Truly Beautiful Writing

Swedish author

I’m studying my sophmore year of high-school Swedish. My assignment due tomorrow is about Karin Boye‘s short story Min son blir inte snickare (“My son won’t become a carpenter”). These excerpts* are just truly beautiful: 

Samma stygn som en gång förr, bara mycket starkare och med en lite bitter giftverkan av hoppslöshet, gick genom hjärtat på honom.

The same suture from before, only sharper and dipped in a little poison of hopelessness, went through his heart.

Hans vaknande ungdom kom med ett nytt allvarsdigert medvetande om att det fanns något som hette framtid.

His burgeoning youth dawned on him with a new and overwhelming realization, that there was something called the future.

Han blev tung i bröstet av det där tjocka som kallas längtan.

His chest was filled with that smog called longing.

  • All translations my own.

Making Bella

taken 2005

I made a film yesterday and put it online. It’s called Bella, after my late maternal grandmother’s nickname.

Backstory

I have been sitting on this concept for the past ten years. I was denied a chance to say goodbye and see her before she slept in Christ. So, I have been wanting to make sense of all the memories, the final things left untold, and living life without her around.

Returning to Egypt to visit my family, has not been the same since she left. There’s this hole now in Cairo, shaped after her. I spent a few days there in 2012 in my grandparents’ apartment. It didn’t bring me closer to her, as I had imagined. I left feeling the loss more intensely. That’s grieving, I suppose.

The idea

A month ago, I stood out in my balcony here in Stockholm. I hadn’t really been out there since I moved in. And as the bustle from the road, the balcony, and the sky converged in a moment: I remembered Bella.

And then I wondered if I could make that film about her, but here in my balcony.

Concept

standing in the balcony, reminiscing over Bella and remembering her, me narrating, with some of my own scoring and using a part of this song by the Saudi Arabian artist Hussain al-Jasmy. This song is about loss and when I first heard it, it become forever married to the memory of my grandmother.

Production

I shot the footage this morning with my Canon EOS on a monopod. Autofocus, standard lens, that’s it. I didn’t want to be distracted by the technical execution. That will come later, I know.

It was an artistic challenge to see how I could both record enough shots so that it is enough for the narration and so that it’s not much of the same. I tried to use different angles, mimicked some panning, and played with shadows on the walls.

Initial Editing

I went through the footage and made clips. I threw down them quickly onto the sequence in Premiere Pro, as quickly as possible. Some thoughts and pictures came back to me from when I was shooting, so I followed their lead. I played through the rough cut a few times to see how it feels.

I brought up a text editor and started writing the narration as it played through the sequence. In a way, I approached this like a broadcast news story rather than a film – record first and then evince the story from the footage.

After I laid down the initial rough cut, I looked at the shots and see how they worked with the script. I tweaked the script in Evernote, as I decided on the final sequence of shots. To avoid too much time re-recording audio later, I remembered a trick that a friend taught me a long time ago: use text clips in your editing software to play with the rough cut and editing process. This really helped me think through the shots before I touched the mic.

Scoring and Narration

I recorded the audio with the M-Audio M-Track soundcard and SM-56 vocal microphone. Adobe Audition Pro CC is my choice for post-processing and production. I really developed my skills in sound editing after this project.

Final Editing

This was definitely the most involved editing project I’ve undertaken, in that I had 4 audio tracks and several video tracks. After laying down all the audio, I took out the placeholder text and tweaked the edit further.

I wanted to avoid tropes with the opening sequence, so I got the idea to break up the introductory song clip with a piece of narration. Thank you, shower! It worked.

Favorite Moments

  • The intro
  • The shot where the narration says, “When I was growing up…” It was just a simple way to portray growing up.
  • The photo I picked of Bella
  • The flashback audio impression of Bella’s voice. I did it in one take and it’s still haunting me.

Lessons Learned

  1. Storyboarding and planning. Using the placeholder texts in the sequence and going through multiple edits made the whole process straightforward and intuitive.
  2. Good audio makes a difference. I really see the value of good-quality, well-edited, solid audio. It increases the production value exponentially.
  3. Keep the shots simple and cheap. They tend to express what you really want to say, without getting lost in the execution.

What’s Next

I’m brainstorming and ruminating over a film about my late friend Nancy. Stay tuned.

 

Planted in Blue

Water filling my sight
Sitting planted in blue
of air and wet.

The water in my eyes
and the water in my being
and the water before me
finally embraced.

 

A Letter to Myself Today

Dear Mina,

This is an important year. You are at peace, there’s a warm glow in your heart, and you’re living awake.

You’re strong, resilient, and pliable enough to know now that it’s not about one’s own might.

You’re worthy. And you’re believing in that, one day at a time.

This year you allowed yourself to be known and seen, to be helped and cared for. This is a wealth freely given to you by God. Cherish it.

