Monday, 17 January 2011

On Wordless Gestures

I used to blog fairly often about the books I read, but I haven't done so for a while. This one, however, I can't let pass; it's a book I feel I have to talk about. It's called Silence in October, by Jens Christian Gr√łndahl, and it's incredible. I think I've mentioned before how if I read a sentence or paragraph that I like, I underline it, or dog-ear the page. Well, I like so much of this book that it's now in very bad shape. One of my favourite parts is the following:

"People kiss each other because they don't know what else to do. You have nothing other than your silly lips, your silly hands that brave the same language while the world changes."

The reason I like this line is that it set me thinking - yes, the rusted cogs in my brain creaked back into action, at last - about body language and gestures. Not handshakes, or nods, or waving. They're all open to different interpretations based on the culture within which they take place, or so I believe. But kissing, and hugging. Things like that are universal, aren't they? They're almost primal. Spoken and written language changes as time passes; new words are created, old ones given new meanings, some disappear altogether. But physical signs of affection remain pretty much the same, don't they? I know that fifty years ago it would not have been wise to eat face in public, but I imagine that face was indeed eaten behind closed doors. And, even if it wasn't, if some pent-up Victorian woman was feeling a bit low, I'm sure her equally prudish friends would have given her a hug to cheer her up. It just makes me wonder how far back these things go. I mean, do monkeys cuddle?

My brain has been out of action for a while, as it's been under significant pressure from a procession of bad moods, so this unexpected activity was a welcome change. It was so welcome, it went one step further, dragging me off on a wild, hippyish tangent. Basically, as far as I'm aware, everyone loves a cuddle, regardless of their nationality or culture*. They are things that we all have in common; they transcend the social and cultural barriers that have grown between us over time. Somewhere, below the civility, the history and politics there's a bond that links us all. Don't get me wrong; I love cultural difference, I think it's fascinating, but it's also nice to be reminded that there is something more basic, something we share.

And as I walked through the City with this playing on my mind, I started to see it as a giant ant nest, home to the thousands who work and play here; linked to hundreds of other ant nests by trains, planes and unspoken methods of communication that predate the societies we know.

[Right...come back down to earth, Tom.]

What sparked this ridiculous post, besides the quote from Silence in October, was the way my Saturday night ended. I had been to a party and, true to form, I had drunk far more than was good for me. In fact, I went to the party knowing that this would be the case; lately I've been feeling like things are unravelling, starting to go wrong left, right and centre. The chances are these things will all pass, but I was desperate to push everything that was pissing me off out of my head and determined to have fun. And I did, until the walk home, during which a stream of drunken and nonsensical words poured forth from my silly lips and created an argument. But there came a point where words failed me, they weren't explaining what I wanted to say. And that's when a hug dragged me back from the brink of drunken despair, quelled my misplaced anger and forced the monster that is That-Drunk-Tom back into its cage.

Really, when you've had too much to drink, and your problems well up inside you so much that you start an argument for no good reason before collapsing into a puddle of misery - when you feel that low - it's the wordless gestures that help the most. Those silly hands and silly lips the book mentions help more than page upon page of beautiful words or hours of well-meant advice. And there's somebody, who may or may not be reading this, that should know that I'm grateful for their patience on Saturday night.


  1. Awe - is this the hug from New Years? The one that lasted 20 minutes. I may check this book out - I'm always looking for new books.

  2. You've got a good friend. I would have punched you right in your silly lips.

    Do you folks really writer the word centre instead of center?
    Gosh, the english. Its like we have to reteach you everything!

  3. How come when I get drunk, I fall asleep? Really! I never really had the chance to do crazy stuff or say silly things when I'm drunk. When I've had enough alcohol, I feel like going to bed.

    Am I not normal??

  4. Great post Tom- ah so that's your name. And sorry to hear you've been having something of a tough time of it lately regarding those pesky internal strands- happens to the best of us. I like to think it's a sign of being a deep thinker, but maybe it's more like thinking too much. I've also been down the road of stunning too much in an effort to leave the crap behind, but it never server me too well, always ende up feeling worse. I always find a good long chat with a close friend was much better. Hugs from Spain. X

  5. I've always wondered who invented/discovered the kiss. Like, who decided that touching lips together was pleasurable? I can understand cuddling and hugging because they generate warmth and show closeness/intimacy but where does the kiss come from?

  6. *squish*

    I'm sure they're reading it and know how much you appreciate them.

    Also, any time you feel awful about having had a bit too much to drink... just think of my NYE. ;)


  7. I can consume an inhuman amount of alchohol as per my height (yes,I'm proud).I usually need a shove,but a loving one helps :P
    Don't feel awful..I,the nugget,in the middle of a fix up yelled at the guy for stealing MY NUTS.Ah,vodquila..the things you do!

  8. @ Allison - no, this was a separate hug. I seem to be engaging in many a hug of late. I suppose that's not a completely bad thing though. I've just finished the book - it's hard work, but I still recommend it. It's very deep, very introspective, and incredibly well written. It's also Danish, not Swedish. I'm an idiot.

    @ Erin - This made me lol, actually lol. But there you have another wordless gesture, only with a silly fist instead of a silly lip. And yes, centre is how it's spelt. Should you require any further spelling lessons, please don't hesitate to contact me. JOKING!

    @ Gnetch - you're not normal, no. You're lucky though. Sometimes I wish I'd just fall asleep. At least then people wouldn't have to listen to my drunken ramblings.

    @ Corte Inglesa - I'm swiftly coming to the same conclusion. The drink only helped while there was another distraction - as soon as I was alone with my thoughts I went completely nuts. Still, you live and you learn. Except this has happened before, and I didn't learn. I will. I will this time ;)

    @ Amber - I KNOW! Who first thought to do that? It's just weird. Who first thought that sharing saliva could be romantic/affectionate? I don't understand it.

    @ Risha - I drank far too much and it was all my own fault - it's not comparable to your NYE my love. And I miss you too. Always. But you know that, right?

    @ Sweta - vodquila? That would kill me. I'm not even joking. Kill me dead.

  9. least you didn't throw chairs about.