Sunday, April 19, 2009

Where the Cucumbers Grow

There is a phenomenon in which people who must endure continuous days of darkness or rain or fog and mist, or otherwise perpetual crap weather, suffer extreme anxiety and depression. I probably shouldn't say “phenomenon”, since psychologists have now defined this strange occurrence of winter blues as a "mood disorder" termed Seasonal Affective Disorder, thereby allotting it a certain legitimacy (though the same psychologists seem to undermine their own sincerity by humorously shortening the inane, yet potentially serious condition to “SAD”). Despite the apparent, and certain legitimacy granted to such an occurrence by its pathophysiological oh-so-scientific terminology, it still seems to remain a phenomenon, nonetheless, in the same way that an arc caused by the refraction of sunlight on drops of moisture can be a phenomenon (a rainbow, people).

So, I think we can agree that such a phenomenon exists, right. I mean, that's what the scientists tell us with all their facts and figures, surveys and endless studies (even if these studies are comprised of forced labor on the part of Psych 101 students). So, let's assume it's true. Hey, something like 2 million Brits are affected by this condition—so they say (I did get this figure from an advert for a British sunlamp). You know, though, I'm inclined to believe it. It is not easy to live in Britain, especially in December when you begin to wonder what light looked like. Brits have been known to wear sunglasses at night and drive with their convertible tops down in 40ºF weather, likely a result of having never fully experienced daylight or summer; either that, or it's due to an incessant state of optimism, an attitude which I am far too stubborn and hopelessly bearish to adapt. I think God stuck England where the sun don't shine. But you'd never guess it by Britain's inhabitants. I've never seen anything like this, mamas pushing prams in the rain as if it were 72ºF and bright enough to get a suntan. I swear, sometimes I can still smell coconut oil on some of these Brits, even on the foggiest, cloudiest days.

But it's a good attitude, no? If the sun won't shine, why not pretend like it is? On Radio 1 today, I heard a very cockney-voiced little boy say these words: “If you believe it, it's true.” I'll be damned if that boy didn't believe his own words, too.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem a bazillion years ago (yeah, yeah, he's American, but it suits my needs, and above all my mood, to insert the poem here). It went like this:

The Rainy Day
The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the moldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never dreary;
My thoughts still cling to the moldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! And cease repining;
Behinds the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; Isn't he cheerful?)

I'm sure you are wondering now if I'm merely trying to inject a note of sickly sweet positivity into your day. Quite the contrary. Fact is, Longfellow was a rather wealthy and pampered American aristocrat who taught at Harvard and wrote simple, lyrical poetry for the masses. What did he know of dark and dreary days? Well, okay, he did lose his first wife after a miscarriage and his second wife after her dress tragically caught fire. And he did, apparently, suffer from bouts of “neurotic depression.”

Yeah, okay...the sun does shine occasionally. The 19th century Longfellow lived to the ripe old age of 75, having survived the tragic deaths of his two beloveds. Whatever. Glass half...

On that note (sort of), perhaps someone could explain to me why it is on the sunniest of days that an overwhelming sense of anxiety creeps into me—and I'm talking careeeeeps. Totally unexpected. I wake up, the sun is out, and at first, I think “Sweet Jesus I love you for the stars but thank you God for the sun!” And then the day chugs along, the sun remains, I begin to smell cut grass, I hear the birds chirp, I stare out our sliding glass door, maybe lean my forehead on the glass, and suddenly, I feel overcome with the prickly feeling of the inevitable. Although sun in the morning doesn't generally signal a sunny day in England, as the weather is as fickle as a ninth grade born-again virgin cheerleader, it should, in general, lift even the most morose of spirits in Grey Britain. Yet, for me, there are some days, especially more recently, where the sun just seems to bring with it a certain taste of sorrow. Which is weird, cuz gray days can really bring me low.

Have you ever stood at the edge of the high-dive and stared down into the bottom of the pool, all crystal and blue and sparkling, the water not even rippling cuz it's just waiting for you, whispering to you to jump right in? And you had that sort of dropping feeling in your gut, and for a minute, you think, nope, nope, not gonna do it, criminy, somebody get me down; and then you look around and you see your friend (you know, the one you really kinda don't like all that much cuz he's always making fun of people and bragging about the latest toy his mama just bought him and that one time he laughed out loud like it was the funniest thing when your handbag fell open and the tampons fell out in front of everybody at the school dance), and his soaking wet trunks and near purple lips and shivering reminds you that he has just jumped, and he's waiting for you knowing you'll never make the jump, and he's ready to make fun of you and to tease you unmercifully like he teased you for drinking two cartons of milk at lunch the other day. And then you feel kind of excited because you know you really are going to do it, any second now, and you know that you will hate it, and your body will go sliding smoothly into the water and you will be fine and you will feel it glide around you, sucking you under, but only long enough to make you feel safe and cushioned, and you'll be fine cuz it's really just the moments until you hit that water that you're worried about, and this worry sort of momentarily strikes you with a panicky feeling like you get when you wake up and still think you're taking a test at school with no clothes on, and that panic momentarily shocks you into paralysis, and for a moment you forget what the hell you were doing on that springboard anyway, and you stop and wonder how you got there and who bought this ridiculous red polka dot bikini for you anyway, and you remember your friend Gertie talked you into it even though you're just a little bit fatter than she is and she only wears one-piece suits, and you wonder what the hell you were thinking ever listening to her because you've caught her saving ABC gum on the edge of her desk for after lunch, and this panic seizes your mind enough that you forget the damn gum and spring back to the diving board, and there's Tommy with his dripping trunks and his leer on his face ready to laugh, and then you just


This is what sunny days make me feel sometimes.

Do you know what my 2 year old said today? Her big sister, Kate, asked her: “Do you say 'tuh-maw-toe, Emmie?” (It's always a source of great entertainment for us, trying to ascertain how much of an accent Emmie is picking up here in GB). To this, Emmie replied, “No, I say cucumber.”

Honest to goodness, she actually said this. And then Emmie followed with, “You people, stop laughing at me.”

So, you know what I'm going to do, maybe? Gray days, sunny days, any day, I'm not going to say tomatoe or tuh-maw-toe. I'm gonna say cucumber.


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