O trudomyslnosti: A (not so) short word of condolence to a missing translation
April 1st, 2020 back to homepage
As I said, I was reading one of Kundera’s books, and I did so in the English translation, because this was one of the works he wrote in French after emigrating from the totalitarian regime in Czechoslovakia anyways, and in this book he described a Czech word for which he could not find any translation or synonym in any other of the languages he spoke. I forgot what it was and I did not manage to look it up with my causal search through the internet, and so maybe it was the same word that has been bothering my restless mind for a few days, and maybe it was some other one, but I would surely not be surprised if we had encountered the same issue with this little rebel of linguistics. (Let’s all now put our hands up in the air and try to ignore my effort to shamelessly relate myself - someone not shying away from using lackluster expressions such as "little rebel" - and my thought processes to someone as spectacular as Kundera, yes?)
Given a task to describe my most evident self-perceived characteristic (nobody gave me that task, I just like doing this kind of nasty stuff to myself), I would have to go for being melancholic, that is if we work with the definitions in a dictionary, but I've been quite unhappy with the solution (again, nobody cares, but I sure like spending hours meditating over a meaning of a word), because it just somehow did not sit quite right. There is a word for what I mean in Czech, and yes, of course it exists in that language, because if a word can describe a nation’s mentality, this would be one of our top ten, and that word is trudomyslnost. It is made up of two words, trudny and mysl, meaning hard, or hardship and mind. Mind of hardship, heavy mind, no, no, please feel my struggle over here.
I was born a poster child for trudomyslnost, a compulsive melancholiac.
I wanted to open this new paragraph with this sentence, because ‘By the means of the hardly predictable or definable ratio between my inborn characteristics, upbringing and the formative events that happened in my childhood and adolescence, I have found myself to be a wistful adult, longing for the lives I don’t get to live, at any given moment when left alone to my own thoughts’ just does not have the right ring to it.
It took me some years to define what the dejection I feel sometimes is, and I am still not very confident in how to describe it to you, but maybe you could imagine a child standing on their toes, pressing their noses and fingers - still sticky with remains of the strawberry jelly from the lunchbox sandwich - against the protective glass of a museum vitrine, eager to not only see what’s inside, but with the almost instinctive need to try to poke it cautiously with a tip of their index finger, grasp it firmly in their fist, explore its curious existence by squeezing and stretching and untangling, and with the unbearable, instant grudge against the very unattainability of such, which comes in the form of tempered glass panel, the threateningly raised eyebrow of the parent, the rules of the museum, or, to hell with it all, the whole damn world working against them, cause really, they just want to touch it a little bit?...
I could not pick favorites between the characters that lived all around, in books or films or real life, between a beautiful lady wearing elegant flowy dresses, with history of pain in her eyes that you could only notice after a second glass of wine, living by herself in a pittoresque French town, selling flower bouquets and being subtly wooed by the enigmatic charming newcomer, or the high achieving, highly educated, no fucks given kind of woman with a hair cut sharply at just the right length between the ear and the shoulder, who gets entangled in a dangerous game by being at the wrong place at a wrong time, and now races with time to find her way to outsmart all the villains and come out triumphant yet again, all without a single crease on her shirt. (Yeah I did not really care about the boys characters, sorry, cause I was a little feminist, and plus, well, boys have cooties.)
Ah, the endless stories, the endless possibilities...
I guess the whole point of me going on and on about this is to say I realised I that by the very means of my trudomyslna characteristic, I am an addict, and what's worse, nobody can ever sell me my dose of high.
I can observe, yes, I can imagine. I can look from my window at the people passing by, study my fellow travelers faces in the airport queve, I can dream of all the other lives that are out there, being lived by other people, just right so closely out of my reach, just right behind that enforced vitrine glass, but that's it, then I can only immerse in the melancholy of it all, of missing something I could never have, of wishing for something that I could never attain, which protects me from the sometimes harsh realities of the life I’ve been given.
Yes, it shelters me in the safety of the longing.
It’s been long proven by the researchers, that contrary to what we all tell our girlfriends over teary mumbly calls after every nasty break up ever, we don’t actually naturally just want to be happy?... (Flashback to the same half defeated half daring, about to throw a tantrum, wide eyed look of the child in the museum). We look for ways to scratch the healing tissue off of every wound we have for the brief satisfaction, for the itching to stop, we look for familiar things that make us feel safe - and even if those are some twisted feelings of pain and hurt, they’re the ones we know and love most, so we make the easy choice and hang on to them, we hang from the edge of the roof (picture action movies) until someone stomps on the tips of our fingers and we fall down (keep picturing, now cut to slow motion, with suspenseful background music and a slowed down scream that actually resembles a yawn more than anything) to face the reality (because getting smashed against the pavement is not an option in the scenario, got it?).
Actually, sorry, this is neither a real story or some important lesson in philosophy I am trying to apply here, I just wanted to write a little love letter to this one wonderful, foreign pronounciation resistent word, and also a word of condolence for its nonexistent translation, for it collects all that I feel and wish I could express at times, when people question the way I function.
Some words are just like that, tiny soulmates on the journey through life that help you define, even if just a small fragment, of what exactly it is you are.
As long as I remember, I thought it was a real shame that I only get to live out my own life.
It took about eight minutes in skipping-walking-running-feet dragging-not stepping on cracks sequence, three crooked pavements, and a quick routine inspection of the bakery window to get from our house to the local primary school. That was just enough for my maybe nine, maybe ten year old self with a pink reflective briefcase (with a princess print, obviously) to invent and live through a different storyline for myself each morning and afternoon.
To create a dreamy world of possibility where I was someone that I’ve gotten to meet in one of the library books I was rushing through, in the fear that somehow the unexplored worlds would not wait up for me if I don’t absorb the words fast enough. When it was snowing, I would run in the middle of the town square with arms raised above my head, because I made it snow, I was the snow queen from the nordic fairytale, I was dead convinced that it really did start snowing a little less when I told the clouds to do so.
On another occasion, I was an investigator on a mission to uncover the haunting mystery of a closed old barnyard door, that leads a secret passageway right into the old castle on the hill.
The issue with growing up, is you’re told you’re too old to play pretend, and while some seem to have a pretty seamless transition into it, fast reconciling with the monogamous relationship between oneself and the real life, some of us are reluctant to make that scary leap up the high speed train step, and as a result get left behind in the station, where time stays still and only imagination breathes the air into the scenery, to move the leaves of the trees and create the whispering sound of swaying grass.
Yes, ever since I can recall, I craved for my life to take form of a story, with all its grandeur, plot twists, antagonists to defeat and undying loves to acquire. I wanted it to be a piece of art, I was yearning for the chills you get when the orchestra strikes the resolution to a tensed chord.
A good year or two ago I was reading a book by Milan Kundera, an author whose father was a famous Brno based musician and theorist, and whose cousin Ludvik was my neighbour for the first fifteen years of my life, and who has become (eye rolls heard from around the world from everyone I have ever harassed with demands to read this man's work) my absolute god of literary expression in my early twenties. (Yes shh, I'm still in my early twenties, I know.)
He is certainly one of the reasons I am now so strongly attaching myself to my Moravian origin, from which I ran as a teenager, hungry for everything that was not familiar, but which I have come to treasure more each day spent away, as its lively, bold, resilient and vigorous character, well imprinted in my way of living, gave my blood a rhythm to pump through my veins even in the the coldest days in Amsterdam.
Yes, Moravia, especially in those days, became my glorified, idealised epitome of fullness, of passion and life. But back to the story.