Chief Editor’s Note: Don’t Go Softly

Elizabeth 2

Never mind Blake’s moralizing dichotomies, some are born to night, which is its own kind of sweet delight. The solstice is but a few days hence, and night has taken its yearly respite. It’s a thrilling and troubling time for night creatures such as myself. On the one hand, the lopsided day cycle imparts a strange energy. On the other hand, what’s a mid-bluish night without stars?

Deep night, say 1-4, on a weeknight is a good time for walking. A city empty of people becomes more obviously full of other things. Smells – sea, trash, wet concrete and rocks, grass, tree bark, piss, tar, cheap old food – all float more clearly on the night air. Fox people and rabbit people go about their business in the spaces sleeping human people have freed up for them. So much in a city has been made for the convenience of human crowds. Without the human throngs, sidewalks, covered tram stops, plazas, statues, empty buildings seem to await recontextualization. They exist in a kind of meaning free zone that the night walker may also enter. Here thoughts float in the brain more clearly and arrange themselves in strange patterns.

A little earlier is a good time for running. If there’s something I miss about the countryside, it’s the ubiquity of animals, all that life surrounding you, each in its own little sphere of concerns into which you only incidentally enter. Night running around the edges of the city though I’ve met the aforementioned foxes and hares, tanuki, frogs, hedgehogs, deer, snails, the occasional cat, and of course the people of the hour – rats. These distinct but overlapping ways of being in the world, different focalizations of reality against the steady vegetal background, are somewhat comforting. Claws, fangs, spikes, slime, and cunning nonwithstanding, we all have our niche in the world.

For many people, even those born to it, proper enjoyment of the night can be difficult to arrange. The usual work schedule disallows it, and most cities, being less safe than Helsinki, discourage nocturnal perambulations, particularly through wooded regions.

But fast approaches the holiday made for enjoying the night. Though decked in blue and dusky summer best and practically in the lap of day, it’s still night in all loveliness. The day is set aside for enjoying the night all the way through. So do. Between the other entertainments – the drinking, grilling, taking of saunas, swimming, and setting stuff on fire – take a pause and appreciate the depths of evening.

And so, with this, it’s time for this crepuscular denizen to vanish into the night. My year as Editor in Chief of BTSB has been challenging and stimulating, a happy responsibility. I’ve been excited to welcome a bevy of new writers, my creativity has been pushed to take on new topics and forms, but mainly I’ve been happy to work with such an awesome group of people. Pulling issues together is a happy task when I know I have articles from these folk to look forward to. I pass the inky scepter to Inka, our new Editor in Chief. Anticipate her observant wit and lucid prose in this space next autumn.

First, however, a new batch of articles to enjoy when you’re not enjoying the night. Take a quick fiction break with Elina’s short story “Papillon” or dive right into politics and the media in Danielle’s article on the Canadian prime minister. Petteri biographizes America’s one and only Emperor in an article that entertains with facts, and I autobiographize my life in Finland in a comic that entertains (I hope) with silly pictures. We also have an anonymous article that takes an insightful look at depression, and Milla takes an equally insighful look into communication’s role in democracy. Finally Kaisa’s here to tell you about the coolest festival you’ve never heard of.

Well, my ship is sailing. On to sweet delight.

Nudity, Shame, and The Donald: A Comparison of Finnish and American Culture & Politics

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A loaded title like that deserves a bit of an introduction. I moved to Finland in August of 2016 from the United States where I was previously working as a public school teacher in the state of Ohio. I’ve been enrolled in Helsinki University since August and I began working in Finland this January as a barista. During my undergraduate studies in the United States, I also did an exchange in Finland in 2012 for one semester; that 2012 experience, plus a wonderful Finnish man, brought me back to Finland for a longer stay in 2016.

So, what does nudity and shame have to do with Donald Trump and Finnish politics? Well, I originally set out to embark on the journey of answering the perpetually perturbing question that I receive steadily from Finns at the cafe: “Why, why, why did Americans vote Donald Trump into power?” Being from Ohio, a swing state in which I knew a lot of Trump supporters, I went to Facebook to pose this question myself, because I was just as stumped as the Finns who asked me.

The interesting thing about the Facebook post was that it wasn’t very interesting. The people who answered my question gave the answers that most of us have already heard: Hillary Clinton was a classic, corrupt politician with little interest in national security and cracking down on immigration, while Donald Trump was a successful businessman who offered security, prosperity, and success. Thus, the vicious cycle continued and my feeble attempt at research failed.

My failures brought me to the public swimming hall on Yrjönkatu. At this particular place, swimwear is optional, and if you choose to use the hall’s sauna after your swim, swimwear is actually banned. Yes, my fellow Americans, I have attended the sauna nude, with strangers, many, many times now. So, as I sweated my way through my Wednesday sauna session I inadvertently stumbled upon the things I wanted to talk about: nudity, shame, and politics.

I couldn’t think of anything to say about Donald Trump’s election that hasn’t already been said  before by much wiser, more qualified writers and critics. What I do know about is how my own politics have changed and grown since moving to Finland and how those changes are directly correlated to how both cultures handle nudity and shame.

For example: Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall. I mentioned earlier that swimwear is optional. If you ever go there you will see women of all shapes, ages, and sizes swimming nude. Your definition of breast stroke will probably change, and back stroke will certainly never be the same. On an important side note for my American readers, there are men and women’s days; nudity is almost always separated by gender. Although there are male lifeguards, which I admit is a bit odd.

However, the first couple times I went to Yrjönkatu I wore my bathing suit. Then the Wednesday came that I forgot it and so I did the whole thing nude: swimming, sauna, walking around. It was great. But it didn’t feel that way at first. My eyes were peeled wide open as I walked around in my birthday suit. I kept thinking someone was going to notice me, despite the fact that the whole  place was basically nude. I, self-centeredly, thought everyone would somehow sense my Americanness and point and stare and probably laugh.

