This is Melancholy

Reckoning age is not easy, especially in this culture of youth. I, for one, like to imagine myself as 27, jewfro grad student, newly married but still stewing in the full potency of my past — I was in love, no doubt, and this love was fueled by all my previous loves. I could still feel Joy, my high school love, vibrating in my loins and heart and belly and schnoz. I could still feel the magnetic pull of Sabina, my college obsession, the resonance of her still palpating my heart.

With time, all this has come to fade.  Not the facts, mind you, not the memory per se. But the affective resonance of that memory is no longer there.  I don't feel that pining for Sabina that I did for so many years. I remember the pining. Indeed, I can regale you with tale upon tale of my longing, my humiliations, my joys. 

But the scent of the event has dissipated, its feeling gone. It is now a movie I saw ages ago — I know the story but I don't feel the power of it anymore. In many ways, it might as well have happened to someone else. I don't know it happened to me, not from the inside out.

And I find this loss unbearably sad. I am coming to understand, perhaps, that it is this loss that defines aging — not the loss of motion or hard ons or memory but the loss of our own past's resonance. 

Sometimes, I try to beckon these lost affects, try to charm them back into being, performing a perverse kind of seance for dead memories, for the dead me. It is a curious, difficult thing to do.  I  reach with all parts of my memory, not just for the images, but for the literal and metaphoric feel of it, for that sensation that permeated my belly, my blood.  I try to remember with my whole body, hurling not just my mind but my frame and flesh into the memory, into the vortex of the facts.  Sometimes, very rarely, I can conjure it for a fleeting moment, usually by finding virtual traces of their scent. 

I wish I had a better way to manage this loss, a way better than my seance which is all too pathetic.

This loss is what's become of my whole childhood.  All the joy and anger and fear I felt as a kid has now become a series of facts that may or may not be correct and is irrelevant, anyway. Their power, their resonance, is nearly gone all together.

This is not all bad. I have reconciled a lot of shit with my family, not because I forgive but because, frankly, I don't feel all the anger and disappointment anymore. What seems like my noble gesture is, in fact, just a reality of aging.

There are times, I can still see myself in high school, high as a kite, so vital, rocking out with Willy Jacobs to Jethro Tull. Fuck, Tull rocked me inside out. I was so enthused, so infused, by that maniac flautist.

So, from time to time, I will mine the Tull catalog — not on vinyl, even if I still own them all, but via Rdio on my iPhone — in search of that memory's potency.  I can find fragments of it on an album here and there, in a refrain, a lick, a musical apogee.  But, as with my seance for lost loves, this conjuring is short lived and, in the end, feels pathetic.  

Alas, this is aging. We become alienated from our own past, from our previous selves, from our youth. It can be liberating, sure, but I find the loss devastating.  But I suppose such is what we might call maturity: bearing precisely this loss — not the loss of memory but the loss of memory's resonance. 


ayşegül said...

This may very well be the reason of slowing down mentally while aging. Most of the time I feel that I am becoming stupid with years (as I've observed in other people) because the memories cannot resonate and touch to my present. Always wondered why people become slower in understanding since it seemed to me that it should be the opposite: we have more and more memories as we get old, and more and more opportunities to combine them in different ways; so we have to be increasingly intelligent or creative. The loss of resonance explains this fact.

Anonymous said...

this is very saddening... i am only 21 and have not experienced much in life, though i already feel as though the intensity of my emotions towards everything is decreasing.. i used to have an overwhelming passion for traveling, i was full of love and lust, i cherished every relationship and every encounter much more and now all of these are dissipating, i feel like as i move forward in life, i lose the layers of me that made life exciting... the colors are dissolving... and i am just 21.

drwatson said...

I think what I wrote today relates tangentially. See what you think.


Daniel Coffeen said...

@ Aysegul: You took this some place I hadn't considered — thanks, as always. It is funny to imagine that what we call wisdom — moving more slowly, more concertedly — is just an increasing lack of affective resonance. But maybe that IS wisdom...

@ Tamari: 21! Oh, fret not: you have a good 10-20 years where your past life will still feel vital. And after that all fades, there is still brightness to be had in the now and future — things burn bright just not as often. What's sad is inevitable: the past gives way, withers, like flowers. It is sad but it's not depressing; it's melancholic.

Unknown said...

Melancholic, exactly. Sweet pain, like tears themselves. But without that melancholy to accompany the memory, that sweet pain, those flowing, salty tears -- in a word, that nostalgia -- what is there? Dead facts.

I am 32, and nostalgia is coming alive for me now. I have my Al Bundy moments, thinking back on the glory of the distant past. The idyllic high school days of band and drama and study, and my first steps into first love. Even my job as a dishwasher in an Italian restaurant is romantic: the industrial sprayer on the end of a metal anaconda, dishes going from nasty to squeaky, the front of my shirt getting soaked but it didn't matter because I was sweating. The sweet summer days. Biking home from work at night, zipping downhill in total darkness in a game of one-man chicken, I knew the route that well.

The sense of it all is just now coming alive for me, at this stage of my life. But why now?

And why do you now, instead of at some earlier or later point, feel a passing of that nostalgia, a deadening of the facts?

Are these inner experiences occurring just now because of the ticking of the clock, the forward march of time, each step measured to the king's own pace?

Or are these experiences timed according to some socially arbitrated progression of events?

Or what?

Daniel Coffeen said...

@ Will: First of all, thanks not only for reading but for your generous comments — all a joy to read. But as this is the one with a question, here is where I reply:

I believe there is a metabolic shift that takes place in one's early 40s — my friend, the poet Lohren Green, calls it anti-puberty. It's as if, from 16-42, we're reeling from this upsurge of pubescent energy. It comes on suddenly and then drives us for 25 years.

And then a new event happens, anti-puberty, where suddenly (more or less) everything begins to slow, to fade, to wither. The energy that drove the body and its will for so long changes. And, for a few years, it makes us careen. We like to call this a mid-life crisis, which it is.

At 32, you still have nostalgia, the affect of memory. But, in around ten years, it will fade through no fault of your own.

Jim H. said...

First, great post. How many hours did I spend poring over "Thick as a Brick!"

I've been on about a similar topic I call the "Mosaic sadness"—what we feel when we realize not only that our entire life project will fall short (failing to reach the promised land), but that the illusion (the philosophic pic of your next post) which drove our project was based on an illusion or delusion (hey, Canaan wasn't all that it was cracked up to be). Sadness and grief are emotional, this is a spiritual condition we all must confront. Or not.

I take some exception to your anti-puberty point—though based strictly on my own experience. There is a new urge that hits us in later life: an urging for immortality, to put it crudely. For a revaluation of values, as somebody once said in another context.

I personally don't find things fading, withering, beginning to slow. If anything the pace seems to be picking up. There is less time for everything I want to accomplish. The vitality is still there—I can run 13.1 miles painfree which I could never do <42. But the drives are different.

Perhaps these feelings are such if you don't allow yourself to change, revaluate. But that's just a personal theory.

Unknown said...

Dan, I appreciate the warm response. I am certainly not against a biological/temporal influence on these phases of life we're talking about. I'll sit with that for now.

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