The snow is different here.

A blog post. A blog post. A blog post?

Now what, in the devil’s many names, does one put in a blog post?

The morning of my penultimate full day in Villa Sarkia is moments from dawning as I sit down in my room to ponder that question. My windows are too caked with frost to see outside, but having returned from my first cigarette of the day a handful of minutes or two ago, I know that Sysmä is still covered in snow, though the snowfall ceased some time yesterday evening. The snow is different here. This observation has crossed my mind often over the past four weeks; I have shared it with friends, shared it with family, shared it on Facebook, even. Ever since I first thought it, it has seemed somehow important, this curious, putatively innocuous nugget of Finland trivia: the snow is different here. Why does this feel so relevant? What does it reveal, beyond the circumstance it describes? And most importantly: is it blog-worthy?

What to put in a blog post? I have written stories—short, novella, novel-length; I have written stage plays, seen them gain in reality and independence as they came alive in the interplay of director and ensemble; I have written poems, though I’m not much good at it; I have written diaries, and e-mails, and letters, and essays and theses and synopses; I have written social media posts, mostly to promote my work and assert myself as an artist in these trying, hybrid, digital times, though I consider social media to be both tedious and dubious—worrisome, at the least, and superfluous at best. Out of these genres, the last would be most akin to a blog post, I presume: they’re online, they’re “posts,” they’re fiercely public, they’re by definition self-centred to some extent. But if I went about it the way I would a Facebook entry, it wouldn’t be much fun: the rules of effective social media posts are nebulous to me, but it seems obvious that there are rules, possibly too many of them, and too much of their successful implementation removed from the writer’s creative control. Maybe I’m going at this the wrong way. I probably shouldn’t be asking, “What is a blog post?”; should ask instead: what have I got to say?

Which brings me back to that sentence which has kept recurring to me, kept looping from the relaxed ebb and flow that my thoughts have become here in Villa Sarkia, kept rising to the surface of the cool, bright, tranquil river in my head to surprise me with its ongoing perceived properness and succinct clarity: the snow is different here. Because it really is.

Is it?

Different how? Different why? Different from what? Questions that sound every bit as simple and harmless as the original observation. Here’s an answer: it’s different from snow back home in Austria, probably due to differing climate conditions, in that thick flakes are rare even in heavy snowfall, each individual flake looking much like a tiny crystal or shard of glass instead—diamond dust, indeed—and the resulting blankets of snow scintillate in the sunlight, twinkle like a spangled sky at night. “It sparkles like excited stars, silly from a joke the moon told” is how I put it on Facebook … and here I was thinking I had no knack for poetry. (Is that poetic? I seem interminably unable to wrap my head around the category.)

And all of that looks both exhaustive enough and rudimentarily pretty, like there couldn’t possibly be more to say on the subject. Like no more should be said on the subject—less would have been preferable, even—for as we all know (or at least have been told repeatedly), brevity and concision are the writer’s friends and objectives; only amateurs lose themselves in verbiage. But exhaustive and pretty though it may be—it just doesn’t cut it. There’s something missing. There’s more to the snow’s otherness than what can be said about it descriptively, or explained factually. It isn’t just prettier, and it’s not just the atmosphere (climatic or otherwise). The residency has taught me serenity, has returned fluidity and ease and quiet to my agitated brain, and for that lesson I am ineffably grateful; but maybe it’s time to stir that mellow stream once more, to turn a placid pool into a bubbling soup, and the soup into ink; to sharpen the mind, sharpen the pen, and stand in the river to look at something in particular, as long as it takes, instead of going with the flow and taking in whatever comes along.

So I will look at the snow, and look at myself, and ask: what does that mean, that the snow is different here? What does it mean to me? (A blog post is supposed to be personal, no?)

I return to that first shot at an answer above, that the snow here is different from that at home, and I stop and think, and I ask myself: when was the last time I noticed, really noticed, the snow back home? Looked closely, paid attention to it? I love snow—have loved it all my life, as far as I recall—but that doesn’t guarantee that I’ve been mindful of it. When something beloved returns whether one embraces it or not, it can become commonplace, a matter-of-fact. One might still love it, but one forgets to appreciate it. Before Sysmä, when was the last time I truly appreciated snow? What am I comparing this new snow to? A fact? a memory? a distant memory?

A complete fabrication?

