Words

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Such a simple construction… a few sounds, the associated letters, an agreed-upon meaning… suddenly, you’re in the business of communicating! People use so much of who they are to work with such a simple thing: they hear it, they speak it, they understand and remember it, occasionally they write it, they use it sometimes every day. If they don’t know the word, they may still understand it from the context and children learn full languages from scratch to perfection in just a few short years.

Truly words are amazing, and people use them in so many situations that I am not even going to attempt describing it. Originally, ancient people who have coined names for the naming may have meant something else, but for the Latin and the Slavs the meaning is that of understanding, meeting, gathering. Maybe the unity formed by the sound and sense is what brought the actual word into being.

For me, words are both slaves and masters. I can gather them, and use them, and play with them as time goes and I read more, talk more, write more. There are maybe for you a few people with whom you talk differently, who manage to kick-start your language ability in ways you never use at work or in the family. It is exhilarating to banter and quip with those people, and sometimes I feel as if a wall is coming down. Most of the time I “translate” words, not from my native language to English, but from solemn English to practical English. Translation is, however, by definition measured, reasoned, slow. When that wall is coming down, words flow fast, spontaneous, almost withought thought, like champagne overflowing the cup in sparkling abandon.

But the words as slaves multiply and rebel. When too many are crammed into the little time I have for reflection, they lay siege to the very fortresses of thought and these revolutionaries demand to be heard, to be written, to be spoken. Guerillas of words, organized and efficient, come out in poems and metaphor. There is no resistance that I can mount, all I can do sometimes is delay the inevitable grabbing of paper and pen. They are assuaged then for a while, and tensions that I was never aware of dissipate as if a pressure valve has been opened.

So if I have no powers over the words then they are masters, are they not? I do not feel as if I have much choice, and especially when it comes to writing. And yet they will submit to the sentences I craft, they obediently line up in the verse I mutilate in the modern fashion. Then they are slaves? Or just demanding pets?

Eh, humanizing words (aren’t they human? Stories are ambivalent on this subject) doesn’t seem to work. What to do? Much as I sometimes feel like rebellion, the easiest way for me is adjusting, giving and taking as seems appropriate at that time. There will be times when I speak them and times when I will write them, times when they hold sway and times when I ignore them, times when they help and times when I hinder their flow.

There is a story in my language where all the sounds and words utered by humans go to a land beyond mortality, where they live forever. Someone journeyed there to find a spell and was almost crushed under the weight of memories those words were carrying.

Should we not make sure that the words we utter are worth being crushed under?

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Anniversary

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Yep, Latin again 🙂

Not as interesting, maybe, as other words have been, but anniversaries (at the turning of the years) are on my mind these days, and it seems appropriate I write this on the leap year justification day.

Once we get past Latin fractions in Roman numerals with English pronounciation (ouch!) anniversaries are about time, both perception and flow. It is about the past, and the memories associated with it.

I find anniversaries useful, convenient even. If we change, that change can come from outside (life happens, and it is rarely under our control) or inside. This type of change we can control up to a point, and it is here that we can act. And if we try to act (change is an action) then we change in response to the past, to memories, to time.

The way it happens for me is that I live my life in the present, with my assumptions and my judgements and my choices. I recognize the source of some of those, as do all of us, mostly in childhood but always in the past. Memory being selective it has already filtered out for you the routine and mundane and retained the needful to know, however obscure. But on anniversaries I have licence to actually remember how that selection has been made, and why. And remembering, as Christopher Robin implied, is not quite the re-telling of a story, and is not as vivid. Time has put a veil on the colours and one can, as I do, try to look beyond them to the full picture, with context, and from a different place on the time continuum. This where change can happen, when you look at a picture not only from your own perspective but from a time perspective. This detachment allows responsibility to shift, understanding to develop, acceptance to follow. One may find, as I do, that sometimes it was also my fault that a relationship ended. Other times it becomes clearer the action that started all the consequences one faces at present. I try (hard!) not to get into “what if” insofar as regret goes. Lessons for the future, yes. Beating myself over the past, no.

