The word “lonely” is not an adjective. It is an action verb that moves energetically. People seek the words “I’m lonely” when they can no longer bear how empty they feel, and then release the words. Already within loneliness is a stirring energy unable to cope with itself. That energy transforms the state of loneliness into an action verb.
Compared to the word loneliness, “melancholy” reacts more to the environment outside the self than to the inner self. More precisely, it is a reaction to the relationship between the mind and the environment outside the self. If loneliness gazes at its surroundings, melancholy investigates those surroundings. After investigating what surrounds the heart, the drop in the heart’s temperature as it absorbs the environment’s own low temperature—that is melancholy.
Life can continue onward from the edges of loneliness and melancholy, but not from weariness. Being consumed by solitude while gazing up lazily at yourself being consumed, without recourse: this is weariness. Because it doesn’t diagnose the problem or try to act, weariness continues to grow meekly. The best that weariness can manage is to gaze at the ceiling, and one by one, follow the repeating pattern of the wallpaper. It doesn’t even possess the feeling of pain that attends loneliness and melancholy. Because weariness treats agonizing situations as if they weren’t agonizing, it is a little more dangerous. One can recover from loneliness without medication (more accurately, one might not recover but symptoms will disappear without medication) but when weary, one must change into the garment of loneliness for any sign of recovery.
This is the most naïve form of loneliness. When children feel lonely, melancholy, weary, empty, or hollow, they think they are bored. If a child realizes what loneliness is and expresses this loneliness, she is no longer a child. Just as people seek food when they feel peckish, they look for something to do when they are bored. Whether they listen to music, go on a walk, or meet a friend, they find something. Because of boredom’s resolve to be occupied, it is already approaching and gesturing toward its object. Some things that approach when boredom gestures them over include creativity and invention.
Tedium exists between boredom and loneliness. This isn’t to say that boredom progresses easily to tedium, and tedium to loneliness, but that while boredom gestures outwards, tedium hasn’t reached the stage of gesturing just yet. The inability of loneliness to endure itself possesses a dynamic energy, but the passive state of tedium lacks all energy. Tedium makes no effort because it has long forgotten how to approach and make that gesture, and because so far no other form of energy (such as the dynamic energy of loneliness) has replaced that forgotten knowledge. Therefore tedium continues murmuring and ruminating with its empty mouth.
Emptiness resembles a sense of loss. The state of something that once was. Or the desire for something that doesn’t exist. The only thing left hanging from emptiness is an arm sagging after letting go, and a hand that remembers only how it had once grabbed onto that arm.
If emptiness is a hand that remembers the feeling of once holding onto something, hollowness is the hand that struggles to hold on. Further, it is regret gazing vacantly at that hand. All the countless whirling hands, and their energy, hover like halos behind hollowness because their retreating effort, like a low tide sucking back a wave, leaves a...
Kim So Yeon has published four poetry collections, two essay collections, one children’s book, and one picture book. She has received the Nojak Literary Award and the Hyundae Literary Award for poetry. Her poems have appeared in Mānoa.