The sun just set on the first Sunday since the time change. This is a gloomy moment for everyone. After baking a loaf of bread all day (i.e. waiting for dough to rise and watching clouds pass by the window), I walked down to the cracked-out market on Mississippi and bought some toilet paper. There was a drunk guy outside and I gave him some money. He doesn’t have much else to comfort him tonight and we’re all feeling raw from the early dusk, and if you’re in Portland, the onset of the endless rain. Dark. It’s dark. It’s painful; it’s a deep change every year and there’s only so much you can do to mitigate it. When I got back from the store, I wondered what to do next. What I really wanted to do, what would really ward off the coming dark, would be to build a fire. Warmth, light, work: this would really insulate me from the ending of the year. But of course, like so many people, I don’t have a fireplace. I just push a button and the heat comes on.
Winter is a time to keep your hands busy, because add boredom to darkness and you’ve got depression. I wonder right now, with the acute pain of the looming season, if the loss of the work of survival (specifically building a fire), is causing a boredom so deep that it depresses us. I wonder if evolutionarily, these acts of purpose toward warmth are a way to ward off a deep unease. Put simply, building a fire and starting a hearty evening meal would dispel worthlessness, hopelessness, and cold.
I guess that’s what Flaubert was writing about too, the ennui of the leisure class. But what is leisure, but space to fill with self-invented work? At least that’s how I think artists see it. Even my staring at the clouds today, I mythologized as a kind of work, a useful addition to the unconscious from which any writing would spring. It’s not a wonder we’ve got TV (or the internet) to stare at…the bright hearth, the worthwhile faux-fireplace.