Dictionary of the Mind

  • onJanuary 5, 2017
  • Vol.34 Winter 2016
  • byKim So Yeon
Dictionary of the Mind


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 an impression. Those hands that strained to grip something are stained with hollowness. Whether it was in vain, or something you caught wasn’t what you had wanted, or though you had seized a desired object, it looked meager in your unclenched fist, or even if what you grabbed was what you had wanted, hollowness rests in all these hands. Despite the mind’s whirling hand, and all that the hand attempts, the feeling of hollowness lies in ambush. For that reason, hollowness is far more absolute than emptiness, and philosophically achieves a far more complete state of lack.



The most concentrated form of loneliness. Desolation is not relative but unconditional. If emptiness is the hand that lost hold of what it was grasping, if hollowness is the mind gazing at the futile efforts of the whirling hand, then desolation is the body that has cut off its hand. Each moment, each object, surrounds it at all times like prison walls. It doesn’t even draw itself a narrow radius, but one from a distance, a vast dreary distance. Though its temperature is as chilly as death, desolation continues knitting with each minute to achieve its temperature. With each and every step, and each inhale and exhale of breath. In this way it continues. Like Sleeping Beauty’s finger, the hand is pricked and swells up with blood. Still it remains unaware of its pain and suffering; it is enacting the exalted ritual of knitting together the ruins of time and space.



Lacking exists at the opposite pole of emptiness. Hollowness and lacking both conclude with “not being full,” but their course is different. If hollowness is when all that is meaningful slips like sand through a clenched fist, to lack is the meaningful escaping through a hole in a worn coat pocket without our knowledge.



A state of desiring something different. In the end “lacking” isn’t able to digest anything and becomes ill, but “hunger” digests everything all too well. Like a jar that has lost its base. Faced with a morsel tossed in front of it, hunger nods and says, This is exactly it!, then swallows and digests it too quickly, or after eating, hunger says, No, this wasn’t it, and sadly shakes its head. So hunger asks for more. Lack doesn’t devour our lacking selves, but hunger readily devours our hungry selves. A robust digestive capacity, a neverending meal. “Lack” can escape for a moment just by chewing on a piece of gum, but hunger remains unsatiated even while chewing steak. Hunger is the heart’s energy reaching a negative surplus, and the realization that it will never be full. In that sense, hunger is the most conclusive.



Genuine moments of peace are brief. A sense of peace is the eye of a cyclone, the safety zone. A heavily armed cyclone surrounds this peace. This space is just large enough for the mind to squat. Of the states freest from tension, the time when you feel at peace is the purest; but for me to feel at peace, the universe surrounding me uses up a colossal amount of energy. Since this sense of peace stays alert in order to maintain its state, it soon exhausts itself. Therefore, peace shatters at the slightest disturbance. Then evaporates. Continuity cannot exist for peace. For soon after, peace degenerates into indolence or transforms into melancholy. Just as still water goes stale, peace also stagnates. A sense of peace doesn’t break up loneliness or make it visible, and arrives as you attentively care for loneliness, but it is less honest than dynamic loneliness, and like a frigid corpse, is merely a brief respite before decomposition. 


pp. 91-106

Translated by Krys Lee

Author's Profile

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.