Saturday, August 15, 2015

We speak English, don't we?

The other day I started up a new WhatsApp group: Lloyds English. I announced it to my close family: Israeli-born offspring and Israeli-born wife, and stipulated that it would serve as a place where we'd communicate only in English. The immediate response to my announcement was: "What are you drinking and are you already drunk?" And then silence. The last words uttered in Lloyds English. So there was nothing left to do but fade back into the linguistic woodwork.

A friend of  mine asked me the other day, over a pint of Guinness, what I regret in life. Normally, my response to such a question is that I regret nothing. I believe in learning from mistakes, rather than dwelling in regret. But this time, whether it be the result of my increasing age or growing egocentricity, I admitted to having one regret: that I did not speak English with my children.

Now, in an earlier blog posting: Curiouser and curiouser, I defended my reasoning for not speaking English to my children, and in doing so, robbing them of a golden opportunity for becoming bilingual. If you haven't read that posting, or have forgotten what it is about, it would be a good idea to read it first. There I explained why my entrance and acceptance into Israeli society was not a simple one, and why much of it was dependent upon my acquiring a working competence in Hebrew. Speaking only English at home, at that time, would have prevented me from reaching the linguistic competence required to meet that goal and would have sent a wrong message - both to those in Israel and in Canada back home, who were waiting for me to come back to my senses and leave Israel - about how serious I was in my endeavour to fully adapt into Israeli society. So, I put my linguistic competence first, above that of my children. I thought that they would have ample opportunity for picking up English  on the way. Wasn't this a small price to pay for not having a father who was a social outcast?

The irony is that, in the long run, all of my effort really didn't make much of a difference. True, I took university classes in Hebrew, wrote papers in Hebrew, gave lectures in Hebrew, carried on correspondence in Hebrew - but in the end I was still the odd man out. I would never really fit in. Not because of the language, but because of me. I am simply meant to be an outcast, whether I live in Israel, Canada, or on the moon. I reached the point where I felt that I had adapted as well as possible to Israeli society and had nothing left to prove. And it was then, that I began to regress. At times, I felt like I was speaking with stones in my mouth, and Hebrew was often like a hot blanket, under which I lay smothered on a hot summer day.  Words only flowed in that ancient language when I felt emotion, and such moments became less and less frequent over time. My adult identity was slowly beginning to crumble. I needed to find a way to slip back into something which was perhaps lost forever: slip back into me.

Would speaking to my children in English help in any way? Or had that ship sailed forever? It's not that my children don't know English. They did pick it up along the way. A daughter who now speaks mostly English in her work. A son who is writing a 100+ page MA thesis in English on a very technical subject. And another son who decided one day, through his own volition, to speak to me only in English (and was the only one to applaud the creation of Lloyds English and not question my sobriety).

It seems that I never know when to stop chasing windmills. Don Quixote. It is my battle alone. And in the meantime, Lloyds English still lies there, ignored, like an unwanted orphan. Why should I expect anything more?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

When Winter Wind Wears Desert Boots

It's exciting putting out a new book. It's hard to describe. It all begins with an idea, a small seed, which slowly grows and creates constant turmoil in my mind. The seed becomes a story - and then the story begins to write itself. It is then that I know that a book is inside of me. And I rush to get it out, get it out before the rivers dry up and I lose my way.

But I do lose my way, many times, during the process. At times, I wonder who this is on the other side of the page. Whose story is this? Or can it belong to anyone?

A good friend read the finished draft manuscript and told me not to publish the book.
"You are risking too much by publishing it," he said.
"But it is fiction!" I exclaimed. "Why would this be putting myself at risk?"
"Because only you know what parts of it are fiction and what parts of it are not. And some people may see it all as real - an autobiography, perhaps - or maybe even a confession."
"If this is in any way a confession, then it is Daniel's confession," I said. "Although I think, if he still had a voice, he would claim it to be more of a legacy, than a confession."
"And he would want to believe that," my friend said. "As would you. Aren't you and Daniel the same person?"
"No. I am the author. Nothing more. He is my creation."

In my first book: "As I Died Laughing", there appeared to be no clear borders between the real and the unreal, between fact and fiction. In a continually fragmented plot, the author found it much easier to hide in the background. But there is nothing for the author to hide behind in: "When Winter Wind Wears Desert Boots". I stand there naked. There is truth in what I have to say, but I choose its maner of creation. The characters are real to the book. They begin and end there. Some of you will believe that you see yourselves in the book, but you are who you bring to the reading. And if you take away much more, then I have succeeded as a writer.

I have written two novels, and this second novel - "When Winter Wind Wears Desert Boots" - is the one that I believe will define me as a writer. Why do I put such emphasis on this second book? Because it is something that has been waiting to be written for a very long time. You may understand this much better when you read the book.

So, what is left? There was a time in my life when the act of writing, by itself, was enough. Just by putting words down on a page, I was in communion with self. But that is not enough, now. Not nearly enough. My words seek to be heard. They have lived in solitude, inside of me, for so long. And now, they no longer belong totally to me. They wander, seeking a new home, many new homes, as they live on and become real in the consciousness of others.

Another good friend asked me:
"What's it like knowing that there are people out there reading your most innermost thoughts at this very moment?"
I hesitated, but only for a fraction of a moment.
"As much as this may sound surprising," I answered, "it is a relief."
And I left it at that.