Have you seen that meme going around that says something along the lines of, “I’ve tried my 14-day free trial of 2021, and I’ve decided not to subscribe”? I feel that. To a lesser extent, though, I kind of feel that every year. The holidays are hectic and stressful, but they’re also delightful and warming and offer a welcome interruption to the drudgery of life. Coming through the sequence of Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year, the interruptions start to fall into a rhythm. Back to work on Jan. 2, I take a quick gander at the calendar and think, “OK, when is my next day off? Memorial Day? It’s five months away?”
Why are so many of my holidays stacked in the second half of the year?
I know this is a ski town, so this next bit will likely fall on deaf ears, but it’s frankly sort of spiteful that this long uninterrupted stretch of daily humdrum should coincide with the winter. It just makes everything feel longer.
It reminds me of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” when, after entering Narnia for the first time, Lucy is disturbed to receive exposition from Mr. Tumnus that the land is stuck in a permanent winter—without Christmas.
“Always winter, never Christmas.”
Well, settling back into what promises to be a really wonderful winter full of fun and happy news (right?), here are a few recommendations to help pass the time.
And don’t tell me to buck up and look on the bright side. I’m with Ambrose Bierce, who offered this definition in his 19th century sendup “The Devil’s Dictionary”:
“Positive, adj.: Mistaken at the top of one’s voice.”
Reading: “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis—or “Scott’s Last Expedition” by Robert Falcon Scott
I’ve already recommended Robert Falcon Scott’s account of his doomed Antarctic expedition, but if you didn’t read it back in March, read it now. As I noted back then, it’s not light, cheery reading, because it’s the diary of a dying man, but “a reader can learn a lot about life and how to live by analyzing how Scott and his crew dealt with their fates.”
I stand by that.
If you’re in the mood for something more fun, then what’s better for the doldrums of winter than some family-friendly classic fantasy? Good guys, bad guys, battle sequences, loveable characters—it’s all in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” And if the winter is already beginning to feel eternal, this is a good reminder that winters always end eventually—except in Antarctica.
C.S. Lewis’ “Narnia” books always take me back to a time when I really enjoyed winter, but looking back, I realize one of the best things about winter has always been getting cozy with a good book, and that hasn’t changed in the slightest.
Perfect viewing for a winter of isolation: “Arctic” features Danish superstar Mads Mikkelsen putting his perfect face to good use in an almost dialogue-free outing. Mikkelsen plays a man stranded in the Arctic wilderness with limited resources. Rigid routine has kept him alive and relatively safe as he awaits a rescue that may or may not come, but when another plane crash lands and one person on board survives—albeit while incapacitated and badly hurt—he must abandon the shelter of his camp to embark on a dangerous trek across the wilderness.
In addition to being a tightly plotted, clever survival adventure, “Arctic” offers two important lessons to the viewer. First, that while it’s sometimes safer to sit around and wait for someone else to take care of your problems for you, we discover our own humanity when we exercise willpower and volition. The second lesson Mikkelsen summed up nicely in an interview with The Independent:
“It takes two to tango, it takes two people to become human,” he says. “It’s very, very difficult to be a human being all by yourself.”
“Arctic” is streaming on Amazon Prime. Not to be confused with a different Mads Mikkelsen movie named “Polar,” which came out around the same time. “Polar” is really, really bad. Don’t watch “Polar.” “Arctic” is good. Watch “Arctic.”
Listening: “Pride” by Phosphorescent
The album as a whole is a good listen, as Phosphorescent (a.k.a. Matthew Houck) listlessly grumbles through his thoughts in a remarkably lyrical and affecting fashion, his simple, minimalist tunes and instrumentation never failing to strike the right emotional chord.
“Wolves” is by far the standout track. At six minutes and 15 seconds, it honestly feels short. Houck’s lyrics drive home a relatable melancholy. He finds a rare sort of comfort in the resigned acceptance of his own demons.
It’s a great song, especially for this winter. The wolves he describes are dangerous, insidious, ferocious and destructive, but they are also hauntingly beautiful. Far be it from me to say what a song is or isn’t about, but I believe “Wolves” rather insightfully captures a particular state of mind, one tortured by stress and exhaustion and sadness, and with nothing to do but accept that.
So, you know, good listening for a second COVID winter.