The Helsinki Bus Station Theory
April 9, 2013 12:55 PM   Subscribe

Long known by photographers, the Helsinki Bus Station Theory explains the creative process in an interesting way.
posted by reenum (78 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is blowing my mind.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:56 PM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is the link hidden somewhere?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:57 PM on April 9, 2013


I was going to ask what it is, but since I'm not a photographer, I guess I'm out of luck.
posted by enkd at 12:57 PM on April 9, 2013


Perhaps this is the link you had in mind?
posted by filthy light thief at 12:57 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


No. I posted this from my phone and the HTML got messed up.
posted by reenum at 12:57 PM on April 9, 2013


But not to us, apparently!

*posted literally as the post got fixed. My mistake. I'm going to RTFA now!

*having read the article now, I find it interesting, but I don't think every bus is worth riding. Sometimes you really should disembark.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:58 PM on April 9, 2013


[Link manifested, carry on.]
posted by cortex at 12:58 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


filthylightthief, you are a lifesaver.
posted by reenum at 12:58 PM on April 9, 2013


I didn't think you could make a FPP without a valid link!

Flagged so the Mods can come fix it.
posted by eriko at 12:59 PM on April 9, 2013


And, the mods are faster than I can type.

*Thanks guys*
posted by eriko at 12:59 PM on April 9, 2013


Never get off the boat.

I mean, never get off the bus.

Unless the bus is on a boat.
posted by fallingbadgers at 1:02 PM on April 9, 2013 [12 favorites]


I wish the author had ridden the bus a little longer and fleshed this out a little more. An example of someone who's actually done this would have been helpful.
posted by Tevin at 1:02 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


This seems like it's a useful metaphor for something.

I wish I knew what.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:11 PM on April 9, 2013


It's a useful metaphor for what Ira Glass said about creativity, possibly.
posted by demonic winged headgear at 1:14 PM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Helsinki Bus Station Theory
What to do?

It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the f*cking bus.

Why, because if you do, in time you will begin to see a difference.

The buses that move out of Helsinki stay on the same line but only for a while, maybe a kilometer or two. Then they begin to separate, each number heading off to its own unique destination. Bus 33 suddenly goes north, bus 19 southwest.

For a time maybe 21 and 71 dovetail one another but soon they split off as well, Irving Penn is headed elsewhere.

It’s the separation that makes all the difference, and once you start to see that difference in your work from the work you so admire (that’s why you chose that platform after all), it’s time to look for your breakthrough.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:16 PM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Damn. I gotta stop going back to the bus station.
posted by OwlBoy at 1:21 PM on April 9, 2013


I hate to be That Gal, but ... what if you happened to choose a bus that is always on the same route as another bus? Or a bus that turns out to be taking you someplace you don't actually want to go? I agree with the main point about perseverance and sticking it through the frustrating times, but at a certain point you might have to get off the bus and maybe walk a few blocks to catch a different one. You definitely shouldn't go all the way back to the bus station, though.

It's that judgement point, though, that really defines things.
posted by lunasol at 1:25 PM on April 9, 2013


Well, if you're looking for tourist advice rather than career advice, I can safely say that any place worth visiting in Helsinki is easier to access by tram, metro or train. Taking the bus is your last, slowest option (except westward, when it's the only option). Almost all the buses due to Northern suburbs drive past the art school in Arabia, though, so for art students, it really does not matter which one you take. But campus is going to move elsewhere soon. This is a complicated metaphor.
posted by ikalliom at 1:26 PM on April 9, 2013 [12 favorites]


There's something amusingly self-referential about the persistence with which people retell these trite little fortune-cookie nostrums about persistence as if they were telling us something new. Or: wouldn't getting off the "stay on the bus" bus actually be better for all of us at this point? The last thing anyone needs is another "new" wrapper around the chestnut "keep at it, kid." And if the metaphor is going to work at all, we need to acknowledge that a lot of the buses don't go anywhere interesting, either — what is the passenger supposed to do then? The self-righteous certitude of this kind of pseudoprofound motivational parable is what really offends.
posted by RogerB at 1:26 PM on April 9, 2013 [13 favorites]


It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the f*cking bus.
Corollary: suppose you want to get somewhere not too far away from the centre of Helsinki. Many of the buses that depart from this bus station will take you there, but they all leave from different platforms – so unless you have carefully studied the departure board you won't know which one is going to leave first. So you get on and sit in the stationary bus for several minutes, watching other buses depart and cursing yourself for the choice you made just to have somewhere warm to sit for a while. By the time you're moving the other buses are several stops away and you've just been sitting twiddling your thumbs in the bus station going nowhere because you made a choice that seemed good at the time given your limited information.

