A displaced hedgehog is a figure - or rather an image - from Tove Jansson's Moomin books. This is how I can best describe myself. This blog is mostly about being displaced.
Saturday, 17 November 2018
twenty years ago an English-speaking friend tried to explain to me
the difference between loneliness and solitude. This is a good
example of how language affects perception: neither Swedish nor
Russian has two separate words. I could not understand that the state
of being alone could be anything than negative, and at that time I
was still terrified by the very idea of loneliness.
the reason is my childhood fears of being abandoned. I am the only
child, and in those carefree days children would be left unattended
without further thoughts.
I particularly remember two episodes. When I was five, my father and
I were staying in an artists' village outside Moscow. He was
composing his music, and I assume my mother was back in town working.
After breakfast, my father would go skiing for a couple of hours,
leaving me alone in the cottage. A couple of hours for a very young
child is eternity. Perhaps it only happened once, but someone found
me outside the cottage, in the snow, crying. (I don't recall my
father soothing me afterwards). Several years later, in another
artists' village in summer, I was sent to bed and woke in the middle
of the night to realise I was alone in the cottage.
My parents had gone out rowing with friends. Again, a neighbour heard
my sobbing and came to comfort
my teens and early twenties, I was scared of going to sleep because I
thought I might never wake up. (It's the best way to die, but you
don't think so when you are young). Of course eventually I would fall
asleep, but it was my constant horror. In
my brief first marriage, my husband, an archaeologist, was away for
months. I felt profoundly lonely.
also decided early in my life that I didn't enjoy doing things on my
own. I had few friends, and particularly in summers my parents would
take me with them (or send me) to places where there were no other
children. Often they would take me out of school as well. I felt
incredibly lonely and found consolation in intense correspondence
(often with grownups), diary writing and
fiction writing. When I was old enough to go to theatre, cinema or
museums on my own, I discovered how much I
lacked the after-show chat, the simple: “Wasn't it awesome?” or
“Wasn't it awful?” It was out of the question for a young girl to
travel alone, but a couple of times when I was granted the privilege
to travel abroad, to Poland and Bulgaria, I felt miserable when I
should have been happy and inquisitive.
I moved to Sweden, I travelled a lot professionally, both within
Sweden and all over the world. I preferred to stay with friends
whenever possible. The loneliness of hotel nights was haunting.
Otherwise with three children and hoards of visiting relatives, there
wasn't much time to feel lonely. It came later, when I realised that
if I wanted to do things I enjoyed doing I had to do them on my own,
and eventually, with things that used to be shared, I had to choose
between doing them on my own or not doing them at all.
was my long and winding road to solitude – the enjoyment, even
though forced, of being on my own, walking, gardening, star gazing
(unfortunately, I haven't been able to do that for a long time now
because of glaucoma). Miniature-making became an excellent pursuit,
as did book-binding. I still prefer to do all this in company, but I
am not terrified of being alone. I have converted the misery of
loneliness into the peacefulness of solitude, thanks to the richness
of the English language. Maybe it is simply
the wisdom of age.
what do I do in my Gatehouse solitude? Actually, pretty much the same
I did before. It is tempting, when nobody waits for you at home, to
just go on working in the office, but I am quite strict with myself
on this matter. I don't work in the evenings and on weekends, unless
there is really something urgent. I come home after work earlier than
before, since it takes three minutes to walk from the office. I make
myself a cup of tea. I drink a lot more tea than I used to, which is
odd: you would imagine that tea-drinking is social. But
it is a perfect way of crossing the border from work to rest. I
read my non-work-related email and social media. I cook my meal. I
wash up. Then I read, listen to music or watch a movie. I haven't got
a television, but it works perfectly well to watch movies on my
computer. I have recently succumbed to Netflix and watched all the
big series such as Handmaid's Tale
and Black Mirror.
Here in Gatehouse, I have watched Alias
Grace and Anne
with “e” and some movies I have had
on my watchlist for ages.
have also very recently discovered Spotify. I had used it a couple of
times before, but never got hooked because for me listening to music
is definitely social, and once upon a time we played classical CDs a
lot, but not for a very long time now. I have become increasingly
sensitive to noise, and some time ago I got myself noise-cancelling
headphones. Interestingly, I only used them for noise-cancelling
purpose once, on a flight, which was bliss. But the side effect was
that I tentatively tried to listen to meditation music in bed, after
or instead of reading, and then I moved on to Bach and Chopin, and I
was so irritated by advertising that I bought myself out of it, and
now I am completely addicted. I think I have decided that I could
hypothetically live without books, but I cannot live without music.
Spotify has everything I need and more; it is, however, important to
choose wisely, finding performances by best artists and of full
works, not just popular snippets.
have also found a way to continue with miniature-making, but this is
a separate story.