Bookworm, Sketching, Writing 101

My Precious Heritage

When I think of my family, of the apartment we used to live, I can see bookshelves. Many of them. In every room there was at least one. We had more books than any of my childhood friends could imagine. For some it looked like we lived in a library.

Ironically, my father didn’t read much. He loved buying books and putting them on shelves without specific order. He loved numbers, numbers of books. Most of all he adored collected works of famous authors. We had 22 volumes of Leo Tolstoy’s writings which included not only his novels, short stories and plays, but letters and drafts of his numerous works. Nobody read a third of all that. My father was extremely proud of his Charles Dickens’ collection as it occupied a whole shelf on its own and looked cute. He also subscribed for photography and chemistry magazines, as he claimed his interest in these subjects, and every year the piles of those magazines on the top of the shelves grew higher and dustier. We had the Bible, Torah, Koran and The Great Book on Atheism. They were beautiful to look at, but stayed lonely.

My mother was the one to read all those books. I recall her sitting on the sofa with her legs tucked beneath her and her eyes glued to white pages with black letters. Every evening was the same. After the dishes had been done she was there, in the living room, with her mind lost in someone’s world.

Jane Austen was one of the writers she would always come back to reread and reread again. “I belong to this era,” she told me once. “I wish I could live in those quiet and slow days.“ It seemed strange to me then; she was so energetic and joyful during the day, but obviously, on the inside, she dreamed of long peaceful walks along the green hills of Victorian England.

I started reading early; I had no other way in this environment. At five I was already on my own, reading children’s books and not bothering adults, ever. I had my world. I became a constant visitor to the school and city libraries as my father wasn’t into collecting children’s books in particular. As I grew older I read all sci-fi collections we had and dreamed about time and space travelling. And thank God, we had Chekhov to whom I still cannot say goodbye.

I didn’t inherit my father’s addiction to collecting books. Today, if I can, I go digital. I don’t feel specifically attracted to leafing the old pages, or cutting the new ones, or smelling the binding, or hugging a book with a sigh “my precious!” Besides, I don’t like dusting bookshelves. But every evening I sit on the sofa with my legs tucked beneath me and read. And this is the greatest possession I can think of, the luxury of getting lost in someone’s world.


Sketching, Writing 101

Old Professor’s Ghost on the Misty Road

A couple of years ago I heard that one of my university professors died. He was the most talented belles-lettres scholar I’ve known and a very strong personal influence to me.

That night I had a dream where he knocked at my door and asked, “Where are your stories lately written?” I got surprised and told him I didn’t have any. But he insisted, “Where are your stories lately written?” and I pulled something dusty out of my desk drawer and pushed it to him to leave me alone. When I woke up I had a strange feeling realizing that, indeed, I hadn’t been writing for long, long time.

Next day I talked to my old friend who said that the same night she had a dream with the professor, too, and he told her that she should trust people in her life.

We both joked about how nosy he became after passing away, knocking at people’s doors with his parental advice, but the coincidence shadowed with the existential enigma of death stuck to my mind. I started asking myself, “Where are my stories and why does it bother me that I don’t have any?”

Later that year I read The Element by Ken Robinson, and the book triggered something in me. It talks about self-discovery, true passion that hides within you and pushes you forward. The author claims that everyone has a talent that can bring joy and meaning to their life. It’s simply a matter of finding it, and one of the ways to do it is recalling what you loved when you were a child.

My answer was easy; I always loved books and drawing. I never stopped reading so, I thought, I have to come back to pencils. I did, and it was fun, but relearning to draw kept me thinking about writing. I started seeing parallels between two arts in the way you observe things concentrating on the details, mood and shadows while trying to transfer everything you see on paper.

And then again I had a dream with the professor who, again, asked me what I was writing.

I woke up with understanding that my subconscious really wants something from me and probably I should give in. I didn’t start writing novels right away, I am not such a pushover, no matter how many dead professors come to bother me, but I turned back to an old forgotten habit of typing out ideas, thoughts and worries. And, of course, I renewed my tradition of voracious reading. And then it happened. One day, writing something, I felt I came home. It was surprising influx of joy, the sense of finding what was lost.

I read somewhere that when you go the way that brings you joy life starts treating you to unexpected presents. No, you don’t win a lottery or a cruise to the Caribbean where you should do nothing but bathe in the sunlit waves. Instead you, step by step, discover happy bits in life, and the course of it slowly changes while you follow the road that becomes truly yours.

I was not unhappy without writing, but we all look for some meaning that we cannot find in the droning everyday routine, and writing gives the feeling of not wasting life. It doesn’t stop time, but it gives you moments when time stops.

I now read some books on writing to help myself find the ways to rediscover and express old, deep me that I was hiding or was hiding from. And to my surprise, writing turned out to be not as scary and difficult as I remember it. I must have changed from the student’s days, as now I can see writing as fun. I don’t harass myself about worthiness of the written or the chances to be published; I don’t even bother myself with thinking too much whether it is interesting to read. It is interesting to write. It is enough for me at the moment. I plunge into my mind to dig out forgotten or put-aside things. And I feel that, somehow, every step brings me ahead, even though I have no idea so far where I am going. It’s all in the fog, but still, it is my misty road, and I want to keep going.


