Acquaintance Language
Jun 2021

I do not like small talk.

When I participate in small talk, I feel I am betraying myself by acting — acting nice, funny, informed, opinionated.

Acting is tiring.

It is only in a foreign language where I can make small talk without feeling disgenuine. The foreign language is an acquaintance language, with which I recall a fact with a polite smile, and call it good.

In the foreign language, I have limited words and thus limited thoughts expressed through the language.

Sometimes, not being able to speak is a restraint.

Other times, it’s a relief.


Wat heb je gedaan dit weekend?

(What did you do this weekend?)

Words I have Words I don't

Ik heb planken geplaatst aan de muur en ik heb naar een podcast geluisterd.

(I installed shelves on the wall and I listened to a podcast.)

The poet and music critic in the podcast said his therapist once pointed out his tendency to mourn. It reminded me of the book review of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Notes on Grief, a book in which she mourned about her father's passing in June, 2020. When I read it I thought, that was not long ago, the emotions you felt would be different in ten years.

Then I thought, mourning is an urgent matter.

Ik heb veel gedroomd.

(I have dreamed a lot.)

In my dreams, places and people from the past and the unknown converge. Sometimes I shout in my dreams. I wish I knew how to dream lucidly, how to change my dream fate. The more viscerally disturbing the dreams are, the more I remember of them.

It is as if out of the obligation of memory that I attribute more significane to them.

Ik heb wat poëzie gelezen.

(I read some poetry.)

In my waking hours, I read 20th century literature from a recently acquired Penguin set of Modern Classics. Translated literature from the era comes with the drawl of a foreign tongue. The sentence structures, translated literally, seem to poeticize everything.

I used to think that poetry comes from the blurry spaces of illegibility, from the unspoken and the unspeakable — not anymore.

Ik heb met mijn moeder gepraat.

(I talked to my mother.)

On picking up my phone, she sounded full of laughter, the first time in months. She, too, had been mourning. Her knee was not doing so well, she said, and she did not want to mention it because she worried that I would worry.

I nodded silently on this side of the phone. I thought of losing sight of her at the department store one day. That day, I remembered her saying as both of us cried:

Stay at the same place!

Don't you move!