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One Word: "Interesting," by Jayson Iwen

We are pleased to present another excerpt from the new anthology entitled, One Word: Contemporary Writers on the Words They Love or Loathe, published by Sarabande Books. The editor, Molly McQuade, asked 66 writers the question, "What one word means the most to you, and why?" Among the essays McQuade has collected is "Interesting," by Jayson Iwen.

I've been keeping an eye on this word for years now, conducting a stake-out in a van across the street from where it lives. I hate the word in writing, yet savor it in speech. In writing it's merely a placeholder for better words, while in speech it's damning praise of a sublime order. Interesting is its own antonym, its own shadowy other.

But that's not exactly why I'm watching it. That's not why I'm wary of uttering the word. I'm suspicious of the root that feeds it. Interesting entered common usage in the century that birthed modern capitalism. In its first appearance in print the word was explicitly linked to that economic context: "... that Passion which is esteem'd peculiarly interesting; as having for its Aim the Possession of Wealth" (Shaftesbury, 1711). Not surprisingly, viewed from this new old angle, contemporary definitions of the word leap to attention and assume the stance of marketing terminology: "adapted to excite interest; having the qualities which rouse curiosity, engage attention, or appeal to the emotions" (OED). In short, since detecting capitalist ideology in this most unassuming and pervasive of words, I've begun to worry it's inside every word, though its outline may only be visible in those that poorly conceal it, like sheets draped over ill intents.

Do I expect something "interesting" to gain in value over time, to somehow return my attention with interest? Do I find myself using this word because, consciously or not, though I know I cannot know the future, I know that seemingly insignificant things might, some day, be priceless? Do I therefore call all such suspects interesting? Another, dated usage of the word seems, at first, unrelated to its current usage, unless we think of something "interesting" as something which grows and accumulates value over time. An "interesting condition, situation, or state" was, not long ago, a euphemism for pregnancy, while an "interesting event" was, likewise, a euphemism for birth. Something passional becoming something economic. This is the kind of unconscious logic I'm afraid might be firing through dark channels of my brain whenever I speak.

I fear this because many days I feel finite. I feel spendable. I see my window into existence shrinking and the objects of my attention looming in that diminishing frame. They're either becoming my world or they're blocking my view of it. They add value to my life or they rub my face in my own inevitable end. I realize, however, that this is not a truth. It's belief. And, though belief is both stronger and more dangerous than truth, it is, thankfully, alterable.

Of the moment of death, Marcus Aurelius said, "Our loss is limited to that one fleeting instant, since no one can lose what is already past, nor yet what is still to come—for how can one be deprived of what one does not possess?" "But, Mr. Aurelius," a student of capitalism might counter, "consider, how, through corporations and estates, one's possessions might live on after one's death, in the tangible spirit of legal entities, how one ma continue to lay claim to precious resources long after death.

Can we not possess the future by shrewd planning? Can we not attain all our desires through the investment of enough labor? Surely a child's death is more tragic than an adult's, because the child loses possession of greater time." Though we may be subject to some intoxicating beliefs, I think we still know how Aurelius would answer his own rhetorical question. Probably with another question. Something like, "How can you live now, if your mind is elsewhere?"

When I say interesting now, I ask myself, "Exactly what is it you think will repay you with interest?" And the answer is usually as inevitable as it is startling. So I sit here, drumming my fingers on the steering wheel, waiting for it to appear. Because it would feel so good to put it away forever. Go ahead, I say to myself. Say it.

Jayson Iwen is an assistant professor of English and English Composition at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. He previously taught in Wisconsin at Beloit College, and in Lebanon at The American University of Beirut. Jayson received his BA in English from the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay, and his MA & PhD in English from the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. He has had poems, translations, and reviews published in journals such as Borderlands, Clackamas Literary Review, The Cream City Review, Fence, The Marlboro Review, New American Writing, The Pacific Review, Pleiades, Third Coast, and Water~Stone Review. He's had two award-winning books published, Six Trips in Two Directions (Emergency Press, 2006) and A Momentary Jokebook (Cleveland State University, 2008), and currently has a third, Gnarly Wounds, under consideration.

