Thursday, July 07, 2005

My sixth self

Words without Borders this month offers an extract from Final Stories, by Olga Tokarczuk, in which "she remembers the war, when the Soviet army occupied the eastern Polish-Ukrainian borderlands, where she and Petro lived, and deported many Poles to Siberia."

The blurb immediately catches my attention, because:
1. Out of Poland and from the Polish language, it is part of my heritage.
2. I've actually read a handful or two of representative examples of twentieth century Polish literature (both in Polish and in translation), and I like it.
3. The time and the place — it sounds like it could be my mother's story. No, not the story that this story in fact turns out to be, but in the generalness of borderlands, war, and deportation.

(Why do I search out my mother's story in cultural echoes? I don't even know the whole story, and I won't ask her. I think it pains her to tell it. It pains her that she doesn't remember it, those experiences when whe was 7, 10 years old. And it would pain her for me to ask, that I don't already know the story. Though on some level, I do. I find other stories to reinforce the family mythology I've created.)

It starts:
Every seven years you should have a repeat wedding ceremony because—so Aunt Marynka used to say — every seven years you become a different person. So you should renew every sort of contract, commitment, mortgage agreement, recorded data, and personal identification. Every kind of document.

I am already my eleventh self. Petro is his thirteenth.
I love this idea. A seven-year itch to be relieved only by shedding the skin. (I've heard of this seven-year cycle before; in fact, I take it for granted. Is it a universally held belief; is there something of a distinct Polish ethos about it; does it have mythical origins?)

By this measure, I am in the first year of my sixth self. Perhaps this is why I feel such turmoil these days, trying to come into my new self. The other transitions were natural and relatively seamless, if not entirely easy — I note them now only in retrospect, I didn't notice them at the time at all. Perhaps it is age — experience, and dare I say wisdom — that not only allows me to be conscious of the current mutation but has also granted me the capacity and the desire to control it.

"The new me." Reinventing myself? Rediscovering myself. Releasing myself.

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