apologies to Joe Brainard
I remember going to the lake and seeing all the upturned boats, almost invisible under the snow. I avoid the tidied-up trail and try to trudge through the thick layer of snow. I manage a few meters until I feel the dampness through my boots, my jeans, my thermals, the snow so deep it comes up to my knees.
I remember waking up at 4:30 am. Pia and Ben usually come down from the 2nd floor at around 10:30 or 11 am. We’re all respectful of each other’s space, so some days I’d only bump into them in the kitchen whenever they’re making tea. We ask each other what we’re working on, offer some commiseration when one admits how unproductive their day has been. I remember going to bed at 8 pm.
I remember how the solitude of being in Sysmä in winter heightens everything. It helps, I think, that I’ve spent most of my life in warmer regions, so my body responds to the cold as one would an intriguing stranger. When snow falls in the early morning, I feel as if I were in the middle of some sacred ceremony. Cold evenings are much colder. A random conversation becomes more purposeful, more necessary. A drink is a sign of warmth.
I remember slipping on the ice. Thursday, 7 pm, it happens right in the middle of an intersection, as I walk home from the supermarket. I sit right on the street, my right arm beginning to throb from the pain, grocery items scattered on the ground, and I think: This is how the rest of my life will be. And then I walk back to the house.
I remember being mistaken for a girl at the local bar by a woman, a former fellow. It’s a little weird, but I don’t mind it. I find it pretty amusing. Her name is (also) Pia, and I remember how when she’s talking about her family history, I can only nod politely because the whole time I’m distracted by how gorgeous her face looks.
I remember listening to nothing else but Nico’s “These Days” for three straight days.
I remember reading about the heat wave in Adelaide, where I had come from immediately prior to Finland. For 12 straight days, the temperature in Adelaide would get so hot that bats have to be driven toward the nearest river so they don’t fry from their own body fat. At Villa Sarkia, I prop my feet up on the radiator whenever the temperature plummets below -10 degrees.
I remember spending an hour each day in the sauna. I do most of my thinking within that hour, texting myself possible lines for poems or concepts or words that sound nice, while Rihanna or Maggie Rogers or Shawn Colvin whenever I’m feeling nostalgic blasts through my phone.
I remember using Pia’s mango-scented lotion because I assume it had been left behind by a previous resident. There are lots of bottles inside the bathroom, there are bottles on the foyer table too. When I think of the unknown residents who came before us, I think of them in relation to the books they might have left behind, their messages on the guest book, various spices in the kitchen, and their bottles of toiletries.
I remember catching a glimpse of Ben’s notebook, which seems to have a lot of doodles, which I suppose he draws while thinking of something to write. I remember thinking I should make better, definitely more artistic, use of my in-between-writing time than gossiping with friends online.
I remember being ecstatic that the kitchen has a drip coffee maker, a French press, and a moka pot. I am not exaggerating. I remember being the only coffee drinker among the three of us.
I remember wandering semi-aimlessly in the middle of the night. We reach a gas station—I think it’s a gas station—before deciding to turn back. I’d hold on to Ben’s arm whenever the road gets too slippery, and at some point snow starts falling. It isn’t a bad night—pretty exciting, actually, as far as my month in Sysmä goes.
I remember walking with Ben to the gym in the afternoons. Sometimes it gets so cold that the snot inside my nose would freeze. It’s funny until it isn’t. Eventually it becomes ordinary. Most days, the short trip to the gym is the only time I’d get out of the house. I stick to using the stationary bike and the treadmill, and sometimes I increase the speed to the point that I’d get leg cramps later in the night. I remember liking the fact that I can still sweat.
I remember thinking I’ve never seen so much white, the kind of white that’s so real—my legs move through it, I feel flakes of it on my face, I scoop it with my hand and hold it until my fingers go numb—that if I think hard enough, it might feel present even now, 22 days after I’ve left Sysmä.
I remember going online to find out the names of the trees I see in Sysmä, most of them spindly, all of them beautiful.
I remember the blue curtains of my room, which make the inside of my room blue, and, when viewed through the windows, the outside blue. I remember the blue of early morning, just before sunrise, the kind of blue that seems sad in a sexy kind of way. In the afternoons, I do yoga and witness my room gradually turn a darker and deeper blue as the sun slowly sets.
I remember letting two Jehovah’s Witnesses inside the house, on my last Saturday at Villa Sarkia. They hand me a pamphlet, tell me to check out their website. They ask where I come from.
I remember deciding to build a snowman before I leave Sysmä. I never get around to it, but in the story in my mind, I do and he has a lovely carrot nose and he gets to stick around until April.
I remember walking through the aisles of the supermarket on my first evening and wondering why there are so many boxes of frozen pizza. And because I’m trying to avoid carbs, I feel an almost unhealthy amount of indignation rise up in me. I end up buying a dozen eggs, a packet of sausages, some cauliflower, and nuts for snacking. It’s a sad couple of weeks until I quit trying to lose weight.
I remember seeing bottles of Shiraz from South Australia at the supermarket and feeling a sense of pride. I laugh over my foolishness.
I remember the kind of quiet Sysmä offers. I’m now in the Philippines, and Manila offers me its version of quiet: tricycles running in the distance, someone half-drunkenly singing a song, the incessant humming of midnight moving through the window of my room. I part my curtains to meet the city, and I wish to see a blinding white outside.
Mark Anthony Cayanan