Instead, what happened, and what continues to happen there, is that I run into the sweetest old ladies who are always willing to speak English with me, or help me with me Finnish. They tell me about their adventures and why they love that swimming hall after all these years. Even though I’m naked, they talk to me for me; I genuinely feel welcome at that hall.

The way that Finns handle nudity is reflected in the welfare state style of government. It doesn’t matter how old and wrinkly you are, or how diseased and troubled—you will be taken care of. Is the system perfect? Of course not. But what I find admirable about the Nordic welfare state is that people are always, always people. And I believe consistent nude interaction with your fellow countrymen and women wakes you up to this concept. When it is normal and natural to see a person naked, flaws exposed, acceptance more easily enters the mind.

In contrast, nudity is completely taboo in the United States. Well, sort of. It’s completely acceptable for a young, attractive woman to wear a string biking which basically covers her nipples and butt crack, but if anyone else would wear such a bathing suit, it is immediately revolting and disgusting. Americans specifically struggle with the female nipple and I’d wager that just reading the phrase “female nipple” makes Americans uncomfortable.

This attitude plays out in our governments. Where the  Finns see a person as person, flaws and all, Americans tend to see the flaws first and make a judgement based on those flaws. “Are you on drugs?” You don’t deserve welfare. “Do you work?” Because if you don’t you don’t deserve welfare. “How many jobs have you looked for?” “How much have you sacrificed?” The questions we ask to determine a person’s worthiness go on and on.

This constant search for fault that is something I rarely see in Finland. When I talk to Finns about the welfare state, every single one I’ve ever met has admitted that there are those who take advantage of the system. This knowledge has never led any of  them to say to me: “We need to cut welfare” or “those people don’t deserve help.” The talk usually revolves around incentive and job creation. “How can we get more jobs in Finland?” and “How can we encourage people to work and avoid getting comfortable living off of welfare?” The questions are totally different.

This is where shame comes into play. From what I’ve noticed in my short time here, Finns feel a huge sense of shame when they aren’t working. If they’re studying, that’s a different story, but many Finns I know at the university have part time jobs and attend university as well. I would argue that this sense of shame also exists in America. I have not met a single welfare recipient in the US who is proud to take welfare. The difference in shame between cultures lies in the type of job.

For example, I was a teacher in the US, and now I work as a barista in Finland. The only time I ever feel a sense of shame about being a barista is when I tell other Americans. There’s usually a slight frown. “A barista? Why couldn’t you find a teaching job?” I make a livable wage as a barista here in Finland. I turned down a teaching offer because I didn’t feel comfortable in that particular school. My Finnish friends couldn’t have been happier for me when I told them I got a cafe job. I’m not quite sure why Americans job shame so much, but it’s a real problem in the US.

This attitude of job shaming even seeps into American schools. As a high school teacher, I noticed every year that students would stray from technical school or trade jobs, thinking those jobs were somehow lesser. I would argue that the vast majority of my students felt a massive pressure to go straight to college from high school and to know exactly what they wanted to major in as soon as they entered university. Remember, Americans pay thousands and thousands of dollars for university so there isn’t much time to think about what you really want to do.

Conversely, it is completely normal for Finnish high school students to wait a year or two before entering university, which is free of charge. However, once students graduate, they are expected to enter the workforce immediately so that they can contribute back to the system that just afforded them so many opportunities.

So, we covered two major cultural differences: nudity, and job shaming, which leads to the mother of all cultural differences: small talk.  The stereotype is that Finns don’t “do” small talk, which is a favorite American past time. Finns are known for being notoriously straight faced, shy, and quiet, whereas the Americans are known for being loud, talkative, and hyperbolic. I think both nations could learn valuable lessons from each other here.

Take for instance, the simple, but important question “How are you?”. To Americans, this is just a greeting. We don’t actually want to know about your day at the check-out line in the grocery store. For Finns however, this is not the case; they will sincerely answer your question.

For example, sometimes I slip into this American habit at work and ask Finns “how are you?” while I’m moving around, making their coffee, or giving them change. I’m sometimes greeted with startled expressions and “umm, ohh, I’m okay.” One guy in particular actually informed me he really didn’t like small talk and didn’t know how to answer my question. We ended up having a great conversation about cultural differences in greetings. So it wasn’t that he wasn’t friendly or talkative, he just didn’t see the point in the kind of useless banter that arises from the American “how are you?”

Like nudity and shame, this is yet another quality I see reflected in our cultures and governments. Donald’s rhetoric and the way he perpetually talks around issues and not about them, just seems like another version of small talk. Instead of getting straight to the issue, he creates small phrases that are catchy, but don’t really mean anything, and the greater meaning of the issue is lost, just like in the case of “how are you?”

However, the midwesterner in me misses talking to neighbors and petting any dog that walks by on the street. Here in Helsinki I have smiled at people on trams, and said hello to dogs on the street and I receive looks that say “Are you crazy or a murderer or both?”

What it boils down to, in my eyes, is that the Finns see Donald naked, just as the person and conman that he is. His drive to acquire and acquire and acquire-money, votes, fame-this is what Finns find shameful about Donald Trump. When Finns set out to establish free and equal school systems, they created a government in which free and equal school systems actually happened. When you step into school systems across the entire country of Finland, you will find the same basic supplies and buildings. Their government did not use small talk to make empty promises.

The final point I want to make is about this notion that Finland, and all of Scandinavia, is able to have a welfare state government because they are small and homogenous countries. Finland has had a bloody and difficult history. They gained independence from Russia only in 1917, and maintained their independence even after battles in WWII. Finland left the wars extremely poor, but autonomous. They made a conscious decision as a nation to invest in education and welfare for all; none of that discussion was small talk among Finns. Each Finnish citizen sacrificed and continues to sacrifice a large portion of their salary to contribute to this welfare system. Paying taxes is not the epitome of evil in Finland.

