By Caitlin Kelly


In the interest of pure silliness, for those of you yet to meet them, here are the Moomins, a series of nine books by Finnish author Tove Jansson, published between 1945 and 1993.

The stories revolve around a large family of Moomins — who look a little like hippopotamuses — and their quirky friends and companions.

If you fly Finnair to Japan, your plane’s livery may sport Moomins; even the President of Finland has been seen wearing a Moomin watch.

Japan recently opened a cafe where you can — of course! — share a table with a very large stuffed Moomin.

Here’s a recent story from the Financial Times, reviewing two biographies of their creator:

It was only when the third volume in the series, Finn Family Moomintroll, came out three years later in 1948 that the Moomins begin their ascent to international fame. By the 1960s Jansson’s creation was manifesting as TV cartoons, stage plays and a bewildering range of licensed merchandise. There were picture books and also a widely syndicated newspaper strip, which Jansson wrote and drew herself before handing over responsibility to her younger brother Lars.

The Moomins remain big business. All the books are in print and sell healthily. The Finnish city of Turku boasts a theme park, Moomin World, where you can visit the characters’ houses and have your photograph taken with actors in costume. There is even a shop in London’s Covent Garden peddling nothing but what one might call “Moominery”.

The stories have also exerted an influence on many modern writers, for adults as well as children. Ali Smith, Jeanette Winterson and Maggie O’Farrell are self-professed Moomin fans. Philip Pullman has called Jansson a “genius”…

After I mentioned my Moomin-love to Jose, my husband bought me two Moomin books for Christmas, and this great mug, from which I drink my tea and coffee most days.

How can you feel gloomy with a Moomin in the house?

And guys — check it out! — there’s a 40 percent off sale this weekend at this site, with everything possible Moomin-related.

Do you (still) have a beloved children’s book or character in your life?

Toot! Toot! Tooting Your Own Horn

Luis Arrieta - Tango aDeus
Every performer, by definition, seeks the spotlight. What about the rest of us? Image by Vivadança Festival Internacional Ano 5 via Flickr

If you work for yourself — and even when you work for someone else — you have to do it.

Do you dread it as much as I do?

The world of social media has made it much easier to spread the word, globally, about how fabulous!!!!! you are but sometimes, truly, I wish everyone would just button it!

I visit LinkedIn almost every day and I enjoy seeing what my contacts are up to. I loatheloatheloathe one woman who “updates” there every 13 seconds with work tips to make sure we do not waste even a single hour forgetting who she is. I know, I know, I can’t email her and say “Enough! Stop! You are boring and overbearing and horrible.”

But I’d sure like to.

With my new book out April 14, I have to toot long, loud, clearly, daily and — pardon the appalling biz-speak — across multiple platforms.Why? Because, in the U.S. where I live, 1,500 books are published every single bloody day!

Frankly, I’d rather organize the linen closet, but I did that last week. Or polish my shoes. Or go to a movie. Or make soup.

Yammering on about how amazing I am makes me feel a little ill. But if I don’t stake my claim, every single one of my loud-mouthed competitors will.

And guess who will sell more books? And get a bigger advance on the next book as a result? Not the shy, quiet girl in the corner.

I grew up in Canada, a nation — like the Aussies, Japanese and Swedes, to name a few with similar cultural values — that hates self-promoters and punishes them with the worst possible paddle. They ignore you!

I’ve lived near New York City for 22 years. You want pushy? Babe, we got pushy!

It’s been sadly instructive to watch the relative “Who gives a s–t? my book has been getting in Canada and the fantastic enthusiasm it’s been getting here. Which, and this is basic, is now fodder for more horn-tooting!

In Australia, it’s called tall poppy syndrome, where the highest flower, swaying happily in the summer sun, gets its gorgeous little head lopped off for — being the most visible. In Japan, they hammer down the tallest nail.

Don’t boast! Don’t gloat! Don’t tell people you’ve done some terrific work and people are liking it!

Yeah, be invisible.

There’s a strategy.

How do you reconcile the career-boosting need to tell others about your skills and work accomplishments and being (blessedly and attractively) modest about them?

