Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why Should I Be Sad When I Have Art and Bicycles?

In 1620, Robert Burton came up with about 500 pages of reasons

In The Conquest of Happiness, Bertrand Russell mentions many of the causes of unhappiness, from mortality to economic woe to injustice, but settles on one sub-type for his book: "My purpose is to suggest a cure for the ordinary day-to-day unhappiness from which most people in civilized countries suffer, and which is all the more unbearable because, having no obvious external cause, it appears inescapable. I believe this unhappiness to be very largely due to mistaken views of the world, mistaken ethics, mistaken habits of life, leading to destruction of that natural zest and appetite for possible things upon which all happiness, whether of men or animals, ultimately depends." 

When I read those words as a somewhat discontented, melancholic young person, they changed my life. If it's not obvious external causes behind the sadness, and there are many of those causes that sometimes come out of nowhere but none of those really applied to me back then, so I considered: it may be up to you to correct your mistaken views of the world, correct your ethics, cease bad habits that make you sad, and nurture that natural zest for possible things. I told myself this, and it changed how I looked at things permanently. So when I saw the questioning title of the latest installation at Scottsdale Belle Art, part of Cycle 2, I had some challenging responses prepared.

Close up of "Why Should I Be Sad?" by Melissa Martinez

There's actually some apparent disagreement about the title of this work: it's either "Why Should I Be Sad?", or else, "Why Should I Be So Sad?", which are two slightly different questions. Although as august a source as "Jackalope Ranch" favors the "so" version, the artist's page omits the "so", which I will go with, reluctantly, as I feel slightly more enthusiasm about addressing the more relative question posed by "so sad," implying that one should possibly be somewhat sad just not so sad, rather than the more straightforward and thus harder to answer, so-less version.

Some rain must fall

I heard something incredibly sad today. Not Russellian modern angst sad, but soul-withering, end-of-all-things kind of sad. Not directly affecting me, fortunately, but so profoundly bad that anyone would understand the devastating, human response to it. You want to say, "I can't imagine," but you can, I can, I may not want to imagine how it feels, but I can. If something that bad happens, you should be sad, it's a natural process of mourning and healing and it can take seemingly forever but you go through it. In those cases, there's no sense in asking "Why should I be sad?" because you should, and it would be rather inhuman if you weren't. You should be so sad in those cases of profound tragedy and loss. This question is not about that. Nor am I writing here about depression, a completely different subject. I read William Styron's Darkness Visible and it scared the crap out of me. That's the dark end of a long spectrum that requires a lot more intense repair than is covered in today's light and fluffy blog post.

I lay on my back in the darkness beneath your art, and I am not so sad

But if, instead, your sadness is the sort that Russell writes about, then the short answer is, you shouldn't be (so) sad. There are many routes to it, but I find for me, riding my bicycle grants me the most immediate access to that natural zest, the appetite for the possible. Rain clouds in the desert, of course, are the essence of what-could-be, for when water falls on these parched lands everything brightens and greens, plumps and blooms, and the creosote perfumes the arroyos, and the cactus wren calls WRACK WRACK WRACK WRACK and this cyclist seeks out mud to splatter himself with.

Or, perhaps, you shouldn't be sad for long. I celebrate the cycle of our moods, our bright and gray times, the rise and falling of our spirits and our appetites for the possible, and see in our irregularities and imperfections the touch of the divine, since the contrasts drive and delineate the shadings of our emotional cloudscapes. Some cloudy days add savor to the sunny ones. Why should I be sad? So you know what it is to be happy. Why should I not ride my bicycle in every waking moment? So that when I do get to ride it, I appreciate and enjoy it. But a little sadness goes a long way.

Tonight, my knee thinks it's going to rain. It might, but it's more likely that my knee has a mistaken view of the world. Listen here, articulatio genus, it's high time you start to look at things a little differently. Here, let me show you this coroplast cloud with sparkling balls of light that I saw hanging down from it at the Scottsdale Civic Center. Knee, you got to get your ethics straight. For you see, my vital bendy one, once you learn the secret of happiness, you should never be so sad again. The secret for a knee? Why, it's found at 90 rpm on a perfectly fitted bike, spinning along in a flat land on a blistering hot desert day. Picture my knees with big smiles painted on them. Never sad again.



  1. dude! first of all - i think that that's a beautiful work of art. i like the unpacking of it all that you do here for the simple reason that at some stage along the reading, i bet everyone finds a piece of their own experiencing to connect to and flies with it back into the work of art. wow! steven

  2. That's inspiring!
    The art and your post.

  3. and I love the title of your post....it's a great question (rhetorical or otherwise)....i always keep the sketch book in the pannier to ward off stinkin' thinkin'....

  4. steven, thanks. Although it's not obviously bicycle-related, it seemed so to me. I want to return to WSIBS? and think about it some more in a few weeks, I think.

    limom, clouds! coroplast! shiny rain balls!

    Ben, I enjoy your sketches, and keep thinking maybe I should throw a notepad into my bag on the way out the door.


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