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Is there ANYBODY, this time of year, whose conversation doesn’t turn sooner or later to the seasonal blues? Whether it’s being starved for light, or the insidious turning back of clocks, or the demands of a relentlessly upbeat holiday, we all feel the downward tug at the corners of our souls.
And creative people: Sometimes I think we’re the worst of the lot.
We talked about this in our e-salon yesterday. What is it in us that lets us—makes us—feel that suffering has more value for our work? The paradigm for comedians tells us that a lot of them have had tough childhoods or challenging personality traits. For artists and musicians and writers (the last category being the one I know best), there seems to be an unwritten rule that we create from a place of melancholy rather than joy. Why?
This silence that attends the act of creation: Is it a natural home for melancholy? Do we turn our melancholy into our art, or does our art create the melancholy?
Personally, I don’t particularly fear melancholy. Truth to tell, I welcome it, am comfortable with it. Paradoxically, I am happy when I’m there. Melancholy (not sadness, mind you—melancholy, a different thing altogether) is a steady state, a level ground, a comfort zone in which delight and darkness can both come to visit. As a creative person, I find more colors in melancholy; more possibility. The language is richer, here, and easier. It gives me good air to breathe.
Melancholy has no expectations. I can smile in the midst of it. And feel deep gratitude. Melancholy is like the friend who listens…and nods at my choices…and doesn’t ask me for anything other than to be what I am.
This is not a “downer” post. I promise.
On a day when my thoughts go out to a dear, dear friend in NYC, I find myself thinking of the uses of melancholy.
Does a writer write from melancholy or from joy?
Melancholy is a boon when you don’t need it; a gift when circumstances don’t demand it.
Joy is bright and brittle. It throws everything into sharp relief and mocks its opposite number. Joy is a dare; a jeopardy. But melancholy?
Melancholy brings a softening of the light. A smudging of the edges of things. Melancholy is without the frantic energies of joy. It whispers; doesn’t shout. It asks, more softly, “okay, what’s next?” Melancholy understands need. Melancholy knows sympathy. Melancholy lives gently in a place it knows it cannot control. Melancholy smiles in the sunset, regretting the passing of day, knowing another day will come.
Hope lives more comfortably in melancholy than in extroverted joy.
Okay, okay, we need both—that energy of joy that makes us dance; that retreat of the extroverted electricity that asks us to sit the next one out and invite the hush to come.
I can easily live with both. But one is sweeter. You can guess which that is. Not a bad thing, after all.