Life Breaks In: A Mood Almanack

Life Breaks In: A Mood Almanack

by Mary Cappello


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Life Breaks In: A Mood Almanack by Mary Cappello

Some books start at point A, take you by the hand, and carefully walk you to point B, and on and on.
This is not one of those books. This book is about mood, and how it works in and with us as complicated, imperfectly self-knowing beings existing in a world that impinges and infringes on us, but also regularly suffuses us with beauty and joy and wonder. You don’t write that book as a linear progression—you write it as a living, breathing, richly associative, and, crucially, active, investigation. Or at least you do if you’re as smart and inventive as Mary Cappello.
What is a mood? How do we think about and understand and describe moods and their endless shadings? What do they do to and for us, and how can we actively generate or alter them? These are all questions Cappello takes up as she explores mood in all its manifestations: we travel with her from the childhood tables of “arts and crafts” to mood rooms and reading rooms, forgotten natural history museums and 3-D View-Master fairytale tableaux; from the shifting palette of clouds and weather to the music that defines us and the voices that carry us.  The result is a book as brilliantly unclassifiable as mood itself, blue and green and bright and beautiful, funny and sympathetic, as powerfully investigative as it is richly contemplative.
“I’m one of those people who mistrusts a really good mood,” Cappello writes early on. If that made you nod in recognition, well, maybe you’re one of Mary Cappello’s people; you owe it to yourself to crack Life Breaks In and see for sure.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226356068
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 10/24/2016
Pages: 408
Product dimensions: 9.10(w) x 6.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Mary Cappello is professor of English and creative writing at the University of Rhode Island and the author of a number of books, including Awkward: A Detour and Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them.

Read an Excerpt

Life Breaks In

A Mood Almanack

By Mary Cappello

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2016 Mary Cappello
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-35623-5


mood of perfect kinship

Where did this convention originate? The habit of photographing a child — never children in the plural but just a child solo, as if she were suited prodigiously to perform an aria — in front of a bush or shrub, a spray or display of flowers? I remember a friend's home movies and our viewing them with her, decades beyond their making, on the edge of our seats with expectancy, and she, just a little terrified because she didn't know what they might contain though she knew they documented a period after her mother had left her father and had subsequently left her for long periods with a great-uncle and -aunt. The couple, who were childless, doted on her and were, at the same time, very proud of their garden: the impulse to document the two as interspersed frontispiece is unrelenting, and it is poignant to watch the girl attempt to resist her placement, to try to leave the magic circle inducted by her being filmed, never when she's playing — and she clearly wants to play — but ever posed before the flowers. Here is the girl in pink chiffon squinting afore red azaleas; the girl in an orange clown collar pointing to red tulips rimmed with black; the girl in outlandish green pantaloons (the aunt had made them for her) posed sullenly before the bayberry bushes and holly.

My own garden enjoys an array of statuary placed pleasingly to surprise the pace of its undulating brights and shades — such small figurines of a Roman Diana, a winged gargoyle bent over a book, a Poe bobblehead (unsuitable for indoor display) do their best work if somewhat hidden to create the mood of a hushed, separate life inside the garden's manufactured paths: they are bits of culture hidden inside of nature but poised as though they were birthed there.

When the adult photographer places a girl as if she were a piece of statuary in the garden, does he want to show off the garden by way of the girl, or vice versa? Or is the idea that the child, a flower herself, is the figure best suited to the company of flowers, in which case the convention is a form of "family photography" par excellence? If only I could add this live and perfect flower to the garden, the photographer seems to say, I could create a mood of perfect kinship.

"Go stand in front of the flowers," the adult commands the child in any number of private or public gardens across the land, even though the father's collar be rimmed with sweat and the day made hotter by the lit tip of his cigarette. Usually impatient, he maintains a nimble hold on both cigarette and camera; he finds a way to steady the viewfinder and shoot.

The child, meanwhile, isn't sure what she's doing there or what she's supposed to do alone before the flowers, so she quells her desire to fiddle with her hands, only noticing many years later the uncanny correspondences of the formal composition: her head is exactly the same dimension and size as the hydrangea pom-poms, and just as heavy on its stem.

Now let us admit that flowers cultivated or wild, subtly scented or loud, sentimentally imbued or inconclusively ebullient form an atmosphere, and that this atmosphere is a mood, and that for every photograph of a child — usually a girl but occasionally a boy — so posed, there is the question of what mood the child was in when she was asked to merge with the petals or accompany them.

