Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

May and Melancholy

More dedicated readers, all seven of you, might have followed recent comment threads enough to have noticed the frequent offerings of one May, who even was kind enough a few comments back to furnish a link to her weblog, A Private Eye. Although it's not usually my practice to blogroll anything so new (beginning at the end of February, so far May has posted only a handful of ruminations and photos), in part because quality is in question given a brief sample, and in part because so many blogs fail to take root in their proprietors' worlds and soon enough wither away, I'm making an exception in this case (under MoonOverWords). For as long as it lasts, this one is worth watching.

In her most recent post, "Melancholy," May writes beautifully and provocatively on the subject:

Today, when I drove back home, it was darker than usual. It had just stopped raining and there was mist all around. I passed by the grey lake and by an old hotel attached to the corner of the road. In the water, in front of the hotel, there was a sailboat without its sail and it was slowly swaying. I was listening to the sad “Autumn leaves”, sung by Eva Cassidy. A deep sensation of warm melancholy came over me like a tender hug. I did not reject it. Although I am often too busy and too projected toward the [pursuit] of enjoyment, it felt good to acknowledge that I am still able to miss what I cannot have.

This little fragment, if nothing else (and examples abound), illustrates why I was so floored when May semi-apologized for her English in an earlier comment on this site. Her evocation of such an ephemeral, protean state of mind, makes a lie of any such apology, whether read for its veneer or for its substrate. An old hotel attached to the road, a boat slowly swaying, compact images fraught with elusive emotional antecedents demurely withheld.

Surface flattery aside, hours after I first read this I continue to turn it over in my mind, the casual equivalence May implies between melancholy and the regret that attends our desire for objects beyond our reach. I have never made that association, at least not directly, tending to use melancholy in the sense of its tertiary definition of pensiveness, perhaps tinged with something closer to depression.

Perhaps timing has something to do with it: of late, I have found myself in a state that I might call melancholy, if only out of an abundance of charity (insofar as the recent strain I've caught is closer to depression tinged with pensiveness than the reverse). At this age, I find myself conscious of cement hardening around my ankles. One might think that my enduring solitude and childlessness would forestall this cliche of American manhood, but while the specific gravity of the weight anchoring me may differ for this me from what it would have been for the married-with-children version of me I imagined five or so years ago -- each possible me layering in fugue one over another, until the doubling and trebling of posited mes defies focus or resolution -- it's turning out to be like the punchline of a certain species of joke in which the subject thinks he has negotiated a series of hazards only to find himself imperiled by the one he didn't anticipate.

I am: a lawyer, a loner, a homeowner; I am not those things I keep imagining I could be: a writer, a thinker, an academic, a man beloved of many friends and reviled by a few carefully selected foes, a starting pitcher for the New York Mets. I am: a smoker, a cipher, a contrarian with a contentious streak; I am not: an athlete in enviable health, a person who forms strong lasting relationships, amiable.

And, perhaps like May, I pride myself on being here now, n appreciating each of the inconceivable incidents of each miraculous day. The most exasperating thing about my occasional (but recently more frequent) dark moods is that they take me out of the now -- kicking and screaming sometimes and other times without much of a fight --and fill me with thoughts of the past, all of which fundamentally is inaccessible, and of the most remote corners of the present, which are no more available to me, states of mind I cannot attain like a desert mirage, accomplishments that continue to elude me if only for lack of trying.

How difficult it is to look at oneself and accept, how difficult to live according to one's moral and philosophical commitments, even given the challenges of their formation, endeavors begging for vindication in manifestation. How difficult to say what one means, to clarify rather than obfuscate, to speak in a voice worth listening to, even when the speaker purports to be his own audience.

And in that sense, perhaps, life is suffering, just as the Buddhists would have it, and it is only in the exaltation of this peculiar suffering with which we are all blessed that one may achieve satisfaction and peace.

Good God, at this rate I'll be rereading the existentialists by week's end. Another trial.

To return to May, the promotion of whom was to be the thrust of this post (modest thought it may be, coming from little old me), I can't help but feel a little envy: if she expresses herself so well in an acquired (second or third or fourth) language, how much more ably must she speak in her native tongue. Alas, in my monolingualism (another regret), I'll never know.


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