It has taken five years, but we have arrived: to the place where my skill as a writer meets the story. To the place where the book gets more space than my paid gigs, or my obligations. To a place of spirit, and of deep faith. Welcome to The Year of the Book.
A lot has happened since my last update. I taught myself how to write a book proposal. Sent it. Realized that the more I wrote my book, the less it resembled the proposal. Took it back. I shut myself in a cabin by a river and read all of the journals from my 20s, cringed and cried and laughed and wondered at past versions of myself. I went deep. And I wrote.
In August, I returned to Finland. I ate smoked reindeer steak and drank wine with gold flakes floating in it. Tytti, Sauli and I drove through a squall to Ukuonsaari, a sacred Sami island in the middle of Lake Inari. In Tankavaara I stayed up until till the early morning two nights in a row, playing ukulele and singing “Lapin Tango” and drinking blueberry vodka and beer in the cold with friends at the Finnish Goldpanning Championships. I thought nobody would remember me. “Have you seen the bus?” they said.
In Lemmenjoki I wrote by hand in the sputtering light of a candle. I wandered. If I surrendered to my body, it remembered the way. I laid on the ground and looked at the tiny trumpets of lichen exploding out of the soft, dry soil as if in the middle of a song; the crimson fire of the blueberry leaves catching the light. There is no silence like Lemmenjoki silence. I walked home after midnight, feeling vulnerable underneath the ink blue sky, moving with the necessary slowness that comes from living this far out—a misstep, a twisted knee, a stray slice of a knife could mean death. My rule of thumb: everything in Lemmenjoki is farther than you think it is. Aki, Ami, Sabina, and I hiked by compass and map with swamp-soaked boots to Postijoki River, where I caught my first grayling. I cleaned it, still twitching, with my Sami reindeer knife; pulled slippery kidney and dark red heart from its body with my fingers, whispered a silent prayer of thanks. In all these ways, I nourished myself. It felt different this time. I was returning home.
“Four little words,” Aki said when he saw me again.
“Four little words. They’ve brought you back three times now.” He smiled. “And that is just a start.”
He meant Petronella’s words. The first ones she spoke to me: I walked…to…Lapland.
What is gold fever, really? Is it escape from the day to day life? The thrill of discovery? “For me, it’s simple,” Ami said. “Every spring, Lapland is calling and I must go.”
I am beginning to feel the true difference this journey has made in my life. I am a woman who found her power. And I found it in Lapland.
My return to Lemmenjoki made me realize that I’ve been shaping my book into what I thought she should be, instead of asking what she wanted to be in the world. I’ve resolved to take bigger risks. To let her speak for herself. And I’ve been taking bigger risks in life, too. Last November, I had my first foray into public speaking:
So, here we are. I have three agents interested in reading the final first draft. I have set a concrete goal to finish it by the end of this year, and backed that up with elbow grease and scheduled time. Every day I get to wrestle with the book is a good day. Most of these winter days are good days. I am so grateful for this life.
Thank you, always, for your kind support. Thank you for understanding what took me a while to learn: that the book will unfold on her own time. But I am finally ready.
“The tire goes flat, the tooth falls out, there will be a hundred meals without mustard. The poem gets written. I have wrestled with the angel and I am stained with light and I have no shame. Neither do I have guilt. My responsibility is not to the ordinary, or the timely. It does not include mustard, or teeth. It does not extend to the lost button, or the beans in the pot. My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.
There is no other way work of artistic worth can be done. And the occasional success, to the striver, is worth everything. The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”
– Mary Oliver
Send candles, and rejoice if I am late.