Even though I have a stack of books from the Book Fair that I want to read, I am slowly making my way through Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. I am doing it slowly on purpose; I don't want it to finish. I love his writing. It is smart and funny and creative and exactly the kind of writing I wish I could produce. I said this to a writing friend and she said- no Jeffrey Eugenides must write as Jeffrey Eugenides and Lauri Kubuitsile must write like Lauri Kubuitsile. And I guess that is the case, sadly, but then of course the next question is- how does Lauri Kubuitsile write? I know her and I don't know. She's a bit of a chameleon if you ask me; she can't be trusted.
Anyway this is not why I started this post. The reason I started this post was thoughts that have been inspired by something in Middlesex. He says that it's obvious language was created by men because there are so few words for emotions. We all know that the Eskimos have a bazillion words for different kinds of snow, because snow is an important part of their lives. But us, in English at least, have only a handful of words for emotions; which may be a commentary on the emotional maturity of English speakers- but I'd rather not go into that now.
If we're sad we can be distressed, tormented, melancholy, unhappy, doleful, inconsolable- but what is the word for the particular sadness you feel when you just discovered the tyre on your car is flat. There should be a word for that mixture of anger, sadness, frustration and just plain bad luck .
Or what about happiness. You might be contented or joyful, enchanted, or even exhilarated. But what is the word for the happiness you feel on a hot summer day, with not a single cloud in the sky, and you've just been handed a chocolate ice cream cone. There's joy, of course, but also anticipation, relief, some nostalgia for past cones, and even a little bit of sadness as you know it will all be over in such a short bit of time. There should be a word for that feeling.
Our thoughts and our writing are housed within the box of the language that we choose to write in. I'm limited and can't quite be sure about this since I speak only English fluently enough to write in it , but I think that this may be the problem in being forced to write in a language that is not your mother tongue. I mean how would an Eskimo write a story without her bazillion words for snow? It would become paralyzingly frustrating to pick from the limited list English has on offer.
Thanks to Mr. Eugenides I'm wondering about all the ways that English, or any language for that matter, keeps us from being able to describe all of the things we must. It means in almost all cases we never get it quite right, we actually never can because there are just not enough words at our disposal. Then too, that space between what we want to say and what we can, is the place in which our readers write their own stories from the ones that we've provided for them. Perhaps that is a bit of the magic of reading and the wonderful interaction between the writer and the reader. So maybe it's not as bad as it seems after all.