That is a concept and decision that hasn’t been considered in America. As long as Americans believe a country is a business, money will continue to be placed above people. And as long as welfare states continue to see people for people, then humans will be more important than money.

My hopes for the future are romantic. I wish that America would stop shouting from the rooftops “We are the greatest country in the world!” and learn from other countries that have things figured out a little better than we do at home. And I wish Finns would be more vocal about their culture, and the things that work so well for them.

Is Finland perfect? Absolutely not. Battles are fought everyday in the wintertime in Helsinki about who will walk on the part of the sidewalk that has been shoveled and who will walk in the snowy sludge. I have lost every one of these battles. So, how do I combine the best qualities from both my beloved homes? I can’t be sure, but sauna usually solves all my problems. Maybe President Donald Trump and President Sauli Niinistö can sweat it out traditional Finnish style, in the nude, with some birch branches in case a certain someone needs an extra wack when they get carried away with nonsensical small talk.

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Poetry Practise

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This article contains amateur poetry written in verse (barring the two short ones at the end). I’ve wished to write poetry for quite a long while now, and being part of the BTSB crew gives me the opportunity to actually publish it, as well as the chance to review it at a later date.

Of writing poetry, I have the following to say. Firstly, it is surprisingly difficult. I had four major points to consider; rhythm, metre, rhymes, and general expression of what I wanted to say. For me, I feel as the rhythm was the most difficult aspect (it remains far from natural in what I present in this article) – perhaps this is felt by other ESL speakers and writers as well. Secondly, writing poetry feels weird. I constantly felt like I was, in an indescribable way, pitting myself against someone or something. Lastly, whilst I thought trying my hand at poetry was extremely enjoyable, sometimes I felt like abandoning it all and writing an article about something easier and, more importantly, less personal.

The short verse-snippets in this article tell of the lives (usually in a mocking tone) of the Nine Worthies, a set of heroes named by 14th century French author Jacques de Longuyon. The Nine Worthies include the following characters, listed in order of appearance in this article; Hector of Troy, Julius Caesar, Joshua, King David, Judas Maccabeus, King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon. Alexander the Great is, of course, the 9th Worthy, but I opted not to write about him at this time.

In my poetry, I thought it wise to allude to the KJB and Shakespeare’s works to show off what I had read before. Likewise I found it difficult to resist the opportunity to include puns and wordplay. Unfortunately, these factors might make understanding what I aimed to say difficult – and therefore ruin the poetry. This is somewhat ironic, as I have always thought that reading amateur poetry was annoying specifically for this reason. With that being said, I had fun in trying out poetry, and hopefully you, the reader, might be inspired to give it a go one day.

 

Here we lay our scene, played by writer lone,

accompan’d by nine Princes of ages lost.

Set betwixt mind and map, in realms unknown;

wherein man meets Human, at an untold cost.

Should thou seeketh sorry savoury purpose

for wit-working writ in this-like domain,

know thus: it is jealousy of sweet corpus

given life by Poets born nevermore again.

Righteous removal of hatred and hope

mine noble effort doth aim to achieve,

purposing to will a will: graciously cope

with thine deficits, and thyself not deceive.

An unjoyous task be an unsightly view,

howbeit combined, us ten may our sins subdue.

 

 

Down in the deep darks of Underworld dwelleth thou now, paragon.

Once-worsted warrior, won by Worthy wrath, answer I: wert thou war’s pawn?

Virtue or Vice, venture we to weigh, be Man’s grim glory-greed by nature:

opinions oppos’d ought to cull, ere culling come their feature?

Heracles-hatched held thou not, as title; heroic deeds were-

thy toil to Troy’s tale. Thus, live in legend, lacking mine rage to incur.

 

 

Follow we hence an Ancient with another,

driven to decimate this well-Worthy rank

with cruelty akin to that conferr’d by brother

and heavy heir, whose heart in happy jealousy sank.

Then fall, res publica! no father, mother,

no dictator can truly-taught treachery thank;

bloody betrayal will any bond-breath smother,

right-rooted trust from former-friends’ souls yank.

 

Thy death promis’d propagators prosperity,

power war-won, and Divinity dismal:

most bounteous boons by bandit-business.

Follow’d annihilation of austerity;

th’estate of august Athens’ heirs, turned abysmal-

thy life and reign tainted, by want of wiseness.

 

 

Now after the death of Kaiser, our words spin

backwards in time, speaking of asp y Nun-son,

whose deceitful deeds Worthy-worth, held by his kin-

worth the while, deems only I, of being justly undone:

the tribes of th’Twelve would without thou have won.

O Clandestine conqueror; ill cit-servant;

thy victories aptly amount to Cain and one.

In viperous Vices wert thou fervent,

epithets of these Worthy, bestowed by the observant.

 

 

Comes next not Nero, but an other

of his kind; a sonorous song-writing King,

whose fiery feud with fiendish Foe slayed tother.

A Man hosting Heavenly heart, with offspring

of Greatness well-deserving; to this cling,

since thy sovereign sling better never brought.

Saviour-spawning for, honour thy memory we ought.

 

 

Writ or sang, may be songs of gallant heroes

which here world hath witnessed manifold-

many ascrib’d fame, some reduced to zeroes;

thy name thine ruin foretold, fair friar of old.

Holofernes himself hesitated,

in revealing thy nature and natural-name.

Designated traitor, art thou ill-fated

to suffer the slings and arrows of defame?

Revolting as thine atrocious acts are,

take in this: from Iscariot’s vile will art thou far.

