Tuesday, January 22, 2008

In Praise of Melancholy


If you've been subjected to the same interminable run of dreary, lead sky days as we have here in Missouri, read this and relish your seasonally enhanced gloom. Who says we have to be happy?

Eric G. Wilson writes,"American happiness is a temptation, one to which I've succumbed on several occasions. More than once I've grown weary of the pervasive gloom of my soul. Like millions of other Americans, I have tried to flee the sadness, attempted to escape, by any means possible, the weight, the fatigue, the fret. Let's be serious: Life, in any form, is terribly and irredeemably hard. Why shouldn't we all scurry from the heartache in the most superficial ways possible, through BlackBerrys and Lexapro and liposuction? Why shouldn't we bask in the gaudy glow of the pervasive American dream? What's lost in this collective stupor? What's wrong, finally, with wanting nothing but bliss?

At the behest of well-meaning friends, I have purchased books on how to be happy. I have tried to turn my chronic scowl into a bright smile. I have attempted to become more active, to get out of my dark house and away from my somber books and participate in the world of meaningful action. I have taken up jogging, the Latin language, and the chair of a university English department. I have fostered the drive to succeed in my career. I have bought an insurance policy, a PalmPilot, and a cellphone. I have taken an interest in Thanksgiving and Christmas, in keeping my hair trimmed short, and in meticulously ironing my clothes. I have viewed Doris Day and Frank Capra movies. I have feigned interest in the health of others. I have dropped into the habit of saying "great" and "wonderful" as much as possible. I have pretended to take seriously certain good causes designed to make the world a better place. I have contemplated getting a dog. I have started eating salads. I have tried to discipline myself in nodding knowingly. I have tried to be mindful of others but ended up pissed as hell. I have written a book on the hard-earned optimism of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I have undertaken yoga. I have stopped yoga and gone into tai chi. I have thought of going to psychiatrists and getting some drugs. I have quit all of this and then started again and then once more quit. Now I plan to stay quit. The road to hell is paved with happy plans.

My basic instinct is toward melancholia — a state I must nourish. In fostering my essential nature, I'm trying to live according to what I see as my deep calling. Granted, it's difficult at times to hold hard to this vocation, this labor in the fields of sadness. But I realize somewhere in the core of my bones that I was born to the blues."

Read an except from his book Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, being published this month by Farrar, Straus and Giroux here.

3 comments:

harold of cardboard . . . said...

he is a self consumed IDIOT

this is NOT melancholia (sweet sweet melancholia), nothing close, at best. maybe, DEPRESSION born of the all consuming never satisfied curse of narcissism to the worst degree, and in turn inducing much cynicism amidst his FAKE life . . .

whats his email?

jenni said...

Wow, he's an honest author. I don't know if I was supposed to, but I found him humorous, too.
Johnny and I see the Gospel when we see beauty in melancholy, but I can't stay in "the blues" too long - it's not good for my psyche.
:)

Amy C. Moreno said...

wow...I like the way he got down to the core of things and didn't fight it....but let himself feel it. I think that allowing oneself to be uncomfortable and letting go of overly high expectations can set us free to experience joy more fully somehow. I'll bet he likes listening to the blues..