20 November 2013
Gah. I’ll stop apologizing, except to note that I have been spectacularly awful at morning blog posts this month.
This evening I went to a clothes swap, where you bring items of clothes, get a coupon, and leave with other, new, different items of clothes. All free. Completely sociable. I was told how it worked, then I went to the bar to get a beer, and was invited to join a table with three other friendly women. It conspired that they are sisters, all living in Edinburgh, but originally from the Highlands. Can I come home with you? I wanted to say, Will you take me back to where you moved away from?
The whole experience was wonderful. I came home with more clothes than I brought to donate, but some of them will inevitably cycle back into the whole exchange, I think. Some new things that I tried on looked amazing at home — I had only grabbed them because they were my size, I thought. Tonight, I find myself planning an outfit for tomorrow — something I have never done in the past. Or, if I have, it has been with work in mind. To look professional in the office is to command attention. To look stylish and professional is to command the right attention. I made those up right now — they’re not truisms or anything. I’ve spent so long shunning image, away from the glare of a superficial life. It’s a new thought; it’s okay to want a style. What was best about the whole evening, though, was being included. Meeting new people. Making new friends. This would look great on you. Do you want me to save it for you? I’m so happy you found that! How beautiful!
Language is always something I’ve tried to build up on my own, like my style, outside of the glare or influence of others or society. I started an essay in 4th grade with the word “Whilst” — it had been one of my favorite words as a child in Britain, but this archaic language was out of place in America. I can still remember my teacher picking up the essay as soon as I put it into the pile: Who on earth starts an essay with the word “Whilst”!? To be fair, she was teaching 10-year-olds. I don’t think she ever expected to see that word in a homework assignment.
When I left elementary school and moved on to the middle school (10-12 years old), I loved coming back to visit a teacher who had struck a chord with me: Mr. Klose. I loved him for loving my practice assignment on the trial lesson he taught while applying for a job at the school. We were to write journal entries or letters in the style of an immigrant. He told me years later that he thought I won the lesson for him. I never told him that I still remember that assignment, I still remember constructing the entry with the beginning “I would write the date, but all days feel the same at sea.” I’ve never told him that my PhD is all about letters and correspondence, that I still write. Look, Mr. Klose — I’m still losing track of the days.
When I would come back to visit him at the end of the school day (my mother taught at the same school), he gave me a nickname: Fresh Air. He said it was because I always brought the scent of fresh air into his classroom at the end of the day — it followed me in from the walk home between the schools. He would call the name out to me whenever he saw me coming — Fresh Air! Hey! Fresh Air! I wore it like a Native American name, like a verbal signet, like an appellation of my spirit.
When I was younger, words got mixed up. Letters all had the same feeling, so for the longest time I couldn’t distinguish between marshmallow, meringue, marzipan, macaroons. They were all names for sugars I never ate. And temporal aspects mixed things up too: I learned about Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain all at the same time, so the names have always been mixed up for me. The C’s, the A sounds, all the Ws. For the first few months, I always associated Stephen Dunn with Mark Strand because I discovered them at the same time. Poets come to me in pairs like that. Now, they are obviously more distinctive.
I told my mother today: You’ll never guess my favorite word right now. It’s Scottish. The word: Outwith. I found a fantastic blog post about the prospect of a world without the word “outwith”.
Outwith: [preposition, mostly Scottish].
Definition: “outside, beyond”.
Example sentence: “I knew I should be apologizing, saying something about never forgiving myself — but I knew that this lay outwith the reach of words.” — Allstair MacClean, The Lonely Sea