 

 

Dragon-descendant boast thee thy title, bear king;

Lord of the castle, Protector of a table-

grandeur and chagrin both did thy knights thou bring.

Lo! of their fearsome feats tell many a fable.

In stories, yea, unmatched remains thy glory,

as testament to power of the auditory.

Without contest, likewise was fair thy Queen,

whose affairs arduous were deemed obscene.

Fine a match in matrimony; thou and her!

save there a sea of spears had between thee been.

Myth equal the merits of eager exertion, Sir.

 

Tedious tales of warlocks, and Knights Green

may – perchance – fail to entertain those keen.

What is fiction? but display of smoke and air;

as Revels are ended, what remains on Scene?

Myth equal the merits of eager exertion, Sir.

 

 

Emperor.

mannered King

conquering, uniting, governing.

Inviolable, untouchable a ruler.

Father.

 

 

Of Bouillon hail thou, good God-Fear,

King of Jerusalem! oh dear!

Renouncing the title,

thought our man vital;

but he died after a single year.

 

Least Worst Podcast Ever

The WEE Studios Logo (No, they are not underwater)

 

The WEE Studios Logo (No, they are not underwater)

The WEE Studios Logo (No, they are not underwater)

Long time readers will know that I’ve written about podcasts before on a couple of occasions (and even attempted to host my own podcast for a little while, which, unfortunately, fell by the wayside), but today I want to focus on one in particular that is a bit different from some of the other podcasts I’ve talked about. Actually, that might be putting it mildly…

Most of the other podcasts I’ve mentioned before, such as This American Life and Get Up On This, are juggernauts in the podcasting world. This particular podcast does happen to be based on a juggernaut, namely The Simpsons, but is more like an indie production than a blockbuster.

Worst Episode Ever is a podcast “for people who love The Simpsons, by people who love The Simpsons, about how much [the hosts] hate The Simpsons.” Don’t take that the wrong way though, both Dan Mulhall and Jack Picone, the hosts, are diehard fans of The Simpsons. You’ll routinely hear them quote obscure jokes off the top of their head and Dan Mulhall himself even hosts a Simpsons trivia night at a bar in New York. The idea behind the podcast is to watch a “post-classic” episode (usually meaning something beyond season 8 or so) and then have an in-depth discussion about it before running it through their HIPPO grading system to place it in their list, the list being the ultimate goal of the podcast: to find the worst episode of The Simpsons ever.

So, I’m a diehard Simpsons fan too. Who knows how many times I’ve watched (and will continue to watch) episodes from season 2 to 8, and my friends have definitely heard me on a couple of occasions say “oh, this is like that moment in The Simpsons where…” However, before this podcast, I hadn’t watched the show in years, because, quite frankly, it’s a shell of its former self. I don’t think you can even compare the two anymore and I kind of hate the later seasons for being so bad, so, admittedly, there’s a bit of fun to be had hearing them tear into a particularly awful episode.

However, Worst Episode Ever, contrary to its name, isn’t actually a podcast of negativity. The hosts, along with any guests they might have that week, go into each episode trying to give it the benefit of the doubt. Better yet, their criticism isn’t limited to just saying something sucked. They actually try to understand why they disliked something, going to great lengths at times to discuss issues. Sometimes, they’ll posit a theory in one episode and then expand upon it in consecutive episodes. Jack Picone is himself a screenwriter, so he also tends to understand the inner mechanisms at work.

So far, so good, right? Well, it gets even better (though it might depend on who you ask…). Worst Episode Ever is ostensibly a podcast about The Simpsons, but it’s also a podcast filled with random characters and tangents that the hosts follow at their whim. A simple slip of the tongue with mispronouncing a word might lead to the creation of a cult-favorite character who appears throughout the rest of the show, examples include Groophic, Hemus, and Freet (more on them soon). Occasionally, Dan and Jack will even tell stories about their own childhoods or personal lives that are sometimes related to the episode they’re discussing and sometimes not so much… But they’re always hilarious.

The hosts, Jack Picone (left) and Dan Mulhall (right)

The hosts, Jack Picone (left) and Dan Mulhall (right)

This leads into one of the best things I can say about this podcast: Dan and Jack are relatable. They were just a couple of dudes living in New York who decided to create a podcast about The Simpsons and they’ve never lost that sense of being humble. They’re easy to reach on Twitter or Reddit, if you want to say something to them, and they’re also genuinely fond of  their fans.

If you’re interested in checking them out, and I highly recommend you do, you can find their podcast through any regular podcasting app as well as through weepodcast.com. They’ve also recently started a Patreon page so you can help support them with a monthly donation. Finally, if you have no interest in the Simpsons (and have still made it this far), they also have a 90s themed podcast called 90s Percentile that’s had a lot of great guests on it, including Laura Jane Grace, a previous subject in one of my own articles.

Jack and Dan just recently released their 100th episode of Worst Episode Ever (congrats, guys!) and a lot has happened during those 100 episodes: episodes have been ranked; theories have been made; trends have been observed; and characters have been created. As a starter’s guide for all of you, I’ve created a brief glossary of some of the more important terms you’ll need if you decide to hop in from where they are now (though I suggest going back and listening from the start).