Time is said to mellow things out but what I find is that time clarifies things, and it is only by being in a different place that you accept them, therefore they do not have the power to hurt as much. If you have remained in the same place, that mellowing doesn’t actually happen. It is in the travelling on the continuum, it is in the change that detachment grows. And by detachment I mean distancing per se, in time and space. The re-telling of the story is allowed to become a remembering, and as such make space for other stories.

It is an interesting thing, that celebrating anniversaries implies the present you thinking about the past you to maintain the hopes for the future you. It is also interesting that anniversaries, when change can happen if you let it and sometimes if you will it, are actually celebrations of stability.

Whether joyful or sad, anniversaries fare better if there is a ritual, a protocol, pomp and ceremony if this is your style. The remembering has to happen and people love and live their life by the symbols they determine. So whether is is a present, or a toast, or a party, a declaration or a wink, it helps the past, always trailing in the wind of the future, to be present.

An opportunity for change…

Memories

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Death has been on my mind these past few days.The dead shape who we are in many ways. We may have grown up with them. They may have hurt us. They may be complete strangers but their cause may have sparked in us the flames of a crusade. A lot of the time they fit into our universe really close by: family and friends.

I will not talk about how we experience the death of others. I think that’s rude. I can try to put words to my dead but instead of poetry or analysis I decided to use the only real tool that has a chance of making the grade. Of course, I am talking of memories.

I miss my dead. I miss not only who they were, but also in terms of physical distance, as they have died far away, under different stars. Missing them is a bittersweet burden, one that I would rather carry. A burden of memories.

I remember traipsing through the snow to the long drop near my nana’s house, after holding on for as long as I could.

And plucking a chicken . And making tomato sauce. And the fact that she took in the puppy my sister and I found abandoned. And mincing garlic in a wooden mortar with a wooden pestle. And my nana getting some creamy fresh raw milk because she knew I like that in my cocoa. Going to her friends and getting the sweetest plums you have ever tasted. To this day I ask for plum preserves from home.

And in winter, staying with my back to the big teracotta fireplace, eating home made fries with the garlic I minced and reading “Lord of the rings” for the first time and crying when Lothlorien is revealed. I remember her long hair and watching the Twin Towers crumble on her black and white TV. Sometimes I make macaroni slice for my little one and remember that she gave me the recipe.

My other nana had a different kitchen, but the memories are just as tasty 🙂 I remember Christmas and men fixing the broken bulbs on the fairy lights. Fondant chocolates and psychedelic cushion covers. Ironing damp cotton sheets and sleeping on pillows that could easily serve as bean bags. Playing cards with my sister. Watching the revolution unfold on her black and white TV.

She once ordered me a dress in the single most colourful floral pattern she could find. And she took me to an estranged part of the family for the first of many times, so that I might know them. She had a skirt and top suit made of the most luxurious silky fabric, royal blue with yellow flowers on it. I wanted that suit! She had vinyl records of comedians and folklore and fairytales. And stacks of pictures, black and white, of people I could not begin to fathom they existed (I took a red felt to their cheeks as they seemed a bit gloomy to me).

My father… ah, the lessons I learnt. A child’s inability to influence adult decisions. A child’s persistent attempts to magic an adult into being. A shocking pink winter jacket. My first taste of Pepsi. My first trip to a restaurant. Secretly dialling the operator on his birthday to make a collect call. Duty and failings and a uniform with silver buttons.

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Eh, my friend, of course I remember your laugh, as big as you were. I remember camping in the crater on snow and drinking Tokaj that you brought because you knew I’d like it. I remember you forgot my sunglasses on the other mountain because you were too busy rescuing me and then insisting to go on way after you couldn’t.

And you, bane of my existence and reason for it, too! You with your depressions and unreliability, your wildness and your drinking, your small studio where air was fighting with books, you with your long words and unorthodox exams, you, without whom I would be a lesser person and an even worse professional, to you I owe awakening.

My dead have shaped me and so this shape will keep them. When my memories fail, the passing will be complete.

Photos for my little one to look at, one long winter evening when I am busy…