Everyone reaches Peak February, sometimes even before February. This morning on the way to work, the Toronto sky was so grey it reminded me of broth.
When I boil bones for stock, the water turns murky and there are not lumps but tiny rags floating in the pot. Then I pour the stock through the sieve after the bones have given all they have to give and more, these whitish hollow snappable things.
This is the February blues. I am bones and the snowless winter boiled me. I wouldn’t call it seasonal affective disorder, more a condition of life in a charmless world zone.
It’s not a disorder if it’s normal to notice how starkly the leafless tree-sticks on the Lake Shore reach up into the sky, how even cigarette butts gather for warmth on the pavement. It’s normal to look straight up at the scaly Gardiner Expressway — a chapel roof of rust — and say, “This is the worst place in this city, the worst,” and have no one in the car disagree.
“Affective” means feeling; this is a fact.
The car has a dirt crust, which is eminently washable but that’s the thing about Peak February, why take action? At some point, allegedly, it will rain. Not that I care because the passivity characteristic of the February blues sneaks in everywhere like a gas.
I am so drained of animation in February that I buy baby carrots in a tiny bag because it’s too tiring to address a whole carrot.
In December, I’d lit log fires, streamed Rob Delaney’s brilliant comedy Catastrophe or comedians Eddie Izzard and Amy Schumer, and read art books about the Golden Age of Dutch painting, when people were depicted skating and doing jolly things on canals instead of moping at home. The Dutch always make the best of things. Fireplaces and coziness, very big in the 17th century.
Here in the 21st, I look at the stacked logs and wonder if we’ll run out before winter ends. No fire tonight, I say bleakly. Is that not the saddest thing?
Canadians head south at this time of year. I tried that. It was a failure. I just complained about the omnipresent sand and that awful rhythmic sloshing sound, the wine was never cold enough and the breakfasts were frightening, the kind where you pile up on protein-rich scrambled eggs so you can skip lunch, which is also eggy.
As you can see, it’s the time of year when nothing pleases and I will, as always, be vocal about that.
It’s not clear to me that winter was always this dispiriting. I love cross-country skiing, love snow to the point where I actually enjoy shovelling, love being snowed-in because it’s melodramatic and candlelit. We’re snow victims, what fun.
Except that with climate change, we’re no-snow victims and there is no joy in Mudville. I’m having lunch with an architect this week, poor man, and I’m going to show him photos of our new blocky brown/black/slate buildings — so many stacked coffins — and demand an explanation. Why is our city not beautiful? When a building matches my February mood, it is not a good building.
If Peak February were an architectural style, it would be Brutalism. If it were art, it would be a Joseph Beuys (a felted man’s suit on a hanger). If it were a novel, it would be David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King (it’s about sweating and anxiety in an Illinois office of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. I loved it).
If it were a clock, it would be a stopped clock; if an ankle, a weak ankle. If it were a newspaper, it would be the Daily Mail, if a rat, a naked mole rat, which is easily the world’s most unattractive rat.
To all of you who have reached this point in this column — I wrote it because someone has to reflect the feelings of the Affected Sad — I congratulate you and offer only this: top marks, the respect of your friends at school and work, King Curtis’s yearning saxophone on his version of A Whiter Shade of Pale. True, a week after he released it, he was stabbed to death, but that’s February talking.
There is great beauty, love and kindness in this world, with green leaves ahead, even if it is not apparent on this date in the month of February in 2016.