thought catalog

That Summertime Sadness

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originally published on Thought Catalog

It starts innocently enough: you’re at the office with your headphones in or sitting in the living room with the music on shuffle and that song comes on. You know that song, the one that pulls you back kicking and screaming to another place in another year and you can’t fight it. You’re lifted up and sucked through and dropped down somewhere else, somewhere you walked years ago in the summertime. The streets of neighborhoods that held you like arms in the quiet dark have found you again, and they are relentless.

Once more, black top steaming with visible heat thuds against your shoes, and crumbling buildings rise up around you as you walk. Weeds can barely even make it here. Lungs can barely make it here, and you once you thought you might die from all of it, just wilt completely from the heat and the sweat and the sun. Unforgiving! Suffocation took over in a summer you never thought you’d remember, much less return to.

But here you are thanks to that song and you are seeing the parts you never saw back then. This is synesthesia at its best, but it cuts deep, deep. Back porches were sanctuaries from an August storm and now they splinter in your fingers. Porches with a view of the alley and plastic chairs to take it all in were your home. It was there you first knew. It was there you first thought the words that are part of you like a pulse now. There in the thick air and heavy skies, staring at the backs of buildings, wishing for green, getting gray, you knew. With laptop speakers and cold beer for Hail Marys, you knew.

It was terminal then, but now that you’re back everything is dusted in gold. The sunlight is softer, the cool nights come faster, and cramped apartments open up so you can breathe. Streets that once trapped you now let you roam, but where can you go now that everyone is gone? Years and winters have taken friends away and replaced them with ghosts and strangers and ghosts of strangers, but what good are they? Where is the one you bore the heat with? Where is the one you ordered take-out with? Where is the one who never talked during the good parts of songs?

The heat, more tolerable this time, is emptier. Street signs have no meaning anymore. Cafes are vacant. Two cups of coffee still sit on a rickety table, growing cold. The tiny bars are wastelands, and their sticky dance floors soaked through with last night’s whiskey have no charm left, not even the kind that’s more like pity than charm. Sidewalks and restaurants and waiting for the train—it’s all hollow. Friend, we gave it a purpose. Friend, where are you now?

Back then we said words we thought were important. We wrote down words we thought were important. Back then we did what we could to survive in a summer that wanted to choke us: drinking to forget the heat, sleeping to forget the heat, close but not touching. It was too hot to touch but we found ways to feel without touching, like sheets rustling and dishes clattering and ice cubes in a glass. I didn’t know what we had then, but I know now because it all came bursting through the walls just a minute ago when that song came on.

That summertime sadness, I got it.

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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.