But One Country

Here’s a poem by Rod Duncan that I translated as part of the Journeys in Translation project, a project that calls upon translators around the world to translate poems from Over Land Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge from English into other languages. You can still take part! More information: Journeys in Translation

The poem in English:

but one country

our home
is but one country
truly, the whole earth
is there for them to settle
tell us if you can, where else
shall we go when they have come?
they do not belong in our homeland
you should blush when you say to us
we must turn our vision up-side down

 we must turn our vision up-side down
you should blush when you say to us
they do not belong in our homeland
shall we go when they have come?
tell us if you can, where else
is there for them to settle
truly, the whole earth
is but one country
our home

The poem in Polish:

Tylko jeden kraj

Nasz dom
— Jeden kraj
Na całym świecie
Jest dla nich dość miejsca
Mówcie, jeśli wiecie, gdzie
Mamy pójść, gdy się tu zjawią?
W tym kraju nie ma dla nich miejsca
Powinno wam być wstyd mówić nam, że
Czas wywrócić swój świat do góry nogami

Czas wywrócić swój świat do góry nogami
Powinno wam być wstyd mówić nam, że
W tym kraju nie ma dla nich miejsca
Mamy pójść, gdy się tu zjawią?
Mówcie, jeśli wiecie, gdzie
Jest dla nich dość miejsca
Na całym świecie
— Jeden kraj
Nasz dom

When Passion is a Requirement

Have you ever had the impression that people would like you to be more passionate about things than you can realistically be?

For many of us, it may seem like this, and all the more so we consider the media an important point of contact with the world. Morning shows, ads, life-style blogs, ads again, job offers, and for the final time, ads – all of them promote the images of passionate, energetic people who go about their daily activities with a smile running all the way around their heads.

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…Or throw books around themselves in a frenzy. Photo by Lacie Slezak

But it’s a silly approach where you show excitement as the only acceptable state to be in, tell your readers to boost their energy like it’s the only thing they can possibly need, or require a steadily exorbitant level of passion from job candidates.

It probably won’t be a surprise to you if I say that being in low spirits from time to time is only natural, that low-energy people can be happy in their lives just as well, and that a lack of passion doesn’t entail being no good at what you do in life.

The fact is that those periodically miserable, low-energy, unenthusiastic people can be just as good as friends, partners, parents, teachers, construction workers, artists, dentists and whatnot.

We are the way we are, and that’s okay.

Still… there’s always this shade of doubt when we think about ourselves, isn’t there? Whatever we do, it just doesn’t seem good enough when we compare it to the enterprises of the ideal, passionate people we’ve been trained to look up to.

Let me tell you a secret: I’ve struggled with my self-image as a writer for many years. Me writing + other people reading it + us together talking about me writing? No, that just doesn’t compute.

Why? Because I’m not passionate about writing, and how am I supposed to tell people that?

Let’s give it a try: I haven’t felt all my life that I should write. Holding a book with my name on it is not my biggest dream. I don’t wreck my sleep to write. My life is not defined by the stories I’ve written. Sometimes when I want something written, I force myself to write it because I have no enthusiasm for it. In fact, I suppose I’d be just fine without writing.

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Photo by Green Chameleon

It’s just that I like to write, and some people like my writing. But when I think that, panic enters the stage because it sounds so terribly insufficient that I want to withdraw all the signals I’ve ever sent to the world outside that yes, I want to be a writer. Because if I’m not passionate about it, I’m not a real writer, no?

This doubt has its effects on the work itself. As with writing, so with other hobbies and endeavours. Every so often, one gets discouraged by adverse circumstances. Or one lose interest in what one does, and may even forget about it for long stretches of time. Very often, one’s lack of passion translates into a lack of motive to develop your skills.

If you add this self-doubt to the fact the world favours passionate people, it’s easy to call oneself a good-for-nothing, lie down and be sorry for oneself.

But don’t do this just yet! Because I’ve some important things to tell you. Here they are:

I. You are fine the way you are. You don’t have to be passionate about something to “count as a valuable person”.

II. You can be good at things even if you’re not helped along by passion. Without it, it may just be slightly more difficult in certain respects.

III. After you’ve admitted that you don’t feel passionate about things, it’s time for you – not for anyone else who may see your lack of passion as a shortcoming – to decide what to do with your time, skills, and energy.

But I can’t help you with that last one. Too busy writing.

What It’s Like to Have a Rat

I have a rat. It’s been sitting on my desktop for a few days now. Like all rats, it has the tendency to reappear in bad times.

It appears whenever I’m sad for a period of time longer than a few days.

I won’t show it to you because it’s a very private rat, just like my sadness is a private business, most of the time.

But I can talk about it if I want to. I wasn’t able to do this when I was younger. The rat had to stay somewhere out of sight, in the basement, I think (I was never quite sure of its whereabouts back then).

Under no circumstances did I want to see it, let alone let anyone else see it. Rats aren’t nice animals, you know.

But amid all this maturing, thinking and rethinking, I discovered that you can make friends with your rat even if it’s not nice.

Perhaps you’ll also be able to tame it so that it doesn’t eat you from the inside anymore. I haven’t yet convinced mine to stop doing that.

But I’m trying. When times are bad, I’m putting it on my desktop and say hello to it every time I switch on my laptop so that it feels accepted, and appreciated, too.

Nothing to be scared of — I tell myself, and it gives me that serious, reassuring look.

szczurek
This isn’t the one from my desktop. This one was drawn by lotny.

Have a great day,
Renata

Post scriptum: You can read a Polish version of this post at uczesiemowic.blogspot.com.

Life Is Not A Race // Word Issues #6

A few weeks ago, I was scribbling a note on the blank space of the last page of a short story written by someone from the students’ association. It went something like this: “the heroine’s actions seem random, there’s no pattern to them… that might signify immaturity (and I don’t mean there’s anything wrong with immaturity!).”

At that, I wondered why I should feel the need to explain that there is nothing wrong with immaturity – that, in other words, immaturity isn’t a fault.

It’s as plain as the nose on your face: you will probably agree that the word “immaturity” can justifiably be understood as describing a phase of life preceding maturity. A phase of life, not a personality trait – yet we usually use this word to describe the latter, most often to summarize somebody who did something stupid which we didn’t much like.

But if we give it a little thought… immaturity in the latter sense of “personality trait” may well dominate someone’s behaviour in both the immature and the mature phase of life. Well, then?

We all make mistakes and, very often, have a hard time finding the right paths for ourselves. But even if we keep blundering, does that mean we should get summed up as “immature”? Does that mean our lovely mistakes, the time we spend deciding on the right course of action only to choose the wrong one, our troubles, worries, and profuse amounts of acting out should be dismissed as unimportant?

Do you know what age slot Erikson designated as the maturity phase? It was 65+. That’s just to (randomly) quote an authority before I proceed with a piece of unsolicited advice to make your lives perhaps a bit less plagued by worry:

Maturing is a slow process. It’s okay if you haven’t yet mastered all the skills that come with it, like wise decision making, or good time management. It’s okay if you don’t know how you’d behave in each and every kind of situation. It’s okay if you’re not ready to take up all responsibilities that someone may expect you to take. Remember: life is not a race.

And, by the way… don’t you think there’s something inherently awesome about immaturity? You can act random like the heroine from the story I mentioned, and it’s just the natural way you act. And then, as that phase passes, you learn more and more about the kind of behaviour that suits you. You make choices about what responsibilities you want to take up. You basically learn and learn, and learn some more.

Personally, I wanna keep being slightly immature indefinitely.

Protection. A Story

When I was a kid, I liked to watch as my father welded pieces of metal together. He’d wear that big dull grey mask that always seemed dusty and, when I tried to lift it, felt as heavy as the world. That was his protection. It saved him from going blind due to the overly bright light.
It worked – he never did go blind from welding. But as time passed, and my young eyes, accustomed to being wide open when I watched him at work, gained more focus, I began to notice a different blindness in his movements, opinions, and habits.
He’d go tired for days. I could see it in his movements: the fatigue of the muscles; of the mind, perhaps; the back pain that stooped him more and more every day. When he watched the news, he did it without the agitation he once showed at the mention of any one topic that stirred opinions. His own opinions froze. He stopped paying attention to what he ate. Lard sandwiches day in, day out – he didn’t care what it was doing to his heart.
I think he was blind to it. His heart, I mean. It sounds foolish but what else could make a man shut himself off from friends and family and go on like he was the only person in his own world? Not talking for days, not sharing any of his pain, physical or otherwise? It must have been blindness. A wise woman once told me people go blind due to bad experiences because they don’t want to look back at them.
It’s fall, and I’m remembering him again: his muffled voice when he explained to me about welding from under the mask, the prolonged periods he had of being alone with books, which later turned into days, weeks, months of not talking at all, the shaky gait and eyes that were forever avoiding us.
I wish I had that welding mask of his but I couldn’t find it even though I’ve tried to every November when I come to see our old home after visiting his grave. When fall comes in, I start to feel unsure. I spend evenings thinking of how, as a kid, I saw a man go blind and become a different person. I’m worried this could happen to me; to my future, which then would get as if erased; to my family, who’d probably be scared.
I need some sort of protection against it. At those times, I have this silly idea that the mask would help.
But it’s just a mask that a man mislaid somewhere and died. I must come up with something better.

Our New Writing Contest: PRESS ANY KEY

Hi there!
A couple of students from the Jagiellonian University, including me, is organizing a writing contest for students from any place in the world whose native language is not English.
For more information about the “PRESS ANY KEY” contest, click HERE.
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Join us, and together we can rule the world of story-telling!