according to the curious hermaphroditic narrator of one of my favorite novels,
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 traincar 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 brough 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 “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 haven’t written publicly these past few months because I had no words to describe my (at times harrowing) emotional journey, until I realized that we will never have the right words, in any tongue. they don’t exist. like Calliope above, I’ve been grasping at straws for language to validate my experience, but I keep coming up short. and did I just mix my idioms?
I needed a word for the silent dread as my father endured hours of surgery, and one for the disappointment of dropping an earring in the toilet. words for the disgusting shame that lingers on my fingers after smoking an entire pack of Parliaments, and the instantaneous comfort of smelling my own apartment after a long trip. and one for the intense, foundation-shaking fear as I roll over in bed and truly try to understand, for the first time as a real adult, my own sexuality. and for the nostalgic anticipation of a champagne cork’s POP! (every bottle of bubbly momentarily transports me back to New Year’s Eve, 1992.) and most especially, the imagined surface tension of my skin when I’m physically overwhelmed with creativity, but have no outlet because I’m too stuck– or maybe proud is more accurate– to pick up a pen, or a flute.
our words will always inch ever so closely to the true emotions they represent without ever quite reaching them completely, like mathematical hyperbolas shooting off the page, barely skimming their perfect asymptotes for eternity. but for all its frustrating shortcomings, Language is achingly beautiful and impossible for us to resist. even its failures conjure epic tales, stir our hearts, and overflow library shelves. I have to keep trying, and failing, and trying.
so I write.