Recently a close friend and I were chatting very long distance and he mentioned how truly uplifting and completely unrealistic were my blog entries. He continued to say that no one is ever that inspired and self-realized all the time, and the fact that I was so constantly mad about love and happiness made him feel comparatively very sad and lonely. When was I going to talk about something dark and dirty?
Well, the direct approach has always been subtle enough for me. I can talk about the dark and dirty now. After all, this city does not lack in anything dark and dirty, particularly in the winter, and I just might ankle this mid-winter conundrum in the process. How about I tap into that pool of dark water that is my heart and soul during the cold winter months? I have not written lately precisely because I can find neither the energy nor motivation to do so. These dark, cold days have snuffed out every last spark of my imagination with their long, meatless hands. The same hands that slap me hard in the face when I walk outside to greet the day, bruising my cheeks and nose into shades of red.
To me, cold weather is anything below 15 degrees Celsius. My definition of winter is the season that forces the locals of the Hawaiian Islands to wear their flannel shirts. It gets down around 12 degrees during winter in Hawaii, and that is cold. I think anything colder starts to infringe on one’s natural urge to sustain one’s life. I’m not fond of the idea of stepping outside and freezing to death. Wear all the thermal underwear and denim you want, -30 will quickly get you dead even if you’re careful.
If the temperature falls to 0, then I start to fall apart. Physically, any arthritis that I was unlucky enough to inherit will occasionally cause my hands to swell and itch. Sleeping at night, my back muscles get tight and tense—probably because I am not relaxed and know that, if the temperature gets too cold at night and my ears and neck are exposed briefly, I will wake with a sore throat and recurring bronchial problems. If the temperature falls too far, then I wake up, regardless of how tired I may be. I have, on several occasions, awoken from my slumber chilled to the bone and shaking like a leaf. When my back tightens due to the cold weather, then my backbones are likely to misalign and give me a pain that is normally cured only by a chiropractor but, since moving to China, is helped and healed with yoga. The cold weather also deters me from getting out and exercising, which adversely affects my immune system and makes me highly susceptible to every cold and flu that goes around.
Perhaps more troublesome is my emotional response to cold winter weather. A severe cold spell can sink me into depression. For whatever neurochemical or historical reasoning, I associate cold weather with death and loss and so I dread the lifeless, lonely state of my wintry surroundings. As a result, I may smoke and drink repeatedly, become quiet and anti-social or rebellious and irritable. I may feel overwhelmingly hopeless—as if I am forever teetering between functioning and nonfunctioning member of society. I avoid going outside and dread going outside when I absolutely must.
This winter has been the most challenging winter I’ve had to experience in almost 20 years. It’s approaching the middle of April and last week it snowed twice. City residents and trusted friends tell me repeatedly—with big eyes and wide smiles—that it is getting warmer every day. I have been told this since Spring Festival was celebrated in January. Many have informed me that spring is going to happen “in a couple of weeks.” That is what I hear still: “in a couple of weeks.” “In a couple of weeks” it will be warmer and much nicer. “In a couple of weeks” the weather will be really comfortable and very warm. If this weather keeps up, I think to myself, then I’ll prefer to be dead in a couple of weeks.
But the crows are back and that’s a sure sign of warm weather. I know this because the crows were omniscient during the warm weather of last year and they disappeared long before the thermometer plunged to –20 and stayed there for 12 weeks. The crows mean warmth, and in this city where winter is a dirty mix of colorless cold, the crows are flecks of a color that is not gray. In this city, the dirty gray streets are lined with dirty gray trees and crowded with dirty gray cars that exhaust dirty gray smoke that rises past the dirty gray buildings and into the dirty gray, sunless sky. The other non-gray color is on the people. Huddled, armless masses walking around with purpose. Typical of a northern urban area, the people creep through the frigid gray streets wearing nothing but black. Black shoes, black pants, black coat, gloves, and hat. Black scarves and jackets and sox. Black on black on black. Everyone’s going to a funeral. A 7-month funeral.
But the crows are back and that’s a sign that warm weather is just “a couple of weeks” away. Such a personally joyous occasion should merit celebration; I should be renewed and revitalized at the approaching break in cold weather and I would be if the birds themselves weren’t so damned scary. Crows are not dainty, entertaining birds. They are giant black creatures with dead black eyes and they inhabit this city in numbers as great as the leaves in the trees in which the birds perch nightly. There is no lovely birdsong that accompany these intimidating winged vertebrates. A poet might call them ravens but this bird by any other name would be disturbing. They loom and swirl high above, as if contemplating the best time to strike down at their unwitting and mutually colored prey. Hundreds and hundreds of them at a time; lining the edges of the building rooftops. At night they come down to infest the trees that line the streets that would normally add aesthetic value, but beneath the trees are eerily perfect circular areas of uninterrupted droppings. These surreal white shadows remove the chance of aesthetic anything and will sharply contrast the black that you wear when you walk under the tree and get dropped on.
Walking is usually done with my head down. It is only since the crows retuned that I have actually stretched my neck upward. When I walk, I look only at the sidewalk and streets immediately in front of me. In this way, not only can I avoid witnessing the endless stares from other people, I can also avoid stepping into things that cover the sidewalk and streets in front of me. Spitting is a common pastime in this city and the dirty air makes for a complimentary reason to enjoy this pastime. Walking in winter means an endless gray sidewalk with small and large splotches of yellowish-green and white orally discharged body fluids. My only source of winter-walking happiness comes from the fact that the spit is frozen so if I happen to step in any, it won’t stick to my shoes. Now that spring is just “a couple of weeks” away, I must be dutiful in avoiding any shoe-to-spit contact. I should also beware the fresh bird droppings. My view of winter in this city is synonymous with my perspective: bird shit and people spit.
For a month or 2 in summer, living in this city was fun. Rainstorms regularly tried to wash the air pollution away and temperatures happily supported my long evening runs. Fall’s month of pleasant temperatures was ruined by the swarms of nats flying around. The nats lived only “a couple of weeks” but only because the temperatures plummeted so quickly and completely. Winter has kept her maddening lock on life for almost 7 months here, and I speculate that spring has finally arrived merely because the crows are back. The only other indicator of spring’s arrival might be the thawing spit on the ground.
There is no exuberant greenery. No signs of new life bursting forth anywhere. The trees remain as gray as everything else, and the potted flowers have not yet been imported and displayed. In “a couple of weeks” the trees will turn green and shade the summer sun. I will run in the evenings and once again know the heat of the night as well as my passion for life. The crows will shit and swirl until winter once again murders the season of living things and chases all but the most dark and dirty creatures away.
Do I live another winter like this?