Worst Episode Ever Glossary for Newbies

  • Groophic: Originated from a mispronunciation of “graphic,” Groophic started off as a Muzzy-like creature lecturing kids on remembering to wear their bike helmets before transitioning into a conspiracy-theory believing creature who still occasionally lectures kids on remembering to wear their bike helmets.
  • Hemus: A hillbilly prospector who started life by ending every sentence with “It’s me, Hemus!” Sadly, he doesn’t do that as much anymore… But is a cult favorite nevertheless.
  • Freet: The introduction of Freet was something that Jack was definitely not amused by and it also gave-way to their new rule of each character needing to have three characteristics in order to be a fully-fleshed out character. Here are Freet’s: he likes to collect stamps; he’s never been in love, but he’s putting himself out there; and he enjoys cryptograms.
  • Lala: A term for lawyers that only lawyers are allowed to use. Dan himself is a lawyer, but Jack uses the term sometimes, much to Dan’s chagrin.
  • Little Ghost Girl: A little ghost girl who was eaten by Groophic and sounds like Werner Herzog.
  • The Bus Stop: Where all of their characters hang out. As they wait for the bus to get home, they’ll occasionally pop in and join the podcast for a bit. The bus never seems to arrive so that stop is pretty crowded by now.
  • HIPPO: The official ranking system. It has four categories, which are humor, integrity, production, and originality. Each gets a grade from 0 to 5 though humor and integrity are given more weight than production and originality. In the very early days of the podcast, the hosts used to simply add each episode to their list based on their gut feeling, but about 15 episodes in, they started using this system.

Chief Editor’s Note: Biography, Killing Your Darlings

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I recently got hooked on a podcast called S-Town. As podcasts go, it’s not at all obscure. It was made by the same people who made Serial, and many of the the big UK and US papers gave it a writeup. The narrative centered around an eccentric denizen of rural Alabama, John B. McLemore. Initially he contacted a journalist, Brian Reed, about a possible murder and coverup conspiracy, and the story starts out as a kind of southern gothic detective jaunt. As the reporter uncovers more, the genre flips multiple times and the focus moves more tightly to McLemore. Ultimately it becomes a biography of this utterly baroque, layered character.

I am also at the moment taking Merja Polvinen’s course on autobiography, largely because the genre skeeves me out. An autobiography can be tastefully done when a life has been interesting and the writer-subject is outward looking towards some issue, cause, craft, zeitgeist, whatever. But generally, hearing the details of the life of a person I’ve never met feels like being thinly coated in slime. Same goes for biography, with the added problems inherent in one person representing another. Probably this distaste says as much about me as about the writers. I’ve been trying to better understand my aversion and the finer ethical points of writing about a real person’s life. After all, as an amateur journalist, don’t I sometimes partake in the same?

Portraying some real person closely, revealing their deeds, confided speech, foibles – this may be an act of love, but as D.H. says, anatomizing what you love kills it. To know about is intelligent, to know is vampirism at its purest.

Though I reject the library as tomb metaphor, sometimes I do think that we kill in the act of writing. A person, no matter how weak their action or deceptive their speech, possesses a kind of beauty and sympathy when witnessed living. Provided, of course, the witness adjusts her range appropriately. These same traits, fixed in writing, begin to stink of rot. As in so many things, the beauty is in the movement.

Closely rendered (auto)biography is like pinning an irridescent beetle to a board. Certain things just don’t survive being written.

By the end of S-Town, McLemore, initially an elusive and fantastic personality, had collapsed into a squalid list of details. I felt for him, the way I might feel for a taxidermied fox. It’s been a month since I tore through the seven part podcast, and I still sometimes feel the need for a bath on account of this experience.

What is to be written and what is not? An important question for a journalist and indeed for humanists of all stripes. What belongs in the public sphere and what constitutes a violation of a subject’s, dead or living, inner space (not to mention the reader’s)? These aren’t questions that can be answered generally. A quick google search of S-Town reveals convincing arguments for both sides, those who think McLemore should have been left well enough alone and those who think Reed stayed within bounds and even did service to McLemore’s life. It boils down to a matter of personal boundaries and tastes. When adventuring into the (auto)biographical genre, it is easy to suddenly find these boundaries overstepped, but perhaps there is value in that too, reflective and instructive.

Caveat lengthily expressed, I’d be remiss if I didn’t biographize briefly the deeds of one of my predecessors at the helm of BTSB.

I’ve never known a BTSB that wasn’t an active group of dedicated writers who cared as much for quality as for fellowship. This is because Kaisa Leino had been Editor in Chief a few years before I arrived and continued on for my first two years with the ’zine. She took the paper very seriously, and yet was a welcoming and supportive presence for new writers. I’ve heard rumor of ye olde dayes when apparently things were not so. By all accounts, Kaisa holds responsibility for what BTSB is now. As for me, Kaisa’s work on the paper has made my stint as Editor in Chief incredibly easy.

Kaisa received honorary recognition at the SUB 2017 anniversary dinner.

Kaisa received honorary recognition at the SUB 2017 anniversary dinner.

Happily, during SUB’s anniversary dinner this March, Kaisa received due recognition. I was quite pleased, and I know the other BTSB regulars in the audience were as well, to hear her acheivements appreciated and recognized complete with sweet certificate.

It is good to be remembered, to be known about, if not anatomized. So if my congratulations seem general, it is out of profound respect to a person who has shaped a small, but I like to think significant in it’s sphere, ’zine about which I also care deeply.

So please enjoy this small issue! Petteri also navigates the perilous waters of writing about the admired departed with a poem that lovingly satirizes his heroes. Danielle takes us deep into the psyche in the safe vessel of fiction. Elina brings wanderlust home in a personal essay and Missy questions the nature of shame in Finland and the United States. I revise my opinion of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Jesper has something to say about people who have something to say about the Simpsons, and Inka admits to being wrong about mornings.

 

Editors in Chief past and present looking damn dapper.

Editors in Chief past and present looking damn dapper.

Forge bravely on – if anatomizing a person is wrong, we can all happily anatomize ideas!

Chief Editor’s Note: The Texture of Sleep

Elizabeth 2

One of my minor hobbies is reading comment threads, even on sites as notorious for comment quality as youtube. Rarely is any one comment illuminating, but it’s fascinating to glean the overall linguistic texture of a group: the vocabulary they create and use together, what they permit to be said, how it is to be said, and how these boundaries are enforced. The comments on noise music uploads are bounded by very different rules than those governing comments on black metal uploads even though the genres draw from contiguous pools of listeners, creating distinctly textured emotional-verbal communities in complement, or sometimes weird juxtaposition, to the music.

