Friday, February 09, 2007

Double-sided "inat"

After reading a passionately written and touching post by fellow blogger blackbird, titled Inat and a Turbulent Life, I started typing a comment in response to her post on her blog.
As some of you know –or have noticed- concision is not my forte. Realizing that my comment was soon to be as long as her post –inat is truly an inspiring subject- I decided to post my “comment on inat" here, on my own blog, and I hope blackbird won’t mind.

For those of you who are wondering what in the world inat is:
  • Pronounced “eenat” it is a word used frequently in Serbian.
  • My 1959 crumbling dictionary, inherited from my parents (“Stozer Srpskohrvatsko-Engleski Recnik”) defines inat as "spite", and an action “iz inata” as doing something “out of spite”.
  • I'd say, inat is often used as the equivalent of “grudge” or "stubborn defiance" that will urge you to do something (or not) for reasons that in most cases will baffle the minds of those not accustomed to Serbian logic. It is a kind of defiant spirit, an "esprit de contradiction" with a touch of "mauvaise foi”.
  • I believe, inat to be something perhaps not exclusively, but most definitely specifically and typically Serbian.
  • In the words of Dragan Milovic (of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, London): “an attitude of proud defiance, stubbornness and self-preservation - sometimes to the detriment of everyone else or even oneself.”
  • My father, mother, sister, friends, ex-boyfriends, former colleagues and my dear husband will no doubt agree, I possess my own healthy dose of it....and it has not always served me well.
  • More on Inat found on blackbird's blog and these links at the bottom of her post: "Inat: Serbia's secret Weapon" and here

Perhaps it is also worth mentioning, that in the Serbian mentality or culture as it where, inat is far from the negative, bloody-minded trait "spite" or "stubbornness" are in most other cultures. While sometimes formally frowned upon, inat can tacitly be "felt" to be a quality, the cherished trait of "sticking to one's guns" and more often akin to integrity and defiant determination than to narrow-minded stubbornness. And perhaps it is the verb "to feel" that is key here; for this has nothing to do with logic or pragmatism, indeed it is this emotional quality that perhaps makes inat endearing, if at times infuriating.

Now that I've hopefully managed to clarify the obscure meaning of inat, here's what I wanted to say about it.

Although I was not there, I'm the first to take my hat off to the inat, humor and sheer spirit displayed by Serbs in Belgrade during the bombings of '99; the postcards depicting fiery & smoke filled skies defiantly stating "Belgrade by night" or the "target" symbols sprayed on civilians' coats and bags. Inat, is certainly a force to be reckoned with and can entail immensely positive and admirable actions. It has often also made me laugh, because it is such a lofty, crazy aspect of the Serbian character.

However, in my humble opinion, besides being totally childish -if endearing- and lacking in mature judgment, inat is far from being the "well-wishing-friend" Serbs think it is.

When inat (as in Dragan Milovic’s perfect definition “doing things because someone has told you you can’t, not necessarily because you actually want to”) becomes a guiding principle, it can ultimately lead you to perpetually live your life against someone else's doings, actions, positions, thoughts.

Seriously, if you are always doing in defiance and defining yourself against someone or something, then how can you as a person, group or people ever be independent -or free for that matter? How can you stand on your own two feet and follow a path that is yours and good for you?
And how vulnerable are you to manipulation because your inat makes you so predictable? (like the “Who says we cannot swim? Sink this boat!”) Your “opponents” need only to play you like a musical instrument, for you will shoot yourself in the foot “za inat”....and serve them by doing it.

Especially in emotional circumstances, inat can also lead to willful and nurtured preservation of grudges that anchor you in the past ("Da komsiji crkne krava /If only the neighbour’s cow would die”). Is it really worth your present and your future, and wasting the energy that could be devoted to making it brighter on your neighbor's stupid cow because of something that happened generations ago?

