Journal

A Year of Early Mornings

6 January 2016

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In February, I start waking up early. Grabbing my camera, I tiptoe down the stairs of the apartment block where my dad lives in Chiang Mai, and capture my walk through the waking city. For the first time, I dare to watch other people through my lens. During the days, I write or translate in cafes and a huge free co-working space that is open 24/7, digging into my novel draft and growing an addiction to matcha tea. Some mornings, my dad and I walk up the mountain northwest of the city. First just a part of the way, to a temple nestled into the jungle, then all the way to the top, sipping noodle soup in a quiet mountain village on our way up.

After a few weeks, I squeeze into a songthaew, a pick-up truck taxi, with thirteen other people and set off on a four hour drive to Samoeng and Mindful Farm. Sleeping in a room without proper walls, I shiver through the nights, not having expected winter cold nights in Thailand. But I can breathe the forest from my mattress and when I wake up before 5 am and stagger up the pitch-black path to the kitchen to help preparing breakfast, I smile. This is how I want to live, close to nature, growing my own food, building my own little huts and inventions. Every morning, we have breakfast in silence on the porch, and my numb fingers and any residuous frustration over my lack of sleep melt with a warm cup of home-brewed tea and the rising sun.

Then I travel south. In Koh Lanta, I tiptoe past sleepy bungalows and sit in silence until the first light peeks over the sea. Then I run barefoot along the beach and back before breakfast. During the first few days, the biggest waves scare me. Some residue of a ten-year-old memory lingers in my body, of the tsunami that only reached our knees because we left this very island a day earlier than we had planned to. But then I let it go, let the waves carry me, squeezing every moment out of these mornings. In the daylight I feel lost among all the families and honeymooners. A week before I’m going back to Sweden, I follow an impulse and email three illustrators in Bangkok, asking if I could interview them for the blog I am planning to launch. I don’t expect any of them to say yes, but they all do.

On my way to my second interview, with Suthipa and Chatchanok, I get lost. I manage to get a ride to the right part of Bangkok with a motorcycle taxi driver who doesn’t speak a word of English. I realize I have forgotten to eat and wolf down a rice burger from 7-11 on my way to Jam Factory, the cafe where we have decided to meet. After the interview, I find that my phone has crashed halfway through and the recording is nowhere to be found. I’m so embarrassed. When I’ve apologized and said goodbye, I stay at the cafe and write down every little detail I remember. I email the girls to fill in the gaps and manage to restore a small part of the recording. It’s enough to write the article, but that evening I buy a portable recorder and write a list of everything I’ve learnt from conducting interviews so far, vowing to never lose a recording again.

Five months later, I wake up from a half-slumber on the train from Brighton to the village where I will meet Al, the author who wrote The Gift of Looking Closely, which I’m translating. I realize one of the scenes might be set right here, in this carriage. Later, Al and I walk her dogs through a forest where the main character is walking, and suddenly all these words and sentences I have been struggling to shape into Swedish come alive. She wants to know how I’ve interpreted some aspects of the novel, and I panic for a moment, but she seems happy with my answers. When we come back to her cottage, she makes chili with carrots from her garden. Then she has to pop over to a neighbour and lets me work at her writing desk in front of a beautiful bay window overlooking the flower garden. It feels so strange to sit here, in the home of a writer whose words I almost know by heart.

The next day is my twenty-fifth birthday, and I celebrate by moving from the filthiest hostel I’ve ever stayed in to a small hotel in the outskirts of the city. In the evening I go to Barbican Theatre and watch Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch in the main role. I can’t see the whole stage from my seat, but it doesn’t matter. The soundtrack consists of some of my favourite Jon Hopkins songs, and as Ophelia press the piano keys my fingers could find in darkness, I forget to breathe. The next morning I wake up early and catch the tube to Richmond Park, where I spend my morning among brambles and trees and wild deer. Then I go to Leavesden and step into the studios where Harry Potter was filmed. This is one of the moments when I wish I wasn’t alone. But then again, I don’t know if anyone would understand the wonder and sadness that grip me as I move slowly from scene to scene through the world I grew up with and escaped into when I couldn’t stand my own. On the bus back to the station, a girl behind me is crying, and her friends don’t understand why. I want to turn around and tell her I do, but I’m too busy holding back my own tears.

Then I gaze out the train window on an eight-hour ride from London to the Scottish Highlands, and as soon as the horizon rises with the contours of the mountains, I feel at home. I check into a hostel and tie my shoes. Then I walk and walk and walk. Two days later, I trace the edge of Loch Ness by bus on my way to Isle of Skye, which is even more magical than I had imagined. My nose is running and my head is spinning. I write less than I had planned to and leave my camera in my backpack for hours. It’s disappointing at first. My emotions catch up with me when I travel, especially when I travel alone. I am the strongest and the happiest, but also the most vulnerable. I try to make it up by living. I practice being there, on the mountain path, with each step, instead of getting lost in worries about the past or the future. In my journal, I write: As long as I keep longing for other places, I will never be happy where I am, but as soon as I find peace where I am, I will be happy wherever I go.

When I come back to my room in Gothenburg, I’ve already lived there for three months, but I still feel like an intruder, like I’m just temporarily occupying a part of a stranger’s life. I miss my old flat and the forests. I try to run and write every morning, but some days I just sleep like I haven’t slept for years. When I get asked to translate The Girls by Lisa Jewell for a publisher, I take inventory of my schedule and commitments and realize how close I am to burning out, working seven-day weeks and never resting properly. Even though I love my work, I feel crippled by the pressure of everything I need to do. So I start to calm down. I stop blogging weekly. I say no to everything but these novel translations and a client magazine that I’m translating on a regular basis. I start closing my computer a few hours before I go to sleep.

At the end of October, I load all my things into my grandfather’s car and drive back to the south of Sweden, back to the house I grew up in and moved out of seven years ago. I start waking up before the rest of my family to write, savouring the silent hours when our little village seems frozen in time, just like I did when I was little. I’m only staying here for a couple of months, before going on a longer trip to Asia in January. When I return, my adventure will continue in other places.

In 2015, I learnt to love early mornings. I filled notebooks and documents with words. I took more photos than I ever have before. But I also let go of my need to document everything. I deleted my social media apps from my phone. I started meditating. I started living for real and not just through the internet. 2015 was a dark year for many, but instead of letting that put out my fire, I’m determined to keep burning. Keep creating. Keep building a life where I can make a difference. Where I can actually help.

In 2016, I will release two novel translations and a children’s book, and my goal is to write every single day. Apart from that, I’m leaving this year open to new ideas and opportunities. I will focus on extending the precense I find in the mornings to the rest of the day. On showing up and staying aware of where I am and what I’m doing instead of getting caught up in planning every step. I’m so grateful for the route my life has taken, the people I have met and the challenges I have faced in 2015, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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