So I found a new word the other day. I stumbled across it accidentally whilst trawling the internet for something else entirely, and was completely bewitched by it. I have a magpie like affinity for words and I like to hoard them like old stamps – collected and carefully pinned out for future reference. I love the fact that there is always a suitable word; no matter what the topic, object or situation. If you can’t think of one, it’s because you haven’t found it yet, not because it doesn’t exist. They are not always easy to find or remember, and sometimes they are in a completely different language; but they’re always there.
The English language is pretty handy for it though; it’s basically the thug of the language world. It waits on street corners and then takes other languages down back alley and rifles through their pockets for loose words. Our back catalogue is such a higgle-di-piggedly amalgamation of words we’ve begged, borrowed, or just plain bastardised, and you’ll struggle to find something who’s etymological root doesn’t start somewhere else in the world. We’re doing it even now – absorbing words like “hygge” (cosy and happy) and “lagom” (just the right amount) and slotting them seamlessly into our conversations as if we’ve always had them.
This particular word seemed to come just at the right time though and it’s lodged itself rather firmly in my psyche. It’s a welsh word, so perhaps I already feel a gentle affinity for it, and it perfectly crystallises a frame of mind that seems to be quite prevalent at the moment.
“Hiraeth – a longing for a home you can’t return to or never had”
Isn’t that just glorious? It’s so small and yet it evokes such vivid daydreams of lives you’ve never lived but wanted to, places you’ve never visited but imagined, times you’ve never experienced but feel like they might be where you truly belong. Especially at this time of year when things are just starting to bloom; delicate daffodils and sweet snowdrops are pushing their way up though dark dead earth, there seems to be a promise of something. For me, it’s the whisper of summer. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned, but winter is really the bane of my life. From an objective standpoint, I do understand the necessity (do you like the casual and patronising way I talk about it, as if I actually have any kind of say in the matter) and it’s true that without the opportunity for things to die back and rest, there can be no chance for new growth. I just really think it doesn’t need to be quite so looooonng. One, maybe two months tops should be sufficient, six is just taking the piss.
It does mean though that, in some twisted and definitely unhealthy strive to survive, I develop these long and complicated fantasies, full of desperate longing for summers that I’ve never actually experienced. It’s not as if previous summers I’ve had have ever been bad, but the ones I imagine are so much more involved – seeped in a kind of childish romanticism. You want an example? (TBH you’re getting one anyway, so tough if you answered no). I watched a film the other morning whilst wallowing in the bath called Call Me By Your Name. Whilst I can’t recommend it enough for its story (the blossoming of a relationship between 17 year old Elio and his father’s graduate student Oliver), acting (Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer are actually ridiculous) and cinematographic excellence, it was the timeless shots of Italian countryside that got me right in the feels. Artlessly crumbling villas drenched in sunlight and shadow, winding roads leading nowhere and bracketed by fields of gently wavering golden crops, effortlessly beautifully chaotically stacked tables in the garden laden with fresh fruit and coffee at dusk. I felt practically sick I was do jealous. I’ve only been to Italy on a school trip, but watching that, it was as if there was an ache behind my ribcage for something that I knew should be mine. I’m not meant to be sitting in a terrace house in the middle of England working in recruitment. I’m supposed to be living in a secluded chalet tending to my home grown peach orchard.
I’m not joking – I cannot recommend this film enough.
Admittedly, I’m rather easily swept up with this kind of daydreaming. Whilst it’s not like I’ll get bored of wanting the above, it can evolve rapidly into needing instead to live in the Greek countryside following in the footsteps of Gerald Durrell (who’s Corfu Trilogy is something that everyone should read at least once in their lives, if not annually like I do) or run away to Canada and become a Mountie like in Due South. What I love about reading or watching good show; the opportunity to become completely absorbed in some other world, is possibly also the biggest problem.
That’s the trouble with imagination I think – it’s so easy to become disillusioned with what you’ve got and obsessed with what you want. There is nothing wrong with wanting more, but it’s important to not do it at the expense of those things you already have. Being able to settle yourself and understand how lucky you are is a skill I think many should have but few ever manage to properly cultivate. With it being so easy nowadays to see how great other people have it, or how easily you can be tricked into believing someone’s supposed paradise by a well filtered photo, it can be difficult to appreciate the luxuries and joys you have.
I often think memory offers the same kind of temptation as social media and fiction, or at least it does for me. Things always seem very cut and dry in my rose tinted memories. Sure there are some rather upsetting or embarrassing events that I’m pretty sure I blow out of proportion, but the ability to warp definitely goes both ways. I’ve got memories of things I’ve done that practically glow with ethereal light hum with angelic choirs. My time at Glastonbury is a pretty solid example of this. Now, I know that I spent those five days stuck in a paradox of hysteria and almost debilitating anxiety (you can practically see the terror in my eyes – I don’t do well with new things), but all I can ever remember is how great it was. The sunburn, the terror of having to interact with so many strangers, the lack of showers, food, sleep or anything other than red bull and vodka fades away every time I think about it and all I can do is gush about how fabulous it was. And it was, but not in the all encompassing way I glamorise. I would go again in a heartbeat, but would I be sensible enough this time round to realise that most of the things that were bad the first time will be just as bad the second time? I mean, dancing in the rain at 3 in the morning to the Proclaimers might sound like a great thing (which it definitely was) but nobody remembers the almost soul destroying 4 hour drive home in a car full of annoyingly pretty and definitely judgemental strangers whilst wearing clothes so wet that my knickers had to be tumble-dried twice.
I’m actually reading a book at the moment (I am just too topical) where the titular character has a perfect memory. As in perfect. He remembers every single thing; every sight, sound, feeling and conversation he’s every had in stark clarity, and it’s startlingly heart-breaking. There’s a unavoidable philosophical thread that runs throughout the book, questioning if such a talent is a curse or a gift. Is it better to be able to remember something perfectly, without sugar-coating or warping it, or is it better to have imperfect recollections and the freedom to remember something differently each time? Perhaps it’s safer to be able to forget something terrible and not have to relive it in painful detail, but does it outweigh the ability to truthfully remember the best moments of your life?
It’s an obviously hypothetical debate, as I’m about 97% that such a memory doesn’t exist, but it has led me to ponder a lot on the bus in the mornings on the way to work. Would I prefer to remember my previous summers accurately and reveal in the reality of them, or to continue to get lost in my fantastical imaginings and try to combat the heartache of knowing they’re impossibly untrue?
“Nostalgia is a dirty liar that insists things were better than they seemed”
Michelle K., I Can’t Stop Questioning It.