Quick backstory: my (maternal) grandfather was legally blind. He was read to through college. Blindness did not hold him back. In fact, he hated being perceived as weak or disabled. He hated weakness. In himself or others. (There are many family stories about this trait. Bankrupting his own father’s company is but one.) If someone could be better, then, damnit, get better or get gone. Being his granddaughter was a tough gig. Thank you notes were sent back with red ink spelling corrections and suggestions for better penmanship. (Yeah, I know. How could he even see my handwriting?) Needless to say, I steered clear of this tyrant. Except in the afternoons, when one of the family members, usually my mother, would read to him. All non-fiction, of course. One of the books I remember most was about the origins of words and expressions. I still recall some of them. I remember thinking at the time how it might be really fun to make up origins of the words and pass them off to him as fact.
Like Interregnum. Basically it’s a five-dollar word for a period when normal government is suspended; pause, interval. The origin of this word began when a king had his way with a village pixie one night. Sometime during the night, she slipped out of his bed and out of his life. Only a funny thing happened. That king had the emotional rug pulled out from underneath him. This little poppet from the backwoods pretty much untied the king’s corseted heart. He mourned her. He lusted for her. He created a word for her absence. Interregnum. It was ordained throughout the land that business stop until she returned to him. She never did. The king was overthrown during his ordained interregnum. He didn’t mind. He’d found that he liked the pause, the interval, the space between things and he disappeared too.
But we were left with this word. Which fell into disuse. Every once in a while, lovers find the word and use it to describe the mournful time apart from each other.
The practice is inspired by Naomi Shihab Nye and her notion that words are like oars. Dip them in the water. Explore with them. Feel how they touch and bump up against one another. Let them take us further down the stream.