Winter of Post-Discontent, or: How I Learned to Stop Griping and Just Chill with the Killer Chill…

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Into the winter wonderland woods…

Oh, snow way! Yes way. Everything went white and the temperature turned subzero. Winter came and my neighbourhood transformed into something resembling Narnia or an Ice King freakout. It’s really, really cold. Even prior to the snowfall it’d been nippy and, to be honest, pretty glum weather-wise most of the time (you probably know what they say about rain and Manchester). It’s winter, so all the green things are dead and now all those dead plants are symbolically buried beneath several inches of snow.

I tend to associate winter with death. I’m a summer sun child, somewhat afflicted by SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and I’m uncomfortable if the temperature dips below 15°c. I’m charged by solar energy and I feel best when I’m wearing only one layer of clothing. My natural temperament is entirely at odds with the winter and, to put it simply, winter kind of kills my buzz. (And in the UK, if winter takes up roughly 2/3rds of the year, then I’m at odds with the season most of the time when I’m here.)

Thus, musing on death happens more often in the bleak midwinter. All the trees are dead. All the flowers are dead. By 4.30pm daylight is dead. All my summer spirit is dead (or, at least, it’s ebbed away). And what’s more, in the real world, great famous people keep on dying and the news reads as a list of obituary notices and posthumous tributes. There is much mourning. It’s dark and cold. Chilly shivers course through my marrow, and then I go to the movies to watch dark, violent films about people dying in unforgiving winter conditions (The Revenant and The Hateful Eight).

And then I take all of this death, darkness and dreariness and I dash out into the snow, slide around a bit and say to myself “Hey, you morbid drippy bitch! Smile! You’re alive and life is beautiful!” And I am smiling and I am alive and life is beautiful (it always is, in spite of it all). Good news! Somewhere along the way I seem to have found a way to co-exist with winter and reconfigure the whole experience as something that’s actually pretty cool (cool as in ‘good’ good and not ‘mildly cold’). Somehow I managed to significantly downgrade my level of SAD and I did it without resorting to indoor hibernation and death by tea, heavy metal and hot water bottle burns (my usual survival remedies for the season).

I’m not sure how this happened, and all I can conclude is that I just acquired a more enlightened and upbeat attitude. I also probably got bored of being freaking hostile to forces far beyond my control (keeping up constant bitterness and antagonism is wearying, y’know). Winter has to happen so I may as well just accept it and enjoy it as best as I can. I operate in this fashion in the summer months – soaking up as much sun as possible while others hide in the shade because I know that the heat of the moment will pass. Winter shall also pass and the cold won’t linger forever (this isn’t Narnia or Hoth). Neither will the fleeting flakes of winter magic that I’ve noticed when I’m not too busy muttering: “Damn, it’s too bloody cold!

Simple pleasures like knitwear, hot showers and steaming teapots after a day out in the cold make winter alright. I’ve also found tremendous beauty in the season this past week. Those aforementioned films showed me humans (and horses) suffering in extreme winter conditions, but they also reminded me – through film artistry and the language of cinema – just how beautiful winter can be. Winter isn’t a war on nature or on me or the pretty precious little flowers and suchlike – it’s a part of the grand cycle of life and has a wonder of its own.

(I apologise for turning into Captain Obvious here. Try and appreciate that this is written by an over-sensitive, simple soul with poor circulation and he’s only recently come out of the cave and cast off his snow-blinds. You may take this stuff for granted but, for me, it’s a psychological breakthrough and personal psychological breakthroughs deserve a “woohoo!“)

Yonder lies Manchester at the break of dawn...

Yonder lies Manchester at the break of dawn…

When I emerged from the cinema having watched The Hateful Eight this weekend, I discovered that light snow was falling. Frost had been on the ground when I entered but now little floaty motes of white were lighting up the early evening dark. It felt a bit magical, and I wandered around Manchester city centre marvelling at the sight, well-aware that I’m about to leave this place for few months. I stuck my tongue out to catch snowdrops. I idled around in neon-lit Chinatown a while, just watching snow fall on the Chinese Arch. Then I got on a train home and, arriving in my neighbourhood, found that the Saturday snow was even thicker up here.

Sunday morning it was thicker still. I woke before dawn and went out on a trek through white stuff at sunrise just to appreciate the winter wonderland that had occurred. I made my way to a vantage point and gazed across the landscape, from Winter Hill right across to the redlights atop Beetham Tower. It struck me that Greater Manchester and the moors of Lancashire in my relative backyard have never looked so beautiful to me. I felt connected to my homeland, and that was the work of winter.

Walking onward, the world woke up and I started encountering people – some walking excitable dogs, some clearing driveways and de-icing cars while kids built snowmen and played around with sledges. Little birds bounced around the frosty branches overhanging the footpaths and all the familiar roads looked so picturesque and clean coated with snow. So much for death and dreariness – there’s life, energy and pleasure in winter.

I’ve made peace with the season and had a profound moment the past week that helps me appreciate home all the more before I head off to foreign climes (and those climes aren’t much warmer than Northern England right now). I’m now going to head out for a walk in the snow and enjoy it while I still can. The moral of this winter’s tale, then? Acceptance; living in the moment; appreciation of natural magic and the beauty in all things; opening your mind and venturing outside of your comfort zones (though be sure that you have a hot shower and a cup of tea ready for the aftermath.)

