March 11, 2017

When life tells you to leap high

Life doesn't always give you lemons; sometimes it surprises you with a box of Lindt chocolates! Or tickets to the cinema. Or an unplanned trip to Paris. Or a cool job offer. 

Unexpected opportunities can be a real gift from heaven. Of course, it's best to use good judgment; all too often something that looks promising at first sight will prove a disappointment later. I once turned down a very interesting translation job because the risk of not getting paid outweighed all possible benefits. As an author, I've also learned that not every invitation to appear at a convention or meet-the-author session is worth accepting. 

But there's another thing about opportunities: more often than not, they don't come gift-wrapped on a plate. They have to be chased and caught. Now and then life dangles something tempting in front of you (a fish? a golden ring? a delicious portion of ice cream?), but to win the prize, you have to take a leap. Or climb a steep staircase. Or fight your way up a rocky wall. You have to take a risk, push yourself, go out of your comfort zone.

Right now, I'm leaping high to catch a gleaming little fish that dangles right out of my reach.

I might miss. I might trip and fall, and make a fool of myself. But hey! At worst, I'll be able to tell myself: at least I tried. And one thing is certain; not trying at all means a 0% chance of success.

Do you believe in taking leaps?

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at

March 7, 2017

Pajama bottoms and lucuma fruit

Now and then, random odd events and funny anecdotes make me think „cool, I just might work this into one of my stories sometime”.

My hometown, Lublin, is a city with five universities. Since some courses are offered in English, more and more foreign students are coming here to study medicine, nursing, engineering, computer science, whatever, and they mostly live in rented apartments. A friend told me an amusing story today about two students, one from the U.S., the other one from Peru, who had shared a flat for two and a half years. After graduating, they both decided to return overseas. Before moving out, they’d asked the landlord whether it would be OK for them to leave some stuff behind, because they didn’t need it anymore, and the answer was “yes, sure”.

At this point, I was sure they’d left a pile of junk, dirty dishes, old underwear, broken electronics, you name it. But no. Apparently, they decided to abandon a somewhat perplexing (and funny) assortment of decent and useful stuff. The landlord is surprised, but doesn’t mind this unexpected “inheritance” in the least. Specifically, it consists of:

- a set of weights (I’m not surprised the owner didn’t want to transport them by plane, but why not sell the stuff?)

- a pair of men’s pajama bottoms, quite new

- winter boots, also quite new

- a yet unidentified large fuzzy object on the highest shelf in one of the closets (a blanket?)

- a large bag of yerba mate

- tea, coffee, sugar, salt etc.

- and weirdest of all, unused packets of fairly expensive health food ingredients: coconut flour (the brand shown on the right), chestnut flour, various spices, stevia and lucuma fruit powder (courtesy of the Peruvian student, I guess). 

The pajama bottoms and winter boots will be donated to charity, and the yerba mate will be given to someone who actually drinks the stuff, but the edible goods will be consumed sooner or later (as soon as the “beneficiary” finds out what tasty treats can be baked using those types of flour!)

I could expect to find many things in a rented apartment after the tenants leave, but unopened packages of coconut flour, chestnut flour and lucuma fruit powder? I’m surprised there wasn’t a copy of Moste Potente Potions by Phineas Bourne lying around as well.

February 27, 2017

The worst time to start writing

This year, inspired by a friend's example, I've decided (somewhat skeptically, since I know my limitations) to try and "build a daily writing habit". Now, for the past 18 years I've been very much a "feast and famine" writer, either writing like crazy or not writing at all for months and years on end. I knew from the outset a DAILY writing habit wouldn't be realistic, but I figured that sitting down to write every second day or so would still be better than those long breaks that seem to "just happen" whenever life puts a lid on my creative well. 

Two months into the challenge, I think I've learned a couple of things. Firstly, blogging regularly is much easier than I thought, but to my mind, it doesn't really count as writing. Blogging seems to exercise entirely different "writing muscles" than working on a literary project. Secondly, brief bouts of writing undertaken "just to write ANYTHING when I don't feel inspired" have left me with a pile of short random scenes and story outlines I'm not at all crazy about. No idea if any of this stuff will actually evolve into finished works in the long run.

