Words I don’t understand

Ikigai is a Japanese word without a direct equivalent in English, though I suppose it could be considered the spirit of life, what makes life worth living, the quality of it all. I read about it in an interesting article about robots for assisting dementia patients. (Wired) Not in basic life tasks like hygiene, but in improving the general experience of living for people who have major cognitive impairments. Treatments for things like dementia often involve regressing into happy memories, but some researchers want to help folks enjoy their present and future for as long as they have it, and that means improving ikigai.

Until the last couple years, I had a good life. I have been successful. There wasn’t anything to complain about. But I was struggling internally, and it felt like all the good stuff happened around this giant gaping bleeding wound that would never heal. I could never forget about the giant gaping bleeding wound. I’d have loads of fun, experiencing beauty and the regular gamut of emotions, while also constantly gushing blood. It feels like it would be easier to say life was fine – even good – but I had poor ikigai.

This ties into my other favorite word English doesn’t translate directly: bildung. Bildung is the German concept of self-growth, a journey of becoming better and more yourself through time. You may have heard of the bildungsroman, which is like a coming of age novel.

In order to improve my ikigai, I needed to have a whole bildung, and that was kinda the first half of my thirties. I feel so much happier than I’ve felt before. I’m not all the way healed, but this seeping hole is crusting over and getting scabby. Could I think of a grosser metaphor for something pleasant? Life is messy and gross and good.

I’ve also been thinking about quality of life through one’s declining years. I’ve been the hospice for several sickly, aging animals now, and although I haven’t yet needed to care for an aging relative (knock on wood), I contemplate it because age is coming for all of us eventually (hopefully). I think about how little children don’t remember much of anything. But we try to give them great experiences and so much joy within the cognitive limitations of childhood. If we lovingly embrace our aging elders, even through the heartbreak of knowing this is a regression rather than a progression, could we also enjoy each other better, longer? Could we all have better ikigai?

I’m probably using the word wrong, but I just like the concept a lot right now.


Although I’ve been feeling more peaceful and healed, I feel I’m missing out on supporting my family financially. I’m doing stuff in that direction slowly, trying to amp myself back up for more work, but I tried last year too and kinda slipped so I feel less confident about my ability to get my feet under me. Heck, I also tried to get my feet under me for a yearish of college and slipped at that too. They have been gentle small slips as I attempt gentle steps, but it’s not been too encouraging.

I used to get a lot of pride and self-worth out of bringing ample bacon home for my family. I’m no longer confident I can do that, and it’s really not just a blow to my ego (long since faded–like I said, I’ve been healing) but also it makes me feel really uncertain about myself. I always supported myself since I was 18. The last year or two, I have not contributed as much as my spouse. It’s scary! And I honestly feel like I don’t deserve this time to reorient myself, like I am not pulling my weight.

We don’t mind living a smaller life, mostly. We aren’t hurting. We aren’t having lavish vacations anymore, but I don’t think it markedly changes the quality of life for me! Like all the stuff I used to go out and do and spend money on was as much stress as positive influence, on the good end of things, and I appreciate the less-stressful life at home that has allowed me to flourish in new creative directions.

Normally I remember this and I’m good. The most productive thing to do is just focus on getting better at working again in healthy ways, and really put my energy into that, not so much beating myself up for what I can’t do compared to my past. The past is the past. Yanno?

I’ve been feeling a jolt once in a while lately. Like a cold splash or an electric shock. Like I just woke up 7-8 years ago, realized I hadn’t released a book in months, and have an immediate panic attack. I used to release almost monthly. I was always searching for new opportunities, making connections, marketing, straining through books. The life I’m living right now was my fear. I would have seen myself as utterly worthless. It took years of growth to get to a place where I stopped valuing myself based on external factors at all, and started realizing I have inherent value, but sometimes it’s like…all that growth just vanishes in a blink and I’m scared and bleeding again.

What am I so afraid of? Taking it easy now doesn’t mean all my past accomplishments stop counting. And my current non-financial accomplishments are so meaningful. Moving away from a capitalist sense of value has been really important for me.

I almost feel like this is a sign I should shake myself around a little and step up my effort on working–in healthful ways, of course. Indulging fear won’t help me, but I gotta get motivation somewhere? I really do work every day. I write plenty. But I think I need to really focus on finishing the twelve thousand unfinished projects sitting out there. I feel so much better whenever I have something to show for my efforts.

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