Tuesday, 24 September 2013


Sometimes I wear things that are ordinary--such as this flowered shirt and leggings. And sometimes, like today, I wore tattoo sleeves and pirate pants and a headscarf, and I was anything but. My students were at once baffled and delighted by my tattoos and one strange woman in Starbucks took such a liking to them she asked me where I had bought them. Success.

Saturday, 21 September 2013


I was recently reading through a review of Singin' in the Rain and how the film was known for the sacrifice it demanded of its actors. Donald O'Connor had to be hospitalized after his "Make 'Em Laugh" number, Debbie Reynold's endured both harsh criticism and bleeding feet in the "Good Morning" song, and Gene Kelly, during his iconic dance number in the rain, was suffering from a high fever. Yet the audience is never allowed to see this. They see only the finished product, sleek and ready, without being privy to the weeks spent in rehearsal, the years of preparation and perfecting the art, the literal blood and sweat and tears that go into it.

As the boys from Film School Rejects so aptly put it.

"It's the MO of good Entertainment to hide the labor that goes into making good entertainment. It might seem fun and even, at times, effortless to us, but that's because we buy into the light tone that takes so much effort and work to pull off."

That is art, and it is the way I feel about writing. The Rebel Shang has been kind enough to read through many, many bits, pieces, and drafts of my current story, following its incremental progrress over a year, and I know that when she reads the completed book it will seem to her very short. I try to write every day, but even this is sometimes excruciatingly slow. I can only hope that my time and efforts result in something well worth the reading.

Friday, 20 September 2013


      Today in the seventh grade we read an excerpt from Gary Paulsen's work How Angel Peterson Got His Name, a non-fiction book of his memoirs. You may know Gary Paulsen from his Newbery Medal winning book Hatchet, which Mrs. Shirley Baldwin read to me and my class in the second grade. We read the bit entitled "Girls" which details thirteen-year-old Paulsen's first awkward encounters with girls and his nerve-wracking first date. Obviously it is one of the best pieces we read all year, mostly because I make the boys read it and it is just so much fun to watch them squirm and protest the subject matter. "Ms. Gabriel, you can't make us read this!"

Oh, yes, I can.

Paulsen describes the painful experience--his ridiculous get-up, the waxed hair, his sweaty shoes and clammy palms, his dead buffalo impersonation, how he keeps offering his poor date movie theatre sweets. At this point in the story, I make a joke. "Yeah, he probably said, 'Would you like an M&M? Melts in your mouth, not in your...nevermind."
A silence falls across the room. Glassy stares.
Then, a light.
Abel straightens in his seat. "Ooooooooh," he says, "I get it. That's funny."
The penny drops for a few more of them. They laugh sheepishly. A few clap, nodding in a sort of pleased defeat. Well played, Ms. Gabriel. Well played.
"Thank you. You're a great audience. I'll be here 'til Friday."  

Wednesday, 18 September 2013


Today my eighth graders had to master the rule of y to i, such as in satisfy to satisfied, merry to merriment, friendly to friendliness. "Glorious," I read aloud. "Loki came to earth, burdened with glorious purpose." The Avengers, as you know, can apparently be applied to anything: an exploration of internal/external conflict, plot diagrams, motive, the problem of evil. When I collect the spelling tests, I find this. Derrian has drawn me a picture.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Living Space

This is my living room. Over the years I had often dreamed of having my own place and decorating it according to my will, and now that I do, I realize it looks nothing like I imagined. But that's not a bad thing. It's just a different thing, maybe even a better thing. The final result will rarely look like the picture in my head, and I cannot let that disappoint or distract me. The creative process is organic--disciplined, mind you, but still organic--and alive to the moment, and I have to teach myself to follow where it leads and modify my expectations accordingly.


My father comes tomorrow! He is going to sleep on my couch, and we will both be working but we'll always have the evenings. My sister and brother and mother are currently all together in Uppsala, so it only seems fair that I be allowed to monopolize Pappa's time.

