Authenticity: Interintellect Salon Notes

A good thing: I’ve started wandering into more and stranger corners of the internet in the past year. Weird legacy sites documenting English heirloom potatoes. Minimalist archives of Japanese woodworking techniques. A blog in the form of a text-based game. So it doesn’t surprise me that much (except it kind of does) to have stumbled onto The Interintellect (often rendered as “ii”) via something Brendan shared in relation to Hyperlink Academy a couple weeks ago.

I attended my first Salon of theirs this past weekend—a three-hour freeform discussion called “Just Be Yourself: Questioning the Value of Authenticity” facilitated by Linus Lu. Twenty-odd folks called in from around the globe to share perspectives on authenticity, vulnerability, compassion, and selfhood. I didn’t intend to share these notes, but by the time we’d finished talking I thought “What the hell, this could be blog fodder,” so here we are!

(A note on alt text: the gallery plugin I’m running on this site is behaving abominably, so for now I’ve just linked the alt text for all these images here.)

As always, I’m increasingly hung up on who has the privilege—time and money, mostly—to engage in these kinds of discussions. High-level overviews of culture and selfhood absolutely get me going, but I also know that I don’t have the bandwidth for them when I’m scrambling to put food on the table or make sure I can pay my rent.

How can we make more room for folks outside academia and well-paid industries (and the odd self-employed interloper like myself) to interrogate this stuff?

Strange, Familiar Seas

Not every night, but most nights, the English writer Philip Hoare gets into the sea.

I know this because he tweets about it. Not every night, but most nights. A brief, poetic, timestamped dispatch from the waves.

I read Hoare’s book Risingtidefallingstar toward the end of 2018 and fell hopelessly in love. It’s a sweeping voyage through various coastal regions, literary lives, and strange creatures of the sea. It defies categorization—feels tidal rather than textual. (Just describing the book makes me realize that it shares many qualities with Always Coming Home, which should hardly come as a surprise at this point.)

When I followed Hoare on Twitter, I started seeing these fleeting messages in my feed. The nature of the platform meant that it took me a while to realize how consistently they cropped up, but when I noticed, it shifted something.

In 2019, I made a pact with myself after a week by a lake on an island in Canada: if I find myself near a body of water and it is even remotely possible for me to get into it, I must get into it.1 I’ve since plunged into frigid waves on the Oregon coast, silky river waters of the Columbia Gorge, and the hidden shock of a creek in my hometown of Ojai, California.

Often, as I’m sprinting, screaming across the wide expanse of sand toward the breakers, or furtively scrambling out of my clothes in the underbrush, I think of Hoare’s constant devotion to being where he feels most alive. Most held.

It’s not even about whether or not he swims every night, or what time he goes (does the man ever sleep? Unclear), or what the sky is doing on that particular Tuesday. It’s just a reminder that there is a person who embodies his affection for the sea so fully and faithfully that he’s out there, in the water, baptized night after night.

Whatever Hoare writes next, I’ll probably love it. But my primary interest isn’t his creative output. The thing I want to know is whether he is still himself, and as far as I can tell plunging bodily into the ocean on a near-nightly basis is the backbone of his existence.

I’ve chewed on the idea of object permanence a lot this year—dug into my mistrust of fleeting social media feedback, questioned how online creators can feel secure in taking leaves of absence, and wondered at what it is about our work that truly endures. Hoare makes me consider relocating the idea of permanence from deliverables like books and art and films to the substrates of our creative practices; these undercurrents of selfhood.

That is the thing I want to celebrate and support.

1. Even having trod on a stingray and endured unimaginable agony two months after taking said vow, I still believe it to be sound.

The Lexicon

I was in high school when I started my first list of unknown words.

It happened because I was tired of acing vocab quizzes in English class without having to study, and that was happening because I was a precocious kid who read a lot of books and seemed unable to stop adding to her already unwieldy (and often socially alienating) internal dictionary.

So I made a list. And I formatted it like the McSweeney’s Internet Tendency homepage, because it was 2005 and that’s what we did back then.

