Night Train To Lisbon, which I have just finished, has kindled many thoughts, all along separate paths. I started it at the end of 2021, so it’s been a very reflective week of reading with which to end one year and start another.
Originally written in German, as far as I’m aware, it’s made me realise that I don’t use my languages enough, not for reading nor for writing, and that I need to get back to reading and writing more in German, French, and Norwegian. Those languages each have unique facets and voices which I can use to express different aspects of myself, from sparse to effusive, from creating skeletons that leave more to the imagination than they express, to fully-fleshed out structures that create atmosphere and presence.
What I took away most of all from the book is that whatever we do and how we interpret what we do is probably far removed from real life. Do we write and talk and think just for the sake of writing or talking or thinking? Are these words we put into the world as writers or creatives just posturing, just seeking attention, or do they have more value than that; do they have intrinsic value? Do they mean anything? Can they make a difference? Some mornings, I wake up and feel like deleting and destroying every single word I’ve ever written, feel like wiping from the face of the earth every single action I’ve taken, every single word I have spoken. At other times, I get goose bumps reading back to myself passages that I have written, poems that I have concocted either in the middle of the night or at the height of any given day, or things that I have done that have changed someone else’s life. Our feelings about ourselves and our actions fluctuate all the time. That’s the human condition.
Are the faces we wear in public the real people we are? Or are they just masks we wear to suit the occasion? Both. To those who get nervous about speaking in public (whether that be a public address or just chatting in a group of two or more) I always suggest playing a part (even if that part isn’t actually very far removed from who we really are, even if it just removes from our make-up the anxiety we feel about speaking in front of others). As long as our public persona tells no lies, there can be nothing wrong about that innocent mummery. And there comes a point in everyone’s life when we do have to let others hear our voice. It’s as inevitable as death and taxes.
I was speaking with one of my sisters the other day, and we shared with each other how we feel like different people when we speak in a language which isn’t English (we’re both multilingual), and that we often get a sense of relief from being able to communicate in English. She lives in Germany, and spends most of her life speaking German, and feels almost divorced from her self when she’s not speaking English. When I lived in Norway and spent most of my time talking Norwegian (and thinking in Norwegian and dreaming in Norwegian), I felt exactly the same. And sometimes, like now, when I’m writing, I feel outside of myself although I’m describing my inner self. Are polyglots more likely to feel this separation of personalities, are they more likely to be diagnosed with personality disorders? I’ve done no research on that.
Perhaps it’s only when we write about our inner selves that we writers feel like impostors, and that this feeling falls away when we write fiction, because, after all – and many people forget this – fiction is just making up stories that aren’t real (even if they are historical fiction based on fact). Even a lot of poetry (mine at any rate) is fiction based on fact. You just take one grain of truth and elaborate on it, build a complex (or not so complex) story around that single truth, and weave a magical cloak for you to dress yourself in (and for readers hopefully to dress themselves in, too).
Finally, all these scribbles, because that’s what they are, are just my attempt at keeping my writing mind revving. Looking at my journal and my poetry and fiction output for last year, I realised and decided that I couldn’t really call myself a writer, couldn’t actually be a writer, if I didn’t write every day. If I’ve been walking at least 2 miles every day for over three years to keep my body in some sort of acceptable shape, then I should be writing for at least an hour every day to keep my mind in some sort of acceptable shape. And that’s not a New Year’s Resolution, it’s just a fact.