The Poignancy of Misery

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As a child,
I thought I could live without pain,
without sorrow.

And as a man,
I found it's all caught up with me;
I'm asleep yet I'm so afraid.

— Dream Theater, Metropolis Pt. 1

So if you're empty come with me,
and watch the world go by;
we'll laugh and laugh until we bleed,
just so that we don't cry.

— Cypher, Exit Stage Left

A good friend asked me a question the other day, something like: "What's your happiest memory of your parents?" I struggled quite a bit to come up with an answer to this question, and that effort really brought something into focus: that is, the difference in the way I perceive misery and happiness. Indeed, if you've read some of the "feeling" pieces of writing that I've posted on my blog in the past, you might easily come the conclusion that my life is defined by great misery and sadness; but while there's certainly been enough pain and suffering in my life, I would generally characterise it as one of happiness and contentment.

So, why all the sorrow and darkness? As I tried to think back to happy memories, I realised that I couldn't recall any single specific moment of happiness in my life; all of the happy times just blur together into one long stream of feelings, a sea of warmth and comfort. By contrast, the moments of sorrow stand out like brilliant points of light, frozen in the stream of time, individual moments of misery in a background of happiness. I can recall with frightening clarity most of these moments, down to the lines and bumps of the furniture, the dirt on the floor, the background sounds and noises, even the scents in the air; and most of all, the exquisite sensation or emotion of sorrow itself — what might perhaps be described as emotional masochism.

As a result, I find it hard to write about happiness and joy; there are no details to lock onto, no sensations to describe, no images with which a tapestry of metaphor may be weaved. Perhaps some day I'll find a frame of reference within which to describe these things; until then, I guess I'll continue to write about sadness and misery.

(Incidentally, I'm trying to work on bringing an actual character to life in their own right, rather than as a mere prop through which I attempt to convey a feeling; so with any luck, you'll be seeing some writing in that vein shortly…)

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