Saturday, July 18, 2015

Whiplash of the Heart, Future Cat, Against Happiness

Future Cat?
Mr. Typist was out most of today, and I had Big Plans to Do All The Writing. I was going to buckle down, stop being so wishy-washy, and just pick a new project to delve into. Instead, I wasted a lot of time surfing the internet, then when I got tired of that, I puttered around, dusting, vacuuming, and emptying out the cat boxes. I didn’t need to empty out the cat boxes, because sadly, the last of our trio of cats died suddenly this week, leaving Mr. Typist and I sick with grief and reeling with what I coined, through my wracking sobs, “whiplash of the heart.” I’ve had neck whiplash. I can tell you without a doubt that heart whiplash is way more painful.

Somewhat unconsciously, I did all of that cleaning and dusting and vacuuming to prepare our abode to welcome a new cat. It’s been less than a week since Yoshi died, and I have already found the lack of a cat in our household to be an unacceptable condition.  I’ve never been good at delaying gratification, and I’m getting even less so as I age. The hell with some arbitrary grief waiting period: I'm applying ruthless pragmatism to this situation. I have a cat-shaped hole in my heart, and the solution to a cat-shaped hole is a cat. So I dragged Mr. Typist off this afternoon to look at a ten-month-old kitten who’s currently boarded at our local pet store. After a few token minutes of playing with His Adorableness in the Visitation Room, we put in an application. And now we wait-- and I go online and start compiling potential names for Future Cat. On the list so far is:


I hope we get him.

It’s been a hard week encased in the brittle shell of a hard few years, made all the more exhausting by the relentless cultural pressure I feel to Seek Happiness and Find Fulfillment. I stopped going to counseling because I got frustrated with supposed professionals telling me that the most important thing is my personal happiness, and that I, and I alone, am responsible for it. Helped along by reading Eric G. Wilson’s “Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholia”, I had a revelatory moment this week in which I realized that, actually, I’m not responsible for my own happiness, because I am in no way obligated to be happy. Knowing I am under no obligation to be happy released me from attachment to a lot of culturally-ingrained ideas about what my life should look like, and instead has allowed me to experience the full emotional and spiritual richness of what's actually happening. 

The pathological value we place on happiness in this society is a torturous psychological burden. We have this idea that if we are suffering, something is wrong, and that it’s our moral obligation to get to a state of non-suffering as soon as possible, rather than sitting with what is. We’re uncomfortable—even terrified—of the least expression of melancholia. Sadness is not a rich emotion to be experienced and mined for its gifts, but something to be immediately counseled out of us or drugged away. We’re not allowed to show unhappiness or admit to defeat or be anything other than perky, or worse yet, “resilient”.

It’s hard to be a lone voice in the wilderness of the happiness-obsessed. But it’s a huge relief to realize that’s it’s okay to just be who I am, where I am, and to honor the truth of that, even though it that truth isn’t necessarily sweet and syrupy.

And now for a good dose of delicious melancholia, here’s a sad piano:

--Kristen McHenry


Frank Moraes said...

I'm sorry to hear about your cat. That's sad. It took me a while to get over Fred (my chicken) dying. And I hadn't had her in my life for very long at all.

I don't mind trying to be happy for me. I have a real problem with other people expecting me to be happy for their comfort. But mostly, I don't think I aim for happiness anymore. After all this life, my expectations are so low. Relative contentment is very nice. Having said that, I would not hesitate to run to the cat shop.

Pachelbel, huh? If you really want to simmer in the sadness, may I suggest the second movement of Samuel Barber's String Quartet or Dido's Lament from Henry Purcell's Baroque opera Dido and Aeneas. Also: Mozart's Requiem Mass, which is heartbreakingly beautiful. But you could go for happy. Darius Milhaud's Suite per Violino, Clarinetto e Pianoforte always cheers me up -- it's one of my all time favorite pieces. Or we can go back to Mozart (because I am not ashamed to admit that I like Mozart too much), Eine kleine Nachtmusik. Or just for complete, almost incomprehensible beauty, Piano Concerto No 27. Yes, I know I've gotten out of control. I don't even know know if you like classical music. But I'm avoiding work.

I hope your cat comes soon!

Kristen McHenry said...

Thanks for all of the music suggestions, Frank! I know next to nothing about classical music, so it's nice to have some links. I probably could have found something sadder than this piece, but nothing I was listening to on Youtube struck me as sad enough, so I just went with the standby.

Happiness seems to me to be like the having kids thing--everyone is obsessed with it, and insists that you have them, too, even if you don't want them. People want you to be happy so can assure themselves that they are invulnerable to suffering. Or something. I probably don't know what I'm talking about.

No word on the kitty so far, but we just applied late yesterday afternoon.

Frank Moraes said...

That's just it: I don't think anyone understands what it's all about. In any society, there are just things that everyone "knows." In ours, it is that being skinny is healthy and being sad will give you cancer. Or something.

Until I listened to that recording of Pachelbel, I had never seen it as a particularly sad piece. But that recording really is sad. I recommend listing to the Milhaud piece. It really is wonderful and that is one of the best recordings of it. You wouldn't think that violin, clarinet, and piano would be a good combination. But there are a lot of pieces for it and they really do work well together. I've come to appreciate the clarinet a lot more as I've gotten older.

Be sure to alert us all when the kitty comes home! Now that I've got rss working, I will be able to stay up with you. I never trust a technology until people have been using it for a decade...