L U C Y B E L L W O O D ’ S DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO WORDS PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN heliotrope: n. A small, fragrant plant. aspersion: n. An unfavorable or damaging remark; slander. ornery: adj. Stubborn, ill-tempered. amalgam: n. A combination of diverse elements; mixture. solipsism: n. Philosophy stating that the self is the only reality. asinine: adj. Stupid, silly, foolish. metastasize: intr.v. To spread, especially destructively. sere: adj. Withered, dry. inure: v. The grow accustomed to something unpleasant. redolent: adj. 1. Aromatic. 2. Suggestive, reminiscent. lackadaisical: adj. Lacking spirit, life etc. parvenu: n. Someone who has recently become wealthy but lacks the social culture associated with his/her rank. effigy: n. A crude likeness of a hated thing. bindlestiff: n. A hobo or migrant worker. macadam: n. Paving made of compacted, broken stone covered with asphalt or tar. sanguine: adj. 1. Of the color of blood. 2. Cheerful, optimistic. ghat: n. a broad flight of steps leading down to a river. bedizen: v. To adorn or dress gaudily. sesquipedalian: n. A long word. adj. Given to the use of long words, polysyllabic. tintinnabulation: n. The ringing or sounding of bells. spate: n. A sudden rush or flood. recherché: adj. Refined and elegant to an extreme. fraterist: n. One who is compelled to sub against others in public. abreaction: n. The expression of a previously repressed emotion. coloratura: n. Ornate embellishment in vocal music. lascivious: adj. Lustful, lewd. gormandize: v. To eat greedily, gorge. imago: n. 1. An insect in its fully mature sexual state after metamorphosis. 2. Psych. An idealized image, often of a parent, unconsciously carried into adulthood. lascar: n. An East Indian sailor. lanose: adj. Wooly. ineluctable: adj. Unavoidable. in extremis: adv. At the point of death. In grave or extreme circumstances. lenitive: adj. Capable of easing pain or discomfort. penitence: n. A feeling of remorse or regret. penury: n. Extreme poverty. sang-froid: n. Composure. vociferate: v. To cry out, utter vehemently. virago: n. A strident, domineering woman. virgule: n. The official name of the / syombol. obelus: n. Official name of the ÷ symbol. Used by the Greeks to mark passages of text thought to be pointless or stupid. mimp: n. A kiss. obstreperous: adj. Noisy and unruly. obviate: v. To anticipate and prevent. obloquy: n. Abusive language; Condition of disgrace suffered as a result of abuse or vilification. bordello: n. A house of prostitution. boondoggle: n. Pointless, wasteful work. sui generis: adj. Being unique of its kind. recto: n. The right-hand page of a book. sinecure: n. A position that pays well but requires very little work. sine die: adv. Without a future time or date specified, indefinite. sine qua non: n. An essential element. whilom: adv. (Archaic) At a former time, formerly. dudgeon: n. Sullen, angry or indignant mood. pedant: n. One, especially an unimaginative teacher, who reinforces trivial details of learning. One who makes a show of being scholarly. pecuniary: adj. Relating to money. pedagogy: n. The art, profession etc. of teaching. pedagog, -gogue: n. A teacher. au courant: adj. Informed of current affairs, up-to-date. attitudinize: v. To assume an attitude for effect; posture. attenuate: v. To make or become fine or thin; weaken. troth: n. Good faith, fidelity. joie de vivre: n. Lively enjoyment of life. pro tempore: adj. For the time being. autochthonous: adj. Indigenous, native to a particular place. nomenclature: n. A system of names used in an art or science for classification. ucalegon: n. A neighbor whose house is on fire.
(Clicking on this image will open the list as a much more legible Google Doc, if you’re curious.)

I never did anything so organized as quizzing myself on the entries, but when I rediscovered this artefact it turned out I’d learned almost all the words quite naturally in the course of becoming an adult. (Using them in conversation also seems to put less of a damper on my social life these days. Score one for finding your people.)

Anyway, several years ago I found myself jotting down word after word as I tore through Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk. Her goshawk’s “breast feathers of vermiculated snow” were just the tip of the lexical iceberg. She deployed technical birding terminology and archaic literary expressions with equal and terrific frequency. I hadn’t read anything involving so many new-to-me words in ages.

So I made a new list. Just a messy thing in the notes app on my phone, not modeled after any particular beloved internet comedy website. And, as the books and years rolled by, I kept adding to it.

Eventually some Twitter conversation prompted me to share a selection of choice entries, but I thought it would be even better to catalogue them all on my own site. There’s now a slightly awkward, plugin-fueled version of that very feature here, but you can also subscribe to this RSS feed and it’ll just update your reader every time I add a new word. (The plugin also adds hover-activated definitions when I use catalogued words anywhere on the site, so that’s fun.)

I’ll warn you right now: I copy my definitions willy-nilly from whatever dictionary I have to hand, but I’m starting to get more deliberate about formatting and I do try and cite where I first encountered the word at the end of each entry.

If all goes according to plan, I can look back on this new list in twenty years and wonder how I ever got by without using the word lambrequin in a sentence every other day.

Until then, I hope you’ll enjoy delighting in these new terms as much as I do.