Sunday, October 31, 2010

Flowchart for Creative Writing -- diagram with audio -- Livescribe

Flowchart for creative writing assignment (memoirs, autobiography) dealing with settings,contexts, blends of inputs.

Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Christmas Pop: Homage #1 to watakushi shōsetsu (20th century Japanese I-Novel)


It’s that time of year again. The holidays are approaching. The tunes you only hear at this time of year are trotted out and you’re trotted down memory lane, whether you wanted to do those particular mental and emotional laps or not. Do you like the traditional Christmas tunes, or a blend of old and new?

By "new," I mean all the Christmas "rock," but I don't mean the formerly "new" tunes such as those from movies. I love "White Christmas," and of course, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," which has the sweet, wrenching pathos of Judy Garland's voice...

the next self-destructively doomed singer to have such a voice was .. well... was it Karen Carpenter? "It's Good-bye to Love" stops me in my tracks every time.

I think I like the Christmas-themed 40s and 50s movie tunes even more than the old standards - "Adeste Fidelis," "Good King Wensciazslazs" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." Christmas rock tunes? Yuk. I have to say that I get pretty tired of the 80s "Christmas Rapping" and other "novelty tunes" ...

Weirdly enough, as much as I dislike "Christmas Rapping," and Jose Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad," they trigger very nice associations. "Christmas Rapping" brings memories of driving across town to see my mother, my dad, my brother Paul and my sister, Elaine, to open presents, to eat pumpkin pie, pecan pie, turkey, cold green beans and cranberry sauce. Then, wandering outside to look at the cold, clear sky.

Last Christmas, I was snowed in, along with the rest of the populace, by a colossal 12 inches snowfall. That was record-breaking for Oklahoma. The Oklahoma City airport was shut down for days. My mother and my dad drove over to my condo.

My mom was very frail and afraid to get out of the Suburban due to the ice and snow. If she slipped and fell, she might break her hip or some other bone. My dad loved the idea of helping me dig out of the snow. He grew up in northern Vermont, and he liked to discuss how / where / when to handle inclement (read snowy) weather.

I had to smile when he got stuck and I go to shovel him out -- bending his snow shovel in the process (not good). I'm no expert in shoveling snow, despite my 4 years in upstate New York. There, though, I relied on the apartment crew. Jimmy, a fiesty, short guy who invariably wore plaid flannel shirts and sturdy snow boots, always made sure the driveways were plowed, the walkways and sidewalks shoveled, and plenty of salt and calcium on the surfaces so they they were dry -- despite the snow pushed into mountains at the end of the driveways.

So, I learned nothing at all about shoveling or blowing snow during my sojourn in northern climes.

I did learn about the evils of ice, and for that reason, made sure my mother did not venture out alone on it. We drove back to my parents' house. We stopped by the Shell station near my parents' house & I grabbed a hot coffee. Then we went pulled up in the driveway, and then opened the garage door so my mom would not have to walk on the snow / ice very far.

We made it inside. Everyone was great. We opened presents. My mom got me an L. L. Bean flannel pajama set -- just the kind I love. Very soft, very warm. I apologized for not getting them much -- I think I got my mom soft socks and something else, but I'm not sure what. I brought my dad all kinds of organic crackers and snacks that I bought at the Reasors at 15th and Lewis in Tulsa right after Wednesday tennis drills.

I had bought food and then headed to Norman.

They said I should go -- there would be a huge storm. I had a hard time believing it -- it was 50 degrees and balmy. It was the 23rd -- we had the 24th off from work.

Thankfully, I trusted my dad's weather report. The very next morning, yes, it snowed -- it was a blizzard! I would have been trapped in Tulsa for the entire Christmas weekend, and I would have missed spending time with my parents.

Little did I know that a mere two months later, my mom would slip and fall (just before Valentine's Day) and would break her hip and shoulder. After 30 days in the hospital, most of the time on IV's and unable to even sip water, due to breathing and aspiration problems complicated by pneumonia, she would be released to go home -- to hospice -- basically to die.

