To branch

To reach, to grow, to break. To be alone. But also to belong, to hold, to partake. To be strong.

My family is a one of Zariņš, of branches, with roots in Latvia and Sweden. I have spent my adulthood in London, away from those roots. As Latvia approaches its 100th anniversary as an independent country, and the UK prepares to leave the European Union, I explore what it means to be a half Latvian-half Swedish branch.



Sunday 4 November 2018. Late morning

My cousin died just over a month after my breakup. I hardly knew her, and she didn’t know I was writing about our family, about our origin. She was our grandmother’s first grandchild, and the first to follow her into death.

My ambition for my book about Latvia was high. I wanted to create something impressive that would return to me the admiration I felt for my boyfriend. I aimed for the stars, represented by him. Just reaching the treetops would not be enough for me.

But I was already in the treetops. I was born an upward growing branch, but forgot the other branches around me, that shelter and warm me. The stars were bigger and more than branches, but silent and distant; beautiful but really just burning spheres of gas.

When my cousin’s branch broke off, I looked around rather than up. I settled back and wrote from my heart instead of my head. But not a word on the book about Latvia. My guilt for not fully knowing and caring about the family tree I was writing about hindered me, and still does.

My therapist quotes Heidegger, who said guilt was a call to care. I do feel called to care for those who care of me. Abandoning the stars hurts, but they give me no care, and I feel no guilt to them.

Soon Latvia will 100 years old. I had hoped to be finished by then. But instead, it is when I will begin.

Sunrise over Grantchester Meadows. Photo by Jessica Zarins, 2018

Sunrise over Grantchester Meadows. Photo by Jessica Zarins, 2018

Forest’s Gold

We drive to Höör to find the Forest’s Gold. We’re a bit late in the season and too far south to find many chanterelles, but it’s a good excuse to spend the day in the forest. It starts to rain on the way there, but the autumn trees are even more radiant in their crimson and amber and velvet green against a grey sky. When we park it begins to snow; sleety flakes that only remain on the ground in the shadows.

Höör forest. Photo by Jessica Zarins, 2018.

Höör forest. Photo by Jessica Zarins, 2018.

The air is cold and wet but the leaves are warm like honey and syrup. Billions of leaves carpet the floor softly in years and years of layers. Our feet sink down in them and leave footsteps, although the snow stays in the air. We scrape with our boots, unsure where the leaves end and the ground begins. But the layers are so many and thick it’s difficult, if not impossible, for mushrooms to grow, and for us to find them.

Leave tracks. Photo by Jessica Zarins, 2018.

Leave tracks. Photo by Jessica Zarins, 2018.

We find some coniferous corners of the woods. We search in the nooks of rocks and roots. Plenty of mushrooms we don’t know, which our mother told us never to eat, but no chanterelles. If there is any, the Gold remains camouflaged.

Cecilia among the pines. Photo by Jessica Zarins, 2018.

Cecilia among the pines. Photo by Jessica Zarins, 2018.

By a bolder under some beech branches we stop for fika. Coffee and egg sandwiches, and chokladbollar for desert. The snow still falls, our fingers freeze and we stare into the woods, full of hidden life. We know it’s there. We can feel it even if we can’t see it.

Forest gold and snow. Photo by Jessica Zarins, 2018.

Forest gold and snow. Photo by Jessica Zarins, 2018.

When we get up, the snow has stopped. Back on the path the forest glistens and glitters like precious metal in its wetness. The warm leaves shine like straight out of the oven saffron buns at Lucia. We will find no Forest’s Gold to eat, but the sun comes out in brilliance and warms and dries us like a homely hearth.

Red cabin in the woods. Photo by Jessica Zarins, 2018.

Red cabin in the woods. Photo by Jessica Zarins, 2018.

The chanterelles evaded us. But we still struck gold.

The path home. Photo by Jessica Zarins, 2018.

The path home. Photo by Jessica Zarins, 2018.

Soul sister

It’s a silly sisters’ day, celebrating ourselves. We play games from our childhood, eat food from our family and enjoy the nature of our country. We’re silly and so completely ourselves.

Sky in Skåne. Photo by Jessica Zarins, 2018

Sky in Skåne. Photo by Jessica Zarins, 2018

She makes me think of Brontë’s masterpiece: she is more myself than I am.When the self has been lost to the winds, with her it’s right there. I’m right here.

I am allowed, I can do, I can be. Intelligent without needing to impress. Pretty without needing to pretend, or protect. Confident without competition, and utterly comfortable in each other’s company.

Jess about to dive. Photo by Cecilia Zarins, 2018.

Jess about to dive. Photo by Cecilia Zarins, 2018.

The Öresund Bridge from Strandhem jetty. Photo by Jessica Zarins, 2018.

The Öresundnd Bridge from Strandhem jetty. Photo by Jessica Zarins, 2018.









We’re different branches of the same tree. She is strong and reliable and I am thin but bendable. Our roots hold us grounded, growing in different directions but always connected.

