Just words: hope

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Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well. It is the certainty that something is worth doing no matter how it turns out.

Václav Havel

When I grew up in East Germany, Václav Havel was known as – what they called at the time – a dissident and as a writer, whose books we were prevented from reading, whose theatre plays I never saw. During the Prague Spring and the invasion of the Warsaw Pact armies, he provided an on-air narrative on the radio and was banned from all theatres after the supression of the Prague Spring in 1968. Later he was the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech Republic.

I have nothing to add to his quote in the context of his story.

I heard this quote today in a lecture by Margaret Wheatley.

Just words: beginning

Hey, Friend,

New beginning. Always a beginner. Be. Beg. Begin. Gin. In. Inn. Inning.

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Begin is a rare word. Often used over times immemorial. It’s ancient and went through a lot. Begin is unlike many others. Belong. There is a long. Become. There is a come. Behold. There is a hold. Begin. There is only gin; and that does not even come close, only at the end. The be- is transparent. The -gin is obscure. Millenia ago, the Germanic peoples had a verb ginnan. To cut open. To open up. It must have started then. They also had – and we still do – a be-prefix. To cause or to make whatever the verb says it does. These two were merged into a rare word. To cause something to open up. To begin. To make it – cut – open. To begin.

Beginning in the second paragraph. Ing … ing … ing. Something is going on here. Progressing. Progressive. And it fossilized. A little. Into a noun. Static? No! Process—ing. Sometimes fast. Sometimes slow. Always doing. Changing. Progressing. Beginning.

At the beginning of 2022, wishing you all new beginnings. Many. Fruitful beginnings. Often. And a happy ending.

Wrote this in a San Diego writers group today. The prompt was – you guessed it – beginning. I am very grateful for and to this group.

My obstacle

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Gosh, I didn’t expect to wake up to this, when I opened my eyes on Christmas Eve. Holy Night. Drenched in sweat. Or tears. My heart is pumping my t-shirt wet. 113 did not let me rest desperately, and I was not awake in my dreams and daymares. I must have been running in my sleep. I need to remember. Should I trace my steps in the dark? I am not sure. I guess I never was. Sure. Darkness within darkness — the gateway to all understanding. That’s what my CD said, when I did the one-minute meditation. Ten years ago. It is darker now. Silent night. I wish! The viral noise of this world has become unbearable. Another nail on the cross. Nine inches. Why do they make them so big? Why do they make crosses and nails and crowns at all? I am anxious. To know. Questions within questions quarrel with each other and crumble my skull. Unholy nights. And the one question has not yet surfaced. All comes in moments of darkness. And then there is a crack. A crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. Oh, thank you, Leonard. You were there when my son was born. And you are here now. How do you do that? You left us years ago. You left me with sadness and silence, when I am walking. The running noise is mine. Mind the noise. I can’t hear the music. Only the heart is silent. What is it writing? If I could read the word … There is on O of surprise of the unforeseen and an E at the end. Or does it start with an old opportunity? The radical center is fuzzy. Is there a B for belonging? My longing that I have had for longer than my being. The S has been bowed like my spine, so that it stays silent each storm. Standing tall, this must be the Cross of Lorraine, pointing up to the Holy Spirit, connecting companions sideways, but wait … The small beam on top connecting me to myself is not here. It is a T that I need to cross one more time. Is there an A for the beginning of the alphabet soup? It might be. It reflects the angst, anxiety, attachment to find the crack, so that the light gets in. What light? How bright! A C starts capere. Meaning to learn, to receive. Ad capere: accept. The d changed to a C for compassion. To suffer with somebody. And myself. In love. That is the L, which I anxiously attached to the A for too long. Love suffered. Loving suffered. I suffered aloof. That is the OBSTACLE. I am relieved to see it staring me in the face. It looks familiar; it must have warned me before. Unheard. Has it never changed shape? For the little boy? For the lad? The fellow? Man? Unseen. It has been standing before me, as obstacles do. I ran blind against this shiny object and bruised myself and hurt. Others. Myself. Unseeing. I shoved the obstacle hard, went back at it unknowing, passed judgement over it, and foreclosed the universal flow. The waters swelled in prior life. Deluge — unheard. The noise — unbearable. The water washed away what we built. On sand. Now I am suffering as Noah before my time and long. Lucky as I am, I did not drown, when I let go of my sinking rig. Now I am using my 150 days or more in the Ark. I submit. I submit to the disorder of words. To nature and nurture myself. Submission. Now I will let my heart write for a year and years and pray that my Ark will land on a mount, when the water subsides and the question is clear.

This the first text for a year of writing. I have just started the course to uncover my self. I am committing to the other 51 lessons …

Just words: happiness

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“My life will not make me happy, happiness will make my life.”

Tonight, I watched a movie to relax a little. These were the words said when the film ended. No use going down the road of etymology, assembling the word family, or consulting dictionaries. The word happiness just stands and means. And I am grateful, I can write it down.

