If You Want to Know Where You’re Going, Stop Asking

I am finding it difficult to put the last week and a half into words.  The words “week and a half” feel strange when I say them, because I have removed my watch and begun to mark time by wild adventures and the periods of intense personal growth in between them, rather than minutes, hours, days.  The lesson to stop asking questions about where I’m going, who I’ll meet, where I’ll sleep, and what lies ahead took me a few tries, but I think I’ve got it now.

Janis, Jane, and JennyIMG_1455
My adventure continued in Aulanko: home to Finland’s oldest golf course, castle ruins, a nature tower, and a giant spa hotel once known as Hotelli Aulanko.  From what I understand, Petronella was invited to stay at the resort in Aulanko as a guest of Assistant City Manager Erik Von Frenckell, who was planning the olympic games.  She climbed the tower, played golf, and met Odette Genette Fleykoff and Timolean Catsicaris, a well-known French dancing couple.

When I was in middle school, my Dad tried to teach me how to golf.  The first time he took me to a golf course, I hit my ball into a tree.  We searched for a long time before he looked up and saw it balanced delicately on a forked branch above his head.  “In my 40-something years of golfing,” Dad said, “I have never seen this happen.”  I quit while I was ahead.

In honor of Petronella, I came out of retirement for the Aulanko driving range.


I wasn’t nearly as bad as I remember, but after hitting a bucket of balls, I rented some discs from the hotel and played frisbee golf instead, where I met this awesome group of guys.


Antti, Tiki, Jenny, Joona, Ilari


Ilari’s magic finger helps him throw frisbees into trees and lakes


Again, I wasn’t as bad as I thought.  I came in somewhere in the top middle with +7.  Sean Frick (my Rocktopus ultimate frisbee team co-captain and the first person to ever teach me disc golf) would be proud!


Speaking of Sean Frick, I gave his picture to the winner! Joona was PSYCHED. Obviously.


Tuija, her husband, and their homemade Lappish drum

By invitation of the lovely Tuija Tunturi, I stayed in a wood cabin at Aulanko Camping, far more my style than the swanky Hotel Rantasipi.  I was writing on the office computer when an older man came in.

IMG_1368He introduced himself as Pete, a touring bassist with Jane Kitto, and invited me to climb the tower with him and Danny, the keyboard player.  Of course I said yes.  They found out I was a musician and later, joined by a drummer named Dave, we had a jam session.  We even played “Left Foot, Right Foot,” a song I wrote last spring.  It wasn’t until later when Danny and I were eating dinner that it clicked.  “It’s fuckin’ crazy man,” Danny said.  “These guys backed up Janis Joplin, and here I am, just the Aussie on the keyboard.  They’ve played with something like 38 front women.”  (For the record, the way Danny plays, he is much more than just “the Aussie on the keyboard.”)

I’m the 39th.  I almost choked.  Dave Getz and Pete Albin!  Big Brother and the Holding Company!!!!  I JUST SANG WITH JANIS JOPLIN’S BAND.  (Accidentally.  Oh, Jenny.)

Knowing their musical legacy didn’t change how I acted, or how I felt about them.  I was already happy to be in their company – Dave is an incredibly nice guy from San Rafael, Pete loves model airplanes and old cars and videos of cats.  They are down to earth, fun to be around, and a blast to play with.  Still, I felt like my life was a little more complete, like I had somehow accomplished a goal I didn’t know I had.


Pete, Jenny, Dave

The Best Donut In FinlandIMG_1462

I took a day trip by train to Tampere, passing through Toijala, just as Petronella had done by car.  Her visit to Tampere was supposedly to interview attendants of the Forestry Congress.  My agenda was a bit different – interested in the Finnish Education system, I was meeting a man named Jarno, who works at the University of Tampere in research and development.  Jarno took me up to a tower overlooking the city (141 stairs…I counted), and we passionately discussed education reform over coffee and the best donut I’ve had here.


The Finnish secret to donuts?  Cardamom.


Proof of O’Connell world domination

Miles of City and Nowhere to Sleep

Tuija and her husband dropped me off in Lahti on their way east, and a whole new kind of IMG_1563adventure began.  Petronella was invited to visit Lahti to check out the Enso-Gutzeit papermill, so I followed her trail to the office of a (pretty bewildered) Kimmo, of the modern-day Stora Enso.  I also walked the 8km roundtrip to the Stora Enso Factory, but was rudely turned away by the woman at the front desk.  With all respect to Kimmo, I can’t possibly imagine why Petronella would have wanted to visit Stora Enso.


StoraEnso: Rethink front desk ladies.

Kimmo’s enthusiasm for my ukelele did give me an idea, though.  I went down to the harbor and played for an hour with my case open, just to see what would happen.  Perhaps one of the reason that Finns and I get along so well is that two things we mutually value above all else are good music and the outdoors.  In an hour I had made 22 euros!


Remembering it was the 4th of July, I decided to pretend I was in the Adirondacks.  I bought myself a glass of wine with my earnings and drank it in a wooden chair on a deck overlooking the water.  It almost worked, until I remembered that every possible place to stay in town was full because of a hip hop festival.  In fact, during my entire time in Lahti, the question “where will I sleep?” became my daily mantra.  It didn’t always get answered; sometimes I just pitched my tent in the city arboretum and hoped for the best.

