26 October 2013
I’m packing my bags with John Lennon in the background. I’m dawdling. I can’t decide on which book to bring with me. I’m going away, and I’ve forgotten all about it. Just somewhere in the city, I think. To celebrate my father’s birthday, which was what, two weeks ago?
I’ll be back by tomorrow afternoon or early evening, but that can make a difference, depending on what book I put in my bag. You know how it is.
Oh, October is almost over. The last few days have been very fulfilling for me intellectually. I think maybe I can survive for a while feeding just my brain.
Here’s something for the weekend: The Word For… by Ian Crouch, via The New Yorker. Crouch discusses neologisms, of-the-moment words, and quotes Ben Schott:
Stepping down heavily on a stair that isn’t there.
Being startled when exiting a movie theater into broad daylight.
The exhausting trudge up a stationary escalator.
Total confidence that a newly opened restaurant is doomed to fail.
– Ben Schott, from Schottenfreude: German Words for the Human Condition
I am reminded of this:
Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness,” “joy,” or “regret.” Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.” I’d like to show how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.” I’d like to have a word for “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.” I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever.
― Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex
I also have a list of words that don’t have an English translation. A few of my favourites:
- Litost: (Czech) A state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery. “As for the meaning of this word, I have looked in vain in other languages for an equivalent, though I find it difficult to imagine how anyone can understand the human soul without it.” ― Milan Kundera
- Komorebi: (Japanese) The sort of scattered, dappled light effect that happens when sunlight shines in through tree leaves
- Saudade: (Portuguese) The feeling of longing for something or someone that you love and which is lost
Lastly, from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows:
n. the desire to care less about things—to loosen your grip on your life, to stop glancing behind you every few steps, afraid that someone will snatch it from you before you reach the end zone—rather to hold your life loosely and playfully, like a volleyball, keeping it in the air, with only quick fleeting interventions, bouncing freely in the hands of trusted friends, always in play.
n. the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time—filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured.
In the future I will create a dictionary―or maybe just a list, really―of my life. For now it is enough that I am here, barefoot, picking a book out of my shelf―maybe two―and writing you. I don’t know what this feeling is called, but I like it. I will keep it. And perhaps tonight or tomorrow or someday, I will write about it.