I. The Darkness
“Why can’t you just be happy?” The same reason I just can’t be black. Or Chinese. Or a turtle. Or wealthy. Or the Pope. Or the one-eyed, one-horned, flying Purple People Eater. Or have Down syndrome. While logistically it might not be sufficient to suggest I was born this way, this is certainly what it feels like. And it’s one of the dumbest, most asinine questions anyone has ever asked me. They seem to present happiness to me as an equation that is as simple as 2+2, but then insist that my method of reaching the answer 4 is not the generally accepted method, therefore I am wrong and ought to reconsider; or that the answer is curiously somehow not even 4. Many have even analogized such things regarding emotions to a light switch—just turn it on and off. But we can’t reasonably do that. It’s not that simple. And I am not so sure about this analogy anyway. On and off offer us only two options. If the switch were on, why would anyone actually make the conscious choice to turn it off? And even if I were able to just turn on the light of happiness, would I want to? Some of the most interesting things happen in the dark.
I might not be able to provide a relatively accurate description of how I would define happiness, but I don’t think it really even matters. If anything, it would behoove this dissertation to proffer instead an elaboration on the value of things like sadness, grief, pain, depression, despair, bereavement, melancholy, heartache, hopelessness, sorrow, regret, worry, anxiety, and loneliness, which is often accompanied by self-loathing, self-pity, self-doubt, and neverending self-inquiry. Many of these designations are interchangeable, but I often simply refer to it by the consolidated sobriquet of the Darkness.
For a long time I entertained an idea to write an apologist’s disquisition of the Darkness, and now it is here. This is it. However, by no means is it comprehensive, pansophical, or an exhaustive truth derived from scholarly data sui generis. Consider it more of an existential vision through a phenomenological lens. It is a sort of introspective ethnography. It can and likely will be amended, by me or even by others. I wrote and recorded a song once about the Darkness, which you can listen to here: https://soundcloud.com/thenoholdsbard/i-had-to-go-back-to-the-darkness
“I Had to Go Back to the Darkness” was a song I attempted to compose in the style of Leonard Cohen, and it was borne out of two separate but somewhat related circumstances involving a long-gestating foolishness in harboring both fear and love for someone I was aware had no interest in me (something I have mastered in), as well as a friend of hers who took his own life. While it began as an exercise in the former, the latter occurred in proximity and I felt compelled to become the voice of that silent partner whom I only ever spoke to once but felt connected with in fraternal misery. I don’t claim to have interpersonal knowledge of his cognitive mechanics; I simply granted myself some poetic license.
Just as happiness seems to manifest itself in various ways, it is immeasurably defined by those who feel and understand it. So too is the Darkness an esoteric, enigmatic equation where “Love called to me from hatred/And hope called out from despair,” where “I had to go back to the darkness/In order to see the light,” and where “I had to make peace with the heartless,/[and] I had to wage war with the heart.” Many are very likely unable to comprehend the chaotic sensation of stillness and private death, but it is immeasurably defined by those who feel and understand it. As perhaps being of such romantic and therefore mysterious nature, the most appropriate narrative approach to it is thus [emphasis added here]:
I had to go back to the darkness
Where nothing is understood
And weave from it the garments
Of armor, cloak, and hood.
I never knew which move was smartest,
Though I yielded to its command:
I had to go back to the darkness
To help myself understand.
The Darkness is most often a confusing, chaotic place to navigate. Days blend together, there is no form or substance to time, and significance to nearly everything in life becomes immutably erroneous. In his old age Leonard Cohen penned a traditional blues tune called “Darkness,” which equally matched soulful infirmity with wry wit. In the second verse he decides, “I’ve got no future, I know my days are few./The present’s not that pleasant, there’s just a lot of things to do./I thought the past would last me, but the Darkness got that too.” Though Leonard often espoused poetic license to synchronously nuzzle and needle melancholia, for most of us it is gravely debilitating. And sometimes we come to believe we are gluttons for punishment, doing this vital injustice to ourselves. As Robert Burton exclaimed in his Anatomy of Melancholy, “thou canst not think worse of me than I do of myself.” And most of us understand this all too well.
The Darkness exists in so many measures, conditions, behaviors, and sensations. Sometimes it is just the densest, most acidic fog you’ve ever been stranded in. Or sometimes it’s being frozen at the base of an insurmountable volcano, feeling obligated to ascend it without any mountaineering equipment. Sometimes it’s floating untethered in space. Sometimes it’s a bottomless abyss or an ocean without shore. Sometimes it’s just the bottom of a bottle, a crippling malaise, a comatose oblivion, a shapeless prison, a neurosis sonata, an avalanche of pitch black, an empyrean realm of synapses in the brain that transmits every discomforting sensation at once, a constellation of chaotic heart murmurs, eloquent gestures of doomsday philosophies in an eternal, inarticulate revolving-door carousel, or a labyrinth of terror with no means of egress.
It can be the road to hell, all the roads in hell, all the roads in hell zigzagging across and around each other, or an Escher construction in hell. We wind up feeling like his Bond of Union, but engulfed in flames with contorted visages; each confused face an agent of our inner dialectical conflict. In that way sometimes it’s just hell itself, and there’s no road or path to follow at all. It’s a surreal vision, but the feeling is absolutely real. Sometimes it’s more palpable and sensory. It’s a lot of crying, a lot of sleeping, a lot of sleeplessness, a lot of hopelessness and helplessness, a loss of appetite, a loss of drive, desire, will, interest, motivation, identity, purpose; feeling broken, incomplete, inadequate, invalidated, abnormal, lost, confused, stupid, foolish, regretful, ashamed, unworthy, undervalued, unloved, uninspired, unimportant, lonely; with clenched fists, clenched teeth, clenched eyelids, anxiety, hyperventilation, sweating, nausea, and indeterminate pain. It is the music of the heart without instruments.