Monday, January 30, 2012

Writing By Osmosis

   Today, I welcome my father, Władysław Piotr Mazur, M.D. (vwah DIH swaf  pee O tur  MAH zoor), affectionately known as Bartek, not only as my first guest blogger, but a posthumous one at that. This is an excerpt from his unpublished autobiography, written sometime in the 1990s. Everyone who ever met my father and heard his tales of surviving WWII as a young man in Poland would end their conversation by saying: "You really should write a book!" In 1987, my first husband, Jim, and I gave him a book on creative writing, and encouraged him to tell his story. When my father was very young, his family moved west from his birthplace in Stary Sącz (STAH rih SOHNch), an ancient city located in a valley amidst the Tatra mountains near the confluence of the Dunajec (doon EYE ets) and Poprad (PO prahd) rivers in southern Poland, to Sosnowiec (sohs NOV yets), an industrial town in the Silesian highlands near Katowice (cat oh VEE tseh). In this passage, he describes his overwhelming desire to learn how to write, and how, at the age of five, he convinced his parents to permit him to go to school. With regard to the process of attending school and learning to write, he brilliantly and succinctly captures the inner workings of a child's mind.

     "The year of 1926 was an important one in my life, since it was in September of that year that I first went to school. Being only five years old, I was technically not old enough to go to school. At that time in Sosnowiec, there was no kindergarten, no classroom which would provide an appropriate level of education for a five year old. I was not aware of the tribulations of study, homework, or examinations which would confront me. All I knew was that I was dying to go to school so I could learn to write. I was fascinated by the ability of adults to write what they were saying by scribbling on paper, and then, to read aloud what they'd just said, word by word, using their scribbles. I tried using the same technique, but it did not work. Undefeated by these early attempts at writing, I persisted in my scribbling, and in time, my scribbles looked almost identical to those produced by my father. Unfortunately, they were not identical enough, because they were ineffective in recording my speech or my thoughts.
     On visual inspection, my scribbles presented an appearance which I would now compare to an electro-encephalogram, very similar to my father's handwriting. My parents tried to humor me at first by "reading" my scribbling, using their own imaginations in selecting the subject of the story, and initially, I was satisfied that I had succeeded in mastering the "secret method", the key to the skill of writing. In order to be sure that this was really the case, I employed the double-blind approach in verifying my conclusions. I took a sample of my handwriting, and showed it to my grandmother, who "read" it. The next day, I gave her the very same paper, but she read something entirely different. Then, I showed it to my father, and he produced yet a third version, reading the same text. I realized then that they were faking, after which I abandoned my efforts to acquire the skill of writing by osmosis or the trial-and-error method. I insisted that I must go to school. "Bugging" is the best word in the English language to describe the strategy I employed in influencing my parents, their resistance already having been lowered by my previous requests for them to read my stories, scribbled in my notebook.
     My father was the principal of a training program, or seminarjum (seh mee NAR yum), for elementary school teachers. [Note: this program had nothing to do with the seminary or theology]. Attached to the seminarjum was a four grade elementary school, where the student teachers could practice pedagogy. We lived in the same building, our apartment being on the same floor as the first grade. There are reasons why it was possible for a five year old to be admitted to the first grade, when a minimum age of six years was the prerequisite. Nowadays, I guess, it would be called nepotism. If this was true, however, it was only in relation to my admission to the school, not to the subsequent five years of education I received there. At this juncture, my father assumed a dual role: that of my daddy, and that of the supreme commander of an army of people who treated me with great deference.
     My mother's anxiety was alleviated by the fact that she could watch me during recess from our dining room window. She thus describes my first day in school: '18 September 1926--For Bartuś (BAR toosh), an important day; for the first time, he went to school. Although he has just completed his fifth year, he begged to go to school. Professor Czajkowski (chy KAWF skee) gave him encouragement to come to his class. After the first period, Mommy watched Bartuś playing in the schoolyard from a window. He appeared to be gay and pleased, and plays joyfully with his colleagues. The second period is gymnastics. He will have a lot to tell us about it...' "

     Later this week, I will post the conclusion of Dad's reflections regarding his early days in school, along with the life lessons he learned while playing hooky and Red Rover. In reading his autobiography, it is clear that our writing styles are similar, the direct result of mitosis and meiosis, and quite possibly, a little osmosis.
[About the pronunuciations...I personally like to know how to pronounce what I'm reading as I'm reading it, and this is why I include parenthesized phonetics after foreign words or phrases, instead of making multiple footnotes.]

Part Two: Duty & Obligation, Patriotism & Faith: A Five Year Old's Ethical Perspective 
My father, helping me sample my first Bloody Mary, as my maternal grandmother, Nanny, looks on (1963)


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