobody dares to offer. The answer of the Jeopardy question: What is tenderness and confidence?

 

 

 

I walk through the wood in Nacka, enjoying the warming sun and the fresh green of early summer, the cluck of the blackbird, white buds of lily-of-the-valley along a beck [ a nice Yorkshire, i e Scandinavian, word for a little stream ] , oaks in young leaf, and then I get on top of a rock looking wide out at all this beauty, over the Salt Sea to Mölna on the opposite shore. Yes, friends of poetry, Gunnar Ekelöf’s elegy! But I could never write such a melancholy poem as he did, and set its scene to such a beautiful place. Ekelöf too lives in several eras, but he has no belief in future, you correct me if I am wrong.

 

 

 

[ The Salt Sea: is the name of the innermost part of the passage from the Baltic into the port of Stockholm. ‘’A Mölna Elegy’’ published by Gunnar Ekelöf in 1960 is a highlight of Swedish poetry. ]

 

 

 

The new society has a strong belief in confidence, between man and woman, between native and foreign, but it does not know very well yet what to do with tenderness.

 

 

 

Preacher: St. Paul just popped in?

 

 

 

Dreamer: Oh yes. In his words to the Galatians there is a premonition of a society where we help each other.

 

 

 

St. Paul eventually came to Rome, because he had a mission. I too came to Rome, just because. Travelling in our days is in itself a mission that you give yourself in order to develop through seeing something different from what you always can see. Everybody travels today. The number of tourists from, say, Somalia is not big, but in the rich countries this new form of migration is one typical element of modern life style.

 

 

 

This is awkward for talibans who want to keep their society clean of external influence, and for traditional globetrotters who must invent more and more advanced travel adventures in order to stay an elite, but the rest of us think that travelling, even when only for fun, is good for mutual understanding and co-operation among nations.

 

 

 

When I was a child the family went abroad for holidays, most often to some German-speaking country, and that gave me a German feeling which remained and grew inside me. I remember quite well when nine years old, I leaned out of the hotel window in the evening, shouting "zweimal Bier", giving those who sat in the outdoor café a good laugh. No doubt that was the beginning of my great interest in German language and culture. Other languages came, French compulsory for a few years in school, and MUCH later I came to Paris and realised what I had been missing, so after that trip I bought a dictionary and started brushing up what I had learnt long ago. Never before I had believed all them who said that Paris was such a wonderful city, but then I came there and found that all the praise was true!

 

 

 

In Rome, also an early trip with my parents who were both advanced scholars in Classics, I already was acquainted with Caesar and Augustus, so it naturally felt great to walk where they had walked. I also, only eleven years old, could take in something of the peculiar mood there, from the lovely language and the feeling that the ruins and the old churches and the baroque palaces are part of a living city.

 

 

 

Here I had better burst into song. Il balen del suo sorrisoNo other language that I know is so well suited to singing, or the music maybe is already within the language. I do not know if Rolf Jupither really knew Italian, but when he was Count Luna in Trovatore he was in the soul of the language. [Rolf Jupither, 1932-1984, was a baritone at the Royal Opera in Stockholm]

 

 

 

Il fulgor del suo bel visoBeauty does not come from within, it is all around us, even for him who does evil, like Count Luna, although he does not know the total amount of his evil doings before it is too late. Like Othello. The heart of Verdi’s music contradicts the horrid end of the plot. Life can be made better.

 

 

 

To lead a better life. The lightning of her smile, the gloam of her beautiful face, spreads its light deep down in the coldest caves of your heart, promising closeness, comfort and hope.

 

 

 

English too can be a beautiful language. I say woman, speaking the same initial as warm. I say she, speaking the same vowel as in kiss. Then I say her, thinking of its double meaning of owning and being owned, putting my lips forward to kiss!

 

 

 

 

 

Many times when tired

 

I hear the music talking to me -

 

what does it hide when I am alert?

 

 

 

To float in air

 

three seconds in Venice

 

between postcard and reality

 

outside the railway station

 

 

 

Soft moist lips

 

eyes closed -

 

of the overflow of the mouth the heart beats

 

 

 

 

 

The impression of seeing Venice for the first time, and the impression of a kiss. Unluckily the two things did not occur simultaneously, as they ought to.
La biondina in gondoleta was not there to meet me. Still as I strolled along the canals and toured by the vaporetto I thought of the biondina who was back in Lund, and I wanted very much to see her again. But she eluded me that time, or maybe my thoughts of her were elusive already.

 

 

 

Dreamer:

 

But when you stepped out of the railway station, imagine if la biondina had been
there ...

 

 

 

Preacher:

 

Are you talking to me? Wrong person. However, I remember we went into one of the magnificent palazzi housing the Casanova Night Club, but she was not there either.

 

 

 

Dreamer:

 

We?

 

 

 

Preacher:

 

You and me. We shall always be together. I am your voice, and you are my eyes and fingertips.

 

 

 

 Dreamer:

 

But when we talk about this, I see only darkness, and my fingers freeze!

 

 

 

Preacher:

 

I know where she is. She is standing in the boat to the island of the dead.

 

 

 

 

 

 The boat in Böcklin’s painting is black, and the oarsman has dark clothes, but the coffin is white like the figure that is standing. The colour of death is white.

 

 

 

Milk fat, wheat flour, sugar. The milk fat is the type of fat that most easily attaches itself to the inside of the blood vessels, narrowing them. The heart doctors said that. The wheat flour forms a knödel in your stomach, blocking it. I said that. About sugar I do not know very well, but most of it disappeared from my cooking together with the fat and the flour.

 

 

 

In 1997, when my shirts were a little tight around my stomach, I weighed 65 kg. Now in 2003 I weigh 55 kg. In these years I was divorced, had a heart infarction and lost my job. It seems like I dropped ten unhappy kilograms?

 

 

 

On the contrary. The good thing that happened in these years was this: I made this discovery, at first through pure intuition, when I decided not to drink milk and eat sandwiches any more, and then I got more and more confirmation for it. I may persuade you about this some time, but for the moment I only cry out a war cry: FIGHT WHITE FOOD!

 

 

 

What is black then? Traditional mourning dress is still in some use, but is very little noticed among finance brats and intellectual goblins and a lot of girls who are neither. Life has all colours, mauve as kidney beans, red as chili pepper, yellow as bananas, brown as soy, green as sencha tea, my food is a journey, well, I do not travel to India or Latin America or China or Japan for food shopping, but my city strolls often include streets where these goods can be found, so some journey it is, to strange scents, to languages unknown to me, to market places and small shops that for a moment make me feel like in a bazaar and not in a common food store.

