Tag Archives: depression

While You’re Waiting For Moments That Never Come

Blogs, as anyone who’s ever kept one knows, are a pretty easy thing to give up on. The minutiae of life go by, people get busy, the initial excitement fades. For me, however, this blog wasn’t preempted by other stuff I had to do; if anything, I’ve had a surfeit of time, waterfalls of the stuff, in the three months since I lost my job. 

And while I thought about writing almost every day, I didn’t want to burden anyone with what I really wanted to write about: the endless pain, loneliness, depression, and isolation I was feeling. I had just started my life in San Francisco, and so many tiny tendrils of that adult emergence died along with my job: the nascent friendships with co-workers that were quickly dashed, the financial freedom that flip-flopped into terror of losing my house and terror of leaving it for the spendy outside world, the confidence that the American dream was buoyant and that my place in the meritocracy was buoyant. 

I’ve decided to write a little bit about these things because I feel like I can’t go forward trying to plumb for honest opinions on entertainments without first honestly expressing what I’ve felt for the past few months. And I know that it’s a buzzkill for a lot of people. This passage from Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York sums up a lot of my feelings on the subject of sharing, oversharing, and the deaf ears that receive them both: 

Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make; you can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won’t know for twenty years. And you’ll never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. Just try and figure out your own divorce. And they say there is no fate, but there is: it’s what you create. Even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain, wasting years, for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right. And it never comes or it seems to but doesn’t really. And so you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope for something good to come along. Something to make you feel connected, to make you feel whole, to make you feel loved. And the truth is I’m so angry and the truth is I’m so fucking sad, and the truth is I’ve been so fucking hurt for so fucking long and for just as long have been pretending I’m OK, just to get along, just for, I don’t know why, maybe because no one wants to hear about my misery, because they have their own, and their own is too overwhelming to allow them to listen to or care about mine. Well, fuck everybody. Amen. 

I won’t go so far as to say “fuck everybody,” because people, a few people, have reached out from the world of their equally potent misery to try to sop up a bit of mine. Whenever I’ve been able to reciprocate, I have, but the truth is that most of my social world has stopped calling. They’re biding their time, waiting for the day when I emerge with my shiny new career (as, God willing, I someday will), waiting for the reassurance of discussions that don’t center around pain they can’t understand and problems they can’t solve.

And I really do want to give them that conversation, without grudges. But what I can’t help but feel as I probe the ruins of my adulthood-so-far is that there isn’t going to be any end to that grief, even in a best-case-scenario world where everything is done to a turn and I show up on the cover of Oprah’s magazine shouting with joy about how I’ve turned my life around. The paths we don’t take (or, in my case, the path that was closed off to me) still have their own strange lives, half-children of experience floating sadly in the imagination. New paths emerge, time moves forward, but these wraiths still swim and whisper about what could have been. 

In the empty days of November, I could have had the courage to keep typing away about movies while everything fell out underneath me. I could have the courage now to just say enough, and go back to writing about my cultural theories under the guise of the cheerful person who penned them six months ago. I could suck up my pain. 

But I’m not courageous. I’m just scared. What is unique about this fear is that it finds a rare release in the joys of taking in and taking apart art, and I’m no longer going to be afraid of admitting that it will have an enormous influence on what I see. This doesn’t mean I’m going to go ultra-morose, or turn every analysis into self-analysis, just that it feels better to have a contract (with you, the invisible reader), knowing that from here on in, you know the score. 

In my time away, I’ve read a million books, watched a slew of films, drunk 50,000 beers, and soon, I’ll try to lens in on all of them. But what I see when I look in the mirror isn’t the same, and the things that are a mirror of me have to change with that.

