Tuesday, January 25, 2011


If you’re a Finn, you know the word sisu.  According to Wikipedia (which is NEVER a reliable source), sisu loosely translates to “strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.”  It also means “not a momentary courage but an ability to sustain an action against the odds.”

Growing up, I heard the word a lot, usually from my mom (a Finn if ever there was one) and her mom (straight from the old country – or in her case, the cold country because she came from way up where Santa lives with his reindeer).  Kids would pick on me in school and mom would say, “Quit your crying.  Where’s your sisu?”  My sister’s husband divorced her, and she got, “Where’s your sisu?”  After cleaning up the millionth puddle from an old dog’s leaky bladder, I’d hear, “Where’s your sisu?” followed closely by “Hey, here are some paper towels.” 

Well, I’ve started thinking about that word a lot lately, mostly when faced with the half dozen students who sleep (or text) through class, but also as it applies to pursuing a writing career.  There are very few jobs that contain more constant adversity than writing.  It’s an uphill battle all the time.  There are no easy roads, no quick fixes, no Oprah-is-my-half-sister surprises that make life easy for a writer.  It is butt-in-the-chair, nose-to-the-grindstone, flex-that-mental-muscle work that may not ever pan out, no matter how hard you try. 

But I still can’t imagine doing anything else. 

Writing is wonderful and exciting and even fun sometimes.  So for anyone struggling to get those stories on paper and out into the world, don’t give up.  It will happen. 

That’s what I’m telling you, and that’s what I’m telling myself.  Don’t give up.  Don’t get discouraged.  

I’ve got enough sisu for the both of us.  :)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Back in the Day

As a teacher, I hear that phrase a lot.  And I mean A LOT.  It’s in papers all the time, usually in the first line.  The paper will start, “Back in the day, people didn’t understand that things were better.”  And I’ll write, “Back in the day?  What day?  Saturday?  Yesterday?  New Year’s Day?”  Usually that breaks them of that bad habit.  The other thing I see a lot is “XYZ is one of the most important things on this earth” to which I respond, “You mean there’s another earth?”  But I digress.

I not only hear “back in the day” in writing, I hear it from people all the time.  “Well, back in the day, things were better because Roosevelt was in office…” or “Back in the day, kids were required to go to school and come home and do chores…”  Sometimes I hear it from people who enjoy things like Renaissance Faires or historical re-enactments (which are totally cool, by the way):  “If I had my choice, I’d live back in the day when knights defended the honor of ladies!  It would be awesome!”  You get the picture.

Well, just about a week ago, I had the opportunity to live ‘back in the day’ – back in the day before oil heat, furnaces, and electricity.  My power went out for twelve hours during a blizzard.  It was totally NOT awesome.  I sat in the dark, reading by a drafty window, huddled under a pile of blankets and cats.  By the time my power came back on, the temperature inside had dropped to a balmy 46 degrees.  The sun was just going down when the lights came up and not a moment too soon – I’m pretty sure my old brown dog was sizing me up, thinking she could use me for warmth and then eat me if the power didn’t come on in time for me to use the electric can opener.  (I still don’t quite trust her – she’s a crafty one.)

So for those of you who write historical fiction (like I do) or those of you who enjoy Renaissance Faires or historical re-enactments (like I do), you might think twice about wishing for those things most people enjoyed “back in the day.”  Your wish might just come true.

Twelve hours ‘back in the day’ was about all I could manage.  I’m now a fan of my friend JK’s response to someone who once asked if she wouldn’t rather live back in olden times.   She said, “No thanks.  I’d much rather have tampons and antibiotics.”    

Let me add electricity and oil burners to that list. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City

Just back from a wonderful visit to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem – I’ve passed the museum dozens of times in my quest for the special kind of weirdness that can only be found in Salem, but have never gone in.  Today was the last day of the exhibition “Emperor’s Private Paradise:  Treasures from the Forbidden City."

I have to say I’m sorry I passed by so many times before.  I will be a frequent visitor from this point forward because the artistry on display there, both in this exhibit and in their standard offerings, was amazing.  The special exhibit was described as:

“An 18th-century compound in a hidden quadrant of the immense imperial complex, the Qianlong Garden (also known as the Tranquility and Longevity Palace Garden), is part of a decade-long, multimillion-dollar conservation initiative undertaken by the World Monuments Fund in partnership with the Palace Museum, Beijing.

