Later.

In the brilliantly written, Call Me By Your Name André Aciman gifts Oliver, one of his protagonists, with the book’s second most famous quotable, the nearly quakerly simple, “later”! Oliver uses this to dismiss himself from conversations he’d rather not become involved in, to say goodbye, and it’s even used by Aciman’s other protagonist Elio in order to joke about the nonchalance with which his family’s summer guest will take leave of them all without having ever invested the time and energy in getting to know anyone. Little does he know that what appears to him as flippant dismissiveness, is to become an emotionally formative aspect of his entire romantic life. Sometimes very simple, nearly forgettable things, can prove to be far more impacting than we might have ever imagined. That is just the case with this blog now that it is time to say goodbye; I am ending this blog here — a year after it started.

My original goal with this blog was to write for only one year. I like to achieve my goals and find the best way is to keep them practically attainable. The idea back then was to write as a practice in writing-discipline, and of course, to see how many people might be interested in what I have to say. I am still amazed that anyone read at all! Knowing that people from around the world took the time to actually read something that I’ve written isn’t something that I take for granted. There were even those who left comments, and reading those comments and responding was one of the most fulfilling aspects of this whole experience. I thank you all for your thoughtful and thought-provoking words. There is a function here on WordPress whereby one can see a world map and those countries where viewers have taken time to read what’s been written are colored. Each week, I have been genuinely amazed to find new and distant countries colored in; Poland, India, South Korea, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Paraguay, etc. This coloring-in of the world has been another of the most enjoyable parts of this experiment.

There were certainly weeks whereby I had no idea what I would write, and then there were others whereby the words jumped onto the page with nearly no preparation at all. I find that is pretty much always true of my writing. There are bits of pure inspiration, but often surrounded by lots of plodding through. I’ve come to understand that this plodding through is a fundamental part of my writing process…just writing to get to the best of what I can do. Every writer has a different process and mine includes long periods of doubt and second-guessing. Although that might sound pretty bleak, I assure you it isn’t. I genuinely feel like it will all come together…later. It usually does.

I am not one for sentimentality, in fact, I loathe it. Therefore, in order to avoid this final entry becoming a syrup of self-praise or rose-tinted memories, I will close with only a few points that I’ve learned in doing this:

  • There is magic everywhere,
  • Words are magic (I already knew this one of course, but on some level I think I had forgotten how purely true it is), and
  • A year is far less time than you think.

So, Dear Reader, thank you again for participating as thoroughly as you have in this project of mine. It has been a year, like any other, with ups and downs and I’ve hopefully been able to share my take on some of the things that may have been on your mind. Or, if there are points that I brought up that you hadn’t thought of, I sincerely appreciate your opening your minds enough to continue reading. I wish you hours and hours of interesting, entertaining, and meaningful reading without the Doctor.

Later.

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Discipline

The last post dealt with my suspicion of long-term planning. It’s true, I don’t put much faith in the ability of anyone to commit to anything too long-term (and rightly so). However, that need not imply that I do not support any sense of getting things done and carrying on. Indeed, I think that even in the face of chaos, one must simply carry on getting those things done which need doing. The ability to keep going when there is seemingly no end to things going wrong, or when there is little to no chance of harvesting a desired outcome, is what defines the best of humans. The act of going beyond what one personally sees fit to undertake at any given moment, is the truest mark of character in my eyes. This is a kind of discipline which has withered in a world where giving up has become so very ordinary.

Now, I do not pretend to be any kind of expert when it comes to discipline myself, but not so long ago the Winter Olympics wrapped up in South Korea, and I was reminded just how far steely discipline can get you. Top athletes train relentlessly not because they necessarily think of gold medals every single day, but I believe, because they have devoted themselves to a certain level of discipline which carries them from one place to another and which ultimately defines their careers. Naturally, we all know of those cases where something often referred to as “talent” shows up without any notice and a given sportsperson is able to achieve great heights without much effort at all. I happen to not believe in talent and therefore I’d venture to say that what we recognize as talent is simply the pairing of inborn tendencies with acute discipline. Even the best of the best have to practice.

