Despair, like everything else, should be an art. That is to say, it should be experienced as artfully as possible. I am a veteran of despair. Sounds trite, right? But to my ever-dwindling family of fellow-sufferers, despair is as real as air itself. I am not talking about questionable psychopathologies or material hardship or dubious life narratives gone awry. No, damn it, I am talking about good old-fashioned, straight-up, on-the-rocks despair. The sort that seeps out of you in woodwindy sighs and inhuman groans. The sort that leaks out of you in a gaseous overflow. I call it elemental sadness; a grief borne of a consciousness mediated by a language that jangles with the skeleton keys to all secrets but which is bound by its fleeting, fallible nature to tragedy.
I should have killed myself years ago but I enjoy my morning coffee too much. And now I have reached that awful age where I cling on to life like a spurned lover. Give me another chance, please. Ignore this aging face and body, won’t you?
Despair is mostly bearable. It’s hope that hurts most. As the aptly named Bacon said, hope makes for a good breakfast but a poor supper. If hope embodies light and despair darkness, then my mind is a truly hyperborean landscape.
The problem with dealing with despair artfully is that it is painfully boring for most people. Tolstoy was wrong: there is nothing unique or interesting about unhappiness. Despair, at its purest, is like an ominous grey cloud looming overhead: it is the embodiment of monotony. Personally, however, I find it supremely beautiful and comforting. A bright blue sky offends my eyes: I look at it and think, “You lie!” But a nice, flocculent grey sky is like a shroud for my weary mind: soft and supportive.
I like to believe that the utter monotony and repetitiousness of despair is an initiation into the profounder secrets of life. Thus we are immune to some of the shocks and horrors thrown up by the mad laboratory of nature. We intuitively sense that our suffering was written on the cave wall whence we emerged blinking in bewilderment but yesterday.
But it is not easy to coexist with despair in this world when you refuse to fleece it in medical or circumstantial causality. Perhaps that is why the suffering of pathos morphed into its modern paronym of pathetic: despair is a handicap, a weakness, an embarrassment. In fact, the opposite is the case. True, I can’t walk across a bridge without imagining hurling myself over the rails. But I can take the debilitating pain that would drive most people insane if this electronically-fuelled charade of happiness ever comes to an end.
We live in an age that belies its despair in an outward cult of happiness. I wrote a book whose plot could be summed up as follows: the suicidal adventures of a desperate man. It wasn’t a bad book but I was aware that most people would be bored (hopefully to tears) by it. Despair is simply not an effective plot device: it is a primordial feeling (a groan) endlessly regurgitated. And do not confuse despair with the misery porn of BBC drama and Cannes’ Palme d’Or-winning films (note to self: despair is better represented by music and painting). Despair barely registers as an inner monologue; it does not lend itself to the ping-pong of dialogue. Elemental despair (as opposed to purely circumstantial despair) has no place on the sliding scale of meaning, where everything inclines towards its counterpoint and antidote.
My head is a bit foggy from the effort of writing this so I will go and freshen up. A picture of Jesus hangs in my bathroom (overlooking the toilet). It belonged to my landlady’s grandmother. I will offer him my libations and then suffer through another day, unredeemed and irredeemable. Later still, the libations will take the form of vodka, lashings of it, in order to sleep, per chance not to wake up: the dream way to go.