 

 

 

Even an ordinary food shop can be seen as a journey, though. You start your shopping cart and proceed on low gear through the grocery district, make some more speed towards the meats and sausages, and then you check out among candy and tobacco. Not a very exhilarating trip, but you need food, and I know a way of making the end of the trip a little more pleasant: I pass along the cash stands to see if any of the girls I like are at work, so I will have something nice to look at while paying.

 

 

 

Shopping is dull. Lying in a hospital is dull too. But if there are lovely girls to take care of you it is slightly less dull. This was said by me, old man who has not yet gone into myself, waiting for the flame to extinguish.

 

 

 

The other day she, in the food shop, not in the hospital, said her ordinary "hello", and then she said "oh hello!!" because she recognised me although she had just come back from maternal leave. And then we talked a little about kids. Even today there is kinda social life in the shop!

 

 

 

And then I walk home, alone as usual with my burden. The twice-a-week strength challenge to mount a series of stairs with the usual load of fruit and vegetables and other healthy stuff. Much fruit it is. With fructose in it. I claim that the innate sugar in the fruit is far healthier than the refined white sugar.

 

 

 

Mamma mia, now I am talking food again. It is hard to let go once you are at it. Bulimia of words?

 

 

 

apple
lemon or lime
orange
grapefruit
mango
banana
potato
onion
carrot
garlic
oil
vinegar
soy
tomato ketchup
broth or fond
low fat sour milk or yoghurt
mustard
raisin
red lentil
crispbread
rice
pasta
porridge oats
oat bran
rye flakes
sunflower seed
kidney bean
dried fig
flax seed
sesame seed
salt
cinnamon
curry
basil
black pepper
ginger
clove
cardamom
chili pepper
cumin

 

 

 

This is what feeds me, this is what I always keep in store. In the novel Krilon Himself by Eyvind Johnson all the keys are described that Krilon keeps in his key box, and here I enumerate the keys to my keeping alive. Johnson tells stories about the roles each key had in Krilon’s life, and I surely could tell some kind of story about each of these nourishments. Or maybe I should describe in 37 pages what I cook when I invite the long-speaking Mr Krilon for lunch. Not octopus, I think, even if neither of us is a vegetarian. [ In a preceding novel, Krilon’s Journey, he talks lengthy, with unbelievable deviations, about killing an octopus at a fishing trip in Norway ]

 

 

 

Krilon travelled to occupied Norway, into dangerous ground, like a modern Bilbo, there and back again, making detours to avoid the German troops. But he did NOT really kill the octopus, he never fought the German Sauron. What he saw there forced him at last to some action, though.

 

 

 

What would have happened if Krilon had found the weapon, the lost key if you like, that could at once have freed the people of Norway, and all other captive peoples? The Nobel prize-winning storyteller Johnson is a sceptical empiricist, keeping both feet on the ground, while Professor Tolkien from Oxford is carried away into the space of myth. It should have been the other way round, eh?

 

 

 

Tolkien is two writers, not one. He investigates the world with as much method as any other linguist or historian, but that world exists only in a child’s mind, the child John Ronald Reuel who never grows up. These two go together like Gandalf and Frodo, sometimes they separate, sometimes they disagree, but they are always friends.

 

 

 

They do not belong to the walking thinkers, even if there is a lot of walking in Lord of the Rings. Their travel has a goal and a purpose. Bilbo maybe, but we cannot read the book he writes, or can we, am I just stupid? The walking thinker has no goal. He is at the goal already, or his goal is forever unreachable, because he by nature walks on so long as the oxygen powers his muscles and his brain.

 

 

 

Krilon however, he fits in. He does not write any book within Johnson’s book, but his thought is richly expressed in the colloquy group that is threatened and scattered and diminished by death, until near the end of the story where it gathers once more and fights the enemy. The Fellowship of Thought goes from thought to action in a bunker deep down under Brunkeberg Ridge.

[Brunkeberg is in the middle of Stockholm, today it can hardly be traced due to building activities around 1960]

 

 

 

Those 37 pages, I can’t get them out of my mind. They are really 53, I only guessed before. There is a lot of food in fiction already, descriptions of eating and drinking, when and how. Think of the mad party that Dmitri gives in The Brothers Karamazov. But how many of these gourmets and gluttons of novelists have any concern for what is done to the food before it comes on the table? I don’t think that Dostoevsky or James Joyce or Thomas Mann ever achieved much in the kitchen, but did they at least any research on cooking to get it into their work?

 

 

 

Sorry, this thought made me numb. I say one word only: Onion. And now for something completely different. After more than three years, I have for the first time made an adjustment in my text, not only a correction. I found a mistake big enough to affect the line of thought. What mistake? Won’t tell, haha.

 

 

 

Summer has come. A summer shadowed by papers and figures and accounts. Holiday substitute, most often a duty of younger people, is my duty now. But OK, it is a job, thanks a lot. Something else and better than the involuntary retirement which I was in, kinda. Rain hits the glass roof of the office. Behind the glass of the TV screen rain pours on the tough cycle riders in France, and on the motorcycle camera crew that is with them on the track. The raindrops hanging on the camera lenses, dimming the picture, gives me the feeling of looking out through a window on the road of the cyclists. My home could be a circus van following the Tour.

 

 

 

So we are on the road again. The wheel was invented way back in antiquity. Why did it take so long to invent one more?

 

 

 

I cycled a lot when I was young. Not as a sport, but just to make trips, look around a little. Sometimes I saw racing cyclists in training along the roads, but I never was tempted. I only thought they looked ridiculous with their monkey-like helmets and spiderweb-like wheels. Yet this was maybe one of the few sports I could have made any success in, since you don’t have to be big. The mountain bike was not yet known of then, at least not in Sweden, but I would have liked it. Many arduous paths were permeated by me and my standard one-gear "Rex".

 

 

 

And yet maybe not. I was not born with a will to compete. At school I got into intellectual competition, almost unavoidable if you grow up in a family of highbrows. My stature had a part in it too, I think. Need for compensation. So we’ll talk no more about that. When I took my baccalaureate I was not disappointed that there were a few who scored better marks than me.

 

 

 

My last year in school was the worst one. I did cope, after all, but not so eagerly as before. My teacher of Swedish said of one essay of mine that it was "mature", but I doubt that he did well in saying that in front of the class, and I am quite sure that such a maturity was not a very sane state for a seventeen-year-old. Music was sometimes a comfort, even that inaudible music that grew inside me when my feet had carried me far, down some path along the fields, to some slope facing a gently flowing river, with a book of poetry or just with my thoughts. That is the way you conclude that being alone is preferable, when almost any other situation is nearly intolerable.

 

 

 

Other people, how much ever you wish to be with them, can expulse you completely, and you can do nothing about it. Well yes, you can go to the sea and the moorlands and the western storm, or, with our Swedish colloquial way of expressing love of Nature, "take a walk in the wood".

