Didn’t see the blood-red full moon this time around — just glowing fragments of hot white between bluish clouds. Woken at 4am by municipal workers clearing street gutters of thickly piled leaves so that when the streams of water come down in spate from the dams, the roads won’t flood. I hope the workers get paid for overtime.
Outside this morning, trimming back a leggy pelargonium when a neighbour came up and talked about a family tragedy. Usually immaculate, this woman aged overnight, sleepless and haggard, out walking an elderly blind dog, hoarse from weeping, her jacket crumpled. I forget sometimes how a sudden death is like an incendiary bomb thrown into a family. Estrangement, people deranged with grief and shock, cruel things said, ultimatums and threats, old wounds torn open.
Afterwards, going on with my early morning gardening, I thought of a therapist telling me years ago that each of us needs to begin facing the reality of death, thinking about death, dealing with our cultural denial of death, so that when we sit in the doctor’s surgery and hear that death is near or get a phone call with news of a sudden death, we have somewhere to start, we have some place to begin grieving rather than raging. Life is unfair perhaps, but that is because ‘fairness’ is too often all about believing ourselves to be exceptions to the human condition and somehow safe from suffering or dying. Until it happens.
What it must feel like to have to express yourself in a foreign language, to have to forget your own mother tongue in order to be heard. Since I began doing translation work, so slow and fumbling at times, I have boundless respect for migrants, asylum-seekers, refugees finding a foot hold in a new country, facing the impatience and ignorance of the monolingual, the loneliness of the misunderstood, the silence and uncertainty of standing between languages. Reading a review of Agota Kristof’s memoir about growing up as a refugee from Soviet-occupied Hungary and trying to adjust to life in French-speaking Switzerland:
Locating her life’s start at the point she learns to read aged four, Kristof describes, with immaculately condensed acuity, being driven by poverty and misunderstanding, by the assault of the occupier on her country’s cultural and intellectual life, and by the loss of her family and people, into an everlasting exile from every writer’s closest ally, their mother tongue. For, far from being an aesthetic rejection of her own language, Kristof’s decision to write in French was made through necessity, publication in Hungarian abroad being all but impossible, and any return to her homeland likely to result in death or incarceration. Her pain at banishing this most essential part of herself is excruciating, as are the years of enforced illiteracy that follow, until she masters enough French to be able to read and write again.
And here in the mountains, I have the decreasing pile of work on my desk, a fiction draft to revise (my treat for the afternoon), the autumn wind biting cold even in soft brilliant sunshine.
The week going on, each day’s particular shape and interest, the hard work and opportunities, new competencies, stumbling blocks, engaging with friends and family, housekeeping chores, shared suppers, laughter over supper, waking from troubled dreams, staying up to finish a novel and then going to the wind to glimpse the moon high and broken up by clouds.
From wood s lot
“The Tuesday scowls, the Wednesday growls, the Thursday curses, the Friday howls, the Saturday snores, the Sunday yawns, the Monday morns, the Monday morns. The whacks, the moans, the cracks, the groans, the welts, the squeaks, the belts, the shrieks, the pricks, the prayers, the kicks, the tears, the skelps, and the yelps.”
- Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot