There are two kinds of happiness. One is the conventional kind, derived from stability: a good job, preferably a career with an upward trajectory; a fortunate love life (of a committed, monogamous nature); family members who love and support you; or sufficient excess in one of these columns as to make up for lack in another. There is also the happiness of intensity of experience, of dizzying highs and crushing lows in quick succession. I have a theory that, when you’re young, you prefer the second kind of happiness, though you may long for the first. As we age, we prefer stability, but we continue to prefer our unhappy memories. We would rather listen to others’ sad stories, their brushes with the void, just as we treasure our own past pain.
“A Favor” by Okkervil River may be the saddest song I’ve ever heard. From the first line (“Wrapped in Star Wars sheets” – or, alternatively, “Rapt in Star Wars sheets”) to the chorus, where desire transforms into subjugation, it is almost impossibly poignant, like your worst, most precious memories of failure and heartbreak, softened by repeat rememberings to the silky texture of completely immersive nostaglia.
Elisa Gabbert is the author of The French Exit (Birds, LLC) and Thanks for Sending the Engine (Kitchen Press). Recent work can be found in Another Chicago Magazine, Denver Quarterly, Open Letters Monthly, and Sentence. She lives in Denver and blogs at The French Exit.
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