Human beings are complicated creatures. Each of us can define ourselves a hundred different ways—in relation to our families, our jobs, our interests, our gender, our appearance. Some of the traits that define us stick for a lifetime, but part of what makes us complicated is that we’re ever-changing.
Last year in May I was feeling content. I even wrote about how I was happy to be here, in my home, with my family, my job and my dogs. I’m pretty sure that some Prozac popping person wrote that blog post with its proclamation of unabashed contentedness. It certainly doesn’t fit how I’m feeling nowadays.
I don’t like to complain about the weather. I know it accomplishes nothing. But this winter is getting me down. It’s made me use up my reserves of optimism and hopefulness. It’s gotten me to that place of not wanting to get out of bed in the mornings. In short, it’s kicking my butt.
This winter has been an intense one, but I think it’s the cumulative effect of twenty Alaskan winters that’s getting to me. Sure it helps that the days are getting longer—we’re gaining nearly six minutes of daylight every day now—but the truth is we still have at least five feet of packed snow in the yard. The temperatures are staying put in the teens and twenties. We still have to get through a lot of slush and muck before we get down to the ground. The part that’s depressing me the most though, the part that’s sucking away the joy of the returning light and making me wonder how much more Alaska is in my future, is that I’m holding out for a summer that Coastal Alaska cannot deliver.
The Rocky Mountain summers set the standard for me at an early age. Those Colorado clear sky days imprinted themselves into my psyche and forevermore my mood will be determined by the ratio of clouds to blue. I’m not proud of this. I’ve tried talking myself into having a more positive attitude. I’ve considered the benefits of living in a land not wanting for water, but it comes down to the things about summer that I miss—the heat of the sun on my skin, wearing short sleeved shirts without having goose bumps, wading into rivers in a pair of shorts and sandals.
I tried to express to a friend the other day how I’m feeling. “Malaise” she said, offering me as close as I’d come to a perfect word to describe my current state of being. I looked it up: Malaise is a highly non-specific symptom and causes can range from the slightest ailment such as an emotion or hunger, to the most serious. Generally speaking, malaise expresses a patient’s feeling that “something is not right”, like a general warning light, but only a medical examination can determine the cause.
I don’t think I need a medical professional to determine the cause of what ails me and I certainly don’t need to pay money for someone to tell me to take Vitamin D, get exercise every day, or find meaningful activities to fill my time. I’ve got those things covered. But still the malaise continues.
Typically when my emotions are out of whack I turn to writing, but even that has been a struggle for the past couple of months. Perhaps my imagination is snow blind. I’m coming up with tremendously boring characters. Their lives are less exciting than my own. I’ve tried to make up for my writing deficits by turning to literature. But lately whenever I sit down to read I fall asleep. The only thing that keeps me going is a chocolate chip reward system that I’ve developed. It’s okay for short stories but it isn’t great for novels.
Right now I’m working my way through the book Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich. (I’m taking lots of notes so I don’t need chocolate chips for this one.) In one of the sections he discusses word choice. He suggests that we should never settle for a word that is not exactly right. The idea has me turning to my Roget’s Thesaurus of Words and Phrases frequently. I looked up malaise because although it comes close to describing my mental state lately, it’s not quite the perfect word. Malaise led me to Pain. Pain led to mental suffering, displeasure, dissatisfaction, inquietude, and then this phrase: vexation of spirit.
I think that’s it. This winter has my spirit vexed. The core of my being is irritated, annoyed, troubled, tormented, distressed. Our firewood supply is dwindling and we’re supposed to get more snow today. Besides that I’m cold most of the time. Maybe the ever-changing part of me is realigning my internal compass, pointing me back toward the place where I started, to the part of the country where the sun shines most days. Or maybe it’s just the intensity of this winter that has me so disjointed. Either way, I’ll try not to complain too much. I’ll try not to define myself by my current state of mind. Vexation of the spirit runs rampant in Alaska this time of year and I know it will pass. Sometimes though, I just need to vent.