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The pursuit of sadness

filling the void

There is a girl who walks quietly by sometimes, and I am in love with her. She has more than one name and more than one face, but she always sings softly and sweetly in the silence when she’s alone. She smiles with her eyes and looks with a purpose, with intensity, quick to anger and quick to forgive because hers is the passion and vitality that lives dormant in all living things finally set free to roam and observe and love. Her name is autumn. She is the beauty of death and the fleeting present soon to be carried off in the wind. Her name is winter. She is the biting cold and the hearth inside the window. She walks quietly by, in and out of existence, and I am in love with her.

She is not real, however.  

She is not an individual, not just a she. She is poetry, or the act of writing poetry. These words are not for the person to whom they refer because there is no selfless, purely romantic intent behind them, and no clear indication of exactly who they’re for. These words are not for those who should receive them, those described in detail and care, because there is no such thing as selfless poetry—these words are for me, and only me. As sad as it sounds, they do nothing but bring me the satisfaction of never having to confront them.

I, like many others, have discovered the reward systems in our brains that color feelings of sadness with a sweet twinge. In other words, we assign a positive association with experiencing sadness that often overrides our ability to appreciate the world around us from a more happy, wholesome perspective. Emotional martyrdom feels...good. It’s so oddly satisfying to descend into a state of thought that seems more critical of the true nature of the world, more nuanced and thoughtful. We pursue sadness because, though we may never vocalize it, we get off on our own misery.

We are solitary beings. We try to pretend that we are social beings, but there are very few moments, if any, in our lives in which we completely give ourselves over to others.  We are stuck in our own heads at all times, never completely sure what anyone else is thinking. We think primarily about ourselves, and when we do consider others it is always through the lens of our opinions—we don’t think on behalf of others and they don’t think on behalf of us, for we know only what our experiences have taught us. Just listen to any conversation and you’ll see, as both sides battle for opportunities to talk about themselves, that although we can understand the perspectives of others, they are never as important to us as our own. 

It’s scary to think that, at the end of the day, we all spend our entire lives alone. It’s a jarring realization because we don’t always feel alone even when there is no one around. Our minds trick us into thinking we are constantly being watched by some external presence by separating our physical selves from our metaphysical selves. For me at least, I am often aware of my mind as a different entity than my body, a sort of dream-like, over-the-shoulder being that is undoubtedly me, yet separate from my physical form. 

In this duality, I find that the two entities, the two individual “me”s, carry out a sort of dialogue through their different functions—my body acts and my mind observes. In effect, I and many others see ourselves as characters in our own biopics, constantly performing for some unnamed, meta audience that watches us from the ether. Perhaps this is a result of the pervasiveness of film culture on modern society, or perhaps humans have always been like this. Either way, humans behave as though we are being watched, as though we are the protagonists of an unedited first cut of our lives, and this attitude has a tangible impact on our emotions.

The pursuit of sadness is the result. We understand that tragedy is always more interesting than comedy and always more important because only in tragedy do we approach the greater questions of life. We want to feel complex and nuanced, and because we see sadness as the doorway to deeper thought, we derive satisfaction out of our own unhappiness. We martyr our emotional state for the sake of being more interesting, having better stories to tell, and coming off as more desirable in our pensiveness—and in doing so, we start to connect happiness to naiveté. We think happiness can never be informed by observation or rational thought because people who are happy are clearly missing something—or at the very least, they’re the protagonists of a boring film. The truth is, these thoughts are misinformed and unhealthy.  

When I’m happy, I don’t write poetry. I don’t have to. Though I have often said that I can only really perceive the beauty of the world at my lowest points, I now realize that those moments are largely self-serving. They tickle the part of the brain that feeds on sadness and makes me feel like I’m finally experiencing true emotion. It’s a fallacy to think that beauty can only be appreciated when one is unhappy, because happiness is itself an instinctive appreciation of the world. In sadness, and in poetry, I try to simulate the wholesomeness that comes so naturally during better times, and it’s only when I acknowledge the stupidity of self-induced melancholy that I can understand that. 

When I read my writing, I see my desire for sadness and I feel ashamed. However, I recognize that at least under the surface there is a base love for beauty and the world that exists regardless of my mental state. At least I can say that, though “she” may not be real, the pursuits of emotion unequivocally are.   

Jaxson Floberg is a Trinity sophomore. His column, "filling the void" runs on alternate Mondays.

Jaxson Floberg

Jaxson Floberg is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs on alternate Mondays.


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