I woke up on Saturday, and I was depressed. A friend of mine recently posted a quote on her blog from Breakfast at Tiffany’s:”The blues are because you’re getting fat or because it’s been raining too long. You’re just sad, that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?” Which is exactly what happened to me. Not a latent, lazy sort of sadness, a seasonal affliction, perhaps, but an active force, something come over you suddenly and without warning, and possessing every atom of your body.
Being in Dublin didn’t help; it made everything worse. I suppose I came here hoping to claim immunity from trivial worries and the sadness of shorter days; but of course the trouble is always that travel is not escape (Alain de Botton writes brilliantly about this, about “how little the place in which I stood had the power to influence what travelled through my mind”). We always hope this when we go somewhere new: either that the unpleasantness and banalities of everyday life won’t follow us, or that we’ll become someone different in the context of a different space. But travel is not some magical process of transformation. At best it’s a state of mind, a way of revising our views of the world and ourselves, of exploring and watching; but it’s never the answer to all of our problems, never a method of erasing anxieties, and to a certain extent this will always be a disappointment.
What I forget, in times of minor woe, is that it’s actually freeing to know all this. I sat in a Dublin café with the man. I sipped my tea listlessly; I picked at my omelette; I listened to the children at the table next to us, who shouted and screamed and cried and laughed and dropped their toast on the floor and hugged their fathers and smiled at us and ran circles round the entire place. I told the man I felt unhappy today, but that I didn’t know why–was it to do with my continual battle with my anti-anxiety medication, my desperation at being stuck in a job that a monkey could do, and do better? Probably not, I concluded. It was really all about money, which depressed me even more, that such a stupid thing–a philosophical construct–could make me stare so glumly at my empty plate.
It’s not a good city to worry about money in, Dublin. Things are expensive here. You can’t even drown your sorrows without taking out a small loan. And the trouble with me is that once I start worrying, it’s nearly impossible to make me stop. Even paying the small lunch bill caused a tremor of pain in my mind.
I could easily have wallowed all day. We walked through St. Stephen’s Green, along the autumnal edges, where leaves were falling most heavily and we could avoid the stink of the pond. A trio of teenage boys sat playing their guitars; a pregnant woman passed, with flowers in one hand and a man’s arm around her. Lots of infants ran rampant, with parents trailing behind in helpless pursuit. A few other lovers held hands. I felt unoriginal and uninspired; and then I felt the whole world to be unoriginal and uninspired.
We went down Grafton Street, watched a man sculpt a sleeping dog out of sand, listened to Irish bagpipes and Beatles songs. Past Trinity College and Temple Bar, we crossed the Liffey at O’Connell Street, into the great expanse of boulevard. Like an abandoned Oxford Street, it sits with its handsome buildings, cheap storefronts, its absurd width and pockets of shoppers. Gaggles of spotty teenagers in unfortunate clothing (sweatpants and faux-leather jackets, athletic shorts over leopard-print leggings with pop socks and sneakers) chased each other in zig-zags, shouted after one another, spilled their soda, lit cheeky cigarettes. It was a glorious sun-brightened day and everything looked grey.
We went and sat at a converted church, now a café, bar, restaurant, and nightclub, overlooking an empty concrete square, a few gravestones stacked up on the fringe. I sipped more tea. I wanted to wallow–this is the thing. There’s something delicious about a good wallow, most of us know this, but I was in danger of slipping from healthy wallowing into the realm of desperation. I played with my spoon. I said to the man: maybe you should go to the film without me. I could sit and get some writing done. I could sit and feel sorry for myself. He said, don’t be ridiculous. But he said it so convincingly, and probably in a few more words, that I loosened my stranglehold on unhappiness, briefly allowed myself to consider the possibility that this was just a passing phase, and agreed to meet some Dublin friends for the afternoon showing of Zombieland.
I should mention a few things now. The most important is that I don’t like zombie films. I don’t like horror films of any kind. The gorier they are, the more they make me cringe; so although it’s a comedy, and I knew, going in, that it would be funny, the title “Zombieland” didn’t bode well. Also, I hadn”t been to the cinema in over a year. I’d forgotten how overwhelming the endless dark corridors, the escalators, the giant bags of popcorn, the bad carpets and the flashing lights are. I’d forgotten the thrill of anticipation; the movie-theatre smell; the crunching of bags and sipping of soda. I’d forgotten how much I like to see the previews! I’d mostly forgotten how huge those big screens really are. The first few moments of splattering zombies were very, very intense.
Then something strange happened. I started…what was this feeling?…to enjoy myself. Really? Yes. I laughed at the jokes and started to feel affection (of a certain kind) for the characters. I forgot how funny I myself was feeling; how unreasonably low, how inexcusably self-indulgent. I had wanted to sit around like the ghost of some bleak, damned writer; to mope over coffee, to shiver outside in pursuit of quality people-watching, to envy everyone that walked by their freedom and their carefree smiles. I thought I needed that; but what I actually needed was something else entirely (it always is, isn’t it)–in this case, some good company and a zombie comedy. We came out into the city; we smiled, we laughed, we ate an impromptu dinner, and the evening turned to night and even if it wasn’t something I couldn’t have done at home (or maybe it was, maybe that’s the point of all this, that the travel state of mind was somehow both responsible for my mood and necessary to lift the cloud), I was grateful for the power of it.