Bad dreams have always troubled me. They take the form appropriate to my age and general level of anxiety. When I was quite young, it was Frankenstein waiting to grab me from around a darkened corner. When I was in college, my dreams focused on nuclear war, full of bare trees and terrified children looking to me for protection. More recently my bad dreams involve virulent plagues, tsunamis sweeping across vast beaches, and other Cecil B. DeMille-scale horrors. 

It’s odd that my dreams have always had such cinematic vividness, because I am truly a word person; words have always conveyed deeper shades of emotion and meaning than images. So, in an effort to keep my own and perhaps your bad dreams at bay as we begin another blank slate of a year, I offer a few favorites to consider.

Solace. What a lovely sibilant word! Say it out loud and a feeling of ease must slip over you. Solace comes from Latin, solari, meaning to console. Its meaning hasn’t changed much over the centuries. The Webster Collegiate Dictionary expands the definition to “alleviation of grief or anxiety; to allay or soothe.” The fact that the word was used in the title of an ultra-violent James Bond movie, “Quantum of Solace,” does not detract from its inherent elegance. Take solace to heart, use it freely in the coming months, make it part of your daily lexicon.

I also like the word “exercise.” It is not a gentle word; exercise packs a lot of irritating sound into three syllables. But I like its staccato beat. We use it grimly to describe our daily visit to the gym or a three-mile run in freezing weather. Yet the dictionary has a more subtle definition:  “the act of bringing into play or realizing in action; regular or repeated use of a faculty or bodily organ.” It is exercise that makes thought come into reality. “I want to sing well, so I must exercise my voice.” Certainly, it is exercise that strengthens the body’s faculties, whether it is a human body or the body politic. 

How about equilibrium? Yes, it’s a bit long on the tongue, but what a fine word that, by its own balance of syllables, expresses what it means.  From the Latin words aequi and libra, long ago its first meaning, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (I am indeed a word geek), had to do with the state of self, as in a “well balanced state of mind.” The current first definition is “a state of balance between opposing forces or actions.” A strong word on its own, equilibrium also prompts an array of comforting synonyms such as parity, equipoise, equanimity, and stability. In ecological studies, equilibrium in something like a forest is a state much described but rarely seen. Everything alive is in flux, whether it is a human relationship, a landscape, or a democracy. It is a graceful word we use to describe a sought-after but ultimately elusive state. 

Then there’s quotidian, not a word one tosses about in daily speech, despite the fact that it means daily. I like quotidian, both for its sound and because I am quotidian in nature. Although I may carp at the routine of my life, I enjoy the warmth of the dish water when I clean the breakfast dishes. The aesthetic pleasure of neatly folded sheets still warm from the dryer. The green of new growth among the geraniums by the windows. Watching birds at the birdfeeder while drinking morning coffee. These are small things. I am made up of a multitude of small things. Quotidian I am and quotidian I’ll be as I look about at the daily beauties of a sure-to-be tumultuous 2017.