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 to get to the good parts, only to learn that all along you were supposed to choose your own adventure.
n. the desire to be struck by disaster—to survive a plane crash, to lose everything in a fire, to plunge over a waterfall—which would put a kink in the smooth arc of your life, and forge it into something hardened and flexible and sharp, not just a stiff prefabricated beam that barely covers the gap between one end of your life and the other.
n. the desire to care less about things—to loosen your grip on your life, to stop glancing behind you every few steps, afraid that someone will snatch it from you before you reach the end zone—rather to hold your life loosely and playfully, like a volleyball, keeping it in the air, with only quick fleeting interventions, bouncing freely in the hands of trusted friends, always in play.
n. the frustration of photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist—the same sunset, the same waterfall, the same curve of a hip, the same closeup of an eye—which can turn a unique subject into something hollow and pulpy and cheap, like a mass-produced piece of furniture you happen to have assembled yourself.
n. the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time—filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured.
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.
Kairosclerosis is from the Greek: kairos, “the opportune moment” + sclerosis, “hardening.” The Ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. Chronos is quantitative and linear—the ticking of the Western clock. Kairos is more qualitative, referring to moments that are indeterminate and sublime, when something special happens, when god speaks or the wind shifts, when a door is left open between one minute and the next.
This definition is why I ain’t writing The Dictionary of Obscure Pleasures. In my experience, moments of joy tend to die on the examination table. Kurt Vonnegut liked to say, “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” I think the opposite is true. Notice when you’re sad, and dive in and wallow and examine it and pick it apart with forceps and calipers. The sadness will lose its vitality and harden over time into something benign and foreign, like an emotional fossil.
For more sadness fossils, read The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. For more etymologies with my commentary, go here.