"Tanto rendimiento", he said, interrupting me as I described my current projects.
"My wife and I were talking about you and wondering why - why so much productivity, all the time."
It was a rhetorical question. Or at least I needed to treat it as such to buy some time to check my Spanish. I also needed to check my ego because this evaluation was uninvited and made worse by the earnest sharing that I - or rather, my idiosyncrasies - were being discussed privately by some couple I barely knew. On the inside, the following ripples of reaction arrived: confusion, defensiveness, anger, exposure, shame, in that order. I kept these bottled until later in the day when I could find the translation to make sure I was rightfully responding to the meaning of the critique. He said it kindly, but admonishingly, as a blunt statement: So much yield. So much output. Tsk, Tsk.
The noun rendimiento means performance, yield, or efficiency. I immediately heard the pejorative version. The fact that I received this comment as a criticism also reeks of taxing industrious labor, as though my drive to be productive was under the whip of some invisible taskmaster. In Spanish the verb form rendir indicates to surrender, to give something over to the power of another. I felt exposed anew.
My defenses found relief at the other meaning of the noun yield. It also can be received as a bounty or harvest. In this sense, the verb form means to bring forth. You can't argue with anything akin to cultivation! This is good, right? In traffic, an amber light means go slow. The yield street sign is a yellow triangle with an exclamation mark in the center. The same graphic in red would mean danger. The yellow is more of a suggestion, at least that's how many drivers take it. It is meant as a warning, advisement to give way. Fair enough, but I knew my friend was not speaking about something gentle. This conversation happened eleven years ago.
The friendship did not last but those words left an imprint. Every time I see a YIELD sign, I consider the subtle switch of meaning held in the word.
Wait. Pause. Contemplate first. Let go. Allow. This interpretation can lead to choosing the right work, to cultivating the best choice. Now I more easily hear contain yourself, avoid impulsive action, wait for it.
I take pleasure from getting entangled with words.
I have fantasies about being alone in a giant library like the one in Dublin at Trinity College. I stood there once many years ago, encircled in volumes of books in many languages. I went to the basement to create a rubbing of a design from The Book of Kells. In the hours it required to make this gilded impression, I dreamt of being an etymologist, of spending the day savoring the study of the evolution of words. It is in their roots, prefixes, and suffixes where we can find the origin stories for our modern tool of communication.
Whole sentences are an assemblage of meaning, carefully joined and held together in a circuit of punctuation. Single words are like collages. No wonder I loved studying German. How fun a long German word can be as a verb, a noun, and adjective are clustered together for maximum effect.