During one of these bouts of textural appreciation, I first encountered reference to ASMR deep in the comments of a noise upload.

ASMR is also noise, but not music. Most of the videos work like this: a pretty, happy woman modestly dressed and well manicured appears in head and shoulders view seated somewhere in her home. If she speaks it’s in a whisper rocking slowly back and forth so that the sound moves from one side of the listener’s headphones to the other. Maybe she tells a story, chats like an old friend, or plays the role of a mother or a big sister putting the listener to sleep. Many videos feature sounds other than whispering. She may introduce items from around her home, a jewelry box, her favorite soap, a plastic makeup case and tap on these rhythmically while moving them in the same side to side motion to create a stereo soundscape. Some videos focus primarily on the sound. One video shows nothing more than two forks scratching a foam covered microphone.

Listeners who experience ASMR, audio sensory meridian response, feel something like tingles on their scalp, hair raising on the back of their neck, or an intense wave of sensation in and about the head. A variety of stimuli set it off the response, many of them particular sound textures. Some people draw parallels to orgasms, and compounded with most of the video makers being pretty young women, this has led to claims that ASMR is a sex thing, an assertion strongly rejected by most of the community. Personally, I’m inclined to think that the young women element has more to do with the stress and loneliness of modern life. I’ll guess that for most people, whispered comfort and acceptance have come from female voices.

Counter to both the sex and comfort hypotheses, there’s Ephemeral Rift. I have no clue what he’s doing unless its performance art. His videos contain the familiar ASMR elements, whispering, tapping, scratching, but with twists that hover ambiguously between the horrific and the bizarre. In one video we see a large, old box, behind which a plague doctor slowly shuffles. In a whisper muffled by his mask, he introduces himself as Corvus Clemmens. He then proceeds to tap and scratch the box occasionally whispering phrases about relaxation, sleep, and brain tingles, a routine familiar from ASMR videos but couched in a way that threatens or at least makes uncomfortable. If Corvus puts you to sleep, will you wake up?

Ephemeral Rift does many characters, such as Margaret, a red wig and a featureless white mask, possibly a mad cross-dresser in the mould of the Queen of Hearts. You can relax with Death or Satan. There’s a low key, sleep inducing simulated kidnapping. The weapon filled late night chat about suicide with a home invader video is as serene as any of the late night chat with big sister videos.

Perhaps Ephemeral Rift appeals to the same people who listen to horror stories to fall asleep. While horror novels may creep me out and I can’t really watch horror movies, there’s something inexplicably bland and comforting about a voice telling me these stories. Takes the teeth right out of them. Perhaps Ephemeral Rift’s videos remove the teeth from frightening subjects for some, much in the way that some people find death metal comforting.

There are many ways to seek relaxation and relief from the demands, anxieties, and fears of the world. And, apparently, many textures of sleep. It’s a weird world out there, but don’t forget to get outside your bubble from time to time. The world is filled with fascinating textures.

This issue brings you many delightful textures. Elina offers another poem as soothing and rough as the sea. In an interview with Eve, Caitlin reflects on how different life in Benin feels. Danielle tells about her preferred sonic experiences, and Hanna gives us a grainy yet poignant snapshot of the world’s end. Petteri draws our attention to the many elements involved in a classic anime in one article and laments and praises the travails of housekeeping in another. Timo lets us know just where the big wheel is rolling, and finally, I have a few things to say about pictures of food.

Whether trying something new or sticking with old favorites, dive into this issue for a moment of relaxation.

Meet Modern Primitive

Modern Primitive--The Kin

It’s been a while since I’ve listened to an entire album. It’s a shame, because an album creates a whole; a collection of songs that together tell a story much wider and complex than they would alone. It feels like nowadays I just tend to listen to individual songs and kind of miss the big picture that an artist or a band is creating with the whole of an album. But every now and then I’m lucky enough to stop, take a moment, and listen to the whole story instead of just hearing the beginning.

The Kin is a band formed in New York in 2001 originally comprised of two brothers, Thorald and Isaac Koren, performing as an acoustic duo and later joined by a talented ‘stickless’ drummer, Mark ‘Shakerleg’ Nicosia. As far as genres go, they can be described as an alternative rock band with the mentality of a partners-in-crime collaboration. From the first album to their last, their music has been filled with intricate rhythm, raw emotion and undeniably beautiful melodies. Combining the talents of the Koren brothers in vocals, guitar and keyboard with Nicosia’s unique mastering of percussions has earned the band loyal fans and followers from around the world. There’s a kind of honesty, explosiveness, liveliness and humble pride in the music they play and preform. It’s no wonder their music has touched so many hearts and been embedded in so many souls considering that when listening to it you can practically feel all the hard work, joy, sweat, tears, pain and creativity that has gone into creating it. All this talent and passion seems to culminate in their latest and last album –Modern Primitive.

Modern Primitive--The Kin

Modern Primitive–The Kin

What is it exactly that makes Modern Primitive so spectacular? Well first off, you can’t deny that the Koren brothers sing like angels, it’s just a fact. The music is what it is in its purest essence. It’s a strange thing to try and put in words, but there’s nothing sloppy about any one track on Modern Primitive nor is there a track that is too polished or meant to fit into a cookie cutter copy machine mold. Every song is unique and each time you listen there’s something new to be found. Then another fact, Mark Nicosia, as a barehanded drummer, is undoubtedly a genius. To someone like me, who can’t figure out coordination and could barely play a basic beat if my life depended on it, a drummer with such precision and innovative ways of playing seems like a higher being. I mean playing without sticks and sounding that amazing in the process, talk about literally bleeding into your work. So we’ve got the voices, we’ve got the beats, and we’ve got the explosiveness of what The Kin is. There’s energy, there’s emotion, there’s something that makes you press play for the fiftieth time today, but in addition, we’ve got something that tops it all off – The lyrics.

