Under My Skin

A week ago — a momentous time for so many reasons — I whacked my knuckles on the book case in the conference room outside my office at the end of a day meeting students for advisement. I’ve done it before: those of you who know me well will not be surprised. Head in the clouds, absent-minded professor — whatever you want to call it, I end up with odd bruises all the time. And then in a minute or two, it became this lump.


I did what any normal person does: I sent the picture out on social media asking people if I should be worried. Some alarmed people said YES especially when I posted a video so you could see it in 3D, but most people said just ice it and elevate. I chipped some ice off the frozen-over freezer of our office because you have to improvise at times like this. Later at my friend Angela’s house, she gave me some frozen green beans that worked much better.

Robert got Lagavulin which worked even better with real ice.

The lump went down over the next few days and the bruises took off, lending a bit of colour. It was sore but not awfully so. There were far more painful things happening in the world, so on the whole I figured it could have been worse. See, much better!


You don’t always know how an injury will affect you: something that didn’t seem all that big a deal might end up being surprisingly painful. Some things you know are going to be bad. Bracing yourself is the only option and it’s not enough because it’s coming at your from every direction. At least with big things you’re not alone: we’re all in that sinking boat and some of us are bailing it out (some are just bailing). There’s some attempts to patch the gaping holes, but there seem to be an inordinate number of folks rushing to the apocalypse.

In the words of Saint Kurt the Vonnegut, so it goes.

They get under our skin. That’s what they want. We inherit different thicknesses; we cultivate other characteristics. I recently did one of those ancestral DNA kits. I had hoped my ancestors would be a little more curious about the world, but they end up being 100% European:


The Finnish is no surprise; I never thought I had any British/Irish blood so I’m going to claim it’s all Scottish, of course. Balkan and Southern? I’m going to go with Slovenia! But mostly Northern, which surprises no one. I also have 293 Neanderthal variants which is fairly high (higher than 74% of those they tested). What does it mean? Well, among other things:


So there’s that.

To sum up: it’s a really lousy year for so many reasons for so many of us and things look likely to get worse. Your community will be more important than ever. Be part of them, look out for others, let yourself be looked after especially if you’re not one inclined to do that. Be grateful for every bit of joy that comes your way and if you have it, the reduced tendency to sneeze after eating dark  chocolate.

‘One of the ways to avoid being beaten by the system is to laugh at it.’

Peter Cook

Louhi at @FolkloreThursday

Dream Book

My introduction to Louhi, witch of the north in The Kalevala, appears at @FolkloreThursday today. Folk familiar with my work know that she appears in my stories in Dream Book which were inspired by Finnish mythology in both The Kalevala and The Kanteletar.

Some helpful links: The best translation of The Kalevala; the only English version I know of The Kanteletar; here’s me playing a kantele so you know what the traditional Finnish lap harp sounds like and here’s a fantastic classical piece inspired by Louhi from Tomi Räisänen.

Of course you can get my collection Dream Book thanks to Fox Spirit Books. Stories, poems and a play inspired by the Finnish mythology and music that fills my head. Oh, and ancient rock paintings, too!

Hang around Twitter and see all the fun: @FolkloreThursday is a great opportunity to learn and share.

Finns in Edinburgh: St Giles

2015-07-14 13.34.00 2015-07-14 13.35.38 2015-07-14 13.37.33 2015-07-14 13.42.25 2015-07-14 13.43.57 2015-07-14 13.49.35 2015-07-14 13.49.42 2015-07-14 13.50.03 2015-07-14 13.51.20 2015-07-14 13.52.22 2015-07-14 13.54.10 2015-07-14 13.57.52 2015-07-14 14.04.50Laura and I wandered in to see the Thistle Chapel at St Giles and managed to catch one of the tours. Chivalry at its most ceremonial. And I couldn’t resist a chuckle at the Albany Aisle. Silence please!

Finns in Edinburgh: Canongate Kirk

Of course I was mostly interested in the cemetery — me and the magpies! The poet Robert Fergusson is buried there. While Laura and Risto looked around the church, I wandered among the gravestones. Lots of history here.

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Finns in Edinburgh: Part 2

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I know it appears as if I am doing nothing at all, but I promise there is a lot going on behind the scenes — much writing, some news to share soon, and more background on Finnish myths and folklore for Dream Book. It’s true too that there has been much time for amusement and fun, which has restored me greatly from an exhausting academic year.

2015-05-13 18.01.53 2015-05-14 09.49.22 2015-05-16 12.16.35 2015-05-17 13.23.45 2015-05-17 13.25.49 2015-05-17 13.44.37 2015-05-17 15.51.14 2015-05-24 13.24.46 2015-05-24 13.30.07 2015-05-24 13.33.43 2015-05-24 14.03.35 2015-05-24 14.05.20

TOA/V: Bear Feast Polska

I love this version of the Bear Feast Polska by Rymäkkä. It captures the mythic heart of the song. ‘Karhunpeijaispolska’ is one of the first songs I learned to play on the kantele. I imagined cheery bears frolicking in the woods to the jaunty tune, which of course I figured out eventually had nothing to do with the lyrics.

The song is of course about the ritual of hunting and eating the bear. The song honours his sacred gift to the community. Bears are very important in the folklore and myths of Finland. Even today when you arrive at the airport in Helsinki, the signs outside are held in place by concrete bears.

I worked that into my noirish tale ‘Baltic Tango’ in Dream Book. It reunites two characters from À la Mort Subite who somewhat unexpectedly find themselves in Finland and have a hard time adjusting. They even hear the explanation of the Bear Feast over dinner one night. It’s important that the bear agrees to be sacrificed. To kill the bear when it’s unnecessary is a great crime again the living and all would suffer for it.

Besides, he has a good beer that’s perfect after a sauna.

2013-08-04 18.14.01Drop by Todd’s blog for more conventional TOA/V.