I’m reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close for class (even though I literally read it two weeks ago) and it has become a game of ‘how much of this book can I underline? how many extraneous thoughts can I squeeze into the margins?’
There’s a line that reads, “I think and think and think, I’ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it.” And I can’t help but feel: how sad, how fitting and true. My wise and wonderful friend Chelsea recently (as in, the last time I posted here) explained that depression won’t ever fully vanish. It’s a part of me unrelated to location or circumstance, but it will always inform the way I experience the world. I’m not sad because I don’t know where I’ll live next year, I’m depressed because I think about it too much and feel the crushing weight of the unknowable. That sounds so dramatic, and oh does it feel dramatic. I would love to stop feeling these insane, dramatic feelings.
My school (and every school with an MFA program, I’m sure) hosts readings throughout the semester, giving graduate students a platform to share their work. Going to readings is one of my absolute favorite activities. I’m so interested by the work my peers are producing. Sometimes the readings are spectacularly terrible, but there are some evenings where the words are so inspired they float through the room, filling in gaps, wrapping themselves around ankle bones, whisper-warm.
The last reading before the semester break was so beautiful I’m still thinking about it. Everyone read such impossibly good stories. One of them was about running away, to Colorado, to the mountains, to find someplace beautiful. The story was arrestingly wonderful in a way that breaks you even as it fills you. Eventually, the narrator realizes that “Colorado is just another fucking state” and making it there won’t ensure any sort of happiness or better life.
The feelings we feel aren’t determined by location… unless we’re talking about the soulless town I went to high school in. I’ve been so absurdly stressed about choosing a graduate school, because I’m worried about moving. I’ve spent my whole life worrying about moving; it’s the nature of the military. Even when life feels stable, the threat hangs low and heavy- don’t get too close; nothing will last. All this anxiety is beginning to feel ridiculous. Maybe I’ll live in Colorado next year. Maybe I’ll move to Indiana or Pennsylvania. Maybe I’ll go to Ecuador and protest the flower market. I’ve spent so much time feeling anxious about where I’ll be in the next few months that I’ve been completely negating the loveliness of now. I’ve thought myself out of happiness.
Some days I have to actively work to be happy. It doesn’t always, or even often, come naturally or easily. But I appreciate it twice as much when it’s there. Depression and sadness aren’t fun- if you’ve been with me for a long time, before I made the WordPress move, you might remember the HUGE fight I had with a professor this summer. She said, essentially, that it was good to be depressed, because you see the world more clearly. I, in turn, went on a swear-filled rampage about how utterly juvenile that thinking is. When I’m feeling especially depressed, I know I’m not seeing the world clearly. I’m viewing everything through narcissistic lenses of sadness.
I refuse to give in to that sadness, because I still believe this world, this infinite universe, to be good and beautiful. I believe I can have a profoundly happy life in spite of my sadness. I have to work for it, I have to trick myself into it, or try to think my way into it. I spend a fair percentage of my classes (classes make me so sad. I can’t really explain this) making lists of things to be happy about. I have to actively avoid thinking myself into a depressive state. But I really think all of this sadness makes me appreciate happiness so much more- like how you only think about how great breathing feels when a bad cold is blocking your nose. It’s similar to those beautiful things Ann Druyan said after Carl Sagan’s death.
Of course, when you’re suffering from a nasty head cold, or grieving a deep loss, appreciating clean air and a wonderful relationship isn’t really…relevant. Or helpful. What’s that about broccoli and chocolate? Acute depression is just a fact of my person, along with my blonde hair and blue eyes. It has a hand in how I live (let’s talk about blonde hair/blue eyes/white privilege in another post, though… I can only tackle one social stupidity at a time!) but it doesn’t entirely construct or control my life.
I was very nearly killed by a speeding, red-light-running SUV this morning. I realize this is obvious and pedestrian (being a pedestrian is dangerous!) but it left me thinking about the dual fragility and resiliency of existence. Life is so shocking. That it is possible to be a sentient being is miraculous and implausible. But this existence is fleeting; it feels so nonsensical to squander our time here worrying about meaningless things or feeling depressed. Even as I say that, I know I’ll go on worrying and feeling sadness intermittently. And that’s okay, because we’re built to endure. Nothing’s that bad. Despite it all, this world is wondrous.