Notre-Dame, Medium, The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water

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The main image for my Medium feature “My Creative Brushes with Notre-Dame de Paris”. It’s about drawings I had created before the fire, actually during my public drawing in Reykjavík in March 2019.

18th APRIL 2019 — I have started moving most of my online writing to Medium.com and I may eventually switch completely over there.

Having said that, I’m finding it difficult to let go of this little blog and I appreciate the connections I’ve made here — sincere thanks to everyone who’s reading this.

You can find my writings on Medium under my full name. Recently:

Plus, yesterday I also launched a full day-by-day serialisation of my first book as a Medium series. This innovative Medium form is designed for viewing on smartphones. You tilt your phone to look from side to side. You can also subscribe to this. Here’s the link.

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Haunted Garden ebook debut

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Front cover of the ebook.

10th APRIL 2019 — The ebook edition of my first book, You Never Know What You’ll See in the Haunted Garden, Vol. 1, is now available on Amazon.

Everyone who buys the print paperback edition can also get the ebook version for free. The next volume in the series will be coming out early this summer. Amazon description for Vol. 1:

“The first in a series of eerie, beautiful coffee table books suitable for all ages. Rex the former game actor introduces us to the Haunted Garden through 30 full-spread wordless illustrations. These are books for leafing through, gazing at, and perhaps dreaming with, well suited for keeping on a living room table or a nightstand. This ebook is an exact reproduction of the paperback edition, allowing every detail of the full pictures to be seen.”

Amazon’s automatically generated preview ends just before the illustrated pages begin, but I have requested this to be changed to show more of the book. The change has been made and that update will soon be live on Amazon.

The new preview will show 20% of the content. Until then, an equally revealing preview can also be found on my site simosakariaaltonen.com.

My first book is out — You Never Know What You’ll See in the Haunted Garden, Vol. 1

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The wraparound cover for my first book.

29th MARCH 2019 — My first book You Never Know What You’ll See in the Haunted Garden, Vol. 1 is now available on Amazon.

More specifically, the paperback edition is — the ebook version is taking longer to work its way through the system, though it has already passed review, so should be available within some days.

The print edition is a large (8.5″ x 11″) 68-page colour paperback. Purchasers of the paperback will also get the ebook for free.

The Amazon product description:

“The first in a series of eerie, beautiful coffee table books suitable for all ages. Rex the former game actor introduces us to the Haunted Garden through 30 full-spread wordless illustrations. These are books for leafing through, gazing at, and perhaps dreaming with, well suited for keeping on a living room table or a nightstand.”

Creating something beautiful and imaginative for young people and the young at heart has long been one of my most cherished dreams.

I feel there can be few greater things a person can do than give a child something that may spark their imagination and create the kind of joy and wonder I remember from my own childhood when I pored over my favourite books. I still return to them and they thrill me as much as ever.

Works such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice books (late 19th century), the most beloved Finnish fairy tale novel Mestaritontun seikkailut (a really beautifully illustrated book from 1919 whose title translates as “The Adventures of the Master Elf“), and Malcolm Bird’s The Witch’s Handbook (1988).

I hope my first book, later volumes in the series, and items featuring this world and these characters will find their way one way or another into the lives of many children and others young at heart and give them something special and memorable.

Amazon’s automatic Look Inside has unfortunately provided a preview that stops short of the illustrated pages, but a more revealing preview is available on my official site here:

www.simosakariaaltonen.com

Creating in public (& update)

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Early art for my current projects.

5th MARCH 2019 — Around the turn of the year I got very busy rearranging my life. To my regret, this meant completely putting this blog off to one side. I suddenly got more productive than ever. As a result, several of my creative projects are approaching completion.

This spring I’ll publish my first book and my first sets of sheet music. I’m also getting close to finishing my first symphony, and I’m working on a comic strip and already creating the materials for further books after the one I’ll soon publish. There’s more, but these are the main projects right now that I’m working full speed on.

At noon this Wednesday, 6th of March, I’ll also step onto the stage for the first time in my life since school. I will be drawing and animating things for about an hour with my iPad hooked up to the screen on the stage of a bar called Stúdentakjallarinn (The Student Cellar) on the campus of the University of Iceland here in Reykjavík.

This is essentially performance art in the form of creating in public, as it’s not a presentation. I’ll just draw and animate, and visitors to the bar may observe or ignore according to their inclination. We want to see what the reaction is to this experiment. I was inspired for this idea by the late great Harlan Ellison, who used to occasionally write in public.

I feel really good to be so productive — more so than ever before in my life — and it feels wonderful to set on this road of more active engagement out in the world in connection with art. But I may not be able to continue this blog in the form I originally envisioned. I regret that.

The work I am producing now is the work I had been heading for all along in my life. I feel grateful to have gotten to this point. That would not have happened without all the support I have had over the years from many goodhearted people.

My heartfelt thanks to everyone who has encouraged and supported me through the good times and bad. Now to make some art.

The person I am not & the person I am

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At my grandma’s many years ago: a happy moment in the kind of full life I would choose.

JANUARY 13th 2019 — No one chooses loneliness. Some people do choose being alone, but that’s completely different. In that case the person prefers being by himself or herself.