The third lesson I've learned is something I might have to print out in large block letters and paste over my desk. Namely: the ABSOLUTELY WORST TIME to sit down for a short writing session is at night, after all the day's tasks are done. Never mind that I'm normally very much an evening person and I love to work at my computer during those quiet hours when everyone is asleep (I'm by far not the only translator who does that!) If I want to write at night, I need to start earlier in the day, when my brain is clearer and better able to access those doors I need to unlock whenever I want to visualize a meaningful story (or even just a short scene).

At night, I can continue writing if I was sensible enough to begin earlier. That works perfectly! But I can't, for the life of me, sit down after a full day of translating, writing emails, housekeeping and whatnot, and happily switch into creative mode. Sure, I can sit down and concentrate over a blank page... but the page will stay blank, the words just don't come. Only frustration ensues.

The solution? Consistently making time for writing in the mornings, I guess. (This might sound like a totally commonsense answer, but it's not. I constantly tell myself "you have to do X, Y and Z before you sit down to write", and before I know it, the morning has turned into evening! I'm working hard on a translation project right now, and since I prefer to focus on one thing, normally I'd just postpone writing until the translation is done... but that would mean at least a month-long break from creative pursuits.)

I've been told recently by someone wiser than myself that I'm the one who's in charge of priorities here. For some reason, putting writing FIRST is something I repeatedly struggle with. The fear of creating lackluster, poor-quality stuff is very strong, as is the need to quickly see concrete results of what I do. With such a mindset, one derives more satisfaction from several translated pages than from 300 words of prose that might never make it into a finished book.

But that next book does need to get written. And, eventually, it will.

At least I hope so! 

Right now, I'm editing a novellette I wrote in Polish three months ago, a fantasy story set in the Darkgleam universe. I intend to translate it into English sooner or later (when I'm done translating the novel Olga i osty, which will take a long time.)

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at

February 20, 2017

Inching at a snail's pace in five different directions

I'm feeling tired and discouraged tonight, not because anything in particular has happened, but because working on several translations at a snail's pace, whilst finding time for housework, grappling with a load of important correspondence over the past week, and trying valiantly to stick to my New Year's resolutions (write or blog every day, read every day, exercise every day) is NOT my preferred mode of fuctioning. I like to finish things. I like to see RESULTS. (And most of all, I'd love to just toss everything else out of the window and lose myself in writing for a week.) 

I've never been in debt, but I think the way I manage my time resembles juggling a number of credit card debts, making only the minimum payments on each, while the interest accrues. Doing stuff in small increments is draining and you don't see any nice, gratifying, concrete results for a long time. Switching from project to project means I get more work done overall (I'm prone to boredom when focusing on just one thing, and start wasting time), but individually, each of those parallel tasks gets completed s-l-o-w-l-y. And that, in turn, makes my impatient nature rebel.

I'm so frustrated right now, I'm tempted to forget that "really good" novel I've been wanting to write for the past 2 years (since finishing the final draft of Olga i osty in November 2014, I've started work on 10 or more different novel outlines, and scrapped each one after a couple of weeks because I never felt that spark of inner joy that means you really, truly enjoy a project and believe in it), and start writing something simple set in the Darkgleam universe - just another typical sword & sorcery story full of magic spells, fireballs and demons. The Darkgleam stories have always been something of an escapist pleasure for me.

As regards time management, I'm not actually as disorganized as I sound. I have a to-do list for every day and complete most of the listed tasks. I just keep spreading myself too thin, and setting priorities is a challenge (all too often, housework ends up in a priority position because it's a bad idea to let things slide too much). Most of the time, I'm working on stuff from my endless to-do lists and I feel bad because focusing on one thing means x others stay unfinished. It's like shoveling sand from a pile while a machine is dumping more and more sand at the other end. If anyone else feels the same, or has been in the same place and learned to function differently, I'd appreciate any tips, or words of support, or whatever.

Image courtesy of amenic181 at

February 13, 2017

Physical beauty – do we writers perpetuate stereotypes?

