Irish Melancholia Meets The Decemberists

Mr. Cassidy was an Englishman who stayed, once a month, at the Strathearn, the hotel where I worked in Scotland. For a few of his visits, we found ourselves talking for several hours at the bar of the Wishart Suite once my shift was over. He told me, in the midst of one of these conversations, that he wasn’t surprised that I had Irish blood in me. Half-Irish himself, he had spent a lot of time in the country, and he saw that, culturally, they cherished melancholia—considering it a state worth experiencing on the level of other so-called “positive” emotions.

I’m not sure what led him to say that, to see that in me. I don’t recall having said anything particularly melancholic that evening. One of the last things I remember doing before he said that was musing about the moon or something. Perhaps, in that, he saw wistfulness and nostalgia, which tend to emerge when I muse, no matter what I’m musing about.

Whatever it was that made him say it, he was absolutely spot on. I had never considered it before, but the truth of the statement settled wholly and immediately into my psyche and sense of self, filling in empty spaces nicely.

This has since informed my perspective on myself and my past in pretty monumental ways, and I recall frequently Mr. Cassidy’s words—both to myself and others. It has enriched my life because I now see clearly the nuances between a desirable melancholia (sister to my wistfulness and nostalgia) and the depression which has plagued much of my life, and thereby know what to seek and what to avoid.

I have recently discovered that a powerful tool against depression is the seeking out of this melancholia, when the former is too deep to be alleviated by more the conventional approaches of trying to travel too far and too quickly to a healthier, “happier” emotional state.

Which leads us, as many of my wistful/nostalgic/melancholic musings do, to The Decemberists.

These days depression isn’t really an issue—not for more than what some alone time, good comedy, and a good night’s sleep can quell. But for the last eight days I have been suffering from a pretty nasty bout of insomnia. It has me alternately irritable and anxious, exhausted and depressed. My perpetual frustration and lack of sleep make this pretty impenetrable.

A failed attempt at a nap this afternoon found me on the exhausted/depressed end of this particular pendulum.

I put on The Decemberists and “Odalisque” found my mood slightly shifting to that of beautiful melancholia. That’s what they do to me, quite frequently. They open up a door and swell inside, showing me the beauty of the world, a beauty that is intrinsically linked to its sadness, a complicated and sometimes uneasy mix of images, but when it’s just right, it’s just right, and it strikes me that this is how the world should always be—sometime beautiful, sometimes ugly, always clinging to the memory of both, informing the other, so nothing ever loses its novelty. And always, always, engaging and overwhelming, forcing us to stay aware of every moment, not wanting to miss a second, seeing it coming at us from all sides, and wanting nothing more than to devour it all—without hesitation or trepidation, without fear of breaking the spiral, without fear of the song ending.

They feed my quest for blissful melancholia. And with a name like Colin Meloy—well.


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