“I like good strong words that mean something…” ~ Louisa May Alcott, from Little Women
Thursday afternoon. Sunny, 80’s.
I found the following on my Tumblr dash (where else?) a few days ago, and decided that it would make a great prompt for a post. Hope you like it.
Coffee shop dwellers who sit at tables a long time but spend little money.
I remember sitting in a Starbucks for hours one time just writing in my journal and kind of daydreaming. I only had enough money for a coffee, but I felt no guilt at squatting at prime real estate for as long as I needed, despite the evil looks from people who wanted my table. I also used to do this at the Starbucks inside the Barnes & Noble that I frequented. I would get a stack of possible books, find a table, and sit there as I went through the books to decide which ones I wanted to buy. One time I read William Styron’s Darkness Visible in its entirety, and another time I read A Boy Called It, which made me decide to buy the sequel. And yes, I purchased both books that I read.
This word is the hopeful declaration that you will die before someone you love deeply, because you cannot stand to live without them. Literally, may you bury me.
In my romantic mind, I would never want to die before my beloved as I am uncertain if I have any grief left within me after losing those I most loved. This one is a tough one, but a beautiful word.
“I’m apt to get drunk on words . . . Ontology: the word about the essence of things; the word about being.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle, from A Circle of Quiet
Someone prone to bad luck. Yiddish distinguishes between the schlemiel and schlimazel, whose fates would probably be grouped under those of the klutz in other languages. The schlemiel is the traditional maladroit, who spills his coffee; the schlimazel is the one on whom it’s spilled.
Is it possible to be both a schlemiel and a schlimazel? I am quite adept at spilling things, especially my food and drink, and especially if I am wearing the most inappropriate clothes for a spill, say white silk. And as for being a schlimazel, perhaps less so unless it concerns something coming out of a baby. For the first year of Eamonn’s life, he threw up on me regularly, so much so that it was not uncommon for me to have to change nightgowns mid-night. He had severe stomach problems and had an operation when he was just three weeks old. But of the two, definitely the spiller as opposed to the spillee.
One other interesting memory: When I worked in Northern Virginia, a pack of us went out on a Friday after work, and we went dancing. My boss was there, and since I was relatively new, he offered to dance with me. I was wearing scarlet lipstick, and I tripped and fell into his starched white shirt, leaving a huge lipstick stain on the sleeve. I asked him the next day what he said to his wife as the truth seemed so unbelievable. He said that he threw away the shirt because she would never believe how it really happened. I felt horrible.
The packesel is the person who’s stuck carrying everyone else’s bags on a trip. Literally, a burro.
My ex and I used to go hiking and camping in the Virginia foothills. One time we took along a couple with whom we had been friends for years. The female of the couple wore penny loafers (which has nothing to do with this word), but the male of the pair was so whiny that on the hike back, I took his pack just so I wouldn’t have to hear him. Yes, my back used to be quite strong . . .
“She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.” ~ Michael Ondaatje, from The English Patient
L’esprit de l’escalier (French)
Literally, stairwell wit—a too-late retort thought of only after departure.
Oh how I wish that I had known that there was an actual term for this years ago. I am famous for coming up with the biting retort—well after the other person has left the room. So much so that I sometimes wanted to run them down in the hall just so that I could fling my words at them, but of course, that would have been childish.
Denmark’s mantra, hygge is the pleasant, genial, and intimate feeling associated with sitting around a fire in the winter with close friends.
We have a fireplace in our house, a real, working fireplace. The last time we used it was a couple of winters ago when we didn’t have heat. However, years ago, when my ex lived here, we used to build fires frequently in the winter, back when we were unaware of the pollution links. I love the smell of a wood fire. There is something inherently comforting in that smell, something that makes me feel very relaxed. The same with a campfire—that smell. I remember in high school we used to have bonfires before big football games. I’m sure they don’t do that any more, at least not in cities. Too many possibilities for things to go wrong.
Sad, really. Will we have generations who never know the smell of woodsmoke?
One of our goals for the house is to install a gas fire in the fireplace, so that we can have the heat and appearance of a fire, but it’s just not the same.
Literally, an expense knight. You’ve probably dined with a spesenritter before, the type who shows off by paying the bill on the company’s expense account.
