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

What Would You Like?

The question that our title
has cast in deathless bronze
is painful yet so vital,
we owe it a response.

~ K.I. Gałczyński, trans. S. Barańczak and C. Cavanagh

We all have dreams – I could start by saying this if I didn’t know better. Dreams never come true – I could also start by saying this if I wanted to discourage you from reading my blog. This post is going to be about dreams and disappointment – I start by saying this because I don’t feel like trying to sound clever.

It would be nice to believe in what we get from films, books, and people who are perhaps too lazy to think over the old truths that they repeat: that all of us have dreams. But unfortunately, not all of us, and not in all circumstances, can keep up enough hope to sustain a dream.

All it takes is to face a terminal disease, extreme poverty or violence. In other words, if your life falls apart, you may become temporarily unable to dream.

A tragedy is not always the case, though. Some people, at certain points in their lives, simply don’t have dreams. And I’d think it’s perfectly all right if only I couldn’t be bothered to think about the reasons. But I am bothered, I am indeed very much bothered by the reasons.

There might be a multiplicity of them, and I might not be able to account for all of them here. All right, all right: I’m actually able to account for only two reasons, namely that:

  1. We’re happy with our lives as they are, and at this particular moment we just want to enjoy it, and dreams get kind of sidelined, or…
  2. We’re afraid of disappointment… which is completely understandable because disappointment is unpleasant. If it felt pleasant or neutral, I guess it wouldn’t be called disappointment anymore.

Well then, let’s be afraid of it, I’d say if I didn’t know that this fear might become unhealthy and lead us to give up on dreams.

It’s a very simple mechanism. If, as children, we were repeatedly told that we can’t disappoint other people because we hurt them by doing so; if, all too often, we saw other people being unable to cope with disappointment; if we experienced disappointment ourselves and couldn’t cope with it – we’re almost sure to be afraid of disappointment later on.

But there’s nothing to be afraid of… or at least there shouldn’t be, don’t you think? Disappointment is part of life and, in most cases, the human psyche is strong enough to cope with the pain it brings.

However, that is not enough for us to stop being afraid. Perhaps those of us who are will never stop being afraid. So, perhaps it’s worthwhile to learn how to cope with it? Learning a few coping methods should help to relieve anxiety, no matter the cause of it.

But who are we supposed to learn from if so many of the people around us are so clearly not good at handling their own disappointments? So many of them, resenting life that it’s not as good as they expected it to be, obstinately offended, neglect their own, and sometimes also their loved ones’ well-being.

I don’t know. I don’t know who to learn it from and, as you’ve probably noticed by now, I haven’t come up with any tricks of my own either. So far, I don’t think I have answered a single question I asked myself on this blog – I just write them down as homework to be done in the future.

But I already know one thing: I don’t want to give up on dreams for reason number two. I don’t want to forget how to dream just because I am afraid of disappointment. I don’t want to linger in this special kind of apathy which prevents us not only from making our dreams come true, but in the long run, also from knowing what they are.

That’s why, for a start, I suggest pulling your old dreams out of the waste bin and examining them closely – perhaps they still fit? And if not, I suggest asking yourself once again, bravely, in a demanding tone, this one important question: what would you like?

It’s painful yet so vital – you owe it a response.

Have a good day,
Renata

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

Word Issues #8: Disrespect

This post is an experiment for me. I wrote it ten months ago and after I opened the file yesterday, it intrigued me because I didn’t quite remember writing it. And although I would write it differently now, I’m posting it here as is, only with some editing*.

 

Disrespect

When I was being prepared for confirmation (yup, actual Catholic confirmation) some eight years ago, the priest who taught religion at my school (yup, they actually “teach religion” in schools in my country) told us to make one forever-binding promise to God.

So I made the promise to myself instead that from then on, I’d respect every single person I meet.

I made this promise although I didn’t feel particularly respectful towards that priest at the moment. (Seriously, what kind of a moron makes teenagers make such promises?) Nor did I feel respectful towards many other individuals around me at that time.

I guess that in my own way, I was being idealistic: without actually idealizing anybody around me, I idealized my capability for kindness, respect, tolerance, and so on.

But the older I get, the more apparent it becomes that I can’t fulfill this promise. All those nicey-picey, cuddly-wuddly things like love, kindness, tolerance, and even respect, just aren’t there for everyone. I wish I had them in me at all times, but I don’t.

I lose respect when I see cruelty and stupidity.

I’m not tolerant of people who knowingly confirm all the bad expectations society has about them.

I’ve grown out of the belief that you have to be kind to those who have wasted their time on earth.

From the few of Charles Bukowski’s poems that I read, I liked one:

we are always asked
to understand the other person’s
viewpoint
no matter how
out-dated
foolish or
obnoxious.

one is asked
to view
their total error
their life-waste
with
kindliness,
especially if they are
aged.

but age is the total of
our doing.
they have aged
badly
because they have
lived
out of focus,
they have refused to
see.

not their fault?

whose fault?
mine?

