to be alone, to be overwhelmed, to experience the relief of crawling out

A snippet that made me pause today, stolen from here.

On the Conan O’Brien show, C.K. explained why: “You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away,” he said. “Underneath in your life there’s that thing … that forever empty … that knowledge that it’s all for nothing and you’re alone … That’s why we text and drive … because we don’t want to be alone for a second.”

He recalled a moment driving his car when a Bruce Springsteen song came on the radio. It triggered a sudden, unexpected surge of sadness. He instinctively went to pick up his phone and text as many friends as possible. Then he changed his mind, left his phone where it was, and pulled over to the side of the road to weep. He allowed himself for once to be alone with his feelings, to be overwhelmed by them, to experience them with no instant distraction, no digital assist. And then he was able to discover, in a manner now remote from most of us, the relief of crawling out of the hole of misery by himself. For if there is no dark night of the soul anymore that isn’t lit with the flicker of the screen, then there is no morning of hopefulness either. As he said of the distracted modern world we now live in: “You never feel completely sad or completely happy, you just feel … kinda satisfied with your products. And then you die. So that’s why I don’t want to get a phone for my kids.”

“I miss you, Madison!”

what is it about having your name be a part of that little, three-word sentence that elevates it to a whole new level of meaning and dearness?

the +Madison tugs at my heart a little bit more, makes me swivel-turn toward the speaker a little bit more anxiously, hurried to respond: “I miss you, too!”

am I really so self-absorbed (yes, but…) to have fallen prey to that subconscious tickling of the fancy, to be extra pleased when someone calls my name? is it really just narcissism? yeah, probably —

remember that a person’s name, to that person, is the sweetest and most important sound in any language

I’m only human — can’t help what my brain feels tickled by, except to block my proverbial ears with my proverbial fists and say BLAH BLAH I DON’T HEAR YOU SAYING THAT SWEET WORD TO ME, MAKING YOUR SWEET MESSAGE THAT MUCH SWEETER.

and anyway, why not indulge a little in the brain tickling?

“I miss you, Madison,” they say, and it gets me turned around faster cause it gets my heart beating a little quicker and makes my response-“I miss you, TOO!” come a little more genuine. so why not.

“not being so whatever about things”

email-thinking, 16 January 2016:
I was having tea with a friend of mine the other day, and I asked her “what makes you feel rejuvenated and filled?” and she had the best answer! she said it was “not being ‘whatever’ about things” — does that make sense? I guess it could sound really flippant, but that’s not how she meant it. it’s like…deeply caring about things/people is what makes you feel motivated and filled! rather than being apathetic, which is, ironically enough, so draining. what makes us pour our heart and energy into things is what fills our heart, too.

and in that sense, my friend, you would be the most “filled” person I know. haha. but I know it can be hard on that end of the spectrum of “caring too much,” too — super draining. but life truly is more meaningful and flavorful and more deeply felt when you care about certain things in it. in that way, I want to be a specialist in something; I’ve already spent so much of my life being such a generalist.

I hope you’re well. happy mid-January. time is always flying flying flying.

After eighteen days, the baby — who had, with its ear pressed against Brod’s bellybutton, heard everything — was born. In postlabor exhaustion, Brod had finally slept. Only minutes later, or perhaps at the exact moment of the birth — the house was so consumed with new life that no one was aware of new death — Shalom-then-Kolker-now-Safran died, never having seen his third child. Brod later regretted not knowing precisely when her husband passed away. If it had been before the birth of her child, she would have named him Shalom, or Kolker, or Safran. But Jewish custom forbade the naming of a child after a living relative. It was said to be bad luck. So instead she named him Yankel, like her other two children.

She cut around the hole that had separated her from the Kolker for those last months, and put the pine loop on her necklace, next to the abacus bead that Yankel had give her so long ago. This new bead would remind her of the second man she had lost in her eighteen years, and of the hole that she was learning is not the exception in life, but the rule. The hole is no void; the void exists around it.

Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer, p. 139

The Kolker hated himself, or his other self, for it. He would pace the bedroom at night, arguing savagely with his other self at the top of the two lungs they shared, often beating the chest that housed those lungs, or boxing their face. After badly injuring Brod in several night incidents, he decided (against her will) that the doctor with the broken nose was right: they must sleep apart.

I won’t. 

There’s nothing to be said.

Then leave me. I’d rather that than this. Or kill me. That would be even better than your leaving.

You’re being ridiculous, Brod. I’m only going to sleep in a different room.

But love is a room, she said. That’s what it is.

This is what we have to do.

This is not what we have to do.

It is.

It worked for a few months. They were able to assume a regular daily life with only the occasional outburst of brutality, and would part i the evening to undress and go to bed alone. They would explain their dreams to each other over bread and coffee the next morning and describe the positions of their restlessness. It was an opportunity that their hurried marriage had never allowed for: coyness, slowness, discovering one another from a distance. They had their seventh, eighth, and ninth conversations. The Kolker tried to articulate what he wanted to say, and it always came out wrong. Brod was in love and had a reason to live.

Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer, pp. 129-130

I’ve kept a list, you know, he said, taking back his arms. 

That’s wonderful, honey.

Aren’t you going to ask what kind of list?

