Mood: a vast penumbra of feelings Mary Cappello tries tirelessly at defining through the guiding light of these dynamic essays. Our moods can be both fixed and elastic, light and heavy—intractable vicissitudes that alter the course of our days and lives. They are at once ubiquitous and unexplained, and influenced by any number of things: clouds and weather, music, sweets, the connotation of words, View-Masters, taxidermy and dioramas, picture books, other people’s voices. These are among the influencers that Cappello explores in Life Breaks In: A Mood Almanack. Through her inquisitive and explorative metaphors, scientific comparisons, cloud-shaped bullet points, streams of speculation, historic references and personal associations, she ingeniously refuses the subjugating tendency of moods in search of a fully conscious, richer life, wherein she assumes responsibility for her own well-being. As one puts their ear to a wall to listen in on neighboring sounds, Cappello puts her ear right up to her heart. In attempt to understand the mania and woe that at times randomly overwhelm our lives, spurred by something as unassuming as a cloud shifting light or shadows, Cappello attempts to access the mood rooms of people and places—spaces inhabited with particular thoughts and feelings, such as museums or books, atmospheres as communicated to and felt by others—to illuminate the ways in which one might actively take control of their attention and create their own mood spaces.
My personal favorite among the book’s sections is Cappello’s detour to the L.C. Bates Museum in Maine, where taxidermy and dioramic mood spaces, "paintings with 3-D elements that have become part of a deeply felt atmosphere," send one off into another time and realm. Inside the museum, Cappello passes a “bobcat, marten, mink and squirrel, raccoon, red fox, woodchuck, and skunk,” all with pastoral, impressionistic paintings locating them in some remote forest setting, and with lights overhanging like “a movie set.” She acknowledges the strange paradox between life and death, as if “a ghostly guide” were inviting her to “climb into a mysterious canoe” and observe the silence of death animated by the intimate touch of the artist, Charles D. Hubbard. With black-and-white photo inserts, Cappello captures the natural history museum’s dioramas and their palpable and transcendent mood of being alive.
In another rich section, Cappello explores the picture books of Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon; but that famous publication would not be the “mood lure” that draws Cappello more deeply into Brown’s worlds. Brown’s Noisy book series is what fascinates Cappello, which includes a little black dog named Muffin as its protagonist “who stands in place of a child . . . but who, on account of being a dog, has a keener sense of hearing than a child.” Published in 1950, Brown meant for these books to be educational, to encourage students to be noisy and express themselves, while at the same time prompting them to hone their listening skills. Arguing that “sound is mood’s analog,” that meaningful and meaningless sounds cohabit with and often contribute to our mood state, Cappello follows the story of Quiet Noisy Book, where Muffin attempts to locate “a very quiet noise” and offers a number of possibilities: “Was it butter melting?” “Was it an elephant tip-toeing down the stairs?” “Was it a skyscraper scraping the sky?” Or, in a more cryptic guess: “it was the sound of a person about to think.” Cappello likens Muffin’s childlike imagination to “life’s unanswerables,” suggesting that Brown “opens her reader to possibilities of heaviness or light, of greeting the unknown with a mood of curiosity or hiding under the covers depressed by the prospect of pondering.” Cappello proposes that adult moods are likewise “a more mystifying cloudscape forgotten but ever-hovering,” present but difficult to track down, as the “very quiet noise” is for Muffin. Her conclusion is thus: “Mood is that silence momentarily animated”—a statement that rings true through every page of Cappello’s voice, which holds me in wonder as I follow her down into the enveloping calm of a “gong bath,” the lyrics of songs and the scenes within View-Masters that light up the mind’s eye, along with many other narrative journeys.
In all, Cappello has created a mood almanac, where “a multitude of forms gathers and converges,” with the sole purpose “to make one tender point,” that “we are creatures of temperament, temperature, and tempos.” And inside the strange beauty of Cappello’s world, there lies the reverie of mood, and all its unexpected modulations. This collection of essays—more like a digressive lecture from a Rhode Island based sage—reads at times like a dissertation on the subject of mood, and at times like a conversation some philosophically inclined individual might have with a good friend, not without its strange metaphors, natural deviations from subject to subject, its compromising or zany conjectures, and that explorative exchange of ideas that could carry on late into the night. For all of these reasons, I loved this book. To wonder about the nature of the mood rooms people wander in, to attempt at access, and to see if they are anything like our own, is a fascinating study. Cappello has opened the backdoor to uncharted territory, a subdued though inescapable realm, that ranging spectrum of mood that each of us undergoes every day. In our world “parsed by territories, psychic and bodily, political and aesthetic, imaginary and real, circumscribed and vast,” these invisible (psycho-emotional) containers we choose to live in are precious, volatile things. Wooden boats in a sea fraught with storms. And to better navigate the world’s moody waters, you would do well to explore the passage of Cappello’s Life Breaks In, for it might just give you the insight you need to find shore, if but for a moment.