“Melancholy is the pleasure of being sad.” — Victor Hugo.
My grandfather quoted that to me once. I think I was about 11 or 12.
I’m not someone who enjoys his birthday. I don’t even like to see other people on my birthday – even people I love. All my gratitude is buried beneath a tectonically-scattered layer of wandering attention. Every interaction takes place as if through some thin sepia fog, slowed and faded just enough that I spend half the day wondering whether I’m ill, tired, hungry, or I’m 14 and a girl has just broken up with me.
I don’t pretend this feeling is in any way unique to me. I’m given to understand that loads of people hate their birthdays. I don’t really hate them, I just take a different kind of pleasure from them. The pleasure of being sad, in fact.
It’s not about getting older. I’m still young enough to enjoy getting older. I was glad as hell to turn 30 last year, and I’m pretty keen on how 31 feels and sounds, too. I have no massively grim fear of aging, in part because all mystique is stolen by the friends who have birthdays before me, and in part because I have almost no ability to plan ahead. Maybe ignorance is bliss.
But this is what I do on my birthday, and what I’ll carry on with as soon as I’ve posted this.
I wake up.
I drive Katie to work. She knows me well enough to be nice to me without saying why. “I hope you have a nice day… for no reason,” she says, as she gets out of the car. This touches me. I smile. It fuels the melancholy already bubbling behind my eyes, like a brainstew on the boil.
I go through my emails. I scroll down the messages on Facebook. I check my private messages on forums. The physical post won’t arrive until between 2pm and 5pm, as I live in the middle of nowhere, but that’s all good. All the while, as I do this, I’m hoping no one calls me. I don’t like talking on the phone at the best of times, partly because of my tinnitus meaning I occasionally need to lip-read or catch conversational cues, and partly because I just don’t like not seeing someone’s face when I talk to them. But on my birthday, I can’t stand it.
The wallowing in Melancholy (which is Self-Pity’s paler, handsomer sibling) begins at dawn, but comes into full swing right about now. The breakdown of messages comes in the following flavours:
Some of them are from fans, who are nice and/or bored enough to take the time to wish me a happy birthday. These are among the shortest messages, but conversely are among the weirdest. I’ll think “Jesus Christ… I have fans…” which will trip me up immediately. Something I take for granted 364 days a year (with a practised ‘cooler-than-thou’ demeanour) suddenly makes me think. I’ve done well, but I’m still at the start of my career. Perhaps I should’ve done more by now. I could’ve, without a few of the more time-consuming hobbies, y’know. I could have Annabelle’s Blood finished. I could’ve sent it to agents and publishers by now, and sold it, and be onto my second or third slice of original fiction. I could’ve nailed my 40K deadlines and be deep into my second or third Heresy novel, or something. I’m doing good, but it could be much better.
This feels good. Scourging oneself with the Whip of What Might’ve Been. I think it’s a +3 weapon. Double damage on crits.
But my point is this: it’s not depressing, and it’s not even particularly sincere, which is why I’m sharing it here. It’s a personal melancholy, sure, but it’s melodramatic and pleasant enough to enjoy. I find it pretty funny, the way most people’s internal workings can be funny when the layers are stripped back.
It gets slightly more sincere as I begin to go through messages from my friends, and in turn, through recent contact with them. I’ve always said the best thing about me is my friends. That’s not because I think little of myself (I happen to think I’m a pretty swell guy – not particularly nice, no, but certainly pretty swell) but because I have the kinds of friends that people always complain about not having. I’ll tell you why other people don’t have them. It’s because I do. I stole them.
My friends are creatures of immense loyalty, patience and insight. They dance through the minefield of my insecure but unwavering regard, losing no limbs to sudden detonations. I cannot overstate this one truth: It is very difficult to be my friend. It means a flood of contact for 2 months, meeting up when we can and with long, long, long letters discussing everything in life, and then nothing for the next 2 months, while I shut down and reboot and focus entirely on work and home life. It means having to put up with me bluntly telling them what’s in their lives that I think is amazing, killer, objectionable, wrong, or silly, and hearing the same in return from them. I excoriate my friends. They do the same to me.
My friends also know I have almost no capacity to laugh at myself about certain things, and they don’t force it. They just don’t joke about those things. They talk about them, sure. In detail, and often over wine, just as all friends discuss their ups and downs with the world and with each other. We’re absolutely straight about these things. But they don’t try to reduce my ironclad insecurities to fucking jokes, nor do they say that I should just loosen up, lighten up, or do anything else up. These are things that most people would just laugh off, but I never can. They respect that, and I love them for it. It’s not too much to ask, evidently, as they’ve kept at it for years. An inability to understand (or perhaps just sympathise) with that attitude is but one of the many reasons I’ve had such a distance from my family for so long. The difference is, my family says “Aaron, you’re being oversensitive, it’s just a joke,” and my friends say “Aaron, I know you’re oversensitive about this, so even if we discuss X in detail and I explain how much you suck, I won’t tease you about it – especially not in public – because I know it upsets you, you irrational asshole.”
As I said, it’s very difficult to be my friend. It’s all a matter of balance. I should add that the wedding last month was probably one of the best things to happen to my family. A lot of air was cleared, and new bonds formed. It was good juju.
And these are the kinds of things I think about on my birthday. The day before my birthday, this is all hilarious. The day after, it’ll be funny again. On my birthday, it’s all dead real. Squeeze that melancholy for all its worth.
I tend to think that every year should be better than the last, and with one exception since I was 19, that’s been largely true. The one exception year, in my mid-20s, was entirely my fault. So I’m 31 now, and I’m peachy keen to get it going.
31 (and indeed 2012) is looking to be a major, major career/life/jazz band milestone for a few reasons. There’s a lot I can’t talk about about right now, a lot I could talk about but won’t, and a lot I can’t show just yet even though I really want to.
So, on this day of stupid and entertaining melancholy, I ask for a little patience. Once I’m settled into being 31 and I’m reassured it’ll rock as much as 30, then I’ll start spitting out something of interest.
Until then, please stop telling me that the Vaccines sound like the Ramones. I swear to God, that makes me want to kill people.
Firstly, because I hear it every single time someone’s mentioned them in the last year, and secondly, because it’s wrong. They sound much more like The Jam.
So shut up.