On Saturday morning, I was standing and looking out the window when suddenly a flock of Canadian geese went flying by, honking loudly to each other. You could hear their wings flap and practically see their effort to stay afloat and in line. Unthinking conformism or wise family harmony?
The snowy garden looked kind of sad. Yet if you look closely, there is something interesting. Look at the path Honey Girl made in the snow. She has clearly been making rounds around the yard, which is normal. But her rounds include a special trip to the statue of a cat, our long-lost ginger cat Alvin (ca. 1982–1998), as if she were paying him homage or saying hello to a creature she never met. What instincts or memories kept her walking that way?
Remembering things you don’t really know is what Twyla Tharp calls “ancient memory.” She describes it as the sort of things that make you say to yourself: “’It feels right.’” As she explains, “And part of the reason it feels right is that the move has been reinforced in us over centuries of practice. Every dance I make is a dive into this well of ancient memory.”*
When I am precisely focused, about 10-12 minutes into the routine of Master Peng, the T’ai chi form begins to elicit a similar sensation of “ancient moving” and well-being in me. I start getting warm, and I feel as if I’ve enjoyed reaching, standing or stretching like that before. It seems I forgot that good feeling existed and I’m rediscovering it again, every day! Like you’re a little kid again and just loving spinning around and holding still, deliberately stunning yourself and regaining equilibrium, and landing in control.
Speaking of focus, did you know you can use your moving body (via yoga or T’ai chi) to conquer bad habits such as procrastination? As Peter Ralston says, “There is a state of being that shows itself as power, has free and uninhibited life force, with no thought or refuge being taken in the intellect, which honestly and simply abandons itself to the task at hand.”**
Yet after those soaring metaphysical queries, last night I was captivated by more mundane matters in the physical world. The whole world seemed silent and muted, draped in a massive fog formation. Here on Riverside Drive, it looked like clouds were floating right outside the house.
After a long walk in a cold, clammy forest with Honey Girl, I asked Rich over dinner, “Which do you like better, ‘fog’ or ‘brouillard’?” “Fog,” he said, explaining “its origin in og always appealed to me. It brings to mind ogle, optical, optometrist, and other ideas linked to vision…”*** to which I unhelpfully added, “And ogre.”
“But just think of the great word débrouillard,” I continued, “which sounds like you are moving aside the fog….”
“What about defog?” he grunted.
“Yes but that is just for car windshields, it doesn’t have the metaphorical wealth of débrouillard,” I trilled, warming to the subject. “What a great language French is, where there’s a verb like se débrouiller (know how to cope or figure things out), or an adjective like débrouillard (clever or shrewd), all linked to the notion of fog.”
“Ahem, se débrouiller is not linked to brouillard,” he spoke professorially, preparing for a long lecture on the topic, being that he is often as learned about the French language as I am with my PhD, etc. etc. etc.
But at this point I didn’t even hear what he was saying anymore. Not because we’ve been married 31 years (well, maybe a little) but also because my own mind had realized the error of my ways. My own mind was scolding me, “And débrouillard is furthermore merely based on the suffix –ard, as in franchouillard, babillard, to signify popular or endearing, etc. etc.” until I bored myself into a pensive silence.
Bottom line: I still think brouillard is a better word-concept-sound than fog, but I cannot explain exactly why. It just is that way, for me.
*Tharp, Creative Habit, 70. **Ralston, Principles, 79. *** This etymology is inaccurate, I later learned. Oh, how wily he is, to try to keep fooling me with his authoritative-sounding and off-the-cuff fictions, after all these years! HA!