• Natalie Helsel

Sincerity Is Scary




“What passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human [...] is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic.” - David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

As humans, we happily place ourselves in every coming-of-age film made in the 2010s, as we project ourselves onto characters while they sit in parking lots with their first love or skip 5th period. We tend to play out one of these gut-wrenching scenes in our heads until we realize we are being…generally pathetic. These fairly stereotypical tropes evoke a nostalgic feeling; all relatable markers that we’re living a life worthwhile.

Surely, we share some sort of collective consciousness, as we allow ourselves small increments of sentiment in the form of nostalgia. We boil down the intricacies of our most vulnerable and cherished moments into an acceptable coming-of-age film. But in reality, the individual memories one encapsulates are unique. Although our experiences differ, we cannot escape that warm and gooey feeling.

I often get that feeling while walking along the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. My mind runs through every person I’ve walked it with. I stroll past the carousel, the swings, and the Statue of Liberty; recounting the snide remarks we had to say about them. Past conversations about the stand-alone skyscraper we said looks like a JUUL, cushion the present moment. I ruminate on this for a while, slowly tuning out the affectionate couples and screaming children that surround me. As the familiar September sunlight caresses me, I melt into a gooey puddle.

My stomach drops and I catch myself grimacing with unfocused eyes at whatever blurry object is directly in front of me. I feel that the strangers around me can sense my pathetic-ness. To ground myself, I sit down on a bench looking out onto the river. There’s a man in front of me, blocking my view of the city. His erect posture and DSLR camera tell me he means business–he’s determined to document the present moment. He’s definitely just admiring the architecture across the river, contemplating the subject of his next photograph.

In the present, we’re often immune to sentiment. We would rather portray the transcendence of sentiment: be apathetic, resilient, and indifferent. All words I would use to describe the man standing in front of me. But as he lets his upper body rest on the railing, I wonder if he too is starting to melt. If the sunlight reminiscent of a summer's day last year is also causing him to flow between the cracks of the wooden planks beneath him. If he wishes he could harden onto those wooden planks; forever glued to the place he fondly remembers.

How do we allow ourselves to become collectively and presently goo-prone? Our self-indulgent reminiscing sparks that naïve and goo-prone feeling we crave, but still fear to express to others. Although I yearn to convey vulnerability, sentiment is still too scary for the present.


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Art by Sude Kurban