Monday, 16 December 2013

What the Brain Can Do

I love constructive criticism, although rarely at the time. This is a latter development; I used to fly right off the handle, especially if it was about something I wrote. Writing a column in a weekly paper cured this, however. When I get a personal letter from CR readers saying that I am a heretic or I forgot deacons or what would I say about the celebrity of Fulton Sheen, I read it with interest and keep it in a box with the Christmas cards. In six months, I might agree with them, or at least, have come to a more nuanced position. This even worked for Ceremony of Innocence. In that case a writer I really respect suggested I chop out something or other, and some months later I did chop it out because I saw that he was right.

Occasionally I get criticism on the internet, which I won't link to but do enjoy finding, even if it is just outrageous insults or (worst of all) speculation on my sins by so-disant orthodox Catholic men who, if they were really orthodox, Catholic, or men, would not be writing such things about a married Catholic woman. At least once someone American has suggested my artistic failings might be chalked up to my being a Canadian, which perhaps she thought was a charitable assumption. All that did though was ruin any chance that I might take her critique seriously and profit from it.

I do indeed profit from critique of my writing, although don't take this as permission to write any in the combox: just tell me when you think my ideas are out to lunch and why. Here is not the place to tell me my font is horrible or my typos are annoying or my interest in Poland unfathomable. You can do that elsewhere. Someone was once so cleverly cruel on some message board about the pink--which was there to dissuade Eavesdroppers--that I decided to get rid of the pink. The pink had done what it was supposed to do.

Sometimes critique is very amusing, like worries that I am anti-gay, by which I think they mean I do not support the redefinition of marriage, which of course I do not do. I enjoy saying so now, for as yet saying so is not illegal and I don't have a 9-5 job to lose anyway. I may enjoy saying so rather less in ten years, but let's cross the Alec Salm*nd Memorial Bridge when they build it. Meanwhile, it is not the approximately 2% of the population that identifies with their SSAs that I'm worried about, it's the statists, dull but power-hungry nannies that they are.

Sometimes critique encourages me to remember what this blog is for, which is to remind women that the Single Life has many graces, freedoms and opportunities, which is why yesterday I was reminded that women who really have no interest in marrying men and wish they would just sit down and be quiet can wear whatever they like (within community standards) and good luck to them. We can enjoy their flair and freedom without demanding that the kind of men we like prefer women with facial tattoos and pink mohawks or, better yet, women who insist on Elizabethan dress at all times and quote long passages from Shakespeare at the drop of a pomander.

One of the freedoms of a Single woman in Europe is that she can go to Częstochowa for six months and become fluent in Polish. My Polish Pretend Son told me yesterday of a woman who did that, and after expressing envy and delight, I looked at B.A., sitting on the couch chatting happily with someone about something. There is absolutely no way B.A. could or would ever move to Częstochowa for six months, and naturally as a married woman I cannot say, "Just popping off to Częstochowa! Back in June!" You see how it is.

Someone online does not understand about my interest in Poland, so I will explain briefly that when my first book came out, Americans wanted to buy the American rights, which made my publisher (a very good chap) happy, and then Poles wanted to buy the Polish rights, which again made my publisher happy, although that time I think we were both surprised. I believe Novalis books usually get published into Spanish next, or French. But nobody wanted it in Spanish or French; they wanted it in Polish. So my publisher sold off the Polish rights, and I offered to promote the Polish book because life has left me geographically closer to Poland than to either Canada or the USA. Also, I was flattered that Polish people wanted to publish my Canadian book, especially as Poland is still rather Catholic and the land of John Paul 2. I felt I owed them some appropriate thanks and support.

However, I don't like going to countries where I don't speak ANY of the language (except Spain if I am with somewhat Spanish-speaking B.A.), so I declared that I would like to learn Polish. And a very nice Polish girl said something like, "Darling, you cannot learn Polish. It is too hard for English-speakers." So naturally I had to learn Polish after that.

To make a long story short, I have been working at it for over two years, and it really is hard. However, I have not quit, which is the important thing, and eventually I will speak fluent Polish--unless I die first, of course. If the end comes the next time I am in Poland (or on Edinburgh's Leith Walk) at least I can say "Muszę rozmawiać z kapłanem teraz. Szybko! Szybko!" (I need to speak with a priest now. Quick! Quick!) And that fact that almost every Pole alive would understand my concern is a principle reason why I love Poland so much.

Anyway, this next bit is not to show off but to prove that your intellect can do what you want it to if you work hard enough and long enough and get help to do whatever intellectual thing you want it to do. I don't include "stopping being Single" in this although with a good dose of humility, your intellect may be able to grasp what it is that is preventing you from winning husbands and influencing children. (Historically, it has been "carnage of World War I", "carnage of World War 2", etc.--circumstances the women could do little about.)

Okay, so I wrote a short story in Polish. It is 3,000 words long. I wrote it in 500 word chunks and sent it to Marta to correct the grammar. Then I sat down with my Edinburgh tutor, so she could explain to me my errors in style. And so it is done. My Polish Pretend Son says it is an amusing random mix of formal and informal language, but I don't care. My first short story in English was only 50 25 words or so.

Here is my first short story in English:

"A Winter Wonderland Tale" (1978)

The little snowflakes. The little snowflakes come lightly down. On a cold winters day. All the little children go to play in the snow. P.S. I bet the children have fun!

