Excitement And Depression: The Twin American Obsessions

I came to America because I wanted to watch live football, basketball and baseball.

It’s shallow, I know.

But I thought America was the home of shallow, so that kind of sentiment would be appreciated.

I wasn’t ready, though, for the nuances of American vocabulary.

And two words came at me again and again, with such regularity that I haven’t stopped thinking about them in the 14 years I’ve been here.

Every time something pissed me off, caused me to pout even momentarily or even have a slight moody for the rest of the day, someone would utter these words: “Are you depressed?”

How was I to explain? “No, I’m just European”?

It seems as if emotions in America can’t be mild. They have to be extreme. Because if they’re not extreme, they’re not real.

If your buffet plate isn’t piled high to the lampshades with food, then it isn’t dinner. Or breakfast. Or lunch.

If you’re not emitting large, sharp white teeth and eyes as big as satellite dishes, the assumption is that you must be depressed.

Once that definition is slapped upon you like so much lard on a (Russian) Thanksgiving chicken, it sticks to you.

Can you feel it?

Can you feel it?

The solution to depression is drugs. And half of America seems to be on them.

If it isn’t Xanax, it’s Paxil. If it isn’t Paxil, it’s Prozac. And if it isn’t Prozac, is has to be pot, the Pose-ac of the artificially laid back.

The distance between disappointment and supposed depression in America is shorter than that between Anthony Davis’ two eyebrows.

But it isn’t just at the left-hand end of the emotional piano that America has strong definitions.

At the right-end, we have the shrill tones of cheeriness.

Here, it’s not enough to be looking forward to an evening out with a pixie-haired waif, a potential client or a Christian rock band.

It’s definitely not enough to imagine it will be “fun,” “enjoyable” or, perish the idea, “pleasant.”

No, you have to be excited.

I found it mildly disturbing when I told someone I was going for a weekend vacation in Napa, where I hoped to meet interesting people or, at least, refined drunks.

“Are you excited?” came the excited question.

Well, let me examine my nerve ends. No, I wouldn’t say I was really “excited.” Doesn’t that require a certain loss of control, a tingling in the extremities or an increase in the heartbeat?

I wouldn’t call the relief one feels about getting away from it all “excitement.”

Excitement comes when you meet someone so unexpectedly wonderful that you can’t sleep before you see her again.

It’s exciting when you’re offered the lead opposite Julianne Moore in a Broadway production of David Mamet’s latest play about the radicalism of fishing.

Instead, it’s: “Hey, I’m having dinner at Bistro Ralph tonight?”

Are you excited?

If you don’t agree to feeling excited, you elicit a reaction akin to that of a man who’s told he’s going to be blindfolded and will get the kiss of his life — only to discover he’s just kissed a manatee.

It’s un-American not to be excited at least once a week.

Indeed, if you’re not excited once a week, you’re likely depressed.

Perhaps I’m leaning on semantics a little harder than Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg leans into ambition.

It does seem, though, that if you’re not excited and you’re not depressed, you’re actually dead.

This vocabulary might explain why some Americans can have a difficult reputation abroad.

Many Europeans think of Americans as just loud. What they don’t realize is that these Americans are simply congenitally excited to be seeing old buildings and eating fish from a newspaper.

Conversely, many Americans think of Europeans as being perpetually depressed. What they don’t realize is that these Europeans are simply carrying the burden of maintaining the old buildings and preserving newspapers so that people can eat fish out of them.

They’re not depressed. They’re merely tired, mired in thought, philosophical, or perhaps just constipated.

I’m an American citizen now. I love the wine, the sports, the pleasantly naive openness, the relative lack of snobbism (compared to England) and the wine.

Especially Sean Thackrey’s Andromeda Pinot Noir, Gamling and McDuck’s Cabernet Franc, Honig’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc and Failla’s Syrah.

(That was an excited interlude.)

I want to be an American, but I don’t want to be permanently schizoid.

I can’t go through life wondering every day if I’m excited or depressed.

I can’t go through life, indeed, wondering if I’m excessed.


Image: DJ Thera/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk

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