Imagine explaining to my little friend stranded on Neptune the attention people here-and-now pay to the most infinitesimal fluctuations of their emotional temperature. I felt content brushing my teeth just a few minutes ago, but right now, opening the milk carton, I detect a slight falling off of that contentment. Not quite the shadow of pure misery that drifted through my Being yesterday at the supermarket, but still a possible whiff of some worse state of mind heading my way. The elusiveness of the happiness that is my right by virtue of….of…well, something grants me the right to be happy….is an injustice. My Neptunian friend knows only her lightless and lifeless rock-world. She knows only the work that’s necessary to keep the hours moving along with her still in them. We in the here-and-now are lucky that so many resources of attention may be freed up to parse the rich complexity of our sadnesses, and then demand antidotes suited to each of our unique and exceptional selves.
It’s a tired old story about civilization replacing certain kinds of fear, ignorance, and drudgery with other kinds of fear, ignorance, and drudgery. The work of constantly monitoring one’s own emotional states is, unlike the drudgery of collecting enough seeds and berries to keep yourself going for another round of collecting seeds and berries, a terrible bore for your companions.
Which is what I’m on the verge of doing right now–boring others with my sorriness. Back in the day when we were all crawling in and out of caves clutching handfuls of seeds and berries, we took the weather personally as an important barometer in our relations with Whatever The Hell It Was That Was Behind Everything. Plus ca change: we still take the weather personally, only now, we’ve got it right. Science has explained to us the verifiable fact of Seasonal Affective Disorder, in which the delicate and exceptional chemistries that compose my richly complex self are vulnerable to negativity when the sun is hidden. When the outside world is so grey and sodden that colors seem something we may only have dreamed once, the delicate and exceptional chemistries that make some of us special and interesting make us go grey and sodden inside, in ways that only seem a predictable and ordinary response to a crappy day. Remember, little Neptunian, it is in the relentless self-regard of our afflictions that we become remarkable, and more interesting than our neighbor.
So here in Brooklyn it’s been a cold thin rain all day, and I’d need the Hubble telescope to confirm the existence of the Sun. I am cheerless, and when I am cheerless, I like to make a list of Bob Dylan lyrics that would make good tombstone epitaphs. I think a good epitaph should provide a momentary flicker of communication between the interred and the not-yet-interred person reading the tombstone. The epitaph should revive something of the life of the interred person in the mind of the person reading it. Not just the character, but the voice and life of the person who chose the epitaph. What would it be to read these lines. And we will have to hope that Bob Dylan, Inc. makes copyright allowances for public inscription of lyrics in these cases. Some of these are obvious, but still so likely to provoke morbid speculation or distress on the part of the gravesite visitor that I want them on my list.
- “Only a pawn in their game”
- “It frightens me, the awful truth of how sweet life can be”
- “You’ve got no faith to lose, and you know it”
- “This emptiness inside, to which I just can’t relate”
- “Try imagining a place where it’s always safe and warm.”
- “How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?”
- “The ways of nature will test every nerve”
- “The end of time has just begun”
- “Not the end, not the end”
- “There are many here among us who feel that life is but a____” (I like the idea of letting the viewer fill in the blank depending on their mood.)
- “Fortune calls”
- “I might be gone a long long time/And it’s only that I’m asking/Is there something I can send you to remember me by/To make your time more easy passing?”
- “It’s alright, Ma, it’s life and life only”
These are not very consoling, are they. When the sun is shining, the words I think form the most beautiful epitaph are “I’ve been to Sugartown/I shook the sugar down.” Doesn’t that say everything you want to know about a life lived to the fullest? Here is a prehistoric cave painting of two people dancing. Cheer up.