Writing is a discipline that I long to excel at. That is to say, I long to excel at the discipline of writing. I’m actually not too bothered about how the writing is received or if it constitutes “good” writing…but I ache for control over that inner drive which tells me to sit down and write. In its place, that force in me has been replaced with compulsion. I write every single day, but not because I’m incredibly disciplined or because I understand the value of hours spent fine-tuning one’s craft. No, I write because I cannot do the opposite. I write because it is the one activity that I feel I can do amidst the burning city. Now all that’s needed is for me to apply that compulsion with the discipline needed to finish what I start, to not be afraid of the blank page, and to persevere. I once heard that FINISHED is better than PERFECT. I’m just not convinced. Finished and perfect would be a perfect combination, but if I have to choose one, I’ll go with perfect. I’d rather read three-quarters of a perfect novel than a mediocre finished one.

So one of my goals going forward is to focus more on the act of discipline. Giving myself the permission to boss myself around. Maybe there is something to finishing that beats perfection, but until I reach the finish line, I’ll never know.

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The Long Term

I’m debunking the idea of the long term. I don’t really believe that anyone is capable of long-term plans. I mean, they may think that they are planning for the future, but I am convinced that we are all planning for the present and just hoping it works out. And, that’s probably all we’re really capable of. Now, I am totally aware that there is great strength and probably even evolutionary sense to the notion of being able to plan far into the future, yet I find so little evidence in my everyday life of it being possible. Examples abound of just how terrible humans are at long-term planning, and in contrast there are so very few examples of how long term planning actually pans out for the best in the end. I wouldn’t venture to be so flippant as to suggest that we are all just flying by the seat of our pants…but nearly.

I live in Europe, where there is a well-documented ancient history. Therefore, it’s quite easy to scratch the surface and be transported far back into a completely different era, not only intangibly but also tangibly…there are actually thousand year old buildings and ancient burial sites, etc., right within my reach. Having this anchor of time and its record right at your fingertips isn’t something that one can really take into consideration on a daily basis because there’s just life to get on with. Yet, cathedrals and such were certainly built with the long term in mind. Often those who designed and built such monuments to human culture didn’t live to see them realized, in fact it was usual that the generation who initially undertook such an endeavor didn’t live to see completion. I wonder though, if those generations, at least those who were doing the grit work, even considered the idea of their work being something that would outlive them both in the physical sense, but also within the world of ideas. I bet they didn’t. I bet they were just getting through life as best as they could, doing what they could, for a paycheck — to get by.

Is long term planning indeed a myth? Do plans not simply happen in short increments that, for the time and place that they exist, have a quotidian purpose which is able to suffice in place of grander ideas of abstractions like the future, or forever, or even something that might supercede time? Isn’t the long term just a trick to perhaps give meaning to the drudgery of the same old, same old?  And, isn’t that okay? I would venture to say that the idea that the long term might have meaning is secondary to the importance that we place on what we’re doing in the here and now. Let’s try to get through what is right before us and see what is just before our faces, and then maybe if we’re able to manage that, let’s move on to grander projections of what that might mean for the future. One step after the other.

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Slaughter of the Holy Innocents

There’s been another massacre in an American school. This time there are 17 dead and many more lives changed forever. There are of course the seemingly mandatory and nauseating calls for prayer, as if some distant deaf deity would suddenly begin to hear and take pity. That will not happen. It has not happened until now and therefore we have no reason to believe that this latest bunch of school kids (gunned down in a place that is supposed to be safe and foster learning and mutual respect) will awaken the great imaginary Oz in the sky. There is no other nation in the world where this happens so regularly. American exceptionalism. There is no other country in the world with an incarceration rate like ours. American racism. The truth is, Americans don’t care that their children are routinely murdered at school. If they cared, they would do something about it. They would do more than pray, but they don’t. American nihilism.