I personally think I should be featured on BuzzFeed’s weirdest misheard lyrics, because my track record on hearing them correctly is quite honestly horrendous. However, having listened to The Kin since elementary school, I’d like to believe I hear at least 98, 6% of their lyrics correctly. And boy do I like what I hear. There’s a lot that can be said by just instrumental music, it carries meanings in itself. But combining solid instrumental tracks with mind blowing lyrics is what makes me smile like a kid in a candy shop. From tracks like Mary, Never be the Same, Together, and Nowhere to Now here to Modern Primitive, The Kin continues to put out lyrics that create the most astonishing pictures and elicit emotions with their straightforward style. I explicitly remember sitting on my bedroom floor waking up early in the morning to a new album by one of my favorite bands. I remember being nervous to press play, don’t ask me why but I was terrified of being disappointed. Luckily I was hooked from the first lines. Relying on the shuffle option the first track from Modern Primitive I happened to hear was called Week of the Disaster and the first two lines were immediately burned in my mind as something that went a bit like this; Could have been an early morning/We were like a child inside a dream. Instantly the song caught me in its delicate web and had me under its spell. It was the kind of song that had me remember all the ‘could haves’ and ‘should haves’ and the myriads of ‘whys’ attached to all those moments I was so eager to hold on to only to watch them slip through my fingers. All those happy endings sailing away rather brutally, the things I didn’t see coming for the sake of being content in living in a happy bubble of my own, all those “fairy tales hanging on a string”. But it wasn’t a sensation of defeat that the track had me feeling, it was more of a recognition of ignoring the ‘whys’ and ‘should haves’ for the sake of maybe even defiantly accepting the disaster, striving to do better next time.

Just like that I knew I would not be disappointed. The tracks kept coming, each one…not better than the next, but complimenting each other. And what I realized was that each track was relatable and they carried messages across a broad lane of emotions: love, obsession, overcoming hardship, and maybe fittingly for a last album, a sense of centering oneself. Whether these emotions came across in flourished metaphors or plain and straight words they latched on to me as a listener and forced me to think about what this music was making me feel. For instance, Ashes, possibly one of my favorites from this album, to me is a song about overcoming hardship. It’s about enduring and fighting through what seems impossible to overcome. And it’s not just about surviving but it’s about pleading for someone else to keep fighting. The track, being very powerful itself, ever so amusingly reminded me of how powerless and helpless you feel at times when you want desperately to do something to help the ones you love, but all you can do is ask them to persevere and not give up. I think we can all relate to moments when it feels like darkness takes over light or when fire burns in paradise and you think you’ve definitely lost the fight. This song makes me feel thankful to those who have pushed me to “walk through the ashes”. It definitely takes you on an emotional rollercoaster from feeling helpless to empowered and back again in the best way possible.

However, interestingly enough, a curiosity for this album was figuring out that even with the importance and brilliance of the lyrics, it was just as important to notice where they were missing. On Modern Primitive there are tracks such as Week of the Disaster and Anchor, that in the end acting as a sort of outro, have a snippet of music that taps into the primitive side I guess, a counterpart to the heavily structured base of what ‘a song’ has turned into. And I guess it’s there to keep a balance, between the Modern and the Primitive. And for me I think that’s ultimately what makes me so happy to listen to this album. I interpret it as an album that taps into something primal, and primitive in innovative modern ways.

As sad as I am to say farewell, I can’t help but do it with a smile on my face because Modern Primitive truly is a last hurrah that deserves a round of applause. As The Kin have announced that they will be waving goodbye to the music business at least for the time being, Modern Primitive seems like the perfect album to bring them full circle, a closing chapter for a story richer than most fairy tales.

 

 

 

 

The World’s End 1998

Retro boombox

1998. March. Maine.

 The rain started falling heavier and Fay decided to risk it.

“Oh, what the hell”, she said and started jogging down the hill towards the house. The others followed her suit and the four of them slipped and slid down the muddy road. Before reaching the house, however, they slowed down. When there was no sign of life, Fay stepped onto the porch and out from the now pouring rain. The others joined her and stood there shivering, giving the door wary looks.

“Okay”, Fay said and breathed in. “Okay.” She reached for the handle and pulled carefully. The door opened easily as she had expected. The lock wasn’t broken, however, but that didn’t mean much in the end. She and Daniel took off their backpacks and set them down quietly. Nicole mouthed ‘be careful’ and Minh nodded with the nervous smile the boy always wore. Fay pulled the door open enough for her and Daniel to slip in.

The air was stuffy and there was a strong smell of mould. Fay fingered the gun in her coat pocket. The cold metal felt comforting in all the wet and stale and soft. She and Daniel moved further into the house, their footsteps muffled by the decaying carpets. They walked through the first floor together and saw nothing. Most of the furniture looked as if they hadn’t been touched at all and none of the windows were broken. In a way this serenity was more unnerving than the typically overturned tables and smashed glass over the floor. But here there was nothing.

“Up or down, big guy?” Fay whispered, giving a hopeful glance at the stairs leading to the second floor. Daniel motioned towards the door behind him and Fay nodded. She started walking up the stairs while Daniel descended to the basement.

Ah. Here was something at last. Unmistakable, rust-coloured stains on the white floorboards, leading to one of the two doors. Fay kept her hand on the gun and stepped inside. A bathroom. Some more stains on the floor, a shower curtain with pale yellow ducks, and mouldy hand towels. Nothing else. Fay tried the other door and found a nursery. Nothing. She let out a long breath. It was shaky and shallow. She tried again, breathing in and out slowly until her heart had calmed down and her shoulders relaxed.

