this is the part where it’s easier and I can say whatever I want where I haunt the letters without numbers where I hum without flubbing but even now I slow while knowing that ought to be punctuating there’s waiting when there ought to be going and I’m slowing further worrying whether you’re wondering wherefore there’s going to be a comma or better yet a period and all those other entries might have spoiled you but we’re boiling through and spilling over line after line and you’ll see that it’s fine to keep continuing because this is what we do we humans we people and we invent and we revent without repenting sometimes we just make up words with absurd herds of meaning flocking along behind clocking along the time the speed of swallows choking on their coconuts at the manhandling of allusions and the truth in confusion is a truth half-spilled and I’m hardly thrilled to have to report that there’s nothing to say more on the subject though that’s not for me to tell you and I’ll spell you a while if you want to be lettered I’ll tell you a trial if you want to be bettered than a common criminal and in the middle full and easy with contentment you can stuff your sack with battle axes and other sorts of nonsense the way we mention ourselves in casual conversation to our betters and worsers we have these ideas we have these opinions but when do we become these people we think we are when is it possible I’ll be an author and not a writer is this an igniting sort of point to light a spark under me or is it too late like I ought to go to bed not like oh no the end is near sort of late just wait I’m thinking about something here and it’s important well this is what happens when I switch back from straight prose with punctuation and everything and from free verse in the other direction it’s okay but man this is going to be a challenge my fingers are stiff with punctuality and the rigor of correction the flow is not to be had here and the certainty is basically that while I am pondering a semi-colon I am not sure what’s to be meant
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
People in Ukraine were really nice to me. No, not all of them, all of the time. See plenty of stories involving attempts to buy tickets, various seemingly intentional misunderstandings of accurately conveyed and appropriately constructed language, etc.
Still, lots of people, lots of the time.
Me: I want to put a mural on my wall, but I don’t think I can. (Meaning, I don’t think I’m allowed.)
Oksana: Oh, I’ll do it for you!
(Actually, in case you’re interested, I did put the mural on my wall myself, but I didn’t use paint. I made a stencil, based loosely on a design that I saw on an embroidered towel in an architectural museum in Lviv. Then, I traced and cut out the design pieces many, many times on shiny, cheap cardstock and hung them on the wall with tiny bits of masking tape. Yeah! It took me every episode of The Wire to get through this process.)
When I met the rector of the university, a short time after my arrival in Lutsk, he was very welcoming and generous, too. Unfortunately, my Ukrainian wasn’t quite as strong as I would have liked it to be, three or four months into my time in Ukraine, but luckily my dear dean of my college came with me to introduce me and to translate.
Rector: Things in Ukrainian you don’t understand fully etc. massage!
Dean: The rector says that he will be happy to do anything to help you to enjoy your time here with us. He will arrange excursions for you. He will give you a massage. (begins to blush upon realizing what she’s said)
Me: Um. (blushing)
Dean: (slightly flustered) No, he will not give you the massage, he will arrange…
Me: Yes, yes, very nice… (nods to rector, respectfully, smiles)
Rector: (smiling, nodding, though it’s unclear if he’s caught the confusion) More and more rapidfire Ukrainian, etc.
Yes, everyone was very nice, very nice. I never did get a massage, though.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Once I was waiting for something to happen (this happens a lot, no matter where I am).
I was in a garden, walking around and around. It was a really nice garden, actually.
See how I’m not being specific about where I was or what was happening? Nobody’s feelings need to be hurt.
Anyway, I was waiting longer than I thought I would have had to wait.
Everyone else was inside, getting ready for The Event.
I didn’t really have anything to do to get ready, so I figured it would be better to stay out of the way.
I was getting a little tired of being out of the way.
I started to wonder what I was doing there in the first place.
Maybe I shouldn’t have come!
I decided to be reasonable, to do something reasonable.
I sat down, reasonably.
In my purse, I found my emergency pen and paper (reasonable).
I decided to list all of the words I knew in both Ukrainian and Spanish.
There would be two separate lists, one for verbs and one for nouns.
Maybe three lists, one for adjectives and adverbs, too.
Suddenly, I got a text (this is how all texts appear: suddenly).
“If you are boring you can come inside.”
I folded up my paper and put it and my pen back into my purse.
I looked around.
Nobody could see me.
Nobody could tell how boring I was.
This is a common error.
If you are bored.