As social animals, we humans value physical attractiveness very highly. We instinctively associate good looks with various other positive traits, such as friendliness and honesty. Fairytales and proverbs remind us time and again that “beauty is only skin deep” and “not all that glitters is gold” (or “all that is gold does not glitter”, to quote J.R.R. Tolkien), but somehow sociobiology has wired us to think differently. 

Attractiveness isn’t only an important factor in mate selection, we unconsciously take it into account in all spheres of life. Empirical research shows that visually attractive people find it easier to get good jobs and are perceived as more competent. Researchers have demonstrated that physical beauty has a significant impact on teachers’ judgments of students, jury judgments in simulated trials, and voter preferences for political candidates. Conversely, people who are perceived as physically unattractive suffer various forms of painful social rejection. To quote just one example, the degree of stigmatization and body shaming induced by obesity in today’s society is outrageous and horrible.

The unrealistically high standards of beauty and fitness, particularly female beauty, perpetuated by movies, commercials and magazines (where photos are routinely digitally retouched) are responsible for lots of insecurity and body image issues among women. (Many men aren’t immune to this either, only girls tend to get fixated on a pretty face, luxurious hair and a perfectly toned body, whereas insecure guys want to have muscles, muscles, muscles...) What struck me lately, though, is that we fiction writers are unconsciously (?) guilty of perpetuating this ubiquitous beauty fetish too. 

As I see it, there’s a heavy bias in genre fiction (with the possible exception of crime fiction) to feature physically attractive main characters, simply because both authors and readers are drawn to them. Romance and fantasy reflect this bias particularly strongly - the main characters tend to be much more eye-catching than the average mortal. You only need to look at the book covers. (I don't read romance, but I tried to select a cover that is actually pleasing to the eye, with no oiled muscles or scary silicone curves. And as regards fantasy, the covers of the Conan series reflect a certain visual esthetic that remains popular. Yes, the Conan covers kinda overdo it, but there's a definite tendency in fantasy literature to feature strong manly men and lovely sexy girls; even if they're warrior princesses who can kill two dragons before dinner without batting an eyelid, they still need to be lovely. Brienne of Tarth in G.R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones series is a notable exception to this rule.)

On a personal note; IRL, I’m very conscious of how the world overvalues physical beauty. I’ve always hated (and largely ignored) the social pressure for women to be “beautiful” and to use various artificial means of enhancing their looks. If guys don't use makeup or nail varnish, why the hell should I? (That’s my own brand of feminism for you.) But I digress. The real reason I’m writing this post is because I’ve recently realized that as a writer, I’m much less immune to the social fixation on beauty than I thought. 

All the main characters in my books are physically attractive.

Not necessarily drop-dead gorgeous in the conventional sense, but definitely not ugly. Some of them might FEEL unattractive and insecure (Olga in Olga i osty is addicted to sweets and somewhat overweight, with a cello figure, and has huge issues with this, but she’s also described as having “eyes like Penélope Cruz”, and the other main character is strongly attracted to her curvy body, not just to her personality). Brune Keare a.k.a. Anguish from the Darkgleam series is thin, wiry, swarthy, with unkempt hair and scars on one cheek – but while he has nothing in common with the standard muscle-bound sword-and-sorcery heroes, he’d still be a solid 7 on a 1-to-10 attractiveness scale. And I'm pretty sure his appearance plays a role in his popularity as a character. I don’t think stories about an outlawed sorcerer who’s pudgy and bald would have had quite the same appeal. 

Even worse, all the important female characters in the Darkgleam series are described as pretty or attractive, and either slim or thin. When I realized this, I felt ashamed. The Darkgleam books are dark fantasy, not romantic fantasy... but still, it’s disconcerting that as a writer, I’m unconsciously helping perpetuate the stereotypes I’m theoretically against.

The next time you’re reading or writing a work of fiction, take note of the characters’ appearance and of the feelings it evokes in you. Are you, too, vulnerable to the physical attractiveness bias?

(Note for English-language readers: My books mentioned in this post were published in Polish. I’m hoping to get them translated into English someday. You can learn more about the Darkgleam series here and about Olga i osty here.)

