Playing: Ágætis Byrjun by Sigur Rós
“Fjarlægur draumur fæðist…”
“A distant dream is born,”
And by born I mean alive, stretching out like the first golden rays of light pressing through the surface of the ocean, like the small budding streaks of grass pushing past their earthly dirt cocoon.
Fjarlægur draumur fæðist, but it isn’t distant any longer. This dream is here, pressing against my cheek like condensation kissing the window.
Ég er að fara til íslands,
I am going to Iceland,
I Am Going To Iceland.
Wow, the moment is finally here,
loksins, loksins, finally.
If the time is a “freckle past a hair,” then surely these freckles resemble the number tveir, tvær, tvö, two more days until I set foot in the distant dream Sigur Rós induced many years ago. It is immense to think that a year of dedication has built itself into this moment. I can still remember the piece of paper I wrote my first Icelandic words on. I never thought much of the blank back of my high school Government notes, but my not-so-ardent teacher made it possible for me to zone out and explore what a blank piece of paper could offer me. I was obliviously staring at the stark whiteness of possibility, and suddenly I knew exactly what I was going to do. It started with the curve of the letter E, then the I, the dot to the I, the double N. Einn. I watched the blue fountain pen ink pool at the ends of each letter. I had written the number “one” in Icelandic. It was foreign, it was beautiful, einn, einn, einn, it reminded me of “eye,” “eyeing.” Before I knew it, my ocean of an einn was followed by a tveir, a þrír, fjörir, fimm, sex, átta, níu, tíu, an einn again, a tveir, and so forth. I had no clue what the letter þ sounded like, but I wrote it anyway. It was beautiful. It was a foreign creature I had manifested on the paper with my own hands. I was sitting in my government glass with the numbers 1-10 written nearly 20 times on the back of my notes, silently. When I turned my paper over, I realized my fountain pen ink had entirely soaked through the back of the page, and all my writings on the recent chapter in government were ruined. Somehow this felt right, and I ran with it.
I spent that afternoon during my lunch period in the library, frantically searching for neat Icelandic words that I could collectively fill into the margins of all my previously concise Environmental Science notes. With reckless abandon I wrote down hundur for dog, rós for rose, haf for ocean, and so on. I went home and found the words for wind, mountain, glacier, hot spring, beauty, moonlight. I looked up the names of songs by Sigur Rós, I started to question what all these beautiful songs actually meant when they were understood for their lyrical context. I came to this realization that I could experience an entirely new set of emotions just by understanding the foreign words in the songs I had already fallen in love with. And thus, my exploration of Icelandic truly began.
In the past year, my life has undoubtably dedicated itself to a quest of attaining beauty, a quest for a better understanding of how a band like Sigur Rós can use spoken language to express the immense frequencies of beauty and emotion that our atoms permit us to experience-
In April 2013, I set up a change jar in dedication to a trip the the homeland of this beautiful language, Icelandic, and within a month’s time I had a little over a hundred dollars in my hands. I set a reasonable goal of $3,000, and hoped that maybe in a few years I would be able to reach it. I didn’t realize until the middle of the summer that I was going to stop at nothing to get to Iceland. Within a few more months I had upped my work schedule to 40 hours, had saved about $1,000, and was set on getting to $3,ooo. I then stumbled upon an Icelandic course for the summer of 2014 when browsing Icelandic culture online, which set into effect a chain of events leading to my submitted application to the course. The prerequisite for the three week course in Modern Icelandic was the completion of a 3 part online icelandic course, which was to be tested upon by February the next year. I immediately got to learning, and would spend hours upon hours after late shifts at work studying the online course and making flashcards of vocabulary, diagrams on white boards of grammar. I used to take receipt paper at work and write down Icelandic words off the top of my head, I would mentally count each customer’s change in Icelandic while reciting it back to them in English. I caught myself sporadically writing Icelandic words in my Psychology notes amid the english ones, like sálfræðingur for psychologist and hugi for mind. I got up at 6 am every morning, went to school for a few hours, went to work for a full 8-10 hour shift, and then fell asleep reciting Icelandic dates and numbers and colors and landscapes in my head. I repeated this process for months, in between ordering books in Icelandic, the