Ladies, Sing the Blues
May 8, 2002
By MAUREEN DOWD
WASHINGTON - I was feeling pretty happy, in a guilty-pleasure sort of way. It was a banner week for schadenfreude.
First the tumble of the arrogant colossus, AOL Time Warner; then the unraveling of the imperious Hollywood Svengali Michael Ovitz; finally the news that the batrachian Enron
executives may do time for manipulating energy markets in California.
As in Greek myths: Hubris gets its just deserts. AOL Time Warner was the humongous beast that got a stomachache trying to gobble up everything in sight. The Internet crowd was in the throes of a narcissistic and economic explosion two years ago. It treated its partners - such as Time, People, InStyle, Fortune, HBO and CNN - contemptuously, even though they provide most of the conglomerate's products. The dot-com cabal dismissed content as the vestige of an obsolete universe.
But now that the company has lost $54 billion in the first quarter, we must ask: What is AOL, anyhow? Isn't it just cyberspace tin cans strung together?
AOL placed a losing bet that the bottle was more important than the wine. The universe is not so easy to master, after all.
Maybe Mike Ovitz and the hotshots of AOL and Enron, all those emperors of etherea, those peddlers of pseudo-services, will have to get real jobs now.
I was reading the paper, gloating that the puffed-up were not prospering, when I learned that my glee could kill me. Happiness could be unhealthy.
Articles detailed new research indicating that a pale shade of the blues may actually be good for women's longevity. A Duke University study showed that women with mild
depression were 40 percent less likely to die prematurely than women who were not depressed, or than those with severe depression.
This was going to require some tricky calibrations in our personal lives.
Single women can now call off the exhausting and maddening hunt for Mr. Right. Mr. Right would bring bliss - and an early grave.
But women will also have to try harder to avoid Mr. Wrong. Mr. Wrong, or a series of Mr. Wrongs, would lead to a slough of despond - and an early grave.
For the sake of our health, women will now have to look for Mr. Slightly Wrong, someone a little annoying, a man who can modify, qualify, deflect and overturn our happiness just enough so that we wake up not happy and not sad. We must find men who leave us with a sense of malaise, but who don't leave us.
O.K., I thought, I'll find Mr. Slightly Wrong and live very long.
But then I read about the Attack of the Killer Potatoes. Swedish researchers found out that frying spuds spurs the formation of a carcinogenic molecule.
French fries and potato chips are my major food group. I've downed enough Pringles to shingle Versailles.
Now I was really depressed. My life was rapidly growing shorter.
I pondered psychopharmacology: I could lift my unhealthy deep depression to a restorative mild one by taking an itty bit of Prozac.
But then I spied the front page of The Washington Post, which reported that sugar pills may work just as well as Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft.
So maybe I'll just put sugar in my tea, a beverage that dramatically reduces the chance of death following a heart attack, according to another new study this week.
Besides, the Duke research implied that anti-depressants would lull me into not fixing the problems in my life, and thereby shorten my life by making me too happy.
My imperative was clear: I had to dwell on the sad things with silver linings, at least if I wanted to stick around to keep being moderately saddened by them.
The new research sounds like the old Catskills joke: Restaurant-goers complain that the food is awful - and the portions are too small.
As much as boomers cherish age-attenuating measures, maybe it's better just to be happy, quickly. In the opera "The Makropoulos Case" a 16-year-old is given a magic elixir by her father that allows her to live for three centuries. When we meet her she is a ravishing 337-year-old opera singer, bored with fawning men and perpetual reruns.
That is when she realizes: Brevity is the soul of life.
For general information about NYTimes.com, write to
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company