When I was a child I was obsessed with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. While other girls put on pretty dresses and practiced singing into their hairbrush I wore my favourite TMNT t-shirt and practiced wielding nunchucks in front of the mirror. I had a huge crush on Raphael (the red one) because, let’s face it, who didn’t? Who knew that my love of a ripped cartoon turtle would transport me to the beaches of Greece and lead to falling in love with real, live Loggerhead sea turtles. I recently reached yet another crossroads in my life – my London job was coming to a staggering halt and I was faced with the prospect of rejoining the conveyer belt of modern day job hunters or going back home to Australia. I could hear the voice of reason, a heavily Russian accented woman wearing an apron and waving a wooden spoon, telling me to get over my post-modern crisis and get a job. Then there was the voice of my housemate Paul wistfully recalling the time he volunteered for Archelon – The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece. Sorry mum, I’m going to take a break from “sorting my life out” and no I won’t “settle down”. I’m going to save turtles in Greece instead. I boxed up my stuff, moved out of my London share house and flew to Zakynthos Island where I pitched a tent, took a freezing cold shower and tried to sleep through the incessant sounds of cicadas, barking dogs and crowing roosters.
When I was about seven years old, I had a neighbour named Jemima who used to spend a lot of time at my house. She had strawberry blonde hair and her two biggest loves were marshmallows and Tinkerbell. I remember the latter so clearly because we would spend hours siphoning flour (magic fairy dust) onto our heads and jumping off the arm of the couch in an attempt to fly. One day she was straining so hard to think happy thoughts she crapped her pants and had to go home early in a fit of tears. A few years ago I looked her up on Facebook. She was still living at home with a pimply boyfriend she’d had since she was 16 and working at Bunnings Warehouse to pay for her World of Warcraft habit. What happened to the girl who believed so much in magic and in her ability to fly that she actually shit herself?
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood…”
There’s something incredibly satisfying about rattling off all the places you’ve travelled to. Every new destination earns a new glossy red pin on the map until it is scattered with chicken pox. But a moment of pride and satisfaction is replaced by frustration as you take a step back and absorb the rest of the map, all the places that are unpinned and naked without one. All the places you haven’t seen and maybe never will.
While this is actually an Italian word none of us are immune to revisiting old stomping grounds. The only thing keeping me from falling into the arms of an old flame is the setting on my Iphone that prompts it to explode if I drunk dial the number of an ex boyfriend. When that fails (I’m on phone number 4) I have a mantra I recite at my weakest moments – “you are a strong, confident woman and if you give in to your impulses a murder of crows will swoop down on your house and steal all of your Tiffany jewellery. And then poke your eyes out for good measure.” It’s a mouthful, but believe me, it’s like a condom for the soul. It’s disappointing that we don’t have a word for this in English but I guess we’re too proper to admit to such reckless folly (“you went back to him again?”) The Italians can smile knowingly over a bowl of spaghetti (“si, es Cavoli Riscaldati“) while we clumsily string words together in attempt to articulate the same experience.
Do you remember when you were a kid dressing up as Peter Pan and assuring all your new found ‘Lost Boys’ that this was Neverland and none of you would ever grow up? You struck metal with your imaginary swords and ran through the streets caw cawing at the top of your lungs and promised each other you would be friends forever.
Kids have no inhibitions, they approach life whole heartedly and people without ambivalence. Their language is different to ours. It isn’t chipped with sarcasm or hardened with layers of meaning. To ‘play’ really means to play. They see things differently. Where we see an empty cardboard box they see a spaceship, what is seemingly an empty room is actually a portal into a world under the sea. They build secret hideaways and fortresses through the power of their shared imagination. Everything they touch turns into something magical that transports them far away to a place that grown ups can’t access. Within minutes of meeting this other kid they have already embarked on more adventures than they ever will for the entirety of their adult life.
Earlier this year, there was an article in the New York Times titled ‘To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This’. It was based on a study that indicated that intimacy between two strangers can be accelerated by asking a series of 36 specific questions. In other words, literally, to fall in love with anyone – do this!