 

 

 

Preacher:

 

The wood always gives a hood – for some people it is of no help, because they can’t ever do without people and chatter, let us not think low of them, but if you want, the wood is always there for you. Like God, if you believe.

 

 

 

Dreamer:

 

At night, when you look out from indoors, it seems to be dark, but if you are out and the moon is full, everything is beautifully lit, and today’s werewolves are not there, but they are where most people are.

 

 

 

Preacher:

 

And then, if you are alone in the wood, the wood tells you that you need not fear, not there, nowhere else, and no one.

 

 

 

Dreamer:

 

And when she comes, a brighter light
beams the valleys and hills and myrtle groves.
Without a driver the chariot
passes on amidst silvery clouds.

 

 

 

* * * * * * *

 

Stagnelius surely was awake in the wood at night time, not sleeping like Endymion, because otherwise he could not have written this!

 

[A stanza from a glorious Swedish poem, Endymion by Erik Johan Stagnelius. There is no full translation available on the web, I’m afraid, but I might provide one soon!]

 

 

 

[What do I think I am doing? A year ago, when I started translating myself, even my poems, into English, I thought it was a bold feat. And now I propose to render one of the most precious pearls of Swedish poetry and send it to the rest of the world! Such a venture can but fail.]

 

 

 

The poet implores the morning breeze and the sunrise to withhold, thus letting Endymion keep on dreaming. I think he ought to show some care for Diana too, who is forced to leave him before day comes.

 

 

 

I was indeed awake that summer night when a weeping goddess came to me, she wept for pain not for love, and I was there to soothe and comfort her.

 

 

 

Only afterwards I can believe that it was a dream after all, because no imagination had seen that something like this could happen, and if it happened again my thought would go back to that very night.

 

 

 

Diana is a goddess. She has the power to make the glorious night come back, again and again. But she must always hide her love, since she is also the protector of virgins. Who can help her when she gets worn out by this habit, always having to induce dreams in the man she loves, when she wants to make love to him? Is Stagnelius right when he concludes:

 

 

 

Once he awakes, what a horrid void
will his flaming soul find around?
Only in dreams the Olymp
Descends to the mortal.

 

 

 

Stagnelius was not only a man of classical learning, like all literates in his age, but also a true Christian. Did he ever imagine the solution that would be near, if Diana could crush the limits of ancient myth?

 

 

 

She could let Endymion die, giving to him the requiem aeternam which is said to be the happiest form of existence, and to herself the satisfaction of not more having him erring around in daytime, in the possible sight of other women.

 

 

 

All Saints’ Day just passed, as one of the glorious days in the church of my country. Not that we, Luther’s pack, are so eager about saints, and the commemoration of our dead is not a big event either, but we are unable to resist the charm of catholic composers like Mozart and Fauré, who have done their utmost at this very point, Mozart even when he himself was dying. If the thought of death provokes this heavenly music, what can we do about it?

 

 

 

I know what to do, but unfortunately I have no such talent. There is not, but there ought to be, some equally majestic music about being born. The Messiah of Handel or the Christmas Oratorio of Bach cannot be counted, for they are only about Christ being born, not us. Even if I know I am unable, for some day I meditated the idea of writing a Prequiem, until I found out that this ingenuous title was already taken by a guy who had written music for a condemned to hear before death.

 

 

 

The Olymp. Heaven. Cyberspace. Words from another human being appear on the screen in front of you, and you can’t be all sure about who it is and why, but you can keep the words in your chat logs as if it were stone tablets that came to you from the unknown.

 

 

 

Nothing really changes. 2500 years of understandable cultural history is like a second in the development of the species Man and its way of life. Even today there are people who manage to force their personal opinion on others and make it appear as obvious truth.

 

 

 

[ Here in Swedish I think about cursing as blaming the devil when you feel out of control, but when you curse in English you most often do not talk of the devil, but of sex:

 

where the fuck did you hide the fucking hose …

 

and I can’t see how to fit that into the same logic. Anybody help me out here? ]

 

 

 

Those who in this manner put sex into every sentence they speak, they are not sexy, on the contrary, they are afraid of sex. The message they radiate is that sex is sordid and can only be connected with fear and hate and violence, and so they come into alliance with those who detest the open pluralistic society, where you can do very much what you like as long as you do not harm anyone, with those who oppose against the democracy of the heart.

 

 

 

One such is the headmaster in Stockholm who wants to reinstall school uniforms, or forbid the pupils to wear the newest clothes of expensive brands. They are searching for an identity, can’t you see? What use would it be to prescribe a standard profile which was abandoned a hundred years ago, if it ever was in use? You cannot in that way keep that devil out who sneaks around whispering that some pupils have more profile than others, in Sweden at least they call it "attitude".

 

 

 

Get around talking to the pupils instead, to the groups who stand smoking outdoors, to the moslem girls over there with their long coats and well-knot shawls, and don’t forget those who are there although nobody notices them. Tell them it is good that they care about their looks, if they do, but that one should also respect those who have other preferences.

 

 

 

If you are bold enough, you may also talk about beauty, that beauty is a gift which should be tended, like intelligence or strength or what else young people are proud of. This however is a bit dangerous because then it may happen that the talk comes to sex, and that is not done, is it? Yes it is, in educational TV programmes on "serious relationships", but those you switch off, preferring the entertainment shows where they discuss "the very best sex" as if it were a sport.

 

 

 

My dear headmaster, you may fail in this, but such a failure is far more honourable than your clumsy attempt to turn back time. I would like to talk to you even today, when I write these words, the 8th of January 2005, when Elvis Presley is 70, he still lives you know, also celebrating the 50th anniversary of his first artistic success.

 

 

 

During those 50 years something has happened which you seem to overlook: a juvenile culture has arisen which exists in its own right and not as an immature prologue to adult life. This culture needs not to be corrected, but to continue living as it wishes, and maybe it needs a little support against all who get close to it in order to make money.

 

 

 

And perhaps you could forbid all who say "you are young and your whole life lies before you", because that is no great expectation for a suicidal mind of fourteen. Listen to the heart, the young heart, and you will probably hear something like this: Yes, I am young now, and I will grow up, but I am the one to decide when, not you.

 

 

 

Myself, I will get old some time, but when is for me to judge, not for you. Ever curious. New things happen that I could not think would happen, items that were not on the menu and thus could not be selected. Surely there are life-hackers who transgreed such limits, but I am not among them, born in September as I am.

 

 

 
No need to be alone …

 

 

 

You are who you are, at ease. Calm and free. Or exalted and free, if you like. You think what you like, and tell anything you think, or remain silent just because that too feels good sometimes. Nothing prevents you, and nothing pushes you, except joy.

 

 

 

And you are not by yourself in a void chamber, but in company of one who feels just the same.

 

 

 

Sing along with John Lennon: It’s real love, it’s real!

