Rakowicki Cemetery

Rakowicki Cemetery (Cmentarz Rakowicki), a rambling cemetery located in Old Town Krakow, was established in 1803 and over the course of the last two centuries has been expanded several times. The cemetery is notable for its architecture as well as being the resting spot of many famous Poles.

 

Spring in Krakow

I like the wildness of spring in Krakow. I like how the plants are untamed, and the weather is unpredictable. Saturday is balmy, and Sunday rain will come down in sheets. Life, for a bit, is festive, as the market comes again to the Rynek, and post-Easter Emaus is a spectacle of kitsch.

Monthly Reads — March 2017

In March I had lots of books started, but only managed to get through three of them. The jury is still out on whether or not I really enjoyed what I read this month.

Time Bites — Doris Lessing

This is the first book of Lessing’s that I have read, and I’m not sure if it was a good place to start with Lessing’s work. Time Bites is a collection of essays, most of them dealing with literature or topics closely related to literature. I really like to read essay collections. I find they are relatively easy reads, and I like that I don’t necessarily have to read it in order or continuously. Time Bites is quite long, and after attempting to read every essay in it for the last two month, I decided to pick out about 20 of the ones that interested me the most. The problem was, though, that these essays bored me, even the ones that  I thought would be really interesting. Also, there were periods where Lessing would randomly bring up how much she disliked “political correctness” and it seemed very out of place whenever she did it. Overall, most of the essays I found were just boring or off-putting.

We Should All Be Feminists — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I had been hearing about We Should All Be Feminists quite often in these past two months. Based on Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, this is a short book that is a really easy read. I don’t have anything really critical to say because it’s not an overly complicated book about feminism or feminist thought; it’s just a very fun but thoughtful look at Ngozi Adichie’s views on feminism.

Circe and the Cyclops — Homer

This was another really short book that took two stories from The Odyssey — perhaps the two most famous stories from it. I’ve never read the entire Odyssey, so this was nice to just pick up and get a sense of what the whole poem is like. Also, the book cost me 5 złoty (about $1.50).

In addition to these books, I started reading Sofia Kahn is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik, Mortal Engines by Stanisław Lem and The Ministry of Pain by Dubravka Ugrešić.

Five Travel Books I Want To Read

In a Sunburned Country – Bill Bryson

“Sunburned” can mean only one country: Australia. Bill Bryson is one of the more prolific travel writers and has written about everywhere from the Appalachian Trail to Liechtenstein. In a Sunburned Country covers everything from modern-day Australia to Australia’s convict past. Bryson is supposed to be a hilarious writer and keeps his books fun and informative.

 

The Art of Travel – Alain de Botton

Of course, it’s always fun to read a good, fun-filled travelogue about one person’s journey through the Amazon or Russia, but sometimes you need to sit down and think about the philosophy of travel. Philosopher de Botton looks at the concepts behind travelling and how people are affected by it. What really draws me to this book is that de Botton uses poetry, artwork, and his own experiences to give the reader an understanding of what it means to travel.

 

West with the Night – Beryl Markham

This is less of a travelogue and more of a memoir about a not-often-heard-of remarkable woman. Markham was born in England in 1886, but lived most of her life in Kenya, and was the first female bush pilot in Africa. She was also the first woman to fly across the Atlantic from East to West. These memoirs seem like an interesting read about Colonial Africa and aviation in the early 20th century.

 

The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries – Jessa Crispin

I first came across this book over the summer and was instantly intrigued. This book is part memoir – of Crispin who left her life in Chicago for Berlin – and part examination of famous women expats. The book explores “exile,” and while it’s not so much of a travelogue, it still sounds fascinating.

 

Journeys – Stefan Zweig

Stefan Zweig is an author who has become increasingly popular over the last few years. In fact, his work inspired Grand Budapest Hotel. I’m a fan of his short stories, which look at a “lost” Europe from before World War I and the inter-war years. Journeys is Zweig’s travels through post-World War I central Europe. I think this would be very interesting for anyone travelling through central Europe who want to know a bit more about what the area was like in the past.

What are the books about travel that you intend to read?

Reading While Abroad

Here is my problem of the year: Books weigh a lot. And it’s rather a nuisance to try to travel when you have a whole collection of “to be reads” waiting for you at home.

I’ve been away from home (and away from my book collection) for almost a year. Over the summer I was interning in Washington DC, and only brought five or so books with me. I was lucky that I ended up subleasing for a couple that had numerous books in English (and Latvian! But as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t read those), and could add on to my reading list without having to worry about how to transport books home. I also began to use my phone’s Kindle app more and downloaded some poetry books.

When I left for Poland I brought three books with me. Only three! They were Herta Müller’s The Land of Green Plums, Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita (which would be a re-read for me), and Wisława Szymborska’s poetry collection Here, which I brought to practice Polish, as it has the poems in Polish as well as the English translations. I was worried that this wouldn’t be enough books because I was sure I would have too much extra time and no friends and I would be bored … etc., etc. But I eventually took the advice of my mom and didn’t spend half of my baggage weight on books.

But between the end of September and the end of December I finished exactly one book: The Land of Green Plums (which I had started when I was still in Wisconsin). And guess what, the reason I read only one book that entire time was because I was busy, and I had friends, and I was never bored.

