on ‘documentaries’ and ‘sweet misery’

There is a scene in Jean Pierre Jenuet’s Amelie in which Audrey Tautou is sitting on her red bed, in front of her green television, watching what appears to be an imaginary documentary about her own sad death. She weeps as it showed footages of crowds attending the funeral procession, as the documentary paid tribute to the noble causes she has supported in life: feeding the poor, tending the sick, etc.

We know of course that Amelie is merely depressed, and this is her way of “letting it all out.” Moments earlier in the film, she is grating cheese for her dinner pasta when she stops suddenly, looks out the window, sees her recluse neighbor having the same exact meal she’s preparing, and decides her fate is sealed.

Why is drowning in misery so cathartic—that momentary tightening of the chest as one imagines a successful suicide, that split-second when your head is clear and you recognize truths you have so far otherwise ignored?

It’s a situation I’m not entirely unfamiliar with. The other night, I lay in bed admiring my bedroom ceiling, dead tired after having a rough day of making myself busy with tedious chores just so I could avoid checking my phone every few minutes for a missed call or an unread text message.

I wanted then to see right away if there are any more furniture undersides left for me to dust, dim light bulbs to replace, or dining table stains to scrub. But the pull of the alternative is simply irresistible. I searched instead through my memory for my own “TV documentary.”

While mine does not involve funeral parades or soup kitchens, I have perfected it by diligently cutting out some of the more awful scenes and adding in some good ones. Of course, in the end, it’s no longer a documentary but a set of disparate short films. Considering the advanced level of despair I had at the time, I picked two of my favorite short films and “played” them.

The first one is set in a rather expensive restaurant—the waiters are dressed in tailored suits and the crystal looked real. Nothing really happens, except I am closely watching two people on the other table. The other is set in a hospital room and I am afflicted with a rare skin disease caused by some unknown strain of virus.

And then my phone beeped and I scrambled for the wretched thing in the dark. When I finally discovered it beneath one of the pillows, I found out that it’s just an automated alert, reminding me I have enough reward points to subscribe to some unlimited texting promos. I threw the phone away and went to sleep.

In the morning, as I woke up, I decided to become a good person with nice thoughts. At least until today when I once again remembered the ingenious Amelie and her indispensable TV. ▣

anxiety versus physics*

He has not called or texted me for two days now. Yep. And rather than be sucked into a miserable blackhole, I decided that tonight, at least, I will try to find out how quantum mechanics can offer me solace a logical explanation for what might be going on.

First, there’s this guy Hugh Everett III whose death was probably caused by obesity, smoking, and alcoholism. He claims that for each possible outcome to an action, the world splits into copies of itself.

You see, it’s like a choose-your-own-adventure book–only you don’t choose between either jumping into the rabbit-hole or going back to reading your book by the river, because the universe splits in two so that both actions are taken.

This means that in an alternate reality, he did call or text me. It no longer matters that I happen to exist in this one reality where he did not call or text me. Because he actually did. In an alternate reality. His own choice isn’t important, because at that precise moment when he could have called or texted me, the world has already split in two.

And then there’s this Niels Bohr guy who says that “particles” exist in all states at once and that it is only forced to assume a definite state when we try to observe it. Which is another way of saying the proverbial tree in the forest has fallen only when we try to find out if it did.

This means that as long as I do not try to find out why he has not called or texted me, there would be equal probabilities to all reasons why he has not called or texted me yet. As long as I wait patiently, all of these reasons would coexist truthfully and I would not have to confront the real reason just yet.

So: he has not called or texted me in two days. No big deal. It’s nothing. Really. Now I will go publish this bullshit and be perfectly pleased with myself. Thank you, Hugh. Thank you, Niels.

* first published as “Bien Venido” at “Chairport