Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Lost in Translation

"In a world where everything is living, nothing can be thrown away. Where would you throw it _to_?"- Clark Strand, cited in Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning.

I had forgotten how reorganized the french keyboard is. I get used to the "a" quickly, but the rest takes time. The language is much, much harder. It's been years since I've spoken French on a regular basis, and it shows, embarassingly. Reading Natalie has really helped - she's talking about fear and writing, and as this is ostensibly a partially working vacation, I've got plenty of that, too. I want so much to communicate 100% clearly all the time, in any language. Being so direly crippled in French is, pardon the analogy as that is all it is, like getting an arm back I lost in the last war. How do I use this again? I've watched others use arms in the interrim, read about arms, thought about them, but in the meantime, I was lacking from a bad accident. And now, so helpful-looking. Also, so useless.

But it is not lost. Clark Strand gives me hope. Reminds me of the basics. I'm in junior high school again and its not just because that's the level of french I feel I am speaking. It's also because to speak at that level really makes my emotions, intentions and misunderstandings raw and clear - even moreso to others than to myself! To strangers, to boot. I've really had to let go. This has been more like my retreat will be in August than I had first thought, I suspect.


I keep screwing up my current life's different mournings and pleasures in my dreams. A true transition time. Last night I dreamt (after meeting a portion of the Paris Shambhala sangha and direly missing my sangha back home!) that I didn't just leave Rainbow, but also Shambhala. A few nights before, I dreamt I faxed someone in English and they faxed me back a red marked return, with all my mistakes glaring back at me. IN ENGLISH. In the dream, I had lost English, too.

This is what I wrote after that dream:
Standards of submission. I lay my tongue on the floor and talk. I work there with the bare minimum. It scares me not to talk because I can't (versus choosing not to). It humbles me. I crave silence then I am angry when it arrives at my mouth like a communion wafer, full of value, seemingly empty of "meaning".


I cannot help but also connect my lessons learned about conservation whenever I am in Europe - a world smaller in so many physical senses, yet larger in terms of diversity and reach (with the EU, now the cash machines give you up to 8 languages to choose from!). It makes me think of intimacy, of so many different kinds, the way we consume and recycle or don't. The way we shop. The size of our clothing, cars, bodies. The size of our hearts. The size of our compassion. No way in hell will you catch me concluding thatbecause things are more physically intimate here, things are more compassionate or blah di blah. Just that when I am in a culture I both don't understand at all and yet also have a fair amount of experience with ( in this case, french and british) I am forced to reconsider what is cultural and what is individual, and in particular, what my issues are in all realms of intimacy. On this trip, I frankly have realized I have charged France in particular with this task since I first came here 13 years ago, without consciously realizing it until now. Again, Goldberg helps:

"Often the writer shies away because of fear. Things were getting too close and it made them nervous, or lazy - "I just didn't feel like going into that" - if you dig deeper you find that laziness is fear masked as inertia."

If travel does anything, it shocks inertia. I am struck by all that I have been holding on to, pain, pleasure. I am choking on the grounds of grief, in fact, so scared to recognize losses of any kind that I make the pain much worse than it need be. Once recognized while on the road, I can let it all go so much easier, as my inertia - emotional inertia - now has a physical model for letting go, and moving on. It's not as if any issues, grief or pleasure, language of mother or learned, go anywhere, as Clark Strand noted. But we cannot hold it all at once. There have to be some things lost in translation. I cannot understand it all, and I give myself over to that, even if for only a moment at a time, now.


  1. As I get ready to make the trek back to Madison and find myself in a famililar yet new place, many of these thoughts resonate. Thank you, yet again, for your honesty and words.


  2. shocks inertia, yes. and I relate to the frustration of being rendered mute in another language, although perhaps not to the surprise, because I never had more Spanish to lose. It is nonetheless disappointing to struggle through a sentence and discover at the end that my confused combination of mangled verb tenses, misused pronouns* and missing nouns has not been surmountable, and the listener either thinks s/he understands my intended meaning but doesn't, or simply gestures in resignation, annoyance, etc. So often in the former case, I just let go of the misunderstanding, figuring that what they think I said isn't so far off the mark... or if it is... it doesn't matter anyway.

    *(inserting French pronouns into Spanish was one of my biggest problems--Japanese prepositions, French pronouns, I don't know why!)

    Anyway. Yes. Shocks inertia.

    You sound lonely. I'm sorry. I hope you find more solace in days ahead... it's not necessary always to suffer through learning and growing... is it?