Those who are opposed to gun control will argue that those who are hell-bent on having access to firearms will find illegal means of obtaining them. They could be right, but we’ll never know as long as the NRA fills the pockets of those on Capitol Hill. Just as long as those pockets remain lined with free-flowing cash from weapons manufacturers, those depraved and money hungry power-merchants that we masochistically elect to represent our interests will continue to stress the role of mental illness over their own culpability in the murder of America’s children. Yet, I wonder, how we would even know that those with unsound minds would still get their hands on weapons if they weren’t so readily available? How can that conclusion be drawn when we haven’t even given it a shot; not even a test run!? Gun control saves lives and there are enough examples around the world to prove it, but there is little money to be made from this fact and so Senator John McCain (R-Ariz), Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), and Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.) who have collectively received more than $14 million directly from the NRA according to a recent New York Times article, will continue to stuff their coffers with cash as American children pay the interest with their lives.

Why can there be no limits on the right to arms? There are limits to speech. Even limits to assembly. One can’t just scream out “fire” in a crowded cinema as it would likely cause panic, then a stampede, and then who knows what horrors could unfold!?! Public safety would be at risk. Guns are clearly a public safety risk. We recognize that there are limits to speech, so why is it that any attempt to control the firearms industry is seen as a kind of deeply un-American act of treason? Is it maybe because those who are getting fat and filthy rich off of the murders of innocent children are worried that they might lose some of that power and privilege that allows them to do nothing but send out messages of prayer and other empty, politically advantageous sound bites every time children are murdered at school by angry young men with guns?

I don’t wish to downplay the role of mental illness in all of this. Obviously, someone has to be pretty mentally ill to just start killing people at school. Of course the combination of mental illness and easy access to firearms is a deadly combination. This is another area in which America is unique. What are the odds that this latest episode will change anything…I’d say not very good. Some things seem to never change. In America, boys cry bullets, the truly insightful commit tongue suicide, and innocents are murdered at school. That’s just the way is, and I for one, am utterly disgusted.

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Misunderstood: Loving Vincent

I just got in from seeing the film, Loving Vincent (BreakThru Productions, et al., 2017), which I must say was a very nouvelle leap from the two-dimensional art of the well-known and much-loved Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh to the big screen. Although I’m not sure that I’m entirely sold on the concept, the scope and valour of the project are certainly to be respected. Each frame of the film is an oil painting painted in van Gogh’s style and painstakingly researched. The team of artists responsible for bringing the master’s work to the silver screen are to be lauded. All in all the whole work is pretty astounding when one considers the sheer amount of studio hours that went into its realization. In my opinion, the storyline could use a little work, and there were moments when the narrative presupposed a knowledge of the painter’s work that mass audiences may not have; at times it even delved into the realm of something far too slow-paced and boring. Yet, all in all, the visual impact of the film makes up for any faults that might be readily clear to viewers with a slightly more discerning analysis of storytelling.

The most impressive aspect of the film however, to me, was the insistence on examining the artist’s inner life. Van Gogh’s psyche plays just as much a role in this film as any of the actors used in filming and despite some parts of the character construction which are loosely based on letters between Vincent and his brother Theo (as well as other people) tending toward the sentimental, the overall attempt at constructing a psychological profile of the artist is a success. One comes away with the feeling that van Gogh, like so many posthumously celebrated artists, really was just terribly misunderstood during his time. Perhaps due to the legend of van Gogh, of which we’ve all heard, the film sometimes lacks the punch of those famous anecdotes from his life. It may very well be that the intentions of the creative team were to avoid focusing on the more salacious moments in the painter’s life choosing instead to paint a picture of a brilliant, self-taught artist who was plagued with mental illness at a time when mental health wasn’t very understood.

Haven’t we all been misunderstood at one time or another in or lives? I know I certainly have been. The question I kept coming back to during the film revolved around whether I’d want my life to be remembered by my crazier moments or more so for the sum total of all of the events of my years; big ones and small ones. Certainly, those moments of madness (creative or otherwise), have their part to play in the kaleidoscopic make up of the story of our lives, but they are rarely a clear depiction of who we really are. I began to question if I were to go right now, exactly which moments of my life would they remember me by. I can only hope that they’d be fair, balanced, and sincere. Yet, I know my friends and I’m sure there would be a fair amount of exaggeration and myth-building. It’s to be expected really, I suppose.

