Pushkin’s Obscure Language

Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin, tamed squirrel, wild rabbit, my little half-feral cat. I call you little one, baby, honey, words I save only for you. I bristle at the thought of someone comparing me to an infant or small child and loathe call any human by the same name, but you’re so much like a helpless infant that they slip out, even when I intend to call you by your proper name, the one we chose because your elegant tuxedo markings seemed to fit with your namesake, the great Russian poet.

You’re bigger than you act, a full-grown male, lean and strong, instead of the typical indoor cat padding of fat, but you hide around the house as if perpetually scared of attack, a timid kitten in a house full of dogs. We’re gentle and kind and have been for years, but you still shy away. I hold out my unconditional love on a silver platter and yet you approach it with fear. In a few months, you’ll be five, and you still only accept me with the most tentative expressions of trust.

I’m often reminded of a quote by the real Pushkin,

“I want to understand you, I study your obscure language.”

And I do. I try to make myself as vulnerable as you think I’m scary. I lie back on my bed, perfectly still, arms thrown above my head, wrists crossed, hands limp, neck tilted at an angle so that you will see that I am willing to let you rip out my jugular, and I wait. I wait for you to stop mewing in the hall and come into the room. I let you leap up on the bed without turning to track you with my eyes. And then you stumble around on the duvet, strangely keening as though you are are singing a mourner’s lament. I wait for the moment when you determine that I am harmless enough and start to sniff at my cheek, your cold, wet nose sometimes brushing against my skin.

And then you do what I’ve been waiting for. You put your two front paws on my thigh and then begin to inch forward, until you are finally sitting on my stomach, regally upright like an Egyptian cat statue, bobbing on the waves of my breaths.

I open my eyes and say, “Hi, little guy,” and slowly raise my hand to do what you love best. I trace my thumb along the edge of your mouth and scratch the side of your face until you decide that the affection is too much and leap away, off to examine the world underneath the china cabinet or dining room sideboard.

I’ll learn to speak your crying language one day, and we’ll come to the understanding that I mean no harm. You’ve mellowed with age, and maybe your courage will continue to increase, until you curl close to me at night like Zelda Fitzgerald or remain constantly at my side like Maxwell Perkins. I don’t ask you to put aside all of your insecurities for me or to believe that I am wholly without threat, but I hope that you will accept fragments of my love and let me in just a tiny, minuscule bit. I am not as scary as I appear. Really. I promise.

The Story of Language

I’ve been up for fifty straight hours now, so instead of a normal blog post, I’m going to point you in the direction of this fabulous Stephen Fry documentary called “The Story of Language.”

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

On Being a Mammal and Making Noises

I’ve been thinking a lot about something that Doc said to me right before our group was up at the regionals for the government and politics competition. It was something along the lines of: “Just remember that we’re a bunch of mammals, sitting in a room, making strange noises, and somehow deriving meaning from it.”

Doc’s right. He almost always is. Ever since I started my psych independent study, I’ve realized exactly how true that statement is. We are only animals. Animals who have big, complex brains that were able to organize those sounds into something we call language.

This notion gives me a lot of hope. Whenever I stand up to speak in Congress or somewhat impulsively audition for a play, what I say doesn’t really matter. The noises I’m making are essentially no more special than a cat’s meow.

The Little Orange and Gold Book and the First Law of Idea-dynamics

Lately, I’ve developed the habit of writing down anything that I find interesting. There’s so much that I am desperate to remember, to work into other narratives, to repeat to others, or maybe to even stick up here on my blog. There are so many beautiful things being said by the people that surround me and in books that I don’t want to lose. The power of language and thought is astounding, and the nature and creation of ideas never fails to amaze me.

So I’ve been carrying around a little gold and orange notebook that I was given by a friend in eighth grade. The gold designs are raised a little bit from the cover, and I love running my fingers over them absentmindedly in class. It’s got a magnetic flap that keeps it closed, which makes a very satisfying clapping noise, and the paper has thin brown-ish grey-ish lines just the right space apart.

Because it’s rather old, it’s got some interesting artifacts inside. There are random sentences–often later used in short stories–from the summer I spent in France, notes on meetings and a few packing lists from over the years, and some protein counts and food logs from this summer, but I’ve used a paperclip to push all of that to the side. It’s got a new and very important job now.

I’ve furiously scribbled things down when I’m talking with people on the phone, written down things people sent in texts, or carefully copied things out of books, but mostly it’s just full of snippets of conversations.

Today, I was speaking to my father on the phone about my recent obsession with mortality (which has made me unable to sleep, but more on that later). The moment that he said, “Everyone has to come to peace with mortality in their own way. We all imagine it differently,” I scrambled to get a pen. I knew that whatever he said next would be worth recording.

Here’s a quote from the conversation:

“I am a collection of atoms that changes continually. The collection is called me and has a self-consciousness that is me. At some point, the atoms will reintegrate with the world. I imagine my atoms becoming grass. Part of the living force in the world is aligned in me right now.”

Last night, George quoted Camus in a text message and then sent me this Dorothy Sayers quote today when I asked permission to quote her:

“A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought.”

But I am convinced that both George and Dorothy Sayers are wrong. Original thought comes from listening to others, whether it be by hearing or reading, writing those things down, and mulling over what they’ve said, until you come to new, independent, and perhaps ingenious conclusions. Energy can neither be created or destroyed: it can only be transformed from one state to another, and the same holds true for ideas.

And that, my friends, is why I’m writing things down.