"I just want you to be happy," each photograph of a child before a bunch of jonquils might announce, no matter how depressed the photographer, how desperate, or how mad. Herein lies the beauty of such photos, however stilted they may be, because eked out or etched in, the child's unchartable mood is somehow apparent, even coaxed to life, by her being set deliberately inside an atmosphere of bushes and blooms. The child's distraction is her mood, and it cannot have a name so bland as "happy."

Are we born having moods? People seem to think so, and that such moods stick for a lifetime: "You were born laughing!" "You were born crying!" Emotive emissions become confused with moods, and the attribution of a good or bad mood commencing at infancy must be very hard to shake. The truth of the matter is that we don't come to have a mood and aren't capable of being in a mood until we are photographed in front of Aunt Betsy's prize amaryllis or the ten drilled fairy world of Uncle Septimus's colorful and high-climbing sweet peas; the sullen locution of some shady ground cover or the occasion of one suddenly upright stalk; or a bumble of snapdragons cultivated in public conservatories, bird-less and bee-less, beneath snow-covered glass.

I'm not yet three years old in the photograph my mother took of a hat that sits atop my head like a dome; a pair of black polyester suede Mary Jane's; and a dress embossed with orange wedges I thought that I could eat (fig. 1). It's obvious I've been sent to find myself in front of a many-tiered spread of mostly-white-with-touches-of-purple irises and roses, columbine and carnations in the Blessed Virgin Mary elementary schoolyard though I'm not yet old enough to go to school. By the looks of it, it's a date that will become a favorite to my mind for the pleasure I will come to take in being part of slow-moving processions, underlit by the scent of incense, and the strewing of daisies, counterpoint to the otherwise cold frames of my days in Catholic school. It must be May Day — that explains the statuette of Mary who hovers on a higher plane behind my head, and the attitude of the older kids: a girl in the background opens a schoolroom door into the yard as if to fly (May Day always signaled that the end of school was not far off).

What endures for me in the photo that I could not have seen as a child are the parti-colored corner vases that frame the arrangement but break the mold. What's vivid to me is that I'm not yet uniformed; I'm not yet indoctrinated. Nor am I innocent. The scent of the flowers must have been overwhelming — why, otherwise, have I shut my eyes and let my hands fall limp? On closer look, I see that my hands aren't limp at all but feel with pleasure the texture of my dress. I'm posed before the flowers in the photograph, placed inside an atmosphere, and clearly living in a space apart from it.

Who knows what the ground could mean to those tiny feet beneath those down turned hands and the tangle of those spiraling curls.

I have to thank my mother for the generosity of her gaze — I know it was my mother who took this picture even though it was my father who manned the camera throughout our childhood years. I need to thank my mother for not commanding me, "say cheese," and in this way allowing no more than a hint of a smile to billow from within rather than be canceled by a broad-faced grin.

Certain photographs recur for us; like moods, they appear in the mind and then fade. How often this scene of being in the schoolyard, but with the pleasure of not yet being in school, appears to me, and my need thereafter to find the photo again. As if to say moods are the faces we make out of purposely closing our eyes, while all around us the flowers are in bloom. This is the place where mood, for me, begins. My Moodday apart from my birthday.


mood modulations

Moods, in the strong, Schumannian sense: a broken series of contradictory impulses: waves of anxiety, imaginations of the worst, and unseasonable euphorias. This morning, at the core of Worry, a crystal of happiness: the weather (very fine, very light and dry), the music (Haydn), coffee, a cigar, a good pen, the household noises (the human subject as caprice: such discontinuity alarms, exhausts). — Roland Barthes, "Deliberation"

* * *

Once I removed, set to one side, ignored, reduced the patina of my repetitions, I began to have feelings, but not necessarily moods. Bug, my cat, definitely has moods — sometimes she eats a lot; other times, goes on a diet. She pads, or plays, or sleeps, and for her, the day seems to have its own seasons. I wouldn't know a mood if it hit me on the head, or only if it's a bad mood, or irritable mood. "Mood" proposes a break in the chain that comprises personality — if I'm in a "good mood," this assumes this is not a regular state for me. Suddenly, I take flight, have wings: "You're in a good mood!" — we've all heard this, as though, again, a pattern has been broken, we've taken more than our share of pie, we've refused to stay in our designated place, we have dared, how dare we, we've been indignant. When I say, "I don't feel like it," I really mean, "I'm not in the mood," and it's anybody's guess if I ever will be. But look: the sky has changed again without me in it while I was looking at my book, at my page, or turning inward. Even as the clouds — that outward mantle, that reservoir of fluff made manifest, or their departure, will continue to affect, in fact, determine, my mood.