Sketching, Writing 101

View from the Porch

I was sitting on the porch when the police car arrived. The fat man in a black suit and two policemen entered Mrs. Pauley’s house and brought her out. Many people gathered on the street to watch the car carrying Mrs. Pauley away. Three months ago when her husband died the crowd was much bigger. Everybody came up to her to say nice words and give her a hug. Today everybody kept silent and stood at a distance.

I wish she’d stay. Mrs. Pauley is always nice. She’s so old she can barely walk on her own, but she bakes the best cakes in the neighborhood. We always buy one at the Spring Fair.

Mom said they will bring her to the home. But she has her home already. Why do they move her to another one?

Dad said they will take better care of her there than her own sons who never gave her a cent, and that’s why she went into debt. I never met her sons. They are always too busy to visit her, Mrs. Pauley says. She has many photos of them on the wall.

I wonder who will take care of her cats while she’s away. She has three, Snowball, Patty and Mr. Fatson. I like Mr. Fatson the most. He can climb the trees and once he caught a mouse. He jumped on it like a tiger! He’s pretty wild. I hope Mom will allow me to take him home. I will play with him after school, and when Mrs. Pauley goes out of her debt she can take him back.

The people started going away. I waved at my friend Tony who was still standing there with his dad, then got up from the porch and went to the kitchen. I need to talk to Mom about Mr. Fatson.


Sketching, Writing 101

The Deepest Fear

Black Square by Kazimir Malevich

I’m afraid not to have my dreams.

I have seen many people, some close friends included, who left their dreams behind, who decided to let them go.

I am frightened to witness their lives, with the black hole of meaningless future in front of them. With the present that consist of mere complains. With the past which is only a memory of pain. I’m afraid of all those who forgot the word ‘perspective’.

I avoid to look into their eyes with nothing in there, but fear, fear of emptiness that comes from inside.

I am horrified I can be like this. So I follow my dreams.


Sketching, Writing 101

Lost and Found

She bumped into him at the party. He was hugging a girl and looked happy. She said, ”Hi, nice to see you”, then went away and cried on the bathroom floor.

A year ago he didn’t show up at the wedding, his and her wedding. She came home and found a letter that said “I’m sorry. I can’t do it. Jack.”

She wanted to burn the letter, but put it in the night table instead. She wanted to burn his cloths, but they all were gone. She wanted to burn her memories, but they kept reviving.

She wished to see him again, and there he was, smiling and hugging and kissing someone else.

A year ago she lost him, she lost herself, she lost everything. Tonight she found the truth: he never loved her. She suddenly felt free.


Sketching, Writing 101

The Sea Inside


I miss thematic film festivals that used to be held in my home town. They were not often, once a year maybe, and they usually were a pretty small event, as not so many people are interested in foreign movies, but they were fun. As I moved away from home, I moved away from the festivals, too.

I remember a Japanese film a couple of my friends and I watched together. We didn’t know much about Japanese cinema or culture in general, and we chose a random movie that turned out to be about a ghost ship where all dead souls gathered after leaving this world. The movie was quite bizarre, left more questions than answers, but I remember an image of a young girl singing a sad song about her lost love. That was beautiful.

One of my friends hated this film as he was the guy who can’t deal with unanswered questions. Besides, he forgot his glasses and struggled the whole movie to read subtitles.

Next year we went to the Spanish Film Festival where, again, we were supposed to read a lot of subtitles and had no idea which movie to prefer. Somehow we chose Mar adentro, The Sea Inside. The best choice ever. For the first time I saw Javier Bardem who was just a Spanish actor then, not as famous as he is today. But you could see right away the depth and power of his talent. He played a man totally paralyzed, not being able to move even his head. And the striking contrast between the dead still body and the fire of live soul that shined through his eyes was irresistible. Even more irresistible was the wish of this man to die. We left the movie theater speechless.

Today you don’t actually need film festivals; you can buy and watch any movie in the world sitting on your own sofa. But the experience of going to the theater along with your friends where in the dark room you sit all together trying to grasp a clue of exotic reality and then, after the movie, you share ideas and theories and explanations… that is what I miss. That is what I left behind and it will never return.


Sketching, Writing 101



Dear reader,

I want you to know that I used to be a big fan of magazines’ psychological tests, and whenever I found one I was there with a pen in my hand ready to check the yes and no. I lost that habit as I think I have learnt enough about myself to be interested in the titles like “Are you a good listener?” or “Are you a good housewife?” I know the answers. Yes and no. But there is a test that still amuses me. It is when you look at a big square filled with letters, and the first words that you can see tell what is meaningful for you at the moment, what bothers or attracts you.

Today’s Writing 101 assignment is very close to this test as you are supposed to open a random book on the page 29 and write about the word that popped up first. The word that jumped on me was ‘bounded’, and it offers a lot of material for self-analysis.

I know, dear reader, that you are not my shrink so I won’t bother you with the long discussion about the fact that ‘bounded’ is the opposite of freedom, a very big and complex concept that is really important for me. I won’t tell you that I don’t like restrictions and don’t want to feel that my life is limited in any way, even though everybody’s life has some borders, some things you are tied to and probably want to get rid of. I will keep all these thoughts to myself and probably will find what really bothers me and what boundaries I need to step over. I just want to thank you for reading this very strange letter.


Joan writing-101-june-2014-class-badge-2