Saturday, January 10, 2015


It's shortly after midnight, and you're lying in bed. Frozen. An immense, paralyzing, invisible weight is pushing you down. Some kind of unseen spirit is apparently having its way with your limbs. Denying you moblity. Not allowing your legs or your arms to reach out or touch down. Scary shit.

Has this actually happened to you at any point in your life?  I'm guessing no. Not to that extent, anyways. In Japan, however, it's apparently a common enough occurence that there's an actual, honest-to-God word for the situation, what they call "kanashibari."

Which leads me to ask: Which comes first, the experience or the word? If a language doesn't have a name for the emotion or action, can the real thing even be said to exist? What we can do if we can't say what we've done?

Another example: The word 'natsukashii' in Japanese referrs to seeing or hearing or encountering something that reminds you of the past, which is essentially in English what we call 'nostalgia'. That word, the English word, is not something we pull out every time we see or smell something new that reminds us of something old. You don't often hear people mutter: "Wow, this makes me feel nostalgic." Yes, we might sometimes say "This reminds me of..." or "I remember when..." at a memory that's suddenly been nudged into place, but these are kind of clumsy phrases that lack any class. 'Natsukashii', however, is commonly used in Japanese conversation, and, because this is so, does this mean that people are more finely tuned in to their own vanished past? Because they can access this rather ordinary word whenever a nostalgic feeling bubbles up, does it thus allow them to become more sensitized to surroundings that might link them to yesteryear?

As new words creep into English, their persistent usage also often bleeds over into physical states. Think of all the Internet-related vocabulary that's popped up here and there in the last fifteen years. I'm talking about 'surfing the web' and 'browser', 'website' and 'blog', 'link' and 'clickbait', that last word especially a fond one of mine. 'Clickbait' always reminds me of 'jailbait', which in itself is a hell of an odd term to explain. There's something midly illicit and tempting about 'clickbait', a clever resonance in one's mind that tends to mimic the virtual rush that one feels when clicking on a link to a site that one feels might be of note. (Or even just fun.) All of this web-connected vocabulary did not exist when I was a teen. Now, quite obviously, it does, and it's here, and it's real, and beause I can access these terms they solidify concepts in my head that my mind can then use. They refer to actual things that have real weight in the world. Nothing theoretical to be found.

Yet it's somewhat easy, even harmless, to find cool real-life aspects of words that lack emotional punch; genuine, almost-shitting-your-pants emotions can result in psychic gaps. Another Japanese word, 'hazukashii', might must make my case. The dictionary defines its English counterparts as 'embarrassed', 'shy' or 'ashamed'. Think about that for a second. 'Shy' is quite a different level of inverted beast than 'embarrassed', which is light-years lower on the negative-emotional spectrum than 'ashamed', but one word in Japanese is suitable for all these concepts. This is quite common in the Japanese language; there are single adjectives such as this one whose specturm of meaning is considerably wider and denser than their English cousins.

What's the implication? I'm spitballing here, but because this Japanese word, 'hazukashii', pretty much contains a spectrum of feelings whose intensity varies, does this mean that a Japanese person's emotions are necessarily denser and deeper when that word is employed? If a kid's zipper on his jeans is down in class, and I point it out to him, and he mutters 'hazukashii', does the inbuilt intensity of his emotions greatly outrange what a Western student's own feelings might encompass? After all, the Japanese boy only has one commonly-used word to search for to express his discomfort, and at its base it embodies varying different levels of shame. 'Hazukashii', a word that runs the gamut from 'embarrassed' to 'ashamed', thus seems to trigger depths of emotion that allow its user to indulge in its most negative slant.

(Oh, and on a tangent, is there a new phrase I hate more than that of 'trigger warning'? Designed to warn people reading a novel or magazine article of sensitive material to come that might shatter fragile minds, it seems more akin to a parent covering their child's eyes when a love scene comes on the screen. If you're old enough to be reading a magazine article or a novel of note, you should acknowledge that not everything in life goes down as sweet as Country Time Lemonade. Such a usage, for me, seems to imply that adults need to be vigilantly on guard against anything that might slightly disturb their thin mental space. God forbid that we should have to deal with unpleasant aspects of our past or present. Such a disclaimer reduces us all to pre-adolescents who demand constant supervision. And, related to this topic, I fear that the steadily-prevalent employment of this lame fucking phrase will find a conduit into life, make its users more emotional and meek, less willing to engage in themselves or their troubles, or even life's unexpected stimulation.)

It's easy to talk about computer-vocabulary or common human emotions, but I keep thinking back to the beginning of thos post, to the possible-you paralyzed in your bed, and I'm probably contradicting my 'trigger-warning' rant, but what do you want from me -- words drive me mad, they have such flimsy ways. You see, I'm thinking 'kanashibari, and wondering if the Japanese had this experience much more often in the past, which is why that word exists? Or did the word come into being after only isolated cases, which then gave permission for people to manifest its symptoms as part of their own illnesses?

I don't know, and it's obviously a chicken-or-the-egg kind of deal, but there's another layer here that frankly makes me uneasy. This notion that there are aspects of the human brainstem that are so susceptible to mere words. That we might incorporate their meaning into our lives, our night-lives in particular. That we might brood on their implications, and mutely watch as they quickly come to life.

And I say all pf this because there are numerous emotions I feel that have yet to be named, those two-in-the-morning stirrings in the head that border on the wavy brink between death's border with life. Often we'll feel daytime moments of bliss that feel nothing less than unique, almost intoxicating, and English doesn't always do justice to that short spurt of glee, but the darker stuff also dwells down in rooms we can't find, usually in hidden locked doors that patiently wait for our keys.

Maybe we should stop while we're ahead, in terms of naming anxieties that seem to drift through our night-selves. All this linguistic-comparing and coining of funky new terms is, to be sure, such great mental fun, but goddamn, humans quite often don't handle this stuff with the care that it deserves.

You see, some Japanese man or woman tonight will awake in the a.m. from the fiercest of dreams. Nightmares no more, but suddenly realizing that they are immobile. Immediately their mind will revert (or retreat) to that word 'kanashibari'. All of its symptoms will flash through their head. They will choose to believe they are held hostage to that word.

If I could, I would sneak into that room, and mind-meld with their temple the way Mr.Spock does, then erase that sneaky word right the hell out of their brain. I don't know if this would work. I'm not sure if that distraught soul would still just lay there in great fright. I can't be certain that we dictate what words do, or if they use us for their whims. Yet I'm willing to leave some things unnamed, to let certain doors remain locked, and I'd gladly etch-a-sketch 'kanashibari' right out of existence, and all the other bad words from your head, even just for one night. 'Use it or lose it', they say, and I'd like to test that one out.