Loneliness is the pain of having lost or having never had the things in life that make for human happiness and sense of meaning. And knowing through regular interaction with others that you matter and that it matters to them whether you are alive or dead.

If someone’s reaction to this would be to say that you first need to be happy all by yourself, then I have to say that that person can never have experienced actual loneliness, or has forgotten what it was like, and most likely in fact enjoys a life full of meaningful human contact. It’s easy to say that kind of thing when not experiencing the thing itself. Happiness can’t start coming out of nothing.

Happiness flows from meaningful human moments, not from this particularly cruel and coldhearted self-help mantra, which involves blaming the lonely for their loneliness. No one can know the enormous private efforts a person may have made, day after day and year after year, to change their life, and still being as far away from happiness as ever.

I was looking at my past photos on Facebook and it really hurts to see how obviously many of them are the result of a very lonely guy just trying to make it from day to day, hoping and making every effort possible for something better. There aren’t many photos of other people or of me in happy moments.

Looking at many of that haphazard, desolate collection of photos — of course not including the ones from times when things were briefly different, moments for which I was happy and grateful with all my heart — feels like looking at a broken life. It’s not how life should be. Not at all. I don’t know if anyone knows how that hurts. I didn’t choose to come from a family that got broken by some things that happened when I was very young.

But what hurts at least as much as this thought itself is that very possibly many people think I have chosen this, that this is just who I am. That I am an unhappy and depressing person who remains that way by choice. Nothing could be further from the truth and I feel the sting of tears when I think that people I care about may think this of me. I did not choose this. I know what a full, good life would involve, and I wish for nothing else as much as I wish for that:

A life full of human warmth, of family life, of seeing friends, of fun and laughter, of constant activity, of raising children, going to the cinema, family dinners, trips to summer houses and beaches, rowing on the lake, concerts and plays, music and good food, creating together, cuddling up under a blanket with a special someone while watching something nice, going to sleep holding that person and feeling in so doing the greatest happiness and gratitude that it is possible to experience, knowing she and your healthy family are safe and warm and tomorrow will be a beautiful new day with many more happy moments.

That’s who I am, that’s what I would choose in a heartbeat, and that’s what I wish for. Not how things have been most of my life.

I am only sad when there is reason for sadness. Absolutely not a moment longer. I smile and laugh very easily and with a fullness of heart when there is reason to. I very easily experience great joy and gratitude and happiness when there is reason to feel those. The way my life has been for too long — except for those very special, radiant times when I was happy again — is not at all who I am.

Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 5 — October 1923

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From an ad for a Decca portable gramophone.

NOVEMBER 19th 2018 — A report from one of the London gramophone societies discusses Italian composer Pietro Mascagni’s 1890 opera CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA (“RUSTIC CHIVALRY“). The writer comments:

“[…] probably the most original point is the INTERMEZZO — which even the errand boys know — played while the curtain remains up and the stage is empty. It is a refreshing lull between the various passionate episodes of the drama.”

This INTERMEZZO is one of those pieces I listen to every available recording of mentioned in the pages of THE GRAMOPHONE. I believe I first heard it in two episodes of NORTHERN EXPOSURE: 3.23 “Cicely” (1992) and 5.22 “GRAND PRIX” (1994).

In the former, it accompanies a beautiful dance by town co-founder Cicely, and in the latter it plays as Ed Chigliak physically fights “the demon of external validation”. But no recording available is mentioned in this report, so no playlist item of this for now.

An article about a visit to a record-pressing factory of His Master’s Voice (HMV) mentions in passing a musician who was to die at the age of 35 later this decade (the 1920s) after a short illness:

“We saw the whole process of record-making. We heard an orchestra, with Max Darewski at the piano, in the recording room, and heard the piece instantly returned from the wax.”

I also mentioned him in the previous entry in this series in connection with a ragtime piece of his.

Also interesting to note the word “robots” already being used in this 1923 article (“automatic machines which worked like Robots at the making of screws, etc.”), considering that this word was coined only three years earlier, in 1920.

The review pages quote Debussy’s delightful comment on Grieg (many of Grieg’s pieces are among my favorites):

“Grieg is like a pink bon-bon stuffed with snow.”

I’m not sure whether Debussy meant this as a slight or not, really, but to me it’s quite charming and creates a vivid sensory impression. Also, like most northern kids, I’ve eaten snow more than once in my life — just for the taste or because thirsty when playing outside as a kid.

This issue was short of any references to recordings that hold special appeal for me. But rather than skip the Spotify playlist for this entry altogether, these would be my choices from an unexciting selection this time:

  • Two takes of the same Chopin piece by pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch: IMPROMPTU NO. 2 IN F SHARP MAJOR, Op. 36 No. 2. The difference in tempi makes one of the takes ten seconds shorter than the other.
  • Tenor Roland Hayes singing the American spiritual “SIT DOWN”.

Spotify playlist for this entry, “Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 5 — October 1923”:

This issue is available as part of the magazine’s digital archive, which every subscriber (a month or a year, digital or print+digital) gets access to.

Earlier entries in this series:

Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 4 — September 1923

Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 3 — August 1923

Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 2 — June 1923

Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 1 — April 1923