Friday, June 30, 2006

The Continuing Adventures of Hobble and Lurch

Hej då!

Just when I'm beginning to master Swedish, we end up in Helsinki. Jenifer and I stayed up until one last night chatting with our "host family," eating strawberries, and doing yoga. And then got up at four to catch the 5:35 train from Central Station to the Stockholm airport. The SAS self-service station refused to produce our tickets, and so we were sweating it out with less than 20 minutes until takeoff. But an attendant worked some computer magic and we were soon doing an OJ across the sleek IKEA hardwood, arriving just as folks were starting to board.

After that, the day was quietly touristy as we tried to keep our energy up and gain our bearings in a new city. Helsinki definitely feels like a city caught between two worlds, and indeed its history is one of being owned or controlled by either Sweden to the west or Russia to the east. As an independent country, it is less than 100 years old, and so it is still in the process of finding its identity.

Still, it has all the usual European features, such as cobblestones and uneven surfaces, causing me the frequent misstep. Jenifer, meanwhile, is the proud owner of a severe blister, and so our pace has been nicely matching our flagging strength. But we're glad to be here all the same, missing Stockholm fiercely, and looking forward to the week ahead.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

On Pluck

Ryan again. The rain has come to Stockholm (though we expect the Mediterranean heat to arrive tomorrow) and with it relief from incessant sneezing. After Sunday's beautiful journey through the Stockholm archipelago, and having had a taste of Stockholm itself, on Monday we headed to Uppsala to meet with world-class swordsmith Peter Johnsson, whose expert recreations of archeological finds can be found at Albion Swords (

Uppsala has been called the Swedish Oxford, and in a past age was an important Scandinavian spiritual site (that is, folks tended to be sacrificed every nine years). These days it's pretty much what you'd expect in a university town, except that a central cathedral dominates the landscape. We bought a bottle of cloudberry preserves from a young lad at a stand just outside the cathedral (the one in Roskilde is more impressive), stopped in at the local tourist office, and then caught the Number 6 to Eriksberg, a suburb 20 minutes away.

We disembarked at our stop and quickly located the apartment complex where we believed the master to live. We prevailed upon a middle-aged gentleman trying to stuff a series of wooden chairs into his characteristically small European car to help us make sense of the address and get in the correct building (with no concern for security). We mounted the steps to the fourth floor and found the door. I rang the bell.

No answer.

I rang it again.

Nothing. And so the journey of 4,000 miles was met with silence. The door was closed. Why, I do not know. True, the agreement I had with Peter was somewhat loose and had been made months ago. Subsequent inquiries had not been acknowledged, and I had learned through a third party that he and his wife had recently had a child. I'm sure he had his reasons.

Still, it was disappointing. And yet, waiting for the bus back to Uppsala (and all the while scanning passersby for someone who might be good with hammer and tongs), my thoughts returned our discussion with the Norwegian couple Sunday night.

Kjell had asked me what about Americans I liked best -- this after Jenifer and I had shared at length our discontent with much of American culture. After some thought, we hit upon the word "pluck." Kjell and Rita ran this word through several Nordic languages and determined that an equivalent term was "guts." That worked for us. Forging ahead without worrying overmuch about consequences, dashing in without proper preparation, a reliance on cleverness, and a certain bravado. Persistence. This was our definition of pluck, and it seemed to fit my approach with Peter.

I had taken the matter as far as I could -- short of waiting outside the door. I had gone, as McKee would say, "to the end of the line." Perhaps further down the road Peter and I would meet. Or perhaps an aspiring screenwriter or filmmaker would approach me for help with his project. Would I listen?

On Tuesday we found greater tangible success, primarily in the form of rewarding visits to the Historical Museum and the Nordic Museum. The former especially was a treasure trove, with the thousands of artifacts in the Viking and pre-history exhibits reminding us just how sophisticated a people the Norse were a thousand years ago.

But more on that later. It's late, and it's time to get some rest before the sun stays up.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, June 26, 2006

First Post from Sweden: Stockholm

Hello, everyone! Jenifer here; Ryan's "allergical" to Sweden, it appears, so I'm writing the first post!

Aside from the abundance of pollen (oak and birch), the beauty and easygoing attitude of Stockholm is amazing! After essentially pulling an "all-nighter" between the flights and time-zone changes, Ryan and I wandered our way into Old Town (Gamla Stan) Stockholm to find our bed and breakfast for this leg of the trip: Bacchus B & B, an eleventh-century warehouse that has been converted into a comfortable home for our hosts, Pär and Anne and their 6 children (only some of whom are home at any given time).

