A World Tour of Books: Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse (Germany)

Where do I even start? This novel often made me uncomfortable when I was reading. But in a good way, one that feels like you probably need it.

One of 1946 Nobelprize-winner Hermann Hesse’s most popular books, it tells the story of a middle-aged man by the name of Harry Haller. Harry is a deeply divided man. A part of him is very petit bourgeois while another, the one he has named the Steppenwolf (German for wolf of the steppes), pulls him in the direction of his most animalistic desires.

Harry is largely blind to his own personality. That is until he comes across a mysterious booklet with the title Treatise on the Steppenwolf. In it is the key to his own self but it is only the beginning to his journey of personal discovery. Through encounters with strange characters such as the androgynous Hermine and Pablo the saxophonist and through an invitation to a Magic Theatre, he will delve deep into who he is and could become.

Steppenwolf is a highly symbolic novel and one has to think hard to try and figure out its true meaning. Hesse himself wrote that this was his most misunderstood work and people’s interpretations of it vary wildly.

Personally, I believe its main themes are the struggle between chaos and order present inside every individual and the importance of being authentic. Could be I’m one of those who Hesse said misinterpret the message of Steppenwolf so don’t take my word for it.

The best way to make up your own conclusion about this classic of German literature is of course to read it yourself. Whether you’ll hate or love it, this story will make you think and ask yourself some important questions about your own nature.



Dysphoria-triggered Depersonalization and how I deal with it

For as long as I can remember I’ve suffered from disturbing episodes of feeling like I’m not real. Everything around me stays the same but I go into a state of being disconnected from it all, like it’s just a movie I’m watching on TV. Usually when this happens you can’t see it on me because I go on as usual but I’ve had episodes when the depersonalization  becomes so intense that I’m incapable of doing anything but stare in front of me.

How long the depersonalization lasts varies. It can be minutes, hours or even days. It can be triggered by things like fatigue or stress but one of the biggest causes of it for me is being misgendered.

A lot of people won’t get this. Some would say I’m being an overly dramatic “triggered SJW” so just let me explain: when you are trans, you spend all your life pre-coming out as someone you are not. You get up every day and act along in what feels like a play, a farce where you never feel you are allowed to just exist and be yourself. And when you don’t get to ever be yourself, sometimes it can trigger a feeling of not being real. That’s the depersonalization.
Every time someone calls me she, or a girl or my very feminine birth name, it’s like they say: “You don’t exist”. If that happens enough times in a day, I can start to dissociate. Especially if I’m already dealing with stress or anxiety.

For the longest time, I didn’t even know what depersonalization was. It was one of those aha-moments when I finally learned about it. I read up on what to do when it happens and on grounding, a technique to connect yourself back to reality.

There are many different variations of grounding and it’s good to try different ones to figure out which ones work for you. Here’s how I personally go about it.

First, I do some mental grounding. It ask myself questions, sometimes out loud if I’m alone, to focus my attention back on reality. I start with “Where am I?” and “What am I doing?” Then I might ask some additional questions like “What year/month/day is it?”, “What’s my name?” or “How’s the weather today?” I take a moment to answer them to myself and it often is enough to help me snap back to the moment.

If it doesn’t, I do some sensory grounding. It can involved doing a motion, like wiggling my fingers, and focusing on that for a while. Or it can be eating something and focusing my attention on the taste and texture. I’ve found it’s best if the sensory stimulation is something pleasant, as unpleasant sensations can increase anxiety and make the dissociation worse.

If the depersonalization is so intense that no grounding works, I remind myself not to panic and that it will pass eventually. As scary as it can be, depersonalization is temporary. Sometimes you just have to ride it out before you get better.

Lastly, I’d recommend seeing a mental health professional if you can. I’m not one myself so don’t take anything I write as gospel. An expert can help you much better and follow you through your progress.


A World Tour of Books: My Michael by Amos Oz (Israel)

The first time I read one of Amos Oz’s books was as a teenager. His How to Cure A Fanatic was in the curriculum of the religion course we were taking at school. I have a vague memory of what it said but I remember that I profoundly disliked it.

After being raised in a fundamentalist Christian cult, I had a very black-and-white view of the world and was not ready to accept the message of the book. Much time has passed since then and I’m thinking I need to read it again, now that I have such a different perspective on things.

But being curious about one of his most famous books, My Michael, I wanted to read it first.

The first thing you need to know about this book is that it won’t be your cup of tea if you like stories where stuff happens. My Michael is about the relationship between Hanna and Michael, who meet during the 1950s when they both study at the same university. They get married and have a child together.

Everyone expects Hanna to feel fulfilled but she can not. Probably because her husband and the life they share is so goddamn boring.

One would assume that the character whose name is in the title of the book would also be the most interesting. But Michael Gonen has to be one of the most painfully banal characters I’ve come across in literature. I find it no surprise that the mentally unstable Hanna seeks refuge in a fantasy world. The scenes where she does so are by far the best part of this novel.

I find I have mixed feelings about Hanna, from whose perspective the story is told. I find her childish and often annoying but at the same time I understand her frustration and her longing to really live, not just pass through a dull existence.