Monday, November 26, 2012
If I had to choose one picture to represent Lutsk (and who would be asking this, by the way?), I might choose my living room window. Maybe this seems like an odd choice, especially over some distinctive landmark, but I probably spent more time looking at that window (well, technically through the window, but at it, too) than at anything else (barring the possible alternative choice of the inside of my eyelids, if you imagine that I could see them while I was sleeping).
The setup: It’s my living room, dining room, guest bedroom. The window is in three sections, with a big square in the middle (maybe 4’ by 4’? does that seem right?) and a rectangular section on each end.
The picture: Outside. A courtyard, flanked by Soviet apartment buildings, maybe ten stories high. Trees line the driveway alongside my building, then bare space in the middle. A basketball court, makeshift soccer field. Occasional playground equipment. Upon this, seasons. Passers-by. Sitters, squatters, gobnyky. Men eating sunflower seeds and spitting out the shells as if there is nothing else to do in the world. Rugs being beaten, momentarily free from the dirt that even now waits for them. Babies pushed in strollers, or maybe just strollers pushed, for all that I can see of the babies, bundled and zipped and packaged as they are. An old man stumbling in the snow, a young man stopping to grab his elbow, lead him a few feet until he is pushed away in a burst of alcoholic pride. The man or sometimes woman sitting on the crate and waiting for the glass bottles to be brought for recycling. The boy I met at the orphan’s picnic, flinging around in his wheelchair, around and faster than anyone, but still unbearable to see at times. All the bread under arms being brought home. All the single ladies, arm in arm with others of their kind, tottering on heels that couldn’t make sense in any weather. Late-night singers with confident voices and sympathetic sweethearts in distant towns. Lights winking out, one, two, until only the emergency lights are left on in the building across the way, dull and creaky in the tired night. In the event of an emergency, I am the only one awake.
The takeaway: Slightly separate, but involved. An observer, with more than a scientific interest. This window gave me literal and metaphorical perspective, an opportunity to reflect, to look up from what I was doing and to recognize the wider world.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
Although many Americans may think of Ukraine as a developing country, which it is (although hopefully every country is developing, so it’s hard to tell what this descriptor really indicates), it is totally inaccurate to think of Ukraine as “behind” the US.
I’m not launching into a big thing here, although I’ll briefly mention that there’s (more or less) nationwide cell phone service offered by a variety of service providers, pretty good internet available almost everywhere (I had a mobile modem), and generally most of what you would expect to find in the US.
Two relatively small things instead: organic food and reusable bags.
Ukrainians are huge on natural, chemical-free food. If it came from your garden, your neighbor’s garden, your cousin’s friend’s sister’s cow, great. If not, beware. Long-lasting flavor through preservatives? Nope, freshness! Beautiful appearance? Nope, natural goodness! The organic food movement, a current rage in the US, is not a movement in Ukraine. Instead, it’s simply what people believe. Food must be natural and you should know where it comes from. If you know where it came from, it’s good for you. End.
Recently, businesses in the US have started to consider how to deal with the question of bags, an extra cost and cause of trash. Should customers have to pay for choosing paper or plastic? Should customers receive credit for bringing their own, reusable bags? In Ukraine, you bring your own bag. Small items, like fruits or possibly baked goods, are put in thin plastic bags, but groceries go into reusable bags. In bigger grocery stores, you can buy a plastic bag at the check-out line, but that’s usually a last resort. Simple plastic bags are washed and hung out to dry, being such a valuable commodity. Most Ukrainians have plenty of more sturdy reusable bags at home in varied styles, the standard being zipper-able boxy “baba bags” of woven plastic lace, featuring a plaid design or a picture of puppies, London, or some other vacation destination. There are bag stalls at the bazaar where you can pick up sturdy plastic bags from all kinds of stores without ever setting foot inside. These bags caused me surprise and confusion more than once. When I saw an H&M bag on the street in Lutsk, I was shocked. H&M? How was there an H&M in Lutsk that I didn’t know about after two years of living in the city? Take a breath, it’s just a bag. One of my favorites was the BMW bag in which I received language training materials from Peace Corps. It was a big, sturdy bag, which is probably why they had chosen it. Still, I wondered what BMW normally might be selling in such bags, and if they even knew that their logo was being used to market bags in Ukrainian markets.
Ukraine: leading the way in environmental friendliness and natural health.
The US: catching on.