Soren Kierkegaard: “In my great melancholy, I loved life, for I love my melancholy.”
Albert Camus: “There is no love of life without despair about life.”
Kurt Cobain: “I miss the comfort in being sad.”
Kierkegaard believed in God. Camus believed in Absurdism. Cobain believed in Nirvana.
All three, I believe, are no longer with us.
For fun I google E.M. Cioran: “We are all deep in a hell, each moment of which is a miracle.”
A Tumblr page contains the line, along with other solemn notes. It’s the work of a woman—a tender soul/MFA candidate professing interest in:
poetics, critical theory, semiotics, poststructuralist philosophies, anti-essentialism, misanthropy, pessimism, introversion, & solitude.
YOUR PLACE OR MINE?
This gem, under “about”:
“I had always been aware that the Universe is sad; everything in it, animate or inanimate, the wild creatures, the stones, the stars, was enveloped in the great sadness, pervaded by it. Existence had no use. It was without end or reason. The most beautiful things in it, a flower or a song, as well as the most compelling, a desire or a thought, were pointless. So great a sorrow. And I knew that the only rest from my anxiety—for I had been trembling even in infancy—lay in acknowledging and absorbing this sadness.”
— Hayden Carruth, Reluctantly: Autobiographical Essays
I’M HARDER THAN LIFE ITSELF—A TREMBLING INFANT.
I pen suggestive lyrics with her in mind:
with nectar lungs
I catch her tears
upon my tongue
my head is crowned
for sweet repose
her highness perched
atop my nose
In a dream I lie beneath her feet, absorbing sadness.
“They won’t come clean,” she says. “See what you can do.”
Where technology is concerned on this blog, there’s a method to my snarky-ness. I value sustained, intimate communication—texting and tweeting and status-posting constitute speech at a distance. Messaging is instant but superficial. Rather than opening up a dialogue, we’re speaking to externalized versions of ourselves whose friendship means liking the same piano-playing cat video.
Being somewhat tech-adverse and wholly introverted, I enjoy plenty of alone time. Some might find retreating to one’s room to ponder the absurdity of existence a sign of depression. They’d be half right: philosophy makes me sad, but as a philosopher of sadness I gain some control over my depression.
Sometimes I need to check connections I’ve made in my mind against the reality outside my head. This requires talking to others. I’ve authored some meaningful albeit abstract pieces, but other people have a way of challenging theories merely by being themselves in a way I am not. The best ideas come from spontaneous encounters with people I’m simultaneously delighted and terrified to be around.
It’s hard to be vulnerable. In protect mode I tell myself over and over that I’m too vulnerable—that my soul’s exposed, a wound too raw to bear. Then I hide from the world. And miss potential connections.
There is freedom in seeing one’s limitations and recognizing we all get caught up in negative self-talk. Maybe this makes me a better philosopher. Maybe it just makes me human.
I can’t hide from it: I’m a sensitive guy. Sometimes I lie awake and picture the people I care about, focusing on my connection with them, recalling what about them makes me feel good. But there’s not one person I love who hasn’t suffered in this world. And this makes me sad. And the sadness I feel for myself rushes through me. I acknowledge, in their pain, my own.
We’ve all screwed up at one point or another. I’ve had my fair share of missteps. God’s forgiveness is easy to get. All you do is believe. Securing the forgiveness of others is difficult, but it’s never out of the question if you humble yourself and make amends.
The hardest part is learning how to forgive myself. If I could find myself walking down the street, emerging from a faceless crowd, what would I say to me? How might I comfort this sensitive guy, move out of his way and let him pass?
I find myself attracted to art that might be labeled “depressing.” Sometimes I fear I’m simply indulging my illness, looking for verification of the thought: “Life sucks and then you die.” In my sadness, the theory goes, I long for the sadness of others. Perhaps I’d be better off listening to Joel Osteen or binge-watching Little House on the Prairie.
At the risk of sounding like a fuddy-duddy modernist, I believe that art can change the world. This doesn’t mean paint puppies, rainbows and butterflies. Authentic art depicts things as they are, exposes them as being socially constructed rather than natural, and suggests alternative paths to freedom.
A big part of my depression involves my tendency to be self-critical. I’m always looking to improve, sometimes to the point of exhausting myself in the mythical pursuit of Perfection. My internal critique extends outward, into social and political spheres. I’m not content with accepting things at face value. I ask questions and search for inconsistencies between what people claim to believe and how they act.
I’m attracted to “depressing” art not because I’m looking for an alibi for my sadness, but instead because I’m unhappy with the status quo and want to uproot entrenched cultural assumptions. It goes beyond my depression or the somber nature of contemporary art.
It’s life that’s tragic. It’s life that’s unkind.
I remember returning to my hospital room in the dark one night in full-blown Woe Is Me mode. What had I done wrong? Why this illness? Why was I stuck here?
Desperate for answers, I took God to task. My larger concerns focused on why I existed, why I was suffering, why I was left in the world all alone. What’s the point of believing in a god indifferent to my plight?
Anger overtook my sadness. And I felt relieved. In examining the basis of existence I claimed my suffering as my own. But I also took possession of my greatest joys and everything about my life I valued.
Questioning, searching, demanding proof—these are divine pursuits. Knowing that we’ll never know and still going about the business of being alive—this makes the everyday spectacular.
After years of trying to be smarter than everyone else, of being a good boy and following the rules, of being the perfect student, the perfect employee, I was finally able to sit still and cry. My healing began in sadness, strengthened in anger, and took hold in letting go.
What would the world look like if each of us admitted the truth that deep down we’re all a little sad? Would confessing that at our very core things just aren’t right help us make our lives better?
I’ve been wondering such heavy things (in some form) for a long time now, probably since the third or fourth grade. It amazes me how stuff that happened to me years ago manages to re-surface today, buoyant emotional debris clogging up my thought-streams.
But I often keep hidden my sadness about unfortunate moments I’ve had to endure. Repression provided strong shelter during difficult times, but it prevented me from venturing back outside once the storms had passed.
Today I realize that sadness is an important part of my experience. It allows me to mourn for what and whom I’ve lost. Sadness reminds me I’m human and that everyone I encounter is suffering too.
If anything, when I’m sad I’m more aware of how I don’t want others to hurt. Compassion stems from the realization that none of us is immune from pain and hardship. In helping others acknowledge that life is often tragic and disheartening, I hope that the small circle of people I know can stray from the “I’m doing fine” act and feel less alone.
And in feeling less alone, perhaps we’ll all self-medicate less, and avoid trying to compensate for our sadness in ways that simply increase our pain and make everyone around us miserable.