For Mileva Anastasiadou, speaking two languages has many advantages, but when it comes to writing, it is English that permits her to travel in a way her native tongue does not.
I write in a foreign language. I also write in Greek from time to time, yet lately I prefer to write in English. Writing comes from the soul, so it’s a bit strange that I prefer to translate myself while writing. The obvious reason applies: writing in a widely spoken language permits a larger audience. It’s a great opportunity for me to travel mentally to faraway places, not only because I can’t easily afford it otherwise but because I mostly don’t like physical trips. I’ve also come to realize that writing in English is mostly a defense mechanism, developed to help me overcome life’s hardships.
I was still a teenager when I first read On the Road by Jack Kerouac. What I remember is that Neil stood on one side, and on the other side stood the narrator. That’s how and when the division started; there were those who lived, and those who narrated the lives of those who lived. At the time, I sadly reached the conclusion that I belonged to the latter category. I felt like an observer; not ready yet, if ever, to suck the marrow out of life, as Thoreau put it in Walden, the work I only knew through the film Dead Poets’ Society. But I couldn’t help but admire those who dared to live on the front line. That’s why I decided to become a doctor; I wanted to fight disease and death, to dive into reality and deal with it and change it for the better. Sometimes, though, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to be among the lucky ones, the ones who observed from a safe distance, not having to dirty their hands with tough decisions. Sometimes I wanted to go back to narrating the lives of others.
Life, though, isn’t as compartmentalized as I once thought. Life has made me a front line soldier, but I also have a life away from the front line and over the years a natural distinction between the two has emerged: real and imaginary; talking versus writing. I do all the talking in my native tongue. I confront pain while talking: I examine patients, listen to their symptoms, do the math in Greek to reach the correct diagnosis. I face personal problems in my native tongue: of an economic or emotional nature. On the other hand, my ideal life happens in English, while writing. That’s when I wear my pink glasses and enter my bubble. I don’t necessarily write happy stories, yet life gets the meaning it deserves in the bubble. It doesn’t only happen; it’s also examined. For if ‘real’ life feels like a war, like it does nowadays (not only to me as a doctor, but also to me as a citizen of the world, as it does to any sane person living in a civilisation that feels like its collapsing), I don’t intend to live like I’m only a soldier – fighting for survival, for the people I love, for those in need, for a better world. I also intend to tell the stories of survival, of the people I love, of those in need, to visualize a better world. And the only way to do this is by keeping the bubble alive.
About Mileva Anastasiadou
Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist, from Athens, Greece. A Pushcart, Best of the Net and Best Small Fictions nominated writer, her work can be found in many journals, such as Litro, Jellyfish Review, Bending Genres, Moon Park Review, Okay Donkey, Flash Flood, Open Pen and others. Follow Mileva on Twitter @happymil_
This piece was completed for Life in Languages, a new series conceived and guest edited by Elodie Rose Barnes
Language is our primary means of communication. By speaking and writing, listening and reading, by using our tongues and our bodies, we are able to communicate our desires, fears, opinions and hopes. We use language to express our views of the world around us. Language has the power to transcend barriers and cross borders; but it also has the power to reinforce those demarcations. Language offers a form of resistance against oppression, yet it can also be used to oppress. Language has the power to harm or to heal.
In these times of shifting boundaries and physical separation, when meaningful connection has become even more important yet seemingly difficult to attain, language has become vital. The words we choose to read, write, and speak can bring us closer as individuals and as a collective. During lockdown, unable to travel, I’ve found myself increasingly drawn to reading works in translation from all over the world – not only for the much longed-for glimpses into different cultures and ways of being that I cannot experience in person (for the time being, at least), but because they offer new words, new viewpoints, new ways of expression. Grief, loss, uncertainty, anger, hope, joy, love: these are universal emotions. Finding my own feelings mirrored in the writing of womxn from all across the world, from different times and different situations, across generations, is a massive comfort. It’s also led me to examine my own relationship to language and languages: what I read, how I write, the roots of my communication, and how that’s changing today.
In this series for Lucy Writers, I’ll share some of my personal reflections on how language has shaped my life and writing, and review some of my favourite works in translation written and/or translated by womxn. Writing on works written and translated by the likes of Natasha Lehrer, Saskia Vogel, Leïla Slimani, Sophie Lewis, Deborah Dawkin, Khairani Barokka and many more will feature in Life in Languages.
Elodie Rose Barnes
Submissions are now open for this series. See our Submissions & Contact page for full details.
Feature image by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash.