Summer break so far has been incredibly depressing, considering that my great country America has been shooting itself repeatedly in the foot over the past couple of days. June 11, Christina Grimmie, a famous American singer and contestant on The Voice, died from being shot three times while she was signing post-concert autographs. Yesterday, at least 50 people died in a mass shooting in the Pulse, an Orlando gay nightclub. (See my post-post note for my thoughts on this.)
As for me, though, nothing’s directly happened to me at all. Immediately following last week’s graduation ceremony, I removed my cap and gown, retreated into my room, and essentially haven’t moved since.
I remember lots of actions. I remember giving a speech, shaking some hands, walking across a stage, taking pictures. I remember watching ex-classmates pose with an “I’M DONE!” chalkboard sign to post on Instagram, remember smiling a lot, hugging a lot. What I don’t remember is how I felt about all this, probably because I don’t think I felt anything at all.
Even though this absence of feeling is common for me (of course, there’s a threshold. I felt horrified at the recent shootings. Afraid, knowing that no one, no place was safe), it’s hard for me to explain. Or it’s hard to understand and even harder to deal with. When you’re sad, you cry or write bad poetry or complain (or, if you’re Brock Turner, sacrifice your beloved steak). When you’re happy, you continue doing whatever you’re doing to stay happy. But what do you do when you’re not sad and not happy and not anything?
I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I started watching comedy shows on YouTube. When I’m down, I love listening to comedians. They never fail to depress me further.
What I mean is that they lure me in with the promise of spirit-lifting laughter and the realization that my short-term problems don’t matter while hurling me into the abyss of long-term nihilism and making me realize that nothing else matters, either. Comedians, the ones I enjoy, anyway, view the world realistically, speak honestly, and point out the truths and absurdities of the human condition, the senseless idiosyncrasies of which we think nothing. (It’s worth noting that 100% of my most admired comedians are clearly depressed.)
I’ve given a lot of thought to one of Jim Jefferies’ truths, in particular, and I’ll try to write the gist of it. He once said something along the lines of (but with a lot more swearing, probably) you never complete your dreams because even if you do complete them, you don’t just stop there, satisfied—you just add more and more up until you’re dead. We’re brought up on a culture of dreams, and when they don’t happen, we can’t cope.
This observation, obviously, still doesn’t address why I can’t seem to process emotion correctly, but it’s a possible explanation as to why I’ve been feeling off lately. Just one example of many: for the longest time, I wanted to get good grades to get into an Ivy League school. I got them. I wanted to be involved in lots of activities to get into an Ivy. I got involved. I wanted to get into some Ivies. I got into some.
The gratification was so fleeting. It had the sour taste of foreshadowing.
We’re all trying to make it in the world, but what happens if and when we get to that point? Does satisfaction, does happiness become even further out of reach? Comedians like Bo Burnham or Louis CK or Jim Jefferies who’ve actually “made it” don’t seem to be any happier for it.
Maybe it’s because we’re dreaming the wrong dreams or for the wrong reasons. I didn’t know what I wanted for my education, only what I thought I should want. Maybe Jefferies raised his standards for success—from going onstage for five minutes and making people laugh, to getting paid, to headlining, to becoming a movie star—because going bigger and bigger seemed the logical progression and not because he wanted it.
Defining your own happiness: that could be it.
That, or maybe I need to lower my standards. I’ve found that doing so usually solves most of my problems.
Post-post note: Look, I’m not trying to use these tragedies to push a political agenda or anything (besides, has that ever worked? It seems to me like, by now, many people are staunchly on their side of the gun control debate and won’t budge no matter what happens.) But as long as nothing is done to deter future shootings, as long as the lives of a 22-year-old singer chasing her dream and gay people seeking contentment can be ended so abruptly, maybe the pursuit of happiness really doesn’t mean much in the end at all.
Post-post-post note: Check out Tim Minchin and Bo Burnham! I’m obsessed with their shows.