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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.

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This Is Fiction I Swear: Part 16 (or The End)

Part 16: Time Zones

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I couldn’t ignore it if I tried—the lightness of unfettered freedom settling in my soul as I step off the train and onto the pavement. A new city. The air is warm and sweet and all the colors are faded like they’ve been left out in the sun too long.

I don’t recognize anyone except those I’d been in the same train car with for more than twenty-four hours now, and even so I make sure to walk a different direction than they do once we leave the station. I wheel my bike to the curb and adjust the backpack on my shoulders as I look down the road in both directions, deciding which one to take. The roads are bigger here, much bigger, but somehow there’s less space on them and they turn up at the corners like they’re sneering at me, like they’re telling me they’ll swallow me whole if I attempt to ride them.

Good. The sun is on its way to the other side of the world and shadows from thin, twisting palm trees cross my face. I think my sister lives somewhere near here. I put on my sunglasses and walk across the street to a little restaurant with outdoor seating. It says it has coffee for one dollar and that’s all the change I have in my pocket and I want to watch the sun set and to feel the gold.

The people here look happy. I’m thinking this as I put my feet up on the plastic chair across from the one I’ve chosen. The people here are pretty and they have families and cars and they are happy. Why wouldn’t they be? They have California in their skin.

My coffee gets to me via a waiter with dark eyes. His t-shirt is very white and his skin very tan and I thank him for the coffee. I will empty out my backpack to find some more quarters to leave him a tip when I’m finished. I have to.

The coffee is just right: a little burnt, very hot, with substance. And my tongue adores it. A soft breeze brushes past my skin like warm breath before a kiss and I get goosebumps for no reason. It’s not cold but I’m shivering. It’s all perfect but I’m crying. I’m understanding everything in the last folds of light on a coastal evening.

But soon I’m moving, again. Leaving, again. Putting tires to pavement.

And this is where I’m invincible. This is where I can fly. The wind doesn’t catch or snag my body but streams past it in clean lines. Nothing holds me back: not the holes in the road or the dark of the tunnel or the vehicles that think they can do better than this. Watch me take your lead from you. Watch me till I’m out of sight. My lungs feel like they might explode from the air pumping in, and my legs are burning deliciously from the effort. I’m intoxicated from being alive.

And nothing happens! You’d think one day I’ll get what I deserve for being stupid and reckless and overconfident, but I don’t. I’m switching lanes and flying forward at speeds I shouldn’t know, and I have no idea if this is heaven or hell or reality because most days life is one or the other anyway. And they all thought they needed something after this.

This is Fiction I Swear: Part 13

Part 13: Hiding

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Darling, it’s cold now but warm in here. Tonight, shut it out. Lock the door. Look at me in the soft shadows and shed your past till the only thing left between you and me is the music. This song, it’s pretty, and I think I’ve heard it before.

He’s pretty, too, like this next to me, sleeping now when all’s through. It should be perfectly lovely now, but I’m pulling apart. It’ll never be like this again. There is nothing better than right now and my nerves are on fire. My skin is cold. My lungs collapsed. My blood shivering while by body lies still.

And the breathing won’t come. At least it won’t come easy and without hot tears rolling down my cheeks and onto my neck. My hair is wet. My lips parted. I taste the salt and the sweetness and the sharp ends all at the same time. It keeps coming, wave after wave after wave, and I’m desperate but I can’t tell if I want to end it or keep it going until the end of time. If the ceiling could open and the sky swallow me alive just like this—

But now there’s only the quiet—deep quiet—and it’s exquisite. The most beautiful thing I’ve ever known, and I can’t see it. I can’t touch it or taste it but I know what it is. I know how it makes my thoughts come softer and my fingers lie still. I only know it as passes through me. Does it exist if I don’t? Does it have a shape if I don’t give it one?

Hours ago the white turned gray. The storm blew in, and the cold grew teeth, but the four walls of this bedroom stood solid and still do. They hold out the world and breathe in and out in time with us. His arm around me, my head on his chest, our eyes closed so we only see inside. But minutes later, restless, I grab my camera.

-Why do you want to take my picture?

-I want to remember you how you are right now.

-Why? What do you think is going to happen?

-Something. Something always happens.

He doesn’t know now, but I’m right about this. I wish I weren’t because I just want to go in circles with him spinning and spinning and laughing and yelling and living and it’ll never end. Happy and shining with sun and grass and leaves in my hair and dirt on his arms and lets not stop! Friend of mine, this is perfect how it is. Don’t change. I won’t if you won’t.

For now, though, all there is is this. I’m forgetting what the world out there is like and it thrills me. So much nothing in this quiet bedroom and it thrills me. Shadows from the yellow streetlights slip in through the half-open blinds and wander the walls around us. They’re not here to take us. They don’t want to swallow us whole. They only keep us company and watch over us as we fall in and out of sleep together like children worn from a day’s games. To have this until the end of time…!