“Clear”, she said as she walked down the stairs to find Daniel waiting. The man nodded with a very tight smile, his face pale in the dim light. “You?” Fay asked, her hand quickly back on the gun.

“Safe”, Daniel said with his low, gentle voice. “But don’t let the others go down there.” Fay shuddered.

***

“Ooh, make-up!” Nicole said and limped to the vanity table with her cane. She picked up a lipstick and tried it on the back of her hand. The surface was dried but after rolling it on her skin for a while, Nicole managed to get some colour out of it and brought the stick to her lips, dabbing at them with the bright red. Fay watched with amusement as the women tried out the other products as well.

“Let an old woman have her fun”, Nicole said as she caught Fay’s grin from the mirror

 “48 isn’t that old”, Fay said.

 “It is in this world”, Nicole said. Fay shook her head with the grin still on her face and left the other woman to her business.

Daniel and Minh were in the kitchen, checking the closets in silence the way they always did. Daniel was quiet either by nature or trauma and Minh too shy. Fay hadn’t figured out yet how much the boy understood English, but assumed it was more than he showed. He and Daniel had piled canned food on the table and Fay set to checking out the best before dates. It didn’t matter much, of course, but Fay wanted their first meal at the house to actually taste like something.

“Beans and tomato soup, boys? We’ve still got that bread, too”, she said. “SpaghettiOs for Nicole, I think. She only eats beans when there’s no choice. Cherries for dessert.”

Daniel started preparing the food while Fay and Minh picked a few buckets and took them outside and placed them on the soft grass. The rain was still pouring and the buckets filled steadily. The two of them carried these back inside and into the kitchen. By this, they were dripping wet themselves and went to put on fresh clothes.

“O ho!” Fay shouted as her eyes caught a whisky bottle in the bedroom where she had been changing. “O ho!” she cried again to annoy Nicole.

“What now?” Nicole, still at the vanity table, snapped.

“It’s going to be a right feast tonight, grandma!” Fay said and got hit in the face with a lipstick.

***

A feast they did have. The still soft bread was heavenly and the beans and soup were better than most of what they had been living on lately. The whisky was saved for dessert. Fay dropped a couple of canned cherries into her glass to get a laugh out of Minh. The boy complied with that same small smile of his. Everyone raised their glasses.

 “Anyone know a good toast?” Nicole asked.

 “’Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy’”, Fay tried.

 “Nice”, Nicole said. “’Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker’?”

“’Here’s to staying positive and testing negative.’”

“Fay, don’t ruin this.”

“’May we be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows we’re dead.’”

 “’May we get what we want, may we get what we need, but may we never get what we deserve.’”

 “To absent friends.”

The laughter died and everyone cast their eyes downward. A moment passed during which the only sound was Nicole murmuring a prayer under her breath. Then they raised their glasses one more time and drank in silence.

***

The sun was setting and the four of them moved to the living room with the backpacks and sleeping bags. There was a large sofa and mismatched armchairs with a low coffee table between them. The small tv was in one piece as was the stereo set by it. Fay inspected these and made her second great discovery of the day: a small cassette player that worked on batteries.

“Hand me some AAs”, Fay said eagerly to Daniel who dug into his backpack, bringing out a handful of assorted batteries. Fay picked out the right ones and set them into the player.

Golden Oldies”, Fay read the name of the cassette inside the player. The others gathered around her and they sat down on the moist carpet. Fay fiddled with the thing, her hands shaking with excitement. It wasn’t often they found a piece of working technology.

“Got it!” she cried out when the tape started rolling. Suddenly the room was filled with a clapping sound, soon joined by music and then female voices singing in harmony.

    Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream

    Make him the cutest that I’ve ever seen

 

Fay felt something tighten around her chest.

“I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard music”, Nicole whispered from somewhere far away. “Must be two years. Ever since the first attack.” Fay nodded absent-mindedly, barely registering that the older woman was speaking.

    Sandman, I’m so alone

    Don’t have nobody to call my own

    Please turn on your magic beam

    Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream

The song ended far too quickly. Fay made a move towards the player, but a new song followed.

    So darling, darling

    Stand by me, oh stand by me

    Oh stand, stand by me

    Stand by me

When a string instrument started playing, Fay’s breath was taken away. Like Nicole, she couldn’t remember the last time she had heard music. She raised her eyes from the little player and looked at the others. This group of complete strangers clinging to each other as their one and only anchor in the shattered world. She watched Nicole sway and quietly sing along, Minh with his small smile, Daniel with his eyes closed. They were all crying and when Fay felt something cold drop on her cheeks, she realised she was crying too. The tears were welling in the corners of her eyes where they pooled, cooled down, and then rolled down her face, cold as ice.

    I see trees of green, red roses too

    I see them bloom for me and you

    And I think to myself

    What a wonderful world

Fay felt a sob build up, but it never made its way out. Instead the cold tears kept on rolling down her cheeks. She reached her hand to Minh’s and grasped it tightly. The boy’s hand was small and warm. Fay gave it a squeeze and Minh stroked hers with his thumb. She wanted to say something. Something to convey the feelings that were swirling around inside of her, but she found no words nor voice and as she glanced around she could tell she didn’t need to explain.

    I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do

    They’re really saying I love you

Fay didn’t want the music to ever end. She wouldn’t be able to bear it if it did. But it did. For a moment, there was nothing but the sound of rain outside. Then Fay silently reached for the cassette player, rewinded the tape, and the songs began anew. Fay kept on holding Minh’s hand while Nicole rested her greying head on Daniel’s shoulder. Fay closed her eyes.

    And I think to myself what a wonderful world

    Yes, I think to myself what a wonderful world