"A gratitude that exists not just opposite but sometimes within." (Courtney Felle on Aubade)
Courtney Felle is a contributor to Half Mystic Journal’s seventh issue, aubade. She is a sophomore at Kenyon College. Her writing currently focuses on the landscape of queerness, illness, and gender, & can be found in Rag Queen Periodical, Chautauqua Literary Journal, & Brain Mill Press, among others. In addition to writing, she edits Body Without Organs Literary Journal & campaigns for congressional candidates.
We asked three of our Issue VII contributors to share with us their personal definitions of aubade: how it is formed, where it has been, what it could be. Here is Courtney Felle’s vision of the dawn-dizzy dance—the first chords of warmth—the sun forgiving everything it touches…
At fourteen, I watched the sun rise not as the beginning of a new day, but as a continuation of the night before, an endless monotony. I never slept. Between my anxious overthinking and chronic pain, I couldn’t still my body long enough to sleep. Instead, I whispered words to myself, telling elaborate stories of what could happen the next day, making alphabetized lists of colors or names, crafting poems that never made it onto a page. Marking the time. The repetition wasn’t a lullaby so much as a march forward: at least if I flipped my mind through these loops, I couldn’t fall into the trap of turning every interaction into a catastrophe. I didn’t have to think of my social mishaps during the day, forgotten or failed responsibilities, the sadness that overtook me sitting in school, walking through the supermarket, everywhere. I could just live, with myself, as myself. The dawn came as an ending, interrupting me until the next midnight, and I trudged through it once more, knowing that as much as I needed sleep to break the cycle, I also needed the time not sleeping to endure the cycle. I needed an escape I couldn’t imagine.
Writing about recovery always feels lonely to me, difficult but pressing. I want to explain what it felt like to be sad and think I would be sad forever. I want to explain what it still sometimes feels like, on nights I can’t sleep, less common but still clinging stubbornly to me. I want to explain how there’s still a whole world beyond it, a gratitude that exists not just opposite but sometimes within, as part of a chronic depression that seeps into everything but isn’t everything. I want someone else to understand how it could feel overwhelming, and often was, and yet still wasn’t entirely. But when I try to speak about it, the sadness doesn’t seem real. How can I make vivid what was so often characterized by its complete lack of character, lack of light, day after day repeated in the same, dim feeling of holding my entire head underwater? Why, after all this monotony, did the pattern somehow shift, did the dawn come, did I start singing and healing?
Everything I tried to lift myself out of the sadness didn’t seem to work. I bought a white noise machine for sleep, but the sounds grated against my brain and only made my body pulse more painfully. I tried to play soft music, the angsty, gritty songs of The Fray or The Script, but they kept me more awake and angry at the world around me for condemning me to this. Whatever lyrics I could think to sing to myself came from my mother’s beloved country ballads, a genre I hated largely because it reminded me of her. All the articles I found online recommended finding musicians to fall asleep to, but why did I have to look toward these absent idols who could never actually know me, instead of insisting the world around me and the people I directly knew do better? Why couldn’t my mother find a way to help me, or my teachers, or anyone?
What kind of help was I even asking for? Then and still now, healing feels like a mysterious abyss, a process that evades touch. The definition of “recovery” makes it seem like returning: to health, to safety, to sleep. Even at fourteen, I couldn’t remember a time when I had any of those things. I felt underwater as early as eight, unable to fall asleep for hours then wishing when I did that I simply wouldn't wake up, wouldn’t have to continue dealing with life at all. I didn’t know what any consciousness outside of this passive suicidality and constant depression even looked like. I said I had simply a “sad personality.” This was me. And as I tried different techniques, ever seeking sleep, I didn’t know what I would even look like if I started getting better. I didn't know what I could hold onto. In the rare moments when I felt less pained, less stressed, my fingers uncurled from their usual fists and I realized with confusion and panic that I didn’t know what to with my hands. The simplest physical actions eluded me.
I don’t know when I started changing. I don’t know what caused the change, or even what precisely changed. “Recovery” still feels like a buzzword definition on a test I never studied for. Scheduling sleep or trying to fall asleep while anxious still makes me feel fourteen, like a nesting doll within myself cracking open. Writing about mental health and healing feels more necessary but also more difficult, trying to capture the nuance that’s so beyond only me.
What I do know is that I lived through high school and went to college even when I thought I never would. I started laughing at jokes from people I didn’t know, becoming friends with them, and seeing our interactions not as anxiety but as light. I started using my hands in gestures when I talked, lifting them when I laughed, moving through the world. I started sleeping. Maybe this is enough. Maybe all I need to tell myself, all I need to write, is that it gets better even as it doesn’t. There are moments of light worth sticking around for, and they break the cycle. The nights spent not sleeping aren’t lonely now: instead, they’re filled with joy, singing Janelle Monae into a hairbrush while dancing around my friends’ floor, screaming Florence + the Machine over my car’s stereo on a late-night drive with wind streaming past, whispering the lyrics to the Japanese House and naming this a different, better form of catharsis. When I came home for winter break my sophomore year and couldn’t sleep again, in the same room my fourteen-year-old self hated, I saturated the darkness with song, soft female vocals unlike anything I would have enjoyed then. Whispering, I sang along. I repeated the lyrics. I fell asleep. And when I awoke the next morning with dawn seeping through my curtains, marking a new day, I felt home. Another chance to move beyond what came before me. Another blurry beginning of a song I am still learning to love. Aubade.
Courtney Felle’s poem “Despite His Better Intentions, Van Gogh Never Actually Ate Yellow Paint, So Instead I Will Eat”, along with twenty other pieces by contributors and three columns by the Half Mystic team, are compiled in Half Mystic Journal’s Issue VII: Aubade, a stunning collection of contemporary art, lyrics, and writing dedicated to the celebration of music in all its forms. It is available for preorder now.