Róisín Ingle: I decided that morning to tear the complete arse out of the evening

‘Pandapathy’ is afflicting many people I know. I’ve hit upon a solution . . . or two

I got to the restaurant half an hour early and ordered a Cremant. I chose the Cremant because a sophisticated friend likes it and because it was halfway in price between prosecco and Champagne.  Photograph: iStock

I got to the restaurant half an hour early and ordered a Cremant. I chose the Cremant because a sophisticated friend likes it and because it was halfway in price between prosecco and Champagne. Photograph: iStock

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Pandemic-related apathy or, as I like to call it, “pandapathy”, is afflicting many people I know. I had a pandemically fatigued friend on my doorstep the other day for a socially distanced hot beverage. He won’t mind me saying I was mildly depressed after talking to him. Among other things he was quoting some “expert” or other who keeps talking about the current awfulness not being over for at least three to five years.

As we agreed about how terrible everything is, a neighbour passed by and admonished us for not having wine. I told her there was whiskey in the coffee. I wish there had been.

Last week when I found myself feeling as though I might never again want to bother to do anything 'fun' – the word seems almost quaint now – I forced myself into a night out

My friend asked to borrow a book. He’s allergic to self-help books – “they are a good reason to bring back book burnings” – but I managed to persuade him to take home The Choice by Edith Eger, who is an Auschwitz survivor and a remarkable woman.

Her philosophy is that we always have choices. “We can choose what the horror teaches us. To become bitter in our grief and fear . . . or to hold on to the childlike part of us, the lively and curious part, the part that is innocent.”

I am reading my other copy again now. Reminding myself that in everything, even a global crisis, there is a choice. The world has become smaller, our freedoms have been curtailed and our options – once dizzying and limitless – sometimes seem barely worth exploring.

When my friend left and the children were in the kitchen indulging their TikTok passion for miniature foods, tiny quesadillas and the like, I went to lie down, the kind of nap you think you’ll maybe never wake up from.

The thing is, you cannot let the pandapathy take over. And to this end, you make other choices. Last week when I found myself feeling as though I might never again want to bother to do anything “fun” – the word seems almost quaint now – I forced myself into a night out. A dinner with a friend in a heated outdoor space using my birthday as an excuse. I wore shoes, comfortable and flat, but crucially not runners or flip-flops, which is all I’ve had on my feet for the last 200-odd days.

The heat was important. Last time I tried to shake off the pandapathy I ended up in a car park that was pretending to be a restaurant and got a cold that knocked me out for two days. If you are suffering with the apathy and have available spare funds, I recommend the tonic of a dinner out with a good friend while wearing comfortable shoes. And, crucially, lots of layers.

I got to the restaurant half an hour early and ordered a Cremant. I had decided that morning that I was going to tear the complete arse out of the evening. I chose the Cremant because a sophisticated friend likes it and because it was halfway in price between prosecco and champagne.

I sipped it in solitude and looked down admiringly at the boots I’d bought last January, barely worn since. I watched people arrive for their nights out. One woman was engaged in a valiant fight against her brand of pandapathy. She sparkled from her sequinned jacket down to her glitter encrusted three inch high stilettos. I applauded her in my mind.

My friend gave me a present wrapped in the Financial Times and it turned out to be the perfect pandemic birthday gift: The Poems of Dorothy Molloy.

When my friend arrived he asked what a Cremant was and I asked the waiter but I can’t remember what he said because after the Cremant I had a whiskey sour. Then it was time to look at the menu. It was all very exciting.

In the spirit of arse-tearing, I forced my friend into sharing the Chateaubriand, the first time I’d had one. We had red wine and Irish coffee and a candle in an apple dessert. My friend gave me a present wrapped in the Financial Times and it turned out to be the perfect pandemic birthday gift: The Poems of Dorothy Molloy.

I had never heard of her but I have now fallen in love with the work of this well-travelled Mayo woman. It is poetry to disturb, to challenge, to shunt you right out of your pandapathy. “My daddy’s a skeleton” is one favourite. Her work reminds me of Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath, but her voice is uniquely and unmistakably Irish.

“The one essential thing is for my voice to ring out in the cosmos, and to use, to this end, every available second,” Molloy wrote in a notebook that was found after her death in 2004, containing her last poems. “Everything else must serve this. This is being in love with life.”

Molloy died aged 62 from cancer in the week that finished copies of her first collection, Hare Soup, arrived from the printers. She never got to see her book. There are lessons to take from her in these times: We can say no thanks to pandapathy. And yes please to poetry. Yes to being in love with life in spite of everything. Because of everything. Yes to using our voice and letting it ring out in the cosmos. Yes to using every single available second we are lucky to have.

“Let me connect to the universe with my feet,” Dorothy Molloy wrote in that last notebook. “And breathe easy. Amen.”

roisin@irishtimes.com