A new year’s wish

It’s been more than a year since I last posted here¹ – meaning that once more, I’d returned to blogging only to fall away from it entirely after a short pulse of intense productivity, a rush of wordiness that I now see lasted less than four months in toto. I always feel a desperate need to apologise for this kind of abandonment. Even while I still realise on the purely intellectual level that this is my own blog, my own intellectual property, and I can develop it (or, in fact, not) as I myself choose, I suppose where the frustration and guilt lie is within that last word: choose. For the fact is that I didn’t choose, and indeed have never once chosen, to step back from blogging: never with even an infinitesimal grain of intent have I ceased writing my thoughts down in this form, and the protracted periods of complete silence have usually been because I have too little energy to give to the task of spilling my mind onto (digital) paper.

¹ Sounds like the beginning of a poem.
It’s been more than a year
since I last posted here
and I’m sorry to cause any boredom.
But I’ve been rather ill –
not in body, but will –
and so as for the gaps, just ignore them.
me, just now

But for the moment, I don’t particularly feel like talking about what caused me to fall away from this practice. That’s something for my next post, I think. Instead, I’d prefer to talk about what brought me back. It’s the beginning of a new year, for one; even though I’ve never particularly cared for the idea of the New Year’s resolution – although a nice idea in principle, it almost always seems that the resolution is a promise to oneself made less out of determination and more out of societal obligation (“it’s New Year’s, I should make a resolution”) and consequently disintegrates more often than not before the month is even out, never mind the year it seems a handy opportunity to do something I’d intended anyway, which is to say, returning to this blog I’d previously abandoned. The last twelve months or so have been extraordinary in so many ways that I’ve so desperately wished to share with those I love: some good, some bad, but all interesting, even if sometimes that falls into the preserve of the apocryphal curse so often wrongly attributed to the Chinese, may you live in interesting times. And several of my friends, as well as my partner, have been encouraging me for some time to begin writing again, too. Even if for no other reason than to keep opening myself up and expressing my thoughts in a tangible form, to help me steer clear of the retreat into my shell that depression and anxiety make altogether too tempting, I think they’re right: I need to keep writing. And more than that, I still want to keep writing. Without wishing to sound arrogant, I’d like to think I have things to say, and even if few others read these little posts of mine, even if one person gets some degree of enjoyment out of them, then that’s enough for me.

It seems appropriate, then, that my first new post concern the New Year that’s now upon us.

In Ubykh, the name of the month of January is Çr’en [ʈʂ’ɜn]. (Only half of the traditional month names in the Ubykh calendar are still known: in addition to January, there’s Xen ‘December’, Abhğhagie ‘February’, Psıbığu ‘March’, Ğeleç’iefımze ‘April’, and K’uırk’uımze ‘June’ – which last is also used for July. This means that I have no idea of how an August-born person like myself might go about discussing my birthday in Ubykh. But I digress.) January’s Ubykh name is the adverbial-case form of an old-fashioned noun çr’e [ʈʂ’ɜ] that means “front”: that is to say, the “front” of the year. The more modern Ubykh way of referring to the front of something is the compound çr’efe, which not only refers to the front of something in a purely spatial sense,  but also steps up into the fourth dimension and refers to what is in front in a temporal sense as well. Some cultures, perhaps most notably the Aymara of Andean South America, spatialise time in a manner that opposes ours – that is, they conceive of the past as lying in front of them, and the future behind. Cognitive scientist Rafael Núñez suggests this deeply fascinating model of Aymara time may be connected to the presence in the Aymara language of a grammatical device called evidentiality, which requires a speaker to accompany every sentence with a marker that tells their listener how they learned the information in that sentence: specifically, whether or not they themselves saw it happen. The logic is that what is known, seen, evidenced, is the past; on the other hand the unknown, the invisible, the merely inferred, is the future. The Aymara are in a small minority in this sense, though. For the Ubykhs, what lies in front of us – just as for English-speakers – is the future: it is what is yet to happen, what has not yet taken place, and towards which we’re inexorably travelling. But the root çr’e in Ubykh also has another meaning. It’s also an adjective that has an array of positive meanings, including but not limited to ‘good’, ‘pleasant’, ‘kind’, ‘honest’, ‘nice’, ‘high quality’, and ‘noble’, and in this function, it forms part of several idiomatic phrases that Ubykh-speakers would often use to express good wishes or pleasure or happiness: çr’ewq’egiı ‘welcome!’ (literally ‘you speak good[ness]’), wışuwe çr’eşıx ‘take it easy!’ (literally ‘may your matter[s] become good!’), wısxieçr’e ‘you are my friend’ (literally ‘you are good to me’). Indeed, in its adverbial form – i.e. çr’en(ı) ‘well, in a good manner’ – it’s also part of the most beautiful sentiment one can hear in any language: çr’en wızbyen ‘I love you’.

Now, Zarquon knows I’m not normally one to fall so hard for the etymological fallacy. But in this instance, in this January, this month at the front of a new year, the emotional and deeply irrational part of my brain can hardly help but feel a certain degree of optimism from the uniquely special polysemy of this single Ubykh syllable and its derivatives. So welcome back to my blog, and in the spirit of every meaning of Ubykh çr’e(n), I’d like to wish all of my friends and family, and also you reading, a happy New Year whose January is the beginning of a new future, a future of goodness and ease and love for us all.

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