I’ve known a few of these, but I’ve never been one, never had an expense account, never had enough power to have one. One of my very dear friends at the government services firm where I worked used to take me to dinner on his expense account. And then because I was on the staff for the big guys, I was frequently taken to lunch on expense accounts, back in the 80’s when money flowed freely. I remember that the staff would always go out to celebrate after the completion of a big proposal effort or if a contract was won, both of which happened often.
As a publications manager, I was courted by all kinds of print houses, and I’ll never forget this one lunch at an Italian restaurant, the best pasta I’ve ever had. Going out on someone else’s account is wonderful as price never seems to matter, and dessert is always an option. Of course, those days are long gone.
“All I’m writing is just what I feel, that’s all. I just keep it almost naked. And probably the words are so bland.” ~ Jimi Hendrix
Cavoli Riscaldati (Italian)
The result of attempting to revive an unworkable relationship. Literally, reheated cabbage.
Hmm . . . my ex, ‘nuf said, except that reheated cabbage describes it perfectly: old, wilted, smelly, but still you try to make a meal of it until you realize that it’s totally inedible.
Bilita Mpash (Bantu)
An amazing, pleasant dream. Not just a “good” dream; the opposite of a nightmare.
As many of you already know, I don’t tend to dream on the good side, so when I have an amazingly good dream, it kind of stands out. That said, I’m having a really hard time remembering the details of any. I know that one featured Jimmy Smits, and I had that one about ten years ago (so sad, really).
I can say that most of the dreams that I really enjoy involve falling/flying, as in I leap off something and float through the air. It isn’t at all scary. On the contrary, it’s the most wonderful feeling. An alternative is when I’m flying some kind of airplane. It’s the act of moving through the air unimpeded, under my own steam. I think that this is probably the key reason as to why I still want to go up in a glider some day. I don’t care how old I get, I still want to do this.
Parachuting doesn’t appeal to me because it’s over too soon. In a glider, you move through the air for miles. There is no sound but the wind. It’s just you, in the air, as close to being winged as possible.
“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.” ~ Patrick Rothfuss, from The Name of the Wind
Milan Kundera described the emotion as “a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.”
I have encountered this emotion far too many times that sometimes I feel as if I’ve gotten other people’s share as well as my own. It’s a brutal feeling, realizing that you are miserable. It’s the exact opposite of the feeling I would imagine comes from gliding through the air. Instead, it’s being completely weighted down, leaden, held down by such intense gravity that even standing seems impossible.
Litost. It’s both a beautiful word and a sad word, and that it is Czech in origin seems perfect, somehow.
Murr-ma (Waigman, language of Australia)
To walk alongside the water while searching for something with your feet.
I’m glad that this word is last as I have the best story to go along with it.
About a year after Caitlin died, we were at the beach in Nags Head, North Carolina. I was walking through the shore on my own, and I was moving my feet through the sand. I suddenly stopped, and within my head I pleaded to whatever gods that be to give me a sign, any sign, that things could get better. In the next second, my toes encountered something hard. I reached down and picked up the most beautiful perfect seashell. It was small, but it was there, and my heart suddenly felt hope again.
I’ve enjoyed this. I hope that you have as well.
More later. Peace.
Music by Colin Smith, “Organ in Your Chest”
The Words Under the Words
for Sitti Khadra, north of Jerusalem
My grandmother’s hands recognize grapes,
the damp shine of a goat’s new skin.
When I was sick they followed me,
I woke from the long fever to find them
covering my head like cool prayers.
My grandmother’s days are made of bread,
a round pat-pat and the slow baking.
She waits by the oven watching a strange car
circle the streets. Maybe it holds her son,
lost to America. More often, tourists,
who kneel and weep at mysterious shrines.
She knows how often mail arrives,
how rarely there is a letter.
When one comes, she announces it, a miracle,
listening to it read again and again
in the dim evening light.
My grandmother’s voice says nothing can surprise her.
Take her the shotgun wound and the crippled baby.
She knows the spaces we travel through,
the messages we cannot send—our voices are short
and would get lost on the journey.
Farewell to the husband’s coat,
the ones she has loved and nourished,
who fly from her like seeds into a deep sky.
They will plant themselves. We will all die.
My grandmother’s eyes say Allah is everywhere, even in death.
When she talks of the orchard and the new olive press,
when she tells the stories of Joha and his foolish wisdoms,
He is her first thought, what she really thinks of is His name.
“Answer, if you hear the words under the words—
otherwise it is just a world with a lot of rough edges,
difficult to get through, and our pockets full of stones.”
~ Naomi Shihab Nye