Girls just want to have fun

3 October 2013 | Essays, Non-fiction, On writing and not writing

Writer's block

In this series, Finnish authors ponder the complexities of their profession. Susanne Ringell describes her work as sailing on sometimes stormy seas – without a skipper certificate, but with conviction

We are such stuff as dreams are made on; / and our little life is rounded with a sleep. (William Shakespeare, The Tempest.) In Swedish – my mother tongue and the language in which my pencil writes – the play is called Stormen, ‘The storm’. There are a lot of storms on the sea of dreams. The sky suddenly grows dark, and deceptive whirlwinds blow up, there are cold shivers and tornadoes, there is the Bermuda Triangle and the mighty chasm of the Mariana Trench. In its southern part is the world ‘s deepest marine environment, Challenger Deep, 11 kilometres. Our boats are small and fragile, and it ‘s a miracle they haven’t capsized more often.

It’s a miracle that in spite of it all we still so frequently reach our home harbour, that we arrive where we were bound for. Or somewhere else, but we do get there. We come ashore, we come ashore with what we set our minds on.

Challenge, defiance, signal. Challenger, research vessel and expedition designed to plumb the interior of the oceans, to discover the mysterious fish and shy crustaceans in the dim obscurity there. Dreams, the dream. Not the dream of becoming rich and famous and having a deep sea trench of our own, a mountain peak, species of lemur or mathematical formula named after us, perhaps not even the dream of grasping and understanding, but the dream of growing acquainted, coming closer, meeting and joining together.

My writing is a voyage across the sea of dreams in a small glass-bottomed boat. The eye, the changes of the iris and the dot of the pupil. Sometimes there’s no problem and I see, I see where I am going and can tell what organisms, people, stories and jellyfish surround me on my voyage. But sometimes my eyesight founders, and my boat and everything else falls. I fall.

There are channels, ducts. There are tear ducts. There is having to get up and try again. Ten times I have got there. I have written ten books, plus a number of plays and radio plays, but I don’t know how it happened. Each new beginning is a gamble, it means embarking on uncharted waters, having to build one’s boat oneself even though one isn’t good with one’s hands, and realising once again that one never took that long, demanding course at the Adult Education Centre that would have led to the acquisition of my skipper certificate.

In my world it is always safer to do nothing than to do something. To swing into action has its dangers, and writing is an act. But on the creative plane I seem to be hopelessly given to recklessness, and the call of the sirens and the allure of the voyage are stronger than the instinct for self-preservation.

And perhaps it is only by taking risks that we can preserve ourselves as human beings. However, it’s also fun, and a girl wants to have a little fun before it’s time for that sleep, whatever it entails. Sweet dreams?

He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. (Psalm 23)

I am currently writing a manuscript with the working title of Drömboken, ‘The dream book’. So right now my dream is that one day I will wake up and discover that it’s finished, that I’ve rowed it ashore and that the text is deemed good enough to be published. I always have the highest hopes for the project I’m living with at the present time, hoping that this time it will be a good one. Faith, hope and love – those are what this kind of work depends on. The dream book consists of fragments of short prose that together will hopefully form a whole.

My latest book is a collection of poems called På utvägen var jag en annan, ‘On the way out I was someone else’. The renewal the title refers to is one that I think every writer longs for and aspires to. The sense that something must have happened along the way, that one really is not the same when one comes out of the work as one was when one went into it. That one is slightly different, that an inexplicable but perceptible change has taken place while one was communicating with the text one was trying to redeem and liberate.

Before the poetry book I published a proper collection of short stories, Vattnen, ‘The waters’. The waters mostly turn out to be plain water, the element that has always been closest to me, and the fluid that fills human beings and flows through them. The salt content in amniotic fluid is the same as it was in the prehistoric ocean – 0.9.

And a play, De langerhanska öarna, ‘The Langerhans islands’, is waiting to be staged. These islands can’t be visited in geographically, they exist in the pancreas, and the play is an inner journey, dreamlike and at the same time a playful dystopia – if there is such a genre. What doesn’t exist has to be invented. I have worked in many genres, for it was essential if I was going to get anywhere. I’m rather a restless person, I need to move about, cross between genres. In my little archipelago boat. For the most part the waters have been navigable, but I have also run aground and struck the Novel Shallows several times. I have succeeded in writing only one novel, Katt begraven, ‘Cat buried’, and I don’t think there will be any more.

In this piece I have written mostly about writing, and not about not writing. That is because for me, writing is so closely linked with the effort to remain a living person. Sometimes I think I’m most real when I am dreaming. And the dream, the work, give the days backbone.

Girls just want to stay alive.

Translated by David McDuff



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