Ways To Be Sad: A Thesaurus

by Jess Zimmerman


Sometimes the waves are crashing very hard on the other side of a wall. It’s a clear wall, scuffed plexiglass maybe, and the waves flatten themselves against it like specimens on a slide. You can see the violent turbulence, the dirt, a ghostly glint of something gelatin that stings. You brace as they break, but you stay dry. The sides will crack eventually, and you’ll drown.

Usage: “I listened to Sufjan Stevens and I didn’t even cry; I guess everything’s in the aquarium today.”

Gas Flare
In the twisted metal nest of the refinery sits a hundred-foot gout of flame: excess fumes being vented off and set on fire. If the gas is not released, it builds up dangerous pressure; if it’s not burned, it poisons the air. It poisons the air anyway, though, and the fire kills songbirds and moths. From a distance, the flare can be beautiful, tiny and vivid, a birthday candle in a tangle of wire. It is much bigger than it looks. It is toxic to everything.

Usage: “I’m not sure if this is justified rage or a gas flare.”

There is external gravity and then there is internal gravity, the gravity of the guts. External gravity is always there; internal gravity spins up, like that ride at the amusement park that pins you to the wall. You might not sink when it hits, not visibly. You might not even brace yourself for a moment on the shelf of fancy jams in the grocery store. But inside, the gravity is too strong for the narrow scaffold of your body to hold. Inside you’ve crumpled dramatically down and you’ve taken the jam shelf with you.

Usage: “I know the jam shop is only a few blocks away, but I’ve got gravity.”

Pulping an orange without breaking the peel requires a kind of gentle hostility. You can’t squeeze too hard, or the skin will split; you have to carefully, patiently massage the delicate scaffold of cells into a bloody mess. The goal is to leave the outside undisturbed, so the fruit looks perfect but anyone who tries to open it will find it ruined. It is possible to do this to a heart.

Usage: “It’s not just that he broke up with me. It’s that he made me an orange.”

Actually beautiful people, who you see plenty of in this city — they don’t do much to you. You admire them the way you’d admire a star going supernova: spectacular, dangerous, but dangerous a long way away. It’s the normal-beautiful ones that hurt, the ones who probably think their foreheads are too broad or their eyes too deep-set. The ones with a profile like a skyline, grand and strange. What could you have done if you’d been born that pretty?

Usage: “I don’t think I can go out tonight, I had a profile moment and now none of my clothes look good.”

Shred your calendar: November can happen any time of year. It helps if there are no flowers and the sun sets at 3:30; flowers are a challenge for November, and light can banish it. It helps if a few leaves shiver on the branches and the rest are pasted with rainwater to the ground. A needling wind, a sky like the floor of a warehouse: these help too. But in November, it doesn’t matter where the actual leaves are, not really. In November, no matter what you look at, dead leaves and concrete sky are all you see.

Usage: “I’m sorry I took two days off work. First it was New Year’s Day, and then it was November.”

Previously: A Guide to Eating Very Particular Feelings I, II, and III.

Jess Zimmerman is an editor, Guardian US columnist, and internet misandrist of note. Like most people who write online she lives in Brooklyn, but unlike most she is in her 30s.

Image via Flickr Commons.