In reality, that's what happens to me nearly every day at the bus station the author describes, and it's a pretty apt metaphor for my life so far.
posted by Talkie Toaster at 1:27 PM on April 9, 2013 [18 favorites]


My creative issue is seeing things from the east and thinking they seem pretty cool, so I'll go back to the bus station and get on a bus going east.

And then the bus inevitably turns northwest after a while and I'm back in the place I've visited before.

And I keep thinking I can get off the bus and catch a different one and really go east this time, but it doesn't work out.
posted by Foosnark at 1:36 PM on April 9, 2013


Based on personal experience, some people, instead of staying on the bus, shouldn't get on a bus to begin with.
posted by tommasz at 1:44 PM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I tried this once at the Port Authority, but I never got farther than New Jersey.
posted by monospace at 1:44 PM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've been guilty of jumping off a lot of buses. Generally while they're still moving.
posted by pipeski at 1:50 PM on April 9, 2013


Metaphorically.
posted by pipeski at 1:50 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love this. To me, the point is that everyone is so obsessed with doing something "original" before they have developed any talent, and whether of not they have anything to say. Looking at art of any kind from the last couple of decades makes this pretty obvious. The irony is that in spite of this obsession with "originality" there is not a flood of interesting or different works these days in many fields.
posted by bongo_x at 1:54 PM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Stay on the bus" is a good aphorism if you don't have the time to read Just Kids by Patti Smith. But if you need inspiration on your creative journey, and you do have the time to read that book, you should just go ahead and read it.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:58 PM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sometimes the bus crashes.
posted by The Whelk at 2:04 PM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


In the end though, you return to the Helsinki Bus Station and realize that it is really what you know best. It is home. It is you. It is true. It is the source and inspiration of all your creative energy.

I explain this all in greater detail in my upcoming book, The Start is the Finnish: Returning to your Inner Helsinki Bus Station.
posted by Kabanos at 2:06 PM on April 9, 2013 [25 favorites]


Sometimes the bus plunges.

This is known as a 'splunge.
posted by Mister_A at 2:09 PM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


The risk of course is that you stay on the bus and it still doesn't work out. IMO being open to opportunity is more important than following dogmatic rules. Sounds like a classic hedgehox vs fox situation.
posted by stbalbach at 2:09 PM on April 9, 2013


There is some value in this metaphor, especially if you extend it to include building your own bus.

When considering things you're trying to accomplish--perhaps you're lucky enough to design your own house, or you're unlucky enough to have to get a website published. A lot of the time, what you want to do has been done before in all but the most minor details. In these cases, you should leverage the work which has already been done by others, and instead concentrate on those things that truly will differentiate you from the rest.

But a hell of a lot of people insist on starting from first principles, and end up having spent a lot more time and money to get something objectively worse because they built their own damn bus rather than ride the one idling at the station, one that will get them within a short walk to their destination.

If the pleasure comes from building the bus, go for it, of course. But be aware that's what you're doing, and odds are you aren't going to do as good a job as Freightliner or Man.
posted by maxwelton at 2:31 PM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm going to propose a different Helsinki Bus Station Theory, because, as someone who likes both creativity and transportation system design, this is what I was hoping the article would be about. So, my Alternate Helsinki Bus Station Theory goes as follows:

Understanding complex systems is hard, and our world is full of absolutely indispensible yet extraordinarily complex systems. Even systems that we'd think of as totally humble (like, say, a city bus system) involve an almost intractably complex set of negotiations involving balancing different needs and expressing different values, under the contextual constraints imposed by the nature and size of buses, the available funding, etc. etc.

Actually understanding why the main Helsinki bus station is laid out why it is can explain the nature of the system (It's a hub-and-spoke system, right?, I'm also guessing that Helsinki has a dense core where you want to have extremely frequent routes?), and also can help explain the different competing reasons why the system has that nature. Anyone seriously investigating the Helsinki main bus terminal would want to do some archival research on the history of public transit in Helsinki, plus then would probably want to spend some time in Helsinki riding the bus places, just on the hopes of discovering features of the network (features, again, that may be visible from deep investigation of the main station) that no one's really talked about much before, but that are nevertheless important.