I am asked to hide
my viewpoint
from them
for fear of their
fear.

age is no crime

but the shame
of a deliberately
wasted
life

among so many
deliberately
wasted
lives

is.

The poem seems to be written from the perspective of someone young, and lacking in respect for the old ones who have aged badly.

My own disrespect transcends the categories of young and old. It’s trans-categorial, omni-present, and ever-growing. I can’t shake it, and I don’t think I will ever be able to do so.

If anything, it will get worse with age. I will be an old woman one day, hanging around and nurturing her misanthropy before it kills her. Actually, I can’t wait for this.

 

Well all right, I would probably write it pretty much the same way if I did it on the day I saw that stupid woman at the bus stop who was squeezing the hand of a boy, squeezing it hard with her big, fat, stupid hands of a grown-up and shouting just because the boy preferred to run around instead of standing in one place. Fuck you, woman at the bus stop.

And you who are reading this, please don’t get me wrong. I respect people and even like them but not when I see this kind of shit done.

 

* I know a fellow blogger who sometimes posts his short stories with little notes that he doesn’t remember writing them and stuff like that. It’s cheap but it works so I decided to try it.

Be Ready to Get Confused

On most subjects, I have rather fragmentary knowledge. There’s always something I never really understood and, for this reason, forgot. There are also things I once understood but forgot anyhow. Sometimes I feel really dumb.

But there’s no subject I feel dumber about than human relationships. And even if it often seems to me like it’s not a thing you can educate yourself about, and that I should already know something about it “naturally”, I find myself feeling so dumb at times that I need to resort to some sort of literature. A book. An article. Something, anything, a thing made of words that ring true and, at least to some extent, scientific.

So I came across this article recently — you knew this sentence was coming, didn’t you? — and I found some wisdom in it.

It’s called “How Compassion Fades in Love Relationships”, you can access it HERE, and of course the wisdom contained in it does not by any means apply solely to love relationships. The case with most stuff written on love relationships is that it goes just as well for other human relationships. Perhaps putting the word “love” in a title is just a matter of click baiting.

Anyway, the part I found most interesting was about the mechanism we follow when we interact and a Problem comes up. The Problem usually comes up when somebody behaves in a way you don’t like. For example, they avoid conversations, fail to do what they promised to do, interrupt when you’re talking, or seem forever unhappy with everything. And it makes you so sad! So angry or disappointed! They hurt you so much, those bastards!

Well, the latter is actually not the case, and this is where the Problem lies. More often than not, those people do not hurt you. This is not what they intend to do. The reasons for their behaviour might be completely different from the ones you already made up in your head.

She doesn’t like me anymore… she doesn’t think I’m an interesting person to talk to… *sad face* Well, maybe she’s just feeling sad lately and not in the mood for talking?

He didn’t book the tickets like I asked him to do… He’s letting me down so badly… Poor thing, perhaps he’s just terribly busy and stressed out these days?

They think I don’t have anything to say anyway and that’s why they keep interrupting me… *sob* Well, some people have a temperament that disposes them to talk a lot, and without waiting for others to finish.

She complains all the time and it makes me feel exhausted… Well, perhaps she really does have reasons to be unhappy. Why not try and help her? (Start from teaching her that complaining sucks.)

These are just examples. In fact, there’s about a million cotillions possible reasons. Nope, it’s not a number. I just wanted it to sound scientific… and it didn’t, just like so many things that we do for reasons of our own appear to have a completely different motivation in other people’s eyes.

I guess I could sum it up by saying that we should all learn to stop and think for a while before we accuse somebody of hurting us. Our hurt feelings don’t make us experts on other people’s behaviour or on their motivation. It seems they make us quite dumb, in fact.

So, there it is. The riddle. Björk is right, you know.

 

Science, Art, and Stupidity

“(…) both in science and in art we seek analogies, as if understanding that our everyday common sense is geared to looking for analogies on the surface, and sometimes even provides us with erroneous ones. This is why activities that are free from the pressure of life’s necessities — such as fundamental research or art — are based on the assumption that there are covert analogies between such elements of reality as we normally consider separate and impossible to converge. Thus, science and art are alike in revealing things that are covertly similar, and confronting those that are similar only on the surface, in a manner surprising for the recipient”
(from Leszek Nowak’s Gombrowicz. Człowiek wobec ludzi, my own translation)

I’m neither a scientist nor an artist, but reading that, I figured out what it is that attracts me to both science and art: it’s the chance to take a break from the struggle of being equipped with a human mind, and being surrounded by people who are equipped alike, which so often results in making false analogies, drawing bad conclusions, and — let me say it straight out — our minds’ everyday stupidity.

