I made a decision this week that felt like a huge risk, moving me from a place of relative safety with no future, to a transitional (and incredible) next step without any security or commitment. Even though I feel 100% certain that I did the right thing, I’m still hugely anxious about opening the door to a world of unknowns.
It was in this context that, walking home last night, I stopped short at the sight of two humongous lines of text painted on a brownstone’s living room wall, which I spied through the curtain-less bay window (almost as though it were staged as a message for passersby). In bright white lettering against a dark blue background were the words:
Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.
It spoke to me in a visceral way – I was not exactly sure what it meant to me but my body responded immediately. I let out a noise halfway between a sob and an exclamation. I may have cocked my head to one side and nodded vehemently to no one in particular. I guess I just needed that affirmation that it’s okay to choose the less clear option when it nevertheless feels right. It’s empowering to think you can be confused and correct at the same time.
When I got home I looked up the line and found that the whole quote is even more apropos to my current situation:
Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment. Cleverness is mere opinion, bewilderment is intuition.
I love everything about that. It may just become my mantra for the next few months.
I recently read: “There are seven times more words in English than in French (500,000 versus 70,000), which suggests that French relies on contextual clues to resolve semantic ambiguities to a greater extent than English. Many words in French have multiple possible meanings… which means that the listener is responsible for discerning the intention of the speaker.”*
I suppose I could be heartened by the fact that there are only 60-some-thousand words I don’t know in French. Apparently it could have been much worse.
I’ve always found it strange that a country known for romance has the same word for like and love – that you have to figure out the meaning of aimer based on context clues. But now a correlation between romance and multi-meaning words occurs to me. Fewer words + more interpretation = greater opportunity for happy accidents in which one person misunderstands the other’s semantical intentions, believes that love is being declared, and is inspired to respond in kind. Perhaps France is brimming with l’amour because everyone’s living out their own version of a screwball romantic comedy.
As a related tidbit, this little quiz estimates that I know 30,900 English words. I will try to keep this in mind the next time I’m feeling dumb as a brick while attempting to make simple statements in Spanish or not-so-simple ones in French.
P.S. For English learners (and speakers who want to boost their vocab), here’s an aptly named site.
* I read this quote from Erin Meyer’s “The Culture Map” here.
[Photo: Martin Latter]
Rather than deleting the cities I’ve programmed into my Weather Channel app while traveling, upon my return I like to periodically set them as my current location – to remind myself how lucky I have been to visit these places, to feel a little bit closer to them digitally if not geographically, and to torture myself with how much better it is everywhere outside of New York.
Case in point: here is the week’s forecast for the cities I have been to within the past year and a half:
Alright, I admit that Paris is the weak link. But what it lacks in weather it amply makes up for in ridiculously good food. And the other two cities have NYC beaten by a long shot.
So, when it’s barely fifty degrees out after months of frigid temperatures, talk foreign weather to me! During the slow ascent out of winter, the Buenos Aires forecast reads like erotica.