The home is amazing and the hosts are even more amazing. Upon arriving nearly unexpectedly (early), Pär and Anne welcomed us into their home immediately, and we spent 3 hours chatting and getting to know each other. We're their third guests; they have just started opening their home to travellers. The house is incredible with modern Scandinavia style and sensibility--every useful object is also an object of great beauty. They have a wonderful philosophy of living that mirrors Ryan's and mine--to say the least we get along wonderfully!

After spending the morning chatting with our hosts, Ryan and I did an easy walking tour of the city--from Gamla Stan across one bridge into the main and modern part of the city (where you will find many Radisson hotels, if that's more to your liking), Norremalm, followed the waterfront into Ostermalm--which is apparently where rich old ladies live with incredibly small and pampered dogs--and crossed another bridge over to Djurgarden which has a large outdoor museum of all things Swedish called Skansen. We actually walked around it, because we were too tired to enjoy it at that point. After walking around the island, we walked back toward Gamla Stan, but decided that we felt "up" enough to continue our city tour, so we headed across a bridge to the south of Gamla Stan into the "hip and funky" Sodermalm.

Of course, Sunday was the big day for Sweden vs. Germany, and many people--young and old--congregated at outdoor cafes, pubs, and just public parks to watch the game on big screens. Everyone was decked out in yellow and blue, hopeful for another victory. Sodermalm was particularly active with so many excited young people cheering and jeering as the game started. But, by this point we'd walked about 8 miles and were completely exhausted. We got Chinese take-away and headed two miles back home.

After eating, we slept for 14 hours.

Upon awaking, we went downstairs to a wonderful breakfast. It was simple and abundant. We ate our fill, and during breakfast our hosts informed us that they were going to spend the morning and lunch on their boat, harbored outside of the city. Anne needed to come back into the city to open their small home-decor shop for the afternoon, so Pär offered to pick us up at her drop-off point on Skeppsholmen, a small island between Gamla Stan and Djurgarden (Stockholm is a series of 14 islands). After breakfast, we headed out to soak in some mid-summer ambiance on Skeppsholmen, where a number of locals were picnicking, overlooking the archipelago and the amusement park on Djurgarden (something that may tempt a few friends to Stockholm!).

We wandered the island a bit longer, and then went to the dock where we would meet Pär, Anne, Pär's son Michael, and Anne's daughter Sophie. Ryan managed to get hungry and decided to partake in the rare Swedish delight: a hot dog from a street vender. I took pictures.

In short order, our hosts arrived, dropping off Anne and Sophie and picking up two eager American tourists. They took us on a private cruise of the canals, leading through the archipelago and into part of the Baltic, and then headed back to their marina. It was a wonderful ride.

Just the prior morning, Pär had explained to us how "trustable" Swedes are, and of course we believed him! So far, everyone we have met have been exceptionally welcoming and helpful, fluent in English (even young children). And then, that boat ride, well, we might have begun to think otherwise. There was a strong current in the channels and a lot of traffic. Midsummer is a major Swedish holiday, and the warm weather and bright skies had everyone with a boat--from grand sailboat to small rubber rowboat--out on the water.

This traffic caused a lot of wakes, which after Pär encouraged us to move to the front of the boat for a better ride, as well as a dry one, a wake came over and well, you can imagine. Michael joked: "I can't believe they fell for it!" We all had such a laugh and it was only a matter of a couple of minutes before we were dry again under that bright sun. It was a beautiful day to be on the water, and for part of the journey-- once we were out in the open--we were able to go about 30 knots, which was quite a thrill.

Once arriving at the marina, Pär drove us back to Gamla Stan in his convertible VW bug--it was truly a beautiful day.

But wait, there's more!

You see, we went to dinner.

Our hosts recommended a small cafe on the main square where they served traditional Swedish food. They made me a plate of root veggies--turnip, parsnip, beets, carrots, and new potatoes with a lingonberry sauce and two nice blocks of cheese--and Ryan had traditional Swedish meatballs. The owner of the shop brought out a couple of shots of homemade schnapps, and of course, as it's midsummer, I had to partake. After a joyous 'Sköl!' i downed that sucker. First shot ever. When in Stockholm, go on boat trips and convertable rides and drink schnapps!

We met an American couple and a Norwegian couple, basicly talking the night away, with a few special breaks to visit the toilet, which is against the 11th-century fortification of Gamla Stan--the wall that protected the Swedes from those horrible Danes. Our waiter was thrilled to tell us the history, and he said "around here, the walls speak history to us."

