I have been writing stories all my life, but when I was around twenty, I slowly started taking my own writing seriously. 2008, ten years ago, I was twenty-two and had a first draft ready of my first novel. A few years later I had several book projects going. So far, so good. I was a budding writer with my fingers on the keys. A lovely image, frozen in time. Like a mammoth in a block of ice.
Just after that picture was taken, I started on what would turn out to be a decade of illness. Of burn-out and fibromyalgia, of depression and panic attacks, of so many diagnoses that I have lost count. Which meant that my writing projects also got frozen, locked in the middle of the creative process for ten years.
Fast-forward to 2018, today. I am thirty-two. Now I put my fingers on the keys again, everything has changed and nothing has changed. I open my writing projects, I thaw my creative ideas one by one and review them carefully, with awe. For ten years, every thought of my own writing has given me anxiety, I have been totally blocked in self-defense. Now, I have punched that damn decade in the face, and my ideas are beckoning me, calling for me, they want to be let loose again. And I read them, and I see that they want what is best for me, that I want what is best for myself in my desire to write. So I continue.
That is when it hits me: I am ten years older, but my characters have not aged. Now, I have never felt bad about aging. On the contrary, I have always wanted to be older — hurry up! And I enjoy getting older, enjoy gathering more experiences. But thawing my characters from the mammoth ice is waking something inside me. I am faced with characters that I have had clearly fixed in my head, but that I now see in a different light because I have changed.
Chet, the main character of my first novel, is a fifty-four-year old writer from Chicago. He travels to Sweden to attend his mother’s funeral. When Chet first popped up in my head, the year was 2006. I had just turned twenty-one, and fifty-four felt fitting. Not ancient, but still pretty old. He was more than double my age with a comfortable margin, thirty-three years older. Now he is only twenty-one years older than me. And regardless of if that novel ever gets published, he will always be there in my head. A worn-out, American man, wandering desolately on the streets of Stockholm and in the snowy north of Sweden, struggling to understand his own history. He will always be fifty-four, even if I live to be a hundred.
It feels even more intrusive with the novel I am working on today. The main character, The Wannabe Hollywood Mom, is a forty-two-year old single mother — now having a mid-life crisis in a Stockholm suburb. When she first made an entrance in 2009, I was twenty-four and living in my first proper apartment. She was not really twice my age, but it felt like it. Her life was light-years from my own. Now, when I pick up the writing almost ten years later, her life is still far from my own in many ways. But in some ways, it has crept closer. In ten years we will be the same age! And when I have reached Chet’s age, The Wannabe Hollywood Mom will still be sitting in her shabby apartment with her mid-life crisis, longing for the glamour.
These two people who live in my head, who are so close to me, despite — or maybe because of — the fact that they only exist in my mind. At their inceptions, both could well have been my parents. In ten or twenty years I can share their life crises. In another thirty or forty years, we have gone full circle and I am the parent, age-wise as well as idea-wise.
I resume my acquaintance with my characters, and I feel a new kind of sympathy for them, whom I have always liked but often laughed at. I feel closer to them, the twenty-something’s immortality has been replaced by the thirty-something’s humbler awareness. And I am not just seeing Chet and The Wannabe Hollywood Mom in my texts, I am confronted by another Laidi. A Laidi who was in the middle of the chaos, who struggled on forward in between the breakdowns. Who had not yet started on the psychiatric medication and therapy that now makes me feel better than I ever have in my life, mentally and physically. In short: I am confronted by my own emotional baggage.
Suddenly, I get a new perspective on my own life and aging, thanks to the characters I have made up myself. I am no longer in the chaos I was in when Chet and The Wannabe Hollywood Mom came into existence, I can let that baggage go and still keep them. I can keep the positive and let the rest go. And even if I wish that I could have been without this decade, or could have done things differently, I had to go through it to become who I am today. The body needs time and nursing to heal, regardless if the injury is physical or mental. Now, I am finally capable of putting my fingers on the keys again, to continue where I was interrupted.
And just like my characters give me a new perspective on my own life, I get a new perspective on the stories I write because of the decade-long pause. If I had finished my novels before the break, it would not have been so tangible. But now, I resume the work in the middle of the process, I go back into the text where I dropped it and make changes, additions and subtractions. I pick up the pieces and see that the pieces have changed. I am ten years older, I am a completely different person now compared to then. And the stories I now resume writing will be different because of that. Probably better, too. My characters are the same, but I treat them differently now compared to then. With both more care and compassion. And with another ten years of life experience. Which will reshape the life experiences of my characters, even though they will not age.
Then I picture my characters in published books, which is what I am working towards. When I am dead, Chet and The Wannabe Hollywood Mom and all my other characters will still be there on the bookshelf, be there in the same time and the same age. It makes me feel dizzy. My grandchildren will be able to take down a book from the shelf and think of grandma. I picture a grandchild, maybe ten years old, flicking through the book about Chet, thinking that he is really old, but that it is not so strange since grandma is (or was) really old. The way kids think, an older person has always been old. And a character in a book has always been as old as they were when you read the book.
Take it one step further, what if I am lucky enough to have my books being read a hundred years from now? With readers marveling or laughing over the descriptions of the early twenty-first century. Just like we read books from the beginning of the twentieth century, and reflect over all that is strange, and how far we have come since then. Nothing will be left of me except words on paper; the world I live in will have transformed into another world. I am faced by my own death, that I will end up as compost like everyone else. I am not immortal, after all.
While Chet and The Wannabe Hollywood Mom will continue to live their eternal fifty-four-year old and forty-two-year old lives between the pages. And I gladly give them their eternal existence, and I am grateful that I do not have to share it. I am going to continue to enjoy my aging, with my characters as fixed reference points through my progressing life. They help me keep my course and my perspective. May we live long and prosper.