February 5, 2017

A translation experiment

I’m participating in an ambitious project right now that has mobilized me to translate samples of text from my books into English. It didn’t take me long to decide that ultimately, I want to translate my standalone novel Olga i osty in entirety – all 73,131 words of it. The market appeal of this book to a Western audience would probably be low: literary-ish magic realism set in Poland, the characters have Polish names... but hell, why not? 

Translating literature from Polish to English is a laborious task, as these two languages differ significantly. I’m not a linguist, so I can’t get into details here, but basically, Polish grammar is way more complicated (the declension of our nouns and adjectives, in particular, is a nightmare for non-Slavic foreigners). Polish is also more concise than English (you need fewer words in Polish to say the same thing... but you still need the right ones), uses pronouns much less frequently, doesn't rely as heavily on word order in sentence construction, and has a less extensive vocabulary.

Importantly (and more than one amateur translator has been brought to grief by this!), many sentence structures cannot be translated readily from Polish to English; it’s easy to end up with text that is grammatically more or less correct, but awkward-sounding. Creative thinking and rephrasing is needed to make the sentences flow naturally. I also keep getting the feeling that subtleties – nuances of meaning – are often difficult or impossible to convey well (although I'm probably less flexible in my command of English because it’s not the language I use in speech on a daily basis). When translating my own prose, I have the option to simply omit certain troublesome phrases and maybe write something else in their place. There’s a price to pay, though: the translation reads more smoothly, but a little bit of the “feel” of the original text gets lost.

Bear in mind that over the past seven years, I’ve translated dozens of scientific articles into English, as well as stuff such as webpages and advertising material. Literature is different, and definitely less forgiving!

Anyway, if anyone is curious, below is a sample of the rough translation of the first pages of Olga i osty (the working title of the translation is The Thistle Queen).

Comments and suggestions are always welcome!