Ninety objects of ceremony and leisure — murals, paintings, wall coverings, furniture, architectural elements, jades and cloisonnĂ© — unveil the private realm of the Qianlong Emperor (r.1736-1796), one of history’s most influential figures. In his time, he was among the richest, most powerful men in the world. A connoisseur, scholar and devout Buddhist, he created a luxurious garden compound to serve throughout his retirement as a secluded place of contemplation, repose and entertainment.”

With the staggering number of people there today, peace and tranquility were a bit hard to find – but overall, it was worth it!  Here are some photos for your viewing pleasure:

(Okay, so technically this was not in the Forbidden Treasures, but it was still a pretty cool goddess from India, just hanging out with BFF Cheryl.)

A funky Chinese crab.  Who doesn't like crabs?!?

Ditto the blue frog.

This was the Chinese god of scholars.  Look how angry he is.  I think he just finished grading 350 essays.  No judgments, grumpy.  I feel your pain.

How cool are these guardians?  Carved from solid pieces of stone.

The Moon Bed.

Two of four lovely statues - more pics of the others will come later.

And because they were sparkly, another photo from the Indian exhibit.

Unfortunately, the Forbidden Treasures exhibits were not allowed to be photographed, but this is just a small sampling of the wonders on display.  I hope you enjoyed them!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

News from the Weird, or Cue Creepy Music!

So, I’m not a big believer in all things supernatural…okay, let me start again.  It’s the new year, and I’m trying to be as honest as possible.  I’ll confess right now:  I DO believe in the supernatural.  If you knew my family, you’d understand why.  More on that later.

The reason I tell you this is because something disturbing happened to my sister’s grandson a few weeks ago.  His name is Monk – not really, and not for any of the reasons you may think.  He’s about 9 years old and a bright kid, good natured, and adored by his Nana (my sister). 

Anyway, Monk was playing football at recess and things got rough and he fell and hit his head.  The teachers thought he just been shaken up, so they didn’t pay much attention.  Later that day, he fell asleep, woke up, and then vomited.  The teachers sent him home at the end of the day (that’s a whole OTHER blog post!).  When his mom saw him later that night, he was sleepy, still vomiting,  but now screaming that his head hurt. 

They rushed him to the hospital where it was discovered he had a brain bleed.  They found this out when he became completely unresponsive during a CT scan.  They med-flighted him to a trauma center where he underwent emergency surgery.  It was touch and go for a bit, but he turned out okay.  No lingering effects, the worst thing that happened is that he can’t play sports for one year.  A fair trade off, I’d say.

But that’s not what’s strange about all this. 

Last weekend, Monk visited my sister and she told him how much he had scared her with this accident.  His response made all the little hairs stand up on the back of my neck. 

He said, “Don’t worry, Nana.  When I was in the hospital, I was ready to go to heaven, but there was an Indian Chief waiting for me and he said it wasn’t my turn.  I had my ticket, but he took it away and tore it in half and said I had to go back home because I wasn’t ready yet.  So I had to come back.”

My sister (whom I will write about in depth at a later time) has always had a little special ‘something.’  She’s very intuitive (among other things).  It didn’t shock her at all that her grandson told her that.  She was surprised, but mostly relieved.

I, on the other hand, was dumbfounded.  All the usual things went through my mind.  Is there an afterlife?  A Monk AND an Indian Chief both say so.  Are all those near-death experiences we hear about true? 

My friend said it quite astutely when I was hashing this out with her.  She said, “It’s interesting that we are able to translate the experience of dying into something familiar to us.  Your great-nephew saw an Indian Chief.  And he had a ticket to get in.  What do other people see?”

That shocked me all over again.  First, no one ever said we needed a ticket, and second, I always thought we’d see St. Peter or someone in white, flowing robes.  Do we get to choose?  If so, I want it to be exotic, like a Shaolin monk, or maybe one of those glittery Bollywood dancers, or how about an Aztec warrior!  How cool would that be? 

And if it can’t be that exotic (because maybe there are rules), I’d settle for Tom Brady, wearing all of his very sparkly Superbowl rings.

I could get into that.  Now I just have to figure out where I get one of those tickets.