The Best of Crises

We’re riding in a car back from the university to work. Me and a couple near-strangers that I agreed to teach a course with. We’re passing the Wisla river as a Coldplay song starts to play on the radio. A song I like, a song that somehow seems significant. Is it one of those songs that helped me move through some difficult shit at some point in the past? But I never really listened to Coldplay. Oh, I remember. I got a link to this song once in an e-mail from her.

It’s weird I only remember it after a while.


The notion of identity as something shared as opposed to personal is relatively new. In his 2016 BBC Reith Lectures, Kwame Anthony Appiah have the example of Rosamond in George Eliot’s Middlemarch “almost losing the sense of her identity” on discovering that the man she loves is devoted to someone else. Such identity is utterly personal, Appiah argues, while what we think of as identity today – nationality, race, religion, sexuality – is composed of characteristics shared with many others: it is social. [1]

I have a problem with this understanding of identity as social. Yes, I am a social being. I have a nationality written into my ID, I share what some people call ‘race’ with so many others; I share a lack of religion with some people, and a pattern of sexual attraction with others. Is this me, though? Does any of these things really describe my identity? Do all of them combined make me who I am?

I have a problem with this way of thinking because such identity doesn’t feel personal at all. The characteristics I listed are parts of my life, but I fail to be attached to them. I fail at the need to defend them. To be honest, some of them even feel accidental at times.

An identity, for me, is a personal sense of who you are. I need it to be personal to be able to get attached to it. To take pride in it, or to feel strongly about it in any other way.

I’m thinking about identity because I’ve found myself in a strange place in my life; a place of shifting identity. I’ve been shedding my old skin for a few years. Slowly letting go of my habitual depression, and of the longing for someone who would handle it on my behalf. Of some thoughts that made me miserable. Of things I thought I liked about myself that were actually things I thought others liked about me. I’ve been shedding this skin, and fidgeting uncomfortably at the thought, “but I’ll be naked once I’m done.”

I have this sort of fear that, once I let go of my old habits and my old state of mind, there’ll be nothing left of me. I’ll be a walking piece of meat. No spirit, no beliefs, no special characteristics.

It’s true, I’m late with growing a sense of my own identity. I’m terribly late.

But I need a sense of it. And on better days, I’m certain that I will be able to grow it. I’ve already told myself that I’m not my depression. I’m not a fear of being alone. I’m not just someone who makes me miserable. I’m not what somebody else may want me to be, and not what I think they want me to be. So… at least I know what I’m not.

The thing with growing a sense of identity, though, is that you cannot just get rid of everything that troubled you, everything that you disliked, and which made you feel unhappy. You need to outgrow these things, but at the same time replace them with something new. Something valuable. Something you want to be there. Something you want to be.

My fear of being left with no sense of personal identity goes quieter when I remind myself about that. Indeed, how could I stay skin-less if I already know the tissue needs replacement? I will be there once I’m done shedding the old skin, and I will help myself regrow it. The new one will be more comfortable, I’m sure.

I know this may all sound rather terrifying. But honestly? It’s the best crisis I’ve ever had. Even if it’s scary, it holds a promise of letting me become more of myself. More of the person I want to be. It feels like life in its very essence, the way Anton Czekhov put it: terrible and marvellous [2].


[1] Michael Amherst “Go The Way Your Blood Beats. On Truth, Bisexuality and Desire”

[2] Anton Czekhov “The Steppe. The Story of a Journey”


What Stories Are You Telling Yourself?

In one of the best books on translation that I read during the course of my studies[1], there was a theory of collective narratives by which people live. The specific example was of the American dream narrative, told and retold by many people in different walks of life, subconsciously subscribing to the idea that their life should be some version of the rags-to-riches story. 

Kurt Vonnegut, in one of those books I used to like so much[2], explained all to poignantly how depressing the American dream story can turn out for somebody who stayed in the rags. Many people realize that actual life may be more complicated than a story they tell themselves, and that if they don’t succeed the way their hero did, it’s not necessarily their fault, or a reason to be down. But even for them, this whole process can be rough. 

So why do we subscribe to those stories? Why do we narrow down the range of possible stories that we could tell with our lives? Not all of us do so, of course; some people don’t really see their lives as linear narratives.[3] But some of us do. And, as all things subconscious, it’s neither a bad thing, or a good thing; it’s just a thing we do. 

