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Sarah Miller
nevada city CA

What Do We Do With Feelings Now That They Don’t Matter Anymore?

CSA Images / Getty / Illustration by Longreads

Sarah Miller | Longreads | March 2020 | 7 minutes (1,800 words)

A few months ago I was visiting my brother in suburban San Diego, a place that always makes me wonder if the world should just start over. My sister-in-law and niece and I were in the car together, and my iPad started playing over the stereo, by accident, the song “Funeral” by Phoebe Bridgers.

I had never even heard of Phoebe Bridgers until three months before this happened, when I was visiting New York City and the song played in the Cobble Hill outpost of the store BIRD as I was leafing through $150 T-shirts. (I bought one, because it was the nicest T-shirt I have ever seen, and because I had a job with a salary, and I figured I would probably never have one again, so why not?) The song made me cry. I didn’t want the salespeople to see this so I had to take cover in the corner of the shop for a minute and pretend to be looking at a pair of shoes — which, as worth it as the T-shirts at BIRD are, the shoes are useful only to look at to hide the fact that you’re crying.

I binge-listened to the song during that whole trip and then after, and then for a few months forgot about it, until the day when it just started playing in my sister-in-law’s car. I started to turn it off but my sister-in-law said, “Oh just leave it,” and I started to remember how much I liked the song, because it is so skillfully sad, and just lays you out, when my niece started making fun of it. “What is this? Jesus Christ, ‘I’m so blue all the time’!?” she quoted the song in an exaggerated sad-sack tone of voice, mimicking its bleakness. “This is sooo depressing. Why do you LISTEN to stuff like this?” She listened again for a moment and recommenced her assault. “Oh my God — she just said ‘We might just kill ourselves,’ What is WRONG with this person?”

Nothing would be better for the world right now than if we all stopped trying to achieve things and said, ‘We no longer believe work will set us free, it is the opposite, in fact,’ and behaved accordingly.

I felt simultaneously enraged and sad — the way I feel a lot of the time, the way that is my knee-jerk reaction to so many things. First of all, she was making fun of something I liked, and I felt exposed, particularly because I’m not a Phoebe Bridgers fan, per se — like I’m not a Moon juice-fasting 30-year-old living in Echo Park — and listening to her, I guess, I felt like my niece might think I was trying to pose as one.

I had kind of wanted my relationship to “Funeral” to be private. I felt like liking this song tapped into parts of my personality that would be difficult to explain, and that most people who knew me wouldn’t understand. Mostly, I was upset because the song is so brutally sad. It’s about someone dying, but it’s also about how when something sad happens and you’re already a depressed person you’re less like, “Here is a sad event that made me sad,” than like, “When someone dies or something else bad happens I merely see more clearly how sad I am all the time.”

The saddest part of this sad song is the chorus, the very part my niece singled out for ridicule: “Jesus Christ I’m so blue all the time and I guess that’s just how I feel. I always have, and I always will, I always have, and I always will.” The repetition at the end is the knife in the heart. It’s at once maturely resigned and immaturely petulant. The singer wants to be understood and sympathized with, but she also knows it doesn’t matter, because it won’t change anything.

I don’t remember what I said to my niece. I do know that I was trying really hard not to show too much sadness or anger because my niece, of course, hadn’t done anything wrong. It was my problem, not hers, that I was so upset. Her attack was full of youthful, energetic certainty, which is appropriate, and expressing the enormity of my sadness and anger would have been in no way appropriate. I’d like to add that she is not generally someone who bothers me, so there was no need to serve as an adult curb to her developing personality. Plus, her mother seemed annoyed enough. She said something like, “It’s a sad song, surely you’ve heard sad songs before?” and then kind of looked at me like “Sorry.” I shook my head and said, “It’s fine,” and was sure that I would get over it soon, since nothing had really happened.
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The Doctor Will See You Now

Harri Tahvanainen/Folio Images

Sarah Miller | Longreads | October 2017 | 10 minutes (2,614 words)

 

I was at the eye doctor’s Monday and my phone rang, which is unusual. It was my mother’s cell phone number, even more unusual. I didn’t answer, because the eye doctor was just about to put in dilating drops. “I think my uncle just died,” I said, and realizing that sounded weird, added: “I’m pretty sure that’s what that phone call was, because my mother never calls me, and he just had a stroke and was about to die, so.”

Before the eye doctor could respond, I continued, “It’s not that big a deal, because he was a jerk and no one ever talked to him. Except some lady he was sort of with. Sort of. But they weren’t having sex, because he couldn’t breathe that well anymore.”

My eye doctor is Mormon and maybe 62. His office is in a shopping center in Grass Valley, a former gold-mining turned pot-growing town between Tahoe and Sacramento, with long summers and a short winter that’s getting shorter. I have heard there are a lot of Mormons here but he’s one of only two I know. The other one is extremely lapsed. My eye doctor is not lapsed. He was wearing an aggressively dorky short-sleeved button down shirt, as if to head off at the pass the hoards of women certain to hit on him that day.

I sensed I was barking up the wrong tree by telling my 62-year-old Mormon eye doctor that my mom’s brother had just died and that he was a jerk whose breathing problems had prevented him from having sex. He stepped back, holding the drops like he might hold a cocktail, if he drank. His wedding ring was stainless steel and enormous, like his wife had their sub-zero refrigerator melted down to make it. He cleared his throat. “Do you want to call your mother back?”

“You can put those drops in first,” I said. “I might as well get it over with.”

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