Once you've figured out the Helsinki main bus station, you've got a grasp of how really thoroughly difficult creatively negotiating the constraints imposed by our materials is. Creative endeavors are all basically Oulipean — we're trying to put meaning into a material that doesn't want to be worked, no matter what material we're working in. After studying the Helsinki main bus station in deep detail, you will be prepared to be creative, because you will understand and respect the difficulty of all of the creativity around you.

It's an exercise that teaches you, more or less, the opposite of the lesson of the movie Idiocracy — nothing would work except for the fact that most people are really, really, really smart. Or if we're not smart, we're at least smart enough to use really smart systems without even thinking about it.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:13 PM on April 9, 2013 [13 favorites]


There's a goddamn motherfucking bus.
It's a crapped-out and shitty bus too.
But you're fucked twice as hard if you walk,
So there's one fucking thing we can do.

Stay on the fucking bus,
Always on the fucking bus
Keep on the fucking bus of life.
It's the same old shit each day
'Til you find your fucking way,
So just keep on the fucking bus of life.

Let us greet with shit-eating grin
Every goddamn delay and each swerve;
For we trust that this cocksucking route
From the other routes soon shall diverge.

Stay on the fucking bus,
Always on the fucking bus
Keep on the fucking bus of life.
Your aesthetic ain't worth shit
But you're damn well stuck with it,
So just keep on the fucking bus of life.

When you know it's all bullshit anyway,
'Cause there's fuck-all new under the sun,
Just say "who the fuck cares?" and keep on
The trajectory you've damn well begun.

Stay on the fucking bus,
Always on the fucking bus
Keep on the fucking bus of life.
You can ride it through the pass
Where the shit you make sucks ass
If you keep on the fucking bus of life.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 3:14 PM on April 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


Perhaps combine with another methodology.
posted by Wordshore at 3:16 PM on April 9, 2013


And the people all said sit down -- sit down, you're rocking the bus.
posted by escabeche at 3:20 PM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Some of us just ride the bus for fun. We get off at random stops, explore a bit, hop on another bus when it comes by, and see where that takes us.

You get to some really interesting places that way.
posted by MrVisible at 3:21 PM on April 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Last time I was at Helsinki bus station I'd drank way too many Estonian beers, caught the bus that I thought said kivihaki but it turned out said kiiiviihhaaki (or similar/or the other way around?) and ended up miles from the city in the snow at 1am trying to flag down cars.

Is this relevant?
posted by pmcp at 3:30 PM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


I prefer to think outside the bus.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:31 PM on April 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


but it's cold outside the bus
posted by pmcp at 3:32 PM on April 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


The breakthrough comes after you realize you've been the one driving the bus all along and the last passenger was dropped off several miles back and you can take it anywhere the hell you want.
posted by rocket88 at 3:32 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not that I know anything about chess, but as I understand it, this is the way chess works, as well. For a while you both make your moves and, if you both know what you're doing, you know that you are following the Kandinsky-Parcheesi Abandoned Bishop Gambit of 1928, or whatever, and then, suddenly one of you gets off the fuckin' bus and bam! it's game on. Just like real life.
posted by beagle at 3:38 PM on April 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


Hello, I wrote the linked Guardian column but the credit, of course, is Arno Minkkinen's, as linked in the piece and by the man of twists and turns above.

There's something amusingly self-referential about the persistence with which people retell these trite little fortune-cookie nostrums about persistence as if they were telling us something new. Or: wouldn't getting off the "stay on the bus" bus actually be better for all of us at this point? The last thing anyone needs is another "new" wrapper around the chestnut "keep at it, kid."

I can't speak for the originator of the idea, but for me personally it's an interesting frame to think with, and doesn't need to be some kind of indisputable truth that applies completely in all circumstances. To me, it differs from "keep at it, kid" in the crucial sense that it underlines not just that "persistence is good" or "bouncing around from thing to thing is bad" but that the originality you imagine you'll get from the bouncing around might, at least sometimes, come from continuing to do something that seems derivative or unoriginal. That's a real added insight, I'd say - but not a universal motto to live by in all circumstances, no.
posted by oliverburkeman at 3:43 PM on April 9, 2013 [13 favorites]


but it's cold outside the bus

My feet are inside the bus, where it's warm. It's my only mind that's outside the bus! Mind blown, right?

