December 5th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

My annual winter low-grade freak-out

There's a recurring passage in John Crowley's beautiful novel Little, Big, several of the main characters' favorite quote from a story within the story, and it goes something like this: "In the summer, winter is a memory; in the winter, summer is a myth." For me, though, it's almost the other way around. Winter weather is so traumatic for me that apparently I blot out most of the memories of it until I'm confronted with the reality again each year. Then, when the temperature at night drops into the single digits Fahrenheit and struggles during the day to reach freezing, when the days are shorter than 9 hours and the dewpoint drops to around 20°F, and I discover all anew how much I hate and fear this kind of weather, only then do I remember, "oh, yeah, and I felt this way last year, too. And every other year but the one I spent in Florida." In between, during the other 7 or 8 months of the year, I can't even wrap my head around just how much bitter cold weather screws with my head.

These last couple of days, I could scarcely have been more comfortable. The apartment is warm, and comfortable, and fully stocked, and unlike most of you I don't even have to go outside twice a day to work. Other than a vague inclination to put off another grocery hike for a couple of days, no different than the same disinclination I feel during warm but rainy weather, I should be as happy as a pig in Congress. But I'm not. Oh, my mood is mostly fine. But I'm feeling the powerful urge to sleep all the time, and I'm hungry even more closely approximating 24 hours a day, and my concentration is shot.

I know why, too. I've known this about myself far longer than Ameren has owned Union Electric. But the Ameren outage these last few days is illustrative. You see, five months ago I was one of the people without power for a week. And I stayed home. I lost half a refrigerator full of food, was bored out of my skull, and spent a little bit more than my normal budget on taking the bus down to various restaurants to eat and various stores to kill time. And yeah, it was warm enough to make sleeping unpleasant. But at no point did I feel like I was in even the slightest danger. But when it gets down to 9 or 10 degrees, like it did last night? Yeah, I know that there are people who stayed in their blacked-out homes and used every form of winter camping gear or other jerry-rigs to stay alive. But if I had to do that, I'd be terrified the whole time. 100°F is a miserable environment that can make you sick if you screw up. 10°F makes you dead. And even now that I'm on disability and my finances are more stable than they've been any time in the last 20 years, I can count on Ameren to remind me that living at or above 40°N latitude without an ocean nearby to buffer the temperatures means that 3 months of the year, I'm kept alive by a fragile, aging, and sloppily maintained life support system no less essential than the ones that keep astronauts alive in orbit.