Word of the day

Hiatus makes me think of a sitcom on hold. Take-five! Time for the show runner to figure out what’s going wrong. After weeks of re-runs and retooling, it’s back on the air with a new title, a new time slot, and an ethnic neighbor full of sarcastic quips. But not every production on pause comes back from stasis. Sometimes a “break” really means “it’s broken.”

Last January, I moved out of the house I shared with my partner and into a furnished apartment six-hundred miles away, in Portland, Oregon. I used this time to march headlong into wet forests and hike up dormant volcanoes. I did a lot of yoga and felt my productivity soar at work. But after a bunch of unexpected praise from product management (which never happens), I realized I was focusing on the wrong things. I embarked on another hiatus: I quit my job.

An opening; an aperture; a gap; a chasm; esp., a defect in a manuscript, where some part is lost or effaced; a space where something is wanting; a break. Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, 1913

Hiatus can mean break, but follow the word back and you’ll discover the Proto-Indo-European root *ghieh-, meaning “to yawn, to gape, to open wide.” It’s the origin of words like gap, gasp, yawn, chasm, and tellingly, chaos.

When you hear the word “chaos” you might think: ruckus, hubbub, mallemaroking. But to the Greeks who invented the word, chaos is the gaping, formless void. The dark feminine fog-soup of creation. Ovid’s “rude and undeveloped mass.” The Goatse of the cosmos.

From my perspective, the agony of chaos isn’t dodging distractions from a thousand directions, it’s having nothing to hold onto in the dark. But darkness is the direction of learning. I sold my things on Craig’s list, crammed the remainder into two suitcases, and stepped into the formless void.

One way to avoid the pain of a breakup is to outpace it through movement. This is, of course, a temporary solution. It’s like trying to dodge pavement by running and leaping. In moments of stillness, you’ll find your feelings very much affixed to your shoes.

Before Webster illuminated me, I’d have said “I’m back” from hiatus. It’s perhaps more accurate to say I’m sealing it up. I’m now unpacking my pair of suitcases and working the opposite side of Craig’s list. I’m retooling in Portland, with a new title and time slot, and I guess the ethnic neighbor is me.