Returning to Poland always causes me to be introspective.
Even the fact that I used the word ‘returning’ above contains several hours’ worth of navel-gazing value. Is it correct to use ‘return’ for a place in which the longest amount of time you’ve spent is around ten months, when you were aged seven?
This year’s trip pushed all the usual buttons as well as some new ones. Auschwitz was an experience never to be forgotten and certainly too vast to be summed up in one blog entry. Suffice it to say – for the moment, at least – that I can’t think of many places in the world which raise as many difficult questions and provoke as many raw emotions.
The rest of the trip reminded me that I tried – and failed – to write a Warsaw-based short story last year. But when I got back home, a few ideas fell into place and the story is now complete. Unfortunately, the process of writing it didn’t help me become any less introspective.
One of its themes is the way people’s personalities appear to change significantly – peraps even fundamentally – according to the context in which they find themselves. Case in point: when I go to Poland, I speak Polish, something the Divine L doesn’t see me do very often. The foreign-ness of the words coming out of my mouth – the unfamiliarity of the cadences and rhythms – make her think her husband’s been temporarily possessed by some other body, some other person.
I came close to understanding how she feels last weekend. I was clearing away some of my things and I came across a folder of letters I’d faxed to various people about ten years ago. And although they were all written in English, many didn’t sound as though they’d been written by me at all. The concerns sounded unfamiliar, the views, the opinions. Even the choice of words and the construction of some of the sentences felt odd.
A human life is capable of containing so many settings, moods and changes. Did the people who were forced to pass through the Birkenau gates ever dream their lives would present them with such an eventuality? One life is actually a collection of several different lives awkwardly cobbled together, with the various pieces not always able to relate to each other. Understanding the nature of our personal seams is probably the first step towards understanding the connections we make with other people. And I guess that’s what I try to do with my writing: translate all these joints and links and cracks into a language that hopefuly somebody will understand… and then continue to translate for someone else.