Obscure Sorrows

The online Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows (dictionaryofobscuresorrows) compiled by John Koenig, aims to ‘harpoon, bag and tag wild sorrows, then release them gently back into the subconscious.’ John’s delicious list of words and their sublime meanings startled me into thinking about pleasures and sorrows, obscure and otherwise.

I would like to live in a perfectly punctuated reading world, for instance, where people did not have an obscure urge to place random CAPITALS and commas, in the middle of a sentence that does not require apostrophe’s. I do not have a word for this but am able to describe the feeling it provokes. It makes me want to turn my eyelids inside out and say OUCH! A writing tutor said once that the only acceptable place for an exclamation mark in a piece of writing was after the word ouch.

Other obscure sorrows in my life are associated with feelings of inadequacy. Could I have been a better daughter, sister, mother, wife, aunt, cousin, friend? I don’t have to question if I could be a better writer. I already know the answer to that. Yes. It’s odd how the jobs I’ve held – tutor, kitchen-hand, baker, pen-seller, baby-sitter, cleaner, lecturer – all real, necessary and urgent at different stages; don’t impact on the subconscious in the same way as a remembered smile, or a moment in sunlight, or an overgrown garden or a closed door.

Birthdays are times for reflection, I suppose, especially when you realise there are more years behind you than ahead. I had a birthday recently and my husband and I talked (among other things) of the people who would come to our funerals. This isn’t as morbid as it sounds – he has a wonderful eye for faces but cannot remember names, so I think his concern was that if I shuffled off this mortal coil before he did, he would not know the names of most of my friends. The talk then turned to gender and friendship – do women have more friends than men? Are women more able to sustain friendship over decades even if they don’t meet regularly? How can we blame Facebook for putting us in touch with people we would never have tracked down if they didn’t have an electronic presence? How do we know so many/so few people and why are they in our lives? How is it that we can be in a popular restaurant in our home city and not know anyone, yet find a neighbour in an obscure city on the other side of the world? A moment that John Koenig has a word for – sonder – n. the realisation that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.

I couldn’t finish this post without mentioning the obscure sorrow of the reading/writing life – the “bookstores filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each … like an old room the author abandoned years ago … vellichor – n.” The more I read, the more I need to read. The more I write, the less I know. Hurtling towards the end of the year and my last precious months of writing on a scholarship, I know what needs to be done. What I want though, is for magic to happen – for the door to open, for sunlight to shift, for surrender, for resistance, for proof that this disordered, wild mind of mine is capable of translating an idea of revolution and displacement and abandonment into a tangible, physical flat object – a thesis.

16 responses to “Obscure Sorrows

  1. What a beautiful post, Rashida – touched some deep place in my own writing/reading/beating heart.


  2. Thanks Nicola…I have been feeling obscurely sorrowful…


  3. This is absolutely beautiful, Rashida—thank you. A few thoughts: 1. Your fastidiousness towards punctuation is going to make your novel’s editor deliriously unsorrowful. 2. Pen-seller? Really? 🙂 3. Did I miss your birthday? How unobservant of me. Belated blessings and best wishes. 4. You are capable of writing that thesis. I think you could do anything you set your heart and mind to do. xx


    • thanks Amanda 🙂 One day I shall document my experiences as a pen-seller at Myers. They were very expensive pens and I only sold 2 in a month ( and that was during Christmas!) Your words mean a great deal … the blessings are already here. Thank you 🙂


  4. Louise Helfgott

    I found this very moving and a lovely piece of writing. I look forward to reading the finished novel and thesis as I think it’s going to be very special.


  5. Beautiful writing, Rashida. I needed time for this piece to distill before I commented. I love how it meanders and has a whimsical quality to it, yet each paragraphs flows logically to the next. I can’t wait to read your novel — it is sure to be special.


  6. Oh that is a beautiful beautiful piece of writing Rashida. Obscure sorrows…perhaps a sorrow is only really ever obscure if it isn’t embraced… But it does, as you say, seem the more we know/read the more room for doubt (I was just thinking we should fill those doubt filled spaces with love before anything else gets in there! lol). But I loved those images of the overgrown garden and closed door. I have this image of you opening that door and rummaging about in the foliage to clear a space for your beautifully luscious blooms (that already exist by the way) because you seem to do this quite effortlessly every time you write! (and I stand by my exclamation marks! and that one too)


  7. “Yes. It’s odd how the jobs I’ve held… don’t impact… on a remembered smile, or a moment in sunlight, or an overgrown garden or a closed door.” I see the poetry.


  8. Ah – as always, your writing is delicate, precise, tender and true.


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