To be or not to be.
I had a strange emotional day yesterday – so strange in fact, that I was utterly exhausted by it and went to bed at 8:30 p.m. This morning, I woke up at 8:30 a.m. almost precisely. Rarely do I sleep for twelve full hours, but last night my sleep was deep and practically comatose.
As I lay in bed this morning, pondering whether it was worth getting out of bed or if I should try to set a world record and sleep for another twelve hours, my mind began to wander – as it often does – into strange and tangential places. Ultimately, I found myself thinking about my strange emotional roller coaster of yesterday.
In the morning, I had a phone call canceling a long-awaited doctor’s appointment dealing with a potentially unpleasant health issue. Now, I have to wait even longer to have a check-up to find out if I have anything to worry about. That plunged me into a weird emotional place of actual physical depression. My energy felt as if it were quite literally draining out of me. I found myself sitting still and just staring without seeing.
This energy persisted until early afternoon when I rallied and went into the city to pick up a new shirt I had designed to go with my awesome new suit. That made me happy. Then in an even happier moment, I attended the opening of a new food hall in order to write an online review. This was my first culinary review since February and even though the pandemic caused the event to be hugely altered from a ‘normal’ VIP media preview, it was still like a movement towards regaining something I have lost.
Despite the positives, though, I ended up getting home and crashing.
This morning, my tangential thoughts moved to Shakespeare. I wondered why they went there, so I just let my mind flit about until I realized I was thinking about the whole medieval and Renaissance concept of the four humors. Were I living in Shakespeare’s time he might have written about me as being consumed by the element of black bile – the melancholy humor.
Ding ding! That is what I was feeling – a sense of hopeless sadness, a deep and abiding melancholy. That type of energy is not sudden or short-lived; rather, it comes from a period of protracted sadness like this seemingly endless time of pandemic and quarantine. Many of Shakespeare’s major characters exhibit this function, the most famous being Hamlet. For instance, here are his words to his college friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern:
I have of late,—but wherefore I know not,—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire,—why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?Hamlet, Act II, sc. 2, lines 287-298
Well, it seems that I have a great deal in common with Hamlet right now. I look around at my fellow human beings – at least a large chunk of them here in the USA – and feel despair that we are supposed to be the “paragon of animals” and right now would fall much farther down towards the bottom of that “great chain of being” whereby Shakespeare and others categorized all things. In Shakespeare’s day, all things were believed to exist in a hierarchy – thus the reference in Hamlet’s speech to man being just below angels. God was at the top, then angels, then man as the “paragon of animals.” In that “great chain” concept, every animal had one above and one below in the chain, ending with the lowly oyster.
After animals were plants, and then minerals were the lowest of things beginning with the diamond as the highest mineral and ending – essentially – with dust as the lowest of the low. Like Hamlet, I am seeing my fellow beings as a “quintessence of dust” right now.
Another famous melancholic, Antonio, opens the play “The Merchant of Venice” with this pithy line:
In sooth, I know not why I am so sad.The Merchant of Venice, Act I, sc. 1, line 1
Yep, Antonio. I hear you loud and clear. On one level, I can trace reasons but on another I don’t quite get why I am feeling so utterly drained and hopeless even when positive things happen to me. It’s like I have lost the ability to feel joy and happiness as more than fleeting, tangential kinds of moments.
Lately, I have found myself ruminating on the past, something I rarely do. Normally, when I am in a bad emotional space I project into potential futures and experience worry and anxiety. Something about this enforced quarantine and all of this time alone – even with short times out in public again – has started to lead me backwards in time, reliving things and pondering a great many “what ifs” and “might have beens.”
I need to stop this rumination. A bit of past exploration is a good thing sometimes – allowing me to let go of old junk. Too much of it, however, ends up making me feel old and tired and rather hopeless. If you remove the final couplet in Shakespeare’s sonnet #30, it fairly well sums up my feeling today.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unus’d to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan th’ expense of many a vanish’d sight;
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d, and sorrows end.
It’s only Quarantine if it comes from the Quarante province of France. Otherwise, it’s just Sparkling Isolation.