* * *

Mood triplets (recipes)
The smell of dill,
A burgundy carpet (stained),
A hibiscus blooming indoors (a plant with one bloom)

* * *

Life as a series of moods — like Picasso's Blue Period — tonal registers of being. Or a series of rabbit holes, or doors within doors, moods as rooms, rooms I have known in order to arrive at the place where I hear things.

* * *

Moods are cubbies, and we are their cubs.

* * *

My four-year-old niece Sophie whispers in my ear: "I want to be an RCMP officer when I grow up."

"I ate a piece of candy from the floor."

"I have two Ariels."

"I hurt myself (boo boo)."

Versus the stage whisper, cries and whispers, wisps. Whispering woods, or pines or, auditory hallucinations.

* * *

The droplets of rain dripping from a geranium leaf are perfectly out of sync with the note made by way of intervallic drop on aluminum, skittering, bouncing upward, soundless, or outside my range?

* * *

We are always in a mood of one sort or another. We are never not in a mood, but certain conditions need to inhere for a mood to be created, and the same is true for being taken from one mood to another. For example, this morning with the blinds drawn, the fact of radio music apparent in another room — never the room one is in — but adjacent, nearby — could, if it were left to play, determine the mood for years to come (or so it seems), not so much because of the fact of a violin but because it sounds like it is being played alone in a barn while another set of hands, invisible, with blind conviction, searches for water. The mechanical thud of a key striking a string opens a lock the way the pipe resists the contour of the cloud in a painting by Magritte — the pipe is the cloud, the sky, and less like a belt buckle opening or closing to start a day: prongs in holes, tines in slabs of egg whites, opiate receptors. Each plunk is the water sought and the search for it — the quester's plunge. The sound resists the image you want for it or to ascribe to it — of prongs, of tines — instead insisting on a black cardboard stencil silhouette of sky.

* * *

Moods are our ontological compartments (shelves for selves), otherwise this A.M.'s mood idea lost at breakfast table with cereal and supplements.

* * *

It's possible that moods are not fluid even though they exist on an ephemeral plane. We expect them to be mesh-like when the fact of a mood is its being in place, a place, immovable (but not unchangeable).

* * *

The verbs that attend "moods" — to lift. To pass. Or be fleeting — it was just a fleeting mood. To bring you down.

* * *

The mood of the way Jean mounts a bike (more like a horse — two feet on one pedal!). My approach: more like jumping onto an already-in-motion carousel. Could be part of a mood query.

* * *

Academic moods (yik).

* * *

Three different sounds from which a mood-cloud could be built: "scraping."

1. from bed, as heard in A.M.: Jean is sweeping a rug in cabin

2. again, from bed, making popcorn in deep pan on electric stove in cabin

3. Bug using litter box in cabin (swipes)

* * *

The mood of food, but in a way that undoes or shakes up "food" writing. In Günter Grass's The Tin Drum, a character "who turns feelings into soups."

* * *

If a leaf falls in a rappelling-like fashion, accepting and repelling its swift descent, or if it succeeds in a succession of flips, is this somersault, edge over edge, enveloping, a mood?

* * *

Moods are borne of methods: washing dishes, with or without singing; a server turning the teacup handle toward or away from the person being served.

* * *

Highly privatized imagery: two shuttlecocks fall from the "branch" that they protrude from, clown noses hitting the floor, fake bird bestiary — thunk — like or unlike the sound of a bird hitting glass?

* * *

Pie à la mode ... or à la mood? Where there is food, mood cannot be far behind.

* * *

A world made of clouds isn't formless — there are ridges and peaks, incommensurate intertwinings, appositions, and breakings through. Even if there is not density, there is form: a mood is like this: it's a form without density.

* * *

What does it mean ontologically for me and my cat to be flying in an airplane together above the clouds, looking down? The question it comes down to: What is a mood's relationship to matter?

