Here in Kilpisjarvi, the fast life doesn’t exist. A week ago I was back in Scotland, rushing through essays, articles and chores, and never stopping to breathe. Being a gentle soul at heart, this way of working has always seemed wrong, but I had to play the game. Edinburgh, my home city, is swarming with talented, dedicated writers all competing for the same few opportunities. Even if you’re published, you must continue to prove you are worthy. This takes, or rather we’re told it takes, a phenomenal amount of determination, resilience and productivity. If you have a day off you feel bereft, as though your one chance at success has slipped through your fingers and into the hands of another. I’ve tried tackling this problem for years, it’s just hard when you’re driven and eager. My peers seem to forget the old story of the tortoise and the hare, applauding my more stressful, speedy efforts. When you think about it, it’s no surprise: working both hard and fast is a very impressive feat.
My animated lake
Here, I still have my drive, but without the morbid passing of time. It’s difficult to describe. Local poet Johan Yuri captured these sensibilities with eloquence and simplicity. He wrote about how there is no time here in Lapland, but that its mist still impressions upon us. This resonates with me: here, I have no anxieties about time because I feel so connected to the present. The sunlight is perpetual and so it never feels like a particular time of day or night. The lake outside my window is an animation repeating over and over, operating in some strange state of flux and never getting old. Clocks are ornaments showcasing meaningless information — my body clock included. I feel mischievous and amiss, like a broken compass spinning round and round, taking immense delight in its own chaos. Artists, and indeed everyone who moves too fast, could benefit from time — or rather the lack of time — in Lapland. Of course, it has other high points too, besides its peacefulness and history. The food, which I have consumed in copious amounts, has been fantastic.
Although I love to cook back home, I let work get in the way. I also tend to live in my head, intellectualising everything and ignoring my body’s cries for attention. This is partly due to my over-ambitious work ethic, and also because I have joint pain. Switching off from this pain is a useful trick, though it means masking other sensations too, like tiredness and hunger. But when I travel, I become much more aware of my body and its need to be rested and nourished. It’s upsetting to notice the pain, but it’s great to want food. In general, I’m not keen on Scottish cuisine, especially not from canteens, as it’s often tasteless, unhealthy and unethical. The food here — a range of stews, soups and bakes — is delicious, combining unusual textures and flavours. My favourite is cake made with apple, cream cheese and cardamon — foods I’d never have thought to put together. However, I hope to get through life without ever having coffee cheese again. That one was a bit scary.
I’ll be sad to leave this place, but I’ll take its lessons with me. I’ve loved having a clean, timeless slate to write upon, and I’ve enjoyed being around like-minded people. Our house, Kiekula, has been very sociable, inspiring great conversations about philosophy, science and art. I’ve taken various walks and hikes across unspoilt landscapes, and in the evenings I’ve been writing essays and learning Finnish; a complex and beautiful language. And when I’ve not been doing those things, I’ve been mapping the local area in an attempt to imbibe these ever-present feelings of timelessness, sleeplessness and hunger. I don’t know if this will lead to a significant piece or the most pretentious disaster ever created, but it’s been fun and that what counts. What is significant is how I feel about writing now as my residency draws to a close. I’m one step closer to dropping out of the toxic race for success. The fast movers will fire ahead at the speed of light, and they might get there before I do. That isn’t me and it never was. In order to be a happy and healthy writer, I need to leave that future behind.