 

 

 

I dined in a nice street restaurant in Luxembourg, rue Beaumont, just a little off the most central quarters where most foreigners go. I was there alone, but next to me there sat a couple, a man and a woman that is, who were both around 55-60 it seemed. They dined well and drank a good wine, and were talking in their lëtzebuergish all the time, sometimes both simultaneously, but never raising their voices, and always about pleasant things. With the help of my German I could understand some of it. They really had a good time, and I enjoyed listening to them. Maybe I even would have started talking to them, if they had been silent for just a little moment, but they never were. Then they left the restaurant clinging to each other. I thought: being two could be like this too, not always like Woody Allen!

 

 

 

Not that I dislike Woody Allen, not at all. His films are very entertaining. Regrettably most Swedish film goers disagree, so it happens that when a new Woody Allen film is released, it has already disappeared from the theatres when I have decided upon watching it. Swedish public prefers films with more outright feelings in them, notwithstanding Ingmar Bergman whom Woody Allen admires.

 

 

 

I do not go the cinema often, mostly with my kids when there is a new film that they want to see. That is great fun too. Shrek was a treasure, a film that looks like an upside down version of Beauty And The Beast, but in my view it is about personal courage, daring to surpass social conventions.

 

 

 

Preacher:

 

Long time no see. Nice to be here again, merry Christmas!

 

 

 

Dreamer:

 

Well, I am sitting here with twinkling eyes. Are you Santa Claus?

 

 

 

Preacher:

 

Nope. You may act a role to achieve something. Or you may act a role just for fun. They call it LRP nowadays. We little boys in the fifties who played Cowboys and Indians were something of that kind, I think.

 

 

 

But if you have gain from acting, ask yourself if there is a cost too.

 

 

 

There is no thoroughly better way of life than being yourself, and none worse than having to act a role. Let Santa live, but only in the fairy tale where he belongs. The three kings followed their star, and if you follow yours you will become a king in some way. Thus reads my gospel of Christmas.

 

 

 

Dreamer:

 

But if I am dizzy and see many stars, how do I know which one to follow?

 

 

 

Preacher:

 

Oh my, some nerve was hit. I need to relax and wait for some stars to fade.

 

 

 

Dreamer:

 

Then I will sing for you a song of a star.

 

 

 

Love thee, dearest, love thee!

 

Yes, by yonder star I swear

 

Which thro' tears above thee

 

Shines so sadly fair.

 

Tho' often dim with tears like him

 

Like him my truth will shine

 

And love thee, dearest, love thee,

 

Yes, till death I'm thine!

 

 

 

Leave thee, dearest, leave thee?

 

No, that star is not more true

 

When my vows deceive thee

 

He will wander too.

 

A cloud of night may veil his light

 

And death shall darken mine

 

But leave thee dearest, leave thee?

 

No, till death I'm thine!

 

 

 

There can be rain that conceals the star, and you can have too much tears

in your eyes to see the truth immediately. The rain stops in a while, and tears stop too, and all is light. But when that truth is not there to see any more, the whole universe changes.

 

 

 

A beautiful poem by Thomas Moore, truly romantic. And then like now, Ireland had many wonderful melodies.

 

 

 

Sweden has beautiful tunes too, but somehow I did not grow up with them. Some of them were sung in school, but none that was any hit to me. My youthful source of music was above all the Fireside Book Of Folk Songs, an American compilation of traditional songs from many countries, in original English or translated from other languages. Thomas Moore was there, yes, and Scotland’s Robert Burns. Bendemeer’s Stream and Sweet Afton were as familiar to me as Mörrumsån where I used to angle.

 

 

 

Even when I was a grown-up, it took a long time before I grew into the deeply Swedish tradition of choir-singing, but I did. Now I sing in mixed or male choirs with equal delight. The church provides the greatest works that an amateur ever could sing: the passions of Bach, the requiems of Mozart, Fauré, Verdi – all music of death, true, but still marvellous music that helps keeping you alive!

 

 

 

Being a high tenor, I enjoy the honour of carrying the melody in a male choir, like the high soprano does in a mixed choir, at least in the music of the classical and romantic kind. The wood always gives a hood, and something alike could be said about singing. Songs are there for you when you need them.

 

 

 

But I can’t sing, you may say. Doesn’t matter, sing all the same. “He can’t sing”, people often say about a singer they dislike. Still, Eilert Pilarm has lots of fans. Sing without pitch, if you like. Long before the rap came, there was the talking blues. Take off your headphones and make yourself sound, through lips, tongue, teeth, throat, lungs, muscles, feelings, thoughts …

 

 

 

I dreamed I was at a party, with musical entertainment. A tenor sang Beethoven’s famous song Adelaide with words by Friedrich von Matthisson who is not famous any more. He sang well, but he improvised and augmented within the song, and when he came to the high notes at … im Gefilde der Sterne … he got throat disturbance. Then at once I was not at the party, but in bed with a beautiful girl, and while we made tender love I explained the text to her: - in des sinkenden Tages Goldgewölke – Oh, the sea, she said. – Yes, the day sinking in the sea with golden clouds.

 

 

 

Of course this got to be a sexual dream. The sex fills out the personality, like the song does while you are singing.

 

 

 

But sex is not the whole personality, maybe not even the most important part. I am a man, but I don’t think all the time about what is virile or what my “man’s role” may be, or something of that kind. The law still orders us to be registrated as “male” or “female”, but some day this will be obsolete. Perhaps we will get registered by our DNA, and then it is up to ourselves to determine our sex, if any at all.

 

 

 

Society however is not merely the law. The world of human beings around me carries much more than that. There is, you may say, a society of opinion that seems to consist of a lot of expectations on me, whether open, or just felt, or visible to all via the impact of mass media.

 

 

 

Preacher:

 

Mass indeed. The weight of it. Today when we may feel free to do and say many things that we could not before, the heaviest forces that stop us are the gold of the advertisement buyers and the terrifying headers in the tabloids. The government is a coordinator, the church is a place where you come as you are, and the sword is not sharp any more. Today the commercial loudspeaker stands as the guardian of hypocrisy.

 

 

 

Dreamer:

 

In a free society you are who you say you are, someone says in the film Mumford. Thanks a lot for those words, Lawrence Kasdan, I hope some day to be able to shake hands with you.

 

But if it is really significant to a free society, that you are who you say you are, does it make any difference whether you act a role or are yourself?

 

 

 

Preacher:

 

Maybe not. Go ahead, act your role, since nobody sees your real self anyway. Will there still remain anything such as we used to call “truth”?

 

Yes, I think some roles will never be acted, because they are TOO horrifying: anorectic, serial killer, chairman of the employment agency.

 

 

 

Dreamer:

 

Can I play god?

 

 

 

Preacher:

 

Yes you can, if your name is Carl Michael Bellman.

