My mood spectrum is full of murky blues, greys and greens, misty skies and churning sea. This is my emotional terrain and I am happy there. Other people find happiness in primary-coloured landscapes, full of bright blue skies and fairground attractions. Not me. Those scenes glare and feel artificial to me. It's not that I never feel drawn to those sights and sounds, but when I do it quickly feels too heightened, something I can't quite trust and something that certainly won't prevail.
So, I gravitate towards people and objects that elicit those more muted emotions; poetry and music, literature that is tinged with mist and musing. I'm fully aware that this seems sad to some people, but it really makes me happy. I guess what I'm saying is that my brand of happiness is quieter and more subdued than the heady concoction we're often sold.
I get that some people prefer a skipping disposition to a gazing one. I mean, isn't it lovely that these varieties all exist and that we can explore them all? What I resent is the idea that anything that's not primary-coloured needs a cure; the idea that everybody has to be happy in a primary-coloured way all the time.
That primary-coloured brand of joy seems somehow connected to consumerism; an idea of unquestioning well-being invented by men on Madison Avenue. And their invention, while grand and appealing, looks increasingly plastic over time. I'm not sure I could be happy - I mean in the eudaimonic sense - without accommodating pensiveness, or acknowledging sadness or doubt.
I can't tell you how many times I've been accused of being depressed on my blog. Not in a sympathetic or supportive way. Rather, in a way that seeks to undermine what I've written or questioned. I usually react defensively to the idea, mentally arguing against it, wanting to point out that one post, even my entire blog, is not the whole of me, or of what occupies my mind. But the truth is I am often pensive and my writing tends to be introspective rather than gleefully jumping up and down on a trampoline. Still, I don't believe I'm always brooding, engaged in some orgy of self-flagellation.
But I don't really think this is just about me and my own emotional spectrum. When I write a reflective or pensive post and receive a "uh-oh, you're depressed" response, I think it betrays a larger tendency, and one that's not just about me personally: It's a bias against the expression of certain dispositions and emotional states. And it implies that being in those states renders a viewpoint invalid; that the veracity of certain ideas or reflections on life is somehow connected to the emotional state those ideas or reflections are born from.
Of course, in broad strokes, and especially in extremes, people have ideas that draw from their emotional state. But to undermine the veracity of their ideas because of an emotional state is a leap I'm unwilling to make. I mean, even if I am sad, blue, feeling depressed (and, yes, I sometimes am), that doesn't mean I'm completely unhinged in a way that prevents me from having insights that hit some truths or ideas at least worth considering. And, let's face it, the opposite doesn't happen; people don't dismiss a story of love or success or inspiration because the person is so clearly upbeat in their ebullient joy.
So what's really going on?
I often think this pat response is an "out" from examining ideas or reflections that are perhaps challenging or unsettling to consider. I notice people react to writers like Beckett, Pessoa and Plath in this way too (and, no, I'm not putting myself in that company of writers). When I hear the depressed / over-thinking response to those writers, I usually think it's an escape from examining ideas that require hard work. But I also think it's a way of avoiding ideas that make us confront our own doubt or anxiety, things that many of us find difficult to look at in the eye.
In the interview I linked to recently, Calder said about Beckett:
"Beckett was always looking for deeper meaning. Why are we born? Why do we die so early? What’s the world about? What’s life about? He was always asking those questions. Most people tend to try to avoid those questions, and that’s one of the problems people have with him. He was very contradictory that way. Although he abandoned the lifestyle and the outlook of his family, he never got it out of his system. He more or less gave up his religion, but he always had a sort of longing for it. There’s not a single non-believer in Beckett’s work. Not one."
It may seem bizarre, but that tension makes me happy. I mean really happy. It's hard and real and tragic, but also wry and funny and beautiful.
I've sometimes felt pressure to become a person who lives a primary-coloured emotional existence. Until I realized that I'm most drawn to knotted-up people who want to explore and articulate and press down on all their complexity. Beckett's my favourite writer because he really goes there. And he leaves so much space for silence and being lost-for-words, for unanswered questions, and ideas and feelings that aren't neatly packaged. I guess I love confronting these ideas because, personally, I find tremendous beauty and truth in these tensions. And these sorts of ideas make me feel the most sublime elation.
The blog world is sometimes pretty one-dimensional in its ideas of emotional health. Blogging and social media etiquette advice often advocates a sort of vacuous shiny-happiness, remaining aloof from complex emotional or thinking states. Ironically, these same people will, in one breath, lay it on thick about the importance of being "authentic" and "having integrity" (words they, marketers and media people have picked clean of their real meaning), and in another breath tell you to be positive and avoid airing anything challenging or controversial or, heaven forbid, negative, even if constructively so.
Frankly, I think, fuck that shit. This culture of shape-throwing positivity admits little that's sublime in its depth and complexity. I cannot imagine being happy or productive or interested in anything that does not occasionally, or often, wade in the deep end or get lost in the mist. And I don't think this makes me depressed. Nor do I don't find it depressing. And I definitely don't think it requires intervention or medication or a solution.