This guest post was written by Brett Sills, the author of My Sweet Saga, a story of an American finding adventure in Stockholm.
If you tapped my shoulder in 2008 and told me that, in a year’s time, Sweden would become one of the most important things in my life, I’d have thought you were crazy. If you then told me Sweden would be the thing that finally inspired me to write a novel, I would have had you committed.
You see, in 2008, I still had never traveled anywhere in my entire life. In fact, I didn’t see the value in it. After all, travel existed in experience and memory. It was nothing you could hold. It wasn’t tangible. But traumatic experiences often change your perception of life, and priorities that never previously crossed your mind suddenly become important for reasons you cannot fully grasp.
There were many reasons I swallowed a handful of pills on a random spring evening in 2009, but they all really added up to one simple fact: I didn’t see a way out. I had spent just about thirty years of my life becoming a person I did not like. I spent my entire adulthood unintentionally digging myself into a seemingly inescapable chasm caused by many things I could understand, but, more frighteningly, many I could not. The scariest part of the whole experience was that I was actually surprised that I had felt that way; I felt blindsided by something that was probably in front of my face the entire time. Denial is a powerful thing.
As mentioned, traveling was never something I felt strongly about, but suddenly I felt I should do it. I didn’t have a good reason, and my choice of Sweden was equally strange, but I forced myself to embrace the idea and to travel to Stockholm despite the fact that the concept terrified me.
I always wished that the universe would warn you before experiencing key moments in your life. When speaking to close friends, I often think back to the first time I had met them, and how cool it would be to have known that that person would become an important part of my life. This kind of moment happened shortly after I took my seat on the plane en route to Stockholm. It’s cliché to think that meeting a beautiful girl can free you from years of emotional shackle, but that’s what it felt like at the time. She was native to Sweden, mysterious, smart, and incredibly engaging. And after the quickest nine hours of my life, we parted with a hug, never to see each other again. But it was the perfect introduction to the greatest week of my life.
Walking through Stockholm was a baptism. I had spent years trudging through mud, where all my surroundings and thoughts felt tinged with rust. Years where the mundane was my normal to the point where I didn’t notice the difference. But after that plane ride, and a much needed nap, I remember walking down Drottninggatan and felt much like Dorothy did upon first setting foot in OZ. Everything felt different. The sound of foreign language, the sight of signs I could not translate, and the feeling of being thousands of miles away from everything I knew. It was scary, it was information overload, but it was exhilarating. I remember walking slow because it was so much to take in, and I felt conflicted emotions I hadn’t felt in…well, perhaps I had never felt them ever before. Even though I was well read, and fully knew the world to be a huge place filled with people and cultures I didn’t fully understand, I was suddenly immersed in something that truly convinced me that there was more possibility in the world than I ever imagined. I felt small. I felt humbled. But it was an amazing feeling.
And I kept that feeling for an entire week. I stepped outside myself. I approached random people and dined with them. I tried new foods and experiences. I learned. On my last day in Stockholm, I sat in front of that weird (ugly?), glass fountain in the city center and stared at it for an hour. I knew I would have to go back home, to Los Angeles, to my real life, but all I could think was that I didn’t want to leave. I needed a way to bring Stockholm back to the United States.
So, I started writing. Writing about Sweden. And writing about what it might have been like to spend one day in Stockholm with the aforementioned girl from the airplane. And, five months later, I had the first draft of my book, My Sweet Saga. Though the novel is fictional, sometimes crude, and often absurd; it is also my love letter to Stockholm and to that entire week. Since the book’s release, my life has become infinitely more Swedish. I’ve met numerous natives, took part in Swedish events, and even returned there for another trip. And though time will pass and my connection to Sweden will lessen, it will always remain an important place to me.
Through reading, I hope people find the romance in Stockholm that I found, and also hope the experience inspires many to travel to the severely underappreciated capital city of Sweden. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and, for me, it was life changing.