* * *

A dream within a dream

The old house stands on the outskirts of the city. It’s empty, abandoned long ago. Boarded-up windows, a dilapidated mesh fence, a yard overgrown with weeds. It’s supposed to be torn down sometime in the future, but for now, no one shows any interest in the place. The local homeless prefer to camp out elsewhere. Nobody comes here; even the kids stay away. Which is just as well, since I don’t want company.
I’ve been living here by myself ever since the witch died. I manage somehow, though it’s not easy, and won’t get any easier when winter comes. But there’s no sense in worrying about the winter. I don’t think I’ll live that long. More and more greys are showing up in the city. Sooner or later they’ll realize I’m their enemy.
For now, though, nobody comes here to disturb me.
Who knows, maybe the witch’s spells are keeping intruders away. She used to whisper them in seven languages every night, barely audible words trickling like sand from a broken hourglass. Or maybe it’s the January talisman I wear around my neck.
I remember what it is, even though I can’t recall who I am. I could swear, however, that my name isn’t really Piotr. In the Otherworld I knew someone with a similar name, someone to whom my January talisman once used to belong. It seems that in the Otherworld I had a different identity and so did the witch, but we were banished here, and after passing the border we both lost our memories. I remember nothing else.
It was the witch’s idea to call me ‘Piotr’. I suppose she chose this name for a reason, though she never explained why. I don’t mind. ‘Piotr’ sounds as good as any other name.
The witch also gave me the January talisman.
Now I live here like a castaway on an island, all alone, not counting the rats, which don’t bother me much. They have no trouble finding food in the vicinity. There are litter bins along the nearby bike path, and the anglers who spend their afternoons by the river always leave behind bits of bait, half-empty beer cans and sandwich wrappers with crumbs inside.
I try to enter and exit the house only under cover of darkness. I don’t want anyone to notice that I live here. You can never be too careful.
I get water from the river. The kitchen has been stripped of all appliances except an old four-legged iron stove. During the day, I gather anything that can be used as fuel: dry branches, pieces of old furniture, even wastepaper. The days are getting shorter, the weeds already turning brown, withering stalks of goldenrod shedding the last of their fluffy seeds. At night, the cold creeps into the old house, slipping weasel-like through every chink and crevice.
The witch didn’t leave many possessions behind. Some shabby clothes, a chipped mug and an old blanket sewn together from knitted woollen squares: pink, green, blue and violet. One of its corners is badly scorched, charred in places. When I asked her how this happened, the old woman was unable to answer. She just stammered and shook her thin hands helplessly, the words sticking in her throat.
Now every evening I light the candle and unravel another bit of her blanket. Afterwards, I use the yarn to make four-coloured bracelets. Amulets.
I spend my days on the streets of the city. I approach people and try to sell my little works. An amulet cannot be given away for free; it must be bought, otherwise it won’t do its job. When I say this, people usually react with a forced smile of embarrassment or pity. Some of them dig around in their pockets for loose change, and when I give them an amulet, they say ‘thank you’ with a slightly pained expression, trying to be nice. Others just avert their eyes, clench their lips and walk away hastily.
Now and then someone will offer to buy me something. A sandwich, perhaps? Or hot coffee? It doesn’t happen often, though.
Of course, I don’t even try to approach the people who have become hosts for greys. Luckily, they’re fairly easy to recognize. Their faces are pale, devoid of expression, their eyes colourless and dull. Their backs are always hunched; they wear wrinkled clothes, and hiss hatefully whenever they catch a glimpse of my bracelets. They don’t dare to attack me, though. For now, they’re afraid. Afraid of the January talisman. It won’t last long, though, because more and more greys are appearing in the city, while I’m getting weaker every day. Whenever I walk through the streets, I can feel the greys’ icy thoughts circling around me and biting, biting, biting like mosquitoes; and my life slowly, slowly, slowly trickles out through all those tiny holes. My warmth, my colours, my sadness and laughter, everything that makes Piotr the person he is. Everything is seeping out.
When a grey becomes rooted in its human host, it starts feeding, sucking like a parasite, like a dodder or mistletoe. It sucks out feelings, thoughts, wishes, and it grows, until there’s nothing left for it to feed on, only a walking shell full of grey smoke. The body still breathes, eats and excretes, the eyes see, the mouth talks, but the whole thing isn’t human anymore.
Whenever I wander through the streets and see pale, motionless faces with dull eyes, whenever I feel the cold emanating from these animated puppets, I find myself thinking that nothing will stop the epidemic, that I’m as pathetic with my colourful yarn bracelets as the people who sold posies during plague epidemics, claiming that the scent of these small bouquets wards away disease. But the witch insisted that I have to keep making my amulets and selling them as long as I can find the strength. So I make them and I sell them every day, always taking the trouble to explain what they’re for, even though people never really listen. They nod and slip the bracelets into their pockets, and for all I know, most of my amulets land in the nearest litter bin as soon as the buyer is out of sight. I often see people do the same with the advertisement flyers that get handed out on street corners, the ones that invite you to register for a language course or visit a new sushi bar.
All the money I manage to earn gets spent on food. Bread, instant noodles, margarine, onions, kefir, the cheapest cheese. I only have to worry about my own meals now, but until recently I had to buy provisions for the witch as well. In return, she spun yarn for my bracelets. Her shaky, arthritic fingers somehow still managed to deftly use a spindle. In the evenings, right after sundown, she’d briefly go outside and then return with an apron full of iridescent fibers, finer and silkier than the fluff of dandelions and goldenrod. I could never twist the stuff into thread, but the witch managed it somehow. At night, she’d spin by the light of a single candle, singing softly about warm summer days and woodland paths, about raspberries and thistles. The yarn she made was smooth and not too thick, in four colours.  Blue, violet, green and pink.
And now I can only unravel her blanket, bit by bit.