In recent years, it hasn’t snowed all that often in my little corner of Austria, or when it did snow, then not for very long. Things change, as we know; sometimes irretrievably, and sometimes for the worse. Maybe that is why the snow’s otherness strikes me as so impressive, so crucial, at this place and time in my life: it brings home the message, in tiptoed curvatures of thought, that change is inevitable. On some level, we’re all aware of this, and usually I don’t mind—embrace it, even. But maybe comparing the present snow to something I cannot quite fathom—comparing it and finding a bewildering unspecificity, a vague lack, in the position of the second “comparee”—I am reminded that sometimes, change means loss of something one didn’t want to let go. That change is perpetually in motion, and it won’t stop no matter how politely you might ask it to.

But knowing this—that things change, everywhere, constantly: how do I know that snow here, around Villa Sarkia, is always the way it is now? Maybe the snow is different not just from snow in Vienna, but from last year’s snow in Sysmä; maybe this is the first time snow here behaves the way it does now, and not knowing it, I have fallen into the traveller’s trap of associating everything I see and experience with the country I’m visiting, inducing from a particular observation to a general rule, when I can have no idea if that rule really exists or not. What a shameful fallacy! Does “the snow is different here” not just evoke my exposure to change, my “thrownness” into the world, then, but also my foolishness in the face of it? Does it reveal how narrow my mind is at its core, when—as a writer who has devoted almost a decade of his life to a philosophical education—I like to think that, whatever else I may be, narrowminded I am not?

So maybe the reason why I keep revisiting that sentence is that, as much as it imposes itself on me, I can have no idea if it is accurate. What are my frames of reference? A frightfully brittle memory of a generalised idea of what snow once looked and felt like to me, or even “is supposed” to look and feel like, in a world according to my frightfully limited perspective … and another illicit generalisation induced from a series of observations made over a very short amount of time that is very specific to one location and one month in one year? Is it okay, is it in any way feasible or tolerable, to work from that and arrive at the conclusion: the snow is different here?

… why, yes. I suppose it is. I suppose what I’m forgetting, or have been ignoring in my eagerness to be precise, critical, and extensive (so sorry for the length!), is that no matter if the thought is true or not, it is a thought of mine. And it hasn’t “imposed” itself on me so much as it just rings a little louder, and clearer, and truer, than the other notions chortling in the stream. And, perhaps most importantly: until I sat down to stare at the sentence, to debate it as though it (or I) were trying to make a point, it had always been accompanied by nothing but pleasure. It had been a joyful thought, merry, happy, giddy. I think—I choose that—I will let it be that again.

I suppose the sentence even contains all of the above, all that verbose speculation and (let’s be honest here) quite pointless elaboration; holds all of it, says all of it, “verdichtet” all of it. I suppose brevity is sovereign, a multitude of words but a sign of insecurity or narcissism, or both. So that should be my blog post, then—I will write nothing but the words: the snow is different here. Let the reader draw their own conclusions, the way good writers do. Chances are their conclusions will be more interesting than my preludious cogitations …

But that wouldn’t be enough, then, would it? Why? Because I’m a writer. I write. I tell stories. That is what I do. Consider this the story of how I decided that my blog post should contain nothing but that sentence, and how it ended up the blog post’s title instead. The story does have quite a bit to offer! Childlike wonder—at a weather phenomenon that seems both mundane and mystical; quasi-philosophical contemplation of a shyly metaphysical tinge (Finland’s snow, or Sysmä’s snow, or this point-in-time’s snow, or none of the above?); an excess of aesthetics, moulded into logical shape; twists, as my attempt to organise my thought process pulls me in various directions at once and makes a mockery of the very idea of the attempt; and even romance: mine and the snow’s love story is one for the ages. Perhaps it isn’t the most riveting material I ever produced … but it is sincere; sincere, and necessary. I can think of no better way to trace how important my time in Villa Sarkia was to me. How unique in the context of my personal history, how filled with marvels and deliberation, with freedom to think and do as I see fit, with writing, writing, writing, and with snow, snow, snow.

While I’ve been writing this, night has turned to day, and for an hour or two the horizon was a peaceful pink. Pink used to be my least favourite colour, but that was before I saw the Finnish dawn. There’s pink dawns in Austria, too, but still—still … it isn’t just the snow that’s different. The colours in the December sky over Sysmä are intriguing. A blue so clear and bright—so blue—you’d think the sky was frozen … and winter pink, a colour I’m not sure I knew existed. Winter morning pink—December’s Pink, Rising Sky’s Pink, Rose of the Heavens—which might possibly count among my favourite colours now. Time will tell; time, and the eyes I bring back to Austria, which I hope have permanently recovered—and not just re-encountered—the ability to observe.

Thomas Kodnar, 26.12.2021 (happy birthday, brother!)

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