It’s unfashionable for someone to speak of their sadness or self-deprecation, or maybe that’s just me. I’ve done it enough. It’s saccharine, I guess. No matter how the tale is spun the result just seems to plead for something; God or love, either way. Doesn’t it seem adolescent? That’s a tough position for anyone in the throes of these feelings to be in. Unless they remain silent. If I were to, in this post, describe my current struggles, their roots, their solutions, then what? Haven’t I already said this before, more or less? Well, you might say you like me as I am and let that be that. That is fine. I can’t say the same. Okay. We are back at the beginning. It would be terribly unfashionable if I said a word more.
But the problem persists; there is an urgency in sadness. I want to speak to it, expose it, lay it bare on the table like a fish to fillet. Maybe there is some salvageable meat in here, something to nourish, but it must be done now, this instant, before it rots and must be tossed. Sadness is that way: temporal. Each encounter comes with a demand singular to the day of its arrival: here is a powerful feeling, attend to it, reconcile its nature with yours. Today’s demand is that I feel utterly incapable of meeting the demands of today—a sad thought, self-pitying as it is. I won’t defend its presence to you beyond saying that it simply struck me as true when I took account of how I went about things from morning until now. Again, how to respond to that? So you might point out that I taught—which is good—and I wrote some—a rarity—and texted a few friends, and ate a pile of asparagus, and have not turned on Netflix. Those things are fine, but I don’t feel better for their happening. Ah. See. What are we accomplishing? We begin once more. There is something here that needs saying. I suppose I have a few more words. Bear with me.
I read every word of Marilynne Robinson’s that I can get my hands on. Her thoughts are extraterrestrial in scope and understanding, displaying an uncanny intelligence lovely for both its gracious posture and assumption that any reader contains, of course, the same multitudes. Simply engaging and understanding her, then, allows a mind to feel resplendent. Reading her is a reminder of known things and ideas that have been waiting upon her singular voice for expression. She writes in an essay titled Humanism, “I find the soul a valuable concept, a statement of the dignity of a human life and of the unutterable gravity of human action and experience.” Yes, I have always believed that, though not until now. To have each idea presented so plainly feels like a discovery, like when one catches their face in the mirror again and remembers, yes, that is me, that is me, how strange that I will only have this one face, will only know how to be behind this one face in all the billions of existing faces no matter what I do, where I move, or who I love. I forgot.
Anyways, I prefer Marilynne’s mind to my own, which surely betrays her message of human dignity. Embracing such a vision requires some application to the self, after all. I try. Her comforts become less so when they are exposed in the barrenness of my solitude. My resplendent mind ceases when her books close. I’m just me, frustratingly me, and if there is beauty here then I lack the senses to find it. So of course she finds glory in the mind—her mind is glorious. Yet, nonetheless, I desire to be a peer to her, complete with my own offerings and exaltations that she might take an interest in. By “peer,” I only mean sure of myself. As sure of myself as she is. Too abstract a desire, maybe. Hints of idolization. Misses the point somehow. But, you know, here I am. The fish simile was okay. Sorry, self pity again. It’s just that I care about all this—humanity, the pursuit of goodness, doing right by my loved ones, teaching my students well, spending time wisely, learning about the world, writing well, loving—and what to show for it? Am I giving it all an honest shot? I am unsure. I don’t think so. I try. I have never bought a single gift for my nieces and nephews.
You and I have read all this before. That’s why this is all so unfashionable, these forays into self-deprecation. Being sad isn’t interesting. It’s rote. But it’s me, you know. This stuff is the fascination of my life as it is now. I stopped talking about it and writing about it because I am tired. I was tiring others. You see. How could you like me as I am when each new day brings a fresh, urgent demand? Rhetorical question, of course. That’s why I keep coming back to Marilynne.
In her essay Decline, she says, “…from the time the first hominid looked up at the stars and was amazed by them, a sweet savor has been rising from this earth, every part of it—a silent music worthy of God’s pleasure. What we have expressed, compared with what we have found no way to express, is overwhelmingly the lesser part. Loyalties and tendernesses that we are scarcely aware of might seem, from a divine perspective, the most beautiful things in creation, even in their evanescence.” See? I forgot. You and I, our loyalties and tendernesses towards each other, these are the earth’s sweet savor. God’s pleasure. The most beautiful things we have seen yet in all the universe. So why not regard my mind, in this present moment, in all its mess, as glorious? Well. I try.
Will Montei (’13) graduated with a major in writing and a minor in philosophy. He currently lives in Seattle, taking full advantage of the abundant local coffee and surrounding mountain hikes. He is an avid daydreamer, an old soul, and a creative potty mouth.