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Meraki: For the labors of my love

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APRIL 27, 2023

I suppose it is finally time to explain my column name. Ships on a Wine Dark Sea.

Close your eyes. Take in a deep breath and imagine the beach: warm, golden sand curling around your feet, the familiar smell of iodine and salty, smooth seaweed and the purple waves crashing against your skin. That’s right — purple. Or, whatever color you would interpret “wine dark” to be. Perhaps a rich bordeaux, if you’re French. 

In the renowned, millennium-withstanding works of Homer, “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” Homer paints his seas as wine dark. Curious. Had he perhaps mentioned the color blue in any other piece of his texts, Homer may have been forgiven for this disorienting image, however, he did not. In the rich and eternal palette of one of history’s most renowned writers, there seems to be a primary color missing. 

As I aged into adolescence among the rolling lowlands of Poland, this has always troubled me. In my native tongue, I’ve always been surrounded by an abundance of the word blue: niebieski, modry, lazurowy, chabrowy and, most notably, błękitny. All of these words are frequently used in the repertoire of an art teacher, but the average speaker primarily uses niebieski and błękitny. These words, however, are not truly synonymous with one another.

Niebieski is a true, rich blue. Błękitny is technically translated to light blue, if you were to place your trust in the sharp mind of Google Translate. But that does not capture the true essence of the color. In the eyes of your friendly neighborhood Pole, błękitny exists on its own color spectrum, similarly as pink does in relation to red.

In my column, I aimed to explore words that couldn’t be translated into English, and how they related to my life and the various societal customs surrounding me. The entire idea was initially sparked by this cultural difference, with the Polish language’s many words for blue and Homer’s unfamiliarity with the color. Too much, too little blue. This small detail led to my research into the minute details of language, which formed the foundation of my column. The fact is that in every language on Earth, there are emotions, stories and worlds that can never truly be entirely translated, other than maybe through weak examples. It has been an incredible privilege to bring these words into pieces in English, and share their power with a brand new audience.

Meraki is a word from the modern Greek language that signifies the act of pouring your soul into an action — of infusing it with creativity, love and passion. My meraki is, and always has been, my writing. Each dot I have placed over an ‘i,’ each ‘t’ I have crossed, have left little marks on my very being. At my core, I am who I am due to the hours I’ve spent crafting words into stories. At the core of my column, these same stories narrate my interactions with language and are an avenue for my meraki.

During my first semester of college, I misplaced my meraki. Somewhere between unpacked boxes hastily squished under my bed, the eclectic array of Polish medicine my mother insisted I bring to college and painful secrets I tucked away from the ears of new friends, I lost the most important part of my soul — its outlet. I kept my words folded deep within my mind, to be unearthed by archaeologists a thousand years from now. My meraki tried to trickle out, endearingly disobedient, forming beads of sweat in place of stories and saltwater tears where poetry begged to be. 

This column was the first “Hello!” my meraki had to my college self. At first, this took form as a nervous whisper, packed to the brim with rewrites and frantic text messages to my editor. When it was published, blood poured from me in rivers, my limbs falling faint and my heart laid flat to each person with access to the internet. What would they think of me? What would they say?

The most frightening part of writing has always been the absolutely horrifying idea that the eyes of the world may greet my work. Composing pieces for Ships on a Wine Dark Sea challenged that vulnerability: words best tucked into crumpled corners of aged journals and forgotten Google Docs are suddenly immortalized within the cradle of the Daily Californian, locking them into forever. It’s weird to think that strangers, whose eyes I will never meet with my own, know the depths of my mind, when even my mom doesn’t know her daughter publishes a weekly diary. Baby steps. 

My column taught me how to still be myself in a place and time I don’t recognize; how to translate the racing abstractions of my mind into smooth, 850-word pieces. By taking untranslatable words and staging warm introductions for them with my vocabulary, firm handshake and all, I was able to remind myself of who I am, and find my heart hidden away behind the boxes, the medicines and the secrets. My meraki has never enjoyed being silenced.

Dearest readers, I can never thank you enough for taking this journey on with me. My time as the Thursday columnist may have run its course, but I have gained experiences more valuable than can be put into words, English or not. I wish you all the best, and I hope to see you soon, aboard a cruise on a wine dark sea.

All my love,


Miriam Klaczynska writes the Thursday column on words that can't be translated into English. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

APRIL 27, 2023