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Time to Go Bang My Head Against the Wall

by on December 26, 2018 5:00 AM

A week from today begins what I think of as the long slog – the dark time between the holidays and the coming of spring. Here in this cleft of the Allegheny Mountains, under a near-constant cloud cover, we go about in a gray twilight with an ever-intensifying yearning for a first glimpse of snowdrops and crocuses.

Sting, in his lovely “A Winter Night…Live from Durham Cathedral,” spins winter as positively as it can be spun. It’s the season “of colds and frosts and long dark nights,” he says in his opening monologue, “but also the season of stories…of the imagination…of reflection, where you’re asked to face the ghosts of the past, and in facing them, you must treat with them calmly and civilly, before the snows melt and the cycle of the seasons can begin once more.”

Left to my own devices, I’d serve the ghosts tea and toast from solstice to equinox, excusing myself only when a gap in the clouds promises a brief bask in the sun. Fortunately for my sanity and my physical wellbeing, my beloved won’t let me get away with holing up for the duration, so into the cold we stride, no matter the wind or the rain.

Or at least that’s what we did in winters past. Those were the years of Fitbit fever, when we were determined to get in our 10,000 steps. This season, my wife’s as game for a stroll as ever, but I’ve been checking the temperature on my phone, checking to see if the branches are flailing or the pavement is glistening, checking for aches in my knee and hip, and if I don’t like the look and feel of things, I’ve been begging off.

This won’t do.

I have to remind myself that cold air is like cold water – brutal at first, then you get used to it.

I have to remind myself that there’s beauty in that winter palette of grays and browns, and in the laid-bare structure of the trees.

If all else fails, I have to remind myself of what my dad would recommend when I announced that I was bored.

“Go bang your head against the wall,” he’d say. (In Yiddish: “Geh shlog dein kup en vant.”)

“Why would I do that?”

“Because it feels so good when you stop.”

This never made any sense to me: I imagined my head would continue to hurt even after I stopped banging it.

“Ah,” Dad said, “but it would hurt worse if you didn’t stop.”

Such is the folk wisdom on which I was raised. The relevance here: Being inside will feel so much better once I’ve been outside.

My parents, by the way, spent some years in San Diego during a nomadic decade from the mid-1970s to the mid-‘80s. When I’d visit we’d watch the local news, which included the usual minutiae of today’s and tomorrow’s high and low temperatures, the relative positions of high- and low-pressure systems, the wind speed, the precip prob, the five-day forecast. Delving that deeply into the vicissitudes of weather has always struck me as a waste of precious airtime; it seemed particularly absurd in San Diego, where they could have said tomorrow’s weather will be the same as today’s, which was the same as yesterday’s -- 75 and sunny -- and moved on to weightier matters.

Of course, 75 and sunny sounds pretty sweet right about now, so here is where I have to remind myself that all that lovely weather deprives San Diegans of the intense joy of lovely weather after a long siege of unlovely weather. Their weather gets boring and they never get to relieve their boredom by banging and then not banging their heads against the wall.  

If I haven’t cheered you up yet, consider this: We are going to have 17 more seconds of daylight today than we had yesterday! As of sunset tonight we will have gained 46 seconds of daylight just since the solstice!

It almost makes you want to bust out the Hawaiian shirts and fire up the grill, doesn’t it? Or at least stop complaining.

OK, maybe you’re not complaining. Maybe you’re one of those hardy souls who loves having four distinct seasons. Maybe you feel sorry for those poor San Diegans, trapped in their eternal sunshine.

This pep talk wasn’t for you. It was for me. Any minute now, I’m going to suit up and set forth, no matter how nasty it is out there. But when I say suit up, I don’t mean in a Hawaiian shirt. I’ll save that for February 1, when we’ll be basking in nearly 53 more minutes of daylight than we have right now.

That’s the beautiful thing about life, eh? Always something to look forward to -- provided you look hard enough.  



A collection of Russell Frank's columns, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," is available from the Penn State University Press. His columns for won first place for commentary in the 2019 Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter Best in Journalism contest. The winning columns: The Women’s March: Notes from New York, It’s Time to Change the Script and Mixed Messages at Bellefonte High. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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