 

 

 

Come forth, thou God of Night, to ease the flames of Sun . . .

 

 

 

If the phrase “divine beauty” ever has a meaning, it has here.

 

[ We are talking about a Swedish poem from the 18th century, where the simple human process of falling asleep is described in fifteen soft-spoken, nature-loving stanzas as a revelation of Apollo. ]

 

[Again I fail. This poem has some elements so typically Swedish that they would be pointless when translated, and still it takes part in a movement that is well known in other languages too: the transition from classicism to romantic. I think it would be rewarding to pay a visit to some English-speaking poet of a similar spirit, like Bellman’s contemporary Robert Burns. But I do not know Burns that well . . . yet. ]

 

 

 

Myself, I fall asleep rather easily, but then I awake to soon, sometimes after only an hour or so. Recently I even felt like I heard myself snoring in the very moment when I woke up. That was horrifying! Most often I fall asleep again soon, but then the same happens still again.

 

 

 

Probably I should go to a doctor to get some treatment. But one thing I did not tell you: I always sleep well after partying. Calls for some deep consideration, eh?

 

 

 

I dreamed that a fairly big reptile bit my hand, and then I woke up with a terrible headache. What’s happening, I thought, I never have headache when awake, how can I get it in sleep? A painkiller would have helped, but as you understand I do not keep such stuff at home. I also wonder if it would have soothed the shock that I experienced.

 

 

 

Partying in my sense is not heavy boozing, but an exquisite dinner with beer and vodka at start, then wine with the main course, and maybe some drink later. What makes me sleep well afterwards – is it the alcohol or the high-fat, low-fibre gourmet food?

 

 

 

Bellman prays Apollo to cure insomnia:

 

- come ease the pain and torment

and fervour of my blood.

 

This I think is a good description of one who is sleepless from excessive partying. Yet when I go to party it is indeed in commemoration of Bellman, in the club Par Bricole. I would not think of going out to a luxury restaurant just like that.

 

 

 

Cow peas – small brown beans with narrow white eyes, soaked in water since the day before, then simmered for 20-25 minutes, seasoned with some oil, soy, fond and hot spices. That is something I can eat when I am by myself, as I am most often.

 

 

 

I could easily become a vegetarian, but I also consider which animals are the best survivors: apparently those that eat various things, rats and crows for example. Animals devour each other eagerly.

 

 

 

I cherish a steak in the oven, or smoked salmon. In my childhood, when we bought salmon from a local dealer in Mörrum, near the river Mörrumsån where some of the salmon was caught, salmon was luxury food that we treated diligently, and cod was common. Today it is the other way round, when we have farmed salmon and a debate about the survival of cod.

 

 

 

Anyway  I am sure that world health would improve if we could grow less of plants that the animals have to eat so we can eat them, and more of plants that we eat ourselves.

 

 

 

Preacher:

 

Simple food, something I can see what it is while I am eating. Understandable food. That is what I want.

 

 

 

Dreamer:

 

But if I could leave all constraints and only go for the most delicious food and the most exquisite wines, then I believe it would still not be enough . . . 

 

 

 

Simple to me is not always lean. I must have my malt. Cheaper kinds of whisky taste like straw! We grow barley in Sweden too, and we have much water and peat, yet we did not invent this heavenly potion. The Scots did. Walter Scott – a Scotsman, certainly – has a funny passage in Rob Roy:

 

 

 

A mighty pewter measure, containing about an English quart of usquebaugh, a liquor nearly as strong as brandy, which the Highlanders distil from malt, and drink undiluted in excessive quantities, was placed before these worthies. A broken glass, with a wooden foot, served as a drinking cup to the whole party, and circulated with a rapidity, which, considering the potency of the liquor, seemed absolutely marvellous.

 

 

 

This of course is meant to be told by an Englishman on a dangerous business trip in Scotland around 1715, but I can imagine Sir Walter with a big smile while writing it. What the English may have understood with “brandy” is not clear to me, maybe something made from potatoes like our Swedish “brännvin”?

 

 

 

Brandy is distilled from wine, as I have learnt. All the same, malt whisky is the best!

 

 

 

I pour a little whisky and a suitable measure of water into a common drinking glass, swivel it lightly and hold it under my nose feeling the scent more and more. Then I let a small drop of it reach my tongue. This is really a moment of comfort. The comfort would be even greater if you were here, having a whisky with me. You who? I don’t know. The one I wanted to meet, but who never came. The Islay potion makes me think of the sea. Or tears. Salt anyway.

 

 

 

O my Luve's like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June:
O my Luve's like the melodie,
That's sweetly play'd in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a’the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.
And fare-thee-weel, my only Luve!
And fare-thee-weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho' 'twere ten thousand mile!

 

 

 

This wonderful song by Robert Burns is to me a sailor’s song, something to sing to keep the pace while working on deck. And to keep a good mood of course.

 

 

 

In my dreams the good mood keeps up by itself in some miraculous way. Sometimes I have totally amazing sex dreams, then I wake up and tell myself: “this did not happen and it never will”. That guy Endymion, I think I am beginning to understand him fairly well.

 

 

 

There is another way of being Endymion: refusing to wake up. To lead your dreams out of the dark cave into the daylight of consciousness. What is true, good and beautiful is not always real, but we can strive to make it real, and let the nightmares remain in the night. That is the real sense of Platonic ideals.

 

 

 

So I thought, just when I wanted to go to bed, feeling drowsy after some glasses of champagne. How many worlds there are that you may pass through, even backwards! I sing with Bernhard Elis Malmström [Swedish romantic poet] in a song which we often sing at Par Bricole meetings: Foam of wine, gleaming eyes, thought leaps bold and free …

 

 

 

If I were a history teacher, it would be tempting to try, as a pedagogical trick, to use a reverse chronology, instead of starting from stone age or classical antiquity. I would ask the students to think of what ideas govern the large and small worlds of today, and how the generation of their parents adopted and worked on those ideas when they were at school. And so on, travelling back through the eras. Among film makers and novelists such views are already in use for dramatical purposes, but I think they also could be useful for the development of knowledge.

 

 

 

Think of the history book as a blog: what happened latest comes first! But I am neither a historian nor a teacher. In a school situation I think I would find it hard to play the double part of being an authority and yet promote a creative dialogue. The only thing that could make me want to be a teacher is the envy I feel of those who are in company of young people daily. Which can be great fun, as I learnt because I spent much time with my three kids and their nice friends.

 

 

 

With history I live, but not in it. Once I began a postgraduate education, but soon I decided that I am too sentimental to devote myself to footnotes and references. I think it appears from this whole writing of mine that I rather use history than serve under it.

 

 

 

The history of myself is equally confused, or worse. I would never write an ordinary autobiography starting from the beginning. Nor would I write one of the kind many celebrities do, focusing on what I have achieved, because I have not achieved anything. It may look as if I lead a passive life. I work office time and see my kids when I am free, but my kids are of age and do not need much from me. Is my text just one lengthy defence of my way of life? I feel no need to defend myself, really.

 

 

 

If anyone should ask me about my message, claiming I should have one, maybe I would reply: Obey no rules!

 

 

 

What? Me anarchist? Not really. But I respect those who are. To be anarchist is a choice you can make and be prepared to meet the consequences. Or you can obey all rules and believe you are OK – but still you may get into disaster, and when you do you cannot trust that those who made the rules will be there for you. Rules are collective, but the responsibility very often hits the individual.

 

 

 

Far beyond the limits of law you may be accused of something you have not done, and then you are more helpless than ever. Those who don’t only observe you but think they understand what you are doing, they will not hear your defence, if you have any at all. When this happened to me, I could only yield. I would never hit back, but I wish I had the psychological or diplomatic skills to find out what they really wanted to say, those who hit me.

 

 

 

Tenderness and confidence. That which everybody wants but nobody dares to offer. It could be simple, but the tenderness can be felt like repressive tolerance, and the confidence like “go ahead, I don’t care”.

 

 

 

Must I accept the role of a psychologist towards the person I think is close to me? To study her instead of just believing what she says? To study something is to look at it from a distance. I don’t know if it would have helped.

 

 

 

December 2010. Is it winter depression? A feeling of insufficiency in many ways. Still I like what we are doing right now, celebrating Advent, St. Lucia, Christmas. Were it not for the santas and poinsettias, maybe I would feel still worse.

 

 

 

Within me I have a special chamber where I observe traditions simply because they ARE traditions, no other reason really. It is a way of staying in touch with the past without having to perform any awkward duties. The St. Lucia Day, December 13, has been a feast in Sweden since the Middle Ages, so we keep it up, why shouldn’t we? – but the ways of celebrating it of course have changed with time.

 

 

 

What has Montaigne to say about feeling low? In the heavy volume of Essais, I quickly find De la Tristesse. “Nope, I am not that kind” he opens, and then after giving some examples of how depression causes wrong actions, he says the same again for a conclusion. Is Montaigne fooling us? I have to think that over before I look for some more.

 

 

 

Could it be that even Montaigne is hosting a Preacher and a Dreamer who, if not compete, so at least have some little argument at times?

 

 

 

So, if I have to be as hearty as Montaigne, I tell myself that the best day in my life is yet to come. The wenig I have seen already, but what really is [das beste Glück] I do not know.

 

 

 

Those small things: the stillest, the lightest, the rustle of a lizard, that the fictional character Zarathustra is mumbling about before falling asleep, what might that be? A remedy for sadness they say is to value the little you have and the little you actually can achieve. Should I write that down, like I made a food purchase list when I thought about Krilon’s keys? Zarathustra seems to know, but maybe he really does not. His words could be an incantation. He tries to tell himself it MUST be like that. The best moment might as well be the one that never came, but takes place only in imagination. The occasion when I could have acted otherwise than I actually did.

 

 

 

Sorry, now I am into depression again, I did not mean to! There will not be any list though, not now. I only say: coffee. The coffee I prepare myself is the best. One cup of strong coffee from my French press, and just one ginger thin with it    this is one of the small things that make my day when nothing else does.

 

 

 

March 2011 beginning. Soon the footways will be cleared of ice enough for me to take my long walks again. It is ten years since I wrote down the sentence “I am a super beginner”. Nothing has happened. Or lots of things have happened, but they do not make much of a difference. I am out of work again. Those small things of joy that are within my reach are more important than ever.

 

 

 

Relax. Feel the taste. Listen to the howling winds of spring. I sleep better nowadays. My dreams are mostly of frustration, but it is not difficult to go back to sleep. This I believe is what keeps me alive for long: my ability to step aside.

 

 

 

Spring came late this year, and when it came I got a job. Funny coincidence!

 

 

 

Once more, like seven years ago, I have spent the whole summer in the office, so my workmates could have their holiday. Autumn is coming, and it has been confirmed that I am hired for another six months. When spring comes again, I do not know what will happen.

 

 

 

The small things of joy that are near me will always be important. I cut a few King Edward potatoes into small cubes, boil them for 5 minutes, dispose of the water and add some oil, a generous spread of coarse ground black pepper, and just a little tomato ketchup. After stirring a little I also add an egg yolk. Now I have my own instant potato salad. With a glass of beer and a small vodka with a piece of lime zest in it.

 

 

 

Should it happen that Charles Dickens came to visit me, I would treat him with this dish, also including roasted finely cut beef and small lightly boiled carrots. Then maybe I would get a few lines as one of the guys in the accounting firm where Pip is ordered to work by his secret benefactor. If Dickens had been born in 1912 instead of 1812, he would have become a film maker rather than a novelist. Great Expectations is almost like three complete film scripts with dialogue and settings described in the smallest details.

 

 

If I had been a real person close to Dickens, I would have knocked on his door in the morning after he had completed David Copperfield, shouting: “Hey Charlie, get up to work!” Really, why did that novel have to end right there? Why couldn’t we have had David Copperfield 2, 3, 4 and on? What is to expect if a story starts like this: To begin with the beginning of my life … ?

 

 

“Where should I begin then?” you might ask. “Anywhere” a contemporary novelist or film maker would say. I say: “Begin from right now and go backwards.” Think of what you just did, because it is the easiest to remember, and what caused you to do that, and what had happened before. Last night I dreamed that police came to question me about some event I was said to have witnessed more than 25 years before, with a gorilla involved. They even showed me a gorilla to make their point perfectly clear. However the interrogation hardly started, I just remember the officer asking why I had long fingernails on my right hand, and I was about to mention my banjo playing when I woke up.

 

 

 

Just to contradict my own advice, I take a long leap back in time. It is nearly fifty years since I took up playing the banjo. The American folk song revival spread over the world. In Sweden there were the Hootenanny Singers among many others who enjoyed it, and Björn Ulvaeus was their banjoist [ the later ABBA member, sure! ]. I liked him, and the sound of the banjo, so I chose that instrument before the more popular guitar.

 

 

 

Since then I sometimes played a lot, and sometimes very little. Nowadays very little alas, because I am much into choir singing, but still I find the chords rather easily!

 

 

 

The old well-known chords OK, but new chords, alas, I have trouble with them. I bought a ukulele, to have an instrument for accompanying myself which was not so heavy to carry as the banjo. A banjo is heavy because it is built to stand the pressure of the strings as well as of the drumhead. I found it surprisingly hard to learn the chords of the ukulele well enough to be able to sing with it. Ukulele is meant to be easy to play, and it may be for others, but not for me. The way you tune it is completely different from banjo or mandolin or guitar, all of which I know since long. I need more time!