Just don't open the kimono outside the bus. It's rude, and you'll get cold.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:43 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Don't stay on the bus. Become the bus! Convert gasoline into engery!glide a top paved roads in style!
posted by The Whelk at 3:43 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh shit and now I remember it - it's really easy to skip the tram fare, maybe do that?

Also, I really enjoy the column Oliver - thanks.
posted by pmcp at 3:49 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


... and the trams are bloody slow, smell terrible and have been routed through Kallio to let them build an underground car park for reasons that will probably escape me until I have an intuitive grasp of lauseenvastikkeita in the newspaper.
posted by Talkie Toaster at 3:54 PM on April 9, 2013


Ah, no, confused two stories... they're just refurbishing the tram stops.
posted by Talkie Toaster at 3:59 PM on April 9, 2013


There's something amusingly self-referential about the persistence with which people retell these trite little fortune-cookie nostrums about persistence as if they were telling us something new.

But that isn't exactly what the article is saying. It isn't saying "stick with photography", it is saying to stick to a style, or a vision. Sure, everyone knows to succeed you gotta stick with it, but lots of people do a lot of searching and meandering while sticking with it. This is definitely being more specific then the typical "stick with it kid". I think it has value.
posted by Bovine Love at 4:01 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can "stay on the bus" all you want, but if you don't have a business plan that includes some really snazzy marketing, you are going to Disillusionville, a suburb of Broketown on the outskirts of Dontquityourdayjob City.

These How To Unlock Your Creativity arties piss me off because they imply success is just waiting for you to trip over it. Hahahahaaaaaa

No. Success is about busting your ass on the biz side, networking like woah, and getting lucky.

Don't forget it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:06 PM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


let's stop being creative and just pretend to drive buses all day.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:43 PM on April 9, 2013


you've been the one driving the bus all along and the last passenger was dropped off several miles back and you can take it anywhere the hell you want.

Only after everyone else has completely given up even the pretense of feigning interest in your artistic output, only then are you free to truly create?
posted by aubilenon at 4:43 PM on April 9, 2013


For many of us, creativity is the process of solving the same problems as other people in our own way or to our own satisfaction. So yes, this is a useful metaphor.
posted by howfar at 5:02 PM on April 9, 2013


I jumped on an airport loop shuttle bus without looking, they all are on a similar route, some branching, but even if you don't like the choice it'll loop around, EVEN the FRIGGN employee parking lot shuttle that went way the hell into nowhere I wanted to ever be, I could not have gotten off if I had wanted to, and was not at all conducive to any kind of creativity. Oh, metaphor, never mind (can us bus idiots be creative too?)
posted by sammyo at 5:17 PM on April 9, 2013


NO ONE goes off the bus.

Also, if the bus goes less than 50 miles per hour, it blows up.
posted by klangklangston at 5:20 PM on April 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


The furthur bus.
posted by bukvich at 5:23 PM on April 9, 2013


> It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the f*cking bus.

If these motherf*cking snakes don't get off this bus, I'm going to. We're not at 30,000 feet, I have options.
posted by jfuller at 5:39 PM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


This reminds me a lot of Ira Glass's talk about creativity and developing skill that rises to the level of your taste. Staying on the bus is hard to do, especially when you feel like you're not going anyplace new, while so many people around you are leading the way in a way that seems effortless.
posted by Mchelly at 5:48 PM on April 9, 2013


That settles it. Ten more years of booty pictures for me.
posted by ShutterBun at 7:03 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lots of things have happened to me on buses I'm not comfortable sharing.
posted by meadowlark lime at 7:16 PM on April 9, 2013


"There are going to be times when we can't wait for somebody. Now, you're either on the bus or off the bus. If you're on the bus, and you get left behind, then you'll find it again. If you're off the bus in the first place — then it won't make a damn."
-Ken Kesey in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
posted by euphorb at 8:17 PM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


seanmpuckett, you missed an opportunity: Brokelyn.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:05 PM on April 9, 2013


