The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

Aug 02

Q: On the awareness that you’re happy

"What was the term for consciously being aware that you’re happy and therefor becoming unhappy?” –Anonymous

kairosclerosis

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.

Jun 06

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Jun 01

Rückkehrunruhe

n. the feeling of returning home after an immersive trip only to find it fading rapidly from your awareness—to the extent you have to keep reminding yourself that it happened at all, even though it felt so vivid just days ago—which makes you wish you could smoothly cross-dissolve back into everyday life, or just hold the shutter open indefinitely and let one scene become superimposed on the next, so all your days would run together and you’d never have to call cut.

May 29

nighthawk

n. a recurring thought that only seems to strike you late at night—an overdue task, a nagging guilt, a looming and shapeless future—that circles high overhead during the day, that pecks at the back of your mind while you try to sleep, that you can successfully ignore for weeks, only to feel its presence hovering outside the window, waiting for you to finish your coffee, passing the time by quietly building a nest.

May 09

dead reckoning

n. to find yourself bothered by someone’s death more than you would have expected, as if you assumed they would always be part of the landscape, like a lighthouse you could pass by for years until the night it suddenly goes dark, leaving you with one less landmark to navigate by—still able to find your bearings, but feeling all that much more adrift.

May 07

pâro

n. the feeling that no matter what you do is always somehow wrong—that any attempt to make your way comfortably through the world will only end up crossing some invisible taboo—as if there’s some obvious way forward that everybody else can see but you, each of them leaning back in their chair and calling out helpfully, colder, colder, colder.

May 04

Gnossienne #3by reader Karin Josephine

gnossienne - 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 master key, or any way of knowing exactly where you stand.
–The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

Gnossienne #3
by reader Karin Josephine

gnossienne - 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 master key, or any way of knowing exactly where you stand.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows