I’m trying hard not to be a Fillyjonk. Honestly, I am. Mrs. Fillyjonk is a character in Tove Jansson’s wonderful Moomintroll series. Fretful Mrs. Fillyjonk needs order in her world. If anything is out of place, or goes wrong, she is flattened by depression and anxiety.
Is anything more out of order than the world we live in now? When the quarantine first began in the U.S., and then Virginia, I didn’t think it would be too bad. I’d get lots of writing done. Our house would be spotless for once. Overnight weeds would be plucked before dew dried the next morning. I’d have time to cook decent meals.
Instead, I became a news junkie. Hour after hour, I scrolled online stories. Like most of us, my day needs shape. In my normal life, I’d get up at 5:30, feed the cats, make the bed, scoop litter boxes, fix a bowl of cereal, shower, dress for exercise class, and leave the house at 7:00. On my way home after class, I’d stop at the library, maybe the grocery store. Then I’d write until my husband came home from work.
Bit by bit, my support system — like everyone else’s — was kicked out from under me. My husband’s job, exercise class, the library. Grocery shopping was like running a gauntlet. I took morning naps, after-lunch naps, late afternoon naps. After two weeks of flailing, I drew up a schedule. By then I’d developed the concentration of a newborn gnat. My plan was to do something different each hour: write for an hour, housework for an hour, walk for an hour. The schedule lasted all of forty-five minutes before I was scrounging in our goodie drawer for a Reese’s peanut butter egg.
In a recent issue of Fresh Bookology, linked to a New Yorker piece about Tove Jansson, author of the Moomintroll books, I realized I should try another avenue of creativity. A struggling painter, Jansson created the whimsical Moomins during World War II when, as she said, “I was feeling depressed and scared of the bombing and wanted to get away from my gloomy thoughts to something else entirely.” This I understood. My own moods have veered between obsessive thinking and outright fear. Jansson created an escape hatch, “an unbelievable world where everything was natural and benign — and possible.”
Moonminvalley. A beautiful place with meadows and rivers, where the inhabitants live in peaceful harmony with nature. But not always. Moomintrolls face floods, volcanic eruptions, even a comet on a collision course with Earth.
I found the adventures of the strange, childlike Moomins made for perfect summer reading. I longed to be carefree, harmonica-player Snufkin, never dreaming I’d wind up a neurotic Fillyjonk, introduced in Moominsummer Madness:
But inside a Fillyjonk was sitting, listening to the ticking of her clock and the passing of time. She sighed and wandered around, sat down and got up again.
This was me to a T, housebound, foraging for jellybeans and chocolate eggs.
Jansson wrote and illustrated several Moomin stories. During the war, she said, “one’s work stood still; it felt completely pointless to try to create pictures.” Once the war was over, she published The Moomins and the Great Flood in 1945. Comet in Moominland followed in 1946.
In the latter story, the Moonintrolls lacked a comet-preparedness plan. (Sounds familiar?) To get instructions, they endured tornadoes, a plague of grasshoppers, and a journey to the bottom of the sea, which caused Snufkin’s harmonica to rust. After the comet “whisked” past the cave where the Moomins were hiding, they crept out to safety:
The sky was no longer red, but a beautiful blue once again, and the morning sun shone in its usual place, looking as though it had been freshly polished … And [the sea] was rolling tirelessly in towards them, glittering and gleaming like soft blue silk, the same old sea that they had always loved!
Meanwhile Snufkin had taken out his mouth-organ and was giving it another try. All the notes had come back, even the little ones, so that he could play to his heart’s content.
I so long for a place where everything is natural and benign. I’m not imaginative enough to create one, too scattered to gather any words. The pandemic will end, though not as soon as we want. When it does, our words and songs and notes will come back. And we’ll emerge from our homes to a clean blue sky and a freshly buffed sun, together once more.