So, in the name of research, I wrangled my friend into completing the above exercise with me. Unfortunately, none of my male friends were game (pussies) so I targeted my female housemate instead. Granted, we have lived together for two years and, until then, I would have said that we knew each other pretty well. Quickly, you discover that most of what you know about your friends is of the superficial variety. All those cumulative hours of bathroom banter and making fun of all the characters in ‘Made in Chelsea’ and drinking into the wee hours of the morning. They only crack the surface of our understanding of the people around us, even the ones whom we share a fridge with.
I only learnt this word recently and have been dunandunating all over the place ever since. Case in point. The reason I’d never heard of it before is because it was rejected by the Oxford English Dictionary and permanently resides in a secret vault deemed as ‘non-words’ for every day activities. I feel the need to present an argument for why this word and other ‘non-words’ are relevant and should be released from their lexical prison. Most of the words I use in this blog deliberately invoke a sense of ‘melancholy’ and as such I can’t help but try and worm the word ‘melancholy’ in between sentences like a Spaniard might sneak jamon into a sandwich. My housemates have set up a word jar in our house. It’s like a swear jar except I have to deposit a pound into it every time I use words synonymous with ‘melancholy’ or ‘lament’ or ‘obscure’. Similarly, I have learnt many new words since starting this project and find myself actually steering conversations in a particular direction whereby I can casually drop one of my newly learnt words. Like casting a line into a river of fish, I’m always at the ready to reel people in with my charming wordplay. Sure enough, thirty minutes and twelve death stares from my housemates later I find myself £12 poorer. So how can dunandunate not apply to my life when the very root of it is robbing me blind?
How many times have you told someone a hilarious anecdote that fell flat and left you having to quickly follow it up with an “oh, I guess you had to be there.” People who have lived and travelled abroad will understand the frustrating experience of exulansis. We live abroad for various reasons – adventure, escape, work, a journey to ‘find ourselves’ . When we return we’re buzzing with a kind of confidence, a glowing sense of achievement and a burning desire to share this feeling with our loved ones. The words have been bubbling beneath the surface, always threatening to overflow with the force of a pending storm. Suddenly, they evaporate as quickly as they appeared. Where do you begin? What do people really want to hear? How do you describe a chain of experiences that impacted you in a significant way for, sometimes, no particular reason at all? Instead we summarise our trip in three sentences and spend the coming weeks reciting them over and over until the words become stale and tasteless on our tongues. We let the finer details fall to the wayside like we might let a sock fall into the back of the couch. We store the photographs on our computers, safeguard our journals and surrender to our new routines. Eventually, even the memory of our experiences become displaced like they happened to someone else or in another lifetime.
I often wonder how much life is just a chain of sensory experiences that we have contextualised and intellectualised to a mulch. A good amount of how we interact with the world and each other is an interpretation of sensory cues. A look, a smell, a touch – such simple experiences producing a profound ripple effect on the receiving end. How many times do you hear a particular song and it has an immediate effect on your mood – it can lift your spirit just as quickly as it can send someone else into a crippling spiral. Certain smells can retrieve memories we had thought we had forgotten, like the scent of mum’s coffee brewing or an old boyfriend’s cologne. Someone’s gentle touch can at one time feel loving and generous and other times cold and annoying.
This word strikes a niggling chord in me. As much time as I spend scribbling away in notebooks and tapping away on keyboards I shy away from the label of ‘writer’. Surely, to be a writer you have to actually finish something? I’m nefarious for journeying through life without course or direction. I’ve held multiple jobs across numerous fields in a handful of different countries. I’m the one you might invite to tinker with the kitchen sink when it’s broken but weeks later you’ll find it’s still leaking. Jack of all trades – Master of none. I know I’m not alone, I’m a product of my generation – lost, confused, spoiled for choice. We were brought up believing that we could do anything. You want to be a superstar? Release a YouTube video. You want to be a writer? Start a blog. Now, I’m trying to stay afloat in a sea of aspirational writers all peddling their legs to churn milk into butter. Just the thought of having to finish this blog post makes me break out in a sweat. How am I supposed to carve the course of my life if I can’t even resolve the outcome of my fictional characters?