Ricarda Kiel: This is not a regular blog post about Villa Sarkia, because my stay at Villa Sarkia was not regular – but I only realized this in hindsight. It was to be the last time in a not-yet finished time period that I would be out of my country, it was the last bit of normal-not-normal life that I experienced before Covid-19 hit hard. The diary notes are from February 2020, I wrote the introduction around June 2020.
How to write about all that has happened to the entire world in recent months, and about what a large privileged part of the Western world has been instigating and cleverly ignoring for centuries? When everything is constantly changing and the basic misery remains the same? Also: When so many people are already writing and recording and interpreting?
In times like these: Does it make any sense at all to keep a diary?
Of course it does. Especially in times like these.
I want to record how blindly I slid into my realization of this situation, how it has been tossing me back and forth, and how I try to find meaning in it and voices I can trust. I want to record how lucky I am compared to so many around me, how lucky I was to be able to fill my cup to overbrimming before reality as I knew it was turned upside down. And also what anger I have accumulated, at politicians and their empty promises, at journalists who distort stories, at missed opportunities, at those distrusting the government so much that they endanger their neighbors.
George Saunders wrote in a letter to his students about the Covid 19 period: “(…) what you’re able to write about it will depend on how much sharp attention you are paying now, and what records you keep. Also, I think, with how open you can keep your heart.“
That’s what I’m trying to do now. To stay attentive and take notes and keep my heart open in everything.
Here we go: Finland. A collage of travel notes and pictures.
My February in a wooden house with other writers. With E. Who is a major reason I felt safe and at home and understood during the residency.
Welcoming the weirdness.
It’s so quiet here that for the first time I hear the sound my necklace makes when I take it off. A soft swoosh.
Then it was the finnish writer in the room next door humming that made me happy.
Dates with licorice. Big matches in packs with a sauna man on them. So much sun, sun all day. An ice fisherman on the lake, drilling his huge drill into the ice, no one else for miles. The amazingly nice S supermarket, the cheaper one, somehow more accessible to me. I find everything I need, I go to the bathroom in the supermarket and watch the locals gamble at the vending machine, in this village without a café.
I still feel surprisingly neutral. Not unhappy, not frantically excited. Observing. Arriving. I very much like the weird and funny translations I get with my new app.
Stoneless toilet stone toad = That’s a date.
I like the proximity of the table and bed, the low windows, the proximity of everything to everything. Reading in bed. I’m learning to read. To use my reading. To pay attention across several books. This month is worth it for that alone.
Finnish porridge is supposed to taste like bread, salty and buttered.
Actually, everything here is made of oatmeal.
I’m dreaming about emails and all the things I have to do quickly. But I don’t have to do anything. It doesn’t matter when the others get up, what they do or how much they work. Sitting in bed, curled up, the window open, icy air outside and the first morning light and a dog barking wolfishly. So much in my head, and I am suddenly awake.
I like the heater here, warming up so quickly. I like the sunrises and their glow, I like the smoky air. I like how the whole school walks to the theater, they trudge past our house, lurching, through sun and snow. I like how most of the men here wear safety jackets, in neon yellow or orange.
I practiced now-time and looked at animal tracks, I walked two hours through a quiet forest, always along the water’s edge. Snow crunching. Glistening. Puffing. Dusty.
This regularity, or monotony, is the real luxury. Every day is like every other, only the light is new. We eat similar things, we do similar things. Our conversations get deeper, our sauna sessions hotter. I develop a little routine, little procedures that I repeat. I collect thoughts and drawings, and maybe I am getting closer to something.
I’ve forgotten how to write poetry. Now I’m looking for a can opener for these words.
Today my desire for writing, for language, for trying things out wants to live. Today I want the regularity, the uniformity of these days here to live on, these days which of course are never the same, the delicate connections, my minimalist and yet loving self-sufficiency, a cheese, a beet, a packet of crispbread, salty butter. Today shall die the fear of having to keep everything with me. What wants to stay shall stay.
How does an even deeper freedom feel? Worried about what, caring about whom and what?
That’s the wrong question, of course. More importantly: How does freedom feel in my body?
Answer: It feels like a soft big inner tube. And heavier than I thought. Weighted and anchored, because freedom is also the freedom to stay. A body also needs weight to dance.
Slowly, I trust myself. The conversations I have, the connections I draw, the images I paint, the themes that repeat themselves – all of these are signs that I will find a way to deal with my material, and find beauty and dignity and strength in it.
And: Creating change by showing each other how we live. Over and over again, I’ve been realizing how that’s one of the most powerful things we can give each other. Modeling boundaries, modeling freedom, modeling weakness, vulnerability, joy, creating safe places, dancing on the icy lake, loving and calling it love. Showing each other how we find our ways and how difficult it really is.
Porridge with salty butter, powdered berries, almonds, flax seeds. Crispbread with salty butter, avocado, beetroot, lemon juice, thick pepper. Crispbread with peanut butter, cinnamon, pear. My deep dark heavy Oatly cocoa. Bright broccoli with rice and canned lax.
