Dread and Malaise (February)

Many people experience some kind of post holiday season depression in January, once all the glitz and glow of the tinsel and lights disappears, but because my birthday is at the end of January, that feeling doesn’t hit me until the next month begins. This year I woke up to go to work on February 1st to find that it had snowed overnight. It wasn’t much, more sad sloppy slush than anything meaningful, but as I cleaned off my car I thought, “Gee, February is already trying to be the worst month of the year again, hmm?” You see, February and I simply do not get along.

(Cloudy, light polluted night sky seen from my window.)

I am a winter baby, but I have little love for the season, and the worst of it always seems to hit in February. If August is jade, and November is topaz, then February is just a rough chunk of plain gray stone. It’s the time of polar vortexes and not remembering the last time I saw the sun. It gets brighter every day so by the end of the month I’m no longer commuting home in the dark, but the additional light only reveals how gray everything is. The salt used to de-ice the roads bleaches the pavement and sits in sad little strips along the curbs. The naked tree branches look stark against the sky, forming a spiked iron fence that encircles my world. If nothing else I’ve said so far has failed to make the case for how wretched February truly is, please remember that I live in a country that starts this month asking a glorified rodent to tell us what the weather will be, even though it doesn’t actually affect anything. I feel uneasy this time of year, doing my best to make it through my life day by day until color floods the world again.

However, this February doesn’t look quite like that, and it’s causing me a new kind of malaise. Except for that smudge of slush on February 1st and a few scattered flurries, it’s been much too warm for snow. I think I’ve only had to defrost my car in the morning once. We’ve had multiple days that were in the mid to high 60s (15ish, for my metric friends), including Valentine’s Day. The flowering trees in my office’s parking lot started to bloom two months early before a cold weekend put the brakes back on and there are currently irises in my front yard. I have no love for shoveling snow, but I still know that I’m supposed to be doing it right about now. If you’re new here, I live in New Jersey. This is all very incorrect.

(One of the improperly blooming trees.)

I have to bury my dread and place stones on the grave to prevent it from resurfacing or it will fill my pockets with those rocks and drag me down. After all, despite the warmth and corresponding lack of ice, the days are still overwhelmingly overcast, the night skies blanketed with clouds set aglow by the light pollution. There have been bright spots here and there (the fun distraction of another Minecraft phase, a weekend in Massachusetts visiting friends, happy hour with colleagues) but they are merely sparks in the winter, gleams in the gray. One day I said to my mom, “After this weird month, we’re going to have one of those really messy, snowy Marches or full summer will be here in April.” I long for light and warmth and an end to these colorless days, but not at such a high cost.

February, we aren’t friends, but you’re not yourself this year and I’m concerned.

The Dog Days of Late Winter

The glittery, distant urban sprawl, taken at an overlook spot in my area.

There’s something dreadful about the way the latter part of winter drags on. The weeks are filled with seemingly interminable strings of grey days, even when it doesn’t actually rain or snow. The trees are still bare, allowing the skyline to shimmer temptingly in ways it can’t when covered up with foliage. The light in the backyard behind mine is able to make its way through the woods separating the properties and into my room like a dim distant spotlight into my mind, exposing me to myself in a way I don’t like.

Invariably, this time of year fills me with restlessness and I find myself browsing apartment rental websites. I’m not even seeking someplace sunnier or warmer, just contemplating making a new life closer to the shore or to my distantly flung friends (despite feeling guilt about the idea of leaving my local loved ones). But such a change feels impossible to make when I can’t even afford to rent alone in the area where I currently live on my slightly better than average salary, and when I know the housing situations elsewhere are just as dire.

I’ve read so many times about how in decades past people would just decide to move someplace new with nothing but a little money and a few possessions, but I don’t know that such a thing is possible most of the time anymore. Life has too many prerequisites. People need jobs to get experience, but can’t get hired because they don’t have experience. Landlords want proof that you’re employed, but local candidates who can start immediately are often more desirable than the person who has to delay their start date to relocate.

A friend once told me that if I want a new job I just need to make a list of places where I want to work and call and ask if they’re hiring. That isn’t advice that particularly works for my field, but I wish I had that kind of courage, that kind of audacity, the chutzpah that this same friend has told me I have. I wish I knew how to just go for the things I want without talking myself out of them by telling myself the reasons they won’t work. I want my life to change, but feel so overwhelmed by not knowing how to place my first step that I just stand still. Meanwhile the world keeps rushing by, leaving me feeling left behind, and stagnant, and choking on the recycled air in the little bubble I’ve created for myself. Caution served me relatively well in my 20s, but now that I’m in my 30s it feels like just another bad habit to break, if only I were any good at doing that kind of thing.

I don’t know where to go from here, only that I want to. I don’t know how to change from here, only that I need to.