I began to read more after Christmas. This is usually the trend with me – I tend to read more during December and January. This is probably because I usually get quite a few books for Christmas, and have a lot of downtime. This year there were no Christmas books. In late January, missing this tradition I took myself down to the major English-language bookstore and bought myself two books: The Passport by Herta Müller and Time Bites by Doris Lessing. During this time I also had access to an actual Kindle (not just the app on my phone!). While I’m not a Kindle-or-Bust person, I did find that I really enjoyed reading on it.

Since January I have read four books. It’s not a lot, but it’s not a number I’m ashamed of. All but one of these has been in physical form. And this may be a problem when it comes to me leaving Poland, because I’m a bit of a book hoarder, and I would like to bring all of my books back with me. But that’s not going to be possible so there will have to be some culling of the herd in June.

So, with that long ramble of a tale of my reading while abroad exploits, I have a few tips on how to read while abroad:

  1. If you’re going on a short trip (up to a month), bring a paperback or two that you have no attachment to. These are relatively lightweight, and if you bought them for cheap (I recommend bringing the books you bought on clearance or at a library book sale), you won’t feel guilty leaving them in a hostel lobby once you’re done with them.
  2. If you’re travelling with friends, bring along a book to trade with each other when you each finish your book.
  3. If you’re staying in a country long-term, and are in a relatively large city, find a bookshop that caters to ex-pats. If you’re lucky the books should be relatively affordable, and there may be the possibility of selling books back when you are going to leave.
  4. If you can’t invest in a Kindle (like me), I would suggest downloading the free app on your laptop or phone. There are also a lot of resources to find cheap or free eBooks online, such as Project Gutenberg (yay classics!), this Reddit forum, and Book Riot’s “Deals of the Day.”

Happy reading, and great travels!

Writing Anxieties

 

I have a problem with making myself write. I hesitate to write because I become nervous and anxious about doing it. As someone who has been relatively confident throughout my life, I don’t know why I would be afraid and nervous and, for the lack of any better words right now, unconfident about writing.

There’s nothing specific that makes me afraid about writing; I haven’t had anyone say “you’re a terrible writer” or, “you shouldn’t write about this.” Instead I just get the idea in my head that I’m not good at writing, or that I don’t have any significant ideas that are worth writing about.

And this doubt and anxieties are bull! I absolutely love writing; I love being able to tell stories that I find I can’t tell when I’m talking to people, I like creating characters, I like the physical act of writing with a nice pen on quality paper. But then I become excessively anxious about putting words down and I decide to not write for week and weeks. That, of course, then turns my anxiety into more of a problem, because when I finally do go to write I can’t seem to actually get anything out because it’s been so long since I’ve written.

This is the point when I think I have the most doubts about not having anything useful or unique to say … or, really, anything to say at all. And even though I acknowledge the ridiculousness of these thoughts, my anxious little brain doesn’t care. And then there is the feeling that that everything I have written has been said, but possibly probably definitely said better than I will ever say it. I also worry that whatever I write is trite and clichéd.

I think I know one of the reasons why I feel this way: I read too many amazing books by amazing authors.

Actually, this really isn’t a problem. The real problem is that while I’m reading these books I then compare myself to authors who have been writing for 20, 30, 40 years and have won Nobel Prizes or Man Booker Prizes or what-have-you. It’s absolutely silly for me to look at these authors and their vivid, wonderful stories and I say to myself that I’m never going to write as well as these established authors.

And I might not ever be as good of a writer, but that doesn’t really matter. And a sure-fire way for me to never be as good is to worry about how I’m not a good writer now. But that takes time, and I think the important thing now is for me actually enjoy myself while I’m writing – to like the process and the topics and the general feeling of getting thoughts down on paper.

My other two anxieties I have about writing go hand-in-hand. Often when I am writing I tend to hold back on my feelings. I think too much about how I don’t want to be perceived as foolish or too emotional. I think I’m quite closed with a lot of people, and writing what I feel just opens up this whole fear that people will recognize who or what or why I am writing an emotional piece and possibly judge me for that.

I think this comes from the fact that I tend to be a private, not very outwardly emotional person. So when my writing is emotional or personal I become very uncomfortable at the prospect of any hypothetical readers sitting and feeling what I feel. And then I begin to “self-censor” myself and not write things that I really want to write.

So, here it is, all my anxieties laid out on the table. I’m not sure if there is a solution to my problems. Or, at least, not a particularly profound solution. My anxieties about writing just have to be worked through, I think. I have to tell myself that the more I write, even if 90 percent of it is crap, I will get better, eventually.

The next thing I have to do is perhaps a bit harder: I have to actively seek an audience. Just writing that makes me panic a bit. But the truth is that any feedback is better than no feedback. And I’m at the point where I’m tired of sitting on stories that I really enjoyed writing and think are good because I’m afraid a friend or a family member won’t like it. What is the possibility of someone I love reading a piece I wrote and saying “oh, Elizabeth, that was really bad. You should never write again”? In reality, they’re more likely to praise me and not give me any criticism (constructive or not).

So I’ve made a goal for myself to try to write most or all of a short story each week and show it to a friend. It’s not a difficult goal to keep, and I think it allows me to be flexible if I have some days of self doubt.