Unfortunately (at least in my eyes), no one realized my mom would bounce back -- with the help of the 24-7 home health care, and so when the angels of death (hospice nurses) gave my mother massive doses of morphine and other drugs, they interfered in a dramatic and rather grotesque way on any chance at all of being able to keep going.

I still feel quite guilty. I should have taken a stand and compelled my dad to get rid of hospice. Get rid of the angels of death. As severely, and gravely ill as my mother had been over the last 22 years, I never expected her to not make it.

And, well, as much as I hate the corny "Christmas Rapping" song, it reminds me of my last Christmas with my mother, and all the bittersweet memories one has of a relative who was deeply and chronically ill for most of my adult life.

And, as much as I hated that she suffered, we were all codependent. When she had a good day, we had a good day. When she had a bad day, we all called each other and wrung our hands as we fretted and discussed how inadequate modern medicine is, despite all the advances.

Now, I would say that memory is inadequate, not medicine, and worse -- the postmodern human heart is inadequate; severely lacking.

If reality is a construct, and meaning is to be an iridescent sheen on the water of life, well, sometimes the multiplicities of interpretive possibilities are just too much for me.

I miss my mother.

I did not like to see her suffer. I would not want her to be consigned to a life of endless suffering.

I miss her anyway.


Note: this is the first of a series of writings inspired by Japanese watakushi shōsetsu, the I-Novel, a very special kind of autobiographical writing (see Naoya Shiga's work).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Notes on Translation from the Guarani

The experience of translating Paraguayan women authors into English for the anthology, First Light, a 3-year project that was finalized in 2000, was illuminating. In translating into English the work of Paraguayan women writing in Guarani, one must be aware of the temptation to fall into translating the work in a way that will lead scholars and popularizers of the discourse to read the work and use it in a facile manner to support notions representing ideological trends. This is not to say that the themes and/or ideas are not present in the work – but that the translator makes certain choices in the translation process that could lend themselves to appropriation.

Feminist / post-feminist gender issues: If one accepts the notion that the cornerstone of feminist theory is a phenomenology of oppression, then the work of Paraguayan poet Susy Delgado could be used in this manner. In Tata-pype (CLOSE TO THE FIRE), she addresses a poem sequence to her older lover, making a great deal of word play about the fact that he considers himself powerful, important, patriarchal, particularly in relation to her, a woman. In the Guarani, the wordplay creates an ironic dualism used to describe the male psyche – one in which a tender interior coexists with a puffed-up bragadoccio exterior. The Spanish version (written by Susy) more straightforwardly makes fun of the machismo of her companion. Over the years Susy and I have had many conversations on the subject – both about how to depict men in poetry, and the behavior exhibited by the typical Paraguayan male (which Susy described as having been warped by three generations of 10 women to every man, and irresponsible paternity, partially condoned by the church in an official attempt to repopulate the country after two almost genocidal wars). This is not to say that authorial intent has determined the final product, or to say that the translator should place much weight on the authors stated intent.

It was tempting to me, as a translator, to go to the extremes with this particular segment, and to translate it with words that would immediately catch the eye of a feminist critic. It was doubly tempting since I was still partially psychologically enmeshed with a lying, cheating dog of a Paraguayan boyfriend, and revenge fantasies were still percolating just beneath the surface. I even toyed with the idea of putting his name in my English version of Susy’s Guarani and Spanish texts, and making specific references to identifying characteristics (home, job, etc.). In the end, I resisted the temptation; probably because it took me so long to do the translation, and it was too much work to maintain rage, pain and indignation.

