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Onism: The Awareness of How Little of the World You'll Experience

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Published on Dec 7, 2014

onism - n. the frustration of being stuck in just one body, that inhabits only one place at a time, which is like standing in front of the departures screen at an airport, flickering over with strange place names like other people's passwords, each representing one more thing you'll never get to see before you die-and all because, as the arrow on the map helpfully points out, you are here.

THE DICTIONARY OF OBSCURE SORROWS http://www.dictionaryofobscuresorrows...
The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is a compendium of invented words written by John Koenig. Each original definition aims to fill a hole in the language—to give a name to emotions we all might experience but don’t yet have a word for. Follow the project, give feedback, suggest an emotion you need a word for, or just tell me about your day.

Email the author: obscuresorrows@gmail.com
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Twitter @ObscureSorrows https://twitter.com/obscuresorrows

ETYMOLOGY: Portmanteau of monism + onanism. In philosophy, monism is the view that a variety of things can be explained in terms of a single reality or substance, or a distinct source. Onism is a kind of monism, because your life is indeed limited to a single reality—by virtue of being restricted to a single body—but something is clearly missing. Meanwhile, onanism is another word for self-pleasure, transfixed inside your own menagerie of fantasies like going on a sightseeing tour your own apartment—frustrating in its closed-off familiarity. Again, something is missing.

MUSIC CREDITS: "The Limits of Rationality" by Ian Paul Livingstone & Stephen James Root

TRANSCRIPT
You are here. You were lost at first, but soon began sketching yourself a map of the world—plotting the contours of your life.

And like the first explorers, sooner or later you have to contend with the blank spaces on the map. All the experiences you've never had. The part of you still aching to know what's out there. Eventually these questions take on a weight of their own, and begin looming over your everyday life.

All the billions of doors you had to close in order to take a single step forward. All the things you haven't done and may never get around to doing; all the risks that may or may not have been real; all the destinations you didn't buy a ticket to; all the lights you see in the distance that you can only wonder about; all the alternate histories you narrowly avoided; all the fantasies that stay dormant inside your head; everything you're giving up, to be where you are right now; the questions that you wrongly assumed were unanswerable.

It's strange how little of the universe we actually get to see. Strange how many assumptions we have to make just to get by, stuck in only one body, in only one place at a time. Strange how many excuses we've invented to explain why so much of life belongs in the background. Strange that any of us could ever feel at home on such an alien world.

We sketch monsters on the map because we find their presence comforting. They guard the edges of the abyss, and force us to look away; so we can live comfortably in the Known World, at least for a little while.

But if someone were to ask you on your deathbed what it was like to live here on Earth, perhaps the only honest answer would be, "I don't know. I passed through it once, but I've never really been there."

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