 

 

 

I have seen to that now. The need of time. I got more and more tired by the job. A good job as it was, but intense. Then the daily commuting. I lost power, could not spend my free time with entertaining and useful doings. I chose to retire from work, instead of toiling on to heap a few more pennies.

 

 

 

Dreamer:

 

I sleep until I wake up, mostly until dawn that is, but I have such strange dreams!

 

 

 

Preacher:

 

Having daily routines is good for your health, but how to fix routines for dreaming I don’t know.

 

 

 

Dreamer:

 

Often I remember the dream quite well. Sometimes I even think I learnt something from a dream, but to maintain that kind of knowledge is more difficult.

 

 

 

Preacher:

 

Customized Traumdeutung, that sounds like an interesting work, let’s keep it up!

 

 

 

A cat with claws ten centimetres long. I do not think I want to know what that might mean. I often have dreams of stress, like entering my hotel room to pack and check out, and then they are already there to clean it. When awake, I always allow myself plenty of time if I am to travel or do something else that is not daily routine.

 

 

 

The strange feeling of remembering your dream when you wake up, and then when you think of it some hour later, it is gone! In daytime I often forget what I did the day before. Maybe I should write more.

 

 

 

That novel? Well, I have time, but still - - - , maybe rather a Kammerspiel wherein the Dreamer (D) and the Preacher (P) tell tales to each other?

 

 

 

Dreamer:

 

Oh what a good idea! But where shall I begin?

 

 

 

Preacher:

 

From the beginning. *takes a sip of his pint*

 

 

 

D: Why not the reverse, tell something that just happened and try to trace how it came up, it may be as thrilling as a crime story …

 

 

 

P: Hold on, where did I hear that one before?

 

 

 

To begin from the beginning, by my age to look back for earliest memories and what happened next, I never wanted. Why should I bother that much? Memories come forth when they want to, so I could consider them at those moments, couldn´t I?

 

 

 

Lawrence Durrell has a proposition which is rather like how I am thinking. If it is any good I cannot tell yet, as I only have read half of the first book of the Alexandria Quartet. Here is what he says in Justine, p 115 in the Faber&Faber edition:

 

 

 

(What I most need to do is to record experiences, not in the order in which they took place – for that is history – but in the order in which they first became significant for me.)

 

 

 

Durrell says it somewhat aside while trying to solve a problem. I am not into such ventures – yet.

 

 

 

But I have a recent mysterious example: in my dream I heard a choir singing Heidenröslein, not by Schubert, but by Heinrich Werner. That piece I heard some time in my childhood and have never since thought of it, cannot remember. My mind was uncommonly peaceful when I awoke.

 

 

 

Beautiful music is meant to make you feel beautiful when you listen, or sing, hum, whistle, whatever. A part of the aesthetical religion!

 

 

 

And now, only a week later, I dreamed music again! I hope it is a trend. Outside, through an open window, I heard Mozart’s Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen and that was simply great.

 

 

 

It is not a trend I’m afraid. I have had no more dreams of music. Dreams of frustration have come back.  The creepiest thing is, that often when I wake up slowly, phrases are leaping through my mind as if I am telling someone of something that has happened. Mostly weird stories.

 

 

 

Heinrich Werner’s Heidenröslein tells to me something of the pain behind Goethe’s poem. In comparison Schubert’s version is more like a charming little theatre piece.

 

 

 

What music would I like to hear in a dream? Maybe something else from my childhood, like the overture of Rossini’s Barbiere di Siviglia, or a Bagatelle for piano by Beethoven. It has happened a few times through the years that I have dreamed completely new music, or at least melodies that I could not identify.

 

 

 

Alas, sometimes it happened that I got into the wrong direction, so to speak: I fell asleep during a concert. It must have been only for a few minutes, since I could not recall any dreams from those occasions. Once I heard an organ piece which I knew well, but it did not sound quite as it should, so I thought I had slept. Later I had a chance to talk to the organist. He revealed that he had missed the turning of one leaf, so he improvised a passage to get into track again. Another time on a hot summer evening I was in a little wooden church, listening to some exquisite chamber music. Some in the audience fell asleep, but not me. I had had some colas before. Take that hint from me!

 

 

 

Music in sleep. Now I have had a dream about Beethoven’s Adelaide  -  once more! This time I was to sing it myself before a small audience in what seemed to be a museum of music. There were different keyboard instruments, and the pianist was choosing which of them he wanted to play. Yes, it was a man allright. He went to a harpsichord and started examining it, then I woke up, so there never was any singing. Beethoven lieder with the harpsichord? Yes, you could try, even though it would be against the composer’s own ideas of what a clavier could be  -  or just because of that!

 

 

 

Here I was about to say: true, dream is better than life, because in real life I would not be offered to sing a solo in such an exquisite company. But then suddenly the memory came that something like this really happened long ago! I was at a private party, there was a grand piano (only one, LOL) and there were qualified musicians among the guests. So by chance I stood there, singing Adelaide with a skilled pianist, and he corrected me when I got a passage wrong. This memory travelled by the subway of my mind for decades, and now it has surfaced!

 

 

 

Even longer ago, I bought a record with Hermann Prey, and heard Jussi Björling on radio. Which came first, I cannot remember, but thus I found this wonderful song. Friedrich von Matthisson got fame during his lifetime, but nowadays he is not considered a great poet. Anyway, through the years I have felt close to that lonely friend, einsam wandelt dein Freund

 

 

 

Good or bad poet, I am not sure. Need to read more before I determine. Does Matthisson qualify in the group of walking thinkers? At least when his view travels from the calm river to the snowy mountains until the sun goes down among gleaming clouds, and stars appear, it is grand I think.

 

 

 

That statement of Lawrence Durrell, it is really good! It took me a long time to read the whole quartet, not that it should be hard to read, but because it has a meditative mood which all along evokes new thoughts in the reader’s mind. Quite the contrary to Charles Dickens whose stories are that visual and eloquent that you are almost compelled to read them fast. Also to read once more, at least Our Mutual Friend, somehow a Dostoevsky with a happy end.

 

 

 

Dreamer:

There is so little music in Dickens. That feels empty!

 

Preacher:

Indeed! This can be one reason to re-read. Some street musician may appear in a city view, or some lady singing to the piano at a party, but is music ever of any importance?   

 

Dreamer:

This is a mystery, like Edwin Drood. The murder suspect is a music master, but even there music seems to have only a social role in the plot.

 

Preacher:

So let us meditate on the Alexandria Quartet. A story about the life of a limited circle of people who all know each other more or less, during a few years when they all live in the same city. Even though the narrator is an “I”, all of them on occasions step forward, taking the lead. There are even lots of quotations from an earlier novel which was never really written, because its author himself is a fictional character!

