Sketches of a book tour to Poland

On April 23, 2016, in Uncategorized, by Patricia

I don’t fly often enough to be used to that thing, now, where everyone books their seat online beforehand. So in my new capacity as the international travel luddite, I highly recommend the pull-out seat beside the back bathroom as opposed to, say, the safety pocket under the pilot’s feet when you set off for Warsaw without online booking.

Woke up on the overnight flight to discover that I’d flat-out stolen the blanket of the stranger beside me. Just sleep-grabbed it. Had it tucked squarely under my chin.

Love Warsaw already. In the tourism mag. in my hotel room, describing a museum, it reads: “Having not even entered the main exhibition space you already know that you’re going to be in for one of those museum experiences the Poles excel at — the massive downer.”

My Polish publisher has launched a Snap Chat campaign featuring my book touring around Warsaw. My book in a cafe. My book on a bench. My book being tucked in with stuffed animals for the night. The cutest and most random publicity for a tome about death that you’ll ever, likely, encounter.

On Polish Catholic Radio today, the interviewer’s first question to me was: “Patricia Pearson, where is Heaven?” And I’m just trying to surmount jet lag with a stance of perky, so I’m game for whatever is thrown at me, and I’m like, “Right. Okay, so, you know, Heaven is like…” And then I realize I’m in a surreal dream where any answer is plausible. Or not. Arguably, Heaven is four feet above the three-dimensional reality of Peru. Or maybe it’s just being on heroin. Or butter tarts. Or it’s a small, gated community on Jupiter. I was just kidding about promoting my book, I’d like to go home now.

Auschwitz. Wow. Just… Let me say this. The graceful, thoughtful Poles, who were many-times killed there before it became a genocide factory, have preserved the place for visitors without pomp or sentiment. There’s no announcing signage on the surrounding roads. You stumble across it, and then you’re transported back to to the 1940s. To a cold, calculated evil that you see laid out in the neat barracks. Here is the wall that people were shot against. Here is the gas chamber. Here are the spectacles rendered useless by murder, and the shoes, and the cooking pots, and the toys, and the hair that the Nazis repurposed for textiles. The whole of it renders you silent.

A couple of months ago, I gave a talk to an undergraduate class about my book on anxiety. Or rather, I appeared via Skype, somewhat muffled and pixilated, and the class peered at the computer screen and asked me questions.

The one I found most baffling was this: “Did you find it hard to research your book without being triggered?”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” I said, feeling like the language of discussion had just shifted into, I don’t know, Nuatl.

“How did you read about other people’s anxiety without being triggered?”

Hmm. That’s an extremely unexpected question that arises from what we’d call a generation gap.

“Well,” I ventured, wishing I could pixilate out of the classroom and blame it on tech problems, “for me, reading about other people’s suffering was hugely consoling and enlightening, and that’s really the function of art, isn’t it, to make common cause of human experience…?”

I suddenly wasn’t sure if this undergraduate class had been exposed to art of any kind. What does one avoid, in avoiding being triggered? Guernica? Verdi? Here is how Primo Levi, in his forward to Survival at Auschwitz, would have felt about that:

“I commend these words to you.

Carve them in your hearts

At home, in the street

Going to bed, rising;

Repeat them to your children,

Or may your house fall apart,

May illness impede you,

May your children turn their faces from you.”



Leave a Reply