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Wednesday December 22nd 2010, 2:55 AM
Comment by: MARIE B. (VALLA BEACH Australia)
"No one can lose what is already past, nor yet what is still to come" wish I had said that. Marcus Arelias really hit the nail on the head. At my advanced age there does seem to be a lot of wisdom is this sentiment.
Wednesday December 22nd 2010, 9:15 AM
Comment by: Jane B. (Winnipeg Canada)Top 10 Commenter
Perhaps the question, Marie, is "What would others lose with your passing?"

It's not so much what YOU miss by dying, but what others do, others left behind without your guidance.

This is very much a question for me, as I know my husband who died recently found freedom to breathe free at last, but I am left without a companion.

I know it's selfish, the selfish part of me that wants him still to be sitting in his place beside me.

But Marcus Aurelius was a bit selfish too, not thinking of those who might love have loved him...

I know it's just my perspective now that makes me say this, add this to a wonderful essay.

I've not been left deprived of my home, my means to keep it, to sustain myself.

I've not been deprived of our friends, who are standing by to get me through Christmas.

And yet, my husband did leave me something of himself, in his reminders of how to keep myself safe, what to check before I sleep, and a prayer to say with him each night.

I guess I am not left behind..., not without his guidance.
Wednesday December 22nd 2010, 9:16 AM
Comment by: Gary B.
I would say Jayson Iwen has a way with words to rival Mr Aurelius. Nicely put thoughts.
Wednesday December 22nd 2010, 9:43 AM
Comment by: Richard L.
He had me with:
"'Interesting' is its own antonym..."
Wednesday December 22nd 2010, 6:03 PM
Comment by: Bernd
I think that Jane B. "realy hit the nail on the head" with her question to Marie B. by asking: "What would others lose with your passing?"
Wednesday December 22nd 2010, 9:50 PM
Comment by: Roberta M. (Redmond, WA)
I'm very glad I read this.
Thursday December 23rd 2010, 1:54 AM
Comment by: MARIE B. (VALLA BEACH Australia)
Thank you all for your commens - you have again given me something to think about other than myself. Good and necessary lesson. I have not been blessed with a partner for many many years and in this situation one does think "selfishly" - yet my real concern is for those I leave behind, some with problems which I (egotistically) imagined only I could fix . And then I don't want to leave them sad - it really breaks my heart to think of my children(and others sad) not because it is ME that has gone but sadness makes me sad. What a silly thing to say.
Thursday December 23rd 2010, 3:49 AM
Comment by: Bernd
To Marie B. Learning that we cannot "fix" all our children's poblems is letting go as parents and a giant step towards becoming grandparents. Realizing that your children and others will be sad when you pass confirms that they care for and love you and that should make you happy and tell you that it's okay to move on.

As I see it, the only "silly" thing you said is what you did not say.
Thursday December 23rd 2010, 4:07 PM
Comment by: paulette W. (Auburn, CA)
You might find what the Bible says about the condition of the dead as "interesting." Ecclesiates 9:5 says that the dead are conscious of nothing at all....thoughts perish. So no need to worry about it. It is true that the ones left behind are the ones suffering. We miss them. Hope. Is a good word. The Bible also holds out a hope of seeing our loved ones again at John 5:28,29. Now THAT'S interesting. With interest, don't you think?
Friday December 24th 2010, 7:11 PM
Comment by: Lindy
Interesting is in the eye of the beholder I think. The world & time passes before us all, whether it interests us or not is dependent on the existence of an internal state of wonder & engagement. Thus interesting & its antonym could be seen as merely reflections of the inner world.

On the flip side, the external world presents a diversity of experiences in the lottery of life. I have been one of the fortunate ones, privileged to to be well fed, loved, & sheltered, offering me the luxury bring my interested world view to bear on many things non-essential to survival.

Now, the world view: Some one told me there is a curse (Chinese, I was told): "May you live in interesting times". Individual journeys aside, as a species, this would seem to be our (largely self inflicted) lot at present.What the future holds is dependent on our capacity to project our interest into that future & be courageous & intelligent enough to make changes today to ensure 1)we have a future, & 2)it might be an improvement for the majority rather than the few.

As Albert Einstein points out, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again & expecting a different outcome..........
Monday December 27th 2010, 7:23 PM
Comment by: carlos C. (miami, FL)
I loved this blog...and the same poinbt never expect difference in the same failed way.

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