The film has received a lot of positive praise for its innovation, but I reckon that the best part of the movie is really the inspection of the mind of a much beloved artist and re-anchoring his memory solidly within the realm of humanness. Van Gogh is depicted as someone who for all his trying to fit in and to be accepted –never was, and perhaps never will be in the way that he most wanted to be. The artist is shown as fragile and perhaps even useless, when his most sincere wish was to be of some use to someone in this world. Isn’t that something we can all understand?

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Oprah Said What!?!

Look, I am just as in an awe of Oprah’s accomplishments as anyone else is and there is no denying that she can certainly electrify a room with a speech, but Oprah cannot be president. Well, maybe she can be president, but that doesn’t mean that she should be. We are currently seeing just how damaging a fantasy/nightmare president can be for the nation and the world and I’m not sure that the best means of cleaning up the mess this moron has gotten us into is by electing another TV personality with tons of money and absolutely no political experience. Can we just grow up and stop demanding characters we’ve all seen for years on TV run the country? Who’s next, Scooby Doo? Big Bird? One of the Ninja Turtles? Where does this folly end?

If something in your house breaks, let’s say the kitchen sink, you call a plumber, right? This is because there is a pragmatic understanding that functioning sinks are pretty important and there is a skilled tradesperson who knows exactly what to do to try to get that sink back to working order. What you do not do is call a tattoo artist. Sure, tattoo artists are anti-establishment, effortlessly cool, and possess a finely skilled craft, but what are the odds that they’re also great at applying that skill set to fixing sinks? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that your steady-handed tattoo artist and trusted plumber are not the same person. And if they are…just, wow! What are the odds?!

My point is, politicians (love them or hate them) are professionals. No, not just anyone can do the job and despite what we all love to believe about them, they in fact do have a clue. Isn’t the issue with the current political lot not that they don’t know what they’re doing, but that they do know exactly what they’re doing and who is paying them to do it? I would argue that the greatest shortfall of our elected representatives is that they have stopped working for us (the people), and are instead comfortably tucked into the deep pockets of corporations and lobbies. Most people accept this to be a pretty accurate description of the status quo regardless of which side of the aisle one sides with. Still, the way to fix that is not by electing a Power Ranger as president (not even a chubby orange one).

There are lots of things that I don’t do well. I know that I don’t do them well. I don’t need anyone to tell me, because I am self-aware enough to realize my shortcomings. I cannot be president. Well, technically, I could become president because I meet all the legal requirements, but trust me, you don’t want me as president! What happened to people  who realize that there are lots of people who are just better than they are at certain things? I trust that my doctor is simply more knowledgeable than I am in regards to whatever the hell is going on inside my body. Sure, I know other stuff…but not how to stitch someone up. Of course, I’d be willing to give it a shot, and maybe I’d even manage to close the wound, but it wouldn’t be pretty, or correct, or even very helpful. The chances are very real that I’d simply make matters worse and the patient would end up with some festering gash instead of healed. I trust a studied and practiced medical professional to do it. The pervasive, “I could do that,” bug we’ve all come down with is just that — a disease…hubris…the most incurable of all! And, the fever is already well within the city walls. That’s exactly why Oprah can’t/shouldn’t be president. She’s the tattoo artist fixing your sink. She’s me sewing you up after a bar brawl.

Now, Oprah hasn’t given any signal that she’s planning on running for president anytime soon, but there seem to be a lot of rather loud supporters of the idea who think it’d be great. While I understand the appeal, I wonder if I am the only one who hears a relentless, mechanical buzz coming from under the sink?

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Don’t Look Back in Anger

After a short break during the holidays, I’m happy to find you here again, Dear Reader! I hope that, for those of you who celebrate, the holidays were fun and full of laughter and great memories. Also, I’m sending you all of my very best wishes for a successful, happy, and healthy 2018! This year will surely hold its own set of challenges, as each and every year does, but there will also doubtlessly be lots to be grateful for and to achieve! I suppose every year is a mix of positives and negatives, although it does often seem that some years are especially good, whereas others are damningly bad. Either way, we’ll not know until we get all the way through it in a year or so, and have had the opportunity to turn round and view it via that rosy prism of the past survived, just how it all turned out. In fact, I’d like to expound a bit on the notion of looking back that’s on my mind today.