Read This Post! (Please?) The Crucial Difference Between 'Askers' and 'Guessers'

A question and exclamation mark of jigsaw puzz...
Image by Horia Varlan via Flickr

I found this essay in The Guardian fascinating, as it touches on an issue I see play out almost every day — between people who ask for what they want (and know they might not get it) and those who “guess”, hoping for what they want and resenting the hell out of those with the chutzpah to actually ask:

This terminology comes from a brilliant web posting by Andrea Donderi that’s achieved minor cult status online. We are raised, the theory runs, in one of two cultures. In Ask culture, people grow up believing they can ask for anything – a favour, a pay rise– fully realising the answer may be no. In Guess culture, by contrast, you avoid “putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes… A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won’t have to make the request directly; you’ll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.”

Neither’s “wrong”, but when an Asker meets a Guesser, unpleasantness results. An Asker won’t think it’s rude to request two weeks in your spare room, but a Guess culture person will hear it as presumptuous and resent the agony involved in saying no. Your boss, asking for a project to be finished early, may be an overdemanding boor – or just an Asker, who’s assuming you might decline. If you’re a Guesser, you’ll hear it as an expectation. This is a spectrum, not a dichotomy, and it explains cross-cultural awkwardnesses, too: Brits and Americans get discombobulated doing business in Japan, because it’s a Guess culture, yet experience Russians as rude, because they’re diehard Askers.

I moved in 1989 from a Guess  culture — Canada — to an Ask — the U.S. Even after all these years, I still feel the push-pull of these two opposing views of how life/love/business should go. In smaller nations more attentive to social harmony, in which direct confrontation makes everyone stare at their shoes and really wish you would stoprightnow — like Canada or Ireland — American directness is so brash as to be totally off-putting, declasse, in-your-face.

I had a terrible time — often still do — in American job interviews and other high-pressure situations where it’s do or die. If you don’t say it, and say it now, you’ve blown it.  In the culture in which I was raised and educated, in which some of my dearest friends still live and work, having the temerity to ask marks you as pushy and entitled.

I’ve really seen this in the different way I now behave with doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals within a for-profit system, compared to the deference even my feisty Dad (a former film director, for heaven’s sake, hardly shy in expressing his wishes) pays to his in Canada, where you get what they give you when they feel like giving it to you. I recently saw a surgeon whose scalpel is practically hanging over my arthritic hip like the sword of Damocles. I told him, “Put this in your notes!” and bent his ear about what my life is currently like with this condition. I didn’t meekly agree to skedding surgery. He asked for what he wanted and I asked for what I wanted.

As long as you’re using the same style, you’re OK. Certainly in a place like New York, hanging back and shuffling your toe in the dust ain’t gonna cut it.

But you can see how global diplomacy is a bloody minefield as a result.

Which are you? Does it work?

With Six Emotions and 700 Words — Meet Saya, The Japanese Fembot

Cover of "The Stepford Wives"
Cover of The Stepford Wives

Her most recent gig was “working” at Takashimaya, a Tokyo department store, where she served as a receptionist answering simple questions. Before that, she filled in as a primary school teacher at the Kudan Primary School in Tokyo. Researchers at Tokyo’s University of Science spent 15 years creating her, preparing Japan for a severely shrinking workforce that robots may have to supplement.

Saya can officially express six emotions, aided by wires beneath her skin that move her facial muscles accordingly: surprise, anger, fear, disgust, happiness and sadness. That’s about five more than most women using Botox, which so effectively paralyzes their facial muscles they never look too fussed about much of anything. Interesting the emotions she can’t express: confusion, doubt, ambivalence, skepticism. I imagine the day a battery goes wonky and her expressions morph from one into the next in some weird little closed loop. Or maybe someone says “Good morning!” and she registers disgust instead of happiness.

Anyone who saw the 1975 film The Stepford Wives — which came out at the height of the feminist movement, turning bra-less babes without makeup or decent hairdos into docile helpmeets — might feel a little frisson of horror at this development.  Women with uncontrollable feelings? So annoying!

Here she is.