You know the thing of when you bring hot wings to a party and then you wind up eating all of them?
No, wait. I’m not going to write about that. I want to tell you about something more meaningful.
As a child, I was particularly susceptible to long, drawn out bouts of crying. Maybe eight years old. Around then’s when I learned that lions and tigers were being hunted by humans, and that humans were also fucking up the big cats’ environment. That was the wrongest thing I’d ever heard of, and I knew it was true because it was on NOVA, and it made me so terribly sad. And when I found out that, on top of that, grownups KNEW about this abuse of the majestic, beautiful animals and they weren’t also crying all the time about it - that felt like the earth giving way under my feet. I had no idea up until then what an emotional free-fall pure misery can be. It was the betrayal that really got me. Betrayal by every human grownup that was going about their ordinary lives, not up in arms over the slaying of these endangered beasts.
I’d cry and cry and cry, feeling out the walls and corners of this wonderful, mazelike territory called ‘despair’. I started noticing boys and that’s when I branched out from the world of reality and started imagining impossibly horrible situations. Sometimes I’d get in the shower, turn the water down to the colder side of warm, and collapse on the tiles, weeping, imagining myself to be some abandoned orphan on the streets of Paris approximately two decades after the French Revolution. This was during my Les Miz kick, when I found it deliciously pathetic to morph together the characters Cosette and Eponine, so that I could at first be a dejected and abused orphan, and then later find myself overlooked by the man I loved while I bled to death in the gutter. Mmm! Yeah, I was good at despair.
Despair feels like meaninglessness to me. It feels like the giving up, the deciding that there’s nothing new or interesting that’s ever going to happen. And I’m really surprised to find myself not experiencing very much despair at all lately. Not much, especially when you consider that I spent a good twenty years focused on how bad and wrong and awful and meaningless the world is.
Today, I was out walking around and I saw that there are some trees here in Northern California that are turning brilliant colors. It just doesn’t feel as spectacular, I think, because it’s still eighty degrees out. Somehow the gorgeous reds and golds just don’t hit me the same way if the air isn’t crisp - somehow my body just doesn’t get enough sensory cues that things are changing, man, things are really changing in an ancient way that I’m programmed to understand. I got closer to these red leafed trees and noticed that they were putting out these spikey pods. I thought about how one generation has to die to give way to the next generation, and even how parts of us must die or slough off so that we can keep growing and changing in our lifetimes. I picked up a leaf and thought about how these leaves are red all year long, under their juicy green chlorophyll skins - or maybe the better analogy is that leaves have no skin and their blood is green and their bones are red. And I thought about how some of us live through many seasons of our lives, with the green blood of despair running so thick that even when we look in the mirror we don’t recognize our true selves, our meaningful red bones.
No, come on! I didn’t really think that. But I did think:
Meaning. That must be what I’ve been searching for, making myself crazy over, all these years. I think that’s the thing I get lonely and hungry for. Meaning is the thing that I most deeply crave.
And then I picked up some hot wings and brought them to a party and ate all of them.
Sarah Elovich is a writer, performer and humorist based in Oakland, CA.