I was going to write an article about feminists that inspire me, but I’ve covered that already for International Women’s Day, see here.
There’s a character who’s been a great friend of mine since childhood. I remember what I did to celebrate when I wrote my first novel – I watched Pippi Longstocking. The theme song still makes me childishly delighted and happy. It’s my anthem, should anyone ever film my life. Pippi has been my shero since I was little. I looked up to her and her anarchist way of life. Free-spirited and an understanding of the world bigger than anyone else’s she meets in her fictive world. Who could ever question her way of doing things? Maybe that’s how my desire for absolute freedom and anarchy were lit?
Of course, her best friends, Annika and Tommy, but also some teachers and other authorities, try to teach her social conventions. The two siblings were pretty well-behaved, normal kids, and in awe of their best friend. Annika was a typical girl of that time, while Tommy was the typical boy. Typical means they behaved just like their genders dictated to. Pippi instead was strong – so strong she could lift her horse with one hand. She spoke her mind all the time. She was generous, and she was an orphan. Normally, that sets a character up for a sad life story instead, Pippi’s never-ending optimism, her sense of humour and her independence fed her wellbeing. She defended the right of being well all the time.
She lived in a yellow, pink and green house all by herself. Yes, a 9-year old girl living in a house all by herself. She lost her mother as a baby, and her father went missing as a ship’s captain. (One of my dream jobs as a teen was to become a ship’s captain.) She had a monkey, Mr. Nilsson. I still, after all those years, dream of having a monkey, and I’m pretty sure that Pippi was my inspiration all along. She’s adventurous and loves to travel. I had the desire to see the world early on. I have lived in 4 different countries now and am not sure yet where else life will take me. She’s the first true free spirit I encountered. She stood up for herself and for the oppressed. She’s there for her friends when they’re sick, and her hunger for life is infectious. I can go on about her all day – how she defies gender stereotypes, how she loves the way she looks and doesn’t take herself too seriously. Even though she is being judged and sometimes insulted, she reacts with calm and is in control. She just doesn’t care what other people might think of her.
On the way to Taka Tuka Land, Pippi and her friends go on an adventure, and fly in her balloon bed. How many times have I lied in bed dreaming about it taking off and going to places? She has a suitcase full of gold coins and can buy as many sweets as she likes. She constantly says words wrong, but doesn’t care and insists on how she says them. Pippi is unconventional and impulsive. If one day she wakes up and feels an urge to do something, so she does. No ifs and buts. As a kid, I knew very well how special that was. Growing up with strict rules and a routine, I craved for a little taste of Pippi’s life. She made her dreams come true. As a kid, you have no such power.
Pippi thought a moment. “You’re right,” she said sadly, “I’m lying.”
“It’s wicked to lie,” said Annika who had at last gathered up enough courage to speak.
“Yes, it’s very wicked to lie,” said Pippi, even more sadly. “But I forget it now and then.”
That awesome girl that knew no boundaries and loved to tell nonsensical stories was created by Astrid Lindgren. When I was little, I didn’t know much about the author. As I’ve learned now, she was rebellious in so many ways for her time. Before becoming a full-time author, she worked as a secretary and journalist. She was a single, teen mother who had to release her child into foster care. Her pregnancy was a scandal to her deeply religious parents. As it goes, they were too scared of judgement. Astrid advocated for the rights of women and children. She campaigned for no violence and believed that one could raise children into violence. She also cared about animal rights and the environment. She deeply cared about world peace and connected the dots between it and raising children peacefully. “Lex Astrid” is informally known to be the law which insured farm animals’ freedom from cramped conditions and access to clean straw.
“I have never tried that before, so I think I should definitely be able to do that.”
This is one of the things Pippi says, and it just encourages me to step away from the well-trodden path and to leave my own footprints. Honestly, there’s so much wisdom in Pippi’s perspective. Back when I was a child, I enjoyed her humour and how she handled things, but I didn’t really believe anyone could be like her. She was fictional after all. Nevertheless, seeing her allowed me to take my dreams that much further. Sometimes, even our dreams can be confined, because our real-life insecurity tampers with them.
As a child, Pippi empowered me. I don’t remember experiencing much empowerment at that age. It was pretty much, do this and do that. Not much explaining or questioning allowed. Take care of your little brothers, do your homework and tidy up your room. I did get a lot of time outside though, where I discovered the world. Even back then, I was dreaming about going away and experiencing more. The more I felt restricted, the more I dreamt. If reality wasn’t up to my liking, I made up my own fantasies and travelled in them. Pippi and books gave me the tools to conquer new lands of milk and honey.
Even in 2014, when I did a rebel thing and quit my job once more to focus on writing, it took me back to Pippi and it made me feel just as strong as her.