Gained In Translation, Again

Three years ago, I ran a couple of my short poems through Google Translate to see what would happen. From English to Pashto and back again. From English to Pashto to Hindi to Javanese and back again. How does meaning become fractured through the algorithmic translation process? Last week, I tried it again. I started with:

Long have I longed for
and dreaded
this moment
of darkness,
belonging to silence,
sure of my shadows.

Then I ran it through
Sinhala —> Tajik —> Swahili —> Malayalam —> Pashto —> back to English

Here is what happened. Look how it pulled a rhyme in there for me (afraid/shade), and the meaning has definitely shifted, but I’m really happy with it. I added punctuation at the end for clarification. I actually like it better than my original.
I’ve been waiting a long time.
Don’t be afraid.
At this point:
Dark,
In silence,
I believe in shade.


Then I tried Mr. McConnell’s famous Truth: Nevertheless she persisted.
Ran it through Punjabi —> Bangla —> Hmong —> Kyrgyz —> Tamil —> English
Ended up with: The reality is, however, there is more.
This changes the meaning a little more than I really want to, but it is an interesting end.


I tried a third, another of my tiny poems. This time, that fifth line changed anger to sex. Hmmm.
Take a deep breath.
Find the place inside you
that remembers how truth feels;
remember that there
are kinds of anger
that are more effective
than blind outrage.

Tamil —> Javanese —> Cebuano —> Hindi —> Kazakh —> English

Take a deep breath.
Find a place in your stomach
The cruelty of truth is considered;
Remember
Sex is scary
It was very effective
Especially the blind.


Ah, well. I like putting the essence of meaning outside of my control for a moment and seeing what happens.

In Creative Writing classes, many of the exercises I have students do are to encourage us to move behind that space in our brain that controls the meanings. Part of the reason for this is that is helps us to discover hidden wells and springs of words and ideas within ourselves that we didn’t know were there, like finding the secret room in your house in the dream. At a basic level, it helps us learn that there are a thousand ways to say a thing, a thousand hues of meaning. Giving up control in the immediate moment, as with an exercise like this, helps us learn to take control, to refine and define our meanings.


Gratitude List:
1. Singing in the pit for our school’s musical. It’s a rather big commitment, but I love it.
2. Yesterday after I dropped a Big Boy off for tech prep for the play, I had a couple hours just to be by myself. I went shopping, of all things. Hit the Goodwill pay-by-the-pound bins, and A.C. Moore’s going out of business sale. I bought Small Boy a stack of canvases for painting–half price.
3. The Small Boy hasn’t painted for months, but at the moment he is creating a marvelous abstract cloud-like scene with watercolors. Hmm. Now he is adding some acrylics on top of that. Experiment, Kid!
4. Silver hair. When I see photos of myself now, my first awareness is of a middle-aged, grey-haired, gnome-like woman. I’m okay with that. No, I’m actually happy with that. I like being middle-aged, and I like having unicorn hair.
5. The way the sun casts shadows in the bosque across the road when it slides up and over the opposite ridge in the mornings. All those tree-shadows!

May we walk in Beauty!

Wear Gratitude Like a Cloak

Following your bliss, as Joseph Campbell put it, doesn’t mean knowing where it might lead. Bliss beckons us every single day. At first, it may come in a small voice, out from under a great heap of rubbish, but it definitely knows your name. It starts with a dream that you may not even remember, and it grows into a déjà -vu, a surge of emotion, an inexplicable familiarity in a stranger’s face. Rather than getting caught up in finding “your purpose,” take the risk to talk to that stranger, follow your feeling and trust your dreams, and before you know it, as Rumi says, “your living pieces will form a harmony.” —Dreamwork with Toko-pa
*
“Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.” —Rumi
*
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
—Annie Dillard
*
“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.
“Yes,” said Piglet. “Rabbit’s clever.”
“And he has Brain.”
“Yes,” said Piglet. “Rabbit has Brain.”
There was a long silence.
“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.” —AA Milne
*
“The aspen trees were shaking the sweetest music
out of their leaves.”
—Mary Oliver
*
“Why struggle to open a door between us when the whole wall is an illusion?”
—Rumi
*
“Life is a blank canvas, and you need to throw all the paint on it you can.”
—Danny Kaye
*
“I’m convinced of this: Good done anywhere is good done everywhere. For a change, start by speaking to people rather than walking by them like they’re stones that don’t matter. As long as you’re breathing, it’s never too late to do some good.”
—Maya Angelou
*
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”
—John Muir
*
“I started going for long lone country walks among the spendthrift gold and glory of the year-end, giving myself up to the earth-scents and the sky-winds and all the magic of the countryside which is ordained for the healing of the soul.”
—L.M. Montgomery


Gratitude List:
1. The Holy Moment of telling story, of powerful vulnerability, of the hush of listening, of voices found and reclaimed, of grit and resilience. How our stories bless each other.
2. Blessing the babies. I love the way my church blesses the babies. I think that part of my pastors’ job must be the best job in the world.
3. Spicy Korean noodles for lunch
4. Now we go from golden to orange and red
5. The Water Protectors. Lancaster Against Pipelines. People who stand up, speak up, put themselves on the line.

May we walk in Beauty!