Le Vide: The Post That Didn’t Go Where I Expected It To Go

I suck at French. I can’t say or spell anything in French. Why do you bother putting letters in a word if most of them are silent, French speakers? Letters are supposed to be pronounced, no? Trompe-l’œil, c’est la vie, fin de siècle, noblesse oblige, coup d’état, après moi le déluge, force majeure, de rigueur, sang-froid, belle époque, au fait, goddamn denouement, etc. I know what those phrases mean, but when I try to say them, it comes out like someone super-glued my tongue to the roof of my mouth and I instantaneously sound like this:

This week’s Prompt For The Promptless is about L’appel du vide. It’s French and translates to “Call of the Void,” the unexplainable urge to jump when standing on the edge of a cliff, or tall height.

I’ve been there, figuratively and literally. I’ve felt that void calling more than I’d care to admit.


I’m not afraid of heights at all. My favorite hobby as a kid was climbing trees. And I mean really climbing trees, like fifty feet or more in the air. I liked to get all the way up and sway in the breeze. I fell a couple of times on the way down (the hardest part was climbing down), but it never scared me off. In fact, my job as a kid was to clean and repair the roof. My mom is deathly afraid of heights. She couldn’t even watch me be up there. She could stand to be in the house either since she’d hear my footsteps on the roof and panic. She had to leave the house altogether whenever I cleaned or repaired the roof. She called me fearless and I pretty much was.

It’s still my job to clean the roof whenever I go home to visit, but now, I’m a little more cautious than I used to be. I don’t quite go as close to the edge as I once did. I know what real pain feels like, plus, I don’t have health insurance.

When I was younger, I positively loved roller coasters. I still do, but the jostling gives me headaches these days. I’ve done free fall where you are falling to the ground very fast face down. The first time was amazing. There is a microsecond between jumping and free fall where gravity hasn’t quite kicked in yet and you are truly weightless. That is the best part. I did it again and it wasn’t nearly as good since I knew what to expect.

Wile E. Coyote knows what I'm talking about.

Wile E. Coyote knows what I’m talking about.

While you’re up there on the roof or at the very top of a tree or strapped into a harness about to jump, there is a moment when you experience the call of the void. It might manifest as fear or as a graphic vision of yourself splayed on concrete or even just curiosity, but it’s there all the same. You can’t help it. That is your brain warning you that what you are about to do is absolutely ridiculous and it does not approve, because your brain’s job is to keep you in one piece. It can’t very well do that at terminal velocity.

For the truly stubborn thrill-seekers, the call of the void is a last-ditch effort to smack us into sense. It’s your brain saying, “Fine, you want to defy generations of evolution by jumping out of an airplane farther from the ground than man was ever intended to be in the first place? OK, let’s do it then. Jump. See if I care,” hoping that reverse psychology will work.


My brain and I haven’t always gotten along. It tries to protect us, while I try to destroy us. My brain says, “Do not smoke all of this crack in front of you.” “Do not go 160 miles an hour on the freeway.” “Do not intentionally starve yourself, silly. Eat something.” The void says smoke, speed, starve. The void does not care about my well-being.

The void wants to be fed. It wants me to feel that ecstatic rush of real danger without harnesses and helmets, before I splat on the ground forevermore.

The void lives within all of us and makes itself known to some more than others. For some, they barely even notice it. It takes up quiet residence in the back of our minds and goes to sleep. For others, it is an active screaming, calling, pleading and yelling. It will only stop when we give into it. It will only stop when it wins. Some of us don’t have the power to ignore it, to defeat it, to put it away.

I’ve faced my void before. I’ve stood at the edge of my personal abyss and listened to my void that I named Eeyore. He wanted me to crawl inside the darkness with him. The longer you stay in, the harder it is to get out, until Eeyore swallows you altogether. I got out.

I’ve faced the void in one way or another. I’ve seen it. I’ve listened to it. I’ve tried to ignore it and I’ve succumbed to it. I have spent a lot of time inside the blackness, but I crawled back out. I’m still here.

The void lies. It is selfish. It doesn’t care about you. It wants you all to itself. No matter what you do, don’t listen to the void. Climb back out and throw a damn pipe bomb inside of it if you have to.

There are 18 comments

  1. Melanie

    Oh that damn void. The reason I stayed with a man addicted to danger, and eventually married him. The reason I’ve climbed trees, cliffs, and walls, and will do it again.
    (I love the word denouement…fun to say, but impossible to spell.)


    1. goldfish

      The void is a problem, especially if you’re blind to the signs. The void is responsible for every dumb thing I’ve ever done really.

      I love denouement, too, but I can NEVER spell it right on the first try.


  2. chymeera

    We, the French, have letters that are not pronounced because we are too damn stubborn to give them up! There is an organisation called L’Academie Francaiise, a bunch of plutocrates in their 80s who spent a lot of time pontifying about the French language and stopping the progress of the language. A lot of those letters are remnants of old French (and used to be pronounced by the way) but the old gits don’t want to modernise the spelling. It would damage the integrity of the French language…whatever. They hate nothing more than new words and English words that we try to sprinkle in our every day life….Saying that, the Brits are not better…Have you tried to pronounce Chiswick, Southwark or The Thames…I can assure you, it is not said how it is spelt!

    A bon entendeur…


    1. goldfish

      French is an absolutely beautiful language. Just to clarify, I wasn’t making fun of French; I was making fun of myself for being a stupid American and not knowing what to do with “œ”. :)

      I’m all for saving remnants of the past. I try to use old English words that haven’t been seen in eons myself. Thanks for the explanation.


      1. chymeera

        Oh I didn’t take it as an insult :) and one should definitely poke fun at the French…they can be so arrogant sometimes…and as one of them, I am allowed to say that without being xenophobic.


  3. rebekkastarfish

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghoti :D As a non-native speaker of English I come across a lot of words I don’t know how to pronounce, because my mind comes up with at least three different solutions … arrrg.. I like Swahili – it’s a language almost without any exceptions, at least on the level of sound and grammar. You see a word, you know how to pronounce it, la fin. Lugha nzuri sana kweli. (Really, there are just about three common words in the language with a deviating stress pattern, that’s it!)
    Dangerous things and call of the void? Uh, my brain is pcette baguetteretty much wired to self preservation. I wouldn’t go on a roller coaster if you offered me a year’s supply of chocolate ice cream, and it took me six tries to finally jump from a three-metre-board at the pool, never again. Even when I think about doing things like this and that maybe I would like to try them, I just can’t make the move. Literally.


    1. goldfish

      Seriously, I don’t know how anyone learns English as a second language at all. It’s ridiculously complicated and doesn’t make any sense. If it’s any consolation, I had no idea that English wasn’t your native language.

      Sometimes, the void is best left alone. It’s a good think that you haven’t had to face it. :)


  4. scorpionglow

    I’m not very good at it either. For years I’d screw up my Spanish & Italian with the occasional French verb. I didn’t do well in French, but I can pronounce what I do know. My brother, meanwhile, has flawless French, decently passable German, and is trying to pick up every other language from me. I typically walk around using Spanish, Italian, Russian, and one or two other languages.
    I am 100% with you on the whole void thing.


    1. goldfish

      I learned Spanish in school. Spanish mostly makes sense. Yes, there are silent letters, like H, but generally, everything is pronounced. I’ll never get the hang of French.


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