Just words: vote

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Vote is a four-letter word, but I never took Latin. So, no voting for me.

Hey, Friend,
Are you going to vote? I am sure there is an election coming soon. Have you cast your vote before? I have. A long time ago.

I grew up in East Germany before the Wall came down. Every couple of years, they had something one Sunday, which they called an election. You would walk to the polling station, show your ID, be given a ballot, take one step to the right, fold the ballot, and stick it in the ballot box. Done. You had just voted for one list of candidates. All of them. From different parties and associations. All on the one state-sanctioned list, which you approved towards the 99.9%. And if you did not, they would revisit you with the “flying” ballot box. Again. And again.

In the first election after demonstrations, civic movement, and round tables— remember 1989? — I registered my protest vote. I had done the math. After the counting and announcements, I revoked my right to vote for a couple of years, believing that only people who don’t mix up politics and math should vote. Protest voting is nonlinear.

The German word for vote is die Stimme. Most common backtranslation: the voice. When you have a voice, you vote — when you vote, you have a voice! I always thought the words vote and voice are related, and maybe they are. But I never took Latin.

In England, I voted in local elections. But neither John Major nor Tony Blair were my fault. They were not my success either. European immigrants only vote locally. And in Canada? Permanent residents can’t vote for anybody. I watched the news and kept quiet.

And now I am here. Southern California. Best climate I have ever been in. Geographically. I will keep quiet, hanging on to my Green Card.

How about your voice? Your Stimme. Your vote!

I had posted this first on Panta Rhei Enterprise in August. Since there are less than 100 hours until the election and I am transfering the series Just words to this blog, it was high time.

Just words: I give you my word

Scrabble: FEEL

And you get 7 points for this.

I’d like a word with you.
I give you my word.
You are twisting my words.
This blog became popular just by word of mouth.
In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God.

This is a new beginning. The beginning of a series of blog posts. For each post in the series Just Words, I will select one word. Just one. Look at it from different angles. Play with it a little. Perhaps, see it in a new light. In a different context. And, today’s word is

the word

We are starting with an old Germanic noun. Linguists reconstructed a form wurda in Proto-Germanic, the assumed precursor to languages like Danish, Dutch, English, Friesian, German, and Swedish.

Is it important to be more aware of each individual word? Especially an old one such as word? One that we use quite frequently and in different contexts? One that different people have been using over many centuries?

Yes, that’s a rhetorical question. Before I answer it, confession time: I am a philologist. (In Greek: philo- = loving; logos = word) I love words. Using them. (My family, friends, and colleagues tell me I use too many too often.)

So, my answer: Yes, being aware of one’s words is important. For two reasons: Words have consequences. Depending on the words you use, people will hear something different, feel something different, understand something different, or do something different. Or as Carl Sandburg said: Be careful with your words: once said they can only be forgiven, not forgotten. Words are powerful tools. Words can pinpoint and cover up. They can heal and hurt. And they can clarify and obscure. And so much more. Let me tell you two stories to illustrate.

I grew up in Finsterwalde in Germany. In this small town is a short street, named after Max Schmidt. The Max-Schmidt-Straße. For many years, I did not know who Max Schmidt had been.

1943. The war was in its fourth year. Max, a merchant in town, met with others in his local pub. Small talk and a beer or two. A time to tell jokes and anecdotes. Often with few words; one knew and understood each other. A popular opening gambit was the question: Do you already know the latest joke? The friendly reply was: no. And then the joke would be told. So, Max Schmidt sat down with his buddies and opened the conversation with “Do you already know the latest joke?” … … … “We will win the war.” One of the listeners mentioned the 5-word joke to a Nazi official in town. The Gestapo interrogated Max Schmidt. He came before the “People’s Court”, was accused of Wehrkraftzersetzung – undermining military force – sentenced to death, and executed in July of 1944.
For a 5-word joke.

When I was a student of Linguistics, I learned about the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, a hypothesis that discusses the relationship between linguistic structures in a language and people’s thinking and cultural values.

Benjamin Lee Whorf, an American linguist and chemical engineer, became an engineer for the Hartford Fire Insurance Company in 1919. In one incident, a worker had placed containers with liquid next to a heater, which started a fire. The containers were labeled “highly inflammable”. The worker had believed that inflammable was the opposite of flammable, like incomplete is the opposite of complete.
2 words. 1 prefix. The in- in incomplete or the in- in insure.

Do words matter? Even just one word? Carelessly or imprecisely used? The things we do with words …

Does it matter whether we talk about social distancing or physical distancing under COVID-19? Should one call it the Chinese virus? Are love and hate opposites? Can one compare apples and oranges? And which one is a correct word?

I will go through this word for word. You can take my word for it.

Originally, I posted this text on in the blog of our Panta Rhei Enterprise on May 2, 2020. It was indeed the first one in a small series, which I am now transferring here to this site.