As important as looking back is, I’ve always believed that looking forward is more salient. I’m far more interested in tomorrow than in yesterday. Despite my affinity for what comes next, I am shaped, as we all are, by past events and my mind’s reconstruction of them. But, those memories are rarely as we imagine them to be. What we hold in our minds about the happenings of the past, is rarely what actually happened. I once heard that we remember not what people did to us, but how they made us feel. I think that’s quite true. It is the feelings that we hold on to and use to reconstruct what we think happened based on the bits that we can remember, but mostly prompted by the feelings that we’ve carried on with us.

Just as it is important to be forgiving of the mistakes of others, I’d say that it’s just as important to forgive ourselves of our mistakes. What often seems like the right, most expedient, or fun thing at the time, often turns out to be the contrary — and that’s life. So many times events pan out much differently than we might have expected them and the failure of that experience to live up to our expectations, I find, often soils the entire affair robbing us of any positive that may have resulted. And isn’t it always the negative, the missed opportunity, the promotion we didn’t go for, the relationship that we never allowed to unfold that haunts us? I reckon that’s because we remember the feeling of loss, foolishness, and regret more than we might remember the actual course of events. But how could we have known? Hindsight is a liar.

As we march into a new year with both trepidation and confidence, let’s remember that there are going to be highs and lows. We are going to get through them. But let’s also try and remember that whatever baggage we might have carried over into this year from the previous one, or from even deeper into the corridors of history, that we can reexamine the contents of those bags. We can decide if the feelings we associate with the contents therein are still valuable, needed, worthy of the effort of carrying them into our futures. Bags exist to fill things with, so of course our luggage is never going to be fully emptied, but we can downsize, we can reassess exactly what will serve us going forward and what won’t. Whatever we decide to discard or keep, let those feelings be ones that are thoroughly examined. Let’s not allow the tints that we have gone back in and added (some darker and moodier, some lighter and far too flattering) to shade the entire experience of now. The present is not monochrome and neither is the future.

I’m going to sincerely devote myself to this process of pruning the self-sustaining constructs in my mind that I’m dragging around from place to place. I invite you to do the same, and let me know how it goes. Whatever ends up happening, I hope that you’ll look back over how far you’ve come (even if it isn’t very far at all) and realize that you’re going to get to wherever it is that you’re going. Wish me luck! Godspeed!

“Slip inside the eye of your mind

Don’t you know you might find

A better place to play?

You said that you’d never been

But all the things that you’ve seen

They slowly fade away

[…]

And so, Sally can wait

She knows it’s too late as we’re walking on by

Her soul slides away

But don’t look back in anger

I heard you say.”

– Oasis

(What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (1995)

 

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The Common Cold

Recently, I’ve been a bit under the weather. Nothing too serious, just a cold, but you all know how annoying that can be! How is it that we can put a man on the moon, and we can’t manage to cure the common cold? I know there is a scientific explanation and I’ve heard it a thousand times. That does not in the slightest ease anyone’s symptoms when they’ve actually come down with the cold though. Seeing a doctor is useless as they’ll only tell you to drink plenty of fluids and get lots of sleep. Maybe they’ll prescribe a mild pain-killer such as aspirin for fever, but not much more than that. There’s a plethora of over-the-counter remedies available, too…but let’s face it…they only mask the symptoms temporarily. They do nothing to actually relieve you of the cold. Also, what kind of advice is drink lots of liquids and sleep more, anyway? It’s not like I purposely dehydrate myself and deprive myself of sleep and that’s what’s brought on the cold. I was drinking and sleeping just fine – really. Is that what medical school teaches these people?

