Monthly Archives: May 2015

Literary memories

Certain smells can conjure up memories. A specific taste might remind you of a time long gone. A snapshot  of a younger version of a friend may put a smile on your face as you remember the occasion when the picture was taken. A song from long ago can transport you back through the years to a special moment that the tune accompanied. There are many paths to the past, but few ever speak of literature as one of them.

Perhaps it is because reading a novel can be such a drawn-out process, especially as we grow into adults. Too often, we find our time laid claim to by work, chores, children, a significant other… In short, responsibilities. More often than not, we spread out our reading time, maybe over a few days, weeks, or even months. A novel doesn’t point back to one single moment, but several.

Still, I remember a warm July night nearly fourteen years ago, when I started a new book I’d gotten for my fifteenth birthday, I didn’t think I’d like it. Much later that same night, I finished in a fever. Instead of a story for my nine year old sister, I found breathless wonder between the pages. I’d never wished so hard for a fictional world to be real. The book? Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  The next day I went into town with a friend, and I bought the two next installments and couldn’t wait to devour them.

White Fang by Jack London will always be my childhood, read over and over and over again. I never tired of it and never worried about whether there was more to the story than just what was on the page. Nobody had yet taught me about symbolism, anthropomorphism or what have you. I just loved what was on the page.

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen is the boys at school, making their voices high pitched and themselves silly as they read Nora’s lines out loud.

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand is that spring when I started reading again, after years of not really opening other books than my textbooks. It will always remind me of curling up in the black chair in front of my brimming bookshelves. I still bought books as if I finished another every few days. Though I liked the novel, I had to set an alarm for ten minutes, and I was not allowed to get up from that chair before the alarm went off. It was hard to accept that I, who had always read everything and anything, had come to that.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins was the first book I raced through after the long break. I was home from university for the summer, and my parents were away. I had laid claim to the upstairs living room, and I sat up until the wee hours of the morning without ever feeling that it was a chore to keep reading. I was happy that night.

Native Son by Richard Wright is that April when I finished my thesis, and really should have been reading other things. My professor mentioned the novel in class, but it wasn’t on our list. I started reading it in a coffee shop, and I had to fight to keep my expression normal at times. I squirmed internally almost throughout the whole novel, because some parts of it are so uncomfortable. But I also loved it.

Though it’s too soon to tell, I think I will find it hard to read Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair without remembering the stroll around Portobello Market with my sister,  and the chat with the old man there who was so excited that I still had my first Graham Greene ahead of me. I will think of sitting on the second story of a red bus, knowing instantly, as soon as I’d read the first sentence, that I would like what followed. I’ll remember reading at a Starbucks in London and racing towards the end of the book as the Piccadilly line took me to the airport at the end of my trip.

I don’t always remember what I was going on in my life as I was reading a book for the first time. Then again, not every smell or taste conjures up memories either. Sometimes a picture is just a picture, and a song is just a song. But sometimes, I do remember. Vividly.

 

I’ve been told I English very good

I’ve worked as a freelance translator for close to five years now, but I’ve never actually translated anything but single lines into English before. That in itself is not uncommon; a lot translators usually stick to translating into their own language, and for good reason. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to reach the same level of understanding of a foreign language that you naturally have of your mother tongue. Native speakers may not consciously know the rules, but they can still pick up on things that sound ‘off’ in many cases.

Having studied English extensively for twenty years, I feel quite competent at producing English words myself. I’ve surprised many a native speaker by revealing that English is not my first language. Still, speaking a language and being good at translating into that same language is far from the same thing. I learned that the hard way when I started freelancing. The job I thought was going to be a breeze turned out to be quite challenging at times. It’s so easy to be influenced by the structures and the words that you’re seeing, and produce a stilted translation as a result. The more you translate, the more proficient you will be at divorcing yourself from the actual words on the page and come up with a translation that sounds natural. You remember things your proof readers have pointed out in the past, what you’ve seen others do, certain turns of phrases that work in this or that context. Most of all, you learn to take a step back and think for a moment about what you would actually say.

But then someone asks you to reverse the process, and it’s like being a flailing rookie again. Suddenly you’re faced with structures and expressions that are more drilled into your head than those of a foreign language could ever be, and you’re second guessing yourself to high heaven. Would a native English speaker say this? How on earth do I convey the meaning of this phrase which is so obvious to me but sounds so strange in English? Honestly, it’s enough to make me wonder if I even speak English at all.

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WIP

Although I haven’t really written anything substantial in a long while, I’ve never lacked for ideas. I’ve squirreled them away in a folder on my computer, in various notebooks lying around my room, on scraps of paper, whatever was closest when inspiration struck. Still other ideas have been forgotten, because nothing was handy to write with then and there, or because I thought, with great hubris, that I would remember.

Of course, if you keep having ideas without actually writing them, it builds up and suddenly you’re not only struggling to write, but struggling to choose what you most want to write about when you finally get over yourself. For months, I’ve been saying, “Just do it. Just start writing it and worry about everything else later.” I’ve genuinely wanted to follow my own orders, but with more than a hundred ideas to choose from, it was overwhelming. I just didn’t know which idea to go with.

There were a few front runners, but not one obvious winner. None of them were fully developed – far from it – but all had little bits and pieces that were waiting for me to fit them into a larger framework. In the end, I chose the one that had both a beginning and an end. It’s a fantasy, and quite possibly too large in scope to be my first big project after a long hiatus from writing. It’ll likely take years to pull together the storyline I have in mind. I’m actually toying with the idea of starting one of the other stories as well, just to be able to alternate a bit, but we’ll see how it goes first. I don’t want to spread myself to thin.

The working title is The Garden of Princes, but that’s likely to change as soon as I can find something better to call it. I don’t know how I feel about getting into the details yet, partly because I don’t have many details yet, and partly because I’ve always preferred to be a bit tight-lipped about what I’m working on. But in my head, it’s sort of a blend between Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. (argh!) Martin. I haven’t gotten all that far yet, but chapter one is done, chapter two is starting to take shape, and I’ve had a good time (mostly) when sitting down to write in the mornings. So that bodes well, I guess, but ask me again next week!

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Starbucks names

Anyone who has a name that’s the slightest bit out of the ordinary has probably experienced this: You’re talking to the person behind the counter of a Starbucks, and he or she asks your name to put on your cup of coffee. You pause, preparing yourself to enunciate. every syllable of your moniker as clearly as possible. Maybe this time they’ll get it right.

Or not.

My siblings have both relinquished all hope of ever seeing their names spelled right. My brother simply gives a different name to write down. My own name, Heidi, is not particularly unusual, nor very hard to spell, so when I went to my first Starbucks a few years ago, I wasn’t expecting it to be a thing.  I quickly learned, though, that there are countless ways in which to mishear and misspell Heidi. Fortunately I always look forward to seeing what the barista comes up with next. I’m actually a little disappointed when they get it right. Where’s the fun in that?

So far, I’ve been dubbed Hidy, Hiedi, Hany, Hayde… The less outrageously wrong Heidie and Heidy have also appeared from time to time. But my favorite by far has to be Hiny, courtesy of a barista in Manchester. My friend and I had a good chuckle at that one!

What weird things have you been called by hapless baristas?

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