So far, we're having a fabulous time as both the walls and the people tell us their stories.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Random essay c. 1999

Editor's Note: In sifting through the detritus that until recently filled a goodly portion of my domicile's available space, I came across some photographs of people I didn't know and poems by people I didn't remember. It seems that in a former life I worked with my friend Eric and a scrappy undergrad to assemble one of those pre-blog thingies called a zine. Oddly enough, last week Eric sent me what was to be the opening editorial of the inaugural issue. But I moved and got a real job, our junior partner vanished with the majority of our files, and the zine never happened.

P.S. And speaking of well filling, do be sure to check out Brett's nasty little secret.

Welcome to FAKE Life: Journal of ThoughtCulture . . .

Our mothers like to ask us, "So when are you going to get a real job?" Since at least two of the three of us have been found unfit for further graduate study, and since nothing real has prompted us to leave our fake teaching positions, we decided to launch a magazine. Oh, we continue to lurch in quasi-academic circles, but we needed something else to put off. Hence, FAKE Life, a record of what we aren't doing.

We find that "fake life" is not only the commodity that everyone shares, but also an imperative. To fake it is all anyone can do. You read the right books, scorn the right political figures, wear the right clothes — maybe even get the right job.

But who, really, ever gets it right? (Make your life a call to action.) The challenge, as we see it, is to celebrate glorious Artifice, in all Its wondrous forms, and all Its phony perpetrators. Create something. Make it go. That's the Spirit.

Our intention at the outset is to promote a decidedly undemocratic forum, one that is overtly biased, but one that is nonetheless open to all. The forum of FAKE Life should incite riots of neural activity. Avoiding methodology may help, but to continually challenge is optimal, whether by breaking limits or placing new ones. Certainly, regularities will surface; after all, something that looks like a magazine is desirable. Or perhaps the simulacrum of a magazine will replicate itself at regular intervals.

What do we interact with everyday, with whom do we communicate? The fake life witnesses the coalescence of cultural forms in all sorts of media and genres: consumer products, psychotropic biotechnology, public health policies, advance screenings of film trailers — all intersect, all stream through, the nodes we call individuals. How are these nodes defined, limited, separate from everything else? Where do we make the cut between Self and Other?

In this inaugural issue of FAKE Life, we reflect on the Limit. When we say "limited," our speech act invokes a negative connotation, relegating the concept to the abyss. But this does not yield function. The fake machine produces limit, along with masses of orbiting conceptual satellites: borders, failures, frontiers, freedoms, transcendings, and schisms. Subsequent issues will tread other waters.

We might talk about the science of FAKE Life, the formulas that an individual can follow to achieve a specific, repeatable result. Each ofthe contributors may have performed his or her own experiment, have found "what works" in a particular context, a precise set of circumstances. Some may have failed. There are no guarantees. We invite you to add your own recipe.

Labels: , ,

Friday, June 16, 2006

Filling the Well

I know. I’ve been gone so long, you might think I’d absconded to Scandinavia. Actually, that’s a week off, which leads me to believe that maybe I really have been up to nothing.

And indeed I have. With extreme prejudice.

It hasn’t been easy. Over the past several months I’ve slowly grown accustomed to the idea — fiercely believed but not always fiercely executed — that sometimes nothing is exactly what you need. Especially when that nothing is not writing.

Now, you could say that this is Rasmussen rationalizing his procrastination, or more hopefully that Rasmussen has entered the research phase of his next project. But “research” is much too tactical a term for this movement. And procrastinating? Please. That is, like, so two years ago.

So amid the Sturm und Drang (Tom: think “flapping”) of scribospheric writing and drafting and obsessing and, admit it, comparing, there I’ve sat, like a fidgety round Buddha, contemplating the percentage of my screenplay completed: absolute zero.


There have been some non-writing stirrings and whirrings:

Studying shamanism and taking several sessions of “shamanic counseling.”

Writing Gladiator from the screen. I don’t even remember where I learned about this exercise, but I recommend transcribing a three-hour movie in three-second intervals to anyone seeking a better understanding of structure and rhythm and one’s capacity for tedium.

Renovating the house. We now have new laminate floors, as well as a recarpeted stairwell so that October J. Rabbit can safely traverse the no-man’s land between the first and second stories. Which meant pitching (or recycling) three dozen garbage bags’ worth of accumulated crap and then cramming the remainder of our stuff into the kitchen and 1.5 bathrooms. Some of that crap included the vast majority of my college and graduate school papers. What a release that was. Buh-bye, snarky profs!

Listening to Der „Ring“ ohne Worte at work again and again. And then some more.

And all the while, nonchalantly doing my morning pages, allowing the current project to fester and percolate.

And, of course, planning that trip to Scandinavia.