The Anatomy of Melancholy (Part One): “The Bittersweet Notebooks”

“I write of melancholy by being busy to avoid melancholy.”

– Robert Burton

I recently found myself writing what became another long essay about various things that have been pissing me off. Instead of boring my handful of loyal readers with a 3000 word tirade about things that depress me, I’ve decided on this occasion to post it in installments as a loosely connected trilogy about life and art, which I will continue over the next few days.


“If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts.”

– Kurt Vonnegut

Would it surprise you to know that I’m worried about the current state of our world?*

Stephen Fry was recently investigated by Irish police for alleged ‘blasphemy’. How, in the 21st century, is that a legitimate crime? It’s like being investigated for phrenology  or performing weather magic or calling someone’s invisible friend a cunt.

Have you Baidu’d “wtf is happening in Chechnya” recently?

Someone here in China bashed a woman’s head in because he wanted a space on a sleeper carriage instead of just a seat on the train.

You can’t even board an international flight that you’ve paid for without the threat of some militarized American knobhead beating the shit out of you.

Retarded people are running major corporations and powerful governments, but that’s not exactly new. I recently read an article about a group of symbologists having once been hired by the Americans to come up with a pictographic warning system for future generations so that when the human race has all but wiped itself out and the seven-toed survivors have adopted the latest hip lifestyle choice of anarcho-cannibalism, there will be something to stop our primitive grandchildren from stumbling into one of the many toxic waste dumps that previous generations have already left behind. Some of the poker-faced suggestions were: a brotherhood of secret priests, a race of genetically engineered plants that would flower as an early warning system, and selectively bred cats that would change colour when they approached radioactive material. Apparently it took über-genius Carl Sagan to point out they could just paint a big skull and crossbones.


When the fuck did bigotry, violence and idiocy become our default setting? How much longer are we going to keep impotently doing tax returns and going to church and watching TV and drinking beer instead of actually doing something? I’m as guilty of it as the rest of us.**

What good can possibly come of all this? The only good I can see (and I speak only for myself as always) is “perspective”. It puts my own life and problems into perspective. One thing that people-who-like-paraphrasing-stuff-they-heard-someone-else-say like to say is that when you consider the size of the universe it makes all of our human problems seem insignificant. Bullshit. Surely your problems have significance precisely because they are significant to you. To say that the universe*** almost certainly doesn’t give a shit that you exist and is probably, in fact, downright hostile towards you is most likely accurate. But you yourself are a piece of the universe that is actively struggling to understand itself. I’d say that makes your problems pretty damned significant indeed.

What’s the best course of action for someone who’s down in the dumps about chronic human fucktardedness? For someone who’s suddenly disturbed by all the old films I’ve re-watched recently: Being John Malkovitch because it’s essentially about operating a member of the successful Hollywood bourgeoisie as a balding meat puppet for financial gain. Twelve Monkeys because the best ideas in it are actually spouted by Brad Pitt’s Oscar nominated mental patient. Batman Returns because it’s well nineties and he shouldn’t have bothered.

Is the best course of action to put on a pair of kung fu slippers and go for a walk with my hands in my pockets? To go clothes shopping? To do some exercise? To try to remember that knowledge will probably prevail, even when we’re all living like Rick Grimes? That life, as the poet Jeff Goldblum once told us, finds a way? Is it to try to channel all of the annoyance, frustration, and ennui into yet another screenwriting project that nobody is likely to make?

I tried all those things. I did some push-ups. I dug out some old notebooks. I dipped into my Naruto pencil case and did some writing. I bought a new pair of sports socks. Then I took my hands out of my pockets and decided to investigate a couple of Beijing’s multimedia art galleries…

*or have you been paying attention?

**except for church. Fuck church, natch!

***(and any deity who may have created it that we may get in trouble with the Irish authorities for berating)