Reflections on
Se pa  ra   tio     n

February 3, 2016

And yet in the end did we ever really give each other completely to the other? Do either of us even know how to really share ourselves? Imagine the house is on fire and I reach to save one thing - what is it? Do you know? Imagine that I am drowning and I reach within myself to save that one memory which is me - what is it? Do you know? What things would either of us reach for? Neither of us know. After all these years we just wouldn’t know.

I was not a very happy person growing up. Most of the music I listened to reflected that. They were filled with breakups and breakdowns. And most of the books I read were much more indignant, filled with characters who struggled against some oppressor, imagined or real, internal or external. Their sadness came from not attaining the goals they felt they were rightly owed. The musicians’ sadness came from incidents or situations which they felt they were not owed.

I didn’t know what sadness really was, though. How low it could go. I thought I understood what people meant when they expressed their own sadness. I enjoyed it, I thrived on it. The unmentioned subtext is that you can always be sadder. There’s an unknown cap on happiness, an upper limit. At any moment, you couldn’t possibly be any more excited because otherwise you’d explode or pee your pants and then you wouldn’t be happy anymore. But you can always go lower. And, for some reason, for some people, going down is the only direction that makes sense. And they like to share that feeling. Either as a warning to others or just to let the pressure out a bit, people like to create things that express their sadness.

I suppose people create sad works so that the people absorbing them can feel better about themselves. A gift to an even more somber future. Myself, I amassed centuries of other people’s griefs. Because of what they shared, I knew their stories. I memorized them and repeated them back like gospel hymns. Over the past few weeks I’ve been going back through my collection, for better or worse, to try and make sense of it all. I’ve been trying to sort out the authentic from the phony. I don’t think people are capable of producing works that are artificially sad. Sadness is too difficult to lie about. You’d be able to see right through it. Because of the difficulty in doing it right, maybe the musicians making these works feel like expressing sadness is a great challenge. But I do wonder what possesses someone to get on stage and sing about shitty things that happened to them fourteen times a month.

Why did I absorb so much unhappiness? I didn’t know anything about anything that they were talking about. I knew what being alone was, and I didn’t like that, but I didn’t know the difference between that and being lonely. Maybe what I really wanted to do was to become one of their tales. Maybe I thought that by being sad, you’d get attention, and with attention, you couldn’t possibly be so sad. Listen to these folks: they got to tour the world on songs of sadness!

I don’t think anyone ever really knows who they are until they’ve been with another person. We want to become better creatures in unison, not in solitude. And the shit of it is, you also won’t know who you are without your partner, either. You’d never be able to find out. You need to be changed with someone else but also want to change on your own. We spend a lifetime either complaining about not being old enough or then being too old. But very few people spend their time asserting how they are right now. What you were and what you want to be, those are the easiest states to sort out. But how to accept a moment that’s occurring before your eyes, followed by another, then another, and another? Eventually, alone, a moment comes that you don’t know how to accept on your own.

Every sad tale grows from the same roots. How do people who aren’t musicians share their grief? Privately, secretly, deeply. I guess the trick to singing about sadness is that you really do want to let the world know how poor your state is. You want to melt it to vinyl, you want it to be picked up across the world. I don’t know why. I can’t presume to know why it’s done.

I read “Life After God” shortly before turning twenty. It’s one of the few books on embracing sadness that I’ve seen done well. It’s also one of the few books I know exactly where and when I was when I first picked it up: Lauren’s apartment, we were playing Scrabble, and I was passing the time between turns. It’s incredible to keep flipping through this tome and see what I marked as significant passages at the end of my teens.

Life After God

What the hell possessed me to mark this paragraph at the age of 19?1. How could I have possibly related then to what he went through? What struck a cord with me? How could I have even comprehended it?

Do the sounds and the words and the pictures we absorb affect our view of the world and our role in it? Or: do we seek out sad things because we innately realize they’re the most truthful expressions?

It’s one part empathy, one part schadenfreude, one part curiosity, one part cautionary.