I got really good at changing in public.

I got really good at changing in public.


Patricia is threatening to endorse me on LinkedIn for “Batman Stalking”

Waiting for Batman

Patricia Suflita Wilson is a tall, bubbly force of nature and an impossible woman to say no to, which makes her irreplacable as the Executive Director for the Bay Area Make-A-Wish Foundation.  Patricia was one of the main orchestrators of the Batkid phenomenon, but more importantly, she is one of my closest friends, family members, and confidants.  So of course when I saw Batman walk through the crowd of weekenders at the Messila Campground, I knew I needed to chase him down and get a photo for her.  Unfortunately, he got on a boat and left.  Fortunately, I had plenty of time.

What happened next was a bit of a blur.


Whoops!  Here we go…

One of Batman’s buddies called over Michael, an American from Florida who invited me on board.  In no time I was playing ukulele and the boat was leaving the dock, and then we were downtown picking up someone’s mother and I was changing into a sarong, and then we were anchored outside the hip-hop festival.  I kept thinking they were going to say “ok, this is where you get off, see you!” but they handed me one beer after another, instead saying, “Music Woman, you won the lottery!”  “Music Woman, play some more!”  Pretty soon I was sweating in the sauna with them and skinnydipping in the freezing lake.


A boat with a sauna!

I learned quickly not to offer money for beer, and not to ask where we were going.  (The answer was always a shrug.  We were on a boat, it didn’t matter.)  We watched the sun not entirely set and then rise again, and they smoked packs of cigarettes while I sang.  We danced until 3am when I, with not quite enough sausages and a few too many beers in my stomach, climbed onto a bunk and fell fast asleep.

They were right, I had won the lottery.  I had fallen into a group of ridiculous and amazing people, just when I was starting to feel starkly alone among the Finnish weekend revelers.  There was Mia, who was first to welcome me, and Minni and Sivi, who held it down for the ladies far into the night.  Jari was the talented captain, Michael made late night sausages, and Sami was the most loveable asshole I’ve ever met.


Sami, Minni, Maahinen, Jenny, Sivi



There was Saku the ukulele fanatic, who fell asleep standing up on the stern, and Mika, who was more than a little bit racist and liked to talk about mini pigs, and Joonas the kindhearted one with his head on straight.  And Maahinen.

Maahinen means “goblin” in Finnish, though with his injured left foot, long hair and scratchy voice he reminded me much more of a pirate.  There are many words that could describe this man: goblin, pirate, hippie, King of the Sauna, craftsman, musician, nature lover…but none of them would really capture his essence.  Five years ago, after a painful split from his partner, Maahinen packed a backpack and started walking.  He calls it temporary insanity, but in my opinion there are many less healthy ways to end a relationship.  He walked for three and a half years, traversing Finland 5 or 6 times.  Talking to him made me feel hopeful, and also small, and also resigned to the possibility that it could take many more miles and months than what I have planned to truly find whatever it is I am looking for.

The Suomen Neito

At last, it was time to leave Lahti.  My first night in town I had been wandering the docks in a last-ditch effort to find lodging when I’d met a first mate named Olli, who seemed both excited to practice his English and nervous to talk to me.
“I wish I had an extra house by the water and could just hand you the keys and say ‘Yah! Help yourself to what’s in the fridge!’ But I am not capable.  Able?  Capable?  Capableable!”

As life would have it, Olli’s ship was the only one that goes from Lahti to Jyväskylä.  He was generous, charming, hysterically funny, and seemed determined to watch over me and make sure I was full and laughing and happy (which, as I explained to him, is hard for me to not be when I am on a boat).


If I had a Finnish soulmate…

To be real, the joyful adventuring and incredible people I have met on this journey have been peppered with interludes of deep sadness, loneliness, guilt, pain.  These 3 weeks have been uncomfortable, full of more growth and depth than I thought possible in such a short time.  If they weren’t, I would be worried I was doing something wrong.  But that doesn’t make it any easier.

For 7 hours aboard the Suomen Neito, I was simply happy.



A Wandering Soul at Rest

Now, I have arrived in Jyväskylä, into the waiting arms (and boat) of Saana and Joni, relatives of my dear friend Kaija.  A few weeks ago, Saana wrote to me: “I feel like I know you already so this feels like waiting to see a long lost friend after a looooong time.”  I hoped it would be like that.  I knew it would be like that.  It is.

We spent two days on the island of Pirttisaari at their summer house fishing, cooking and eating the fish we caught, reading in the sun, looking for blueberries, and running back and forth between the lake and the sauna.  I have been trying to live more in my body and give my overworked mind a rest.  My skin smells like young birch, my clothes are in the washer for the first time in 3 weeks, and I don’t have to wonder who I’ll meet or where I’ll sleep for the next few nights.

IMG_1741 IMG_1762

For a short while, I have arrived.  Here, in this place with these people, my soul can rest before the long road to Oulu.


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