Monday, May 24, 2010

"The state of waiting for inspiration to strike"

My mother used to call out in the morning from the kitchen, "Rise and shine!" It came in a sing-songy voice that was intended to make me jump out of bed smiling, I suppose, but being an angsty teen (what other kind of teen is there?) it made me want to strangle her.

When I look back on it now, it's easy to see how forced was her early-morning cheer. Up every day at 5 a.m. to make breakfast and pack a lunch for my dad, looking ahead to a day full of laborious repetition to make a home and feed the family - I wonder about the origin and the sincerity of the expression. But I know now that the presentation of a sunny demeanor to her piece of the world was as crucial in her daily agenda as the frying of eggs and the sweeping of floors - no matter what quiet despair she might indulge in after the school bus had come and gone.

There is no shortage of persistently pleasant people in the world. You meet them in coffee shops and auto shops and they sell you long distance packages. They deposit your check and ring up your Lean Cuisines and process your airfare with a cheerful confirmation number provided. Some of them - many of them, perhaps - are genuinely cheerful, displaying their true nature. I am happy for them, and envious. Some are just a brave face. But it's the rare being who will show you their melancholy side in the course of everyday human events. It's just not acceptable. And that's the rub.

Scholars of societal deviation propose that indefatigable positivity is a definable characteristic of the prototypical American. Your French, your Russian, they know from despair! Your languid Italian, your desultory Finn, they feel the depth of the soul and its sad isolation. And don't even get me started on the Jews! But we Wonder-Bread-and-mayonnaise-loving white boys - we are not, by birthright, entitled to sadness.

Is it alright to be sad? Am I entitled to my melancholia? I say yes. I say I take it. I make it mine. Melancholia is the home from where I travel abroad, the base camp from where I summit. Am I deserving of it? Can I justify it? Only in the sense that it is everlasting and essential as the air.

Tomorrow I will rise, and maybe I will shine.

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