Joel, Sofia, and Sofia

Sunday, 15 September 2013


Farfar, my father's father, is old but quite content with life, I think.


Later, Mamma, Pappa, and I took the ferry out to Åland to meet up with my brother, his wife Sofia and her parents, to see my sister Sofia in action at her new job. It was a short trip, but a good one, and we still managed to get quite a few things done.

On the ferry itself. I didn't want the red to bleed out of my hair because of the briny winds. It was a cold trip.

Sofia perusing the wares of a secondhand store

The men deep in discussion.

We stopped at Pub Niska, an open air restaurant by the harbour, and ordered thin-crust pizzas.

Hans and Lotta, my brother's parents-in-law, have taken control of their vessel. Piracy, it seems, is the family business. 

Half-grown cygnets paddling about in the harbour, next to their watchful parents.

Sister Sofia keeping watch at the castle

My sister works very long hours, but she was able to take some time off to come with us to the nearby castle. We climbed up narrow staircases to the top of the wall and shivered along its length as we took in the view and pretended to fire arrows out of the arrowslits. We also tried on medieval hats and took silly pictures, and for a moment it was like we were all together as a family again and not split apart by work and geographic location. I miss my sister.   

With My Brother, in Uppsala

Our journey in Sweden also took us south to warmer climes, and we spent several blissfully hot days at a church camp and then in Uppsala, wandering about the streets and stopping for fika at various tea and coffee houses.

Four fifths of my family assembled at breakfast, my parents at the table, my brother buttering a sandwich

Joel's got style, even next to the duck pond in Uppsala

A chocolate ball

Chilling, relaxin', maxin' all cool

Family, Extended or Otherwise

My family is not very big. My mother has one brother and my father has one brother, which means I have two uncles, each with one wife and three kids, which equals six cousins in total. My grandparents each have large families, but with all the traveling I do I have never met most of them and see them once every few years at some family reunion. My mother's mother, my mormor, is closest to her sister Marine, who has a husband and two children (my mother's cousins), who are actually closer in age to me than to my mother.

One of the things I admire most about my mamma is her gift for hospitality--she knows full well how hard it is to keep up family relations from afar, and she is one of the few to take the time to arrange events and send out invitations and gather uncles and aunts and nieces and nephews and cousins and grandparents from all corners of Norrland. This summer a smaller portion of us gathered for a family hiking trip to an observation tower.

My pappa and Aunt Helle leading the way, followed closely by my dear cousin

Cousin Amelia photobombing

We spot sweet, cold blueberries on the way up. Autumn is coming.

This little trip means a lot to Mormor. From the top of the observation tower, I looked out and saw her childhood home, a little yellow house by the river.

And when I looked down I saw sisterly love. 

There Is More

There is a Great Divide in my soul; I bridge two worlds, one here, close and hot, with work and students and public transportation and hours of solitary writing, and the other, a quiet, always beautiful but nearly forgotten place high atop the globe. Even now I cannot explain how they live together in my mind.

My friend Ida dips her feet in the tea-brown waters

Evening clouds along the lake 

A fledgling waits for its mother

The quiet road ahead

An Extemporaneous Meal

Ida and I cooked a fish casserole over the summer. We invented our recipe, and it was delicious.

1 packet of frozen cod
1 packet creme fraiche (a bit like sour cream)
Basil leaves (as much as you desire)
Red onion
Lemon pepper

We dusted the cod pieces with lemon pepper and put them in the glass casserole dish. We then took a red onion and plucked a few handful of basil leaves from our basil bush and chopped them up and then mixed the blessed lot together with the creme fraiche. We smoothed this over the cod and cooked it in the oven for twenty minutes or so, and then called the whole family to come eat it with boiled taters and butter and and green peace peas.

