Q: mal de coucou
“I’d like to know something about ‘mal de coucou’. I think it means something like ‘pain of the cuckoo’ (?), but I don’t see the connection between these words and the definition you gave them. Could you explain this to me?” –waveringmind (ask me a question) …… Here’s the definition of mal de coucou: n. a phenomenon in which you have an active social life but...
n. the realization that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore—that although you thought you were following the arc of the story, you keep finding yourself immersed in passages you don’t understand, that don’t even seem to belong in the same genre—which requires you to go back and reread the chapters you had originally skimmed through to get to the good parts,...
n. frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone—spending the first few weeks chatting in their psychological entryway, with each subsequent conversation like entering a different anteroom, each a little closer to the center of the house—wishing instead that you could start there and work your way out, exchanging your deepest secrets first, before easing into casualness, until...
n. a kind of psychological exoskeleton that can protect you from pain and contain your anxieties, but always ends up cracking under pressure or hollowed out by time—and will keep growing back again and again, until you develop a more sophisticated emotional structure, held up by a strong and flexible spine, built less like a fortress than a cluster of treehouses.
n. the kind of unnoticed excellence that carries on around you every day, unremarkably—the hidden talents of friends and coworkers, the fleeting solos of subway buskers, the slapdash eloquence of anonymous users, the unseen portfolios of aspiring artists—which would be renowned as masterpieces if only they’d been appraised by the cartel of popular taste, who assume that brilliance is a rare and...
n. a moment that seemed innocuous at the time but ended up marking a diversion into a strange new era of your life—set in motion not by a series of jolting epiphanies but by tiny imperceptible differences between one ordinary day and the next, until entire years of your memory can be compressed into a handful of indelible images—which prevents you from rewinding the past, but allows you to move...
n. a moment of awareness that someone you’ve known for years still has a private and mysterious inner life, and somewhere in the hallways of their personality is a door locked from the inside, a stairway leading to a wing of the house that you’ve never fully explored—an unfinished attic that will remain maddeningly unknowable to you, because ultimately neither of you has a map, or a...
n. a conversation in which everyone is talking but nobody is listening, simply overlaying disconnected words like a game of Scrabble, with each player borrowing bits of other anecdotes as a way to increase their own score, until we all run out of things to say.
n. the sadness that you’ll never really know what other people think of you, whether good, bad or if at all—that although we reflect on each other with the sharpness of a mirror, the true picture of how we’re coming off somehow reaches us softened and distorted, as if each mirror was preoccupied with twisting around, desperately trying to look itself in the eye.
icharos asked: “I think you could make a living creating words to describe such deeply intimate sorrows. It would be like going to a doctor but instead of prescribing medication, you give the torment a name, and suddenly tangled emotions fall neatly into place and with that quiet word, you can breathe.” Beautiful idea, and my dream job. I think the act of naming something implies, very...
n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once,...
n. the sense that the future is arriving ahead of schedule, that all those years with fantastical names like ‘2013’ are bursting from their hypothetical cages into the arena of the present, furiously bucking the grip of your expectations while you lean and slip in your saddle, one hand reaching for reins, the other waving up high like a schoolkid who finally knows the answer to the...
n. the ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable—their pupils glittering, bottomless and opaque—as if you were peering through a hole in the door of a house, able to tell that there’s someone standing there, but unable to tell if you’re looking in or looking out.
n. a state of exhaustion inspired by acts of senseless violence, which force you to revise your image of what can happen in this world—mending the fences of your expectations, weeding out all unwelcome and invasive truths, cultivating the perennial good that’s buried under the surface, and propping yourself up like an old scarecrow, who’s bursting at the seams but powerless to do...
n. the frustration of knowing how easily you fit into a stereotype, even if you never intended to, even if it’s unfair, even if everyone else feels the same way—each of us trick-or-treating for money and respect and attention, wearing a safe and predictable costume because we’re tired of answering the question, “What are you supposed to be?”
n. the subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place, as maladapted to your surroundings as a seal on a beach—lumbering, clumsy, easily distracted, huddled in the company of other misfits, unable to recognize the ambient roar of your intended habitat, in which you’d be fluidly, brilliantly, effortlessly at home.
