unaware of my presence, moving just their lips, forming words that I will soon pronounce for them

I’ve learned to write on trains and in hotels and waiting rooms. On the tray tables on planes. I take notes at lunch, under the table, or in the bathroom. I write in museum stairwells, in cafés, in the car on the shoulder of the motorway. I jot things down on scraps of paper, in notebooks, on postcards, on my other hand, on napkins, in the margins of books. Usually they’re short sentences, little images, but sometimes I copy out quotes from the papers. Sometimes a figure carves itself out of the crowd, and then I deviate from my itinerary to follow it for a moment, start on its story. It’s a good method; I excel at it. With the years, time has become my ally, as it does for every woman—I’ve become invisible, see-through. I am able to move around like a ghost, look over people’s shoulders, listen in on their arguments and watch them sleep with their heads on their backpacks or talking to themselves, unaware of my presence, moving just their lips, forming words that I will soon pronounce for them.

~ Olga Tokarczuk, Flights (August 13, 2018)

Olga Tokarczuk, 56, is one of Poland’s best and most beloved authors. In 2018, she won the Man Booker International Prize for her novel Flights, becoming the first Polish writer to do so.  Tobias Grey wrote a profile of Tokarczuk in the NY Times on August 8, 2018 titled: Olga Tokarczuk’s Book ‘Flights’ Is Taking Off.” Here’s an excerpt from the profile:

“Ms. Tokarczuk likened herself to a tailor making a dress. ‘The dress is beautiful and comfortable to wear,’ she said. ‘But like the reader, the person who wears it is not expected to know precisely how all the materials that make it are connected.’ When Ms. Tokarczuk finished writing ‘Flights’ she gathered all her pages and spent a week studying them spread out on the floor of her living room. ‘It was funny because I had to climb onto a table to see how they looked from a high vantage point,’ she said. ‘I trusted my intuition to find the book’s order, and I wouldn’t change anything now.'”

Portrait of Olga Tokarczuk from Los Angeles Review of Books


  1. brilliant work. and i love her creative process and how she lets the book ‘order itself.’

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Certainly an intriguing approach to writing. Would never have thought to do it this way in terms of “letting the book order itself,” but writing is an intensely personal experience, so to each her own. 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes…the mind works in mysterious ways. Here’s another passage that I particularly enjoyed:

      But if there’s one thing I know now, it’s that anyone looking for order ought to steer clear of psychology altogether. Go for physiology or theology instead, where at least you’ll have solid backing—either in matter or in spirit—instead of psychology’s slippery terrain. The psyche is quite a tenuous object of study. It turned out it was true what some people said about psychology being a degree you choose not because of the job you want, or out of curiosity or a vocation to help others, but rather for another very simple reason. I think all of us had some sort of deeply hidden defect, although we no doubt all gave the impression of intelligent, healthy young people—the defect was masked, skillfully camouflaged during our entrance exams. A ball of tautly tangled emotions breaking down, like those strange tumors that turn up sometimes in the human body and that can be seen in any self-respecting museum of pathological anatomy…What we learned at university was that we are made up of defenses, of shields and armor, that we are cities whose architecture essentially comes down to walls, ramparts, strongholds: bunker states. Every test, questionnaire, and study we also conducted on each other, so that by the time we got through our third year I had a name for what was wrong with me; it was like discovering my own secret name, the name that summons one to an initiation.

      ~ Olga Tokarczuk, Flights (Penguin Publishing Group. August 13, 2018) 

      Liked by 5 people

  3. Oh dear, the dangers of labelling! taking the life out to impose form.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I like how she describes her information gathering methods – anywhere, any time, all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you! You are a wonderful source for good reads.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I like this Olga a gret deal. Up to the bit about her Man Booker Winning Novel I would have thought this was about me…. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I gather word thoughts and observations, too.Much of the paper I scribble on gets tossed by an unsuspecting family member… ///
    I am “Aware” that there is a person, who goes by DK that commutes a lot like Olga Tokarczuk…he delights, introduces and informs us of much…enriching…His book is already written, ordered into chapter of his life, Series: Running, Commuting, Zeke, Family, Scraps and of course introductions to amazing works of art, fanominal authors and heart touching pieces of life…

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Holy Sacred Cow, Batman! So much “mooing” resounding in my body from all this TRUTH.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. (It’s so deliciously dangerous to have a Kindle now).

    Liked by 1 person

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