I figured you’d have told me if you wanted me to know. When you didn’t, I just assumed it was none of my business. Do you want me to ask you?

Ask me.

OK. What kind of list have you been keeping so secretly?

I’ve kept a list of the number of conversations we’ve had since we’ve been married. Would you like to guess how many?

Is this really necessary? 

We’ve only had six conversations, Brod. Six in almost three years. 

Are you counting this one?

You never take me seriously. Of course I do.

No, you always joke, or cut our talking short before we ever say anything.

I’m sorry if I do that. I never noticed. But do we really need to do this right now? We talk all the time.

I don’t mean talking Brod. I mean conversing. Things that last more than five minutes. 

Let me get this straight. You’re not talking about talking? You want us to converse about conversing? Is that right?

We’ve had six conversation. It’s pathetic, I know, but I’ve counted them. Otherwise it’s all worthless words. We talk about cucumbers and how I like pickles more. We talk about how I blush when I hear that word. We talk about grieving Shanda and Pinchas, about how bruises sometimes don’t show up for a day or two. Talk talk talk. We talk about nothing. Cucumbers, butterflies, bruises. It’s nothing.

What’s something, then? You want to talk about war a bit? Maybe we could talk about literature. Just tell me what something is, and we’ll talk about it. God? We could talk about Him.

You’re doing it again.

What am I doing?

You’re not taking me seriously. 

It’s a privilege you have to earn.

I’m trying.

Try a bit harder, she said, and unbuttoned his slacks. She licked him from the base of his neck to his chin, pulled his shirt from his pants, his pants from his waist, and nipped their seventh conversation in the bud.

Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer, pp. 124-5

When she woke up crying from one of her nightmares, the Kolker would stay with her, brush her hair with his hands, collect her tears in thimbles for her to drink the next morning (The only way to overcome sadness is to consume it, he said), and more than that: once her eyes closed and she fell back asleep, he was left to bear the insomnia. There was a complete transfer, like a speeding billiard ball colliding with a resting one. Should Brod feel depressed — she was always depressed — the Kolker would sit with her until he could convince her that it’s OK. It is. Really. And when she would move on with her day, he would stay behind, paralyzed with a grief he couldn’t name and that wasn’t his. Should Brod become sick, it was the Kolker who would be bedridden by week’s end. Should Brod feel bored, knowing too many languages, too many facts, with too much knowledge to be happy, the Kolker would stay up all night studying her books, studying the pictures, so the next day he could try to make the kind of small talk that would please his young wife.

Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer, p.122

Brod’s life was a slow realization that the world was not for her, and that for whatever reason, she would never be happy and honest at the same time. She felt as if she were brimming, always producing and hoarding more love inside her. But there was no release. Table, ivory elephant charm, rainbow, onion, hairdo, mollusk, Shabbos, violence, cuticle, melodrama, ditch, honey, doily… None of it moved her. She addressed her world honestly, searching for something deserving of the volumes of love she knew she had within her, but to each she would have to say, I don’t love you. Bark-brown fence post: I don’t love you. Poem too long: I don’t love you. Lunch in a bowl: I don’t love you. Physics, the idea of you, the laws of you: I don’t love you. Nothing felt like anything more than what it actually was. Everything was just a thing, mired completely in its thingness. 

If we were to open to a random page in her journal — which she must have kept and kept with her at all times, not fearing that it would be lost, or discovered and read, but that she would one day stumble upon that thing which was finally worth writing about and remembering, only to find that she had no place to write it — we would find some rendering of the following sentiment: I am not in love.

Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer, p. 80

…she was also the most lonely and sad. She was a genius of sadness immersing herself in it, separating its numerous strands, appreciating its subtle nuances. She was a prism through which sadness could be divided into its infinite spectrum.

Are you sad, Yankel? she asked one morning over breakfast.

Of course, he said, feeding melon slices into her mouth with a shaking spoon.


Because you are talking instead of eating your breakfast.

Were you sad before that?

Of course.


Because you were eating then, instead of talking, and I become sad when I don’t hear your voice.

When you watch people dance, does that make you sad?

Of course. 

It also makes me sad. Why do you think it does that?

He kissed her on the forehead, put his hand under her chin. You really must eat, he said. It’s getting late.

Do you think Bitzl Bitzl is a particularly sad person?

I don’t know.

What about grieving Shanda?

Oh yes, she’s particularly sad.

That’s an obvious one, isnt’ it? Is Shloim sad?

Who knows?

The twins?

Maybe. It’s none of our business.

Is God sad?

He would have to exist to be sad, wouldn’t He?

I know, she said, giving his shoulder a little slap. That’s why I was asking, so I might finally know if you believed!

Well, let me leave it at this: if God does exist, He would have a great deal to be sad about. And if He doesn’t exist, then that too would make Him quite sad, I imagine. So to answer your question, God must be sad.

Yankel! She wrapped her arms around his neck, as if trying to pull herself into him, or him into her.

Brod discovered 613 sadnesses, each perfectly unique, each a singular emotion, no more similar to any other sadness than to anger, ecstasy, guilt, or frustration. Mirror Sadness. Sadness of Domesticated Birds. Sadness of Being Sad in Front of One’s Parent. Humor Sadness. Sadness of Love Without Release. 

Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer, pp. 78-79