This may look like a vacation, but it’s work. Work on my own story, on understanding my own story. I am learning to keep the water clear. Thinking things through, finishing things, pinning thoughts. And it’s home.
No, there is no bad food. Yes, my inner security trumps everything. Yes, people can make a difference.
It’s gray outside with a shred of a view of the one hill and a bit of light to the east, and the weather here is such a good image for my processes. It’s the same elements every day, and the same forces acting on it every day, and yet each day is so distinct and strikingly different from the others. The amount of ice on the sidewalks, the amount and type of snow, its colors and sounds, the color and size of the sky, the temperature, the shape of the ice flowers on the window, the width and clarity of the view, the thickness of the ice on the lake, the traces of melting ice, how strong the wind is, whether I need to hook the windows …
I’m slowly saying goodbye to my idea of finding the one good daily rhythm that gives me a peaceful night’s sleep, and the one way of feeding myself that always makes me feel good – it remains a daily balancing and feeling into my body and its present shape, and of course it’s actually just right that way.
From an essay by Freya Daly Sadgrove, whom I meet through E: people don’t read your poems to find out about you / they read them to find bits of themselves / which is why anybody reads anything / you aren’t interesting until you tell someone something about themselves they didn’t know or couldn’t have articulated.
Today was the first time in three weeks that I heard a car honking.
And I’m starting to think about what habits I’ll be taking with me. Drawing to music every day, definitely. Writing by hand, perhaps. Falling asleep at certain set times. Trusting my process. The peanut butter and cinnamon pear thing. Translating? I haven’t even started that yet, not on the page. Reading while jotting down quotes.
I took such a long walk, soaking up sun and discovering new corners and listening to the wind in the ice and the ice itself, its calls and crackles when I step on it, and I’ve been walking across the lake with E, and dancing and crawling, with hands and feet and a lot of joy. All those bubbles in it! And the cracks! And the mysterious black underneath, and the panting fish, and the wild deep breathing of the ice … And how smooth it feels, how polished, Finland’s second largest gem.
Then we slithered around on the frozen waves together for a very long time, looking at the fish and looking at the sun and venturing out quite far, and then no further. We found three-dimensional cracks today, twisted like drills and pulled like muscles and fascia, and big new galaxies.
I did not paint today. I sat reading downstairs in the armchair, under moon and Venus eyes. I have done so much else and so little. I am also here to learn to be less strict with myself. For the most part, I’m deepening my own useful ruts here.
And a re-framing I learned from E today: I’m not intellectually lazy when I choose not to decipher cultural references in other people’s texts. I just choose to use my energies differently.
I’m done. I’ve done my work here, I’ve written twelve poems and a sprawling poetic essay, I’ve revised them all again, and then I closed the book.
Then I went ice swimming. Second time, in great sun, with very cute grandpa company and tea on the little bench in front. Vallti taught us to say “I love you” in Finnish (minä rakastan sinua, as E shouted after him as we were leaving, which clearly confused him) and he showed us the little hut of the ice-swimming club, which is warmed and where everyone keeps their slippers and bathrobes, and on the wall there is a list of all the names and all the days in the month, and they put little crosses when they have gone swimming.
(Also we are in a metal band now it is called Frosty Moss. E plays the D on the bass & I scream frooooosty! Mosses! And I dance on one foot. We have t-shirts that say Kiss my Moon & Frost my Venus.)
And the fish we found on the lake were roach. I like that, knowing their name, just like I like being able to call the jackdaws jackdaws and to identify the different constellations. Probably because we know so little else accurately, we carry the mantra “Who knows! Not us. But how?” across the ice.
I am so submerged in this sysmatic small world. But I have to prepare myself a bit for the fact that things will be different again and that the questions will come back.
For now, though, my last day here. Saying goodbye to E, painting, soaking up the sun and the lake, doing the last little things I wanted to do.
What I didn’t see this month: Traffic lights. Pregnant women.
I only saw one Black person this month and one fire truck. An ambulance twice.
The looming clouds make it easier for me to say goodbye, announce a new phase. In bright sunshine I went to say goodbye to all my favorite places, kissed the lake and knocked on the wood, and then the clouds started rolling in.
New happenings on the lake: A woman with some kind of sled, in which her dog sat, who looked just like M the dog in my dream. The guy in the neon top on his bike. Two Youths of Sysmä looking at their cell phones and playing ice hockey at the same time, shooting around on the ice so naturally and fluidly and powerfully that it made my head spin and my heart ache.
I received so many gifts here. The entire month a gift. I keep the daydreams that do me good and bring me joy. It doesn’t all have to go, I don’t have to purge myself of anything. I take nourishment with me from here, and I will leave some things behind.
And I can’t make the wind in my fingertips unseen, the swirls are too clear.
I think: You have to sit on your art like a little horse. It has to take you somewhere.