On Friday quite a number of my Facebook friends shared a video of comedian Louis CK on Conan O’Brien’s show, talking about smartphones and why he’ll never let his kids get them. Louis CK is one of those funny guys whose best comedy comes from human truth, not quite “you have to laugh because otherwise you’d cry,” but close to that. You should watch the clip, but if you can’t, here’s what he said that I loved:
Underneath everything, in your life, there’s that thing — that empty, forever empty, you know what I’m talking about? That…
[Conan: Yes, I–]
[Conan: Yes, I know–]
[Conan: –what you’re talking about.]
–that knowledge that it’s all for nothing and you’re alone. You know it’s down there. And sometimes things clear away, you’re not watching any–, you’re in your car, and you start going, ‘Ohhhh no, here it comes — that I’m alone!’ Like it starts to visit on you, you know, just this sadness.
Life is tremendously sad, just by be–, you know, being in it. And so you’re driving, and then you go “Uhhhhhhhh” — that’s why we text and drive. I look around and pretty much one hundred percent of people driving are texting. And they’re killing — everybody’s murdering each other with their cars, but people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own, because they don’t want to be alone for a second. Because it’s so hard.
Erik and I were on the T, going to Arlington to hang out with our friends, and I was telling him about this video and we talked a bit about the sadness. Louis CK describes it as “the knowledge that it’s all for nothing and you’re alone,” but when it hits me, when it’s 1 AM and I can’t sleep and find myself crying for no reason, I’m crying over the knowledge that we’re all going to die and none of this matters. (Same thing as what Louis CK says, but not exactly.) This is one of the things I love most about Erik, that I can talk to him about things like this and he doesn’t try to soothe me, tell me it’s okay or not to worry about it. A lot of people think that having these thoughts means I need to be cheered up, but I hate that, because you can’t be made to feel better about something that can’t be changed. At least I can’t. It’s not something to feel better about, though it’s true that sometimes I feel more okay with it and sometimes less. Would you tell a dying person to cheer up? Because that’s what we all are: dying people.
I think a lot of people would be surprised to hear that I have these thoughts, because I’m a generally happy person and many people read these kinds of thoughts as dark or bleak. Perhaps you’re thinking this now: “Good lord, she thinks we’re all dying and nothing matters, she must be really depressed,” but I’m not. I mean, sometimes I’m depressed, but isn’t everyone? Sometimes I’m depressed, and sometimes — most of the time — I’m happy, or even really happy, and the happiness isn’t some kind of thin-stretched façade just barely hiding the sadness. The happiness is real. The sadness is real. I’m not trying to feel better because that implies there’s something wrong with the sadness, that we should try to stave it off, and I don’t believe that. The sadness is here because it is based on inescapable facts that we have to live with, and so we live with it. Fending it off would be as stupid as trying to fend off happiness because it’s getting in the way of the sadness.*
By the way, I should say that I don’t truly believe that none of this matters. Or rather — I don’t only believe that none of this matters. I think nothing matters, and I also think everything matters. In a way everything matters precisely because nothing matters, if that makes any kind of sense at all. Everything matters, because it’s the only thing that stands against the giant infinity of nothing, and that’s why the happiness matters and the sadness matters and the pettiness and the ridiculousness and the bugs and the bombs and the cat videos on the internet. This is all we have, and so it matters more than anything.
This was going to be a post about, like, two or three other things, but it turned into this. That’s okay. The other stuff will keep. But here, have a kitten. Our friends are fostering her and she’s about five weeks old and the shelter named her Monkey Face.
*Note, though, that I’m never the kind of depressed that means not getting out of bed for days and not wanting to talk to anyone. I think that kind of sadness — and “sadness” is not really the right word for it — does need to be fended off.
Oh thank you so much for sharing! I’m thankful that people far more eloquent than I can broach this topic. I often find myself with these thoughts and wondered if I could be described as pessimistic or even nihilistic. But I am glad that even those people who I perceive to be the epitome of happiness can share in these same feelings.
Eeeee Wei-Ling, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I think of you as a very happy person too — I remember reading your blog (was it an LJ?) waaaay back in the day and you’d mentioned depressed thoughts and I thought, “OMG, Wei-Ling???” But that was before I got more comfortable with my own thoughts about this kind of thing. I still don’t know what to call them. I’ve had another friend describe herself as “totally pessimistic but still weirdly cheerful” and I think now that maybe she was describing the same thing. I think I’m drawn to folks like this, who also agree that having these thoughts needn’t cancel out our real happiness/cheerfulness/optimism. ❤
I loved and shared that clip. I love how he always talks about BIG things in a funny little way, so people can laugh. I’m working myself into a serious CK crush.
I’d enjoyed a couple of his clips before this, but I watched a whole bunch after seeing this one.
That not being able to get out of bed kind of sadness is what I’ve been trying to fend off for months. When I have a better handle on it, I tend to think the way you describe here except I don’t think or verbalize “we’re all going to die and none of this matters.” It is there in the background when I’m okay, like a shadow that shows itself sometimes in my work, or in life as a shiver when I look at a person’s face when I’m riding the bus or the el, or when I’m walking in a crowd. I only think those exact words when I’m in trouble. Maybe that sort of suppression is a kind of self-preservation I learned as a child.
Anyway, I love Louis CK’s show. It amazes me how he can sometimes make me laugh hard and then cry during the same episode. He’s got a great feel for production values, too.
Big hugs to you, dear Ré.
I often look to comedy’s take on “serious” subjects, because good comedians seem to cut through the BS a lot better. When I’ve gotten really upset about something mainstream-political I’ve turned to The Daily Show rather than dealing with the news. It’s not just that they’re blunter about a lot of things, but there’s a feeling of “come on, people, we know this! we all see this!” that I find really heartening.
“Here, have a kitten.” Great line. The mixed emotions are life’s inner wrestling match. When the blues hits you have to slam that sucker before he gets you on the ropes. (Don’t forget to “Grrr” at the camera.)
Sometimes the Bad Guy wins.
(On a serious note, I have tried meditating on the universe and my tiny speck of dust size, and then bringing it all back to my environment. That’s a bit – weird.)
The “laying in bed for days” kind of sadness does have to be fought. You are right. Because if it isn’t it can, not always, end unpleasantly.
Sadness versus a kitten = a well-matched fight. 🙂 I don’t know if kittens are a good long-term solution (my guess: no) but for me, in small doses, they’re very effective!
And yes… I can’t claim to understand what it feels like to have truly horrible depression, but there has to be a difference between sitting with sadness and lying helpless in bed as sadness drapes itself over your face like a suffocating pillow. I have a number of friends who’ve dealt with the latter kind (or are dealing with it now) and I wish there were an easy solution, but it doesn’t seem there is.
[…] (and the anticipation of meeting our baby and having to care for her) bring that deep well of existential sadness so incredibly close to the surface that any remotely touching thing becomes an instant conduit to […]