The last 7 months have been a string of little deaths, the quiet execution of old plans, defenses, and traits. And there is a rumbling in the rubble, an equally quiet emergence of someone you’ll soon to get to know as the hidden you. A Mina that is not the final product, but certainly a first draft of the genuine you. You and I are both the process of writing the draft and living out the draft, one day at a time. We are the daily process.

A lukewarm wind is gliding past your arm. The sun is hot, it’s a calm and unassuming sweat today. It’s just us on this pier. There is some longing in you, for it to have been two. But this moment is enough. And you’re documenting the particular marks of this longing.

The party has come to our street. Let the contentment begin.

A Midnight Gem by the Beach

Sometimes, you just discover gems because you’re willing to be curious.

I went for a midnight walk to Hässelby Strand, a nearby beach. I heard some familiar sounds from a distance, it was coming from the barbeque area.

It turned out to be a Middle Eastern ensemble (“takht“) jamming or rehearsing.

I stopped to listen and record.

 

Lessons from My Longest Ever Relationship

Cranely, as I adopted him

In October last year, I took home from work an ordinary-looking potted plant. I was actually in the process of moving, so a new plant for my new apartment was an exciting prospect. It was both exciting and daunting. All sense of routine, maintenance, and discipline were matters still difficult for me to integrate into my daily life. And here I was, about to care for a plant.

My therapist said to me, take care of a plant, then get a pet, then you’ll be ready for a relationship with a woman. It seemed the wrong way around to me – you get the plant and pet once you have the woman and you’re living together! The delusion of the Middle Class Dream – the apartment, the woman, the pets, the boat, the villa in the countryside – was still upon me, so anything that questioned that dream-delusion seemed ridiculous. However, I had looked at my life and past relationships. It was just rubble. It wouldn’t hurt to try a new approach.

I gave the plant a name – Cranley.

Cranley, first day at home

So for the month before I moved, I watered Cranley every day, sometimes twice a day. I did no research or asked people how to care for plants. I just went on my own crazy conception of love and care, which was often full-on mania. Soon enough, my sister tempered my enthusiasm with some reality: you don’t need to water Cranley every day. I didn’t want him to die. I was on a journey, dammit! Plant – dog – woman. Nothing would hold me back…

I watered him every day. When I travelled, I made sure my sister or brother-in-law would take care of him. And when they were away, I asked another acquaintance to care for him. I made his watering a part of my daily routines. I sometimes played some music for him – classical, blues, jazz.

Just don’t die, Cranley. You can’t be another casualty of Mina.

He soon occupied an important part on the marble window sill in my kitchen. And I moved my medication next to him, so that there was now a marrying of my health and his health. Half of the glass of water is for me, the other half is for him.

I did this, day in and day out. I looked at him. Sometimes, I stared. I wondered if he would grow. Would he ever grow? I worried when he wilted or he didn’t seem to respond to the water.

I bought fertilizer and a special spray. I read up on about his species and how to care for him. After using them for a while, Cranley seemed to bloom and flourish.

I felt more secure in my part in the relationship. I was showing up and doing my part every day.

It’s been about 7 months now since Cranley came into my care. He hasn’t died. His arms are becoming gangly and there’s this wonderful light-brown tinge to some of his leaves. When I walk into the kitchen, I’m happy to see him. His arms tilt into the window, leaning into the Swedish sun.

Cranley has made no demands in this relationship. But now that he is in my care, I feed him, I make sure his pot is clean and not filled with water, and I prune his stems in order for more leaves to sprout. He gets the best sunshine in the apartment and sometimes, I just sit there and look at him.

That whole advice of a plant before an animal before another person is not about following a script, but rather learning how to be self-less, how to adjust your life so that another being occupies place in your mind and heart. In the center of this advice is the relationship with myself, one-half of Team Mina and Cranley. I care enough about myself to drink water and take medication every day. I do fun and spiritually nourishing things every day, like making art, to stay in balance. A healthy, present Mina is a Mina who is able to be present for Cranley.

I’ve had smirks and furrowed brows at having a plant as a pet because that’s how I introduce him – my pet Cranley! He doesn’t lick his balls or purr, but he is alive and he is worthy of love. He doesn’t even ask for it. He just sits there every day, living, breathing, and basking in the sun. And when I don’t feed him, he doesn’t complain. But over time, he dies because he hasn’t eaten.

When I looked at my past and examined what had gone wrong in relationships, I saw how selfish and reckless I was. Most of the relationships were about what I needed and wanted, and rarely involved being there for the other person. When it didn’t work out the way I wanted, I abandoned them. When I felt threatened or afraid, I ran. When I let others influence me, I dropped them from a great height. And all humans are made of porcelain, not stone.

That “all humans” includes me, too. The toll of what I have done is equal to the magnitude of the shame that I had made a part of my being. I’ve done shit and I am shit. Taking care of this silent, beautiful plant changes shame to acceptance and gives me hope for the future.

Happy anniversary, Cranley. You’re rather wonderful.