To conclude, I would say My Michael is a beautifully written, intimate portrait of a young woman falling deeper and deeper out of touch with reality. A great story, albeit a bit slow-paced.

Great News!

As I’ve written in previous posts, Sweden has a pretty serious housing crisis. Getting your own apartment can take years, up to 20 in certain cities.

So, I’ve been waiting a long time for my own place. Which makes it hard to live my life as I see fit, especially since I have to live with my very religious parents. Bringing home a guy is absolutely out of the question. Even something like listening to the “sinful” music I like has been something I haven’t been able to do, at least not without secrecy and earbuds on.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents. It’s just that I’m a grown man and I want to live my own life.

And today I finally signed the contract to my very own apartment!

I’m very excited by this new development in my life and the opportunities that will come with it. What a great start to 2018!

A World Tour of Books: Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane (South Africa)

Johannes Mark Mathabane was not dealt the best of cards in the beginning of life. Born to illiterate parents in a ghetto of Apartheid South Africa, he was during his childhood surrounded by crime and poverty.

His homelife was turbulent and his often violent father, like many other men in the ghetto, took to alcohol and gambling to attempt and escape the oppression poured on him daily. There was also the many surprise raids carried out by the authorities and where black South Africans could be arrested for such “crimes” as being unemployed or not having their passports in order.

But in the midst of all misery, Johannes’ mother saw one hope: education. If he learned how to read and write, she believed her son could one day have a shot at a better life.
The boy was opposed to it at first but did go through school, which his mother struggled hard to be able to afford. Having learned to read, he developed a passion for books and in them found hope and inspiration.
He learned to play tennis and realised he was a gifted player. It was through his involvement in this sport that he eventually got his ticket out of poverty, through a sport scholarship at an American college.

What shocked me the most reading Mathabane’s autobiography Kaffir Boy was how awful the quality of life was for blacks during Apartheid. Of course, I knew it wasn’t good. But I was surprised by the depth of the oppression and the abject poverty most of them had to suffer through. There was also the bureaucratic hurdles put in their way to make sure even something like getting a permit to seek a job was as long and humiliating a process as possible. The whole system was designed to put black people down and have them stay there.

Kaffir Boy is one man’s story of growing up under an oppressive regime which despised him simply because of the colour of his skin. But it’s also about the resilience of the human spirit and about finding hope in the midst of despair. It’s one of the most moving books I’ve read and one I highly recommend.

Son of Sisyphus (a poem)

A janitor’s cart
My boulder up a hill
Between bland meals
And weary dreams
I push my boulder up a hill
Like my father before me

And all around I see
All these people as tired of life as me
Putting their hopes in
The legs of a horse
The right numbers
A golden ticket in a box of chocolates

If hope had wings
We’d fly like birds
But hope is a whip
A stinging weapon which urges us on
To faster roll
Our boulders up the hills

Oh, how I’ve tried to write myself wings
To craft them out of paper and ink
Like a proud Daedalus

But will I crash and burn
For being too in love
With the Sun?

A World Tour of Books: Gut Symmetries by Jeanette Winterson (United Kingdom)

Years ago, I was watching one of my favourite tv-programs, the Swedish literary show Babel, and it featured someone I immediately found fascinating: Jeanette Winterson.

I can’t recall what book(s) the inteview was about but I’ll never forget the impression she made on me. She had this wild, untamed hair, cheeky eyes and smile, spoke with passion about literature and she rode around on a motor cycle. In other words, she was a cool writer and I found myself yearning to be like her one day. I made a mental note to read a book of hers but then “something by Jeanette Winterson” got lost in my always expanding to-read list and I never got around to it. 

That is until I found a used copy of Gut Symmetries in a second-hand shop. I bought the book without even checking what it was about because I was so eager to read one of Winterson’s works. 

What it is mostly about, it turns out, is this most banal of things called a love story. But that’s about the only thing banal about this particular one and not just because of the bisexual twist. Quantum physics and Jewish mysticism play a large roll in this poetic book which looks at love in a greater, cosmic context.

 (GUT: Grand Unified Theory: the “theory of everything” physicists are looking for that will explain the entire universe.) 

I’m not much for mysticism myself. Love is in my eyes nothing but a sensation caused by chemicals in the brain to spur us to continue the species. But pretending is fun and I enjoyed reading this beautifully written book. The prose is amazing and the story moving. One of the most original love stories I’ve read so far.

2017 recap and plans for 2018

At the beginning of 2017, I was feeling a mixture of sadness and optimism. I was, like most sane people, quite depressed about Trump winning. But I had also more positive feelings about my personal life. I was finally on T, soon to have top surgery and I was thinking that this would be the year I would be able to start living as myself.

My body had other plans, it seems. As the endocrinologist noticed, my body doesn’t seem to be taking up the testosterone as it should. Result: after top surgery and over a year on T, I still don’t pass most of the time. I definitely don’t pass enough to date as a guy, take my shirt off in public (hence why I’ve abandoned my plans to swim shirtless on my upcoming sunny vacation) or even use the men’s room without getting strange looks.