Icelandic Sagas, the Eddas, films in Icelandic with English subtitles. I started this blog, I began translating poetry, reading up on Icelandic news, listening to the Icelandic news channel even though I hadn’t a clue what was being said. I fell asleep crying to Sigur Rós, dreaming of attending college in Iceland. It was the most bizarre thing to fall in love with a language and a country that I had never been to. I was questioned about it, put down for it, “how can you love a place you’ve never even felt?” Oh, but I did feel it. I felt it in the music, the way the language of soft volcanos was procured with the lips, chiffon glaciers with the violin. I felt it in the Icelandic friends I spoke to online, the melancholy films amid the Icelandic landscape, the linguistic purism in the language. I felt it in the words of my parents when they told me they wouldn’t let me pursue my Bachelor’s degree in Iceland, I felt it in my own quivering pain as I fell to my knees in disbelief. I felt it on a plane to Georgia, when the plane dipped to the side and I saw the vivid blue sky, hoping Iceland would be there when the plane dipped the other way again. It wasn’t there, and I felt its absence as I uncontrollably teared up in the Savannah airport bathroom. I felt it all, overwhelmingly so, especially in its absence.
When I found out I had passed the Icelandic test and was accepted into the course, I pushed my dedication even further. My three week trip turned into five after hearing about a second course. That in turn grew into six weeks after realizing I couldn’t possibly miss out on a chance to live in the landscape as a trekker for a few days. My $3,000 goal was met and I was aiming for $6,000. $6,000 turned into $8,000, and before I knew it, I had a plane ticket for a two month trip to Iceland. I couldn’t recall a time I had ever been happier, knowing that one day in certainty, I would breathe in the air of a place that already consumed me from a distance.
Ég var að læra íslensku á hverjum degi, I was learning Icelandic every day, taking off work just to sit home and spend days teaching myself the art of Icelandic declension and conjugation. I went on my first camping trip in preparation for the course, I started buying hiking gear with all the money I had saved up. What started off as a small backpack for a day trek through the highlands turned into hundreds of dollars worth of waterproof gear, trekking poles, gaiters, hiking boots, wool base layers, hats, gloves. I booked a six day backpacking excursion through the famous 55km Laugavegur trail, my first mountaineering trip up to the summit of mount Snæfell/Snæfellsjökull (the entrance to the center of the earth according to Jules Verne!), and a trip into the only volcano in the world that you can tour inside of.
These developing plans not only changed my view on Iceland, but they changed the development of my own perceived future. I’ve realized that language learning is something I desperately need to pursue, because in each language is an entirely new aspect of expression, and within each act of expression is the root of how one culture perceives the world. How can one understand a culture without speaking in its native tongue? How can man be so selfish as to live as if his language is universal? How can he, when there’s so much out there? It just doesn’t seem plausible to me, to accept one’s culture as the superiority over the demise of all other cultures. In seeking out Iceland, I’ve developed the desire to attain a level of communication with other forms other than that which is most familiar to me. I recently chose to abandon my six year dream of design school to pursue linguistic studies and anthropology, which I wouldn’t have done if not for my exploration of expression outside of the visual design sphere.
Through all of this writing I’ve realized that I’ve reached a point where I’ve been invested in this for so long that I could never justify how it developed with mere words. Everything I explain accounts for a moment in time that felt like five moments, and ultimately the language of words finds a way to fail me in expressing this. Instead, I have to use a different language. I have to express myself with my hands as they gently press into volcanic sands, my eyes as Icelandic wind brushes lightly up against them, my legs as they maneuver their way through metamorphic landscapes. All I have to account for is my mind and the way that translates to my body, the way my lips form a foreign language which is less foreign and more familiar, more comfortable, more natural.
By the time I post this, there will have one day left until I board my plane to Iceland. Whether I’m ready for this or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that this is happening, I did this, I built my own language which I like to call ardor, and I have mastered it to fluency.
Here’s to Ágætis Byrjun, a good beginning.