She stares at me with her blinding reflection, and mocks my fingers as they tremble above the keys.
Some days are easier than others, some days I question the wisdom of my decision to write, on others I question the point of living when failure seems inevitable. But this too shall pass.
More often it is just a wading through the muck of memory and imagination, of what I want to say and how I want to say it. It is tedious, and often scary.
I am trying to rid myself of the habit of comparing my writing to the complete works of masters past. I must remember that at some point Cannery Row was too a blank page.
What is coming along, however, is the translation of my grandmother’s diary. Though coming along is not the most accurate description.
I don’t want to say that I’m re-living what she went through, no, but, there has not yet been a day when I was not made incredibly hungry and had to stop to eat while trying to translate. I have no logical fear of bombs or sirens, but, when I hear an ambulance or fire truck…
I see her words, fading on yellowed crumpling paper, smeared with tears, and letters that were mangled by a shacking hand. I see her as she weaves between the realities of her mind and those of the world outside. She speaks of longing and concern, she speaks of where she goes and what she eats, and as I read the lines I can hear the explosions, I can feel the room shacking, I can see the dead and trails of blood on the frozen roads. I am only at the end of November 1941, while there are still meager rations. With the coming December the numbers of dead from artillery will grow, those frozen to death will grow, those dead from bombs will grow, those murdered for their ration cards will grow, those dead of hunger will grow… into the hundred thousands.
If it is difficult now, I am not sure how the next few months of translation will go. But, I am convinced more and more every day of the necessity for this translation and for it’s publication. The fact that she survived, the fact that anyone survived when more than a million perished is beyond me. How the hundreds of thousands shells, bombs, rockets and bullets did not wipe out every living thing… how temperatures of 40 below zero did not freeze the rest to death… how living on less than a slice of bread (most of which was tree bark and saw dust) for days on end did not take the rest… is beyond me – it is beyond any of us.
And that is what I want to change.
I fear of what we may become. Though keeping the world from war, particularly a world war, is the only thing that makes sense, the absence of a mutual struggle against a shared overwhelming difficulty breeds a people unaware of the height of human potential and compassion and heroism.
I want my grandmother’s story to live, yes, but, I also want what she and everyone who stood beside her in May of 1945 felt and knew to live on and help us know ourselves.