February 28, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Futon matter

By |2018-03-21T20:02:52+01:00September 4th, 2016|Area 51|
Detail from Magritte's "The Mysteries of the Horizon."

n the dead of night I pose semantic riddles. I lie down on an outdoor futon and imagine what it might have been like had concentration camps been places where people were gathered together and asked only to concentrate. Asked, not ordered, to focus very hard on the difference between solitude and loneliness and left in the camp until they emerged not only with a workable distinction between the two but also with an understanding of their affinities.

Solitude is presumably an act of free will, like choosing to lie on a futon under the moon at night, or to live alone. Loneliness is the awareness of solitude and the paradoxical desire to share the fruits of its context, futon or moon, with someone else, however briefly, thereby ruing solitude. Yet solitude is a choice forever burdened if not nagged at by the awareness that too much of it is not sublime.

Then there’s misery and miserableness. True misery is usually an imposition, like poverty, like banishment, like being ostracized. It is cousin to bias and prejudice and oppression’s first-born child. Those in misery have often been singled out, no fault of their own.

Miserableness is less external. It is kin to solitude and a confidant of loneliness. The mills that make miserableness exist within. They work more or less industriously depending on mood, and mood in turn depends on the chameleon chemicals of the brain and can be affected if not altered by something as simple as the passing kindness of a stranger. Miserableness has sweeping highs and lows. Misery is more primal and does not. As in a real concentration camp, it is manufactured to degrade humanity.

Mu night futon must also reckon with happiness and pleasure. As a youth, when I’d announce I was happy, my father would immediately intervene. The word I sought was “pleased.” I was pleased. Happiness was not a state of itself, in the way Pluto is no longer a planet. It lacks veracity.

For my father, happiness was a construct built from Coca Cola, Cadillac and the greeting card idea that prosperity of itself ensured a state of being so removed from misery it had to have a formally named antidote, happy, even if it at times happiness included miserableness and solitude.

My father was not a Communist, just a realist. He had no idea he’d eventually drive me to futons and lunar observation. But he was right: happiness is a glad toxin or an inebriating porridge made from the quick splashes of an excited sea. It can’t last.

What does last is the pleasure of having felt its effects — call it nostalgia — even if you finally end up alone and beneath the laconic moon, pondering all sorts meanings until the cows come home, which one day I’m convinced they will, in single file.

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris in 1953 and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.