My name is Catharina Kangas. I write short stories, fairy tales and poems in Swedish. A few years ago I was encouraged by a friend to try to write something in English too. I accepted the challenge, and went to work. When I started I had this dream: that someone would eventually write music to my texts. I wrote the first poems with this thought in mind. They turned out like simple lyrics with refrains. Later I've started to write a little differently.
I was born in 1948 in Helsinki in post-war Finland. An awful lot of years have passed since those days when life seemed so infinitely much simpler and people more helpful and kinder than now - or maybe it’s just my memory playing tricks on me.
Anyway, there was a shortage of everything and I was never being clothed like a little princess or given expensive toys. Still I had so much fun! I can honestly say that my childhood was rich in love, affection, friendships and experiences of all kinds.
During the winters my parents took me to the movies and to the theatre. I also read practically all children's books that could be found in the library.
The summers seemed to be long and sunny and full of activities. If there was a rainy day I would draw pictures. They never won prizes in any contests, even if they were very sweet. Too many people in couples or too many mushrooms in pairs in one picture, was the verdict. A psychologist said children who don’t have brothers and sisters do that sort of thing.
My summers were not lonely, though. I had lots of friends at our summer house. The children from the village gathered at our place to play games and sports. We climbed every tree and scratched our knees. We ran in the nearby woods and looked at birds and flowers. Life was an adventure and the world an enormous universe full of possibilities. My short stories in Swedish were inspired by these happy times.
Then came those years, my “anni horribili”. I was 20 years old when I came down with a viral infection which led to dystonia. After a year of studies at the university and another of business school my studies were interrupted. The doctors gave me medication that made me depressed and groggy. After a couple of years I had surgery for the first time. And I thought: This is a changing day in my life! But that was not meant to last.
Ten years passed, full of new endeavours and relapses into dystonia, work and unemployment, studies begun eagerly, but never completed. A roller-coaster of new paths to tread and the agony of broken dreams, days of heaven on earth, and months in the depths of despair.
At one point I found a job where I could feel comfortable, first as a secretary-clerk, then as an assistant translator – but not until many years had passed. Both positions entailed the same kind of work: team work translating documents for the City Council of Helsinki from Finnish to Swedish. This was the place where I was going to work for about 15 years, The City Office.
I passed the exam for authorized translators, and was hoping to get ahead in my career as the years went by and I had more experience and work skills. I also went through surgery for a second time. The day I left that hospital ward I felt on top of the whole world! This operation helped me a great deal, so I could live a rather normal life. I started all kinds of physical activities, which I had loved so much all my life.
I also resumed my studies at the university and was doing very well, even if I had my full-time job. But my plans for advancement at work all came to nothing. It didn’t matter much that I was an authorized translator with much experience and a good and enthusiastic employee. I could not complete my university degree, and that paper meant everything at The City Office.
I would have been compelled to leave my job for a year and study full-time. And I knew I would never get back my old position, let alone a new and better one, once I'd gotten that degree, since then others would have taken my place. A totally new position at a private company was out of the question - I would be too old for them and I had a history of illness. No one employs sick people, if they know what's good for them.
My dystonia grew worse, much because of the constant frustrating experiences, but also from sitting down too many hours a day. So I finally decided to quit my job and move on to freelancing. That enabled me to organize my working hours.
After a few years I got interested in genealogy and knew then that I wanted to write something about my family. So I wrote the story of my grandfather’s life in my mother tongue Swedish. My grandfather had always been an inspiration in my life, and I still love him dearly many decades after he passed away. This story was published in a magazine, and I was amazed at my good luck. I was hooked on writing and I still am...
My short stories all resemble fairy tales in that they have happy endings, but my poems are mostly sombre and dark. The experiences with an illness that never leaves you in peace and all its practical consequences throughout a whole lifetime have taken their toll. However, I do realize that there are many out there who are worse off than I.
In many ways I have been fortunate, some would say I have been blessed. I never give up trying, I always get up again on my feet, whenever I fall down. I have inherited some of my grandfather's perseverance or like we Finns say "sisu". And that is a blessing indeed.
Photo: Kari Kangas