Maija Baijukya (they/she) is a self-taught critical theorist and artist based in Helsinki. An urban animist, their process is intuitive, working with various mediums, paint, poetry and textiles as well as recycled materials.
There’s a particular melancholy to the Nordic spring. The sun is back, but not quite warm yet. Snow melts only to reveal last year’s dead leaves. Anticipating rising temperatures, we discard our winter coats only to find the spring breezes have a wintery embrace, freezing puddles at night and chilling our cheeks with sharp gusts. Here in Helsinki, the sea continuously sends cold winds to remind us that summer is still far off.
It was this early spring weather that inspired this playlist. The hints of green mixed with the greyness of it all fill me with an awkward combination of feeling sadness, softness and joy. My mind goes back to memories of new love, of that early phase where I’m hesitant to accept the state of infatuation I’m in despite being entirely mesmerised by someone. Like Finns with the changing seasons, I spend the beginning of love questioning whether that’s even what it is. “Is it really spring now, or is it just a warm moment in winter?” is not that different from “do I actually like this person, or am I just lonely?”
Mercifully, I’m not alone in this. Many a songwriter, poet and painter have seen the connection between springtime and new love. Flower petals, bright green shoots and soft breezes make for a romantic backdrop for a number of romantic scenes. After months spent huddled in our winter dens, we emerge weary and fragile; some startled by the brightness, others eager to soak in the mild rays, most in search of sustenance that will reinvigorate us and wake us out of hibernation, all drawn out by the promise of change, a lucky few finding the sweetness of mutual endearment.
Oh, the greyness of it all! Might that be where the sadness comes from? Those memories of lush greens that sustained us through the dark months now fade as the snow (not even white but grey from dust and gravel) don’t instantly transform into green shoots and spring blossoms: greyish brown leaves, half withered twigs and hay, trash, mud-slush, and old dried dog shit. The stark contrast between expectation and reality can be discouraging. At least in the dark and cold, we only had to see the essential things instead of the whole plethora of mundane things now made visible once again.
They say children born in the spring are more optimistic. They spend their first months watching the expanding world around them get warmer, brighter, more colourful and delightful in sounds and smells. I was born in May, on the cusp of summer, when apple blossoms bloom and trees have green leaves again. I cannot say whether I generally have a positive disposition, but after over a decade of consecutive Finnish seasons, I can say I’m never as cheerful at other times of the year as I am in late spring. Like nature around me, that’s when I feel fresh and full of life, full of love and just happy as hell.
It’s only April now. For me, this is often a time of introspection. My thoughts have revolved around softness and coldness, joy and fear, love and sorrow. Each year, Spring seems to invite me to shed another hard shell I’ve outgrown, remove a layer of protective wear, leave the old ideas of self I’ve confined myself in and make room for new growth….
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I’ve been trying to locate the moment in time when I decided or understood, that softness was a risk. I don’t think I was denied expressions of vulnerability, gentleness or weakness as a small child - not that I can recall at least. I was allowed to cry and play princess and find joy in frivolous things. I look happy enough in old pictures too. It must have happened later, after society’s influence became stronger and inescapable.
Whenever it was, at some point I simply began limiting my self-expression so that I wouldn’t appear soft. Softness was weakness, and weakness made visible was punished. Having always been a tomboy, it was easy to gradually become more and more androgynous, dolls and princess dresses being slowly replaced by gangsta rap albums and baggy pants. By the time I was a teenager, a form of internalised misogyny had taken root and I mocked girliness, aligning myself with the male rappers spewing demeaning and violent lyrics, preferring the company of other girls who also seemed to get along better with the guys.
Don’t get me wrong: this is not about the prevalence of misogyny in hip hop or it’s effects on the impressionable youth that consume it. I’m just setting the scene.
There was no space for softness in the persona I’d created, moulded to adjust to the harshness of the world I observed around me. Instead, I unconsciously concocted and projected a most intimidating, unapproachable, unfuckwithable self in an attempt to avoid harm, exploitation and violence. Like many others before me, I was unsuccessful, my softness never truly being the cause of my vulnerability at all.
15 years or so later, I can look back and see where and how I was misguided. We are still shown the hard-working, go-getter, stops for nothing, relentlessly ambitious types as role models for success. Feel stuck? Try harder and push through! Feel down? Pick yourself up! Feel afraid? Make yourself the scary one and let your subordinates fear you! It’s a doggy dog world? No, it’s a dog eat dog world, and you need to make sure you’re the one eating or you’ll be eaten up alive. These messages come to us directly but more often than not, they’re indirectly woven into the stories told on movie screens, the subplots to TV shows, the underlying themes of musical pieces and subliminal messages in advertisements. To avoid them entirely is no easy task, to ignore them takes willpower and unlearning them takes perseverance.
I can hardly say I’ve unlearned all of it, but here’s where I’ve succeeded: I have accepted that I’m a sucker for romance. Love songs, rom-com K-dramas, epic tales with romantic heroines (and heroes, too). I spent years avoiding all things lovey-dovey only to find myself crying over tragic love stories, listening to love songs almost every day and, to my younger self’s utter dismay, writing love poems. I’ve yet to don floral dresses but there are flowers on my shoes, my sweaters and my baggy pants have floral decorations. I do floral embroidery, paint flowers into most landscapes and drink floral teas.
By associating softness with weakness and thus vulnerability, my idea of softness was solely in relations to pain and suffering. However, I now realise that part of what I was denying myself was joy because softness and joy go together.
This spring, I’m embracing the melancholy nature of change. I can mourn the old me that lies exposed like the bristle leaves of 2020, weep cleansing tears that will wash away the dirt and mud, plant new seeds and gently tend to tender saplings of new habits taking form. Treating myself like a garden, patiently removing the unhealthy thought patterns, rummaging through the undergrowth to reveal hidden blooms, reintroducing flora that didn’t thrive before but might do better now I’m more prepared to nurture them… This grey in-between time is when we pause and plan, gather our rakes, shovels and watering cans, sprout some seeds and get ready for another season of growth. Society* tells us that time rushes us forward and so should change, but for now, I’m content to watch spring progress slowly, softly, tenderly.