I am not a linguist, though I confess to an unusual interest in lexis and etymology. In my line of work I have often had to consult independent sources (read = UrbanDictionary.com) or even directly ask people what exactly they mean when dealt phrases like, “That’s sick!” or “I’m f’na go.” [The first, a total gimme for you, yes, sick = sooooo cool. The second, slightly more advanced, and I only actually worked it out after getting a lesson from Nakisha “Pepsi” Green back at the Double Rock projects where she ‘stayed’ in 1994, “I am fixing to go,” or “I am leaving.”]
Working with adolescents is a constant reminder of how totally lame you really are once you pass the age of probably 25. There is simply no way to keep up with the morphing vernacular. That aside, I have noted some strange consistencies from working in San Francisco’s Excelsior district back in the day, to the wilds of Reno-Tahoe-Sparks and the mania of Asia. Not many mind you, but a few. The first is a prevailing interest in footwear. The second is the way that ESL and “non-standard” English (though I hate that term, since technically, as a Californian I am way non-standard…) speakers ask me where I live: they consistently ask where I stay.
“Where do you stay in Hong Kong?”
I am clear what is meant by this question, and I even know how to respond, which guarantees the following rejoinder: “You stay on Lamma?!” I have no idea how the initial question becomes translated this way, nor do I really care. In fact, what I have been contemplating with regard to this semantic distinction is the nature of the difference between “stay” and “live”. Let’s compare:
–verb (used without object)
1. to spend some time in a place, in a situation, with a person or group, etc.
2. to pause or wait, as for a moment, before proceeding or continuing;
–verb (used without object)
1. to pass life in a specified manner;
2. to escape destruction or remain afloat;
That sort of sums up my take on the semantic situation. I had been contemplating the impermanence or flexibility inherent in ‘stay’ in comparison to the need-based feeling I get from ‘live’ – as in I need that to live. [Leave it to Dictionary.com to allow me the variety in definitions to prove just the point I wanted.]
Live. Stay. Live. Stay. Live. Stay. (a)Live.
When my favorite yogi was astonished to learn that I stayed on Lamma, all the time, I got to thinking about just that. Do I ‘stay’ on Lamma or do I ‘live’ on Lamma? I have to say, it is sometimes hard to tell. I am not sure it matters, really. A combination is surely the best. At that moment I totally wanted to take a picture of him, not just for his amusing and incredulous smile, but because I wanted to share this part of my life with my family and friends who don’t get to see it. [Of course, that would have been super awkward, so I exercised a little restraint.] But then that got me thinking about the way I see the places I find myself vis a vis my camera.
When I travel, I take heaps of photos. Absolutely. Heaps. But when I went home [that tricky conundrum – “home,” an entirely separate semantics lesson for another time] this summer… I took hardly any. Okay, well, that is a slight understatement, but it is true that in five days in Japan I took more than twice as many photos as I did in five weeks at home. [And rest assured that has nothing to do with some corollary re: aesthetics.] The thing was, I was living – not staying – while I was at home. For real, living like, to have life; to continue in existence, operation, or memory; to maintain or support one’s existence. No documentation was required. Right now, I am staying in Hong Kong… like I stayed in Japan and will soon stay in Vietnam and Bali and Burma: I will pause or wait, as for a moment, before proceeding or continuing.
Everyday when I take out my camera to continue on the adventure that is my Project 365 blog, I look around and try to see things that represent my life here… things I see that, just maybe, someone else missed. I am documenting my life here in a certain way, but I am not living in a specified manner (yeah, escaping destruction for the most part…) I am pausing before I continue.
I stay in Hong Kong, on Lamma, and I know I will stay many other places as I work my way back to the States.
And this, quite clearly, is living.