I am very much in favour of using my own words to describe my own experiences; I have this belief, supportable or not, that the more widely a catchy phrase is adopted, the less meaning it comes to hold until it’s eventually just a mess of sounds unrelated to anything recognizable. Some such commonplaces (e.g., “It is what it is.”) never hold meaning to begin with, depending on who you ask. (I personally don’t hate “It is what is is” but I also don’t use it much. If you talk to me about leveraging just about anything, however, I will probably start cracking my verbal knuckles in a vaguely threatening manner.)
(Of course, there is only so far into verbal originality a person can go before becoming incomprehensible, as anyone who’s tried to read Melville’s Pierre knows. Language is, at its best, a thing that unites us in community at the same time that it gives each of us space to be completely ourselves. Maybe just about any human endeavour at its best does this.)
One of the stock phrases I hate most is “the exception that proves the rule;” I don’t think that’s either good language usage or good math. Now, allow me to contradict myself twice in super-fast succession: first, I took the title of this post, about not drowning silently, from my husband and I don’t know if he came up with it himself or got it from someone else.
2) More importantly, one of my favourite ways to sum up my aversion to quoting others when discussing myself is to bust out Emerson’s “The Sphinx must solve her own riddle,” because fuck, it’s just so perfect, succinct, and elegant. (Unlike me. Ejemplo: Many years ago, I was swearing my head off, as one does in regular conversation if one is from the east coast, when my dad informed me that this is not how ladies speak. I said something to the effect of, “I’m not a lady, I’m a woman; and if you call me that again I’ll tear your fuckin’ face off.”)
Spicy indeed; also, the roiling energy of youth. Now, I would be much more likely to invite anyone chastising me to speak more like a lady to check their benevolent paternalism so we could get on with our conversation like grown-ups. COVID-19 has snapped me out of a 2-year writing silence and I am grateful for this; I am doing everything I can not just to survive my shrinking world but to actively enjoy it; but as you can see, I am not interested in peppering my revived writerly inclinations with false politeness.
Indeed, I don’t think I will be able to refrain from cussing like a bastard for the foreseeable future. Late yesterday, I found out that Ontario’s new rules about non-essential businesses/services mean I can’t see my chiropractor unless it’s an emergency (and neither of us has the virus or are in isolation for it). I see my chiropractor every 2-3 weeks, and daily do all the exercises and stretches he gives me, precisely so there won’t be any emergencies.
This has knocked me down pretty hard; I woke up terrified this morning. Maybe it’ll just take me a little longer to get back to being my usual happy, often gormless, hilarious self but I’m not okay with this yet at all. Not at fucking all. Not drowning silently is key; like the real majority of humans, my desperation is loud as hell (It just occurred to me that the phrase “hot mess” to describe freaking out is so overused because it makes intuitive, ugly, untempered sense to most people; fantastic; but I still prefer c.f.).
Then today, Toronto announced it’s closing all its public parks because people are using them to hold huddle orgies. Shelter in place orders can only be a matter of time as our confirmed virus numbers go up every day. All this to say, Rumi (via 800 years and perhaps questionable translation) had it right when he said (something hopefully to the effect of) “Look as long as you can at the friend you love, no matter whether that friend is moving away from you or coming back toward you.” I kept this close when my beloved N. and family moved to B.C.
I also understand, more clearly every day, that the whole damn world is a friend I love and this virus is making it move away from me. I want all of it: all of you, all the trees and beasties, the concrete and dirt and unhealthy air, the impatience and crowding and stink-eye, the complete fucking catastrophe (to paraphrase Zorba).
I don’t know how else to make this bonkers situation work except to embrace the microcosm (and ride the stationary bike we ordered once it arrives) if I’m not to go insane. My microcosm currently includes: my home and my husband and our catties, whatever wildish beasties visit my deck and roof, the birds that conduct their strange arguments and negotiations outside my office window, the sky and the sun and clouds, learning to juggle as well as starting to learn to play the ukulele my father made me, the noise pollution and messed up weather, my thousands of books, all of it. I need to live a big life in little to try to keep my brain and heart from shrinking.
And, of course, the internet. How fucked would we all be without that now? Besides skittery Zoom meetings, there are many lovely things here alongside all the shit; now is the time to focus on that awesomeness. Here are some of my favourite things today:
- Nagata Shachu is the troupe I get my (currently paused) lessons from. They just posted video of one of their recent concerts, HIBIKI, and I highly recommend watching it, on a large screen if possible. Yes, that is me in the audience whistling very loudly in approbation.
- My beloved N. sent me this video of opera singer Teiya Kasahara serenading her neighbourhood with Ave Maria and I cried and also fell in love. Kasahara has uploaded more videos since this first one.
- All the people on LinkedIn trying to help each other find work as COVID-19 destroys all the jobs.
I’ll end this piece as I began it, with a quotation. As Abe Lincoln said*, “Be excellent to each other.”
*This might not be true.