And if it’s a rough experience to discover that a particular story we believed was true about ourselves is actually hindering us in some way, I’m all for immersing in the roughness of it. Because finding out how your own autobiographical narrative affects your life can ultimately be rewarding. With some patience, you can go from that to tackling the potential hindrances that your story conceived. 

We can subscribe to such stories collectively or individually. One of the collective narratives I hear around me is that of powerlessness. As one of the narrators in a book I recently read[4] asserts, in Poland, there’s a hundred ways of saying “let’s wait patiently until this ends”’. By some dreary coincidence, one of my individual narratives is no less pessimistic: it’s one in which I can’t change the habits that make me miserable because it’s the way I am. 

What are the stories you tell yourselves? Do they hinder you or support your growth? Whatever your narrative might or might not be, I wish you all the best if you want to discover, interpret, and perhaps question it, too.


[1] Translation and Conflict. A Narrative Account by Mona Baker
See also Mona Baker’s official site.

[2] But whose title I managed to forget anyway

[3] “I am not a story” at 

[4] Nie to/Nie tamto by Soren Gauger

Start Where You Are

I meant the thoughts I’d take into the new year to be more powerful and positive, but at the end of the last one I found myself repeating this one to remind myself that change doesn’t start somewhere you haven’t been yet — it starts where you are. A simple, neutral thought whose logic can hardly escape anyone.

Broadford, Isle of Skye | September 2017
Broadford, Isle of Skye | September 2017

Whether you want to change your profession, eating habits or attitude to adversity, you need to start in the place you are now. Not a place you want to be, probably. A bad place, perhaps. But it’s not possible to become the idealized image of yourself in no time.

It starts with realizing where you are.

It may take some courage and seriousness to take the first step towards change.

More courage and seriousness to step back and try again if the first step didn’t take you where you wanted.

A shit-ton of work to find the right path!

Patience to stay put if your heart, mind, lungs and the rest of your lovely self don’t quite keep up with the pace.

More work to keep searching, and stay on the right path if you’ve found it.

And perserverance.

And more of it.


Good luck, everyone.

A Lesson in Resigning

My twenty fifth birthday was one of the saddest so far. I didn’t feel like celebrating it, few people remembered about it, and at the end of it I couldn’t fall asleep: I was projecting the things I heard about being over twenty five onto my future. It made me cry. I was anticipating that I’d have the same problems I used to have, and that the only difference would be that I’d be less emotional about them. I was anticipating a resignation from my ambitious plan to gradually change the things that make me unhappy.

That’s what I heard people over twenty five become: emotionally cold, and resigned. Everyone gets those projections somewhere. They might be ridiculous and untrue, but they stay with us.

But, of, course they don’t have to define our future. We all have our needs, dreams, and plans that run against any bleak visions of the future that other people or the present feed into our minds. I, for example, need to listen to myself more. I dream about filling my life with interesting books. I have the ambitious plans I mentioned above.

And all of it didn’t go away when I turned twenty five. Quite the contrary: with each success and failure in fulfilling the above, I’m more and more aware of what these needs, dreams and plans mean to me… and in the end, it’s them that define me, not the projections.

Resignation is tempting, very tempting sometimes. It makes things so much easier to say: “this is too hard,” and give up. But I wouldn’t want to do so when I care about something deeply. And of course I care about my needs, dreams and plans deeply!

There is another kind of resignation, though, one I didn’t know until this year. It came unexpectedly naturally to me – a person used to fighting her own perceived weaknesses – after someone casually exposed my “people anxiety” by pointing out that I curled up when someone else sat beside me.

I always tried not to draw attention to my fear of people, wanted others to see me, ideally, as a confident person, and hated it when somebody made comments towards the contrary. I wanted to become confident, there and then, even if only in the eyes of some random beholders.

But at that moment, I resigned from pretending, and from my own hasty efforts to get rid of the anxiety (one of the things that make me unhappy, part of the big plan). I acknowledged the state I was in at the moment, and accepted the exposure, thinking: “yes, I am scared, why would I deny it?”

And, even though I’d never have expected any kind of resignation to be good, it was good for me. It had a calming effect. I’m not really sure how else to comment on this, or what to call this new kind of resignation, so I’ll just leave this discovery here for your consideration, and mine too. Maybe it will make us both more accepting towards ourselves…?

Post scriptum: Two days after I scheduled this post, during a yoga class, the teacher unexpectedly summed up my roundabout reflections on resignation by saying that all work starts from the place we’re in at the moment, and it can’t start from the place we would like to be in. It seems that everything around me conspires to teach me something.


