Every so often (weekly at the moment), I’ll be writing a commentary about a story from EMPTY ROOMS LONELY COUNTRIES. I’ll tackle the stories in the order they appear in the book. Given the nature of this exercise, I cannot guarantee that I won’t spoil specific details from the story. So you may want to return to the commentaries here when you’ve finished reading the book. If I don’t address an aspect of the story you were interested in, by all means leave a question at the end of this post and I’ll do my best to answer it.
“Counting Nuns” was the first story I wrote when I arrived in Poland. And since then, it’s had a nice history being adapted into a comic strip by Edward J Grug III and then being accepted for publication by GUD Magazine.
“Counting Nuns” documents my first mandatory medical test for my job at the university. The experience was a mix of comedy of errors and a Kafkaesque nightmare. Luckily, my translator was there (she is missing from the story) and made the process a little easier. My particular favorite moment was the hearing test, where the nurse told me to stand in the corner and she would stand at various places in the room whispering things. I was supposed to say “tak” [yes] if I heard her. The problem was, the translator kept translating, so whether I heard the nurse or not, the translator was always repeating, “Can you hear her now?”
Because whether you believe it or not, it’s going to balance out, it’s going to be fine. Think about all the moments of panic in your life, all the moments of hysteria, all the close calls – think about those long and hard. Remember how you felt that this was the end, that nothing would ever be the same again? Remember how empty you thought your heart had become? Now reflect on all the tears you lost. Remember the ache in your eyes?
It might not have gone the way you expected it or how you hoped it would, but there you are, right now, reading this, breathing in and out; your heart is pumping and you’re alive. Feeling. Thinking. Experiencing.
You made it. It worked out. And you wouldn’t be where you are now if you hadn’t lived through it.
It’s really not all so bad, is it?
This was something I had figured out in the first month living abroad. A lot of it had to do with coming to terms with how precarious my situation in Wroclaw was. I had arrived off the plane with two bags of luggage – having sold or given away everything else I owned – with the verbal promise of a job and a place to live. It could have gone to hell at any moment. There could’ve been no one there waiting for me at the airport when I arrived. There could’ve been a very large man to escort me to my new life as a drugged up sex slave. But for whatever reason, I trusted everything because, well, it felt right.
And, of course, it worked out in more way than I could’ve ever imagined.
Originally the story started with
I was on this prop job from Munich to Wrocław back in August. Every minute brought me further east than I’ve ever gone, further and further away from the soft reassurance of English. I was sitting in the third row in an aisle seat; a pretty Polish woman sat to my right. She only smiled at me when I gave her my chocolate from my meal. There was an old woman to my left on the other side of the aisle. Whenever the plane jerked, she reached over and put her hand on my arm. Her grip was dictated by the turbulence. She laughed sometimes when the plane evened out. She would say something in Polish and I’d just nod.
However, at the advice of the editor at GUD, the airplane sequence was moved later in the story, which I feel makes the story a little stronger in the long run.
While this all takes place in Wroclaw, there is one quick flashback to an evening when I was living in Tampa near the end.
And yes, I still do count nuns.
Man, I’m almost finished with this. Crazy.
Next Week: “Ocular Sinister”
#1 “Cowboys and Indians”
#2 “Little Conundrums”
#2.5 “Playing With the Dead”**
#3 “The Illusion of Swing”
#4 “Kicking Love’s Ass”
#5 “On Being Velma-less”
#6 “Muted Porn”
#7 “Defying Gravity”
#8 “The Fifth Ocean”
#9 “One Dead (Potted) Plant”
#10 “Remembering Drajra”
#11 “Pancakes, Wishes and Other Tales”
#13 “Before Waking”
#15 “This is Not for You”
#16 “The Mariachi”
#18 “Paying the Tab”
#19 “Father Groove”
#20 “Geneva Street”
#21 “A Lot Like the Ones Back in High School”
#25 “Before the Viking Funeral”
#26 “Mad Dogs”