3 Scandinavians Delighting in Depression

In the last week, I’ve read three Scandinavian mystery novels. One Swedish, The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell, One Norwegian, The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo, one Icelandic, Operation Napoleon by Arnaldur Indridason.

 Troubled Man The Redeemer Operation Napoleon

The Henning Mankell book is not only emotionally grey but was shocking to me by the way he concluded the adventures of his hero, Kurt Wallander. Six lines of finality and he’s done.

The rotten weather here in my part of Canada has been a perfect backdrop for these books. Rainy, cold, even snow, and a spring that won’t come.

All three books are gloomy. In fact, gloominess and depression is a way of simply being in the world for the characters in these books. Yet their jobs and lives go on. There are almost no guns and no jargon and no gratuitous technology.
We used to talk a lot about gratuitous violence, now it is gratuitous technology: the obsession with cell phones and being “connected’ anywhere, anytime.

What a relief these Northern books are! Even the  depression-prone antagonists are a relief. At least they reflect and relate to the craziness of the world. They may have found that depression is the only rational reaction of living in these times.

I have, in the past few months, read several genres of fiction and non-fiction.

Books that make the time go by fast and, in one instance, it worked. This was “The Ask” by Sam Lipsyte. His is a high-wire act of  speech – a rant against the invasion of crass, all-pervasive, marketing into our human values. No one relates to another with real sentences or real feelings. It’s stock market and text message talk. What Tony Judt called “no-speak”.
At first, I thought “The Ask” was brilliant, but could Lipsyte keep it going? At some point would  it come down to earth where the reader was looking up into the air for some plot – something to navigate by? He certainly kept the banter going to the bitter end. Actually, he’s relentless. But a story that intersected with reality – by what page would that happen? Or was this so much rhetorical aviation? Well, there’s a thin plot to follow but it’s more of a convenience to wrap things up.
What saves the book is that the main character cares about face-to-face physical encounters with other human beings and listens to their real pain. There is a sense of loss of intimacy.
The acid test is that  I’ve recommended the book to a few friends – but I’ve been selective.

Which brings me to a non-fiction book I’ve put off discussing for a few months: “Reality Hunger” by David Shields.
There are a lot of names blurbing away on the cover of this book (and a lot of them are now on my no-no list).
Shields calls his book a “manifesto”. I’m not even sure it’s a book, although it has a cover and numbered pages and chapters and all that stuff. If I had to boil it down, I’d say Shields’ main points are:

1. The novel (and plot in general) is finished.
2. The new and exciting genre is “collage” or the “DJ mix” (Shields is a DJ)

I recently heard a panel discussion in a Guardian U.K. Podcast featuring an interview with Shields followed by a panel discussion of it by British authors.
One of the panelists, Toby Litt,  said one thing that resonated (and here I paraphrase): “Shields’ book lacks ‘sensibility’”. I think he means that Shields may be in favour of the DJ mix, and may have some things to say, but that his sense or “feel” of how to put them together is missing. Got no rhythm.
I mostly agree. Despite “Reality Hunger”‘s penchant for the DJ mix/collage thing, there doesn’t seem to be much music in the man. And you know what Shakespeare said about that.

What I reacted to most strongly – was horrified in fact – was Shields’ suggestion that writers should consider the cell phone screen as their new medium. Eek!
In it’s staccato burst of paragraphs and proclamations, I expect David Shields still hungers for reality. Good luck to him.

I  was looking for an antidote book after this. At a friend’s place the next day, I picked up the first Sue Grafton book “A is for Alibi”, an American mystery.
I felt like putting the spurs to it. Come on, stop telling us about everything you do in your groovy little apartment or the directions around town. Spare the trees.
Ms. Grafton is  smart enough to know that her book needed plot, but for me it was like was walking through a hoarder’s house to get to the next thread of  it. This lighter reading wasn’t working for me. I had to skim to make it go faster than television.

Back to my Scandinavians.
What you  get in their world is the acceptance that there is a constant ache in the background of their characters. It isn’t edited out. This pervasive gloom confirms that although a book may be read in a few hours, real lives go on for hours, weeks, months between the events in  the story. These writers aren’t  afraid to present that. Whereas most American and English mystery writers, especially the best-selling formulaic kind, eliminate inner life to keep you jumping and distracted, my three recent Scandinavians draw this wonderful allusion that part of their stories are spanning years of a character’s life. At the same time, they don’t fool around  with awkward digressions, time travel, and God-forsaken subtitles like “3 days earlier“. !
Their books have an engaging, moving, foreground and a still, contemplative background.

