Ataraxy

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When I was a boy, I taught myself words.
I was an immigrant, you see, and did not know English all that well.

I deeply resented being made fun of in class for “speaking funny.”
And so I spent a lot of time at the Sprain Brook Library in Yonkers reading the OED unabridged.
I loved doing that, because words fascinated me.
Every word told me a story.
I had trouble sometimes with orthography, because I spoke French fluently, and sometimes English and French use the same words, but spelled differently, with a letter transposed here and there.

I also read novels, lots of them: the usual classics you would find on Great Books reading list of the time.
And whenever I came across a word I did not know, I circled it, and wrote it down on a 3×5 index card, with its definition on the back.
Later, I would memorize these words, over and over, shuffling the order of the cards, so that I did not remember by rote the sequence of the definitions.
Later still, when I became interested in computer science, I would find a term for this concept: random access memory, or RAM.

I did well in the verbal portion of the SAT. And love of words has stayed with me throughout my life, not just English words, but the words and the connections between them in many languages, especially those with Saxon, Romance or Semitic roots.

Today I face a different problem from the sort of things I had to deal with as a teenager.
I am coming to terms with the realization that the last 40 years or so of my life have been an illusion.
That what I thought was true, is not.
That much of what I thought America stood for turned out to be bogus.
That what I believed would happen in my life, did not.

But I still remember many of the words I first learned as I prepared for the SATs.
And one of those was Ataraxy.
I remember making a mental note of it, when I first encountered it, thinking to myself that one day I would explore this word more fully.
Stoicism is not for young men, except perhaps for those going in to do battle.

But now the word has drifted back into my consciousness.
I look occasionally at the Orange Clown on TV, and shake my head in disbelief that the country my family emigrated to would stoop to this.
Other than these chance encounters, I have chosen to put him on ignore by limiting my consumption of daily news, except for things that affect me directly, such as Brexit.
I no longer watch political cable shows incessantly.
Honestly after a few days, with the once-blaring TV now silent, it feels like I have taken an emetic.

But retreating to some hermetic bubble cannot be the answer.
As a provisional tactic, yes, but what about the future?
If the boat has broken, and I am adrift at sea, what am I to do?
Where do I go?
How do I not lose my mind?

Ataraxy.
Could that word hint at an answer?
Could an ancient philosophy, favored by Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, help me start my detox from Trumplandia on a firmer footing?

So I surfed the net a bit, and came across, A guide to the Good Life, by William Irvine.
Perfect.

 

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2 thoughts on “Ataraxy

  1. Thank you for a new word and a state to aim for! You describe the Australian political scene. My retreat is beach and bush and movies, mainly pseudo documentary, and art and music as offered in my immediate area, and attempts to write effectively about my experiences. But as you say, retreat is a provisional tactic.

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    • Less provisional is reading Chatwin’s Songlines. It has been on my shelf for 30 years, spine uncracked. This summer, I shall read it. I have an idea it may help me with something I am thinking of writing. Gouna most likely will be provisional, although one never knows. Especially with Macron’s excellent showing in the first round, which possibly changed everything in terms of both the election and my upcoming relo long term, the future looks more promising. Chatwin died in NIce. I once lived there for a year, a long time ago. I may live there again, should I find that I can afford it. To me, a true escape would be staying in the moment for an extended period of time, during the writing of and actually finishing such a project. But I have failed at this many times already.

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