Tolstoy’s Thoughts while Cleaning

Reading an article about the language of poetry, I came upon what you could call a super-serious shower thought by none other than Leo Tolstoy [*]. Only it wasn’t technically a shower thought, but one conceived while cleaning. I guess they didn’t shower in those days.

I was dusting the furniture and as I walked up to the settee, I couldn’t recall whether I had dusted it or not. Because the activity is of the simple and unconscious sort, I couldn’t recall it, and felt that the moment was gone. So if I had dusted the settee but didn’t remember it, i.e. I acted unconsciously, it’s like it hadn’t happened at all. If someone had been consciously watching it, they could recall it; but if no one had been watching it, or if someone had been watching it unconsciously – if someone’s whole life passes without them being conscious of it, as it often happens, then it’s like they never lived.

And I just thought, what an ending to this otherwise mundane story.

Because it happens all the time that we do things, go to places, talk to people, etc. automatically, and then forget that we’ve done something, been somewhere, met someone. It’s not bad at all. In fact, with the amount of information our brains are flooded with every day, it’s only healthy that we keep some of it out.

But what if this forgetfulness, on a higher level, brings us to a tragic ending?

A woman once asked me at the end of an unconscious rant, during a severe bout of schizophrenia, “So I’ve managed to live my whole life in oblivion?” It was then that I realized that ruining your life doesn’t have to be this one-time event that produces enough Wolverine-style guilt to hold out for all your remaining days on earth.

It can be the small things: the fact you gradually came to terms with teachers calling you a moron, and stopped caring about your education; the important decisions you let your parents take for you; the longer-than-bearable time you spent in one flat with your ex; the hundred times you decided to go to work instead of to a doctor when you felt ill.

Because we’re all conscious of the fact that it is our responsibility, and ours only, to keep ourselves satisfied, free of misery and healthy, right? But then, life in general, and our inner lives, too, are so full of everything that we sometimes neglect this responsibility.

Take it from me, then: before it all comes to an unhappy ending for you, or for anybody else — yes, I mean: do that quickly! — go and do something good for yourself.

Whatever you choose to do, let it be the thing you need and/or want most right now. Something that will make you happy, or put an end to you feeling unhappy, something that will make you grow, something you’ve never experienced but always dreamed about.

Or at least make a plan and keep to that plan, okay?

Regards,
Mulan

[*] The excerpt comes from Tolstoy’s diaries as quoted by Victor Shklovsky in “Art as Device” and translated, for the lack of an English translation at hand, by myself.

A Friend I’ve Never Seen

I have a friend I’ve never seen
He hides his head inside a dream

Probably as much as I like words, I like stealing other people’s words.

And these I recall every time I think of an Internet pal I’ve been exchanging e-mails with for the last five years at ever longer intervals. It developed from the discovery that we both like misty autumn mornings, to discussing our (very different) literary tastes, to cherry jam, book publishing, prostitutes, death, and neodymium pipes.

Neil Young’s lyrics remind me of him not only because I’ve never seen him, but also because Krzysztof’s head is filled with the love of nature, idealistic notions, and Plato, who he often recommended to me but, being a bad friend, I never made the effort of reading any Plato to understand Krzysztof better.

Once in a while, I get the feeling I should send him an e-mail… It’s a long while because we’re good friends without being close friends, so we don’t need to contact each other more often. It’s for the same reason that I haven’t read Plato — I probably would read a book if someone close to me was recommending it as important to them.

Still, on a several-monthly basis, I do get the strong feeling that I need to contact Krzysztof. Recently, I began to wonder why it’s so strong, and here’s what I came up with: perhaps even though most of us give priority to close relationships over the superficial ones, we also need the superficial ones to fulfill the selfish need of getting a new picture of our own lives.

When we write to those distant friends of ours, and give them our short summaries of what we’ve been up to in the past several months, we can stop, “listen to ourselves,” and think, for example:

  • “Oh my, this doesn’t even sound plausible, going through so much stress and not dying”
  •  “Hey, hey, how come I didn’t realize I have such an interesting life?”
  •  “Why does this enthusiastic letter feel so fake? Why do I feel dissatisfied?”
  • or, like I have recently: “Thinking about it now, my sadness, even if sometimes overwhelming, is just a small portion of the large, wonderful, and ever-expanding life that I’m sharing with other people.”

It doesn’t matter whether you feel you can be honest with your friend, or whether you’d rather only talk about what’s good in your life, and not about what’s bad. If you take the time to reflect on your words, you’ll get a new picture of your life in all cases. And this helps.

It helps me with my sadness. It can help you too to see how interesting or stressful your life really is. It can also help you fix whatever makes you dissatisfied.

Because having a friend always helps — even if it’s one you’ve never seen.

And if you’d like to see what Krzysztof is up to, go to his blog [PL]. It’s mostly pictures from the Polish mountains, scenes from the author’s life, and his love of nature, books, philosophy, and his daughter described in thousands of words.