Die Sprachbürgerschaft is on the way

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I decided to publish a stack of poems I wrote 14 years ago.

In my e-mail inbox I have notice that the books will arrive on Tuesday.

Surprise, no surprise, I have feelings about this development.

I could tell you that I am happy, proud, relieved and/or excited.

For the record I think I’m some of all of those things.

And I am also nervous (in the little-girl-who-might-get-in-trouble kind of way), which makes no rational sense but the feeling is there.

The poems are in German. Like, literally, auf deutsch.

I am not a native German speaker, nor do I sound like one.

I am fluent in German, I live in a German-speaking country and engage my surroundings often in the local vernacular.

I am an immigrant in this particular German-speaking republic.

And now I’m publishing some poems as part of my journey.

Again and again though this voice comes and asks: Really? You? Writing poems, calling them poems in a language you didn’t even grow up speaking? In a language you don’t have a degree in?

That’s real, too.

One piece in the collection is actually a dialogue and also provides the title of the book:

Die Sprachbürgerschaft

which loosely translates to Language Citizenship.

I suppose it’s the dialogue in my own head played out between two people: The language immigrant and the language native. The native asks the immigrant about how she came to the language and what she does in it; then goes on to inquire about the immigrant’s qualifications to write, play and publish in the language. The native becomes increasingly irritated by the immigrant’s laid back attitude to accessing and using this language they have in common and concludes the conversation by threatening to report the immigrant to the language police at the local language protection office.

 

Several weeks ago, my mother-in-law, a native German speaker, read this dialogue aloud to me and in that moment, I could hear that my words had a relevance I hadn’t accorded them previously.

The poems exist as a kind of ode to my immigrant-ness of almost 30 years. Being in this country, yet never fully of it.

The poems are also a tribute to this language I have embraced and loved and which in its own way has loved me back and even chuckled at some of my creations.

What I found is that poems allowed me to play with German in a way I cannot play with English. And I wonder how other multilingual folks encounter these differences in use.

So yes, a premier is on the horizon. A book, a book!

One that few folks in my current circles will be able to actually enjoy but one I hope that we will celebrate and contemplate together.

Which language, whose language, which words, whose interpretations?…All the things.

Tuesday. Dienstag.

 

“Caught Up”

There’s this sort of internal breathlessness that comes up when I reel through my twitter feed trying to catch as catch can important events, significant reads, personal check-ins all in the space of a few hours a day. I feel like I can’t possibly catch up. Then I  begin to ask myself the weightier question: what it would actually mean to be or feel “caught up?” And that’s when the other meaning hits me: “caught up” as in immersed, drowning in, emotionally involved and preoccupied. Caught up.

So which is it? Which one am I striving for? How much room is there for a both/and proposition? And what if it’s neither?

Ultimately, the answers do not much matter. I will never be fully “caught up” in this steady stream of information, so I can stop trying to be right now. And sometimes, thank God, I have the capacity to become “caught up” in someone’s story or message. My empathy muscles get a workout when I open myself to words, images and thoughts which move me, which extend deep into my feelings and remind me of who I am  in the world and that I am not alone here.

Recently I have been deeply moved by words by women of color in particular. Their messages, their presence, their use of voice, the chosen topics have reached me on deep levels. One poet creates a sacred space for me to contemplate the complexity of self in the hair I wear. An author confirms that I am in fact in my right mind when I experience the fear of not being liked and I persist in telling my story anyway. A speaker illustrates for her audience the prevalence and perniciousness of unconscious bias and reminds me that I have more to share in this life than I or the world may initially give me credit for.

This poem, ‘Invocation’ by Ariana Brown

Or this commencement address by Chimamanda Adichie.

This TED talk by Yassmin Abdel Magied

http://www.ted.com/talks/yassmin_abdel_magied_what_does_my_headscarf_mean_to_you

Each woman in her own way, speaks to me like someone who knows me; like someone who knows of my struggles. Each message reaches me in a place of humility and also pride. I identify and feel personally addressed.

There are many sources from which to draw inspiration and meaning. For now I feel grateful for the willingness to pause long enough to be moved. To repeat the exercise twice or more in order to experience the impact a little differently each time. To hold off before jumping onto the adjacent bandwagon of ideas that will not hold still.  To do this – to stop, take in and gradually digest such works of personal significance takes practice and a certain fortitude. It is not always easy to linger a moment longer because I want to let a feeling last or allow an idea to resonate to its full extent. Our current tools of communication hardly encourage this. They constantly remind us of how much may be passing us by.

I say, let the things pass for they will likely bounce around again and our gaze will not have been missed. If I want to experience resonance that is full, rich and lasting, finding and creating space in myself has to remain a priority. Chasing the latest leads me in the wrong direction. Taking time to experience and appreciate the profound bring me that much closer to being the self who can allow herself to get “caught up” in the most meaningful ways.  The poet, the author, the speaker they all live in me in some mysterious and beautiful way. The highest honor I can offer them is to continue to create space in me where their messages may land and find a home.

The Awesome Anthem by Sekou Andrews

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ehnl0cd-rcw

You may think you don’t have 9 minutes to watch this video.
Here’s what happened when I decided to take the time: I was drawn in, taken hold of, turned around, embraced and fully uplifted. I was changed: By poetry, by surprise, by exquisite use of language, by my sense of kinship, by every ounce and bounce that this entire composition holds. Let Sekou Andrews break it down for you: awesomefied belongs in your vocabulary and mine. Now.