The online Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows (dictionaryofobscuresorrows) compiled by John Koenig, aims to ‘harpoon, bag and tag wild sorrows, then release them gently back into the subconscious.’ John’s delicious list of words and their sublime meanings startled me into thinking about pleasures and sorrows, obscure and otherwise.
I would like to live in a perfectly punctuated reading world, for instance, where people did not have an obscure urge to place random CAPITALS and commas, in the middle of a sentence that does not require apostrophe’s. I do not have a word for this but am able to describe the feeling it provokes. It makes me want to turn my eyelids inside out and say OUCH! A writing tutor said once that the only acceptable place for an exclamation mark in a piece of writing was after the word ouch.
Other obscure sorrows in my life are associated with feelings of inadequacy. Could I have been a better daughter, sister, mother, wife, aunt, cousin, friend? I don’t have to question if I could be a better writer. I already know the answer to that. Yes. It’s odd how the jobs I’ve held – tutor, kitchen-hand, baker, pen-seller, baby-sitter, cleaner, lecturer – all real, necessary and urgent at different stages; don’t impact on the subconscious in the same way as a remembered smile, or a moment in sunlight, or an overgrown garden or a closed door.
Birthdays are times for reflection, I suppose, especially when you realise there are more years behind you than ahead. I had a birthday recently and my husband and I talked (among other things) of the people who would come to our funerals. This isn’t as morbid as it sounds – he has a wonderful eye for faces but cannot remember names, so I think his concern was that if I shuffled off this mortal coil before he did, he would not know the names of most of my friends. The talk then turned to gender and friendship – do women have more friends than men? Are women more able to sustain friendship over decades even if they don’t meet regularly? How can we blame Facebook for putting us in touch with people we would never have tracked down if they didn’t have an electronic presence? How do we know so many/so few people and why are they in our lives? How is it that we can be in a popular restaurant in our home city and not know anyone, yet find a neighbour in an obscure city on the other side of the world? A moment that John Koenig has a word for – sonder – n. the realisation that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.
I couldn’t finish this post without mentioning the obscure sorrow of the reading/writing life – the “bookstores filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each … like an old room the author abandoned years ago … vellichor – n.” The more I read, the more I need to read. The more I write, the less I know. Hurtling towards the end of the year and my last precious months of writing on a scholarship, I know what needs to be done. What I want though, is for magic to happen – for the door to open, for sunlight to shift, for surrender, for resistance, for proof that this disordered, wild mind of mine is capable of translating an idea of revolution and displacement and abandonment into a tangible, physical flat object – a thesis.