I’m kind of addicted to sadness.
Just the other day I was staring at the Pacific Ocean’s dirty-window sheen, discussing the futility of marriage and ambling down a beach strewn with scrappy shrubs and barely-clothed people. (No matter the weather, no matter the Ugg boots, Southern Californians always seem a little bit naked.)
The sun hurt my eyes, amping up my wistful objectless longing. I thought, aw yeah.
This need for sadness has really hit me while I was home for break. Yes, yes, my parents loved me as a child, and, no, I don’t abhor going home. In fact, I have a sort of Lena Dunham attitude about the whole living-at-home thing: infinite sunshine, delicious food in the fridge, lots of fresh towels—what’s not to love?
Over Sunday waffles, my family was discussing a New Yorker post by John Hodgman entitled “Downton Abbey with Cats.”
“I thought it was hilarious,” said my mother, citing the moment when the narrator realizes, to his horror, that he and his cats (actually his children) are partaking in an eternal cycle of families watching bad British TV about servants.
“Really?” I said. “I found that article so sad.”
“What is wrong with you?” said my little sister.
She’s right, though, my sister. I’ve got a blissful life, but for some reason I’m not satisfied until I’ve turned every last bit of joy into a Strindberg play.
Favorite singer: Sufjan Stevens. Favorite beach book: "Crime and Punishment." Favorite topic to write poems about as a child: dead children. My sister and I recently argued over whether to go see feel-good Disney propaganda “Saving Mr. Banks” or “Her,” the story of the doomed love affair between Joaquin Phoenix and sexified Siri set against a bleak Los Angeles skyline. I’ll leave you to guess my preference.
Sometimes I wonder if my constant need for a sadness fix is just a Southern California thing. There’s something awfully sad about the concrete strip malls with broken neon signs that line nearly every city street along the coast, I told my sister.
“Stop being depressing,” she said. “It’s Christmas.”
I thought going back east for school would cure me of the sadness, of the unique angle of California sunlight that blinds your eyes, saturating the world in Hollywood colors and rendering you helpless before the universe. Maybe it’s the heaps of literary paeans to California that I’ve read that are making me suspect every Santa Ana gust or curbside palm tree has a secret story of bleak eternal isolation. (Curse you, Joan Didion.)
Anyway, my plan didn’t work: I seem to have traded stark sunlight for oppressive Boston skies.
“You’re just sad,” said my little sister, who is taller than I am. I intuited that by “sad” she didn’t mean forlorn. She tapped lazily at her phone, no doubt bantering with one of the several boys with whom she texts regularly.
But no matter how lame my sister thinks I am, I stubbornly insist that melancholy has got a weight and import to it that funny can’t touch. Why watch the cotton-candy fluff of “How I Met Your Mother” and get all those extra pleasure calories when you can have the painful, the cathartic, the dare I say life-transforming emotional calorie burn that is HBO’s “Girls”? (Okay, okay, I might be overextending myself here, but you get the point.)
It dawns on me that I probably haven’t met the boy my sister was texting. I don’t even know which of these acne-faced early-teen hormonal puppies she actually likes.
My sister and I compromised on the movies, by the way. We went to see the new Disney princess flick “Frozen,” which promised a happy ending for her and some heartbreak for me.
But I was shocked to find that I couldn’t even watch the first scene. For once, something was too sad, like a pleasingly tart grape gone sour in my mouth. The little sister bangs over and over on the door of the older one, pleading for her go out and play—but the girl inside might as well be across the country, so frightened and consumed by her icicle-making powers that she won’t embrace the life mere inches away.