I really have a lot of affection for inat. But I truly believe, that as much as it has pulled Serbs through the toughest and potentially most humiliating moments, and spurred them on with superb dignity, humor and a kind of proud spirit, it has also been, and is to this day, their (our) Achilles heel*. Because (showing your) inat too often, becomes the objective and makes you lose sight of what really matters, what you wanted or where you were heading to begin with.

In today’s global, pragmatic, capitalistic society inat is not seen by the world as an engaging, endearing, amusing trait. Nor is it proof of integrity, strong character and determination. It is more often than not (viewed as) a stupid, proud, primitive weak spot to be manipulated and used against whoever is ready to die rather than look at the bigger picture and consider it with a little perspective.

The day perspective is valued as much as inat is in the Serbian culture -
and please don't read this as selling your soul, the end justifying the means or giving in- that day, the capacity, creativity, intelligence and will of Serbia's citizens will truly take off and realize it's true potential... for -"za inat?"- it will have left the past behind.

...or perhaps it is just a question of putting the notorious "inat" to good use?

*Interestingly one's Achilles heel is often one's strongest quality, hence the glass is half full (the BBC reference to Inat: Serbia's secret weapon) or half empty...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Week 15 and magic

So we’re into our second trimester, and everything is apparently as it should be.

Funnily enough, the initial moments of “Wow” passed, as well as the occasional feeling of not owning my own body because it’s acting in weird ways it used not to, I feel like a fish in the sea & like being pregnant is the most normal thing in the world.

Which of course it is, but it’s also hugely and totally unfathomable, isn’t it? One of those things you have a hard time getting your head around. Realizing that you are growing another person inside of you and that one day, if all goes well, they will be as "big" and as "old" as you are right now. It’s like you always knew this was going to happen, but at the same time never really believed it. Like growing up when you’re little. (Well at least that’s the way I felt.) One of those things that seems totally unremarkable until you stop to think about it.

And it’s the circle thing… I’m going to be a parent, which means I am going to be what my parents are to me, to someone else. Auuehemerrr… that is weird. That’s scary. That’s well, I’m not too sure about that part.

Of course, I’m going to be my version of parent, mixed with my honey’s version, and with the inescapable twist and shake our lives and experiences will convey to our choices, actions and oversights. As my Dad has said billions of times (in a rather fatalistic, defensive and occasionally apologetic manner) we don’t make the mistakes our parents made, but we make others. I can believe that, although there’s a sometimes a boomerang effect, that brings us right back to where (what?) we were trying to get away from in the first place.

We probably all have a couple of vivid memories of things that we swore we would never do “to” our kids when we grew up and had them… (I made lists: of things to remember –or rather not to forget- of things not to do… A real Peter Pan although I desperately wanted to put childhood behind me and become an adult.) But then there’s perspective, and of course I’ve changed my mind on some of those things, but there are others… Ah well, I guess we’ll do our best. (I think it’s a bit early to go down that road right this minute.)

Anyway, it might be the hormones (I don't mean the replacement therapy ones), but being pregnant is bringing back flashes from my childhood, my teens, my whole life. I’ve always thought we carry with(in) us the 2, 7, 9, 13, 17… year olds we once were – but although these versions of me occasionally voice a point or two, now days they seem to be more vocal than ever, playing the reels of hazy long-ago snippets of my life with people who have played a role in it; Some no longer alive, whom I have not thought of in a while. Others, whose memory is much more vivid and have sometimes been embodied by living people who, it has seemed at times, were encountered and (put?) there for me as stand-ins for those who left too soon.

See? Hormones. You probably think I’m looney tunes by now.

But I do believe in a kind of magic. Maybe it’s destiny, maybe it’s God, maybe it’s the Universe, I don’t think the name matters much –I don’t think I would care if I were misnamed, as long as the concept of me …oh, oh, another one I don’t think I’m going to go down just now – sorry.

Anyway, magic… I think there is magic.

Maybe it’s in my belly, maybe it’s in the air, maybe it’s my hormone-drugged brain… But when you catch a glimpse of it, it makes you feel all warm inside and kind of happy-sad. Kind of like when you want to cry with joy or when I think of my Baba and her bordeaux shawl.