The most depressing months of the calendar loom ahead. The torturous grasp of the “holidays” — the ghastly muzak, the techno-presents that no one really wants, the constant strain of jollifying family members you’ve avoided for a whole year — is upon us.
Then there is the darkness. It’s 4:30 p.m., and it feels like bedtime. Yes, the days will start lengthening around Christmas Day — by 14 lousy seconds! The first 5 p.m. sunset won’t occur until Feb. 3, perilously close to Jan. 17, “Blue Monday,” which studious pseudoscience has deemed to be The Most Depressing Day of the Year.
Your heating bills will have you eating ramen noodles three times a day and you can’t see your hand in front of your face. I would encourage readers to look on the bright side, but until March or April, there simply won’t be a bright side.
During previous winters, I fled to Los Angeles and luxuriated in the warmth and brightness of Southern California. But this year I have decided that I will embrace the darkness and all that it entails.
Why? In part because I’m tired of reading witless articles counseling me how to survive the gloom. I don’t want to buy Northern Light Technologies Flamingo 10,000 Lux Bright Light Therapy Floor Lamp to chase away seasonal affective disorder. I’d rather curse this expensive $264 candle and savor the darkness. I don’t intend to start eating collard greens, turnip greens, spinach, or mustard greens, which the Cleveland Clinic calls “good foods for winter health.”
To cope with the stygian gloom, The Wall Street Journal suggests we “Learn from the Danes; try embracing the season like some of the Nordic countries, including Denmark.” Are you kidding? The country where the figurative raised nail, meaning the exceptional performer, is hammered down and “low expectations [help] boost happiness”? The country where, if it’s your birthday, you’re the one expected to bring the cake?
Furthermore: Why fight the night? Some scientists insist that darkness is good for us. Our bodies create melatonin, the “darkness hormone” as light wanes during the day. Various health claims are made for melatonin: it may reduce hypertension; it may help to relieve blood pressure; it may allay acid reflux. It definitely helps you sleep, and sleeping 12 to 15 hours a day may be the only way you survive until March.
Wait, that sounds a lot like hibernation. Exactly. University of Colorado researcher Sandy Martin told The New Statesman that “the distribution of hibernating species on the tree of mammals makes the likely conclusion that the common ancestor of all mammals was a hibernator.” And hibernation is good for you: “It has the power to combat conditions that plague modern humans, including Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and heart attack,” the magazine tells us.
“As the cyclic abyss of winter sucks the vitality out of entire cities,” Dr. James Hamblin wrote in The Atlantic, “it is absolutely ridiculous that we don’t hibernate.” Agreed! NASA has of course been studying hibernation (“Torpor Inducing Transfer Habitat”) to conserve astronauts’ energy during the monthslong trip to Mars. The primary challenge is to reduce the astronaut’s body temperature, thus cutting back on caloric intake and reducing the amount of food to carry on the 100 million-mile round trip.
The New England Patriots’ offense might present themselves as study subjects for a group of men living in suspended animation, but I digress.
So turn up the Leonard Cohen dirges, stream all four-plus hours of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s turgid and incomprehensible “Colors” trilogy, or catch up on those Franz Kafka novels you’ve been meaning to get to.
Go for it! Embrace the darkness. I’m right next to you, even if you can’t see me.
Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.