Yet another piece from the collection Over Land, Over Sea that I translated as part of the Journeys in Translation project. This one, written by Trevor Wright, is actually my favourite one. What I like most about it is the powerful imagery that sticks in one’s mind long after one has finished reading. And the hope it brings, too.



Shadowed by fissured rock,
fingers funnelling cooling sand,
the pull of the moon carving
the rhythm I need to pierce
the gloom, smell the horizon,
taste futures. I hunker down
to take soft hand to hand as
she quietly asks, who hears?
Who sees? Will land touch us?
Night folds in. Of course, I laugh.
The stars listen, the moon sees,
new land will find us. Yalla!

Yet another dawn,
chin to chest, rib to rib, my
last daughter curves in my lap,
exposed to a firmament fully
intent on pressing our shared
breath to the depths. I raise
my trailed palm, cool my brow,
wrinkled fingers stroke dreams,
residue all at odds with the tides.
Does anyone tune into the stars?
Who cares what the moon sees?
Will land reach out? Yalla. Yalla!



W cieniu spękanej skały
Palce przebierają stygnący piasek
A przyciąganie księżyca rzeźbi
Rytm, którego mi trzeba, by przebić
Mrok, poczuć zapach widnokręgu,
Smak możliwych przyszłości. Kucam,
By wziąć jej miękką dłoń w swoją,
Gdy cicho pyta, kto słyszy?
Kto widzi? Czy ląd nas dosięgnie?
Zapada noc. Śmieję się: oczywiście.
Gwiazdy słuchają, księżyc widzi,
Nowy ląd nas znajdzie. Yalla!

Kolejnego ranka,
Oparta brodą o moją pierś, ostatnia
Córka kuli się na moich kolanach,
Tuż pod sklepieniem, które usilnie
Chce zepchnąć nasz wspólny
Oddech w głębiny. Podnoszę
Rękę i schładzam czoło,
Pomarszczone palce głaszczą sny,
Osad, co powstał wbrew ruchowi fal.
Czy ktoś wsłuchuje się w gwiazdy?
Kogo obchodzi, co widzi księżyc?
Czy ląd poda nam dłoń? Yalla. Yalla!

[1] W języku arabskim wezwanie do pośpiechu: „prędzej”, „chodźmy”.

Why I No Longer Set an Alarm When I Go to Sleep

I used to believe it’s sad to think about sleep during the day, to be longing for sleep when you’re awake. Sleep, I thought, is an escape, and if you feel the need to escape, it must be quite bad.

But is sleep indeed an escape? And an escape from what? If the waking state was the primary reality of human beings, and if our living in that reality was always and without exceptions a hardship, then we could consider sleep an escape.

But our reality is composed of both sleep and wake, both playing a huge role in our well-being. That the waking state takes up two thirds, and sleep only one third of our lives, does not mean the latter is less important. We live in both, and need both.

The waking state is not always a hardship, either. I used to think it is for personal reasons, but now I’ve become acquainted with many more of the experiences that life has in store.

There is pleasure in life, and there is love. There is enthusiasm and exhaustion, and there is sadness and pain. There is also the feeling that one is actually lucky to be alive. And there is much more.

Coming back to not-so-personal beliefs, let’s remember that the time we spend asleep is equally valuable as our waking time. It is a time for rest, a time perfect for connecting with our inner lives, a time for dreaming and, let’s not forget about that: for growing.

But we’re reluctant to accept this fact of life, aren’t we, the twenty-first-century high-speed human machines? We minimize the time for sleep to have more of it for work, game playing, partying and whatnot. We treat sleep as if it was a necessary evil, often resorting to it only when we’re completely exhausted.

You’ve been there, haven’t you? If you haven’t, then my congratulations. But most of us relegate sleep to a place down at the bottom on their list of priorities. “Sleeping won’t get us a financial upgrade, awesome friends and photos from an enviable exotic trip, so why waste our time?”

There are at least two reasons… no, not to “waste our time”, but to change our minds about sleep so that it doesn’t seem a waste of time. Aaand to finally sleep enough.

Reason one is very simple, and you already know it: we need sleep. Our bodies, our minds, our everything needs sleep like plants need the sun. There’s no denying it, even if we like denying our needs so much. Remember: there’s no shame in being in need of something, so there’s no need to deny it.

