Program Notes: In the theater, program notes provide further background on the play, or the playwright, or the director. They can be historical and informative, or personal and allusive. In this series, I’ll comment on what I’m writing and thinking about. This week: Dark Night of the Soul, or How MKA Helped Me Feel Better About Life.


Last Thursday night I couldn’t sleep.

Was it politics that kept me awake?


Was it global warming and the fate of the earth?


It was discovering unsubscriptions to my mailing list.

I was sent into a full-on state of anxiety by noticing that the mailing list for my site, New York Irish Arts, has been losing subscribers. (That’s; please make me happy and sign up.)

I was sending out an eblast late at night to offer tickets to Symphony Space’s “Bloomsday on Broadway” the next day.

Bloomsday, June 16, is the date on which James Joyce’s “Ulysses” is set, named for its protagonist, Leopold Bloom.

Among the celebrations in New York are a Bloomsday breakfast, readings from “Ulysses” at Ulysses Folk House downtown, and readings by actors and writers at Symphony Space titled “Bloomsday on Broadway.”

It’s always fun, and I’d planned to take the day off.

Good thing, because I was wide awake when the sun came up.

According to my search engine, I’d googled “how many unsubscriptions is normal” before I finally nodded off.

I tried to figure out what .02 percent of 2,100 is (high school was a long time ago).

I found a site that advised bloggers not to take unsubscriptions personally.


Even as I spun out from the mailing list to the general feeling of FAILURE FAILURE FAILURE running through my head, I knew it was silly. I knew that not being hugely proactive to grow my list didn’t really mean I was going to die alone, subsisting on cat food.

But that’s where my mind went.

Haven’t published dissertation yet — check.

Unmarried — check.

Credit card debt — check.

I thought my first Program Notes might be about accepting awards next week at the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists annual reception. And at some point I planned to describe being on a panel at MSU this winter. You’d think both of these things would have occurred to me and cheered me up. They didn’t.

Every now and then, as I lived through my dark night of the soul, a cat came over to sniff me.

We’ve all been there.

So, now that the sun’s out, I thought maybe it would be more useful to write about this instead.

I described my sleepless spin to a friend on Saturday night, after a production of J.M. Synge’s “The Aran Islands” at Irish Repertory Theatre.

Philomena laughed and said “Only Thursday? Don’t you have these all the time? Doesn’t everyone?”

That’s probably the best thing anybody said to me.

What I’ve realized: late night “I-haven’t-done-enough” panics are normal. Especially for writers.

The phrase “dark night of the soul” is the title of a 16th-century poem. F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote, “In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning.”

Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress,” includes the lines:

But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found…

for which thanks a lot, Andy, I’m doing my best with moisturizer. But point taken. Seize the day.

But worrying about time isn’t really a gendered thing. John Keats wrote a whole poem about it:

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain…

Ultimately, Keats feels better by thinking about it a long time. A good long think didn’t help me.

Other people did.

After my pity party ended (scared Mom by weeping at her), I got up and went to the city for Bloomsday. I might have skipped it to sulk, but I had planned to see the play by MKA playwright-in-residence Robert Gelberg in the city too, so I had to go.

At Ulysses, people were happy to see me. I had a pint of Guinness. I did some interviews.

Aedin Moloney, who has been performing Molly Bloom at Ulysses Folk House for years, has just released a two-volume CD, “Reflections of Molly Bloom.” It includes the full Molly Bloom soliloquy, and music by her father, Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains.

She said she’d been working on it for years, and decided it was now or never. Deadlines are good, really. Without them, I probably wouldn’t be writing this.

After the readings at Ulysses Folk House, I went to see Gelberg’s “They Say We’ll Have Some Fun.”

The teens’ optimism and enthusiasm were just what the doctor ordered. Optimism. Remember optimism?

But you know … anxiety is not only not gendered, it’s not really age-related.

Keats was only 25 when he died. When I was in high school, I remember some late nights worrying about college admissions. Or whether my best friend hated me. Or whether I’d ever get boobs.

With time, some worries vanish. With time, all worries diminish.

It’s normal. Several friends commented sympathetically on the Facebook post where I wrote: “3:20 a.m. and feeling full-on anxious.” And there was Philomena’s remark: “Doesn’t everyone?”