Transition, Translation, The Mind, and Nothing
Though I do miss me a good ol’ American breakfast with things like eggs and bacon and toast with butter and jam and maybe pancakes and breakfast sausage or perhaps oatmeal with some raisins along with some butter and brown sugar or an omelette (which actually I usually don’t like) or some French toast…mmm…the yummness of French toast does not ever subside from my mind. Where was I? Though I do miss me a good ol’ American breakfast, I have adjusted to eating bread (not the heavily manufactured sliced bread) with cheese, camembert, Swiss, or any other kind of cheese, with maybe some ham and or jam and butter on the bread with the meat and or cheese, along with some plain yogurt (the plain yogurt is SOOO good here (to me at least)) on the side and maybe a tasty tasty ripe blood orange. My host mother makes these bread rolls once a week-ish on some kind of cracked wheat rye of some kind of fresh goodness.
Anyways, I’m in a program called Czech Republic Arts and Social Change. One of my electives is a creative writing course. The other choices were Visual Arts Studio, Theater Studio and since a few people dropped out of the program before it started, there are only 8 people in this term. Out of the 8 people, I am the only person who chose the creative writing elective. What does that entail? Well, I have to write one short story per week (2-7 pages but ends up being 7 pages every time), and read 1 Czech novel per week. Now, this would be the same if there were two more people in my class but that is not the case. I am the only one. So, once a week, I meet my “professor”, and I only put in quotations because one of the first things she said was that she is not a professor or a teacher, rather, she is an author of fiction and we discuss things. We meet at this really rad coffee shop called Kavárna V Sedmém Nebi (Café in Seventh Heaven).
She asks me questions about what process I had that week for writing that story and I express my process and my emotions and whatever else is on my mind and then she proceeds to give detailed feedback of the story I wrote. What worked, what didn’t work, the things she liked or didn’t like, from the larger themes to the smaller actions, everything is on the table. There is no hiding whatsoever. Nevertheless, the structure of the class and meeting is fantastic and thorough. THEN, after an hour and a half or so of her skillfully picking apart my work (which I truly appreciate), the author of the novel I just read comes into our meeting.
Now, I must prepare questions to ask this author and this meeting will last an hour and a half (I can ask any questions). The first author, Tomáš Zmeškal, we talked about language and
identity and the unpredictableness of the Czech Government, and his sincerity to have this conversation was so rich and welcoming. He identifies as Afro-Czech, and there are not a lot of people of color in this country, which we didn’t even have time to get into but it was just so great to be able to meet him and talk about ideas of communication and identity.
(To be noted, my “professor,” Petra, sits in on these conversations, though she does not interject nor interrupt. It is my responsibility to steer or follow the direction of conversation.)
The third author I met didn’t speak much or any English, so Petra translated for us. The book we discussed was a makeshift imitatio christi. I asked Petra if I should ask her or him the questions, and she said him, even though he wouldn’t understand what I said. The book he wrote is about a gravedigger and this Czech philosopher named Ladislav Klíma and his ashes and ritual and material and idea and existential movement and recognition of self and other and nothing, or some form of configuration of most of those ideas. I prepared a lot of questions, but we didn’t get to most of them because we chased down the philosophical structure and purpose of the book, how it relates to society and the mind, and what is valued in different perspectives. And when he spoke, he looked at me and spoke Czech, and when I spoke I looked at him and spoke English, and we’d bounce our eyes back and forth to Petra as she translated and all of us got sucked into this philosophical search of understanding the book, but also understanding each other and even though Petra was translating she did agree that it got philosophically intense.
(The book was based on the philosophy of Ladislav Klíma who was a Czech philosopher At one point Milos (the author) spread his arms wide open and cupped his hands upwards. He looked to the left hand and said something, and then looked right and said something. Petra translated and said that there are only two things in this philosophy: the mind, and nothing. Klíma focused on subjective idealism.)
I noticed near the end of the session is that we were talking to each other as if we could directly understand each other and the emotion in the room felt good and I found myself amazed at the human condition and its relentless search for connection, even though there are barriers. Maybe that is something that is obvious, but I had never experienced it in that way, with two people speaking two different languages, speaking as if we could understand each other.
I haven’t discovered my classmates’ experiences extensively with their electives (I’ll ask tomorrow!), Visual Arts, Theater, Civil Society, but, I know I am drenched in the world of literature and culture and arts and community and they are very immersed in their fields as well.