Friday, September 27, 2013

Ennui (WOK Blog Entry #5: Words that are and should be)

Some words are like caviar, or what I imagine caviar to be.  A little too rich for the blood, a little salty and, with every bite, that soft whisper reminder, “You’re eating fish-eggs!”  I’ve never had caviar.  I’m a little horrified at the idea of caviar, to be honest.  In like mind, I’ve never used the term “ennui” without that wink-wink acknowledgment that it’s a little too refined for me, without the half-shrug, the exaggerated facial expression mocking the word, mocking myself, the situation.

But, at the same time, I love the word.  It’s luxurious, it’s rich…it’s caviar!  Yes, yes, I know.  I’m going to break down and try some caviar one day…and I’m going to hate it.  It’s fish eggs.  I can guarantee I will hate it.  But the word is everything I imagine caviar should be.  

And it’s not just the sound of it, the feel of it…its French beginnings evident in the blur of its vowels…its definition feels equally rich, luxuriant.  The word belongs to the rich.

Ennui:  A feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest; boredom.

Doesn’t it conjure visions?  Images of wealth, excess; the privileged few who have never known anything other than utter contentment?  Who are, in turn, anything but?

I imagine a room in white, bamboo floors, carpets embroidered with silver thread, a winter-white sun glittering through flimsy gauze curtains.  I imagine a woman, a pale coral flush of skin, the casual slip of a white-shift cotton.  Her ears, neck, wrists are bare, diamonds forgotten on a cluttered end-table.  
There are books on that end-table, titles rubbed to nothing on the worn cloth covers, progress stalled with bookmarks at beginning, middle, end; there are unused tickets clustered together with torn ticket-stubs, nattered edges and accompanying playbills unfurling from the memory of a once tight-fisted hold; a casual collection of dust and disinterest.  

Sometimes there is a man, legs crossed in an egg-shell recliner, an olive-oil sheen of skin, dark hair.  But his eyes are just as distant, his hands loose around a set of keys he will not use, equally content to stay as he is to go and equally unhappy.

Their eyes drift but never seem to see each other; nevertheless perfectly aware, drifting around each other in graceful arcs in the light of a never-ending afternoon.

It is a beautiful scene (not beatific), pale and cold and perfect.  I think it little wonder I struggle with the word.  

It feels the opposite of myself, I with the peeling red skin, frizz-away hair, thick frame.  My books are scattered on end-tables, yes, but also on the floors, on the counter-tops, tucked into my bed, in the crease of my chairs, my bookmarks shifting with the day, the month, the year.  My ticket-stubs are all torn, tattered, playbills thumbed through, smoothed flat, kept carefully lest the memories themselves find creases.

It feels disingenuous to claim the word “ennui” for myself.  Perhaps that’s why I resort to the wink-wink half-shrug methodology.  It feels as foreign to my lips as those diamonds would feel on my fingers, in my hair.  

Still, I like diamonds…as much as I’m sure I’d hate caviar.  I’m not giving up on ennui quite yet.

Maybe someday, after I become a rich and famous author (when dreaming, dream big), I’ll actually know what ennui feels like.  And maybe then I’ll be able to use it, mean it, own it.


Blogger’s Note:  I love the word “ennui” but I really do feel like a poser when I try to use it.  So I don’t use it much, save for those moments where sarcasm seems appropriate.  Still, it’s an elegant word and, as stupid as it sounds, just like a little girl dreams of diamonds or a young woman silk…I want this word.  I want to own it, feel it, let it drop from my lips as easily as I might say “fox” or “rabbit” or “mediocrity.”


  1. I tend to avoid words such as "ennui" for the same reason. Certain "elevated" and very elegant-sounding words just seem awkward for me to say aloud, and I'm not for sure if I would ever feel comfortable using them without sounding like I'm practicing my weekly set vocab words wherever I can.

    1. I get this completely, Jasmine. I think my reluctance came from folks in the neighborhood accusing me of "talkin' proper." xoA

    2. I suspect this will always be the case between me and ennui...but I can dream. I can't stand that there are words that don't fit my mouth! Is it weird that I sort of miss weekly vocab sheets? :-)

  2. You describe words and their taste in your mouth with marvelous precisity. I made that word up, in honor of your blog.

  3. Anna, I enjoyed your post. Loved the scene that you set up with the woman in the white-carpeted room and her books. I was thinking, This could be a part of a more substantial piece like a short story.

    I'm interested in how you make the words come to life.

    Thanks. xoA

    1. I wasn't thinking short story...till now. I'm very impressionable apparently. :-)