 

Dreamer:

 After the last page of the last volume, I had a similar feeling as I have got from other great reading experiences, be it Dombey and Son or The Da Vinci Code: Nothing is exactly what it looks like.

 

Preacher:

There is always the possibility of another aspect that you cannot think of right now, but later may appear as the solution you missed. 

 

 

 

The solution. The way out. Or the away route from what never happened.

 

 

 

In the summer of 1972 I wrote: I have read the poet of the light and got sunburnt. When the paper almost blinds you nothing is obscure any more. It was Hölderlin that time.

 

 

 

Now, summer 2017, I read Charles Dickens, the narrator of Granduncle’s often sombre tales, sometimes with outburst of feelings, sometimes in a more detached mode. And the city of London itself is a main character. The travelling too. Dickens moves, I said that before. The tragic turning point in Bleak House is connected to a journey.

 

 

 

My own winding trip through Dickens´s 14 novels just ended with Barnaby Rudge. I did not save it for last, but it was the last one I got hold of. In 2010, I blogged about mentionings of liquor in The Pickwick Papers (many, for sure) and then the other novels followed without any plan, and sometimes slowly. During seven years I read other things too of course. Sometimes many days could pass without me reading any book.

 

 

 

Now, summer 2017, I read much and enjoy sitting in the sun, like in 1972. I never liked sunbathing in itself, but with a book it feels good! From a biography by Peter Ackroyd I learn that Dickens, though he worked so much, was a fan of long walks. I cannot say “I knew it!” because I did not, but it certainly helps my understanding of him.

 

 

 

The biography also tells that Dickens during those long walks set up his speeches, never writing them down but keeping them in his mind until holding them. It always worked. He is really my guy!

 

 

 

I keep walking with other books. Autumn is here, so I go to a coffee shop or pub to sit down and read for a while. This is a new habit of mine, and to my surprise I do not find it hard to concentrate on reading in such places. Sometimes it happens that someone, staff or customer, asks what I am reading, that is nice too. A book title comes into my mind: Böcker och vandringar (Books and walks) by Vilhelm Ekelund.

 

 

 

It is hard for me to get over that I did not realise that Dickens was a wanderer, although there is so much wandering in his stories. However, in the novels this mostly happens in awkward situations, like when Little Nell takes her gaming grandfather away to escape his creditors.

 

 

 

When I was poor I could get out into the woods for a whole day with food and drink in my backpack, because I could afford that much. Today when I am better off I mostly take city walks which lead me to a pub or coffee shop. Wandering because I like it, ever since I was a kid.

 

 

 

Dickens and Nietzsche. They walked daily and wrote a lot. I walk often and write a few words occasionally. On the other hand, I am in good health at 67 years. I regard myself as their follower, but it seems to be wholesome not to work that hard.

 

 

 

Dickens and Bellman. They tried on theatre with no big success. Instead they created their own drama. When I walk the city, preferably at night, I often find myself in streets that Bellman walked. Or I imagine the London of Dickens, like it was in 1818. The comic or scary characters in the novels like in the epistles somehow belong to the same family.

 

 

 

Dickens, Bellman, and Nietzsche. What a club! But Nietzsche was not the social type.

 

 

 

Nietzsche HAS a seat in the club, after all. His thoughts go astray through his scriptures like confused characters in a drama. There is an attractive unpredictableness in his works, which to me is the main reason to read them.

 

 

 

Spring is near. I wake up earlier. Not exactly at sunrise, but the light affects me. Eos or Aurora, goddess of red sky at morning. Funny that there is no goddess of afterglow. The woods now again compete with the city about my walks. During winter I often indulged in a nap after lunch. This will not be needed if I get out walking.

 

 

 

I have been to London once only, 15 years old. I had read The Pickwick Papers in Swedish, so naturally I went to the Dickens Museum. Member of the fan club already then. Now I want to go to London again, to see if I get a Dickens feeling there, like I get a Bellman feeling in Stockholm. And into the Alps to get a Nietzsche feeling. In den Alpen bin ich unbesiegbar. “In the Alps I am invincible”.

 

 

 

The Alps in summertime, of course. I am not an ice and snow man. Nor was Nietzsche. He dwelt in lowland during winter.

 

 

 

Summer 2018 is here. The other day I climbed a steep path up a rock about 40 meters high above the sea inlet near my home. From the summit I looked down thinking: Did I really get up that way? I did not need to go back by the same route, but the mere thought of it scared me.

 

 

 

Why then did I go up? Curiosity. I have always been curious. Like a child. I had seen ordinary people getting up there with sport bags and other such things, so I wanted to try.

 

 

 

Many years ago I walked along Lake Mälaren from Vinterviken to Vårberg. The path ended at a bathing shore. Beyond there was nothing but the lake and a steep rock. Only a trail up the rock, no other passage. Even that time I ventured a climb, rather than going back to find an easier route. That was a hard climb! At the top some 70 meters higher I was rewarded by the lovely view of the lake with its shores and islands. The place name is Korpberget, “Raven Hill”.

 

 

 

Recently I also found a nice rock for sunset. Near where I live and easy to climb. The name of that place I will not tell you. I can give you the name of the goddess of afterglow, now that I have found out. A group of goddesses actually: the Hesperides.

 

 

 

Near the end of summer I got up high in another way, almost in another dimension. Empire State Building. Take the elevator up 300 meters, fast and easy. Look down at city and country, river and sea. There is something special about New York. Even those districts without very high buildings have much to offer. When I get back there maybe I will walk along the Broadway from Battery Park in the south, as far as I can manage. It is not so broad but very long. Diagonally through the normal rectangular street plan. Diagon Alley, if you know Harry Potter.

 

 

 

I walk on. One gets good thoughts when out walking. I will keep walking till I fall. Walking is my way of thinking. I like big cities and heavy books. The beginning chapters of Moby Dick are promising.

 

 

 

Why do I like a novel about whaling, when I am no seaman? Herman Melville has a wide span of thought. The start of the story, when Ishmael is preparing to get hired and sail out, is very entertaining. Then there is a substantial treatise on all whale species known, and a script of a musical comedy for the crew on board.

 

 

 

So now I have got down from the heights and travel horizontally over the wide, wide sea with Melville. The book is divided in many short chapters, so it works well to read it slowly.

 

 

 

It ends in a total catastrophe. The big white whale crushes the big ship and all the crew drowns. All but one man, Ishmael of course. Someone must live to tell the story.

 

 

 

The frightful whale keeps swimming across the oceans. No one knows where it will appear next time. Very much like the way I think. My brain is a romantic who wanders through worlds far away and wide apart, as if they were neighbouring fields.

 

 

 

 

 

Sven Wifstrand

e-mail: svensays at gmail.com