The Helsinki Tram Theory
by ikalliom

Taking the tram is the transportation choice of the civilized Helsinki City dweller like you. You'll take the tram anywhere. Even if it's slower than walking. If the tram does not go there, it's not a place worth going to. You can't imagine yourself in a bus, that mode of public transport is so very...rural. So instead of taking any of the buses in the Rautatientori main bus station, you go to the tram stop. Your best choice is almost always the tram line 3B/T, which is a figure-eight shaped line and covers almost all parts of the city, like a space-filling curve. The Rautatientori tram stop is at the middle of the figure-eight and trams go to four different directions from the same stop. Even if you're a local, you're not completely sure which one is going where, because they keep changing the lines all the time. It's just best to hop on, stay on the tram and wait until you're where you want to be. Being a circular line, the 3B/T also doubles as temporary shelter for homeless people during the day and as a drunk tank late at night. But just mind where you sit down, take a breath mint and wait until you get there. Stay on the fucking tram. You'll get there eventually. The little girl next to you is using the Journey planner on her smartphone.
posted by ikalliom at 12:15 AM on April 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ideally you'd be getting on this tram.
posted by destrius at 12:21 AM on April 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Additionally, trams in Helsinki can be used to predict the future*.

*accuracy may vary.
posted by Authorized User at 12:53 AM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, don't let the pigeon drive the bus!
posted by Kabanos at 6:34 AM on April 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Will be clicking back over to read the article, but I was really tickled to see that it's Arno Minkkinen. He's wonderful to hear speak in person - I think half the audience was in love with him by the end of his talk, and he's really thoughtful about his process and how he shapes his ideas. We had a big gallery full of his work and I kept stopping in just to keep looking at his work.

His photography is really lovely and fascinating and just a touch disturbing but in a really elegant way.
posted by PussKillian at 6:34 AM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like it. What I get is that it's okay to build on existing ideas (something young artists in particular can grapple with in their efforts to be original), indeed it's kind of inevitable - and it's worth staying with what you're interested in because it will take you to the right place.
posted by inkypinky at 7:07 AM on April 10, 2013


Last time Iw as at Helsinki Bus Station, I was eating one of those delicious buns with Quark in the middle. And now I really want one.

I loved Helsinki. Unfortunatley MrMippy was ill following consumption of an Estonian pork burrito, so we couldn't enjoy it much together. I still have a Finnish Panadol tablet somewhere.
posted by mippy at 8:21 AM on April 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


His photography is really

Coincidentally enough, the last time I took a bus from the station in Helsinki it was to the shore, where I then walked over the water to an island to spend a few days inhabiting my favourite moomin-friend's attic (which is where they all sleep in the winter).

It wasn't quite like that photo though, for starters you need to carry one of these doohickeys, so that if you fall through the ice you can claw your way back on top of it. Also you are going to want to be a lot less nekkid than that, on account of catching your death of cold.

And if you are to take metaphorical trips on transport out of Helsinki for creativity porpoises my vote would have to be for the ferry, in the spring, when the ice is cracking with dark echoing booms out in the night beyond the on-board discos and free refills (YAY!).
posted by titus-g at 10:09 AM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, as long as I don't end up in Turku.
posted by malocchio at 10:44 AM on April 10, 2013


It's more like Prestwick airport.
posted by sgt.serenity at 11:14 AM on April 10, 2013


Last time I was at Helsinki bus station I'd drank way too many Estonian beers ...

Unfortunatley MrMippy was ill following consumption of an Estonian pork burrito ...


What's going on here Estonia?
posted by Kabanos at 2:03 PM on April 10, 2013


What's going on here Estonia?

As I think this proves, they're great at producing mind altering substances but shitty at meat.
posted by pmcp at 6:10 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


A water bus takes you to the Swede smell of success.
posted by Chitownfats at 2:23 AM on April 11, 2013


At first I was all like, "It feels more like I'm on an SUV and two bikes, simultaneously." But then I'm thinking, "Even though it's a bloody mess and I have different body parts controlling and steering these different modes of transport I'm still riding on a Helsinki Bus and I'm OK with this." It's just that I'm riding on top of it, with my two bikes, SUV, and dismemberment, sitting on the roof. I'm still fine with that but it is cold up here and I like to fantasize that, some day, some one will let me inside.
posted by coolxcool=rad at 11:28 AM on April 11, 2013


free refills

Of TERRIBLE wine. :)
posted by howfar at 10:18 AM on April 13, 2013


“That’s as far as they go. They can’t take it any further. And why not? Because they won’t put in the effort”

posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:23 AM on April 25, 2013


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