Sunday Support Group: Long Winter (OT)


This post is by Michael Johnston from The Online Photographer


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Are you at all worried about the coming Winter? "If I'm honest," as the British say (I like that expression), I am. A bit scared of it, even.

Don't get me wrong: I live in what is for me one of the nicest places in the world. For five months out of the year, and maybe part of a sixth, the Finger Lakes region is my kind of paradise: relatively unpeopled, low-key and civilized, beautiful, with beautiful skies and clear air, and waterfalls, even. Mennonite and Amish farms blanket the countryside, and vineyards cover the hills. I imagine I might

like other places in the world—I remember Bimini being nice, and I liked Ireland—but among the much smaller subset of places I can afford, this is my personal idea of a fine place to live.

Except in the Winter.

In the Winter, the people leave and the clouds come. The deli down Route 54 shutters till Spring, and so does the Windy Acres produce market. Whole towns around here all but close down (I'm looking at you, Hammondsport). Once the leaves are mulched, the whole world turns gray and brown from its crown in the heavens down to the cold ground—wet, sunless, barren, lonely.

Normally I do okay with this. I go to up to eight(!) AA meetings a week and have several regular dates playing pool with friends. Last year, we made 13 out of a scheduled 20 APA (American Poolplayers Association) League nights before the pandemic got in the way. This year, however, what with COVID-19, I won't be going to in-person AA meetings, and the Brock's Bowl owned by Kurt and Kiley Brockman where we often played pool last year is closed, and there will be no League nights.

More than that might go wrong. My mother is in year nine of Alzheimer's and is no longer certain who I am when we talk. A dear old friend is dreadfully sick. My dog Lulu is superannuated and in her dotage (she's 14) and might up and die on me before Spring; the country of my birth could continue its pell-mell race to authoritarianism. (Remember, the opposite of liberal is not conservative; progressive is the opposite of conservative. The opposite of liberal is authoritarian.)

I had my yearly physical last week. At least that went well. My MD is a guy named Robert Anderson. He's a smart guy and a good diagnostician, and if I could type as fast as he can I'd be rich, and I'm not kidding—the guy types faster than most people think. He's worried about this Winter too. "I'm afraid some people are primed to make some bad decisions," he said.

Rash and drastic
So maybe I've done a rash and drastic thing. A few weeks ago I took out a small bank loan to buy a shed. When it gets built I mean to stick a pool table in it. I've really been sorry that I haven't had a pool table here at the house since COVID started; I swear I'd have been practicing two hours a day. Maybe three or four. I find it relaxing and distracting, in much the same way many people mindlessly play video games or vegg out in front of the TV (I haven't had a TV since 2013 or so).

It might seem like an indulgence. Maybe it is. But only mostly. It has a practical aspect. Nine years ago, my doctor back in Wisconsin asked me how long I sit at the computer in one session. The answer was two or three hours, at least, sometimes as long as six—I have no reason to get out of my chair other than to go to the bathroom or take the dogs out or wander to the kitchen to get something to eat.

"You just can't do that," he said. "Find a reason to get up and go do something. Every half hour if you can, but every two hours at a minimum. Something to get you up and moving." 

"How about a pool table?" I asked.

"That is not what I had in mind!" he shot back.

"Wait a minute, Doc. Think about it. I'd have to get up and go walk down the basement stairs. Throw the balls out on the table, knock them all in. I'd be on my feet, moving around, bending over, twisting into various positions…repeat that a few times, then back to work. Ten minutes out of every hour. Why does that not sound good?"

"You know, now that you put it that way, that just might work!"

So I asked him if he would write me a prescription for a pool table.

He laughed, grabbed his prescription pad, and started writing. He showed it to me, then drew it back. "This could potentially be used for insurance fraud, so I can't actually give it to you," he said. He tore it up.

I was only going to frame it and put it on the wall next to the pool table.

