Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Right Word

Status Update:  My coffee is once again strong and dark. In fact, this morning I brewed a little more heavily than usual, to the point that a less inured human might have considered adding a splash of water. It's that kind of morning. Torrential rain, nights are long, days are short and my downstairs neighbors have had a marathon screaming match now in their third day. Good kids, both of them, but not when they're together.

As I cruise into the last bits of the resolution year, I think I'm going to concentrate more on writer-muscle strengthening exercises. I'll still write stories, yes, but there's more of an ulterior motive here. It's less about shaking loose ideas, of which I have a nigh-endless supply, but rather more about practicing new things, getting myself ready for whatever heinous resolution I set for myself next year. This week, I think I'm going to concentrate on voice and characterization. I'm going to randomly select one book off my shelves and write in that style, make a character study of some sort. I really hope I don't randomly select a Dragonlance novel or one of my drier bits of nonfiction.

Onwards and downwards.

I think everyone has a favorite word, one that sums up their approach to life. Mine is Swedish, "lagom." It's one of those wonderful words which has no direct equivalent in English, like the Spanish "desahogarse" ("to disemburden oneself frankly with someone").

It means "sufficient" or "just the right amount." I prefer to use "sufficient" as the English equivalent, because it highlights a few things about American culture which I think are revealing.

In America, describing something as "sufficient" has a strong implication of being half-assed. If you put a sufficient amount of effort into doing your job, for example, it means you showed up and didn't fall asleep halfway through the day. A solid C-grade effort. Something a slacker might do or be happy with.

Lagom doesn't really mean that. It's sufficient in the sense of "just right". You buy lagom wood to build your house and your house is built correctly, in high quality, in a reasonable amount of time. You finish your house and there's a bit of wood left over, but not a lot. Lagom implies a job well done within reasonable limits. You finish your effort and you go to bed satisfied.

It implies a cultural mindset where you have your priorities in balance, where more is simply more and not the moral imperative it is over here in the States, where bigger houses, fancier gadgets are the norm, where people feel "ripped off" if their plates aren't covered in heaping piles of food as a default proportion in a restaurant.

Lagom is realizing precisely what your needs are, pursuing them with a healthy amount of effort, getting them just right and then moving on. There's a beautiful kind of zen to the word. It's about prioritizing and realizing you can free your efforts for other parts of your life or simply call it good and relax.

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