Friday, 5 June 2015

Emotionally... erect.

Great news everyone! I’ve worked out why we’re all so unhappy!

OK, not all of us. Not you there, stuffing your face with a sausage and egg sandwich. Not you, sir, striding purposefully down the street like Amelia Earhart on her way to the toy shop. And not you, madam, driving your BMW like all the other cars are butter and you are a big, expensive knife. Screw those other cars! They’re not as cool as you! You rule!

You lot aren’t even a bit unhappy. You’re made of joy and satisfaction. And, in the case of the BMW driver, a deep seated contempt for all humanity.

No. I mean the rest of us. Those of us who don’t have a lovely sandwich, or time to go to the toy shop, or can’t afford a massive shiny car to career around in, making other road users feel miserable like a giant ignorant penis. Our lives are stupid and made of nonsense.

I’m not talking about real misery, of course. Our lives may be stupid, but they’re far too pleasant for that. The fact that you’re looking at my nonsense words suggests that your days are relatively free of true distress. You have time to read, so you’re not working every hour god sends or walking five miles just to get water. You can afford electricity, so you’re not eating fluff to survive. Best of all, you have the freedom to look at my inconsequential witterings, so you probably don’t spend your days hiding in rubble, on the run from a terrifying militia of child soldiers.

This is a very specific kind of unhappiness and, annoyingly, it comes from being quite happy. It’s what some people would call first world problems, and that’s very hard to deny. This is a kind of unhappiness that can only exist in relation to comfort and joy. Let me try to explain.

One of my favourite films is LA Story. It’s not a great film and many people probably dislike it, but it has a special place in my heart and if it’s ever on TV I have to watch it. Oh, turns out I’m lying. I just looked on Rotten Tomatoes and it has a 94% approval. Turns out it is very popular. Dammit, I thought it was my special film. Turns out everyone likes it. I was going to recommend it, but now I realise you probably own it, and love it too.

See what I mean about my life being miserable?

LA Story. You should watch it.

Anyway. There’s a lovely line in the film spoken by Steve Martin’s character Harris Telemacher. Describing his life, he says,

“I was deeply unhappy, but I didn’t know it, because I was so happy all the time.”

It’s always struck me as a strange line. It’s meant as comedy, of course, and I generally took it as something that was just meant to be absurd. But as I’ve got older, I’ve kept coming back to that line and I think maybe it’s more meaningful. In fact a quick check online tells me that when Steve Martin made the film he was about 45. That’s very nearly my age now. Maybe that’s why it has started to make sense.

I am, for the most part, very happy indeed. I live in a lovely house that is often full of friends and wine. Said friends are an excellent bunch of people who make me laugh and – more importantly – laugh at my jokes. I have a job which pleases me and money to buy toys. In short, I rule.

And yet. Very occasionally, under the surface, there’s this weird sense of dislocation that’s never been there before. Something I don’t have a name for. A weird, unusual flavour of emotion that exists in direct relation to the pleasure and delight of life.

I don’t think it means that the real happiness is false. I just think that there’s a kind of unhappy that exists alongside it, rather than opposed to it. It might need a new name.

I have been unhappy, in the past. Properly, actually unhappy. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre I fell off a ladder and broke my shoulder. That sucked, because it hurt, and I was self-employed and had no money, and everyone seemed much more concerned with world events that with my constant moaning about how I couldn’t play guitar anymore. 

There was school. That sucked. Everyone was bigger than me and everyone was mean and boy did I look like a jerk. And I’m pretty sure it always rained.

And there was that time that my ex fiancée tried to steal several thousand pounds from me and told loads of lies about me and acted like the world’s biggest, greediest, most deceitful bitch. That was miserable too.

But that’s not what I feel now. Now I often stand in my lovely kitchen, drinking a glass of wine while dinner cooks, listening to music as sunlight pours through the window. Miles away from all that horrible rubbish and as happy as can be.

I think of Harris Telemacher’s words. Unhappy, but not realising it because of happiness. I don’t think it’s quite true, but there’s a something. A something that exists alongside the deep, genuine pleasure that life gives me.

Some happiness, yesterday.

Here’s what I think it is. That moment I just described – me in my kitchen with my wine and my music – is beautiful. But part of my brain knows that there is a way in which it could be more beautiful. No, not if Anna Kendrick was there too. Well, maybe a little, although she seems a bit high maintenance and would probably want to turn the music down or have some of my wine or something.

No. The way in which that moment will become more beautiful is when it is gone, and gone forever, and I can’t have it any more.

If it all goes wrong. If I wreck all my relationships. Lose my job. Get hurled out of my house and have to live in a skip, eating bees. If I wake up each morning to a grey damp world of loneliness and misery and my best friend is a sock called “Toothless Jim”. Just imagine the place my previous happiness will hold in my memories: The day I stood happily in that kitchen, enjoying that wine, loving that life – it’ll be more than good. It will seem like heaven itself.

I think about this sort of thing quite often and I’m starting to think it’s part of what being really happy is about. Everything I have gains value when I think about what it would be like to not have it anymore. My hands moving on this keyboard – imagine a time when these fingers are stiff with age and pain, and suddenly their fluid movement seems wonderful and insanely precious. Everything I see looks like art when I think that one day I might go blind. And when I let my mind wander and create a world where the people around me are gone forever, I think how much I’d long to have just five more minutes in their company.

If this sounds like a clichéd ‘be grateful for what you have’ kind of thing, that’s probably not far from the truth. I don’t pretend this is massively insightful. It’s just a way of helping me recognise the true beauty of what’s going on around me, all the time. I can sometimes sit and sulk about the things I don’t have, like a PlayStation 4 or a swimming pool or an Anna Kendrick or a bottle of wine that was just a little closer… But the more I recognise this feeling – this happiness that contains within it unhappiness – the more I’m grateful for the stuff I do have. Take these things away and I’d be very poor… so I must be rich.

So, where does that leave us? Well, I imagine you probably have the strong desire for a sausage and egg sandwich. And some wine. You might also have become involuntarily aroused by the thought of Anna Kendrick. And we have, of course, all learnt a valuable lesson about not taking things for granted.

Most of all, though, I imagine you probably think I’m just inventing a nonsensical new kind of ontological maths to justify my constant state of emotional confusion. And you’d probably be right. But look on the bright side. Eventually we’ll all be dead. And then we’ll really see what’s what.

Now go watch LA Story.