Your Official Guide To Having Ennui


Perhaps you first felt it when you were walking alone on an autumn day, looking at fallen leaves, and realizing you were neither happy nor sad, but definitely more sad than anything else. Maybe you tried fruitlessly to figure out the reason for your almost-sadness, but instead found yourself staring at a river while reading a letter from your sister informing you that she joined a convent because she was desperately in love with you. Or maybe that was just Chateaubriand. At any rate, I am here to provide you with the Official Guide to Ennui you never asked for: what it is, how to diagnose it, and what to do if you have it. Fear not, fellow sufferers, my degree in French literature will lead you through these trying times.

First you must figure out what type of ennui you have. Many flavors of ennui exist, sort of like ice cream if ice cream gave you no enjoyment but you kept eating it anyway. We’ll begin with French Ennui, because that’s where the term originated. Ennui means “boredom” if translated literally, but has taken on a broader significance through its use in literature (see Chateaubriand, Sartre, and Baudelaire, if you really must). French ennui is related to existentialism, but lacks the urgency and atheism of the latter. It is Anna Karina walking on a pristine beach saying over and over, “What can I do? I don’t know what to do.” At its core, this flavor of ennui involves having no real problems and lots of down time. You might have it if:

-You like the idea of nature, but not actual nature.

-You tell people you are “a romantic,” which is different from “romantic.”

-Black coffee and cigarettes are your major food groups.

-You routinely blame things on your spleen.

If those don’t sound like you, you might have Russian Ennui. This type is different from the French type because it involves some sort of duty or obligation, and more specifically the avoidance of said obligation. In Russian literature the family is the main source of obligation (see also: the State). The more pressure the family exerts on the sufferer of ennui, the less he does, and the less he does, the more time he has to think. Doestoevsky says that excessive time spent thinking becomes a “disease” that produces only more idleness (see Notes from the Underground if, like, you really want to). You might have the Russian sort of ennui if:

-Instead of completing assignments at work/school you take long walks through harsh weather conditions, preferably snow.

-You talk a lot about “citizenship,” but don’t join any clubs/teams/groups.

-Your cabinets are filled with cheap black tea and half-empty bottles of vodka.

-On a good day you answer 1% of calls.

If Russian ennui seems bleak, you might have a third kind: Modern Ennui, which results mainly from living in a society that runs on technology. The blue glow of computer and smart phone screens is the symbol of this type of ennui, and sufferers are those who crave human relationships, but prefer to slip back into the comfort of the internet whenever faced with an opportunity to interact face-to-face. They are plagued with apathy and find it nearly impossible to perform any task that cannot be completed with a few keystrokes, but are cripplingly bored at the same time. You might have Modern Ennui if:

-You can count your IRL friends on one hand.

-A restaurant without online ordering brings on a mild panic attack.

-You are exhausted from working all day on the computer, and as soon as you get home you open up your computer.

-You have a tumblr.

Now that you’ve identified which type of ennui you have, you can go about treating it. Kidding! This is the essential part of ennui: there is no cure. Once diagnosed, the best you can do is accept that life is one long road of unceasing monotony. So get a cat, refill your coffee mug, and settle in with the e-book version of Les Fleurs du Mal because you’ve got a ways to go.

This Is Fiction I Swear

Part 1: The Laundry

Streets tonight

“It’s a sad and beautiful world.”

I think that’s a fine enough thing to say, but I’ve had enough of this Jim Jarmusch movie for the third time, and I turn it off. That’s what trying too hard sounds like. That’s what thinking too much about what you should feel and how it should look sounds like, and I’ve had it, just like I’ve had it with everyone. Boredom, once again, and I need to be thrilled. I briefly consider getting a gun, just for something to do, but I have no idea where to get one. I briefly remember a poem I wrote where I compared a boy I liked to Chekhov’s Gun, and no one liked it because the writing was terrible and the allusions thinly veiled. He was, though, that boy. Briefly.

And it’s nights like these that I can’t stand because I can’t tell if I’m happy or not. I can’t tell if I’m lonely or not. I’ll pace for a minute and finally go up the back steps to the laundry room in the attic. It’s not quite October so the windows in the stairway are open, and I smell the dark floating in. Except it’s not quite dark out there because we’re in the city. It’s never quite dark out there, but I love it anyway.

In here, though, it’s dark in realest way, and all I can hear is the creaking of the wooden stairs and the echoes of another night when I was in the same place. It was the same not-quite-dark, the same stairs, the same open windows, but you were there. You walked behind me because you couldn’t see, and neither could I, but I know the way. I know every step. You stopped talking to focus or breathe or count the steps because you’re strange like that, and I could smell the laundry at the top of the stairs. Laundry mixed with cigarettes like a cheap motel. My neighbor smokes, that’s why, and I think I told you that because I thought you would ask. But you didn’t.

Up here, I love it. I look out and can see the train pulling in and out of the station and the rooftops of people’s houses and a horizon, if you can call it that. You were more concerned with the other side, though, where we keep things like suitcases and broken fans. I turned on the light and showed you that part because you wanted to see it, but I explored it long ago and had no interest anymore. I wanted you to touch me. Instead you kept blathering on about some project you were working on, a project I knew you’d never finish because you never finish anything. I wanted to hit you, so I did, but you caught my hand and grabbed my arms and my waist until I was laughing and you were laughing and it was all dimples and cheekbones and gold. Where have you gone, friend?

The laundry is done, but it’s too early to sleep so I stand looking around at the quiet of my living room and realize the night is calling me outside. Suddenly I need some air because I can’t breathe and I hate you and I hate what I did and what you didn’t do. Once I’m out there it’ll be better. Once I’m out there I’ll realize it was weeks ago and I’m clear out on the other side. I put my keys in the door lock, then the gate lock, then the bike lock, and now I’m gliding down the street towards 18th. I have no idea where I’m going, but the wind in my face is like a good hit and I keep riding further, faster, harder, chasing the infinite.

Or something. I get stopped at the eastern-most cross street by a red light and there’s a kid with tight pants crossing the street looking at me. I wave because I see him and he sees me and it’s silly and awkward not to, but he looks at the ground, and that’s why I can’t stand hip kids. I catch my breath and turn left to go downtown. It’s a good night to do stupid things on two wheels by the monuments until the cops shine their lights and tell everyone to leave. Without stopping I pull out my phone to call my friend Angelica who always wears hoodies and thinks she’s hot shit because she can keep up with the boys at everything. She’s still finishing undergrad and tells me when I call that she has an exam tomorrow and is in the library studying. Fine, just one solo round then. I put my phone away and a girl in spandex speeds past me and turns to give me a dirty look for biking while being on my phone. I wish I had a rock to throw at her.