* * *

Sexually speaking, I have ever suffered from being eminently seducible. I can always be made to be "in the mood."

* * *

Mood lists
Mirto — deep plumb
Rosolio — light pink
Zibibbo — raisined
Mood of hubbub
Don't forget
Jim's letters
Cards Stephen's address
(Hilarious) an idea for an essay — what was it? Must remember it
LA–Cleveland (snacks)

* * *

Mood: Tint

* * *

Writing: a call in response to something greater than oneself (external) and yet that issues from some part of the self otherwise cut off from one (there's the rub) and that knows how to honor the daily in lieu of the grand. Elemental. Watercolor.

* * *

1. Clouds and mountains, mountains and clouds, seeing without seeing: deep in a dram of you: locked in by clouds.

2. Bug's eyes looking up as I look down from inside clouds below us!

3. What makes it necessary to make polenta and mushrooms now, here.

* * *

With today's cloud cover (cloud clover) we are truly underwater! And I could if I wished poke my nose (dolphin) into a different atmosphere in search of a different air.

* * *

Today's clouds: a vast, fast-moving sheet made of cobbles.

* * *

If the mood of a day is a tone — the tone of my days — then we must in some way be talking about a day's (diurnal) sound. The day's tonic.

* * *

Mood: cloud cover.

Mood: a room with no walls.

* * *

Is the sky what is up above, or all around us? And if the latter, does the idea liberate or threaten us, embrace us or hem us in?

* * *

In the family of origin mood space, did I ever — and if not, why not? — listen to voices by putting my ear to the table, or the wall, or the floor? To my heart?

* * *

Some moods are the residue of a never completed cry — a wail?

* * *

Moods are contagious, or confined. Mass hysteria, e.g., or depression. Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone.

* * *

If moods are only, by definition, prevailing states.

* * *

The way my mother moves among tonalities in a letter (see recent 8/15) until a letter becomes a song: is this the range I've been trying for in my writing all these years? An aesthetic?

* * *

Falling to sleep, steeped in memories of kindergarten jumper (the softness of a particular yellow sweater and its lone pearly button beneath the stiff wool plaid) — the photographer tamping down my curls (why did he brush my hair?) — there was a black velvet ribbon in it (have all of those cells, those selves, been replaced so that I can no longer claim to have been that girl?). The memory coincides with a very different memory of waking up bald during chemo. Such indignity. Where do these coincide, these particular instantiations of being? Where one was trying to be sensate while something was being done to one's hair? With it, vivid memory of Mrs. Leach, of girl named Yvonne, who repeatedly picked her nose and smeared it on desk. Ridge Avenue Elementary School. The teacher's house! I am a special student. And how it felt at six to make that visit to Mrs. Leach's house with my mother. Three muses. Lawn Furniture. Lunch. Is to be awash in memory at bedtime to be summoned by or submerged by mood?

* * *

Is there anything a mood can't be applied to? Think of the mood of a fever. Of solitary play (girl with scooter on asphalt); of roses, red or white; of this armchair; of anything animate or inanimate; of screens, rough winds, a dress, a bow, leaf veins, roof tiles, hammering, cat fur, telephonics, of opals as birthstone, the ice cream truck's jingle, a coo or call, an umbrella to block the sun, the mood of a sail, of wind and mist, of pie-eating contests' stomach grumbles.


Excerpted from Life Breaks In by Mary Cappello. Copyright © 2016 Mary Cappello. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

On the Street Where You Live

Mood of Perfect Kinship
Mood Modulations
Of Clouds and Moods
Gong Bath
Sonophoto: Boy Screaming

Is It Possible to Die of a Feeling?
The Flower Inclines toward Blue
They’re Playing Our Song
Mood Questionnaire
In a Studious Mood

Life Breaks In
Mood Rooms
Miniature Verandas and Voluminous Velvet Forms
Synesthesia for Orphaned Boys
Picture Books

Mood Telephony
The Tic-Tic-Tic of a Dime Hitting the Floor
Sounding Repetitions
The Sounds That Seals Make
The Exciting or Opiatic Effect of Certain Words
Arrangement for Voice and Interiors
Sonorous Envelopes

Notes and Sources
Playlist of Music or Sound Works (With Links to YouTube Recordings)
Photo Credits and Content Descriptions

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