Today’s Listening:

1. Daylight by Kokin-Gumi fr: Zen Garden
2. Sleepwalk by Amos Garrett fr: Home in My Shoes

Writing Productively: 5 Ways to Get Inspired & Stay Motivated – guest post by Alexis Bonari

Whether you’re writing your first blog post or you’re an acclaimed novelist, you’ve almost certainly encountered the frustrating phenomenon of writer’s block. And you’ll encounter it again in the future. Depending on your circumstances, writer’s block can ruin an entire session of potential productivity – it’s easy to let procrastination take control. When you’re not feeling inspired, nothing seems right and it’s almost impossible to put words on the page.

The good news is that there are many ways to get around the dreaded and pervasive problem of writer’s block. You probably have some of your own strategies that work for you when your creative juices seem to run dry. These are a few of my favorite ways to court the muse and start writing when I’m feeling uninspired, so I hope they enhance your repertoire and offer you more approaches to solving the problem of writer’s block.

1. The Company You Keep

I know I feel more capable of writing for an extended period of time when I’m surrounded by like-minded people with the determination to keep writing, no matter what. Join a MeetUp group of writers, get some creative friends together, or search for writing groups on Craigslist. You might be surprised at what you can do when you’re in good (and productive) company.

2. Location, Location, Location

Think about the inspiring places you’ve been and see if you can figure out a way to start writing in some of those locations. Bringing a notebook and pen with you is permissible just about anywhere you go, and many places will allow you to bring a laptop if you prefer to type. Just stay aware of your laptop’s battery life if you’re working outdoors, unless you have a solar charger.

I like to write in the following places: art museums, botanical gardens, parks, theaters, local coffee shops, and my artist friend’s studio. Each of these locations inspires me to write even when I’m struggling to come up with a simple string of coherent thoughts. Try writing in the places you turn to for rejuvenation, relaxation, and creative inspiration.

3. Dredging Up the Past

I keep a journal that occasionally offers inspiring ideas or phrases, which can then be turned into “real” writing. You can often find something in your archives that’s worth expanding, so don’t hesitate to take a few minutes and read back over your past writings. If you find a striking idea that can be developed, you’ll gain self-confidence because the idea was yours all along – and that’s a great way to tap into your creativity.

4. Music Makes the World Go ‘Round

Alexis music score

Listening to classical music helps me to stay relaxed and focused, which are two conditions that help me write well. Depending on my mood, I’ll choose something slow and soft to get myself into a creative state, or I’ll select a fast-paced instrumental number like Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro overture to wake up and start writing. Music has the power to affect your energy, creativity, and mood, so take advantage of it to improve the conditions that surround your writing process.

I’m also a fan of folk music, both because of the style of the genre and because the lyrics often inspire me. There’s almost always a story or string of prose in a folk song that reminds me of an idea I once had and forgot about – one of those “I should write that down” moments that passed me by. For me, folk music is an effective way to recall previous times of inspiration and writing success.

5. Taking a Deep Breath

Running into writer’s block often stresses me out, triggering anxiety and negative feelings. That state of mind is never conducive to any creative pursuit, so writing after hitting a wall tends to be unproductive unless I change my attitude and decrease the level of stress I’m feeling.

I usually relax with a few minutes of circular breathing, which is a simple exercise that you can try with almost no effort. Just close your eyes, exhale all of the air in your lungs, and use the thumb and fourth finger of your dominant hand to pinch your nostrils closed. Wait a few seconds, then remove your thumb and inhale through the open nostril. Replace your thumb, closing the nostril, and hold your breath. Now, move your fourth finger away and exhale through the other nostril. Repeat this exercise as many times as you need to in order to feel refreshed and stress-free.

Bio: Alexis Bonari is currently a resident blogger at College Scholarships, where recently she’s been researching electrical engineering scholarships as well as study abroad grants. Whenever this WAHM gets some free time she enjoys doing yoga, cooking with the freshest organic in-season fare, and practicing the art of coupon clipping.

Alexis paper