Fresh air
Anyway, a pool table is no panacea. It's not going to make COVID-19 go away, and it won't keep my dog from dying on me or the Trumpocalypse from continuing. It won't help with isolation. But what it will do is get me up and away from the computer, out of the house and into the fresh air (the shed will be a short walk from the house), and on my feet and moving around for ten minutes every hour. Before I took out this loan I had no debts other than my mortgage, so that's a step backwards. But I'm looking at this as an investment in my mental health. I only hope it will work out that way!

And I'm one of the lucky ones, I know. I'm not facing dire consequences. I'm not sick, I'm not unemployed, and my life isn't imploding; bad things are happening to a lot of people. (A little hint: gratefulness is the antidote to self-pity. Whenever you catch yourself indulging in self-pity, try to think of all the reasons you have to be grateful. It's like antiseptic. Kills self-pity dead.) But just because other people have it harder than I do doesn't mean the coming Winter won't have its challenges for me too. Just because it could be worse doesn't mean it will be a breeze.

And maybe I'll finally learn to draw the ball….

Mike

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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:

Albert Smith: "I live for winter. I am in Florida, and from Memorial day until ads for pumpkin-spice-flavored (fill in the blank) start running, I'm in my air conditioned house staring out at the heat radiating off of the road. I do 90% of my photography from October to May. Take a camera out of your house in July, and every glass surface fogs as the 90% humidity condenses. I can bypass that problem if I use a blow drier on the lens for several minutes before exiting, but then I have to contend with drenching sweat and heat stress that makes even fun activities hard to tolerate. Today it was only in the 90s… I can feel the autumn in the air. I live for winter."

Mike replies: I sometimes call May–September here "the temperate months." Sounds to me that's what we both like, the temperate months, but which months those are are different.

Robert: "I would be grateful if you let us know what table you buy and why when the time comes. I'm still going back and forth about a table in my basement and would appreciate your thoughts."

Mike replies: It's dangerous to encourage me! I've been threatening to write an article called "How to Buy a Pool Table." I'm a pretty quick study when I get the wild hair and I've been learning about pool tables since 2012.

Dagman: "Re 'Gratefulness is the antidote to self-pity.' I think I'll get this printed, framed and hung on the wall so it will be the first thing I see when I wake up each morning. Thanks for this much-needed pep talk. May this Winter be one for you to remember as the best of times."

MikeR: "Heat??"

Mike replies: The shed is getting spray-foam insulation, underneath the floor and on all six upper surfaces (four walls and both halves of the gable roof) from the inside. Spray foam insulation has a higher R-value, limits air incursion as well as insects and rodents, and contributes to the structural integrity of the structure. Heat will be supplied by a 9,000-BTU Pioneer "mini-split," which is a one-room indoor-outdoor heat pump. It is very silent and supplies both air conditioning and heat.

James Bullard: "I have a 'happy light' that helps with mood (Amazon has lots of choices) and your doctor is right about getting up at least every half hour to hour to stretch and/or do some small exercise as long as it isn't to go get a snack (my weakness). You should start using the light around now and keep it up until the days are getting noticeably long (Feb.). My light is small and sits by my computer. I use it for 10–20 minutes once or twice a day. It sounds silly but it does help."

David Kennedy: "I don’t comment often if ever. But, for me, Winter is a special time for photography. Real deep winter here in central Ontario hides all the imperfections of the landscape, presenting opportunities for a minimalist perspective. Snow drifts are not much different than sand drifts in the desert. I also find snowshoes give you easy access into the forest and are great exercise too. I may be lucky that my county has a number of public forests and accessible trails. I’m not a fan of November and March which are in-between months. January and February can be magic."

J.D. Ramsey: "Couldn't agree more. Pool is more fascinating, at least for me, than playing a video game. Though I must admit that not being of the video game generation—I thought Pong was cool when it first showed up with green balls and paddles on a black screen. But pool involves not only physical skill but gets your mind in play with geometric calculations of how the ball will rebound off the cushion when struck. Truly good pool players, which I'm not, are amazing in their skills. Only hours upon hours of practice could possibly get to that level, assuming one had some physical skill. But even for the rank amateur, it can successfully divert my mind for quite a while."

Mike replies: Bro!

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