Hopefully, things will get better in 2018 but I’m not optimistic enough to make a long list of plans like I did last year.

All I can say is that I’ll work on finishing my fantasy trilogy, continue writing on my new novel project and start looking for a publisher. I self-published my fantasy series because at the time I started writing it, it was supposed to be a side project while I focused on my university studies. But since I’ve since had to drop out for health reasons, I’m going all in on the writing thing.


Anyway, here’s what happened with my plans for 2017:

Have top surgery. Check! One of the good things that happened this year.

After healing from top surgery, get back to the gym and make some GAINS! Nope. When I made this list I did was I always fucking do whenever I have even the slightest spike in energy: Make up plans I’ll never be able to actually go through with. At least this year I found out the reason I’ve struggled with fatigue for so many years (see previous post).

Get a haircut at a real barber shop. Nope. On count of not being able to pass yet.

Go to the beach and swim with my shirt off. Nope.

Walk in the 2017 Pride parade with my shirt off. Nope. And I’m probably not going to a Pride again any time soon. There’s always some weirdos dressed up like BDSM-horses (don’t ask) or whatever and making us all look like a bunch of exhibitionist perverts. Kinda sick of it.

Run in the summer rain with my shirt off. Nope.

Get my own apartment. Nope. The housing crisis in this country is insane. I must have applied to several hundreds apartments and got invited to see one, which I didn’t get.

(If I get my own apartment) Adopt an animal from a shelter. Nope.

Find a boyfriend. Nope. Just going to go ahead and stop putting that on my to-do lists ‘cause it’s just depressing when I can’t check it off every year.

Apply to school program to become a web developer and, if I get in, start my education + Learn as much HTML and other programming languages before starting school. Nope. I was going to apply to the program when I realised I was missing a credential, a course I haven’t taken. So I decided, fuck it. I’ve also found another program which suits me better and which I might apply to the coming year.

Reach 1000 followers on Twitter. Nope.

If I reach 1000 followers on Twitter, start an author Facebook page. Nope. I didn’t even go up to 500 but I’m still planning to make a Facebook page, for publicity and bookselling numbers’ sake.

Finish writing part 2 of The Sorcerer’s Sword and publish it. Check!

Get a traditional shaving kit that is also vegan. I really tried to get into traditional wet shaving but those razors don’t work for me at all. I’ll probably just buy an electric shaver once I’ve used up all those disposable razors I have at home.

I did find two products I really like. The first is this synthetic shaving brush and the other is this super smooth shaving cream. So there are definitely some great vegan shaving options out there.

I also learned how to make my own aftershave with 50% water and 50% apple cider vinegar. Before I started using this mixture, I would break out like crazy whenever I shaved. I tried different brands of aftershave but nothing helped. Now I hardly ever get any blemishes.

Start my secret blogging project 😉 Check! My project to read a book from every country and blog about it has to be one of the most interesting things I’ve done and I’m really enjoying it.

Visit the US for the first time. Nope. Those plans got cancelled, unfortunately.

Get my DNA tested for ancestry and genetic information such as predisposition for certain illnesses. Check! My post about my experience with 23&Me.

Continue to support the resistance movement against the fascist orange Cheeto. Check. Luckily, Trump hasn’t (yet) been able to change things enough to become the Putin style dictator he dreams of being but he still has fucked up a lot of things and then there’s at least three more years of this fucking nonsense to go…
Not much I can do about it but I’ll continue helping out the American resistance however I can.

See Star Wars episode 8 in December! Check! It wasn’t everything I dreamed of but overall I liked it.


A World Tour of Books: Summer Light and Then Comes the Night by Jón Kalman Stefánsson (Iceland)

Scandinavian melancholy is a well-known phenomenon. It’s a reoccurring theme in our literature and cinema (ever seen an Ingmar Bergman movie?). And can you blame us? We’re freezing up here and the days are dark almost six months a year. No wonder we get a bit moody sometimes.

Melancholy is interestingly the main emotion I felt when reading Summer Light and Then Comes the Night by the Icelandic author Jón Kalman Stefánsson. Set on the west coast of the island nation, in a small village of about 400 inhabitants, this novel has no main protagonist but tells stories from the lives of many different people. It reads more like a collection of short stories than a novel and the themes vary from the mundane to the strange and the tragic. Both the small and big questions of human existence have a place in this charming book where the lives of ordinary people are told against the harsh nature of countryside Iceland.

Swedish translation of the novel

What I liked the most was the stream-of-consciousness mode of narrative. I’ve read books in this style in the past, but most were hard to comprehend or just plain bad. Stefánsson’s words, on the other hand, run across the pages like water. They transport you through the stories seemingly without effort and it often feels like listening to a friend retell an account of events rather than reading a novel.

Overall, I really liked this book. I would even say this was one of the most pleasant reading experiences I’ve had in a while. Unfortunately, Summer Light and Then Comes the Night has not been translated to English yet. But several of Jón Kalman Stefánsson’s books, Fish Have No Feet and the Heaven and Hell trilogy, have been and published through MacLehose Press. 

I haven’t read them but if they are even half as good as Summer Light and Then Comes the Night, you will likely not be disappointed.