Sunday, January 22, 2023

Getting Through the Winter Doldrums

It's late January, the grimmest part of the year, a stretch that will last about a month. It's cold and dark. The weather tends to make commutes hellish. The holidays are over and the decorations stripped. Lunar new year came early this year and is now over and marred by tragedy. There's little to do and the only real "event" is the consumer orgy of the Super Bowl, which mostly just makes me feel ill. 

It's Sunday night now, which means facing another work week after a weekend spent in the fog of this winter malaise. The end of the last year brought reflect, as the end of the year always does, and that reflection in middle age typically leads one to contemplate how dreams hoped for in youth are just never going to come true. 

If I had been wiser in my youth, I'd have gone to law school instead of grad school and now I'd be making enough money to go on a vacation somewhere warm and sunny to get away from all of this. I foolishly chose to pursue knowledge rather than lucre in a society that worships the latter and despises the former. Sometimes I can be comforted in the knowledge that my work actually has meaning but this time of year the old narratives don't work their magic like they usually do. 

I am willing to bet a lot of you are feeling the same way right now. So how do we get through this? Sometimes the only way out is through.

I lean into despair with my trusty friends music, books, and movies. Here's some recs if you are looking for them. 

Jackson Frank's "Blues Run the Game" just totally embodies that feeling that winter is never going to end and life is pretty hopeless. He also talks about sending out for whiskey and gin, which are my preferred tipples this time of year. 

Robert Altman's anti-Western McCabe & Mrs Miller is suitably bleak and gloomy. The dark rainy Pacific Northwest setting perfectly frames a story where love and passion are ultimately futile. Sometimes the bastards win and the hero doesn't ride into the sunset. 

Sad folk music is my preferred soundtrack this time of year, and no one did it better than Nick Drake. All three of his albums are superlative, but Pink Moon gets busted out on many a winter night in my house. It's eerie and dark but weirdly comforting, too. 

Sometimes a little anger helps, too. January in an odd-numbered year means a brand new Congress and brand new state legislatures. It does not exactly help my mood to read about Republicans trying to hold the country hostage with the debt ceiling or finding new and unique ways to persecute trans people and target my fellow educators. It's even worse when the people who ought to be fighting back are AWOL. That's when I put on Neil Young's "Ambulance Blues." "You're all just pissing in the wind."      

In terms of books, last year at this time I decided to reread le Carre's "Karla Trilogy." I won't do the same thing this year, but I might just give Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy another spin. Gloomy 70s London combined with Cold War intrigue is perfect for this time of year. It's also the kind of story where the "good guys" have to make moral compromises in order to win, compromises that undermine their "good guy status."


These are the winter days of out discontent. I'm too pessimistic to think they can be avoided, but I at least I hope we can get through them with some splendid wallowing. 

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