When I was a young girl, I studied Greek in school. It's a beautiful language and ever so many good things were written in it. When you speak Greek, it feels like a little bird flapping its wings on your tongue as fast as it can. This is why I sometimes put Greek words into my stories, even though not so many people speak Ancient Greek anymore. Anything beautiful deserves to be shared round and anything I love goes into my stories for safekeeping.The word I love is Arete. It has a simple meaning and a complicated meaning. The simple one is: excellence. But if that were all, we'd just use Excellence and I wouldn't bring it up until we got to E. Arete means your own excellence. Your very own. A personal excellence that belongs to no one else, one that comes out of all the things that make you special and different. Arete means whatever you are best at, no matter what that is. You might think the Greeks only meant things like fighting with bronze swords or debating philosophy, but they didn't. They meant whatever you're best at. What makes you feel like you're doing the rightest thing in the world. And that might be fighting with bronze swords and it might mean debating philosophy—but it also might mean building machines, or drawing pictures, or playing the guitar, or acting in Shakespeare plays, or writing books, or making a home for people who need one, or listening so hard and so well that people tell you the things they really need to say even if they didn't mean to, or running faster than anyone else, or teaching people patiently and boldly, or even making pillow forts or marching in parades or baking bread. It could be lending out just the right library book to just the right person at just the right moment. It could be standing up to the powerful even if you don't feel very powerful yourself, even if you're lost and as far away from home as you can get. It could be loving someone with the same care and thoroughness that a Wyvern takes with alphabetizing. It could be anything in the world. And it isn't easy to figure out what that is. It's even harder to get that good at it, because nothing, not even being yourself, comes without practice. But your arete goes with you everywhere, just waiting for you to pay attention to it. You can't lose it. You can only find it. And that's my favorite thing that starts with A.
Catherynne M. Valente