Monday, September 01, 2003
The Zhaba story
A message from a Russian reader about "zhaba" being "toad" in Russian reminded me that I'd a) taken out the blurb in my sidebar about the literal meaning of "zhaba," and b) never posted the longer "what it means to me" story. So here goes.
First, the literal meaning: "zhaba" is "frog" or "toad" in various Eastern European languages; when I encounted it in Ukrainian, the translation in my dictionary was "frog."
Second, my meaning: For my senior project in college, I translated a film scenario by a Ukrainian director. (Ukrainian is the non-English language I know best, although I haven't used it for a while.) There was a line in which one of the characters was having an attack of angina, and it used the word "zhaba." I came up with what I thought was a pretty nice translation, although I don't specifically remember what it was, about how he felt "like he was choking on a frog." Then I took it to my advisor, and she told me that "zhaba" can also just mean "an attack of angina." Humph. So much for my metaphor. Okay, I thought, but I'm going to get frogs into this translation somehow!
Months went by; days before the project was due, as I was racing through the translation of the climactic battle scene, I came across the line "The bombs going off sounded like huge frogs croaking in a marsh." In the margin of my notebook I wrote "FROGS!" in great big letters, and underlined it a few times; I was ridiculously happy about it. I finished the project in three solid days of no sleeptyped up the translation, wrote the introduction, added the footnotes, annotated the bibliographyand just before I took it to the printer, exhausted and bordering on hallucinatory, I added the title page, concluding it with the Cyrillic character for "zh" and the words "Copyright 1997 Zhaba Productions."
When I woke up the next day, I was able to think more clearly about why I'd had that urge to put "zhaba" on the title page. It had come to symbolize all the things that go on in the background of creating a work of artthe notes for a novel, the sketches for a painting, the preproduction of a film, the rehearsals and the near-chaotic backstage activities of a playthat the audience or viewer or reader never notices, maybe never even knows about, but that are important, meaningful, even vital to the artist.
I don't know if I'm much of an artist; I'm not making any claims for how good my work is; but good or not, it's always been there. All my life I've written stories and novels, performed and composed and conducted music, acted and written and directed theater, even made a few forays into filmmaking and graphic design. And the things that linger aren't the performances or the finished works, but everything that went into them: the research, the "I can't do this" panics, the "good God this will work!" triumphs, clashing with some personalities and unexpectedly finding friendships with others. They've become a part of me; they've shaped me. And I've been fortunate enough to find a symbol, or at least a signifier, to enfold it and hold it in my mind: Zhaba.
Or if you prefer Cyrillic:
[ at 6:31 PM • by Abby • permalink • ]