ennui

The Bus Stop, flash fiction

Ukrainian Village AugustThe worst is when the air is so light you cannot feel it around you. Nothing is breathing, and you get disoriented and try not to think of death. This happens to me as soon as I step out on the sidewalk. The neighborhood is quiet and fading today even though it is the ripe, middle part of summer when the greenery intrudes upon everything. I walk down the street alongside the promise of rain.

My plan is to go to a café and look for a job, the kind of job I told my sister I already had. Maybe a receptionist or an assistant of some sort. I don’t really know, but I have a hazy outline of what it will be, and that’s what I described to her when she came to visit yesterday. I told her about meetings and offices and working lunches so she would tell the family I am fine. I told her so everyone would know I am fine.

When I am a block from the bus stop I see it pull away. I watch this happen with no reaction, as if there’s a curtain drawn in my mind and I’m shielded from the reality of the world outside. I do not mind waiting, though, because I am in no rush. I have nowhere to be, and the red brick warehouse across the street from the bus stop is symmetrical and nice to look at. From this angle it appears to have no depth and is just a cut-out prop for paper dolls. I am pretty content with this view of the warehouse and of the cars going by, all peopled by little blurs of humanity. I think I just might be alright for a while until a moment later a girl rides by on a purple bike and I realize again how colorless my hair is.

A man joins me at the bus stop, and I immediately get the impression he is not waiting for the bus. Perhaps it is the duffle bag or the gallon of orange Kool-Aid he has with him. We stand there in silence for some time as a line of semi-trucks and work vans speeds past us on the double-lane road. Most people would have put on headphones, but I lost mine a few weeks ago. Besides, the weight of the sky makes up for the quiet. Will the rain start soon? I wonder if the man with the duffel bag is thinking the same thing. I wonder if anyone is thinking the same thing. When the bus finally comes I get on, but the man with the duffel bag stays behind. Perhaps he has not figured anything out about the rain yet.

On the bus I sit next to the window, towards the back, where I have a good view of the interior should I choose to look at it. A woman with a pink umbrella sits with her legs crossed, looking straight ahead. She is dressed too nicely for this bus and for this life, and I cannot bear the sadness of it so I opt instead to look out the window where a car is on fire amidst the weeds and the black top. The rain has just barely started.

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Your Official Guide To Having Ennui

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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.