Are you ever sad for no reason? I don’t mean that the world seems suddenly grey, your heart grows heavy and insert any and all clichés here. I mean: are you suddenly stricken with a melancholy so oppressive it feels terminal? Sadness is always described as passive, as some dormant, sleeping thing that fills the cavern of your chest like a slug—invasive and parasitic but something you can slice out if given the correct tools. In truth, melancholy is combustible. It reacts with the oxygen of your lifeblood and ignites—it devours and leaves ruins. I think part of melancholy’s power lies in the fact that we endeavor to ignore it. We insist on castrating sadness, making it out as impotent and weak in all literature and film. We can’t leave sadness to beget more sadness. Despondence is for pussies.
When I was in high school my teacher, Ms. Sparks, asked us on the first day of our Language Arts class: What does it mean to be human? I, in my immense wisdom, thought—what a ridiculous question, this class is going to be a joke. But then we proceeded to read King Lear, Equus, The Collector, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. After each piece we were continually asked, what does it mean to be human? It is not an exaggeration to say that I have literally never been the same.
With each new book the human race grew as grotesque as it is exquisite. I wonder. I get lost in wondering: what is the point of our existence? I wonder until I’m afraid to wonder further because then I might never come back. This question is so ubiquitous and cliché that its tinged with a kind of Holden Caulfield whine. We’re all phonies. But really, sit at home in the dark, close your eyes and ruminate on this question: what does it mean to be human? Tell me if it doesn’t haunt you.
I was at a bookstore in Raglan and I picked up a copy of King Lear because my friend Daria had just seen the play in London and I was taunted by old memories of Edgar, Edmund and a mad, blind king roaming the moors. I reread it. Here’s a little slice to trigger your spirit:
“They told me I was everything: 'tis a lie, I am no ague-proof.”
“Men must endure
Their going hence, even as their coming hither.
Ripeness is all.”
God. Sometimes I don’t know if books are here to cripple us, rescue or both. Are words our liberation or our deception?
As a freshman in college I was feeling lonely and isolated so my aunt sent me a cover she did of Fake Plastic Trees by Radiohead. I played it alone in my room and I was stricken. My body quivered—I literally shook. As I listened, the tone of her voice and lyrics created a combination so electric that all those flames of fiery melancholy—that engine that runs deep, thumping and hot within—enflamed.
We are told it’s wrong to feel sad, especially if we can’t site a specific cause for that rawness of spirit that makes us so exposed we feel bruised. There has to be a reason for everything. This is what we’re told from infancy. X=Y and there is a kind of satisfaction created when you put everything in boxes. But what if what it means to be human is that there is no reason, there was never a reason, will never be a reason and yet as humans we driven mad by this Sisyphean quest to create meaning from a void? Maybe what it means to be human is to feel fucking sad because you have no reason to and yet you can’t help it—because we were thrust into a senseless world where for centuries, millennia, men have been asking: why? What is the fucking point?
Do you think Shakespeare ever figured it out? Why do you think he kept churning out these plays that simultaneously decimate every spark of hope you’ve ever had but also remind you that yes, yes there is a reason. He is making his own reason. God damn I need to give myself a reason.
You can’t just be a human. It’s not that easy. You have to figure out what it means to be human for you. And gallivanting off to New Zealand isn’t reason enough. I think travel blogs, writers, insta-famous wanderlusters want you to believe that in and of itself travel creates meaning. Oh hey guys, I’m here on the other side of the world and suddenly I’ve found nirvana. Travel is only imbued with as much meaning as you provide—and you can only provide what you carry with you or what you create.
Tonight I was craving Toddy's rendition of Fake Plastic Trees. I don’t really know why I grow melancholy. I don’t know why sometimes it’s 4 am and I’m so tired I can’t think straight and yet, I’m unable to sleep. This insomnia, this terror of melancholy drags on for days and I can’t explain it. All I know is that you can’t run from melancholy. Not even 6,000 miles. Anyone who says different is selling something.