Oh how Canadian. Man's relationship to environment. That's so old-school Canadian. Utterly 1970s. Margaret Atwood would be proud.

Here are the first 213 words of my first short story in Polish, presented specially for my Polish-speaking readers. (The vast anglophone majority may wrestle it into Google Translate, if you like.)

"Bajka Edynburska" (2013)

Dawno temu żył na Dolnym Śląsku młody i przystojny student. Na imię miał Gabriel i był najmądrzejszym studentem w Polsce. Niestety nudziło mu się.

—Nie znoszę innych studentów — powiedział. —Oni są głupi. Profesorowie też. Muszę opuścić Polskę i pojechać na Zachód.

—Ach, nie, mój Gabryś, mój kochany syn! —powiedziała jego matka. —Na Zachód? Tak daleko? A do tego tak trudno jest dostać wizę do USA.

—Ależ skąd —powiedział mądry student. —Chciałbym pojechać tylko do Wielkiej Brytanii. Tam nie potrzebuję wizy.

—Ale Anglicy są zdradzieccy — powiedziała płacząca matka. —Czy nie pamiętasz już o Zdradzie Jałtańskiej?

—Ależ skąd —zaprzeczył Gabriel. —Nigdy o tym nie zapomnę! Ale nie pojadę do Anglii; jadę do Szkocji. Tam jest lepiej i taniej, i Edynburg będzie dla mnie dobry. Miasto jest eleganckie, tak jak ja.

Kiedy Gabriel przyjechał do Edynburga, odkrył że język angielski jest trudniejszy w Wielkiej Brytanii niż na jego polskim uniwersytecie. Nie rozumiał szkockiego akcentu. Smutny student pojechał więc do kościoła, gdzie ksiądz był Amerykaninem i Msza Św. była odprawiana po łacinie. Po mszy Gabriel zobaczył z tyłu kościoła bladą Cygankę.

—Dziwna osoba! — pomyślał. —W Polsce Cyganie zawsze mają ciemną skórę. Ta Cyganka ma bladą twarz, ale ma na sobie kolorowe cygańskie ubranie. To chyba szkocka Cyganka. Może mi pomoże.

Naturally, this story involves migration, Romany culture, Catholicism, Polish nationalism, guilt, the tortures of love, suicide, violins, character development, crime, coded political commentary and magic. And football. Naturally.


Heather in Toronto said...

Hmm. The English one has promise, but lacks the necessary "growing up on the prairie provinces during the Depression" to make it a true Canadian classic. :P

Oh, and speaking of short stories, did you ever end up writing a conclusion to the "what Katie did" serial? I was archive-diving recently and the last entry with that tag had a "to be continued" on it, but no continuation could be found.

Seraphic said...

Alas, not yet. The problem was that the villainess was scaring me. However, if I can keep a grip on her, I will try to finish.

Jackie said...

I love your stories, Seraphic! Quick question: Why does the Polish mother call Gabriel "my Gordon"? Or is Google Translate messing with me?

Also: MOAR "What Katie Did" please! I love a good villainess. :-)

Leah said...

I third the request for more 'What Katy Did!' :)

And I have to say, I am so impressed that you are able to write stories in Polish! Wow! I don't know any Polish at all, but it looks really difficult for a native English speaker. :)

Seraphic said...

Jackie, Google is messing with you. Gabriel's mother has called him Gabe or Gaby.

Kate P said...

I love your very first story! I did wonder if Canadians were required to have "snow" as their very first word. . .

Anonymous said...

Oh, this story is wonderful! I mean, both of them... :) But you have no idea how extremely impressed I am with your Polish! I cannot see any faults with style - actually, I think it only goes to show how great a writer you are, if you can write something like that in a language like Polish after a period of time that is relatively so very short... You just have an incredible sense of language. I always absolutely love to read your insights about Poland, they never fail to struck me with some revelation and make me think, and your signature sense of humour makes it just delightful, and this story is a perfect example of all those "very yours" things. (For some reason those compliments all sound vaguely disrespectful to tell you - maybe it's because the Internet makes it so direct or maybe it's just my hardly skillful use of English - but please believe me I mean it as respectfully and admiringly as possible, Aunty Seraphic.) The story's terribly amusing! I must say I've already taken a great liking to Gabriel. His very first words make me extremely sympathetic to him and he only seems to get mądrzejszy i mądrzejszy... :D I'm so curious to know what happens to him and whether the tajemnicza szkocka Cyganka will help him! Could you possibly share the rest of the story?... I'd so love to read it...!

- Philopator

Sherwood said...

Yes, please more "What Katy Did!"

Seraphic said...

Philopater, thank you very much, but don't forget that I had two editors!

Send me an email, and I will send you the whole story!

sciencegirl said...

If you write more about Katie, I hope we get to see some vocational discernment scenes/retreats with the Newman Center.

nottburgas inner child said...

Moar 'Katie', yes. Butt also moar 'Bodis Riper'. My auter adult and I haff re-rett all Gorschette Heier noffels at leest three tims!

Lena said...

Well, I am impressed with your Polish studies. I don't know Polish.

Anonymous said...

Just don't forget about the vocative in Polish.