By Edward Gorey, from The Gashlycrumb Tinies

:: This post was originally written on July 9, 2009. It is a repeated experience for me at various times, and I suspect for some people who have been on lockdown for more than two months, they are experiencing something like this. It's a strange sense of losing sense of time and purpose.::

The first time I’d even seen the word “ennui” was in reading Edward Gorey’s odd book The Gashlycrumb Tinies. The book has an image for each letter of the alphabet, with each letter being the name of a child and how the child dies. The letter “N” brings us Neville, who dies from ennui.

Ennui: (n.) a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest; boredom, weariness, dissatisfaction

I can’t say that I’m bored, which ennui tends to mean. I have more than enough to do; I rarely get bored. I associate the word, for some reason, with a kind of depression or dullness not stemming from any obvious source, a sort of permanent state of being down, even in “good” times.

My friend and I were talking about how odd it was that people pay money to go to amusement parks to go on rides that scare them. We wondered how people in third-world countries would react to the parks, the rides, and if they’d even be interested. My theory was that we pay to be scared here in the west for the same reason we go to scary or horror movies: we’re too safe.

"I don’t think a horror movie would really be much interest to someone in a country where war and death and disease are a daily part of life," I said.

Somehow the rates of depression — and ennui — in developed countries ties in; I am actually not surprised when I read news stories about how the rates of depression are higher in developed countries. On a micro level, the same could be said of me.

Why shouldn’t I be happy? I have everything: great family, health, education, opportunities, safety, leisure time...

Yet I am not.

I am too aware of what I do not have. And though I live a bit more on the financial edge than many, I still have a sense of a safety net. I’m not out, literally scratching out an existence from the dirt, hoping to make it through another year. I still have, even with working a few jobs, enough ease of life that I find far too much time to over-think existence in abstract terms instead of “will I have enough to eat tonight?” I lack a sense of purpose, a sense that the day to day has any meaning at all in the grander scheme of things.

"Life plods along and I am impatient..." a friend wrote to me in a card I received this morning. I understood her sentiment exactly, standing in the sun in front of the post office and waiting for an ant — an ant! — to cross the sidewalk in front of me. A beautiful day, and I felt distracted and disconnected, automatically going about the errands of depositing money in the bank and driving.

Sometimes I sit on my sofa in the dark and stare at the wall. A lot, actually. I do that a lot.

"I hate to see this weekend end," I said to my friend after we’d arrived back from the Valleyfair trip. "I had it on my calendar and it made it easier to get through the weeks knowing it was coming." I don’t want to be dependent upon swinging from high point to high point just to keep up enough momentum to make it through life. There are more regular days than high-points and I had better learn to make them count, and soon.

Am I coming or going or just standing still? I wrote in my journal. I’m losing interest in everything.

Abraham Lincoln is known to have said that it wasn’t the years in our life that counts, but the life in the years. It sounds good but he was assasinated and I’m not Abraham Lincoln, anyway.

Admittedly, I know part of the reason for why this is, in me. I have hopes and dreams that are much, much too big for the amount of faith I possess. The smallness or slowness of each day, the ordinary-ness of the sum of them over time, seems to remind me that those dreams are the mirage that always stays in front but is never reached.

Ennui is awful; it robs you of beauty and makes precious time an enemy instead of a gift. It’s a slow death while alive. It must have taken Neville a long time.


  1. I remember encountering "ennui" as a much-younger engineer, ten or twelve years old, in some book I was reading. The context made the meaning clear, so I didn't look it up. Unfortunate, because in my mind, I pronounced it "EN-you-eye." Years later, I heard that word in speech, and almost didn't recognize it. "Hmmmm ... so French people get bored, too."


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