Jane Doe, Finnish style

In  the Ft. Rich woods

On the third day of writing Long Dark during NaNoWriMo 2009 — which is to say, on NaNovember 3, 2009 — I made a surprising discovery: that another character of mine, from a completely different project that has nothing to do with terraforming or space exploration, was a historical figure in the Long Dark/Cold story universe.  The other project is Mistress of Woodland, a long-term project I began in 1998, which is a kind of fantasy/magical realism novel with lots of Finnish mythical content, and which originated as sort of a story way to deal with some hard stuff I was going through back then.

MoW’s main character, who in the novel is in something of the same circumstances I was in the Real World, is named Rachel.  And if Rachel is a historical character in Long Dark (and by extension Cold) — wooo, spooky — that means that, in a sense, I’m a historical character in my own novels.  Spooky spooky.  And … er… egotistical?  Umm… err… I think I’ll stick with spooky for now.

It all makes a certain kind of sense, anyway.  In my first day’s NaNo 2009 writing, I’d discovered a character named Mordecai, who in the early days of my invented society the Consensus of the Main Belt & Outer Solar System, or whatever-the-hell I’m calling it — the Consensus for short — had been a Consensus spy and “data thief” on the Moon.  That was, of course, before formal recognition by the inSystem governments of the terrestrial planets and Moon of Consensus independence and sovereignty, at which point Consensus had to pay attention to trade agreements covering such inSystem legalities as copyright. Mordecai appeared in my story telling a Consensus “data trader” in training, Louava who was on her way to Earth — and who was actually the protagonist of that writing — about how the philosophical basis of much of Consensus thought had to do with certain ideas about integrity.  Which were based, in fact, on ideas I’d started developing for myself on a discussion list I was on in 1998 where Mistress of Woodland was born.

Here’s an excerpt from my Mordecai writing from November 1, 2009, exactly as written.

Mordecai was a legend. He hadn’t been a data trader or diplomat: he’d been a spy and data-thief, back in the days before the governments of the Inner System had finally given in to the reality that the Outer System was no longer in their control – that if they wanted any of the riches of the asteroids or the gas giants and their moons, they were going to have to deal with the Consensus as a sovereign government. Mordecai, a Belter born and bred, had lived inside of Consensus thought all his life; but somehow, he’d learned how to pass himself off so convincingly as a groundbound that no one of the Moon – his main area of activity – had ever clued in to his real identity or origins. He’d inserted himself into [the base at thus'n'such place on the Moon] and used his position there [to steal all kinds of cool data that helped the Consensus in all kinds of cool ways – scientific info mainly, engineering stuff, perfections of CELSS and blah blah].

“How did I do it?” he asked them. “Mindfulness. In two aspects: first, there is mindfulness of who you are, as both an individual and as a member of Consensus. It’s something you can never forget, or you’ll cease to remember why you’re there, doing the work you’re doing. If you forget, that’s where the corruption begins: your purpose becomes confused, and merit begins to dwindle away. You understand this: integrity, a wholeness of self, is the very basis of our philosophy, whatever else your individual religious beliefs may be; and integrity is in ideal terms about having a clear hold always on who and what you are and what your relationship is to your family and friends, your Kitcheners and colleagues, all the consensuses of which you are a part including the overarching Consensus we all belong to – and also to your antagonists and enemies. Or, if you prefer, your relationship to those who have a different purpose than you do – those whose purpose goes crosswise to your own.

(Note: I typically use square brackets for placeholders when I don’t have exact words and would get hung up and slowed down in my writing to think of them in the moment.  Kitcheners in the Long Story/Cold story universe, are people who share a common kitchen as well as toilet facilities — – since in the artificial biospheres of outer space, it would be difficult and a waste of scarce resources to provide each and every nuclear family with its very own separate kitchen and toilet facilities. Thus a Kitchen is an important basic social unit, including typically about six families, about 20-25 people.)

Two days later, I was writing about a different character, Esti Gusev — & its through her story that I discovered my MoW character Rachel was one of the intellectual/philosophical forbears of the Consensus.  She was also important to Esti personally: it was in fact (I discovered with that writing) Rachel’s writings which led Esti to join Consensus, & ultimately end up on one of the ships crossing the Long Dark to another solar system where the terraforming project of Cold would eventually take place.

Thing is, in MoW I’d never given Rachel a last name.  She hadn’t needed one.  But now she did need one, because she was going to be quoted and otherwise referred to here & there in Long Dark and Cold.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out what it would be.

Meikäläinen

If you Google the word meikäläinen — you can just type meikalainen if you don’t know how to type an ä with the dots — the top search result you’ll get is a page from the Finnish Wikipedia for Matti Meikäläinen. If you ask Google to Translate this page, it’ll tell you its title means John Doe and will inform you in that special Google-translation-style of pidgin English the following:

John Doe is an example of a man, which can be used as a defendant or the owner of the legitimate example. It can also be used for the person whose identity is unknown or which is intended to be anonymous . An unknown woman is commonly known as Mary Doe. For example, the United States responsible appointments are John Doe and Jane Doe or John Smith.

In more fluent English: Matti Meikäläinen is used in Finnish, as John Doe is used in English, to designate an anonymous or unknown person, or can be used as a pseudonym for someone whose real identity must remain confidential, as in some legal cases; and can also simply be used as a depiction of the “typical Finn.”  As explained by user sakvaka at WordReference Forums,

Matti Meikäläinen is a very known person here in Finland. The name is associated with the “commonman”, somebody who can be anyone of us. It is used a lot in sample photos of credit cards and passports, in which real names and personal information must not be visible.

And later,

He’s just an average person, someone that can be anyone of us – just a normal guy.

The first names Matti and Maija are Finnish equivalents, respectively, of Matthew and Mary.  But the “surname” Meikäläinen is only used as a “surname” in this context: it’s not a surname that any real person has.

But meikäläinen is a real Finnish word — a noun derived from the Finnish pronoun me (English we) meaning one of us:

Onko hän meikäläisiä?
Is s/he one of us?

or, as sakvaka explains,

“something that originates from us”. “Meikäläinen kahvi on maailmankuulua” – Our coffee is world-famous. “Älä ammu häntä, hän on meikäläisiä” – Do not shoot him, he’s one of us.

So don’t be fooled by any of the numerous people named Meikäläinen on Facebook (many of them Matti or Maija as well) — these are folks who are preserving their anonymity.

As I decided Rachel wanted to do as well.  But more than that –

Rachel Meikäläinen

– picked that “common person” surname — obviously not her real surname, which I still don’t know what it is — because she identifies herself as of the common people, one of us — entirely fitting to how she’s viewed by Consensus some three or four or five or something centuries after her stuff is written.  As I told my friend Chris in an IM chat last November, “you know me … i need my words & names to really mean stuff….”

So now my main character from MoW has also become my vehicle for elucidating some of the philosophical stuff that was already implicit in this imaginary society of Consensus I was inventing anyway.

I think she’s gonna be a guest poster on my blog, too.  Because so much of her stuff about integrity and violation is relevant to the ways the Real World we live in screws with us too; & also how we keep it together.

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