n. a conversational hint that you have something personal to say on the subject but don’t go any further—an emphatic nod, a half-told anecdote, an enigmatic ‘I know the feeling’—which you place into conversations like those little flags that warn diggers of something buried underground: maybe a cable that secretly powers your house, maybe a fiberoptic link to some foreign...
n. the bittersweetness of having arrived here in the future, where you can finally get the answers to how things turn out in the real world—who your baby sister would become, what your friends would end up doing, where your choices would lead you, exactly when you’d lose the people you took for granted—which is priceless intel that you instinctively want to share with anybody who hadn’t...
n. an image that somehow becomes lodged deep in your brain—maybe washed there by a dream, or smuggled inside a book, or planted during a casual conversation—which then grows into a wild and impractical vision that keeps scrambling back and forth in your head like a dog stuck in a car that’s about to arrive home, just itching for a chance to leap headlong into reality.
mal de coucou
n. a phenomenon in which you have an active social life but very few close friends—people who you can trust, who you can be yourself with, who can help flush out the weird psychological toxins that tend to accumulate over time—which is a form of acute social malnutrition in which even if you devour an entire buffet of chitchat, you’ll still feel pangs of hunger.
n. the practice of answering a cellphone with a generic “Hello?” as if you didn’t already know exactly who was calling—which is a little like the egg requirement that marketers added to early cake mixes in the 1950s, an antiquated extra step that’s only there to reassure you that it’s an authentic homecooked meal, just like grandma used to make.
n. an imaginary interview with an old photo of yourself, an enigmatic figure who still lives in the grainy and color-warped house you grew up in, who may well spend a lot of their day wondering where you are and what you’re doing now, like an old grandma whose kids live far away and don’t call much anymore.
n. the glint of goodness inside people, which you can only find by sloshing them back and forth in your mind until everything dark and gray and common falls away, leaving behind a constellation at the bottom of the pan—a rare element trapped in exposed bedrock, washed there by a storm somewhere upstream.
n. a flash of real emotion glimpsed in someone sitting across the room, idly locked in the middle of some group conversation, their eyes glinting with vulnerability or quiet anticipation or cosmic boredom—as if you could see backstage through a gap in the curtains, watching stagehands holding their ropes at the ready, actors in costume mouthing their lines, fragments of bizarre sets waiting for...
n. the unsettling awareness of your own heartbeat, whose tenuous muscular throbbing feels less like a metronome than a nervous ditty your heart is tapping to itself, the kind that people compulsively hum or sing while walking in complete darkness, as if to casually remind the outside world, I’m here, I’m here, I’m here.
n. the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet—a school hallway in the evening, an unlit office on a weekend, vacant fairgrounds—an emotional afterimage that makes it seem not just empty but hyper-empty, with a total population in the negative, who are so conspicuously absent they glow like neon signs.
lucently asked: Hello! I would really love to know what the source is for the word Sonder. I fell in love with the definition and am heavily thinking of getting it tattooed. But the only source I can find for the word is your blog.
n. the inexplicable urge to push people away, even close friends who you really like—as if all your social tastebuds suddenly went numb, leaving you unable to distinguish cheap politeness from the taste of genuine affection, unable to recognize its rich and ambiguous flavors, its long and delicate maturation, or the simple fact that each tasting is double-blind.
the tilt shift
n. a phenomenon in which your lived experience seems oddly inconsequential once you put it down on paper, which turns an epic tragicomedy into a sequence of figures on a model train set, assembled in their tiny classrooms and workplaces, wandering along their own cautious and well-trodden paths—peaceable, generic and out of focus.
n. a hypothetical conversation that you compulsively play out in your head—a crisp analysis, a cathartic dialogue, a devastating comeback—which serves as a kind of psychological batting cage where you can connect more deeply with people than in the small ball of everyday life, which is a frustratingly cautious game of change-up pitches, sacrifice bunts, and intentional walks.
n. the surge of energy upon catching a glance from someone you like—a thrill that starts in your stomach, arcs up through your lungs and flashes into a spontaneous smile—which scrambles your ungrounded circuits and tempts you to chase that feeling with a kite and a key.
n. the desire to hold on to time as it passes, like trying to keep your grip on a rock in the middle of a river, feeling the weight of the current against your chest while your elders float on downstream, calling over the roar of the rapids, “Just let go—it’s okay—let go.”
