I suppose words have always been a source of interest to me. Some people paint, some mold with clay, quilt, dance, draw, knit, act… We all have our own forms of art, of expression, of escape. Mine is words, letters, sounds even. I love languages: English. French, Hebrew, Italian, Mandarin, and so many more. I want to learn them all. More than just learn though, I want to understand them. How they all came to be. Some so similar and yet so different. How we can have so many different languages, and yet we all still managed to find some form of spoken and written communication, and then cultures and societies that had never met, with completely different forms of speaking were still able to learn each other’s language, communicate and share and function with each other. I find it fascinating though I claim no great talent or knowledge on the subject. I do remember a story about it though, from my childhood. From preschool until my high school graduation I attended religious school at my synagogue every week. We have a story that I still remember learning about as a child at temple. (As I remember it) the story tells of a time wherein all the people of the world spoke the same language. They gathered and decided that, to make a name for themselves, they would build a great city, and within it a tower tall enough to reach the heavens. G-d looking down on them saw their work and saw that it was not good. So g-d confused them by giving to them many different languages (thus the name Babel). Unable to communicate as a whole the people divided themselves, finding those with whom they shared a tongue. Within their groups, they scattered once more across the earth, forced to abandon their work on the city and their great tower. This is how, Genesis tells us, the different languages of the world came to be.
A little over a month ago I took a long weekend to go to Palermo, Italy, with a good friend and fellow language assistant, Caro. I find Italian to be a beautiful language and ever since my first trip there have wanted to find the time to learn it. It is at the top of my (admittedly long) list of languages I want to study. I have not yet had the time to study more than the basics if even that. Luckily, Caro had studied some Italian in school and was more than prepared to take on the role of primary communicator (and what a fine job she did at it!)
Our first night in Palermo we decided to go out to explore the nightlife and find some of the ever-so-highly praised street food that the city had to offer. We were not disappointed, neither with the food nor with the neighborhood (and especially not with the ever-so-low drink prices!).
We met several people that night, all very friendly and happy to help a couple of American tourists with limited Italian skills. What I found truly impressive about the night was when Caro and I found ourselves sitting around a table outside with a couple of Italian guys we had met in line for food. One of them spoke some limited English while the other spoke none at all. At one point, Caro had to go to the restroom and I found myself sitting there with the two of them, only one of whom I could only partially communicate with. There was an awkward silence for about half a minute, none of us knowing quite what to say or how to say it. I’m not quite sure who broke the silence, but eventually we just went for it. It was certainly difficult, and a lot of translating, stumbling, and re-wording ensued at the three of us tried to communicate. But we managed to work through it until Caro returned. I was very proud of us. Even though we had no common language between all of us, and even when Caro was there to help translate we struggled, all four of us managed to talk and communicate and have a fun, and a unique time. I find it quite amazing that we were all able to make ourselves understood. We did not let a small barrier like language differences stand in our way.
It is not just languages that fascinate me, however. In fact, that is probably the most recent form of ‘word art’ to enrapture me. My love of letters started much sooner, when I was very young, and it came in the form of written words: in the stories and books that started to take over my bedroom with every passing year. Entering Kindergarten on that first day, hands clenched nervously in the skirt of my new dress, I was sure of one thing at least. That no matter what happened in class, I at least had my book waiting for me. As the youngest of three children and only girl, I often had to find my own source of entertainment, and it was within my books that I found it. My parents were thrilled that I found such joy in reading. To encourage me to continue reading, my mother was willing to buy me as many books as I wanted. She saw it as a much better investment than video games or other alternatives. We would spend hours in the bookstore, pouring over the options. As I grew, so too did the size of my collection, from one small two-shelf bookcase to several reaching almost to the ceiling – we had to tilt them to fit through my doorway.
Then, about five years after walking into that first day of school, book already in hand, I found the next step in my journey of letters: creating my own stories. For nothing is both more rewarding and yet heartbreaking for a reader than finishing a good book. And then, when you have finished so many that you can no longer easily find the next choice to read. So why not simply create you own entertainment? Your own world, actually wherein you can finally control what happens (although I have learned, as many other writers did, that even in your own universe, authors still have very little control over the characters).
I find this lack of control over characters often extends to my other forms of writing as well. Such as this blog and this post in particular. Outside of my small Palermo mention I expect I am not the only one aware of the fact that Europe has been mostly absent from this post. I have not once yet mentioned teaching, and traveling, and living abroad have been scarce. Another blog post gone wild, which has written itself and done so in a completely unexpected manner. It is also the first blog post I have written in a significant amount of time. Which is part of why I wanted to write this post so much (yes, that means I’m actually getting to the point… maybe).
Over the past few years of writing, especially in doing so for pleasure, that there are many different states in which my mind, as a writer, can exist and approach the task of creating something. Sometimes, there is just no desire to write. Not motivation exists, no ideas, and no drive. This is rare, but it does occur. On the other hands, there are times when my mind is writing many times faster than my hands and fingers can ever hope to form the words. I stumble over my own letters as I try to get everything onto paper or my computer before I loose it. This is when it is easiest, the most enjoyable. I am in a frenzy, my excitement is so great and woe unto you should you distract me and cause me to loose the threads of my story. Then, there is the third state, the most frustrating for me as a writer and the most common, of late, as well. The instance wherein as much as I want to write, and even know what to write about the drive and motivation in missing. I may know that I should write about the day trip I took last month, the hike I went on the other day. I want to edit that chapter in my latest book, or work on a characters background. The desire is there, sometimes so strong it is nearly painful even. However at the same time pulling out that paper and pen, opening up that document or, even worse, staring at that empty new file, is so very intimidating. I just can’t bring myself to do it, no matter how much I want to. I know what I want to write, I know what I should write even, I just can no longer seem able to. The words are just not there anymore. I suppose that is the main reason for the lack of posts recently. Part of why I started this blog was to try and jolt myself back into writing after a summer wherein I couldn’t seem to get into the state of mind to create anything at all, no matter how much I wanted to. It worked for a while and then the motivation disappeared again.
Slowly it is coming back, however. So let’s all hope it hangs around for longer this time, and grows stronger as well. I have many adventured I want to and know I should write about. And many more in the coming month and summer that I want to be able to share with you all. So don’t you go taking any more extended vacations my muse!
In the meantime, returning to the travel theme of the blog and my trip to Palermo, I have to give it a proper shout out I think. It was a great city. Unique in it’s own way, it definitely felt like Italy, but nor was it exclusively Italian. Caro was reminded of Latin America while I, never having been to South America, couldn’t help but think of my time in Greece with my mother a couple years ago. The street food was as delicious as everyone said, the markets huge and wonderful. It was a great city to just wander and get lost in (and wander we did!). From beautiful, ancient architecture, to small hidden alleys it had everything the traveler in me enjoys about a new city. Especially loved out neighbors who, every time we walked past, were just sitting around in their dining room, gathered around the kitchen table watching TV while grandma cooked (every time!), except for our last night when the decided to have a bonfire in the middle of the street! Go figure Palermo. I still think you have some hidden jewels to discover, maybe some day we shall meet again.
In the meantime, what are your opinions on language differences? What got you to start writing and what do you all do when you’re in a writing slump? Share your tips and tricks if you have any! Comments are another sure-fire way to keep a writer motivated and writing! Maybe some day I’ll even get around to sharing some of my creative writing here as well.