Every day resembles the previous ones. Each morning I wake up a little weaker. My eyes are suppurating; I always keep a bottle of clean water and a packet of tissues next to my bed, because my eyelids are usually gummed shut when I wake up.
River water retains its unpleasant smell even after boiling, but I’ve been drinking it for months and I’m still alive. I don’t want to waste money on bottled water.
I have no lice and I try not to stink, even though this means I have to bathe in the river at night and wash my clothes there. I’ve been selling more amulets ever since I started wearing better clothes, the ones Father Daniel gave me. That’s how he introduced himself: ‘I’m Father Daniel.’ I met him a while ago; in June, I think. It was a hot, sunny day. I sat down to rest in the shade by the door of the Dominican church and after a minute or so, a white-haired monk emerged, dressed in a habit. He asked if I’m all right, and offered me water. Then he asked whether I’m hungry, and whether I have a place to stay. Finally, he told me to wait a minute, went inside and soon came back with a triumphant smile, carrying a shopping bag full of used clothes. I took the stuff because I figured it would be impolite to refuse.
When I came back home and told the witch what had happened, she grimaced, but allowed me to take a look at the bag’s contents. It contained oversized jeans, two sweatshirts, two T-shirts, some socks and underwear. There was also a towel, a bottle of cheap shampoo and a Bible, wrapped carefully in a plastic bag.
The witch allowed me to keep the clothes, but told me to get rid of the Bible, so that evening I went out and buried it under a tree. After several days, out of curiosity, I came back and tried to dig the Bible up, but couldn’t find it anymore. It was gone. I only found fat, wriggling white grubs, like the ones used by anglers as bait.
All summer long my companion stayed in good health. I stole fruit for her from people’s gardens; cherries, plums, sour apples and the hard little pears nobody picks nowadays, because you can get sweet, juicy ones in every supermarket. The witch always bit into them eagerly (her teeth were yellowed but strong, like a mouse’s) and smiled at me.
‘Good boy,’ she’d say with a glint in her dark eyes, and then wink at me as if those words contained a joke. If they did, though, it was a joke only she understood.
Then she became ill. I think the greys must have caused it, though I never spotted them in the vicinity of our home. One morning I woke up and saw that, instead of bustling around the stove as usual (every morning she used to drink a mug of cheap coffee with two teaspoons of sugar: a small indulgence we could afford), the witch lay curled up under the covers, shivering.
‘I’m cold,’ she complained through chattering teeth.
I laid a hand on her forehead. She had a burning fever.
‘Who are you?’ she asked, squinting, obviously disoriented. ‘Where’s Aroldo?’
I had no idea who she was talking about. Luckily, a second later the witch seemed to have forgotten her question. I lit a fire in the stove and brewed some tea, but the old woman refused to drink it.
Soon afterwards she became delirious. She started muttering about the greys, about thistles and swamplands, and about two sisters, one of whom lives above the ground while the other one dwells below. Listening to her gave me the shivers. I knew this was no ordinary delirium; the fever was making her remember fragments of the past, shreds of the memories she’d lost when we were banished from the Otherworld. But I had forgotten more than she had, I had forgotten almost everything. I could see nothing extraordinary or unusual in the thistles that grew all around our new home.
Finally the witch fell silent. She lay motionless, silently moving her lips and watching the raindrops that trickled down the dirty windowpane. Hours passed.
Suddenly I flinched when a cat jumped up on the windowsill on the other side and pressed its face up to the glass, looking at us. I could’ve sworn the creature had an ear missing. For some reason, the sight of it terrified me. But it frightened the witch even more.
She sprang up from her bed. I tried to stop her, but she pushed me aside and ran outdoors, barefoot, in her shabby nightgown, with only a blanket around her shoulders.
‘Felicity! Olga!’ she screamed. ‘Olga! Felicity!’
I ran after her, trying in vain to calm her down, telling her I had never heard either of those names. She kept shouting until she ran out of breath and grew hoarse. Finally she collapsed onto the wet grass and began to cry. I stood there helplessly, holding a broken umbrella over her, while the rain beat down all around us. Finally the witch calmed down and let me lead her back into the house. Once inside, I grimly helped her dry off and change. Pneumonia seemed more than likely at this point.
The cat had long since disappeared. I wasn’t even sure anymore if we had really seen it.
That evening, time seemed to pass slowly, like the rainwater seeping from tiny holes in the rusty old barrel in the yard. The witch lay on her makeshift bed, wrapped in a grubby old comforter and the blanket sewn from coloured squares. She kept mumbling incoherently, repeating names which meant nothing to me, while I heated kettle after kettle of water and brewed tea for her, because I had no idea what else to do. I had some coins in my pocket; I could have gone out to buy some aspirin, but I was afraid to leave the ailing witch alone. I hung the January talisman around her neck, but it didn’t help. Meanwhile, the rain continued to fall, trickling down from broken gutters and dripping through the leaky roof.
In the early morning hours the witch finally fell asleep. Her breath sounded raspy, rattling in her lungs. I sat by her side, my eyelids growing heavier and heavier, the rain beating on the roof, until suddenly I realized I was walking down a path through a dark forest. Water dripped from branches overhead, and bushes snagged at my clothing. I heard an owl hoot, so I raised my eyes, and then I saw her.
The witch was sitting on the bough of an old tree. Her flesh and unkempt hair were now as white as snow, and her eyes had turned to milky orbs. She was clutching a handful of my yarn bracelets.
‘Keep making amulets,’ she whispered hoarsely. ‘Protect the city against the greys. And bury my bones under the threshold...’
I screamed and began to run, but I tripped over a root and fell into the swamp. Cold water closed over my head.
And when I woke up, the old woman was gone. Several dry sticks lay on her bed, along with a handful of dark powder and a couple of bones, old and decayed, covered with greenish mould.
I buried the witch’s remains under the threshold, just as she wanted. Obeying her last wish, I persevere in making amulets and selling them, even though I know my efforts are fruitless, because the number of greys in the city increases every day. At night, when silence reigns around the old house, I can hear the faraway echoes of their cold, cold thoughts.

January 29, 2017

The difference between wishing and wanting

I occasionally read so-called “inspirational” blogs. You know, the ones written by people who used to have a BIG problem that threatened to destroy their life (obesity, alcoholism, debt...), but then a wake-up call induced them to slowly, doggedly turn things around and get back to normal. “Getting back to normal” can mean losing 100+ pounds of excess weight. Or successfully getting rid of debt totaling more than $100k. From my perspective, feats like this are absolutely awe-inspiring. I love to read real-life stories about struggling with an inner demon and winning. In these struggles, victory doesn’t come overnight; it takes a huge amount of time, dedication and consistency for the change to a) happen, b) be permanent. Along the way, you also need a ton of faith in yourself and your ability to make the miracle come true. 

Yesterday, I came across a blog post that got me thinking. The blog in question (written in Polish) belongs to an amazing woman who went from weighing 264 pounds and suffering from serious weight-related health problems to being just barely overweight, running half-marathons and training for a marathon. She relates her long fight with compulsive overeating and depression with calm honesty, and it’s a powerful, moving story. She also writes about determination, motivation, about falling off the wagon and getting on again; the nitty-gritty mechanics of making a Big Change.

I admire her.

One statement of hers particularly resonated with me. It concerned people who write to her asking for advice, saying they want to change their lives too, but lack motivation. She writes: “if you claim you’d like to do something, but you lack motivation, that means you don’t actually want to do it.”

It’s the cold, hard truth, even if one is tempted to protest at first. If you’d like to do something, but you lack the motivation, that means you don’t actually WANT to do it, you only WISH YOU COULD.

It’s a question of priorities. Or, even more accurately, of competing desires.

We often say we want something – and we actually DO wish we could have it. The problem is that we simultaneously want something else, and this second desire overrides the first one. Unfortunately, the two somethings are incompatible with each other, so fulfilling the second desire makes you unable to fulfill the first one.

This can be frustrating as hell when you don’t realize what’s going on.

Lots of obese people who say they want to lose weight, but lack motivation, actually WISH they could become thinner, but the pathological drive to eat is stronger.


Lots of people confuse a wish, a dream, a “maybe one day...” with an actual “I need to work on this RIGHT NOW” priority. 

It’s a simple observation, when you think about it, but not at all self-evident. 

So, when you find yourself saying “I want to...” or “I wish I could” over and over, but somehow never get around to DOING anything to achieve that long-term goal:

1)      Don’t mistake wishes for priorities.
2)      Identify the immediate desires that are blocking your wishes from becoming priorities.

Simple? Simple. Easy? Nope! 

Images courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at