Can’t say it’s not spring

18 April 2013 | Fiction, Prose

Short prose from Mahdottomuuksien rajoissa. Matkakirja (‘In the realm of impossibility. A travel book’, Teos, 2013). Texts by Katri Tapola, illustrations by Virpi Talvitie. Interview by Anna-Leena Ekroos

The first try

Illustration: Virpi Talvitie

A reader doesn’t have to understand anything on the first try. You can always put a book aside and see if the second read will help. If the second, third, fourth, or even fifth read doesn’t help, that’s still all right. What is this constant compulsion to understand everything? There’s nothing wrong with not understanding – on the contrary, it is precisely the state of baffled befuddlement that hides the hope of light within it. I can’t understand any of this! I’m having fun! the reader happily exclaims, and goes on with his life, eyes overflowing with light.

The same applies to everything else that we hope in vain to handle quickly and easily. For instance, nobody needs to get well in a hurry. The wish to ‘Get well soon’ does nothing but put pressure on the sick person, just like the compulsion to understand does the reader. That’s why it makes sense to tilt the world slightly and whisper gently, Get well in your own time. Get well from top to bottom. Pick up the book, put it down, close your eyes, and when at last you’re ready to open them, let them shine with a clear light. Now pick up the book again, take another moment to recover, smile, and have faith: your eyes will light up the sentences that were but a moment ago shrouded in obscurity.

Otherworldliness

Illustration: Virpi Talvitie

The world is an expensive place, and it’s a rare person who can afford to remain in it. Luckily you can always go to other worlds. In other worlds it’s no problem if your transit pass is five cents short and you end up pottering around your own block instead of going to the movies.

You can widen the world of your own block – you can, for instance, lift up your eyes and take delight in finding you have a roof over your head. You may see a miracle: an Indian Flour Moth, walking across the ceiling, plain as day! There’s another caterpillar making its way to the light!

The moment of enlightenment comes quite easily, and it’s never boring on your own block. There’s always something happening. You could call an intrepid exterminator right now to come to the rescue like a movie superhero. There’s no reason to be jealous of the drivers in rush hour traffic, suffering their carbon dioxide emissions all by themselves, just trying to get away from their own blocks.

While the exterminator’s at work your travels in other worlds can continue in the back room, a place where pistachios ripen on tough little trees and strange species of caterpillar join forces with movie superheroes to start a world revolution. A place were the ocean touches the sky and the crashing waves wash away the last remaining thoughts of a non-existent five cents.

Off-kilter self-image

Illustration: Virpi Talvitie

There are those among us who are over-exposed, under-exposed, unfocussed, or a bit smudged, and then there are those with a self-image that’s out of kilter. The possessor of an off-kilter self-image is usually the victim of long-term exposure to binders, label-makers, and hole-punchers. Their off-kilterness is due to the evasive action that the person has constantly been taking for fear of becoming bound, labelled, and punched through with holes. A life that is out of kilter in the self-image is blurry: it’s hard to find the right door or sit down to coffee with gusto because you feel that a) someone’s going to pull the chair out from under you, or b) you yourself are going to miss the chair and pratfall to the floor. You may completely bypass happiness in the fog. When a passer by looks you in the eye and smiles, you may think they’re aiming right past you. There’s a simple solution to this problem: take a new picture. A self-image that stays put is best made using a long exposure time. The easiest way to do this is to get a cardboard box from your local grocery – anything will do, a pineapple box, whatever – and build your own pinhole camera, or camera obscura. This technique is sure to work. Just seat the off-kilter person in a chair and aim the pinhole camera at them. With long exposure time, the spine of the out-of-kilter person will seem to straighten of its own accord, since you can’t flinch or slouch. The image inside the camera will look upside down, and that is precisely the point. The person portrayed on the paper will glow with light and become translucent – the bones, the spreading wings. You will see yourself for the first time. There I am, you’ll laugh, born from the light! Then you’ll open the right door, meet someone’s gaze and return it, like a child or some other equally wondrous thing.

Calendar cleansing

Illustration: VIrpi Talvitie

We’re cleansing practically anything, so why not our calendars? Calendar cleansing happens like this: Take out your desk or pocket calendar. The calendar hanging on the kitchen wall works, too. Now pick up an eraser (assuming the marks on the calendar were made in pencil – if they were made in ballpoint or felt marker, get some correction fluid.)

Choose a week and begin. Erase or white out every so-called obligation. White out the name days, too. Choose another week and continue. Leave nothing but a dental appointment and children’s birthdays. Move on to the next week and wipe it clean. Eightieth anniversaries can stay.

Move to the next week and cleanse it. Rub it with the eraser until you rub right through. Let the concerts, movies, cruises, half-marathons, cat christenings and other shindigs fall to the floor in little grey pieces. Keep the funeral. A baptism. The so-called obligations cease to exist. Sweep the crumbs into the trash. Glance over your whitened calendar: a nice blanco, just the essentials.

Illustration: Virpi Talvitie

Spring I

Spring will come when it gets around to it.

Spring can’t be hurried.

Spring has lots of friends and has to stop to visit all of them before it gets here.

You can’t say it’s not spring.

It is spring, it just isn’t here yet.

Spring II

One day spring suddenly shows up at your door. In less than no time it makes quite a mess: the pictures on the walls are switched around, the clothes closet empties as three bags leave for the collection bin and two head to the flea market. The woollens are washed, the mud room cleaned out. Those battered little well-wintered muck boots get thrown in the trash. The garbage sack full of empty cans that’s been residing on the balcony is consigned to the recycling bin, along with the vacuum that broke last fall. The balcony gets a washing, daffodils appear out of nowhere, you get an idea to change the drapes, a sudden urge to wash the rug, you spring into action, and before you know it diaphanous linen is fluttering in the bright windows, the rug is rolled up under your arm, you’re walking your bike out for an overhaul, pumping up the tires, getting out your pea-shooter, goggles, rubber gloves, cap guns, sneakers, baseballs, dust, all swirling in the light. As day turns to evening you sit down on the sofa in honour of spring with a duster in hand, lift your coffee cup to your lips, and utter a quiet thank you.

Illustration: Virpi Talvitie

Illustrations: Virpi Talvitie

Translated by Lola Rogers

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