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All the Mad Young Advertising Men

I spent my most recent Sunday night catching up with “Mad Men,” which has now aired four episodes in its second season. I initially tuned in to the show because it combined two of my favorite things: period pieces (especially those from the 40’s to the mid-60’s) and what Tantek likes to call “meta-media.” Meta-media is, quite simply, the idea of a show within a show, or some kind of creative product within a show. Good examples are “30 Rock,” “The Larry Sanders Show,” and “Sports Night,” all of which I really enjoy, as well as certain aspects of “Arrested Development.” Tantek coined this phrase specifically because he hates this kind of show, but as a creator (or aspiring creator) myself, I find the subject completely fascinating. I also think meta-media doesn’t have to be all about navelgazing– writers can, and often do, make potshots at what’s bad about their medium. (Network is a good example; so was “Sports Night”‘s ongoing deconstruction of the new corporate mega-media and the consequences it had for its pawns.) Not to ignore the fact that there have been missteps in the genre. Joel McHale does a great job summing up the train wreck that was Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip:

“Mad Men” is unique, though, because it seems to be the first meta-media show that’s all about creative people ignoring the zeitgeist. If you know much about the history of advertising (and having been given a copy of Ogilvy on Advertising at age 7, I know a fair amount), it’s not hard to see that “Mad Men” is basically a series of dispatches from the decks of the Titanic. Sterling Cooper, the show’s fictional agency, is the kind of enterprise that fell long and hard in the mid-60’s, as geistier talents like George Lois Julian Koenig* dragged advertising into the age of irony.

Last week’s episode was particularly pointed, as the established ad men mocked the younger, decidedly more ethnic talents interviewing at the agency. If you don’t know much about the history of American ads, their pointed envy, hidden behind a veil of racism, is still easy to recognize. Even if it’s only simmering below their consciousness, some part of them knows that they’re dinosaurs. If “Mad Men” offends you because of its overt misogyny and overindulgence, don’t despair: a big comeuppance is coming.

The problem with “Mad Men,” I think, is that it doesn’t let anyone enjoy this delicious irony quite enough. Yes, the ad men have their smoking-drinking-overeating-womanizing fetishes to attend to, but “Mad Men” never lets you forget for one minute that none of them are really having much fun. “Mad Men” seems to believe strongly in Thoreau’s adage that “most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” And so, despite the glitter and indulgence of the period, all we see are pained, soul-searching characters, from protagonists Don and Betty Draper (Jon Hamm and January Jones) down to even the most minor waitress or secretary. Show creator Matthew Weiner used to write for “The Sopranos,” another very dark drama, but even that show usually had a dose of levity to counteract all the anguish. “Mad Men,” despite having almost none of its violence, makes “The Sopranos” look comparatively light.

I like “Mad Men” a lot. I think the writing is sharp, the acting uniformly excellent, the directing creative and well-thought-out. The level of period detail, from the costumes to the sets, is jaw-dropping. But I find it hard to really love the show, because it never gives me the impression that any of its characters will ever feel much joy. If they were a little happier, a little more attuned to their own needs, it might be possible to root for them; if they were a little more cruel or coarse, perhaps their ultimate demise might feel a little more welcome. Instead, we see them for what they are: sad, frustrated people, unhappy in objectively “good” lives, and about to see those lives get a lot worse. It could be the period: Weiner makes no bones about the thorough discrimination against women, immigrants, and blacks that thrived not too long ago. But that doesn’t explain the palpable pain of the show’s largest character constituency, well-off WASPs.

The only other explanation I can think of: maybe that’s what life is really like for everyone. If that’s true, I’ll be the first to congratulate Weiner on his willingness to paint a vision that’s thoroughly bleak. But even as a confused and easily disheartened depression-sufferer, I find Weiner’s world awfully morose. My life, at least, is shot through with some happiness, some occasional daily pleasures that leaven its tone. In “Mad Men,” sources of pleasure exist everywhere, but actual pleasure is almost nonexistent. This makes me want to classify “Mad Men” as a meta-drama: the first show in which every protagonist is not just beset by outside difficulties, but actively depressed as well. It’s the kind of show where you could expect any character to take to their bed for a week and think nothing of it.

Since the actually depressed and mentally ill (as opposed to the depressed-by-circumstances) are so rarely represented on TV, I guess I should be happy that my constituency is getting its own Emmy-nominated spotlight. As a sufferer, though, it’s almost overwhelming to watch Weiner’s little sadness corps parade by week after week. And so, I find myself asking the same question that Tantek does every time he scorns a meta-media show: “Whatever happened to escapism?”

* It’s come to my attention that Julian Koenig, not George Lois, was responsible for the copy in this and many other iconic ads. His daughter Sarah’s piece on This American Life discusses the situation.