“You should be speaking Bulgarian,” the man said.
A group of us Peace Corps volunteers were on the train into Sofya, Bulgaria. And we’d been talking in English. We got quiet.
The man puffed up a bit more. “You in our country. You speak our language.”
One of us tried to tell him we took Bulgarian language classes. We had tutors. We did speak Bulgarian. But we were with friends.
“You come here. You think you do what you want. You think we small country. You must show respect.” He gave us all one more good glare before he marched off out of the compartment. It took a few moments for any one of us to speak again, and when we did we lowered our voices.
This happened a year into our two-year service. A year earlier when I’d been in country for only a week, I met a different old man on the train. He was very old and well-aged by hard work in hard weather. He asked us where we were from. Then he cried. “I have lived this long,” he said, “to see when Americans are in my country.” He touched our hands. “I am happy.”
And we–our stupid 24 year old selves–sat there and stared at him unable to think of anything remotely equal to his emotion.
Getting out of your country provides the chance to see your country in a new way. Just getting out of your hometown can show friends and family in a new way too. Getting away from your story may reveal more than you want to see.
Sometimes I feel so attached to my own writing, I could never put it away. The story rules my life. The characters invade my privacy. They demand attention. I put in all this work and it will never count. And yet I want it to take over my life. I have no control and I’m happy.
Other times I want to burn the manuscript and be free. Torch it. Shoot it. Deny its existence. Forget I wrote anything, please.
Happy Independence Day. How free from your writing should you be?