So anyhow, I am not sure when/where I caught the cold, but as always, I’m trying to find patient zero and have them destroyed for crimes against humanity, and naturally humanity just means me in this case. Who else is there? Seriously, one of the worst aspects of being bogged down with a cold is that you know someone you’ve crossed paths with has infected you. Was it your partner? Your child? The lady who checks you out a bit too quickly at the supermarket…she probably hates you anyway and this is all part of her plan. She despises her job and her only solace is that she gets to scan your products at lightning speed while watching you fumble to bag them before they cascade to the ground and bruise or burst. Yeah, she’s the one! Didn’t she sneeze dangerously near  you the last time you went in at 10 PM to buy ice cream wearing only a t-shirt, shorts, flip-flops, and your old leather jacket? Didn’t she!?

Look, it’s a cold. I know it’s just a cold. Still, there’s this notion going around that there such as thing as “man cold” and it is basically just a cold made worse by a man’s naturally higher testosterone levels which in turn suppress his immune system…or something like that. Basically, it’s just another way we men can pretend to be more sore done by than those around us while making sure that they still actually do all the work…kind of like the last 3,000 years of history, but with a runny nose and that inner ear popping – always the inner ear popping! I tend to think there’s something to this man cold thing though. At least I want to hope so. But, I know  it’s just a boring old cold. It’ll pass. All will be well and then my immune system will just have to wait until the next yucky thing comes along to decide to do a half-assed job at blocking the intruders before calling it a day and watching the physiological equivalent of The Crown on my internal molecular Netflix account (because nothing makes us feel better than observing the purely “fictitious” exploits of a bunch of inbreeders who have inherited great wealth via undemocratic means and wave funny). They say it takes a week for a cold to pass…it’s been more than a week this time…but only just and I must admit that I feel heaps better than I did this time last week. Yet, best not to allow myself to become too optimistic.

What could be more banal than a cold? It’s certainly a universal commonality amongst us homo sapiens and if we can agree on nothing else (and it really seems we can’t), at least we can agree that whomever gave us this cold deserves to be left out in the cold to die!

Get well soon everyone!

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Seasonal Expression

The holidays are upon us…yes, it’s already that time again and it is absolutely okay to freak out if you need to. It really does just sneak up on us every single year, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s denial, maybe it’s sheer business and an inability to look beyond our own noses, but I’m not the only one who is fully shocked by the abrupt and surprising onslaught of the time to be merry – everyone is on edge!

I’m actually not a big fan of Christmas. As I’m not particularly religious, the liturgical elements of the holiday, while fascinating, don’t speak to me at all. Likewise, the commodification of the season always leaves me feeling as though we’ve all gone off script and are feverishly winging a holiday. I know there are lots of folks who think Christmas is the greatest of celebrations. They spend hours meticulously wrapping gifts and baking stars and tree-shaped cookies, but that’s nothing for me. Wrapping is one of the many talents that passed me over and whenever I try, I am reminded of the Camus quote, “We have exiled beauty,…” Indeed, Albert. I’m just no good at it, and I prefer to spend my time doing things that I’m at least marginally good at, or that I may be quite terrible at, but which bring me some simple joy. Gift wrapping, tree decorating, and eggnog brewing do not do that for me.

But, I’m no Scrooge! I really enjoy Christmas music. I can’t hear that Last Christmas song enough! I’m also a big fan of the efforts that the shops go to in making their windows look enticing and extra special. Sure, there’s an ulterior motive behind the whole thing, but gosh they look so cool! I’m very visual. A good display speaks for itself really, and I’m only human after all. There are other parts of Christmas that I find enticing, too, for example, I very much appreciate a good feast. Who can possibly say no to a table of yummy seasonal foods, so rich and labored over that you can only binge until you wish you were dead in order to show your appreciation? Certainly not me!

I suppose I’m just considering how much there is that you can really find to like about something which at first glance might not be your thing. It’s about going beyond our immediate comfort zones and trying out new things, or even challenging ourselves to see very old things in a new light. That’s absolutely something that I can get behind.

Whatever you end up doing this holiday season. I hope that you’ll take a look at your tried and tested traditions with new eyes. Giving ourselves time to reevaluate just what we like and dislike about many of the things that we take for granted can be abundantly rewarding; not only in terms of the social factor of interacting with people, but also on a deeply individual level whereby we can examine and begin to redefine. It’s not always a straightforward process admittedly, but an examined life, a life of evaluation and contemplation, even about traditions which we take for granted, is worth it.

