JOK Notebook

The Injury Underneath

Let's start with a quiz. What do you think the following term could mean?

一掃 (いっそう)      1 + sweeping, cleaning

a. sweeping generalization that overlooks the value of something or someone
b. thorough cleaning associated with the new year
c. clean sweep; purging; doing away with; eradication
d. doing many things in one fell swoop

I'll block the answer with a preview of the newest essay:

Okay, here's the answer:

c. 一掃 (いっそう: 1 + sweeping, cleaning) means "clean sweep; purging; doing away with; eradication." 

To me that's particularly salient right now because, as I mentioned in the latest newsletter, I hired five interns for December. The goal is to make a "clean sweep" of work that has built up for years and years. I have put five people to work on the most tedious tasks you can imagine, and I feel the way Santa must feel as his elves nimbly assemble toys while he sleeps. (That is the arrangement, isn't it? I'm a little rusty on my Santa lore.)

The interns are rockets, as my husband puts it, and for every hour I invest in training them, I know they'll reward me with anywhere from 20 to 80 hours of work. What a payoff! And yet it's been an exhausting week for me. My life has been a whirlwind of long Skype chats, countless emails, and huge time sinks as I gather the material each intern needs. In some cases, that requires remembering arcane procedures from the distant past. I found myself scouring someone's notes (written with indecipherable abbreviations) from March 2012 on how I should change double quotation marks to single quotation marks in the murkiest depths of my website so that it can communicate better with search engines. When I started Joy o' Kanji, I never dreamed that that's how I'd be spending my time.

And just when an intern is off and running and I hope to return to writing, an email flies in with completed work, and I need to spring into action to support that person's efforts. Counting the five new interns, I currently have 17 very productive people working for me (with an 18th on vacation). In other words, I don't have a prayer of keeping up with my job! I was supposed to write essay 1675 on 尿 (urine) this week, and I didn't squeeze out even a drop! 

I'm trying to accept that, just for this month, the path will simply be different than I thought. Coincidentally, I keep encountering themes of setbacks, particularly in the forthcoming essay 2014 on 挫 (sprain; bruise; to discourage), which offers sunny ways of responding to failure. 

The essay includes this term: 

挫創 (ざそう: bruise)     bruise + injury

I asked my proofreader whether I was correct in defining this 創 as "injury." As I explained, Denshi Jisho indicates that 創 can mean "injury, hurt, wound," but Halpern doesn't say anything like that. He primarily defines 創 as "to create, bring into being, invent," as in 創造 (そうぞう: creation). He also says that 創 can mean "to initiate, originate, start," as in 創立する (そうりつする: to establish, organize, start).

By the way, Kanjigen explains how it is that one kanji embodies these disparate definitions; 創 means "to cut with a knife." Because cutting something with a knife is the first step in handicraft, the kanji came to mean "to initiate." And Henshall says that the "sword" radical (刂) really does mean "sword" in 創 and that the whole character means "wounded with a sword"! Thus, we return to the theme of injuries.

Anyway, my proofreader told me that on rare occasions, 創 as きず means "injury," "hurt," and "wound." For instance, she said, the Japanese refer to a Band-Aid this way:

絆創膏 (ばんそうこう: Band-Aid)     bonds + injury + plaster

This word has 創 at its center and non-Joyo kanji on either end. 

Then she took the idea further, presenting an idea from a site with a philosophical or spiritual bent. According to that source, creating something requires a きず.

Ah, that's quite thought-provoking! But is it true? ... Yes, I think I agree. When I review the major projects in my life, I recall instances in which I made a concerted effort to transform pain and loss into something beneficial. What about all my kanji writing? It doesn't immediately seem that the creative efforts resulted from pain. But if I really think about it, profound emotional wounding probably does drive much of that work, though it's hard on a normal day for my conscious mind to perceive that injury as the "motor." 

Something else has just come back to me. Whenever I lamented to my friend Malcolm Wells (a visionary architect who died in 2009) that unresolved issues were causing me great distress, he would say, "I think all creative people have something needling them." And I would feel calmer and try to see the trauma in a positive light, as fuel for my fire.

The more I think about a きず in this way now, the more I'm on board with what my proofreader told me. But I think a きず can't be the only ingredient. Something extremely positive has to motivate the work, too. And with Joy o' Kanji, that thing is joy. (Or maybe mania ... or outright insanity!)

Speaking of joy, I want to share a great experience from last weekend. I played tennis every day of our four-day weekend (despite gale-force winds!), and on day 3 I spotted a T-shirt with enormous kanji on the adjoining court. Even though the man was in motion much of the time, I could easily make out the shapes: 


But what could they mean? I drew a blank on everything associated with either character, and I certainly had no idea what they meant collectively. I needed to focus on my serve, on my return of serve, on my groundstrokes.... And yet that word pulled my gaze to the side over and over again. What could it mean? I had no way of knowing.

I was so curious that when the man began packing up his things, I interrupted our game and asked him about the kanji. He had little information, saying that it was his son's shirt from Chicago. I could finally see the tiny writing on the front—"JACL" and "Japanese American Citizens League." (I took that for a holdover from the internment era, but the organization actually dates back to 1929!)

I still knew nothing about the kanji, or so I thought.

But as I continued to play, I chipped away at the problem. Wasn't the in 結ぶ (むすぶ: to tie, link), as well as 結婚 (けっこん: marriage)? Of course it was! How could I have blanked out on that when I know both words well? 

And as for 団, I kept seeing one picture in my mind. It's in Radical Note 123 on 羊, the "sheep" radical:

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

I wrote about flocks there, and somehow that helped me recall that 団 can have the yomi of ダン and primarily means "group."

So 団結 is だんけつ and must mean something like "uniting a group," I figured. The first thing I did when I got home was look up the word. Here's what I saw:

団結 (だんけつ: unity; union; combination)

What a thrill to have figured it out! It was also fun to find that this word lies at the heart of three spinoffs.

But how did I really know that about 団? Now that I'm looking at Radical Note 123, I see that I didn't actually mention 団 there at all! Instead, I focused on 群 (657: flock, group, crowd, herd, swarm, cluster).

I included the same photo in essay 1936 on 郎 (male name suffix; counter for sons), where I explained that 団十郎 (だんじゅうろう) is a male given name—in this case that of a "boss" monkey! That doesn't help with the meaning of 団.

And, oh! I have it! At least I think I do! Ulrike has written a mnemonic about 団 (749), and I worked with her until we had it right. Plus, as part of that process, my proofreader and I went over the main meanings of 団, deciding on "group; corporation, organization."

Can I rest easy, believing that that's how I absorbed 団? Or is this going to be one more damned thing needling me into creative output?!

Have a great weekend!


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