I’ll never forget the day I learned about schadenfreude, the feeling of pleasure you might experience when something terrible happens to someone else.
Same for gluckschmerz, a related word that means feeling unhappy about the good fortune of others.
But the borrowed word(s)-for-a-feeling I love most of all has to be l’esprit de l’escalier — sometimes called “staircase wit” in English. It’s the feeling you have when you think of the perfect come-back … seconds, minutes, days, or weeks too late.
It’s my personal default setting, pretty much.
And I’m feeling it a lot these days, now that I’m Officially Not Working.
It comes up in conversation all the time, usually when people ask me what I’m doing, or what I want to do, or what I have lined up.
I know it’s just a casual query, and that no one is really interested in the details. But my lack of a coherent, compelling, and concise answer — honestly, the thing I’ve just been paid to generate for the last many many years — is telling.
It’s not just that the shoemaker’s children go barefoot.
It’s that I honestly don’t know, and I’m kind of worn out from trying.
This makes some conversations painful, and not in my usual introvert-who-finds-people-mildly-scary way. The net result is that I often give a kind of stumbly and confused half-answer (if you need an example, the other day I literally said “person to give teaching” when I meant “instructor”).
It’s all compounded by the fact that for the first time in years — YEARS — I finally have the time to actually get out and socialize and spend time with some really lovely, kind, and generous people, whose loveliness, kindness and generosity is evident in the fact that they don’t laugh at me when I trip over my words.
I don’t know if this will get better with time or practice. I tell myself that it will. I try to take my own advice and just tell that inward, nagging voice to screw off.
And I don’t regret any of the conversations I’m having. Not really.
It’s more a feeling of remorse or worry for the other people who have to not patiently while I say objectively farcical things (if you need another example, I recently described networking as “conversation relations”).
That feeling of being gratefully apologetic toward everyone who spends time with me these days … I wonder if there’s a German word for that.