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A Winter Survival Kit

I realize that winter won’t begin for about another month, but it certainly already feels like winter here in my part of Western Europe. The days fall dark alarmingly early and the sky seems to hang low and heavy with clouds. Seasonal depression is a very real thing for many people and I can certainly understand why. There’s something natural about facing the wind and rain with a hiss. Still, there are some things that make winter bearable. I’m dedicating this post to my winter survival kit. Despite the fact that there’s nothing on the list which would be much help if one really needed to survive for very long, these are my tips for getting through the season of dark and cold. As for actual survival and other tips on getting through life, I’m sorry, but I can’t be of any help there.

Earl Grey tea:  I actually dislike warm drinks. I try to avoid them as much as possible, which isn’t as easy as one might think. It seems someone is always trying to offer a warm beverage…which is nice, just not my thing. Still, on those drab days when it seems that the chill has somehow driven its way right down into your bones, a cup of Earl Grey will do just the trick. The citrus undertones of this tea really flood the mind with all the good things of summer. I add a few sugar cubes and wait until they’ve totally dissolved before I drink it. Honestly, I have to wait for it to cool as I am just totally averse to drinking hot drinks, but the oil of bergamot does the perfect job of taking me out of the frost and to a sunny place. My compliments to the Earl.

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Miso Soup: Despite the fact that I didn’t grow up with any Japanese influences, something about this Nippon staple hits just the right spot when it’s been raining all day long and there’s no letting up in sight. I’ve been told that the taste is an acquired one, but I really like the earthy undertones and slightly bitter aftertaste. Besides the comforting flavor of miso, it is also pretty high in protein which will help fight against that winter fatigue that sets in when one hasn’t seen the sun in a week. Instant versions are available in most supermarkets and require only a kettle to warm up some water in. It’s a fast, healthy, and yummy lunch, or a cozy pre-dinner teaser.

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Poetry: There’s nothing else to do in the dark besides read and think. Those are perfect conditions for poetry reading! I get the impression that many people no longer read poetry, at least not casually, and it’s rare that I meet someone who has an answer to my, “So, who’s your favorite contemporary poet?” question. Really, really rare. If you ask me, there is no better way to pass the hours of a long howling evening than with a book of poetry. You can likely find a compelling collection at your local library, or better yet, by searching Amazon. By buying the collection rather than just borrowing it, one is both more likely to return to the poems (thereby falling in love with them in new and unexpected ways upon rereading) and to pass them on. What could be better than a great poetry referral? Besides, by buying the collections we support the careers of poets. Yes, there are still poets. Yes, they are still starving. (If you’re looking for a recommendation I can suggest Night Sky with Exit Wounds…because Ocean Vuong is tidal.)

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Zippo Hand Warmer: It maintains the iconic simplicity of the lighter, but it won’t contribute to you getting cancer…although I can’t really guarantee that. This little gadget is inexpensive, cheap, and foolproof. If you’re going to be spending any time walking outside, waiting for trains/buses, attending outdoor sporting games, etc., this gizmo will become your new best friend. It’ll keep your hands from feeling that they’re about to fall off and will generally lift your mood during above mentioned activities because you won’t be enduring the initial stages of frostbite.

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Incense: Smokey! There’s just something about winter that makes me want to smoke…maybe a pipe or something. But, we all know that smoking isn’t really good for us, so I find that burning some incense will appease the need for that familiar wintry, smokey scent. Incense range from very cheap, to quite expensive and it’s worth trying lots of different kinds to find the ones you like best. Also, there are different forms (cones, sticks, powder, etc.) and burners that will suit nearly every preference. A lot of people seem to associate incense with hippies and such, but the headiness of the smoke and the intensity of the smell really fill a space in my mind that is uniquely winter. (Try Karma Scents sticks…though they’re a bit pricey, they’re well worth it.)

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What’s your secret? How do you get through the tough and callous days (and nights) of the winter season? Hide in bed? Netflix until your eyes bleed? I’d love to hear about what you’d put in your survival kit in the comments section. Stay warm!

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