I have been wildly in touch with my inner winter grump, which means I find everyone on the world stage monumentally irritating. Obviously Oprah (who cares if she has a half sister?), but even Barack Obama, standing there during the State of the Union address, banging on about America doing it bigger and better, proudly pointing out, in a way that to my mind had satirical overtones, that without the American dream, Messrs. Joe (Talk Your Face Off) Biden and John (Cry His Eyes Out) Boehner wouldn’t have achieved their exalted positions. Exactly. I liked the American dream better when Nancy Pelosi was the Speaker.
I am restless in the evening, wanting to go out, but dreading that hunched-over feeling of damp, bone-chilling cold that permeates even my quilted puffiness. And neurotically worried I might slip on some black ice.
And then there’s winternet – the sad life-wasting compulsion, after looking out at a frosted universe, to spend far too much time on the computer, “reaching out” to acquaintances, writing more fulsome e-mails than is necessarily wise. Like the half hour I spent composing a spirited e-mail of advice to someone who hadn’t asked for it.
Plus my skin is so parched I’m slathering on moisturizer, and thinking what if I just sat in a vat of baby oil?
But enough winter whining! Enough embracing our grumpiness. Not only is it unseemly – people after all have real problems – but winter is not even halfway done with us, so we better come up with ways to make it feel better.
In fact you might say how not to go crazy in midwinter is the quintessential Canadian challenge. Feeling trapped, cold, embittered and hopeless, but in a nice Canadian way?
We’ve been here before, and we know it will end, as it always does, with spring – or even the first warmish sunny day.
But how to make the soul soar in the thick of it is the question. Of course there are tropical getaways (they take care of precisely one week of winter) or on the other hand, for those so inclined, the joy of winter sports.
But I’m an unregenerately urban non-sporty soul. So herewith, my own personal list of weather whackers.
Tulips. They’re here, and I can’t get enough of them – yellow in the dining room, purple upstairs. I actually think you get more enduring bang for your buck with a small bunch of tulips than you do with a pricey latte.
Culture. Whatever city you’re in, soak it up like moisturizer. Look for bargains. A free concert here, an open to all lecture there. On perhaps the coldest night so far we bundled up and went to hear John Ralston Saul deliver an enthralling lecture in St. James Cathedral in downtown Toronto on the subjects of his new biography, Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine & Robert Baldwin (part of the Extraordinary Canadians series). And on the enduring nature of violent political discourse. It was so entertaining, we treated ourselves after to a designer pizza and some good wine, albeit in the very drafty bar of a trendy restaurant. I kept my coat on.
Theatre. Plays I am looking forward to seeing in my neck of the woods include Eternal Hydra, a literary mystery, and Divisadero, based on the Michael Ondaatje novel. And by March (it will still be snowing, trust me) I will head to the National Ballet, not only to be transported by almost unattainable beauty, but to get the nuttiness of Black Swan out of my head. (Yes I will watch the Oscars, which are also a winter diversion.)
Take a young person to whom you are not related to lunch. I did – a charming way to find out about their lives, to reflect on your own children’s progress and to feel generous, hopeful and wise. If you’re young, suggest lunch to a mentor. For sure they will pay!
Volunteer. The eternal cure. Whether it’s to teach literacy to newcomers or to ladle out soup on a cold winter night, helping others never fails to lift your own spirits.
Cook passionately. Entertain generously. See people constantly. On one snowy day I made a red lentil soup that made several people happy, and you can never go wrong in winter with a nice hot curry.
Movies. Why go out, the theory goes, when DVDs and downloads are so easy. In the depths of winter you can explore a theme. I’m thinking great newspaper movies, such as Citizen Kane and All The President's Men. (It is also my winter indulgence to rewatch Sense and Sensibility, while my husband flees to his man cave.)
But it’s the going out that transforms a movie into a community experience, like when we headed out last weekend to see the unforgettable Incendies and then felt part of a bigger wave of joy when director Denis Villeneuve received a well-deserved Oscar nomination.
Reading, rereading. I recently reread Room With a View and gobbled up Patti Smith’s award winning Just Kids, a memoir about her relationship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and how they both grew into their artistic skins in New York in the late sixties and early seventies. Both books are literary heaven.
Play good music you don’t usually listen to. Change Chopin for Etta James or vice versa. Shake up one essential thing in your morning or evening routine.
Buy a new scarf. They’re on sale everywhere – I got a – what else? – “winter white” one for 29 bucks. Already, I feel less grumpy.