Friday, September 22, 2006

scattered thoughts on losing language, multimedia fantasies

It is fall here -- and that means that everyone is sick. Beautiful weather, beautiful foliage, miserable people. I wonder if germs here have evolved a way to travel along cell phone lines, because they are certainly hardy and mobile.

Both my boys have the sniffles, and I was tempting fate by neglecting my sleep. Mr. Max has been getting up every night to nurse for a few hours straight. I’m pretty sure this has something to do with him starting preschool, so I’m trying to wait it out. But I’m drained -- literally! Of milk and of energy. So now I’m sick too.

Of course, being sick, even when you can’t take medicine because you’re nursing, makes everything feel a little less real, and your mind and body don’t work as they should. So it shouldn’t have surprised me that when I went to the bank this morning that I would find myself stumbling over the language.

I haven’t carried a dictionary with me for two years now. Not because I know everything -- I certainly don’t -- but because my receptive vocabulary is good enough to recognize what I need and I can explain everything else well enough. But every once in a while -- when I’m particularly nervous, or sick, or in pain -- I lose the language. It is a strange feeling.

It happened when I was in labor with Max. For that pregnancy I had gone through the regular clinic (rather than the more expensive International Clinic). Once we got the hang of the system it wasn’t bad. I studied all the vocabulary: amniotic fluid, uterus, ectopic pregnancy, contractions, etc. But after 6 cm I couldn’t understand a thing. I remember them telling me all sorts of stuff and me yelling, “What?! I don’t know what you’re talking about! I can’t understand you!”

Language is unreliable. And what we choose -- or are able -- to say represents only a small sliver of what we think or experience.

One of the blogs I read regularly is printculture. I like how the contributers often include something about what they are reading, listening to, or watching. I think I will start doing something like that here. When I’m writing something, I often listen to the same song over and over, and something of the atmosphere, the “느낌" of that song seeps into the writing and my take on the world at that moment. When I was in grad school and attempting to produce a great quantity of decent writing while sleeping only a few hours a night, and only clumsy, ugly prose was coming from my fingertips, I would read something written beautifully and with feeling and let it seep into my subconscious and from there into my writing.

We live multimedia lives. We walk around plugged into our MP3 players, we download music with the push of a button, and in Seoul we are surrounded by TV screens: TV screens in restaurants, in elevators (because who wants to suffer through an elevator ride with nothing to look at?), on the subway, in the fitness center, and even TV screens in the ceiling of the dentist’s office so we can watch TV to take our minds off the pain of drilling. Our ringtones and playlists are part of our identities. (In 동갑 내기 가외 하기 the soon-to-be lovers have the same ringtone -- oooh, that’s romance for ya. I think it was Sheena Easton's "Morning Train").

I always thought that TV show Aly McBeal was genius for embracing the multi-media narratives that guide and inform our everyday lives. Aly had a “theme song” which played in her head and set the rhythm and mood of her day, and affected the way she interacted with people.

The other brilliant aspect of this show was that it made the characters’ inner landscapes visible by showing their fantasies. I love the premise that fantasy guides and clothes our actions and reactions in everyday life. Perhaps this is just me, but I’m only living a small percentage of my life in the moment (which is maybe the reason why I get so easily distracted); a good portion of my mind is being lived in my head, thinking about things perhaps completely different from what I am doing. Part of that is to fight off the tedium that often comes from hanging out with a toddler (or a 6-year-old who only wants to talk about Star Wars all day long), but I suspect that we all, no matter how exciting our daily lives, are always imagining and reimagining ourselves into different futures, entertaining scenarios that we will never live out, or trying on different scenarios to see if we like them.

So I’m sick. My throat hurts, so I’m trying not to talk. And my head is too fuzzy to remember the words I need to say anyway. I’m listening to Zero 7’s song “In the Waiting Line.” I don’t really know what this song is about. But. It somehow captures the listlessness and detachment of being a little bit sick, maybe a little bit restless, mind wandering and imagining, filling in the silent spaces.


Minnie said...

I heard that you caught a cold. Are you feeling okay now?

Jennifer Lee said...

better now -- thanks!