n. the moment you realize that you’re currently happy—consciously trying to savor the feeling—which prompts your intellect to identify it, pick it apart and put it in context, where it will slowly dissolve until it’s little more than an aftertaste.
n. the amniotic tranquility of being indoors during a thunderstorm, listening to waves of rain pattering against the roof like an argument upstairs, whose muffled words are unintelligible but whose crackling release of built-up tension you understand perfectly.
n. a relationship or friendship that you can’t get out of your head, which you thought had faded long ago but is still somehow alive and unfinished, like an abandoned campsite whose smoldering embers still have the power to start a forest fire.
n. a state of exhaustion with how shitty people can be to each other, typically causing a countervailing sense of affection for things that are sincere but not judgmental, are unabashedly joyful, or just are.
n. the smallest measurable unit of human connection, typically exchanged between passing strangers—a flirtatious glance, a sympathetic nod, a shared laugh about some odd coincidence—moments that are fleeting and random but still contain powerful emotional nutrients that can alleviate the symptoms of feeling alone.
n. the disappointment of being unable to fly, unable to stretch out your arms and vault into the air, having finally shrugged off the ballast of your own weight and ignited the fuel tank of unfulfilled desires you’ve been storing up since before you were born.
n. a feeling of resonant connection with an author or artist you’ll never meet, who may have lived centuries ago and thousands of miles away but can still get inside your head and leave behind morsels of their experience, like the little piles of stones left by hikers that mark a hidden path through unfamiliar territory.
n. frustration that you’re not enjoying an experience as much as you should, even something you’ve worked for years to attain, which prompts you to plug in various thought combinations to try for anything more than static emotional blankness, as if your heart had been accidentally demagnetized by a surge of expectations.
n. the exhilarating dread of finally pursuing a lifelong dream, which requires you to put your true abilities out there to be tested on the open savannah, no longer protected inside the terrarium of hopes and delusions that you created in kindergarten and kept sealed as long as you could, only to break in case of emergency.
adj. entranced and unsettled by the vastness of the universe, experienced in a jolt of recognition that the night sky is not just a wallpaper but a deeply foreign ocean whose currents are steadily carrying off all other castaways, who share our predicament but are already well out of earshot—worlds and stars who would’ve been lost entirely except for the scrap of light they were able to...
n. the default expression that your face automatically reverts to when idle—amused, melancholic, pissed off—which occurs when a strong emotion gets buried and forgotten in the psychological laundry of everyday life, leaving you wearing an unintentional vibe of pink or blue or gray, or in rare cases, a tie-dye of sheer madness.
n. an innocuous touch by someone just doing their job—a barber, yoga instructor or friendly waitress—that you enjoy more than you’d like to admit, a feeling of connection so stupefyingly simple that it cheapens the power of the written word, so that by the year 2025, aspiring novelists would be better off just giving people a hug.
n. the temptation to step off your career track and become a shepherd in the mountains, following your flock between pastures with a sheepdog and a rifle, watching storms at dusk from the doorway of a small cabin, just the kind of hypnotic diversion that allows your thoughts to make a break for it and wander back to their cubicles in the city.
n. a kind of melancholic trance in which you become completely absorbed in vivid sensory details—raindrops skittering down a window, tall trees leaning in the wind, clouds of cream swirling in your coffee—which leads to a dawning awareness of the haunting fragility of life, a mood whose only known cure is the vuvuzela.
n. the age at which you become older than your parents were when you were born, which signals that your leg of the relay race has already begun, having coasted in their slipstream as they tackled the mountain stages of life, leaving you strong, energetic and deeply mortified by their loud yellow jerseys.
n. the dream versions of things in your life, which appear totally foreign but are still somehow yours—your anteschool, your antefriends, your antehome—all part of a parallel world whose gravitational pull raises your life’s emotional stakes, increasing the chances you’ll end up betting everything you have.
n. the moment a conversation becomes real and alive, which occurs when a spark of trust shorts out the delicate circuits you keep insulated under layers of irony, momentarily grounding the static emotional charge you’ve built up through decades of friction with the world.
adj. finding a person so attractive it actually kinda pisses you off.