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Dead of winter
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
I used to have the utmost contempt for those traitors who left Fort Wayne in the winter, the people who had the freedom and the resources to bolt out of town during the truly bleak months of the new year. I was one of those insufferable "change of seasons" types, the guy who rhapsodized about how lucky we are to have the four distinct seasons in Fort Wayne, the guy who couldn't believe people would leave their hometown just because of a little snow and ice. You should embrace the winter with open arms, I used to believe, and I ridiculed the rich snobs for being cowards and fleeing the city just when it started to get interesting. This wasn't class warfare, mind you, but true youthful idealism: if I had a million dollars, I used to say, I still wouldn't leave Fort Wayne during the winter. Civic pride and all that.
It's amazing what a few decades of punishing Indiana winters will do to your civic pride and all that. I must report that the annual onslaughts of dark and wind have so corroded my Pollyanna brightness and youthful idealism that Winter in Fort Wayne has now become my natural enemy. It always ages you a bit to reneg on a youthful boast, but the fact is, if I had a million dollars right now I guarantee I wouldn't be in Fort Wayne. I'd be in some Pacific Island hotel somewhere, drinking fishbowls of native rum and snorting hallucinogenic of the naked bellies of Polynesian hookers. "The change of seasons" guy has been replaced by the "I'm sick of no light and my toes being blue" guy, and any remorse or guilt for betraying my previous, earnest beliefs would vanish as soon as I hit the sand.
Of course, I don't have a million dollars, so like you, I will be right here, toughing it out through another twelve weeks of Fort Wayne winter. And since nobody likes a crybaby, I have learned to endure the coming months with stoicism and optimism. I've developed a system to help survive the misery of a harsh winter, and, as a public service, I am here to offer words of encouragement and hope to help fight the oppression of the season. This is the crucial time, right now, January, the hardest month of the year, and if we all can just get through the next thirty days, things will look a lot brighter. The bustle of the holidays tends to blunt the fierceness of December's storms, but January is a different animal, and after the hangovers recede on New Year's Day, the coldness and the dark nights really begin in earnest.
I used to ridicule the notion of "seasonal disorders," believing that the condition was invented by over-prescribing doctors in collusion with drug companies, but now I'm certain that a lack of sunlight can be hugely destructive during the winter months. I have zero studies to back this up, by the way, and am solely basing my beliefs on behavior exhibited by my borderline-personality friends. Every winter I'm (metaphorically) climbing on somebody's roof, trying to talk them down, convincing them not to jump, and every spring I see them shrug off the darkness and embrace some sort of hope again. Of course, much of this behavior can be explained by the various manias and addictions of the folks involved, but I have to believe that the lack of natural light in January exacerbates their most negative compulsions. And I think it affects everyone, not just the lunatics I'm friends with. Most people during January go to work when it's dark and return home when it's dark, never seeing any division or break from the cold blackness. It can't help but drag you down. Plus, winter weather really intensifies in the month of January, making it the coldest and most brutal month of the year.
To combat all these negative forces, I recommend that everyone force themselves to engage in a bit of positive thinking. Instead of ruing the sameness of the bleak days, remind yourself that each successive day gets just a little bit longer, so that by the time February rolls around, we'll have an additional hour or so of sunlight. The longest night of the year is during the solstice, Dec. 21, and every day after that will continue to yield more brightness. Even during the seemingly endless nights that greet the new year, it is almost ridiculously comforting to know that the next day will be a bit more tolerable. I also have learned that since there's no way to escape the blizzards and ice storms, sometimes it's best to just accept that we're going to get pummeled, and to make the best of it. I was without power for a few days during the December ice storm, and while it wasn't the pleasantest of experiences, I have to admit there was an element of adventure and surprise to it that I got a kick out of. Whenever we get hit by a blizzard or huge winter blast, it unleashes a freeing, "school's out" quality in the city, and it's kind of fun to see everything shut down at the same time. As Coleridge says, "the dead locomotive" of the world chugs on regardless of your actions, but a winter storm can freeze it in its tracks, and it's an oddly pleasant moment when time stands still.
I have friends who swear that tanning beds are the answer for the winter blues, but I'm a little unsure--there are just too many jokes about divorcees running tanning places to ever consider that a viable option. I'm also a little leery of the folks that recommend drinking your way through January. I understand the reasoning here — it is cold, after all — yet I'm certain that adding a depressive to depressive times is a recipe to catastrophe. I keep a seasonal, medicinal bottle of Bourbon around during January, but I try to limit my consumption. It's tricky enough to keep your head up without adding a debilitating addiction to the mix. As much as possible, I try to get through January with just a few vices.
Of course, my biggest vice might be my ridiculous optimism — there's no guaranteeing that February will be any better than January. Still, it could be, and sometimes "could be" is reason enough. I remember back to an insane bit of freak weather that hit one February weekend in the early 80's — the sky cleared, the sun came out and the temperatures neared an astonishing 70 degrees. The entire city lost its collective mind, and everybody was outside, all day, staring with idiotic grins at the wonderful, unpredictable winter weather.