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Sunday, December 23, 2012

December 24, 2012 by · 1 comment

Zlatko Anguelov


At 5:30 am, Iowa City was dark and cold, but I had my morning tea in the warmth of our home. Two of our kids have come for the holidays: our son from Montreal, Canada and our daughter from Palo Alto, CA. I can’t be happier!

While they were still in their warm beds, I sat at my computer to wrap up the draft of my interview with Charles D’Ambrosio. I had transcribed it from our taped conversation, which took place in the deserted Dey House, the Iowa City home of the famous Writers Workshop about a month ago. Charlie is the author of two short story collections, The Point (1995) and The Dead Fish Museum (2007), and a collection of essays, Orphans (2005). He taught in the Workshop this fall. A nice, self-effacing man, with an almost perfect feel of how his words may sound and intellectual awareness of the deep meanings they convey.

Our hour+ long chat on Tuesday of the Thanksgiving week now was turned into a copy of 6,000+ words that I carefully edited to preserve the authenticity of his voice. I like when a text gets completed and I’m in full control over its balance and messages. When I was finally satisfied, I attached it to an email and hit the Send button. Charlie has to see it before it appears on the Iowa Writing University website.

I’m writing down a quote from the interview: “In this country we have a tremendous amount of freedom, and part of the cost we pay for this freedom is loneliness. Isolation from each other. And impersonal brutality. America can be a very brutal place. And it is related to our haunted sense of freedom. Brutality toward one another because that’s how this country works. It’s just how freedom works.”

Impersonal brutality! Can this be why the public discourse in America has been more politically correct than in Western Europe – as a counterpoint to the impersonal brutality that everybody feels in their genes? People here go the extra mile to be polite and keep their true feeling close to their chest. The tragedy in Newtown, CT was brutal. It put the finger in one half of the bleeding American wound: the lack of adequate care for mental illness. The other half is the weak and unenforceable gun control. If addressed in tandem and properly by the federal and state governments, these will result in substantially reduced risk of mass killings, without even touching the Second Amendment.

The day grew sunny but didn’t warm up. I moved to exchanging emails with Bulgarian writers who reacted to my Christmas interview in Facebook brought news from some other close or distant friends. My kids went shopping. They, at least, live only here, in North America, even their virtual space of the Internet is unilingual – mine is a constant switch from Latin to Cyrillic keyboard. Their identity is not haunted by a former life. Mine is split between my Bulgarian past and my American present.

But then, the kids are back, we eat lunch and plunge into a pre-Christmas afternoon with tea and games, chats, Skype conversations with my niece in Dubai, then, my two other kids in Rio de Janeiro, finally, with my sister in Toronto, and writing Christmas emails to friends around the world. It is the shortest day of the year, twilight falls around five and we have to prepare dinner. My daughter, who graduated from an Iowa City high school six years ago, has invited some of her former class mates to watch a football game between the 49ers and the Seahawks at 7:30. They are from the U.S., China, Mexico, California, Michigan, all smart American kids communicating in English and driven by a sense of purpose.

I look at them, listen to their conversations, and I know that the world has changed. Seriously. My former local world is now drawn into the globalizing world – and for me that is a process. For the young generation of Americans it is the natural state of things. They were born in a world where national boundaries can be ignored. National boundaries don’t determine their identity. I’m trying to understand this world and be part of it. But the memory of the shackles that kept me grounded to my small Balkan world when I was their age is still pretty much alive.

Every day is a struggle to understand and reconcile the local and the global, and the past and the future. It is a challenge but also a blessing.

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