Brrrrr, it’s so pretty…

There's Winter Hill in, erm, winter...

There’s Winter Hill in, erm, winter…

No NaNoWriMo, Yes Nah-No-Wri’-Mo’…

Oh! November! NaNoWriMo? The answer is ‘No’ for NaNoWriMo where NaNoWriMo means ‘National Novel Writing Month’. (Though the fact that it’s an international phenomenon makes the ‘National’ part a bit suspect and has me me wondering whether it should be WoNoWriMo for ‘World Novel Writing Month’. Note the apposite “Woe!” or “Whoa!” homophone in there.)

I want to write a novel. It’s a creative challenge I’d like to apply myself to. So why not now? Because I also want to do everything else. This, as I keep on finding, is a conundrum that causes a hell of a lot of creative frustration and feelings of inadequacy. When you want to do all the things all the time you find that you inevitably can’t do all the things all the time. You realise that you are not superhuman and that you are, sadly, a flawed mere mortal meatvessel with limited ability to master time and space and, boo hoo, that’s not what you want. Then you have stompy feet and grindy teeth and self-beaty-up shadow-boxing moments as you ‘fail’ over and over in your constant impossible pursuit of some unobtainable perfection or sense of Universal mastery.

You then collapse into multiple existential crises and succumb to fear and loathing, ripping your skin off and howling desperately at the malevolent gods who are laughing at your pitiful humanity. And then we wrap up the pity party and go about pursuing perfection and attempting to conquer the impossible all over again because we just do not learn and those gods and the cosmos are indifferent to our lamentations. At least they are if you’re going to be so overly-melodramatic and wretched about it. Mostly, everyone – gods, animals, other humans and other humans who want to be gods and/or animals – prefers you with your skin on and a smile on your face.

So, yes, enough sorry shadow-boxing because there are better things to do and one of those things is writing (or at least shadow-boxing with a smile). Getting back on track, I’m not going to do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) because I need and want to focus on other creative stuff (like these and this and this and trying to prepare more stuff for this as best as I can before it happens). I want to do all the things all the time but I accept that it isn’t the right time to be doing this, as much as I’d like to have a crack at it. High five to me for working that out all on my own and acknowledging that I just cannae take it right now, Captain! Maybe I am learning! Whoop whoop!

What I’m going to do though is continue to want to do everything and work hard at doing everything as best as I can in hope that I can transcend my tragic humanity or, at least, be highly productive and juiced up on constant creative mojo. I’m going to channel some of the underlying principles of NaNoWriMo – daily writing, prolific mojo-a-go-go, creating without hesitancy or doubt – as I go through November and into months beyond. I’m embracing an an attitude of Nah-No-Wri’-Mo’ which means ‘Nah! No! Write More!’ which basically means “You should be writing more and more and more and more.” It doesn’t necessarily have to apply to writing – generally, I’m all about creating and having an upbeat, proactive creative mindset.

Rockin’ with that energy means I may have a chance of doing about 1/27th of all the things I want to do and I’ll feel good about it instead of getting downbeat about not achieving anything and being a fallible human who can’t master space and time. It’s a matter of mindset, shifting poor mood (too much of that lately), the sense of slacking and going through the motions and punching out Demon Apathy, Demon Pity and Demon Procrastination (The Unholy Trinity that terrorise us all into insidious inertia). Cut down those killjoys, quit the kvetching and crush creative frustration whenever it rears its irritating and ugly head. Get working. Get writing. Follow that Nah-No-Wri’-Mo’ groove and there will be more writing and momentum and, thus, more creative energy and good feeling and thus more writing and so on, so on, so on…

All I’m doing is harking back and holding on to the same philosophical ideas expounded in manifestos like Less Talk More Rock,  Making Things Fast and so many other motivational self-help articles, blogs and suchlikes that are out there. Long story short, moop is unacceptable and writing makes me happy and is so much fun so let’s do lots of that and enjoy it. Positive Mental Attitude, zealous determination to kick out the jams, remembering the fundamental inspirational mantras (Nah-No-Wri’-Mo’ at every pause point) and yeah, having fun.

No NaNoWriMo for me, then, but yes to writing more and more and mo’, mo’, mo’. The start of November is a perfect, auspicious time to think “Yeah! Write on!” so I’m flicking an internal switch, refocusing and rebranding this ‘Yesvember’ as I rumble on into bleak winter. I’m punching the air with plucky determination to defy the gods and my own limits! I’m going full gusto at my hopeless dream of mastering the Universe and doing everything all the time even though these things are unachievable! I’m in manic uptempo Positive Mental Attitude mode and it’s do or die and I’m a doer!

Yay writing! Yay right attitude! It’s Yesvember and the action is go! All is righteous because I’m writing and if I’m not writing I’m doing something to generate extra creative enthusiasm and energy to fuel more writing. Hey! I may even end up writing a novel! Write on… *Beats chest and burns up his keyboard, laughing maniacally all the while as he goes about conquering all the impossibles…*

(As a footnote, high fives to anybody reading this who is taking the NaNoWriMo challenge this month. Write on…)