Ah, DC’s summer has descended in its sluggish, swampy way to squat over us until late September. It has taken more than a decade, but I believe I’ve acclimated. The trick, or at least one of them, is to slow down one’s internal rhythm to match it. I am convinced this is why the stereotype of the slow-moving southerner exists. Cold showers and gallons of iced green tea are also helpful. And of course simply accepting that no matter what, you will always feel at least slightly damp at all times.
Most of my focus this month has been on revisions for book 1 of the next trilogy. The book does have a title now, but they probably want to announce it along with the cover. I should ask about that…Anyway, as I said, I’ve been focused on revisions, which are due very soon. I don’t normally butt up against deadlines like this. In fact, I’m generally known to deliver manuscripts early. But I somehow managed to get an abrasion on my eyeball and as you might imagine, that hampered my writing somewhat. I did get to wear an eyepatch for a little while, which was cool.
Now I’m trying to make up for lost time on revisions for what is easily my largest, most ambitious project to date. That isn’t a bad thing on its own, but it makes it hard for my brain to think about…anything else, really. And as a single parent, that is not great. So I muddle on as best I can, try to forgive myself when I stumble in my parenting duties, and perhaps put some money aside for my children’s therapy bills...
In the last newsletter, I mentioned Zamoyski’s Poland: A History, which helped me understand the inherent fluidity of national borders. Now I’m reading Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia by Orlando Figes, which, coincidentally, takes that concept even further by presenting national identity itself as fluid.
Russia has had some dramatic transformations over the centuries. I’ve been focusing lately is the one that began with Peter the Great, who decided he was going to bring Russia kicking and screaming into the European Age of Enlightenment, even if he had to beat, imprison, exile, or kill a great many of his subjects to do it. Because of his stern efforts, and those of successors such as Catherine the Great, by the beginning of the 19th Century, the Russian nobility was more at home in Versailles than Moscow. They dressed French, they spoke French, and did their best to act French. Naturally, this became a problem once Russia went to war with Napoleon.
After the war, in which nobles fought side by side with peasants, there was a huge push to return to the “simple, old ways” of Russia. But there wasn’t a clear consensus on how to do that. Some, like the Decemberists, thought government was the main problem, and that a little assassination and coup might be just the thing to fix Russia (it didn’t work out well). Other people, like author Alexander Pushkin, thought the way to return to the “true” Russia was through culture. But even that had a number of challenges, foremost among them was the Russian language itself. Since the intellectual movement of the Enlightenment in Russia had been entirely in French, the Russian language was far behind and lacked a great deal of vocabulary. As Figes says:
”Basic literary concepts, most of them to do with the private world of the individual, had never been developed in the Russian tongue: ‘gesture’, ‘sympathy’, ‘privacy’, ‘impulsion’ and ‘imagination’ – none could be expressed without the use of French.”
There was no word in Russian for “imagination.” The millions of peasants who only spoke Russian simply did not have a word for it. I find that idea stunning. Words give things definition. Not just in the dictionary sense but in the very shape of the thing. Without words, those concepts are nebulous at best, and certainly nothing that can be expressed as valuable. Writers like Pushkin (much like Shakespeare centuries earlier) had to invent those words in order to express his thoughts and emotions.
We’re still doing the same thing today, of course. All the new words, like “blog” and “clickbait”, or new meanings of existing words like “tweet” and “friend” must be invented to give shape to our human experience as it “evolves”. Culture, patriotism, national identity--these things are never fixed, always changing, shifting, mutating. Sometimes the change happens gradually, or by chance. Other times, like with Peter Great, it happens because of the sheer force of will and power granted to one man. Think on that, eh?
To go along with such dark rumination, may I recommend listening to “Nothing There” by Anoice, which is a post-rock electro-symphonic band out of Tokyo. It has a blend of haunting vocals, somber strings, and industrial crunch that hits a lot of my buttons. Come, sit and listen with me as we angst and ponder why the Cure has suddenly become cool again.
And now it’s back to the word mines for me. Maybe I’ll make a discovery of my own. Take care of yourself, and remember the sage advice of George Clinton in that immortal classic “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)”:
Now this is what I want you all to do:
If you got faults, defects or shortcomings,
You know, like arthritis, rheumatism or migraines,
Whatever part of your body it is,
I want you to lay it on your radio, let the vibes flow through.
Funk not only moves, it can re-move, dig?