Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Past, the House of Skype, Chinese Etymology, and the Hudson Valley

You turn increasingly to the past, as you age, because it's your own: as the witnesses drop away, it becomes more and more your private preserve. Fewer and fewer people can dispute your version of it. Or care to.

Of course, the more exclusively yours that country becomes, the lonelier it becomes. Nobody new can really go there with you, however polite and obliging they may be.

No. I'm not going to linger in the past. Not a winning game.

It is terribly frustrating, not being able to express myself in the spoken word. I hate it. I'm so stupid. I was on the phone with a stranger, discussing poems, and in fifteen minutes I couldn't express a single sophisticated thought. Approximations, little grunts of approval or disapproval, a tiny tiny repertoire of sentences and phrases. I drop to the level of a kindergartner. What is that?

A plague on the house of Skype. I hate them. Destroying the world in which I can communicate, in which I'm fluent, even.

Oh well. It was a nice moment. I'm glad I was here for it.

Chinese, of all languages, must teem with false etymologies. Every time you write a new word down, you have to guess at its etymology, by choosing among the hundreds of written characters that can represent those syllables. So you'll pick something plausible, and almost certainly wrong, and at once a new semantic history is grafted onto the word. I can't imagine how historical linguists try to do their stuff, with Chinese. Every literate Chinese for thirty centuries has been industriously laying false trails for them.

There comes a moment, when you've left New Haven, and you've been driving west a few hours -- driving through the rolling bumps of New England: little hillocks, which the natives inexplicably call "mountains," and which are every bit as claustrophobia-inducing as the buildings of the cities, because they're all about the same size, and you can never get up, never get your head above the water and get a look at the lay of the land -- there comes a moment when you come up to a ridge over the Hudson Valley, and you can see the great river spread out below you. A vista. And your heart leaps up, because suddenly, suddenly you think it might really be possible that somewhere there is still open country, wild land, places nobody owns or fences. Maybe Oregon is still there. Maybe you can go home.

No comments: