Words are Magic: Pavlos Stavropoulos on Diving Deep into Language


I’ve known Pavlos for 15+ years in many capacities: as an activist and street medic, as an eco-community organizer, and most recently as a writer blending these sensibilities together. Kathy and I are excited that Pavlos will be joining us this August in Breckenridge!

Nancy Stohlman: The biggest challenge most writers have is finding the time to write. How do you “retreat” in your day-to-day life in order to honor your creativity?

Pavlos Stavropoulos: I heard a poet friend of mine talk about how when she started giving herself the time to write first thing in the morning she “resented her day job a lot less.” The idea that we feel better when we start our day with time for ourselves isn’t something new but hearing her talk about it like this, plus some other experiences, pushed me to change my routine. I started walking to a local coffee shop first thing in the morning, having an espresso, and writing for an hour or more. I am not a morning person and I didn’t think it would last but I have gotten to the point in which I feel off when I don’t do it. There have been days that I woke up, realized I felt really tired, turned my alarm clock off to give myself that day “off” and found myself waking up again five minutes later compelled to get dressed and get out of the door. There is something about starting most mornings with a walk and writing time that makes the rest of the day feel more manageable. That schedule would not have been possible for me a year or more ago, and I still have a hard time adapting this routine to when I am on the road, but it is a start. I have also stopped berating myself if my writing time is not “productive.” My first step has been to just get in the habit of giving myself the time. Next step is to be more consistent with how I use that time.

Nancy: You are no stranger to the power of gathering with like-minded others. You founded the Woodbine Ecology Center here in Colorado, running programs and workshops that promote indigenous values and sustainable communities.  What is the most important thing you have learned in this endeavor?

Pavlos: I personally believe that we will not be able to create a just and free world till we, as a community, learn how to take responsibility for the essential functions which are now often performed or delivered by authoritarian and oppressive structures. Resisting these structures is often necessary, but becoming free also requires that we assume authority over our own lives, and that means learning new things and new ways of being. Starting Woodbine forced me to learn how to do things that I had always felt I “should” know but kept putting off for a variety of reasons. As long as I can turn on a switch and have light or can get clean water from a faucet I don’t “need” to learn how to generate electricity or treat water so that it can be potable, even if I really felt it was necessary that I acquire these skills. Making one big choice, to start Woodbine, made it both necessary and the more natural thing for me to learn how to do a whole bunch of other things.

We all operate within constraints in our daily lives, and often these constraints push us in a direction that we don’t want or like or is not good for us. Fighting against these constraints is over fruitless, and exhausting. We are creatures of comfort and convenience. Changing habits and patterns is a lot of hard work and when something feels like drudgery most of us naturally avoid it. Without even fully realizing it at the time, I had adopted a more evolutionary approach to change. Instead of forcing myself to make the hard and difficult choices simply because they are the “right” ones, change the environment around me so that the right choice is the easiest or more natural or more pleasurable to follow. This is not easy but it is a lot more successful than to keep fighting against myself. Changing the entire world around us is of course not possible for most of us. However we can choose to create, or at least find, even for a short time different environments and situations in which the “default” option is to do the things we most want to do, instead of having to fight ourselves in order to get things done. Being in a place that is away from our daily routine and, most importantly, being surrounded by people who have similar values, goals, and desires as we do can “force” us to take the exact same actions that we might be avoiding in our ordinary environment. The more we do that the easier it becomes to find ways to bring those patterns into the ordinary environments of our lives.

Nancy: What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?  Where can we read it?

Pavlos: I am pretty early in my writing journey so I have very little work “finished” let alone published, but I have been working on translating a book of flash fiction from Greek to English. This is the first book by the author, Ursula Foskolou. I found it during a trip back home—it had just won a prestigious award for new author—and I was struck by her voice and her lyricism, the economy of words, her ability to capture and convey complex emotions in a very small space. I was talking a literary translation course at the University of Denver at the time and I decided to translate some pieces from that book for the course. After the course was over I contacted the publisher and the author and asked, and was granted, permission to translate the whole book and try to get it published.

Translation requires me to dive deeply not only into the languages of the original and the one that I am translating to but into the essence of language itself. When the piece that I am working on is 100-150 words long then every single word counts and often plays multiple functions. When we think of translation we may think of words as dictionary definitions but they are a lot more than that. Words convey meaning but also subtext and emotion and they do it through context, sound, mood, disposition, placement, grammar, syntax, history, culture. Words are magic.

My translation of the book is in progress but I have submitted some of the individual pieces for publication in journals. One was published by Asymptote Journal in January and can be found at HERE  Two more were recently accepted by Exchanges, the literary translation journal of the Iowa Translation Workshop, and will be published in May. READ IT HERE

Nancy: React to this quote by Plato: “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

Pavlos: All mammals learn how to survive and live in the world by playing. Play is literally written into our DNA. We forget sometimes, or actively try to ignore, that we are also animals but I believe that we let a critical part of ourselves, possibly the one connected most to our creativity and imagination, fade when we stop playing. We often consider our intellect to be our “higher” or most human aspect, but I think it is play more than anything else that allows us to be, and discover, who we really are.

Nancy: Tell us something we don’t know about you?

Pavlos: And give away the mystery? …

Nancy: Anything else you want to add?

Pavlos: Looking forward to meeting y’all and playing with magic together.

Pavlos Stavropoulos was born and raised in Athens Greece, with a Greek father and an American mother. Growing up in a bilingual household meant that translation became second nature. He now resides in Littleton, Colorado, USA where he works in social and environmental justice education, writes speculative fiction, and translates Greek literature into English. His translations have been published in Asymptote and are forthcoming in Exchanges.


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