Friday, October 26, 2012


This is my 200th post.
When I was in my senior year of high school, there was a scholarship that would be given according to who wrote the best essay. The prompt was, "What is the best word in the English language?"

The essay interested me, because it was clearly an opinion piece, but I was supposed to phrase it as an absolute. A question lurking behind the prompt was, "What is your favorite English word?" but they didn't say that. There were quite a few questions I could answer in that prompt--"What is the English word with the most historical importance?" "What English word has the most interesting etymology?" "What English word has the most interesting definition?" All of those are opinions, as well, though I've phrased them in keeping with the original prompt.

When I started writing the essay--before I dropped it--I landed somewhere around "What English word has your favorite definition?" Had I been approached with that question originally, I would have probably said something like "apotheosis", but because I barely knew the question I was answering, I decided on "temptation".

I like the strain in temptation. It's a moment in time, and a question in itself. Temptation doesn't exist on its own; it exists in relation to. Who is tempted? By what? And, in the background, there's the most important question: Why isn't the tempted person giving in?

It isn't temptation once the person accepts it. There's no tension left. Refused temptation can remain temptation indefinitely, forever in the simultaneous stage of, "I want to," and, "I shouldn't." Temptation is a time--be it a moment or an eternity--of tension between parts within.

If I put it in the physical realm, then temptation could be the moment of uncertainty before our star-crossed lovers kiss. If I put it in the mental realm, temptation becomes a subset of curiosity: "I am forbidden, but why forbid me in the first place?" Like all curiosity, giving into such temptation is punished and rewarded in equal measure in our stories. The hero needs curiosity to move forward, but forward is not always better. Isn't that right, Mrs. Bluebeard?

Emotional temptation is trickier, as emotional temptation looks like other things. Take Adam and Eve and the Serpent. The apple could be a physical delight for its flavor, or a mental delight for its knowledge, but I do not think Eve or Adam saw it that way--too well fed and too ignorant. Emotional temptation is want for want's sake: a thoughtless desire.Thoughtless desires win out often in our tales, both because it moves the story along and because curiosity's hunger will grow as the fear of punishment fades.

Temptation is not a kiss, or new knowledge, or biting an apple. It is the stretched, sometimes-forgotten moment just before. Temptation is feelings of uncertainty and inevitability that can be made certain or can be evaded. Temptation is what-we-want-to-do touching what-we-want-to-be, and realizing we must choose. Temptation is a moment of choice. Temptation is the moment before the sacrifice. Temptation is sacrifice; or at least, sacrifice is temptation. Temptation is satisfied or denied or both or neither, forever straining, forever wanting.

Temptation is delicious.

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