Reason two is arguable, and I am going to argue for it: sleep makes our lives richer and more interesting. If we were to go with the current conception of a human being as a sort of organic robot, with brain for its main computer, stomach for the fuel tank and so on, we’d make ourselves dull and exhausted.

We’re not machines. We’re animals with an enormous capacity for experiencing things. Numerous things (see the personal paragraph above). And I have no doubt that we experience and remember them more fully when we are rested than we do when trying to fight exhaustion and boredom.

Our lives get more interesting also thanks to the dreaming we do while asleep. Seriously, what would they be without those strange nightly phantasms, reflections on their possible meaning in the daily light, and evening discussions with our loved ones about whether they mean anything at all?

These are my reasons for not feeling bad when I think about sleep during the day, not setting an alarm when I go to sleep, and enjoying most of all the days when absolutely no external force can make my eyes open until they open by themselves in the morning.

What are yours? If you don’t have any, go find some, quickly. Because sleep is quite a lovely state.


A source that made me reflect on my attitude to sleep, and also a place for you to look for reasons to start getting enough sleep: The Cure for Insomnia Is to Fall in Love with Sleep Again

On a less serious note: A video presenting a healthy attitude to sleep


Nighty night!

Someone Unlike You

In my recent post, I recommended reading Laney’s The Introvert Advantage. The book offers advice and support to the “temperamental minority” of introverts, who make up roughly a quarter of the general population. It emphasizes that the western culture puts introverts at a disadvantage because it’s the extrovert traits that are promoted and encouraged everywhere. It brings to light the prejudice and misunderstanding that surrounds introversy, the shaming and rejection of introvert traits by the extroverted majority.

It’s all true enough but it got me thinking about the other prejudice that you can see some introverts hold: that directed against the extroverted majority. It’s barely noticeable among people – after all, it’s only held by a portion of a minority. But when an introvert talks to another introvert, you may hear critical remarks about extroverted people. “Why are they so loud? Why can’t they stop talking? Why don’t they think properly before doing something? And what’s with this habit of ‘thinking out loud’, why on earth can’t they think like normal people?”

And when the phrase “normal people” enters the stage, it’s usually a sign of some kind of prejudice. Don’t take me wrong: prejudice is just a thing that happens when we don’t know enough about the Other to empathize with them. It’s about a lack of understanding, and it’s about taking the shortest path to classifying the Other somehow. The introverts who don’t understand, criticize, or even reject extrovert traits (I’ve never met with shaming in this context), do this because they never put any effort into trying to understand introvert behaviour, or they did but found it too hard.

Photo of snow flakes by Aaron Burder
Photo by Aaron Burder

And it’s fine! We are different, and differences are sometimes really hard to get one’s head around. I wouldn’t blame another introvert for failing to acknowledge the benefits of thinking out loud – damnit, I can’t grasp this concept myself. But I wouldn’t blame a more extroverted person for thinking it weird to “keep so quiet all the time,” either. Everyone has their limitations when it comes to understanding otherness, and having a prejudice in the first place doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. We hold prejudices because they’re helpful in going about our lives without stopping and thinking about everything that surprises us about other people. In a way, prejudices help us make sense of the human world.

Most of the time they are wrong, though, because we came by them in ways that were too easy: we inherited them from our parents; we took them over from friends who travel abroad more often; we heard them on the radio from a guy whose voice always seemed trustworthy to us; or we formed them ourselves from what little experience we had with a particular group of people. Still, it’s not a crime to have prejudices. It’s just such a shame not to examine them when presented with contrary information, and to hold on to them when confronted with people as they are – in all their beautiful variety.

Because when you stand by your prejudices like they’re some holy text, you shut your mind off from innumerable possibilities to understand more of the world. And you also get really, really, really difficult to listen to.

I have more prejudices than just the prejudice against extroverted people, and I think I’m more or less aware of each. I could write pages and pages about them, but it’s not the point. The point is that life gives us opportunities to learn new facts, think and re-think whatever prejudices we hold, and change our minds if we decide to do so. For example, by reading The Introvert Advantage, I learned something about differences in human temperament, and started to shift from the kind of outlook on extroversy where “extroverts just sort of do stupid things for no reason” to one where… everybody’s different, and that’s fine.

I encourage you to use your opportunities. So go out and talk to someone, or stay in and watch a documentary, or read a book about somone unlike you. It’s worthwhile. I promise.