Paulo tristis, ergo sum

Do animals have moods, or can we add that to the list as another thing that might be unique to humans? Actually, I’m not even sure what moods are in humans, let alone being able to define them in anything else. Is being moody simply having temporary sadness, a passing whim? Or, as Dickens had Ebenezer Scrooge wonder on seeing the ghost of Marley, is it merely ‘a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato’?

I mean, I sometimes get moody after a poor night’s sleep, or when I realize that I need to wash the duvet cover (I have to crawl inside the cover when I try to repack it because the duvet doesn’t want to go back in). I would hate to live in there, frankly, but in a way, a mood is very much like being stuck inside a duvet cover, or even going round and round in a sleeping bag when you can’t find the opening. You sometimes need a guide to find your way out -a distraction perhaps, or an attractive incentive like a visit to the fridge. Candy would work for me -especially if, for some reason, I was required to choose between contrasting items to get me out -candy or kale, for example: I get excited with chocolate bars; I get gas from kale… But, I digress.

Lately, I find myself listless and uninspired and I am worried about it. I’m not depressed, you understand; not sad; not even tired. Just, well, uninterested. Animals, on the other hand, don’t get like that. They always seem so in-the-moment, so receptive to changes in their environment. I can’t help but think it’s probably a sort of a preparatory mindfulness meditation for them to be eating in a field of grass. A deer at a moment’s notice from a nearby growl, a rustle of leaves, or a snap of a twig, can wolf (sorry) their supper down in a hurry and then re-eat it during a quiet moment. I have to take antacids if I do that. And anyway, if I were in a mood, I might never leave the field.

But I’m not really as curious about whether animals can be moody, as I am about whether or not it’s a worrisome sign in us. I mean, is it a sign of unwillingness to confront and work through deeper issues? Or am I just being too psychiatric about it: wondering why plain old-fashioned moodiness hasn’t been validated by its own separate classification in the DSM -although I haven’t actually looked recently … Okay, ever… But, at any rate, made important, in other words? There’s no sense feeling something that’s not important.

I mentioned it to a friend I hadn’t spoken to for a month or so when we were Skyping the other day. (I get moodful on Zoom, for some reason). As soon as she asked how I was doing, I launched.

“Actually, Sarah, I find myself awfully moody nowadays.” I watched her blink into the screen, as she obviously tried to camouflage a shrug.

“Asking how you are is just what you say when you start a conversation, G! I was just checking you hadn’t come down with Covid or something since we last talked.” She sounded irritable; she was probably feeling moody, too. But then, after a moment’s reflection, she softened her tone. “I mean at least you’re not on a ventilator…”

“I suppose.”

She sighed into her screen, and I caught a glimpse of her eyes rolling as her mouth moved into center stage. For a minute, I thought she was going to mouse-click into another program, but she settled back into her seat and sort of smiled. “I think a lot of us are having mood issues nowadays.”

“Yeah,” I said and nodded my head. “I’m having weird dreams…”

I could see her start to make another face as she shook her head, but she caught herself. “That’s pretty normal, you know. Did you hear about it on TV? Is that why you think you’re having them ?”

For a moment I wasn’t sure whether or not she thought I was just parroting the latest Zeitgeist. That of course I was having bad dreams –everybody is. I decided to pretend that she actually cared. “Yeah,” I started, “I had a dream last night about us…” I left it purposefully vague, like a novelist, at the end of a chapter, making you wonder what might be coming next.

She was silent for a while. “I hope it isn’t about what I think…” I could see her brow furrowing. She does that when she fears the worst about something.

“You mean a dream about us getting along without arguing?” I said, smirking.

She nodded with just the hint of a smile of relief.

“No, actually we weren’t arguing; our mirrors were arguing with each other,” I said with a wry smile.

Her stare pierced the screen, and for a second, it was like the old days when we were on a date. “The mirrors..?” she finally blurted out. “What do you think that means?”

I smiled. I was pleased at her reaction. “I have no idea…” Actually, I’d just made up the part about the mirrors. “I thought maybe you could help decipher it. You’re the psychologist, Sarah.”

Her face wrinkled, and a proto-smile began to incubate. “Teacher, G… Did you forget?” She looked more relaxed now. “But mirrors arguing…? That’s interesting.”

I thought so too, but Sarah had always had untrammeled access to my subconscious. Now she sounded excited.

“Do you think we have some unresolved issues…?” she said, after studying my face for sincerity.

I shrugged, but theatrically: it was making a point, I hoped.

“I mean, you were being supercilious on our last call, you know. That’s why I ended it,” she added. Her brow furrowed for a fraction of a second.

I smiled to pretend I  knew why she had clicked off. “And that’s why I Skyped you again today,” I added.

Her smile suddenly surfaced, and her eyes twinkled. “I thought maybe you were just going to be mean to me again…”

“The mirrors already did that.” I mouthed.

She tilted her head for a better look, as if she wanted to be sure the face she saw in the screen was really me. “So which mirror won, G?”

I had to chuckle. “No idea, Sar. We’d both walked away together before I heard the crack.”

The smile totally captured her face and her eyes glinted wickedly. “Maybe it was only one mirror, G. And the mirror cracked from side to side. ‘The curse is come upon me’ cried the Lady of Shalott…”

“Tennyson?” I said, to show I recognized the poem.

“No,” she said and blushed. “My period…”

It’s hard to stay moody for long.

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