Alone again, naturally, I try not to lose myself in the storms of social media, in the fogs of comparison. Stay grounded to the roots, the connection and the self are there, amongst the greens.

Space cat. Photo by Jessica Zarins, 2018.

Space cat. Photo by Jessica Zarins, 2018.

Friday 12 October 2018. Morning

The past is unchangeable.

The future is unknowable.

Sunrise cloud. Photo by Jessica Zarins, 2018

Life is a constant now, a precipice of ourselves about to fall into an unknown future version unable to change the decisions and actions of now, as it becomes the past.

Sunrise cycle. Photo by Jessica Zarins, 2018

Instead of thinking about the books I’m not reading, the texts I’m not writing, the podcasts I’m not listening to and the work I’m not doing, I cycle into the sunrise before work and give myself the now as a present. The now of warm sunshine, fresh air, birdsong, cold wind, and green smell.

Soon it will be a past I can’t change.

And the future me will thank me for spending the past thus when it was now.

Sunrise. Photo by Jessica Zarins 2018

Wednesday 10 October 2018. Night

The night is dark and I haven’t turned the lights on. Only the blue backlights my words. I’ve been awake for a few hours after a coughing fit. Now I’m attacked by thoughts from the Voice.

The Voice is me, or a part of me, and passed on from my grandmother. It’s the Voice that used to tell me I’m fat and will never have any friends. Her meanness used to make me starve and sometimes cut myself to shut her up. Now she tells me you don’t remember me, and laugh behind my back. She makes me scan your social media, after I’ve stopped following you, interpreting your talent and adventures as proof of your happiness and success.

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Whuthering Heights

I’ve always been a Jane Eyre person. When I first read Whuthering Heights I could tell it was the superior novel, but emotionally I’ve always felt more connected to Jane – a caged bird of a ‘free human being with an independent will’. Whatever interpretations I’ve read of it, from The Wide Sargasso Sea to the short story collection Reader, I Married Him, I’ve only empathised with her varying sides more. (The exception is Mr Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker. That was atrocious.) This connection and empathy always evaded me in Whuthering Heights. There was not a single character in that I could feel with for more than a page.

Until my third read this autumn.

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Sunday 30 September 2018. Morning

In about 40 hours there’s a deadline for a novella competition I want to enter. My entry isn’t ready.

The guideline is to submit the opening 5000 words. I have about 8000 opening words, and then a scrapbook of scenes from down the storyline. So I could enter something, and then finish the rest after submission. But those 5000 words aren’t ready either.

They are the first of the fuck-it draft. The ideas are there, gems hidden in jungles of words. Like David hidden inside a block of marble, before Michelangelo chiselled him out. But I can’t begin to edit before the rest of the story is there. I can’t carve a totem before the tree is fully grown.

Do I submit what I have, knowing it won’t get anywhere because it’s unfinished, but use it as a motivator to finish the rest of the piece? Or do I keep it out of eyes’ reach until it is ready to meet the light of gaze?

Friday 28 September 2018. Evening

Yesterday I went on a walk after work. I got spat at by two teenage boys when I told them off for putting on balaklavas and hiding hammers up their sleeves. Outside a shop I smiled apologetically to a man I nearly walked into, and he replied to my thighs: ‘All’ight smiley.’ Nearly home I saw another young man, not much older than the spitter, stamp his feet and wave his arms and shout to a still-standing girl, before taking her hand and walking off with her. Everyone on the street turned, but no one said or did anything.

This is the world we live in, ruled by the smaller half.

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Wednesday 26 September 2018. Early morning

The moon is 99% full and lights my night dark room and the slowly paling sky. I’ve been dreaming and now I think.

I am very good at analysing myself. I am also very good at criticising myself. Where does one end and the other begin? When does the magnifying glass turned on myself begin to burn?

A friend once asked me which animal I would chose to spend my life with, and for which three reasons. I said a dolphin or a cat, for the same reasons: they are intelligent and independent, but also social and loving, and they are beautiful. In the end I picked the dolphin, because, unlike a cat, it’s impossible to actually live with a dolphin. My friend said the game is meant to identify what you are looking for in a partner. At the time I was embarrassed that one of my reasons had been beauty. But it’s true; I want to feel desire and and physical attraction for a partner. But it is also true that I tend to feel this attraction towards people who are impossible to live with.

I always saw myself as a strong, independent woman. But the reality seems to be I am one of those women who are drawn to damaged men, thinking I can change them, and then blame myself when I fail. What I’ve called my romantic streak, that believes in life-long, true love, might just cover a death drive attraction to men who will destroy me. Not because they mean to or because they are bad, but because they are dolphins, who live with other dolphins. Like an open fire, or crashing waves over knife sharp rocks you just can’t keep staring at.

Is that too far? Have I gone from analysis to meanness? Has the analysis done more harm than good?

Is the magnifying glass causing a burn?


And is this amplifier of the internet I use another means to seek understanding or pain?