Environmental or “green” politics: Sadly enough, in the past century, the environment of Paraguay was misused by colonizers, despite the fact that it does not possess the reserves of gold, silver and tin of its neighbor, Bolivia. The delicate ecosystem found in the Chaco was disturbed, first by rapacious hunters who sport-hunt endangered species, and then by huge hydroelectric projects which result in a vast alteration of the ecosystem (Itaipu dam on the Argentina/Paraguay/Brazil border, and the damming of the Pilcomayo River). Luisa Moreno de Gabaglio writes poetry and short fiction in Guarani and Spanish, and much of them have to do with the abuse of the environment by outsiders. For example, in the story “Keter B.”, she speaks of Spanish-speaking outsiders who hunt and capture an indigenous child, considering her to be a “creature.”

In “The Hanneman House,” a German specialist in arachnids lives in a house where the search for treasure buried and lost during the Chaco War drives men into internecinely homicidal greed. In each case, the Guarani speakers are victimized, while the outsiders (speaking Spanish or German) are portrayed as predators and cruelly analytical in their approach. Science without ethics also characterizes the hunters in her collection of stories, “Cuentos.” Zoologists use their understanding of the endangered species they are hunting to first kill the mother, and to take the pelts of rare peccaries, or to kill truckloads of rare caimans, leaving the skinless carcasses to rot in the hot sun. Luisa, who has a doctorate in veterinary science, pays a great deal of attention to animals – and they are the subjects of most of the “Cuentos.” For that reason, her books have been adopted in the Paraguayan school system (the Guarani and the Spanish versions), where they are used in conjunction with biology / Paraguayan heritage classes. It would be tempting to be more direct in the translation, and to make the environmental agenda more direct. Translating Luisa is quite difficult – she often invents words in Spanish which gives, through distortion of the language, the Spanish a grotesque, surreal cast. It makes the Guarani even more warm and maternal, in contrast.

Further, it is clear that her stories can function as allegories of the lingering pre- and post-Nazi influences in Paraguay, where the disappearances and tortures of animals and indigenous peoples mirror what happened to after the Civil War of 1946 and during the dictatorship of General Stroessner, who used Nazis to instruct his secret police in methods of torture. As such, her narratives are deeply antinomian and deeply questioning of authority that comes from outside, or which has been instructed by outside. In this, Luisa demonstrates the tendency of Paraguayans to express xenophobic and/or isolationist perspectives, where isolationism was historically viewed as a shortcut to utopia. Needless to say, it didn’t work. As an translator, it is difficult for me to keep from letting my own opinions and /or perspectives influence my word choices. If I am honest, I will say that I selected works to translate which illustrate my own attitudes and opinions, which are “green” and aggressively anti-fascistic.

Critiques of dictatorships and the phenomenon of self-censorship: Renee Ferrer writes both in Spanish and Guarani. Two of her books, POR EL OJO DE LA CERRADURA and LOS NUDOS DEL SILENCIO, deal specifically with life under dictatorship, and internalized oppression, which manifests as self-censorship. In LOS NUDOS DEL SILENCIO, the protagonist is married to a man she knows to be a part of the Paraguayan secret police, whom she begins to realize is an expert in torture.

In a trip to Paris, the protagonist falls in love (at a distance) with a Vietnamese exotic dancer, whom she imagines has experienced the same sort of self-repression and self-censorship as herself. In a chapter which structurally replicates the improvisations of a jazz saxophone player to whom the Vietnamese dancer dances, Ferrer’s protagonist riffs on the them of “falsifying” or “faking.” This was an extremely difficult chapter to translate because there were so many options for the words, and the rhythm was so crucial to the narrative.

I realized while I was translating it that I could bring in more of the overtly political, but I decided against it. Perhaps that was not a good choice – but I chose to be more strictly “transparent” and “fluent” in the translation – partially because the author wanted to review the translation (and I acquiesced). In POR EL OJO DE LA CERRADURA, Ferrer writes of Faustian bargains made because people had no option, no opportunity for advancement – a man duped into taking the rap for a crime sits in prison realizing he’ll never be paid the money he was promised, and his sacrifice – all so he could build a house for his mother, his family – will be worthless, as he is reviled, and no one believes his innocence.