A Shirley Temple with a strawberry

The North

There are certain things about Sweden that I remember long past the others; the beauty of the north leaves an ache inside me that cannot be cured. If you have not seen the still waters and the midnight sun and the grasses that burn with its rays behind it, then you would not understand.

Ida greets me at the door

and shows me around.

Then I hug sheep.

and look out over dusky evening fields.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013


I have one particular student who loves to write. Her name is Debbie, and she is funny and bright and possesses a sort of effortless charm. Anyone is the better for knowing her. She sent me a story to use in the Blue & Gold Gazette for the Writer's Outlet section, which is primarily devoted to stories and poems and other creative projects. 

The Princess

     Once upon a time there was a princess. Her name was Elaine. She was most beautiful and the fairest in the land. Any young man would be insane not to yearn for her. She had everything she ever needed except for a prince. So Elaine shut herself in a tower and waited for her prince to come. All the single princes rushed to her tower in hopes of having her hand in marriage.
     “When will my prince come?” Elaine wondered. She didn’t want to spend too much time in the dismal, damp, and dark tower. 
     One day passed and another.
     On the third day Elaine could feel that her prince would definitely come. As if by magic on the sixth hour of the day, she heard a knock at the door. The pretty princess flew to the door, all excited. She had known that this was the day.  She pushed the door opened. Instead of a handsome prince stood a young girl servant.
     “The king would like to ask his princess if she needed anything, m’ lady.”
     The princess sighed in disappointment. “I am waiting for my prince. Please do not disturb me.” Elaine shut the door and once again waited.
An hour passed by and then another. Then the princess heard another knock at the door. She jumped in delight; she was sure that this was the prince. She ran to the door and pushed it open. In place of a gorgeous prince was an old servant.
     “M’ lady, the king asked to deliver this to you.” The old hag held out a basket of fresh red apples. 
     Elaine slammed the door in the servant’s face, annoyed that her prince had not arrived yet.
     Two hours passed. And the young lady waited and waited. Another hour passed by and finally there was a knock at the door.
     She shot to the door. It had to be her prince this time.  She opened the door. She frowned. Instead of a prince it was her father, the king.
     “Elai—” But before the king could say anything, she shut the door.
     People are so annoying, she thought. Ten minutes later she heard a knock at the door. By this time she was still annoyed and angry. She stomped up to the door and threw the door open.
     “Get out! I am waiting for my prince! Now leave me alone!”  She slammed the door without seeing who it was that wanted to see her. She waited and waited the rest of the day for her prince to come, but he never arrived. She did not know the person that she had sent away was in fact the prince himself. So she waited and she waited, and he never came. And for all we know, the fair and beautiful Elaine is still waiting for her prince to come.

Moral of the story: Do not lock yourself in a tower for a man.

Alternative moral: Be patient even when you are frustrated with life.

Debbie restlessly hovered around my desk, waiting for my approval, while I read through her story. "Ms. Gabriel," she said, "why is it always that the girl locks herself in a tower for a man?" 
"Well," I said thoughtfully, "she is obviously desperate."
"I guess."
I gave her a wicked grin. "Why else do you think I'm up here on the fourth floor?"

Sunday, 1 September 2013

More Stripes

 Many years ago my friend Tim Chow gently pointed out that I must really like stripes. "Really?" I said and looked over my wardrobe only to discover that he was right. I had many striped shirts in my possession, and I continue to like stripes in much the same way my grandmother keeps to her leopard print. There is something crisp and adventurous about them.

It isn't the easiest thing to dress up here. People already tend to stare because I am fair, different from the local population, and then there is my red hair, my height, my unusual  clothes; and sometimes I feel their glances keenly and I wonder if I should just give up altogether, slip back into the crowd, avoid being noticed. But something in me refuses to bow to conformity.

Mamma doesn't like it when I put my hair up. She says it makes me look too old-fashioned, but I always tell her that's the point. I've always wanted to be a character in one of my stories, and that will never happen unless I, in the words of Jean Luc Picard, "make it so."